Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Portfolio: Gamer's Paradise Pilot

(coming soon)

Portfolio: Geek Squad: Looking Ahead

Oh man, has this day really come? Am I really graduating? Yes, it’s true – my time as a USF student is nearly over, and with that comes the end of Geek Squad, a column that I’ve been writing on and off since my sophomore year. Geek Squad originally was supposed to be just a one-off article about my favorite video games of all-time, but it quickly expanded into a weekly feature that looked at the history of all the major video game consoles and some of the best games they had to offer. After that, Geek Squad expanded even more to include technology – my growing interest in keeping up with modern technology lead to some informative pieces, some how-tos, and a pre-release analysis of the iPad that stirred the pot a little more than I expected. Well, in the spirit of looking toward my future as a USF graduate and beyond, I thought it’d be fun to take a peek at what the future holds for a couple of today’s developing technologies, starting with their modern-day roots and ending with my own personal predictions for what’s ahead. But before that, I’d like to give a big thanks to all my readers over the years – my one hope is that you’ve gained some greater appreciation for all things geeky through reading these articles, whether you’re a gamer or gadget freak or none of the above. So let’s get down to it and jump into this final article of Geek Squad!

Augmented Reality

You can tell this is a cool piece of technology just from what it’s called – augmented reality, taking reality and adding onto it. Of course, what this is referring to isn’t exactly changing the world itself but how you interact with it. Augmented reality (AR for short) refers to the usage of a device that can display a real-world environment while adding onto it with new visual overlays and information. Let’s dumb it down a little: you’ve got a device with a screen and a camera (aka every mobile phone in existence today) along with the augmented reality software and maybe even a GPS sensor. The camera takes in whatever you’re pointing it at, the screen displays it, and the software puts on its own context-sensitive information. An example of this is the Yelp! app for smartphones, which can display an overlay of markers that shows where nearby restaurants are located relative to what direction you’re pointing the camera. But that’s not all AR is capable of – the Nintendo 3DS’s AR software is able to mold any surface into a playing field, shifting its properties on-screen and placing game elements on it to create virtual-reality gaming experiences. So what can the future hold for this technology? Well, imagine wearing a pair of glasses – hell, imagine putting on contacts or getting eye implants – that allow for this functionality, bridging the gap between seeing augmented reality and living it. Built-in GPS, the ability to translate foreign text on the fly, a wealth of information before your eyes. If holograms don’t pan out, augmented reality is the next best thing – and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Near Field Communication

Now this is some high-tech stuff. Near Field Communication (NFC for short) is a technology that may very well be taking the world of mobile phones by storm in the near future. It’s a chip that’s capable of generating a small magnetic field around it that can communicate and interact with other NFC-equipped devices. It’s kind of like Bluetooth, but the downfall of Bluetooth is how long it takes to get things going – the startup time, the pairing process, etc. NFC foregoes all of that with automatic pairing and a startup time of less than a tenth of a second. Its only downside (which isn’t much of one if you think about it) is that the technology only has a range of about 4 centimeters between the two devices you’re using. While there aren’t many practical applications for NFC today and only a few smartphones that are sporting the chip, NFC’s specifications can make way for a future where the mobile phone becomes both wallet and keychain. Imagine storing your credit card information on your phone, which can then be used to make payments by pressing it up against a payment pad. Or how about ditching that Clipper card for Muni and just using your phone instead? What about starting your car or getting into your house with the swipe of your phone? Sure, there’s a lot of questions about security to be raised, but the fact of the matter is that our technology is evolving to be more and more mobile, and our phones are the core of that evolution, with NFC helping pave the way to make it all possible.

These are but two of many technological advances that are being developed right now to shape the way we live our lives in the future. There’s also been huge leaps in solar energy, wireless charging, paper-thin malleable displays, multi-core mobile processors, voice and gesture-reactive feedback… the list goes on and on. I don’t know, maybe I find some sort of comfort knowing that no matter where my future leads me, it’s going to be filled with some really cool tech. Yeah, the future looks pretty bright.

Portfolio: Geek Squad: The Nintendo 3DS

It was 2004 when Nintendo released the original DS and started its campaign to innovate the gaming industry through the ways we interact with games. A touch screen on a handheld? Two screens? Both these things seemed absurd upon first hearing them, but the past seven years have been kind to Nintendo, and sales of the DS and its subsequent revisions have shown that the features of Nintendo’s ambitious dual-screened handheld aren’t just gimmicks. Last year, Nintendo unveiled their newest successor to their long line of handheld systems, the Nintendo 3DS. Offering up 3D visuals without the need for special glasses, Nintendo hopes to once again innovate gaming with the 3DS in the same way it did with the original DS. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to play with the 3DS since its March 27th launch date, I felt it was time to weigh in on what’s hot, what’s not, and if you should be willing to drop $250 on this hot new piece of tech.


The 3DS is pretty much the same size as a DS Lite and only a half-ounce heavier. Launch colors are Cosmo Black and Aqua Blue – I went with Aqua Blue since it‘s better at hiding fingerprints. The 3DS has a front-facing camera and two cameras on the back, which can be used with games or to take 3D pictures. They’re not the best quality, but they get the job done. Just like all the previous versions, the bottom screen of the 3DS has touch capabilities, but the top screen is a brand new beast – a parallax barrier wide screen display that’s able to provide 3D visuals without the glasses. And as far as processing power goes, the 3DS has a new processor under the hood that’s powerful enough to provide some great graphics – seriously, this thing is more powerful than the Nintendo Wii. Of course, all these features come at a fairly high energy cost, which leads to the 3DS’s biggest downfall – its battery life. Depending on how you tweak some settings, you’re looking at a battery life of 3 to 5 hours, which is remarkably low for a handheld. I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re a big fan of gaming on the go.


So how ‘bout that glasses-free 3D? Well, I can tell you that it definitely works for the most part, but it’s the kind of thing you have to try for yourself. 3D may not be for everyone, though – there’s been reports of people getting headaches and the like from prolonged use of the 3D effect, but this doesn’t occur in everyone – I personally have no problem with it. To combat this, the 3DS has an adjustable slider that lets you modify the 3D effect to your preference, allowing you to even turn it off completely. When it’s on, though, it’s a spectacle – elements pop out from the screen, overlap each other naturally, and sink into the screen to create an incredible illusion of depth. The downside comes in the nature of the technology – the way the display works requires you to hold the 3DS in a very specific way, and moving it from this ‘sweet spot’ breaks the 3D effect and makes you just see double. It’s a big concession, but also a fairly manageable one.


A system is nothing without games, and I wouldn’t be the first to admit that the 3DS’s launch lineup – like most of Nintendo’s launch lineups – isn’t so hot. There’s games like Super Street Fighter 4, Nintendogs & Cats, and Pilotwings Resort, but nothing interested me enough to actually buy a game. That’s not a completely bad thing though as it’s given me time to extensively play with the 3DS’s included games, which are great enough in their own right. Face Raiders is a shooter that has you take a picture of someones face then overlays it onto the game’s enemies, utilizing the 3DS’s cameras to make them fly around your surroundings. Then there’s Augmented Reality (probably my favorite thing about the 3DS), which uses special cards to transform any surface into a game of archery, golf, and much more.

While the 3DS’s current gaming offerings is a tad weak, the future is bright with games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising, a 3D remake of Star Fox 64, and a brand-new Paper Mario game all coming down the pipeline. Third-party support is strong as well, with the 3DS seeing entries from major series like Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed, and Resident Evil.

So is this thing worth the $250 you need to plop down to get it? While I don’t regret my decision to purchase one at all, I feel like its release was a little premature – its current game lineup could be much better, and the system is missing core features like an internet browser and game shop until Nintendo releases an update in late May. I don’t think the 3DS will hit its stride until June at the earliest, so I’d say holding off on the 3DS for a while is just fine unless you’ve already got $300 or so to throw around. But give it a little time, and I can see the 3DS shaping up to be a must-have.

Portfolio: Geek Squad: 25 Legendary Years Part 2

Geek Squad’s back from Spring Break with even more Zelda-mania! Last issue I talked about two of my favorite underrated Zelda games (The Minish Cap and Spirit Tracks) with the promise of one more on the way. Well, I may have stretched the truth a bit, because this week I’m doing it like Billy Mays and doubling that offer! Why? Because it’s almost impossible to talk about just one of these two games without mentioning the other, so let’s get down to it!

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages (GBC)
First, a little behind-the-scenes information: these two games stand out from most other Zelda games in that they weren’t actually developed by Nintendo. No, the Oracle games were instead created by Flagship, a subdivision of Capcom, who also went on to make The Minish Cap. Because of this, these three games are the only ones in the series to have not been developed by Nintendo (there’s also the three games that appeared on the Philips CD-i, but I try to forget those ever existed). Another fun little tidbit is that Flagship intended on making a third game along with Seasons and Ages, but the linking system (which I’ll get into later) proved too difficult. But enough about all that, let’s jump into these two awesome games!

Both games start the same because the idea is that they’re supposed to happen at the same time in two parallel universes – weird, I know. Link goes to check out the resting place of the Triforce, approaches it, and gets magically whisked away to some far-off land where surely something sinister is afoot that he has to take care of.

If you’re playing Oracle of Seasons (my personal favorite of the two), you get dropped off in the land of Holodrum, where you meet Din, the titular Oracle of Seasons. Enter Onox, the General of Darkness (quite the title), who kidnaps Din and sinks the Temple of Seasons underground, causing all of Holodrum’s seasons to go out of whack. It’s your job to retrieve the Rod of Seasons (which allows Link to change the seasons at will), traverse eight dungeons to collect “Essences of Nature,” save Din and kick Onox’s dark booty.

If you’re playing Oracle of Ages, you get dropped off in the land of Labrynna, where you meet Nayru, the once-again titular Oracle of Ages. Enter Veran, the Sorceress of Shadows (really now?), who kidnaps/possesses Nayru, causing the time flow of Labrynna to go out of whack. It’s your job to retrieve the Harp of Ages (which allows Link to travel 400 years into the past), traverse eight dungeons to collect “Essences of Time,” save Nayru and kick Veran’s shadowy booty. Seeing a pattern here?

Okay, so the storylines of both games are pretty much the definition of cookie-cutter, but it isn’t really the story you should be looking at. Both of these games struck a brilliant balance of old and new – these were Zelda games through and through, but at the same time they introduced a whole slew of new characters, features, items, game mechanics, and more. There’s a ton of stuff unique to these two games. You’ve got the ability to befriend one of three animal buddies, who you can then ride around on and thoroughly stomp face with. There’s a ring collecting system where you obtain rings from a number of different methods, get them appraised, and wear them to give yourself new abilities. Items like the Roc’s Cape or Switch Hook expanded on old favorites while introducing new challenges.

Point being, these two games are massive. We’re talking a whopping sixteen full-length dungeons between both games.

And while they are indeed two separate games, they were always meant to be played together, as evidenced by a robust linking system via password. On top of using passwords between the two games to unlock new items and quests, beating one game and using its password on the second unlocks the true final boss, a certain villain that usually ends up behind most of these evil plots.

As separate games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages stand as full-fledged entries to the Zelda series, each with their own merits. But when you take full advantage of the password system and play the two in sequence, you’ve got what’s easily the biggest and most diverse Zelda adventure to date.

Portfolio: Geek Squad: 25 Legendary Years

It was February 21, 1986 that Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda for the Famicom Disk System, Japan’s version of the NES. Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, The Legend of Zelda was developed at the same time as Super Mario Bros., though the two were meant to be quite different – while Super Mario Bros. was completely linear and action-oriented, The Legend of Zelda presented the player with a wide open world that was meant to be explored in whatever way the player wished, and though the game definitely had its share of action, it also challenged players to use their brains in order to solve puzzles and explore the world even further. With The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo broke immense ground in the adventure genre of gaming while also laying down the foundation for role-playing games with its compelling narrative. Last but certainly not least, The Legend of Zelda was the first of many, a starting point to a much-beloved series that spans over fifteen entries.

Of course, it’s hard to mention Zelda without thinking about the fond memories that come with playing a Zelda game – the freedom of sailing for the first time in The Wind Waker, the fear of the moon in Majora’s Mask, the awe of, well, pretty much everything in Ocarina of Time – it’s just so easy to wax nostalgia for each and every game in the series, and yet it’s only a select few that people really talk about. So what of the rest, the ones that didn’t make waves in the industry like the original or A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time? I think it’s about time that some of the less talked about Zelda games got a taste of the spotlight, so in honor of The Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary, I’m going to show some love for three of the most underrated Zelda games!

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
I don’t know if this one just got overshadowed by the A Link to the Past remake that came out on the Game Boy Advance, but Minish Cap is up there as one of my favorite Zelda games. Unlike most of the games in the series, the main villain of Minish Cap isn’t that lovable power-hungry pig-beast we all know as Ganon. No, Minish Cap falls in line with the Four Swords games, where the resident bad guy is a power-hungry big-dark-eye-orb monster by the name of Vaati, who turns Princess Zelda into stone. As most Zelda games have a central gimmick that sets them apart from the rest, Minish Cap’s gimmick (as well as both the Four Swords games) is the ability to clone Link up to three times over. Link can also shrink to the size of a jellybean thanks to the help of his magical sorcerer-turned-hat companion named Ezlo, but we don’t need to get into that. Anyways, Minish Cap retains the spirit of the series with its inspired dungeon design and nifty items, not to mention that the art style is vibrant and lively. And yes, while it may be on the short and easy side compared to other Zelda games, Minish Cap’s greatness is in its charm and general fun factor. It’s a short ride, but one that you’ll most likely end up going through multiple times – I know I did.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (NDS)
This one’s actually the most recent game in the series, and I feel like it just slipped under the radar for most gamers, which is really unfortunate. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks took the formula of its predecessor, Phantom Hourglass, and greatly improved upon it – I like to think of it as Phantom Hourglass’s mulligan. This time around you’re not sailing across the ocean like in Phantom Hourglass or Wind Waker, but instead you’re chugging along the great plains of Hyrule in your own magic train, which admittedly is a little more restrictive in its control, but it’s just so damn cool. And while Spirit Tracks has a central dungeon that’s traversed through sporadically during the game like in Phantom Hourglass, Nintendo has gotten rid of the hassle by eliminating the need to go through previous floors as well as that pesky time limit. The main baddie of Spirit Tracks is the demon king Malladus, a power-hungry spirit-train-beast. Yes, spirit-train-beast. You fight a train in this game. Anyways, Spirit Tracks is one of the few Zelda games that I’d consider to have a memorable story that stands out from the others, and the game’s cohesive soundtrack goes a long way to intensify the experience. I know, the 3DS is just about to be released next month with promises of a 3D remake of Ocarina of Time, but until that comes out later this year, Spirit Tracks is more than a worthwhile cartridge to stick in your handheld.

As for the last game, well, you’ll just have to wait until my continuation in the next issue! That should give you enough time to go back and power through these two classics and be ready for my last pick for the most underrated Zelda games!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I'm not big on blogging. I should be, but I'm not.

Lemme drop a few facts on you: I'm a writer. Not only that, I'm a journalist. I'm a journalist who works for a quasi-top tier video game website. I own two blogs, this being one of them. I should be a blogging maniac, right?


It's a conundrum. Back when I was in Los Angeles for E3, my (now former) editor in chief and I were talking while dining on some sushi. We got on the subject of writing, and there was a clear difference between the two of us - he writes for fun, writes to excel, writes just for the hell of it. Me? I write when I need to. Write a news post, write an essay, write an article. I just can't see myself writing solid chunks of text unless it's to satisfy some requirement or deadline. That's just how I function. But as I contrasted our two writing methodologies, it got me thinking: am I a bad writer? Am I even a writer? Am I doomed to dissatisfaction if I continue down this path? Yeesh. Inner dilemmas ahoy.

I mean, don't get me wrong - I do enjoy the act of writing. Or, I'm good at it (to some extent), at the least. But then again, writing doesn't take any effort for me - it's just like pulling thoughts straight out of my head and slapping them onto paper (or, in this case, a monitor). I just can't help but feel like I don't have the time to sit down and write blog posts. Either that or I feel like there are better ways to spend my time. Super Smash Bros. Brawl, anyone?

Maybe it's true that we're all starting to lose our attention spans for reading/writing long strings of text and I'm just falling in line. I mean, I do still write, it's just on more rapid means. And social means. You know, like Twitter. I guess writing articles for The Foghorn counts as writing for fun, but even then I only manage to gain up the motivation to write the articles out of the desire to meet a deadline.

I guess it all just comes down to my lifelong lack of motivation. But I think that's a story for another time. Bottom line: blogging just isn't for me. I'll blog sometimes if I feel like, I'll blog if I have to for an assignment (hey, like this one!), but when it comes down to it, I just don't have the motivation to become a frequent blogger.

Portfolio: Gamer's Paradise Pilot

(coming soon)