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By Jessica Brown On 14 Nov, 2017 At 05:01 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, PC Games, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Penka Kouneva is an award-winning composer who recently scored the NASA exhibit “Heroes and Legends” at the Kennedy Space Center. She has also provided the soundtrack for The Mummy VR game, worked with composer Steve Jablonsky to score the Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands soundtrack, and has been involved with various other game and film musical scores. Beyond that, she has put out her own albums such as The Woman Astronaut and the recent Rebirth of Id. Overall, Penka has worked on games, films, and other venues which have grossed over $15 Billion combined.

Penka was extremely courteous and was able to answer some of our questions we had for her.

Q: While critics often rave about visuals, graphic quality, and storytelling in video games, I often feel like they overlook another equally important pillar: audio (music and sound). Do you think music gets overlooked sometimes?

Penka Kouneva: Music works the best when it’s perceived subliminally. While engaged in gameplay or watching a film, music should not be too present or too distracting. There are moments where the music really needs to soar for us to experience an emotional payoff. I believe a great, impactful score that fits the aesthetics of the game will always get noticed – consider Bloodborne, Journey, Uncharted scores.

Q: Over the years I’ve come to realize that a game’s soundtrack (or lack thereof) can make or break a game. In fact, there are a few games I think the soundtrack saves from being mediocre. Is this something that you have observed too?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, the music is a very powerful branding tool for the game. Games use music to set themselves apart from the competition. Music makes gameplay emotional and memorable. In every game I’ve ever played, I vividly remember its music, visual style and how the game made me feel playing it.

Q: When coming up with a musical score for a video game, what helps you find your inspiration to come up with appropriate themes?

Penka Kouneva: Conceptual conversations with the developers about their ideas. The vision of the developers. The characters and environments. The past history of the franchise. Music that my collaborators love. Challenges they have experienced in game development. The storytelling, the visual style, the maps. My job is to create a sonic world which the story will inhabit.

Q: I’ve wondered in the past if it would be harder to create a soundtrack for a game or movie vs. coming up with something completely original (such as a personal album)?

Penka Kouneva: When I compose a soundtrack, I collaborate with another artist – with their vision, their ideas and expectations. My music breathes life into their story. I love it! When I write my passion CDs, I work with my own original stories. Rebirth of Id is my third artist album (after The Woman Astronaut and A Warrior’s Odyssey). I returned to my formative inspirations (classical orchestral music and Minimalism) and blended them with innovative electronic arrangements. The album has a unique structure – four mini-soundtracks, each telling its own story. These artist CDs are my own private laboratory where I experiment with new sounds. They make me a better composer! The result is fantastic – these albums lead to bigger and better scoring jobs. The Woman Astronaut lead to scoring the $30 million NASA exhibit Heroes and Legends at the Kennedy Space Center that will live on for decades…

Q: Do you ever find yourself stuck with “composer’s block?”, and if so, how do you cope with it and overcome it?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, it does happen. I deal with it in three steps: A./ I remove myself from the aggravation – usually the computer – and go for a walk to clear my head. B./ I listen to music to inspire me for this project. Sometimes I listen some of my most favorite music that brings me to tears. And C./ is the most personal approach and takes willpower to do – I do a visualization: I remember a moment in time when I felt elated to be a composer (a concert of my music, or praise, or getting an award). I remember how it felt to be a composer at that happy moment. Then, with renewed passion about composing I return to the project where I got stuck. I keep listening to other music and ideas until some idea feels right and I push forward. I’m always on a deadline so I can’t afford to waste too much time in “writer’s block”.

Q: Have you ever come up with a piece that you personally felt was really great, but just didn’t fit the overall mood or theme of what you needed it for? If so, what do you do with “discarded” pieces?

Penka Kouneva: Oh, yes, very much so. If the music is great but just not fitting with the visual media, I write a new piece for my client that they like and eventually release my own music on my passion CDs.

Q: What can you tell us about any upcoming projects you may be working on?

Penka Kouneva: I’m proud of The Mummy VR game available at the IMAX VR Theaters and some arcades. Check out also a terrific supernatural horror feature Devil’s Whisper which tells the story of the 16-year old Alejandro. It’s a beautifully produced and richly layered film about fighting demonic forces, coming of age, courage and perseverance. (Sony Pictures released it on DVD and VOD in November). Two other features are coming out soon – Paul Salamoff’s Sci-Fi thriller Encounter premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, and the drama feature, Blue. If you visit Orlando, FL don’t miss the Kennedy Space Center and their newest attraction Heroes and Legends which I scored.

Q: When you aren’t directly involved in the musical space, what else do you like to get involved with? Do you have any other passions?

Penka Kouneva: I have a family and 11-year-old daughter, and she keeps me busy. I love the outdoors and we hike a lot on the weekends. I am extremely passionate about mentoring the younger generation of composers, so I help a lot of young composers. I love reading (books and articles online), art, and visiting with friends.

Q: I have to ask: Do you play through all of the games that you come up with soundtracks for?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, absolutely. We are a family of big gamers. Right now I am playing COD: WWII and yes, I have played all the games I’ve scored. I wanted to feel how my music works in gameplay. My kid plays mobile games all the time. I pinch myself every day because I’m living my dream. I wish for my readers to follow their dreams!

 

Thank you again for doing this interview.

By Jessica Brown On 13 Nov, 2017 At 02:57 PM | Categorized As NINTENDO, Nintendo Switch, Reviews, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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VITALS:

  • TITLE: RiME
  • DEVELOPER: Tequila Works
  • PUBLISHER: Grey Box & Six Foot
  • GENRE: Adventure/Indie
  • PLATFORM: Nintendo Switch (also on PS4, XB1, & PC)
  • RELEASE DATE: November 14, 2017 (eShop); November 21, 2017 (physical)
  • PRICE: $29.99 eShop; $39.99 physical

RiME is an indie adventure game from developer Tequila Works that was originally released on the PlayStation 4, XBox One, and PC back in May but which has just been released for the Nintendo Switch. While the Switch version of RiME was originally planned to release at the same time as it did on other platforms, the developer ended up delaying the Switch port because they felt like it didn’t meet their quality standards and wanted a bit more time to work on it. Ultimately, they hoped, the game would present a similar play experience on the Switch as players would have gotten on other platforms. I’ll talk about whether or not this paid off later on in the review, but let’s first jump into what the game itself is like.

At its heart, RiME is a beautiful journey that the player embarks upon that is entirely experiential in nature. The game has no dialogue or written notes to find, but rather it focuses completely on the desire to explore the mysterious island the player wakes up on, solving a few puzzles along the way, in the hopes of unraveling the mystery of why you ended up there in the first place. Within the game’s opening moments it is quite apparent that the main character (an unnamed young boy) has washed ashore on a strange island after a major storm, but the circumstances around it are left up for us to interpret. And, while the young boy may initially feel alone on the island (apart from the various wildlife that happens to call it home), he soon meets a fox that seems eager to aid him on his journey as well as finding himself being watched by a figure in a bright red cloak. The game is non-combative in nature, instead forcing the player to rely on their skills at platforming and their drive to explore the island, finding hidden collectibles and figuring out the path forward. The game does provide some clues about what you should do next or how you should interact with certain items, but ultimately most of it is left for you to discover for yourself.

Although the island is quite big and the game does encourage you to explore its various nooks and crannies for secrets, the game ultimately is fairly linear in nature, driving you to make your way towards a large tower that stands high above the island. Most of the time it’s pretty clear what you ultimately need to do next, but it may take you a bit of time to figure out how you need to accomplish it. Yet, because there are no enemies and the game isn’t time-limited, you are entirely at your own pace to uncover the island’s secrets.

Unfortunately, despite the developer’s delay of the game in order to ensure that it met a similar quality standard to that found in the other releases, I personally found that RiME has fallen considerably short of that goal on the Nintendo Switch. This isn’t, in my opinion, a failure of the Nintendo Switch itself but rather I feel that this version of RiME is merely a poorly-optimized port.

One of my major issues with this port is that the framerate leaves a lot to be desired. In the best of situations the game feels like it is sitting at around 30 FPS (which is quite playable, even if not ideal), but there are plenty of instances where the frame rate seems to choke out. In particularly egregious instances, I’d say it dropped close to 15 FPS or less. Given that the Switch version of RiME, while pretty, doesn’t look like it should be that taxing on the console, this feels like a major failure if the goal was to create a functionally-equivalent port. Beyond the issues with poor and inconsistent performance, there are bugs with textures (odd color patterns here and there), an overall sluggish (and sometimes unresponsive) menu, and random glitches that I’d have hoped would have been fixed (such as the game suddenly transitioning from the middle of the night to midday without any reason at times). In addition to all that, the overall visuals, which still quite beautiful in their own way, feel like they are rendered at fairly low settings, giving this port a look closer in aesthetic to a PlayStation 2 game.

Thankfully, the game controls well with the Switch Joy-cons, so I never had any issues controlling the character and making him do what I needed him to do.

What makes the whole thing frustrating is that RiME, by all accounts, is a beautiful experience and a thought-provoking journey that shouldn’t be held back by such glaring issues with optimization and quality control. The game has the potential to not only look good but to handle well too, yet I feel as if Tequila Works really let us down with this port. I should point out that the game does have a rather wonderful musical score and that does make it through to this version of the game, but unfortunately that alone isn’t able to save this experience. While playing RiME, I did genuinely find myself having fun, but it was rather bittersweet. When the game felt like it was behaving itself I would get lost in wanting to explore the island, find new ways to reach different areas, and looking for various items scattered to and fro, but then the game would get bogged down in poor performance or have some jarring glitch that took me away from the experience.

Thankfully, there is always the hope that the team will roll out an update for the game that fixes some of the issues the game currently has, and if they do that I’d have no problem giving the game a solid recommendation.

As it stands now, though, I think I’d feel more comfortable recommending you pick up RiME on the PlayStation 4, XBox One, or PC.

 

……….

 

Disclaimer: A review key was provided by the publisher

By Jessica Brown On 11 Nov, 2017 At 04:57 PM | Categorized As Company Spotlight, Featured, Interviews, PC Games, Previews, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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Haste is a software and infrastructure designed to improve gamers’ connections to the Internet by reducing jitter and packet loss while lowering ping to fantastic levels. In a nutshell, this is achieved through a proprietary software and a new infrastructure they have put in place with participating game servers, but this new service which is in its infancy has its sights set much higher.

Thankfully, Haste Founder and CEO Adam Toll was happy to answer some of our questions about this new service!

Q: “Haste” seems to be all about improving ping while reducing packet loss and jitter to overall improve a user’s connection to a game. Is there any information you can give us about how this is attained and what results you can expect on average?

Adam Toll: Haste was designed specifically to reduce latency in gaming by routing game traffic as directly and efficiently as possible. To do this, we engineered a cutting-edge network that employs fiber optic lines, switches and servers in key locations, including adjacent to the game servers.

Running on top of that, we have our proprietary network software which includes everything from proprietary route optimization algorithms to redundant pathing, so there’s no single point of failure. Finally, we have the software that gamers install on their game machines.

Because of the nature of the internet, results vary widely based on variables including location, hardware, ISP, etc., but we often see a reduction in ping and an elimination of packet loss and jitter.

The best thing is for gamers to just try Haste for themselves. We offer a free 14-day trial and diagnostic tools like Haste Check, so gamers can see exactly how Haste will impact their network performance.

Q: Currently it looks like Haste is focused on League of Legends, Overwatch, and CS:GO. What other titles do you expect to expand support for over the next year or so?

Adam Toll: Right, we spent most of this year building out our platform while in beta. We launched with Overwatch and League of Legends and just added CS:GO.

We’re now aggressively rolling out support for the top game titles and plan to add at least half a dozen games over the next two months, including such titles as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Dota 2, World of Tanks and Paladins.

Next year we’ll continue to add support for all the major titles.

Q: Are there any plans to expand Haste support in some way over to popular gaming consoles in order to improve the player’s connection in competitive titles?

Adam Toll: Absolutely, we are starting to work with both ISPs and hardware manufacturers towards solutions that will encompass any device connected to the internet. So not just console, but mobile as well.  With Haste embedded in an ISP’s infrastructure, and/or with a Haste-enabled Wi-Fi router at home, we can optimize traffic from any device.

Q: While Haste seems like it would really benefit the titles it currently focuses on, what about improving and stabilizing connections to platforms like Steam, to improve both network stability during Steam online gaming as well as perhaps improving overall download speeds? Would this be possible in the future?

Adam Toll: Apart from a few Valve titles, most of the games on Steam are hosted independently on the game companies’ servers versus a universal Steam server (Author’s note: I didn’t know that!).  As such, Haste will continue to roll out support for more titles with the end goal of supporting almost every game.  

While we’re currently focused on optimizing the internet for gaming, it is possible for Haste to improve download speed and might be something we focus on in the future.

Q: As a related question, what about connections to popular streaming sites or upload servers, namely to Twitch or YouTube/YT Gaming. Packet loss can have a terrible effect on online game streaming, so I wonder if Haste could one day help in that area too?

Adam Toll: Yes, in the future, we believe Haste might be able to optimize streaming video in the same way we’re optimizing gaming now. This would further benefit streamers and their fans by providing faster, smoother connections to streaming content.

Q: And finally, to sum up, a little, do you see Haste being used outside of a game-to-user connection? Perhaps with online streaming or other related activities?

Adam Toll: Absolutely.  While we’re 100% focused today on fighting lag in gaming, we see a future where Haste is optimizing the internet for any number of real-time applications. This could include streaming, VOIP communications, networked VR and many other applications.

 

It certainly sounds like Haste has some great plans for the future! Right now, they are running a free 14-day trial of their software, so if you’re curious to see how it may help you with its currently-supported games, be sure to give it a try!

By Jessica Brown On 1 Nov, 2017 At 06:14 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, Videos | With 0 Comments

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Toby Turner (a.k.a. “TobyGames” and “Tobuscus”) is an all-around awesome and hilarious YouTube gamer with about 15 million subscribers and 3.7 billion views spread over his three channels.

Toby was kind to let us pick his brain on a few different topics and we are delighted to share the results with you!

Q: When it comes to doing YouTube videos (or streaming, for that matter), everyone has a different story about how they got into it. I think this would be a good place to start. What got you into the idea of becoming a “YouTube gamer?”

Toby: When I first moved to LA, I pretty much moved in immediately with a woman I met at the first party I went to.  We got along super well, but she was NOT a gamer – and playing video games was a thing I’d do by myself – instead of us spending quality time together – so it had that negative connotation.  When I was first able to monetize gaming videos, I realized if I really committed to making content, I could be like, “Hey, this is my job now. Gotta do it!”  It’s awesome.

Q: In the pioneering days of doing Let’s Plays and other similar content it was a bit easier to get a channel to take off. Now, with the number of people trying to “make it big” it’s considerably harder. What do you think has contributed to your channels being rather successful?

Toby: I think consistency is much more important than quality.  It’s literally a quantity over quality thing!  It’s important to keep the quality as high as you can – which is much easier now, with the editing programs sucking exponentially less than they did when I was starting out.  It blows my mind that I can make edits in Premiere and watch them without having to re-render the entire episode.  It worked like that in Final Cut Pro 7 sometimes, but only if you converted everything to a massive gigantor ProRes file (which would take forever). So I opted to just record a month’s worth of 10 minutes episodes in like 6 hours, and edit them all at once. I timed myself once and I actually edited, titled, and queued 30 episodes to export in 30 minutes.  Feels good.

Q: One of the things that strikes me the most about your channel is the level of humor and positive attitude that you bring to gaming. Have you ever played something that challenged this attitude and made it harder to keep up?

Toby: Hey, thanks!  My positive attitude quickly turns to rage at a certain threshold – like if a level seems impossible, or if the PC bluescreens, but I’d usually just end up posting those episodes, and people seem to really resonate with my frustration.  When I realized that, I started making rants.  Very cathartic.  Does that answer the question?  No?  SOONN OF A *throws headset*

Q: From a technical line of thinking, I know some up-and-coming YouTubers overthink a lot of things, spending perhaps too much time editing videos or producing them at way higher quality than they need to be (e.g. 4K60 for an indie game). Do you have any advice for these types of people, based on your experiences? What do you find that’s worth focusing on versus what ultimately won’t matter?

Toby: I’m a big fan of making my audio not suck.  I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it sound good without increasing my workload a lot.  I think if you find the right compressor settings for your voice (forums help with that a lot), and you’re able to capture your full range of vocal audio without clipping, then you can just focus on having fun making the content.  I think that’s the most important aspect – if you’re having fun, people pick up on that.  As far as over-editing, on my Tobuscus content, I spend a lot more time on the small details that I don’t think many people necessarily pick up on.  I’m not sure if that helps me, but I like that I can go back and watch my older stuff and still love it because I polished the hell out of it.  All you gotta do is sacrifice your social life!

Q: I love how you’ve divided your “brand” so to speak into your gaming channel, your music channel, and your more personal VLOG channel. However, for those newer and less established in these areas, would you recommend them to follow a similar path or keep their content streamlined into one channel?

Toby: I’m not sure if I would recommend the multiple channel path these days.  It’s cool if the other channel takes like no time at all to maintain (one-take vlogs!).  Now that editing programs are improving, it’d be cool to just focus on one channel, and whether it’s a vlog or song or game episode, just make it awesome.  PewDiePie and Markiplier do a great job with that.

Q: Your IndieGoGo campaign was a pretty solid success. What inspired this upcoming game of yours and what do you see in the future in terms of similar projects?

Toby: The game we’re putting out, hilariously, is actually just the PC version of the game we made with the IndieGoGo.  It just took a lot, lot longer than I ever would’ve wanted.  We’re also going to release it next year on consoles (er.. that’s the plan anyway – fingers crossed!).

Q: If you had to pick one or two games that you think are underappreciated and you wish more people knew about, what would they be?

Toby: Good sweet lord Ultima Online of course.  That was the greatest game I’ve ever played.  Open world MMO, where you could kill anyone and take their stuff.  There were tons of bugs you could exploit, which I think made the game exponentially cooler.  I have so many stories from that game… but they broke it with an expansion I think, and they made it possible to bind items to your character so you’d hang onto them after dying.  Pffhshh!  You could buy these awesome houses and place them wherever you wanted, and people could actually steal your house key out of your backpack if you weren’t careful and rob your house. If you needed help in the game, these awesome looking Game Masters would teleport to you, and they had these amazing unique wizard robes, and they’d roleplay.  I want more of that.

Q: What’s your absolute favorite game (or games) of all time?

Toby: Ultima Online.  Subspace was awesome too, from the 90s.  Their motto was, “Meet people from all over the world, and then kill them.”  You can still play that one, but they got rid of the best zones.  Chaos East represent.

Q: You’re certainly a person of many talents with a lot going on. How do you keep it all together without going crazy or losing interest in any one thing?

Toby: I lose interest in what I’m working on if I don’t sprint through and make it all from start to finish.  As soon as I come up with a joke that I think is hilarious, if I’m not able to make something out of it right away, I usually just put it in a word document and forget about it for the rest of time.  All of my best everything has never been released.

Q: If you had to give advice for up-and-coming comedians, game designers, or YouTubers/streamers, what would you tell them?

Toby: Learn to do everything.  Learn to edit.  Learn Photoshop.  Watch After Effects tutorials at Videocopilot.net.  Stay consistent.  Don’t hire your friends – but do hire people that you think would make a good friend.

Q: Is there anything new and exciting that you see coming in the future for you that you’d love to share with us?

Toby: I’m really excited about making more original songs.  I made a song for a sponsorship this month, called SPONSORED SONG.  I forgot how much I love doing that stuff.  Definitely going to make more Literal Trailers as well – it’s a fun challenge to try to keep them fresh, especially after making what… 40 of them?  Good lord.  Oh, also – I wrote a book in my Tobuscus Adventures world, and I’ve never done that before.  Its sort of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Zombie Apocalypse, for young adults.  I actually like it enough that I can read it all the way through and I don’t feel like I want to change any of it, which I didn’t expect.  Books are long.  Lotta words in books.  I’m looking for a publisher for that now who will allow me to retain my IP rights – hopefully, that’ll come together next year!  Woo.

Here is a TobyGames video for you to check out.

By Jessica Brown On 1 Nov, 2017 At 12:33 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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VITALS:

  • TITLE: “Inmates”
  • DEVELOPER: Davit Andreasyan
  • PUBLISHER: Iceberg Interactive
  • GENRE: Indie Psychological Horror
  • PLATFORM: PC (Steam)
  • PRICE: $9.99 USD
  • RELEASE DATE: October 5, 2017

Released just in time for the Halloween season, Inmates is a psychological horror that takes us deep within the mind of a man lost within a prison of his own making. The game is a horror-themed adventure that contains puzzles that will need to be solved during your quest to uncover the truth behind the prison you find yourself confined within.

The game begins when the protagonist, Johnathan, wakes up in a dark, disgusting-looking prison with no clue of how he got there. Everything seems strange and yet somehow familiar to him. As the player takes control of him and begins to explore this strange place they’ll start to discover that not only is what they see not just a simple nightmare, but that they are not alone within these dark walls. While the game does give you some sense of freedom as you explore, ultimately you’ll find that the game is fairly linear and that its goals are generally quite clear. That’s not to say that you aren’t encouraged to explore your surroundings, but rather that you’re unlikely to ever truly get lost. In the main prison area, for example, it’s clear pretty early on that you’ll need to push onward and find your way to the medical area located downstairs. As you walk down the corridor, though, you’ll pass numerous prison cells, most of which are unlocked and contain letters, books, notes or drawings scribbled on the walls, and matches that will help you see in very dark places. You’ll also come across several other prisoners who all seem to suffer from a strange phenomenon that makes their heads shake in a fast, erratic manner.

While you certainly don’t have to enter all of the cells in the prison, if you want to unlock all of the Steam achievements you’ll probably want to do so. A couple of the cells are “traps” where once you enter them the door locks behind you and you are forced to solve a simple puzzle before moving on. Also, at a couple spots during the adventure you’ll find yourself deep within Johnathan’s subconscious where you’ll have to solve a more complex puzzle before moving on with your journey. However, it’s interesting to note that these puzzles are not required to be completed for you to finish the game. If for some reason you find them too difficult, quitting the game and then loading your save data will put you at the next checkpoint after the puzzle sequence. Unfortunately, though, this will mean that you did not complete the puzzle and will not get the associated achievement. One issue that you may encounter with this mechanic is the fact that if you need to quit the game during one of these sequences (by necessity, not because you find the puzzle too hard), that will mean the game will skip the puzzle for you and you won’t be able to return to it without loading a previous chapter of the game. This is unfortunate if you’re the type that wants to successfully complete everything and not get past a challenge because of a minor technicality.

Overall, the game can be completed in around three hours at a casual pace, and while it tells a compelling story that generally will leave you wanting to push forward, the game is certainly not without its faults.

Inmates is a fairly buggy game, though to its credit none of the bugs completely breaks the game or ruins the experience. There are a couple spots where interacting with a critical object requires incredibly exact precision, such as activating the radio in the medical office. Oddly, in this specific case, the switch to activate the radio cannot be clicked on from the front but instead you’ll need to walk around to the radio’s side to activate it. Also, the game has a very annoying habit of letting you know that it needs you to interact with a certain object. When this is the case, Johnathan will suddenly turn to face whatever the item in question is and make a remark like “That looks interesting” or “Looks pretty neat.” While this could be seen as a good thing that keeps you from missing important items, it also can get you stuck in a room and unable to leave it unless you realize what you are missing. Sometimes, what you’re missing is essentially a false-positive. For instance, I had an issue in one of the trap cells after completing the puzzle where, even after the cell door opened and I tried to leave he would turn around and say “That looks interesting.” Every time I tried to leave he repeated that, despite the fact that I had already solved the puzzle. After a couple minutes fondling around in the cell, I finally realized that after I had completed the puzzle a box of matches had appeared in the room. Apparently, the game was not going to let me leave the cell unless I picked the matches up first!

Another issue I had with the game involves its overall level of lighting. Depending on your display, it’s possible that you’ll either find Inmates overall to be way too dark or way too bright. On my screen, overall while I felt like the game’s lighting levels were decent (you could see in pretty much all the locations though usually the corners and other peripheral spaces were quite dark), I never really found much of a need for the matches that I had other than a couple dark rooms that I wanted to see in. Of course, the game does have settings to raise or lower the brightness as you desire, so it’s not a huge issue. Still, it’s something that a few people will likely notice pretty quickly.

Ultimately, while I felt like the game did a good job telling its story, I did find the ending to be a bit bleak and not fully within my tastes. Of course, this is simply a matter of personal preference and nothing more. However, I will admit that I would have liked for there to have been a way to meet certain criteria and therefore get a better ending than the default one.

While Inmates is a game that shows some promise, it’s ultimately crippled by the various bugs that plague it as well as the incredibly slow walking pace the player is forced to endure. It’s linear design and pacing will also be a bit off-putting to those that would prefer a much more open style of exploration in their games.

For $9.99 at full price I’d only cautiously recommend picking up Inmates. It’s one of those titles that you may enjoy, but you’ll want to temper your expectations a bit. However, if you find the game on sale or as part of a bundle that contains some other potentially fun horror games, then you may want to consider picking it up.

 

………………

 

Disclaimer: A review key was provided by the developers.

By Jessica Brown On 30 Oct, 2017 At 01:32 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, PC Games, ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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Cloud-based gaming is an idea that has been tossed around for a little while now, but Parsec is hoping to make low-latency, high-quality gaming a reality on almost any device you own. Parsec’s customized software will allow you to connect to your own PC and stream your library of games to almost anything while also allowing you to share your own PC for this purpose with friends and family. Yet, beyond this, it also allows you to build your own “virtual computer” by buying usage hours on a supercomputer owned by either Amazon or Paperspace and thus have a high-end gaming experience without having to own a high-end PC.

Is it too good to be true? How does it all come together?

Parsec’s CEO Benjy Boxer was kind enough to answer some of my questions on this and more!

Q: Whenever I hear bold statements about how someone’s cloud-gaming platform will be able to rival an in-home gaming PC experience I admittedly become a bit skeptical. What is it that makes Parsec different in this space that would make this promise more able to be fulfilled?

Benjy Boxer: At Parsec, we don’t actually believe that our software can rival your in-home gaming experience. However, our goal is to provide casual gamers (those who spend less than 8 hours a week gaming) with the ability to experience PC gaming without having to invest in expensive hardware. You can save substantial money playing this way and depending on your games and perception to lag, not feel much of a difference versus a PC at home.

Some gamers may not notice a significant difference when using Parsec, but that depends on your game and distance from the cloud machine. We feel very strongly that we have made the right decisions to deliver the lowest latency possible for streaming games over the internet – we built our own networking protocol to reduce latency further. With that being said, Parsec is not like other cloud gaming companies. We offer a streaming software and platform that can be used on any gaming PC. So if you have your gaming PC at home, you can remotely access it. Perhaps more importantly, you can invite friends to co-play games or watch you play games for virtual hangouts and reliving the old days of couch gaming. Parsec is great for people who have gaming PCs because it gives them the power to do new things like co-play.

Q: NVIDIA has been doing something similar with GeForce now for a little bit, but their PC/Mac pricing scheme seems a bit aggressive. Also, they seem to have two distinct platforms, one being for computers and the other for their NVIDIA Shield. Did this inspire your vision with Parsec, making it more universal for users?

Benjy Boxer: We were inspired to build Parsec based on this blog post. It gave us the idea that it may actually be possible to stream games with low enough latency if you were to build software specifically for that purpose. We were not seeking to build a cloud gaming product, and we don’t think Parsec is a cloud gaming product like Geforce Now. We think of Parsec as a platform for accessing your games and playing games with your friends. Now, if you don’t have a gaming PC, you can rent one from one of our providers (AWS and Paperspace) and then connect to it via Parsec. But you can also connect to your home PC using Parsec or invite friends to connect and play games with you.

 

Q: When it comes to streaming games, even over a local network, input lag is a real concern. You already have whatever input lag exists between your controller/keyboard and your display, and this gets compounded by transmitting over a network. What would the average input lag be playing a game through Parsec and, if you can share this, what is it that keeps it as low as possible?

Benjy Boxer: Here’s some testing we’ve done:

From our testing, Parsec does not add more than one frame of lag on top of the lag the game engine already adds when it’s running on the computer. There will also be lag introduced by the ping between two machines. We’ve worked really hard to reduce our latency and have built custom networking code and our own capture, encode, decode, render pipeline.

Q: To follow up with the previous question, obviously a little input lag is just fine and most gamers won’t notice it. However, for those competitive gamers playing very fast-paced games, will Parsec be a viable option or will they need to stick to the more traditional, in-home route of gaming?

Benjy Boxer: We have lots of people winning games on PUBG, Overwatch, and other shooting games. That being said, I would assume that competitive gamers will never stream from a remote device – every millisecond matters. It’s like many professional musicians will never switch to Spotify because the minute sound differences matter, but for the casual gamer, it’s probably not going to be noticeable just like the casual listener to music is totally cool with streaming music.

Q: There’s no question that, despite what marketing and salespeople would like us to believe, 1080p is still the mainstream video format. However, with more people moving up to 1440p or 4K displays, does Parsec have a long-term plan to eventually supporting 1440p/4K gaming for those with the network to handle it?

Benjy Boxer: We already support 1440p at whatever refresh rate you want. We actually support up to 2k. It just takes a lot more bandwidth and can add latency to the encoder, which is why we mostly advertise 1080p. We’ll be able to push 4K when we add support for the h.265 codec.

Q: To follow up with Question 5, HDR is another thing that some pioneering gamers will care about (or at least games that support a 10-bit color space). Admittedly, only a few do this right now, but I imagine this will continue to change as time goes on. Will Parsec be able to handle rendering with higher color gamuts and HDR’s enhanced contrast? If not at 4K, perhaps at least HDR/wide-color at a scaled down 1080p?

Benjy Boxer: This isn’t something that we’re focused on right now. Generally speaking, more data means higher bandwidth requirements and higher strain on encoders and decoders. As the technology becomes viable and available to lots of people, we’ll work on making it possible. But it’s sort of a fight between codecs (h.264, h.265, v10) and bandwidth availability (up and down bandwidth).

Q: Personally, I’m someone that has a very high-end rig (i7 7700K, 32GB DDR4 3000, NVME SSD, GTX 1080 Ti), but the prospect of being able to game on any device is still alluring to me. Will there be any enthusiast options for gamers that don’t want to compromise on quality?

Benjy Boxer: Well, we really hope that you are able to use Parsec today from home and don’t feel like too much of the quality is lost when you access your gaming rig on another device or outside your home. We can’t claim it will be the same as sitting in front of that rig, but we’re working really hard to make it as close as possible if you have the right networking setup. Also, we hope you find value in inviting a friend watching you play or opting to co-op offline games, like Cuphead, with a friend online.

Q: Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and YouTube itself are very popular for Let’s Players and streamers. Obviously, streaming and recording footage at 1080p60 is a pretty demanding task for even a high-end computer, however people love sharing their gameplay online. Will Parsec have any features to allow this?

Benjy Boxer: Actually, a few streamers are doing this already. They get value in being able to play the game on the cloud machine, capture the Parsec window, and push that video directly up to Twitch from their local set up. This reduces tons of strain on the local gaming PC and lets the streamer use the local hardware for streaming and the cloud hardware for gaming. Here’s an example.

Q: As a follow-up to that, what about allowing these higher-end CPUs and GPUs to do some video encoding, for those wanting to put videos together for YouTube. Again, that’s a demanding and time-consuming task and one that people might like to offload onto a cloud system, even if they have a high end PC at home (as this would free it up to do other tasks, such as gaming!). Have you considered this?

Benjy Boxer: We will support that, and I think some streamers have figured out how to do that already. We’re going to release a video of streaming PUBG from a Raspberry Pi connected to a Parsec gaming rig in AWS. The only thing stopping us right now is that we don’t pass the computer’s camera and pass that data to the cloud machine. You need that to be a full streaming solution without requiring local hardware.

 

Thank you again for doing this interview.

By Jessica Brown On 5 Oct, 2017 At 09:59 PM | Categorized As PC Games, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Tomorrow, just in time for the Halloween season, Iceberg Interactive is releasing a brand-new psychological horror game for the PC!

Inmates is a horror game with puzzle elements in which the player must seek out the truth behind their imprisonment and the secrets held within the prison they find themselves locked away in.

Here’s an except from the game’s Steam description:

You’ve awoken from a nightmare, Jonathan. But did it truly end? You are in a seedy prison cell and have no clue how you got there. You’re terrified and confused, but you also feel something else: a painful sense of familiarity. You’ve convinced yourself this is all just a bad dream. Unfortunately, according to the voice coming from the old radio, things are not as simple as you’d like them to be.

Delve deep into your psyche while trying to stay sane, in this most disturbing of horror games.

The game has been developed with Unreal Engine 4 and is estimated to take around three or four hours to finish.

So if you’re looking for something new to play this Halloween, don’t miss Inmates when it releases on October 5, 2017!

By Jessica Brown On 3 Oct, 2017 At 07:26 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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  • TITLE: Aporia: Beyond the Valley
  • DEVELOPER: Investigate North
  • PUBLISHER: Green Man Gaming
  • GENRE: Adventure
  • PLATFORM: PC (via Steam)
  • PRICE: $16.99 USD
  • RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2017

I first encountered Aporia: Beyond the Valley in 2015 as a free-to-play alpha demo. At the time, I was looking for some fun adventure and puzzle games, similar to those in the Myst franchise, and the game’s unique style drew me in. The game’s developer was very kind and worked with me to make my way through as much of the demo as I could and, even though it was a bit rough around the edges, I was looking forward to seeing where the game would eventually go. Yet, after that time, it was nearly two years until I heard anything more about this little gem. This past July, I happened to notice that the game was heading to Steam and I was quite surprised. I dug out the old email thread I had with the developer and got back in touch and they were very kind to provide me with a review code for the full version of the game.

One of the unique things about Aporia is that it’s a game with a compelling narrative and yet one completely free of dialogue of any kind. When you start a new game, you awaken from what appears to be suspended animation in a large cave-like chamber and you seem to be quite alone. In front of you, placed with purpose and awaiting your removal, is a glowing cylinder on a large platform that’s begging you to pick it up. While in this large cavernous space you’ll see five other suspension devices, some long empty and another that appears still occupied though is partially covered by large debris, large tapestries, and a pedestal that you can fit your newly-found glowing cylinder into. Doing so activates a sort of holographic stop-motion animated sequence that gives you a bit of backstory on the cylinder you now possess, showing its creation by a shaman as well as seemingly showing the group of people who appear to have been sealed in this chamber at some later point. If you pay attention closely to these individuals and compare their dress to the symbols in the room, you can figure out not only who was within each of the chambers in the room, but you can also figure out who you most likely are playing as.

What you encounter in the first few minutes of the game demonstrates how the game’s storyline will be delivered throughout the rest of your adventure. As you make your way out of the chamber, down the winding cliffside paths, and eventually into the titular valley itself, you’ll encounter various tapestries that relay pieces of the inhabitants’ past. Sometimes these are just benign bits of information, or perhaps a small story that serves as a warning about a certain environmental hazard (such as one group of tapestries that shows the drowning of a fisherman which warns you about the strong currents in the nearby river), but others warn you about more ominous threats. You will also periodically find more pedestals that you can insert your cylinder into and play more stop-motion animation sequences that will continue to shed more light on the larger history of the valley and the individuals who lead them (including yourself).


The cylinder you possess ends up being a key component to exploring the valley and unlocking its secrets. In the chamber you awaken in, you’ll be shown how you can use the cylinder in certain types of pedestals to drain a bit of its glowing essence and direct it to power certain objects or open locked doors. Sometimes you’ll have to direct energy through multiple pedestals in an energy relay of sorts or use multiple pedestals to power a single doorway. However, each time you use the cylinder to do a task like this it will drain a bit of its power. Once the cylinder is empty you won’t be able to use it until you replenish its resources. Thankfully this isn’t too difficult in most cases unless you went out of your way to waste its power because you’ll generally find various jugs containing the glowing liquid you’ll need scattered around the environment. Each jug fills about a quarter of the cylinder’s energy, though, so you will want to make judicious use of your resources. As you press on further along your adventure, you’ll also discover a few other uses for your device. For starters, if you take it out while in a dark area such as a building or cave, the glowing liquid will serve as a flashlight for you. The light from the cylinder can also cause special flowers to bloom on demand and consuming them will replenish some of your health should you need it. You’ll also be able to use it to cause other types of plants to grow, creating bridges and ladders out of vines that will allow you to access areas you previously couldn’t.

Although the game focuses a great deal on exploration on your journey to uncover the mystery of what happened to the great civilization that once inhabited the valley, the game also presents you with various puzzles that you will need to solve along the way. While these do take a good deal of thought to figure out, most of the time the methodology behind them makes sense and the puzzles don’t feel unfair. In this regard, the developer seems to have struck a solid balance between difficulty and fun. Also, as you make your way into the main valley itself you also will begin to encounter a supernatural shadow-like entity whose existence will have been somewhat hinted at in various tapestries you previously encountered. Being in its presence will begin to slowly drain away your health, so you’ll want to shine your cylinder at it to make it leave you alone or quickly get away from it. Because you’ve been allowed to explore unimpeded prior to this point, the entity’s presence is alarming. Thankfully, its menace is at first merely startling and then annoying and it won’t pose much of a threat to you until you’re a bit further along in your journey.

Visually, Aporia is a pretty impressive experience. The environments are well-detailed and feel very much alive and the environmental effects like low-lying fog are done well. The game also does a great job with its lighting effects. Everything looks fantastic while playing on a large 4K HDR display and the game is incredibly immersive.

Unfortunately, despite all of this there are a few graphical bugs that I encountered during my exploration. In a few spots, when taking a closer look at the ground it’s quite apparent that the grass, weeks, and pebbles are actually being rendered floating slightly above the actual terrain. The lighting also acts strangely when you transition an exterior area to an interior one or vice-versa. Also, the way water flows across the environment can appear awkward in a few spots and in a couple areas the water textures appear glitchy. There were also a couple instances of environmental objects not rendering incorrectly when loading a save file. However, rather than existing as invisible textures, these objects didn’t load in at all, meaning that where once a bridge or dock should have existed there was nothing. The only way to force them to load in was to walk away far enough for them to debuff and then return, hoping they spawned correctly that time. This was particularly unfortunate though when the game had been saved while standing on one of these objects, causing me to immediately fall into the rushing river below when loading my save file.

Jumping into the river caused me to get dragged along a bit until I got stuck on the environment. At this point, I wasn’t drowning but I was also unable to get away from the strong currents. Eventually, I managed to do some tricky maneuvers and break free, but had I been unable to do so I would have had no choice but to reload a previous save file. There was also one instance where the game completely froze up on me and I never could figure out exactly what caused this to happen.

Ultimately, I feel like Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a mysterious, intriguing, and beautifully-puzzling adventure game that will draw people in with its unique story and presentation. There’s a lot to love with this one, even if it’s true that the game could have used a bit more polish before being released. I feel like Aporia is a very good game in its current form, but with a bit more work it could have been an excellent game. Still, the core beauty of the game itself and the world it presents manages to shine through, keeping any one individual bug from marring an otherwise lovely experience.

Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a solid adventure that would make an excellent addition to any PC gamer’s library, particularly if they enjoy Myst-like experiences!

ADDITIONAL SCREENSHOTS (Click for 4K):

By Jessica Brown On 1 Oct, 2017 At 01:17 PM | Categorized As Best Game Ever, Editorials, NINTENDO | With 2 Comments

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Let’s face it: when The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess made its debut back in November 2006 it had some really big shoes to fill. In terms of major console releases, it was following in the footsteps of some popular pedigrees: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (one of the most highly-regarded games of all time), its 2000 sequel Majora’s Mask, and the expansive, high-seas adventure that was The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on the GameCube. The years 2001 to 2005 also marked an explosion of very popular entries on the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance that despite their small size were very much full-on epic adventures.

When I played through Wind Waker, I couldn’t help but wonder what was next for the franchise. In some ways, the game had an air of finality to it. Hyrule had been washed away deep beneath the waves and Ganondorf had been delivered a final death blow with the Master Sword, leaving both he and it sealed beneath the oceans covering what used to be Hyrule. If anything in the series had ever felt like a final moment in the timeline, this was it. Yet, as we came to discover, Nintendo was using the time-bending elements of Ocarina of Time as an excuse to split the timeline into separate branches. Wind Waker, it turned out, was just one of the possible outcomes.

With this in mind, Twilight Princess is set many years after the ending of Ocarina of Time. In this game’s backstory, when Link returns to the time period he was initially from, he warns Princess Zelda of Ganondorf’s plans for the future. The two then convince Zelda’s father, the King of Hyrule, that Ganondorf must be punished lest Hyrule face its eventual destruction, so the King has him executed. Only…Something doesn’t quite go right, and instead of killing him they end up having to seal him within the Twilight Realm. This fact plays an important role later in the game, when we finally come to understand why the Twilight Realm is imposing itself on Hyrule, and who is ultimately motivating its de facto leader, Zant.

I’ll be honest: when it comes to my active play-time with any of the Zelda games out there, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess takes the cake. While I’m sure that I’ll eventually sink in a lot more time with Breath of the Wild on the Switch once I properly dig deep into it, at present no other game comes close to Twilight Princess in terms of time invested into it. At the time, Twilight Princess felt like a large world with a ton of things to see and do. Certainly, it was much larger than Ocarina of Time and perhaps Wind Waker as well (since a lot of that game consisted of open seas). Yet, what caused me to spend more time with this game than any that came before it was the sheer amount of collectibles and upgrades you could get. Gaining all 20 heart containers was no easy feat in itself as there were many sub-quests you had to do in order to get all of them. Also, special upgrades like larger quivers or the magical armor that would make you invincible at the expense of a constant draining of your rupees also necessitated a fairly large investment of your time. But, despite all of this, I had a lot of fun trying to fully complete the game and I have no regrets for the time spent with it.

The dungeons in Twilight Princess are both well thought-out and massive. They are also quite memorable too. The Lakebed Temple and City in the Sky were particularly challenging and interesting to explore. Also, the boss fights were both intense and enjoyable. The boss of the City in the Sky, Argorok, was perhaps the most annoying and difficult boss in the game for me. I’d even go as far as to say defeating it was more laborious than taking down Ganon in the final battle!

One of the things that I remember sticking out to me when I first played Twilight Princess was the fact that the Twilight Realm mechanic felt like it was paying homage to the Dark World from Zelda: A Link to the Past. It was interesting to me to see how the pervading twilight managed to twist and corrupt the things that it came in touch with. I also recall finding it quite refreshing that the game felt more like an epic. In some games, it felt like Link was primarily alone on his quest to save Hyrule, but here you had people that were genuinely aware of what was going on and in some cases people who were ready and willing to help. In fact, there was an entire resistance of able-bodied adults who were with him at major points in the game, even helping storm Hyrule Castle in the game’s penultimate confrontation.

It also had an ending that was a bit of an emotional ride. By the adventure’s end, it was clear that Midna, revealed to be the rightful ruler of the Twilight Realm, had feelings for Link, yet in the game’s final moments when it feels she is about to reveal these feelings to the young hero, she destroys the mirror that connects their two worlds completely. I remember being very angry with that, feeling that she owed to both Link and herself, to be honest about her feelings, and yet she went as far as to destroy any hope they ever had of seeing each other again. It was quite powerful.

While I’ll admit that I haven’t played Twilight Princess HD on the Wii U before, but the 2016 remaster does indeed look quite gorgeous! It even has some nice easter eggs and special content that was added to it to make it stand out a bit more. Obviously, it was sort of a lead-in to this year’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild (which is also available on the Wii U in addition to the Switch), but I’d certainly love to see both this one and Wind Waker HD eventually get ported to the Nintendo Switch.

Ultimately, I think that Twilight Princess managed to pay homage to Ocarina of Time in quite a meaningful way, but it also built off of the successes of that game and created a large world that actually felt alive, begging to be explored. Because of this, 2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword felt like a step back in some ways. The way that the overworld had to be explored felt a lot more closed off and a bit less inviting. Thankfully, Nintendo seemed to listen to its fans and critics and took Breath of the Wild in a completely different direction.

So much of Twilight Princess can be seen in Breath of the Wild that I feel like we owe a bit of thanks to this entry in the long-running franchise. If Twilight Princess was born out of a question of “Where will this series possibly go next? ” I can’t help but think that Breath of the Wild will ultimately yield some of the same questions. Perhaps, though, that will mean that it will eventually yield another amazing follow-up, just as Twilight Princess managed to successfully follow both Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. If that pattern is to be followed once more, then I can’t help but think that we are in for yet another treat in the hopefully not-too-distant future!

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If you’ve never played The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (or even if you have!), I hope this article gave you a taste of what made it a fantastic adventure that absorbed so much of my time when it first came out. This article is part of a larger series explores the history of the series and its major entries. Be sure to check out the hub article at NekoJonez’s Arpegi for links to all the great articles and retrospectives on this epic series.

(Image courtesy of ZoeF on DeviantArt)

By Jessica Brown On 23 Sep, 2017 At 11:28 PM | Categorized As ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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Case designer Caudible has just unveiled its new line-up of cases for the upcoming iPhone X, iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus phones from Apple. Like with their other products, these new cases will fit with the company’s design philosophy of producing sleek, minimalist, and smart products to protect your investment.

Here’s some quick info from today’s press release:

In addition to the Veil XT, the gold standard for ultra thin cases, this year’s lineup includes cases like the popular Sheath and Synthesis, both of which feature drop-tested shock absorption in an ultra sleek design, and Lucid Clear, a crystal clear, impact-resistant case made from the same polymer used in bulletproof glass.

These new cases will be available for purchase from the company’s main website as well as worldwide resellers in October of 2017, but you can visit their website now to get a preview of what’s to come!