Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The New Nook Color HD+ Could Be Great

Being the gadget addict that I am, I bought a Nook Color when it launched in October of 2010. I really like the form factor of the device, as well as the ability to add more storage via microSD card. The microSD card slot also opened the Nook Color up for hacking, and it wasn't long before I had upgraded the default Android 2.2 operating system to 2.3 (Gingerbread). While the device didn't end up being as versatile as I had hoped, and the app selection was pretty sparse, I got plenty of use out of it for a while. I eventually picked up a Dell Streak 7 at a big discount, and gave the Nook color to my wife. She still uses the Nook Color to this day, and really enjoys it.

After my Dell Streak 7 (which was another decent tablet), I ended up getting an Amazon Kindle Fire when it launched, and that's been my go-to 7" tablet since. I use Amazon quite a bit, and I'm a Prime member, so the instant videos and eBook lending library have provided me with plenty of content over the last year.

The Google Nexus has recently disrupted the 7" tablet market in a big way, as the Jelly Bean operating system is really slick, and consumers don't have to worry about third-party interfaces mucking up their Google experience. If I was buying a 7" tablet right now, it would definitely be the Google Nexus 7.

Recently however, both Amazon and Barnes & noble announced new 9" tablets that are substantial upgrades from their 7" counterparts. Both are at a size that draws more direct comparisons to the iPad, and both are substantially cheaper ($299 for Kindle Fire HD and $269 for Nook HD+). Unlike the Kindle Fire HD, the Google Nexus 7 and the iPad however, the Nook HD+ will have a microSD card slot, and that's what makes it interesting to me.

As I mentioned before the microSD card opens the device up for hacking, which offers a world of possibilities. Rather than being at the mercy of Barnes & Noble for software updates, once that device is hacked, users can keep Nook Color HD+ running the latest version of Android, as well as apps outside of the B&N ecosystem.

So potentially, for $269 you can grab a very customizable Android tablet with an HD display and an HDMI out this holiday season. Not too shabby.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

NHL Poised to Repeat the Mistakes of the Past

I cannot believe I am sitting here today talking about an NHL lockout.

There have been four work stoppages in the NHL since 1992. Three lockouts. The entire 2004-2005 season was lost because of the last lockout. Yet here we are again, a mere eight years later, with another lockout. Because of greedy, selfish millionaires who are so short-sighted that they don't realize this could mean the death of the game in America.

Do they not remember last time? Hockey was on life support in terms of public awareness and interest coming out of the last lockout. The sport has really just gotten back into the spotlight after the last couple of years, as the last two Stanley Cup Playoff series have been amazing. From a fan standpoint, the game was finally healthy again.

And they're getting ready to throw that progress away again. But the worst part isn't that I, as a fan, won't get to watch hockey if we lose this season. The worst part is that once you look past the spoiled millionaires who are the face of this labor dispute, you realize there are thousands of people whose livelihoods are affected by a lockout. From the team personnel to the concession vendors at the arenas, people are going to lose jobs because of this lockout. In a USA Today article I read this morning, it seems the Canucks and Flames have already informed their team employees that pay cuts are coming.

If anyone is wondering why hockey still lags behind Basketball, football and baseball in terms of American mind share, look no further. The NHL has missed more games due to work stoppage in the last twenty years than any other professional sport. It's hard to grow and maintain your fan base when you can't even get a product out on the ice.

I sincerely hope the posturing between both sides ends before regular season games start getting cancelled, but I'm not overly optimistic. Maybe the players and owners should have to sit at center ice in front of all the people who will be losing their jobs and explain why they can't get a deal done.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Adventures in Computing--It's Getting Hot in Here

I have a Dell Inspiron 1420 laptop that I paid way too much for back in 2008. It was my second ever laptop purchase at the time, so I took the base model (which was reasonably priced), and added extra ram, a better processor, and a Nvidia GeForce graphics card so that I could play games and do audio and video editing with it.

Over the past four years, the laptop has served me pretty well. I use it to record and edit Secret Identity every week, and I’ve dragged it all over the place, taking it everywhere from on vacation to New york Comic Con. In hindsight, the configuration I bought wasn’t even that good for games however, and I should have just stuck with the base model. But overall, it’s been pretty reliable.

Except for one thing.

About a year ago, I booted up my laptop to find the display had gone completely screwy. The screen seemed to be split into, there were lines and boxes running through the display, and I couldn’t even see enough to get into the BIOS menu or the diagnostics. After doing some research online, I eventually figured out that I had recently updated the drivers in the Nvidia card, and I figured that was the problem. I kept rebooting until I had a display I could read through at all, then navigated to the device manager and rolled back the driver update. The problem seemed to be fixed.

This past week, the same thing happened again, except the display was worse than before. I tried rebooting a bunch of times over a couple of days, and finally got a decipherable display. I went into the device manager and turned off the Nvidia card completely, and my display seemed to go back to normal. Knowing I had just dodged a bullet, and sensing I didn’t have a lot of time left with this laptop, I ordered a new one (more on that in a moment). But it was driving me crazy, being paranoid that at any time I wouldn’t be able to use my laptop at all.

I dug around a lot more on the internet and found something very interesting--I was not alone. in fact, it seems that between 2007 and 2008, a lot of people had the same problem I was describing, not just with their Dells, but with HPs and Apple laptops as well. As it turns out, Nvidia put out a lot of faulty GeForce chips, and so many had problems that a class action lawsuit was brought against Nvidia. The main issue seems to be that the chips overheat and the solder joints melt (not unlike the XBox 360 RRoD issue). Nvidia had to settle in 2010, and offer to replace affected cards.

Sadly for me, I didn’t know any of this. Never got an email, or an alert from Dell, Nvidia or anyone. So, I missed my chance to potentially get it fixed,and now my laptop is just on a death clock. Looking back though, it seems I got a lot more mileage out of my faulty chip than most people did. 

Now to the good news--I’ve got a new laptop on the way, and this one will actually be able to play a lot games, as well as handle the audio/video work I need it to. Dell had a very good sale on its XPS line of laptops, and I picked up an XPS 15 for about six-hundred dollars less than the usual asking price. If you’re interested in the specs or how it rates, CNET recently gave the XPS 15 a very good review, which you can read here.

I am hoping to be able to keep my current laptop alive and just use it for recording and editing the podcast. Time will tell if that works out or not. But, I’m excited for the new computer, and can’t wait to check out games like Diablo III, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, not to mention take advantage of the crazy deals on games from Steam. I’m sure I’ll be talking about those in the near future.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sound Shapes Gets User-Generated Content Right

I reviewed Sound Shapes over on the Secret Identity site this week. It’s a wonderful game that I think is the Vita’s first “must have” experience. Sound Shapes also falls under the genre of “Play, Create and Share” Sony games that started with Little Big Planet and continued with ModNation Racers. Of those three games however, Sound Shapes is the first one that has really clicked with me in terms of the user-created content. I’ve already spent more time with the community aspects of Sound Shapes than with both Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers combined.

I think there are two main reasons why I keep coming back to Sound Shapes. The first, and most important reason, is that the gameplay mechanics in Sound Shapes are excellent. I mean light years ahead of the Little Big Planet series. I never got used to the floaty controls of LBP, and as a result, never really got into the game. I thought ModNation was very solid mechanically, but it’s a racer, not a platformer, so I’m predisposed to like the gameplay of Sound Shapes more. Sound Shapes pretty much gets everything right--the jumping, the “stickiness” of your little blob to certain surfaces, and the degree of control you have when piloting ships or taking a running leap. The controls are tight, responsive and just a joy to experience.

The second reason I think Sound Shapes get the user-created content right is that it strikes a balance between the amount of options you have, and the ease of creating content. Little Big Planet had a ridiculous amount of content to use in creating levels, and Little Big Planet 2 had a million different ways to use that content. ModNation had less options, but actually creating the levels was fun and easy (laying track, placing objects, etc.) I feel like Sound Shapes strikes the perfect balance between the two. You unlock a sizeable amount of content options for level creation by playing through the campaign. And, creating the levels (especially on the Vita) is very simple and actually fun. Resizing and reorienting objects with the Vita touchscreens is a breeze, and the level editor keeps things simple in terms of creating and sharing levels. The way community content is sorted and featured in Sound Shapes also makes it easy to find and try new levels all the time.

For a $15 downloadable title, it’s really impressive how much Sound Shapes gets right. Whether it’s the mechanics of the game, or the way it approaches user-generated content, there’s a lot here for other developers to use as a blueprint moving forward.

P.S. If you do check out Sound Shapes, look for my level Ritual Madness in the Community section!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Planning for New York Comic Con 2012

Now that Matt and I both have our press badge confirmations, we can really get into planning mode for this year's New York Comic Con. NYCC is the most important show we attend all year, because that's where we get about 70% of the interviews we post in our weekly Creator Spotlight segments on Secret Identity. Between the two of us, we expect to get 30-35 interviews over the four days we'll be there.

For us, NYCC is a strange beast, because it's the only place we get to see some of our good friends, but we're also working for pretty much the whole show (if you can call sitting down with amazing creators and talking about comics and games working).

We've had several years to refine our approach to NYCC though, and we've struck a pretty good  balance between work and fun. During the first couple of days (especially before the general public gets in), we hit the interview trail hard, getting as many as we can done early. By Saturday, we're just grabbing a few interviews here and there, and Sunday is generally a day for us to see the show and hang out with friends.

If all goes according to plan, we'll have plenty of stories to tell when we get back, and tons of great interviews to share throughout the year. In the meantime, we've still got some great interviews from Boston Comic Con, Albany Comic Con and August's ComicCONN to share over the next few months.