Monday, May 30, 2005

Game Buying 101

Couple of major updates coming up shortly. But for now, a link to an old article I wrote to help newbies get value for money when they buy games.

Here it is.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

X-Box 360 - Bless you. Thank you.

by Vinay Nilakantan

Let's be clear. If you have access to the Internet and even have a remote interest in gaming, you must have heard about this.


Two weeks back, at a grand launch– we saw the unveiling of the new Xbox gaming console from Microsoft called “Xbox 360” and according to them, the rest is history. So, let's see what the hype is all about.


Nerd - “What is it?”

Geek - “It's almost a friggin' super – computer.”

Nerd - “Really??”

Geek – “Yep…It does 1 whole teraflop per second.”

Nerd – “Damn…”


A few days later at a retail outlet….


Nerd – So I heard the XBOX is a super computer? Why on earth would a household require a gaming console that could sub as a super-computer?


Salesman - Very simple - To make more realistic games.


Nerd – Oh. So does that means we get to see better graphics?


Salesman - We sure do. We'll probably see a three –five fold improvement in the sheer quality of graphics.


Nerd - Nice.


Geek talk: Armed with a custom graphics card developed by ATI, the XBOX 360 boasts of the most advanced graphics card out there. The GPU features Unified Shader Technology (allowing vertex and pixel shaders to work simultaneously) – ATI uses about 48 parallel shaders allowing the GPU to dynamically utilize shader resources with a few constraints. The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) has 10MB embedded DRAM with a whopping 256GB/sec of bandwidth transfer. Oh and by the way - We're talking 48 pipelines. The ATI X850 (one of the hottest PC graphics card) has a mere 16.


Nerd - What else?


Salesman - Well – you have the ability to program better AI so that the games are smarter. So NOW, you're going to have more of a challenge as you're playing smarter opponents.


Nerd - Cool.


Nerd - What about realism though? I want games that allow me to think this is real.


Salesman - Sure – with the sheer processing power that is available, developers can ensure authentic physics within the game world and so you feel very real world behavior.


Nerd – Cool.


Geek talk: The XBOX 360 has a multi core 3.2 GHz. processor that allows its three processor cores to calculate six threads of simultaneous processing. That is, we're looking at three core processors running at 3.2 GHz, each with the capability to process two threads (or a similar concept) simultaneously. 6! That's a lot. That said - developing code on such a branched architecture might give developers some nightmares but also provides them with access to never-previously-available resources.  As per say, there is no physics processing unit. It's all in the proc.


Nerd - And will I see faster load up times? You got to have that.


Salesman - Sure.

Geek talk: The XBOX 360 now has what they call a Unified Memory Architecture. 512 MB of GDDR 3, running at 700 MHz DDR and having a bandwidth of 22.4GB/sec. Unified, because it's this memory that drives powers both the CPU and Graphics card.


Salesman - And this is really cool – you now have wireless controllers. This means, you don't have to connect those ridiculous wires that run right through the living room to play your games.


Nerd - Sweet.


Geek talk: Wireless controllers are part of standard XBOX 360 release. 2.4 GHz. connectivity along with a frequency hopping spectrum ensures there is no interference. Also, in case your battery runs dry – plug the controller into one of the two USB 2.0 ports. This allows you to continue playing while your batteries keep re-charging.


Salesman – Also, you have forty games available on launch with over a hundred in development and that means there will be a Halo 3. Apart from that, it has a detachable hard drive, high-def game support (up to 1080i), customizable face plates and comprehensive digital media support that supports the entire range of current generation media discs.


Nerd – Wow, they've packed so much into this thing, I wonder how my old XBOX games would look. I mean – all those old games that have agonizingly long load up times will now fly through on this.


Salesman - Uh…well. Not quite true. With all the research and development that Microsoft has put in to making this such state of the art technology, they, well, did not feel that it was too important for users of the existing XBOX to play their old games on this.


Nerd - Say what?


Salesman - Yeah, well - they figure you already have the old XBOX to play those games on so why would you need the new one apart from playing the brand new games that come out. See what I mean?


Nerd – So, let me get this straight. I cannot play my old XBOX games on the new XBOX 360? What about backward compatibility?

Salesman - Look at this way - Not *all* of them. Microsoft, considerate as ever, has itself chosen a few top-selling games that would be backward compatible with the old games. But yep – not all of them.


SO yeah! Backward compatibility does exist, but you will need to stack the new XBOX 360 on top of your old XBOX and ta-da – Back to Back compatibility. Get it? -  Heh!


(Picture courtesy -


Nerd: I got one thing to say to you.


Salesman: Sure, go ahead young man.


Nerd: Sony. Word!




PS3 Specifications

  • Cell cpu rated at 3.2GHz (2 teraflops or 2 trillion computations per sec.)

  • nVidia graphics processing unit "Reality Synthesizer" rated at 550MHz

  • Dolby 5.1ch, DTS, LPCM

  • 256MB of GDDR video ram running at 700MHz, 256MB XDR main ram

  • Blu-Ray disk format (BD-ROM) which holds 50GB

  • Built-in Ethernet ports (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 10000BASE-T)

  • Wireless networking function - Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g

  • 2 HDMI outputs, 1 Multi-AV output, 1 S/PDIF optical output

  • Wireless joypad with Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity or USB2.0

  • Backward compatible with PS1 and PS2 software

  • Support for 480p, 780p, 1080i and 1080p

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Worried Parent's Gaming Primer

I’ve heard it many times in many voices – “Video Games are bad for Kids.”

The irony is this – most people who say this have little or no knowledge of PC or Video gaming. Most have never played, or even watched a game for any length of time, and certainly don’t read the reams of material written (chiefly on the web) on gaming.

Then how do they know anything about its harmful effects? Answer : they don’t. They’re just repeating what they normally hear from someone else, who heard it from someone else, who read it ‘somewhere’. It’s a stupid, narrow view held by people who haven’t even attempted to understand what they criticize.

If you’re an Indian parent who is worried that games will ruin your child’s life, and you’ve got this far, hear me out before you throw the CDs out, wot?

Yes, there are lousy video games.

There are also brilliant ones.

Yes, there are extremely violent games.

There are also many that don’t contain so much as a drop of blood.

There are games that encourage quick thinking, imagination and intelligence. There are games that teach history and science (and games that teach both). I have played games where the writing actually explores concepts from philosophy, ethics and morals. No, really. Ask Vinay Nilakantan.

Is excessive gaming bad for your kids? Yes. It is. As are excessive TV, excessive water, excessive exercise and yes, even excessive reading. The operative word is ‘excessive’.

Most gamers are not wacko nerdwads. Neither are they bloodthirsty terrorists-in waiting. Most gamers are people like me. Or my friends. Writers. Salesmen. Designers. Architects. Students. Managers. Parents. The bulk of gamers worldwide fall in the age groups 18-40. Not exactly snot-nosed, impressionable children.

There are violent, grotesque movies. There are books that are sick, twisted and dirty. But parents don’t keep their kids away from reading or movies completely, do they? They help the young ones by keeping them away from the bad stuff and encouraging them to focus on the good.

Why don’t they do the same for games? Because most parents don’t know enough about games to distinguish the good from the rotten. And instead of making an effort to understand the hobby that their children seem to love so much, they depend on hearsay and rumours to provide a shortcut reason to ban it completely.

Worried parents out there, listen to me. For your children’s sake, attempt to understand. There are sites on the internet (check out the links on the sidebar) that can help. Get a sampling of the wonderful, wonderful games out there ( The Sims, Civilization, Black and White, Monkey Island, to name a few). Who knows, you may find a gamer in you as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Why Morrowind is Fabulous

Last week, I rediscovered Morrowind.

Just some of the beautiful (and butt-ugly) sights in Morowind. Click on image for larger picture.

It was a spectacle when released five years ago, and even today, in a genre that has seen Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR, Fable and Jade Empire, it stands alone.

Critics will point to its tepid dialogue system. They will single out the lackluster combat. Some will even count the immense, free form gameplay as a flaw.

Let's give them their due. There are many things the game lacks : The twisting, immersive plots and subplots of Baldur's Gate 2 or KOTOR. The satisfying, fun filled combat of Jade Empire. The wit and charm of Fable. No, Morrowind is not the perfect game. But then, what is?

If it's a true, honest-to-goodness role playing experience you're after, you won't find a more rewarding title anywhere.

Where other games make you feel like someone special from the word go, Morrowind casts you into the gameworld as a mere nobody, and challenges you to thrive. No early game feel-good whoop-ass sessions here, nosiree. For the first few hours of gameplay, I felt lonely, miserable and sometimes,( I swear it,) cold and wet trudging from town to town in a harsh, unforgiving land filled with rude, hostile and ugly (really) people. At times, I would be jumped by a lone monster, turn tail and run, not stopping till I saw the familiar, welcoming city gates of Balmora. Aaaaaahhhhhhhh! What could be better?

Yes, only the strong survive in Morrowind. The role-playing system itself if superbly designed and flexible – giving gamers the scope to create just the sort of character they want. The sheer number of skills available alone make character creation and development a delicious process.The challenges involved in gaining skills and leveling up make every victory and achievement all the more satisfying. As you progress into the game, you'll enjoy the sensation of having worked your seat off to become the cocky, fireball spewing (or axe wielding), killing machine you are. Warms the cockles.

What a splendid gameworld this is! Bethesda has created an immense nation (yes, that's what it is, with cities, villages, shopping centres ) for you to explore. Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS is free-form exploration. Unlike games like KOTOR and Jade Empire which often tease you with magnificient vistas while locking you on to a much narrower exploration path, Morrowind throws the world at you. If you can see it, you can go there. Want to find a better route? Go ahead. Feel like climbing a mountain? Suit yourself. A swim, perhaps? Nothing will stop you. While this much freedom can be daunting to newbies, the experienced role-player will savour it.

And this is NOT a game for newbies. What it is is an immeasurably excellent feast for that hard-boiled veteran of RPGs who has conquered it all and is looking for more. No other RPG makes players feel so completely immersed in the gameworld. No other RPG offers as much freedom for exporation and character building. No other RPG has anything close to the hours of gameplay that Morrowind treats you to.

For me, the flaws in Morrowind melt away as you play further and further, until you truly become a part of the world. You feel reassured when you see familiar places and things, nervous when entering a new town, small and afraid when a dust storm hits, cold and wet when it's raining. This is what role playing is all about. This is why every serious role-player owes it to himself (yeah, alright – or herself) to give it a go.

Morrowind is available for PC and XBOX.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Guess what? The N-Gage Qd is actually a GOOD thing.


Yes, yes – I know that it hasn't sold squat and Nokia is planning to phase it out, but just listen a moment.

As a pure handheld gaming device, I'd be hard pressed to defend it. Less than cutting edge (but serviceable) graphics. Small library of worthwhile games. Developers deserting the platform. Not good news.

However, if you're a gamer, and you need to buy a phone, you could do worse than pick up a QD. At about Rs.10,000/-, ( this could come down drastically – Nokia has just slashed the US price to $99) it's a more than decent phone and a superb handheld gaming device. When you look at the whole package, suddenly, it starts to look a lot better.

I've played games on the PC and Xbox for years, and I don't play crappy titles for more than a few minutes. Take it from me, Pathway to Glory, Colin McRae 2005 and Worms World Party are great titles by any standards, and will give you hours of quality gameplay. Ghost Recon, Asphalt and FIFA 2005 are a blast as well. Oh – and I almost forgot the 3-D take on the ubiquitous Snake – an N-gage exclusive that is the best thing Nokia's done in years.The game-centric design also makes the N-Gage the best place to enjoy the many superb Java Mobile games available. I spent several happy hours with Ancient Empires and Prince of Persia – playing these games on regular phones just isn't the same. There are several promising titles lined up for release as well – so you'd be set for another year at least.

Bluetooth connectivity is available for some super multiplayer bigfun.

Of course, being a multinational corporate behemoth, Nokia doesn't care about their customers. Why else would they launch the N-gage in India and make the games horribly difficult to get? Walk into a Nokia dealer and ask for N-gage titles, get a free blank stare. Ludicrous.

Luckily, help is at hand. You can get all the best games over P2P and Bluetooth them to your phone's MMC using the excellent software that comes bundled with the N-Gage.

Naturally, we wouldn't have to resort to this if Nokia had condescended to make the games available.

You can also watch videos and play MP3s – the sound isn't great but it isn't bad either. Some basic PDA features – notepad, task lists, reminders, contacts – round off the package.

In summary – Gamer? Buying a phone? Get a QD. Great value for money.

Ten PC Gaming Classics You Can Still Enjoy

With most current titles retailing at well above Rs.1000/-, gaming is certainly not a cheap hobby. Even hardcore gamers can hardly afford to buy all the games they want, and casual gamers are often deterred from trying games by the price tag. Additionally, most new titles require rather serious hardware to run them. If you bought your machine more than a couple of years ago, these games simply won't run on it. So what's the way out for the financially challenged gamer? Is it a question of spend big bucks or die? Never fear – all is not lost. We've put together a list of games that offer unbeatable value for just about anyone. All the titles we have picked fit the following criteria :
  • Offer hours of terrific, award-winning gameplay
  • Will run even on a Pentium II with 128MB of RAM and an 8MB AGP card
  • Retail for less than Rs.500/-
So look for these beauties at your local game store, and have fun.


Most people who played Fallout when it was first released agree that it was one of the best games they've ever played. Set in a charmingly desolate post-nuclear world of guns, gangs and mutants, Fallout remains one of the most singularly memorable role-playing experiences of all time. It's a tribute to the designers that no other game has even tried to clone its setting and gameplay – there are Diablo clones, there are Starcraft clones, but there's nothing quite like Fallout available even today.
Broken Sword – Shadow of the Templars

The first Broken Sword adventure featuring American adventurer George Stoppard features some of the finest artwork and voice acting seen in an adventure game. The story starts off in modern day France and takes you through exotic locales such as Ireland, Syria and Spain as you try to solve a murder mystery that is not as simple as it seems. Broken Sword's elegant interface and simple gameplay make it easy for even newbies to pick up and start playing right away. The memorable story, well-written dialogues, interesting characters and challenging puzzles make this a timelessly enjoyable adventure.
System Shock 2

A true classic in every sense, System Shock 2 remains one of the scariest, most atmospheric action-RPGs ever made. If you liked Deus Ex, Half-life or any other similar shooter, and you haven't tried this game, do it now. As a stranded soldier on an eerie, deserted spaceship facing off against creepy zombies, you'll find that this is horror gaming at its very best.

Though the seeds were sown by Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2, it was Starcraft that truly kickstarted the real time strategy genre's march to global popularity. With stunning graphics, intense gameplay, memorable music and an epic story, Starcraft became a worldwide phenomenon, and people are still playing it today. This is one of those rare games that seems truly ageless – offering a challenging and immersive experience years after it was first released.

It's not often that a game comes along that creates a sub-genre by itself, spawning a stream of imitators and wannabes trying to cash in on its success. Diablo created a sensation when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting gaming public – winning widespread acclaim and a devoted following. An action RPG with simple yet insanely addictive gameplay, hordes of evil monsters to kill and frightening dungeons to explore, Diablo remains eminently playable and tons of fun.
Alpha Centauri

Somehow, turn based strategy games don't seem to be as popular with Indian gamers as their real-time counterparts. However, if you're the type who enjoys playing strategy games at a less-than frantic pace, you'll simply love this gem from legendary designer Sid Meier. Alpha Centauri offers space exploration, sci-fi warfare and political intrigue in one slick game. And don't let the turn-based tag fool you – the gameplay is tense and involving, and you'll be sweating bullets by the time you realize it's four in the morning.
Heretic 2

An underrated classic that isn't much talked about, Heretic 2 was a top-notch action game that went by almost unnoticed. Your staff-wielding hero can leap, roll, flip and go toe-to-toe with the best of them, and can cast devastating spells for good measure. And you execute all these cool moves in the midst of numerous fast-paced battles, slaying hordes of enemies along the way.
Grim Fandango

Many adventure gamers still swear that Grim Fandango remains the best ever made. Set in a bewilderingly charming and colourful gameworld populated by unforgettable, heartwarming characters, featuring groovy, smooth music and a twisting, bouncing, cartwheeling storyline, this is a game for all seasons. LucasArts outdid themselves with Grim Fandango – but don't believe me, see for yourself.
The Curse of Monkey Island

The best of the world-famous Monkey Island games, Curse was not just a brilliant adventure game, it was also one of the funniest cartoons I've ever seen … er … been in … er … whatever. Stop reading this. Run over to Odyssey (that's a plug, Ashwin) and buy it. Now. Seriously.
Half Life

Half Life 2 wouldn't be here without the original. Nuff said. If you haven't played this, it's time to play it now. If you have, play it again. Even if your name's not Sam. The most engaging, action-packed, scare-your-pants-off shooter ever, until HL2 came along.