Star Wars: The Old republic goes Free-2-Play

Droid and Jedi in the desert

After launching to much fanfare and with a massive budget last year, Star Wars: The Old Republic has proven that it takes more than a load of cash and a Star Wars license to sell an MMO against World of WarCraft. After poor sales and few new subscriptions in the months that followed the launch, developers Bioware have made the tough decision to go Free 2 Play.

That means that they’ll be ditching the subscription fee requirement, allowing players to continue to pay for the full experience but also allowing others to experience a large chunk of the game for free, with the hope of converting them to paying subscribers or at least have them make in-game purchases.

I played The Old Republic on and off for a month, getting most of the way through the game, and I found that the single player content is really up to Bioware’s high standards. The game is much more fun to play singleplayer than any other MMO I’ve experienced, and it’s this part of the game that will be completely free to play – every story mission for every class you can play with a free account. You can also reach the highest level in the game – 50 – without paying a dime, if you choose.

Of course, there are restrictions elsewhere, primarily in the multiplayer and cooperative elements of the game. You can only play 3 PvP games and three flashpoints (cooperative dungeons) per week. Most purple items are unavailable. You need to buy a weekly pass to access space missions (one of my favourite parts of the game!). You also can’t access the cargo hold of your ship or use more than one crew skill. There are loads more restrictions here, on almost everything in the game.

All in all, it’s a fairly limited set of restrictions that will make even doing the singleplayer content a lot harder. You’ll be able to do it, but if you’re actually wanting to spend the hours required in the game, then buying full access will definitely be worth your while. This is a really intelligent way for Bioware to allow people to try the game without risk, then only commit to a subscription when they’re ready.

You can find more information on the game and the restrictions in the F2P version here. I’d say it’s worth a look, particularly given the much lower cost of the game and the high quality of the singleplayer content. It’s not a new Knights of the Old Republic, but it’s close.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of iPhone 5 leather cases.

Friday Fun: Death vs Monstars 2

Death vs Monstars 2 game screenshot

OK, that sounds like quite a freaky title for a game but it’s not that bad. Death vs Monstars 2 is a simple little game where you fly around the screen trying to avoid incoming enemies. You’re constantly shooting back and, in a strange way, aim by moving away from your enemies. It took me a little time to get used to it… while you can also lock your aim by clicking the mouse button.

The key to survival is to pick up the coins and use them to upgrade. You won’t last long if you just stick with your basic abilities, so get collecting… and then get shopping.

You’ll need Flash to play Death vs Monstars 2. Sorry, no HTML5 goodness this week.

–> Play Death vs Monstars 2 <–

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Xbox 360 Review

Optimus and the ArkTransformers: Fall of Cybertron brought back fond childhood memories from the very outset while, like its predecessor War for Cybertron, being new enough to feel fresh. Feeling very much like a prequel to the G1 Transformers story, there is, again, plenty to enjoy here.

I admit I’m a bit of a fan of prequels. I like seeing how stories start, and I love it when I recognise some story element that will become important later on. So when Transformers: Fall of Cybertron opened with the Ark leaving Cybertron, it immediately felt familiar. We join the battle between Autobots and Decepticons as the Ark is leaving their home planet and, after some pretty significant events onboard (I won’t spoil it for you) we then jump back to explore how we got to that point in the first place.

The designs of the various Transformers seem to have been given some serious thought: you won’t see Bumblebee as a VW Beetle, or Optimus as an articulated truck… this is before they’ve even seen Earth, remember. The Cybertron forms still fit with the Transformers’ characters, though – Bumblebee is a fairly small vehicle, while Optimus is a rather hefty tank.

Last time out, when I reviewed War for Cybertron, I commented that I always prefer the bad guys in a franchise and had been very pleased that that game started with you playing the Decepticon side. This time, we play a large chunk of the game as the Autobots before we get the chance to play the “baddies”. Don’t worry, though, because after putting in a whole load of work for the Autobots we then get to undo some of it for the Decepticons. It’s cleverly done, because it felt very much like I was progressing a story rather than actually undoing my own work. Maybe it’s because we know that we’re building up to that battle on the Ark, I don’t know.

I was really pleased that, while playing Fall of Cybertron, my son took a big interest in what was going on. He’s 3, so doesn’t play on the Xbox 360 much, but he was so captivated by what he saw on screen he kept asking for a go. I’ll admit I didn’t think he would do too well, but he picked up how to play the game pretty quickly. OK, some of it was random button pressing, but it was kind of cool to see him getting the on-screen character to transform from robot to helicopter, fighting his way through the levels and even, at one point, getting past a section that I had been struggling with. So I’ve taken the decision to introduce him to a bit more of the Transformers universe. We’ve started watching Beast Machines, but the part I’m looking forward to is when the original Transformers series arrives from LoveFilm!

When I was little, my favourite Transformers toy was Metroplex – a massive robot that, rather than turning into a vehicle, transformed into either a city or battle station. It was a really pleasing moment when he made his appearance in Fall of Cybertron. I had actually forgotten all about him, but when he turned up it was a strange but happy moment of remembrance – I thought that toy was just amazing.

A major component of the latter sections of the game is the Dinobots. Grimlock (the T-Rex) is mentioned very early on in the game, but Fall of Cybertron takes a different approach to their story. In the original cartoon, the Dinobots were created by the Autobots after they learned a little about Earth’s history, while in Fall of Cybertron… well, I won’t spoil it for you, but it is different. I never saw the Dinobots as central characters in the Transformers story, so I wasn’t too bothered by their re-imagined creation epic.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about Fall of Cybertron, it’s the moments where you are asked to perform an action. There are many moments where the instructions take the form, “To repair <whoever>, press X”, or , “To struggle, press X”. It doesn’t feel like genuine interaction, although in some of those instances you can ignore the instruction and take on the consequences. I’m not sure what I would have preferred, perhaps something that allowed you to explicitly select between multiple options, but overall this wasn’t much of a problem… just something I think could have been done better.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was another chance to revisit something I loved from my childhood and, importantly, in a way that stayed relatively true to the original storyline. Even if you’re not a long-standing Transformers fan, though, it’s still a great game; fun to play, and looks and sounds good. It’s well worth checking out and, if you have children, it might even provide that excuse for getting your old toys and videos out again.

Fall of Cybertron is available on multiple formats from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Friday Fun: GRAV SUIT

GRAV SUIT Screenshot - man floating in space

This week’s Friday Fun casts you in the role of a space station repairman, who finds himself lots in a maze of debris. The only way to move is by “lassoing” passing pieces of debris with your gravity beam, so that you are pulled towards them, and you need to find the exit to each level.

You only have a limited amount of power, which recharges when you give your gravity beam a rest, but hitting the debris will also cost you health… and that doesn’t recharge.

Part of the reason I’m showing you this game is that it’s not written in Flash… it’s an HTML5 creation, so most modern browsers should be able to play it with no plugins. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s also fun :)

–> Play GRAV SUIT <–

Friday Fun: Infectionator 2

Infectionator 2 screenshot

Zombies? Oh, go on then. This week’s Friday Fun has you, not trying to stop the zombie spread, but making it happen. Infect populations and watch as your undead army spreads throughout the globe! Mwuahahahaha! …ahem…

You can upgrade your abilities too, if those pesky humans just refuse to succumb to the virus.

You’ll need Flash to play.

–> Play Infectionator 2 <–

Coffee in history: The surprising effects of your favourite caffeinated beverage

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Coffee beans in a heart shapeCoffee is the second most-traded good in the world, after petroleum, and it is a ubiquitous indulgence in the western world that’s consumed by millions each morning. It’s hard to become that big without turning up in some odd places, and coffee has definitely done it all. Did you know that coffee was a key part of the development of stock exchanges, computing equipment and even revolutions? Read on to find the secret life of coffee.

5. Coffee breaks

The coffee break is commonplace across all kinds of businesses in the western world and beyond; a routine social gathering where workers take a few minutes to talk with their colleagues and higher-ups over a warm cup of coffee. The coffee break’s popularity in the United States is thought to be down to the work of behavioural psychologist John B. Watson, who developed Behaviorism and later worked with Maxwell House, a large coffee brand in the United States. The coffee break may have its origins even further back this though, with Time writing in 1951 that coffee breaks were written into union contracts. The true origin of the coffee break apparently originated in the late 19th century in the small town of Stoughton, Wisconsin, where the wives of Norwegian immigrants took regular breaks with coffee. The town still celebrates Stoughton Coffee Break Festival each year.

4. Haitian Revolution

Saint Domingue was the most treasured colony of the French empire in 1791, with the Caribbean colony producing about 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of the world’s sugar at the time. Around 452,000 slaves worked to harvest the coffee, controlled by only 40,000 whites and 28,000 free blacks and mulattos. While the white plantation owners were scared of a slave revolt and prepared accordingly, when the revolution came in 1791 they were unable to stop it. The conflict continued until 1804, when plantation owners were roundly defeated and the plantations burned. The revolution brought a stop to slavery in the colony, which was reformed as the independent Haitian Republic. The revolution was the most successful slave revolt in the Americas, and was one of only two successful revolts against European powers before the 19th century – the other being the United States. Coffee production has never recovered, but that seems a trivial price to pay.

3. Espresso machine

According to my part-Turkish flatmate, the first espresso machine was developed in Italy by an inventive business owner irritated with the long coffee breaks his workers took. He devised a machine that forced water at high pressure through coffee grounds, producing a single-serve coffee drink that could be produced quickly. While it’s a cool story, I sadly haven’t been able to find any citations for it. According to what I have been able to find, the first espresso machine patent for an industrial espresso machine was developed in 1884, but it wasn’t until 1901 that key improvements including single-serve were perfected. Espresso has continued to evolve as a rapid single-serve beverage, most noticeably with the development of encapsulated single-serve coffee pods in 1959.

2. Stock exchanges and businesses

Coffee houses quickly became popular places for wealthy businessmen and intellectuals to meet in Europe and the United States; indeed such establishments were nicknamed penny universities (after the cost of the drink and the quality of the discussion therein). The biggest stock exchange in the world was started by 64 traders at the Tontine Coffee House in New York; it is now called the New York Stock Exchange. A number of other massive firms also began life as coffee houses, including the East India Company (which started life as the Jerusalem Cafe) and Lloyds of London (which began as Lloyd’s coffeehouse).

1. Webcams

My favourite instance of coffee prompting scientific enquiry came in 1991, when the very first webcam was developed. It was engineered in the Computer Science department at Cambridge, where a camera was pointed at a coffee pot and hooked up the network. Computer scientists working in the university could connect to a web page to check the level of coffee in the pot, potentially saving themselves a wasted trip. The same coffee camera was still running in 2001, when the development of high-speed Internet allowed the past vision of video telephones to finally become a reality. The webcam has since become ubiquitous on portable computers like laptops, mobile phones and tablets although the coffee cam has since shut down.

Conclusion

So there you have it – five interesting instances of coffee in history. I hope you’ve discovered something interesting about coffee. If I’ve left anything off, let me know in the comments below!

Friday Fun: Superhero Credit Cards

Ironman Credit CardHow does a superhero fund his heroic lifestyle? If you’re Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, you do it by also being the CEO of a huge corporation… but what if that all went bust? Or what if you’re just a mild-manered scientist like Bruce Banner who needs to replace his wardrobe every time he “hulks up”?

Introducing… superhero credit cards. Just a bit of fun from the guys at MoneySupermarket – they imagined what features a superhero would look for in their flexible friends (remember that advert?).

As the site says, these aren’t real, but we can dream :)

View Superhero Credit Cards on MoneySupermarket.com

Small Worlds [Friday Fun]

Small Worlds ScreenshotI’m not quite sure what to make of Small Worlds. It’s an exploration game but it feels like an art installation too – it’s simple, but the design and the music give it a distinctly melancholy feel.

The graphics are low-tech, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a strange feature that sees the resolution increase as you explore more of the map. It’ll never get up to photo-realism or anything (more Commodore 64) but it’s pretty innovative. I really enjoyed playing this, and it shouldn’t take you too long to complete.

Small Worlds requires Flash and has sound. The music is a big part of this game’s appeal, so I’d strongly recommend keeping the sound on while you play.

–> Click to play <–

Friday Fun: Sushi Cat

Sushi cat screenshotFriday Fun this week is a bizarre game where the aim is to help a cat get as fat as possible so that he can meet his dream “girl” (she’s actually another cat, in case you were wondering).

Drop him in at the top of the screen and he’ll fall down like one of those fairground coin-drop games, eating any sushi he meets on the way. The game isn’t too long, so you’ll be able to complete it fairly quickly. It’s nice and entertaining, though, and has a good mix of easy and more difficult levels.

It uses flash and has sound, but you can put the sound off if you like. Have fun!

–> Click to play <–

Friday Fun: Snake

Snake - the classic mobile phone game

Some retro gaming for you this week – mobile phone retro gaming at that, too. This week’s Friday Fun is Snake, which was a staple of mobile gaming before mobiles got all fancy and clever.

You’ll need Flash to play. See if it brings back memories for you!

–> Click to Play <–