The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition on Games With Gold [Xbox]

Quick post today (yes, I know I don’t post often enough) because I’d hate for you to miss this. One of my favourite games is out on Xbox Live’s “Games With Gold”. You can pick it up for free until the 15th of November. You get to keep it after that, but the chance to get it will be gone.


Oh yeah, what’s the game? The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition! It’s an Xbox 360 title, but backward compatible on the Xbox One as well.

You can see details, and details of what’s coming next on Games With Gold by clicking here, or check the Xbox store on your console.

Seriously, don’t miss this. I’m still convinced it’s one of the all-time greatest video games 26 years after its 1990 release!

Codemaster: Learning programming via board game

I think it’s important to teach children to program computers; as the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology the ability to make that technology do what you want is going to be a useful skill. There are so many ways to teach programming it’s unreal, and this one seems interesting: a board game designed to teach you to think like a programmer.

Codemaster Board Game The game consists of a series of puzzles where the aim is to move an avatar to a portal, picking crystals up along the way. The board itself is a matrix of coloured paths, and you complete the puzzle by selecting a sequence of coloured tokens matching the colours of the paths. If you get to the end of your sequence (or “program”) and you are either not at the portal or crystals still remain on the board, you need to rethink the program and start again.
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ZType – Mavis Beacon Meets Space Invaders

ZType typing game screenshotLearning to type accurately and quickly is a genuinely useful skill; it enables you to get ideas down on computer with speed, transcribe audio, or just write that report that’s been on your to-do list for ages. Sure you can type with one finger on each hand, but it’s definitely less of a chore if you’ve learned your way around the keyboard and, perhaps, even learned to touch-type (typing without having to look at the keyboard).

When I was a teenager the premier software for learning how to type was Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. It did the job very well, but I don’t recall it being a whole load of fun.

The other day, however, I came across ZType – a cool game that combines typing and space combat… of sorts. Ships head towards you, each marked with a word. You type the word to shoot at and destroy the ships. It’s that simple!

ZType doesn’t teach you to type quickly; it’s more of a test of your typing skill. It’s surprisingly good fun!

Head on over to the ZType website and give it a go. You’ll need a modern browser as the game uses HTML5.

Have fun!

Cyberbullying: When online gaming goes wrong

This is a guest post by Dexter Bishop. Dexter is a mobile programmer from LA who also happens to be a die-hard gamer.

Game controller in hands, against a screenThe digital universe is an environment where four out of five users agree that cyberbullying is easier to experience than face-to-face bullying, even for gamers. The world of virtual gaming can sometimes be a hostile space fervent with bullies and victims, and the effects of online bullying can be just as detrimental as face-to-face. Kids can suffer into adulthood, explains TIME Healthland, and children will suffer from low self-esteem, experience trouble in school and have health problems. TIME further mentions that studies have shown “higher rates of anxiety and panic attacks among victims of bullying,” creating mental health problems for later in life. Help dissuade and curtail bullying among online gamers by being a team player, reporting abuse and avoiding antagonism.

Do Favors

One of the most famous anecdotes attributed to Benjamin Franklin is his mantra to turn an enemy into a friend. Politely asking a political enemy if he could borrow a book, Franklin received a positive response along with the book. Upon returning it, Franklin delivered a note expressing his thanks, and the two men would go on to be lifelong friends. Vertabase suggested the moral of this anecdote can help “build powerful bonds.” Even competitive online gamers can build bonds while enhancing the joy of gaming. Instead of going for the best weapons in a competitive shooter game like Battlefield 4 by Origin, help team members get better armor, weapons and supplies to win the day.

Be a Team

Typically, an online game dissolves into name-calling and threats when a team cannot come together to complete an objective. Aggressive game playing can occur in online arena games (MOBAs) like DOTA 2. Teammates need to work in specific roles like “Carry” (those responsible for victory later on), “Lane” (those responsible for maintaining the integrity of an attacking channel) and “Pusher” (those who need to initiate a strong attack). Acting as part of a team instead of trying to be the single glorious hero helps minimize verbal attacks and a hostile environment when one player refuses to work with others.

Report Abuse

Online video gamers can report aggressive and harmful behavior, whether it is verbal, written or implied. Both Xbox Live and Playstation Plus allow users to report particular player gamer tags for all types of alarming behavior, such as spam and abuse. Gaming victims can even document the case using video and audio recording features. Players who take to MMOs can report player behavior to game managers (GMs). The GMs lock down an account whenever a player breaks the game’s rules.

Don’t Fight Fire With Fire

Nothing will escalate a heated online argument like someone going tit-for-tat on insults and threats. As an argument starts to progress into verbal assault, whether it is directed toward you or another person, resist the urge to retaliate. Diffuse the situation with calm words (or text) to demonstrate that you won’t participate in a shouting match. Try to calm the other player down by explaining your point of view. Refrain from name calling, taunting or mocking how they lost or died because of a lack of skill.

What do you think?

Have you experienced cyberbullying in a gaming environment? If so, how did you deal with it? Are the tips here helpful, new, just plain common sense, or completely off the mark? Why not share your thoughts in the comments and tell us what you think.

From Atari to Candy Crush Saga: Gaming, Then and Now

Atari ConsoleThis is a guest post by David Bledsoe. David is an engineer during the day and a gamer by night. He enjoys writing about digital technology and entertainment news.

Are you begging for lives on Candy Crush Saga, while trying to maintain the top score amongst your Facebook friends? Have you forgotten to go to work because you are stuck on the chocolate levels, struggling to destroy the sticky stuff before it gets the better of you? For millions of folks, this online game has hooked them body and soul. But how did such a game become possible? What started our fascination and compulsion with gaming? Who is to credit (or blame) for our desire to play?

The Beginning

In the past year, ESA reports consumers have spent more than $20 billion on accessories, software and content for video games, proving this is an ever-profitable industry. Ralph Baer has been credited as the “father of video games,” and what a phenomenon he started. Baer created the first video game console known as the Odyssey, manufactured by Magnavox in 1972. Immediately following, an inspired Nolan Bushnell founded Atari, and created the arcade game known as Pong. This led to a cartridge-based console known as the Atari VCS, or Atari 2600 as it is now known, designed to be able to support a variety of games. This concept was revolutionary and spawned a billion dollar industry. People adored being able to play the arcade games they knew and loved in the comfort and convenience of their homes.

Atari Faces Stiff Competition

By 1981, Mattel’s Intellevision gaming console posed a considerable threat to Atari’s near-monopoly of the home gaming industry. Along with this competition, other companies joined the race, and in 1983, the video game market crashed due to an overabundance of products. As 1985 rolled in, whispers began to surface about the death of video games, and this was when NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) was introduced by Nintendo. Released earlier in Japan, NES had proven to be a wild success, so it made its way to the U.S. Sales of NES were astonishing, and to date, NES has been credited as the savior of the video gaming industry.

Beyond Cartridges, PlayStation, Xbox, and More

The early ‘90s proved to be the start of a new generation of systems. Sony came out with the PlayStation in 1995, a console that used CDs instead of cartridges to play video games. According to editors at, PlayStation sold more than 100,000 units its opening weekend, making it an overnight sensation. From here on, technological advancements and features increased dramatically, to allow for 3D gaming, increased interactivity, and PC compatibility. Microsoft’s Xbox came out in 2001, and eventually Xbox Live, allowing gamers to connect online and play with real people across the country and the world.

As the public became more interested in playing games online, the popularity of consoles and systems such as Nintendo Wii skyrocketed. Cartridges and cords soon gave way to play that synced up with services such as hughesnet to empower the online experience, dramatically changing the world of gaming as we knew it. Simultaneously, interest in mobile phone game apps and online computer games created an ancillary market for video games.

Video Gaming and the Internet

Approximately 62 percent of gamers play these games with others, either in person or online, ESA reports. Increased access to the Internet allows for a more collaborative gaming experience. The world as we know it is connected, and the gaming industry understands the importance of this cultural phenomenon. ESA notes the type of online games played most often are classified as casual or social, requiring interaction to continue. With the convenience of downloading directly to our phones, tablets, consoles, and computers, game applications continue to be a highly profitable industry, and are the future of gaming.

Video games are a part of our collective history. These games are synonymous with our culture, and their evolution has gone hand-in-hand with the increased global connectivity possible through the Internet.

Are you a gamer? Do you see games as a part of our collective history, or just as entertainment? What do you think will be the next leap forward in games tech? Share your thoughts in the comments and let us know.

Creative Commons image by moparx

Xbox One & PS4 Hardware Compared

This is a guest post by William Judd

Xbox One Console, Sensor and ControllerLast week Microsoft unveiled the next generation Xbox console: The Xbox One. Like the PlayStation 4, which was announced earlier this year but hasn’t yet been shown in the flesh, the new console will be released in time for Christmas this year. That will bring an end to almost eight years without a new console generation, a much longer period than generations past.

As you’d expect, both of these next-generation systems are much more powerful than their predecessors. What you might not expect is how similar the two systems are to one another! In this article, we’ll have a look at how these two next-generation consoles compare.

Both systems move from a custom PowerPC architecture to a 64-bit semi-custom system-on-chip, like a gaming PC. Both the PS4 and X1 use an AMD Jaguar APU, which should be clocked in the region of 1.6 GHz (as estimated by Anandtech). Both systems feature two four-core processors, making for eight cores (and eight threads) in total. So far, so similar.

Where things begin to diverge is in system memory. Both have 8 GB of RAM, but the PlayStation 4 has an edge here, as it’s using much faster GDDR5 RAM versus the DDR3 of the Xbox One. Datarates and peak memory bandwidth are considerably in Sony’s favour here as a result. Expect 5.5 GHz datarate delivery peak memory bandwidth of 176 GB/s for the PS4, and only 2.133 GHz good for 68.3 GB/s for the X1. The Microsoft console partially makes up for this with 32 MB of embedded memory on die, which should reduce the amount of peak memory bandwidth required. Overall, it looks pretty close – Sony have gone with a higher cost but simpler option, but Microsoft’s approach is by no means foolish.

In graphics land, things are more simply in Sony’s favour. Both consoles use an AMD GCN-based GPU, but Sony included an 18 Compute Unit configuration (good for 1152 ALUs) where Microsoft went for 12 CUs (delivering 768 ALUs). Both GPUs are clocked at the same speed (800 MHz), so here the PS4 has a clear advantage over the X1 in terms of horsepower – about 50%.

Power / Heat
The downside of having more powerful hardware is that you’d expect to also see more power used and more heat created. By that measure, the PS4 should be hotter and use more power than the X1, but both should also be hotter and use more power than the previous generation of consoles.

In truth, only the first comparison is likely to be true. While the new components used in the PS4 and X1 are more powerful, they’re also much more power efficient. Even when running at full tilt, we should expect to see only marginally higher power consumption than the previous generation.

Both of the new consoles also support power gating, allowing unused CPU and GPU cores to be kept in a low-power state until they’re needed. The new systems can also vary their frequencies and voltages as needed, allowing for a much wider range of heat and power usage than the previous generation. This should make them more economical and cooler to run outside of games.

In terms of PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One, we’d expect the PS4 will run a bit hotter and use a bit more power, thanks to the PS4’s additional GPU performance. Both systems look like they’ll use larger grilles, so heat shouldn’t be an issue.

All in all, it looks like the PlayStation 4 holds the performance crown, but the Xbox 360 may be a bit cheaper than the Sony console. That strategy hasn’t worked well for Microsoft with its Surface tablets or Windows Phones, but may be a good initial strategy for the company.

Of course, Microsoft are also investing a lot of time and money into the Kinect and the X1’s media capbilities, so perhaps we’ll see the same price point. Either way, it’s shaping up into an interesting battle!

I hope you found this comparison useful. For more in-depth information on the hardware differences between the PS4 and the X1, be sure to check out the Anandtech article linked above, which goes into much more detail for enthusiasts.

Friday Fun: Live Puzzle

Chess board jigsaw

Jigsaws can be fun, but I have to admit that I get frustrated easily with them. Live Puzzle is a slightly different take on jigsaws, in that the picture is moving while you’re trying to solve the puzzle. In some ways, that makes it a bit more difficult but, once you get used to it, it’s kind of cool to be able to see whether a piece fits by holding it in place and watching the animation.

You’ll need Flash to play this, and there is sound (the music is particularly annoying, so I switched it off).

–> Click to Play Live Puzzle <–

XCOM: Enemy Unknown coming to iOS

This is a guest post by Will Judd.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown running on iPadXCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of the best games of last year, offering an excellent modern take on the classic turn-based alien defense strategy game. One of the game’s best qualities was that due to its turn-based nature and efficient implementation, it ran well even on integrated graphics cards like the Intel HD 4000 series found on the latest round of Ultrabooks. The game worked well on consoles as well, another rarity for a strategy title. This week, we’ve learned that publishers 2K Games are using those two qualities to bring the full game to iPhone and iPad.

Unlike many mobile ports, XCOM appears on its new platform without sacrificing much of the original experience. Except for a few maps cut to fit within Apple’s size limits, you’ll be playing precisely the same game as those on PC, Xbox 360 or PS3. That’s a major achievement for any mobile port, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released only in October last year – it took Grand Theft Auto ten years to make the jump from PC and console release to the eventual iOS and Android version.

The port is being developed by 2K China, with original developers Firaxis providing guidance. The game’s lead designer pointed out that turn-based strategy games are ideally suited for touch interfaces, and 2K have already been able to demonstrate a level running on the iPad with full touch controls.

Unfortunately, there’s no word on whether there will ever be an Android release, although I wouldn’t think of it as out of the question. Regardless, the iPhone and iPad versions will be released at a premium price point this summer and could well offer one of the deepest and most enriching games on the iOS platform.

Do you think that XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be a hit? I’m personally of the opinion that it’ll be the ideal iPad Mini accessory, particularly if we see the release of a new Retina iPad Mini before the game is finished.

Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know what you think. Thanks for reading and have a good one!

Friday Fun: M.A.D.

Mutually Assured Destruction game screenshot. Missiles heading towards bases.

Mutually Assured Destruction. Sounds cheery, doesn’t it? Mutually Assured Destruction is actually the basis behind the UK (and other countries’) nuclear deterrent… the idea being, “You attack us, and we’ll attack you… nobody will win, we’ll both be wiped off the map”. That’s just mad (aha!).

It might seem like an odd title for a game, but that’s what this week’s Friday Fun is: Mutually Assured Destruction.

It’s a remake of the classic game Missile Command, with power-ups and special abilities, but at its core this is the same old-school arcade game we know and love. You might want to turn the sound down because, while the soundtrack is very grand, it is rather loud :)

–> Play MAD <–

Valve unveils their Steam Box

Valve Steam BoxThis is a guest post by William Judd.

This Consumer Electronics Show has been an unusually good one for PC gamers. Not only has Nvidia announced Project Shield, a hand-held Android games console that uses their new Tegra 4 processor to stream videogames from your PC, but Valve has finally officially announced their Steam Box.

The idea of the Steam Box is that it is a Valve-endorsed gaming computer designed to be hooked up to an HDTV in the living room. The Box hooks up to Valve’s Steam online store and gaming community, allowing you to play PC games with the ease of a console. Steam recently released their “Big Picture Mode” update, which added a console-style UI suitable for using with a controller on an HDTV. The Steam Box should have a small physical footprint and should offer a fairly good price to performance ratio, allowing it to play the majority of games at HD settings.

Speaking to The Verge in an extensive interview, Valve Software CEO Gabe Newell described three levels of hardware: “Good”, which would cost around $100 and would come down in price from there, “Better” which would cost approximately $300 and “Best” which could cost as much as any top-of-the-line gaming PC.

Valve would look to build its own Steam Box running Linux, but would also work with other hardware partners to create an entire new class of computers running along similar goals. While the Valve-built Steam Box would have tightly controlled hardware standards like a traditional games console, other Steam Boxes could have a range of specifications and features decided on by their manufacturer.

The Steam Box created by Valve won’t just be useful in the living room, however. The Box would also work as a server, with next-generation versions of the box running post-Kepler Nvidia architecture being capable of running as many as 8 disparate displays and controllers.

Valve are also investigating innovative new game controller. Newell stated that Wii Sports, the launch title for the Wii, remains the pinnacle of motion-based input, so Valve have moved onto other options. Biometrics look like they’ll provide a potentially new avenue for exploration, as instead of replacing mouse and keyboard or controller based input, they would instead add new inputs that would allow the game to respond to your heart rate and other subconscious clues. Gaze tracking was also mentioned by Newell as an area of interest.

Overall, the Steam Box definitely seems to be an interesting new development for PC gaming. For too long, the attention has been on fairly inconsequential mobile gaming developments like tablets and iPhone accessories – with the Steam Box, we may see something much more exciting. Valve revolutionised the industry with their Steam gaming service and marketplace, and it looks like they could have a similar evolutionary leap on their hands with the Steam Box.