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Friday, July 31, 2015

Xbox One to Windows 10 Stream - Review

With Windows 10 finally being out, one question a lot of gamers may be asking themselves is "how is the new Xbox App?" Back when the new OS was fully unveiled, Microsoft showed us how Windows 10 and the Xbox One would be integrated together. According to them, we would be able to access our XBO features on our PC, we'd be able to play our XBO through our PC, and we'd also be able to play PC versions of games with players on the XBO version -- a feature only a select few Windows Live games in the past had. All of this sounded great, but the real question was, how well did it work? Well, after spending quite some time testing it out for myself, here's my review.

The Xbox App:

Windows 10 actually comes with two Xbox based apps, with the first one being simply called, well, the "Xbox App." This App is going to be the main one that you use, and it supports the most features. Just as Microsoft had announced, what this one does is basically bring the Xbox Dashboard to your PC, and give you access to all of the major features you would find on an actual Xbox One. You have your news feed (where you can post screen shots, status updates, stalk your friends, etc), you have your standard messenger, you have access to your profile, you can view your Game DVR for your recorded clips, and you can even create Xbox Live parties to chat with friends. Just about anything you could do on your Xbox One, outside of playing XBO games, is here. It eliminates the need to go on the Xbox.com website just to send a message, and it is simple and easy to navigate. There's a lot more too this app though than meets the eye.

Besides doing all of your basics, this is also your gateway to games. If you click on your game list you will actually be given a list of all of your games you have installed. You'll be able to see your Xbox and Xbox Live titles you've downloaded from the Windows Store, and you'll also see non Xbox games -- in my case games like Deus Ex from Steam. It's a nice feature that helps keep all of your games together, and it's also where you'll be going for those cross platform Xbox games that'll be coming out (Fable Legends for example). Microsoft has already said that Xbox Live Gold (the paid for version) will not be required for PC users, so don't be scared of extra charges for using this.

On top of all of this, the Xbox App is also what you'll be using to actually stream your Xbox One to the PC, but I'll be getting into that a little bit later.

Xbox Smartglass:

The second App you'll find on Windows 10 is one many of you may already know and love -- Xbox Smartglass. Just as it was before, Smartglass is a companion App for the Xbox family of consoles that allows you to do many different things. It could be installed on most phones and tablets, and it allowed you to do many different basic actions. You could check messages, you could start game downloads (useful for when you were away from home), and you could even use it to enter in DLC codes and what not. It was a helpful tool, but it's real use actually only came to light when you were sitting in front of your Xbox at home.

Although not all games supported it, the Smartglass App could be used to unlock extras, and access special features in game. For example, if you are playing Dead Rising 3, the App becames your virtual in game phone where you'll get calls and receive extra missions. It also gave you access to a map, and other useful pieces of information which both added to the game's story, and helped you understand it a little better. Of course none of this is required to beat the game, but by not having it you really do miss out on quite a lot. Well, now that it's integrated with Windows 10 that shouldn't be a problem.

The Smartglass App on Windows 10 isn't any different from the tablet, phone, or Windows 8 version -- for the most part that is. It still lets you do all of the things I mentioned above, but what's nice about it is that you can now scale it. Since Apps now run in windows instead of full screen, you can grab it, move it anywhere you want, and expand or shrink it as much as you want. When the App is expanded, it'll look and feel like it's tablet or Windows 8 version, but you can also shrink it down in size and transform it into the phone version. It's a pretty nice feature, and it allows you to put it somewhere on your screen where it isn't taking up a lot of space or getting in the way. Sure, you won't need all of it's features anymore (since you have the Xbox App), but for unlocking extras in game it's great.

Streaming Xbox:

The big feature of Windows 10's Xbox App is actual Xbox Streaming. Once you connect your XBO to your PC, you can then jump right in. Upon launching the stream, the Xbox App will expand to fit your screen, but it'll actually remain in window mode. Because of this, you can freely scale your window to fit your needs, and you can continue to multitask. At this point you can then either plug an Xbox controller into your console, or if you're close enough you can keep it connected to the system itself. There's also extra mouse controls/virtual buttons you can use if you wish, but it's easier to just use a real controller.Also, when you stream your Xbox One, your PC will take over and use it's assets just as your Xbox would use it's own. Your mic, for example, will work as a virtual Kinect for ordering your console around, so you never really lose anything from not being on the actual console. Well, unless you want to play Kinect games...

Once you begin the Xbox Stream, your entire console will be right in front of you. That's really all there is to it actually. What you're seeing is a video, so you don't need high PC specs to run it, and all you need to run it is an okay network connection. Since this goes over local, as long as you have a strong signal with your router, you should be fine. Using a wired connection on PC, and wi-fi on my XBO (connecting to an older model router with 20 mbps), I was able to play at the medium quality. Of course things would be better if I were to just wire my console (which is only a few feet away), but I'm actually fine with it. Even at medium settings, games still look pretty nice, with the only real noticeable downgrade being some flushed out colors, and a little less detail visible. Considering I also prefer to play games in windows mode (which I then shrink) the lack of detail was even less noticeable, and the window was still large enough for me to read in game text and menus. Needless to say this may be more of an issue when the window is on a larger monitor, but again, all you need to do is use a wire.

When it comes to the connection speed, even on medium settings, the stream seems to work almost perfectly. During my time using the App I tested a handful of games, and each and every one of them worked with little to no issues. I played a hectic part in Halo 2, no issues, I ran around killing thousands of Zombies in Dead Rising 3, no problem, and I sped through the city and flew through the air in the crazy fast Sunset Overdrive -- only once did I start to lose my connection, but that was mainly because I was trying to stream to friends over Skype as well. If for some reason the App does disconnect though, it's good to know that it will pause your game for you. Other than that, minor hang ups in the connection will just result in a blurry screen for a second or two, but quickly resolve itself. (Again, this only happened to me when I tried to stream the stream to others here at NGR.)

Overall, both of the Apps work great, and the streaming is just as good as they said it would be. I was actually shocked when I first started it up, but now I can't believe I ever had any doubts. Although I personally cannot see myself using this feature much, as I'd rather play on my massive TV that's only 5 feet away from my desktop, it's something that is really nice to have. For those with a desktop in another room, or a laptop or tablet, this will be perfect for you. It gives you the ability to take your Xbox One with you, and it also means you don't have to tie up the TV to play it. If anything, that may be my main use for it -- watching TV and gaming at the same time.

With that being said, I'd give the service a 10/10. Sure, it's not going to be perfect for everyone, I cannot promise you that, but from my standpoint it works great.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

King's Quest's preorder pin

For those of you looking forward to the new King's Quest, like me, the pin available through GameStop preorders may have caught your eye... like me. Personally though I was pretty unsure of how good it'd actually be, so I thought I'd take a quick look at it here.

Coming in an oddly simple plastic baggy with a card advertising the game, it's pretty much just as it was shown in the ads. I was surprised by how big and sturdy it was though as I was half expecting a cheap plastic little waste of money. It's just slightly larger than a quarter with a pleasing (albeit duller than the promotional shot) golden sheen displaying the King's Quest logo at its finest. I would've appreciated some kinda case or a small cotton bag to keep it in, but I guess getting a legitimately nice pin as a preorder reward in the US is already asking for way too much.

So yeah, if you haven't already, I'd recommend going with GameStop for a preorder if you're into this series or if you just REALLY like the looks of the new one. I don't blame you, it's looking really tight.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Knack Playthrough

After being forced to by GlacialLeaf, Ben picks up the controller and heads back into Knack. Rather than posting each video as they go up, here's the full playlist which will be updated over time instead...

BlazBlue CPE - Jumping Right In (Online Gameplay)

Ben jumps head first into the newest version of BlazBlue with little to no practice. How will it turn out? Well... Let's just say this is painful for him to watch... (So why am I posting it again!?)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Chasing in on the name "Harvest Moon" - Is it right?

"Harvest Moon," when one hears these words they may think of the time when the moon is orange and at it's fullest in Fall, but when a gamer hears it, they will instantly think of the well known farm simulating series.

Originally released on the SNES, Harvest Moon was a unique title that took what would normally be considered hard work, and made it fun. It was a game where you took on the role of a farmer, whom was tasked with the job of restoring and building a farm, and it asked you to live out his life. While the game did have a main goal, it was one that never actually forced you to do it. The game was about freedom, about having a farm, yet doing whatever it is you wanted to do. You could grow crops, take care of animals, and go fishing, but you could also head out to the town, interact with towns people, and even get married. The game was packed full of content, and despite being a chore, it was one that became strangely addictive and kept players coming back for more -- a lot more.

Over the years many entries have been released in this series, and some of them have even become staples for the console they were on. Harvest Moon 64 on the Nintendo 64 quickly became known as one of the best N64 games out there, Back to Nature followed it on the PlayStation, and A Wonderful Life became a must have for any GameCube and PS2 owners as well. As time went on, Harvest Moon seemed to just get better and better, and it continued to grow in popularity. While some entries in the series built upon what was previously set, others would branch off into different areas, and feature unique gameplay elements of their own. Spin off titles like Rune Factory introduced and focused on dungeon crawling and combat, while games such as Animal Parade focused more on exotic animals, and family. No matter what the case was though, Harvest Moon was a popular series, and despite having gameplay changes from time to time, each entry had quite the fan base.

So, jumping ahead to 2015 and things haven't changed... Or have they? The truth is, things have actually changed quite a bit. The Harvest Moon series is still popular and doing amazingly well on the Nintendo 3DS, but what a lot of people (including fans) may not realize is, well, Harvest Moon is no longer Harvest Moon.

The Japanese name for the Harvest Moon series has always been "Bokuj┼Ź Monogatari" in Japan (translated to "Farm Story"), but when it was published in the west by a company called "Natsume," it was given the name Harvest Moon (named after, well, you know). Of course there were no issues with this name, it was a fitting one after all, and before long it's what almost everyone outside of Japan knew it by. It was the series' name, and there was no reason to change that -- until now that is.

Starting with "Story of Seasons" on the Nintendo 3DS, the developers behind the series have decided to use their western branch "XSeed" to localize the games instead of going through Natsume. It's a decision that really does make a lot of sense (one may even ask why they didn't do this sooner), but the issue is that Natsume retained the Trademark on the name "Harvest Moon." In other words, rather than transferring the rights to use the name to XSeed, they decided to hold onto it for themselves, and make use of it in their own way -- something a lot of people may not even realize. So, with the name Harvest Moon now lost to them, "Farm Story's" name was changed to "Story of Seasons" for it's US release, and the rest is history (or rather, history in the making). While yet another Story of Seasons game was announced, a spin off crossover at that, Natsume continues to do their own thing as well...

The Harvest Moon of today's world is not Harvest Moon. After they lost the series, Natsume decided to continue using the Harvest Moon name to release their own game -- a Minecraft like block farming game for the Nintendo 3DS. For anyone who isn't in the know, one would assume that this is the follow up to Harvest Moon A New Beginning, but in reality it isn't even a part of the series. It is a game that is inspired by the (now) Story of Seasons series, and nothing more; however, that's not how many fans, nor the rest of the world will see it.

With the newest "Harvest Moon" heading to PC, a lot of fans still do not realize the truth. The series they love has been replaced with a copy, while the real sequels are being released under a new name. In many's eyes, Story of Seasons is the "Harvest Moon clone" which rips off their beloved game, while the Harvest Moon games continue to try something a bit different. It's something a lot of people accept, and it's something they will continue to accept as the years go on. Sure, those who have access to the internet or closely follow the series may know the difference, but for anyone else, it's something they may never even realize. The series they or their kids love will move on without them, and they will never even know.

So, the question is... Is this right? Should a company use another game's name to cash in on it? Of course Natsume owns the rights to the name "Harvest Moon," so it's not like they are stealing it, but should they use it? Why not release farming games under a new title? Why keep using the name? Money, that's the reason, but they could have did something different if they wanted to. What do you guys think?