Tag Archives: sony

My favourite portable console

IMG_3658I picked up Zero Time Dilemma last week on the PS Vita, and it’s really reminded me why the PS Vita is my favourite console. While Nintendo’s 3DS lineup may edge out the Vita in terms of social integrations (StreetPass is a hell of a thing), the PS Vita remains the more “serious”, the more mature console. Not because it doesn’t have a cutesy interface like the 3DS, but because it lacks the simplifications of the 3DS that make it the more appealing to a younger audience.

Like a lot of 90’s kids, I grew up on Nintendo. My friends had the Nintendo 64, I eventually got a GameCube, and there were various portables interspersed throughout all that. The Game Boy Color introduced me to portable gaming, and by the time the Game Boy Advance SP rolled around, I was hooked. (I borrowed a friend’s Game Boy Advance for a few weeks, which was pretty cool, but I never had one of my own.) I picked up the original 3DS when it came out, but by that time I had more or less outgrown portable gaming, eschewing it in favour of these new-fangled “computers”.

Fast forward a few years. I haven’t played Pokémon for far too long, but I get the chance to acquire some 3DS hardware for cheap. I jump at the opportunity, with the intention of sating my desire to catch pocket monsters for another decade or so, publishing a series of posts about the fun I was going to have. Unfortunately, whether it was due to Poké-fatigue or something else, I never ended up finishing Pokémon Y.

Somehow, I ended up buying a PS Vita in the middle of that. I imported it from the US due to Sony being much more lenient with their region-locking than Nintendo was, and I spent a good chunk of time in Persona 4 Golden which I later wrote about.

By the same token, the growing library of titles on the 3DS meant that it was now a compelling purchase. I remember reading about Fire Emblem Awakening somewhere, and feeling it was a good a time as any to jump in, I imported a 3DS XL from the US along with a physical copy of Fire Emblem Awakening.

The 3DS XL was pretty great, despite Nintendo’s insistence on region-locking its titles. My imported 3DS meant I was never going to be able to walk into my local EB and pick up a 3DS game on a whim, but I was OK with that, thanks to increased digital availability of titles. I took my 3DS XL to PAX Aus the first and second times, and StreetPass really came into its own as the ultimate social drawcard, even if it meant walking around holding the right shoulder button and giving A a solid workout.

But for all of the 3DS’s many compelling titles and social integrations, there’s always been something off about Nintendo’s portable console. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels as though the 3DS is still a console for kids — maybe because it is — but it means that there’s this feeling of something missing. As in, why isn’t there any easy way to take screenshots on the device to save moments in-game? In a world of super-high resolution displays, why are the screens on the 3DS still the same low-res that we were seeing five, ten years ago? And that’s not even talking about the seldom-used 3D feature — although it’s cool that Nintendo has come up with a way for glasses-free 3D to work in a portable console, the fact that 3D cuts the resolution in half should mean Nintendo would want to be cramming the highest quality display possible into the 3DS, at least for the upper display.

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Which platform do I play this on?

It's been two and half years since I last played my Vita. Bonus points if you can name the games.

It’s been two and half years since I last played my Vita. Bonus points if you can name the games.

One of the best things about modern gaming is being able to choose what platform to play something on. Console exclusives have more or less died out apart from a few titles that I’m not really that interested in anyway, and I can probably count the number of games that I want to play that aren’t on a platform I own on one hand, so life is pretty good when it comes to choosing which platform I want to play something on.

Nine of out ten times, I’ll choose to play something on PC. I have a reasonably powerful gaming PC that’s purpose-built for the task, so putting all that graphics power to the task of pushing some pixels around is more productive than having it just sit around, looking pretty. Playing on PC means I get all the extra goodies that come with PC gaming: ShadowPlay to record in-game footage I want to watch later, and Steam integration for screenshots and for when I feel like being social and playing with friends (or to see what my friends are playing).

Note that I don’t have a current-gen console at the moment, either. I used to have an Xbox 360 and a PS3, but I left those behind in Hobart when I moved to Brisbane in 2015. Some times I miss those consoles — there’s still a few PS3 games I’d like to play through — but for the most part, I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on anything by not having a console. Besides, these days I’m playing way too much Dota to get stuck into anything else.

When Zero Time Dilemma came out at the start of July this year, I faced a dilemma: which platform should I be playing this on? I immediately purchased it on Steam due to the fact that it was the first title in the series that was available on PC. I didn’t have much of a choice with 999. Although you can play 999 on iOS these days, it lacks the puzzles of the 3DS version which I played through a few years ago. For Zero Time Escape, I went with the Vita version for something a little different.

I tried playing Zero Time Dilemma on the PC, I really did. But the advantages of the PC platform just weren’t there. It’s not a bad port, per se, but using a mouse and keyboard for what is generally a pretty hands-off game/visual novel interspersed with puzzle sections felt wrong somehow, like I was doing more work than just playing the game.

I could have gone with Zero Time Dilemma on the 3DS, too. I generally like the cutesy nature of the New 3DS, and Nintendo’s insistence on keeping games on their own platform forces my hand more often than I’d like. But here, the lack of an actual screenshot function would have let me down if I ever wanted to do a little write up — if I can’t go back and review the screenshots of the game I’ve played, did I ever really play it?

So it was settled. I asked my sister to ship me my PS Vita that I bought back in March 2012, and as soon as I arranged for some US PSN credit and downloaded Zero Time Dilemma, I knew I had made the right choice.

The Workhorse

Canon 60D

In the world of cameras, only Sony are doing anything that really interests me right now. By putting big(er) sensors into small(er) cameras, they’re improving image quality without sacrificing portability. They’re improving low-light and noise performance without having to go to ridiculously high ISOs or invest precious R&D into new noise-reduction algorithms. They’re doing the right thing, or at very least, moving in the right direction.

It all started with the RX100, released just last year, a compact camera with a non-detachable zoom lens and a comparatively massive 1-inch sensor, the largest in its class. It was the first camera to put a big sensor in a body that was still extremely pocketable, and it was the first camera that offered anything close to the low-light performance of cameras with much larger sensors.

Not surprisingly, the RX100 received rave reviews despite the slightly higher price point — it was decidedly an “enthusiast compact” camera, and the price reflected its status, but it was still on the expensive side for people looking for an alternative to similar cameras such as the Canon S100 or S110, both of which retail around the $300 mark — by comparison, the RX100 is easily twice that price.

Regardless, the RX100 was a big hit with the wider photographic community. Someone at Sony must have decided this was a worthwhile path to pursue, because half a year later we saw the introduction of the RX1, the first camera to put a full-frame digital sensor in a compact camera. Not much bigger than the RX100, the RX1 is stil a hell of a lot more compact than any other camera with a large sensor, let alone a full-frame DSLR.

Like the RX100, the RX1 comes with a non-detachable lens, but unlike the RX100, the lens on the RX1 is a fixed-focal length lens (commonly referred to as a prime). The lens permanently attached to the RX1 is a 35mm f/2 Zeiss, and I for one am glad Sony chose to go with something decent for their choice of lens. Thanks to the combination of quality glass and a full-frame sensor, image quality, low-light image quality and noise performance all improved markedly.

The only real downside for consumers was the price: at close to what you might pay for a comparable full-frame DSLR, the RX1 is out of reach for anyone who actually wants a full-frame sensor in a compact body without the convenience of interchangeable lenses. You’d have to be a serious enthusiast (or flushed with cash) to fork out for a camera you bought for its size alone, especially when you can get a professional DSLR for around the same kind of money.

Nevertheless, like the RX100 before it, the RX1 was heralded as a breakthrough in digital camera technology simply because it was the first camera to include a full-frame sensor in a compact-like body. It, too, received rave reviews, despite its expensive price tag.

By this time, Sony had caught onto what consumers really wanted: DSLR-like image quality from compact cameras. The RX100 II followed with improvements to the general formula, including a new image processing chip for even better noise performance, coupled with the same big sensor in a compact body. Around the same time, Sony also released the RX1 R, a variant on the original that removed the anti-aliasing filter in favour of more effective resolution and slightly sharper images at the cost of possible moire when capturing certain lined patters.

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PAX Australia 2013 Photos and the Sony RX100 II

RX100 II

I really enjoy film photography, but there are certain aspects which make me pine for something a little more 21st century.

Take ISO and noise performance, for example. With film, you load a roll of film, and that’s your ISO set for the next 36 shots. You can’t chop and change ISOs whenever you want, and you can all but forget shooting at an ISO above 800 as it gets pretty grainy at high film speeds.

On the other hand, digital cameras let you change the ISO whenever you want, and with advances in sensor technology and noise-reduction algorithms, noise is less of a concern than it is with film. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to shoot at ISO 12800, but the very fact you can is a feat in and of itself.

I’ve been eyeing off a great compact camera for a little while now, and the only thing that has really caught my eye has been the Sony RX100. It’s perhaps a smidgen pricier than what you might normally pay for a good compact camera, but it does have semi-good reason to be: it has a large sensor paired with some decent optics, which usually translates to decent photos. When I say it has a “large sensor”, it’s big, but in relative terms: it’s still smaller than the sensor in your DSLR, and smaller still than the sensor used in the four-thirds system, but it’s one of the biggest sensors available in what can still be called a compact camera. The RX100 is the pocketable, every-day carry size I’ve been looking for.

Sensor size aside, I’ve wanted to play with an RX100 for a little while now, and PAX was a great opportunity to give one a good workout. Then Sony announced and released its successor-of-sorts, the RX100 II. There’s not even that much different between the two models: a back-side illuminated sensor for even better low-light performance, Wi-Fi and NFC, and a display that tilts, but it still makes sense to get the updated model, right?

Long story short, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one in time for PAX as the release dates meant that I was cutting it fine. But one phone call later, I secured a RX100 II to call my own. And just in time for PAX Australia!

I used the RX100 to take all the pictures you see below. There’s not that much to say about the camera itself, but there are a few points worth mentioning.

While the camera does have an auto-ISO option, it seems to favour slower shutter speeds instead of using higher ISOs. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s no option to set a minimum shutter speed, meaning you can get motion blur if you’re not careful. Because of this, I felt as if I had to shoot the majority of my photos in shutter priority to avoid motion blur in photos.

Low-light and noise performance is excellent, as expected. If you’re a pixel-peeper like me, you’ll probably find it’s a fraction soft in the details, but that’s par for the course for any compact camera. I’m generally pretty happy with the images I took during PAX (they’re certainly better than what my iPhone 5 managed to do), but I’d really only consider them “happy snaps” as opposed to images I would deliver to a client. Read into that what you will. That said, the photos turned out totally fine when resized down, and provided you’re not peeping at the pixels of the full-size images, they’re more than adequate for web usage.

I’ll let the photos do the talking in just a moment, but shooting with the RX100 II at PAX made me wonder how I might have fared with a DSLR. There are obvious size and convenience advantages to a compact, of course, but the photos I took just seemed to reiterate the fact that the DSLR is the workhorse, the one that gets the job done. I hardly use my DSLR these days unless I need to produce extremely high quality images, but I’m consistently impressed by the photos it takes, whenever I’ve done everything I can to make the photo as good as it can possibly be (focus and exposure, in that order).

Taking photos of cosplayers was way more fun than it should have been. Having to ask people for photos took a little getting used to at first (street shooters, represent), but it was cool since it meant they looking into the camera — well, most of the time, anyway. There was heaps of great cosplay on display, but half the time I had issues recognising who people were cosplaying as. Either I need to be exposed to more games or their interpretations of certain characters was just too far off the mark for me. And besides, people in Melbourne dress so weirdly anyway it was hard to tell if they were cosplaying or whether they were just hipsters, but I digress.

The lighting was generally terrible in the expo hall and even worse in the theaters, but here are a few shots I gathered during my time at PAX. There’s probably a million things I missed capturing due to just taking it all in, and I’d love to do PAX with a more serious camera and focus on photography, but hey, I think I did OK.

Photos from PAX Aus 2013 after the jump

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard

Now she was dead…

Alternative title: “that’s not what she said!”

I’ve been thinking about buying a 3DS XL for Fire Emblem Awakening, but Nintendo’s decision to region lock their hardware is making it harder than it should be.

In an ideal world, I’d be able to walk in to any good gaming retailer in Australia, pick up a 3DS, and be on my merry way. And in theory, I can totally do that — provided I’m happy with missing out on a massive (okay, decent) selection of games.

Thanks to a combination of region locked 3DS hardware, strange decisions by publishers, and the very nature of a Japan-centric games company, if I buy an Australian 3DS it means I might not ever get to play titles that are released in the US. That’s crazy.

To be fair, this has always been an issue for Nintendo. I completely understand when games are released for the Japanese market that aren’t available in other regions, as much as I want to play the latest Phoenix Wright or Professor Layton title at the same time Japanese folks get to. I get that titles need to be localised for non-Asian markets, voices need to be re-done, etc. But when titles suffer lengthy delays or aren’t released for other markets outside the US, then that’s when I start to take notice and get angry. Fire Emblem, for example, was released in the US back in February. Europe and Australia, however, didn’t get it until late April — why? What possible reason could the publishers have to delay a title that was already localised for English markets an entire two months after the US release?

No possible reason that makes any kind of sense.

I already own a PS Vita, and for the record, Sony does a lot better on the region locking front for the simple reason that the console and its games aren’t region locked. At all. The US and Australian PlayStation Stores are different regions as you might expect, but I’m no stranger to that — the iTunes Store is exactly the same. If you buy a Vita, you can set it up with the US PSN store pretty easily, and your console will buy and download games no problems. Switching between the two stores can be done, but doing so frequently isn’t practical as it involves a device reset every time. In the year or so I’ve owned a Vita, I’ve never wanted to switch to the Australian PSN, and I can’t see this changing anytime sooner — the game selection on the US PSN is far superior to the titles offered on the Australian PSN, games are released earlier, and they’re usually cheaper, too.

If I want to access a larger selection of games and games released months earlier (and, not to mention, cheaper), then it seems the obvious solution is to import a 3DS XL from the US, right?

Well, kinda.

Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, also region-lock their games. A US Vita can play Australian-bought games just fine, but a US 3DS will only be able to play games bought from the US. No problem, I can just download them directly from the eShop and call it a day, right? Wrong — I don’t know whether it’s a publisher thing or just a Nintendo one, but for some crazy, insane reason, about half of 3DS titles sold at retail can’t be bought from the eShop. Again, don’t ask me why, because I just don’t know.

In contrast, the PSN offers a much wider selection of games than are offered at retail: not only Vita-exclusive titles, but also PSP ones, PS One classics, “minis”, and the best thing about it is that every title released at retail is available for direct download on the PSN. Like it should be.

So if I do buy a 3DS from the US, here’s how it stands. I won’t be able to buy local titles. No big loss, but it does kill off that instant-gratification factor that comes with buying from a brick-and-mortar. Any game I do want to buy which can’t be bought from the eShop (about half of all the titles available), I’ll have to import from the US — although given the lead times for Australian games so far, any delays in getting the game due to shipping will still mean I get the game before it’s released locally.

My point in all this is that it shouldn’t be this hard. The Vita and its games aren’t region locked in any way, and that’s a massive plus in my book. Anything else is making it harder than it really should be.

Now, if only Amazon had the colour 3DS XL that I want in stock, and if only they would ship it to Australia. But that’s a tale for another time.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

I’m not sure why they call Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward the “spiritual successor” to the original 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors game. The events of the previous game are spelled out for you during the course of Virtue’s Last Reward and referenced throughout the game, so we can just drop the whole “spiritual” thing and just call Virtue’s Last Reward the sequel to the original game — and it’s for this reason I highly, highly recommend playing though the original game for yourself before playing the sequel.

The first thing you have to know about Virtue’s Last Reward is that it’s the sequel to one of the best games I played this year, 999. This alone made it a must play for myself, seeing as I was this close to giving 999 the prestigious game of the year crown (stopped only by the fact it wasn’t released this year).

The second thing you have to know about Virtue’s Last Reward is that it is every bit as good as the original, which follows that if you enjoyed the original, then Virtue’s Last Reward will be right up your alley.

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Virtue’s Last Reward; it’s a spiritual successor to one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it’s every bit as good as the original. Now, normally this is when I’d launch into my usual spiel of what the game is about, how you play the game, and just how damn good the game actually is (and why), and I’ll do that in just a second, but I also want to explore the characters themselves — there’s lots to say about each of the characters, and maybe it’ll mean a different review than you might normally read.

Virtue’s Last Reward is similar to the original 999. Very similar, in fact. They’re both story-driven games interspersed with puzzles/escape sequences, and they’re both better described as visual novels than typical games. They’re similar to The Walking Dead, in ways; there’s lots of dialogue, quite a number of cutscenes, and they’re both pretty light on actual gameplay.

But you shouldn’t shy away from either 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, or even The Walking Dead because of how story-driven they are. These three games are perhaps the most powerful games I’ve played, and all because of how damn good the stories they tell are — it’s like watching a movie, only because you have some part in how things play out, you feel all the more immersed. It’s an intense feeling you can’t get from reading a book, and it’s all the more real because you have some part in what happens.

There are quite a number of similarities between 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Both games prominently feature the number nine; nine main characters, a door with the number nine, and all with the number nine bearing a kind of symbolism that’s echoed throughout the game. Both games follow similar a gameplay style, too: novel sequences interspersed with escape sequences where you have to solve puzzles and find your way out of a room.

Like you did in 999, you’ll make choices in Virtue’s Last Reward that affect the story. In fact, Virtue’s Last Reward introduces a new gameplay mechanic that means there are even more possibilities than there were in 999. The introduction of the Ambidex Edition of the Nonary Game means you’ll be making more choices than ever before. There are stages of the game where you’ll choose to “ally” or “betray” your partner — without giving too much away, it’s this alliance or betrayal that determines how the game plays out.

It’s also this same alliance and betrayal game mechanic that also means that Virtue’s Last Reward is a slightly different game. 999 featured multiple endings, and Virtue’s Last Reward does as well: but in 999, the endings felt much more final. Besides the icons on the save screen, you weren’t really given any indication of how you were progressing towards the multiple endings, all to get to the one true ending. 999 made you play through the game in its entirety every time you wanted a different ending — I lost count of how many times I played through the first escape sequence, or how many times the characters were introduced to each other. Fast-forwarding dialogue was a welcome addition, but there was still a lot of extraneous gameplay.

Virtue’s Last Reward is different in that you’re given a “map” from the start that outlines all the possible paths the game can take. You have no idea how things will actually play out, but this map and your newfound ability to jump between different paths means you’ll spend a lot less time playing through parts of the game you’ve already played, as you can just jump straight to the point where you made a choice, make a different choice to the one you already made, and play a different path. It might sound confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense when you’re playing the game.

And that’s one of the best things about Virtue’s Last Reward: there’s a lot of complexity buried within the game itself, but it shouldn’t take you long to see through it all and see the truth. I know that might sound a little ho-hum, but it’s true: you might not realise what’s going on as you go about your business and solve puzzles, but it’s all there. All you have to do is play the game, and join the dots.

You haven’t finished this playthrough. There’s more after the jump.

8 Videos That You Won’t Regret Watching

Well, it’s about time I did one of these… so here it is.

You know how you sometimes watch a Youtube clip that you think could be good, but it’s completely sucky and leaves you in tears? Well, I’m here to put a stop to that. I’ve complied a tiny list of videos that I missed out on while I was away on holidays – so if you’ve already seen some of these, I apologise. Now, let the show begin!

  • Four Chords, 36 Songs (Today’s Big Thing)
    This is actually amazing. Whatever happened to originality? Sure, we love our epic riffs, but seriously? 36 songs based on variants of a 4 chord progression? You’ve got to be kidding me.
    Sure, the singing isn’t that top notch. But it conveys the message well, so enjoy.
  • Sleeping Girlfriend Eyebrow Waxing (Today’s Big Thing)
    Ouch. I can only assume that the guy doing the waxing doesn’t want to be with his girlfriend anymore, or he’s a professional joker – and his girlfriend loves him for it… Either way, it’s funny to see how he keeps saying “I love you baby” and stroking her while putting on the wax…
  • Verizon Operator Gets Math Lesson (Today’s Big Thing)
    Can you please tell me the difference between $0.002 and 0.002c? It’s an oldie but a goodie (it’s from 2006) as a Verizon customer tries to educate two remarkably ignorant Verizon operators on things called “decimals”. Everyone should know basic math like that, right? Right?
  • Enter Kazoo Man (YouTube)
    Heard Metallica’s Enter Sandman? Yeah, I though so. Heard Metallica’s Enter Sandman played solely on the kazoo? No? Well, this vid is perfect for you, then. He gets a little quirky at some stages, but still impressive nonetheless.
  • David After Dentist (YouTube)
    Ohhhhh – now I get it. All the teenage kids in America want to recreate scenes from after the dentist, when they’re completely high on some strange medicine, so they try various drugs to get that feeling again. No wonder they have random locker searches… Hilariously funny.
  • Sony Releases New… (Boing Boing Gadgets, via The Onion)
    Yet another excellent big-company parody by the same people who bought you the MacBook Wheel a couple of weeks ago. All the details are pretty much spot-on – everything from the interviews, video overlays, advertising, and more. They really put effort into these productions, and it shows. Probably NSFW – contains copious amounts of swearing.
  • Imperial March Scraped Across Hard Drive (Boing Boing Gadgets)
    So someone’s pretty much revived the “using a hard-drive as a speaker” revolution again. This time around, though – it’s the Star Wars Imperial March being played, and damn, does it sound awesome. Read the comments on this one, folks – #10 is particularly funny, in my opinion…
  • How To Mount A Tyre On A Wheel With Explosive Gas (Boing Boing Gadgets)
    This is actually a collection of short clips that demonstrate that it’s possible to mount a tyre (rubber bit) onto the wheel (silver, middle bit) using nothing but explosive gas. As one intrepid commenter points out – it’s not the vacuum effect that pops the tyre back onto the rim, but pressure from the expanding gases. Still impressive.

That’s it – hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Comments below, thanks.

Sony BRAVIAs are AWESOME!

Pics to follow, stay tuned!

(If you didn’t get that pun, I am ashamed.)

Anyway, here are some pics of the setup:

If you’re the kind of person who loves their specs, they are here for your viewing pleasure. It’s the Sony BRAVIA 40″ X-Series LCD TV, with 1080p, 100Hz “Motionflow”, BRAVIA Engine PRO, x.v.Colour, a 10 bit panel, 3 HDMI inputs, etc…

As for the actual TV; it’s awesome, I love it! Now contemplating purchasing a TV tuner for my Mac, in tha hopes it will be half as good as the TV 😛

Update: I thought you guys might like an explanation of why there’s a new Sony X-Series LCD sitting in my lounge room, and it’s because, well, the old TV was getting old. Besides, we wanted an extra channel to watch, as well as digital (ooh!) TV.

It’s a massive shame that I don’t have any 1080p content to stick through it, so far, 1080i FTA (Free-To-Air) is all I’ve been able to push through. Hopefully we’ll get some sort of upscaling DVD player, to upscale those DVD’s from measly 576p to an insane, mind blowing 1080p. It should be awesome. Even more awesome would be true 1080p content, but I’m too poor to afford a Blu-Ray player at the moment 😀

I’m enjoying it immensely – it is by far the best TV my family has ever owned.