6.26.2016

The Top 8 Games of E3 2016

Action, adventure, shooters, horror and role playing


It’s that time of year again. E3 has ended, and the internet is abuzz (and aflame). It’s been quite a task keeping up with all the new trailers and announcements, but it was a lot of fun as well. Below are 8 games I will be keeping an eye on in the coming months. I’ve tried to limit this list to games that were newly announced during this year’s E3 (even though I really want to talk about Legend of Zelda).

1. God Of War


“We’ve already told the story of The Hulk. We want to tell the story of Banner now.” Cory Balrog told IGN. The new God of War’s creative director has sold me on Kratos’ next journey; fatherhood. Along with a move from Greek to Norse mythology, a shift in focus from button-mashing fits of rage to a story-heavy narrative is a welcome change of pace for one of the best action game series of the last decade. The announcement trailer shows off both the narrative and the combat, and IGN’s interview shows how much thought has gone into this project.

2. Crash Bandicoot Remastered Collection


There were rumors that Crash Bandicoot would be at E3, but I expected a similar disappointment to the Spyro Skylanders figure a few years back (and I was still half right). The announcement for Crash 1, 2 and Warped completely caught me off guard. The Playstation 1 platformer was created as a mascot to compete with Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic, but fell to the wayside after the games stagnated during the Playstation 2 era. Whether these games are remakes or remasters is still in the air, but I’m glad the classic series might get another chance.


3. Quake Champions


Id software looks to make a triumphant return following their newest trailer. The original Quake debuted 20 years ago, and is still played competitively. Quake Champions looks to be aiming to bring in players new and old, and Bethesda will support and expand tournaments and leagues beyond Quakecon. I’ve always been interested in the series, and Champions looks might it might be a good starting point.


4. Spider Man


Sony debuted a new Spider-Man game with an epic trailer using in-game footage. Insomniac (The original Spyro trilogy, Ratchet & Clank) is developing this one. The PS4 exclusive is not tied to a movie release (unlike “The Amazing Spider-Man” and its sequel, which are generally regarded as bad). I have a lot of respect for Insomniac Studios, and I think that an action-packed property like Marvel’s is in good hands.

5. Vampyr


This action RPG is based on the 1918 London Spanish flu Pandemic and developed by Dontnod Entertainment (Remember Me and Life is Strange). The trailer introduces a doctor searching for a cure, who happens to have a thirst for blood. Expect a lot of moral choices and consequences, mixed with some progression elements and interesting powers. You can find some more info in IGN’s gameplay showcase here.


6. Days Gone


We can’t have an E3 without a zombie game or two, and the open-world action adventure looks to focus on slaying massive hordes of them. The announcement trailer reminds me of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and loss will be a core theme. The game looks intense, and the gameplay demo has the protagonist running and climbing through a barn, taking moments here and there to thin out some of the ranks. 

7. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (or Biohazard 7: Resident Evil)


And here is the other zombie game, with a twist. In an unexpected move, Capcom will go back to Resident Evil’s survival horror roots… with VR. Horror games seem to be the genre most compatible with the immersive experience, reducing some people to a sobbing mess. Here is the trailer for the demo of the game (which will not be part of the final game at all). Motion sickness seems to be a problem right now, and a non-VR version will be available.

8. Steep


Ubisoft dropped a trailer for their new extreme sports game, reminding me that I don’t like high places (or snow, for that matter). The trailer was made with in-engine footage, and it looks good. Paragliders, wingsuits, skis and snowboards are your ticket down frighteningly high mountains, and the social features for a project like this (sharing routes, crashes, etc.) have a lot of potential. Anyone expecting a spiritual successor to SSX Tricky will likely be disappointed, as Steep has a very realistic feel. Steep will release in December, but a few of the preview reviews (like this one) have me a bit worried.

6.22.2016

Smartphones: Commodity or Luxury?

Phones are important, but is $700 a year worth it?

Too Good to Be True

Smartphones have become ubiquitous; 64% of Americans owned one as of last year. Over half of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices. And trends suggest that that gap between desktop and mobile will only widen with time; PC sales continue to decline.

The four to six-inch metal, plastic, and glass rectangle has become our constant companion, the most important gadget it our lives. We take our smartphones everywhere and spend an unhealthy portion of our day on them, five hours a day to be exact.

“Five hours a day.”

With so much time being on mobile devices, cell phone carriers have benefitted enormously. They have become the internet service provider (ISP) for a majority of our time online. Companies such Verizon Wireless and AT&T have surpassed the likes of Charter Spectrum and Time Warner Cable with respect to the direct level of control they exert over how we engage with the internet: data caps dictate the type of media consumed, peak traffic hours slow page loading times, wireless radios are a drain on battery life. And so mobile data has a unique and significant impact on our day-to-day lives.

There are two major types of smartphone data plans: prepaid and contact. The advantage of the latter is you receive a flagship phone upfront and pay it off over the course of your contact (most frequently lasting two years). Folks would rather get the newest iPhone as soon as it comes out and pay it off over the next year or two than save up for it and be stuck with something midrange or even low-end

Most people want a great phone but are unwilling to pay upfront for it. It's much the same with motor vehicles; most car buyers opt for financing so that they can be on the road in a better ride than they'd otherwise be able to afford. They eventually pay the full price of the car and then some, ditto for smartphones, but reap the reward of having been in possession of the car that whole time. 

The Galaxy J5 and S6 - Nearly Indistinguishable

But is paying to rent your smartphone, like file storage by way of Apple iCloud and other cloud storage solutions, the wise move? Are we really happier with $700 flagship phones than we’d be $500 richer and with something mid-range? Buying a used cell phone through a vetted source like Swappa or eBay (make sure returns are accepted) is another great way to buy something that will get the job done. 

Getting back to my car analogy, most people buy used because the savings outweigh the allure of a brand-spanking new vehicle. Why is it, then, that millions of people are addicted to upgrade cycles? (Both Apple and cell carriers are plotting to shorten them further.)

6.20.2016

The Last Generation of Consoles


Well everyone, this might be it. Rumors abound of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One receiving mid-generation upgrades may have signaled the end of console generations as we know it.

Last month, Phil Spencer hinted during the Xbox Spring Showcase that Microsoft is working on new hardware that would allow forward and backward compatibility for Xbox One games. This would allow Microsoft to focus on improving the Xbox One without fear of “invalidating the games that run on that platform.” In other words, new games built for the “Xbox One and a Half” will run perfectly fine on your Xbox One.

A few weeks later, Kotaku reported that Sony may be developing a “Playstation 4.5” with increased processing power and support for 4K resolution. These new specs will be important if Sony wants its upcoming Playstation VR to stand against the PC market’s Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

As of now, these updates to the Xbox One and Playstation 4 seem to be standalone consoles, and not individual components like in a PC. This is mixed news for consumers, as they will have to buy another edition of their current console, but won’t have to go through the likely warranty voiding hassle of taking their machine apart.

Also on the horizon is Nintendo’s next console, codenamed “NX", which was covered in Episode 3 of the Davis & the Jake-Man podcast. We gave our predictions of the upcoming mid-generation Xbox and PlayStation refreshes in Episode 5 of D&theJM.

6.15.2016

Davis & the Jake-Man 06: 1984 and the Surveillance State

6.12.2016

OEM Bloatware is Still a Security Problem


On May 31st, researchers from Duo Labs published a report detailing the bloatware found on ten new laptops. Bloatware is extra software added by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) before a computer is sold. Often this bloatware is slow, useless and difficult to remove. Some may remember last year’s Superfish and eDellRoot fiascoes. 

Lenovo’s Superfish adware was vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, even through encrypted communications. (I mentioned Superfish during our March podcast) eDellRoot is a preinstalled, self-signed root certificate which could be used to issue other certificates, spoof websites or perform phishing or man-in-the-middle attacks.


The researchers discovered and privately disclosed a dozen vulnerabilities, half of which were high-severity. As of the report:
  • Asus and Acer have not patched their reported vulnerabilities
  • HP has patched four of seven vulnerabilities
  • Lenovo will remove their affected software starting late Jun
  • Dell has quietly updated some of the flaws, and has mitigated others
OEM software tends to have system-level privileges, meaning the software is unaffected by any security protections on the machine. An attacker who can compromise such a level of access will have full control of the machine, and might be impossible to remove. Although they can be a good way for OEMs to make a bit of extra money to offset production costs, OEMs need to take steps to ensure that poorly written software won’t leave users vulnerable.

Duo Labs’ full report can be found here.

6.08.2016

AMD Strikes at the VR Market

GPU manufacturer announces VR ready graphics card for $199


AMD just announced a new graphics card capable of powering a virtual reality headset. The AMD Radeon RX480 will be retail for only $199. Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift currently require graphics cards costing upwards of $300. (NVIDIA’s GTX 1070 currently retails for $380, while their GTX 1080 sits at a lofty $600).

The RX480 will use AMD’s new Polaris architecture, along with AMD’s FreeSync technology and support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) gaming. (FreeSync helps smooth framerates, HDR expands the range of colors and contrasts for displays) AMD’s new card carries around five teraflops of computing power, compared to six teraflops on the NVIDIA GTX 1070 and nine teraflops from the 1080. 

"AMD has chosen not to directly compete with NVIDIA."

Id Software praised the card for running their remake of the hit classic Doom, although frame rates have not been posted. Another possibility is to use two of the cards, which would cost only $400. It was stated by AMD Radeon head Raja Koduri that this configuration beat NVIDIA’s GTX 1080 in both frame rate and computing capacity. For Ashes of Singularity, the dual-RX480 configuration clocked 62.5 frames per second, while the GTX 1080 clocked 58.7 frames. The RX480s reached about 50 percent capacity while the GTX 1080 reached nearly 100 percent. This sounds promising on paper, however, there are still too many unknowns (clock speeds, graphical settings, etc.).

With this card, AMD has the chance to drastically cut the entry cost for VR. NVIDIA has proven nearly impossible to dethrone in the high-end market, and AMD has chosen not to directly compete with the monstrous GTX 10 series. Performance gains in GPUs have stagnated in recent years, and AMD’s move looks to be great for budget-conscious gamers.

6.03.2016

Get Out of MySpace

Potentially the largest breach yet


Time Inc., the parent company of the social network MySpace, has just been alerted to a hack. The hack includes usernames, passwords and email addresses for accounts created before June 11, 2013. MySpace claims that the hack was done by “Peace”, also responsible for the LinkedIn breach I wrote about earlier this week.

MySpace has not said how many accounts were compromised, but hacker search engine LeakedSource.com has claimed over 360 million accounts were leaked. Some accounts had second passwords, bringing compromised passwords to over 427 million. This MySpace hack could be the largest known compromise thus far. LinkedIn’s hack resulted in around 117 million accounts for sale online.

"Over 360 million accounts were leaked."

MySpace is currently alerting affected users, so check your email if you have used the service even if you haven’t used it in a while. It’s sad to say that these companies tend to keep your information long after you have closed an account with them. After all, your information is important to them.
Do any of the above look familiar? These were the most used passwords of 2013.

MySpace has voided all passwords for affected accounts, and you will need to authenticate your account and reset the password. MySpace is looking out for suspicious activity, and law enforcement is investigating. One key piece of information is that no financial information leaked. MySpace does not collect, store or use any credit card information. Finally some good news.

Once again, please practice good password hygiene:
  • Use strong, alphanumeric passwords (and be more creative than P@ssw0rd1)
  • Change passwords every once in awhile (3 months to one year is reasonable)
  • Use different passwords for each site (simply adding a few unique letters to the end is fine with a strong base password)