By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – June 2007)
Video games, they are tremendously popular and hugely profitable. World-wide they represented a market of $25.4 billion in 2004 and according to a recent forecast by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the industry will continue to grow at an average compound annual rate of 11.4% reaching $46.5 billion by 2010.
With games representing such big business, and average game development budgets growing from about $40,000 in the early 1990’s to over $10 million today, game design is hotter than ever, and lucrative too.
According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), there were 144,000 full-time employees working in video game development in the U.S. in 2005, up from 50,000 in 1998. The ESA estimates this number will grow to over a quarter of a million workers by 2009.
With entry-level game developers earning about $67,000 per year, I’ll bet you gamers out there must be thinking – a high-paying job making video games, what could be better!
So where can you get started? Well it just so happens that you have some options in Sault Ste. Marie. If you are between the ages of 11-16, Adventures in Computing Camps at Algoma University offer one week summer day camps in video game design, 3D/First-Person Shooter game design, and new this season, Role-Playing Game (RPG) design.
These one week camps take students through the game design process, learning the principles of game design, level design and 3D character design, while creating your own original 2D, 3D, FPS, and RPG games. Adventures in Computing Camps are in their 7th season in Sault Ste. Marie, and host about 100 students each summer. Visit www.computercamps.ca for more information.
Did you know that Algoma University will be offering a Masters Degree in Computer Games Technology beginning in September 2007? The program is the only one of its kind in North America, and is offered in cooperation with the University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland.
The program is 12 months long, and Students will study Game Design and Development, Programming for the Xbox and PC, Console Games Programming, The Games Marketplace, and Artificial Intelligence for Games, among other courses.
Potential applicants require a computer science degree and should be skilled C++ programmers to be accepted. The program is offered via video-conferencing with University of Abertay curriculum and instructors. Students will work on cutting-edge equipment and complete their own gaming projects during their one-year of study, and graduate with a Masters degree recognized for its excellence world-wide. For more information visit
The future of gaming is bright. Video games are pushing the envelope on technology, leading the development of faster PCs and consoles with ultra-realistic graphics capabilities. And this is only the beginning.
With all of these exciting opportunities to learn about video game design locally, perhaps in the next several years we may actually see a game development industry spring up right here in Sault Ste. Marie.
Wouldn’t that be cool…
By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – September 2007)
September 25, 2007 will go down in history…video game history that is. Halo 3, the much anticipated final chapter in the Halo trilogy was released at midnight on September 24th across the U.S, Canada and most of the rest of the world. Some 10,000 retailers in the U.S. opened their doors at 12:01 to allow thousands of fans to get their hands on the latest edition. Microsoft is banking on the fact that the Xbox 360 exclusive will not only be the biggest video game launch in history, but will also help catapult sales of the console itself, and solidify its position in the video game console market against rivals Sony (PS3) and Nintendo (Wii).
Halo 2 made history in 2004, when it brought in more than $125 million in its first 24 hours. And Halo 1 and 2 combined have sold more than 15 million copies since the series first launched for the original Xbox back in 2001. Two months ago, Halo 3 had already racked up over one million pre-orders, crushing all previous records, and would eventually hit almost 1.7 million pre-orders by launch time.
Microsoft has confirmed that Halo 3 grossed more than $170 million in sales in the first 24 hours after release. This is the largest single-day take in for any release in entertainment history, shattering the previous record held by the Spiderman 3 movie, which brought in $150 million in its opening weekend.
I remember when Halo first came out for the Xbox. Way back in 2001, critics were scoffing at Microsoft’s entry into the video game console market, but Halo was the killer app for Microsoft needed to turn the Xbox into a legitimate contender in the extremely competitive industry. This title was different than any games before it. It had beautiful graphics, an interesting story line, but most of all it was fun as hell to play. The multi-player campaigns were even more fun.
Halo 2 continued the story, and “the fight”, bringing with it a bigger focus on the multi-player game play, and was built from the ground up for play on Xbox live, Microsoft’s online membership service. Halo 2 is still the most played game on Xbox-live, even 3 years after its launch…something which is surely to change with the launch of Halo 3.
The third instalment opens with Master Chief hurtling towards earth in a Forerunner aircraft. After bailing out of the craft 2km above earth, Master Chief crashes into the dense forest of Africa where he is located, but though dead. After coming back online, Master Chief and his fellow humans begin the final fight.
After the first Halo is destroyed by humans, the second is activated and more are placed on standby, ready to fire. If the remaining Halos are activated by The Truth they will decimate all life in the galaxy, something that the human race along with their new found allies, the Elites, will do everything they can to prevent. You as Master Chief, along with your new ally, the Arbitor, must finish the fight against the alien Covenant and the Flood, destroying all remaining Halos in the process.
The first thing you notice when the game loads, is the gorgeous high-definition (HD) graphics. This is by far one of the best looking games to date. As you trudge through the different terrains, fighting the plethora of alien enemies, you can’t help being impressed by the incredible landscapes, and amazing realism that surrounds you. If you have played any of the Halo games before, then you are familiar with the game play. But Halo 3 continues the fun, by introducing a number of new vehicles, weapons and characters. The artificial intelligence (AI) of the characters is also impressive – providing more challenging game play.
Bungie, the game’s developer has introduced some really cool tools and features this time around. Like the addition of 4 player co-op over Xbox Live, and the ability to record your game play and send clips to all your buddies. The game also includes a new map building component called Forge. Forge allows players to “tweak, create, or even destroy the objects present on any multiplayer map.” In other words, players are able to customize maps, and then upload to Xbox Live for others to play.
If you already own an Xbox 360, then Halo 3 is an absolute must for your game collection…and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? It is an impressive game for a number of reasons, but I think the most important reason to pick it up, is the fun game play and ability to kick some alien butt with your buddy down the street or someone on the other side of the planet, over Xbox Live. So come on and join the fight to save the galaxy, and join the millions of fans who’ve already taken the pledge to “finish the fight”!
By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – September 2007)
Well, I finally caved in and bought myself a Sony PS3. I have never been a PlayStation user, opting instead for both the original Microsoft Xbox, and subsequent Xbox 360.
I would consider myself a casual gamer, but one who always needs to have the latest blockbuster game such as Halo I, II and on September 25th – Halo III. I find myself compelled to purchase the latest and greatest game to demonstrate the power and capability of my console.
I wrote a previous article on Blu-Ray (Sony) vs. HD-DVD and my conclusion was to stick with gaming console options as they were the cheapest way to go. For another $199 you could have an HD-DVD attachment for the Xbox 360, and for the price of $650 you could buy a PS3 with built in Blu-Ray.
Getting back to the reason I am the proud new owner of a PS3, the simple reason was that back in early August Sony decide to drop the price by $100. At $550, the PS3 suddenly looked attractive to me as a Blu-Ray player, with the “bonus” of being able to play some really cool games, as well as a few PS2 games I had my eye on over the years. But as I connected the unit to my plasma TV and began to explore its features more, I was pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of my new “toy”.
The PS3 is a powerful media device, which not only offers some very cool, very beautiful looking games, but as mentioned earlier, it is a full-featured Blu-Ray player allowing you to watch high-definition movies at the highest resolution possible (1080p). I am now able to watch either format of HD movies available and loving every minute of it.
But beyond these two key features, the PS3, which includes built-in wireless Internet capability, offers a slew of other neat features. These include streaming video and music from your PC, web browsing, access to the soon-to-be released Playstation Home environment (similar to Second Life) where you can create your own character and explore the online virtual world. The unit plays regular DVD and CDs as well, and performs quite well as a media hub, which Sony truly envisioned for the system.
To be fair, I still use my Xbox 360 more for gaming, as I find that PS3 still somewhat lacks those killer franchise games we see with the 360 including Gears of War, BioShock and Halo 3. I did purchase Resistance: Fall of Man with my PS3, and was quite impressed with the game, but I still give the edge to the Xbox 360 for gaming.
As far as the comparison of HD media goes, I really can’t see a difference between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray as they both look fantastic. The main difference is going to be the quality and selection of movies which are released for each format.
If you have been keeping up with the HD format war, it would appear that Blu-Ray may be winning the fight. But although I haven’t seen the same movie in both formats, so far I would tend to be more impressed with movies I have seen in the HD-DVD format. But then again, I have been impressed by the picture quality of movies such as King Kong (which came free with my HD-DVD player) but not so much with the newly released 300 – which I found rather disappointing as the film effect of a “grainy-type” image really didn’t make the movie appear as brilliant as I had hoped in HD format.
Back to my review of Xbox 360 vs. PS3 — I really can’t see how you could go wrong with either system. The one major factor for deciding on which player to get may be whether or not you already own a number of PS1 or PS2 games, as the PS3 is back-ward compatible allowing you to play your favourites on the new console. This wasn’t the case for me, but the idea of getting to play a game I was eyeing up several years ago actually influenced me a bit.
Back in 2004 when they released the X-Files game for PS2, the Xbox version was to come out shortly after, but the release was actually cancelled. So I never did get to play the game. As it turns out I was able to purchase a brand-new copy of the X-files on Ebay for a whopping $12 including shipping! My new purchase suddenly opened a new library of thousands of titles both new and old.
I’m not going to bother going over technical specs of both machines, as each are very capable of offering truly next-gen graphics and game play. I think that the Xbox 360 currently has the edge as their “second-generation” of games are on shelves, displaying the true capabilities of the system’s power. It will take a while longer before game developers reach that point with the PS3, but when they do I think games will look equally as impressive as Xbox 360 games.
So once again I find it difficult to crown a winner. I think that both consoles are truly capable of amazing graphics and game play, although the 360 has the current advantage here, with more and better games. The HD quality of each is also quite similar, although the format war could change the balance here in the next year or so. Both systems allow you to play games online and stream media from your existing PC.
In terms of online game play, however, I think the Xbox 360 has the current edge once again, as their Xbox Live service works great, and has been around much longer than Sony’s comparable online capabilities. One thing the PS3 has that the Xbox 360 doesn’t is the ability to surf the Net through the console. Although it is a bit hard to read and a bit clunky, the feature could come in handy, and I have always wondered why the 360 did not have this capability…on the other hand this may easily be added in the near future with one of their periodic software updates to the 360’s operating system.
By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – March 2007)
As DVD’s approach their 10 year anniversary, they have become so common and affordable that we find DVD players everywhere – our computers, our home-entertainment and stereo systems, even in our cars! In fact the technology has become so inexpensive, that DVD players can be had for as cheap as $30 and portable units with LCD screens less than $100.
But a new revolution is upon us. High Definition (HD) television sales are now leading the change to High Definition DVD formats. HD provides significant picture quality improvement over standard DVD, and with the growing popularity and increasingly lower cost of large screen Plasma and LCD televisions, consumers want more and more HD content.
In comes the successor to DVD…except we have a little problem. Two different formats are vying for the title of next generation DVD. They are Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Both formats can provide the highest level of HD quality – 1080p to be exact. With resolutions of 1920×1080 vs. standard DVD resolution of 720×480, the sheer detail and picture quality of both HD formats is remarkably better than DVD. Next time you are in a department store or local Future Shop, take a minute to watch either format playing on a 50-inch LCD or Plasma TV. You will be blown away by the picture quality and sound.
You might be asking yourself, what is the problem if we have two excellent formats to choose from…choice is good right? Choice is good AFTER a technology has been standardized. The problem is, if customers have to worry about which format will win in the end, it will dramatically slow the adoption of a new HD format. Who wants to be stuck with the losing product after spending close to $1,000 on a player?
Many writers point to the “Beta vs. VHS” wars in the 1980’s as an example of format war. If you are saying to yourself, “what the heck is Beta”, then this proves the point. In the early 1980’s Sony introduced the Betamax format to compete with VHS. Beta tapes were smaller and had a higher quality picture, but in the end VHS won the war, and reduced Beta to the junk pile. The lesson is that quality and technological superiority does not always ensure success. In fact, Sony has a history of delivering technologically superior products but some have been marketing flops. Just look at Sony’s Mini-Disc in the early 90’s, and their current Memory Sticks (which compete against CompactFlash and SD), which are essentially only used in Sony products.
That being said, Sony is the inventor and lead promoter of Blu-ray technology. But it has managed to bring together a large group of supporters this time around including Dell, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Mitsubishi Electric, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, TDK and Thomson. There are also a number of content providers supporting Blu-ray including Sony Pictures Entertainment, MGM, Walt Disney Company and its home-video division Buena Vista Entertainment. In addition, video gaming giant Electronic Arts, and Vivendi Universal Games have both shown support.
The main backer of the HD-DVD format is Toshiba along with NEC and Sanyo. An impressive list of entertainment content companies have also thrown their weight behind HD-DVD, including Paramount, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., along with New Line Cinema. Microsoft has also joined the HD-DVD camp, producing a $200 add-on unit for its Xbox360.
What’s the Difference?
Both formats offer six times the resolution of traditional DVD, high quality surround sound, interactive content, and copy protection built in. The main difference is the storage capacity and production cost of the product itself. HD-DVD holds 15GB on each layer (up to 30GB per disc). Blu-ray on the other hand holds 25GB per layer and up to 50GB per disc. Based on capacity alone, Blu-ray is the clear winner, although that capacity comes with a price. While HD-DVDs can be manufactured using the same production facilities as DVD’s, Blu-ray requires costly new manufacturing processes resulting in higher costs. Both formats are backwards compatible with standard DVDs, so you can still watch your collection of DVDs.
One factor that could influence the outcome of the format war is the fact that Sony has included Blu-ray in its new PS3 console. The company delayed the launch of the console in order to be able to include the new technology. The move, which was widely criticized and significantly raised the price of the units, could result in a significant advantage for the Blu-ray in the end.
To date Sony has sold over 2 million PS3’s world wide (700,000+ in the US) and with this number Sony claims to have surpassed the number of HD-DVD units sold to date. This significantly outstrips Microsoft’s HD-DVD add-on unit sales of about 100,000 in the US alone. Recent reports also show that Blu-ray movies have begun out selling HD-DVD by about 3:1.
Only time will tell which format will come out on top, but some companies aren’t waiting to find out. During the Consumer Electronics Show in January, LG Electronics unveiled the Super Multi Blue player, which can play both formats. In addition, Warner Bros. has announced plans to release the Total HD Disc, which can carry both formats on one disc. Both products should help to alleviate the fear of choosing a format while the battle is still being fought.
So what should you do if you just can’t wait unil there is a clear winner? Because the cost of either format’s player units are still so expensive ($600 for HD-DVD and $1,000 for Blu-ray), my suggestion would be to go with the consoles. If you already have an Xbox 360, for another $200 you can get an HD-DVD drive, with free movie and remote control. And if you are a PlayStation fan and can afford it, the PS3 ($550 – 650) will give you a Blu-ray player for far less than the cost of buying a standalone player.
But don’t forget you will need an HDTV to be able to enjoy either HD-DVD or Blu-ray, so if you don’t own one yet, perhaps you should start there.
By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – May/June 2007)
Windows Vista, Microsoft’s first new operating system in more than five years. Vista looks beautiful and has number of new features, but is it worth the upgrade?
When Vista was released to the public on January 30, 2007 I made a point of picking up a copy the first day. I must admit, I was excited to get my hands on the new OS after seeing some of the previews and screenshots of the new Aero interface.
For the non-techy, things could get a little confusing. Before even considering upgrading to Vista, you need to figure out if your current PC can run it effectively. You see, each new version of Windows typically requires a faster and more powerful PC to run it – and Vista is no exception. At minimum, Windows Vista requires a modern processor of at least 800MHz clock speed, 512MB RAM, and a DirectX 9 compatible graphics card. But these minimum specs won’t run Vista well.
In fact since running Vista in all its glory requires a pretty decent PC, Microsoft has made available, a free software download to test your system and tell you if upgrading your current PC to Vista is possible or even worthwhile.
Because I have a high-powered Dell laptop I ran the test, curious to see the results. Even though my Dell Inspiron XPS laptop was top of the line two years ago, I was interested to see how it would fair. According to the software, my PC was more than capable of running Vista without losing any functionality of graphical appeal. This mostly due to the 256MB nVidia graphics card on board.
I proceeded to install the upgrade over a recently installed fresh install of Windows XP – Media Centre version. After inserting the Vista DVD, the first thing that happened was a request to run the Windows Upgrade Advisor once again to identify any potential hardware or software issues. The test identified a few hardware drivers that may not function properly but for the most part there were no major problems listed. So after inputting the serial number which came inside the package, the install began.
The PC hummed as it chugged along, accessing the DVD and loading the installation. To my surprise it took at least 45 minutes before Vista was even ready to reboot for the first time. I waited patiently to see what Vista would look like upon reboot…but again I was unpleasantly surprised as more installation began to take place. I would have to wait at least another 10-15 minutes before seeing Vista in operation. All told, the upgrade took well over an hour, but finally I was able to see what new features and functionality Vista had in store.
My first impression upon loading – I was impressed with the new visual interface. Transparent windows, smooth animations and crisp graphics are the first thing you notice, along with other things like Windows Sidebar, and a new Start Menu.
There has been a lot of talk about how Vista resembles the Mac OS 10 with it’s visual appeal and affects. I won’t do a comparison here, but regardless I feel that the new Windows Aero interface is beautiful compared to Windows XP. The effects are possible through the newly designed graphics subsystem, and the introduction of DirectX10 which will allow for ultra-realistic games and program graphics in the future. Although a handful of games are under development to take advantage of DirectX10, users will also require a new graphics card such as the nVidia Geforce 8800 GTX which currently runs about $600 US!
Other advances include Windows Vista Instant Search which is fast and accurate. As you type in the file name, property or even text from within the file, it returns results before you even press enter. I found the search function performed very well.
Vista was built with security in mind. The OS functions in such a way that crucial parts of the code cannot be accessed by other programs such as malware and viruses. There are also a number of security features built in such as Windows Defender, firewall, and anti-phising software. Other security measures require the user to approve most changes to the system, such as when installing programs and approving any detected changes to the system files. It seems like overkill, but if it helps to keep the system from safe from online intruders and other dangers, then I might be able to live with it.
Windows Sidebar is kind of neat. The feature allows you to add gadgets to the side of your screen…cool things like a CPU and memory monitor, stock ticker, RSS news headlines, a clock or calendar and many more. They let you see information without opening a full program.
Most of the five versions of Vista have built in Media Center which helps you organize all of your digital entertainment including music, photos, movies and video clips. Users can utilize Media Center to play DVDs, record TV shows, or stream multimedia to your Xbox 360 if you have one. Although Microsoft has enhanced Media Center, it is essentially the same as the previous Windows Media Centre Edition.
I have now been using Vista for about two months and I have to say, there are a few things about it that really irritate me. The security measures I mentioned earlier, are a real pain to deal with. Vista asks for permission to do everything it seems, which really gets quite annoying, and I have found that several of my old programs do not work correctly with Vista, in fact a game I installed would not run because it was looking for a particular file that is not in this version of Windows. I have even had some trouble with programs that said they were Vista compatible.
All in all, I think that Vista is a nice step forward. The OS adds some neat features and some really great features, and does appear to be more stable and secure. However, there are significant compatibility issues that will take time to iron out.
My recommendation would be to pass on the upgrade of Vista and instead wait to get it with your next PC or laptop.