Zero Lives - Episode 005: Mass Effect 3

App of the Week: Microsoft Solitaire Collection

Microsoft Solitaire Collection
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: Free!

What's this!?  The Solitaire Collection again?  Well, yes...and no.  This time, the collection of popular games (Klondike, FreeCell, Spider, TriPeaks, and Pyramid) have come to the phone.  For the most part everything plays the same with only some minor differences.  And unfortunately, all of those differences are horrible.

First and foremost, the game is poorly optimized for the platform.  A single game of Klondike made my Nokia Lumia 920 uncomfortably warm.  Even if I just grasped the edges with my fingers, I could feel the heat radiating off the back of the phone.  And because the CPU is being worked so hard, the battery drains rapidly.  There are reports that it will even drain the battery with the phone plugged in.  There's simply no excuse for that.

The other big draw is the advertisements.  Yes, I understand it's a free game, but so was the desktop client.  And that version would only have ads between games when displaying stats.  Now, the ads will not go away.  They're locked at the bottom of the screen and more often than not, are ads for other Microsoft titles like Mahjong and Minesweeper.  Now it's fine that you've put an app out for free and you want to advertise your other free games, but the way it's implemented in this app is quite distracting.

My biggest personal gripe is the hidden UI.  To change the settings for a games (ex. draw three to draw one, etc.), you have to tap the lower right hand corner of the screen to bring up the settings.  There is no indicator that is where the settings are.  The only other settings menu is on the home screen for the app and it's just general settings like volume control.  It's hidden UI elements like this that turned people off to Windows 8.  There's absolutely no need for it here.  The fact that I found it completely by accident is a terrible design choice.

The last minor gripe is that themes can't be customized.  It's not a huge deal, but I was a big fan of that inclusion for the desktop version.  And since the phone client is capable of syncing with cloud saved games for the desktop, why not themes used on the desktop?

Overall, this is a terrible offering from Microsoft.  There are other, better versions of these games available on the Marketplace.  Do yourself a favor and avoid it until they decide to patch such issues as the battery and CPU usage.

A Look at the Gods of Smite - Chronos

My review of the god eternal, Chronos, is up at!

A Look at the Gods of Smite - Ne Zha

My review of the Chinese Boy Wonder is up at!

Fix It! Asus Vivo Tab RT's Flickering Screen

Image courtesy of PC Mag.

Today I've come across an issue which has apparently afflicted many other owners of the Asus Vivo Tab RT.  After using the tablet all day yesterday without issue, I opened it up today and noticed the screen was flickering.  Nothing I tried would fix it: changing the brightness settings, adjusting power options, rebooting, completely turning off and back on, or removing it from the dock. 

Other users reported the issue after applying a firmware update released earlier this year.  My own tablet is completely up to date as far as Windows and Asus are concerned.  Possible solutions included rolling back the nVidia Tegra 3 display driver, upgrading to Windows 8.1, installing any missing updates, or performing a System Reset when all else fails.

In my case, I didn't have the option to roll back the driver, I already have 8.1 installed, and my machine is completely up to date.  Rather than set myself back by completely resetting the machine to factory settings, I opted for a System Refresh.  This kept all of my data intact, but reset every other component.  The process took about an hour to complete and once it was done, the flickering had disappeared.

There's still no official fix for the issue and it's apparently sporadic as to when it will occur.  I've had my tablet for several months and this is the first time I've encountered it.  Either way, this is what worked for me.  If you're one of the handful with this tablet, hopefully this will help.

App of the Week: Nokia Creative Studio

Nokia Creative Studio
Publisher: Nokia
Platform: Windows Phone 8
Price: Free!

Photo editing apps are a dime a dozen.  Or maybe a few hundred for a penny.  I don't know.  A lot of them are free.  So that's why it takes something a little special to stand out from the crowd.   And Nokia has been doing a splendid job of that for Windows Phone.  It's their unending support with top notch apps and incredible build quality that will ensure I continue to buy Nokia headsets.

Nokia Creative Studio is a simple, easy to use photo editor.  It offers several editing features that can put a creative spin on your pictures.  Focus and blur allows the focusing of objects by drawing around the subject you want in focus and then drawing a secondary line around the background.  It can be a little cumbersome drawing with your finger to get all the details, but overall, it's a great way of drawing focus to a particular area.

Radial and tilt shift is also an option and is fun for making photos look like miniatures.  Beyond that, I haven't found much use for the feature.

Color pop allows you to modify a picture, making it monochrome for the most part and picking specific items in the picture to have color.

Collage is self-explanatory.  Take a group of photos and arrange them into a photo collage.

Starting out with the app allows choosing a specific color scheme to work with.  From monochrome to opal and jade, there's a wide range to start working with.  And much like any other photo editor, there are the options to adjust color balance, brightness, clarity, vibrancy, crop, rotate, and fix red eye.  So it has the standard features of most photo editors, but the few extras make it stand out to me.  If you have a Nokia Windows Phone, there's no reason not to add this free app to your collection.

App of the Week: Google Search

Google Search
Publisher: Google
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT
Cost: Free!

When Microsoft decided to integrate Bing Search deeper within the Windows 8 OS, I thought I could get used to it.  After all, I just needed to keep using the search pane rather than the dedicated app.  But as I used it more and more, the strangest thing happened.  I started to miss the Bing app.  I liked having one dedicated app for searching.  Much like the search button on my Windows Phone, I found it easy to use.  But that went away.  And honestly, I'm not a fan of having to sift through the multitude of results for whatever it is I'm looking for.  As much as I grew to like Bing, I knew in my heart of hearts that I'd go back to Google sooner or later.  With the Google Search app for Windows 8 and Windows RT, I'm glad I finally have.

For me, the Google Search app picks up where the Bing app left off.  And then it improves on it several times over.  To get the most use out of the app, you'll need to sign in.  From there, Google will continue to collect data on you, but it uses that data to tailor results for you.  And, it allows you to use the most popular Google apps like Gmail, Drive, etc.  Another great feature is that all of the apps are contained within Google Search itself.  Even launching the Blogger app stays within.  That alone makes Google Search a great addition to my RT lineup.

But the feature that blew me away was voice search.  The app seamlessly connected with my machine's microphone and literally within seconds I was searching by voice alone.  The app was clever enough to pick up on every word I was saying, including phrases like "What was the score of the Packers game?"  And a majority of the search results will be narrated and give a little more info before clicking through a link.  I love the voice command feature that Kinect allows me to use with the Xbox 360.  And until Cortana arrives, I think Google may have filled a void I didn't think needed filling.

Google Search is a must have app for any Windows 8 or Windows RT user. Not only because of the general search feature, but because of the way it ties into the Google ecosystem and provides many of the tools in demand for both work and home.  Do yourself a favor and download it now.

App of the Week: Netflix

Publisher: Netflix
Platform: Damn near everything
Cost: Monthly Subscription

There's not a civilized soul alive that doesn't know about Netflix.  So much of what I'll say may will probably be old news to some.  However, the changes that the company has been making have only increased the usability of the app, especially on the Xbox 360.

First and foremost, Netflix has finally added profiles to the mix!  Up to five profiles can be set up under a single account.  This allows users to custom tailor Netflix to their personal tastes.  No longer will parents be forced to sift through recommendations based on their children's love of My Little Pony.  Profiles can be named and assigned a unique avatar.  Upon launching the app, it will now prompt for a profile.  And for those sharing the account with friends and family, this feature alone may be the greatest addition the app has ever seen.

But Netflix has also been tinkering with the look of the app on the Xbox 360.  Titles are still sorted by category, but titles no longer expand into a slideshow of stills when highlighted.  Instead, the stills will play across the top third of the screen alongside a description at the top.  The cover and categories stay at the bottom and make searching easier.  And overall, the appearance is slicker and a slight bit easier to navigate.

Voice control with the Kinect is still in place, but it doesn't seem as responsive.  It could just be me.  The family Xbox has shown its true colors more than once by responding to everyone's commands but mine...on my profile.  Regardless, I feel like I'm yelling at the Xbox more in a vain effort to get it to respond.  Accents and changes in pitch seem to have little effect.

Beyond the profiles, the changes are superficial, but still welcome.  Netflix continues to improve and each update only reflects this.  Thanks to its incredible lineup and ease of use, I'd say it's the most heavily used app on our Xbox 360.  And based on Xbox usage stats, it seems this is the case for many.  Clearly, Netflix is doing something right.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

The Force Unleashed was met with generally positive reception from both fans and critics alike despite noted repetition in enemies and levels.  And after what seemed like a death of protagonist, Starkiller, at the end of the game, many were left wondering what route a sequel could take.  Two years later, everyone got their answer with The Force Unleashed II.

Clones.  The answer is clones.  Starkiller really did die at the end of the first game, giving everything so the Rebel Alliance could form.  Roughly six months after the end of the first game and just before Episode IV, players find that Vader has been up to his yellow eyeballs in cloning another secret apprentice on Kamino.  After going through countless clones, we meet this latest one who has failed yet another one of Vader’s tests when he refuses to kill an assassin droid with the guise of Starkiller’s main squeeze, Juno Eclipse.

As he’s set to be executed, Clone Starkiller breaks free from the cloning facility and makes his way off-world chasing the memories of the original Starkiller.  Along the way he runs into the original’s former allies, General Kota and Bail Organa.  Throw in a completely forced cameo from Yoda and a pointless vision quest in the same cave Luke will later journey through and it’s clear that the game is primarily pointless fan service.  There’s very little substance to the game and even when compared to the first, it falls short.  Neither game feels essential to the canon of the series.  Rather than focus on a compelling and unique story that could have been brilliant like the Expanded Universe, it was decided to make as many unnecessary ties to major merchandising points as possible.  So Boba Fett and Yoda were shoehorned into the story.  Both could be removed with little to no detriment to the overall story. 

A large problem with the first game was repetition.  There wasn’t much variety to enemies and the second half of the game had Starkiller running through the exact same locations as the first half.  The Force Unleashed II follows in those same footsteps for the same terrible effect.  Throw in more quicktime events for finishing moves on bosses which never change and it starts to get old fast.

It doesn’t help that from the Starkiller feels a bit overpowered.  Granted, he’s supposed to be incredibly powerful, but from the first level the only challenge is the amount of enemies thrown at him.  But there’s no variety to the fights.  Each enemy must be taken down in the manner unique to them, which is never more than one.  So each forced fight in the painfully guided levels is just an echo of the last.  It would have been nice if there were several different ways to tackle a fight, but there just aren’t.  And each breaks down to forcing your way through.  There is no finesse required and any real style isn’t rewarded.  And when you’re spamming the same moves repeatedly and winning, there’s no need to try anything else and thus the other skills available and the “skill tree” becomes completely irrelevant.

The game looks and sounds like Star Wars, but much like many of the cash grabs the series has been making of late, the whole thing feels hollow.  The cutscenes are absolutely astounding and the amount of detail is incredible.  The much touted Havok and Digital Molecular Matter engines are put to great use as nearly everything is destructible in the game.  Enemies can be cut apart in nearly any manner and their bodies react accordingly when interacting with the environment.  No game outside of The Force Unleashed series captures the raw power of the Jedi.  The body of the game is solid, it just lacks soul.

In the end, that’s all The Force Unleashed II is.  There are some new environments and two lightsabers, but not much more.  The story is forgettable and there’s no deviation from the design choices that were so heavily criticized in the first game.  This game could have been so much more, and it’s indicative of what is wrong with the franchise as a whole.  It’s become a lazy cash-in of the name and that’s just not enough.

Aurora Lakeland Medical Center's Cheeseburger

Place: Aurora Lakeland Medical Center
Location: Elkhorn, WI
Ingredients: American Cheese

While waiting for my son's birth and helping Kim through the labor pains that accompany that, a perverse idea struck me.  I'm going to have to order lunch.  They have burgers here.  I write reviews about the burgers I've eaten on my site!  I should review another hospital's burger!

And so my order was placed.  And I waited.  And waited some more.  An hour later, my "Dad Tray" finally came and the smell of the plastic warming cover combined with the overly processed food assailed my senses, causing flashbacks of the kitchen I had worked in over a decade ago.  I guess some things never change.

And indeed they don't.  The burger was exactly as I had remembered it.  The bland patty had just enough meat in it to be called a hamburger as it sat between two of the lowest grade bun halves.  While it wasn't horrible, it was just so basic and disheartening.  This burger was the calculated result of research whose sole aim was to determine, "just how little do we have to produce to make an edible product and call it a hamburger?"

On the Side:
Crinkle cut fries that were soggier than a sauna towel

Photos! Wisps and the Moon

I took this photo about a month ago.  The moon was full and there was a beautiful halo around it.  Now, despite the incredible technology behind the Lumia 920's camera, it is absolute crap when it comes to taking a decent photo of the moon.  Fortunately, my inexperience with taking good photos led me to snapping the picture while exhaling.  Thus, my breath was forever frozen in this moment that I think ended up being a fairly decent photo.

The Game Master

At the end of a long day filled with disappointment in humanity, I found myself at the local Wal-Mart.  Now I understand that Wal-Mart is the lowest common denominator of what humanity has to offer.  But I'll be damned if you can beat the deals and selection of their various wares of questionable quality.

As I meandered through the aisles, I naturally found myself in the electronics department, specifically the video game aisles.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but it was a habit I had formed, perusing the latest releases and other titles and accessories from prior generations being sold at extortion rates.  I was specifically looking at the latest Skylanders offerings, wondering if I should get a companion for Drobot.  I quickly chastised myself for being a fool.  Drobot is the greatest skylander there is.  Why would I ever need another one?  But..what if I got another Drobot?  Great Odin's raven!  I would be unstoppable!

While I was lost in the fantasy of robotic dragons firing blistering eye lasers, I was rudely pulled from my thoughts by a pre-pubescent voice.

"So you like video games?"

I turned to my right and saw the owner of the voice was a young boy with dirty blonde hair that was cut short.  His small nose twitched as he sniffled and snorted, aborting his snot's escape attempt from Nasal Narrows.

A look of confusion must have played across my face, but he didn't seem to notice.  "...Yes.  I enjoy video games."

"Yeah, video games are great."  He turned slightly, gesturing at the consoles set up for shoppers to try out.  His arms spread out like a showman who had just finished a trick.  "I've beat every game out there."  His arms lifted a bit higher, as if taunting me, before dropping again.  "Well, every game except for Grand Theft Auto.  I'm the Game Master."

I looked at him in disbelief and started making my way past him, trying to leave the aisle.  He then began walking next to me.  I'm a complete stranger.  I'm the stranger parents warn their kids about.  The hobo looking fellow with the scruffy beard and long hair.  I should evoke terror in his tiny heart.  Either the stereotype has changed, his parents never told him, or he was too stupid to know better.

"Well, you're too young to play a game like that."

My words had no effect on him as he stopped and looked up at me.  With tone that made it clear he thought I was an idiot, he stated "I'm 12.  I've played Call of Duty."

Rather than be the creepy bearded guy talking to a young boy next to a Wii U display showing off the latest Mario title, I dropped my planned rebuttal of a detailed explanation of the ESRB system and why he shouldn't play a title like that.  Without looking at him, I shrugged my shoulders in defeat and muttered "Uh huh." before walking off.

Thankfully he stayed within the confines of the gaming section as if he were a proud dog guarding his territory.  As I made my way out of the store, I realized with a brutal clarity that he is the stereotypical kid on PSN and Xbox Live.  The one with the high pitched voice that cracks from time to time as he hurls insults about my sexuality and the depraved encounter he had with my team's mothers.  I had indeed met "The Game Master."

Photos! The Foggy Graveyard

I'll admit that I'm not much of a photographer.  I have no grasp of composition, lighting, or alignment to take a decent photo.  But as a thick fog has enshrouded the surrounding area and I had some free time, I decided to take some shots at the local cemetery.

App of the Week: Halo: Spartan Assault

Halo: Spartan Assault
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8
Price: $3.49

It was only a matter of time before a Halo title found its way to the new mobile Windows platforms.  And it's a hell of an entry.  Much like Infinity Blade did for iOS, Halo: Spartan Assault has raised the bar for mobile games on Windows.

Acting as a training simulation withing the newly created Spartan Ops program aboard the UNSC Infinity, Spartan Assault chronicles the events of Spartan Davis and Spartan Commander, Sarah Palmer.  The story is spread across six operations containing five missions each.  A rogue group of covenant have broken the peace treaty brokered at the end of Halo 3 and have unleashed hell on another planet containing Forerunner technology.  It's not the most original story, but hits all of the bullet points necessary for a Halo game.  It's enough to keep the game moving along, but skipping the beautiful drawn cutscenes and pre-mission text won't detract from the overall experience.  It's kind of hard to do that when each mission breaks down to killing alien by whatever means necessary.

And that's truly the strongest aspect of Spartan Assault.  Much like Halo 4, there's a load-out that can be customized before each mission.  The customization is fairly limited as weapons are preset for each mission and the primary weapon can only be swapped out if the player has accrued enough experience from previous missions.  The new weapon will only be available for the next mission unless purchased again.  But each gun consumes ammunition with gluttonous glee, so expect to scavenge for weapons frequently.

All of the favorites from the series are there and in strong showing.  Each performs as it always has except of course for sniper rifles.  While they still pack a punch, there's no way to sight up an enemy and pull off a satisfying headshot.

Played from a top-down perspective, the Spartans are moved with a virtual joystick on the left and guns fired in any direction with a right virtual joystick.  With this control scheme, Spartan Assault plays like a classic top-down shooter.  However, the controls are so responsive and silky smooth, that it's hard to believe it's being played on a touch device.  Despite support keyboard and mouse and even the Xbox 360 controller, Spartan Assault handles beautifully with the virtual controls.  The rest of the controls are spread along the bottom and right hand sides of the screen in a clear, easy to access fashion.  The simple layout combined with the highly responsive controls puts Spartan Assault at the top of the mountain as far as mobile controls are concerned.  It's simply unbelievable how quickly and natural it felt to circle strafe targets and not have any rogue shots.

Graphics are as good as can be expected for a title like this.  Everything looks as it should, from weapons and effects to character models and environments.  It's not astounding like Infinity Blade, but it's no slouch either.  And for being a game capable of running on Windows Phone and Windows RT, it's extremely good looking.

Since its release, an additional operation has been added, Hydra, which tacks on five new missions.  Missions can be completed in a few minutes which makes this a perfect title for on the go gaming.  And for a title to be so well polished and have such compelling gameplay, the low price is all the more enticing.  For those still on the fence, there's a free "Lite" version which gives a taste of the story and the first level of play.  But I can almost guarantee that anyone who gives it a try will immediately buy the full version.

Release Calendar: December 2013

December 09:
Peggle 2 (Xbox One)

December 10:
Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God (PS Vita)

December 11:
Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise (PC)

December 12:
Let's Sing (PC)

December 18:
Jett Tailfin Racers (3DS)

December 31:
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD (PS Vita, PS3)

F.E.A.R. 3

The F.E.A.R. series has long held a cult following since its initial release.  The third installment promised to provide some closure to the twisted story of Alma and her two sons, Point Man and Fettel.  But does this latest installment provide more of the heralded psychological horror or has it devolved into yet another generic FPS?

F.E.A.R. 3 picks up with Point Man being interrogated in an Armacham controlled prison.  The now deceased Paxton Fettel interrupts the intense session and soon the brothers forge an uneasy alliance and escape.  Along the way to the Project Origin facility, the brothers discover that Alma is pregnant following her rape of Sergeant Michael Becket.  She is going into labor and the paranormal activity has driven the local residents insane.  The brothers must fight their way past Armacham soldiers, paranormal monstrosities, and their own tortured memories to their mother.

After overcoming all of the challenges before them, the brothers must decide what to do with their mother and new sibling.  There are unique endings for each brother.  When playing co-op, whomever had the most points from the campaign will be the favorite son and their ending will play.  It’s an interesting dynamic that encourages a healthy amount of competition.

The endings, much like the story itself, are lackluster.  The entire experience rings hollow and there’s no depth apparent for any part of the short journey.  This is also true of the supposed horror theme.  The game itself isn’t terribly scary.  The environments are dark and brooding with plenty of gore.  But whenever there are automatic weapons and giant robots involved, the fear a game can generates goes down exponentially.

Thankfully, each brother plays vastly different from one another, so replaying the game as the other sibling is like an entirely new journey.  Point Man plays as one would expect any protagonist in a FPS to.  He can pick up and instantly use any weapon found like a veteran.  He also has the ability to slow down time which is infinitely useful in its own right. 
While his brother is severely stunted in his originality, Fettel is the real threat.  Fettel can fire paranormal orbs that deal moderate damage, hurl objects across a room, and even provide a shield for Point Man.  But his greatest ability is to lock enemies in a form of stasis, keeping them hovering a foot off the ground.  From there, he can make them explode into a cloud of gore or possess them entirely.  Each possessed enemy has their own health bar and can then behave like Point Man, sans the slow time ability.  And when the enemy is no long useful, Fettel can make them explode with his own paranormal abilities.  However, it’s far more destructive to save a grenade and run the poor solider into a group of his allies before dropping it.  This ability to hop from body to body with what is essentially an infinite supply of life makes Fettel an extremely adaptive and fierce combatant.  Where Point Man must be more reserved in his attacks, playing as Fettel is like controlling chaos itself.

And when it comes to controlling each of the brothers, they handle exceptionally well.  There are no instances of floaty aiming or buggy cover mechanics.  Be it Point Man or Fettel, pressing a button will elicit a precise response. 

The AI provides enough challenge to keep players from recklessly charging into each fight.  Squads will communicate with one another and try to flank the brothers.  Mini-boss characters require a more concentrated effort to defeat.  This is where Fettel’s ability to shield his brother comes to play with great effect.
From a visual standpoint, F.E.A.R. 3 is a decent looking game.  It runs along the middle of the road and is far from terrible looking, but won’t win any awards either.  Pre-rendered cinematics play between each of the eight missions and are rather bland.  The blank, Neanderthal face of Point Man is just as unexciting as his concept.  His lack of reaction to any situation is a large contributing factor to the lack of any engagement for the player. 

There’s a bit of a draw to the visuals with most levels being on the smaller side and the bigger maps being shrouded in a dense fog.  Maps are fairly linear with clearly defined start and end points.

There’s a robust offering of multiplayer modes, but due to my obtaining the game later on, there are no active lobbies any longer.  This coupled with the short campaign provides little replay value at this point.  With a competent co-op partner, the game can be plowed through in roughly five hours.

F.E.A.R. 3 is just different enough to make it entertaining for a couple of play-throughs.  After that, there’s little in the way of story, upgrades, or multiplayer to keep players coming back.  The lack of promised terror also hurts if you’re looking for a scary game.  For those that have played through the first two games, there’s enough merit to warrant completing it.  For everyone else, it’s fun if you’re looking for something a little different in the FPS genre.

App of the Week: Star Wars: Tiny Death Star

Star Wars: Tiny Death Star
Publisher: LucasArts
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8
Price: Free!

Combining the addictive gameplay of NimbleBit's Tiny Tower with the juggernaut that is Star Wars rewards fans of both with the hybrid Star Wars: Tiny Death StarTiny Death Star is a game of building resources to generate more resources so players can build more resources.  Long story short, it's a classic time sink.

Building a Death Star is expensive.  And despite the vast pockets of the Emperor and Lord Vader, it's going to take a little bit more to get this machine of terror built.  That's where the player comes in.  It's up to them to build new levels on the Death Star to attract new tenants, bitzens, to live, work, and shop on the space station.  Levels must be constructed one by one and become increasingly expensive to build.  Once a tenant moves in, they must be assigned a job in the multitude of shops that can be built.  From there, product must be ordered and stocked to bring in the substantial amounts of money required to continue building.

There are steep time limits on building new levels and stocking product.  This is where the time sink aspect comes in.  Players can only do so much in one sitting before they're forced to wait for the desired action to complete.  Of course, this process can be completed immediately by spending Imperial Bux.  Imperial Bux are a special form of currency awarded for completing special objectives.  Alternatively, they can be purchased with real world money.

There are loads of Easter eggs and nods to Star Wars universe that are definitely entertaining.  Checking the Holonet provides plenty of humor as the bitzens share their thoughts on living in the Death Star through a Facebook-esque social forum. 

Tiny Death Star is available on several platforms and I found that it played best on my Lumia 920.  The vertical aspect fit well with the screen.  On the tablet, the screen is locked in the horizontal position with a lot of wasted space on either side of the screen.  It would have been great if it were possible to rotate the screen and play it in a vertical mode.  Even better would be the ability to have the game sync across the platforms.  As it stands now.  I have a separate game running on each platform.  While Tiny Death Star is enjoyable in the small bursts I play it in, I have no desire to keep three separate games running.  Especially when I'd be building the same design three times over. 

Tiny Death Star is fun, but is limited because of what it is.  But if you're looking for something to kill a few minutes and have an itch for Star Wars, this is the game for you.

App of the Week: Asphalt 7: Heat

Asphalt 7: Heat
Publisher: Gameloft SA
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT
Price: $1.99

Racing games are a staple on the mobile market.  The bevy of sensors included in the thin portable devices almost makes them ideal for the genre.  Add in the natural ability to "steer" the device by turning it like one would an actual steering wheel and you can check off another box in the immersion category.

Asphalt 7: Heat was one of the first racing titles available for Windows 8 that caught my eye.  Granted the game has been available on other platforms for some time now, but that doesn't make it any less fun to play on Microsoft's latest OS.  Especially if that OS is running on a tablet.

Visually speaking, Asphalt 7 is a striking game.  I'm floored at the incredible quality of the graphics and that there's no dip in framerate or any pop-in.  There's a great deal of detail in the car models themselves and enough in the environment to make it engaging while barreling through the streets.  The visuals are on a level that I wasn't expecting my tablet to deliver.

The maps themselves offer a good deal of variety so as not to feel repetitive.  There are plenty of paths to chose on some maps with shortcuts cleverly placed to give players an edge while racing.

Cars and races are broken up into categories so you won't be racing a Mini Cooper against a Ferrari.  While it makes sense, it's still disappointing that I can't exclusively drive a Viper in every race.  To progress, mini circuits of several races must be completed which award money and stars for completing side objectives within each race.  As stars and money are accrued, players unlock new cars and upgrades.  There's a bit of a grind involved, but it's not terrible.  It's just enough to keep players coming back for another race.

The handling is very sensitive.  At least it was on my Asus Vivo Tab RT.  I would find myself over-steering in a vain attempt to counteract what I had just done.  It took some time, but I eventually found my rhythm of short, smooth movements that seemed to work.  It's a bit frustrating at first, but works itself out with practice.

For $1.99, it's hard to beat the price for such a high quality game.  The visuals are astounding for a mobile title and the quick nature of the frantic races make it a game easily played in short bursts.  The long term investment of repeating races for more stars and cash eventually pays off once better cars and upgrades are finally unlocked.  And once the single player portion is complete, there's always multiplayer to keep players entertained.  All in all, Asphalt 7: Heat is a package as slick as its visuals.

Game Giveaway!

Thanks to the wonderful deals found in WB's Humble Bundle, I have some spare keys for Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, Batman: Arkham City: GOTY, and F.E.A.R. 3.  The keys can be redeemed through Steam.  The first commenter walks away with the game of their choice.  Limit one game per reader.

App of the Week: Authenticator

Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: Free!

When it comes to security, one can never be too safe.  Having two factor authentication is one of the best ways to ensure everyone but you can't get into your account.

Authenticator is Microsoft's solution for its Windows Phone users.  The app works wonderfully with Microsoft, Google, and Facebook accounts.  It's very easy to set up the authenticator in the respective account settings.  Once set up, Authenticator will randomly generate codes to be used in conjunction with the account password.  So if someone tries to log into an account with the password, they'll still be prompted for the Authenticator code which is only available within the app.

For the security conscious, this is a fantastic solution to the always growing problem of account security.

The Humble WB Games Bundle

The Humble Bundle is back!  This time, WB Games is backing and supporting the We Can Be Heroes charity.

"We Can Be Heroes is designed to raise awareness and critical funds needed to fight the devastating hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa and bring help and hope to eight million people who are in urgent need of assistance.  The campaign is lead by DC Entertainment's iconic characters - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.  Since launching the campaign in early 2012, we've helped more than five million people in the Horn of Africa.  The funds we raise through these efforts support the work of the campaign's three humanitarian aid organizations - Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and Mercy Corps."

To make this a success, WB Games is letting players pay what they want and in return, they receive Steam keys for Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, F.E.A.R. 3, and Lord of the Rings: War in the North.  Those than opt to pay more than the average of $4.58 will also receive Scribblenauts Unlimited and Batman: Arkham City GOTY.  This an incredible bargain for equally impressive games.

Happy Halloween!

When the leaves turned and began their slow deathly descent to the ground, that is when they came.  Through the rolling mists and under the encompassing cover of night they came.  We knew not whence they came or their purpose.  We only knew to barricade the doors with strong oaken boards and light the jack-o-lanterns.  Those who failed to heed the warnings would be drug from their homes with horrified wails of unearthly terror.  Terrible talons and gnashing teeth would tear at their flesh and rend it from bone while we listened on.

That is where the tradition began.  Those who carved the pumpkins with ancient runes and lit them with the fire of our ancestors were safe.  For hundreds of years we had lived like this.  Beyond this one awful night we lead ordinary, pleasant lives.  But this night always came.  It always returned like a bad dream, wrapping up the village in its brutal embrace.

In the week prior, we had carved our ancestral runes into the pumpkin.  It was something that always brought the family together.  It had to, lest we be torn apart by our communal failure.  As the sun set beyond the towering trees bordering our quiet hamlet, we put the jack-o-lanterns in front of our door and lit it with the hearth’s fire.  They glowed brightly in the night and bolstered our spirits.  They had protected us for years and this year would be no different.

When dusk had finally blanketed the countryside and the final iron nails hammered into the boards covering the door, we huddled together in the living room.  Our faces were fixed on the door in anticipation.  The glowing embers of the dying fire illuminated our cowering forms and cast perverse shadows on the wall.
Outside we could hear the rustling of the dead leaves as they danced in the chill wind.  They rattled like tiny bones as they blew across the rooftop.  The normal sounds of the forest surrounding our home had subsided before we had realized it.  There was an ominous silence as I could see my feelings of terror reflected in my family’s faces.

Through a crack in the heavy curtains covering the front window, I could see the soft and reassuring glow of our jack-o-lantern.  I closed my eyes for only a moment.  When I opened them, the light was gone.  My sister had seen the same event transpire and I could hear her soft whimpering.  Father shushed her while keeping his wide pale eyes fixed on the door.  A light sheen of sweat covered his brow and the back of his neck. 

The silence was the worst.  The silence was the worst until an earth-shattering boom rattled the door on its hinges.  My sister screamed as my mother wrapped her tightly in her arms.  My father stood abruptly and readied his rifle.  With a stern look, a dark aura of concentration came upon him.  His eyes never left the sights placed on our front door.  For all his preparation, it did us no good. 

The heavy door began to shake violently as they beat their bodies into it over and over.  The nails groaned against their housing in the oaken boards and I could hear splintering.  The tremors rang in my ears as my sister’s wails accompanied them in a tumultuous torrent of sound.  The embers had been all but extinguished by now and that dreaded dark now permeated every inch of our home.  I suppose it was for the best.
As their bodies continued to hammer the portal to our home, their persistence finally paid off.  The door buckled and crashed onto the floor in a shower of splinters.  Their horrible screams rang out with a blood-curdling ferocity.  My father only got a shot off before they tore into him.  I closed my eyes like a coward.  I could feel my family’s warm blood splash against my face and suddenly…suddenly I was cold.

I roam the barren halls of my family home now.  Time has stopped its uncaring march forward.  I can only stare and scream in silence as time wears my home into nothing.  There is nothing and no one to hear my terrified cries.  My family is gone, torn violently from this world, leaving me behind.  And now I slumber in this eternal darkness with no light to comfort me.

Lucky Star's Mushroom and Swiss

Place: Lucky Star Pub & Eatery
Location: Burlington, WI
Ingredients: Mushrooms, Swiss cheese

I've always loved a good mushroom and Swiss burger.  It's a brilliant combination.  And while Lucky Star gets the burger right, and there's no reason not to, the problem that continues to plague them is the meat used.  It's bland, dry, and uninspiring. 

The restaurant showed so much promise when they opened, but the continued cuts to the menu and the increasingly bland offerings are wearing the initial charm thin.  Don't get me wrong, the burgers aren't terrible, but they're just so plain.  There's nothing to them and as such, there's nothing to get excited about when eating them.

On the Side:
Soggy, un-seasoned fries

App of the Week: Authenticator Authenticator
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: Free!

Security and convenience.  You can have one or the other, but never both.  This is especially true when it comes to online accounts.  Players of any MMO are well aware that there are those who would love to steal their accounts to sell them or turn them into gold farmers. 

Fortunately, the developer/publisher for some of the world's best MMOs, Blizzard, has given players the ability to add an authenticator to their account for years now.  There has been an app available for Android and iOS for some time now.  Windows Phone users are no stranger to apps taking some time to see life on this platform, but the wait is usually worth it.  And until now, there have been the keychain authenticators which serve the same purpose. 

The Windows Phone app does exactly what it needs to.  It generates unique, one-time use codes that work in conjunction with the account.  That way if someone tries to log into your account, they'll also be prompted for the authenticator code.  Without it, there's no way for them to log in.  It's a fantastic way of adding extra security to your account and a must have for any user of Blizzard's services.

Steak 'n Shake's Triple Steakburger

Place: Steak 'n Shake
Location: Bourbonnais, IL
Ingredients: Lettuce, onion, pickle, tomato, American cheese

If there were such a thing as a "classic burger", the Steakburger would be the embodiment of that ideal.  And when it comes to a good thing like that, you really can't have too much.  In the case of the Triple Steakburger, may the sun always shine on its creator. 

Steak 'n Shake has nearly perfected the "classic" diner with impeccable burgers and rich shakes.  I've not been to one and seen it at less than full capacity.  It's because of their ability to consistently produce delectable burgers.

The burger is full of juicy flavor and everything a burger lover should expect.  The toppings are fresh, with the onion adding just enough bite but not enough to overpower the rest.  Each flavorful patty holds grilled perfection within its meaty embrace.  The Triple Steakburger is great at what it does.  If it were any better, it couldn't be served in a diner.

On the side:
Steak 'n Shake's signature shoestring fries.

Fix It! Nokia Lumia 920's Disappearing Screen

Recently, as misfortune loves me, I had the pleasure of figuring out why my Nokia Lumia 920 screen would turn black when receiving a text or phone call.  Anytime a text is received on Windows Phone, it displays along the top of the screen in a toast notification.  This notification also displays on the lock screen.

While I would hear the chime that a text had been received, the screen would be dark until I turned it on and unlocked it.  Days later, the problem escalated and began affecting incoming and outbound calls.  I could dial and answer fine, but the screen would go black immediately afterwards.  This prevented me from getting back into the phone until the call was over.

As it turns out, this issue is related to a larger problem with the once-flagship Windows Phone.  The Lumia 920 has a notorious problem of dust getting in the front of the phone through a small space just above the camera.  The dust embeds itself in the front facing camera.  I never used the front facing camera, so I never thought it was a big deal.  However, if the dust accumulates too much, it screws up the proximity sensor.  This makes the phone think it's being held up to the user's ear which turns the screen off.

It's easy enough to blow the dust out with a can of compressed air, but it is an ongoing struggle.  Nokia has since fixed the issue with a sheath on all future models.  Nokia has also stated that existing users can take their phone to a Nokia Care Point Center to have the sheath put on.

App of the Week: Facebook

Publisher: Facebook
Platform: Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1
Price: Free!

The one glaring omission from the Windows 8 app store has always been Facebook.  It's a service with so many users that itself is tied into so many other services.  Until this co-release with Windows 8.1, Windows 8 users had to either trust third party apps or resort to using the actual site.
The Windows 8 app shares a similar design to the Windows Phone app, which itself bears a strong resemblance to the apps on the Android and iOS platforms.  That's all thanks to the uniform design from Facebook. 
So if you've used the Facebook app for mobile platforms, you'll be familiar with their latest release.  Because desktop users will probably still use the actual site, I don't know how necessary the app actually is as it doesn't provide any additional functions.  While the same can be said of Windows RT devices, since RT is only available on tablets, the touch centric design definitely favors the app over the site.  Either way, the app is finally available so Windows users can stop their belly-aching.

Infinite Crisis Giveaway

Some time ago I had the opportunity to play Warner Bros.' upcoming title, Infinite Crisis.  Since then, I've received a few codes for Crisis Coins and Merit Grants.  I feel they should go to players more deserving, but they're first come, first serve.

Code #1 (Unknown)

Code #2 (3000 Crisis Coins and 9000 Merit)

Fix It! Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 Won't Open PDFs

In my line of work there are what I like to call the "monsters of the week".  These are the problems that have no clear solution and require me to scavenge the bowels of the Internet for an answer.  When I find said answer and its cousins, something else inevitably goes wrong.  This week involved Internet Explorer 10 not opening PDFs within the browser on Windows 8.

Now, this was a fresh load of Windows 8 Pro (64-Bit) on a brand new machine.  I went through the usual of checking the add-ons, reinstalling Reader after performing a complete uninstall, checking Safe Mode, running a virus scan, performing a SFC, etc.

What ultimately fixed the issue was adding a Registry key.  A reg key that doesn't exist on any other Windows 8 machines that don't have the issue.  The common answer I found was modifying the TabProcGrowth key within HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main.  The default value is 0, but needs to be set to 1.

This key also controls IE's ability to drag the tab and create a new window with it.  Sure enough, that symptom was also present on the machine I was working on.  Again, this key didn't exist on the problematic machine.  Nor did it exist on three other machines running Server 2012, Windows 8 Pro (64-Bit), and Windows RT that could open PDFs within the browser.

What fixed the issue for me was creating a new DWORD value within that string, naming it "TabProcGrowth" and setting the value to 1.  Closing and reopening IE confirmed I could open PDFs within the browser and create new windows by dragging the tabs.

Since every other Windows 8 machine I tested doesn't have this key and they function fine, I have no clue why it was necessary to add it to this machine.  But for those running into the same issue,and there seems to be a lot of you, this is what worked for me.  Good luck!

The Fix:
1.  Open RegEdit
2.  Browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main
3.A.  Change the TabProcGrowth value to 1 instead of 0.
3.B.  If TabProcGrowth doesn't exist, create a new DWORD value with that name and set the value to 1.
4.  Close all running instances of Internet Explorer and launch again.
5.  ????
6.  Profit

Lucky Star's Bourbon Street

Place: Lucky Star Pub and Eatery
Location: Burlington, WI
Ingredients: cheddar cheese, bacon, onion strings, and bourbon sauce

To be honest, I've had this burger twice now.  The first was as leftovers.  It was very good as the bourbon sauce had marinated the beef overnight, soaking into every nook and cranny.  The fried onion strings had gone limp and added nice contrast to the saucy burger.  It was probably one of the best re-heated burgers I've ever had.

When it came time to eat the fresh burger, it was another story.  The construction was the same, but instead of a soft, flavorful burger, the fresh Bourbon Street was very dry.  This is something I've noticed with the burgers at Lucky Star.  The meat is drier than most and there is little to no seasoning.  The dryness of the burger stood in stark contrast to the meager helping of bourbon sauce on top of the trimmings.

The closest comparison I can draw is to Friday's Jack Daniels burger.  The recipe is similar, but there's one crucial difference.  If Lucky Star allowed the burger to marinate in the sauce instead of lightly topping it, the burger would improve dramatically.  This was proven to me by having the burger as leftovers.

Overall, the Bourbon Street isn't terrible, but what hurts it most is how easily it could be improved. 

On the side:
A hearty helping of somewhat soggy fries.

App of the Week: Reaper

Publisher: David Peroutka/Hexage Ltd.
Platform: Windows Phone, Windows 8, Windows RT, iOS, Google Play
Price: Free Trial, $2.99 - $4.99

When purchasing a game for either my phone or tablet, I'm hesitant to purchase games without the Xbox Live moniker.  For reasons I'm not entirely proud of, I like getting the achievement points that come along with playing an Xbox Live game.  But as I perused for something to kill my already non-existent free time, Reaper's intriguing art style caught my eye.

App of the Week: Steam Tile

Steam Tile
Publisher: Element26 Software
Platform: Windows 8
Price: Free!

One of my favorite features of Microsoft's latest OS is the Metro interface (Yes, I know that's not the name anymore, but it stuck.  Deal with it.).  This exploded Start Menu displays all of my applications with beautiful Live Tiles that continually update with new information.  It's as if my PC came alive!

Well, I also play a lot of games.  Many of these games are stored within Steam.  Up until now, my only way of accessing these games was to either launch Steam or pin the game launch to the Metro interface with a bland tile.

Element26 Software has decided that isn't enough and release Steam Tile.  Steam Tile connects directly to your public Steam profile and pulls down your game information to add new, attractive live tiles to the Start Screen.  The tiles will update with achievements unlocked and time played.  Opening the app allows users to pin the games of their choice so it's not necessary to launch the app each time.

Right now, I'm using them to track games I still need to beat and those I play on a regular basis.  Combined with the ability to make custom columns within Windows 8 and this is a must have for any gamer running Windows 8.

Release Calendar: October 2013

October 01:
Assassin's Creed: Ezio Trilogy (360)
Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl (3DS)
NBA 2K14 (360, PS3, PC)
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Trilogy (360)
Travel adventures with Hello Kitty (3DS)

October 02:
Rune Factory 4 (3DS)

October 04:
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)

October 08:
Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Borderlands 2: Game of the Year Edition (PC, PS3, 360)
Capcom Essentials (PC, PS3, 360)
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (PS3)
Dishonored: Game of the Year Edition (PC, PS3, 360)
F1 2013 (PC, PS3, 360)
Just Dance 2013 (PS3, 360, Wii U, Wii)

October 12:
Pokémon X (3DS)
Pokémon Y (3DS)

October 12:
Skylanders: Swap Force (PS3, 360, 3DS, Wii, Wii U)

October 15:
Cabela's African Adventures (PS3, 360, Wii)
Hometown Story (3DS)
Pinkalicious/Silverlicious 2 Pack (DS)
Wipeout: Create & Crash (360, PS3, 3DS, Wii, Wii U)
Worms: The Revolution Collection (360)
Zumba Fitness World Party (Wii U)
Valhalla Knights 3 (Vita)

October 22:
2K Definitive Strategy Collection (PC)
2K Essentials (PS3, 360)
2K Power Pack (PS3, 360)
Just Dance Kids 2014 (360, Wii, Wii U)
Lego Marvel Super Heroes (PC, PS3, 360, 3DS, Wii, Wii U, Vita)
Madagascar 3: The Video Game/The Croods: Prehistoric Party! Combo Pack (3DS, DS)
Nancy Drew: The Silent Spy (PC)
Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 - Full Burst (PC, PS3, 360)
Rocksmith 2014 (360)
Sonic Lost World (Wii U)
SpongeBob SquarePants: Plankton's Robotic Revenge (PS3, 360, Wii, Wii U, DS, 3DS)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (3DS, Wii, 360)
The Croods: Prehistoric Party!/Rise of the Guardians Combo Pack (Wii)
The Sims 3: Into the Future (PC)

October 23:
Family Tales: The Sisters - Deluxe Edition (PC)

October 24:
Batman: Arkham Origins (PC, PS3, 360, Wii U)
Defense Technica (PC)
EVE: The Second Decade Collector's Edition (PC)
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (3DS, Vita)

October 29:
Angry Birds Star Wards (3DS, Wii, Wii U, PS3, Vita, 360)
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (360, Wii U, PC, PS3)
Battlefield 4 (PC, PS3, 360)
Beyblade: Evolution (3DS)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirrors of Fate HD (PSN)
Doodle Jump Journey (DS)
Monster High: 13 Wishes (Wii U)
Pac-Man and His Ghostly Adventures (360)
Regular Show: Mordecai & Rigby in 8-Bit Land (3DS)
The Dark Eye: Demonicon (PC, PS3, 360)
Transformers: Ultimate Autobots Edition (DS)
Transformers: Ultimate Battle Edition (Wii)
WWE: 2K14 (PS3, 360)
Wonderbook: Walking with Dinosaurs/Diggs Nightcrawler (PS3)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirrors of Fate HD (XBL)

App of the Week: Game Dev Tycoon

Game Dev Tycoon
Publisher: Greenheart Games Pty. Ltd.
Price: $7.99
Platform: Windows 8, Windows RT, PC, Mac

There has been a lack of games with impeccable quality for Windows 8.  Certainly there are a few gems, but for the most part gaming hasn't been a huge draw for users of Microsoft's latest OS.  In fact, since acquiring my own Windows RT tablet, I have only installed three games through the Windows Store.  Solitaire had been dominating what time I did spend gaming on the device.  Then I caught wind of a little title by Greenheart Games, Game Dev Tycoon.
Game Dev Tycoon is a brilliant title and incredible first offering from the two man studio.  Putting players in the shoes of a one-man development studio, Game Dev Tycoon tasks them with surviving the volatile gaming market for 35 years.  Players start in the 80s and their garage.  The storied history of gaming is faithfully recreated as classic consoles are released and partnerships fall apart.  Those familiar with the rise and fall of consoles will definitely have a leg up.  For instance, rather than investing too heavily into developing titles for the short lived Commodore 64 or Dreamcast, I knew I could keep developing titles for the incredibly stable PC platform and survive.
Since the game spans 35 years, there's plenty of time for players to grow into a full fledged studio with multiple team members responsible for everything from design to technical aspects.  It will be a decade or two before players reach that point, so to help pay the bills, there are optional contracts that can be completed for valuable Research Points and cash.  But be careful because if the team can't complete the contract in time, the studio will be hit with a steep fine.
As games are developed and contracts completed, players are awarded with Research Points.  These points are then invested into learning new genres, technologies, and various skills.  This opens up more options to players when creating custom game engines and subsequent games.  There's a pleasant amount of depth to be found without it becoming overwhelming.  Even tasks like training employees and increasing their speed, design and technical skills are very important to the overall health of the studio.  Everything matters and that is fantastic as I never once felt like I was doing a task that was ultimately pointless.  Everything helped my studio in one form or another.
While Game Dev Tycoon does a tremendous job of simulating a studio, at the core players are there to develop games.  When creating a game, players must assign a title, platform, genre, game type, and engine.  It's an easy trap to fall into of duplicating one's favorite titles.  I'm just as guilty of shamelessly recreating Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft and grinning like a madman as the sales went through the roof.  But there's genuine fun to be had when coming up with a title all of your own and seeing it succeed.  On the flip side, it can be frustrating watching a game you thought would be a hit get slammed in the reviews.  As a game reviewer myself, I was infuriated and disgusted simultaneously.  It definitely made me take a step back and evaluate my own reviews.  I can't think of another game that has made me ponder such a large part of my life before.
Game Dev Tycoon sticks to a simple cartoonish style which serves it well.  Characters are stationary for the majority of the game, either hammering away at their keyboards or scratching their heads at a puzzling task before them.  The multiple studios are full of bright cheery colors which lend it a lighthearted feel.  Checking out the whiteboards and various knickknacks reveal loads of small details and nods to other developers.
Since Game Dev Tycoon spans three and a half decades, there's a decent amount of time that can be invested before reaching the end.  Hitting the end takes several hours and players can opt to continue playing afterwards and fully master their studio.  Of course, once someone has reached the summit, it's always fun to start at the bottom once more and see how else it can be conquered.
While there is a lot to enjoy in Game Dev Tycoon, there are a few odd bugs that I experienced while playing on my Windows RT tablet.  The biggest was that even after purchasing the full version, the "trial" tab was locked in the top left corner of the screen.  And at one time, some letters in my studio's name were switched around in one of the pop-ups.  Neither were game breaking or interfered with playing the game itself and I'm sure a patch will take care of the issues in the future.
Game Dev Tycoon offers a free demo in the Windows Store.  Players can play up to year five before they must unlock the full game.  But at a mere $7.99, it's definitely worth every penny.  I found myself engrossed for hours and couldn't put it down until I finally beat it.  Game Dev Tycoon is a great addition to any collection and presents some fun insight into the world of game development.  I tip my hat to the team at Greenheart Games.  Hopefully we'll see more great things from them in the future.

Release Calendar: September 2013

September 03:
Diablo III (PS3, 360)
Arcania: The Complete Tale (360)
Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland (Vita)
Lego: Legends of Chima: Laval's Journey (DS)
Rayman Legends (Vita, PC, PS3, 360)
Total War: Rome II (PC)

September 10:
Killzone: Mercenary (Vita)
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (PS3)
NHL 14 (360)
Puppeteer (PS3)
The Elder Scrolls Anthology (PC)
The Sims 3: Movie Stuff (PC, Mac)
Young Justice: Legacy (Wi U)

September 15:
The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)

September 17:
Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, 360)
Hot Wheels: World's Best Driver (3DS, Wii U, PC, PS3, 360)

September 24:
Armored Core: Verdict Day (PS3, 360)
FIFA 14 (360)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 (PS3, 360, PC)
Puzzle Overload (DS)

September 25:
Valhalla Knights 3 (Vita)
Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsegumi (3DS)

September 26:
World of Warplanes (PC)

September 27:
Painkiller Hell & Damnation (360)

Changes to Xbox Live: Points and Family

It's been a long time coming, but I finally received notice from Microsoft regarding two very important items in my household, Microsoft Points and the Xbox Live Family Gold Pack.  Microsoft is doing away with both services this year.

In the case of Microsoft Points, all existing points are being transferred over to real-world currency.  This means users won't have to do any mental math to figure out how much a XBL purchase really is.  Any existing points will be converted over and Microsoft has sent out the remaining balances for Xbox Live Rewards.  In my case, I had 110 points that were being held by Microsoft that were deposited in my account.  In conjunction with the termination of the Microsoft Points system, Microsoft is also terminating the Xbox Live Rewards program.  No longer will players earn "free money" for being loyal subscribers.

From this point forward all purchases in the Xbox Live, Windows Phone 8, and Windows 8 stores will carry their real-world currency value instead of the needless MSP value.  This is something that many have been clamoring for over the past few years.  Other major service providers like Sony's PlayStation store and Apple's App Store use real-world currency.  It's about time Microsoft joined them.  Expect the changes to roll out later this year.

The other, more disappointing news, is that Microsoft is terminating their Xbox Live Family Gold Pack.  Later this month on August 27, 2013, accounts in the family plan will be broken up into individual Gold memberships.  Each account under the previous membership will have the same amount of time remaining on them and a bonus three months.  Microsoft has this to say on the matter "We continually evaluate our offerings and are always working to provide services that best meet the needs of our customers and Xbox.  Any accounts in an Xbox Live Gold Family Pack are being converted to individual Xbox Live Gold memberships to prepare for new and exciting upcoming benefits and features on Xbox Live Gold.  Through the new Home Gold feature, a single Xbox Live Gold membership allows anyone in your home to enjoy many Gold features like multiplayer, access to Gold entertainment apps, and more on your Xbox One."

Unfortunately, this is a stiff middle finger to those that don't adopt the Xbox One when it launches later this year.  A Xbox Live Gold Family Pack allowed four Xbox Live Gold memberships for less than the price of two individual Xbox Live Gold subscriptions.  It was a great way to manage a family of four and save a considerable sum of money.  Now, Xbox 360 users will be forced to pay more to keep the same services for all accounts.  The new features on Xbox One will be welcome, but bear in mind that this is a service that many believe should be free.  The fact that Xbox is the only platform that forces members to pay a subscription just in order to access other premium services like Netflix is ridiculous.

It seems to be one step forward and two back for Microsoft.  The loss of the points system is welcome, but the loss of the Family Pack riled every user in my household.  It's just another little nudge towards joining the glorious PC gaming master race.

Image by Yahtzee

App of the Week: Bing Weather

Bing Weather
Publisher: Microsoft
Price: Free!
Platform: Windows Phone 8

What is the #1 app that everyone must have on their phone?  What is the one topic that everyone can talk about?  If you said anything regarding the weather, you've got a sensible head on your shoulders.  With that in mind, Microsoft has just released their personal weather tracker, Bing Weather.

The app is sleek and much like everything else Microsoft is doing these days, beautiful in its simple design.  The live tile gives me the basic information I need with the current temperature, conditions (clear, foggy, rainy, etc.) and the high and low for the day.  Opening up the app brings up a more detailed breakdown of the current weather, including humidity, visibility, barometer, and wind speed.  Swiping right reveals daily and hourly increments which is absolutely fantastic for gauging the day.  There are also a multitude of maps showing everything from temperature, highs and lows, to rain conditions.

The app comes with the ability to track location, so the app will update based on your location.  This is a nice consideration for travelers.  But since location services have a terrible habit of killing the battery in my Nokia Lumia 920, I'm forced to keep them off if I want the phone to hold a charge all day.  Thankfully, the app includes manually setting multiple locations and the ability to change the default location for the live tile.

All in all, Bing Weather is a fantastic app for doing what many rely on, checking the weather.  The in-depth breakdown of everything going on from an hourly to extended forecast and detailed maps make it my go-to app for weather.

App of the Week: OneNote

Publisher: Microsoft
Price: Free!
Platform: Windows Phone 8, Windows RT, Windows 8

When it comes to being productive and keeping your life organized, Microsoft has had your back for a number of years now.  OneNote has been included with every major version of Microsoft Office since 2003.  And since the boom of tablets and smart phones have swept the world, Microsoft has made it even easier to keep everything in sync with their free OneNote app.

OneNote is a note taking application that allows users to create and curate their own journal, wiki, manual for life, etc.  Users can paste in files, pictures, audio, or even handwritten notes.  Sections make it a simple task to categorize everything and the search feature makes it easy to find anything and everything in the notebook.

There's not a day that goes by that I don't use OneNote either for work or at home.  It's a fast, simple, easy way to store my information in a way that's just as easily organized, indexed, and searchable.  I use it to log upcoming projects, phone calls, and even my shopping list.  Best of all, it's available on all of my devices.  So even if I can't get to my tablet or desktop, I have OneNote right there with me on my phone.  Of course, I can also share my notebook with others which definitely makes keeping track of familial tasks that much easier.  And for those security conscious individuals, you are able to password protect individual pages and sections.

Current users of Windows Phone, Windows RT, Windows 8, iOS, and Android are able to get the app for free.  After signing in with their Microsoft account and creating their notebook, users can even log on to their account online to view their notebook.  It's a wonderfully brilliant solution to keeping all of life's many facets in check.  This is a definite must have app for anyone.