New games join Xbox One backwards compatibility list

Larry Hyrb shared on his Twitter feed that 8 new games have joined the Xbox One backwards compatibility list.  Among them are the Obsidian developed Fallout: New Vegas.  Also joining the lineup of backwards compatible games is a diverse set of Xbox Live Arcade titles.  The full list of new games is:

You can find the full lineup of backwards compatible games here:  Xbox One backwards compatibility list

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Podcast 5 – June 22 2016

Phantom Dust Remaster

While the new Phantom Dust has been absent from Microsoft’s last two E3 shows, the IP is most certainly not dead.  The reboot might be, but the property will live on in a “remaster” of the original game that was announced after Microsoft’s press briefing.  The game will use the original assets, which means it will be an upscaled re-release with modernized features (such as support for the recently announced Xbox Live Arena).  The game is expected to release in 2017 and will be a part of Microsoft’s Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, which grants players access to the game on Xbox and Windows 10 when purchased digitally.

Podcast 4 – June 15 2016

Halo Wars 2 release date announced

Microsoft unveiled a new cinematic teaser for the Creative Assembly developed sequel to 2010’s Halo Wars.  Along with the new teaser, the game’s release date was announced.  Halo Wars 2 will be available on Xbox One and Windows 10 on February 21, 2017.  Players anxious to see what the game will offer can get a taste of Halo Wars 2 with the game’s week-long open beta which is now live on Xbox Live.

Experiencing Nokia’s Lumia Icon

Q9cI will never shy away from the fact that I’m a Microsoft fanboy.  My home is well equipped with a number of devices that are powered by Microsoft software.  My first smartphone was the Motorola Moto Q9c.  While Windows Mobile may not have been the best of mobile phone operating systems, it supplied me with what I needed in my pocket:  Microsoft Office.  The reason I’ve stayed so dedicated to Microsoft’s mobile platform even in its more bloated iterations was the fact that I had Microsoft Word with me wherever I went.  As a writer, this was more important than any number of apps could ever be – syncing my documents to the cloud back before OneDrive was even SkyDrive (back in those days, your phone synced up with “Microsoft MyPhone” and Office Online was known as “Office Live”).

Thankfully, Microsoft has moved miles beyond what they were doing with Windows Mobile with the launch of the Windows Phone operating system.  Their partnership with Nokia has also helped to reinvent their image in the portable market by giving consumers highly durable, yet sleek mobile phones made by one of the most recognizable names in the cellphone world.  While Windows Phone 7 may not have set them up as an industry leader, it was a necessary step in providing their best mobile operating system yet, 2012’s Windows Phone 8.  Built on the same kernel running Windows 8 PCs, Windows Phone 8 provides a huge promise for what can be done on mobile phones.

Lumia928Verizon users looking to get a Windows Phone have, until relatively recently, been restricted in the hardware available to them.  While there were Windows Phone devices available, it wasn’t until the Nokia Lumia 928 was released that we really saw a powerful phone running Microsoft’s mobile OS.  The small footprint of Windows Phone 8 made the limited hardware less restricting, but users, understandably, wanted something more.  The 928 didn’t disappoint, either – it was a fast phone with a beautiful display, sleek yet durable design, and excellent imaging capabilities.  Nevertheless, technology can always be better.

Enter the Nokia Lumia Icon.  Originally leaked as the Lumia 929, Verizon’s new flagship Windows Phone is a marvelous piece of portable technology.  Side by side, the phones are almost identical in physical size – turn on the display, though, and you’ll see a huge difference.  The Lumia 928 features a 4.5” AMOLED display at 1280 x 768 resolution and a pixel density of 334 ppi.  An impressive screen and it, inarguably looks gorgeous.  Place it next to the Icon, though, and you’ll be ready for an upgrade.  The Lumia Icon screen is a 5” display with a resolution of 1920 x 1020 and a pixel density of 441 ppi.  That’s a noticeable difference.  Throw in an extra column for pinned apps on the start screen, and you’ll barely believe that they managed to put that all in a body the same size as last year’s 928.

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The display is absolutely gorgeous, too.  Everything I’ve seen on my new screen is vibrant and crisp.  Looking just at messages, the screen’s crispness is a whole new world as even under my closest inspection, it’s difficult to spot those pixelated “jaggies” around curves.  Contrast is also excellent as I’ve noticed a number of apps that have a distinct differentiation between a dark grey and a black that wasn’t nearly as noticeable on my 928.  I don’t doubt that I will at times pull my phone out just to stare at how clear it looks in my hand.

The .5” difference between the Icon and the 928 is immediately noticeable, too, as the display extends closer to the phone’s outer edge reducing the bezel to a thin black border.  Games, videos, and just apps in general look so much better on this larger, higher resolution screen.  That said, I think the thing I like most about my Icon’s larger display is Nokia managed to give me more screen space without bulking up the phone as a whole.

I don’t have large hands, and I don’t have large pockets.  I appreciate the idea behind the “phablet,” but I really don’t like the added bulk or the ridiculousness of sticking an oversized phone to my ear.  I want a portable device to be portable.  The Icon gives me the best of both worlds: I have a powerful phablet with a large, gorgeous display, but it all fits in the palm of my hand – and my pocket!  I, honestly, don’t think I can stress enough how thankful I am to have the option of a powerful phablet without having to handle the bulk of one.

BatteryOn the topic of power, the Lumia Icon is a beast.  I loved my 928 – it was easily the best device I could fit in my pocket up until the moment I left the store with my Icon.  It was fast, the battery was great, the screen was beautiful… but the Icon has shown me just how much better it can get.  Featuring a Snapdragon 800 – a “system on a chip” featuring a 2.2 GHz quad core CPU – along with 2 gigs of RAM, this phone clips right along.  I was surprised to see how much more responsive this phone felt in comparison to the 928 – a phone I felt was substantially fast already.  Opening apps, multitasking, and just simple navigation are hugely improved by how this system outperforms its impressive predecessor.  In spite of the powerful guts of this machine, the Icon boasts an impressive battery life with its 2420 mAh battery.

Another important talking point for the Icon is its 20MP camera.  While Nokia’s own Lumia 1020 is still the king of mobile phone cameras (featuring a 40MP camera), it’s only available through AT&T.  Verizon members looking for an impressive camera on their phone will still be plenty pleased with the Icon’s offering.  The image capture is truly impressive with the camera’s six lenses, and video capture is equally impressive with its crispness and sound quality.  The Icon features 4 microphones and reduces ambient noises to ensure that what you’re trying to record is what you are going to hear.  I haven’t had much opportunity to put the noise cancellation to the test, but the comparison video between the Icon and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is impressive.  I also noticed a huge improvement of zooming while recording videos compared to my 928.  While you will still see that zoom jitter that is seemingly inescapable with cellphone cameras, the Icon is noticeably smoother with zooming during video recording.

Honestly, my only one gripe with the Icon is the lack of support for the Glance screen.  Especially how excited I was to get my notifications on Glance with the Lumia Black update that (finally) hit Verizon.  Glance provides users with a quick look at important information like time and notifications.  Having no support and no words on an update to include Glance support for the Icon is disappointing, but I feel the good outweighs this minor complaint by a large margin.

Nokia never fails to impress with the quality of their devices, and the Icon is no slacker.  It’s an incredibly powerful phablet with a more manageable form factor easily fitting into any hand.  The screen is absolutely gorgeous and coming equipped with Lumia Black gives even more functionality to the Windows Phone OS.  If you’re looking to get a Windows Phone on Verizon, you can’t do better than the Lumia Icon.

Fable Anniversary Re-Review

Fable Anniversary

It’s hard to think that ten years ago, now, I was taking my first trip to Albion – a curious land that would devour hours of my time and earn my devout allegiance.  Fable has never been known for a lengthy main campaign, but the games have always offered a substantial amount of side content and secrets that encourage players to invest more than the 10 or so hours it would take to just beat the game.  The franchise has been the victim of its own over-hyping, but nonetheless it’s a franchise I hold near and dear to my heart and I’m thrilled that I now have the opportunity to replay the first game, my personal favorite, fully remade.

Fable is an interesting beast.  As a friend of mine has described the games, “It’s very British.”  It’s a cheeky game with some great hit-or-miss humour but all wrapped in a charming package with a great story.  The storytelling in Fable has never been high art or anything of that sort, but the games always have a well-crafted, non-linear plot, something I appreciate.  The Fable universe has been keeping me entertained and intrigued for ten years now, and I’m pleased to say that the re-release more than does the premiere installment justice.

Fable Ann Compare 1I’ve really grown to appreciate how Microsoft handles their remakes.  While you see a ton of “HD” re-releases from the last console generation hitting the market from several other publishers, those games suffer from a severe case of “uprezzing.”  Little more is done with those titles than giving players new high-resolution textures and widescreen support to stare at – the visuals are still relatively unchanged from the initial game release.  Now new character models, no new particle effects, no new lighting, no new audio… it’s the same game but just a bit (and I mean a bit) shinier.

Microsoft Studios, on the other hand, completely remakes the game visually.  The original game content and experience is untouched (aside from maybe some new controller options) while the game’s visuals are rebuilt with maybe a healthy helping of new audio to go along with it (with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary being a prime example of new audio really lending to the rebuilt experience).  It’s not just a high resolution copy of an already made game, it’s a complete visual reimagining of a world we’re already familiar with.  Perfect Dark and Halo really demonstrated that Microsoft was dedicated to nurturing its properties and giving fans more than just a recycled product.  Fable does the same.

While the gameplay may not hold up as well next to its more modern counterparts, the experience that I loved ten years ago is still there.  The belching, the farting, the questing… it’s still the classic Fable experience that so consumed much of my mid-to-late teen years and every moment I spend in the game is accompanied by a nostalgic high.  I love Fable and this is the game that always comes to mind when I think of revisiting Albion… I’m almost ashamed that it’s been so long since I’ve worked my way through the first game (which, I’ll admit, I haven’t played through since Fable II was released).  I’m not, though.  Playing through Fable Anniversary, in spite of the many, many times I’ve played through the first game, is, amidst the nostalgia, almost a new experience again since it has been so long.  It feels fresh, yet familiar and not just because of the visual update.

The visuals, though, are great.  It’s really nice to see that such a great amount of care went into rebuilding the world of Albion.  It is, however, hindered by the aged and clunky animations of the 2004 game hiding underneath.  While some things feel revamped and fluid, there are those awkward moments where characters will freeze and whip around robotically.  It’s jarring and takes from the experience ever so slightly – but as a whole, the game looks great and the love that went into recreating Albion is apparent in every screen.

Fable Ann Compare 2

I know I may be biased and looking at the game through rose-tinted glasses or whatever, but Fable Anniversary feels great.  Playing the game brings me some kind of gaming bliss and the new visuals should set a new standard for HD remakes – something I also said about Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.  I feel like the folks working under the Microsoft Studios banner aren’t given enough credit for the work they do on their HD remakes – though that’s a topic for another time, I suppose.

Fable Anniversary is an old game dressed in new game clothing.  It’s as fun as it was ten years ago, but looks substantially better.  Giving loyal Xbox fans achievements to earn is another plus.  Fable is a piece of gaming history and this Anniversary re-release does it justice, it would be hard, even when not considering my bias, to not recommend this game… it’s just too much fun and the budget price makes it even more enticing.

 

Fable Anniversary: 4 out of 5

Amazon purchases Killer Instinct developer

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No, not Rare – Microsoft is likely to never give them up after the massive investment that purchased the studio back in 2002.  The developer of the new Killer Instinct title released on Microsoft’s Xbox One Double Helix has been acquired by Amazon and is a part of their push to “build innovative games for customers.”

The acquisition, unsurprisingly, does not affect Microsoft’s Killer Instinct property which remains theirs; the software giant has also announced that their internal KI team is unaffected and remains dedicated to supporting the game.  Microsoft will be working with a new partner going forward to support the Xbox One launch title and any additional entries in the franchise.  As a dedicated KI fan, this is the good news.  While I was thoroughly pleased with the latest entry in the franchise and commended Double Helix for resurrecting it, I have faith that Microsoft will do well by the fans in curating this fan favorite franchise.

Amazon’s move to acquire a game developer is not terribly surprising given rumors that the online retailer is working on a game console of their own.  At this point, it’s unclear if Double Helix will work on more major releases or “full” games or will be restructured to focus on casual games for Amazon’s Kindle Fire line of tablets.