Thursday, 8 July 2010 - tech news fast! - tech news fast!

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood preview

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 10:54 AM PDT

It’s hard to believe Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is just a few months away from release already, when its superb predecessor, Assassin’s Creed 2, only landed in shops last November. But it’s already coming along nicely, and today we got to check it out, and even test out a build of the game’s new multiplayer mode. Read on for our first impressions.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was demoed at E3 in Los Angeles last month, but we got to check it out an Ubisoft press event today in London. To get you up to speed, we suggest you check out the stunning trailer below:

That stylish yet evil bearded chap is the general of the Papal armies, and as veterans of Assassin’s Creed 2 will know, the Pope during Ezio’s era is not a nice man. After being spared at the end of the previous game, he’s continued to crush Italy underfoot, while Ezio has begun to regret his decision – something that’s only compounded when his hometown of Monteriggioni is destroyed and his uncle and mentor, Mario, murdered.

It’s this siege that starts Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. While the in game graphics aren’t quite up to eye watering standards of the CGI trailer, they still impress, and the first mission gives you a much better idea of the scale Ubisoft is among for here. Ezio can now ride through towns on horseback, but once you reach the city ramparts, your draw will drop. Amassed outside are huge siege towers and hordes of soldiers on a scale never before seen in the series, and it’s up to you to knock them down with well aimed blasts from a cannon.

Along the way, you’ll be treated to more scripted events, like ladders collapsing as you climb, and seamlessly transitioning cut scenes, which make a change from the traditional cut scene-travel-kill-cut scene paradigm of the franchise, and genuinely serve to make Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood much more cinematic – something we’ve only really been able to say about Uncharted 2 previously. Combat controls have also been tinkered with in a bid to remove the repetitive counter-kill controls of Assassin’s Creed 2. We can’t say they’re better yet, but you do get to throw massive axes at soldiers now, which is always a fun option to have.

We were then shown a later mission in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which demonstrated the game’s new feature, in Rome: teams. As the name of the game suggests, you can now use a whole Brotherhood of assassins in a mission, which makes a refreshing change to the gameplay. Once you’ve trained them up, they’ll join you on missions, and from the level we saw, they won’t cramp your style like some NPCs do.

You can whistle for aerial arrow support, and act as a diversion while they gather above. Seeing them creep along the rafters while you stroll right in through the front door is great fun, though not for the unfortunate victim as they drop down and kill on your command.

Read our Assassin’s Creed 2 first play now

We weren’t able to test out the single player ourselves, but we did get to try out the new multiplayer mode in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood on PS3 (It will work over Xbox Live too on the 360 though), and we came away impressed. We wouldn’t blame you if you said the stealth element wouldn’t translate to a deathmatch arena against other people, but we were pleasantly surprised.

We tried the tense Wanted mode, which sees you left in a small, crowded section of the city, with up to seven other players. The controls remain the same, and you’re assigned one of them to kill, and a radar bleeps hot, hotter, hottest as you approach them. Of course, someone else is on your tail at the same time, and it doesn’t pay to kill civilians (You lose your target), so you have to look for the signs of a human player, before they see you. If you spot someone pulling out a blade, it’s all over – they’ve already pressed Square for a clean kill and your throat will be viscerally slashed.

Obviously anyone running is a competitor, as is anyone scaling the walls. The latter is hard to pull off successfully, but worth it, as you’ll get more points for a stylish drop down kill from a rooftop. But when everyone is walking around in crowds on the street, it’s genuinely tense and almost frightening. We actually yelped when we walked around a corner and bumped straight into our target – luckily we were first on the draw. It’s this sort of eery stealth gameplay that makes the multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood stand out, rather than feel tacked on like it did in Bioshock 2.

We took the time today to ask Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood associate producer, Jean-Francois Boivin, why Ubisoft chose to stick with Renaissance Italy for the third console outing, rather than try another new setting, like say, feudal Japan.

“Japan has been overdone,” he told us. “We wanted Ezio to finish what he started…we’re also going to be closing some doors that we opened at the start of the franchise.” Playing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood today, we see what he means.

Out November | £TBC | Ubisoft

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Help us hit a thousand Facebook fans and win!

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 10:41 AM PDT

We love Facebook. You love Facebook. But are you an Electricpig fan on Facebook? Our Facebook page is gathering a bigger following every day, but we want to speed it up, spread the 'piggy word, and let everyone know when a great gadget lands in our hands.

So, we're putting out a call: become an Electricpig fan on Facebook by hitting the all-important Like button, tell your friends about us on Facebook, and if you or any of your buddies are our thousandth fan, we'll send a nice little thank you present in the post (hint: it'll be an ultra-rare Electricpig mug and a fistful of iTunes or Amazon vouchers). Thanks, and happy Facebooking!

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Pandora review: What do you want to know?

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 09:29 AM PDT

Well, lookie here. It’s the lesser spotted Pandora, the open source gaming handheld that’s been in the works for years. We’ve got one of the very first ever produced, and we’re going to give the emulating machine a full and proper test, so it’s time to tell us: what do you want to know about it for our full Pandora review?

We’ve already got several emulators up and running on the Pandora, including those for all your stalwart SNES and Mega Drive ROMs, but there’s plenty more this little critter is capable of. It’s got Wi-Fi onboard, an awesome D-pad and even a full QWERTY keyboard – something the Nintendo 3DS can’t say it has.

So, you tell us: what do you want to know most about the Pandora? Are you keen on getting classic Dreamcast games up and running on it? Want to find out what the browser is capable of? Battery life? Availability? Whatever you need to know, just pop it down in the comments below, and stay tuned for our full Pandora review, coming soon!

Out TBC | £TBC | OpenPandora

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PlayStation Move UK preview: photos

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 09:07 AM PDT

PlayStation Move has been floating around in near final form for a few months now, at least over in the US. It’s not due out in the UK until September, but we got to test out the magic wand with a few upcoming games today. Is it just Wii HD? Read on and find out with out first impressions and photos.

You’ll know we were quite smitten by Kinect at today’s Ubisoft press event in London town, so the PlayStation Move had a lot to live up to, but sadly, at this (not final) stage, it didn’t quite.

That’s not to say that the technology itself is flawed – we saw glimpses of genius while playing two titles the French publisher has planned for the PlayStation Move. We just hope other developers have made a better stab at using it for a wider range of game genres.

The PlayStation Move controllers themselves are striking, but not especially polished, sticks, and we can’t honestly say we prefer them to Nintendo’s simple Wii remote. The molded plastic feels cheap, and while most buttons are easy to press, the Start button is incredibly difficult to reach on the right hand side.

PlayStation Move dated for the UK

We tried out Ubisoft’s Racket Sports with a PlayStation Move wand first, and ran up against a lot of problems. The game code we played was clearly far from final: we had to calibrate repeatedly by pointing at the PlayStation Eye, and swings often didn’t trigger at all during a two player game. A sense of direction was most noticeable when serving, as you could quite clearly place the ball in the corner of the box you chose – but there was so much delay between swing and the character’s response that much of the fun was destroyed. As it stands, it’s no more enjoyable than Wii Sports, but that could change come final release.

Much more impressive was seeing real time strategy game RUSE working with a PlayStation Move wand – here the integration was much more subtle. RTS games have been a tough sell on consoles without a keyboard and mouse set up, but from the demo we were shown, it looks like Ubisoft has struck a decent balance. This isn’t a game to be played with arms akimbo, rather than subtle gestures from the sofa.

And they work: panning and rotating the map by twisting the PlayStation Move wand was seamless, with no visible delay, and the problem of exactly pointing to small icons from several metres away is solved by an auto lock, which brings the cursor over to the settlement you’re aiming for pretty smoothly.

This, we could get used to: where as so many Wii developers have made the terrible mistake of adding “waggle” controls in just because they can, PlayStation Move controls on RUSE were enjoyable, and importantly, not really noticeable. We could easily see it making the PS3 the go to platform for RTS games, along with the PC, whereas Kinect couldn’t possibly do the same for the Xbox 360, as impressive as it is. Is that enough though? We’re not sure, but it’s early days.

Have a look through the PlayStation Move UK hands on photo gallery right here, and stay tuned – we’ll be bringing you plenty more on Sony’s super peripheral in the run up to launch.

Out 17 September | £varies | Sony

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Kinect UK first play: Impressions and photos

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 08:22 AM PDT

Kinect, Microsoft’s motion sensing add on for the Xbox 360, got its full and proper unveiling at E3 in Los Angeles last month, but I’ve just had a play with the kit for the very first time over on these shores. How does it handle (Or rather, not)? Read on and find out.

You’ve been reading about Kinect for over a year now, checking out the videos, the demos and Microsoft trash talk, but none of them conclusively answered the question: does it really work? I’m here to put your mind at ease, as from my facetime with the gear at an Ubisoft press event in London this morning, I can give you an answer.

Yes, it does.

Kinect’s exterior shouldn’t take anyone by complete surprise at this point – you’ve seen the press pics – but I still wasn’t expecting it to be quite so big. It’s unlikely that there are any modern TVs that you could comfortably perch it on top of, so you will need a telly stand to prop it just below.

Still, this won’t be an issue for most people, and any concerns washed away as soon as the game loaded. I dread to think of the number of hours I’ve racked up playing games over the years, but I was still taken aback the first time my movements were mirrored completely on screen. I gasped. So did the journalists behind me. I smiled, I waved a foot in the air, and smiled again. You will too.

The first game Ubisoft demoed was a Kinect launch title, the Wii Fit-esque Your Shape, which you might have seen demoed at E3 last month. It’s not the sort of game I can honestly see myself returning to very often (Give me Red Dead Redemption over Just Dance), but as a demonstration of what Kinect is capable of, it’s incredible.

Kinect Xbox 360 bundles revealed

As the game loaded, an orange avatar popped up on the screen, but it took a few seconds before I realised it was actually me – right down to the crumples in the baggy jeans. I moved my arms out. All limbs present and operational. I stepped forward and back – depth perception working fine too. Then suddenly my body was pasted onto the avatar – the camera on the Kinect was rotoscoping me out of the background on the fly. A little flaky yes, but still impressive.

Then the action really began. After selecting a mode by literally reaching out and holding the button, the Kinect immediately started scanning my height and measurements and fed back with the results. 6″1. Spot on – and considering this is just one piece of kit with no other bits and bobs placed around the room for triangulation, that’s amazing.

Next up was a simple mini game that involved punching blocks in front of you, and this more than anything showed where the bottlenecks are with Kinect right now. It was possible to reach across, and smash or kick a few floating boxes pretty seamlessly, with no real lag, but then slowdown would hit and the whole screen would lock up for a second. But the fact there was no real delay in swinging suggests this is something that could be ironed out before launch, and for future Kinect titles.

I rounded off our Your Shape preview with a look at the fitness programs on offer: two come preloaded and more will be made available via DLC. I tried out Tai Chi, and failed miserably at mimicking an on screen expert, with the game helpfully highlighting how wrong our limbs were, demonstrating the camera’s skill at picking out arm, legs and even heads once more.

Finally, I tried out the skiing game on Ubisoft’s Motion Sports, which was well suited to the no controller nature of Kinect. The premise is simple: just crouch to gain speed, lean to turn, and push your hands back to move, as though you were holding poles. It works, too, and if there was a flaw, it’s that the character animation on screen was a tad jerky, something that can be rectified in good time for launch.

I enjoyed some of the little touches in Motion Sports, like the fact that Kinect grabs your photo and pastes it on to billboards in the game, but it was while playing this game that the power of Kinect really dawned on me. At the end, an Ubisoft product manager jumped in to have a go (There will be simultaneous multiplayer in the finished game) – and all I had to do to hand over the controls was walk away. She just stepped in and resumed playing.

Think about it. There’s no need to muck around with red buttons tucked away on the console to add controllers (Yes, we mean you Wii), or calibrate remotes, like with the PlayStation Move. It genuinely is seamless, and with the sort of developer support already announced for Kinect, we could genuinely see this making gaming mainstream in a way not even Nintendo has managed – provided the experience ships out of the box, like a Wii.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to test out Kinect’s Xbox 360 dashboard credentials – frankly, I’m most excited about the ability to wave through films without the need for a remote. But I’m still sold: the technology behind Kinect works, and the potential is nothing short of incredible. One reader asked yesterday if the Kinect still has that “Wow factor”, and the answer’s an emphatic and unequivocal yes. I cannot wait.

Out 2010 | £TBC | Microsoft

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HTC smartphone sales rocket

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 08:19 AM PDT

HTC yesterday posted massive profits for Q2, and reported record breaking sales for the last three months. HTC sales increased 58 per cent in Q2, after successes with Android phones such as the HTC Desire.

Year-on-year revenues to the end of June increased from £1.4bn to £2bn for the Taiwanese company, and one analyst predicted that HTC would be shipping 20 million phones this year, 8 million than last year.

In terms of hype, HTC is becoming a second player to Apple, and yet we're still waiting on the Froyo update to arrive, on which the line still is: "We are working hard with our partners to update the HTC Sense experience on Froyo and distribute it to our customers as fast as possible. We expect to release updates for several of our 2010 models including Desire, Legend and Wildfire beginning in Q3."

Android powered smartphones sold 1,804,000 units in Europe in three months ending April 2010, a massive 2429%, but has still got a long way to catch up with Apple's 10,019,000 it sold in the same three months.

HTC are here to stay, and are becoming the vehicle for Androids market penetration and its the fight against Apple. HTC Desire, for example, is trending on Twitter in the UK, with no sign of the iPhone 4.

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iPhone 4: Android 2.2 Froyo bests iOS 4 in browser battle

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 08:05 AM PDT

iPhone 4 has been bested by Android 2.2 Froyo in a battle of the browsers. Ars Technica put iPhone 4 and Safari up against the newly tweaked Android browser. It found that Javascript execution in Android 2.2 Froyo was up to 3x as swift as in Safari on iOS 4.  Would a speedier web browser be enough to sway your choice?

When Android 2.2 Froyo was unveiled by Google back in May it promised the new OS would be 5x speedier than Android 2.1. And in its battle with iPhone 4, a Google Nexus One running Android 2.2 nuked Safari, out-pacing it at JavaScript execution across two benchmarks (SunSpider and V8)

JavaScipt isn't the only element that matters when mobile browsers are loading pages. However, the speediness of the Android 2.2 should make a noticeable difference when hit a JavaScript stuffed site. Based on Ars Technica's tests, it seems Safari can't claim the crown as the fastest mobile browser in town.

How much does the speediest of your mobile browser matter to you? Take a gander at our iPhone 4 review for our take on Apple's latest creation and let us know where web surfing smarts rest on smartphone shopping list.

Out now | £varies | Apple (via Ars Technica)

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Nintendo 3DS: Lessons learned from gaming history

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 07:44 AM PDT

Don’t be fooled: the Nintendo 3DS is not the first ever 3D games console. Believe it or not, it’s not even the first 3D games machine from Nintendo. But it is going to be the first to go mainstream (And I’m including the PS3 here), because it’s already dodged the mistakes that efforts from the 1980s and 1990s failed to take heed of.

Aside from the fact that Nintendo is more popular now than it’s ever been, there are three obvious hurdles it needs to clear – and I think Ninty’s got them all sorted.

Check out this brilliant advert for the original Sega Master System’s SegaScope 3D glasses.

Dubious sentiments like “it puts the action right in your face” aside, they failed. Sega was selling a confusing add on with games that weren’t on sale, for something people already shelled out money for, and that didn’t work with every television.

This is where the Nintendo 3DS will succeed. Unlike with the Sony PS3 3D experience, there’s no need to explain you’ll need the latest PS3 firmware upgrade, a 3D TV with a HDMI 1.4 socket and a compatible game. Nintendo’s shipping its 3D skills out of the box, with everything, making its message even easier to communicate.

Add to that, Nintendo’s now such a household name, it can get away with ads like this now, as shown at last month’s E3:

What other games company has three execs who are a) recognisable figures and celebs in their own right, and b) willing to get their face burned off by Bowser? Just imagine how universal recognition is going to be once Ant, Dec and Harry Redknapp start endorsing the Nintendo 3DS.

Nintendo 3DS revealed: All the details

Launch titles
Watch that Sega ad again. Go on, you know you want to. Notice a nice little caveat the man with deep voice slips in halfway through: some of the games shown were “coming soon”. For such an out there technology in a handheld, this one’s a major pitfall to avoid. You can’t expect a 3D system to take off without plenty of games to move it from gimmick to essential gear status. It was the undoing of both the SegaScope glasses (8 games) and Nintendo’s 1995 Virtual Boy (22 games).

The Nintendo 3DS won’t struggle for launch titles. The current DS has proved to be an enormous success and it’s helped Nintendo put together what in my mind is unquestionably the best launch line up of games not just on any handheld, but any games console ever.

Just look at all the third parties on board: Activision, Bandai Nacmo, Capcom, EA, Harmonix, Konami, Square Enix, Sega, THQ, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Just look at all the incredible titles already confirmed: Assassin’s Creed,Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kingdom Hearts, Zelda, Metal Gear Solid, Mario Kart, Paper Mario, Resident Evil, Star Fox, The Sims 3 – the list goes on. You simply won’t be able to afford all the potential AAA grade games on the Nintendo 3DS when it goes on sale. Think back to the launch of the Wii and the PS3 – could you say that about either?

Nintendo 3DS: First impressions round up

This one’s a bit counter intuitive, but hear me out: the Nintendo 3DS’ secret weapon is that fact that it doesn’t have to be 3D at all. The SegaScope glasses obviously did. And the Nintendo Virtual Boy certainly did (See below for the whole clunky set up)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all at Nintendo’s E3 unveiling was the slider on the Nintendo 3DS that allows you to turn down the stereoscopic effect and even turn it off completely. It’s a masterstroke of design that lets everybody in on the action, and prevents any problems with moving out of the 3D viewing angle – as you likely would while playing on a bumpy train journey.

Truth be told, 3D TV and 3D in the cinema don’t have many fans amongst Electricpig staff, and we know we’re not alone: having the option to stick to 2D is vital, and just another reason the Nintendo 3DS is going to be nothing short of a storming success.

Now, if Sony could just do the same for a proper PSP sequel, we’d be laughing.

What do you think? Is the Nintendo 3DS going to flop? Have I missed something? Pipe up with your opinion in the comments below, and remember – the best reply of the week wins a prize!

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Apple iTunes hack: fraud prevention officer wanted

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 07:11 AM PDT

After the iTunes hack was finally recognised by Apple, it looks like fraud in iTunes may in fact be a problem, if a job description that's emerged is anything to go by. Despite this though, Apple are denying that the security breaches were anything to do with iTunes.

Despite acknowledging the problem, Apple are insisting that its servers and security were not threatened, and that users should contact their banks and take care to protect passwords and card details, thereby pointing the finger at banks, and users, leaving its servers free to go.

Now, there’s a question mar over that assertion, as 9to5mac has unearthed an advert looking for a fraud specialist to work on iTunes. Which makes it looks suspiciously like Apple is concerned about fraud on iTunes.

The developer, Thuat Nguyen, was kicked off the site within a couple of days, pushing his books to occupy 42 places out of the top 50. Apple told Clayton Morris that the number was negligible, 400 out of 150million iTunes users, which adds up to a tiny 0.0003% of users.

It also doesn't look like anyone in the UK was affected, but Apple’s UK Music PR wasn’t available to confirm or deny this for us. Many users on forums are advising that you stick to making purchases with gift cards, although we're still in the dark about whether this is a serious problem or not, as Apple has either not got to the bottom of the problem, or doesn't want to compromise itself by revealing any details.

Do you think Apple are at fault? Does it worry you how tight lipped it has been on this issue, or do they have the right to resolve the problem behind closed doors?

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Amazon UK grocery store: pre-order bacon Frazzles with your books

Posted: 07 Jul 2010 06:31 AM PDT

Amazon has just added a grocery section to its UK site putting it in competition with online shopping players like Ocado, Tesco and Sainsbury's. We've taken a wander through the virtual shelves of the Amazon UK grocery store to see what's in stock and got some pretty interesting results. Fancy pre-ordering a 48-pack of Frazzles? Now you can…

Amazon UK promises its new grocery section has "everything you need to stock your kitchen cupboards". It includes fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry as well as dried goods including cereal, pasta and biscuits and a pretty substantial range of booze. There's also a rather handy tea selector to help you search for the perfect brew.

We tested the Amazon UK grocery section by searching for some tasty bacon and while we found plenty of packs of rashers in the meat section, the first thing the search threw up was a 48-pack of bacon-flavour Frazzles. The Amazon grocery store is still in beta and it's a little odd grabbing food through an interface you’re used to searching for book with. We were offered our Frazzles to pre-order with an estimated delivery date of August 1. That might be a little too long to wait for a crispy snack.

Since the Amazon UK grocery store is part of the main Amazon site, you'll also find your food searches throw up suggestions from the rest of its product range. Our hankering for bacon came with a recommendation that we investigate a book on the work of Francis Bacon.

That said, the Amazon UK grocery store could seriously give rivals like Ocado a run for their money.  Stump up £49 for an annual subscription to Amazon Prime and you'll get unlimited free One-Day delivery. If you're willing to wait a little longer for your food, all the items in the Amazon UK grocery section are eligible for Free Super Saver Delivery (3 to 5 days). There’s also the Amazon iPhone app for ordering on go.

There's also a gratifyingly wide-selection of international scran in the Amazon UK grocery section with dedicated areas for Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and French cuisine. And folk with food allergies will be pleased to find plenty of options in there including gluten free and wheat free selections.

Let us know: could the Amazon UK grocery store tempt you to entrust it with your shopping list? Are you Ocado through and through? Or do you prefer the more traditional Friday night trudge with the trolley?

Out now | £varies | Amazon

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