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Debunking Tech Spin – Apple fans beware

If you are a tech nerd like myself or an Apple fan boy you have no doubt seen today the latest sale figures of the iPad Pro in comparison to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. While the fan boys are busy celebrating the English teacher in me thought it was about time to give a lesson about how to debunk the tech and for that matter the business worlds continual desire to distort figures and create false perception. Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about here are a few links to 9to5 Mac, softpedia’s and business insiders take on the latest sales news.

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When creating market perceptions the best course of action is always to use statistics from a reliable source which these examples like others have done clearly by quoting IDC’s estimate of “2 million” iPad Pro sales compared to “1.6 million” sales of the entire surface line. Taken at face value this is easy to understand and is a clear win for Apple but the art of spin is about not giving context. Business insider is slightly different in this regard as it states that the iPad Pro was not available until the 11th of November, however again this is selective information. In this instance the information necessary to make an informed judgement is left out, for example that the iPad Pro is available in 40 countries compared to approximately 25 on last count for the Surface line up. These reports also don’t mention the very different retail presence of both Microsoft and Apple which undoubtedly impacted the availability of the newest Surface Pro 4 in many countries. It’s common knowledge that Apple has a well-established retail strategy with 481 stores in 18 countries meanwhile Microsoft has 116 stores in four countries including only 10 outside the US. The result of this disparity is that Microsoft either has to rely on their online store or secondary retail stores like JB Hi-Fi in Australia. My personal observation at several such stores in Melbourne has revealed that most didn’t release the Pro 4 until December and the Surface Book until January. In Australia, much like I’m sure other countries, it is common to get new technology significantly behind the US that is except Apple products which are conveniently available on a global launch day. Given this context the statistics emphasised in these articles has a slightly less impressive and clear conclusion. It is possible to ask why with a larger distribution and stronger retail presence Apple has only out sold Microsoft by 400,000?

Another technique used by spin doctors is to establish credibility by seemingly providing some form of positive information against their established contention in this instance that most of the Microsoft sales were the more expensive Surface Pro models or that the guys at Redman have experienced ‘29% year-over-year growth’. Notice none of this information detracts from the idea that Apple has sold more at least not without further data and analysis but does help to present the writers of the articles in question as unbiased and reliable sources. Unsurprisingly they do not expand too much on the price of the more expensive Surface Pro tablets as it could easily explain the disparity between the sales figures and offer more comfort for windows fans. In Australia the Surface Pro 4 retails from between $1348 ($899 USD) to $3398 ($2199 USD) depending on the hard drive, memory and processor while the Surface Book starts at $2297 ($1499 USD) and increases to a whopping $4197 ($2699 USD) with a dedicated graphics card while the iPad Pro is more affordable in the $1248 ($799 USD) to $1698 ($1079 USD) bracket. This brings up two very interesting points to consider when thinking about the basic economics of supply and demand since demand will be greater in general for cheaper products yet companies will only be able to set high prices if there is sufficient market willing to pay otherwise they risk creating a surplus of stock, Microsoft found this out the hard way with the original surface running Windows RT. Overall this means that 1.6 million Surface sales has likely created more revenue (not necessarily profit as the overhead for both products isn’t actually known) than the iPad. It is also possible to conclude that consumers are willing to pay more for a Surface Pro rather than settle for a less powerful device in the Surface 3. Not only does this additional detail help explain the sales figures but it also raises a question about their actual importance especially since as all the article have had to admit the overall iPad shipments have fallen by 24.8% from last year.

Possibly the most obvious attempt at miss direction is the reliance of weighted comparisons that do not fairly represent similar products. Most people would not try to compare apples to oranges but in the tech world this seems to be common practice as to attack Microsoft’s significance digital trends compares the Surface line to more affordable tablets like the Amazon fire $115 ($50 USD) that can only do a small fraction of the tasks of a traditional laptop. Unfortunately, this is not a onetime phenomenon as 9to5 Mac also highlight a table showing tablet market share this is incredibly rich since they quote IDC’s comments about transitioning to “detachable tablets” and has little relevance on their actual contention about the iPad Pro as it uses existing iPads to inflate market share and utilised the plethora of chip Android tablets to push Microsoft off the list. Unsurprisingly these articles also fail to mention that most market research firms like Gartner don’t actually categorise the Surface Pro let alone Surface Book as a tablet instead it is often labelled a hybrid or ultramobile and counted in the PC numbers. In this context what would be relevant would be a comparison between high end ‘detachable tablets’ or hybrids although an argument could easily be made that the iPad Pro does not belong in this category since most reviews agree that it can’t replace a laptop due to the limitations of iOS.

I hope a few of you have found this a little bit of a learning experience and maybe it transported you back to an English class at school were some teacher was prattling on about persuasive techniques (some of mine are a bit obvious). These types of tech articles are just a perfect example of how we experience subtle manipulation on a daily basis and just proves one of my favourite sayings, knowledge is power. My point although it may not seem like it is not to persuade nor even inform but to encourage you all to think critically and make your own judgement as unfortunately sometimes it’s about choosing which ‘truth’ you want to believe.

Cheers,

Jono

 

10 best journeys to a galaxy far, far away

Considering The Force Awakens is still dominating the box office I thought I might do a countdown of my top 10 games that took us into a galaxy far, far away. Just a quick disclaimer as a console gamer there is only one PC game on the list and I haven’t played anything that predates the N64, so if one of your favourites doesn’t appear don’t hold it against me but would love your opinion in the comments.

10.Shadow of the Empire – N64 (1997)

I’m not going to argue that Shadow is a perfectly produced game but it had a really good bases as it allowed players to take on a unique character that shared traits with one of the favourite hero form the films without having a predetermined outcome. In addition, it was possibly the first Star Wars game which combined different modes of game play whether it’s plying on foot as Dash Render or piloting the Outrider. The opening stage is definitely a highlight and while most players find it drops away the longer you play it definitely opened up possibilities for the future.

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9.Republic Commandos – PC/Xbox (2005)

A unique chapter in Star Wars gaming as players take command of an elite band of clones rather than the usual role of a hero. This first person shooter developed using the Unreal engine has obvious similarities with other squad based games like Gears of War released a year later, as players can be revived by squad mates and issue commands. Therefor it’s no surprise the fast paced action left players wanting more and the only real drawback was the short length of the campaign and multiplayer.

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8.The Force Unleashed – PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii (2008)

Excellent graphics, a good storyline and a well voiced protagonist helped this game establish itself as one of the best sellers for 2008. However, The Force Unleashed was well hyped before its release and the repetitive method of game play combined with the absence of multiplayer disappointed some fans. Never being much of an online gamer this was never that much of a drawback and I just try to change up my own tactics to keep it interesting, after all where else can you electrify your lightsaber before thronging it.force_unleashed_1a-1920x1200

7.Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga – Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC (2007)

Combining one of the most successful toys and Star Wars started something as the Lego series has since expanded to including Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and The Avengers. These games allow players to jump into well-known story lines and regularly change amongst their favourite characters while experience a fun easy to learn method f game play. Star Wars was able to capitalise on this combination due to its wide fan base and the desire to play through the events of the films for less serious gamers. Lego Star Wars might not be anything special on game play but all the sequel means that it has definitely had an impact.

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6.The Old Republic – PC (2011)

The only exclusive PC game on my list grab my attention due to its console origins is an MMORPG based 3500 years before the films. On release it became the fastest growing MMORPG but after the initial surge it had trouble keeping subscribers and has since introduced a free-to-play option.

The game play draws heavily from its predecessors and distinguishes itself from other MMORPG’s through the introduction of companion system. These companions are linked to your chosen class which also offer a range of different builds to explore. The scale of the Star Wars universe has never been bigger and this is definitely a must for serious fans

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5.Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy  – PC, Mac, Xbox (2003)

Jedi Academy like its predecessor Jedi Outcast combines first person and third person shooters with elements of RPG’s by allowing gamers to customise their characters’ force powers. Academy’s main advantage is the story allows players to jump straight into combat with a lightsaber this allows players to develop their fighting technique and customise their lightsaber later on. In addiction the game brought an enhanced multiplayer which allowed players to take on each other using Xbox live. The drawback for me was the replay value of the campaign as the limited customisation did nothing to change the story or levels. Even so Jedi Academy ranks as one of my favourite due to partly to it’s application of force powers, being able to push storm troopers off a ledge never gets old. Jedi Academy is now available along with all its predecessors in the Jedi Knight series on steam so if you haven’t had the pleasure I suggest you check it out.

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4.Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords – PC, Mac, Xbox (2004)

Obsidian’s follow up to Bioware’s original lived up to fans expectations as it maintained the same game play while making an effort to expand and introduce new characters. In every way it feels like a sequel as some of our favourite characters like HK-47 return and the storyline links back to Revan and the Mandalorian Wars yet it does this in a way that is approachable for new comers. The game maintains the party, combat and levelling systems from its predecessor but does add some welcome tweaks such as the character’s ability to influence your companions. This evolves into your ability to change their alignment and their physical appearance and will also open up the opportunity to train several of your companions to use the force. Combined with the additional prestige classes this gives a sense that the player is able to take the next step beyond the original.

Like the original the storyline offers great replay value with a plethora of side quests each with multiple outcomes and several core decisions that can affect the progression of the main story. As expected with a sequel it expands our knowledge of the Star Wars universe by taking us to some new places while revisiting some familiar planets that have been left scared by the events of the original. My only real criticism of the Sith Lords is that perhaps more could have been invested into the graphics as they are not a massive leap forward but this has never stopped me playing on my Xbox 360.

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3.Star Wars Rogue Squadron – N64, PC (1998)

Back on my N64 Rogue Squadron was up there with Goldeneye as one of my favourite games. The arcade style action game allows players to pilot different rebel craft through 16 levels to fulfil different objectives and is set alongside the original trilogy. Using passwords or attaining medals on all the levels also gives players access to bonus levels from the movies including the Death Star run and special crafts like the Millennium Falcon. These elements combined to make Rogue Squadron an enjoyable and accessible simulation of aerial combated without focusing on it. Recently playing Battlefront on my Xbox One has remained me a little of Rogue Squadron but it lacks the mission objectives to keep me interested for long periods.

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2.Battlefront 2 – PC, Xbox, PS2 (2005)

A sequel that surpassed the original and has inspired the latest large scale console game in the franchise. Gameplay is based around third person combat with a collection of different playable classes available and a range of power ups based on in-game performance. Into this framework the game adds vehicles including full scale space battles and playable heroes awarded for meeting unspecified objectives. If this wasn’t enough Battlefront 2 includes the four major armies from the prequel and original trilogies which introduces players to a larger range of classes and different vehicles.

This last point contributes to what separates and raises Battlefront 2 above the more recent incarnation as it offers 2 different solo/co-op styles of play beyond multiplayer. Initially campaign offers players the ability to fight through the entire saga and develop their skills. It was the Galaxy mode which really impressed players and has probably been the biggest disappointment with the new version as players could choose an army and take over the galaxy one plant at a time. All this combined for a great experience with excellent replay value that appealed to hard-core Star Wars fans and was accessible to all levels of gamers.

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1. Knights of the Old Republic – Xbox, PC, Mac (2003)

This should not come as any surprise as the 2004 Game of the Year not only took Star Wars games to a new level but redefined RPG’S. Since the success of Knights of the Old Republic BioWare have continued to use the same companion, decision and dialogue system with a few developments in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. It was these elements along with a high level of customisation which has given all these titles their replay value.

However, none of these titles would have been successful without a great storyline, characters and an expanded universe to explore and this is where KOTOR delivers with spades. The overriding storyline of Darth Revan, Malak and the star forge is compelling with Empire style twists. The side quests allow players to explore some of the more well-known planets and aspects of the Star Wars universe while introduce new lore or building characters. The final piece of the puzzle is characters and while Carth can become a little tedious or Juhani & Jolee appear stereotypical the game delivers entertainment in the form of HK-47 and Canderous while Bastila Shan providing an unusual level of development for a companion. If you haven’t played KOTOR before it is a must for any hard-core RPG gamer or Star Wars fan and regardless of the dating graphics, it’s still one hell of a game.

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Would love to hear some of your views and hits of gaming nostalgia so don’t be afraid to comment.

Jono

 

 

E3: Best of the rest

It’s been a few weeks since E3 but as promised here is my best of the rest, a closer look at some of the PS4, WiiU and cross – platform games announced  at this years expo. A quick disclaimer this list is based on my personal interest in gaming so will not see any sport titles making the cut. With out any further delay …

Final Fantasy VII Re-make

Platform: First on PS4

Release Date: Late 2016/2017

One of the headlines from Sony’s conference which grabbed a lot of attention. This full re-make of the iconic role-playing game first released in 1997 is still in the early stages but has fans excited. Information is vague but what we know is the game will feature new content to expand on the original however the inclusion of any new characters has been officially ruled out. Additionally, developers have not eliminated the possibility of expanding release beyond the PS4 but for now it’s all just speculation. This is defiantly one to keep track of over the next year or so.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Platform: PS4

Release Date: 2016

This Action RPG was my favourite exclusive from Sony, thanks to the stunning looking scenery, style of gameplay and a unique world. Horizon Zero Dawn see’s players take control of Aloy in a post – apocalyptic world fighting against  collection of monsters including robotic dinosaurs using a variety of weapons including a wicked looking bow. The clips from E3 and additional material from Sony also suggest some type of crafting system which has become a hallmark of a quality RPG.

No Man’s Sky

Platform: PS4 & Windows PC

Release Date: TBA

An open universe science fiction exploration game which promise to deliver an experience on a whole new scale. Players are introduced to a previously undiscovered universe to explore. The E3 demo gives us some idea of individual gameplay with resource gathering, interaction with alien species and space exploration key features. We still don’t have any ideas about any overriding story arc but it’s definitely a game I’ll be following during it’s continued development. Thankfully it’s coming to windows the same time as it lands on the PS4 so I’m not going to miss out.

Have a look at IGN’s exclusive look at No Man’s Sky this month.

Street Fighter 5

Platform: PS4 and Windows PC

Release Date: Early 2016

The next chapter of this icon arcade fighting franchise promise more of the same classic gameplay with a couple of new additions. Namely the inclusion of the ‘V-Gauge’ which allows players to use a variety of unique character techniques and skills like temporary power-ups or reversals. Street Fighter is always going to be a known quantity and fans of the series like myself can only be satisfied by this newest version.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Platform: PS4

Release Date: Early 2016

The fourth and final instalment of the Nathan Drake story finds the series protagonist is forced out of retirement for his most trying challenge yet. Gameplay follows the same third person shooter style of action adventure which fans of the series have come to enjoy. Not having played any of the previous titles before I can say the clip below does make me a little jealous as gameplay is varied and combines different elements in a fluid experience.

Sea of Thieves

Platform: Xbox One & Windows PC

Release Date: 2016

Growing up I was always a fan of the Monkey Island games due to their swashbuckling adventures, gameplay elements and Guybrush Threepwood’s comedic timing. As a result I always look at any new pirate themed game with interest and am generally disappointed as they often lack the same light-hearted approach that I enjoyed growing up instead focusing more on gritty realism. Straight away with Sea of Thieves its obvious that Rare is not going down this over done route and will likely be a bit more playful then games like Assassins Creed: Black Flag. That being said Sea of Thieves still raises a lot of questions regarding first – person melee combat and the presence of a story within the MMO format which I feel is a must for any open world game. This article from Godis A Geek goes through a couple of other features that I’ll be looking for over next year before I make up my mind.

ReCore

Platform: Xbox One

Release Date Q2 2016

Another Xbox One exclusive with limited gameplay details but it does have a unique concept in the presence of robot companions who have their own consciousness that can be transferred into different bodies through their blue core’s. The trailer also suggests that Joule, the game’s protagonist,will have access to a variety of weapons and abilities to use in combat. ReCore has some experienced developers on board in Marc Pacini and Keiji Inafune so the expectation is high. We will just have to wait and see if they deliver.

Star Fox Zero

Platform: Nintendo WiiU

Release Date: Q4 2015

Out of all Nintendo’s announcements this is the one that grab my attention and for the first time actually made me think about getting a WiiU out of nostalgia. Star Fox 64 was an old favourite of mine back in the day so the look and feel of the latest chapter immediately brought back memories, especially with the return of the old gang, Felco, Slippy and Peppy. The main difference between Star Fox Zero and it’s predecessor is the addition of the game pad which allows `players to see a cockpit view alongside the traditional rolling screen. Still not sure if it’s enough to convince me to pick up another console but who knows if the price is right.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

Platform: PS4, Xbox One and Windows

Release Date: October 23 2015

I’m glade to see Ubisoft are mixing things up a little with introduction of a female protagonist. Hopefully this acts to vary the gameplay as players are able to switch between the twins, Jacob and Evie. My main criticism of the franchise has been the repetitive experience which has not really changed since the first game despite the addition of era specific elements like pirate ships. The supposedly faster combat and other changes show that Ubisoft might be listening to fans but we will have to wait and see. I’m looking forward to this one partly because of the era as a scholar of Dickens I have an image of Victorian London and couldn’t give up any chance to explore this world.

I know there are other games that could have easily made this list but as I have said before games are very subjective and these are the ones that have caught my eye. Feel free to let me know what has got you excited from E3.

Jono

E3: My Games Wishlist

E3 2015 is done and dusted so I thought I’d look more in-depth at the games that really caught my attention and those I personally can’t wait to get my hands on.

Halo 5 guardians

Platform: Xbox One

Release Date: 27/10/15

A new Halo is always a big deal for the Xbox community and the first instalment on the new console will be expected to boast overall console sales just like the past. The small snippets of the story line have got fans like myself sitting on edge, is the Master Chief a traitor, is Spartan Locke friend or foe and the inclusion of Buck voiced by Nathan Fillion from ODST is a welcomed addition. At E3 we were given a glimpse of the campaign that diverges a little from the traditional formula as it seems more like ODST and Reach with two teams of Spartans led by Locke and the Master Chief made for drop in & out coop play. In addition 343 industries gave us Warzone a new 24 player multiplayer mode combining elements of PvP and PvE where two teams compete with the added fun of AI opponents in a crazy overload of Halo awesomeness. Suddenly the 27 of October seems so far away.

Forza motorsport 6

Platform: Xbox One

Release date: 15/9/15

Recently I have really got into playing Forza 5 as it has outstanding graphics and is perfect for gaming when you have time constraints. The 6th instalment promises much of the same running in 1080p it looks stunning and with an extensive list of 450 cars it’s perfect for car enthusiasts. However, the main development is the addition of meaningful racing conditions, this goes beyond the basic visual effect and includes real world experience as rain doesn’t just look pretty but actually make the track slippery and effects your handling. A subtle inclusion but one that will make it just that little more challenging for seasoned racers.

Fable Legends

Platform: Xbox One and Windows

Release date: 2015

This free to play cooperative title has been promoted before at Microsoft events as it demonstrates the capabilities of Windows 10’s cross-platform gaming as PC and Xbox users can play alongside each other. Legends offers gamers a different experience than previous titles as players can choose between the traditional hero game play without the exploration alongside possibly up to 3 friends or as the villain who plans the obstacles faced by our band of heroes like a strategy game. It seems like an interesting combination of different game styles and I’m looking forward to testing it out later this year.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

Platform: First on Xbox

Release date: 10/11/15

Crystal dynamics sequel to their 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider promises a lot with different combat options and more opportunity for discovery. Learning from the feedback after the previous title developers have incorporate a new ability for Lara to use her environment to create weapons and make choices as to how she will engage combatants. Most notably this includes the ability to avoid lethal engagements using items as distractions and finding other methods to take down the enemy. In addition crystal dynamics have stated their aim to make Lara the most realistic and humanised character in gaming by focus on the emotional impact of decisions and the storyline. We shall have to wait until November 10th to see if Rise of the Tomb Raider delivers.

Gears of War ultimate edition and Gears 4

Platform: Xbox One

Release date: 25/8/15 and holidays 2016

The other Xbox franchise also had its time at E3 with two announcements. Gears of War Ultimate Edition was unveiled and its more than just a remastered HD version of the 2006 original but more of a full rebuild. The Coalition has gone back to basics with new motion capture and animation to help bring the game into the next era of gaming. Beyond this the remake incorporates new game elements from more recent titles in the series including an enhanced  multiplayer. Even thinking about it gives me a pang of nostalgia.

Gears 4 the first game in the franchise since Microsoft took over the rights shows more of what we expect, chainsaws, weird creatures and a post apocalyptic setting. Still scarce on details all we really know about Gears 4 is that the gameplay looks similar to the other titles in the series. It’s still far away but any new chance to saw through your enemies can’t easily be passed up.

Rare Replay

Platform: Xbox  One

Release date: 4/8/15

This collection of 30 classic Rare games is a steal for the $30 price tag. Many of the games pre-date my  gaming experience  but classic 64 titles like Banjo Kazooie, the sequel Banjo Tooie and Perfect Dark are enough for me to jump on board. Adding  some Xbox 360 up dates to those series alongside a host of other games to explore for the first time and I’m counting the hours of game play. The only disappointments are the absence of GoldenEye and Diddy Kong Racing due to legal restrictions. Click here to see the full list.

Star Wars: Battlefront

Platform: Xbox One, PS4 and PC

Release Date:

A self professed Star Wars tragic I have been looking forward to this one since Battlefront 2 was released years ago. One of my absolute favourite Star Wars games because it allows players to jump into the epic battle and key events of the films like no other game. Gameplay follows the same basic format as the earlier titles in that it is primarily a third person shooter with different class options and you need to complete a series of objectives in order for your side of the Star Wars conflict to gain victory. It doesn’t look like there are any real changes to this basic formula but the new Battlefront takes advantage of the next generation consoles through new game modes and refinement. Personally I can’t think of a better way to get in the spirit before the release of The Force Awakens.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Platform: Xbox One, PS4 and PC

Release Date: Q4 2016

Details are still scarce about the new Mass Effect but we learnt at E3 that the game is set outside the milky way in the Andromeda galaxy long after the events of Mass Effect 3. This means that developers have the freedom to imagine a new host of planets and new alien species without being restricted by the previous games. Despite this scope for innovation its clear that this next chapter will maintain most of the elements we have come to expect of the series as the game will still follow a human protagonist leading a team made up of different specialists. Beyond this we also know that Mass Effect Andromeda will use the Frostbite 3 game engine behind Dragon Age Inquisition which promises a rich experience. I’m very excited about this one as I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing through the previous titles multiple times, I’m just shattered its such a long wait.

Check back later as I preview the best of the rest from E3

Cheers

Jono