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Issue 26


Tel: +442032398060 General Email: info@phonicamagazine.co.uk

www.phonicamagazine.co.uk Editor in Chief Kevin Leonce

Contributors

Rob Hobson, Alex Morrison, Yasser Khan, Scott Tierney

Creative Services & Design Scott Tierney www.scott-tierney.com

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Editorial

editorial@phonicamagazine.co.uk

Enquiries

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advertising@phonicamagazine.co.uk Become a Fan of Phonica Magazine UK on Facebook & Twitter Š Think Creative Media Limited ISSN: 2048-0903 All material in this publication is covered by copyright. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system or transmitted in any form electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, in whole or part without written permission of the publisher or the copyright owner. Please note that whilst every care has been taken to ensure that all the data in this publication is accurate at the time of going to print, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, whether caused by negligence or otherwise, or for any loss, however caused, occasioned to any person by reliance on it; and hereby disclaims any liability for it. Operations and some features are network dependent; please refer to your network provider for full details. Think Creative Media Limited publishes Phonica Magazine UK. Company No. 07629086 ISSN: 2048-0903



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What’s Inside

Issue 26 - 2014

News Digest

The Witcher forum redesigned Midnight City to launch two indie titles paying homage to the “old school” Guild Wars 2 gets an upgrade Nexon Europe launches Lost Saga Edge of Reality brings a fresh alternative with Loadout Conception II pushes Anime further into mainstream

previews

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z

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reviews

Tekken X Street Fighter

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features

Use before beauty Paid in full Look back in anger How close are we to the technology used in the movie Her?

the guides Apps Games

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Kevin Leonce

editor’s letter We’ve heard it time and time again. More so often in recent times the conversations surrounding technology and its future is played to us, over and over, like a broken record.

wow factor once again. The one that took us from Pac Man to Super Mario to Duke Nukem and so forth. That butterfly feeling when the first iPhone was born into this world.

But what does it truly mean? What is the future of technology and where is it taking us? Our minds have been coerced through advertising, perception, and hi-tech blockbusters that very soon we’d take the quantum jump to airborne driven vehicles, and a world fully immersed in an eco-tech bubble. But our realities in the current world struggles to see this being achieved in these timeframes we’re being fed.

But one thing is clear. We keep pushing technology forward with our demands while hoping a Da Vinci will surface in the Tech world to give the industry a nice nudge, hell maybe even a shove. So Siri can actually recognize our voice when we say “call Rob” instead of telling us it can search the web for “how to rob”. Where games have unique story endings, ones we never see coming that aren’t tied to “if this then that” algorithms.

In the gaming world we are yet to truly experience that transition. No, we’re not talking about the level of detail and interaction you experience through the £40 lifetime of the latest tittle you queued from midnight to get your hands on. Trails through apps and new releases of consoles have really taken its toll on our saturation levels. We yearn for that



The untangling of these now monotonous linear boundaries may be the mental stimulant reboot our minds need…and here’s the start. Enjoy reading, Twitter:@PhonicaMagUK

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meet the team

rob hobson Rob cooks, is proficient in Word and PowerPoint, has his own transport and may be filling in his biog for the wrong magazine. He lives in east London with his partner, their daughter, assorted electronic devices and several dozen bottles of red wine.

Scott TIERNEY Between trying to beat his high-score on Columns and deciphering the lyrics of Nick Cave, Scott whiles away the hours as a freelance designer. He currently lives in the cold, archaic and cheap North of England, because it’s cold, archaic and cheap.

Alex Morrison Alex Morrison most recently moved back from New York City where he pursued his interest in advertising. He has always had a passion for technology and since moving back to London has turned his attention towards writing. He enjoys covering the latest in consumer gadgets, apps for tablet and mobile, as well as sports and mobile gaming. Alex graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in Communications.

Yasser Khan Yasser is currently studying BSc Computer Science at the University Of Bradford. Yasser also enjoys writing and playing games just as much as working on his programming skills. In his spare time he moonlights as a budding content producer using HTML5 and CSS3.

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News Digest Creators of The Witcher give back

to the community that made them.

CD Projekt RED, the creators of the eagerly anticipated RPG  The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, announced the launch of a completely redesigned forum experience at the end of January.  The redesign combines new and exciting user functionality with the passion of The Witcher community, which made the forums such a special, one-of-a-kind place on the Internet.



Marcin Momot, the Community Manager at CD Projekt RED, agrees that the “community deserves an experience as amazing as the game itself”.

“The redesign combines new and exciting user functionality with the passion of The Witcher community” The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is due for release later this year on Xbox One, PlayStation4 and PC.

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News Digest

Midnight City pays homage to ‘old school’ with announcement of next two indie titles Midnight City, the indie label founded by Majesco Entertainment, recently announced two more titles that will be making their debut in Q1 and Q2 of this year. Avalanche 2: Super Avalanche, the sequel to the hugely popular flash game Avalanche, will be launched on Steam, followed by a refreshed Blood of the Werewolf which will expand to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Avalanche 2: Super Avalanche adds new features to the core platform-climbing title. As a bouncy marshmallow character driven upward by a rising tide of liquid, players must avoid a constant stream of procedurally generated items and breakable blocks that fall from the sky. Players can unlock up to four item slots for over 70,000 combinations of special power-ups that help ‘mallows’ jump higher, move faster, double jump and more. 

Blood of the Werewolf debuts on consoles with updates and fresh content. The story revolves around Selena, a loving wife, mother and unstoppable werewolf who races against time to save her son from the evil Victor Frankenstein. The game spans 10 levels of platforming action with five intense boss arenas The Creature, Jekyll & Hyde, The Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster.

“Avalanche 2: Super Avalanche adds new features to the core platform-climbing title.” Players must seek out secret rooms and hidden areas scattered throughout the game to collect power-ups for their crossbows, werewolf powers and health upgrades. Blood of the Werewolf is a thrilling platformed that will be released on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network in Q2 2014. 

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News Digest

Guild Wars 2 gives players more of what they want NCSOFT and ArenaNet, developer of the acclaimed Guild Wars franchise, recently offered players a glimpse into the “Edge of the Mists” with a trailer that shows off the brand new realm. The preview shows an array of floating islands that make up the new map, revealing terrains and landscapes that players will encounter. Dense cloud forests, icy mountains and crumbling temples provide players with a challenging new terrain and, as the video reveals, players won’t be the only ones battling for control of this new realm.

“ArenaNet have created a visually stunning MMO that lets gamers play the way they want.” Building on the success of the original game, NCSOFT and game developer ArenaNet have created a visually stunning MMO that lets gamers play the way they want, while retaining the no-subscription-fee business model that made the original Guild Wars so popular.



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News Digest

Community-driven gaming puts power in the player’s hands Nexon Europe recently announced the opening of the official Lost Saga site ahead of the game’s Closed Beta Test that was carded for February 2014. Users are encouraged to visit the site and weigh in on exactly the kind of game they want to see. Players are invited to join the discussions on how the game should take shape and are encouraged to offer up their thoughts and opinions on what they think of Lost Saga.

Developed by I.O. Entertainment and licensed by WeMade Entertainment, Lost Saga is an online multiplayer brawler game that incorporates over 100 well-loved characters from across time and space, 20 maps and a wide variety of game modes. The community already has over 2000 members and is waiting for more users to join to help shape the final product. Beta key registration began on Feb 6th and operates on a first come, first serve basis. Claim your spot today!

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News Digest

Loadout promises a fresh alternative to your everyday shooter Edge of Reality announced in January that their Free-to-Play online shooter Loadout was made available on PC. After years of tweaking  Loadout’s innovative gameplay style, the debut title is now officially available in the Steam Store. Loadout is a fast-paced shooter that distinguishes itself with a robust customisation system, intense action, and comedic violence. Offering over  44 billion possible combinations, players have the option to assemble the weapon of their dreams. Essentially, if you can think it you can build it. The game is so over the top it needs to be played to be believed. Characters hilariously lose limbs, expose vital organs, and inflict ridiculous wounds upon enemies. At its core, Loadout is all about total and uninhibited player expression. As players progress, they earn new weapon parts, equipment, and prestige. The range of possibilities is endless in the chaotic and deranged world of Loadout.

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News Digest

Anime gets more mainstream with Conception II release in Europe Alex Morrison Published by ATLUS and developed by Spike Chunsoft, Conception II is the sequel to the original Conception released in 2012. Although the original was not translated into English after its release on the PlayStation Portable, the two games’ stories are not related, allowing Western audiences to enjoy the game as a stand-alone title. In the game players take on the role of God’s Gift, a human teenager bestowed with the blessings of the Star God. To enter the Dusk Circles - monster-filled labyrinths that threaten human existence - he must use his Ether to enter and fight the evil that awaits. To aid him, his power allows him to create Star Children. But in

order to create an army of better, stronger and faster Star Children he must maintain relationships with the game’s heroines. The complex elements of managing relationships are only matched by the intricate combat systems, where positioning, attack chains, and combos are vital for survival.

“In the game players take on the role of God’s Gift, a human teenager bestowed with the blessings of the Star God.” Conception II will be released in Q2 2014 for  Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita as a digital-only title in Europe.

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pREVIEW Tekken X Street Fighter The duel of the decade!

Yasser Khan

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Will fans be excited of the arrival of Jin Kazama and Ryu brawling against one another in a chaotic violent tournament as they go head to head to find out who will be the king of the iron fist tournament? Guess this leaves us thinking of what will happen in the upcoming Tekken x Street Fighter. What a bad start it was for the Street Fighter X Tekken concept. Both Namco and Capcom suffered due to the games bad sales. It might have been that the game was released at the wrong time where similar fighting genre titles were released as well. The producer of Tekken Katsuhiro Harada has explained that this game will be a ‘long term’ project. Harada also stated that only 10% percent of the game was complete. The question is will this long term project be able to take Tekken X Street Fighter to the next level?. Regardless of its previous sales track records Street Fighter X Tekken had quite impressive and smooth game play. This attracted a whole new fan base which was something interesting and unexpected for Harada. Never the less this fan base is constantly increasing and has fans hooked on to Street Fighter X Tekken. Many of us are familiar with the fighting characters in all previous Tekken series

along with their own storyline and fighting styles they have. On March 2012 Namco created a Facebook page which was used for voting who they would like to see in Tekken X Street Fighter from amongst 55 Tekken characters and 66 Street Fighter characters. This poll was used as a research method to determine the character line up. But with such date one cannot allude the feeling Harada may use such information to create special characters that have the abilities and techniques of both Tekken and Street Fighter character. How awesome would that be to have the strongest characters in the game! It may be Harada’s strategy to tease us with a release date, building up the hype and excitement that surpasses the welcome gamers have given to previous Tekken and Street Fighter titles Interesting isn’t it? Getting excited are we; No? What If I told you that Tekken X Street Fighter would possibly be making its appearance on next-gen consoles. Would that be something to get your knickers in a twist? Might not be as awesome as it sounds but who knows what Harada has planned, further on since there is still a large number of players out there with a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, the game will surely be released on this platforms. Not much to say but here’s to the hope his team does a good job with the release of Tekken X Street Fighter.

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REVIEW Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Z do you have the BallZ?

Yasser Khan How would it feel to be like Goku? Flying through the sky, cutting through mountains and bashing anything that comes your way? I’d say this would be pretty darn awesome. Imagine the amazing experience of fighting alongside the Z fighters to combat against the toughest of opponents. The new Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z video game will have its fans excited to get back into the world of one of the most influential animated series of all time. With its unique style and music fans will feel at home but players new to the series may have a hard time adjusting to this chaotic game full of action. This multiplayer game, allows up to 8-players… a feature which is something relatively new to the game play. The game is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PSP Vita.

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The game does not consist of much of a story line going in to detail. I guess the developers are assuming that Dragon Ball Z fans know the story line from the previous games/anime series. But regardless of its new audience am sure they will easily get attracted once they fall in the realm of Dragon Ball Z.

“The energy and chaotic action at its best has not been shown in this game at all.” There are the 3 different modes which the game consists of. Single Player Mission, Multiplayer Mission and Team

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battle; two of which are locked at the start of the fame but after playing through a considerable amount of the Single Player Mode can be unlocked. Now that’s something I am looking forward to! . Maybe there’s something special to unlock. Who knows what it could be. The whole game is based on teamwork therefore you must select 4-players to go on a mission. The cool thing about working in a team is that you can revive other team members when they are low on energy. Battling tactics are not something new to the gameplay. From pressing a button to punch to constantly pressing it faster to perform chain attacks. That’s about it really. Not something that you would expect from a Dragon Ball Z game. This is something the developers didn’t concentrate on much to make the gameplay interesting and chaotic as it

should be like the previous Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi games. Team helps revive you and share energy. Perform chain combos. At the end of the mission you can lend energy to the world. I guess this is to lend energy to anyone else playing all over the world. Pretty cool feature the developers have done in this game. However the game slightly does not consist of some features in the previous Dragon Ball Z series which fans may be disappointed about. Overall I would say the game is a failure rather than improvement. The energy and chaotic action at its best has not been shown in this game at all. Its repetitive missions and boring fighting engine will leave fans with disappointment to what they would be expecting for what the Dragon Ball Z series is known for.

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features

Use before beauty rob hobson

We’ve barely started the current gen. We’ve not seen a killer app, a big innovation, an all-conquering stat, or anything else from PS4 and XboxOne. OK, the sales figures are impressive, particularly against the backdrop of PC’s resurgence as a platform and the just-over-the-hill whisper of the Steam Machine. But there’s nothing here that’s especially… well… new. Look at Ryse, or Killzone: Shadow Fall. Gosh but they’re beautiful, the latter in particular, with its wonderful 1080 resolution and not a hint of tear, even at the consistent 60 frames per second of the multiplayer. The light glows. The detail

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almost makes you want to stop drilling holes in the crania of your foes and just gawp blankly at the walls.

“What if you could create a game which plays out genuinely differently every time? “ So why does it all feel so familiar? Yes, it’s great to drink in your surroundings and gasp at the technical gee-wizardry that’s gone into it. But we’ve all stepped out of the first dungeon in Oblivion and gasped at the sumptuous landscapes of Cyrodil. We’ve all emerged from Vault 101, or floated between the skyscrapers of Arkham City. What’s next? What could the truly next-gen bring us? Wonder no longer: we’ve done the thinking for you.

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Dynamic worlds Shadows of Mordor has been promising something along these lines, although it’s hard not to be sceptical of the constantly-changing world it’s trying to sell. But there must be developers out there drooling at the thought of a world in which your every action creates ripples: ripples that affect quests yet to be taken and characters you have yet to meet. What if you could create a game which plays out genuinely differently every time? What if the branching, myriad possibilities

presented to you on your journey through a game really crafted that journey. What if you could play a game through one week, then start it again and have a genuinely different experience, allying with different factions or being offered different objectives? Talk about replay value. DLC is, for publishers, a business decision: it keeps the disc in the console or box. What if the whole precept of the game was to freshen the world each time you started anew?

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Moral flexibility

How many times have you been hit over the head with a moral lead pipe? It’s always one or the other: will you rescue the captives or abandon them to their fate? Will you persuade the escaped droid to return or kill it and tell its grieving mistress it abandoned her? You can feel these leaden-footed either/ors coming a mile away. But real life is hardly ever as simple as these elementary two-handers make it out to be. Could the games of the future offer us real unpredictability? Is it possible to be morally equivocal in the narrow world of code that games inhabit? Of course, games do this for a reason: it seems only fair to telegraph to the user what the consequences of their actions will be. You don’t want to get 3 hours down the line and find that the drug dealer you allowed to live has murdered your favourite sidekick, do you? Uncertainty and obfuscation is a sadly underused aspect of game development

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because the vast majority of users want a clear and delineated path. An optimal path. It’s the sort of mentality that breaks open a copy of Dark Souls, then spends the next 40 hours sat next to a walkthrough or guide. What’s wrong with exploring?

“Could the games of the future offer us real unpredictability?” More importantly, what’s wrong with getting it ‘wrong’? Life is confusing, life is unpredictable, and it’s that unpredictability that takes us to interesting places. Let’s make decisions matter. Let’s not worry about that too much. Let’s not be speed-runners, or perfect-score chasers. Let’s allow ourselves the sense of wonder that comes with seeing what happens.

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The new together Doom let you shoot your mates. Dark Souls lets you break into someone’s games and murder them. True innovations, so where are the next ones? As our world becomes ever more connected and high-speed broadband ever more ubiquitous, what possibilities does that create for online play? To hark back to a point we’ve mentioned already, perhaps the next step is collective shaping of a persistent online world. Just as Dark Souls (and its predecessor) allowed you to invade or assist in a fellow player’s journey, are there ways for an online community to shift a game world in a way that doesn’t close off or limit what you’re trying to do? To explain what I mean, I need to mention the mighty From Software yet again. In Demon’s Souls, game worlds had “tendency”. Put simply… if you did bad things, world tendency shifted towards

Black. If you did good, it shifted towards White. Either of those two extremes could open up new paths, reveal new enemies, make new items available. Ultimately the tendency shift was down to player agency but many believe that collective online actions could also shift your world tendency.

“So where are the next innovations?” That is… you might be pursuing White world tendency somewhere, and yet suddenly find that it had shifted unaccountably to Black. Frustrating, yes, but interesting. Could developers find ways to do this, making games less predictable and more replayable? Could collective multiplayer action create shortcuts, or weaken bosses? Would you need to allow the player choice over that; something like “allow online influence” as an irrevocable yes/no option before you Start Game?

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You may contribute a verse What all this is building up to - and I think I’ve only come to realise this as I write it - is the power that games can have to tell stories. Not, perhaps, the stories that immediately leap to mind: the one where I was about to have my head chopped off when a dragon burned down the village, or the one where I decided which colour button to push to turn off the Reapers.

“Narrative games currently require choke points.” For me, it’s more to do with the stories you write as you progress in a game. There may come a time when game

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engines can be truly responsive: where they can make a story for you on the fly. Perhaps you could break open this new game, disappear into your home for a week to play it inside out, then emerge to discuss it with a friend and discover two completely divergent realities. Perhaps your friend had a different arch enemy. Perhaps the denouement happened in an entirely different place, for different stakes, inspired by different reasons. Perhaps the only things in common with your two games is that they happened in the same fictional world and you both favoured a sword as your weapon of choice.

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Of course, there are all sorts of problems with that… problems that developers haven’t yet solved, or perhaps even addressed. Narrative games currently require choke points - convergent events that keep the story consistent. That may not always be true. There may come a time when open-world means more than just “I can climb that mountain over

“The next great prize is To let the game take control.”

there”. I don’t just mean procedurally-generated worlds, but procedurally-generated stories. Games like Dark Souls succeed because they don’t impose a story on you, they let you write your own, using your own imagination. The next great prize, surely, is to deliver that experience within a script. To let the game take control and give the user something new every time. It may be a while off, but it’s worth wishing for.

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feature

Paid in full

“You were the chosen one. It was said you’d bring balance to gaming, not destroy it.”

rob hobson Ah, mobile gaming. Not so very long ago, it was the bright future. Look back 5 or 6 years at the monster that the game industry had become. GTA4 briefly held the mantle of most successful media launch in history. Activision’s Modern Warfare series was redefining the blockbuster. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was striding confidently into history and was close to its peak of 12 million paying subscribers. And the inevitable was happening: as the big got bigger, the middle got squeezed. Look at the developers that have closed in the last few years alone: Black Rock, THQ,

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Bizarre, Sony Liverpool (once Psygnosis, of WipeOut fame). These weren’t nickel-anddime outfits, these were big companies employing dozens, hundreds of people. Unable to cope with the changing economics of the industry, unable to compete with the EAs and Activisions in terms of scale and, increasingly, polish, one by one they dropped away.

“So why, in the name of all that is digital, does the industry seem to be doing its best to eat itself?”

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But as these once-great names took a critical hit in VATS and collapsed into their component atoms, game development for mobile and tablet was just limbering up. Handheld devices finally had the processing power and screen resolution to deliver something that wasn’t, frankly, a Snake or Tetris clone. Check out the timings: the first iPhone shipped 4 months before Modern Warfare was released. In the 6 and a half years since, we’ve seen innovation, hardware upgrades innumerable, the rise of Samsung as a viable smartphone maker, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, the rise and stagger of Zynga… the list goes on. As someone once said, life moves pretty fast.

So why, in the name of all that is digital, does the industry seem to be doing its best to eat itself?

“As someone once said, life moves pretty fast.” Yes, you’re in for a grumble about microtransactions. But, in fairness, I can’t look at them as inherently bad things. As someone whose very first gaming addiction was to Yie Ar Kung Fu, aspects of my childhood are inextricably bound up with begging my dad for microtransactions, in the form of loose change, to play the arcade version of it at Harrow Leisure Centre.

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Part of the reason I grumble is that I’ve just spent a few days with Dungeon Keeper, available right now from the App Store and Google Play and the work of EA. The original Dungeon Keeper, created by the much-missed Bullfrog Productions, was a lovely PC game which created one of the foundations for the tower defence game as we know it today. You, as the titular evil overlord type, construct a dungeon and fill it with traps, nasties, treasure and more nasties, then cackle with glee as clean-cut adventurers stride into your lair and get the Boromir treatment.

“And that’s what it comes down to: skipping the grind.” EA bought Bullfrog way back when, and this remake is a lovely-to-look-at recreation of the original’s ideas. The design has been updated to a cleaner, crisper and slightly more cartoonish style,

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and more or less all the original systems are present and correct. Until you start to walk into the invisible walls. You know… the ones you need to pay your way past. And once you understand the scope of the game - the way all the mechanics work interdependently, with one resource requiring you to level up another, and another, and so on - you realise just how nasty this gaming package is. It’s a loving homage to the spirit of rampant consumerism, limiting player agency in multiple ways and - here’s the real gag - making it impossible to lose. Why? Because if you lose, you might turn off the money tap, and that’s clearly the only value of this thing to its publisher. Not the satisfaction inherent in making something worthwhile; not the pleasure that a nostalgic fanbase or newcomer community might find in its sly humour; nothing at all except a long, long queue to get to the next “good” bit, with an ever-present option to skip the line if you hand over another quid.

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Of course, EA has plenty of form in this area. Plants vs Zombies 2, which appeared in August last year, moved to a FTP model after the storming success of the paid original. On the face of it, the game doesn’t seem to suffer too much from the freemium effect. You can play it all the way through without spending a penny, the mechanics are identical, and it’s still a beautifully-produced piece of software. But while in-game currency was used to upgrade items in the previous version, here you can supplement your digital gold with real-world cash. And there it sits: that little icon, winking at you in the top right-hand corner of the screen, an everpresent reminder that you can skip the grind in exchange for a handful of change. And that’s what it comes down to, really: skipping the grind. You don’t have to do this dull, protracted section of the game. Pay us a pound and you can get straight to the good stuff. What’s unreasonable about that? phonica magazine uk

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Well, it’s a game, that’s what. You, as a publisher / developer, have placed a discreet sticker somewhere in your carefully designed interface which announces that you’ve deliberately made a part of the game crap in order to squeeze money out of people. You’re intentionally frustrating me with mechanics that are unpleasant to navigate, hoping that I’ll be irritated enough, or bored enough, or stupid enough, to pay them out of my way.

“I sometimes wonder whether younger gamers are accepting the insidious pay-toprogress as the norm.” This is not, in all fairness, only a mobile problem. We’re now seeing it on consoles (Ryse, Gran Turismo 6, Forza 5 and GTA5

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are just a few of the games that give you the opportunity to pay extra for upgrades, be they cosmetic or progression-based). And these are games you’ll have paid £40, or more, to play in the first place. And the worst, the absolute most frustrating part of all this is that many developers get it right. Valve probably show it off to best advantage, with the immense success of the now FTP Team Fortress 2 or the intimidating but addictive DOTA2, both of which offer cosmetic upgrades in exchange for your hard-earned pennies. But they’re not based around giving you an edge in performance, and they work because the games themselves are brilliant, rewarding and justifiably popular. If you’ve had 400 hours of fun from a title and feel the need to buy a silly hat for a fiver after all that, I can’t blame neither you nor the shop that sells it.

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I sometimes wonder whether younger gamers are accepting the insidious pay-to-progress as the norm, in the way that my daughter can only understand touchscreen phones because she’s never seen any other kind.

“I CAN’T BLAME NEITHER YOU NOR THE SHOP THAT SELLS IT.” If your formative gaming experiences are littered with these filters and blocks, how does that shape your perception of what games are supposed to do? Where once the playground conversation might centre around the angst of getting killed 34 times on the trot by that boss, will they now be all about the £3 your dad wouldn’t give you last night to get past a cool down timer? It all makes me a very angry bird indeed. phonica magazine uk

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feature

Look back in anger

rob hobson

At this second, as I write this, I’m listening to an album that was released in 1995. It still sounds brilliant. In fact, given that I’m such a miserable bastard when it comes to music, it sounds better than it’s ever done, and about 300,000 times better than anything else that’s been released in the last ten years. The urge to embrace what I know is strong, and gets stronger as I get older. But, like the dial on the side of a toaster, it lies. It told me a new Hitman game would be good, despite the fact that it had read the same previews that I had. It liked the idea of a Devil May Cry reboot. Hey, it said to me, that looks sassy (yup, it really said “sassy”). Go ahead and buy it. It’s got attitude (yup, it said that too). The game industry, like the film industry before it, has a love of existing IP. No, let’s take that sentence again: games, like films, love profit, and existing IP is a proven way of making it. How else to explain that there are 24 Resident Evil games, including reboots and “Directors’ Cuts”? Sure, several of them offer up some of the purest and most

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invigorating moments in the medium, more or less inventing two genres in the process. But, y’know, Resident Evil 6. Ugh.

“Allow me to get all excited for a moment while I rave about the ones I’m most looking forward to.” Take a look at the best-selling games of 2013. In the UK, only one of the top ten was new IP, and although The Last Of Us deserves to grace any list, be it commercial or critical, it couldn’t touch the sales juggernauts of FIFA 14, Assassin’s Creed: Monkey Island or even the mostly execrable Call Of Duty: Ghosts. We’re so happy to see a familiar face that we’ll even jockey Aliens: Colonial Marines into the top 30. It’s less fun than dentistry, but hey… pulse rifles! But fear not, because new gen is bringing us new IP. Allow me to get all excited for a moment while I rave about the ones I’m most looking forward to.

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Watch Dogs If the order is Mieville, then surely Watch Dogs is William Gibson: authentically gritty, more-or-less contemporary urban drama with an ultracool hi-tech edge. Combining the open-world feel of Grand Theft Auto, the elegant parkour of Assassin’s Creed, the technical integration and varied ways to achieve your goal of Deus Ex and the online mechanics of Dark Souls, this looks like a slice of paranoid heaven. Ubisoft’s already delayed release once - which never spells good news - but the gameplay demos have looked pretty sexy.

The Order: 1886 There’s not enough Victorian London in gaming. I mean, seriously, you’re talking about one of the greatest cities on earth: at that time, the centre of the largest empire the planet has ever seen. Steeped in the mythos of Conan Doyle, Haggard, Stoker and Stephenson… a rich tapestry if ever there was one. Dishonored may have stolen the look, but The Order is the first game I want to play before I’ve seen a shred of actual gameplay. Allusions to Templar-esque chivalric brotherhoods, supernatural enemies, steampunk weaponry and a tech foundation that can make grime look alluring. It’s all starting to feel like a playable China Mieville novel, and there are barely enough words to describe how much I want that to happen. phonica magazine uk

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Titanfall A lot’s already been said about this one, helmed by the pair that made Call of Duty the phenomenon it now is. A lot has happened since we first saw Modern Warfare: Battlefield, MAG, the return of Counter Strike, Team Fortress 2. The gentlemen from Respawn are betting that mechs and jetpacks are the things the FPS genre needs to reinvigorate itself - and Christ, does the genre need it - but platform exclusivity means it can only ever be a killer app for the XboxOne. That does leave room for a cross-platform monster, though…

Destiny ...and that would be Destiny. Bungie, of Halo fame, have been teasing this one since 2009, and although they’ve studiously avoided mentioning the expression “MMO”, the words “persistent world” do seem to crop up an awful lot in any discussion. Whether that means massive world events or a gradual evolution into some sort of faction system remains unclear. But it’s an online shooter, first and foremost, with character classes and, presumably, progression and unlocks. Due out in September: we’ll keep an eye open for more details.

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The Evil Within OK, so I mentioned Resident Evil in faintly disparaging terms. And I will again. Resident Evil: Raccoon City… never forgive, never forget. But Mikami-san knows how to frighten people, and the early reveals on his new project seem to have stripped away the grenade launchers and generous piles of ammo in favour of a pared-down feel and a flavour of fear that’s far more psychological than bodyshock. Vulnerability, stealth… all these tropes look to have been included, although much will come down to how the player character moves: the oil tanker turning circles of the past surely won’t cut it any more. One to watch, possibly from behind the sofa. phonica magazine uk

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The Last Guardian

We’re delighted to say that we can exclusively reveal… no, no we can’t. No revelations here. Team Ico teased this remarkable-looking creature back in 2009. A spiritual successor to the wonderful Shadow of the Colossus, the project has been plagued by delays and technical problems, not least the issues around bringing to life one of the most iconic and imposing ever-present NPCs in gaming. We don’t even know if TLG will make an appearance this year. We don’t know if the endless iteration will have done irreparable damage to the mechanics, We don’t know if the damn thing will work. But if you think that the idea might somehow have dated - that the genre-pushing games that have come out since 2009 will have made it redundant - then I urge you to go back to Shadow of the Colossus and see how dated that feels now. Have faith. After all that soapboxing, I feel quite relieved to see my view vindicated as yet another pointless reboot - in this case, the new RoboCop - garners a succession of mediocre or downright nasty reviews. It can console itself with the knowledge that it’s one of a long and undistinguished lineage that includes Total Recall, Oldboy, Nikita, The Ring and so many, many others. And look, I don’t have a problem with remakes per se; I just have a problem with the bad ones.

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“Here’s hoping enough of us are there to vote with our wallets and reassure them right back.” It’s easier for Capcom to make another Resident Evil than it is to take a risk on Evil Within. Ubisoft would be foolish, at least as far as their shareholders are concerned, not to make a new Assassin’s Creed every year. They sell by the bucketload, they’re usually not bad games - in fact, a couple of them are downright brilliant - and they work. We’re the ones that buy them and reassure the industry that it’s doing the right thing. How many of you bought Journey, or Flower, or Spelunky? Some, I hope. But big industry hates a gamble, and new IP always is, to a certain extent. Here’s hoping that whenever they do take a chance, enough of us are there to vote with our wallets and reassure them right back: we do like the new. phonica magazine uk

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feature

How close are we to the technology used in the movie Her? A look at existing technology and what’s in store for the future.

Alex Morrison

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Her is the latest sci-fi romantic comedy to come from American director Spike Jonze. Set in the not-so-distant future, the film follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a complex and sensitive man who makes his living by writing beautiful, personal love letters for other people. The film shows us a glimpse of his life as he struggles with a heartbreaking divorce while trying to re-establish his place in the world. Seeking out companionship, Theodore becomes intrigued by an advanced operating system known as OS One, which renames itself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As both their desires and needs grow, so does their love for one another. It’s a strange but deeply interesting relationship, something I will explore later.

“Throughout the story we encounter a plethora of technologies that are used effortlessly by Theodore.” The world we see is utopian, blending design, technology and nature together in a way that is seamless and harmonious. From the streets to the elevated walkways, everything is clean and extremely well kept. This is something only future logistical and waste management technologies can achieve, apparently. Local authorities, please take note. You would never guess it, but the

setting is Los Angeles, with select scenes shot in Shanghai to compensate for, let’s say, the lack of cleanliness. It would be strange to see L.A. stuck in a low-rise suburban limbo a hundred years from now, wouldn’t you agree? Throughout the story we encounter a plethora of technologies that are used effortlessly by Theodore. “Samantha, do this”, “Samantha, do that”. Everything is controlled by voice, killing all need for computer peripherals. We also begin to see who wears the pants in this relationship, but I digress. Jonze’s vision for technology was for it to be subtle and discreet — there when we need it, but never the main focus. It seems that technology in the future isn’t something you show off. Instead, it takes a back seat to functionality, automating a lot of the tasks we have to do manually today. Everything is smart, everything is connected. Technology has also taken a step towards vintage, blending advanced hardware with rustic and traditional design themes. It is comfortably stylish and non-distracting, and always seems to just get out of our way. Interacting with artificial intelligence has become the norm, with many – if not all – devices incorporating it in some way. AI has essentially become a cheap commodity, leaving the rest of technology to form around and integrate with it.

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Although the level of AI used in the film is many, many years ahead of where we are today, Theodore still uses plenty of existing technology, only in a more advanced form. From the more obvious devices, like his earbuds or smartphone, to the more discreet, such as his automated home or ultra fast wireless connection, let’s see just how far current technology has to evolve before it meets the standards set in the film.

“It’s not exactly like the ones in the film, but it comes close-ish.” Let’s take the easiest and most obvious example — voice recognition. Since half of the movie is spent talking to a computer, the software it’s running has to be pretty decent at picking up what you say. I’m not talking about actually understanding

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what you are saying — that lies more in the realm of virtual assistants — but simply being able to transcribe words. Plenty of software like this exists today, even in my living room. Heck, I’ve been shouting at my Xbox One ever since I got it. But seriously, one of the best programs available is offered by a company called Nuance, which specializes in speech technology. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is able to record and turn your speech into text as well as control other programs with your voice. With up to 99% accuracy, it’s amazing that someone like Apple hasn’t snatched the company up. The times I have tried to use Siri, I found it often wouldn’t understand me, instead interpreting my British accent in some weird prejudiced way. Overall I found Siri to be rather useless, and dare I say racist if you give the whole accent thing a nod. Anyway, let’s move on.

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The other half of communication with Samantha is communicating with her through earbuds. In the film, Theodore uses something similar to a Bluetooth wireless earpiece except that it’s tiny and is always connected to his smartphone. The size of the device also warrants a valid question about how it holds a charge, or if it even has a battery? Then other questions start popping up, like how does it pick up sound accurately? The earpiece is so small and doesn’t direct itself in any way towards the mouth. My guess is that it relies on inner ear vibrations to distinguish between the user’s voice and ambient noise, but that’s as far as my guess will go. Either way, the microphone it uses must be extremely good at isolating a single voice, especially when Theodore whispers a command in a room full of people. As a side note, I imagine the act of

having to charge a device will be non-existent in the future. If wireless charging really becomes a reality then, similar to Wi-Fi, everywhere will be blanketed in a wireless charging signal. This would allow anyone and everyone to charge devices on the go. Again, similar to Wi-Fi, we would turn on wireless charging and let it roam for signals as we do with current technology. After watching the film I began to search around to see if I could find anything remotely similar to the ear device Theodore uses. I stumbled across a couple of poorly designed and clunky wireless earbuds, but they were just that —  earbuds. I wanted to find something smarter, something I could speak into and have it interact with me. Then I came across the ERA by Jawbone. It’s not exactly like the ones in the film, but it comes close-ish.

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First, it’s pretty darn minute. Bearing in mind that it’s for your ear, at 1.83 inches long, it’s hard not to applaud Jawbone for packing so much punch into something so small. The ERA claims to use military grade technology that it has dubbed NoiseAssassin. Even though the device barely stretches past your ear, demos show that it is very capable at detecting the user’s voice and eliminating background noise. The ERA can also pair with either Siri or Google Now depending on what device you have. iPhone users might as well not bother; it’ll save you the frustration when you ask Siri “can you call me an ambulance” and she decides your name is “Ambulance”. Offering an even deeper level of interaction, with the Jawbone app you can keep track of your meetings in Agenda, which the ERA will then alert you about in a voice of your choosing. Naturally I

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prefer the Bombshell voice, but after a while you’ll wish it was her picking up the phone and not your mate Dave. Of course you can also listen to music with high definition sound quality, even if it is just one ear. All in all, the ERA is the closest thing you will find to the earbuds used in the film. Without sounding picky, I would like to see them get smaller to the point where it doesn’t look ridiculous to wear one — here’s to you, Mr. Minicab Driver. My point is that Bluetooth earpieces exist today for one purpose, to make calls. Once voice interaction becomes more mainstream, there will be more demand for wireless earpieces that look better and provide more functionality, with more money flowing into that market.

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If you’re fond of films like The Matrix and The Terminator like my flatmate Ron, chances are you won’t take a liking to Her. Ok, you may not end up hating it, but it does take a more philosophical approach to technology, unlike what we see from the cold-hearted sentinels and T-800s. Similar to the character Roy Batty in Blade Runner, an advanced android who understands compassion and has a love for humanity and life, Samantha, too, shares these values as she explores the world with Theodore. She is able to grow and learn from her experiences. She is able to make decisions informed by past ones. This is what we call machine learning, or deep learning as it is commonly referred to.  Deep learning

helps us move beyond simply engineering computer systems to something closer to biological computing, or how we humans process information. If we come across a new piece of information our brains don’t just shut down, we try and interpret the information and make new neural connections. Today, new computer chips work similarly to this and are already being used at a few giant tech firms. Facebook, for example, already uses deep learning algorithms to better target their advertisements to users. They also recently hired Yann LeCun, a veteran in the field of artificial intelligence, to head up the development of deep learning tools that will help Facebook better analyze data and behaviour. It could allow Facebook to automatically tag your pictures and share them with people who it thinks will enjoy seeing them. 

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But the problem is that deep learning has only been successful for applications such as image and speech recognition, not so much for natural language processing. This is due to the need for natural language understanding, which involves a machine being able to comprehend something it reads. It needs to understand semantics, the study of symbols and signs, in order to make sense of a text. It needs to derive meaning from words and their context. Today, there are some companies who are starting to make a dent in the task ahead….which leads us, inevitably, to Google. Google’s conversational search uses an algorithm called Hummingbird, which is capable of analyzing all of the words in a conversational phrase or sentence, as opposed to just picking out key words. For example, if you ask Google “where is the best place to buy video games near

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my house?” it will understand that “place” most likely means a physical store, recognize that “video games” are sold in electronics shops, and pull information for these types of stores around your home. Google will then deliver the desired information in a way that mimics human syntax, or the way humans construct sentences. It does this by simply adding pronouns and verbs, such as ‘it’ and ‘is’, to form responses that feel more human. It’s a big step for Google, which pulls this information not only from its Knowledge Graph but from all web pages as well. But when everything is said and done, we are still a long way off from hitting the mark. Now, is it possible to have an actual relationship with a computer program? This question goes all the way back to the 1960s. A man named Joseph Weizenbaum wrote a program called ELIZA. It was an early, primitive example

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of natural language processing that operated by processing users’ responses to scripts. At the time, there were those who mistook the program for a human as it was created to mimic a psychotherapist. With psychotherapy, Weizenbaum could side-step the problem of giving the program a database of real-world knowledge because therapeutic situations are one of the few in which someone can reply to a statement with a question. As some researchers discovered, there were some humans that took a liking to the program, suggesting that some day humans may seek out artificial intelligence as a form of companionship. phonica magazine uk

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After watching the film I had gained somewhat of an unhealthy obsession with artificial intelligence. I trawled website after website looking for my ‘Samantha’. Of course I came across the likes of IBM’s Watson, but that sort of technology won’t be released to the general public any time soon. However, I did stumble across a couple of projects that are in the pipeline and should be released later this year. Making sure that it doesn’t get left behind in the virtual assistant race with Apple and Google, Nuance, the company I mentioned earlier, is working on a project codenamed Wintermute. Nuance wants to make personal assistants, well, truly personal. It wants to save individual user profiles in the cloud so that whatever device you use, your assistant will always be there. The demo I watched on Engadget shows the application performing basic tasks such as listening to music and showing

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sports scores, but also adds in snippets of its own personality, relying on your profile information to offer clever quips that relate to you. It also understands conversational commands. Because the application will run across all of your devices, the program understands when you are using a different device. So for example, if you say “play that song I was listening to earlier” to your TV, it will understand that you were listening to a specific song on your smartphone or computer and continue playback right where you left off.

The user profiles will be detailed enough to allow you to say “throw on the game”, as shown in the demo. That’s pretty clever. The project is still very much in the early stages but will hopefully be hitting shelves either later this year or early 2015.

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The next piece of kit I found is really interesting. I’m not sure whether it leans on the side of gimmicky, but the CEO and founder, Patrick Levy Rosenthal, promises that the device will be “the first home console with true artificial intelligence”. Sound the trumpets for EmoSPARK. Built by Emoshape, the project is featured on IndieGogo and has just finished raising money to meet its $100,000 goal. People are getting extremely excited, perhaps a little too much, over what it can do so let’s look at what the product promises. According to reports and the information on its IndieGogo page, EmoSPARK is an emotionally aware artificial intelligence console that is committed to your happiness, or so it says. The machine can learn what makes a person happy or excited and can provide tailored, relevant information in response. The device can measure an individual’s unique behavior and responses to stimuli, and will create a

customized Emotional Profile Graph which it will use to virtually ‘feel’ senses and express those desires according to the user.

“The project is still very much in the early stages but will hopefully be hitting shelves either later this year or early 2015.” The IndieGogo page also says that, over time, the cube will develop its own personality and warns you to be gentle with it. While it looks promising, it’s hard not to doubt the extent of its capabilities. I hope that the project really takes off and fulfills its dream of eventually running home automation systems; otherwise all we’re left with is an over-priced tamagotchi.

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I feel like I’ve rambled on long enough, but there’s still one more thing I want to cover quickly before I depart. In Her we watch Theodore play video games in his apartment. But instead of looking at a screen or wearing a headset, he interacts with a hologram that fills his entire living room. Though I doubt we will be able to create artificially intelligent characters that can interact with and respond to stimuli in the physical world, I do think it will be possible to play video games in this way somewhere in the next 30 years. And there’s one company that is trying to get us there faster. Voxiebox is a holographic gaming device that lets users control a holographic image via a hand-held gamepad. The technology inside is relatively simple, at least more so than you would think. A housed projector beams up an image on to a screen, which then vibrates up and down at a very rapid

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speed. It is the vibrations that make it appear 3D. Unless you look directly at the display’s base, the image quality never diminishes even as you move around the device. The overall quality of the image is, however, rather poor and if the device wants to make it into the homes of gamers it will have to increase the resolution. It’s still very much in the development stage, only offering a couple of games that are very early builds, but nevertheless it’s one of the few companies pioneering this sort of technology for video gaming purposes. As one article mentioned, it would be a great medium to replace board games.

“Technology moves out of the way. It doesn’t consume us, it helps us.”

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Some of the more subtle technologies we see in the film aren’t even discussed, or really brought to mind until you think about it. How is Theodore able to constantly run the OS One program on his smartphone? What sort of speeds would wireless data signals have to operate at? These are questions that don’t require an answer in the future world we see; humans and technology have reached equilibrium, a harmonious state where everything just works. Technology moves out of the way. It doesn’t consume us, it helps us. Jonze was brilliant to let technology grow organically from now until the time of the film, unlike other sci-fi films that depict future worlds vastly different from our own (Blade Runner, The Running Man, The Fifth Element). He took today’s current technologies and extrapolated what their uses could be and how we would interact with them. In my opinion, he’s accurately foreseen

how some future technology will be used, even the abandonment of private cars. Did you notice that, by the way? 

“Some of the more subtle technologies we see in the film aren’t even discussed, or really brought to mind until you think about it.” Was there anything missing that you thought Jonze should have addressed from a technology standpoint? What about wearables? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have any. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @morrydraco. 

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THE GUIDE - THE APPS

1. VSCO Cam

2. CIRCLE

(iOS, Android - free)

(iOS, Android - free)

(Social Networking)

(Photo & Video)

Since its re-release last year, VSCO Cam remains to be one of the best photo-editing apps on the market. Built with efficiency in mind, the app is extremely fast and easy to use while still offering a solid range of editing features. The number of preset filters on offer is huge and VSCO constantly updates the list. Unlike the filters on Instagram, VSCO offers more subtle and washed out tones that give your photos more of a professional feel. The app is also extremely good at inspiring the creative in you. It encourages you to take more beautiful photos and lets you upload them to your own Grid, or account, which you have the option to create. If you are an avid smartphone photographer you’ll thank me once you’ve dived into the app.

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Not another news app! Don’t worry, this one is different. With its recent 3.0 update, Circle has seen a major overhaul to its design and functionality. The app offers local news tailored to your interests. Unlike the rest of the pack, Circle delivers real-time information from people in your surrounding area and is great for the small things you don’t often hear about.

Didn’t know that your local tube line is down? Didn’t know that your local bar is offering a great deal tonight? It’s likely that someone in your area has posted about it. There is also a social element. You can like and comment on posts, and for the ones you upload, you receive Karma points. Go on, find out what’s happening today!

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3.

(Personalization) (Android - free) Aviate is being touted as the Google Now of app launchers. It’s a contextual time and location based launcher that provides the apps you need when you most need them. At its core, the launcher focuses on simplicity and getting rid of the clutter, something any minimalist (or person with OCD) will enjoy. The app’s main home screen revolves around three spaces - home, work and travel. The home screen will adapt to your current situation as time and location changes. About to leave work and need to check the traffic? Just woke up and need to check the day’s schedule? Aviate’s got you covered.

“If you are the type of person who truly embraces technology for what it can do to improve everyday life, this app is for you.” Aviate was recently acquired by Yahoo, and if this is any indication, it shows how promising the app and its technology can and will be. It is now available to everyone on the Google Play store with the code ‘Yahoo’ - how original. If you are the type of person who truly embraces technology for what it can do to improve everyday life, this app is for you. Enjoy! phonica magazine uk

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4. PAPER

(Social Networking) (iOS - free) Paper is the latest app to come from Facebook. Released just under a month ago, the app is the mighty tech giant’s attempt to provide its users with more news-related content. The app looks nothing like it’s predecessor and offers a whole new way to digest your favourite content. When you open the app you are prompted to choose from a number of categories. Facebook currently offers twenty. Examples include ‘Headlines’, ‘Score” and “Flavor”, all nicely named to represent their corresponding topics. The first thing you will notice is how much real estate is dedicated to each article on the screen. Instead of looking at bite-sized cards of information, like on the main Facebook app, Paper shows us stories that take up the entire page. Photos can be looked at in full screen and a simple tilt of the phone pans across them in a visually stunning way. Unlike the old news feed that scrolls vertically, Paper uses a side scroll to flick through stories. It’s something you will have to get used to but, in the end, it proves to be a good navigation feature. As you scroll through stories a simple swipe up enlarges the article and another opens the article to full screen. It is Facebook’s way of getting us to focus more on news content, as recent algorithm changes to the

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current newsfeed have put your friend’s news in higher rank. The app is not currently available for download in Apple’s U.K. app store, but The Next Web kindly provides a simple ‘how to’ for getting your hands on it by joining the U.S. store. Just search for “how to download Facebook paper” and it should be the first link at the top of page.”

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5. SONGKICK (MUSIC)

(iOS, Android - free) If you’re a music junkie then look no further. Songkick is one of the best ways to find out if your favorite bands are playing nearby. Songkick scans your entire music library to tell you which artists are on tour in your area. But it’s not until you register for an account do you unlock it’s full potential. After signing up you can choose to track artists which are then saved under ‘Your concerts’. The tab shows you a personalized list of the artists you have chosen to track and lists them chronologically. In the ‘locations’ tab, Songkick shows you every single artist playing around you, regardless of whether you follow them or have them in your library. It’s a great way to learn about new artists, especially if you live in a metropolitan area. I live in London and Songkick must have pulled up at least 60 artists playing tonight.

“If you’re a music junkie then look no further.” Songkick is a very simple, but powerful, app. If you are bored on any night or have been listening to the same songs over and over again, whip out Songkick and let it lead you to melodic bliss. phonica magazine uk

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6. Yahoo Weather (WEATHER)

(iOS, Android - free) Winner of the Apple Design Award 2013, Yahoo really outdid themselves this time. Yahoo Weather is one of the most beautifully designed apps to come out in recent times. So much so that many believe Apple simply copied their design. So if you’re thinking “wow, the new Apple weather app looks great”, well, you better thank Yahoo for laying down the groundwork. Yahoo uses its assets to its advantage, pulling in beautiful location-based photos that people have uploaded to Flickr. This means you will rarely see the same background each time you go into the app. In comparison to the Apple weather app, Yahoo’s goes into a lot more detail. This includes a localized map with current conditions, precipitation percentages, wind and pressure readings, and sun and moon calculations. Many of these are enhanced by graphics. Yahoo

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also forecasts up to ten days in advance, as opposed to the five days offered by Apple. I’m not sure how many of us look ahead that far, but when the time comes, it’s Yahoo’s app you will be using and not Apple’s.

“Yahoo Weather is one of the most beautifully designed apps to come out in recent times.” It’s sometimes tough to turn away from the stock apps Apple provides, but rest assured, this is one that can lead to a better experience in terms of design and functionality.

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7. SwiftKey Note (Productivity) (iOS - free) Having been downloaded on more than 100 million Android devices last year, SwiftKey has finally launched its first iOS app. The company, which became known for its advanced keyboard, has created a note-taking app that claims to be the fastest way to take notes on the iPhone. The keyboard uses artificial intelligence to suggest words in real-time that are tailored to each individual’s writing style. The app also integrates with Evernote allowing users to personalize SwiftKey’s suggestions based on their Evernote archive as well as sync new notes to and from the platform.

“The app also integrates with Evernote allowing users to personalize SwiftKey’s suggestions.” The keyboard itself is extremely easy to use, and more often than not, you will find yourself tapping the words that pop up above the keyboard. For iOS users it will be something to get used to, but with Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, saying that the company could “open up more in the future”, there is a possibility of 3rd party keyboards finding a place within Apple’s native ecosystem. phonica magazine uk

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8. GOOGLE SEARCH (Reference) (iOS, Android - free) These days it’s hard to do anything online without turning to Google. Acting as the real life Skynet, Google has grown to be highly intelligent at understanding what information we want, and when. This app is the summation of their achievements so far. The Search app itself gives you access to the normal Google search bar we all know and love, but it’s what lies beneath that is the main feature of the app. Google Now, Google’s equivalent to Siri, is an intelligent personal assistant that feeds you relevant information without you having to ask for it. It learns from your interactions and your overall movement, which it measures through Location Services. As opposed to asking for information (e.g. “How do I get home” or “When is my next meeting”), Google Now will have cards with this information already displayed. It learns this data every time you Google an address or look up information. Right now, the cards show me directions and the time it takes to get to recently visited places (friend’s flats, bars, restaurants), the exchange rate between Dollars and Pounds, the weather, a list of restaurants around me, and attractions nearby. You can also set reminders with your voice based on time or location. For example, if

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I say “remind me to clean the dishes when I get home” it will send me a push notification as I near my flat reminding me to do so. To activate voice commands, you simply say “Ok, Google” and the entire web of information will be right at your finger tips (or the tip of your tongue). I find myself using the app for small queries that can be answered quickly - film ratings, restaurant reviews, general information. The app is perfect for getting small things done fast. Set reminders within 5 seconds, look up information as fast as you can speak, know how to get somewhere before you even know you’re heading there. It augments your life in small ways, but soon you will realize that it makes a huge difference.

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9. Sunrise for iPad (Productivity) (iOS - free) Having debuted on the iPhone early last year, the makers of Sunrise have finally put their popular third-party iOS calendar app on the iPad. Sunrise gained such popularity last year due to its design-oriented approach, changing our perception of calendar apps by providing more context to our daily events. By connecting to Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Foursquare, Sunrise can integrate any events that happen on these platforms, even reminding you to wish someone a happy birthday. The design-driven app displays information beautifully through its clean UI, offering up information in a very contextual way. Because of the deep integration with other services, every event you view will show who is attending and directions on how to get there. The notification system will also ensure that you never miss an event invitation, keeping you up-to-date and on top of things.

“Sunrise gained such popularity last year due to its design-oriented approach.” Sunrise gives the native iOS calendar app a run for its money, setting the bar higher through improved design, functionality and integration. It’s free for download so you might as well give it a try. phonica magazine uk

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10. JELLY

(Social Networking) (iOS, Android - free) Have you ever looked at something, pointed at it, and asked “what is that?” Of course you have, it’s how we identify whatever “that” is when surrounding context is available. Jelly is essentially a Q&A social networking site similar to the likes of Quora, except users post pictures to identify what they’re talking about. Users can then choose to answer these questions, and in return, receive a thank you message if the person deems your answer a good one. Users can always see who the person asking the question is, and the app shows how they relate to people you know on Facebook or Twitter. Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, is the creator behind the app so it’s no wonder such a social element exists. The app is actually quite addictive (we all love to show off our knowledge) and serves its purpose well - answering quick questions on the fly. It is less formal than Quora, which takes the edge off of not being an expert but still having sufficient knowledge to answer a question insightfully. Many wonder whether Jelly will really take off and be adopted by the masses, or whether it will pass and be forgotten. I think it has real sticking power, so give it a try today!

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11. HEYDAY (LIFESTYLE)

(iOS, Android - free) If you’ve always wanted to a keep a journal but have never actually got around to it, this is the app for you. Heyday is an automatic journaling app that keeps track of your location and the photos you take. Compared to other journaling services like Day One, Heyday automatically inputs where you have been and shows photos you took with reference to time and location. Of course, this is all done with your permission. It lays this information out chronologically in a main home feed, which you can scroll down through to make edits and add notes. But the real beauty of Heyday lies in its userbility. The design is very clean with lots of white space, photos automatically get a nice filter, mini maps show you where you were, and it is very easy to make quick edits to posts.

“Heyday is an automatic journaling app that keeps track of your location.” The app is perfect even if you don’t have the intent of journaling. It’s how Apple’s native photo application should already present your images, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they took tips from Heyday. If you feel like reminiscing, I highly recommend the app. phonica magazine uk

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12. Umano (NEWS)

(iOS, Android - free) We’re all used to waking up and listening to the news on the radio. But in the modern day we want to listen to stories that matter to us, and thats where Umano comes in. Umano is a news app that uses professional voice artists to read articles from Business Insider, The New York Times, Yahoo! and many more news sources. By signing up, you can select your topics of interest which will then be presented to you in your home feed. You can choose to add articles to a playlist and, if you sign up for premium,

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can download them to listen to without an internet connection later. There is also a social aspect, where you can comment on articles and share posts to other social networks. The voice artists are extremely well enunciated and you can choose to have the articles read at double speed for time saving. Overall, this app is a great time saver if you want to catch up on articles you haven’t managed to read. I must say, listening to articles as you walk is a great way to do this. Umano rocks.

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13. MOVES

(HEALTH & FITNESS) (iOS — £1.99, Android — free) Wearable tech and activity tracking will be huge this year, so it felt wrong not to include this app. For those of you who don’t have a Nike Fuelband, Jawbone or Fitbit strapped to your wrist, this app is a good alternative. Moves is an activity tracking app that runs in the background on your smartphone. The app essentially tracks your movement, knowing when you’re walking, running, cycling or using transport. It lists out your day’s movement in a slick timeline, quantifying how long you spent doing each activity. You can also look at a map to see where you travelled throughout the day, a neat feature for getting to know more about your daily routine. There is a small downside and that is the amount of battery and data it uses. Although the new 2.0 version of the app

has a battery saving mode that is supposed to save up to 40%, you will find your phone dying faster than usual. The app also uses around 30MB of data a month, something you will want to take note of if you have a small monthly data plan. The only other concern I discovered is that the information is quite basic. The app simply tracks your data without going into detail about how you can use it to improve your habits or routine. Because of this, I recommend downloading OptimizeMe, an app you can connect to Moves which better helps understand the data collected.

“A small downside is the amount of battery it uses.” Moves is a fantastic alternative to shelling out £130 and, paired with the OptimizeMe app, is a viable, cheap and cheerful way of making sense of your data.

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14. IFTTT

(Productivity) (iOS  -  free) Since launching in 2010 on the web, IFTTT (If This Then That) has been one of the most useful services nobody has heard about. Now they finally have an app on the iOS App Store. It’s a little tricky to explain, but here we go. IFTTT is a service that lets you connect web services (Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote, Instagram etc.) together to create automated workflows. These workflows are called Recipes. Each Recipe contains a trigger and an action — if this (trigger) then that (action). Recipes can range from the very simple to the extremely complex. For example, ‘save Facebook photos you’re tagged in to iOS photos’. A more complicated one would be ‘when the Super Bowl starts, turn your Hue lights to Orange or Lime’. Essentially, any API that has been made available to

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developers can be accessed and manipulated through IFTTT. At this time, a total of 79 channels are available to play around with.

“At this time, a total of 79 channels are available to play around with.” IFTTT has amazing recipes that can really save a lot of time and effort. By automating certain tasks, IFTTT can also ensure that important data is always backed up. I highly recommend this app to anyone looking to automate the more mundane tasks, as well as those looking to get creative in building new recipes.

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15. Gravity Highlighter (NEWS & WEATHER) (GoogleChrome — free) Since launching in 2009, startup Gravity’s mission has been to personalize the web. In doing so they have released a Google Chrome extension called Highlighter, which offers up a personalized newsfeed of articles for every site a user visits. The main driving force behind Gravity is their proprietary software called the Interest Graph. By calculating what is interesting on the web in real-time, it delivers personalized recommendations to users based on topics they engage with most and what is exciting right now. After downloading the extension Highlighter will begin to analyze your internet history, what sites you visit most and topics you show interest in or frequently read about. As you begin to browse the web you will see a small tab

on the left side of the screen. Clicking on it will provide a list of articles and stories that have been tailored to you for the current site you are on. It’s like going to your favourite website and having a personal suggestion feed. You can further personalize your experience by giving a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to the articles it recommends.

“The main driving force behind Gravity is their proprietary software called the Interest Graph.” Gravity is a great way to browse the web and sift through the clutter. It makes the process of ‘surfing’ a lot more enjoyable, and by using the program more, it will better learn your interests.

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16. SLEEP CYCLE (Health & Fitness) (iOS — £0.69) If you hate getting up in the morning like me, then without hesitation I recommend downloading this app. Sleep Cycle is, you guessed it, a sleep tracking app that provides you with information on the quality of your sleep. By placing your smartphone on your bed and utilizing its accelerometer, the app knows how much movement occurs when you sleep. It then uses this information to tell you how much light or deep sleep you had. As it turns out, light sleep is the phase in which you want to be woken up as opposed to deep sleep, which will leave you feeling tired and groggy. To help wake you up in the right stage, the app features a smart alarm that analyzes your sleep patterns so that it can

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wake you within the 30 minute window it sets you. For example, if you set the alarm for 8am, the alarm will wake you up anywhere between 7:30am and 8am. The first time I tried it I happened to have a lot of very vivid dreams. The app woke me up 5 minutes before it was really supposed to go off, and you know what, I felt amazing. Considering I had just been in extremely deep sleep, I was honestly stunned. Since then, the app has continued to wake me up in a state of bliss. If you want to know more about your sleeping habits and don’t mind the idea of waking up a little earlier than expected, God forbid, then give the app a try, it’s worth every penny to the pound.

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17. Duolingo (Education)

(iOS, Android - free) Did you just start dating the hot Spaniard you met recently, or do you want to get more friendly with the staff down at your local curry house (so you can get a free meal, mind you)? Duolingo will solve all of your linguistic problems. As Apple’s choice for App of the Year, Duolingo has received a lot of attention over how well it manages to keep people engaged and on track to learning a new language. Unlike other language programs, Duolingo is free, as the founders believe language education should be available to everyone.

“Did you just start dating the hot Spaniard you met recently?” The app works by gamifying the learning process. Accompanied by pictures and native pronunciations, the app makes the learning experience fun and entertaining. The app also does a great job of getting you to participate in various ways, not simply repeating or re-spelling words and phrases over and over again. You can hit streaks and set goals, and you can even earn points called Lingots to buy extra lives in case you fail a section. The app really is a game.

Duolingo is fun and addicting. Without even realizing it, I was already on the third section and ready for more. If you have some free time and want to dedicate it to brushing up on a past language or learning a new one, definitely download Duolingo.

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18. MAILBOX (Productivity) (iOS - free) Like some of the other apps I have written about so far, Mailbox is another native app killer. Released last year, it had one of the largest wait lists for joining as people couldn’t wait for a promised revolutionary experience. Unlike other mail applications, Mailbox was designed with mobile top of mind. It is the first app to truly rethink the way people view email on mobile. Mailbox is all about getting down to that magic number of zero emails. The snooze feature lets you schedule your emails to read at another time, either ‘later today’, ‘this weekend’, or ‘in a month’ to give a few examples. You can even choose ‘someday’ if you’re feeling particularly

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lazy. You can also organize unread emails into lists. The three they give you are ‘to buy’, ‘to read’ and ‘to watch’. This allows you to tidy up your inbox without having to read emails as they come in. It’s not a cure for all of your inbox blues, but it will definitely help in terms of organization. One thing I did find myself doing too much was hitting the snooze button. Sort of a way of dealing with my emails by not dealing with them, if that makes any sense. It’s a nice feature to have, just don’t abuse it! You will find relief in having zero emails to attend to at the end of the day, and it’s an interesting way of looking at how we respond to emails. Give it a try if you’re looking for a change.

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19. Any. Do

(Productivity) (iOS, Android — free) Any.DO is a fantastic app for keeping your life organized. It is essentially an advanced to-do list that integrates with your contacts on Facebook and offers the ability to perform a variety of functions straight from the app.

“As far as to-do apps go, this is one of the best.” The app has a very clean interface, which creates incentives to use the app. Simply pulling down on the screen will allow you to dictate a task, and inputting further details will allow the app to alert you either by time or location. Navigation is also extremely simply, often resorting to swipes to clear completed

tasks and move around. An extremely useful feature lets you see your day’s schedule and manage it accordingly. For example, if you don’t have time to get everything done simply move it to another day. You can even choose to attend to it later in the same day at a time of your choosing. As far as to-do apps go, this is one of the best. Integration with Facebook is great for autofilling names of friends and the time and location reminders are extremely handy when you’re on the move. Although it’s simple, the app provides all the features a to-do app requires, and more. I highly recommend the app, especially with its free price tag.

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20. BROKEN SWORD 5 (games)

(iOS — £2.99) We made it, the list is nearly complete and what better way to finish things off than with a game. It’s always a good way to unwind after all. Broken Sword 5 is the latest point and click game to come from the Broken Sword series and features the duo of George Stobbart and Nico Collard. You’ll be glad to know that the original actors still voice the characters, for those of you

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who are die-hard fans. The visuals in the game are stunning, offering a mixture of 2D and 3D effects that work remarkably well with one another. There are very few awkward movements and I was impressed by how well the characters flow throughout the environment and interact with objects. The story starts out small but begins to grow into an epic tale of adventure, as a

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simple murder turns into something with world-ending ramifications. The puzzles are challenging and the game offers you hints just in case you get stuck. The gameplay is addictive because every chapter leads on to something more important. It keeps you wanting to dig deeper and deeper into the story.   After downloading the game I played it for 3 straight hours, and I’m convinced you

will do the same. It’s definitely worth its £2.99 price tag in case you had any reservations.

“You’ll be glad to know that the original actors still voice the characters, for those of you who are die-hard fans.”

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THE GUIDES

THE 20 defining games of the Xbox 360 & PS3 generation. Red Dead Redemption

Rich storytelling, luxurious visuals and one of the most enthralling experiences before or since made Rockstar’s Wild West masterpiece truly stand the test of time. It also spawned a self-knowingly satirical sequel in Undead Nightmare, the growing trend of bonus DLC being a mark of the time.

portal 2

It would have been easy to put the original Portal here, as the creativity it demonstrated in it’s mere hour or so of playtime was remarkable. But for us, the sequel is the game we’ll more fondly remember.

Dirt Showdown

There was a time when the Colin McRae series (later rebranded as Dirt) stood for accurate realism above all else; simulation above stimulation. But when Codemasters finally succumbed to the masses and released the accessible yet pointless crash-fest that was Showdown, it reinforced the notion that shiny yet shallow racing games in the style of Need for Speed, were what the market wanted.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Before the expansive if bloated Arkham City and the decidedly tired Origins, Batman’s initial outing was a mature, diverse, compact and remarkably insightful title. Arkham Asylum made the most of the Dark Knight’s overflowing cannon, and still remains, in the eyes of most, the definitive interpretation of Bob Kane’s iconic crime fighter.

duke nukem forever

OK, so this was a truly terrible game, but, if there’s anything to be learnt from Duke Nukem Forever’s story, it’s that it showed how quickly videogaming can and had evolved. In my review at the time I described Forever as a relic, and although it was only a few short years out of date, by 2000 standards, The Duke’s failings were shamefully stark.

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Uncharted 3

Not only did Nathan Drake’s third ludicrously entertaining escapade manage to build on every aspect of the previous two games – including the rather touching relationship he shared with co-maverick, Sully - it also set the standard for cinematic third-person adventuring. It even caused a smile to crack across Harrison Ford’s face, which is no mean feat...

BRAID

Despite the marketplace being dominated by the big budget blockbusters, the seventh generation also gave rise to a whole host of exceptional independent titles. Spelunky, Limbo, Dust: An Elysian Tail to name but a few, but for us, the time-twisting love story that was Braid stands out as the figurehead to the underfunded.

Lego Rock band

Before you vomit-up your toenails in disgust, first let me explain this choice. Two of the most prominent and ultimately lucrative franchises of the previous era were the Rockband/Guitar Hero series, and the Lego movie adaptations. They weren’t bad, they weren’t great, but what they undoubtedly were was many, and for this unremarkable crossover, they milked the cash cow to death.

FALLOUT 3

I’ve got friends...or should that be ‘had’ friends... who are still scrapping together an existence in the destitute wastelands of Fallout 3. The sign of a good game is not that you can complete it, but rather that you can complete it several times over, and still come back to it; with Fallout 3 (and in the same vein, stable-mate Elder Scrolls), even after all these years, there’s still more to be discovered.

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV

Yeah yeah, the new one is vaster, smarter, prettier and in general terms, better. But, for setting the standard in sandbox rampaging that no amount of mediocre Saints Rows’ or Just Cause’s could come close to matching, GTA IV is still the title that defines the seventh generation. GTA V is better, but I’ve had - and am still having – more fun in GTA IV.

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(XBOX 360)

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BIOSHOCK

Despite the respectable sequel and – in this writer’s humble opinion - the occasionally exceptional yet over-rated Bioshock: Infinite, the original Bioshock is still the benchmark in terrifying, detailed and thoughtful FPS gaming. The initial sighting of a Big Daddy is a true JFK moment for the seventh generation.

Modern Warfare 2

More common than a council estate and about as intellectual, the ever spewing COD series has left it’s mark on the passing era and undoubtedly will continue to do so. Despite not being the most likeable of franchises, Modern Warfare 2 captured the series at it’s all consuming, online suckling, and to be fair, most exciting, peak.

CHILD OF EDEN

With Nintendo’s Wii ploughing a path all of its own, it was inevitable that Microsoft and Sony were going to follow suit in one way or another. Neither the Kinect nor the Move achieved the same level of success or enjoyment as attained by the Wii, but they did occasionally provide a title of both quality and note. The Xbox 360 had The Gunstringer, the PS3 had The Shoot, but the hypnotic Child of Eden is one of a select, excellent few that appeared on both.

JOURNEY

As moving as it was at times unfathomable, Journey was one of those few titles that genuinely provided a memorable experience, rather than a cheap, violant thrill. Giving you nothing but a vast desert and a gentle nudge out the door, this was a short and sweet diversion from the bellowing online guns that sound-tracked the time.

GEARS OF WAR 2

Epic’s...urm...epic shooter series peaked with this simultaneously riotous yet tender second instalment. While the third title dragged in places and struggled to knit together its tangle of plot lines, Gears of War 2 was a pounding, focused and heart-shatteringly brutal slice of videogaming. The scene with Dom and his wife also caused a few man tears...

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DEAD SPACE

Dead Space was a nasty title. Providing the kind of raw shocks blow pants off, and throwing the gamer into an environment so terrifying that nightmares were a welcome escape, this was hardcore gaming at its most thrilling. Sadly, like most franchises of the seventh gen, the sequels got fatter, softer, and most depressing of all, easier...

DEMON SOULS

...luckily, not all games of the lucrative, casual era catered to the fat fingered, and when Demon Souls got its hands on any newbs, it spanked them across the back of the legs and sent them running back to their CODs. Harder than Chuck Norris’ beard and just as prickly, Dark Souls was unforgiving and an ultimately faith-restoring jewels in a sea of ease.

little big planet

As well as finally giving Sony a mascot it could be proud of, Little Big Planet was the perfect platformer for the Facebook generation. With its heaving toybox of character and level customisation, along with the kind of cutesy charm that appeals to both children and adults alike, Sackboy’s series allowed gamers to personalise, showcase and share their creations with others.

CRYSIS 3

None of the Crysis games can claim to be iconic titles. But from an aesthetic standpoint, all three games, especially the third, squeezed every last wheezing droplet of graphical juice from both Sony and Microsoft’s flagship consoles.

HALO 3

With so many interchangeable and undistinguishable Halo titles to choose from, it’s hard to pick the one that had the most profound effect on Microsoft’s second console. Like the many Call of Dutys, Halo 3 was systematic in changing the online landscape for consoles, but for us, Halo 3 and every other 2, 3 and so forth, represents the the one thing that we’ll remember most about the seventh generation: sequels. As an end point, 15 of the 20 games on this list either spawned or were sequels...just sayin.

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Issue 26