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 By Max Neopikhanov

With the sheer number of components and parts in a computer, it’s often a challenge to get the most value out of your money when purchasing a new one or upgrading your current one.  You may be ready to pull the trigger and buy that laptop computer you’ve been researching, but you don’t know all the technical jargon and why you should spend extra money on additional, faster components. Or, perhaps you have an older computer that just might need a small upgrade or two to keep up with the Joneses.

Specification sheets and sales pitches frequently say the better computer is one which features a fast processor, good video graphics, and a wonderful, crisp HD screen, all of which wrapped in an attractive form factor, and at a reasonable price.  These particular features are often built into the computer without you, the consumer, having much choice beyond picking a different model or brand.  The computer appears to be exactly what you are looking for and, seemingly, all the choices have been made for you.

But when you arrive at the checkout page you’re met with two important decisions that can mean spending two, sometimes three hundred dollars more than you need to, RAM (random access memory) and Hard Drive (storage) size.

Hardware makers often stress the importance of having ample RAM to speed-up your machine when running multiple resource intensive applications, which is certainly true.  Likewise you need plenty storage space to hold all of these applications, along with photos, music, movies, documents and other files.

Unfortunately these two components are often marked-up and sold at a much higher cost to you.   In this guide I’m going to show you how easy and cost efficient it is to purchase your laptop computer, new or used, with the bare minimum RAM and storage space offered, and then upgrade each yourself for much less.

And alternatively, if you are happy with your current laptop computer but wish it were just a bit speedier when loading files or browsing the internet, or had more space for all of your important files, you may just need a cost efficient upgrade without plunking down lots of money for a brand new machine.

This guide will help you do the following:

  • Find out how much RAM and storage space a computer has
  • Identify how much RAM and storage space you need
  • Locate where on your computer you may access the RAM and storage drive
  • Purchase and install your new RAM and storage drive

If you already own the computer you wish to upgrade you may skip below to identifying how much RAM and Hard Drive space you need and how to find out what you currently have.

What Am I Being Offered?

If purchasing a brand new computer, whether at a computer shop or website, it is a good idea to find out how much RAM and storage space is being offered and for how much. Individual laptop RAM modules, or sticks, are called SODIMMs and are usually installed in singles or pairs in laptop computers.  If you plan on upgrading RAM yourself, choosing the most inexpensive option with only a single SODIMM is the best course of action because a second SODIMM can be cheaply purchased and easily installed without much hassle.  If in doubt about how many RAM slots a particular computer has, look over the specifications page or ask a sales representative.

For data storage most laptop computers have only a single slot for a single Storage device, either a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), which is the traditional storage solution, using very dense magnetic coated discs to store data, or a newer Solid State Drive (SSD), the newer storage technology that uses non-volatile flash memory that utilize fewer moving parts and less power.   Storage devises can range from a relatively small 32 Gigabytes, or GB, with each Gigabyte being 1000 Megabytes, well into the stratosphere of a Terabyte, being 1000 Gigabytes.

But why swap out one storage device for another when you can simply purchase your computer with a larger one to begin with? Well, aside from HDDs being available for cheaper when bought separately, you can turn the HDD or SSD that came with your laptop into a very nifty external drive that you can take anywhere!  With an inexpensive hard drive enclosure, a small box attached with a USB data cord, an extra unused HDD or SSD can become a supplementary mobile drive which you can use to transfer files to and fro different computers, very similar to a USB thumb drive, albeit with much more space!

How Much Do I Really Need?

For those using their computer primarily for document editing, web browsing, and streaming video will probably do  well a 500GB drive.  Audiophiles, video editors, and video gamers might need some more space;  a 1TB or larger drive, while on the more expensive side of things, would provide enough space to not have to make any compromises when storing large video files, music collections, and video games.

Most HDDs are fast enough for daily computer tasks, but for those in need of  faster performance instead of copious storage space might do well with purchasing a Solid State Drive.  These drives have no internal moving parts and instead of using a Disk to store data, use low power, high-speed flash memory that doesn’t need to spin at a high rate, like a standard Hard Drive, to be accessed by the computer.  SSD is a technology which has slowly been gaining recognition by technology enthusiasts and hardware manufacturers to the point of becoming quite affordable for many computer users.  The downsides to the technology include the limited amount of space compared to traditional HDDs and the higher cost per GB – as much as three times the cost, depending on the model of SSD.

Random Access Memory (RAM) isn’t nearly as expensive, and can be vital to a computer’s performance, especially  when using resource demanding applications.  A lot of numbers and nomenclature are thrown out at you in the computer’s spec sheet, Double Data Rate (DDR), and DIMM and SODIMM, 1066 MHz, for example.  Generally speaking, the higher the numbers, the faster the RAM will be.  It is important to note, however, that you must upgrade RAM modules with those of identical specification, such as DDR and speed ratings.  RAM is generally cheap enough that at least 6GB, which is plenty for all current operating systems and likely Microsoft’s next one as well, is a good idea to have.

 I Already Have My Laptop Computer, Which Sort of RAM and Hard Drive Does it have?

Most laptops feature an access panel on the bottom of the machine where you can have access to the RAM and storage drive.  Sometimes there are two separate panels for each, but swapping them out should be the same.  Once the panels are removed, take a look at the RAM modules and the storage drive.  Pushing back on the metal springs will release the RAM modules which you can then slide out from their slot.


On each RAM module should be a sticker, where written are its specifications, such as the Double Data Rate (DDR) and speed in Megahertz, along with the capacity in Gigabytes.  Make sure the replacement modules, or additional modules you might be installing, match the DDR and Megahertz specification of those already present.  If upgrading a system with a single slot, most machines will generally accept at least up to 8GB.  Whether using single or dual RAM modules,  running a 64-bit operating system is required for the operating system to use more than 3.26GB of RAM.  When using a 32-bit operating system, the machine will simply not be able to take advantage of more than 3.26GB of RAM regardless of how much is actually installed.

If using a Microsoft Windows operating system you can check if your computer is using a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system by right-clicking on My Computer  and then clicking on properties.


A storage drive, whether HDD or SSD requires only slightly more work to remove and should not pose much difficulty to anyone with a screwdriver.  The Drive generally sits inside a small metal case called the Caddy, which keeps the Hard Drive in place inside the computer.  Once the Drive is free from its alcove, you should be able to read its specifications written on its sticker.  Unlike replacing RAM modules, you are not limited to replacing your current drive with a drive with the same speed and technology.  The only requirement when installing a new drive into your laptop is that the replacement drive is of the 2.5” variety – it can be faster or slower, smaller or larger, Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive.



Wearing the one piece khaki jump suits with personalized name tags, heavy looking backpacks with bobs and switches that hum and buzz with iridescence, Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston run onto a stage to overwhelming applause from a crowd of fans, the iconic theme song pounding in the foreground which fans just can’t help but sing along with: “who you gonna call?”

The Ghostbusters are back in New York — no not the original actors including Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd — but this time as a theatrical shadowcast starring Brooklyn College student Eliko Aharon, and have most recently performed at the BB King Blues Club in the heart of Times Square, 42Street.

Based on the first Ghostbusters movie from 1984, the Minions of Gozer is a shadowcast performance where actors perform scenes from the film while it plays on a projector screen in the background.  Established at the IFC Center located in the Greenwhich Village in Manhattan, the cast is hoping to perform the production at other venues in the city, and possibly at the Brooklyn College campus with the help of the theater department.

Aharon, 24, a Speech Therapy Major with a Minor in Art, discovered the Minions of Gozer shadowcast production in 2011 while doing a digital photography project at Kingsboro College when he saw several of the show’s cast members handing out promotional fliers.

After approaching them about possibly providing art design for the show, he was instead offered a chance to audition for the part of one of the four Ghostbusters, Ray Santz (Dan Aykroyd), which he immediately landed despite it being his first real acting gig.

“I was always interested in the movies growing up,” said Aharon. “There were the toys, the cartoons playing; Ghostbusters is a timeless classic.”

Aharon is currently one of the 14 cast members in the production which, according to show producer Angela Williams, works best with about 17.

Williams, 36, once a policy analyst for the city and now the director of Minions of Gozer, has helmed the production for nine shows since it opened last November at the IFC center.  A huge fan of Ghostbusters herself, Williams feels that the Ghostbusters films are still very relevant today despite being more than 25 years old, and exhibit some of the best qualities of New York City — where the films were shot and take place — and its inhabitants.

“I travelled to New York several years ago and I stumbled upon the firehouse [from the movie] and I wanted to recreate that moment of my favorite thing to life,” Williams explained. “I like the New York that’s portrayed in the movie, with curmudgeonly old people with hearts of gold.”

In addition to her directing duties, Williams helps to create and maintain some of the props and performs a few small roles during the production including operating slimmer, the tenacious and iconic green ghost who is brought to life through a puppet that’s been custom made for Minions of Gozer.

Much of the production’s budget goes into repairs and purchasing new props for each show, Williams explained.  “We tend to break a lot of things,” she said, laughing.  “I’m terrible at making things,” she said backstage while tearing up a white sheet into an impromptu ghost prop.

The show is, by theater production standards, decidedly low budget, mostly due to the largely amateur cast and home-made props. But as an entirely internally funded project is still an expensive endeavor for those new to show business.

The BB King performance is the first for which the actors were paid; each performer earned $20, said Aharon.  But money isn’t very important to the cast to whom the experience and fan support are enough reasons to keep the show running.

“It’s a low budget for a show but it’s a big budget for two people,” said producer Ryan Espin.” We are not doing it for the money, but because we love Ghostbusters.”

Espin,a 25-year-old web designer, is the show’s “co-producer, public relations, designer and Peter Venkman.” He and Williams provided all of the production’s initial funding for costumes, props, advertisement and other logistics out of pocket.

Some of the props are cheap, but others such as the essential energy beam proton packs that each of the Ghostbusters wear, cost about $200 each plus maintenance costs, said Espin.

Aharon spiritedly recalled an incident when his proton pack “completely fell off during one scene.”  A potentially harrowing and show-halting disaster in any normal production, the mishap apparently didn’t perturb the audience in the least bit, he said, and they instead laughed as Aharon continued delivering his lines without missing a beat.

According to cast members, this is all common fare in a shadowcasts, where performers don’t intend to take themselves too seriously.  Racy, off-beat humor and campy acting are the norm and are wholly embraced by the fans.

Indeed, at one point during the BB King show a cast member seemingly downed a good portion of a Jack Daniels Whiskey Bottle.  During another side bar, a cast member kissed another who was dressed in drag complete with a large 70s era moustache. Neither of the improvised scenes appeared in the original film.

Actors performing a film in front of an audience is not a relatively new concept.  The first shadowcast was born in 1975 with the Rocky Horror Picture Show film at the Weaverly Theater — now IFC Center — in Greenwich Village, said Williams.  In a time of flagrant discrimination and prejudice of gays, a few actors and theater enthusiasts decided to run a show where patrons could watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show and participate with the actors by shadowing the film on stage.

“It was a fun and safe place to hang out,” said Williams.

The performance has garnered a cult following over the years and continues to run at several theaters across the country — a cult following that Minions of Gozer cast hopes to someday meet and perhaps even eclipse.

Perhaps the most important difference between a shadowcast and a normal theater production is the extensive interaction between the players on stage and the audience members.  The production constantly breaks the fourth wall with self referential humor and impromptu skits that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Saturday Night Live – incidentally two of the Ghostbusters featured prominently in the films, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd,  began their storied careers as cast members on SNL.

At the BB King show, several audience members were pulled on stage to hold up signs or dance with the cast who would often walk off the stage and start conversing and interacting with the seated audience.  What seems out of place in a normal theatrical production is one of the key tenets of Minions of Gozer.

“The first two rows are ‘slime square’, where there is a definite chance of you being pulled up on stage or being hit with silly string,”  said Aharon.

Before the show starts, a member of the cast walks between the tables and doles out $2 brown paper bags packed with an index card, a crunch bar, several pieces of toast, and other references to the film, for the audience to throw on stage when given the cue.

Confections fly in every direction and colorful lights flash around the room.

The actor playing Rick Moranis’ memorable and extremely socially awkward character, Louis Tully, runs up to a nearby audience member and asks, “I am the key master, are you the gate keeper?”   A big grin erupts on her face, and her response is drowned out by the throng of cheering fans and the loud speakers by the stage.

Aharon has spoken with members of the theater department at Brooklyn College and said that any potential performance at the school will depend on the overall cost of the production, which will likely come out of the producers’ pockets. One possible idea is to screen the film and perform everything outdoors with a projector, similar to what the cast did at an outdoor show on the beach at Coney Island last summer.

“I think it would be a great experience for BC students to have,” said Aharon. “It’s not just people sitting or watching a movie, it’s almost as if you’re in the film right there with you.”

Moreover, bigger venues and interstate touring are some of the goals for the show, said Aharon.  He hinted at the “possibility” of a Ghostbusters II shadow cast and even suggested that he’d love to do a Jurassic Park Shadowcast in the future – complete, of course, with many of the Minions of Gozer cast members he’s gotten to know.

“We’ve worked together for so long that they’re almost like my family members,” explained Aharon, emphatically, and with a warm smile on his face.


For years, the first person shooter genre has been a sort of elusive and exotic beast in the metaphorical jungle of handheld gaming.  There have been a few attempts on Sony’s PSP but, unless you were a southpaw, controlling the camera with the face buttons was simply too imprecise and clunky to be considered fun.

The Nintendo DS and the 3DS fare somewhat better with its basic implementation of touch controls with a stylus, that while precise enough, requires some serious feats of dexterity and hand contortion to avoid  developing carpel tunnel syndrome after a few play sessions.

Mobile smart phones streamline the touch screen controls but completely leave out any physical buttons, rendering shooters even less appealing to gamers looking for a first person shooter on the go with the same sort of gameplay they’re used to at home. The state of portable shooters has thus far been a despairing story of going one step forward and then two steps back.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified for the Playstation Vita almost breaks that tradition but falls short of its pedigree, though not in the way you would expect.  For a portable shooter, the controls are good –excellent even — and the online multiplayer is very much in the spirit of Call of Duty on home consoles; the problem is that everything else has been scaled back and it becomes difficult to appreciate the good when considering the ludicrous $50 price tag.

The story in Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified takes place somewhere between of the first Black Ops and Black Ops II on  consoles. There isn’t any of the futuristic weaponry or motifs here; the classified operations missions span several years from 1075 to 1981 and feature classic weapons and enemies.  The plot, in a very loose sense of the word, follows Black Ops soldiers Frank Woods and Alex Mason.

I say loose, of course, because there isn’t a campaign with a traditional plot and cut scenes but rather short operations missions, explained by short vignettes providing some background, where the player receives a few objectives over the radio and then proceeds to engage ‘all the usual suspects’ in the way as quickly as possible while moving through a small level.  Much like Stalone’s Rambo, these guys don’t need back up from rookie soldiers, instead running and gunning down Vietcong and Spetsnaz solo while detonating plastic explosives and dropping f-bombs at each opportunity.

The Call of Duty franchise has never been one for having subtlety in its characters or any gripping psychological drama in its plots, but Black Ops Declassified somehow manages to one up its bigger-and-betters at having a heavy handed and, frankly, dim-witted approach to story-telling.  But depending on how much time you have while playing the game on the go, the minimal plot and dialogue may not necessarily be a bad thing.

In fact, the missions included are meant to be played in short bursts and last an average of five minutes: the caveat being that there but ten of them.  With all things being equal, this is at its core a one hour affair on the easiest difficulty.  Playing it on the medium difficulty may require double or triple that, and the hardest difficulty will probably require many, many more replays to complete since the levels feature no check points, instead restarting you from the beginning of the mission should you meet your untimely demise.

To extend the solo experience a bit, Nihilistic included a Hostiles survival mode, similar to the one found in Modern Warfare 3, where you face off against waves and waves of soldiers in an effort to achieve the best score possible.  While not as interesting as the incredibly popular Zombies mode in the original Black Ops and in Black Ops II, it’s an enjoyable time-waster but one that eventually grows repetitive and dull due to the lack of variety in enemies.  There’s also a small collection of time-trial missions that, at under a minute, end almost as quickly as they begin.

For fans of shooters looking to get in a couple of quick frags between bus or train stops, Black Ops: Declassified’s rapid fire gameplay that skips on the story and jumps right into the action seems like a good fit.  But in practice, the anemic selection of single player content at an almost shockingly high price makes for a fun but incredibly short ride filled with some, mirrors, and cookie cutter game-play rather than a meaty solo experience Call of Duty fans are used to.

Thankfully, Call of Duty is about more than just the single player campaign and the multiplayer is where Black Ops: Declassified redeems some of its merit as a decent addition to the Vita’s library.

Though it is not the first competitive multiplayer shooter on the Vita — Nihilistic’s Resistance: Burning Skies was released just five months ago — Black Ops: Declassified is the best example of multiplayer on the Vita done right, and I would go as far as to say it is one of the few competent online shooter experiences on a portable thus far.

Resistance Burning Skies, while utilizing Vita’s dual analog sticks, was plagued with unintuitive touch screen controls and a near intolerable frame rate that rendered the game unplayable for all but the most hardcore gamers.  Black Ops: Declassified is largely free of any such problems; the frame rate is steady enough most of the time and the game controls very similarly to its console siblings, only utilizing the touch screen minimally for melee attacks and grenade throws due to the Vita’s lacking a second set of triggers.

Tenets of the Call of Duty franchise, the experience levels, prestige, perks, and kill streaks are all here, though perhaps not as extensively as in the console games, along with about two dozen weapons, game-play modes like kill confirmed, drop zone (think king of the hill) and team deathmatch played across a mix of six new and re-designed maps.  Most of the maps are well designed and a good fit for the 4 vs. 4 matches, with nukehouse, a smaller version of the already small, fan favorite map nuketown, being the sole exception, where it is difficult to spend ten seconds without getting a kill or being killed.

As with the single-player modes, there is still a want for more multiplayer content like maps and perks.  But the most important requisite of being a decent Call of Duty game is that matches are fast, frantic, and are dynamic enough to keep gamers coming back for more, and all that is certainly here in Black Ops Declassified, even if it has been scaled back to fit the portable envelope.  The facsimile online multiplayer may be somewhat uninspired and dated when placed side by side with Black Ops II, but given that it’s on a handheld console, Black Ops: Declassified is definitely taking portable online multiplayer in the right direction.  I wish the same could be said of the single player.

Ostensibly, there is some good gameplay here, especially for those Vita owners looking for a console-like online first person shooter experience.  But with that said, it is hard to recommend Black Ops: Declassified at the full retail price: there simply isn’t enough content here to justify spending $50.

Overall Score: 6.0

By Max Neopikhanov

(The Article has been edited to correct the 116ms figure quoted from Eurogamer.)

Nintendo is poised to achieve another hit with its upcoming Wii U console, thanks in part to their banking on the consumer becoming enthralled by Wii U’s tablet-like game controller.  Likely due in part to the overwhelming success of tablets in the consumer electronics market and the growing interest in cloud based gaming; Nintendo wants to bring in these consumers to the console market in the same way that it brought new consumers with the original Wii’s motion controller.

Sony and Microsoft soon tried to emulate Nintendo’s success with their own version of motion gameplay.  This time around, it seems that Nintendo has taken a page out of Sony’s playbook and turned what was originally a novel, complementary remote play feature of Sony’s Playstation Portable, into a prime selling point.

The idea is simple enough: play all your favorite games straight through the controller.  No television required, just maintain close proximity to the console and all the content will be streamed directly to the controller’s screen.  This was the original promise of remote play when Sony released the service a few years ago.  With the expensive cost of the Playstation 3, the PSP’s lack of a second analog stick, additional trigger buttons and an underpowered wireless 802.11b wireless card, remote play never quite reached its potential as efficient local game streaming.

Nintendo has designed the Wii U to overcome all the issues Sony initially had with the PSP’s implementation of the technology with the gamepad controller being and important and ancillary peripheral as opposed to the PSP’s supplementary and inefficient function as a mobile screen.  It is a much more efficacious approach and also much more expensive and risky, and risky moves have become Nintendo’s forte over the past few years with the Wii and the 3DS.

That’s not to say that Sony has thrown in the towel and given up its technology.  Sony has taken steps to improve remote play capabilities in its latest PS Vita handheld, but is it too late?

The struggling electronics giant has, at least in theory, all the tools and hardware, in the form of the PS Vita and the PS3, to make the Wii U gamepad selling point moot if it can overcome a few hurdles.

The Technology

The PS Vita communicates with the PS3 through 802.11n over a 2.4 GHz band – effective at about 25-30 feet.

The tech behind the Wii U pad has not been revealed but a Nintendo representative has gone on record to say the controller will have optimum performance at less than 8 meters, about 26 feet, which is around the same ball park of a Vita using remote play.

The range at which the device can communicate is largely unimportant if the latency is so great as to make games unresponsive and ultimately unplayable.  How will the Vita and the Wii U pad stack up?

Based on preliminary tests done by Eurogamer, the Wii U has latency of about 116ms ahead of an HDTV when playing New Super Mario Brothers about three or four feet away from the console, which is quite frankly, incredible.

My personal tests with the Vita through playing God of War over remote play yielded approximate results that, while somewhat higher, still allow the game to be enjoyed fairly lag free with an occasional, very minor lag spike.

Ultimately, the Wii U edges out against the PS vita when it comes to input latency, but is closely tied in signal strength, at least according to preliminary reports.

With games actually being playable and enjoyable on both devices, the next important factor is the image quality.  After all, most gamers wouldn’t appreciate low bit rate content at a very low resolution on their brand new device in the year 2012 – especially when high definition video can be streamed through cellular broadband to pretty much any device.

The Wii U tablet has been reported to boast excellent image quality that appears free of artifacting or other eye-sores often associated with streaming video.

Picture quality on the Vita isn’t as great but is generally serviceable

The device has three options that range from near perfect, albeit bandwidth demanding image quality that effectively requires a 15-20 feet distance from the console, to  very low bitrate, early 2006 Youtube-ish quality for poor signal conditions or when playing at more than 35 feet.

The middle option is functionally ubiquitous enough to be selected when playing at different ranges from the console yet provides a nice balance in quality between the other options.  Fast moving scenes may show some artifacts but everything generally looks pleasing to the eye.

The Wii U gamepad has been reported by Nintendo representative to have three different power levels based on range from the console, although the exact specifics of their effect on image quality have not been revealed.

Superior image quality during optimal conditions goes to the Nintendo Wii U, based on empirical tests and preliminary reports.

Perhaps the one area where Sony’s handheld can outperform and outshine the dedicated streaming technology in Wii U’s gamepad is the Vita’s support for remote play over a wireless internet connection.  If the distance between the PS3 console transmitting the content and the Vita receiving it isn’t more than a few miles, to avoid high latency, and the internet connection for both is fast and stable, then remote play can offer a relatively smooth and enjoyable gaming experience when far away from your home console.

You may not get decent performance using public Wifi while having a coffee at Starbucks but a dedicated connection at a friend’s house can possibly eke out enough performance to enjoy a game or two while away from home.

Nintendo could in theory announce similar support for the Wii U gamepad but nothing has been mentioned or discussed yet.

The Software

Sony’s remote play may have been around since the middle of the Playstation Portable’s life cycle, yet it seems that the company has only just elevated the feature from the hazy clouds of “neat concept” into the burning stratosphere of potential “system seller” with the release of the PS Vita.

With that said, Sony largely abandoned the feature in the Vita’s early months on the market and has only recently released updates for the God of War and the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus collections.  The company initially demonstrated remote play support on other major titles like Killzone 3, yet none have been released.

With the already supported remote play titles released in the PSP era, such as Lair and LEGO Batman, this brings the total of remote play compatible titles to only a handful PS3 titles, and all Playstation Network PS1 titles – which can be downloaded on the PS3 and transferred to be played natively on the PS Vita, erasing the need to stream them wirelessly.

It may be the right start to a future of growing support and improvements or it could be the unfortunate reality of too-little-too-late.

Most if not all of Nintendo’s first party efforts and many third party titles on the Wii U will support gameplay through the gamepad alone, though some games, like ZombieU and Assassin’s Creed curiously will not. Original Wii games have been reported to not be playable exclusively through the gamepad.  Still, it’s much more support than what Sony’s remote play is currently offering.

Cost and Value

Nintendo recently revealed a $299.99-$349.99 price range for the Wii U, a price point that is higher than any other console they have yet produced.

The gamepad, which is slated to be sold in Japan for about $173 in after currency conversion to USD, will be the most expensive first party controller ever released in the console market.  Still, a Wifi only PS Vita will set you back $250 at major retailers and with the cheapest PS3 SKU available at $250, the total cost of a remote play set up, at least at face value, could cost the consumer nearly $500 USD.  That cost could be lowered to around $450 if Sony reveals the all but confirmed PS3 revision which is rumored to retail at $200, at this week’s Tokyo Game Show.

If playing games remotely on a controller is your primary goal, then the Wii U, which can be bought for as little as $300 is likely the more cost effective option.  The more expensive PS Vita and PS3 combo benefits from Sony’s cross-buy initiative, where purchasing certain titles on the PS3 will accord a download code for the PS Vita version of the game, and from the PS Vita’s own library of software and features that the Wii U gamepad doesn’t have and can’t replicate due to the lack of on-board hardware processing.

The Future

Having just finished God of War through remote play on the Vita, I must say that the feature afforded me an opportunity to play a game I probably wouldn’t have played otherwise. Not having to turn on the television – At least on the Vita, the remote play feature allows the user to remotely turn on their console – is a huge incentive for those who, like myself, don’t always want or even have the time to set everything up and enjoy games in the living room.  Such a feature is what Nintendo is hoping will galvanize its target audience to give its brand a chance.

Studies have shown that the majority of users of mobile gaming devices, Android tablets, and the Apple iPad use their devises at home more than they do outside.  The Wii U pad may never take the place of a dedicated tablet device as a premier mobile platform but it may fulfill similar functions within the home when near the wii U console at a relative fraction of the cost of a fully featured tablet.  With that said, Nintendo has to be adamant to explain the difference to the average consumer who may buy the console thinking that the gamepad is a complete and portable gaming tablet.

Come launch day, Wii U owners will be able to experience playing games remotely at a larger capacity than PS Vita owners can right now.  But a couple things should be kept in mind as Sony looks to the future of the PS Vita and their next home console.  Firstly, the much tooted and presently underutilized 3G feature in appropriately equipped PS Vitas can potentially be used to access a Playstation home console from anywhere you have good signal, so long as there is sufficient bandwidth and low latency – two considerations that admittedly pose a challenge with current cellular infrastructures but that can be resolved and improved in the future.

Secondly, Sony will likely include the remote play feature with the PS3’s successor, allowing the next generation of Playstation content to be played remotely.  Cost to the consumer will likely be even more prohibitive in such a combination but improved encoding and transmission algorithms and better wireless hardware could make for a better experience.   Not to mention the prospect of experiencing next generation graphics over a wireless connection.

Sony is currently in a precarious situation where they have the technology and the means to disrupt Nintendo’s primary selling point of its upcoming console but don’t want to brand the Vita as a cloud gaming device at a time when publishers are having trouble moving software on the system.

Ultimately, the Wii U is set to become biggest and most comprehensive example of local wireless remote gameplay. It features a controller designed specifically to stream content as efficiently as possible and has the support of several high profile developers and publishers to provide content truly worth experiencing.

But if Sony continues to invest in and expand its technology and software support, like it has these past few weeks with updates of two PS3 titles for use with remote play, it may sway consumers to experience cloud gaming using Playstation hardware.

And with the future of cloud gaming services like the beleaguered Onlive in purgatory, support for “local cloud gaming” from major console manufacturers couldn’t be more welcome.


While the first person shooters were popular and firmly in the main stream when Sony’s PSP first launched in 2005, the genre is far and away the most dominant force within the industry in 2012, and shooters like Resistance, Killzone and the yearly installments of Call of Duty have become system sellers for Sony.   Three months after the hardware’s launch in February, Playstation Vita owners are finally treated to the system’s first dual analog stick first person shooter with Resistance: Burning Skies.

Though it may at times be a fun handheld romp and a good glimpse of what the next generation of portable shooters could bring to portable gaming on the vita, fans of the series and of the genre will likely be disappointed by the game’s lack of polish and creativity.   Numerous technical issues and a general lack of ambition keep Burning Skies from being a must own title for all but the most hardcore shooter fans looking to get their fix on the go.

As the fifth title in Sony’s Resistance franchise, Burning Skies tells the story of American firefighter Tom Reilly’s fight against the Chimeran invasion of Staten Island, New York.  Set in an alternate universe 1951, the Chimera, a species of ferocious, ill tempered aliens have been pressing their assault on Europe and have begun their invasion of the United States.  While Reilly is investigating a routine fire, all hell breaks loose on Staten Island and the stoic firefighter is separated from his wife and daughter and thrust into a warzone filled with soldiers, resistance fighters and all manner of Chimeran aliens.

It’s an interesting and potentially moving story at its core, but Reilly’s character is never fleshed out past the concerned father trying to get back to his family during a crisis.  Most of the game’s limited dialogue comes from Ellie, your tenacious combat partner who boldly leads you through several stretches of the game.  At best it’s a nice diversion from just listening to repetitive grunts and weak gun sounds, but the dialogue does little to develop a cohesive narrative or even help understand what’s going on.

Unlike Halo or Gears of War, Resistance has always been about being thrust into a large scale war with numerous soldiers on both sides of the conflict fighting and being blown to smithereens in large battles.  Burning skies rarely comes close to the large scale of conflict the franchise is known for.  During the game’s most exciting moments, firefights against six or so grunts and a large and ugly brute will be as extensive as Burning Skies has to offer.  For most of the game, Ellie will be your only support for duration of the linear adventure, aside from the occasional and almost completely useless army grunts stationed at certain locations.

The story begins with the invasion of Staten Island unfolding before Reilly’s eyes, but by the second level it feels like the heavy fighting is long over with and all that remains are small skirmishes broken up by dull treks through underground corridors.  The level design isn’t entirely bad, but the immersive and large scale atmosphere found in the console Resistance games is unfortunately nowhere in sight and is instead replaced by something more akin to later playstation 2 shooters than a current gen AAA title.

Though the enemies and the firefights offered are tepid at best, the shooting itself can be pretty fun , thanks to the dual analog stick set up that, aside from missing two trigger buttons, replicates console controls quite nicely.  As you progress through the single player campaign you’ll find a large cadre of both human and Chimeran weaponry at your disposal.  New to the series is the Mule, a hybrid double barrel shotgun and crossbow that shoots an explosive crossbow bolt with its secondary fire.  It’s certainly a novel weapon, but nothing that shooter fans haven’t seen before.

Thankfully, controlling the guns is comfortable and intuitive.  Pressing L1 lets you aim down your sights, R1 shoots the primary ammo and the touch screen is used to fire secondary ammo like the Bullseye’s targeting beacon and the Carbine’s grenade.

At times the touch screen controls allowed for easier targeting – just clicking on an enemy will target the Bullseye’s homing beacon without needing to aim to hit an enemy.  At other times moving your thumb across the screen when being fired upon will block your view and result in a quick death when under a barrage of heavy gunfire.  For the most part, the touch screen adequately makes up for the Vita’s lack of R1 and R2 triggers.

Also new to the series is the ability to upgrade weapons with mysterious blue cubes scattered throughout the levels.  Want bigger ammo clips or more accurate fire?  What about a scope for the Carbine rifle? Those are just a few of upgrades available.  It’s a neat innovation but it’s too bad these energy cubes are so easy to find due to the linear level design.  What’s not as welcome is the awkward use of the touch screen to unlock and equip the upgrades.  If I can use the buttons to navigate the menus, why can’t I use them to upgrade my weapons?

Those looking to work out their thumbs and to find a challenge beyond the fairly easy campaign mode might be glad to know that Burning Skies offers an eight player competitive multiplayer mode over the internet, complete with a ranking and experience point systems similar to those in modern console shooters.  The multiplayer mode features a handful of maps and across three gameplay modes: the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and survival, where the humans must survive for several minutes against an ever increasing number of Chimera.

Unfortunately good controls and a decent multiplayer mode mean little if the graphics engine starts to chug and everything becomes unresponsive.  The visuals themselves range from amazing to quite unimpressive, depending on the level, but whenever the action gets hectic and there are multiple enemies on the screen, the game’s framerate dips and everything starts to slow down.  The singleplayer has only a few areas of poor performance but the multiplayer is where the poor performance really takes its toll, often to the point of frustration – especially when there are seven or eight players in a match.

Nearly as bad as the game’s visual performance throughout the multiplayer is the dreadful sound design – or should I say there lack of.  Curiously, there aren’t any enemy foot steps to help find other players by; no environmental sound effects; almost complete and sterile quiet.  Guns firing sound extremely compressed and worse yet, you hear gunfire at nearly the same volume no matter your distance from the shooter, making it difficult to gage how close or far enemies are.

Clearly the code has not been optimized to run well on the Vita’s hardware, which comes at somewhat of a surprise considering how well the system handled Sony’s flagship title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

Despite Burning Skies unfinished visual and sound design and uninspired gameplay, the game does offer some fun for those willing to stick it out to the last – and most impressive – two levels of the six hour campaign and for those who can endure the framerate issues found in the multiplayer.  But those looking for a more complete and polished shooter experience should probably look towards Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Unit 13 or just wait for Activision’s Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified this winter.


+ The graphics can be quite good at times

+ The dual analog controls work well

+ The vita’s first Multiplayer FPS

– Visual glitches and large framerate drops sour the experience

– Short, lukewarm campaign is uncharacteristic of the Resistance franchise

– Woeful sound design

2 Dawn studio head, Ustaev at his workstation at home.


The video game industry made more than $70 billion in 2011, according to industry pundits.  But in the past few years, and  with an ever increasing attention to big budget spectacle and mainstream proliferation, the industry has become a tough nut to crack for those not financed by the 500 pound gorillas in the industry – Electronic Arts, Activision, and the New York Based Rockstar Games to name a few.

In his 2011 book on the history of video games, All Your Base are Belong to Us, industry veteran Harold Goldberg said that video game sales in the United States have become “bigger than movie theaters, DVD  sales, and music Combined.”

Some have shifted away from big budget, hyper realistic games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. There are many small development teams who have given up directly competing with big budget titles and instead make small games for the smart phone and PC market.

Some games like the ever-so-popular Angry Birds or the Facebook farming simulation Farmville have gained unimaginable popularity within the mainstream.

2Dawn studios, an independent video game studio founded in New York City, is trying something different with their upcoming post-apocalyptic, multi-player shoot ‘em up Ravaged: They want to capture the big spectacle and first-rate technology found in AAA big budget titles, but at a fraction of the cost, and with complete creative control.

“The project got off the ground because me and a couple of friends got together and talked about what we could do besides our day to day jobs,” explained studio founder and head, Boris Ustaev. “We came up with a few ideas and said ‘why don’t we make a video game’?”

Unlike most other studios, 2 Dawn is a work-from-home virtual studio where each member contributes to the game during their free time, without the ever-watchful gaze of a major publisher.

The team of about four core members and just over half a dozen freelancers has been working for 30+ hours each week for the past three years in addition to their normal jobs – hard work that they feel should pay off when the game is finally launched this summer on Steam, the popular digital video game distribution service.

“We don’t have a venture capitalist behind us.  We don’t have a publisher, it’s just us,” said Ustaev. “We want to see if we could do it on our own.”


As a veteran of the visual effects industry with nearly 20 years of experience, 38-year-old Ustaev had done special effects in commercials for big names such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Ford, and Nickelodeon before getting into video games.

During the day he works at a visual effects company called the Mill, working in tandem with directors in coordinating film shots for special effects.

He ventured into the field by doing animation work for the now defunct New York City based Kaos studios.

“I had a friend of mine who wrote video games.  He had a start up and hired me to dome some stuff.  I then had a great idea that I wanted to make this video game that was post apocalyptic.”

After his work with Kaos studios, Ustaev began to think of possibly creating his own game.

“I loved video games a kid.  We had a commodore 64 and I grow up playing that and then the Atari and the Nintendo; they were a huge influence on my life growing up.”

Ravaged was conceived in early 2009 by Ustaev and a friend from Long Island who has contributed both financially and creatively to the project but wants to stay anonymous.

Though really wanting to make a video game similar to the Mad Max films, Ustaev wasn’t sure of the exact genre 2Dawn would be working in.  Early ideas of a medieval game with lots of sword combat and horseback riding ended up being scrapped because the team felt the animation would be difficult to pull off and the target audience would be smaller.

The team decided to go with the Mad Max inspired futuristic wasteland theme.

“Growing up I used to watch Mad Max with my father.  That genre stuck to in my head,” explained Ustaev. “My vision is: ‘how chaotic and crazy this world would be if it would fall apart?’”

According to Ustaev, most other games and films portray a science fiction take on the end of the world – he cited films the Terminator and Book of Eli as examples – but himself feels that “it’s more about the earth itself, about global warming – the world is changing.  It’s more about what happens to this planet as it gets older and older.”

After they picked the genre, the team next needed to figure out how to efficiently create the code that would serve as the basis for the game.  Instead of doing everything from scratch, 2 Dawn chose the popular Unreal Engine, made by Epic Games, which would serve as the backbone of the project.

To program a game engine, the core frame work of any video game, takes a large amount of resources and man power; so many developers and publishers lease an engine from companies like Epic Games, who in addition to making money from their own games, make money through giving their tools to other game developers.

Ustaev and his business partner looked for others who would be interested in the project and found several through online forums and message boards.

“The hardest part is to find people interested in doing it, and doing it on the side, since most people have regular day jobs,” said Ustaev.

“A lot of people would commit and say ‘Yes, I want to do it, it sounds fun.’ They would be enthusiastic for a week and then you’d never hear from them again.”

Jon Lorber, 41 and from Long Island, and Kenneth Payne, 42 and from El Paso, Texas, were two who joined the studio from the beginning and are vested partners with the company.

Lorber is one of the team’s programmers and has worked on different aspects of the game, and who, like the other team members, works on the game during his free time.

During the day he is a production manager who designs software at a, a sign shop in Amityville New York.

“I’m coming home from one job to work on another – this really is a second job,” he said.

Lorber attended Farmingdale University to become an aircraft mechanic but landed a job at the sign company shortly after college.  He did well in the company and stayed there for nearly 17 years.

“It’s something I probably should never had gotten into in the beginning, but since my work ethic was so strong, it took me from the ground floor up to production manager,”  Lorber said.

“My true dream has always been to work in games and games design and I’ve been programming since I was 12.”

He started programming on the Mattel Aquarius computer in the 1980s.  “It didn’t have any media to save files so I used to program games from Compute magazine, but I couldn’t save them so I would type them in, run them and then I’d lose them,” explained Lorber.

Twenty nine years later, Lorber is working long hours on a project he’s really passionate about.

“Right now I’m focusing on the user interface design and implementation.  I’m creating the main menus and option screens and the heads up the display,” he said.

He still can’t believe that the studio has come so far in the three years they’ve been working.

“In the beginning I didn’t know that this was going to be such a big project. I just knew that I wanted to work on a game and I wanted to work really hard,” he said.  “That’s what I typically do during the day at my job.”

Payne is the only vested partner not in New York and he’s never met any of the people that he’s worked with over the past few years.

To make ends meet, Payne runs an online business making midi switches for guitar amplifiers that he sells though his website and through eBay and works entirely from home.

“I work on [the game] during the day when I can and then the wife and kids get home.”

His wife Tiffany is also programmer but works on business applications.   “Every once in a while he shows me what he’s working on and it’s really cool.”

She added that “he does a lot of work during the day but there are so many nights when he comes to bed at three or four in the morning.”

Their six year old son adores video games and is fascinated with his father always playing games. “He’s always bugging me to play them but I tell him ‘No it’s my work computer; go play with the iPad,” said Payne, chuckling.

The work environment at 2Dawn is very different from the normal, centralized one at most regular development studios.  Teamspeak, a chatroom-like voice over internet protocol program is used extensively by all the studio members to communicate with each other.

“It’s almost like being at an office, but never ever seeing the person,” explained Ustaev.

Usaev said that every member of the studio can work on the files remotely without being together in a physical space and without overwriting each other’s work or causing confusion.

Payne thinks that the system generally works: “It’s nice because you have a lot of freedom but sometimes you’re not told what to do so you might go ahead and assume something and the other guys may not like it. Usually we’re on the same lines.”

Recently, the team started a fund-raising effort for the game on – a website designed to help start up companies raise capital for their projects.

The website pairs entrepreneurs with donors who want to help get a project off the ground.  Unlike normal investments, you may not necessarily receive anything tangible for donating money.

2 Dawn isn’t just asking for free donations: $25 dollars will get you a full digital copy of the game when it released, while those donating a staggering $10,000 will let you go on a “dune buggy adventure” with Ustaev and the rest of the team.

According to Ustaev, unlike many other projects that get off the ground on the popular crowdfunding website, Ravaged was in its last leg of development when the team started the funding.

“Kickstarter is probably the most awesome invention ever,” said Ustaev. “It shows you if there is an interest for your game and if there is a community willing to back your game.”

The other team members agree.  They said that the site can be a great launching pad for many businesses to work independently without having to rely on major outside investment.

“I don’t think I’d want to be part of a big studio because you’re making their game for them for an average salary.  I can do something here in El Paso for the same amount of money and half the stress.”

Lorber echoed that sentiment: “The kind of energy I’m putting into somebody else business is something I should put into my own.”

There is a price for independence.  According to Ustaev, the project has cost nearly $80,000 over the past few years –much of that went to paying freelancers for their work on the game.  All of it coming from his personal finances and the pocket of the studio’s anonymous partner.

Epic Games and Valve Software, the Engine developer and the owner of the online distribution program Steam, respectively, will take a combined cut of about half the profits, according to Ustaev.

Having worked in the film industry, Ustaev feels that it is still much cheaper than if he were to turn his post apocalyptic vision into a film.

“[The game] is much easier to do on my own, or get a few people involved, versus trying to do a real movie,” said Ustaev.

“Having the Eifel tower, for example, snowed in over 100 feet is something that’s not likely to happen but it’s really not that complicated to do in the 3D video game world.”

Special effects in movies can cost millions of dollars to produce.

Brick and mortar studios have historically not been very successful in New York, despite the large amount of money and talent flowing through the city.  Ustaev said that is why he’s trying something different.

“Good programmers in New York aren’t cheap,” he said. “The cost of living is just too high.  The amount of people needed to develop a game is a lot.”

2 Dawn is an attempt at a different business model, said Ustaev.

“I don’t want to get an office space, I want to do virtual everything.  This is kind of an experiment for us as well.”

It is an experiment that the studio members think is working well so far. And with the game nearly complete, they are excited to look towards the future as the hope that game will be a success. “It happened to be that I met the right people and I pushed forward with the right amount of energy,” said Lorber.

There are many jobs in the video game entertainment industry outside of the city but Ustaev doesn’t want to leave.

“I love New York, I’m used to the high paced life that New York gives you.   Every place is nice to visit but home is home and there’s nothing like New York for me.”

“My ultimate goal is to have a virtual studio full time,” said Ustaev.  “This way I can focus on one career.”

The team still has work ahead of them before the game is launched this summer but each member looks forward to reap the rewards of their hours of hard work.

When asked why the studio is called 2 Dawn, Lorber chuckled and replied:

“That’s easy; it’s a play on words.  Many nights I’ve worked till four or five in the morning, caught a few hours of sleep and then went to work. Basically, we were working till dawn.”

By Max Neopikhanov:

‘Arcades are dead.’ Those words have echoed throughout the video game industry since the early ’90s, when video game giants Nintendo and Sega brought  games out of the small niche of arcade halls and Atari consoles, and into the living rooms of millions of ordinary people who were enthralled with Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Arcade vendors did not know it yet, but home video game consoles would not only become more popular than arcade halls, they would supplant them almost entirely.

Industry experts say arcade games just a novelty, a nostalgic link to a bygone era, and that home consoles have completely replaced cabinets just as online gaming has all but eradicated local gaming communities. They say the virtual has trumped the real because the virtual is easier and quicker. But in a busy metropolis that’s home to every sort of gamer imaginable, one arcade has become a stronghold that promotes the survival of a community, a community that relishes the golden age of arcades, a community that is home to some of the most competitive gamers on the east coast.

Just a few streets away from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, amidst a quiet and unassuming residential neighborhood, stands the last link to the glory days of the 90s arcade scene. Transcending the boundaries of business and community, Next Level arcade, which opened last march under Henry Cen, former manager of the legendary Chinatown Fair arcade, is currently the premier proving grounds for die hard fighting game fanatics in the city. “If they’re hardcore, they’re gonna come here,” boasted Cen. “If they have something to prove, they’re gonna come here.”

The small storefront is very Spartan and unassuming.  There is no glamorous sign, no neon lights, in fact not much to differentiate it from any other mom and pop video game shop.  However, step inside, and the story becomes quite different.   The cacophony of sound is near deafening.  It is almost impossible to tell which is louder: the high tempo dance music, the sound of grunts and punches from the games, or the chattering of the 30 or so gamers tightly packed in the small space. “You have ten minutes if you want to register for the tournament,” a booming voice announces over the loudspeaker.  Walk up to the front counter and you’ll see the tell tale signs of an arcade, several music and dance arcade games and a few arcade cabinets, but walk past them, and suddenly everything seems remarkably different.

Instead of more traditional arcade cabinets found in the front,  numerous Xbox 360 video game consoles hooked up to large high definition LCD screens line both sides of the corridor – in front of which sit a row of gamers, arcade sticks in their lap.  There are no slots for quarters here.  Next Level charges three dollars per hour of play, ten dollars for an entire day, and an additional three dollars if one wants to rent an arcade stick.  In comparison, Dave & Buster’s, the restaurant, bar and arcade chain, charges up to $2 per individual play for certain games.

Rather than having to pay per play as is fairly standard in the industry, at gamers at Next Level say the goal is not to make quarters last but rather to learn from and study their opponents and make friends.  “People are more social here,” explained Cen.  “In a [traditional] arcade setting, people can look aggressive or passive and you may not want to approach them.”

The owner and chief operator of Next level, Cen entered the arcade industry in 1996 when he began working at Chinatown Fair Arcade on 8 Mott Street for its then current owner, Samuel Palmer.  He himself being no stranger to competitive gaming, Cen helped modernize the arcade and bring it up to date with the tastes of arcade gamers. “I asked my boss at that time to invest in generally fighting games because they were popular, and music games because they generated the most revenue in the 90s,” Cen explained.

A link to the Past

Chinatown Fair, which originally opened in the 1920s and has gone through several owners and was at one point called the Golden Princess before Palmer moved it across the street and re-named it.  According to Cen, Palmer, who is now in his 80s, had a financial dispute with the building landlord, and unable to come to a resolution, closed Chinatown Fair in February 2011. Cen thinks that the folding of Chinatown Fair is indicative of the recent trend of shuttered businesses in Chinatown, and Palmer wasn’t the only store owner forced to close up shop. “There are a lot of stores in Chinatown now, and if you go down Mott Street they are all vacant,” he said. “It’s just absurd to charge that crazy amount of rent.”

With its open free-for-all gaming environment and location in a busy shopping district, accessibility and diversity was sometimes a double edged sword at the Mott street arcade.  Chinatown Fair was inviting to all sorts of players; casual gamers, hardcore gamers, and sometimes those just looking for trouble.   Mark Robson, a 28 year old graphic designer who has been playing fighting games a since he was a teenager said, “Back in the day when there were more traditional arcades in the early 1990s those audiences clashed. People would get into fist fights over dumb stuff.”

A mountain of a man and himself an avid gamer since he could hold a controller, Akuma Hokoru worked security at Chinatown Fair before joining Cen at Next Level, and often had to break up fights.  Though still responsible for security, Hokoru has since focused more on the additional responsibilities of being the Next Level’s announcer and tournament organizer.  He hasn’t had to stop any violence yet and feels that Next Level’s dedicated crowd is too mature to get into any physical altercations.

When the venerable Chinatown Fair shuttered last February, Cen came to the rescue and created a community for the dedicated regulars who frequented the failed arcade;  a community that, unlike Chinatown Fair, catered specifically to those serious about competitive gaming.  Himself a professional gamer, Cen says he understands the competitive gaming culture and his customers. “I’m not just an owner,” Cen explained.  “I’m a competitor, I go majors, regionals; I know what the players want because I’ve been playing professional gaming for so long.”

Cen often lends his expertise to the regular live broadcasts of tournaments on the e-sports, where he sometimes provides commentary and play by play analysis with other veteran gamers and Next Level employees.  Like their professional sports counterparts the commentators aim to break down some of the technical gameplay in popular fighting games like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and provide insights into the gaming scene – and give an occasional humorous anecdote.

Though it has received more attention in recent years, professional gaming remains a generally esoteric concept even to those familiar with video games.  “The general public often plays games on a very elementary level, but some people play the game and take it to an analytical level,” said Robson.  “A lot of people don’t understand that there is an academic way to look at games, in the same way like looking at strategy and applying it.”

Go for Broke

Tournaments are perhaps the bread and butter at Next Level, explained Cen.  Held several times a week and attracting an upwards of forty people, these three to four hour long marathons allow gamers who have painstakingly honed their skills to show their chops to not only the local community, but also the national, professional fighting game scene.  There is also a chance to walk out with some prize money.  “We generally have a pot to which players contribute the entry fee to the tournament, which is sometimes $5, sometimes $10,” said Cen.  “Victors can win anywhere from $10 to $70 to depending on their placing.”

Making a few dollars playing your favorite games is nice, say Next Level’s patrons, but it’s not the sole driving force for many competitors. To them, even losing is an experience worth having. “I like meeting new players that change the boundaries of how I think the game is,” explained Robson. “If I go home, even if I lose, I learn something and that’s important for me.”

The top gamers at Next Level don’t stop at participating and winning local tournaments, a few gamers at venuel have the claim to fame as top competitors in their field, often sometimes traveling across the country and winning tournaments at other venues.  Nathel Florez is a 20 year old student who has been in the arcade fighting game scene for more than a year and a half and started playing Street Fighter IV at Chinatown Fair a few months before it closed.  He has won several tournaments at Next Level and even claimed top honors in the form of a Samsung Galaxy phone at a tournament hosted by the tech giant Samsung.  “It’s so hard to even get top five.  People distinguish higher and lower level by how they place,” Florez explained. “You have to really put a lot of time into it.  It takes a lot of work, a lot of mental preparation.”

Other players take gaming even further and make a career of the skills honed at Next Level.  Christopher Gonzales has just recently reached the legal drinking age of 21 but already holds the status of professional gamer, making his living primarily through endorsements and prize money. “I’ve played video games my whole life,” explained Gonzales in a tone eerily similar to a professional athlete. “One day, my uncle brought me to Chinatown Fair and that’s pretty much when I decided that I wanted to do it for a living.”   It doesn’t pay an exuberant salary and Gonzales isn’t rich, but he has travelled throughout the country to attend prominent tournaments in several states like Nevada, Florida, New Jersey – and even had a flight scheduled the next day for a sponsored tournament in Georgia.

Worlds Apart

Because of Next Level’s somewhat more inaccessible location than its Chinatown predecessor, and perhaps due to the proliferation of online gaming, gamers say that the tournament scene has diminished in New York.   All of the games played at Next Level can be purchased and be played on a home console such as Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, with internet play making it possible to get into a virtual ring against thousands of other players over a broadband connection.  Why then play at an arcade venue at all?

There is something “psychological,” about competing face to face with another gamer, said Cen; something that can never be replicated in a virtual environment.  Many gamers at Next Level feel that there is a disconnection in playing online games, both literally in terms of internet lag and unreliable connections, and the anonymity of playing with a complete stranger who may say or do things that they may not if they were playing against a human being in an interpersonal setting. “There’s definitely something more immediate about playing someone face to face,” said Robson.

Those who casually play fighting games at home and online may be ill equipped play competitively at Next Level, say a few of the gamers.  “If this is the first time someone has seen competitive gaming it can either go one of two ways,” Gonzales said. “One, they’re either very interested; or two, they are very,” he paused for a moment, “de-motivated.”

Expert or novice, casual or professional, Next Level offers something noticeably absent from many modern video games, a chance to hang our with friends and rivals, to play until your wrist are sore and your thumbs callused, without having to worry about exchanging dollar bills for quarters to feed the hungry arcade machines.

Cen is happy with the small cove he created for New York’s community of competitive gamers to whom the difference between the two is paramount.  And so long as there is demand for a competitive arcade in this constantly changing and evolving gaming scene, Cen says is willing to take it to it the next level.


In what is one of the first award shows of its kind in New York City, the NY videogame Critics circle, which is made up of more than 20 writers in the video game industry, hosted its first annual game of the year award show on February 2 at the NYU Game Center in downtown Manhattan.

Notable winners in the New-York-City-centric award categories included Bethesda Softworks’ industry lauded fantasy role playing game, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim for the Big Apple Award for Best Game, Crytek’s sci-fi first person shooter set in NYC, Crysis 2 for the Manhattan Award for Most NY Centric Game, and independent developer Supergiant games’ role-playing game Bastion for both the Tin Pan Award For Best Music in a Game and the Off-Broadway Award for Best Indie Game.

Among the assemblage of award presenters and guest speakers was Emmy Award winning Daily Show writer Dan Radosh, whose jocular speech lampooned the past year of events within the video game industry; the Academy Award nominated animator, Bill Plympton; and Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett, the musician duo who performed music from their game, Bastion.

“NYU’s Game Center was really gracious in giving us the Cantor Film Center for the night,” said NY Videogame Critics circle founder, Harold Goldberg. “I’m glad that game developers from around the country flew into town for it.”

Goldberg, a veteran journalist who has written for various publications including the New York Times, GQ, and NPR, and author of the recently released book chronicling the history of video games, All Your Base are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture, said that he “started the group because I felt we (journalists) were given short shrift by the videogame industry. They’re based on the West Coast and we live here in the New York City area… we need better communication between those who market games, those who make games and those who write about games here.”

Despite the lack of equilibrium in the video game industry between the east and west coasts, Goldberg thinks that the industry is growing and thriving here in the city.  “I think it’s a small but vibrant industry, explained Goldberg. “Rockstar Games [publisher of the Grand Theft Auto Series] is based here, one of a handful of truly great videogame developers and publishers. So are some small indie developers.”

New York University is amongst those on the forefront of expanding the industry in the City, currently offering a degree minor in game design at the Tisch School of the Arts in downtown Manhattan.  They are expanding their program to include a Masters of Fine Arts degree in game design and development starting this upcoming fall 2012.

“Our goal is to incubate new ideas, create partnerships, and establish a multi-school curriculum to explore new directions for the creative development and critical understanding of games,” writes Frank Lantz, interim director of the program, on NYU’s website. “We are also active supporters of the New York City game development scene and seek to help establish New York as a place of innovation and creativity within this important field.”

As for the Videogame Critics Circle, Goldberg said that they will get together and discuss the group’s inevitable sophomore award show next year.

Image taken from


Several gaming news sites have recently released the first footage of NeverRealm Studios’ upcoming PS Vita port of Mortal Kombat.  The rather poor looking footage shows off some of Mortal Kombat’s gameplay, including 150 new challenges and various motion controls used in the game’s challenge tower mode.

At a glance, the demo featured graphics largely reminiscent of its console big brothers; albeit without persistent blood splatter or global lighting.  Upon further inspection, particularly during the up close and personal fatalities, Mortal Kombat on the Vita loses its semblance to the current gen systems and instead appears more akin to the last generation and the Nintendo 3DS.

It’s expected for the PS Vita to have downgraded graphics from its bigger sibling, the PS3, considering it reportedly has half the pixel fill rate and a much slower, albeit still relatively speedy CPU.  The PS3 drives the differential wedge in performance even further with its ability to use the Cell processor for post processing and shading effects – a feature that has allowed it to keep up with the Xbox 360 which has considerably more raw performance potential. Polygon and fill rate counts aside, the PS Vita should be able to support most if not all the shaders and lighting techniques used in home consoles by virtue of the now industry standard shader model 3 support and a multi-core CPU.

Why then is Mortal Kombat on the Vita using hardly any of these DX9 functions?  Instead of the gorgeous skin shaders complete with specular highlights and global lighting in the console version , the Vita appears to be using  fixed function non programmable shaders similar to those used on the PS2, Nintendo Wii, and most recently the Nintendo 3DS.

Fixed function shaders can look pretty good, even imitating the look of real programmable shaders as is demonstrated by Nintendo’s gorgeous Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii and Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV on the 3DS.  The vita doesn’t need to utilize these shaders; just look at how great Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks.  Of course that title is developed under supervision of Sony and with the aim of making their hardware look damn good, in effect putting pretty much every other demonstrated Vita game to shame aesthetically.

The problem of nearly nonexistent shaders in Mortal Kombat is further compounded by the much lower polygon count, lack of lighting effects or permanent blood, and much lower texture quality.  If anything positive can be said about the game’s visual presentation, it’s that the backgrounds have retained much of their quality from the home version; each stage is an animated vista with captivating atmosphere to boot. It’s just a shame that the primary focal point of a fighting game – the characters – hasn’t been fully realized.

With all said and done it is important to point out that…it isn’t all said and done. The game has a few months before release for NetherRealm Studios to tighten up the graphics engine and fix some of these visual shortcomings; though in all likelihood, and especially considering the game has been in development since 2010, the preview shown is fairly close to the retail product.

The most important thing is of course the gameplay. And judging from the demonstrated footage, Mortal Kombat sure plays the part, even if it doesn’t quite look it yet.

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Capcom was at the forefront of last year’s Nintendo 3DS launch with the excellent Super Street Fighter IV 3D.  They’re trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice with the release of a portable version of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 for the Playstation Vita and I can safely say that Capcom succeeded: UMVC3 is every portable fighting game fan’s dream come true, albeit sans the tacked on touch screen controls.

Having spent countless quarters and hours with the classic Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, the series holds a special place in my heart as one of the funnest 2d fighters to ever grace arcade cabinets.   MVC2 is revered by many as the quintessential Capcom fighting game that has transcended the 10 or so years that it’s been out.  Other, more cynical Capcom fans, dismissed the game as a broken button masher.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  Luckily for fans, Capcom finally decided to update the series on the current generation consoles, and now Sony’s spanking new portable, the Playstation Vita.

The premise is extremely simple:  somehow the two universes of Marvel and Capcom have crossed over and both the heroes and villains must prevent the nearly unstoppable Galactus from destroying both worlds.  Like its predecessor, UMVC3 has no story mode, instead featuring a straight forward 3v3 arcade mode featuring six fights culminating with a big final battle against the gigantic Galactus.  Multiplayer is available both through local ad-hoc and over the internet through the Playstation Network.  both a training mode and a mission mode allow players to master all of the various nuances in the game including air combos, hyper specials, assist attacks, and a plethora of other abilities.

Replacing the previous four attack buttons layout, Capcom has simplified the controls with three buttons controlling weak, medium, and heavy attacks, along with a new special attack button that launches enemies into the air for some spectacular air combos.  Special attacks and hyper combos may be easier to pull of, yet the complexity of tag assisted combos and air juggles dictate that button mashing won’t be enough to defeat an experienced player.  The PS Vita’s buttons feel great when pulling off intricate combos with either the d-pad or the analog stick – about as well as a standard PS3 controller.

Blending the best of both Marvel and Capcom universes, the character roster is broken up into 24 marvel super-heroes and villains and 24 Capcom characters. Though MVC2 purists will more than likely be disappointed at the exclusion of many fan favorites, Capcom and Marvel have done a good job at keeping the roster fresh and varied for the latest iteration.  Old favorites like Ryu, Magneto, Strider, Akuma, sentinel, are joined by Arthur and Red Arremer (from Ghosts n’ Goblins), Ghost Rider, Thor, Chris Redfield, Viewtiful Joe, Dante, and many others. It’s probably no coincidence that much of Marvel’s roster is made up of superheroes from recently released or upcoming movies, though obscure villains like Taskmaster and M.O.D.O.K make a welcome appearance.

MVC2 was often criticized for its character balance that favored powerful Marvel Characters like Cable, Sentinel, and Magneto over the weaker Capcom ones.  UMVC3 is definitely more balanced, though some Marvel characters like Sentinel, Hulk, and Deadpool are somewhat more powerful and easier to use than their Capcom adversaries. That being said, there are a ton of characters to master and even more team combinations to try. There is more variety here than pretty much any other fighting game released in the past few years.  Considering this is a portable game, it’s that much more palpable and impressive for it.

Super Street Fighter 3D was very well received showing for Nintendo’s 3D handheld that closely resembled its console siblings.  Capcom ups the ante with the presentation on the PS vita: aside from a few very minor details this looks exactly like the Ps3 and Xbox 360 versions.  Sure there is less background animation in some of the stages, but when the fur flies and the screen is filled with different colored beams and fireballs, the game is truly a sight to behold.  All at 60 frames per second.

The music and sound effects have been carried over 100% intact from the console versions.  Each character has several lines of dialogue that can be heard in either English or Japanese.  The soundtrack is decent enough, though your appreciation of the mainly electronic tunes can vary based on taste.  Several classic BGM tracks from previous Capcom fighting games are back and have been remixed – for better or for worse.  As a bonus feature, all character theme songs and sound effects have ‘movie’ versions that convert the high tempo songs to something more akin to a film score for those who don’t care for the standard tracks.  It’s a nice feature that’s seldom seen in video games and goes well with the game’s theme of two styles clashing together.

In an effort to take advantage of the large touch screen, Capcom has added a touch based method of input for players who simply want to see some of the flashy combos and hyper moves without mastering any of the button controls. Unfortunately, swiping the screen to execute combos and specials moves removes any real need for skill and improvement and should only be used by the most casual of players.

Considering that that the standard controls are fairly accessible, the touch screen implementation comes of as rather gimmicky and simply there to show shoehorn touch controls on Sony’s new console.  Gamers may try out these controls for their novelty, but even that wears off rather quickly, and in the end, it’s best to just avoid them.

If you are a fighting game enthusiast or just a fan of Marvel and/or Capcom universes, you can’t go wrong with UMVC3 at Vita’s launch.  Like with most fighting games, the single player experience may be devoid of much story exposition or character development, but the stellar online play and sheer variety of content makes Capcom’s latest portable brawler worth the price of admission; lets just pretend that the touch screen controls never happened.

+ Outstanding graphics

+ lots of variety and gameplay

+ Online Play

– Not much story outside of a short comic

– Gimmicky touch screen controls

A japanese copy of the game was used for this review.