Xbox One: The Next Generation of Gaming

Xbox One: The Next Generation of Gaming

Winter is coming: and with it brings two new gaming consoles from media giants Sony (PS4) and Microsoft (Xbox One).  The decision of which to buy will be tough for many consumers this year, but let me make a case for why I think the Xbox One would be a better buy – it is the next logical evolution of gaming.

Each gaming generation has brought something new to the table.  The last generation brought about the rise of immersive online game play and motion based controls.  I believe Xbox One will revolutionize gaming by condensing the entire “living room experience” into one device using the Kinect.

After the E3 gaming event, I wrote a series of articles comparing the Xbox One and PS4.  A lot has changed since then.  Microsoft listened to user feedback and decided to change many of their announced polices.  The Xbox One is no longer required to be connected to the internet or to the actual Kinect itself.  Gamers can buy used games and share them with their friends.  These were a few polices that gamers felt strongly about and Microsoft listened.

The Xbox One is now on par with its competition in both hardware and its gaming policies.  What sets Xbox one apart is that it was designed to be much more than just a gaming device.

Through Xbox One, users will be able to play games, watch TV, Skype, stream Netflix and control a number of media devices in their home. What makes this revolutionary is that these features can be performed simultaneously and switched almost instantly.

Want to play a game and video chat with your friend at the same time?  Great, Xbox One will allow you to “snap” the two features together at the same time by splitting your screen in two.

Want to watch TV while you wait for your next online match to start?  Just tell your Xbox to switch to your favorite cable channel – most likely ESPN for me – and receive a message when your game is ready.

Each Xbox One will also include a Kinect – a device to help manage these features with voice and motion control.    Each Kinect will feature a 1080p Camera for video chatting and to clearly sense the user’s actions.

For example, Kinect can detect which person in the room is using the Xbox One controller.  If that person hands the controller to his friend, the Kinect will assign the person a unique profile and know instantly when the controller is switched again.

The potential for this technology is limitless and makes the Xbox One much more compelling than a simple gaming box.

 

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“Fabulous Fridays” at Callaway Gardens

Butterfly at Callaway GardensThe Fourth of July has come and gone. Labor Day weekend is still a few weeks away. As the month winds down, you’d probably like to do the same, so here’s the plan. On Friday, make an early escape from the office. Swing by the house to pick up your family. Then, point the car toward Callaway Gardens and get ready to kick off your weekend with their “Fabulous Fridays” through August 2.

Admission to Robin Lake Beach is free after 4pm, making it a getaway that goes easy on your fun money. Those extra bucks may come in handy as you peruse the goodies available for purchase at the Callaway Gardens Farmers Market. Local and regional vendors will be offering fresh fruits and veggies, including produce from Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden. You’ll also find meat and dairy products, baked goods, sauces, soaps, flowers and plants. All Farmers Market products are produced within a 150-mile radius of Pine Mountain, part of Callaway Gardens’ commitment to support small agricultural businesses in the region.

A Friday evening on Robin Lake Beach wouldn’t be complete without some live music. Bands and performers take the stage at 7pm (be sure to bring blankets or lawn chairs). Stick around until 8pm and you can catch a performance by the Florida State University Flying High Circus. A Callaway Gardens tradition since 1961, the circus features trapeze acts, juggling, high wire walks and other activities performed by FSU students.

There’s no reason to wait for the next Federal holiday to roll around when a Friday evening of fun is only a short drive away. You might even decide to make a full weekend of it. If that’s the case, you’ll find nice places to stay both within and adjacent to the Gardens. Think of it as a break before the back-to-school rush or a head-clearing respite from the rigors of your job. Here’s another idea–don’t worry about justifying an impromptu getaway: just…get…away. Why settle for a nice Friday when there’s a fantastic one waiting right up the road?

Bottle Rocket – Blu-Ray Movie Release

Bottle Rocket

Starring: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s debut feature “Bottle Rocket” is now available on Blu-ray  and is chock full of extras that the original DVD lacked.

The new features include deleted scenes, a “making of” documentary and commentaries from the director, as well as the movie’s stars, Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson.  The film is also the first for the brothers.

The quirky director’s movies are known for their dry sense of humor, misfit characters and extreme level of detail, and “Bottle Rocket” is no different.

The story begins with Dignan (Owen) trying to help his friend Anthony (Luke) “escape” from a voluntary mental hospital.  Dignan wants to pursue a life of crime while Anthony seems to be stuck in a deep depression and is looking for something to do.

They soon recruit another friend Bob (Robert Musgrave) to be the getaway driver for their first big heist: robbing the local bookstore for a few hundred dollars.

After the cumbersome heist, the naïve Dignan decides the three “need to go on the lam” and hideout for a while.  They aimlessly drive until they find a small town motel and settle down.

This is where the movie finally begins to find its place.  The story is no longer about crime, but about 20-somethings lost in life.  The three seem to be looking for a purpose, or maybe just an excuse to hang out for a little while and escape reality.

But the charade soon ends.  Bob decides to leave after his brother gets caught by the police with the marijuana plants Bob has been growing in the family backyard, and Anthony has fallen in love with a Spanish-speaking motel maid.  The world Dignan tried to create and control comes crashing down.  The rest of the movie deals with the characters’ falling out with each other and their individual redemptions.

The story is one of Anderson’s best and most touching.  The movie only suffers inthe beginning when the dialogue, at times, becomes too “Tarantinoesque.”  Bottle-RocketWhen the characters stop talking over each other, the movie takes a similar tone to the rest of the director’s catalog.  His movies are known for all taking place in the same fictional “world.”

Anderson fans and casual movie lovers alike should give this movie a chance, or at least see what its “cult status” following is all about.  Many will be pleased they watched this touching comedy.

Trance Movie Review (2013)

Trance (2013) – Movie Review

Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson

 Directed by: Danny Boyle

8.5 out of 10

“Trance” is a movie I happened to see on a whim with some friends back when the movie was shown at Columbus’ “Dollar Theater” or the Peachtree 8.  I walked into the movie blind to the plot or genre of the movie – the film’s title led me to guess the movie would somehow relate to trance music.  I came out of the theater blown away realizing I had just seen the best mind-bending thriller since “Inception.”

I can’t say too much about the plot without giving anything away so I will describe the basic premise of the movie.  The main character Simon, played by McAvoy from “X-men: First Class”, works at an art auction and is good at his job.  The beginning of the movie is fantastic and could be a short film itself.  Simon narrates to the audience the steps he must take during an art robbery; all the while he is attempting to hide away a $17 Million painting in a bag from thieves during the middle of an auction.

So far this sounds like a normal art-heist thriller.  The bad guys intercept Simon before he can properly hide the painting away in a safe, take his bag and hit him over the head after he attempts to taser one of the thieves.  However, the painting is no longer in the bag and Simon now has amnesia from the head blow.  Interrogation is of no use, so the thieves hire a hypnotist to unlock the secrets deep within his mind.

The basic premise of the movie is pretty complicated and the plot takes many twists and turns, asking its viewers to pay close attention to every detail.  The rewarding climax and resolution of “Trance” are truly mind-blowing and will leave you thinking for days.

The three leads of the movie give excellent performances and Danny Boyle’s slick direction makes the movie tense and enthralling.  The score of the movie also helps to raise the tension.

Beware, this movie does show full frontal female nudity, so this is not a movie parents should watch with their children.

“Trance” can be found at your local redbox movie rental station or retail outlet.Trance2013Poster

Warhol, “Optimists” at the Columbus Museum

Andy WorholThis time of year, people are still in the market for fun things to do and, for the most part, they’d rather do them in an air conditioned place. The A/C works just fine at The Columbus Museum. What’s more, a pair of extremely cool exhibitions give visitors a glimpse of two distinct American eras…and one revolutionary artist:

“Warhol in Southern Collections” (through October 14)–It’s impossible to think of the art world in the 1960s–or, for that matter, the decade itself–without Andy Warhol coming to mind. His iconic pop culture images of Campbell’s Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe still reverberate today. Rolling Stones fans remember him for the album cover of “Sticky Fingers.” But Warhol was no one-note wonder. His work and influence impacted numerous art forms, including film, drawing, printmaking and music (Warhol was a founder of the pioneering pre-punk band, The Velvet Underground). Known for his eccentric personality and celebrity status among the New York City avant-garde, Warhol maintained his artistic edge well beyond the decade that defined him.

Over 100 works from museums and private collections throughout the South are on display as part of “Warhol in Southern Collection.” Life-size resin and acrylic sculptures of Warhol welcome visitors to the exhibition, the work of contemporary artist Jack Dowd.

“Optimists and Activists: The American Scene” (through September15)–There’s irony in the fact that hard times and challenging events often produce great art. Such was the case from the 1930s to the years after World War II, an artistic period often called the “American Scene.” The “Optimists and Activists” exhibition features prints from the museum’s collection that represent diverse impressions of life during the Great Depression and Second World War. Some artists were subsidized through the Works Progress Administration, part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal stimulus strategy: others took a more self-supporting stance. The works on display represent some of the period’s premier talents and range in tone from inspiration and beauty to pointed social commentary.

There isn’t a better spot in the city to absorb art, history and stay comfy-cool at the same time. Admission is always free, although donations are accepted. To find out more, visit the Columbus Museum website or call 706-748-2562.

Pacific Rim – Movie Review

Pacific Rim (2013) – Movie Review

Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Charlie Hunnam

 Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

8 out of 10

“Pacific Rim” is a movie that should appease any child who grew up watching cartoon in the 80’s and 90’s.  This movie is the robot “gundam” action we have all truly been waiting for.  It’s a cheesy movie that takes itself seriously and is full of fun robot “mech” action.

The plot of the movie is simple: giant evil monsters called Kaiju are attacking Earth and destroying civilization as we know it.  To combat them, the world has joined forces and created Jaegers – giant fighting robots able to fight toe-to-toe with these sea creatures from another world.

What sets this movie apart from other robot movies, such as the terrible Transformers trilogy, is the importance of the movie’s characters.  Each Jaeger must be controlled by two pilots – whose brains are linked with the Jaeger’s A.I. in order to control its movements.  While the explanation isn’t really important, this drives character conflict and makes for a unique story line.

The movie is also full of humor from the supporting cast: mainly Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Ron Pearlman (“Hellboy”).  This is a movie that knows what it is: a cheesy science fiction movie based on Japanese anime.  He doesn’t bring whimsy in the fray, or try to wink at the audience so to speak, which brings a refreshing change to the melancholy overly dark summer blockbusters of the past few years.

The action scenes in the movie are great.  The fights between the monsters and robots are easy to see and understand what’s happening.  My only complaint would be that some of the Kaiju look pretty identical and it would have been refreshing to see some different types of monsters.

Finally, the performance given by Idris Elba in this movie was phenomenal. Elba gives a few speeches in the movie that actually got hair to stand up on my arms.  Elba is famous for his performances in “The Wire” and “Luther” and continues to make a case to be the first black James Bond – fingers crossed.

This is a great movie for fans of anime and great action movies.  Turn your brain off and don’t ask too many questions and you should have a great time.

“Pacific Rim”  is currently showing in Columbus, Ga at the Carmike 13 and 15.

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The 10 Best Video Games from the PS3/Xbox 360 generation (part 2)

  1. Portal 2

Portal 2 is the sequel to the popular Half-Life 2 spin-off Portal, known as one of the most groundbreaking puzzle games of the past decade.  Players are inserted into futuristic labyrinth/laboratory setting from which the main character is trying to escape a maniacal computer A.I. named “Glados.”  The gamer is given a “portal gun” in order to perform a series of tests for the A.I, which the character later uses to try an escape the facility.  The “portal gun” makes can make two portals, orange and blue, that allow the user to solve gravity and physics defying puzzles.  This is a great game for people who like to tease their brains and solve complex puzzles.  The graphics and voice acting are also top notch.

Arkham Asylum

Most video games based off upon comic books, cartoons, or movies suck; but this isn’t the case with the Batman inspired game Arkham Asylum.  Drawing its inspiration more from the cartoon series than the latest Nolan movies, Arkham Asylum is the ultimate Batman experience and is super fun to play. The game starts when Batman is asked to personally escort the Joker to maximum security/ insane asylum.  However, chaos quickly ensues when joker takes the prison over and traps Batman amongst some of his greatest rivals. The combat system is excellent, every punch, kick and knockout feels satisfying and lets the player truly feel like the “Dark Knight.”  The game also incorporates a good bit of gadgets such as the “batarang” and lets the player use stealth to take out many foes.  Many of the characters are voiced by actors from the popular cartoon series, such as Mark Hamill, and the story is great and mature.

The Walking Dead

Zombies are all the range these days and we have the popular AMC show “The Walking Dead” to thank.  Tell Tale’s “The Walking Dead” is a spinoff game from the show’s universe that utilizes “point and click” game play.  This game is not combat heavy but instead centered around the story and choices made by the gamer.  This game feels like a controllable movie with a comic book art style.  The main character is Lee, an UGA professor, who is being transported to prison for an unknown crime.  In a twist of fate, his transport is attacked by zombies and he is forced to flee for his life.  During his journey he meets a young girl named Clementine, who is searching for her parents.  The two pair up and Lee decides to protect Clementine and help her to find her parents.  This game is a great cinematic experience and not to be missed by fans of the show.

Witcher 2

In my opinion, the Witcher 2 is the greatest WRPG of our generation.  The story comes from a Polish book series, and tells the story of Geralt of Rivia the Wither, a human bred and mutated to have magical powers to fight monsters.  The game is beautiful and full of complex characters and heavy political plot.  Combat is challenging and asks the player to plan out battles using spells, traps, bombs, and different swords based on the target.  This is a gamer where the player’ s actions and choices truly make a difference on the outcome of the game.  There are 16 different ending in this game.  The game has a great replay value and is worth it for every fans of RPG’s.

Enslaved. 

Enslaved_Odyssey_to_the_West

This Xbox 360 exclusive is an underrated gem considered at the time to be a flop due to poor sales numbers.  This game is a third person plat-forming and action game set in lush, but apocalyptic future.  The main character is Monkey, one of the few humans left on the planet, who is forced to help a woman named Triss or else be killed.  The game play and puzzles are very fun and a refreshing change from most shooters or other games set during the apocalypse.  The game’s setting and characters are vibrant and colorful, and the interaction between the two characters is very compelling.  Find this game used at your local game store and give it a chance.

High Notes Start the New Rivercenter Season

Since its debut in 2002, The RiverCenter for the Performing Arts has been a centerpiece of the Uptown Columbus landscape, and a crown jewel in the region’s cultural arts scene. Over the years, the center’s stages have set the scene for Broadway productions, concert performances, and a host of well-known names like Bill Cosby, Willie Nelson, Bernadette Peters, Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor. The lineup for the 2013-14 season promises another superb mix of music and entertainment. Here’s a quick look at some of the new season’s opening acts:
“When Everything Was Possible: A Concert (With Comments)” (September 7) — Columbus native Victoria Mallory first met Kurt Peterson when both were chosen as leads for the Broadway revival of “West Side Story.” This two-person show features lively anecdotes and songs from their stage appearances in “Follies” and “A Little Night Music.”
Cirque Eloize Circopolis (September16-17)–These days, there’s more to a circus than trapeze artists and trained tigers. Cirque Eloize has performed over 4,000 shows in 36 countries since 1993, including the Broadway hit “Rain.” Their newest show combines music, acrobatics and performance art in a dream-like setting.
Black Jacket Symphony (September 20)–In this one-of-a -kind concert experience, hand-picked musicians recreate the sound of rock’s most popular classic albums in a live performance setting.
Lightwire Theatre: “The Ugly Duckling/ The Tortoise and the Hare” (October 20)–Breakout stars of the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” Lightwire Theatre combines music, dance and lots of lights to create compelling interpretations of classic children’s stories.
Additional shows for 2013 include the jazz ensemble Hot Band of San Francisco (November 7), Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter and Columbus native Bebo Norman (November 8) and the Fifties-themed musical “Memphis” (December 4-5). To find out more about the RiverCenter’s new season, visit them online at www.rivercenter.org or call 706-256-3600

The 10 Best Video Games from the PS3/Xbox 360 generation (part 1)

  1. Battlefield 3

This game is – bar none – the best online multiplayer experience in video games.  Maps are huge and players have a variety of weapons and vehicles to utilize in order to kill their opponents.  There are about 100 different ways to play in a game that calls for players to work as a team to win their objective.  The premium edition of this game offers over 20 maps and 10 different play modes.

  1. Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock_Infinite

Set in 1912, this game tells the story of a down on his luck gambler named Booker forced to travel to a strange city in the sky to pay off his debt.  His mission is to kidnap a mysterious girl from the clutches of a strange, cult like, dystopia where issues such as manifest destiny, religion and race are booming issues amongst the floating city.   The FPS game play may come off as stale to some players, but the plot never ceases to interest.  The voice acting and art direction are phenomenal as well.

  1. The Last of Us

This game is a PS3 exclusive from developers Naughty Dog, famous for their “Uncharted” series.  This game has similar 3rd person combat, but takes a much more serious tone.   The setting of TLOS is a zombie apocalypse, which could turn off some players who are tired of the zombie trend.  The good news is this isn’t your typical zombie game, but is instead an intense character study between the two leads, Joel and Ellie, as they travel across the country trying to survive both their surroundings and each other.  The game takes realism to a new level.  Everything looks almost photo realistic and each combat encounter comes across as brutal and violent.

  1. Metal Gear Solid 4

MGS4 is the long awaited finale to the Metal Gear series.  The game continues the stealth game play of its predecessors, asking gamers to quietly CQC and sneak around enemies. The plots of these games are terrific, but don’t expect to understand this games plot without playing the previous installments.  Those looking to get into the series, I recommend buying the recently released Metal Gear solid collections to catch up.  MGS4 however can only be played on the PS3.

Alan Wake is a breath of fresh air in gaming by taking its inspiration from Stephen King novels and the popular TV show “Twin Peaks.”  The game feels like playing a great suspense/horror novel.  Author Alan Wake travels to a small town in the Pacific Northwest to find inspiration for his latest novel, when he is attacked by nightmarish monsters straight from his own imagination.  To defeat Alan’s nightmares, the player must shine a flashing light in order to weaken them.  The plot unfolds in episodes and the players are able to read pages straight from Alan’s book that eerily describes future events to happen in the game.  This is an Xbox exclusive.

“Insectival” at Oxbow Meadows

Oxbow MeadowsChildren see a lot of things differently. Bugs are one of those things. To the average kid, insects are miniature aliens that provide an endless source of fun and fascination. The grownup view? Not nearly as sympathetic. The same crawly creatures kids adore send wives running to husbands for cover and make big men scream like little girls. Love ‘em or hate ‘em (most folks choose the latter), bugs are part of our world, especially in warmer climates. While it may not change your perception-or burnish their image-Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center’s “Insectival” may increase your understanding of their small world. And it goes without saying that the youngsters will have a ball.

The big bug event takes place at the center on Saturday, July 13 from 10am-3pm. Scheduled activities include “creepy crawly crafts,” a cricket-spitting contest and the rare opportunity to snack on insect appetizers. Just to be clear, the “appetizers” are not the bug’s diet, but the creatures themselves. Scientists say they’re rich in protein: the jury is out on whether or not they taste like chicken. Naturally, a variety of  spiders, beetles and other life forms with multiple legs and long antennae will be on full display, along with a demonstration of how honey is extracted from beehives and a bug’s-eye view of the Gulliver-size universe they inhabit. You’ll have to see for yourself if those images include the bottom of a shoe, a rolled up magazine, or the business end of a Raid can.

“Insectival” tickets are $5, with free admission for children three and under. The Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center is located at 3535 South Lumpkin Road, across from the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. To find out more or learn about other programs, visit www.columbusstate.edu/oxbow or call 706-507-8550. By the way, the Oxbow Meadows Facebook page has insect trivia and recipes (nope, that’s not a typo), plus chances to win free tickets through July 13.

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