Say this for Performance Designed Products, makers of the Afterglow Wireless Headset, a slick, luminous gaming accessory which promises universal functionality and evokes the costume design of Tron. They are very confident this will work, right out of the box, the very first time. Yet that has never been my experience in reviewing about half a dozen headsets, especially any that rely on being paired with a wireless transmitter.
And so, too, it was not the case in my first attempt with the Afterglow. It's a good thing this product is advertised as extremely durable, because I was very close to verifying at least that claim.
The problem, after a thorough investigation, was not the manufacturer's fault. Nor was it mine, and I have a multi-console setup with a video capture hard drive and a signal switcher that definitely places me well outside the demographic most likely to buy a $90 pair of headphones.
See, the Afterglow and its USB transmitter are paired at the factory before they are shipped. What I got was not a production unit. Some marketing contractor slapped a headset and the wrong transmitter in the box sent to me—which was not consumer packaging. So this is not a problem any consumer should face. A PDP engineer swore to me there are now 10,000 units out in customers' hands and what I dealt with has not been a technical support complaint at all.
But it does not excuse the fact that PDP did not include, in the instruction manual, directions on how to re-pair the headset and the transmitter yourself. There's confidence, and there's carelessness. A consumer who buys a device with wireless functionality reasonably expects to be able to correct its pairing himself before getting on the phone with technical support. So, as a result of this headache, PDP has set up a couple of web pages (here, and in a support FAQ here) with information on how to fix this problem. I followed the steps provided, and everything indeed worked fine.
On to happier subjects. At $90 the Afterglow offers affordable, solid audio and versatility with a headset whose main virtues are powerful sound and a rechargable, long-lasting battery—going up to 10 hours. That's a big advantage over some higher-end sets that snack on double A batteries and cost twice as much. The rechargeable battery complements a design geared toward long gaming runs. The headset is comfortable, the over-the-ear cups provide sensory immersion and, really, I find it to be an attractive piece of equipment.
The Afterglow's drawback is mainly in chat audio that is pedestrian at best. Of those I played with, the most said in my chat mike's favor was that it was cell phone quality. Some test messages I recorded and re-played for myself on Xbox Live didn't prove them wrong. The packaging says the Afterglow has a noise-canceling mike but the rest of the audio still came through a little muddy, with some chop and skip. And though the USB transmitter declares it has a 100-foot range, which presumes it's not dependent on line-of-sight, going around a doorway 12 feet away reduced chat audio to garble. Again, this is a console gamer's headset, so the majority of chat will be done in close view of the console. Just don't expect to go to the fridge and continue the party chat while the game is paused.
Afterglow Universal Wireless Headset Specs
- Price: $89.99
- Wireless Frequency: 2.4GHz
- Wireless Range: 100 feet ("whole house") though masonry walls will obstruct the signal. Chat audio performance decreases sharply with distance.
- Ear Coupling: Circumaural (Over-the-Ear)
- Audio Input Type: RCA or standard headphone jack.
- Frequency Response: 20Hz–25kHz at 115db
- Speaker Diameter: 50mm
- Magnet Type: Neodymium
- Battery: Rechargable by USB, 10 hour life claimed
As for its wireless claim, any experienced gamer should know what that really means here. There still has to be a way to get the audio from the console to the transmitter and, yes, that requires cabling. The inconvenience is manifested most in consoles using HDMI video, as you'll still need to run audio component cables into your TV, so the Afterglow's transmitter can piggyback onto them. There is support for using your TV's headphone jack, if it has one, but that introduces the TV's volume into your listening experience instead of taking a straight signal. If you're going to use chat on the Xbox, you'll need to wire the Afterglow to your Xbox 360 controller. Again, no surprise there.
In terms of audio quality, I picked up a lot more background hum with the Xbox 360 than I did on the PS3, for some reason. The volume control switches balance between chat and game audio and with game audio driven up all the way, you'll get plenty of buzz. It's easily wiped out by any low-frequency atmospheric sound. There isn't much in the way of equalizer presets. You get basic audio, a bass-boost, and "immersive" surround audio with the touch of a mode button. The mike will glow one of three colors to tell you what mode you are in. Another thing, if you're getting no chat audio, tap the Afterglow's main power button, as it controls mute when powered on (you have to hold it to power it off). The glowing end of the chat mike will flash once every 60 seconds if it is muted, which can be hard to notice if you're distracted.
The Afterglow easily lives up to its universal compatibility claim, though you need to know your way around your menu setup (particularly the PS3's) to make sure all of its features are working properly. The audio-in jack means you can use it for PC gaming or even just to listen to mp3s or Internet radio off a mobile device. Though the Afterglow is primarily a gaming console accessory, listening to music on it was quite enjoyable.
PDP was so distraught over what happened with my Afterglow that, in addition to setting up the web page on how to correct devices that had come unpaired, on Friday it sent me another headset altogether—this one the same as any consumer can get off the shelf. Just take it out and plug it in, seemed to be the unspoken message. I did, and it worked, right out of the box.
And that's the first time that happened.
In the aftermath of 38 Studios' collapse, a slew of government investigators said they were probing the maker of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for its attempts to secure loans using tax credits that never were issued. Tax credits are the biggest reason the studio, founded by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, became such a scandal in its home state of Rhode Island when everything went bust.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Rhode Island told the Associated Press on Friday they were through with the investigation. A state investigation still is proceeding. 38 Studios begun work in Providence, R.I. in 2010, lured by a $75 million loan guarantee from the state. Investigators were looking into statements 38 Studios may have made to potential creditors for any bank fraud. The feds didn't find any.
In addition to the state's own criminal investigation, Rhode Island's economic commission is investigating whether anyone can be held financially liable. The state's looking at about a $100 million loss on the venture with 38 Studios. If they're looking at Schilling himself, they may not get far. The former all-star pitcher is out about $50 million of his own money.
Rhode Island owns all of the company's assets and is putting them up for auction next month to try to recoup some of the dough.
Reader Mike C. works in a veterinarian's office. It's nice helping small animals, but the job does have its sad days. Video gaming is necessary to his decompression routine after work.
Playing Battlefield 3 yesterday, Mike (GamerTag Kiaza, he's asked us to include it) happened upon another lonely soul who appeared to be in need of aid. "We were defending on Norshar Canals I believe and we were in the last area for rush. This guy was shooting up in the air without a driver, so I figured that I would take him into the field so he could get a couple of kills. You know? The right thing to do."
So Mike hopped in the driver's seat and drove him off. "We got ambushed and destroyed almost instantly. So. I am going through my weapons before i respawn and I get this message from who I then assumed was the unfortunate fellow in my gunner-seat." You can hear it above.
I've been holding on to this idea for a week when we couldn't get the rights to something, and lo that time has come. The thought occurred to me that, in games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, why does eating a giant ham hock out of the bottom of a trash can improve your health? Shouldn't that decrease it?
So, what if real life had power ups that worked like video games, particularly but not limited to the classics? That's our open-ended concept for this week. That isn't a source image above (it's the notorious Castlevania Wall Turkey, as prepared by Gourmet Gaming back in April.) You're free to use any video game power-up in a real life image, or use a real-life representation of something as a power-up in a video game. Think on it some, before entering, we have quite a wide playing field here.
Remember, you have to post submissions in the new forum for the Kotaku 'Shop Contest. I know it's not as fun as seeing everyone's creations underneath this post, but this way automatically displays them in chronological order, which everyone seems to prefer.
Because of this, comments are disabled in this post to avoid confusion. You must visit the 'Shop Contest Forum to participate or to see this week's subissions. After you create your 'Shop, you'll need to post it there. Here are the rest of the guidelines for doing so.
1. Go to the 'Shop Contest Forum
2. Click "Add Image" in the upper right above the comment window.
3. Click "Upload an Image Instead." Then click the "Choose File" button. Browse your desktop, find the image, and click "open."
4. If you prefer, you can upload the 'Shop to a free image hosting service. I suggest imgur. Then click "Add image" in the upper right above the comment window. Paste the image URL into the field that says "Image URL."
5. You can add editorial commentary if you want, but then just hit submit and your image will load. If it doesn't, paste the image URL as a comment.
6. This is important: Keep your image size under 1 MB. If you're still having trouble uploading the image, try to keep its longest dimension (horizontal or vertical) under 1000 pixels.
All set? Great. Now, Gentlemen, start your 'shopping!
Football is a role-playing game. That's how Chris Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings punter and noted World of Warcraft and RPG fan, is approaching it. Each week in the NFL, ChrisWarcraft characterizes his upcoming game in terms of an MMO quest. We're going to chart his progress and see how fast he levels up.
Now that the NFL has its professional, full-time game moderators back on all of the league's, we should see less glitching and griefing and fewer exploits, such as the one that gave San Francisco some extra timeouts in last week's PvP instance against ChrisWarcraft.
This week ChrisWarcraft, who acts as his own quest-giver, Tweeted out his objective on Saturday—I guess to make sure he wasn't coming anywhere near the NFL's ban on gameday tweeting (which begins 90 minutes prior to kickoff.)
Result: QUEST COMPLETE (Minnesota 24, San Francisco 13. Kluwe: 4 punts, average 45.3 yards, long of 53, one inside the 20.)
ChrisWarcraft has completed two quests and failed one so far.
Welcome to your Sunday read of the week's best in web comics. Make sure to click on the expand button in the bottom right to enlarge each comic.
Awkward Zombie by Katie Tiedrich published Sept. 24.—Read more of Awkward Zombie
Nerf NOW!! by Josué Pereira published Sept. 27.—Read more of Nerf NOW!!
Penny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik published Sept. 24.—Read more of Penny Arcade
Manly Guys Doing Manly Things by Kelly Turnbull published Sept. 24.—Read more of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things
Brawl In The Family by Matthew Taranto published Sept. 28.—Read more of Brawl In The Family
Virtual Shackles by Jeremy Vinar and Mike Fahmie published Sept. 24.—Read more of Virtual Shackles
ActionTrip by Borislav Grabovic and Ure Paul published Sept. Sept. 24.—Read more of ActionTrip
Legacy Control by Javis Ray published Sept. Sept. 24.—Read more of Legacy Control
A couple Tokyo Game Show cosplayers devoted to the Sega Saturn provided the grist for this week's 'Shop Contest, which we're certain has already gotten a song stuck in your head. Step one, make her open the 'Shops. Step two, then you look at the 'Shops. We've got this week's best inside, plus overall winner Hypotenuse Man!
Getting started is Orionsangel (9), who gets Minecraft out of the way with the first 'shop posted this week. There also were plenty of references to Daft Punk, like Assassin_Kensei (2), but also LooneyBinJim came in with an homage to Daft Bodies.
Angryrider (1) and BigMike McCarthy (3) looked into those big gray boxes and saw Virtua Cop and Time Crisis, respectively. Snufkin (13) delivered several solid entries, and gets on the board with Wallace & Gromit. Regular finalist sciteach (12) has his take on Console Wars. And Howardc (5) speaks for me in his movie poster blurb for the RoboCop remake. Although what that has to do with a Sega Saturn, I do not know. My overall No. 1 goes to Hypotenuse Man. Simple premise and easy execution? Sure. Still funny.
Thanks again to all who participated. There will be another contest tomorrow. You've been warned.
Reader Josh H., a college sophomore, says he's been gaming and making videos for years, so he sent us this one. It's alright—I'm not sure it says anything we didn't know already, as the Pile of Shame is a commonly understood concept for most any serious video gamer.
What struck a nerve with me, though, was this comment, sent along with the video link in an email.
"When I look at one game I think about another and so forth and so on. Then I end up playing Facebook for 5 hours accomplishing nothing."
Playing Facebook for 5 hours, I assume means frittering away your time looking at what everyone else is up to, not necessarily playing Facebook games. That's the loop I find myself getting into, especially after I've completed a review and can get back into any game I wish to play.
The problem is the review has shut off all momentum. I haven't played NCAA Football 13, usually my most favorite series, in a month. So I sit at my computer, checking the New York Times, Yahoo! Sports, Reddit, my company's other sites—and then back again. And eventually I muster up the determination to reacquaintance myself with where I last left off. Worse yet, I find that I'm completely intimidated to start something new, like Mark of the Ninja, because I know I'll have to leave it again for something else very soon—in this case, NBA 2K13.
Like Josh, I have an impressive wall of games. It is one of the perks of this business, and I am fortunate to have the job I do and to receive all of these games without paying for any of them. I'm real proud of how big and varied that collection is, and sometimes imagine that if I was trapped on desert island with that console and a generator and a TV, I'd really not ever worry about being rescued.
But at some point, I do think I'm a hoarder. I do like playing games, but some games, I like having them more. I don't have a Steam library that full but I do have plenty of titles I've never finished or never even touched.
How about yourselves? Do you find yourselves drawn to having games more than playing them? Is it certain types of games? Do you have some games on your shelf the way some people have great books on their shelves—there's an obligation to be familiar with them as the major works of the genre, even if you're not interested in really completing them?
Or am I just navel-gazing, and playing Kotaku for five hours, when I—when we should all be playing games?
If you are a company who rakes in millions making social games for Facebook, I have good news for you. Researchers at N.C. State University have developed the means of more accurately detecting bot accounts without alerting their owners, so the game's developers can shut them down and kick those freeloading sons of bots out of the cityville.
If you actually play these games, well, sorry, this isn't of much help or use to you. And if you play a bot account, your days are numbered.
The key lies in how this technique analyzes how players move their mouse and click on the screen. Bots give themselves away because they don't show the same range of variability in how they interact with the screen.
"This will allow game designers to differentiate bot accounts from actual human accounts, with confidence, and then cancel the account," said Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work.
Roberts said some sophisticated bot programs may feature some interaction variability "but not enough to fool our monitoring technique consistently. If this technique tracks game play for any significant amount of time, it should detect a bot."
Roberts and his research team are optimistic that they'll have agreements to sell this technology to game companies soon. They'll just be paid in Facebook Credits.
Researchers Unveil New Technique to Detect Bots in Casual Online Games [North Carolina State University]
Cortex Command began life as the project of a Swedish high school student. That high schooler has now turned 30, gotten married, moved to the United States and become a citizen. And, at long last, he's launched his game.
Everything about Cortex Command, by Data Realms, shrieks of a labor of love, from the fact it still has the physics engine that Dan Tabar created for it in February 2001. The trailer you see above was made by a fan "who lives in the far east of Siberia," where evidently there is a huge following for this game.
The music in that trailer comes from Danny Baranowsky, who did music for Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac.
Cortex Command doesn't seem to fit into the easy boxes that we put a lot of games into. It's definitely a real time strategy game, with elements of side-scrolling platformers in it as well. The game has been released on Steam and is available now for $17.99. It works on both PC and on Mac.
Cortex Command [Steam]