Friday
Jul192013

Review: Razer DeathStalker

For a long time I’ve been thinking about replacing my desktop keyboard and mouse combo. While it has served my purposes, I was never really satisfied with my Razer Arctosa. On the other hand, my Logitech MX Revolution has been one of my favorite mice ever, but it's beginning to show its wear after 5 or so years of abuse. I decided to replace my keyboard first since it is the main culprit of my dissatisfaction. At this point you are probably thinking the foremost issue is to decide which color cherry switches I want and then move on from there. Not so fast. While I can’t deny the sweet precision of a quality mechanical switch, years of traveling and typing on chiclet style keyboard has made me more comfortable and more accurate with them.

 

 

Low profile keys, short travel distance, and keys are a larger surface area are features that has caused me to prefer chiclet style keyboards over traditional keyboards, but unfortunately  they seem to be relegated almost entirely to the laptop segment. If someday someone makes a chiclet style keyboard with mechanical switches or high quality scissor switches I will be the first to jump aboard that train, but until then we are almost entirely with membrane dome options for chiclet style keyboards. I was a huge fan of the Logitech Dinovo Edge, but that quite was not quite true chiclet style, and has issues of its own like lack of a numpad and awkward recharging situations due to its rechargable nature before you even get to the $200+ price point.

 

(picitured wth iphone 4 for thickness comparison)

This brings me to the crux of my problem, the market for quality chiclet keyboard is pretty slim. Many people throughout the years have been turned off by the membrane dome switches found on a lot of early low-profile and laptop keyboards to the point where they've been kind of written off as cheap products. This leaves consumers looking for a quality chiclet style desktop keyboard pretty high and dry. Microsoft doesn’t sell any, Logitech has 2, one of which is a solar powered option and the other is wireless, and not full-sized. High-end boutique keyboard makers like Das, or WASD don’t carry anything not mechanical, aka not chiclet style. Apple makes a pretty competent model, and they even have a version with a numpad, but as a PC user it just doesn’t  feel right. There are a few models on Newegg, mostly around $15 but none with a lot of positive feedback.

 

My only requirements are a full-size chiclet keyboard with backlighting, it really shouldn’t be this difficult to find. Then I remembered seeing a promotional keyboard from Razer tied to Star Wars: The Old Republic. Despite my previous experience with a Razer keyboard I felt like I was grasping grasp at straws, so I decided to give it a closer look. The original Old Republic keyboard had everything I was looking for except for one thing, the numpad had been switched out for a small touch screen, a feature that boosted the price up over $200. Thankfully they later made a similar version called the DeathStalker, including a variant that reverted the touch screen back into a traditional numpad. For the reasonable price of $79.99 and overriding my hesitance to buy another Razer keyboard, I figured I would give it a shot.

 

My intial reaction: This is pretty much the exact keyboard I’ve been looking for. It’s not perfect, there is a little more side to side wiggle on the kyes than I would like, and key height is slightly taller that I had expected but overall the DeathStalker has been a pleasant surprise.

Every new keyboard takes a little getting used to, but the  getting-to-know-you phase was quite speedy and requited very little adjustment from my normal typing habits. The sense of bottoming out on a keystroke is something that many mechanical keyboard fans may not like, but it’s something that has never bothered me. If you get really picky there is also a tiny deadzone at the lowest key depression that all membrane dome keyboards succumb to.

 

The keyboard features a sleek almost minimalist design; the only adornments are the Razer logo on the palm rest and markings under the indicator lights above the numpad. The flat keys are somewhat shiny and set themselves apart from the matte finish of the rest of the keyboard. Each key is individually backlit and the color can be changed using the included Synapse software. One important feature is that there is minimal separation between the number row and the F-keys allowing a more accessible reach for people with smaller hands. The palm rest became one of my favorite features of the keyboard, it features a faint hexagonal design but more importantly has a very faint tacky texture that gives your hand a very firm footing, if that’s that kind of thing you’re into. When typing normally my wrists tend to float above the palm rest, but it was during gaming sessions that I really appreciated the palm rest, especially during more frenetic keyboard mashing. The palm rest is not removable, so that might be a deal breaker for people looking for a narrower keyboard.

 

The bottom is pretty standard and has traditional risers for those who like a more elevated typing surface. One note is that unlike many other Razer keyboards, and despite the technical specifications on Razer’s website, this keyboard only has one USB connection and does not have the pass through USB and audio ports that are found on the BlackWidow and Arctosa.

 

I can’t finish up this review without touching on the Synapse software included with the keyboard. It let’s you customize the backlighting colors and set some macros and adjust some of the gaming settings. It also features controls for the touch screen on the more expensive version, but I as this version comes without I wasn’t able to play with them. One critique I have is that you must use the internet to upload and retrieve your settings if you were to switch computers, a minor annoyance compared to other manufactures that provide onboard memory for setting storage. Even so, the keyboard will still function as a plug and play USB device if you choose to forgo the Synapse software.

 

Conclusion

 

This keyboard is a solid product for users looking for an alternative to the mechanical keyboards that dominate the $75 dollar and up market. Its low-key styling allows it to it hide in the background compared to other gaming keyboards, some might even call it minimalist. It responds well in normal touch typing as well as gaming situations with its well spaced chiclet keys. This is a straightforward  keyboard that will please users who do a little, or even a lot of both.

My grade for the Razer Deathstalker is a B.

Monday
Jul152013

This week in Gaming: July 7-14

Justin Carter, a 19 year old who had been in jail awaiting trail on charges of terrorism, was released on $500,000 after the family receive an anonymous donation to cover the fees. Carter was taken into custody after someone reported sarcastic comments about “being sick in the head” and “shooting up the school” he posted on Facebook after playing League of Legends.

 

Tribes: Ascend Put Out to Pasture

Officials from Tribes: Ascend stated that they have no future developments planned for the game, and instead will be choosing to work on other HiRez products, most notably Smite. In other words Tribes is essentially dead in the water for the foreseeable future.

 

EVO 2013

The largest fighting game tournament set new records with upwards of 145,000 concurrent viewers during their final day of coverage.  Despite an attempt earlier in the week by Nintendo to prevent streaming of 12 year old Super Smash Bros. Melee, they started the record breaking Sunday afternoon with 130,000 streams.

Capcom also announced Street Fighter 4 Ultra featuring rebalanced mechanics and 5 new characters including, Hugo, Poison, Elena, Rolento and one new original character.

Double Helix also showed up to demo Killer Instinct for the Xbox One and was greeted with a somewhat muted reception, which may have also been directed Micorsoft's way.

Click here to see the Day 3 finals madness at Evo in Las Vegas. (Go to 7:9:55 for the KI/Xbone reaction)

Steam Summer Sale

Steam kicked off their annual Summer Sale which runs until July 22. Remember don’t buy a game unless it is a Daily Deal, Flash Sale or Community choice for the biggest savings.

 

Finally, I want to say farewell to Giantbomb’s Ryan Davis who passed away at the age 34. He contribution to gaming will be missed more than he could have even known. Tuesdays won’t ever be quite the same again.

Friday
Jul122013

Heml.is is Swedish for Secret

Is Heml.is the future of messaging?

On the tail of the recent NSA and PRISM leaks, many people are left wondering what options they have for keeping their messages away from the prying eyes of the governemnt. Peter Sunde, co-founder of The Pirate Bay has stepped up to kickstart development for a secure encrypted messaging called Heml.is. Hemlis is slang for secret in Swedish and Sunde is promising to deliver a messaging app for iOS and Android based on N2N encryption. The app and service will be free, but features such as picture messaging and others will require a small fee to unlock via in app purchase.

 

Heml.is has already doubled its $50,000 goal with over $108,000 in under two days. Backers will receive codes to unlock extra features as well as the ability to pre-register user names. With their funding goal already met, it will be interesting to see the success of Heml.is especially after anonymous search site duckduckgo.com has seen a 400% increase in traffic since June 12th.

 

You can help support Heml.is and find out more information here.

Tuesday
Jul092013

What is an All-Star?

Every year the baseball world throws a hissy fit when All-Star nominations come out. Whether its Bryce Harper, Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig, a lot of consternation seems to stem from the fact that there is no consensus on how much time a player needs to be in the big leagues before being worthy of All-Star consideration.

 

Here’s the real answer: there is no time requirement.

 

People want to treat the All-Star game as some sort of lifetime achievement award. They cite things like how it has become whoever has a good first three months of the season, and going on to say things about sample size and not enough data to derive a good prediction of future ability.

But who cares? We already have an award for lifetime achievement; it’s called the Hall of Fame. All the people who cited body of work for ranking players like Carlos Beltran over Dominic Brown think career numbers still matter, despite Brown being ahead in every category except average this season. If a player has the talent to make it into the

hall of Fame, it is pretty inconceivable that they will never have made an All-Star Team or two.

 

But here’s the thing, there’s an All-Star game every year. The annual schedule means we should reward the players that are hot. No one is going to say they should nominate a guy who got called up two weeks before the game, but after a month Puig has made a legitimate case for consideration. After all, he’s played just under 300 innings of baseball, compared to 2013 All-Star Brett Cecil’s 44.2. Not to mention the fact that Puig has a WAR of 2.1 compared to Cecil’s 1.0.

 

And don’t give me the bullshit that the All-Star game counts. If a manager really wanted to win the All-Star game, they wouldn’t switch pitchers and batters every inning or collaborate to rearrange a pitcher’s scheduled days so Matt Harvey can start in front of a hometown crowd.

 

My point is: anyone who should be considered for the All-Star team will have made it pretty obvious. Let the body of work people argue it out when it comes time for Hall of Fame voting. In the end, the most important data for All-Star consideration is what a player has done since the last All-Star game. Now isn’t that easy?

Friday
Jul052013

Video Content, Trends and Futures of Video Games 

Growth of Gaming

 

Earlier this week Google released a study on the growth and impact of video content as it relates to video games. This study seems to have gone unnoticed which is strange considering the amount of time and coverage that is often spenty trying to find the next big trend in contemporary media.

 

The study takes a look at the growth of videogame content throughout 2012, citing an over 100% gain in time spent viewing gaming content compared to 2011. Google showed the growth in gaming content exceeded the overall growth of Youtube as a whole, with an increasing number of views coming from mobile devices. The most important observation is that they found a strong correlation between the sales of a new game and the amount of views of brand related content.

 

This should be a wake up call for some Japanese game makers like Square-Enix who have been struggling recently even after producing quality AAA releases. Additionally they observed that post release almost 40% of video content is community generated, providing another vector of interest generation independent from the original brand.

 

The short story is that companies need to put more time into producing strong brand released content, both pre and post launch, in order to increase visibility and sales. The entire report can be see here.

 

On a separate but related issue, Twitch.tv announced a partnered with Steam to provide a more integrated way for viewers to watch Steam games on Twitch. Right now the biggest effect is that this allows viewers more choice on the manner in which they watch their content. Previously, DOTA2 viewers had to use the in-game spectating system in order to receive the prizes for watching certain DOTA2 tournaments. While they haven’t stated what other developments are in the works between Twitch and Steam, after securing a partnership with Microsoft for Xbox One streaming and now Steam, Twitch has further solidified their lead in the streaming market.

 

A quick Alexa check shows Twitch.tv with a global rank of 442 globally and 216 in the US, while PS4 streaming partner Ustream only ranks 1135 but with a much stronger rank of 300 in Japan. With the semi-recent shutdown of Own3d.com and the current uncertainty of Azubu.net, the internet streaming competition has become a two-horse race. With Youtube’s live streaming capabilities still in its infancy and the release of the PS4 and Xbox One in the fall it will be interesting to follow the change in these numbers throughout the next year.