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Local gaming heroes rAge on

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The annual rAge gaming expo was a feast of the latest in global gaming, but the growing presence of local developers was a significant phenomenon, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

On the expo floor, Thor battles Loki, Wonder Woman and Alice in Wonderland swoop to the rescue, and the crowds cheer. And that’s not even on the myriad video screens where gamers battle for survival in dozens of fictional universes.

The annual rAge gaming expo has breathed new life into technology fairs in South Africa, attracting thousands of serious and occasional gamers, along with wannabe superhoes in the form of costumed characters mingling with the crowds.

The headline attention goes to the big new games for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles. The opportunity to play games that still can’t be bought online or in stores is irresistible to the gamer. The history-based hardcore Assassin’s Creed Unity and the gentle spin on third-person shooters given to Splatoon – a compelling paint-shooting game for the Nintendo Wii U – are two sides of the same coin: ever-more spectacular games that appeal to all segments of the gaming market.

There is a downside to the noise and spectacle, though. It drowns out the emergence of a small but healthy local game developer community.

According to a survey by the Make Games Soutb Africa association, 32 game development companies are active in South Africa. While their impact on the economy is invisible – they employ 240 people between them, and generate only R30-million in annual revenue – their potential is immense. Half of the companies are young start-ups, created in the last two years.

“The industry is still tiny, but with the early access release of Broforce by Free Lives and Vicera Clean-up Detail by Rune Storm Games, we’re expecting a 130% increase in the value of the industry for the 2014 financial year,” says Make Games SA chairperson Nick Hall. “We’re hoping that these success stories will give local entrepreneurs the confidence to enter the industry.”

Entrepreneurs like Steven Tu, co-founder of Twoplus Games. He’s just quit an advertising career of eight years to go full-time into game development. At rAge’s Home_Coded stand, his company demoed two games, an “anxiety-inducing” one-key zombie game called Dead Run (play it online at http://www.playdeadrun.com) and the puzzle game Beat Attack (play it online at http://www.twoplusgames.com/beatattack). Dead Run is waiting approval in the Apple App Store, with an Android version on the way.

Of course, these games cannot compete with the multi-million-dollar budgets of what the gamers call the AAA titles – the mega-hits that generate more profits than Hollywood blockbusters. And, as much as rAge focuses on those titles, it also gives the little guys a platform.

StevenTu

Steven Tu of Twoplusgames at rAge, with one of the games his company developed.
PIC: Arthur Goldstuck

“What an opportunity this is for us indie game devs!” enthuses Tu. “Games are all about engagement and interaction, the two-way dance between player and system.

“Playtesting is the most important thing that we can do with our creations. Being able to put our games in front of a great variety of people to watch how they interact with it is invaluable. If they don’t get it, you can figure out why, and you can fix it. If they love it, that is the greatest reward known to a creator.”

Hall agrees: “rAge gives us the opportunity to address these issues by allowing the local consumer market to experience the quality of local games as well as raise general awareness of the industry.”

And now his association want to take it further.

“Make Games, along with key partners like the Department of Trade and Industry and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, is hoping to start an incubator in Johannesburg as well as Cape Town within the next year to assist start-up studios in becoming sustainable. We already have a community-funded bursary that has allowed two students to study Game Design at Wits University, and we’re hoping to expand the programme.”

South African hardware also made a big spash at rAge, with the global launch of the Sci-Ryder, an ergonomically designed seat and framework with fully adjustable arm, foot and head rests, as well as screen-mounting positions.

“Together, these unique features provide users with a comfortable and customisable personal gaming environment that significantly reduces the impact on their muscular frame,” declared its inventor, Gavin Mills.

The device measures 1.5m x 0.6m of floor space, occupying half the space of a normal desk, and sells for a neat R18 000 (visit www.sci-ryder.com). Despite this, it drew crowds of onlookers, and queues of aspirant test-pilots.

One can’t quite picture a businessman in a suit in the Sci-Ryder or at the Home-Coded stand, but the local industry is slowly becoming a serious business.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

Box:

The local games on display at the Home-Coded stand  at rAge:

Agent Unseen, by Clockwork Acorn

Alien Lobotomy, by Soup With Bits

Cadence, by Made With Monster Love

Beat Attack, by Twoplus Games

Dead Run, by Twoplus Games

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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