Vaping Diaries #36: Innokin iTaste SVD Preview

The iTaste SVD arrived at RPad.TV headquarters today and I was psyched to check out Innokin’s latest mod. The SVD is a variable-voltage and variable-wattage tube mod made from stainless steel. Here’s a first impressions preview of the mod.

Like the iTaste MVP, the SVD kit is fairly complete; it comes with the mod, an extra tube for larger batteries, two iClear 30 clearomizers, three clearomizer replacement coils, and the instruction manuals (one for the mod and one for the clearos).

What the SVD doesn’t come with, is batteries. It can accept batteries ranging from 18350 to 18650. For my initial testing, I used an 18490 battery. To get the full range of voltage and wattage, Innokin recommends stacking two 18350 batteries. Speaking of which, the SVD can be adjusted from 3.3 to 6.0 volts in increments of 0.1 volts. For variable wattage, it has a range of 3.0 to 15.0 watts that can be adjusted in increments of 0.5 watts.

Since it’s made from stainless steel, the SVD has a nice heft to it. Even though I was using a relatively small 18490 battery (most of my mods are 18650), the SVD had a substantial feel. Of course personal preference plays into this. Generally speaking, I like tube mods that have a nice weight to them. If you like lighter mods, then perhaps something like the Ovale eVic is a better choice.

Using the SVD is fairly easy. There are three button: the firing button, a plus button, and a minus button. Using different button combinations activates the device’s features. Here’s a rundown:

  • Firing Button x 3: Power on or power off the device
  • Plus Button: Increase voltage or wattage
  • Minus Button: Decrease voltage or wattage
  • Firing Button + Minus Button: Hold for three seconds to activate variable-voltage mode
  • Firing Button + Plus Button: Hold for three seconds to activate variable-wattage mode
  • Plus Button + Minus Button: Hold for two seconds to check resistance (ohms)
  • Plus Button or Minus Button: Hold for three seconds to check battery capacity

I’ve only spent a few hours using the iTaste and SVD, but my first impression is pretty positive. It has a nice feel, it produces a satisfying vape, it’s easy to use, and the kit is relatively complete. I’ll be putting it through its paces, so stay tuned for a full review.

Path of Exile Preview and Video Interview

Yesterday, I caught a demo of Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games. The game is a free-to-play action-RPG that reminded me of an ultra-hardcore version of Diablo. The game also has features the reminded me of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X. The developer cites Magic: The Gathering and Call of Cthulhu as influences. Check out the video interview by Paul Semel above, as well as the screenshot gallery below.

One of the most striking things about the game is how customizable everything is. As you’d expect, armor and weapons can be upgraded. What’s really unique is that items like potion bottles and maps can be upgraded as well. In the case of potion bottles, the effectiveness and potency can be manipulated. As for maps, they lead to portals to secret areas; they can be upgraded to increase monster level and difficulty, as well as to give your character a gameplay advantage.

Armor, accessories, and weapons can be adorned with different gems that grant various spells and boosts. The developer noted that the materia system in Final Fantasy VII was an influence. Gems can be stacked for more powerful attacks at the expense of more mana (generally speaking). For example, a fireball gem can be armed for a basic projectile attack. It can be accompanied with a “fork” gem, which causes the fireball to split in two after it hits an enemy, allowing a single fireball to potentially hit three foes. The spell can be further enhanced by a “multishot” gem, resulting in three forking fireballs (say that five times fast).

The skill tree is a massive map of powers, passive abilities, and boosts, with each section of the tree specializing in certain types of powers. It reminded me of a much more flexible and diverse version of the sphere grid used in Final Fantasy X. While I wasn’t able to explore the intricacies of the skill tree during my short demo, I was impressed by its size and the amount of choices it gives players.

Another curious facet of the game is that there’s no gold. The developers eschewed currency in favor of a barter system. As armor, accessories, items, and weapons are modified, they become more valuable. Players can choose to stash items for future use, trade them to a generic in-game trader, or trade them with other players. I was told that in the closed beta, some players got so into the crafting and trading elements of the game that they spent more hours on selling goods than slaying monsters.

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Path of Exile hits open beta on January 23, 2013. The full release should be some time in Summer 2013. Be sure to watch the video interview for more details, including the Kickstarter-like system the developers used to fund the game. Find out why 176 gamers spent $1,000 to get cool and unique in-game items. Lastly, let me know what you think of the game. Do you think the hardcore gamers that were disappointed in Diablo III will find what they’re looking for in Path of Exile? Are you interested in trying the game?

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Preview / Interview

Please check out the video interview above with Josef Fares, game director of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and read my preview-ish thoughts below. This downloadable game is set to hit PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in Spring 2012 courtesy of Starbreeze and 505 Games. I checked it out a few weeks ago and was really enamored with its art style and gameplay. The controls are simple, but used in a unique and compelling fashion. In some ways, it reminded me of a cross between Ico and Heavy Rain, but with a refreshing originality that was all its own. Continue reading “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Preview / Interview”

Nintendo Land Preview Video (Wii U)

Justin and I got to spend time with two Nintendo Land mini-games: “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” and “Mario Chase”. The former is a unique puzzle game that takes advantage of the Wii U gamepad’s gyroscope and tilt controls. The latter is a multiplayer racing game that’s a blend of Mario Kart and Pac-Man Vs. Kindly check out this video preview that features Justin’s thoughts on the minis and some footage of them (both onscreen and from the Wii U gamepad). After you’ve watched it, please let me know what you think of these two Nintendo Land minis. Is the game enough to make you want the Wii U Deluxe Set?

The Wonderful 101 Preview Video (Wii U)

Justin and I recently checked out The Wonderful 101 by Platinum Games for Wii U. The game is like a more violent Pikmin, but with Viewtiful Joe-style art. The brief portion of the game we saw looked and played great. The art and tone of the game was charming, while the gameplay was clever. Check out what Justin had to say about the game, as well as some gameplay footage onscreen and on the Wii U gamepad. After you’ve digested all of that, I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Wonderful 101. Is this something you’d buy?

Final Fantasy Dimensions Prologue Has Me Hooked

I recently finished the prologue to Final Fantasy Dimensions and I want more! Allow me to back up a moment and give you some background info on the game. Final Fantasy Dimensions is similar in style to Final Fantasy V in terms of looks and gameplay. It features a job system, which I love from FFV and the numerous Final Fantasy Tactics games. Dimensions was originally released as an episodic mobile-phone game in Japan from 2010-2011. For the North American release, the game is divided into a free prologue and four chapters. Chapter one costs $2.99, while the other chapters cost $9.99. The whole shebang can be had for $28.99. The game is available on iTunes (universal app, thank Shiva) with a Google Play (Android) release coming soon.

The prologue — which, let’s face it, uses the tried-and-true “first one’s free!” model employed by drug dealers for decades — gives you a basic feel for the game. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a 16-bit RPG. You run around, engage in lots of random battles, find treasure, and crawl through dungeons. It gives you a feel for the controls and basic combat. The action stops after a boss battle, which is sadly right before the job system is introduced.

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The even sadder part is that the other chapters aren’t yet available due to technical difficulties. For job-system marks like me, this is frustrating. I know I’m going to enjoy this game and I want to play more now! Hopefully the issue will be resolved soon or I’m going to march down to Square Enix USA headquarters with my replica Buster Sword (I don’t really have one, but I totally want one…though I probably wouldn’t be able to lift it).

There are eight jobs that can be selected in the early going: freelance videogame writer jobless, warrior, monk, thief, red mage, white mage, black mage, and summoner. As the game progresses, the characters are divided into two factions: the warriors of light and the warriors of darkness. Additional jobs are unlocked for each side in later chapters. The warriors of light jobs are dragoon, bard, memorist, paladin, and seer. The warriors of darkness jobs are ranger, dark knight, dancer, ninja, and magus. Skills from different jobs can be used in conjunction for “fusion” attacks, adding an additional layer of strategy to the traditional turn-based combat.

Visually, the game is unimpressive. This wasn’t a surprise considering that the source material is a mobile-phone game from 2010. The music, however, was a pleasant surprise. The tracks I heard throughout the hour-long prologue were very, very good. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

If you’re an old-school RPG fan — especially one that loves job systems — then Final Fantasy Dimensions is tantalizing. It looks like it will be a great game in the vein of Final Fantasy V. Yes, it’s relatively expensive compared to other Android and iOS games, but many gamers will find the price worth it. Just from the prologue, I’m confident that I will enjoy this game and fairly sure that the $28.99 price will be worth it. Now where the hell are my additional Final Fantasy Dimensions chapters Square Enix?!?

HP Envy 14 Spectre Hands-On Preview

HP nabbed a ton of attention at CES 2012 with its HP Envy 14 Spectre “Ultrabook”. One of several laptops competing with Apple’s MacBook Air, the Envy 14 Spectre stands out with its premium build. However, it also has a slightly higher-than-average price and weight for this product category. This $1,399 laptop packs a 14-inch screen in a package that’s 0.79-inches thick and weighs 3.9 pounds. As with most HP premium laptops, the Envy 14 Spectre boasts Beats audio. Here are the full specs:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-2467m 1.6GHz
  • Screen: 14-inch Radiance display, 1,600 x 900 resolution
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 128GB mSATA SSD
  • Thickness: 0.78-inches
  • Weight: 3.9 pounds
  • Dimensions: 12.87 inches x 8.7 inches x 0.79 inches
  • Ports: USB 2.0, USB 3.0, SD card reader, Mini DisplayPort, Ethernet
  • Keyboard: Chiclet, backlit with sensor to brighten when you approach
  • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth, WiDi
  • Battery Life: 9 hours estimated

After opening the laptop and messing around with keyboard, I was impressed by its luxurious feel. The lid, screen, touchpad, and palm rest feature Corning Gorilla Glass for a premium feel and great durability. The keyboard felt very comfortable; while I’d need more time with the machine to say for sure, my initial impression is that it’s as good as the one on the MacBook Air 13 but with a stiffer feel (really a matter of preference). Clicking, dragging, and two-finger scrolling on the touchpad felt very smooth.

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The lid of the Envy 14 Spectre is gorgeous…until you touch it. It is, by far, the biggest fingerprint magnet I’ve seen in years. Considering that it’s black glass, I shouldn’t have been surprised, yet I was still taken aback by the amount of smudges the lid picked up. If you’re the least bit affectionate with your electronics then you’ll be cleaning the Spectre every three minutes or so. The running joke among tech writers is that this is a security feature being tested by HP since the laptop picks up fingerprints easily. (Tech writers are generally not that funny.)

The Spectre’s screen is bright and beautiful, with broad viewing angles for sharing. The 1,600 x 900 resolution is unusually high for a 14-inch screen. Some people love the extra pixels and detail. Others, particularly those with bad eyes, might end up enlarging the text size to make things usable. Personally, I loved the display, despite my eyes sucking. The high res “Radiance” display adds to the premium look and feel of this notebook.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre stands out from the crowd with its liberal use of Gorilla Glass and beautiful screen. However, with other vendors aggressively pricing their Ultrabooks, will people be willing to pay a bit more for a laptop that’s a bit slicker and heavier? I’d love your take on this product. Please let me know if you’re interested in the HP Envy 14 Spectre and if you think it will be a top-selling Ultrabook.

ThunderCats (Cartoon Network) First Looks Preview

Over the weekend I watched the first two episodes of the new ThunderCats cartoon. It debuts on Cartoon Network on Friday July 29. I loved the original Rankin/Bass cartoon as a kid and was really happy with the new show. It’s a nice blend of classic ThunderCats elements with modern twists. I’ll have a full review of the show next week. For now, here are some random thoughts and factoids on the premiere.

– In the original show, the ThunderCats left their dying planet to begin life anew on Third Earth. This time around it looks like the planet is set. The ThunderCats are the most powerful race on the planet and rule from their kingdom of Thundera. In the original it was clear that the ThunderCats were the good guys and the mutants were the bad guys. Things are a bit cloudier in the modernization. These ThunderCats seem elitist and snobbish, while the other races seem oppressed by and fearful of them.

– The voice acting is solid so far, with some cool highlights. I immediately recognized Clancy Brown as Grune. Brown totally owned as Kurgan in Highlander and Lex Luthor in Superman the Animated Series. It’s going to take me a few episodes to get used to Emmanuelle Chriqui as Cheetara. She did a good job in the episodes I saw, but I kept hearing Sloan from Entourage in my head. Part of me was looking for E and Johnny Drama whenever she was in a scene.

– Here are two minor changes for you. First, Tygra and Lion-O are brothers. Lion-O is the true son of King Claudus and heir to the throne. Tygra is adopted, but starts off the series as better equipped to ruile. The second change is that Cheetara belongs to the cleric class. I’m not sure what religious purpose they serve, but all the clerics shown possess super speed. Perhaps they’re a warrior clan?

– Here are two major change for you. Snarf doesn’t talk. This makes him five-billion percent better than the original, annoying-as-hell Snarf. Secondly, Jaga kicks all sorts of ass. In the original, he was an old warrior that spouted fortune cookie wisdom (also a total Obi-Wan Kenobi rip-off). The new Jaga is leader of the clerics and still spouts the fortune cookie stuff, but kicks ass with super speed! Considering his namesake (jaguar, for any stupid kids reading this), it makes total sense that he’s a speedster.

– The classic chants and battle cries are in the show. Of course they are. The fanboys would have rioted without, “ThunderCats ho!!!” and, “Ancient spirits of evil, transform this decayed form…”

– WilyKit and WilyKat look to be much improved too. I hated both of them in the original (though not as much as I hated Snarf). Either I’ve gotten softer in my advanced age or the new WilyKit and WilyKat are much more endearing than their forerunners. (Both are probably true.) The re-imagined siblings are poor thieves that steal to survive. They appear to be orphans or runaways. Think of them as twin Artful Dodgers…but with tails…and cat ears…and, oh never mind.

– Panthro is old. I haven’t seen the “real” Panthro yet, but his shots in the press materials make him look considerably older than the other ThunderCats. Since he hasn’t appeared yet, I don’t know too much about him. What I do know is that he’s a general, he uses nunchuks, and he needs to join Hair Club for ThunderCats.

– Jaga referenced a prophecy that said that the greatest lord of the ThunderCats will possess sight beyond sight. Make what you will of that.

Anyway, let me know what you think of the new ThunderCats when you have a chance. Are you intrigued? Or are you afraid of one of your childhood memories being tarnished? As for me, I’m definitely going to keep watching the show. I wish I could say more, but I’m muzzled like a good ThunderDog at the moment. Stay tuned for the full review next week!

Tomb Raider Dives Into Lara Croft’s Past, Shows Bright Future

Although Lara Croft is the first lady of modern gaming, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games have supplanted Tomb Raider as the best action-adventure videogame series. Square Enix has Lara set for a huge comeback by delving into her past. The upcoming Tomb Raider game stars a young Lara Croft as she embarks on her first adventure. From what I saw at E3 2011, it looks like Lara will be taken to new heights by going in a very different direction.

From the gameplay I was shown, as well as the beautiful intro movies, it’s clear that Lara has been trained but hasn’t been battle tested. She’s capable, but not yet confident. I liked seeing the vulnerable side of her character…though she did a bit too much moaning and whining when she was attacked. There were times I wasn’t sure if she was under duress or on the verge of an orgasm.

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The gameplay had plenty of exploration and puzzle solving — two hallmarks of the Tomb Raider series. Exploring the caverns and outdoor areas was lots of fun. The graphics I saw were beautiful and it was a pleasure watching someone else play the game. The early puzzles I saw played up fire and water. Lara would have to manage her torch (stop thinking about her managing your torch) and relight as necessary. The caverns were full of streams and pools, making torch management an interesting gameplay facet.

While I didn’t get to see any of Lara’s famous gunplay, I saw her engage in a number fights using her limbs, a dagger, and a bow (with arrows…duh!). The back-to-basics fighting was appropriate for the early portion of the game as she was freshly shipwrecked, but I imagine she’ll be dual-wielding pistols towards the end of her adventure.

A lot of the fight scenes implemented quick time events. The amount of them surprised me. The developers are trying to give the combat a cinematic feel while also appealing to casual gamers that are familiar with the Tomb Raider brand. It’s an interesting gambit that potentially gives the game a broader appeal and also differentiates it from a more traditional title like Uncharted.

My demo session of Tomb Raider left me wanting more. The graphics were impressive, the story was interesting, young Lara is hot, the puzzle gameplay looked like fun, and the combat was different. My chief concern at this time is the combat. It was definitely atypical, but it wasn’t as fun to watch as the other facets of gameplay. Will the fighting be fun to play? That’s what I want to know…and I’m willing to watch Lara Croft for hours in order to find out.

BioShock Infinite E3 2011 Preview

Out of all the games I saw at E3 2011, one was a cut above the rest: BioShock Infinite. There’s a lot of change happening in the industry, with games becoming more social, quick time events permeating every genre, and games getting more casual. From what I saw at the show, BioShock Infinite is the ultimate realization of what enthusiast gamers currently consider a videogame to be.

BioShock Infinite takes place on the floating island of Columbia in 1912 — a stark contrast to the underwater world of the original game. Columbia is like a traveling World’s Fair, but armed to the bone. It flies around the world terrorizing other nations. Within Columbia there are two factions vying for power: the Founders and the Vox Populi. You play the role of Booker DeWitt, a disgraced Pinkerton detective that has been tasked with the job of rescuing a young woman named Elizabeth.

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During the demo I noticed a lot more characterization than in the previous BioShock games. Booker and Elizabeth talk a lot. Some of it is idle chatter that helps you learn more about the characters, the world, and more. Some of the talk gives you combat cues. Elizabeth has mysterious powers that can be used for combat combinations.

One portion of the game had Elizabeth using her powers to heal a horse. Instead she ripped space and time, causing the game to fast forward to 1983. A movie theater playing Revenge of the Jedi was in the background. I’m going to guess that time travel, choices between the Founders and Vox Populi, and your treatment of Elizabeth are just some of variables that will help determine which ending you get.

The action was very fast, with a great sense of speed and scale. In addition to shooting, Booker can use telekinesis, electricity, and other powers. There’s a substantial role-playing element behind the action, as you’d expect from an Irrational title. What was different and surprising was the skyline system. Booker can use this above-ground rail system to zip around environments and reach optimal positions for combat. Swinging on the skyline via grappling hook is super fast and gives you an exhilarating feeling. You really get a sense of each level’s size and the art style does a great job of conveying a “sky” feeling that’s a sharp contrast to the “water” feeling of the previous games.

BioShock Infinite looks like it will deliver outstanding quality on several levels. The graphics, powered by a modified version of Unreal Engine 3, are stylish and technically impressive. The gameplay looks thrilling and deep. Although only a few details of the game’s story and setting have been revealed, it’s already more compelling than standard videogame narratives. Like I said earlier, it’s shaping up to be the ultimate realization of what gamers currently consider a videogame to be.

I’m a big fan of Irrational Games and Ken Levine. With that in mind, I was surprised that my expectations were exceeded by BioShock Infinite. It was so good that I caught the demo twice — I didn’t do that for any other game at E3 2011. Even though I only caught a small portion of the game, I’m confident that BioShock Infinite will be great. Hell, there’s a good chance that it will end up being one of the best games this console generation. I can’t wait to see more!