Bioshock Infinite – an amazing shooter with neat role-playing touches

Bioshock_Infinite_LogoBioshock Infinite is the third installment in the award-winning Bioshock series, and whilst there is no continuing storyline from its previous incarnations, fans of the brand will notice that the stunning visuals and intuitive gameplay remain very much at the heart of the game.

This time round we control Booker DeWitt, a former Government agent who – to pay off an unknown debt – is sent to the floating city of Columbia to rescue a captive called Elizabeth.

Set in 1912, the game features at its core a civil war between the ‘founders’ of Columbia and the ‘Vox Populi’, a rebel gang looking to seize control of the city. Whilst Columbia is gloriously easy on the eye, we quickly learn its inhabitants have an appetite for destruction. The protagonists are drawn into this battle as Elizabeth is highly sought by both of the rival factions, who wish to use her unique psychological powers for their own ends.

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Bioshock Infinite is, in essence, a first person shooter, but with some neat role-playing touches that will please ardent RPG fans too. Following a well-trodden path, the game combines both linear plot points and the ability to free roam, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the atmosphere and politics of Columbia.

Whilst Booker has a number of destructive melee weapons and firearms at his disposal, he can also utilise vigors that offer a number of additional skills, including telekinesis, the manipulation of electricity and animal control to discombobulate opponents, and these – in grand RPG tradition – can be fully upgraded.

The player can also make the most of Elizabeth’s strengths in battle sequences, although she does remain CPU controlled throughout the game. The character of Elizabeth is built with a really intuitive AI model, which ensures she is of benefit rather than a hindrance – something you often find in ‘buddy’ shooters.

Using her spiritual abilities in combination with Booker’s skill in combat can lead to a number of devastating – and very satisfying – attacks. She’ll even chuck a few power ups your way when she’s not directly involved in the action herself.
The only blot on Bioshock Infinite’s copy book is the gun battle aspect, which feels clunky and a little dated when compared to many other recent point and shoot titles. But this is more than made up for in the sheer number of aforementioned ingenious battleground tactics that can be deployed.

If you’ve never played Bioshock before then you are in for a treat, and seasoned campaigners will be happy with the series’ continued commitment to sublime graphics, dense atmospherics and multi-layered battlegrounds.

Whether you are a tactically-minded player or an ‘all guns blazing’ merchant, the depth of Columbia and the responsiveness of your enemies gives the game a replay value so often lacking in first person shooters, whilst still being fun and easy to ‘pick up and play.’

The intricacies of the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, as well as the dystopian environment they find themselves in, result in an immersive storyline packed with depth and promise. You really will want to see this one through to the end.

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Have fun creating graphics with Livebrush

Livebrush is a delightfully unique drawing program, which can be downloaded for free and will operate on pretty much any computer system. The software does require Adobe AIR for launch, but both packages can be downloaded and installed in a matter of moments.

On launch the Livebrush interface opens the six main elements of the program on the workspace. Centrally is the main drawing area, or “paper,” at the top of the screen you will find the traditional Tool Bar with the Project Bar set in a subsection just below. On the right are the main control panels for organizing Styles, Tool Settings and Layers.

This is a highly practical application and to learn how it works it is best to just dive straight in. In the styles menu you can select from a vast range of brush types and then you can begin your creation on the paper. The brushes will respond to the pace and motion of the strokes made with the mouse. For the keen artist the package is probably best used with a drawing pad like a Bamboo, but it will work equally well with a standard mouse or laptop mousepad.

When a drawing is created each stroke of the brush generates a new layer and these can be locked, turned on/off, or deleted. The colour of each panel can be adapted through the swatch panel in the toolbox. The effect of the strokes can be further adapted in the tool settings panel which will allow you to adjust the velocity and friction of the strokes.

The software comes with a range of useful drawing tools like the Deco Tool, which adds flourishes to lines as they are drawn. The Pen Tool can be used to create or modify different lines within the drawing. There is also a transform tool which can be used to scale or rotate elements with an image.

Download Livebrush

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Create “film quality” images and 3D graphics with NVIDIA Gelato

Gelato was a program designed by US tech company NVIDIA, most noted for their work on graphic processing units (GPUs). First released in 2008, Gelato is a high quality rendering software designed for creating stunning “film quality” images and 3D graphics.

Gelato runs quite fast. You can render your images with great ease and simplicity, making it an ideal image rendering program for everyone from graphic designers to students, or even if you just like toying around with images.

As NVIDIA themselves put it, the software is “fully featured” including their own Sorbetto interactive relighting technology as well as Network Parallel Rendering.

What may be of particular interest to students and freelance designers is that NVIDIA’s Gelato is free of charge, so unlike some of its counterparts, you’re getting a high quality program for nothing.

Gelato is a little outdated now however. NVIDIA have removed it from their site and released Optix instead . As a result, NVIDIA haven’t released any updates for the program and will not be issuing any new updates to the Gelato software in the future. Since then, there have been various new image rendering programs that have emerged.

Gelato has a number of system requirements needed in order to get started, including two other NVIDIA products – the workstation GPU Quadro FX and NVIDIA’s GPU GeForce 5200, or a GPU of a higher standard, are both needed.

NVIDIA’s Gelato is a solid piece of software, built for the purpose, but with it no longer being available through NVIDIA and no longer being updated, it can easily be left behind by some of the more recent image rendering programs that are out there, free or otherwise.

download NVIDIA Gelato

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An Oldie, But Still Going Strong, Tibia

First released in 1997, Tibia is one of the most long-running Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). With more than a decade to draw in new players the userbase is huge, with active player numbers in the six figures. Unfortunately the global appeal of the game can make interactions difficult, as many players do not speak the same languages.

One of the big pluses of this game is the extremely low system requirements – compared to other MMORPGs. Basically any system can handle it. In addition to that, the download is nice and small, making it getting started a breeze. This is however the result to some quite simple graphics that may not be enough for some players that are used to big budget effects.

Players will see a nicely simple user interface, with inventories and other data confined to the side of the screen. Both PvP and non PvP servers are available, and ten years of updates means that there is a lot to play through and experience.

The free version will leave your character somewhat limited, with your character restricted to only four vocations and a limited list of features, unless you pay extra.

Tibia wouldn’t still be running if it wasn’t an enjoyable game. If you can get past the graphics then you will find a huge community and a lot of content. The free version is well worth your time and you might find yourself happily paying for extra features.

download Tibia

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Create custom greeting cards, calendars, photo books, prints, gifts, and more with HP Photo Creations

Digital photos…EVERYONE is taking them. Everyone is sharing them. Everyone is, well…wondering just what the heck to do WITH them once their taken. This is one of the reasons why I really like applications like HP Photo Creations – Image Zone. It’s a multi-platform digital photo creation app.

HP Photo Creations is free software that lets you easily create photo books, calendars, collages, greeting cards and other keepsakes that can be printed at home or shipped to you. With HP Photo Creations, you can quickly and easily make beautiful keepsakes with just a few mouse clicks; or you can take your time and customize them. The application has over 1,800 high quality artwork designs, 1,300 placeable graphics, text boxes, custom fonts, borders, and dozens of photo editing tools.

With HP Photo Creations, you can easily create cards, calendars, photo books, and much more. You can customize your projects with backgrounds, styled text, hundreds of graphics and thousands of border styles. Drawing experience from film, television, and special effects, when you choose the Automatic Smart Arrangement option, the software analyzes your photos and arranges them into colorful, multi-layered designs that truly tell your story.

HP Photo Creations allows you to personalize almost every aspect of your project using text and graphics. You can use effects such as tinting, blending and airbrushing. Best of all, you can instantly add your design to any item and the real-time 3D preview will show you exactly how your finished project will look—there’s no need to start over.

HP Photo Creations – Image Zone is a lot of fun to use. The fact that projects can be printed at home or for shipment to your home is cool. This means you can purchase hard cover photo books and can truly preserve your memories for years and generations to come.

Download HP Photo Creations

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Create web banners for your websites with Banner Maker Pro

I love websites. Information is the key to getting specific points across to people and communicating that message in the right way, can be very important. That’s why I really like Banner Maker Pro. It’s a website banner tool for Windows; and its really easy to use.

Banner Maker Pro is software that allows you to create web-based banner ads, Facebook banners, web buttons, web headers, animated gifs, logos, image ads and other web graphics. Its wizard-like interface makes the process very simple and easy to complete. Simply follow the tabs at the top of the program to go step-by-step in the image making process. When you’ve completed the banner, you can slice it, if needed or just save it as a GIF, JPEG, or PNG and add it to your website.

Creating a banner with Banner Maker Pro is really just that easy.  You don’t need any graphics expertise.  With it, you can create banners for Facebook Timeline and then quickly upload it to Facebook.  The application contains over 20 new animated background and 100 new background images in a variety of sizes.

Banner Maker Pro is good at what it does. It allows you to quickly and easily make banners for your websites and then upload them where they need to be.  The process is easy to complete and the software, equally as easy to use.  The biggest problem with the application is not what it can or can’t do, however. At nearly $40USD, the application is expensive for what it does.  Getting value from the software is going to depend on the number of banners you create and the revenue, if applicable, they generate.

read full review | download Banner Maker Pro

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Free alternatives to Microsoft Office

Tell people that you can get a legal copy of a word processor or spreadsheet program that’s compatible with Microsoft Office and many of them will disbelieve you. But that’s the case with a range of open source alternatives including LibreOffice and OpenOffice. There’s no charge for the software, and no limitations or trial restrictions: you just download it and use it. For casual users at least, it will do almost everything they need.

With this type of software, the issue for most users isn’t everything that works, but rather the few things that don’t. LibreOffice gets off to a great start by modelling itself on the “classic look” of Microsoft Office that should be familiar to anyone who’s resisted the upgrade to the latest editions. The package works intuitively and there’ll be little need for help guides for most basic features — which is fortunate as help is somewhat lacking for some features.

Download LibreOffice

OpenOffice.org is another great open-source office suite, and includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, and databases. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in a standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages, including Microsoft Office.

OpenOffice.org 3 is easy to learn. If you’ve used Microsoft Office, or a similar set of tools, OpenOffice.org will be familiar and comfortable to you. Best of all, OpenOffice.org 3 can be downloaded and used for free.

Having a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office, especially for budget conscious families and students is important. Though Microsoft has a student version of Office, it’s still somewhat expensive. OpenOffice and LibreOffice offers Microsoft Office (as well as other) suite compatibility in a familiar environment. The tools are intuitive and easy to use, especially if you’ve used Office Suite products before, and at this price point, it’s really hard to beat.

Download OpenOffice

 

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Adobe Illustrator – a great way to produce your own art

Creating computer wallpaper takes a special touch and a trained hand.  However, even the trained need a helping hand. This is one of the reasons whyI really like tooks like Adobe Illustrator CS5. It’s a multiplatform graphics editing tool, and its totally awesome.

With Adobe Illustrator, you can design vector graphics with precision and power. You can draw accurately in perspective, create variable-width strokes, paint with lifelike brushes, and let your creative juices flow.  You can create distinctive designs with precise shape-building tools, fluid and painterly brushes, and advanced path controls. You’ll have full control of variable-width strokes, arrowheads, dashes, and art brush scaling along a path.

You can use perspective grids to draw shapes and scenes in accurate 1-, 2-, or 3-point linear perspective, creating the look of realistic depth and distance.  You can paint with vectors that resemble real-world brush strokes; and can achieve the expressiveness of natural media with the scalability of a vector graphic tool.

You can also interact with gradients directly on your objects and control the transparency of individual colors in them as well as in gradient meshes. Adobe Illustrator lets you blend and morph one shape into another to create smooth shading, complex contours, and basic animations. Its Blob Brush allows you to sketch with a brush that generates a single clean vector shape, even when strokes overlap. You can draw naturally, using this unique tool together with the Eraser and Smooth tools.

Read full Review | Download Adobe Illustrator

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