CES 2015 Video: Virtuix Omni

CES displays a staggering amount of pioneering tech every year in every field, and it certainly hasn’t disappointed the gaming crowd this year. The Virtuix Omni promises to take gaming to where it has previously been unable to tread – full virtual reality, right down to physical movement. Using a raised platform and paired with Virtual Reality kits created by Oculus Rift, the player’s running speed, actions and manoeuvres are recorded right down to the slightest detail. The system will reportedly be compatible with all PC games, with console support as yet to be announced. Watch the video above and discover more about what may be the future of high-tech, high-immersion gaming.

The system will be available in April 2015 at a price of $499, until February 2016 when this price raises to $699. Visit Virtuix to find out more.

Logitech launch PowerShell Controller for iPhone

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As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one you have on you and the same apparently applies for handheld gaming. Whilst the negatives to be said for iPhone gaming are many and frequently stated, this doesn’t detract from the simple fact that iOS gaming is huge. 87% of iPhone and iPod touch users play games on their device. People really do want to play games on the device that the will almost always have on them. So you could write a whining forum post about sheeple who don’t know what’s best for them. Or you could try to make the iGaming experience the best possible.

Unsurprisingly Logitech have gone with the latter approach and have released the PowerShell Controller – bringing tactile gaming controls to the iPhone 5S and iPod touch (but weirdly not the 5C). This follows a similar release from PowerA – the Moga Ace Power. iOS7 was far from just a lick of fresh paint and on of Apple’s powerful under-the-hood tweaks was the addition of standardised game controller support. So expect to see a lot more of these – maybe even one from Apple, although they mostly leave peripherals to the legions of experts these days. It also means it’s a plug and play system with no drivers, apps or installation procedures.

Check out this official video of the PowerShell

The Powershell wraps around your iPhone and instantly converts the device into a familiar D-pad, shoulder trigger and face button configuration that will feel at home to button bashers across the globe (although lacking in the dual analogue controllers that are the staple of many modern classics). However, all of the buttons are pressure sensitive, which opens up a realm of possibility for more nuanced gaming. And as some who is terrified of opening WhatsApp for fear of what it will do to my battery, it’s great that the PowerShell packs at 1500 mAh battery to keep your phone usable after a bout of Double Dragon. Speaking of games, at the controller support is baked in to iOS7 the list of supported titles grows daily and feature popular hits such as Bastion , Fast & Furious 6: The Game, MetalStorm Aces, Galaxy On Fire 2 HD and Nitro.

The Logitech PowerShell Controller + Battery is available online today for pre-order on Logitech.com for £89.99.

Wikipad, The Tablet For Gamers, Comes To The UK

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Handheld gaming is big business these days, with apps-a-plenty for those who want to take anything from Monopoly to Minecraft for a whirl on a smartphone or tablet. Merging such technology with dedicated controls hasn’t always faired so well however, just ask the Gizmondo, Nokia’s N-Gage, or the PlayStation Vita.

Undeterred, the Wikipad is taking a crack at this market and is bold enough to introduce it to everyone’s favourite new handheld – the tablet. The Wikipad 7 is itself a 7” Android tablet with some pretty reasonable specs. An NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor is a little long in the tooth now, but still capable of handling most modern games and comes alongside a 12-core NVIDIA GPU. Elsewhere there’s 16GB of onboard memory (with microSD for up to another 32GB), 1GB of internal DDR3, a 16:10 aspect ratio, HDMI-out and 2MP front facing camera, along with all the standard features you’ve come to expect.

What differentiates the Wikipad 7, obviously, is the attachable controller station, which connects via micro USB and attempts to mirror a typical gamepad with dual analog sticks, trigger and bumper buttons and a D-pad alongside the other essentials. It can also render 3D games on the fly and send a 3D signal to 3D TVs, which could be a neat little feature if you have the technology.

We can certainly see the appeal of a controller for more action-packed titles or when a touchscreen just doesn’t cut it, something which is echoed by Tomas Slapota, Vice President of MADFINGER Games. “Using Wikipad’s dual-analog gamepad controller transforms our mobile games, such as the multiplayer Shadowgun: DeadZone and the action FPS Dead Trigger into entertaining AAA console-like experiences.”

As always with these tech-hybrids, the proof is in the pudding, and luckily you don’t have to wait for the first UK reviews to appear as it’s already doing the rounds in the US. So far it’s fairly positive. TabletGamingReviews did note that the Wikipad can struggle with some modern gaming titles, but were overall impressed by the controller unit, stating that “it can change the experience almost completely since it keeps your hands out of the way of what you’re looking at and allows you to feel like you’re using something more like an actual gaming console”.

Venturebeat was a little less complimentary, claiming that the controller unit felt cheap and added significant and unnecessary bulk to what is essentially quite an attractive tablet, though did note that on the whole the controls were pretty responsive.

And for what it’s worth, Amazon.com has generally positive (albeit few) reviews, and both here and elsewhere the Wikipad tablet is compared to the original Nexus 7. It certainly seems to fit snugly into the “mid-range” category, which is no real surprise considering the price, but considering you can now get some impressive mid-range 10” tablets now for a similar amount, you’ll need to be a pretty avid gamer and a fan of titles that the Wikipad controller can help improve. In this case we could be looking at an appealing, if niche device, but reports so far so suggest trying before you buy.

Wikipad tablet will be available to UK consumers on September 27th, 2013 at a retail price of £249.99

E3 Roundup: XBox One vs Playstation 4 – Price vs. Promising Lineup

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Gamers struggling to make a informed decision on whether to buy an Xbox 1 or PS4 this Christmas are not alone – but you will be glad to know both console makers laid their cards on the table at last night’s E3.

Both console makers gave a firm launch window of Winter 2013 for Europe and the US – basically November. The biggest headline from both shows was: price. Microsoft unveiled that their new console would cost $499/£425 – which on the face of it is quite pricey. Compared to the Xbox 360 launch the price point it’s a scary one. For example when the first Xbox 360 launched 8 years ago the base model was a mere £209, admittedly, though you didn’t get a lot of functionality for that price. When Microsoft wrapped up their presentation they unveiled their price-point and collective gasp echoed across the show floor like an icy wind.

Sony on the other hand unveiled an incredibly competitive price point of $399/£349. But that didn’t actually get the biggest cheer from the gaming fraternity. Oh no. Jack Tretton then went onto fully explain Sony’s stance on the thorny issue of DRM, he confirmed that the company wouldn’t be employing any form of draconian secondhand game policies. So if you want to lend a game to friend: you can. If you want to trade a game in at a retailer: you can. If you want to play any PS4 game offline: you can. Basically Sony made a massive song and dance that their console, on paper, is faster, it’s cheaper, and isn’t looking to completely re-write the whole paradigm of game ownership. Now, in the interest of impartiality, you can do almost all of that with Microsoft’s system, too, but their solution is a lot more convoluted and requires games to be online at least once every 24 hours, whilst secondhand games can be traded in depending on whether third party publishers get a cut of the trade-in fee – but it’s their decision, if they want to block trade-ins they can though – a worrying trend as we move towards a digital era.

Both console makers showcased as veritable smorgasbord of incredible titles coming exclusively to each console. It’s clear Sony won the battle of price and DRM, but there’s no doubt that they didn’t have a stronger software lineup compared to Microsoft’s own war chest of games. Games like Dead Rising 3 and Titanfall (from ex-Call of Duty devs) are exclusive to the Xbox One and look like hardcore games that will shift units fast. In almost every area of gaming both companies had exclusive titles; Microsoft showed of Forza 5, the latest installment of their biggest racing title, Sony’s answer was Drive Club, but on the face of it just can’t compete with Forza’s scope and vision.

Trying to decide which console to get is an exercise in futility, but now there are some big difference between the two consoles. Sony has also confirmed that their console will be region free, this means you can import a US console, for example, for a cheaper price and play games from Japan on it. Microsoft’s console on the other hand isn’t region free – again another big difference.

It’s clear that Microsoft and Sony have two different visions for their respective consoles. Microsoft is going for a walled-garden system akin to Apple’s iOS, with full control. They want to move the console into the world of the digital era, and, along with it, change the way we buy and consume games. This means games are intrinsically linked to your profile – much like they are on any digital store. Whilst Sony has stuck to its guns and will continue with the current model of open trading of games and the traditional ownership model – much to the delight of hardcore gamers.

E3 on the whole was great for both Microsoft and Sony – Microsoft clearly had the stronger software lineup with Titanfall, Forza 5 and Ryse, all shooting for the lucrative launch window. Whilst Sony nailed the all-important price point and DRM model, though their software lineup didn’t eclipse Microsoft’s with Killzone: Shadow Fall, Drive Club and The Order.

It’s clear that many gamers are still on the fence when it comes to choosing their next console, and that won’t change until they can get their hands on the controller, the system and, most importantly, the games. But on the face of it Sony’s decision to undercut Microsoft’s price point could well be the smoking gun for many. After all with such a dire economic outlook a cheaper price point is likely to secure a lot of those floating gamers who have yet to make their decision.

Will Microsoft rethink its price point? Unlikely. Will they rein in some of their draconian DRM? Quite possibly, but it’s been long suggested that their decision on DRM was at the behest of publishers unhappy at losing revenue to secondhand sales. So quite how Sony has managed to negotiate a different model does seem a bit puzzling, though, Sony’s decision to charge for online gaming could see a cut of that money going to publishers now – but at the moment that’s just pure speculation.

XBox One vs Playstation 4: Next-Gen Console Showdown

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To the naked eye there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the Xbox One – which finally got its unveiling last night – and Sony’s PS4. Both consoles rely on the same PC-like X86 architecture; both the console makers have gone to the same suppliers for CPUs, GPUs and the rest of the console’s components – so what actually are the differences?

Well, one of the main differences between the Xbox One and PS4 is the vision for what each console can do. Sony went out hard on addressing problems developers had with the last PlayStation – so they’ve looked to address problems such as the difficultly in which games are made. Microsoft doesn’t have such worries, they have decades of experience in creating the tools to create great consoles games easily, so they’re vision is to conquer the living room and the TV.

A Glimpse of the TV of the Future

Last night, Microsoft painted a vision of how their Xbox One will change the way we watch TV forever – that’s right, the first segment of the unveil was their plan for dominating the lounge, and in turn the TV. They want to achieve this by have two HDMIs ports on the console, one for input and one for output. The crucial addition is the HDMI input. This means users can connect their subscription TV set top box through a Xbox One, which in turn will be seamlessly overlaid onto the Xbox One’s dashboard.

What this essentially means is the realisation of proper, superfluid, multi-tasking between apps, Live TV, Skype, games – you name it. During the presentation Microsoft bigwigs showed as number of novel ways this could change the way we watch TV forever. One example was snapping an NFL fantasy league app directly to the Live broadcast to create a new level of engagement, another way was calling up info about a film you’re watching and snapping it to the side of the film whilst it’s still playing. Now, this might not sound that revolutionary, but what impressed me the most was the speed in which you could change from game to TV to Skype or combine different apps altogether – basically seamless doesn’t really do it justice.

But there are obviously concerns – what if you don’t have Sky box within range of your Xbox One? How do you connect it to the console? Or can this feature be done with a standard freeview box? What if your TV signal comes from a built-in freeview via coaxial? All of these points remain unanswered. But if Microsoft manages to achieve its vision it could be a real game changer.

XBox-One-Racing

Microsoft has said it is “anticipating a global launch over time”.
“Our goal is to enable live TV through Xbox One in every way that it is delivered throughout the world, whether that’s television service providers, over the air or over the Internet, or HDMI-in via a set top box (as is the case with many providers in the US),” it says on the Xbox news site. “The delivery of TV is complex and we are working through the many technologies and policies around the world to make live TV available where Xbox One is available.”

The Real Difference Could be in the Architecture

One of the main differences between the two consoles is the software it will be running, Microsoft explained they’ve gone for an innovative system whereby there is actually 3 operating systems, the first is a new version of Xbox 360 OS; its soul purpose is to run games, the second is the Kernel from Windows 8; this is used for surfing the web and apps; and then there’s a third OS that allows instant switching between the two. Essentially it’s a bit like a double clutch system, the console is constantly able to switch between the two without any delay whatsoever. This means you can switch from TV to a game as if you were changing a channel on your TV. It’s that instant. No loading games, no loading apps, nothing.

Kinect 2.0

The other major difference between the two consoles is Microsoft’s continued support for Kinect. Every Xbox One will come with the camera. According to Microsoft several upgrades have been made to the camera. So it can now handle 6 players at once, with much higher levels of accuracy, and without any lag. They didn’t actually show any new Kinect games, but they did show off the camera’s improved voice recognition, and wide-angle field of view, which Microsoft said, would work in all living room layouts.

Detailed by Microsoft corporate vice president of Xbox Live Marc Whitten at yesterday’s Xbox One presentation, the new Kinect “understands the slightest rotation of wrist, shift balance, transfer of motion, and when you’re exercising it can read your headbeat.”

XBox-One-CoD

Battle of the RAM

Another subtle differences between the consoles can be seen in the way each console addresses RAM, Sony has decided to the give the PS4 8Gb of GDDR5 RAM, which is usually the preserve of high-end graphics cards. Microsoft has decided to go another way and has chosen cheaper, DDR3 RAM – which on face value doesn’t seem like a fair fight. But Microsoft has also added what is referred to as “secret sauce”, an extra pool of ERAM, which is highly expensive and will look to address the differences in capability and bandwidth.

Until we see multi-format games side-by-side it going to be hard to predict how these slight changes manifests themselves in the actual look and performance of a game. But it could easily be the case the Sony’s OS isn’t as efficient as Microsoft’s and therefore needs more memory, but just as conceivable is PS4 multi-format games will look better due to the extra memory on offer – basically we just don’t know, and to honest, no-one does.

Discussing the making and capabilities of the Xbox One during a video feature for Engadget, Greg Williams said: “We purposefully did not target the highest-end graphics. We targeted more as a broad entertainment play and did it in an intelligent way.”
Williams went on to say that Microsoft has approached development of the new console “strategically”, with hardware that’s “truly unique”.

XBox-One-Game

The Elephant in the Room

Instead of discussing games, though, the gaming community descended into farce after the initial unveil last night regarding the thorny issue of used games. At first Microsoft inferred that games would be tied to user accounts – so if you want to lend a game to friend he would have to pay to access both the single and multiplayer, unless you sign into your account on their console, over the course of the evening various Microsoft sources begun to send out conflicting messages.

“Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison has suggested that customers who activate a pre-owned retail disc for the Xbox One will need to pay the same price as the original buyer to access the content.
When asked by Kotaku whether the secondhand owner will be “paying the same price we [the original buyer] paid, or less” Harrison responded “let’s assume it’s a new game, so the answer is yes, it will be the same price.”
Harrison also said that owners can trade their secondhand games online, however the company is “not talking about it today”.

The resulting confusion saw Larry Hyrb, head of Xbox Live, write a blog post about the confusion.

“We know there is some confusion around used games on Xbox One and wanted to provide a bit of clarification on exactly what we’ve confirmed today. While there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail.
“Beyond that, we have not confirmed any specific scenarios,” he added.
“Another piece of clarification around playing games at a friend’s house – should you choose to play your game at your friend’s house, there is no fee to play that game while you are signed in to your profile.”

The crucial word there is “your” profile – so lending of games seems to be off the cards, and with it renting games, too. If this is true, and Sony doesn’t go the same draconian way of controlling the second hand market, then this could be one of the major differences between the two consoles.

In truth Microsoft’s unveil was a bit light on games, but the vision they painted was an impressive one, everything from the seamless integration of social aspects of content discovery to the absolutely stunning multi-tasking did look mighty impressive. In two weeks time it’s E3 and both Microsoft and Sony have promised to share a lot more on their respective next-gen consoles – but after round 1 we’d have to call it a score draw.

PlayStation 4 Launch Roundup: Gaming from the Ground Up

Playstation-4

Wednesday night Sony Computer Entertainment unveiled what many had speculated, the PlayStation 4. Only they didn’t actually show the console. During the 2-hour presentation the console maker, alongside a range of developers, spoke at length about the next-gen console whilst never actually addressing the giant elephant in the room.

What the suits did show-off, during a rather wooden performance, was their vision; a console that meets five simple pillars: Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated and Personalised.

Instead of showing off the actual console, SCE decided to only show off the new Dual Shock 4 controller, a re-design of the current controller. Improvements have been made to the 3D sticks and triggers, alongside the addition of a touchpad on the front of the controller, clearly inspired by the PS Vita’s touchpad.

Sony waxed lyrical about how the console had been designed by developers, for developers – essentially that means the console is loosely based on PC architecture; a double-edged sword if we’ve ever seen one. It’s clear it’s going to be a lot easier to make games for it, but backwards compatibility has been kicked into the long grass with the possibility that users will be able to eventually, one day, stream the entire PlayStation back catalogue via Sony’s acquisition of cloud gaming company Gaikai.

Some of the clever touches Sony did show-off is the ability to suspend and reload play sessions instantly. The console also has a secondary chip for uploading and downloading content in the background, and even more far-fetched was the ability to download digital games whilst you actually play them.

Another big feature was the consoles share button – the system has been designed from the ground-up to allow gamers to share gaming footage directly from the controller via a new share button – Sony is promising it will be seamless and will herald a new era of collaborative gaming, where you’d be able remotely take control of a friends console to help them complete a difficult level or boss – or just watch them play whilst you offer tips and advice.

Hardware-wise Sony confirmed the console would be packing 8GB of GDR RAM, usually only found on high-end graphics cards. 8GB is an interesting number as it’s twice as much leaksters had predicted during the lead up to the unveil. Underlying the new hardware will be a custom chip that contains eight AMD x86-64 cores. The GPU, as previously speculated, will contain 18 compute units which can generate 1.84 teraflops of processing power. This can be freely applied to graphics, simulation tasks or a mixture of the two.

Once Sony has got all that out the way it was time to invite a load of developers on stage to show off their games, and to be fair to Sony – there were quite a lot.

Journalists were treated to trailers running in real-time from Epic Games, though this was just a tech demo; Guerilla games wowed the audience with a new Kill Zone, Evolution studios, the maker of Motorstorm, showed Driveclub; Jack And Daxter creator showed off Knack; and there was a new Infamous game.

Third party developers were there too – Bungie showcased Destiny, there new FPS MMO; Ubisoft blew peoples minds with their hacker-eqsue GTA clone Watch Dogs; and Capcom and Square Enix showed off rather lackluster tech demos of games that didn’t even really exist.

So while Sony did reveal a lot, it did leave many with many unanswered questions. Why was the console not shown, will it require an always-on internet connection, and will the console block second-hand games?

Some of the gaming pressed called Sony out on some of these concerns, and to be fair to Sony they answered almost everything apart from price, release date and what the console actually looks like.

Polygon: “But there was one glaring omission: The PS4’s debut was missing the PS4.”

“I ran into Shuhei Yoshida, president of Worldwide Studios at Sony Computer Entertainment, after the show and asked him why the console wasn’t shown during the presentation or after.

“We need something to show off later,” he said, half kidding.

Will it be shown at E3, I asked.

“We’re still trying to decide that,” he said.

Yoshida then went on to explain the thinking behind Sony’s decision to have the controller at the event but not the console that uses it.

“The console is just a box,” he said. “The controller was very important to show because it has the share button, but the console is just a console.

The point of this week’s show, Yoshida said, was to get across the philosophy of its new console, those five pillars detailed by executives and developers throughout the night.

IGN: “As I fight through the torrent of meaningless words, the ad-agency horsesh*t about ‘wars against reality’ I can also see glimpses of really nice looking games.”

In fact, the glimpses of games went on for like an hour, which is seriously impressive in the world of console first-looks.

It dawned on me, even as I sat enjoying the games, that PlayStation 4 is going be just as neat as we’d all hoped. But also that the incredible PS1-PS2 jump is never going to come again. Nor the enormous PS2-PS3 leap.

The astonishing visual fidelity being shown in New York, is quite a bit nicer than the gorgeous fidelity I can find on my PS3 at home. These are lovely-looking games. But they are not so much greater than PS3 that my tongue is lolling around my curly chest-hair.

This PS3-PS4 leap requires something extra. And that something extra is services, connectivity, ease-of-use, social thingamajigs. Important things. Useful things.

We found out when the console is coming, but there were words missing too. Words like ‘PlayStation 4 will be priced at….” and “look at the pretty box you’ll be putting by your TV soon”.

Eurogamer: “Does the PlayStation 4 always need to be connected to the internet, I asked Yoshida?

“You can play offline, but you may want to keep it connected,” he suggested. “The system has the low-power mode – I don’t know the official term – that the main system is shut down but the subsystem is awake. Downloading or updating or you can wake it up using either the tablet, smartphone or PS Vita.”

Are all of those things optional, though? For people who have broadband data limits, for example? They can customise everything?

“Oh yes, yes, you can go offline totally. Social is big for us, but we understand there are some people who are anti-social! So if you don’t want to connect to anyone else, you can do that.”

Watch the stream of the event here:



Streaming Live by Ustream

MAG II Gun Controller: The pursuit of trigger happiness

There’s something silly yet enjoyable about running around pretending to have a gun (key word “pretending”) and the sophistication of modern gaming is still hard pressed to be as enjoyable as doing that scene from Spaced. But if you want to take your virtual gun play to the next level then AIE (All Interactive Entertainment) have just the thing.

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The MAG II Gun Controller is an immersive controller for PC and PS3 First Person Shooter games. Video game guns have been around since Duck Hunt – and probably before. What makes MAG II new is that it is instantly compatible with ALL shooting games on PS3 and PC so you don’t have to worry about buying a MAG gun, taking it home, finding out it’s incompatible, flying into a rage, running down the street waving said MAG gun and then having to reevaluate your value system. They’ve thought ahead.

MAG II is not a light gun to be waved blindly in the vague direction of the screen. MAG II is compact, ergonomic and ultra responsive. It can also be calibrated in real time during the game so if you feel your aim is a little off you can get the gun to help out. MAG II features 3 pre-programmed sensitivity options, built-in wireless, vibration and is the only gun controller to incorporate Motion Sensing and Gyroscopic Induction movement tracking – so you don’t need to have a Wii-esque sensor bar messing with the smooth bezel of your flatscreen. If that sort of thing upsets you. And we don’t want to upset you. Seeing as how much you like playing with guns.

The MAG II Gun Controller will be available in the UK for SRP £109.95 and is being distributed exclusively in the UK by CentreSoft. For more details, visit the official MAG II Gun Controller website Mag Controller.

Gamestick: the “most portable” gaming console

GameStick

Used to be that you’d have to fly out to CES to catch a glimpse of the future. Fortunately now you can save on your carbon footprint and simply head on to Kickstarter and marvel at what could be. Even better you can actively make a difference and bring amazing technology, art and music into the world. After endless whining in the 2000s about the internet and consumers killing these things it’s great to see people banding together to produce something like The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

For those interested in the possible future of gaming PlayJam – a SmartTV casual gaming platform have launched a Kickstarter campaign for GameStick – their dedicated games console. If you’ve ever played Game Dev Centre you’ll have a glimpse of how difficult a venture this is (you’ll need an elusive Hardware Engineer for a start).

GameStick is a small yet powerful, dedicated games console that plugs directly into a TV’s HDMI slot and comes with a fully featured Bluetooth controller – ready to go right out of the box. When on the move, the two combine into a single unit, putting big screen gaming right into the pocket. The device will be compatible with other Bluetooth controllers enabling multi-player functionality yet priced at just $79.

“We wanted to create a games console that helped further our overriding mission to bring affordable gaming to the big screen. Not only that, we wanted to push the boundaries of what has been achieved up to now by packing sufficient power into the most portable of devices, enabling users to carry that experience with them wherever they go.” – Jasper Smith, CEO PlayJam

GameStick will feature a purpose-built game store through which users will be able to browse and download content. 100s of high-quality Android games will be available – at Android game prices so your over spend will stay pretty low, whilst your levels of enjoyment should run pretty high.

Update: 1000+ Kickstarter backers pushed the team over their $100,000 funding goal in just 30 hours. In a press release celebrating their success the team also added that they’ll be providing XBMC and DLNA support to the console so home theatre enthusiasts have a whole other reason to rejoice.

Update 2: Check out this GameStick unboxing video