Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
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Friday, July 01, 2005

DS Homebrew ... Nintendo are you reading this? is a Nintendo DS homebrew site. They've got articles on how to set up a development environment for the machine, how to upload files, graphics, etc. There's even a project to bring an enhanced version of Doom hosted over there (thanks insertcredit).

The question I place to Nintendo is - how fervent do people have to get about doing something before you take notice? Why do the gaming companies continue to leave the homebrew community out in the cold? It's seems like a really silly business decision. My guess is that if people are willing to spend all this time and effort to compile programs on foreign silicon ... they'd be willing to spend some money on an SDK. When will Nintendo and Sony reach the same conclusion that the shooter genre realized so many years ago and see that people modding your product is a good thing.

I'll posit it like this. Valve made a fortune by continuously selling the same product, Half-Life, way past it's expiration date based squarely on the quality of user-made content.

If Sega had made the Dreamcast with a similar concept, released SDK's and fostered a community around developing for it, then people would still be buying the Dreamcast today.

The Coming Mobile Schism

Steve Palley has been covering wireless gaming for sometime, and he feels that soon the industry is set to diverge:

Here's my thesis. In 2005 and beyond, the mobile games industry will split into two separate businesses: casual games, and video games for cell phones. They won't recombine until a large portion of customers have a PC-like cell phone and are interested in playing video games, which could take years. In the meantime, smart companies will specialize in one area or the other; they'll win the pricing race on the casual side through bundling and creative distribution, or they'll cultivate a reputation for quality game design and high production values on the other path. I can even see the largest companies splitting into separate divisions to facilitate the transition.
-- The Schism: Two Orthodoxies in Mobile Gaming? []

Deep Impact Coverage

Want to see NASA toss a satellite into a piece of rock travelling through the cosmos, but can't afford the gas for a road trip to the Southwest? has your back. You can catch it live on old fasioned television broadcasts or via various webcasts.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Carnival Countdown

This is your one week warning to send in submissions for the fourth Carnival of Gamers, which will be held here on July 7th. I haven't entirely decided on a particular novelty for it, although I've got a couple of ideas. As usual send your submissions to carniegrue -a- (anyone ever wonder why we keep bothering to try and trick spammers like that? Surely they've got a PERL script with 1,000 iterations of "@") ...

Games Industry Sex-Change?

BBC is reporting that the games industry will be invaded by women. Which sounds, you know, awesome. Invasions of women are a frequent dream of mine. But I still wonder when I read things like this:

"Women don't have free time even to set up a game. They require a game that is quick to get into and doesn't require a great time commitment," said Mr Adams, founder of the International Game Developers' Association. to the nature of the whole debate. I mean, women don't have free time to set up a game? What does that mean? Why would women have less time than myself (which, for the record ... is temporally impossible right now)? Because they have breasts? Or they are too busy doing chores? What's the assumption here about women that I'm missing? The Girl and I get about equal parts free console times these days. Most of the time we're playing together. Sure, I could see where maybe mothers don't have the free time to learn the intrinsics of a flight simulator, but I just don't get how free time is gender specific. Maybe they've got some statistics to show something somewhere, but I really think that if the industry goes with "girl games must be simple", they'll be disappointed.

This guy kinda scares me when he adds on:
"We are soon going to be seeing massively-multi-player online games that are dominated by female players," he said.

"Existing online role-playing games are succeeding with women in spite of their subject matter, not because of it. When we get more games whose gameplay genuinely appeals to female players, we can expect to see huge growth there," he said.

So, he feels women don't like the sci-fi, fantasy or military themes of existing MMO's and that they need something that's simple to setup and quick to play. Not sure where he's going with that. I do think we need more games like Puzzle Pirates, which they talk about briefly in the article. Puzzle games aren't just "female friendly", they're user friendly. Once you get the puzzle itself, you get the game. I wish the industry would think more about the genres they are trying to produce and less about the demographics they want to attract. Did Will Wright think about the Sims as "wow, I bet chicks will really dig this"? I doubt it.

That's Going to Totally Suck

Is what I said when I saw a skywriter spraying "N-GAGE" over the Chicago horizon. Now, N-Gage marketing has become officially award-winning:

The annual festival in Cannes is the most prestigious of its kind. Over 8,000 advertising industry figures from 75 different countries meet to review and celebrate the year's most successful and creative marketing campaigns and advertisements. Being nominated for four of these reputable awards and winning two has thrilled everyone who has put so much effort into the N-Gage advertising campaigns.

"In addition to being absolutely hilarious, the Snakes campaign has many interesting viral elements and has helped to drive traffic to both and the N-Gage Arena." said Jussi Solja, N-Gage On-Line Marketing Manager, Nokia. "Like all of our campaigns, it uses creative, fun - sometimes even wacky - ideas to really attract and entertain the consumer."
-- N-Gage Campaigns Win Cyber Lions at Cannes International Advertising Festival 2005

My jury is still out on the N-Gage, though I'm more likely to get a Treo than a QD.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Homebrew Granted Official Use of "Adventure"

The Atari 5200 project Adventure II got permission to use the Adventure name, thus narrowly avoiding the awkward "Quest for the Golden Chalice" moniker. A standup move on Atari's part and I guess this makes the title a semi-official sequel of sorts. I used to play the original for hours on end. Thanks to insertcredit for the news.

Eighth Graders Develop Game to Battle Autism

OK, so maybe games can't cure cancer, but they can try to help autism:

The game, Zikhronon, was presented a few weeks ago at a competition in which students from around the country are called on to design games, instruments or devices that can make life easier for individuals with disabilities. Zikhronon took first place in the Quality Product category.

Dr. Roni Geva from the Gonda Brain Research Center helped with the game's development. Geva said turning the game into a commercial product was still a way off, but that it was certainly interesting and required a series of reviews.
8th graders create computer game for autistic children []

I wish I had been doing that kind of thing in eighth grade. More likely was using GOTO statements to fill a screen with naughty words.

Adventure Game Underground

Adventure games have been a stalwart part of the independant game scene with long lasting creation tools and a fairly fervent community. Josh Roberts writes columns for Adventure Gamers Underground on the creating these games:

The general user interface (GUI) is a technobabble term for the game's method of allowing the user to interact with the game environment. The game engine that I'm using for Rise of the Hidden Sun, Adventure Game Studio (AGS), comes with two ready-made (and tried-and-true) options: the Sierra-style icon GUI and the LucasArts-style word tree GUI.
-- Adventure Architect: Part Thirteen

Read forth, and bring your brass lantern.

Major Star Wars Geekfight

Darth Justice has a blog post entitled "What Should Have Been", which takes Lucas to task about the prequels and offers up a few edits. Naturally some Lucas fanboys jump in later on and suggest that such heresy is improper, or some such stuff. Personally I think the prequels are a fine example of what happens when something gets so big it feels it's immune to critique. Lucas had the money, the technology and the talent to pull off amazing movies ... but there didn't seem to be any real desire to edit it down to get it right. So much of the prequels would have been far better with just some attention paid to a lot of small, but stupid things.

Of MTV, Midway and Viacom

I didn't realize that behind the MTV-Midway deal is the factoid that MTV is forming a game studio. Also of note are apparent motions from Viacom for a potential buyout of Midway. I should have a pithy joke combining a well known pop star and some incongrous game genre, like ... I dunno ... a KISS shooter or something, but that would just be silly.

Best Fireworks Ever

Ever get the impression that NASA's main concern really isn't the advancement of science and knowledge, but just to do such insanely cool things with a calculator that people will drop their jaws in awe? It's like college jocks during a weekend binge of challenging each other into chewing glass or smashing bottles over their heads, except being the exact opposite of feats of stupidity. Like one math geek will announce he's going to drop a tiny robot on Mars using nothing but a parachute and another exclaims, "Oh yeah, I'm going to throw a satellite into a comet!" and then everyone just lets out a collective "ooooooo".

Yeah, as if that wasn't neat enough, they decided to time the whole thing for Independance Day.

The most spectacular fireworks this Fourth of July promise to be out of this world—83 million miles (133 million kilometers) out of this world, to be precise.

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft will be launching a projectile into the surface of comet Tempel 1. It is the first time a spacecraft will touch the nucleus of a comet.

The blast should be visible with the aid of binoculars to millions of people here on Earth in the early morning hours of U.S. Independence Day.

"Those in the U.S. living west of the Mississippi [and in] Hawaii, and [those living in] New Zealand will have ringside seating for the impact event in a dark sky," said Don Yeomans, a Deep Impact mission scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
-- NASA Deep Impact Probe on Target for July 4 Comet Smash

Damn. See also the recent slashdot post of a Deep Impact video. Might be worthy of a road trip if Chicago physics during the coming weekend didn't require more time to escape downtown traffic than actually exists in the weekend itself, so that by the time you get to your destination you already have to go home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

iPod Photo No More

Actually, it's the non-photo version Apple just axed - as all full-sized iPods are color now. Interesting and reminds that as much as I want more digital gadgetry ... I have no idea what to get.

A Couple of Trends

Two things of note. IGF is now accepting mods, although details are a bit up in the air ... and it looks like IGN just added their Mac section back, although perhaps I've just been overlooking it? The first is interesting because mods are this very bizarre beast of game development, not really the domain of any one group any more. A lot of people "modding" these days are really seasoned pros, and many of the rest want to become seasoned pros. The second is interesting because it will be fun to watch Apple's role in gaming over the next couple of years, especially once they go Intel.

Dynasty War

The Girl and I have been playing Dynasty Warriors 5 ... which is pretty much self-confirming that we are fans of the series. I'm not even sure why we're such fans since we've never gone to the lengths of trying to hunt down every weapon and herbal bag in the series. 5 removes two things I really liked about previous incarnations ... one being the Japanese voice acting to mask the truly god awful English ones. This was actually almost a deal breaker for us, because there is a lot of talking in Dynastry Warrriors. You kill a general, or get 100 kills, or walk across a bridge or finish a level ... seems like someone is always announcing something. The second is the Create An Officer, which I have no idea why they removed.

Still, the series manages to do what it does well. It's all about charging hoardes of poorly trained, slow to react soldiers with your musou dripping superhero, taking on the occasional general to make things interesting. It's buttonmashing refined as Koei has listened to complaints about archers, jumping attacks, combos, etc. to really fine tune your mindless experience.

The one thing I wish Koei would do is make a version of this game divorced from their beloved characters and their wife-swapping, backstabbing, egomaniacal ways. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms would be hard enough to follow in book form and it really doesn't always translate well to game cinematics (especially with horrid voices).

Just make a version where the player creates a soldier, picks an army and slowly moves up in the ranks. As the player gets more powerful, they could start to take part in strategy talks (if they wanted) until they grew into the hero of the battlefield. It would be cheaper to produce (fewer cutscenes and voice work), it would have more replay (as different kinds of soldiers for different armies) and the campaigns could be much longer (since they wouldn't be tied to a specific story).

Koei has tried to branch out with Dynasty Warriors in the past, without much success. It's a shame because there's some great core gameplay being buried by someone else's historical fiction.

TV Watch: The 4400

The 4400 makes for great off-season watching. It's certainly no Lost, but it's very good soapy style sci-fi. My favorite part of the show is watching for people who had roles in previous sci-fi shows. To my count we've had the Doctor from Voyager, the hacker from Third Wave, River from Serenity, Shram from Enterprise (and the Star Trek universe in general), Andromeda from ... well Andromeda and last night was the teen girlfriend from Odyssey 5. So even if the plot fails, one can have a good scavenger hunt.

Monday, June 27, 2005


The Girl and I hit Navy Pier yesterday to see the previously mentioned NextFest. Sponsored by Wired, NextFest aims to be something of a nouveau World's Fair. It didn't quite succeed, well ... at least from what I would expect from such a thing. In my head a World's Fair would be much larger than the NextFest's single exhibit hall. Still, it was pretty interesting in parts and well worth the price of a ticket for the inner geek in everyone. I regrettably didn't take my camera, so you'll have to picture what I'm about to describe in your mind.

Random Stuff
The Girl and I theorized that G.E. dropped a good chunk of cash, because they had a large setup without much really impressive or futuristic going on. It really seems like they were talking to potential clients or EPA regulators or something.

Off to one side there was a huge line for this panaromic Imax thingamabob, but it didn't really seem to be worth the wait.

With the exception of a lot ballon animals, there was a distinct lack of festival atmosphere from the place. Which was a good thing. I've done a fair share of conferences in my day and as soon as someone wizzes past you in a unicycle, you really think that end of business must be near and it's time to go grab a mojito. If it had been larger, it might have been nice to have people acting like robots or something, but for the size it worked in general.

Genetic Savings & Clone had a pair of cats on display. One was the real deal, whereas the other was a misbegotten abomination of scientific cuteness which looked identical to the real deal. It behaved the same too, although since both cats were sleeping that wasn't too impressive. The Girl nabbed a "signed" picture of the two, which probably made the poor sales rep who had to forge the signatures happy. This was next to a brocure declaring that for only $32,000 you could replicate your beloved pet.

I've got two problems with pet cloning companies. Number one, I have a deep emotional attachment to my cats, which have been faithful companions for some time - so I don't really plan on cheapening that by thinking of them as disposable. Second, I don't think any company which has a pun for a name can be taken seriously. And they all seem to do this. Why should I trust someone with something like genetics when their name is a joke?

This was a pretty mixed bag. GM was showing off prototype hydrogen cell cars which were more theory than practice. They had a Hydrogen Hummer which had an effective range of like, thirty miles. So if you know, you really want to go off-roading ... but only in the neighborhood by the local fuel cell station ... this is the car for you.

Then there was the Moller Skycar. I've been reading about this thing for years so it was neat to see one. However, after watching their demo videos (which I think are also years old) I gotta wonder why they are even bothering still. The closest it seemed to get to flying was an insanely cheesy computer animation (note to Moller, get an iMac and a fourteen year old girl. Any fourteen year old girl. They could do a better job than the "Skycar Rescue Adventure"). The only live demonstration they had on tape involved a crane and some wires so ... I don't think we'll be getting our flying cars anytime soon.

Water was where it was at. The Bionic Dolphin is one part jet ski, one part Hollywood prop and while wouldn't necessarily be the most efficient way to get to your undersea kingdom ... does look fun as hell. NASA of all people were showing off "DeepFlight", which is a submersible which operates using none of that old fasioned ballast concept and applies aerodynamics instead. There was also all manner of planetary rovers, but that brings us to our next category.

There was all manner of robot at NextFest. NASA had aerial drones which they have planned for Mars. They had several different wheeled drones and off to the side some robot lobsters for serious future cybercrustacean warfare. They also had the Robonaut, which had a kindy creepy helmet shaped head which seems to be a theme among robots these days.

There were two shapes of robots capable of walking, a pair of arms capable of mixing music and a hoarde of prosethetic limbs. All quite impressive and in working order. I mean, when you have robots off dj'ing some tunes and another pair able to dance to the music ... why do they need humans anymore?

We skipped the android Phillip K. Dick, although the entire exhibit looked extremely spiffy in that WestWorld kind of way, with detail heads having glowing LEDs and circuits coming from the back of the skull. We didn't go in part because it seemed pretty crowded in old Horselover's tiny fake living room ... but also because sitting in a fake house with a highly articulate mannequin designed to act and talk just like a living person is pretty much the kind of stuff Dick seemed to be trying to warn us about.

Human-Computer Interaction
There was lots to see about how computers will better our lives. Or at least entertain us. One neat example was a light which would highlight the veins of a potential patient to remove that needless error of jabbing people for blood.

Clearly what's really the rage is augmented reality. Holograms you see via camera, installing yourself into three dimensional worlds and more Eyetoy style interactions with two dimensional space than you can shake a stick at. One in particular was Virsual, a rocking horse which acts as a wireless controller into a kid's marvelous 3D animated dreamland. Seriously hypnotic to watch.

The entertainment side of it really made me think that it's time for places like Dave & Buster's to revamp. Arcades used to be little museums of cool where you would see graphics and technology you could never afford at home. Now they're mostly old hat fighting games and shooters designed to drain your chips quickly. All of these interaction games made it seem more like a small carnival of electronics. You didn't really care if you were good at the games because just playing was a bit of novelty.

There was also a lot of wifi interaction with odd objects like lamps and bottles. There was a pillow that when hugged would cause another pillow to glow, I guess even if those pillows were seperated by vast oceans of loneliness. I thought it was kinda touching. The Girl said she could of think of more ... sublime applications for such technology. Either way, the world is getting smaller day by day.

NextFest will catch on and expand. It was fun, I'd probably go again if the exhibits changed up next year and hopefully there will be more of them in the future. If anything, it's a good way to suck up to our future android overlords before the revolution gets underway.

Your Answers

The Girl showed me a new stat tracker, so I've been able to find some of the keywords people have used to get here. Unfortunately, I don't always have the right answers. So here are some:

You use the shoulder buttons to swap characters in Lego Star Wars during Free Play.

Destroy All Humans is probably not better than Mercenaries, but try it anyway.

I do not have a crack or CDKey generator for Fate, UT2004, SWAT4, Matrix Online, Battlefield 2 or any other game I happen to mention

There are pointy things with Dungeons & Dragons ... but that's OK.

Crazy Violence Video Games Guy doesn't live here, but you probably found what you wanted anyway.

I don't have spare parts for an XBox.

I can't think of a two player platformer you can play online, but it's an excellent idea.

There is no "real" Gordon Freeman, he's merely a game character.

Here is a good place to download SWAT4 material.

I can't explain the Republic Commando HUD, sorry. Just click around a lot, worked for me.

I don't know who would win in a fight between Master Chief and Gordon Freeman ... but I think the genetic supersoldier would have the edge. Gordon, however, has very cool toys.

Hatsumi is not a red assed baboon.

The term Phong shading is used indiscriminately to describe both an illumination model and an interpolation method in 3D computer graphics. (thanks Wikipedia)

There is no Gameboy Revolution, or any real details out, but I have my own wishes for it.

OK, that's it for this round. I'm sure there will be many more...