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Friday, October 06, 2006

Colliding Squares And Rectango

There's so little news to snark about today it's actually unfunny. The big thing seems to be something about the PlayStation 3's controller not having rumble ... which is something I can't even fake caring about. I've turned rumble off most games since the N64 invented the darn thing. So few games use it properly enough to justify the annoyance ( and battery drain ) that I'm mostly of the opinion that it's a good thing.

So instead I'll blab extra long about this iTunes thing I've been working on. Last night I got the player's square (now blue) to register when it hits an "enemy" square. When this happens the enemy square turns green and stops. This means I've got animation, user control and collision detection. In other words - the most basic building blocks of a game.

What game is something I've mulled over quite a bit. I know I want to start simple. I'm also under a few constraints - iTunes imposes performance issues and apparently doesn't like to pass down key up events. That latter is actually pretty bad since most control schemes assume key up means "stop doing that". Currently the player "scoots" from one position to the next for a predetermined length, but I'll probably change it to a velocity scheme where pressing key downs increase speed from either the left or right.

So here's the basics of what might turn out to be Rectango:

- The basic framework will be the player(s) on the bottom moving left to right and squares falling from the top.
- Squares should appear and animate in sync with the iTunes music data.
- Player(s) will move left to right by pressing one of two keys. Repeated pressing will increase speed in one direction. So two left key presses and one right key press - the player is still moving left.
- The game will consist of a series of minigames conformed to the above specifications. The game will score each player per song for five songs. Players will not run out of lives. If a minigame has a death mechanic the penalty will be a paused respawn.
- Additional keys will be an activate button which may be multi-purpose according to the rules of the minigame and a drop out/join key which add or remove players.
- "Wild" squares may be defined for a minigames. These squares may have properties beyond the normal framework like exploding or attracting other squares.

These are the minigames I've got in my head right now (they will all appears kinda familiar...) :

Rectango Connect: Activate key will "tractor" the square directly above the player (or turn the tractor off). The square will continue to fall but will follow the player left to right. Connecting four squares of the same color will result in a score. Squares may be stacked vertically, lined up horizontally or placed in a grid. The player to place the last square to meet the four limit will receive the score.

Rectango Stacker: Activate key is defunct here. Players will "catch" squares by being colliding directly with them. Squares that are resting on players will "stick" with with unstuck squares. The player's velocity may shake squares off. Squares which are stuck to a player's stack cannot be effected by another stack. Wild squares may include blocks which can't be caught and blocks that explode and knock off stacked squares. Score is based on the number of stuck squares at the end of the song.

Rectango Invaders: Activate key will fire a small missle. Players receive points for destroying falling squares with the missle. Squares may fire missles back. If the player collides with either a missle or square they are removed from the game a brief time and take a score penalty. Wild squares may include "boss" squares which attract other squares, "kamikaze" squares which home into the player, and "powerup" squares which will upgrade the player's missle.

Rectango Breaker: Activate is defunct. Squares only fall to half the screen here and stack on top of each other. A widl square will bounce off the player's square. The wild square will break squares stacked on the upper half, resulting in a score for the last player to have touched the wild square.

Rectango Tangler: Activate "holds" a square directly above the player (or releases on second press). The "held" square will not move downward but will stick other squares to itself. Those squares will in kind stick to others. Unlike stacker, stuck squares (but not the held one) can be knocked off by another player's stuck squares. Score is based on the number of stuck squares at the end of the song.

I'm so open to suggestions on more, however. Sadly this will be Mac only at first ... and I have some concerns with the Windows iTunes SDK which might make it Mac only - but I'll cross that bridge later. I know this will sadly mean that most of the gamebloggers I know won't have access to until I can figure out a Windows build. Also, to make matters worse, I'm not sure about getting a Intel friendly build just yet so some Mac users might even have to bear with.

The Girl has to run off to Vegas this weekend. I get left behind with the dog and cats. This is largely because of a organizational disagreement between myself and my job. My job thinks it knows how to organize its time. I disagree. Since I'm the one who can't take time off this month - I think I have facts on my side. Regardless I hope to lock myself in the study and get some of this actually running.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

World's Oldest Computer?

"It looks like a heap of rubbish, feels like flaky pastry and has been linked to aliens. For decades, scientists have puzzled over the complex collection of cogs, wheels and dials seen as the most sophisticated object from antiquity, writes Helena Smith. But 102 years after the discovery of the calcium-encrusted bronze mechanism on the ocean floor, hidden inscriptions show that it is the world's oldest computer, used to map the motions of the sun, moon and planets."
-- Make:

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TV Watch: Post Premiere Review

So the season is off and running... how's the start looking?

Veronica Mars
Veronica is still my girl, but the season opener was a bit of a sleeper. Considering other seasons have started off with quite the bang, the lack of a huge event to really grip the viewer was a bit of a letdown. The transition to college seems to be fairly well handled, which is good. It feels like Keith is a little more detached from the story - but I hope that's just a factor in how the subplot was framed. Don't get me wrong, any Veronica is better than no Veronica - but I can't help but feel that we're a long way away from the grit of the Lily Kane Murder at this point.

The premiere had plenty of hooks, but the second episode spent way too long rehashing past events. I mean - it's only the second episode and yet Hiro's portion consists of last week's backstory, reading a comic to rehash the backstory and about two minutes of new stuff. The writing feels unsure of itself - as if it's desperately afraid to outpace it's audience. If the real sell of the show will be the overarching conspiracy about these people - it's going to need a lot more zip than that.

Studio 60
The show really is Sports Night 2.0 and I couldn't be happier. You have a strong female role in a top position over two male characters who are close friends and spend much of their time quibbling about writing content and a host of quirky and witty staff members who make up the peanut gallery. Sound familiar? It's fine with me that Sorkin is going back to the well ... because honestly I don't even know if I want more emulation or more new ground out of the show. I don't really care - because this show feels like an old friend that just decided to call back after several years.

What to say about Lost? A co-worker may have put it best when she said that if this had been a mid-season episode it would have been perfectly good ... but as an opener it missed the mark. Seeing the Others' camp is somewhat interesting but a) we're clearly not seeing the whole thing and b) what we have seen isn't terribly surprising. Jack's flashblack was completely uncompelling to me since it didn't add much new to his character. It's been a long summer and about the biggest piece of information was that the Others have a working aquarium (which, btw, leads me to think that a lot of The Monster and mystery will actually be explained biologically).

I've said for a while that Season Two felt padded. Hopefully this premiere is not a sign of how Season Three will play out.


This Game Brought To You By

EA Sports partnered with Burger King on Fight Night Round 3, which is available for all systems and ships for PlayStation 3 in November. EA Sports' Chicago studio created an unlockable boxer named Rey Mo.

"Not only do players discover Rey Mo in the game, but if they win a Burger King-sponsored event in the game with their own fighter, they unlock the King himself who joins your entourage as they enter the ring," said Lange.

Another current example of rewarding players with a brand occurs in Atari's Xbox 360 game, Test Drive Unlimited. Set in Oahu, Hawaii, gamers can enter Ben Sherman stores and buy authentic clothing for their in-game avatar.

"With games we can inform the company the size of the ad on screen, exactly how long it is was seen for and even from what angle it was seen," said Justin Townsend, CEO of in-game advertising company IGA Worldwide, "thus allowing brands visibility and accountability for every ad dollar spent. Unlike other mediums such as TV, the brands only pay for what is seen."
-- In-Game Ads Burrow Deeper

The big question here is (of course) ... how much did you pay for that game again? Does anyone actually find the Burger King as an unlockable character a good thing? Rehashing ingame aderts as "rewards" is just tossing a fancy coat over an ugly problem. While I'm sure modern settings and sports games while revel in as much advertising dollars as they hedge their massive budgets ... but I'm just afraid gaming is heading quickly for what I would like to call its Dr. Pepper moment.

The distinction here being an otherwise decent product being essentially scarred by product placement. The day I have to solve an adventure puzzle by spelling out "Bud-Weis-Er" on talking frogs is when I know things have gone way too far.

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Carnival Back In Town

Over at Corvus' big old tent.

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Falling Diamonds

I've gone from moving a square to moving several. Was harder than it sounds, actually. I'll let QA tester The Brother summarize:

It works, though I'm not sure what it does. The diamonds fall, and I can scoot the diamond across the bottom of the screen. It doesn't seem to be synched to the music, but it moves faster than the built-in visualizer.


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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Star Wars Helmet From Cardboard

I'm starting to really dig MAKE. It's like the Time Life series of projects you'll never complete, but in web form. Handy. Here's how to make a Huevo Bandito ... sorry ... Boba Fett helmet from cardboard. They have a whole slew of Star Wars related projects listed with this one.

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Next-Gen "Not Just About Pretty Graphics"

So says Chris Williams of LucasArts. What's interesing, though, is the common theme of what Williams then proceeds to show:

To demonstrate this, Williams showed a level from the Xbox 360 version of the Indiana Jones game. He highlighted the many different and unpredictable ways enemies will fall when hit, or grab out for something to hold onto when falling.

"There are different payoffs for every action in the game," Williams explained, adding, "When you are creating these moments that are truly your own, you are telling your own story."

Williams then demonstrated some impressive physics effects in a new, as yet unnamed Star Wars game from LucasArts. R2-D2 was shown being repeatedly thrown into planks of wood, which broke in realistic and different ways depending on their thickness, and a similar demo followed featuring the character of Jar Jar Binks encased in carbonite ("arguably where he belongs"). To conclude, Williams played a short video highlighting 'force power', which allows gamers to release bursts of power, pick up enemies and objects and slam them into walls
-- Indy Jones dev talks next-gen

So apparently pretty graphics isn't what it's about - but physics and interactive environments certainly might be what it's about. I suppose Half-Life 2 (or I would say Psi-Ops, but still) showed that this could be a sign of things to come. As graphics get more and more expensive to produce but physics (especially once aided by hardware) levels off ... will games get less pretty but more .... physical?

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The Crash Of Gizmondo

Wired is featuring a six page feature on the downfall of Gizmondo - that company that was set to take on both the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable. Instead of taking on the giants the company ended in ruin - a moment that was embodied by the crash of Eriksson's 660 horsepower Ferrari. Definately checkout the artwork (of which one is shown to the left).

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Don't Buy Into Product Warranties

This article on extended warranties with consumer products, especially electronics, is all the math I need to know to justify always turning down the that pleaful ploy from the nameless Best Buy employee who warns me of all the electric storms and Acts of God that they'll cover against:

Each year, millions of people gladly pay an additional 10 to 50 percent of a product's original price to extend a warranty. These snap purchases help fuel a booming, $15 billion-a-year business and feed a lucrative profit stream for retailers that sell the warranties and companies that underwrite them. Many consumers do so because they say the plans provide them with peace of mind.

The decision to buy an extended warranty, however, defies the recommendations of economists, consumer advocates and product quality experts, who all warn that the plans rarely benefit consumers and are nearly always a waste of money.

"The things make no rational sense," Harvard economist David Cutler said.
-- Unwarranted (via Marginal Revolution)

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Okami Bum Shot?

Bum in the English sense of the word:

That's some distinctive art style there. From Plaid Ninja's photostream.

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Lost: So Where Were We?

This week Season 3 of Lost shows up. Apparently The Lost Experience, the off season ARG, ended with the revelation about what the numbers mean, and big surprise - they relate directly to the Valenzetti Equation. This being the big math formula to predict the end of the world.

So, in classic Lost methodology - the big clue for going into this season is really more confirmation than information. It barely makes a dent into what we don't understand ... including the nature of The Monster, the original inhabitants of The Island, what a Violet Sky means, how people magically heal, where The Others live and their real relationship with DHARMA, why the Losties are of particular interest to DHARMA, is Vincent really a dog and so on.

In short, my math might be fuzzy but I'm pretty sure Season Two opened more questions than it answered. I bring this up because in watching a behind-the-scenes clip of Veronica last night, Rob Thomas said something like "I think you need to wrap mysteries up in a timely fasion. String the audience along for too along and they'll get bored.

The Lost writers began Season Two with a bang, and I'm guessing we'll get the same treatment with Season Three. I'm guessing they'll tie in this Lost Experience info with the Other's taking of Jack and company.

There's no fun in not trying to guess a couple of things, so here goes:

Mr. Friendly was posing as Alvar Hanso
Perhaps there's a core group of Others who still think DHARMA is running smoothly. According to some info from the Lost Experience, Alvar was known as Mr. Beardy by fans at one point. Perhaps Mr. Friendly was the frontman to HGI's control.

The Monster gets outed
Some rumors abound that old Smokey might make an appearance early in Season 3. The producers might want to offer up something "big" to appease fans early on. Since they had considered explaining the monster all the back in like, Season 1, The Monster would be a good possibility.

Is There Such A Thing As A Luck Virus?
A luck virus is actually a concept from Red Dwarf. A biological virus which actually makes you lucky. Clearly, this is my wacky theory of the day - but consider all the elements of the plot. Fate plays a huge role. Luck plays a huge role. Genetics and biology play a huge role.

Perhaps DHARMA's solution to the end of world is to simply improve the fate of people with good old fasioned medicine?

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Does Halo Wars Change The Game?

While discussing the whole Halogen shutdown with an old modder friend of mine - he brought up the fact that Bungie has been pretty mod friendly in the past and that it's likely they wouldn't have stepped in here without a rationale like Halo Wars. Bungie has tried to be fan friendly while maintaining the franchise in the past.

The question is - does Halo Wars mark a change in the philosophy? Halo Wars is not a Bungie game. Microsoft is clearly taking the charge here as well as pushing the franchise in a broad spectrum. To quote the BBC:

But is it a sign that Bungie, the developers of Halo, are letting go of their precious creation?

Brian Jarrard, community manager at Bungie, said: "It is a precious franchise and that hasn't changed.

"We can only do so much as Bungie. It's Microsoft's IP (intellectual property).
-- BBC NEWS | Technology | Halo universe expands as fans wait

On the public front, Bungie has always proclaimed a rather proud "Microsoft doesn't own us" face. Halo Wars would seem to prove otherwise. Now, that's obviously not entirely sinister. As pointed out later in the article, Bungie is busy with Halo 3 and it's not like they have a lot of free time to create side titles or an RTS. Halo Wars makes sense as a strategy to expand the license, there's no question about that. I can't think of a person in Hollywood I'd rather see making a game movie than Peter Jackson.

But it does make one wonder - where will Microsoft steer things from here? They are pretty shy on recognizable brand names - especially compared to Sony and (light years behind) Nintendo. Maybe we'll see some arcade style Halo action on XBLA? Let's just hope it doesn't evolve into spooky IP shovelware.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Massive NES

Here's a giant NES measuring in at 8 ft. wide, 3ft height, 3ft long, and in weighing in at 400 pounds
-- Make:

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TV Watch: The New Season

The Girl and I are moving into our Tivo-less television landscape. Honestly, it's a bit frightening. Having to try and watch things when they're actualy on is a bit of a bummer. We're going to be working our cheap little DVD recorder to death. Luckily we discovered that we can record on one channel while watching another.

So what's on our list of shows to watch? Here's the early candidates:

Veronica Mars
We're one disc away from finishing the second season, almost in time for the premiere tomorrow night. This show really is wildly good. Easily mistaken for a candy coated teenage soap mystery - it's actually somewhat complicated and gritty. You'll hate a character at the beginning of an episode and love them by the end of one. Is Weevil a cold blooded killer or a gangster with a heart of gold? Yes, yes he is. The only thing about recommending this show is that I can't recommend it without catching up on the first two seasons first. You're just robbing yourself.

Studio 60
Sports Night remains one of my favorite series of all time. Studio 60, also from Sorkin, rings of a slightly more complicated version of his old show. It's what Sports Night might have been if Dan and Casey had left the show in a flurry of controversy and only returned after Dan had survived some drug addicted rage trip in Bangkok. Well, maybe not quite - but the show follows that wonderful hum that Sports Night managed to hit - so I'm hoping it will be just as good.

My jury is still out on this one - but it had a pretty strong premiere. The "real world" heroes concept isn't entirely new (Marvel's New Universe, anyone?) and this is certainly still Hollywood "real world" (where even the poor little hookers or drug addicts are hot as hell). Still, the show had grit and the acting is definately capable of carrying the premise. My only real worry is that it's been hit with the Lost bug and will try and play up it's own internal mystery too much. Already they're straining believability with the amount of character crossover in just one hour of watching. We'll see if it pushes the storyline or simply breaks it.

Doctor Who
I'm already half-way through the second season, thanks to the power of intertubes connected to my walls. While I think Battlestar Galactica is a better show, no show on the air gives me more geek joy than watching The Doctor done properly. It's fun with a dash of serious drama. Hoping Torchwood makes its way just as well.

The StandBys
Of course there is still Earl, The Office, Lost, Smallville and Battlestar. Medium as well, I guess, although Monday is getting awful full at this point. I might have a theory post for Lost before it starts up again this Wed.


Seriously, Apple

It appears, at first glance, that iTunes does not pass keyUp events down to the plugin. keyDown, yes. keyUp, no.

I'm hoping I'm wrong here because it's really hard to code a decent control setup with only keyDowns.

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Giant Robot Costume

MAKE shows you how to make your own mecha costume ... but be warned - this one took about five months to build.

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Urban Adventure Games

Time was ticking away on Toronto's first glimpse of a new urban adventure game called Waking City, the latest in a recent explosion of games turning the concrete jungle into a playground. In Waking City, players spend two weeks — and $28 registration fee — racing across the city, uncovering a looming disaster and, ultimately, if they make the right decisions, avoiding it. There is no prize, as teams are gradually nudged into one heroic herd, tasked with saving the world.

On Wednesday night, 20 or so people gathered in Sibelius Park in the Annex hoping to stop the clock by piecing together the strangest mystery Toronto has ever known.

The idea behind Waking City, a first-time production by a group called TorGame, is that the city remains oblivious while some 100 people in 20 or so teams, race to bizarre destinations — parks, heritage buildings, monuments and businesses — at all hours eager to solve an unfolding mystery.
-- - Game on

It's like an ARG meets a murder mystery dinner party. Sweet.

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Why Apple Should Fear Zune

Computerworld's Mike Elgan lays out why Apple should be taking the Zune seriously. Two of his more compelling points is that it's "social and viral" ... and that Microsoft is taking the MySpace crowd more to heart. They may also have more programming lined up than Apple ... which is probably the most grave issue I could think of for the iPod. Apple is clearing betting that the iPod needs a broader media market - from songs to shows to moviest to games.

I wonder ... if Microsoft releases games for the Zune ... would they release their SDK for it?

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4-H Must Be Stopped

Why are we worrying so much about how video games might be giving kids a virtual lesson in marksmanship when so many are getting a real lesson in marksmanship:

Other competitors ranged from casual target shooters like Jacob to youths who compete in Junior Olympics and NRA-sanctioned events. Their firearms ranged from "little rabbit .22s," as Roxana called them, to expensive competition-grade firearms.

The competition site, 220-acre Cedar Creek Rod & Gun Club east of Columbia, echoed with gunshots all day. Youngsters aged 8 to 18 competed in shotgun, .22 ca. rifle, air rifle, BB gun, small-bore pistol, air pistol, muzzle-loading rifle, archery and hunting skills competitions. In all, they fired more than 28,000 shots, an average of more than 2,000 per hour.

With more than 1,800 people in attendance, the event was a model of efficiency. Youths strode purposefully between venues carrying cased firearms. Local contingents established impromptu headquarters consisting of dozens of lawn chairs clustered around motor homes and impressive trailer-mounted barbecue grills. The atmosphere resembled a huge family reunion.
-- Kansas City infoZine News - Shooting Program Builds More Than Marksmanship - USA

Course, I don't actually think that 4-H must be stopped. I'm just pointing out that real world examples of training kids are just as plentiful. I first fired a gun when my dad took me to range - I don't even remember how young I was at the time. My Boy Scout summer camp had rifle competitions every time I went. One of the best shooters I knew was a couple years younger than I.

Again, I'm not trying to demonize gun ownership or gun fans. My dad is something of a closet gun nut and yet he's also done nothing but advocate gun safey. You'd have a hard time so much as finding a gun in his house. Still, I think it's odd that our culture wants to jump on video games as the "trainer" when so many youth programs are clearly doing a better job.

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Art and Gaming In Okami

While Okami captures the visual beauty of painting and takes up the paintbrush as a tool in the game, Inaba bristles at the idea that his work could itself be considered art. "Personally, I do not like it when games are called 'art,'"says Inaba.

"Art is created by artists and artisans for people who appreciate art. Games are made to be enjoyed by gamers."
-- New York Daily News - Entertainment - Thinking outside the box

Interesting distiction. Can't gamers appreciate both?

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What Is Microsoft's November Surprise?

Furthermore, Microsoft has previously stated that the company has "a number of surprises up our sleeve" for the 360 in Q4 of 2006 - but these surprises are probably content and feature announcements as opposed to price-drop related, and news from the recent X06 conference of the addition of 1080p support, HD-DVD availability, and an extra Halo game from Peter Jackson, suggest this year's surprises are over.

Due to these rumours and statements, a number of industry pundits are suggesting the drop will come in to effect at a similar time as the launch of the Playstation 3, to inflict maximum damage on Sony's launch. But despite all of this, it still seems a price cut in 2006 is highly unlikely for two reasons.
-- Xbox 360 price drop rumoured

Price drop seems to be the pundit favorite, but this armchair analyst kinda doubts it. Microsoft is already losing a pretty penny over the 360 and until the next revision is ready for primetime - they won't be taking any cuts. In fact I'd guess that they're willing to hedge their headstart to see just how slow the PlayStation 3's growth is at start before even cutting prices to match any lower production costs.

Course the recent X06 event had plenty of media bullets to fire off - so maybe the November surprise came a little early this year.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

For Sunday: Futurama Returns

We have to wait for 2008, but then we get new Futurama. Sweet! I always hated how Fox pre-empted half a season for football highlights.

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