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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Trailer Park: Castle Crashers

Looks yummy. I loved Hominid and hopefully this will have a debut broader than just Live Arcade after it's release.

Fun Fact: Castle Crashers was one of the many titles that removed itself from Slamdance after they kicked Super Columbine Massacre RPG! out of the contest.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Chicago PS3 Launch With Interviews And Pics

“I’m against technology,” Rudy said. “It kills the innocence of people. They don’t talk to each other as much as before. They are either online or on the phone. There’s no physical interaction.”
Jason had a similarly pessimistic view: “Technology was meant to connect us all, but it failed.” Though they said they had the money to afford one, neither Rudy nor Jason has a cell phone.
-- PlayStation 3 release: Chicago gamers create utopia on a Best Buy sidewalk

I know this is way old at this point - but it serves as an interesting retrospective devoid of pole smacking and idiot store managers.

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The Console War Winner: Nobody

The games industry has long been acknowledged as a lucrative business to be involved with, which is why reports from market analysts on the prospects for new consoles command such attention.

The latest, from respected analysts IDC, comes to the conclusion that none of the next-generation games machines currently on sale is likely to lord it over the others.
-- Analysts predict no dominant next-gen console

This seems to me to slowly be the most likely outcome within the next few years. I've said in the past the labelling anyone a "winner" is getting more and more myopic. Sheer numbers, however, are trending in Nintendo's favor for the near future. Sony and Microsoft will do better as HDTV adoption rises (and Sony will dominate over Microsoft in Japan and fight for ground elsewhere). It's a pretty jigsaw picture that doesn't exactly spell doom for anyone.

Of course this is horrible news. With no clear winner or loser - fanboys of every stripe will likely begin to riot. Web forums probably won't be safe to travel until 2010.

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Counter-Strike On A Nokia

Counterstrike running on the Nokia N73, the future of mobile gaming does look bright. However this is not a mobile version of the game but a Counterstrike mod running using the C2doom emulator and boy it is smooth.
-- Counterstrike on Nokia N73 -

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Indies, Consoles and Resources

To combat this problem, both Sony and Microsoft are dramatically increasing their investment in exclusive content for their consoles, and offering third-party developers financial incentives to keep games on one platform. While neither Sony nor Microsoft will admit to offering such incentives, Barton feels that this is the only explanation for keeping titles such as Gears of War on one console. "Third parties are not so concerned with using their treble-A IP to drive sales of someone else's hardware," he explained, "unless there is a very good, almost invariably financial, reason to do so."

As for the development houses that aren't purchased outright by Sony or Microsoft and can't get these aforementioned financial incentives, things look rough in the years ahead. Barton calls the next-gen game industry an "unforgiving environment for independents at the moment" as costs continue to ramp up without a proportionate increase in revenues.

However, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, and it comes in an unlikely form: last-gen hardware. Barton says that the PlayStation 2 in particular offers a "huge potential user base to release games into" and feels that the platform will hang on into the next generation "longer than any other console in history." The continued strong sales of PS2s would tend to reinforce this prediction.
-- Rising game costs hurt indie developers, help last-gen consoles: analyst

I'm not sure I agree with the analysis. The PS2 might appeal to small, but well funded, studios for at least the coming year or so. Anything that can be ported to the platform seems like it would be a no-brainer to do so with it's massive consumer base. When it comes to low-cost independent development, though, the DS seems like a better option than the PS2. The expectation level for graphics is low, it's got a mature online component and also enjoys a huge audience.

All that said - I think things are getting ready to pop for indie and hobbyist development. Not right away, perhaps, but soon enough. XNA is one piece - but it will be curious to see what Nintendo and Sony do. I'd love to see Sony release (or even sell cheaply) a Linux SDK for the PS3 that would run ... on the PS3. It would be incredibly ideal to buy a console and be able to dev right up against it.

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Games And Sex

A sex educator, a games developer and a grad student walk into a bar. Bartender says, "What is this, some kind of joke?"

All right, so maybe the Game Developers Conference and SXSW Interactive are not, technically, bars. But over the next 10 days, interactive media wonks will converge upon San Francisco and Austin, Texas, and I have it on good authority that taverns, saloons and pubs will figure prominently.

You can't present a comprehensive program about interactivity without acknowledging the role of sexuality in the development of interactive applications. And since I can't attend either conference in person, I figured I would call a few of the sex-tech speakers to find out what's on their minds for 2007.
-- Tech Expos Take a Stab at Sex

It's an interesting article - but mostly I needed a post to boost some flagging traffic and I figured the Whorecraft photostream I found was going too far.

And yes, the phrase "uncanny valley" gets used.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Kotaku Doesn't Play Ball - Sony Blackballs

Did you know the phrase blackball actually refers to a black ball? Learn something new every day.

Sony's apparently handed a darkly colored orb to Kotaku for posting PlayStation 3 rumors. These are rumors which Kotaku actually went through some effort to vet and verify. In doing so, Sony apparently threatened their "professional relationship" if Kotaku went forward with the post. Kotaku did and now Sony has pulled all their interviews and meetings with them.

An outsider's guess? Sony wanted to trumpet some new PlayStation 3 features at GDC and Kotaku stole their thunder. Sony needs to trumpet some new PlayStation 3 features - so I actually hope this is the case.

However this is a prime example that Sony's core problem with modern public relations is cultural. This is Dave Karraker, Senior Director of Corporate Communications, in his letter:

This included getting people access to executives, opening our events to more individuals and personally responding as quickly as possible to inquiries. This was done in good faith with the thought that the people I was working with would operate with the same integrity and courtesy I think I demonstrated when I was a reporter. Basically, I went out on a limb for a lot of people -- people SCEA PR and SCEA management had written off. I caught a lot of flack for it from folks, but I felt strongly it was the right thing to do.

I am very disappointed that after trying to work with you as closely as possible and provide you and your team with access and information, you chose to report on this rumor.... I can't defend outlets that can't work cooperatively with us.
-- Sony Blackballs Kotaku - Kotaku

As a reporter, and assuming the guess is right, Sony's executives should have realized they were scooped. Kotaku had the goods and every reason to move forward with them. Sony responded with threats. Now the result is that the rumor is out and Sony has severed ties.

Who wins?

Sony is completely out of touch here. Let's be frank. Kotaku can publish nearly any Internet rumor supported by the barest of forum fodder and still pretty much pay the bills with incoming traffic. In fact, I'm pretty certain at times they have. Yes, some people will stop reading them. I'm pretty certain I was one of them.

However, if I know that Kotaku would take the effort if only Sony would pick up the phone - I'd keep them on the feed reader. And now still do. Knowing that Sony is officially cutting off ties basically gives Kotaku carte blanc to print just about anything they want about Sony now. They can always point to Dave's email as proof they would vet the story if Sony would just let them.

It's Sony - not Kotaku - who should have been playing ball in this case. If they were about to be scooped they could have offered a trade to keep the post out until after the GDC keynote. Exclusives, swag, beer or whatever.

They didn't. Instead of trading - they resort to threats. Why? Culture. Pure and simple. The same company that thought faux ghetto speak on an even more faux blog doesn't think they should have to swap furs with the new media. Blogs are, apparently, the medium of hip music deejays who can't string sentences and really, really want a PSP. It's not just that Sony doesn't take the grassroots seriously - they're practically mocking them.

Kotaku exits the fray with more credibility. Sony just looks like a bully.

In a nutshell: The story remains up and Sony has re-invited us to the meetings and interviews initially scheduled for the Game Developers Conference.

It's unfortunate that we, not just Kotaku and Sony, but all of us had to go through this, but it's good to see the outcome: We were doing our job and Sony was doing theirs and now we can both continue to do so.
-- Sony and Kotaku Make-Up - Kotaku

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Nintendo Guitar

Via TOKYOMANGO (their caps, not mine). Technically, I guess, a Famicom guitar.

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TV Watch: Lost 'Tricia Tanaka Is Dead'

In summation - if this weren't a Hurley episode it probably would have sucked. He's played and written well and so even when his flashbacks offer virtually little in terms of character advancement or plot background ... it's at least interesting. Fluff - but fun and tasty fluff at least.

Scenes sans Hurley were jarring at best. Kate couldn't explain Sawyer's actions with Karl any better than I could last week ... which doesn't help the perception that it was just aggravated plot twisting. What was with the "sunlight showed us Otherville" crap too? I remember Locke looking at the Jesus Stick, but I don't recall any grand Indiana Jones moment which revealed some secret path to another camp. Did I miss something or is this another point where the writing is just sloppily trying to connect some dots?

And still every time Nikki or Paolo (or worse ... both) get a line its like nails on the chalkboard. The characters don't fit, the actors don't meld well with the old cast and the whole scenario just makes you hope for a polar bear driveby. As I said in the discussion from Heroes - the Lost producers keep contending that they can't simply answer questions because they would run out of material. However, it's not out fault they are trying to spread two or three seasons into five or six. Nikki and Paolo are just painful and obvious examples of trying to pad out the series.

The next couple episodes could be a make or break period for the show.

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Folk Devils

But in the ten years following Doom's release, homicide arrest rates fell by 77 percent among juveniles. School shootings remain extremely rare; even during the 1990s, when fears of school violence were high, students had less than a 7 in 10 million chance of being killed at school. During that time, video games became a major part of many young people's lives, few of whom will ever become violent, let alone kill. So why is the video game explanation so popular?

In 2000 the FBI issued a report on school rampage shootings, finding that their rarity prohibits the construction of a useful profile of a "typical" shooter. In the absence of a simple explanation, the public symbolically linked these rare and complex events to the shooters' alleged interest in video games, finding in them a catchall explanation for what seemed unexplainable-the white, middle-class school shooter. However, the concern about video games is out of proportion to their actual threat.

Politicians and other moral crusaders frequently create "folk devils," individuals or groups defined as evil and immoral. Folk devils allow us to channel our blame and fear, offering a clear course of action to remedy what many believe to be a growing problem. Video games, those who play them, and those who create them have become contemporary folk devils because they seem to pose a threat to children.

Such games have come to represent a variety of social anxieties: about youth violence, new computer technology, and the apparent decline in the ability of adults to control what young people do and know. Panics about youth and popular culture have emerged with the appearance of many new technologies. Over the past century, politicians have complained that cars, radio, movies, rock music, and even comic books caused youth immorality and crime, calling for control and sometimes censorship.
-- do video games kill? [via kotaku]

I've pounded the pulpit on this if not ad nauseum certainly ad redundum (if that's a real thing). Guys like BatJack have managed whole careers by selling folk devils to the media. We're becoming more and more of a phobic nation here in America - homophobic, xenophobic and now even technophobic. The unknown or unfamiliar is a convenient way to direct anger and fear - especially if they lack powerful lobbies or financial backing.

This post accuses gamers of doing a similar thing in reverse. It's an open letter to the Penny Arcade post about the "homeless killings". In short it says that they're irrelevant to games in general since there's only a singular quote (and not oft repeated) about a game and it never goes farther than that. (thanks to Curmudgeon Gamer for the find)

I think he's right - reading the mainstream press on this seems to make very little out of the game reference and never seem to try and make a broader connection. There are no politicians or attention whores trying to make them either. Gamers seem to make the case ... and then of course deny that it's plausible.

I get how it happens though. Gaming has been demonized so often that it is easy to see shadows as bogeymen. The folk devil of the folk devil, so to speak. When 60 Minutes takes a guy like Thompson and allows him to talk about cranial menus without so much of a blink ... and yet gamers aren't given an equal platform ... a persecution complex is very likely to rise. Because it is like persecution. It's not paranoia if they are actually out to get you.

Still, it's important to keep your wits about. It will only fan the flames when the guys who started the fire are having a break. We have to give not just the figureheads but the arguments as little credibility and attention as possible while still mounting a defense.

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To Mercury News: No != Less

I just had a big response to Dean's statement that the PAL PS3 had "no" backward compatibility, when he goes and corrects himself:

I’m just starting to shake my head. Sony has announced that its PlayStation 3 consoles for the European market won’t be backward compatible with the PlayStation 2 or the PlayStation. (OK let me fix that: will be less backward compatible with the PS 2; PS 1 games compatible).
-- Sony’s Latest Black Eye: No (ok ok a fix: Less) Backward Compatibility In Europe.

People seriously need to stop freaking out - especially to the point of wildly misreporting the facts. Reading the press on this and announcing the PS3 has dropped all BC is about as bad as assuming the PlayStation 3 wouldn't play Blu-Ray movies (from the top 10 worst). There is simply a huge gap between zero and some unknown number. It's like I tell the guys who write the specs ... you have to appreciate that the difference between infinitiy and any number might be a problem.

The exact impact on this has yet to be determined - however, Sony has said they hope to have at least 1,000 PS2 titles working for the PS3 when it launches in European. The official Xbox site lists like 300 titles compatible with the 360 - and I've certainly never read Dean complain about the 360's BC strategy. Dean goes on to complain that some equestrian requires rumble, and hence doesn't work on the PS3 and (by his logic) that means another undetermined amount of titles won't run on the PS3.

I've stated many times that backwards compatibility is a huge selling point for me across any of the current gen consoles. Dean's stated that for him - it's not a big deal. If I'm willing to wait for the actual compatibility lists to hit - I think he can do the same.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Brief History Of Minesweeper

Minesweeper has its origins in the earliest mainframe games of the '60s and '70s. Wikipedia cites the earliest ancestor of Minesweeper as Jerimac Ratliff's Cube. But although Cube features "landmines," it's hard to consider this a predecessor of Minesweeper. In Cube, the mines are placed randomly and the only way to discover where they ends the game. You walk over a landmine and you die; you can't avoid the landmines or know where they are before you take a chance.

However, there are a number of very early "hide and seek" games about locating hidden spots on a grid. For example, in Bob Albrecht's Hurkle, you have to find a creature hiding on a ten-by-ten grid. After each guess, you're told in what general direction the Hurkle lies. Dana Noftle's Depth Charge is the same, but in three dimensions. Bud Valenti's Mugwump has multiple hidden targets, and after each guess, you get the approximate distance to each of them. Unlike Cube, these games match the general pattern of Minesweeper more closely: make a random guess to start, then start using the information provided by that first guess to uncover the hidden items. Of course, unlike Minesweeper (or Cube), the was no danger of "explosion," the only constraint was finding the secret locations in a limited number of guesses.
-- COLUMN: 'Beyond Tetris' - Minesweeper

Via kottke. Neat background info on what is one of the world's most popular games.

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Comic Con 2007

Flickr naturally has a metric ton of Comic Con pics, including the one above from brainware3000's photostream (which I think is a monster from The Darkness). Also check out Wired's photo coverage.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Does The Wii Add A New Moral Angle?

Rockstar Games (which is synonymous with controversy) recently announced the production of "Manhunt 2" for various consoles, including the Wii. While Nintendo has always allowed third-party developers to produce M-rated games for its systems, the company has still managed to appeal to a family audience, mostly through its own mascot characters like Mario, Link, Kirby and Yoshi. So those who claim violent games are marketed to kids might be looking at Nintendo more than Microsoft or Sony, whose consoles are squarely aimed at that 18-34 demographic. Nintendo's own reputation might work against it when parents see Mature games for a system they thought was squeaky clean.

But the new problem is the Wii itself. While most virtual violence is done by tapping buttons and rotating your thumb, the Wii's unique motion-sensing controls add realism by letting players go bowling or play tennis just by mimicking the movements. For games like "Manhunt 2," that might also include swinging your arm to stab someone or beat them with a baseball bat. That much realism can only add to the controversy over video game violence.
-- Kid-friendly Wii won't escape controversy much longer

It's an interesting point. A key aspect of the debate on video games is the user participation. I don't adhere to the "emulation is brain washing" theory that gets BatJack so excited. The distance between virtually firing a gun and actually firing a gun is hardly crossed by a more realistic controller. Still - if a morally questionable action in a game requires more participation to trigger - would that lower the number of people willing to do it? Is there a cost versus reward ratio between the amount of energy required to try kicking the hooker against seeing what will happen with said hooker?

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Gamer's Help For OS X

Ever got stuck in a game? No? Honestly? Wow. Then congratulations. But for the rest of us, Gamer’s Help brings a relief. Gamer’s Help is an app for a quick access to our gaming database, which includes Cheat Codes, Walkthroughs, and much more for a growing number of games. And as with any of our apps, once you’ve registered, you have life-time supply of free updates!
-- Gamer's Help [OS X Downloads]

Sounds neat. Not sure how complete the database is - but since it's for OS X... it can't take long to compile, right? Doh!

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Fix Your 360 With Towels

Commenter Ritchie on San Jose Mercury Mike's 360 problems:

The best solution to the 3RL problem is a more drastic but effective one: Wrap your Xbox 360 with a few towels or a blanket, turn it on and leave it running for 10-60 minutes. It will heat up (this is the purpose) for a while, but not to the point of burning.

Afterwards, turn the machine off. Remove the blankets/towels, let it rest for like 10 minutes. Then turn it back on!
It WILL spring back to life.

I tried it myself, so did my friend and I witnessed another friend doing the blanket trick.

Post-3RL: You can play games for as long as 7 hours straight and 12 hours (separate sessions). If the problem comes back, get the blankets/towels again.
-- My Xbox 360: first sick, now healed? - A+E Interactive: Your Bay Area hangout for gaming, music, movies, culture -

You know? I take it back. Maybe the defective nature of the 360 is a bit of a scare factor for me getting one. When I think about the amount and diversity of people trying to deal with this problem - from towel voodoo to handing PSU's - I can't think of another console which has ever generated such creative problem solving.

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TV Watch: Heroes

Last night's Heroes was the best episode of Lost I've seen all season. Here's why:

- A flashback pertinent to the current storyline and furthered our understanding of not just the characters involved but the overall plot in general. In Lost, we would would have gotten a flashback about Claire's Dad's previous life as an air guitar maestro in a high school garage band.

- No red herrings. When a character walks in with a folder of information ... it actually contains real information and the character actually bothers to summarize the folder's documents. If this were Lost, Jack would have tossed the folder to the ocean proclaiming it was a trick.

- Characters who actuallly want answers about their bizarre circumstances. Radioactive Man wasn't going to take no for an answers and good for him. When you've been abused and confused - it's good to get your bearings. Sawyer would have apparently still be sleeping in the Bennet's hammock looking for his lost shaker of salt.

What's odd is that I don't really think Heroes has a lot in common with Lost. Heroes isn't draped in it's mystery like Lost where the characters are literally surrounded by it everyday. Heroes wasn't framed like a working conundrum when it aired. Sure, it has elements of a mystery - and in many ways adheres to the mystery format better than Lost - but it feels more like an action drama than anything else. It's like ER with x-ray vision.

Anyway, last night was one of the better Heroes episodes yet. It was focused, revealing and interesting. For me, the show "known for its twists" (their words not mine) was known as the "show needing to find its legs." I think maybe it finally has.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Acclaim's Top Secret - Microsoft Only

Acclaim is doing this MMO contest called Top Secret. I'd like to tell you more about it, but the website refuses to load in Mac FireFox even though the "welcome" page says you can continue even if you don't have Internet Explorer.

Considering this is a project supposedly designed to promote community and foster cutting edge design - that's pretty damn sad. Supposedly they won't take resumes. Apparently they only take a portion of web users as well.

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Assassin's Creed Short - Maybe More

Ubisoft, the French developer of games like "Prince of Persia" and "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell," is opening a digital cinema studio in Montreal, and its first production will be an eight-minute film based on the game >"Assassin's Creed," starring Altair.

"We may consider doing longer-form films or television sometime in the future," said Mary Beth Hensen, a spokeswoman for Ubisoft, which is based in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris. "We're basically putting to work the existing creativity of our game developers as well as adding a more traditional cinematic slant to our roster."
-- Hero of video game leaping to big screen

I know the whole Final Fantasy film fiasco put a sour not on blending game and movie studios - but considering the resources many developers have to produce cutscene material, it only makes sens to try more and more of this down the road.

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BatJack Attacks Manhunt 2 (Of Course)

Apparently he went and posted this on the Manhunt forums:

Miami attorney and anti-violent video game activist Jack Thompson has been asked by individuals in the United Kingdom to help stop the distribution of Take-Two / Rockstar's hyperviolent video game Manhunt 2 in that country due out this summer. The game will feature stealth murder and torture. The last version allowed suffocation of victims with plastic bags.

The original Manhunt was responsible for the bludgeoning death of a British youth by his friend who obsessively played the game. The killer used a hammer just as in the game he played. Take-Two / Rockstar, anticipating the firestorm of criticism with the release of the murder simulator sequel, is lying to the public on both sides of the pond in stating this week that the game had nothing to do with the murder.
-- Jack Thompson Targets Manhunt 2 [ News ]

Course, forum posts could be anyone - but that does sound like BatJack doesn't it? As TotalVideoGames notes in the article ... the "responsibility" of Manhunt was denied by the police who investigated the murder of Stefan Pakeerah. Complete disregard for the facts in an effort to gain publicity? That's our Jack.

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Girls Holding Games

I rarely resort to fan service on Cathode Tan, but this series on Board Game Geek is hard to pass up. The above is even part of a whole set where the girl is holding the game in front of a scene which matches the game (apparently shot during a Vegas trip). Brilliant!

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TV Watch: The Oscars

Is an Oscar party the best way to cap off a week of being sick? Survey says ouch. I had been so good about trying to stay hydrated and keep on top of the road back to wellness ... but a couple mugs of Maudite foiled me.

This morning NPR called The Oscars "the conspicious consumption of TV." We all know it's fluff but we just buy it anyway. I mock football for it's pre and post-show adoration of self ... but at least they don't spend an hour just talking about the thread on someone's jersey's. The premise of the Oscars is that it's an awards show about movies ... but it's really just a festival of Hollywood. It's not just movies ... it's the industry parading itself out in a glitzy show of how relevant they really are.

We let them - and encourage them - because even the cynic in us loves them. We love movies. We love the show. Even if you don't know who the father of Naomi Watt's impending child is ... you'd probably recognize him if you saw him. These glitterati are our royalty whether we like it or not. We can even hate them for it and enjoy hating them for it - but it doesn't change the fact nonetheless.

Course, at times Hollywood drapes itself with this fact a bit too thick. Cruise's speech a couple years ago which made Hollywood sound like a vital part of the war effort, for instance. Sometimes the inbreeding and insanity of the royalty spurts forward.

This friction hasn't gone unnoticed - The Oscars have had mixed reviews and ratings in recent years - leaving it with a need to reinvent and ... in true Hollywood style ... get a good makeover.

This year saw an attempt to broaden the awards out to foriegn films and directors. The "three amigos" - Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu - have been widely trumpeted in the press. Penelope Cruz got a lot of air time. That kind of thing. Course, the only one to really win out seemed to be Pan's Labryinth. In the end it was the same show with some international flair to show ... kinda like Hollywood had just returned from an extended vacation.

Ellen did a great job, I thought. The show ran well over and this year it seemed like just bad planning in general. I can't point to any speech and accuse it of going too long. It's just the overindulgence again - someone couldn't say no to a musical number or dance routine or whatnot and they planned more material than they had time to show. I could be more cynical and say that's why all the major awards weren't handed out until overtime.

I tied for first for guessing the wins - which is almost impressive in that I haven't seen any of these movies ... and this year I didn't even do my obligatory scan of favorites. I voted for Peter O' Toole simply because I had forgotten he had won an honorary a few years back. Try to predict these wins is such a game ... you can generally guess at the mechanics involved. That documentary about AIDS was a shoe-in. Why? Because it's a documentary about AIDS. That kind of thing.

It's wholesome guilty fun. And I have the headache to prove it.

10 Best Wii Accidents

RealTech scoops up PC Magazine's best Wii-stakes:

Crack in television
Hole in window
Wiimote-shaped dent in wall
Shattered 4-inch PDA screen
Severed blad from ceiling fan
Broken chair from Zelda fishing
Hole in mother-in-law’s china cabinet
Four stitches in index finger
Black eye on girlfriend
Bruise on infant son’s head
-- “That’s gonna leave a mark”… Top Ten Wii Accidents

I don't know which would cause more of a smackdown - giving the girlfriend a black eye or injuring a child.

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