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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Game Play: Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime

Dragon Quest Heroes - Rocket Slime for the Nintendo DS may have an oddly long name ... and it features an odd cast of characters in ... well .. a kind of odd setting.

But it's really, really fun. I haven't played a Mario RPG - but this is kinda what I would imagine it would be like. Your protaganist - a young slime in the kingdom of Slimenia (surrounded by various characters and objects of similarly and pun-induced names) has to venture forth into a top-down, 2D, classic Zelda-like, RPG world of forests, mountains and dungeons to free his fellow slimes from the vicious (albeit cartoony) Plob. The Plob being, of course, run largely by ducks platypii.

OK, OK - the game is clearly meant for kids. For one thing, its pretty easy. And non-violent. The main mechanic has your slime snapping into a stretch attack, catching things on his back, and scooting things back to town. This mechanic will be used in basically every aspect of the game. It's simple. Also, the game just isn't all that difficult. I've lost one tank battle (more on that in a bit) but I've rarely been hit more than a couple times while just adventuring in general.

That doesn't make the game shallow. There's a crafting system that can be unlocked - you combine items you've sent back to town into new ones. Some of the puzzles, while not terribly brain taxing, require a decent amount of backtracking and collecting. Slimes can hold three things at once and every object in the world is rendered well not just in terms of the colorful pixel art but in terms of physics and abilities. Weights knock things around, wings send things off into the air, bombs ... explode. Once you get to mirror shields and toy soldiers though - you get the depth and diversity that Slimenia really has to offer.

And then there are the tank battles. One kind of boss fight has your crew (once you can assemble one) fighting in your huge tank against another. There's not a lot of strategy - you essentially shove as much as you can into your twin cannons (one shoots high, the other low and things shot out of the cannon - including those weights, bombs and toy soldiers - collide). Still, planning is important. My only loss in the game was when I swapped out crew members and ammo loads with really, really poor results.

So yes - it's simple. It's easy. It's colorful and almost disturbingly cute at times. It's also one of - if not the - best RPG experiences, especially in the action Zelda family of such things, to hit the DS.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Did Microsoft Send My Free Laptop Yet?

I think is pretty public information at this point - but apparently Microsoft and AMD figured the best way to get bloggers to like Vista was to bribe them. In the interest of disclosure - I've been in touch with Edelman, the PR firm hired by Microsoft, in the past as well. They send me emails about launches and screenshots. I generally ignore them - but am perfectly glad to get game related news from a PR firm (they aren't alone there). I don't really know why they wouldn't send me a laptop worth more than $2,000 to get some positive remarks about Vista. I mean, what's a better way to solve my constant indecision about remaining a PC gamer than to just send me a new PC? It's so darn logical.

And apparently some of the more Microsoft leaning bloggers get to 'to meet Bill Gates, with all expenses paid' as well.

Surely, though, that's the kind of thing that Microsoft reserves for big things like Vista. Well, except the Zune as well. Surely they wouldn't do that thing just for say ... the Xbox? Should we care? It's not like sending review units or letting the media (in all its forms) get advance (and free) looks at products is a new thing. True, one PR firm jokingly said they were considering getting bloggers 360's because they were having slow adoption rates (and I'm sorry, Xbox fanboys - this wasn't tha tlong ago). And hey, if someone wants my honest opinion about Gears of War ... wouldn't I need a 360 to create it?

And really, Microsoft being such great buddies with the blogosphere would explain some odd phenomena on the web. So maybe the question isn't would they but how much are they.

Is it bribery to facilitate someone's ability to review something? Surely not. But I think the real question is - do we need to bother quibbling about the shades of grey here? OK, if Microsoft had sent some bloggers a $2,500 personal check with a note saying "wondering what you thought about Vista" ... most people would call that bribery. So if that check came in the form of a high end laptop - would that make it OK? Does "full disclosure" forgive all?

On the laptop thing alone ... let's ask the really pertinent questions. What does it say about Vista that Microsoft needs to send out brand spanking new "review" units to bloggers to get the word out? I gotta say - even if that blogger has the most splendiferous experience with the OS ... it doesn't say anything good. Compare it to this:

I spent about $700 on my Mac Mini. And OS X rocks. I mean - it rocks really hard. I have turned my PC on less and less because I have OS X and it didn't cost Apple a thing for me to say that. Today my PC sits lifeless and unplugged.

When it comes to bribery in general - I'm not really willing to nitpick the finer points. Hey, if someone sends me something big, fancy and expensive out of the blue ... I'm not likely to send it back. That's not because my opinion is up for sale - it's because I'm lazy. I barely muster the energy to send back a $100 rebate on $99 software. If it's asked, though, I use one simple rule:

Never take anything you aren't willing to send back. Not in an exchange for anything. Not in exchange for a blog post or plug or anything that might not even cost you a buck. Because the moment you make that swap you might want another swap like it. And that might cause you to pull your punches to stay on someone's gift list.

And you know it.

And we know it.

Everybody knows it.

As always, anyone from Edelman or Microsoft is free to peep up in defense or to make things more clear or discuss the matter. Yes, I know you folks still read the blog. And as my heavy use of strikethrough indicates at times, I'm always happy to revise statements if I've got my facts wrong.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

DVD Watch: Miller's Crossing

Of all the Cohen movies, Miller's Crossing is still my favorite. It's not as well known (or quirky) as Fargo and it lacks the production values of O Brother, but it's simply genius scriptwriting. It's a noir film with a great Cohen feel to it - gritty, a little whimsical and engaging.

It perhaps might be enough for the dialogue to drip with slang, quips, one liners and comebacks. Crossing revels in all of these but also just hits hard with brilliant subtlety. When Tommy is trying to convince Leo for the last time to drop his gang war without giving up his reasons why - you suddenly see the desperation that he hides for most of the movie. As fun as the dialogue can be - the fact that the plot moves at such a quick pace based mostly on conversations with the main character is impressive enough that anyone with an interest in writing should watch this movie. Repeatedly.

Still, the movie proves that the only appropriate response to "the oldest reason in the world" is that "there are friendlier places to drink."

Highly recommend. If you like it, I'd also recommend Brick ... noir done right in a high school setting.


TV Watch: My Boys

We caught this show on TBS after "Funniest TV Commercials" (AKA "What Kevin Nealon does for money these days"). It's about a pretty tomboy living in Chicago who deals with the interplay of relationships between her male friends and relatives. In this particular episode, Laura Metcalf was playing a vivacious older woman (the tomboy's aunt) and Neil Flynn (Janitor from Scrubs) as a washed up Cubs pitcher.

The show supposedly takes place in Chicago. The way you know it takes place in Chicago is that they mention some Chicago reference about every other scene, everyone seems to work for some major Chicago institution and the tomboy's apartment is decked out in Chicago gear.

In other words, not only do I suspect the show is shot in L.A. but the show plays out like a Californian's fantasy version of life in Chicago. Realistically, Chicago is so large you almost never run into anybody who works for the Trib or whatnot. I once dated a girl who did costume work for the Goodman and I know someone who works for Oprah. It's a big city and these kinds of institutions are really the periphery of daily life in ChiTown ... not the main stage.

Largely, my friends do not sit around dropping references to buildings and streets unless we're giving directions to people. The tomboy seems to do it every time she goes into a new room. The show doesn't really seem to make any use of Chicago's landscape - which would be a far more compelling way of setting up the backdrop.

Other shows like E.R. do this quite well. Heck, I almost ran into Noah Wylie going to lunch one day.

Also, the show apparently has an ad deal with ... and it's not a graceful one. I thought perhaps last night was a side glance at the dating service but apparently the website is one of the ongoing themes. Perhaps if the dialogue was better (partially if it didn't waste half its time proving it takes place in Chicago) this would be acceptable ... but in light of everything else it's just annoying.

My Boys has some potential but right now the show is simply struggling for air.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Santa Versus Flying Spaghetti Monster

Santa VS The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Merry Xmas Everyone

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

List Of Demands For 2007

I'll be heading out for the holidays soon enough. Not many worries other than wrapping presents and drinking eggnog. Or at least, that's my hope. As this year closes, let me take a moment to do a little armchair analyst wishlist for the next (again):

X-Com DS
Oh, c'mon - it's such a no brainer. The DS can easily handle X-Com's original graphics and code. The touchscreen is easily one of the best user interfaces for such a game. People have been yearning for proper multiplayer on the game for ages now. It's a cult classic. It will sell like hotcakes.

Doom DS
I've been playing GBA Doom a little since stumbling on the soundtracks and honestly I'm still amazed as to how much fun this game can retain. Honestly, the simpler graphics suit the mobile console just fine. Now, imagine the exact same game only with coop over NiWiFi, deathmatch and CTF.

Phantasy Star Online DS
I know, we're getting Dragon Quest so I should probably not complain. But I still miss the old days of PSO. And Phantasy Star Universe doesn't look like it will make the cut for me. No splitscreen coop? Maybe that would be OK on my trusty DS ... but not on my PS2. Once again, this is a classic game ripe for the handheld online market.

Nintendo, Sony ... embrace the hobbyist
Microsoft gets major props from me for taking the charge with XNA Studio ... even if the actual implementation is debatable. At least they are trying. It's time for console developers to recognize the role that modders and indies have had on the PC market.

Even if it were on a smaller scale - like allowing user maps and gameplay mods to be downloaded from a specific channel. Anything that gets the users involved with creating content will end up creating more content and eventually more professional level content.

Hands down, XNA is the biggest reason for me to eventually get a 360.

Apple Branded Game Controller
I'll keep saying it over and over again - the easiest way for Apple to pave a new path for Mac gaming is to develop a compelling game controller that developers can really get behind. The biggest turnoff for me when it comes to 90% of the games I try on the Mac are the controls. Because of Apple's HID setup, keyboard controls are by far the easiest to code for and the most common. Unfortunately, they often suck. A common controller with a powerful SDK

Apple Game Portal
The other problem that faces Mac gaming is the lack of coherent online community to learn about new games, have developers upload games and players to try them out. iTunes is perfectly well equipped for this and is even somewhat taking the first steps by offering games for iPods. But hey, not every Mac user is an iPod user.

PlayStation 3 Online Services
I mean serious services. Weather, maps, email, concierge duties, and the kitchen sink. Right now, this is about the only space that Sony can directly impact. They can't force everyone to develop Blu-Ray movies and they can't convince developers to make killer games until they have a viable market (200K stateside doesn't qualify as such). They can, however, offer better online applications for users. If Sony cops out and relies solely on their web browser as a universal provider - they are going to find themselves being outpaced by Nintendo and Microsoft early in 2007.

PlayStation 3 Backwards Compatibility Fix
I've got a ginormous PS2 library. I'm not going to be terribly willing to part with the PS2 until I know I'm good and done with them or that the PS3 will play them ... and play them correctly. I refuse to have two PlayStations hooked up to the same TV (and even if I didn't, The Girl would).

Xbox 360 Revision 2
Smaller, quieter, cooler. Enough said.

PSP 2 / PSP Phone
OK Sony, the PSP has managed to get a foothold. That's a pretty decent feat in the GameBoy world, sure, but now it is time to follow Nintendo's strategy and release a redesigned PSP. Drop UMD. Drop it like a bad habit. Sell games via download and memory stick. Release a firmware to make the PSP1 compatible. For extra points, call Ericcson up and design a gaming phone that doesn't suck.

Don't Release Duke Nukem Forever
Because it's just so darn funny to keep delaying.

OK, that's it for 2006 people. Have yourself a happy Apokalyptica and go easy on the nog. I'll be back in the New Year with another resolution I don't plan to keep.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ray Traced Quake 4

Via Wired's Gear Factor comes this article about trying to use ray tracing in first person shooter:

One technique that was used creating the images for those movies is called “ray tracing”. This is an alternative rendering technology compared to what actual graphic cards on modern PCs and consoles do. For many years ray tracing has only been used for offline-rendering and the generation of pictures for movies often took many days to calculate.  Real-time ray tracing has been made possible with the OpenRT Ray tracing library. Through using many PCs over an Ethernet network interactive frame rates could be rendered in high resolution. Now, four years later CPUs have progressed a lot and ray tracing works in small resolutions on a single PC in real-time, but more on this later.
-- PC Perspective - Ray Tracing and Gaming - Quake 4: Ray Traced Project

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David Foster Wallace Mii

Brilliant. From Kottke's contest. I wonder if Dave is aware that he can be played within a Nintendo product right now. He's always been rather analog.

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$250K For Playing Halo 2

The gamer's dream: achieved. Walk in to the spartan Murrieta townhouse 18-year-old Ben Jackson shares with four friends and relatives and you find comfy, if slightly snug, living quarters -- as if he were a collegiate upperclassman, not a professional gamer. There are two Xboxes in the cramped bedroom he shares with his buddy, Derek Smith, and three busted units in storage, but no room in the house is exclusively devoted to the industry that has lined the Murrieta Valley High grad's pockets with $70,000 since March.That figure probably will rise astronomically in the next three years: Monday morning, Major League Gaming awarded Jackson a $250,000 contract for his dominance in "Halo 2," the sequel to "Halo," which was the original signature game of Xbox. "Halo 2" is a violent science fiction story, and the most popular non-sports video game designed for the Xbox console.

Jackson's contract will be paid in varying monthly installments over the next three years. And there's a windfall to be made in the many tournaments he takes part in each year.
-- Murrieta teen awarded $250,000 for his dominance in Halo 2 - The Californian / North County Times -

Dang - I coulda been a contender. Well, maybe. Back when I was heavy into online fragging - the concept of going pro wasn't being ridiculed ... it wasn't even being discussed.

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Alternate Reality On CNET

Jane McGonigal, the well-known alternate reality gaming designer and academic, will be interviewed tomorrow by Daniel Terdiman of CNET in the Second Life virtual world. McGonigal, creator of Cruel 2 B Kind and former lead designer at 42 Entertainment, will be talking in the theater of the CNET bureau in Second Life, marking the second occasion in less than a month where ARG designers have spoken in the Second Life realm -- the other, a Second Life Future Salon discussion, will be discussed in a future article here at ARGNet.
-- ARGNet: Jane McGonigal on CNET Tomorrow

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Now To Corvus With The Wii Weather

Corvus found that the forecast channel was downloaded to his Wii and promptly took some screenies for the world to enjoy (and for me to steal). This is actually some pretty neat functionality. I just wonder if Sony's response will be "well, you have a web browser - use it." And Microsoft, of course, will be saying, "who needs a forecast"?

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Sex Advice From A D&D Player

Racy and lewd in a couple places - but funny as hell:

I have a medieval costume fetish. How do I interest a partner in this?
Easy as regenerating a limb with troll’s blood! Are you a woman? Simply dress up in a bikini, link together a few pop can tabs into something resembling chain mail, and drape your “armor” over your crotch or breasts.
Are you a man? Oh, fucking forget about it. You can call it your “Wand of Wonder” all you like but she’s still going to laugh at your cape.

My last lover cheated on me. How can I learn to trust again?
Experience is a harsh mistress. Or wait, no, Xytherias of Calmodorn is a harsh mistress. XP is just a bitch.
-- Sex Advice from a Dungeons and Dragons Player at Dethroner (via Red Bull Diary via Gnome's random lair)

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PlayStation 3 Stock Rumors

A new shipment may have already hit stateside. I've heard that last night Circuit City had PS3's on the shelf.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Doom Music In MP3 Format has a library of nearly every Doom score ever made. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration considering Doom is one of those prime requirements for virtually every computing device on the planet. Still, it's an impressive collection. Found via the Fantasy Flight Forums for those people looking to make their Apokalyptica outing of Doom: The Board Game (complete with new rules!) extra ambient.

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Is "The Lost Room" Like A Game Plot?


Another thing worth mentioning—and I'm not sure if this is criticism or merely an
observation—is that the plot of The Lost Room very much reminded me of a puzzle-oriented video game, such as Myst; or perhaps it would be better to compare it, considering the level of action and violence, to Resident Evil. In fact, I'd be very surprised to find out that a game based on the miniseries was not already in the preliminary stages of development, ready to be green-lit if the series is deemed a hit.
-- The Lost Room - Camera Obscura by John Joseph Adams - Intergalactic Medicine Show

It's a completely justifiable observation (or critque). Much of the plot is pushed forward either by the discovery of a new object, clue or the completion of some puzzle. Were we back in the days of Infocom, this could be turned into a text adventure with little tinkering to the original story. Nowadays it would potentially be best handled in the style of Indigo Prophecy with puzzle solving instead of DDR style minigames or perhaps an online Flash game.

Or, as true for Lost, an Alternate Reality Game would be most interesting. I know setup an "object hunt" - but I think it was basically just sweepstakes related material. Indeed, I think I'd rather see a Jamie Kane style ARG than a proper sequel for the time being.

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Amazon Raffles PS3 & Wii - Goes Insane

Amazon went and changed their "Customers Vote" concept yet again. After bringing down their servers by offering a 360 Core for 66% off, they moved to a more reasonable "random handout" concept. Now they seem to have abandoned "voting" as an overall concept and now you just select something and hope you might get it. Course, they're also constantly changing the deadline. Apparently the current on ended this Sunday. Lucky customers who apparently do nothing but check this page every day to see what new contest Amazon is running this week can find out tomorrow to see if they've won their chance to buy a PS3 (both models) or Wii at their normal MSRP.

So in other words the "Customer Votes For A Bargain" concept is now a "Random Selection To Not Get Gouged At Ebay" model.

'Tis the season, I guess.

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TV Watch: Would You Want A Lost Room Sequel?

First, a quick spoiler free review. Sci Fi's The Lost Room gets major props for originality and casting. It takes a moderately absurdist premise and moves at a quick pace with almost surprising clarity and focus. By the time the six hour series ends, you actually get a feeling of depth when it comes to the room, the objects and the chaaracters. No small amount of this is due to Peter Krause who truly sells the role he is given - a hapless detective who is thrown headlong into a bizarre underworld of, well let's say, random physics.

If you haven't seen it, stop reading now - because it's a lot more fun with the plot and mystery laid out as intended. The plot doesn't hinge on being a thriller - but I recommend avoiding spoilers (such as those I'm going to toss out).

Especially since I'm going to the jumping right to the end.

there be spoilers here....

The show's ending is somewhat ambigous. We aren't given any indication as to which theory of the room may or may not be true - largely whether God plays a large role in the room's creation or not. We aren't even sure what happened to Pawn Shop Owner - even though it's probably safe to assume he met a Cordroy like ending and won't be making many appearances outside of screaming on someone's home video. Likewise, we don't know if "The Object Prophet" is the real deal or not. Most importantly, though, I'm guessing Joe Miller wasn't the first person in some forty years to have the idea of tossing the key back into the room. All of these loose threads are clearly ripe for one thing: a sequel.

But would it really work? Take the first portion - that we aren't given any clearly origin story to the room and its empowered objects. What story would really suffice? They're all likely to be just as bizarre as the next. As The Occupant was apparently an innocent bystander - we don't even have a starting point for such a story. All we know is that at some point "something bizarre happened" and then the rest we pretty much know already.

So - do you need to know "what bizarre thing happened" or is it better to just let your mind ponder about it? Sequels are so often a disappointment as a means of furthering the mythos of a premise. Highlander 2, for instance, simply destroyed what many people had thought was good about the original movie. By contrast Aliens 2 wisely went off on its own tack. The Aliens franchise went downhill when they tried to flush out their fictional universe with half-cooked concepts (largely designed to keep Ripley around).

Personally, I'm willing to let the door close. A sequel would only be great if they kept the original cast and managed to create enough new information that it felt worthy of the undertaking. Aside from that, the mystery would probably play out better in my head.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Did Your Gordon Freeman Just Get Snowed Out?

Talk about proof of the fallibility of Steam. Remember, this means even if you were trying to play offline ... a storm somewhere else in the world is keeping you from your game.

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Virtual Gaming Tabletop Photoset

This is pretty awesome, a photoset of constructing a custom computerized tabletop for gaming. Basically a Dell monitor with a nice case that you can place figures on - this is definately the gem of someone's game night.

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DVD Watch: District B13

I'm kinda on break from gaming for a while. I've got either tendonitis or carpal in one wrist (I can't get doctors to agree and from what I can tell - it doesn't really matter). It normally isn't much of a bother because I've gotten so used to occasionally worrying about it and keeping it from getting really aggravated. So instead of playing through more Justice League Heroes last night, we popped in District B13.

It's hard not write a phrase like "a triumph of style over substance" when it comes to a film like B13. The characters are two dimensional stock archetypes that in this day and age could probably be written with a decent shell script and some XML. The plot is only slightly varied from virtually every "boy finds shiny thing, boy loses shiny thing, boy beats up lots and lots of people to get shiny thing back" kung fu film ever seen. There's some social commentary which barely rises past a muttering.

Who cares? LIke most kung fu films, you're really there to see the action. Most of the action in B13 is parkour or free running based. As I mentioned with my review of Casino Royale, parkour is essentially a 2.0 version of a car chase scene. It's more vibrant, more personal, more frenetic and a lot of fun to watch. Martial arts also play a big role, especially with Damien's scenes. The lack of computer graphics and wirework is almost oddly refreshing. Like watching an old trick being done for the first time all over again. There's a few sequences which will make you wince as you wonder how they didn't break someone in the process.

It's quick and fairly shallow. The Girl called it "a great short film that somehow ran long". Like most movies of this caliber, you wish, if anything, there was more action scenes and even less talking. Someone needs to be bold enough to make a ninety minute feature film without a line of dialogue.

So I'd recommend B13 as a reference movie if nothing else. This is an evolutionary bridge from the Jackie Chan movies of old to the action movies of the future - and if anything it's great to see it done in a pure form. After all, one of the main characters is played by David Belle who founded parkour. So B13 is to free running scenes as Bullitt was to car chases.

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Nintendo's Numerous Headaches

Despite being in an enviable position sales wise, Nintendo just recalled 200,000 chargers [NewLaunches] and a worldwide offer for replacement of all Wii straps [Engadget]. This is, of course, in addition to the existing patent lawsuit over the Wii controller.

Seperately, these don't seem terrible. I'm assuming the Wii straps are cheap - so it's hard to tell just how costly that kind of recall will turn out for Nintendo. The chargers probably cost more - but it's the kind of recall any responsible company should be prepared to handle. And I think I speak for lots of people when I say I hope the patent lawsuit gets dropped like a bad prom date. Still, together this feels like a dark cloud over the company. This is not a good time to have any consumer confidence dropping because a parent heard the Wii's straps could snap and break a window. Parents hate broken windows.

Tack on Curmudgeon's look at how much batteries will cost you playing the Wii and Greg's note that Zelda chews them faster than ever and it seems a little shine gets removed from the console. I'm assuming that playing in a battery free mode isn't an option for the Wii. Batteries were personally my biggest complaint with my first GBA - it seemed like I was constantly putting batteries into the thing.

Still, it's hard to see all these little issues mounting much of a slowdown to Nintendo's breakneck sales. If anything - it's worthy to note for what will hopefully come down the pipe in reaction to these problems. Namely a better strapped and rechargeable Wii remote (and new remotes may already be better strapped). In some ways - the Wii's controller is the console. It's the selling point. So Nintendo will do what Nintendo often does best and release a 2.0 version which makes you wonder why you bought the first one so darn early.

It's something that Microsoft and Sony could learn from. I still think the 360 is terribly designed since reports of it being noisy, hot and blinking red still aren't terribly uncommon. Even Sony haters seem hard to disagree with the notion that the PlayStation 3 is at least engineered properly for the living room. Where's a second revision 360 which might take advantage of redesign concepts and new manufacturing to be smaller and cooler? Likewise, where's our PSP 2? UMD is failing as a movie format and it's inefficient as a game format. As a company, Sony needs to prove it can focus on games first and stop trying to burden their hardware with media options consumers haven't even asked to have.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

NPD Corrected Console Figures

We also have the corrected life-to-date install bases for the U.S. The PS2 through November was at 35.8 million users. Very close behind is the GBA with 34.3 million. In the more modern battle of the portables, the DS stands at 7.6 million versus the PSP's 5.7 million. The Xbox 360 has sold 3.4 million units in the U.S., and the newly launched Wii and PS3 come in at 476K and 197K, respectively. Along with the Wii console, 270K Wii remotes and 153K nunchuks were also sold.

Interestingly, from a next-gen DVD standpoint the Xbox 360 HD DVD peripheral sold 42K units. So technically, within the gaming universe the PS3/Blu-ray install base is nearly five times greater.
-- GameDaily BIZ: Revised: Game Industry Up 16% through November

Once again - these numbers don't spell great things for the Xbox 360. The PSP, which plenty of gamers like to pronounce dead on online forums, has nearly twice the install base with less than a year's headstart. Plus, the HD DVD peripheral is clearly selling terribly. It's much lower cost and higher availability should have made it a contender against the PlayStation 3 launch for consumers looking for an inexpensive high def player. Obviously, not many were.

How much that will actually impact the format war as yet to be seen. HD-DVD still has cheaper players then Blu-Ray once you've discounted the PlayStation 3 as a factor. Until Sony can resolve its manufacturing and supply problems - it's not really a force in either the media or gaming markets.

And remember - these numbers are stateside. The DS easily has an equal amount installed outside the US.

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Your Future MMO Interface

"How World Of Warcraft will be played in 2030." Via Mordant bastards' photostream via Shutar's blog via Pyxelated from Deviantart.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sony Confesses To "Being Too Clever"

No seriously. Too clever. That's how they put it. Sure, I think they meant it in a slightly self-deprecating way ... but nothing could be deprecating enough here. I mean - the site was clearly done by either Sony or an idiot since it was mostly written in bad IM chatterspeak like "u kno - dis is kool lol".

Or perhaps the correct answer is "both". I mean, more than insidious, the whole thing was just dumb. Clearly the byproduct of too many people in a room reading about "social online networking" and "search enhancement optimization" without having a real clue.

Sony has some moments of advertising genius ... but apparently is simply not comparing notes with the PlayStation departments. Sad - and bad timing since they don't have enough product clout right now to subside it. They really need good PR and tech these days.

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Donnie Darko MMO

No, I don't have a link to a press release to a Donnie Darko MMO. Largely because one doesn't exist. But someone googled their way to Cathode yesterday using "donnie darko mmo" as a search term.

So I just must ask ... how would that work exactly? For the unfamiliar, Donnie Darko is a cult film about a high school kid who narrowly avoids death to ultimately learn from a six foot tall bunny that the world is about to end. It's creepy, cerebral and completely awesome. It's my favorite Apokalyptica movie to date.

But how could someone make an MMO out of that?

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TV Watch: I Am House's Legal Problems

Since House seems to be about the only show on television airing new episodes - it seems worth to make note of it. Sadly, I'm still widly conflicted about this season. I can't find the arching premise - that a detective has taken his vendetta so far as to ruin the lives of several doctors and bring down a head of oncology's practice- all that plausible. Trigger's evidence and methods has been nothing but questionable from the outset. Cuddy and Wilson have been acting a little bit like beheaded chickens about the whole ordeal and accepting a quack detective's medical analysis of House over their own knowledge from the last season.

In the real world, an affair like this would be strung out off the stage of action and over the course of years involving several rings of lawyers. Naturally that doesn't make for good television. And that's what is so annoying - this slipshod version of a premise does make for good television. Trigger's interrogation of the characters have brought out some choice moments. Wilson has more depth and nuance to him now that he's actually stood up and betrayed House. Even Cameron has a chance to come back out of her shell and bit a more than oogly caretaker girl.

Plus - any show willing to portray its main character as a strung out obnoxious drug addict next to a pool of his own vomit deserves a few plusses in its column. So many shows revere their protaganist so much that danger only seems to skirt around them. Even Lost suffers from this - the occasional character will get tortured for a while and then snap out of it the following week. The producers will sacrifice a character or so a season - but the cast feels just the same size as when the show started. It's not like we expect House to get offed or even sent to prison ... but you never know just what kind of beating he might endure from week to week.

So I'm keen to the implausibility of this season ... but as long as it continues to provide fodder for good drama I'll let it slide.

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I Know Ronin

When I was in high school, I took a class on Oriental history at the local community college. This was largely because the public high school system was so shoddy at teaching history that I wanted to learn something more fundamental than "World War II was a lot like World War I" (actual quote by my advance placement history teacher).

One day in class we were discussing the age of the samurai and how their traditions evolved over time. The teacher mentioned the word ronin and asked if anyone knew what that meant. I raised my hand and said it was a masterless samurai. He seemed surprised and asked how I knew that.

I told him I read a lot. I didn't tell him I read it while researching a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and the information actually came from a book published by TSR.

I was reminded of this anecdote when I read the Guardian's post on how kids are losing their vocabulary and the inclination in culture to blame those introspective, anti-social geeks. Even though most people I know who are heavily into geek culture are pretty voracious readers.

What about the noveau geek? The Nintendo kids of the world. Let's pretend that some kids are turning mostly to interactive content on their televisions. Just how does the usual video game compare to reading? Forget the "Everything Bad" train of thought - we're not talking cognitive processes here ... just straight up vocabulary.

I must say, I can't think of many great examples here. Maybe it's a lack of morning coffee - but games like Dynasty Warriors, Shadow of the Colossus and Katamari Damarcy don't exactly use a lot of five dollar words in their dialogue. It's not, of course, that I think video games need to take up a child's lack of education as a cause. Shadow of the Colossus is better without loads of dialogue.

Still, how is it that pen and paper gaming was so much better for my vocabulary?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dragon Quest DS

The Dragon Quest series of games has a decent-sized following in the US, but in Japan it's pretty much the gold standard of gaming. This is the series people wait in line for; the sort of thing that causes productivity to lapse and riots in the streets. Okay, probably not riots, but the popularity of the series in Japan is hard to imagine. It's like Halo, Lord of the Rings, and Madden all rolled into one. To sell the maximum amount of units, the series always goes to the system with the largest user base, and of course that's been the PS2 for a very long time.

That just changed.
-- Dragon Quest IX is heading to ... the DS? WHOA [Ars Technica]

This is widely reported to be a slap in the face to Sony for whatever reason. I'm not sure about that - I don't think this is being done because Sony's not the favorite son of the blogosphere right now ... I think it's because the saturation rate of the PlayStation 3 is well behind the curve of the Nintendo DS.

So it's not so much, I think, an opinion on Sony as a company but rather the fascinating realization by a major software developer than for the near future the next PlayStation 2 is not the PlayStation 3. Nor is it the Wii. And it is definately not the 360. It's the DS. It's got a massive audience, the hardware has proven potential, and it's not expensive to produce a product. Plus the sales figures indicates that the market will continue to grow for at least the short term - and with Nintendo's track record probably well beyond.

I do hope we see more of this motion towards the DS, however. I personally like the Wii because it's something of a "this" generation console. It's for those people who haven't dove into HDTV's and media computers. The DS, however, fits that bill even more so ... and I've been wanting decent coop RPG goodness for the DS ... so color me pleased as punch here. I've been missing my DS a little as of late and this is precisely the kind of thing to make me forget Starfox happened along my way.

I doubt this will remain exclusive, though. The question is - who will get this kind of developer support after the Wii and PS3 have ramped up production?

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Fallout MMO In The Pipeline?

This Prospectus proposes sale of Interplay Entertainment Corp common stock which will be admitted to trade on one of the Euronext exchanges. Proceeds will be used for the production of a Massively Multiplayer On Line Game based on Interplay's Intellectual Property: Fallout (the "Fallout MMOG")

The Fallout MMOG will be developed in the highly recognized Fallout post Nuclear Apocalyptic world giving consumers an ongoing virtual experience of today's life as if the cold war, which lasted for the best part of the second half of last century, had led to a nuclear disaster

The budget for the Fallout MMOG totals $75,000,000 and will be funded by Interplay, its development and distribution partners.
-- Fallout MMORPG in the Works? [Inside Mac Games]

Those juicy tidbits are withn an SEC report which, oddly, makes for some interesting reading. I wouldn't go getting too excited here - this is what one might refer to as a "pre pre-production" phase. We have more details about the Firefly MMO deal right now ... and we don't have any details about the Firefly MMO right now.

Still, one can dream. Fallout screams for an MMO - although I don't know about how it much sense it makes to have an overcrowded wasteland. Actually, I'd think the Guild Wars formula would make the most sense here. You could have towns and hatches for gathering areas and mission based instance zones. It would make it easier to keep some of the feel from the original game while building on the MMO model.

Ah, dare to dream. Dare to dream.

Update: Don't hold your breath. I mean literally, apparently the launch is stated here to be around 2010 and you can't hold your breath that long. Plus by then, World of Warcraft will have consumed all other franchises in the Great MMO War of 2008.

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Apokalyptica Mod For Doom: The Board Game

It looks like my contribution to this year's Apokalyptica will be to try ang work out a "mod" for Doom: The Board Game. Doom TBG was featured heavily in last year's celebration ... in fact it turned into a nearly two day operation.

That was part of the problem. It was fun but grueling. It's hard to convince people to camp out at your place for a game they haven't played. Now - you don't have to play the game this way. For one thing, it was our first time so we spent a good deal of time reading rules and setting up and then we kinda kept playing to get the hang of rules as we went on.

What I'd like to do is find a way to streamline the game down a little. Make it easier to have a pick-up game rather than plan out a whole war campaign. It's not that I don't love my RPG roots - it's just that I don't have time to plan out new scenarios for a game that's hard to plan time around.

The basic rules (many details to be flushed out):

- The game will take place in rounds. The game will be over when either a set number of rounds has been played or a set time limit hit. Winner will be the player with the most points.

- Marines each get one skill cards. Cards may be traded. To draw new cards, all Marines must agree to discard their cards.

- Rounds begin with a construction phase. Players take turns adding sections. Once the sections are in, they can add obstacles, and then equipment. (restrictions/rules on this are a big TBD - perhaps predefined equipment sets)

- Marines and Invaders follow Evil Dead rules. Marines can select an unbreakable shotgun or chainsaw at the beginning of the game. Invader does not have to spend points to bring zombies into the game. Marines Killed by zombies will be Zombie Marines - zombie monsters but armed with a shotgun.

- Weapons follow "loaded" rule and come with an ammo token.

- Rounds will continue until either a) the Marines find a keycard and escape, b) the Invader manges to kill each Marine three times or c) or predefined time limit is hit. (optional objectives might be entertaining - like "save the scientist").

- In between rounds, Players can spend points to buy new armor, cards, health, ammo and weapons (similar to campaign rules). The Invader can spend points at any time to bring in new monsters. Equipment can also be traded at this time. Cards cannot be traded anymore.


- Score balancing. Invader might have to start with a "pool". Likewise, Marines may need better starting supplies.
- Optional goals. Like having Marines "save" scientists by spending a health pack.

Update: Google keeps hitting this page. A rough draft now exists.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Would A Wiki Help Effective Game Design?

"We discussed the fact that most of the failures in the online space have failed for reasons that were all well-known 10 years ago," says Mike Steele, vp at Calabasas, Ca.-based Emergent Game Technologies which makes tools for game design. "You can read all the game postmortems and see that the developers all repeated the mistakes others made simply because they weren't aware of them and what the solutions are."

Steele's work group decided that there was a need to build a body of knowledge to contain game design best practices.

"We're talking about information on everything from cryptology to real-time photorealistic rendering to artificial intelligence to databases -- all the big, hard problems addressed in one small space."

The solution is expected to be a "wiki," a Web site that allows developers to add their best practices and then make them available to all other developers. "This became a Project Horseshoe action item," says Steele, "and, in fact, the wiki is scheduled to be posted very shortly -- perhaps as early as January 1." The Web address will be announced on the "Project Horseshoe" Web site.
-- What's Stopping Effective Game Design?

I love wikis (even those that spurn holiday cheer) ... I just started one to help write the new hyperfiction I'm working on. We've tossed the idea around work sometimes, but it always devolves into a kind of issue management rather than articles on concepts or ideas.

So yeah, I'd think a universal game dev wiki would be interesting. Chaotic, I'm sure, but that's part of what makes wikis great.

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Mile Zero On Apokalyptica

Thomas weighs in with some suggestions for Apokalyptica. Inconvenient Truth is a great suggestion (and on my wishlist for this season) that nicely gives something on the other end from the usual latex monster mash that I think about.

Still, a screenplay with the four horsemen? Sweet.

A nod to Corvus for contemplating making Apokalyptica a Round Table - though I think he's wise in not mixing religion and game theory too much. I like how people can put their own slant on it though. Whether it's coop zombie killing (hat tip to Brin) or mixing music and anime - I'm clearly going to have to update the description from "marathon sessions" to "personal expression".

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TV Watch: Smallville

Keeping with the DC comics vein - WTF was up with last week's Smallville? The show is generally my pulp fiction for television. It's not terribly smart or complicated - but it is usually somewhat fun. And while often formulaic - it at least manages to be competent.

Last week, though, featured more writing mistakes than should be allowed on television. Martha was so out of character she was almost unrecognizable. It's bad enough that the show can't seem to decide whether it's OK for her and Lionel Luthor to be involved or not ... but when she goes from being a bleeding heart do-gooder to a by-the-rules conservative willing to ship a homeless boy back to the law ... you just have to shake your head. The Kents have been circumventing the law so much since the show began it's practically a family holiday. So when Martha reverses course just to setup some conflict in the plot - it feels haphazard and messy.

Not quite as haphazard and messy as the rest of plot, mind you. The story slips the transmission a couple of times. You can hear grinding gears particularly when Clark pulls out info from nowhere - sparking a completely illogical pit stop with the obvious reason of setting up the final "fight". The fight, between Clark and Farmer Moleman, lasts about ten seconds ... and then Farmer Moleman falls mysteriously into a coma for now good reason other than it's a simple way to stop having to write any dialogue for him.

The Girl and I caught an old Superman serial last week. The old black and white ones where Superman's powers are generally depicted with animation. Sadly even the ridiculous plot there - where Lex Luthor is using TV vans to crack safe combinations - is a hundred times better than what we got last week.

From the previews, it looks like we'll be treated soon to a Smallville version of Justice League. The show has done an interesting job of rehashing other heroes into the Smallville motif - from Flash The Boy Thief to Aquaman Surfer Dude. Hopefully this will be an uptick for the show, because a downtick will be getting it removed from the recording schedule.

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Gameplay: Justice League Heroes

Justice League Heroes occupied much of our Sunday. We can't play Marvel: Ultimate Alliance unless our third shows up in that weird kind of coop gamers guilt that would come with having to explain why you are suddenly fighting Galactus instead of say, underwater mermen. We had actually gotten so into the Marvel game that I was a little suspicious about jumping into a DC counterpart.

Since Justice League Heroes is from Snowblind, it feels more like Baldur's Gate or the Champions of Norrath series. In fact, it feels quite like those games - it just looks about ten times better. I thought Norrath pushed the limits of the PS2's ability to display a Diablo style game - but both Justice League just blows it away. It's not apparent at first - but the better textures and more complex lighting (especially the shadows) really gives the environments a sense of realism and depth. I can only hope another Norrath game is in the PS2's future with this engine in tow.

Back to the game - it plays very solid. While it lacks some of the complexities of melee and combos that are becoming the staple of Raven's Marvel games, it features a more streamlined and straightforward approach to characters. The design for the superpower quite brilliantly captures each hero without having to make it seem like you need to wade through several levels or experiment deeply with each one. Justice League also abandons equipment almost completely for "boosts" which can be added to existing powers to upgrade them. You also pickup Justice League Shields which can be spent on alternate costumes and new heroes. Both boosts and shields are shared - freeing up players from having to waste time accusing each other of stealing.

Another interesting bit about the design is that you aren't allowed to pick a hero and stick with them. Missions have specific heroes to play - often ones appropriate like having Wonder Woman and Superman flying out in space - and some allow you to divide up League members to specific tasks. This is an odd twist on the role-playing angle of the genre, because "you" are not "Green Lantern" exclusively. However, it works quite well. The Girl commented that it was nice to be able to try out each of the heroes instead of just blindly selecting one. Also, this frees up the developers to allow for level designs which are specific to heroes - so the game feels a little less like a series of passages leading to a boss fight. Well, a little less...

Having now played each of the core heroes - I'd say character balance is actually pretty good. I've read a few reviews which lay out one hero as more or less useless whereas the other is a powerhouse. I'd say that's probably an aspect of trying to finish the game quickly and not spending enough time boosting powers that are generally used. As I mentioned before, it's easier to get the hang of the powers and easier to boost - and once you have each character has strengths which can be applied to the serious science of fighting evil.

At the same time, though, Marvel feels like a deeper experience with more things to unlock ... but more importantly it has four player coop. Justice League Heroes only has two. It's not the worse thing in the world - I'd say 90% of my coop on the PS2 is only with one other person. And I imagine there's a laundry list of subtle positives with the limitation - like screen rates and interface options. Still, when one does get the chance for three or four player coop - you realize it's generally worth it.

For fans of the Diablo clone genre - Justice League Heroes would be hard to pass up. For DC fans - I'd say there's little reason for hesitation. Yeah, it's kinda silly to see Superman get punched out. There's a bit of dialogue where Martian Manhunter explains that "these robots are strong enough to hurt even you, Superman," which is almost worth a chuckle. Especially since he's in the same mission as Batman - so if they can hurt old Clark ... you know Bats would be crushed to dust.

Still, the The Superman Paradox - how do you make compelling gameplay with an invulnerable hero - isn't exactly something this game was designed to defeat. The voice acting is fairly average - you will get annoyed by Supe's "Super!" exclamation eventually ... but you probably won't tire of Batman's gravelly sarcasm.

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Fake Grass Roots Isn't Viral Marketing

Gamers across Web 2.0 are shaking angry fists at the latest alleged viral marketing campaign orchestrated by Sony. Piggybacking the YouTube bonanza, the company has hired "consumer activation" firm Zipatoni to create a false video-and-blogging approach to generate interest in their flagging PlayStation Portable handheld machine. The video/blog/ads featured people portending to be authentic PSP fans creating messages of love/want for the console, but were quickly uncovered by's dedicated base as superficial facades shielding mouthpieces for the corporation.

In the past, Sony's award-winning PlayStation brand ads were celebrated for their creativity and innovation. Their recent campaigns, including an ill-advised series of graffiti art, suggests that they are having difficulty getting a handle on the bottom-up, community driven opportunities made possible with social software.
-- New Sony viral marketing ploy angers consumers

Here's a friendly tip to wannabee ilovebee's: don't be a paid schill. Schills are those people con men pay to hang out in the audience so that someone can agree with their con. There are few things more annoying to net savvy crowds than learning that someone is really just a walking advertisement. I'm not saying that every viral ad needs a "Paid For By The Advancement Of PlayStation 3 Sales", I'm saying if you're going to represent things which actually aren't what they seem ... it's better that it be a sentient AI trapped on someone's website rather than someone paid to act like they know what a PSP looks like.

By comparison Three Speech is just ... straight up grass roots. Yeah, it's basically just a corporate paid fanboy site ... but at least you know that's what it is.

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Patrick's Apokalyptica: Evangelion/Manson Mashup

Brilliant Apokalyptica celebration over at King Lud:

I watched The End of Evangelion to a soundtrack of Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals. It synched up nicely, but only because I put it on a x2 fast-foward and cut out four songs on the album: Dissaciative, I Want To Disappear, New Model No. 15 and User Friendly. I also started the first song right at the title, skipping the live action part at the beginning.
-- The End of Mechanical Animals

He breaks down the song by scene as well. I know Brin was going for a Dead Rising event. Zombies are so wonderfully apokalyptica. I was watching this week's Battlestar Galactica and noted that it's truly apokalyptica - whereas my even more favorite show Firefly just doesn't have that fragile sense of doom (except, of course, for the most shiny episode Out of Gas).

Lost Room starts tonight on the SciFi channel - will definately have to give that a watch as well.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

For Sunday: Lost Room Preview

Scifi's Lost Room starts on Monday, and would seem to be a fine Apokalyptica event, for those looking for that kind of thing, since apparently one guy has to keep the universe from unraveling (or some such fun):

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Apokalyptica Movie: Shaun Of The Dead

Shaun of the Dead is on Comedy Central right now. If you haven't seen it - stop reading and go watch. Not just because it embodies a kind of joyous defeat of an apocalyptic situation ... but because it's just darn funny.

( and good timing to catch this )

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November NPD Sales Figures: Wii, PS3, 360, PSP

Keep in mind, these numbers are influenced strongly by supply (or the lack thereof) for certain machines. Judge for yourself -- at least for now -- how much influence price and demographics are having.

Nintendo DS: 918,000 units.   
PlayStation 2: 664,000.   
Game Boy Advance: 641,000.   
Xbox 360: 511,000.   
Wii: 476,000.   
PlayStation Portable: 412,000.   
PlayStation 3: 197,000.
-- A+E Interactive: PlayStation, Wii, DS and other sales numbers, including a stunning GBA total

Couple thoughts:

The DS is just a powerhouse - and I'm with Mike here ... that GBA number is pretty impressive too considering it's nearly abandoned at this point. The numbers also illustrate a couple other things - the PS2 will still carry a lot of weight for Sony through the near future and the 360 simply can't be selling as well as Microsoft would hope. Not only can it not muster it's way into the top three - the Wii is nipping at it's heels here. Early next year could reveal some very interesting numbers if Nintendo can get supplies into stateside.

The PSP is hard to look at. Is half of DS sales the signs of it's complete inability to keep pace or simply signs of life? You could look at it as either half of DS sales or just under Wii sales. It's one of those numbers that's like ... just there.

And clearly, the lowball of lowball estimates on Sony's supply of PlayStation 3's were pretty much right on. Launch? What launch ... for a product launch you need to be able to produce a product.

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Apokalyptica on Wikipedia

For at least, the time being. Blame Brinstar for goading me into it.

If you support it as a real holiday, let the editors know. It took them about 1 minute to vote for deletion.

Update Too late. Wait, that actually kinda sucks. It wasn't even up long enough for anyone to defend it. Not that I expected it to survive, but at least I would have liked to have put up the fight.

Well, I have an archive. I'll post it later for a hoot.

The Short Happy Life Of Apokalyptica's Wikipedia Status via AIM:

[2006-12-08 14:33:11] (me> 19:59, 8 December 2006 Jimfbleak (Talk | contribs) deleted "Apokalyptica" (nonsense)
[2006-12-08 14:33:22] (anonymous-friend> LOL
[2006-12-08 14:33:35] (anonymous-friend> So how long did the holiday of Apokalyptica last?
[2006-12-08 14:33:54] (me> less than an hour
[2006-12-08 14:34:01] (me> which actually
[2006-12-08 14:34:02] (anonymous-friend> lol
[2006-12-08 14:34:03] (anonymous-friend> impressive
[2006-12-08 14:34:04] (me> kinda sucks
[2006-12-08 14:34:13] (anonymous-friend> how so?
[2006-12-08 14:34:13] (me> because I had no time to defend myself
[2006-12-08 14:34:19] (me> now granted
[2006-12-08 14:34:23] (me> I had not ... you know
[2006-12-08 14:34:24] (me> evidence
[2006-12-08 14:34:27] (me> to defend myself
[2006-12-08 14:34:29] (anonymous-friend> lol
[2006-12-08 14:34:32] (me> but that's beside the point!

*end scene*


Apokalyptica 2006

For those new to my pagan holiday:

We're contemplating doing some festivities on the 1st, a holiday I'm christening Apokalyptica ... because "The World Still Exists Day" is plain too long.

Apokalyptica is a joyous event wherein one takes the time to remind their friends and loved ones about the fragile nature of our existence. It is best celebrated early in the new year with many events designed to illustrate this fact. Godzilla movies, zombie flicks, Resident Evil games ... heck in some ways even Katamari would pass as at least an appetizer.

Apokalyptica has slowly evolved, however, to be unrestrained from the confines of just one day. Which makes sense, I suppose - you're happy that Fenri didn't swallow the sun for over 360 days ... why waste all that joy on just one day. So officially, December and Januarary will be the Months Of Apokalyptica.

Doom: The Board Game is definately one splendid way of celebrating - even if it's hard to win. Since Marvel: Ultimate Alliance has an "end of the universe" type theme - feel free to go forth and save it. And of course, I'll try and squeeze some Donnie Darko in there somewhere.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Funny Math: Analzying "Social Media Site Posts"

This fascinating post about Cymphony's analysis on consumer favoritism brings up this illuminating detail:

but results of a consumer survey carried out in the US based upon some 18,000 posts on social media sites suggests that a major factor...
-- Consumers favour HD DVD over Blu-ray due to negative perception of Sony

Yup, that's right - the survey was apparently based on forum posts. Forum posts, people. And in case anyone thinks I'm just putting my own slant on it, this is the methodology in the actual report:

Cymfony’s Orchestra platform sifted millions of posts from a broad universe of social media sites (including blogs, discussion boards, consumer review sites, etc) from October 1, 2006—November 23, 2006. The technology identified, compiled, and tagged 17,664 posts for references to HD DVD, Blu-ray and 12 specific models of high definition players. A subset of 2000 posts with substantive discussions of these formats were randomly selected and tagged with more detailed data on the tonality and discussion topics included.

For an example of just how unscientific this is - I could have used the same analysis a year ago to determine that Nintendo would likely be a software only company today. With forum posts, they have no way of smoothing out their demographics or determining any kind decent curve - nor determining just how informed or uninformed the people actually are. Or how many people are posting in multiple places. Or heck, just trolling because they weren't actually taking a survey.


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Firefly MMO announced

Multiverse, maker of a free MMO-creation platform, plans to announce Friday morning that it's struck a deal with Fox Licensing to turn the show into an MMORPG in the fashion of Star Wars Galaxies or Eve Online.

The "Browncoats," as Firefly's most devoted fans are known, have been campaigning to bring the show back almost since the moment it was canceled in late 2002. Now they'll get their wish, albeit in a new form.

"We see virtual worlds as an extraordinarily promising new entertainment medium," said Adam Kline, Fox Licensing's vice president of media enterprises in an e-mail. "We believe Multiverse can deliver an experience that will remain true to the original series, while enabling a whole new level of personal involvement for fans."
-- Firefly Reborn as Online Universe

As Wired puts it - that's shiny.

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I Have Seen Next Gen

A trip by the local Best Buy today finally brought me closer to witnessing the next generation of consoles - officially placing me at least weeks behind the curve of many gamers. And since there were none in stock, I think I'm still safe calling it next generation. The 360 is generation and the PlayStation 2 is last generation. Make sense? Good.

The Wii display was sans controller - a decision I'm assuming seems wise in light of broken HDTV's and various injuries. I'm not even sure it was hooked up, the display was constantly running a promotional video which described the Wii, its features and how it will change your life. Not bad, somewhat informative if not all that compelling.

The PlayStation 3 display was fully functional ... except I don't think they had a game in the slot. Instead, you could browse the Media Center for gameplay demos and screenshots. As some dirt truck game was playing, a guy walked by with his wife. He kinda got that glazed look and said, "Honey, you got to see these graphics."

"No," she replied and kept on going. Poor guy.

Also, the employees had clearly toyed around with it since there were pictures of someone's cat (unless that's included in some bundle?). I tried to load the web browser but it was disabled, so I just watched a video of Lair instead.

While I was toying with the PS3, someone asked about the controller. I put on my geek hat and explained the difference from the DualShock. Then he asked if I already had mine and I assured him I wouldn't until I could at least only pay the actual price tag for one.

Neither console was in stock, of course.

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Amazon Changes Up Discount Deal

I guess when hoardes of gamers come crashing down on your server door, you rethink a few things. The Amazon Customers Vote deal has been altered so that instead of people rushing to get the deal before it's done ... Amazon will select randomly from people who voted for the product in the first place. Seems more equitable and probably easier on their bandwidth. One thing about web sites - you want plenty of visitors ... just not all at the same second.

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Kottke's Celebrity Mii Contest

So, I'm having a contest to see who can make the best celebrity Mii. The rules are as follows:

1. All Miis must be made with the Nintendo Wii editor, not this Flash editor (which is cool, but not the same).

2. No cheating! Make your own Mii, don't just copy someone else's.

3. I love your mom, but she's not a celebrity. Frances Bean, you can ignore this rule.

4. You retain exclusive worldwide rights to your Mii and its image, save for giving me permission to post it on as part of the contest.

5. Judging will be done by me and possibly a panel of "celebrity" judges if I can scrounge some up. The family and friends of the judges can enter, but will be held to much higher standards than everyone else, just as in real life.

6. Only two entries per person. (And don't enter two in your own name and then have your friend email in two more. Pick your best two, send 'em in, and take your chances.)

7. Entry deadline is Monday, December 11th at 11:59 pm ET. I will announce the winner at some time shortly after that.

To enter, make your Mii, take a photo of it on the screen (make sure the Mii is clearly visible in the photo), and send a link to the photo to with a subject line of "Celebrity Mii Contest" (no quotes). You can also send attachments but because of my spam situation, I cannot guarantee that they will get through to me...send a link to your entry to make sure. There will be some still-as-yet-unspecified prize (I'm thinking a Wii game or something like that) awarded to the winner. Good luck!
-- Celebrity Mii contest! (


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Apple's Console Problem ... The Processor?

What I am told is that Apple is working on developing a media centre that will allso allow games to be played from the Apple Media Centre console however the problem for Apple is identifying and getting access to the right processor which allows developers to quickly re code existing programs for the potential new Apple media centre. They are also very reluctant to enter the market with a pure gaming console. What they believe is that by introducing gaming as an extension of a media centre will attract a wider audience than gamers.
-- Apple Mac Games Console Considered But Rejected

I love this particular mumblevine crop. I mean, Microsoft is trying to hit Apple with the Zune and Xbox Live's media downloads. Sony can't be far behind with using the PSP and PS3 for a similar strategy. While the iPod has a lot of dominance, it's got that "second bedroom" problem - PC's aren't in the living room ... consoles are in the living room.

At the same time, it's not like Apple has the coffers to get into a land war with Microsoft or Sony. And Nintendo covers the flank pretty well - it's extremely hard to "out innovate" Nintendo - they've made a fortune figuring out how to make the most interesting product for the right price point. Remember, it's not that the Game Boy was more powerful than anything else - it was just the best product at the best price.

Apple took an odd tack when they announced the iTV early. It's unlike Jobs to make a speech about something until all the i's are dotted and the screws are hidden. Does that mean there's some wiggle room in what the device might end up like? I really get a "not seeing the whole picture" feeling from the strategy here. As in - I'm not seeing the whole picture. As in - Apple still has a trick up its sleeve.

Or maybe I just like surprises.

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Hidden Agenda Contest

Check out Hidden Agenda Contest to see how college students around the country are building great video games for the middle school crowd – so great, in fact, that these middle schoolers don’t even notice (or care) that they are learning school subjects like math and science as they play! We call it “Stealth Education,” and we think that these games could be really helpful for students who learn better by playing than through textbooks or lectures.
HAGames is the site that takes these great games and makes them available to kids around the globe, adding fun features for playing with and competing against friends, and even offering killer prizes for the best of the best.  Did you ever think learning math or science could be this rewarding?
-- Hidden Agenda

I just love this kind of synergy. You get college kids interested in programming, challenge them to invent something, and then hand it off to middle school kids to play. You've got people of all ages involved in thinking about, creating and playing games with positive themes.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More On Apple "Gaming Studio"

An additional thought to this notion of Apple expanding it's gaming horizon. If I had to slap down a guess, I'd say Apple had a better than expected reaction to iPod game sales (no numbers to support that theory) and if anything, they're simply putting a brain trust together to a) make sure that the iPod has the right hardware to do more of this in the future and b) to develop some of the game in-house and keep the profits closer that way.

I want to be wrong, but I think Apple is a one horse show when it comes to games right now.

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Is The Console Just The New PC?

It seems like every week we hear about another update to a console OS - like the latest 360 update which has bricked some units. We've got users trying to mod their 360 to be quieter. And some people maybe cracking open that shiny PlayStation 3 to have a bigger hard drive.

And I'm beginning to think - wait ... didn't I start to walk away from PC's because of this kind of thing? One of the things I rather like about console gaming is that ... it just works. What I bought is what I get and that's that. Soon enough, though, people will be hooking keyboards and mice to their PlayStation 3's and browsing the web. Heck, in time the PS3's browser might be running and people will be ... doing work on their consoles.

In fact, the PlayStation 3 is, in a lot of ways, what Sony declared it was. It's a new breed of console. It's not even really a console. You can run Linux on it. You can hook Bluetooth peripherals to it. You can upgrade the hard drive. It's a personal computer - plain and simple.

Even the Wii, which almost seems like a throwback in these terms, will be offering up Opera Wii pretty soon. Bill Gates once commented that we will be in an Internet age when we got to the Internet for information we would have normally sought out on the phone or in a book.

Yeah. That happened a while ago.

Now - what happens when we go to our console for something we normally would have sought out on our personal computer?

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TV Watch: Hitler Santa

It seems that the creepy Santa from this week's Studio 60 may have some basis in fact.


Sweet Wii Spy Case

Via Jen Chan's photostream, wherein it's referred to as the "Pimp Case". I guess it's how Nintendo sends some review loaners out. Personally, I'd be dressed in a big trench with large shades and sitting on a park bench with that bad boy.

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Question For You: RTS Mods

My post yesterday on the overall decline of mods is not the first time I've gotten the response that I'm ignoring RTS mods in general. And it's true. The genre isn't terribly on my radar. The last RTS style game I tried to get into modding with was Freedom Force V TTR and honestly I didn't walk away with a great experience about it.

No way around it - Epic has spoiled me. I expected well organized scripts, modular designs, and the ability to get stuff done without getting too far into Visual Studio or the like.

So - what engines out there are best suited for RTS modding? Are there ones that have extensive scripting libraries or at least a bundled compiler so that you don't have to dig through someone else's VC++ library?

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Macworld Lists Apple Gaming Trends

As a follow up to the post below, here are some Mac gaming trends to follow which feels more or less complete. Probably the biggest debate in Mac gaming right now is whether Intel chips will bring a new golden age to Mac gaming - between easier ports and cross-platform efforts like Cider. Personally, I think the former will have many of the same problems it did before - it's not like porting games was ever a purely technical issue - and the latter will pan out like so many similar efforts before ( sounds like a fizzle ). Macworld touches on iPod gaming and new developers as well.

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Apple Gaming Console: Round Three

Apple Insider reports that Cupertino is hiring video game professionals on both the hardware and software fronts, once again fueling the notion that a game console may be imminent.

With the 360 getting into digital download media and Sony not that far behind, Apple certainly must be thinking about what inroads that might make until they can get the iTV (or whatever it may be called) into the hands of consumers. Course, Sony's probably also wondering what inroads the 360 might make until they can get the PS3 into the hands of consumers.

Honestly, though, I'm wondering if Apple isn't too late already. They already cut video cards from some of the Intel line. They spent a lot of energy getting games running on iPods with iTunes and zero attention to the Mac line. I'm pretty much on the record that Apple would need to duplicate a Nintendo approach and find a way to navigate around Microsoft and Sony - because the market doesn't need another "power" gaming console right now.

The only way I could see it working is:

A) Develop a controller which falls in line with the Apple Remote. Make it one part media/internet/computer browser friendly and one part casual gamepad. Wireless via bluetooth, no IR blasting.

Or - develop some kind of PDA which would also serve as a gaming peripheral. Definately the high road and more risky.

B) Develop a gaming library with an emphasis on low graphics, casual play and high interactivity. Should work as broadly across the Mac line as possible.

C) Add a gaming portal to iTunes which feeds back into A) and B) and make it an open framework so anyone can submit content. Ride that "podcast" and "videocast" stuff as much as possible, just don't call it "gamecasting".

Oh. And add "OnKeyUp" to the iTunes event structure. It won't have anything to do with anything here, but while I'm making senseless demands, I might as well add one just for myself.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

DarwiinRemote - Wiimote Software for OS X

That didn't take long (via kottke). So maybe Apple doesn't have to make a decent gaming peripheral for the Mac. Maybe we can just borrow one from the living room. Seriously, if someone can do this - why the wireless PS3 or 360 controllers? Is the 360 too custom? I'm guessing the PS3 controller is more run of the mill bluetooth, since Sony is pushing being able to use normal accessories.

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Wired Dares Question Battlestar Galactica

Do I have a knack for phrasing headlines in overly alarming tones or what?

Seriously, though, Wired's Table Of Malcontents takes Adama and crew to task and in doing so makes a hyperspace jump into throngs of scifi fans who worship the show ... me being one of them. Galactica is more serious science fiction than mainstream America probably rightfully deserves.

But even once great shows have the capacity to falter and fail (*cough* Lost *cough* Buffy *cough*) from their original stature and greatness. So do they have any valid points?

I'd say yes and no. I agree that the Cylon Ship scenes have had some moments which have threatened camp. Baltar's treatment is borderline bizarre near-sexploitation 70's genre Buck Rodgers kind of stuff. Do they want to kill him or kiss him? I'll also concur that when you see show helmsmen taking on additional work - sometimes the original labor suffers.

Overall, though, I'm not seeing it. In fact, I almost posted after the last episode which used a boxing metaphor to dredge up recent conflicts which have been brewing between crew members as simply brilliant writing - certainly not the stuff of fanfic (no offense fanfic writers - I come in peace) as the piece alleges. Tigh in particularly is a highlight of this season. In fact, I've preferred some of this season's plot than "Apollo's Arrow" mythology on Caprica from last season.

However, I tip my hat to the Malcontents. It's not easy to be unhappy with a favorite show that is still a favorite with most everyone you know. We've seen that quality is not always an endearing quality in American television, so I welcome someone trying to kick the tires once in a while.

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Are Mods Dying?

As readers from way back know, I was pretty active in the Unreal mod scene at one point. Before I blogged, in fact, I had dev diaries of what I was working on (which, sadly, may not have survived my recent hosting transfer) and wrote for a few mod sites. I even ran for a while as well as I participated in the last Make Something Unreal contest and ranked in a few of the phases. Ended up buying a shiny new sound card out of the deal.

Update: Wayback machine has the old Bounty War diary.

Since MSUC, though, my friends who are still active in the mod community tell me that interest in making and playing mods has nearly disappeared for Unreal Tournament 2004. Some of the projects moved over to Half-Life 2 - but even HL2 seems to be more than ever just a playing ground for Valve to pick and choose projects to add to Steam (gee, big surprise there). While a few interesting Doom III mods hit a while back, it's been a while since I've heard tale of a new one making a splash.

That's not to say that there aren't still mod teams and I'm sure some of them are doing great work. It seems, though, that the professionalization of mod work is almost complete.


-The old concept of a "mod" meaning that someone would go in and tinker with the core gameplay in fundamental ways is almost obsolete.

- No mod since Counter-Strike has been able to succeed commercially nearly as well - even though this has largely become the goal of many mod teams. Not even remotely, and that includes Valve favorites like Day of Defeat and Natural Selection.

- Many mod teams these days are simply nascent gaming studios. They don't have the capital to officially license a game, so they work within the EULA to create a total conversion and then try and pitch it to publishers to push the licensing fee. Largely, this is unsuccessful. And some exceptions like Red Orchestra won a license from Epic's contest.

- MMO's are becoming an increasingly dominant genre on PC's ... and they don't support modding. As FPS gamers move to consoles (which ... don't support modding), the demand for mods will decrease. With these trends, RTS games are the next big mod "market" in waiting.

Don't get me wrong, I think there will be hobbyist and garage developers on PC's for as long as we have PC's. That's not the same crowd, though, that cobbled Future Vs Fantasy or the Action series - not to mention smaller mods like stat tweaks, new powerups, weapon mods, or whatever. Possibly if XNA takes off ... we might see a new mod scene emerge for the 360 scene. For now, though, it seems mods are nearly done evolving into something completely different with little hope of return.

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