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01/07/2007 - 01/13/2007

Games As a Way to Get Schooled. No, I Mean Literally.

January 12, 2007


This is the year of tiny things. Three cheers for David Williamson Shaffer, an Education Science Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Co-author of the book "How Computer Games Help Children Learn," he's been touring the media advocating the use of computer games in the classroom. There, kids can learn valuable skills that, in his opinion, make them more competitive and technology-savvy in the global market. Skills like blowing up cars (Kidding). His argument is that the current educational system was developed in the late 1800s to prepare kids for life in industrial America, and isn't relevant in a connected, multitasking, interactive world.

As it turns out, Shaffer isn't the only person to think this way. Last year I was chatting with Nolan Bushnell -- yes, that Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari -- and he had a lot of the same ideas. A perpetual entrepreneur, Bushnell is writing a book about creating wired schools where the education is interactive and students plow through material at their own pace. Your reward for completing interactive learning assignments is "points" you can spend to, say, email your classmates. But if you use some of your new vocabulary words in the email, you can send it for free. Teachers would be available to monitor how everyone is doing and then to sit down one-on-one with individual students to help them along. I'm hardly doing the idea justice in a short paragraph here, but the point is that there are plenty of smart people out there who see games as something that can really help kids.

I think using games for education isn't just a great thing to do for students ... it's a great way to erase the stigma that games are "bad entertainment" and to foster better game development all around. I learned more about business from that Lemonade game for the Apple ][ than a dozen business books could ever teach me -- supply, demand, setting prices, planning ahead, marketing, etc. -- skills that I still use every day. Same with my lucrative blaster-sales business in Star Wars Galaxies. That's right: Games made me a better person! Thoughts on games and education? Mail me!

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
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Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:13 AM PST
Edited on: January 12, 2007 10:16 AM PST
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Buy a PC... Save the Earth!

January 11, 2007


This is the year of tiny things. Of all people, somehow Al Gore made it cool to be green. But when it comes to global warming, we PC gamers have a lot to answer for. And I'm not just talking about the warmth blasted out by my overclocked PC at home, which radiates searing heat not unlike the surface of the sun whenever I try to play the Vanguard Beta. Your typical desktop chews up a lot of energy, which has to be generated at a power planet somewhere that's cranking out greenhouse gasses. So what's a happening, earth-loving PC freak to do?

One answer comes from Dell Computer. At CES the company announced that Dell is going green by offering a special option for people who buy PCs to make the transaction "Carbon Neutral." Carbon Neutral means that steps are taken to offset the greenhouse gasses that powering your computer will produce. In this case, it's as simple as a "Planet a Tree" button on your order form. Check it, tack a few bucks onto your bill, and the company will make sure a tree is planted to balance out three years of PC power. Have some delicious oxygen, Planet Earth!

It's pretty clear to me that going green isn't just good for the planet -- it's obviously a great way to market your stuff to planet-conscious techies. I'm going to initiate a program here at GameSpy and FilePlanet. It works like this: subscribe to any one of our online products or services, and I will personally take action to reduce dangerous CO2 emissions by holding my breath for one minute. Whoa, hey -- not all at once now...

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
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Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 9:55 AM PST
Edited on: January 11, 2007 9:56 AM PST
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The Top Videogame Franchises of All Time

January 10, 2007


This is the year of tiny things. The Independent, a British newspaper, has assembled a list of the top 20 videogame franchises of all time. (The full list was reprinted in Gamasutra). Check it:

1. Mario (Nintendo): 193 million
2. Pokemon (Nintendo): 155 million
3. Final Fantasy (Square Enix): 68 million
4. Madden NFL (Electronic Arts): 56 million
5. The Sims (Maxis/Electronic Arts): 54 million
6. Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar): 50 million
7. Donkey Kong (Nintendo): 48 million
8. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo): 47 million
9. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega): 44 million
10. Gran Turismo (Sony): 44 million
11. Lineage (NCsoft): 43 million
12. Dragon Quest (Square Enix): 41 million
13. Crash Bandicoot (Sony/Vivendi): 34 million
14. Resident Evil (Capcom): 31 million
15. James Bond (Various): 30 million
16. Tomb Raider (Eidos Interactive): 30 million
17. Mega Man (Capcom): 26 million
18. Command & Conquer (Westwood Studios/Electronic Arts): 25 million
19. Street Fighter (Capcom): 25 million
20. Mortal Kombat (Midway): 20 million

As you can see, the list is based on number of units sold, which is an interesting choice. The list would look different if you looked at the total revenues earned from each game (MMOs like Lineage might scoot up the list), and it would change even more if you totaled up all the licensing dollars earned (in which case Pokemon might edge up above Mario, but Nintendo would still rule the roost).

The list is dominated by Japanese products. Six entries were developed in the 'states (Madden tops the list at number 4) while the U.K. chimed in with Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider. Korea makes a surprising splash at number 11 with the runaway MMO successes of Lineage I and Lineage II.

I was also surprised to see Command & Conquer ranked just ahead of Street Fighter on this list -- even with all the versions of C&C available and all the expansion packs, it's still impressive to see how far that PC-only franchise has gone. Wondering about Warcraft? It's got a ways to go. Sales of the RTS and its sequels, combined with sales of World of Warcraft so far, still don't add up to the 20-million units required to bump Mortal Kombat off of the list. Personally, I blame those old TV commercials. "Mooorrrttaaaalll Koooommmmmbbaaattttt!!" You're with me on this one, right?

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
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Posted by at 10:32 AM PST
Edited on: January 10, 2007 10:46 AM PST
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The Evolution of Tabletop Games, Part II

January 09, 2007


I have Wii Tennis Elbow. Yesterday I mentioned d20Pro in the context of talking about how people were using PC applications to assist with playing good old-fashioned pen-and-paper tabletop games. A cross between a gaming session and a LAN party, at best computer-aided roleplaying removes all the sauce from your game and frees you up to roleplay situations and encounters. At worst, you and your players are wrestling with your computers the whole time.

Since yesterday's post, a number of you have written in to point out all the other options for virtual tabletop gaming -- it's a whole cottage industry. Here's a list of other (commercial) software products available, some of which are pretty impressive:

Battlegrounds: RPG Edition - A very flexible system designed to accommodate campaigns from just about any game system.
Fantasy Grounds - Among the best-looking of the bunch, with great tools and lots of eye-candy.
ViewingDale - ViewingDale is based around a powerful mapping tool that can be shared among users. Chat features to enable gameplay are layered on top.
KloogeWerks - A Java-Based program that's completely configurable, which makes it hard to use but very powerful if your DM invests the time to customize it.
ScreenMonkey - This neat app allows a GM to create a game that the players can all view via an ordinary web browser.
RolePlayingMaster - Based on the 3rd Edition D&D, RPM has tools that do everything from character creation to randomized dungeons.

On top of these, a couple dozen freeware programs are also in varying states of development. For a full list, visit the awesome Links Page on the Battlegrounds site. The important thing for virtual tabletop gaming is not necessarily finding the ultimate piece of software, but finding the one that you and your group will best be able to use. If you've got any experiences to talk about, Write me!

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
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Posted by at 10:49 AM PST
Edited on: January 09, 2007 3:44 PM PST
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Tabletop Roleplaying Will Never Die. But Evolve?

January 08, 2007


I have Wii Tennis Elbow. With all the noise and excitement over modern MMOs like Vanguard (Check out GameSpy's Preview or the FilePlanet Beta), it's easy to forget the debt these games owe to good old-fashioned table-top gaming. You know: graph-paper, dice, Doritos, cola, and about a half-dozen crazy friends doing half-orc impressions into the wee hours ... good times.

The pen-and-paper RPG industry has definitely gone through some ups and downs over the past decade, but the social aspect and the unlimited freedom these games grant means that they won't be going away anytime soon. But maybe changes are in the wind. What if you could combine the ease of playing computer games with the fun of having a live DM? That's what d20Pro is all about -- it's a software system that assumes that all the players have networked laptops. The DM still runs the show, but all the rules maneuvering, etc. is done by the laptops to keep the game moving fast. And while it's still best to play face-to-face, d20Pro gives you the option of playing remotely if one player can't make it to the session. I haven't tried it, but it sounds like a wild cross between a gaming session and a LAN party.

The reason I bring it up is because the creators of d20Pro have just announced a virtual gaming convention slated for later this month. "Conline" will feature a series of live-DM'ed games and tournaments to play... remotely. If you participate, I'd suggest sitting at the dining room table with a big bowl of nacho chips or cheese puffs, you know, to set the mood.

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
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Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 11:23 AM PST
Edited on: January 09, 2007 3:45 PM PST
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