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04/29/2007 - 05/05/2007

Top-Ten Drawbacks to Neurosensitive Gaming

May 04, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. It's true -- they're developing videogames you can control with your mind. Check out Sci-Tech's Roundup of brainwave videogame controllers. You've got Neurosky, a company whose demo includes a thought-sensitive Darth Vader mask that lights up a light saber only when you concentrate. (This makes the old Jedi mind trick, "Hey! What's that thing behind you?" really effective during duels.) Then there's Emotiv, whose engineers have developed this crazy headset allowing you to actually control things on-screen. In their tech demo, you can build stonehenge with your mind ... in approximately the same amount of time it took to build the real one.

Finally there's Cyberlearning Technology, a company whose NASA-researched neurofeedback system is aimed at improving the concentration of kids suffering from problems such as attention deficit disorder. Sweet: Doctor-prescribed videogaming. "Pwn a couple chumps and call me in the morning." Apparently the Cyberlearning system will shut off the videogames if kids aren't concentrating, thus training their brain. Training them to get up and do something else, maybe.

This is your brain. This is your brain on games. Any questions?

These technologies represent a bold new direction for the games industry. From the Sci-Tech piece:

Adding biofeedback to Tiger Woods PGA Tour, for instance, could mean that only those players who muster Zen-like concentration could nail a put. In the popular action game Grand Theft Auto, players who become nervous or frightened would have worse aim than those who remain relaxed and focused.
I'm not so sure this is a good thing. Do we really want to go down this path? Games controlled directly by our brains? This could be disastrous.

Top 10 Drawbacks to Games that Read Your Mind

10. The Dead or Alive girls refuse to fight, simply take off clothes and make out.

9. Half-Life's Gordon Freeman keeps instinctively patting Alyx's ass.
    Your wife begins to worry.

8. You nod off while playing Halo. When you wake up, the Master Chief is standing in front of your Junior High English class in his underwear.

7. Breathalyzer required before you can play Gran Turismo.

6. Feeling nervous while playing Splinter Cell? Special agent Sam Fisher will crack under interrogation, reveal his secret government mission, jeopardize the free world, than blurt out stuff you did at Summer Camp, you know, just that one time.

5. Gordon Freeman keeps instinctively patting Dr. Kleiner's ass. You begin to worry.

4. Your Elder Scrolls: Oblivion character won't rest in-game until you
      physically fall asleep.

3. Cooking Mama tries to teach you a new recipe, but keeps averting her eyes
      and blushing.

2. Gordon Freeman uncontrollably patting Antlion asses. You didn't even know they had asses. Everyone is worried.

1. You and your friends play Mario Party while drunk. When you come to, Toad's shoved in a mailbox and the Princess wakes up pregnant.

I'm just sayin'. We gotta think about this stuff.


P.S. I want the USB fish-babysitter aquarium. For reals.

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

Posted by at 11:20 AM PDT
Edited on: May 04, 2007 11:43 AM PDT

New MMO Team Aims High

May 03, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. The massively multiplayer scene has a rich and deep history dating back over 30 years. Because designing an online game requires specialized skills (both for the game design and for the tech behind it -- usually learned the hard way!) the same people will keep cropping up again and again. Industry veterans with years of experience are always spinning off and creating new ventures.

The latest development studio to ascend out of the mist is Colony Studios, founded by a brain trust of designers who'd previously worked on such games as EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, and a half-dozen other landmark titles. RPGVault has a massive interview with Colony Studios posted earlier this week, just after the new company revealed itself with a press release.

Playing it Not-So-Safe

Here's the thing: massively multiplayer games are expensive to build, not to mention risky, no matter how experienced your development team is. So, while there's a lot of investment money floating around in the wake of World of Warcraft's success, building a top-notch MMO is still a real gamble.

For that reason, most companies would play it safe. Cloning World of Warcraft, an already successful game, would be the "safe" route. You would just take a formula that's known to sell and tweak it a little or wrap it around a different theme. That's why so many EverQuest clones appeared in 2001-2003. It's easy to sell investors on that.

Colony Studios concept art
Concept Art. Got enough guns there, big guy?

But kudos to Colony for deciding to strike out in a different direction! According to CEO Mike Wallis: "We're developing a sci-fi space-themed MMO. Our IP will be centered on a dynamic living 'world' far more than a linear storyline that hinders replayability. We will provide a ton of history and backstory in the game, but the players will consistently influence the content. The important differentiator is this - players will log in and react to what's been happening in the game... Our game is dynamic, so you'd better keep up with it."

While Wallis didn't come out and name it specifically, it sounds like EVE Online is one of the models the team is looking at. Remember that EVE launched at the same time as Earth & Beyond -- both were MMO space games, but E&B was produced by a well-known developer (Westwood studios) and released by the largest game publisher on the planet. However, E&B was a slow-moving EverQuest clone with spaceships, whereas EVE was a dynamic player-driven world where the politics between player conglomerates became integral to the fabric of the game. Result? Earth & Beyond was shut down after a couple of years, but EVE continues to prosper and slowly grow an audience of dedicated fans. Try EVE Online for 14 days here at FilePlanet.

Colony Studios is stepping up to the firing line and taking aim at something extremely ambitious. It's good to see. Although the studio is targeting a holiday 2009 release, the lengthy development cycles of MMO games and Wallace's insistence on quality and a long beta test period probably makes a 2010 release more likely. (This is a good thing!) Read the RPG Vault Interview for juicy details!


P.S. I want the keyboard waffle iron. For reals.

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Posted by at 10:42 AM PDT
Edited on: May 03, 2007 10:43 AM PDT

Followup: Teaching Kids to Program

May 02, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Some time ago I wrote a column referencing David Brin's Salon.com piece Why Johnny Can't Code. Brin observed that back in "the day," every PC shipped with some version of BASIC and anyone could learn to program this crazy new machine they just bought. (I myself cut my teeth on a TRS-80 Color Computer -- man, those things were underrated.) Of course, nowadays, Windows PCs or Macs don't come with any built-in learners language.

Won't somebody think of the children!?

Well, somebody is, a Professor who goes by the nickname "Whytheluckystiff." Why had written an essay entitled The Little Coder's Predicament, voicing many of the same complaints. But then Why took things a step farther, and like any good worldly geek, Why created a programming language entitled Hackety Hack. You can download it from the Hackety Hack website or grab the beta from our FilePlanet Mirror.

Hackety Hack mashes up existing web technologies (Gecko and Ruby) to create a beginner's programming language, one that's focused on developing web applications (great for quick feedback.) Kids can use Hackety Hack to create their own blog in about six lines of code. Loading in music or graphics is a single command. The language at this stage doesn't look to me to be as flexible as BASIC, but it's likely a great way to teach some simple programming concepts, leading students into more and more advanced web scripting later on. At least one student called it "110% Badassery" -- heavy praise indeed.

This TerraNova article Discussing Hackety Hack has some commentary on the new language, with mixed reviews in the discussion that follows. Hackety Hack isn't the only project aimed to help kids learn the art of telling computers what to do, I just thought it was underground and cool enough to write a blog about. There's also the Kids Programming Language project, if you're interested in this kind of thing. I should also mention Processing.org, an open-source programming platform focused on images and animation that's also a good learning tool for both kids and non-engineer adults.

Most of the greatest game programmers in the industry today were tinkering with computers shortly after they learned to talk. They were coding games in their teens and reshaping the game industry by their twenties. Let's give every generation the same opportunity!


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Posted by at 11:52 AM PDT

What's Holding the Wii Virtual Console Back?

May 01, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Anyone who's been reading my blog or newsletter for the past, oh, seven years knows that I'm a big fan of digital game downloads. You know, like Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo's Virtual Console, or our own Direct2Drive site for the PC. I see the digital space as an emerging market that will help to fix what's ailing the industry by creating a market for more inexpensive, creative games or back-catalog titles. And research shows that the space will be growing by leaps and bounds in the coming years.

But sometimes news comes along to take the wind out of my sails. Check this:

In a recent IGN interview Nintendo President Satoru Iwata reported sales numbers to IGN, tallying up 3.3 million total virtual console sales to date worldwide. Bit it was the eagle-eyed reporters at Game|Life who pointed out that Nintendo had claimed 1.5 million sales by January 24 of this year, and they did the math: Month over month, virtual console sales are actually slowing down, despite incredible console sales.

Boot to the head!So what's happening here? I can only guess, and I will now do so, blurting out the kind of unfounded biased reporting that makes the blogosphere famous. While downloading back-catalog Nintendo or SEGA titles from years gone by is a great way to relive your fond memories of console gaming history, it's not the most compelling content for the new system. (Sometimes its even a let down: I downloaded Xevious, one of my favorite classic arcades, but of course what's on there is the Nintendo NES port of the game, and not the actual classic arcade game. My Wii is thousands of times more powerful than the original arcade, so playing the NES version isn't so sexy.) These old console classics are great fun for longtime gamers but not so exciting for much of the Wii audience -- including younger gamers or the new older casual gamers Nintedo has wooed with its innovative new controller.

What would be compelling? Howabout some original new mini-games that take advantage of the Wii controller? Howabout new original casual and board games that families can play together? Nintendo needs to offer those!

Microsoft is being pretty forward-thinking with the Xbox Live arcade. Aside from classic arcade titles, the Xbox is enjoying casual game standbys like Uno or the immensely deep board game Settlers of Catan. On top of that, original games like good ol' Geometry Wars add some variety. Meanwhile, Microsoft is courting the indie gaming scene, with its XNA game development tools and the promise of possible publishing deals through Xbox Live Arcade -- I expect in the coming years we're going to see a lot of clever original games make their way to the system. I hate to get a reputation for being a backseat CEO, but I think Nintendo should take a page from that book and use the Wii Virtual Console as a showcase for inventive new ideas.

There's already a whole hacker community tinkering with the Wiimote -- with the right publishing pipeline, the Wii could become the platform of choice for crazy new game ideas from the indie scene. That's what I want to see!

Thoughts on the Wii virtual console? Mail me!


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Posted by at 10:51 AM PDT
Edited on: May 01, 2007 10:55 AM PDT

A New Twist for Guild Wars

April 30, 2007

Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. While you won't find me on the servers night after night, I've always been a fan of Guild Wars, which I fire up now and again to get my fix of its unique gameplay and gorgeous landscapes. It had always seemed to me that ArenaNet had stumbled on a Good Thing, with a capital G and a capital T. A massively multiplayer game with no monthly fees, Guild Wars enjoys a great community buzz and terrific sales of each successive stand-alone expansion. ArenaNet has found a business model that the community loves, and the company has a great product. The graphics still look cutting-edge. I just assumed they'd ride this one out for years, squeezing out regular expansions every six to nine months.

I was wrong.

GameSpy's Latest Guild Wars 2 Preview spills all the beans. After the upcoming Guild Wars expansion Eye of the North, ArenaNet is going to stop development on the original game (Don't worry - the servers will continue to run indefinately.) Beyond that, the whole company will be focused on Guild Wars 2. Why chuck aside something that was working? ArenaNet Co-founder Mike O'Brien lays it out:
"In looking at the design [of Guild Wars], we got a lot of things right. The problem was that after two years we also saw a lot of ways in which the core gameplay could be improved. These weren't things that could be addressed by adding new layers on top of the original game, though. They involved going in and making upgrades and improvements to the fundamental gameplay systems. In the end we made the decision that in order to truly make the ultimate version of Guild Wars we were going to have to make Guild Wars 2." -Mike O'Brien
I'm surprised, but I also like what I'm hearing. It's not often that companies have the cojones -- yeah I said it -- to take chances with a great product in order to make it even better. So often the games industry is too conservative, afraid to change what works. Hats off to both ArenaNet and NCSoft for being bold with Guild Wars yet again.

Read the GameSpy Guild Wars 2 Preview and Interview for more.


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Posted by at 10:15 AM PDT

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