The PlayStation Store saw a robust update yesterday, full of new games and content. We decided to download the two new PlayStation Eye "games," Trials of Topoq and Mesmerize. We wanted to see if the peripheral was going to have some serious support or if we were strictly in gimmick territory.
Insert video of player looking silly
Trials of Topoq is a $4.99 download, and the premise is simple: you have to get the ball to the goal while navigating around danger and sometimes doing some light collecting. The interesting bit is that each level takes place on a series of towers, and each flat surface features a video feed from the camera; you control the ball by moving. When the camera senses movement, it raises that part of the floor, causing the ball to roll the opposite way. It sounds a little odd, and it is, but it gets easier to understand after watching a video of the game in action.
The control of the ball using your movement is very accurate and feels natural; there is a strong sense of you actually interacting with the game. There is none of the fuzziness of movement and frustration that you got with certain Eye Toy games back in the days of the PlayStation 2. As the levels get more fanciful, things can get a tad hectic, but the austere graphics and low-key music and sound effects create a very calming mood.
In fact, the game works best with moderate-speed, sweeping motions. I found myself almost changing moods; my breathing got a little slower, I started to move in smooth motions—it almost feels like a very light Tai Chi workout in places. It helps that the game itself is good fun.
Mesmerize, on the other hand, is a $1.99 demo that shows a few special effects and visual toys to play with. Wave your hands to grow grass on the screen, play with a little ribbon, get a pincushion effect—that sort of thing. It's not very fun, and while the "gee whiz that's neat" factor would have been there as a free download, there are much better ways to spend your $2.
So there you go. One honest-to-goodness excellent PlayStation Eye game, and one gimmicky waste of money. Considering that you get the PlayStation Eye with the immensely fun Eye of Judgment, I'd say the peripheral is starting to look attractive. Keep it up, Sony!
Rock Band, while keeping parents and neighbors awake in many American neighborhoods, has had a hard and turbulent road to release here in Canada. The Canadian version was originally slated to be released alongside the American version, then later delayed, and delayed again, and for some retailers delayed yet again. The potential Christmas present has become more rare than the Nintendo Wii around these parts, and the hopeful holiday rockers are left standing out in the cold.
CBC has been covering the story, and reports that retailers are placing the blame squarely on EA Canada, the game's publisher. Botched arrival dates and diminishing stock have caused some serious problems for retailers. Calls around the Ontario area reveal that big box chains like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Toys 'R Us are receiving very few units, and the EB Games outlets are essentially already sold out through preorders.
For those not living in the Greater Toronto Area, though, the wait could be much longer. Talk on gaming forums like GameFAQs and NeoGAF hints that gamers living out in central and western Canada are far less lucky, with stores receiving only one or two bundles before Christmas. Favoring Toronto for shipped product is not a new phenomenon for Canadian consumers, but with how tight shipments already are, it's still a heart-wrenching blow at this time of the year.
My own EB received first the game-only copy of Rock Band yesterday, and were supposedly getting a handful of the special edition bundles today. Being high on the preorder list, even I was surprised to find that not only had shipments not yet arrived at 1pm EST today, but that even if they did, I would be out of luck until well after Christmas. The outlook for those to follow was bleaker. I spoke to the clerk at the store and she reiterated that the supply would be minuscule. "We just aren't getting very many in," she told me. "We had no real idea how many we were going to be shipped, and now we have a bunch of preorders for people that definitely won't be able to get one before Christmas."
Thanks EB, I'm so glad I preordered.
Continuing its march around the world, the iPhone's next potential stop is South Korea. "Talks" have already commenced between Apple and Korea Telecom Freetel (KTF), a mobile phone carrier with both 12 million subscribers in the country and close ties to NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest carrier.
As The Korea Times notes, KTF has been open throughout the year about its desire to sell the iPhone in South Korea. Though Apple has yet to make a decision, it has stated its plans to sell the iPhone in Asia "sometime next year," but it has yet to specify where. Considering that Apple is also in talks with NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile phone carrier and the second largest investor in KTF, cutting a juicy deal with the two-punch combo of these companies has got to be at the top of Apple's list.
Unlike in Japan though, South Korea requires all handsets to run a Korean-developed mobile phone OS called WIPI. Though the government there recently began allowing 3G mobile phones to be sold in the country (as long as they don't have Internet functionality), this rule likely poses a significant hurdle for Apple. A good portion of the iPhone's appeal is its internet capabilities, after all.
KTF must be offering some kind of option or workaround for the WIPI rule, or perhaps a method is on the table for WIPI's core requirements to be incorporated into the iPhone's implementation of OS X. Whatever the situation, Apple must still see some way to get the iPhone into South Korea, otherwise the talks would likely have been called off by now. KTF's CEO Cho Young-Chu says he's been waiting for an answer from Apple since August. Guess we'll just have to join him.
The development of optical communications and other applications for lasers has led to a booming industry for optics. For some applications, it can now be critical to obtain lenses that reflect less than one percent of the light over a certain color range (for comparison, glass reflects about four percent). Likewise, it is sometimes critical that more than 99.9 percent of the light is reflected at the surface of a mirror, which is a lot harder to achieve than one might think. Typically, the reflectivity of these optics are controlled by depositing layers of material with different refractive indices. Each layer reflects some of the light, however, if the spacing of the layers is correct, the light from each surface interferes destructively, resulting in less total reflected light. The correct layer spacing can be obtained by considering the color of the light to be transmitted, which means that these coatings are generally useful over a very narrow range of wavelengths and then only when the light hits the layer at a particular angle. More complicated layer structures can increase the range of colors transmitted. This also expands the range of angles at which the light can be incident, however, it generally comes at some cost to the effectiveness of the anti-reflection coating. Calculating the layer design is somewhat of a black art, with highly paid Germans using a combination of computer programs, experience, and animal sacrifice to achieve optical coatings with the required specifications.
This is all a bit embarrassing when you consider that many species of butterfly have incredibly reflective wings, and the common housefly has an eye that doesn't reflect much light at all. The problem is that designing these structures from scratch is quite difficult and the three-dimensional structure used by houseflies and butterflies is very hard to manufacture. But that shouldn't stop us from stealing it and that is exactly what a group of researchers has done. They used a pair of housefly eyes as templates to grow replicas of the structure, but using materials that are sturdier and heat resistant (aluminum oxide to be precise).
They showed that these copies had less than one percent reflectivity from very deep purple to the infrared and this low reflectivity was maintained over wide range of angles of incidence. Really, a very remarkable optical coating. I should note a couple of caveats though. These surfaces are neither smooth nor flat—normally optical surfaces are made as smooth as possible—so there is some question about how well the spatial properties of a laser beam will be preserved after transmission through such a surface. It could be that interference preserves the beam nicely, however, it is more likely that the spatial structure is destroyed, rendering the laser beam useless.
Normally, this paragraph is reserved for me to say some trite thing about where this research might go. This time, I will let the authors' have the final word:
Biological structures are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Such designs of nature possess many unique merits that would be difficult to achieve by a complete artificial simulation.
Nanotechnology, 2007, DOI: 10.1088/0957-4484/19/02/025602
Here's the situation: Activision paid to use the song "What I Like About You" by The Romantics on the game Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s. Like many songs where it didn't have access to or didn't pay for the master track, Activision had its team of talented studio musicians re-record the song for inclusion in the game. The Romantics sued because the new version of the band's song sounded too close to the original–which was the point all along, really, but this way The Romantics get more money.
The whole thing smelled bad, and on Monday a federal judge denied the request to stop sales of the game. According to the announcement, the judge "indicated that to the extent there were any copyright issues, Activision did exactly what the company was supposed to do in developing the product."
It's been pointed out that this sort of sound-alike recording is protected under law, and is, in fact, encouraged. The law states that the original copyrights of a song "do not extend to the making or duplication of another sound recording that consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording."
This played out exactly like most people assumed it would, and The Romantics ended up looking a little sad as they tried to squeeze a few more bucks out of the use of the band's song. We know that having your music included in Guitar Hero games leads to a measurable increase in digital sales, so why not just enjoy the publicity and the new market you're reaching? Hopefully, this ruling will keep other bands from trying this again, and the music business will begin to embrace these games as a way to break in new bands and renew interest in existing songs.
Court records don't indicate if The Romantics pleaded their case in awesome red suits.
In a Stevenote sent to Apple employees at mid-year, Jobs awkwardly described the company as a chair with the three legs—wouldn't that be a stool?—: the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone. As 2007 winds down, it's seems only appropriate to consider the year for Apple from that ternary perspective.
Intel CPUs, iPod Halo, Mac OS X, Windows Fatigue, whatever the cause, the effect is that 2007 will be remembered as a Mac Renaissance not seen since the early 90s. In 2006, 5,655,000 Macs were sold. 2007 will see sales between 7.7 million and 8 million—a 36 to 40 percent increase—and two to three times the projected growth of industry average. Since only the iMac saw significant revision this year, this is especially positive news. Of course, that hardware "leg" of Apple—someone find a new metaphor for Jobs—benefited from new software. Besides iLife '08 and iWork '08, including the spreadsheet Numbers, the tri-named Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was released in October. During its first weekend alone, Leopard sold 2 million copies, something that took the previous iteration of OS X over a month to do. Mac sales in 2007 were great, a trend that will likely continue in 2008.
While new Macs were scarce in 2007, the iPod line launched two new models, as well as repackaging an old one and adding color to the last. While the Shuffle got color cases, the iPod Classic was kept around to keep the Zune in its place: last. The iPod Nano introduced a wide-screen display to the most popular iPod, and the iPod Touch introduced the touch screen display to people who don't want a phone. In 2006, Apple sold 46,366,000 iPods and is expected to sell approximately 55 million in 2007, an increase of somewhere around 17 percent. While the growth rate for sales may be leveling off, that's still a hell of a lot of media players. In contrast, music sales at the iTunes Store continue to accelerate, with Apple passing the two-billion song mark in January, followed by three billion songs in July, with four, or even five billion, likely to be announced at Macworld Expo in January. The iPod, and the iTunes Store, continued their respective market dominance, and will likely continue to do so in 2008.
Finally, that leaves the third leg of Apple, an appendage whose sales continues to elongate. Introduced at Macworld Expo 2007, the iPhone went on sale six months later, selling 270,000 units in its first two days. Seventy-two days after that, Apple sold its millionth iPhone. Now, rumor has it that the iPhone will have sold 5 million units in 2007, putting it on track to meet projections of 10 million sold in 2008. Clearly, Apple has another hit product in the iPhone.
While this has been a great year for Apple, there have been problems. Lackluster sales of the "sort of a new DVD player for the Internet age," as Steve Jobs awkwardly described the Apple TV, has ensured the furniture metaphor will not become a table anytime soon. However, worse than the failure of the Apple TV in 2007, was the inability of Apple to bring video content to the iTunes Store. The impasse with the movies studios andNBC abandoning the iTunes Store means 2007 saw a decrease in the number of video titles available. Still, even this problem is small when considered against the spectacularly successful transition of Apple Computer.
In 1992, market share for the Macintosh peaked at just over 12 percent, an all-time high. By 1997, Apple Computer's percentage of the PC market had plummeted to less than four percent, and that's about where it stands now. It was only fitting then that 2007 began with a symbolic statement of the obvious, and so should we ring out the end of the year in the same way.
Apple Computer is dead, long live Apple, Inc.!
A new patent application filed by Microsoft describes methods for "enforcing" advertisements in downloaded media. Traditionally, ads accompany streaming content and, by extension, restrict that content to a browser. But technology that could bring ads to downloaded content would open up new opportunities for digital distribution services, advertisers, and consumers, and could give DRM a whole new leg to stand on.
Microsoft's patent application, titled Enforcing Advertising Playback For Downloaded Media Content, describes systems that are based both on tokens and DRM which would prohibit playing a media file unless its accompanying advertising is viewed. The technology is designed to prohibit fast-forwarding, editing, or otherwise circumventing the advertisements, though it is unclear exactly where the ads would be placed. Internet users have repeatedly announced their distaste for pre-roll ads in streaming content and video games, but users of NBC's Hulu service reportedly don't mind its TV-like interstitial ads.
On the other hand, users have made it abundantly clear that paid content, such as the $1.99 TV shows from Apple's iTunes Store, should be devoid of any advertising whatsoever. This is where Microsoft's ad-enforced download technology could actually offer a new choice for distributors and consumers. Downloads offered for less than $1.99—or, ideally, for free—that contain an agreeable amount of advertising could gain real traction with consumers who want to download, collect, and organize their own media library. This would be especially advantageous for users who want to experience media on portable devices, or while otherwise offline.
The studios could take a swing at digital distribution by offering free (or cheap) files that contain a little advertising and DRM, in exchange for offline and portable viewing. If Microsoft or another service could offer a selection of TV shows and movies at least competitive with the dominant iTunes Store, the allure of free, portable media might help customers overcome some of their DRM loathing.
Aside from the likes of NBA Jam and NBA Street, I have little interest in basketball games. For all I know, NCAA 08 March Madness, the latest EA college basketball game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, might be the best basketball game ever created. But honestly, I'm a Canadian gaming writer. They send me American College Basketball. They never send me hockey. What's going on here? It's a like a developer that decides to send Ben JRPGs while throwing away its stock of rhythm games.
In the interest of science, I figured it was worth tackling the game just to see what it's like to play something completely new to me. Sure, March Madness 2008 features a ton of new modes, a buffed up dynasty mode, online play with new online leagues, over 400 teams, ESPN integration, and a ton more, but I simply wanted to see if I could have fun. I played a single game and decided to judge it solely on that single game: after all, with little outside knowledge of the sport, the single game should be enough to determine whether or not it would be worth playing again.
Selecting "Play Now" put me in a match as the Miami Hurricanes against the Kentucky Wildcats. Upon getting the game set up, a "mini-game" prompt popped up to offer a sub-goal to accomplish in addition to beating the Wildcats: "score 19 points or more in 40 seconds and boost your team intensity meter." A neat feature, I thought, and moved on. The loading screen quickly appeared, allowing me to shoot baskets while the game loaded. Another neat feature.
Actually getting into the game proved a little daunting. The typical control demo that most EA games have during the loading was absent, so it took a while to learn the basics. Passing and shooting worked fine, but setting up a pick proved more difficult. In fact, I never really got a feel for it, and as such, the key game became trying. Not helping matters was the sheer frequency with which fouls were called, which made me hesitant to try for a steal. However, I did learn how to manipulate one of the new features: team intensity. Controlling the crowd and the team with this feature felt more natural than it does in Madden, and soon I had the crowd standing and roaring with every move I made.
The graphics were sharp: the hardwood floor shined and gradually dulled, getting slippery and squeaky with the player's sweat. The sounds and motions of the crowd were equally impressive; each good play gave me a surge of enjoyment, and when the chanting in unison started, it was really something. Perhaps it's the lack of glass separating the players from the crowd, but there was something more pronounced about the crowd's interaction than the hockey games I play.
Though the audience had me going, I was down at the half and ultimately lost the game. If there was a really nice tutorial—which there isn't—then I could see myself, and other non-basketball fans, really getting into this. As it stands, though, the game isn't all that inviting to newcomers. EA's hockey, golf, and football franchises all have fairly welcoming beginner experiences, but I found myself shut out of the basketball world after a game: I wouldn't play again. It's a pretty safe bet to say that this game remains only for the fans.
This post came out of Frank contacting me to complain that EA, for some odd reason, keeps sending him the oddest games. He's a Canadian! Send him the hockey! He then asked if college basketball was really that big in the States. Having spent a few years attending the University of Kentucky I was taken aback. "Games are like holidays in Kentucky," I told him. "The bars fill, everyone wears the team colors… it's pretty intense."
After that, it was his turn to be amazed. We both thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on a game completely alien to him and see what he thought. When he remarked that there is no glass separating the crowd and the court as if it were breaking news, I knew we were going to read something special.
It's okay Frank, both sides of the border still love bacon. Even if your bacon is wrong.
A motorist yapping away on a cell phone is seldom a welcome sight for other drivers, and those who do so in the UK will now face stiffer penalties for their multitasking British prosecutors instituted new guidelines yesterday for enforcing the 2003 ban on handheld use while driving, which include more serious charges against the offending driver and even the possibility of jail time.
Officials estimate that, although motorists could previously be charged with careless driving and fines of £60, up to half a million Brits violate the law daily. The new guidelines are meant to curb that behavior. "This sends a clear message to motorists: don't mix driving and communicating, just as you would not drink and drive," said the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety's Rob Gifford in a statement seen by The Telegraph. "This is long overdue. At last the law has caught up with the reality of the road, with too many people using their phone while driving."
Drivers now face unlimited fines and up to two years in jail if caught using a mobile device while on the road. Those mobile devices include cell phones, music players, GPS devices, or any number of things that could be distracting to a driver. The use of handsfree devices is okay, but police can still stop someone if they believe the handsfree device has impaired his or her driving.
Of course, not everyone agrees that the new guidelines will help curb dangerous driving. "This does seem over the top. I would never condone using a handheld mobile and would never do it myself. But existing laws cover it and there are plenty of other things which are distracting," Association of British Drivers spokesperson Paul Biggs told The Telegraph.
Others believe that the existing laws just need better enforcement—Sheila Granger for the UK-based RAC told Reuters that if more motorists had been stopped in the first place, more people would be deterred from violating the law.
But enforcing cell phone laws properly isn't exactly easy, as the city of Chicago has recently learned. Attorney Blake Horwitz has filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Richard Daley, and several law enforcement officials over the city's strict ban on using cell phones while driving, saying that the law has been improperly enforced. Horwitz, whose firm specializes in police misconduct, points out that there are no signs around the city warning drivers to avoid chatting on cell phones, meaning that unwitting suburbanites and out-of-state drivers could be ticketed for violating a law they didn't know existed. Horwitz says that the city is violating the two-year-old law, which means that the $2 million police have collected in fines are illegal and should be refunded.
Others disagree with Horwitz's assessment, however. A number of city officials told The Chicago Tribune (free subscription) that the current enforcement methods don't violate any laws, and that the signs are not required. They also lamented that there would be no place to put the signs ("We'd have signs on every pole in the city," said Alderman Bernard Stone) and that putting up signs would place a tremendous burden on the city.
Anecdotally, I know at least one person who was fined and had his license temporarily suspended for using a cell phone while driving in Chicago. This was on his first offense, so the punishment seemed a bit harsh (although, as Granger said above, it did scare him and the rest of us into being more careful). He was aware of the law at the time, but out-of-towners aren't—a handful of visiting friends-of-friends have been stopped since 2005 as well. Signs don't need to be on every single pole in the city, but one every so often would certainly help.
The Christmas tree is all lit up; I can see it from my office. There is just one more day before Christmas, and the unwrapping of a bunch of new games and systems and toys and… oh, I'm excited. Nintendo has three new games for us today to tide us over, and one of them has me itching to go get the Wii turned on. In fact, I'm humming the theme song now…
Blades of Steel (NES, 500 points or $5)
For those of us who grew up with the bad voice samples, the awesome fights, and the playable Gradius game at intermission, this is one of those magical games from our youth. With real cities, fake teams, and shoot-outs to break up tied games, this is one of those things that my friends and I played for days. The best hockey game ever made? Debatable. But let's go ahead and say yes. For $5, this is worth a download.
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES, 800 points or $8)
Donkey Kong Country never really had the game play to justify multiple sequels. By removing Donkey and Diddy Kong for the third title, Nintendo and Rare make the game even less appealing by turning a pigtailed girl and a big, dumb ape baby named Kiddy into the lead characters. Not a smart move. This is good for the completist, but I would stick to the first two titles and call it a day.
Rolling Thunder 2 (Genesis, 800 points or $8)
Better graphics, two-player support, and the same solid game play from the first Rolling Thunder make this a compelling buy. I find that some people loved Rolling Thunder, and others are convinced I'm making it up when I describe it. Finding one of the assigned doors with a machine gun behind it was always a thrill, and the animations were impressive for the time. This isn't a bad game for a rainy day.
Out of these three, I'd say that Blades of Steel is the must-buy. By the way, is the announcer saying "Hit the pass," over and over, or am I insane?