Archive for the ‘Video Gaming’ Category

Wii-cked Gaming

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

A couple of weeks ago in New York City I was lucky enough to score two Nintendo Wii consoles with merely a 2 hour wait in line at the Times Square Toys R Us. I received a ticket to purchase a console when I joined the line, and I roped in my nine year old son to get a ticket too. See pictures below of us in line, along with some new friends, with our tickets; Wii boxes stacked up at the Toys R Us; and my son Bas and I with one of our Wiis.

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One of the Wii consoles has been sent on home to Bonaire via slow boat, but we managed to install the other one last week at the in-laws while visiting for Christmas, and it was great fun. We now have the same Wii set up in our living room on our big screen and it’s still fun.

Nintendo has, in my estimation, never been stupid – foolish and foolhardy yes, but not stupid. And the Wii is no exception. While the Wii has been derided by game mavens as having mediocre graphics, the fact is that the Wii is designed to be used with just about all existing televisions. Okay, so it doesn’t look as crisp and awe inspiring as an Xbox 360 or PS3 running in high definition with an appropriately designed game title and all the right cables, but most real folks don’t have HD TVs yet.

So, in contrast to the Sony PS3 and Xbox 360, for which an HD TV is pretty much required, the Wii is effectively plug and play with current display technology (but get a component video cable if you want to get a bit better resolution out of it on a newer TV). And from personal experience, you don’t notice jagged pixels or fuzziness when you’re madly shaking your hands and arms to make your character on the screen run, jump, or whatever – you’re too busy playing the game using the Wii’s innovative input devices.

The three titles I have found so far that make the best use of the Wii remote (and Wii nunchuk in some cases) are the free Wii Sports game disc which comes with the Wii (features Baseball, Tennis, Bowling, and Golf), Excite Truck, and Super Monkey Ball. And the latest Zelda (Twilight Princess) is good too, but it takes quite a bit of game time to get to where you are using the wireless motion controls in a broad range of ways.

Super Monkey Ball in particular features 50 mini-games ranging from darts, running hurdles, races, space shooters, tightrope walking, and much much more. But even Super Monkey Ball probably only scratches the surface on original ways game developers will likely put the wireless controls to use in the future.

I have read and heard a fair bit of commentary from naysayers that the Wii is just a fad, and recreational gamers will soon tire of it, but I’m not so sure. There’s something very satisfying about being able to physically interact with a video game, whether it be swinging a control like a golf club in a golf game, playing tennis with the control as a racket, throwing darts, or even pointing the remote at the screen as an aiming mechanism for some weapon in a first person shooter. Certainly it’s a lot more natural to point your “gun” at a target than it is to use a joystick to rotate your view so that your cross hairs then line up on your target.

And while reports of television destruction and bodily injury from flailing arms, snapping Wii Remote restraint cords, and sweat-induced slipperiness abound, the experience in my family is that the greatest pain resulting from use of the Wii controllers is the day after vigorous play – muscle aches being the most common malady.

I am firmly convinced the Wii will outsell the PS3 and Xbox 360 by mid-2008, if for no other reason than it will work very well with pretty much any TV already in use today, as well as new ones being purchased, combined with the fact that it’s much more attractively priced than the higher end alternatives, meaning it’s more accessible to a larger number of people. It also doesn’t hurt that the game titles available for the Wii are much more family friendly than those for the PS3 (and to some extent, the Xbox 360), at least as things stand now.

I give the Nintendo Wii a 9.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

How to Get More Than One HDMI Port on Your TV

Monday, December 11th, 2006

I finally got back home to Bonaire last night, and had my new PS3 waiting for me. I installed it using the regular composite video cable the PS3 comes with on the Samsung 32” LCD TV in my bedroom. I used the composite video cable because the TV only has one HDMI port, and that port was already in use by my DVD player.

Sure, I could have just gone and disconnected the DVD player, and used the PS3 to play DVDs instead, but that is a suboptimal solution, because the user interface for DVD playback on the PS3, well, sucks. Also, I have the DVD functionality programmed into my universal remote, and am too lazy to figure out if there’s a way to get the remote to work on the PS3.

I had anticipated this issue some weeks back, and had gone shopping on-line to find an affordable HDMI switch, as surely such an item must exist. And indeed, I found several options. I finally settled on a 5-port HDMI switch I found at Amazon.com from a third party seller.

That switch arrived today, so I unpacked it, rewired things, and found that for some reason the PS3 would not output image data onto the HDMI connection. Turned out to be a configuration issue in the PS3, so I switched back to the composite video view (which, incidentally, was really ugly relative to what I knew the PS3 could do – fuzzy and chunky graphics at 480 lines of resolution – yuck! Oh how spoiled we’ve become!), and reconfigured the PS3 to use HDMI as the output. My Samsung TV could do 720p and 1080i resolutions, testing showed, so I enabled that, and was off and running, and things looked oh so much better.

However, this would not have been possible without the 5-port HDMI switch I found at Amazon.com – it’s still not cheap at $124.99, but it works like a dream. More specifically, it auto-senses which of the five HDMI inputs have an active signal, and if it’s only one, switches to use that input automatically. That means it is wife-safe too. My wife is no dummy, but she hates it when she has to take extra steps to get something working like it used to, and with the 5-port HDMI switch, if she turns on the DVD player, and the PS3 is off (as it would likely be), it will all just work as it did before.

The 5-port HDMI switch is made by Monoprice, and the model number is HDX-501. It has five HDMI inputs, and one HDMI output. The specifications say it supports 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p video formats, and that it also supports HDCP compliant video devices – something that is necessary for both 1080p output for Blu-ray movies on the PS3 as well as for some of Windows Vista’s forthcoming features. The unit comes with a remote controls, and a pair of AAA batteries are included as well.

I give the Monoprice HDX-501 HDMI Switch a 9.5 out of 10.0 on my Richter Scale. The only way to improve on it would be a lower price.

An interesting techie anecdote about HDMI switches, incidentally. I was in Tokyo last week, and visited Akihabara, the Tokyo electronics district, where every gadget known to man can be purchased. However, in asking around (using my Japanese-speaking guide, Junko) I was unable to locate any HDMI switches of any sort. We visited about a half dozen stores and stands, and in the final shop, that of one of the larger computer sellers in Akihabara, we were told point blank that while they knew HDMI switches existed, they did not yet exist in Japan. I found that statement amusing, since Japan is always apparently at the bleeding edge of technology, and the U.S. trails behind. Here was a case that appeared to be the opposite. In any event, in the U.S. you can definitely find HDMI switches. Ones that work well, at that.

Some Sony PS3 Lines Are Better Than Others

Friday, December 1st, 2006

I found myself in San Francisco this week for a patent conference. During a free moment during the early part of the week I wandered over from my seminar to the Metreon – a Sony owned and operated facility which features Sony’s only west coast “PlayStation” store. On a whim I asked them if they had any PS3s, and got the expected response – “No”. But, I also got a “but, we had two shipments last week and expect at least one this week”. They gave me a phone number to call and invited me to call back during the week to check if any had come in.

Being the obsessed gamer I am (or at least, can be), I called the PlayStation store several times daily. Thursday morning, around 10:45am I heard what I had hoped – “They have arrived, get here quickly.”

Alas, I wasn’t that quick apparently, since when I arrived the line for people waiting to buy a Sony PS3 was already snaking outside the building. I estimate there were already 100 people there ahead of me. The store had not actually started selling the PS3s yet, so we all just waited. I had called my friend Ted Pollack (he runs an investment fund called the Electronic Entertainment Fund or just EE Fund) to see if he could join me and maybe even help me buy a second PS3, although with the line as long as it was, it was not clear if I would be able to buy even one PS3.

After a while a store employee came out to make an announcement which those of us in the rear could not hear. Turns out he had given stickers to people at the head of the line, and had run out about 15 people ahead of us. The stickers were effectively a guarantee that there would be a PS3 for each sticker holder. Discouraged, but not beaten, Ted and I pulled out of line, went inside near the front of the line, and I asked in a loud voice if anyone would want to sell their sticker and place in line for $200. Seconds later I was number 33 in line with a sticker.

The $200 figure was the premium I had earlier figured I would be willing to pay to get a PS3 before the end of the year. Capitalism is a wonderful thing.

I had several more offers to buy stickers from others in line, but I was tapped out, and Ted had to leave (and there was a strict policy of only selling one PS3 per person – they even did name matches with driver’s licenses to ensure that the same people could not buy more than one PS3 at that store, ever – or at least until supplies were no longer restricted).

And even as #33, I still waited. A cheer suddenly erupted from the front of the line – they had seen several carts of PS3s being wheeled into the store. The folks in line were all generally in high spirits – it was something of a party atmosphere. Names were exhanged, as were business cards. Some of my fellow PS3 squatters worked for the same local company (not mentioned here to preserve their jobs) and were all skipping work to stand in line. Others were students skipping class, much as I was skipping a session on Examiner Interviews at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But we were all in this together, even I as the sole sticker-buying interloper. We did all share in one consternation – the PlayStation store employee had apparently told those in line that only the first 26 were guaranteed 60GB PS3s (which have a few more capabilities than the 20GB models). I figured any PS3 would be better than none, although I certainly would have preferred a 60GB model myself.

But, my concerns were for naught, as another store employee came out a short while later to announce that all the incoming PS3s were 60GB models. More cheering commenced.

After about a half hour, the line finally started moving, with the store employees taking sticker-holding squatters one at a time, offering them a range of games (a rather meager selection, sadly) and accessories, and then taking payment. The whole process, while excruciatingly slow, was very well managed, ran smoothly, and everyone was exceedingly friendly and nice.

So it came to be that about two hours and a missed seminar later, I was the proud owner of a new Sony PS3 60GB system with seven games, three extra controllers, and a reader for PS2 and PSX game cards.

Goes to show that some lines are better than others. Photos from my line squatting journey can be found Here.

My next stop was FedEx so I could send my hard earned gains home to Bonaire, as I was continuing on to the orient before going home myself. But when I get home, I will have my PS3 waiting for me. Now to go buy some Blu-Ray DVDs on Amazon…

HD DVD For the Xbox 360 Rocks

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

I finally got home to Bonaire a couple nights ago, and among the first things I did was hook up my new HD-DVD drive to my Xbox 360 (which is connected to my Samsung 62” 720p DLP via the VGA/PC cable). Installation was a breeze, although in hindsight I should have connected the USB cable to the back of the Xbox 360 before loading the installation software because as it was, I managed to unplug a couple of things in the back of my Xbox 360 when trying to cable things up during the software installation. I then put the new HD-DVD drive through its paces with “King Kong” in HD-DVD format (included with the drive – also included was an Xbox 360 remote).

I also dug out my regular wide screen version of King Kong for regular DVD playback, put it in my upscaling DVD player, and then sync’d up both the HD and regular titles to the same point in the movie so I could compare current technology (DVD) and new technology (HD DVD).

All I can say is “Wow!”.

I had not realized what I had been putting up with as “good” quality with my regular DVDs until I compared them to the output of HD DVDs. And it’s only going to get better once I get my 1080p HDTV delivered in a few weeks. Last night I watched “16 Blocks” on the HD-DVD drive, and was tickled to be able to read the print on signs, papers, and other props in the movie with great ease because of the image clarity.

Whereas there are all sorts of scaling artifacts in the DVD image, the HD-DVD image is incredibly crisp and a delight to behold. My only complaint, and this is a minor one indeed, is that the HD-DVD drive has no display on it to show me how far along into the movie I happen to be during viewing. I know I can get the Xbox 360 to show this to me on-screen, but it’s visually disruptive.

In any event, now that I have tasted HD-DVD, I will be hard pressed to go back to regular DVD where a choice between the two exists. And as I was one of the unfortunate many unable to procure a Sony PS3 on Friday, I won’t be testing Blu-ray DVDs any time soon, although I suspect the visual difference between Blu-ray and HD DVD to be minimal or non-existant.

One thing I do like about HD-DVD titles I purchased is that most of them seem to include a DVD version as well, so that in locations where I don’t have HD-DVD playback (like my notebook computer when I travel) I can still watch the movie without having to buy a second DVD-only copy (as if I would do that anyhow). And Amazon.com has a deal where if you buy three HD-DVDs you’ll get a 10% discount on all HD-DVDs in 2007. Nice little additional bonus.

Now I need to go buy another HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 in my bedroom… At $199 it’s a pretty good deal, I think.

I give the HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 a 9.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Sony PS3 Madness

Friday, November 17th, 2006

By now we have all probably seen the amazing devotion a die hard group of people have had to the Sony PS3 on the news, with a stampede at a Wal-Mart up north, shooting at people in a PS3 line in New England, and people traveling from outside the U.S. to wait in line for a PS3 as well.

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I had opportunity to be in the Miami area yesterday (the pre-launch day) for shopping of my own. Okay – I did entertain a brief thought I might be able to score a PS3 by waiting in line too, but once I saw the line in front of Circuit City (see above), which I learned had started on Tuesday, I gave up that hope.

If you look closely at that picture, you’ll see Gaming Granny there on the right. I can’t compete in a line with the inherent patience someone like Gaming Granny has, never mind that the Circuit City had only 40 units coming in and there were already more than 40 people in line (the folks in the rear either being optimists or ignorant – not sure which is worse).

I must say I was impressed that some gamer managed to rope his grandmother into waiting in line for him while he was off doing something else (working?). I heard that elsewhere folks were hiring the homeless to wait in line for them. Capitalism at its best, I’m sure.

The line at BestBuy in Hialeah was even worse – probably close to 100 people. I asked the BestBuy employee monitoring the line if he had a box of Kleenex for the folks at the back of the line who would be crying after spending a couple of days waiting for nothing. He said, “Let them cry on the sidewalk.” Heartless, and full of disdain. He was probably bitter because store employees were not able to buy units themselves at launch.

An interview published in USA Today quoted a young man who was waiting in line to buy a PS3 – not to play it, but instead to sell it on-line, because he needed the money. And with PS3s listing on eBay for numbers as high as $2000, waiting in line for a couple of days for a 300% return isn’t a bad deal, I guess.

For those looking to buy launch time PS3s to actually play themselves, I question how many of them have the requisite display hardware necessary to really let the PS3 show off its mettle. That means a TV or display device with HDMI in and 1080p display capability. Very few HDTVs on the market presently offer 1080p resolution, and the ones that do aren’t exactly cheap – the price of a loaded PS3 is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a decent sized HDTV with 1080p capabilities.

Sure, you can use a PS3 with a regular TV or even a newer (but not bleeding edge) 720p resolution HDTV, but that’s like owning a Corvette and driving the speed limit. It’s a waste, in my humble opinion.

With that in mind, planning for my future PS3 purchase once availability has improved, I bought a new Samsung 61” DLP HDTV with 1080p capability yesterday to replace my older 62” DLP 720p HDTV. Better yet, once it’s delivered on Bonaire, I will already be able to take advantage of it because a recent Xbox 360 update delivered by Xbox Live has enabled the Xbox 360 to output 1080p resolution signals both for games that support it, as well as with the new HD DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360 (which I have also just picked up).

One parting comment – think of what would be possible politically in the U.S. if only those folks who slavishly waited in line for days for a gadget (or perceived profit) would be willing to commit the same level of devotion to political change in the U.S., perhaps for a third political party, or campaign reform, or… The mind boggles.

Gambling with Xbox Live? Texas Hold’em Poker Coming…

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Microsoft this morning announced that they will be launching Texas Hold’em Poker for the Xbox 360 as an Xbox Live Arcade game on August 23rd, at 8:00 GMT (4:00am EDT/1:00am PDT), and that for the first 48 hours, it will be a free download to all comers. After the 48 hours expire, it will cost 800 Microsoft Points (US$10) to download and own Texas Hold’em Poker.

Considering the on-going efforts by the U.S. Congress to criminalize on-line gambling (because they can’t figure out an equitable way to tax such gambling and fill the Treasury’s coffers), Microsoft needs to ensure that in no way can their new game be used as an on-line gambling tool – it has to be purely for entertainment.

“Designed to simulate the risk-reward of real poker gameplay, keep gamers honest, and discourage opponents from betting too recklessly, Texas Hold em has an innovative new feature called Persistent Bankroll. Your virtual bankroll is tied to your Xbox Live Gamertag and keeps a running tally of your chip count. If you lose all of your chips in a poker game, you ll have to play lower stakes buy-in games to make back your stack and earn your way to the big tables.” – Microsoft Press Release, August 16, 2006

The new Texas Hold’em title, developed by TikGames, supports up to eight players. There are three modes of game play – standard, scenarios, and tournaments, and as with all Xbox Live Arcade games, statistics and achievements are tracked on-line.

I’ve already put a note in my calendar to download the game to my two Xbox 360s.

Some details on the game can be found here.