The entertainment industry is shifting. Video games dominate all forms of media as an estimated 46 billion dollar industry. Your local video chain likely carries as many video games as it does DVDs. Blueray has beaten HD-DVD as the new media for watching movies at home, but it has the potential to be squashed by digital downloads. Not watching movies on your computer, but rather watching them on a box that is already hooked up to your entertainment system: your gaming console.
Netflix has existed for several years as a DVD-by-snail-mail service. This year they released the Roku box in the US that lets you subscribe to your Netflix service as digital downloads rather than DVDs. 10,000s of movies for $9 a month plus the cost of a $100 box.
I’ve been using my Xbox 360 with a media server for watching movies and TV shows for a few months now and it is so much more convient than having to deal with DVDs. On Monday Microsoft announced that they’d be partnering with Netflix for the Xbox 360. This is huge because Netflix is already a proven movie subscription model that works, and now they’re working with a gaming console that millions of people already own instead of yet another standalone box.
It sounds like the update next fall will fix quite a few other issues that have been bugging me as an Xbox 360 owner. Some of the planned updates:
Netflix subscribers who are also Xbox Live Gold subscribers can stream movies from their Netflix queue for free. Unfortunately Netflix still isn’t available to Canadians.
Trying to navigate through your Xbox Live arcade games / demos is painful. It can take up to a minute for games to load. Navigating your music library is equally as painful. They should cache the data to the local hard drive.
Xbox Marketplace on the Web
Trying to find something on the Xbox Marketplace is next to impossible. A web interface would be much simpler and would allow for easy searching.
Rip to Hard Drive
Games can be copied to hard drive to play faster (and quieter).
I’m hoping this will let you set up the equivalent to a “chat channel” amongst your friends. One of my biggest pet peeves with using the 360 for voice communication is that I can’t set up a private group of just my friends when playing a multiplayer game unless that game itself supports that.
I don’t want to talk with people I don’t know online.
What I’d Like To See
There are some big improvements, but there’s still room for more. Here are a few things I’d like to see for my 360 to earn it’s spot in my TV room.
The current Xbox 360 interface already offers a few advertisement locations. These are horribly used. Microsoft knows my play history for all of my games. They should be data mining that information and targetting advertisement for games I’m likely to want to play based on the games I usually play.
They don’t even do a good job of highlighting that there’s downloadable content available for the games I am currently playing.
I’m absolutely flabbergasted that we can’t zoom into pictures on the 360. It seems like it would be a very trivial application to support. Zooming would offer up some interesting 3rd party hacks like reading web comics / downloaded CBZ/CBR files as image files or converting e-books to images.
There has already been a homebrew Nintendo DS web surfer program that works by converting web pages to images on the DS.
There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 can support more video codecs. I’d really like to be able to play anything I download on the 360 without having to re-convert it.
Video Meta Data
We need something like ID3 tags for video files. I’d love to be able to tag my digitized video collection with director, main actors, and Rotten Tomatoes scores as well as being able to navigate by cover art like I can with my music collection.
The Xbox 360 already has a homegrew gaming development community, but they’ve starved it by charging a yearly fee to access it. I got to play some of the games when they had a free trial offer a few months ago, and while there were some gems there was nothing to compell me to pay the fee.
This is a huge shortsightedness, by making the games freely available to Xbox 360 gold members they would be giving hobby developers a huge reason to develop games on the play form. Sure, charge developers to have their games listed as that will weed out the utter crap, but at least let them have an audience.
There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 couldn’t be used as a web browser. There’s even a neat little keyboard attachment you can buy that fits in with the controller. I’d be pretty happy if I could pause a game, check my email, and write a quick response.
I’m surprised Opera hasn’t teamed up with the 360 team to develop a pay browser like they did with the Nintendo DS.
My geek want of the day is getting an RSS feed of my Xbox 360 game activity so that I can use it with lifestreaming services. For once I’m not the only person who feels this need. There’s at least two of us! :)
I’m not sure why Microsoft doesn’t make an RSS feed of your Xbox Live activity available. The information is all there, they publish it as a gamercard. But they don’t give you access to the raw data to do with as you please unless you’re a member of the Xbox Community Developers Program. Here are the various ways you can access your Xbox 360 Gamercard to use with other websites.
If you’re a programmer/gamer geek and looking for a gripping book that you won’t be able to put down then look no further than Halting State. I’ve been on a Stross kick for the past few months, having read Accelerando, Glass House and Iron Sunrise. Halting State is easily his most engaging book I’ve read so far.
It takes place in the near future where ubiquitous computing has started to take hold via mobile phone networks. This is a future where online roleplaying games and live action roleplaying games are an international past time (as we already can see happening now with the gaming industry being a bigger industry than the movie industry). The story starts off in with a bank robbery by a band of Orcs in a virtual world — a band robbery that should not have been possible because of the digital cryptography keys involved.
As much as I enjoy video games and fantasy settings, the book thankfully takes place mostly in the real world — although in the age of ubiquitous computing and common place augmented reality, who is to say what is real? It reminded me of War Games meets Cryptonomicon and World of Warcraft. Stross manages to get all the geeky elements right, and I’m not just saying that because my player character in my weekly table-top campaign is a were-bearbarian.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this is a wonderful whodunit, and if this is what Charles Stross has in store for us in the future then I’m going to have to make more room on my shelf.
Favorite quote: “It’s TCP/IP over AD&D!”
Credits to Fred for introducing me to Everything Bad is Good for You: How Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter. The thesis behind the book is simple: if you look at the popular media culture over time it is becoming more and more complex. There have always been avant garde examples that wove complex stories but over time the same techniques are used in mainstream pop culture. IE: It is becoming common place to produce tv shows and movies that require multiple watchings to fully digest.
The book notes that this is in deep contrast to the old mantra of television programming where you wanted to go for the least offensive programming possible to avoid loosing market share. Johnson posits that one of the causes for change is before we didn’t have the ability to easily rewatch a tv show or movie to catch something we might have missed on first viewing.
Johnson also notes that the decline in reading books isn’t as bad as many people make it out to be because we have so much more access to written content via the Internet and more importantly people are writing more than ever before. I thought this was a good counter argument; when I look at the online presence of myself and my friends most of them are doing some form of content creation instead of passive content consumption.
The one area where I felt the book fell weak was in proving that more complex content is making us smarter. Intuitively I agree with the hypothesis, but the only proof offered was how IQ scores have been increasing in the average to above average segment of the population, but IQ scores haven’t been increasing for the ultra-smart people. It makes sense because the complexity of pop culture might be enough to increase problem solving skills in the average person but wouldn’t be enough to increase skills in the exceptionally above average.
I recommend reading this book after reading Made to Stick because Everything Bad is Good for You is a perfect example of how to convey an idea that will stay with the reader. The only downside is that some of the pop culture examples are already getting long in the tooth and I already agreed with the hypothesis without needing that much evidence. It might make for a more interesting read if it challenged your perceptions.
What Other People Have to Say
One of the lures of the holiday season is to be able to hopefully squeeze in some time between eggnog, family and friends to exercise your vices. No, not heroin, but that other life consuming addiction: gaming. PC gaming is quickly going the way of the dodo, with console gaming taking over because it is so much easier to prevent piracy and ensure that the games will “just work” with the minimum of effort. But PC games are still my drug of choice, the combination of mouse and keyboard can’t be beat, especially for real time strategy or roleplaying games.
I decided to give the Witcher a try. It’s based on Bioware’s Aurora engine that powered my all-time favourite game Neverwinter Nights. The story is based on a long running Polish fantasy series, that has already had a movie and tv series based off of it. You can find a fan-subbed English copy of the tv show on popular bittorrent sites like the Pirate’s Bay. It is surprisingly better than I expected, about on par with the Highlander tv show.
Unfortunately the Witcher’s biggest flaw is that it’s using the Aurora engine. Game areas are split into several different area files that means changing areas becomes a complete pain in the ass. This was a huge problem when I used to do Neverwinter Nights game modding under the alias OldManWhistler, and I’m very surprised that four years later it STILL hasn’t been fixed. Playing the game will drive you running back to Bethesda’s Oblivion and their excellent background loading technology.
Load times are bad. The 1.2 “Christmas patch” of the game has improved it, but it still sucks all the joy out of the game to have the simplest of quests require up to 10 minutes of load screen staring to complete. Of course, the real culprit is that I’m trying to play the game with minimum system requirements. Let’s face it, no game plays well in the worst case scenario.
Special Witcher Tip: If your character became “locked-up” after moving to a new area it’s because you have autosave turned off. The game often moves into a cut-scene immediately after doing an autosave, and the cut-scene never starts if autosave is turned off.
In Program Files/The Witcher/System Folder/player.ini, set disable autosave to 0 instead of 1.
Getting Started: FreeRam XP Pro
Before you start optimizing your system, you should download and install Free Ram XP Pro. I don’t recommend using it all of the time, it’s pretty brutal when it decides to kick in and free up ram from running applications (it usually crashes Firefox). But it will display the amount of free RAM available in the system tray which will give you a warm fuzzy of progress as you go about optimizing your PC.
Performance Tip #1: Turn Off Your Antivirus
Antivirus software is a tax on the computer illiterate that wastes up to 50% of your computer resources. You should *NEVER* leave your antivirus software turned on while running PC games that are performance intensive (assuming they’re games you legitimately purchased)
- The Culture of Fear behind antivirus software
- Choosing the Anti-anti-virus software
- The problem is trusting the user
Performance Tip #2: Buy More RAM
RAM is cheap these days. There is no reason why anyone shouldn’t be running their system with the maximum amount of RAM they can get their hands on. Crucial makes a scanning tool that will automatically tell you what kind of RAM your computer needs. It’s one of the easiest ways to make everything on your computer run faster.
If you don’t have enough RAM then your computer will have to use part of your hard drive as RAM, which is so much slower. Buying more RAM is the most time effective way to get more juice out of an old PC.
Performance Tip #3: Free Up Hard Drive Space
Most computers have a ridiculous amount of free space on them unless you download music, movies or tv shows. There are lots of free programs out there that will help you find out where your hard drive space is going. I was losing 12 GB to a log file that was automatically created by a program called PeerGuardian 2!
Performance Tip #4: Defrag Before and After Install
Fragmentation happens when you store things on your hard drive after time. The computer will write information to the hard drive where ever it fits, which means parts of the same file can be all over the place. Ideally you want to install programs so that the entire program is “contiguous” — all the bits of the file are as close to each other as possible so that they can be read all at once with the minimum amount of time. You should always defrag after freeing up your hard drive so that you can make the most out of that new free space.
Performance Tip #5: Using msconfig
The stupidest invention ever was the “helper application” that sits in your system tray, doing nothing but consuming memory and making whatever program it is supposed to “help” run faster. My worst offender is Apple’s quicktime task that NO ONE uses, but reinstalls itself every time you upgrade iTunes. There are a couple of startup applications that might be necessary because of external devices (IE: cellphone, digital camera, keyboard, scanner) but for the most part these can all be removed.
Performance Tip #6: Removing Services
The only thing left to improve how fast your computer is running is to turn off parts of the operating system that you don’t use. There’s a lot of them, and its hard to know what really does what. This is one area where you can screw up your computer if you do it wrong. GameXP provides a nice simple interface that will disable most things for you automatically (as well backup the changes). But you can do it yourself by following guides.
Performance Tip #7: Advanced Guides
The previous six tips are the easiest ways to get games running on your computer with the least chance of screwing things up. But that’s just the start and there are many other ways you can tweak Windows XP to get your system running faster. These methods are time consuming to implement, and may be too technical for the average person, and you can screw up your computer if you do things wrong.
- Create a special hardware profile for gaming that has everything disabled
- this is an important step because it means you will be able to easily restore from any changes you make
- BlackViper’s Windows XP service disabling guides for gamers
- Windows XP Game Optimization Tips
- tip #5 on page file size is quite good
- Tweak3d: 15 minute XP tune-up: Visual effects, Add/Remove Programs, Startup folder, temp files, registry cleaning, CCleaner, services, then defragment
You can get a lot done with an older computer if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and remove all the stuff you don’t need. Your operating system includes much cruft, and there’s always ways to extend your PC life beyond the normal limits.
A game company called Infinite Interactive have a break-away hit on their hands with a new game called PuzzleQuest. Their success has come from two key differentiators:
- Mashing the puzzle gem (IE: Bejeweled) genre with the old school Japanese RPG (IE: Final Fantasy) genre.
- Releasing a demo for PCs over the Internet even though the game was only available for the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable handheld consoles
- (and possibly) very limited available at game stores causing scarcity and a lot of buzz around how hard it is to find a copy
The Heath brothers [wikipedia] rate unexpectedness as one of the six rules of sticky, memorable, and interesting ideas. Seth Godin recommends that products be remarkable in his book the Purple Cow [wikipedia]. The qualities of being unexpected and being remarkable are most successful when they are intertwined.
Infinite Interactive has reached a new audience by offering a PC demo of the Puzzle Quest. Demos, or free limited-play sample versions of games, are a tradition in the PC gamer domain, but are relatively new to the console market. The Xbox 360 with its built-in internet connection and hard drive is a perfect marketplace for try-before-you-buy game demos. The Nintendo DS hand-held console has been experimenting with downloading game demos at supported stores, but their severely limited demos still don’t give you a good feel for the game.
PC video gaming is in a slump. Between World of Warcraft and the many choices on the console market, as well as an ever increasing number of HD-TV home theatre setups, console gaming has been taking an ever increasing marketshare away from PC gaming. There just aren’t as many quality computer video games being made anymore. Puzzle Quest recognizes that most console gamers are former PC gamers and that a PC connected to the internet is by far the easiest way to distribute a demo for a handheld console without a hard drive.
Most games are written to work on multiple platforms these days, so offering a PC demo for a console game isn’t as hard to do as you might think. I’m surprised it isn’t done more often.
PuzzleQuest is an excellent gem matching puzzle game AND an excellent RPG. They might not meet the depth of story of a Bioware roleplaying game, but they have solid game mechanics that are quite addictive.
The game has all the features of modern RPGs:
- Branching storyline based on player actions
- All combat is done by solving gem matching puzzles against an opponent AI
- Matching gems builds up mana that lets you cast spells that affect the game board
- Different skills affect how you gain mana, gold and experience during puzzle combat
- Different classes gain skills at different rates and can cast different spells
- Different items give you different modifiers for puzzle combat
- Acquire different companions who help you during combat
- Capture enemies to learn spells from them
- Capture enemies to gain mounts
- Capture runes to craft items
- Capture cities to increase your income
I was really surprised at the depth of activity available, and more importantly how fun it is.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Since being released on the Nintendo DS and PSP, Puzzle Quest has found an ever increasing audience. The buzz that has grown around their game has led to announcements of future releases for Xbox Live Arcade and the PC. The biggest problem I had after playing the was trying to figure out where I could get a copy of the game.
- Found out about it on Penny Arcade (Puzzle Quest comic 1, Puzzle Quest comic 2)
- Hours spent playing PuzzleQuest PC demo (I replayed it three times)
- Spent at least 30 minutes trying to find a torrent for the full PC game… before I realized it was for the Nintendo DS.
- Tried to find it in no less than 8 local game stores (ended up using Amazon)
- Picked up a copy of one of their PC games in the bargain bin (Battlecry 3)
- Got my own Nintendo DS so I’d stop hogging my girlfriend’s
My own experience with Puzzle Quest shows how successful it has been. Infinite Interactive has done an amazing job jumping from the flagging PC game market to handheld games, and I look forward to a day soon when they overcome the distribution issues and the game can be found at your local store. But why wait until then? You can download it and give it a try now.
I believe I have won some kind of award for being the last person on the planet to try Settlers of Catan (or at least, the last one out of my friends). The game was invented in 1995 and I’ve been hearing about it since at least 1999. What makes this even more of an anomaly is that I am a bona fide geek and a board game like this is right up my alley.
(photo by gadl)
Write what you know. In this case, what I know about is being a geek. Over the next few days I’ll be suggesting things that I liked. Occasionally I’ll be going by other people’s recommendations, but mostly this is a list of stuff I own and like. I’ll be giving ball-park prices (in Canadian dollars) and at the end of each post I’ll include a link to where you can find all of the items on Amazon. Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions or disagreements, I probably missed a lot of good stuff.
I play video games on my PC, Xbox 360 and the Nintendo DS. These are my picks for great gifts if your geek gamer has similar tastes. I’d love to suggest games for the Wii or Playstation 3, but it would be hypocritical because I’ve never played those systems. Feel free to suggest any other good games in the comments.
I’ve been purposely skipping the ridiculous supply and demand story of the Playstation 3. Customers have been having a horrible time because the supply is so much lower than the demand, especially with the muggings and shootings. No one needs a console for Christmas that badly. What I find craziest about the situation is the E-bay PS3 Grey Market. One of the guys at Gizmodo crunches the numbers and comes up with the figure that 10% of shipped Playstation 3′s have ended up on E-Bay.
When you consider the opportunity for 100%-1000% profit almost guaranteed (provided you don’t accidently put the price at $9.99), it’s no surprise that this kind of activity is happening. What’s even more interesting is the marketing ploys that are being used in the now crowded E-Bay PS3 resale market. Dave Zatz has a video of the “Girls of E-Bay” with their PS3s.
Jpod is the sequel (in spirit) to Microserfs. The mid-nineties fast forwards to the mid-naughts and our protagonists switch from being monolithic Microsoft serfs in Seattle to serfs for a large game company in Vancouver. The title is a clever marketing ploy; it has nothing to do with Apple/iPod. JPod refers to the cubicle the six protagonists share. The tagline used in the marketing campaign is “Generation X-Box,” another blatant product alignment to sell more books.
Is JPod proof that Coupland has sold out?
What to buy Little Johnny for Christmas — Simple comparison of Playstation 3 vs Microsoft Xbox 360 vs Nintento Wii
It’s a great time to be a gamer (if your pocketbook is big enough), but a horrible time to be a parent. The Next Gen console war is on full swing starting next weekend and people are going to be confused at what to buy. Engadget has a nice pictorial view of the different consoles (the Wii is so small). Paul Stamatiou goes off-topic and talks about why the Wii will be a success.
Read more to find out how the type of TV set and backwards compatibility can help you make your choice. Factor the hidden costs of ownership into your budget.
It looks like Cambrian House is doing pretty well with their concept of Crowded-source Software. They already have several products developed.
One of the products is an online computer to computer fighting game called Gwabs. I’m impressed with how rapidly they go from idea to development. I decided to spend the $9.95 and support them (hey, they gave me an X-Box and a t-shirt). The pre-order deal looks pretty good, as it gives you an unlimited free play account, plus a pimp cane. Talk about knowing your demographic.
After the break, a trailer of the game in action.