Quote of the week:
“Draw envious looks when you carry your Cyber-shot® W and T Series digital camera in the understated and elegant LCS-TWA/T carrying case.” –SonyStyle.com
Just be careful someone doesn’t snatch it.
Quote of the week:
“Draw envious looks when you carry your Cyber-shot® W and T Series digital camera in the understated and elegant LCS-TWA/T carrying case.” –SonyStyle.com
Just be careful someone doesn’t snatch it.
Experience how much Blu-ray sucks, without spending $1,000 to do so.
And that’s after installing the mandatory firmware upgrade to reinforce the DRM.
Perhaps the kidney stone in the urethra of Nintendo’s supply chain is finally passing, because Wii is now starting to appear in stores. Controllers are readily available, and I managed to put in an order on Toys”R”Us’s web site during one of the 6 minute periods when the console was in stock. So, hopefully in a week or two we’ll be Wii-ing.
Ironically, I finally saw screen shots of a couple of PS3 games that interest me: Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction and LittleBigPlanet. And if Fatal Inertia ends up being disappointing, Sony are working on a real Wipeout for PS3. So I’m fairly optimistic that there will be a good reason to buy a PS3 some time before Christmas.
But right now, I’m much more interested in Zelda, Super Paper Mario, WarioWare, Elebits, Kororinpa, and Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (since I skipped Two Thrones). I also plan to visit some of the GameCube’s back catalog; the cube has been sitting idle since I failed to get component video to work, but the Wii should solve that problem.
Nintendo’s web site has a hidden gem: filed away under Iwata Asks… you’ll find a series of lengthy articles talking about the entire design process behind the Wii. If that’s not enough Wii to float your boat, BusinessWeek are also getting in on the act.
Nintendo have gone in pretty much the opposite direction to the rest of the industry. Sony and Microsoft are in an arms race of graphical and CPU firepower. The Xbox 360 has a custom IBM PowerPC CPU which has 3 G5-like processor cores, each at 3.2GHz, with a 5.4GHz front-side bus to connect it to the graphics chip. The PS3 has a 64 bit PowerPC core for general purpose tasks, connected to 7 independent vector processor cores known as SPEs, all at 3.2GHz. (There are 8 SPEs on the chip, but to increase yield they are using chips where 1 is faulty, as well as the faultless ones.) For the tasks needed for video games—3D geometry and the like—each SPE is allegedly about as fast as a general purpose CPU of similar speed.
So, 3 CPUs for Microsoft, 8 for Sony, all 3.2GHz—what about Nintendo? Turns out the Wii has one 729MHz PowerPC, a 243MHz graphics processor, and…er, that’s it. In terms of raw power, it’s a souped up GameCube. Instead of counting on bleeding edge CPU power, Nintendo are counting on innovative gameplay, convenience, and a host of other subtle design factors.
I won’t bother to talk about the controller, because you can read about that everywhere. Suffice it to say, the idea is to dramatically increase the approachability of the system. If you can point, you can play, hopefully. The rest of the design is what interests me more, and doesn’t seem to have received as much attention.
I was very skeptical of the Nintendo DS when it came out. A touch screen seemed like a reasonable idea, but putting two separate screens in a handheld seemed like a gimmick.
My skepticism was also likely due to my disappointment with the Game Boy Advance. There are some truly great games for it—Advance Wars, Golden Sun, Wario Ware—but they are far outnumbered by the endless Pokemon games and lame movie and TV tie-ins. The majority of titles seem to be aimed at those teenage or younger.
When Sony launched the PSP, I hoped that things might change. I guessed that just as the PlayStation targeted a more adult gamer than Nintendo, so the PSP would go after those who didn’t want to play with Pokemon, Bratz, Jimmy Neutron or Spongebob Squarepants.
And it did. But unfortunately, when I finally got a chance to try a PSP, I discovered that the load times were just cripplingly awful. In addition, most of the games seem to be sequels or ports of PS2 games; and unfortunately, things which work well on a full size console don’t make for a good experience on a handheld.
Meanwhile, Nintendo had taken things in a strange new direction, releasing titles like Electroplankton, Brain Age and Nintendogs. It wasn’t exactly the blood and guts approach to mature gaming that Sony favor, but it wasn’t kiddy gaming either.
I’ve a real soft spot for experimental games. I love Katamari Damacy, I bought Nobody Can Stop Mr Domino!, I have Sentinel Returns and Stretch Panic. Even if the game is flawed, I’d rather play something artistically interesting and new, than yet another First Person Shooter.
So before heading off to Hamburg I bought a DS Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World. Sure, it’s cute animals, but cute seems to be almost obligatory with Nintendo. Behind the cuteness, though, is an interesting Sim-like open ended gameplay focused on exploration.
The game world exists in real time, with different events happening throughout the year and at different times of day. This encourages you to drop in for a few minutes on a regular basis to see what’s going on, rather than spending hours playing like a conventional console game. In other words, it’s a good game for a portable. Walk into a cafe, buy coffee, sit down, and go see what’s happening in the game world. Since it’s Internet enabled, you can go online via WiFi and see what’s happening in a friend’s game world too, or see if there are any new extras from Nintendo.
Brain Age has a similar design philosophy. It’s something you can play for 10 minutes a day for a quick break. And unlike the PSP, the DS has practically no boot time, so you won’t find that your bus arrives just as you get past the loading screen.
In fact, the DS Lite shows an attention to design that’s typical of Nintendo. Just as the GameCube was a much better piece of hardware than the original PS2, so the DS Lite seems to fit its niche much better than the PSP. It’s iPod-like, white and smooth. The rechargeable battery is easily replaceable. It flips shut, automatically putting the game into pause/sleep mode and protecting both screens. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket. All of this means you can put the game away and return to the real world in a second or two.
The DS memory cards are like slightly enlarged (and much more robust) SD cards, and will stand up to more abuse than a Memory Stick, let alone a UMD disc. The extra slot for GameBoy back-compatibility doubles as an accessory slot for rumble packs and other add-ons. There’s an iPod-like headphone socket that will take regular headphones, or a special DS headset with microphone.
As with the GameBoy, the game cards are both ROM game and flash memory for game saves. This is neat as, unlike with a full size console, you never have to worry about swapping memory cards or finding space for your game saves.
Overall, it’s a really nice piece of design. If Apple made video games, it’s the kind of thing they’d release.
In a few years, cameras will all have single chip GPS units in them. They’ll tag their photos with the location where you took them as a matter of course, like they already tag the time and date.
Some of us are unwilling to wait a few years. I’m sure you, like me, have sat down with a map and a stack of holiday photos and thought “OK, where on earth was that building?”. My current project of scanning and annotating hundreds of old family photos would be so much easier if I could have some clue as to at least the location and the year.
Which is probably why Sony have just launched a rather neat keychain GPS. No display, not many controls, you just clip it to your bag and forget about it. At the end of the day you connect it to the computer, run some software, and your photos are annotated with location information.
However, you don’t need a special Sony GPS for that. There’s a handy Mac application called GPSPhotoLinker that will download the automatic track data from a Garmin or Magellan GPS, cross-reference it with the timestamps on a bunch of photos, and re-write their EXIF information to add longitude, latitude, city, state and country.
We tried it out in Austin on Wednesday. It seems to work quite well, so we’ll take the GPS with us when we go to Germany.
As well as embedded EXIF tags, known as geocoding, there’s also the cruder hack of geotagging, where you add the latitude and longitude as Flickr tags. While this avoids the problem of dumb software stripping EXIF information, it messes up your Flickr tags page and relies on Flickr, so I’m not keen on it. I want my metadata in the file with the image, where it belongs.
Here we are in 2006, and Intel still feels the need to engage in sexist advertising—on their home page, even.
Yes, a Centrino Duo will make a hot babe suddenly appear and sit on your lap, boys. “I’d Core her Duo! Eh? Eh?”
I’m not sure how that’s supposed to make me want to buy one, but I suppose it’s no worse than McDonalds advertising a kid wanting to go all American Pie on one of their burgers.
It wasn’t much fun following Apple during the 90s. The transition from mono to color was painful, as it involved whole new chunks of OS and a different processor. The transition from Motorola 680×0 to PowerPC was also ugly and painful, and a lot of software simply stopped working and was never fixed. Those of us who had 680×0-based Macs quickly found them made forcibly obsolete long before they would normally have become unusable. Then came OS X, and a bunch more machines were forcibly obsoleted, more software broke, and more developers gave up.
Things have been looking pretty good in the Apple world recently, though. The technically adept have been flocking to switch to the Mac, the OS keeps getting faster and better rather than bigger and flakier, and open source and Java software now runs better on OS X than on Windows.
And now, here we go again. Except that this time, it’s going to be much worse. Whereas PowerPC processors were able to emulate 680×0 at acceptable speed, it’s going to be a lot tougher to try and emulate a 3GHz PowerPC G5 on any kind of Intel chip, even the kind shipping next year. Everyone who uses Metrowerks CodeWarrior for their Mac development (i.e. all those big old legacy Carbon applications from the 68K days) is going to be out of luck, as they’ll first have to drag their entire codebase over to Xcode, and then spend weeks (according to Jobs) fixing up the code. So one thing’s for sure–we’ll be waiting years for another release of Quark XPress this time, too.
The core problem is that the x86 is a lot less like the PowerPC than the PowerPC is like the 680×0. For starters, the x86 stores all its numbers half backwards and half forwards–the least significant bytes are stored first, but within a byte the most significant bits are stored first. (That kind of ugliness is fairly typical of Intel designs, which are legendarily unpleasant to program for at low level.) Any program that does bit or byte manipulation is likely to break. The PowerPC also has a lot more registers than the x86, which means that emulation is tough.
Ultimately, though, the fact that the x86 is a hideously ugly design doesn’t matter too much, because hardly anyone touches machine code these days.
Still, will Apple be able to pull off this kind of screwing around with their developer and user communities again? I don’t know. The more interesting question is why they are willing to risk it. With Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all using PowerPC cores in their next-generation console systems, it really seems like a strange time to switch to Intel CPUs. Plus, if you want an x86 with PC-crushing performance and price, why not choose AMD rather than Intel?
One possible reason is that Apple is strongest in laptops, and IBM has singularly failed to deliver a G5 that can be stuck inside a laptop. AMD isn’t all that in laptops either, which would explain why Intel. But then again, there’s no reason why laptops can’t continue to use the G4, save for the perception that the G4 is “obsolete”, a perception which Apple itself has to take the blame for. Jobs says that there are no plans for improvements to PowerPC for the next few years. I don’t know whether that’s true or not; we’ll see.
Then there’s the intriguing possibility that Apple would like users to be able to run WINE. On the one hand, people could then switch to a Mac and still run their Windows software on it, for free. On the other hand, who would bother to develop Mac software if everyone could run Windows software? One possible answer might be to bring back Yellow Box for x86, which allowed Cocoa (NeXTStep) software to run on Windows. Still, even without WINE, software developers might just say “Hey, you want to run our software on your Mac? Just dual-boot into Windows!” (Jobs has already said that they’re not going to do anything to stop people running Windows on the Mac.)
So WINE on the Mac and Intel CPUs in the Mac could either be a colossal disaster that will kill the platform, or the best thing to ever happen to the Mac. I’m not going to pretend I know which is the case. I do know one thing, though: I’m sure as hell not going to buy a new Mac now, and I had been hoping to upgrade some time during the next year. No, I’m going to sit quiet and see what happens. I’ll want to see all my core applications available in native x86 versions, and an x86 based Mac that blows the doors off the G5, before I spend more money on Apple hardware. And as with the last round of turmoil (the switch to OS X), if it all goes disastrously wrong I’ll just switch to Linux everywhere.
My previous PDA was a Palm V. 16MHz 68000, 160×160 B&W screen that could do greyscale in special modes that most software didn’t use. I didn’t particularly want to replace it, but there were a few issues I was having.
First off, the fact that it was serial based rather than USB meant it was a pain to connect to any modern computer; getting it hooked up to the Mac involved a USB to serial adaptor, special drivers, and a lot of futzing with Palm Desktop, and the end result was painfully slow. As a result, I hadn’t synced it in ages.
Secondly, I’d never liked the screen. Going from the Newton MessagePad to the Palm had been a serious downgrade, necessitated by Jobs killing the Newton. I’d been waiting around for some usable Palm devices with at least 320×480 resolution and a 10cm screen, and they finally started appearing in the last year or so.
Other than USB and a big screen, I didn’t really care too much about fancy features; just the obvious stuff—a beeper you can hear easily for alarms, either Bluetooth or wi-fi with an option for the other one, enough memory for a comprehensive GTD list, and maybe a few games and e-books, and connectivity to Mac and Linux.
I did consider the “smart phone” option (again). I came to the same conclusion as last time I considered it: it just doesn’t work. Generally speaking, I want my PDA screen to be as large as possible, and my phone to be as small as possible. Specifically, I want my PDA screen to be big enough to be usable for reviewing an outline of a hundred or so items, and my phone to be small enough to fit in the pocket of my jeans. The Treo 650 fails both tests—it’s too big for a phone and too small for a pocketbook. I’m sure it’s just the right size for some people, but not for me.
Pocket PC devices? Yeah, right. Even if I was prepared to assist Microsoft’s plans for World Domination, the Pocket PC is pretty much crippled unless you run Windows and/or Office, and I don’t run either. So Microsoft eliminated themselves from consideration.
Nokia Communicator? Tempting, but Nokia don’t seem to sell it in the USA. Or at least, I’ve never seen one, and I’m not buying one without seeing the screen first.
Psion? They seem to have given up on the consumer market, and they always price-gouged outrageously for proprietary peripherals and upgrades. No thanks.
Sony Ericsson P series? Again, I’d never actually seen one, and didn’t fancy buying sight unseen, especially not after my experiences with the Sony Ericsson t68i. Plus, you know, $700…
Zaurus? Tempting again. I kept waiting for Sharp to start selling the clamshell Zaurus machines. Unfortunately, all they sell in the US is the SL-6000. It’s thick and heavy and has a keyboard that’s too small to use, hidden in a sliding mechanism. I don’t like sliding mechanisms, they’re too unreliable. I met some guys from Sharp at a show, and told them I hated the 6000, and when would they be selling the SL-C7xx series or some other clamshell design? They said that they both wanted clamshell Zauruses too, but the Japanese mothership had decided that we were wrong, nobody in America wants clamshell machines. I wasn’t prepared to pay $800+ to Dynamism for an unwarrantied Japanese import Zaurus re-flashed with a partially translated OS, though clearly the fact that some people are rather puts a hole in Sharp’s official position. Anyway, I waited a year or so to see if Sharp would relent and sell my a PDA I wanted, then crossed them off the list when they failed to do so.
So, my short list of options was: Tungsten T3, Tungsten T5, Sony CLIE PEG-TH55, Tapwave Zodiac.
The Tungsten T3 has a gratuitous sliding mechanism. The slider wasn’t going to protect the screen, and I couldn’t imagine any concievable circumstance where I’d want to make the screen smaller than it already was, so what was the point? The T5 kinda illustrates the uselessness of it. I expect it was purely a matter of wanting to recycle the case of the Tungsten T and just drop in a different screen instead of having to do a major redesign. So, not really very appealing.
Ah, the Tungsten T5. Looks like a fabulous device until you read some reviews. The biggest problem is that Pa1mOne b0rked the OS on the T5 and the Treo 650, so that every single database entry is now allocated in 512 byte chunks, like on a desktop PC. So if (like me) you carry small databases with hundreds of phone numbers, to-do items and scraps of info, suddenly they bloat out to 10x the size. To me, it seems like that rather ruins the point of the thing. Palm say they are going to fix it, but the fact that they’ve given Treo 650 owners free memory cards to make up for it suggests otherwise, and they’re keeping very quiet about fixing it for the T5. The T5 has 128MB, so allowing for bloat of the kind Treo 650 users have observed, it’s like a 32MB machine—and Palm think that’s OK.
Even ignoring the memory issue, though, there are other problems. The T5 has software compatibility issues. Most software developers are scrambling with updates, but good luck getting classic Palm freeware to run on it. The connector for sync is yet another new design, so none of the existing peripherals will work. And worst of all, it has no vibration mode. Yup, if you’re in a meeting, cinema, church or whatever, you can’t have it vibrate instead of beeping for alarms. It’s the same rather anemic speaker as the T3, and it’s mounted in the center of the back of the device, so as soon as you lay it on a desk, put it in a carrying case, or even hold it in your hand, the sound is badly muffled.
So in short, the T5 fails the basic functionality requirements due to some very poor design choices by Palm.
Next to be eliminated was the CLIE. Sony decided they weren’t interested in selling in the US any more. That left the Tapwave Zodiac, and I bought one.
Things I like about the Zodiac:
Things I don’t like:
Basically, it’s the nicest Palm device I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame that Tapwave’s strategy is to sell it as a game console, because it’s not so hot at being one of those. As a Palm organizer, though, it easily beats the competition—at least as far as the hardware is concerned.
I have broadband. I have a PlayStation 2 next to the router and cable modem. I have disposable income. I play video games. Yet, I do not have a PS2 network adaptor, and I haven’t played any online games.
I’ve been thinking about why not. I decided to put together some suggestions for Raph Koster, who’s the big cheese at Sony in charge of online PS2 gaming.
Either charge a subscription, or charge for the game, but don’t ask me to pay twice.
If I need a subscription to play, I’m very unlikely to pay $50 for the game, because if I decide I don’t like it I’m left with a $50 coaster. Games which are offline or online can get away with charging for the game itself, but it’s still a bad idea if the main point is the multiplayer: A high up-front cost to join a subscription game screams “We don’t think you’ll stay a member for long so we’d better get some cash up front”.
Monthly subscriptions don’t work for me, unless they’re really cheap.
Your market is people with broadband and significant disposable income. To me, that says adults with jobs. Like many adults with jobs, there are months when I don’t really get any time to play video games at all.
It seems to me that it’s not technically hard at all to have a “per hour” fee, capped at the cost of a monthly subscription. That would encourage casual gamers and people who aren’t sure they will like the game enough to get really into it and spend hours on it every month.
It has to be co-operative.
I have zero interest in player-versus-player. If I want a competitive challenge, a computer opponent is better for several reasons:
My motivations for gaming are primarily exploration, puzzle solving, and new experiences. Looking at the top selling games of all time suggests to me that the majority of gamers are the same way: “The Sims”, the “Myst” adventures, “Tetris”, the “Super Mario” games—none of them are about combat. There are a few combat games in the list, but they’re the ones that have lots of exploration and a strong plot—“GTA Vice City” and “Half-Life”.
Furthermore, the multi-player combat game market is glutted already. People who want that already have lots of options.
It has to be social.
This is where it gets hard. There’s no point in having other humans involved in the game unless you can talk with them, but on the other hand there has to be a way to get matched up with players who have similar gaming interests, and to keep out the assholes.
This suggests to me that an essential part of any multiplayer online game is persistence in user IDs, and some kind of feedback or rating system at least as good as eBay’s.
That doesn’t mean massive censorship. If people want to talk trash all day, just let ‘em go do it with other people who want to talk trash all day.
That’s all I have so far, but I live in hope that someone will take notice and come up with some multiplayer games that appeal to me.