Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Technology Demos

Personally, I love the concept of a technology demo. It shows what could be done with a product or an idea. It's a proof of concept. What I find amazing is the fact that Nintendo has turned these into a profit margin. It seems that they have decided to push the envelope not with high quality, well designed games that have folks really re-thinking how they play, but with gimicks and technology demos of what could be done.

Last week my wife bought Wii Fit. My overall impression is actually positive for the product, but right now I want to focus in on and be really critical of what it is - it's a technology demo. The "trainers" are horridly underdone - and I don't just mean the graphics, which are bad in almost every way. They aren't animated for the most part, heck their lips don't even move, and the backgrounds look like they are from a PSOne, not a current generation console. The balance board is sometimes slow to respond, and the software could do more to determine how well you are doing with the pose, but it doesn't seem to. It also is horrid for motivation. The first thing it does is it weighs you, and figures out your BMI. It claims that around 22 is "optimal", and tells you that while doing the tests, but it's also records that as borderline obese (you figure that one out). During the tests it asks if you easily trip while walking, or if you have problems standing up. Overall I'd say that the overall tone is "demeaning". I'd guess that at least 2 out of 10 households that play this are going to bring it back to gamestop as used within 6 weeks because they aren't having any positive effects from it, and the self image of their child (or themselves) is horridly impacted.

Down to the workouts. The yoga is good, and you do feel some good initial burn from it. The pushup-plank pose really gives me a chest workout so far. My big gripe here is that you can't configure a 10 or 15 minute workout and just go through the poses. To do 10 minutes of working out takes a good 5 minutes of downtime between poses to go through their stupid slow talking and menus. There is very little to help folks trying to learn on what they should do, like don't work out the same muscle group every day, but try to break it up (legs one day, chest/arms the next). The mini-games are good, but they are mini-games, and everything requires unlocking. Whoever came up with the idea of unlocking basic fitness routines should pretty much be shot.

Maybe someone will take the balance board idea and come up with a really solid workout routine around it, one that's can become almost a personal trainer for folks. The concept is there, the technology demo I'm sure will sell well. Now maybe a real top-notch studio will do the actual work. Maybe they can get a sponsor of a real fitness guru to go through the workouts, and then you can get a varied and healthy workout. Hasn't happened yet on the Wii, though. Then again, maybe it'll need to be mimicked by the other two systems to be taken seriously...

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I'm not 100% sure if I should feel as relieved and happy as I do right now, over something as trivial as what I did this week. The "adversity" was something normally I'd just roll my eyes about, honestly. I decided instead of spending over $1,000 on a new PC system this year as a reward from a good bonus check and the new stimulus program, that I'd try to just get what I really need to push my existing system for another year or so. So I bought a new case, some additional fans and CPU heat sink, and a new hard drive. What I figured is that if I could overclock my existing A64 3000+ a fair amount, as well as re-install the OS and put it in a case I didn't loathe, that it could easily do what I wanted it for another year - namely do some media serving to my 360, and play World of Warcraft.

So I picked up a new CoolerMaster case, which I adore so far btw, a nice CPU heatsink, and a 500gig 7200RPM SATA drive. My existing copy of XP has been on this rig since 2005, and is installed on a 120g UDMA133 IDE drive. So I figured by putting a fresh copy of XP on a new drive, I'd be golden. I had a copy of XP MCE 2005 I picked up a while back, so I figured I could play around with Media Center to the 360 while I was at re-installing so after putting the new hardware together I started there. Got everything installed, and as far as I could tell, everything was running fine. Try to load up WoW, and the frame rates would drop off. Spent literally days fiddling with it, but always came back to if I launched up the copy of XP on the IDE drive, it ran fine. Tried new drivers, old drivers, drivers that I had on my IDE drive still... always came back to bad frame rates.

So last night, after reading more tips of things to play around with on the official WoW boards, I decide one last time to wipe the drivers and try using the latest and greatest from nVidia. I noticed that I may have downloaded the nForce motherboard drivers from the wrong place, as my old nForce3 is listed in their "legacy" driver section, so I get those instead. I re-download a fresh copy of the newest Forceware drivers as well. After a few bumps in the road, needless to say the Ethernet chip on the motherboard overall is a very unhappy camper in this setup anymore, I get the system back up and launching into WoW. And the frame rates are solid. They aren't perfect mind you, I get 20-40fps on average in most zones including the most notoriously lagging ones, and the UI doesn't slow down so I'm not typing and waiting to see what I type.

And so, I'm happy. Simple pleasures I guess, but it's nice to take a mountain that you know you can climb and make it to the top.

Friday, May 2, 2008


So, after having my 360 for almost a year now, I have amassed a pretty decent collection of games. The one thing that I've noticed, is that a large majority of them are rated "M" (for Mature). When you look at the commercials on TV for games, most of them state "Rated 'M' for Mature" in the commercial, while they are showing cool graphics and/or cutscenes. The question to me doesn't become are we creating a society where women are beaten and children are killing chilren - we've had that for decades now. The question is what are we glorifying to our kids throughout ALL of society.

Now, I'm not saying I will buy GTA IV or whatever, but I really have reservations with Glenn Beck's comments that it is creating a better killer. I think the research was solid, the facts pretty straight, but the premise was failing. Because GTA makes you press a button on a controller and watch in third person the reaction, instead of making you fire a realistic weapon in first person, I'm not sure I can buy into his strangely anti-military, right wing fear of Big Brother concept that video gaming is making our kids to be killers. Better tacticians, maybe.

Whether we want to believe it or not, video gaming really is more of a litmus test of our society than an actual change mechanic. How many of the top selling games that come out each month are inappropriate for someone 8-14? How many movies are PG-13 or higher? How many of the "glamorous" TV shows are TV-MA? How many books on the shelf are to the literary level of a street worker, and become NYTimes best sellers or whatever?

We as a society want to wage wars on so many things, but we spend way too little time wanting to spend time looking at our own self indulgence. Video games aren't the evil of the world, neither is TV or movies. A "Big Mac" isn't going to kill you. Having 37 of 'em in a month might, though.

Maybe if we'd spend more time diversifying ourselves, instead of indulging on the mental mush candy fed to us as a whole, we'd be a much different society. But then again, who ever said that the Enemy ever wanted us to be spiritually and mentally fed? It's like Hanzel and Gretel at a spiritual and cosmic level...