Thursday, November 23, 2006

On disability (Nintendo Wii)

I am a healthy person. Regardless, I can't play Burnout for more than around half an hour at a time: I can't keep gas (RT) and nitro (A) down all the time without my right hand aching. I have often wondered how much my life would change if I was no longer able to hold a joypad or use a keyboard and mouse. (It's pretty scary, actually: people break their hands all the time.)

Everyone is not as lucky as I am. I find the people's dickheadedness in this post's comments section astonishing. The guy is just saying that it would be nice if there were consistent options to adjust the Wiimote's sensitivity to accommodate people who can't move their hands that well, and people are crying "cheat!" and "tough luck, disabled guy, live with it!". This being the internet, many are drawing ridiculous parallels like "well, the guy with no hands can't play either, next we'll have to help him!".

I've ranted about usability issues before. Microsoft has pushed the developers into conforming to their standards on the usage of the 360 joypad's buttons, on respecting customized soundtracks and incorporating Live. They even have a setting for console-specific "preferred controls" to avoid having to set your invert, gearbox and viewpoint preferences in every FPS and driving game you play.

Is it possible that they haven't even thought about demanding customizable controls while at it? What about all the people who prefer "southpaw" layout, with movement on the right stick? Like many left-handers? There are no technical reasons to limit the user's customization of controls, yet it's extremely rare to see that an option.

I imagine there are a lot of people with minor hand problems, like missing fingers, aching joints and whatever, who could be helped just by giving them the option of, say, using RB instead of A for the majority of gameplay.

Even very common disabilities like hard of hearing and colorblindness are usually not taken into account. This could be remedied with simple rules on user interface design. I understand that these options can be the last thing to finetune before shipping and thus being very barebones, but we're talking about the overall quality of not just the one game, but the industry. If accessibility (to a sensible point...) was taken into account in the planning and design stage, these would be non-issues.

Since developers don't seem to take this up and publishers won't make them to, some industry entity should take up the accessibility flag. There's a lot of cheap, good PR on the offer, if you need an incentive beyond being as good as you can be.

I find this especially depressing because playing videogames can be one of the few ways a disabled or bed-ridden person can communicate with her peers on an equal level. To limit their options for no good reason is a shame.

Update: A couple of links to complement the post. First, there's One Switch, which is a campaign for greater accessibility in games. Then it appears that the International Game Developers' Association, or IGDA, has already taken accessibility into account in a special interest group's blog.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Happy birthday Xbox

The Xbox is five years as of today. It really doesn't seem like so many years. Allow me to recall some Xbox moments in my life.

The Xbox party. I went to this Microsoft-sponsored Xbox party, given out by the Pelit magazine. Our crew were all readers of said magazine. It was a hoot, and I think I decided that I needed an Xbox at the event.

Dead Or Alive 3. I could not believe how good DOA3 looked. It still ranks among the top cats, mind. Instalment 4 doesn't have nearly the same impact.

Completing Halo for the first time. I've done it quite a few times since. I lost count, but I imagine I've been through something like five times since. Also, playing Halo in co-op is a unique experience.

Hooking up on Live. I only did this with the 360 this year, but it was a revelation, nonetheless. How easy can you make online gaming?

Losing myself in Morrowind. The Xbox certainly saw many PC ports, which was nice since I couldn't afford a gaming PC. The PC crew may boast about their mod-support all they like, they can't take away my dozens of experiences with Morrowind on TV. Although the bugs did grate.

Listening to my music while carving up a mountain in Amped 2. Customizable playlists are a big thing to me and it's great they've only made them better with the 360. I was so into Amped 2 for some time that whenever I got a new record, I ripped it to the Xbox and listened to it on board.

Kung Fu Chaos. Kung Fu Chaos was the very first item on my Xbox "want" list and I finally got it a month or so ago. It's very good indeed and feels like a fitting goodbye to the console.

I will be playing on my Xbox for a good time to come, but I can't see myself buying very many new games. There are still some titles I want to check out, like Otogi 2, but my heart is very much in the next-gen playground already.

It's also fitting that the five-year old has finally learned how to talk. has an article up on this, check it out.

Update: Eurogamer has put together a pretty cool list of quality Xbox titles you probably missed. Handy shopping list if you're picking one up now that they're as cheap as a Gamecube.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sponsored post: Review Me

This is a sponsored post about the Review Me service. It's not like I need the $15 USD I'm getting for this or that it's even adequate money for the sign-up effort and writing the post; I'm doing this simply because I think this is a great idea. I came upon this via

The problem is that old-fashioned mass marketing or even targeted marketing like Google AdWords is just not cutting it for some products. To get that community interest you need to engage people. Review Me features products which need community exposure but don't work well with mass marketing. They pay bloggers to discuss their products: it's essentially a global media agency for reaching bloggers.

Of course I'm thinking here that videogames could work very well in this context. I know I can rely on Penny Arcade's coverage of the games they play. Even at the risk of sounding much more influential than I am (and I really have no illusions: I've got a total of 2'000 visitors), it's the old ethos of reaching the opinion leaders.

Take the online RPGs I discussed earlier today. You can use banner ads to reach potential customers for Eve Online and D&D Stormreach, since they have popular imagery and USPs you can throw at the audience. But what about the real niche games, like A Tale In The Desert? Games which are too out there to be explained in a single sentence? You can't tell about them if people don't talk about them. Review Me might be just the thing to help get the word out there about these more obscure games without excessive PR efforts.

So there you have it, a way to get bloggers to discuss your product (or site, or service, or...). The only requirements for the sponsored reviews are to write 200+ words (this post is 444 words) and be clear about the fact that it's a paid-for post. There's no need to be positive about the reviewed thing.

As a blogger, I feel good about this. The products it's good for are the kind of stuff I'd likely write about anyway, and since the advertiser hand-picks the sites they want to feature in, the content I'm proposed should fit my line well. Since writing a post is a relatively big effort anyway, I don't think this is "easy money" - it's a bonus, sure, and if you've got a popular site, you can make $50 USD per review.

Now, this is all theoretical. I don't think I'll see many propositions from the Review Me advertisers, but I just want to be clear that I wouldn't categorically say no to them.

Update 15/11/06: We broke the 50 visitor threshold yesterday. Nice, that.

Massively Multiplayer (EVE, Stormreach, World Of Warcraft, CCP + White Wolf)

I've been intrigued by the massively multiplayer games for a long time. I've played some Anarchy Online and tried free demos of a couple of others, but haven't really gotten into any of them, mostly due to the grind of the games being such a bore: the games don't properly start until you've invested dozens of hours and made friends with other players.

These games are commonly called massively multiplayer online something-or-other, usually roleplaying games. The "massively" is just needless gloating, and "multiplayer" says the same as "online", really. If it's an RPG, I like to stubbornly call them net-RPGs or something of the sort, as I feel just stupid saying "MMORPG" aloud. Don't you? If it's not an RPG, can't we just say it's an online game? Or a net-game?

There is one game in which the "massively" part rings true, which is one of the reasons I'm itching to try it out. Eve Online's players truly are all in the same world, running it in unison. It's a grand social and economical experiment, hailed by some as the ultimate game and by others as the, well, ultimate bore. There's been a lot of cool stuff done in Eve, like the way the economy actually works and the way the players have set up the world's allegiancies on their own, without GM intervention. We intend to check out EVE with my wife in the Christmas holidays.

Then there's World Of Warcraft. It's massive in the sense that everyone and their cats have played the game and there's a truly massive amount of players at it at any given time, regardless of how many separate servers they inhabit. The games has one thing going for it: it's visually so pleasing that I find it hard to resist jumping in whenever I see it running on-screen. We had already decided against ever trying it out, wary of some of our friends' regret over the time they'd put into it, but last weekend the fever hit again.

I really don't want to spend all my spare time on a (single) game. However, there's nothing wrong in playing something for a while. There's another online RPG I'd really like to check out, Dungeons & Dragons Stormreach, but I always thought that I shouldn't touch it as I wouldn't have the time it required, anyway. But so what if I only played for a couple of months, as with other games? If the game can't offer proper gameplay during the opening moments, it's probably not worth my time anyway.

As I had pondered about these things and settled on rying out at least the free demos of these games, the news hit that CCP, the company behind EVE, had agreed on a merger with White Wolf, the company behind my beloved Vampire tabletop RPG. Something good is bound to emerge from this union.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


With Microsoft's outright weird decision to bundle the 360 with a 20GB hard drive (with a mere 12GB free for use!), this Datel product may soon become a common item among the gamer hardcore. I know I'm tempted. It isn't strictly necessary yet, but with TV and movie downloads on the horizon, an easy solution to the storage problem is needed.

There are also relatively straightforward guides to exchanging the 360's HD to a bigger capacity one, but those would all void my warranty.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Previews (Warhammer, PC FPS titles)

PC back catalogue

With a gaming PC in the house after a long hiatus, I've naturally seeked out demos of interesting PC titles I've missed over the years. Some initial impressions, then:

Far Cry: highly interesting. Runs super-smooth with high settings and looks lovely. The sense of freedom is something I haven't previously experienced in a shooter title and it really feels like you can approach situations any way you care. I was initially lured by the bright, tropical graphics, but the gameplay feels like a winner, too.

I played the demo through obsessively, delighted at how challenging it was. As a sidenote, I remain a fan of the checkpoint system. I don't want to break my immersion with quicksaves - which often leads me to forgetting to save my progress if the game doesn't have a checkpoint system. Checkpoints also split the game into bite-size chunks. This demands further play.

FEAR: FEAR is perhaps the PC title I was most looking forward to, but I'm a little disappointed. The controls feel as off as they did with the 360 version (a Monolith mainstay, unfortunately) and the graphics stutter more than they do on the Xbox. I remain intrigued by the premise, so I'll likely look more into it, but with diminished expectations. It could be I'd be better off with the 360 version, which runs smoother.

Half-Life 2: that's correct, I haven't played Half-Life 2 yet, though the original game is among the best games I've ever played. I intend to, especially after playing the demo. The game still looks good and runs super-smooth.

Gameplay feels more like, well, playing than running and gunning in the classic FPS sense. With limited ammunition and the environment-manipulating gravity gun, you're left thinking of other ways to solve the problem of staying alive. The aesthetic design is so cool, too.

Warhammer: Mark Of Chaos

I only briefly treid the demo of the new Warhammer real-time strategy title. It felt a lot like actual, miniatures-based Warhammer, which is only a good thing. I'm not sure, but it looked like they were even playing by the "real" rules. Units are counted in models, not "men", and that kind of thing. There is an option customize some unit colors, although it would be awesome to be able to actually "paint" the models.

I was worried they'd go the popular Warcraft way of candy colors and high fantasy, but it seems they've kept the premise down low and gritty. My other fear was that they'd go all Warcraft on the gameplay, too, with base-building and whatnot, but this seems unfounded. You pick forces, set them up and go at it.

This is very much the way I envisioned a computer-Warhammer back as a kid when playing around with the models. Only that with a computer game, you can field a thousand-strong army and it'll only cost you the 50€ for the game.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Child's Play 2006

Penny Arcade is again organizing Child's Play, the gamer charity for children's hospitals. I'm going to participate with my wife. It would be great to have you along.

We haven't participated in earlier years because it's been a US thing, but now that there's an Egyptian children's hospital to donate to, we really have no choice but to chip in. We've been to Egypt a couple of times, since my wife studies Egyptology. The last time we visited an orphanage for handicapped children in Luxor, and the people and their need has stuck with us.

You can buy toys (including videogames) or donate cash via PayPal. It's a great Christmas gift not only for children, but for the gamer community: there really is no better PR for the often criticized and ridiculed gamers than this campaign.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tech survival +1

I'm writing this on my new computer. It is the first I've built myself, right from choosing parts to assembling the thing. It's not quite done yet, there's a bunch of cables hanging from the case which need to find their counterparts on the motherboard, but it works and I've got everything installed with just one day of tinkering.

Thankfully, the speed increase does seem worth it. Of course I've ran some old 3D Mark benchmarks to see the delicious 100+ FPS scores, and I also intend to test-drive some old games which used to be too much for my old rig (Update: Half-Life 2, FEAR, Unreal Tournament 2003 all run well. Great!). I'm doing something wrong, though: one guy on the 3D Mark 05 benchmark has an identical system to mine, yet he's scored over double the points.

Anyway, I'm just glad I've got it all together. There was a brief feeling of desperation when I couldn't get the graphics card to display anything, but apart from that, it's been remarkably trouble-free. (Update: Simply unplugging and replugging the GPU did the trick.)

And what games am I anxious to try out, apart from the great Frets On Fire? There's at least Dawn Of War, FEAR, Far Cry and just to see how the rig handles it, good ol' Doom 3. And some indie stuff I couldn't handle previously.

So far there's just one let-down: it makes a lot of noise. I'm real happy that I chose slightly less noisy components, but it could be that a couple of low-noise fans and a proper power supply would be in order. At least the hum is stable and low in frequency.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Frets On Fire, new computer

One of my reasons for finally getting around to upgrading my computer (see below) was that even indie games are too heavy for my old setup. Luckily this latest gem I came across does work, and it's sweet indeed! Frets On Fire is a simple clone of the hugely successful Guitar Hero series on the consoles. Holding your keyboard like a guitar feels great one you're past the "I can't believe I'm doing this" stage. At least my Apple keyboard works great this way.

New computer

Might as well mention what I ordered and why, since this is the kind of information I looked for in the net for weeks before figuring out what I need. We wanted a rig to last us for the next three or four years in mostly light home use, with forays into graphical applications (Photoshop, InDesign mostly) and gaming. Some care was taken into keeping it upgradeable.

Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ boxed, 2.2GHz, 1MB(2x512) Cache. We settled on a dual-core because it felt like with Vista right around the corner, now would be a good time. Our heaviest resource loads are graphics applications, which could really benefit from better multitasking. I simply picked a dual-core processor in the mid-range price, landing at 215€.

Motherboard: Abit AN9 32X AM2 nF590-SLI. We needed an AMD M2 socket for the processor and the price difference between the recent nForce 590 and ageing nForce 4 chipsets wasn't huge. This one cost 180€. Reviews suggested that this board or one of its variants was a good choice for a powerful, upgradeable setup. I wanted the AM2 socket for future-proofing, too; it seems like socket 939 is phased out byt the time we'd need a new processor. It could be I went overboard with the motherboard and it doesn't help with the next upgrade after all, but I like knowing that the base of the rig isn't shaky. I went for SLI because I wasn't going to buy a high-end graphics processing unit, but I wanted the option to boost GPU power cost-effectively. Oh, and the mobo is passively cooled.

GPU: Club 3D GeForce 7600GS 256MB Silent, PCI-E. The choice in GPU was basically between the GeForce 7600GS and GT. The 7600GT is currently the mass market choice in the around 150€ range. GT is only slightly more expensive and considerably more powerful than the GS, but I really wanted a passively cooled GPU. The GS should be enough for our needs and since it's SLI-capable, I can always just plug in another similar card to boost the power to something approaching the levels of mid to high -end cards (I think). You can get a passively cooled 7600GT, too, but delivery would take several weeks and they cost over 200€, compared to the 120€ for the GS.

Case: HyperCell2 6211L-CA with a 400W power source, at 70€. I did think about purchasing a separate power source as my old computer has an Antec power source which alone cost 70€, but we settled on a cheap case which looked good.

Memory: Kingston 1024MB (1GB) 533MHz DDR2, PC2-4200, CL4, for 130€. we were tempted by 2 GB, but 1GB felt adequate for now. It can always be added to later.

I won't bore anyone with the DVD toaster and hard drive details, especially since I don't really understand anything about them. I do expect the SATAII HD to feel lightning-fast compared to the IDE (PATA) drive I currently use. Well, as far as "triple-speed" equals "lightning-fast", anyway... I also think we'll get a major reduction in noise, since the thing will only have a processor and power source fan. Well, it may be that we need a case fan, too, but I'm only adding one if necessary.

Expect massive complaining once I get to assembling the thing and find out that nothing fits.

Update (9 November 2006): Some clarifications!

The motherboard is not passively cooled. It just has a heatsink in addition to two small fans. I was distracted by the "Silent OTES Heatpipe" designation. I ended up getting an Abit AN9 32X Fatal1ty AM2 nF590-SLI for the motherboard. It's basically the same board, I can't tell of any major differences between the two.

The case does have one case-fan to begin with.

I also picked up another GPU, as the one I wanted initally wasn't readily available. I got an Asus GF7600GS 512MB PCIE, which is basically the same unit, except with more memory. I'm slightly mystified by the card's performance in tests, as it routinely rates lower than the 256MB variant. Oh well, runs well enough.

The SATA2 hard drive is sure fast, and silent. Actually the more silent HD and optical drive are maybe a bigger thing than more silent fans would be.

I'm thinking about overclocking, too, since the Athlon 64 X2 4200+ AM2 should go up to 2,9 GHZ with ease, with just air-cooling. I don't want to risk my new hardware, though, so we'll see. If performance becomes an issue.