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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Virtual Economies hit SA newspaper

When it comes to technology news, non-specialist South African newspapers (both physical and online) tend to be way behind the curve. Their reports on new technology are usually days or weeks behind and are very often just plain incorrect. For this reason, when something like this does actually hit a South African newspaper, you know its here to stay because it’s been around long enough for the scoop-challenged SA editors to sniff it out. Today’s case in point is an article on virtual economies by The Mail & Guardian. It’s actually a pretty good read, accurately and correctly summarizing some of the virtual economic activity going on in various persistent online worlds. Unfortunately it also carries that signature disbelief and masked ridicule that seems to accompany all gaming related articles in major SA publications.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Here we go with yet another late and picture-less post. Blame it on work and Xbox 360! I’ve been playing lots of Oblivion, advancing in rank in the guilds and just generally enjoying the game world. I have also been playing a bit of Geometry Wars (the guy at the top of the leader-boards with a score of 250 million can not be entirely human!), and I checked out the Sonic the Hedgehog demo on Live. Sonic looks absolutely amazing, and the game-play is extremely simplistic and reminiscent of the old 2D titles, but the games camera is just horrible. I never imagined a camera could affect a game quite so badly, but the developers of Sonic reached a new level of crappiness with their camera. It never points quite where it should and controlling it is painfully sluggish! I really hope this is fixed in the final retail version!

Xbox live goes down for maintenance, and sleeps in

Microsoft’s scheduled maintenance on Xbox Live and last week must not have gone quite to plan. Instead of the scheduled 24 hours, the downtime ran closer to about 36. When the Live service finally came up a couple of hours after the 24 hour promised deadline, things were still not well. The service suffered from a couple more hours of unreliable connections, missing marketplace content and general POSiness. Similarly, by the time the website came back online, it was far from healthy, with sign in attempts leading users back to the main page, weird FireFox compatibility issues, and all sorts of other nastiness. Of course system maintenance is not that big a deal to anyone working in IT, and we all know that it almost never goes as planned, and it always turns out that the test system on which the upgrades worked flawlessly is not quite as much of a perfect replica of the live environment as everyone imagined. What makes this particular system upgrade special is the uproar it caused amongst gamers. It would appear that some people are unhealthily attached to Xbox Live. The way some gamers were carrying on in forums and blog comments, one would swear that their daily food stipend had been cut off!

Lumines drops in chunks

When Live did finally come up, and the marketplace was once again stable, gamers could download the then newest arcade release, a port of the massively popular PSP launch title Lumines. I was never a fan of the original, perhaps because I feel being charged a premium game price for what is essentially a casual game is a huge rip off. I decided to give this version a chance, but it still doesn’t really tickle my fancy. Genre tastes aside though, what is interesting about Lumines is the way in which Microsoft and Q Entertainment chose to deliver this version to Xbox Live. At 1200 MS points, Lumines already ties for the dubious honor of most expensive Live Arcade title, but on top of this the 1200 point version is not the entire game! Not only are additional contact packs due to be released at a price, entire game modes are all but missing from this ‘full version’. Between this and Sony’s ludicrous idea to require players to download the bulk of the content for the next-gen Gran Turismo, it seems that companies are taking chances and testing how far they can go with micro-payments and piecemeal content, and I really hope the majority of gamers don’t fall for this crap and vote with their wallets!

Lots of virtual people

I’m a bit late on this one, but it seems sometime in the past couple of weeks Second Life hit 1 million residents. It’s nowhere near World of Warcraft’s enormous numbers, but considering the residents of Second Life actually impact a real virtual economy that interacts with real world currencies, it’s probably much more important.

Friday, October 13, 2006

GoogleTube and the Zune

With life back to some semblance of normality, I thought I would try and get a decent informative post in this week, so without further ado..


The big news this week is of course Google’s 1.65 Billion dollar purchase of YouTube. I for one really don’t see what the point of the buyout was, considering YouTube is a copyright law nightmare waiting to happen, and Google’s own video service is alive and kicking-and a lot better in many ways. There has been a lot of debate going on as to what Google intends to do with the service, and YouTube’s users are amongst the most vocally involved, wondering what the effect will be on the ‘casual’ feel of the service. Of course YouTube’s creators must be grinning from ear to ear.. That’s a lot of pocket money.

Dating the Zune

Microsoft have announced a November 14th release date for the Zune, as well as confirmed the $249.99 price point (why can’t we just say $250?) and what goodies will be preloaded. The preloaded content is actually really impressive, including 9 songs, 12 music videos and 3 short films. It’s really nice to see Microsoft making a habit of making their devices usable ‘out the box’ without additional purchases, let’s hope other manufacturers catch on.

I am a bit skeptical of their approach, and am not convinced that really niche features like WiFi will make much of a dent in the iPod market. The device needs to be a competent and stylish media player first, with a really easy to use interface as a close second and decent battery life rounding out the package. Battery hogging features like WiFi may end up being a bad choice, and the enourmous size of the player is not likely to help. It really does appear as if the original Xbox hardware design team members working on the device made the same mistakes they made with the console and produced a big ugly device that simply won’t appeal to casual users. Sadly they didn’t bring along their wisdom when it comes to focusing on the device’s core competence first and focused on what may prove to be add-on gimmicks instead of core functionality.

On the positive side, codec support is reputed to be much better than that of the iPod, which is great, and if integration with Windows Media Player is as tight as I suspect it will be, users already comfortable with that software may be an easy market. The one price monthly service allowing unlimited song downloads for $14.99 a month might also be a big seller, as I think this would certainly sit better than having to pay for individual songs amongst regular downloaders. I am of course also curious to see what sort of integration the Zune will have with the Xbox 360 and Live (which coincidentally is due for some downtime-or is that not such a coincidence?).

I suppose only time will tell how the Zune will stack up against the iPod. With lots of potential PS3 buyers bound to be disappointed by stock shortages even more sever than those of the Xbox 360 last year, Microsoft’s chosen release date is certainly interesting. I am sure they are hoping to cash in on some of those padded wallets, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a 360/Zune bundle released at around the same price point as the PS3.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Spore creature editor at rAge

Spore creature editor, originally uploaded by FlintZA.

I just wanted to quickly post this pic of the Spore creature editor for those that might find it interesting. EA had a demo of it running at rAge behind closed doors in their press room, and they were nice enough to give us a demo (not hands on). The editor does have a simple test mode that opens up a small world and lets you move the creature around in it and see how it behaves, but it's not anything complex with other models or anything.
The editor itself appears to be extremely straightforward and intuitive, and the EA employe demoing for us seemed to be having great fun with it and claimed to find it as enjoyable as the editors in The Sims -which she is apparently a great fan of.
I convinced her to progress the creature past the obvious configuration presented here, and it handled some really wierd limb combinations surprisingly well.
I can't wait to get my hands of the final version of this-I only hope it's coming to the 360!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Ok, so I’m a wee bit late with my latest blog post, and to top it off it’s going to be a lame text-only email post. I do have an excuse though, really I do. Two words: Xbox 360. I picked up my ‘360 from BT Games in Brooklyn after the launch party. There weren’t as many people as I expected-they probably all headed to the Northgate store instead because there was a party going on there too-complete with DOA and PGR competitions. It took the poor, slow salesman about 5 minutes per preorder box, so I only got out of there with mine by about 00:30. After setting up I played about an hour of Oblivion and headed to bed to get some rest for rAge.

rAge has come and gone

rAge lived up to it’s name and was truly awesome! There have been mixed reactions to the expo, especially because of the relative lack of PC component resellers and the obvious absence of Ster Kinekor. This led to the show being largely Xbox 360 focused, but that suited me just fine. Just about every major game retailer was at the show and each of them had 360 demo kiosks running to impress the masses. Microsoft themselves had set up a very impressive stand showcasing the machine and a number of launch titles. They also had Flight Simulator X displayed quite prominently, though not much else on the PC side gained any focus.

Unfortunately, someone at Microsoft forgot to involve the techies in setting up the stand. Not only were the Xboxes themselves housed in airtight perspex display cases (overheating, anyone) but they were attached to the gorgeous Samsung HD LCD display TVs with standard component cables! Thankfully the day was saved by Dan Wagner who pitched up with a box of HD cables and sorted out most of the demo machines. A word of advice to Microsoft SA: If you don’t know what’s potting with your own damned products, let the community who are willing and more than able to help you, do so.

Nintendo also had a stall of sorts, though nowhere near the level of Microsoft’s. A number of GameCube and DS games were on display, though sadly no DS Lites. These were however apparently available on request from staff.

As I mentioned before, Ster Kinekor decided to skip the show, which meant no major PlayStation presence. I found this very strange. I can understand that they choose not to have the PS2 appear side-by side with Xbox 360 for comparison reasons, but what about the PSP? The enormous EA stand was just about the only place to play any PS2 games, though they were of course overshadowed by EA’s 360 games that were also available to play. Smaller retailer stores did have a couple of PlayStation consoles and games available, but the focus was undeniably on the 360 in these stalls as well.

Of the smaller stalls, AnimeWorx’ was probably the most interesting. It was significantly larger than last years, and packed with comics, figures, games and just about everything else.

The NAG LAN was more prominent this year than in the past, since it had to be relocated to the exhibition area due to it’s sheer size (1200 gamers). I didn’t take part, but it sounds like people had a ball. Maybe next year I’ll go along with my 360 ;) I did get some PSP WiFi multiplayer in, and that was great. We were joined by Rebound and El33tOnline players from Natal, and even a couple of guys from Bloemfontein (yeah, they have electricity!). We played WipeOut, Fired Up and even some Tekken: Dark Resurrection (what a gorgeous game!). The DS definitely had a stronger showing, and I even had a go at Mario Kart, which was great fun.

Despite best intentions, no get-together ended up happening with pond members afterwards, but it’s probably just as well considering how bushed I was-and how keen I was to get in some quality time with my new Xbox.

Call me lucky

I also contacted the editor of GEAR (for whom I had written an article on mobile gaming), and it turned out they needed freelance 360 reviewers. I landed Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter as my first review title, so I now have that in addition to Oblivion (courtesy of GEAR of course). Between the two games I spent A LOT of time playing this weekend (my reviews of both are due for this Friday) and they’re both excellent. More details in a future edition of GEAR ;)


And last of all, I’ve become obsessed with all things Xbox 360 and Live. Notice my profile has been replaced with my gamercard and I’ve got my 360voice blog set up. So if you have a 360 and well and want to say ‘hi’, pop over to and add me as a friend or send me a message.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Booth babes

Booth babes, originally uploaded by FlintZA.

What would a launch be without them :)


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