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August 10, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

Wii Point

For my own reference: WiinRemote connects a Wii remote to a Bluetooth-enabled computer for manipulating the mouse cursor or keys.

Because I could buy a Bluetooth mouse, or I could just use one of the Wiimotes that we've got, and that we almost never use...

May 17, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»wii

First Wiik

I can maintain the puns forever, Internet. Don't try to stop me.

Positives:

  • All my Gamecube games run in progressive scan mode now.
  • The controller generally works well, and while the batteries are not terribly long-lived, I think I'm getting good use out of them. I'll still switch to rechargeables when I get the chance.
  • Internet channel! Belle thinks this is really dorky, especially since I keep my ancient laptop in the living room for emergency surfing anyway. But I love being able to turn on picture-in-picture and visit IMDB or Wikipedia while watching a movie, and the Wii's browser runs smoother than Firefox on my Celeron 366.
  • Virtual console! And everything looks SHARP. I don't ever remember N64 games looking that good. I think they cheated a little on the emulation.
  • Zelda is not awful. I don't have high expectations for 3D Zeldas, and Twilight Princess just barely clears them.
  • Wii Sports is a pretty good workout. If I started doing this and DDR on a regular basis, I might actually get into passable shape.
  • A side effect of the Home button is that you can pause anything, which is handy for those long cutscenes.

Negatives:

  • If I open up the top panel to plug in my Gamecube controllers, the cat comes and chews on the plastic. That's not really a mark against the Wii, it's just really annoying.
  • We keep the TV next to the front windows, and sometimes the remote gets confused by the light outside and goes crazy. I have to play with the blinds down. Belle would prefer I play Wii Sports with the blinds down anyway though, because it looks really stupid.
  • The keyboard on the web browser is awful. You should be able to plug a keyboard into the USB slot. Also, there's not enough memory to load Pandora, which is too bad, because I'd love to be able to play my Internet radio through the TV (while we still have Internet radio).
  • What's with the selection on the Virtual Console? Super NES games but no RPGs? Genesis but practically no fighters? Where's the NEO-GEO or CPS arcade boards? There's some weird stuff here, mixed in with the classics. And the slow release schedule is annoying.
  • There's some issues in the UI that are strange, particularly with OK/No buttons that can't decide to consistently exist on the left or the right side of each other. I'm not sure, but this may be by design to keep you from accidentally confirming destructive options.
  • Did I mention that the cat has tried to eat it? She chews on everything. We have got the weirdest cat on earth.

May 9, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»wii

Wiiconomics

After several months of stopping in at retail outlets every now and then and being told "well, we had them just yesterday," I broke down and bought a Wii on eBay. It should arrive today or tomorrow. The eBay premium on this comes to about $50 after you consider sales tax, so it could be a lot worse, I guess.

I looked at the XBox 360, and it's still tempting. But it's a bit high-priced for an impulse buy, and there's nothing I'm really dying to play. The media center functionality would probably be more appealing if we didn't have TiVo and Netflix. And I'm pretty sure Belle and I will get more enjoyment together out of the Wii than we would another system (where it would basically just be for me).

I'm still just amazed by how scarce the units actually are. I'm no industry analyst, but it's been almost a year now and I still haven't even seen a box on the shelves anywhere. The hardware isn't that complicated, from what I understand. The Freakonomics blog thinks it might be artificial, but no-one really knows.

But what's undeniably true is that there's more than a couple thousand of them up on eBay at any given time, selling for (including shipping) at least 130% of the retail price. How that figures into the shortages is hard to say--two thousand isn't a very big number, spread across the whole country--but it's a little galling to see the grey market flourish like this.

April 14, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

Tough Scrape

To: SquareEnix, makers of Chocobo Tales
CC: Everyone else making games for DS

Dear entertainment software teams,

So, how about those minigame collections? I see that you've discovered them again. As long as they don't wear out their welcome, either in the individual segments or the overarching structure, I approve. But let me make a quick suggestion: any game, micro or otherwise, that involves scribbling furiously at the DS touch screen needs to be redesigned, ASAP.

Because while you may be thinking that this is going to be an enjoyable diversion, I'm thinking it greatly increases the risk of gouging deep scratches into the screen, and that makes me twitch a little. Repeat after me: the stylus was not meant to be used as a replacement for button-mashing.

Sincerely,

Thomas

Tip for protective DS owners: If you don't particularly care for screen protectors, but you need to pass one of these obnoxious minigames, a piece of scotch tape makes a fine temporary solution. Just lay it down across the screen, scribble away, and then peel it back off. This used to be the height of Macgyver-style cleverness back in the early PalmOS community.

April 9, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»dreamcast

Hi-def for the low-tech

Eight years ago, Sega put out the first hi-def console. The Dreamcast was able to output in 640x480 VGA mode for most games, offering a sharper picture and more accurate colors than any other console out there. Then Sega made a lot of very silly business decisions and collapsed into a largely insensate heap. Today it only revives itself long enough to output terrible Sonic the Hedgehog spinoffs, and the Dreamcast is considered long-dead.

I still have a Dreamcast around, because you can't play Virtual On Garou: Mark of the Wolves, or the original Jet Grind Radio anywhere else. It's also really homebrew-friendly, if I ever decided to get back into that, and I used to have disks that would play movies or SNES games. And now I have an HD TV to go with it, one that even accepts a VGA input.

Unfortunately, I lost my VGA box for the Dreamcast. At least, I think I lost it. Maybe it's in the basement from when I moved last year, but I didn't see it after five minutes of looking around down there, and that means I probably threw it away. It was a little broken anyway. The point is, I need a new one. And unless there's a different, VGA box-filled Internet out there that I can't find, my only options are: A) pay $40 to have one imported from the UK, or B) make my own.

In other words, televisions finally caught up with the Dreamcast, and I still can't afford to play in high-definition.

Why isn't there just a VGA port on the back of the machine in the first place? Why don't most game consoles put their outputs out where you can get to them, like DVD players or other AV equipment? Maybe it's to simplify the circuit boards, and bring down costs. Personally, I suspect it's so that they can make more money by selling cables.

Anyway, if anyone's got a spare Sega VGA box, it's a seller's market. I've noticed that Gamecube cables are already getting hard to find, and they changed the socket on the Wii. Stock up now.

March 20, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»networking

A Half-pint of Disoriented Atomic Matter

The Nintendo Wifi system is not terribly effective. I had an elaborate introduction involving Web 2.0 to explain why this was the case, but then I realized that I would be better off saving that material for another time and getting to the problem more directly. Basically, psu writes at Tea Leaves that the problem of Friend Codes is not going to be solved any time soon, because Nintendo doesn't care about investing in the infrastructure it would take to catch up to services like XBox Live.

And psu has a valid point--the Friend Code system, which requires players to put in a different 12-16 digit number in each game in order to play multiplayer against a specific person, would require the company to put into place a lot of servers and centralized record-keeping services. It is nice to have this information, because people can mess around with it or use it to rank themselves. But it's also true that the Friend codes are not the end of the world, and they add a little bit of security, which can be helpful in a kid-friendly environment.

With that said, and admitting full well that this is not at all what psu meant to address, this is not the main reason that people dislike Nintendo's online service. It's not the reason that they're upset when it was carried over from the DS to the Wii. The reason that they're upset is because the service fails at the basic tasks of creating a good multiplayer experience, even without the bells and whistles of stat tracking and online ladders.

I've written before about how Nintendo has half-baked its Internet offerings online. They're unbalanced and easily exploited, and as a result I don't even bother to go online with Mario Kart or Metroid any more. But even if we set the games themselves aside, the matching service simply doesn't work effectively.

Say you're relatively new to gaming, and you want to play something online. So you load up a NiWiFi game, and you tap on the relevant icons. At this point, you wait. And you wait. And you wait some more. The four slots onscreen for other players--four players seems to be the maximum allowed, for some unexplained reason--will blink on, and then sometimes they'll blink back off without explanation. Eventually, the game will start, and then two minutes into the match at least two of the other players will disconnect when it becomes clear that they're not winning.

This is not a satisfactory process. It begins badly, it continues badly, and it ends badly. At no point is the player given any real information on what the system is doing, or why these players are being chosen. Moreover, once the match has been created, the game operates client-to-client, which opens up a whole new set of cheats and exploits, and lowers the ability for Nintendo to intervene with patches and quality control. It is not a coincidence that when Internet gaming really hit, it almost always used a client-server relationship, and it continues to do so. Servers create virtual spaces, gain their own communities and continuities, and give administrators the ability to slow down or kick cheaters off. Without those assets, we get to find out exactly how annoying most people online actually are.

Instead, Nintendo has basically chosen to go the cheapest route as possible, meaning that they rent servers from Gamespy for this crippled matching and pay for nothing else. I understand the impulse, but I think it's hard to claim that even the uninitiated are satisfied with this kind of system. Even casual gamers would like to see the people they're playing before they play them, and would like to spend as little time as possible waiting to connect. And it would be nice to have more options than just "random match" or "friends match," so that players can have some control over their experience. As it is, playing DS (and now Wii) games online is an opaque, frustrating hassle. Friend Codes are just an easily-grasped example of how messed up the system is.

January 25, 2007

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

Armed and Dangerous

As Hackaday observed, I wish I had an industrial robot to play with. A couple of robotic engineers linked the Wii controller up to a robot arm with a fast response time, and quickly had it playing tennis or swordfighting. The motions are basically canned and matched to a set of prerecorded swings, but they explain how it could be converted to a more real-time system.

I wonder what the price tag on one of those arms would be? Not even just for this. I'd train it to spray water at the cat.

December 12, 2006

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

Rise Up with Fists

The news that the motion-sensitive Wii controller can be used with a Bluetooth-enabled PC is both intriguing and puzzling. It's intriguing because the Wii remote is relatively cheap, considering its capabilities, and probably very durable.

It's puzzling because once I got it hooked up, I have no idea what I'd do with it.

Frankly, the Wii likely makes a poor mouse. We've got the Gyration Air Mouse at work, and we usually end up using it like a regular mouse on the table. On a system where the interface can be designed for shaky hands (i.e. large buttons, forgiving dead zone, circular menus), it's probably much easier to use, but computer interfaces have gradually become more and more precise, with small OS widgets and lots of data onscreen. It also looks to me like it requires the sensor bar to handle yaw measurements and pointing with any degree of accuracy (although let's not be conventional--turning the controller to its NES-style orientation solves that problem, and would certainly be more usable for the Half-life 2 video that's floating around).

So I've been trying to figure out what I would do with something that could measure force in three dimensions, but not position or relative orientation. Knowing my obsessions, I've been trying to relate it to gestural control in music without having to write a really complicated wrapper for it. I'm not coming up with much. Any ideas?

August 27, 2006

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

Soap

This project for a wireless mouse controlled by rolling it around inside a cloth sack is very cool--they're calling it soap, because it's like rolling a bar of soap in your hand. Cheap and easy to make, too. Cue lots of jokes about dropping the Soap, but it does look like a really good way to control a GUI wirelessly without having to use a surface or adjust to a trackball. I'm filing it under Gaming because they tested it playing Unreal Tournament.

April 20, 2006

Filed under: gaming»hardware»shameless_commerce

Impulse Buy

Belle says, "Do you have no dignity at all?" The answer to which is apparently no:

I don't know what the hell that second thing is. It came in the package as a bonus from Play-Asia. From my past experience with Asian snacks, I'm in no hurry to open it.

Future - Present - Past