Friday, June 12, 2009

Bug Status: Closed

Reasonable enough assessment..

From XKCD..

Monday, February 23, 2009

Xbox 360 "Black Screen, No Video, No Sound" Problem

Okay, so I think my Xbox 360 has died again. Far as I can tell, this is the exact same problem I encountered in December. I was playing a game and out of nowhere, the graphics got all weird and discolored, with phantom red and green shades of color added to everything (like when you change Windows to display in only 16 colors, but worse). For a few days, it would go through this routine and I could play for an half an hour or so before the graphics would go haywire again (on the dashboard, in-game, the works), like a precursor to the unfortunate events to come. Eventually the system failed to work at all, turning on and making the familiar hardware boot-up noises and spinning green controller lights, but showing only a black screen and offering no sound output at all.

I did some research online and found that this is some kind of new hardware problem, similar in nature to the infamous "Red Rings of Death" (RRoD), or "3 Red Rings" problem. Apparently the system gets so hot that over time the motherboard can bend and warp. This can cause the X-Clamps (pictured above) that hold the heat sinks in place to flex, popping off the soldering points and jeopardizing the CPU and GPU. I don't how this is different from the previous RRoD errors. Maybe the repairs Microsoft made have caused the system to be vulnerable to this new problem. Maybe they changed the way the hardware handles the RRoD error to some new symptom, saving them the costs of repairing the many overworked systems that still fall under the extended 3-year warranty.

Conspiracy theories aside, the hard simple facts are this.. My system was repaired once in the summer of 2007, after only 5 months of ownership. The system Microsoft returned to me was a refurbished 360 (not my original console), and it seemed to work for another 18 months or so, before giving up the ghost again. This new error I received was not the same RRoD-related problem, and so my now out-of-warranty system would take $140 for an official repair from Microsoft. Instead, I decided to get my system repaired at my local Play N Trade for much cheaper, and it worked fine for 2 months before succumbing to the same sorry fate once more. I am fed up with paying any more for repairs on a game system I enjoy using, but loathe servicing.

I have decided to roll up my sleeves and take the plunge into repairing the system myself using this free tutorial or others like it on the site. Since I've already had it repaired once and have probably already voided my warranty because of that, I feel like it's either this or buying a brand new system (cheapest model, 360 Arcade, costs $200), so I figure it's worth a shot. Wish me luck! I'll post more details as the situation unfolds.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Organizing the SocNet Mess

If you're like me, you have a pension for joining your fair share of social networks, but have trouble keeping track of it all. Take twitter for example. It's a great way to trade status updates with your friends and maybe even a web celebrity or two, but once you start adding more than a handful of people the feeds can get downright noisy. And if you have a particularly active friend (I'm not pointing out any names here) locating a particular post can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. So what on Earth can we do to stop this mess of social madness How about a feature that's just about as old as email

Folders, Lists, Labels, or whatever you want to call it. It's really very simple. Just like in your Inbox, your default view displays a global listing of all the updates you choose to follow. For Facebook it would be everyone on your friends list. For YouTube, it would be every channel you subscribe to. Then, you could create your own lists or rules containing whatever specific subsets you would like to track individually. For example, you could add your closest friends to one list and call it BFFs. Label another one Podcast Updates. Another one could be Online Deals. Then you could check whichever update feed you had the urge to inspect, prioritizing certain ones over others, just as one would do while perusing a well-organized email account. Unread counters, content search capabilities, the whole nine yards.

Organizing things might just make sifting through the online social jungle a less daunting. And less time monitoring your online social life means more time for a real social life. Or possibly more online social interaction for some.. Well, whatever makes you happy!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Far Cry 2 Dizziness and Burnout Paradise Love

So, after hearing everyone praise it so much, I decided to throw Far Cry 2 into the Gamefly queue. Never have I had a game give me dizziness this bad since hovercraft races in Diddy Kong Racing on the N64. Modern games have been pretty good about making 3D motion feel more natural and less fluid, adding momentum and weight to your movement and head turning. I dunno what it is about this game though. Occasionally a game will make me dizzy, but this game literally made me nauseous.

It's a shame. I really admired its cool game concept and new take on the series. Open-world FPS game set in Africa, with optional side quests, lots of vehicles, AI buddies to save and bail you out, and alternate ways to solve each mission. I just don't know if I can play this game w/o reaching for some Dramamine.

Guess that just gives me more time to enjoy Burnout Paradise then. Criterion is supposed to release a pretty big patch tonight, but as of this writing there are some problems. Apart from Blizzard, Bungie or Valve, I've never seen a dev support a game this much, post-launch. They totally redid the driving model, overhauled the graphics, introduced bikes, added a DLC party mode, and are even giving people what they've been bitching for.. event restart. It might not be the most lucrative way to churn out the profits, but that kind of support builds customer loyalty that tends to garner a fan following. Kudos to any developers who takes a similar stance.

Friday, October 24, 2008

That Thing Creeps Me Out

So Thao recently bought a red wig for her Halloween costume this year. I won't say exactly what she's gonna be dressing up as, but she did braid the hair into two separate pig tails that hang neatly off the sides. Since Halloween isn't for a week or so, she had set the hair prop hanging on a cabinet handle near the bathroom. Later that night, as I made my way toward the bathroom to empty the tank, I nearly jumped backward in horror at the sight of something I'd never thought I could be afraid of. Now, keep in mind, the hallway was dimly lit and I didn't know it would be there, but yeah, I was a bit unnerved at the time.

Funny thing is, even now, as I pass by the thing, it's still a little creepy, and for some reason I can't help but think, "Kill it, kill it, kill it". I don't know what it is. Maybe it's that the short strands of braided hair that almost appear to form a pair of furry legs or claws. Maybe it's some weird undiscovered fear of small, furry, mutant animals that I've repressed until now. Maybe it's just the idea of a disembodied head of hair. Or perhaps, it's that when viewed from the proper angle, with your eyes squinted just right, it has the look of a headcrab. You know those super-annoying staples of the Half-Life series that lunge at your head at every opportunity? In any case, Halloween will be over before I know it. That pillow wearing the Lambda Team scientist uniform will hopefully buy me some time and distract it until then.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Music in Games

So yeah, haven't been posting much on this blog anymore.. since I've been busy w/ another site. Not gonna make any more promises though. The posts will just come when they come.

Anyway, I've been playing a lot of Rock Band 2 recently and have enjoyed it pretty well, as you can see here. Something's been nagging me though. Namely, that some people have a problem with others liking music due to it being in a game. Even if they really only get into that one song and don't dig much deeper into that band's discography, the fact that someone was exposed to some new music they wouldn't ordinarily listen to is really all that matters. Naturally, you develop a sort of positive association with a game's music, much like you would with the composed pieces from a Final Fantasy game or from any orchestrally scored movie. Regardless, the fact remains that you did open up your palette just a bit to something new. Who cares where that motivation came from?

The way I see it, it should make no difference whether you hear about a song from a friend, uncover it on the iTunes music store, find it on some Pandora playlist, listen to it on some classic rock radio station, discover it in your dad's old collection of vinyl albums, catch it playing in some movie's soundtrack, or play it in a video game. After all, music is about discovery. It's an art form that can be easily shared with others in many ways. The more mediums, the greater reach it has. And since the recent Guitar Hero: Aerosmith game has made them more money than any album of theirs ever has, you should probably get used to it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

New Directions

I know it's been a while since I last published anything remotely resembling a post, but I'd like to begin anew. Recently, I began work on a joint-venture, with my friend Van, on a new gaming-centric blog, .. plug, plug. I've also spent more time using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to share smaller tidbits, which has, it seems, made me a lazy blogger. With the new focus away from gaming life, I'll try to post a bit more regularly, with perhaps more emphasis on personal thoughts and experiences. So, hello again world! So much to do and so little time to do it in..

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Splintering The Market

The current console generation has been defined in numerous ways: next-gen gameplay, motion control, high definition graphics, and online gaming. These new aspects are all inherently good for the industry. However, there's one trend gaining in popularity this generation that could potentially hurt gaming.. The ever increasingly, common practice to introduce new hardware accessories and peripherals.

Granted, this is nothing new to gaming. From the early days, Nintendo has been pushing out crazy new peripherals to augment players' gaming experiences. From the NES Zapper, to R.O.B. the Robot, to the Super Scope 6, and even the Donkey Konga drums. Most of these hardware add-ons were designed to be used by only a handful of games, much like the Guitar Hero and Rock Band instruments are today. You had no reason to expect that you'd be using the Power Pad to play the next version of Super Mario Bros or embark on the next Zelda adventure. But more and more, the trend is moving toward incremental improvements to the hardware via "optional" accessories that detrimentally fragment the market.

Let's start out with Microsoft. They were the first to reach market with Xbox360, but this also forced them to compete with much cheaper consoles: PS2 and Gamecube. Their decision to release two main hardware configurations--one with a hard drive (HDD) and one without--allowed them to debut at a much lower price point. Unfortunately, this resulted in a splintering of their hardware options from day one. Game developers would not be able to utilize the HDD to optimizing the game experience, whether it be speeding up load times or using much larger textures. This remains a problem to this day, especially with multi-platform titles that are allowed to use the PS3 HDD, yet Microsoft still won't allow developers to touch 360 HDD for fear that "Arcade" SKU owners won't be able to play. In addition, it's a very confusing message to send to consumers when you tout your superior online service, which also requires the 360HDD.

Sony was smart enough to include a HDD in every PS3, but their foul up was in not including the Dualshock 3 in the box from day one. This is mainly because Sony decided to fight the Immersion lawsuit, which involved a patent violation for the use of existing rumble technology in their controllers. Microsoft decided to settle out of court, but Sony was adamant they would win. Long story short, they went ahead and released their new Sixaxis controller with the PS3, which included motion control, but sans any rumble capability. Less than a year later, the legal problems were over and rumble was back in the newly labeled Dualshock 3. In a move akin to Apple's 3G-less iPhone launch, they had revised their hardware with a major new addition shortly after their initial launch, and consumers had to pay for it. Not that any game really requires rumble-enable controllers, but the fact that no game designer can incorporate that as part of their essential game design is a little limiting, to say the least.

Nintendo seems to introduce the most hardware peripherals out of anyone, but most are closer to the gameplay augmenting NES peripherals, rather than outright necessities. They add optional gameplay experiences or are designed solely for only a handful of games; with some examples being: The Wii Zapper, the Mario Kart Wheel, and the Wii Fit balance board. But with the recent announcement of the Wii MotionPlus add-on, which offers true 1:1 motion control, I can't see this doing anything other than splinter the market. Unlike the other accessories mentioned above, it's not something that can be used for specific game experiences. It redefines the way motion control works for the default wiimote controller. From the consumer perspective, will we be forced to buy 4 of these new devices, one for each wiimote? And from the developer perspective, do you decide to base your game around this new technology, shrinking the potential market of people who can buy and play your game?

The problem with fragmenting the hardware market for your console is that you never can truly utilize these new devices, since you can't guarantee that everyone that owns that system has them. It then becomes more of an optional gameplay element, rather than a something that adds to the core experience. The way I see it, you should never introduce a fundamental hardware accessory after your product has already gone to market. Software upgrades are fine, since they are free and easy to push out to customers. But I guess we live in an age where we always want the best product all the time, so I submit to you the lesser of two evils. If you're going to "upgrade" hardware for a console, make sure that every new version of the hardware has these improvements going forward, and make sure there's a cheap and affordable way for existing owners to "upgrade" as well. The nature of technology is such that it is always changing, but if you are building a platform that software can run on, make sure you don't end up screwing over your existing user base.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Suck At Metal Gear

Every time I sit down to play a Metal Gear Solid game, I initially attempt to play the game the way I envisioned I should play it. Using every article of stealth you have at your disposal. Hiding amongst the shadows, sneaking up on soldiers and performing ninja-like take downs. It works out alright during the first few encounters, but I inevitably get caught. The music becomes heightened, a rather imposing timer appears at the top of the screen and suddenly I've got two left thumbs and can't perform even the most basic movements of evasion because I'm knee-deep in guards who are shooting my ass full of lead. The screen fades to static as Snake's life flashes before his eyes and I start again, careful to note where my last attempt went all to hell. This time, I knowingly avoid the guard I couldn't see coming around the corner, I crawl past him while he's not looking, only to come face to face with a buddy of his and the whole affair begins again. I manage to hide in a dark area of the next room, and I'm forced to wait in silence for, no joke, a matter of minutes before the guards return to their more casual search patterns.

Eventually this gets old, real fast, and I decide "screw this," I'm gonna play this how I damn well feel. For better or worse, that basically amounts to gameplay straight out of the "Call of Duty" series. Soon, I'm running and gunning just like all the other infinitely respawning cloned soldiers I'm fighting alongside. We take cover when necessary, charge forward, guns blazing like the canon fodder that we are.. but it's a bit unsatisfying, given the game that I'm playing. I'm Solid-fucking-Snake, for crying out loud, not just another PMC soldier out there on the battlefield for his next paycheck. I'm a damn hero. The local militia I'm helping out should lift up their guns and cheer my name every time I make an appearance like I'm Master Chief or Gordon Freeman or something. But no, not if I keep dying over and over again like I do. Those nanomachines can really only do so much, you know.

I suppose I could start all over on a lower difficulty (I stubbornly choose the default North American difficulty, Solid Normal, which happens to be the third of 5). But seriously, I'd sooner play this game wearing a pink leotard than chew up my pride and do that. No, I'll get through somehow, even if I have to rocket launch every last bad guy into orbit. Cuz even though I've never really finished any of the previous games, I'm still enjoying the interactive manga aspect of it. The distopian, yet unique perspective of the war of the future. The little bits of comedy and fourth-wall breakage that really surprise you. Obviously, this is an extremely polished title that the Kojima dev team has produced.

This whole experience has got me wondering though.. Does a reviewer have to be "good" at a game in order to objectively rate it properly? And what's the point in having a wide spectrum of difficulty settings if I'm so reluctant to acknowledge them. Something to think about I guess.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Know the Signs

Classic 1Up Yours podcast discussion about.. well, you know..

John Davidson: Have you ever turned down sex in order to play a videogame?
Shane Bettenhausen: No
Garnett Lee: Negative.
John: Bryan?
Shane: Bryan?
Garnett: Ohhh! ohhh! Confirmed!
Shane: Bryan? What were you...... your fiance would not be pleased.

Bryan Intihar : I didn't know she wanted to have sex, alright?


Bryan: And the next morning she was like... you know.. I wanted to you know, do it. And I was like... *sighs*
Shane: I wanted to beat Ganon..

Thursday, May 15, 2008

April NPD Tea Leaves

Every month, we get detailed analysis of the sales figures provided by the NPD Group for the video game industry from just about everyone on the internet. Well, this month I thought I'd join in on the discussion with my very own armchair analysis based on silly numbers and my own experience as a gamer and consumer. So here goes..

The Raw Data (taken from Joystiq)

- Wii: 714.2K (previously 721K)
- DS: 414.8K (previously 698K)
- PSP: 192.7K (previously 297K)
- 360: 188K (previously 262K)
- PS3: 187.1K (previously 257K)
- PS2: 124.4K (previously 216K)

The Hardware

Nintendo has demonstrated month after month the unstoppable power of the Wii, and April was no different. Selling an impressive 714K (in a non-holiday month, no less), the Nintendo Wii was way out in front of its current-gen counterparts, Microsoft's Xbox 360 (188K) and Sony's PS3 (187K). To put that into perspective, for every Wii sold last month, there was one Xbox 360 or PS3 sold. While the high-def consoles only had GTA IV to count on for pushing hardware sales, Nintendo had the wave of both Super Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Kart Wii to ride through the past month or so. Also, the people buying Wiis are doing so in a much more viral way than the other consoles, with friends and loved ones being the main stimulus for families and couples to buy. Perhaps all these people going to parties and seeing Smash Bros and Mario Kart are keeping the momentum going for Nintendo. I also feel like "price" is a huge factor in the continuing overall month-to-month sales. The hardware sales chart shows that the top 3 selling systems are all under $250. And since every platform now has enough decent games to warrant a purchase, it really comes down to that affordability, and for the mass market the line has been drawn fairly clearly.

Finally, for the second month in a row, the Xbox 360 has maintained the hardware lead over the PS3, albeit by an almost imperceptible margin. These two consoles will continue to duke it out, but I can't see either one really making too significant an impact over the other during the rest of 2008. GTA IV and upcoming games Metal Gear Solid 4 may offer a slight edge to the PS3, but just like Halo 3 did last year, it will generate a very gradual adoption rate. We already know a great deal about Sony and Microsoft's 2008 lineup, and I doubt there will be anything truly Earth-shattering announced at E3 his July. Nintendo has been relatively quite about its upcoming titles, but with hardware sales like April, does it really have to?

April Software Numbers

1. GTA IV – Xbox 360 – 1.85 million*
2. Mario Kart Wii – Wii – 1.12 million
3. GTA IV – PS3 – 1.00 million*
4. Wii Play w/ remote – Wii – 360K
5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Wii – 326K
6. Gran Turismo 5: Prologue – PS3 – 224K
7. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness – DS – 202K
8. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time – DS – 202K
9. Guitar Hero III – Wii – 152K
10. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Xbox 360 – 141K*
* includes bundles, collector's editions, GOTY editions

The Software

I know it's getting a little redundant, but GTA IV has easily claimed the top spot in April software sales, with the XBox 360 version alone beating out Mario Kart Wii. With a combined cross-platform release of 2.85 million units in the first few days, it's obvious why it broke so many entertainment sales records. Mario Kart also debuted the same week (2 days earlier) with a respectable 1.12 million units sold. No offense Mario, but nothing (not even Master Chief) can stand up to Rockstar and company's marquee title. Hard to believe that GTA IV almost outsold Nintendo's mascot racer on 2 separate platforms this month (especially when you compare the install bases of the PS3 and Wii). Chalk some of that up to there still simply being a lower amount of compelling titles on the PS3.

Other things to note.. Super Smash Bros Brawl continues to sell well (going on month 3 now) coming in at #5. It seems Wii Play is like the software pack-in that won't ever go away. I doubt that controller pack will ever disappear from the software charts, since everyone needs an extra wii-remote.. but should we really consider it a software title? I could see Nintendo transplanting the Wii Play game with another similar mini-game collection title to continue to sell those $40 controller bundles. Two more Pokemon Mystery crap DS games also show up, which just goes to show how powerful the Pokemon brand remains. The $40 Gran Turismo demo (*ahem* I mean Gran Turismo 5 Prologue) shows up at #6, though I'm not sure if that also counts the digital download version as well as retail copies. Rounding out the list are Top 10 mainstays, Call of Duty 4 on 360 and Guitar Hero III on Wii.

Not much else to say except a heck of a lot of people bought GTA IV and Mario Kart Wii. I noticed Microsoft touted their incredibly high attach rate (games sold to consoles sold ratio), but they always do that each month. I guess it's not much different than NBC shouting about how great their numbers are in the much sought after 18-35 demographic for The Office. You might say that this data is even more valuable to publishers than claiming overall sales figures, because at the end of the day, it's really the highly targeted audience that matters. Just like knowing exactly who watches your shows can help advertisers get more for their ad dollars, so too can making games you know will sell well on certain platforms. Like for example, I'm sure the karaoke American Idol game sells much better on the Wii than the 360, which is exactly the right platform for that crap anyway.

So, What Did We Learn?

End of story, Rockstar and Take-Two win, Nintendo definitely wins. But as for who will triumph in claiming second place in the console race, Microsoft or Sony.. you're going to have to look beyond the NPD tea leaves for that particular bit of wisdom. Maybe wait for what Michael Patcher has to say on the matter. He always has an interesting comment for times like these. The main takeaway comes from a Kotaku post: "Total software sales reached $654.7 million for April '08. That's a 68% boost over the previous year." On the whole, the industry is doing very well regardless of the state of our economy at the moment. As always, it's a great time to be a gamer!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mario Kart Wii

Played one, you've played 'em all

If you count both the handheld versions, then Mario Kart Wii is the sixth entry in the Mario Kart series, and I've played and enjoyed every one of them. This latest entry is no exception, but I must stress the fact that, just like Super Smash Bros Brawl, this game was meant to be played with a group of friends.

Not a lot has "evolved" this time around. All of the classic weapons are still there (annoying blue shell included). The rubber band AI is back in full swing and seems to have reached new levels of elasticity, with first-to-last and last-to-first shenanigans being the rule, not the exception. This time, the newest gameplay additions are the inclusion of bikes (that can usually corner better and have the unique ability to pull up a wheelie for slight speed boosts on straightaways) and the tricks system (where a quick flick of the wiimote during a jump adds bit of nitro upon landing).

A few things have been actually removed from the last few iterations. The move from Double Dash to Mario Kart DS took away two-characters per kart, so keeping an extra item to block incoming red shells requires an extra button hold. Also, the special character-specific unique items are gone as well. Drafting, which was introduced in the DS version makes a comeback, but noticeable gone is the traditional powerslide mechanic. You can still drift around corners, but the sparks will form automatically over time, preventing anyone from performing the infamous snaking-technique down straightaways.

The Control Schemes

Just like Super Smash Bros Brawl, this game comes with 4 different controller options, and here they are in order from best to worst:

#1 - Wiimote + Nunchuk. You press A to step on the gas, B to initiate a powerslide, Z (nunchick) to use items, the analog stick (nunchuk) to steer, and shake the wiimote to pull off tricks in the air. This control scheme gives you the ability to do everything along with the tactile feedback of traditional analog stick control. Hands down, the only way to play.

#2 /#3 - Gamecube controller/Wii Classic Controller. Both these are more or less the same as the wiimote + nunchuk combo mentioned above. The only difference is that performing tricks are activated by pressing any direction on the d-pad. The problem here is that on both these controllers, the d-pad and analog stick are used by the same finger, your left thumb, making it impossible to steer while pulling off stunts. Major oversight by the design team, in my opinion.

#4 - Wiimote + Wii Wheel (aka the Motion Wheel). Apparently, this is the recommended control method by Nintendo, since all copies of the game include the plastic shell in the box. I for one hate this control method. It makes driving equally bad for everyone, which might have been Nintendo's intention.. To set everyone on the same learning curve, no matter if you've always been a fan of the series or are starting out for the first time. And to anyone who buys additional Wii Wheel plastic shells ($9.99 each), I hope you throw your wheel into your TV screen.

Changes Needed

So it's probably too late for Nintendo to make any changes to Mario Kart Wii, but perhaps the next title can incorporate some of the following concerns I have..

- Make every power-up attack avoidable or addressable in some way. Just like you can hold a turtle shell behind you to block incoming homing red shells, why can't you block every attack somehow, at the cost of maybe an item or speed decrease. The POW Block evasion is a good example of this. When you see the POW block counting down, you can time it just right to minimize your damage by pulling off a stunt at the right moment. What if you had a Smash Bros-like block button, that would allow you to put up your shields in Mario Kart?

- Give a brief few seconds of invulnerability when you are damaged. In some ways I can tolerate the cheap attacks launched upon those at the front of the pack. The thing I can't stand are when you are continuously ass-raped for 10 seconds, by a blue shell, then a lightning bolt, then a couple red shells and then a guy running you over with a star, especially when it happens during the last leg of a race. How about giving the player immunity from damage for a few seconds after an initial attack, at least until you can build up a bit of speed to actually avoid the subsequent attacks. I could see the danger of this being used for shortcut exploits, but I'm only talking about item attacks here. You'd still be slow down when off-road and still be susceptible to falling off ledges into fiery pits.

- Group online matches by skill levels. Great Nintendo.. You actually made an online game that works (sorry, Smash Bros didn't), that has online leader boards, friend list comparison, and a decent party system. How about making it so my skill ranking doesn't fluctuate by hundreds of points each match? I understand that the system takes into account if you win over a player with a higher skill or lose to a person with a lower skill. That makes sense. But since in this game, you can go from first to last in all of five seconds, and vice versa all due to a single, well-executed item, I'd be happy if I could at least be grouped more frequently with players of a similar skill rating. This might actually be irrelevant because this game can, at times, become so random that skill and the item roulette are one and the same.

- More online options. The dev team did a great job in adding several customization options for offline multiplayer (tweaking the available powerups, adding AI opponents, etc), but these features are sorely lacking in online play. A custom-game mode would have been a nice addition to the online component here, so friends from all over could enjoy a varying selection of match-types, maybe turn off some of the more brutal items.

Just like Super Smash Bros Brawl, Wii Sports, and other Nintendo offline-multiplayer games, Mario Kart Wii makes for a great party game when friends come over, but that's probably the only time I'll ever decide to play it.

Friday, May 09, 2008


I just signed up for a Jott Account ( and I thought I'd briefly explain the what, how and why of it all. It's basically a speech-to-text web service linked to your cell phone. You record voice messages and they are automatically sent to your inbox as plain text messages. These can be great for leaving yourself friendly reminders or acting as a virtual tape recorder for those moments when an idea strikes and you're without pen and paper. The really interesting stuff comes when you start linking your other web services to this, like your Twitter account, your blog, or even your personal Google Calendar. So having a Jott account and a cell phone handy means you can post updates to almost anywhere while you're on the go, as easily as leaving a voicemail message.

I'm sure there are other more creative ways to use the service, but for right now, I'm just testing the waters and feeling the service out. I've already made a few Google Calendar events from the convenience of my own phone and they worked more or less. Most of the menus are accessed via various voice commands from the 1-866-JOTT-123 phone number. It does require a bit of online setup though, so you can't just sign up for an account and jump right in. After you link your cell number to your account, you also need to link any other web services you'd like to use as well. You can also create lists (think tags or gmail labels) and add contacts (up to 5 max) for organizing your "where" you will send the message. The first thing you're asked when you call the Jott number is who you'd like to send to.. Me? Grocery List? Reminder? Steve? Twitter? Easy enough, but remember that each of these keywords must be set up on your computer prior to you ever using them.

Sometimes after recording a message, you will have the opportunity to re-record your message or cancel it completely. Although I'm not sure why it doesn't give you this option every time, so far I've found it to come up for Google Calendar posts, but not when I'm simply sending something to myself. This can be kind of annoying if you're like me and have grown heavily reliant on the re-record button for voicemail menus. Also noticeably absent is the ability to listen to what you just recorded before posting a message. I'd actually prefer a "Microsoft Sam" type program to read back what I just said to me, but even replaying the original recording would be a nice option. I should note that the service is still in beta, so maybe these are things that are still being developed.

As for the quality of the speech-to-text itself, I've found it to be fairly reliable for the half dozen or so times I've used it. I don't know if I'd use it to post an entire blog entry (sans any post editing), but for simple notes and updates it seems to be adequate. I am a bit surprised that there isn't any way for you to fine tune the speech-to-text interpreter to your own voice. I remember using the built-in Windows application in the past and I had to spend a good 10 minutes reading to my computer like a father reading a bedtime story to his kids. It'd be nice if services like these at learn from your personal use as well (can you please make predictive typing learn my last name?), but perhaps that technology is not here quite yet. So far it's a very neat tool. We'll see if I come to rely on it more in the future.

The web operates a bit like a free market, in that if something is useful, people will use it. Simple as that.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why I Don't Spend More Time On Facebook

I've been sort of neglecting my Facebook account lately. Sure, I'll add the occasional friend here and there, but as far as actively doing stuff, updating things, interacting with people, I've been on sort of a hiatus period. Which is really unfortunate, because when I first signed up (way back in Oct), I was genuinely excited about being able to add custom applications to my profile and share them with others. Apps like Scrabulous and Super Poke, which allowed me to casually interact with my friends at my own leisure. But as the site began to hit critical mass (amongst my friends), and I started to see more and more requests coming my way, I guess I sort of lost interest. That fresh new feeling wore off and it stopped seeming less like leisure and a little more like work.

Well, it's been almost six months since I joined Facebook (a little over a year since it was officially opened up to everyone), and that time has given me the insight I needed to understand exactly why I left Facebook, and every other SocNet before it..

Give me something meaningful to do. Every website needs something to draw the user in. For most sites, the web traffic is usually driven by page views to various bits of content, be it news, articles, videos, interactive forums, or the like. With social networks, it's a slightly different can of worms. Usually the main draw is in either joining existing friends or making new ones. And the content that continues to bring you to the site is largely user generated from your inner-circle of acquaintances . But apart from spending virtual time with friends, there's not much more you can do that you couldn't do with a good email and IM client. What about combining the draw of content from blogs and other sites into the mix? The closest thing I can think of is Google's RSS Reader. You can funnel all your daily web content into one place and still share interesting stories with all your friends. But what if you could also leave comments on those stories so your only your friends could see? This would certainly help me stay connected and still get my daily RSS fix.

Make adding custom apps effortless. I really admire being able to add my own Facebook apps, share them with friends, etc., but I really hate having to "install" them. It's the web, the whole point of having an online web app is to not be bothered by some invasive installation process. I know, it only takes a few clicks, but why force me to add something to my profile before I've even tried it out yet? The internet is all about instant access, previewing things beforehand, and the freedom to view short snips before reading the lengthy text. Why not give me the option of checking whatever it is my friend sent me on some sub-domain page first, then I can decide if I want to clutter my personal profile page later.

Give me more ways to post content. Just like Reason #1 up there, I don't always want to be bothered with logging in all the time. Sometimes I've on the go and am not near a computer. Sometimes I'm busy and simply don't have time. And sometimes I'm just lazy, or all of the above.. So give me options here. Let me change my status message via text message, email or even link my Twitter account. Allow me to check on my updates and possibly my friend's updates in email, an RSS feed, heck even simple text messages, but give me lots of options for exactly how much or how little I want to know. Maybe even allow me to setup automated scripts that check other web sources I contribute to, like maybe posting that I've updated my blog, beat a crazy song in Rock Band, posted a new YouTube video, or shared new pictures to my Flickr account. The main thing here is that I want these things to just show up on my profile. No hassle. No having to post things twice.

I guess what I'm really looking for with all these changes is a social network that's also an aggregate service, able to cull my entire web experience into one place, neatly and easily. One that works for me, and at the same time keeps me connected. So that I don't have to worry about the content updates, and can just spend that time actually interacting with my friends instead. Well, look at it on the bright side.. at least now I have more time to spend enjoying games!