January 30, 2004

Tivo Digital Media Hub

Gigaom.com has a interesting piece on Tivo's intentions to be a major player in the digital media hub world vs. Microsoft and other consumer electronics goliaths. As a Tivo-holic, I wish them the best. It's going to be tough though fighting everyone including the cable companies and their lame free PVR functionality. "TiVo is finally getting its digital hub act together. The purchase of Strangeberry is yet another proof that it is going to be competing with the likes of Microsoft in the digital hub sweepstakes. While most of its conjecture, some nuggets gathered during course of reporting tell me that this is the direction TiVo might be headed in." Link Roundup - Firingsquad reviews the surprisingly successful PS2 eyetoy. - Design Technica has some details on Samsung's new MP3 player. - SharkyExtreme's latest and greatest high-end gaming PC guide. - Gateway goes down market to acquire AMD crazy eMachines for $234M. - Take-Two, maker of Grand Theft Auto, restates 5 years worth of earnings results. - A Netflix profile article on the Register. - Tom's Hardware reviews the Dell Music Jukebox MP3 player. [Discussion]

January 29, 2004

Gaming While Drunk: First Edition! by Robert Keenan

I figured this was as good a day as any to start writing my column. The decision was pretty arbitrary, with any emerging web site there aren’t a lot of rules yet. So let’s say that I’ll write my weekly column every Friday. Sound good?

Now that’s out of the way we can start talking about what’s going to go on in this space every week. There’s going to be a fair amount of reviews and analysis on this site so what this weekly column will do is try to break through the normal bullshit in the industry. I’m going to assume you can read a decent sentence, and I’m going to assume that you’re as into games and the technology behind them as I am. If either of these two things are not the case, you are more than welcome to pick up GamePro at your local retailer.

If you’re still here, I thank you, and I hope we get to spend a little time together every Friday. Today let’s talk about console peripherals, and where exactly we’re heading when it comes to this subject. A few things going on this month makes this particular subject pretty timely.

The two major games I have in mind here are Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube and Final Fantasy XI for the PS2. Both of these games have huge pushes behind them, are backed by huge companies (as well as the entity I like to refer to as “Squeenix.”) and have the almighty Final Fantasy name behind them. Both take the franchise in new directions and both require a substantial investment to play. Both are entirely reliant on peripherals and addons to the system they’re being developed for.

What am I talking about? Think about it, Crystal Chronicles is built around multiplayer. Every player who wants to join the game needs their own GBA to play. The screen will have their items, maps, and different information for each player. Each person also needs a GBA/GC link cable to jump in. To get the full experience you need a GC, the game, a GBA or SP, and three friends with handhelds of their own and cables. That’s a lot to get together.

Final Fantasy XI is just as bad, if not worse. You’ll need the PS2 of course, but you also need the network adaptor since the gameplay is online only. The game itself comes with the Sony HDD, at a $99.99 price tag. Depending on how they handle in game communication you’ll also need to buy either a keyboard or a headset, both of which are sold separately. This is a nice sized investment, and even worse when you consider the only people who will think of getting the game already have or are willing to buy the network adaptor, but the ONLY way at present to get the HDD is to buy the game. There is no standalone HDD solution for the PS2 without buying the game, which means either you’re willing to waste $50 or you don’t mind forking out $40 for the network adaptor. You still with me?

Both companies have a lot to lose. If Crystal Chronicles takes off (and Japanese numbers and presells in the US point to it being at the worse a modest success, if not a large selling title) then Nintendo will have proved that connectivity works, and that devs should support it in upcoming games. If not, well, Nintendo will have a lot harder time trying to get people to use their portable units with their ‘Cubes. On the other hand, if Sony’s horribly fragmented strategy for the HDD doesn’t gel they’ll have a hard time selling the things. They are banking on a big sell through with the game and with the network adaptor. Whether consumers are willing to pay for all those addons AS WELL AS a monthly fee is still up for debate.

The other rumor is that the Sony HDD won’t allow players to save games on the hardware instead of buying pricey memory cards when they need storage. When MS gives away the HDD with their system (along with an Ethernet adaptor) and allows near unlimited saves on it without an add on, this does not cast a good light on Sony and may alienate consumers. We’ll see.

The good news is that both companies are branching out and trying new things. Crystal Chronicles looks to be a whole lot of fun if you like the Diablo/Gauntlet style of play and the art is incredible. I have a GC and an SP already so the price of admission isn’t as bad as it will be for others. I also have friends who have GBAs as well, so I’ll have the full run of the game.

Final Fantasy XI on the other hand I’m not so sure of. I don’t have the network adaptor (the only game Sony has online that interests me right now is Tony Hawk: Underground) and paying for the game AND the hardware while still having to shell out for memory cards doesn’t sit well with me. Right now Sony isn’t giving us many compelling reasons to take our PS2s online, and has a lot to learn from MS’s much superior LIVE service. I’m going to take a wait and see. I beta tested FFXI on the PC and enjoyed it, so I may still jump on this.

So what do you guys think? Is the growing trend to utilize more and more expensive addons and peripherals a good or bad thing? Do you think Square’s two gambles will pay off? Sound off on the forums!

Until next Friday, keep playing.

-Written by Robert Keenan


[Back to the Front Page]

Pixar Ditches "the Mouse"

Eisner is a total idiot for letting Pixar go. They were practically stealing from Pixar getting half the profits plus a distribution fee. Mr. "Mickey Mouse" CEO has now fully gutted the Disney animation legacy. All the talent has either been laid off or fled to Dreamworks and Pixar. What a darn shame. I mean Treasure Island vs. Shrek & Finding Nemo? Total disaster. Link Roundup - Intel may launch 64-bit AMD compatible chips. Is that ironic or what? - Intel does a MikeRowSoft and tries to strong arm a game website to give up their URL. - Is this Saddam or James Brown's mug shot after he abused his wife? - Crtl-Alt-Del dude retires from IBM. He had the classic line: "I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous," Bradley said. Gates didn't laugh. The key combination also is used when software, such as Microsoft's Windows operating system, fails. [Discussion]

January 27, 2004

Oscar Nominations: Go LOTR!

The Oscar nominations came out today with Lord of the Rings and Master and Commander taking center stage. My hope is that Peter Jackson will finally get the nod for best director as he created the fantasy epic trilogy of our time. One nomination I don't get is Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean. I mean should someone playing a gay pirate really be applauded? And what's this, Kidman and Cruise bickering at the Golden Globes over cellphone text messages? [Discussion]

January 26, 2004

Email Virus/Worm Alert - W32.Novarg.A@mm

There seems to be another crazy email worm virus attacking like bees on honey today. I haven't been infected *knock on wood*, but have seen enough reports that this W32.Novarg.A@mm worm is sending thousands of emails an hour to some addresses. Please update your virus definitions pronto. [Discussion]

January 25, 2004

20 Years of Macintosh

As the Superbowl approaches, we are reminded of this infamous commercial and the 20 year anniversary of the original Macintosh. Although they flubbed here and there, kudos to Apple for their true innovation over the past two decades: from a usable GUI windows interface, the first widespread use of the mouse and desktop publishing, great software that works intuitively the first time, and now to iPod/iTunes. I salute thee. Here is the first Macintosh press release, sent out on January 24th, 1984. Here is MacWorld's interview of Steve Jobs regarding the 20th anniversary. [Discussion]

January 24, 2004

Dell 2001FP 20" LCD Monitor Review by Rendition

I’ve been waiting for years for an affordable “low-response time” 18 inch LCD monitor to play games and do basic 2D work for about $400-$500. Although the low response time 17” monitors have been out for months, I wanted a larger screen and true 24-bit color, which the current generation lacked. [More]




Dell Product Page

Tech Specs

So late in 2003, Dell launched the 20” 2001FP monitor for little over $1000. As tempted I was, it was still way out of my price range. However if you know Dell, those sales and coupons eventually come to the rescue. Knowing that if I continued to wait for an 18” monitor, I would probably be waiting till I was a senior citizen; as soon as Dell had a 25% off sale, I nabbed the 2001FP for $750.

The day the FedEx man came with the monitor, I was like a boy on Christmas Eve, frantically opening the box . The 2001FP comes in two pieces: the LCD screen and the base platform. I carefully took out the mammoth sized screen and hoisted it onto the platform. The first you notice is how much better this monitor looks than the ugly, but respected predecessor 2000FP.

The LCD screen itself is very flexible in placement. You can shift it at an upward angle, downward angle, to the left or right, higher and lower, and even in landscape or portrait mode. Give kudos to Dell for making the 2001FP perfectly ergonomic LCD for any computer desk or user height. The monitor comes with a bevy of inputs and outputs such as composite video, S-Video, DVI, regular VGA, and even USB 2.0 connectors.

The build quality overall is solid. My monitor had no dead pixels and a perfectly lighted screen. None of the backlight leaking in one corner that is prevalent in many monitors today. The only detraction is the quality of plastic internally may be lacking, as once in a while I get cracks and creaks when I have the computer on. This might be due to the crazy temperature changes this winter, but still it’s slightly annoying.

For 2D the images are bright and vivid. Text clarity is excellent and the 1600X1200 resolution really lets you spread your wings with multiple browser windows and applications. The color is stunning for slideshows, especially if you have lots of 4-5 mega-pixel digital camera photographs. There is a “screen door effect”, slightly visible lines, if you stare closely at the screen 1-2 inches away that I hear isn’t on Samsung LCD monitors. It doesn’t bother me at all, however there are some who I read online that are going bonkers because of it.

The 2001FP really shines for games and movies. With its 16ms response time, there is hardly any ghosting in first person shooter games. I tried the monitor with Battlefield 1942, Call of Duty, and the Far Cry Demo. The experience playing in 1600X1200 on a perfectly flat screen with no blurring is pure heaven. If you are a gamer, I can’t recommend this monitor enough. It is so much better than previous Dell LCD monitors, which ghosted and blurred; they gave me headaches within a minute of game-play.

Overall I’m very happy with my purchase. The image quality is stunning and the “low response” gaming ability is second to none for large LCD monitors currently in the marketplace. And for $750, I think it’s a steal.

Final Score: 9 out 10

You must check out our Dell 2001FP discussion forum. It is the best resource on the internet for 2001FP questions and comments with HUNDREDS of messages.

January 16, 2004

Cool Things I can do with my Treo 600 by Rendition

-check POP3 email using Snappermail
-simulate "always on" email through Sprint PCS or Good Technology
-instant message on AOL, Yahoo, MSN or ICQ using Verichat
-use the speakerphone for phone calls
-check the date/time and contact name of every call I ever made using the “call log”
-view PDF attachments with Documents to Go
-start 3-way conference call in a jiffy

Content and the Web
-read ebooks (hundreds of books, bible, dictionary etc.)
-use Avantgo to wirelessly read hundreds of sites, newspapers like NYTimes, News.com, and Wall St. Journal, etc.
-surf the web. Travel info, check movie times, get directions and maps, etc.
-chat rooms
-thousands of bartender drink recipes at your fingertips
-check for drug interactions with ePocrates
-bid for items on eBay

-read and edit word, excel, and powerpoint documents using Documents to Go
-use Palm VNC to access your work desktop
-track your expenses and your passwords securely

-take pictures using built-in camera
-view your favorite pictures
-play thousands of Palm OS games
-play hundreds of games through emulators from arcade classics, Gamegear to Gameboy
-listen to Mp3s using pocket tunes through headphones or built-in speaker
-watch movies using Kinoma player (tv shows, trailers or anything you encode yourself)
-mo-blog photos on the run with textamerica.com

-use screen as a flashlight in the dark or late at night
-set alarm clock to go off like a phone ring-tone when you’re bored talking to someone at a party

Oh yeah, the PIM (personal information management) features: contacts – phone & addresses, to-do list, and memo pad.

January 14, 2004

Review of Call of Duty (PC) by Rendition

When I first heard about Call of Duty, I admit my first thought was “Gee whiz. Just what the world needs, another World War II first person shooter.” However when I heard the production leads from the Electronic Arts Medal of Honor team were developing the game for Activision, I became intrigued. [More]

Graphics & Sound – 9 out of 10
The graphics are solid, if not a spectacular use of the Quake 3 engine. Even iD Software has lauded Infinity War’s achievements with Call of Duty. No, the game doesn’t have Doom 3 or Half-life 2 detail; no advanced dynamic lighting and super detailed curved texture maps either.

However it still looks great and realistic, the best I’ve seen in current generation of software. When you’re crawling on your belly around bushes or driving around killing Nazis, the “immersion factor” is there. The game also runs fantastic on current high-end hardware. I smile every time I load it up on my 2.66ghz P4 with ATI Radeon 9700 on my 1600x1200 Dell 2001FP. Even at high detail and at that resolution, it runs like butter.

One of the best parts of the game are the special effects that happen when you’re “dazed” by a near-by mortar shell. The screen gets all blurry, sounds get muffled, and time slows down for a few seconds. Well done.

Sound effects are fine. The music soundtrack fits the game with classical “this is the special epic movie scene” violin and symphony pieces. When you’re in the middle of hundreds of fellow soldiers going up a hill getting bombed left and right and see your flag going up the hill with this music, it’s pretty cool.

Interface & Control – 8 out of 10
A typical solid FPS controls. Nothing special to shout out about. You can save at any point, it will be interesting if this transfers to the console ports.

Gameplay – 9 out of 10
Missions vary from typical fare of save the prisoner, shoot down planes, and destroy X. However the scripted “movie-like” nature of the missions really drive the game-play. If you thought Medal Honor was good for this, you haven’t seen anything yet.

I don’t want to give away much, but if you’ve seen Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan you get the gist. Call of Duty is the most intensely story-scripted game I’ve ever played. You really feel like you’re in an epic movie. And I’m talking LOTR not Waterworld.

The thing that separates this game from the pack is the “immersion factor” of being truly a solider in an army rather than Rambo on steroids. It’s awesome going into a house, being ambushed by Nazis, freaking out, and then having your AI teammates come in and save the day.

Lasting Appeal – 8 out of 10
The game is pretty short. I finished it in a weekend with maybe ten hours of playing, but what a glorious time it was. There is not much uninspired filler material here. It’s all good stuff. And to be honest I rather have ten hours of an awesome gaming experience, than something longer that isn’t half as good.

Multi-player is my latest obsession. Various modes are included like deathmatch and Counter-strike clone modes. The one differentiated feature is the “Kill Cam”, which shows the last ten seconds of your killer’s point of view when he or she kills you. This is helpful in getting rid of campers. However it does seem cheating becoming more rampant, which hopefully will be impeded by an upcoming patch.

I’ll just say one thing, I haven’t touched Battlefield 1942 (and I have all the expansion packs), since I got Call of Duty.

Final Score – 9 out of 10
An instant classic. No-one has done a World War II shooter better. Discuss

January 11, 2004

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