Monthly Archives: December 2006

Eyah! Seattle Storm ’06!

Late Thursday we lost power in the storm, were without until early Sunday morning. I have friends who still don’t have power back on, four and a half days later. Ouch! It was a surreal experience, walking around or driving after, the entire area dark, trees down every block, often after taking out power lines on the way down. The silence and the darkness were striking – a reminder of how much noise and light are the backdrop for our lives. A gas water heater, gas fireplace and gas grill got us through.

A bunch of memories we won’t forget:

Salmon dinner on the grill, the night after the storm. This isn’t so bad! (No, the FIRST day wasn’t so bad.)

Two gorgeous red sunsets, the approach of night emphasized by dark houses and buildings below them

Kids walking around the neighborhood after the storm – early break for them! The most memorable was on pitch-black Friday night, when a glowing blue light saber swung circles and loops as it passed the house, all that we could see in the dark.

Fallen trees angling down to turn a wide street into a single lane, with people taking turns to drive carefully around them

Power lines dangling or sagging or completely broken and lying on the ground. Everywhere.

Driving from the dark outskirts toward the city lights, the haze and the smell thick in the air from thousands and thousands of chimneys that don’t usually burn

Seeing and hearing lots and lots of firetrucks and ambulances running, all weekend long :-/

Arriving in the lit city of Bellevue Saturday morning to find it unfairly normal

Shambling around the city, unshaven, wearing too many layers of clothes, and seeing lots of others doing the same

The taste of that first hot plate of mexican food 36 hours into the mess

Driving home Saturday night, seeing lights on – even Christmas lights – all the way out to the street before ours. And then none on ours yet! Doh!

The feeling when the lights came up. Woot!

There are lots of lots of men and women working very long hours still, to get everything back up and online. Thanks to all of them! They pulled, literally, 48 hour shifts after the storm, then took 6 hours off, then were back on 18 hour shifts. We waved and smiled when we saw them. 😀

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Phrogram makes the XBox home page!

In the Top Stories list on xbox.com is a video from Monday night’s XNA open house, a celebration about Monday’s XNA release. Here’s a direct link to the video, which includes a bunch of our own demo programs, and our 15-second explanation of how Phrogram programs will run on the XBox 360. No, they didn’t call out in the short highlight film what was Phrogram and what was not, but yes, it’s still great to have this level of visibility.

If you haven’t been following my blog, it may be news that we are about to release an add-in to Phrogram which will allow Phrogram programs to be compiled and deployed onto the XBox 360, thanks to XNA. Woohoo! Talk about a killer scenario: 35 simple Phrogram instructions to fly a 3D model around on your own XBox 360 on a big plasma display!

We say, thanks to Phrogram, “If you can read and you can type, you can program.” I’ve said and demoed that to thousands now – and still not a single person has disagreed when they have seen it. And yes, that simplicity will run on the XBox 360. The 3D model example is the canonical example we use to prove that point. In the video it’s the one of the cool-looking 3D ship flying around on a background of purple space dust. Yes, you or your kids could do that, even if you’ve never programmed before.

We had a great time participating in the event, and were more than encouraged by everyone’s interest in Phrogram. Did you see my recent blog, When User-Created Meets Gaming: a Revolution is Coming? The slideshow and video there are a pretty good introduction to how and why this will be a revolution, and to Phrogram’s part in that. It includes its own demo of running a Phrogram program on top of XNA.

Thanks for the invitation and the visibility, XNA!

Left-handers may be better at gaming

The article by Helen Carter is on ABC Science Online.

It’s based on research published in the November issue of the journal Neuropsychology, which is subscription only, so I couldn’t go directly to the source. Hemispheric Interactions Are Different in Left-Handed Individuals is the article title – neither the research nor the journal article are as focused on gaming as the ABC article is.

Questions I have about this include:

  • is a sample set of 100 enough to generalize this?
  • how did they control for physical differences in “pushing the button”?
  • how much performance advantage do left-handers have?  what’s the data?
  • if exercising the left hand as well as the right allows both hemispheres of the brain to develop more fully, as well as communicate and perform more quickly, would there be usefulness in intentionally training us from a young age to use both hands, and thus both hemispheres?

Fascinating! Anyone know more research, or have access to the data from this one? From the article:

Dr Nick Cherbuin from the Australian National University and colleagues report their findings in the November issue of the journal Neuropsychology.

He says the left-hander’s brain is wired slightly differently to the right-hander’s as it tends to be more symmetrical with larger and perhaps faster connections between hemispheres.

The research found that on average those with faster connections were more efficient at performing tasks that require processing in two hemispheres.

“Typically we tend to use more our two hemispheres together when tasks are very fast or very hard and one hemisphere does not have enough resources to cope,” Cherbuin says.

“Examples might be dealing with multiple stimuli that are presented very briefly or tasks which require interpretation of a lot of information such as talking while driving in heavy traffic, piloting a jet fighter or playing fast computer games.

The computer tests in 80 right and 20 left-handers measured how fast information transferred between hemispheres by hitting a button to indicate whether a light flash was left or right of a dot.

Another test to match letters found left-handers performed better when letters flashed on both sides of the dot, requiring collaboration across hemispheres.

Right-handers did better when letters were on the same side of the dot, making them more efficient at single hemisphere processing.

When User-Created Meets Gaming: a Revolution is Coming!

That was the title of the keynote I delivered at the Brazilian Symoposia on Gaming in November. Here’s the abstract of the talk:

User-created content is arguably the hottest trend in computing today, as demonstrated by the global success and impact of Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube and others. Games also continue to be a very important and growing business, with 100% growth in sales from 1995 to 2005, and 50% further growth projected from 2005 to 2010. Recent technology is – for the first time in decades – allowing mainstream computer users to create their own graphical and game programs. This change is setting up a coming creative revolution in gaming which will inevitably result when this statement is true: “If you can read and you can type, you can create your own computer games.” This presentation will summarize the data that defines these trends and opportunities, will offer live demonstrations of KPL and Phrogram which show that this revolution has already begun, and will project near-future implications of these trends

I blog about it now because the Google video of the keynote is online. The video quality is not good, and particularly does not allow clear views of the screens from my demos. To help with that, I have dropped screenshots of what I demoed into the slideshow, and that slideshow is available here. There are, of course, many words of explanation around the slides, so if the abstract sounds interesting, what I’d recommend is downloading and reading the slideshow, while listening to the audio from the Google video.

Oh, as a teaser I should add that the slideshow includes screenshots of 35 Phrogram instructions allowing the control of a 3D model with an XBox controller, running atop XNA. Running atop XNA means it’ll run on XBox 360s, when we release that support.

Before the end of the month I will prepare an article format of the same presentation, but I have higher priority things I need to get done before I can do that.

Lost in translation: Film adaptations of video games keep bombing

Here’s a link to the Seattle PI story, by Winda Benedetti

The article traces is deep and detailed and worth a thorough read. It talks about the adaption of movies to video games as well (the other direction). It’s fairly scathing at times, but also points to some very hopeful developments as Hollywood and the game industry try to come together better on these converging medias. Some highlights:

“Doom.” “Super Mario Bros.” “Final Fantasy.” As video games go, each has been wildly successful, earning legions of dedicated fans while selling thousands of copies.

But as films go … well, that’s another story.

Stinkers. Bombs. Total failures. These are the words that most accurately describe the feature films created from these best-selling video games.

Everyone agrees Hollywood and the gaming industry are growing closer, the entertainment titans not just adapting each other’s material but also adopting each other’s storytelling and visual styles.

Yet, the mating of games and movies remains a rocky endeavor that has come to inspire distrust and derision in the minds of consumers who’ve learned the hard way that video games based on movies most often are mediocre at best. Movies based on video games have a worse track record.

in recent months, gaming companies and Hollywood types have begun forging creative partnerships of a different kind. Superstar directors Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and John Woo, as well as actor Vin Diesel, have signed deals with game developers and publishers in an attempt to find new and, one hopes, more successful ways to blend movies and games.

Some of the worst video games sprouted from licensing partnerships with Hollywood. Back in 1982, for example, the video game adaptation of “E.T.” was so bad that it’s often blamed, at least in part, for the downfall of the Atari system and the gaming biz crash of 1983.

Ouch! 😀

“You don’t have to make them good because people are buying them because they recognize the name,” says Michael Pachter, who studies the games industry as an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.

Boxofficemojo’s Gray is equally cynical when it comes to movies adapted from games.

“Unfortunately, it’s not about the quality of the movie, it’s about the bottom line,” he says. “You base a movie on a popular video game and you have a built-in audience.”

Bad reviews or not, plenty of “Dead or Alive” fans are sure to throw their money at the film adaptation simply because they love the game franchise.

But game makers say that time pressures are frequently to blame for quality problems. A good game can take up to two years, or more, to make. By the time a movie has been greenlighted, they have to rush to release the game at the same time as the movie.

It comes down to this, says Boxofficemojo’s Brandon Gray: “A video game and a movie are two different things. Video games may have the trappings of a story but they’re ultimately about playing, about hand-eye coordination.”

Wes Nihei, editor in chief for GamePro magazine, agrees to a certain point. “You can’t get away from the fact that one’s interactive and one’s passive and at some point the twain shall not meet.”

Spielberg, for example, has signed an agreement to bring his storytelling expertise to EA, where he will create three original games not based on films.

Action star Diesel has dipped his fingers in the biz as well by creating Tigon Studios, his own games production company dedicated to mixing the best film and gaming have to offer. Tigon has joined forces with Midway to create “The Wheelman,” a game that stars a digitized Diesel as a badass driver who comes out of retirement to save a woman from his past. MTV Films and Paramount Pictures plan to develop a major motion picture in conjunction with the game.

Here’s a thought: if the tools to make a movie and the tools to make a game were the same tools, this divergence and difficulty and inconsistency and parallel creation wouldn’t be so inevitable. And that is not a crazy thought. Game engine / movie technology companies working on this? For animated films, this is closer to reality. But I don’t think rendered video is really that far behind. Compare visual quality and resolution in Gears of War to that in Wizardry and Wing Commander and the original Warcraft, and then turn and look 10 years into the future…

It seems fairly obvious that the people who are going to solve this movie / game puzzle first and best are the ones who also have a foot in both worlds. Of the people named in the article, Vin Diesel is most interesting to me, since I know he actually does know and play games. Maybe Jackson and Spielberg do, too – we can hope.

And another thought for all of us who are gamers: it’s pretty shameless for them to think they don’t have to make a good game cause we’ll by it anyway because we liked the movie. That’s insulting to our intelligence, actually. Bad news is, it’s based on their experience. It’s up to us and our wallets to change that assumption, isn’t it?

November Phrogram contest winners!

We have started a fun tradition on the Phrogram site – running monthly programming contests on a different theme each month. Our first contest has just ended, and was a great success! Thanks to all the participants!

The November content was for the best 2D Side Scroller game developed in Phrogram. Considering the contest began less than a month after we released Phrogram, the results we really encouraging. Here’s a link to the contest announcement, which also now includes the results and winners. For convenience, here is a link to download Phrogram (27M download) and here is a link to the bundle of six November games.

Six different and fun user-created games from six different programmers, from around the world. I know kids as young as 7 worked on these (along with Dad, of course – that’s half the fun). There’s lots of variety in style and level of experience, of course. Thanks to all the participants! Here’s a summary of who did what and why they’re all winners:

Jixxon sent us SpaceRangerSpiff – best visual design elements. Nice!

MichaelH sent us LetterAttack – most original design and graphical effects. Cool!

Peej send us PyroSanta – most hilarious (and warped!) holiday game! Woot!

JChambers sent us BarnyardMassacre – funniest games, best use of sound. Hilarious!

Phrogger sent us SideScrollerAttack – Scariest game backdrop. Who knew orange could be so creepy?!

NeilWinton sent us SpaceJunk – This gets honorable mention cause it’s a top scroller rather than a side scroller, but it also has the most complete game experience. Great game!

December’s contest, by the way, is for best use of File IO – with a seperate award going to best holiday themed program. We’re hoping for even more fun programs this month than last. Thanks all who participated!

Violent video games just can’t be good for kids

This is a Health & Fitness column by Bob Condor in the Seattle PI: Living Well: Violent video games just can’t be good for kids

Mostly I agree with him, and with the research. But then, I have never enjoyed or played violent video games, for the same reasons that I don’t watch splatter films: I find them unpleasant, distasteful and disturbing – disburbing mainly because I can’t help but think about all the people who DO watch or play them, and wonder why, and what thoughts and feelings are in their heads around them. Am I going to get flame comments for posting this on my blog about games? From angry people who like to play violent games? 😀 Note, I’m not campaigning for banning them or censoring them. Criticizing, studying, researching, educating and offering good alternatives all sound good to me, though.

Here are highlights from the article:

“There really isn’t any room for doubt,” said Anderson, chairman of the psychology department at Iowa State University. “Aggressive game playing leads to aggressive behavior. The naysayers don’t have a leg to stand on.”

a study presented at last week’s Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago — the heartland again — supports parental instinct about freezing the joysticks. Indiana University physicians found that adolescents who play violent video games may exhibit “lingering effects on brain function.” The researchers found the teen video gamers experienced greater emotional arousal and reduced self-control, focus and attention.

“Our study suggests that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing a non-violent — but exciting — game,” said Dr. Vincent Mathews, professor of radiology at Indiana’s School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Mathews and colleagues assigned 44 teens to either play a violent video game for 30 minutes or a non-violent game. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging and found in players of the violent game less brain activity in the prefrontal region where self-control originates and more activity in the amygdale region, the brain’s emotional-arousal center. Mathews said he hopes to conduct additional research to measure long-term differences, while the naysayers will say, hey, it’s just a short-term deal.

55 percent of kids say they sometimes try to stop playing video games so much. Think about that for a moment. The children themselves know they are overdoing it. Another finding is that kids who have video game access in their bedrooms play at least five hours more each week than the players using a family room or common area in the home.The parent-related answers are even more enlightening. While about two-thirds of parents say they have family rules about how much and when video games can be played, only about a third of the kids reported the same. Half of the children surveyed said their parents never discuss video gaming with them. Three of every four parents say they “always” help decide what video games their children may buy or rent, yet, you guessed it, only 30 percent of the kids say that is the case.

OK, there’s more in this something’s-got-to-give scenario. Parents report their kids average about five hours of video-game playing each week. Boys say it’s more like 13 hours while girls say six.

BTW, Americans overall watch more hours of TV per week than any of those numbers – 14 hours per week. In defense of games: TV and video should be getting us much attention on these points as games are, if not more. And that’s without considering other issues TV offers which have not yet made it as far into game experiences. Yet. Like sexual content, social stereotyping, advertising, junk food and drink, selling products to kids, etc…

All that said, though, it probably ought to give us pause that, according to the statistics, parent’s and children’s perceptions of their family realities are so different.

If you want to see specifics from those criticizing violent games, here’s the list from the Parent Alert List of the National Institute on Media and Family, of games with too much violence for kids and teens. I’ve literally never played or seen any of them, so won’t say anything about them myself:

The Parent Alert list (worst is first) includes some familiar names amid the high-tech violence: “Gangs of London,” “The Sopranos,” “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Mortal Kombat: Unchained,” “Scarface: The World Is Yours,” “The Godfather: Mob Wars,” “Saints Row,” “Dead Rising” and “Just Cause.” All games are rated “M” for mature audiences.

So, what do you think about violent games? I’d particularly like to hear from people who are into them, of course. And what about the rest of media that bombards kids and teens?

World Series of Video Games

This news is so hot the mainstream media aren’t on it yet.  Here’s a link to the INS News coverage.

The biggest break of all is that CBS is going to add US broadcast network coverage for the first time.  Talk about going mainstream!

World Series of Video Games Inks Deals With Major Broadcast and Cable Networks
Dec 04, 09:04 AM

The World Series of Video Games presented by Intel (WSVG), the first international video game competition circuit for multiple game platforms, today announced it has signed deals with major broadcast, cable and satellite networks CBS, CSTV and VOOM HD Networks’ GAMEPLAY HD to air extensive coverage of its 2006 season, bringing professional video game competitions to major U.S. network television for the first time. The coverage follows an MTV special that aired November 17th, first shining the spotlight on the WSVG for cable television.

In its inaugural year, the WSVG has attracted the attention of multiple television programmers. The first to recognize the circuit’s mass appeal was VOOM’s GAMEPLAY HD, which to date has produced 11 hours of programming focused on WSVG’s high-intensity action, and is the WSVG’s exclusive high-definition television partner.

CBS’ broadcast will mark the first appearance for professional video game competitions on U.S. broadcast network television.

“Earlier this year, we envisioned that the World Series of Video Games presented by Intel would have more television coverage than any other video game tournament to date,” said Matt Ringel, president of Games Media Properties. “We’re pleased to deliver on that goal with a powerful array of broadcast partners that share our passion and commitment to bring the excitement of video game competitions to a wider audience.”

CBS is scheduled to air THEY GOT GAME, Stars of the World Series of Video Games presented by Intel on December 30 at 3 p.m. The one-hour special, hosted by Quddus and produced by Juma Entertainment, tells the compelling personal stories of five rising stars of the competitive video gaming world. Filmed during the World Series of Video Games Finals and on location from the gamers’ hometowns, the program focuses on Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, the world champion gamer who has become the “Michael Jordan” of the sport; David “Moto” Geffon, whose decision to go pro bucked the tradition of his family of lawyers; Shannon “Mary Jane” Ridge, the minister’s daughter who is now a Halo run-and-gunner; Matt “Ballistics” Powers whose prowess at “Ghost Recon” is honed as a Sergeant at maximum security prison Pelican Bay and tempered as a father of two.