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Monthly Archives: December 2006

Most Anticipated Geek-Out Moments of 2007, #10 – #6

To kick off the New Year, I look at the most anticipated moments for geeks, nerds, and anyone whose first inclination is to “write on my blog” about it. These events are likely to be the most exciting, controversial, and likely to happen in the coming year. From the coolest video games to secret online applications, our RSS feeds are going to be a-buzz all year.

10. Venice Project
They’re cryptic for sure. Currently in beta testing, the Venice Project plans to be a new service to share video. Developed by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the founders of Skype and Kazaa, the Venice Project has potential to explode as a new center for video distribution. What’s more, all the mystery makes me think there’s a lot more to this Project than Mentos filled soda bottles.

9. Spider-Man: One More Day
Mary Jane dies? Gwen Stacy’s back? Spidey’s a clone? Who knows what event is biggest enough that Marvel Editor-in-Chief can’t resist drawing it. J. Michael Straczynski completes his almost five year run on Amazing Spider-Man with One More Day, an event with more potential controversy than a drunk Grant Morrison. Quesada has already hinted One More Day means to fix Spider-Man, likely unmarrying him and probably giving him back his secret identity. And there’s likely more. Like characters returning from the dead, dying, or more. And what follows could be some of the most exciting Spider-Man news in years.

8. DC Animation
We’ve been burned before. But DC’s upcoming animated DVDs based on comic fan favorites like New Frontier, Teen Ttians: Judas Contract, and Superman vs. Doomsday, these feature films might offer more than catchy theme songs. It will be exciting to see these comics adapted for older audiences, using the talents behind the comics themselves. Unlike the youth aimed Marvel DVD’s, like the unbearable Ultimate Avengers, these cartoons, at least in the press releases, want to appeal to older, more comic book literate fans. Fingers crossed.

7. Halo 3
The juggernaut of video game franchises looks to stamped into the next generation. Amid a sea of next-gen releases, from Final Fantasy XIII, Grand Theft Auto IV, Resident Evil V, and more, Halo 3 looks the certain winner. Advanced footage has been skimpy on details, but who cares. Master Chief is back, ready to make us finally stop playing Halo 2 (yeah, we took that month off for Gears of War, too. Bored now).

6. Internet Applications
Tough to say what exactly this entails, but imagine your browser being the only application you ever open. Yeah, maybe not this year, but we’ll be closer. Google has several dozen projects in the works, from online television, apps for your domain, and GDrive, your online storage center. Adobe has Apollo, Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Foundation, and the aforementioned Venice Project which will only be one new player in the online video wars. And as Firefox continues to catch-up on Internet Explorer, expect open-source plug-ins to be a vital source of innovation.

Come back tomorrow for #5 – #1 of the Most Anticipated Geek-Out Moments of 2007.

The Unstopable Hackers

The next-generation of high definition movie formats each come with high-tech anti-piracy hardware, just another brilliant strategy by the movie industry. And now a hacker called Muslix64 claims to have developed a way to pirate HD DVDs. Muslix64 posted a video of his work on YouTube promising more to details to come. So while his method is unconfirmed. The threat is enough to show hackers are trying to hack the “unhackable.” This summer, Pan and Scan reported a rudimentary way to copy high-def discs by click Print Screen thousands of times (methods were developed to automate this).

Between the media companies, consumers, and hackers, the biggest winners are going to be hackers. Whether DVDs, video games, or corporate firewalls, hackers keep find ways in. I hate how hackers have created a world of fear over the internet, scared to open emails, visit websites, or download anything. But in this case, I blame media companies who pack copyright protection software that inevitably fails, but only ends up hurting consumers. A few reports are claiming high-def players stop working because of the copyright protections. Sony’s music CD snafu saw discs making computers more susceptible to spyware.

This next failed attempt to foil hackers only hurts consumers. Hackers, given enough time, will crack anything they put their mind to. And piracy, for all the harmless file-sharing, is actually a multi-billion dollar industry, giving people a major financial incentive to crack copyright protection software. And they have the help of people who just want a free Bittorrent download.

Blue Dragon Lights a Fire for Xbox

Sales of the Xbox 360 in Japan have increase almost nine times since the release of the RPG Blue Dragon in the beginning of December. This boost even allowed the Xbox 360 to outsell the Playstation 2 for a short time.

Microsoft has been struggling to improve its international market share, especially in Japan where Sony’s Playstation and Nintendo have near total dominance. Blue Dragon, the Xbox 360 exclusive, is almost a love letter for Japanese gamers. Blue Dragon teams Hironubu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, with character designs by Dragon Ball Z creator Akira Toriyama, and music by Final Fantasy’s music composer Nobuo Uematsu for a visually stunning and critically acclaimed RPG.

Blue Dragon’s success could be just another piece of kryptonite against Sony. It’s questionable whether there will even be enough Playstation 3s by the next holiday season. Blue Dragon could be the next big franchise with more international support than Xbox’s Halo and Gears of War. Also, popular RPG Dragon Quest has left Playstation for Nintendo. With systems costing so much now, it’s hard to own mor ethan one. If these exclusives remain, Blue Dragon on Xbox, Dragon Quest (and Zelda) on Nintendo, and Final Fantasy on Playstation, then the console wars might be getting more vicious not only on the companies, but for us fans. How are we supposed to choose?

Exclusives were looking to become less prevelant as product costs skyrocket. Elder Scrolls ported to Playstation and Metal Gear Solid is rumored to go multi-platform. Namco reported designing games for the Playstation 3 requires sales of 500,000 units, which is getting harder to do as game prices and length continue to increase. Blue Dragon’s success in Japan shows the Xbox has legs outside of the U.S. and that means Sony and Nintendo no longer have safe harbors. This might mean more exclusives, which Xbox seems to have the leg up. Gears of War and Halo are more than a match for Final Fantasy, Zelda, and Mario. And Xbox has Mass Effect and Lost Planet ready to pound the competition in the coming year. For this Playstation fan, I’m starting to think Xbox is the system to bet on.

Biggest Geek-Out Moments of 2006, Part Two, #5 – #1

Check out #10 – #6 in my previous post.

5. Pluto demoted
This August, 424 super-geeks voted Pluto out of our solar system. At the International Astronomical Union (IAU), scientists demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet, not large enough to be a planet. While us geeks are pissed we didn’t get to vote, we still love screwing with the average joes who have no idea this vote took place. It’s mainstream news that is still insidery to know. And then there’s the controversy, where we get to debate if Pluto should or shouldn’t be a planet. Just like for Batman and Darth Vader, we have no real influence, but that won’t stop us from using message boards until our RAM runs out.
Of course, the best part of the controversy: that week when one of our twelve planets was named Xena, and yes, that Xena.

4. Star Trek Auction
Christie’s premiered a massive auction of Star Trek paraphernalia, expecting about $3 million for the entire collection. When the star dust settled, Trekkies spent $7.1 million on ship replicas, uniforms and props. The early October auction of more than 1,000 lots. A replica of the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation fetched $576,000, far over the $35,000 estimate. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s chair went for $52,000 compared to the expected $9,000.
It seems one should never underestimate the number and wealth of the geek movement. Mainstream media gave significant coverage to the auction and the astonishing prices for the Trek memorabilia. But we don’t care so much about the coverage. The fact that someone gets to sit in Capt. Picard’s chair is enough make any geek redesign his mother’s basement.

3. Google Buys YouTube
Whether you want to watch illegally leaked movie trailers or fake video diaries about lonely girls, YouTube is for you. One of the fastest growing sites on the web, YouTube’s eventual corporate own led to months of speculation, not only for who would buy it, but would it be worth it. YouTube’s popular and effective video technology makes sharing video nearly idiot-proof, and millions of geeks and technophobes have joined in on the fun. Google’s $1.65 billion purchase not only solidified YouTube’s permanence, but revived the hope of geeks all around that there is still money for internet start-ups. Let’s go eSocks.com.

2. Swinging the Wii-nunchuk
On line for days, in the rain, in the cold, all to be the first on the block with a new Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. For all the PS3’s technical skills, the Wii’s initial novelty has us gamers geeking-out. Not only did we get a new Zelda, but we got to swing Link’s sword for ourselves. And the novelty has yet to wear off. Video game companies are developing games to better use the nunchuk, possibly the most exciting thing to happen to video games since the L and R button.

1. Spider-Man reveals his secret identity
On June 14, with your coffee in one hand, you reach for today’s newspaper, expecting news about Iraq or Britney’s marriage, but instead, on the cover, in full-color, there stands Spider-Man, without his mask. In one of the most shocking events in comic history, Spider-Man revealed his secret identity, removing his mask at a press conference in support of Superhero Registration, the controversial law at the center of Marvel Comics’ Civil War. This monumental event, while certain to be undone in a year or so, will be remembered for years as one of the most significant events in Spider-Man and Marvel Comic history. Geeks debated the logic of Parker’s decision now and will long debate its fallout. Did Marvel try to shock too much? Or was this a natural progression of Spider-Man’s character? What comes next? What comes after that? Not only did this thrill our year, but it will thrill us for years to come.

Biggest Geek-Out Moments of 2006, Part One, #10 – #6

From video games to comic books to movies to television, geeks have had a fun year enjoying, commenting and criticizing everything we can. This list looks at the geekiest, most controversial, shocking and memorable events for geeks over the past year.

Stephen Colbert, from Comedy Central10. Stephen Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge
Between his love for Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons, fake pundit Stephen Colbert makes time for his other nerdy passion, Star Wars. Spoofing the internet sensation, the Star Wars Kid, Colbert acted out his own lightsaber charade in front of a green screen on his Comedy Central show the Colbert Report. Geeks decided they should try fill in that green screen with anything a computer can create. Colbert decided to make this the geekiest non-contest where he would pick the winner who made him look the most heroic.
This cable television celebration of geek-dom culminated when Bonnie R.’s “Freedom Fighter” beat George L.’s submission. George L. managed to appear on the Colbert Report in person, looking surprisingly like the creator of the real lightsabers.

9. Creating your team in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
The biggest super-hero video ever, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance gave video game and comic book fans a dream come true with the ability to create your own super-hero team. Ultimate Alliance featured 20 playable characters from Spider-Man to Ms. Marvel. You get name your team, pick an icon and upgrade their teamwork abilities. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance made you like you really were the first and last line of defense in the Marvel Universe, and with your own team, you get that much more control over saving the world. Maybe next time we can get a villains campaign so we can conquer it next time.

Venom from Spider-Man 3, Sony Pictures8. Venom Footage Leaked
Was it on purpose or a lucky find? Shortly after Sony released a new Spider-Man 3 trailer without any footage of Venom, an unfinished trailer appeared on YouTube with a few seconds of surprises at the end. Topher Grace, a.k.a. Eddie Brock, waiting in a church for this black goo to turn him into Venom.

7. Waiting on line for PS3/Wii
Shortages, few games, long lines, no guarantee. None of this stopped thousands of excited (and rich) video game fanatics waited for days in line to be one of the tiny few to buy the new Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. At many stores, from EB Games to Best Buy, most stores had less than 8 units, forcing hundreds home unhappy to scour eBay.
But if geeks have proves anything, rain nor sleet, cold nor heat, burglars nor murders will scare us away from standing on line to get what we really want. These are the memories geeks remember and brag about for years to come.

6. Second Life going mainstream
Either Second Life is the Tetris of online gaming or reporters just like not writing articles about Azeroth and Draenei. Second Life has enjoyed skyrocking membership with major corporations opening virtual bureaus like Reuters, Toyota and Adidas. Second Life, created by Linden Lab, calls itself a virtual world, not a game, yet anything made from binary has to have some link to geek-dom. And Second Life’s lack of swords and sorcery might be the bridge from niche to mass market.

Check back tomorrow for #5 – #1…

The Problems for Indie Gaming

The wave of next-gen games makes for some exciting yet repetitious trends.  We have Resident Evil 5, Metal Gear Solid 4, new Mario Brothers, Zelda, and more.  The cost to produce video games is skyrocketing to the point where video game companies can no longer risk exclusive deals, a possible reason Metal Gear Solid 4 will go multi-platform for the first time.

Gaming critics wonder where the indie market for video games hides.  Rare treats like Okami and Shadow of the Colossus offer innovative gameplay, these are few and far between the Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto knockoffs.  Moves, music, and books have benefited from their independent markets, developing talent and fostering innovation over profit.  They spend less, breaking even from small audiences and generous grants.  Sadly video games have yet to develop this side of the business.  Video games require so much time and technology, the money and audience appear unable to support the avant-garde.  But I feel this problem may be more difficult to fix than by throwing money at it.

As video games cost more to produce, there is more of premium put on the length of the game’s primary campaign, averaging between 20-40 hours.  Once you include sidequests and replay value, many games can now take more than 100 hours to fully utilize.  Games that take less time, like 10-20 hours, are often reviewed poorly for being too short.

Because of the length of games, gamers can obviously play fewer games.  This doesn’t even account for the millions of gamers devoting hours to online multiplayer games, further limiting the variety of their collections.  It’s one thing to refusing risking $50 on an unknown game style, but its another if you know you have no time to play it. 

The video game industry could be better supported by a greater variety of games, not only genres, but in game lengths.  Let the blockbusters of Final Fantasy and Zleda take hours upon hours.  These games help sell consoles.  But let’s add another area of gaming; games that last an hour or two.  These can be slightly episodic with new editions released for a few dollars on regular basis.  Release these short games in compilation discs to offset productions costs.  Even toss in a demo of a blockbuster release for some advertising dollars.  This way gamers and programmers can enjoy the range of creative opportunities the consoles and computers really have.

YouTube Rival

A group of television networks are rumored to be talking about forming their own YouTube-style site so they can keep ad revenue from featuring their own shows.  What a step in the right direction.  Each network has started posting episodes on their websites, from ABC’s Lost to TBS’s My Boys.  ABC has been one of the pioneers in this endeavor to WebTV and boasting great success in viewers, though the matter of revenue is questionable.

A TV network specific YouTube would obviously benefit from constant updates with quality video.  The questions, though, are how this YouTube-rival will accept user generated content, reviews, and email sharing.  YouTube’s impressive technology shows its technical appeal, but the social quality of the site is often over looked.  Like MySpace, YouTube’s content has the appeal of being recommended by the average Joe like me.  This is why average Joe-type videos can be so popular.  Further, YouTube lets users post comments and reviews of videos, good or bad.  And the greatest compliment (and asset) is being able to quickly share video with anyone, by emailing, instant messaging, or posting it on your own web site, all without providing direct revenue to YouTube.

I ask, how would television networks tackle this.  Or, as I might expect, will these sites force people to watch what the networks want us to watch.  Is this site an appreciation of fans and their need for new and entertaining content or just a shallow publicity tool?  This site is still a pipe dream, as the networks can’t decide how to split revenue.  ABC is likely not going to be included as it wants to concentrate on its own web site again, preventing the social side.  I would like to recommend clips of Lost to fans of Heroes and vice versa.

But again, kudos to the idea.  At least someone in these networks is trying to figure out something new.

Remaking Video Games

The best example of the power in the new Nintendo and Sony handhelds is not what’s new, but what’s old.  Video game remakes are becoming more popular now that the handheld are able to replicate the 3D graphics of older console games.  Most impressively, Mario 64, the 3D platformer to inspire all 3D platformers, appears on the Nintendo DS with impressive visuals and new features giving a new generation of games the chance to experience this classic game.  And by new generation, I mean only eight years.

Mario 64 from Nintendo Yes, eight short years ago Mario 64 set the standard on Nintendo’s power house console, the Nintendo 64.  As we enter the next generation of consoles, handhelds are making under-praised strides in creating amazing gaming experiences for different audiences. 

Remakes are touchy in the entertainment industry mostly because they are easy money.  You have a ready-made fan-base and little effort needed to, you know, write the script.  Video games have a history of remakes, simply from the porting of arcade games to consoles.  When Super Nintendo updated the original Nintendo, a few games tested the waters, releasing collections of hits series, like Super Mario All-Stars which included improved graphics for old NES Mario games.

The evolution has grown as has the technology.  Collections of games are massive, like the Sega Genesis Collection for PSP which includes 30 classic games for only $30.  On the handheld, sidescrolling platformers look less dated compared to massive, 40-hour epics on television consoles.  Even the still impressive looking Mario 64 feels worth playing again on the Nintendo DS.  It feels wasteful to pull out the dusty Nintendo 64 just to relive the magic.

But these games are not for experienced players.  These classic games are finding a new audience, using great games to bring new people into gaming.  Yes this is capitalism at work, but even corporate greed has some benefits.  And so far, the growing trend of remade video games is doing good.