Arm Yourself Against Conficker

By Mike on 9:00 am

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There's been a lot of talk lately about the Conficker worm, a computer trojan also known as Kido or Downadup. Computer hacking has gone way beyond what was presented in films such as War Games and Hacker. Originally, it was just for sport; however that has all changed in about the last five to ten years. The new trend is creating botnets, networks of computers infected with a virus that can be remotely controlled by black hat hackers or script kiddies. (A script kiddie is a non-technical person using pre-packaged tools to hack and control systems. A black hat is a hacker who breaks into systems for malicious purposes. White hats are hackers who test security systems from vulnerabilities) Huge sums of money can be made, even from hacking into home computers. They can skim credit card information when you make purchases, get online banking login info to break into your account, and get personal information to steal your identity. Botnets can collect this information en mass or are used to send out large volumes of spam emails or to replicate and spread the original virus.

What makes Conficker such a problem is it's ability to update itself. It is estimated that it has already infected 9 million machines, up from just 3 million a week ago according to F-Secure. Not only does it spread through infected websites but also over USB sticks and local area networks. It logs into a series of domains to check for updates, meaning that the worm can thwart attempts to remove it. On April 1st, 2009, it is estimated that all 9 million of these machines will begin phoning home and it is the expected date in which its creators will activate the botnet. The problem is so severe that Microsoft has actually put a $250,000 bounty on the head of its creator.

So how's at risk and how can you stop a Conficker infection, or any other virus? Anybody who uses a Windows based computer are at risk. Mac and Linux users are safe from Conficker. If you are a Windows user, the only way to be 100% secure from viruses and malware is to disconect your modem/LAN from the wall and never attached any peripherals to your system. This is obviously impractical so you'll be wise to keep your computer locked up like Fort Knox instead. Here's some tips for all users to improve system security.

1. Update your OS to the latest service pack
Service packs are major software updates for operating systems. They include cumulative security patches and sometimes offer new features. Your system should have the latest pack. If your an XP user, you should be running Service Pack 3. Vista users should have Service Pack 1. You can find out by right clicking the Computer icon on the desktop and selecting properties. It will provide you with system info. Mac users running Leopard should have OS X 10.5.6 installed, which you can check by opening the Apple menu and selecting "About this Mac". Service packs are updated through your system's update program.

2. Fully update everything else
Besides service packs, make sure your OS is up to date as far as everything else is concerned, especially with the latest security patches. Once again this can be done through the update menu. For power users, I recommend turning off automatic updates, instead letting it tell you what updates are available. It lets you pick and choose. For everyone else, just enable automatic updates. Web browsers should be updated to the latest version in particular as well as any other programs that connect to the internet. You should be running Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 3.

3. Use a good anti-virus program
There are a lot of choices available. Symantec and McAfee are what most people use but these programs tend to be bloated and require a lot of system resources to run. Free anti-virus software is usually much lighter and often just as good or better than commercial counterparts. A lot of enterprise anti-virus companies such as AVG and Avast provide free home versions of their software. You should also get anti-spyware software. Windows Defender is a good enough free program for Windows users that offers background protection. Many other free alternatives such as Ad-Aware require manual scans.

4. Turn on your firewall
The built in firewall through Windows and Mac OS X are fine. Make sure it's turned on. For added security, you can set it to stealth mode meaning other computers cannot even see you online unless you access them first.

5. Don't visit unsavory websites
A lot of "free" porn sites, P2P channels, and pirated software portals are infested with malware. While legitimate sites can become infected, the vast majority comes from the more unsavory websites. Just stay away from these.

Current Generation TV Top Gaming Console Round-Up

By Mike on 2:11 pm

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A lot of people out there are unsure about which gaming system they should purchase. Let's examine the practical pros and cons all four major gaming rigs so you can make an unbiased decision of which one to buy.

Gaming PC

-Games will typically have superior graphics and sound to console counterparts and games can be played at much higher resolutions than 720p, which is what most console games are limited to.
-Keyboard and Mouse offers superior gameplay, especially in First Person Shooters
-System can be tailored to specific needs and budgets and can have more advanced features than consoles, such as Wireless N networking and built in DVRs.
-System can be used for a large variety of things other than gaming and watching multimedia, such as enhanced web browsing, office work, AV content creation and editing, etc.
-System can be easily upgraded as needed to remain cutting edge.
-Huge variety of both free and pay downloadable content. Games can be user modded. Large variety of full retail games can be downloaded through services such as Steam.
-More connectivity options for audio, video, and networking
-More online play options including both free and pay services
-Can also be adopted as a mobile platform through laptops and LAN Boxes.

-The most expensive gaming option. To stay top of the line, you will need to replace major components such as the GPU and CPU annually to biennially, in contrast to consoles that have a stable 5 to 10 year life span. Cost of these upgrades can range from a couple hundred bucks to thousands of dollars.
-Fewer exclusive game titles, fewer high quality games. PC is plagued with a high amount of shovelware.
-Strict Digital Rights Management schemes limit how games can be used and who can play them. DRM is known to cause problems with some systems and cannot be removed even if game is.
-PC games are known to have a lot more bugs and glitches than console games.
-Games are typically not available for rental.
-All games require mandatory hard drive installs yet most still require the disc to be in the drive during gameplay.
-Windows Vista is not an ideal gaming platform. Too many performance tradeoffs due to its "jack of all trades" nature, thus requiring significantly more computing power.
-Hardware reliability can be hit and miss. Needs a lot of maintenance compared to stand alone consoles.

Microsoft Xbox 360

-Large game library including a huge variety of high quality exclusive titles
-XBL is widely considered to be one of the best online gaming experiences around
-Huge amount of downloadable games and DLC through XBL
-Games can be installed to the hard drive for disc-free play
-Full 1080p HD output through HDMI with excellent graphics and game performance
-Cheapest console of the current generation at $199 for the base Arcade model
-Three year warranty
-Netflix video streaming service for Americans
-Backwards compatible with Xbox games
-Easy media streaming through Windows Media Player and Vista Media Center

-High hardware failure rates including Red Ring of Death, disc scratching, and HDMI chipset failures. Noisy. Mostly a problem with older systems.
-Lacks built in wifi and gigabit LAN
-Lacks optical HD video disc playback
-Online service requires mandatory monthly fee
-Below average media playback capabilities
-Region locked
-Optional hard drive upgrades and wireless adaptor hugely over priced

Sony Playstation 3

-Most technically advanced and futureproof system. Reliable & quiet hardware.
-Built in Blu-ray playback and excellent media capabilities. Widely considered to be one of the best BD-Live players on the market.
-Full 1080p HD with HDMI connector
-Built in Wifi and Gigabit LAN
-Free online play with advanced social networking features.
-Larger number of high rated exclusive tiles than other systems
-Not region locked meaning games from Japan and Europe will work in North American systems, and vice versa. Gives access to region specific titles such as popular JRPGs.
-Internal hard drive easily upgradeable with any off the shelf 2.5'' SATA drive.
-Motion control system
-Connectivity with Playstation Portable

-Most expensive current generation system after PC; starting at $399
-New models lack backwards compatibility with PS2 games and lack flash reader
-Controller batteries can't be swapped and can't be charged with some USB chargers
-Playstation Store neglected; a limited amount of downloadable titles and DLC. A lot of shovelware is on the store.
-Fewer exclusive titles than other systems
-Few games that are family friendly or appeal to casual gamers
-Motion controls aren't widely adopted

Nintendo Wii

-Advanced motion control system allows players to become physically active participants in the game.
-Huge library of family friendly titles and hit Nintendo classic series. Easily accessible to casual and non-gamers.
-Relatively low cost at $270
-Virtual Console allows download and play of retro titles from NES, SNES, N64 Genesis, & PC Engine, and NeoGeo systems. WiiWare exclusive downloadable games
-Backwards compatible with Gamecube games
-Built in Wifi
-Connectivity with Nintendo DS
-Reliable hardware
-Free online play

-Largest amount of shovelware titles compared to other systems and the lowest number of high rated exclusives. Lacks more "hardcore" titles.
-Does not output games in high definition, no HDMI connectivity
-Lack of hard drive and has limited storage space for downloadable games
-Online gaming system clunky and limited. Uses long "friend codes" rather than the simple Facebook style friend requests used with other systems
-Limited media playback capability. Cannot even play DVDs.
-Relatively poor value when comparing features per dollar

Sims 3 To Be DRM-Free

By Mike on 4:31 pm

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It turns out that casual gamers aren't as easily accepting of abuse and have forced EA to backtrack on their increasingly intrusive DRM-schemes. For the Sims 3, EA plans to go back to disc based copy protection schemes involving serial numbers. Rod Humble noted that "the game will have disc-based copy protection — there is a Serial Code just like The Sims 2. To play the game there will not be any online authentication needed. We feel like this is a good, time-proven solution that makes it easy for you to play the game without DRM methods that feel overly invasive or leave you concerned about authorization server access in the distant future."

By the sounds of it, EA has given SecuROM the complete boot for it's largest franchise after the fiasco involved with Will Wright's other recent venture Spore. This doesn't mean that they're going to give up DRM for good though but it's certainly a step in the right direction. All SecuROM has done is give the company a bad name and harrass legitimate users, while doing little to reign in actual piracy. Hopefully this means a move to more sensible IP protection in the gaming industry.

Source: The Register

Italian Pizza Gets Automated - Take that Japan!

By Mike on 1:57 pm

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This really has nothing to do with home electronics or video games but it is tech and I am in awe of it's greatness. Claudio Torghele has invented a type of vending machine that makes ready to order pizza in just three minutes, complete with your choice of topping. The "Let's Pizza" machine will make an entire pizza from scratch for just a few Euros, even mixing the dough so none of that frozen crap here. An infrared oven system developed by the University of Bologna cooks the pizza in under three minutes. One pizza costs four Euros and while the article didn't say, it's presumable personal sized. Not bad considering you can easily spend that on lunch at fast food places like Subway. Four toppings are currently offered: cheese, ham, bacon, and a fresh vegetable mix. Torghele in conjunction with Unilever plans to market the "Let's Pizza" in the rest of Europe as well as in the United States. Toppings will vary depending on local tastes. It's low cost, open 24-hours, it does everything but deliver.

Pizza purists though are saying the machine will devalue the Italian classic, which they say has to be cooked slowly with only the finest ingredients. Well, it's not as if Pizza Hut, the McPizza, Domino's, and Boston Pizza haven't already devalued the dish. Pizza was invented in 1889 in Naples to honour the newly unified Italy. The original toppings were tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil to mimic the flag of the new country. There will always be a market for true gourmet pizza but lets face facts, the Let's Pizza can't be any worse than the frozen or major chain pizzeria varieties. I just want to know when I can order one of these machines for my house.

Source: National Post

Game in the Clouds, Kill Your Bandwidth

By Mike on 5:48 pm

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Imagine being able to play video games from any laptop, any TV, and desktop PC or Mac. Ok, you can already do that but imagine doing that without having to buy expensive gaming hardware. A new gaming service called OnLive was introduced today at GDC 09. The service is similar to Steam except the games are never stored locally on your computer but are rather played on a gaming server. Essentially, your computer acts as just a display and controller. A special box is also being made available to allow you to use the service through your TV. The box will have an HDMI port and USB ports. Major titles are expected to be available on the service and OnLive is promising they will be released simultaneously with their retail counterparts. The system interfaces with your broadband connection and the company promises those with 5mbps connections will be able to play the games at the full 720p resolution the system allows. You will be able to buy games but also rent them as well, similar to how rentals work through iTunes. There will be a monthly system access fee and games will be extra. Free content such as demos will be made available.

This really isn't anything new. Back in the 1990s, Sega had the Sega Channel for the Genesis, which was a similar service. It's an interesting concept but I'm skeptical. First and foremost, such a service is going to kill your bandwidth. Most ISPs have moved to enforcing download caps. For example, I'm limited to 60gb/mo. Streaming that kind of uncompressed HD video is going to eat those caps up. Secondly, I worry about a future in gaming where the gamer doesn't actually own anything. I've brought this up a lot before but I just feel more comfortable having something tangible. For example, if the service were to go bust, you'd loose all the games you bought. This would also potentially kill the game retail market, the resale market of used titles, and retro gaming. It's not as good an idea as it sounds.

Qualcomm/Zeebo Unveil "Fourth Console"

By Mike on 10:31 am

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Tech giant Qualcomm and startup Zeebo unveiled what they're dubbing as the "fourth console" at GDC 09 yesterday. The companies are hoping to tap into the so called developing market by making an affordable console while at the same time curtailing software piracy. The system, simply named Zeebo, is set to launch in Brazil next week for the retail price of $200 USD. It will be released in Eastern Europe, Mexico, and India in 2010 and will be made available in China in 2011. The system is about the size of a Wii. It is equipped with a 528MHz ARM 11 processor, the same used in many mobile phones, and a Qualcomm Adreno 130 IGP. The system includes 1GB internal NAND flash memory (enough for 50 games), 128MB of DDR SDRAM, a gamepad, three USB 2.0 ports, and an SD slot. Max screen resolution is 640x480. Graphics are said to be somewhere in between the PS1 and PS2, or in other words the same quality as PSP and Nintendo DS games.

The Zeebo is the first console to completely do away with discs, or any other type of removable media for that matter. It is 3G equipped allowing for wireless downloads of games. Content will only be offered through the system's proprietary ZeeboNet servers. 15 games will be made available on launch with 30 more being offered within 90 days after. Each game will retail for $12. This is being done to lure gamers away from the lucrative black market, which sells pirated games for contemporary consoles for just $10 a piece. Downloads are all pre-paid just as they are on PSN, Wii, and XBL. Games will only work with the users unique console ID and their account. Expect this DRM scheme to be cracked pretty quickly. The system will launch with four embedded games: FIFA 09, Need for Speed Carbon, Brain Challenge, and Prey Evil. Major game publishers Namco, THQ, Capcom, EA, Activision, and ID Software have latched onto the console.

Older consoles have traditionally preformed quite well in developing markets. The Sega Mastersystem for example sold well in Brazil right up until the late 90s. In these countries, contemporary consoles from the big three are often too costly, even for middle class individuals with comparable incomes to North Americans. A Wii for example costs the equivalent of $1000 USD in Argentina. The system is a good idea but I can't imagine it selling too well. The pirates will just lower their prices and the lure of being able to play the games "the rich" are playing is too much. Systems similar in concept have failed in the past. I also dislike the idea of doing away with removable media completely. I know that's the way the winds are blowing but I just feel uncomfortable with someone having that amount of control over my investments.

Source: The Register

Want An Unlocked iPhone? That Will Be $600 Please

By Mike on 10:20 am

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I've normally countered complaints about Apple's high prices by saying that the high quality and durability of their products is the reasoning for this. However, I must say that they've taken the price thing a bit too far this time. American telecom giant AT&T is going to start offering no-contract iPhones starting in April 2009. So basically, you can now get your phone without having to sign up for those stupid three year contracts. The catch, you'd better be ready to fork out a lot of dough. The 8gb model will sell for $599 and the 16gb model will sell for $699 USD. Think that's expensive? UK retailer is selling SIM-card free iPhones at £550 and £600 for the 8gb and 16gb models respectively. Once converted to Canadian currency, that's nearly $1000 for an iPhone; and I thought the guy at T-Booth was BSing me when he told me that's how much it was worth while pushing the usual extended warranty garbage.

Considering the iPhone is just an iPod Touch with a cell phone and GPS chip inside, I can't imagine those two components alone could more than double the price. Maybe $399 tops for the 8gb model and even that's pushing it. You do pay more for the luxury of being contract free but this is just a blatant ripoff.

Source: CNET, The Register

iPod Buds DRM-Free

By Mike on 7:40 pm

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There was a rumour going around that Apple's new buds for the Shuffle G3 contained an authentication chip that would essentially limit the device to only Apple approved accessories. The rumour appeared on several credible tech sites such as CNET and EFF. I never took this rumour seriously until I was looking through iFixIt's disassembly of the Shuffle again. They took apart the new buds and revealed the shocking truth............... there is no authentication chip. Some other pictures of the board clearly show a chip. However, the chip in question is most likely just a controller for the buttons on the buds. It's a pretty standard piece of electronics and it's quite obvious what it's for to anybody with any electronic knowledge. The report originally appeared on iPod site iLounge and Boing Boing Gadgets but spread across the Internet like wildfire. iLounge took a strong stance against the supposed DRM chip.

This is, in short, a nightmare scenario for long-time iPod fans: are we entering a world in which Apple controls and taxes literally every piece of the iPod purchase from headphones to chargers, jacking up their prices, forcing customers to re-purchase things they already own, while making only marginal improvements in their functionality? It’s a shame, and one that consumers should feel empowered to fight.

They even took the opportunity to take a swipe at Apple stating that they were abusing journalists and forcing them to post only favourable reviews of their products.

Apple has now decided to “punish” buzzkillers—journalists who the company doesn’t consider friendly enough to its marketing mission. And by “punish,” we mean to say that this specific word is used to refer to what happens if someone has said something Apple doesn’t approve of. ... And Apple’s upset because we’ve been telling our readers too much—and constantly taking your side, rather than Apple’s, whenever the company is in the wrong. We do this proudly. And we’re not going to apologize for it."

Sounds like iLouge has a vendetta against Apple. It sure got the Electronics Frontier Foundation riled up enough, with them praising iLounge for their efforts to stop DRM. I'm a fan of what the EFF does but they really dropped the ball on this one, along with a lot of other tech sites. Apple has confirmed that there is no authentication chip for accessories in the Suffle G3 or any other iPod. Accessory makers Monster Cable and V-Moda confirmed this. One of the problems with the Internet is that it's so easy for false stories like this to spread. As usual, nothing to see here, move along people.

Source: EFF, BoingBoing Gadgets, PC Magazine, Gizmodo

Top 10 Gaming Disasters

By Mike on 6:00 pm

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Another top ten list for today, this time we look back at gaming's greatest failures. First of all, this list doesn't deal with bad games but with everything else that makes gaming possible, or impossible. What is a failure in gaming? Well, it's something so bad that nobody ever wants to make that mistake again. So right there we can throw out stuff like the and the Sega CD, as these two systems did influence later, better designs. No, it has to be something so awful that you just have to ask yourself "what the hell were they thinking?!"

10. Xbox 360
The argument over Xbox 360 vs PS3 has been going on for a while now. While Xbox fans have valiantly defend their console's honour, it's hard even for them to ignore that it had some problems. Namely the dreaded three red rings of death. The original Xbox 360 used two very hot running processors and the designers failed to give them adequate cooling. Also, Microsoft had switched to new ROHS (restriction on hazardous substances) compliant tin solder instead of lead. While tin isn't toxic, unlike lead, it melts at a lower temperature than lead does. Tin also has other issues when compared to lead. While lead is a malleable metal, tin is brittle. It can also whisker, causing hair like crystals on the surface which can short out electrical contacts. The Xbox's design flaws created a perfect storm that made high failure rates inevitable. As the console began to overheat due to inadequate cooling, the solder became soft & brittle, causing the processors to become unseated and break electrical contact. Once this happened, the system was basically toast and had to be replaced. (The famous "towel trick" remelts the solder in hopes of reseating the processor, but it's not fool proof) Failure rates for the first generation of 360s were pegged between 16% and 33%, the majority of which were caused by the Red Ring of Death and most short into the system's life. For consumer electronics, failure rates in this situation should be no more than 1%. The RRoD proved to be a PR nightmare for the company. It was the reason why I chose to go for a PS3 instead; well that and I couldn't find any Wiis for sale. Microsoft was eventually forced to admit there was a problem and increased the warranty for the system to three years instead of the usual one. The company has since reduced the transistor sizes of both processors down from 90nm to 65nm for their new Jasper models. Smaller transistor sizes allows processors to run more efficiently. The new systems now run cooler, largely eliminating the problem. Moral of the story, if you're thinking of buying a 360, make sure it's a Jasper.
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9. The Save Checkpoint
This is one of those things that can be done right, or really wrong: the saving checkpoint. That is, certain specific spots in a game that you use to save your progress. A lot of games have this, such as Okami. However, in that title, save points where everywhere and you could never loose your saves unless you deliberately deleted them. One of the most notorious examples of a bad saving checkpoint system that I can think of was Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Save points were few and far between by using the owl statues. However, the statues were only good once. If you restarted the game and didn't save again, you lost the previous save and were sent back to the beginning of the three day cycle instead of the last statue you visited. Sure, you kept your progress when you last used the Ocarina of Time to send yourself back but anything in between would be lost. I just want to know why I can't just save anywhere at any time. There's nothing worse than being interrupted then having to rush around looking for the save point so you can go do more important things. I hate having to backtrack in games because of this.

8. Games for Windows & Windows Vista
Seeing the PC gaming market was faltering, Microsoft decided to launch it's Games for Windows campaign, which sought to market PC games in the same way console titles were. To get the badge, games had to meet certain compatibility requirements. They had to be easy to install, run on Windows Vista, run on 64-bit Vista, support widescreen resolutions, support parental controls, launch from Vista's media centre, and support the Xbox 360 wired controller. It was a good idea but it failed to reach it's intention of revitalizing the PC as a legitimate gaming platform and boost Vista sales. To add to the problem, Windows Vista was not an ideal operating system for gaming. It was slow and failed to properly support older titles due to backwards compatibility issues with DirectX 9 and earlier. If a pre-Vista game worked on XP, there was no guarantee it would work on the newer OS despite the nuts and bolts of the two operating systems essentially being the same. DirectX 10, which Microsoft said could not be implemented in XP, offered dubious graphical improvements at best. Many gamers chose to keep using XP instead of upgrading. Sales of Vista have been more driven by new consumer PC sales than anything else, as opposed to system builders and people upgrading.

7. CD-in-Drive Requirement for PC Titles
For most PC titles, the CD or DVD has to be in the optical drive before you can play the game. I just want to know why this is. Originally it was meant as a form of copy protection but now it's become obsolete due to intrusive DRM schemes and online connectivity. It's just irritating to still have to put the disc in the drive every time despite the fact that all game data is stored on the hard disk. Take Sam & Max Seasons 1 & 2 for example. If I play the downloadable versions, I just have to be connected to my Telltale account to play them. However, to play the DVD version, the disc has to be in the drive. Why? I already have a Telltale account, why can't they just treat it like the downloadable version. This is just asinine in this day and age, especially if you're a laptop gamer. There is a huge double standard between downloadable and boxed copies. The former seem to get all the perks while people who buy the latter get screwed.

6. Phillips CD-I
When Sega released the Sega CD, it was one of the first consoles to store data on a compact disc rather than cartridges. CDs had several advantages over conventional carts. They could store up to 700mb of data compared to the 16mb cartridges were limited to at the time, and could be produced at significantly lower costs. CDs could also hold full motion video and high resolution audio. The only downside was long load times. The CD-I was one of the first stand alone CD based console, created by compact disc pioneer Phillips. It was developed as a joint venture with Nintendo who was looking to produce a CD add-on for the SNES. Sony was also working with Nintendo on the same project, which eventually culminated in the Playstation. The CD-I didn't do as well. The system was massive, the size of a typical VCR at the time. It was combined with an awful TV remote like wireless controller that was difficult to use. Most of the games available for it were similar to early point and click CD games that were being sold on the PC and Mac platforms. Many of them were educational. The CD-I did come out with some more conventional games though. Due to a contract agreement with Nintendo, Phillips was allowed to use the licenses for some Nintendo characters. The agreement continued even after Phillips pulled out of the SNES CD project. Slumping sales of the CD-I encouraged them to start taking advantage of this. The result was Hotel Mario and a series of Zelda titles known by fans of the series as the Unholy Triforce. The four of these games are considered to be the worst titles featuring Nintendo characters and are not considered to be part of cannon for their respective series. To give the CD-I credit, it was one of the first multi-media consoles. Aside from games, it could play back your audio CDs, karaoke discs, and Video CDs provided it was equipped with the optional MPEG1 decoder. Like all early CD based consoles, the load times for media were horrendously slow. The final nail in its coffin though was the price. It sold for $700 in 1991, which is over $1050 today. While the Sega CD sold a modest 6 million units, the CD-I only managed 500,000, less than the Virtual Boy! It was finally discontinued in 1998, though why Phillips kept it around that long is a mystery.

5. Virtual Boy
How do you wreck the Gameboy? Slap a second screen on it and rename it the DS. I'm joking, relax. Well, half joking as that's what Nintendo did with their greatest failure, the Virtual Boy. It was a goggle like apparatus with two LCD screens to give a stereoscopic 3D effect. It was made to bridge the gap between the SNES and N64. The games themselves were vary primitive compared to what the system was supposedly capable of, and few used the 3D effects to their full potential. It wasn't in colour either, instead opting for black on a blood red background. It gave numerous people headaches and seizures. Furthermore, though marketed as a portable, it was difficult to use. It was basically goggles on a stand with no head strap, forcing you to awkwardly lean on a table to use it. There was no way it could be used while travelling despite what Nintendo claimed. The controller was somewhat innovative, integrating two D-pads but it was just a total flop. Only 14 games were ever released for it in North America out of the 22 games ever made for it. Less than 800,000 Virtual Boys were sold worldwide. It was discontinued after only one year on the market. It proved that not everything Nintendo makes is gold.

4. Sega 32X
The 32X represents a seemingly good idea that was poorly executed. After all, PC gamers could upgrade their systems on the cheap, so why shouldn't console gamers have the same luxury. The 32X was made as a stop gap solution to extend the life of the Genesis by upgrading it to a 32-bit system. The mushroom shaped peripheral plugged into the Genesis cartridge slot but ran off its own power and required a special video bridge cable. Sega had insisted on using massive wall-wart AC adaptors; so if you had the Sega CD as well it would be impossible to plug all three into a normal powerbar, let alone a standard outlet. The games were touted as being 32-bit, but like the ill fated Atari Jaguar, they didn't look much better than regular 16-bit games. I've only played one 32X game, Knuckles Chaotix, and it looks pretty much identical to Sonic 3 and Sonic CD. To top it off, the add-on itself was expensive and the Sega Saturn was only a few months away. Most gamers knew it was better to just wait and so the 32X sold poorly. The Sega Neptune, a stand alone 32X was also made but never sold. Genesis does what Nintendon't... maybe that's not such a good thing.

3. Virtual Reality
Back in 1995, everybody thought the future of video games was donning a silly looking helmet and entering a ring where you played the game, as yourself. The first and last time I experienced VR was back in about 1995, shortly after Mississauga landmark Sega City Playdium opened. They had a couple of these simulators: a first person shooter and some hang gliding games. Naturally I tried the shooter but died pretty quickly. I must admit it was cool but maybe it was the novelty factor that wowed me more than anything else. I mean, how cool would it be to step onto the holodeck from Star Trek: TNG? A lot of R&D went into VR but it never really took off. When it first came out, we were told that it was what all gaming would look like in 10 years time. We're still using our hands though as if it were a baby's toy. VR failed for a lot of reasons. It was expensive, bulky, and required double the processing power to fuel the high resolution stereoscopic displays. It was also known to give some people headaches and seizures. Not something you want in a video game. The VR concept eventually fizzled out by the late 90s. In it's defense, it has seen extensive use as training aids for pilots and ship crews. VR simulators are still open to the public at places such as Air Combat Zone. However, these don't require the silly helmet and are not 3D, at least not in the sense VR was meant to be.
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2. Atari
Atari just has so many gaming blunders, I could fill this whole list with them. Their biggest mistake was way back in 1983, which eventually culminated in the crash of the video game industry, putting the "fad" on the back burner for two years before Nintendo saved it. Atari developed one of the best consoles of all time, the 2600. Unfortunately, they overestimated it's greatness when they produced more Pac-Man and ET cartridges than there were 2600s. It was assumed that these two blockbuster titles would drive sales of the system. Lesson #1 of of game marketing: Cartman Economics works, flooding the market does not. Unfortunately for Atari, the two games bombed and the compnay nearly bankrupted itself in the aftermath. Unsold ET cartridges were rumoured to have been unceremoniously buried in a New Mexico landfill for tax writeoff purposes. With the rise of home computers like the Commodore 64, interest in stand-alone consoles declined and the market for those kind of games collapsed.
It's unfair to blame Atari alone for the '83 Crash, but it wasn't their only failure. The ill fated 5200, which was the size of a VCR and had controllers that didn't work is another such example of an Atari flop. The last nail in the coffin was the Atari Jaguar, a 32-bit console masked as a 64-bit system. It wasn't much better than other 16/32-bit consoles at the time and had inferior graphics to the Playstation and N64, the latter of which was a true 64-bit system. Gamers quickly learned that once you hit 32-bit, the number of extra bits a chip has means little. (Current consoles still haven't reached the only limit of the 32-bit process, with is 4gb of RAM. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have only 512mb. Both use 64-bit CPUs though.) The system failed to take away market share from Sega and Nintendo. Atari decided to pull out of consoles after that. More recently, Atari was embroiled in a scandal for using RIAA-like spy tactics to track down pirates.

1. Digital Rights Management
Piracy has always been a problem on PC games and it shot up as soon as people were able to easily burn CDs or transmit games over the Internet. DRM came about to prevent copying. If one single thing can be linked to the death of PC gaming, this is it. As time wore on, DRM went from simple CD keys and passwords to more intrusive piracy prevention methods. It began installing unremovable spyware on people's computers without their knowledge. Eventually limits were placed on how many times a game could be installed, on the same computer. The general public got their first real taste of what had been harassing hardcore gamers for years when Spore came out. It featured the most intrusive form of the SecuROM DRM scheme to date, restricting installs on the same system to three and making it impossible to deactivate copies. The general public didn't like it and Electronic Arts was sued for failing to disclose the restriction on the game's packaging or in the EULA. Ironically, these DRM schemes have done little to discourage the actual pirates. Spore became the most pirated game of 2008, with 1.7 million illegal downloads in it's first three months alone, a rate five times higher than the next title on the list. EA has since offered Spore DRM-free for legal download through Steam.


By Mike on 8:46 am

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This falls under the category of cool but creepy. In Japan, they have developed a realistic female robot who will be used as a robo-fashion model. The HRP-4C humanoid robot is designed to look like an average 20-something Japanese woman. She's about 5ft tall and is capable of displaying a range of facial expressions. She can also talk. The HRP-4C weighs in at 95lbs including batteries. If you have a filthy mind and were hoping for something anatomically correct, forget about it. Her body is made of molded plastic, which resembles Stormtrooper armour. The robot's movement is still pretty stiff, but then again what fashion model doesn't walk like they've got a pickle up their butt. The technology represents a quantum leap from past humanoid robots, such as Asimo. Movement is a lot more fluid. Here's a short video showing the robot.

She can display a range of facial expressions, from sassy to pleasant, to surprised.

The company hopes to sell the chassis for $200,000, sans the costly facial coverings. Japan has an anging population so there is a lot of interest in building robots that can assist seniors and the disabled in daily tasks. However, this robot design is mainly intended for the entertainment industry. I still prefer a real Japanese woman, they're more cuddly.

Oh, that's Aki Hoshino by the way. Naturally busty Japanese TV star and super model. She looks great for 32.

Source: CNET

Dell's Adamo vs Apple's Macbook Air

By Mike on 1:34 pm

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Thin and light seems to be in, with the netbook craze and the Macbook Air. Dell released it's Adamo today, and all the tech pundits are putting it forth as an Air killer. Well, maybe if the Air were castrated and got fat eating a bucket of ice cream after loosing it's manhood. Dell doesn't say how much it weighs but it does have the same screen size and foot print as the Air. It has a brushed aluminum chassis that comes in either silver ("pearl") or black ("onyx"). The hardware in the system is nothing to write home about. It features an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9300 processor running at 1.2ghz. It uses only 10w of power so it should offer excellent battery life but will likely struggle with more demanding applications. The Adamo is also one of Dell's first systems to use DDR3. However, it only runs at 800mhz compared to the Air's 1066mhz. While DDR3 uses less power than DDR2 due to it's lower voltages, it also has higher latencies. It is likely the system would preform better had they used DDR2-800 instead, which is the speed non-overclocking DDR2 currently maxes out. DDR2 is also significantly cheaper than DDR3. The one advantage the Adamo has in terms of memory is upgradability. Apple rather stupidly soldered the RAM to the motherboard and provided no slots to upgrade the Air with additional memory. Lastly, Dell went for Intel's G45 chipset which uses the GMA HD4500 graphics processor with 256mb of shared RAM. It's underpowered compared to the Geforce 9400M, which is probably twice as fast. As for the rest, the Dell is about equal in terms of specs to the Air. It has no optical drive like the Air but it does have a gigabit ethernet port, which the Air does not. Screen resolution is the same in terms of megapixels though the Adamo uses a 16:9 aspect ration compared to the Air's more conventional 16:10. The Adamo's screen is therefore more ideal for displaying widescreen content. Battery life was not mentioned by Dell. It has a 40wH lithium-polymer pack compared to the 37wH in the Air. However, we can bet it will have equal or lower battery life than the Air. This is primarily because OS X has better power management features than Vista does. Lastly, the Adamo does feature a 128gb SSD as stock, while it costs an extra $500 to install it in the Air. The Adamo costs $1999 for the base model while their Air is $1799.

So lets recap to see what each has in favour over the other.

Dell Adamo
-Gigabit Ethernet
-Upgradable RAM
-SSD as stock

Apple Macbook Air
-1.6ghz CPU, 400mhz faster
-1.06ghz bus speed over 800mhz
-Faster graphics processor
-Faster 1.06ghz RAM

So as you can see, the Adamo fails to be a Macbook Air killer. It's more expensive and severely under powered for its price point.

Now forget about the Mac vs PC debate for a minute here. Both these systems weigh about 3lbs. They're being marketed as high end lifestyle systems. However, is this really worth it. Consider that companies such as Apple, Dell, and Sony sell quality systems with superior specs for as much as $1000 less; same screen size, same foot print, but only 1lb more. The problem with these ultra thin systems is that there are simply too many trade offs involved in slimming them down. Another thing worth asking is why is Dell releasing what I would classify as a luxury consumer novelty at a time when people aren't buying systems in that price range. They're too little for too much. My advice would be, if you need a really small and mobile computer, go with a good quality netbook. Dell's own Inspiron Mini would be a good choice, has up to a 12'' screen, weighs the same as the Adamo, will have better battery life than the Adamo, but is only a fraction of the cost. If you still want something with more power, go with the cheaper, slightly bulkier alternatives.

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Mini Review

By Mike on 5:00 pm

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The environment is big these days so we all know how important is to recycle. Sega is doing just that with yet another compilation package of Genesis titles. I really don't have a lot to say about this game collection other than it's pretty much identical to the Sega Genesis Collection that was released on the PSP and PS2 back in 2006. Notable additions include all the Genesis Sonic titles including the two spin off games: Sonic Spinball and Dr. Robotnick's Mean Bean Machine. Shining Force and Streets of Rage. Virtua Fighter is conspicuously missing though from this updated edition. Each title has been upscaled to 720p though it seems to run at 1080i as well even though the box only says 720p. The games can be played in a windowed mode with borders similar to what the Super Gameboy used, or in 16:9 widescreen. Playing games in widescreen stretches them out though. I had originally expected Sega was going to retool the games to run natively in 16:9 mode. The games look good, but really, it's not much better than what the PS3's upscaler for PS2 games puts out. Another new feature is Trophy support. Most are fairly easy to obtain, including the easiest gold trophy you'll ever find in a PS3 game: get 100 rings in Angel Island Zone with Tails. The game also includes unlockable content such as arcade games and videos. The videos are not in HD however, which is unfortunate. Multiplayer is supported but only in the old fashioned way. There's no online play.

Overall, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection is a pretty good compilation that contains 40 classic Genesis titles. However, I cannot help but feel it's lacking something. Sure, it's only $1 per game but Sega really should add a lot more titles in future editions. This is hardly going to make a dent in a Blu-ray or even a DVD9 disc. A lot of arcade hits like After Burner and Virtua Fighter were not included, yet they still keep putting Alex Kidd in these packs, which is a terrible game. Personally, I'd like to see games like Sonic CD make an appearance. There are tons of Genesis exclusives out there. If you already have the PS2 or PSP Genesis Collection, I wouldn't pick this up.

What Works
-40 games for $40
-Lots of great Genesis classics upscaled to HD
-Trophy and XBL Achievement Support

What Doesn't Work
-Nearly identical to compilation released just 3 years ago
-Unlockable content not in HD
-A lot of hit exclusive titles are missing and Sega could have thrown in a lot more games than they did.
-No online multiplayer

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Here's the complete list of games copied directly from Sega's website.


· Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
· Alien Storm
· Altered Beast
· Beyond Oasis
· Bonanza Bros.
· Columns
· Comix Zone
· Decap Attack starring Chuck D. Head
· Dr. Robotnik's MBM
· Dynamite Headdy
· Ecco the Dolphin
· Ecco II: The Tides of Time
· Fatal Labyrinth
· Flicky
· Gain Ground
· Golden Axe I
· Golden Axe II
· Golden Axe III
· Kid Chameleon
· Phantasy Star II
· Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
· Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
· Ristar
· Shining in the Darkness
· Shining Force
· Shining Force 2
· Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
· Sonic 3D Blast
· Sonic and Knuckles
· Sonic Spinball
· Sonic the Hedgehog
· Sonic the Hedgehog 2
· Sonic the Hedgehog 3
· Streets of Rage
· Streets of Rage 2
· Streets of Rage 3
· Super Thunder Blade
· Vectorman
· Vectorman 2


· Golden Axe Warrior (SEGA Master System)
· Phantasy Star (SEGA Master System)
· Alien Syndrome (Arcade)
· Altered Beast (Arcade)
· Congo Bongo (Arcade)
· Fantasy Zone (Arcade)
· Shinobi (Arcade)
· Space Harrier (Arcade)
· Zaxxon (Arcade)

Is DLC Too Expensive?

By Mike on 6:35 pm

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There has been some recent controversy over Capcom preparing costly DLC for Resident Evil V, which will be available on release. Many gamers feel it is unfair to have new content so soon after release, that could have been on the game disc, for extra money. When it comes to gaming, my background is as a PC gamer. We've had DLC for a vary long time in the forms of user mods, most of which were free. Consoles have now shifted to offering payware downloadable content add-ons for games. This has been a landmark for consoles in that games are now expandable in a similar way PC games are. However, I cannot help but wonder whether consumers are getting nickle & dimed. I was browsing through this weeks Playstation Store updates and noticed car downloads for Burnout Paradise. Two cars were being sold for $4.99 each. To me, this seems awfully expensive when there are entire games being offered for as low as $6 on the store, such as Noby Noby Boy. Burnout is a pretty gross example of how expensive DLC can be. It's a ripoff to charge that kind of money for a single car, considering the entire game is only $40. Charging more than 10% of the game's value for a single, relatively minor add-on is a ripoff.

Another example of overcharging for DLC in my opinion are the LittleBigPlanet Sackboy costumes. These are basically skins but they want $1.99 for it. While a Toonie isn't a lot of money, consider a song off iTunes only costs $0.99. It's fair to say that a lot more goes into the production of a song track than it does for one animator to make a simple costume for a game character. Granted LBP add-ons are going to sell at a far lower volume but it's still a tad on the pricey side considering it does nothing to enhance or extend the gameplay experience. A fair price would be $0.99 per costume. This isn't just a Playstation problem either; given the price of Virtual Console titles on the Wii, which cost far more individually than they do in compilation packages.

The problem with DLC on console versus PC is one of basic economics. On PC, payware DLC providers have to compete with user created mods. This encourages them to pack more features into their mods to compete with what is essentially free. Flight Simulator payware add-ons tend to be expensive but they're tailored to fly identically to the real aircraft and tend to feature far more detail. On console, developers have a monopoly over DLC. No competition and they can charge more. It's still outrageous regardless of the circumstances, and it's why I refuse to buy it.

Update 03/15/09: After I published this, IGN posted an article on the same issue, but on Xbox Live. Definitely worth reading.

Top 10 Worst Games MMN Has Played

By Mike on 1:28 pm

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Ok, every gaming website has their top ten list of the best games they've ever played. Then in 2006, things changed when James "Angry Video Game Nerd" Rolfe became an Internet phenomenon. His character reviews some of the worst games of all time. So, in tribute to the AVGN, I thought I'd compile my own list of the worst games I've ever personally played.

10. Sonic 3D Blast (1996, Sega, Genesis/Mega Drive)
I actually liked this game when it first came out, but it hasn't aged well. Take all the things that make Sonic awesome, and get rid of them. Blast switched to an psudo-3D isometric view, was slow, and gameplay was clumsy. The basic premise was to rescue all the flickies from their robot prisons and return them to their dimension through power rings. I remember the most irritating part of this game for me when I first got it was it's lack of a save feature, which Sonic 3 and Sonic CD had introduced. It's Game Gear version was equally bad.

9. Echochrome (2008, Sony, PS3)
A real snoozer of a title that had you chasing "echos" in an MC Escher stylized environment. Tilt the screen to open new paths. No score, no time limits, no way of dying, no colours, no good music, no entertainment value. Echochrome is way too artsy and mind numbing for my tastes. It is just so unbelievably bland and pointless. I like to think of it as the Sinefeld of video games. It's a game about nothing that everybody seems to love but me.

8. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992, Sega, Game Gear)
Sonic 2 for the Genesis was a great game, Sonic 2 for the Game Gear was not. I think the problem was that it was just too freaking hard. I never had a Game Gear myself because quite frankly, it was a load of crap itself. I had a friend who had one with Sonic 2. I could never even make it past the first level boss. One hit and you're dead, there's no room for error. You have to dodge these silver death balls that seem to come from all over the place. Unless you've memorized the pattern and know exactly where to stand, you're in for some frustration. Even now, the only way I can beat it is by using an emulator with a save state function. I've never seen such a hard boss for the first level in a Sonic game. The second level introduced the infamous hang glider, which had awful controls. The later levels aren't so bad but the first too are just so brutal, it really sours you off continuing.

7. Virtual Bart (1994, Acclaim, Genesis/SNES)
I love the Simpsons, I grew up watching it and I still watch it even if the newer episodes aren't that good. Games based on the Simpsons have traditionally been quite poor but Virtual Bart is probably one of the worst I've played, though I haven't played many. It's a series of mini games, which seems like a good idea until you realize it has punishing difficulty and broken controls. The worst ones for me happen to be baby Bart, the Slaughterhouse (Krusty's pork cannery!) and the Mount Splashmore waterslide.

6. Haze (2008, Ubisoft, PS3)
A lot of hype went into this game. It was supposed to be the must have game for Playstation 3 in 2008, aside from MGS4. We were promised fantastic visuals and revolutionary new FPS gameplay. What we got was far from it. Graphics were blurry, gameplay was dull, and it didn't even run in HD! A classic overhyped title.

5. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006, Sega, PS3/Xbox 360)
Wow, what happened to you Sonic. You used to be rad, the blue blur, the most popular video game character in the world. Maybe it's time you hung up your red sneakers after your dismal transition to 3D. The 15th anniversary of Sonic turned out to be the worst game the hedgehog has ever graced. Not only do the newer titles not even resemble the Genesis classics, they just are a plain mess. Crippled by bad gameplay mechanics, Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 was practically unplayable. The original Sonic games were known and purposely designed for their ease of gameplay. Sonic Team has certainly lost their way. But hey, Sonic Unleashed was pretty good, once you take out the warehog scenes. Well, maybe not.

4. Iron Man (2008, Sega, Xbox 360/PS3/Wii/PS2/PC)
I reviewed this game here, and it stunk to high heaven. Plagued with poor controls and blurry, awful graphics. It was overly easy and downright dull. Not much else to say that's not in the review. The perfect example of a bad movie-based game.

3. Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WW2 (2007, Ubisoft, PC)
A game so bad, Ubisoft actually gave up on trying to fix it. The game worked ok, but I had no sound. After installing every single patch, I still had no sound. While I could still play it, there's not much point if you can't hear anything. Oddly, sound did work for the intro movies. I have a Soundblaster X-FI XtremeMusic, which is a pretty common and modern gaming sound card that works fine with every other game I have. A lot of people reported all sorts of problems. Ubi eventually announced they had stopped trying to patch the numerous errors and left gamers out on their own.

2. Bioshock (2007, Take Two, PC)
The console versions of the hit Bioshock were not without their problems but the PC version just was a god awful mess. Unlike the #1 on the list, it was playable, sort of, but it sure put up a fight. I had the demo repeatedly BSOD on me right when the bathysphere enters the city, so I didn't get to enjoy any real gameplay. Those who bought the full retail version complained of similar problems. Bioshock was also one of the first PC games to include strict install limits through the controversial SecuROM DRM scheme. Electronic Arts would be sued for doing the same thing with Spore a year later.

1. Lock-On: Modern Air Combat (2003, Ubisoft, PC)
Here it is in all it's infamy, the worst flight simulator game I have ever played and probably the worst flight simulator in the history of the genre. I had heard a lot of negative things about it but when I saw it on sale at the store, I thought I might try it out. Some people did say it was good after all. Wow, what an absolute mess. Despite exceeding the recommended system requirements (not just the minimum), the game ran like a slideshow, even on low settings. This what back when I had my Athlon XP 2000+ and a Geforce 6600 128mb, where as the recommended system was an Athlon XP 1500+ and any 128mb card. Patches didn't solve the problem. LOMAC is the quintessential poorly coded game. It's good in concept but it was just unplayable. The cherry on top was the inclusion of the now infamous Starforce copy protection scheme which installed unremovable malware (rootkits) on people's systems and caused a lot of controversy back in 2005. For some reason, realistic modern combat simulators always seem to bomb.

Red Barron Arcade Review

By Mike on 9:44 pm

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Why aren't there any World War 1 flight simulators? I guess the slow speed doesn't really intrigue people. Red Barron Arcade is one of the first WWI themed games I've seen in a while. Now get ready for the shortest review ever... it does not belong on Playstation 3. Ok, I'm not going to leave my readers hanging like that. The original Red Barron, released almost 20 years ago, was a classic combat flight simulator. It is widely regarded as one of the best from the genre and one of the best games of all time. Red Barron Arcade, also published by Sierra, will likely not win such acclaim. It was developed by Stainless Games rather than Dynamix who made the original series. The game is also available on PC and was released just over a year ago, and didn't do so well. The first red flag PS3 gamers noticed was the numerous delays the PSN title suffered. Sierra kept pushing it back but gave no official notice as to why, or when it would actually hit the Store front. It was originally supposed to be released on September 18th, 2009 according to an IGN game preview article. However, it wasn't actually released until March 12th, 2009, six months later.

Gameplay is what you would expect from a title like this. Vary basic controls. This is another one of those flight games where the pitch controls are reversed, which really irritates me. Everybody knows that pulling back on the stick in a plane makes you go up. They have pushing forward as up, which is usually down. This can be very confusing, especially to those used to flight simulators that use conventional control schemes. Fortunately, the options menu lets you reverse the X axis on the left stick. Everything else is traditional. R2 is your machine gun trigger. You can also roll for evasive action using R1 and L1 but it seems pretty useless. Square will preform an Immleman, quickly reversing your flight direction. You also have secondary weapons and can perform a speed boost by tapping X. There is a boost meter so it's not umlimited. It recharges on its own. Triangle and Circle are your throttle controls. Power-ups are available that give you additional bombs or restore your health bar. Dogfighting is pretty good. You get the hectic feeling of a WW1 dogfight but the graphics can hamper the enjoyment of it. I'll get to that in a second. I only played the demo but I get the feeling I wouldn't see much more in the full version. There are quite a few to play from. It says there are 20 in total. You can only play as Germany in the demo but I would expect there are 10 planes on each side to choose from. Of course the Fokker DR1 is in there and is playable in the demo. It's also has Albatrosses, other Fokkers, and I noticed Sopwith Triplanes & Airco DH2s during the dogfights on the allied side.

The real problem with the game is the graphics. They're just absolutely horrible. The graphics in Red Barron are outdated by at least eight years. It really does look like a late 90s, early 2000s game. Even PSP games like Ace Combat X have better graphics. Ok, I know it's a downloadable title but take into consideration games like WipEout HD and Flower, which both retail for $9.99, the same price Red Barron Arcade does. They're graphical masterpieces, this is just a horrible pile of thrown together pieces. Polygon count on objects is quite low and textures look cheap. Draw distances are low. I didn't notice any issues with frame rates though. If there were frame rate problems, I think I'd pee my pants out of shock. Red Barron runs at 720p but due to it's graphical flaws, having HD is pretty useless. It's impossible to tell which planes are your allies and which are the enemies until you are right on top of them. Enemies are colour coded in the radar screen as red, while your allies are green. However they picked dark red and dark green, which almost look the same so you have to look hard to tell which is which. The AI is horrible, enemies will often crash into you without you even seeing, and they certainly don't do anything serious to try and avoid getting shot.

Well there you have it. To sum up Red Barron Arcade in two words: it sucks. It's a good concept and had Stainless Games put a little more effort into it, it could have been a classic PSN title. The end product though is just a jumbled mess of poor graphics, poor AI, and uninspiring gameplay. The entire game is only about 180mb in size, which tells a lot. If you're looking for a console arcade sim, I'd suggest picking up the Ace Combat games for the PS2 (avoid HAWX because it sucks too) or wait for Il-2: Birds of Prey to come out later this year. Red Barron Arcade is not worth the $9.99 they're charging for it.

What Works:
-Easy to pick up gameplay
-20 aircraft to choose from

What Doesn't Work
-Horribly outdated graphics
-Dumb AI
-Flight pitch controls reversed
-Overly simplistic at times
-Should have been a PSP title instead

Score: 4 out of 10

Apple Releases new iPod Shuffle, Where's the Beef... er Buttons?

By Mike on 3:31 pm

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Apple quietly pushed out a new iPod Shuffle onto the world this morning. This marks the third design change for their smallest and cheapest model in the iPod line. It's roughly the same size and shape as a disposable cigarette lighter. Apple claims it's smaller than a AA battery, measuring in at 1.8" tall x 0.7" wide x 0.3" thin. It weighs just over 10 grams. The case is made form anodized aluminum just like the new Mac models. It comes in either grey or black. Furthermore, the storage space has been beefed up to 4gb; double what the second generation model had. The player supports AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from the iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF audio formats. Apple Losseless was not a supported codec in the previous Shuffle models. Conspicuously missing are the controls for the player. It now has a simple tri-switch on top which switches playback from shuffle, loop, and stop/power off. The rest of the controls are still there but have been moved to the earbud wire. The most important addition is the new Voice Over feature, which tells you the name of the song or playlist currently being played. For battery life, Apple claims 12 hours, which is usually pretty accurate. The G3 Suffle costs $79 USD.

Already, pundits are divided over this new model. The Shuffle has always been one of Apple's best sounding MP3 players, and is certainly one of the smallest available. However, it does suffer from numerous drawbacks. It still lacks a display but the biggest problem with this one is where the controls are located. Since they're on Apple's earbuds, you're forced to use them. Many complain about the low audio quality of Apple's buds. I know I still haven't taken mine out of the box yet. Adding the controls on the buds means you can't swap them for better headphones, at least not until third-party manufacturers start selling compatible ones. I've never really been a huge fan of the iPod and really only got the iPhone because I wanted Internet connectivity and lossless playback. If you're willing to sacrifice some battery life, I'd go with the Creative ZEN Stone Plus. It's about the same size as the G2 Shuffle and has 2gb of storage. However, it features a display, audio recording, and FM radio. Creative's MP3 players have always had vary good audio quality too.

Source: Dailytech

Update: IFixIt has taken it apart already. As expected, there's not a heck of a lot to this thing. Everything is now controlled by a single chip containing the ARM CPU, a small amount of RAM, and 4gb of flash memory. This seems to be the direction Apple is going with it's products.
iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation First Look

Mac Mini Gutted

By Mike on 1:31 pm

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I showed you last week the tear down of the new iMac. The folks at IFixIt have done the same with the new Mini, and it's just as big a mess as it's bigger brother. To get inside, one still needs to use the infamous putty knife. Once inside, the system is pretty much identical to the new vanilla Macbooks. The components are identical, complete with DVD Superdrive and 2.5'' 120gb SATA hard drive. The Mini basically is just a laptop sans screen. Not much worth noting other than the processor is now soldered to the motherboard rather than socketed. This means you can't swap it out for a new one. For a company that professes itself to be "green", Apple sure doesn't make it easy to upgrade and thus extend the life of your Mac. Nothing else much to say other than it's neat to see for curiosity's sake.

Check out IFixIt's Guide to Tearing down the Mini

Kiwis Contemplate Jail Time for Aduts Who Buy M Rated Games for Minors

By Mike on 1:14 pm

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Could Canada be the last Commonwealth country left on Earth that hasn't gone totally insane? I know, that's very difficult to believe. Recently, both Australia and New Zealand have been cracking down hard on tech offenders, often for some downright silly things. While Oz is planning to put up it's own Great Firewall to block out "offensive" websites, the Kiwis think buying M-rates games for minors should be a criminal offense worthy of jail time.

According to Bill Hastings, a New Zealand government official, the law is already in place though is currently not enforced. The current penalty is a $10,000 fine or three years in prison. Assuming NZ uses the same legal system as Canada does, that would make it an indictable (capital for US readers) offense. Hastings wants to enforce jail time as a form of "shock value" to discourage others from committing the crime. ""They might think the offense is silly, but it ain't," Hastings told the Dominion Post. (As a side note, there's something unsettling about a government official using the term "ain't" during a press conference.) "That's what the law says, but... you're not going to have police officers in every bedroom... There would certainly be some shock value to prosecuting a parent who gives their under-18 child access to a restricted game. It would send out a message that the enforcement agency means business. I think the word 'game' can mislead people for sure. It's not checkers. For the first time in history, kids are more savvy with technology than parents... parents need to get up to speed on the digital divide. They need to look at what their kids are playing and doing," he added.

There seems to be a disturbingly illiberal trend occurring in British Commonwealth countries recently towards widespread censorship and surveillance. As I said, Canada seems to be one of the few exceptions where this is not happening. That's not to say it couldn't happen. Most would probably agree it's wrong to give your child an M rated game but is that really worth putting someone behind bars, or even such a steep fine? Of course not. There has also been talk of doing similar things within the United States but for the most part it's fallen on deaf ears. It's not the same thing as buying alcohol, smokes, or a Swank and giving it to a minor. What's next, jail time for parents who let their kids watch R rated movies? Huge fines if their kid stumbles on your old Playboys? Give me a break.

Source: PSU

Asus Adds Dual Core EeeBox

By Mike on 6:21 pm

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I must admit I like the Eee Box. I haven't had a chance to get my hands on one though but from what I've seen and heard, it's a nice little system. Asus is addressing concerns over its media capability by upgrading it to the Intel Atom 330, a dual-core 1.6ghz processor. It will also be equipped with Windows Vista, the first to do so in the Eee line. Another important improvement is the addition of an ATI Radeon 4350 discrete GPU with 256mb of RAM. This will allow it to run Vista as well as accelerate HD media. Previously, the Eee Box was equipped with the Intel GMA 950 IGP, which is considered too weak for modern computing. In addition to the GPU, the new Eee Box also gets HDMI connectivity. Lastly, it comes with 1gb DDR2 stock and up to 320gb of HDD space. The improvements make this little system ideal as a media server. The Eee Box still lacks an optical drive though, meaning you'll have to either use an external USB one or download media content off the internet or over LAN. The faster GPU should allow it to play Blu-ray movies with the appropriate external drive. There are no details regarding the price of this little system as of yet. Of course, you could always build your own dual core Atom 330 media system for under $500.

Source: The Register

Play Games, Frag Yourself Says UK Gov't

By Mike on 1:05 pm

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We all know that video games, along with AIDS and terrorism, are one of the major evils facing the modern world today. Or at least that's what people like Jack Thompson, Hilary Clinton, and now the UK government want you to believe. A new ad campaign seems to directly link gaming to early death. The ad is being funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK, in partnership with the government. It shows a young boy sitting with a glazed look on his face holding a Playstation 3 controller. The caption reads "Risk an Early Death, Just Do Nothing".

Obesity is a major cause of illness and death in our society today and most certainly gaming can be a contributing factor if it's done in excess. However, the ad unfairly addresses the root cause of the problem. You can still play video games and lead an active lifestyle. The key is moderation. Telling kids they're going to die if they play games is not likely to have any real, lasting effects in solving issues of a sedentary lifestyle. Rather, they should be encouraging kids to get more active and to have fun doing so. It is now also possible to combine gaming with exercise, such as Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution. For many children and teens, organized sports or working out at the gym just doesn't have much appeal. Blaming games is just a cop out by educators and parents who have failed to give their children proper exercise and outdoor play.

Source: The Register

Update 03/10/09: Sony is considering suing the ad's creators for trademark infringement over the PS3 controller featured in the ad.

Elite 360 Given the Axe

By Mike on 12:56 pm

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Reports are coming out that Microsoft is planning to discontinue the Xbox 360 Elite. Well, sort of. According to MS, they're going to stop taking orders of the Elite during Q2 and existing stocks will be sold off. Mind you, this is just the regular retail version. 360 Elites will continue to be made but instead will be sold as special limited edition game themed consoles, such as the Resident Evil Red 360.

The Elite is currently the most expensive console in the Xbox line, currently selling for $399. This puts it on par with the 80gb PS3. There isn't a lot separating the elite from the cheaper 360s at this point. Originally, it was the only one to offer HDMI connectivity and a beefy 120gb HDD. Now all 360 models feature HDMI and the Pro has a 60gb drive. Compared to the PS3, the Elite lacks optical HD video playback and built in wireless LAN. Therefore, it's getting difficult for Microsoft to justify the high cost. This is likely why it's going to be offered in limited edition bundles, while likely retaining it's current price.

Source: The Register

Flower Review

By Mike on 9:35 am

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There's a couple of things I learned from Flower. First of all, PSN games can rival or even exceed their more expensive boxed counterparts in technical accomplishment. Second, I should not keep my house plants caged in pots, as they yearn to live out in the wild. I tried setting them free but that didn't go so well. (lol) Flower by That Game Company is yet another game that falls under the "games as art" category. Video games as an intentional art form is really only a recent phenomenon. LucasArts gave birth the this concept in my opinion with their adventure games but art games only came into their own in probably the last five years. Okami being one of the more well known examples. This change is primarily due to contemporary gaming moving further away from being only the persuit of children and teens to a more adult focus. PSN seems to attract a lot of these art house titles, such as PixelJunk Eden, Echochrome, Tori-Emaki, and Noby Noby Boy. While Wii and Xbox 360 have latched on to retro and causal gaming through their respective stores, Sony has really captured a whole host of indie developers who previously found it prohibitively expensive to release their products to a wide audience. This shift is how you get the unique titles that I've mentioned above. When Flower was originally announced, a lot of people weren't really sure what to make of it, as is the case for many if not most indie titles. The premise was simple yet deceptively abstract. If a house plant could dream, what would it dream about?

In Flower, you pay as the wind, blowing a group of flower petals across the landscape. It uses arcade style flight controls and is one of the few PS3 games that uses SIXAXIS motion control exclusively instead of the analogue sticks. The PS3's motion sensing function is probably the most underutilized feature of the console and having it as the only control scheme has led to some notable disasters. Lair being the most infamous example. The problem with SIXAXIS in other games is that the controls feel sloppy and non-responsive. Naturally, I was leery of Flower because of the past reputation of motion control. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised by how well it works in this game. You pitch and roll the controller into what ever direction you want to go. The controls are responsive and feel tight; like you're controlling the game and not the other way around. The only other control in the game is the X button, which you hold down for the wind to blow. Release it and your petals will hover in place allowing you to look around with the camera, once again using the SIXAXIS.

There really isn't much to this game. The first three levels involve reviving dead patches of grass in a field. Flowers on the ground will have a halo around them. You need to fly through them to activate them all and revive the dead field. That's it. There's no score, no time limit, you can't die. That's not to say there aren't any challenges. In later levels, the environment will start to work against you. It's vary simple but this game seems to suck you in with it's vibrant colours and beautiful scenery. There are six levels in the game. The one major flaw with Flower is that it's way too short. I figure it can be beaten in about two hours tops. You can argue that a lot of games from the 2D era were that short, such as the original Sonic the Hedgehog. However, we've come to expect a little more from our titles. It's light on replay value though it does offer trophy support giving you some goals to strive for.

Flower is a technical masterpiece that really functions as a tech demo for the Playstation 3's power. In most games, grass just fades into the background, modelled by textures or simple psudo-3D graphics. That Game Company took it to the next level. In Flower, every individual blade of grass in the field is fully 3D rendered and reacts to you and the environment in the same way it would in real life; by bending and swaying in the wind. The fact that there are thousands of such blades in the level turns an everyday thing into something wondrous. Other 3D models, such as the windmills, are more simplistic. However, they don't have to be complicated. Environments are vary colourful and detailed. They give you a sense of calm and wonder while playing it. The audio is well suited for Flower, done in a new age, instrumental style. The audio is of the highest quality. The frame rates are silky smooth. The game runs at at least 1080i. No graphical anomalies were noticed.

Flower is an art house game, and thus isn't for everyone. I suppose you could draw similar parallels to my criticisms of Echochrome in that there really isn't much to the game and that the experience is short lived. Flower makes up for this though with it's technical achievement, colourful visuals, and unique controls; it is a sharp contrast against the bland Echochrome. I admit I was sceptical at first after I had read some of the reviews. I don't think any of us knew what to make of it. I think a demo would have been greatly appreciated. The only major flaw with Flower is that it's too short. Just six levels isn't enough. It's a common complaint among reveiwers and those who have played the game. Granted, that's not necessarily a bad thing as it signals that people want more. Hopefully, That Game Company will realize this and start publishing more substantial expansion packs. It would be a shame to leave this beautiful game as it is. Flower is a Playstation Network exclusive and can be purchased for $9.99. It weighs in at roughly 800mb.

What Works
-Beautiful graphics, individually modelled grass, and vibrant colours. A PS3 tech demo
-Finally a game where SIXAXIS controls work the way they should
-Easy to pick up and play
-Unique concept

What Doesn't Work
-Too short and lacks replayability

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Apple's iMac Still a Design Mess

By Mike on 11:46 am

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The problem with Apple's laptop and all-in-one systems: they've never exactly been easy to upgrade. Even an every day task such as simply replacing the hard drive can be an incredible chore. When Apple released the unibody Macbooks, this task was made a lot simpler by having it locked under a simple panel with a latch. The folks at Ifixit have disassembled the new iMac already, showing it's guts to be quite a mess. The iMac pretty much requires you to gut the whole system, including removing the screen, just to get at the hard drive. This is in contrast to the original G4 all-in-ones where you simply just had to remove the back panel.

The disassembly also had some other things worth noting. First off, the CPU appears to be socketed rather than soldered. That means it should be upgradable with any Penryn based 35W or 45w TDP, Socket P based processor. Presumably the iMac uses the C2D T9550 (2.66ghz) and T9800 (2.93ghz) and Core 2 Extreme X9100 (3.06ghz). The hard drive is a standard 3.5'' 7200rpm SATA type. In addition, the screen is backlit with CCFLs rather than LEDs like the new Macbook models. I find that odd that they didn't go the LED route since not only do they use less power, they also produce better contrast.

You can check out the whole disassembly process here.

PSP Going Retro? Maybe

By Mike on 11:42 am

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Aside from it's unique control scheme, one of the Wii's strongest features is its Virtual Console. Nintendo has compiled a list of classic games from systems like NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, Master System, and TurboGrafx-16 that are available for download. This has renewed interest in retro gaming and has brought downloadable emulator into the legitimate realm. Sony has been a bit behind on bringing this kind of content to their systems. Some PSOne games are available but they are few and far between. With the company's renewed interest in it's portable PSP, Sony is talking about bringing third party retro content to the system. Retro games are ideal on a portable system since you're unteathered to the TV and they tend to be shorter and easier to pick up and play than more modern titles. Nothing has been confirmed as of yet but the idea sounds promising. I would expect we'll see a lot of arcade ports and console titles from people like Sega. It's unfortunate we can't play classic Nintendo titles on our PSPs (legally). Maybe Nintendo still has a chance of getting me to buy a DSi.

Source: Pocket Gamer

Gibson Guitar Hero Suit Tossed

By Mike on 6:22 pm

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Since when did law suits become a viable revenue stream for corporations? It's no wonder our courts are clogged. Seems every body and their brother is suing each other, sometimes for widely frivolous things. So is the case of instrument legend Gibson who sued Activision and several major retailers in March 2008 over the Guitar Hero controller. Gibson claimed that the controller infringed on US Patent 5,990,405, which covers "a system and method for generating and controlling a simulated musical concert experience." "Specifically, it details a head-mounted display that includes stereo speakers and is worn while playing an instrument along with a simulated concert" according to CNET.

The US District Court ruled that "as a general observation, no reasonable person of ordinary skill in the relevant arts would interpret the '405 Patent as covering interactive video games," stating that it only applied to devices with an analogue output. The court noted that Gibson's interpretation of the patent could apply from everything from "button of a DVD a pencil tapping a table" and that the case "border on the frivolous." The case was thrown out of court. The saga isn't over though. Still before the courts are Gibson's suit against Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart for selling the controller. Rock Band publisher MTV, Harmonix, and Electronic Arts are also under Gibson's legal corsairs. I must admit it's rather humourous seeing the entertainment industry sued for "IP theft", but what Gibson is doing is still an unethical business practice none the less.

Source: CNET

Apple Updates Mini, Confirms Rumours

By Mike on 12:09 pm

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Well, Apple has updated it's desktop line and has finally put new hardware in the Mini. Surprisingly, the rumours about the Mini seem to have been correct. The system does indeed feature five USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 800, and both a mini-displayport and mini-DVI. When stripped down to it's nuts and bolts, the hardware is identical to the new Macbooks; including a Geforce 9400M IGP, up to 4gb DDR3 1066, and either a 2.0ghz or 2.26ghz Core 2 Duo "Penryn". It also features 802.11n Wifi and a 120gb SATA HDD & DVD burner in the base model. It starts at $599.

The iMac has been upgraded. It comes with either a 20'' (1680x1050) screen or a 24'' (1920x1200) screen. Processors have been upgraded to either a 2.66ghz, 2.93ghz, or 3.0ghz Core 2 Duo "Penryn". All models support up to 8gb DDR3 1066 in SO-DIMM form factor. The 2.66ghz 20'' and 24'' use the Geforce 9400M while the faster 24'' models upgrade graphics to either a Geforce GT 120 256/512mb or Radeon 4850 512mb. Everything else is the same. The base model starts at $1199.

The Mac pro has been updated to feature Intel's new Xeon "Gainstown" processors, which are i7 based. The 8 core models feature either two 2.26GHz, 2.66GHz, or 2.93GHz processors while the four core model is speced at 2.66ghz or 2.93ghz. It uses up to 32gb of RAM for the 8-core model our 8gb for the quad core model using DDR3 1066 ECC memory. For graphics, there's either a Geforce GT 120 512mb or Radeon 4870 512mb card. The system is quite expensive at $2499. Even for professionsals, I'm not sure it's worth it given that it no longer offers professional graphics cards with the bundle.

The updates really contain no surprises. Apple has moved their platforms to NVIDIA chipsets as they did with the Macbook and all now support DDR3. Unfortunately, there are no blu-ray drives, professional graphics cards, or HDMI available for any of the systems. Apple needs to start adding these features to justify the high price of their systems in a recession.

End of the Line for Xbox 1

By Mike on 2:42 pm

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Microsoft has announced that they will no longer be servicing original Xbox models no longer covered by warranty. If the system is still covered by warranty, which is very unlikely at this point, Microsoft will still honour it but will either direct you to a third party repair centre or cajole you into upgrading to a 360.

The original Xbox was an excellent console, unlike its RRoD afflicted younger brother. Microsoft was quick to drop software support for the first big green, which ended in 2005. This in comparison to Sony who chose to continue supporting the Playstation 2, which is still in production as a low cost alternative and still has software being developed for it. The 360 is backwards compatible with most original Xbox titles.

Source: The Register