Category Archives: Technology

Force It Down My Throat, Please

Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a fan of non-traditional gimmicky controllers and peripherals, since they are never utilised properly, and, for the most part are usually little more than previous gen tech, repackaged to run cheaply made un-innovative titles that are nothing more than half-developed tech demos.  I was particularly down on the current gen of gimmicks in particular – namely the Kinect and the PSMove.

Well this week I stumbled upon this video highlighting the Kinect upgrade for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, showing off some rather interesting gameplay controls using voice commands.  Part of me was intrigued by the addition of the Kinect features – however, my intrigue was overwhelmed by the fact that voice controls like these have been around for over a decade, and I was reminded just why I was so down on these gimmicky platforms in the first place, and how annoyed I actually am at the slow pace of innovation in the industry.

Way back in the PlayStaion 2 days I was wowed by the then-innovative use of voice control and microphone tech in games such as LifelineGhost Recon: Jungle Storm and Manhunt, and I was very much looking forward to seeing what the then-new consumer technologies like voice recognition, Eyetoy, DVD and the internet would bring to market.  However fast forward now to nearly a decade later – technologies have advanced in leaps and bounds, but it pains me to see that we are still pretty much playing the exact same types of games, using the same old recycled technologies.

It frustrates and annoys the hell out of me to see this stagnation in the field, to see just how much untapped potential there are with these platforms.  To see how the companies are failing to capitalise on their own devices, how they are failing to deliver on the things promised by their own technologies, and how the majority of them are failing to take risks, to take steps forward in the name of innovation.  And I am certainly sick and tired of seeing companies refusing to provide support and development for their own products, simply due to fear of alienating their existing established user bases.

We, the consumers, are as much to blame too, with our damned mainstream mob mentalities and our hostile schizophrenic attitudes.  I despise the fact how so many people would complain about the lack of innovation and change, but then when the odd developers (especially when it comes to those who operates on the more mainstream end of the market) do attempt something different, these very same people would then criticised and punished them for it.

With our own unwillingness to embrace the new, or in fact anything that might deviate from the norm – we are forcing these companies to cater to our every tiny little whim, and in a sense encouraging the creation of un-innovative titles that are safe, unimaginative, and altogether forgettable.

As much as I hate companies like FaceBook and Apple, and the tactics applied by them, part of me is starting to think that perhaps others should follow their leads.  As I have said before I am sick and tired of being pleased and appeased. Instead of trying to ease us gently into their platforms and technologies, pushing them out slowly and splash-lessly into the waters and moving with the ebb and flow of the market – perhaps more companies should learn to ignore the rest of the world, to say consumers be damned.  To produce new and exciting creations based not upon the demands of the common man, but rather, upon the strength of their own technological prowess and their own artistic visions and imaginations.

Strange as it might sound, I wish companies would become more aggressive and start forcing their products down our throats.  We might choke and we might gag, but at least then we might start to see some real innovations, and perhaps then the industry as a whole might finally move forward.

 

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Recently Played: Project KARA/The Casting

This would be old news for gamers everywhere, but recently at GDC 2012 developer David Cage from French studio Quantic Dream unveiled this stunning short film, an early tech demo for a proprietary engine developed by his team.  Amazingly the video was captured directly off a PlayStation 3 running in real-time, and quoting Cage himself, “It’s not CG, it’s not pre-rendered, it’s really the game”.

As gamer and a tech lover, I am obviously impressed by the technology shown, however, as with tech demo video from 2006 for his previous game ‘Heavy Rain‘, I was more impressed by the writing, the music, the lighting, the camera work, and most of all, the actresses’ performance.  What wowed me was the emotions shown by the characters, and the humanity that radiates from every single frame.

I just wanna say I am personally sick and tired of all the flashy million-dollar gore, sex, and violence  in our media.  Not going to go too much into the story here, in case you have not seen the clip yet, but ‘Project Kara’ is the perfect example of the kind of things I want to see in our games and our films instead. The beauty of a simple song; the sparkling of en eye; the joy of an innocent smile…  It is the humanity, and all the little things that tugs at your heartstrings and speaks to your soul.

Anyways I will also embed below their previous demo clip, titled ‘The Casting’. Both of these clips are not only amazing tech demos, but are also amazing short films in their own right.  Watch and enjoy!


The Kindle Fire & Kindle Touch

Okay I have not been in a writing mood, and was losing my passion in gaming and movies (and all things nerdy).  I was planning on, and I guess had begun the process of, abandoning this blog.  However, I had a little cry on Twitter a couple of nights back, and had a little rant and cry on Facebook just now (which I had recently joined, with sole intent on applying for a game beta I might add). So I thought I might repost my rant as a post on here.  Will there be any more posts?  That depends on how passionate I get in the future, how many rants I have bottled up inside, and most of all, how lazy I feel in the future.  It’s like waiting for toast from a temperamental toaster that may or may not be plugged in – only time will tell.

Anyways my cry and rant was about the upcoming devices from Amazon.  I was soooo disappointed to find that the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch aren’t available for shipping to New Zealand.

I kinda feel sorry for all the other companies out there, with Amazon releasing a full featured US$200 tablet.  They have already driven down the prices of several competitors’ tablet devices, and I believe the announcement of the Fire is also the reason why Kobo have pulled back on their own announcement of their upcoming Vox, which was supposed to be priced at CA$249.

The thing is, it is easy to make a decent piece of hardware, but the content that runs on or through them is what will make or break these devices.  Most companies fail to understand that, but you know what – I think Amazon gets it.  What will wow the general consumers, and win over even the harshest of skeptics will be the access to Amazon Cloud. This will include their Android app store, their music and video on demand, and their Kindle store services.  All the existing Cloud services will be accessible on the Fire, including Amazon Prime access, which allows for free streaming of thousands of movies and TV series via VOD.

This means contents and support wise NO OTHER COMPANY can compete, period.

The Kindle Fire will be Wi-Fi only, and offers a 7″ vibrant color IPS multi-touch display, with a quoted battery life of 8 continuous hours for reading, or 7.5 for videos.

The Touch edition of the Kindle offers the obvious upgrade of a touchscreen and the usual software improvements, as well as a slight reduction in dimensions and weight, but will otherwise retain the same battery life and storage space of the existing 3rd gen model.  Like the previous gen, the Touch will be available in both Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi/3G models, but interestingly this time around Amazon will offer ad-supplemented versions of both, which are available at cheaper prices, starting at as low as US$99.

Both the Fire and Touch are due for release in the US on November 15th.  Of course no one can say for certain until they have been released, but it would not surprise me if Amazon overtake Apple on the tablet market by 1st quarter of next year.  Even if they don’t take the top spot their new devices are guaranteed successes.  Unless something goes drastically wrong, involving exotic deep-sea fish; cherry flavored alcohol and Japanese hookers dressed up as Teletubbies…  There is just no way Amazon can lose overall.


Innovation vs Gimmick

Innovation or gimmick? Only time will tell.

Earlier this year Nintendo released a brand new handheld console, a supposingly innovative system which was regarded by many as a gimmick device.  With their brand new 3DS, Nintendo had promised “a breakthrough in portable entertainment”, and had called their device “a cutting-edge piece of hardware that is more than just a leap forward in 3D gaming technology”, with “built-in features and applications that are accessible right out of the box.”  They had promised a unique social experience, and claimed that their device “opens up a whole new world of eye-popping gameplay possibilities.”

3D gaming, however, is currently still very much a gimmick, as the 3D used in the games do not actually affect the gameplay in any meaningful way.  Also, unfortunately as of right now, the 3DS is still missing some of its promised features, including access to the internet browser and the online games shop.  Meanwhile, other core features like the StreetPass functions are more or less made redundant for most users, due to a lack of compatible users in their nearby areas.  On top of that, the system had launched with a very limited and lacklustre lineup of games, a lineup which did not fully take advantage of the systems hardware, and failed to show off its more interesting features.  At the end of the day, we are left with a system that feels and functions very much like all the other existing systems on the market.  Simply put – at this current stage in time, the 3DS fails to live up to its potential, and its own promise of innovation.

To be fair, this device was released only recently, and it is early days still for the console.  But, there lies the problem.  There are so many companies out there promising innovation, but often, especially in the gaming world, it feels like they are banking on innovation happening at a later stage on their systems, as supposed to delivering the innovation that they themselves have promised along with their products.  Or worse still, is seeing companies out there releasing products that shows great potential for innovation, and then seeing the very same companies failing to nurture and capitalise on their own products, and thus, in the process allowing their products to become mere gimmicks.

There is a very thin line between innovation and gimmick.  True innovation have become few and between nowadays, and products and features which companies herald as ‘innovation’ rarely are.  Which is why it angers me so much, seeing companies claiming territory on the side of innovation, but ends up spending all of their time dancing on the borderline, but never quite landing on either side.  It just breaks my heart, seeing all the wasted possibilities out there. It is like seeing a cartful of cold deserts melting quietly under a hot summer sun – all that potential, wasted, abandoned, and unrealised…


Battle.net, Hacked

This week, for the first time in my life, I found myself a victim of the infamous online identity theft phenomena. Fortunately my bank account was not broken into, nor was my MSN account hijacked and then used in some insane plot to overthrow a small orphanage. What did happen however, was that my Battle.net account was hacked into, and my dormant World of Warcraft account reactivated, and violated.

I have not been actively playing WoW for over a year now. In fact, I had finally convinced myself to uninstall the game last week, and was in the process of writing a post saying farewell to Azeoroth when I was informed by a friend that I was somehow online and logged in. And that, was the moment I realised that my account has been hacked.

That moment of realisation was both terrifying and sickening. However, what terrified me more was the fact that it had happened in the first place, the fact that I have no idea HOW it had happened, and the fact that it had seemed so easy on the hackers part. With one simple password my online identity was hijacked. Within seconds, years of digital wealth and achievement destroyed. And with a few clicks of a button, my online identity corrupted and twisted; the proof of my existence, wiped without a trace.

Perhaps I am being over dramatic over the hack of a simple gaming account, but online identity theft has the potential to become a real threat to our every day lives, especially as more and more of ourselves migrates to the net, as more and more of our personal data becomes locked up in online databases. Our Facebook and dating profiles; our Foursquares and GPS locations; our financial records; our Google (or Bing) search results; our family and medical histories; and even our shoe sizes and our sexual preferences, it’s all out there on the net. What is worse is the fact that there are no concrete laws or agencies governing it all; that the net is for the most part self-governing, or as some might argue, is ungovernable due to its scope and decentralised nature.

I appreciate the freedom that the net allows, and understand the fact that to impose laws or governing agencies upon it would be to take away one of its greatest strengths. However, part of me have to wonder. As the wilderness of the net, and the predators that lies within becomes more complex and chaotic – how much longer can we survive without some kind of protection, without some kind of law to provide order and stability? Furthermore, who can we entrust to provide such protection, without compromising our own integrity and freedom?

Oh, and one last thing – to the people who hacked my account: STFU NOOB!


New Improved Kobo eReader – The Stone In My Face

Kobo Inc have recently announced their newer, updated model of their Kobo eReader. This newer model will feature a number of improvements, which will address a few of the common complaints that users had about the original. Wireless option have switched from Bluetooth to the more common and popular Wi Fi; processor power have increased, improving on its current overall sluggish performance; and an improved screen have been fitted, offering 16 levels of grey scale, doubling the 8 levels offered in the previous model, and offering better contrast. This unit will be available three colours (including the new white/lilac combo), but the general shape, size and layout will remain unchanged. It is currently available for pre-order, with a release date of November 1st.

While I loved the design and feel of the original Kobo eReader, and I have been rooting for them, and even wrote about how they have help changed the industry with their low pricing, and simplistic cost cutting design – I must say this announcement really angers me. The fact that they are already announcing a newer upgraded model, when the first model was released here in New Zealand less than four months ago. Not to mention the fact that a firmware update is still not available for us Kiwi users – an update which was released in the US over a month ago; an update, which fixes several bugs, including one relating to font sizing which can literally make some books unreadable.

Kobo Inc have been aggressively promoting their device in Canada and the states, partnering with airlines, hotels, and even film festivals. They are doing a decent job promoting their device, and this newer model can only help them secure a place on the market. But as a consumer, an owner, and a supporter of the original Kobo eReader, I am NOT impressed, at all. This announcement is making me feel like an Apple user. I now feel extremely cheated, having supported the first device. I have previously described the Kobo as being like a stone dropped in a pond – well Kobo Inc, thanks for throwing the stone in my face.


Where Is The Innovation?

When the PlayStation3 and the Xbox360 first appeared on the scene, there were a few criticisms about their early titles. The powerful new hardware provided the latest batch of games with their realistic realtime 3D worlds, which wowed and shocked the gaming audience – but while the games have certainly improved graphically (and aurally), there were those who argued that gameplay-wise, very little have changed. The problem was with innovation, or rather, the lack of. A problem, which in my opinion, is even more prevalent today.

Currently Sony and Microsoft are attempting to reinvent gaming as we know it, with their motion based gaming addons for their consoles. Sony with their newly released Move, and Microsoft with their upcoming Kinect. However, looking at the early Move titles (and the previewed titles shown for both systems), I am once again appalled by the lack of innovation displayed. Sony it seems are releasing Wii-like-games that no one wants to play, while Microsoft are developing a bunch of Eyetoy games with Wii-like-features that no one wanted. I am particularly appalled by the Milo demo for Kinect, that Peter Molyneux put on for TED recently. Milo was originally promised as an AI character, that we can interact with in a brand new way. But the TED demo showed little more than a bunch of Wii-like mini games, tied together in a linear fashion, while employing a pre-programmed Good/Evil reputation type system (that is already in use by many existing games).

Where is the innovation? Where are all the new ways of gaming promised to us years ago? Less and less developers are taking risks it seems, and are instead relying on the standards set by the industry. We are at a stage where the majority of games are starting to play and feel like older existing games, but released with different skins. Games in the current market are at risk of becoming too repetitive and stale, with most developers employing the same old gameplay mechanics, using the same old engines, the same levelling systems, and even the same achievement systems. What frustrates me more is the fact that when innovation do appear on the market, they are rarely picked up and recognised, or when they do it is often years later.

This rant is my call out to the publishers, the developers, AND the gamers. This industry need to take more risks, and adopt more changes in order to move forward. Think outside of the box, beyond what is currently recognised and accepted. Give us the innovation we so sorely need in our games, and in return, gamers, reward these innovation by buying first hand copies of these titles. Stand up and unite, help starve away the mundane and the mediocre!


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