Sunday, December 17, 2006

Looking for alternatives to Xbox, Wii or PS3?

Believe it or not, there are some console videogame alternatives to the big three consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

The new GameWave system is affordable at as little as $79 from some retailers and includes four remotes. Graphically it's more along the lines of the original PlayStation but offers a change of pace from traditional games.

The unit also plays DVDs.

The console, which includes a plastic case to hold the controllers, is easy to hook up and play. Each remote comes with batteries included. Games like 4 Degrees offer family fun via trivia questions where speed is just as important as accuracy. It's kind of Jeopardy-lite. A new version of 4 Degrees, Vol 2, offers a Pop Culture trivia game that will probably get your teenagers talking to you more.

REWIND 2005 looks back at the biggest news events of the past year and Zap 21 is a pretty-fun-to-play version of Blackjack that you can play without losing your shirt.

Nothing about this system screams hi-tech, but that is not the goal. It's simple family entertainment, where most games are like video multiple choice.

The DVD player works well, so if you're in the market for a basic DVD player, it might be worth it to give this system a try. Don't like it? You still can play DVDs on it.

With games at $24.99, this is a console that might be an alternative for a family looking for something other -- or something cheaper -- than PlayStation3, X-360 or Wii (Grade: B-minus).

Leapster TV: A step beyond the award-winning hand-held videogame, this console system brings the Leapstar to the big screen. Leapster is an excellent series of instructional games aimed at kids.

The purple game console will store six game cartridges and comes with a Dora The Explorer pinata party cartridge that helps teach phonics and letters. If my 2-year-old is any indication, this is memerizing for the little ones.

The joystick is appropriately large for small hands and has a joystick. A touch pad and stylus on the controller helps with writing skills during game play.

There are a variety of games to play with the system. We tried Leapster L-Max, which combines a race game and math skills plus use of time. Your kid is having fun racing and learning time at the same time. And it works.

The Backyardigans features characters from the popular kids show and helps with letters and phonics plus numbers and memorization. Another title, Animal Genius, was my little one's favorite, since he was learning about animals as he played (Combined Grade: A).

The Fly: This is another cool innovation from the people who brought you the Leapster. The Fly is a pen that is really a pretty powerful computer. It's got an optical scanner that "sees" everything you write on special "Fly paper." It's also got a voice.

The pen can help with math problems and help you remember to clean your room. It's a neat gift for anyone, say, 8 to 13. Games like Harry Potter, Interactive Marauder, will test skill by having you use your virtual pen to navigate maps and answer questions correctly.

Playing the popular Sudoku puzzle game with the Fly allows you to play faster (and repeat play really fast). There are more than 200 puzzles to solve, and even big kids -- like me -- will have fun with this one.

My favorite game, though, was Fly Through Algebra, that is basically an algebra tutor available whenever you need it. Designed for grades 6 through 9, the fly computer will actually help you figure out what X equals. Every time. It's a fun way to learn (Overall Grade: A-minus).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Top 10 Games For Christmas, plus Metal Gear Solid Still Going Strong

Here are the top 10 must-have videogames for the holidays.

1. Wii Sports: The game of the year comes free with the Nintendo Wii system and allows you to swing your controller like a baseball bat in baseball, swing your arm like you're bowling in bowling. Same with tennis and boxing. Just pure family fun. It's amazing nobody had thought of a controller like this -- and a game like this -- until now.

2. Call Of Duty 3: One of the most beautiful games I've ever seen (I prefer it on PS3). With the intense graphics and action, you'll feel like you're part of the combat during the Normady breakout, which helped liberate Paris during World War II.

3. Metal Gear Solid, Portable OPS: See PSP game's review below. Just wow.

4. Madden NFL 07: The PS3 and 360 versions look great, but its the Nintendo Wii version you've got to try. Using the wand controller, you'll be throwing and tackling in brand new ways.

5. Resistance Of Man: Sony's answer to Call of Duty is one of the best-looking PS3 games of the year. It takes you to an alternate universe for a 1950s battle against an army of really gross looking aliens who are bent on taking control of the earth.

6. Eragon: Based on the futuristic Hollywood movie of the same name, this game is deep and beautiful and made me look at my X-360 in a whole new way. And fighting dragons has never been this much fun or looked so good.

7. Excite Truck: Another Wii winner. You turn your "Wii-mote" sideways and watch the fun start as you twist and turn through a variety of realistic-looking tracks. Controlling the truck is hard enough and the sound is very realistic, too. You'll have hours of fun with this, especially in multi-player mode.

8. NBA 2K7: The best overall sports title for any next-gen console. Madden on Wii is more fun to play but on PS3 and X-360 (especially PS3), you might mistake playing this for watching a real game. Controls are excellent and post play is more realistic than ever. Warning: don't start an 82-game season. You'll find that you'll be dying to finish.

9. Mario Kart: No better DS game to be had. Just pure fun and easy to play. Hey, it's Mario!

10. Gears Of War: Beautiful action game that has sold more than two million copies on X-360. It's violent and rated Mature. You play as a wrongfully jailed hero who is busted out of prison in the future and fight an evil group of aliens called the Locust. Trust me. Get this.


One of my favorite videogames of all time is Metal Gear Solid, and I was very excited to try Metal Gear Solid: Portable OPS on PSP.

This picks up where Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (a game I've never played) ended. So I was a little lost starting out, but once you get going, you'll quickly fall into the James Bond-like storyline and several mini-games like Death Match and Capture Mission.

For me, though, the storyline is the thing. The lead character, Solid Snake, finds himself on a top-secret mission in South America in 1970. He's captured by a group of his former friends and rescued by a Green Beret, who tries to help Solid Snake stop a rogue Russian mission.

The game is beautifully drawn, perhaps the best drawn game ever on PSP and I loved the controls, like being able to flatten your back against a wall to peek around a corner. This is a must-have title for PSP this Christmas.

Superman Returns: Boy, it sure is cool to fly and this new game from Electronic Arts looks simply beautiful on Xbox 360. Superman has simple missions: save his city, save the world. He stops meteors and puts out fires and fights familiar enemies like Bizarro and Metallo using his heat vision, freeze breath and super speed and strength.

Controls for me were a bit difficult to learn. I'm not one for reading manuals, admittedly, but it took forever how to figure out which controller buttons to use to hover up and down, forward and back. Once you master it and the simple changes for super speed and Supe's different powers, playing this Teen-rated game is fun.

I didn't get through the whole thing, but I only saw Clark Kent and Lois Lane in cut scenes, which was strange and even though the 80-square mile Metropolis is about as huge a world as I've ever seen in a videogame, you cannot fly underwater or really interact with all objects. So instead of crushing through a building wall, you just bounce off of it.

The missions, however simple, inject a feeling of desparation. Meteors or bad guys are destroying the city. Since only bright green rocks can hurt you, this game mostly ends when the city takes on too much damage. Graphically, this title looked wonderful on the 32-inch LCD HDTV I tried it on and the soundtrack was movie quality. This one had me going for days. If I didn't have 2,007 more games to check out, I'd be playing this one for a long time (Grade: B-plus).

Brothers In Arms: D Day: Ubisoft delivers yet another war game for the PSP, placing games on the night before D Day when the 101st Airborne parachuted behind enemy lines in Normandy.

You play as Matt Baker and Joe Hartsock, trying to successfully lead the invasion. What makes this one somewhat unique is that you play or fight in actual battle zones. Via Wi-Fi, you can team up with other PSP users or face them. You've seen a lot of these battle games by now, and even though this one looks good and has a good storyline, there are several killer options in this genre that would make this a tough must-get. It is a nice change-of-pace for fans of this genre (Grade: B-minus).

Castlevania, Portrait of Ruin: Its been 20 years since this vampire-hunting game debuted. This Nintendo DS version is rated T for teen due to some serious blood and gore, suggestive themes and violence.

You can take control of two heroes, vampire killer Jonathan, or his girlfriend, Charlotte, who has a special magical ability (to reveal which might ruin the plot). The graphics are somewhat cartoonish but make no mistake this is a "serious" game with a dark plot line. You basically destroy all vampires in your path, or try to, as you try to keep the dark forces from re-emerging.

I enjoyed playing, and the two-player control adds a new dimension to an old favorite, but I wouldn't let my 7-year-old within 20 feet of this (Grade: B-minus).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

College Hoops 2K7 Feels Like Campus

It's college basketball season and the one college basketball game I've tried, thankfully, is excellent.

2K Sports' College Hoops 2K7 looks good on X-360 (though I'm curious to see how good the PS3 version will be) and plays better.

The game is totally college. You can create your own chants or just allow your favorite college fight songs to play. The crowds really come to life during gameplay and the gyms look just like the real thing, down to the fans crowding the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

A few coaches, like North Carolina's Roy Williams, are digitized into the game, otherwise, you'll get the same brown-haired guy who claps a lot and says the same things over and over in cut scenes of the pregame locker room.

Team unity is important and every player's performance can help your team play better.

I love a new mode in timeouts that quickly allows you to change defenses, double-team players or set priorities. In legacy mode, you can recruit new players, check out the postseason brackets and even see a new highlight show. And via Xbox live, gamers can mirror the real life tournament matchups and play for a chance to attend the 2007 Final Four. All in all, a very, very solid title. This feels like campus (Grade: B-plus).

SOCOM: US Navy Seals Combined Assault:
The game was built in association with the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command Unit, so you know when you're asked to swim 500 yards, run 1.5 miles, do 42 push-ups, 50 sit-ups and six pull-ups in an hour, well, it's the real McCoy.

I was disappointed graphically in the PS2 and PSP versions, but that may be due to playing so many games in hi-def lately on PS3 and X-360. The storyline and gameplay, however, were fantastic. Your mission is to protect the country from enemy forces in rural and urban environments. You can play online with four players, which was kind of cool. I liked playing alone in my living room and turning the stereo way up. You'll see and feel war all around you.

Better still you can choose how you engage an enemy and enemies behave more like real people and not robodrones who do the same thing every time. Very impressive, and can't wait to see this on PS3 (Grade: B-plus).

SingStar Rocks: This is one of the best party games I've tried in awhile. On PS2, you get two high quality microphones to sing into and you can also use your EyeToy to put yourself onto the video screen.

The game includes song and videos from current artists and you sing along in solo, freestyle and even battle modes with friends. I wish there were more music to choose from, but you'll find more than a few songs to have fun with. The cool thing is to put yourself in the video where Janet or Britney or Mariah would be. Better yet, Gloria Gaynor's favorite "I Will Survive" is in the game. About the only thing missing is Simon Cowell to tell you how bad you sound. Pure fun (Grade: A-minus).

NBA 07: Simply beautiful on Sony's PS3 machine, this NBA sim allows players to download five game scenarios weekly involving real NBA teams from real NBA games and attempt to replay those moments. Think of it as an interactive SportsCenter.

All the NBA teams and players are here. This game isn't as good as 2K Sports' NBA offering, but it looks so good you can get caught up just watching. Control of players is good and the feature to download real-life situations is cool, plus you can play many from the 2005-06 NBA season. Ultimately, though, sports games come down to how well the action is. This one, however beautiful, has good control and TV-style presentation, but if you only have the cash for one hoop title, your money should go to 2K (Grade: B).

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07: The PlayStation 3 version is slightly better looking than the X-360 version we tried earlier this fall. I miss the rumble control in the PS3 controller, something that helped make this game seem more real, having the controller vibrate during tough shots. Sony needs to bring that back.

What I do like about this game is the new training facility, which allows you to really hone your skills and since you start out as a guy who can't hit it far enough to really compete without a great short game, you'll need this area.

There are six new courses, including British Open stalwart St. Andrews, and 15 licensed golfers, including Annika Sorenstam and John Daly. Swinging with the familiar PS controller is easier than on X-360, though the control is sensitive. You'll hit a few in the weeds before you figure it out. Tapping the L1 button for more power while trying to keep the ball straight is difficult, which is a good thing. A golf sim, by nature, should not be easy.

You can choose one of several difficulty settings but a new feature, reactive difficulty, will toughen the conditions if you're regularly going too low. You can also look for some ESPN intergration into the game with tickers and news and radio updates.

All those features are nice, but the super-deep create-a-golfer is almost a game unto itself. You pick out how much overbite you want your guy to have, whether or not he has a scar. My only quibble? Black folks look awful shiny.

EA Sports hasn't left anything out of an excellent game. There are mini-games and the golf season now features the playoff, just like the real thing. It's addictive to try to get yourself onto the money list alongside familiar big names, and the major championship venues, like Pinehurst No. 2, are so accurate its scary.

This is a must-have on PS3, solid in every way (Grade: A).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is Nintendo's new controller a house hazard?

By now, you have probably read about reports of the Nintendo Wii controller doing damage to plasma screens worldwide.

Apparently, some avid gamers are swinging the "Wii-mote" so hard and so fast -- after finding out that hand speed is mirrored with on-screen results -- that the little white controller sometimes slips out of their hands and becomes an in-home scud missile that can leave your 52-inch LCD with a crack in it before you finish your 18 months of no-interest payments.

There's even a website devoted to damage caused by the Wii remote.

The image you see above was posted on that website, though, like the "Today" Show's Matt Lauer, I'm not so sure this is a real picture.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said damage done by flying controllers -- including damage to TV sets -- is likely be due to overuse of the straps.

"Some people are getting a lot more excited than we'd expected," Iwata said. "We need to better communicate to people how to deal with Wii as a new form of entertainment."

I did catch this YouTube video that shows what can happen when you get sweaty palms and make hard motions at the same time.

What I've noticed, watching people play Wii in stores and in homes is that few people actually use the strap attached to the remote, which is supposed to be wrapped around the wrist. And it is possible to swing the remote so hard that the strap snaps and the thing slips out of your hand.

Nintendo has a true revolution on its hands with this motion-controlled remote and needs to develop a tougher wrist strap as well as encourage players to not swing so hard. Perhaps a re-done Wii Sports would have different physics built in that don't respond quite so well to speed of movement.

Some stores are selling "Wii Gloves," colorful skins that fit over the remote and make it easier to grasp. My advice? Hold the remote tight and keep your hands dry -- and don't swing the darn thing so hard.


Mercury Meltdown: Ever wanted to guide a liquid mercury blob around obstacles and through traps? Of course you didn't, but in this new PlayStation2 title from Reverb Communications, you will find yourself enjoying it.

Or at least I did. Your blob can change forms and there are plenty of mini-games to unlock. And this a lot more fun than it sounds (Rating: B)

Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz: This is just as much fun as Nintendo's Wii Sports game. There are 50 party games here and you use the Wii remote like a bat and a steering wheel to manuveur your way. Playable with up to four players, the thing here is the fun of playing.

Graphically, this game is superior to its predecessors on GameBoy. The controller allows better motion than the old analog sticks. You roll your glass-encased monkey around 3D worlds. The early worlds are easy to conquer, then things get progressively harder. But still fun. Instead of using a thumb to maintain your center, you now use your wrist with the motion-based controller. That takes some getting used to, but you'll gain overall more freedom of movement and the game just plays better (Grade: B).

Yoshi's Island: Baby Mario, Baby DK, Baby Wario and Baby Peach come to play in this game, and each one gives Yoshi access to unique powers. Baby Mario gives him speed and Peach lets him fly like Superboy.

You'll need all these abilities because evil Kamek has captured Baby Luigi and you must find him. It's classic Mario game play on the DS, which does a better-than-expected job with the graphics. Of course, there are all your favorite power-ups: flowers, stars and red onions. Of course, there is all the Mario fun you've come to expect. Some may be tired of Mario games, but I think I'll be a fan forever (Grade: B).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Nintendo's Brain Boost is just plain fun

Some quick reviews:

Brain Boost (Nintendo DS): Majesco’s new DS game can actually help you improve your memory, which your favorite 40-year-old game review definitely needs and also helps with concentration. Now who said videogames are just mind candy?

Brain Boost Beta Wave stimulates the right part of the brain (concentration, busy thinking). It has simple-to-play games like shape recognition, addition, moving dots and reminder sequences. It’s education but fun for young and old kids. Each game has four levels with 20 problems each. Once you master it, though, replay value won’t be high.

Brain Boost Gamma Wave deals more with perception and problem solving and includes games for remembering circumstances, faces and colors (Grade: C-plus for both titles, Nintendo DS).

Family Feud: One of my favorite game shows of all-time is fun on your PlayStation 2, but not quite as much on DS. You can play against opponents or the computer and create customizable characters that look sort of like your family members (and definitely have the right name). There are 1,000 questions and tons of fun, but it’s a lot more fun to play against friends on PS2 on your television set (Grade: B-plus).

That’s So Raven, Psychic On The Scene: Raven Simon, former Cosby kid, has one of the most popular kids shows on TV, so this Nintendo DS video game, aimed at young girls, should have a built-in audience. It’s pretty simple, following the Mario-theme: you try to stop a bad guy from shutting down Raven’s theatre by picking up clues and designing clothes. There’s more than 40 hairstyles, outfits and disguises to wear. It’s simple to play and kind of fun, too (Grade: B-minus).

Kim Possible, What’s The Switch: Based on the Disney Channel cartoon hit, the orange-haired crime fighter is now in her fifth videogame. In this one, Kim has to team up with her enemy (and black-haired lookalike), Shengo, after two popular characters have their minds switched. You really need to know the show to follow the storyline. I got a bit lost, but the 11 missions are playable as one of three characters and you can acquire some gadgets to help you along the way. If you know the show, you’ll like the game and with over one million games sold in the franchise, there’s an audience waiting (Grade: B-minus, for PS2).

Ridge Racer 7: It’s been awhile since I’ve played Ridge Racer, but on PlayStation 3, it seemed like an old friend, except with much better graphics. During one jump on my first run, it looked like I was going to spill into the ocean. The game won’t let you do that, but it looked so real, I lost my breath for a moment.

This is a pure race game with 40 cars on 22 tracks. There are hundreds of thousands, literally, of customizable options. Ultimately, though, it’s about how well you handle your car. This game is heavy on drifting and you pretty much will have to let your car spin and smash into walls to win. It’s best to drive into curves, let off the gas, lose control and then use your controller to regain it.

The online integration is good and I experienced no lag times on Sony’s online network. You can race with up to 14 players online. But I liked the new career mode, where you can kind of become the Jeff Gordon of your virtual world (Grade: B).

Gundam Crossfire: War games look so amazing on PS3 and sound so real that if you walk in the room and don’t realize someone’s playing, you will have a moment of pause. Seriously.

Gundam is another strong launch title for PS3 from Namco. The storyline takes you nine months past the time earth has been invaded by Zeon forces and now earth’s armies are trying a massive counterattack. But do you choose to join the earthlings or aliens?

What makes the game so good is how real the environments look. You can literally lose yourself in real-looking worlds and be awake – the battle circumstances and scenes change rapidly. You can have your MS squad attack, halt, dash and (the cool one) scatter.

You want realism? Each body part of a mobile suit has its unique durability, so if you destroy a hand it has different results for that character than a leg. Awesome (Grade: A-minus)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nutrisystem + Nintendo = weight loss

At the beginning of the year, my New Year's resolution was to get back in shape and drop some L.B.s.

I weighed more than 200 pounds for the first time in my life. Too little exercise, too much Chik-Fil-A and too much sofa. So I went to the YMCA, where I've been a member for 18 years, and got a weight lifting plan and cardio evaluation from my buddy Denny at the Siskey Branch. I started working out three days a week with 30 minutes of cardio each day. I also worked with my good friend, Dale Similton from Charlotte Latin, running on Latin's track.

But by summer, I was still pretty much the same size. I was firmer and stronger, but wasn't losing any weight.

The last straw came when I was shopping at Harris Teeter and a reporter from WSOC interviewed me. When I saw the broadcast, they showed me returning my grocery cart to the cart rack.

Boy, I looked big.

I was like, "Who's that dude?"

I knew I needed to change my diet. Turns out my mom, who was eating all the time, was dropping weight like ice in the sun. She told me about Nutrisystem, a program that provides you with prepared entrees that you add side items to. There's no mixing or counting calories. The food is shelf-stable (think astronaut food) and most of it tastes pretty good.

My mom dropped 33 pounds in three months and after my first four weeks, I shed 17. My clothes didn't fit anymore and folks were commenting about my weight loss. Pretty good for little effort, because I've been so busy with sports playoffs and all the new videogame consoles, I just haven't been able to work out at all.

On Nutrisystem, I get to eat some really good hamburgers, hot dogs, a tiny pizza and even Beef Stroganoff. The portions are Lean Cuisine sized, but you're allowed to add, for example, two vegetable servings, bread and salad with dinner -- plus you get a dessert serving from Nutrisystem as well. There's Cracker Jack-like popcorn, biscotti, Hershey's Kiss-sized chocolates and a variety of dessert bars, slightly smaller than a Snicker's.

Best of all, for me, it got me away from my fast food trips. I would go because fast food was, well, fast. Now, I just go downstairs, pull a NS meal out of the box, heat and go. It's quick, convenient and pretty healthy. I'm also learning about portion control. I have been eating WAY too much food.

Lately, I've been getting a pretty good workout to go with my diet from the most surprising of places, my Nintendo Wii game console.

Using the Wii Sports' games, you can box and play baseball and play tennis. With Nintendo's new motion sensor controller, you make actual motions that you'd make playing the game outdoors or in a bowling alley. And playing my 6-year-old son, Trey, in boxing or tennis, we made a rule where you have to bounce up and down the whole time. Combine that with the punching (with both hands holding the 2-piece controller) and swinging motions and pretty soon, your T-shirt is sopping wet.

It's a weird combination, Nintendo and Nutrisystem, but I like them both.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3

Tonight at midnight, Sony's PlayStation 3 officially goes on sale. Only 400,000 units are expected to be available at launch in North America, so it's going to be tough to find one.

But the final console battle of this decade begins now, with Nintendo's new Wii joining the fight when it hits stores Sunday.

The big question, of course, is which unit is better?

Let's eliminate Wii from this discussion for now.

It's a unit that is aimed at the younger gamer or the novice gamer and it does a lot of things really, really well. I think if you have the means, the Wii is an excellent addition, at $250, to your video game playing habits. The motion-controlled joystick is one of the best developments ever in the industry. If 360 or PS3 had it, this story would be over.

But if you have to have one system, for most people the choice will come down to 360 vs. PS3.

I have had the 360 for a year and enjoy it thoroughly. Xbox Live is the best onling gaming community ever. You can download music videos and game updates and soon, full-rez HDTV movies.


I've had the PS3 for a week and enjoy it thoroughly, too. Picking between them is hard. But a few points:

-- The PS3's graphics are better in the game "challenges" I've put the machines through.

In some games, it's very noticeable. In NBA 2K7, the 360 version, while sharp, looks cartoonish. On PS3, it looks more like TV than any basketball game I've ever seen.

Tiger Woods looks similar on both units, though the PS3 is marginally sharper and more realistic. It's a subtle change I appreciated.

Overall, I've seen the consoles be about even on a few games and PS3 better (or really better) in others.

What I have not seen so far -- and it's awful early in the testing because I don't have a bevy of games yet -- is a 360 version of a game be graphically superior to the PS3 version.

-- The PS3 costs more.

At $499 with a 20-gig hard drive or $599 with a 60-gig, the PS3 dwarfs the top end Xbox 360, which goes for $399 with a hard drive. A 360 without the drive is $299.

That said, the PS3 comes with a Blu-Ray DVD player that will deliver stunning picture and sound via an HDMI cable to your HDTV. Microsoft has released a $199 addition to 360 to provide an HD-DVD player, which we haven't tested, but that would take your Xbox 360 to the same $600 price point as PS3. But if you don't have an HDTV, you could take that same $200 and apply it towards a Wii, which doesn't do HDTV either.

-- Ultimately, PS3 may have more games.

Given Sony's long history of dominance in this market, my feeling is, long term, PS3 will have more games. Microsoft has a couple crucial games you can't get on PS3, like Halo, but you can also play your entire library of PS2 games on the new PlayStation, though there are reports of a handful of PS2 games not working with PS3.


It's a close race, like the last presidential election, but I've got to go with the PlayStation 3. I've been a big Xbox fan since the first one came out. It was the best of the last-gen consoles. Xbox 360 is a great system, but if price is out of the equation, the PS3 is better and does more things.

The PS3's motion-sensor controller will add an element to game-playing the 360 doesn't have, though the PS3 remote no longer includes rumble features. The Blu Ray would allow someone to buy a $600 videogame unit and also get a DVD player that goes anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400.

Most HDTVs have one or two HDMI connections, which allow you to get video and sound from one plug. It's also all digital and displays the best picture. Some cable boxes and most satellite TV boxes have an HDMI plug.

Given HDTVs usually only have one or two HDMI connections -- except with top-end models -- it's a bonus to get two things in one connection. In this example, you'd get your HD-DVD and your gaming from the PS3 in one HDMI connection, and stick your other HDMI connection into your cable or satellite box.

One note, though, I wouldn' t play a videogame on a plasma or rear-projection HDTV because those may suffer burn-in, or the football field you play Madden on may permanently appear on your TV screen. That might interfere with your Eva Longoria dates on Sunday nights while you watch "Desparate Housewives."

As I said, you can also add the HD-DVD option onto the 360.

I've not tested it yet and can't say how well it does. But, right now, the PS3 is outputting the best graphics and DVD videos I've ever seen and it has a decent and developing on-line community.

If you don't have an HDTV and don't plan to get one, though, I'd lean towards 360 because of price. On standard TVs, you won't notice the subtle graphical differences between the machines.

That's why the race is so close.

But given that the future is HDTV, I've got to lean towards the PS3. I'll be interested to see, however, how the market reacts to a $600 videogame console. Xbox 360, with its wealth of games and current HD-DVD support, could benefit from lack of PS3 consoles at launch. Some stores will give frustrated customers who were on Ps3 waiting lists and won't get the unit this weekend a free 360 game if they buy a 360 console instead.

The war is on. It's going to be fun.

Happy gaming.

Monday, November 13, 2006

First drives w/Wii and PS3

On Friday, the UPS and Federal Express trucks got to the house at the same time -- with great news: one shiny new black PlayStation3 and one Nintendo Wii, which is much, much smaller than the PS3 but comes equipped with a new revolution that should -- SHOULD -- turn the videogame world on its ear.

We'll explore both game systems more in-depth later this week, but when Wii debuts Sunday and PS3 Friday in North America, they will be in short supply. Some stores are not even taking pre-orders, which could be good news for Microsoft, whose excellent Xbox 360 is heavily stocked in area stores.

First off, let's look at Wii.


Nintendo's new unit is not HD-capable, which in this digital age is a fairly big drawback, but Nintendo is not exactly going after the geek-crowd with this machine. It wants to capture the family's imagination, promoting simple games that are easy to play. I think it's hit the mark.

Out of the tiny white box it comes in, Wii is split into two smaller blue boxes. This isn't the old days of grab your console, your red, white and yellow cables and go. Wii comes with what looks like a small TV antenna that you attach to the top of (or just below) your TV set. It will serve a very important purpose.

There's a stand included and a controller that is in two pieces.

With Wii, you actually hold both parts of the controller, at times, in either hand separately. This is new, and it's kind of liberating.

The right controller is basically a motion-sensor that is read by that antenna you stuck on top of your flat screen and attached to your console, which sits on its side in a cool gray stand.

Even when you're registering your Wii online via its built in WiFi support, you get to use that motion control controller. You move your hand and the pointer on the screen moves with you.

It doesn't take too long to figure that this might be fun.

Graphically, the Wii cannot stand up to its HD cousins from Microsoft and Sony, but it's better than any Nintendo offering to date. When you play Wii on an HDTV set, it will impress you at times. But the thing that will make you want to add a Wii to the collection is not the graphical display. It's the controller.

The system comes with a Wii Sports sampler game. It's really good. When you box, you really stand up and move your arms and bob and weave. When you golf, I'd suggest you stand sideways, like the real thing, and make a real swing. This is truly innovative and might help some teens and kids who get accused of not getting enough exercise because they spend too much time sitting in front of a TV with a console game remote in their hands.

Honestly, I got a good sweat in the boxing game and felt as though I was working on my golf swing in golf.

The tennis game can detect 100 different kinds of shots and really responds to your moves. I hit a topspin forehand and saw a topspin forehand. I tried a slice backhand and it worked, too. The controller has a rumble feature and a speaker and is just super easy to use.

I would imagine that the competition will be introducing similar features (Sony actually already has; more on that later) in the near future. I cannot wait to see what third party companies do with the motion-sensitive controller, and there are 62 Wii games scheduled before the end of the year.

Bottom line? PS3 and Xbox 360 looked better and I had more games to try with them this weekend, but for pure fun, Wii was king. If I were buying I'd have to have at least two next-gen systems. The 360 and Ps3 are close in a lot of ways. Wii's just different.

PlayStation 3: First Look

Open the box, and you'll find a serious piece of Audio/Visual equipment. The PS3 is not "toy-looking" like the white 360 and white Wii. PS3 looks like it belongs on your entertainment rack, whether sitting on its side or on its feet.

It's an impressive machine. It's also a very expensive one.

You can buy it for $499 with a 20-gig hard drive or $599 with a 60-gig hard drive, and if you have the money and have a HD television set with an HDMI connection, this is the unit you'll probably want to have. Out of the box, the PS3 will play all PlayStation and PS2 games so if you have a favorite in your library, you can keep it on the shelf. X360 can play some old Xbox games, but not all.

Microsoft has released a $199 HD-DVD adapter for the 360, which we hope to test, but right out of the box, for the well-heeled, you get Blu-Ray DVD support with your PS3 and historically, gamers have not liked adding onto their hardware.

I've never seen any HD-DVD or Blu-Ray discs before, but via PS3, I've never seen HDTV look as good. I watched "Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky-Bobby" and was just awed at how good and how clear and how colorful the picture was.

It was a jump over the DirecTV and Time Warner cable HD I'm used to seeing and was even a slight step-up from over-the-air HD, where I was watching a Giants-Bears game on NBC.

Given that Blu-Ray players are about $999 and some HD-DVDs go for $499, buying a next-gen console game with this kind of next gen HD DVD support could be seen as a bargain. I'd think Sony is taking a loss on all PS3s it sells and is probably hoping to make up the margin with spectacular sales numbers.

If you don't have an HD set and don't plan to buy one for awhile, I'm not sure if the PS3 is enough of a jump past the 360, or if it's a jump at all. I don't have any like games to compare yet, but I can report that NBA 07: The Life is much sharper on PS3 than NBA Live 2K7 on 360, which looked blurry in the corners and grainy on the 32-inch JVC LCD HDTV I ran the game on. If that continues to be the case, we'll have a clear winner. Again, keep checking back during the week as we go into the machines and games in more depth and detail.

But, The Life on PS3 was letter perfect sharp as was the Halo-like Resistance Of Man game I tried. That one shocked me with its crystal clear graphics and depiction of war in the 1950s.

I think Sony has made a misstep with its ultra light weight controller, though.

Unlike Microsoft and Nintendo, who require the wireless remote to use batteries, Sony's unit charges through a front-loading USB port on the PS3, which is nice. Saves me a couple of midnight runs to Wal-Mart. But Sony's new controler doesn't have rumble support, a basic feature that adds to the game experience and something I think most gamers expect.

Sony new controller, like Wii, has a motion-sensitive feature (that Microsoft needs to add). The games I tried with the new controller, I didn't notice any motion activities, however, unlike the Wii controller and games, which were innovative.

Sony's controller uses a Bluetooth connection for wireless gameplay and the PS3 will support up to seven wireless connections at once. Sony also has a new online network, which I signed up for. It's not the equivalent of Microsoft's excellent Xbox Live, which has four million users, but it shows promise.

Bottom line? Christmas is coming and parents want to know which game to get. All three next-gen consoles have something to offer: Wii has fun and price and ease of use; 360 has graphics, second generation games coming, and a better price point than PS3. PS3 offers about everything you could want but with a much steeper cost.

Let me know what you guys are thinking.

I'm thinking it'll be hard to go wrong with any of these.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tiger Woods 07 Best Ever

Xbox 360 screen cap
PS2 Screen Cap

OK, full disclosure, I'm a huge golf nut. But EA Sports new Tiger Woods PGA Tour videogame is the most amazing console golf game ever made on PS2, Xbox but especially XBox 360, where your virtual Tiger, if played on an HDTV, is about as close the genuine article as you'll ever get.

This year's Tiger game gets 21 new courses, including Hilton Head's nasty Kiawah Island track, and 50 golfers, like John Daly, Vijay Singh and Tiger's real life close friend, Annika Sorenstam. There's a new Team Tour mode where you can create a team and establish college-style rivalries.

The whole game just looks better this year. Graphics are improved on the old generation game and the next gen 360 has about the biggest wow factor I've seen in anything except a war game or basketball game. The character creation tool now has logos and sponsors to pick from, plus better ways to make a more realistic you. There's ESPN intergration to give you even more of the TV feel this game is famous for.

David Feherty and Gary McCord are back to call the action, too, which adds to the fun. But at the end of the day, a game has to be fun to play, no matter how many bells and whistles it has. This is awful fun to play. It looks good and control is good. EA has altered the swing control a little bit allowing games to use the Shape Stick or the left analog stick. This one will be in my "favorites" stack for a long time (Grade: A for all systems).


Instant Music Converter: If you have a stack of old LPs or cassettes laying around your house, you may appreciate this little device from ADS Tech that allows you to transfer your music onto your computer to move over to your iPod or MP3 player.

It's really easy. You just plug the Instant Music into a USB port on your computer and connect to your audio equipment and move files. This might have a limited audience, but it's a useful tool for those old enough to remember the 8-track (Grade: B).

Power Stone Collection: Capcom's PSP title includes enhanced versions of two games I'd never played before, Power Stone and Power Stone 2, which were originally released for Sega's defunct Dreamcast unit.

I wasn't able to play in the 2-person or 4-person mode, but playing the computer, this is just an old-school fighting game where you essentially are trying to be the last man standing. Controls are quite simple as you fight to attain power stones which help you win your fights. Get three and you become a super warrior for a time. There are also weapons to pick up and the "worlds' you play in are totally interactive.

A nice change-of-pace title (Grade: B-minus)

Nintendogs. Limited Edition: So what if this a virtual Seinfeld, a video game about nothing. It's actually rather addicting to raise your digi-pet on your DS. You train and care for your dog using your video touchscreen and I can tell you 2-year-old, already a fairly accomplished gamer, just loves this. When Daddy needs 20 minutes to veg, this is the perfect play toy.

You can even use your voice to tell your dog to "sit," and with some training, he'll obey. You can play in English, Spanish or French. That's how I got my wife to let my 6-year-old play. I told him it was helping with his foreign language, true story (Grade: B).

Bose Companion Multimedia Speaker System: If you have a laptop like I do, chances are its tiny speakers can't do much for your music or gameplay. That's where this new Bose unit comes in. Using a simple USB plug and play interface, it will "talk" to your Windows-based computer and give you some deep bass and clear highs.

The unit comes with two speakers and a huge subwoofer, which you sit on the floor. The system produces 5.1 channel-type effects and sounds terrific. It's not quite as good as a five-speaker setup, but for your computer room, bedroom or office, these will do the job quite well. And if you like your bass, trust me, you won' t be disappointed in these. I just wish I could connect it directly to my console video games. I tried, and it wouldn't work (Grade: B-plus).

Steelpad 5L: It's a professional gaming mouse pad and it's huge. I mean like 2 by 2 huge. But it allows you to move your mouse all over your computer screen without moving your hand back down to the bottom or opposite side of your pad, key in quick trigger videogame action. A combination of hard and soft materials makes for a smooth rolling experience (did I just write "Smooth Rolling Experience?").

It's a nice little add on for anyone who does heavy duty computer gaming.

Steel Security: Finally, a dedicated online security suite dedicated to gamers. It comes with anti-virus, firewall, online backup and a spam filter. Best of all, it automatically switches into game mode when you launch a supported online game, using minimal resources and maximizing security. Often, computer gamers have to turn off security features to get games to launch or run properly.

In my tests, this software solved the problem. I'm not a big computer gamer, but if I was, I'd run this program on my computer full-time (Grade: B).

Mortal Kombat Armageddon: The PS2 version looked muddy and the Xbox looked better but I longed to play this one on an next-gen system. You know what MK is about and in this one, you get 50 fighters from the entire MK universe, including some new ones. The new Kreate-A-Fighter and Kreate-A-Fatality modes were cool, but what makes MK is the fast-button-mashing combo fighting that you remember.

Online gaming has been improved. The sluggish load and sluggish gameplay times have been improved, especially on Xbox. Old fans will love new. New ones will embrace it (Grade: B-plus).

God Hand: You're a nomad who loses an arm while trying to help a woman in distress. Only when you come to, that arm has grown back and you suddenly given supernatural abilities in this dark title from Capcom. After you get your powers, you'll battle demons and thugs in a tiny town who all of a sudden are popping up with super strength.

Not to give away too much of a pretty solid storyline, your hero has kind of been reincarnated. Years ago a man with divine powers defeated the Demon King Angra.

The game occurs on what could be considered a Judgement Day of sorts, but the twist is this game doesn't take itself seriously. There are bad jokes and canned laughter tracks like old 70s sitcoms. The PS2 struggles to render all the graphics well and I did notice some slowdowns, but this was a nice change of pace title that's for men 17-24 (Grade: B-plus).

Grand Theft Auto, Vice City Stories: What can you say? You know it's misogynistic, violent, stereotypical and all those other things, but GTA is always well conceived, well-drawn and plays well. So it is for this PSP version which happens in Vice City in 1984. You play as Vic, a displaced soilder who now is put on some very violent streets and must choose a life of good or bad. Not for anyone under 16. (Grade: A).

Need For Speed, Carbon: On Xbox 360, the cars look more realistic, the environments are spot on, and the feeling of going fast is enhanced. You can customize your car and build your crew, but ultiimately this is about driving in a very dangerous Carbon Canyon. You will find yourself jumping and leaning and twisting as you play. It's that realistic. It's that good (Grade: B-plus).

Fifa 07: One word about how this looks -- wow. Now on Xbox 360, the players look shaper, bigger and more realistic thanks to a new game engine that's moved away from traditional player animations and now uses raw physics and data. What it all means is that your players move like the real thing. The computer opponents are tougher and now the control reacts to the slightest touch -- something that can be good and bad.

Every team, every stat and every detail is in here plus an absolutely awesome online interface. You can play four-on-four online, which I tried. You'll be doing that forever, but remember to start your league play. Bottom line? The best soccer game on the market just got about 40 percent better (Grade: A).

Friday, October 20, 2006

Madden on Nintendo Wii: Groundbreaking?

The upcoming Madden football for Nintendo's Wii system looks like it could be groundbreaking.

Players will have more control over players than ever thanks to Nintendo's new two-piece control unit. You can use a jumping motion with your hands to jump, or a stiff-arm motion to stiff arm. It's the first big leap in videogame innovation in some time, or appears to be. I can't wait to test it.

For now, check out the
demo video on You Tube



-- Disney has a new series of DVDs, "Disney DVD Game World" that are essentially video games that play on any standard DVD player. These family friendly games combine elements of classic board games and immesive 3D video games and are each tied to Disney characters and worlds.

The first two titles in the series will be "Disney Princess Edition" and "Disney Dogs Edition." In "Princess," gamers compete to be crowned as the new Disney Princess. In "Dogs," you go after a blue ribbon challenge.

Both games have all new animation and allow players to interact with Disney characters in games, activities and trivia questions.

DISH Network offers two-way high-speed internet
EchoStar, parent company of DISH Network, has introduced a new high-speed internet service delivered via satellite. DISH customers can bundle the high-speed internet service with their current DISH subscriptions.

The new high-speed internet is provided by WildBlue and is a two-way satellite service. EchoStar promises packages with up to 30 times faster speed than dial up.

It won't rival cable internet for speed, or the highest tiers of DSL, but the new venture offers choice, especially for those who haven't had it before.

"Our customers living in rural communities have endured the slower speeds of dial-up simply because they haven't had choices when it comes to high-speed Internet service providers," said Jim DeFranco, executive vice president at EchoStar. "Now have access to affordable broadband Internet via satellite with speeds comparable to DSL or cable modem - without the need for an additional phone line."

Consumers can sign up for service through authorized DISH Network retailers. Packages start at $49.95 per month and include multiple email addresses, web hosting space, and 24/7 DISH Network technical support. A separate satellite dish is required to receive the high-speed Internet service; however an additional phone line is not necessary.

EA: Big on PlayStation 3

Electronic Arts has more than 30 games in development for the PS3. At launch next month, EA will deliver Madden NFL 07, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 07 and Need for Speed Carbon. EA will release eight to ten games more games by late March, including Fight Night and Def Jam: ICON.

”This is only the beginning," said Paul Lee, president of EA Studios. "In the months and years to come, developers will take greater advantage of the PlayStation 3’s cell processors and blu-ray storage capacity to create games of stunning depth and texture.”

CPCC To Host Innovation Conference

Central Piedmont Community College is hosting the Consortium for Innovation on Friday, October 20. Founded in 1992, the Consortium is an initiative of ten community colleges in the Netherlands which tries to improve vocational education by simulating experiments and benchmarking with other community colleges internationally.

While in Charlotte, the group will visit CPCC on Friday and attend the League for Innovation’s 22nd annual Conference on Information Technology (CIT), which will be held at the Charlotte Convention Center October 22-25. The CIT conference explores model programs, programs and services and allows educators in community colleges across the country the opportunity to share ideas and keep abreast of the latest in information technology.

Former Duke star Redick cover boy for new college hoops game

J.J. Redick is the featured cover athlete for 2K Sports' new College Hoops 2K7. The game will feature a new Chant Creator, an enhanced Coach Mode, and what the company calls an "even more realistic college game atmosphere."

The Chant Creator, allows the gamer to control the excitement of the crowd by constructing custom chants to play during key moments of play. Gamers are given a multitude of options to customize in-game chants, including drum percussions, letters, words, mascots, states/regions, and more.

In addition, over 200 fight songs have been added to further enhance the overall college atmosphere in College Hoops 2K7, as well as more than 50 new default crowd chants and new cheerleader routines, mascot dancing and new gyms. With Chant Creator, countless combinations can be created to give each team’s fans a distinct sound, immersing gamers even deeper into the emotional atmosphere of College Hoops 2K7.

The coach mode allows you to move up and down the sidelines as your favorite coach, call plays and make subs. 2K7 is the only college hoop title to include likenesses of actual college coaches including UNC's Roy Williams and Villanova's Jay Wright.

By leveraging the PS3's SIXAXIS wireless controller, players on Tony Hawk Elite will be able to balance and steer skaters through every rail grind, manual, revert, ollie and combo, as well as control slow motion nail the trick moves as they compete to be a part of Tony Hawk’s elite project 8 team.

Ubisoft has launched the new Rayman Raving Rabbids website. Fans of this new Rayman episode will find themselves immersed in the crazy world of the Raving Rabbids, discover unforeseen situations, play exclusive mini-games and much more.

-- Is videogaming an art? Manifesto Games will host an online panel discussion on the topic next week at at the channel #gamesandart. It begins Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 9 p.m.

Expected to be the first in a series of IRC panel discussions Manifesto Games plans to offer, participants are by invitation, but the discussion and subsequent Q&A session is free and available to anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. While all panelists in this upcoming discussion are in some way involved with games, they represent a range of skills and viewpoints and topics to be discussed will include:

• How is art defined in a technological society?
• Are games art and why or why not?
• Should game designers and developers aspire to art or is entertainment enough?
• If games are art, what should the aspirations of the field be?
• How does the growth of technology effect games as an art form?

-- OPPO Digital, Inc. ( has released a 20-inch LCD TV/DVD combo, which it claims is "perfect for every gamer’s perfect multimedia center." The enhanced-definition (not hi-def) unit is $599.00.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Get Twisted Sister's latest: at Gametap

To celebrate its first birthday, GameTap, an online game and entertainment portal, is streaming Twisted Sister's latest CD, "A Twisted Christmas." It's the final album of the celebrated band's 30-year career. The stream is available five days, through next week, before the highly-anticipated CD debuts at retail outlets.

In addition, subscribers of GameTap will get exclusive access to all-new, original GameTap TV shows featuring Dee Snider and the band.

“With GameTap, we’re connecting with fans in a way you just couldn’t back in the 80s and 90s,” said Dee Snider, lead singer of Twisted Sister. “It’s about building buzz for our CD, sharing our story through the videos and interviews, and talking about the games and music we love.”

Along with more than 600 games and 400 shows that GameTap’s network currently offers on demand, starting now and continuing through Christmas, subscribers and Twisted Sister fans will be able to:

* Get inside the band’s head on October 17th, as Dee Snider and Jay Jay French talk about the band’s new album, their 30th anniversary and their 9000th performance on a brand new episode of Quick Hit
* Laugh it up while Dee Snider takes his turn in the hot seat with Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast on November 16th
* Watch an exclusive performance of Twisted Sister’s new song “Heavy Metal Christmas” on the new show GameTap Tracks on November 30th
* Experience the fun as the heavy metal legends get animated by the twisted minds at Soup2Nuts in a special Christmas episode of GameTap TV’s popular series Computer Lab

The CMP Game Group, organizer of the industry-leading
Game Developers Conference (GDC) and producer of the Webby Award-winning, has created, the first website dedicated to unbiased career guidance in the video game industry.

The site provides comprehensive editorial coverage of career and workplace issues and offer resources to get into the game industry, including school and employment listings, tips, and networking support.

Clubhouse Games: Part of Nintendo's "Touch Generation" series this is perfect mindless fun for your DS. Nintendo says it's the perfect thing to play when you're spending an average of 23 minutes waiting on your doctor, or you're sitting at the DMV (that was me last month) in a long line.

Clubhouse games features hit board game titles like backgammon, checkers and bridge. This is video gaming anyone can get into easily. You can also play people using the wireless DS interface. At my buddy's house, I played chess with his neighbor next door -- while his neighbor was next door (Rating: 3.0/5)

Dance, Dance Revolution Supernova: People say videogaming leads to a sedentary lifestyle, right? Wrong. Konami's new PS2 game comes with a big mat you lay down on the floor and get on your feet and dance with.

On screen, you see vibrant 3D backgrounds, more than 70 songs and 100 minutes of music to get your groove on with. You try to keep your feet on beat by touching pads on the mat. It's kind of like Twister, only more interactive. You can even hook up with your EyeToy camera and go online with your moves. There's a simple tutorial mode to help you get started and a workout mode to help your chubby gamers get his or her groove back.

This is a fun addition to any game library (Rating 4.0/5).

NBA '07, The Life Vol. 2: This is actually three games in one. You practice, play and live. You do press conferences, sign an agent and play games -- albeit without play-by-play announcers. I don't see a lot different from the 2006 version, which wasn't the greatest game ever, but I like the new white halo effects which help you find soft spots in the defense and rebound.

The Life's weakest point is ease, it's too easy to beat. You'll find that out as you start your career with a series of mini-games to develop your skills. During gameplay, the white halo will light up for a guy who has the best shot. He almost always makes it if you get the ball to him. Even the best players in the world, the guys from Greece and Argentina (OK, I'm just kiddin'), miss open shots sometimes.

Something else that I could've done without was the emphasis on performing showtime moves. Do three in a row and your teams' levels are all boosted. You become like an all-star team and start creaming your competition. This one got old quick (Rating: 2.5/5).

Danny Phantom, Urban Jungle: My 6-year-old likes this game about a kid Superhero who fights a ghost and large weeds (seriously) in a Mario-style fun-fest for the DS from THQ.

This is a top-rated kid's show that attracts 33 million viewers to Nickelodeon each month. In the game, yo take control of Danny's Fenton Flier and will have to learn a new "Freeze Power" to defeat the evil enemy, dude named Undergrowth, who is trying to turn Danny's real world into a forest. (Rating 3.0/5)

The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: This game is based on the popular Cartoon Network show of the same name. Of course, it's popular to everyone but me. I've never seen it. Up to four players can play on PS2. You choose one of 15 characters from the show. You can play in "Mission Mode" where you try to reach 45 different goals, sort of Mario-like, or you can just try to beat the cartoon brains out of one of the other characters.

Each character is unique has his or her own set of abilities and I'd imagine in four player mode, for folks who watch the show, this could quite entertaining. Me? I just thought with all of the violence here, however cartoonish, this game should not have gotten an E for everyone rating (Grade: 2.5/5).

Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2: You've played this game before. You're a cartoon character with serious ninja skills and you battle other like-skilled characters, mostly from a side-on view. This is another TV show turned videogame that I've not seen.

The first edition ranked in the top five games for Nintendo's Gamecube every month since it shipped last March, so the sequel has been rushed out to capitalize on the success. The new game has twice as many characters, up to 23, and twice as many environments. You can have four-player battle royales and there are more game choices for single-person play. But even with all the cool training modes and skill development, this still feels like a lot of games I've played before. But it's done quite well (Rating: 3.5/5).

SOCOM: Combined Assault: Sony sent me a demo disc for this upcoming title. It's a sequel to one of the company's best ever game series. There's an all-new four-play cooperative play mode plus improved enemy tactics.

The final version will contain the full online SOCOM 3 online game and the new PS2 title will have 32 player maps and will have crosstalk functionality with the PSP version. This demo got me drooling for more. Looks good.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Near Wardrobe Malfunction, Great Music for Janet Jackson in "20 YO"

It's been 20 years since Janet Jackson's breakthrough CD, "Control," and in that time, she's become one of the most popular female artists of all time, the best in-concert female artist of all time, one of the most consistent female artists of all time and, in some circles, one of the most villified female artists of all time.

Since the infamous accidental wardrobe malfuction at the 2004 Super Bowl, Jackson has become a punching bag for media and cynical fans. There was supposed to be a piece of clothing left over her breast when Justin Timberlake pulled her top off but truth is, the whole move should've been left out. Jackson apologized for the incident, like Timberlake apologized for it, but for some reason, for Janet, apologizing isn't enough.

The incident introduced her to scores of people and media who hadn't heard her music and many media people bought into the fact that this "stunt" was somehow decided to re-engerize a sagging career, reporting it to the masses. Truth is, Jackson had a No. 1 album and No. 1 hit pop song, both called "All 4 U", in 2001 -- plus one of the highest-rated live concert showings in HBO history -- and was readying a summer 2004 release called "Damita Jo."

When she did the duet with Timberlake, Jackson didn't yet have a project to promote and her record company mistakenly rushed out a bad single, "Just A Little While."

Turns out the album, "Damita Jo," was another in a consisently strong line of work from Jackson. It was her "Dirty Mind," but Jackson has always talked about sex and shown off her body. This was nothing new. But to the new members of the media who were now covering her, it probably seemed like overkill, given what she'd just been through -- and they were probably right. Jackson should've toned down her image a bit, at least for awhile.

The album got strong reviews and had platinum sales. It didn't do Janet Jackson numbers, but if you believe what you read, Damita Jo was a flop. It didn't go multi-platinum mainly because radio wouldn't play it and MTV wouldn't play her videos for "I Want You" and "All Nite," two songs that would've been out-of-the-park hits at any other point in Jackson's career.

And now, comes her latest project, "20 Y.O." reflecting the 20 years since "Control." This is the best pop/R&B album to come along this year, breezing past strong efforts from Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, a good record from Beyonce' -- and smashing lackluster efforts from Ciara, Rihanna and Fergie.

This is the album most of the young female pop stars want to make. It debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top 100 album chart this week with sales of just under 300,000. It's chock full of hits. The car-bumping slow-jam duet with rapper Nelly, "Call On Me," is a toe tapper that's already shot to No. 1 on Billboard's R&B charts twice.

The current single, "So Excited," samples Herbie Hancock's classic, "Rock-it," and freshens it with good results. There really isn't a bad song on the album, save for the final track, "Love 2 Love", and throughout Jackson pays homage to her earlier work through samples and memorable cord lines.

I'm not sure if radio is going to be friendly to this project, but there are tons of potential mega-hit singles, mainly the fifth track, "Do It 2 me," a drum-less club-bopper and the kind of track Jackson hasn't done before. It's hard to get out of your head. "This Body" will remind you of "Black Cat" with a heavy bass line and finds Jackson playing the role of magazine centerfold for a man dreaming of her really coming to life.

On the second half, the album mellows out with great results. Just when you think "Daybreak" is the perfect happy song (and the perfect successor to "Escapade"), along comes "Enjoy," with its kids-singing-the-chorus ending and the solid ballad, "Take Care," which is something anyone who's been in a long distance relationship can relate to.

Virgin Records sent me a special DVD packaging of the CD, which includes a 20-page color booklet of Jackson pictures and lyrics. You also get a free online download to a remix of "Call On Me," which will fit nicely on your iPod. The DVD has tons of behind the scenes footage and shows Jackson filming the video for "Call On Me," dancing so hard she very nearly pops out of her top creating the aforementioned Wardrobe Malfuction II.

As soon as it happens, she smiles at the camera people, embarrassed and surprised. I think if people get past the Jackson backlash and listen to the music here, they might be surprised at how good it really is (Ratiing 4.5/5).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pass the time with online Murder Mystery

I like a good mystery so I was happy to try SR Entertainment's new online live-action game, Mystery At Mansfield Manor

It's a live-action murder mystery acted by real people where you choose actions via a click of the mouse. Slow internet connections can be frustrating but the game is almost like watching and playing an episode of a serial TV show like "Vanished" or "Kidnapped" or "Lost."

You play as a detective, Frank Mitchell, who is about to retire. He's sent to investigate the murder of a weathly oil man and when you arrive at the mansion, you take control of Frank's actions. As you play, a clock in the upper left hand corner counts down the time you have to solve the murder.

For $7 you get unlimited access for four days and start by questioning the victim's maid and other suspects. You have to figure out who's lying and find the best clues. There's more than two hours of video and multiple endings.

It's a nice change of pace from slamming your thumbs all over your PS2 remote (Rating: 3/5).

-- id Software’s DOOM is available now for the Xbox 360 via download from Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade. The game is available in most worldwide markets for 800 points and is rated “M” for Mature by the ESRB.

Originally created by id Software, and developed for Xbox Live Arcade by Nerve Software, DOOM delivers all the original nightmarish demons and hellish zombies in enhanced graphics supporting High-Definition displays along with 5.1 Surround Sound. Gamers can also unlock a full array of achievements and access leaderboards featuring match-making capabilities for the ultimate Deathmatch competition.

-- NAMCO has released a new trailer for Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, giving fans a brand new look at the upcoming title featuring Snoopy, Woodstock and the rest of the Peanuts gang.

In the game, Snoopy imagines himself as a virtuoso flying ace on a gallant quest to defend the skies and save Charlie Brown from the evil Red Baron.

-- Mobliss has launched a mobile phone version of the TV hit, Deal Or No Deal. Timed with the fall launch of the hit game show on
NBC, casual gamers and hard-core fans can test their luck against The Banker while on the go. Click here for more info.

-- WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 demo is now available for free download via Xbox Live Marketplace for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft. The demo will let players battle in a RAW arena exhibition match featuring World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) SuperStars Triple H and Kane in either single player or two-player, head-to-head game play mode. The demo comes less than seven weeks before the game's scheduled release on November 14 for the Xbox 360, PS2 and PSP.

-- Consumers can visit for a free assessment of what upgrades a computer might need. It's an interesting software that is often dead on, based on my tests using several different set-ups.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Please no Panthers on Madden 08

I've got some advice for Steve Smith or Jake Delhomme or Julius Peppers or Keyshawn Johnson or any Carolina Panther who might be offered the cover for the 2008 John Madden NFL Football videogame.

To borrow a phrase for a famous shoe company: Just (don't) do it.

There is a Madden curse.

This year's Madden videogame cover boy, Shaun Alexander now has a broken foot. The three players on the cover before him had similar problems: Donovan McNabb missed seven games last year with a sports hernia, Ray Lewis missed the final game of 2004 with a broken wrist and Michael Vick broke his leg in the 2003 pre- season.

The game is phenomenal every year but what happens to the cover boys is not. Perhaps it's time for EA Sports to go with a generic cover. Just so long as it doesn't feature anything about the Panthers, right?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

DirecTV to be sold? Wii On Tour

It looks like Rupert Murdoch may be wanting to sell his 38 percent controlling interest in the DirecTV satellite service. According to one media outlet, Murdoch labeled DirecTV a "turd bird" and may sell to Liberty Media, which is buying larger and larger shares of his News Corp.

Murdoch wants to buy back his News Corp stocks and wants apparently to divest of satellite TV, which he views as having a poor future going against cablecos who are offering the triple play of phone/cable/high speed internet services.

I think satellite can prosper but it's going to have to focus on what it can do: deliver all digital signals at affordable prices. I'm not sure satellite is going to be able to compete any other way.

If I were Time Warner cable, I'd be signing a deal with TiVo like Comcast has done. That would lure thousands of local DirecTV customers frustrated by flagging customer services, poor DVR units and lack of HD channels. One reason many DirecTV customers are loathe to switch, however, is because of cable's rising costs and poor receiving equipment.

As for DirecTV, it's hurt itself in the marketplace by being slow to implement HD channels, though it promises to have the largest HD capacity next year. DirecTV has also gotten away from one of its biggest draws -- and biggest advantages over cable -- its TiVo-based receiver.

DirecTV is now offering an receiver based on News Corp technology that reportedly is not working nearly as well as advertised. A new HD model was recently released. But if NewsCorp sells, DirecTV would be smart to go back to TiVo, which had helped the satcaster scores literally millions of of loyal custumers.

There's been a lot of speculation already that DirecTV may again try to merge with DISH network, but FCC cthhairman Kevin Martin said regulators still would be reluctant to greenlight a mergee sat providers, who tried a similar merger in 2002.

-- Want to catch an early glimpse of Nintendo's new Wii console? The company is launching a 35-city tour starting Sept. 27. At each tour stop, more than 35 Wii units will be hooked up for play.

The tour stops in Winston-Salem Oct. 10 and Myrtle Beach Oct. 11. No Charlotte stop is scheduled.

Gamers can pick up the unique Wii Remote controller and start playing, regardless of their video game experience. Some of the Wii titles scheduled to make the rounds on the tour include Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Wii Sports and WarioWare

-- NAMCO BANDAI Games America announced today that The Fast & The Furious has gone gold for the PS2. Inspired by the film from Universal Pictures, The Fast & The Furious allows fans to race in their own highly customizable cars. Players will have more than 100 cars with over 300 body kits to choose from. The Fast & The Furious will be released Sept 26

-- SEGA of America, SEGA Europe and Deep Fried Entertainment have partnered to create game content for the PSP. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Deep Fried Entertainment is an independent development studio launched in June 2005 by five industry veterans who have been key team members on such titles as Need for Speed: Underground 1 & 2, NFL Gameday, and Baldur's Gate.

"SEGA understands the handheld market like few other publishers," said Deep Fried Entertainment Chief Operating Officer Brenda Bailey. "This understanding of the market, coupled with SEGA's deep respect for creativity and innovation, makes the company an ideal partner for our team."

-- Norcent's LT -2090WPL and LT-2090WBK LCD TVs are aimed at college students with dorm rooms wired for Internet and cable access. To take advantage of the easy accessibility and to conserve space, the LT-2090 can be used as a television or computer monitor. The SRS audio enhancement can be used to clearly play back lectures, MP3 files and more.
Available in black or pearl white, the LT-2090 has a bright, high definition panel that will display crisp clear HD content with the addition of an HDTV tuner. The panel resolution is 1366 X 768 with a 16:9 aspect ratio, built-in NTSC tuner; high contrast ratio of 1000:1; and a brightness level of at least 500 Cd/m. Composite, Component, S-video, and PC inputs add to its versatility and multi-media functionality.
Other features include wall mounting capability (wall mount not included); V-Chip technology; parental control; sleep timer; and three on-screen menu languages. The estimated street price is $469.99.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nintendo's Wii clobbers PlayStation 3 on price

Let the video console wars officially begin.

Nintendo's new Wii console will debut Nov. 19, two days after Sony's PS3, at a price of $249.99. The price includes one wireless Wii Remote controller, one Nunchuk controller and a collection of five different Wii Sports games on one disc, which anyone can play using simple movements.

Every Wii console includes a series of on-screen "channels" that make up the Wii Channel Menu, the starting point for all of the console's functions.

When connected to a TV, the Wii Channel Menu offers a simple interface, letting users pick games to play, get news or weather, view and send photos or even create playable caricatures of themselves to use in actual games.

Wii's new controller allows users to pinpoint targets in games or move through the Wii Channel Menu with precision and ease. For example, in the Wii Sports tennis game, players swing the Wii Remote like a racket to hit the ball, as in real life. They can add topspin or slice the ball just by angling their hands and wrist like they would in a real match.

"Wii reinvents games for the devoted player," says Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. "But more importantly, Wii breaks the wall separating players from non-players by delivering the best game experiences for the most affordable price. We believe the next leap is games for the masses -- young and old, gamer or non, alone, with a friend or with the whole family."

By Dec. 31, Nintendo will have 30 software titles available, including several big names at launch: Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and EXCITE TRUCK.

Nintendo titles will sell for $49.99, about $10 cheaper than Xbox 360. Third party companies, such as EA, will set their own pricing for Nintendo titles.

Other key features? Wii's self-loading media bay can play the entire library of more than 530 Nintendo GameCube titles from day one.

"I believe the Wii will attract new and casual gamers to the world of interactive entertainment," says Larry Probst, Chairman and CEO, Electronic Arts. "It's a fun, easy and economical system that will become a bridge to gaming for mainstream audiences. At EA, we are putting more support behind the Wii than any Nintendo hardware launch since the Super NES."

The key strategy here, of course, is price. Wii is not the technical powerhouse that Xbox 360 and PS3 are, but you'll be able to buy it when it launches. PS3 will be in limited supply, much like 360 was when it launched late last year.

And at $250, Wii will be less than half the cost for the PlayStation 3. The XBox 360, currently, is $399 with a hard drive or $299 without. And you pretty much need the hard drive to really enjoy the unit.

Only 400,000 PS3s are scheduled to be available in the U.S. Nintendo plans to ship four million Wiis worldwide, about double what Sony is projecting for the PS3s. So when you go to Wal-Mart and can't find PS3, guess what will be sitting there waiting? Plus, according to published reports, you'll be able to surf the Internet on your TV with your Wii console, display digital photos and play DVDs.

A New York Times report said that classic Nintendo games will be downloadable to Wii for a cost of $5 to $10 per game and there will be 30 at launch.

I wonder if Microsoft will lower prices for its Xbox to compete. If so, PS3 would really be a heavy gorilla at $500 or more if the competition is all $300 or less. This could get interesting.

I keep wondering, though, if it would be better for Sony to drop two PS3s, much like Microsoft has done. Create one with all the bells and whistles, including the HD DVD player, and charge $575 or whatever for it. Then create a leaner version that doesn't have the more expensive parts and compete with the competition pricewise.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Is PlayStation 3 in trouble?

Throughout the internet, reports are that Sony's going to have some trouble with its new PlayStation 3 unit.

Just what the videogame world needs to hear, right?

Merrill Lynch reported this week that the PS3 may not launch in Japan until the fall and late 2006 or early 2007 here in the U.S., and then in limited supply. The holdup appears to be money.

For Sony to put in an HD-DVD player and the powerful new processor, the costs reportedly would rise to nearly $900 per unit and the machine is expected to go for $500. That's too much money to lose per unit. Spectulation is rampant that the PS3 we see this year (or next) may not be the PS3 we were expecting.

Thursday, Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi announced that a half million PS3s would be available at launch in the US and Japan, but no Euro sales would occur until 2007. Japan will get 100,000 units and the US the remaining 400,000.

Sony reps still say they hope to get as many as 1.4 million units into the U.S. by year's end. That would still be more than double the amount Microsoft sold when it debuted Xbox 360 late last year, with problems -- mainly because there were not enough 360s available for sale.

Meanwhile, one website, GameKlip, has uploaded a funny anime depicting a mock trial over whether Sony has lied to customers.

Should be interesting. I just hope the system is as good as promised.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Geek Fest -- & FREE STUFF -- coming to CPCC next week

CPCC's third annual Geek Fest kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at CPCC's Levine Campus in Matthews.

The school says the festival will feature "cutting-edge industry, media, gadgets, hardware, software, services, innovations, education," plus vendor demonstrations, guest speakers, webcasts, video game tournaments, music, contests.

The school says, most importantly, there will be lots of FREE STUFF.

Student-focused content and activities run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Professional focused content and activities will be from 1-4 p.m.

At 1 p.m., keynote speaker Dr. Mark Benno, Education Development Executive with Apple Computer, will address the topic, “The Digital Age: Teaching and Learning for Tomorrow Today.” Benno will discuss skills students need in today’s digital workplace.

Of course, there'll be plenty of information on CPCC programs that can help the "regular people" learn more about technology, including automotive technology, music, computer programming, simulation and game development, engineering, eLearning, and more.

Participants can register to win big prizes including three Apple iPods, two Macromedia Adobe Studio 8 programs, games and software, gift certificates, free CPCC corporate and continuing education courses, shirts, gaming competitions and more.


-- Aquaman has joined the characters on the upcoming Justice League Heroes video game. He joins Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and the previously announced unlockable Green Arrow. JLH will arrive in Fall 2006 for the PS2, Xbox, PSP, GBA and DS.

Aquaman will aid his fellow Justice Leaguers in the fight to stop Brainiac and his evil forces, including Killer Frost and The Key, and restore peace to the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ready, set, go: Create games

Microsoft has released the first public beta of its XNA Game Studio Express I told you about yesterday.

The software allows anyone to create videogames for XBox 360 and the Windows PC environments.

Novice game creators can download the tool today at no charge. The games built on Windows PCs can be migrated to the Xbox 360 console system starting this holiday season as part of the XNA Creators Club subscription for $99 a year, or a four-month trial cost of $49, opening up retail console game development to anyone for the first time.

Already, more than 100 schools have requested information on how they can incorporate XNA Game Studio Express into their curricula, including Southern Methodist University’s Guildhall and the University of Southern California’s GamePipe, Microsoft announced additional support from DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington, a leader in the field of digital interactive entertainment education.

Through its ProjectFUN software running on XNA Game Studio Express and summer workshops starting in 2007, DigiPen will bring Xbox 360 console game development for the first time ever to thousands of children ages 10 through 16.

“XNA Game Studio Express is an incredibly accessible tool for making games for Microsoft’s game platforms and will provide our university students with modern tools and console development experience,” said Claude Comair, founder and chairman of the board at DigiPen Institute of Technology. “And now with our ProjectFun for XNA Game Studio Express, we’re eager to extend our educational offerings on Windows and Xbox 360 to include young children.”

The final version of XNA Game Studio Express launches in time for Christmas with a professional version launching in spring 2007.

-- Ubisoft has announced release of Brothers In Arms D-Day, a World War II squad-based action game developed specifically for the PSP system. Players will experience the intensity of WWII through the stories of Sergeants Baker and Hartsock and their squad of paratroopers during the Normandy invasion.

-- Gamer’s Gate announced release of Bad day L.A, a cinematic satire that plays off the “fear culture” of modern America by plunging players into a storyline where the city of Los Angeles is barraged with disasters. The game combines comedy, chaos management gameplay, a unique art style created by Kozyndan, an over-the-top ironic story and a cast of characters that find themselves in goofy, often surreal missions.

-- Capcom's Dead Rising, the company’s first game for Xbox 360, has shipped more than 500,000 units within the first two weeks of its launch. Dead Rising is an M-rated, action horror game that follows the harrowing tale of Frank West, an overly zealous freelance photojournalist in pursuit of the story of a lifetime. What he finds is a small suburban town completely overrun by zombies. He seeks refuge in the local shopping mall, but soon learns it is far from the safe haven he had thought.

-- Konami has shipped Bomberman: Act Zero for the Xbox 360. In the game, players are challenged to survive through 99 stages as they try to escape an experimental underground facility and destroy their opponents to fight for survival in a terrifying industrial future. Zero features a breakthrough “FPB” (First Person Bomber) mode that gives players complete control over the camera, allowing for a tight over the shoulder view of the action or a birds-eye perspective of the entire battlefield.

-- The latest official Oblivion plug-in, Spell Tomes, will be available for download on Xbox Live and at Thursday.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Want to design videogames for Microsoft?

You've been around the pool, at the mall, or in your best friend's living room -- spanking him in Halo -- and you've thought, "I can design a game this good."

I know you have, or at least some of you have (judging from my emails).

Now, Microsoft has created a way for you to create your own XBox 360 or PC titles with its new XNA Game Studio Express. The company says it will "democratize game development by delivering the necessary tools to hobbyists, students, indie developers and studios alike to help them bring their creative game ideas to life while nurturing game development talent, collaboration and sharing that will benefit the entire industry."

Sounds interesting.

The development tools drop in time for Christmas and will be free to anyone with a Windows-based PC.

By joining a "creators club" for an annual subscription fee of $99, users will be able to build, test and share 360 games and download materials to speed up the development process.

The XNA Game Studio Express beta will be available Aug. 30 as a free download on Windows XP, for development on the Windows XP platform.

Of course, there's always the chance that you'll create the next big thing and your title will be bought by Microsoft. I think it's a good move that -- like American Idol -- may deliver some new stars from unexpected places. Better yet, it may give us the groundbreaking games we've craved as well as present some new ideas to make current games better.

-- Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson is the cover boy for EA Sports' upcoming NFL Street 3, due in November.

“This is a big honor to be selected for the cover since street football was the first step to learning our moves for our pro careers,” said Johnson, now sporting a blonde mohawk. “I really like this game and it is so much fun to play with all the new airborne moves you can do now.”

Johnson, a member of the Bengals since 2001, is widely regarded as one of NFL’s elite wideouts, leading the AFC in receptions and receiving yards in 2005-06 and has earned three straight Pro Bowl selections.

In the new game, players can now jump into the air to collect items and game modifiers that exist above the playing field which can change the way the game is played. Once airborne, players can pull off style moves that rack up even more points. Also new to the game is the ability to control the Gamebreakers and pull off extreme power moves that are available to both the offense and the defense.

-- The technology Paris Hilton used to instantly upload her video to YouTube is called ShoZu. ShoZu has given various Warner Brothers artists ShoZu enabled cell phones that instantly upload pictures and video to a wide assortment of photo sharing and viral video sites.

No longer is there a time delay and need to upload content from a PC, with ShoZu it is done straight from the phone with the click of a single button. The technology also lets the user add comments, tags and will notify them once somebody posts comments on the website creating a totally interactive experience strait from the cell phone.

-- DISH Network subs will have on-demand access to Warner Bros. current and catalog titles on the satellite net's video on demand service and its pay-per-view services, including HD.

DISH Network's On Demand service gives customers the power to enjoy movies and other programs whenever they want and is currently available on the DISH Player-DVR 508, DISH Player-DVR 510, DISH Player-DVR 625 and ViP622 DVR receivers.

"Warner Bros. is a great addition to both DISH On Demand and Pay-Per-View," said Susan Arnold, vice president of Programming for EchoStar. "Hit movies such as "V for Vendetta" greatly enhance the variety of movie titles available to our customers."

-- In the Xbox Live marketplace this week, you can play a demo of the new Madden game. You play 1 minute quarters, Pittsburgh against Seattle.

-- Electronic Arts selected the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, Memphis Grizzlies’ Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker and Phoenix Suns’ Boris Diaw to join the Houston Rockets’ Tracy McGrady on the NBA LIVE 07 All-Star team as worldwide cover athletes and spokespersons.

Scheduled for release September 25, NBA LIVE 07 introduces a new, more intuitive AI system, advancements to fan-favorite features like All-Star Weekend and Dynasty Mode, and for the first time ESPN Motion and streaming ESPN radio podcasts.