Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Electronic Arts developer: PS3 Sucks

OK, the next few days are going to be fun in the world of video games if this report turns out to be true.

Several industry websites and blogs reported today that a NASCAR developer for Electronic Arts has bashed the PlayStation 3 when asked about a comparison between it and the Xbox 360.

“The truth is the PS3’s tools and the way it works just sucks," the developer is quoted as saying. "The truth is they are both virtually the same in terms of hardware when it comes to how powerful they are, maybe the PS3 has a few different things that makes it a bit more advanced, and Sony has this idea that it is designed for optimal development but that’s a load of crap."

And he goes on:

"In the last generation we would make the game for PS2 and then port it over to Xbox, but because Xbox was easier to develop for, we could actually enhance the title a little if we wanted to. The case with this generation is different, now we make the game for 360 first and then port it over to PS3, but we really don’t have the time to mess with how the PS3 works to really add to much more. It will change in the future, but for now it sucks.”

Of course, we all know that EA's latest sports efforts, including Madden '08, have run at 30 frames per second on PS3 versus 60 frames per second on Xbox 360. It makes a world of difference to the player. I highly recommend the 360 versions over the PS3.

Some people will say EA is lazy, a common complaint, but the news that 2K Sports new basketball game will run at 60 frames per second PS3 will make some of the most earnest fan boys stop and think for a second.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cable or satellite, you decide

This is a big moment in time for cable TV providers, like Charlotte's Time Warner, and satellite providers, DirecTV and DISH.

The battle is for the HDTV customer, the high end guy, and all the services are lining up their pitches to him.

DISH has recently launched a suite of new HDTV channels, bringing their total to an industry best 38 -- for $20 per month. DirecTV has nine or 10 national channels, depending on package, for $10 per month. DirecTV also offers ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox locals here in Charlotte.

DirecTV will launch more than 70 HDTV channels next month, instantly making themselves the national leader.

Time Warner in Charlotte offers 10 national channels, all the local channels and some HDTV on demand programming. Costs vary per package but a direct HDTV add on with one box is $13.45 per month. Cable is working on a solution called Switched Digital Video that will allow it to expand HD offerings in the future.

I think the ultimate winner will be customers who should get better choice, more channels and hopefully better quality. The satellite networks have been peppered by criticisms over their "HD-Lite" picture quality by viewers and industry insiders. The thinking is the sat companies have to stretch their limited bandwidth and "downrez" their signals. DirecTV won't have those problems in a few weeks.

But here's my question, which service do you guys think is best now, and which do you think will be best in 12 months?

Ghost Recon is cool futuristic thriller

Defend U.S. border in futuristic `Ghost Recon'
Credible story line helps make this war game fun to play

Defend U.S. border in futuristic `Ghost Recon'

Credible story line helps make this war game fun to play There are no video games that look better and more realistic than fighter games.

That's certainly the case with Ubisoft's "Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2" (; rated T for Teen).

The game is set in 2014. You're a soldier sent out to handle a threat to the recently completed border wall along the United States-Mexico border.

You lead a team called the Ghosts and you have three days to stop enemy fighters from invading U.S. soil. Problem is the wall goes for 1,900 miles. That's a lot of ground to cover.

Playing the game is simply breathtaking. The environments -- which include a look at El Paso, Texas, seven years into the future -- are very realistic.

What I liked most about this game was the very believable story line.

I tried the PlayStation 3 and PSP versions, though the game is also available for Xbox 360 and PC.

The PSP graphics, as you would expect, do not compare to the next-gen version, but the portable version maintained many of the same features and -- bonus! -- it's got its own story line.

On the handheld game, you're up against 400 bad guys who are smuggling weapons to Mexico -- playing GRAW 2 in the barber shop and on the deck in the backyard was very cool.

But I had more trouble turning off the PS3 version. It makes use of the motion-detection system in the PS3 controller, and the artificial intelligence of the enemy has been ramped up.

Enemies will go on top of buildings to pick you off or try to surround you. It's much more intuitive than many war games I've played, but your teammates' AI has been improved as well. You'll get specific commands from them to help you determine where the enemy is -- or might be.

Review: Boogie

Electronic Arts' new Nintendo Wii title (, rated E for Everyone) very nearly worked.It's aimed at being a karaoke game for the Wii, but falls just a little short of the mark.

The game comes with a microphone to attach to your Wii for use in the game, where you dance and sing and make "Boogie" videos you can share with friends.

First off, there's not really much dancing. You basically point your Wii-mote in four different directions and shake it (the upcoming Wii balance board, a unique floormat that enhances gameplay a la Dance Dance Revolution's accessory, would make this game much better).

There's a story mode here involving five characters, but it didn't hold my interest long. You can unlock some clothes and songs, but that's about it.

In the music video creation area, you can make a clip with you in it and add some special effects. Some of these are turning up on YouTube already.

I wish the game included more current songs and the dancing tools could be a little better, but this is a game that has promise. "Boogie 2" could be great, with a little tweaking.

Review: Mega Man StarForce

Capcom knows this Nintendo DS game will sell. The Mega Man series has sold more than 27 million units worldwide.

There are a few new heroes introduced, and you can trade attack sequences easier with friends.

You play as a young boy named Geo Stellar who walks around the real world. But when he puts on a special pair of glasses and merges with some special energy (work with me here), you become Mega Man and zoom to the alternate world.

In the alternate universe, you battle strange energy forces, usually seen from a viewpoint behind Mega Man's back.

You'll need to explore both worlds to move ahead in the game, and I'm told there are 40 hours of gameplay here. I didn't get that far, but fans of the series won't be disappointed (, rated E for Everyone).

By the way, there are three different versions of the game: Dragon, Leo and Pegasus. The key difference is the transformation Mega Man undergoes along the way.

Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133;

Thursday, August 23, 2007

DocuPen Scanner Is Smart Release

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ones.

The new PlanOn DocuPen portable scanner is exactly what it says. It's a little bigger than the pen at your workstation or desk and you basically hold it sideways and run it down a page. It'll scan into the unit in about four seconds.

The pen has a 8MB flash memory on board to store documents and a USB interface to quickly load into your computer.

What can I say? The thing works, even with pictures. Great device (Ranking 4 out of 4 stars).


-- Computer-maker Alienware is now featuring 4x Blu-ray Disc drives in all desktops. Alienware's Area-51 7500, Aurora 7500, Area-51 ALX and Aurora ALX desktops are the industry's first and only systems to offer 4x Blu-ray Disc drives, which provide up to a 100 percent read/write performance increase over standard 2x Blu-ray Disc drives.

-- Nuance Communications and Jingle Networks have a long-term agreement to enhance the consumer experience for 1-800-FREE411 callers. Directory Assistance calls are up as much as $3.50 per call. It's nice to get information for free, right?

-- Guitar Hero fans can get an exclusive sample of the upcoming "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" video game demo with the launch of "Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground,' slated to ship to stores on October 9. Players who purchase Tony Hawk for the Xbox 360 get an exclusive two week head start on experiencing the demo.

-- Sony is ready to deploy a new Eye Toy peripheral for the PlayStation 3 that it claims has more motion-sensing potential than the Nintendo Wii. The EyeToy would serve the same function as the motion bar that sits atop the TV during Wii play.

-- 2K Sports will be release "Top Spin Tennis" for the Wii next spring. The company claims "Top Spin Tennis features fun, flawless tennis action and the most real life tennis experience to date for the Wii."

Monday, August 20, 2007

HDTV Gaming and BioShock rules

With prices falling fast, now is a great time to think about enhancing your game-playing experience with a new HDTV.

High-definition sets -- which display more lines of resolution than standard analog TVs and are built with widescreen aspect ratios -- bring out the best in next-gen consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And the Nintendo Wii, though not specifically designed with HDTV in mind, looks much better on the new displays, too.

Playing games on a good HDTV is about as big a jump as switching from black-and-white to color television.

But up until recently, if you were a heavy gamer, you probably heard that playing games on HDTV wasn't a good thing -- because game images could be left permanently imprinted on your screen. That's something the TV industry calls "burn-in."

Burn-in was mainly an issue for older rear-projection HDTVs (which were heavy and bulky, and took up half your living room). On the newer flat-screen LCD and plasma models, you don't have much to worry about. LCDs are more resistant to burn-in, and look better in bright rooms, but newer plasmas have special coatings that minimize reflections and deliver smoother pictures.

LCDs come in smaller sizes, whereas plasmas generally start at 37 inches. So if you want a 32-inch or smaller set, you'll have to go LCD.

If you are choosing a larger TV, unless you have an extremely bright room with windows facing the TV, plasma is the way to go. It's generally cheaper than LCD, and you can get plasmas now at the highest resolution available: 1080p.

In terms of picture quality -- for both playing games and watching television -- plasma is king. It provides deeper colors and can process the color black much better (though LCD is improving). And good "blacks" mean better picture quality overall.

"Years ago, the life span on plasmas was short," said Jeff Cove, vice president for technology and alliances for Panasonic. "It might have been 30,000 or 20,000 hours. In those days, if you kept a static picture on plasma, like a game or a Microsoft spreadsheet, you could have an after-image that wouldn't go away." Today, he said, lifespan on plasmas has been increased and the potential for burn-in has been eliminated.

But here's the bottom line: If you're not playing on HDTV, you're not seeing half of what your next-gen console can do.

Review: `BioShock'

I don't think I've played an Xbox 360 title that looked as amazing as this one (from Irrational Games, it's rated M for Mature).

The game takes place beneath the sea and starts off with a horrific "Lost"-style plane crash in the North Atlantic.

You are the only survivor. You must swim to a lighthouse as the plane sinks around you. Once there, you find a mini-submarine, which takes you to Rapture, a city hidden beneath the sea (yes, this storyline definitely brought "The Matrix" to my mind).

The city was created by a man named Andrew Ryan (the Architect?), who envisioned an idealistic society of intellectuals. The experiment, you'll find, has failed terribly. The city is full of corpses with little girls looting the dead, and some of the people have morphed into biologically mutated humanoids who want to kill anyone not like them -- or not willing to become that way.

In Rapture, there's a full-scale genetic war going on.

I don't want to give away too many details, because this is really an awesome game. It traps you inside the story and gives you some moralistic choices, but it's probably best to fight first and think second.

To survive, you will have to use some of the genetically enhanced technology you will run into, called plasmids. But like steroids, the side effects aren't good.

And, like Neo from "The Matrix," you'll have to make one ultimate decision that will affect your gameplay.

Here's your first candidate for game of the year. Excellent (Rating: 4 out 4 stars).

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133;

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is Madden on Xbox 360 clearly better than PS3?

I am a really big fan of Sony's new PlayStation 3 unit, but it's been disappointing to play the latest sports titles on it and have them look so inferior to the Xbox 360 version. Sony has touted the PS3 as more powerful, but some game makers are apparently not able to unlock the right door yet.

Three of the hot new football titles, EA Sports' Madden and NCAA Football and 2K Sport's All-Pro Football '08 look infinitely better on Xbox 360 than PS3. Initially, I leaned PS3 over 360 on the college title, but after more time, the difference is clear -- as clear as it is on the pro titles.

Turns out, the games runs at 60 frames-per-second on Xbox 360 and only half that on PS3. More frames equals smoother images and gameplay.

Am I the only one seeing this? Here's a good video comparison.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Madden '08 best in years

The new "Madden NFL 08" video game that hits stores today looks better than its predecessors, and it plays better, too.

EA Sports appears to have heard complaints from some fans who kept saying not much was changing in new Madden releases except for the player rosters.

In 08, you can instantly identify where your own and your opponent's best players are on the field. This allows you to try to create mismatches and use your audible buttons more than ever before. There's a new front office mode that allows you to create a team and a stadium if you like (which I took as an assault on "All Pro Football," which does the same thing but doesn't have the NFL license).

You can even become the receiver at the start of a play, get yourself open and press a button to call for the ball.

The game has new player moves and new animations that look cool, too, but the running game is the improvement I liked most. It's easier to see the running game evolve. You can follow your blockers and burst to daylight.

I also think Madden is smarter this year. You can't just fade back 30 yards and fling the ball down the field every play. You can't take a speedy quarterback from Atlanta, who shall remain nameless, and dominate a game at will. This plays more like real football. But it could feel more like real football.

At their heart, video football games were always like taking control of a TV broadcast. Take Two's "All Pro Football" -- which trumps Madden in looks -- has that feel. There are announcers talking about the players and the plays. There are TV style cut-ins. We see the players on the field talking. You get the TV-style sound effects.

Madden no longer has Madden and Al Michaels or Pat Summerall doing play-by-play and color. It's a boring one-man "radio" guy. I'd love to see EA Sports hire two or three announcers like Take Two does to spend hours in the studio to create a true TV style audio presentation. It also wouldn't be bad to incorporate a pregame and halftime show.

What we get now on Madden is the voice of former Rams star Marshall Faulk giving pregame predictions -- but not calling the teams by name.

Now it's not all bad, though. Madden, more than ever, looks like the real thing. Players are drawn to scale better than ever (though I wish they appeared larger like on "All Pro"). Steve Smith wears armbands high on his forearms and has a familiar gait. Chris Gamble has long braids flowing out of the back of his helmet. It's little touches like this -- and you'll find them for all your favorite players and coaches -- that make this Madden so much fun.

"All Pro" is an awfully good title with lots of good features, but without the NFL teams and stadiums, it can't give you the experience Madden does. If you can, get both. If you only get one, get Madden. (Rating: 3 stars out of 4.)

Video Games Langston Wertz Jr.

Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133;

Monday, August 13, 2007

NCAA fine warm up for Madden 08

We're still a few hours away from the release of "Madden NFL 2008" (Aug. 14), but EA Sports has a pretty good appetizer with its excellent "NCAA Football 08" game for all platforms (3 stars out of 4).

EA gets beaten up every year by folks who say it simply updates rosters and re-releases its sports game, but you can tell some work has gone into NCAA this year.

The thing looks better and plays faster than last year, noticeably so. Player models are cleaner and animations are pretty much spot on. Players do still appear to "merge" and move through each other sometimes, but you'll notice running backs reaching out to follow their blockers and not sticking to them. You will see true running motions and multiple tackle animations, which adds to the realism.

I tried the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions and would give the latter the nod in terms of clarity, especially on an HDTV, but it looks great on the 360, too. And if you're into the dynasty mode, where you run your team over a series of seasons, you're going to love this. You can recruit players and the game will limit how long you can talk to them. And true to life, better programs like Notre Dame and Southern Cal have an easier time getting great players than North Carolina or Wake Forest.

Even better, a new Campus Legend mode lets you become a high school phenom and run up your numbers in state playoff games and then choose your school. Now that's cool. This is the best football game on the market, trumping 2KSports' "All Pro Football," which is hurt by somewhat anemic graphics and lack of real teams and stadiums.

PlayStation 3 price drops

Amazing what a little price drop can do.After Sony discounted its PlayStation 3 by $100 last month, dipping to $499, sales shot up more than 135 percent at Sony's top five retailers.

I think $500 is the magic number for Sony, which still plans to release another $599 PlayStation with a larger hard drive this month (not so smart) and a slew of new games this fall and into 2008 (quite brilliant).

But $600 is too much, even for a game unit that comes with a built-in Blu-Ray disc player. It's just hard to plunk down that much money for a game system.

Check the numbers.

In June, the PlayStation 3 sold just 98,500 units, far behind the other two big console game systems: the Nintendo Wii (381,800) and Xbox 360 (198,400).

But the NPD Group, which tracks industry trends, thinks PS3 is now on track to meet its sales forecasts but will remain behind Wii and the 360 in sales until at least the middle of next year, when Sony begins to release the bulk of its new PS3 game titles. Sony would be wise to remain aggressive on pricing, though, because as more people try the unit -- especially its base of installed PS2 devotees -- they will discover that it's the best of the three next-gen systems. By far.

A challenge for Xbox 360

Microsoft is dealing with defective 360s and dealing with an important holiday season. Xbox 360 will need late-fall release "Halo 3" to drive a really strong holiday sales season to hold onto second place behind the Wii. The NPD Group believes, as I do, that if a heavy holiday season doesn't push Xbox hard (and Sony keeps its aggressive pricing), Microsoft may find itself in a distant third position come the first quarter of 2008.

Consider that in 2007, Nintendo has shipped more than 6 million Wii systems, Sony more than 4 million PS3s. Microsoft has moved just more than 1 million 360s. Video Games

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So what's OJ doing in a videogame anyway

The big news in the gaming world last week surrounded O.J. Simpson.

Video games and O.J. are two universes that had no business intersecting.

But it turns out that Simpson will surrender any money he makes off the football game "All Pro Football" to the estate of Ron Goldman, who was slain along with Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, 13 years ago.

The Goldmans won a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson in a wrongful death lawsuit. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges in 1995 but was found legally responsible for their deaths in a civil court two years later.

Last week, a California judge ordered Simpson -- who has maintained innocence and vowed never to pay the jury award voluntarily -- to give the Goldman estate any earnings from the game.

So to review: Simpson gets terrible publicity (again) and Take Two Interactive, which makes "All Pro Football" and paid Simpson to use his likeness in it, gets terrible publicity, too.

All of this begs the question, "Why?"

Simpson never should have appeared in the game. It's hard to believe someone sat at a meeting and seriously thought that was a good idea. But they did, and, better still, they felt it was cool to create a team called The Assassins and give it a knife-wielding mascot.

When the Assassins do something good on the field, a big hooded mascot pops up over the scoreboard and starts violently jerking his knife up and down.

I know you can't wait for your 10-year-old to see that.

Worst of all -- whether you think O.J. did it or not -- Simpson can be added to The Assassins if a user chooses.

Take Two has also released violent titles like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Manhunt 2," which was so bad it was banned in Britain. But it's not just that company, which makes great sports games.

Despite study after study that shows playing violent video games leads to aggressive behavior, the market is flooded with more violent games every year, and they are getting more and more aggressive. Women are raped. People are beaten, shot or worse. Every year, the graphics get better and look more real.

I have heard the argument that the games are no worse than what you see at the local Metroplex. Well, I don't have a controller in my hand making Arnold or Vin Diesel shoot the bad guy over and over. And when the movie ends I'm leaving. I can play the game all day.

It's not all the companies' faults, though. Violent video games are among the best selling titles annually. The public eats them up. But it's time for the companies to find other ways to chase the dollar.

Nintendo's making a killing making simple, fun and easy-to-play games. That still works.

So does making a great football game, which "All Pro Football" could be -- minus one team and one player.


Jeanne d'Arc: Sony reinvents the Joan of Arc legend with a pretty cool PSP title based in the 15th century.You play as Jeanne, or 13 other human or mystical characters. France and England are locked in their Hundred Years' War.

You must defeat the English and a rather ugly army of demons who want to destroy mankind (no battle game is complete without the evil demons set to blow up the world, right?).

I really liked the graphics, and the game features the popular multi-tap fighting style. As you move through the game, you can gain teammates with different abilities and use them in battle. You can use up to seven in one fight (Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars).

Pet Vet 2: Think of this as a sort of Sims for pet lovers. Like Pet Vet 1, this title is aimed at children and allows them to take care of sick animals.

Players study the pet's symptoms and use real-life instruments to try to nurse their pet back to life. There's even a riding course behind the office to take the horses out for a stroll. Good fun and educational, too. (Rating: 3 out of 4 stars).

Madden 08: The new Madden title debuts Tuesday. Look for our review in Tuesday's Health section.

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Visit my blog at for more game news and reviews as well as test drives of hot tech gear.

Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133;

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

OJ ordered to pay Goldmans videogame royalty cash

First off, I never understood why 2KSports choose to put the likeness of OJ Simpson in their new "All Pro Football" videogame, which features NFL legends like Barry Sanders and John Elway. That's the kind of publicity a company probably doesn't want.

Today, came some more.

Relatives of murder victim Ron Goldman won a court order seizing any money Simpson earns for lending his name and likeness to the game, which includes a team called the Assassins (and that team has a knife-wielding mascot).

Under the order issued by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gerald Rosenberg, any earnings to Simpson that "have been paid, are due or may be due in the future" for use of his image and likeness in the video game must be turned over to the Goldman estate.

In the game, legends like Simpson can be assigned to any team, so it's possible you could add Simpson to the Assassins, whose mascot makes a chopping motion with the knife when the team does well.

The Goldman's won a $33.5 million judgment against Simpson in a wrongful death lawsuit which was brought against Simpson in 1994, following the stabbing deaths of Goldman and Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Simpson, a former NFL star running back, was acquitted of criminal charges in 1995 but was found legally responsible for their deaths by a civil court jury two years later.

Tuesday's legal victory was part of an effort by Goldman's estate to satisfy that judgment. Simpson has maintained his innocence and vowed never to pay the jury award voluntarily.

The football game was published by Take-Two Interactive. Take Two, which makes some of the best sports simulation games in the market, has earned controversial press in the past for games like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Manhunt 2." Manhunt 2 was banned in Britain and given an adults-only rating in the U.S.

Take-Two told the Associated Press Simpson was compensated, but declined to say how it obtained rights to use his likeness. The company also has issued a statement saying the knife-wielding Assassins mascot is "not specifically associated with O.J. Simpson, and the game does not promote any such connection."

Here is a video of Simpson from the game

Monday, August 06, 2007

Big Bargain: PlayStation3 for $350/Nutrisystem update

Just a quick note to let you guys know that Sony Style is offering $150 off any purchase made using its Sony Financial credit account, which has instant online approval. It is also offering interest free financing until 2009.

So if you buy the PS3 at its current $499 price and use Sony's financing arm, you get to deduct another $150 at checkout. Pay it off fast enough and you can get a pretty good steal.

Just a little FYI.


A lot of you have asked about the Nutrisystem plan since I reported a few weeks ago about my 30 pound weight loss and a 50 pound weight loss of a friend I had start with me. I can also report that another one of my boys has dropped about 20 pounds in two months.

Some folks wondered how does it compare to Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. I have never tried Craig, but I heard it can be expensive. Unlike Weight Watchers and some of the other programs, you don't have an in-person support group or weigh-ins, but you do get a pretty extensive network of online people sharing your experiences and a telephone counselor, if you choose to use them.

Expect to spend about $450 per month on the system, adding the cost of the Nutrisystem products and the additions you have to buy. I have been surprised after nearly 11 months on the system that the foods have not gotten repetitive and I actually look forward to my NS meals. Some of them are as good as eating at your local restaurant.

I was skeptical when I saw the commercial with the sports legends talking about how this really worked, but it really -- really -- worked.

BARGAIN ALERT: PlayStation3 for $350

Just a quick note to let you guys know that Sony Style is offering $150 off any purchase made using its Sony Financial credit account, which has instant online approval. It is also offering interest free financing until 2009.

So if you buy the PS3 at its current $499 price and use Sony's financing arm, you get to deduct another $150 at checkout. Pay it off fast enough and you can get a pretty good steal.

Just a little FYI.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Family says infant died in Xbox caused blaze

It's kind hard being the Bill Gates company these days.

Gates' Microsoft is repairing millions of faulty Xbox 360s barely two years after recalling more than 14 million Xbox units due to potential fire hazard concerns with the power cords.

Now this.

A Warsaw, Ill, family is suing the technology giant, claiming that a bad Xbox 360 sparked a catastrophic fire at their home, which killed their infant son.

According to Information Week, Microsoft is asking the suit be dismissed, saying that misuse or abuse led to the blaze.

The family filed the suit in December, claiming the wiring that connected the Xbox 360 to an electrical outlet became so hot that it started the blaze. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages.

The suit is being heard in U.S. District Court in Central Illinois and names Microsoft, Wal-Mart (where the unit was purchased) and an unnamed power supply maker as co-defendants.

Should be interesting to see where this goes.