Friday, December 12, 2008

Versus Week Final Round: Satellite vs. Cable

All this week, Observer columnist Langston Wertz Jr. is writing about popular technology rivalries and trying to help determine which is best for you. The week concludes today with a look at satellite vs. cable TV for home entertainment.

Monday: PS3 vs. Xbox 360
Tuesday: Macs vs. PC
Wednesday: DSL vs. cable internet
Thursday: Wireless or wired home networking

Satellite or cable TV for your home? This is one of the oldest technology arguments out there. If you do not own an HDTV and don’t plan on buying one, both services are about equal and will allow you to watch TV after the digital transition early next year.

But if HD is your bag, or if you think it might be soon, there are a few things you should know.

Cable advantages: “No contract, no equipment to buy” is the cable man’s mantra. Time Warner Cable has superior video-on-demand services and specialized local programming from CMS and News Channel 14 that you can’t get on a dish. There’s also a new feature called “Start Over’’ that will allow viewers to restart shows already in progress so they don’t miss a minute. You don’t need a clear line of sight to the southwest, like with satellite, to get service. And best of all, you can bundle cable, phone and Internet for a discounted price.

Satellite advantages: The picture looks better, especially on non-HD channels (though some cable companies are starting to convert to all digital, like satellite). The selection and variety of high-def content is currently much wider on satellite. The two major satellite providers, DirecTV and DISH, offer more than 100 HD channels, and both carry the NFL Network, which you can’t get on Time Warner. Overall picture quality, especially on non-HD channels, is better locally off the dish.

Knockout Blow: Time Warner’s equipment problems are frequently talked about on message boards, and I’ve experienced them myself. The HD-DVRs, particularly, can be troublesome. DISH and DirecTV equipment tends to run better, be more reliable and the HD choices those companies provide are hard to beat. For sports fans, DirecTV also has NFL Sunday Ticket, giving you access to out-of-market NFL games. Plus, both sat-casters are starting to offer 1080p high-definition movies on pay-per-view, mimicking the sound and advanced picture quality of Blu-Ray. Oh, and satellite prices are cheaper in the long run, too.

Winner: Satellite. Embrace your dish.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Versus Week, Round IV: Wired or wireless networking for your home?

All this week, Observer columnist Langston Wertz Jr. will write about popular technology rivalries and trying to determine which is best for you. The week continues today today with a look at wired or wireless networking.

Monday: PS3 vs. Xbox 360
Tuesday: Macs vs. PC
Wednesday: DSL vs. cable internet

So you’ve got multiple computers and everyone in the family wants to get on the Internet at the same time. You need a network. But what kind?

Wireless Advantage: Portability. With the advent of Wireless-N routers, you get much faster speeds than ever before (provided your computer is new enough to have an N card built in or you’ve purchased an outboard card). Securing your network is pretty easy, and the measures should be enough to thwart any normal user from trying to access your network. And with wireless, you can get Internet access from anywhere in your home, or even in your backyard.

Wired Network Advantage: Security, security, security. And speed. Wireless networks sometimes work great, and sometimes just don’t. And if you don’t secure your network, your next-door neighbor could be downloading something using your account that you might not approve of. But wired systems can be expensive (hiring someone to run wire in your attic and crawlspace and walls), or a serious DIY job. Still, once you’re plugged in via the Ethernet cable, speeds can be blazing-fast.

Knockout Blow: Either system has its cost. Buying a new N router and new cards can set you back several hundred dollars. Wiring a system is expensive, too. But products like Netgear’s Powerline HD Plus Ethernet Adapter Kit make setting up a cheap wireless network easy. Simply plug one into an AC outlet near your router and the other near the device you wish to network and voila! – it’s connected. You can set up the device in the front or back yard, in the office or kitchen. I got speeds as fast as those I would normally get directly off my router, speeds faster than any wireless-N get-up I’ve tested.

Winner: This one’s a draw. If I were building a new home, I’d have it wired – but I’d still have a wireless router for ease of use. If I had an existing home with, say, a Wireless-G router, I’d keep it and add a Powerline adapter for places where I needed dedicated, faster connections (like a home office, or a satellite box that downloads movies). The Powerline is one of the best consumer gadgets of the past five years.

Coming up:
Friday: Satellite vs. cable.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Versus Week Round 3: DSL vs. cable high speed internet

All this week, Observer columnist Langston Wertz Jr. will write about popular technology rivalries and try to determine which is best for you. The week continues today today with a look at wired or wireless networking.

Monday: PS3 vs. Xbox 360
Tuesday: Macs vs. PC

High-speed internet has changed our lives. Long gone are the days of the logging into America Online and watching that blue login bar slooooooooowly fill up along the bottom of the screen.

Today, we download high-definition movies and video games and music, sometimes in seconds. But all high-speed Internet is not created equal. If you’re considering satellite-based Internet services, I’d rule them out – they’re spotty and can suffer from slow upload times. That leaves you with DSL or cable.

DSL Advantages: Unlike cable, which sometimes forces a neighborhood to share a “node,” DSL is one wire to one home (though homes far away from the central server may not receive the same quality service as those closer). DSL is generally more readily available to customers in outlying areas than cable Internet. Some of the newer DSL services, like Windstream in Charlotte, are offering increased download speeds.

Cable Internet Advantages: It’s easier to connect. DSL users often need to add filters to their phone lines to prevent interference with regular phone usage. Not a terribly big deal, but a small nuisance (especially when the filter doesn’t work properly). Also, in real-life applications, cable tends to be a lot faster. In Charlotte, Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service – both the standard and turbo versions – is the fastest high-speed Internet service I’ve ever tested.

Knockout Blow: It’s all about speed. Locally, Road Runner (the standard version) is fast, reliable and you never need to log in, as some DSL services require. Road Runner also comes with free anti-virus software and free parental controls to keep the young ones off sites you don’t want them to see. (Windstream offers a similar security suite, but charges $2.99 a month for it after a free three-month trial.)

Winner: Beep-beep. Go cable.

Coming up:
Thursday: wireless vs. wired network
Friday: satellite vs cable

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Versus Week Round 2: Mac Vs. PC

All this week, Observer columnist Langston Wertz Jr. will write about popular technology rivalries and try to determine which is best for you.

Monday: Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3.
Today: Mac Vs. PC

The home computer market has long been dominated by Bill Gates, whose Windows software powered many of the systems we’ve known so well. But thanks to a user-friendly operating system, cool gadgets like the iPhone and a smart ad campaign (“Hi, I’m a Mac”), Steve Jobs’ Apple brand of computers is making a big run.
Last quarter, Apple accounted for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. computer sales, selling 1.64 million machines, a 29 percent increase over the same period in 2007. That put the company in third place in computer sales in the U.S. behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which both sell Windows-based machines.
But which should you buy?

PC Advantages: By now, most everyone knows how to click “Start” on a Windows machine. Using a PC is just familiar, and there are tons of programs and applications that work with Windows software. Since PC prices have plummeted, you can buy entry-level machines for as little as $299. You can also design a pretty powerful PC – complete with a Blu-Ray DVD burner and dual processors – for under $2,000. PCs are better for gaming, and there’s more software available for them than for their Mac cousins.

Mac Advantages: The Mac uses the Leopard operating system that is simply better, faster and easier to use (though there’s an initial learning curve). A new version, Snow Leopard, is due in January. The Mac starts up faster, runs programs faster and doesn’t slow down as much as a PC when handling multiple tasks. Macs are generally more expensive than PCs, but don’t tend to have as many problems with spyware and viruses. Macs will usually last longer. There’s much more Mac software available than two years ago (you can even get Microsoft Office for the Mac) and if you really need to run Windows, you can install something called Boot Camp that allows you to run Windows on your Mac. In my tests, Vista ran faster and smoother for me on a Mac than on a fairly new PC.

Knockout Blow: You can run Windows on a Mac. And Macs tend to outperform PCs. Once you get the hang of the Leopard operating system, you’ll love it. We only wish there were more affordable Mac towers available. At least Apple offers refurbished models on its web site at big discounts.

Winner: Mac, by a mile.

Coming up:
Wednesday: DSL vs. cable Internet
Thursday: wireless vs. wired network
Friday: satellite vs cable

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Versus Week Round 1: Xbox 360 vs. PS3

All this week, Observer columnist Langston Wertz Jr. will write about popular technology rivalries and try to determine which is best for you. The week begins today with Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3.

Everybody knows the Nintendo Wii is the hottest-selling video-game console right now. The tiny white unit is great for families, with lots of fun games. The wireless Wii-mote can mimic guitars, ski poles and even golf clubs pretty darned accurately. That brings a new dimension to video gaming, and it gets you off the couch.
But for gamers into hardcore sports and fighting titles – for hardcore gamers of almost any kind, really – you’re probably going to be choosing between the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

Both systems can deliver stunning high-definition graphics, which the Wii cannot, and both are more powerful machines. Games look more realistic and come across as, um, more serious on those two machines.
So which one to choose?

Xbox’s Advantages: Nothing in console video gaming comes close to Xbox Live. You can download TV shows, movies, games, applications and much more via the online service. The audience is bigger than the competition’s, so if you want a game of online “Madden” at 3 in the morning, there’s always half a gazillion 5-star rated guys ready to take on you and your digital Steve Smith.

PS3 Advantages: In most cases, the PlayStation games are better-looking when compared to their Xbox 360 counterparts. The PlayStation 3 has a built-in Internet browser, and the PlayStation online experience is getting better. The PS3 controller (thankfully available with the rumble feature once again) is also easier to use and fits better in the hand than the Xbox’s.

Knockout Blow: The PlayStation 3 comes bundled with a Blu-Ray high-definition DVD player. Blu-Ray’s picture quality is so amazing, you might not want to go to the movie theater again. Given that some Blu-Ray players cost more than the PS3 itself, you’re basically getting two gadgets for the price of one. And there’s even a new 160-gigabyte version of the PS3 to help store your downloads.

Winner: PlayStation 3, by a Blu-Ray disc.

Coming up:
Tuesday: Mac vs PC
Wednesday: DSL vs. cable Internet
Thursday: wireless vs. wired network
Friday: satellite vs cable

Everybody's got a "band" game these days

Let’s get through a lot of reviews today, OK?
Ultimate Band (Nintendo DS): Everybody’s got a band game, these days and this one, for the Nintendo hand-held, allows gamers to create real music using lead, rhythm and bass guitars plus drums. You can play with friends via Wi-Fi and this one is easy to pick up (Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars).
PopStar Guitar (Nintendo Wii/PS2): Told you everybody had a band game, right? XS Games loads this one with a special controller on the Wii version and more than 50 songs from artists like the Jonas Brothers, Rihanna and Maroon 5. Nice to have one of these music games be not so much about one genre of music (hard rock).
Using the “Air G” controller for Wii (the version I prefer here), you take the “role” of a lead guitarist for a battle of the bands competition, or you can go solo. There are six female and six male characters to choose from and 60 guitars and 10 drum sets. Your family will have fun with this one (Rating: 3 out of 4 stars)
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Xbox 360): Sonic-like game heroes Banjo and Kazooie face off with the evil witch Gruntilla (gotta love that name). The winner gets control of Spiral Mountain. The evil “Lord Of Games” is tired of the fighting between the heroes and witch and designs a series of challenges you must get through to win. Only the witch keeps trying to stop you.
In the battle, you’ll built boats and planes and use them in the fight. Graphics are really good and you can play online, too. I liked the fast-paced play (Rating: 3 out of 4 stars).
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Xbox 360/PS3): This game looks amazing and traces the adventures of Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo on a mission to save the African safari. A multiplayer mode should make for some fun family times this holiday, too (Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars)
Carnival Games MiniGolf (Wii): This is a the goony golf of video games. It’s got 25 holes on nine golf course, that are more theme park than golf course. It’s easy to play and definitely more for the putt-putt crowd than the hardcore golfer. Taken for what it is, it’s not bad (Rating: 2 out of 4 stars)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holiday Gift Buying Guide: Computers

Value shoppers will find plenty of bargains. The biggest question is do you want a laptop or desktop? Desktops are cheaper, but you can’t take them with you. Most people use Windows-based PCs, but Apple’s Mac line of computers are actually easier to use and less trouble prone (I’m considering a switch myself). Macs, however, are generally more expensive for laptops and desktops.
Value Set-ups: Dell’s Inspiron line starts at $279 (without a monitor) and you can customize as you will.
Lower priced/value option: Gateway’s One is an all-in-one desktop that’s easy to set up and has no wires. At a starting price of $1,449, you get a powerful machine for a midrange price. Apple’s iMac is another all-in-one solution that starts at $1,199. Saavy shoppers can visit and shop for refurbished Mac products that come with one-year warranties for heavily discounted prices.
Big splurgers: Apple’s Mac Pro tower starts at $2,200 and you can equipment it with two processors, enough memory to run a small island and easily take you into the $5,000 or $6,000 range. Decked out correctly, it’s one of the most powerful consumer machine available, but if you’ve got to have a PC, check Dell’s XPS line of towers and notebooks. You can even get them with Blu-Ray DVD burners.

Holiday TV buying guide

Looking for a television or computer this Christmas? Now’s not a bad time to buy.
Computers are as cheap as they’ve ever been and prices for HDTVs are dropping. You can buy a 32-inch HD set, a good entry-level size for the technology, for as little as $399, nearly half of what low-end models cost 12 to 18 months ago.
The rectangular-shaped HDTVs, used with equipment to receive HD signals, can deliver pictures that are much sharper than the old box-shaped TV. Plus they’re flatter and much lighter. To get the HD signals, you have to have a set-top box from your satellite or cable TV provider or a TV with a built-in digital tuner and an HD antenna.
Value HD Sets: Smaller is always cheaper. You can find 22-inch sets going for $229.99. But about the smallest you’ll want for everyday use is probably a 26-inch model. Our pick? Westinghouse’s 32-inch W3223 set ($449.99 at most retailers currently or $100 off normal pricing).
Lower priced/value option: Again, it’s about size. Step up in price and you get a wealth of 32- to 37-inch flat screens to choose from. And with HDTV, bigger screens generally look better.
You can also choose a rear-projection DLP set. DLPs don’t give out the crisp pictures that plasmas and LCDs do, and you can’t hang them on a wall, but you get more screen for less money. That’s why our pick here is the 56-inch Samsung DLP HL56A650 ($999.99).
Big splurgers: We think plasmas have better pictures than LCDs. They have deeper blacks, handle fast-motion better and more life-like. If money’s no object, go get a Pioneer Elite 60-inch for $7,000. You’ll think you’re looking out the window. But a better bet, even for splurgers, is to save some cash and get the Pioneer-lite, the Panasonic 58-inch PZ800U, which is $3,100 but generates about the second best picture out there among flat screens.

Videogame holiday buying guide

Best advice
Money is tight these days. We all feel it. And instead of going out and buying brand new games and game systems, you can buy used. Many of the game specialty stores, like GameStop, sell used games and allow you to trade in old games and systems for a credit. So if little Johnny wakes up Christmas morning and asks where did his PS2 go to, just tell him Santa “borrowed” it and show him his new Wii.

Best System
The Nintendo Wii is the best-selling system for a reason. The price ($249.99) is right and the games are fun to play. This machine will get you and your kids off the couch and literally exercising – as well as playing all the hot new games like Madden football or Guitar Hero. Our silver medal goes to Sony’s PlayStation 3, which comes with a Blu-Ray player for Dad’s HD movies.

Best Games For Everyone
Fifa 08: If you like soccer, this game is as real as it gets. It’s also beautiful to look at on your Xbox 360 or PS3 in high-def. EA Sports did a wonderful job of capturing every nuance of the game.
Kung Fu Panda (all console systems and handhelds): It looks just like the movie your kids loved and it’s a fighting game without brutality. For all ages.
Madden ’09: It’s the best sports game ever made and this year it’s better than ever. EA Sports seemed to listen to critics and created a good-looking, fun-playing football simulation that you can personalize down to creating your team’s stadium.
Mario Kart (Wii): An optional wireless steering wheel gets you onto 16 futuristic race tracks and you can play with up to 11 players. The action is fast and furious – and (cartoonish) explosive.
We Ski (Wii): Using the Wii balance board, you hop on and swivel your hips and go down virtual mountains using the numchuck controller attachment like ski sticks.

Best Games For Teens and Grownups
Grand Theft Auto IV:
It’s violent, it’s misogynist and if it were a movie, it would be rated MA-17. It’s also one of the most thoroughly entertaining videogames to come along in several years. You truly feel like you are a living character in a film about slipping into the crime-ridden underworld in the big city.
Guitar Hero: The top-selling franchise lets you become part of a rock band, down to playing (real-enough) instruments. And here’s your “Economy Tip”: If your family hasn’t tried this yet, you can get an older version on the cheap, new or used, and still enjoy the same type of game play.
Metal Gear Solid 4: A little safer bet for teens than GTA IV but with plenty of violent action. Game hero Solid Snake has aged and his skills have, too. Makes for an interesting few hours of gaming.
Wii Fitness: Who knew a videogame could help you get your workout on. Stick this in your Nintendo machine and it will calculate and track your weight loss goals and have you doing calisthenics, Yoga and even running (in place).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Gears of War 2", violent, amazing; Bond's "Solace" not so much

Microsoft Game Studio's “Gears of War 2” is a beautiful and violent video game, and it's awfully popular, too. It sold more than 2 million copies, in this terrible economy, in just seven days.

The game picks up six months after the end of the original “Gears of War,” which was released in 2006 and detailed a battle between mankind and the Locust, two-legged man-monsters that remind me of the lead character from the “Predator” movies.

Since the original ended, the Locusts have become incredibly powerful and the humans are fighting a disease called rust lung. Rather “Matrix-like,” the humans have gathered in one of their last cities not destroyed by enemies so strong they can almost suck a city underground from below.

This game, which is rated M for blood, gore and heavy violence, is engrossing. The worlds are huge and incredibly detailed. This game pushes the Xbox 360 to some serious limits. “Gears 2” is full of weaponry and fights for survival, but it also has a big emotional element to it.

You can become attached to your digital family and friends (who can help heal you when you're injured; you can even have them duck and crawl low across battle lines).

This game was thoroughly entertaining, but is far too violent for anyone under 18, I'd say.

Rating:***1/2 (Microsoft, for Xbox 360.)

‘Quantum of Solace'

The new James Bond movie hits theaters this weekend. It's about a week behind the game, which allows you to play as the latest Bond, actor Daniel Craig.

The game was built using the award-winning engine from “Call of Duty 4,” but despite having a long-enough story mode and several multi-player options, this Bond is boring.

You don't have to think much. Bond is like Superman. His health regenerates far too fast and his tricks leave his enemies, oftentimes, baffled and running scared.

I wanted more “spy” in this game, more sneaking around. You do get to take guys out from behind but you're allowed to walk up behind anyone whose back is toward you and take them out. They never know you're there – sometimes even if you fire a weapon.

This Bond is pretty to look at, but I sure hope the movie's better.

Playing the game gets rather dull quick, Q.

Rating:*1/2 (Activision, for all game consoles.)

‘Call of Duty: World at War'

This title recreates World War II fights and is violent, well-drawn and addicting.

You fight in Hawaii, Russia and Germany – and the enemy AI has been ramped way up. The new Bond title is based on a similar game engine but feels night and day from this game.

You can play with up to four players online, which was fun, but I enjoyed the single-player story mode, grabbing a flamethrower and wiping out the bad guys. Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer on TV's “24”) lends his voice to the game and gets you started on a raid of a Japanese camp.

This game starts quickly and the missions come up one after the other. This one will get your palms sweating – in a good way.

Rating:***1/2 (Activision, for all console and handheld systems.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coming to a videogame near you: The Beatles

The music of the Beatles is coming to the videogame world.

MTV Networks and Harmonix -- the game developer behind the popular "Rock Band" franchise – have joined with the Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd. to create a new interactive music game that will use the entire Beatles catalog (somewhere, Michael Jackson is smiling).

Developers say the game will be in the same vein as Harmonix's "Rock Band" franchise, but it will not officially be a part of the series. The game doesn't have a title or a firm release date (it's expected late in 2009).

Expect the game to take users on a journey through the Beatles’ career. Surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Fab Four spouses Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison, are involved in the vision and creative direction.

The music will come from master recordings of the Beatles' U.K. releases, but will not be remixed or remastered. Giles Martin, the son of original Beatles producer George Martin and co-producer of the Beatles' "LOVE" project, will serve as music producer.

What’s not clear now is whether any of the Beatles’ music will be available for download into “Rock Band” (which would make sense) or whether the new Beatles’ game will be compatible with “Rock Band” peripherals (that makes sense, too).

But it could introduce the band’s music to a new, younger generation -- and introduce the band’s members to a brand-new revenue stream.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Charlotte Bobcats going HD this season

Last season, the Charlotte Bobcats didn't make many TV appearances beyond a premium-tier package on Time Warner cable.

This year, the team is going HD.

Fox Sports Carolinas and sister network SportsSouth will televise 16 Bobcats games in high definition this year. The first game is Monday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. against the Detroit Pistons. The HD schedule includes three road and 13 home games.

This is another smart move by the Bobcats, who earlier announced plans to carry 70 of the teams 82 regular-season games on Fox Sports Carolinas or SportSouth. The coverage will be available, via satellite and cable, to many more Carolinas homes than were able to see the Bobcats last year.

Adding the HD may help gain the casual viewer, who enjoys the clarity of sports in high definition, which delivers a much clearer picture -- and better sound -- than its traditional counterpart.

To receive these HD broadcasts, you need an HD television and set-top box from your cable or satellite provider that is equipped to receiver the special signal.

Here's the complete schedule for the HD Bobcats games:

Monday, November 3 – vs. Detroit Pistons – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Friday, November 7 – vs. New Orleans Hornets – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Tuesday, November 11 – vs. Denver Nuggets – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Sunday, November 16 – vs. Orlando Magic – 5:30 p.m. ET – FSCR

Tuesday, November 18 – vs. Dallas Mavericks – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Saturday, November 29 – vs. Boston Celtics – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Saturday, December 13 – vs. Detroit Pistons – 7 p.m. ET – SPSO

Monday, December 15 – @ Atlanta Hawks – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Monday, January 19 – vs. San Antonio Spurs – 2 p.m. ET – FSCR

Friday, January 23 – vs. Phoenix Suns – 7 p.m. ET – SPSO

Tuesday, January 27 – @ Los Angeles Lakers – 10:30 p.m. ET – FSCR

Friday, January 30 – @ Denver Nuggets – 9 p.m. ET – FSCR

Friday, February 6 – vs. Atlanta Hawks – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Wednesday, February 11 – vs. Washington Wizards – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Wednesday, February 18 – vs. Indiana Pacers – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Friday, March 13 – vs. Houston Rockets – 7 p.m. ET – FSCR

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some parents think videogaming is beneficial for kids

A new survey from Sony Online Entertainment claims that parents across the country think that playing videogames has some benefit for their children.
Who knew?
The results were published in the November issue of Family Circle magazine and suggest that parents are seeing improved hand-eye coordination plus better problem-solving and typing skills.
The survey also suggests that game-playing is teaching kids to think strategically because many games require you to follow rules, think tactically and make quick decisions.
Yahoo!’s website, Shine reaches 10 million women per month and hosted the survey last June. It showed 87 percent of those parents surveyed actually playing games with their kids (and I’m guessing there’s a lot of Wii-playing going on).
Of all the numbers revealed – 75 percent of parents find increased hand-eye skills; 84 percent see improved typing skills; 72 percent say their kids play online most of the time – I found this most interesting:
More than 80 percent of the respondents say their kids play in a common area of the house.
I’m not big on games being in a kid’s room or letting them play endlessly. But games, the right kinds of games, can have a benefit. And the key is choosing age-appropriate and ratings-appropriate games for kids, so the experiences can be positive.
“Family video game nights are becoming incredibly popular with the variety of games out there,” said Linda Fears, Family Circle’s editor-in-chief. “Parents and children of all ages are finding games to play together, no matter what each person’s experience level.”
• November 15 is “National Gaming Day @ your library.” Libraries of all types will participate in a national videogame tournament and an attempt to establish a record for the most number of people playing the board game "Pictureka!" at the same time. Information? Contact your local branch.
• Electronic Arts has partnered with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to provide team ratings and scouting reports for the upcoming “NCAA Basketball ’09,” which drops Dec. 2 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Blue Ribbon has compiled stats for 28 years. EA Sports will utilize its scouting reports and data to drive its college basketball videogame.
• The trailer for the upcoming James Bond film “Quantum Of Solace” looks phenomenal. The videogame drops Nov. 4, but a preview is up. Players can get redeemable codes for exclusive content in the game. At various points in the web game, gamers are encouraged to “get rewards” from the official Quantum of Solace video game, and once they click for rewards they’ll be sent to the rewards page where they can enter the code and gain special access to exclusive concept art, screenshots and more – the only way to access these video game assets is to play the web game. On the rewards page, players can also enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a PLAYSTATION 3 computer entertainment system, as Activision is giving away one PS3 per week for the next eight weeks.

New games for Sprint cell phone users

Do you have a Sprint cell phone? If so, you'll soon be able to play some new games on it thanks to a partnership between Konami and Sprint. It means Sprint subscribers can access "Contra 4" and other popular Konami titles, including "Frogger," "Castlevania" and "Metal Gear Classic."

* "Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum 2009" was shipped Tuesday and features the strength trainer and life coach from TV's "The Bigger Loser" taking gamers through a serious training program using the Wii Balance Board. Players must complete fitness tests using an ever-changing series of workouts. Modes include Weight Loss, Strength Training, Intervals and Hill Climb.
* Bowlers rejoice! "Ten Pin Alley" hit the Wii today. Up to four players can bowl using nine characters and six "worlds." There are five different game modes in case you get tired of simply rolling your ball. There are also more than 100 trick shots to master.
* I just know you all have been waiting for "Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ," and I'm here to tell you it's in stores now. The Nintendo DS game features the famous fairy tale characters going after waves of zombies, ghosts and goblins. You use the DS Stylus to bomb, duck and gouge your enemies. You play as Little Red (who wields a shotgun), or as Japanese hero Momataro.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Want game cheats? This site's 4 U!

There’s a new web site that is designed for one purpose: to help you cheat at video games.

The site,, launched today with a big library of cheat codes, hints and achievements – and it’s easy to use. You type in the game you want to find cheats for, and it acts like a Google for cheaters, tracking down the hints and codes you’re usually after.

Future plans for the Web site include user registration, community features, mobile readiness and viral widgets.

“We wanted to simplify the experience of finding and extracting cheats so gamers could get back into their games as quickly as possible,” said Chris Radtke, vice president of editorial for UGO Entertainment, the company behind the site. “Gamers have been clamoring for better and quicker access to reliable and accurate information.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Facebreakers the game may knock you out


EA Sports, for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 **1/2

Like most boxing games, this one relies on timing, skill and memorizing button combos.

Basically, you turn this on, pick a venue to fight in, and go. (If you want, you can upload an image that will help to create a fighter in your likeness.)

You win by knocking your opponent down three times, or by filling up your “facebreaker” meter and pulling off your special move. You'll quickly discover that every character's attack style has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited.

There are tournaments and cool head-to-head play options, but this is the rare game that I felt could be a little easier. Even the softer levels are a bit tough.

If you get a little too jab-happy, the computer will adjust to punish you for it. The computer fighters also execute “death” moves efficiently, and its combos – called “stun attacks” – can temporarily leave your character, rather Glass Joe-like, open to punishment.

“Facebreaker” has potential, but could use a little smoothing over if/when they decide to do a Version 2.0.



Electronic Arts/Mythic, for the PC **1/2

I found this so-called “epic” title a little less than epic. It's got all the makings of a blockbuster – huge worlds, great characters, solid storyline – but everything just moves too slow. It's like trying to pass on I-85 in a Yugo. You press the gas pedal but not much happens.

The story, as I said, is actually pretty cool. A plague strikes “The Empire” and turns regular people into flesh-eating mutants. Eventually, the mutants and the remaining humans go to war.

Each group has tanks and other weapons, and as your side progresses, you earn action points that allow you to pull off a multitude of skills (just don't use the “flee” button to escape trouble too often, because it drains your action points).

This game gives you the feeling of really being in a fight. And it's incredibly deep; “Warhammer” is designed so you can't beat it quickly. But I have to be honest: I'm not sure I'd have the skill – or patience – to wade all the way through this.


Namco Bandai Games, for the

Nintendo DS ***

Another good game for America's No. 1 handheld. As the new Digimon Tamer, you go after the strongest and most dangerous Digimon in the wild.

Once you capture the Digimon, you train them for more than 50 competitions. How you train and treat your Digimon will change the way they fight and act, and there are more than 200 digi-characters to interact with.

Namco says there are 25 hours of gameplay here. Some good gamers might get through before that, in which case a rental might suffice. But it's definitely worth a look.

Play videogames, fight breast cancer

EA Sports is releasing a special version of “Madden NFL 09” to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's the same game, but has a limited-edition packaging with a pink ribbon, the international symbol of breast-cancer awareness.

Proceeds from “Madden NFL 09 Pink” will benefit the Deanna Favre HOPE Foundation. Deanna Favre, wife of “Madden” cover athlete Brett Favre, started the foundation after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at age 35. Since overcoming the disease, Deanna Favre has committed herself and the foundation to helping underserved and underinsured women who have breast cancer.

“Madden NFL 09 Pink” will be available in Target stores this month.

Games for the holidays

Gamespot, an online gaming site, has released its list of the most anticipated games of the upcoming holiday season.

In alphabetical order, they are: “Call of Duty: World at War” (PC, Nov. 11); “Dead Space” (PC, Oct. 20); “Fable II” (Xbox 360, Oct. 21); “Fallout 3” (PC, Oct. 28); “Far Cry 2” (PC, Oct. 21); “Gears of War 2” (Xbox 360, Nov. 7); “Guitar Hero: World Tour” (Xbox 360, Oct. 26); “Left 4 Dead” (Xbox 360, Nov. 17); “LittleBigPlanet” (PS3, Oct. 21).

“Mirror's Edge” (Xbox 360/PC, Nov. 11); “NHL 2K9” (Wii, out now); “Prince of Persia” (PC, Dec. 2); “Resistance 2” (PS3, Nov. 4); “Rock Band 2” (all consoles, out now); “Soul Calibur IV” (Xbox 360/PS3, out now); “Spore” (PC/Wii/DS, out now); “Tales of Vesperia” (Xbox 360, out now); “World of Witchcraft: Wrath of Lich King” (PC, Nov. 13).

‘The Hardy Boys'The longest-running book series of all time debuts on the Nintendo DS this spring.

In “The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks,” players assume the roles of Frank and Joe Hardy, who have been invited onboard a luxury rail line traveling from Paris to St. Petersburg, Russia. Players will search for hidden clues, explore the train cars, interrogate passengers and solve interactive puzzles as they hunt treasure and attempt to unlock a century-old secret.

‘The Other Season'

When 2K Sports releases “NBA 2K9” later this month, fans will be able to participate in “The Other Season,” a unique online league that turns the tables on fantasy basketball.

The idea: You get drafted, and every stat you score online becomes a point for your owner's fantasy team. The owners: Eight real-life NBA players – including Boston's Kevin Garnett and former Duke star Carlos Boozer of Team USA and the Utah Jazz – who will be competing for charity.

The draft will be held Oct. 28 at 12:01 a.m. Register at

Online golf game

Today, San Francisco-based World Golf Tour ( plans to launch a free, high-definition online golf game with social-networking capabilities. The game requires no download and captures real courses like Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Gamers can play others online, upload videos and create profiles.

‘War World'

Last Thursday, Ubisoft made “War World” available for Xbox Live Arcade. It's a third-person shooter that relies on tactical gameplay and puts players in combat situations on a war-torn planet. “War World” is rated T for Teen and boasts 100 levels.

Want to play for Madden 09 City Championship?

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg County public library is sponsoring a “Madden 09” tournament on the Xbox 360. Three preliminary rounds have been completed, but there are still five to go. Times and locations for the tournament are:

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1-4 p.m., South County Regional, 5801 Rea Road, 704-416-6640.

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1-4 p.m., Mint Hill, 6840 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, 704-416-5221.

Monday, Nov. 10, 3-7 p.m., Freedom Regional, 1230 Alleghany St., 704-416-4221.

Saturday, Nov. 15, noon-4 p.m., Main Library, 310 N. Tryon St., 704-416-5200.

Saturday, Nov. 15, 1-5 p.m., Matthews, 230 Matthews Station St., Matthews, 704-416-5000.

You have to register because there are only 16 spots available at each location. Preliminary winners will get prizes, and the finals will be held 1-4 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Main Library. The city champ wins a $50 gift card from GameStop.

‘Blitz: The League II'

Looking for an alternative to “Madden” to get your football fix? Acclaim's “Blitz: The League II” debuts this week.

This version has a new story mode written by Peter Egan (who scripted ESPN's “Playmakers”). The game includes precision-aim tackles, player-controlled touchdown celebrations (cool), plus the return of intentional late hits. Football legend Lawrence Taylor, the former Tar Heel star, returns as the game's cover athlete and star linebacker for the New York Nightmare.

2 new titles for WII

Namco/Bandai games has released two new titles aimed at getting kids off the couch and moving around by playing the Nintendo Wii.

“We Cheer” allows up to four players to create cheerleaders and perform cheers using your Wii-mote as pom-poms.

“Active Life: Outdoor Challenge” has more than a dozen minigames, including river rafting, mine-cart racing and log jumping. It comes with a specially designed pad that you put on the floor and jump on.

Design your own game

Coming this holiday season is Microsoft's new Community Games service, which will allow game players to become game makers. It's being called the YouTube of videogaming. You'll download the Game Studio development tools, for free, and then start designing. For $100, you can join the XNA Creator's Club so your game will be reviewed by other community developers. I'm figuring a few people will create some titles that will become massive hits – and make them massive bucks.

Video fun for girls

Always glad to see titles aimed at girls. We don't have enough. EA Casual Entertainment is releasing two this week.

“Littlest Pet Shop” (Wii, PC, DS) is a pet simulation aimed at 6- to 10-year-old girls who will adopt pets and earn Kibble Coins to feed them by solving puzzle games. It's inspired by Hasbro's Littlest Pet Shop, popular among girls.

“Boogie SuperStar” (Wii) allows girls to sing current hits into a microphone and do dance moves that are captured on screen using the Wii's motion-sensor technology (that little bar that sits on top of your TV). Popular artists like Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Rihanna and Kayne West have songs in the game.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Power Pros' is tops in baseball lineup

Baseball games geared for kids account for a growing trend in gaming. 2K Sports has the excellent “MLB Power Pros” out now (for the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2) and will release “MLB Superstars” this fall.

Next up to the plate: “Mario Super Sluggers,” which uses the Wii remote to swing the bat and to throw pitches. The game features more than 40 familiar Nintendo characters and in some modes, you can play with your customized Mii characters.

There's a story mode, called Baseball Kingdom, where you have to defeat different characters with different skills in a variety of challenges; beat them, and they'll join your team. For example, if you hit Mario's fireball often enough, well, you'll “beat” him and add him – and the wicked pitch – to your arsenal. Multiplayer modes can handle up to four players.

I preferred “Power Pros'” kid-like take on real baseball, with its real players and realistic gameplay. But I was curious to see how my kids would take to this game. Turns out they prefer “Power Pros,” too.

“Super Sluggers” didn't keep even my 4-year-old's attention for very long. He wanted “Power Pros” back in the Wii immediately, and he played until his daily time limit was up. (I give them 30 minutes per day of TV or gaming. Since they were helping Daddy with work, I gave them an extra half-hour on Thursday night.)

My main complaint about “Super Sluggers” is the top-down view. It's not the best, and it is utilized too frequently.

Otherwise, there's nothing wrong with “Super Sluggers,” per se. The game plays well, and some of the characters' abilities can add some interesting elements. Luigi, for instance, can make a small tornado come up in the infield that renders hitting nearly impossible.

But if I were buying a game in this genre, it would “Power Pros” by a mile.

News and notes

I'm thinking that THQ's “ ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?': Make the Grade” will be a hit when the game reaches stores this fall. It's based on the cult-hit Fox game show that returns to TV on Friday night. In the game version, there will be 6,000 questions in 23 subjects, including music, geography, vocabulary and health. You can play in head-to-head mode or see who can answer the fastest in “flashcards” mode. There's a spelling bee challenge, and a “homeroom” mode that closely mirrors the TV show. I think this will be a family treat.

The new “Guitar Hero World Tour,” due this fall, will feature several of the most influential instrument and equipment brands in the music industry. As you play the game, you'll be able to earn sponsorships and gear from AMPEG, Audio-Techica and many others. The new “Guitar Hero” also will allow gamers to take their virtual bands to digitally re-created stages at Amoeba Music and Live Nation's House of Blues Sunset Strip.

2K Sports' “NHL 2K9” will be available Sept. 9 and offers new superstar moves, Zamboni competitions (huh?) and six-on-six online play. A new Wii version also will debut, allowing gamers to use the Wii-mote as a hockey stick. Get a free demo now on Xbox Live and the PlayStation network.

Wrestling fans, “TNA Impact!” finally hits stores next week for PS3, PS2, Wii and 360. The game will feature the six-sided ring and star wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe and Booker T.

Warner Bros.' “Guinness Book of World Records: The Videogame,” due in October for Nintendo Wii and DS, will allow gamers to try to break 35 different Guinness records.

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133;

Monday, August 18, 2008

Think your high speed internet is fast? Think again.

Do you think your broadband connection is fast?

According to a recent study by the Communications Workers of America union, it doesn't matter if you have cable, satellite or DSL, your U.S. high-speed connection is slow.

Awful slow.

The average broadband download speed in the US is 1.9 megabits per second, compared to 61 MB in Japan, 45 in South Korea, 18 in Sweden, 17 in France, and 7 in Canada, according to the study.

What's that mean?

On average, a file that takes four minutes to download in South Korea would take nearly an hour and a half to download in the U.S., using the average bandwidth.

Japanese users can download an entire movie in just two minutes, as opposed to two hours or more in the States. And according to the study, the Japanese don't pay any more than you do for your broadband. In fact, the study shows that U.S. broadband costs are among the highest in the world.

"This isn't about how fast someone can download a full-length movie," said CWA president Larry Cohen. "Speed matters to our economy and our ability to remain competitive in a global marketplace. Rural development, telemedicine, and distance learning all rely on truly high-speed, universal networks."

Cohen recently testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, in support of a discussion draft of the Broadband Census of America Act.

"We desperately need a national Internet policy to reverse the fact that our nation – the country that invented the Internet – has fallen to 16th in the world in broadband adoption," Cohen said. 'Equally disturbing, Americans pay more for slower connection speeds than people in many other countries."

Cohen pointed out that the average upload speed was in the US was only 371 kilobits per second, not nearly enough to send quality medical information over the Internet.

"Speed Matters on the Internet," Cohen emphasized. "It determines what is possible; whether we will have the 21st century networks we need to grow jobs and our economy, and whether we will be able to support innovations in telemedicine, education, public safety, and public services to improve our lives and communities. High speed Internet could even help address the global warming crisis by allowing people to get things done without getting into their car."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

20th anniversary Madden videogame trumps the rest

The wait is finally over for fans of the Madden franchise: Today marks the release of the 20th anniversary edition of the game, the latest installment in the most popular videogame series of all-time.

Is it good? Very.
EA Sports, to me, has really upgraded the game this year, getting away from the tiny improvements of the past few years. This Madden is a lot better than ’08.

When you start the game, it tests your abilities through 12 drills. The better you do, the harder the game will be. Your score ranges from 200 to 800. No more choosing between two or three difficulty levels, unless you want to.

As you get better, via gameplay or training, the game will get harder. The game’s artificial intelligence also will adjust play calling and in-game play to better fit your skill.

The AI gives in-game hints, based on your IQ score, and postgame reports showing strengths and weaknesses. At that point, you can keep playing or go to the training screen to work on your game – it’s similar to watching game film while coaching or playing for a real team, and then hitting the practice field for improvement.

Another cool feature: You can get in-depth analysis of what went wrong with a play, and you can even “rewind” and run the play again while playing the computer (an option that can be used as many times as you’d like). Yes, it’s a cheat, but as a learning tool, it has benefits.

When you’re playing an opponent, there’s a handicapping system that allows better players to challenge weaker players and not hold back. That was one of my favorite features here.

During play, you can use a picture-in-picture system to get instant replays, stats, tips; you can even use it to decide if you want to challenge an on-field call. And finally, there’s a “hide play call” feature.

Visually, this is the best Madden ever. A new camera shows more of the action, and the pre- and post-play screens have been updated. The pre-game visuals have also been updated, rather 2K-style, and you’ll notice more people on the sidelines.

You’ll also notice the players are bigger, the grass is more realistic-looking, and the weather effects look more convincing and have more effect on the game than ever before.

This year, Tom Hammond and Criscq Collinsworth call the action (though I almost wish EA would hire some actors who would spend more time on voices to get more comments and all players’ names).

When you play a rival, you’ll notice rival-specific commentary. You’ll notice the AI making the rival games harder in franchise mode, and there are some neat presentation elements that make you feel that these are really important games.

Overall, I think EA Sports finally has delivered the Madden game fans have been begging for. There’s a 20th anniversary edition with “NFL Head Coach 09” and tons of bonus content, including a playable version of “Madden 93” (man, we’ve come a long way from those graphics). Separately, there’s a $200 bundle that includes a Sony PSP, “Madden 09,” a special UMD video hosted by Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, and a 1GB memory stick.

I thought the PS3 version looked better and cleaner than the Xbox 360 version. But 360 fans needn’t worry – the Xbox version is well worth the purchase.

This is the best Madden ever, and one of the best games of the year.

GameDaily's Goad: Madden needs updated rosters

The 20th anniversary edition of Madden football hit stores today. The annual Madden release is sort of a videogame holiday for fans. We sat down with Libe Goad, editor of to get his thoughts about the game, the franchise and the Madden haters, who bash it no matter what.
Q. Is this the year EA Sports finally is going to make all the Madden haters happy? Did they get it right?
“Madden haters are always going to hate Madden no matter what tweaks EA Sports makes to the game. Even though people are vocal about disliking Madden, it’s still the best-selling sports game of all time and every year the developers work hard behind the scenes to keep their fans happy. Unless the final version of the game is completely broken or the online portion of the game has problems, anyone who liked Madden NFL 08 will also be happy with Madden NFL 09.
Q. How is it different than in years past?
This year Madden is more about accessibility than ever before. We always joke that the Madden game guide is as thick as the Bible and it’s got a huge learning curve. This year, EA’s trying to give the game wider appeal by including an intelligent difficulty scaling system, called Madden IQ, and a robust tutorial system.
Q. Over the years, EA has been accused of simply fine tuning the next year's release and not putting enough into it to make Madden 06 any different than Madden 07. Do you agree with this and does this game get away from that?
That’s a valid complaint, but I am always amazed that year after year, people will go pay $60 for the new game. We’ve repeatedly asked the Madden team when they’ll just start offering roster updates and – so far – they’ve said never! We speculate it has something to do with game retailers (which are very powerful in the games biz), but I’m certain the Madden crew’s tune will change once digital distribution starts to be more viable for video games.
Q. Has it hurt or helped that EA has had the NFL license and virtually no competition?
Has it helped EA? Yes, definitely. They’re the only game in town! For the consumer, I’d say it hurts since there’s no competition to keep the game makers on their toes. That’s not to say that EA Sports doesn’t give 100% effort to make the best game, but we all know competition tends to drive real innovation.
Q. Glimpse into your crystal ball. How much longer does the Madden franchise continue and what changes would you like to see?
Madden means football game as much as Kleenex means tissue – it’s the call brand for football video games. So it’s hard to imagine the series going away anytime in the next 20 years.
I would like to see the EA Sports guys finally make a really scalable version of Madden that users buy once and then send out updates via download, some free and some bigger ones (annual roster updates, etc) for a nominal fee. Massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft do this already, why can’t Madden? Rather than forcing devoted fans to pay big money every year, this download/update system rewards them for their loyalty.
And – someday – would be great to literally not be able to tell the difference between a real-life football game and a Madden game.

Retailers still selling mature-rated games to minors

While looking for a Nintendo Wii for my mother last week at a local GameStop (I know, good luck with that one), I saw what looked like a minor trying to buy a Mature-rated game.

I was pleased to see the store's salesperson ask for an ID. Apparently, that's not commonplace.

According to a nine-month “secret shopper” study done by the Parents Television Council, video-game retailers sold M-rated games to minors 36 percent of the time.

From November 2007 to July 2008, 16 PTC chapters in 16 states participated in more than 100 secret shopper visits. Most occurred since May. In many cases, PTC chapters had children between 11 and 16 attempt to purchase the M-rated games.

The PTC focused most of its visits on big chains like Best Buy, Circuit City, GameStop and Wal-Mart. It says Best Buy and GameStop fared the best, selling M-rated games to minors 8 percent of the time. The other stores, including Blockbuster, Kmart and Target, sold them 44 percent of the time.

The majority of the children who were successful reported that when a game was scanned at the register, a note came up to ask for ID, but it was bypassed by the cashier.

At one Massachusetts Target, according to the study, the cashier informed a 15-year-old boy that the computer was instructing him to ID anyone who looked under 35. The boy started to walk away, but the cashier said, “That's OK. I'll sell it to you anyway.”

In another example from the study, the manager at a Newbury Comics store in Rhode Island, when told that the store had sold the game to a 14-year-old, said, “Lady, do you have any idea how many kids we have in here every day buying games? Do you think we have the time to look at each and every purchase?”

PTC president Tim Winter believes this research proves that the industry needs tougher enforcement. I can't argue. Kids shouldn't be able to buy violent M-rated games on their own, no more than they should be able to see an R-rated movie without a parent or guardian.

“The failure rate we're seeing is downright pathetic,” Winter said. “Parents deserve a reasonable expectation that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.”

Surround sound adds realism

If you want added realism in your games, I'd suggest investing in a surround sound system.

Don't know where to start? The Consumer Electronics Association has a new interactive guide that can help. It shows consumers, in easy to understand language, how surround and multi-room audio (an even cooler thing than basic surround) can enhance your entertainment experience. Check it out at

Online gamers can talk

Station Voice, a tool that lets players talk to each other in online games, is now available for “EverQuest II” and “Star Wars Galaxies.” The new tech will allow players to easily talk person-to-person in-game with any microphone and headset combo, play with no game lag, and mute or adjust volume. Details: www.station.

Real Olympics are way more fun than this game

Beijing Olympics 2008

Sega of America for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3,

rated E for Everyone


The problem with games like Beijing 2008 is that they have a limited shelf life. After the Olympics are over, this game will lose a lot of appeal.

Worse, it's kind of boring and repetitive.

You compete in a variety of Olympic events – like cycling, weightlifting, swimming and pistol shooting – but in nearly every one, you play the same way: hold down a button to build momentum, then bang away at two buttons to move faster.

Even when I did well, my hands started to hurt from finger-boxing with my Xbox 360 controller. (I'd like to see this on the Wii, where maybe you would go faster if you moved your arms back and forth faster.)

Graphically, this game looks good enough on the 360, and it's got plenty of features – you can choose your athlete, country, and compete in 38 events; you also can check online leaderboards, and track your performances.

But the actual gameplay wasn't much fun. Even my two young kids didn't take to the game.

Deca Sports

Hudson for Nintendo Wii,

rated E for Everyone


If you want an enjoyable Olympics-style title, I'd highly recommend Deca Sports. It's just one of those uber-cool experiences tailor-made for the Wii, and it encourages the family-friendly fun this system is famous for.

There are 10 sporting events to choose from, and you can play in tournament mode, on teams or against the computer.

One of my kids' friends, Maddie, had fun playing figure skating, while I really enjoyed playing basketball with the Wiimote (it's the hardest event to master, although beach volleyball, snowboarding and badminton can get pretty intense).

It's so easy to pick up the basics that you don't really need to read the manual, and there's enough computer assistance that you don't have to have pinpoint accuracy or lightning-quick reflexes. How easy? My 4-year-old has no problem beating his Dad.

This is simply pure fun. And at just $29.99, Deca Sports could be the best bargain in video games. Go get it.

Soul Calibur IV

Bandi Namco for Xbox 360 and PS3, rated T for Teen

In this blockbuster sequel, gamers get a chance to duke it out with legendary “Star Wars” characters like Yoda and Darth Vader.

Namco says this game is “retooled from the ground up” and it is indeed more beautifully drawn than ever before. Also new: a feature called “Critical Finish,” which allows you to stop your opponent with one blow, Bruce Lee-style. I like the online multiplayer action, too.

Unless you love weapon-based fighters and/or are a long-time fan of the franchise, a rental probably will do it. But nonetheless, it's a solid offering in the genre.

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133;

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Soul Train" sold; heading to digital?

Earlier this week, "Soul Train" founder Don Cornelius sold his company and his dream to MadVision, a California-based production company that hopes to bring the long-running TV series into the digital age.

And it's a good thing.

"Soul Train" has run for 38 years in syndication and has developed a devoted following. However, in the past few years, the show has gotten stale. Cornelius turned over hosting duties to TV actors like Shemar Moore ("The Young and the Restless") and the show stopped attracting the great guests who once made it famous.

In a world of MTV, BET and digital downloads, big-time stars apparently didn't feel the need to go stand on stage and lip-synch anymore. And the "Soul Train" dancers stopped being the trendsetters they once were.

Singers like Jody Watley was once a "Soul Train" dancer. Actress/dancer Rosie Perez started as a "Soul Train" dancer.

During the show's heydey, some of the dancers became as popular, in certain areas, as the stars on the stage.

For the past two seasons, re-runs of some of "Soul Train's" greatest episodes have been airing; the aim has been to show a new audience a little history.

MadVision hopes to expand on that -- as well as to reintroduce a revamped weekly edition of new episodes.

“The series has never been shown on DVD, and it’s not been utilized on video-on-demand or mobile or Internet platforms,” said Peter Griffith, a co-founder of MadVision. “There are many opportunities that we are exploring.”

MadVision, which was founded in 2006 by three urban media veterans, is best known for the Showtime stand-up comedy series “White Boyz in the Hood.”

MadVision is currently in talks with potential producers about how a new show might look. It'll be interesting to see if they can breathe new life into the product and make it relevant again.

It may be a good time to do it.

Music videos aren't as popular as they once were, and possibly co-branding a live show with an Internet show, for example, might attract the YouTube audience.

I know a lot of fans have long wanted to be able to buy the older "Soul Train" episodes shows on DVD, to see a young Michael Jackson sing "Got To Be There" or to see and hear Marvin Gaye or Aretha Franklin or Chaka Khan perform. A great idea would be to make those old episodes available on pay-per-view via, say, Netflix's online system, or video-on-demand services from cable and satellite services.

New Coldplay "Guitar Hero" tracks

Popular rock band Coldplay is including a track from its upcoming CD, “Viva la Vida,” in a new downloadable song pack for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

It's great marketing. Record sales aren't what they used to be, and video games are big business. You can reach out to a new audience by putting your music into one of the year's best-selling game series.

Included in the three-song pack is Coldplay's hit single “Violet Hill.” The new album hits stores Tuesday.

The song pack also features Coldplay's first smash hit, “Yellow,” as well as “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” from the Grammy Award-winning album, “A Rush of Blood to the Head.”

The Coldplay track pack will be available on Thursday at Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Store.

In recent weeks, a number of high-profile video game design studios and publishers have left as members of the Washington-based Entertainment Software Association.

The ESA was formed to give the industry a voice on Capitol Hill and keep the government from regulating violent videogames. The ESA runs the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which rates game content.

Activision, Vivendi, LucasArts and Id are out. Some industry insiders say other game companies may follow.

“There are hundreds of trade associations in Washington and virtually all feature member turnover, and the ESA is no exception,” said ESA President Michael Gallagher.

Most companies who have left the ESA haven't explained their move, though it appears that rising dues may be a factor. The organization's fee structure has increased twice in recent years and now amounts to millions of dollars in some cases; one company says fees quadrupled from one year to the next.

Jeff Brown, vice president of communications at game publisher Electronic Arts, said it is “unfortunate” that some industry leaders have left the organization, though he would not speculate on their reasons. As for EA, “there's no thought of leaving the organization,” he said.

Todd Hollenshead, chief executive of Id Software, famous for its “Doom” software, said his company's exit from the organization was a business decision and that the ESA “is a credit to the industry.”

“Our departure from ESA is probably temporary and was not political,” he said. “It was just a question of other priorities this year that we wanted to focus on.”

Look for Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf to be the cover subject for the hockey sim NHL 09, due this fall.

In three NHL seasons, Phaneuf has been nominated for the 2007-2008 Norris Trophy, is a two-time All-Star, and has 159 points thus far in his short NHL career.

I recently tried Large Software's ($29.95, new PC Tune-Up 2.0 software. Playing a lot of computer games can tax your PC, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to clean mine up. It was running slow.

The Tune Up is compatible with Windows XP (SP3) and Vista (SP1).

The program purports to remove items that cause your computer to run slow or crash. At least for me, it did the trick. It took about 15 minutes to run, checking my registry, checking for invalid files and a lot more. Then it prompted me to fix stuff.

It's simple, and once the program stopped running I felt my 5-year-old PC was as nimble as it has been in years. I'd rate this one very high. The Associated Press contributed.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can videogames improve human behavior?

Can video games change behavior for the better? We may know soon.

Last week, Ubisoft announced plans to make a game based on Allen Carr's book “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” The game, for the Nintendo DS, is due in November and aims to provide a digital coach to help smokers kick the habit.

And recently, 12 research teams received more than $2 million in grants to study the ways video games reinforce healthy or unhealthy behaviors among players of various ages. The grants were awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its health games research national program, which is based at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Among the topics to be explored via the studies: How motion-based games may help stroke patients progress faster in physical therapy; and how people in substance-abuse treatment programs can practice skills and behaviors in a virtual environment to prevent relapses in the real world.

Professor takes jab well

Rockstar Games, maker of the best-seller “Grand Theft Auto 4,” released a promotional video on YouTube that makes fun of a hybrid car called the Karin Dillettante. The car – also featured in the game – is an apparent jab at Dr. Karen Dill, associate professor of psychology at Lenoir-Rhyne College and a researcher on the effects of violent video games.

Dill of Hickory has spent more than 10 years researching the effects of playing violent and anti-social video games. Her research has shown that games like “GTA4” desensitize young people to violence as well as gender and racial stereotypes.

Dill felt the spoof was “good-natured ribbing.”

“I actually think it's funny and clever of them,” she said.

Wii rules April

It's probably no surprise, but Nintendo's Wii emerged as the top-selling console in April according to the independent NPD Group, which tracks U.S. video game sales. More than 714,000 Wiis were sold in April, bringing total sales in the United States to more than 9.5 million.

Six of the top 10 games for the month were for Nintendo systems, including Wii titles “Mario Kart” (No. 2) and “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” (No. 5).

PSP to come with Madden

Sony Computer Entertainment America plans to release a metallic-blue PSP bundled with “Madden NFL 09.”

The pack will sell for $199.99 and include “NFL: In Just One Play,” a Universal Media Disc (playable on the PSP); a 1-gigabyte Memory Stick; and a voucher for a free download from the PlayStation music store.

Trying fast fitness associate editor Mark Bozon recently started trying to lose 15 pounds in 30 days using the new Nintendo Wii Fit. You can check out his progress at

Bozon, who loves pizza with his “Grand Theft Auto,” promised to eat healthier during the test.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Lakers win the NBA Championship

The NBA Finals begin tonight on ABC. EA Sports thinks it knows who will win the best-of-seven series.

The company used its NBA Live '09 video game to simulate the series (the game hits stores in October). The result gave the Lakers a 4-3 win. The finals MVP was Kobe Bryant, who averaged 29 points and six rebounds.

A recap of each "game."

Game 1: Celtics win 105-99 behind Kevin Garnett (20 points, nine rebounds, four blocks). Bryant (25 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) leads the Lakers, who shoot 45 percent compared to Boston's 47 percent.

Game 2: L.A. wins 96-90.

Paul Pierce gets 24 points and nine assists, but Bryant offsets that with 30 points on four three-point shots. Both teams shoot 47 percent, but the Lakers get a big Bryant slam in the fourth quarter, gaining a slim lead they don't give up.

Game 3: L.A. 109, Boston 101.

Bryant goes wild for 36 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. The Lakers win easily at home.

Game 4: Boston evens the series with a 91-88 win at Los Angeles. Ray Allen goes for 29 points on six three-point shots. Boston shoots nearly 50 percent from the field.

Game 5: Pao Gasol's 25-point, 12-rebound performance gives the Lakers a 95-92 win, and Los Angeles is up 3-2 -- just one game from glory.

Game 6: Boston forces Game 7 at home with a 98-97 win. Pierce and Bryant both go for 28 points, but Garnett's fade-away jumper in the final seconds gives the Celts the win.

Game 7: Bryant leads the Lakers to the title in a 106-101 win at the Boston Garden. Bryant finishes with 38 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, offsetting a brilliant performance from Garnett (29 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks).

Bryant scores 29 of his 38 in the second half.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Can a videogame really help you stop smoking?

Ubisoft plans to make a game based on Allen Carr's book “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” The game, for the Nintendo DS, is slated to be released in November.

Carr's book was published in 50 countries and became an international best-seller. According to Ubisoft, more than 10 million smokers worldwide have used the book (or associated clinics or DVDs) to kick the habit.

Carr's method tries to remove the smoker's belief that smoking provides him with any genuine pleasure or crutch; its goal is to take away the feeling of deprivation and rid the smoker of the fear of stopping. Independent scientific studies confirm a success rate of greater than 50 percent after 12 months.

On the DS, a player will input details of his or her smoking habit and select a digital “coach” to help them kick it.

Media Xporter Drive

Many gamers are using their Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s as entertainment devices to store music and movies. Iomega's new Media Xporter Drive is designed to increase storage capacity.

It's a wallet-sized device with a 160-gigabyte capacity that connects via the USB 2.0 port and allows users to store and play back content on TV through the game console – without the need for a PC or digital media adapter. In other words, you could download a TV show on your PC, put it on the Media Xporter Drive, then hook up to your game console and watch it on an HDTV.

The unit will store up to 240 hours of MPEG-2 video, 2,960 hours of music, and 640,000 photos.

The new $104 drive also expands the capabilities of the consoles by converting multiple formats into files your game console recognizes.


One of the most anticipated sports games of the summer, “Don King Presents: Prizefighter,” drops June 10 for Xbox 360 and in the fall for the Wii. The soundtrack will include funk artists Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Parliament, plus rap group Run DMC. Collins provided an original theme song for the game.

“Prizefighter” follows players as they train and ascend to stardom by overcoming adversity, temptation (2007 Penthouse Pet of the Year Heather Vandeven is among the women vying for your time), and bad agents. It's presented as a live-action sports documentary.

Odds and ends

-- Namco Bandai released “Splatterhouse” for the Xbox 360 and PS3 last week. Inspired by the 1988 arcade hit, “Splatterhouse” follows a college student trying to rescue his girlfriend, who disappeared after entering what appears to be a haunted house. The lead character goes inside and puts on a “terror mask,” gains mystical powers, and battles otherworldly creatures while trying to find his girl.

-- G4, the multimedia technology destination, has made some of its most popular series available to download on Xbox Live. Shows available for download immediately are animated comedy series “Code Monkeys,” including a free sneak preview of season two, snowboarder reality series “The Block” and a special weekly episode of “Attack of the Show.”

-- On June 23, author Michael Kane's “Game Boys” book will debut. Kane tracks two top gaming teams and writes about how gaming, the sport, is becoming mainstream and developing stars – and problems with gambling, drugs and more. Kane is a features writer for the New York Post.

-- Debuting in stores Tuesday June 3: “Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2” for the PSP. “Open Tee 2” adds six new courses and 12 new characters to the popular golf simulation.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New soccer game lets you get dirty

UEFA Euro 2008
Electronic Arts for Xbox 360
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

It’s been awhile since I played a sports simulation. So it was nice to pop in a decent soccer game from EA Sports called “UEFA Euro 2008.”
You pick from over 50 Euro soccer teams and try to lead your team to the championship. Easy. As usual, graphics are good and EA’s soccer engine is second to none. This is as good as it gets, game play wise, for soccer sims, down to being able to see your team manager react – good or bad – on the sidelines based on your play.
The game even mimics the winter weather in Europe. Frequent driving rains cause muddy fields and realistic play on it (meaning you slip and slide a lot and your uniform becomes unrecognizably brown).
A new mode, “Captain Your Country” allows you to work your way up through eight levels to become your team’s captain. I couldn’t hang in long enough to make it all the way, but the journey is fun – and it’s a great way to improve your skills.
A cool new online feature called “Battle of the Nations” allows you to rep your team online and earn points. Your points are tracked via your username online and you can view yourself against other gamers on the leaderboard ta
Empire Games for Nintendo DS
Rating: 1.0 out of 4 stars

Once upon a time, Myst was one of the bigger names in the videogame business.
This new DS version doesn’t do its predecessors justice. Part of the problem is the graphics. Myst takes you on a journey to new worlds and without much instruction. You just explore. It’s hard to become “part” of your gaming world if the world looks so pixilated and small. I spent too much time hitting the zoom button and not enough enjoying the game.
You basically play by tapping the stylus on the screen – to move, to interact with objects, to solve puzzles. Only you have to tap hard sometimes to make the game react. It gets frustrating, especially with the tiny graphics. This was a gem on a PC or old-school consoles. On DS, it’s a “leave-it-at-the-store-and-pick-something-else.”
News n Notes
-- Two new Guitar Hero titles are on the way. “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” follows the band’s journey from their first gig to superstardom. Players can play the band’s greatest hits or other artists.
Guitar Hero: On Tour, for the Nintendo DS uses a new “Guitar Grip” control that fits into the DS along with a pick-stylus.
-- Gameloft has an agreement with the NBA to make official basketball games for mobile phones. First up is NBA Smash!, a 2-on-2 street game. In the fall, a 5-on-5 game will launch.
Reach Langston? 704-358-5133 or

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ditch the club membership, get Wii Fit

Wii Fit
Nintendo, for the Wii, $89.99
Rating: * * * *

As I write this, my 8-year-old son, Trey, is trying one of the best video-game innovations I've seen in years: the Wii Balance Board. It's up there with the Wii-mote, the first PlayStation and “Rock Band's” drum sets.

“Wii Fit” – due in stores this week – comes with the board, a simple white apparatus that looks like an oversized bathroom scale. When you use it for the first time, it asks for basic information, like height and weight and birth date. When Trey stepped onto it, it measured his weight and gave him a body mass index based on those numbers.

(Trey's BMI is optimal, but mine's not, so the game developed a program for me to bring it down. Judging from how Trey and I were huffing and puffing, I think it might work.)

But back to our setup. The Wii measures Trey's balance. It's good, but he tends to rest on his heels a bit. The game gives him some drills using onscreen icons based on how his weight shifts to help improve his balance.

Next, you choose a male or female trainer. Then you can choose yoga, strength training, balance or aerobic exercise training. Each opens a wealth of games and exercises to get you moving and having fun.

Trey jumps forward to a balance game using soccer balls. You try to head the balls coming at you by shifting your body left and right while keeping your feet down and avoiding getting hit by the shoes coming at you. It's a fun and ingenious way to improve balance.

“Dude,” Trey says, “this is really hard.” (So much for the theory that all video games turn kids into couch potatoes.) Then he tries again.

Later, he chooses push-ups in the “strength training” zone. You put your hands on the board, your feet on the ground and mirror the trainer's movements. . She does a push-up. In the same motion, she rotates onto one hand – crossing one foot over the other – and stretches one arm to the sky. The machine tracks whether Trey does it correctly by checking his pressure on the board. It beeps when he gets it wrong. He adjusts quickly. Trey scores 91 points and is having fun.

There are tons of exercises that kids and adults will enjoy. Difficulty levels can be adjusted, and you'll be surprised at how much of a workout you can get from playing a video game.

A few weeks back, I said “Grand Theft Auto IV,” taken for what it was – a game and not social commentary – was the best of the year. “Wii Fit” is going to be right up there with it.

The Wii Balance Board will bring new players to gaming. Tons of them. There will be a class at a YMCA somewhere in America (probably at the Siskey Y in Charlotte) where 20 spandex-clad women will stand in front of a TV and get their Wii workout on. I guarantee it.

We Ski
Namco Bandai, for the Wii, $29.99
Rating: * * *1/2

This is one of the first games (along with “Wii Fit”) to use the new Wii Balance Board.

The game is pure fun. You create a character and basically go skiing. Using the Wii-mote and nunchuk is cool, but it's much more fun to get on the board and assume a skiing position. You hold the Wii-mote in front of you like ski poles and swivel your hips as you go downhill.

I actually got good and sweaty playing this on the board, and found myself laughing out loud. This is about as close to real skiing as you're going to get without packing up the car and heading to the mountains.

The only bummer here: Though up to four people can play with standard Wii-motes, only one person can play when the board is connected.

But this game should be a huge hit nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wireless mice and flexible webcams make life easier

When Microsoft sent me news of its latest webcam, the Lifecam VX-5000, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. I had been trying to video-chat with my dad in Las Vegas, and was saying I wish someone made a versatile webcam that can bend to fit on the top of either a laptop or a desktop (since I'm always switching back and forth).

Microsoft's new $49 unit promises to do just that, via a flexible attachment. It adds what the company calls "world-class VGA optics" with solid 640x480 video resolution.

Users can share and swap photos from their PCs during a video call with the press of a button, and hear the reaction of family and friends as they look at the shots.

Another cool feature is the ability to add video effects to your live calls and to assign your video call buddies to a button on your computer. So if you want to chat, just hit one button.

The unit comes with MSN Photo Swap, the program that lets you share digial pictures in mid-video conservation.

Wireless Mouse Rocks

Recently I've been testing a new wireless mouse from the Bill Gates Company called the "Wireless Notebook Mouse Optical 3000."

I'll spare you all the techno mumbo-jumbo. The thing works really well. I've been using some rather old wired mice that came with my equipment, and another I got from the office. The difference in speed is amazing.

At first, I almost felt the new mouse was too sensitive. But I quickly got used to how smoothly the ultra-responsive new mouse glides -- on almost any surface. I don't find myself having to move the mouse up and down and side to side to make sure it's still working.

Not having wires for the first time was cool, too. It gave me a lot of work freedom and my hand never got tired because I could change the position so easily. For $29.95, I think this is money well spent.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Videogame cooking? No cleaning up ...

I bet the one thing you’ve been dying to do this week is bake a
digital cake, right?

Majesco Entertainment is banking you will. It announced “Cake Mania: In the Mix!” for the Nintendo Wii will be released in
time for Christmas.

And it’s a sequel.

Of course, any game about baking is about time management. There’s even a co-op mode where lead character Jill Evans can get a little help making her double chocolate chip supreme.

The PC version of this game has been downloaded more than
80 million times and sold 315,000 units on the Nintendo DS, so
somebody likes digital cooking (I guess if you burn something you
don’t smell it - and there’s no clean-up!).

In case you’re curious, you’ll use the Wii-mote to lead Jill
through nine bakeries.

You learn all parts of the baking biz, from catering to advertis

And, yes, you will “cook.”

Iron Man game rusts

`Iron Man'
I'm dying to see the "Iron Man" movie, but my wife insists I wait for her. And she's busy with work this week.

So as I waited to see Tony Stark on the big screen, I stuck in the new Sega video game that's based on the ultra-successful film.

I was let down, to be honest.

You take two levels to build and experiment with your armor and then you mainly fly around and blow things up.

The playing "world" is big, and you can interact with a lot of people and weapons, but I wanted more time against some famous Iron Man foes like Titanium Man -- and less time just zapping tanks with my repulsor rays.

It's cool that some of the stars from the movie (including Robert Downey Jr.) did voice work on the game, but the whole experience needed more bite to be good. And it didn't have it.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time
Nintendo, for Nintendo DS, $34.99
Rating: 2/4

I'm tired of Poke-mania. I'll admit it.

And the new game's plot -- waking up on a beach with no memory to discover you've been turned into, oh no, a Pokemon -- didn't really freshen things up for me.

Your mission: to find out what changed you into a virtual Poke. After answering some questions and choosing a) a Pokemon character to fit your personality and b) a Pokemon partner, you join an exploration guild and aid other Pokemon in trouble.

If you lose a battle, you can ask other players for help, which -- unlike in past games -- doesn't cost you money or items (unless they cannot rescue you). But for me, Mr. Tired Of All Things Poke, playing the game was like watching the 700th episode of a sitcom you don't like anymore.

The magic is gone.

More GTA fallout

Top-selling "Grand Theft Auto IV" continues to generate controversy. There've been protests from feminists, immigrant groups, New York City police and New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Florida attorney Jack Thompson called "GTA IV" "the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio."

This week, Mothers Against Drunk Driving came out against the game, which enables players to drive while under the influence of alcohol. The organization wants the game to be rated "Adults Only" (I think it should be, too).

"Drunk driving is not a game, and it is not a joke," MADD said in a statement released last week. "Drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime, and it is also 100 percent preventable."

MADD is calling on publisher Take-Two Interactive and developer Rockstar Games to consider stopping distribution of the game "out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving." Of course, Take Two has no such plans.

"We have a great deal of respect for MADD's mission, but we believe the mature audience for `Grand Theft Auto IV' is more than sophisticated enough to understand the game's content," Rockstar Games said in a statement to The Associated Press. "For the same reason that you can't judge an entire film or television program by a single scene, you can't judge `Grand Theft Auto IV' by a small aspect of the game."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Minors & mature videogames?

“Grand Theft Auto IV,” released last week, has already made half a billion bucks, but a pair of bipartisan House members want to make buying the “Mature”-rated game a little more difficult -- at least for minors.

On Wednesday, Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act to ensure that minors “can only access age-appropriate content without parental permission.”

“The images and themes in some video games are shocking and troublesome,” Terry said. “In some games, high scores are often earned by players who commit ‘virtual’ murder, assault and rape. Many young children are walking into stores and are able to buy or rent these games without their parents even knowing about it.”

Terry acknowledged that some retailers have tried to develop measures to prevent minors from renting or buying age-inappropriate materials, but felt more needed to be done.

The new bill would require ID checks for purchases of games rated M for Mature or AO for Adults Only. It would also make retailers post a ratings explanation in the store. Violators would face a $5,000 civil penalty.

The Parents Television Council, which advocates responsible entertainment, supports the bill.

"It’s high time a common-sense bill like the one introduced today be signed into law,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “Video game ratings supposedly exist to protect children from material that is created for adults, but there is no consequence for irresponsible retailers who repeatedly sell these games to children. The importance of this issue cannot be overstated.”

Several state legislatures have enacted similar laws, but each has been struck down by courts on First Amendment challenges.

Terry said he remains optimistic because, unlike the state laws, “This bill doesn’t involve itself in content or defining the standards for ‘Mature’ or ‘Adults Only,’” he told Daily Variety. “It simply requires the retailer to post what the industry has defined as ‘Mature’ and ‘Adults Only’ so that parents can know, and requires checking of identification.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Violent thrill wears off fast

Viking: Battle for Asgard
Sega, for Xbox 360, $59.99 (also available for PlayStation 3)
Rating: 2.5/4

You play as a Viking warrior named Skarin, who has been charged with protecting Asgard from an army of demons that has been released by an evil goddess.

The game is incredibly deep. The amount of area you can explore is massive, and you can interact with almost anyone or anything.

The violence is fast and furious. (Think "300" on steroids.) You will fight dragons and have dragons come to your aid, literally torching the competition. You'll hack and slash hordes of demons.

Unfortunately, saving is a big chore, the storyline is fairly weak, and after a few hours of play, the game quickly starts to feel repetitive.

Once the thrill of slashing and hacking has worn off, there isn't much incentive to finish the game.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Sega, for PlayStation 3, $59.99 (also available for Xbox 360)
Rating: 3/4 stars

You play as a special agent named Ethan Thomas, who was so torn up after chasing crazed supernatural serial killers in the original version of this game (which I didn't play) that he's become an alcoholic.

Now a friend is missing, and to find him, he'll need to return to battling those crazy killers as he makes his way down a pretty scary and intense road to more supernatural adventures. Along the way, you'll face some moral choices -- like whether to kill a really, really bad person after beating him to a pulp (and if so, which weapon to do it with).

The plot is major-motion-picture good, and the graphics are great, too. I like the emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, which requires you to really master combinations. And almost anything can used as a weapon; you can even pick up a bowling ball.

As games designed for adults go, this is near-brilliant. But let's be clear: This game is only for adults.

News and notes

• Interesting interview by GameDaily with EA Sports head Peter Moore last week. Moore said the company will not make Madden '09 available for the PC.

"We've built sports games to take advantage of the plasma televisions, and the new high-def experiences that people are having in their homes," Moore told the Web site. "We've also built them to be very social. So whether it's playing online -- or equally likely, two or four of you in the room together -- the PC business has just ... waned."

• Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told several media outlets last week that his company isn't concerned that Microsoft may be considering a motion-sensing, Wiimote-type device for the Xbox 360. Iwata said the technology is hard to develop, and that Nintendo is focused on making great games, not what the competition is doing.

• Check out my four-star review of "Grand Theft Auto IV" -- which industry analysts predict will become the highest-grossing video game ever -- at

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133;

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Grand Theft 4" a hit -- but only for adults

“Grand Theft Auto IV” hits stores today and industry analysts predict it could be the most lucrative launch in entertainment history - nine million copies strong.

Microsoft and Bungee Studios' epic “Halo 3” did a record-breaking $300 million in first week sales late last year. Most analysts think “GTA IV” will hit somewhere just short of $400 million in week one.

The game is rated M for Mature and includes blood, violence, partial nudity, offensive language, strong sexual content and drug use.

It’s about a European named Niko Bellic who comes to Liberty City (a near-perfect stand-in for New York) to live with his cousin, Roman. Roman has gotten his cousin to move here with the promise of riches - only Roman lives in a dilapated apartment and has a crummy job at a car service.

The two chase the American Dream but quickly fall into debt - and into the underworld. Niko finds himself driving to do “odd jobs” for a crime boss.

Rockstar Games, which publishes “GTA,” has been careful to not release too much information about the game or to even trumpet its arrival, the way Microsoft did with merchandise tie-ins and a massive ad campaign for “Halo.”

“Rockstar wants to control the message all the time,” says Sam Kennedy, editorial director for the gaming site “They want this to be seen and perceived exactly the way they want. That’s why - outside of the official trailers they released - people haven’t seen a lot of gameplay footage in advance of ‘GTA IV’ shipping. They want to build that hype.”

The game (4 stars out of 4) has been delayed two years and took nearly 1,000 people to produce. Rating it purely as a video game, it’s one of the best in the past five years. The playing field is an entire city, nearly produced to scale. You can interact with virtually everything you see.

I played the PS3 version for a few hours and then the Xbox 360 version for a few more. I enjoyed the PS3 because of the support for the motion controller, but the Xbox colors were a little better, particularly when playing on an HDTV capable of 1080p resolution.

The game is violent. You play from the perspective of a criminal. You steal cars. You run over people. You shoot people. You drive drunk. You can also buy a hamburger or a beer. You can fly a helicopter. You can play pool. You can date. There’s even a stand-up comedy routine stuck in there.

And there is plenty of simulated sex - in cars and in strip clubs. I had seen some videos of that portion of the gameplay over the weekend that prompted me to think that this game should be rated Adults Only. I haven’t changed that opinion after playing.

I think Rockstar has every right to publish this game and consenting adults, those 21 and over, have every right to play and enjoy. The game is made for adults.

There’s lots to enjoy. Store owners just have to be sure to check IDs. I’m not so sure this game should be displayed on the shelves alongside "Mario Kart," though. It probably should be the kind of thing you have to ask for.

But it is awfully good.

As you drive from mission to mission, hopefully using your GPS, you interact with city dwellers who talk and interact with you like you might expect in real life. Players must be mindful of how much damage your car sustains as you move along. That affects how it drives.

I marveled at how detailed the streetscapes were. The people on the streets have plenty to say, too. (In my experience, I didn’t hear the same reaction twice.)

I enjoyed the interaction a little more than the combat. Shooting was easy. Fighting was not so easy. But there are plenty of bonus games to keep your attention, plus some multiplayer modes.

This is the best game of the year, and it’ll sell like it, too.

“The addressable market at launch is about 24 million consoles,” says Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Morgan. “So how many will sell in the first week or month or few months? Nine million. That’s the number. That’s about a 35 percent attach rate. By year’s end, it’ll be somewhere between 11 and 13 million because more consoles will be sold before the holidays.”

The Associated Press contributed.
Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133;