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.