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;