Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Amazon Has a Sense of Humor

This was great. Many days Amazon features a single track of an album as a free download (in hopes that you'll like it and want to buy the whole thing). Today had a (I hope intentional) ironic twist to it:

Yeah, that's Weird Al's song about downloading free music illegally. Nicely done Amazon. :-) Head over to the download page if you want a copy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The WiiMotion Plus - A Prophetic Essay Released Too Late

I wrote the following essay over a year ago (last save was June 20, 2008), before the announcement of the WiiMotion Plus. I'm sad to say that I never attempted to publish the essay, which sucks because I totally called this one. In any case, for my own amusement and patting myself on the back, as well as because it still contains some awesome ideas, I'm finally going to publish my essay, which is untouched since June of 2008. Enjoy the amazing prophesy that has already come true!

How Nintendo Almost Started a Revolution

As a recent college graduate hoping to eventually be gainfully employed, I’m in the midst of my search for a career. Video games are my passion, and it has always been a dream of mine to work as a game developer, so I began applying for positions in the industry, only to discover the age-old Catch 22: “Must have experience to get job, must have job to get experience.” Time for Plan B: Find a way to get experience without a job. For that, I needed an idea.

I had often said that I was disappointed with my Wii due to the lack of any games taking advantage of the Wii's unique capabilities. Don’t believe me? According to, the top 5 best-rated games at the time of writing, in order, are: Super Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Resident Evil 4, and Metroid Prime 3. Galaxy doesn’t make any real use of the Wii controller outside of some pointing capabilities (no, I don’t count “shake-the-controller-to-attack” as a technological breakthrough). Brawl is actually best-played with a Gamecube controller, and both Twilight Princess and Resident Evil 4 were in fact released on the Gamecube itself! Metroid Prime 3 is just a first person shooter – perhaps with innovative controls for a console, but PC-gamers will laugh at anyone who finds a pointing device to be truly innovative.

The only ways that we’ve seen developers actually do some cool stuff with the Wiimote is through mini-games, or what I’m going to term “micro-actions”. Wii Sports, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, and Rayman Raving Rabbids are the only good games that stand out in my mind as really taking advantage of the true innovation of the Wii: motion sensing. In all of these cases, we have little micro-actions that the Wiimote senses and then projects to the screen. Pump your hands quickly. Swing your hand to hit something. Drop the remote at the right time. Fun? Sure. Huge-innovation-enabling-totally-new-types-of-gameplay-experiences-as-was-promised-to-us? Hardly.

My mission was clear: I needed to show these developers what they should be doing with Nintendo’s brilliant new hardware. Mini-actions are fine, but macro-actions - large, continuous movements over long periods of time - were the future. I had grandiose plans. I would develop a mind-blowing technology demonstration, submit it for a presentation at the next GDC, and then stun the audience with the amazing new gameplay I had created. After the presentation there would be thunderous applause, a shower of job offers falling from the ceiling like confetti, and Shigeru Miyamoto himself would come on stage and bless me.

Step one of course was to develop the technology demo.

I set out to find a good API that I could use to create the demo. After a bit of online research, I found one to my liking and began to delve into the details. I found a nice list of all of the motion data available to the programmer. It had acceleration in 3 axes, the X/Y coordinates of the IR pointer, and an estimate of the distance of the pointer from the TV. After reading this list, my jaw dropped. My dreams shattered. Miyamoto would never bless me in front of thousands of adoring game developers. Why? What’s missing from this list? Any sort of rotational acceleration! It turns out that Nintendo didn’t bother to include any gyroscopic sensors in their formerly (and now ironically) codenamed Revolution.

What does this mean? Developers have no way to track true position through 3D space. Instead, they must make assumptions about the way the player is holding the controller. Does this sound familiar? Yup: micro-actions. The motion-sensing only feels realistic and accurate when the developer can tell the player how they’re “supposed” to hold the controller. If we know that the player is holding the Wiimote like a steering wheel then we can make an assumption about the tilt of the Wiimote based on the acceleration provided by gravity. But this is a cheap hack, and doesn’t work if the assumptions are broken. For example, try playing Mario Kart holding the Wiimote like a big rig wheel and rotating it about the vertical axis. Nothing happens! The implication is that the Nintendo Wiimote is likely to never move past pointing at the screen and the use of contrived micro-actions.

Suddenly my blame shifted from the developers to Nintendo. How could you do this to us? You were on the verge of completely redefining video games, but you were too cheap to put in a couple of gyroscopes? I would happily have eaten the cost for the incredible possibilities that they would have enabled. Allow me to paint a picture.

Remember that rather absurd commercial for Red Steel with the guy hiding behind his couch to avoid enemy bullets? Perhaps it’s not quite so absurd. With gyroscopes, you could strap a second Wiimote to your chest and the Wii could calculate the position of you, and even your body orientation. You could actually be forced to dodge incoming fire in your living room! And heck, with a couple of positional clicks you could tell the Wii the exact location of your couch in real 3D space, which could then act as a barrier and provide cover for you as you fire from behind it. The possibilities are, or were, endless.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost. A little internet searching turned up a new product called Darwin from Motus Corporation that does have the proper sensors. It is aimed specifically at non-Wii hardware, and if it gains popularity (and more importantly, good games), it could drive quite a knife into the back of Nintendo’s newest child. Historically speaking though, a peripheral is not generally going to attract a large number of games that require it, but at this point I can only hope that this new device, or something like it, will give us the “Revolution” we were once promised. – Darwin

So yeah, maybe Darwin didn't do anything, but I did say "or something like it", which clearly meant "the WiiMotion Plus". :-)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Yahoo! Answers a little too optimistic

I came across this gem while trying to find out how to use a AAA discount through Expedia:

So if I keep trying it might spontaneously un-delete itself, eh? Yahoo! is apparently run by the same people who keep pressing elevator buttons and who think it's mathematically possible to give 110%.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Movie Rant: Quarantine

I'm up to five followers. I feel so special. :) Plus I think my wife reads them too, so that's kinda six. Not that she's "kinda" a person, but rather that she "kinda" counts as a follower... I imagine I'm gonna get smacked when she reads this.

Anyway, I was trying to think of something to write about today and I ended up remembering that I watched Quarantine recently with my wife. This is not going to be a full movie review - more just a brief rant on some stupid jackass of a marketing director who ruined the movie for me.

First off, if you haven't seen a trailer for Quarantine, don't watch one. It contains a huge spoiler that truly ruined the end of the movie for me. Here's what you need to know: it's a pretty good scary movie filmed in the Cloverfield handicam method and generally done quite well. If you like scary movies it's worth checking out.

***Spoiler Alert***

Now, I generally hate spoilers. Like, someone told me the end to a book one time so I promptly put the book down and didn't read it again until years later when I forgot what happened. That's probably why I'm so angry about this trailer. You see, the very last 5 seconds of the movie are actually shown in the trailer. And this isn't in the sort of "Oh, I remember I saw that" kind of thing. This is a crucial part of the trailer that you spend the whole movie going "I wonder when that part is going to happen", only to realize, as you approach the end, that it was very clearly the end of the freakin' movie that they decided to broadcast to the world.

It's one thing to show all the funny jokes in a comedy trailer. But for a scary movie, which generally had tons of great material to pull from for a trailer, featuring the final scene not only in the movie, but also on the freakin' front cover of the DVD and the movie posters, is just ridiculously dickish. My wife and I both genuinely enjoyed the entire movie (she jumped so hard at one point that she spontaneously gave herself a charlie horse in both calves!) until the end, when we both got very annoyed and lost the entire suspension of disbelief. So thanks Mr. Marketing Jerk - you ruined the movie for us. But we did watch it, so I suppose you did your job. Jackass.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Recommended Daily-Deals Sites

I have a small collection of sites that I check regularly to keep up on any special deals or discounts that might be available on that particular day. I will warn in advance: this can often lead to spending when you weren't planning on it (one of the sites even has the oh-so-true tagline "How to go broke saving money"). That said, I've found some amazing deals on these. There is going to be some overlap of the big stories too, but I've seen enough variety that I often find it worthwhile to have at least two of these on permanently-open tabs in my browser. - This might be my favorite all-around deal site. It's well-written and often has useful information and extra links on top of the deals. Occasionally has some non-techy deals but usually focuses on computers, gaming, and electronics. - This is a great source for deals on games and hardware (especially on hardware - they tend to be very on top of the current cheapest deals on the net if you're looking to buy a new system). I used to focus primarily on their more specific site, but this one is a bit broader so I'm starting to favor it. - Don't be fooled by the name - while it may aim to focus on Apple products it has a lot of other deals as well. Most specifically, I daily read their RSS feed on MP3 deals and have gotten some amazing deals through them. In fact, I've built up a fairly decent (legal!) library almost entirely from scratch using these deals and have only spent more than $5 on one album so far (Chili Pepper's Blood Sugar Sex Magic, which is totally worth full price anyway). Just last week, I purchased Jason Mraz's Mr. A-Z, Daft Punks's Discovery, and Radiohead's Kid-A in one day for a combined total of $5.98. - For some reason I haven't kept up with this one as well recently but I used to follow it religiously. I'd still recommend it as it is loaded with a variety of daily deals and probably has the strongest forums (including one on each deal) and community of any of these sites.

Oh, good lord...I just looked at PS3 with an extra controller for $249? I'm currently debating the benefits of a blu-ray player with my wife. See, I wasn't kidding with that warning at the beginning. Anyway, does anyone else have any good deal sites they would recommend I check out?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shameless Plug For My Game Blog

In case anyone is interested, I'm working on creating a Flash game and have recently released a blog to discuss the development process. The game is going to be awesome (and is already shaping up very nicely) and has a very talented development team behind it. Check it out at :)