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  Pushing the DS Envelope  
Posted 2007-07-08 by Tony Walsh
Pushing the DS Envelope
"Sleeping Kayu" by Shtroodle
I don't like to tinker much with my gadgets, but I just might have to get my hands dirty with some hot Nintendo DS homebrew action. Auriea Harvey pointed out, two third-party applications which captured my interest: DSOrganize (PDA-like) and Colors! DS (turns your DS into a paint canvas). The more productivity I can squeeze out of my DS, the better. Lately it's been weeping in a corner next to my bed, relegated to alarm-clock duty.

The only reason I'd even consider mucking about with DS homebrew applications is that there's apparently very little mucking involved. Just pop in an M3DS Simply cartridge, pop an SD card into that, and whip through the handy Idiot's Guide. I've got an SD-reader built into my PC, so shuttling files between the DS and PC should be a snap (failing a WiFi link). I'm particularly interested in applications for the DS video camera... so much potential...
  ‘The Office’: The Game  
Posted 2007-06-20 by Tony Walsh
Casual games publisher MumboJumbo announced today that it will bring a game based on The Office to platforms including PC, Sony PSP, and Nintendo DS. I presume this will be a game version of the American version of the British TV series... sounds terribly unfunny already, but it gets funnier.

According to an official press release, MumboJumbo's CEO says that he looks forward to working with NBC Universal "to ensure that the thematic elements of 'The Office' are closely approximated in the development of the video game." Note that he didn't say that the game itself will carry forth the themes of the TV series, but that these themes will be approximated during development. Given this, I have to wonder if the game will ever actually be completed, or if a bumbling middle-manager on the development team will royally cock things up. Hilariously, of course.

MumboJumbo threatens to develop a game "that combines the quirky characters and humor of the show with a proven, addictive game mechanic..." I'm curious about what sort of proven, addictive mechanic we might be so lucky to play with. What could it be? Matching things? Lining things up into rows? Arranging pairs of complimentary shapes? Wait, I have it: Smoke-breaks.
  ‘High School Musical’: The Games  
Posted 2007-06-14 by Tony Walsh
High School Musical was originally a Disney Channel TV movie, but has since spun out in the form of a soundtrack album, an ice tour, a live concert tour, an upcoming sequel, a movie planned for theatrical release, and now... video games. Disney Interactive Studios will extend the High School Musical experience across Wii, PS2, and DS game consoles this summer. Sorry, parents: Your pre-teens are going to sing you into insanity.

The Wii and PS2 versions of the family-friendly game will involve karaoke antics involving characters from the property and about 30 songs. The DS version doesn't require singing (a pity, since the DS has a built-in mic), instead approaching High School Musical from a rhythm-game angle. DS gamers will be able to compete and trade videos with others via Nintendo WiFi. It would have been an added bonus to tie in DS and Wii game play, but I suppose that'd be asking for too much.

I suspect that even if interest in the sing-along, dance-along genres is waning, a High School Musical game will still have plenty of appeal to the tweenage set, particularly given the pending movie sequel and spinoff. Not sure 30 songs is going to provide much repeat play value, but I suppose the point is to sustain interest in the brand long enough to sell movie tickets.
  Xbox Live and Windows Live Messenger to be Bridged in May 2007  
Posted 2007-04-09 by Tony Walsh
Xbox Live and Windows Live Messenger to be Bridged in May 2007
Starting next month, Xbox Live gamers will be patched in to Windows Live Messenger, bridging two major Microsoft services via text chat. According to an official announcement today, Microsoft's Xbox Live spring update on May 7 will unify Xbox 360 and Windows Live Messenger friend-lists, opening both worlds up to the same line of communication. Xbox 360 users will be able to tap into the world of text through attached USB-compatible keyboards, a virtual (on-screen) keyboard, and via a clunky-looking new Xbox device "that will connect directly into the Xbox 360 controller to support text and instant messaging."

Overall, bridging the two systems is a fantastic plan leveraging social pressure to increase usage of both systems, although there are some minor privacy issues at hand: "[U]sers will see at a glance if their existing friends on Windows Live Messenger have gamertags...Updates to Xbox LIVE Arcade allow owners to quickly see which Xbox LIVE Arcade games their friends are playing...Expanded Tell a Friend capabilities make it easier than ever to boast about Achievements and high scores." It remains to be seen how many of these Xbox Live features and cross-system features will able to be controlled (i.e. enabled or disabled) by participating users.
  Haute Wii-Mode  
Posted 2007-04-05 by Tony Walsh
Haute Wii-Mode
Photo by Mesq. CC Licensed.
Check out this clever way to play Wii Sports (tennis, specifically): Real tennis is emulated through the position of real gamers, a grid on the floor, and a double-sided screen where the net would normally be. There's something very appealing to this brief series of pics posted to Flickr by Mesq. I'd like to see more sheet-thin windows into gamespace--the double-sided aspect is particularly suitable to the game at hand. Earlier this year I wrote about potential application of double-sided mobile screens in gaming--Mesq's pics are a great example of how this could work with a larger-scale display.

[Update: as a side-note, I have no idea why I titled this entry "Haute Wii-Mode." It sounded good at the time, but a few hours later it makes no sense.]
  ‘Nintendo DS Browser’ Coming to North America June 4  
Posted 2007-03-15 by Tony Walsh
Opera Software has announced the North American launch of its Nintendo DS Browser software: Americans and Canuckistans will be getting their paws on the product on June 4, 2007. No retail price yet, but I'm hoping for "cheaper than Brain Age." The European edition of the browser was released last October for EURO 39.99 (way too expensive in my opinion).

I'm buying the thing regardless of the price. Testing pint-sized content on the browser is too tempting a prospect to shy away from--besides which, there are a few lightweight web apps I use regularly that I'd rather not have to fire up an entire computer for. Google Calendar and Twitter come to mind....
  What I’m Doing at SXSW/Screenburn 2007  
Posted 2007-03-08 by Tony Walsh
What I’m Doing at SXSW/Screenburn 2007
Look for me at SXSW/Screenburn, March 9 - 14.
Larger image available here.
March 14 - 19, 2007 marks my third year participating in a South by Southwest Interactive panel, and my first year as an advisory board member of Screenburn (a component of SXSWi). I'm particularly excited about Screenburn's emphasis on virtual worlds this year, which will bring together some of the brightest minds in this evolving industry--including familiar cohorts and some folks I've not had the chance to meet in person yet.

This will also be the first SXSW where I'll be keeping an eye out for interesting contract telework opportunities in the social media, gaming and virtual worlds spaces (preferably a combination of all of the above). There just isn't enough going on in the Toronto area (my home base) to keep me engaged and challenged. I decided not to invest in a trip to the Game Developers Conference this year because I'm not interested in working in the mainstream "game industry" (imagine exaggerated air-quotes on that phrase). I'm also not going to the upcoming Virtual Worlds conference, it's simply too expensive and big-business oriented. I have found SXSW to be a well-rounded conference in terms of panels and attendees--more in line with my cross-platform interests than many other conferences.

Please feel free to contact me if you're in Austin during SXSW/Screenburn, or if you've got an event you think I might enjoy. I'll be there by mid-afternoon on Friday, March 9 and leaving mid-afternoon on Wednesday, March 14. You can reach me via email (tony at secretlair dot com) or via mobile/sms (+1 416 894 0894).

Following are the panels I am most likely to attend:

Continue reading: What I’m Doing at SXSW/Screenburn 2007
  Will ‘Spore DS’ Play Nicely With Others?  
Posted 2007-02-02 by Tony Walsh
Will ‘Spore DS’ Play Nicely With Others?
Will Wright's highly-anticipated life-simulation game Spore will be published not only for the PC platform as expected, but also on the Nintendo DS handheld game console, reports Next Generation. I happen to have both platforms, so this is welcome news, but I've got one major question that I doubt will be answered for some time: Given that Spore for the PC promised to automatically and seamlessly share user-created content among players, will Spore for the DS follow suit?

I can see DS-to-DS sharing via Nintendo WiFi, but I am hoping that DS players and PC players will be able to connect through the same game universe. I have no illusions that the game-play will be as involved on the DS as it is on the PC, but surely there could be some data to share across platforms.

Being interested in things metaversal, I'd like to see more games become accessible (even if not "fully" so) through a wider range of devices. Incidentally, this is "transmedial" service provider Froghop's main line of business, but I haven't heard much from the company since they posted a walkthrough of one of their planned solutions. Anyone else doing business in this sort of space?
  ‘Spectrobes’ Gets Collectible Cards, Community  
Posted 2007-01-25 by Tony Walsh
‘Spectrobes’ Gets Collectible Cards, Community
The greatest thing since Pogs!
Buena Vista Games has announced that its upcoming game Spectrobes for the Nintendo DS will be augmented by an online community, downloadable content, and a collectible trading card system tied to bonus game material. These additional features indicate that the game will not only have plenty of replay value, but increase the chances that a distinct player culture will emerge. The sci-fi game involves waking up, training, and collecting prehistoric creatures (the phrase "gotta catch `em all!" comes to mind). The digital critters can then be battled one on one over local wireless, or in tournament play over WiFi with up to 16 players.

The Spectrobes community will offer members a leaderboard and personal profile page, including information about one's status and accomplishments in the game. Downloadables include videos, game items and characters. But what's really going to hook gamers is the addition of collectible cards, which will be "available" (presumably "sold") following the game's release. Each game ships with four translucent cards, which are placed over the DS touch screen to reveal a series of numerical holes--when tapped in sequence, bonus items are unlocked.

With a community based around in-game accomplishments, the fastest way for players to succeed will be to buy packs of the cards in the hopes of unlocking an advantage over others. This model has worked well for pretty much every collectible card game out there, such as Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic: The Gathering.
  Double-Sided Gaming?  
Posted 2007-01-22 by Tony Walsh
Samsung Electronics revealed a double-sided LCD display screen earlier this month. The screen produces independent images on each side simultaneously, and requires only one backlight, although one side is less than half as bright as the other.

I see some gaming potential in a double-sided screen, after having played with the Nintendo DS for some time, and also recently with the Nintendo Wii. A double-sided handheld console with tilt-sensitivity could make for some pretty interesting games--imagine flipping over the game level from time to time for a new perspective, play-mode or aesthetic. Or, a head-to-head system where opposing players only see the rear display (think of a deck of cards). I doubt there's much mainstream appeal here, but considering game play options for unusual hardware configurations might make a good exercise for my game design students.
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