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  Healing the Brain With Games  
Posted 2006-03-18 by Tony Walsh
Reuters (via brings us the story of Ethan Myers, a teenager who was once pronounced brain dead following a car accident, but is now able to function at near-normal levels. His recovery is attributed to CyberLearning's SMART BrainGames system, which involves controlling PlayStation or Xbox games wearing a helmet that monitors brain waves. According to Reuters, "Car racing games work best with the system, which rewards users by telling the controller to allow them to go fast and steer with control, doctors said. When patients' brain waves aren't in 'the zone' the controller makes it harder to accelerate and steer." The system costs $584 USD, and a 6-month supervised recovery program costs between $2,000 and $2,500.

Using games for therapeutic purposes isn't a new idea, nor is using games specifically for beefing up the brain. Casual-game maker PopCap, in conjunction with Games For Health, is currently looking into the cognitive benefits of its games and is expected to present its findings this spring.
  Xbox Live To Market Music  
Posted 2006-03-17 by Tony Walsh
Epic Records has teamed up with Microsoft to offer free, exclusive "artistic content" and hi-def music video downloads through Xbox Live, Microsoft's network service for the Xbox 360. One Epic artist will be featured each month over the next year in conjunction with "Game With Fame" sessions--where gamers get a chance to play against celebrities over Xbox Live--and promotional sweepstakes. Obviously a big push here towards making the Xbox 360 an all-purpose entertainment console and marketing vehicle. Ironically, Epic is a subsidiary of Sony BMG, so I suppose if Microsoft wins with this strategy, Sony (which makes the PS3 console) wins a teensy weensy bit too. Furthermore, Sony plans its own network service for the PS3, so it could just be testing the waters with Xbox Live before launching music in the Sony BMG family through its own game network.
  Flash Hackers Fulfill PSP Promise  
Posted 2006-02-28 by Tony Walsh
Phillip Torrone of the mighty Make Blog dropped by to let us know that Flash has indeed been hacked for the PSP as promised earlier this month, and reported here at Clickable Culture over the weekend.

Torrone has posted pics of the Flash player in action on his PSP with firmware version 1.5, and it looks amazing. While there is not 100% compatibility yet, most Flash movies Torrone tested seemed to work fine--one hitch seems to be that few Flash apps have been designed specifically for the PSP's screen proportions and input methods. That may change if the hacked player becomes widely adopted for fully updated PSPs, but I don't think the Flash player will move past the hobbyist stage unless Sony releases official Flash support. Which it's not likely to do, since its customers could then compete with its weak lineup of games.
  Flash Hacked For PSP  
Posted 2006-02-26 by Tony Walsh
Earlier this month, announced the winner of its "Flash Player Coding Contest." A member of the PSPHacks community named 71M developed a semi-functional player for Flash files that runs on PSP handheld consoles with version 1.0 and 1.5 of the official Sony firmware. The unofficial PSP Flash player, which will reportedly be released on February 28, currently supports "a good portion" of Flash 7 ActionScript, but doesn't support complex vector shapes very well. When the software is released at the end of this month, an XML file will be included to allow PSP-specific buttons to activate Flash actions.

While this is not a perfect implementation of the Flash player by any means, it is a noteworthy milestone for independent game developers. Flash is a versatile tool that allows rapid development of rich, cross-platform content. Creating a proof of concept or demo for the PSP might generate industry interest in a full-fledged game, or could pave the way for an indie Flash developer to market their own PSP-compatible games.

In related news, the Nintendo DS is expecting Opera Browser support, opening up official support for web-based homebrew applications, depending on the support for tools such as Flash.
  Nearly 1Upped on Videogame Sex  
Posted 2006-02-12 by Tony Walsh
In December, 2005, I announced that I'd be moderating a panel at South by Southwest on "The Secret Sex Lives of Video Games." In February, 2006, Ziff Davis' Official Playstation Magazine and published an article entitled "The Secret History of Videogame Sex." I'm chalking this one up to unfortunate coincidence, rather than any sinister Ziff Davis plot. The idea of "secret" or "hidden" game sex has been brewing in my noggin since I first discovered unintentional video game porn years ago, and then recently with the whole "hot coffee" scandal. Doubtless others have been thinking along the same lines--it ain't rocket science.

I'm confident the SXSW panel will be more mature and informed than the article. The article's writer, Robert Ashley, glaringly neglects to call Custer's Revenge a rape game (instead, he refers to "forced sex") and then suggests Rockstar should do a remake. Ashley says that the first game character "openly thought sexy" was Lara Croft. I thought he was writing an article about sex, not "sexy." Most of his examples show how game sex has crested the mainstream rather than emerged from the shadows--Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude and Playboy: The Mansion weren't exactly hiding much. If anything, Ashley's article shows how to approach the subject half-cocked.
  Race vs. Game Platform Preference  
Posted 2006-02-07 by Tony Walsh
Joe Pilotta, VP of BIGresearch, has revealed results from his company's Simultaneous Media Study VII, which examined the video game platform preferences of 15,000 Hispanic, Black, and White consumers in December, 2005. The number of subjects in each racial classification was not given, rendering the published results somewhat useless, but still of potential interest.

The study found that out of all major home and handheld platforms, "PC and Playstation II are the dominant platforms for Whites, Blacks and Hispanics age 18 to 24 and continue to be for 25- to 34-year-olds." Xbox was the second-most favoured console, followed by the GameCube. Interestingly, the PC platform was overwhelmingly favoured by the Whites and Hispanics over the Blacks studied, whereas the PS2 was nearly equally-preferred among all races.
  When the Game Feels Real  
Posted 2006-01-31 by Tony Walsh
When the Game Feels Real
Andreas Wieslander's thesis project at Gotland University considered the effects of demonstrating the "feel" of game-play as a marketing tool. From his thesis (unedited): "Lots of products appeal to us at the first glance with its polished, advanced surface, while the game that we keep coming back to play over and over are the ones with game feel like no other." Wieslander tested his idea by taking level 4 from PaRappa The Rapper (one of my favourite games) and applying real-world parameters to it. The result is a three-minute performance of "Cheep Cheep Cooking Chicken's Rap."

In the game level, PaRappa is trying to bake a cake to impress his girlfriend, and is guided to success by television cooking star. In the live version, manly Swedes recreate the level's sensibilities and music with live performers. The impressive project took 10 weeks to complete. Wieslander's thesis can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF file, and the video is available through Google or as a 67MB download.
  PornStation Portable  
Posted 2005-12-19 by Tony Walsh
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the most lucrative use for the small screens of the handheld Apple iPod and Sony PSP is porn playback. In October of this year, San Francisco Chronicle writer Mark Morford predicted that the video iPod would be "The perfect secret titillation device. You do not need any extra gear. You need no space, no PC, no TV, no DVDs -- nothing whatsoever."

Unsurprisingly, Morford was at least partially correct. You will need $4.95 USD to purchase one of several X-rated video scenes from Adult DVD Empire and Digital Playground's "Porn On The Go" series. The company is selling meals by the bite, formatted for iPod and PSP playback. And if you're not appetized by paid porn, offers free, 3-minute nudie-flicks for the iPod. From the theatre to the home and now to the pocket... it's difficult to get much closer to X-rated movies without actually starring in one. As with previous spaces, expect porn to make a killing on the tiny screens (probably more than music or games).
  Trendy Docs ID ‘iPod Finger’  
Posted 2005-12-07 by Tony Walsh
In what reads like an April Fool's Day joke, the Guardian Unlimited reports that British doctors are warning against the perils of "iPod finger." Gosh, it seems only yesterday it was "BlackBerry thumb," or perhaps "PlayStation thumb." How about we just stick with "Repetitive Strain Injury," which has been around for at least as long as harpsichords, and lay off the trendy product-associations.
  Game Forecast Doc on DVD  
Posted 2005-11-28 by Tony Walsh
United Games Media will soon release a feature-length documentary entitled "What's Next?: For Computer and Videogames," featuring a broad range of industry personalities discussing the future of gaming. According to an official press-release, the two-disc set contains about 8 hours of footage from over 10 industry events, interviewing at least 70 industry players. Topics include "...convergence, new technology and innovation/new ideas, creativity, recruiting new talent, careers in gaming, homebrew, culture in games, gaming in culture, women in games, the future for e-sports, the arcade scene, next-gen consoles, graphics over gameplay, simple v.s. complex mobile and handheld games," and of course, "more." The price-point is low enough (€8.99) that even if the production values are low, it's still an inexpensive way to absorb the opinions of a good cross-section of the games industry--a potential goldmine for quotes if you happen to write about, study, or make games.
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