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  Dell Hell Hits ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-07-17 by Tony Walsh
Neville Hobson reports that Dell, which has established a presence in Second Life, plans to offer customer service and tech support for 2 hours daily, 5 days a week, (10 hours weekly in total). Who's brilliant idea was this? First of all, service and support issues don't adhere to a schedule. Secondly, there's a decent chance your particular issue might preclude using your Dell computer to log into Second Life. How many Dell users log into Second Life anyway?

It's definitely a problem with many corporate presences in Second Life that there are rarely staff members actually on-hand in the virtual world. But I don't see how 2 hours, split into two 1-hour windows, is going to be sufficient face-time for the few people who are even aware of Dell's office hours--and who can actually log in--to make use of Dell's in-world service and support. Seems like a doomed proposition to me.
  links for 2007-07-13  
Posted 2007-07-13 by Tony Walsh
  Wii Workout  
Posted 2007-07-12 by Tony Walsh
Even a little wiggling around is better than no wiggling at all, which explains how the Wii Weight Loss guy and Wii Sports Experiment guy have melted some fat, or why the game Dance Dance Revolution was added to the State of West Virginia's school curriculum.

Adding fuel to the fat-burning fire, Nintendo has reportedly revealed new Wii hardware and software intended to increase gamer health. According to TG Daily, players stand atop the Wii Balance Board, which measures body weight and balance. The Wii Fit software will use the Balance Board to chart the results of a fitness regime over time. Nintendo will apparently be adding Wii Balance Board support to future games. I can see surfing games working really well with this, or relaxation games which require stillness, or (obviously) dancing games.

I'm keen to try out the Wii Fit system: It seems like a great example of the productive play I wish more game companies would get involved in.
  Nintendo Opens Up Wii Development [Updated]  
Posted 2007-06-27 by Tony Walsh
Nintendo introduced its WiiWare service today, opening up its Wii game console to independent game developers, who will be able to sell downloadable games through the Wii Shop Channel. According to an official press release, to-be-announced content for the service will launch early next year.

It's not clear from Nintendo's press release what exactly WiiWare is, aside from offering game creators "a simple method" to get games to the public and "reduced barriers to development." Presumably details are forthcoming, but in the mean time I have to wonder about the development platform's hardware, software, and license-fee details. [Update: citizen game picked out a few choice details from a couple of Newsweek stories. Turns out Wii development isn't all that open after all.]

If Nintendo's promises hold true, bigger things are in store for the Wii, which already appeals to a wider audience than the other major game consoles. Opening up to indie developers increases the opportunity for innovation and further expansion of the Wii demographic.
  Microsoft Tabletop Surfaces  
Posted 2007-05-30 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft Tabletop Surfaces
Microsoft has unveiled "Surface," a tabletop computer with multi-user touch-screen interface. Surface's slick site shows various uses for the device, which appears to be able to discern the touch of a finger from a paintbrush or from a mobile phone.

I think touch-based interfaces are pretty useful, but instead of looking at the big picture, glancing ahead towards a resurgence in tabletop gaming, I'm going to focus on the banal: Who wants to wipe this thing down every 15 minutes? Seriously. Surface is demonstrated as a smart replacement for a table. Think about the last time you were in your local coffee shop--did you spend a lot of time pawing at the table with your cheese-danish-coated fingers? Of course not.

At this point, I'm confident that Surface will in fact be coated at all times with a patina of human goo, much like I predict the Apple iPhone will be swathed in a bath of ear-wax. Other annoyances will include sore necks and backs due to reaching for the far end of the table, and cracked Surfaces due to dropping pitchers of beer on top.

Practicalities aside, the technology looks amazing, doesn't it?
  IBM Rolls Its Own Virtual World  
Posted 2007-05-08 by Tony Walsh
IBM staffers have created their own metaverse, according to eightbar, a blog authored by staffers of the company's "Innovate Quick" team. IBM recently announced plans to roll out a high-powered server capable of running massive virtual worlds, and has been tinkering with Second Life for about a year.

The IBM-created virtual world was spurred by "a desire to have a more secure intranet environment where [the team] can meet and explore the potential technology and social implications," writes eightbar contributor Ian Hughes, adding that "We in the IQ team are certainly not trying to be Second Life. We are however using some of the elements of virtual presence, and examining the potential balance of content creation versus deployable content in a business context."

The company is using Garage Games' Torque Game Engine, a low-cost game platform supporting dozens of simultaneous users (about as many as a single Second Life area). Hughes writes that the team is integrating their Torque-based virtual world with existing IBM communications systems: "What we need is the ability to gather some people together and use the human aspects of the avatar interaction to be more effective in our communications."

Continue reading: IBM Rolls Its Own Virtual World
  ‘Project Open Letter’ Points Out Persistent ‘Second Life’ Problems  
Posted 2007-04-30 by Tony Walsh
Cristiano Diaz (Cristiano Midnight in Second Life) has launched Project Open Letter, in which serious problems with Linden Lab's virtual world are addressed. Many veteran Second Life users, including myself, have complained loudly over the years about show-stopping technical issues with the platform. Project Open Letter aims to consolidate those complaints. While I may not agree with 100% of the letter's content (and note that it's easy to make up or falsify the letter's signatures), I feel it hits enough important points that it's worth signing and reprinting here...

Continue reading: ‘Project Open Letter’ Points Out Persistent ‘Second Life’ Problems
  IBM Cells Virtual-World Severs  
Posted 2007-04-26 by Tony Walsh
IBM has created a new-generation server by stuffing Cell microprocessors (which power the Sony PS3) into the guts of a mainframe computer, reports the International Herald Tribune: "The result is a server system capable of permitting hundreds of thousands of computer users to interact in a three-dimensional, simulated on-screen world described as a 'metaverse.' [...] IBM said its new 'gameframe' system was being designed in collaboration with Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian game developer that is interested in creating a software layer it calls a 'bitverse' to support virtual online worlds."

IBM has been monkeying around virtual worlds such as Second Life since last year as part of an official initiative. A group of IBMers over at Hursley Park Lab in the UK have been blogging about Second Life since last April. IBM IT Specialist Ian Hughes wrote today that "The very powerful cell processor is not solely in home consoles, but is being applied to other major applications that need lots of power and speed and reliability... it is a nice evolutionary step in using computing power, and very exciting in the mainframe business...The virtual world industry is certainly hotting up, having the mainframe business, which is core to IBM gives even more credibility to whats happening."

Continue reading: IBM Cells Virtual-World Severs
  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.
  Xbox 360: ‘Elite’?  
Posted 2007-03-30 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft announced a newer version of its Xbox 360 console a few days ago: Back in black, the so-called "Elite" hardware doesn't just regurgitate the color-scheme of the original Xbox system, but includes a few upgrades that probably should have been included in the first place. Specifically, the Elite's got a reasonably-sized hard drive (120GB, but still not big enough for decent collection of hi-def videos, for example) and an included HDMI cable (among less significant features). Available at the end of April in America, it'll retail for $479.99 USD, which places it nearer to the PS3 in pricing.

I'm a bit sorry to say I might actually consider trading in my first-edition 360 for the Elite based on the separate price of the HDMI cable alone. The way I see it, the original console is better-suited to standard-definition environments, whereas the Elite is actually high-end from the get-go. It's the console Microsoft should have made in the first place.
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