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  ‘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.
  ‘Linerider’ Promised for Wii, DS Platforms  
Posted 2006-12-19 by Tony Walsh
Linerider, an addictive, Flash-based activity where users draw hills and ramps for a tobogganer, has been picked up for development on the Nintendo DS and Wii platforms, according to an official announcement by inXile entertainment. This is pretty amazing news, considering Linerider was developed as an online toy by an amateur Flash developer. It became a viral hit 3 months after launch, something I'm sure inXile is banking on for a future Nintendo release. I found Linerider an amusing diversion lacking in long-term appeal--it's a toy based around a single gimmick, but I can see the potential for a full-blown game, particularly for the gesture-driven DS and Wii.
  Nintendo’s Wi-Fi and Apple’s AirPort  
Posted 2006-11-07 by Tony Walsh
I finally got my DS Lite hooked up to Nintendo's gaming network, thanks to a copy of Mario Kart DS and my Apple AirPort Express wireless internet station. This saved me having to go out and buy an official USB connector or any other gadgetry. I had to search around a lot to find out how to connect to the AirPort, so I figured I'd post here with general instructions in case others find it useful. First of all, the DS should have no problem finding your network. Make sure you've set up your AirPort with a WEP password (I chose 128-bit encryption). Then just enter the password when prompted by the DS. Piece of cake. I had read something about having to convert the password to Hex prior to entry, but that wasn't necessary. If you've changed your AirPort password, you're going to have to enter it the next time you try to log on with your computer.

So I'm set up to take on the world at Mario Kart DS. I'm playing under the nickname "TonyW" and Friend Code 459644769437. See you on the racetrack.
  ‘Cooking Mama’ [DS]  
Posted 2006-09-24 by Tony Walsh
‘Cooking Mama’ [DS]
Although I bought a Nintendo DS Lite for myself, it turns out that my wife's enjoying it a lot more. She was hooked on Nintendogs for a couple of months, and came home the other day with Cooking Mama. Clearly aimed at casual gamers, Cooking Mama involves making up to 76 unique dishes using over 200 mini-games as a metaphor for chopping, mixing, stirring, etc. The game is very cute, extremely easy to learn, and could almost be an example of productive play. While you won't pick up any actually useful recipes by playing Cooking Mama, you will learn generally how certain dishes are made, and what general ingredients are involved. If only real recipes were included, Cooking Mama could have climbed from casual game to interactive cooking show. This one's got appeal for non-gamers, casual gamers, and those who enjoy novel methods of interaction. But for advanced gamers (or those looking for functional fun), you won't get much out of the game.

Sidenote: My Italian side takes great offense to Cooking Mama telling me spaghetti sauce is made with "ketchup." Fortunately, my Irish side doesn't know a thing about Italian food.
  Concerning Handheld Web Content  
Posted 2006-07-27 by Tony Walsh
I've been poking around for details about the Sony PSP web browser and Opera for the Nintendo DS on the off-chance I may have time to develop content for these handheld devices.

Sony actually provides a set of browser and RSS guidelines for the PSP, and while distribution of the PDF guidelines requires a registration, I was able to grab a copy by filling in bogus information. There are also some handy unofficial stats available here.

I haven't been able to find a similar document for "Opera DS" (as I'm calling it), but I do know that the browser doesn't support plugins and "has virtually the same level of standards support as the Opera 8.5 desktop and can access the same sites, pages and Web-based applications." Obviously some clarification around "virtually the same level" would help content developers immensely.

In considering the possibilities for interesting dynamic content that doesn't rely on plugins, I've been looking over PHP, Javascript, and DHTML options. On the surface, it doesn't seem that anything excellent has been made with these technologies since the late 1990s, when Flash and Shockwave started to take off. Will developing cross-platform content (PSP and DS) require reverting back to decade-old creative options and production techniques? Seems so, initially.
  ‘Opera’ for Nintendo DS Detailed  
Posted 2006-07-24 by Tony Walsh
Opera Software's web browser was released today in Japan for Nintendo's DS, bringing micro-sized web pages to the dual-screened game console. According to an official announcement, "The browser is sold as a separate DS card, just like Nintendo DS games, and will come with an extra memory expansion cartridge so that users can access full Internet content by utilizing Wi-Fi environments at home, Nintendo's dedicated Wi-Fi Stations and free accessing spots."

Opera's DS browser tips explain how web pages are navigated through tap-and-drag panning, the built-in D-pad, and on-screen keyboard. Unfortunately, the browser won't support plugins, meaning that Opera DS won't support Flash, thus preventing homebrewed interactive rich-media content from competing with commercial game cards. Developers of web-based DS content are left with few choices for creating interactive material, but I expect the constraints to result in some innovative content.
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