July 2008 Archives

Doctor Who TARDIS MAME console

I love old arcade cabinets, as they evoke a time in my childhood of roller skating rinks and pizza parlors. The thing is, I've taken enough woodworking and engineering classes to know how to build one, but until I have an empty basement that I can line up with wall-to-wall arcade machines, I'll live vicariously through other arcade geeks.

An Australian fan of Doctor Who goes through the steps of making a Doctor Who TARDIS MAME cabinet. Yes, it's even signed by one of the Doctors (Sylvester McCoy -- 7th Doctor). I think this is a pretty sweet cabinet, because everyone needs a TARDIS in their parlor. I love the detail that makes it into the final design of the console, as well as the Police Box exterior.

Penny Arcade Expo

Today is the last day to pre-register for the Penny Arcade Expo. $45 for a 3-day pass, or $25 for a single day pass. Held in Seattle, the PAX evolved from a LAN party into one of the largest game conventions in North America.

Most of the major gaming companies will be there, so it's a good chance to see new projects in development. The big event of course is still the Omegathon, the LAN challenge that originally began the Penny Arcade Expo, in which participants can bring their own computers to wage mayhem and destruction.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Trailer

The trailer for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince looks fantastic. The movie comes out in November.

Top-selling Games of All Time

Best Selling Games of All Time. There's a lot of Mario and Pokemon on the list...

Bowser's Minions

Viewer Discretion is Advised:

Tales of Beedle the Bard Available on Amazon

beedle-collectors.jpgI always wondered how Amazon was going to recoup the money they spent on J.K Rowling's handwritten book last year; and it seems the exclusive special collector's edition of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" may help them do it. The collector's edition houses the book in a velvet bag and hides the small book inside a larger case which looks like a textbook; the book is a replica of the original, complete with metal skull and replica gemstones. New to this edition is commentary on the tales as if written by Dumbledore, as well as 10 new illustrations.

Bloomsbury, Scholastic and Amazon will be releasing a standard edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, with Amazon offering up to to 100,000 collector's editions.

Proceeds from both the Standard Edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and the Amazon Exclusive collector's edition of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" go toward Children's High Level Group, which aims to make life better for vulnerable, institutionalized children.

Press Release in the extended.

Rush on Rock Band

parakkum, littlestar and I have been having a blast with Rock Band. The Canadian band Rush didn't do so well when they tried it backstage during the Colbert Report:

Tour de Comic Con 2008: Sunday

littlestar, bleusky and I made our way to Ballroom 20 to catch Hamlet 2 and Harold and Kumar; with this being the last day of the con, Ballroom 20 was easy to get into to, but as in the case of the previous days' panels, panels were filling up nearly one timeslot before the actual panel.

Harold and Kumar filled the Ballroom, and we headed back to the exhibit halls after the panel ended. After being discouraged from the crowds, we exited the convention center for a frozen yogurt break, and afterwards I departed to catch a flight.

Tour de Comic Con 2008: Saturday

Yesterday, I camped Ballroom 20 to be able to make my panel run; today I made Ballroom 6A the priority; I saw an opportunity to go in early for Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles, which afforded me an opportunity to grab good seats for the next panels, culminating in prime seats for the Pushing Daisies.

kwc in the meantime camped out Ballroom 20 and caught Dollhouse, BSG and Chuck.

After Pushing Daisies, I made my way back to the 6s, and this time caught JMS, TV Guide, and Mythbusters; by the beginning of TV Guide, the Ballroom had been packed, and the number of people that they let in after TV Guide was probably 40 or less.

We skipped the masquerade this year, in order to relax a bit and prepare for the final upcoming day of the con: Sunday.

Tour de Comic Con 2008: Friday

kwc joined us this morning as I rushed to catch the Stargate panels; the Stargate people wedged in a presentation for Stargate Worlds, a MMO set in the the Stargate universe. This is, in effect a bad marketing move; Stargate fans who would be interested in the game already knew about it, and anyone who wasn't interested just did other things during the panel.

The Joss Whedon panel was for Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog, which featured a great deal of the cast who wrote or appeared in the musical internet project. Felicia Day (Penny), Nathan Fillion (Captain Hammer), and Neil Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible) all appeared, as well as the writer who played the Asian Groupie in parts 2 and 3.

I wandered the hall for a bit before attempting to make the Sanctuary panel, but got recalled by the rest of Team Uni to head for the 6CDEF line, which at 2 hours before the beginning of the Avatar panel had already formed a line which filled the corridor.

The creators of Avatar had animated a short intro for Comic Con, in which they jokingly announced the release of Book 4, which they aired after the fan art contest, the costume contest. Book 4, which they promised was a better revised ending to the Zutara relationship featured a lot of fan art depicting Zuko and Katara in heavy duty kisses and embraces.

With 2 days left to go, the early attendees of the comic con left tired, but in good spirits, as the nightmarish Saturday loomed on the horizon.

Tour de Comic-Con 2008: Thursday

Last year, Thursday offered a slight sanctuary from the crowds; this year, the same is not true. littlestar and I headed first towards Hall H to catch the Keanu-Connelly-Wahlberg panel, officially known as "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "Max Payne" panels. There was an accident in Hall H, which halted the line. During the line, littlestar commented that an indicator that comic-con has finally hit the mass market was the male-to-female ratio, which was almost one-to-one in the Hall H line. At the end of the panel, Hugh Jackman dashed onto the stage to shake the hand of the creator of Wolverine, and to preview the trailer of the Wolverine movie. We realized after the panel ended that the reason for the high female ratio in Hall H was the preview of Twilight, a moody vampire book series turned film for targeted to teenage girls. As Dakota Fanning turned into a no-show as a result of a big rig overturning on the 5 creating a huge delay, we left the panel, but as I attempted to go into panels, they were eerily packed, even on a Thursday... I did manage to make it into Red Sonja, and as there is very little there other than concept art, it is too hard to see if the movie will be any good. I attempted to go into the Wizard's First Rule Panel, but as the line stretched outside the building, I decided to forgo the panels and instead hit the exhibit floor, before finishing up the day at Bill Plympton's panel. offtopicartisan arrived as a reinforcement in the afternoon, and bleusky joined us later that evening. In preparation for the Avatar panel on Friday, we watched the episodes up to the last two parts of the finale after leaving the convention.

Tour de Comic Con 2008: Preview Night

After landing in in San Diego, parakkum, litlestar and I headed first to grab a bite to eat before heading for the pre-registration lines. As pros this year, badge pickup was quick, and a ticket for entry was secured for kwc, who will be joining us on Friday. The crowds are massive this year, and preview night seems even more disgustingly packed than the previous years. With the entire con sold out even before preview night, hope springs eternal that Thursday will be better.

A couple of stories; while most of the time I have been impressed by the professionalism shown by the comic con staffers and the hired security, this year's security seems somewhat more militant and rude; perhaps that is just one of the costs that comes with growing the convention to be so massive. littlestar picked up an early injury after clocked in the ear by a wayward elbow going for a Warner Brothers Bag, and we exited early to beat the exhibit hall. Wizards of the Coast appears to be a no-show this year, but the contents of the goodie bag include a booster of Maple Story and 30-card deck of Magic: The Gathering cards.

It really feels to me as if the indie comics have been pushed out by the mainstream publishers at the comic con, while the indies are still there, they are not as prominent as they were in years before, but at the same time, the Artist's Alley area is nowhere as empty as in years previous.

Ruining a Movie...

Last week, I watched "Be Kind, Rewind", in which some video store clerks "Sweded" movies, by making their own version of classic movies. Something Awful created the term "Ruining" a movie, in which the dramatic music of a movie scene is replaced with different audio. I think just by seeing how different it sounds with different musical accompaniment changes the mood considerably... however, for many of them, the end effect feels very much like scene out of a Jerry Bruckheimer - Michael Bay project.

Wii: 18 months and still hard to find

Earlier this week, I went to Target and found a few Wiis still left in stock; I suspect that they are gone by now, but I see it as a sign that they are becoming more available. Of all the retailers, Target is the one that seems to have it more frequently than anyone else; if you're searching for a Wii, that's where I'd go to find one.

For the last 18 months, the United States has been purchasing Wiis at an extraordinary rate, already bypassing in sales the XBox 360, which had a year headstart on the Wii. 10.9 Million Wiis have been sold in the United States, and just as last year, the outlook for this coming holiday season seems grim, as Satoru Iwata, the CEO of Nintendo says:

    "We are really intending to increase the shipments to the U.S., especially compared to last year. However, I can't give you a 100% commitment [that you'll be able to find a Wii this holiday season]. What I can commit myself to is that Nintendo is going to do its best to supply as many Wii hardware units as possible in order to meet demand there." "
Last year, the president of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aimes made a public statement in October 2007 in which he said:
    "We're working very hard to make sure that consumers are satisfied this holiday, but I can't guarantee that we're going to meet demand. As a matter of fact, I can tell you on the record we won't."
I have a suspicion that this year will be very similar to last year; and while there isn't a Super Mario Galaxy-like blockbuster game due out this Holiday season, there's still a lot of kids out there that still want a Wii...meaning if you want to get someone a WIi this Christmas, now is the time to start looking.

Not at E3

E3 started today, but with so many of the videogame companies withdrawn from E3, the media circus that used to be E3 is really just a shadow of it's former self; even E-for-All, the $60 version of E3 had a poor turn out last year. So, just where are all the companies headed these days to show off their games to gamers?

Next week is the San Diego Comic Con, which is entirely sold out. With nearly a quarter million people in attendance, there's bound to be some games at the show, and with so many properties crossing over from comics to big and little screens, the likelyhood of having a comics-based game is high.

A month from now is the GenCon in Milwaukee. GenCon is the premiere geeky game convention in North America; focusing on all types of gaming, and in recent years has seen an increasing number of companies showing off their latest fantasy video games.

In August is PAX in Seattle, which one can consider to be the large-scale evolution of a LAN party turned convention, complete with famous speakers, rock concerts and a huge expo floor.

In October is Blizzard's own BlizzCon, which is their own convention to promote Blizzard titles (while charging $100 for admission and a wicked goodie bag).

Companies that have pulled out from E3 include Activision Blizzard, NCSoft, Her Interactive, id Software, Atlus and Foundation 9. Glancing through the Comic Con Exhibitor's list, I see Activision Blizzard there, as well as NCSoft, all of which leads me to suspect that their target is the mass market, not the games industry. In a way, this evolution away from the industry-only events make sense; competing against other media heavyweights only expends energy that could be focused elsewhere, and with most gamers looking online for reviews before they buy, there's little need to hype through the magazines anymore.

Joss Whedon on Gawker

I'm definitely a Whedonite, but I think that even non Whedon fans will enjoy the interview he did on Gawker: Here's a quick excerpt:
    Q. I love that your fiercest ass-kickers are always girls. Buffy, Willow, Anya, River Tam, and I'm kind of assuming that Eliza Dushku's character in Dollhouse is going to be the main force to be reckoned with. Yet we're in the middle of a summer of action blockbusters and only one of them, Wanted, even involves a powerful woman. Is there some reason that we can have a woman or a girl be the main action hero on TV but not in movies?
    A. Movies are from the Devil. Also, it's only recently women got to be action heroes on TV. Progress is slow, and often non-existent. There's plenty of cool comics with female characters... But all it takes is one Catwoman to set the cause back a decade.
The trailer for his Writer's Strike project, "Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog" is now available, and part one should be available tomorrow. It has Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion singing. It's a musical. Need I say more?

Following Up on Diablo III

Last Friday, Flux of diii.net linked to my first impressions of the announcement of Diablo 3. Since I worked on Diablo II, he also contacted me regarding my thoughts about the upcoming sequel. I've sent in my answers to his questions, but in the meantime, I'm absolutely floored by the comments left by the visitors. They do ask some questions that Flux doesn't ask, so I'll attempt to answer those.

Many of the commenters have mentioned the sorceress and her ability to Teleport in D2, and ask whether I think the Sorceress is a broken class as well.

I don't think the Sorceress is broken. The Sorceress is the successor to D1's Sorcerer class, and we felt that we had to be true to D1's spells, which include Telekinesis. In D2, all the characters can run, but the spell casters aren't very physical, and so it seemed to make sense that the lazy spellcasters would want to travel at their own pace. The necromancer has his minions and corpse explosion to clear his path for him, and the sorceress can teleport. Leaping isn't the only thing that makes the Barbarian unbalanced when compared to the other characters in D2. The Barbarian also has the cheese that is Whirlwind and Leap Attack.

In the context of Diablo 3, the Barbarian is broken because he already has an advantage the Witch Doctor does not, and that is to be able to Leap across the otherwise uncrossable gap. To me, that seems like a problem, in the eyes of others, it's a feature.

There's also a lot of encouragement that the commenters have written, which really warms my heart, but unfortunately, the Blizzard North team has moved on.

In my first post, I said that I think the PC is dying as a platform, and this is largely due to what I see in the marketplace; essentially unless you're developing a FPS, or an MMO, your game will likely not make it to the store shelves. Blizzard games are an exception, as are Will Wright's (Spore and Sims), but this is because they've carefully cultivated their products to provide long-lasting returns over time. Most publishers are not willing to take that kind of risk; they want a game they can sell (preferably right before Thanksgiving) which will provide a nice fourth quarter boost on earnings.

iPhone 3G lands in Japan

I think these pictures from Danny Choo, the Dancing Stormtrooper of Japan's iPhone release are really amazing, partially because I've been in that area, and it's hard to imagine a line 1 kilometer long of people stretching from Yoyogi Park in Harajuku all the way down through Omotesando to get to Softbank (a major electronic/computer store in Japan).

Akihabara News has coverage of the opening of the Softbank, as well as pictures of the crowds.

iPhone 3G True Costs to Own

With today being July 11th, and the official first sales day of the new iPhone 3G in the U.S., one of the things I've been looking at is the costs associated with this new iPhone 3G. I purchased my 4GB iPhone (new) as part of the closeout sale ($299) when they discontinued it in October of last year.

At $299, my box included a 4GB iPhone, headphones, power adapter, and an iPhone Dock. The 3G iPhone does not include a dock, which can be purchased for an additional $30.

The cost of upgrading to a 3G iPhone appears to have a lot of hidden costs associated with it:

    +$30 for iPhone 3G Dock
    +$5 a month for 200 Text Messages (+$120 over the length of the 2 year contract)
    +$10 a month for 3G Service (+$240 over the 2 year contract)
    + $18 upgrade fee (if you are upgrade eligible)
    + ($100 if you are not upgrade eligible)
All of this comes to a total of $408 in additional costs over the original iPhone, added with the purchase price of the iPhone itself ($199 or $299) results in a total of upgrade cost of $607 or $707, to as much as $707 and $807 without upgrade eligibility. With 3G and GPS being the only real features being brought to the table with the 3G iPhone, I'm finding it hard to justify the rather costly upgrade.

Keep in mind that previously, the monthly fee for AT&T in the US was $59.95 with 200 Text Messages and Unlimited EDGE data. This amounted to an additional $20 fee over AT&T's lowest cost service, but for the same amount of messages and data on a 3G plan, the cost is actually $74.99, making the iPhone premium $35 for those who were not already iPhone owners.

Last year when the iPhone arrived, the calculations for the cost of ownership over the length of the 2 year contract totaled $1440 for monthly service fees, along with the cost of the iPhone ($599, $499, $399, or $299 depending on when it was purchased and with what capacity), bracketing the total cost of ownership from $1739 ($299 iPhone 4GB with standard plan) to $2039 (8GB iPhone with standard plan purchased early at $599) or $1939 if the $100 coupon for the Apple store for early adopters is taken into account). An iPhone 3G this year will cost $1680 for monthly service (without 200 messages) and $1800 (with 200 messages). Adding in the dock ($30), and the iPhone ($199 or $299), yields a total cost of of $2029 (8GB iPhone 3G + Dock + 200 messages) to $2129 (16GB iPhone 3G + Dock + 200 messages).

Those who balked at the $499 and $599 initial prices of the original iPhone should still be balking at paying $199 or $299 for the iPhone 3G as the true cost of the iPhone 3G is almost exactly the same as the original iPhone (there's a $10 difference between the 8GB iPhone 3G and the original $599 8GB iPhone -- however, if the $100 Apple coupon for early adopters is taken into account, the original 8GB iPhone winds up being $90 dollars cheaper than the 8GB iPhone 3G. Interestingly enough, many people do not realize the price difference is only $10, and as a result, the demand for the iPhone 3G is even greater than the original iPhone. Those who purchased an iPhone at the $200 discounted price are even better off, as they essentially wind up with iPhones costing $190 less than the equivalent-sized iPhone 3G.

Taking into account the upgrade costs of $607 and $707 for original iPhone owners, it seems like an expensive upgrade for 3G data and GPS (and possibly more data storage space). This amounts to roughly $25 and $30 a month more for 3G capabilities -- those who need the speed will pay for it, but for all other owners of the original iPhone, I think it's likely they won't be surrendering them anytime soon.

One of the things that I see happening is that as users upgrade to the iPhone 3G, their older iPhone is resold back on the market as either an unlocked iPhone or as a iPhone that could be resubscribed to AT&T at the original data plan. With AT&T claiming that they will sell iPhones without a commitment plan at $599 (8GB iPhone 3G) and $699 (16GB iPhone 3G), there is a substantial resale value for secondhand iPhones which may end up as yet another AT&T subscriber. Currently, even used iPhones may be resold for more than their original sales price -- a look at eBay reveals several unlocked 16GB iPhones which have fetched $1000 or more, nearly $400 over the original price.

The Totoro Forest Project

The Totoro Forest Project is an international charity effort to save Sayama Forest on the outskirts of Tokyo, which was Hayao Miyazaki's inspiration for the film "Tonari No Totoro" (My Neighbor Totoro). They will be auctioning off works from over 200 international artists to raise funds for this charity on September 6th at Pixar in Emeryville, and be showcasing the artwork at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Because there are so many pieces, the artwork will be split into two exhibitions: Exhibition A will run from September 20th to December 7th, while Exhibition B will run from November 6th to February 20th. A book/catalogue of the artwork will be released on September 6th to coincide with the auction.

Tour de Comic Con 2008

With the start of San Diego Comic-Con 2008 just a week and a half away, and Comic-Con admission being done solely in advance on their website, one-day passes for Friday and Saturday are now sold out, along with the 4-day pass. It looks like Thursday may be sold out soon, with Sunday likely to follow (both days are significantly over the 50% mark). The programming schedule for Thursday is now online, so attendees can begin planning their Thursday plans.

Apple iPhone 2.0

With the iPhone 3G releasing in July 11th in 22 countries worldwide, the New Zealanders were the first to sell the iPhone 3G. The website ifixit.com sent one of their own to NZ to purchase and disassemble a 3G iPhone to provide photos for a first look feature. In Spain, Telefonica already has 200,000 preorders, and in the cellphone sophisticated Japan, over 800 people waited in line, some overnight in sleeping bags. One of the interesting things about the Japanese cellphone market is that the iPhone is missing two features which are common in Japanese cellphones: the ability to watch broadcast television, and the electronic wallet payment system.

Yesterday evening, following dinner, we walked by the Apple Store in Palo Alto, and campers had already set up shop, with sleeping bags and Guitar Hero.

I setup the firmware 2.0 update for my iPhone and started looking at the new Apps on the iTunes Apps Store. I'm impressed by the creativity of some of the developers -- not only are there tools for everything you'd expect (Twitter, AIM, Flickr, Facebook, Pandora), but there are also Apps that seem very usable (such as the iLingo foreign language conversation books). What I haven't been impressed with are the developers who put public domain works on the Apps store for a fee (For instance, Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a $0.99 program). For many of the mobile indie games, more information is required than just a screenshot.

One of the more useful apps that's free is the "Remote" program put out by Apple -- which allows you to control your AppleTV or iTunes from the iPhone, effectively turning your iPhone into a WiFi remote control. The Google Mobile App is also very useful, as it attempts to predict which word you are typing in, which speeds up the input dramatically when googling a longer query.

I've been sitting on the fence about upgrading to the 3G iPhone; while EDGE is certainly slower, the price difference for the new 3G plan is more expensive than the original iPhone plan (about $360 more over the length of the 2 year contract), it doesn't feel enough of an upgrade to warrant the expenditure for the moment. That said, 2.0 firmware and the Apps store is a major upgrade to the 1.1.4 firmware.

Fritz Lang's Metropolis Restored

Fritz Lang's Metropolis has often been hailed as a cautionary tale for film preservation, in that the version we view today is incomplete; what is not common knowledge is that multiple versions of Metropolis exist as a result of distributors editing the movie; the Paramount version of the movie, which is the most well-known version had nearly a quarter of the film edited away, and the complete uncut version was believed lost forever. In Argentina, the lost footage was recently rediscovered and will undergo restoration, so that the film can finally be viewed in its entirety.
    Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. The film is set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, ruled by Joh Fredersen, whose workers live underground. His son falls in love with a young woman from the worker's underworld - the conflict takes its course. At the time it was the most expensive German film ever made. It was intended to be a major offensive against Hollywood. However the film flopped with critics and audiences alike. Representatives of the American firm Paramount considerably shortened and re-edited the film. They oversimplified the plot, even cutting key scenes. The original version could only be seen in Berlin until May 1927 - from then on it was considered to have been lost forever. Those recently viewing a restored version of the film first read the following insert: "More than a quarter of the film is believed to be lost forever."
How the lost minutes of Metropolis were lost and re-discovered.