I suffered a loss recently: My trusty, first-generation iPhone’s touch screen gave up the ghost. On a sunny day in early June, it let loose this mortal coil. And, like every other piece of technology I’ve ever owned, the touch screen stopped responding at the worst possible moment—as I was in a cab on my way to the first leg of a two-week trip.
Upon landing in Los Angeles, my first stop was an Apple store, where one of the Apple-proclaimed “geniuses” explained my options. My first choice was to get a replacement phone for a mere $200 (I hadn’t bothered to buy the extended warranty). My other option was simply to pound sand. I took my busted phone and bid the Apple store and its smug “geniuses” farewell, vowing to never buy another iPhone.
Next stop was AT&T to purchase a new, non-iPhone phone. I put my name on the we’ll-help-you-when-we’re-good-and-damn-well-ready list, and started looking at phones. After an hour or so of waiting, I walked out of the building with a new Blackberry Bold and considered my mission accomplished.
Videogames have taken us everywhere. Space, the Wild West, the Oregon Trail, the future, heaven, hell, purgatory (Ever played Big Rigs? Yeah), World War II, the apocalypse, the post-apocalypse, and World War II again. You name it, and gamers have probably been there, done that, and gone to Hot Topic to pick up the T-shirt. So, what’s left? Where are we to boldly go without even a walkthrough to guide us? Well, if you’re I’m asking me, I’d say we should forget the rest of our well-trod universe and try picking our own brains. Yep, it’s time for a bit of good old-fashioned psychology.
At this point, I imagine many of you are remembering simpler times, when tales of Rorschach inkblot tests, salivating dogs, and men who loved their mothers lulled you to sleep in your public educational institution of choice. And a few of you might be thinking of Psychonauts – to which I say “good!” We’ll get to that in a little while.
Anyway, games obviously aren’t the domain of stuffy old guys with fancy degrees and fancier couches. However, that doesn’t mean some of the more universal psychological themes can’t find their way into videogames. Case in point: Batman: Arkham Asylum.
While Arkham may be known foremost as the only Gotham prison less effective than a wet paper bag, it is – in actuality – more of a correctional institution than anything else. The game, then, portrays Arkham’s staff members as hard-working ladies and gents who are trying their darndest to crack classic nutcases like the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow, and Killer Croc. The player, as Batman, stumbles upon evidence of these correctional interactions in the form of taped interviews focusing on different villains.
For those of you who have never met Francois, he’s a member of the performance marketing team at Intel. It’s always entertaining to carry on a conversation with Francois. He was the guy at Intel who first steered me to the idea of building small systems around an X58 micro ATX motherboard and undervolting the CPU while maintaining the reference clock speed. This is sort of the inverse of overclocking, and results in pretty high performance systems that run cooler and quieter than the norm. What worries Piednoel, though, is this: what are desktop users ever going to do with six cores?
Moore’s Law means we get more CPUs with more and more transistors. Or we get smaller CPUs with the same number of transistors as past products. But what are the practical benefits for users?
We computer nerds all have our favorite applications and utilities—you know, the software we absolutely cannot live without. You’re certainly already familiar with many of my personal faves (I always install Firefox, Digsby, and Dropbox), but developers are constantly releasing new software, so my list is always evolving. And so, without further delay, I give you my favorite apps and utilities, as selected during the first half of 2009.
See Will's favorite apps of early 2009 after the jump!
The Kindle is pretty, and sleek, and invitingly Linux-based. But underneath that alluring exterior, right alongside that hackable code, is a body of laws: terms of service, DMCA, and DRM, saying “Oh no, don’t touch me!”
To keep providers like the Author’s Guild happy, Amazon has restricted features and talked about uses being prohibited, as with its famous update taking away much text-to-speech functionality. But in a world where everything gets hacked, Amazon doesn’t have to do much more than make a reasonable effort at DRM—the legal burden is on the user. The Kindle is not very well-locked-down, and often hackers take that as winking permission.
Jesse Vincent is among the Kindle customers to create a “user-generated update.” His native ebook converter for the Kindle, called Savory, lets you convert ebooks from open formats (EPUB and PDF) to the Kindle’s format. He did it because, he says, “I’m in love with my Kindle.”
Many people still think of Apple as a relatively small computer company, even though it’s a large consumer-electronics company. Those folks were surprised by recent reports that Apple is hiring more chip designers. They question the wisdom of plunging deeper into the risky and costly venture of designing custom chips.
But Apple’s moves are a logical response to current events. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in computing, as important as the debut of personal computers in the 1970s.
Desktop PCs—and to a lesser extent, notebook PCs—are the old wave. The new wave integrates mobile computing and communications with ubiquitous Internet access. Although notebook PCs can ride this wave, they are the largest species of new personal computers. Netbooks are better examples. Best of the new breed are the Apple iPhone, RIM Blackberry, and Palm Pre. More are coming.
Unless you spend of all of your time in the basement of the rock you’d have to be living under – never emerging, except for the occasional food/water run – you’ve probably heard something about the recent Shadow Complex controversy. For those who aren’t in the know, though, the story goes like this: Shadow Complex, a Metroid-like game for the rough, tough, gray-loving modern gamer, recently released on Xbox Live Arcade to rave reviews. Trouble, however, soon reared its ugly head when famous – and sometimes infamous -- author Orson Scott Card parked his own float in the Shadow Complex promotional parade, licensing the videogame property from developer Chair Entertainment and writing a series of books that take place in the game’s universe.
So, where’s the problem? Why are gamers tossing their virtual copies of Shadow Complex into their equally virtual Xbox fireplaces? Well, let’s just say that Card didn’t settle down and clam up after he wrote “Ender’s Game.” In fact, these days, when he’s not penning best-selling sci-fi literature, Card puts his silver tongue to use in vocal opposition of gay rights. For example, he's written the following: “The first and greatest threat from court decisions in California and Massachusetts, giving legal recognition to ‘gay marriage,’ is that it marks the end of democracy in America” and "Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down."
However, as tempting as it might be to crank a patriotic orchestral soundtrack, stand behind a large, billowing USA flag, and rant about tolerance and love (both platonic and, well, you know) of your fellow man, that’s not what I’m here to do.
Some gamers treat the mere idea of microtransactions with contempt.
“Pshaw!” they snort, “like I’d pay real money to buy horse armor in Oblivion….” And then they usually trail off into a semi-coherent rant about their rights as gamers and greedy corporate pigs.
But microtransactions—which allow you to spend a few dollars on things to enhance a game, such as extra weapons or spells—are here to stay, and gamers just need to come to terms with that.
My little epiphany came when I took my son to the local Games Workshop store for some Warhammer love. There, spread out before me on shelves crammed with figures, books, paints, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of the hobby, was the world of microtransactions writ large.
Trademark has been a way for creators to indicate the source of their work for hundreds of years. It makes sense—one of the reasons I don’t buy that email-pitched V1agra is that I’m not sure I can trust Pf1zer. Trademark is in the same class of property rights that give us copyrights and patents.
No one else can call their drug Viagra, it’s Pfizer’s property. Recently, trademark law has been used to get domain squatters off common brand names, which I like when it really pertains to domain squatters and feel weird about when it targets the unfortunately named Viagra family’s website.
Colleen Bell is an Austin roller derby girl who skates under the name Crackerjack, a word that means expert, but is more fun to say. She’s trying to trademark her handle for inclusion in an upcoming video game featuring roller derby girls, presumably beating the crap out of each other. Fun!
In a rare example of limb-crawling, Intel’s technical marketing manager recently made 10 predictions for the next 10 years. But he didn’t crawl very far. Most predictions were boring references to long-standing development projects at Intel and elsewhere.
“Realistic computer-generated images.” (Hey, Intel, we’ve already got that.) “New classes of portable devices with 10 times more battery life.” (Who else saw that coming?) “Personal Internet devices will be truly personal.” (Like I’ve been saying for years.) “Low-cost silicon photonics for faster, more reliable data transmission.” (Intel and many others have been working on that technology forever.)
Nevertheless, two predictions are interesting. The boldest was “Malware will become a thing of the past.” The idea is that microprocessors will incorporate security features to stop malicious software from attacking the operating system and application software. It’ll be like a Roach Motel for malware—bugs crawl in, but they won’t crawl out.