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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Microsoft's "Project Milo" Goes from Wow to Meh

When Microsoft first introduced their hands-free video gaming technology (was Natal, now Kinect), they did it in grand fashion and showcased what could arguably have been the showstopping moment of E3 2009. Peter Molyneux of Microsoft's Lionhead Studios brought out what their team was working on called Milo, a boy child whom you could seemingly interact with in real time over your television screen.


I admit, when I saw it, I immediately envisioned a different world. One where every home would have an Xbox 360 and experience a whole new way of interaction with AI technology. Just watch the video above and you'd be hard pressed not to find some level of excitement over the possibilities. Today, however, that excitement turned into disappointment followed closely by anger.


I'm not sure whether Molyneux thought he might be upping the ante with his ambitious project when showcasing his latest outing of Milo, but whatever the case, the tricks are obvious. See if you can spot them.


To placate those who didn't understand how Milo would hold the interest of the gaming world, Molyneux and crew have now added "gaming" elements to it. Using an on screen bubble (similar to that which you would create out of dishsoap and a cheap pan) you can interact with Milo by popping bubbles at his feet or collecting on screen items by passing over them with Mr. bubble. And you are rewarded by collecting the bubbles with a +10 to some vacant scorecard that displays in some unrelated cartoonish fashion. The environment is nothing more than an overly computerized landscape to play mini games, with Milo serving as the master of distraction with his less than committed interest to you or your snail collecting abilities.

It gets worse.

By Molyneux's own admission, interacting by voice command is a challenge. When we first saw Milo, he was interacting with his live counterpart by voice chat with nary an issue. Today, we must be prompted by the in-screen computer voice to command Milo to do certain actions. In this demo, we will shape Milo's disposition by saying either YES or NO to step on a snail. By saying YES, I guess we are dooming Milo to a life of wily-nily snail bashing and rough back-talk. By saying NO, we might be dooming Milo to a life of getting stuffed into lockers and passive aggressive freeway driving. Who knows. But the point is, we have now taken this wonderfully promised technology and made it into a YES or NO equation. Did we really need to relegate the controller for that?

In a possible point of redemption, we are whisked away into Milo's house where he is busy being reprimanded by his parental unit for some nonsense, and I guess this is supposed to give us a sense of pity or establish some connection. It didn't. We were busy cleaning up Milo's room and scoring senseless points for putting garbage away and sweeping things under the rug. When Milo did enter, it gave us a second chance to try out the lousy voice commands in a different way. On screen prompts goaded us to cheer Milo up after his tongue lashing from his mother. Now, here's where the foolery comes into play. It doesn't matter what you say, as the responses Milo gives could suit any situation. Similar to seeing a psychic for the first time and hearing sweeping generalizations that could apply to anything, this is exactly how Milo reacted. I swear, they hired Miss Cleo to conduct this bit of chicanery.

What we experienced in the first video is a far cry from what we have been given today. Milo has degraded into all the other worthless party games that are so synonymous with motion technology. It could have been a game changer, a phenomenal invention that could have sculpted the landscape of not just gaming, but of interaction with technology. Instead, we are left with popping bubbles in the grass at Milo's feet and spouting senseless jargon into a microphone with no real understanding of what has been said. Shame on Microsoft for selling me on an exciting concept that will never be, and shame on me for believing they could actually do it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Five Things Sony’s PlayStation 3 Doesn’t Get Enough Credit For (But Should)

It only does everything...
Since its launch, the PlayStation 3 (PS3) has been accused of not being able to deliver many things, from quality games to making you breakfast in bed. And in that time, whether through upgrades or just general awareness, Sony has listened and delivered many-an-upgrade. But even despite its best efforts, some things that were delivered are still being unsung or just plain taken for granted. Below are five I thought worth mentioning (in no particular order)…

1. Custom Theme Creation
Self expression, it’s the buzzword of the millennium. Heard of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or YouTube? People want an outlet to define their style. Custom themes are an option right in line with that concept. Want a full cat theme with cat icons and a wallpaper exclaiming you are the queen (or king) of all cats? Well, you can have it. Or maybe half naked ladies on motorcycles that have sounds of a revving engine with each six-axis click is more your style. Create it! ONLY through the XMB (Cross Media Bar - basically the user interface) is this possible, yet I hear nary of whisper of this great feature. You want to see some excellent creative at work, check out http://www.ps3-themes.com.

2. PSP Interactivity
Since the GameBoy first hit the market, people have been wishing for ways to make an interactive experience through a handheld and a console. But even the mighty gaming behemoth Nintendo has yet to perfect a method for using the two together in perfect harmony. Having a device communicate on the level that the PSP communicates with the PS3 is absolutely and technologically mind blowing…you can access your PS3 from anywhere in the world from your PSP! Yet, if the buzz were to be believed, it would somehow be viewed as low-tech and yawn-worthy.

Last year, I hooked up my PSP to my PS3 and “infected” my copy of Resistance Retribution with my PS3 version of Resistance 2. I then proceeded to play my PSP version with my Six-axis controller, using both analog sticks and feeling the rumble of the game. It was truly a whole other experience from playing the handheld game without the interactivity. After that, I wanted every game to access my PSP in some form. Yet, again, the buzz was so muted on this you’d have no clue you could even make that experience happen were you not considered a “hardcore” gamer.

3. Game Variety
The PlayStation brand continues to diversify its game offerings even at the dawn of its inception. Sony tried its level best to create games that weren’t of a single genre. Whether these games succeeded or failed is debatable; however, that’s not the focus. Sony recognized that gaps need to be filled and then tried to fill them best they could; even still to this day there are franchises that are without competition as this experience is only happening on a PlayStation platform. Games like SingStar, Folklore, Warhawk, MotorStorm, Buzz Quiz TV, LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Time Crisis, Ratchet & Clank, Afrika, Metal Gear Solid 4, inFamous, Heavy Rain and MAG. Some of these still are unrivaled by any competitor with genres that span even outside of the typical realm of genres.

4. Folding@Home
This one may not be as unsung as its other cousins here; however, it definitely has lost its PR luster. The PS3 is arguably the ONLY console on the market that is up to snuff to handle the task of folding@home due to its tremendous ability for advanced computations. Sony has even built in more functionality around folding to entice people to continue to participate. Sadly, even Sony themselves seem to want to sweep this one under the rug. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the pure power of the PS3 may be the only reason you’ll see it on this platform only in this generation of consoles.

5. Standard Accessories/Upgrades
Lost your USB charging cord to your controller? No problem, borrow one from your PC. Trying to communicate online with others? Use that Bluetooth headset from your phone. Want to text chat but hate doing one letter at a time on an onscreen keyboard? Plug a standard keyboard into your PS3 and use that instead. Heck, plug a mouse in too, it will work! What about replacing that small hard drive with one triple in size? Proprietary drives would cost a mint, but you can just use any standard laptop hard drive and pop it in to the PS3 as an upgrade or replacement. Controllers are rechargeable (no batteries required) and accessories are compatible. NO console on the market can hold a candle to this fact. You’re either buying batteries or additional storage devices or you’re roped into expensive proprietary parts. People want the least expensive possible but end up spending much more on accessories and upgrades that come standard with the PS3. A bit of research would certainly dispel any unknowns and save some money and hassle in the future.

Previous generations of the PlayStation could not boast these features (aside from game diversity); many of these same features the gaming community clamored for. And to appease the crowd, this generation Sony listened and set out to accommodate the gamers’ needs. Unfortunately, the real issue was the gamers who wanted these features just weren’t willing to pay for them. Since the price cut and remodel, the PS3 is faring much better than its initial offering and surely many more people are enjoying Sony’s feature rich system.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

iPed versus iPad: The Issues with Knockoffs

Nope, the iPed screen doesn't rotate (no motion sensing)

It doesn't operate a Mac OS, it doesn't have a USB port, it doesn't have a webcam, it has no native video out and it doesn't support Flash in its browser. So, why do I still want an iPad?

Being addicted to tech means you want the next thing that is out. Well, this is it. However, after much contemplation and debate with myself, I knew I had to have the $699 model with the 64GB of memory. Right?  I mean, 16GB is just too little and the 3G wasn't for me (thankfully - don't want to foot that bill monthly).

So when faced with the $700+ tax price tag, that I clearly couldn't afford, I turned where so many others turn, the knockoffs, and hit up a pretty robust Chinese knockoff site, China Grabber. They have a whole category devoted to the iPad knockoffs, and that is wherein lies the initial problem.

1. Too Many Choices.
When examining which version of the iPed resembles iPad closest, it quickly becomes an exercise in futility. Choosing from the categories on the left presents me with everything within that category, accessories included. So I thought I'd do the next smartest thing, a search with just iPed as the keyword. Success! Well, not quite. Although that did narrow my choices, I'm still presented with an overwhelming amount. So the best bet was to just look through all 46 choices. By comparison, Apple has six - three for WiFi choices with expanded memory and three with WiFi + 3g with the same choices of memory. Simple. As. That.

After reviewing all choices, I could eliminate many by finding the commonality between them that closely matched an iPad. I ended up doing another search to bring the choices down. iped 10". This brought me down to four that had a 10" screen (iPad has a 9.7" screen, knockoffs have a 10"). But only one closely match the technical specifications. Hey speaking of...

2. Tech Specs.
This is the part where you'd expect the knockoff to cheap out and lose the war, but surprisingly, they only lose it in a couple different categories. Check out the side-by-side comparison below:

Feature iPed iPad
Price $299 $499 - $829
Processor 1 GHz 1 GHz
Display 10.2" TFT, 1024 x 600 9.7" LCD, 1024 x 768
Memory 2 GB (up to 16GB - external microSD card +$49) 16 GB - 64 GB
OS Android 2.1 or Windows CE 6.0 iOS 4
Microphone Yes Yes
Stereo Built in speakers Built in speakers
USB 2.0 None
Max Battery Time 7 hours 10 hours
3G USB dongle (+$79) Built in ($629 model)
Web Browser Safari Internet Explorer

So as you can see, there is some give-and-take. And since the iPed can only boost memory up to 16 GB from the on board 2 GB of memory, it's fair to compare the pricing to the 16 GB models of the iPad. So what's the final price for a fair side by side comparison?

Feature iPed 16 GB iPad 16GB
No 3g $348 $499
With 3g $427 $629

So, as expected, there is savings to be had by purchasing the knockoff. Did I mention there is free shipping for either? So that doesn't play into the cost.

3. No Access to All Things Apple.
So this is really where it may all come down to, whether or not you care if you are part of Apple Magicland. There were mp3 players long before the iPod. There where phones long before the iPhone. And there was touch pad computing long before the iPad. Yet, magically, Apple has found a way to lead in every one of these categories. Why? Simplicity, my dear Watson.

I was talking with a friend the other day about Apple, how they have really built a business model around giving consumers what they are looking for. I told him, Apple really listens. But he persisted that Apple wasn't listening, they were anticipating our needs and delivering to us what we didn't even know we wanted. A point I was quick to call bullshit on. There I was with my Creative Rio mp3 player in the day, with my clunky-ass interface, ripping my music to mp3s and trying to get them loaded successfully onto this little device, all with the WORST interface you'd ever used. I complained and complained, but nothing changed. Was I alone? I was the ONLY person in the world who thought this was crap. right?

The iPod is nothing without its big daddy, iTunes. Those two work harmoniously together and I've never looked back. I thank Apple profusely for listening to my whines and moans and I concede nothing to my friend's thoughts about Apple's ideology. I think that's all they do is listen. Watch a product line and learn how to make it easier for the consumer based on the consumer's needs. Why do you think they are late to market with their wares? They don't need to be the first to market, they only need to watch their competitors missteps and then seize the opportunity. Pretty easy to do in many cases.

What's a Boy To Do?
So, I still have neither an iPad nor an Iped. I'm leaning towards the 16GB iPad though, just to give me the new tech fix I need. I'm sure I'll love it for what it is, but I do realize it has its shortcomings; normally I disregard products that aren't robust. However, I do love Apple Magicland. I'm not a fanatic, like some, but I do appreciate the simplicity of their products and their support for expanding applications. Maybe my next post will be from my shiny new iPad. Only one problem...where do I find that $499 I need to make that happen?

What a Waste!
Okay, so you got through that long, opinionated article, so how about a reward. Although, does anyone else think this is a travesty?

I get it, humor...but still, makes me sad.