Angry Robot

Ol' Nerdy Bastard

I’m late late late on this but better late than never – the Hipster, Please! remix & mashup album Ol’ Nerdy Bastard was released last week and is awesome. Check ‘er out fer sure.

New Sim Games Gimmie Gimmie!

So there are three new Sim games coming soon and I want my grubby paws on all of them!

First: Space Station Sim! Ha!

The game is available from Avanquest Software and developed by Vision VideoGames in partnership with not one but two space agencies! NASA and the Japanese Space Administration! Crazy authentic! It’s only for the PC though, which fills me with jealous rage, but at least it exists and I think that’s mega major cool.

You play as a Chief Administrator of NASA and have to build a ship and station based on existing modules and customized for communications, crew areas, life support and everything else it takes to run a real space station. But it gets better than just tweaky the real life techy specs! You have to choose and assign your crew based on personalities and skills!! Totally awesome! I love that stuff! You could theoretically make a really tight and horrible station and then pack it with bitchy mean people and watch it crash to the ground! Or that’s what Toku would do anyway…

Anyway, you then have to regulate the crews interpersonal relationships, experiments and daily routines! You tell them when to eat, sleep, work out, watch tv, read! Awesome!! Totally my perfect game! Since I’m never ever going to get to do anything like this in real life what better game could I ever hope for that a space station sim? I couldn’t hope for one! This is it!

The game is out in June so for all you damned lucky PC owners, play it! Enjoy it! You bastards!

Second: SimCity Creator! Joy!

EA’s new Wii and DS title focuses on the creation of wee cities throughout time and also their destruction by your Wiimote wielding hands of doom!

The Wii version lets you create your city from scratch just like always, but this time they also include thirteen “city styles” to use like European or American. You can add transportation in a bunch of new ways and can make some pretty cool zippy-do-da-day curvy rollercoaster-like systems. There are also thirty “Hero” buildings, some unlockable, which are based on historical, famous fiction icons, and current day feats of architecture. There better be some sort of Batman tower to use…

When it’s all built and perfect you can take helicopter, jet, or old school propeller plane rides over your creation and then…Destroy it! Natural distasters, alien invaders, SUPER ROBOT DESTROYERS! All are ready and waiting for you to unleash against your innocent city! One of the best parts of any sand castle is its eventual destruction so…Have at it!

The DS version is just adorable. You guide your city throughout time! How cute is that! So think Age of Empires meets SimCity and…there you have SimCity Creator for the DS! There are four modes, Challenge (which I won’t play), Free Play (which I will play), Chance Encounter and Gallery (that sounds odd…). I just want to take my wee peeps into the future and have a tiny city in my pocket! If only there was a way to have then worship me as their god…That would be awesome.

Anyway, both SimCity Creators are out this September and I cannot wait!

Robot Sounds 17

Long time no Sounds! This week D, Nadine, and Special Guest Kris “Digital” Blair chat about Wii Fit, rpg strategy games, and so much more!

Angry Robot Sounds 17

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WTF Wednesday: Crazy Crazy Archery!

This is why Robin Hood was such a cool character!

Why don’t we have shows like this here in Canada?! This is so amazing! Not only is it alll about archery, but they have awesome slow-mo, close-up camera action!

Argh this blows my mind! Look at that egg! Look at that arrow penetration!

Ha! I said arrow penetration!

These skills be mad! Mad I tell you!

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition Colonies Edition

Say that ten times fast! For those of you (Toku) that loved this game now there’s more to enjoy! This is one of those Games for Windows linking game where PC players can battle with 360 players, which is always nice, and there’s lots of new stuff as well.

From the release:

In addition to a host of new environments and weapons, there will be four new playable characters added to online mode for players to battle it out online, along with a horde of new online multiplayer modes, including Akrid Hunter and Egg Bandit modes. New online content includes seven new multiplayer modes and four exciting new maps for Xbox LIVE and Windows-based PC users to battle on together.

Oh and to refresh the mems on what the whole story of this game is check out Toku’s recap.

Mobile GH3 Downloads Near 1 Million

Crazy! Launched first exclusively on the Verizon network and then worldwide there are nearly one million people playing Guitar Hero III on their mobile devices! That is just odd!

From the Game Press release:

Guitar Hero III Mobile has become one of the fastest selling games in mobile gaming history. More than 250,000 songs are played every day by mobile subscribers across the U.S. The most played songs include “Slow Ride” (re-record), “Mississippi Queen” (re-record) and “Black Magic Woman” (re-record).

Who knew so many people loved Fog Hat in their daily routine?

Towards a Perfect Mac Mini Media Centre: Front Row, Amped or Replaced

As part of an ongoing quest to get the most out of my Mac Mini media centre setup, I took a couple things for a spin recently: XBMC for Mac, a Front Row replacement, and Sapphire Browser, a plugin for Front Row. Be warned: both of these apps are in beta, and aren’t polished final products. But they are certainly interesting.

One thing I was specifically looking for was something that handled HD content a lot better than front row. The mini is no slouch processor-wise, but it ain’t no Mac Pro, and perian -enhanced Front Row seems to have issues playing back HD files – dropped frames, curtailed fast-forwarding use until the entire flick is loaded, and worst of all for me, it outputs surround sound as regular old stereo. So I have to play files out of VLC if I want to give all my speakers a nice workout.

XBMC for Mac

Hell, I don’t even know how I got into this one. I guess I saw on Lifehacker that there was a new beta that supported the Apple Remote, and I figured I’d give it a shot. It’s the open-source media centre developed for the oldschool Xbox and now ported to Linux and Mac. It’s got a lot going for it, which I will sum up in delightful bullet point form:

HD playback is a huge advantage right there. The Mini lifted 720p like a champ; word on the street is that it will sometimes have trouble with 1080p files, although I didn’t have any to test.

Unfortunately, the audio is another matter. I couldn’t get surround working at all. This has to do with the amp itself – mine refused to decode whatever XBMC was putting out. However, most people apparently have no issues, and the feature is going to see improvements a couple betas down the road, which might be a couple months away.

XBMC supports skins, and there are a few nice ones out there – to my eyes, nothing as refined as Front Row itself, but not bad and hell, you could make your own skin if you were really fussy. And that’s the nice thing about XBMC – it’s an open source project, with all the advantages with go with it.

XBMC has a lot of detailed configuration parameters, and there is great power and versatility in them. You can fine tune the details of your playback down to the scaling algorithms, and you can even do this while playing something back.

But, alas, with great power comes great… complexity. Who’s kidding who, it’s pretty complicated to set this thing up properly.

A note on the concept of “library” in XBMC. This must have been an evolutionary layer that grew on top of the original, simple XBMC interface. The library is the mode that scrapes the web for metadata (something not apparent to me at first glance), and it isn’t enabled by default. Until you figure that out, the XBMC interface is completely bereft of visual frills, even lacking thumbnails of the videos: something that is undoubtedly awesome to get working on an Xbox, but pointless on a Mac with a hardy competitor in Front Row built in.

Once you get the library thing sorted out, things are a bit better, but you’ll be impressed by one feature, annoyed by another. Possibly the biggest strike against XBMC is that it doesn’t recognize your iTunes metadata, so all your carefully-curated album art is out the window and reconstituted, badly, by a lengthy allmusic scrape. The cover art for DVD rips and such looks great though, and the plot summaries and cast & crew details are great to have.

Ultimately, I set XBMC aside because the surround sound issue was too important for me. I’m going to keep an eye on it, though; the app is under active development and seems to be progressing well, and I may well be using it heavily in a couple months.

Sapphire Browser

Sapphire browser is a Front Row ‘plugin’ that will do all that scraping for you right within Front Row, giving you the film/TV show art, summaries etc. just like XBMC. The idea is beautiful, and if I could review the idea, I’d give it top marks.

However, the reality don’t live up. I won’t bother getting into too many details, but the scraping process did not work well at all. It takes forever, hangs repeatedly, and ultimately messed up some fairly easy categorizations. When sapphire hits upon a file it doesn’t know what to do with, it asks you to identify the correct name out of a list of results. Unfortunately, it chooses whether files are ‘movies’ or ‘tv shows’ automatically and doesn’t let you correct it other than saying ‘this isn’t a movie’ – you have no way of saying ‘this is a TV show’, so your show won’t show up in its listing at all. Only one out of six Star Wars films actually made it through this failed screening process, which is a pretty sad result. To say nothing of the several different seasons of different shows I had to click through saying ‘this isn’t a movie’ for each episode.

Again, Sapphire is in beta, so it may very well improve in the future. But right now, I can hardly recommend you try it unless you really enjoy repetitive and fruitless clicking.

So that’s it for this latest bout; personally, nothing sticks this time around, but your needs may be different. And regardless, I’ll be keeping my eye on both of these, especially XBMC. The Mac version developers have recently liberated themselves from the main project, so more good things could come of that. I’ve pretty much exhausted my look at mac mini media centre apps – there’s still MediaCentral to consider, but the price is a little steep for me. Maybe someday!

UPDATE See this more recent article, which takes a look at the new XBMC for Mac, now known as Plex, and the new app Boxee.

Great Super Lame Gadget List!

Wired has a great list on their site about all their terrible selections for “must have” techy gear between the years 1999-2006.

Ah, to be a coveting geek, the drool always blurs the representation…

Beware though, most of the listed items are just…hideous. Though I think I should search ebay for some “ice mice” for D…

The Rock Band Attachment…

Okay so this article about the strobe light and smoke machine for Rock Band kinda freaked me out. Should we really add smoke and super flashy lights to an already intense visual and aural experience?

Isn’t this just begging for seizures and lung-related mishappery?

I think so…

And gods know I love me the Rock Band, but seriously, how much more giant clunky plastic carp does one need for a complete gaming experience. I feel as though we are in the 80’s again…power gloves abound…

Happy Monday: They Landed on Mars…Again!

Will wonders ever cease, I hope not! This just tickles my fancy to no end. The fact that human beings can make a robotic craft, send it six hundred million km away, and then set it down on the surface of an entirely different planet!

Go Team Go!

Smart people are awesome!

Penny Arcade's Transmogrification

Oh Penny Arcade, how many laughs have you given me over the years? The many “ah ha!” moments of clarity wherein I felt such a kinship with my fellow gamers. Penny Arcade understood the woes, the worries, the awesomeness that is playing. So when they decided to make an actual game my heart and soul were all a flutter.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 1 wasn’t just fun to say, it was to be the first installment in the great Penny Arcade game franchise! Excitement! The beauty of Gabe’s visuals, the wit of Tycho’s words! What could be more titillating than that? Unfortunately, the masters of gaming comedy have missed the mark for me. Just ever so slightly, mind you, but still I have no urge to continue the gaming part of their game. I do, however, wish to continue their story and the way in which it is told. A conundrum to be sure, let me explain further.

I started the game and immediately became all a tingle, the music, the beautiful art, the sexy, slinky panel to panel movement! The narrator’s voice reminded me of John Hurt and I was taken back to the days of Jim Henson’s Storyteller. I says to Toku I says, “I want to watch this movie!” How those words would haunt me an hour later…

The game lets you design your own character, there only about three options per section (head, face, body, clothes) which disappointed me until the game began and the girl I had created was all animated and sexy fine! I was delighted! I extrapolated that they needed limited options to be able to animate all the variations.

You start out in your lil’suburban street raking leaves and listening to the narrator explain your purpose (he is quite vague) when a gaint robot (a certain fruit defiling machine) stomps on your house and runs away, being followed by a dashing pair of 20’s styled rogues: Tycho and Gabe.

You must follow the two and learn the rules of the game whilst doing so. You continue with the typical opening cans and such to get items, and then you learn combat as you battle a bunch of wee fruit…defilers. This is where the game begane to lose me. You have your basic attack, your special attack, and then items to use against foes all on different buttons, when you build up enough energy on your attacks you hit the corresponding button, target an enemy and attack. With special attacks once you select the enemy you go into kinda like a mini game “hit this at that time thing” which if you complete you get max damage on your attack. Special attacks vary between your character and your support characters. You can block enemy attacks at the beginning of their move, but I wasn’t fast enough for this and always got hit…

Anyway, when you have a whole team of characters it’s cool because you can rapidly switch between each character mid attack, which means you could have all of your characters and support characters attacking pretty much at the same time.

The rest of the gameplay is very much run along in this direction clearing enemies, collecting stuff, etc. It feels extremely linear which is kinda a let down in such a beautifully designed world, you really wany to explore the area with a free camera, not locked off and only facing one way.

Ack, that’s the thing here, I kept playing thinking “okay we’re building up to something really cool, keep playing and you’ll get to it” and then I was like “wait…this IS it…this is the game…bawls!” I had so wanted to play differently. I love the story and like I said I really want to just like watch the story, but the game…I don’t want to play the game. One thing I didn’t like, even with the awesome story, was in dialogue mode there is no music just this creepy static sound in the background. It’s slightly disturbing because you’re in conversations for so long it’d be nice to have some ambient music about…

So I will play the game more thoroughly on the weekend, I just really wish I could watch this as an awesome movie. I’m sure the voices of Gabe and Tycho wouldn’t be hard to cast at all. I love the artwork, I love the script, I just don’t like the game…It feels beneath what it should be for a Penny Arcade game. If only Insomniac made a Penny Arcade game…that would be totally perfect. Almost too perfect…Mmm…perfection…

Happy Friday: Kraftwerk Makes Smile Occuring Now!

Love this stuff!

In my ever increasing exploration of tunage to share with you I found this version of Kraftwerk’s Pocket Calculator.

Love the voice in this one. Video is just static though so heed it not…Just enjoy the sounds!

I also really liked this video for Computer Love:

And here’s an awesome Japanese version too:

But the MOST awesome thing is a live tv performance video of Kraftwerk back in the 70’s. Has if this isn’t a frakking cool performance! These guys are dedicated to the techno logical.

Bell Shoots Self In Face

Wow. Bell just unveiled its video download store, and as Ars notes, the timing could be no worse. Bell is about to go in front of the CRTC about the fact that they’re throttling P2P traffic, legal or not, for Bell customers AND for independent resellers’ customers. With this announcement, the anti-competitive aspects of throttling need no longer be simply inferred, they are writ large by Bell itself. Finally, the issue of network neutrality gets a shot in the arm. Thanks Bell! (more in the Globe here)

Thoughts on Ubisoft's Haze

What do I think of Haze thus far from my limited exposure with the demo? I’m intrigued! I want to play more. Yeah, the story is totally obvious and everything, the whole big evil corporation makes a drug that enhances you in battle and a rebel force fights against it. Good times!

The reviews for Haze have been less than awesome with the major sites saying things like weak plot, stripped down multiplayer (which doesn’t matter to me because none of my friends own a PS3, I’m in it strictly for campaign), and meh graphics. I think that they’re being a wee bit picky. I guess when you have an exclusive title for the PS3 one would expect something truly awesome. And yeah, from the demo the graphics were nothing special, typical Ubisoft jungle, we’ve all been there before. But I hesitate to hate the game so quickly, I really do want to play the whole thing.

Seeing the bodies disappear after I shot some rebels down was nifty, and then walking through a bombed out site and hearing these strange sounds when my super drug “Nectar” flow was interrupted was also nifty. I liked feeling all “oooh I think I’m a good guy but really I’m a bad guy oooh”. It actually reminded me of Shadowrun for a bit…if Shadowrun had a campaign mode…Or maybe it was because rebels were speaking Spanish…I’m getting tired of hearing Spanish yelled at me while being pelted by bullets. Can we get a new language up-ins for shooters please?

So why am I being so lenient with this game? Well, I only played the demo for one, and I just don’t think every shooter has to be revolutionary. I think of first person shooters kinda like action movies. Some are Rambos, some are Alien vs Predators, all are full of crazy unrealistic action and events. Sometimes I like a good crappy movie, and sometimes I like a little crappy game.

The really odd thing though…While I was playing my hands really craved a 360 controller! My fingers were itching to play on familiar shooter controls…it was actually kinda freaky and disconcerting. I’m like programmed for 360 shooters now…

I’ll do a full test on this beast next week, but as it stands now I’m not hating it, which is nice.

Wii Fit: To Play or Not To Play

Alright, now we all know I love the hype, I love the gimmick, I love the silly. But I think Wii Fit is pushing the limits even for me…So to sort out my own thoughts I’d like to go through both sides of this crazy game. The good side, and the completely stupid why does it exist side. You can be the judge on which makes more sense for your life.

To preface, Wii Fit has tons to do including Yoga poses, muscle toning, aerobic workouts, and balance tests and training. Much like Brain Age, harder routines and moves are unlocked by the amount of time you spend playing the game, and more specifically, how much time you spend in each activity. There’s also a log that keeps track of the types of activities you do outside of the game and adds that into your total progress over time.

The game sets you up to want to change yourself and guides you through the motions on how to while trying to make it fun and in some cases silly. It worked in Wii Sports, and the thinking remains the same here – people don’t mind looking silly standing in front of a screen if their minds are occupied and they are having fun. Wii Fit is fun, but for how long is a personal choice and one I made within only a few moments of contemplation.

The Good Stuff!

Like all sim games, Wii Fit brings elements of different experiences into the home for easy use with no worries about people laughing at you or harassing you. In Guitar Hero/Rock Band you feel like a super champ of the musical world and have loads of fun “rocking out” even though all you’re really doing is pushing a few buttons in an intense game of simon says. The game lets you feel what it might be like to actually play real music. Dance Dance Revolution lets you shake your booty in the comfort of your living room where no one can see you or say “oh god get THAT off the dance floor!”. And for people who really can’t dance, having a pad to follow along with actually may help them feel the rhythm. These are beautiful things, truly wonderful delights that I’m glad people enjoy playing.

Wii Fit takes that concept and pushes it into a new realm – actual fitness and well-being. You are learning some new skills, albeit ones you could learn from a good article or book, but for some people doing a proper push-up or sit-up is just not in their consciousness whatsoever. Wii Fit takes these disconnected synapses and fastens them together, again in the comfort of one’s own home where no one can laugh at the chubby new kid at the club trying to lose some holiday weight. I don’t care what active living people say, going to the gym when you are not a “gym person” can be intimidating. Plus, some people’s lives just do not fit into a schedule where they can work out at a decent club before or after work. This world is crazy and non-stop and someone, somewhere is working a shitty shift that doesn’t lend itself to tension release on the squash court.

Having the ability to pull out a wee tiny step pad, get yourself into non-Lulu Lemon gear (because why impress with your super awesome $100 Yoga pants when no one can see them?) and have at it on your abs! A shiny, happy Mii character will smile at you and be your guide, your avatar in this new world of gettin’ fit. I don’t know about you, but having a nice little chart full of weight, age, height and where everything should be right in front of me is Hand to the Dee. I like seeing my infos in pretty Wii form, and I like the challenge of taking the numbers and working to make them better. I am the video game and I will conquer myself. Screw being a temple… I’m pixel potential!

As for the Yoga, and yes there are a few moves in that there Wii Fit…Well, classes are expensive, not every one has a yoga school/center in their area and going to yoga is intimidating for some people. So the answer: not a how-to DVD, but have a disembodied voice guide your avatar to inner peace.

See what I mean from this demo:

That’s just nice for those who have access to a Wii and this game, but don’t have a way to get into Yoga. Building bridges, expanding play to education and well being. That is the Way of Wii Fit.

Seniors! How many of us have grandparents who play Wii Sports? Tons of us! Loads of us! Insanely large numbers considering that before Wii Sports, grandparents could care less what us young whippersnappers were doing with our TVs and time. Now, obviously, something like squats are out of the question, but the deep breathing yoga exercises and some of the aerobic exercise are perfect for older people. And the fact that there is active holding of the Wiimote and stepping on the pad really focuses the mind more than simply doing the movements alone. It’s all part of the getting older package – work every thing, every day and it’ll keep working! Like I said though, this is a rather active game so not everything works, but some of it does and that’s enough to make it worthwhile for the whole family.

The Bad Stuff! (get ready for a severe tone change)

I can’t even begin to describe how angry this kind of game makes me. That these kinds of things are being invented and promoted as “healthy” and a good way to get “fit”! Yeah, a good way to stare at a TV for even more time than people already do. I get that it’s fun to play, but this type of game almost completely replaces going outside and getting out there to be active and fit. Nintendo is actually pushing this thing as the new wave of “active-play”! Active play my active ass! This is just an excuse to sell yet another clunky piece of plastic to clog up living rooms and eventually dumps all over the world. Why? For people to do push-ups, PUSHUPS! Lunges! Sit-ups! Torso twists! You need to spend money in order to effectively do some stretches? What kind of bizarro world have I fallen into? This is just ridiculous. For $20 bucks, go out and get some ten pound weights, get to the library, oh no wait I’m sorry, Google some weight exercises and stretches and there you go. Wii Fit, but more practical, all for half a day of research.

These are our bodies peeps! Our bodies that we are so preciously given and hold a responsibility to take care of throughout our lives. Eat well, stretch, drink lots and lots and then even more water, and get out and do something. Go for walks, lift a few hand weights, do a few sit ups before going to work. Don’t eat shitty Red Dye #3 in crappy snack foods. Want to lose weight? Do the work! Want to get fit? Take the stairs! Busy lifestyle? Make the damn time!

Life is work. Fitness is work. A hell of a lot of hard work, and no silly game can change that. In a few weeks the gimmick of doing a workout in front of your TV with your step pad will wear off, and like every other fitness fad you’ll chuck it in the closet. Fitness isn’t something that can come from a game. Being healthy is a habit and a lifestyle. Creator and Nintendo God Miyamoto can’t change that fact, no matter how seemingly easy he makes it.

The End

Is nigh…No, no not really, but you see where I’ve taken my stand as a gamer here. Now, I’m not saying the game isn’t tight and totally fun because it is and if you’re into things like Nintendogs (which I did play for two weeks) and you want to treat yourself in the same way to try and get a bit healthier, then good on ya and enjoy. I really do think fitness is important, and if this is your way to a healthy body and mind, then so be it.

What I’m also saying here is be careful, be mindful (as a Jedi once said) and do not take this game too seriously. Like the last Wii game I had problems with Wii Fit is getting rave reviews from all the big sites. And it is a game worthy of some good reviews, but in this case I can’t shake the logic of disliking this game and its concept.

Many people will buy this game, Time Magazine will rave, lots of local news stories about people losing weight from the Wii will pop up over the next few months. And then it will go away and after the peak of profit, Wii Fit will vanish from the hearts and minds of gamers.

Hopefully all those families Miyamoto wants to work out together will still be doing it though…because that’s a noble goal, unrealistic in many ways, but noble.

WTF Wednesday: Mashups!

They be crazy!

I spent some time trolling around looking at various mashups the other day and I found one that just…god, you know it just really brought together the decades, the concept of “cool”, and how all that shite never really changes.

Justin Timberlake and Corey Hart.





Tell me this isn’t freaky crazy.

Also, tell me you don’t want to see them make out after that…I totally do.

Pong to Trim! Pong to Trim!

Engadget has an article up about these guys who have adapted Pong to work with old school exercise bikes! Ha!

It’s just crazy adorable that anyone thought to do this…Biking to move your Pong paddle, who would have thought?

Forget all the shiny new Wii workouts – Pong forever baby!

EA Offer Deadline for Take-Two Passes

So Take-Two Interactive, swimming on super waves of success after GTA IV, have still not accepted any offers made by EA. EA set a deadline for their latest offer which was ignored by Take-Two shareholders.

I find this so interesting to read about because Take-Two has proved that they can make amazing games and it worries me that they would be bought by giant EA so soon after just establishing themselves in the market as truly great game makers.

Oh, well money money money is the name of the game so we’ll see how this pans out sooner rather than later.

Happy Monday: Behind the Scenes of Video Games Live

Well, it’s a wonderful Monday morning here in Toronto! And not just because it’s a long weekend no worky Monday for most people, but because it’s also quite beautiful outside. But we have no use for beautiful weather! We like to sit indoors and play games or go into dark concert halls and listen to the best music ever created for games played live and in full orchestral power! You know what I’m talking about…Video Games Live!

My good friend Steve worked on a behind the scenes mini doc for a site called The Offline all about the event. They sat down with Video Games Live creator Tommy Tallarico and spent a day in the life of the show itself.

Watch it!

….then maybe enjoy the sunshine.

Toward a Perfect Mac Media Centre: Remote Magic

I’ve gone on another Mac Mini media centre bender. This seems to happen periodically; I get sick of how my 21st-century media experience is turning out, and I try a bunch of different stuff to see if I can’t improve the system. I’ve just tried out a few utilities designed to extend the power of the Apple Remote, as doing more things with your remote is a must if you want to get the most out of your media centre Mac.

Along with Mira, the Apple Remote extender I was using off and on, I’ll tell you about the competition: Remote Buddy, and Sofa Control.

Current Sitch

My mini is hooked up to the TV and I use Front Row to play shit back – movies and music both. This machine also functions as a torrent hose, and that’s what set off this latest round of testing – there is a lot of fussing to be done before a downloaded torrent is ready to be played in Front Row, stuff that I have to screen share in from my MacBook Pro to do, while I’d rather do it with the remote, from the couch. Namely, I want to do some limited file management with the remote – unpacking zips and rars, adding music to iTunes, and moving files to different directories.

What do these things do?

By default, the Apple Remote is more or less tied to Front Row. It can control iTunes too, and DVD Player. But it can’t switch apps or playlists or do anything elaborate. The idea with these extenders is that when you press ‘menu’ on the remote, instead of Front Row starting, you get a pop-up menu with a bunch of different choices. This is implemented a bit differently in each app, though.


I had been using Mira. It’s got a whole slew of applications pre-programmed with remote controls. You can customize your initial pop-up menu, and you can re-map buttons in any app that already has actions defined. You can even assign applescripts to buttons – more on that later.

Anyway, for one reason or another, I’d stopped using it. I decided I’d bust it out again, so I checked the site for the latest version and discovered to my horror that it hasn’t been updated since forever and is having issues with leopard. Well, that won’t do.

Remote Buddy

Remote Buddy is the quicksilver of the apple remote: it can do just about anything, if you can figure out how to convince it to. It can control any app, can browse through your media collection or file system, has a virtual keyboard and mouse, and can be scripted and expanded.

It’s also relatively expensive at 20 Euros, and is unfortunately too ominous and complicated for my girlfriend to use. For example, the default action when you press menu is to show a menu with tasks for the currently active app. To get to the ‘main menu’, you have to click left to navigate back up to it. Seems simple, but since you can browse your music (in a clever way BTW), it’s possible to get several menu screens in, and when you click menu to hide Remote Buddy’s display, it doesn’t revert to the top level when you press it again. So my lady would have to keep hitting left about seven times to get back to where she could choose front row. Which she’s not going to do; she gives these things about three seconds to explain themselves, and then shrugs and walks away, and I’m trying to encourage her to use the technology, not scare her off. However, if you’re flying solo or the SO is a crazy nerd like you, I’d give this one a shot. You’ll be using your Apple Remote to launch tactical nuclear strikes once you’ve figured it out.

Oh yeah – I should mention that Remote Buddy not only supports a variety of different remotes, you can also use a Wiimote or iPhone to control your mac with it. Bitchin’.

Sofa Control

This is another Apple Remote extender – in fact, it’s remarkably similar to Mira. In fact, I don’t know which one to recommend to you; they’re the same price and do much the same thing. Mira’s menu is more customizable than Sofa Control’s, but then again, Mira’s having issues with Leopard. Sofa control does have a virtual mouse feature, which Mira lacks and which can come in handy in a jam. And it allows for customization via scripting, so pretty much anything you could do with Mira, I’m sure you could do with this one. But I haven’t bought Sofa Control yet and so haven’t tested it enough to know it rocks fer sure.

Back to Mira; and some dull details that should nonetheless be noted

Upon seeing how similar Sofa Control and Mira are, I concluded that I might as well stick with the app I already own, so I went back into mira to see if I could make it work. The answer is: yes, with some button remapping and a lot of help from Automator.

I am starting to love Automator. I tried to love Applescript before it, but it was far too complicated for a brain like mine (I’m “creative”, okay?). Automator is where it’s at. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start with a simpler problem and a solution that doesn’t need automator.

Problem: I sometimes forget to stop all the downloadin’ before I get on Xbox Live to play with my homies, and then it’s lag city and I have to get up off the couch (outrage!) and screen share into my Mini to pause downloads in Transmission.


  1. add Transmission as an app in Mira preference pane
  2. assign play/pause button to keypress “command-option-period” (pause all in Transmission)
  3. assign next button to keypress “command-option-slash” (resume all in Transmission)
  4. add Transmission to the Mira main menu
  5. profit! Or, at least, stay on couch!

Now how about something more elaborate that requires Automator.

Problem: newly downloaded video files need to be moved into the Movies directory before Front Row will see them.

Solution: First step is to create a passable way of navigating around the finder. We’re going to need to mod the ‘finder’ control set in Mira. I’ve set it up so that up and down on the remote use the “duoPress” thing in such a way that up makes your selection move up one, and holding up triggers command-up aka move up one directory. I’ve made the play button ‘open’, and the back button sends a file to the trash.

You’re going to want to add common directories to Mira’s main menu, too. Add your downloads folder, that way you can easily navigate to it and then select the files you need. You may also want to add your home directory and the finder itself. I’ve also added the Movies directory in case a video isn’t playing well in Front Row and I want to launch it with something else.

Now, create an automator workflow that has the following steps: “get selected finder items”, “move selected finder items” to the Movies directory. That’s it. Save it as an app.

Finally, put this in your Mira main menu, or assign it to a button in your finder control scheme.

I saved the right button in my finder setup for a slightly more complicated but far more common task, which is adding music to iTunes. Same deal as before, but the automator actions should be as follows:

  1. get selected finder items
  2. get the contents of this folder (and any subfolders)
  3. filter finder items to those of file extension .mp3 (this is to avoid adding image files or .m3us that might be in the album directory)
  4. add to iTunes library.

So with all of these controls set up in mira, I can now do all the routine file management stuff that used to require a screen share.

(The smart reader may point out that folder actions could handle these chores automatically, and while that’s theoretically true, I’ve had little luck with folder actions myself. They run whenever files are added, which can potentially be while the Mini is already shuddering under the weight of HD video, and they are frequently confounded by partially-complete torrent downloads. But I’m still exploring this. I’m definitely considering an action on the MBP that will scan my MBP’s downloads folder for torrent files and move them to a folder on the Mini that Transmission watches for torrents, auotomating a lot of the stupid busywork that goes along with, you know, not paying for stuff.)

Finally, I should add that while my Mira experience under Leopard is relatively painless, there are still periodic problems. Ghost presses are sent, and sometimes one press results in two. I’ve contacted the developer as he hints on his site that workarounds are available; I hope this is the case as until I get them and/or he updates Mira for Leopard, I can’t really recommend it to you, as much as I’d like to. I would say that you could certainly set up either of the other apps I’ve mentioned here to do much the same thing, should you want to.

Next, I’ll have a look at XBMC for Mac, a Front Row replacement, and Sapphire Browser, a plugin for Front Row. Both scrape the net for metadata in really interesting ways, but both seem to have their share of problems, too.

UPDATE See this more recent article, which points out that Mira now works with Leopard.

My Thoughts on DGamer

Disney has launched their new social networking system aptly named DGamer today along with the first compatible title Prince Caspian. Basically, this is a completely safe and secure way for young DS users to interact with one another, share stats, share game bonus items like avatar costumes, do polls, and simply get more from their gaming experience.

I know, I know why does one need more than the game itself? Because that’s just the way entertainment is going. You can’t just have a book, you need a movie based on a book, then a video game based on the movie. You need websites for books and comics, tv and film. Facebook, MySpace pages, all for upcoming movies to entice the youngins. Basically, if it only exists in one form then it really doesn’t exist at all. Do I agree? Not always, but I understand that the current trend is for media to exist in different dimensions.

Moving on, how does it work? Simple, you sign up at DGamer and set up your account. This is for kids so parental supervision is needed in order to sign up. A registration email is sent out and then you log on using WiFi to the DGamer network. You set up your avatar and away you go prancing about looking at leaderboards and stats. I’m just concerned with how I look at the moment…Once you get that sorted you can hop into chat with friends if you have their friend info or into the public chats.

I went in there and talked with a dude for a bit and it was fun for being a total stranger because the chats are loaded with emoticon animations for your character so I was dancing and jumping and cheering to no end. It was fun! But more so if I had someone to talk to that I actually knew. You don’t get full chat opened unless you have an actually friend code, not just someone on your friends list. Much like a Wii friend code you need to really know the person to have full chat unlocked and then you can type anything. The other two levels are restricted for certain language and phrases and there are human monitors as well. The most basic chat level is all predetermined greetings and phrases that you click on to use, plus the emoticons. From the press release:

Kids can either communicate using a predetermined list of words and phrases called “Speed Chat,” through modified free-form typing that blocks inappropriate language or suggestive phrases called “Speed Chat Plus,” or via “Open Chat” which requires an exchange of a True Friend Code outside of the DGamer system. employs several safety features to ensure all chat communication is moderated for safety.

Disney is on the ball with this and if I was a parent I would feel pretty okay with my kid using these features. Much more so than the rabid free for all of the Live universe.

Of course, what’s at the heart of DGamer is connecting kids to Disney content in a more direct way and ensuring brand loyalty for years and years to come. I mean I loved Winnie the Pooh because I watched the movie and had a few of the books. Nowadays kids can get the book, the toy, the movie, the show, the website, the game, the bonus unlockables from the game which open up even more of the website, and then give exclusive extra content from the show/movie. It’s a cycle, vicious maybe, but a solid damned fine cycle of concentrated content for Disney fans.

So what do I think of this baby-Live? Well, I really do think it’s a safe and dandy way for kids to experience social networking without involving stupid things like how many friends they have and what their likes are and make it into an online popularity contest that can make some kids feel extremely estranged. You like Caspian? You’re proud you beat the game with 700 flawless battles? Well, you can chat with people who think that’s cool too and even give advice on how you did it. Plus you get a shiny Honour for doing so and have your name on the top of a Leaderboard.

I think that is fantastic for any gamer kid and I’m happy the option now exists for players of Disney games.

Happy Friday: Remember These!

So I continue on with my musical tributes for the end of dreadful and long weeks. Actually, this week the weather here in Toronto has been fab, some dark skies but for the most part it’s been great and only getting better. That makes me happy. And when I am happy I like thinking of other things that delight me. Enter classic NES themes! I found this collection of the Top 15 NES themes and I have to say I agree with all of them (mostly, Link isn’t high enough on the scale).

My favourite right now after hearing them has to be Double Dragon. It’s just so good. I also have a mad crazy urge to play Mega Man, any version, again.

Anyway, enjoy and have a great sunny weekend!

Pictures for Sad Children

via waxy, somewhat indirectly, the webcomic Pictures for Sad Children, which starts here. The author describes it as, “there is a place between ‘funny’ and ‘sad’. A hidden world. This is where I live.” (He’s also got this livejournal page.)

I’m not the most knowledgeable dude when it comes to webcomics, so perhaps all of y’all have already been reading this. But hell, it’s good.

Tested: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian DS

Franchise games! Just like like comic to film adaptations the thought of a movie turned into a video game is like nails on a chalkboard for gamers. Currently, there are two major films vying for gamers attention. One is Iron Man, a game that goes directly for hardcore gamers with super suit building action and lots of explosive power. The second, however, is targeted at a younger tween demo in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

Last year The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe brought an enitre new generation to C.S. Lewis’ magical realm of heroic deeds. The film, like the book, was tremendous and a really good time (if you go for that sort of thing). For those who wanted a proper translation of that success to video games, well, they were verily disappointed with a game that was just plain boring. Like worse than the Shrek game. It was super linear, combat was boring, you needed two characters to do anything at one time in weird combos, and you collected completely out of place items for power ups. You don’t need shiny spinning coins in Narina. So when I popped in the DS version of the new Caspian game I was _very_surprised.

First off, I love my DS. It constantly amazes me when the graphics are so not what one would call cutting edge and yet they are exactly what I need even when playing a game set in the epic beauty of Narnia. I just go for SNES looking games, it’s beyond nostalgia, it just feels right. Then all the “gimmicks” of touch, sound, and even your own life’s breath to make a game work. With so much going on with the hardware the options for innovative and exceedingly fun gameplay isn’t that far out of reach. Having a developer who will use the hardware for that purpose is the tricky part, especially for a franchise game. Disney Interactive Studios and Fall Line Studios have done that, pushing their own limits to deliver a truly fun and fresh game for fans of both Narnia and the DS in general.

Alright, enough pontificating, what is the game like? Like fun is what! No, really, I was expecting a paint by numbers follow the story action adventure and what I got was a experience the story, action rpg! Can you say tickled pink?

The story of Caspian is set 1300 years after the end of Wardrobe and Narnia is in disarray. What you need to know: a bad guy is ruling and trying to kill the rightful heir of Narnia – Prince Caspian, who must call on the Pevensie kiddies to once again come to Narnia and save the kingdom! Adventure, set, go!

You start as Caspian in the courtyard of his castle for his first combat lesson. This is my favourite part of the game because I was so surprised by it. When you run into enemies on birdseye view of the screen you are taken to a traditional rpg style screen with enemies on one side and heroes on the other. Your party starts off as one, but quickly grows and you can arrange your party depending on your needs in battle. You have heavy attacks, light attacks, and magic attacks. You select which of your party you wish to use by a tap of the stylus and another tap on an enemy takes you to another combat screen. Each type of attack is essentially a mini game on its own.

Heavy sword attacks have one or more swords creeping away from a target in the middle of the screen. You vigorously rub the swords before they slip off screen so that they stab the target instead. You are always on a timer for these moves so you have to move fast and for a complete attack you need all the swords to hit the target.

Slash sword attacks have one or more lines appear on the screen and you must quickly swipe across the line with the stylus. The time limit always makes me nervous especially when a slight mistake will ruin one of the slashes and the attack will be weaker.

Archery has one or more bows scattered around a target and you must use the stylus to aim and pull the drawstring back and hit the target. This one was the trickiest by far for me and not only did I have trouble with more than two bows within the time limit, my aim was not that good. My answer to that was just to avoid using Susan…

Short swords and daggers use quick, jabbing thrusts. Targets pop up on the screen and you have to jab them with the stylus in the center for your attack. Kinda like the DS Super Mario’s Whack’a’Mole mini game.

Heavy attacks have a club appear which you grab with the stylus and must swipe down with when a target appears below. The faster the swipe the more damage delivered. It’s kinda nifty and reminds me of martial arts style block breaking.

And finally, Magic attacks use a pattern wheel that has certain points light up in sequence. You repeat the sequence with the stylus and the spin the wheel quickly to release the magical attack. The bigger the attack, the harder the sequence. Very cool.

Above the battle screen there are also items for health and attack maneuvers like Aslan’s roar. Enemies can be paralyzed or put to sleep and you can attack them with ease. You can also stop attacks from enemies by tapping them when an orange circle appears under them and you have already selected a character to attack with. You can only select members of your party that are standing up as sometimes they sit down to recover. The fact that you can stop attacks by intercepting them is great and adds a certain bit of strategy I didn’t expect, but greatly enjoyed. Susan’s horn is also on the top screen and you activate that for retreat from battle. You tap it and then quickly blow into the mic to sound the horn. Not great on a subway, but super fun at home.

You can change up the party to have a max of three characters and three helper characters (animals). Different mixes can give you different combos in battle. All characters need to be built up with experience points to enhance their stats. After a certain point you can also use Forge mode to upgrade equipment and characters. You are always picking up Forge items and there are side quests to collect more as well.

Your item bag will always be loaded with stuff and using the items is as easy as dragging and dropping over the character you wish too heal/equip. There are items every where and the best part is they are never out of place. You pick up items from the forest that are natural for that location, like apples, and of course there are chests with more specific items.

Another huge part to the Caspian title is that it is Disney’s first game to launch with the new DGamer network. Now the network doesn’t go live until May 16th but I tried out it a bit as well. I want to go into that in more detail in its own Tested so stay tuned for that in a few days time. The basic idea is DGamer is a secure, safe and fun environment for fans of Disney games to interact, trade items, and show off their stats. It’s like a mini Live for the DS and, I have to say, it’s about time. I didn’t think I would go for it as much as I have, but when I unlocked my first item in Narnia (the Caspian outift) my first instinct was to switch the game to DGamer and change my avatar clothing. Bonus items are so addictive, and I much prefer a stat I can show off in avatar form than points form. More discussion on that soon, suffice to say that I was surprised…for a second time.

I’ve spoken alot about combat here, but it’s my favourite part of the game and just so darned fun. Caspian has totally shocked me in terms of what a handheld franchise game could be, heck, what any console franchise game could be!

One thing that is pretty cool since it is based on a book was the use of text and the DS function of turning the console sideways for the dual screen reading mode. All the story is delivered in this way and when the DS icon appears you hold the DS like a book and the story appears in script along with very well done images that were created specifically for the game by an artist who has worked on Narnia covers before. The art is also based on the movie so all of the characters look exactly as they should. I really did enjoy the book-like aspect to the game. It reminds you of where this story comes from and I think even encourages younger players to actually go and read the story they are playing. A nice touch for sure.

All in all this game is fantastic. Yes, fantastic. Not only because it’s one of the few to break the franchise curse, but because it uses the DS so well. Like I said before, if you like Caspian play this game. And if you just love your DS then play this game too.

One last note, I think that the most important revelation I had from seeing this game early and then playing it all weekend was that I remembered where I started. As a kid I played Hook on the SNES and I just loved it. I wouldn’t play a game like that now. I’m all older and snobby with my games. Then I had the opportunity to take a look at Caspian and I’ve been experiencing sheer, childlike fun ever since. I think it’s important to remember the fun we had when we were kids and indulge the inner wee one every now and then.

What better game to do that than with one involving Narnia?

None that I can think of…

Conan MMO Beta Ends

And with that ending goes a battle that will surely please Crom! Lucky bastards, er I mean gamers, who are in the beta will have their last few days in the beta loaded to the tits with free gold, high level areas and gear, and huge player vs. player battles. Oh and all characters at level 13 will be automatically bumped up to 20. A super treat since the beta apparently maxed out at 13.

Now release it and get me a 360 version and FAST!

Argh! This is the only time I ever want a PC…ugh…