Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sony PS3 sales jump on price cut

Corrects to read Sony's "God of War" and Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty" in penultimate paragraph; names of video game publishers were transposed

By Franklin Paul

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sales of the PlayStation 3 video game console jumped in the weeks after a $100 price cut last month, and strong demand could lead to empty shelves at retail, a Sony Corp executive said on Wednesday.

"We are up about 300 percent over where we were pre-price drop," Jack Tretton, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, said in an interview. "We are up significantly versus last year."

The increase represents sales in the three weeks after Sony slashed the price of the PS3 to about $300 in the United States last month, compared with sales for the three weeks before. The PS3's sales have lagged behind Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii and Microsoft Corp's Xbox.

A few days after Sony's price cut, Microsoft dropped the price of its Xbox 360 Elite to $299. Several technology blogs this week have reported that Nintendo is poised to cut the price of the Wii.

Tretton noted that higher demand for the PS3 could leave some retailers out of stock of the device, which lets users surf the Web and watch films on Blu-ray discs, in addition to playing games.

"If things continue at this pace, it is conceivable that there will be product shortages," he said.

Tretton noted that Sony is on pace to meeting its goal of selling 13 million units by the end of its fiscal year in March, compared with 10.06 million units sold the previous year by the Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate.

Tretton said he expects the price cuts and a lineup of popular games due ahead of the Christmas holiday will lift the entire video game industry, following some six months of sales declines.

So far this year, industry sales are down 14 percent, but could finish 2009 "flat to up," he says, since half of the industry's annual sales occur between September and December. In that period will come highly anticipated updates to franchises including Sony's "God of War" and Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty."

"In a very difficult economy ... I couldn't be more optimistic about our fortunes for the rest of the year and for the future," he said.

(Reporting by Franklin Paul; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz and Richard Chang)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Virtuality reality used for blind

Virtual reality can let video game players escape from the real world but a group of researchers are using virtual reality to help the blind join the real world more, by navigating real places.

Researchers at the University of Chile and Harvard Medical Schoolare using three audio-based PC games that allow players to navigate a labyrinth, a subway system and real-world buildings based on audio cues. "Essentially the games work by interpreting information generated by spectral sounds like footsteps and door knocks," said Lotfi B. Merabet, PhD of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School and co-author of "AER Journal: Research and Practice in Visual Impairment and Blindness."

"The player uses a keyboard to move and interact with the virtual world. By sequentially interacting within the virtual 3-D environment, the user learns to build a spatial cognitive map of their surroundings."

The goal was to develop audio-based gaming to help blind children develop spatial, cognitive and social skills.

"(We've) concentrated on developing the gaming software as a rehabilitation tool to allow blind users to survey unfamiliar buildings before actually navigating through them in real life, as well as conducting brain imaging studies to uncover how the brain of a blind individual accomplishes this task," said Merabet.

According to the World Health Organization, there are about 314 million visually impaired people worldwide and about 45 million of them are blind.

There are over 50 audio-based games for the blind currently available, according to Kelly Sapergia, who reviews games created by and for blind people for the American Council of the Blind's "Main Menu" radio program.

She said these vary from pinball to "Space Invaders"-style games to "GMA Tank Commander," which is a World War II game that lets you drive a tank and shoot various weapons at enemies.

Blind gamers also have access to the classic text-based gamesthat preceded the video game explosion, including titles like "Zork" from Infocom. Sapergia said blind gamers can plug in an audio synthesizer and have the text-based adventure read to them.

There are even games that offer a level playing field regardless of sight. Since 2001, AllinPlay has offered subscription-based online community games like "Texas Hold-em," "Crazy Eights," and "The Anagram Game" that were designed for both blind and sighted people.

Previous research efforts have also become games for the blind. In 2005, the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands developer a racing game called "Drive" in cooperation with the Bartimus Institute for the Blind. The game lets players drive a shuttle along a fixed track with a co-pilot named Bob. But compared to the millions of copies of PC and console games sold every week, the market for games for the blind is tiny.

"There's a community of blind gamers, but I think the main drawback has been that the big game publishers like Nintendo and Sony haven't created games that are more accessible for blind people," said Sapergia.

Merabet and fellow researcher Jaime Sanchez from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chile do not view audio-based computer games as a replacement for current rehabilitative techniques but they hope this research will provide a complementary technique.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Vuzix Wrap 310 Video Eyewear

Do you find your iPod or iPhone’s screen too small to comfortably enjoy watching video? If so, you might want to check out Vuzix’s upcoming Wrap 310 video eyewear.

The $250 Wrap 310, which will be available in the late fall, displays high resolution 16-by-9 widescreen video from your iPod or iPhone (as well as DVD players, computers, TVs, and other portable media players) via eye glasses that project the equivalent of a 55-inch TV screen. For audio, it includes noise-isolating earphones.

iPod-compatible eyewear isn’t new, but the Wrap 310 is designed to look and feel more like traditional sunglasses than other models. There are also optional VGA and component adapters, and an expansion port for future accessories.

The company says the Wrap 310 will operate for up to six hours using two AA batteries.

The Vuzix’s Web site had not been updated with information on the Wrap 310 at the time the story was posted.

Monday, September 14, 2009

September 11, 2009
- Back in June, a handful of PlayStation 3 owners got tapped to participate in the multiplayer beta for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Players could take on a co-op mission, blast each other in deathmatch, and go after some golden idols whenever they felt like it. People seemed to be having fun and enjoying the taste of what was to come.

Now, Naughty Dog's going to blow that "taste" out of the water with a massive Uncharted 2 multiplayer demo that is open to anyone with a PS3 and the Internet.

There's so much going on in this demo that's it's really hard to pick where to begin describing it. I talked to the developers the other day, and they said the purpose of this freebie is to give you as much of the multiplayer game as they can in a reasonably sized file. So, you give Naughty Dog 1.5 GB, and they're giving you four maps, four competitive modes, two co-op modes, the much-hyped cinema mode, the ability to create custom games, access to new skins, about 80 percent of the boosters you'll find in the final game, and so much more.

If they weren't planning on shutting the demo down around the time the game ships on October 13th, there's a good chance people would play this forever.

In terms of maps, you're getting the same Plaza and Village settings you played on or at least saw during the beta along with the Ice Cave and Temple. Both of these locales are described as smaller venues that are going to be a blast for close-quarters combat. The Ice Cave, of course, is going to feature that snow you're always seeing in the Uncharted trailers while the Temple will pack water sections and plenty of opportunities to flank opponents.

Similarly, Deathmatch and Plunder are back this time around -- both packing variations such as different difficulties for Plunder and weapon sets such as shotguns/snipers and pistols/grenades for DM -- but joined with Elimination and Chain Reaction. A round-based game, Elimination has two teams squaring off with the objective of killing everyone on the other team. Wipe out the other guys three out of five times, and you're the big winner. Chain Reaction has you capturing flags, but you have to do them in a specific order - one team works out from their base needing to capture 1 through 5 while the other team starts out from their home and needs to snag 5 through 1.

If you don't like any of the default settings, this demo's going to allow you to mess around with the options for sore limits, friendly fire and so on as well as letting you set up matches for just your friends. If you play with strangers, the new skill ranking system will pair you with similarly experienced players.

Of course, all of this multiplayer mayhem plays into the game's cinema mode where you can save matches, replay them, move the camera around, and do nifty green screen stuff. All of the tools that will be in the final cinema portion of the game are going to be here for you to play around with.

A final feather in the demo's cap is that it's going to have the fully fleshed-out money/store system so that you can take the cash you're earning in multiplayer and buy new skins, boosters, co-op weapon upgrades and taunts.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Apple Unveils iPod Nano With a Camera

Steve Jobs unveiled a new iPod Nano that includes a camera.

Nirvana members dismayed by 'Guitar Hero 5'

LOS ANGELES – Kurt Cobain's appearance in the latest "Guitar Hero" video game is not hitting the right notes with the surviving members of Nirvana.

Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl said in a joint statement Thursday that they were "dismayed and very disappointed" that an avatar of the late Nirvana frontman could be used to play songs by other artists.

"While we were aware of Kurt's image being used with two Nirvana songs, we didn't know players have the ability to unlock the character," they said. "This feature allows the character to be used with any kind of song the player wants. We urge Activision to do the right thing in 're-locking' Kurt's character so that this won't continue in the future."

Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, had been lashing out on Twitter this week about her late husband's inclusion in the game, calling it vile and claiming she would sue Activision, the game's publisher. Love claimed she never approved Cobain's digital likeness, and that she thought the grunge rocker would despise the rhythm game "let alone this avatar."

Activision said in a statement Thursday that they secured the necessary licensing rights from the Cobain estate in a written agreement signed by Love to use the singer's likeness as a fully playable character in "Guitar Hero 5," which includes "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Lithium" among its 85 tracks that can be played with instrument-shaped controllers.

Other real-life rockers featured in the latest edition of the popular rhythm game franchise for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and Wii include Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash. Previous "Guitar Hero" editions have featured the likenesses of Jimi Hendrix, Billy Corgan, Ted Nugent, Sting, Ozzy Osbourne, Travis Barker and members of Aerosmith.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Star Trek Online Taking Beta Apps Now

Ready to boldy beta where no one's beta'd before? Have a look at Star Trek Online aka STO to see about getting into their closed beta signup: Applications are available now. Developed by Cryptic Studios, the guys responsible for the City of Heroes/Villains massively multiplayer online games, STO picks up 30 years after Star Trek: Nemesis (and also, therefore, after the preliminary events in the recent Star Trek "reboot").

Like CCP's EVE Online, each player will captain his or her own ship, but the specifics of interior vessel exploration or the latitude you'll have to poke around planet-side are scarce. The Federation's a playable shoe-in, as are Klingons, and you'll even apparently be able to gin up your own race, though I'm not sure how allowing potentially millions of players to dilute the mechanics of race-based individuation and turn the precepts of evolution (and Francis Drake's stab at an intergalactic estimate of intelligent life) on its head amounts to a functional design feature.

But then I'm probably over-thinking the premise. It's Star Trek. The ship counselor the Next Generation series had psychic abilities. Explosions make sounds in space. Transporters reassemble molecules sequentially, unaffected by gravity or wind (never mind the question of how this might disrupt consciousness). Sure, you're not expecting flying monkeys with circus jackets and fezzes or flaming reptilian eyes hovering over desolate ebony towers, but protest too much and you might as well demand the ballistic performance of infantry and armor in World in Conflict be the equal of a military-grade simulation.

According to STO's news page, if you've already bought a six-month or lifetime subscription to Champions Online, you've already been accepted into the Star Trek Online beta, so no need to reapply.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Final Fantasy XIII to launch December 17 in Japan

TOKYO (Reuters) -

Japanese videogame creator Square Enix Holdings Co said it would launch the latest edition of its "Final Fantasy" game series on December 17 in Japan, which may help sales of Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 in the key shopping season.

The "Final Fantasy" role-playing game series has sold more than 85 million units worldwide since it was first launched in 1987.

Square Enix is developing "Final Fantasy XIII" exclusively for the PlayStation 3 (PS3) for the Japanese market, while in North America and Europe the game will be playable on the PS3 as well as Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360.

"Final Fantasy XIII" will sell for 9,240 yen ($100) in Japan, Square Enix said.

The game software maker said it plans to launch the new version overseas in spring 2010.

Sony and Microsoft are hoping that the launches of long-awaited game titles such as "Final Fantasy XIII" will help drive sales of their game consoles, which are running behind Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii.

Both Sony and Microsoft recently cut the prices of their game hardware to spur demand in the run-up to the holiday season.

In July, Square Enix launched the latest installment of its "Dragon Quest" role-playing game series for Nintendo's DS in Japan, reinvigorating demand for the dual-screen handheld player.

Sales of the "Final Fantasy" series have easily outstripped the 55.5 million units sold of Konami Corp's "Pro Evolution Soccer" series and the 41 million units of Capcom Co Ltd's "Resident Evil" horror titles.

Ahead of the announcement, shares in Square Enix closed down 0.8 percent at 2,465 yen and Sony dipped 0.4 percent to 2,480 yen, underperforming the benchmark Nikkei average, which rose 0.7 percent.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Joseph Radford)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Internet addiction center opens in US

FALL CITY, Wash. -

Ben Alexander spent nearly every waking minute playing the video game "World of Warcraft." As a result, he flunked out of the University of Iowa.

Alexander, 19, needed help to break an addiction he calls as destructive as alcohol or drugs. He found it in this suburb of high-tech Seattle, where what claims to be the first residential treatment center for Internet addiction in the United States just opened its doors.

The center, called ReSTART, is somewhat ironically located near Redmond, headquarters of Microsoft and a world center of the computer industry. It opened in July and for $14,000 offers a 45-day program intended to help people wean themselves from pathological computer use, which can include obsessive use of video games, texting, Facebook, eBay, Twitter and any other time-killers brought courtesy of technology.

"We've been doing this for years on an outpatient basis," said Hilarie Cash, a therapist and executive director of the center. "Up until now, we had no place to send them."

Internet addiction is not recognized as a separate disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and treatment is not generally covered by insurance. But there are many such treatment centers in China, South Korea and Taiwan — where Internet addiction is taken very seriously — and many psychiatric experts say it is clear that Internet addiction is real and harmful.

The five-acre center in Fall City, about 30 miles east of Seattle, can handle up to six patients at a time. Alexander is so far the only patient of the program, which uses a cold turkey approach. He spends his days in counseling and psychotherapy sessions, doing household chores, working on the grounds, going on outings, exercising and baking a mean batch of ginger cookies.

Whether such programs work in the long run remains to be seen. For one thing, the Internet is so pervasive that it can be nearly impossible to resist, akin to placing an alcoholic in a bar, Cash said.

The effects of addiction are no joke. They range from loss of a job or marriage to car accidents for those who can't stop texting while driving. Some people have died after playing video games for days without a break, generally stemming from a blood clot associated with being sedentary.

Psychotherapist Cosette Dawna Rae has owned the bucolic retreat center since 1994, and was searching for a new use for it when she hooked up with Cash. They decided to avoid treating people addicted to Internet sex, in part because she lives in the center with her family.

According to Dr. Kimberly Young of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pa., addiction warning signs are being preoccupied with thoughts of the Internet; using it longer than intended, and for increasing amounts of time; repeatedly making unsuccessful efforts to control use; jeopardizing relationships, school or work to spend time online; lying to cover the extent of Internet use; using the Internet to escape problems or feelings of depression; physical changes to weight, headaches or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Exactly how to respond is being debated.

For instance, Internet addiction can be a symptom of other mental illness, such as depression, or conditions like autism, experts say.

"From what we know, many so-called `Internet addicts' are folks who have severe depression, anxiety disorders, or social phobic symptoms that make it hard for them to live a full, balanced life and deal face-to-face with other people," said Dr. Ronald Pies, professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y.

"It may be that unless we treat their underlying problems, some new form of `addiction' will pop up down the line," Pies said.

There is debate about whether to include Internet addiction as a separate illness in the next edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," due in 2012, which determines which mental illnesses get covered by insurance.

Pies and Dr. Jerald Block, of Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, said there is not enough research yet to justify that.

"Among psychiatrists there is general recognition that many patients have difficulty controlling their impulses to chat online, or play computer games or watch porn," Block said. "The debate is how to classify that."

Cash, co-author of the book "Video Games & Your Kids," first started dealing with Internet addiction in 1994, with a patient who was so consumed by video games that he had lost his marriage and two jobs.

Internet addicts miss out on real conversations and real human development, often see their hygiene, their home and relationships deteriorate, don't eat or sleep properly and don't get enough exercise, Rae said.

Alexander is a tall, quiet young man who always got good grades and hopes to become a biologist.

He started playing "World of Warcraft," a hugely popular online multiplayer role playing game, about a year ago, and got sucked right in.

"At first it was a couple of hours a day," he said. "By midway through the first semester, I was playing 16 or 17 hours a day.

"School wasn't interesting," he said. "It was an easy way to socialize and meet people."

It was also an easy way to flunk out.

Alexander dropped out in the second semester and went to a traditional substance abuse program, which was not a good fit. He graduated from a 10-week outdoors-based program in southern Utah, but felt he still had little control over his gaming.

So he sought out a specialized program and arrived in Fall City in July. He thinks it was a good choice.

"I don't think I'll go back to `World of Warcraft' anytime soon," Alexander said.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sony to launch 3D TVs next year

TOKYO (Reuters) -

Sony Corp plans to launch 3D TVs next year in a move to spur sales amid slowing growth in flat TV demand, the Financial Times said.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer will announce the 3D TV launch as well as plans to make its Vaio PCs, PlayStation 3 game machines and Blu-ray players compatible with the technology at the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin on Wednesday, the FT said.

The newspaper said Stringer is expected to tell the audience: "As with high definition a few years back, there are a variety of issues yet to be addressed. But the 3D train is on the track, and we at Sony are ready to drive it home."

Sony said the company plans to hold a news conference at the IFA at 1500 GMT and that it may update progress on its 3D TV development there, but declined to comment on the timing of any 3D TV launch.

Shares in Sony, the world's second-largest LCD TV maker behind Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, were down 3.2 percent at 2,440 yen, underperforming the Tokyo stock market's electrical machinery index, which lost 2.5 percent.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)