Xbox: A New Generation Revealed

A New Generation Revealed
Xbox Campus, Redmond WA
Tuesday, May 21st @ 1p ET/10a PT/17:00 GMT

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What To Do When Your Kids Favorite DVD Gets Messed Up

You wake up with the theme song of Aloha Scooby-Doo running in your head. You can mouth the dialog to Tangled, even the quick side jokes. You ask incredulously, “You want to see that again?” These scenarios are all too familiar if you have little kids in your house. There’s a DVD or two that they can not live without. They want to watch it all the time. Again and again and again. To the point that it drives you crazy. I have a niece who’s still watching a Christmas special. It’s frickin’ July now!

Kids being kids, they leave the discs everywhere… except in their case. If it’s not on the floor, it’s in a pile of stuff. It’s not entirely their fault. I know a lot of adults that do this too. I’m not a neat freak by any definition but I’m a little OCD about putting discs back in their case. It makes me twitch when I see a toddler given a disc to play with. Their dad just gives in to make them stop crying. Parents pick their battles and DVD care isn’t usually one of them.

kcJYb9[1] Then the inevitable happens. “Could you see why this video isn’t playing anymore?” Unless there’s peanut butter oozing out of the player, check the underside of the disc. 99% of the time you’ll find horrible, horrible scratches. The cat gives you a “I didn’t do it” look and licks its rear. You used to have two choices. Tell the kid the disc is gone and teach them a valuable lesson about taking care of their things. Stay strong you stony monster as little tears drop when they can’t watch Princess Ariel anymore. Or you can buy the DVD again. You almost want to set the money on fire as you hand it to the clerk because that’s what it feels like.

Now there’s a third choice. Walmart introduced a new option to their Vudu digital video service called Disc to Digital. Bring in a physical copy of DVD or Blu-ray to your local Walmart. Pay a small fee. You get your disc back and a digital copy of your movie that’s stored “in the cloud” but really on Vudu’s servers that you can access online. All legal and with the blessing of the MPAA. It was created with the intent to combat piracy by offering customers an easy and cheap way to convert their DVD library to a streaming format used in by today’s devices. Some people see a value in this, some don’t. But it’s a solution for desperate parents with broken videos. See, Walmart doesn’t care if the disc works or not. There could even be a crack in the disc.

373028_17264801751_1905014738_n[1]This is how it works. Create a Vudu account. Don’t worry it’s free. (They often give you a free movie rental just for joining. Bonus!) Check on their site to see if your movie is in their conversion catalog. If it is, bring your disc to the photo service area of your local Walmart. If they know what they’re doing, they’ll get your info and ink mark your disc as being “redeemed”. You pay $2-4 depending if you want it in standard or HD. Now the movie can streamed over the internet to your PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iPad, and even some Blu-ray players and TVs that are Vudu capable. You can play it as often as you want. All day long. There’s no additional fees.

It’s not all pros. There’s a couple of cons. You always have to have a high-speed internet connection to watch Vudu videos. It’s not stored on your device. So that makes it not suitable for car rides or Amish country. The other potential problem is I’ve found that it’s hit or miss that your local Walmart employees know how to use the Vudu system. I have two Walmarts in my area. One knows exactly how to do it. The other had no idea what Vudu Disc to Digital was, despite huge signs hung throughout the store advertising it. Guess which one is the closer store?

Karl Cramer

July 7, 2012

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What To Do About The Avengers Movie Tie-In Game

Role playing time. You’re Marvel. In an incredibly complex amount of chess-like moves you’ve done the near impossible. Not only have you launched a major motion picture studio to create movies based on your superheroes, you laid the groundwork for them to crossover in one big team-up movie: The Avengers. Fans everywhere are rejoicing. Of course, as with all major blockbusters, licensing deals have been made every way possible to both promote and maximize profit of your movie. It’s not crass or as some say evil. That’s part of how big budget, special effects action movies fanboys crave are paid for. But one of your major deals has fallen apart.

Last month, news spread that THQ had canceled the Avengers tie-in game that they had been developing. Though some lament that leaked early videos looked promising, publishers rarely kill good games. It either wasn’t coming together or wouldn’t be ready in time.

So the rights have reverted back to Marvel. There’s less than a year to make the game in time for the movies release. What do you do? You can cancel it outright. You can shop it around and hope for the best. Or you can go in with a plan worthy of Nick Fury.

Since there’s less than a year, that rules out starting a game from scratch. There’s just not enough time. So review what developers have previously done a big Marvel team game. Well, hey! Look at that. The late lamented Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series published by Activision. A lot of comic book/video game fans were crushed when Activision lost the Marvel rights. That’s a double-win move. You have a basic game engine already made and it has a pedigree that gets gamers excited. Raven Software and Vicarious Visions, the two developers who’ve worked on the series, are both Activision in-house teams so getting them to work on it is a scheduling problem but not impossible.

Cut out the large cast of superheroes that MUA was famous for. Only include the six that are in the movie. That cuts development time. Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, and even Nick Fury have been done before and can be recycled. So you already have base models, animations, powers, etc. You just need to update the character skins to match the movie. That leaves Black Widow as the sole all-new character. Not bad.

The main workload will be levels and enemies based on the new movie. Once again, not as bad as starting from scratch. It’s no secret that the enemies in the upcoming movie are the Marvel Comics alien bad guys the Skrulls. Guess what? The first Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game featured an entire level where you fought the Skrulls! You’ve at least got a starting point for the enemies and their powers. That leaves the levels, puzzles, scenarios, and boss fights to design. Difficult but not impossible to accomplish.

To avoid the stigma of being a quickie cash-in, the game can do what no X-Men: Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game has ever done before. Have excellent online multiplayer. Dedicate a team to just making that work. The MUA series had the rare misfortune of a series whose sequel had worse matchmaking than the original. It boggles the mind how that happened.

So the question remains, Marvel. What do you do?

Karl Cramer

October 4, 2011

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Is Last.fm Going Away on Xbox LIVE?

In 2009 it was with a lot of fanfare Microsoft announced that Xbox LIVE Gold members would get access to web services Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm. True, those services were free on PCs but it nice having them on your TV via your console for no extra cost than the membership you were already paying to play online. Lately, I’m beginning to sense Last.fm is going to go away. Here’s why.

EVIDENCE #1

After the web services were added the Xbox LIVE Gold subscription offers had those four logos everywhere. On the dashboard, on the prepaid cards, on the Xbox 360 boxes. Take a look at today’s prepaid card.

Note how ESPN is there now with no mention of Last.fm?

EVIDENCE #2

When Last.fm played it started with an ad and would throw another out every few songs. If it wasn’t a genuine ad, it usually defaulted to a first-party Microsoft game promo. I don’t know how many times I saw that same Forza 3 ad. Then the real ads started drying up. Then the Microsoft ads started disappearing too. Nowadays all you get is a Last.fm placeholder where an ad should be.

EVIDENCE #3

As part of the same deal that brought Last.fm to Xbox, the premium Last.fm app for smartphones is free on Windows Phone 7 devices. Users pay a premium on iPhone and Android phones for the no ad experience of Last.fm and other internet radio services but the Windows Phone team does nothing to promote that on their platform alone that users can get this free. Like maybe it’s going away soon?

EVIDENCE #4

Evidence might be strong word for this entry but there’s been rumblings that Microsoft has been working on some cloud based music video service that may or may not tie-in with Zune. Ventura and Fusion are code names that have floated around the internet ether. If Microsoft was going to launch a streaming music service across all the consumer entertainment devices then Last.fm would be seen as a duplicate and unnecessary service.

Maybe the Last.fm deal never generated profits or extra exposure. Maybe the deal only lasted for a couple of years. Maybe “Ventura/Fusion” is forcing it out the door. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s not going anywhere. But it sure doesn’t feel that way.

Karl Cramer

June 1, 2011

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Books: Suck It, Wonder Woman by Olivia Munn. I Call Shenanigans.

Let me start by saying I like Olivia Munn. As the host of G4TV’s Attack of the Show she’s likeable, sexy, and seems to be more than a pretty face reading off the teleprompter. Her easy rapport with co-host Kevin Pereira feels genuine with sense of humor between friends. People I know who’ve met her report that she’s friendly and outgoing. I’ll even say I enjoyed reading her book, Suck It, Wonder Woman. It’s light, easy reading. Funny essays scattered with stories of her life. Some of them heartbreaking, like the story of her grandma.

510qTWnBquL._SL500_AA300_[1] Thing is I only believe half of it and believe she wrote none of it. Look at this cover. Right under her name in tiny letters is “with Mac Montandon.” Co-writers for celebrity autobiographies are nothing new. Normally, you expect the celeb would write a rough draft and the co-author would go in and whip it into shape. The chapters in Munn’s book are short and breezy like magazine articles. What a surprise, Mac Montandon is a magazine writer/editor. Hmm. The longer stories read like she told them to Montandon over lunch with a tape recorder running in the background.

In one story she relates about how she moved to a new high school but had no friends. Not even the guys would talk to her. She also dropped the tidbit that before she had moved there she had been modeling in Japan. Whoa, whoa, whoa. You were a professional model in Japan and high school boys didn’t want to hang out with you? Bullshit!

There’s also several funny stories of how shockingly depraved Hollywood is. How juicy! Someone call TMZ. But wait, she won’t name names. Just vague descriptions of famous director, famous producer, famous actor. It comes across like made up stories like that lying kid on the playground would tell. “I knew a kid who ate a dog once.” “Oh, yeah. Who?” “You wouldn’t know him. He lives in another town.”

You can see where the real writer threw in little references to win over the geek audience. So you’d rather be playing Call of Duty, Olivia? How come you never participate in game discussions on Attack of the Show? How come when you demo a new title it’s the same comical running around in circles move that you see when your mom tries playing games.

Olivia Munn reminds me of FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly. He was a generic talking head newscaster, best known for the sleazy tabloid show A Current Affair, until he went on FOX News and found a niche audience that loved what he was reading off the machine. Suddenly, he became the spokesperson for the conservative right-wing. Though nothing in his past indicated that bent. I don’t believe Olivia Munn is a life long geek. She found an audience that boosted her career above that of L.A. actress #5,917 so she embraced them and is riding them on on her way up magazine shoots, The Daily Show, and now a primetime sitcom on NBC. Suck It, Wonder Woman is a fun book, but it isn’t an autobiography. It’s “based on a true story” if you know what that means in movies.

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TV: Persons Unknown is What The Prisoner Remake Should’ve Been

Anyone remember The Prisoner? It was British TV series from the 60s that had a cult following in the U.S. A former secret agent wakes up to find that he’s been exiled to a seaside villa. It made its mark on pop culture for its surreal weirdness (it was the 60s after all) but at its heart it had a great plot.

  • Man wakes up to find he’s being held prisoner. He has no idea why.
  • Who did this to him?
  • What’s the point of the tests they put him through?
  • Why don’t they just kill or torture him if they want to know what he knows?
  • And finally, how can he escape?

That’s a great recipe for action, mystery, and serial storytelling. Unfortunately, as I wrote before, The Prisoner was… weird. Fans got excited when they heard it was being remade in 2009. The Prisoner (2009) had better production values and  better performances by Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen. Too bad it was boring. The script and direction just moved at slow, slow pace. Number Six lacked the fiery indignation of being wrongfully held. Overseer Number Two felt like he was putting in time until retirement. This miniseries lacked an indefinable spark and brought nothing new to the issues the original covered.

mm4vw0[1] NBC summer programming is usually a cattle drive of projects meant to die. Stuff they paid for but it didn’t test high enough to get a push during the months when people are really watching TV. But this year they introduced Person Unknown. Here’s basic premise of The Prisoner but reworked to make it more interesting. And it succeeds! I’m sucked into the big group dynamic while trying to figure out what’s going on.

“A group of diverse strangers find themselves stranded in a deserted town with no idea of how they got there. Security cameras are watching their every move, defeating their attempts to escape. Faced with physical, emotional and psychological challenges, the hostages must rely on each other to survive. Meanwhile, an investigative reporter has begun to look into the disappearance of the missing people.”

It’s technically a limited-series since it’s only going to run 13 episodes. I’m fine with that. Too often American TV is focused on getting five season done so they can get into syndication. British TV frequently does shows that last one or two seasons. We told a story. Let’s move on. Best of all, unlike Lost, NBC promises that at the end all questions will be answered. Yeah!

Part of me is that the final answer is mind blowing. Who has the resources, ability, and interest in pulling of something like this? I’m rooting for it be space aliens, testing them like rats in a maze. How wacked out would that be? I’ve put the first three episodes below. Well, as long as Hulu allows it.

Karl Cramer, June 22, 2010

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ESPN on Xbox is Evil. Here’s Why.

When Microsoft announced that they would soon carry ESPN live and on-demand events on the Xbox 360, sports fans got excited. When they revealed that the service was free for Xbox LIVE Gold members, everyone cheered. I’m not a sports fan so this didn’t matter to me either way. But I found out something after that fact that’s a clear example of why we need net neutrality laws.

ESPN on Xbox requires that your internet service provider made a deal with Disney. Let me repeat that. You can not access some information on the internet unless your ISP made a behind-the-scenes deal. Many ISPs signed this deal. Many did not. Time-Warner customers, for example, will not be able to access this content. This is the beginning of a very dangerous path that will break the internet as we know it.

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Let me paint you a picture. You’re on Comcast. Because of exclusive deals, you can’t see the CBS.com websites. You’re on FiOS, a Verizon backed ISP. AT&T and their affiliated websites will be blocked to you. And on and on and on. Another scenario is that your internet rates will increase. Why did your rate go up 100%, you’ll ask your provider. “Because we had to make deals with ESPN, Hulu, and others,” they’ll reply. Doesn’t matter whether or not you visit those sites. What does this sound like? It seems familiar. Oh yeah, the cable television business.

If science-fiction taught me anything, it’s that we can change the future. “There is no fate but what we make,” to quote Terminator 2. Let your senators and congressman know that you support net neutrality. Visit savetheinternet.com or at the very least Like them on Facebook. Or this could be our future:

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