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Xbox One vs. PS4: Which Console Wins?        Video        Molly Wood | The New York Times                12 February 2014

 

Molly Wood

tests the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One

and declares one gaming console the winner.

 

YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_YfTG-N25E&list=PL4CGYNsoW2iCzzn4pZBJ58IZAAsSgng2V

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Video Game Wars, by the Numbers

By Will Storey and Will Lloyd        November 23rd, 2013

 

With the release of the PlayStation 4 and XBox One,

the latest generation of game consoles has arrived.

http://www.nytimes.com/video/technology/100000002565585/the-video-game-wars-by-the-numbers.html
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gaming machines        UK

 

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/16/playstation-4-xbox-one

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/nov/23/wiiu-nintendo-shigeru-miyamoto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

console        UK

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/technology/03video.html

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2006/jan/05/
games.guardianweeklytechnologysection 

 

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/games/archives/2007/03/27/ds_sells_3_million_in_the_uk.html

 

 

 

 

console wars > Xbox One v PS4        2013

http://www.nytimes.com/video/technology/100000002565585/the-video-game-wars-by-the-numbers.html

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/24/playstation-xbox-consoles-video-games

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/16/playstation-4-xbox-one

 

 

 

 

"cloud-based" gaming system / console

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/03/25/technology/tech-us-rearden-onlive.html

 

 

 

 

gesture-sensing console        UK

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/sep/19/3d-games-xbox-playstation

 

 

 

 

video game controllers        UK

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/gallery/2017/jul/21/
joy-of-sticks-10-greatest-video-game-controllers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Singer

cartoon

NO EXIT

Cagle

18 March 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nintendo's    Wii U        2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/
technology/nintendos-wii-u-takes-aim-at-a-changed-video-game-world.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/nov/23/wiiu-nintendo-shigeru-miyamoto

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/nov/19/wii-u-launch-us-problems

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/07/nintendo-wii-games-console-technology

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/07/wii-u-nintendo-unveils-console-e3-2011

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/07/wii-u-nintendo-games-console

 

 

 

 

Nintendo 3DS console        2011

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2011/mar/22/nintendo-3ds-review

 

 

 

 

Nintendo’s Wii console

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/ds
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/wii

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/16/arts/16move.html
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/2007-04-27-wii-console-boost_N.htm

 

 

 

 

the Wii's motion-sensitive remote control wand

 

 

 

 

Wii 2

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2011/apr/25/nintendo-confirms-wii-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sony > Move

http://us.playstation.com/ps3/playstation-move/

 

 

 

 

Microsoft’s Kinect

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/kinect 

 

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2010/nov/10/kinect-games-review-beginners

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/dancing-the-night-away-with-microsofts-kinect/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nintendo 3DS

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2011/jan/20/
nintendo-3ds-hands-on-preview

 

 

 

 

DS

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/mar/10/games.shopping

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/games/archives/2007/03/27/ds_sells_3_million_in_the_uk.html

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2006/may/18/games.guardianweeklytechnologysection3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Xbox

https://www.theguardian.com/games/xbox

 

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/05/21/
185833716/microsoft-reveals-new-xbox-one-game-system

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/
business/media/19xbox.html

 

 

 

 

Xbox One

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/gallery/2016/may/30/
xbox-one-visually-beautiful-games-the-witcher-rise-of-the-tomb-raider-ori-and-the-blind-forest

 

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/16/
playstation-4-xbox-one

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/05/21/
185833716/microsoft-reveals-new-xbox-one-game-system

 

 

 

 

Xbox 360

http://tv.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/arts/television/13halo.html

 

 

 

 

Xbox Live Gold online gaming service

 

 

 

 

Xbox 360

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/technology/companies/02soft.html

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2008/nov/13/xbox-truth

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2006/may/11/microsoftxbox.games 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/may/26/shopping.onlinesupplement 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/dec/01/microsoftxbox.games 

 

 

 

 

 

the first Xbox        2002

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2002/mar/14/microsoftxbox.games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation 5        USA        2020

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/06/
technology/personaltech/playstation-5-review-video-game.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation 4    PS4        UK        2013

 

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/16/playstation-4-xbox-one
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/feb/15/playstation-4-battle-games-market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation 3        PS3

 

https://www.theguardian.com/games/ps3 

 

 

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/marcsaltzman/2008-06-26-mgs4_N.htm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2041733,00.html

http://shopping.guardian.co.uk/toys/story/0,,2043299,00.html

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2007/mar/29/sonyplaystation.sony 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation Network hackers        UK

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/apr/26/
playstation-network-hackers-data 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation        UK

https://www.theguardian.com/games/playstation 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/sep/29/
sonyplaystation.games1 

 

 

 

 

PlayStation generation        UK

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2006/apr/03/
news.newmedia 

 

 

 

 

PSP Go        USA

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/technology/03video.html

 

 

 

 

videogame company / console makers

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/03/25/technology/tech-us-rearden-onlive.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

console

 

 

 

 

gaming console

 

 

 

 

Sony's PS3

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/2006-11-17-ps3-debut_x.htm

 

 

 

 

the next generation of video game console hardware

 

 

 

 

joystick

 

 

 

 

gamepad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Singer

NO EXIT

Cagle

30 September 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corpus of news articles

 

Arts > Video games > Consoles

 

 

 

Now, Electronics That Obey

Hand Gestures

 

January 12, 2010

The New York Times

By ASHLEE VANCE

 

LAS VEGAS — The technology industry is going retro — moving away from remote controls, mice and joysticks to something that arrives without batteries, wires or a user manual.

It’s called a hand.

In the coming months, the likes of Microsoft, Hitachi and major PC makers will begin selling devices that will allow people to flip channels on the TV or move documents on a computer monitor with simple hand gestures. The technology, one of the most significant changes to human-device interfaces since the mouse appeared next to computers in the early 1980s, was being shown in private sessions during the immense Consumer Electronics Show here last week. Past attempts at similar technology have proved clunky and disappointing. In contrast, the latest crop of gesture-powered devices arrives with a refreshing surprise: they actually work.

“Everything is finally moving in the right direction,” said Vincent John Vincent, the co-founder of GestureTek, a company that makes software for gesture devices.

Manipulating the screen with the flick of the wrist will remind many people of the 2002 film “Minority Report” in which Tom Cruise moves images and documents around on futuristic computer screens with a few sweeping gestures. The real-life technology will call for similar flair and some subtlety. Stand in front of a TV armed with a gesture technology camera, and you can turn on the set with a soft punch into the air. Flipping through channels requires a twist of the hand, and raising the volume occurs with an upward pat. If there is a photo on the screen, you can enlarge it by holding your hands in the air and spreading them apart and shrink it by bringing your hands back together as you would do with your fingers on a cellphone touch screen.

The gesture revolution will go mainstream later this year when Microsoft releases a new video game system known at this time as Project Natal. The gaming system is Microsoft’s attempt to one-up Nintendo’s Wii.

Where the Wii requires hypersensitive hand-held controllers to translate body motions into on-screen action, Microsoft’s Natal will require nothing more than the human body. Microsoft has demonstrated games like dodge ball where people can jump, hurl balls at opponents and dart out of the way of incoming balls using natural motions. Other games have people contorting to fit through different shapes and performing skateboard tricks.

Just as Microsoft’s gaming system hits the market, so should TVs from Hitachi in Japan that will let people turn on their screens, scan through channels and change the volume on their sets with simple hand motions. Laptops and other computers should also arrive later this year with built-in cameras that can pick up similar gestures. Such technology could make today’s touch-screen tools obsolete as people use gestures to control, for instance, the playback or fast-forward of a DVD.

To bring these gesture functions to life, device makers needed to conquer what amounts to one of computer science’s grand challenges. Electronics had to see the world around them in fine detail through tiny digital cameras. Such a task meant giving a TV, for example, a way to identify people sitting on a couch and to recognize a certain hand wave as a command and not a scratching of the nose.

Little things like the sun, room lights and people’s annoying habit of doing the unexpected stood as just some of the obstacles companies had to overcome.

GestureTek, with offices in Silicon Valley and Ottawa, has spent a quarter-century trying to perfect its technology and has enjoyed some success. It helps TV weather people, museums and hotels create huge interactive displays.

This past work, however, has relied on limited, standard cameras that perceive the world in two dimensions. The major breakthrough with the latest gesture technology comes through the use of cameras that see the world in three dimensions, adding that crucial layer of depth perception that helps a computer or TV recognize when someone tilts their hand forward or nods their head.

Canesta, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has spent 11 years developing chips to power these types of 3-D cameras. In the early days, its products were much larger than an entire desktop computer. Today, the chip takes up less space than a fingernail. “We always had this grand vision of being able to control electronics devices from a distance,” said Cyrus Bamji, the chief technology officer at Canesta. Competition in the gesture field has turned fierce as a result of the sudden interest in the technology. In particular, Canesta and PrimeSense, a Tel Aviv start-up, have fought to supply the 3-D chips in Microsoft’s Natal gaming system.

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, executives and engineers from Canesta and GestureTek were encamped in suites at the Hilton near the main conference show floor as they shuttled executives from Asian electronics makers in and out of their rooms for secretive meetings.

Similarly, PrimeSense held invitation-only sessions at its tiny, walled-off booth and forbade any photos or videos of its products.

In one demonstration, a camera using the PrimeSense chip could distinguish among multiple people sitting on a couch and even tell the difference between a person’s jacket, shirt and under-shirt. And with such technology it’s impossible, try as you might, to lose your remote control.

Now, Electronics That Obey Hand Gestures,
NYT,
12.1.2010,
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/
technology/personaltech/12gesture.html

 

 

 

 

 

Microsoft Reveals

New Strategy for Xbox

 

June 2, 2009
The New York Times
By SETH SCHIESEL

 

LOS ANGELES — Reaching out beyond hardcore video game players to everyday consumers, Microsoft outlined an entertainment strategy on Monday for making the company’s Xbox 360 game console a gateway for movies, television and social networking.

In a media presentation on the eve of E3, the video game industry’s biggest North American convention, Microsoft announced new relationships with the social networking giants Facebook and Twitter as well as Sky, the big British satellite television provider that is a unit of the News Corporation.

Microsoft announced that Facebook users would be able to access their profiles and share photos on their television through the Xbox Live network and that Twitter devotees would also be able to post and read messages through the service.

More far-reaching was Microsoft’s new deal with Sky, under which Xbox Live users in Britain will be able to watch live television, including professional soccer, over an Internet version of the Sky service. Not every channel available over satellite will be available over Xbox Live, but the offering will include dozens of stations, Microsoft executives said. Users will be able to watch television in a virtual party room with their friends, discussing the program as they are watching, they said.

Microsoft executives refused to comment on whether the company was trying to negotiate a similar deal with Sky’s sister satellite television operation in the United States, DirecTV.

Microsoft has long sought a bigger role in home television, going so far in years past as to try to build its own set-top box business. Partnering with Sky represents a back door into the television market. The company has also recognized how Nintendo has expanded the traditional audience for video games with its innovative motion-sensitive controller for the Wii. Microsoft provided the first public demonstration of its futuristic Project Natal, which it hopes will usher in an age of completely controller-free gaming.

Using a sophisticated camera, infrared sensors and voice recognition software, Natal allows users to control a game or other programs, like a virtual painting studio, merely by waving their arms, speaking to the system and moving around.

Microsoft did not say when the technology would become available.

Microsoft also demonstrated some of its coming big games, including Forza Motorsport 3, the suspense-thriller Alan Wake and a new version of its biggest hit, Halo. Hideo Kojima, the developer behind the Metal Gear series, said that the next major installment in that franchise would be available for Xbox 360, a coup for Microsoft because previous Metal Gear games had been exclusive to Sony game machines.

Microsoft Reveals New Strategy for Xbox,
NYT,
2.6.2009,
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/technology/companies/02soft.html

 

 

 

 

 

Putting the We Back in Wii

 

June 8, 2007
The New York Times
By MARTIN FACKLER

 

TOKYO, June 7 — If there is a secret to the smash success of Nintendo’s Wii video game console, it may be this: even the creative loner can benefit from having friends.

Nintendo is known for turning out hits with memorable characters like Donkey Kong and the Super Mario Bros., but it has had a reputation for cold-shouldering game software developers because it preferred to make both its hardware and software internally.

The company, based in Kyoto, Japan, certainly produced innovative designs like the GameCube or the touch-screen on the portable Nintendo DS, but it was perennially outclassed and outsold by the more powerful Sony game machines. Sony’s PlayStation 2 outsold the GameCube six to one.

Contrast that with the success of the Wii. The Wii and Sony’s technology-packed PlayStation 3 went on sale in the United States in November, a year after Microsoft rolled out its Xbox 360. As of the end of April, Nintendo has sold 2.5 million Wii consoles in the United States, almost double PlayStation 3’s sales of 1.3 million and closing in on Xbox 360’s 5.4 million sales, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.

What changed? The secretive company is coming out of its shell. It has made a concerted effort to woo other makers of game software as part of a broader change in strategy to dominate the newest generation of video game consoles.

The new Nintendo surprised employees at the software maker Namco Bandai Games when during a routine meeting at Namco Bandai’s Tokyo headquarters a year and a half ago, Nintendo’s usually aloof executives made a sudden appeal for their support.

The Nintendo group had come to demonstrate a prototype of the Wii, which had not then been released. They handed Namco Bandai employees the unique wand-like controllers and as the developers tested a fly fishing game, the Nintendo team urged them to build game software for the console, listing arguments about why Wii would be a chance for both companies to make money.

“I had not seen that attitude from them before,” said Namco Bandai’s chief operating officer, Shin Unozawa, who was at the meeting. “Nintendo was suddenly reaching out to independent developers.”

With its new approach, Nintendo hopes to avoid the disappointments of its previous home game console, GameCube, which placed a distant third in the United States against Sony’s PlayStation 2 and the Xbox of Microsoft, say analysts and game developers. It also promises to change the famously secretive corporate culture of Nintendo, though only slightly; Nintendo refused repeated requests for interviews with its executives.

Nintendo’s new strategy is two-pronged. Making the Wii cheaper and easier to play than its rivals attracts a broader range of new customers, including people who never bought a game machine before. With Wii, Nintendo has avoided one mistake it made with GameCube, which was competing with its wealthier rivals on expensive technology-driven performance. While Wii lacks the speed and graphics of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Wii sets itself apart with novel ideas like its wireless motion-sensor controller that gets game players off the couch and jumping around.

The other thrust of Nintendo’s new strategy is to enlist software developers like Namco Bandai to write more games for Wii than they did for previous Nintendo machines. Nintendo’s hope is that this will help erase one of Sony’s biggest past advantages: the far greater number of game titles available for its machines. The more games a machine has, the industry theory holds, the more gamers want to play it.

In March, Nintendo’s star game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, even goaded software companies to devote their top people to developing games for Wii. That is a big change from Nintendo’s previous strategy, which was to write most of its own software. Game developers say Nintendo has been more forthcoming with providing the permissions and codes needed to write games for its consoles.

“The relationship is warmer and more active than before,” said Jeff Brown, the spokesman for Electronic Arts, the giant game developer based in Redwood City, Calif. The push appears to be bringing results. Analysts say one reason for Wii’s popularity has been its larger number of available game titles. At present, there are 58 games on sale in the United States for Wii, versus 46 for PlayStation 3, according to the Sony and Nintendo Web sites. That is a huge contrast with the previous generation of game consoles: to date, PlayStation 2 has 1,467 titles, overwhelming GameCube’s 271 titles.

Nintendo, which was founded in 1889 as a maker of playing cards and made its first video game in 1975, is also opening up in other ways. In March, Nintendo announced that it had licensed its Super Mario Bros. characters to another software maker for the first time, signing a deal allowing Sega to use them in a sports game to appear ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Nintendo is determined not to repeat past mistakes,” said Masashi Morita, a games analyst at Okasan Securities in Tokyo. “It is taking a whole new approach with Wii.”

In Japan, the home market of Nintendo and Sony, Wii’s success has been even more striking than in the United States. Through the end of May, 2.49 million Wii consoles were sold, 50 percent more than the combined sales of the PS3 and the Xbox, according to Enterbrain, a market research firm in Tokyo. Aided by the Wii’s popularity, Nintendo’s net profit jumped 77 percent in the most recent fiscal year, ended March 31, from the year before to $1.47 billion, on sales of $8.13 billion. Its shares, traded in the United States as an American depository receipt, have doubled in the last year.

Wii’s success stands in marked contrast with Nintendo’s performance in the earlier generation of game consoles, when it shipped just 21.6 million GameCube machines worldwide compared with Sony’s total shipments of 117.9 million PlayStation 2s, according to Sony and Nintendo. Nintendo’s turnaround has been so startling that there is now talk of the end of the era of Sony’s dominance, with the more than $25 billion global game market now increasingly likely to be split more evenly among the three big rivals.

“Wii’s success shows that from now on, we are looking at a divided market,” said Yoichi Wada, chief executive of Square Enix, one of Japan’s biggest game developers. “We can no longer afford to focus our resources on writing games for just one manufacturer.”

While Square Enix made far more games for PlayStation 2 than for GameCube, it has been developing equal numbers for PlayStation 3 and Wii, the company said. It has so far announced plans to release three games for both new consoles, most of them variants of its popular Final Fantasy series.

The Wii’s simplicity is also the selling point for software makers. Mr. Wada said developers had been slower to write games for PlayStation 3 because of the greater complexity of the console’s main processor, the high-speed multi-core Cell Chip. He said PlayStation 3’s production delays had also made Sony slow to provide developers with the basic codes and software needed to write games for the new console.

At Namco Bandai, Mr. Unozawa said PlayStation 3 was so complex, with its faster speeds and more advanced graphics, that it might take 100 programmers a year to create a single game, at a cost of about $10 million. Creating a game for Wii costs only a third as much and requires only a third as many writers, he said.

But Mr. Unozawa also said Nintendo’s promotional visit in late 2005 helped make Namco Bandai more willing to write games for Wii. When he saw the Wii prototype, and then later saw a PlayStation 3 prototype, he and his colleagues decided the Wii might have more potential than the expensive and difficult-to-operate Sony machine.

“The Wii just looked more fun,” Mr. Unozawa said. “It changed our thinking.”

As a result, on the day Wii rolled out in Japan, Namco Bandai had three games ready for it, including a version of its Gundam robot combat game. By contrast, when PlayStation 3 came out, Namco Bandai had two games ready.

Mr. Unozawa said Nintendo’s more open and cooperative attitude also helped make Nintendo appear a little less intimidating. That helped lower what he and other game developers called one of the biggest hurdles in the past to creating software for Nintendo: fear of Nintendo itself. The company was so good at writing games for its consoles that few wanted to compete against it.

Now, game developers and analysts say, Nintendo is showing itself more willing to be a partner and not just a rival.

“Being cool toward other game developers didn’t work,” said Masayuki Otani, an analyst at Maruwa Securities in Tokyo. “Nintendo has learned that it pays to be friendly.”

    Putting the We Back in Wii, NYT, 8.6.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/08/technology/08nintendo.html

 

 

 

 

 

In Game of Games,

Wii Outshoots PlayStation

 

May 18, 2007
The New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL

 

The sales gap between the Nintendo Wii video game console and Sony’s competing PlayStation 3 widened during April, according to industry performance figures released yesterday.

During April, American consumers bought 360,000 Wii consoles, according to NPD Group, which compiles sales data. That was more than four times the 82,000 PlayStation 3 consoles sold, NPD reported.

The ratio has widened from the first three months of the year, when the Wii outsold Sony’s new console 2 to 1.

During April, Microsoft sold 174,000 of its Xbox 360 game consoles, NPD reported.

The sales figures indicate that Nintendo has continued momentum since it introduced the Wii late last year. At the same time, Sony, which introduced the PlayStation 3 around the same time, continues to struggle to build its own momentum, in part because of its higher price, industry analysts said.

The Wii costs $249, while the PlayStation 3 costs $499 or $599, depending on the model. The Xbox 360 costs $299 or $399, depending on the model.

“I doubt you’ll see an acceleration of sales until you see a price cut or better software lineup,” said Evan Wilson, an industry analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, speaking of the PlayStation 3. “The question is how big of a hole has Sony dug itself into.”

But Mr. Wilson and other analysts said it was too soon to determine whether the hole would be too deep for Sony to climb out. The battle for dominance among console competitors can take years to play out, and this one is only a few months old.

Over all, NPD reported, Nintendo has sold 2.5 million Wii consoles in the United States, compared with sales of 1.3 million for the PlayStation 3 and 5.4 million for the Xbox 360, which went on sale in November 2005.

David Karraker, a spokesman for Sony, said that his company expected to attract consumers by increasing the number of games available for the PlayStation 3. He said that Sony and its partners planned to publish at least 105 games by March 2008, more than doubling the current library.

He declined to discuss the possibility of pricing changes or the growing gap in sales between the Wii and the PlayStation 3.

Sony continues to own the second best-selling game console — not the PlayStation 3 but its predecessor, the PlayStation 2. In April, it sold 194,000 units, for a total of around 38 million in its lifetime.

    In Game of Games, Wii Outshoots PlayStation, NYT, 18.5.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/18/technology/18game.html

 

 

 

 

The rise of the machines

 

Friday May 4, 2007
Guardian
Eric Clark

 

From a marketing viewpoint, the birth of Transformers toys in 1984 was an orchestrated act of genius. It not only launched one of the most successful playthings ever, it propelled a massive change in toy selling. Today, marketing rules; toys and the entertainment industry have become two sides of the same coin. The groundwork of all that was laid with the birth of Transformers.

Hasbro, now the world's second biggest toy company, had licensed Diacron, a puzzle toy with cars and planes that transformed into robots, from the Japanese company Takara. The Japanese had tried to sell it on the American market for a year. When it failed, they handed licensing rights to legendary toy man Henry Orenstein, who took the toy to Hasbro.

Convinced it could still be a success, Stephen Hassenfeld, Hasbro's CEO, the man regarded by many as the architect of the modern toy industry, had made the decision to market the toy instinctively. Now Hasbro had to make it work. Just how was thrashed out in an after-hours car ride between Hasbro's Rhode Island headquarters and New York City: the toy company's marketing chief and the three heads of Hasbro's ad agency Griffin Bacal brainstormed for three and a quarter hours.

One after another, decisions emerged. The toys would no longer be three-dimensional puzzles but characters in a story, with cars (the Autobots) being the good guys, and planes (the Decepticons) the bad guys. Joe Bacal came up with the name Transformers against initial opposition from the others. A back-story was created: Transformers had all come from Cybertron, a distant planet, where civil war raged between giant alien robots, under siege and desperate for fuel supplies.

By the time they reached New York, Diacron was no longer a stand-alone puzzle. As Transformers, it had broken away from its role of toy as object. The play pattern was spelled out. So too was the inducement to keep buying Transformers merchandise - playtime now would need lots of characters and props.

The remaining problem was how to sell such a fantasy toy effectively on television - the use of animation in advertising in the US at that time was strictly controlled. The Griffin Bacal agency had the answer. They made Transformers the subject of a comic book, and then advertised that instead to create awareness of the Transformers brand: there were no guidelines for commercials for comic books, because comic books never advertised on television. Griffin Bacal's ingenuity drove a coach and horses through the rules. Now the commercials could include all the animation they wished.

There was one more ingredient. Over a decade before, the Federal Communications Commission had cracked down on attempts by toy companies to introduce toy-led programmes. But now, under the Reagan administration, that changed. Transformers was free to become a "programme-length commercial".

A watershed had been crossed. The old idea of basing toys on characters in books or movies or programmes was turned upside down. Now the toy came first. The borders between programme and product became forever blurred, and in 1984 the Transformers TV series was launched.

Transformers sold $100m worth of toys in its first year - the most successful toy introduction in history at that point. Despite ups and downs since, constant marketing-led initiatives - new TV series spinning off new toys - have ensured it has never been out of production, a triumph in a business where a successful toy is one that lasts more than a year.

 

· The Real Toy Story:

Inside the Ruthless Battle for Britain's Youngest Consumers

by Eric Clark is published by Black Swan, £8.99

    The rise of the machines, G, 4.5.2007,
    http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,2071469,00.html

 

 

 

 

 

New Toys Read Brain Waves

 

April 30, 2007
Filed at 7:48 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- A convincing twin of Darth Vader stalks the beige cubicles of a Silicon Valley office, complete with ominous black mask, cape and light saber. But this is no chintzy Halloween costume. It's a prototype, years in the making, of a toy that incorporates brain wave-reading technology.

Behind the mask is a sensor that touches the user's forehead and reads the brain's electrical signals, then sends them to a wireless receiver inside the saber, which lights up when the user is concentrating. The player maintains focus by channeling thoughts on any fixed mental image, or thinking specifically about keeping the light sword on. When the mind wanders, the wand goes dark.

Engineers at NeuroSky Inc. have big plans for brain wave-reading toys and video games. They say the simple Darth Vader game -- a relatively crude biofeedback device cloaked in gimmicky garb -- portends the coming of more sophisticated devices that could revolutionize the way people play.

Technology from NeuroSky and other startups could make video games more mentally stimulating and realistic. It could even enable players to control video game characters or avatars in virtual worlds with nothing but their thoughts.

Adding biofeedback to ''Tiger Woods PGA Tour,'' for instance, could mean that only those players who muster Zen-like concentration could nail a put. In the popular action game ''Grand Theft Auto,'' players who become nervous or frightened would have worse aim than those who remain relaxed and focused.

NeuroSky's prototype measures a person's baseline brain-wave activity, including signals that relate to concentration, relaxation and anxiety. The technology ranks performance in each category on a scale of 1 to 100, and the numbers change as a person thinks about relaxing images, focuses intently, or gets kicked, interrupted or otherwise distracted.

The technology is similar to more sensitive, expensive equipment that athletes use to achieve peak performance. Koo Hyoung Lee, a NeuroSky co-founder from South Korea, used biofeedback to improve concentration and relaxation techniques for members of his country's Olympic archery team.

''Most physical games are really mental games,'' said Lee, also chief technology officer at San Jose-based NeuroSky, a 12-employee company founded in 1999. ''You must maintain attention at very high levels to succeed. This technology makes toys and video games more lifelike.''

Boosters say toys with even the most basic brain wave-reading technology -- scheduled to debut later this year -- could boost mental focus and help kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and mood disorders.

But scientific research is scant. Even if the devices work as promised, some question whether people who use biofeedback devices will be able to replicate their relaxed or focused states in real life, when they're not attached to equipment in front of their television or computer.

Elkhonon Goldberg, clinical professor of neurology at New York University, said the toys might catch on in a society obsessed with optimizing performance -- but he was skeptical they'd reduce the severity of major behavioral disorders.

''These techniques are used usually in clinical contexts. The gaming companies are trying to push the envelope,'' said Goldberg, author of ''The Wisdom Paradox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger As Your Brain Grows Older.'' ''You can use computers to improve the cognitive abilities, but it's an art.''

It's also unclear whether consumers, particularly American kids, want mentally taxing games.

''It's hard to tell whether playing games with biofeedback is more fun -- the company executives say that, but I don't know if I believe them,'' said Ben Sawyer, director of the Games for Health Project, a division of the Serious Games Initiative. The think tank focuses in part on how to make computer games more educational, not merely pastimes for kids with dexterous thumbs.

The basis of many brain wave-reading games is electroencephalography, or EEG, the measurement of the brain's electrical activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. EEG has been a mainstay of psychiatry for decades.

An EEG headset in a research hospital may have 100 or more electrodes that attach to the scalp with a conductive gel. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But the price and size of EEG hardware is shrinking. NeuroSky's ''dry-active'' sensors don't require gel, are the size of a thumbnail, and could be put into a headset that retails for as little as $20, said NeuroSky CEO Stanley Yang.

Yang is secretive about his company's product lineup because of a nondisclosure agreement with the manufacturer. But he said an international toy manufacturer plans to unveil an inexpensive gizmo with an embedded NeuroSky biosensor at the Japan Toy Association's trade show in late June. A U.S. version is scheduled to debut at the American International Fall Toy Show in October.

''Whatever we sell, it will work on 100 percent or almost 100 percent of people out there, no matter what the condition, temperature, indoor or outdoors,'' Yang said. ''We aim for wearable technology that everyone can put on and go without failure, as easy as the iPod.''

Researchers at NeuroSky and other startups are also building prototypes of toys that use electromyography (EMG), which records twitches and other muscular movements, and electrooculography (EOG), which measures changes in the retina.

While NeuroSky's headset has one electrode, Emotiv Systems Inc. has developed a gel-free headset with 18 sensors. Besides monitoring basic changes in mood and focus, Emotiv's bulkier headset detects brain waves indicating smiles, blinks, laughter, even conscious thoughts and unconscious emotions. Players could kick or punch their video game opponent -- without a joystick or mouse.

''It fulfills the fantasy of telekinesis,'' said Tan Le, co-founder and president of San Francisco-based Emotiv.

The 30-person company hopes to begin selling a consumer headset next year, but executives would not speculate on price. A prototype hooks up to gaming consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.

Le, a 29-year-old Australian woman, said the company decided in 2004 to target gamers because they would generate the most revenue -- but eventually Emotive will build equipment for clinical use. The technology could enable paralyzed people to ''move'' in virtual realty; people with obsessive-compulsive disorders could measure their anxiety levels, then adjust medication accordingly.

The husband-and-wife team behind CyberLearning Technology LLC took the opposite approach. The San Marcos-based startup targets doctors, therapists and parents of adolescents with autism, impulse control problems and other pervasive developmental disorders.

CyberLearning is already selling the SmartBrain Technologies system for the original PlayStation, PS2 and original Xbox, and it will soon work with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The EEG- and EMG-based biofeedback system costs about $600, not including the game console or video games.

Kids who play the race car video game ''Gran Turismo'' with the SmartBrain system can only reach maximum speed when they're focused. If attention wanes or players become impulsive or anxious, cars slow to a chug.

CyberLearning has sold more than 1,500 systems since early 2005. The company hopes to reach adolescents already being treated for behavior disorders. But co-founder Lindsay Greco said the budding niche is unpredictable.

''Our biggest struggle is to find the target market,'' said Greco, who has run treatment programs for children with attention difficulties since the 1980s. ''We're finding that parents are using this to improve their own recall and focus. We have executives who use it to improve their memory, even their golf.''

------

On the Net:

NeuroSky Inc.: http://www.neurosky.com

Emotiv Systems Inc.: http://www.emotiv.com

CyberLearning Technology LLC: http://www.smartbraingames.com

    New Toys Read Brain Waves, NYT, 30.4.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/technology/AP-Mind-Reading-Toys.html

 

 

 

 

 

Nintendo Plans

to Boost Wii Production

 

April 27, 2007
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

TOKYO (AP) -- Nintendo's president acknowledged Friday that the shortage of the hit Wii game machine was ''abnormal,'' and promised production was being boosted to increase deliveries by next month.

''We must do our best to fix this abnormal lack of stock,'' Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told reporters. ''We have not been able to properly foresee demand.''

The comments came a day after the Japanese manufacturer of the Wii -- which comes with a wand that can be used as a sword, tennis racket or fishing rod depending on the game -- reported that sales nearly doubled for the fiscal year, lifted by robust sales of the Wii and the DS portable, a handheld video game.

Kyoto-based Nintendo Co.'s net profit jumped 77 percent to 174.29 billion yen ($1.47 billion) in the year through March, up dramatically from 98.38 billion yen a year earlier. Sales soared 90 percent to 966.53 billion yen ($8.13 billion).

The Wii has pummeled its rivals in a head-to-head battle in next-generation video game consoles involving Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, which has been plagued with production problems, and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.

Iwata refused to disclose the monthly production capacity for the Wii, and said it was too early to say by how much the production was being raised.

But he said efforts were under way to increase production, and more machines will get delivered to stores around the world.

''We will do our best to offer the machine for those who are waiting,'' he said at a Tokyo hall.

The Wii's motion-sensitive remote control wand has made it hit even with people unaccustomed to playing video games. It faced some minor problems early on with its wand, which flew out of the hands of some zealous players, snapping the strap and at times crashing into TVs. But that hasn't dented profits, and the console is still flying off store shelves.

Nintendo, which also makes Pokemon and Super Mario games, is planning to sell 14 million Wii machines for the current fiscal year through March 2008, having sold 5.84 million Wii consoles worldwide in the five months since its release late last year.

Sony has sold just 1.84 million PlayStation 3 machines so far worldwide, while Microsoft has shipped more than 10 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide.

The PlayStation 3 went on sale late last year in the U.S. and Japan, and in March in Europe. Xbox 360 beat rivals to market in 2005.

Nintendo also has a big hit in the DS, selling more than 40 million since its launch in late 2004. The machine comes with a touch panel, introducing new easy-to-play games such as raising a dog that players can pet on the screen. Nintendo expects sales of 22 million more DS machines this fiscal year.

Iwata said Nintendo is now producing 2.5 million DS machines a month to meet bursting demand, the highest production ever for a Nintendo game machine.

    Nintendo Plans to Boost Wii Production, NYT, 28.4.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/technology/AP-Japan-Nintendo.html

 

 

 

 

 

PC to Leapfrog

Standalone Game Consoles

 

April 20, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 6:30 p.m. ET
The New York Times

 

DALLAS (AP) -- From the movie-like graphics in the action game ''Gears of War'' to the nearly photorealistic racer ''MotorStorm,'' video games have come a long way since the bouncing blocks of ''Pong.''

A new breed of visually striking games promises to light up computer screens with even sharper, more lifelike graphics than ever before. But unlike the popular ''Gears of War'' or ''MotorStorm,'' the games won't be debuting on Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 consoles.

Instead, the PC is returning to the pinnacle of video game graphics -- thanks to some under-the-hood tweaks in Microsoft's Vista operating system.

The technology behind these improved visuals, called DirectX 10, is the result of a collaboration among video game developers, graphics card makers and Microsoft. For years, they have been working to streamline and standardize the software used by Windows-based PCs to display graphics.

The latest improvements, many believe, far surpass even the very best of what the consoles are capable of. Case in point: the upcoming PC shooter ''Crysis,'' where players take the role of a battle-savvy soldier who has to uncover the secrets behind an asteroid that has smashed into Earth.

Beams of light glimmer through a jungle overgrown with swaying palm trees, and the thick underbrush gets more detailed with a closer look. Gaze into the distance and you can see aquamarine waves crashing on a white sand beach. Zoom in on a soldier to see an emotive face with stubble, freckles and other subtle individual details.

DX10 requires a specialized graphics card and there are only a few games today that take advantage of its capabilities.

Though relatively few consumers have yet to upgrade to Vista, dozens of game makers who have been using DX10 believe the benefits of the technology will quickly lure hardcore gamers willing to spend money on the best systems, whatever the cost.

Game players who frequent the Warezabouts LAN Center in Forney, Texas, often ask owner JJ Tarno about Vista and DX10, but most seem to be waiting for more compatible games to come out before they make the switch from Windows XP.

Tarno, 31, said he's looking forward to games like ''Crysis'' and has been impressed with the video clips he's already seen.

''If you want to play next-gen games you have to have a next-gen operating system,'' he said. ''A game like 'Crysis' comes out and you just say, `How much is that game?' About $1,500 with new video card, RAM and processor.''

Many game developers are excited at the technology's prospects.

''Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures,'' due in October, will put players into a persistent online fantasy world of barbarians and mythical monsters.

''What we tried to achieve with the graphics is something that we called 'magical realism,''' said Jorgen Tharaldsen, product director for Funcom, which is developing the game in Oslo, Norway. ''With DX10 we can just add a lot more bells and whistles. We can start pushing graphics to the stage where it almost looks realistic.''

Bill Roper, whose Flagship Studios is developing the action adventure game ''Hellgate: London,'' said he wasn't concerned that not everyone has Vista or a DX10-capable graphics card yet.

''As with every new technology, the hardcore lead the way and the masses catch up,'' he said. ''Not everyone that has an iPod or a DVD player went out and bought theirs on day one. As with previous operating system and hardware advances, the more products that support it and can show the tangible benefits of upgrading, the more widespread the adoption.''

The DirectX standard dates back to the mid-1990s when upgrading add-on video cards on home computers was still a hobbyist's pursuit, something hardcore gamers did to extract the most performance from 3-D shooters like ''Quake'' or ''Unreal.''

Subsequent versions have added new features to speed up graphics and give game programmers more tools to simulate the movement and appearance of liquids and other complex objects.

As the demands from game makers (and players) have grown increasingly complex, so too have the capabilities of DirectX. The software lets programmers tell the 3-D computer chips in graphics cards whether to simulate a wisp of smoke or a mirror's reflection.

DX10 not only makes games look better, it also promises to improve performance by simplifying how the graphics cards process video information and display it on the screen.

''It means the realism will take a dramatic jump,'' says Roy Taylor, vice president of content for Nvidia Corp., which makes 3-D video chips for computers. ''It's going to look dramatically more real.''

Those effects have taken on a cinematic quality with DX10.

''We can create a world that looks and feels more real and is more responsive,'' Roper said. ''We have volumetric fluid smoke that responds to objects that pass through it. We have soft shadows that get softer with distance from the caster.''

Of the few DX10 games currently available, including Microsoft's own ''Flight Simulator X,'' differences between DX10 and its predecessor, DX9, are dramatic, with water and atmospheric effects that look more like an actual video recording than a computer approximation of reality.

Still, the slew of DX10-enabled games expected to be released by the Christmas holiday will be compatible with older versions of DirectX. They just won't look as good on DX9 PCs.

Of the 76 million video chips expected to be sold by the end of 2007, only about 16 million will be DX10 compatible, according to Dean McCarron, principle analyst at Mercury Research. Yet DX10 chips should account for about half of $2.2 billion graphics chip market this year, added McCarron, whose figures don't reflect the massive integrated graphics chip market.

While he expects the overall market to remain flat for the next five years, he said DX10 chips will grow to account for about $2 billion of the $2.2 billion industry by 2011.

For now, only Nvidia offers graphics cards that support DX10. Prices range from $600 for a high-end model -- as much as a new PS3 console -- to less than $100 for a less powerful card.

Rival ATI Technologies Inc., which was acquired by Advanced Micro Devices Inc. for $5.6 billion last year, expects to launch its DX10-capable cards sometime in the second quarter.

Chris Donahue, group manager of Microsoft's Games for Windows unit, admits that DX10 is an example of the PC surpassing the consoles. The company's own Xbox 360, for example, uses a custom version of the older DX9 standard that can't be upgraded.

''Consoles are a snapshot of where the PC is at the time they were made,'' he said. ''The consoles are a step that stays flat for five years. The PC is basically a 45 degree angle.''

Still, the special effects that take a room of computers weeks to render for movies like ''The Lord of the Rings'' remains out of the reach of DX10, said Richard Huddy, a member of AMD's European developer relations team.

But PC graphics technology is closing in fast.

''The human brain is one of the most fussy systems when it comes to reality,'' he said. ''When it comes to pure graphics rendering we certainly haven't cracked the problem to give a better, more convincing reality. We think we have the next 10 years before we catch up with reality.''

    PC to Leapfrog Standalone Game Consoles, NYT, 20.4.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/technology/AP-Games-Vistas-Visuals.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teenage Riddle:

Skipping Class, Mastering Chess

 

April 13, 2007
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS

 

It is early afternoon, 20 minutes into G band — or sixth period — at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn. But today, Shawn Martinez, a third-year student, and one of the stars of its national championship chess team, is nowhere near school.

Instead, while his classmates memorize the periodic table of the elements, perform Shakespeare or solve for x, Shawn, wearing a black do-rag under a brown Yankees cap, distractedly watches a pickup chess match inside the atrium of a building on Wall Street. The place is a hangout for chess hustlers.

Shawn, 16, skips a lot of school — “It wasn’t weeks that I missed, it was months,” he says — but he is no ordinary truant. He is so gifted a chess player that he has claimed a place among the top young players in the nation after learning the game only four years ago. He is also important to Murrow’s chances of capturing its fourth consecutive national high school title; the tournament begins today in Kansas City, Mo.

Shawn comes to Wall Street to play a type of chess called blitz, a game in which the ticking of a three-minute clock eliminates the ponderous pauses of traditional chess and transforms the game into a fevered, trash-talking street sport in which money, not prestige, is the prime motivator. For Shawn, a large bet might be $10 a game.

“It helped my game to play for money,” said Shawn, dismissing as “average” the players he had been watching. “I love chess with a passion. It’s all the situations you get put in — it’s like life to me. It’s like anger to me. Sometimes, if I don’t like something that’s happening, I can take my anger out on the chessboard.”

Murrow has no varsity sports; its nationally known chess team is a source of deep pride at the school. And while Shawn’s story has echoes of the classic tale of the star high school athlete who struggles academically but remains on the team, it is also very different. Instead of marveling about quarterback options and touchdown passes, his supporters speak about castling and checkmates. And no one questions his intelligence.

Charming and funny, Shawn has a remarkable long-term memory, and parries easily with older members of the Wall Street crowd as he takes their money. He is by turns quiet and boisterous, open and defensive, and seems easily bored. He says he does poorly in English class, but he is well spoken. During nearly three years at Murrow, Shawn has missed so many classes that he is credited with passing only three courses.

Administrators and the teacher who runs the club say they have struggled with Shawn, and are seeking a balance of how to engage him in his studies without barring him from the one thing about which he is passionate. Beth Siegel-Graf, Murrow’s assistant vice principal for student guidance, said allowing Shawn to compete on the team is part of a strategy intended to keep him from dropping out altogether.

“What we try to make students and parents understand is that students doing poorly in school are hooked to the building because of their extracurricular activity,” she said. “We try to use that activity as a hinge.”

A math teacher named Eliot Weiss started the school on its road to becoming the powerhouse it is today when he formed a chess club; Murrow is now able to attract some of the city’s best young players. The team was the subject of a recent book, “The Kings of New York,” by Michael Weinreb, an occasional contributor to The New York Times. Two years ago, the team met President Bush in the White House.

Shawn, like many great players, has been blessed with the combination of an amazing visual memory and the ability to essentially see into the future by predicting various outcomes within a few seconds. During the past two years, Shawn has raised his United States Chess Federation rating more than 100 points to 2,028, giving him the rank of expert, a level just below master, and ranking him No. 19 among 16-year-olds. During that same two-year period, however, he has flunked every class.

His relationship with chess sums up his contradictions: he loves it, yet in one candid moment he said it had ruined his life. He had strong grades in sixth grade, he said, but was failing in seventh — the year he started playing. And he rejected the opinions of adults that he benefits from his relationship with the game.

“I became addicted to chess,” he said. “They think they did something for me, but they didn’t. Chess didn’t save my life. They want to make it like I’m a kid from the ghetto and I can play chess and that’s special. Why does it have to be like that? It’s embarrassing. They compare me to my environment — the way I dress to chess. You don’t have to be the brightest person in the world to play chess.”

Perhaps the most significant of those adults, Mr. Weiss has evolved into something of a father figure for Shawn, whose own father died when he was young. The teacher said he was taken aback by Shawn’s chronic underperformance.

“I have never had a student this talented in a particular skill — not just talented, but one of the best in the country — and so disinterested in schoolwork, not understanding what it means to fail high school,” Mr. Weiss said.

On some days, Shawn does attend classes with about 10 other students who are also behind. On many other days, he simply does not bother. He likes math, but the algebra course he has been forced to take repeatedly is too easy, he said, so he does not make an effort. “The sad thing is, some of the kids can’t even do it,” he said.

Murrow, a 4,000-student school in the Midwood neighborhood with a far-reaching variety of course offerings that are reminiscent of a small liberal arts college, was founded in 1974, and it gives its students considerable freedom. Periods are called bands. There are no bells, and no one is herded from class to class. Free time is scheduled into every school day, and students can choose to eat, to sleep, to do homework, to do nothing or, as Shawn has often done, to play cards in the cafeteria.

“It is a school where if you don’t have your personal responsibility together, you could drop out,” Shawn said.

Ms. Siegel-Graf, the assistant vice principal, said Shawn was allowed to accompany his teammates on the plane to Missouri on Wednesday afternoon after a conference at which he promised that, this time, he would begin going to school regularly. Shawn turns 17 on April 24 — 11 days after the nationals start — and Ms. Siegel-Graf said Shawn and the school had worked out an arrangement in which although he would still be technically enrolled at Murrow, he would begin taking courses to prepare for the G.E.D diploma.

The rules for the national tournament require students to be enrolled full time in school in the United States or its territories for the entire semester. They also state, “The coach is responsible for assuring that all of his players are properly registered and eligible to participate as members of his team.”

On a recent Thursday, a few weeks before the nationals, Shawn said he had not gone to school because he had a sore throat. Later, he said he had run out of minutes on his mobile phone and needed to win some money playing chess to pay the bill.

Here, among the businesspeople and tourists on Wall Street, Shawn sticks out with his Yankees cap, baggy jeans and well-worn red and black Nike high tops, but he also mixes easily with the stockbrokers and others who come to play.

They challenge Shawn and lose their money, even after he warns them he is an expert.

“What I do is allow them to think they can beat me,” he said, though he denies adamantly that he is a hustler. “It’s gambling, and gambling you do at your own risk.”

Playing chess for money is a gray area in the law. The state statute generally prohibits wagering on “games of chance,” but it is unclear whether chess falls into that category. A Police Department spokesman did not respond to a request to clarify the matter.

Shawn was taken away from his birth mother when he was one week old because of her crack cocaine habit. Lidia Martinez, a widow who is Shawn’s adoptive mother, said she knew immediately upon seeing the week-old Shawn that she wanted to adopt him. Ms. Martinez acknowledged however, that she, like everyone else, had failed to get her son to go to class. “He believes he’s too smart for school,” she said.

Shawn says he is able to remember his biological father, who died when he was 2. He says he can even recall his own first birthday.

At Murrow, Shawn is the third best chess player, behind the seniors Alex Lenderman and Sal Bercys, who are each among the top 2,000 players in the world. They were both featured prominently in Mr. Weinreb’s book, while Shawn appeared in fewer passages. In one he is described as being “monosyllabic” and unable to let his guard down.

“The kid’s been an enigma since junior high school,” Mr. Weinreb wrote. “He has a gift, that much is clear, and he’s managed to discover it amid a life that has been fraught, like so many in the city, with disappointment.”

While Alex and Sal have played since around the time they started kindergarten, have had private coaches, and have extensive experience at tournaments, Shawn claims to have never even cracked a chess book. “I never studied a book in my life,” he said. “I’m too bored.” Shawn said he learns by playing, often against opponents online. He favors an aggressive style that employs his pawns as attackers.

“When you put pawns together, there’s no stopping them,” he said. “You put two or three together and they practically control the whole game. People know me for my pawns.”

    Teenage Riddle: Skipping Class, Mastering Chess, NYT, 13.4.2007,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/13/nyregion/13chess.html

 

 

 

 

 

Game Theory

Virtual Murder and Mayhem

of One Kind or Another

 

July 27, 2006

The New York Times

By CHARLES HEROLD

 

THE first thing I do when I arrive in my cabin is search the closets. I take a hat, a pair of glasses and a straight razor, which I put in my pocket. Then I walk out into the luxury cruise ship’s corridor, where men and women elegantly dressed in 1920’s garb walk past Art Deco fixtures, eyeing me suspiciously. I grab a fire ax off the wall and put it under my jacket.

I receive a message with my quarry’s name and most recent location. She’s one deck below me in the bar, so I hurry down the stairs, carefully looking at each passer-by. A woman in a ball gown pulls out a flare gun and is about to fire it at a man in a top hat when a ship security officer grabs her. The top-hatted man, realizing the woman knows his face and will be back, takes off his hat and puts on a new suit and an eye patch.

My quarry has left the bar, but a new message says she’s out on deck. I hurry outside. Is that her? I move closer. It is her. I walk forward, trying to give the impression that I’m looking elsewhere so she doesn’t run, but as I’m about to pull out my ax, a man pulls out a steak knife and, before I can even react, stabs me to death.

That’s how it goes in Outerlight’s ingenious multiplayer game The Ship, in which each player is both hunter and hunted.

The Ship is essentially a virtual version of real-life games like Assassin, popular with college students, in which you have a week to hunt down people and spray them with water. In The Ship, though, you have only a few minutes to take down your prey.

Murder is made more difficult by the presence of security cameras, requiring that your weapons be hidden, and survival is made more difficult by the necessity to attend to basic bodily needs like sleeping, eating and showering. At these times you are completely vulnerable, and it is quite disconcerting to be stabbed to death while sitting on the toilet.

The Ship doesn’t explain why a boatload of fashionable men and women would try to kill each other, but if you accept that odd premise, the game makes perfect sense.

Human Head Studios’ new first-person shooter, Prey, is another matter; it is a game almost entirely comprised of unlikely oddities.

As Prey begins, aliens have abducted a hot-headed modern-day Cherokee named Tommy from a reservation tavern, along with his grandfather and girlfriend. Escaping his shackles with the help of a mysterious person, Tommy grabs a slimy alien weapon and heads out to save his loved ones.

The alien ship is a bizarre and entertaining place with mucilaginous corridors and stinging tentacles growing from the floors and ceilings. Odd crab-like creatures skittering across the ground can be picked up and used as grenades, while a missile launcher contains an alien embryo wriggling in the barrel.

The alien technology in the game is remarkable. Crates contain portals to other locations and gravity walkways let you go up walls. Individual rooms can have their gravity changed by shooting sensors, allowing Tommy to drop to the ceiling.

The ship is a deadly place where Tommy must battle aliens, dinosaurlike creatures and demon ghost children. His only chance to survive is to regain the spiritual powers of his ancestors. He soon acquires a falcon spirit guide and learns the ancient Cherokee ability to become a shadow walker who can pass through force fields and kill foes with arrows made of the spirits of fallen enemies.

If you’re wondering whether such a mélange of disparate elements can be tied into a neat, consistent universe, the answer is, well, not really. There is no apparent necessity for rooms with changeable gravity, nor is it clear why aliens need ghost children. While good science fiction creates coherent, convincing futuristic technology and explores its ramifications, Prey is simply built around a bunch of neat ideas like wall walking and invisibility. This makes Prey very bad science fiction, but the game works wonderfully as a surreal nightmare.

Prey doesn’t simply rely on its trippiness to entertain the player; the game’s fast action and the clever design of the game levels keep things fun even after the wacky tricks are exhausted. Combat is exciting, as are the occasional sequences in which you must pilot an alien shuttle craft, although the game does begin to feel a bit repetitive toward the end.

One of Prey’s most unusual features is that after a certain point it becomes impossible to die. When Tommy is killed, he is transported to a spirit realm where he heals himself by shooting magical birds. He is then returned to the ship, where all the enemies he killed or wounded are in the same state he left them in. This means it is impossible to get stuck in the game, and you never have to replay sections. I love this, but those who prefer their games to be grindingly difficult will be displeased.

In terms of story, Prey follows the same pattern as the Half-Life series, with mysterious characters just out of reach, brief snippets of story interspersed throughout the action and moments when you come out of cramped halls into vast, stunning spaces. The action is broken up by simple puzzles, many involving changing a room’s gravity to get to an otherwise unreachable location. There are interesting moments, as when you find alien receivers monitoring a talk show from Earth or suddenly hear the rock music that had been playing in the bar you were abducted from.

Unfortunately, mediocre voice acting and a lack of character development work against the game’s story; one moment that is intended to be wrenchingly tragic comes across as just sort of sad. And as with everything else in the game, there’s little attempt to create convincing motivation for the characters, particular Tommy’s final opponent, whose plan, when revealed, seems as flawed as the alien ship’s architecture.

Besides the rather short single-player mission, which speedy players report finishing in seven hours (although it took me twice that), Prey has the requisite online multiplayer mode. The best multiplayer levels take advantage of the game’s eccentricities, as in one where each room has a different gravitational orientation, allowing you to lob grenades at an opponent standing on what to him is a floor and to you is a ceiling. But for the most part, Prey’s multiplayer levels play just like those of dozens of similar games.

I’ve spent more than enough time running around alien ships indiscriminately firing rocket launchers. Now I just want to put on a tuxedo, grab a golf club and enjoy a civilized, seafaring afternoon of murder in cold blood.

Virtual Murder and Mayhem of One Kind or Another,
NYT,
27.7.2006,
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/technology/27game.html 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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