Thursday, September 13, 2007

We're Getting The Band Back Together

So, the three of you that occasionally read this blog may have noticed that it hasn't been updated in a couple of months. You probably just thought that this was another fly-by-night blog that's disappearing into the bowels of the internets as so many others have before. Well, sorry to disappoint, but not so much.

Playgrounds are a lonely place in the summer, what with all the youngin's being shipped off to camp, so we at the AP decided to take a much needed summer vacation. Consider this your notice. The plan was to resume in late August, but hey, plans change. What do you expect when you're not paying for something?

Anyway, the reason behind the delay is that the Playground's main office is relocating. New York has been good to us, but now that retirement is upon yours truly (did I mention I'm under 30? Jealous?), we're getting out of town and kicking back in the mid-west. The move should happen in the next month, and once we set up shop out there, things should get back to the normal levels of awesomeness that abound at the Atomic Playground. Check that - expect even more awesomeness than before. Yeah, that's more like it.

In the meantime, there may be a few updates between packing boxes and chasing the rats out of the building - this is New York, after all. The good news about going dark over the summer was that there was next to nothing going on, aside from some lackluster releases at the box office (Hot Rod anyone?). But now that we're swinging into the fall, good things should be a coming, so we'll have to get back to work. But not today.

So be patient - you'll be able to get your fix at the Playground again in no time. And until then, may I recommend mind altering drugs to keep you distracted? They do a body good.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Freebie - There's Something To Be Said For Compatibility

I'm sure at some point during your travels of the interwebs, you've come across a video (pr0n related, no doubt) that just wouldn't play on your system. Blame codecs - there's too damn many of them out there to keep up. There's Xvid, DivX, HuffYUV, and those are just some of the more popular among the internets 1337. Wouldn't it be nice to create a video that you knew would work on any PC running Windows? Sure would, and the solution is at hand:

Now, I'm no Microsoft fanboy - I'm a firm believer in the fact that Bill Gates and Google are in a race to take over the world. But I have to admit that using the Windows platform - while frustrating at times - does offer some convenience. And to that end, we have the Windows Media Encoder. This little guy is designed to take a wide variety of video files, or live capture, and transcode the file into the Windows Media Video (WMV) format. This will ensure compatibility with any PC running a modern copy of Windows, as WMV files are natively supported in Media Player.

Of course, MS is quick to tout numerous other supposed "benefits" of the WMV format, but honestly, these are no different than what any other codec creator will tell you. Nonetheless, with this program you do get a full featured interface for transcoding your files over to WMV. There are even numerous preset options for bitrates and other variables, broken up into categories based on what you plan on doing with the video (saving it to your hard drive, internet streaming, etc.). This is nice for all the noobs out there who haven't had that much experience working with video files.

Unfortunately, there are no provisions for editing video files, so you'll need to do that elsewhere. But that's not really the point of this tool. After all, if you wanted to edit and save a video in the WMV format initially, you could just use Movie Maker, which ships with every copy of XP. Instead, this tool is best for converting older files over to ensure compatibility.

Do I suggest that you convert your entire video library to WMV? Hell no. Unless you're streaming videos to an Xbox 360 or something, there's just no point. But when you need to make sure that a video will play on another machine, this is a nice way to do it.

The Windows Media Encoder homepage can be found here, and the download is right here (there's an alternate version for those of you on 64-bit OSs right here). Also, for you Vista guys, MS has noted some possible compatibility issues, so be sure to check out this Hotfix. Man, if Microsoft can't build apps for Vista, what chance to third parties have...

And for those of you wondering about a tool for audio files and the WMA format, don't bother. Despite their best efforts, Microsoft has yet to derail the MP3 train, so that's your best bet. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - I Remember When Jim Carrey Was Actually Entertaining

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Dumb And Dumber. The Cable Guy. These are all really good Jim Carrey movies. And it's not just a case of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. Go back and watch any one of them, and I dare you not to laugh out loud at some point. Go ahead, watch one right now. I'll wait. I've got two hours to kill.

So, what did you think? Funny, right? I know! Now that you've enjoyed a good movie, how about some more Jim Carrey goodness, but this time in television form? Just fire up an ep of In Living Color, and bang, Fire Marshall Bill and Veracosa are taking you on a journey to comedy town. Good times (for the record, Jim was never on that show - I'm just using it as an expression). So all that begs the question - what the hell happened to Jim Carrey's career?

Oh yeah - he stopped being funny. Old Jimmy boy seemed to have more misses than hits in his recent comedy attempts (*cough* Grinch *cough*), so he finally decided to just stop trying. Can't say I blame him. I imagine that being a failure is tough. But instead of just giving up acting all together and spending his days swimming in his giant Money Bin, Jim decided to give serious acting a try. Lucky us:

The Number 23 stars Jim as a man who becomes obsessed with a book detailing all the strange coincidences having to do with the number 23 in the world. Crazy stuff basically, like when people say that the 13 stripes on the American flag signify the 13 original colonies. We all know it's for luck! Anyway, convinced that the book was written about him, Carrey slowly descends into a world of paranoid delusion, aiming to solve the fictitious mysteries put forth on its pages.

This movie isn't supposed to be a comedy, but some people do seem to find comedic undertones in Carrey's acting. I'm not convinced it's intentional though - like it or not, Carrey is a comedian at heart, and his acting style reflects it. Even when undertaking a serious role, his true nature shines through. Truth be told, that aspect does make this movie somewhat watchable, but its poor story and overall cheesy tone relegate this disk to Trainwreck status.

If you're desperate for something to watch in 10 years, and you happen to come across this one in the $2.99 bargain bin at Best Buy, you could do worse. But watching Jim Carrey in his current state is almost too painful to endure. The good old days of funnyman Jim may be gone, but I'd rather relive them through the magic of DVD than subject myself to his current offerings. Time to throw in the towel, pal, and head back to Canada - the moose will have more love for you than we will.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Freebie - Ditch The Ribbon Toolbar Forever

Let's face it - we all need one of those "office suite" programs every now and then. Maybe you need to write a letter to the collection agency, explaining why you're 11 months behind on those credit card payments. Or maybe you need to put together a spreadsheet so you can figure out how much crack you need to sell every month before you can afford those new rims. In any event, an office suite will be your ticket to success.

For the past hundred years or so, Microsoft Office has been the standard. It's gotten bulky and bloated over the years, and can be a real PITA sometimes, but it's fairly powerful and usually has the right tool for the job. But, it's from Microsoft - strike one. It also will cost you the price of a kidney on the black market for the all singing, all dancing version - strike two. And now, in the latest version, they did away with the familiar toolbars that everyone loves, in favor of a hip new interface called Ribbon. Yeah, nothing says hip, cool, and productive all at the same time quite like ribbons do.

But what's a boy to do? If you head down to your local Best Buy, you'll find that Office is the only game in town. Bill Gates, the 800 lb. gorilla that he is, has successfully muscled almost every other player out of the mainstream office suite market (Corel doesn't count since they're Canadian). Well, you're just looking in the wrong place. As usual, the internets delivers:

OpenOffice is a fully featured suite of programs, and it has the ability to do just about anything you can do with Microsoft's Office package. Featuring a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation creator, drawing tools, and an equation editor, OpenOffice can effectively cover all the needs of even the most die hard consumer, and even some smaller businesses. These aren't some cheap knock off programs either - these are fully featured, developed, and tested programs.

And, the best part of this whole package is that it's free (I'm sure most of you figured that out by virtue of it being featured as this week's Freebie, but I just wanted to be clear for the glue sniffers among you). That's right, you get an entire Office replacement at no cost. And this isn't just shareware or adware - the programs are completely free and open.

Of course, Microsoft Office does offer more than you get here. For instance, there's no email client or HTML editor, but you can easily find great free versions of those types of programs on the web if you bother to look. And at least one of those has been covered in a past Freebie.

Honestly, there's no reason not to check this program out, even if you have a newer version of Office. The two programs will happily coexist, and you may find that you prefer the sleeker, simpler offerings of OpenOffice. And if you're still rocking Office 2000 or earlier, you owe it to yourself to upgrade to something more powerful. Uncle kilroy thinks you deserve it.

You can check out the OpenOffice homepage here, and the download page can be found here (another one for the FreeBSD guys out there). So go check it out, and then write me a thank you letter using your new found set of programs. Be sure to put a nice border on the letter too - maybe something with kittens.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - The Reason Why Elizabeth Berkley Doesn't Have A Career Anymore

1995 was a crazy year. The European Union was still forming, the Space Shuttle docked with the Mir space station for the first time, and people were setting off bombs in Oklahoma City. And there was also some court case about an ex-football player named O.J. But all that was trumped by a singular motion picture release. One film that changed the world as we know it. A mere 128 minutes that redefined everything that we thought we knew. That film - that epic - was none other than Showgirls:

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, that was my sarcastic voice. I know, it sounds a lot like my regular voice. Anyway, some genius decided that it was time to re-release Showgirls on DVD - again - so here we are, with cannon fodder.

For those of you that were living under a rock back in the year of our Yahoo!, let me break down the movie for you. Showgirls tells the story of Elizabeth Berkley trying to find work after Saved By The Bell came to a close, and she was passed over for The College Years. Undaunted, Liz bravely makes her way to Las Vegas, desperate to prove that it doesn't take a huge rack to make it in Sin City, as long as you're willing to show off what you've got. Her efforts are stymied by the incumbent slut on stage, but after pulling a Tonya Harding on the competition, and with a little help from that guy from Twin Peaks, she becomes the next big thing. Take that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen!

For some unknown reason, this flick has actually become a cult classic over the years. Personally, I think that a lot of people just have really bad taste, or haven't discovered how much more entertaining other diversions can by, like watching paint dry or needlepoint. Or maybe it's just all those guys that grew up watching SBTB can't enough of seeing Jessie's knockers on screen, and thinking about what might have been if only they had been cast over Mario Lopez as her high school love interest. Don't worry guys - he didn't touch her either. He was much too busy rubbing suntan lotion on Mark Paul Gosselarr to notice her.

Besides, everyone knows that the first season of SBTB was the best, before Jessie and Kelly showed up, when Hayley Mills taught a young Zack and Screech how to be men in this dog eat dog world. Wait, what were we discussing again?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Internet Radio Lives To Fight Another Day - And It Will Have To

Many of you probably get through your day at work with a little help from internet radio - I know I do. But what you might not have known is that come Monday, there was an excellent chance that your favorite site or station would have been silent. That's because a few months back, the Copyright Royalty Board raised the costs that internet stations have to pay to SoundExchange, a rights organization that collects royalty fees for musicians and record labels. In other words, the jerks that the idiot record executives pay to rake in the dough.

One of the things that makes internet radio so popular is its diversity. Most broadcast stations occupying the airwaves today are owned by Clear Channel, which controls the playlists nationwide to make sure that "popular", big label music sells. So if your tastes differ from that of the popular kids, you're out of luck. And even if you find a station you like, odds are they'll play a lot of the same artists over and over again. I swear, every classic rock station plays at least one Led Zeppelin and one Rolling Stones song every hour. Haven't they ever heard of too much of a good thing?

Satellite radio is a little better. First off, there are more channels, so there are more opportunities for diversity. Second, the company doesn't control the playlists as tightly, so the DJs are allowed to stray from the mainstream a little more often. But, your choices are still limited, not to mention that you have to buy a new radio and pay a monthly subscription fee.

That brings us to internet radio. In contrast to broadcast and satellite, the variety is almost endless. Like bluegrass? You're covered. Jazz? No problem. Hip-hop folk? You're weird, but I'm sure it's out there somewhere. And to top it all off, most stations are free. There are always banner ads on the webpage, and sometimes there are commercials or trailers to listen to, but there's no separate subscription. All you need is a computer and an internet connection, which you already have if you're reading this. Seems like a good deal. However, this free model means that stations can't pay the same royalty rates that broadcasters with big name sponsorships can. This wouldn't be an issue, except for the fact that music labels are beginning to demand higher royalties from internet radio, since it is seen as a threat to the traditional means of delivering media.

On the downside, the sound quality isn't always top-notch. Thanks to broadband connections, this has gotten better over the years, but some smaller sites still broadcast at a low bitrate. If you're listening at low volumes in the office or through an average set of computer speakers, this won't be an issue. But there are plenty of free sites that offer high quality streams as well, though they usually don't cover quite as many of the smaller genres. Still, you'll find a more varied list of songs than you will on your local stations.

Another shortcoming is the fact that you have to be tethered to a computer to listen to the music. Sure, you can also access the sites through WiFi hotspots, but unless you live in a wired city, you won't be listening to these stations in your car or while out jogging anytime soon.

But these downsides aren't enough to deter thousands of people from logging on to sites like Pandora everyday and enjoying great music. And thankfully, that will get to continue, at least for a little while longer. Earlier this week at a Congressional hearing, SoundExchange agreed not to enforce the new royalty rates, which would have gone into effect this Monday, and instead agreed to renegotiate the rates with the internet broadcasters. What's best about this story, however, is the fact that this was made possible in part by the thousands of internet radio fans that contacted their elected representatives and spoke out about the new royalty rates.

No one wants to deny musicians and record labels their fair share, but that share shouldn't be so large that it puts an entire industry out of business. The labels need to remember that without listeners, their music would be worthless. It's also great to see that when people work together to support something they believe in, real change is possible. The fight isn't over, though. To stay updated, check out the blog by Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora Radio. Today, internet radio. Tomorrow, the world!

Friday Freebie - Do People Even Know What Usenet Is?

When people these days think about the internets, they usually just think of the world wide web. Those www addresses have become so ubiquitous, even your grandmother has one. But there's actually a lot more out there on the tube system, and it's all free for the taking. In fact, you're probably paying for access to it with your monthly broadband bill, and didn't even know it.

I'm sure most of you frequent a message forum or two on your favorite websites. These are great, but if your tastes are varied, you may find yourself browsing to a dozen sites to post all your thoughts on the moon landing hoax and that photo of Bigfoot you took on your last camping trip. Not to mention, those forums tend to be moderated pretty heavily, so you have to watch your language and what you post. Too bad there isn't a place you can go and speak your mind, not to mention break a few laws. Well, guess what - there is. It's called Usenet.

Usenet was created long before the web, and it's essentially nothing but forums. These forums are called newsgroups, and there are literally thousands of them, covering almost any topic you can imagine, and people communicate by posting messages or data. That's right, you can get pictures, music, even software from newsgroups. All you need is access to a newsgroup server, which you're probably already getting from your ISP, and a news reader program:

When it comes to Usenet programs, Xnews is the best around. This tiny little package, which is free for the taking, let's you access all the newsgroups you want to visit. Not only can you post and read messages, but uploads and downloads are quick and easy. The program also automatically recombines multipart messages, making them simple to retrieve.

I'm sure you're now asking, what the hell's a multipart message? Well, remember when I mentioned that data could be uploaded to newsgroups? This is done by storing data inside the post, not by attaching to it. The thing is, each message has a size limit, which by today's standards is fairly small. This means that a multi-megabyte file can span tens or hundreds of messages. And that's why it's important to have a robust program to download them. Xnews fits that bill nicely.

Now, concerning those downloads. As I mentioned earlier, you can find almost anything posted on newsgroups. And if you don't see what you want, you can always ask. That being said, many of the things that people get from newsgroups are not legal downloads. In other words, you can find pirated music, movies, and software rather easily. Legally I can't encourage you to go get your fill, but now that you know what's out there, I certainly can't stop you from putting that knowledge to good (bad?) use. Just be smart about what you're doing. Oh, and before I forget, there's also tons or free pron out there. TONS!

Another word of warning for you. Usenet is kind of like the wild west, meaning there's the potential for danger around every corner. There are lots of viruses and spyware out there, so make sure your scanners are up to date. Also, do not, under any circumstance, give out your personal information on these groups. This is where the real crazies live online. Of course, without risk, there is no reward.

The Xnews homepage can be found right here, and the download is right here. There's also a brief online manual, which can be found here. So have fun, but be careful. You never know what you're going to find on Usenet.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nothing Enhances Your Gaming Experience Like A Cheap Piece Of Plastic

If you're any kind of gamer, odds are you've owned numerous consoles over the years. And each of those consoles had a specific controller. But that wasn't all - it probably had some specialized controllers as well, that either came with the main unit, were bundled with a game, or were sold separately. Some of these controllers were useful, like the NES Advantage - one of my personal favorites. Some, not so much.

Light guns usually fell somewhere in between. The were hella cool, and worked pretty well. In fact, to this day, light guns are still sold for consoles in Japan. That being said, they weren't very popular. This wasn't due to a problem with the gun itself, mind you, but with the lack of software for it. When you think of light gun games, one instantly comes to mind - Duck Hunt. But can you name five? I didn't think so.

There's another problem with light guns - they only work with direct view (or CRT) televisions. This means that they're not compatible with all those fancy flat screen HDTVs that the kids are buying these days. So whatever is a game company to do? Easy - release a piece of plastic that looks like a gun. And that's exactly what Nintendo is doing. Currently dubbed the Wii Zapper, this piece is actually just a controller shell that your Wiimore and Nunchuk snap into. Essentially, it adds no functionality to a game, since it is just a hollow piece of plastic. But it looks like a gun, sort of.

The fun doesn't stop there, folks. The big N has also announced that a new version of the venerable Mario Kart series would debut on the Wii soon, and it will include a plastic steering wheel to help ease casual gamers into the driving experience. Again, the piece will just be a plastic shell that the Wiimote plugs into, and adds no actual functionality to the game.

Now I'm all for enhancing game play, but are cheap plastic accessories the way to do it? I want good games, not gimmicks. I don't see myself ever holding a toy plastic steering wheel to play Mario Kart - I've managed just fine on every other version of the game without it. And sure, I could see the Zapper being somewhat useful, but for how many games? Are people going to buy this thing just so they can download Duck Hunt and Hogan's Alley (there's #2 for ya) off the Virtual Console? I guess history really does tend to repeat itself.

If we've learned one thing throughout the years in the gaming industry, it's that software is king. It doesn't matter if you have the most expensive console or the cheapest console. If you don't have any good games, you're doomed to failure. And no accessory, no matter how cheap or cool, is going to change that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

If You're Reading This Article Out Loud, You May Owe The RIAA Some Money

The digital age has presented consumers with more entertainment options than anyone could have imagined twenty years ago. Video on demand, MP3s, and the internet mean that you can watch or listen to almost anything you want, anytime you want. For the consumer, this is fantastic. But for content owners like the RIAA (headed by old Mitch up there) and the MPAA, this is hell on earth.

In the analog days, there was little that could be done about people recording songs off the radio or copying a cassette. And as we transitioned to the computer age, that process only got easier. However, that digital transition also made it possible for content owners to begin flexing their muscles and restricting what the consumer could do with the content that he or she legally purchased. (For those disputing the historical accuracy of this, I concede that Macrovision was around long before digital downloads. But I'm making a point here, so pipe down.) More and more severe DRM has meant that songs purchased from internet music services, videos purchased from places like iTunes or the Xbox Marketplace, and even computer games and software, are now crippled, and can only be used in the limited scope that the content owner deems fit.

For some time now, satellite radio has found itself in the RIAA's crosshairs. This has become even more true since the XM/Sirius merger was announced, with the RIAA accusing the companies of selling equipment that infringes on the copyrights of their artists. That equipment? Digital recorders that allow you to save songs played on the air. Something you have been able to do legally with terrestrial radio for years. Of course, in the old days, when you did this using a blank cassette or music CD (different from the blank CDs for your PC), a portion of the purchase price of that blank went to the RIAA, to "offset" the loss from the sale of an official recording. So, even if you bought a blank cassette to just record some funny answering machine messages, the RIAA still got a piece of it. Sound fair? I didn't think so.

Right now, the RIAA is lobbying Congress to force the satellite radio companies to pay higher royalty rates on the songs that they play, to again "offset" this loss of a sale. Personally, I think this is nothing but extortion, as the RIAA can't prove that the song I save on my satellite radio would have translated into a sale, had I not had a satellite radio recorder. It's the same argument the movie and music industries have been using for years with regard to online piracy. When they speak about the billions of dollars lost to piracy, they're assuming that had the content not been available online, you would have bought it anyway. That's just plain ridiculous.

Not surprisingly, the RIAA already has the support of some members on Capitol Hill. In case you haven't heard, laws are generally for sale to the highest bidder. Thankfully, nothing has really been made of this yet, but it's only a matter of time before these devices are crippled further and/or taken off the market.

I know I've said it before, but if we don't do something about it, we're going to lose what little fair use rights we have left. Take a stand - contact your congressman, the FCC, and the EFF (they're the good guys in this), and let them know what you think. Together, we can make a difference. Okay, that was a little too "public service announcement" for my taste, but you get the point.

And the most ironic part about this story? I'm posting it on Fair Use Day. Don't be surprised that you've never heard of it - this isn't one of the man's favorite holidays. I had hoped to have a little celebration for it, Atomic style, but anything fun that I do here could end up getting the website shut down. So, you'll just have to celebrate on your own. Make it a good one!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - Freaky, Even For A Scientologist

Today's Trainwreck took a little digging to find. Usually, the weekly load of trash that is the new release bin is overflowing with junk just ripe for the picking. But this week, the disasters were few and far between. This is not because everything that was released was great, mind you. This is because almost nothing was released at all.

Blame the summer doldrums, blame E3, blame that homeless guy who lives outside of Best Buy and freaks out the delivery guy - it was just a slow week. I started in the DVD section, and try as I might, I couldn't even find a disk worth using as a coaster. I briefly moved to the hi-def DVD rack (there's just one), and almost found something worth writing about, but it just wasn't worth it. Next up was the video game section, which was so empty I could swear I heard crickets chirping within the shelves. I finally made my way to the CDs, only to find that the few new releases this week were decent. You wouldn't believe my level of disappointment. I felt like a fallen warrior - my sword broken, my horse dead, and my blood about to spill forth from my armor. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a glimmer of horror that is John Travolta in drag:

Hallelujah!, I shouted to the heavens. From out of the weeds, fate smiled upon me this day, and brought forth a CD so rotten, so putrid, so stinking of death, that it was the perfect candidate for a Trainwreck. Amongst the piddling crap that offered itself to the ignorant consumer, this wretched disk burned bright with the fires of despair. Hairspray - The Motion Picture Soundtrack, was just the ticket I needed to ride on this Trainwreck.

What is there to say about this disk that can't be imagined from just listing the performers? You've got John Travolta, Ricki "Go Ricki, Go Ricki" Lake, Brittany Snow, Queen Latifah, and, the King of Rock, Christopher Walken. Nothing says dance party like a little Chris W. pumping from the speakers! Most sane people don't even want to hear these people talk, let alone sing. Anyone who buys this disk is instantly off my Christmas card list.

Honestly, I don't know whether to advise the readers to take up arms and storm the offices of New Line for putting out this filth, or to thank them for saving my column this week. Let's just call it a draw and do nothing. Laziness is easier.

And might I recommend using the above for your wallpaper this week? Hear me out - just put it on your office computer. Then, when you start to feel like you have the worst job in the world, just look at your screen and the image of John Travolta in a wig. Not only will you feel better about the work you do, but you'll lose your appetite. It's a way to feel good and lose weight! Drop me a line if you want a high-res version - that one will make you skip dinner as well.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Cheaper, But Still Classy

For weeks now, Sony has been doing its best to deny the rumors about a potential price cut on its flagship console, the PS3, in order to save the good news for this week's E3 conference. But to paraphrase Wham!, their best wasn't good enough, and the rumors continued. It got worse, in a sense, when adds for a price break on the PS3 started to leak online.

So, now it's official - the PS3 isn't quite as expensive as it used to be! Confirmed by Sony, the 60 GB version of the PS3 will now retail for $499, one hundred dollars less than its previous price. Crazy Kaz had something else up his sleeve, as Sony also took the opportunity to announce a new console variant at the now vacant $599 price point - an 80 GB version bundled with a copy of MotorStorm, one of the best games released on the PS3 to date.

Most believe that this is just the beginning of the good news from Sony. The company has been talking about a rush of new games that are set to come to the console this fall. Up until now, we haven't had too many details on some of them, but that should all change at E3.

This type of news is just what Sony needed to give its failing video game business a desperately needed shot in the arm. Only time will tell, however, if it's enough. Sony has been banking on the value of the PS3's Blu-Ray player this whole time, and so far, that gamble doesn't seem to be paying off. This price cut and a handful of new games may not be enough to pull the PS3 out of last place in the console wars at this time, but it's a step in the right direction. So start saving - sooner or later, you're going to want that black beauty.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Nintendo Wii: Dumbing Down Video Games Since 2006

In this current generation of video game consoles, there's no doubt where each box stands as far as technological prowess is concerned. On the top end, you have the PS3. It's sleek, sexy, high tech, and very expensive. It's basically that girl in high school that wouldn't give you the time of day. In the middle is the Xbox 360. It's got some looks, it enjoys a lot of activities, and doesn't mind you playing with your friends. It's the college sweetheart of consoles. And on the bottom, there's the Nintendo Wii. It's hot, cheap, and loads of fun, but definitely not something you'd want your mother to see you playing with. The Wii is that girl in the alley you gave $20 bucks to for a good time.

Now I'm not saying that the PS3 is the best console on the market - it's simply the most complex and most expensive. And as such, it doesn't exactly attract the "casual" gaming market. That's where the Wii comes in and cleans up. Everybody and their grandmother are literally playing this thing. The problem is that grandma begins to get confused when she has to start pressing a bunch of buttons. And that's when EA's Family Play comes to the rescue.

It appears the guys at EA think that, at ten buttons each, the PS3 and 360 controllers are too much for a casual gamer's mind to master. So they've solved this problem by creating games that work with the mere 6 buttons offered on the Wiimote.

EA Family Play, to be implemented on Madden NFL 08, NBA Live 08, and FIFA 08, is a control scheme that gives the player only the most "essential" controls in a game, and let's the AI do the heavy lifting. This allows grandma, the foreign girl, and that kid who fell off the slide in second grade the ability to play games that would otherwise be too complex for their feeble little minds to handle.

Now, no one is saying that sports game are easy. Indeed, there are a myriad of controls that one needs to master. But that's the point of a game like that - to give the player the type of control that they would have in the real world. Otherwise, you may as well just watch a game on TV, since you're really not in control anyway. And I'm sure this tactic will upset a lot of serious gamers at first, but to them I'll only say this: you wouldn't be caught dead playing one of these games on the Wii anyway due to the crappy graphics, so get over it. And I'm sorry to break the news to you, but if the only console you have right now is a Wii, you're not a serious gamer.

Obviously, EA is just looking for a way to get more people to buy titles that are viewed as intimidating to the casual set. But honestly, the casual gamer has no business playing this type of a game. There are plenty of games on the Wii that suit casual players, like Wii Sports and WarioWare. And I just can't see the old folks gathering round the tube at the home to play a rousing game of NBA Live. Don't you know? Grandmas can't jump.

Have A Dead Xbox 360? Don't Worry - The Boys In Redmond Will Pick Up The Tab

Everyone that owns an Xbox 360 knows about the dreaded red rings of death. It's a fear we all must live with every time we fire up a game on the console. Despite this knowledge, though, Microsoft has never admitted that there's a problem with the console's design. And, that hasn't changed. What has changed, however, is what MS is doing about all those dead consoles. They're fixing them, free of charge, for three years.

In a letter posted on the official Xbox website yesterday, Peter Moore, head of the video game division at Microsoft, announced that MS would be retroactively extending the "general" hardware warranty on all Xbox 360's sold in the U.S. to three years. This is up from the current one year. What this means is that any Xbox suffering from a three red rings failure, even those purchased on launch day, will be repaired under warranty, free of charge. Even shipping will be paid.

It's important to note that this enhanced warranty only covers the three red rings problem. So, if the DVD tray mechanism in your launch console breaks tomorrow, this extended warranty probably won't cover it (try anyway - it's worth a shot). That being said, this is still phenomenal news that is long overdue.

Also, just to be clear, this warranty is fully retroactive. That means that any console owners who paid for repairs on this problem (or even just paid for shipping) will have their costs refunded. It's great to see Microsoft going the extra mile on this one.

But as I said previously, despite this announcement, Microsoft has not stated that there is a fundamental flaw with the design of the console. Instead, this was simply billed as a way of improving the customer service experience associated with 360 repairs. Moore was also not specific on the "improvements to the console" that have already been made. However, it's safe to assume that the additional heat sinks we reported on earlier are part of that package.

Whatever the reason, and whatever the spin, kudos to Microsoft and Peter Moore for stepping up to the plate and doing something about what has seemed to become an epidemic of console failures. I'll be gaming with more confidence knowing that MS has my back should my 360 decide to have a meltdown. Of course, with my luck, that meltdown will happen 3 years and 1 day after my purchase...

Friday Freebie - Access Your PC From The Far Reaches Of The Globe

Assuming the far reaches of the globe are equipped with PCs and internet access, that is. But who doesn't have high speed internet these days? Hell, compared to the rest of the industrialized world, U.S. broadband isn't really the broad. But that's a rant for another article. Today, we're just looking at a little piece of software that will let you browse your photos, email, or anything else on your computer from a distance:

RealVNC is software that runs on your PC at home, and also on the PC that you are using to connect to it. VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing, which is just a fancy way of saying that you can control every aspect of your home PC from the remote computer. RealVNC creates a secure connection as well, so your data will remain private even though it's going over the public internet.

VNC software is also a good choice for remotely fixing and monitoring other computers. For instance, let's say there's a problem with your parents computer. If you installed RealVNC on it, you could access it from the comfort of your own home and possibly fix the problem, all without ever hauling your lazy butt out of the chair. Pretty slick. More experienced users also can use VNC to install updates on multiple PCs in their home, all from one machine.

There are some downsides to VNC, however. The refresh rate on the screen of the viewing PC can be poor at times, depending on the applications that are running. Also, you can watch video (though it's choppy at best), but there's no audio over VNC. Finally, you'll have to do some port forwarding on your router to access your computer from outside your local network, so if you're a networking noob, the initial setup can be a bit tricky.

Fortunately, there's an abundance of information about VNC software and configurations on the net, so the answers to most questions are just a click away. RealVNC's site also offers documentation to get you up and running.

RealVNC is available for a variety of operating systems, so you can grab your copy right here. The install is quick and easy, and before you know it, you'll be accessing all types of files from the road. Now it's up to you to find some files worth accessing.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Dear Guitar Hero, Pwnage! Sincerely, Rock Band

At some point, we've all dreamed of becoming a rock god, and thanks to Guitar Hero, gamers everywhere have been able to live that dream. But now, the stakes have been raised.

We've known about Rock Band, the game that would allow you to play more than just the guitar, for some time. To be specific, it gives you lead guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, all in one package. But now we have the first game play footage, and let me tell know, it kicks some serious Guitar Hero booty.

Posted by the guys over at Destructoid earlier, this video shows just how much rockin' you and your clan of misfits can really do. The guitars are similar to what we already have with GH, but the vocals and kick ass drum set really make this package a must have.

No official prices have been announced, but early rumors are that the game and all its peripherals will run you about $200 in a single package (items should also be available separately if you don't have three friends yet, but they'll cost you more that way). That's fairly pricey, but when you consider all that you're getting, it's a good deal. Hell, you're willing to pay $130 bucks for a Spartan helmet, so stop complaining you cheap bastard.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

No Metroid Prime 3 For You! At Least, Not Until August 27

It's fairly common knowledge in the community right now - the Wii is in a bit of a software slump. It's cool, it happens - the PS3 has been going through it...well, forever. And now it looks like you'll have to wait even longer for a quality title to show up on the baby white box.

News broke earlier today that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption would be delayed until August 27, a week later than its previously announced release date. Not a big deal by any means, but that wasn't all. It was also confirmed by Nintendo that Metroid would not feature any type of online play. This wasn't a huge shock, but it's still a blow against a title of this potential caliber. It also begs the question - if they're not tweaking the multiplayer, what's the cause of the delay?

The big N also stated today that Super Smash Bros. Brawl would not be playable at E3 later this month. Along with Metroid Prime 3 and Super Mario Galaxy, Smash Bros. is one the more anticipated titles of 2007 for the Wii. This news doesn't bode well for the franchise, as it implies that either the controls are far from perfect, or general development of the game is behind schedule. The ominous "Planned for 2007 Release" blurb on the official website doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about the release date either.

While the Wii may be currently crushing the sales figures of all the other next-gen machines, a console cannot survive on hype alone. Sooner or later, an anemic library is going to catch up to it, and when that happens, no amount of motion control will make up for the void left in your gaming schedule. I guess there's always the Virtual Console in the meantime...

Tuesday Trainwreck - Ghostbusters? Oh, Those Ghostbusters

Before you start sending those angry emails or leaving some flaming comments, read the article first. It's not about the Ghostbusters that we all know and love. Those were the four guys living in the firehouse, battling the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and watching the game with Slimer. No, these are the "other" Ghostbusters. You know, the "fake" Ghostbusters, also known as Filmation's Ghostbusters:

Filmation's Ghostbusters tells the tale of two dudes and their pet monkey (look at the picture if you don't believe me) charged with temporarily ridding the world of ghosts and goblins. They hung out in some wacky headquarters, and drove a car that could not only fly, but talk. I think the monkey talked as well, albeit in a primate accent. They battled the forces of Prime Evil, a half robot/half ghost creature bent on taking over the world with his demon army. Sounds like someone I know.

The Filmation guys were essentially the jobbers to what were billed as The Real Ghostbusters, the animated series based on the movie from the 1980s. In reality, though, Filmation's Ghostbusters (previously known as The Original Ghostbusters) was not a direct ripoff. It was based on a 1970s live action TV series. Much like most TV in the 1970s, it was terrible, which is why no one remembers it.

Though the TV series that Filmation adapted did predate the movie, and wouldn't have technically infringed on its rights, they did make one change. The original series was called The Ghost Busters - Filmation made it one word and released the series on the heels of the movie, in an attempt to capitalize on its supernatural success. They even beat the movie-based cartoon to air. Of course, all this didn't sit well with the laywers, and an expensive, pointless legal battle ensued. In the end, we were still left with two series, but they had specific names - Filmation's Ghostbusters and The Real Ghostbusters.

Nauseating legal battles aside, this series was awful. The comedy was slapstick at best, the plots were thinner than ecotoplasm, and the characters were annoying. In retrospect, though, I don't recall liking either series that much, but this one is definitely the worst of the two.

At the end of the day, this series was just a lame attempt to cash in on a franchise no one remembered by playing off a currently popular franchise that everybody loved. The truth is, had this cartoon had the opportunity to stand alone, it may have held up to the test of time a little better. Then again, a talking monkey and a robotic ghost a rarely a recipe for success.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Freebie - Give That Old XP Box A Kick In The Pants And Get It Moving Again

How old is the rig that you're checking out this site on right now - 3 years old? Maybe 4? I bet it's not as fast as it used to be. Just like everything else, as computers get older, they tend to get slower. And that's especially true if you don't keep up on the maintenance. There are some things you can do right through Windows to improve performance, like defragment your hard drive, and occasionally running virus and spyware scans with third-party software. But what about tracking down driver problems or disk access issues? A lot of "system suite" software utilities over to help out in this department, in return for a little green from your wallet. Or you can let Bill Gates do the work for you:

Today's Freebie is a program called Bootvis. This program was developed by Microsoft, and is supposed to help cut the startup time of your PC. Yes, I said "supposed to". Officially, MS never endorsed this tool for that purpose, mostly because depending on your configuration, not everyone will see an improvement. That's just the nature of computers. But the fact is, on a decent system in otherwise good condition, running Bootvis optimization can cut your startup times in half.

Here's how it works. Bootvis automatically reboots your computer a number of times, and "traces" each of the boots. (Tracing means that it looks at how drivers and files load, how long each of those processes takes, and how much stress the boot process places on the system.) Multiple reboots are performed to make sure that the program receives accurate information. Then, once the traces are complete, Bootvis reorganizes the files and drivers that load during startup in order to optimize your PC's potential. It also gives you some fancy graphs, like those in the screen shot above, to show you how your system boots.

Another reason that MS never officially endorsed this program is because everything that it does is done by Windows automatically every now and then, assuming you haven't disabled any necessary services. The Bootvis program just forces the optimization to happen immediately, so you tend to notice the benefits. There's no harm in running the program frequently, but you won't see noticeable improvements if you're firing it up every two weeks.

One more thing - this program only works with Windows XP. Don't try to run it on Vista or 98, or anything else. You'll probably end up wrecking your system.

The program has always been unsupported by Microsoft (like Tweak UI), but now they're not evening offering the download anymore. But don't worry, the web comes to your rescue once again. You can grab the download right here, and if that ever goes dark, a quick Google search should easily find you another download. So breathe a little bit of new life into that old machine, but remember, don't expect miracles. Bootvis simply part of a well-balanced diet for your PC.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Wii Virtual Console - Not Just For Old Crap Anymore

Since the Wii's release, people have been playing two types of games on the console: Wii Sports, and old stuff that they played when they were 8 years old. But what if the Wii is the only console you have, and you're tired of gaming like it's 1989? Don't worry - the big N's got you covered. Eventually.

Newsweek originally broke the story that has now been confirmed by Nintendo, which is that they are officially getting into the new downloadable games business. No more will the Virtual Console be populated only by 8-bit gems from yesteryear and crap you wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole when you were little. Coming in 2008 and currently known as WiiWare, the service will feature original games from all the publishers you know and tolerate like Capcom and Sega. There's no word on a pricing structure for these games, and we probably won't see that for some time, but you can bet that they'll slot in higher than the copy of Kid Chameleon you just downloaded.

We can infer some bads news from this as well. With original content making its way to the VC, it's only a matter of time before microtransactions become a part of the Nintendo world. Ironically, N's lack of innovation in the online sector has actually saved its customers from the hassles that are microtransactions, but all good things must come to an end.

People have been clamouring for original content on the VC for a while now, so this is definitely a good move. Even though Nintendo has made a bunch of money off the old games, there's still more to be had - you only have to look at the cash cow that is the Xbox Live Arcade to see that. I just hope that some of the games available for download are more entertaining and well developed than Red Steel. That shouldn't be too difficult.

Screw The Mortgage Payment - Get An iPhone!

Apple knows how to make people lust after their products. They did it with the iMac, the iPod, and now comes the iPhone. I think it has to do with the "i". After all, Apple changed the name of the iTV to Apple TV at the last minute, and guess what, its sales have been somewhat less than stellar. But that won't be the case for the iPhone - people are already lining up to pay far out the ass for this little beauty.

And pay you will - the low end model costs $500, with the top of the line ringing in at a cool $600. Hmm, sounds like the same pricing structure for another much hyped piece of electronic gear. But the costs don't stop there - Apple finally released the rate plans for the phone, and the cheapest will cost you $60 bucks a month. It's $100 for the top drawer plan. Plus, AT&T is tacking on a $36 activation fee, just cause they can. And that's with a 2-year contract. For those kinds of prices, this had better be one sexy beast.

If there's one bright spot about buying an iPhone, it's that you don't have to stick around the store for an hour while the clerk activates the damn thing. Instead, just take it home, load up iTunes, and you can activate it online - pretty slick. That being said, I think most people buy their phones online these days, so activation really isn't that much of a hassle for the average joe.

So what do you do once you get your grubby little paws on the iPhone this Friday? Why, you sell it on eBay, of course. Or, if you're one of those insecure types that wants the phone to impress your friends and to compensate for your teeny weeny, you can do just about anything with it - send text messages and emails, surf the web, get directions, listen to music. Honestly, that's a pretty good feature list. I wonder if this thing makes phone calls...

There's no doubt that the iPhone is going to be the hot gadget of the year, but with the high cost of ownership and the exclusive deal with AT&T, I have to wonder just how many people will actually nut up and max out their platinum card for this puppy. You know, besides celebrities.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - Would Someone Please Kill This Franchise Already?

I don't know how much more of this game franchise I can take. I'm sure it would be different if I were 13 and a girl, but guess what, I'm not. I'm a red-blooded American man. When I kill something in a video game, I want to do it with a rifle, lightsaber, or chainsaw. I want the thing I'm killing to be big, mean, and ugly. And when it dies, I want it lying face down in a pool of it's own blood. But instead, I get Pokemon Battle Revolution:

Now I know some of you are going to cry foul here, given that I just devoted a Trainwreck to these cute little fighting bastards only two months ago. Well, get over it - this had to be done. Why, you ask? Simple. This game has the potential to trick innocent people - meaning non-Pokemon fans - into buying it by virtue of the fact that this is the first Wii title released in the States to support online play.

One of the biggest gripes about the Wii since its launch has been the lack of online play, so I can easily envision hoards of unsuspecting buyers grabbing this title for no other reason than to pwn a 12 year old in Uzbekistan. And that's all it takes to start down the slippery slope of having to catch them all. It's best to just let sleeping dogs lie.

On a side note, it pains me to think that this title could end up being the big seller for the Wii to date, whether or not newbies are sucked in with the promise of friend codes. After the disappointing long term sales of Zelda and Paper Mario, and RE4 failing to make a splash, this one could easily take the title. I guess there's always Wii Sports...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Finally Put That PSP To Good Use

The PSP, Sony's little handheld that could but didn't, has led a tough life. Always standing in the shadows of both its older sibling, the PS2, and even its younger sibling, the PS3, not to mention feuding with the more talented handheld that lives down the street, the Nintendo DS, the PSP has never been able to carve out a niche for itself in the mainstream market. Unfortunately, that hasn't changed.

But, today's news does change things for those that believe the PSP is destined for things beyond bad ports of PS2 games and slow, clunky web browsing. To those people, homebrew is the lifeblood of this little handheld, and things are starting to look up on that front. Word is hitting the intertubes that a new exploit will allow PSP users to run homebrew code no matter what firmware their PlayStation Lite is using.

In the past, a PSP owner had to make a choice between playing the latest games and running homebrew code. That's because the homebrew exploits only ran on older firmware, while newer games forced firmware upgrades (in a move to stymie the homebrew community). Usually, that choice was easy - just about all the new games out there suck balls, so homebrew it was. But now, a new exploit called Illuminati (insert your own Tom Hanks Da Vinci Code joke here), enabled through the game Lumines, a title you should own if you already have a PSP, promises to enable homebrew apps on your PSP no matter what firmware you're rocking.

Notice I used the word "promises" - right now, the exploit does little more than launch itself on your Portable Station of Play. But this is just the first step, because if the exploit allows this code to run, it will allow anything. So, get ready to play all those old NES ROMs right along side...whatever the hell is being released for the PSP these days.

It always baffles me how a community can come out and support a device better than a manufacturer can. It's happened countless times before - there's AppleTV, the Audrey, and even the iPod, just to name a few. And now with this mod, the PSP homebrew community may finally be able to break out of the shadows. So don't put that PSP on eBay yet - good things are coming.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Looks Like You Won't Be Playing God Anytime Soon

It's everyone's dream to mold the universe, and all the creatures that inhabit it, in your own image. Well, get over it, cause that's not happening in real life, and it looks like it won't be happening in video game form for a while, at least. And that's because Spore, the much anticipated game from legendary SimCity creator Will Wright, has apparently been delayed again.

Earlier this week, Kotaku reported that EA, the publisher for the title, moved the release of the game from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2009. Those details are pretty slim, and it could mean that the game will still be released next year (EA's 2009 fiscal year actually begins in 2008). Still, when you consider that many people thought we'd be playing the game by now, any delay seems like an eternity.

In the end, I don't think anyone will complain if the game delivers everything it's promising. But some questions do come to mind. Will there still be just as much buzz over this title when it's finally released, or will people have moved on? Will the title ever be released, or will it suffer the same fate as Duke Nukem Forever? Will Batman stop the Joker before he poisons Gotham? To find out the answers to these thrilling questions, tune in tomorrow - same bat time, same bat channel.

Friday Freebie - Make Windows Your B*tch

Windows has a funny (meaning annoying) tendency to do whatever the hell it wants to, whether or not you want it done. It can be really frustrating when you're typing a story for your blog, only to have XP focus on a new window because a new download is starting. Maybe I minimized the window for a reason! Now you can take back some control from Bill Gates:

Tweak UI (user interface) is a tool that was released by Microsoft a few years back, and is designed to let you easily control some of the more specific behaviors of Windows without having to edit the registry. The program is part of larger suite of tools known as the Windows PowerToys, but each tool can be downloaded and installed separately.

With Tweak UI, you can adjust settings for window focus, options on the "New" context menu, set privacy settings, and more. The menus are accessed from the tree on the left - they're broken down into groups, with specific items under each heading. Changes are a simple click away.

One thing worth mentioning - although this software was created by Microsoft, it is not officially supported. So, if you make some changes and completely hose your system, you're on your own. Thankfully (for novice users), the options in Tweak UI won't really let you destroy your system for the most part. They can, however, cause some really annoying behavior depending on what you mess with. The point is, if you're not sure what something does, do a web search before messing around with it.

For those of you that may remember Tweak UI from the Windows 98 days, the program works in much the same way on XP. The one major difference is its location. Under 98, the program resided in the Control Panel. Now, you'll find it on the All Programs menu. It's six of one, half a dozen of the other once you get used to it.

Now, the bad news - Tweak UI is currently only being offered for XP. With a little searching, you should be able to find the 95/98 version if you're still living and working in the last decade. And a set of PowerToys have not yet been released for Vista, but you can expect them at some point in the not-too-distant future.

You can view all the PowerToys here, and the download for Tweak UI itself is here. Don't be afraid - stand up to Windows and show it who's the boss. It worked for Tony Danza, at least for about 8 seasons.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Days Of Grilling Steaks On The Xbox 360 Are Coming To An End

Everybody that owns an Xbox 360 knows of the dreaded three red lights of death. It's essentially your console giving you the finger and flushing your hard earned $400 bucks straight down the crapper, as it signifies the death of yet another once oh-so-mighty-and-promising next-gen game console. And the leading cause of premature 360 deaths is widely attributed to overheating. It's not good for your car, and it's not good for your console. So what can you do to help save the life of an Xbox 360 you know and love? Apparently not much, but big daddy Bill Gates seems to have the answer.

Just last week, Engadget reported that Microsoft has increased the cooling capacity of the 360 in order to extend the life of its little white fun box. A bigger heat sink and a new heat pipe seem to be the answer, and it sure looks snazzy. Time will tell if this is the panacea that the 360 has desperately needed.

So far, it's only been confirmed that refurbished 360's are getting the special cooling treatment, so there's no guarantee that the shiny new Elite you pick up next week will be a cool customer. But now that MS is finally taking action, it'll only be a matter of time before new rigs are outfitted with the industrial strength a/c unit as well.

All I can say is, it's about damn time. Overheating has been a problem with this console since day one, and it's taken a freaking year and a half for MS to do something about it. Maybe they can fix Windows next. That's only been broken for 20 years or so...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday Trainwreck - There's No Substitute For The Original

The Wii generated a lot of buzz when it was first released, and sales continue to be at the top of the console charts. Unfortunately for Nintendo, most people seem to be buying the console just to play Wii Sports and Wii Play. But the big N is looking to change all that with some key game releases throughout 2007. Some of them look good. Others look like this:

Resident Evil 4 was a smash hit on the GameCube - it was arguably the best RE game to date. So, Nintendo decided that if it worked on the Cube, it'll work on the Wii. Way off the mark on that one.

Some people really enjoy the Wii's new control scheme using the Wiimote. For games like Wii Sports, the controls are intuitive and easy to grasp. For games like Madden 2007, not so much. The problem with the Wiimote is that it's not particularly accurate. It can be downright frustrating to lock on to a moving target on the screen and track it, just because the controls are too jumpy. For this reason, the Wii is not a console aimed at shooters.

Just to be clear here, the Wiimote does not work like a light gun. Those were quite accurate, because they bounced infrared light directly off the television screen. The Wiimote, however, uses motion sensors and the sensor bar to determine the controllers position in a three-dimensional space, and to determine its position and angle relative to the TV. If it sounds complex, that's because it is. The fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to Nintendo. That being said, there are limitations to the control scheme, and accuracy is one of them.

As far as the game itself is concerned, it looks and feels very much like the GC version did. And it should - aside from the control schemes, they are essentially the same game. But controls can make or break a title, and for RE4 on the Wii, they simply ruin the experience. Despite its low intro price of $30, this game is best kept on the Cube. If you haven't played the GC version, you should - you can probably pick it up for an even better price.

The Wii is bound to have some great titles eventually. Developers just need to keep the strengths and weaknesses of the Wii's controls in mind when porting a game over. Just like Wii Sports wouldn't play well on a PS2, some games just won't play well on the Wii.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Freebie - Play Your Flash Movies Anywhere, Anytime

Wow, deja vu. The double feature week continues right now with another Freebie to clog up your hard drive. And, because everyone loves themes, today's Freebies are related. We just looked at a way to play your Flash games from your PC, but what about your Flash movies? You know, all those clips on YouTube, Google Video, and those other sites you don't tell your girlfriend about? We've got you covered there as well:

FLV Player is a dedicated program for playing Flash movies (flv files) directly from your hard drive. No longer do you have to bookmark pages - just download the movie or grab it from your temp directory, and with this software installed, you can play it anytime you want, no internet access required.

Unlike the last program, this one does require installation, but it's quick and easy. This is also a fairly basic app, so you can't arrange fancy playlists or easily navigate through the files (though some fast forwarding and rewinding is possible). For those and even more advanced features, you'll probably have to wait for the official Adobe Media Player, set to be released later this year (we'll cover the program once it's released). But until then, this is an excellent free alternative.

You can grab this program here, and then start watching all those movies you saved but didn't know how to play. Just make sure that no one can see your monitor when you're enjoying those "special" videos.

Friday Freebie - Play Your Flash Games Anywhere, Anytime

Flash can be used for either good or evil. It's good in the form of minigames that let you kill 15 minutes (or more) at work. It's evil when an entire website has been created in Flash, with menus that take forever to load and crappy background music you just can't shut off. Not to mention, the sites don't work with your phone or PDA. More often than not, evil wins out on the web. But once in a while, you stumble upon a Flash game that reminds you why this software does actually have some redeeming qualities.

So what happens when you find a game you like, and you want to keep it locally on your hard drive for when you're out of Wi-Fi access range? Easy enough - just copy the game file out of your temp directory, and you're good to go. But in order to play that game later, you have to use your browser, which is a pain. Wouldn't it be nice to have a dedicated, stand alone Flash player that you could associate with these games, so all you have to do is click the game icon to start playing? Well, ask and you shall receive:

The Adobe Flash Player is a stand alone app designed to play Flash content (swf files) outside of your browser. The program is a single file that requires no installation - just copy it to wherever you want it to live on your hard drive, double click the exe file to associate Flash content with the program, and you're set. From that point on, all swf files opened from your hard drive will open in the Flash Player. Quick and easy.

Officially, this player is billed as a debugger for Flash creators, so they don't have to mess around with embedding their Flash programs in web pages just to test them. But, it works perfectly well as a stand alone player, so why not make use of it?

One word of warning - it's best to follow the steps above for saving and associating the file types. If you open the exe file and then move it, Windows may not be able to find the program, and then you'll be forced to edit the registry (or perform some trickery) to get things working again. Bottom line - just save the file somewhere other than your desktop before opening it, and you should have no problems.

The download page can be found here, and a direct link to the Windows version is here (the descriptions on the download page are a little confusing). A Mac version is available as well. So go ahead and save those Flash games, cause now you can play them anytime you want, online or off. Who says you can only waste time at work?