Issue #99
December 20, 2008
Front Page

Welcome to the ninety-ninth edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!

Well, sorry everyone for the slight delay on this, or should I say, last week's column. I simply wasn't around to finish it and get it up. So what I decided to do is edit it a bit with more update information, some more hands on impressions, and just an overview of all of the recent big news last week and some from this week. I'd like to think that's what this column is all about, getting hands on with the news instead of giving you all some quick updates.

So enough talk, it's time for the NEWS!

Second Life x PlayStation = Home
For people who know how to create their own fun.

PlayStation Home, the long delayed, free PlayStation online community, was finally opened to the public last Thrusday, December 11th. The service was first announced at the 2007 Games Developers Conference as an answer to Nintendo's Miis on its Wii console and to Microsoft's online community on Xbox Live. To try the service for yourself, assuming you have a PS3 of course, just login to the PlayStation Network and download the relatively small client from the Xcross Media Bar (XMB).

Home represents an important new source of ad revenue for Sony. The company has managed to sign several large brands and publishers to create virtual spaces, items, posters, and movies for Home. In the future, expect to see Home avatars walking around in Diesel-branded clothing or socializing on an island designed by Red Bull. Currently, there are game spaces for Far Cry 2 and Uncharted Drake's Fortune where players can walk around and interact in environments inspired by those respective games. Movie fans will also be happy to hear that there is a virtual theater in Home that plays either trailers for some of the latest Sony Pictures and Paramount films or trailers for the latest PS3 games. In fact, you can currently catch the trailer for the movie Twilight followed by a music video of the movie's theme song, so all you vampire fans should go check it out.

Before I get my hands on both the North American open beta and the Asian open beta, I'll tell you what a few people in the industry think about Home's Launch. Well, first up is who placed Home in the tenth spot of it's top 10 Gadgets of 2008 list, noting that it is both free and full of promise, giving people one more reason to buy a PS3. On the other hand, Microsoft Exec and Xbox 360 Group Product Manager, Aaron Greenberg, doesn't seem too keen on Sony's new service. He had some harsh words for the service in a recent interview with Kotaku. He said:

What Home to me feels like is Second Life for hardcore gamers, it doesn't feel like it broadens the experience and invites people in. When they unveiled it, it seemed innovative. I think what's happened is now here we are a couple of years later and we feel beyond that.It feels like 2005 tech in 2008. I'm not sure that's what people want.

EA Founder Trip Hawkins is also unsure of what Home means for Sony's future. In a recent Hatchet Job podcast he told the hosts:

My own personal opinion is: if Sony makes Home feel too much like a World of Warcraft environment, they're just never going to create the kind of audience size that you're going to see Nintendo and Microsoft create.

So to an average gamer like me, what is the experience in Home like? Well, that depends on whether or not you're good at creating your own fun. I have spent a considerable amount of time in Home during both the closed and open Beta, so I feel that I have a good sense of the pros and cons of the service as well as what its future potential is. So after downloading the client, the first thing you do is create your own custom avatar. These avatars are certainly more realistic than Miis and NXE Avatars and can come pretty close to matching your own actual appearance if you resemble any of the premade faces. But the problem is that because there are currently so few options for customization, you are going to see a lot of people that look the same.

Home is full of fun little activities to do like bowling, playing pool, playing 2-D arcade games, and dancing. In fact, you'll probably spend most of your time dancing in Home, especially since you'll usually find yourself waiting in line to play the next game of pool. That is perhaps one of the biggest problems right now: the fact that you have to wait in real time for someone to finish playing any game. This is where that part about knowing how to make your own fun comes in. I found that the most fun I had playing Home was hosting impromptu dance parties in the plaza by playing music through my Bluetooth headset. That is how I met a lot of strange new interesting people. I also had a lot of fun watching a few lady friends of mine run around in Home with their female avatars and watching them get swarmed by hoards of lonely teenage boys.

Like I said, you have to be willing to make your own fun in Home, whether thats talking sports with a group of strangers, dancing the night away, or hitting on what looks like a girl. Home is a blast if you let it be for yourself. It is a fun, social experiment that allows for a kind of socialization that hasn't been seen on a console before. It is nice to sit down and chat with people I only know from Warhawk death matches. I even had as much fun playing on the Asian servers, trying to learn Mandarin and Cantonese from random strangers. It is also much nicer than the American servers. Your mileage will certainly vary, but keep in mind that Home is a moving target, it can only get better from here on out. So keep watch for new spaces, games, bug fixes, and eventually virtual representations of your trophies. By the time all of that rolls out, you won't have to try nearly as hard to create your own fun or to hang out with some new friends.

Update: A recent patch to Home has fixed a lot of the login problems users have been reporting. The patch also removed voice chat from the service. Sony claims to have removed the function to ease stress on the Home servers while all of the launch problems are worked out. I have a feeling that all of the swearing going on had something to do with it too. Oh well. I guess there goes one of my fun home activites. Worse yet, you'll have no idea if that cute avatar you're talking to is really a girl or just some guy playing a cruel joke on you. It's called Quincying by the way.

Buy Games, Earn Coins, and Win Prizes
I just hope you can actually log in...

Club Nintendo went live in North America on Monday, December 15, 2008, and so far, it has been a bit of a mess. Well, before I get into that, I should probably tell you what the service is all about. Basically, you can register your Nintendo games and take a brief survey in return for Club Nintendo Coins to earn rewards. Wii games are worth fifty coins while DS games are worth thirty coins. You can earn an additional ten coins by stating that you intend to buy future Nintendo games and register them within a few weeks of its release. The cheapest reward currently available is a Wiimote holder priced at 300 coins. While the most expensive, and the coolest I might add, is the Game and Watch Collection, priced at 800 coins.

While this may seem like a really cool way to get some free stuff, you actually have to register quite a bit of Nintendo games to really earn anything. So if you take into account that most Wii games cost $50 and most DS games cost about $30 dollars you would have to register and take surveys for about 16 Wii games or 27 DS games to earn the most expensive reward, the Game and Watch collection.This amounts to about $800 worth of Nintendo games for this pricey reward. Of course, that's for the real hardcore Nintendo fan. But if that is too much for you, you can try to earn Gold and Platinum memberships each of which comes with a gift when the year ends, and is honestly far less costly than the collection. I have already manged to reach gold level myself, even if I can't afford much of anything else. Gold membership costs 300 coins while Platinum costs 600 coins. Get to registering.

So back to that big mess thought. When the site first launched it was experiencing some major technical difficulties. The site has been painfully slow, people were having trouble logging in, and there are constant errors navigating the site. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is to be expected from any newly launched service, look at PlayStation Home. The good news is that things seem to be running a bit more smoothly now, but there are still plenty of hiccups here and there. Either way, I am really happy to see this come to North America, since Nintendo could have easily not gone through all of the effort. It is a great business move as it rewards the die-hard Nintendo fans and encourages everyone else to buy more Nintendo products to keep earning those coins, which is exactly what I intend to keep doing myself.

The DSi Shop giving WiiWare a Run for its Money
The reason why you should care about the DSi

The DSi Shop is going live Christmas Eve in Japan and Nintendo has put up a list of thirteen games that are going to be available. There are four different price categories for the games: free, 200, 500, and 800 yen or more. Nintendo is easing Japanese consumers into the proposition of DS DLC service by offering anyone who connects to it by March 31, 2010 1000 DSiware points free. The games listed for 200 DSiWare points are Bird & Beans, Paper Plane, Three Shuffle Games, Funny Face, and Frightening Numbers. For 500 DSiware Points, you can get things like A Little Bit of Dr. Mario, A Little bit of the Complete Games: Easy Cards, Project! Made in Wario, Aquario, and Decode. In the premium 800 DSiware Points or more category, you can get two versions of the Brain Age games that use the DSi's cameras in the various activities called A Little Bit of Dr. Kawashima's DSi Brain Training for Adults: The Humanities and The Sciences.

What I find most exciting in the DSi shop is actually a free download called Ugoku Memo Pad or Moving Memo Pad in English. It functions as both a flip book and as a memo pad for taking notes. You can draw pictures, insert pictures taken from the DSi's cameras, and even make animations complete with sound effects. While that in of itself is really only mildly amusing, the fact that you can upload your creations to a Youtube-like website for others to rate and comment on really makes this a killer app. Nintendo has teamed up with Japanese web service provider, Hatena, to create a place for Moving Memo Pad creators to gather called Ugomemo Hatena. From there, you can join the community to upload your own creations directly from your DSi, comment, rate others, or embed the videos on other sites. Users can also access the site from within the Moving Memo Pad Program on their DSi. This is where users can download various creations, edit them, and upload their edited work back onto the site. The best part is that all of this is absolutely free. It is really exciting to see this kind of user-generated content and social networking service on a handheld system. Nintendo is even talking with Hatena to bring the website overseas when the DSi launches sometime in 2009 for the rest of the world. This is really a great way to get people excited about the possibilities of the DSi shop.

Here is a trailer from Nintendo's Japanese site about the service and all of the games mentioned above. Give it a watch and let me know what you all think. Fair warning, there is no English in the video and the voice over guy loves saying "NINTENDO DSi." Oh, and in case you were wondering the Chain Gun video is my favorite so far.

Sources: IGN | Kotaku | TinyCartridge
QUICKIES: Some Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
Fun and quick to read!
  • Is a PSP-4000 and a PSP2 On the Way Soon?
    According to SCEE President David Reeves, there are no plans for a PSP2 because of the recently released PSP-3000. But, according to some rumors on Eurogamer, in late 2009, Sony will be releasing an upgrade to the recently released PSP-3000. Don't expect any major hardware revisions though. The update is probably just a fix for the interlacing problem created by the PSP-3000's new screens. While another minor update to the PSP might not sound that exciting, a true successor to the PSP is. Another rumor on Eurogamer is claiming that games are already being made for a true PSP2. It doesn't seem so outlandish when you consider that the PSP first launched about 5 years ago. So if this rumor turns out to be true, expect to hear more about both consoles during 2009, but don't expect the PSP2 to come out anywhere near the release of the PSP-4000. The earliest that the PSP2 might come out is 2010 or 2011. Only time will tell who is actually right on this one, my bet is Eurogamer.

    Update: In an interview with Silicon Valley Insider, John Koller from Sony commented on the recent PSP2 rumor saying that it is completely unfounded, and a misinterpretation of Sony's new strategy to move away from UMDs and instead, strongly embrace digital distribution for the PSP. Hey, this very well may be right, but Eurogamer is still sticking to its guns and insisting that their sources are right. If a PSP 2 is on the way, Sony will only admit it when it's good and ready. Also, take note of the fact that he didn't address the PSP-4000 part of that rumor. The way Sony likes to update its portables with annual modifications makes this seem very likely. Look forward to E3.

  • Foiling an Xbox 360 Thief the Smart Way
    Here is a funny story: at Missouri State, a student found out that his Xbox 360 was stolen out of his dorm room. Lucky for him the thief had forgotten one of the wireless controllers. The student saw that his 360 controller was still in range of his stolen Xbox, which meant that the thief had to be somewhere in his dorm. So he wandered up and down the various floors using his controller as a Geiger counter. Eventually through the process of elimination he narrowed down the signal to the thief's room. He then proceeded to steal back his 360 from the thief's empty dorm room. I would have loved to have seen the expression on the thief's face when he realized that his new stolen Xbox was just stolen. Unfortunately, the thief had already formated his hard drive so he lost all of his save data. Hey, at least he got it back and proved how stupid the thief was at the same time. That's a victory in my book.

So once again sorry, for the delay in getting you the currents column. I'm really late, but to make up for it I tried doing some new things with the column this week. I hope you all liked the links I provided and such. Before I forget, next week is going to be the 100th issue of the Currents Column. I'll see if I can run down all the latest news with Midway and Factor 5. I'll also try to make it a bit more fun in general. So let's see how it turns out. Oh and don't kill me if it doesn't live up to the hype. See y'all next week.

Emanuel Merino
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