Transformative Technology (T.V. via games console)

T.V. was a bit rubbish the other night despite the many channels we now get through Sky and Virgin cable (lots of channels does not always mean lots better content) so I downloaded BBC’s iPlayer onto the Wii (which is network connected via a USB Ethernet connector to the broadband at home) and we watched some episodes of Silent Witness that I’d missed the previous week.

I was blown away by the simplicity of the installation and use (I know a lot of work has gone into that simplicity) and I was also pleasantly surprised by both the smoothness of the streaming (it only rebuffered once in the whole two hours and very little jerkiness) and the quality of the picture. As a geek and a YouTube advocate of course I’m familiar with this type of interface now as are many people these days.…we have what I believe is something a bit special. A ubiquitous and relatively cheap technology for gaming that already exists in most living rooms which is being used to provide on demand TV content delivery. The XBox 360 has similar simplicity and ease of use for Sky content and my colleague used that last week for TV content, so we now have a number of devices on which on demand TV content can be delivered. The next step of course is to make the experience more fully interactive, knitting together the content and websites and providing content based on feedback and user interaction, also mixing and blending together sophiticated games and TV content seamlesslessly, then of course there is the 3D experience which is due to be big this year.

Coming back to the here and now the main big thing for me is that the BBC is now really mining the area of rich mixed media environments through providing its iPlayer on so many different platforms and devices and through blending different media types and delivery mechanisms to explore new ways to tailor delivery to suit the individual. I think this is putting the BBC in a very strong position and I admire the work they’ve begun to explore this blending of online and broadcast content and tailored delivery.

It shouldn’t all be about consumption though and the idea of people, for example, sharing ratings on programmes, giving recommendations, having back channel chats and peer group discussion around a programme seems like a concept that could be tapped into to provide a more interactive experience for those that want it. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Old School and New School Gaming

Last night I got my Wii USB Ethernet adapter and connected my Wii to the ADSL router and configured the Wii for wired networking and voila! – I’ve found a world of fun exploring all the old school games from the online shoppe! – It’s absolutely superb. I had a real nostalgia rush when I started going through the catalogue. I’ve not got any points yet so I’m off to buy some (don’t have Visa so I’m going to have to go to a real shop to purchase my points) but then expect to not hear from me for a while as I’ve seen some from my distant past. If anyone has played “Secret of Mana” or the original Donkey Kong series, etc.

I’ve got WarioLand the Shake Dimension for the Wii and we’ve got Animal Crossing which the family are still aaddicted to. I can’t even get a look in! – The WarioLand game is OK and is reminiscent of older Mario fares but not quite as enjoyable, not sure why but I suspect it’s because of the ‘value’ of the prizes. i.e. the game has lots of bags of money scattered throughout and you collect it through many different mechanisms (mostly involving shaking the controller violently to get Wario to shake up the bags and spill the coins) but the pursuit of wealth was always secondary to the goal of completing levels and I think it’s too highly valued in WarioLand so I find I have to go back into levels to collect enough coins to get maps to the next worlds which for me is less fun than just tearing through the levels and getting on in the game.

Animal Crossing as I said is much fun, Nikki won the fishing competition last week and the kids are all obsessed by the latest fashions and hairstyles, it’s got a level of ‘stickability’ that I find quite fascinating for a game that doesn’t really go anywhere. Having said that now that I’ve got the network sorted I’m looking forward to exploring other villages and using the Wii speech system (which we’ve got as well with the game) to try some virtual meetings. I want to particularly compare this to more conventional forms of video conferencing and to SecondLife and I’d be interested in hearing what other people think about it as a form of social interaction online. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Old but Gold

I’ve recently plugged back in all my old games consoles from N64, Gamecube and SNES. I’ve revisited many of the old games again and fallen back in love with them.

They have genuinely great gameplay that leaves most new console games offering standing. It’s not just me that thinks this my kids who have never played things like Super Mario All Stars or the original Donkey Kong Country game or Diddy Kong Racing or the original Zelda games have been pestering me to play them and have started saying things like “the Wii is boring” when I suggest they play Wii games instead. I know that you can get some of the old games on the new platforms but the gameplay seems to be better int he original. Possibly because the lack of resource and interface actually forced developers to think creatively. Hmmm.. discuss.

Another Wiinner (Super Mario Kart)

Yesterday I went out and got the new Super Mario Kart for the Wii. I think it’s superb. A great sequal to previous versions of the game. I loved the original and this shares the same sort of gamplay and excitement with a multitude of events, traps, competition and kart customisation.

I think Nintendo have made great use of the controller again by incorporating it into a mini steering wheel. I thought it looked a bit naff when I first got it out of the box but once you start playing on it the controls seem very natural and intuititve and you find yourself ‘leaning’ into the bends and doing all the actions that probably seem comical to others but make it an absorbing gaming experience. I’ve only just started to play this and I’m still on the ‘mushroom cup’ but I’m looking forward to playing it more and also getting a second steering wheel to compete with the rest of the family in multiplayer mode. It’s great fun and has all the characteristics of the original but updated and with an innovative new interface.


The most interesting interface for Wii?

I’ve been looking at the recent Wii interfaces, I’ve played Guitar Hero III and I’m getting to grips with the guitar interface  (I’m only getting booed off stage occasionally now!). I’ve also tried Mario v Sonic at the Olympics, which uses the standard controller but in new ways. I’ve looked at Wii Fit, which uses the Wii balance board and most recently I’ve seen that there’s a pack with a racket, golf club etc (albeit they’re just adaptations of the standard controller). Now I’m asking myself which is better – Is it better to have an interface that mimics exactly the thing you’re trying to do or is it better to have something that’s more versatile but limited in terms of not being exactly right?

In terms of educational quality for example the Guitar Hero is disappointing in that you can’t actually do the chord sequences like you can on a real guitar (I can’t play by the way but my dad could). It also doesn’t allow you to be free to play in the way other electronic guitar simulators do. It isn’t sensitive to pressure either. All of these things affect it’s ability to be realistic….and yet…it’s very addictive, people who play guitar say it has some merits (teaching timing etc.) and when I demonstrated it at a recent “learn about fair” at work the people who played it best by far are those that actually knew how to play the guitar in ‘real’ life.

So my challenge now is to find out if the better tool is one very specialised to one purpose (and can such a unique interface ever be produced and would people buy it?) or is it preferable to admit that any interface is limited and that the most flexible interfaces are ones where we can use our imagination to mimic the event without having to exactly match it (for example riding a bull in Wii Sports, where you mimic the actions without having to hold a bulls horns!).

The challenge for me is to find out where you can draw the line, the things with Wii mote would make your hair curl and the potential is massive to do something much more interesting by mixing this with something like a 3D projector so you could for example actually play in the football match played out in 3 D in your living room and be interacting with the holograms. Is this worth exploration or should I just go outside and play footy with the kids, yes I guess I should but these questions will still be here when I get back!

Please Miss, I need a Wii

I was reading the latest effort by the government to curb obesity is to introduce Nintendo Wii’s in schools throughout the UK. There’s an article from the Indy about it here. This sounds like a crazy idea at first glance and personally I think that kids should be chucked out in the playground to get some fresh air HOWEVER…

(Warning – I’m now going to express an opinion on a subject I’m not an expert on and in an area that I haven’t really researched much!) –  I think that teachers authority has been eroded to the point where they are unable to ensure that students receive a well rounded education including physical exercise and extra curricular activities. I also think that there is no longer a stigma attached to being overweight as there was in times gone by because it has become the social norm. The understanding of diversity and the adoption of people of all types is a strong and important thing to engender in our kids and therefore I think it’s a very positive thing to move away from the past when people were ridiculed for being overweight, having sticky out ears etc. but I do think that both parents and teachers have a responsibility of care that includes things outside the classroom. My younger kids no longer have access to sporting and leisure facilities in their school that they used to do several years ago and the school has cut back on P.E. lessons, there was a strategy to encourage playground activities but this is no longer running so is it any wonder that kids are becoming overweight? (mine aren’t but they do play outdoor games with us, each other or with their friends in the evenings…and they occasionally play on the Wii!).

Anyhow what interests me most about the introduction of Wii’s to schools is that with them installed and with a growing number of games that revolve around problem solving, puzzling, brain training and improving skills these might become a method of providing an additional layer of education especially to those groups of students who may be disenchanted with the dry classroom based lesson format.

Horizon Scanning

 I’ve been very busy recently but today got a short period to catch up on some things and I want to share a summary of my favourites with you.

(1) IBM is looking at 3D Gaming for business and education. In particular for staff development through their Innov8 product, there’s a CNET aritcle about it here . It’s a bit of a clunky product by all accounts but it’s the direction they’re taking that interests me most.

(2) Alfresco, the Enterprise Content Management System provider, and in my opinion one of the best providers which also happens to be Open Source rather than costing businesses and arm and a leg for a poorer product, is releasing version 1.9 which includes integratino with a lot of open source community tools including Facebook, Mediawiki, iGoogle and so forth. This again is more interesting because of the direction taken and the fact that other ECM vendors are starting to follow suit.

(3) Holographic T.V. (think of Starts Wars and the “Help me Obi Wan…” projection of Princess Leia from R2D2). Researchers at the University of Southern California have perfected a 3D image projection that can be viewed from any angle using only a spinning mirror and a holographic diffuser (whatever that is). Imagine the uses for such technology, Truely interactive T.V. where you can go around (and through!) the action, staggering.

(4) Nintendo have produced the iFit (following on from iSports) which has a whole host of games to improve oneself. It comes with a balance board pad that you stand on and works out your BMI, and it covers sports, exercise and yoga type activities and provides you with “Brain Training” style feedback on how you’re doing and what it believes your ‘fitness age’ is. Scary.