The PS3: Mean, But No So Lean, Floating Point Machine

It was mere moments after the first glimpses were had of the Sony Playstation 3, online and at E3, that people started taking pot shots at its design. The curving shape suggested to some another popular household gadget: The George Forman grill. It appears to be some sort of rite of gadget passage these days to earn yourself a grill spoof¯, so the PS3 is in good pop-cult company.

Revenge of the Screensavers

In the immortal words of Joni: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” As much as I was a vocal critic of TechTV, I would give anything to have it back, now that Comcast has bought the network, gutted it, and reconstituted it as the MTV-ized and unwatchable: G4TV.

Luckily, we can get some of it back, thanks to the efforts of TechTV alums Leo Laporte, Patrick Norton, and Kevin Rose. Leo and company resurfaced a month or so ago in a podcast, first dubbed “Revenge of the Screensavers,” and then renamed This Week in Tech (or TWiT), after the guys got pulled over by G4’s IP police. Up to six episodes now, TWiT basically has the same vibe and content as The Screensavers. There’s a lot of banter between the hosts and guests that might be boring to those not fans of the old show and the program will likely appeal to deep geeks only, but after watching the empty-headed G4 for months, it’s great to have Leo and the crew back. And it’s also a testament to their true geekitude that they would want to devote themselves to a free podcast like this.

You may have heard through the Blogosphere that Kevin Rose, the only remotely decent meatbot remaining at G4, left the network recently. Besides being part of TWiTs, he now has his own Torrented video show called SYSTM. Just watched the premiere episode, available for Mac in h.264 QT 7 format, in PSP format, Xvid, Theora, as well as good ol’ Windows Media. Very professionally done and hacker-friendly. The first episode details (okay, breezes over is more like it, but details are promised via the show’s website) the making of a “War Spying” rig for sniffing out wireless security cameras. Can’t wait to see what they do with future programs.

Thoughts on the Big “E3”

Watching the E3 coverage, online and on G4TV, a relatively clear picture has emerged as to what the strategies are of the big three game console companies (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo).

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is not really so much a next-gen console as it is MS’s stealthy attempt at getting a home entertainment computer attached to your TV set. They have bet that what people want (even if they don’t know they want it yet) is a box that can not only do games, but can be the gateway to a whole bunch of services and a virtual marketplace that’ll suck in the whole family. J Allard got a lot of snickers over a vision he laid out in the press conference of two 360 users: Striker, a hardcore gamer, probably the purchaser of the console, and VelocityGirl, likely his kid sister, who’s not interested in games, but uses the built-in marketplace/micropayments system to create T-shirts and other products, and designs game components to sell to gamers like Striker. Then, of course, mom and pop like the photo slideshow capabilities, the digital music playback, the movie trailers, etc. It’s one big happy family warming their hands over the digital fireplace thoughtfully provided by Chairman Bill.

Sony’s vision is very different. They’re all muscle and hardware, building their console around the amazing Cell processor. They really went all out to create a true next-gen platform that pushes currently available hardware to the limit. It’s all about wow factor and trying to get developers excited about creating levels of gaming experience not previously possible. The PS3 will have a removable hard drive and also have some home entertainment functionality, but that’s not really a focus. Same with online play. Sony thinks that online play isn’t nearly as important as MS thinks it is and they’ll offer more of it as the demand is there. It’s really telling that, as MS spent 20 minutes talking about Striker and VelocityGirl using all of the services on 360, Sony was showing jaw-dropping videos demonstrating the raw processing/real-time rendering power of PS3.

And then there’s Nintendo. So Japanese. Understated. Humble. Holding tight to their long-standing tradition of not overhyping what’s not ready to show (“understate and over deliver” is their motto). They showed scant little of the Revolution and premiered the weird GameBoy Micro, a cellphone-sized machine (with a teeny-tiny screen to match). But they seemed completely unphased by the bravado of the big 2. For them, it’s not about selling services or bleeding-edge hardware, it’s about creating the electronic equivalent of crack, games that are so good, so addictive, people will even buy the hardware just to play them. A lot of people bought the GameCube just to play Legend of Zelda, and Nintendogs, a pet sim, has made the Nintendo DS the biggest selling handheld in Japan by a wide margin.

So, Street Techies, time for a straw poll. In your opinion, which of these visions of the near future will win out (and yes, I understand that Nintendo is sort of in a category by itself and has no expectations of “winning” the console war)? Is the NEAR future about moving beyond the gaming experience into a wider entertainment field via the console? Or is it about creating mind-bogglingly immersive gaming worlds that are ever-closer to reality? Or does it really come down to something as “simple” as making really fun, addictive games without all of the smoke and mirrors that the other two players seem distracted by?


Mousey the Junkbot Sample Pages from Make

Make has put up the first six pages of my Mousey the Junkbot article from Make No. 2. They did a really nice job on the design and photography for the piece. Paul Spinrad took the instructions from my text and built a version of the robot, making a few of his own design tweaks. Nice work all around.

Here’s a link to the PDF file.

[BTW: That’s a drawing, in the bottom left-hand corner, of Randy Sargent’s infamous 1996 Herbie the Robot, the grandpappy of all LM386-based bots, like Mousey.]

Gears of War: Halo-killer?

Just so you don’t think we’re completely ragging on the Xbox 2…er 360, we’re pretty excited about Epic’s “Gears of War,” a next-gen Xbox game that’s enjoying a huge buzz at E3.

Built on the Unreal 3 game engine, Gears of War takes place on a retro-futuristic world that’s very reminiscent of Warhammer 40,000, with dark gothic atmosphere, and a mix of WWII-era, modern, and futuristic tech elements.

One of the coolest gaming features is realistic behavior regarding cover. If you (or an opponent) take cover behind something and an opponent starts hammering away at your position, the cover will react as real material might (e.g. a brick wall will chip, shatter, and eventually, fall away, leaving you exposed).

Click on the image above to see a larger version.
Click here to see IGN’s full coverage of Gears of War, including trailers.

Extreme Makeover: Microsoft Edition

When Geek on Stun did their snarky little piece about Microsoft’s XBox guru J Allard’s dramatic new look (with significant weight loss, a shaved head, and hipper threads), we thought: give the guy a break. He looks MUCH better, healthier. But then, when we started to see him on the OurColony 360 infomercial, on the vid of the Microsoft press conference at E3, and doing other press appearances. You can only hear so much talk about the “iconic gesture” of the console design (an “in-breath”), the “ring of light” (a.k.a. the power button), and all that other “360” market mumbo-jumbo before you start tasting your own spit up in your mouth, and Allard’s makeover really does smack of just another PR gimmick. The MS press conference video is laughable, with Allard in jeans, an expensive suit jacket, and a gray hoodie (if you’re going to play the style game, that look is SO two years ago!). For part of it, he sat on the floor, for chrisakes, behind a planted audience that was about 35% woman, and everyone was supposedly so moved by the reveal of the 360 that they crossed their arms spontaneously to make “X” signs. Woot!

All of these press events are heavy with hype (Nintendo proclaimed a revolution and did little more than hold up an ambiguous black box), but Microsoft had people snickering and sniffing the air, trying to figure out what direction the smell of bull pucky was coming from. Hey, man, it’s “360,” it’s coming at you from ALL directions!

Make Vol. 2 is Out!

The latest issue of O’Reilly’s Make magazine is out. And look, that’s my Mousey robot project on the cover! Papa’s so proud.

Other articles in this issue include a DIY HDTV recorder project, Podcasting 101, extreme Star Wars bot building, an Atari 2600 PC case mod, and more cool stuff. If you haven’t seen Make yet, and your idea of fun is spending the weekend cavorting through the entrails of your PC, your TiVo, or anything else that has a warranty to violate, you have to check out this mag. Every geek that comes into my house goes right to the issue on my coffeetable and starts oohing and awing.

PS3 and Killzone 2: Pants-Crapping Action!

I just saw the video teaser for the game Killzone 2, being developed for the Playstation 3, and it was truly harrowing. The graphics are amazing, the cinematics are fluid and life-like, and the action is intense, like you’re suddenly in the middle of the “hold the bridge” firefight scene in “Saving Private Ryan.”

When this vid premiered today at the E3 Expo, debate immediately raged over whether what was shown was a pre-rendered computer graphics (CG) video or a capture of real-time game play (or a clever mixture of both). Sony claims it’s real-time. It, and the rest of the Sony press conference, has caused quite a stir among gamers and stolen much of Microsoft’s thunder for their XBox “360.” And gawd, don’t you want to cut through the crap on the: “It’s ‘360’ cause you’re now in the middle of the gaming experience?” It’s vacuous market poo. From now on, we should just start calling it the Xbox 2, ’cause that’s what it really is. They just didn’t want to call it that ’cause Sony has a PS *3*. So they paid someone who drinks far too many fussy coffee drinks and covers his desk in Koosh balls, Zen rock gardens, and other “brainstorming toys,” a lot of money to come up with an excuse to use “3” followed by some other digits.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Xbox — it’s one of the few MS products I actually like. But the more hype and gooey marketspeak they slather onto the 360, the more I want to demote it to a 2. And the more I hear about the PS3, the more I think it’s actually a true next-gen console worthy of a number unto itself.

Click on the image above to see a larger image from Killzone 2 (likely a composite).
Click here to see the amazing PS3 specs and links to PS3 coverage via Gizmodo.

UPDATE Here’s a link to the game trailer (QuickTime).

“Tele-Petting” = Creep City

The Mixed Reality Lab at the National University of Singapore has come up with a weird telepresence rig which allows you to touch chickens over the Internet. The user strokes a chicken (no jokes, please) doll in the lab and embedded touch sensors translate and send the touch location information over the Net to a live chicken wearing a “lightweight jacket” outfitted with small vibrating motors.

The researchers say the technology could be used for things like allowing kids with severe allegeries to pet animals at a distance. C’mon people, we know what this sort of technology is REALLY going to used for. [NOW it’s time for the chicken-choking jokes!]

[Via Wired News]

More Mech Madness

And you thought that last Mech was wackadoodle, check out this one being built by an Alaskan ironworker. It’s 18′ tall! It hasn’t actually walked yet, and seeing the pics and vids on the site, I have serious doubts. Let’s just hope there’s serious, redundant stabilization technology and lots of padding and shock absorption in the pilot cabin. I would NOT want to be in this thing when it fell over. The builder plans on making a number of these and doing combat in an arena. I’ll have what he’s smokin’