Thursday, January 31, 2008

When monkeys take over

This is a great example of what happens when the monkeys are able to run free. Brilliant. And believe me when I tell you there is truth here.

jPod riffs on life making video games

Douglas Coupland’s 2006 novel jPod concerns the lives of a group of Vancouver twentysomethings working at a video-game developer called Neotronic Arts. It’s a thinly veiled reference to Electronic Arts (EA), in the same way that Microsoft was the model for the monolithic corporation in Microserfs.

jPod the book is now jPod the television series. Airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC (only in Canada at this point), the show follows the book quite closely as Ethan Jarlewski (David W. Kopp) deals with parents who have shed responsibility. His mother, Carol (Sherry Miller), runs a grow-op in the basement of the house he grew up in, and his father, Jim (Alan Thicke), is a laid-off engineer who has become an actor in search of a speaking role.

Working with Ethan at Neotronic are Kaitlin (Emilie Ullerup), Bree (Steph Song), Cowboy (Ben Ayres), and John Doe (Torrance Coombs). All were assigned desks in the company sub-basement because of a Y2K computer glitch that grouped together employees whose last names started with the letter J. While working on a new skateboarding video game, they find themselves under the leadership of a new boss, Steve (Colin Cunningham).

jPod has plenty to say about the process of developing video games and how management can interfere to the detriment of a project. And it’s a Coupland creation, so there are tons of pop-culture references and scads of social satire. In terms of tone and theme, the television show is somewhat different: it doesn’t quite skewer consumer culture the way the book does—after all, television is an advertising medium—and it ramps up the book’s absurdity to near slapstick.

Being Coupland characters, the members of jPod are universally intelligent, with that quirky hipness the author imbues all his creations with, from Cowboy’s Robitussin binges to John Doe’s striving for statistical normalcy. The casting is uncanny, and the actors are clearly having fun with these roles. Coupland himself appears in the novel as a smart, arrogant, and manipulative character. It will be interesting to see how jPod’s writers and producers approach that plot point.

[originally published in the Georgia Straight]

These Canadian developed games kick ass

Talented Canadians always make me proud. Feist is a breakout pop success. Sidney Crosby is a phenomenon and an ambassador for the game of hockey. Sarah Polley and David Cronenberg are the toast of moviedom. And in the realm of video games, too, Canadians are being heralded for their creative works.

The developers at Vancouver’s Next Level Games brought Mario’s soccer franchise to the Nintendo Wii, and with Mario Strikers Charged (rated everyone 10+), they’ve ratcheted up the intensity. At its core is soccer, so you dribble, pass, and shoot the ball in your attempts to score in your opponents’ goal.

But this is a Mario game, too, so there are supercharged moves and powerups that give your matches some added excitement. You get to create your own team of four—a captain and three sidekicks—and you can play against a friend or the Wii itself. You use the position-sensing Wii Remote, but not nearly as much as you might think. For the most part, you rely on the buttons and the thumbstick.

SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike (rated teen) was created by Vancouver’s Slant Six Games. This edition of Sony Computer Entertainment’s SOCOM series is a fresh take on playing as a Navy SEAL. To begin with, you don’t control your squad; as the commander, you direct the actions of your three squad members, telling them where to go and what to do, but you don’t actually move them or pull the trigger.

While demonstrating the game for the Georgia Straight, Slant Six’s design director, David Seymour, explained that “The reason this is a great game is that this is not twitch gameplay. You get all the good stuff, but with a refined interface.” He’s right. Because the game was created for the PSP and not ported from a different system, the control scheme is innovative and quick to pick up.

Created by Torontonian Jonathan Mak, Everyday Shooter (rated everyone) is a delightful twist on the Asteroids-inspired games in which you use one joystick to control a ship and another to control firing. What Mak did was create a game where not only are no two levels alike, but playing it is—get this—soothing. This is largely because of the game’s true genius: its soundtrack. Instead of using sound effects of explosions and firing lasers, Mak uses guitar riffs, so as you move your ship from one location to another on the screen, you hear notes being played on an electric guitar. And when you destroy a fleet of enemy ships, you hear complementary guitar sounds. Put it all together, and you get a smooth, harmonizing solo-guitar soundtrack that you create by playing the game. Which begs the question: do guitars make a sound in outer space? Everyday Shooter is available from Sony Computer Entertainment for the PS3, through the PlayStation Network.

All of this Canadian video-game talent will be officially recognized at the second annual Canadian Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts—the Elans—at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on February 15. Last year’s emcee was William Shatner; this year, organizers have confirmed Seth MacFarlane—creator, writer, and star of Family Guy—as host. If you want to go, a limited number of tickets are available to the public through

[originally published in the Georgia Straight]

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Canadian bands for 2008 has a great photo feature up taking a look at 10 "hot new Canadian bands."

At the top of the list is Tokyo Police Club. Their song, "Your English is Good," was one of the best singles to hit the airwaves in 2007. Quick and catchy, exuberant and full of energy, they are an easy pick.

Also on the list are Calgary's Woodpigeon, Toronto's Crystal Castles, Halifax's Jenn Grant, and Vancouver's (but born in Kenya and raised in London, Ontario) Shad.

Good stuff to look forward to.

HD DVD as the Black Knight

Great bit in the Wired Blog Network on Epicenter, comparing HD DVD (the Toshiba-championed high-def DVD format) to the Black Knight, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Recall the scene in which Arthur (Graham Chapman) confronts the Black Knight, who won't allow anyone to cross the bridge he guards:

King Arthur cuts off Black Knight's left arm.

King Arthur
Now stand aside, worthy adversary.

Black Knight
'Tis but a scratch.

King Arthur
A scratch? Your arm's off!

Black Knight
No, it isn't!

King Arthur
Well, what's that then?

Black Knight
I've had worse!

King Arthur
You liar.

Black Knight
Come on, you pansy!

It's a great metaphor for the extraordinary efforts the HD DVD group is making to keep themselves relevant. We learned today that despite cutting the price of their HD DVD players by up to 50%, Toshiba still got outsold by Blu-ray at a 2-1 margin.

Toshiba still plans to spend $2.7 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial.

Like the headline at Wired reads: It's not just a flesh wound.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Bond film gets titled

Quantum of Solace.


Grand Theft Auto IV: April 29

The highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto IV will be available worldwide - on both PS3 and Xbox 360 - on April 29.

Rockstar Games had hoped to get the game out the door last fall - it would have helped with the financial status of parent company Take Two Interactive - but perhaps wisely held the game to make sure it was polished and ready.

Fans, I'm confident, approve, despite how anxious some are to play the game. GTA IV has the potential to set sales records.

The latest game in the franchise is set in Liberty City. You'll play as Nikloai Bellic, searching the city for a person of importance.

GameDaily has a round-up of eight new features in the game:

  1. Technology: your character can use computers, Internet, mobile phones
  2. More difficult police alert system: not so easy to get away
  3. Role-playing features removed: customizing character and leveling up are gone
  4. Going up: you'll be able to get onto the roofs of those skyscrapers
  5. Aim control: free aim and zoom features for weapons
  6. Hail a taxi: a safer way to get across town, especially given #2
  7. How to make friends and influence people: networking has become a game mechanic
  8. Multiplayer: perhaps even cooperative play

I'm looking forward to this. Plus, it looks amazing. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Internal Soundtrack: Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier

If all country music sounded like Corb Lund, I’d be first on the wagon train to Calgary.

Lund was a founding member of seminal Edmonton punk band the smalls, but found his way back to his roots a few years ago. Lund grew up in and around Taber, Alberta, just outside Calgary, and along with his band, the Hurtin’ Albertans, has found a unique sound that blends country, rock, folk, bluegrass, roots. Hell, he blends pretty much anything he wants.

You may recognize his name from his last hit, “The Truck Got Stuck.”

“Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier” is the song that found its way into my head early this morning. It’s less comedic than “The Truck” and more epic.

It comes from the fifth album by Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans, titled Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier! (note the punctuational differences) and released last fall. The entire album is a tribute to horses and the people who have ridden them throughout history.

This song in particular traces the horse solider (duh) through the conflicts of modern history. It’s a story, actually, which makes sense, because Lund is, in fact, a modern-day storyteller, a troubadour for our age.

And it’s got this as a hook:

I'm a hussar, I'm a Hun, I'm a wretched Englishman
Routing Bonaparte at Waterloo
I'm a dragoon on a dun, I'm a Cossack on the run
I'm a horse soldier, timeless, through and through
I’m a horse soldier, eternal, through and through

Lund is the kind of musician my father and I can both listen to when trapped together in a car - or truck. And Marty Robbins. That’s a special thing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Canadian Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts

Wow, it's like the week of award nomination announcements.

The Elan Awards - the Canadian Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts - announced the various shortlists this morning in Vancouver.

The event, which will be hosted by Seth MacFarlane (creator, writer, and star of Family Guy), is on February 15 in Vancouver. Tickets are available to the public.

These awards actually recognize animation and video games, which means the list is loooong. You can get the entire list over here, but here's the list of video game nominees:

Game of the Year
Assassin’s Creed
Company of Heroes: Opposing Forces
Mass Effect

Best Console Game
Assassin’s Creed
Mass Effect

Best PC Game
Company of Heroes
War Hammer 40,000 Dawn of War: Dark Crusade
Power Rangers: Super Legends

Best Sound Design
Crash of the Titans
Need for Speed ProStreet
Mass Effect

Best Original Music Score
Assasins Creed
Mass Effect
Company of Heroes
War Hammer 40,000 Dawn of War: Dark Crusade

Best Character
Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)
Crash Bandicoot (Crash of the Titans)
Death Jr. (Science Fair of Doom)
Tony Montana (Scarface)

Best Art Direction
Assassin’s Creed
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
Mass Effect

Best Handheld Game of the Year
Chicken Little: Ace in Action
High School Musical Sing It
Socom U.S. Navy Seals: Tactical Strike
Sonic Rivals

Best Game Design of the Year
Assassins Creed
Mario Strikers Charged
Mass Effect

Best Mobile/Casual/Arcade Game of the Year
Candace Kane's Candy Factory

Best Writing for a Game Production
Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes: Opposing Forces
Mass Effect

Outstanding Innovation in Gaming
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
Mass Effect
War Hammer 40,000 Dawn of War: Dark Crusade

International Video Game of the Year
The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Nominees for Game Developers Choice Awards

The nominees for the Game Developers Choice Awards were announced this morning.

BioShock and Portal lead the pack, each with five nominations, including Game of the Year.

I'm very pleased to see Mass Effect (Game Design, Writing, Audio, Innovation) and Everyday Shooter (Best Debut, Best Downloadable), two of my favourites of 2007, getting some recognition.

Notable titles missing from this list? Surprisingly, not much. Maybe Heavenly Sword (pictured here) for Visual Art. Maybe Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction for Game Design. Looks like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune claimed the Sony Computer Entertainment quota.

And Vampire Rain. Kidding. I kid.

Mass Effect deserved a Game of the Year nomination, though. Certainly over Super Mario Galaxy, which was fine for what it was: a rehash of the franchise.

Anyone out there note any other glaring omissions?

Here's the complete list of categories and nominees, which will be handed out at GDC 2008 in San Francisco on Wednesday, February 20:

Best Game Design
Call of Duty 4
Mass Effect
Super Mario Galaxy

Best Visual Art
Assassin's Creed
Team Fortress 2
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Best Technology
Halo 3
Call of Duty 4
Assassin's Creed

Best Writing
God of War II
Mass Effect
Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Best Audio
Call of Duty 4
Everyday Shooter
God of War II
Mass Effect

Best Debut
Crackdown (Realtime Worlds)
flOw (ThatGameCompany)
The Witcher (CD Projekt)
Everyday Shooter (Queasy Games)
Aquaria (Bit Blot)

Rock Band
Mass Effect

Best Handheld Game
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Contra 4
Peggle (for iPod)

Best Downloadable Game
Pac-Man Championship Edition
Everyday Shooter
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (XBLA version)

Game of the Year
Call of Duty 4
Rock Band
Super Mario Galaxy

White PS3 coming to America

A number of gaming sites (here, here, here, and here) are reporting that Sony is ready to announce the release of a white PS3 - sorry, ceramic white - in North America.

The console has been on shelves in Japan since last November. It's one of the 40GB units, so it will not have backwards compatibility or memory card slots.

The white - sorry, ceramic white - PS3 will ship with a ceramic white DualShock 3 controller. Now with more rumble.

No availability date has been announced, but we like the idea of crisp white in the spring.

Anyone out there like the idea of mixing up their black and white peripherals, a la Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Xbox LIVE Arcade Awards

While we're on the topic of awards, Microsoft is giving gamers the chance to select the winners of the first-ever Xbox LIVE Arcade Awards.

Voting begins Tuesday, January 22 at 2:00 a.m. PT (5:00 a.m. GT) and runs through Wednesday, January 30 at 11:59 p.m. PT (January 31 at 02:59 a.m. ET).

The public get to have a say in the following categories:

  • Best Overall Arcade Game
  • Best Classic Game
  • Best Original Game
  • Best Family Friendly Game
  • Best Competitive Multiplayer Game
  • Best Cooperative Multiplayer Game

Other award categories - fans don't get a say in these, though - include:
  • Best selling game
  • Most played game
  • Highest rated game
  • Staff choice

The winners of the new awards will be announced at GDC in February.

Play some indie games, vote for your favourite

The excellent Independent Games Festival, which occurs every year during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, has unveiled the website where you, the gamer, can vote for your favourite indie game. The winner of the audience award gets a US$2,500 prize.

And get this: all the games that are in the running for the audience award are available to play - for free - either online or as a download.

The game pictured here is Tri-Achnid, a Flash game you can play in your web browser. You move a three-legged spider through a primordial environment by moving its legs and creating web threads. It's fully engaging and it'll take some practice to get the hang of moving your creature around.

There are 11 games up for the audience award - from a total 173 entries - and all 11 are available to play over at the IGF site.

The full list of IFG finalist games is available here.

Sarah Connor Chronicles

Anyone seen the new television series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles? The first two episodes were pretty good, I thought, largely because they did such a great job of remaking the first two films - we don't talk about the third film, Rise of the Machines, in my circle.

The real treat, though, is watching Summer Glau as River Tam, oops, I meant Cameron Phillips. What was the line from that television commercial starring the video game geeks? "She kicks high."

Yeah, that's it exactly.

Anyhow, over at is my latest television column, and this week I write about just what makes The Sarah Connor Chronicles so good.

Anyone out there watching this?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Video game review: Super Mario Galaxy

The latest adventure for the Italian plumber with a soft spot for Princess Peach takes place in outer space. As you’d expect from the developers at Nintendo, the galaxies and planets you visit are wild and wacky. Using both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, you’ll guide Mario from planet to planet in a search for star bits, power stars, and grand stars. You need the energy from these stars to chase after Bowser, who has - once again - kidnapped your beloved princess. Physics makes up a great deal of the innovation in this game. Gravity is something to consider when running and jumping, because when you fall off the edge of a planet, your demise comes about because of black holes. While this is by no means a true two-player game, a second person can help you out by picking up another Wii Remote and using it to collect star bits and fire them at enemies. Super Mario Galaxy is quirky and very playable - just what we expected. Rated everyone.

[originally published in the Georgia Straight]

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Internal Soundtrack: Weighty Ghost

It didn't take much for "Weighty Ghost" to find its way onto the internal soundtrack this morning. It's cold and rainy here in Vancouver, and even though the morning light appears earlier than a month ago, it was still dark and grey.

At some point, while in the swimming pool with my 9-month-old daughter, I caught a guitar lick wafting through the air. Instantly, this song, by Halifax band Wintersleep (off their album Welcome to the Night Sky), was rolling through my head, the choral chorus suddenly there: "Oh, have you seen my ghost? Seen my ghost, seen my ghost? Oh, have you seen my ghost, staring at the ground?"

The banjo twang and organ drone give the song a melancholy that was quite appropriate as we walked home in the drizzle.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What happened with Rock Band in Canada?

I should have realized something was going on when I didn't receive a review copy of Rock Band last November. But because there are so many games that end up in my mailbox at that time of year, I didn't, actually, even notice it was missing.

It wasn't until I was talking with some gamers over the holiday break that I realized something had really snafued the release of Rock Band into Canada.

It seems that MTV Games just couldn't make the games fast enough to meet demand. And, as is often the case, the Canadian market got shorted as a result.

My investigation into what happened was the focus of my video game column, "Trigger Happy," that publishes in the Georgia Straight. You can read the entire article here.

Despite the claims of many consumers who are angry at their local games store, the fact that Rock Band never appeared on time or in quantities to meet demand was not due to any error by the retailers.

Video game writers nominated for Writers Guild Awards

The Writers Guild of America, currently on strike over contract issues with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, has released its nomination list for the new category of Videogame Writing.

The nominees are:

  • Crash of the Titans: written by Christopher Mitchell (Sierra Entertainment)
  • Dead Head Fred: written by Dave Ellis and Adam Cogan (D3 Publisher)
  • The Simpsons Game: lead writer Matt Selman, writers Tim Long and Matt Warburton, dialogue Jeff Poliquin (EA)
  • The Witcher: lead story designer Artur Ganszyniec, dialogue Sebastian Stepien, additional dialogue Marcin Blacha, writers Sande Chen and Anne Toole (Atari)
  • World in Conflict: story design Christofer Emgard, story consultant Larry Bond, script consultant Ed Zuckerman (Sierra Entertainment)
Each of these writers is deserving of recognition for their efforts - without writers there would be no games, actually - but I'm pulling for The Witcher, as the writing team on that game included Anne Toole, who I interviewed last spring. Go, Anne!

The WGA Awards are handed out on February 9. The full list of nominees is posted here.

Only Nintendo profiting from Wii: Suda 51

Courtesy of CVG by way of MCV, an interesting claim from Japanese game designer Suda 51 - otherwise known as Goichi Suda, the creator of the slick and bizarre Killer 7.

Suda claims that third-party games released for the Wii just haven't been selling. His new game, No More Heroes (pictured here), has already hit shelves in Japan, and is scheduled for release in North America by Ubisoft in mid-February.

In speaking with CVG, Suda said, "Whilst the sales weren't as high as I hoped, other titles for Wii aren't selling so well either. Only Nintendo titles are doing well. This isn't just because of the current situation in Japan, as this is happening outside Japan."

I - and others - have been suggesting this is a problem for the long-term success of the Wii. This year will be critical for Nintendo unless the company wants to continue operating in its own little Wii world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Steve Jobs’ Macworld 2008 keynote

Apple fanatics were hoping for some exciting news at Steve Jobs’ keynote to open Macworld 2008. Negative types figured nothing could compare to last year’s unveiling of the iPhone.


Steve today took the cover of the new MacBook Air, a laptop so thin it fits in an envelope. At just three-quarters of an inch thick, the new portable computer is as thin as two iPod Touches. That’s awfully thin.

The MacBook Air weighs only 3 pounds, sports a full-size keyboard (my sausage fingers are grateful), and a 13.3-inch backlit display with built in camera. The track pad mirrors the iPod Touch and iPhone interface, which means more control over the desktop.

There is no optical drive in the Air, though. It installs software by borrowing a DVD drive from another computer on the network.

It borrows the drive.

If you don’t have a drive for it to borrow, you can always get a USB SuperDrive to hook up to it.

You’ll only have to make two decisions one decision after deciding - as I did - that you need a MacBook Air on your desk. You can have a 1.6 or 1.8 GHz processor (Intel Core 2 Duo) and you can have either a 80GB hard drive or a 64GB solid-state drive (although the solid-state drive looks to add more than $1,000 to your sticker price).

It seems there are only two configurations at this point. the 1.6 GHz processor comes with the 80GB hard drive and is listing for $1,899. The 1.8 GHz processor ships with the 64GB solid-state drive, and costs $3,248. But this is the model that is only 0.16 inches thick. Further research reveals that at its thickest point, the Air - regardless of configuration - is 0.76 inches, but the computer tapers down to 0.16 inches at the edges, giving the system a knife-edged look.

Only drawback at this point is that users can’t change the battery, so you’d better stay close to a power source if you’re going to be using your Air for more than five hours.

Here are some other tidbits that Jobs thrilled us with:

  • Time Capsule, an Airport Extreme base station with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive, to allow for easy Time Machine backups
  • iPod Touch owners in Canada who wish they could have some of the iPhone features now get them: Mail, Maps, notes, stocks, weather updates are all enabled for the Touch
  • iTunes 7.6 now offers movie rentals from all major studios. If you live in the U.S. Canadians have to wait. Again.
  • Apple TV Take 2 doesn’t require a computer, but connects to your network itself and enables users to get digital movie rentals from iTunes (again, only for U.S. customers)
  • Anyone purchasing a DVD distributed by 20th Century Fox will automatically get an iTunes Digital Copy of the film. By inserting the new DVD into your computer, you enter a code and get an automatic download - to your iTunes - of the same film. Then you can watch it on your computer or even transfer it to your iPod. The first release to include this feature is the Family Guy Star Wars spoof, Blue Harvest

All in all, a good day to be a Mac fan. Hope you’ve got lots of money.

Anything in today’s Jobs keynote that got you excited? Pissed off? Let us all know in the comments.

Twenty mysterious games

Gamasutra, the web presence of the CMP Game Group (who publish Game Developer Magazine and produce the Game Developers Conference) is always a great place to find interesting articles about video games and gaming.

Yesterday, at Gamasutra, writer John Harris' look at twenty mysterious games published, in which he investigates games which "hide some aspect of their play or workings from the player. These are games in which the unraveling of hidden knowledge is essential to the game. These are games in which the player must solve mysteries - thus the word 'mysterious.' "

This is the fourth article in a series that Gamasutra editors call "Game Design Essentials," which look at design lessons that can be learned from certain types of games, and it is fascinating reading.

Earlier articles in the series include 20 unusual control schemes, 20 open world games, and 20 difficult games.

Any games you would add to those lists? What about new lists that you think might be interesting?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Resistance 2 confirmed

It's not news, at this point, but we have confirmation that Resistance 2, the sequel to Insomniac Games' Resistance: Fall of Man, is well under way.

Game Informer magazine has the game as its cover story for its February issue, and scoops that Resistance 2 will boast eight-player co-operative play, 60 player multiplayer, and two campaigns, although I'm not sure what that refers to.

The first game was a launch title for the PlayStation 3, and was on my list of best games of 2006. I found it to be a better story and game than Gears of War, actually. (Let the flaming begin.)

Now we just need to scrounge up a release date for Resistance 2. It'd be nice to see it this year.

3-D Tetris

Jeff Mastropietro is a guy who develops Flash video games under the banner of Digital Machina. The first game he developed was called Cubical, and is "a three-dimensional stacking game, simliar to Tetris, but in three dimensons."

In the game, which is free to play, you stack different cube orientations in a 2-D representation of a 3-D playing area. It's tricky to get your head thinking about being able to rotate the object blocks in another dimension, and you'll need a bit of practice to figure out how to get control of the controls, but it's a cool little game.

Digital Machina took things a step further with Tetrical, which uses 3-D versions of the polycubes that were made famous by Tetris. If you thought Cubical was tricky, just try your hand at Tetrical.

Makes my head spin this early in the morning.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Internal Soundtrack: Pop Goes the World

I've got two younger siblings, and when they were younger - like 2 and 4, or 3 and 5 - they hit this phase where they would not go to sleep without listening to Men Without Hats' Pop Goes the World.

Despite that album being the beginning of the end for the Montreal pop-synth band, it still has a soft spot for all of us, so I'm not surprised that the title track stuck in my head after I heard it in a store earlier today.

It was playing on some soft-rock FM radio station, and reminded me of how listening to the radio can remind you of songs you've forgotten about. It used to be that I used to listen to the radio to hear the new music, but most of that - for me - happens on the Internet these days. Love those CBC Radio 3 podcasts.

In tracking down an album cover image, I stumbled onto the band's Web site. It's news to me, but apparently Ivan and Stefan, the two Doroschuk brothers at the core of the group, reunited to release No Hats Beyond This Point in 2003. Anyone out there heard anything off that album?

'Family Guy' creator to host Canadian game awards show

Seth MacFarlane, creator and star of Family Guy, has been named as host of the second annual Elan Awards.

The Elans are the Canadian Awards for the Electronic and Animated Arts. Last year, the inaugural event, William Shatner hosted the festivities.

Honouring the talent behind the video game and animation industries in Canada, and also the students who are working for a career in those industries, the second Elans are being held on February 15, 2008 at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

Unlike many awards programs, the public are allowed to attend the Elans. The ticket price isn't cheap - $250 a seat for general admission and $100 for student seats - but for those of you who have some disposable income and a desire to see MacFarlane in person, secure your seats here.

Asked what he thinks about hosting the event, MacFarlane said, "I am extremely excited to be hosting the 2nd Annual Elan Awards. I am, of course, heavily involved in animation, and gaming seems to be the wave of the future. But most of all, I’m excited to purchase inexpensive prescription drugs and smuggle them back into the United States."

Just a taste, I think, of what to expect on Feb. 15.

Anyone out there planning to attend?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

CES 2008: Highlights from the FS delegation

I wrote earlier about the group of Future Shop staffers who are in Vegas attending CES 2008 (the central repository of their reports is here).

Well, they've been getting hands-on time and up-close looks at some pretty cool things. Here's a list of some of the coolest:

If you've been following the coverage of CES, what gadgets are you seeing you'd like to have someday?

Inside the making of Portal

News from Gamasutra that the January 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine includes a post-mortem on the creation of Portal, one of my favourite games of last year.

The clever game is simple, but deceivingly so. It takes a bit of practice to wrap your head around the mechanic of creating portals through time and space in an effort to negotiate the obstacle courses.

The article, written by a few of the game's creators, talks about how they found the narrative voice of Portal in GLaDOS.

You can read a short excerpt at Gamasutra, or pick up the magazine at your local newsstand.

Anyone else have fun playing Portal over the holiday?

Internal Soundtrack: 1234

One of the best times to hear your internal soundtrack is early in the morning, right after you wake from sleep, because your mind hasn't yet become cluttered with the thoughts, the sounds, the images of the day.

This morning I woke to the strains of Feist and her single, "1234" from the album The Reminder.

I know Leslie from her days in Calgary with the garage-punk band Placebo (okay, "know" might be a bit of a stretch, but I did book the band for a gig way back when), and was thrilled to see how much fun she had performing this song on Saturday Night Live last fall.

Now she faces four Grammy Award nominations (which will be handed out on February 10): best female pop vocal, for "1234"; best new artist; best pop vocal album for The Reminder; best short form music video for "1234".

Grant Lawrence and the CBC Radio 3 gang awarded this song a Bucky Award for "song most likely to be a future classic."

I'll say. The album was released in April, and I still can't get it out of my head.

Are you a fan of Feist? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Internal Soundtrack: The Night Starts Here

Over at my work blog I started a regular feature called the "Internal Soundtrack" that I decided to move over here to Giga Byte Me.

In my first post on the topic (on Eddie Grant's "Electric Avenue"), I explain that the internal soundtrack is the personal soundtrack we all have running in our heads, even if we're not aware that there's a song playing there.

But in the early morning, when you are still half asleep, listen closely. I bet you hear a song in there. The more you listen for your internal soundtrack, the more aware you’ll become of it. I had a roommate once who would, at the weirdest moments – like at two o’clock in the morning when I was just getting home from fixing an ex-girlfriend’s flat tire – ask me what song was in my head. Whether he knew it or not, he trained me to hear my internal soundtrack.

It’s like tracking your dreams: the more you try to remember your dreams, the better you’ll find you recall them.

On this note, I realized today that "The Night Starts Here," from the latest album from Montreal's wonderband Stars, was running through my head. It's got the same soft, shifting lyric that typifies the band's writing, and is accompanied by a bass line that is disarming in its simplicity.

It's the fourth album for the band, and has a smooth confidence to it. At times I feel like Stars songs are over-produced, but I get over it soon enough.

Anyone else heard the new album? How do you think it compares?

P.S. For those of you who are interested, you can read earlier posts in the "Internal Soundtrack" by clicking here.

CES 2008: Live coverage

Future Shop, bastion of all things electronic, has sent a team to the Commercial Electronics Show in Las Vegas, (jealous, much?) and is streaming updates back to the Future Shop CES 2008 Coverage Centre.

What this means is that you can find out what's going on down there in the Nevada desert without having to worry about the crowds or the airport security gestapo.

From video of Bill Gates' final keynote as head of Microsoft, to pictures of the latest - and thinnest - flat screen television, to write-ups of the latest gidgets and gadgets, you can get the scoop on CES 2008.

And then you can join in on the discussion yourself, by participating in the Future Shop Community Forums CES 2008 conversations. Tell everyone why you think HD DVD may still have some life in it, or why you think the Zune is a waste of money or what you're waiting to see coming back from the show floor.

Check it all out, at Future Shop's CES 2008 Coverage Centre.

CES 2008: Blu-ray support for PSP

Sony has revealed Blu-ray Discs that include not just a bright, fancy high-definition version of a film, but also a lower-resolution version of the same content.

The idea here is that you can watch the high-def version on your high-def television, and copy the low-res version to your PSP for remote viewing. One price gets you multiple versions of the same content to use on the devices you prefer.

That's more like it.

More bad news for HD DVD

London's Financial Times is reporting that Paramount is about to drop its support for HD DVD.

This news comes on the heels of Warner Bros. making a similar announcement last Friday, days before the start of CES 2008.

The difference is that only last summer, Paramount made the decision to support HD DVD exclusively, stimulated in part by a hefty promotional fee of $150 million paid to them by Toshiba and HD DVD. That deal included all movies distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment: Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, DreamWorks Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Nickelodeon Movies, and MTV Films.

FT claims that Paramount has a clause in its contract with HD DVD that gives the company an out in the event that Warner Bros. backed Blu-ray.

Pretty slick negotiating by Paramount, if you ask me.

EDIT: Paramount spokesperson Brenda Ciccone has responded to the report, saying in an e-mail to that, "Paramount's current plan is to continue to support the HD DVD format."

As noted by others, the key word in that statement is "current". As recently as a month ago, Warner Bros. said they had no plans to stop releasing in HD DVD.

Monday, January 7, 2008

CES 2008: Zune coming to Canada

As part of the Microsoft keynote briefing at the CES trade show in Las Vegas last night, Microsoft announced that Canadians will be able to get in on the Zune experience starting this spring.

There will be three models available:

  • Zune 80 GB
  • Zune 4 GB, Zune 8 GB
  • Zune Originals: customize your own player with laser-engravings
The Zune is an interesting MP3 player that includes wireless synchronization with a home network and an FM tuner.

The real disruptive thing about the Zune, though, is that Zune users can share music - wirelessly - with other Zune devices nearby.

Like that new song your friend is listening to? Get a loaner copy of the song onto your device and listen to it up to three times before deciding to get your own copy.

The Zune Marketplace - where you'll be able to buy songs, albums, and music videos - will be launched later this year, but a date has not been announced.

Anyone out there think that the Zune can steal any attention from the Touch?

The Queen: Wii addict

This is great.

As reported by London, England's celebrity tabloid The People (and mentioned at MCV), Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II is quite taken with the Wii.

The game console was a gift for Prince William from his girlfriend Kate Middleton, and when the Queen saw him playing it, she wanted in on the fun.

Said the People's source: "[William's] only difficulty now is prising it away from the Queen's clutches. She showed all the signs of becoming a Nintendo addict."

This woman is 81. Surely the envy of grandchildren everywhere.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Warner Bros. going Blu-ray exclusive

Just a few days before the start of CES 2008, Warner Bros. Entertainment has announced that it is going to release high-definition DVDs exclusively in Blu-ray.

In a release dated today, Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group commented that the HD-DVD and Blu-ray war has led to consumer confusion, which has held back the high-definition DVD revolution.

"Consumers have clearly chosen Blu-ray, and we believe that recognizing this preference is the right step in making this great home entertainment experience accessible to the widest possible audience," he said.

WB was one of the only studios to release films in both formats, and they will continue to support HD-DVD until May 2008, but only after standard DVD and Blu-ray Discs had been put on shelves.

In the past year, Blu-ray Disc movies have outsold HD-DVD by a 2-1 margin, which was likely one big reason for Warner's decision.

What this means is that Blu-ray Disc has exclusives from six of the eight major U.S. studios: Warner, Fox, Disney, Lion's Gate, MGM, and Sony. Only Paramount and Universal are backing HD-DVD.

Given the rumours surrounding what Microsoft was planning to announce for the Xbox 360 at CES, I wonder if there will be some last-minute changes in the speeches.

The HD-DVD format is looking grey and ashen. Get the coffin ready.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jade Empire 2

While we're on the topic of BioWare and sequels, San Jose Mercury columnist Dean Takahashi reports that he's spoken with someone who has seen the code for Jade Empire 2.

The first game was a well-rounded RPG set in an Asian-influenced world. You took on the role of a martial arts student who ended up on a quest to get revenge for the destruction of his home, and learns his story along the way.

Takahashi's source says the Jade Empire 2 code is for the Xbox 360, which makes sense given that the first game was an exclusive to that platform.

But Takahashi also notes that this could change given that BioWare/Pandemic were acquired by Electronic Arts late last year.

What do you think? Should Jade Empire 2 remain an Xbox exclusive? Or would you like to see it debut on the PS3?

Video game review: Sonic Rush Adventure

Sonic and Tails crash their airplane on an island and are "saved" by the egotistical but charming Marine. She takes the two adventurers in, and explains that, in her environment, pieces of metal and jewels can be combined to create vehicles. This new adventure from Sega gives you the experience of speeding through serpentine levels that you expect from Sonic, but adds some exploring, too. You'll use the DS touch screen to navigate watercraft – from water bikes to sailboats – from one island to another. As you zip through the levels collecting the usual rings, you'll also collect objects that can be used by Tails to construct vehicles. Slip slidin' away? Struth! Rated everyone.

[originally published in the Georgia Straight]

Video game review: Warhawk

Available on-line through the PlayStation Store on your PS3, or in stores – where it comes with a headset – Warhawk is the kind of game you'll either play with friends or make friends while playing. You'll need a high-speed Internet connection for your PS3 if you don't already have one, as the gameplay here is only on-line, and is only multiplayer. Up to 32 people can play on a variety of maps, ranging from infantry to jeep and tank action, to dogfights in the air while flying the aptly named Warhawk fighters. You'll want to spend most of your time in the skies, where you'll have the most fun: the Sony Computer Entertainment developers have come up with a great control scheme for flying the planes, which can hover and move up and down, as well as fly forward, pitch, and roll. Go get 'em. Rated teen.

[originally published in the Georgia Straight]

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mass Effect, part 2

Looks like the Mass Effect gang at BioWare Corp aren't taking much of a break.

Their million-copy selling RPG has already made numerous best-of-2007 lists, but lead writer Drew Karpyshyn has already sold the second novel about the world he and the other developers at BioWare created.

The first novel, Mass Effect: Revelation, was published earlier this year, a few months before the game hit shelves. It was a prequel to the game, and set the stage for the story that gamers would enter as Commander Shepard.

Karpyshyn announced last week that the second novel, Mass Effect: Ascension, is slotted for publication by Del-Rey this summer. It will be set in between the events of the games Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, presumably in development.

At the Mass Effect community forum page, Karpyshyn wrote that the book will feature "some familiar faces, a few new ones, and get a much closer look at the culture of one of the alien species featured in Mass Effect. And, like Revelation, Ascension will be your first introduction to some key characters for the ME2 game. And we'll also get a closer look at biotics, and what humanity is doing to tap into the amazing potential in that field."

Note that this does not give us any indication of a potential release date for Mass Effect 2, but I think we can expect that the success of this first game means that a sequel is in development (the story was conceived of as a trilogy). I think it's safe to suggest that ME2 will hit some time in 2009. Granted, that's not much of a prediction, but what do you expect? Day and time of release?

I haven't had a chance to read Karpyshyn's first ME novel. Anyone out there who has? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments.

Human video games

Guillaume Reymond is a Swiss video artist who has created four short films in which he recreates popular video games with humans replacing pixels.

My favourite is his version of Tetris, but he's also taken on Pole Position, Space Invaders, and Pong.

It's brilliant stuff, but it's not the only time that human beings have been used to play a live-action version of Tetris.

There is a Japanese game show that has contestants try to fit their bodies through holes in a moving wall. It's kind of a reverse Tetris mechanic, but it makes for some truly hilarious comedy. There are few clips up at YouTube for you to check out. Here's one of them for your viewing pleasure.

If anyone knows the name of this game show, do share it with us in the comments.

So much for Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi, eh?

Anyone have other thoughts on human recreations of video games? Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The state of things

Hi, everyone.

I'm Blaine Kyllo, and I've been asked to step in and help out with the Giga Byte Me blog since Nate has gone missing.

We all hope he'll show up sooner or later - and we're sure he's okay - but nobody's heard anything from him since he escaped into the Leutonian countryside.

While we wait for his return, I'll be taking over responsibility for this blog, and as such, the focus of it is going to change a bit.

I like watching sports as much as the next guy - and wasn't today's Winter Classic game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins fun to watch? - but my talents lie in pop culture. Notably, video games, technology, and television.

So if I'm going to be posting to this here blog, I'll be posting about things that I know. There will be some changes to the sidebar links, too, so if you'd like me to link to your blog or homepage, send me a note and tell me why I should.

I'll also be taking over for Nate in the Future Shop Forums, so watch for me there, too.

In the meantime, check out this article listing the 20 games you should have played in 2007 but didn't.

Seeya later.