Sunday, December 19, 2010

Toddler Birthday Party at the "My Gym"

My Gym

This is a nationwide kids gym franchise aimed at 6 weeks to 13 years of age.

They offer a whole range of activities for kids, from arts and crafts, to sporting activities and general play.

Membership can be a little expensive, so that's up to you, but the party service they offer was superb. We were invited to a friends toddler party, for mostly 2-3 year olds.

The whole party went really smoothly, from story time to running around using various equipment such as a ball filled pit, to jumping around various padded blocks, to swinging around on huge rocket shaped swings. The activities were great fun and even though the whole thing was very laid back, it was nicely structured, to get the kids doing something different very quickly leading up to singing before the cake, which they were great about preparing and serving. A great couple of hours entertainment for a huge number of kids.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sing-a-ma-Jigs The Hot Toy?

The Sing-A-Ma-Jig

It is supposed to be the big hot toy this Christmas. Little furry plushie toys who sing and jibber when you squeeze them.

You will end up killing anyone who gives your kid one. They are insanely annoying and they're shit. You need a whole group of them to make any decent rhythmical tunes but unlike other toys who are meant to interact with each other like the Dino's, these chaps you have to press them each and every time and timing is what counts to make the tune sound anything but a drowning cat.

Not a fan and not sure why so many other parents seem to like them, but there you go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Boston Unity Group - The Winter Showdown

The Winter Showdown was the third meeting of BUG at the Microsoft NERD Centre, held last night, 30th November.

The presentation was held by, Trevor Stricker, of QuickHit, talking about their NFL licensed game and the combination of using Flash and Unity3D as well as looking a little into their monitisation routes of micro transactions and adware.

Following the presentation, their were a handful of demonstrations by people, many of these were updated demo's that had previously been shown so they were not recorded, but one that was new I will mention as I thought it was brilliant, a cloud based asset server.

But first, here is the presentation, the intro followed by 5 parts, the last two parts were from the Q&A session which was especially interesting and well worth watching.

Intro -

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

Part 3 -

Part 4 -

Part 5 -

The cloud based asset server was created by Defective Studios. The website doesn't contain very much information about the asset server, which is a big shame, but they are offering beta testing for free, email Matt Schoen for details at

What made this really interesting was the simplicity and cost, they were planning on offering a monthly subscription to the service at $10 and the cloud being run from Amazon, but if you wanted to run your own servers they were working on another license fee for that.

This platform is a cheap alternative to the Unity Asset Server, much simplified and something that works very well across platforms via a web interface with no real learning curve. Meshes and textures are uploaded to the cloud and people can sync the whole build or specific items and can get them running in Unity immediately, meshes and textures being very robust with all scaler and modifier information remaining intact.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Unity Prefabs - Good place to buy and sell assets, scripts, FX's and all sorts of Unity stuff, handy resource for prototype work

Indie Game Market - Good place to sell your games

Big Fish Games - Another games portal that is indie friendly, especially for smaller games it's a good place.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Things to Do - The Ecotarium

The Ecotarium out in Worcester, MA

It's a great day out for kids, especially those 2-8 as they have a lot of activities for the kids to play around with, water toys, mini wind tunnels, music and light toys.

More than that, a collection of live animals, great collection of turtles, frogs and birds.

On a good day, they have lots of trails outside which are lovely too, nice short walks around a pond, with places to observe the water life and bird life, those some of these paths aren't very easy to get around with a push chair while others were. The kids playground is also very nice and spacious.

Some of the attractions were closed such as the walking tree canopy, which I could see being fun in the summer, and also the polar bear wasn't on display. The train ride is though and that is very cool, but it is a shame that some of these attractions cost extra.

One big tip, get a library pass to this place, entrance is then only $5 for adults and kids under 3 are free and older kids are $3 instead of being $12 for adults and $8 for kids.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mass Innovation Night

Mass Innovation Nights - A monthly event held in various locations in Massachusetts.

You can follow info about the event on Twitter here. #min20 was the tag to follow specifically what happened last night.

This event is a free event for people to show off their products and get some simple marketing with word of mouth. IP lawyers were also there to offer advice as well as people who run marketing sites who also offered advice to people for free.

Some of the products and people who stood out for me last night though included a anti-piracy software, which was more analytic's of who was pirating your iPhone/iPad software and had ways to help try and convert those users into paying users. Simple marketing for e-commerce, cloud based group collaboration projects and simple education animation software.

They have a great, simple to use stop motion animation software program called "SAM", which is aimed at K through 12 year old students, which has mostly been used towards science and maths classes, but can be used to enhance any kind of class by having kids create simple animations to show off their ideas and understanding of a project.

It really was very simple to use and a lot of fun. The free version is great and has most of the features, but a few extra editing features are in the licensed version which was $50 but a site license was only $300 and individual license costs would be deducted from a site license if you decided to upgrade at a later date.

iOS apps anti-piracy software you can bolt on to your apps, with Android coming soon. The free version has basic analytics which is pretty good and then a paid service for more features.

What it does is identify how many users are using pirated copies, how and where, allowing you to use the info to help convert some of those users into paying users, but the paid service can go as far as allowing your app to be used for a short while before bringing up notices to buy your app or lose the high score, or other such stuff to inhibit the fun of the game.

A whole suite of features from building your website with simple CMS funtions, to e-commerce and easy social media integration. What made this pretty interesting though was the level of realtime statistics, the huge amount of information it can provide for you in simple graphics was kind of neat, especially when seeing which affiliates of ad programs seem to be working the best for you.

A spin off from the Grasshopper Group. This was simple way to market your products using your customers, by allowing them to have a shout out on Facebook, Twitter or whatever they used to spread the word that they just got something they liked. Really useful for e-commerce, but probably less useful to convert sales in games where you are already on the platform, but it might work. There's a decent free trial of this service.

Cloud based collaboration software services. You can do ad-hoc group communications and work collaborations, file share and consolidate enterprise social networking with messages, chats, blogs and wikis all within one program.

There is free beta testing at the moment, but the licensing is $100 set up and then $20 annual service fee per seat.

Erik J Heels, of the above firm specialise in patent and trademark work with special interest in working with start ups to help minimise their costs. He does seem to understand the software and games sphere pretty well, so certainly with a talk to if you're in the Boston area looking for a lawyer, based in Maynard, MA.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fruit Snacks

We've been trying out some mixed fruit snacks. There are loads out there so really, get what you think is reasonably priced and as healthy as you are bothered with.

A pretty good range is the Del Monte Fruit Naturals as the fruit cups are a decent size, you can get boxes of them for quite cheap in the bulk stores, often with coupons and they're pretty easy for little ones to eat on the whole.

One variety I wouldn't recommend, surprisingly at least was the mixed berries variety. It's supposed to be a mix of blueberries and raspberries/blackberries. Very tub so far has only had a couple of blackberries and the blueberries were the nuclear huge ones that are so tough that our little one would be chewing on those for hours. It's a shame as she does actually like that variety.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sales and Clothes

Old Navy were having a sale of one any adult clothing, get kids clothing free if you use their store card, or one of the affiliated store cards such as Gap, Banana Republic etc.

Great deal for holiday outfits this

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Target Clearance Sale

Found Borderlands for $5 and Bioshock 2 for $15.

Some other pretty good bargains going for games right now too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Boston Post Mortem - HTML5 and Akihabara

So the last Boston Post Mortem meet up event took place at the UK Trade and Investment office as part of the consulate.

The speakers for the event were Darren Torpey and Darius Kazemi, who discussed HTML5 game development, focusing on the open-source Akihabara framework but also covering other available HTML5 game engines and general advances in HTML5/Javascript.

Akihabara is a 2D (bitmap graphics) game engine based on the canvas tag, part of HTML5, a great platform for quick product prototyping, with very little knowledge of coding or web work to get simple stuff together and working.

Some information about the engine with tutorials can be found here.

Fantastic documentation about the engine can be found here.

The Boston Game James website has a copy of the presentation which includes a great list of links to the various demos and other engines, which you can find here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bath Time

Towels....okay, not the coolest things ever, but just came across the "Cuddledry"

It's £25 from Debenhams and found here.

It's a fluffy organic cotton towel that you can wear, to keep you dry and to easily wrap around your new born to make it much easier to have a good hold of them and dry them at the same time, just really simple yet awesome.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Boston Unity Group - Second Meet up

The second Boston Unity Group - BUG had the meeting last night, 31st August 2010, held at the really nice Microsoft NERD Centre in Cambridge, MA.

The presentation was given by the ever talented user of Unity, Yilmaz Kiymaz, who came from Turkey to give the talk. He talked about editor scripts and maximizing your Unity workflow.

For an artist, a lot of this was a little over my head as it was quite technical in nature, but the results spoke for themselves, lots of little tips and tricks for people to create scripts and custom editors that would help over come a lot of tedious and especially repetitious tasks, more so for when dealing with a group of artists on the same project.

The presentation can be viewed in 3 parts below, apologies for the low volume and slight gitters in the video, but you should be able to hear and see most of the info. It's a 40 min presentation and worth seeing.

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

Part 3 -

After the main presentation, a few of the folks in the crowd gave demos of their projects, not all of them were captured, but the ones that were are below -

Demo 1: This was about a set of server side art tools created to help make 3D platform style games.

Demo 2: This was given by Chris Allen, from Infrared5 showing off Brass Monkey, a controller SDK that allows a iphone/Android etc to control a web based or another iPhone/iPad type of game, very cool!

Demo 3: This was a soft body physics engine created by a MIT student doing his masters. Very cool looking physics plugin.

Demo 4: This was a weapons implementation engine, very simple and free, great for people creating FPS's.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Boston Game Loop 2010

The Boston Game Loop that happened over the weekend.

Great local event that was well tended, with many local developers, but also with quite a few well travelled companies.


Images showing proposed topics of discussion on the fly at the event, photo by Boston Innovation. More photos of the event here.

A couple of good write ups of the event that are worth reading can be found by, Cruise Elroy here and by Boston Innovation here.

A good over view of the event and discussion about it as well as improvements can be found on Rob Zacny's blog here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Boston Game Jam

The Games Jam, with the immigration theme:

One of the entries for this years Boston Game Jam -

Another game you can try by Philip Tan "What's my Name?".
For a good write up of the event, you should read the blog by David Bolton, here.

Jeff On Games, has a nice Post Mortem of the event here too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Boston August Event Line up

Starting out with the Boston Post Mortem - 10th Aug, 7-10pm at the usual venue, the Skellig in Waltham.

The speaker this month, Terrence Masson, who will be giving a SIGGRAPH roundup.

Boston Game Jam
- 21-22 Aug at the MIT site in Cambridge MA.

The theme for this event is about "Immigration" It should be a fun and light hearted event and a chance to mingle with other devs in the area.

Boston Game Loop - 28th Aug 9am start with conferences kicking off at 11am till the end of the day, held at the MS NERD building in Cambridge, MA $40 donation.

Scott of MacGuffin Games has more info here.

Boston Unity Group - BUG - 31st Aug 7-pm at the MS NERD Centre, Cambridge MA.

This is a great event and networking opportunity for game devs and for anyone who uses or is interesting in using and learning more about Unity. The prior event, which was the first, had people from many different backgrounds using the game engine for none game uses, so was very interesting to see people show off their projects.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Game Dev Blogs

A new blog that lists other game dev blogs and promotes interesting stories, so a good resource to check out a lot of industry stories and information.

Check it out folks

Monday, July 19, 2010

Boston Post Mortem - Indies Will Shoot You in the Knees

The last Boston Post Mortem meet up was recorded by, Darren Torpey.

Information about the talk can be found here. The discussion panel was talking about indie game development, a repeat subject from the PAX East discussion, but an awesome talk by 3 Boston indie studios on the subject.

The youtube video is in six parts -

Link to the Youtube page with info is here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Toddlers and Toothpaste

So we've started to use some Toddler Training Tooth Paste by Orajel.

Seems to work a treat, doesn't have fluoride so safe for the little one is she swallows a little bit of the stuff.

Not sure about the flavours that they offer, we got the girly variety, which is "pink" flavoured, bit general and don't have a clue what they mean by that.

Best thing about this though, it gets rid of bad breath and after the amount of yoghurt and cheese our little one goes through, that's a really good thing!

Well worth checking this out, but look for Orajel coupons first because you can usually find quite a few online as well as in the usual newspaper flyouts etc.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Boston Unity Group - First Meet up

Boston Unity Group - BUG

This is a new meet up group organised for the Boston indie dev scene, though anyone who is interested in, or has used Unity were more than welcome to the event.

The group met up in Northeastern University for the first time, a good venue, organised my Elliott Mitchell and Alex Schwartz.

Kicking off the event, Tom Higgins, community manager at Unity Technologies, spoke about Unity, the company, the product and what will come in the future as well as understanding how to get the best out of it with various pricings and features. The afternoon session held an all-day workshop dubbed ‘Unity Day’. This was a series of tutorials on Unity.

Below is, in three parts, a video of the talk given by Tom Higgins.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

The next of these bi-monthly Boston Unity Group (game developer meetup) meets will be August 31 @ the Mircosoft N.E.R.D. center in Cambridge, MA. 7 p.m.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

2 Year Baby Check up

So a little while back we had the 2 year health check up on our little one. This trip was much the same as previous ones.

She was weighed, but this time on a proper scale rather than the basket style as she was able to stand still long enough. Her length and circumference of her head were also measured.

The doctor checked her eyes, ears and prodded all her limbs and organs as usual and checked her walking by having her walk along the corridor towards us.

The questions were much the same as usual, how much milk is she drinking, what kind of foods is she eating and liking, how is she doing with her words and how many two or more word sentences can she speak. How well does she feed herself and is she showing signs of using the potty and other gross motor skills.

As for the jabs, she had another Hep A shot and another booster jab because there was a change up in that kind of booster.

All is well and she was booked for another visit in six months and again for her third birthday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Game Sauce - Free Developer Magazine.

Game Sauce

This is a new game developer magazine, the second edition has recently been sent out and has roughly 20,000 users, mostly developers with a couple thousand journalists. It is a free magazine and with that in mind and the fact that it is new, the thin nature of the magazine can be over looked, certainly for now.

It has a different approach to development, a lot of stories from those involved with development, talk of casual games, projects being cancelled and in depth interviews from people behind some game franchises.

What this magazine doesn't have, tutorials and in depth talks in code base, art work or tools reviews. I don't think that is a problem though because there are plenty of other magazines out there which cover this.

Also unlike some other free magazines, this isn't over loaded with advertisements which is quite refreshing, but that could also be because it has quite a small readership right now.

Either way, it is worth checking out and you aren't losing out as it is free, so check out the signup link up top.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sony Playstation - Move

This is just a little summary of information gained at the last Boston Post Mortem, held 20th May.

So what makes this a good thing to develop on? Hard question to answer with out seeing any killer apps for it, though the tech demo was pretty interesting and does show some potential for tools creation and as a editor for current games.

What Sony are doing to help developers is providing the Live Motion 2, the motion library for free to all licensed Sony devs and they are trying to make a push for people to use this by offering various bundle deals, most including the Eye Toy camera which is need to get this working, which is a good thing as they have only something like 10M Eye Toys out there at the moment.

What doesn't help, certainly devs going for the casual sports and pub type games, there won't be any controller add ons, such that you get with the Wii controller with all those baseball bats, golf clubs etc. This I think is a bit of a short fall as it breaks the illusion of being part of the event, sure this thing is accurate but there is a much larger level of disconnect from the game because of that.

A concern for who will use this is another big issue. For a party accessory, unlike the Wii, this becomes very expensive, having the PS3, the camera, the Move and the navigator, not a cheap toy to bring to a party. Also you need a certain level of light for this to work, and it needs to be consistent light for it to work at its best, so that could rule out anywhere with strobed party lights. A nice tough though, the controller can phase out colours which are similar to the background and lighting so that they won't create problems with the controller and if two or more controllers are using similar colours, it can auto change the colours for you to make game play smoother and easier.

You can have up to four Move controllers on any one system which is good, but there was no mention if that included the navigator controller or not and they would take up a joypad spot, so limiting how much of a mix and match you can have.

Allowing older games to function with these, should be easy apparently, though this is a little more in the programmer sphere than I understand, it did sound relatively simple because the units used very little system resources with a 13m/s latency per SPU for each controller. I think I got that right.

What was very nice, the face detection, this could add quite a bit of fun to game design because it could track relative age, eye movement, head movement, if you had glasses and whether you were smiling or not. It could also consider your height, if you were sitting or standing. This was a nice mechanic for game show puzzle type games because it could indicate various facial factors.

Gestures, which was also quite nice, but very glitchy. It allowed you to create a rough skeleton of your height and build, so you could control yourself and using the buttons on the controller to add fine hand control, something they pointed out that Natal didn't have. It was nice to see, but it didn't work that great though.

Big issue was the line of sight, the light on the Move controller had to see the camera and getting in the way either because you were moving around, someone passing through, or you swinging the controller back behind for something like a baseball swing broke the controller, left you hanging in the air as it were. It was quite quick to pick you back up, but it still broke the illusion.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eating Out at The Cheese Cake Factory

Seems like the Cheese Cake Factory at least locally has changed a little to become a lot more child friendly.

Recently they have added more high seats for little kids, which is great, but there still seems to be a lack or limited amount of booster seats.

Family with little kids are also places in booths or tables with a lot more room now, which is nice, that certainly wasn't the case before, where you would be kept on tables with very little room.

The menu, they also now have a proper kids menu, which also has had some revisions to the meals on offer, not exactly the cheapest kids meals, but quite a good selection and the food does seem to be freshly made such as the macaroni and cheese, which unlike many other places at least doesn't come out of a Kraft box.

Not being able to make reservations though and having long wait times in the evening can be a bit of a chore, as does no crayons or anything on offer for little kids.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Next Boston Post Mortem

The next IGDA local Boston meet up is going to be the 20th August.

It's going to be at the usual venue, the Skellig, in Waltham.

Sony Move
team are sponsoring the event, not much in way of details out yet, but they will be doing a talk and demo on the device.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Boston Post Mortem - Animation Panel

The BPM meet up was last night and the topic was about Animation, information about the event is here.

The panellists consisted of Ron Friedman (panelist, Tencent Boston), John Lindemuth (panelist, Turbine Inc.), Andy Welihozkiy (panelist, Rockstar New England).

I'm only going to summarise what they covered, which included what they looked for in a animation reel, how best to present your work and what to look out for in doing good work.

The reel, they all agreed that the time should be around 1 min to 1:30 in length, starting out with your best piece but also ending with something strong and memorable, but you should also include your name and contact details at the start and end of the reel for convenience.

One tip they suggested for people who don't have a lot of samples in their reel is to break down the animation into segments, show off a particular part of a animation, break to another area and show that and then showing the whole sequence as a whole.

Using sound got a split response, couple of them would watch without sound just to get a sense of weight and style of animation, while one panellist liked seeing how you timed and edited your animation to the music/dialogue to see if you understood how your animation might be used. They all agreed to stay away from "funky" music though and if you don't have a reel that is well timed to the music to not have any.

Weight is a big part of animation, so they liked to see a whole character, don't zoom that character in on a particular motion, such as a hand shake, they want to see how the character stands and leans around as a whole, not just the particular motion of the hand shake, even if you add some silly jitters and coughs or what have you to bring the sequence to life.

More about weight, they often could tell if someone acted out their animation or used reference video because it added a more natural rhythm to the animation which is what they want to see, you using the best resources out there to make the best animation, so don't be afraid to look in a mirror and be goofy acting out the sequences, don't be afraid to use your webcam to record your motions. All good studios should have some sort of set up or space to do this.

Don't be afraid to include the bouncing ball in your reel if you can show good weight and life to the ball bouncing, they want to see you understand how things move, not necessarily have the most sexy looking models, but it is how you used them that impress and they appreciate seeing the basics. They want to see these basics because it shows you understand how a walk cycle works, how a ball moves around. If you understand that and also show a good little sequence you'll be in a good position because a cool sequence doesn't show that you understand all the fundamentals, just that you had a lot of time to tweak a certain animation, plus it gives you more content to show.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Munchkin Two Snack Catchers Reviewed

Snacks and car seats, always a mess waiting to happen, so there are plenty of little containers designed to hold the snacks whilst providing easy access to little hands.

I got a double pack of Munchkin Snack Catchers. They range anywhere from around $4 to $8 for a pair depending on where you get them.

They look great, they are dish washer safe which is a huge plus and generally they get a great review.

The reality is, they're a bit shit.

The actual container is so flimsy even with the lid on that it can be squished quite easily, which results in all the snacks falling out. The opening in the lid is way to larger and flexible that anything slightly small for a snack falls out and the flaps don't hold anything back from falling out when little hands reach in to grab at stuff.

For all the good these things do, you really wouldn't notice any difference between using a normal open container but at least something like that you can put a lid on so they don't shake all the contents into your bag if your carrying it around which this will do as it squishes together.

Find something else would be my advice.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PAX East

Well a nice read up can be found here.

Nice that it'll be finding a larger home for the next couple of years. The Hynes Convention was cool, but way to small, massive over crowding, huge queues and virtually impossible to get into any of the talks unless you wanted to spend hours queuing.

Highlights of the event, seeing the indies, a lot of local ones, but also from all over the country. MIT with their Gambit Lab helped having a large stand that local indies could be a part of which was great.

Also loved the classic arcade section, reliving childhood games, even playing the original Pong, that was awesome.

Plenty of new games being displayed, even Atomic Games, with their change in design from the dropped controversial game were there trying to drum up interest for their now download game.

Lots of surveys to be had, lots of prize raffles of gear to be had, plenty of swag, but most of it was pretty boring, nice t-shirts, but would have been fun to see some more original stuff.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Just a random post on Autodesk.

Video highlight of Max 2011 -

Naughty Dog - Character and Animation, basic work flow video of the GDC talk -

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lunch Out With the Little One

Just had lunch at a couple of places over the last few days, where I've not eaten before.

First was at Chick-Fil-A which was in a mall. The food wasn't what impressed me, because it was pretty meh, fried chicken and the kids meal was really limited to chicken nuggets and you had to pay extra to substitute the waffle fries for a fruit cup.

What was really good, especially for a place in a mall food court, the service. They offered to have someone take your food to a table if you had your hands full with a pushchair, never had that happen before and certainly makes up for the food. The waffle fries are awesome though!

The second place I tried, The Border Cafe. This was great, the kids menu had a good selection of meals from the usual grilled sandwich to chicken tacos with a decent serving of the string fries, salad, soft drink and a choice of chocolate or a packet of sweats for desert, all for $3.

Only down side seemed to be the fairly open plan of the place, which could have been the location I was at rather than the other restaurants. They had plenty of high chairs, but they were still a little low for the high tables and the lack of booths meant it did get quite nosy during lunch as it was very busy. The service was great, the food was out very quickly, all lovely and well priced with good portions and the fresh tortillas and salsa make for a great free snack while your waiting for your food. Loved it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Zhu Zhu Pets are evil?

Quite the fad at the moment, Zhu Zhu Pets!

They're furry little toy hamsters that have little wheels so they can zoom around the floor and through their own little hamster track.

What makes them evil? Kids are kids, and though there is a tiny sticker underneath them saying not to put them anywhere near hair, kids will eventually put on on their or someone else's head. When that happens, the wheels which go like the clappers will tangle and snag the hair and the only way to get out of the tangled mess is by cutting the hair down to the scalp, either that or your kid freaks out and rips a chunk of hair off.

Seems to be quite a common theme, there's thousands of posts of this type of incidence happening all over the interweb.

Definitely not a toy for little kids, even though it does say over 4 year olds, I'd be sceptical about anyone younger than a teen playing with one of these and even then...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

WD TV Live Media box review

There are loads of these media boxes around so it can be hard to chose, but I personally went with the WD TV Live - Mainly because I know quite a few people who have one, or at least the models down, the WD TV and WD Mini.

First the alternatives, which there are quite a few -

Dragon Tech

Popcorn A-200

Acer Revo
- a mini desktop using XMBC media streaming network software.

Main reason I went with the WD, it was a cheap option at $120 did nearly everything I wanted from it and was easy to use as well as being nice and small.

So out of the box, you've got the player which is about the size of an external hard drive, a tiny remote and the audio/video cables and composite cables, you have to get your own HDMI cables.

The player has two USB slots so you can use a thumb drive or plug in a wireless adapter to get it online, but the list of adapters that are certified to work is fairly small, you can see the list here. You also have the option of plugging in a network cable.

There is no hard drive in this, unlike other players, but using a thumb drive to get media on the thing is pretty good for tele shows or movies, but if you wanted to get the most out of this, you should get it hooked up to your network where it can play music and movie files from a shared drive on the network or media shared device.

Once you've got a USB wireless adapter that works for the device, getting it set up is a breeze, plug it in and go to settings to select wireless and automatic settings and then you plug in any network passwords and it hooks straight up. You also can store user name/passwords for any shared drives if you want which is quite nice.

So far, it has played all kinds of media files I have thrown at it, streamed them really well and upscaled non HD content wonderfully. It also remembers where in a file you were if you have to stop the show and go to another show for example. Fast forwarding files also seems to work really smoothly, as does the ability to read subtitle files.

Product support is great too, with regular firmware updates to sort out any issues, which are really easy to install. For the more adventurous out there, they also provide beta firmwares here.

Online features, Youtube, Pandora, Live365 radio, Flickr. Really easy to use and they all work really well with the device.

With all the love and I'd highly recommend this device to anyone, there are a few cons and I'll go over them.

The remote, you can't use the player without the remote and it is a small remote, make sure you don't lose it, and for anyone with a large media catalogue, it would have been nice to have a rocker switch to quickly scroll through your library.

USB slots, only two of them, the one at the back, which you'd probably use for the wireless, it is right next to the HDMI slot, so unless you've got a narrow adapter, you'll have to use and extension or there won't be room for it. The other USB slot on the side is slightly recessed and isn't lit up at all so can be difficult to find if you've got your player in your TV cabinet, but that is a small gripe. There really needs to be a third USB slot though because you can use a keyboard, but there isn't room to plug one in, and you'll see how useful a keyboard is if you use the online features like YouTube, Panadora etc. Still don't know why they couldn't have built wireless into the device as it would reduce there need to support other adapters but oh well.

The online features, it is missing Hulu and other services such as Netflix, which apparently can work if you have a media server set up and stream the content from your desktop and there are also hacked firmware files out there that do add extra services. Would have been nice to be able to put in proxy/VPN details so you could use a BBC iPlayer service etc. Also the player can't play DRM protected content from say iTunes

Audio, it's stereo output, automatically downscales it for you, but it would be nice not to if you've got an A/V receiver to put it through, less of a concern for me but it should be mentioned.

I'm still loving it, works a treat, simple to use and no messing around to get it up and running in minutes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Indie Bundle

For a short time you have the opportunity to get 6 great indie games for $20 which is a great bargain.

Worth it just for Eufloria and Machinarium on their own so well worth checking this bundle out.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Boston Science Museum day out

Something fun to do with the little one in Boston.

The Boston Science Museum makes for a lovely day out with the family, especially at the moment when they have the Harry Potter exhibit.

At the moment it is $26 a ticket for the museum and the Harry Potter exhibit, but one thing to consider, get a library pass card from your local library as it'll save $30 on admission for a pair of adults, the pass allows up to 4 people. Kids under 3 go for free which is really nice.

Definitely bring a push chair for the little ones as the place is pretty huge and will take much of the day to get around, but well worth it. Parking at the museum is in a multi story, and is around $16 for the day which is really good.

The cafeteria isn't to badly priced and the food generally isn't all that bad, some of it better than usual and some typically cafeteria fare, but over all not bad, especially for the kids.

There are plenty of bathrooms and water fountains through out the place as well as lifts making it easy getting about and taking care of little ones.

Plenty of extra shows that cost extra, but the butterfly exhibit is a good one and worth the money, certainly for little kids, the others probably not so much, certainly for little ones at least.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gaming in China and thoughts on suceeding

This is a summary of information that was provided at the Boston Post Mortem talk last night, which was given by Jeff Goodsill, the general manager of Tencent Boston.

It covered some tips on how to try and make a success of the market as well as some things that you need to understand to be able to have a chance.

One thing to understand about the market, the average salary for people is very low, $500 a month, this is a contributing factor into the high piracy rates in China as well as the reason that 70% of games fail in the market there. With that initial outlook, why bother? Because there is a lot of money to be made but you have to tailor the experience for the market. Games playing out there is seen as a social experience, a way to meet people and talk to friends and family cheaply, it's all about the social interaction and micro transaction. Many games are free without purchase to get around the piracy factor, they also do not bother with the subscription model because it limits the number of regular players by allowing only those who can afford it. The money is on micro transactions, small, cheap, easy but many of them.

This has lead to the government introducing a strict 5 hour a day play time to curb the huge number of hours people were playing games, more than 5 hours a day seven days a week. You have to have this mechanism to stop people playing to get approval in the country, but that does not mean that those people can not make purchases or continue to chat after they have exhausted their daily playing time.

Talking about the market size. The country has the largest amount of people online and using the internet. 230 million people were online last year 2008, it is 388 million users now. People that have mobile/cell phones, that was 370 million users five years ago, it is now at 700M, 33M of those users are using their phones to play games daily. Broadband access covers 93% of the country, that is massive, the US is only around 63%.

The game market has 23% casual users, the rest is primarily mmo's, whether that is FPS style, side scrolling, fantasy or real world games, these games generate $380B.

One thing you can do to give yourself the best chance of success and perhaps saving some money at the same time, getting the language right. English isn't spoken by many people, certainly outside of the largest cities, but with a country with so many dialects, picking Mandarin would be your best option to have appeal and reach to the largest sector of the market.

Where you can go to see what has been produced and who are making successes - Tencent, Shanda, Changyou and Perfect World. These companies cover most of the market making much of their money in MMO microtransactions, "Dungeon and Fighter" would be a good example of how the transactions work with 100M registered users and 2M daily users. Don't discount the level of polish on some of these games either, some of them have $2-5M budget and 2-3 years development time, and one particular game had 6 years and $15M, when you consider the average salary, this means they are using mammoth teams to create a huge amount of game content.

It is all about showing off, being the best, being the most individual, so while a lot of the transactions might seem silly to us in the West, they ave very important to the market. Key way of maintaining active users is tying in the playing experience with the market, for instance a player might have to farm for 20 hours before having a skill level to allow him to buy a pink pony, having that pony shows off he has a lot of game loot as well as dedication to playing the game to his friends as well as his guild. Another popular one is charging people to join larger guilds, so it will be free playing with 5 people, but you have to pay to join a 20 person guild, going all the way up to the thousands of people in some games. People also enjoy completely random side games that have no bearing on the real game, such as fishing trips, family/clan dinner parties, anything that can be gone in a group, often where people can show off what they have accomplished and bought.

Again this might sound very silly having so a high number of hours to pace for in a game, but these players are looking to spend 700-1000 hours in a MMO world before they completely max out on everything, so the scale is something completely different to what we are used to. So when you have the pacing thought out, you also need to plan the monetisation of the game from the get go.

So you have thought about your game, how do you manage the business side of things?

There is a 12/13 hour time difference with China, so you have to plan your communications out very well and factor in a large budget. Tencent spends $250K a year on communicating between the US and China sites, this includes many flights for in people conferences when you just have to be face to face. Obviously covering the flights and hotel, but even more importantly the cost of having a good translator, which is often key. A good translator is worth their weight in gold, not only in being able to translate what you say, but to also understand business and gaming so that they are able to convey the nuance of what you are saying and pass that information back to you.

Getting a game successfully released requires going through three regulatory government bodies, these include GAPP, SGAFRFT and MOC. Understanding that these bodies are always having "turf" wars can be a problem and because of that, going through a partner company is often your best bet, these publishers I will cover a little later on.

Key aspect about your game though, it must not contain any reference that is anti government/communism, religion, alcohol and especially any references to both Korea and Japan. The games must show that they are not promoting addiction, nor addictive behaviour, so no obvious gambling and having that five hour game limit is a must. Also no references to skeletons, there are a few exceptions to this one rule, mostly for those old games who already had the references but for anything new, you should avoid.

Going back to having a partner to get your game out, these publishers take on a few important roles, obviously guiding you through the government regulatory bodies, but they also work to combat farming bots, because they are more harmful to you making money than a pirate, for some games there can be as many as 50 bots per active player, but the best way of combating these bots is simply working on balancing the game and rebalancing so that they bots are not needed.

So who do you approach, the big partners who are used to dealing with the West and having the best reputation: - Inc, who generated $452M in revenue last year, they also host WoW and own their own search engine.

-Shanda Interative Entertainment Ltd, they generated $523M

-Perfect World Co, they generated $211M but they are also based in the US

-Giant Interactive, making $232M

-Tencent, revenue last year was $1B, they own the number one social site in China, have 100+ games in the top 5 categories and are now currently the largest phone, mobile and internet providers.

Getting one of these partners interested in working with you. Simple things that you are probably used to doing, but show a prototype of your game and mechanics, show what kind of schedule you plan for and your staff requirements that you can provide or how you could bring people on board and most importantly, how do you plan to make money in the game, who the target player is and how you intend to grow your product to hook more players and to help grow a continual future partnership with your publisher.

Finally, I'd just like to thank Jeff Goodsill, the talk was really interesting and I hope I was able to pass on as much information as I was able to gleam without any inaccuracies, but anything wrong with be accountable to by note keeping.

Monday, January 11, 2010

$228 emachine notebook

Don't know if anyone is interested, but I just saw that Walmart are still doing in their store those emachines netbooks for $228

250GB HD
1GB Ram
10.1" Screen
270 atom
Windows 7

Looked pretty nice, even has full sized shift keys on both sides.