Video Game Training

I was thinking, the other day, about how a parent tries to get kids in to video games. What started me on this was actually quite the opposite: I had seen a photograph of a woman’s hand holding a Playstation controller – but in that awkward way that someone who has never played a video game before holds controllers… one thumb on the buttons, the left hand doing nothing at all, no where near the D-Pad or Analog stick. And that got me thinking: how did I learn to play games?

There are kids who are about to get their driver’s license who obviously didn’t grow up with the Atari and the Nintendo. Their brains fascinate me – they must me more advanced than I will ever be. I graduated from one face button, to four, to shoulder buttons and triggers, to Analog Sticks. And if I were going to take someone who had NEVER played a game before, I would teach them the same way I had learned.

I would be fascinated to watch someone jump right in to gaming and have the Xbox 360 be their first console, but I have no kids of my own, and I’ve grown up gaming, so I have no idea how to wrap my head around that. How could you pick up a controller that has a total of 9 digital buttons, two analog sticks, two analog triggers, and a directional pad with somewhere between 4 and 24 directional sensors and know what to do? The complexities of video games should be gradually introduced. This being my firm belief, I have developed a training regimen to get someone comfortable with a game controller.

It begins where many people began: the Atari 2600. I would begin with Pac-Man. It’s a sad excuse for an arcade-port, it’s true, but the game involves no button presses, you merely need to master the joystick. We then move on to using the button by going to Defender. For extra credit, try Asteroids to reinforce on the player the concept of “screen warping” which they should have experienced in Pac-Man.

Our user then graduates to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Now we have a slightly more complex controller – to get used to the multiple buttons, I would use a simple game that easily demonstrates the difference, such as Excite Bike, before moving on to to something else. I would save Super Mario Bros. until the user is familiar with the controller. Thinking about it as a pack-in game fascinates me, because it does have fairly advanced controls. The user needs to be able to handle simultaneous button presses, such as holding the “B” button to run, while moving in the direction they want and pressing “A” to jump, in order to cross large pits. It is critical to future game play to learn the complexities of multiple simultaneous button presses.

The super Nintendo may have introduced more buttons, but the gameplay mechanics didn’t change until the Nintendo 64 was released and introduced the analog stick to the main stream. You could use a Saturn, here, but… why would you? Super Mario 64 is a great tutorial on the Analog stick and I would stick with this before sending someone off to the Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast – the control always seemed a little less rigid in Super Mario 64.

Now it’s time to move up to the Xbox, Xbox 360, PS2, or PS3. I’d jump right to the 360, but it is my console of choice. I missed out on the PS2 era, never owning one and opting for PC gaming at the time. So although I’m sure there are excellent games to get the user familiar with multiple analog sticks, I would go right up to the Xbox 360. And the game that really helped me get comfortable with dual-analog sticks was the twin stick shooter Geometry Wars Evolved. Once you have that down, work in to the player’s most likely favorite genre… racing games, FPS, 3rd person action, RPG – or some hybrid titles like Skyrim or Bioshock.

Successful grooming of a new gamer can take time and patience. Players jumping right in to more modern consoles and controllers can skip everything I’ve mentioned here, but I would advise finding games that will slowly familiarize the new player with a controller. They’re not likely to dive head first into Gears of War with much luck, but you could use a Sonic the Hedgehog game from the arcade (or a clone like Fancy Pants Adventures), and on to games which introduce more complex game mechanics, such as Braid.

There are lots of ways to get someone in to gaming who hasn’t been onboard before – but if the controller is the most overwhelming obstacle, at least there are some options to ramp up to the more modern controllers!

Official YouTube app returns to Windows Phone

Everybody seemed pretty excited about this news, so I figured, why not make it my app pick of the week? The official YouTube app is back on Windows Phone!

Now, that doesn’t make it easy to find, however, because Microsoft allows multiple apps to have the same name. To make it worse, nearly everyone who makes their own YouTube app uses the same logo. But luckily, I have the URL you need. You can get the official YouTube app from Microsoft on the Windows Phone Marketplace.

After a long, drawn out battle with Google, the app is back on Windows Phone, and allows great Windows Phone features like pinning of Channels or Videos as Live Tiles. The app also includes full channel management features, Kid’s Corner, and even the ability to upload videos directly from your phone and share them to social networks. Go download the official YouTube for Windows Phone app, and enjoy!

Is the recent Cisco advisory a government plant?


image credit: planetpalmbeach.

I’m not prone to conspiracy theories, but some things are just a bit too much even for me. Cisco recently released an advisory about a new piece of DNS poisoning malware which can install a Tor client on a user’s machine. Their suggestion? “Enterprises should consider blocking Tor traffic on their networks.”

This, just days after a massive chunk of Tor sites were compromised under the guise of fighting child pornography. It seemed like a safe thing to do, after all; nobody wants to defend child porn. BUT, privacy advocates everywhere are literally and physically reeling from the crackdown on the Tor network, seen in recent weeks. “Tor” stands for “The Onion Router” and is a service that can anonymize traffic on the web, by allowing multiple shared entry and exit points. Your traffic goes in to “The Onion Router” network, through several layers and bouncing off of several other routers and peers in the network, then gets spit out on of a random exit point, along with all of the other traffic routed out the same exit. In the end, it is virtually impossible to trace back to any one user, without more identifiable markers on their machine (which is what the malware planted in Tor-based sites is doing). We have even seen sites like Silent Circle, and Lavabit shut down their services and Hushmail fold to the feds.

With a sudden attack on Tor and privacy and anonymity protection software is executed by the government, then a well known and major security and networking company advises that most enterprises should start blocking Tor based traffic on their networks… it just feels a bit too “coincidental.” In a time when the discussion has never been larger, the NSA and other federal agencies ordering these crackdowns have NEVER been so brazen. Where most private companies would be experiencing a panic and a PR nightmare, these organizations appear to be moving forward with the cavalier attitude of Don Quixote, oblivious (or unconcerned) to the rubber band-like reaction that lies ahead. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m not even a privacy advocate, but someone out there has forgotten what it means to be subtle when trampling the little people.

2001 – A Knight's Tale

A Knight’s Tale is one of those movies that you see on TV, and it’s just different enough that you’ll go ahead and watch it. It is also my best friend’s first DVD he ever owned, which made it one we watched many times over, over the years. Heath Ledger’s acting is good, and Alan Tudyk and Mark Addy have many great lines throughout the movie. But one of the reasons I love this movie is Paul Bettany’s portrayal of “Geoff” Chaucer.

Geoffrey Chaucer: the father of English literature. Chaucer is the fourteenth century author most famous for The Canterbury Tales is portrayed in A Knight’s Tale as fairly care free, and free-wheeling. Despite living well into his fifties, Geoffry Chaucer never finished The Canterburty Tales, but this movie plays on that concept by giving a re-telling or perhaps an alternate telling of The Knight’s Tale in the Canterbury Tales. Through the movie, “Geoff” is not the main character, but is rather just someone the main ensemble encounters, and he stays with their group and gains inspiration from them. You are to believe that these events unfolded in his younger life and inspired him to write The Canterbury Tales.

It’s fun, it mashes up modern and middle-ages in a way that is simply enjoyable. There aren’t the kinds of plot twists that make you think hard, there aren’t multiple simultaneous story lines, there isn’t even complex character development. It’s a very “what you see is what you get” kind of movie that moves quite linearly and doesn’t pretend to be anything than a funny adventure with a side of romance and a guaranteed happy ending. The characters are likeable, the soundtrack brings in that modern flare, and the visuals really are quite appealing to the eye.

All in all A Knight’s Tale is easy to watch, passes the time quickly, and is always good for a few laughs. It’s a good movie for a Sunday afternoon when there’s little else to do, but because of my long history with it, and having seen it so many times, I thought it deserved a nice mention here as one of those movies you should see if you haven’t.