Armchair Empire Sidebars
Eye Toy is little more than a standard, low-quality web cam that
connects to the PS2 and allows players to put a poorly focused version
of themselves into a series of shallow mini-games that are only a few
steps up in game-play from a Tiger Electronics handheld.
There is absolutely no reason why this product should be
entertaining, much less insanely addictive—but, goodness is it ever.
Since the package containing it arrived on my doorstep until the
time I write this review ninety-six hours have moved into the past.
For nearly thirty of those hours, the Eye Toy has been in
constant use. The games and
the technology behind them are as simple as can be, but the entire
package together is a stunning bit of fun.
Eye Toy is a small, USB web cam that looks like a miniature PS2.
I was surprised when I got it out of the box because I was
expecting something more festive looking.
Hooking up the device is as easy as plugging in a controller
(which you won’t need in any way for the included games, by the way).
Once the Play disk is loaded up, players have the option to
record visual profiles that contain snapshots of themselves looking
happy, sad, and goofy. These
photos are used during the games to reflect how the player is doing.
Additionally, when players achieve high scores, the device
records a snapshot to accompany the score.
It is a neat feature, but each profile uses a good deal of space
on a memory card. The
quality of the digitized image varies according to the amount of
lighting in the room, but it never rises above the level of slightly
blurry. It is, however,
always possible to tell who is playing the game and what kind of
expression they are making. If
you have any experience with VGA quality web cameras, then you know what
Eye Toy comes with a disc of twelve mini-games called Play.
Graphically, things are colorful and sharply drawn.
All of the games’ graphics are 2D and drawn in an anime style
that reminds me a little of the Jet Grind Radio games.
Overall, the games are very attractive. The games are familiar
bits of digital candy. Games
on Play include a football (soccer) game, a couple of Bemani-inspired
rhythm games, a few of variants on whack-a-mole, a simplistic boxing
game, a couple of variations on plate-spinning games, a ghost catching
game, and a fireworks game. None of the games are particularly deep, but none are real
duds either. Even better, a
couple of the games are real standouts.
Though the technology of the gadget isn’t that impressive, the
collision detection and accuracy of the game engines is awesome.
In good lighting, a player can count on the game knowing where
his or her body parts are at all times.
Poor lighting can really affect the tracking of movement however.
breakdown of the twelve games follows:
Freak: This is a rhythm
game that requires the player to hit one of four speakers in rhythm to a
musical track. This is
accomplished by timing the hitting of the speakers to coincide with the
passing of little CDs that emerge from the center of the screen and
cross over the speakers.
Foo: One of my
favorites, this game is basically Whack-a-Mole on acid (though come to
think of Whack-a-Mole is already pretty weird).
Players attempt to hit little ninjas and other villains as they
appear on the edges of the screen and attempt to reach the player.
Three hits from the ninjas end the game.
Washi: One of the
weirdest games of the bunch, Wishi Washi has players cleaning soap
bubbles off the television screen.
It isn’t a lot of fun, but it sure is neat looking.
Players compete to clean as many windows as they can in two
Craze: This is another
one I really enjoyed. Players
use their heads, elbows and knees to keep a soccer ball afloat for as
long as possible. Arkanoid
like power-ups, in the form of spectators, give the game lots of
Chump: This is simple
boxing game which basically boils down to hitting the boxing robot
either high or low, whichever it is not protecting at the time. Not
good game, but a pretty good workout.
Juggler: One of two
variations on plate-spinning themes.
In this one players try to spin UFOs into orbit.
Stream: This is another
Whack-a-mole variation. This
time players must hit the ratmen that pop up from four clouds in the sky
but must avoid hitting the cute chicks in bunny costumes that also pop
Spinner: Players must
keep the plates spinning, but I bet you already knew that.
Stars: Another rhythm
game, but this one is mixed with the old Simon electronic game.
A dancer goes through a series of moves then the player must
mimic those moves in an identical time frame.
This is actually quite fun—kind of a DDR for the hands.
find ethereal ghost on the screen and then wave their hands in front of
them until they explode. Really.
Time: Mirror Time is
one of the most frustrating game experiences I’ve had in a while.
Luckily, this is on purpose.
In the game, players must touch the corners of the screen that
light up green while avoiding the corners that light up red.
The catch is that the image continually inverts and reverses, so
it is difficult to tell what is up, down, left, or right from your
current perspective. Very
difficult and addictive.
Rumble: The best is
saved for last. Rocket
Rumble is kind of Fantavision-lite.
Players try to link similarly colored fireworks together and then
detonate them, or, better yet, players try to link multi-color chains of
fireworks using white fireworks between each set of color.
I’ve played this one over and over since I received the Eye Toy
in an attempt to get higher and higher scores.
It is highly addictive.
top of the games, the Eye Toy also features a video message option which
will save a short video clip to a memory card that you can then give to
another PS2 owner with an Eye Toy to watch.
my money, the Eye Toy is one of the best videogame accessories ever
designed. It really seems
like a bargain considering it costs exactly as much as other new PS2
game that don’t come with a neat gadget.
Player (for GameCube)
first glance I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to buy the
GameBoy Advance Player. The Player plugs easily into the button of your
GameCube (adding about an 1" of height) and allows you to play
GameBoy games on your TV. To get it working you insert the Player disc
in the GameCube, then install a GameBoy cartridge and away you go.
is a snap, but getting the cartridge removed is difficult at best.
Nintendo should have designed some kind button to pop out the cartridge
(like they had with the SNES).
graphics are bigger and match what we’ve always seen in the magazines
and on websites. I tried the Player on many different GBA titles and
besides being bigger, they look better (particularly if you’ve only
ever played with the regular GBA, and not the SP). I’m not talking
GameCube good but you can see more of the small details.
got a five-speaker setup at home and for whatever reason I was under the
delusion that I’d be hearing surround sound. No. No. No. Make no
mistake, there’s no surround or even stereo for that matter. But the
sound reproduction is still good.
inevitable question is, why would you want to play GBA games on your TV?
I gave this quite a bit of thought. Number one would be to help people
with vision impairments play GBA games that formerly were restricted to
squinting at a relatively tiny screen. At $50US, it’s quite a bit
cheaper than a GBA SP so it's a good option for anyone that has trouble
seeing the GBA’s small screen. The other reason that comes to mind is
that you have a couple of kids who want to play GBA games, but can’t
because you take your GBA to work.
it an indispensable peripheral for the GameCube? Depends on how much of
a GameBoy fan you are.
of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
Most of us have heard the stories or, more accurately, the rumors and myths of how id Software came into being and how they produced some of the most influential games ever. Possibly this is why David Kushner’s Masters of Doom proves to be such a fascinating read but more likely because he takes a thorough look at the Two Johns: John Carmack and John Romero. I read through Masters of Doom in almost one sitting thanks to Kushner’s style and the tale he weaves, rendered all the more compelling as it’s true and exposes secrets I never thought I’d find answers for such as why Romero’s head’s on a spike in Doom 2 and what goes on behind closed doors at id.
After putting the book down I couldn’t escape the idea that Carmack is a borderline psychopath with a high IQ – a real-life foil for Batman or James Bond – or some kind of advanced robot (powered by pizza and diet Coke) sent from the future to alter the past. Up until reading the book, I figured he was just a misunderstood artist/hacker, lacking social graces, that worked in programming languages instead of oils or clay.
At times in Kushner’s book, Carmack takes on the dimensions of a paranoid Joseph Stalin, but suffers bouts of being a crybaby. On more than one occasion, Carmack threatened to walk – and take his latest graphics engine with him. Since he was the brains behind the coding, id could have quite easily sunk. Carmack’s passion is coding – making graphics move faster, look smoother and be more real-to-life. So much so, you get the impression he could easily crack the Matrix. The scary part is that I get the feeling he’s only scratched the surface of his abilities – just as long as he stays in gaming and doesn’t turn his attention to world domination.
At first glance, Romero is completely the opposite. He comes off as a nice guy and knowing more about games than anyone else. Romero is almost too nice for his own good, unable to fire all but the biggest cretins (which is in part why Ion Storm collapsed, something else Kushner explores but only in broad details) . One of the biggest surprises is that Romero is a pack-rat, keeping anything and everything in his travels, which is in part why Kushner’s book is so complete. (Kushner also spent a lot of time interviewing Carmack, Romero and many other people connected to id.)
The scope of the book is broad enough to include issues that have surrounded gaming for the longest time: violence stemming from videogames, supposed delinquency of minors caused by videogames (ironic considering Carmack spent time in juvenile hall for stealing computers in his youth), and how games (in general) are created, from coding to making publishing deals.
Kushner takes us to places we’ve never been, like id’s early meeting with Sierra Online’s Ken Williams, before Castle Wolfenstein hit gaming. He also paints a pretty picture of what happened at a Microsoft press event as Bill Gates attempted to promote Windows95 as a gaming platform. In his taped address he sported a black trench coat and shotgun, which he used at one point to blow away an imp. Needless to say, Microsoft’s PR handlers scooped the tape (and probably buried it).
The most striking revelation comes early in the book. Although a culminating event can never be traced back to one particular origin – cause and effect is never that simple – one can’t help but come away with the idea that Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake would not have come about without the world’s most famous plumber. In the earlier days of PC gaming, consoles were more advanced than PCs and it was the Super Mario games on the Nintendo Entertainment System that Carmack used as inspiration to create scrolling technology for the PC. Without that step, there would have been no Commander Keen, no Wolfenstein, no Doom, no Quake – quite possibly without Mario, Carmack may have turned his attention to global domination. (And the mainstream media is always making out videogames to be a bad thing!)
Without a doubt, anyone even with a passing interest in gaming – PC gaming in particular – should read this book because it’s not just about two guy named John and their relationship, it’s about how games are made and presents the idea that every company and game out there has a history.
On the whole, Masters of Doom is an invaluable resource and a good read. Definitely recommended.
Lansing XA3051 (April
get to the specs out of the way first so we know what we’re dealing
56 Watts Total Continuous Power RMS (4x5 W/Satellites; 17.5 W/Center;
100 Watts Total Peak Power
6-Speaker Dolby Surround Pro Logic
Deep Bass, Ported Subwoofer
Dual Mode Selector
Full-Function Wired Digital Controller
Dual Headphone Jacks
Auxiliary Input Jack
adulation of the XA3021 (see review below) is somewhat tempered by what
it’s big brother, the XA3051, can do. Instead of a mere two speakers
(plus subwoofer), the XA3051 sports true 5.1 surround sound with a 100W
subwoofer, which helps to crank the immersion factor up a notch for any
game or movie. For sports games this means it truly does sound like you
before the praise continues there are some downsides to the XA3051.
the satellite speakers are wired through the subwoofer, which is fine
but the rear speakers should have been made wireless. Their size and
extra-long wires allows them to be tucked out of the way but the wires
can become an unsightly mess and dangerous if you have small gamers
(i.e. kids) in the house. Even with the length of the cables your
placement options become limited – but I suppose that will depend on
how your games room is set up.
speaking of set-up, the XA3051 is a snap to plug together and arrange.
Be warned, the subwoofer, like its smaller brother, is not shielded so
you have to consider location. Another problem is with the wired
control. I like the fact it’s wired to the subwoofer – I can always
find it – but the problem comes with balancing the sound. So much is
packed into the control that I couldn’t help but wonder if control
knobs on the subwoofer would have been a better option. Almost all the
buttons have dual purposes and it takes some time to get the levels just
right. The good thing is that the XA3051 remembers the settings even
after it’s unplugged. Even with all that, you’ll still find yourself
tweaking the settings depending on the game or movie you’re watching.
For quick adjustments, switching from Surround to Stereo is a good bet,
but Altec Lansing could have gone one up. The XA3021 has three preset
bass level buttons, but there are no preset buttons on the XA3051. Even
two presets would have eliminated some of the necessary adjustments.
a sound system is judged on is the sound it can produce. If you’re
after clear and loud, the XA3051 has you covered. If you’re after
subtlety, it has you covered too. I put the XA3051 through a battery of
games and movies to test both aspects:
of Honor: Frontline (XB, GC)
Mario Sunshine (GC)
Volume 4 (DVD)
Baseball 2004 (GC)
of Emergency (XB)
Destroy All Monsters Melee (GC)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (DVD)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (XB)
Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GC)
Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (GC)
Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (DVD)
on the River Kwai (DVD)
Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones (Okay, just the last ½ hour)
Feng: Fist of the Lotus (XB)
Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (XB)
Bad Fur Day (N64)
3: Hoodlum Havoc (XB)
games like Eternal Darkness with surround is a great way to make a brown
pair of pants and even deeper shade of brown. The XA3051 let’s you
finally appreciate the subtle (and not so subtle) audio cues the game
developers work so hard to get right.
a suggested retail price of $200US, you can’t go wrong if you demand
bang for your buck. If loud stereo sound and headphone jacks are more
your speed (or space is a factor) the XA3021, comes recommended over the
XA3051. However, if you want to really experience the sound –
get right in the middle of it – the XA3051 is the way to go. It’s
not the easiest unit to configure and there are lots of wires to deal
with but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper that a "real" sound
system and you finally get to hear the games (and movies) the way the
designers envisioned. (This is all based on the premise that you don’t
have a stereo setup now.)
Lansing XA3021 (February
admit that I didn’t expect much from the XA3021.
I associate big sound with big speakers and the XA3021 sports
satellite speakers that are cute as a button and small.
The subwoofer, with its mini-R2D2 sensibility, didn’t seem all
that impressive either. Possibly this is why the XA3021 impressed me so much, but
more probable is that it’s a very good setup, especially for gamers on
could bore you with technical details like its overall power of 40
Watts, 5.25” long-throw subwoofer, or a signal to noise ratio at 1kHz
input at >76dB
but I’d rather talk about setup.
of the box, it takes about ten minutes to hook-up to your console.
Then another ten minutes to rearrange the unit when you read the
manual and discover the subwoofer is not magnetically shielded.
Fortunately the included wires are pretty long so finding a
suitable place to keep the subwoofer is not a problem.
problem you will encounter if you own more than one console, is the
constant switching of audio cables to the sub’s inputs.
(Heading over to the local electronics store for a switch is the
best way to solve the problem.)
XA3021’s biggest and best feature are the two headphone jacks at the
end of the wired volume controller. This comes in extremely handy for late night gaming sessions
if you don’t want to wake up your neighbor’s or your family.
The fact that the volume control is wired to the subwoofer
is also a great feature. If
you’ve ever spent time looking for your TV remote you’ll really
appreciate always being able to find XA3021’s volume control.
speaking of volume, your ears will give out before the XA3021 does.
I tried playing audio chicken with the XA3021 and I always had to
turn it down before hitting the max levels.
This was especially true at the highest bass levels.
There is a bass control knob on the subwoofer and three preset
bass buttons on the wire controller (that are affected by the bass
knob). It can take a bit of experimentation to get the levels just
right for your ears, but when it’s maxed out, your bones will start to
tested the XA3021 with the following games and DVDs:
(the movie and game)
Back to the Future Trilogy
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Xtreme Beach Volleyball (XB)
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (XB)
Destroy All Monsters Melee (GC)
of Honor: Frontline (GC, PS2, XB)
Gate: Dark Alliance (GC)
some titles the XA3021 dramatically changed the gaming/viewing
experience. I was blown
away by the thunder that Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee produced
– so much so that I wanted to revisit my review and up the score.
Then there are scenes like Back to the Future’s amplifier scene
(in Part 1) and Balin’s Tomb fight scene from Lord of the Rings that
are, I realize now, only half-experienced without the audio to back up
the visuals. Even with the
volume pumped, the sound was clear and didn’t suffer any “pops”.
a price of $100US, the XA3021 is an affordable addition to your console
gear. It may not be
surround sound and it does have a couple of drawbacks but it’s a
worthy accessory to your console of choice (if you don’t already have
it wired to a stereo). It’s
easy to hook-up, is fairly unobtrusive, and produces good solid sound. All this and headphone jacks too!
S for Microsoft’s Xbox
having the Controller S plunk down on my desk, I couldn’t believe my
eyes. Obviously, someone at the big M was listening to complaints
surrounding the monolith proportions of the original Xbox controller.
(At least in North America – Japan had this general design from the
get-go.) The three biggest improvements of the Controller S over the
Regular is the repositioning of the black and white buttons, the better
definition of the directional pad, and the reduced size. It fits
comfortably in your hands – unlike the Regular control that felt like
you were holding two cucumbers. The buttons are bigger as well and the
"start" and "resume" buttons have been moved to the
left where they sit just under the analog stick. Admittedly, it took me
a little while to "unlearn" the hulking feel of the Regular
control and get used to the new button layout playing some games, but
after that there was no looking back. Now during multiplayer games there
are arguments over who gets the "S". If you’re looking to
get another controller for your Xbox, get an "S".
Xbox DVD Playback Kit
Face it, you weren’t really worrying first and foremost about the DVD playback capabilities for either the PS2 or Xbox when you plunked down your
$200-300 bucks (depending when you bought it) to purchase one. But every
owner of both systems had that same thought in their head after bringing
their console of choice home: “Hey, for the amount of money I just spent I
better be able to play my damn DVDs on this thing too!” The answer of course
is that, yes, you can. To access the Xbox’s DVD functionality, you need to
obtain the first-party Microsoft Xbox DVD Playback Kit, the singular method
allowing you to open up the DVD features of your Xbox. But is it worth the
30 additional dollars you have to spend to buy it?
The kit comes with a DVD remote control plus the small infrared playback
attachment that you plug into any one of the Xbox's four controller ports.
The standard RCA-style remote control itself is basic to the core, a little
sparse in the amount of selection buttons compared to the available PS2 DVD
remote controls on the market. It's missing even a simple power "ON" button.
But all you have to know is that the DVD playback of the Xbox is much better
than the PS2, providing a crisper picture and smoother viewing experience.
To test out the playback kit, I used The Simpsons: The Complete First Season
DVDs, which introduced us to television’s most dysfunctional family ever,
the Simpsons’ clan of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. In the words of
the Simpson’s next-door neighbor, Springfield’s resident holy roller Ned
Flanders, the Xbox DVD operated t-didilly-errific, performing at least as
well as the moderately priced Zenith DVD player that I already owned.
At $30 dollars, the kit is higher than its PS2 counterparts. Third-party PS2
versions can be had for as low as $10 dollars. But the Xbox tradeoff is a
much better performance as a DVD player. The way I see it, you bought your
Xbox for the gaming experience, so paying just a little bit more to get a
good DVD player out of your purchase makes the Xbox DVD Playback Kit worth
the moolah you will shell out for it.
- Lee Cieniawa
4.0 by HyperIonics (February 2002)
4.0 is a full-featured screen capture program of the highest order,
while still remaining fairly easy to learn and use.
Not only does it allow you to capture screens from your favorite
PC games, it also does a decent job of snagging frames from your
favorite DVDs. Images are
easily altered to suite your needs.
Screenshot look a little dark?
Boost the gamma. Want
it smaller? Simply alter
the pixel width. The name
of the game is ease of use and used in conjunction with drawing programs
you can really let your imagination go nuts.
There are options for advanced users and newcomers – managing
to walk the middle ground while still leaving advanced users the option
to really explore the options. (For
a full list of features go here.) HyperIonics
also has a demo version for download.
The highest praise that can be heaped on HyperSnap 4.0 is that we
use it around the Armchair Empire for virtually all our screenshot