Colorwar 2008

I am still a bit on the fence about Twitter. It has given birth to moments of profound productivity, but also moments of profound time wasting. But either way, one of my favorite things to come out of the service is Zefrank’s Colorwar 2008.

Colorwar is a series of decentralized team games, played via twitter. Some are synchronous, like Bingo called via a Twitter account. Others are asynchronous, like the current YoungMeNowMe challenge – recreate a childhood picture of yourself, then put the two side by side. The best submissions will get prizes.

Sometimes points are awarded by winning (as in Bingo), and other times just for participation. This setup breeds a great mix of competition and camaraderie. My team is the somewhat oddly named GoTeamPants, and we’re in second place right now!

And here’s my YoungMeNowMe submission:

I’m not entirely happy with it, but I still had a blast putting it together. This was the only young picture of myself that I had on hand.

Month ‘o Video

I sort of miss my picture a day projects, even if I did run out of steam near the end. With the news that Flickr now supports video, I’ve decided to post a video clip of something every day for a month. Could be just a couple of seconds, or maybe the full 90 second limit. Who knows? This will include a week at the beach, so there should at least be some nice scenery involved. Here it is: Month ‘o Video 1

Now I just wish I had a real video camera… all of these will be taken with my trusty Canon A520.

Today’s entry:

Ever wondered what The Final Countdown would sound like as a soundtrack for an NES game? Yeah, I didn’t either. But my keyboard has the right soundset, so I couldn’t resist.

Gaming at ALA Midwinter 2008


I wanted to post about this while the conference was ongoing, but couldn’t quite fit it in. Staffing the gaming booth kept me much busier than I expected. Along with Jenny Levine and Matt Roach, we demoed and instructed people on the games countless times and answered even more questions about them. And like Jenny mentioned, Nintendo and Sony are missing out big time by not exhibiting at these events. If I could have sold Wiis, Guitar Hero and DDR setups on commission all weekend I could take the rest of the year off – people were constantly asking to buy them from us.

But yes, it all went very well! Some people were a bit skeptical of the validity of gaming in a library setting, but I think we won most of them over after some conversations. And absolutely nobody was outright hostile to the idea, something that has changed dramatically in the last couple of years.

What really struck me was the diversity of people who played a round or two. We had young children of conference attendees, some retirees, and every age in between. Some were hardcore gamers, others completely new to the concept. Some conference center security guards even stopped by for a while, though we didn’t manage to convince them to play.

Being out in the registration hall this time instead of the crowded exhibit floor was a good move. We still had large crowds of passersby, but didn’t have to worry about annoying neighboring vendors. The same games (and probably more) will also be available to play at Annual in Anaheim this summer, so be sure to check it out!

We also got some great press on gaming in libraries from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website, including an editorial by ALA President Loriene Roy and some video footage. I’m interviewed a bit in the latter, which is pretty cool but I always hate watching myself on video. I’m just glad they didn’t catch me playing DDR!

Gaming at Midwinter

I’ll be at Midwinter this weekend, helping to staff ALA’s gaming pavilion. We’ll have Guitar Hero, DDR, and a Wii with assorted games – all out to play! We’ll be near the internet cafe which I’m told will be in the registration hall. Gaming will be running Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 9-5, and my shift is from 9-1 each of those days.

Stop by and say hi! If you need an extra incentive: we’ll be raffling off a DS!

Best of 2007 – Video Game

And the nominees are:

  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • Portal
  • Halo 3
  • Rock Band
  • Picross
  • Bioshock

A few words about each:

As with other categories, each and every one of these games is worth your time. Super Mario Galaxy is the best Wii game I have played, bar none. The level designers have done amazing, mind-bending things, and unlike many other wii games the motion-sensing controls manage to not feel tacked on. Portal is a work of art, another example of brilliant level design, but also coaxes an in-depth plot out of minimalist surroundings. Halo 3, while still fun, somehow didn’t quite live up to my expectations. While the gameplay was fun, ultimately no sequel can live up to the original Halo’s story. Rock Band is an amazing party game, and once you get over the fear of looking (or sounding) silly it provides a brilliant gaming experience. Picross was a surprise, an addicting DS puzzle game that I’ve played almost every single day since I got it, for at least a few minutes. Bioshock’s art direction and storyline are excellent, bringing vivid life to a decaying underwater city. Unfortunately the storyline falls apart a bit near the end, but up until then it is one of the most genuinely mature and deep stories I’ve seen in a game. The much-hyped moral choices that a player supposedly gets to make in the game really don’t amount to as much as I expected, but how those choices are handled is brilliant. No game has ever managed to make me think about the very nature of choice in a video game before.

So, I really wanted to give the honor to Bioshock. It truly is a work of art. And, I admit, I am a sucker for anything with such a heavy art-deco visual style. But the ultimate whimper of the plot’s resolution gave me pause. Couple that with somewhat limited replayability, and I have to regretfully pass it over. Still, I don’t want to downplay the game too much. Go play it, I doubt you’ll be disappointed with the purchase.

Now on to the winner:

Rock Band

Almost two years ago, my friend Matt and I sat in his living room, playing the first Guitar Hero game and idly speculating how awesome it would be to have a game just like it, but with drums. And a microphone. And online play. Sure, brilliant idea, but naaaaah! It’d never happen! I was glad to be proven wrong: Now I own that game, and Matt and I played it together over Thanksgiving.

The day Rock Band was released, some friends and I played it for almost seven hours straight. And we’ve had a number of sessions almost that long since then. If that can’t justify a selection as game of the year, then I’m not sure what does. All other games have been pushed aside for us, and this is pretty much all we play right now. The track list is near-perfect, and the addition of downloadable content provides near endless replay value as new songs are added. I’m not sure I can fully describe why i love the game so much, largely because so much of that justification is based on intangibles. After finishing a song next to my friends, we all feel amazing, like we just accomplished something awesome. Sure, we aren’t really playing the music. But I will never be able to play these songs on ‘real’ instruments, not without more time than I have to put into practicing. Rock Band captures what I imagine is the full feel of being in a band, and concentrates it down into something the rest of us can experience.
I’m going to cut myself off before I over-gush about this game, (what’s that? Too late?) but I think this XKCD comic sums it up quite well:

If you can get over your fear of looking a bit silly, many hours of quality entertainment await.


Review: Nintendo DS Lite Browser

10/04/07I was really excited to read that the town of Chapel Hill has a public wifi project! Combined with my own wireless router and the wifi access on campus at UNC, I’ll be spending almost my entire average weekday in areas with coverage.

Naturally, I’ll need a portable wifi device to take advantage of it. I love my laptop, but it is simply too bulky to haul around town every day. I started exploring other options. This list is a little abbreviated, but after searching around online I had essentially narrowed down my choices to:

1. An iPhone
2. An iPod touch
3. The DS browser cartridge

As much as I’d love an iPhone or an iPod touch, I can’t justify that level of expense right now (even if my much loved 4G iPod did just bite the dust…). I already own a DS Lite, so the DS browser’s $35 price tag was a very compelling advantage. But I really didn’t expect much out of the deal. Almost every review I read of the browser online was extremely negative. I was nervous, but the relatively low price sucked me in. I figured at worst I could resell it on Ebay at a minor loss.

What I got is much better than I expected! I think the people who wrote negative reviews are confused about what this browser is. It is NOT a desktop replacement. Regular web sites load very slowly when images are involved. There is javascript support but no flash, audio, or video. I found that all of the major drawbacks in usability can be solved pretty well by doing three simple things:

1. Disable images in the browser’s options. Load time will speed up dramatically.
2. Use sites designed for mobile browsers whenever possible, such as Google’s wap portal.
3. Don’t expect multimedia capabilities. I knew this going in.

After these steps, only one major drawback remains for me – the fact that there is no support for cookies or saving login information. You have to type everything out (via stylus qwerty keyboard or pretty solid handwriting recognition) every time you want to log in to a site. I don’t miss multimedia options at all; that isn’t what I wanted a mobile browser for. But I’ve been happily accomplishing basic online tasks like checking my e-mail, reading a few rss feeds, looking up addresses or phone numbers, and even a bit of slightly clunky IMing via

The browser itself has two main viewing modes. The first squishes all the content into one narrow column, spanning the DS’ two screens. In the case of sites designed for mobile use, this works very well. The second option, which I prefer for sites not designed for mobile viewing, displays a zoomed out overview of the site on the bottom screen. You can then use the stylus to select a portion of the site to show zoomed in on the top screen.

I particularly want to note that the DS browser DOES work on public wifi access points that require a clickthrough page. For example: Panera Bread, Brueggers, or many airports all require you to agree to some terms of service before gaining access to the web. I’ve seen erroneous posts elsewhere online that say this does not work on the DS browser. But I’ve tested it myself with no problems. When configuring the DS for the access point, an error appears about being unable to obtain an IP. Save the connection info anyway. Try to load any url, and you’ll be directed to the clickthrough page. Ta-da!

The DS browser comes with a memory expansion required for the cartridge to work. It fits in the GBA game slot on the bottom of your DS. There are two versions of the browser available, but the only difference is the size of this expansion module. One fits the DS lite while the other fits the older, larger original DS. Make sure you buy the right one.

Is the DS a perfect mobile browser? Certainly not. It is relatively bulky for the screen size when compared to an iPhone or other similar device, and is another device to carry in addition to my phone. But… I keep coming back to that price. At this point in my life I’d much rather have an extra $364 in my pocket than a low end iPhone. Have realistic expectations going in, and you won’t be disappointed.

Now if I can just get some homebrew PDA software up and running on my DS, the device’s domination will be complete!

UAH Library LAN Party – Done!

That went really well! I lost count of the number of positive comments we had from students, including “This is the best campus event I’ve ever been to!” Of course, there are some things that I’d do differently next time, but for first timers I think we did pretty well.

I think the main thing I’d do differently is spread out the console games around the room. We held the whole event in one large open room that usually have reserved for quiet study. For ease of keeping an eye on things, the console team (myself and one other person) had the three 42″ HDTVs lined up in a row. One was Guitar Hero 2, another was Halo 2, and a third was random open play on an Xbox 360 or Wii. Once the tournaments started, a sizeable crowd grew around each one and it was really hard for lots of people to see the screens at once. Putting one TV in each corner of the room, or maybe back to back, might have worked better.

I also learned that laying out specific rules for every possible eventuality is a necessity. I thought the rules I drew up based on other examples of tournaments were very clear, but the participants found many holes to poke in them and I had to make a lot up on the fly 🙂 Thankfully everybody was very good natured about it and I heard almost no complaints at all. Above all, be consistent with the rules. Don’t start making exceptions, and it’ll all work out.

IMG_1900I also learned a little bit about game selection. While we had it available for free play, we did not have an organized Smash Brothers tournament. But people were asking for one constantly. Two different groups of students even brought their own TVs and gamecubes to play it on. So next time, we will definitely schedule that in.

Here’s the full Flickr picture set. At this point we are thinking of doing it again in the spring, or maybe sooner. But the setup was killer – we had to borrow tables and chairs from a church in town, which they very generously offered to us. But hauling them in and out of the U-Haul and the second floor of our building almost killed us. Next time I’d like to do the physical setup a day or more in advance if at all possible. I had a student ask if we could do it again next week, and my muscles instantly started aching.

I’m really, really happy with how successful this event was. Thank you to all our staff who were so willing to help set up, pick up, and stay until midnight.

UAH Library LAN Party (update) – 8/30/07 from 5pm-midnight

I’ve forgotten to post an update about this until now – oops!

Our inaugural LAN party at the library is coming together very nicely for this thursday night! Note that the time has changed slightly.

On the PC side we’ll have an organized Counterstrike: Source tournament. On the Console side we’ll have organized Halo 2 and Guitar Hero 2 tournaments. Each of these will have a cash prize (the exact amount is still being worked out). Free play will also be available on these games, with some Wiis and other random games around to play too.

Plus, feel free to bring your DS or PSP! Signups for the tournaments will be on site that evening only. Full tournament rules will be made available in the next day or so on the official site:

We’ll also have representatives on hand from the US Army’s “America’s Army” game, which is developed right here in Huntsville. I’m told they’ll have free copies of the game and other swag to give away. A representative from their development team will be presenting about how gaming is useful in the real world, and Dr. Richard Petty will provide a counterpoint to that argument with his own presentation in one of our computer labs.

I’m really excited about this! Assuming it goes well, we’re going to seriously look at making it a regular event at the start of every semester.

And again, the official site has a full schedule and more information. There’s also a Facebook event page.

(and we will of course have free food!)