(Photo: Pizza Hut)
Long slave to the physical demands of picking up a phone, computer, smartphone, or tablet to place an order for food delivery, gamers can now create their own custom Pizza Hut pizzas — and order them — from their Xbox 360 console thanks to a unique partnership between Microsoft and the international chain.
(Photo: Heart Patch / WIGI)
As recent campaigns across social media have shown, the game industry has slowly begun to own up to its troublesome legacy of sexism — expanding roles for women in the business while updating representations of them in the games.
On March 27th JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) published a new video article by Dr. Lotfi Merabet showing how researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School have developed a virtual gaming environment to help blind individuals improve navigation skills and develop a cognitive spatial map of unfamiliar buildings and public locations.
“For the blind, finding your way or navigating in a place that is unfamiliar presents a real challenge,” Dr. Merabet explains. “As people with sight, we can capture sensory information through our eyes about our surroundings. For the blind that is a real challenge… the blind will typically use auditory and tactile cues.”
The technique utilizes computer generated layouts of public buildings and spatial sensory feedback to synthesize a virtual world that mimics a real world navigation task. In the game, participants must find jewels and carry them out of the building, without being intercepted by roaming monsters that steal the jewels and hide them elsewhere. Participants interface with the virtual building by using a keyboard and wearing headphones that play auditory cues that help spatially orient them to the world around them. This interaction helps users generate an accurate mental layout of the mimicked building. Dr. Merabet and his colleagues are also exploring applications of this technology with other user interfaces, like a Wii Remote or joystick.
“We have developed software called ABES, the Audio Based Environment Simulator that represents the actual physical environment of the Carol Center for the Blind in Newton Massachusetts. The participants will use the game metaphor to get a sense of the whole building through open discovery, allowing people to learn room layouts more naturally than if they were just following directions.”
The technology will invariably be useful for the 285 million blind people world-wide, 6 million of which live in the United States. It will also have applications beyond the blind community for individuals with other visual impairments, cognitive deficits, or those recovering from brain injuries.
Dr. Merabet considers publication in JoVE’s video format especially helpful. “It is conceptually difficult for a sighted person to understand ‘a video game for blind people.’ What JoVE allows us to do is break down layouts of the game and strategy, show how the auditory cues can be used and how we quantify performance going from the virtual game to the physical world.”
The results are in! Over the past month, hundreds of thousands of Monopoly fans worldwide voted for which new token should replace one of the iconic ones being retired after countless journeys past Go. After a hard-fought campaign, representatives revealed the newest game piece Wednesday morning on TODAY.
Mental activities like reading and writing can preserve structural integrity in the brains of older people, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
While previous research has shown an association between late-life cognitive activity and better mental acuity, the new study from Konstantinos Arfanakis, Ph.D., and colleagues from Rush University Medical Center and Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago studied what effect late-life cognitive activity might have on the brain’s white matter, which is composed of nerve fibers, or axons, that transmit information throughout the brain.
“Reading the newspaper, writing letters, visiting a library, attending a play or playing games, such as chess or checkers, are all simple activities that can contribute to a healthier brain,” Dr. Arfanakis said.
The researchers used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to generate data on diffusion anisotropy, a measure of how water molecules move through the brain. In white matter, diffusion anisotropy exploits the fact that water moves more easily in a direction parallel to the brain’s axons, and less easily perpendicular to the axons, because it is impeded by structures such as axonal membranes and myelin. “This difference in the diffusion rates along different directions increases diffusion anisotropy values,” Dr. Arfanakis said. “Diffusion anisotropy is higher when more diffusion is happening in one direction compared to others.”
The anisotropy values in white matter drop, however, with aging, injury and disease.
“In healthy white matter tissue, water can’t move as much in directions perpendicular to the nerve fibers,” Dr. Arfanakis said. “But if, for example, you have lower neuronal density or less myelin, then the water has more freedom to move perpendicular to the fibers, so you would have reduced diffusion anisotropy. Lower diffusion anisotropy values are consistent with aging.”
(Image credit: Flickr.com, Courtesy of Luis de Bethencourt)
When Mike Hoye set out to make the game Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker more gender-friendly for his 3-year-old daughter (she pronounces it gender “fwee”), he was doing it primarily out of parental love. But when the former system administrator released a crack for the game that reverses the genders of the characters—making Link the heroine and Zelda the guy she rescues—he struck a chord with gamers across the Internet.
Since Hoye wasn’t about to teach his daughter that she couldn’t be the hero in her own story unless she related to a man, he devised a special crack to reverse all the gender pronouns and other references to Link’s gender in the story. Once the crack was done—he told the Dot it took only “a few days of work, spread out over a couple of weeks”—he shared the results.
“As you might imagine I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers,” he blogged on Wednesday. Hoye also made sure that the references matched up tonally, too: When one commenter suggested Hoye replace “lad” with “gal,” he responded succinctly, “‘Gal’ is not something you call the resurrected Hero Of Time.”
Daily Dot: Based on the response from readers, would you consider turning this into a project for more than just games for your daughter? Obviously you’ve highlighted a huge and basic gender inequality issue at work.
I’d certainly consider it. The approach I’ve taken isn’t particularly user-friendly, though, and I don’t know how it could be made much more user-friendly without getting hung up on some of the sharp, rusty edges of modern copyright laws. If this turns into a thing that other people start doing, though, and if the “small patch to the dialog” route I’m taking seems to work for whatever community emerges, then I’d love to contribute to and support that effort.
DD: There’s so much tension right now in the gaming community over issues of sexism that it seems like such a project could be a really touchy subject.
It’s only a touchy subject with people who think the status quo is OK. And since those people are clearly, obviously wrong, I’m not all that worried about whether or not they’re comfortable with it.
PC gaming on your big screen: Steam TV Beta goes live
While there won’t be a “Steam box” any time soon, you’ll still be able to experience your Steam library on your TV with Steam’s Big Picture Mode.
Valve released a trailer giving a few details of Big Picture Mode’s beta.
At first glimpse, it seems that Steam’s Big Picture Mode, which can be accessed with a simple click on an appropriately labeled transparent bubble, simplifies Steam’s interface to be tile-like (think Xbox Live) to be more easily navigable with a controller.
Big Picture Mode will retain all of Steam’s features, including the browser, which will feature tabbed browsing and cloud-saved favorites. Typing with Big Picture Mode has—thankfully—been simplified. Shunning the QWERTY layout, typing on Steam in Big Picture Mode involves the Daisywheel, where four letters are assigned to the four face buttons. Every letter is grouped into four and displayed in a wheel, and each grouping can be cycled between using the d-pad or analog sticks.
For more details, go to Steam’s official page for Big Picture Mode.
Hideo Kojima and Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad took to the stage at the Metal Gear 25th anniversary party to announce that Marvel and Columbia Studios had a Metal Gear movie in the works.
This isn’t the first time that a Metal Gear movie’s been announced. Back in 2006, Hideo Kojima revealed that there was a Metal Gear Solid movie in the works. The adaptation never saw the light of day and the project was canned in 2010.
Hopefully, this time, the new Metal Gear movie will avoid development hell and manage to stay faithful to the original source material. The good news is, Arad was careful to mention that Marvel would stay true to Kojima’s story: “We will take our time and tell the story with all the nuances, ideology, and cautionary tales needed.”
We’ll only know whether or not Arad was telling the truth when the movie releases. Kojima, after all, did just give the rights to his baby to Hollywood.
Meet Borderlands 2′s Ellie: The “opposite of how most females tend to be represented in games”
This is Ellie. You may have seen her in the latest Borderlands 2 trailer (unless you were distracted by the dangerously high levels of a-whimoweh), but up to now we didn’t know much about the series’ new NPC. I recently had the opportunity to send the Gearbox team a few questions about Ellie’s design, origin, and role — read on to find out who she is, how she came to be, and how Gearbox seeks to defy stereotypes.
These written answers were a group effort by the Gearbox team.Who is Ellie? What role does she play in the story?
Gearbox: Ellie is Scooter’s sister. From a pure purpose level, we needed a character to introduce our new Bandit Technical vehicle, and since we were already using Scooter elsewhere in the game, it didn’t make sense for him to do it. Still, Scooter is “the car guy” in our universe and it felt like anyone who introduced a new car should still be connected to him in some way. Thus, Ellie was born.
The narrative goal with Ellie was to have a character who hits all of the tick marks of a good Borderlands character (funny, unexpected, looks as if they could probably kill you in thirteen different ways if you got on their bad side), while also making an independent female character who looked the exact opposite of how most females tend to be represented in games. We also wanted to make sure that, through her dialog and visual design, we never cast her in a light where the player is encouraged to pity, laugh at, or mock her because she doesn’t look like Jessica Rabbit.How did her design come about?
GB: Ellie is one of Moxxi’s daughters from Borderlands 1. Being that she was Scooters sister we knew we had a challenge coming up with a character that wouldn’t be dwarfed by his over the top personality.
Originally this led us to a design where she was hugely muscular and tough playing off the idea of a woman who was more manly than Scooter was. This muscle-bound incarnation ended up being a bit too abrasive and bandit-y so we decided to keep her large size but at the same time soften her body shape. In this way she ended up being a strong woman with her own unique silhouette and style.Who voices her?
GB: Jamie Marchi, who is awesome.Was animating such a unique character a particular challenge?
GB: She certainly had some challenges unique to her size! We went through five iterations of neck fat and positioning so that she could make eye contact with you without her neck looking wrong. Making her balance look believable also required some special positioning; we had to lean her entire model back further to compensate for her chest size. Speaking of that, Ellie is one of two female characters in the game with custom chest animations. Our animators have a general rule that cup sizes over “D” cup get custom chest animations. The other character with “special” animation work is Ellie’s mom, Moxxi.Does she ever bludgeon anyone with that giant wrench?
GB: No, but she does straight-up murder a dude in a really gory way less than ten seconds after you meet her. So, there’s that.
Nintendo unveils first Wii U games including ‘hardcore’ titles
(click-through for full story)
Behold the Skyrim Alduin cake: FUS RO NOM!
Modeled after a figurine from the collector’s edition of Skyrim, this Alduin birthday cake is deliciously awesome. Designed by Vera of Baking Obsession, the cake was created for her son’s birthday party. Although he may look as vicious as ever, this particular Alduin is created from a rich modeling chocolate core, with scales, horns, wings and spikes created with part fondant and part gum paste, making this the sweetest world-eating dragon around.
The base of the cake is created from four sheets of chocolate cake, soaked in strawberry syrup and sandwiched with bittersweet strawberry ganache. The only part of the cake that isn’t edible is the dragon’s Swarovski crystal eyes. For more photos of this wonderful creation, head on over to Vera’s blog post here.
Steam has announced the availability of a new beta client for Windows and Mac that will allow users to remotely manage their accounts from their phone or the web. This includes the ability for remote downloads of games, meaning you can start downloadinggames to your home computer while you’re slaving away at work and dreaming of the Orange Box.
The new beta client was announced via the Steam forums. It also offers reduced excessive system memory usage while downloading updates and added debug code to diagnose download issues. Judging from the forums, some people aren’t seeing remote management immediately when they install the new beta. There also seems to be a few reoccurring bugs (Steam has already issued fixes for two).
To check it out for yourself, go to File -> Settings. On the Account tab press the Change… button to open the Beta Participation dialog. Then Select “Steam Beta Update”, and allow Steam to restart itself.
Two Cars, One Awesome Game of Pong
In the world of marketing, especially when it comes to automobiles, you have to be exceptionally clever in order to set yourself apart from the crowd. Most of us have seen or heard it all by now, so how can you grab the attention of a worldwide audience? How about a good old game of Pong everyone can enjoy.
BBDO Germany was assigned the task of marketing the environmentally friendly Smart Fortwo vehicle as a fun to drive car. Seeing as how an eco-friendly car might not sound as enticing to drive as a sports car, the company had to pull out all the stops. This led the company to come up with the genius idea of eBall, a large game of Pong where two Smart Fortwo vehicles double up as the controllers.
Using laser sensor technology that tracks the movement of the vehicles, each driver must quickly accelerate forward or backwards to score and prevent the opponent from scoring. Although a Smart car might not sound like the most fun car to drive, playing this game of Pong sure makes it seem so.
Oxford Docs: We Can Prevent PTSD … With Tetris
In recent years, the military’s top brass have funded some truly bizarre approaches — from neck injections to Reiki — in an effort to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress afflicting today’s soldiers. Turns out, they could’ve just equipped troops with Game Boys.
At least according to one research team out of Oxford University, who claim that Tetris — yes, the ubiquitous, tile-stacking videogame of your youth — can actually prevent PTSD-related flashbacks. Those harrowing moments of recall are among the most devastating symptoms of the condition, which is estimated to affect at least 25 percent of soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a study published in 2010 and presented last week at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference, a team led by Oxford psychiatry expert Dr. Emily Holmes concluded that when played soon after exposure to trauma, Tetris served as “a cognitive vaccine” that seemed to “inoculate against the build-up of flashbacks.” Why? Because the process of playing Tetris, the team hypothesizes, places demands on one’s brain that interfere with its ability to form and retain the traumatic memories that later emerge as flashbacks.
To reach that conclusion, the team performed two separate trials. First, they exposed 60 study participants to “a film of traumatic scenes of injury and death.” Thirty minutes later, participants were divvied into three groups: A lucky third of the group played Tetris, while their peers either took a 10-minute computerized trivia quiz or “sat quietly” doing nothing much at all. Participants were then freed from the lab, and asked to keep a week-long journal logging any traumatic flashbacks of the film.
Next, the team did a similar trial with 75 study participants. Only this time, the participants were given four hours of “down time” between watching that harrowing flick and performing one of the three assigned tasks (Tetris, trivia or idleness).
According to the researchers, both trials indicated that participants who had played Tetris suffered significantly fewer flashbacks than their fellow study participants. Among those in the first trial, for example, Tetris-players suffered an average of two flashbacks, those given no task suffered an average of 4.5, and those who took a trivia quiz were afflicted with eight flashbacks.
“The insights from these studies support the possibility that … Tetris,” the study reads, “may be a post-trauma intervention to reduce the flashback symptoms of PTSD.”
Not quite. First of all, the “trauma” relied upon by these researchers — according to their study, that “traumatic film” was comprised of car crash and surgery footage — is hardly comparable to what a soldier experiences during combat. And a study pool of 60 people, over a one-week period, falls far short of the kind of thorough research necessary to validate a prospective treatment.
Plus, even if the approach does eventually prove viable among soldiers, it’ll only be useful for those who’ve very recently been exposed to trauma: The study relies on interfering with initial memory formation and storage, which occurs within a span of around six hours following a given experience. Soldiers and vets who’ve been struggling with PTSD for years or even decades, on the other hand, likely won’t enjoy any benefit.
That said, this research — which the team has been conducting since 2009 — does deserve some degree of credit. After all, it’s in a similar vein to cutting-edge neuroscience that’s currently investigating how memories might be tweaked to prevent or treat PTSD. A promising collaboration between researchers at Emory and the University of South California, for example, is testing the merits of virtual-reality exposure therapy combined with the pharmaceutical D-Cycloserine (which is though to enhance the brain’s learning process). Researchers hope the combo will change how a soldier’s brain rewrites traumatic memories, making those memories less frightening.
This Oxford team is, instead, trying to prevent the brain from storing those memories in the first place. And that idea, crazy as it sounds, does have some merit: If during the six-hour period the brain requires to store a memory the storage process is interfered with — especially, research suggests, by a visual-cognitive task (like Tetris) — the brain will be less able to retain a given recollection.
Surely, it’ll require much more research before Tetris becomes a bonafide PTSD deterrent. And a tip for researchers as they plot their next investigation: Tetris is ultra-compatible with another, oft-touted PTSD treatment. Combining them? Just might do the trick.
Diablo 3 will have global play, says Blizzard
Blizzard said on Tuesday that the upcoming action-RPG game Diablo 3 will support global play. This means fans will be able to hack away on game servers in regions outside their own — with a few restrictions of course — using Battle.net’s new Global Play functionality. All global servers will be grouped into three distinct game regions: The Americas, Europe and Asia.
“In general, players will create characters and play in their ‘home’ region, which is determined by where they live (specifically, the country of residence registered to their Battle.net account),” Blizzard explained in an email. “Global Play gives players the ability to switch to any of the other game regions via the in-game options menu, either before or after they log in to the game.”
The drawback is that characters, items, and friends lists will not transfer across regions. Instead, gamers visiting a different region’s servers will be creating characters and friends lists specifically for that region, and they’ll be accessing the gold-based auction house for that region as well.
“Players will only have access to the real-money auction house (where applicable) when playing in their ‘home’ game region,” the company said. “That means that, for characters outside of your home region, items cannot be bought or sold in any real-money auction house. The focus of Global Play is simply to give you the ability to play Diablo 3 together with your friends in any region.”
For more information on Global Play in Diablo 3, see the FAQ.
In addition to the Global Play news, Blizzard said it updated the Diablo 3 web site with a comprehensive Auction House guide that walks users through the ins and outs of Diablo 3’s in-game item marketplace. The tour includes details on buying and selling, a breakdown of how the real-money auction house works (in regions where available), and more.
“The gold-based auction house opens its doors worldwide on May 15 with the launch of Diablo 3, and we plan to bring the real-money auction house online approximately one week after that,” Blizzard said. “This is a new service that includes lots of complex elements, so we are going to take a little extra time to ensure the game gets off to a good start before we flip the switch and open the real-money auction house for business.”
For more information, head to the freshly minted Diablo 3 Auction House website, or check out the updated Auction House FAQ.