Saturday, November 17, 2007

Red Rings of Light Again

I got my xbox console, or should I say another used console, two days after sending it in via the good folks over at Purolator. New serial number and new manufacturing date. I also got a letter thanking me for my patience, a one month xbox live gold card and a letter explaining that is a "certified Microsoft refurbished console".

Unfortunately, I also got a 3 red rings of light within the very first half hour the damn thing was connected. I'm starting to wonder if Microsoft really understands what the problem with these consoles really are, or if the defect can't really be fixed at all without major hardware replacement.

In any case, I'll be sending back the replacement again, maybe I'll get another xbox gold card.

Google Android

Google recently released a preliminary SDK for their mobile platform called Android for developers. Off the top of my head, looking at their technical documentation, I can't think of anything that is in Android that also isn't in Java ME (or .Net Compact for that matter). That being said, Java ME is an SDK only while Android is a full platform and it comes bundled with standard applications and user interface. Sun has already announced that they too are working on their own platform for mobiles called JavaFX.

Unless I'm mistaken here, the SDK for JavaFX will be Java ME and it too will come with its standard user interface and set of applications. I don't know what the motivation for developing JavaFX was, but I'm guessing Sun is trying to create a synergy similar to the one Microsoft enjoys between Windows Mobile and .Net Micro.

Now that Android has entered the picture, it's sort of hard to not question its existence. Let's face it, Java ME is already on millions of handset worldwide which makes Android seem irrelevant. On the other hand, Google has made Java on handsets look good and exciting again, I can't remember when I felt like that about Java ME.

Now that I'm writting this, Android does codify something I feel is really missing in Java and not just the micro edition, a standard XML syntax for user interfaces. Microsoft is really doing great work with its XAML technology. Not only does this technology have the potential to bridge the gap between web and desktop applications but also the gap between designers and developers. Android doesn't fill that gap obviously since even Google's other toolkits don't support this XML syntax, this is exciting nonetheless. I like GUI editors that generate XML, not when they generate code directly in a class somewhere. This has been, and remains Sun's stategy for Java. Fortunately, even if it's not included directly in Java, I can still use XAML in Java using eFace.

One thing that I find solely missing in Android however is crash reporting. Google is obviously aware this is important, see their breakpad project. I'm not committed to quality in my software, it goes beyond that, I'm committed to perfection. If Google wants to provide a platform, well I think crash reporting is one of those services that developers expect to be part of any platform nowadays. That being said, this also happens to be missing from standard Java but again, I'm not talking about providing software to capture and report crashes only, this also exists for Java. No, I'm talking that platform holders should provide servers where developers can register their binaries like Microsoft allows you to do. Open source developers have tons of resources available to them in the form of Sourceforce, GNU Savannah and Google Code to name a few, but it appears that crash servers aren't readily available from any of these sites.

Finally, I would be remiss if I were to not mention the #1 reason why I like Android. The inclusion of the SQLite database. Meaning that, if you have an Android phone, you have SQLite in there. Words cannot describe how passinate I am about this database. I have used this database extensively in the past and will certainly continue to do so probably till the day I die. I have tried using Derby and SQL Server Compact but if you're looking for embedded, small and complete they just don't come close to SQLite.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Capcom Thinks Wii Owners are Dumb

I had never played Resident Evil before 4. The genre just didn't interest me. The only reason I bought 4 was because of the fantastic, near perfect reviews.

That being said, my experience with Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube wasn't very positive. I couldn't aim correctly so I never even made it to the first type writer.

Well, a few months ago, I picked up the game again but for the Wii this time. Now, I could aim and now I understood what those rave reviews were talking about. What a fantastic game!

Now, eager to play some more Resident Evil, I picked up the new installment of the franchise for the Wii... Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. Well, if you're looking for the next great RE game, don't look here.

To put it mildly, this game seems to have been dumbed down for the Wii users. It has more of an arcade style to it. You can play the game pretty much without the nunchuck.

I love my Wii. I think it's the only true next generation console. Unfortunately, most 3rd party publishers are content with dumping bad games on it and then complaining that Nintendo has too much of a market share on their consoles.

Well, I have news for these publishers, Nintendo makes really good games hence why people are willing to give money to buy them. In any case, if you own a Wii, avoid The Umbrella Chronicles, just play the 4th game again.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Red Rings of Light

Once again, my xbox console has succumbed to the dreaded 3 red rings of light problem. This is now the 3rd time this year. Obviously, I am a little peeved even with this now being covered by the xbox warranty.

That being said, this is not another rant on this problem. This has been covered to death by so many people, I don't see how one more would help (or hurt).

This post is more about praising the xbox support team. When I called yesterday, once again, I talked to somebody that was incredibly nice, incredibly helpful in getting this taken care of. Microsoft also threw in a one month xbox gold card for my troubles. I can only imagine how many people this person fields in just a day just for this specific problem. Even assuming all customers are nice and polite, the repetitiveness of this task must be daunting at best.

Yes, it's annoying, but I still think Microsoft is a company that has learned from its mistakes, continues to learn everyday and keeps on improving. As much as I hated Microsoft in the nineties, preaching the Linux gospel and what not, I feel that no one, not even Microsoft is beyond redemption.

More DS good news

Following up on my post from yesterday, saw this article from on a Ubisoft investor meeting. In the article, the CFO states that:

"CFO Alain Martinez added that DS games, with their relatively low development costs, achieve profitability at around 100,000 units sold, while a next-gen game for PS3 or Xbox 360 needs to sell around 1.3 million."

This should encourage many 3rd party publishers to bring their top franchises to the DS. However, I'm still worried about what the overall quality of these games will be and if any of the control schemes attempted will be physically hurtful like Metroid Prime Hunters.

My advice, make sure you do what Advance Wars: Dual Strike does. This superb title offers touch screen based controls but also offers a "classic" control scheme that is identical to the Game Boy games of the franchise. This is fortunate since the touch screen control scheme of that game is unusable. Offering a classic control scheme salvaged this gem instead of dooming it.

That being said, offering two control scheme is not always that easy to implement. Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is nothing short of fantastic. One of the reason is the new control scheme based completely on "touch". If given a choice, I suspect many users would have opted for a more classic control scheme and would have missed out on the shear genius that are the touch controls in this game.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Call of Duty 4

OK, I think it's a given by now that developing for the Nintendo DS is hard. That being said, game publishers can no longer ignore the massive success of the handheld now having shipped more than 50 million units.

The good news is that titles like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare are coming to the console. The bad news is that tiles like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare are coming to the console.

On the surface, the availability of a title like CoD4 on the DS is really good news. Having played Call of Duty 2 and 3, I can attest that they are really great, if not very long, games. The problem is fitting that franchise on the DS. The title only comes with one control scheme, this control scheme was pretty much the one used in Metroid Prime Hunters and it didn't work in that title and it doesn't work here either. In fact, the harshest criticism I had about Metroid DS was how hard it was on the hands to play that title, I gave up on it only after a few plays.

The problem with CoD 4 on the DS is that it's clear that the traditional control scheme of the franchise, found on the XBox 360 version of the game for example, is a much better fit. Unfortunately, Activision decided that one control scheme was enough and didn't include an option for it.

I'm all for innovating but more often than not it seems that the price for innovation on the DS is bad controls. Call of Duty 4 on the DS is nonetheless a game with high production values, even delivering speech for all the text in the game, however, it's also clear that the control scheme just doesn't work. Finally, the most frustrating thing about the experience is the DS has all the buttons and controls necessary to actually enable the traditional control scheme.