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The idea of an indefinite console generation

August 22, 2013

This console generation could technically go on forever if executed correctly. Here’s the set up:

The primary consoles, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U (to a lesser extent), are finally based on standard hardware architectures. The Xbox and PS4 have hardware based off standard PC components, and the Wii U uses IBM’s PowerPC architecture. If they continue to embrace this standard architecture, we  would no longer have to endure discrete console generations, forcing a migration of the market and rendering old games unplayable.

Rather than launching new hardware which is not backwards compatible, the console makers can continue to use the same architecture with improved performance, which is similar to what Nintendo has had the foresight to do. Regardless of the Wii U is struggling right now, Nintendo has been using the same system architecture since the GameCube. The Wii was essentially an overclocked GameCube, and the Wii U increases clock speeds and adds more cores (among other enhancements). What this amounts to is that Nintendo’s consoles are the only ones that are truly backwards compatible with older games. Right now, the Wii U is compatible with Wii games, and they would be silly not to add GameCube games later on via digital distribution.

Let’s say that 8 years from now (give or take), Sony and Microsoft could simply release new consoles that are beefed up versions of the current architecture. Thus, developers could release a game with scalable graphics and assets, much like PC games. If you have a PS4, the game runs. If you have a PS5 the game runs and looks better. Eventually, older systems can be phased out. Some PS5 games may be too demanding to run on the lowly PS4, thus compatibility could be dropped. However, the PS6, keeping architecture compatibility, should be able to run PS4 games just fine, and that’s the important part.

It is ridiculous that we are forced to re-buy our old games on new consoles. It is ridiculous that our old games can’t be played any more because our console or controllers stopped working and they are no longer being manufactured. By constantly evolving the platform based on a standard architecture, a game can continue to be played indefinitely without being tied to hardware. Given that manufacturers usually lose money on new console launches, this indefinite prolongation of consoles allows them to release a console when it is profitable (also they wouldn’t have to waste R&D resources on engineering an entirely new system architecture each generation). The standardization also helps developers; their mastery of a platform not becoming irrelevant with every generation.

In essence, I have described the PC market. The difference is that user hardware is a controlled platform. There are discrete console setups that developers develop for which makes it easier to keep compatibility (coding for 2 or 3 hardware configurations as opposed to thousands). Looking further, it actually has clear parallels with Apple’s iOS ecosystem. Hardware is continually upgraded across device generations, yet apps keep the same standard platform and compatibility. I really hope this discussion has already taken place in the Microsoft and Sony offices as a long-term plan. I would be really disappointed if the industry continues its current idiocy of breaking compatibility every time by building custom architectures.

Side note: Ironically, Microsoft already had the original Xbox running on off the shelf PC parts back in 2001. I wonder why they moved away from that and into custom territory (poorly designed at that, given the Red Ring of Death fiasco).

Harry Nilsson is a pretty cool guy, and I had never heard of him

June 7, 2013

I was playing Alan Wake on PC last week. The game’s introductory level features a jukebox playing “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. I had heard this song before, probably in a movie, and it’s really great. One week later, Coconut was still stuck in my head. So I opened up Google Music (hell yeah, still rockin’ that free trial) and Nilsson’s Wikipedia page. Turns out, I’m familiar with quite a few of Nilsson’s hits, mostly from movies.

Listening to his albums on Google, I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Nilsson’s work and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of him earlier. Fun fact from the book of knowledge: Nilsson’s had some hardcore drunken adventures with John Lennon in the 70s, and then Lennon produced one of his albums. In the same vein, Nilsson covered The Beatles track “You Can’t Do That” while layering in samples from 22 other Beatles songs.

I’ll end this with some awesome tunes.

This, which I have heard a million times without wondering who sang it (though it was actually a cover which he popularized).

Coconut, which I now remember I originally heard in Reservoir Dogs.

Manipulative marketing

May 25, 2013

This week’s discussion on my Ethics, Law, and Corporate Governance class asked about technology and marketing and how they are used to manipulate the U.S. consumer. It also prompted us to mention what we think could be done to address this. I pretty much went on a tangent and rambled for far too long, but I really enjoyed writing it.

Also, I shouldn’t have had coffee at midnight. The following is my post for the class:

The U.S. consumer is clearly being manipulated by marketing and technology. Not only that, but the more we integrate new technology into our lives, the more marketing the consumers subject themselves to. Every great advancement in communication has been taken advantage of by marketers, chronologically: print, radio, television, and the Internet. The U.S. consumer is bombarded with technology-enabled marketing on a constant basis.

Honestly, being subjected to never ending marketing is pretty much the norm for the present-day consumers. However, I think the average consumer can tell when advertisements are attempting to manipulate them and be disingenuous (at least I hope they can). The real manipulation comes into play with more invasive marketing.

For example, product placement can manipulate the consumer without them noticing. There is a great scene in the film “Thank You for Smoking” where the main character comes up with the idea of marketing a brand of cigarettes in a movie by having the beautiful protagonists smoke after sex. The reasoning is that the audience will automatically associate this brand of cigarettes with cool celebrities and sexual activity. Great marketing, great manipulation.

The problem is that U.S. consumers and businesses alike have grown accustomed to using marketing to subsidize the costs of many products and services, so it is difficult to address the issue of manipulation through marketing without upsetting the interests that pay for the products we enjoy. All the aforementioned communication technologies are subsidized by marketing. Now using the Internet, we can see even greater opportunity for manipulation.

Take the case of social networking services, like Facebook and Twitter. They are funded by advertising and the selling of users’ data to marketers. Like TV and radio before them, these products are given to the customer for “free” (in quotes because your time spent looking at ads and having your data sold is worth something right?). However, marketing is currently being built into our social experiences and interactions, not just our entertainment outlets. Now, that is an area ripe for manipulation! An advertisement on Facebook is adorned by images of your friends’ faces, telling you that they “like” X product.

What action can be taken to mitigate the manipulation of the U.S. consumer by marketing and technology? I think the only way to accomplish this is to change the advertisement-subsidy model where users expect services to be free. A paid service, such as HBO or App.net (a subscription-based social network), is not only free of manipulative marketing but it is also a product made with the best interests of the consumer in mind instead of the sponsor’s interests.

Accidental blogging

May 25, 2013
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I have ignored this blog for far too long. Every time I have an idea for a post I end up not writing it. After the mentally-exhausting rigors of work and school, I honestly have very little willpower left to churn out some writing. At that point, I just rather play video games or catch some Netflix to relax. That said, the writing I do for class is occasionally interesting outside of the academic context. So I have decided that I might as well post some of them here to share some of those thoughts with the world instead of having them quietly waste away on the private forums of the class website.

March 2, 2013

Damián Esteves:

I originally posted this on my Masheros community blog, but I figure I might as well repost it here to keep this alive and with all my writing

Originally posted on MASHEROS:

I played through the first Assassin’s Creed and thoroughly enjoyed it. The objectives were repetitive but fun, and the parkour-flavored platforming was fresh and exhilarating. The combat was generic, but the story was engaging and cinematic. It was new IP for the relatively new console generation. This exactly describes my experience with Uncharted 2 as well.

I later bought Assassin’s Creed 2 and Uncharted 3. After playing a few hours of each, I grew restless and bored. Man, these games are ridiculously boring. The only incentive keeping me playing was the story. If that was the case, then I might as well have watched a movie with a significantly reduced time and money investment. Why, though?  These sequels were streamlined versions of their predecessors with bigger budgets for better production values. Why was I less amused by these games than by their predecessors?

The first time around, the cinematic presentation and parkour…

View original 279 more words

Can we have more phone-less handheld computing?

February 18, 2011

Not so long ago we had Personal Digital Assistants, PDAs. I owned a couple of the later ones, a Toshiba Pocket PC and a Palm TX. PDAs started as companion devices to keep you organized, but eventually their operating systems became advanced enough that they expanded functionality to include media players, games, and web browsers. These started merging with cell phones, and now we have the smartphone revolution, where our ever-connected, pocketable devices can do pretty much anything we want them to.

Leading the pack, at least in terms of consumer appeal, is Apple’s iPhone. However, they keep updating their “mp3 player”, the iPod Touch, to be feature-complete with the iPhone. It offers a low-cost, low-commitment entry point into the world of handheld computing. It’s essentially the modern incarnation of a PDA. The iPod touch sells incredibly well. And why wouldn’t it? It has no competition.

The former heavy hitters of the handheld computer have abandoned it for phone-only versions. Palm (HP now) and Microsoft have two great operating systems that could very well compete with the iPod Touch. Just strip the phone apps from WebOS and Windows Phone 7, and there you go. Instant iPod Touch competitors. Worse yet, why is there no Android-based iPod Touch equivalent (aside from the Archos players, but those are pretty big, not really pocketable)? You don’t even have to pay a license fee to make one of those. So why are all these companies letting Apple take the whole market?

I have no idea.

First of all, there’s the whole smartphone-less (for now) youth market (kids and especially teens). Let’s face it, the Nintendo DS and the PSP have their fingers far, far from the pulse of where the handheld gaming. Their upcoming, single-purpose, portable gaming consoles will retail for more than the cost of an iPod Touch. Then, of course, they expect you to pay at least $40 per game. You know how many iOS games you can buy for forty dollars? Infinity, give or take. I could write a whole post on how much they’re screwing this up, but I digress. The point is the iPod touch can entertain the youth (and adults, myself included) with games, but not only that, it has a metric ton of social networking apps, web browser, YouTube, etc. It’s a cheap, starter “computer” for all intents and purposes. So let’s say kids gravitate towards iOS. A few years from now, when they’re all grown up and it’s time for a smartphone, what do you think they’re going to want? I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the OS in which they already have all their games on and are used to. It works the same way Microsoft gets students to use Office. Later, when they go into the work force it’s all they know how to use, thus what they need.

That’s what gets me, Microsoft knows this trick. Get them while they’re young. Yet here they are, wasting a huge market. They already have the most popular console gaming ecosystem with Xbox Live and the Xbox 360. Windows Phone 7 (WP7) has Xbox Live functionality. It’s simple logic, really. Use Xbox Live as a Trojan horse to get the youth on a phone-less WP7 device! Hell, I’d buy one. Achievements are magically delicious, you know. That brings me to my second point, I’d really like a secondary “entertainment” device. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t really think the whole games/music/movies on my phone is all that great until we get some real leaps in battery technology. Smartphone batteries barely last a day as it is, let alone if they have to satisfy your Angry Birds and Netflix streaming addictions.

The “handheld-computing/entertainment-device that’s not a phone” has a lot of potential, but no one seems to care. Can we fix this now please? I really want to get a nice little smart device for gaming and MP3 player use, instead of these ridiculous 3DS and NGP consoles.

Sony brought PS3 security breach upon themselves

January 14, 2011

This month the PS3’s security was finally busted open. The hacker community has enabled unsigned code to run. This opens the door for homebrew software and piracy. Sony is now suing the developer of the exploit, George “GeoHot” Hotz.

You wonder why it took so long to develop homebrew on the PS3. It goes like this: almost every console has had its security broken for homebrew purposes, and then piracy ensues. Sony had the perfect defense against this by giving the PS3 owners the ability to run their own OS on it (Linux). Therefore, there was no need for the homebrew hacker community to break the PS3’s security. For a nice little breakdown of all the different consoles’ security timelines check out a minute of the tail end of this talk about the Xbox 360’s security system, starting at 43:57 playtime. It will show how Sony dropped the ball on this.

Then, Sony went and shot themselves in the foot by removing the  Other OS option on PS3 Slims and later on every PS3 via firmware updates. Good job at pissing off your fans Sony! Now the homebrew community had a purpose! Not that much later now, we’ve got homebrew running.

It’s no coincidence that the PS3’s security was broken only after the Other OS option was removed. Sony has no one to blame but themselves for the rampant piracy that could (most likely will) result from this!

Apple Stickers Create Fanboys – Marketing Genius

June 17, 2010

Photo by ifranz

Apple Inc. has positioned itself as an upscale brand, with stylish and reliable consumer products.  They enjoy great profit margins on their products, and have a devoted fanbase.  The majority of their customers have a certain brand loyalty.  Even though their products usually have comparable analogues made by other companies, there is a certain elitism associated with the brand.  Most people have at least some brand loyalty to the products they own, not many people like saying they made stupid purchases of course.  You like to be proud of the products you own, but Apple users take this to another level.  There’s nothing wrong with this as long as they are not blindly loyal, but I believe it was worth writing a post about.

I believe this all stems from a basic marketing tactic: Every major Apple product I can think of ships with an Apple sticker in the box.  This creates a bond with the brand. You put this sticker on your car, on your non-Apple laptop, whatever.  It’s visible.  It now represents a bit of who you are, and everyone can see it.  Now when someone speaks negatively (or positively) about Apple products, it’s personal.  You identify with the product, it becomes part of your lifestyle instead of just something you bought.  Now this is also prominently evident in their actual devices: Mac PCs, iPods, and iPhones all have a very minimal design aesthetic with a large, bold, Apple logo smack in the middle. This faces outward of course, making sure everyone notices.  This is logical marketing thinking — there’s no doubt they’re going to put their logo on their products — but Apple really built that customer/brand loyalty better than any of its competitors.  The only other brand I can think of that comes close is Sony.

This is my practical explanation for why Apple fanboys are such a prevalent part of the Apple culture.  You might think, “but it’s because the products are so good!”  I will say that yes, they consistently create good, even great, consumer products.  However, I do not think their products merit the rabid fanboys / hipster elite that they generate.  This is a product of good marketing and branding.

Flobots and k-os

June 12, 2010

On June 2nd, my first week in Nashville this summer, I went with a few buds to the rockin’ little venue of Exit In. I had been looking for worthwhile upcoming performances in the area and found out that Flobots and k-os were playing that night, so off we went. I had discovered k-os a few years ago on the Obscure Sound blog, and I had barely heard Flobots aside from watching a few of their videos on the YouTubes. There was an opening group, Champagne Champagne, but we got there a little late and just caught their last song.

K-os caught me completely off-guard with a quite good show. I always kinda liked his music, but the man’s stage presence and crowd involvement brings his live performance to a few levels above the recordings. The blend of funk, rock, and hip-hop in his musical stylings is distinctive and well executed.

I was pretty new to the music of Flobots so I didn’t really know what to expect of their performance, but it was nothing short of awesome. They started off their one and a half hour long set with a percussion-only intro and started melting my face off from there. Their music is a blend of rock and hip hop with two main vocalists, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and a violist. As expected by their unique intrumental lineup, their music is quite a unique experience. That, and they really knew how to work a crowd Catchy beats with good melodies and aggressive vocals put the audience, and myself, in a state of euphoria.

New Desk for My Room!

May 23, 2010
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I’ve been wanting a new desk for my room for quite a while now. My horrible looking set-up for the past almost 2 years was as follows: 32-inch TV on a weak plastic table, next to it my desktop PC on one of those little folding tray-tables, and next to that my old computer-cart desk from 1998 with my laptop and/or monitor. Spread across all this I had random computer parts (old keybords, HDDs, video cards) and wondrously stacked piles of CDs and DVDs scattered around. Some high shelves above this held my home theater’s receiver and game consoles with all the wires dangling down to the TV and power outlets all messy-like.

So I finally got around to designing my desk on and went to Home Depot to get the necessary materials. When planning it, I also wanted it to be cheap to build so I designed it in such a way that the whole thing could be built out of a single 4×8 piece of 3/4″ wood panel. The desk would be held together by some L-brackets  and reinforced from behind by a brace spanning the width of the desk; below is a picture of my design on paper. I wanted the desk to fit my monitor, the TV, and have shelves for all my consoles, PC, and the receiver.

Click to make zoomy big magic.

The next day I started working on it with my father’s help, who has a lot of experience and is really good at this whole DIY bit (and has cool tools). After a day’s work we managed to get the whole structure built and stained the wood a darker color after a break to rest and eat. The only changes made to the design was the addition of a thin wooden panel in the left part of the desk for further reinforcement of the structure (less wobble). The next day we bought a can of varnish and applied it to give the desk a protective coat.

One more day passed, and today the varnish has dried and anxious to get my desk in my room already, I started to clean up the sprawling mess that composed my desk/tv area. About six hours later (Hah!), I finally had everything cleaned out and my new desk in place. I must say, wiring everything back up was excruciatingly tedious. Now that everything is set up though, I’m very happy and really enjoying my new spacious desk!

If you click to zoom in, you'll be astonished by its glory.

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