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Bring depth to a mobile near you.



The hyperbole and industrial disinformation created in response to the imminent release of Nintendo's new hand held game console has been focused entirely on the products ability to display to render things in 3D. How will it look? Does it really create an illusion of a 3D image without using glasses to control the light source seen by each eye? Is 3D that important for game play anyway?
The official European launch for the console took place last Wednesday in Amsterdam, was streamed live to via the corporate website and immediately covered on a variety of technology and game focused websites, reporting on the specifications provided and videos shown. Global reach for the launch of the mobile console, which having sold over 145 millions units (, on 20/01/2010) in all it's different iterations, this is a major event for the games and mobile electronics industries, and an interesting progression for the mobile device.
The console will be connected using the BT FON infrastructure to pass game play information between users consoles. The gamer can join a constantly updated network of competitors or community of fellow users. A version of Augmented Reality has been incorporated to enable the gamer to add animation to a camera feed, and potentially to other games using the gamers surroundings as a backdrop to the gaming action. Standard activities of internet browsing are catered for and the software has been updated.
Multi use mobile technology is not new, and this device updates and seeks to enrich an existing and understood mode of engagement, in adding depth to the mobile game screen. How the depth of image will enhance the gaming experience of Mario carts 3D or Pro Evolution Soccer is open to question (although the animals of Nintendogs are likely to be more obviously enhanced) this development will force the addition of a new question to the list for any new mobile device manufacturer; will it be 3D?
The previous generation of DS have been used as multi use mobile devices for quite some time. Harper Collins teamed up with Nintendo in 2008 to release a cartridge of 100 classic novels, and last year saw the release of a collection aimed at children that included Gulliver’s Travels, Moby Dick and Around the World in 80 days.
While Nintendo have supported publishers who look to provide ebook content for the games console, the consumer take up has proved slow. Apart from some press interest with the launch of the original title in 2008, the take up of the use of the DS as a reader appears to have been slow, with the reported global sales in the region of 670,000, though that does include a copy of the cartridge that was sold with some versions of the console. While still sounding impressive, this only represents 0.4% of consoles sold to date. Homebrew software like 
ReadMore for the DS allow the user to read any book in a text file format, opening access to the works available via the Gutenberg Project.
The technology of small application (apps) development for smartphone and tablet technology allows users to modify their own device to have functions that best fit their needs. The apps are cheap and simple to obtain, downloading direct to the device from a website store, with no delay between purchase and use. If you don’t like ‘this’ one, then there is often ‘that’ one, which may work better for you. Included in this mix are apps like the Kindle for 
iPhone and Android, with all the capability of the reader and integration into the online store.
In both cases, the hacker 'homebrew' software running off an SD card in a Nintendo, or the app developed with a kit provided by the owner of the operating system and sold via a shop also provided by the owner of the brand and system, the user is shaping the technology to their own ends, choosing new functionality to add to a favoured device. The development of 3D image technology is interesting, but can only be measured as a real development when the user adopts it fully, adapting the possibilities it offers to their own desires.

The Safety of Copper




The re-emergence of dial up as the technology of choice to avoid the controls of a government that has maintained rule by emergency law for 42 of the last 43 years, is a timely lesson in the frailties present in any or all centrally licensed communications systems. Old fashioned copper wire communications are harder to close down completely without wiping out any economic activity. A mobile network can be manipulated locally by the removal of power to the appropriate mast, as Vodaphone customer on campus have discovered recently, but the older hardwired communications network is a web of interconnecting exchanges, the closure of which cuts a wide swage of the local area from communications. Hard to disguise to the foreign press in the nearby and equally affected hotel.

A new part of the ongoing development of the use of mobile electronic devices to resist the forces of the state has been developed this year by a group of students at UCL. Sukey uses a combination of google maps and open source software, gps, email and sms, to update demonstrators on the location of amenities on the route of their demonstration, and more importantly, provides a way to communicate quickly any potential activity by the police. As reported in today's Guardian, the system was used to avoid a potential kettling situation during a demonstration last saturday. 

 The use of the internet to subvert or control dissident populations is an extension of previously existing network behaviors. The concept of disinformation is in no way a new one, and social relations are ripe for the circulation of inaccurate and interesting stories. Social media networks are more open to this as the element of trust, of who you are and what validity you information holds, is thinner or more difficult to establish, while the providence of your facts may never get tested. Local "white hat" developments like Sukey can fill the void in accurate and safe information, only as long as the authorities choose to allow the underlying infrastructure to be available to support it. In this case, that will be only so long as the cost of removing the infrastructure in question is not so large as to warrant a threat to the survival of the regime in question.

Mobile technologies and cloud services are inherently fragile, relying on power and being a node on a network or relying on access to limited domain addresses to function, or the activity of an individual ISP. Hence the safety of the copper cable, and a telephone system that the regime cannot afford to be seen to turn off, just to limit the communications of a minority of its population. 


Where does the Disc go? (Part 2)




In the world of videogames console, the changeover from disc based 'box product' video games to Downloadable Content (DLC) distributed digitally is one of the current open discourses of the games industry. Do people value box product above the DLC games? Do gamers play free titles differently? How does the industry provide the product the gamers want most effectively (ie. at the greatest return). 

The current model favoured for 'AAA Pillar' games, the blockbuster titles that receive the highest investment and are expected to generate the largest returns for the developer/publisher, is a half way house of a boxed product for the initial release of the main game, with a DLC addition made available to games via the internet based network for that console (PSN or XBLA), usually sometime after the original release. Last year saw the release of a zombie episode for cowboy epic "Red Dead Redemption" by Rockstar, and this year EA have adopted this strategy for their major game releases.

 EA CEO John Riccitiello used this discussion as part of a presentation to the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference earlier this week. Arguing that EA had not made the transition to the current generation of video game hardware very successfully, he used the adoption of a 'Free-to-Play' (F2P) model for additional content to illustrate how EA has adapted to the new opportunities offered by the current video console. Networked console with internal hard drive storage enables the game publisher to distribute a game direct to the gamer, removing the wasteful distribution of plastic boxes, and limiting the hurtful opportunities for game piracy. Content can be personalised to the individual console, using the system of complex keys implemented in both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. 

So where does the money come from in a F2P game? Where else, but from the activity of the gamer of course!

The revenues for "FIFA Ultimate Team quadrupled" when the game became a free download. In game advertising and on purchases by the gamer generated $40 million.

So, can anyone gain access to this bonanza of profit generated from the gaming labour of your customers? It appears not. In a separate discussion of the future of game development, the size required by game development companies to enable their survival was cause for concern. 

David Perry, CEO of Gaikai described the fragile nature of companies developing for mobile devices.

 "People who making Kleenex games – ones that you can blow your nose on and throw away – that's not necessarily a safe place to be betting your money. If your game design is two pages, unless you've found the next Tetris, I would start to worry."

So how do social games succeed? Mike Capps of Epic, in the same article, see this as part of the consumption cycle.

 "There's a reason FarmVille and Zynga's games are so successful – it's advertising dollars. Not because FarmVille's design is particularly brilliant or they put a massive investment into it – it's advertising dollars, followed by metrics, and watching what their users are doing."

Tracking the activity of the gamers when they are using their product is a key component to generating their profits over the lifecycle of the game. Monitoring the immaterial labour of the gamer, and selling this labour; eyeball time, or developing new iterations of successful episodes, using happy customer to pass on the joy of the gaming experience to the friends or buying in game content as a gift for another gamer all becomes more important for the revenue of the company as they look to extend the life of every successful game.

All of which is likely to spell the end of box product in those countries where the Broadband network is mature and console connection rate is high enough for the major game developers to take the jump. It is likely that a greater percentage of games will be DLC only in the next 12 months, with any game that finds a sufficiently big audience spawning additional free episodes tuned to extend the gaming experience and harvest the fruit of the gamers labour. How much of the game is "yours" after you have bought it is open to question when you every move is monitored and examined to create further revenue. How many companies are prepared to risk €30 Million for a new 'Heavy Rain' when their who company is riding on the outcome? More generic, thin, socially phatic gaming maybe the best we can expect, at least for the time being. Interesting, some of the games industry are starting to think in a similar manner. (registration required) Blog updated 17/02/2011.


Road rash



A couple of weeks ago, in avoiding a the close attentions of a 25 bus on the Vogue Gyratory, one of my panniers clipped my rear wheel and was sent spiralling backwards towards Sainsbury's. As this particular bag held my macbook and all original interview material, it is precious and costly to think about replacing, and though the bike was leaning in towards the curb, my instinctive response was to 'sling on the anchors' as The Sweeney would have it, and I braked hard. The bike, now lighter than usual, rocked forward, flipping over the axis of the front wheel, and I was sent sprawling on to the road's surface hands first. The second instinct was yelling 'Not the face!', but my arms broke my fall, before I slid into the curb on my left side and knee. Blood and panic washed everywhere as the blue transit van, that had been following me round the exit back onto the Lewes Road stopped and the passenger checked to see if I was ok. Being busy collecting my things from up and down the near side lane of the road, I mumbled a shocked Yes, I'm fine, and moved by bike, bags and grazed self onto the pavement.

So far, so unfortunate; should have fitted the panniers so they don't foal the wheels, and would have avoided putting my knee through my jeans and bruising a rib. Or so I thought. Later that day, as I attempted to cycle home (I had continued on to University as I had meetings and a teaching commitment to attend to) I realised I couldn't hold the handlebars with my thumb of my right hand. Broken wrist was my amateur diagnosis, and so the x-ray at A&E appeared to confirm, when I was speedily seen at the Royal Sussex later that evening. Suspected fracture to the end of the ulna. Common in any trauma where you land on the flat of you hand, palm open and perpendicular to your arm. I have done this before, twice; once resulting in a fractured scaphoid requiring long term plaster, once similar to now, caused by landing heavily while playing football, and resulting in wearing a splint for a month. An appointment was made for the Fracture Clinic for a hand specialist to confirm the original diagnosis and to clarify the follow-up care. Come back Tuesday morning.
Hating hospitals with the clarity of any healthy, non-health-professional human, I make sure I was being seen early, so I could avoid all the sick and infirm. My own frailties are embarrassing enough, without the demand that I am exposed to other peoples frailties and the concerns of their caring relatives. See me first please, and 08:30, first appointment in the book. I arrived nice and early, prompt meaning I am 10 minutes in advance of my appointment time, and take a seat in the comfortable but worryingly large waiting area. How many people do these people have to cater for? Is there an epidemic of brittle boned cyclists in Brighton? In hindsight, I why they have such nicely padded chairs in the waiting room; don't really want anyone to cause any further damage to a broken skeleton do we, but my main concern was getting seen and walking back to North Laine and a cup of tea.
My appointment duly arrived and was swiftly aborted. The x-ray server was down. Now, for those of you who are too pre-cautious to cycle to work of a morning, or more likely too sensible to fall off regularly, you may not know but x-rays are no longer printed. The examination of you bones is now carried out digitally, with the results being stored electronically and served to a web browser for inspection. This is a national service, enabling the rapid recall of x-ray material as part of your medical notes and allowing the speedy transfer of material between departments and institutions. Sadly on this morning, the server was down and no x-rays were retrievable. The consultant who explained the situation, mentioned that the clinic has 80 patients due to visit today, all of which would have x-rays that would need to be inspected. Could I return to the waiting area until the software was working? Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the issue was not a local network connection problem, but that the national service was being restarted. No x-rays were currently available for inspection.
My predicament was soon remedied and the arm is mending happily, if slightly smelly, with the support of the splint. However, the failure of an x-ray server bears long consideration. If the x-rays were taken in preparation for surgery and they were required to confirm the status of a patient prior to any procedure, or worse, during the operation itself, how would the care of the patient be guaranteed? Does the theatre nurse have to go back and check a cached copy? Is there a hospital policy about making sure that the browser history is retained for future reference? What sort of server is used for this delicate information? Is it sitting on virtual machine servers, with data redundancy to ensure that a seamless service is maintained? Well obviously not that tuesday morning. Who specifies this stuff. 
As an academic who is interested in the continual creep of the digital and virtual into the realm of the physical object, this is fascinating. How are the roles of the consultant and nurses responsible for first line diagnosis and clinic support affected by the digitalisation of records and test materials, and how often is the service failing to deliver for the patients? I suspect that no one is counting, no one is asking how the staff are reacting to these changes, and this is worrying me far more than this itchy splint.