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3D CLASSICS: URBAN CHAMPION REVIEW

3D CLASSICS: URBAN CHAMPION REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

Developed by Arika, 3D Classics: Urban Champion is a revamped version of a fighting game originally released for the NES in 1984. Though the action is rudimentary and crude by today’s standards, this two button brawler has a good presentation and can be entertaining in short bursts.

In 3D Classics: Urban Champion, you play as a blue-haired combatant trying to rise the ranks of the local underground fighting scene. Starting out as the “Lonely Champion”, you must survive 99 rounds of bare knuckle boxing to become the undisputed Urban Champion.

The combat in 3D Classics: Urban Champion is essentially a tug-of-war. You can defeat your green-haired opponent by knocking him off of the right side of the screen or by being on his side of the fighting area when time runs out; at which point as police car arrives to make an arrest. The police car also passes by from time to time, sending both fighters to their respective “corners” and resetting the balance of the fight.

Conversely, you are defeated when knocked off of the left side of the screen or caught on your side when time runs out. You only get three chances at making your way through round 99, with no opportunity to get more along the way.

Fights take place outside of four businesses: a snack bar, a discount store, a book store and a barber shop. Aside from signifying progression down the street, the areas are functionally identical. Each business has five windows above it from which an angry business owner will occasionally drop a flower pot. If you or your opponent are caught in its path you will be momentarily stunned, giving the other fighter a chance to land an uncontested blow.

An Isometric View adds DepthEvery three rounds you will knock your opponent into an open manhole and be showered with confetti by the business owner’s daughter. After six rounds you receive a new grade, though in subsequent playthroughs you start with your highest-achieved grade and won’t get a new one until you surpass your old record. Should you complete 99 rounds and become the Urban Champion, you can keep playing, though the round counter and grades will no longer change.

The actual fighting mechanics in 3D Classics: Urban Champion are quite simple. You are armed with a light punch that is quick but weak and a heavy punch that is very strong, but quite slow. You can aim high or low using the d-pad or analog slider and can also block and dodge incoming punches.

The default control scheme has your punches mapped to the A and B buttons of the 3DS, though you can map punches to any of the available buttons.

You start each round with 200 stamina points that get used by throwing and landing punches, getting hit by your opponent or a flower pot. Should you run out of stamina, you will be momentarily winded and will resume the fight with low stamina if you aren’t knocked out first.

The presentation of 3D Classics: Urban Champion is understandably simple, but has some nice touches and uses bright colours. In addition to an option to adjust the depth of the 3D effect in-game, you can turn on an isometric camera angle that gives the game an even greater sense of depth. The sounds and music are typical of early-era NES titles, with no noticeable enhancements.

My main issue with 3D Classics: Urban Champion is that it never really gets harder as you go. Once you learn the timing, you can easily land uncontested heavy blows ad nauseum and the game becomes more about endurance than honing your skills.

Though it’s simple, shallow and repetitive, 3D Classics: Urban Champion can still be fun, especially in short burst play sessions. There isn’t a lot of replay value to be had once you’ve become the Urban Champion, but there is a two player mode playable via local wireless connection.

Positives:

+ Charming, Colorful Presentation with Lots of Display Options
+ Customizable Controls

 

Negatives:

– Shallow Gameplay
– No Variety in Opponents or Locations
– Little Replay Value

FRUIT NINJA KINECT REVIEW

FRUIT NINJA KINECT REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

Fruit Ninja Kinect from Halfbrick Studios is a high energy game that has you slicing a veritable supermarket of fruit while challenging your dexterity and hand-eye coordination. This title features precise and accurate control that is among the best on Kinect, but suffers from calibration and usability issues inherent to the platform.

The premise of Fruit Ninja Kinect is simple: slice fruits lobbed from the bottom of the screen with virtual swords using your hands and/or feet to score points. Though a bit short on content, the game offers three single player modes, two local multiplayer modes for two players and an addictive challenge mode.

Classic Mode begins with a single piece of fruit being launched onto the playfield and quickly ramps up. If you let a piece of fruit fall back off of the playfield you are given a strike. Three strikes and you’re out. This mode will also launch bombs onto the screen, which will end the game if sliced.

Should a Pomegranate—a fruit not present in the iOS version—appear, you can frantically slice it more than 60 times to score a huge point bonus and it will negate one strike should you have any. Occasionally a rare fruit, like dragon fruit will appear and slicing it will be worth 50 points. While most fruits are worth a single point, hitting combos of three or more with one blade slice will award bonus points and randomly occurring critical hits are worth ten points.

Arcade Mode is a score attack mode with a 60 second time limit. There are three power up bananas that will appear from all sides of the screen in this mode. Freeze will slow everything down, Frenzy will launch a thick stream of fruits from the sides of the screen and Double Score is self-explanatory.

Bombs in Arcade Mode do not end the game, but detract ten points from your score and will cancel any active power ups. You can really boost your score by stringing combos together in a “Super Combo Blitz” and maximizing the hits of a pomegranate that appears at the end of every round. A final tally also awards bonus points for the number of combos you get, hitting power up bananas and even for hitting a certain number of bombs.

Zen Mode has no strikes, power ups or bombs, only a 90 second time limit. This mode is all about waiting for the perfect time to strike and maximizing your combos.

The Challenge mode of Fruit Ninja Kinect is my favourite way to play. Here you are given challenges in all three main modes based on the scores of those on your friends leaderboard. If you don’t have any friends playing the game, it will assign challenges based on score plateaus and does a great job of incrementally making you a better player and working towards the high scores needed to unlock some of the achievements. It also creates a sense of variety by mixing up the modes.

Fruit Ninja Kinect also offers two local two-player varieties under Party Mode. You can play Co-Op Arcade that tallies your collective score or a competitive Battle mode. In Battle, fruits are colour-coded in red and blue. Players must slice their own fruits while avoiding the other player’s. Slicing the other player’s fruit will detract from your own score.

As you play, you will unlock “Sensei’s Shwag” from the Dojo menu such as new effects for your blade swipes, backgrounds and player shadows. Unfortunately these unlockables are merely cosmetic and have no effect on gameplay.

What makes or breaks any Kinect title is its controls and the team at Halfbrick Studios did an excellent job adapting the frantic, touch-based swiping gameplay of the original iOS version to a hands-free motion control system. Slices with both hands (or feet if you’re brave) are extremely precise and accurate at a level well above the majority of software for the platform and there is little to no input lag.

A shadow of the player is projected on the background, allowing you to easily tell where your hands are and aim your slices. Should you swipe too frantically, your shadow will turn into a puff of smoke and you won’t be able to slice for a few seconds unless you stop.

Unfortunately, a calibration problem sometimes prevents your shadow from returning for 10-15 seconds, which in a one minute game ruins your play session. The game will also recalibrate if you change positions, remove a hat or even when you sit down to take a break. This constant calibration was likely a choice to allow players to drop in and out in a party or family situation, but in practice it can be quite frustrating as a single player.

Fruit Ninja Kinect also tends to act funny when first starting up the game and even moreso when trying to start a two player session. This sort of thing is common among Kinect titles and will generally be accepted by most players, but it can hurt the overall experience.

The menu system in Fruit Ninja Kinect is intuitive and uses the same slicing mechanic as the gameplay, but icons are bunched together in a way that makes it easy to make a wrong selection because the game recognises even the slightest up or down swing of either hand. The Dojo menu is also a mess.

This long list can only be navigated by swiping and it can be difficult to stop on what you want with any sort of accuracy. Toning down the sensitivity in the menus and adding up and down keys to the Dojo menu would make for a huge improvement in the UI experience.

Fruit Ninja Kinect is one of the more accessible titles available on the platform, in that you can play effectively while seated. I wasn’t able to play from my couch, but got the game to calibrate properly by setting up a dining room chair a bit closer than I would normally play and was able to reach all corners of the screen.

Your mileage may vary depending on your play area, location of the Kinect sensor and height of your chair, but it is possible.

The game could technically be played with one arm, but achieving high scores is virtually impossible without the use of two. The game also uses a distinct audio cue to tell you when a bomb is launched onto the playfield, which leaves deaf players at a disadvantage. An option for a screen flash could help with this a lot.

On the plus side, those that have use of both arms, but limited manual dexterity like me should be able to play Fruit Ninja Kinect at a high level. I’ve played with open hands, closed fists and with wrist weights without any detection issues.

Fruit Ninja Kinect benefits from a nice presentation that features clean and colourful graphics. Each fruit makes a distinct squishing or splatter sound when sliced and the remnants behave realistically when they fall.

There is no music outside of the main menu, but the sound effects including sword swings and bomb explosions are well done. The sensei will appear on your post-play results screen and offer facts about the fruit you’ve been slicing, which gives the game some personality.

While it does have a few issues and will essentially be relegated to party game status once I’ve unlocked the achievements, I would consider Fruit Ninja Kinect a must-buy for any content-starved Kinect owner. The Challenge mode offers some replay value, the controls are a showcase for what the Kinect sensor can do and it’s a great way to get your heart going and work up a sweat in a few minutes.

Positives:

+ Precise, Accurate Controls
+ High Activity Gameplay Works up a Sweat
+ Accessible to Seated Players
+ Challenge Mode Creates Variety and Pushes You to Get Better

 

Negatives:

– Menus, Especially in the Dojo are Sketchy
– Some Calibration Issues, Particularly with Two Players
– A Bit Light on Content

DUNGEONS OF DREDMOR REVIEW

DUNGEONS OF DREDMOR REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

Available through Steam and playable on both PC and Mac, Dungeons of Dredmor from Gaslamp Games is an addictive and accessible entry in the dungeon-crawling Roguelike genre that features many player customization options, a robust crafting system, high replay value and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.

In Dungeons of Dredmor you play as a hero with abnormally large eyebrows summoned by the king to defeat the evil Lord Dredmor, who is freeing himself after being bound in the depths of the earth long ago and must be stopped before he can destroy the world.

When you start Dungeons of Dredmor, you are allotted seven skill points to customize your character with and can choose from 34 different skills such as weapon and magic proficiencies, vampirism, master of arms and fungal arts, to name a few. You can also have the game randomly assign skill points to your character or choose the skill set you started the previous game with.

Once you’ve created your character, you are dropped into a dungeon that is randomly generated from a pool of pre-made room layouts every time you start a new game.

For those unfamiliar with Roguelikes, the basic premise is that when your character moves or performs an attack action, every monster in the dungeon will make a move or attack as well. It’s part turn-based, part real time and often requires strategic thinking.

There are ten floors in Dungeons of Dredmor, each littered with monsters, traps, chests and loot like weapons, potions and armour. Each floor is quite large: it took me over three hours just to fully map the first one, though multiple staircases allow you to move on whenever you feel your character is strong enough. Floors often have side quests that can be triggered by praying to a statue as well, though your primary goal is to simply survive until you meet Lord Dredmor.

Of course, to survive you need weaponry and Dungeons of Dredmor has a large variety that includes axes, swords and wands, as well as less traditional weapons like softballs and IEDs. Your character can generally use any weapon he finds, though bonuses and passive skills come with using equipment geared towards his proficiency.

Armour is also a must and you can outfit the hero in a number of items like helmets, greaves and rings of all kinds. If you don’t find what you’re after while traversing the dungeons, you can always try to make it yourself.

What sets Dungeons of Dredmor apart is a robust crafting system that allows for alchemy, distilling, smelting and refining of metals, blacksmithing and tinkering. Using equipment that you either find or begin the game with based on your chosen skills and recipes, you can craft weapons, armour, potions and stronger raw materials.

Should you find yourself over-encumbered, you can visit a merchant to unload your unwanted goods and bank some zorkmids, the in-game currency. The merchant will often have better weapons and armour than what you currently have, so it’s advisable to explore each floor and locate the shops, which also act as safe zones.

Roguelikes are often quite challenging and Dungeons of Dredmor certainly can be as well, though some difficulty options allow for accessible experience. By default, the game has a “permadeath” feature that does not allow you to reload your game session and character when you die.

With this turned off, you have more freedom to explore and can get the jump on (or avoid) a room full of enemies that may have dispatched you before; provided you remember to save often. For a truly hardcore experience, you can play on the “Going Rogue” difficulty with permadeath turned on.

You can control Dungeons of Dredmor with a mouse alone, or use your keyboard for hotkeys and quick use of inventory items. The left side of the screen holds a “belt menu” and you will find your spells and skills on the right hand side. You can expand the size of the map or move your main inventory around, but these settings are not saved after you quit a game session.

Dungeons of Dredmor looks like a PC game from the Windows 95 era or something put together with RPG Maker. The tile-based graphics aren’t much to look at, but everything is drawn with great detail, information is clearly displayed and the game has a certain old school charm to it. Status effects are displayed in the upper left of the screen, along with a turn by turn recount of the action. There is a smooth scaling option, but I prefer to play with it off.

A great deal of charm can also be found in the humour of Dungeons of Dredmor and it’s clear it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game over screen reads “Congratulatons, You Died!”, enemies will taunt you as they approach, each area is named in a silly manner and items are named things like “Togzar, the Exultation of Foes”, which happens to be one of the worst items in the game.

Dungeons of Dredmor has some great, catchy music in it that ranges from fantasy-esque to loungy jazz and thumping industrial beats. The squishing and screaming of enemies dying can be a bit grating, and there is also a crude-sounding announcer that tells you when you’ve scored a critical hit or your health is low.

There are a few kinks in the presentation and gameplay of Dungeons of Dredmor, but these usually amount to no more than a small nuisance. For example: your character’s pathfinding isn’t perfect, which leads to some inadvertent trap triggering. The door system creates an odd void of space that you can’t walk on, but enemies can and golems that you can summon often behave erratically, get in your way or stop following you all together.

It should also be noted that even though you can play the game on PC or Mac, it does not make use of the Steam Cloud save game feature, so you can’t just swap devices at will without having to start a new game.

Problems aside, Dungeons of Dredmor is a shining example in its genre that can be both beginner-friendly and an extremely hardcore gaming experience. It should take most players at least 20 hours to complete the game on the medium difficulty and thanks to randomly generated floors and the extreme variation found in the skill tree, it can be replayed multiple times and represents excellent value at a mere five dollars.

Positives:

+ Varied, Customizable Skill System
+ Robust Crafting System
+ Scalable Difficulty
+ Lighthearted Sense of Humour

 

Negatives:

– Some Gameplay Kinks and Quirks
– Sound Effects can be Grating
– No Steam Cloud Support

TINY TOWER REVIEW

TINY TOWER REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

I can’t think of another iOS game that has chewed up as much time or battery life as Tiny Tower, and frankly I have no idea why. This free-to-play title from NimbleBit tasks you with managing a tower by building businesses, staffing them with residents called “bitizens” and maintaining stock levels. It’s simplistic and shallow, pointless and seemingly endless, yet I just can’t stop playing it.

A brief tutorial starts you off with a business floor and a residential floor to house your first bitizens. Each residential floor can hold up to five bitizens and each business can be staffed with three workers. One item can be stocked for each worker you have in a business.

Each item in a business costs progressively more coins and time to stock, but also yields a higher sale price. Successfully stocking a business with all three items will earn you a cash bonus or a Tower Buck. Tower Bux can be used to speed up stocking, to move bitizens into residences or speed up the construction of a new floor. Every floor you build costs both more time and coins than the one before it.

Businesses are placed in five categories: Food, Service, Recreation, Retail and Creative, each with a demand level based on the number of bitizens you have in your tower. Each bitizen has a proficiency rating from 0-9 for each type of business. The higher the rating of your employees, the more of a discount you get on the cost of restocking items. bitizens also have dream jobs and matching them will yield a large stock bonus and earn you a few bux.

You can also earn bux by manually operating your tower’s elevator and receiving tips and you get two coins for each floor your passenger travels. There are several elevator upgrades available, allowing you to move more bitizens per minute or simply save some time as your tower grows.

Occasionally VIPs will arrive at the elevator. These bitizens will increase the customers on a floor, buy out one type of item from a store, move a bitizen into an apartment or knock a few hours off of the construction of a new floor.

Detailed Pixel Art Gives Tiny Tower CharmFinally, you can earn bux by playing a Where’s Waldo type mini game that simply asks you to locate a bitizen. As your population grows this becomes more tedious and often devolves into simply tapping on each floor until you find who you’re looking for.

Though they’re all the same size, bitizens have unique names and physical traits, which lends to the charm of Tiny Tower. They will even update their “Bitbook” social network statuses with funny quips or how they feel about their assigned job.

Each business and residence is unique as well and the game’s pixel art look manages to pack a ton of detail onto your screen without being cluttered or unusable. There isn’t much to the sound, but there are distinct alerts to tell you when to stock a store, what type of store you’ve tapped on or when someone is waiting for an elevator ride.

You can set the game to notify you when to restock a store when you aren’t playing Tiny Tower. The game world is persistent and your bitizens continue to live and work when you aren’t around, earning you coins. For the sake of real life productivity, I find it best to leave these notifications off. Unfortunately, the game won’t notify you when a business is completely out of stock or closed.

Tiny Tower has Game Center support for achievements and leaderboards and you can also view friends’ tower progress in relation to your own.

Unlike other games of this nature such as FarmVille or Animal Crossing, there is no real penalty to leaving your tower unattended for some time. Shops will simply close when out of stock and your income will stop. You can jump back in and get everything humming again within minutes, even after a day or two away.

Like most free-to-play games, you can gain an advantage or speed up wait times in Tiny Tower by purchasing bux in-game with real world money. However, unlike typical “freemium” games, there isn’t a feeling of needing to pay to win or progress and you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the base package.

I spent $0.99 on a few bux at the very beginning to give me a head start, but have put at least 10-15 hours into the game since then without spending another dime, though you can really only “play” for 5-20 minutes at a time without running out of things to do.

Tiny Tower is a great quick fix game and despite its simplicity manages to create an addictive experience that has had me saying “just one more floor” since I downloaded it. I’ve played it while watching TV, in the bathroom, while playing other games and even while eating. In fact, I should probably check on my tower now.

Positives:

+ Charming Pixel Art Presentation
+ Can Get a Lot out of Free Base Package
+ Checking on Your Tower can be Addictive
+ Achievements, Leaderboards and Viewing Friends’ Towers

 

Negatives:

– Shallow, Simplistic Gameplay is Relegated to Short Bursts
– Person-Finding Mini Game becomes Tedious

Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale Review

Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale Review 150 150 GAMESFWD

Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is the latest in a long line of mediocre video games based on the classic pen and paper role playing franchise. This dungeon-crawling action RPG is weighed down by tedious, repetitive gameplay and a number of presentation problems.

The premise of Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is that Rezlus, servant of Bane has taken over The Tower of the Void and plans to destroy the land of Daggerdale. The stories in this type of game don’t usually add much to the experience and this game is no different.

The story of Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is made further irrelevant because of a lacklustre presentation. A couple of cutscenes are presented in a graphic novel style with full voice overs, however most of the story it told through silent, blocky in-game character models that look like and act they were created in the early days of the PlayStation 2.

The rest of the game unfortunately is not much prettier. Washed out muddy colours, generic and repetitive enemy design and blurry textures are accompanied by severe screen tearing, pop in and frame rate problems.

The only positive thing I can say about the look of Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is that equipment changes appear on your character, along with some decent visual flourishes that denote status effects or equipment traits.

Sound design in the game is also rather poor. The sound level is noticeably muted, music is almost non-existent and the sound effects are weak.

Most fans of action RPGs would probably agree that collecting loot and upgrading your equipment is a big part of the fun. This eventually becomes the case in this game, but I was halfway through the five to six hour campaign before I actually started seeing items of interest appear. While there is a good variety of weapons and armour, complete with individual stats and traits, there is no weapon customization to speak of.

There is also little character customization to be had in Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale. At the beginning of the game you can chose one of four preset classes; human fighter, dwarven cleric, halfling wizard and elven rogue, the lone female option. Skills–each with three levels–and traits are unlocked in order based on your level and follow a linear progression. There is no option to re-class your character or take on a second class.

You can map up to seven actions, skills or items to the face buttons, with the left trigger used to swap skill sets. The rest of the controller’s buttons are also used, with the camera mapped to both the d-pad and right analogue stick.

Being comfortable with your control setup is important, because you will essentially be mashing your attack and skill buttons for the duration of the game. There is little to no strategy involved in combat, regardless of which class you choose.

It is not uncommon for action RPGs to boil down to a formula of clearing out a room of enemies and moving on, in Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale it becomes extraordinarily tedious. The quest structure has you backtrack through each dungeon several times, facing groups of enemies that respawn in the exact same numbers and locations every time you pass through an area.

Enemies scale in level as you advance through the game, but I constantly felt over levelled which made the whole thing feel too easy and sucked away what little fun that was to be had with the combat entirely. I knew what was coming around every corner and which attack or skill was effective.The campaign is broken into four chapters, each containing several quests and side quests, though the last chapter is but a surprisingly short boss fight. Quests invariably entail making your way to a location and destroying a group of enemies or structures. There is no checkpoint system during missions, so if you die or fail, you are forced to start the quest from the beginning, many of which are 10-20 minutes long.

Once you complete the campaign, you will find your character back in the game’s first dungeon with nothing to do but beat up on the same hordes of enemies you already dispatched a dozen times and max out your character at level ten.

You can also play the campaign with up to three others locally or via Xbox LIVE. Players are held within about half of a screen of each other by an invisible tether and can revive each other if they fall. Unfortunately, the game’s already shaky performance takes a big hit in multiplayer.

With action RPG titles like TorchlightDungeon Siege III and even Deathspank available on the Xbox 360, it’s hard to make a case for Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale for anyone but the most ardent and patient fans of the franchise. The short, yet tedious campaign, substandard presentation and performance and lack of customization options made it hard for me to find any real pleasure in playing this game.

E3 2011 Hopes and Expectations

E3 2011 Hopes and Expectations 150 150 GAMESFWD

Once again the biggest video game trade show of the year is almost upon us. E3 2011, taking place June 7-9, 2011 in Los Angeles, CA promises to be one of the most interesting in some time. I’m expecting lots of details on Project Café from Nintendo, a date and price for the NGP from Sony and eagerly anticipate seeing where Microsoft will take the Kinect platform.

I thought I’d take a moment to go over what I expect to see and what I hope to see from “the big three” at this year’s expo and some of the more prevalent rumours floating about. In general terms of content relevant to Game Forward, I’m expecting Augmented Reality (AR) to be big this year and for Kinect for Xbox 360 and PlayStation Move titles to dominate their respective system’s first party lineups.

The PlayStation brand has taken a bit of a beating in the past few months, though E3 2011 offers a great chance for Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) to regain consumer confidence.

After an apology for the PlayStation Network security breach that took place in April 2011, I’d like to think that SCE will detail (as much as they can at least) what sort of steps they’ve taken since then to ensure our user and financial data is properly secured.

That unpleasantness is dealt with, I’m expecting a content-rich presentation from SCE, with lots of new details about its Next Generation Portable (NGP)—now rumoured to be called PlayStation Vita—including a near finalized launch date and expected price range.

Some new features being speculated are head tracking and PlayStation Move compatibility, though unless it is meant to be used as an ultra-portable console the latter seems impractical and unlikely. I’m looking for more details about its supposed PSN software compatibility.

In addition to the first party titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 that have begun to appear in previews and the Call of Duty title mentioned when the NGP was announced, I expect to see plenty of third party content, including one or two launch window blockbusters and console launch mainstays like Madden NFL and Ridge Racer.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss Shows Off the Power of PlayStation VitaOn the PS3 front, I’m expecting a PlayStation Move-heavy presentation including first party titles like Uncharted 3 and third party efforts like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Resident Evil 6. Beyond that, I’m hoping to see an updated version of Sorcery, a game they showed in 2010 and frankly anything else that isn’t a shooter.

SCE always has a ton of great first party content to showcase, both retail and for PSN and I’m sure that on of their montages will get me excited to see what they have on tap for the coming year. They almost always have a big third party exclusive to show off too, I’d guess the next Quantum Dream game, a resurfacing of Agent or maybe even the long-rumoured Final Fantasy VII remake.

Microsoft has been riding a wave of market-topping sales in recent months thanks to the somewhat surprising success of its Kinect motion sensing control system. From the looks of things, they intend on keeping it that way.

There are a veritable ton of Kinect-related rumours, including dozens of software titles appearing through trademarks or located on unpublished web pages by Internet-savvy gamers. Notable titles I’d expect to see include Dance Central 2Star Wars Kinect, a Gears of War rail shooter and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, which appears to be a controller-Kinect hybrid title.

Mass Effect 3 also appears to incorporate Kinect according to information spotted on EA’s website.

I’m hoping to see more of these hybrid titles. Issuing hand signals and voice commands or having your head tracked are great ways to create immersion. I’m also waiting to see what Indie developers do with Kinect when it’s integrated into the XNA design platform and hoping to see more health and education-style apps appear on the Indie Games marketplace.

There are rumours of a Kinect-integrated redesign for the Xbox 360 fueled by recent sales and gift card offers and even one of a TV with an Xbox 360 and Kinect Built right in.

The Xbox 360 is also rumoured to be getting some new features such as cloud-based save files, full stereoscopic 3D support and that we will see free-to-play games introduced to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. A NeoGAF member also claims to have overheard some developers discussing object scanning and interactive books.

On the traditional software side there have been rumblings of a Halo: Combat Evolved remake, a Forza-branded open world racer and Microsoft has yet to announce the full Summer of Arcade lineup for this year.

Project Café, the supposed codename of the next home console from Nintendo will undoubtedly be the focus of the company’s E3 media briefing on June 6 at 9:00 AM PDT, at least from a fan and media perspective. The console is said to be HD capable, have a touch screen-enabled controller that still has buttons and it is even rumoured that you will be able to stream content directly to the controller without needing a TV.

3D Classics Appear to be More than ROM DumpsEverything I’ve seen about Project Café seems a bit crazy in that it doesn’t appear to simply be a “Wii HD” or “Wii 2” and almost steers away from what Wii established, so I think it’s all possible coming from Nintendo. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a release date of spring 2012, a few key franchises’ Project Café iterations announced and we may even see The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword get “Twilight Princess’d” and see a dual release on both the new console and Wii; it’s original platform.

I’m not expecting much else in terms of Wii software announced, possibly a Kirby title or the long-hinted-at Pikmin 3 in addition to a new Wii Series title or two and possibly a couple additions to the Nintendo Selects line.

I’d like to see the Vitality Sensor make a return, whether for Wii, Project Café or even the 3DS. Such a a peripheral would not only lend to new gameplay experiences, but could be applied to fitness and rehabilitation programs.

For the 3DS, I’m expecting to get dates for Super Mario 3DSPaper Mario 3 and Kid Icarus from Nintendo and to see the next wave of first party titles announced, possibly even the next Pokémon title.

They recently unveiled the Pokédex 3D app, which will be made available as a free download for the 3DS when the Nintendo eShop launches on June 6 and makes use of the StreetPass data sharing system and AR functions.

3D Classics: Excitebike will also be a free download until July 7, giving us a taste of what to expect from the series. This remake will have two racing modes and the ability to save up to six created tracks.

Other titles to be available at the eShop launch include the Game Boy classics Super Mario Land and Alleyway, as well as Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Edition from Capcom. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the 3DS virtual console lineup and to see what 3DSWare has to offer and I’m probably more excited about that than even the new console. Nintendo says that the eShop will be updated every Thursday.

The system update will also allow users to transfer their DSiWare purchases and access the 3DS web browser, which can be used while playing software, but does not support Adobe Flash. Future updates will include a 3D short form video sharing application.

E3 2011 should make for an interesting week and that’s even without talking about the glut of third party content expected from giants like EA, Activision, Konami, Capcom, Ubisoft and Square-Enix. The next year or two should have a ton of great experiences to keep gamers of all kinds busy.

New technology also offers new opportunities, as well as challenges to those in the fields of accessibility, health, serious games and augmented reality.

NINTENDOGS + CATS REVIEW

NINTENDOGS + CATS REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

The Nintendo 3DS is home to the second iteration of the popular virtual pet franchise. nintendogs + cats comes in three flavours; Toy Poodle, French Bulldog and Golden Retriever and as its title suggests, now includes cats. While each version of the game contains nine unique dog breeds, all offer the same three cat breeds to chose from.

nintendogs + cats closely follows the concept laid out the previous versions for the DS, and revolves around feeding, cleaning, playing and competing with your puppy. Voice recognition is central to the game and works pretty accurately, according to your dog’s level of obedience.

Being on the 3DS, you have the option to view and interact with your pets in 3D. I found the calibration to be very good and could look at the screen at a regular playing distance with the 3D effect at full strength. However, I tended to play with the 3D turned all the way down, since it didn’t add very much to my experience.

Each day, you can teach your dog up to three tricks. They will be used in competitions to earn money for supplies, accessories, toys, furniture for your house and additional pets. The game starts off by giving you $1,000 for your first puppy and basic supplies.

Your puppy can perform in any of three events—lure coursing, obedience trial and disc competitions—which progressively unlock higher difficulties, offering bigger cash awards. For the obedience trial, you will need the augmented reality (AR) cards included with the Nintendo 3DS hardware.

The key to succeeding in these competitions is training. You can do so by hitting the gym or the park regularly in different parts of town. When you take your dog for a walk, you will eventually gain access to these new areas—downtown, seaside and the mountains—which can be accessed by following signs along the road. It is great to have new routes to walk down, however, the game could have benefited from including a map or list of the venues in each area.

Disc Competitions are a Great Way to Earn CashIf you rarely take your dog out training, you will be reminded to do so by the people you come across during your walks. They will occasionally suggest that both of yours dogs go play together at the park. Training with other dogs can sometimes be difficult, since better trained dogs are likely to interfere by jumping into the action. In addition to helping your pup gain valuable competitive skills, regular training will help ensure that your dog maintains a healthy weight (mine went from “skinny,” to “ideal” and “plump” after a few days of not training).

When out on walks, you should guide your dog toward patches of grass for it to pee, pick up its poop by tapping on it when it appears on the screen (interestingly, you never have to buy new baggies for this purpose), and tug on its leash when it starts sniffing at garbage.

A treat icon will appear on the side of the screen when your dog responds to the tug, which you can tap before it disappears to give to your puppy as a reward. The weather will occasionally be rainy creating puddles in which your pup will want to play. If you dog behaves, you can tug on its leash again before it gets dirty.

You will come across other interesting venues during your walks, such as a cafe where you and your dog can share a treat and a boutique shop where you can purchase unique items. Your dog will also find presents along the way, ranging from toys and treats, to materials that can be recycled and turned into new items at the second hand shop.

You can access this and the other main shops from the “Go out” menu when in your house. There, you will find the usual Pet supplies, Accessories and Interiors stores, along with the Kennel where you can purchase additional pets, including cats (it is good to note that cats offer much fewer options than dogs; they don’t respond by name, learn tricks, participate in competitions or come out for walks). You will also find a Pet Hotel where you can temporarily drop off one of your animals, though I am not sure what purpose this serves.

The pedometer feature built into the 3DS also lets you take your virtual dog out for a real life walk by selecting the option in the “Go out” menu. Once activated, you shut the lid of your 3DS and insert the device into a backpack to count your steps. The longer you walk, the happier your puppy will be.

You will also earn a special gift for reaching certain numbers of steps and the game keeps a total of the steps walked with your dog. I have tried using the feature by inserting the 3DS in a side bag and found that almost no steps were registered. You can also turn on the wi-fi on the 3DS while in this mode to enable StreetPass functionality and the game can receive SpotPass updates such as new pets to meet.

Puppies Respond to Your Voice and FaceOther interesting features include face recognition, where when you place your face close enough to the screen, your dog can recognize you and lick the screen. You can make your puppy wear Nintendo-themed hats by using the AR function in your supplies, though it would have been fun if using this feature actually unlocked the hats in your inventory for permanent use.

You can also take pictures of your pets, from the menu or by pressing one of the shoulder buttons. nintendogs + cats includes a journal, in which you can take handwritten notes about your pet. I found this feature to be incomplete and have not made use of it. I would have liked to see it keeping track of your pup’s milestones automatically, like a mission log.

The control scheme is pretty straightforward. The game mostly uses voice controls, to call dogs by name and to make them perform tricks. While you can call your pup by tapping the screen three times or tapping the central “calling button” in the menu, there appears to be no alternative means of calling out tricks. I see this as an accessibility drawback as well as a limit to playing the game in public places. This could have easily been remedied by assigning various button combinations for each trick. No buttons are used in the game, aside from the shoulder buttons, so this would not have interfered with other functions.

The graphics are pretty solid, especially the pet animations which are quite detailed and feel realistic. The only hiccup I found were when I had more than one pet at home, where they would clip each other when they moved in close proximity. There is also no way to control the camera unless your pet is standing right in front of you. I found this took away from the experience, particularly when witnessing your pet playing with a toy and going out of view.

While nintendogs + cats is engaging and very sweet, it does little to innovate from previous versions in the series. For that reason, I am not sure that I would keep on playing the game after finishing all the levels of competitions and winning them, and the game loses its novelty pretty quickly. However I might go back once in a while, because I do feel bad for neglecting my pet, even if only virtual. It would have been nice if missions or some other new dimension had been added to the game to really keep you coming back, but all in all it’s a nice way to pass the time.

Positives:

+ Good Voice Recognition
+ Pedometer Function
+ Charming Way to Pass the Time

Negatives:

– Not Much Different From Previous Versions
– Very Limited AR Integration
– Accessibility Options Are Limited

NINTENDO 3DS HARDWARE REVIEW

NINTENDO 3DS HARDWARE REVIEW 150 150 GAMESFWD

The 3DS from Nintendo is a worthy upgrade and sets the tone for the next generation of portable gaming. It features a solid build quality, the ability to take 3D photos, real-time online functionality and built-in augmented reality software.

Of course, the 3DS can also display content—from the system menu to games and videos—in 3D on its upper screen without the need for glasses, which is arguably the biggest appeal of the hardware. However, there are some quirks and limitations to the 3D technology.

To view the 3D effect, the 3DS should be between nine and 14 inches from your face, directly in front of you. The “sweet spot” for optimal viewing can vary widely from person to person, so luckily the hardware includes a slider to control the intensity of the effect, meaning users can optimize their viewing experience.

The 3D effect can be turned off completely, which leaves you with a crisper, brighter 2D image and often results in game software running at a higher frame rate. 3DS software is typically limited to 30 fps in 3D mode.

It is recommended that those with children under seven years of age disable 3D using parental controls, to prevent their children from potentially damaging their vision.

3D is not mandatory and Nintendo is actively discouraging developers from creating software that is 3D dependent. While this means more people, including young children and those incapable of seeing stereoscopic 3D (stereo blind) can enjoy playing games on the 3DS, it also means that 3D will be relegated to a display enhancement and not a gameplay revolution like the Wii or DS were upon release.

From a personal standpoint, the 3D works and I usually have it set to 80-100% strength. However in the case of playing Pilotwings Resort, I need to turn it down to about 30% or the image will become blurry and defocused.

I also have difficulty seeing the 3D effect without my glasses as one of my eyes is substantially weaker than the other. I suspect that if I was equally blind in both eyes the effect would work again. Also, I have never been able to see “magic eye” posters, but can see the 3D effect of the 3DS.

The Aqua Blue Version of the Nintendo 3DS

The Aqua Blue Version of the Nintendo 3DSThe 3D, widescreen upper display looks very nice It’s crisp and bright and is a great showcase for the increased horsepower of the 3DS compared to its predecessor or the PSP. Graphically speaking it looks in line with Wii software and the 3DS undoubtedly has the best graphics of currently available handheld devices.

The audio fidelity also seems better than previous DS consoles, though it could just be perceived because of better speaker hardware. The 3DS has a fully-featured music player that includes eight visualizations, the ability to adjust tempo and pitch, add effects or even play along with a kick and snare drum.

The Nintendo 3DS Sound application also allows users to record and edit almost 200 samples of ten seconds or less.

Also built into the 3DS operating system is the AR (augmented reality) Games application. Each 3DS system comes with six cards featuring familiar Nintendo characters. When these cards are placed on a flat surface and scanned using the AR Games application, they transform the world around you into a gameplay environment.

I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but using the AR Games cards for the first time gave me a sense of childlike joy I haven’t felt from a gaming device in some time. It’s a really cool feature that could be implemented into retail games. Hopefully we see Nintendo release new sets of cards or package them with retail games as an enhancement.

Face Raiders is a built-in AR game that uses projects photos you take onto floating heads that you must shoot with the A button. You must literally look around your environment, utilizing the built-in accelerometer and gyroscope of the 3DS to aim. Its a fun little novelty that showcases the features of the 3DS, but its quite shallow and didn’t hold my attention for even an hour.

The Mii characters that became ubiquitous on Wii are integrated into the 3DS experience in a major way. When you open the Mii Maker for the first time, you will create your personal Mii that essentially serves as the main identity of your system. You can make a Mii from scratch, use the inner camera to snap a photo, or even import from your Wii.

The StreetPass Mii Plaza acts as an online hub of sorts. When in sleep mode (on but closed), or while playing a game, the wireless StreetPass technology actively looks for other 3DS signals in the area and can transfer game information and Mii data. Using this feature allows you to populate your StreetPass Mii Plaza.

There are some games built into the StreetPass Mii Plaza also. Find Mii is a dungeon-crawling adventure of sorts that requires you to hire heroes. This can be accomplished using StreetPass, or by spending Play Coins. Play Coins are earned by simply walking around with your 3DS in sleep mode and utilizing a built in
pedometer system. You can earn up to ten Play Coins a day, which only takes 1000 steps to get.

Once you hire heroes, they set off on a journey to find your Mii and will encounter enemies along the way. Defeating enemies will earn you special hats to place on your Mii. Your heroes can perform one action before they are exhausted, so getting through Find Mii could take a while.

You can also use Play Coins and StreetPass encounters to play Puzzle Swap. This simply entails collecting a number of pieces to view a 3D picture.

There are some more practical features built into the 3DS as well. Game Notes allows you to jot down notes for suspended game software, which can be very useful if you need to stop playing suddenly and don’t want to forget what you’re doing.

A detailed Activity Log tracks your play time for software and system functions, as well as your pedometer data. It can be sorted in a number of ways and even keeps a cumulative monthly total.

There are a ton of bells and whistles included in the 3DS operating system, but Nintendo still can’t seem to get the basic user interface experience right. Menus are needlessly cumbersome and obtuse and managing your friends list or data can be a real chore. It’s familiar and somewhat expected, but if there was one thing I’d improve about the 3DS, it’s the UI.

The actual 3DS hardware is a bit thicker and shorter in length, but isn’t that much different from a DSi outside of its technological upgrades. The d-pad, face button and trigger hardware haven’t changed, though there are some layout changes.

Face Raiders is a Built-In Augmented Reality Game

Face Raiders is a Built-In Augmented Reality GameThe d-pad has been moved down to accommodate the new analog-style circle pad. The circle pad is tight and responsive, however I found that the d-pad is set a little low to operate comfortably during long play sessions.

Start and select have been moved to under the touch screen, along with a new home button that allows you to access the UI while using software. The camera has been moved to above the top screen and an Infrared port has been added.

A change I did not care for at all was going from a digital volume control back to a tiny slider like on older DS hardware. A wireless switch that can be toggled at any time is on the other side of the unit. The SD card slot has switched sides and the telescoping stylus housing has been moved to the top.

The hardware feels solid for the most part, but can clearly be improved from both a functionality and an aesthetic standpoint. Battery life could also be improved, as you can expect the unit to last about 3 hours on a full charge when using 3D and wireless functionality. The included charging cradle is really more of a necessity than a luxury.

I’ve spent a solid week with the 3DS and a number of games and for me, it was a very worthwhile upgrade from the DSi. It’s not a huge generational leap in terms of gameplay or even graphics just yet and the 3D effect is primarily cosmetic, but it’s just enough of an advancement to be relevant and feel fresh.

I would highly suggest researching the available titles and even trying an in-store display to be sure the 3DS is for you. The launch lineup is rather thin, with the next wave of major titles not expected until Fall of 2011. Of course, the 3DS is backwards compatible with your DS and DSi cartridges as well.

It should be noted that an update will be made available in May of 2011 that will allow you to transfer your DSiWare purchases to the 3DS and access the 3DSWare store and utilize the built-in Internet browser.

Positives:

+ Glasses-Free 3D Display Works as Advertised
+ 3D Photo Application and AR Games
+ Solid Hardware Build

Negatives:

– Relatively Short Battery Life
– Can be Tough to Find the “Sweet Spot” for 3D Viewing
– User Interface is Cumbersome

LINK FWD: HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS

LINK FWD: HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS 150 150 GAMESFWD

Since its inception in 2008, Game Forward has been collecting links related to Serious Games, Health & Fitness Games, Educational Games, Game Accessibility and Virtual Worlds. This article will serve as a link repository that will be updated and edited on a monthly basis.

We have separated our links into three categories; Education and Research, Groups and Organizations and Hardware and Software Developers. If you feel that a link to your website should be included by Game Forward, please leave a comment below or send a detailed e-mail to links[at]gamefwd[dot]org. Please note that we are not interested in participating in advertising-style link exchanges and have set up these articles as a resource for people interested in the subjects we cover. Thank you for your co-operation.

7-128 Software – 7-128 Software delivers affordable, family friendly, computer games that are “Simply Entertainment” to everyone, regardless of special challenges. This mainstream casual computer game company makes many of its games accessible.

Apps in My Pocket Ltd – Apps in My Pocket Ltd applications are designed to blend the best educational practice with the 21st century magic of the iPhone.

Arkadium – Arkadium creates innovative game solutions for consumer brands, ad agencies, online gamers, and any company looking to expand their presence.
Blue Lightning Labs    http://www.bluelightninglabs.com    Educational iPhone app developer.

Benjamin J. Heckendorn – Creative console and hardware moder.

Bent 360: Media Lab Inc. – A non-traditional player among digital agencies, Bent 360 is focused on developing “branded entertainment” content and technologies for brands, giving advertisers a way to engage audiences actively through entertainment, rather than interrupting their entertainment with messages.

Bigben Interactive – Bigben Interactive had grown into Europe’s leading manufacturer and distributor of video game console accessories and a major player in the distribution of video game software.

Brain Center International – Brain Center International is a scientific society specializing in the field of neuroscience. Building on very recent scientific discoveries, our experts in the fields of psychology, medicine and computer science have developed the NeuroActive brain training program featuring interactive multimedia software containing fun exercises whose benefits are optimized via artificial intelligence.

BrandGames – BrandGames specializes in leveraging computer game technology in business communications. They combine compelling corporate storytelling and highly immersive simulations to enhance organizational performance and individual development.

BreakAway, Ltd. – BreakAway, Ltd. is a leading developer of entertainment games and game-based technology products. They create entertainment experiences that enable people to master skills and concepts in virtual worlds, and transfer this expertise to develop tools that provide game-based solutions for real world problems.

Brightmind LABS – BrightMind LABS deliver therapy to children by fusing immersive computer gaming principles with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

BTS – BTS develops flexible discovery learning platforms that allow for rapid and cost effective customization to meet clients’ varied strategic learning objectives.

CogniFit – Based on its unique approach and continuing success, CogniFit is quickly becoming a world leader in developing a wide variety of powerful and effective brain exercise programs that promote cognitive health and lifetime brain fitness.

Concentric Sky – Concentric Sky offers web development and consulting services with a focus on emerging technologies such as Social Media and the iPhone. From simple websites to integrated mobile applications, they deliver innovative solutions that exceed your expectations – not your budget.

Consafe Logistics – Consafe Logistics is one of Europe’s leading suppliers of mobile logistics solutions to customers using logistics to improve their competitiveness. They develop, implement and support solutions throughout the whole supply chain, mobile IT solutions, consulting within logistics and process improvements.

Corporation Pop – Coportation Pop is a design company that crafts effective solutions that deliver the unexpected and challenge the predictable. They do this irrespective of media – from beautifully crafted books to immersive virtual world communities.

Datel – Datel has established its reputation for excellence by developing videogame peripherals that are both innovative and creative.

Digitalmill – Digitalmill is a consulting and development firm focusing on efforts that take advantage of modern-day videogame design, technologies, and related resources in innovative ways.

DreamBox Learning – With the global reach of the web and the power of software, DreamBox Learning delivers the effectiveness of great teachers to benefit any student, anytime, anywhere.

eDimensional – eDimensional has grown rapidly and emerged as the leading manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cutting-edge gaming accessories.

Emotiv Systems – Emotiv Systems has developed a technology that utterly transforms the way we interact with computers: the Emotiv EPOC™ technology and interface.

Enabling Devices – A company dedicated to developing affordable learning and assistive devices to help people of all ages with disabling conditions.

Escape Hatch Entertainment – Escape Hatch Entertainment, LLC is a collective devoted to utilizing an effective team of extremely skilled developers to collaboratively create the industry’s most innovative and successful products.

Evil Controllers – Evil Controllers specializes in custom modded Xbox 360 controllers designed to enhance game play for a variety of different game genres.The company takes advantage of the fact that computers are programmable, coming up with modified video game controllers that have the power to turn single shot and semi-automatic weapons into full automatic weapons. Through innovative design and ergonomic upgrades tailored for specific types of games, Evil Controllers provides gamers with custom controllers that best fit their needs.

Exergame Fitness USA – Exergame Fitness is the global leader in Exergaming products and medically driven programming.

FiatLux Imaging – FiatLux Imaging is the only free advanced visualization software for CT and MRI imaging data that runs virtually on any modern platform.

Fonix Speech – Fonix Speech offers speech technology solutions for mobile/wireless devices; interactive electronic games, toys and appliances; computer telephony systems; the assistive market and vehicle telematics. Fonix Speech provides developers and manufacturers with cost-effective speech solutions to enhance consumer devices and systems.

Forterra Systems Inc. – Forterra’s private, secure virtual worlds allow you to plan, rehearse and train in a safe realistic environment. You make your mistakes in the virtual world, so you can avoid them in the real one.

Game Production Services – Game Production Services creates serious games and immersive mixed-reality environments for education, training, and marketing.
HopeLab    http://www.hopelab.org/    HopeLab is a nonprofit organization that combines rigorous research with innovative solutions to improve the health and quality of life of young people with chronic illness.

g.tec – Medical and electrical engineering firm, makers of the intendiX, a personal Brain-Computer Interface Speller.

Gamercize – Gamercize is the maker of a patented interaction system which provides users with the best of both worlds, a workout that is second to none in the exergaming world and the very best of video game entertainment, available for Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 with the included GZ Pro-Sport and games controller.

Humana Games for Health – At Humana Games, playing video games keeps your mind and body fit. Come into our world and see how we’re helping people of all ages play their way to better health. Get your game on!

ImpactGames – ImpactGames is a world renowned pioneer in creating compelling interactive experiences around current events. Their aim is to partner with and enable organizations to change the way people consume information and understand the world around them.

Information in Place – Information in Place, Inc. (IIPI) focuses on developing learning environments and capturing expert knowledge and delivery of information in highly mobile environments. IIPI is a leader in developing context-aware (e.g., location, environmental conditions, skill level) mobile technologies and augmented reality solutions.

InteraXon – InteraXon has years of experience creating and implementing brainwave-controlled computing technology and applications as well as an ongoing awareness of state-of-the-art advances in the field.

Invensys Process Systems – Invensys is a global technology group, supplying solutions, software, consultancy and equipment to monitor, control and automate processes in a wide range of environments. From oil refineries to power stations, from railways to domestic appliances, they help their customers to optimise their processes and improve their performance.

iTECH Fitness – iTECH Fitness Inc. designs, develops, manufactures, and markets the fitness, recreation, and entertainment industries most comprehensive active gaming technologies, products, and service suite.

Kogito Interactive – Kogito Interactive creates games and simulations where learners engage in simulated conversations with virtual characters and develop their ability to manage others and communicate.

KY Enterprises – KY Enterprises makes adaptive equipment for quadriplegics and others who have lost the ability to use their hands due to illness or accident.

Linden Lab – Linden Lab created a revolutionary new form of shared experience, where individuals jointly inhabit a 3D landscape and build the world around them. Today this experience, known as the Second Life world, has a rapidly growing population of Residents from around the globe, who are creating and inhabiting a virtual world of their own design.

LiveWires Design – LiveWires Design Ltd, are the developers of a game that teaches children how to surf the Internet safely.

MediTouch – Meditouch has developed optical and image processing technology that determines the position and speed of motion of single or multijoints. Together with occupational, physical therapy and rehabilitation clinical know how Meditouch develops rehabilitation platforms that use active exercises and biofeedback to improve lower and upper extremity function and aid in rehabilitation.

Motion Fitness – By making fitness interactive, fun and rewarding we change the dynamics and now have fitness as an addictive physically played game.  Motion Fitness combines the best in Xergaming products.

NeuroSky – NeuroSky is the worldwide leader in bringing biosensor technology to the consumer mass market.

PLX Devices – Makers of the XWave, a neurofeedback controller for the iOS platform.

Next View Software – Next View Software is an innovative leader in the supply chain software market. Next View’s team has been delivering leading edge software solutions and benefits to customers in the global supply chain marketplace for over 20 years.

Nortel web.alive – web.alive is a virtual world software application that provides an enterprise ready, network secured virtual world platform for collaboration, assisted E-Commerce and virtual learning & training applications.

NorthSide Inc – North Side Inc. is developing software to support conversation in unrestricted English between people and machines. They are committed to supporting natural, unrestricted English interaction in real-time.

OpenSimulator – OpenSimulator is a 3D Application Server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols.

P.I. Engineering – P.I. Engineering designs and manufactures rugged, reliable input hardware for computers.

Past Perfect Productions – Past Perfect Productions reconstructs worldwide archaelogical and historical sites using scientific research and cutting-edge virtual reality techniques, producing 3D real-time content, film clips, animations with CGI characters that breathe life back into the scenes.

Persuasive Games – Games communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. Persuasive Games’s software influence players to take action through gameplay. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools.

PIXELearning – PIXELearning is a world-leading provider of immersive learning simulations and ‘Serious Games’ for organisational learning and development, business education and marketing communications.

PlayGen – PlayGen are a leading serious games and simulations development studio providing highly flexible technology, content and training.

Project Whitecard – Project Whitecard specializes in 3D and interactive web-based projects, including websites, blogs, audio, video, games and RSS.

Psychic Bunny – Psychic Bunny is a hybrid media studio specializing in design and content for education and entertainment.

Rumarka – Educational iPhone app developer.

Serious Games Interactive – Serious Games Interactive is an award-winning, research-based developer of games, simulations and virtual worlds. They offer a unique blend of competences within games, learning and storytelling.

Skinput – A method that allows the body to be appropriated for finger input using a novel, non-invasive, wearable bio-acoustic sensor.

SmartBrain Technologies – SmartBrain Technologies is a growing, innovative, and caring company dedicated to providing quality technology products to help children and adults make the most of their potential. They develop state of the art “interactive devices” in the areas of health, learning, and performance enhancement to create the most advanced and powerful “brain exercise” system available.

Softkinetic – Softkinetic is the leader in natural interfaces that transform the way people interact with the digital world. They provide the most advanced software platform for building immersive, transparent and intuitive user experiences within the fields of Interactive Digital Entertainment, Serious Games, Interactive Marketing and Consumer Electronics.

Software Kids – Software Kids is committed to creating industry leading educational software that bridges the gam between the power and excitement of multimedia technology and the fundamentals of curriculum based learning for K-12.

Spongelab Interactive – Spongelab Interactive is a leader in advancing the integration of cutting edge technologies for teaching and learning purposes. Their mission is to educate students in the sciences by building content-rich immersive teaching tools designed around discovery-based learning that are accessible to educators and learners at school, at home and in the general public.

Tabula Digita – Tabula Digita is the company behind the award-winning DimensionM educational video game series for math. Tabula Digita is focused on delivering innovative and effective technology-based educational tools for elementary, middle and high school students.

The PEREGRINE – Makers of the Gaming Glove: faster, deadlier, more comfortable, and more precise than any keyboard. A remarkably innovative, human-machine interface that would allow any user to truly become the game.

Thornton Media – Thornton Media, Inc. creates custom hi-tech tools to help save endangered indigenous languages. We are Native-owned and have worked with over 100 American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations since 1995. TMI is the only language tool company in the world devoted to Native languages.

TruSim – TruSim creates effective, immersive and engaging training games using high quality 3D games techniques and technologies. Their games are designed to be accessible and easy to use as well as being stimulating and challenging.

Virtual Heroes – Virtual Heroes creates simulations for learning, serious games and virtual worlds for the healthcare, federal systems and commercial markets.

VSTEP – VSTEP is the leading European developer of simulators and virtual training software. Using interactive 3D technology from the computer gaming industry, VSTEP creates training applications and games that allow people to build their skills in a practical and cost effective way.

Waterloo Labs – Developed the Eye Mario system which lets users control Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) software using only eye movements.

WILL interactive – WILL has become a force in the interactive training market. WILL Interactive is the pioneer for a new genre of education and entertainment media known as the virtual experience.

XOS Digital Inc. – XOS Digital, Inc. is the leading provider of digital technology and media management solutions to collegiate and professional sports organizations in the U.S. It provides its clientele with advanced digital technology solutions to enhance organization performance and image to improve the management and monetization of their digital media assets.

FWD News: Defence and Emergency Training with Simulation Games

FWD News: Defence and Emergency Training with Simulation Games 150 150 GAMESFWD

Simulation games are a popular tool in defence and other related sector, as demonstrated recently by NATO’s Allied Command Transformation. This innovation branch of NATO has developed Boarders Ahoy!, a virtual world game used to improve ship boarding skills for military operations.

As part of the game, users practice such drills as isolating the crew of the virtual ship, checking identification and searching some of the 250 searchable objects. “It’s based on requirements from the field that will help the people do the job they do every day, which is training sailors and airmen,” said Wayne Buck, modeling and simulation analyst with the Command and project manager for Boarders Ahoy! More…

The game was recently featured at the 2010 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, in Orlando, FL. There, the game was awarded the People’s Choice Award during the Fifth Annual Serious Games Showcase & Challenge. Other award winners included NASA’s Moonbase Alpha, which was recognized as Best Government Entry.

NATO’s Allied Command Transformation is partnering with Engineering and Computer Simulations Incorporated to develop a series of virtual worlds within the Nexus Virtual World platform.

Another example finds the United States Secret Service also using virtual worlds to prepare for national threats. For the past 40 years, the Service has used a small-scale model called “Tiny Town” to plan for emergencies ranging from chemical releases, suicide bombers or air and subsurface attacks. Today, the Secret Service has developed a computer-generated 3D model version referred to as Virtual Tiny Town.

This scenario-based training software allows users to train on virtual kiosks to do such things as illustrate a dignitary’s itinerary and accommodate unrelated, concurrent activities in a public venue. This dynamic tool allows for greater realism in training and preparing against chemical, biological or radiological attacks, armed assaults, suicide bombers and other threats.

Planned updates will include “modeling the resulting health effects and crowd behaviors of a chemical, radiological or biological attack, to better prepare personnel for a more comprehensive array of scenarios and the necessary life-saving actions required to protect dignitaries and the public alike,” explains the Department of Homeland Security.

Simulating worse-case scenarios is also the main goal of the recently launched Center for Advanced Modeling in the Social, Behavioral and Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Specializing in agent-based simulation, another way of describing a virtual model depicting how individuals would react, the Center is working with experts in public safety, social behaviour, economics and supercomputing to advance this field.

These models simulate the actions and interactions of individuals in specific situations—which are often driven by fear, poor judgment and imperfect information—in order to help predict how complex societies and health systems will respond and how these scenario might unfold. The simulation models are “highly visual and spatially realistic,” explains Joshua M. Epstein, the Center’s Director, with agents moving between virtual places such as work, school, home and even places far away.

Last but not least, front-line emergency respondents are also turning to simulation software to help them better do their job. The Fire Department in Allen, TX, is using simulation game technology to train multiple firefighters simultaneously on everything from putting out grass fires in swirling winds to mass rescues in multi-story buildings.

“The training isn’t going to help you do the physical job of a firefighter,” said Allen Fire Battalion Chief Don Bailey. “It’s going to help you on the decision making, it’s going to help you on the communications, the incident management.”

In addition to improving firefighters’ decision-making skills, the software allows them to learn from their mistakes without getting hurt. Experts report that such practice can be critical in real-life situations, allowing firefighters to think faster to solve problems. Other neighbouring fire departments are also planning to introduce similar training simulators.