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Researchers Use Guitar Hero Game to Aid Prosthetic Arm Development

Researchers Use Guitar Hero Game to Aid Prosthetic Arm Development 150 150 GAMESFWD

A pair of engineers at the Applied Physics Laboratory’s (APL) National Security Technology Department at John Hopkins University are using Activision’s Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for Nintendo Wii as part of their work in developing an innovative prosthetic arm. Bobby Armiger and Jacob Vogelstein have rewired the game’s controller giving amputees a chance to rock out while testing out their latest prosthetic prototypes.

Their research falls within the APL-led Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The project’s mission is to develop a prosthetic arm that will be controlled and also feel, look and perform like a natural limb.

Their work has led to the creation of two prototypes and a surgical technique that reroutes nerves that once controlled a patient’s arm to the muscles that remain. The signals sent from the reattached nerves are picked up through the skin to control the prosthetic arm. But for those signals to be recognized, they must first be identified properly. More…

This detection process is similar to training voice-recognition software but rather than analyzing tones, the APL system records and classifies muscle twitches. Traditional methods of calibrating mechanical limbs to recognize and respond properly to electrical signals in residual muscles are an exhausting and draining process, explains Armiger. That is where Guitar Hero comes in.

The idea of using the video game came to Armiger while he was playing Guitar Hero at a party. Armiger and Vogelstein modified the game controller to have it be controlled by the team’s Virtual Integration Environment, an animated on-screen arm that mimics a patient’s intended movements in real time. Button clicks are substituted with muscle contraction signals as picked up by the electrodes attached to the patient’s residual muscles, allowing him to play the game despite limited dexterity.

According to the pair, using Guitar Hero has proven a far more intuitive way to speed up the tiresome calibration process while at the same time making it fun for patients.

“It allows for large numbers of rapid, dynamic movements that are more natural and not stereotyped,” said Vogelstein. “Ultimately we are going to get more input and longer training cycles out of patients — and that will translate to better and more natural limb control.”

Eventually the team hopes to make its software open source so that others can repurpose games for rehabilitation.

Mathew Kumar on Why Virtual Worlds Miss the Mark

Mathew Kumar on Why Virtual Worlds Miss the Mark 150 150 GAMESFWD

Speaking at an International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Ottawa event on February 26, 2009, Gamasutra contributing editor and one of Canada’s most renowned games journalists Mathew Kumar discussed the place of virtual world games in the video game industry.

Not shy to express his dislike for the concept as it has been executed so far, Kumar pointed out some of these games’ essential flaws to an intimate crowd at Ottawa’s bitHeads Studio. The event was organized as part of the Interactive Ontario gTalk game industry speaker series.

Kumar was quick to highlight that virtual worlds, which are usually based on social interaction functions, rarely succeed in their goal of being effective vehicles for social interaction. While their developers and marketers portray them as a great way to meet new people, most players don’t take advantage of these features.

Kumar could not deny the odd cases of individuals having met their wives or husbands playing World of Warcraft, but said that this was unusual and that he long ago stopped considering these individuals as part of the “mainstream”.

The Gamasutra writer compared these games with networking websites such as Facebook, where the key to social interaction is having an initial and real-life connection with those you call your friends. In virtual world games, players usually jump in with very few real-life acquaintances to connect with, which seriously limits the social component of these games. Most individuals don’t want to “get to know” people beyond the context of the game – which barely differentiates a virtual world from another video game with online multiplayer capabilities.

In Kumar’s opinion, most virtual worlds are bad. The way they come to exist plays a large role in their inadequacies, though Kumar does not expect much for the genre in any case. He explains that virtual world game developers often have little to no experience in “traditional” game development and are often backed by venture capitalists who know even less about what gamers want and like.

During the Q&A; session following the talk, Kumar explored a few of these games drawing attention to some of their main flaws. Speaking about Second Life, he said that much of the reason why this game touched the imagination of mainstream media was that it was the first big hit of its genre. However, he mentions that the Second Life user base is growing stagnant and even dwindling now, proving its weak long-term potential.

Sony’s PlayStation Home is another example of a poorly executed virtual world. In this case, creators were all too eager to include an endless amount of features, but never took the time to fully implement them. The result is a boring community space offering little to do other than staring at other’s avatars or waiting in line for one of the three chess boards. Kumar explains that this is the reason why many people have created their own fun, chasing around women avatars and attempting to “rape” them, for example.

Policing these environments, or the absence of such policing, is another issue with many virtual worlds that allow user-created content. Playing a game like Second Life may not be for everyone due to the sheer randomness (and overall deviant tone) of its user-generated content. Other games like EVE Online are simply too complex to be accessible to average players, though they present a detailed virtual world and a remarkable economic structure.

So what is the future of virtual world games according to Mathew Kumar? Perhaps none at all. Mathew Kumar urges game developers to stick to real games as the virtual world genre’s failures and inherent flaws are bound to doom it.

Mad Catz Official Street Fighter IV FightPad Review

Mad Catz Official Street Fighter IV FightPad Review 150 150 GAMESFWD

Third-party controllers have the tendency to be terrible, they break easily and so forth.  So how does the Mad Catz Official Street Fighter IV FightPad for Xbox 360 fare? Amazingly well: especially considering Mad Catz’s track record as of late with putting out crappy accessories like console skins, controller skins and substandard controllers.

The FightPad has an interesting shape; it reminds me of the revised Sega Genesis controller. One of the first things anyone will notice about the FightPad is the lack of analog sticks. This is because the FightPad is for fighting games, where analog sticks are almost never needed. But that isn’t to say it doesn’t have analog stick functionality.

On the back of the controller there is a switch that allows you to set the D-Pad as the D-Pad, left analog stick or right analog stick. This feature is useful for playing games that may otherwise be incompatible with a digital controller.

People who play fighting games on the Xbox 360 know all too well just how horrendous the D-Pad is on a standard controller. However, the FightPad D-Pad feels solid and very sturdy. It’s not perfect (I still have trouble sometimes, pulling off Hadoukens – down, down forward, forward+Punch), but it’s a massive improvement over the standard D-Pad.

Another stand-out feature is that the right bumper and trigger are on the front as opposed to on the top of the controller. This gives the FightPad a more arcade feel and provides a 6-button layout popular with fighting game fans. It also gives physically disabled gamers more access, which is huge plus.

As far as applications/tests go, I’ve been able to test the FightPad with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD RemixSoul Calibur IV, and Bionic Commando: Rearmed (I can’t find my copy of Ninja Gaiden II). In all three titles it worked flawlessly, save for some Hadouken attempts in SSF2THDR.

The only real con I can see about the FightPad is the Turbo button. For some reason, I can’t get it to work by holding it down for a few seconds as stated in the manual.

The Mad Catz Official Street Figher IV FightPad is a surprisingly well-built third-party controller and quite helpful for physically disabled gamers because it provides easier access to two shoulder buttons.

Brian’s Note: Though we reviewed this wired controller on the Xbox 360, it is also available for the PlayStation 3. It is available in five editions featuring the characters Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, Blanka and Akuma. Unfortunately, in Canada, the FightPad is available exclusively at EB Games at the jacked-up price of $59.99.



3DiTeams is an interactive healthcare team training program created by advanced learning and serious games developer Virtual Heroes. Designed to improve team collaboration and reduce medical errors, it will be introduced to Duke University medical and nursing students in March of 2008.

The 3DiTeams training program is based on a health care team coordination curriculum called TeamSTEPPS, developed by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. TeamSTEPPS is a teamwork system which aims to improve communication and other teamwork skills among healthcare professionals. It was developed with funding from the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. Read More…

“Effective team coordination is critical for the safe delivery of healthcare. Development of these skills requires training and practice in an interactive team-based environment,” said Jeffrey Taekman, MD director of Human Simulation and Patient Safety at Duke Medical Center, via news release. “Virtual Heroes worked with us to create a high-fidelity, multi-user, real-world, hospital simulation in a video game setting that is based on real science.”

Virtual Heroes’ 3DiTeams aims to reach three specific goals. First, individuals study teamwork and communication concepts online through video vignettes. Secondly, it teaches collaboration between as many as 32 learners who can enter this virtual world together and share feedback. Finally, it allows a debriefing, letting students review their performance, observe their behaviours, reflect on their actions, and discuss the positive and negative interactions.

Using photo-realistic art and effects, the program is incorporated into training programs allowing multiple users to train for interventions together, from different computers across the Internet. An instructor can control and drive the virtual patient’s vital signs dynamically during each scenario creating new challenges for students.

The program uses Epic’s Unreal Engine, which powers popular video game titles like Gears of WarMass Effect and of course, Unreal Tournament III3DiTeams can run on any network-connected computer and will soon be ported to the PlayStation Portable as Taekman announced in his blog early last month.

“We are excited to use our instructional design expertise, HumanSim technology and creative talent to help Duke University create this interactive training game to be used for hospital professionals,” said Virtual Heroes founder and CEO Jerry Heneghan.

Initially unveiled at the American Society of Anesthesiologists conference in October 2007, 3DiTeams is currently used to train residents and advanced practice nurses, and will be used to train Duke medical and nursing students starting this month.

The capabilities of 3DiTeams will also be presented this spring as part of the program during the fourth annual Games for Health conference and the Advanced Learning Technology Summit, both scheduled for May 2008.



IBM has launched a 3-D healthcare island in Second Life during the 2008 HIMSS Conference in Orlando, FL. Displaying IBM’s strategy for the future of health care, the island promotes the concept of health information exchange for patient care.

Presented at the 2008 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference, the Second Life island supports IBM’s vision for healthcare and takes the patient through various simulations of medical service. Designed with a futuristic atmosphere, players travel to island stations representing areas of service.

The patient’s home creates a private environment for basic testing and information input establishing the avatar’s personal health records. The patient also builds an electronic health record, following him across facilities.

In the laboratory, patients can receive clinical tests, such as blood work and radiology. The clinic delivers primary care, providing physical examinations and prescribing medications. The pharmacy station dispenses this medication, but also ensures the update of the patient’s personal health record. Scheduled appointments with specialists take place at the hospital.

Patients can chose to try an emergency room simulation, using a scripted control, taking them to a secure private area, for treatment. It again accesses the character’s personal health records to ensure proper treatment.

“We are pleased to offer our IBM Virtual Health Island as a tool for our healthcare customers and our worldwide sales force. The island allows each healthcare stakeholder to envision how the total system can be affected by intercession at each juncture of the healthcare delivery process,” said Dan Pelino, General Manager, IBM Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry in a press release .

Designed and built by an all-IBM-India team, the island serves as a demonstration of IBM’s Health Information Exchange (HIE) as described in IBM’s Healthcare 2015: Win-Win or Lose-Lose, A Portrait and a Path to Successful Transformation – a document describing a wounded healthcare industry.

 “As they [patients] move from one island station to the next, they experience how the development of a totally integrated and interoperable longitudinal Electronic Health Record is used within a highly secured network that allows access only by patient-authorized health systems and family members,” explains IBM, in a release.

“We believe that the use of our new virtual world provides an important, next-generation Internet-based resource to show how standards; business planning; the use of a secured, extensible and expandable architecture; HIE interoperability; and data use for healthcare analytics, quality, wellness and disease management are all helping to transform our industry,” said Pelino.

The healthcare island contains a Central Information Hub, where IBM explains its vision of the healthcare industry. In a virtual amphitheatre runs a slide show promoting IBM’s HIE architecture, emphasizing its positive impact on the healthcare industry.



As environmental consciousness goes, the video game industry has received harsh criticism from groups like Greenpeace. However, London-based Pli Design Ltd is hoping to make the best of a bad situation, by building recycled chairs made of defunct PlayStation 2 consoles.

The Reee Chair, officially launched on September 10, 2008 at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s head office in London, is made of 100% recycled PlayStation 2 console casings.

Each chair is made of 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs) of recycled Polycarbonate/ABS plastic commonly used in the casing of electronic equipment and is also designed to be recycled again and again. Most recycled plastics are usually made from a variety of recycled sources, but not here.

“We receive the supply direct, from the original manufacturer through a dedicated re-processor to our injection-moulder in London,” said Pli’s Director, Christopher Pett in an email interview with Game Forward, “so there is no other material mixed in with the original plastic.”

The chair is also completely sourced and manufactured in the UK. Recycled plastics require a fraction of the energy to produce, compared to new plastics made from raw oil materials.

“The simple idea behind the Reee chair is to produce a recycled furniture product in the UK that has style, function and durability but does not compromise its environmental credentials – so our customers don’t have to compromise theirs,” said Alex Whitney, Pli’s design manager in a news release.

The Reee Chairs will be sold locally in the UK, through selected retailers and contract suppliers across the country. Retail price (UK) is £110.00 inc. VAT.



Media giant Microsoft has announced a new partnership with the Companions in Courage Foundation. The charity builds interactive playrooms in hospitals throughout North America for children living with life-threatening illnesses. Through this new affiliation, the foundation will receive hundreds of Xbox 360 game kiosks.

Companions in Courage (CiC) currently have “Lion’s Den” playrooms in a few US hospitals, three of which received their very own Xbox game kiosk in April, 2008. Events were held at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, the Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center of Seattle and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, California.

The Xbox fun centers come pre-loaded with a selection of E and E10+ rated games, Y-rated television programs and G-rated movies. But they also connect to a dedicated Xbox LIVE network, complete with headset and Vision Camera functions.

The network, one of the kiosks most attractive features, will allow kids to play with anyone on the Xbox live network. However, voice and text communications will be limited to the Lion’s Den network, in select hospitals.

“It’s extremely gratifying to witness the joy and excitement of these children and teens when they have a chance to break away from the normal hospital routine, and make new friends while playing video games,” said Cynthia Sparer, executive director of Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian.

“Xbox 360 offers young patients a fun escape through games, TV shows, movies and positive interactions with others over the Xbox LIVE network. These gaming stations are a perfect complement to the interactive playrooms,” said Pat LaFontaine, NHL Hall of Famer and CiC founder.

Created in 1997, the CiC has been focusing on fundraising for playrooms for the last five years. These help lessen the isolation of a hospital stay and create a friendlier environment for patients. Through innovative communications tools, CiC’s playrooms allow kids to connect to family and friends, while enjoying some much needed distractions. As well, these facilities devote almost half of their care to children of low-income families.

“Entertainment, creativity and personal connections can be important factors in alleviating some of the isolation and discomfort these children experience each day,” added LaFontaine, in a statement.

“Microsoft is committed to keeping kids entertained in a variety of ways within a safe gaming environment,” said Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division in a statement. “Partnering with Companions in Courage to offer children in hospitals a way to connect through something as universal as games, is a natural fit for the work we do. The goal for this program is to give these kids a chance to have some fun and just be kids,” Bach added.



Tabula Digita, the developers of the award-winning DimensionM math and algebra game has formed a partnership with Monsanto Fund and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to create a brand new curriculum-based science game for students.

Spearheaded and financed by the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company, the project aims to create an immersive video game that can teach standards-based, fundamental science concepts. In response to the growing demand for up-to-date curriculum materials that stimulate students to learn science, the software will include a multiplayer component allowing students to compete against one each other in local communities or around the globe.

“Three years ago, Monsanto Fund sponsored a study that showed that student interest in science drops at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels,” said Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund in a news release. “The video game medium has demonstrated itself to be an increasingly powerful way to engage today’s digital generation…We are excited to be a part of a bold new initiative that could fundamentally rewrite the rules of student engagement.”

“The National Education Assessment of Education Progress 2005 test showed that by grade 12, only 18 percent of U.S. students scored at or above the proficient level in science,” said Ntiedo Etuk, chief executive officer of Tabula Digita.

“With our expertise in curriculum and our reach into countries around the world also interested in facilitating science education in young people, we can’t think of a more innovative approach and exciting venture to drive interest in and prepare our nearly 7 million fourth- and fifth-grade students for future success in this field. We are eager to get started,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of ISTE.

The content for the web-based games will be provided by the ISTE. Product creation and testing is set to start immediately, and will be followed by extensive market testing and education sector review. The software is expected to be released next year at ISTE’S annual National Education Computing Conference, in Washington DC, June 28-July 2, 2009.



With thousands of retirees in its railway workforce in recent years, Union Pacific has decided to modernize the way it trains new recruits. A comprehensive training tool using video game technology is helping trainees gain the skills needed to be confident and safe when working in rail yards.

“Video gamers, like those who play Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, feel right at home using Union Pacific’s latest training technology,” said Scott Hinckley, general director-safety and security, in a news release. “This is a natural training medium for employees who grew up in the video gaming environment and it enhances their extensive safety and operation training.”

Titled the Rail Operations Simulation program (ROS), the computer software teaches new employees how to manoeuvre locomotives in rail yards, operate “switches” that guide a rail car from one track to another and sort rail cars into different tracks by the rail car destination. It also helps employees develop the right decision-making skills needed in this complex work environment.

ROS simulates United Pacific’s Cheyenne Yard, a flat-switching yard used by employees throughout the system to learn basic switching operations and railroad terminology. The virtual training tool gives new employees a safe place to practice what they have learned in the classroom, before they work outside in the real-world rail yard.

The project launched in 2005 was created by United Pacific employees Jon Jensen, of the information technology group, and Steve Bakunas, of the rail operations group. The software development was done in collaboration with Michigan-based P.I. Engineering and was two years in the making.

The two partners have also developed two other training simulators dealing with incline or “hump” yards and remote control locomotive operations. United Pacific continues to look for ways to integrate virtual-reality technology to further assist employees



Budget software publisher UFO Interactive Games has brought three arcade SHMUP (Shoot ‘em up) titles from MileStone Inc. to North America in compilation form. Fans of the old-school, hardcore genre will be able to play two of the included games for the first time on a home console without importing.

The compilation is dubbed Ultimate Shooting Collection, though many SHMUP fans would agree that the games included here are more of the mediocre variety. There are some emulation quirks, but the package features complete soundtracks, multiple control options and the ever-popular TATE mode for those brave enough to turn their TV on its side.

Chaos Field was previously available on GameCube in North America while Karous (Raven) and Radirgy (Radio Allergy) are available here for the first time and exclusive to Ultimate Shooting CollectionKarous and Radirgy were both released in Japan on the Dreamcast, with the latter also seeing PlayStation 2 and GameCube releases there.

Needless to say importing Japanese consoles and software is an expensive endeavour, so finding these three games on one disc for an asking price of $30 is a great deal provided you are a fan of the SHMUP genre.

The three games are all vertically scrolling SHMUPs and because they were made by the same developer around the same time, they come off as very similar to one another. I’ll break down the characteristics of each game.

Chaos Field is probably the most unique of the three. It consists of a series of boss battles against single, large opponents as opposed to levels filled with hundreds of generic enemies. Like Ikaruga, players can switch between two parallel dimensions, in this case called fields.  The Order Field makes enemies weaker while the titular Chaos Field is more difficult to survive in but yields more points.

Players can choose from three ships, each with its own speed and weapon characteristics. All of the ships are equipped with a sword attack that can be used to dispatch of enemy bullets. Each ship also has unique Lock On and Wing Layer special attacks.

Radirgy sets itself apart with its colourful cel-shaded art style and mobile phone inspired interface. Three ships of varying speeds are available to use. Players also choose from three types of attacks; a wide shot laser, a large bullet bubble attack and the 1-2-3 laser.

The sword attack in Radirgy can be used to attack enemies as well as to eliminate enemy fire. A shield will appear in front of the player’s ship if they stop firing for a couple seconds as well.  Keeping with the mobile phone feel of the game, players will receive e-mails containing bits of story or helpful information about bosses.

Karous is very similar to Radirgy in both look and gameplay. It also employs a cel-shaded look, though much darker in colour and feel.  In Karous, the player’s ship will be upgraded as they play. Shot, sword and shield can all be leveled up to a maximum of 100. Karous also uses a unique bomb system that shields the ship and destroys enemies and incoming fire surrounding it.

All three games provide users with options commonly found in arcade to console ports.  Difficulty level, starting amount of lives and intervals at which players earn extra lives can all be tweaked.

Karous and Radirgy are both presented in the traditional way for most console ports of vertically scrolling SHMUPs. The action takes place on a vertically oriented field in the centre of the screen surrounded by empty space on both sides.

Chaos Field is presented in the 16:9 aspect ratio on this compilation and is not compatible with TATE mode. Karous and Radirgy both support TATE mode, which looks fantastic on a widescreen TV. As with many Wii games, Ultimate Shooting Collection is not true 480p, leaving small black bars on the sides of the screen.

Ultimate Shooting Collection is a bare-bones affair as far as compilations go. Essentially this is just three ROM images on a disc wrapped in a menu. There are no videos or interviews to be found here. There are no unlockable games, nor any artwork to view.

There are however, complete soundtracks for all three games; 39 tracks in total. These music tracks are unlocked and available for players to listen to the moment they boot up the disc. While I didn’t find any of the music to particularly shine, this is a nice inclusion for fans or those that become fans while playing.

Also noteworthy is the fact that players can use a GameCube controller or Classic Controller in addition to the default Wii Remote and Nunchuck combination. This feature provides many options for players depending on their preference of analog sticks and d-pads.

Ultimate Shooting Collection probably won’t create a lot of new SHMUP fans and those already interested in this compilation are probably aware of the games included and their reputations as middle of the road titles.  Many of these fans also know that very few SHMUP titles make it over here these days and will probably be happy to play anything they can get.

At $30 this compilation is technically a steal regardless of content. Getting all three of these titles in your living room a few months ago would have cost hundreds of dollars. UFO Interactive Games has done a great service to hardcore SHMUP fans by bringing Ultimate Shooting Collection over at a reasonable price.


+ Great Value
+ Included Soundtracks
+ TATE Mode


– Bare Bones, No Extra Features
– Mysterious Load Times
– Games Included are Mediocre