Saturday, September 30, 2006

XBOX 360 Keyboard... Where are you?

On July 25th, 2005 (months before the console was even released) contained within a TeamXBOX.com feature we had our first glance of several upcoming XBOX 360 accessories. Included in this report were favourites such as the wired headset, universal media remote, the recently released Vision camera and one particular that seems to have vanished off the face of the Earth: The keyboard that plugs into the XBOX 360 controller.
The translation reads (via TeamXBOX):

  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Connects to controller
  • For sending messages or in-game chat
So what is the deal? Where is it? Is it bogus like some people guess? Perhaps that was a rational conclusion based off of the evidence at the time. However, the camera is also shown in that presentation and it turned out to be pretty darn real.

Then there is something else to consider. Every other accessory image shown in that presentation looked to be either a photograph or a render. Our mystery keyboard is obviously a drawn concept diagram. What does that tell us? Well, we can speculate that it just that, a concept. Let's face it, we're almost a year into our XBOX 360 life and there isn't much need for a keyboard embedded into your controller. Well, unless you play Final Fantasy XI. And I know you're too smart to do that.

And with that said, there is my theory. It hasn't been released because we honestly don't need it yet. Will we see it soon? Likely, with MMO games like Huxley, Phantasy Star Universe and the newly announced Marvel MMO coming out there will actually be a requirement for such a device. Sure we could use one of those regular keyboards. But if I wanted to do that I might as well play on my PC and use the more precise mouse while I'm at it.

I was going to get a hold of a Microsoft rep for comment, but I just didn't feel like hearing, "Microsoft doesn't comment on rumors or speculation". Rest assured I'll be asking about it while I'm at X'06 Toronto later next month.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

X'06 ... The bigger, Spanish one.

We know that our little, tiny three hour X'06 has a much bigger brother across the pond. Well, that big brother just finished his opener and it looks like nothing but good times for us XBOXers.

Let's just run down the list of the larger announcements shall we?

  • DOOM, updated for the HD world, is coming to XBOX Live Arcade. And it's available right now.
  • Project Gotham 4, Bioshock, Lost Odyssey, Splinter Cell Double Agent, Assassin's Creed and Forza 2 all look fantastic.
  • Exclusive 360 content is coming for GTA4 and Splinter Cell.
  • Bioshock is missing the PS3 launch date. (sucks to be them, it looked super hot).
  • Aside from Halo 3, there are two (TWO!) new Halo games in production.
    • Halo Wars by fan favourite Ensemble Studios
    • Unnamed Game by multi-award winning movie director Peter Jackson.
  • HD-DVD drive coming in this November at $199USD.
  • Even more games: New Banjo Kazooie game and Marvel Universe. The latter is exclusive to XBOX 360 and Games for Windows.
  • Sensible Soccer coming to XBLA (apparently the best soccer game ever made).
Surprisingly absent is more details on the upcoming hardware accessories. It also would have been nice to see something more on Halo 3, although I can understand why they decided to pass on the opportunity (the show already contained two Halo announcements). Is this a five star showing? I don't know, it hasn't all sank in yet. I'll give it some thought and get back to you.

Monday, September 25, 2006

360P Ep 7: Give it up for XNA (part two)

This week we conclude the XNA storyline over at XBOX Canada. Interested in going to X06 Canada? My friend Jade (XBOX Canada community manager) is letting you in! Register quick though, spaces are limited!

Oh, and you'll get to meet me which is, of course, always a life altering experience.

Friday, September 22, 2006

XBOX 360 Vision Camera Review

The long awaited Vision Camera fell into my hands yesterday (thanks to the help of a very friendly EB Games manager... I forgot your gamer tag, if you read this add me to your friends list!) and I am both happy and disappointed at the same time.

For starters, I picked up the more expensive package with the 12 months of Live service. I, of course, already have a Gold account but I thought my girlfriend would enjoy it. My very first reaction was to be amazed at how small this thing is. None of the pictures I've seen have done this justice, or mentioned just how tiny the Vision camera is in real life. It stands an approximate 6cm tall. Yes, that small.

The first test was on my trusty office computer. I recalled reading that I would be able to plug it in and it would, "just work". Well, no... it doesn't. I had to install a driver for it and Windows did manage to find that driver on it's own so that's good. The camera worked in 640x480 and gave a very clear image. Take note that my office is flooded with daylight thanks to my great office window.

Later in the evening I tested in on my XBOX. At home, my 360 resides in my spacious basement and is lit by two incandescent light fixtures. This was a problem. No longer was the image crisp and beautiful, but now everything was bathed in red and very dark. This is very unfortunate but to be expected. This morning when I tried it, and the sun was out, the picture was a lot better.

Also included in the box was UNO, Robotron (both available on XBLA), 200 MS points (always welcome but not enough to buy anything useful) and the 12 month Live subscription card. UNO I had already purchased, Robotron is a boring game on it's best day so those were pretty useless.

All the features it adds to the XBOX (which I'm sure you've already heard about) are cool, but not life changing. I even found it difficult to get a decent gamer pic because of the lighting. Overall I'd say that the Vision camera isn't quite the compelling purchase that it could be unless you're into poker. Games like Totem Ball and Rainbow Six Vegas will, however, change this. The former uses the camera to control the actual game, and the latter will be a compelling use of the digimask technology (not unlike World Series Poker, but I'm not a fan of the genre). Is it cool? Oh yeah! Do you need it right the fuck now? No. You can easily hold out for a little while.

XBLA vs Nintendo VC vs Sony PS3 Retro Games

It has recently come to my attention (via TGS) that, much like Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony will offer downloadable games via their Playstation 3 online service. Considering their commitment to copy XBOX Live "feature for feature" this is about as surprising as the sun rising in the morning. Let's take a moment to quickly analyize who is getting what.

Nintendo:
Massive back library of Nintendo and Genesis games.

Sony:
Library of PC Engine, Genesis games, and some original titles.

Microsoft:
Games like Scramble and Robotron

Hmmm. Now usually I don't count chickens until they're hatched. I refuse to believe a single thing Sony or Nintendo say until their console is available for implant into my living room. It's safer this way. That way I don't go around expecting things like dual HDMI, and seven controllers. *jab* But seriously, is it time for Microsoft to start pulling out the big arcade guns and showing us the future? I think so. Did they actually expect us to like Scramble? I hope not. I understand, of course, that they can't release games that aren't ready and maybe truly there isn't anything ready. That's okay. But if Sony and Nintendo start beating Microsoft at their own game, that is cause for concern.

Of course, and I wouldn't put it past them, they're probably just saving all the nuclear ammo for the PS3 and Wii (I despise that name) launch this fall.

Monday, September 18, 2006

DS Lite - Onyx

I've been a fan of Nintendo handhelds since the original 1989, black and white Game Boy. In fact, I've still got it. Since then I've upgraded, skipping about every other generation until recently. When the White DS Lite was released I told myself to, "Hold out for the black one". This past weekend I finally bit the bullet and replaced my ugly, blue DS Fat with the recently released onyx DS Lite (pictured).

The first thing I said when I turned it on was, "Wow." I've heard the rumors regarding the new brighter screen, but still didn't expect the difference to be as drastic as it truly is. I said "Wow" again when I turned the brightness up to the maximum available (there are four settings). The thing to understand is that not only is the screen brighter, but the colours are significantly more vibrant. When putting the old and the new side by side, the older DS Fat's graphics look muddied and dreary compared to the bold colours of the DS Lite's improved screen.

Another change is the mechanics behind the buttons. They have a lot more 'spring' in them, giving you more tactile feedback. The stylus has also been given an overhaul, now thicker and perhaps a little longer. I despised the old stylus, it was far to narrow for my large hands. This new one, while not as comfortable as a PDA stylus, or a larger 3rd party stylus like the ones you can buy at Staples, is a vast improvement which I can appreciate.

The black, reflective finish is both a blessing and a curse. It looks awesome, but the finish is a finger-print magnet. Within seconds of it being out of the box it was covered in little smudges. A small price to pay for a cool, shiny black gadget.

Overall, I'm very happy. I find it more comfortable to use (except for Metroid Prime Hunters, which still gives me hand cramps every time I play it), a lot more attractive, and well worth the investment for the brighter, better looking screen.

Friday, September 15, 2006

XNA Resource Roundup

One of the benefits of (a) Having something almost every amateur XNA developer wants (see my button pack), and (b) pretty good web analytics software is that you get to see where all the good XNA resources are because they link you! Thus, I have compiled a list of all worthwhile sites that I managed to find (in no particular order):

Also of worthy note is the blog of "Rijit", who maintains one of the most comprehensive XNA resource link lists I've seen.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

New Look

I rebranded the blog today to match my upcoming XCDP (XBOX Community Developer Program) release. The ability to do things like this is the reason why I switched from using Microsoft's Live Spaces solution.

I've only tested it in Firefox 1.5 and IE 7 beta, so if you notice any strange rendering problems please drop a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

XBOX 360 Controller Button Graphics


Looking for the graphics? This site has been shut down but you can still find them from our new website 360prophecy.com on our downloads page. If you found this site through another site please have them update their link!

These buttons are freely available for your project, no strings attached. If you make a million dollars from your game/website that uses these buttons, well, you can keep it all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lego Star Wars 2 - Live Messenger Avatars




I thought you might like some Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy (released today for all major platforms) Windows Live Messenger avatars. These could probably be used in forums too. Right click -> Save as... to get them onto your machine.

My Comic Creation Method

I've had a few people ask me how I make comics, so I thought I'd share in on the process. To start, I'll go over the tools I use.

  • Adobe Photoshop CS
  • Adobe Flash 8
  • Wacom 9x12 tablet
  • Animator Blue pencil or regular mechanical pencil with 0.5mm leads
  • Sketchpad
  • Canon Flatbed Scanner
Step 1: Getting the idea
If you can't come up with something good to write a comic about, there is almost no point in writing a comic. To start, I always read through about twenty or so websites to get ideas on what is going on in the industry. When I find something that looks like it would make good source material I mentally try to break it into a three panel joke. If it works, great. If not I move onto the next story. While I'm doing this I also think about which characters would best fit.

Step 2: Writing the script
Now that I've found something interesting to write about I open up my notebook and write a few scripts to try and find the best joke. The script is always pretty basic and makes sense only to me. The hardest part here is making it fit into three panels, that really isn't a lot of room so it is essential that the timing and delivery be bang on. Don't rush by the script! You can have the best art in the world but if you comic doesn't make any sense than no one will like it.

Step 3: The sketch
After I'm happy with the script I take out my sketchpad and begin drawing out the characters and backgrounds that will appear. Often the sketches will go over multiple pages and I'll do them in a completely random order. Once again, you wouldn't be able to read the comic just from the sketches because each character and background for a single panel might be in different places. These sketches also are not very detailed. I'll put all that in later when I get around to inking.

Step 4: Scan the artwork
Since I can have upwards of nine or more sketches per panel, I'll usually finish them up to inking one at a time. The sketch is scanned at 300dpi into Photoshop, then I let PS auto-adjust the brightness levels (Ctrl+Shift+L) to make the lines easier to see. I copy the sketch to the clipboard and import it into Flash.

Step 5: Inking
After doing a lot of research, I've found that many very successful online comic artists (such as Hawk from Applegeeks and Scott from VGCats) use Flash for inking. I thought they were crazy at first but then I tried it and wow, it really does make some nice sharp lines. This is where my tablet comes into play. Ink the comic with the brush (and pressure sensitivity turned on), then use Flash's smooth tool to fix up any minor mistakes. Now simply export the sketch as a 300dpi jpg and bring it back into Photoshop.

Now that we're in Photoshop and we have a huge ass sketch, it would be a good time to fix any line thickness issues before we scale it down to fit in the comic. Use the eraser or a white brush to fix the lines. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all the sketches are digitized and cleaned up.

Step 6: Assembly
Here is where my process differs from the pro comic artists, and this is important so listen up! At this point I reduce all of my sketches from 300dpi to 72dpi (screen resolution) BUT if you ever have the intention to send your comics to print DO NOT DO THAT. If you're intention is to ever make a book, you must always work at 300dpi otherwise your images will print very, very blurry on a professional press. You have been warned!

Anyway, first thing I do is open up my comic template which contains all the copyright info and titles. Then I start to copy over the inked sketches, shrinking them down and placing them into position. Each time I copy in a sketch, I always set the layer to "multiply". This makes the white background transparent and only leaves the black outlines. After all the sketches are in there I delete the excess (that which is appearing outside of the border) and I get ready to colour.

Step 7: Colouring
This is, by far, my favourite part. Create a new Photoshop layer under the sketches, this is where our colour is going to go. At this point I use my tablet to paint in all of the colour, highlights and shadows. It's really pretty easy if you have a good understanding of how Photoshop works. If you don't, well practice makes perfect as they say.

Step 8: Word bubbles
Here is where I type in all of the text and put bubbles around it. I try not to cover up too much of the artwork if I can manage but for some reason my characters always seem to have too much to say. After I've got all the word bubbles drawn in I use a Photoshop layer style on them to add a 2 pixel, black outline.

Step 9: Package and deliver
Now I save the whole thing (for web: Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S) and email it off to Jade at Microsoft Canada. The final format is a JPG at 80% quality, although by the time it ends up on XBOX.ca it's been reduced further to, *shudder*, 40% quality.

And that, in a nutshell, is how I create the comics.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My first XNA game


Here's a screenshot of my first XNA game. As I mentioned earlier, it really is quite easy to make your first game. Super Pong here features:

  • Full XBOX 360 gamepad support (with rumble)
  • Multi-layered scrolling background
  • Alpha effects
  • Sound
Ha! Okay that list sounds incredibly ridiculous now that I've written it out. But you have to understand, when you don't know what you're doing and then you manage to get that controller to rumble for the first time, well, it's orgasmic.

Ep6: G1ve it up for XNA


Jade has published Episode 6 of the 360 Prophecy over at XBOX.ca, feel free to make the jump and check it out. This week we're talking about XNA Game Studio, which was recently released by Microsoft to all those avid game-dev wanna-bees out there (like me).

After playing around with it for a few days I can honestly say that it does, in fact, make development significantly easier. I'm no master C# programmer but even I was able to get a pretty killer version of Pong together in only a few days.

Oh, and I realize the comic says 'upcomic release of XNA'. I actually drew this up a couple of weeks ago thinking that it would be posted back then. Oops!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where are the earlier 360P episodes?

So maybe you've noticed that the comic episodes on XBOX.ca start at number 5 and you'd like to read the earlier ones. Well, I can't guarantee you'll get the jokes (because most of them were private between Jade (XBOX Canadian community manager) and myself, but here they are.

Ep1: The E3 Entry
This is the comic that started everything.


Ep2: Booth Babes
This quickie was basically made to show Jade I didn't have any hard feelings after she told me that I didn't win the contest (although, in retrospect I would have made a much better E3 informer). She did tell me, however, that she'd call me after E3 to talk about a new, special project!


Ep3: Lost or Forgotten
E3 came and went and still no call from Jade. Well, what is a guy to do but assume that she wanted some more comics! I drew this up as a friendly reminder that I was still patiently waiting her call. This is the first comic where I decide on a more formal format.



Ep4: Achievement Unlocked
Now it's weeks later and still no call. Now I'm starting to think that she just too, uh, busy for me. Aside from a horrid render of Jade, this comic also features the final appearance of Devil Bat. After working on multiple new character designs, DB ends up being replaced in the roster with (the more Canadian) Mackenzie the Beaver. Jade asked me to make sure DB comes back some day, but we'll just have to wait and see about that!


And a few days after that we finally managed to have a little chat. The fruits of that conversation are the comics you'll be finding on XBOX.ca in the coming months. And that, my friends, is how 360P started. I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some other great comics

Episode 7 of 360 Prophecy should be going up today. I know Jade has been trying but, well, you can't expect speed when you're dealing with a multi-billion dollar corporation. Besides, I'm sure there are more important things going on than our little comic! Speaking of Jade, she sent me a little 'thank you package' which I received yesterday. Inside a very cool XBOX Canada branded backpack were several delectable goodies, all of which I intend to enjoy immensely.

What goes around, comes around, as they say. Crossing Media (my multi-media company) is preparing a return gift that I think she'll enjoy very much.

So in the interum, since you can't read 360P, here is a list of some of my favourite webcomics (in no particular order):