Slave to the Game

Filling you in on the oddball gaming news

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Writing in his games blog, Takahashi states that Sony has abandoned the "arrogance of past years" following weaker than expected sales of its next-gen system. The platform holder has reportedly told developers that the PS3 will be a success, suggesting it's just a slow burner.

One piece of news that came out this week was that Sony pleaded with third-party developers not to abandon its struggling platform... The argument is that the PS3 will show its strength as developers learn how to make games for it.

"But developers know they can staff four or five Wii teams with the same number of people it takes to make one PS3 game. We may have a glut of Wii games soon, but that's not as bad as not having enough games on the PS3."

Takahashi's comments follow the recent release of NPD sales statistics for September. The numbers showed that Sony sold only 119,400 PS3s during the month, in comparison to the Xbox 360 and Wii which both shifted more than 500k units at retail.

While Sony labeled September "a strong month for the PlayStation brand," Takahashi feels that the system's lack of killer software means more hard times lay ahead for the company's games division.

"Sony managed to crack the top ten finally with a PS3 title, Heavenly Sword. But beyond Ratchet & Clank, it's unclear what is going to be a big seller for the company this season."

According to Shacknews, the new PS3 firmware version 1.94 will be adding DualShock3 support. Packaged with Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction before it's available for download, the firmware update will allow DualShock3 owners (which is actually no one at the moment) to toggle rumble. By pressing the middle PS3 button, gamers will be able to access controller options—which we're assuming will be added to the list of other options like shutting down the console, controller, etc.

But it's salt in the wound for those of us who won't see the DualShock3 until Spring or the day we decide to drop too much money for it online. Since Sony didn't release firmware 2.0 along with Home at TGS as some of us expected, they need to be more careful with these firmware updates, lest they be driven to the thousandth.

The Nintendo DS is officially the biggest-selling games platform in Europe after latest figures revealed how far ahead the handheld console is.

For the week ending October 21, the DS sold 171,260 units, which is way in front of all other platforms on the market.

In second place, the Nintendo Wii sold 70,322 units, then came the PlayStation 3 having shifted 64,087 consoles.

The PlayStation 2 managed a very respectable 57,152 consoles sold, while the Portable PlayStation sold 54,449 units.

Most surprising was that Microsoft's Xbox 360 was bottom of the ladder, shifting just 37, 303 consoles in the week.

Its bottom placing is predicted to be short-lived, however, after Microsoft announced the release of the cheaper Arcade bundle, which goes on sale this Friday.

And just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more different trim lines for the Xbox 360, Microsoft goes and releases the worst kept secret in all of gaming, the Xbox 360 Arcade. While it's essentially just a souped-up version of the Core, the Arcade 360 does come with a few extras that may attract some uninformed buyers. Plus, the $280 price tag is awfully close to the Wii's cost of $250--so in theory, speaking in terms of price, an Xbox 360 Arcade would be the logical alternative to a Wii this holiday season.

So what does it come with? Bundled inside you'll find a wireless controller, unlike the Core's original wired offering, HDMI-out support, a 256MB memory card, and five Xbox Live Arcade games (Pac-Man Championship Edition, Uno, Luxor 2, Boom Boom Rocket, and Feeding Frenzy). All this in an effort to get consumers more familiar with Xbox Live Arcade and what it has to offer.

The price is certainly right, but here's why I don't think you should even bother with it. If you ever plan on gaming beyond a few Xbox Live Arcade titles, you'll most certainly need a hard drive attachment--256MB can only keep you afloat for so long. Think about it: no room for game demos, Marketplace content, or for ripping your music. Hell, you can only fit a limited number of Arcade titles on a 256MB flash card as it is. Upgrading to a 20GB hard drive after the fact will cost you no less than $90, which would bring your Xbox 360 Arcade price up to $370.

My solution is that you take advantage of the excellent value that is the traditional Xbox 360 with the 20GB hard drive available for $350. This will remove the need for adding a larger hard drive in the immediate future, plus it will give you the option of choosing which Xbox Live Arcade games you want to download instead of getting stuck with the five that the 360 Arcade console comes with. Some retailers are even offering an Xbox 360 Pro Bundle for $350 that includes Marvel Alliance and Forza 2 in addition to the Xbox 360 premium--a deal tough to argue with.

I understand that Microsoft is trying to get the word out about Xbox Live Arcade, but they could do so without selling you a debilitated system. At this point in the game, there's no reason any console should have less than ample storage space straight out of the box. If the whole point is to get people to check out Xbox Live Arcade and the Marketplace, why give them a system capable of only delivering a small taste? I'm sure most gamers are wise enough to see the foolishness in purchasing one of these systems, it just upsets me to see that Microsoft is marketing this SKU as a family console. Oh no wait, now I get it.

Players found to have lower levels of stress-hormone, cortisol

Playing a newly developed social-intelligence game reduces stress hormone levels by 17 per cent, researchers reported today.

The video game, designed by McGill University researchers to help train people to change their perception of social threats and boost their self-confidence, has now been shown to reduce the production of the stress-related hormone cortisol.

“We already knew that it was possible to design games to allow people to practice new forms of social perception, but we were surprised by the impact this had when we took the games out of the lab and into the context of people’s stressful lives,” said McGill psychology professor Mark Baldwin.

Baldwin and his team – McGill PhD graduates St├ęphane Dandeneau and Jodene Baccus and graduate student Maya Sakellaropoulo – have been developing a suite of video games that train players in social situations to focus more on positive feedback rather than being distracted and deterred by perceived social slights or criticisms.

The games are based on the emerging science of social intelligence, which has found that a significant part of daily stress comes from our social perceptions of the world, Baldwin explained.

In a 2004 study of 56 students, a standard reaction-time test showed that the game, called The Matrix, helped people shift the way they processed social information. The researchers next conducted several studies to see whether the effects of the game would translate into lower stress levels in a high-pressure context.

In one of their recent studies, they recruited 23 employees of a Montreal-based call centre to play one of their games, which involves clicking on the one smiling face among many frowning faces on a screen as quickly as possible. Through repetitive playing, the game trains the mind to orient more toward positive aspects of social life, said Baldwin.

The call-centre employees did this each workday morning for a week. They filled out daily stress and self-esteem questionnaires and had their cortisol levels tested through saliva analysis on the final day of the experiment. These tests showed an average 17 per cent reduction in cortisol production compared to a control group that played a similar game but without the smiling faces.

“There are many possible applications for this kind of game,” said Baldwin, “from helping people cope with the social anxiety of public speaking or meeting new people, to helping athletes concentrate more on their game rather than worrying about performing poorly.”