Monday, January 30, 2006

Gamespot's Top Ten Rhythm Games

Gamespot has a feature article on what they consider the top ten rhythm games. The most exercise oriented on their list are Dance Dance Revolution 3rd Mix (dancing) and Samba De Amigo (shaking maracas). DDR is of course number one:
Something should be said about the emergence of DDR as a whole, since the game has come to typify everything that the rhythm genre offers. There's a peripheral, there's a variety of songs, and there's a difficulty level that ranges from simple to impossibly hard. While the game holds great appeal for small (yet coordinated) children, it also provides challenge to the fiercest competitors, and this wide range of appeal has helped it to breathe its life into the dying arcade scene in North America.
The article ends with a Reader's Choice poll where you can select your favorite rhythm game from a ridiculous array of choices - or write in your own.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Still More CES Fitness

Starling Fitness blogged CES extensively. Laura spotted products I missed and covered several I didn't in greater depth. Links, glorious links...

Konami and DDR "I expected a lot of noise and people playing. Instead, it was a small booth with two employees of Konami playing."

Powergrid Fitness "This is the first product from PowerGrid Fitness that I would be willing to shell out the bucks for."

Arcademx "wins my award for favorite product that I can’t buy yet."

Gamerunner "I hope they are successful and are able to create a product with a treadmill that looks a little more sturdy."

Jackie Chan J-mat "You run down the street, dodge things in your way and jump over barriers. Ninjas come at you and you need to step on them to get them to disappear. It’s not very realistic because the Jackie doesn’t run faster when you jump faster on the mat, but it got my heart rate higher than when I was playing in the Fitness Mode. I really wanted to beat up those ninjas."

Jackie Chan Powerboxing "I found it to be quite fun, but it wasn’t very aerobic."

Xavix Baseball "it’s not aerobic at all. I barely made it into the light intensity range, so this game is just for fun..."

Xavix Prototypes: Health & Fitness Manager, Stepper "Think Monkey Ball with a ferret and a stair stepper. That might give you an idea of what this game was like. "

Garmin GPS and heart-monitor "The Forerunner 305’s suggested retail price is $377, which is almost four times the cost of my Nike Imara."

Tacx and Intel " would be so cool if someone filmed video of roads and turned them into a game where you could ride your bike on famous bike courses. Tacx beat us to it and they have executed it well."

Tacx videos for your bike trainer "These DVDs might be a great compromise between true virtual reality and simulated reality."

Navman "It measures your speed, distance, and pace. It would work while running or on your bicycle."

Journey to the wild divine "Las Vegas Convention Center is the worst place on the planet to test meditation software."

Fitcentric "The software places you on a track with several other runners. You can try to catch up to the ones ahead of you or slow down and run at whatever pace you decide."

CES wrap-up "If a new toy will motivate you to exercise, then the investment is worth it."

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Fighting Android FA1

Among the many interesting robots featured at CES:

Self Defense Technologies, Inc. (SDT) has developed the world’s first “true” fighting android. Specifically, SDT’s invention is known as an electromechanical training apparatus or Fighting Android FA1. This android will revolutionize the training and conditioning of participants in boxing, martial arts and kick boxing along with providing both recreation and entertainment for the general public
Instructors and fitness center owners are in dire need of a means of demonstrating various punches, kicks and other contact techniques without risking injury to themselves or their students and patrons. Several devices that are basically padded dummies or wooden structures are available that reduce the risk of injury; yet, they are passive in nature. The user does not experience any real-life sparring opportunity since these devices are restrictive, immobile and noncompetitive. SDT’s fighting android provides an active means of training for martial arts, boxing and kick boxing; as well as, improving the general aerobic conditioning of recreational users.
Since it's a robot, you can hit it full-force without injuring it and it can punch back at you at full speed but stop the instant it makes contact so that - apart from your pride - you don't get injured. Read the whole thing.

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CES Leftovers: Arcademx, Lightglove, Exerstation, Launchpad

arcademx is coming out with wrist and foot position sensors that work with a DDR-style footpad for playing fighting games at home using physical movement. Kick to kick, punch to punch, step on the pad to move and jump. I played StreetFighter using the prototype and it was fun but frustrating. The control is kinda squishy and had a slight lag, so you probably wouldn't want to use this against somebody playing with a standard controller. This will probably retail for around $50.

The new smaller sit-down version of PowerGrid's Kilowatt is called the Exerstation and should be available in March for around $200.

The Lightglove seems like it might work well as a virtual gaming controller in concert with other devices such as treadmills.

The Golf launchpad is an impressive high-end controller for golf videogames. ps2/pc/mac; $200

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

West Virginia Schools Fight Obesity with DDR

It's official: Dance Dance Revolution will soon be part of the physical education curriculum in West Virginia.
State and school officials have struck a partnership with Redwood City's Konami Digital Entertainment Inc. to use its Dance Dance Revolution in all of its 765 public schools, Konami announced today. The innovative plan, the first statewide program to employ the dance video game, is intended to attack West Virginia's youth obesity problem.

Dance Dance Revolution, a favorite at arcades, has built up a solid following among youth and adults, who enjoy the game's fast pace, fun music and sweat-inducing challenges. In the game, players must dance on a large pad lined with sensors, timing their rapid steps carefully to the music and to video prompts on the screen. Since the game was introduced on American video consoles in 2001, Konami has sold 3 million units.

The program in West Virginia will roll out in the coming weeks at 103 middle schools and junior high schools and will reach the remaining schools by the end of the 2006-07 school year. The games, which will run on Microsoft Xboxes, will be incorporated into physical education curricula and after-school programs.

Together with a video game console, a television and rugged dance pad, the Dance Dance Revolution unit being purchased by West Virginia costs $740 each. Konami will take in about $30 for each game.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Power Your TV With Exercise

Suppose you've got a traditional exercise machine - a treadmill, an exercise bike, a healthrider, a nordicTrack, whatever - which you like using to keep your heart rate up while watching TV or a DVD or playing videogames. Is there some cheap, convenient way to force yourself to keep exercising while you engage in more passive entertainments? Yup!

The Entertrainer simulates powering the TV with your own exercise. What is it? A universal remote control that interacts with a wireless heart monitor. Wear the heart monitor belt around your chest and set up the controller facing the TV; it will help you to stay in your target exercise zone. How? Work too hard and your TV volume gets too loud. Work too little and the volume drops. Stop working out entirely and the TV powers off. For a hundred bucks. Cool!

Videos about the product can be found here.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

GameRunner Treadmill

[My virtual trainer Anna seemed pretty angry that I missed two EyeToy:Kinetic workouts to attend CES. The first words out of her mouth: "Where WERE you last week!?!" Fortunately, she never stays angry for long. I'm sorry! I'll do better this week, I promise!]

In other CES news, Game Runner is an unpowered gaming treadmill with USB outputs that emulate a mouse/keyboard so you can play PC games with a treadmill controlling forward motion. I got to play a prototype.

Speed on the treadmill and speed in the game are only loosely coupled; what's happening under the hood is that when you walk it sends a stream of "move forward" keypresses as if you were tapping or holding down the up-arrow on a USB keybard. There's an upper limit on travel speed - if you run faster than that your character doesn't go faster. This is probably good from an exercise perspective - game controllers shouldn't encourage players to collapse of exhaustion to get a better score - but it does takes some getting used to. Walking backwards has no effect.

As for the other controls, it's like a motorcycle handlebar - push right or left for one axis of joystick motion, turn the handle for another axis. There are a bunch of buttons positioned for easy thumb axis and it seems like they haven't quite decided where all the buttons go or what they should look like. Overall, an interesting option.

GameRunner is expected to be available "in about three months" for $450.

UPDATE: A commenter tells me the "upper limit on travel speed" is imposed by the game, not the controller. Also, the correspondence between tread movement and game movement is adjustable - you could make it require more or less speed to max out whatever game you are playing depending on what shape you are in.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Jackie Chan Knows Fitness

By now you've heard about Yourself!Fitness and Eyetoy:Kinetic and get the idea of a software-based personal trainer, but you're not yet convinced. You feel like something's missing, and find yourself asking "Why couldn't Jackie Chan be my personal fitness instructor?"

Glad you asked!

Jackie Chan wants to help you get in shape. The Jackie Chan Action J-Mat looks like a DDR pad but it only has four padded buttons and they are all in a single line. What can you do with four buttons? Walk or run in three locations - left, right, or center - do jumping jacks, and various other step patterns and rhythms. Use your mad stepping-on-a-big-button skillz to help Jackie Chan evade obstacles in the streets of Hong Kong or let Jackie lead you through a musical cardio fitness routine in a studio complete with goofy claps and hand motions.

The XavixPort console that plugs into your TV is $79; individual games (software carts with a custom controller ) go for between $49 and $89. Radio Shack sells the system or you can get it online at the Xavix store.

Another shipping Jackie Chan title is Power Boxing, which uses boxing gloves with a radio position sensor. Other Xavix games include tennis, table tennis, baseball, bowling, bass fishing, and golf.

I just realized I left off my take on the whole thing. Which is: the Action J-Mat is fun! Goofy, exhausting fun. Sure, the graphics are primitive, the controller looks dorky, the box itself lacks charisma...but the game works on its own terms and will get your heartrate up in no time. The retro nature of the graphics and gameplay is part of the charm, and Jackie Chan's charisma somehow survives being pixelized and animated even to this ridiculous degree. If you want a little box to plug into your TV and help you get in shape by playing videogames, $170 for a Xavix console with a copy of J-Mat will get you there, and there are many other exercise-oriented games you can add to the system later on if you later get bored with it.

If you do buy a Xavix, be on the lookout for a followup product that will probably be called the Action J-Stick. It's a heavy stick you wave in the air to block ninja attacks while getting a good upper-body workout. I played the prototype at CES; the game is nowhere near ready to ship but what I saw and tried seemed pretty promising. When it's ready, you'll probably find more info at Jackie Chan Studio Fitness.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Off to Vegas Consumer Electronics Show

There's apparently an area in the Sands Expo center called "Cardio Play Zone". I expect I'll have a lot to blog about when I get back.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Kinetic Week Four

I'm now one month into my 12-week Eyetoy:Kinetic fitness program. The number of workouts per week varies - it started with three but seems to be upping the workout frequency along with the difficulty of the games therein. Now it wants 4 or 5 workouts per week. On the other hand, the Optional segments really are optional. If I leave them out and cut the warmup a bit short, I can get the full workout down to a half hour. The Optional segments are also hard, especially the upper body segment after a few arm-heavy game sessions.

There are a lot of good games, and the program doles them out gradually over time to maintain interest. "Arcburst" was new for this week:

A nice touch I hadn't noticed before is that Kinetic pays attention to your time of day and adjusts the natural light in the studio areas to match the likely level of daylight outside.

I'm coming around to like the consistency of the cooldown. When you do the same moves in the same order regularly, the whole sequence can be relaxing. Meditative. Reassuring.

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