13 November, 2011



Review: Kinect Sports Season 2 feels like a fumble at the goal line

Posted: 13 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

When it was released alongside the Kinect last November, Kinect Sports was one of those easy purchases for a good majority of the peripheral's early adopters. It was easy to jump in, fun for the whole family and a good display of what the 3D camera motion-sensing system could do. It was also filled with flaws and glitches that affected the game's visuals and gameplay. Now, one year later, Rare and Microsoft return with Kinect Sports: Season 2.

Filled with more sports, and fine tuned Kinect functionality, this year's game goes miles ahead of last year's, but unfortunately, it's still packed with many of those same flaws that ruined the previous game. This category of casual motion-sensing game is an important one for Microsoft as it seeks to broaden the audience for the Xbox 360 game console, which appealed at first to hardcore gamers but more often than not is now selling to casual game players.

Kinect Sports: Season 2 introduces players to five new sports: baseball, football, tennis golf and downhill skiing; along with darts (note: not a sport – just sayin'). Of these six, skiing is the easiest to jump in to; simply stand like you're skiing and move your body from side-to-side to move between your markers. From time to time you'll have to jump for style points, and while it's quite fun, it can be unresponsive at times. The game does a great job of adjusting the difficulty so you never really feel like you've lost until the end of the race – even if you're doing terrible.

A promising failure

The game's football mode is disappointing, but comes with some impressive tech. Players control either the quarterback or one of the receivers. The quarterback crouches down to hike the ball and either yells "Hike!" or moves their arms as if retrieving the ball to start the play. Your receivers icons above their heads will turn green when they're open and you can either throw the ball to the left, right or straight ahead.  Receivers catch the ball by stretching their arms out, and then run in place to get to the end zone. The quarterback can also call an audible at the line of scrimmage if he sees a weakness in the defense, though don't expect a Madden-like level of strategy here. Calling audibles is basically a game of chance more often than not.

As basic as the football controls are, it's easy to envision next year's Madden, which has been confirmed to feature Kinect functionality, use something similar to the system here.  Imagine walking up to the line as Aaron Rodgers in the Superbowl, looking over the defense and calling an audible using the same system the actual team does.  The ideas in Kinect Sports: Season 2's football mode feel an awful lot like a great starting point for other things – even if they're not all that fleshed out here.

It should come as no surprise that golf is the game's most fun and responsive mode. The majority of the golfing mechanic
is easy and responsive, and the addition of voice controls for club selection makes things seem even more fluid. Admittedly, it was a bit weird being so used to having a Wii-mote in my hands to golf, and it threw me off a bit at first, but thanks to how intuitive the game system is, that problem didn't last long at all. It's important to note that it took a while to get used to putting, as the game kept hitting the ball too hard regardless of my motion, though a quick trip to the Kinect tuner seemed to rectify this.

Better get used to running in place

In a similar fashion, baseball is also a mixed bag. Pitchers can throw the ball with either their left or right hand, curving the ball by curving their arm. Sounds pretty simple right? Unfortunately, the game seems to fall apart once you step into the batter's box. As you'd expect, batting is based pretty solely on timing, but sometimes even when you get a good hit, the game sends it directly to a spot in the outfield where an opposing player is, which triggers a mini game for the outfielder. It just seems like the baseball portion of the game is built mostly on luck rather than any kind of skill.

By far, the most disappointing aspect of the game is the darts section. Put quite simply, it's almost unplayable due to limitations in the Kinect system itself. Darts is a game of accuracy, and the Kinect seems to have no way to judge where you're trying to send the darts you're throwing. Quite often I would aim one for an upper portion of the board, only to see it go to the very bottom. To see just how bad the game's recognition for darts was, I closed my eyes and made a cartoonish throwing motion and to my surprise it went almost perfect straight. Hopefully this is something an update can fix.

One of the biggest problems with the original Kinect Sports was that you had to be playing a full game either online or against a local opponent to compete with friends, but Season 2 adds a challenge mode to each sport that adds a ton of replayability to the title. Baseball for instance has the home run derby and golf has a targeting mini game.  Season 2 also introduces a much more streamlined menu process that features a responsive voice system. Want to play football? Just say it. This year's game is much easier to navigate through.


Though it's not a drastic change from last year's game, the teams at Rare and Microsoft have done a nice job addressing the majority of the issues to make this game a much more enjoyable experience. Not all of the sports are as enjoyable as the next, and unless you've got a big group looking to play, you're likely to get tired of the game rather quickly. But Kinect Sports Season 2 is a fun if not flawed party experience. All in all, Kinect Sports Season 2 gets a 59 out of 100.

Filed under: games

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Twitter founder Biz Stone likes turkeys, wishes people were more like them

Posted: 12 Nov 2011 02:28 PM PST

Biz Stone, the cofounder of avian-themed social network Twitter, has a thing for birds. That includes turkeys, so he’s going to spend November 19 in Orland, California, hanging out with turkeys, just chilling, instead of eating them.

Stone explains his plans in a painfully earnest webcam video, embedded above.

“Turkeys are intelligent, social, curious, and sometimes even funny. I wish people were more like turkeys sometimes,” Stone says.

He also mentions that his mother-in-law is Turkish. “That’s irrelevant. But it’s true,” he says.

Stone joins other celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Emily Deschanel and race car driver Leilani M√ľnter, in supporting a “celebration for the turkeys” sponsored by Farm Sanctuary, an organization that rescues farm animals and tries to educate people to stop eating them.

Maybe Stone’s next startup will be called Gobble. (Or, in its first year, Gbbl.)

Filed under: media

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This week’s highlights: Dragon-slayers, Steve Jobs, deadmau5 and ladies in togas

Posted: 12 Nov 2011 01:22 PM PST

Every week we bring you the most popular posts from VentureBeat as well as a few stories that we think are just so exceptional that you shouldn’t miss them. Let’s start with the exceptional ones this week.

Editor’s picks

Uh oh. Here comes another dragon. (Screenshot from Skyrim)Review: Skyrim is far greater than the sum of its parts
Sebastian Haley’s review of this dragon-slaying fantasy video game focuses on the game’s inordinate number of annoying glitches. (The review made me laugh out loud at several points, too.) But in the end, despite his carping, Sebastian couldn’t stop thinking about Skyrim and planning his next mission. It really does add up to a good game.

Salesforce debuts Do.com, a smart social productivity app for small teams
It’s still in invite-only beta, but Salesforce.com’s newest app is aimed at small groups of people who need to manage to-do lists and projects. Sean Ludwig reports on Do.com, which could be a breakout cloud service for small businesses.

Why CNN's 'Black in America' misses the point on race in tech
Looking for something to watch this weekend? An upcoming CNN documentary, which airs Sunday night, November 13, has sparked a debate about the role of race in Silicon Valley. Chikodi Chima saw the show, and he thinks a lot of the debate is just missing the point. Bonus: Chikodi has asked several black entrepreneurs to contribute their views, which we’re publishing as part of VentureBeat’s series on diversity in tech.

"Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" is a must-watch, bittersweet glimpse at Jobs' genius
Still looking for something to watch this weekend? An interview by Robert X. Cringely with the late Steve Jobs has recently resurfaced, and is now being shown in a few movie theaters around the country. Devindra Hardawar saw it, and gives it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Evony gets a real lady in a toga for its online game ads. Is this progress?
Online strategy game Evony gained notoriety a few years ago for its ubiquitous, salacious web ads, which featured animated, buxom females inviting you to play. Now Evony has hired a flesh-and-blood model to embody one of its characters — somewhat more tastefully, Evony execs claim. But where’s the beefy dude in a toga? Dean Takahashi asks the hard questions.

Mindbloom's new app is healthy living through mobile notifications
Smartphones don’t have to take you away from your loved ones and friends, isolating you in a small bubble of blue light emanating from your iPhone screen. Mindbloom is an app that sends you occasional messages, reminding you to focus on what is truly important to you. Meghan Kelly reports.

Most popular

deadmau5 spins the plattersCall of Duty Elite struggles with too many first day users
Activision Blizzard ran into problems as demand for its new game outstripped the ability of its servers to handle the massive number of registrations. Dean Takahashi reported the news, then delved deeper into COD Elite’s startup problems.

Why Dark Souls is the loneliest, most brutal game this year. And you’ll love it
This fantasy blockbuster is set in a bleak and dangerous world, where even the slightest mistake can send you to your death. Dan Crawley writes our review.

Tech darling deadmau5 livestreams first web concert tonight
Hoodie-wearing tech scenesters were thrilled to discover that DJ act deadmau5 would be live-streaming a concert. Jolie O’Dell brought us all the good news.

Modern Warfare 3′s disturbing scene involves child’s death

A cutscene in this new game includes a disturbing incident of terrorism that results in the death of a child. Read Dean Takahashi’s story only if you don’t mind story spoilers.

The mobile app is going the way of the CD-ROM: To the dustbin of history
The past few years have seen an explosion of apps for iOS, Android and other platforms. But now, Jolie O’Dell reports in this extensive feature story, some companies (like Mozilla and Yahoo) think that the future lies with purely HTML5-based web applications, and they’re building tools to make it happen.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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How black entrepreneurs can succeed in Silicon Valley

Posted: 12 Nov 2011 01:12 PM PST

Editor’s note: CNN’s upcoming documentary, Black in America 4, has sparked a heated discussion about race in the tech industry. VentureBeat has asked several black entrepreneurs to contribute their opinions prior to the airing of the show on Sunday November 13. Read the rest of VentureBeat’s stories on diversity in tech.

There’s been a lot of talk lately: Racism in tech, lack of access to capital for minority and women startups, low numbers of black engineers in tech. Whew.

Drama, intrigue sexism… It’s a search engine optimization expert’s wet dream. However, to a guy like myself who has started a company — and to many black entrepreneurs — this is a reality here in Silicon Valley.

With all the hoopla going around, I think we are forgetting to ask ourselves the hardest question: Are the things we are creating truly fund-worthy? Innovation must be a focus.

A few things stood out about the reactions in the minority tech community: There was not enough of a focus on startups, innovative technologies or services that solve a real problem. Instead, our eyes are purposely fixed on the money.

In a lot of ways, even I myself can’t help but submit to that same stream of thinking. Many times, we think the real value of a startup is determined by the amount of money that it raises, the size of its team or the superstars it can hire. In other words, we do it to ourselves.

I think of other industries that we minorities value, such as sports and entertainment, where we can command top dollar for being creative and innovative with our natural talents. In contrast, the black startup space is riddled with the old bones of “me-too” apps. We have tried to out-Facebook Facebook, or out-eBay eBay. And we’ve failed. Miserably. As anyone would, black or white, with ideas like that.

So what can we do? I think the answer has been in front of us. What I am about to propose is something daring. It’s going to take guts, it’s going to force you to challenge what you have been told about starting a successful company , and most of all, its not easy. I can sum it up in one sentence:

Just be better.

Being better is not easy. It’s hard to build something from scratch, let alone build something that solves a real problem that a lot of people have.

When I created AisleFinder the hardest part was finding data. There was none. I found out that people that tried what we were doing in the past, but gave up because this was the "hardest" part. Persistence helped us get where we are.

For minority startups, we can’t get where we want to go with what we got. Not yet. But I believe we can get there, by focusing on the following:

  1. Look inside ourselves and be critical. Not negative, but scrutinizing.
  2. Over-perform on each facet of your business. Know more about the history of the industries that you want to take over.
  3. Out-innovate, not just for innovations sake, but find innovative ways to solve problems.
  4. Break all the rules, every one of them. People that believe there are rules, or a formula to startup success, will live by them. The ones running things are not following anything but their instincts.
  5. Make people smile when they hear about your product. Simple goal, the more smiles that you see when you describe your product/service, the more you know you are solving a real issue, as opposed to building a feature.
  6. Build your prototype. Today. Even if you build one main feature. Do it however you can. This will build your confidence in what you are doing, and you can learn more, if you let people "play" with you app/website.

Of all the things I want to leave you with, it’s these words:

Just be better.

It’s only after we do this that we can begin to feel confident that our ideas and products are fund-worthy.

Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Curtiss Pope is an entrepreneur, developer and designer who has founded AisleFinder.com and SupermarketAPI.com. Both focus on navigation and innovation within supermarkets and other retail outlets.

Filed under: Entrepreneur Corner, VentureBeat

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Chevy Volt fires don’t mean plug-in cars are unsafe

Posted: 12 Nov 2011 12:32 PM PST

Brace yourselves, electric-car advocates, for another possible round of alarmism and superficial reporting about fires in plug-in cars.

Bloomberg story from Friday highlights a third fire involving a Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car–only 7,500 or so of which are on the roads today.

NHTSA side-impact test

The latest case occurred in June in a Chevy Volt that had been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The car was subjected to a side-impact “pole test,” which not only destroyed the car but cracked the battery pack housed in the center tunnel and under the rear seat. Then, as per the standard test procedure, the car was put on a rotisserie and rotated 90 degrees every five minutes to test for any fluid leakage. Coolant leaked out of the battery pack, though the electric components stayed put.

Fully three weeks later, the wrecked Volt caught fire in an open storage yard in Wisconsin, with the flames ultimately spreading to surrounding cars. After news of the fire, both Chevrolet and the NHTSA independently replicated the crash test and subsequent vehicle rotation procedure. In neither case could they reproduce the conditions under which the battery pack ignited.

Electric vehicles not “at greater risk” of fire

Months later, the NHTSA doesn’t appear to view the fire as terribly alarming. It has given the Volt a five-star safety rating, and the IIHS designated the Volt a Top Safety Pick as well. "Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe the Volt or other electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles,” the agency said in a statement today. “In fact, all vehicles — both electric and gasoline-powered — have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash."

Nonetheless, novelty and lack of public knowledge is likely to make any conflagration noteworthy if there’s an electric car nearby.

Salvage yards, tow-truck operators

The immediate concern, the agency noted, was to ensure that first responders, tow-truck operators, salvage yards, and even dealerships that handle wrecked electric cars understand what must be done to ensure safety. GM has been training first responders how to approach crashes involving electric cars for more than a year, since before the 2011 Volt went on sale last December.

It is also developing procedures for all parties on how to remove lithium-ion battery packs from wrecked Volts to alleviate any potential of long-term fire risk.

Garage fires, with Volts inside

The two previous fires with Chevy Volts involved were in Mooresville, North Carolina, just last week, and in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, last April. Both occurred in garages that happened to house Chevrolet Volts. In the Mooresville case, a Volt was charging in the garage at the time of the fire–leading local electric utility Duke Energy, in a surfeit of caution, to advise electric-car owners not to plug in their cars to charge until the cause of the blaze had been established.

No conclusion has yet been drawn by local fire officials, but GM sources–none of whom would go on record–seem confident that the Volt will not be deemed to have been a cause of the blaze.

As for the Connecticut blaze, the fire marshal’s report concluded the Volt that was parked in the garage had nothing to do with the cause of the fire. It was sitting next to a Suzukiconverted by the home’s owner to a battery electric vehicle.

Keeping an eye out

With electric cars slowing spreading into the market, manufacturers and regulators alike will be keeping a very close eye on any fires with electric cars nearby. The NHTSA’s statement concludes, "As manufacturers continue to develop vehicles of any kind — electric, gasoline, or diesel – it is critical that they take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of drivers and first responders both during and after a crash.”

Given that there are 250,000 or more fires in gasoline vehicles every year, the sample base seems too low to draw any useful conclusions about electric cars and fires thus far.

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope it stays that way.

This post by John Voelcker originally appeared in GreenCarReports, one of VentureBeat’s editorial partners.

Filed under: green

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