Monday, August 26, 2013

The Right way to play Monopoly


One of the most popular games ever is Hasbro's Monopoly.

My personal experience with the games has spanned many evenings fighting over the Orange properties (My favorite) or playing solo on the iPhone.

I found this interesting article about what are the wrong house rules to play Monopoly with. And the main one that most folks get wrong : Auctions. The default rule states that if a property is not purchased by the player landing on it, the property is auctioned off to the highest bidder at any price. And this is very important since it creates property liquidity. Without this rule, there are always some folks left without properties and that results in stalemate, instead of checkmate.

You can read the article in detail here:

Some fun facts about Monopoly:

Friday, August 16, 2013

IllumiRoom - Projecting Game Effects

A quick note on something super interesting that I came across a few days ago.

IllumiRoom uses Kinect and their projector to translate any game into an immersive environment with projected effects.

See the full 720p video here (5 minutes 29 seconds):

Its pretty awesome to see all the effects one can input as a developer and make this a truly immersive experience. This may be an excellent intermediate next step for console gaming before devices like the Oculus Rift for 3D gaming become more popular.

A few screenshots are given below:

Humble Bundle

I think Humble Bundle is a really neat initiative. They provide interesting Digital Games (Origin, Steam) and eBooks (Mobi, PDF, ePUB) for a really cheap price and the providers donate proceeds to charity.

Lets look at the current bundle. You get the following games for any price that you want. I believe the minimum is one dollar. And if you pay more than the current average price ($4.80), which will be $4.81, you get Battlefield 3 and Sims 3 too.

There are a few reasons why this is interesting:

1. Price: Even though the games are old, its a really great price to acquire them. $5 is the same price most folks pay for a take out breakfast and this instead affords hours of entertainment.

2. Genres: The games cover a lot of genres: FPS, TPS, Racing, Action etc. Hence, it not only interests a huge gaming base but also introduces casual gamers to new games which could possibly translate into future revenues.

3.  Digital Content: I am a proponent of digital games. Mainly because I have lost, scratched and misplaced tons of CD's and CD Keys over the years. This helps keep all my games in one place and makes it easy to re-install games when I format my computer (which typically happens once a year). It also satisfies "instant" appetites as the time taken to start playing the game is only limited to the speed of your internet connection and not UPS / USPS / FedEx delivery timelines.

4. Public Perception: As seen below, it clearly states that Origin is donating its share to charity. So it gives them a lot of good publicity. Since over a million people have bought this bundle, it translates to a lot of goodwill towards EA, much more than traditional marketing methods. One thought, is EA paying Steam (by Valve) for the downloads? Because no where does it mention that Steam is donating to charity too.

5.  Statistics: In 2 days, EA has raised over $5.5m dollars. It seems that a lot of folks are using this for marketing as we can see by the twitter handles and website link. But that's good for EA because they have to pay high dollar amounts to do so. Lastly, I would like to point out that its super interesting that the average price is $4.80 right now. What that shows is:

  •  A lot of folks must have paid $1 (or a similarly low amount) to counter all the high amounts paid.
  • The rest of the folks must be paying around $10 - $15 for the bundle else the minimum would have centered around $2.
So it shows that the bulk of the folks care about price, the rest pay a nominal amount even though that is higher than the average. It also serves to show that people would possibly pay $10 or $15 as round number, even though one is paying digitally and it is easily possible to pay $4.81 to unlock all the content. Lastly, it would be an interesting marketing exercise to see why EA put "The Sims 3" as a bonus and not a more popular game. They could have simply switched around Dead Space 3 with Sims or even have added Crysis 3.

Lets hope we get similarly great Humble Bundles in the future!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Amazon, Google, Apple vs. Vita, Ouya, Shield

This is a long post, hence I've structured it out. I highly advise reading it in its entirety, but the TL;DR is at the end in the "The Future" section.

EDIT: It seems that post caused a bit of confusion. I am NOT comparing the PC, XBox One, PS4 or Wii. I am looking and comparing other handhelds and consoles being introduced this year. I am also comparing the possibility of Amazon, Google & Apple introducing consoles and how they would fare against these new additional consoles.

The first digital game I ever played was on a handheld. It had only one game - Tetris. From there I moved to consoles, discovering the world of Contra, Mario and Bomberman. And then I discovered gaming on the PC. From playing the old Apogee games, moving on to DOS games such as Prince of Persia 1 and Paratrooper, to discovering how cool it was to play Prince of Persia 2 in color! And then came the Win 3.1 games, Chips Challenge and Rodents Revenge which paved the way for Bio-Menace, Jazz Jackrabbit, Raptor, Wolf-3D and Doom on Win '95! And after that I finally discovered the modern era of gaming - from Roadrash to NFS 3, from Dink Smallwood to Age of Empires.

The point of my gaming background above? I love games and have played them on every device through the years - Portable, Console and PC. And it seems that now we have arrived at a juncture in gaming hardware, wherein we are restarting the hardware cycle all over again.

Initially, when computer hardware was expensive, handhelds with cartridges were the way to go. As hardware improved, so did the graphics and that ushered in the era of Atari and Nintendo. Soon after, the PC came up to par with the hardware necessities requisite for gaming and also gave a new experience to gamers introducing genres like RTS and MMORPG.

Current Scenario:
Today, we have extremely powerful PC hardware, but it costs a pretty penny to keep upgrading it every 2-3 years (Believe me, I know since I've build my own rig for the past ~15 years). A console helps in that regard since this years Xbox One and PS4 refresh comes after 7-8 years.

What seems to happening this year is that everyone is hoping for a piece of the console refresh pie and we have a slew of new hardware products coming out this year. So I wanted to quickly compare and contrast all of them.

Microsoft: Nothing really. Unless you count Windows Phone / Win 8 tablets as an extension.

Sony: Sony is hoping for the PS4 to revitalize (pun intended) the Vita, especially since you can continue gaming on the handheld from the same point where you left it on the console. It sounds like a pretty interesting concept, especially for hardcore gamers who want to finish that level before being banished by parents to the bedroom or someone who wants to finish during their public commutes.
Check out a clip of this functionality, shown during the PS4 console reveal demo:

Nintendo: I am not too familiar with Nintendo, but whatever I have experienced on the Wii, seems to be focused on Tween gamers. Especially since most major AAA titles are not on the Wii which are what avid hardcore gamers prefer. And the USP of the Wii, which was motion based accessories, has since been eclipsed by the Kinect. So I believe the 3DS and Wii focus on another market segment completely.

Ouya: This was the rage when it was announced last year, but it seems that the hype has fizzled out. Yes, its an interesting idea to have a cheap console. But why would someone really want to play mobile quality games on a TV when you have your phone for that? Plus it seems most owners aren't really spending on the games. I give props to the product for an innovative idea but it needs some major titles to come on board asap, especially ones that would be paid or at least have a good freemium model.

Nvidia Shield: I was looking forward to reviews of this product for quite some time. I've heard of portable console stations and those looked interesting but were more for people who travel a lot by car. It seems the Shield has a lot going for it. Great graphics, excellent sound, great titles (same as PC), an excellent media device and decent portability. The negatives would be that you can't really play on it as a true portable, you need to put it in your lap since it's too heavy. Plus it falls into a very weird juncture. Its not a tablet, its not a portable gaming device, its not a laptop but it seems to do a bit of everything pretty well.
So it would be very interesting to see how hardcore gamers adopt this device.
See the links below for a full Engadget review and a short interview by Gamasutra:

Amazon, Apple and Google: It seems that all these technology heavyweights are rumored to be developing their own consoles, similar to how they are all developing their own media boxes. Since they have the Fire, iPad and Android tablets respectively, it seems that they want to basically create a port to a console, similar to how the iPad adapted iPhone apps. It's an interesting idea and the Me-too concept may make some money since these products will come with a big brand name behind them. However, as I discuss in the next section, there are different verticals that gaming falls into and these address only one of them - Casual.
Some links with details about these rumored consoles:

According to me, there are currently 3 verticals to gaming: Kids, Casual and Mainstream.
Kids: Consoles such as a Wii address these needs and games produced by Disney, Microsoft and Nintendo cater well to this audience.
Casual: This is what Mobile gaming is addressing today. Everyone loves to play games. There are some with mass appeal such as Angry Birds but most prefer to play a quick game while traveling or waiting in lines.
Mainstream: This has always been the main source of revenue for the gaming industry. This is where titles such as GTA, Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty fall into.

The Future:
I believe that there are very few games that appeal to mass audiences. And hence, there is specific hardware for each audience.
For Kids, we have the Wii, 3DS and Kinect.
For Casual, we have mobile games.
For Mainstream, we have the PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita and possibly the Shield.

This is my primary concern with the heavyweights coming out with their own consoles. Which market segment are they addressing? Considering the quality of games available, they are addressing the Kids and Casual markets.
Casual will definitely not work since most folks play those games because of the portability and accessibility factor which will not be there for a console sitting at home.
Kids may work to a decent extent, but that would be highly dependent on which publishers have their games on which console. Since the Kids market is dominated by a few major publishers, they actually wield a lot of power since the success of the consoles may depend on which console the publishers choose to publish on.

I believe the market will continue as it is, with the major consoles and PC leading the mainstream market and mobile games dominating the casual market. The new consoles will not changes the status quo much. The next big market shakeup will most probably be 3D gaming, as detailed in my earlier post about the Oculus Rift (

Friday, August 9, 2013

Game of Thrones: Comic Con 2013

I finally got around to seeing the 1.5 hour Comic Con Game of Thrones (GoT) panel discussion. As I expected, it did not disappoint though I was hoping to see a sneak preview of Season 4. If any media person is reading this, I am really curious to know why only 10 episodes are created per season, especially since this is pretty much the #1 show on Network TV right now.

It is a must watch for any hardcore GoT fan. If I could stand in line for 3 hours to see the Iron Throne in NYC, you can definitely get through this video at home :). And Khal Drogo's surprise appearance is an unexpected bonus.

Oculus Rift

Over the last year, I've been hearing a lot about the Oculus Rift. I still remember the first time I played a VR (Virtual Reality) Football (Soccer) game where the balls bounced of my body when I was acting like a Goalkeeper. It was like magic and I couldn't believe that I could play a game without touching any kind of hardware.

Fast Forwarding 12 years, Oculus Rift (OR) seems to be the defacto gadget discussed whenever speaking about gaming and VR. I have been waiting for a while for some reviews and I finally found a good review of the dev kit version.

I am currently very wary of 3D technologies as there seems to be no standard and hence all of them seem to have some downfalls, the main one being nausea.

Since OR takes that to another level that was one of my primary concerns and it seems that is a major issue for now. Also, another interesting challenge as quoted about loading screens in the article is "Just imagine how odd it would be if you turned your head in the real world but your vision remained the same as before. In practice, this feels like being stabbed in the brain at the same time as the world spins out from under you." which is something I had never even considered. It just seems impossible to imagine how something can disorient so much. Another good example of things being too real is "Basically, the closest I could get to Alyx before running into her hit box was at around two feet away. But as I stopped as if I had hit her physically, my brain interpreted the signal as, “Oh, if you ran into her, you must be super close—and if you are that close, your perception is wrong. She's not far away, she's just tiny!” So for the rest of the game my mind interpreted every human character as being two-thirds the size of a normal human.". So it seems that the challenges are not only with the 3D technology but also with framerate, syncing, 3D modeling and texture design.

The point to be made here is that when we are in Virtual Reality, the keyword is not Virtual, as we inherently know that what we are seeing is not real. Hence, we can make do with and process the fact that we are fighting zombies, flying alien ships or even listening to a dystopian big brother known as GLaDOS. They keyword is Reality, as we are now in a world where even in a game, we expect a human person to be an appropriately sized 3D model with detailed textures. We expect the physics to compare to those on Earth unless we are explicitly told that we are in an anti-gravity chamber and even then it may be a disorienting experience wherein the physics values need to be changed to what the general masses can get used to.

The OR seems to be at the forefront of a new digital technology world, especially with what 3D printing can already achieve. I predict that the OR or a successor will do great things for VR, similarly to what the Microsoft Kinect did for gesture recognition and control.

As an avid gamer, I hope they iron out some of the kinks soon, coz I just cant wait to play a full VR simulated game of Counterstrike, Age of Empires and GTA!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Perceiving India

As an Indian, I come across many people who ask me myriad questions about India. Whether it be if I speak 'Hindu' (Hindi is a language, Hinduism is a religion) or where I learnt such 'polished' English from; or whether it is peppering me with questions about how so many religions and cultures coexist, everyone I come across never asks me the same question twice.

Hence, it has been very interesting to see the various queries people have and sometimes even their own personal experiences when they have visited the county.

Today I happened to come across this very interesting article about Mumbai, which can be applied to India as a whole. An Australian lady shares her love / hate relationship details with India and it makes for a fascinating and insightful read.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Humans of New York

I'm starting off this blog with a post about a page that I really like.

Humans of New York.

Brandon Stanton started the page to showcase the beauty of New York City and the people living within. It has grown over the past 2 years, to over a million people checking out his pictures everyday. What makes these pictures different, is that these are folks you and I walk by everyday, not realizing that each person has a story and how interesting those stories can be.

Every day I police my Facebook feed to see whether a new picture has popped up and what the story behind that picture is. It makes you think about a range of things: How hard people have worked to get where they are, Who and What they have had to leave behind, What they feel after having loved and sometimes lost, and just how your inner feelings come out in words and wardrobe alike.

I also have to mention that you must check out the comments in the pictures as some of those provide a lot of introspection and interestingly, most comments are overwhelmingly positive with very little acrimony in the group.

You can see the Facebook page here:

He also publishes detailed stories on his website and these are slice of life stories unlike anything I have read before:

What I'm waiting for the most is for the Coffee Table book to be released:

Check out some of my recent favorites here:

I hope this project goes on for a long time, its a little hard to imagine a day going by and me not checking out HONY.
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