Reporting for Paste Magazine…
Reporting for Paste Magazine…
Here’s where my travel column went last month:
Over the last decade, I’ve mostly written about technology. Among the hundreds of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts published, some cover entertainment. Some science. Some travel. And rarer still, some sports. (All topics that personally appeal to me.)
Of the latter category, these are the stories I’m most proud of, along with the backstories that created them. Continue reading…
Here’s where my travel column went last month:
Perhaps one of the below might inspire your next offline adventure:
My travel column entries from last month:
Feedback if you got ’em.
I just started a new travel column for Paste Magazine. It’s called “Off the Grid.” You should read it.
First one up: 5 overlooked National Parks. To help you along the way, I’ll follow it up every week with all things awesome.
Thanks for reading (and for sharing if you like what you read).
An edited version of this story first appeared on USA Today
North American is known for a lot of things. Transcendent, soaring, and gaping fjords isn’t one of them. For that, most travelers understandably head to Norway, New Zealand, or Chile first—all renowned for their glacier-carved “canyons” that outlet into swallowing seas.
But the northern half of the continent has its fair share of majestic cliffs cut by frozen (instead of liquid) water, especially in parts of southern Alaska and Canada. As a bonus, they’re more proximitous than Europe’s beloved Grainger Fjord, less travelled, and still rate at least 4.5 out of 5 stars, according to average visitor reviews on Google and Tripadvisor.
Behold, the most fantastic fjords of North America: Continue reading…
My latest for the fair and balanced department at Fox News: Online blood tests like WellnessFX are empowering and affordable as much as they are against medical advice.
I’ve seen the future. It’s called gigabit Internet by Google Fiber, and it just launched in my hometown of Provo, the second of three scheduled cities to get speeds that are 100 times faster than the rest of America.
“What good is really fast Internet if the content stays the same?” you may ask yourself. I certainly did, before testing the service. Besides, my “high speed” Internet from Comcast seemed fast enough, enabling my household to stream HD videos, load web pages quickly, and connect multiple devices as needed, largely without hiccup.
I was wrong.
Using gigabit Internet, even in its infancy, opened my eyes to speed and reminded me of why I love the Internet.
My latest for Fox News: Why the death of the PC is a myth
Reporting for Fox, here are 7 low-tech goods I’ve enjoyed this year.
Feature story I wrote for the fair & balanced dept. of Fox News: Next great Internet revolution is coming, AOL founder says
(CNN) — From Airbnb to GasBuddy to shopkick, lots of apps and websites help consumers save money.
But how do we spend less on technology itself — that digital drug we can’t seem to get enough of? How can we save money on electronic gadgets and services … so that we can buy more gadgets?
Here are 10 ways to stretch your tech budget this year: Continue reading…
Read it here: Life after smartphones—What’s next?
Reporting for Fair & Balanced. :)
Thanks to cut-rate pricing and high user praise, Google?’s new Chromebooks have finally struck a nerve with savvy consumers. But they may go unnoticed this holiday as tablets still dominate wishlists. Continue reading…
I fell behind in updating my published works section this year (there’s always Google right?). In any case, here are a couple of recent stories I’m proud to have written:
NBC/KSL—Like AOL before it, Facebook is the latest in a long line of mainstream technologies to introduce a lot of new users to the power, utility, and network effect of the Internet.
At the same time, the popular hangout has negatively impacted the number of public comments taking place online. Case in point: The number of people making online remarks has dwindled from a record 15% five years ago to an estimated 7% last year, according to market research by Nielson.
The reason: “Conversations around stories are moving off the news page and onto social networks,” says Steve Rubel, a longtime observer of social media since 2004. “With time spent on social networks like Facebook skyrocketing, it leaves little left to engage at the source of the news.”
Is that a problem? Continue reading…
Recent things I’ve written:
Notable feature stories I’ve written recently:
Recent feature stories I’ve written:
My latest for Fox & Friends. Not a shocker, but I still found it amusing.
My latest for Fox & Friends.
Like something out of a Dan Brown novel, I tell ya.
“Try becoming a real journalist and offering up a balanced article,” the fanman wrote. I guess he didn’t like that I quoted both critics and skeptics in a single article. “Balanced,” would have completely ignored one side or the other, apparently.
Or maybe he’s just mad that Fox News exists.
One of six fabled BCS computers, not unlike something you’d use to surf YouTube.
Crazy, isn’t it?
Reporting for Fox & Friends: “A new application lets parents photograph a software package at the store and instantly learn about any potentially questionable content.”
Go read my Fox & Friends story to find out.
New technology article I wrote for Fox & Friends on cool science fair projects.
A new slideshow I penned for Fox & Friends.
Reporting for Fox News… from the non-biased department. :)
On assignment for Fox News. They sorta butchered my informal tone. But it still turned out okay:
Hunker down, New England!
In addition to contributing stories to all corners of the web (except the dirty ones), I recently began penning a thrice weekly column for Dell Games / Alienware. If you like PC games, or ever thought of using a PC to play them (including HD ones), the column chronicles the high points of the platform without the overkill found elsewhere. Behold. (RSS here)
Excluding blog posts and short-news articles:
Excluding blog posts and short news articles:
Excluding reports, blog posts, and short-news articles:
Excluding blog posts and short news stories:
Excluding short articles and blog posts.
Excluding short articles and blog posts.
Excluding short stories and blog posts:
Excluding short blog posts and news stories:
Excluding short new and blog posts.
Excluding short articles and blog posts not on Smooth Harold:
Excluding short news articles and blog posts:
For video game pessimists and number crunchers, my latest:
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Beta, that silly subhead you see on so many websites, has been dead for quite some time. It just took a while before someone came out and said it. Here’s my latest from GigaOM, also syndicated on CNN/Fortune, entitled “Beta is dead”:
“Beta, as it pertains to web sites, has seen better days. Not long ago, saying the word as part of your web development cycle could help land venture capital even faster than claiming “community,” “paradigm shift” or “disruptive technology.” Now, the term is dissipated and confusing.
“While the specific origin of its use is unknown, beta as a tagline was popularized by a Google with the release of Google News in 2002, and later, Gmail in 2004. From there, startups quickly followed suit. By 2006, it seemed like every new web site was “in beta.” Continue reading…
For the nerds out there, my latest: “Your 401k is gone. The price of your home has crashed. Your paycheck is in doubt. Yeah, 2009 is shaping up to be a great year, thanks to the recession. But chin up, readers. With hard work, a little bit of luck, and a healthy dose of escapism, we’ll get through this. So when the going gets tough, look to these standout games to forget it all: the most anticipated video games of 2009.”
My latest: “PlayStation Home for the PlayStation 3 launched on Dec. 11, more than a year after the virtual world was first promised. The general online reaction to the free PS3 service? To put it lightly, boring, as shown by a scathing Penny Arcade cartoon on the service.
“So why would gamers, the overwhelming group of people buying the console, want to use it? “For the average gamer, it’s hard to meet other players,” says Jack Buser, who joined Sony eight months ago to become director of the new social community. “Home is a place where you can meet new friends, share interests, and play games. There are so many super cool people who own a PS3.”
My latest: “First, the bad news. The dreaded “Red Ring of Death” continues to plague Xbox 360 owners. Some reports have put the failure rate of the console at one-third. It’s a bummer, because there are so many great games.
“The good news — provided you’re in the lucky majority with a valid warranty — was that 2008 was another great year for Xbox fans. Not as jam-packed as last year, mind you. But with improved reliability and a new low price of $199, there’s no reason to miss the top 10 Xbox 360 games of 2008.”
Here’s my latest nerd minutia article, on the subject of video game of the year awards: Since becoming a full-time critic three years ago, I’ve been involved in selecting several game of the year awards, the summa cum laude of video game honors.
As a newbie, I was surprised to learn that voters are rarely, if ever, required to play all nominees before casting final ballots. Rather, a group of judges throws their favorites into a hat and lobbies against one another, whether or not they are qualified to do so. The process is very political. In most cases, the loudest voice always wins.
And therein lies the rub, underscoring how unorganized, unscientific, and naive some game of the year awards have become.
My latest: “Three years after its release, and the PSP is still lacking games — most people use it to watch movies on the go. But a nice mix of sports, arcade, shoot-âem-ups, creative and traditional titles have made their way to the handheld this year. Though all but one were released in the first half of 2008, these are the best PlayStation Portable games of the year.”
Whoever said video games are recession proof is a turd. I know because my GamePro invoicing and contributions were drastically cut two weeks ago as the outlet readies for the great advertising scare and depression apocalypse of 2009. It was the right thing for the company to do in an effort to stay lean, even if freelancers like myself and lowly employees suffer as a result.
In any case, I will no longer serve as news editor for the publication, something I’ve greatly enjoyed since taking the helm in July 2007. Instead, I will remain an editor at large, helping to expand the coverage of GamePro’s subsidiary sites. I will continue responding to “letters to the editor” along with the occasional game review and preview, but for the time being, I will no longer be writing news.
During my tenure as news editor, I wrote more than 1,000 news articles (a partial list which can be found here) and oversaw 2,000 published works. I also scooped some original stories, got cited in CNN, planned coverage for a team of three reporters, and edited lots of copy. For any interested, click to your hearts content, and let me know if any media outlets are looking for wordsmiths (wink, wink).
Follow the yellow brick road to MSNBC and I’ll tell you my thoughts… sorta. For those that have played both, which do you prefer?
The big games this year are hard to miss: “Gears of War 2,” “Fallout 3,” “LittleBigPlanet,” “Guitar Hero.” But what about the low-profile ones that are just as good, if not better? The games that come out of nowhere to delight, inspire and surprise us?These are the best Cinderella games of 2008. If it’s the new and innovative you seek, don’t overlook these hidden gems.
Unplayable cut scenes, cinemas, or in-game movies have been a part of video games for more than 20 years. They help advance the plot, serve as a rest area for players and produce shock and awe like any good movie.
While the technique is evolving (some developers like Valve shun them altogether in favor of total interaction), cut scenes often make games feel bigger than they really are. And nobody does it better than the following games when it comes to memorable cinematics.
Ghosts may be the first thing you think of when you hear the word “spooky,” but they make for lousy Halloween costumes. They have a rich history with video games, and for that, I respect them. So in the spirit of disembodied souls and our favorite pagan holiday, I give to you the best video game ghosts of all time.
Microsoft says its “New Xbox Experience,” which rolls out Nov. 19, will “change the face of home entertainment for every Xbox 360 owner.” It doesn’t.
In reality, the New Xbox Experience is more appropriately described as a new menu system. It won’t revolutionize your console, but it will improve your experience. Ironically, the most interesting feature about this revamp to a game console’s user interface has nothing to do with games. It’s about movies.
Lindsey and I have been playing World Tour all weekend with friends. The game is Guitar Hero’s response to the popular Rock Band. The early verdict: World Tour improves upon Rock Band in almost every way, save for scoring, star power, and when someone fails. Plus, anything that has Van Halen gets bonus points from me. My full review at MSNBC…
It’s almost impossible to hear the word “Atari” and not reminisce on joysticks, paddle controllers, stick-men animation, beeps and blips and countless gaming classics. If it weren’t for Atari, there probably wouldn’t be Nintendo, PlayStation, or Xbox – at least as we know them.
While arcade hits make up the lion’s share of popular games found on Atari systems, original favorites also call the platform home. Wooden-panel consoles, we salute you with the best Atari games.
Developers have made more than 2,400 games for PlayStation 2, Sony says. That’s easily the most of any console, which makes sense, considering that a whopping 140 million of the units have been sold since its debut eight years ago.
With a library and audience that big, there truly is something for everyone on the system, and new games are still being released. The following five are the creme de la creme – and found only on the PS2 system.
In the early 80s, video game programmers did all the work: sprite design, writing, music — you name it. Often times, one or two people was all it took to develop a hit.
But these days, hundreds of programmers, artists, and designers work together to create our favorite games. Here’s a handy explanation of some of the most common jobs held inside a game studio.
Reducing the most memorable video game quotes to just five is a tough task. From classic “Duke Nukem” one-liners to the inadvertent hilarity of poor Japanese-to-English translations, the options are virtually endless.
And while a mention of “All your base are belong to us” is perhaps more than deserving (the phrase spawned a major Internet meme at the turn of the decade, after all), the following extracts are the ones that truly define the medium – the most choice video game quotes of all time.
Erich Remarque of Magnolia, Arkansas is pissed. After waiting three years to play Spore, he’s being treated more like a suspect than paying customer.
“[Spore] incorporates a draconian [digital rights management (DRM)] system that requires you to activate over the internet, and limits you to a grand total of 3 activations,” he writes in his glaringly critical review of the game on Amazon.com. “If you reach that limit, then you’ll have to call EA in order to add one extra activation. That’s not as simple as it sounds, since when you reach that point EA will assume that you, the paying customer, are a filthy pirating thief.”
Emotion may have got the best of Remarque, but he has reason to be upset over Spore’s limited use policy, which is extreme. And he’s not the only one who thinks so. At the time of writing, 85 percent of 3,000 user reviews on Amazon.com have given Spore a one-star (out of five) rating, almost all of them slamming the strict digital rights management employed by Electronic Arts.
Later this month, 20th Century Fox will release “Max Payne,” the most recent video game to get a Hollywood makeover. But if history is any indication, the movie will be a critical stinker, as have been the majority of cringe-inducing, game-related feature films.
That’s not to say there haven’t been any good ones (or at least a handful of bearable ones). And from time to time, there have even been some great ones, particularly those that use video games as a backdrop, as opposed to driving the central story. And these are the best – the ones that will leave you minimally embarrassed or even impressed.
“There is no way we’re putting that there,” my wife tells me.
We’ve just spent 20 minutes surveying our 1,100-square-foot apartment in search of a spot for our new “Dance Dance Revolution” pad. The only place to stash it is under the couch, and my wife knows it.
”OK,” she concedes, allowing the unorthodox storage given our growing game-related gadgetry.
I’m not the only one with an increasing stockpile of video-game peripherals. According to The NPD Group, the official bean-counter of U.S. video game sales, consumers spent a record $1.3 billion so far this year on plastic guitars, steering wheels and other add-ons, the result of games like “Wii Fit,” “Guitar Hero,” “Mario Kart Wii” and “Rock Band.”
Review scores are too complex. What began as a useful tool for players to compare and prioritize games has now become a confusing, lopsided, and political mess.
Consider score explanation guides, which often appear in magazines and review sites to interpret what should be easily understood: is a game any good? Furthermore, “average” games routinely score in the 80th percentile now, and the credibility of ratings are compromised when sly publishers allegedly work the system in exchange for favorable reviews (see also: Jeff Gerstmann).
So what’s a gamer to do? Should scores in reviews be thrown out altogether?
Ever since launch, the Xbox 360 core model without hard drive has largely been written off by gamers — and rightfully so. It lacks many of the attractive advantages of its older brothers, not to mention value for what’s included in the box. (Most core models can’t even save games without separate purchase!)
But all that’s about to change with the upcoming $80 price cut of the latest Arcade bundle (September 7, according to retailers), which includes a matte white system, wireless controller, and a 256 MB memory card for saving games and playing online.
Earth is under attack. Your favorite football team is waiting to win their division. There are more than 60 remaining stars to collect. And yet the gamers charged with overcoming the odds couldn’t care less.
They rarely finish their games, it seems.
According to an investigative Crispy Gamer survey of 2,000 players conducted this month, less than 25 percent of games are played to completion (i.e. the rolling of credits). What’s more, an alarming number of the same percentile say they finish less than 10 percent of their games, purchased, rented, or otherwise.
Most gamers are familiar with big name publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision, and Sega. But what about the development studios themselves? You know, the ones that actually make the games, not just distribute them. Behold! Here are eight of the most important ones, in terms of multiple hits, present impact, and cash money.
With only a week to go, we profile the 25 most-promising titles expected this year.
We’ve polled our editorial team, scoured the internet, and given special attention to original efforts to develop the following list of 25 games, all of which has us giddy with the prospects. So with exception to unknown announcements, you can confidently count on these babies to be shown this year… and hopefully playable.
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, launching June 29, isn’t just a collection of songs grouped together by artist for a stand-alone rhythm game. It’s sort of like Behind The Music in interactive form, letting players vicariously relive Aerosmith’s 30 year performance history in near-chronological order, from high school to international stardom.
So based on mega-platinum sales on multiple occasions (read: broad appeal), a storied history, and anthemic riffs, here are the top five bands we’d like to see in their own Guitar Hero games.
If you’ve never played Xbox 360, you probably missed it.
During the final action sequence of Transformers (2007), at precisely two hours, two minutes, and 25 seconds in, gamers are treated to a recognizable image and sound: a newly purchased Xbox 360 with its accompanying audio logo.
The brief product placement lasts no longer than 1 ½ seconds, as the popular console transforms on-screen into a hostile robot, after its owner becomes entangled with evil forces, while innocently shopping the streets of Las Vegas.
“I think a lot of Xbox fans got a kick out of it,” says Eli Friedman, director of Xbox Global Brand Marketing. “When we learned Transformers was being made into a movie, we jumped at the opportunity to work with Paramount Pictures since much of our core audience also happens to be Transformers fans.”
As we approach the middle era of seventh generation consoles, GamePro lists the most miserable games released so far. Dodge these stinkers at all costs. But don’t let the following countdown numbers confuse you — these games are all trash.
Much like a stolen car, Atari has been gutted and sold for its parts over the years. It has changed ownership numerous times since its formation in 1972 and was recently delisted from the NASDAQ stock exchange amid near-financial ruin. It’s embattled, confused, and has few prospects other than its recognizable name. So how can the world’s first videogame publisher turn itself around? Here are five common sense ways:
When I first heard the news that Steven Spielberg was working on an exclusive Wii puzzle game, I was skeptical. What does he know about videogames, especially non-story ones like Boom Blox? On the subject of his pedigree: Sure he directed “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws” and “Saving Private Ryan,” but he also directed “A.I.,” “Temple of Doom” and “War of the Worlds.” I think you can appreciate where I’m coming from.
After playing the game, however, I’m happy to report that Boom Blox is not just a marketing ploy or a misguided idea by the venerable movie director. It’s an inspired, console-appropriate and rewarding game — particularly for single-player challenge-seekers — even if it appears to be something that Spielberg wouldn’t be involved with.
Developers agree: video game controllers are too complicated! Here are five easy ways to simplify them.
In March 2007, BBC technology editor Darren Waters wrote, “LittleBigPlanet is perhaps one of the most dazzling demos I’ve seen in the last 10 years.” More than a year later, after an extensive hands-on in late April, I can only say the same. LittleBigPlanet looks, plays and feels incredibly fresh — even for an unfinished game. It’s no wonder Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime was covetous of developer Media Molecule after the exclusive PlayStation 3 title was revealed last year. Here’s an update on its development.
Crispy Gamer examines the decline of printed videogame manuals.
Instruction manuals are on life support. If you haven’t noticed already, the once-precious and colorful booklets have recently been reduced to a few black and white pages. Call of Duty 4 is a fitting case in point. Despite containing just six paltry pages of printed user instruction (PDF here), the first-person shooter would go on to become the best-selling game of 2007. The undecorated manual obviously wasn’t missed.
At a VIP game developer event in a secluded upstairs San Francisco lounge, a well-dressed man in his 50s is making the rounds. “Hello, I’m the mayor of Baton Rouge.”
“Do you just walk around calling yourself a mayor?” asks one doubting attendee.
“No, I’m really the mayor of of Baton Rouge.”
And he is. His name is Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden, and he was attending the Game Developers Conference for the second time in as many years. He wouldn’t be there (or be a sponsor) if he didn’t like videogames — or at least what they’ve already done and potentially will do for his city’s inhabitants.
BATON ROUGE, La. – While most U.S. cities push biotech to drive economic growth, one municipality is using video games to do the same — Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s an unlikely match, given the establishment of California as the nation’s video game capital, but one the fast-growing Southern city is convinced will be its future just the same.
The interest in bringing video game developers to Baton Rouge started in 2005, prior to Hurricane Katrina, to complement the area’s strong ties to film production. Louisiana is currently third in U.S. film production after California and New York, says the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which saw the overlapping opportunity of video games and acted on it.
The road to modern video games is littered with the corpses of noble game consoles who flew too high to the sun. Here are the 10 best under-achievers of all-time.
Blake Snow examines gaming benevolence and creative development twice monthly. The color of next-gen is bright.
Mr. Bright Side, here, back with more. This time, I focus on the increasing role of videogames as rehabilitation products, surgical guiding lights, brain developers, an aid to cancer researchers and tools for paramedics training — no, I’m not making this stuff up.
It’s easy to understand how conventional gamers and industry pundits may have grown tired of the positive media coverage enjoyed by Nintendo Wii since first launching more than a year and a half ago. Indeed, Nintendo took press clippings to a whole new level at E3 2007, when it incessantly showed a stream of favorable “we told you so” videos, but if you don’t get warm and fuzzy watching the “Wii Being Used as Therapy” story that was televised on “The Today Show” in March, you have a heart of coal.
Arcade golf games haven’t changed much. You mash a button to start a swing, hit it a second time to mark your power, and press it third time to dictate shot accuracy. The fifth version of the long-running Hot Shots Golf series for PlayStation 3 closely follows this formula, and that’s not a bad thing — after all these years, the simple gameplay continues to satisfy, and a fresh coat of HD paint is just gravy.
A closer look at the rise of lengthy videogame names by Blake Snow.
In the second week of November 2007, publishers released an unprecedented number of multiplatform videogames at the height of holiday shopping. Interestingly, more than half of the listed games employed subtitles in their titling, via the use of colons. This represents a far cry from the use of subtitles 10 years ago, which stood at just 30 percent of games.
Continue reading… [Crispy Gamer]
2008 may end up being the year of the sequel. Just listen to this lineup of high-profile follow-ups: Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Grand Theft Auto IV, Ninja Gaiden 2, StarCraft 2, Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Resident Evil 5, Mario Kart Wii, Guitar Hero 4, Resistance 2, Gears of War 2, and Call of Duty 5. Hopefully these games warrant their existence, and we’re confident many will.
But what about new games, the ones that lead not just follow? Marketing types call them “original IPs;” we call them risk-takers. So in an effort to applaud their individuality, we profile the most promising ones for the rest of the year, based on first-impressions, breakout potential, and pedigree. A handful of titles are based on existing themes and ideas, but their creative spirit should not be overlooked.
Blake Snow examines gaming benevolence and creative development twice monthly. The color of next-gen is bright.
In 2007, a fictional food critic by the name of Antone Ego aptly described mass media and its audience when he wrote: “We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”
Ego’s definition couldn’t have been wiser. Indeed, positive news has long since taken a backseat to negative reporting, with the former often compressed to a 20-second closing spot in a 30-minute telecast.
The same is true of videogames, if not by more, which have long been vilified and blamed for idleness, poor grades, insensitivity and random acts of violence by the mainstream media. Interestingly, even the gaming press has become more grumpy in recent years, adding drama where there is none to be found, discouraging industry growth and change, and forgetting the playful nature of videogames altogether.
Ever wonder which controller has the best battery life? If so, you’re in the right place. Over the last month, we juxtaposed Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3 controllers at GamePro Towers to find out which ones go the distance. Though our research is far from scientific, we isolated all obvious variables, rigorously documented our findings, and worked in an uncontaminated testing environment for optimal significance.
For our tests, we cleaved to the following criteria: We only used out-of-the box hardware — that means no charger packs for 360 and Wii, which must be purchased separately. We played a wide variety of games on each console, including lengthy single-player adventures and shallow downloadable games, both online and off. We played for varying time intervals, from fifteen minutes to upwards of eight hours (Hello weekends!). We used Duracell CopperTops for 360 and Wii testing. And we deemed all battery(s) dead after attempting to reconnect the controller for a third consecutive time. Behold, the results:
This FPS franchise has made its name with unbeatable action and speed that is — yes, unreal. Does this UT for the PS3 live up to its name? Find out in Blake Snow’s review of Unreal Tournament III, developed by Epic Games and published by Midway.