Five things on Friday #21

Five things of note for the week ending Friday May 25th, 2012

1. Amazing post-Yugoslavia monuments

There are 25 of these monuments (all different, by the way) scattered across the former-Yugoslavia. Built during the 60s and 70s to immortalise battle sites and concentration camps, these relics of remembrance are as varied as they are stunning. Melancholic yet engaging, spend some time looking them over and hey, if you’re ever in the area, seek them out.

2. A whale, in a forest
The work of Argentinian artist, Adrián Villar Rojas, this forest-beached whale is a sight to behold; even just digitally.

Sad, confusing and yet somehow deeply compelling; the life-sized mammal so out of place in such a way is a sight hard to forget. This is a rare occasion where I really wish I could be there in person to see this work.

3. Assassins Creed II – aka ‘playing with Desmond’
I’ve been a huge fan of the Prince of Persia games for ages and ever since the last decent round wrapped, I’ve been looking for a suitable free-playing replacement. The Batman: Arkham Asylum/City games came close (and actually win out in many respects), but I still missed that parkour-esque freedom. That was until, at long last, I finally dived into Assassin’s Creed II.

Thanks to recommendations from Rob (and I think Sweena too), I skipped the first one and went straight to the sequel (a fact I’m kind of regretting now) and I am loving it. If you’re an Xbox* owner and haven’t played these yet, they’re available to download now via the Xbox Marketplace at fifteen quid a pop. Not bad at all.

*other consoles are available.

4. Railroad-based awesomeness
First, this video – found via Mr Siminoff – of a group of mates creating a purpose-built railway go-kart – aka ‘The Rail Rider’ – is just awesome. I can’t watch it without grinning from ear-to-ear.

While you’re still smiling, take a deep breath in, scroll down, and breath out.

Nice and slow.

— –

5. Keep C.A.L.M.
The campaign against living miserably is a charity setup to combat male suicide – aka: the biggest killer of young men the UK today.

I first encountered them just a little over 18mths ago and have been a big fan of their work, and what it is they’re actually trying to achieve, ever since. This past Thursday night I finally met the whole team and am looking forward to supporting them further over the coming weeks, months and years, in their ongoing mission. Expect more on this, soon. In meantime…

If you’re a man (or if you know one) who doesn’t want to admit that things are pretty crap right now, or is really struggling to keep things together or, worse yet, doesn’t feel like they’ve got anyone else in the world to turn to.

It’s OK. You’re not alone. I promise.
And you can talk to CALM.

 

 

Whatley out.

;

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Product Placement: Tomb Raider

Right, watch [the first 30secs of] this:

See that there? At around the 23second mark? Hang on, here’s a screen grab -

See that? That’ll be an iPhone 4 and, just to the right, a pair of Beats by Dre in-ear headphones. IN A VIDEO GAME TRAILER.

While in-game advertising is nothing new, in-game product placement is. However brazen, it does – in a weird way – kind of work. I spotted it, admittedly, as my marketing/advertising eyes and brains are trained to spot this stuff a mile away. However, it wasn’t exactly in your face per se, in fact it was quite subtle.

Best of all, if Lara Croft was a real person then I bet she probably would be an iPhone4 user (and would no doubt be rocking the Beats by Dre also).
So it kind of works. Ish.

The question I have is whether or not this placement is purely for payment/sponsorship purposes or will the game developers (completely blind-side us all and) make the handset itself integral to the progression of the game?

My money is obviously on the former. As I’ve already made clear, game development is costly and any kind of media partnership like this has to be sold in pretty quickly so as to capitalise on the opportunity to its full potential.

As a side thought, Apple ‘famously’ don’t pay for product placement*, but I wonder if Dre did? And if so, how much does eight seconds in a close-to-a-million views YouTube video cost?

The question doesn’t need to be asked – this is the start of a new trend and, as new home systems and games start rolling out to the masses, more and more placements will be occurring before our very eyes. Some subtle, some not. We could be verging into James Bond territory here, hell – we may even end up like The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

Be certain of one thing, ever since Modern Warfare 2 had an ‘opening week’ bigger than Harry Potter, hunting season has been declared on this marketplace.

Watch closely, it’s coming.

 

*I can’t remember where I read it, but the word is ‘payment’ refers to an actual exchange of money. No mention at all of equipping every man, woman and child in the office with brand new iPods/iPhones/iPads/MacBook Pros etc…

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Reputation Management: Duke Nukem Forever

Chatting to Neville Hobson the other day about gaming (of all subjects), we touched upon a mutual love of the first person shooter (FPS).

To put this into context, Neville and I have talked about a multitude of things in our time, including but not exclusive to; a love of technology, social media, all things mobile and – on occasion – a shared love of really good whisky. Not this day however, this day we touched upon gaming. Particularly: Duke Nukem Forever (DNF).

It was when Neville and I were attending a conference together that he happened to tweet this Duke Nukem Forever review (from Ars Technica). To save reading time the overall opinion of the (fantastically written) piece is that DNF is terrible.

The first 30 minutes of the game consist of moments where people idolize you—oh, and you can turn the lights on and off. You walk through a museum where relics from the first game are stored, which gives you a hint at how this title was put together. While Gearbox obviously remembered all the neat little details that made Duke such a classic, they didn’t remember to put those details in a good game. The game is hollow.

The thing is, Ars Technica aren’t alone either; to put it bluntly, the game has been universally panned.

Not good.

Another thing to make clear at this point is that I am not a Duke Nukem player. However, I am aware of the series in general and, even if you have only a modicum of knowledge around the DN series, you know that this game has been at least 15yrs in the making and one point was consigned to the deadpool of games that were rumoured to exist but never actually get made – aka ‘vaporware‘.

So at long last – after 15yrs of waiting – the game arrives and it is ‘an overwhelming disappointment’.

“They’ve ruined it” said Neville. “It’s terrible. It’s like the developers [on purpose or not] have never left the 90s”

When such a monumental mistake is made with this kind of global brand property, the question has to be asked: what kind of effect has this had on the long term validity of the franchise?

Will there be another Duke Nukem game? Perhaps not. In the same way that in the film industry, trilogy opener The Golden Compass didn’t exactly set the box office alight (and subsequently never got finished), will Duke Nukem suffer also?

More and more we’re seeing money being thrown at invested in gaming and – when systems are so far advanced and development costs are so high – a decent ROI is required to keep things moving. The question I posed to Neville, a fellow social media industry pundit and veteran, was:

How long will it be until the kind of reputation management processes we preach about make their way into this industry?

Devs on Twitter defending their work? Programmers blogging up in arms about the stress they’re placed under to deliver? What of the fans?

Another, arguably more popular, FPS franchise Modern Warfare came under fire recently for their plans around Call of Duty Elite that will require players to stump up an extra monthly fee for access to certain features. Pleased with this trend, the fans are not.

My point is: Reputation Management isn’t just about big FMCG brands, car manufacturers and retail. Other industries need to be involved too as, when the proverbial hits the fan, the processes need to be in place to handle it.

And, while Duke Nukem won’t exactly be taken off shelves and redesigned from the bottom up, perhaps the publishers will think twice in future before ruining such a beloved franchise ever again.

As the old adage goes:

It takes years to build a good reputation, and only seconds to destroy it.

—- —- —- —- —- —- —-

UPDATE:
Shortly after publishing, Neville pointed me to this further post from Ars Technica pointing out almost exactly what you SHOULD NOT DO in this kind of situation. Wow.
.
.
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Engagement: BRINK

A week or so ago, while en route to see X-Men: Class, I happened upon this piece of advertising for BRINK.

Brink

I don’t know what it is about this image that is so striking (or in fact what it actually says about my brain’s stimulus/response mechanism), but for some reason it makes me want to find out more. Of Brink, at the time, I knew nothing. Further exploration has uncovered that it’s a new first-person-shooter (FPS) and that actually, apparently, it’s not very good. Translated: I asked a fellow gamer and he said – “Well, it’s alright.”

The image above has stayed with me. If there was a demo, I’d download it -  as a hook, it got me.

However what has yet to happen to my nascent advocacy is any kind of pick up.

Advertising like this is crying out for integration. And by that I’m not just talking about having print, TV and outdoor all matching, I mean having a demo available, having monitoring tools in place picking to pick up any mention online, some kind of a social presence/activation/engagement strategy – something, anything that is there ready to spot that I have an interest.

As it stands, my gaming schedule(!) currently consists of re-visiting Modern Warfare 2, playing to the end of Red Dead Redemption and slowly getting drawn into the world of L.A. Noire. Room for another game in my life, there is not.

But Brink really does have me thinking; both about the advertising campaign around it and of course, the game itself.

 

————

Incidentally, sometimes it works the other way around – this piece of engagement for Bulletstorm for instance fell on deaf ears. I had no idea who or what Bulletstorm was or is and found myself googling it to try and find out more. Frustrating really; I loved the asset, but the whole thing lacked any kind of personalisation. It did actually drive me to download the demo mind, but still – it left me feeling somewhat empty.

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Paging Zuners

If that’s what you’re called.
I got this today:

Here’s a question: what do you think of Zune?

I’m going to make a few assumptions (and do please, correct me if I’m wrong); if you’re a Zune user – aka ‘a Zuner’ – you’re probably American and you may’ve even bought, and perhaps even still use, the original Zune machine handheld thing that was never launched over here in the UK.

However, you may also be a Windows Phone (WP) user and/or an Xbox owner. All of these things I expect to influence your response to this following, secondary question:

Is it actually any good?

Now please. Before you move forward with your answer (either in the comments field below or in fact perhaps, with your own blogged repost) please take into account that your opinion may bias towards the positive as you’ve made such a chunky investment (especially you original Zune hardware owners). So please, give full and valid responses – warts an’ all, if you will.

Why am I asking this question? Well, I am an Xbox Live Gold subscriber, soon-to-be Windows-Phoner and avid Spotify fan. The latter of the three costs £9.99pcm and allows me all sorts of awesome music-based fantasticness. Treats such as:

  • Access to an almost infinite amount of music
  • Downloadable content that I can play offline, both on my desktop and on my mobile
  • Sharable cross-platform playlists of awesomeness (that can be locked down or collaborative)
  • Thanks to the marvelous integration on both Spotify and Xbox Live, I can stream my most listened to tracks through my Xbox using the Last.fm application available through Live Gold
  • Bonus feature, said music can be controlled BY VOICE thanks to my Kinect

Understand that your answers will help inform my decision on whether or not to drop Spotify for Zune (when WP finally launches on Nokia’s devices). As it stands, I’m reliably informed that Spotify is coming to WP with the next software update (aka ‘Mango), but because I like things to just work – I’m tempted to move for the full Zune offering.

Friends, Zuners, fellow tech-heads and audiophiles – it’s over to you.

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Kinect me up, baby

Recently, I decided to treat myself to the technological wonder that is the Xbox Kinect. But, before we crack on, let me make one thing absolutely clear -

The Xbox Kinect is, without doubt, the most exciting piece of technology I have ever brought into my house (by a clear country mile) and, quite possibly, the most amazing thing I have ever bought. Ever. Full stop.

It really is that good.

What’s worrying, however, is that for a short while I didn’t even realise it.

Xbox Kinect

Returning from my parents this past Christmas (I believe it was Dec 27th), I stopped off in town to pick up the Johnny-5 head-shaped bad boy and left him by the TV for a couple of days, before breaking it open just before New Year and cracking on.

“This’ll be fun” I thought “I’ll give it a whirl”

See, as you may know, I am a gaming geek (some would argue more so than a mobile geek), and so getting my hands on the latest awesome periphery for my current console of choice was fairly high up on my list of priorities.

“Gaming is going be awesome with this…”

Honestly? It’s been over a month now and I’ve hardly played the games at all. Don’t get me wrong, Kinect Adventures IS fun and I’m informed that the yet-to-be-opened Dance Central is pretty damn good also. However, the Kinect has changed something so significant, so utterly mind-blowing that most of the time, I switch it on just so I can play with IT.

Why?

It’s all about the interface. Things that live on my Xbox (aside from the games) include (but are not exclusive to) Last.fm, Sky TV, Twitter, Facebook and – thanks to a handy piece of software called Connect360 (no relation) – my entire music, photo and video collection that resides on my Mac.

[Nearly] everything is available to Kinect with… and it rocks.

Introducing such a fundamental step-change into the way I interact with my main media channel has, perhaps unsurprisingly to some, drastically shifted my usage patterns along with it. Last.fm, formally an Xbox Gold ‘nice to have’ extra that I only used on occasion is now the main reason for switching the Xbox on in the morning/afternoon/evening…

Forget the wavey-roundy, gesture sensitive motion capture stuff (although that’s quite cool also) the Kinect, for me at least, is all about the voice activation.

Let me show you:
.

I can be in the shower in the next room and be yelling out my instructions AND IT STILL HEARS ME! Music, is everything…

In the same way that nobody knew they needed an iPad (and yet now suddenly they now wonder how they ever did without them), the Xbox Kinect slips into your day to day life like the smoothest of gloves onto a well-worn hand. Within a couple of days you catch yourself wondering why on Earth everything in your household doesn’t run in the same way.

“Kettle? Boil.” or “Shower? On.” and of course, Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. are suddenly so desperately close to hand but also, in the same breath, achingly far away. The Xbox Kinect really is the technology of the future boys and girls and believe it when I tell you; we’ve not even scratched the surface.

Microsoft have already said that they expect to double the resolution of the on-board camera within the next 6-12mths and the face tracking technology they demo’d at CES recently was again, an equally fascinating glimpse into the very near future.

Maybe it’s the hours upon hours that we spent back in my SpinVox days talking about the future of speech technologies that has got me so excited about all this, maybe it’s because at heart, I’m a massive Star Trek fan and being able to talk to my computer is a pipe dream I’ve lusted after ever since I first saw Jean-Luc do the exact same thing all those years ago… or maybe, just maybe it’s just because that deep down, I am a geek – through and through – and I just love new technology.

In closing:

Got an Xbox? Get a Kinect. It’s that simple.

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