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April 26, 2008

Wii Fit First Impressions

Unsurprisingly, I had pre-ordered Wii Fit. Regular readers will know that I'm particularly interested in two key gaming concepts; games that instruct in a fun way, and games that use physical simulators as controllers. Wii Fit tries to do both of these things. How well does it succeed?

The controller is a balance board, the size of two sets of scales, that measures your weight and how it is distributed front to back and right to left. It asks you your height, and how much your clothes weigh, to calculate your BMI. Here at PloktaCentral, we don't like BMI much as a measure of fitness or health, but there you go. We also don't know how tall the children are, so we had to guess. Having done that, it tests your ability to balance and shift your weight precisely, and gives you a Wii Age. All four of us are crocks, it appears.

Obviously, this is another inconvenient controller to go with the dance mats, guitars, bongos, wheels, snowboard and maracas. At least this one can be pushed under the sofa (and that is where they suggest you keep it). But it turns out to be fabulously versatile, and when combined with a remote and nunchuk holds the promise of full-body game controls.

There are then four sets of activities; yoga poses, more traditional strength exercises, aerobic activities and balance games. Of the four, I'm least convinced by the traditional exercises. The game gives you a model to follow in the manner of a fitness DVD, and it tracks your centre of gravity as you do the exercise. But I am not persuaded that you're getting much more here than you would from a DVD.

On yoga, however, the benefits are much clearer. Tracking centre of gravity is incredibly useful as a focus for static yoga; the first balance I did in Wii Fit was as good as any I've managed in an actual yoga class. Admittedly I have no sense of balance, but there you go. For other poses, it shows you where the ideal centre of gravity is, which helps you get the pose right. I think this probably works better for people who've done some yoga than for complete beginners.

The aerobic activities feel like games to me; I guess the difference is that they're more directly simulations of real world activities. But there's a fine line here. They include jogging, step, hula hoop, and some to unlock, including rhythm boxing. The jogging is a particular joy; I find running on the spot terribly dull, but they have an island to run round, populated with all the other Miis on your machine, hidden Nintendo characters, and interesting scenery. A nice touch is that there's a map of the jogging island in the instruction book. The rhythm boxing is the first game we've unlocked that uses the board for your feet, plus a Wiimote and nunchuk for your hands, to control all four limbs, opening up a whole new layer of controller complexity.

The balance games include ski slalom and jump, heading footballs (and avoiding panda heads), and a great tilt table game where you maneuver balls into little holes like a puzzle. That one I found very intriguing; after playing a couple of times, I completely forgot I was using my whole body to control it; the mental process felt identical to the irritating little puzzles you get.

WiiFit tracks your activity over time and unlocks things; given that it suggests you play for 30 minutes a day, unlocks seem to come a little quickly for my liking. It can store up to eight users per Wii, which was a pleasant surprise after family-argument-prone Zelda. One big change that Nintendo need to make is in Mii management. Our Miis now carry our history in half a dozen different games; they're essentially our individual user accounts on the Wii. But anyone can delete a Mii in the Mii channel; not even any parental control.

Overall, I'm very excited by this game. The whole family has registered, and we're all fighting to get a go on it. And we all like different things. Marianne really likes the Step, Jonathan has played a lot of the balance games, and Steven has displayed a heretofore unsuspected talent at Hula Hoop. What about me? I've been down the slalom track about 100 times. And gosh, my calves ache today.

We will need to play for some time to see whether it helps us stick to a regular exercise routine. I don't think there's any holy grail for the yoga or muscle exercises. And all the aerobic activities and balance games feel like minigames; there are different difficulty levels, but I'm not sure there's much variety in, say, the placement of the slalom gates, or the step routines. Most of them could be developed, using the same control system, into full games. Imagine a simulation where you buy a Lake District map to jog or walk around, for example? Or SSX Wii, controlling the board with your feet and doing tricks with the Wiimote and Nunchuk?

I expect Wii Fit to sell in huge numbers. The prospect it's offering is very enticing and the price point is not bad. But the real potential is in the other games that could be made using the balance board as a controller. Because it's splendid.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:30 PM | Comments (1)

Corflu Silver

What are you doing this weekend? Well, over in Las Vegas, they're holding Corflu Silver, the 'core fandom' convention (and oh, how I dislike the term 'core fandom'). And they've got a live video feed. Well, not now, because it's the middle of the night. But there's a linked chatroom, so you can watch the feed, chat in the box, and generally lose track of time. Fun.

Posted by Alison Scott at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2008

Navigator Records

It's uncommon for a new record label to launch, signing only music I really like. However, Navigator Records is one such. This is a folk imprint of established indie label Reveal Records. I think it's a first for me; they have nine artists signed, and the only one I haven't seen live is the new collaboration Drever McCusker Woomble. I've seen them all individually though. Anyway, I'd thoroughly recommend any of this music. Not on emusic though (shame).

Posted by Alison Scott at 03:30 PM | Comments (1)

More MacHeist

If you missed MacHeist, or just love software bundles, MacHeist have released a 'retail bundle' of Mac apps. You'll have most of them if you been a MacHeist player all along. But if not, it's pretty good: it includes several apps from previous MacHeists that have found their way into my daily workflow, such as iClip, Awaken, Overflow, and the most beautiful iTunes controller ever, Cover Sutra. It also has the writer-focused word processor WriteRoom (I use Scrivener, in the same space), personal finance program Cha-Ching, personal organiser DevonThink Personal, password/data manager Wallet (I use 1Password), utility to remove excess code from your programs XSlimmer, and three different Pangea games. Anyway, not a bad bundle for $49, and you can get it here. Disclaimer: that's a referral link and I get prizes if you buy the bundle.

Posted by Alison Scott at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)