Sunday, October 31, 2010

39. weekend short: happy halloween! ...unless you're capcom

samanosuke and jaques from onimusha 3
capcom has been responsible from some of my favorite time sinks in my lifelong pattern of gaming nerdery, actually increasing their presence in my gaming interests as gaming evolved.   in the 80's and early 90's, an when my NES and/or the NES consoles of my associates were on, a lot of it was on the mega man series, ghosts n goblins, and bionic commando.  street fighter II above all else was a prominent mainstay in the SNES era, with the king of dragons and final fight backing it up.  eventually in later generation consoles, the resident evil, devil may cry and onimusha series completely took over the action-adventure genre, as well as physical space in my game collection.  unfortunately since then, as i've written about previously, we've seen japanese gaming, including capcom, start to slip.

keiji inafune, from kotaku
now unfortunately, whatever little talent capcom had left is gone.  last week, keiji inafune publicly announced that he would be leaving capcom in november.  he is the mastermind behind games like the megaman, resident evil, and onimusha series, and earlier in his career a designer in a lot of capcom's other hits.  inafune claims that after spending 23 years with capcom (and daletto, one of their subsidiaries), he's reached the highest heights one in his position can achieve, and how a creative person like him can't just settle down and be a figurehead.  does this mean that he's got something else lined up?  probably.  he's drawn comparisons between himself and legendary film giant akira kurosawa, who made movies until he died.  inafune went on to say kurosawa was a "true creator who was recognized around the world."  in recent times he also felt as though he no longer had a shared vision with capcom management, and there was really nothing more he could do.  this is all from his blog at daletto.

so what's next for capcom?  out of the developers and designers that made capcom a powerhouse, they literally have no one left.  in addition to inafune, shinji mikami (resident evil) and yoshiki okamoto (street fighter), and hideki kamiya (devil may cry) are ALL GONE.  they can't rely on making franchise hits anymore - i'm just not sure they have the talent left to pull it off.  they still have monster hunter, i mean, i guess.  maybe they'll start focusing on mobile platforms.  or some sort of social games, who knows.

all the english versions of this news and translations from keiji inafune's blog was gotten at andriasang.  come on people, i don't speak japansese.  yet.

UPDATE: as of today, november 1, inafune's blog was deleted from daletto.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

38. apple in the ballroom with the candlestick... what?

yeah, i'm kicking it off with a clue reference.  i love that game.  enough to own a t-shirt with the phrase "miss scarlet in the hall with the revolver" emblazoned across the front (on a side note, check out that link to threadless - they have a lot of cool t shirts, if you're into that sort of thing).  after all the tech news of this past year, i can't help but think about the world's major tech giants as characters from that very board game.  there's something going on all the time - who's doing what to who?  with what?  what's being hidden, and where?  to win you have to keep your eyes peeled and tune your ears to whispers, and occasionally leak misinformation to neighboring players, just to keep them on their toes.  at least that's how we roll.  and you always want to catch a glimpse of the secret envelope in the middle to see what's really going on.  especially since that envelope can give you the win.  apple of course would be miss white.  look at an ibook and you can pick that one up pretty clearly.  google would be professor plum by my estimation, and you can fill in the rest with microsoft, sony, verizon, and at&t.  yes i know there's many more players in this game en masse, but they kind of fill in the gaps between.

unless you want me to break out clue master detective.  then it's on.

gaming, media, and communication is slowly (well less slowly now) but surely becoming one conglomerate mass media market, complete with industry guesses, blogger conjecture, and acquisition rumors.  oh and the secrets.  now then, after apple's latest earning reports, one of their cards is shown and it's pretty public that they're sitting on $51 billion in cash (as per brian marshall, gleacher & co) in their fruity coffers.  for those not in the know about how much money is considered a lot of money, that's an insane amount.  crazy insane is the industry term, i think.  of course with that kind of information comes matching levels of output from the rumor mill.  in recent interviews, steve jobs has hinted that his mad stacks of loot may be used if the opportunity comes along to shore up their strategic position in the macrochasm of computing.  so what's there to buy?  some rumors indicated that netflix was on the list - which is something that would make sense for apple to buy.  these are the people who killed blockbuster with their rental through mail system.  moreover, a lot of their business is now done sans disc - as in streaming movies and media from your tv, ps3, and xbox 360 consoles.  given the popularity of the iphone/ipad, as well as apple tv, netflix would indeed give apple the pure power and media libraries to facilitate more offerings to the consumer.  but again, just rumor.

playstation phone (engadget)
a second rumor, sony, is a little more interesting.  some people say apple was targeting sony's gaming business, since they really don't have any presence there.  or maybe their hardware division, so they can have that cell processor that makes their ps3 run oh so smoothly.  but it's just not true.  there's no merit or evidence behind it.  all of this hoopla was started by a pure speculative guess at barron's by blogger eric savitz.  i would post a link to the report, but the site seems to not be up anymore.  though afterwards he put out a retraction of sorts:  "in the piece i noted that the company could do something aggressive, like bidding for adobe, sony or even disney. but that was pure speculation. yeesh."  so who cares, right?  apparently investors do - enough for an innocent blog statement to affect the market.  from an unfounded piece of speculation, sony's stock actually went up 3% given the prospect that they may become an apple property.  it leveled out after a while, but still.  THREE PERCENT just on potenial buzz.  that's just insane.

i'm not sure why analysts thought it held any weight.  an apple-sony deal is clearly never going to happen.  in addition to all the obvious reasons, there have been images roaming the interwebs of something we've heard rumors of for a while now - the playstation phone.  this has to be sony's answer to some critics' opinion that the apple mobile platform is the next big area for gaming.  while sony has had a lot of success with the PSP, that success didn't fully follow into their PSP go device.  with its shortcomings, even after their very public price cut, i don't see their sales numbers for it jumping through the roof anytime soon, including the holiday season.  but a PSP go-like device that runs on top of a phone running an android OS?  i think there's more than a few people would be interested in that.  so why would apple want any piece of a company that's adopted android, and thereby google - their arch enemy?  they wouldn't.  unless they bought it to destroy it.  so let me try my hand at messing with free markets - could this be why apple recently pushed back release of their white iphone 4?  maybe it's not because they're having issues manufacturing as they report, but that they want to make it more game-able on release day to compete with the playstation phone.  is this nothing more than misinformation?  whispers and a stall tactic from the kingdom of jobs?

i'm sorry, let me take that back.  i don't want NASDAQ to go all nutty now.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

37. xbox hacks and the feds

has anyone ever approached you in disgust after you had an xbox 360 modded?  did they look down on you from their moral high ground?  was your response "well make a federal case out of it why don't ya?"  for your sake i hope it wasn't, because you're about to read some pretty groundbreaking stuff here.  this is about the first federal case in the united states about modding an xbox 360 that will see a jury.  the defendant: matthew crippen, 28, of anaheim, california.  he is accused of running an video game console chop shop - a home business where he would mod customer's xbox 360 consoles for no less than a hefty profit to be sure.  he was arrested by homeland security (after some undercover work) for breach of the digital millennium copyright act of 1998.  and why would one be so bold as to do this?  and customers willing to pay?  because modded consoles allow play of downloaded and burned games, be it backups of your own (technically legal in my opinion) or to fly the pirate colors and download/burn the games of your choosing.  the indictment (thanks, wired magazine!) shows that he is charged with 2 counts, and as a result can see up to 10 years, the max sentence, in prison.

seems pretty open and shut, right?  why would someone mod an xbox to not pirate games?  read on, that's just part 1 of the story.

crippen's claim is that he didn't provide mod services for piracy.  he offered the service for people who wanted to play backups of games they already own.  this is meant to circumvent what ALL of us xbox 360 owners have experienced, which is ridiculous scratching on the discs after a lot of use that makes them jumpy and sometimes rough to play.  enter andrew huang (he goes by "bunnie") - the man who literally wrote the book on xbox hacking.  huang wants to testify on crippen's behalf and provide argument as a system expert.  why is this going to be helpful to the defense?  huang would show the jury a process on how modding a console does not circumvent the technology "designed to prevent copyright infringement" as crippen is accused for.  in an interview with wired, huang said that what the defendant "was insufficient on his own to violate anything," and further suggested that the DMCA should be interpreted with the spirit for fair use as exemptions.  his reasoning, which is sound, is the iphone.  many users used jailbreak software on thier apple iphones to install unapproved 3rd party software and apps on their devices with legal immunity, thanks to a US copyright office exemption tothe DMCA.  using this as a prime example, it's a short stone's throw to see how that precedent can be applied to video game consoles.

but the prosecutors aren't having it.  huang's had his own brushes with the law, and specifically the DMCA  for his xbox modding expertise.  with that in conjunction with their claim that "fair use" isn't a valid defense, the prosecution is trying to block huang from testifying on crippen's behalf.  whether or not huang is able to testify, the outcome of this case is going could prove to be interesting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

36. blizzard says it's not cool to cheat

and i'm sure a large majority of the population would agree with that.  it's why tiger woods can't shill gatorade anymore.  why bernie madoff went to jail.  why everyone is suspicious of the banker in monopoly.  and it is, of course, why everyone hates rogues in world of warcraft.

damn rogues...  dirty, cowardly, cheap bastard rogues...

but i digress.

for those who don't know, blizzard entertainment is the brainchild behind three great franchises - adventure series diablo, as well as real time strategy games warcraft and starcraft.  traditionally it can be said that they know how to make a game.  today's mayhem concerns the latter franchise, starcraft, which saw the highly popular starcraft II launch earlier this year.  it opens up questions on fairness and to what extent a player actually owns the game they purchase.

naturally cheating in an online realm would have its consequences, making one's opponents not stand a chance against you, regardless in skill or strategy (ugh stupid rogues).  in addition, it also brings risk of a ban.  which is precisely what happened in starcraft II.  5000 players who were using cheat hacks were banned from the game for, well, obvious reasons - they cheat.  so normal circumstances considered, i guess blizzard is acting on part of the good and on behalf of other players - the playing field has to be level for any real online competition and fair play to exist, and encountering cheating players makes others just want to turn the game off.  i've been in a number rounds of counter strike, quake, and other first person shooters for example where it was clear as day that one of the opposing players was using an aim-bot.  i immediately dropped game to find other ones.  playing on the wrong end of those conditions makes it impossible to achieve the end goal of playing most games in the first place - to have fun.

but there's a slight anomaly in the story here - the cheating players (those infamous 5000) that blizzard has chosen to ban are using cheats in single player missions.  not against other people.  single player. against the starcraft AI., i.e. "the computer."  anyone who is familiar with blizzard's past releases would probably agree that this seems extremely strange, given blizzard's practices on single player cheating in the past.  they actually included cheat codes as part of the software in their real time strategy games, starting with the original warcraft onward.  for instance, typing WHOSYOURDADDY in the console would activate god mode in warcraft 3, meaning your units took no damage and basically destroyed everything they touched in one hit.  but do it now, and blizzard will bring the hammer down upon you.

and who can forget the level skip code from the first starcraft? THEREISNOCOWLEVEL.  a classic.

and why?  achievements.  at least that's one of their reasons.

some of my own achievements, from world of warcraft
that's right, achievements.  little digital awards that often provide no real value aside from being able to brag to cohorts in your online community about all the things you've done.  blizzard added an achievement system similar to PS3's trophies and xbox 360 achievements to their blockbuster MMO world of warcraft in october 2009.  which for that particular game works well - earning certain achievements for great feats actually granted you in-game benefits and perks that are otherwise unavailable.  but this stock achievement concept has since expanded into blizzard's online community,, which bridges a player's feats in all three of their franchises - warcraft, starcraft, and diablo - into a single player account and public identity.  blizzard's argument now is that if cheats are overlooked in single player missions, then achievements in starcraft II would be rendered meaningless - as the degree of difficulty would be outright nullified.  which i can understand, BUT...

what does that mean as far as a user using the software they paid for as the see fit in a single player setting?  it's a weird line that's been completely blurred between single player and multiplayer in this case - players can play by themselves running single player campaign missions, not caring about achievements or online play, but the publisher can still see them because they have to log on to first to play at all.  and what's the big deal?  no one gets hurt, and someone who wants to play alone can play alone.  cheating against the computer doesn't affect anyone but that player.  and they paid for that right, damn it.  these days online components of games are getting far more common.  can't i just play on my own and obliterate everything to please my own twisted whims?

what makes no sense is that there is a way around this.  what's even more odd is that blizzard has done it before.  back in the days of the first diablo, two versions of existed - and open  why is it so hard for blizzard to have a line of demarcation letting the system know whether a player is playing open against the computer or "for achievement" against the user and act accordingly?  i mean there is a "guest" mode, but that removes all social interaction with your friends list and other social functions.

i absolutely cannot be the first one to think of this.  does this solution seem over-simplified?  i don't think so - it feels like a pretty practical application of occam's razor to me.

jason schreier in wired magazine's game|life blog did a piece on an anonymous gamer affected by this going by the moniker gm0ney.  you can read it here for some more detailed information on what happened., the site where the starcraft hack was downloaded from, also address this on their site.

Monday, October 18, 2010

35. happy 25th birthday, nintendo!

there's a lot of news swirling around today on miscellaneous tech: facebook security, naturally apple stuff, windows phone 7 launch and blaaaaahhhh blah bloopity blaaaaah.  none of that news in the technical sphere should outdo something that is far more important, which has had more of a lasting effect on society than all of the above combined:  the original nintendo entertainment system (NES) turns 25 today, october 18, 2010.  back then nintendo president hiroshi yamauchi and nintendo of america's minoru arakawa forced their way into the american market after success of the japanese version, the famicom, back home.  but they had to fight a seriously uphill battle.  video games were dying in the USA, where the best we had was atari (who i also believe is celebrating an october anniversary for the 2600).  the industry was stagnant, stores didn't want to sell it, and it definitely didn't go with the mantra of "buy american."  but somehow they did it.  nintendo was a company that used to only manufacture and sell playing cards, so this was a major jump for both the company and the game industry.  and boy are we glad they made it.

and how they made it shouldn't surprise you.  first look what they did with the wii - they introduced a family friendly console with a control style that moved away from traditional console controllers. and the people rejoiced, buying up so many units that for a while you'd be hard pressed to find one on the shelves of your local stores.  25 years ago their game plan wasn't so different.  if you look at console controllers of the time, they were fairly primitive. even the NES controller was similar - a directional control and two buttons.  but what they did introduce in addition to this was really something new - the zapper light gun.  it allowed a completely different kind of play, and bundled with the super mario brothers / duck hunt combo cartridge, it changed the way we game.  and let's not forget to mention the power pad and the R.O.B. (robot operating buddy) as alternate controllers too.  after a bit of a climb, nintendo gained national popularity, with mario mania breathing life back into the video game industry, and i think you know how it went from there.  the NES gave rise to the game boy SNES, sega came back with the genesis and game gear, then sony entered the game, and guess what?  competition in the west and 3rd party software devs!  a race to provide the best which still goes on today in console and mobile gaming.  all sparked by the NES.

ahh the zapper... fond memories
like i said before, this little unit shaped my generation's life in a pretty major way.  over the atari this thing was like magic, with at the time incredible graphics, and vivid and colorful stories that provided us with adventure and excitement (though as we all know a jedi craves not these things) in more or less a home version of the arcade, entrenching itself in popular culture.  i was only allowed to play for a limited time during the school year growing up, but i remember playing super mario brothers and duck hunt with my dad (who would never let me cheat by going right up to the tv).  figuring out secret patterns and acting as a cartographer while trying to work my way through the goonies II.  boss fight strategy from final fantasy.  timing from mike tyson's punch out.  and most importantly, learning that sometimes victory is only earned through sheer attrition from ninja gaiden.  i'd like to think that all of this made me smarter, engaged my brain a little bit, and was even partially responsible for my lifetime interest in tech, computing, and gadgetry.  my interest in math benefited too - winning in some of the NES games offered involved a lot of mental math and numerical decision making.  i still have my old NES stored away with my SNES, and still break it out every so often to play it.

they had more monster titles that inspired the next generation of games, and the next, and the next, etc.  in addition to what's been mentioned, there was kung fu, excitebike, mega man, castlevania, and the legend of zelda.  and this list goes on for a mile.  as a result look at video games now - they've come out of the basement to be a tremendous part of today's mainstream media.  it's no longer solely associated with geekdom worldwide, but draws a lot of different types of people to the variety of games that exist.  and my generation, who were kids during the NES era, are what's driving that.  you can tell by where the target market for the gaming industry lies.  it's not kids anymore, but the 18-35 demographic that most of the industry's marketing dollars go to.

that's right kids, the nintendo generation is getting ready to run things around here.  rejoice.  and with that, my hats off to nintendo for 25 years of technology, innovation, memories, and most of all, fun.

the folks over at 1up actually has a great retrospective of 25 years of the NES, which you can get to here.  wired magazine's "this day in tech" is also a good short read on the topic here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

34. globalization and character identity crisis: devil my cry

the grown up dante we know from devil may cry 4
those of you that know me and my gaming style know that i'm a big fan of the devil may cry series - not counting devil may cry 2 of course.  that one was a shocking example of quantity over quality failing hard.  one of the reasons i'm a fan of the franchise (and the first game overall) is for four main reasons.  1 - the gameplay - actively forcing the player to be creative with their play otherwise get penalized on in-game currency collected.  it's a perfect way of getting around the boring and repetitive gameplay that some games of that many games of the same genre struggle with.  which was refreshing in a time where action game button mashing still got you wins.  2 - the challenge (ignoring DMC2 again here) - i like a challenge, the first installment was a hard game.  even on the opening level, mis-timing attacks would lead to your character's health dropping to nearly nil at the hands of possessed marionettes, forcing you to scramble like hell to find some health orbs.  this only got more challenging as the game progressed.  3 - the environments - the game environments were well laid out and the puzzles were hard, but not impossible.  and even though it has waned sharply since the first devil may cry, a lot of places gave you enough of that creepy feeling to jolt a little bit when something happened.  because of this, i used to play around midnight with minimal lighting -  it was the perfect ambiance to take advantage of the full trip-horror that the game provided.  and finally, 4 - plot and characters, namely the main hero (or anti-hero if you want to get jungian) dante.  and lastly 5 - the overall  fun factor.

dante as a character pretty much is the devil may cry franchise.  his character is one of a mysterious man with an dark past and lineage.  that, and additionally through his dress, style, attitude, and fighting, laid the framework for what "cool" was in a video game hero in the early 2000's, and more importantly, provided a lasting model.  and the best part about this mythology they created was that the player could actually get into it, because dante was a believable character.  his signature red trench and pants with platinum hair is part of his rightfully earned icon status in gaming.  i'm actually more impressed with capcom looking back on it now then i was back then, they really pulled it off well.  in my opinion there were a lot of later games in the genre that drew heavily from it - off the top of my head god of war, darksiders, dante's inferno, and bayonetta (even though the producer says DMC had nothing to do with it, but i ain't buyin' it).

those are really the five reasons why anyone would be a fan of any game.  but reason #4 on my list - plot and characters - is by far the most important one when you're developing multi-volume sequels and franchises.  a huge part of getting your fans to stay with you is for them to buy into the mythology.  and to do that they need to have a connection with the world and it's characters.  i remember the xenosaga series being the same way for me a while ago, ironically also ignoring part 2, even though it was a completely different style of game.  and why is  that?  it's because games have become extremely good at cinematic and character-driven themes.  evoking feeling in a player from character interaction and emotion isn't something that's just reserved for hollywood studios anymore.

i'm not going to lie.  i was sad when aeris died in final fantasy vii.  even jin's end in xenosaga: episode iii was a little rough.

young dante, from the DMC reboot
so on to why i wrote this.  i mentioned in a previous post about the trailer for "DMC."  this is a reboot of the devil may cry series, but is being primarily done by ninja theory (the folks behind heavenly sword).  what they have experienced (rightfully?) is a huge backlash from fans from their tokyo game show trailer.  the trailer does show us the same gameplay style we're accustomed to, good mixes of swordplay and the signature "ebony and ivory" pistols, so on that part we're good.  what has fans objecting is a complete overhaul of dante's character design.  now i spoke last week about japanese game studios starting to outsource - working more and more with western studios to appeal to the western gaming market.  their reasoning on this one:

"the essence of devil may cry is all about 'cool.' it's about dante being cool and making you feel cool when you're playing it, and so the combat and the style system and everything is integral to that. but, you know, what was cool 12 years ago -- i think that was when the first game came out -- isn't cool anymore." [via 1up]

this was according to tameem antoniades, ninja theory's creative director, who by the way got the number of years wrong.  also, if you google him, you'll find he bears a stark resemblance to the new dante.  he goes on to say if the current dante was standing outside of a bar in his current look he'd get laughed at.  this statement brings me to my question - is this new dante the world's opinion on what kind of characters we can relate to on our side of the world?  a skinny goth emo kid that looks like he's looking for his next score?  some kind of cross between a vampire and american idol's adam lambert?  this new redesign, along with parts of the trailer, are claimed to be part of an origin story, so this is supposed to be taking place before the entire current devil may cry series, when dante was a young man.  it portrays dante as some strung out kid being tested on in a lab, breaking out and killing some bad guys chasing him in old school DMC style.  but the way the character looks - not even a shred of the dante we know in him.  any relation to the characters and world we've gotten used to has been shattered.  i saw the trailer featuring chuckles the emo monkey in the mugshot above, and was pretty upset.  what other changes are there going to be?  what about the other characters?  vergil?  trish? lady?  nero????  i think i speak for a lot of the fanbase when i say that we would have preferred an in-sequence game, fleshing out nero's connection to vergil and the devil bringer.  but, hopefully that's another game for another day.

so i'm going to tread cautiously here.  if this is a game that shows a rough dante becoming the character we all know and love now, then i'll be ok with that.  or if this guy is possessed by some demon or through some psychological trauma thinks he's dante, i'll be ok with that.  those are the only ways i'll be ok with that.  but if it was to be one of those, then they would have advertised it as such to avoid the fan backlash, right?  thus i fear it's a reboot to get a new generation of fans.  sad.  if this is a true reboot, then i may abandon the series altogether, and keep the old characters in the old series that's in my head.  i've seen too many reboots fail.  they all can't be batman begins.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

33. the on-demand life: apple tv and google tv

apple tv, from the official site
i know i write a lot about how things have changed from back in the days of yore to the current digital age we live in.  call me slightly nostalgic.  i've covered gaming, computing, and to some extent social communication.  but that's what technology is all about - catalyzing change in the way we live our everyday lives.  since early on, the theme throughout the history of consumer tech and gadgetry has always been "better, smaller, faster" and tech companies have delivered (the exception of course is the television: the bigger the better as far as i'm concerned).  another common theme that has threaded itself through consumer tech is the concept of "on demand."  it's just in our nature - why wait for things when we have the ability to have it now?  why can't we do things on our schedule?  where this has really taken hold above all other areas is tv and movies.  tivo really took off when it was first introduced, and the concept was so powerful that similar components have been added to DVR boxes from cable companies.  companies like netflix that provide movies on their customers' schedules have taken a solid bite out of blockbuster, hollywood video, and all of those other video stores you see closing up shop.  and if regular netflix isn't fast enough, sometimes it can be streamed from the web!  hell, i can watch movies and tv episodes on my xbox360 and playstation3.  and what about the internet en masse?  youtube?  broadcast channel recasts?  hulu?  it doesn't get more on demand than that.  and we love it.  it's become part of our cluture.  cashier taking too long?  go to the self checkout.  that's just how we roll these days.  in addition to instant gratification this sort of thing gives the customer what they need to want to come back for more - some sort of feeling of empowerment.

and now the battle for your living room begins to unfold.  recently, many are throwing their hats into the metaphorical ring of on demand media on your tv.  this used to be something confined to just cable providers, like comcast and verizon for example (and increasingly, game consoles), but these days you can rent episodes of tv shows for 99 cents each from apple tv and their ilk.  amazon is taking it a step further by letting you keep episodes permanently for 99 cents each.  even tivo is coming back with a vengeance, adding hulu plus to their lineup of offerings on their hardware boxes, and stuff like the boxee box is showing some promise too.  but, as they are the two big names in industry right now, in the midst of a very public war in the mobile realm, most of the scrutiny is going to be on apple tv and google tv.  so what's the difference?  i took a look to at least provide some at-a-glance details between them.

logitech revue with google tv, from the official site
as is the case with all apple devices, the apple tv has a lot of proprietary stuff involved.  their hardware and device guts, will of course, be restricted to apple.  your rentals and on-demand selections will allow you to run netflix, but otherwise you'll primarily going through itunes to get your stuff.  but that's not to say it's a bad device, it's actually a handy little box.  the apple tv has some cool features, like integration with iphone and ipad devices, rotten tomatoes reviews for movies before you rent, flickr for photo sharing in HD, and of course, itunes.  it also will allow you to retain tv shows you rent for 30 days, then give you 48 hours of viewing once you hit play.  at $99, it's a valid choice for users who aren't huge tv and movie watchers, and just want something simple to use their living room media centers to stream music and video.

the problem for apple is, in my opinion anyway, that google's device just looks better for users who are more demanding.  while taking the product tour on google's page, the entire interface felt like a massive version of my droid x interface (which makes sense as it runs android), which i very much like using, and it integrates with your cable box or satellite service.  and it also supports apps, which somehow was absent from apple's unit, even though the "app" is what was responsible (in my opinion at least) for a lot of apple's success with the iphone, ipod touch, and ipad devices.  apps can range from using your android device as a remote control or "flinging" video from it to your television.  according to google, third party developers will be able to make and sell apps as early as next year.  google tv also has hardware partners in sony and logitech, so there's going to be some variations on what kind of living room-esque hardware you'll see coming bundled with google tv in tow, instead of a standalone box.  for the discerning user who heavily uses media and wants a unified media experience with all of their devices this is the route to go.

expect this to be a big area of development for media.  it can be said that consumer tech companies are no longer interested (relatively interested, before you jump all over me for this one) in direct sales dollars.  now don't get me wrong, that's not to say that they don't like money.  instead, the competition has become a race for pure percentages of their consumers' lives.  the battle for your time while moving from point A to point B is still raging with smartphones and other mobile devices.  and the next battlefield is your living room.

see the combatants for yourselves!  check out the official sites for apple tv and google tv here:
apple tv
google tv