Wii Fit

When we got the Wii for the kids last summer we bought it because my (then) 7 year old gave a pretty convincing argument for it:  It was fun.  We hemmed and hawed for a while but after playing it for a while at my cousins house we were convinced and bought the system.

Since then, my interest in boxing and bowling has waned a bit.  I purchased the Legend of Zelda and after an hour of playing decided that I’d rather program for fun.  I guess I’m not into those types of games.  My teenager has since solved it after spending several weekends on it.

So when my youngest asked for the Wii Fit I was interested.  The Wii breaks the mould of video gaming as I’ve known them (I was a teenager when Asteroids and Space Invaders was the rage at the arcade and I owned an Intellivision) and no longer are you relegated to sitting in one spot getting sore thumbs.

The Wii Fit comes with a Balance Board that measures weight and balance and responds to your body movement when you’re on it.  The ‘game’ comes with 4 main sections:  Yoga, Strength, Aerobics and Balance.  Starting out, your Mii (pronounced me) is weighed and you can do a baseline balance test.  It adjusts your Mii’s onscreen appearance to match your Body Mass Index (BMI) so if you weren’t truthful in the creation of your Mii it’ll be ‘adjusted’ accordingly.

The yoga portion is interesting.  You start with a basic breathing exercise and can quickly graduate to the “Warrior” pose.  When performing each pose the balance board tracks your balance and you get a score based on your balance.  The better your balance the more points you get.  Onscreen, a helpful male or female instructor (your choice) shows you how to do the pose and gives instructions.  During the pose there is feedback indicating how well your balance is working.  I’ve since unlocked 5 others poses and I guess my decade doing Aikido has helped a bit there.

The aerobics portion starts with a hula hoop simulation.  As someone who’s never mastered the art of hula hooping in the real world, this is a much better version.  It will get your heart pumping and is sort of fun (for adults – the kids love it) and points are awarded based on how many hoops you’ve hula hooped.  The next game is a beginning step program where you step on and off the board to music while the screens shows you when and where to step. Points are awarded on how accurate you are with the music.  The next game is running which is running in place where an animated pacer runs in front of you.  Running is simple, but very good exercise.

The balance portion starts with a simple soccer goalie game where you shift your weight left and right on the board to hit the balls kicked at you and dodge the occasional shoe.  Next is the downhill skiing which is tough as you have to lean forward (trying to hit a very small blue dot to gain speed) and shift your weight left and right to turn and go between the gates.  This is probably the toughest one I’ve done so far as it requires multiple things happening at once.  It is also probably my favorite.  My second favorite is the ski jump where you have to balance properly to hit yet another really small blue dot to get speed and then straighten your legs at just the right time and then balance evenly for the flight.

Since I regularly go to the gym for weights I haven’t done any of the strength training exercises.  I’m sure it would make me work in a few areas I’m not doing now.  When I get bored I’ll think about trying it out.

As you continue to play, I mean do the exercises, it tracks how much time you spent doing it.  At about the 45 minute mark it will recommend that you stop and get a drink of water.  It’s pretty good at giving verbal feedback and telling you how to do things better.  Some of the games are more interesting to kids but there’s enough there for the adults to like as well.

All-in-all, Santa made a pretty smart decision.  My kid likes it.  My wife likes it. I like it.  I have no idea if it will keep my interest long term but it’s been an interesting diversion while the weather has been less than stellar in Kansas City (well, it’s been alternating between miserable and gorgeous about every 24 hours).  If your New Years Resolution is get in better shape for 2009 and you’d like to have a little fun along the way then I’d recommend the Wii Fit.

Stop and Smell the Roses (It’s Good For You)

My wife has done work for the Kansas City Symphony, Ballet, and Opera for years.  We’ve been to the Symphony a lot and enjoy it enough to be regular donor’s.  Carol has been to the Opera and the Ballet a few times but I’ve not a big fan of either.  This weekend, however, the Kansas City Ballet did some interesting performances.  They did a comedy, The Concert, where the performers purposely did things the wrong way and out of sync with each other.  My guess is that very few ballet concertgoers have ever laughed that hard but it was fun in that they didn’t take themselves too seriously.  The middle performance was a more traditional ballet movement called The Naughty Boy and the final piece was Rodeo which features the Aaron Copeland Hoedown.  If you don’t know what Hoedown is it’s the “Beef:  It’s What’s For Dinner” song.  In fact, I had a hankering for steak afterwards.  I am always amazed at professional athletes (and don’t forget for a second that doing ballet is an athletic performance) and how they make hard things look really, really easy.

Sunday we took the kids to the final weekend of the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.  This was the 32nd year of the festival.  While I’m not into the medieval period I know a lot of people are or at least use it as a good excuse to dress up.  When I lived in St. Louis I knew some folks that went every year all dressed up (which isn’t saying much since they also get dressed up as Klingons to go to the scifi conventions).  It was perfect weather for their last day of this years season so the crowds were large but not exceptionally obnoxious as I’ve seen in the past.

My point to this whole post is that while I had a ton of stuff to do, I feel refreshed and I’ve been pretty productive so far this week.  Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses.  And while neither event is something that I’d like to do every weekend it was enjoyable to do something different and recharge.

The other good news from the weekend is that the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t lose.  They didn’t play either.  🙂

Spore

I’d be lying if I said I had a lot of time for games.  Between the full time and a half job that BKeeney Software is, writing for RB Developer and this blog I don’t have a lot of time to play games.  Oh, and that giant sucking sound you hear is ARBP sucking away any chance at finding free time.

However, after a Friday afternoon meeting, a team member showed me Spore and let me test drive the game for a few minutes.  It was enough for me to go to the Apple Store in torrential downpours Friday night to get the last copy on the shelf.  After a Kansas City Symphony concert I managed to put in a couple of hours before bed and also put in about three hours late Saturday night.  Do I like the game?  Heck yes!

The graphics and sounds are high quality and the game play is fairly fast.  The game isn’t so hard that you can’t advance, in fact, the game sort of hinges upon your failures and how you respond to them – the game is about evolution after all (at least in the first half).

You start as a single cell in the primordial soup of your world and from there you start deciding what you’re doing to be by eating other creatures and choosing what to evolve to.  You start in the ocean getting bigger and bigger until you can leave the ocean.  This part of the game reminds me of PacMan of all things.

From there you move on to land where some of the characteristics you added in the water now help/hinder you on land.  I was a carnivore so I had teeth and spikes for weapons and poison and shell as a defense.  Once you’re on land the goal is to evolve into tribes.  I found this section to be challenging because other creatures are also evolving and adding strengths and it soon becomes apparent that you can’t be a rogue and just go out and kill everything in site because there are some mighty large creatures out there (one was so big it stepped on me and I died nearly right away).  So it’s either eat or be eaten or learn how to cooperate with others.  I’m a carnivore – what do I care about cooperating with others?  I’m not sure what this part of the game reminds me of – it’s not quite like Diablo or Neverwinter Nights but it has the same sort of feel.

Once you’ve evolved from there you go into tribal stage where you have to have hands for tools and weapons.  The object is to either wipe out or cooperate with all the other tribes for supremacy.  Your tribe gets bigger each time you conquer another tribe.  Along the way you add babies to the tribe, learn how to fish, make spears and axes and each member of the tribe can be independently controlled.  In my case, because I was seriously aggressive with nothing but powerful natural weapons (poison being one of them) the addition of axes and spears was just icing on the cake.  I quickly won this part of the evolution game.  This part of the game reminded me a lot of World of Warcraft.

The next part of the game is sort of like Civilization.  You get cities and you have to mine Spice (my guess is this varies plane to planet in the galaxy) for money.  You build weaponry and get to blast other cities and go to war.  This where I’m at – I’ve seriously pissed off all my neighbors in the world so I’m looking forward to see what happens.  My guess is that I’ll have to do some negotiation to get off planet.

The next part (I’m told) is like Pax Imperia or one of the galaxy conquering games.  It should be interesting to see how the game play is on that part.

One of the things that amazes me is the level of detail you can get to on EVERYTHING.  You creatures can be as detailed as you could ever want.  In Civilization mode you can create your own buildings and vehicles or use one of the pre-made Maxis models or, which I find way cool, is use other people’s that have uploaded theirs to the server.  In creature mode this leads to some incredibly interesting creatures and I’ve heard (though not seen) a new category of creatures called Sporn with interesting body parts.

Is it a good game?  Between my 8 year old, 16 year old and myself we’ve been playing it non-stop since Friday night.  Even if I never play it again the Keeney household has gotten its money’s-worth out of it.

So what do you think?

The Sixty One

I listen to music all day long while I’m working. It’s a habit (good or bad) that I developed in college while studying for hours on end and have kept up since. Heck, I became a DJ at the college radio station (WOUI – pumping out an amazing 10,000 milliWatts!) to listen to a lot of different music and did a study marathon one finals week because it was the ‘quietest’ place on campus. I love music and it’s one of the reasons why I have such a large music collection and why I fell in love with iTunes and my first iPod.
So even though I have 31 days of continuous music in my iTunes library I’m always looking for something new to listen to.  Rock, alternative, pop, blues, jazz, R & B, classical and even the occasional country song can often be heard in my office.  I think I found an excellent new source of music that thinks the way I do and is an excellent example of a good web app.

I’m talking about TheSixtyOne at www.thesixtyone.com.  It’s sort of Digg for music.  Using a simple system, people can ‘bump’ music they like that’s been uploaded by musicians to the site.  The drawback is that it costs you points to bump a song so it’s not in your best interests to bump everything.  You, in turn, earn points for songs that other people bump and for listening to more songs.

All songs are streamed to your computer in their entirety – not like iTunes where you get a 30 second clip – and there is no limit to the number of times you can listen to a song.  You can add songs to your own playlist and follow other people on the site and view the music that they’ve been listening to and bumping.  All in all it’s a very fun site.

The site was created as a ‘music discovery game’ by two USC students who have long since quit their jobs.  They’ve done an excellent job of it, in my opinion.  You can navigate the site without having your music stream interrupted.  There are numerous places like comments and bump lists that smoothly expand and collapse without stopping the music.  It’s very easy to navigate the site and discover music.  It’s very easy to browse by music category, new music, best music (music bumped the most) and follow and subscribe to other people’s activity.

An example of why you might want to subscribe to someone else’s activity is if you find yourself always bumping music that was already bumped by someone else you might want to follow them on a regular basis.  It’s sort of like the Amazon book rating service of ‘those who bought this book also bought this…”  It’s very handy and convenient and naturally you get more points if people subscribe to your activity.

I should point out that some tracks are available for download and some are available for purchase through the Amazon MP3 store.  The iTunes store will sometimes have the artists but I’ve found that it’s somewhat spotty.  Regardless, I’ve found that The Sixty One is fun if you like listening to ‘undiscovered’ music and artists are uploading new music every day.

Some of the music is incredibly bad and I wonder if the ‘artists’ upload music on a dare or a whim.  Others, though, are impressive in the quality and depth of their sound and it makes you wonder how many wonderful musicians never ‘made it’ because they couldn’t get their music to the masses.  I was already not listening to the radio because of commercials and repetition.  I don’t every see myself listening to commercial radio again.

Oh, and if you’re so inclined, I’m at thesixtyone.com/griffin.  Griffin?  That’s a story for a different day.  🙂

I know there are some other sites out there that do similar things.  What are they?  Other thoughts?