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CURRENTS
Issue #59
August 10, 2007
Little Wing
Front Page

I'm very disappointed by this Melon Creamy Soda that I purchased at a local Japanese restaurant in my hometown. Now obviously when I, uh, "bite" into the Creamy Melon concoction, I'm planning on experiencing two things: Melon and Creamy, whatever they determined both to be. Upon unleashing the wrath of this lime-colo(u)red bottle I am not treated to the delicately fruity aroma of melon, but rather the awkward scent of Bubblegum. Yes, that's right, Bubblegum. What the hell is bubblegum doing inside of my Melon Creamy Soda? Now, I do have to give it to the UCC beverage company (who has assured me that "It's tasty and refreshing! Always makes you feel fresh and cool!" Yes, they really do use as many exclamation marks as I do), since the ambiguously titled Melon Creamy Soda did not admit to what melon this mixed beverage would taste like. For all I know, this creamy drink is carefully emulating the Bubblegum Melon, a rare and exotic treat that is only harvested once a year throughout a small island off of the eastern coast of Japan. And accordingly I am nothing but an American snob who assumes that the delicate concoction would roll around in my mouth like a basket of Honeydew that happened to be small enough to fit in my mouth and roll around. Either way, this drink is not at all what I would have pictured from the extremely descriptive bottle entitled "Melon Creamy Soda"

On second drink, it's really not too bad, it's just plain weird. I'm not sure if I like it, but I don't dislike it. I should probably start up this column and decide later on.

You know, it is creamy...

The Xbox 360's New Colors, Ports, and Pack-Ins
The occasionally red-ringed console changes colors and drops prices more often than Wall Street (Zing!)
Title

For everyone who paid attention last week to my Xbox 360 announcements, I hope that you're enjoying the lower prices on your favorite console package. The price drop went down on the eighth and saw the Premium and Elite bundles hopping up between 20 and 30 spots on the Amazon sales charts according to Kotaku.

Keeping up with the 360 price drop news, Microsoft's warm little console dropped down in price in the cool, unincorporated north, with a $100 CDN price break also available to the Canadians. Likewise, Mexico (among other areas) had a price drop as well, with a new $5999 and $5199 peso price tag for the Elite and Premium bundles (respectively)! According to their Spanish website (and probably terribly translated by my four-year-old Spanish skills), the price drop is "ideal for all gamers and digital entertainment fanatics that are looking for a new style to enjoy high definition!" And yes, that does sound much better and make a lot more sense in Spanish.

Finally, as anyone who has owned or seen a Xbox 360 knows, Microsoft has no qualms with making new and special editions of its consoles to please its customers (and make that money!). As many Halo fanatics have known since E3, Microsoft will be releasing a special edition Halo 3 Premium system bundle pack "in September 2007" to celebrate the release of its biggest blockbuster yet. The system pack includes many extras, none of which are the actual Halo 3 game. It does include a special, Military themed Xbox 360, matching wired headset and controller, and exclusive downloadable gamer pics and dashboards available on Xbox LIVE. Another neat pack-in (take note, "personas que quieren un nuevo estilo para disfrutar de la alta definicion"), is the inclusion of the HDMI port, which is now standard on Premium and Elite bundles. Take that, fancy PS3 owners who've always had an HDMI port!

Sources: Kotaku | Xbox.com
Halo Officially Pre-Selling Like Crazy
Now pre-packed with week-old churros and doughnuts!
Title

Oh, Halo 3. Microsoft's "little FPS that could" has arguably been the biggest thing to happen to console videogames involving giant guns and aliens in this millennium. What better to demonstrate the sheer power of Bungie's gaming monstrosity than the pre-order total reaching over 1 million copies? That's right; the number of copies already pre-sold to gamers in North America has already ensured its spot as a "Platinum Hit" before the first disc is even SOLD. How's that for a bit of random gaming trivia?

Given that the pure numbers alone guarantee that the game is going down in the record books for the largest number of pre-orders ever for a videogame, what could possibly make Microsoft any happier than they already are? How about the new nationwide availability of Halo 3 pre-orders at 7-11? That's right, you can now go an order a week old churro, mildly warm taquito, and a delicious Coca-Cola slurpee while putting five down on the game set to make both nerds and "bros" absolutely SQUEAL in delight at midnight on September 25th.

So if you haven't had a chance to pre-order the biggest Xbox 360 game thus far at a place that doesn't sell candy bars, doughnuts, and roast beef sandwiches that are stacked with thinly sliced meat from cows raised in heaven, stop by 7-11 and get yours today! If you hurry quick, they just might have some of those amazing Simpson's Movie doughnuts left too. Mmmm...Doughnuts...

Sources: Joystiq | Yahoo
Heaping Handful of Wii Changes
Newest system update allows for easier sorting, extremely limited keyboard support, and more!
Title

Out of the three console manufacturers, it seems like Nintendo has the least amount of miscellaneous software/firmware updates out of everyone. While the handhelds prove this point more clearly than the love that is echoed in my girlfriend's eyes (ladies, in unison now: "Awww!"), the consoles have also had their share of mandatory updates that have brought some awesome new features to the consoles. The PS3's updates allowed for lots of updated functionality for the system while the Xbox 360's have let gamers play a good portion of their classic games on their new system (among many other things). The Wii, however, has seen very little changes from its conception, with most ranging from innocuous (Everybody Votes) to currently useless (WiiWare). This latest firmware update to 3.0 includes a laundry list of minor changes that fit into the aforementioned range, with a handful that are actually promising/useful. Here are a handful of noteworthy things from the huge list originally posted over at NeoGaf

Channels:
-Digital Clock added to the Wii Menu right under the channel bar
-Forecast Channel now displays the current condition (cloudy, raining, etc.) directly in the Wii Menu in the Forecast Channel box
-News Channel can now show 2 scrolling headlines at a time in the Wii Menu, 3 when you click on the button (supposedly this requires occasional downloading of the headlines to keep the ticker updated)

Wii Shop Channel Overhauled (Visual aesthetic is the same, changes made to organization and browsing methods mostly)
-New Welcome screen detailing 4 Recommended Titles and the points they cost (gone is the title screen bar that had linkable games). The title bar can be clicked on to bring up a list of 20 recommended games.
-Titles You've Downloaded was moved to the main shop menu
-New ways to browse/search
-Popular Titles (2 pages of 10 and includes launch games so not only based on recent info)

Accessibility
-Load times in interchannel loading has supposedly decreased
-Password fields filled in using the keyboard (like on the Internet Channel) now display asterisks
USB Keyboard support has been added to both the Message Board and the Wii Shop Channel

Settings
-Warning added pre-system update detailing that technically modified consoles may cease to function upon being updated. Also the only way to not accept an update is to power down the console by holding the button for 4 seconds (the user can't back out of hitting I Accept w/o powering down)

As you can see, the system now supports usage of those enigmatic USB ports for a handful of places on the Wii (not for the internet though...hmm), and features new searching, browsing, and selecting features. Sorry Wii-heads, there's still no USB storage option available, regardless of how much of an obvious necessity that it will grow to be. As the kinks get worked out with all the USB features (among everything else), we'll be sure to keep you updated.

Source: NeoGaf
80 GB PlayStation 3 Available In U.S.
Beefy harddrives for those with equally beefy wallets
Title

Following one of the most disappointing price cut announcements ever, the new standard PS3 has just been released that will soon overtake and take the spot of its cheaper and less memory-laden cousin. The 80GB PS3 hit stores this weekend and comes with a handful of extras for the now-standard $600 price tag. GameSpot notes that the new system's "limited edition" bundle pack comes with a copy of MotorStorm, the oft-purchased off-road champion of the PS3, in addition to the "Five Free Blu-Ray" discs promotion that all blue ray players currently have. That's a free $60 game, and (approximately) $90 worth of movies. It's almost like getting a PS3 for only $450! Almost.

The question still remains: who will buy this thing within the next few months? Those that have no regard for money and want to save a few extra TV seasons and games, or those who were too lazy to grab the top of the line console when it first came out? To me, 20GB, while sizable, is not quite an earth-shattering amount of data storage worth an extra $100 (I've lucked out with less than .25/GB on some hard drives) and the immediate loss of a lot of backward compatibility. Obviously, when it's the only choice out there it will sell like overpriced hotcakes, but why release it now? I just wonder about the number of people that would call a lack of storage space their main reason for not buying a PS3 two months ago. It's nice of Sony to make the standard version with more memory for the same price as the one before it, but it just seems to look like another case of Sony overlooking, rather than addressing, a problem. Oh well. It's really not worth whining or worrying about too much when you consider that Sony has officially stated that the 60GB should "last through fall", while 20GB PS3s are still available for $450 or less on the internets and in most used gaming stores. Bottom line? Buy what works out best for you, and be happy with it.

Source: GameSpot
America Is Now Safe: Homebrewers Behind Bars
Modchip and homebrew raids across help to "protect freedom," and skirt real issues
Title

As anyone moderately involved in the homebrew scene noticed last week, the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) finally took a hard stance on one of the most pressing problems plaguing our nation today: modified videogame consoles.

According to GamePolitics, the nationwide chip-bust (code name "Operation Tangled Web") went down in 16 states with a total of 32 warrants for the seizure of any and all videogame equipment that could be related to the "direct importation, installation, sale, and distribution of the devices that are of foreign manufacture and smuggled [read: "shipped from Canada"] into the United States."

It should be noted that a handful of people caught in this raid seemed to be wrapped up in some pretty heinous forms of copyright infringement; from running businesses that either sold illegal "backup" copies of games for personal profit, or from selling modified consoles with games on them (effectively profiting off of the counterfeit games that are not their property to distribute). Others that were targeted, such as Xbox-Scene member FallsInc were small scale individuals who had only installed the modchips for an installation fee, rather than loading them up with illegal games. This creates a bit of a grey area when juxtaposing Fallsinc against the people pulling in over $30,000 a year from illegal game sales, but the hardline stance is to be expected when ICE is involved.

Either way, it's hard to feel bad for those who were doing great harm to Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, et al by selling illegal copies of games and taking money out of the pockets of the companies who deserve them. However, for the people who were simply installing a product or using the chips to run programs such as Xbox Media Center (an application that allows you to stream/play videos and music from your Xbox on your TV) it seems like this was a little harsh. Thankfully it looks like they were just targeting distributors/modifiers, so we'll have to wait and see how this continue to play out in the coming months. Considering all of the terrorist fear that has swept over this country in the last few years, there's little doubt that "Project Tangled Web" is certainly the most important thing for the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement team to be working on at the moment.

Sources: XboxScene | GamePolitics
Ran(t)dom: Legislation Overturned in California
Schwarzenegger vows to take legislation criminalizing underage sale of games to higher courts
Title

The much-heralded Governator of my state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has tried to go where too many politicians have gone before by attempting to pass illegal videogame legislation. Luckily, a handful of judges are familiar with the law as well, and have (currently) put a stop to his passed legislation. Back in 2005, the ex-Terminator passed a law that aimed to place legal restrictions on the sale of violent videogames to minors. The simple fact that this legislation is illegal seemed to have slipped past Arnold, and as the law began to trickle down to the courts, it was overturned by Judge Ronald Whyte. As Whyte himself noted, the correlation between videogames and violence is not clear enough to merit legal persecution (taken from the ruling at GamePolitics):

The evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures.

Although some reputable professional individuals and organizations have expressed particular concern about the interactive nature of video games, there is no generally-accepted study that supports that concern. There has also been no detailed study to differentiate between the effects of violent videos on minors of different ages.

The court, although sympathetic to what the legislature sought to do by the Act, finds that the evidence does not establish the required nexus between the legislative concerns about the well-being of minors and the restrictions on speech required by the Act.

While this would seem to be the end of the ordeal, Schwarzenegger has continued to fight the ruling and is currently taking the bill to a higher court for a final ruling. The bill nobly aims to not allow minors to obtain videogames without their parent's consent but fails in trying to make the sale of videogames a criminal offense. If this idea goes forth, the sale of videogames to minors will be a punishable offense (up to a $100 fine), much like the sale of alcohol or cigarettes to minors. While I personally see the two carcinogens to be a far more worthy cause of fines when compared to videogames, I don't really see the measure getting much different treatment in the higher courts than it did last week. As long as videogames are treated much like movies (which are not finable/prosecutable outside of the establishment itself) and regulated at a establishment-wide level, I believe that we should be okay in the end. I'd love to hear your opinions on the issue, and you can hopefully look forward to a further discussion in an editorial sometime soon.

Source: GamePolitics
Title

Aaaaand...we're done! I still haven't come to a conclusion about this Creamy substance, so I'll have to wait on a final verdict until later. I'm really interested in hearing what you all think of Schwarzenegger's legislation battle, and possibly your ideas on homebrew (in general, and about the mod chip scandal). While I'm personally for homebrew, I don't support people making money off of any other companies' work. It's a tricky subject, and one that I especially have to skirt around carefully as a columnist for RPGamer.

Ultimately, my further rant about both subjects, in addition to my final thoughts on the Melon Creamy Soda, will have to wait until next week. I can't just give you everything right now, now can I? Well, except for this awesome picture of Peter Moore rocking out again. That I can do.

Patience, my friends. Patience.

Cole Jones
(Mail Me!)

 

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