Category Archives: blog

Bing Image Archive, now with HTML5 video support

Due to popular demand from no less than three people (including myself), I’ve spent a better part of the night adding video support to my (actually) popular Bing Image Archive and now it’s available for your viewing pleasure.

As some people might have saw, a couple of weeks ago Bing announced they will be sprinkling some HTML5 videos to their daily cycle of picturesque background images. Since, there’s been a total of 3 such video loops including one of autumn leaves today.

In case you missed the previous ones, you can now see the Milky Way video and Autumn in Grand Teton National Park video.

Making browsers play video turned out to be a lot harder than expected. Besides obvious format incompatibilities, it’s frustrating Internet Explorer 9, Firefox and Chrome all exhibit unique quirks when handling HTML5 video. It’s no wonder why the HTML5 version of Bing has been delayed time and time again.

Forza Motorsport 4 wets my appetite for “Better with Kinect” games lineup

If you asked people about Kinect, most people would probably think of games that involve a lot of exaggerated body movements like jumping, dodging and waving arms like an inflatable tube men. While Kinect has proven its value with arcade games, its just beginning to reveal its more serious side.

Forza Motorsport 4, one of the first games in the “Better with Kinect” lineup is here to prove its more than just hand-waving gimmicks.

Of course it helps to have a great XBOX 360 game to build upon. Forza 4 is a spectacular racing game hands down. Like one expects from the franchise, it’s the game with the graphics and audio you would be proud to show off to non-gamers as a technological demonstration of state-of-the-art gaming realism.

As a game, it’s hard to resist driving petrol-gobbling sports cars on scenic racetracks all around the world at speeds that would most likely kill you in real life. Even though Forza’s trademark driving assists helps casual driving gamers like myself from spinning out of control at every corner, for the moments when you do crash, assessing the damage you dealt to the body of priceless cars is almost rewarding in a weird way.

With the foundations of a great game in place, the Kinect integration is like the icing on a cake. Granted the three main areas of Kinect integration – AutoVista, controller-free driving and head tracking are not all equally sweet, there’s enough substance to make Kinect owners appreciate the game even more.

AutoVista is the interactive equivalent to a car showroom in Forza 4. Using the Kinect, one can simply walk around a car (or tilt your head) to explore gorgeous high-resolution renderings for 24 prestigious cars at launch and more from DLCs in the future.

Compared to the controller, interacting with commentary spots is a little more difficult since it requires you to actually hold an arm with accuracy (an issue with many Kinect games), some Kinect-only gestures like opening a door, the trunk and pressing the horn on a steering wheel are details to be appreciated.

For those who have always wondered what $1 million car’s horn sounds like, Forza 4 with Kinect can satisfy that craving for just the fraction of the cost.

From the showroom to the race track, Kinect allows three racing modes: quick race, hot laps and split-screen versus side-by-side with a friend. After driving a couple of laps with the Kinect, it’s obvious why the game’s campaign mode can only be played with the controller.

Even though the game recommends you to sit, the hand sensing works just as well standing up as well. As both acceleration and deceleration is controlled automatically, rotating the imaginary steering wheel using two hands or even one hand is reasonably accurately reflected in the game.

It took a few laps to get used to but I’ve since mastered the art of holding an imaginary steering wheel with no resistance or feedback. It brings back childhood memories of imaging I was flying by stretching out my arms. Oh how naive I was.

Lastly, the most subtle Kinect integration is also the best in my opinion – head tracking. When enabled (oddly not on by default) and driving with the controller, directing your view ever so slightly to the left and right pans the camera too. This works in both in-car and out.

Because it’s naturally intuitive for drivers to be aware of the vehicles around them and to change the angle of vision at corners, the head tracking provides a subtle hint of refined realism, even if it might not make a noticeable difference in the lap time. I actually think I tackle corners better because of this.

Since the panning effect has to be exaggerated for a TV display, I assume the larger the display the more engaging it is (I played on a 40″ sitting about 1.5m away).

Looking beyond, the Kinect integration in Forza 4 is what wets my appetite for the future of “Better with Kinect” – great games with an extra layer of Kinect icing.

With motion-based gaming firmly established into the minds of casual gamers, there’s still a lot of unexplored potential for the technology to be used as a companion in many genres of hardcore games. Undoubtedly there will be a fair share of failed experimentations too.

As a patriotic PC gamer, I’ve never seen any obvious advantages of console gaming, until now. Even with the Kinect for Windows SDK in the wild, the sensor’s minimum distance requirement makes any PC gaming integration impractical. Any future cross-platform game that’s “Better with Kinect” is definitely going to make me have to think twice.

Microsoft awarded trademark for retail store design

If you were looking to sell computers in a room with four curved tabletop and walls of seamless video screens, be careful, Microsoft might come after you with their Microsoft Store “trade dress” trademark registration 4036534 as of three days ago.

It was only two years ago Gizmodo leaked a comprehensive design document with sketched plans for a Microsoft Store. A few months open, the real thing showed up in Arizona. Now, 14 stores (open and planned) are scattered all around the US.

Interestingly, Microsoft almost missed their re-approval application by a day having been refused its original application on the 15th of February 2011. A response was required within 6 months to avoid abandoning the application. Like a high school student, the response was submitted a day before on the 14th of August. Turns out even lawyers procrastinate.

Internet Explorer 9 ads shows what celebrities love (and pin to their taskbar)

Over the weekend, Microsoft launched a series of light-hearted 30-second TV commercials for Internet Explorer 9 titled “The web you love, one click away”. It features a number of celebrities explaining “why they love” a particular websites which are shortcuts on the Windows 7 taskbar using the new pinning functionality.

The celebrities, who are largely US-centric TV names, include Allison Haislip (Attack of the Show), Reed Timmer (Storm Chasers), Kari Byron (Mythbusters), Tory Belleci (Mythbusters), Bert Kreischer, Naomi Natale and Marina Sousa and Jo Frost (Supernanny). Some of the sites featured include the World’s Biggest Pac-man, CNN, Bing, Kayak, Twitter, Break, Hotmail, eBay and WordPress.

Even though it’s not clear whether these testimonials are genuine or scripted, I think celebrity endorsements work really well in this case because of the fact the websites show a strong association with their professional expertise whether that is gaming, chasing storms or even making cakes.

The full set is embedded below for your viewing pleasure. Out of all of them, the cattle prod and bacon Lincoln as my favorites.

Nokia Maps for Windows Phone 7 marketplace listing & screenshots revealed

The marketplace listing for the Nokia Maps application for Windows Phone 7 have been revealed thanks to a placeholder application that has been discovered by wpxap.com which has since been shared on the xda-developers.com forums.

The highly anticipated Nokia maps application is presumed to be exclusively bundled with the Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices to take advantage of their proprietary and highly regarded Nokia (Ovi) Maps service. Since the application is currently a placeholder for testing purposes, the marketplace listing and four screenshots are all that we have to reveal some of the features users can expect.

The description reads,

Nokia Maps helps you to be a local anywhere you go. See where you are and discover places nearby in a snap. Get reviews, uncover new destinations and reach them with smart routing for public transport, walking and driving.

From what can be seen from the few screenshots published, the application seems to feature a pretty simple Metro-inspired UI with a large pinned map area for search results. Place listings include both a short description, user submitted photos and reviews. In one screenshot, the route map includes the stops that users should board and deboard public transport.

The application also appears to support the full 22 locales that Windows Phone Mango now supports. All the screenshots below.

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Battlefield 3 Battlelog: the changing face of PC gaming

The first time I launched Battlefield 3 on Windows, a browser window appeared with the Battlefield website. I wondered to myself “did I click the wrong button?”. It turns out I didn’t.

For those living under a rock, Battlefield is no web game, in fact it’s one of the most anticipated AAA game titles of this year. What initially seemed like a bad idea to most PC gaming enthusiasts including myself is now growing on me. In fact, this may actually be a sign of PC gaming evolving for the better.

For most current PC games, playing them involves finding and launching it from the Start menu full of other applications, sit through unnecessarily long and repetitive logos and introduction videos, wait for menus to load before waiting again for the actual game to load. Compound that with fancy but poor faux-user interfaces, everything besides the game can be rather tedious.

In contrast for Battlefield 3, it takes just seconds to sign in to the “Battlelog” portal which undeniably resembles Facebook complete with “Hooahs!” instead of “Likes”. However with one click of a “Join game” button, it launches the game application straight into the match with loading times in seconds, rarely seen in any game of its genre before.

While Battlefield 3 isn’t the first PC game to tie some aspects of the game to a browser – Quake Live made its debut as a browser game, it’s much more refined with drag-and-drop party management, integrated voice chat and more.

Granted the current beta of the game and website is undeniably buggy, by having the actual game and its out-of-game management tasks clearly separated not only by design but by code, it also allows the game developers to fix one without relying on the other like they have already.

As a forum post on the popular gaming forum “NeoGAF” best puts it, “Battlefield 3’s Battlelog and server browser is risky, bold, but absolutely brilliant”, I can’t help but agree. Although I would add not only is it pushing the boundaries of the genre, but evolving the PC gaming experience much more social and engaging experience than its console equivalents.

What’s amusing is that console gamers too will have to log on to this portal to check their achievements and stats, but not have the ability to hop straight into a game.

Finally, if you’re wondering the game is as good as it’s hyped up to be, it’s pretty awesome. Although I must state the “Operation Metro” map in the beta is a poor representation of the game. From the few hours I had the chance to play the 64-players Caspian Border, the game will be worth every penny.