Saturday, September 4, 2010

Halo Reach is it safe for my Kids?

When Xbox first launched back in 2001 there was really only one reason to buy it, Halo.

Yes, Xbox had great graphics, a hard drive to save game levels, the promise of internet multi player gaming, ports for four controllers but what it really had over any Playstation, Nintendo or Sega (they were still around back then)  was Halo and the Master-chief.  The futuristic battle saga was really so far ahead of anything out in the market at the time, with superior graphics, game play and story line it was the "killer app" that drove initial sales and made Halo the corner stone of the Xbox platform. Every platform launch has had and needed that one game to differentiate its self from all others. For Xbox it was a remains today to be Halo.

Fast forward to present day and Halo has had it's list of sequels Halo 2 also for the original Xbox, Halo 3 for Xbox360 which really never took advantage of the power of the Xbox360 but does a great job of taking advantage of all the features of the platform. Halo 3 has had its own set of releases as well. An attempt to keep the franchise going in between the very long development cycle... which brings us to Halo Reach.

Well the wait is finally over on Sept 14th what is sure to be touted as the largest first day sales of any movie, album or video game (due mainly to the industry practice of pre-sales) in history.

Halo Reach is by far the most ambitious game in the franchise and will no doubt re-invigerate the platform for the holiday season.  Game play and graphics will set the bar for all other games to follow. As an avid gamer, I am excited.  As a dad of small children, not so much.

As I have stated before, I just can't see any positive value in allowing my 5 or 7 year old to frag aliens, or get killed in battle, especially with the near photo realism of Halo Reach.  Great for age appropriate teens and adults but not for the young ones. In fact I will guarantee nightmares for any child that even watches the game on screen. Would you let your child watch an R rated battle or gun scene in a Movie? Then why let them play or watch Halo Reach?

I am on the fence with my 11 year old. Maybe we'll let him play the occasional multi- player session against his friends but I am even concerned with the impact these graphics will have on him if played in solo mode. Maybe over time - we will have to see.

And for multi-player mode we always restrict play to friends only - the language on those headsets is much too adult for most ears! Yes they can play without the headsets and it's still a lot of fun but sound is a big part of the game, the score, the sound effects, all fantastic, all part of the experience.

Let me reiterate - Halo Reach will be jaw dropping visually, Heart pumping yell at the screen fun - but it will also be so realistic visually that it will for sure be an "after the kids are asleep" game in our house.

Dad said it's OK - to play when you're older

Friday, September 3, 2010

Which baseball bat is best?

It's funny how much kids are like adults when it comes to their sports equipment. In the same way adults have to have the latest and greatest golf club to get those extra few yards, and or straighten out that slice, kids too focus a lot on their equipment to improve their game.

I have no doubt that there is a difference amongst bats. I also have no doubt that bat speed and swing mechanics play a bigger role in the hitting of the ball than the composition of the bat.

All too often I see kids with bats much too long and much too heavy for their size and weight. Easton does a solid job with their recommendations for bat length and weight based upon the size of the player. check out their site for the fit chart. Additionally I have found a simple way to confirm bat size - have the player hold the bat our straight to the side or in front for a count of 10. If they can do this with no strain  then chances are you have a proper fit.  Once you leave the store you may have just bought the wrong bat without this handy test.

The real value in a good bat is the ability to drive bat speed, so if the bat is too heavy or too long  bat speed will suffer. Slow bat speed equals poor hitting.

There is certainly something to be said for composite bats and the extra distance they can provide when bat speed is optimal. Note that these bats need several hundred hits for the sweet-spot to be  developed so it is a really good idea if you are going to invest the big dollars in a composite bat to also invest the time to break it in... not to mention invest the time in developing optimal swing mechanics.

A few lessons from a qualified batting coach is by far the best investment you can make in your son or daughter's time at the plate. Nothing is more exciting then seeing them take command at the plate and driving the long ball.

Dad said it's OK to hit - a baseball

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Does violence in games lead to violence in kids?

Does violence in games lead to violence in kids?  This has been a debate for many years. Same as it is in movies. The Video game industry has a self regulating rating system called ESRB which gives games ratings for (E)veryone, Everyone10+, (T)eens, (M)ature.   But few retailers actually restrict the purchase of games of Teen or Mature rating. Wal-Mart being one of the few restricts sales of M rated games to those under 14.

On the console side, Nintendo has by far the fewest overall M rated games while Xbox360 has the most. Both Xbox, the originator of the concept on consoles, and Playstation3 both have parental controls which can be set to restrict the level of game play. They also extend this feature to DVD play as well.

This is all well and good but the question at hand is does playing violent games play a part in the behavioral development of children. I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV. But I do have kids and I can provide my own observations of how gaming impacts them.

First I should note that we do not typically allow our kids to play fighting games and no one under the age of 11 in our house is allowed to play  or even watch an M rated game. M is might never be able to play in our house.

This decision has come from observing our kids and seeing how their interaction changes immediately after playing any game that involves, hitting, shooting, or destroying. They do become more physical which each other, often times acting out or mimicking the actions of their on screen avatars. Sometimes this extends for the rest of the day or evening and can have a negative impact on their sleep.

Since we don't allow a lot of this sort of game play often, I can't say what long term effects it may have on their behavior but short term it certainly is not good. And this is the reason for the limited ability to play T and M in our house.

Next time your kids play an aggressive game take note of their behaviour immediately following and decide for yourself how to manage games in your household

Dad Said it's OK to play - but in moderation

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Best portable gaming units

I've been a gamer for a long time, a very long time. I have owned virtually every and any portable gaming unit at some point. Over the years as technology has improved and the mass acceptance of portable gaming has taken hold products have gotten smaller, graphics better and software delivery more diverse. Several years ago I was part of an effort that was researching hand-held gaming units. At that time we believed that the mobile phone would be the platform of the future of gaming. Well that day has more than arrived!

Trade in or sell that PSP, DS or any single purpose devise because the iPhone, the Droid and probably soon a windows phone is the real choice for hand held gaming. But if you are not keen on getting your child a phone than the iTouch is a great decision too.

Here's why i believe these devises are the new gaming platform.

First there is no Software to break or LOSE!!! 

I can't tell you how many games our kids have dropped, lost, left behind or made vanish into thin air.  With an all digital delivery system games can be loaded again and again if you change devices, lose the device, etc.  Also with platforms like iTouch and iPhone there are so many fun little free or nearly free games the kids have a huge assortment of fun and some educational content to keep them entertained when needed.  And now with such a huge install base of units all the major game Software publishers are releasing versions for phones in a much bigger way.

Controlling what goes on these units is easy too. I set up the user account and password and so when the kids ask to download a new game I am the one that has to enter the info. So only Dad said it's OK games make there way to the units.

Other great features are size, controls  and graphics - small enough for little hands, simple enough to use. and the graphics are solid and sharp - and with new units coming will improve.  And of course as the phones go through upgrade cycles the games can be transferred to the new phone as long as you maintain the same platform. Invest in a solid case and a wrist strap!

There are even more great features like the camera, the GPS locator (and tracker if you want that).  Internet access (with parental control) or not if you choose not to get the data package from ATT no internet access and you can still do all the downloading of content with a wifi connection.

With an iphone 3G or 3GS (if you can live with ATT) at $100 or less (refurbs too!) as an added line it's quite affordable as an added $10 line to the family plan. And for sure cheaper than a PSP or DS at $200 and when have you EVER seen a PSP or PS game for free, or even under $10!!! Or if you are the sort that wants the latest for you and your family the DROIDx or 4G iphone- would be the "bomb"

So before you buy your child a phone or before you buy them a hand held gaming unit, I suggest you consider the iPhone, iTouch or DROID as a great solution

Hope you find this useful.

Dad said it's OK to play game on the iPhone

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Which Video Game Console is best?

This is a question I get a lot from parents. My first question back is how old are your kids? Then I dig a bit more to find out more about what sort of games and levels they would allow their kids to play. As one of the senior members who brought Xbox to market for Microsoft I am of course a bit partial to it. But, I also spent a lot of time studying games, the marketing, the targets, etc of all the platforms.

So my advice is this - For young children or very casual players  - if they are going to play video games i would go for a Wii.  Games are geared towards easy access and control, simple to play, simple to understand, fun without being too frustrating and reading skills can be minimal. The controller is really not the key any longer with both Xbox and Playstation offering similar input devices and Xbox will take motion capture up a huge notch this November with Kinetic. We'll have to see how usable this product really is. But the idea is really exciting and if it catches on we can be sure that improvements and competition will follow.

For older kids to adults it really is a toss up between Xbox and Playstation - both have their set of unique games that can be the determining factor or your interest in online multi player gaming - It can be a model of get what your friends have if the focus is online multi player gaming. That said, LIVE on Xbox has been part of the dna of Microsoft's platform from day one and they have done a great job of building the environment and if online gaming is a leading factor in selection than the Xbox platform is probably the way to go.

On the DVD playback side - the nod goes to Playstation with its support of blue ray - but you have to be hooked up to a newer screen that can support these graphics otherwise you won't experience the graphic enhancements over regular DVD. If you are thinking of buying a Blue DVD player a PS3 is a great choice as it's a solid player and you essentially get the Hard drive, Gaming and Internet access functions thrown in for a few bucks.

Both Xbox360 and Playstation3 have fantastic graphics - HDMI connection to a HD TV is a must - think twice if you don't intend to hook these babies up to a newer screen as you won't get the value out of the price or the effort of the game developer. 

There are some unique PC/network connectivity features of Xbox that make it a great choice for the tech savvy purchaser - but I won't get into that here - better saved for another post.

Lifecyle may be something to think about - each manufacturer plans the lifecyle of each box a little differently and they have been getting longer with each new generation  - on average each platform generation lasts about 6-8 years - with the older platform phased out over 1-2 years after a new release. New game support really depends upon the game and the platform - for now PS2 has the best long tail support of new games as many game publishers still release PS2 games - this due in part to the huge amount of PS2 households out there - I would bet next time around the Xbox360 will see a very good long term game development support.

I could and may in the future take deeper dives into each platform - but I hope this overview give you a basis to make an informed decision for your own gaming console decision

So to recap -
young kids & casual players - Wii
Online fans - Xbox360 and LIVE
Blue Ray DVD/Movie goer - Playstation PS3 

Feedback and questions welcome -

It's OK to play - Dad said so

Friday, August 27, 2010

Video game time

Spending nearly a decade in the Video Games business sort of makes me an expert on the topic. As a dad I have a view that may not be shared by those still in the industry when it comes to amount of time allowed or the effects of gaming on children. Personally I love gaming, have spent many a sleepless night as the master chief or QB, etc. but when it comes to my kids I am pretty protective.

In our house we have all the machines, more games then we know about... but you would never know it by the amount of actual game time.

Game time, like TV time in our house is a privilege, you must EARN IT.  Reading time = Game time. But there is also other requirements like outdoor time.  It's something that works for our family and our kids. There are upper limits as well, no gaming on a school night, no T or M games in the evening and no T or M for those under 10. And M games are highly restricted. No online play without approval, etc.

We certainly see the impact of action and fighting games on them, not so much long term but they are much more animated and aggressive after a round of any fighting game or car crash.  Flushed cheeks, jumpy and a little stressed too.  All fine in short amounts but there has to be a limit.

Because we have these rules and we don't really shy away from the rules, the kids do not rely upon video gaming for entertainment. They play ball, ride; bikes, scooters, boards, build Lego's and a ton of other stuff before they even think about playing a game.

We do have a regular family video game night which we all enjoy.

Like so much about parenting it needs to be monitored and done in limited quantity.

It's OK to play... Dad said

Why I'm here and why you should care

I am a dad of three boys ages 5, 7 and 11. yes you read that right, three boys. All very unique all very much the product of their parents, friends, teachers, coaches and environment. We are a close family and the boys get along quite well - well for boys that is.

Personally I am a former consumer electronics industry senior guy, former Video game executive turned web
entrepreneur now trying to combine my experiences and passion for sports, exercise, technology and the love of my boys into something useful for myself and hopefully for others as well.

My goal is for this blog to be a journal and knowledge base of sorts for myself and anyone who cares to read it.  I'll try and focus on what I know and learn what I don't and share both.

thanks for reading,

Dad said it's OK