Digital Fitness, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

Nintendo has offically announced that the Wii Fit will be launched on May 19th for $89.99. That’s $10 more and one day earlier than we predicted. For those of you living in New York, from April 18 through 20,

“[The] first 1,000 consumers who place a $5 deposit for Wii Fit at the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Plaza will receive a limited edition Wii Fit T-shirt featuring the image and reproduced autograph of legendary Nintendo video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto.”

With the announcement of the Wii Fit release date, Amazon have started to take pre-orders. Interestingly, Amazon claim a release date of the 21st May but the press release says “Available at Nintendo World store starting on May 19”. Its possible it will be in the Nintendo store a couple of days before its general release.

The Wii Fit has sold 1.4 million copies in Japan and demand is expected to be strong when its released in the states. Amazon have even placed a limit on the number you can buy:

“As you may know, the Nintendo Wii Fit is in great demand, and there are shortages of this product across the U.S. In an effort to provide as many customers as possible with the opportunity to purchase a Wii Fit, we are limiting the total number of Wii Fits that can be purchased. As a result, each household may only purchase up to 3 Nintendo Wii Fit units total.”

For us Europeans, the Wii Fit release date is that much closer. The UK release date is the 25th April for £69.99. Looking at the price, it seems that UK and European customers are once again getting screwed. With an exchange rate of $2 = £1 the US price of $89.99 looks great values compared to the UK price of £69.99.

In Australia, the Wii Fit release date will be the 8th May.

ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dore Sport, Dyslexia Treatment, Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit

One of the short comings of the Dore program and all movement based treatments is the low level of feedback you get when doing the exercises. Without someone watching you and checking the instructions for an exercise, its very hard to tell if you are doing them correctly. This is a major problem for people who cannot tell left hand from right and could easy spend ten minutes doing an exercise without noticing they are doing it completely wrong. Of course having someone to help is ideal but for adults doing the course that isn’t always possible and for children, it demands a great deal of time from other members of the family.

Its partly because of this problem that I’m interested in how technology can help deliver training programs like Dore. Computers or games consoles are the perfect way to monitor the exercises and provide feedback so that the exercisers knows they are doing it correctly. This reduces wasted time, improves the rate of progress and most importantly, reduces the demand on the rest of the family. This all adds up to a more effective treatment with a lower drop-out rate.

One technological development that has a lot promise is the slowly emerging 3D cameras. These are not strictly speaking 3D cameras, instead they use a variety of methods to identify depth and distance. This information is then passed back to the computer which can use it to workout if objects are moving towards it or away from it. Something that is very hard to do with a traditional camera.

The best demonstration of this technology I can find is this Second Life demonstration. Second Life (SL) is a virtual reality world shared by many thousands of people. Using a mouse and keyboard the players moves their avatar through the world but in this demo, a 3D camera is used to track the players movements.

It is not hard to make the leap from this demonstration to a computer program that tracks how well the person does does an exercise. We are already seeing this sort of approach in Wii Fit. More demonstrations of the technology are available from the makers of the camera. Here, an on-screen avatar mimics the movement of a real person and in this one, the player is throwing and catching a virtual ball. More are available from 3DVSystems.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Sony PSP

The 10th Annual Independent Games Festival has been a treasure trove of rhythm games and examples of how games could be included in education.

One of the award winning games is Audiosurf. Its not strictly a rhythm game but it music is an integral part of the game play. Its a simple premise, steer a spacecraft down a twisting, turning track collecting some coloured blocks whilst avoiding others. The twist is that the race track is generated from the music you choose to play from your MP3 collection. So you can have a fast and furious race course by selecting some thumping guitar or a slow, easy route if you choose a crooner like Frank Sinatra. What’s more, every time you race, the track and your score is uploaded to a server on the net and you can compare your music and your scores with others around the world.

Audiosurf introduces a couple of interesting concepts. It allows the user to completely control the level of difficulty through their song selection. A recording of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will be vastly easier than anything by Motorhead. To see an example of this, watch this video of Audiosurf for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The beginning is slow and mellow but later on (about 4:15 mins Wayne’s World fans) it kicks into serious headbanging guitar and everything gets much harder.

The other interesting aspect of selecting your own music is the possibility of Mozart Effect. I don’t refer to the much hyped and oversold Mozart Effect range of products but the more general principal than music, particularly complex classical music, has in the neurological development of children. There is good, but not overwhelming evidence, that music can help calm and mentally stimulate children. I’m willing to be that if the Mozart Effect is real, it will be enhanced if the children are exposed to it as part of an interactive game.

Winner of the Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival was Synaesthete. In this free-to-download PC game, the player explores an abstract landscape populated by monsters and other dangers. To destroy the creatures you can fire a variety of attacks at them. The twist being that to attack them, you need to press keys in time with the backing music. What sets this game apart from rhythm games like Guitar Hero, is the level of choice the player has. With Guitar Hero, to score point you must play all the notes in time with the music. In Synaesthete, you can choose which notes to play, e.g. just the back beat, and your choice will effect which attacks you make. You can also simply explore the enviroment, avoiding the monsters.

What sets Synaesthete and Patapon (which we covered a couple of weeks ago), apart is that the rhythmic aspect of the game have been shifted from being the aim of the game to a simple game mechanic. The difference between these two points is subtle but important. In a traditional rhythm game, you score points by playing in time with the music so getting good at the rhythm is everything. When rhythm is reduced to a mechanic, the aim of the game is to explore the level, defeat the enemy tribe or rescue the princess. To do this the player has to learn rhythmic skills but these are combined with other skills and tactics in order to achieve the game’s objective.

Reducing the rhythmic element to the game to a mechanic makes the game more appealing to those with poor rhythmic skills. To use an analogy, if you asked people to learn to climb a cliff for the sake of climbing a cliff, some people would set out and learn how to climb because it looks fun. However, most will simply walk away because the reward for all that effort of learning to climb is not worth it. But, if you told people that hidden on the cliff face were a variety of prizes: money, computer games, cars etc, then far more people will learn to climb because of the rewards are worthwhile. Even people with a fear of heights would learn to climb if the prizes are ones that appeal to them. Climbing has now become a way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself.

This distinction is lost on many educational game makers. Take for for example the traditional game of Hangman. In this the objective is to spell / guess a word and it certainly helps develop language skills. But those with weak language skills, who would most benefit from it, will be put off. They are being asked to learn to climb, simply for the sake of climbing a cliff. To reach those who most need this help, the spelling aspect must be something they learn on the way to a goal that interests the child. For more why and how games attract and keep players, see Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun. For an strange looking word game (its not clear exactly how it works) from the IGF have a look at Poesysteme.

The next rhythm game from the IGF is Cinnamon Beats. Its a puzzle game more than a rhythm game but rhythm is a key ingredient. It is not available yet and hard to describe as I’ve not played it but it involves bouncing balls off musical instruments and other objects so that they make the right noise at the right time.

One last rhythm game is Fretnice. I cannot find much about it other than the game is controlled using the guitar’s from Guitar Hero. The limited blurb suggests its a rhythm game where you are “playing the game as if it was a rock song”. Watch this trailer:

Finally, there is Crayon Physics Deluxe. Its a puzzle game using 2d physics similar to Phun except whereas Phun is just a sandbox for experimentation, Crayon Physics is a game with an objective. It looks a great way to teach problem solving skills to young children.

All these games show the possibility of teaching skills through inventive game play. The holy grail is to develop a game that teaches something obviously useful (e.g. spelling) in such a way that even those with poor language skills will want to keep playing it long after the lesson has finished.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo Wii

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the Wii Head Tracking hack that uses the Nintendo Wii and $10 to create a prototype 3D display that would normally costs $10,000’s. Mr Lee was also responsible for this amazing demo of foldable displays, also using the Wii.

Johnny Lee recently gave a demonstration at the future technology TED conference. In it demonstrates an interactive whiteboard created using the Wii. This sort of technology normally costs $3000 dollars and is outside the price range of most schools. With Mr Lee’s hack, they can have it for a $200, and many schools are doing it. His software has been downloaded half a million times and he has received all sorts of feedback from teachers and pupils.

Watch the video, its five minutes of a smart man showing off world-changing technology in a way that anyone can understand.

Digital Fitness, Web/Tech

Project Tomorrow, have conducted a survey into a wide range of subjects relating to education. Talking to children, teachers and parents about how schools are preparing children for the future, focusing heavily on technology.

Part of the survey is on Educational Gaming, an area where I think there is a huge potential. It is also an area that is notorious for bad software. For educational gaming (or brain training or digital fitness) to work, it must be fun but most educational games are dire. For games to teach effectively they must use the same methods and have the same investment in development as a best selling game, but I digress.

The survey found that only 3% of elementary school kids don’t play computer games in one form or another. When asked about the value of gaming technologies within learning, students in grades 6-12 responded with :

Games make it easier to understand difficult concepts – 51%

I would be more engaged in the subject – 50%

I would learn more about the subject – 46% (56% of students in K-2 chose this as their #1 reason)

It would be more interesting to practice problems – 44%

Indicating that children what to learn through games because they understand how games allow them to explore, to practice and develop skills at their own pace and in their own way.

Though educational games are not universally supported, over 50% of teachers want to use games more and 11% said they currently use games.

Source: 21st Century Students Deserve a 21st Century Education [ PDF ]. The section about games is on page 4.

Digital Fitness, Dyslexia, Music, Rhythm Games

An interesting example of how technology is changing music, except this one is aim at small children. Imprint Talk

Japanese magazine for the first graders, “Shougaku Ichinensei“, covers popular Mangas and some educational stuff. Every issue, there is a special supplement to the magazine, but the latest issue’s supplement was way too cool “Finger Piano”.

The original article has video of a child trying it but more impressive is this video of an adult using it to play When The Saints Go Marching In.

The quality of sound the device makes is poor but this is a toy given away on the cover of a magazine. For $10 or so it would be possible to manufacture a device with better sound and include an LCD display that teaches the user how to play a tune.

Such a device would help dyslexic children and other children with sound sensitivities who can be overwhelmed by typical classroom teaching. Even one-on-one teaching can be futile because of the demands it places in the child. To play a piano the child has to listen to what the teacher is saying, find the right notes on the keyboard, press them in time and in the right order, and listen to the sound of the notes they have just played. All this is needs to happen at the same time. A difficult task for someone with an underdeveloped cerebellum.

A device that allowed the child to learn one their own, at the own pace, and gives feedback or score as to how well they are doing would make learning music so much easier.

Digital Fitness

Its a very exciting time in games development with lots of new ways of players to interact with their computers. It could also be an exciting time in education if we take the lessons learned from games and apply them to teaching skills. There are hints for the future of learning like the Wii and Autism and the development of new technology such as mind reading game controllers.

Another example of where this technology can be found in this Honda Test Drive. Its a very poorly laid-out web site and the video isn’t entirely clear but its worth a look. It shows the Sudden Motion Sensor built into a Apple laptop being used to control a motorbike. Tipping the laptop left, tilts the bike to the left and vice versa.

Its a very simple proof of technology it is just another example of how movement is replacing button pressing for playing games.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Rhythm Games

Guitar Hero on the Nintendo DS

It seems the Nintendo DS was made for music. Not only does it have its own classic Korg MS-10 Synth but it will soon have Guitar Hero. In case you’ve missed it, Guitar Hero is a rhythm game with special controllers shaped like guitars. Play the game is somewhere between play the air guitar and play a real guitar. Its great fun with friends and a great way of learning rhythm.

Full details can be found on Guitar Hero Comes to DS

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS

The classic Korg MS-10 synthesizer is the drum machine behind tons of music from the A Flock of Seagulls to Goldfrapp. Now a version of it is going to be released on the Nintendo DS.

This hasn’t much to do with training your brain and body but it clearly shows the potential for these sort of devices as music makers. Converting this technology into a game that teaches rhythm and basic music skills is certainly possible. These skills, or their lack, have a connection to learning difficulties and an accessible game targeting them could be be one more weapon in the education system’s arsenal.

Source: DS-10 to Make Whole World Sing