Saturday, March 27, 2010

Live Action Video Game Trailers are Awesome

Earlier today I witnessed what I thought was an amazing preview for a futuristic war movie destined for the big screen. I called my brother over to check the trailer out and he immediately quipped "What movie is this and when is it coming out?". My thoughts exactly until my jaw dropped at the end of the trailer when its revealed that its actually for Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier. A video game.

As an exercise in game promotion the only comparable trailer is from Halo ODST which utilizes the same live action filming techniques. I was definitely impressed by Halo's promotional movie but the Future Soldier trailer may just be the single best video game trailer I've ever seen. It does a fantastic job of creating a tense atmosphere in a war-torn city and pulls you right in with an explosive firefight. The trailer also hints at what kind of weapons and tech to expect on the battlefield and it even gives a reassuring nudge that the game mechanics will be grounded in reality despite being a futuristic shooter.

I realize that some people believe trailers like these are simply the result of slick corporate marketing designed to hype up a game while deftly concealing actual gameplay mechanics, and I believe its good to be skeptical. However, remember that Halo ODST aired their advertisement over Monday Night Football and its a safe bet that the Future Soldier trailer will also see time on prime-time television. These trailers aren't created to put one over on the consumer. Rather, they are made to appeal to a more mainstream audience and they even signal a more wide-spread acceptance of "hardcore" gamers. Judging from the success of Halo ODST and the recent movement of creating short films to accompany video games, expect this particular marketing trend to only get bigger.

Live Action Video Game Trailers

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FBI's Most Dangerous Internet Scams

Online scams continue to be a disparaging bane of the Internet and there seems to be no end in sight. As part of its annual wide-ranging look at Internet crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken a look at the top Internet scams of 2009 and the numbers aren't pretty. Online crime is indeed paying off for criminals to the tune of $559.7 million, up from $265 million in 2008. Furthermore, the agency's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a total of 336,655 complaints about online problems and scams, a 22.3% increase over 2008.

“The figures contained in [the FBI's] report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet. They are also developing increasingly sophisticated means of defrauding unsuspecting consumers. Internet crime is evolving in ways we couldn’t have imagined just five years ago,” said National White Collar Crime Center Director Donald Brackman in the report. Annual crime complaints reported to Internet Crime Complaint Center have increased 667.8% between 2001 and 2009.

From the report, here’s a look at the top Internet scams of 2009:

Fake Pop-up Ads for Anti-Virus Software

One truly notorious technique for getting people to download malicious files is through the use of fake pop-ups which entice users to click them and follow through with the instructions. One nasty version of this scam involves pop-up ads for rogue anti-virus software. Victims receive pop-ups warning them of the existence of threatening viruses and harmful programs that have been found activated on the victim’s computer. When victims click these fake pop-ups they are directed to purchase anti-virus software in order to repair their computers. However, often times this simply results in downloading actual malicious code such as viruses, Trojans, or key loggers directly onto their computers. Any attempts to contact these "anti-virus" software companies have proven unsuccessful. The IC3 advises users who see these unexpected antivirus pop-up warnings to shut down their browsers or their computers immediately and then run an antivirus scan as soon as possible. The FBI said that scammers have made more than $150 million in the past year alone using this method.


The online “hitman” scam is also a tried and true favorite for the dredge of the internet. These scammers threaten to kill recipients if they do not pay thousands of dollars to the sender. There are many indications that thousands of internet users are continuing to receive these emails. According to the FBI, two new versions of this scheme began appearing in Summer 2008. One version instructs the recipient to contact a telephone number contained in the e-mail and the second claims that the recipient or a loved one will be kidnapped unless a specified ransom is paid. Many recipients of the kidnapping threat were told to respond via e-mail within 48 hours and the scammer was to provide the location of the wire transfer five minutes before the deadline. If payment was not received within a 30 minute time frame bodily harm was threatened. What makes this scam truly believable is that often times the recipients personally identifiable information will be included in these hitman e-mails. Names, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers and are all used to make this scam appear more authentic giving the illusion that the sender has prior knowledge about the recipients location and personal life. Victims of these e-mails are typically instructed to send the money via Western Union or Money Gram to a receiver in the United Kingdom.

Economic Stimulus

A down economy creates the perfect opportunity for fraud and criminals waste no time in exploiting unknowing persons. This particular scam involves unsolicited calls regarding fraudulent “government stimulus money” for citizens who qualify. IC3 received numerous complaints from victims receiving unsolicited telephone calls with a recorded message about government stimulus money. The recorded voice message sounds akin to President Barrack Obama discussing government funds available for those who apply. Victims are warned that the offer is only available for a limited time and are instructed to visit the web sites or to receive their money. These sites require victims to enter personal information, after which they are directed to a second page to receive notification of eligibility. Upon completion of an online application and the payment of a $28 fee, victims are guaranteed to receive a large sum of stimulus money, but of course they never do.

Job Site

Going hand-in-hand with the economic scams are the at-home and survey scams related to online job sites. Regarding work-at-home scams, victims fall prey to fraudulent postings for a variety of positions ranging from personnel managers to government positions and even secret shoppers. Victims are lured into providing the fraudster with personal information with promises of above average hourly wages or several hundred dollars per week. Victims are promised the hardware and/or software equipment needed to perform the job and sometimes even go as far as purchasing the needed equipment from their "job prospects". These sites can be so convincing that victims are even scammed into cashing checks or money orders that they receive. In survey scams, fraudsters post ads for participation in a survey regarding employee/employer relationships during the current economic crisis. Those who apply are required to send a copy of their payroll check as proof of employment. After sending the copy, the victim never hears from the fraudster again. However, the employer’s account is drained of thousands of dollars by way of fraudulent checks.

Astrological Reading

A tried and true favorite. This familiar scam, which involves the victim receiving spam e-mails or pop-up message offering free astrological readings, has seen a recent resurgence due to the down economy and typically goes as follows. The victim is enticed into receiving a free astrological reading for simply providing their birth date and birth location. After receiving the reading, which is always incomplete, the victim is advised to purchase a full reading with the promise that something favorable is on the verge of happening. The victim pays for the full reading but never receives it, and all subsequent attempts to contact the astrologer turns up empty.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Possible Console Killer Arriving Mid June

OnLive Gaming Entertainment
Traditional console manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo could be endangered by an up and coming online videogame service called OnLive, which promises to shake up the contemporary business model. OnLive, which was started by WebTV founder Steve Perlman and former Eidos CEO Mike McGarvey, aims to launch a system over eight years in the works that will digitally distribute AAA games from publishers like Electronic Arts, Take-Two, Ubisoft, and Atari, at virtually the same time as those titles are released into retail. The system is designed to allow players to stream on-demand games at high frame rates and experience zero lag while on any Mac or PC regardless of how powerful, as long as they have the needed internet connection speed.

Rather than having consumers download the games directly, OnLive will host them all and stream them from a series of the high-end servers across the United States. Users will only need to download a 1 MB plug-in to have access. "The really hard problem," said Perlman "is how to get this to work reliably over consumer connections. [There are] packet drops, packets reordered, and other people using the connection." So, he explained, OnLive solves this issue by building error correction and error concealment directly into the data compression. "We don't have time to ask for a new packet, if the packet is lost or corrupted...We have to deal with what's coming in right then."

However, many have already criticized whether such a system can successfully operate under real-life conditions. The most obvious issue at hand is what if users are too far away from OnLive's servers? There would be no possible way that the performance would be as good as advertised. Perlman countered stating that the service is intended to work at full capacity as long as the customer is no more than 1,000 miles from a data center. And with data centers located in the San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Dallas, OnLive hopes to alleviate that particular problem. In addition the company will need to have a significant budget for infrastructure upgrades if OnLive hopes to keep its servers up to the task of handling an increasing amount of subscribers as well next generation games.

Of course, if performance degrades due to distance, incoming traffic, or hardware, OnLive's potential user base will be much smaller than what is needed to seriously challenge the console maker giants, or any other company that looks to deliver quality games over the internet. The upside of this infrastructure model, Perlman said, is that OnLive is somewhat future-proof, meaning that players won't have to upgrade anything. Instead, the upgrades will happen on their end, with the company regularly boosting the performance of their servers it uses to host and stream these games. This means that users will be able keep on playing games on their system years into the future.

OnLive is expected to launch June 17, 2010 with partners like EA, Ubisoft, and 2K Games but is quite tentative about which games ill be available. OnLive said that they will officially announce the list of launch titles before E3, but also let leak that "anticipated" games include Borderlands, Dragon Age Origins, Mass Effect 2, Assassin's Creed II, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and Metro 2033. The company also said that for their $14.95 a month fee, users will get a constantly expanding library of games and, in addition, the first 25,000 "qualified" gamers to sign up for the service will have this fee waived for the first three months. Right now, eyes are on OnLive to see if they will revolutionize the game industry.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Driver Cleaner Professional

As the name indicates, this simple and easy-to-use program allows you to eliminate all traces of previously installed and no longer needed drivers from your computer. An important fact to remember is as time passes by, your operating system will get cluttered with more and more garbage. Some of this garbage includes files remaining somewhere in your System folder which belong to drivers that are no longer used. In most cases these files will also have traces into your system's registry and initialization files and can affect stability and performance. I happened to come across this program when trying to solve a driver problem of my own.

I had just reformatted my computer after several years which called for the installation of brand new drivers the likes of which my system had not seen before. The problem arose while playing Call of Duty for the first time on my just-formatted-and-updated PC. Not 5 minutes into playing my frames per second dropped from a constant 125 to sub 20 causing horrendous and completely unplayable video lag. After 20 seconds of watching my screen stutter the problem would abruptly stop and return to normal, only to begin lagging again a few minutes later. This video lag would only occur while running graphically intensive programs (read video games) and needless to say, I had to fix this problem.

My first instinct was to re-install the same brand-new video driver again in case of an original bad install. This time I decided to test things out by playing Counter Strike 1.6, a very old game that my system should have no problems with. Unfortunately the exact same problem and symptoms returned. I then decided to download older drivers that I knew were compatible with my system. No luck, the problem returned. While searching for a solution I came across Driver Cleaner Professional and decided to give it a shot and try to save myself some formatting time. I removed all traces of my video drivers from my computer using DCP and proceeded to install my previously proven drivers. Success! I didn't even have to buy another video card!

Like I mentioned before, the interface of this program is extremely easy to use especially when you consider the one main task associated with this program: cleaning drivers. Driver Cleaner Pro is intended to deal with drivers revolving around sound cards, motherboards, and graphics cards from manufacturers such as ATI, Creative, Realtek, Nvidia, Logitech, SIS, 3Dfx, S3, as well as many others. The program is also compatible with Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 7.

Where all the magic happens is in the Cleaning Selection of the program which is mostly a drop down menu for the user to select the proper cleaning filter. After the selection has been made you can simply click the Start button to begin cleaning. If you would like to clean more than one item you can check the "Select multiple cleaning filters" button and then continue to add from the drop down menu for a one time go. The cleaning process takes around 30 seconds to 1 minute and depending on the complexity of the driver being cleaned, your computer may require a reboot in safe-mode. If this is the case, on-screen instructions are provided to help you along the way.

Remember, when working with programs like this backup should always be on your mind. Computer repair that goes wrong can certainly give new meaning to the words "better safe than sorry" and you'll be thanking yourself for taking those few minutes out of your time should the worst arise.