Casual Friday: BD-Live Goes Live

In our ongoing efforts to celebrate slack, I've found a few great new ways to kill what little free time you think you have this weekend and beyond.

A few weeks back, the PlayStation 3 received a Blu-ray firmware shot in the arm with BD-Live support. That means users can now enjoy all sorts of multimedia perks, such as multiplayer games, social networking, online store access, and extra video content. The first disc to show off the new features, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, came out this week. So what's my initial impression?

Getting to a BD-Live Menu takes about a minute (but feels longer). There, a pane offers downloadable previews and a couple of deleted scenes that you can watch--eventually.

The long load time is the result of the disc's having to download content from the Internet to the PlayStation 3's hard drive. So while the extras are nice (in this case three standard-def deleted/extended scenes), the wait isn't. It's a question of whether you can tolerate something that doesn't offer the instant gratification of streaming video from the Internet or, y'know, the disc you just bought.

Another thing dawned on me: After dropping in a bunch of BD-Live enabled discs, you'll need to start scouring the PlayStation 3's hard drive for excess files to delete. Great--one more device where I'll need to clear the cache! On the bright side, all of that content is sorted in an easy-to-flush BD content folder.

So, the technology's maiden voyage is a little shaky--and not too different from what HD DVD was doing (God rest its silicon soul). The good news here is that Walk Hard happens to be funny, and the disc comes stacked with bonus features.

The BD-Live features that sound really intriguing, such as gaming and social networking, are nowhere to be found on Walk Hard. That honor goes to next week's release, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. By all rights, it's a horrible movie, but it promises to come packed with a BD-Live game, "Aliens vs. Predators vs. You." (There's also a playable online version that you can check out now.) Considering how bad the movie is, maybe "AvPvY" should be an endurance game--see how long you can sit through the film. But I digress.

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Now, I know a little ways back PC World games blogger Matt Peckham showed how one Japanese developer is turning the Nintendo DS into a pro audio synthesizer, but I came across this slightly stranger--and less casual--application for the gaming device: a printer control. One hacker linked a printer carriage to his DS, and as he swipes the screen, it prints.

Dare I dream that one day I'll be able to print out the dialogue from my favorite Super Mario games? "It'sa me! Anda it'sa mah time to jump on-a mushrooms..." or something like that.

With all this system modding going on, I often find myself searching for the oddest homebrew gaming solutions. My travels this week took me to The Longhorn Engineer and his portable, wooden NES console. The NESp V3 looks like a Game Boy Micro--except that it's not micro, and termites might snack on it between games. Man, what someone will do to play the NES version of Contra again.

Of course, any story discussing system modding begins and ends with Benjamin J. Heckendorn (aka Ben Heck). This madman has a full stable of ingenious projects making gaming consoles behave in ways their creators never intended. You may have heard of his Xbox 360 notebook project. He's now taking on custom projects, such as a one-handed Xbox 360 controller. I'll take two, please.

Unreal Contest

Speaking of mods, if you know how to code your way out of an ASCII box, I might know a way for you to snag a million bucks. Intel and Epic Games (makers of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament III) have kicked off a new "Make Something Unreal" contest. In short, it encourages wannabe game makers to use the Unreal editor to create new mods (game modifications), levels, character models, weapons--you name it--to work with UT. Prizes and engine licenses will be awarded to the best submissions.

As a former judge, I always look forward to seeing what the community can dream up. Why, people created everything from puzzle games and racing sims to full face-lifts for Unreal Tournament 2004. Curious to check 'em out? All you need is a copy of UT 2004 (which, fortunately, you can buy dirt cheap).

Among my favorite mods of the bunch are the World War II combat game Red Orchestra--which won the last contest and has since moved on to store shelves--and the steampunk Wild West game Damnation, which is now being revamped for a retail release in the UT3 engine later this year. Keep your eyes peeled at places like for the latest Unreal Tournament III mods, too.

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (Sony PSP)

It's a slow release week for games, so I finally had time to sit down with a high-quality action role-playing game that came out recently, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. If you've played the other Final Fantasy games, you'll find a lot of fan service and backstory here, but for anyone else new to the series this still is a great stand-alone adventure. Oh, sure, the game will throw lots of terms at you and expect you to understand what's happening in the world around you, but it does try to give some context.

The graphics are really solid for the PSP, and the gameplay is anything but stale hacking-and-slashing. You can dodge out of harm's way and earn bonuses for using your head in combat. That's saying nothing of the solid story that will make your morning commute--or cross-country flight--melt away into the background.

As a guy who has a hard time sneaking in hard-core RPG sessions with my wife around, this is a great way to blow off a little steam.

Until next week...

Senior Writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.