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Top 10 Games of 2008
2008 was an amazing year for videogames.
With the next generation of gaming hardware hitting its stride, the hits came fast and furious: Nintendo shipped its long-awaited Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii, Rockstar Games finally gave us Grand Theft Auto IV and Sony got its make-your-own platform game LittleBigPlanet out the door.
Perhaps just as important, independent games shifted from quirky distraction to viable business model. With digital distribution taking off on all three consoles, small teams crafting small, innovative games captured more and more of our gaming dollars.
Still, big-budget blockbusters dominate our list of the year's top games. Here are the titles Wired.com reviewers enjoyed the most in 2008.
10. No More Heroes: Best Game That Just Barely Made It Here
Left: This Wii game squeaks into 10th place largely on the strength of its well-directed and very funny story about an otaku doofus pro wrestler who gets duped into being a lightsaber assassin.
Swinging the Wiimote to chop off dudes' heads is exhilarating. Doing odd jobs to earn money in between assassination attempts is significantly less so. But it's such a hilarious and occasionally brilliant experience that No More Heroes' flaws prove forgivable.
Review: No More Heroes, Rez HD Sport Serious Style
9. Left 4 Dead: Best Multiplayer Game
It might not have been the homage to George Romero's zombie flicks that some gamers were looking for, but Left 4 Dead's cooperative multiplayer action made for a concerted adrenaline rush. This Xbox 360 and PC game features an AI Director that adjusts the pacing of the zombie-filled action sequences depending on how your team of four desperate survivors is faring, so as to keep the tension at perfect pitch — and make sure that no two gameplay sessions are the same.
Review: Left 4 Dead Delivers Definitive Team Zombie War
8. Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Best Game by Nintendo Fans, for Nintendo Fans
As a game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a divisive experience — players either love its four-player, pummel-your-friends-to-oblivion gameplay, or they can't stand the random chaos that every match quickly devolves into. But as a tribute to a quarter-century of Nintendo culture, this Wii game is an unqualified masterpiece.
Its developer filled the disc with characters, fighting arenas, music and bonus content pulled from practically every game the company has ever produced. One example: Brawl contains a whopping 314 music tracks to smash by.
Review: Smash Bros. Brawl Fun for All
7. Persona 4: Best Swan Song
We had a lot of great times together, PlayStation 2, but you're not as much fun to be around as you used to be. You've still got one or two hits in you, though, as evidenced by Persona 4.
Japanese towns possessed by demons were never so much fun: This mammoth RPG successfully blends going to school and making friends with taming grotesque creatures to fight other grotesque creatures for you. Here's hoping the sequel lands on PS3, though.
Review: Stylish Persona 4 Is RPG Perfection
6. Boom Blox: Best Use of Irony
Legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg teams up with Electronic Arts, and his first game is ... a multiplayer Wii game where you throw baseballs at towers of blocks? Amazingly, this unlikely project turned out to be a polished, addictive critical success and a big hit at parties. Meanwhile, Spielberg's more traditional project — the cinematic, serious adventure — is now rumored to be in jeopardy after EA layoffs. Whodathunkit?
Review: Spielberg's Boom Blox Rocks
5. Grand Theft Auto IV: Best Reinvention of the Wheel
The first high-definition entry into the world's best-known series of violent crime games was going to sell millions of copies no matter what. But Rockstar didn't just slap a new coat of paint on Grand Theft Auto: It overhauled almost every aspect of the gameplay, making it much more palatable.
Finally, the gameplay missions were as polished as the story line — which itself was even better this time around. Most gamers still probably just ignored the story and went on hours-long killing sprees, but there's no accounting for taste.
Grand Theft Auto IV Delivers Deft Satire of Street Life
4. Fallout 3: Best Horrific Vision of a Shattered Future
Think of Fallout 3 as a dry run. The bombs are going to drop eventually, and when they do, as you emerge from your shelter into a radioactive nightmare world populated by wild packs of giant, roving cockroaches, you'll be thankful that you spent 40 hours practicing.
Will you keep your moral compass and be humanity's savior, or will you just start taking everything that isn't nailed down? This Xbox, PS3 and PC game lets you rehearse for your post-apocalyptic life.
Review: Engrossing Fallout 3 Mutates a Classic Series
3. Professor Layton and the Curious Village: Best (and Worst) English Accents
When you solve one of Professor Layton's many logic puzzles, you're sometimes rewarded with a congratulatory line from the top-hatted teacher in his smooth English-gentleman lilt. And sometimes, feral child Luke shrieks at you.
The uneven voice work is the only sore spot in this collection of lateral-thinking puzzles organized around a charming, animated story line. Don't let the cartoony look fool you: Layton's brain teasers will have you stumped for hours. This is the Nintendo DS game that should be in everyone's library.
Review: Professor Layton, the Smarty Pants' Perfect Game
2. Braid: Best Indie Game
We've had a lot of fun this year with inexpensive downloadable games like Audiosurf and World of Goo. But this Xbox 360 title is the best example of why the independent games movement is important.
Braid isn't just a quirky puzzle game: It's a subtle, emotional story that hits with real impact. This is only possible because its creator, Jonathan Blow, was able to control every aspect of the game's production. Had Braid been cooked up at a big publisher, it surely would not have possessed such a strong authorial voice — something that videogames need much more of.
Review: Braid Innovates and Satisfies
1. LittleBigPlanet: Game of the Year
User-generated content — levels, characters and the like produced by gamers — was perhaps 2008's biggest buzzword, but no game pulled it off as well as LittleBigPlanet.
Thanks to the title's charming design and intuitive interface, PlayStation 3 owners are bending over backward to produce new action-game levels to be enjoyed by the rest of the world. Spore's player-made creatures and Guitar Hero's custom songs aren't nearly as fascinating as LittleBigPlanet's never-ending carnival of amusement.
First Impressions: LittleBigPlanet's Ever-Expanding World of Wonder
For more gaming action, check out the following lists of 2008's top videogames, by console:
Best of 2008: Top 5 Multiplatform Games
Best of 2008: Top 5 Xbox 360 Games
Best of 2008: Top 5 PC Games
Best of 2008: Top 5 Wii Games
Best of 2008: Top 5 PlayStation 3 Games
Best of 2008: Top 5 Portable Games
The Top Gadgets of 2008
What a year it's been for gadgets. We saw the second coming of the Jesus phone, the toppling of Canon as the premier DSLR maker and the first short wobbly steps of the Android OS. We also saw the fall of the economy, which may or may not have jump-started the rise of the netbook. Hey, we're gadgetheads here, not economists.
You've got to admit, this has been a turbulent 366 days for technology. But as we've seen a torrent of gizmos come blasting through the Lab, there are a few that stand out above the rest. Here we list our favorite pieces of technology that were tested, released or announced in twenty-ought-eight.
10. Analog: The Herman Miller Embody Chair
Left: It may not have an accelerometer. Or an OLED. Or lasers. Or image-stabilization. You can't even plug it in to an electric socket. But the Herman Miller Embody chair has got its back (and yours) covered with meticulous engineering. The thing is adjustable to Asberger's levels of obsession; controls exist to cradle your lumbar, hips and neck. Plus the multilayered seat absorbs even the most microscopic shifts in weight, cupping your derriere no matter how much (or little) you move. It's the greatest breakthrough in ass-to-comfort technology since, well, the Aeron chair. : Photo by David Clugston
When was the last time you strapped on a set of noise-canceling headphones, turned on some "Straight Outta Compton," and got smacked in the head by deep, resonant bass? Never? That's because (until recently) no set of noise-canceling cans could bring the low-end thump. Leave it to a collaboration between the masters of sound at Monster Cable and the meticulous master of hip-hop, Dr. Dre, to produce a set of headphones like the Beats. These black and red over-the-ear 'phones feature a customized 40mm driver and a souped-up digital amplifier that sends bass deeper than the Marianas Trench directly into your cabesa. :
Honda's hybrid has pedigree — the Insight has been around since 1999 — but Toyota's goofy-looking Prius has been the go-to car for smug environmental apologists. That's about to change. The 2010 Insight will bring great mileage to the masses with an expected selling price of $18,500 — a full $3,500 less than the entry-level Prius.
But cheapness alone isn't enough to earn a car a place in our top 10 lineup. The 2010 Insight also features a dashboard display straight out of Battlestar Galactica, making heavy use of ambient cues to keep your right foot light on the go-pedal.
In fact, the only thing we don't like is the shell. The Prius was a hit partly because it looked so different on the road. The Insight looks almost exactly the same as Toyota's green-mobile. But then, maybe that's the point.
2008 saw a rash of cheap, YouTube-ready camcorders that could be had for less than a couple of hundred bucks. Mostly, these one-shot wonders were crap. Not the Zi6. Infused with Kodak imaging pedigree, this pleasantly plump handheld shoots with sharper detail and richer color than any other cam of its ilk. (The popular Flip Mino HD is prettier, but its videos look far worse.) Couple that with a dead-simple setup and you have to wonder why anyone would shell out thousands of dollars for a camcorder that will almost undoubtedly be used to upload vacation videos to the web. :
As with any tech involving lasers, you'll need to have a Bond-villain-size bank account to afford it. But once you've dropped your $7,000 and got it back to your underground lair, you'll see what all the fuss was about. The Mitsubishi LaserVue has twice as much color as any other TV due to the lasers providing the light. The size of the rear-projection TV is equally ambitious: Sizes start at a whopping 50 inches.
But unlike a real Bond villain, you won't be destroying the world; you'll be saving it. The LaserVue uses a third less power than rival sets and the lasers inside are long-lasting. Besides, what else do you need to know? It has frakkin' lasers!
: Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com
Back in May, we described the Roku Netflix box as "Just Shy of Totally Amazing," and it's easy to see why. The tiny, plain-looking box sits next to your TV and gives you on-demand access to thousands of movies. You have to be a Netflix subscriber, but if you are, you can watch as many Hollywood blockbusters as you can take.
The $100 box keeps getting better, too, with HD movies expected soon. In fact, with all the big players (Microsoft, Hulu) racing to get onto your TV via the internet, it seems the geek-friendly DVD-by-mail company was planning this right from the beginning.
: Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
The Chumby brought the friendlier face of the internet into our homes, and it did it while disguised as a teddy bear for the 21st century. It took the concept of the widget and turned it into an easy-to-use hub for home entertainment.
The $180 touchscreen and leather pet is a gateway to streaming-music services, weather reports, news and video. Better still, the soft little box is based on Linux, so you can bend Chumby to your will, serving up anything it can suck in via its WiFi connection. As a bonus, you can even hook up an iPod. Time to nail shut the pet door and decommission the dog.
: Photo: Max Buck/Wired.com
Manufacturers squeezed off a lot of cellphones in 2008. But all of them lacked something. The iPhone 3G? Atrocious battery life. The BlackBerry Storm? Half-baked software. The G1? Great OS shackled with borderline embarrassing hardware. But the E71 is different. The gorgeously designed handset also comes with a fully developed operating system (replete with a dedicated user community), two separate home screens, a QWERTY keyboard where touch typing was not some half-remembered fever dream, plus a battery life that could be measured in days, not hours. Any wonder why we ditched our iPhone and picked up one of these babies? :
In 2008, Nikon staged a comeback worthy of Rocky Balboa. With the new flagship, full-frame D3, the see-in-the-dark D700 and the brand-new medium-format wannabe D3X, Nikon has been roundly kicking arch-rival
The biggest surprise, though, was the D90, the first digital SLR to shoot video — and high-def, 720p video to boot. The advantage of relatively cheap, interchangeable SLR lenses together with a Hollywood-style shallow focus not available on even high-end consumer camcorders made the Nikon a must-have for budget movie makers. And that's before we even get to the 12.3-megapixel still images it takes. Sure, Canon answered back with its own hi-def, 1080p camera, the 5D MkII, but Canon's model costs almost three times as much.
: Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
Netbooks: Was there a PC maker (with the exception of Apple) that resisted cultivating one of these tiny titans in 2008? For the most part, the netbook "revolution" has meant a tidal wave of underpowered, mediocre plastic boxes. But it was the MSI Wind that separated itself from the chaff. Sure, we tested other netbooks that performed faster, or had prettier chassis, or came loaded with more memory. But the Wind gets the top prize for two reasons: It's an incredibly balanced rig that also happens to be highly hackable. Prompted by a dedicated (and slightly rabid) Wind user community, our own Brian Chen and Charlie Sorrell both managed to supplant the Wind's Linux-based OS with Apple's OS X on their respective machines.
Dec. 22, 1882: Looking at Christmas in a New Light
1882: An inventive New Yorker finds a brilliant application for electric lights and becomes the first person to use them as Christmas tree decorations.
Edward H. Johnson, who toiled for Thomas Edison’s Illumination Company and later became a company vice president, used 80 small red, white and blue electric bulbs, strung together along a single power cord, to light the Christmas tree in his New York home. Some sources credit Edison himself with being the first to use electric lights as Christmas decorations, when he strung them around his laboratory in 1880.
Sticking them on the tree was Johnson’s idea, though. It was a mere three years after Edison had demonstrated that light bulbs were practical at all.
The idea of replacing the Christmas tree’s traditional wax candles — which had been around since the mid-17th century — with electric lights didn’t, umm, catch fire right away. Although the stringed lights enjoyed a vogue with the wealthy and were being mass-produced as early as 1890, they didn’t become popular in humbler homes until a couple of decades into the 20th century.
A general distrust of using electricity for indoor lighting, still widespread in the late 19th century, kept the popularity of Christmas lights low. They were most commonly seen ringing the seasonal display windows of big-city department stores.
In 1895, President Grover Cleveland (a New York stater himself) supposedly ordered the family’s White House tree festooned with multicolored electric lights. If he did, it barely moved the needle on the popularity scale. Even so, General Electric began selling Christmas-light kits in 1903.
Another New Yorker is generally credited with popularizing indoor electric Christmas lights. According to the story, Albert Sadacca, whose family sold ornamental novelties, became a believer in 1917 after reading the account of a bad fire caused by a candlelit tree bursting into flames.
Whether or not that’s the reason, Sadacca began selling colored Christmas lights through the family business. By then, the public’s distrust of electricity had diminished. So the timing was right, and sales took off.
With his brothers, Sadacca later started a company devoted solely to the manufacture of electric Christmas lights. He succeeded in roping a few competitors into a trade association, which proceeded to dominate the Christmas-light industry into the 1960s.
Scientists Hack Cellphone to Analyze Blood, Detect Disease, Help Developing N...
LOS ANGELES — A new MacGyver-esque cellphone hack could bring cheap, on-the-spot disease detection to even the most remote villages on the planet. Using only an LED, plastic light filter and some wires, scientists at UCLA have modded a cellphone into a portable blood tester capable of detecting HIV, malaria and other illnesses.
Blood tests today require either refrigerator-sized machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or a trained technician who manually identifies and counts cells under a microscope. These systems are slow, expensive and require dedicated labs to function. And soon they could be a thing of the past.
UCLA researcher Dr. Aydogan Ozcan images thousands of blood cells instantly by placing them on an off-the-shelf camera sensor and lighting them with a filtered-light source (coherent light, for you science buffs). The filtered light exposes distinctive qualities of the cells, which are then interpreted by Ozcan's custom software. By analyzing the cell types present in a much larger sample, a more accurate diagnosis can be made in a matter of minutes. No more sending blood away to a lab and waiting days or weeks for the results.
Click through the gallery for Wired.com's exclusive first look at Ozcan’s hacked cellphone devices.
Left: This off-the-shelf Sony Ericsson cellphone has been modded into a LUCAS imager. LUCAS is a selective acronym for Lensfree Ultrawide-ﬁeld Cell-monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging.
The bulge on the back is the filtered light source that illuminates the sample. This low-cost hack could revolutionize disease detection in the field.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
The case of this still-functional cellphone has been sliced, and a hinge has been added. Just open the back of the phone, insert the blood-sample slide over the CCD sensor, and take a picture.
The filtered-light source (blue) on this working prototype is the key to analyzing the cell types accurately. It reveals distinguishing characteristics about each cell, providing data for Ozcan to process.
Ozcan is currently seeking a manufacturer for his devices. Once mass-produced, portable LUCAS imagers could change health care around the world, especially in parts of the planet that don’t have access to medical laboratories.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
This prototype consists of an off-the-shelf webcam. The cam has been dissected and placed into a new case. Because it is just a peripheral, it requires connection to a computer to capture images.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
Here, Ozcan's custom software runs on a desktop computer and analyzes a blood sample. The software will eventually run on the device that holds the image sensor, making it a stand-alone blood-testing device.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
This large CMOS sensor board is used to develop an industrial version of the cellphone LUCAS device. This version would be a nonportable, high-throughput machine that would reside in medical labs.
Thanks to its much larger sensor size, this LUCAS device is able to scan many more cells at a time. The final machine may eventually replace much larger and more expensive medical laboratory devices.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
This diagram shows the converted cellphone and an image it made (inset). Despite the small sensor size, it can scan a relatively large amount of cells.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
The large sensor prototype is illuminated with a yellow light source. Different-colored light sources can be used to generate more information about the cells they are imaging. This works because different wavelengths of light create different patterns around different cell types.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
A red light source illuminates a large-sensor-prototype board. The light source can be tuned to a variety of wavelengths from infrared to ultraviolet. Using a tunable light source is practical in a lab setting, but field-portable devices would likely have one or more fixed-wavelength light sources.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com
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No Dorky Dome, This Bike Helmet Goes From Glam to Gilligan
Protect your head and your ego with this bike lid from Yakkay. Customize for the look you want.
Attack of the Bush Shoe-Toss Games Continues
A surge of cool and creative stuff commemorates an Iraqi journalist's "shoes heard round the world."
The Huffington Post Slammed for Content Theft
A alternative weekly in Chicago discovered that the new media site The Huffington Post has been re-printing concert previews from their site and others. The discovery raises questions about how the successful upstart links to and takes excerpts from other sites around the net. How much copying is too much copying?
Severed Cables Cause Net Loss for 14 Countries
Three key cables beneath the Mediterranean Sea are cut again. The trunks deliver internet service between the Middle East, Europe and parts of Asia, all of which is being rerouted.
Surfers Rejoice: Some Extreme Waves Getting Bigger
Some of the biggest waves in the Pacific Northwest are getting even bigger, according to research presented Friday at the American Geophysical Union meeting. Scientists don't know why the waves have grown, or if wave heights in other parts of the world are increasing, but the big waves are a potential threat to coastal areas.
Alt Text Video: The Strange Story of Santa
Lore Sjöberg tracks the evolution of the jolly old elf, from the monstrous incarnations of yore to the gleaming giftbot of the 22nd century.
No ISP Filtering Under New RIAA Copyright Strategy
The RIAA says it is ending its five-year litigation campaign that has targeted 30,000 individuals for online file sharing of copyrighted music. The good news is that the RIAA, for now, is not demanding ISPs to filter peer-to-peer networks. The bad news is that copyright scofflaws face losing their internet service.
HD Eruption Video Gives Clues to How Volcanoes Work
A high-definition video of an eruption shows new details of how volcanoes work. Scientists are learning about the mechanics of eruptions by connecting a frame-by-frame analysis of the video with seismic recordings.
Four Mobile App Stores Battle for User and Developer Attention
Apple's App Store debut in July set the bar for other handset app platforms. Google Android, Palm and BlackBerry field their own versions of a centralized stage for phone applications that will make phones more attractive to users. We rate them all.
RIAA to Stop Suing Music Fans, Cut Them Off Instead
After five years of lawsuits against music fans, the RIAA will have ISPs throttle the internet connections of alleged infringers. The strategy could allow the RIAA to circumvent a legal system that has hindered its anti-sharing efforts.
Elegant Teapot Lets You See the Leaves Unfold, Infuse the Water
Designed to age gracefully, this heirloom-quality pot looks like a low-lying modernist sculpture and brews to the exact color depth you want.
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