Game Rooms Bring Entertainment Home for the Holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2005
This year, instead of putting an exotic vacation or flat screen television on your wish list, consider joining one of the latest trends in home entertainment -- build a game room.
Linda Prugh, owner of West Coast Darts and Billiards in Vancouver, says thanks to the renewed popularity of game rooms, business has never been better.
"Usually we're slow in the summer," she says. "But not this year. We were busy."
Prugh says she believes a national trend toward nesting and investing in the home is to thank. Like spa style bathrooms or gourmet kitchens, game rooms offer a top-of-the-line experience right in your very own home.
Locate Your Space
The first step in designing your game room is to decide where it will go.
"You start with the space," Prugh says. "That will determine what types of games you can have, and what other accessories you can add."
While bonus rooms, converted garages, and finished basements are all prime game room locations, Prugh says more and more homeowners are putting games front and center.
"A lot of people are actually converting their formal living rooms into game rooms," she says. "In many homes it's space that rarely gets used, especially if there's a family room as well. And living rooms are usually one of the largest rooms in the house, which makes them perfect for game rooms."
Thinking through the space requirements of each game is critical before you shop, Prugh says.
"Not allowing enough room around games is probably the most common mistake people make," she says. "It isn't fun if it's not functional."
Don't have a room to dedicate solely to games? No problem. Many pool and card tables easily convert into attractive dining room sets when not in use. Darts and wall games can easily tuck out of sight when not in use.
Choose Your Games
Once you've nailed down where the games will go and how much space is available, it's time to choose which games to include.
Prugh says most people start with one "central" game, such as a pool table, and surround that with smaller games such as darts, card tables, arcade-style games, or pinball machines.
"For family-style entertainment, pool tables are by far the most popular choice," she says. "Up to four people can play at the same time, and they look great, too."
Pool tables also offer versatility, she says. Convertible table tops can quickly turn the surface into a ping pong or card table.
Still, a pool table isn't for everyone, Prugh says. So if you aren't a fan, don't feel obligated to include billiards.
Other "central game" options include air hockey, shuffleboard, ping pong, foosball, or bumper pool.
"The most important thing is to choose games you and your family like, and will use," she says.
Think Long Term
Prugh cautions customers against buying the first piece of game equipment they see.
"You can go as expensive or as inexpensive as you like in your game room set-up," she says. "But what you don't want to do is buy a game and then have to replace it because it falls apart or breaks after just a short time."
Prugh urges customers to think long-term when buying game equipment. For example, always choose slate, not composition, tops for pool tables, she recommends.
"No matter what anyone says, composition products will warp over time," she says. "And once that happens, the table is ruined."
Also shop for high quality felt (Prugh recommends 22 ounce weight), good bumpers, and quality balls, cues, and accessories.
Likewise, avoid foosball tables with printed paper surfaces that wear off quickly or stiff handles that are difficult to move and spin.
"After all, if you're going to play foosball, you want to really play," she says, sending a ball sailing into the goal with a flick of her wrist to illustrate the point. "You might save a few hundred dollars on a less expensive table, but over time you'll find yourself frustrated when it doesn't function well."
Technical Considerations
In addition to space requirements, homeowners should take a game room's electrical, lighting, and other special requirements into consideration when planning.
For example, is there wiring in place above the pool or card table for overhead lights? Is there an adequate power source nearby for air hockey or arcade games? Is there an outlet for the bar's mini fridge? Does your circuit have enough juice to power all of it at once?
If not, you'll either need to alter your game locations or choices or add the necessary wiring, which can increase the costs of a game room set up.
Ask if delivery and professional installation are included in the purchase price, Prugh recommends. Many games, such as pool tables, need to be leveled and balanced to work properly.
"If a pool table isn't level, you may as well not even play on it," she says.
Other considerations include easy access to a restroom, and a traffic flow that keeps dart throwers from colliding with pool players, for example.
Be sure to include plenty of storage in your game room as well, including a rack for your pool cues.
"In our area, pool cues warp quickly because of the moisture," Prugh says. "They absolutely need to be stored properly."
Add Atmosphere
Finally, decide on a "look" for your game room.
The fun part? Rules that apply to most home decor literally go out the window when it comes to a game room. It's pure personal expression.
"Think fun," Prugh says. "You want to walk in and immediately get that feeling that this is a space about entertainment."
A family-style game room might take on an arcade or soda fountain motif, complete with neon lit pictures and a bubbling jukebox.
Those creating an adult escape might want to mimic the look and feel of a quaint pub or tavern, complete with neon beer signs, a bar, and pub tables.
Yet others might choose to imitate a casino atmosphere, complete with card tables, professional quality gaming chips, and bright lights and buzzers to add to the excitement.
"Thanks to the popularity of card games like Texas Hold 'Em, poker tables and gambling supplies are very hot right now," Prugh says. "
Let the Games Begin
Prugh says one advantage a game room offers over electronic entertainment is that they help build strategic thinking and relationships.
"These games are interactive, not passive like television and computer games," she says. "They're social, relaxing, and intellectually challenging."
Whether the objective is to build family relationships or to create a place to entertain friends--or both -- a game room has it covered.
"A lot of my customers remember how much fun they had with a ping pong table or pool table when they were growing up," she says. "Now they want to recreate that experience for their own family and friends."
And that, she says, is money well spent.



Cashing in on video games

12 December 2005
As video games become more mainstream, game development is emerging as a respectable industry, writes Reuben Schwarz.
For video game developers, securing government or venture capital funding has always been difficult.
Video games have only in the past few years emerged as a respectable industry with mass market appeal. Worldwide they now rival the film industry in size, with $US25 billion in sales last year.
But it's not an area investors have been keen to embrace. For one, many still associate gaming with nerdy teenagers, even though a large proportion of gamers are men in their twenties and thirties, or women.
Video games are expected to drive growth in the media industry in the next few years, growing at about 16 per cent per year to reach US$55 billion by 2009, according to analysts PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Many countries are now looking to cash in on this. Australia recently planted the seeds for what it hopes will become a $25 million fund to transform the country's games industry into a global powerhouse.
The president of the Australian Game Developers Association, Evelyn Richardson, believes Australia has about two years to build a critical mass of talent - six studios employing up to 200 people each. Fail, and the domestic industry will be marginalised by the big publishers. New Zealand is in a similar situation, but Trade and Enterprise has no plans to follow Australia's lead.
Mario Wynands, president of the New Zealand Game Developers Association and head of the country's largest developer, Sidhe Interactive in Wellington, says games don't fit into the traditional government schemes because development is both a technical exercise and a creative one.
"We are quite a new industry and a lot of what we do doesn't fit neatly into the buckets that the Government creates for funding. A lot of those targeted funding schemes don't apply directly.
"We're hoping down the track we can move from grassroots funding to more creative-based funding."
Developers can apply for grassroots technical funding. Sidhe, for example, received government funding to research the PlayStation Portable before its release, but it's more difficult to get money for actual game development.
Sidhe released its PlayStation Portable game GripShift in the US in May, a few months after the device was released. Mr Wynands says the research grant was crucial to fast-track the game.
Sidhe is best known for making Stacey Jones Rugby League, which has sold more than 150,000 copies worldwide. The sequel was released last week.
Thomas Reimann, chief executive of Auckland developer Binary Star, says getting government money for games is "almost impossible" beyond the grassroots grants.
He says a lot of the development cost is in buying overseas technology and adapting it for his company.
"People need enough time to play with those tools and get good at it. That's what we needed money for."
Binary Star is creating an engine from scratch for its game Homeland, a first person shooter. Though it's an expensive exercise, Mr Reimann believes it will pay for itself in time.
Mr Wynands believes New Zealand should follow Canada, which aggressively courts publishers with tax breaks like other countries do for the film industry.
"Publishers are looking at other markets. Now's a great time to kick things up a notch."
Time may not be on the New Zealand industry's side. India, China and Eastern Europe are expanding their game industries, and have a clear cost advantage.
Australia and New Zealand have their own advantages though. Developers here are more experienced and culturally the countries are quite similar to the large sales markets in Britain and North America.
"It's very hard for an Indian-based company to create content for an American market," he says.
Mr Wynands says the industry must learn to pitch itself as a provider of premium content rather than cheap production houses. While games for leading consoles are becoming more and more expensive to develop, there are still opportunities for small developers to make games for handheld devices and mobile phones.
He says it's easier to find funding today than when he started Sidhe in 1997 with Tyrone McAuley.
"The reputation that games have had and the awareness of the industry has been changing rapidly as games have become more and more a mainstream option."
Most of Sidhe's funding has come from private sources, including $45,000 from the two founders. Over the years it has received less than $200,000 of specific government funding.
Early on, Mr Wynands says government help was key in allowing Sidhe to travel to industry conferences overseas. Today, with 30 staff, it can find its own way if it needs to.
"For a lot of smaller companies that are trying to make a name for themselves and get a break, that's really really important."
NZTE funds many of the developer trips to overseas conferences, such as $30,000 to pay for a stand, DVD, and travel costs for games firms Sidhe, Metia Interactive and Straylight studios to attend the recent Australian Games Developers Conference.
Sidhe won "Best Handheld Game", "Best Level Design", and "Best Game Design" at the conference.
Two months ago NZTE created a role to oversee funding of all digital content, including animation, e-learning, TV and film production, and games.
But Mr Reimann says New Zealand should still follow Australia's lead and set up a fund to help the industry get off the ground.
"The New Zealand government really needs to get on top of this. If they want this industry to kick start they need some sort of catalyst. And there's nothing there."
Mr Wynands is more cautious. He points out that Australia's industry has a five-year head-start on New Zealand's. The industry here, he says, isn't ready for such a fund yet.
"It's something we need to work towards. We still have some maturing to do in the industry. We have to create some more stability and breadth before we start playing around with money on that scale.
"It's not enough to have a great idea for a video game, or even be able to create great video games. You've got to be business savvy as well. We need to make sure the companies that are receiving that funding are going to make the best use of the money that they possibly can."


In gaming years, this player is about washed up

IWAS schooled.
My public humiliation began on a beautiful day a few weeks ago when I visited the "Game On" exhibit at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.
The exhibit chronicles the history of video gaming and offers plenty of old-school nostalgia. On display was the computer that the very first video game, "Space War," was created on. The machine looks like something from Buck Rogers, complete with a circular screen and more buttons and switches than you can shake a vacuum tube at.
There's also plenty from the golden age of gaming, including a bank of arcade machines featuring "Asteroids," "Berzerk," "Dig Dug," "Missile Command," and others, all turned to free play.
Interspersed throughout the classics are new games that illustrate the evolution of the industry. At one end, Xboxes are connected to gaming stations that allow four players to go head-to-head in "Halo 2."
And it's here, just as I was heading out of the exhibit, where I got into trouble. I stepped up to play, as did three children, none of whom could have been older than 11. Most of them were probably too young to remember most of the games in the exhibit, but they weren't too young to hand me my head on a platter.
Although I managed to rack up a few points and save myself from utter disgrace, I still came in dead last. And I do mean dead. I was killed over and over again with a variety of weapons in the agonizing five or so minutes I spent playing. It wasn't that they teamed up on me or anything, they were just better. When the smoke cleared, my ego lay crushed and smoldering like a cigarette butt.
This sad episode illustrates what we geezers have always known: Kids these days have no respect for their elders. Why, back in my day, we had joysticks with only one button, and we were happy to have it. And we had the good manners to let adults win now and then.
For those of us who grew up with games and were, in our prime, fearsome at the arcade controls, losing to the younger generation is just another humbling sign of aging. It's like when you begin to notice that high-school-age kids are looking younger and younger, the first time someone calls you "sir," or when the man at the liquor store doesn't bother to card you.
I take some solace knowing that these whippersnappers' reflexes will be as dull and unresponsive as my own one day.
But there are other upsides to the aging of gamers.
For one thing, someday the majority of lawmakers will be either older gamers, or people who have at least been exposed to games growing up. And that will probably mark the true acceptance of games into mainstream culture and the end of ridiculous anti-gaming laws.
And, as game designers age, we may get more games that explore deeper issues. We may see plots more complex than "the evil Lord Zoltar is laying waste to the land; rescue the princess now." To be sure, there are already games out there with a mature sensibility, but you've got to look pretty hard to find them.
The effects of an aging gaming population are already starting to be seen. Games are being released based on "The Godfather" and "The Warriors," both decades-old movies. The best-selling "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" was aimed squarely at Generation Xers who grew up watching "Miami Vice" in the 1980s.
I don't mean to suggest development houses should be creating "Golden Girls: The Game," but it's a fact that tomorrow's senior citizens will have grown up and aged with gaming. Some may continue playing until their final days, if the industry can keep up with their interests and needs.
It may be too early to predict whether wireless routers and game-ready computers will be standard fare in the nursing homes of the future, but one thing's for sure: If I make it that far, I'll be there with a controller in my hand.


Video Games Can Help Children’s Health

Video games can have health benefits for children, argued an expert in last week's British Medical Journal (BMJ). Prof Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, has been researching the effects of video games for 15 years. He believes that the activity, which is often criticised for encouraging a sedentary lifestyle, can, in some instances, help children’s health.His studies show that children who were given video games to distract them during painful treatment needed less pain relief and had less nausea than those who were simply told to rest.Prof Griffiths added that video games can also provide distraction for children during chemotherapy. They have also been used as a form of physiotherapy or to help develop social and spatial ability skills in children with attention deficit disorders.Playing video games is one of the most popular leisure activities in the world, and is often criticised for its adverse effects on health, which can include:
Video game addiction
Aggressiveness fuelled by violent games
Auditory hallucinations
Repetitive strain injuries
However, firm evidence is lacking.“On balance, there is little evidence that moderate frequency of play has serious adverse effects, but more evidence is needed on excessive play and on defining what constitutes excess in the first place,” Prof Griffiths concluded.
Posted Tuesday 2nd August 2005


69-year-old Grandma Plays Video Games 10 Hours a Day

December 12th, 2005 @ 12:28pm
(NBC News) -- Timothy Saint Hilaire of Ohio love spending time with his grandma.
While many grandmothers bake apple pies or play bridge, Timothy's grandma plays video games.

69- year- old Barbara Saint Hilaire says gaming keeps her mind sharp. She plays at least 10 hours a day.
This hobby isn't new -- she's been playing for decades. Barbara started with arcade games like Space Invaders at bowling alleys in the 70s.
Barbara St. Hilaire, Granny Gamer: "Like a lot of people said I started gaming to get closer to my grandkids. Well I got news for them. I was gaming before my grand kids came along. I can't see just sitting in a rocking chair just waiting to die. I found something that interests me and keeps me young so I go for it."

Gaming has made Barbara famous. She's now the "senior video game correspondent" for M-T-V.

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