De Blob 2

De Blob
The first game, which we haven't got. Yet.

Harking back to a recent post, I mentioned that there is very little in the way of small-child-friendly software for the Xbox as opposed to the Wii or the PC.

One of the titles we picked up by chance some time ago is called De Blob 2 (I’m assuming it’s a sequel, confirmed by the box cover I found to the right). Our youngest – 3½ – has picked up on it recently after getting a little bored with repeating the opening levels of Lego Star Wars (mainly as he hasn’t figured out the save and load mechanism yet which, in fairness, is rather over-complicated in these games).

He is loving it and it’s a great game for kids of his age – and of mine!

I’ve not read the plot or anything, but essentially you’re the hero blob. You live in a world where a nasty individual has removed all the colour, leaving everything a boring grey. Dotted around are fountains and waterfalls of coloured paint which you soak yourself in, and then use yourself to “paint” buildings, trees, people and parts of the landscape.

It sounds nice and simple, and at the bottom level it is. As the game goes on, though, it gets a little more complicated as you have to destroy some things, go into platform-game style stages between levels, and learn how to mix colours (great for the younger kids) to get just the right ones. There are also side-missions, which don’t need to be completed, and bonuses dotted around all over the place.

If I have a quibble, it’s a small one – the right joystick is used to pan the camera around as it is in many games. However, it seems to work in a reverse fashion to every single other game I’ve played which is quite annoying. There may be a setting somewhere to change it, but I’ve not spotted it as yet.

After having sat with Little Mister for some time as he’s worked his way through the early staged, I think De Blob 2 has just become next on my “to do” list once I finish off Lego Indiana Jones.

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Kids and computer games

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Little Mister's current favourite

I still hear a lot of people whinging about how children play too many computer games, and how they’re bad for them. I have a lot of experience of video entertainment (this doesn’t mean I’m any good – I’ve just played them a lot), and some limited experience in the child-rearing side of things but here are some things I’ve noticed.

Our littlest is around 3½. Despite his age, he’s still not a talker and has some communication issues which are mainly due to problems with his hearing. We got an Xbox at Christmas and he, of course, wanted to play all the time. But he was rubbish. Worse than me rubbish. Which is very rubbish indeed. He’s very active – too active, frankly. Runs circles round us and will chase the dog or cat for hours, bounce on the trampoline, run around outside until he falls over and comes home screaming… you know, a proper kid. As such I’ve no issues with him spending some time glued to the telly if it keeps him quiet and out of our hair for a bit.

There aren’t that many toddler-friendly games for the Xbox, but what we have so far are: De Blob 2, Megamind (scratched to hell and unplayable), Toy Story 3, Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Star Wars. Over time, he watched us playing and we often let him have a spare controller in co-op mode. This usually involved him twiddling the two joysticks randomly and giggling when a Lego character dropped off a cliff in an explosion of coins, releasing a Wilhelm scream. Or Wilhelm Wookie roar. Or whatever.

Hey, he was happy.

Over the last few weeks, though, he’s taken to it big style. He can’t read yet, which means we often have to explain things to him, but if the game has good use of imagery then this can help. Toy Story 3, for example, has “help” bubbles that show you a ghosted image of a character performing an action while the keys you need to press are displayed next to them. The Lego games are similar, although both games suffer from the player often having to be in just the right position for those buttons to work.

What’s amazed me, and prompted me to post this, is how quickly he’s come on since we sat him down with a controller and let him loose by himself. I just sat with him this morning as the played through the train stage at the start of TS3. Aside from one section which I did for him, he completed the whole thing himself. Picking aliens up and throwing them off the train, throwing bouncy balls at moving targets, smashing boxes open, jumping and double-jumping gaps and obstacles. Wow.

Lego Star Wars has captured his imagination more than the Indy game and its simple problems in the early levels are just right for him. After some demonstration from myself, he’s able to work out some of them with no assistance. Swapping to use the correct characters to perform a task is an example. If he sees a C3PO head, he knows he needs the right kind of droid. Sparkly things? Jedi force. Bounty Hunters only? Wander off, find a helmet machine, get a helmet, go back and get through the door.

And so on.

He can now control the characters and camera independently using the two joysticks. His timing for jumps is good. Not brilliant, especially double-jumps where he often can’t hit the jump key quickly enough in succession, but still pretty damn good.

Now, he’s a good kid with his other toys. He loves tool kits and his Toy Story figures – and his sister’s Lego much to her annoyance. But I don’t think we have much else that has improved his logic skills or hand-eye coordination as these computer games.

I actually think his communication has improved slightly as well, as he tries to explain where and how he’s stuck, or tells us what he’s managed to achieve.

Over and above that, he’s learned how to check whose profile is active when he comes to the console and change it to his own. It’s simple image recognition (as I said, he can’t read but he can identify the icons and avatars), but it also shows he’s aware of what “belongs” to him and to others.

So to those who say that kids shouldn’t be let anywhere near computer games? Think again. There’s a time, a place, and a use for them.

 

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iomega iConnect review

I just posted the following to Amazon after a few hours tinkering with the new toy. The iomega iConnect is a “wireless data station” that’s designed to allow you to share up to four USB drives (maybe more with hubs attached – not tried) or printers. The main reason for us buying it was to stream media to the Xbox in the front room and to two laptops (gran and daughter) elsewhere in the house.

The ideal situation would be to keep “mature audience” films separate from the “whole family” ones. This is do-able if the films are accessed by users over laptops, but not via the Xbox. Details in the bumph below.

It’s not a bad device, but it’s a shame it builds itself up with a load of features that don’t live up to the hype.

OK, this is a nice idea but as other reviews have stated the device fails on the little extras that make it so appealing in the first place – and due to some hidden charges.
First up, the interface is slow and clunky in the way that too many web-based front ends are. It can be a pain finding sections you’re after.
The claim that you can secure certain “folders” is incorrect in as much as the system calls any volume (i.e. hard drive partition) attached a folder. You can only restrict user access to each of these, not to the *actual* folders underneath. If you need to do this, look elsewhere (like a file server).
To stream media to an XBox or PS3, you tell the system to make all media available for streaming on a per-folder/partition basis. This means that if you have kids in the house, you’ll have to store your “mature audiences” films on a separate drive and log into the interface to enable/disable media streaming as and when you require it via the console. This is also the only way to block them from the content using the “security”.
Torrent download is a complete waste of time. Only one torrent at a time, and the speed is ridiculously slow. I attempted a couple of downloads. On a PC attached to the same network I was getting 250+Kb/s. On the iConnect, I peaked at 3Kb/s. THREE. Estimated time to completion was over a week. Just forget this feature – it’s pointless.
The ability to access the device from outside the home seems fine, though when you enable it you find that after 12 months, you have to cough up each year to keep it working. The system employs a 3rd party web service which checks your external IP address and logs it on a web site with a personalised URL. You go there and it redirects to your iConnect. This helps get around the issue of dynamic IPs as usually issued by home ISPs.
There *may* be  way round this by using a service such as no-ip.org. Keep a machine on at home running their service (free) and check the IP address when you need it by pinging your no-ip address. Then use the URL https://YOUR-IP/index.html?t=1
This may not work if the iConnect itself decides to disable the system after 12 months. I have no idea if it will or not and won’t for 364 more days!
I’ve also set the system to email me with any faults that occur. This seems to work fine, but it worries me that it’s mailing so often – usually claiming it can’t access the remote server that stores the external IP address.
Oh, the available volumes frequently vanish from the supplied management client software meaning that you can’t manage them using it. Having said that, you can get round this by going to the iConnect’s static IP address (make sure you give it such an address on your router!) directly. This issue doesn’t seem to affect the volumes being displayed and accessed through your Explorer – you just can’t administer anything.
Overall, nice idea but let down by rubbish unreliable software. Having said that, it (sort of) accomplishes the main task we had for it which was to stream media to the XBox and kids’ laptops. A shame the security wasn’t better on it so that we could restrict things more easily although I recognise that due to the fact that the Xbox can’t “log in” as such, the media either streams or doesn’t. Just a good job we have a little girl who’s trustworthy!

OK, this is a nice idea but as other reviews have stated the device fails on the little extras that make it so appealing in the first place – and due to some hidden charges.
First up, the interface is slow and clunky in the way that too many web-based front ends are. It can be a pain finding sections you’re after.
The claim that you can secure certain “folders” is incorrect in as much as the system calls any volume (i.e. hard drive partition) attached a folder. You can only restrict user access to each of these, not to the *actual* folders underneath. If you need to do this, look elsewhere (like a file server).
To stream media to an XBox or PS3, you tell the system to make all media available for streaming on a per-folder/partition basis. This means that if you have kids in the house, you’ll have to store your “mature audiences” films on a separate drive and log into the interface to enable/disable media streaming as and when you require it via the console. This is also the only way to block them from the content using the “security”.
Torrent download is a complete waste of time. Only one torrent at a time, and the speed is ridiculously slow. I attempted a couple of downloads. On a PC attached to the same network I was getting 250+Kb/s. On the iConnect, I peaked at 3Kb/s. THREE. Estimated time to completion was over a week. Just forget this feature – it’s pointless.
The ability to access the device from outside the home seems fine, though when you enable it you find that after 12 months, you have to cough up each year to keep it working. The system employs a 3rd party web service which checks your external IP address and logs it on a web site with a personalised URL. You go there and it redirects to your iConnect. This helps get around the issue of dynamic IPs as usually issued by home ISPs.
There *may* be  way round this by using a service such as no-ip.org. Keep a machine on at home running their service (free) and check the IP address when you need it by pinging your no-ip address. Then use the URL https://YOUR-IP/index.html?t=1
This may not work if the iConnect itself decides to disable the system after 12 months. I have no idea if it will or not and won’t for 364 more days!
I’ve also set the system to email me with any faults that occur. This seems to work fine, but it worries me that it’s mailing so often – usually claiming it can’t access the remote server that stores the external IP address.
Oh, the available volumes frequently vanish from the supplied management client software meaning that you can’t manage them using it. Having said that, you can get round this by going to the iConnect’s static IP address (make sure you give it such an address on your router!) directly. This issue doesn’t seem to affect the volumes being displayed and accessed through your Explorer – you just can’t administer anything.
Overall, nice idea but let down by rubbish, unreliable software. Having said that, it (sort of) accomplishes the main task we had for it which was to stream media to the Xbox and kids’ laptops. A shame the security wasn’t better on it so that we could restrict things more easily although I recognise that due to the fact that the Xbox can’t “log in” as such, the media either streams or doesn’t. Just a good job we have a little girl who’s trustworthy!

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