Four new ways to seize control of your favorite game.
1. BUST OUT THE BUTTONS
Capcom's Steel Battalion, an irresistible giant-robot warfare oddity, comes with a more irresistible three-panel custom Xbox controller that's festooned with 40 buttons, two joysticks, a slider bar, and a trio of foot pedals. Available this fall for $150.
By the end of the year, GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox will all support peer-to-peer gaming over the Internet. Here's what each will offer.
Availability: This fall
Price: $49.95 for a one-year subscription and headset
Access: DSL or cable
Player Matching: Included in subscription (with other services)
Titles Expected at Launch: Unreal Championship, MechAssault, Whacked, NFL Fever 2003, and Midtown Madness 3
What the world's top developers are working on.
Doom III (PC)
The next iteration of this venerable shooter title from id Software stole the show at this year's E3 gaming convention, with its gruesomely realistic graphics (courtesy of programming legend John Carmack) and convincingly creepy soundtrack from macabre rocker Trent Reznor.
And if that's not enough, a game arrives from a galaxy far, far away.
The two most highly anticipated online games in history are just months away. And after getting a sneak preview of The Sims Online and Star Wars Galaxies, it's fair to say that both have a good chance of luring newbies into the online gaming arena-even at $10 a month.
Scheduled for November, The Sims Online is a wired adaptation of the bestselling computer game of all time (more than 6.3 million copies sold). It's like Tamagotchi on steroids, a contest in which
These hot mods can be downloaded for free, but first you must load the original game.
This oddly named mod points to the next generation of hacking. Created for 2001's hit PC game, Max Payne, it's a sophisticated and literary spin on the work of real-life fantasy author Terry Pratchett.
Nintendo-style game consoles pose the ultimate challenge-and that's what hackers live for.
The closed architecture of game consoles such as Sony's PlayStation 2 has made them almost impossible to infiltrate. Hackers hoped for a new playground, however, with Microsoft's Xbox console, which went on sale last November. That's because the Xbox is PC-based, with a standard Intel processor and a hard drive.
How Master X turned a character from Half-Life into one for his mod.
Once subversive, mod making has gone mainstream; some game companies even give players easy-to-use tools. Here's how Jordan Edelson, whose nom de guerre is Master X, turned a character from Half-Life into one for his mod.
1. Meet Gordon
An original Half-Life character.
2. Extract the Essentials
Using Half-Life's software development kit (SDK), Master X and his team extract the file containing Gordon's skeleton and form.
What happens when good hackers go bad? Some show-offs beat the rules and clean up.
Most game hacking is fairly benign; some is inspired. But cross paths with the wrong hombre in Diablo II, a fantasy role-playing game that has spawned a large interactive community of online players, and you could find your game persona naked, penniless, or dead.
Like most role-playing games, Diablo II involves creating a character and then, through skilled play, acquiring special attributes and possessions. Most serious players spend hundreds of hours to enhance a character with skills such as spell casting, and valuables such as armor and weapons.
Console games like Xbox get the media attention, but PC games are far more intriguing: Whole worlds are rewritten by the players themselves.
Consider whether you would hack a DVD of the film Gladiator so that Russell Crowe was relocated from Rome to, say, a Wal-Mart parking lot in Missoula, Montana. Perhaps substitute pickup trucks for chariots, grizzly bears for lions. Turn the emperor into Osama bin Laden-maybe with no clothes. You might not, but someone would. This is certain because, when it comes to the intricate worlds created for PC-based games, someone does. The difference between games and movies, of course, is that PC games are code worlds, hackable.
You don't have to be an expert computer programmer to create your own mod.
Video game modifications, or mods, offer creative gamers a way to bring their own genius to preexisting video games. They can be used to create original characters or entirely new levels and scenarios, which can then be shared over the Internet with other gamers. Fortunately, you don't have to be an expert computer programmer to create your own mod. A variety of programs and tutorials are available on the Internet to help you get started. Because of its popularity, most of the available tools apply specifically to the game Half-Life, created by Valve Software.
A software engineer turns computers into laptop art.
"I'm Jewish," a friend told F. J. van Wingerde, "but I'd convert to Christianity for one of those." She was joking about Fujitsu's Hello Kitty laptop—the kitschiest incarnation ever of the world's kitschiest cat. Van Wingerde, a software engineer at Nokia, decided to play a joke on his friend. With spray paint, decals, a yo-yo, and a feather boa, he and his pal created an even more garish laptop, which they sent to her.
Learn to build R. Max, the do-it-yourself robot Web cam noggin.
If you're like Patrick Rael, you not only dream of a world populated by androids, you dream of building them yourself. Rael can't tell you how to do that, but if you have a few hundred bucks and a couple of Web cams, he can teach you to build R. Maxa robot Web cam head that blinks, pivots, and gazes toward that future of your dreams.
DVD recording update: Blu-Ray recorders offer more storage but at the cost of compatibility.
Waiting for the DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM format wars to end before buying a DVD recorder? Things will get worse before they get better, as blue-laser DVD recorders hit the market over the next two years.
The so-called Blu-Ray recorders use a 405-nanometer blue laser to record 13 hours of TV-or 2 hours of HDTV-onto a 27-gigabyte disc. The recorders currently on the market use a red laser, which has a longer wavelength and thus packs only 4.7GB of data onto each disc.
Sophisticated games for tiny screens
Color cellphone displays, arriving this summer, are spawning some fairly sophisticated (for the tiny screen size) games as well. You'll find old classics, such as Sega's Monaco GP, along with new releases like EA Sports 2002 FIFA World Cup, Sega's Monkey Ball, and Cybiko's CyRace (shown). Some games, including Jamdat Bowling, use the phone's vibration mode to provide tactile feedback. You can even play over a wireless network: AT&T Wireless offers puzzles, virtual pets, and head-to-head combat games, and Sprint PCS will launch its high-speed service with several titles this summer.
New high-speed wireless services enable you (or your laptop) to access the Web via your cellphone. Here's how to pick the right provider.
It's travel surfing made simple: New high-speed data plans, which began rolling out this spring from the major wireless providers, turn your cellphone into a modem, enabling you to get e-mail or surf the Web from anywhere at speeds of about 40Kbps. You can either connect via a laptop, or use your cellphone's color display. Picking the provider that's right for