A few Sundays ago, [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman encouraged me to camp out in the early morning to pick up a Wii Balance Board and Wii Fit. (Went to my local Best Buy with a good book, got their at 8:30 and there were already half a dozen people ahead of me in line. More people trickled in after a while, and the line was around the corner by the time the employees came out at 10:30 and handed us tickets. The store opened at 11:00 and people came in to ransack their entire supply of 28 Wiis and 27 Wii Fits.)

Wii Fit is a very different experience from yourself!fitness and Eyetoy: Kinetic. The other games give you an entire workout, with warmup, exercises, and cooldown; you can exercise a bit of control over what you’re getting at the beginning, but once you’ve started, you’re committed to it. Wii Fit is more the buffet style of exercise: it gives you a collection of four categories of exercise (yoga, strength training, aerobics, and balance), and exercises that last from 1–3 minutes (which you can gradually increase up to 10 minutes as you continue to play the game and unlock more exercises and extended play). It’s up to you to handle your own warmup and cooldown. I usually start with yoga until I feel like I’ve limbered up everything I’ll be using in the aerobics exercises.

The buffet style is very good at getting the “just one more turn” syndrome to make you apply your gaming addiction to exercise. Every exercise has a score, even the yoga (which is usually grading you on how well you kept your balance through a pose). Do you want to go back and try again to better your score? Or that of someone else who’s been using your Wii and has their name on the high score list?

The yoga and strength exercises are correlated, so if I do Warrior in yoga, it’ll suggest I do Lunges in strength to match. Doing workouts in one category will tend to open up new options in others; when you start Wii Fit, it only has about a dozen exercises, but over a couple of weeks it’s easy to get it to make most of them available. The aerobics have a good variety as well: a couple of hula hoop games, a couple of running games, a couple of stepping games, and a rhythm boxing one that uses the Wiimote and nunchuk.

The place where it really shines is the balance games, which put the most fun into the gameplay. They’re just minigames, but they’re still a good deal of fun, with things like a ski slalom, a “tilt the board to drop balls through a hole” game, and even a whimsical one where you tilt an iceberg to make a penguin slide around catching fish. There are plenty of Balance Board games in development, and We Ski is already available.

It also encourages you to weigh in every day and take a balance test to see how well you’re doing, and it calculates your “Wii Fit Age” based on how well you do in the balance tests. I recommend doing this after a few yoga exercises and a balance game, but before doing the aerobics; this gets your brain into the mode of controlling a Wii Balance Board, but your muscles haven’t gotten tired yet.

Being Slothman means being easily bored by repetition. This is an advantage for recognizing places to make software more efficient, but makes it challenging to find an exercise routine that captures my attention— and being lazy doesn’t burn many calories. Aikido is great when my schedule permits, but since [livejournal.com profile] obsessivewoman needs to get to bed early and get up early, being out until 8 in the evening doesn’t work well for having much time together during the week. I tried yourself!fitness for a while, which was pretty good, but a workout video that changes the routine daily is still just a workout video.

My latest routine has been EyeToy: Kinetic. This is a workout game for the Playstation 2 that uses the EyeToy, which is a USB-based camera that plugs into the PS2’s front panel. EyeToy games recognize motion and map it onto the screen, where you can interact with virtual objects. In the case of EyeToy: Kinetic, it has three kinds of games that give you a workout: cardio, combat, and “mind and body”. Cardio games last ten minutes and keep you moving around, dodging some objects and touching others. Combat games last three minutes and require more intense strikes and ducking, and can be exhausting. “Mind and body” games work more on balance and smooth motion, and are the only ones that don’t leave me drenched in sweat.

It also has some modes that put three windows on the screen, one showing the EyeToy view and two showing different angles on your virtual trainer demonstrating the exercises you should be doing; these are not interactive. The system always puts you through warmup and cooldown sequences from this repertoire, and it also has ones for working out your upper body, lower body, and abdominals, and some yoga, tai chi, and meditation sequences as well.

The nice thing about the workout is that live interaction is much more engaging than just trying to match up with a virtual trainer on screen. (It also grades you on your performance, A–F, as a source of motivation.) The EyeToy isn’t very smart about image motion recognition, though; it can’t distinguish between your own motion, that of your shadow, or of a ceiling fan in the background. It needs fairly high contrast, too; I changed my workout outfit to a white shirt and light grey sweatpants so I’ll stand out against most of the background of the living room, but wear a black biking glove on my right hand to stand out against the white wall. Direct sunlight will completely white it out; during early morning workouts, I need to put a black banner in front of the peaked window in my east wall. (That was a fairly cheap solution involving PVC pipe, a couple of yards of duckcloth, and a hot melt glue gun.)

Overall, I’d say it’s good value for $45 (including the game disc and the EyeToy camera). It runs just fine on the PS3 as well.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
( May. 21st, 2006 11:44 am)
The Bodypad is a game controller that works by strapping sensors onto your elbows and knees to determine your body movement, and holding a pair of handles for hand movement. It’s mostly used for fighting, dance, and sport games. It just recognizes arm and leg movements and pulling triggers on the handles, and movements on each side can be mapped to the four action buttons on a standard game controller; this means you can hook up leg movements to “kick” and arm movements to “punch”, but you can’t make your left leg control the onscreen character delivering a left-legged kick unless that’s a separate button in the game. There’s a directional pad on the left handle for movement and L1-L2-R1-R2 on the right handle, but no equivalent of the analog sticks. It’s only around $70, including shipping.

Now, something that can recognize things like crouching, ducking, leaning, turning, and jumping would be really interesting, as that would let me play games like Ratchet & Clank using relevant body motions, but that’s probably a little ways off. Question for video gamers out there: do any fighting games for the Playstation 2 have an interesting storyline (more than just “I must defeat a bunch of enemies in a tournament so I get the prize I want to save my family/the world/etc.”) that would draw someone into a fighting game?

So while using responDESIGN’s yourself!fitness, it occurred to me that it would be entertaining to create a version of the game using characters, settings, and music from the Ratchet & Clank games. The main thing to add to get the Ratchet & Clank feel would be to have multiple characters on the mat doing the exercises, occasional banter between them, and the camera work to support it. (It’d be entertaining to see a Lombax do yoga... and even more entertaining to watch Captain Qwark collapse in a heap during the endurance parts.) Insomniac GamesFAQ says “For legal reasons we are not allowed to take ideas or suggestions from outside the company. (We can't even read them, actually.) As a developer, taking ideas isn't really what we do. A publisher is who you would want to talk to.” Anyone know the most effective way to suggest a Helga!fitness partnership without causing them to ignore the idea due to potential legal entanglements? All I want is the game... I couldn’t care less about any rights going with this (rather obvious) idea.
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