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The Esoteric Beat: Coliseum, Katrina, Odd Peripherals

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at augmented robots, charity...
Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at augmented robots, charity, and Russian casemods. - The University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have been making playing with toy robots the subject of some (obviously very serious) academic research into augmented reality systems, with their 'Augmented Coliseum'. Like a budget version of robot wars, only the robots themselves are real, while all the weapons and other game objects (as seen in this 20mb MPEG file) are projected onto the scene and tracked by the cameras and the controlling software. The English on the official Augmented Coliseum site is a little opaque, but Tom's Hardware reports a little about how the system is used via their first hand encounter at SIGGRAPH. Remote control robots operate within a projector-created 'game' environment, with tracking cameras following the robot movements and keeping the CGI part of the system in sync. It is easily broken, however, and any lights not tied into the system can cause it to go haywire. Still, it could one day turn out to be an ideal birthday present to anyone who has a large unused floor and a ceiling mounted projector... - News of a more human nature now, as we highlight further solidarity and charity shown by gamers in support of victims of the Katrina Hurricane, following an earlier story. Demonstrating pleasing human ingenuity in getting help to those people who really need it, Second Life has held numerous charity clothing sales and parties to raise money, while both Everquest II and There have built donation commands into the games themselves, taking charitable players to the webpages where their credit card can make a real difference to the future of someone's real life. Online academic Edward Castronova told New Scientist: "It's more evidence that the interactions that happen in the virtual world aren't virtual, they are real." We'd urge all other online publishers with this kind of capacity to do whatever they can to help out. Charity is becoming an increasingly popular subject in gaming, as the tens of thousands of downloads of the UN's Food Force game attest. Gamers want to help out, but it's up to publishers and developers to give them the opportunity, as well as a gentle nudge, to do so. - We'll finish with something a little more light-hearted, by way of unusually kitsch hardware news. Sitting at one end of the spectrum of worrying hardware upgrades is the 'Buttkicker'. Less painful that it first might appear, the device is actually a seemingly unprecedented desk-chair upgrade. The device shakes and vibrates your chair in conjunction with events in action games, making that bazooka hiccup just a little more intense. But would you feel entirely comfortable walking out of the local hardware store with one of these in your hands? Perhaps your tastes are a little more... baroque. In which case you might want to consider this remarkable wooden-panelled PC, straight from the heart of Russia's faux-aristocratic case modding/arts and crafts community, complete with wooden LCD panel and carved mouse. Surely this puts the ribs and tubes of even the most expensive Alienware case to shame? [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his progressive games journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times, to name but a few.]

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