You're home watching television, the phone rings and a woman on the line is crying hysterically. Someone's trying to break down her door. Why is this happening to her? And why is she calling you? Welcome to Majestic, an interactive game that hopes to rewrite the rules of online gaming.
Majestic was just one of the consumer products to emerge this week at Demo 2001, a three-day event here that showcases some of the latest in high-tech wizardry. Other gadgets include a device that plays MP3s and shoots both video and still pictures, and a robot that keeps a watchful eye on the grandparents.
Introducing Majestic, developed by Electronic Arts, Chris Shipley, an industry analyst and executive producer of Demo 2001, said it could be to online gaming "what Survivor has been to reality television".
The game immerses players in the midst of a suspense thriller involving conspiracy theories, government agencies and menacing fugitives. Players start the game on the Web, but events pursue them into their everyday lives via the telephone, fax machine, email and instant messaging. The game doesn't start and end at a single sitting: if a character says he'll get back to you tomorrow, he means it, and you won't know whether that means a voicemail, fax or e-mail message.
"We want Majestic to play you just as much as you play it," said Neil Young, vice president and executive in charge of production at EA.com. Majestic is due to be available by midyear as part of a subscription-based service. More information is at http://majestic.ea.com/
For the more active, Kodak unwrapped a three-in-one device that shoots video, takes still pictures and plays MP3 songs. Called the mc3 (as in, mc cubed), the product is only slightly larger than a deck of playing cards. Kodak is targeting the product at the young, Net-sharp generation.
The Kodak device can record about 20 minutes of video at 10 fps, or about four minutes at a clearer, 20 frames per second rate. Video is stored in QuickTime format, and can be viewed on the device's small LCD (liquid crystal display) screen or loaded onto a PC or Macintosh computer for editing.
As a stills camera, Kodak said the mc3 can store a tidy 600 images, although the picture quality of 640-x-480 pixels is less than users may have come to expect from a modern digital camera. Photos and video clips can be uploaded to a computer with a USB cable, or using a USB docking station.
Fitted with headphones the mc3 becomes an MP3 player that can store up to 1.5 hours of music. It includes Real Jukebox software, which allows users to convert music from CDs to the MP3 format on their PCs and then play those songs on the portable player. Three AAA batteries play about 6 hours of music. Kodak said the mc3 will be available in March in retail stores and through its Web site.
iRobot showed an elegant robot that scurries around on eight wheels and has a slender neck that can extend to chest height. Equipped with audio and video capabilities, the robot can be controlled via Web browser from anywhere in the world, allowing it to be used to keep watch over elderly relatives or a vacant holiday home. A version for consumers planned for release within the year will be priced at about $2,000, officials said.
iRobot is already selling a commercial version to development partners. That version is being pitched as a way for workers to "project themselves" into distant meetings, or keep an eye on a factory floor at an overseas plant. More information can be found at http://www.irobot.com/
Unwireit.com took a slightly different approach with its MyCasa Network service, which uses an Internet appliance that can be hooked up to electrical devices, sensors and video cameras to monitor a home or office from a Web browser, mobile phone or wireless PDA. The appliance could be used to regulate heating controls, keep tabs on who visits a building or send out a pager alarm when a room becomes flooded. More information can be found on the Web at http://www.unwireit.com/
One of the more unique gadgets here is an electronic pen from Digital Ink of Wellesley, Massachusetts. The n-scribe pen uses ink and writes on standard paper, but the cap and the barrel of the pen communicate with each other through infrared, with the cap capturing the handwritten text as a graphics image. The pen stores up to 1MB of data and is connected via a serial cable to any cellular phone, and captured data can be sent via e-mail or fax to any other Internet-enabled device.
In a demonstration here, the digital part of the product appeared to work just fine; unfortunately, the pen ran out of ink. The product will sell initially for about $300, with a "long term" target price of $100, officials here said. More information is at http://www.n-scribe.com/