May 27, 2010

Nintendo goes old-school with new Wii controller

Posted: 10:14 AM ET
Classic Controller Pro looks vaguely familiar
Classic Controller Pro looks vaguely familiar

At a time when other gaming-console manufacturers are ready to unveil their motion-sensitive controllers, Nintendo has released a new device that feels more old-school.

The new Classic Controller Pro looks and feels like a traditional game controller, with two joysticks, X-Y-A-B buttons, a directional pad and bumper buttons on the front. It was released in a package deal with the new "Monster Hunter Tri" game for the Wii.

Officials from Nintendo and Capcom said the bundle was done to appeal to the widest audience possible by giving them a controller that was designed for the game.

"Fans of the ["Monster Hunter"] series are used to this type of controller," said Eric Monacelli, product marketing manager for Capcom. "This is old-school. It will appeal to the hard-core player."

"It goes very well with 'Monster Hunter Tri'," added Nintendo representative Kumiko Hidaka. "Never has an accessory been so specifically designed for a game."

"Monster Hunter Tri" lets gamers become a prehistoric hunter who tries to defend his village from rampaging monsters while collecting supplies to help him with his quest. Oh, and there are constant earthquakes that need to be dealt with as well.

Creatures of all sizes live in the surrounding countryside, and the hunter's job is to clear them out, get better weapons and take on even larger monsters. The new controller allows the player to accomplish the major fighting action while offering ways to complete minor tasks (like cooking food to eat).

"Players will love this controller," Monacelli said. "It feels good for the game without taking away from any gameplay."

"Monster Hunter Tri" also allows for multiple players to band together online take down a really big monster. The game lets players use Wii Speak to communicate with each other and plan strategy, which gives the game a party feel. According to game director Kaname Fujioka, this is a big change.

"Everyone goes online and enters the same world, but not everyone has to do the same thing," Fujioka said in an "Ask Iwata" interview. "Each person can do his or her own thing, but when the group achieves the goal, everyone benefits."

The Classic Controller Pro will be compatible with nearly 400 Wii titles, Hikada said.

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May 25, 2010

Google Pac-Man eats 4.8 million hours

Posted: 03:04 PM ET
Championship Pac-Man
Championship Pac-Man

A productivity blog figured out that we wasted (some would say, enjoyed) over 4.8 million hours of time on Friday playing the Pac-Man game on Google.

The game was the search site's featured logo over the weekend to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the popular arcade game. The logo was actually playable and would continue for 256 levels of chomping.

The RescueTime blog did the math to figure out how much extra time people spent on Google on Friday, and how much did that time cost.

Typically, users spend an average of 11 seconds per each Google page view. RescueTime found the average user spent 36 second more on Pac-Man Friday. With 504.7 million unique visitors on May 23, that totals up to an additional 4,819,352 hours spent on Google.

Armed with that number, the blog then wanted to figure out how much productivity was lost. Assuming the average Google user has a salary of $25 per hour, the total bill comes to $120,483,800.

The game would start if the user hit the "Insert Coin" button or if the site sat idle on the Google home page for about 10 seconds. Google left it up on their homepage throughout the weekend, but gave it a permanent home to be enjoyed whenever you like.

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May 24, 2010

Geek Out!: Stars, Shadow & Iron Man (too)

Posted: 10:14 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to games and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Mario takes on the Universe
Mario takes on the Universe

Despite having some well-deserved time off that did not see any console gameplay time (except for "Picross 3D" on the handheld – I’m hooked), three games found their way into my consoles demanding play when I returned.

“Super Mario Galaxy 2” (Nintendo) is a fun, galactic ride for everyone’s favorite plumber in his never-ending quest to defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. The game starts off typically enough with Bowser kidnapping the Princess apparently for her baking skills and Mario goes planet hopping on his effort to collect stars and save the fair damsel.

The graphics are colorful and whimsical and the gameplay on the Wii is very solid. The platforming action has moments of 2D and 3D movement, but does so without sacrificing camera angles. The Wii controller expertly keeps Mario and friends on their targets and the music didn’t detract from the action.

The planets and spaceships that Mario visits are varied in size and shape. First of all, his own spaceship looks like his head – no worries about losing it in a mall parking lot. The game progresses along a pretty linear path from planet to planet – some large planets that you can tunnel through and some small ones that seem to take two steps to get from one side to the next.

Mario collects power stars to fuel his ship, collects coins and star bits to power himself and specialty items to do different things. In all, this is a fun game for everyone and is a nice addition to the extensive library featuring Mario and friends.

The only drawback – and it feels like nitpicking – is the constant barrage of reminders by characters in the game how much more fun I could be having if there was another person playing along with me. If I’ve started the game as one player, I’m likely to be continuing as one player. I understand the Wii wants to be a console for the entire family, but there are some of us who just like solo missions. As I said, a little nitpicking but it was the only detraction I found.

If “Super Mario Galaxy 2” is all about fun and frivolity, then “Dead To Rights: Retribution” is the opposite.

“DTR: Retribution” (Volatile/Namco Bandai) features a tough, gritty cop named Jack Slate and his dog Shadow who are trying to clean up the city – one dead body at a time. This is a follow-up game (not really a sequel) to the original from 2002.

The gameplay starts by filling in the backstory on how Jack and Shadow began teaming up after the murder of Jack’s father. Different missions let you control Jack alone, Jack with Shadow as an NPC partner or missions where you are Shadow.

Playing as Jack, you battle the bad guys through some good hand-to-hand combat that feels intuitive. The end of the battle can sometimes get pretty brutal for the bad guys, but hey, they had it coming, right? Gunplay is a bit dodgier where lining up for a shot can be a bit tricky and it seems like the criminals never miss. But never fear, because eventually they come out of their hiding places and are exposed targets for the cop on a mission.

Playing as Shadow was a bit more fun. There are some laugh-out-loud funny achievements to get while acting as the dog and the controls are pretty straight forward. There was an excellent stealth mission that would have made Batman proud and Shadow can sense bad guys by listening to their heartbeats.

It is definitely an adult game and not very much fun to look at. Your opponents start looking very similar from mission to mission. Everything is relatively dark and foreboding and there were times it seemed like Shadow was walking on air. But the challenges were evenly paced with a couple of difficult situations that test your nerve and hiding skills.

Finally, “Iron Man 2” (Sega) is not just a movie, but a video game tie-in as well - in as much as “tie-in” means it has the same title and same characters, but not the same story.

Gamers get to play as Iron Man or War Machine – sometimes you have a choice and other times you don’t. Weapons are your standard repulsers, machine guns and missiles, but most of the time, it really doesn’t matter. Battles are often plagued by a bad targeting system that seems not to work at long distances or switches around erratically as enemies come into view. Even when the hero gets locked in, the shot misses because the bad guy moved and the targeting system doesn’t follow it. Enemies will swarm from all different angles and sometimes it is just better to let your fists do the destruction.

For a guy that (in the movies) zoomed into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, Iron Man moves extremely slow. There are moments when he can zoom along, but he can't fight at those speeds, which is very frustrating. In an escort mission, the helicopters he’s supposed to be protecting cruised along faster than Iron Man was flying.

The dialog is snappy and quick. There are some great exchanges between the characters and it helps move the story along. However, the characters themselves look like aging versions of their movie counterparts and you will be waiting for the suit's faceplate to close just so you don’t have to see Tony Stark in need of a facelift.

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May 10, 2010

Geek Out!: New Wii, Stealthy Sam returns, Cubism puzzles

Posted: 04:09 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to games and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Black or white?
Black or white?

In an effort to boost sales, Nintendo is going to the dark side with a new black version of their Wii console.

It is more than just a color change though. The new set up (and now the original white as well) includes the Wii MotionPlus unit and the "Wii Sports Resort" game in addition to the regular accoutrements that accessorize the Wii console.

Recently, the company announced its first slip in profits in six years. Nintendo blamed the downturn on price reductions, less-than-strong software offerings and an unfavorable exchange rate. Despite the doom and gloom, 5.26 million Wiis were sold in the United States over the past four months and nearly 71 million sold worldwide at the end of the fiscal year in March.

The price of the Wii, even with the additional hardware and software, will remain at just under $200 for either color. The black Wii is available in the U.S. starting this week.

Return of Sam Fisher

The ultimate stealthy guy (ok, other than Batman) returns and makes it personal in "Splinter Cell: Conviction" (UbiSoft).

Sam Fisher, the protagonist throughout the Splinter Cell series, takes on a rogue organization bent on taking over the United States. With more twists and turns revealed about Sam's past, you'll feel like you are spending just as much time looking backward as you are going forward.

The gameplay is familiar – stick to the shadows, do stealthy kills and pick off back guys with silenced bullets. One new move – the execute move – made some scenarios seem almost too easy. It allows Sam to target multiple baddies and take them out with a single push of the button. The move is great for clearing out a room, but misses something in the play.

The voice acting is wonderful as usual. Michael Ironside returned (and really, who else could have done it?) after asking for and getting some changes in the Sam Fisher character. Ironside does a great job of nailing the anger and frustration in Sam as well as emoting wonderfully during the emotional scenes.

Some of the action takes place in Washington, D.C., and the more famous buildings are well rendered inside and out. The flow of the game is obviously up to the player, depending on how stealthy you want to get, but you probably won't use the same tactic twice to storm a building.

The ending was a bit of a let down, but didn't really detract from the overall game. And, of course, they set it up for another possible addition to the series in the future.

"Splinter Cell: Conviction" is available now as an XBox 360 exclusive title.

Logic and Art Unite

Games for handheld consoles seem to be best when you can pick them up any time, play the game, and put it down without feeling like you were forced to stop in the middle of the action. Puzzle games are great for this.

"Picross 3D" (Nintendo) for the DS series is a perfect example of a fun game that you can drop in on for a while, but don't feel compelled to play all afternoon (unless you want to).

Gamers are presented with a solid block of cubes that have numbers on them. The trick is to peck away at the blocks to reveal the hidden shape contained inside. Puzzles start out easy, but get progressively harder as fewer and fewer numbers assist you in the beginning. That's where the logic part of the game kicks in.

There are over 365 puzzles, more than a puzzle a day for a year, but you'll get hooked and end up playing 4 or 5 (or more) at a time. It also allows you to create and share original puzzles with your friends.

As simple as it seems, you'll find yourself aiming for perfect scores on each puzzle. It is also a game that can be played by nearly all members of the family.

What video games were you playing this past week? Tell us in our comments.

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May 5, 2010

Geek Out!: New 'God of War' will go back in time

Posted: 10:07 AM ET
God of War: Ghost of Sparta
God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

When "God of War III" came out two months ago, it was touted as the end of the series for Kratos, the former Spartan warrior who sought revenge against the Greek gods who wronged him. But without giving away spoilers, the game left as many questions unanswered as it did conclusions to story lines.

"God of War: Ghost of Sparta" (Ready At Dawn, Sony) will be stepping back into Kratos' timeline to offer a glimpse into the mythology of his character. We talked exclusively with Dana Jan, Ready At Dawn Studios Game Director, about what would be new to the series and why they were ready to tell this story.

Why did you choose this particular time in the "God of War" timeline to tell this story?

When we started working on this project, we had a particular interest in exploring some of the unanswered questions of Kratos' story, especially the areas that have defined his character as well as the franchise itself. "God of War III" was on its way to complete the overarching story of the destruction of Olympus, therefore we had the freedom to pick where to place our game and found a perfect fit in the time between "God of War" and "God of War II".

This allowed us to expand upon events of both games as well as lead into the story of "God of War III", and reveal a lot behind Kratos' character and motivation. We've always tried to tell a more personal story in our games, and in this one, we took the opportunity to recount moments that have a huge impact on the entire franchise.

Was there anything learned from the Santa Monica studios production of "God of War III" that you were able to take advantage of in "God of War: Ghost of Sparta"?

We learned many lessons from the team in Santa Monica. One of the most important was that while making another "God of War" game, you had to come up with new and interesting gameplay moments that do not always revolve around the standard staples of the franchise. Of course, all the basics should be present — combat, puzzles, story, cool navigation moments – but there should be other aspects that someone who has played the previous games would not expect. These moments keep the game fresh and enhance the overall experience.

For example, we drew inspiration from some of the immersive moments that Sony Santa Monica created in "God of War III" where you have a chance to play Kratos in a different way and used that approach to not only build similar moments in our game but also to take them to the next level.

Another really good example is the cinematic cameras Sony Santa Monica used. There are a lot of moments in previous "God of War" games where the player would have a bigger god’s eye view of the landscape. We certainly have those moments as they are crucial in telling the story and in showing off the grandeur of the world. This time around they inspired us to create some really novel moments where the camera pulls in close to Kratos to show off his character, which in turn puts the player in Kratos' mindset.

Talk about the “never-before-seen depth of scale”. What does it mean to the gamer?

Scale is something that we knew we had to push in this game. In "God of War: Chains of Olympus", our thought had been to place Kratos in the biggest and grandest situations we could possibly realize on the PSP. We thought at the time that we had pushed the limits of the hardware. What we set out to do in this game is trump ourselves and push the sense of scale even further.

This was a two-pronged approach. First, we knew we had to create bigger and more bad-ass enemies. A good example is the first boss in "Ghost of Sparta." It's a gigantic creature that, in scale, could actually swallow the biggest boss from "Chains of Olympus." When you see this creature emerge to face-off against Kratos, you can see that it dwarfs Kratos but he can still interact with the creature by climbing all over it. This sense of scale is something we would not have dreamed of doing in "Chains of Olympus."

Another way that we’ve expanded the scale of the game is by showing the player the true repercussions of Kratos’ actions in the world. We wanted to show that Kratos was a destructive force of nature and that his actions had a certain domino effect that played out over the course of the entire game, from the start all the way through to the end. Through brute force he destroys the world to get what he wants.

Is it going to be tough coming out in the same year at the "God of War" finale? Will gamers still have an appetite even though Kratos is apparently done?

With "God of War III" being such a big success both critically and commercially, it shows that the franchise still has a lot to offer and that this universe is something that resonates with people. For PS3 and PSP owners alike, "Ghost of Sparta" will further expand the world of "God of War" and complete a huge part of the "God of War" saga. We have created a story and a game experience that is whole and will provide both fans and newcomers to the franchise a great source of entertainment.

And just for fun, we asked him this:

In your opinion, what is the difference (if any) between a geek, a gamer and a nerd?

Personally I fit into all three categories. If you ask me about tech, I sound like a nerd. Ask me about Star Wars and I sound like a geek. Ask me about God of War and I sound like a gamer. As a game director I tap into my inner geek, nerd and gamer to make the best game possible.

"God of War: Ghost of Sparta" will be released exclusively on the PSP later in 2010.

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April 28, 2010

Cub Scouts to offer video gaming pin

Posted: 12:42 PM ET

Cub Scouts: The term conjures images of kids doing stuff outside – hiking amid nature, tying knots or identifying which leaf will leave you scratching if used for the wrong purpose.

Well, times have changed. In a move that may horrify old-school former Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America has announced it will offer two awards – a pin and a belt loop – to boys who spend hours playing video games.

Yes, that’s right. Just picture a group of 8- to 10-year-olds huddled around not a campfire but a TV, that glowing box of complacency.

Apparently these new awards are geared toward making Scouts understand which games are appropriate for their age group, not just rewarding them for sitting around on their butts playing video games. Scouts also can work towards their pin by playing a video game that "helps you in your schoolwork."

But you still have to wonder if this isn’t a misguided attempt by the Cub Scouts to stay relevant by pandering to boys’ interests. Seems to me the Scouts should be getting kids outside and teaching them practical skills beyond the bubble of their everyday lives instead of how to read the back of a video game box.

It reminds me of some “Star Trek” episode where a civilization has become so reliant on technology that they have no practical know-how and can’t fix it when it breaks - picture Picard MacGyvering a computer with a paper clip so the planet doesn’t explode.

Those of you who were in the Scouts, what’s your take on this? Should today’s Cub Scouts be rewarded for playing video games? What badge or award were you most proud of earning?

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April 23, 2010

'Geek Out!': Madden Curse vs. Bayou voodoo

Posted: 12:12 PM ET
Is that fear in his eyes?
Is that fear in his eyes?

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees will be featured on the cover of "Madden 11" (EA Sports) – an honor that should make him feel proud and scared at the same time.

Brees, who lead the Saints to a Super Bowl victory last year, was selected by fans to grace the cover of the premier football video game. Football players have been on the games's box art since the 1999-2000 season, but this was the first time that fans could determine who would be featured.

This, however, may have been an attempt to sabotage Brees by fans of other teams. You see, many players who have appeared on the cover have been beset by injury, extremely poor play, or decided to retire - giving birth to the so-called "Madden Curse."

The first cover to feature a player was for "Madden 2000." Detroit Lions star running back Barry Sanders was to appear with John Madden on the box, but Sanders abruptly retired before the beginning of the season.

Electronic Arts rushed out a new box with a new player, Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levins, who was bothered by a bad knee all season and then demoted to a reserve role.

In 2002, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Dante Culpepper struggled throughout the season before injuring his knee and missing the last 5 games of the year.

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk was honored in 2003, but a bad ankle held him under 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and the Rams missed the playoffs.

Michael Vick, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons in 2004, was struck quickly by the "curse." One day after the game hit the shelves, Vick broke his leg in a pre-season game and only played 5 games that year.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb openly taunted the curse after his selection for the "Madden 2006" cover. It was perhaps not a wise choice - McNabb suffered a sports hernia during the first game of the year, struggled through the pain, then ended up tearing ligaments in his knee and missing the last seven games of the year.

Three weeks into the 2006-2007 season, 2007 cover boy Shaun Alexander, running back for the Seattle Seahawks, broke his foot and missed 6 games.

For the "Madden 2009" cover, EA chose Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. However, the Curse hit twice – once when Favre left the Packers before the season started and signed with the New York Jets, and then later when Favre suffered a torn biceps injury during the season.

Two athletes were featured on the "Madden 2010" cover and "The Curse" hit each in due time.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu sprained knee ligaments in the first game of the season, rested, returned and sprained different knee ligaments which forced more missed regular season games.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was able to play all the games in the regular season, but missed out on the playoffs after injuring his ribs.

Some, of course, say the physical nature of football takes its toll on all players and there is no curse. Others take the curse very seriously.

San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson was reportedly to be selected for the 2008 cover, but Chargers fans pleaded with EA to change their mind.

Tomlinson did not appear on the cover, but it was reported that he turned down the honor due to contract negotiations and not the curse.

It may boil down to a battle between the Madden Curse and bayou voodoo to keep Brees healthy and successful for New Orleans this season. For his part, Brees seems unconcerned, saying on Twitter, "Destiny is more powerful than a curse."

Which sounds vaguely like a dark-helmeted figure from geek lore. And we all know how that turned out.

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April 16, 2010

Video game sets a new world record

Posted: 03:50 PM ET
World Record holder
World Record holder

Most world records associated with gaming are for long game play (see: Asteroids record), but one game will be honored for how well it was featured.

"Assassin's Creed II" (Ubisoft) picked up the Guinness World Record for most covered-featured video game. The action-adventure game was used as a lead cover story on 127 different publications in 32 countries, between April 2009 and April 2010.

In the United Kingdom alone, the massive press campaign for "Assassin’s Creed II" achieved 17 front covers, over 340 pages of specialist press coverage and 14 review awards. Guinness officials were surprised by the reach of the game.

"I’m sure plenty of commentators, including myself, would have predicted another well-known game winning the title instead, and this achievement is even more impressive in view of the other 2009 releases that 'Assassin’s Creed II' was able to beat," Gaz Deaves, Editor of "Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition," said.

Deaves said they initially thought a classic arcade game would have been the record-holder (i.e. – "Pac-Man", "Space Invaders") because they've been around for far longer. But, he said, few magazines took an interest in gaming when those games were big.

After examining more recent titles, including "Grand Theft Auto IV", "Modern Warfare 2", and "Halo 3", Deaves and his team verified "Assassin's Creed II" as the winner.

Ubisoft spokeswoman Lisa Revelli said many journalists worldwide made requests to have the game featured on their front covers. Revelli said "Assassin's Creed II" has sold 9 million units worldwide since its release in November 2009.

The record will be shortlisted for entry in the next edition of Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition.

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April 14, 2010

Original Xbox LIVE is no more

Posted: 11:55 AM ET
A final salute
A final salute

At midnight tonight, Microsoft shuts down its original Xbox LIVE service for good.

But before you fling your console out the window, the company is only discontinuing the online service for original Xbox consoles and games, including version 1 games playable on Xbox 360 and Xbox Originals. This means "Halo 2" multiplayer and "Battlefront 2" - two of the more popular online games - won't be available anymore.

The original Xbox LIVE service, started in 2002, paved the way for other consoles and services to connect gamers via the Web and changed the way video games are played and designed. While it did not age well (friends lists capped at 100 people), it laid the groundwork for Microsoft to expand features now available in the current Xbox LIVE, including social networking and movie downloads.

There was some fan backlash after Microsoft's initial announcement two months ago. Some gamers felt betrayed for putting time and money into older games only to have them yanked away. Others suggested a separate service for the older version 1 games, but it appears that Microsoft is dedicated to its current Xbox LIVE service.

"This isn't a decision we made lightly, but after careful consideration, it is clear this will provide the greatest benefit to the Xbox LIVE community," Xbox's Marc Whitten said in a recent letter to Xbox LIVE members.

How much were you using the older service? Does this make an impact on your gameplay choices? Let us know what you were playing!

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April 8, 2010

Report: British boy racks up $1,400 tab on Farmville

Posted: 10:48 AM ET

Fake crops on Farmville - the "free" social game that's become a huge hit on Facebook - cost a British mother some real cash after her 12-year-old son racked up $1,400 in charges on the game.

The Guardian reports that the pre-teen needed only about two weeks to empty his own savings account then start using his mom's credit card.

"When I asked him why he did it he said that they had brought out 'good stuff that I wanted,' " the mother, who asked not to be named, told the newspaper.

Farmville, which last month reported having more than 75 million monthly players, is free to play. But players can spend money on extras, like virtual crops, tools and barns.

Zynga, the company behind Farmville, Mafia Wars and other popular social games, says the games are designed to appeal to a wide cross-section of players, not just the typical young, male video game crowd.

The mother said the son's bills came to 905 British pounds - the equivalent of $1,373.

The British mother, whose hometown was not listed in the story, said she doesn't blame Zynga, Facebook or her credit card company, although she tried to get the money back.

But she said she wished there was extra security to prevent such spending.

"I do think they need to shoulder some responsibility in this business and put systems in place to stop this happening again," she told The Guardian. "The fact that he was using a card in a different name should bring up some sort of security and the online secure payment filter seems to be bypassed for Facebook payments."

She said her son was unable to make mobile phone payments - because his older brother had lost credit buying a ringtone a couple of years earlier.

"We sound terribly technologically unaware don't we?" she said.

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