Leading off this week, from Matt Kreuch, and this is an unbelievable link. It's a compilation of bands performing at South by Southwest, either as single mp3s, one big download, or via streaming (which is how I'm listening to it right now). Here you go: The Austin 100: A SXSW 2014 Mix
From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is a stunning video, it's Ukiyoe Heroes (20) : Proof printing 'Yokai Dracul'
. Next, and this is entirely bizarre, it's The business of bleeding horseshoe crabs
. Next, and hold on to your hat, it's Inventor who shocked tech world stumped by 43-year patent delay
From Sirius, and these are just wonderful, it's Extraordinary Brick Sculptures by Brad Spencer
. Next, and this is amazing, it's Door at Pura Lempuyang (Temple of 1000 Steps), Bali
From DQ Worldwide Cycling Trip Correspondent Doug Walsh, and this is amazing, it's Massive Avalanche above Stevens Pass - Avalanche Control
From C. Lee, and this is a tremendous article, it's Lockheed's Senior Peg: The Forgotten Stealth Bomber
From Wallace, and even as ads, these are excellent: Honda Builds on ‘Cogs,’ Sweeps Up at Auto Ad of the Year Awards
From Robert Nicewander, and this is an absolutely incredible video of skydivers and colliding planes: Alive
From Eric Higgins-Freese, and if you ever wondered what a galaxy looked like while it was undergoing ram pressure stripping, then take a look: Zooming in on ESO 137-001
. Also, and this is fantastic, it's This interactive graphic shows you how big our solar system really is
From DQ Reader My Wife, and this was one of my favorite movies ever, it's This List Goes to 11!: Eleven Trends Predicted by 'This is Spinal Tap'
From DQ Reader Me, a couple of links to wind up the week. First, if you want to see the next Sidney Crosby (not kidding), go watch this fellow: This Is Why Connor McDavid Is Hockey's Next Big Thing
. Finally, these are entirely beautiful: 13 Gorgeous Travel Posters From 1930s Japan
Dark Chocolate and Arghhh
I've seen several articles like this
in the past week:
Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis.
Some study was just released blah blah blah.
I pay attention to this stuff now, because my family history has risk factors for cardiac disease, and I struggle to keep all my cholesterol levels in "safe" territory. So I've tried to be more strict about my diet.
What's impossible, though, is to figure out what to eat. There's so much constantly revised and downright contradictory information that it seems like the safest thing to do is just starve.
Dark chocolate is a good example.
One of the current cornerstones of cardiac health lore is that not all fat is bad for you. What's important is the ratio of total fat to saturated fat, and you want that to be as high as possible. It's not quite that simple, but it's a general rule. I try to make sure that everything I eat--with only very rare exceptions--is at least 5-1. Quite a bit of stuff I eat is in the 10-1 range.
Well, chocolate is awful. It has a huge amount of saturated fat, and many chocolate products (bars, chocolate-covered nuts, etc.) don't even have a 2-1 ratio. I'm looking at a Ghirardelli chocolate bar right now ("Twilight Delight", 72% cacao because high cacao content is key to getting the health benefit, supposedly), and it has 17 grams of total fat and 10 grams of saturated fat per serving.
So does the high cacao content of the chocolate bar, along with its commensurate benefits, outweigh the totally unhealthy fat ratio? Is this all based on the level of cacao, and at what level does the good outweigh the bad?
This is one of those category of things that was totally unimportant twenty years ago, and now it drives me crazy.
This is currently available for Android and iOS devices. Go purchase it immediately
Out There is a seemingly simple game. You are exploring the far reaches of space. Your ship needs fuel, oxygen, and material to repair the ship. You probe planets and drill for the resources you need.
On this level, Out There is a simple resource management game.
On another level, though, what you're playing is a grand space adventure. Encounters with alien races, unexpected events, incredible discoveries--and there appear to be hundreds of them. New technologies to discover that can be incorporated into your ship.
Maybe, with all the right decisions, you'll survive.
Or maybe not, because this game is hard. It does a brilliant job of conveying how absolutely final mistakes are when you're alone. Even small mistakes. It also does a brilliant job of conveying the melancholy of being lost in the vastness of space. It's a beautiful bit of design, wringing genuine emotion out of the player.
This is also a textbook example of how you can make a fantastic game with almost no budget. This game is essentially a decision tree, text events, a few simple animations and sound effects, and beautiful art. Plus, the galaxy is procedurally generated, so it's not a "single play" game.
Owen gave it a well-deserved, glowing review over at Pocket Tactics: Review: Out There
. Read that if I didn't convince you already (well, read it anyway--it's an excellent bit of writing).
Here's the website: Out There
This Kickstarter pitch really struck a chord in me: Toby's Island!
Here's a description:
Toby’s Island is a 2D RPG adventure involving monster-raising, town-building and exploration with a blend of randomized and controlled story events.
There's fishing (boy, am I a sucker for games with fishing). There's crafting. There's desert boarding (windsurfing across the desert).
If I had to use one word, it would be "charming". Lovely but nostalgic graphics, a nice mix of gameplay elements (Harvest Moon marries Pokemon, seemingly), and a well-crafted Kickstarter pitch.
My apologies, but the Banished feature (which I'm very excited about) is going to be delayed by a week. We were gone again for hockey last Friday-Sunday--for about the billionth week in a row--and when we got back Sunday night, I realized that trying to write the Banished feature this week was way too ambitious a schedule.
Next week, though. Definitely.
It was 81F in Fort Worth on Saturday at 4 p.m. Twenty-four hours later, as we left town on Sunday, it was 21F. That's right--a 60 degree drop in a twenty-four hour period.
Here's what we drove through on our way back:
That's not snow--it's ice. It was an ice storm with 35MPH winds, blowing across the road like crazy. That picture doesn't really do it justice, because the ice in the sky is lost against the background, but it was completely nuts. Oh, and it was thundering, too. I had no idea "thundersleet" was an actual thing.
The trip back was one of the strangest I've ever had. This storm hit the interstate in stripes. We'd go through five miles like the picture above, then five miles of just wet road with no ice, then thick ice. It was completely bizarre, and it went on like this for about a hundred and twenty miles. So at least fifty miles south of the first picture, we drove through this:
Again, that's not snow. It's all ice.
If you live up north and you're thinking "So what? This is December through March for us!", that's a fair point. But this is the fifth or sixth time it's happened this winter, when we go through plenty of winters where it doesn't even happen once. No snow tires, no knowledge of how to drive in this stuff, and it just keeps coming.
So a three hour trip home took five hours, and we were lucky it only took that long. I've never been so happy to walk in our front door.
Some Bastard Ruined The Internet
Trend Micro’s security analysts have recently discovered that images of sunsets (and some cats) being shared on the Internet are carrying malware that can hack into bank accounts and begin drawing funds...Christopher Budd, Trend Micro’s Global Threat Communications Manager, says, "If you receive an email with a colorful rainbow or cute kitty, don’t open it unless it is from a known party."
Rainbows and kitties? Come on, man! Those should be universally protected classes. This is why the world can't have nice things.
Gridiron Solitaire #96: A Long Haul
Several of you guys have asked for more information about what's happening after the game shipped--more, that is, outside of development.
I'd really like to have information to share, but I don't have much.
I thought I shipped a content-complete product. I had a list for a free expansion pack, but it was mostly flavor. I quickly realized after getting a few weeks of excellent feedback in the forums, though, that the game wasn't
content complete. There were several ways to significantly improve the game, but it was going to take plenty more work.
That part is hard.
Here's the most important thing I learned after I shipped the game: your game is not finished. Even if you think it's complete, it most likely isn't.
In one way, that's pretty painful. You put so much work in, then realize that there's still quite a lot to do. In another way, though, it's a huge opportunity. The game has a chance to be even better than you thought it could be, and who doesn't want that opportunity?
So my original vision was "single stream". I would complete development, then switch to marketing/support. In reality, though, once you've shipped a product, single stream doesn't exist. There are multiple streams.
What happens when the streams get crossed? You don't want to find out.
So you have to make a decision. I looked at sales (under 2,000), looked at the new long-term road map for the game, and decided that it was inefficient to try to expand distribution right now. I've been approached by bundlers (including one I like very much), and I'm sure GS will be in several bundles at some point, as well as being on the Humble Store, but it makes much more sense to get to version "2.0", then push hard for all this additional distribution.
Work hard, get the features added and tested/balanced, then push marketing as hard as I can in July/August/September.
I don't really have a marketing "plan". I didn't have one when the game launched, either. This was a mistake, but it's not terminal. One of the advantages of putting out a card game like this is that it can have a long lifespan. It's not going to be obsolete tomorrow, or even five years from now. So I have more than one chance here, and I can learn from my mistakes.
Oh, and here's one more important thing I've learned, and this might even be useful. It's very, very easy to structure your schedule so that you're only working on your favorite things. For me, it's development. Once I learned how to program (to some degree, at least), it feels like a soft, warm blanket. It's unbelievably comforting to be at my desk, working on the game.
Marketing, on the other hand, isn't comforting at all. It's doubleplus unfun. So it's very tempting to come up with rationales that let me continue to develop and ignore marketing.
Wait, you might be thinking, isn't that exactly what I'm doing?
Well, not exactly. Everything I'm adding to the game was discussed during the original development cycle, but I wasn't convinced the new features would add to the game without slowing it down. Since then, though, I've figured out ways to incorporate new elements without slowing the game down (well, by more than a minute or so in a single game). That's a good trade-off for more dynamic, varied gameplay.
I've also realized that people don't look at games from a blank slate. They don't start at ground zero and go "Wow, there's a lot here!" Instead, they look for what's missing first, and if they want something and it's not there, everything else can get passed by.
That's one more thing I've learned. Absence is the first thing people notice. So I need to remove those absences (I know what they are), then start promoting the game.
That's the lesson I've learned above all others: this is a long haul. Shipping the game isn't the 90% moment. It might only be the 30% moment. There's so much more that's still going to happen.
Leading off this week, one of the most incredible images of pollution I've ever seen: Scientists: Beijing's Air Pollution Is Like Being in Nuclear Winter
. Seriously, that picture is just mind-blowing.
Next, from Chris Pencis, and this is a fascinating, surreal story: What Lies Beneath (the Glomar Explorer)
. Also, and this is a terrific explanation of all things skate blades, it's Cold Hard Science: The Physics of Skating on Ice
From Jon Hui, and this is amazing: Human Loop the Loop with Damien Walters
From Jonathan Arnold, and these are stunning images: Haunting Photos of the Abandoned 1984 Winter Olympics Facilities
From DQ Music Advisor Chris Hornbostel, and this is an incredible story: Woodrow Wilson: The First Fantasy Baseball Player
From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is just tremendous: Royals - ("Sad Clown With The Golden Voice" Version)
. Hit the lounge, baby! Next, and this is fascinating, it's How the A-10 Warthog became 'the most survivable plane ever built'
From Eric Higgins-Freese, and at least a few of these will shock you: 8 Surprising Historical Facts That Will Change Your Concept Of Time Forever
From Wallace, and these are very clever: One Ad To Rule Them All
From Rob Funk, and this is a fascinating article: The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia
Here are a few generally amazing links from Gizmodo, which is one of my favorite websites. First, and I've linked to stories about this amazing place before, it's Beautiful time-lapse of The Boneyard, the airplane cemetery in Arizona
. Next, and this is a remarkable piece of history, it's This is a GIF of America's Very First Film
. This is an incredible find: How a Mass Whale Graveyard Ended Up Beneath a South American Highway
. Last one, and this is definitely not on my bucket list, it's Tour the Nine Steepest Residential Streets in America
The End Times: The Names of the Damned
Banished: The End Times
I've been enjoying Banished very, very much.
I noticed over the last few days that I had a problem in my village, and over time, I realized that it was terminal. Banished, and then cursed.
I was told how to fix this problem (and it's very logical), but I decided that I'm not going to.
I've saved many, many villages since I began playing games. I know that feeling. I want to experience the other side. So I'm going to roleplay this dying village and write about the end times.
Next week, over two or three days, I'll be writing about the descent.
Incoming (or Outgoing)
DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh has a trip planned. A huge, incredible trip, and hopefully he'll be providing updates as he goes. I'll let Doug explain it from here.
Like many of you, I began my e-friendship with Bill back
when he was writing for GoneGold.com around the turn of the millennium. I was a
budding strategy guide writer, moonlighting for IGN, Gamespy (remember them?),
and the companies that provided the 1-900 tip lines. My very first official
assignment in the industry was writing the 1-900 scripts for
"Daikatana" -- talk about your humble beginnings. Fast forward a year
or two and I was on my way to becoming one of the go-to guys for market-leading
publisher, BradyGames. As a child of the 80s who received his first Atari 2600
at age 4 and who pored over every issue of Nintendo Power throughout the NES
glory days, it was a chance to live out my dream job. Games and writing: what
could be better? And pretty good money to boot! I quit my day job in 2001 and
never looked back.
I went on to write well over one hundred official guides
for nearly every major franchise of the past dozen years. A career that began
with a game considered to be one of the worst of all time has ended with
"Diablo III: Reaper of Souls" due out in a couple of weeks. It was a
good run and I got to work with a lot of great, dedicated people, both at my
publisher, and on-site at companies like Blizzard, Gearbox and especially Epic.
I saw a lot of changes during that time. I remember the days when editors would
stress out about a book exceeding 144 pages. Now we try to keep them under 400.
The Diablo III guide I was lucky to be lead author on weighed in at 496 pages.
The publishers used to release a guide for just about every A, B, and C title
to come along. These days, it's AAA or bust. We used to always work from home.
Now it's 60-90 days on-site a year, which means lots of time in hotels and away
from loved ones. But even that was worth it for a while. Sadly, gaming has
really changed over these past few years, as this blog has chronicled. And so
has my interest in the hobby. Not for the better.
Knowing a change was going to be needed before long, I
decided several years ago that it was time to live out an adventure of my own,
with my wife, IRL. What started as a decision to take a simple mid-life gap
year and travel the major cities of the world has morphed into a
round-the-world bicycle trip. Yes, as in "without a motor." We've
always loved to travel and I've long since wanted to embark on a career as a
travel writer. We started doing some shorter bicycle tours a few years ago and
found it to be the greatest way to travel, as it really forces you off the main
roads and into a pace where you can really get to know a place and the people
who live there.
The trip has been a long time coming, but we're finally set
to pedal east out of Seattle on March 23rd and begin our journey. First across
North America, then across Europe and Central Asia, before continuing southeast
through China to Vietnam, Cambodia, and beyond. If all goes according to plan
(fat chance), we'll wrap it up sometime in 2017 by riding the spine of the
Andes southward from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego. I get goosebumps just typing
If this all sounds rather random and absurd, I'd like to provide my bona fides:
For I have not only been a videogame guidebook writer periodically dropping
anonymous hints on which games to be excited about, but also the Dubious
Quality Fitness Advisor. And I can assure you all that such a title doesn't
come without a very thorough and comprehensive background check.
Our journey is being documented for posterity's sake at www.twofargone.com. Our plan is to
check-in once or twice a week on Facebook (WiFi willing) and publish more
detailed posts, stats, and videos every two weeks or so on the website. Let
Bill know if this trip sounds even vaguely interesting to you and, if so, we'll
try to put together a monthly dispatch from the road.
Since I suspect many of you are as interested in the
logistics of such a trip as others might be the imagery, here's a brief FAQ to
hold you over to the next post:
Mileage: We aim to average 55
miles per day.
- Weight: My bike+gear+food
weighs approximately 106 pounds. My wife's weighs 84.
- Budget: A combined $60
USD/day budget to work best for our desired comfort level.
- Duration: The pie-in-the-sky
grand plan should take approximately 1000 days.
- Sleeping: We plan to camp
several times a week, utilize hospitality networks once or twice, and
spend some time in hotels.
- Rest: We like to take every
7th day off, regardless of location. More time off to sightsee at major
- Oceans: We'll be taking the
Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic and cargo ships between Asia and Oceania
and South America.
- Possessions: We've sold our
house, our cars, and the vast majority of all possessions. Mementos and
some clothes (and my Alienware gaming rig) are being stored in a very
small 5'x5' storage unit.
- Fear: Am I worried about
being mugged or killed by terrorists? No. I'm worried about cars, stray
dogs, and cycling through my childhood state of New Jersey.
When I was in college, I did some fairly insane things (bicycling from South Texas to Florida by myself, running 150 miles along the Padre Island National Seashore from the Mexican border to Corpus Christi in 77 hours), but what Doug is planning to do makes my little trips seem like pebbles.
I can't wait for the monthly dispatches.
Eli 12.6 and the Exhaustioning
"Exhaustioning" isn't a word, but that's a mistake of the dictionary.
Since the beginning of the year, after Eli 12.6s rib healed, we've been on the road every weekend but one. Holy crap.
This schedule doesn't work--at all--but Eli's been ridiculously good. Since he was pulled in San Antonio in November, he's played nine games. One was against the best team in the league, his team was awful and totally overmatched, and he got shelled (and pulled again).
The other eight games? .940 save percentage, 1.6 goals against average.
Anything over .900 for a 12-year-old is good. .940 is ridiculous.
In the first round of the playoffs last week, he had 33 saves on 35 shots, and his team scored the winning goal with 3.9 seconds left. It was a brilliant game, and it was brilliant because he refused to give in. The game was 2-2 for a long time, his team was getting completely dominated, and instead of buckling, he just handled it.
There were five other goalies in the first round of the playoffs. Eli's save percentage was .942. No one else was over .895. That's how dominant he's been.
Plus, he's been growing mentally. More resilient. Stronger. He argues a little more, but it's part of him developing his own strength instead of drawing on mine.
It's been tough, the traveling, but he's worked hard. He's earned our support. And things will settle down--a bit, at least--when we stop traveling for a while.
So if you wonder why the posts are a little abrupt, at times, it's the combination of being gone so much and trying to both write and support Gridiron Solitaire with hockey practices almost every day we're not on the road.
Gridiron Solitaire #95: The Future
Overall, I've been very fortunate with the launch of GS. It's been very stable (there have been a few small bugs reported, but they're all rare). People have been very positive on the Steam forum.
Taking a hard look at the game, post-launch, I see four things that have to be improved, and that's going to be the plan going forward. What makes this a little tricky, though, is that numbers 1-3 are all tied together, and because they all affect play balance, they're going to have to be tested together and rolled out at the same time (probably in 1.3, which will be released end of March/early April).
Here's the list.
1. Run/Pass Balance on Offense
Running is just too viable as a dominant strategy. Because of that, I think it's easy to create a cookie cutter strategy on offense and go on auto-pilot mentally. For most players, they would gain rushing yards in a 2-1 ratio over passing yards. That's the reverse of the NFL, where passing is 2-1.
In 1.3, run matches are going to be worth three yards, not four. In some early play testing I've done, that forces exponentially more attention to down/distance than previously. And my yardage profile is now about 1.5-1 passing to rushing. Not quite at the NFL level, but much improved.
I also tweaked turnover frequency, because turnovers are about 3.5x more likely to happen on a passing play than on a running play. So passing has huge yardage rewards compared to rushing, but correspondingly more risk.
On a side note, what I'm basically trying to do here is tweak everything to match the NFL data as closely as possible, because pro football is an extremely compelling game, and even more compelling when the experience is compressed into a 15-20 minute period. I usually find when I match the data successfully, the gameplay works right away.
As this relates to rushing, it's now very safe compared to passing--in a turnover sense--but it's not viable as a primary tool on offense. That's how it should be, and even though I'm still tweaking, I'm pretty excited about how this is going to work.
Plus, there are smaller benefits as well. Before, all the yardage gained was a multiple of four (four yards for rushing matches, eight for passing matches). Now it's a combination of multiples of three and four. That means that yards to go suddenly has all this variety it didn't have before on offense.
I never even thought about that, but after it was changed, I noticed the difference right away.
2. Defensive Gameplay
The changes made to offense are going to make it more difficult, and because of that, I can reduce the difficulty on defense, which is a welcome change. Previously, games felt like they were mostly scoring drives punctuated with an occasional defensive stop.
On defense, that was because at the higher difficulties, the yardage penalty for a missed play call was borderline punitive (particularly on Champ). So, in many case, the biggest drama of the play was over as soon as the play call was made.
I need to fix that.
There are going to be two significant changes. First, max yardage based on play call match/mismatch is no longer going to be staggered by difficulty. Instead, it's going to be a basic 15/25, with the difference being that more big play presses are awarded at the lower difficulties.
This is more fair, and it's also easier to adapt to in terms of understanding how defense works as you move through difficulty levels.
The other change is that I need to come up with something so that the CPU still has a chance of getting a first down, even on third and long (besides the Big Gain possibility). I'm not sure what form that's going to take yet--maybe a higher gain, but more yards are reduced with each card match--but there needs to be some sort of mechanic in place.
3. Special Teams Viability
Up to this point, a high Special Teams rating was of limited use. Sure, it helped with field goals and punts, but if there was any rating you wanted to ignore in the offseason, it would be this one.
Now, though, that will no longer be the case.
I didn't want them originally because I thought they would slow down the action too much, but I have a way to resolve them in about 3 seconds, so it won't hurt the flow of the game. And it's a huge benefit in terms of rewarding a player with a high Special Teams rating, because the resolution is 100% ratings-dependent. A team with an "A+" ST rating, for example, will have better starting field position (by up to ten yards, on average) than a team with a "F" rating. Plus, when they kick off, the highly rated ST team will have far more touchbacks than a team with a lousy kicker.
Until now, a high Special Teams rating might benefit you on 6-8 plays in a game (field goal attempts plus punts). With 1.3, though, there will be more punting because of the play balance changes (making field position more important), and that high Special Teams rating will now provide a benefit on 15+ plays a game.
All the upper and lower performance parameters are based on real NFL data, too, so an "A+" rating means that your special teams perform at the level of the best in the NFL, and an "F" rating means they perform at the level of the worst.
More like real football, in other words. Much more like real football.
4. Offseason Player Card Personality Enhancement and Usage
I talked about this a few weeks ago, so no need to track back. Suffice to say that the player names will play a more integral part in the game in terms of statistics and team records, and will be more closely identified by the user as individuals instead of numbers.