Your Witness, Counselor
"Mommy, can I have my bowl of eyeballs?" When I hear that, I know it must be close to Halloween. If it's not, then I need to call every medical lab within a three state area, and right away.
We went on a walk today (my walk, his ride) and started talking. With Eli 3.2, the conversation can go from dinosaurs to spaceships to Tweety Bird to pasta, sometimes in the same sentence.
"What do dogs eat?" Eli 3.2 asks.
"Well, they eat quite a few things," I say. "Some of them eat hard food that's made just for them, and they eat meat, and some dogs eat table scraps, which are leftover food from your plate. Dogs can eat just about anything but chocolate."
"Why not chocolate?"
"Because chocolate makes them sick. It can hurt them."
"But my dog
will eat chocolate." This is Schrödinger's dog--the very act of me thinking about having one makes it cease to exist.
"No dog should eat chocolate," I say.
"My special dog
will eat chocolate," Eli 3.2 says. "He's very, very special."
"Eli, it doesn't matter how special he is. He can't eat chocolate. It's not safe."
"No no no! Let me tell you something. He is very, very, very special, and he eats all
"Eli, he just can't eat chocolate, no matter how special he is. Dogs can't
"But what if my dog is MADE out of chocolate?"
I salute you, Perry Mason.
"Little man, if your dog is made out of chocolate, then I think he should be able to eat chocolate."
"Hooray!" he says. "My very special dog eats CHOCOLATE!"
That's me--Hamilton Burger, District Attorney.
A Blizzard of Idiots, By Phone
The Presidential election is Tuesday, just in case you're wondering, and today I saw a line for absentee voting that poll workers estimated to be three hours long
. Way to vote, people!
I'm not going to have a political rant in this space. Those of you who read carefully know who I voted for. I think most of you come here to get away from the real world, and I'm just as sick of this election as you are.
However, I am going to talk about the phone messages. For the last two days, we are getting carpet-bombed with pre-recorded messages from political candidates. They are uniformly idiotic, desperate, and annoying. This, then, is my revenge.
Hello. My name is Jackson Asshat, and I'm running for U.S. Representative in the newly created Three Blocks in Your Neighborhood Congressional District. My opponent, Pleghm Flam, recently annexed the Sudan. He denies it, but there's no denying thirty-nine million immigrants who have to wind up somewhere, and if he has his way, it'll be your front yard.
I say to you, Mr. Flam, stop being arrested for lewd acts with howler monkeys and take responsibility for your actions. Take your immigrant loving, monkey spanking monster mash and leave the good citizens of this congressional alone!
(announcer) Jackson Asshat: he hears voices, but only the ones you WANT him to hear.
Nvidia SLI: Shazbat!
'Shazbat' is intended to convey excitement.
That's me. Mr. Excitement.
AnandTech tested an Nvidia nForce4 SLI (scalable link interface) system and produced the most comprehensive set of benchmark information currently available. And it's very, very good news. Link here: http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2258&p=1
Briefly, if you haven't heard about this, the SLI technology makes it possible to use two graphics cards, working together, in the same system. It's not the same tech as the old Voodoo 2 SLI setup, though, and I'll discuss that in more depth later.
I had two concerns about this technology when it was originally announced: one, that the potential performance increases would be compromised by inefficient drivers, and two, that the complexity of the technology would produce graphic anomalies in rendering.
Based on AnandTech's benchmark data, my first concern (about performance) is unnecessary. At the highest resolutions, performance increases are on the order of 70% over a single-card solution. That's spectacular, to say the least.
My second concern, about rendering issues, is still something to watch. This technology doesn't use a simple, brute-force to using two graphics cards--it's not alternate frame rendering or half the screen for each card or something along those lines. Instead, there is apparently an adaptive algorithm that determines, on the fly, which of multiple methods will be used. On the plus side, that could result in much greater performance increases. On the downside, and I think this could be significant, it makes the drivers far more complex, both to create and maintain. AnandTech notes that
"Although motherboard and graphics support for SLI is definitely close to being ready, we are not so certain about the maturity of the drivers. NVIDIA's own tests were conducted under three applications: Doom 3, Halo and 3dmark 05. Although our own tests added two more benchmarks, they didn't run without their fair share of display issues."
If the display issues are resolved, then this technology is going to rock the graphics card industry, and it's noted in the article that ATI is rumored to working on some sort of SLI solution as well.
Holy Crap: Another Half-Life 2 Post
Sorry. It's just that this game and the distribution mechanism are going to have a singular effect on PC gaming, and I keep thinking of little oddities that make me wonder what's going on. As in Why is Vivendi doing such a crappy job promoting this game?
Because they are--they're doing an absolutely HORRIBLE job. Besides some print magazine ads, I see almost nothing.
So here's what we know:
1. Vivendi claims in the lawsuit that Valve severely understated the potential of Steam as a distribution mechanism.
2. Valve offered Counterstrike: Source as a candy cane for anyone who ordered Half-Life 2 via Steam.
3. Vivendi is doing almost nothing to promote the game--print ads, but no in-store displays or any of the other collateral that is standard for game marketing.
Here's the piece of information we really don't have: what is Vivendi's cut for a retail box versus a purchase via Steam? I've been told that it's the same, but if it is, Vivendi's lack of promotion is completely baffling.
Actually, it's baffling if Vivendi is the one doing it. Another possibility is that the gaming chains are pissed about Steam and aren't going to do anything in-store to promote the game. That would seem like a definite possibility. So either Vivendi has jumped ship on the game because of their relationship with Valve, or gaming chains have refused to work with Vivendi in promoting the game.
I can never remember a game that has had such strange twists and turns in the course of its development and release, and it's particularly strange in light of how excellent the game appears to be. Usually, these kinds of things happen to bad games, not great ones, but I fully expect Half-Life 2 to be great.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3
I installed RCT3 yesterday and spent about three hours with it. How you respond to this game will probably depend on where you belong in the following groups.
Type A: Played Roller Coaster Tycoon, loved it, didn't get sick of it, couldn't wait for the sequel. Response: you will absolutely love this game. The graphics look fantastic, some of the new features (fireworks displays and the coaster cam, for example) are spiffy, and it's Roller Coaster Tycoon turned up to eleven.
Type B: Never played Roller Coaster Tycoon. You will also probably love this game. If you've never played it, the game is remarkably fresh, funny, and ingenius. Plus, you'll get your first exposure to the game with 3D graphics, which look wonderful.
Type C: Played Roller Coaster Tycoon and loved it--for a while. After thirty hours or so, suddenly realized that repositioning trash collectors to limit the puke accumulation near the Cosmic Vomitron ride was no longer refreshing. I'm not sure there's enough new here to keep you interested beyond the initial "Oh, wow!" effect of seeing the amusement parks in 3D.
Here's a link to another article about this amazing find:
Thanks to Glen Haag for sending me the link.
NBA Live 2005
I installed NBA Live 2005 (PC) yesterday.
Basketball games on both consoles and the PC have an erratic, inconsistent history. Basketball is a difficult game to simulate because so much movement is reactive and based on a player's proximity to other players. Finding and creating space is a core skill in basketball, and this kind of free-flowing motion has been very difficult for developers to recreate. To this day, I think my two favorite basketball games are TV Sports Basketball (Cinemaware, for the Amiga, 1989) and NBA Live 95 (Electronic Arts, for the PC, 1995). NBA Live 95, in particular, was a breakout game for EA, because it was amazingly fluid, the ball physics were quite good, and the sound effects were outstanding. That's very few outstanding titles over two decades, unfortunately.
The NBA Live series is a microcosm of the erratic history of basketball games. The games have always sold well, but in the last five years, Live was clearly the weakest of EA's sports lineup. Last year's revamp took major strides in improving the series, and I had high hopes for this game, given that it could be expected to add additional refinement to last year's effort.
Let me start with the positives. On the PC, the game looks fabulous. Player models and arenas just look jaw-dropping at the highest resolutions. Crowd sounds are excellent, and the announcing is very solid. The game also does an excellent job compressing breaks in play to keep the game moving.
All-Star Weekend, particularly the slam dunk contest, is remarkable. The slam dunk contest is a game in itself, and it's absolutely fantastic.
So, in a word, the game is sexy.
Now let's get to the problems, and I wish this section was shorter, but it's not.
What I'll always do first is watch the CPU play against itself and experiment with sliders over a 5-10 hour period. Even if you're playing the game, 90% of the players at any one time are CPU controlled, so if the CPU can't play against itself with a reasonable degree of fidelity, the gameplay experience is in trouble. So I've adjusted sliders and done the best I could to get to a reasonable CPU vs. CPU experience.
No matter the slider settings, here's a one-word summary of how the CPU plays basketball: lousy
. It's very poor at creating space and even poorer at taking advantage when space is available. Player spacing on offense is horrendous. It's very slow to find the open man. The fast break is non-existent, which is tremendously frustrating. In almost all cases (breakouts after blocked shots and steals being the exception), CPU players will stop to receive passes instead of catching them on the run, and that kills the fast break. Even when the CPU has numbers, they will rarely take advantage, preferring to slow down instead. There's also far too much dribbling in response to pressure. Closely guarded players will dribble all over the place instead of passing the ball--in part, because teammates are very slow to offer help.
There are certainly visual anomalies--players 'skating' with each step, players passing without looking toward their target (and not in the Pete Maravich sense, either), phantom fouls, shots considered three-pointers when the shooter's feet are clearly on the line, etc.--but the biggest problem, by far, is the way that the CPU plays basketball. It's slow, it's ponderous, and it's boring.
Then there are the blocks. Gear up for 10-15 per team per game unless you want to edit player ratings--the sliders just can't fix the problem.
Toss in a few more problems--far too much 3/4 court pressure, odd ball flight on some passes--and the summary is messy, messy gameplay.
Now you may be thinking that today's NBA is a relatively poor simulation of good basketball, and I will freely admit the truth of that assertion, but it's poor in different ways. NBA Live violates so many of the fundamental tenets of modern basketball that while it it looks pretty and animates well, look more than six inches deep and you'll find air.
This is what drives me crazy about this game and EA Sports in general. If anyone who understands basketball sat down and just watched a CPU vs. CPU game for ten minutes, they would see these problems. How is that not part of the development process? Isn't watching the game and evaluating whether it looks like 'real' basketball an important step? This is true of ESPN games as well--these development teams need to spend far more time watching CPU vs. CPU games.
I know--you buy the game to play it, not watch it. But if you're playing single-player, 90% of the players are CPU controlled. In essence, you ARE watching a CPU vs CPU game with one human player inserted into the mix. So if CPU vs. CPU doesn't follow the correct fundamentals, the game isn't going to work.
I'm still hoping that someone can come up with some genius sliders to fix some of these issues, but right now, the game just isn't fun. And ESPN NBA was unimpressive as well this year.
Last year, the best basketball game, by far, was ESPN College Hoops. I've heard good things about this year's version and hope it comes through when it's released next month.
Hobbits? What the...?
Let me just clip the the first paragraph of this National Geographic story:
"Scientists have found fossil skeletons of a hobbit-like species of human that grew no larger than a three-year-old modern child (See pictures). The tiny humans, who had skulls about the size of grapefruits, lived with pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons on a remote island in Indonesia as recently as 13,000 years ago."
I know, this sounds like an April Fool's Day joke I played on a friend of mine who's a Lord of the Rings fanatic, but it's not Apri 1 and this appears to be real. Incredible. Here's the link:
More PC/Console Ruminations
I spent some time yesterday thinking about the implications of the Half-Life 2/Halo pre-order information I posted yesterday. Some of you wrote in and pointed out mitigating factors, all of which I agree with, but you can't mitigate 15X the pre-orders. All that can be done is lessen the magnitude of the difference.
I realized yesterday that there's an additional factor in this evolution of the gaming market that I never seriously considered before. If a company is going to plow five million dollars into a game, the first thing they're going to do is assess the potential market. The basic determination that has to be performed before committing to development is how many units can be sold. If that number's not potentially profitable, the game's not going to get funded.
So Company X has five million dollars, and they're trying to decide whether to make a game for the Xbox or for the PC market. The Xbox analysis is straightforward, because the installed system base is very easy to determine--take the total number of systems sold, make an adjustment for systems out of service, and you're done. All existing systems in the installed base could potentially be used to play the game.
I know that there are territorial lockouts by region, so different versions must be made, but I'm considering only the U.S. to keep this as simple as possible.
Now let's try to do that for the PC. To start with, there's no way in hell to have any idea how many systems are out there--any number is an absolutely wild guess. And of those systems, there's no way to know how many of them are personal versus business. And of the personal systems, there's no way to know how many have 3D accelerator cards, which are needed for every high-budget title now. And the systems that do have 3D acceleration could have any one of fifty different cards (or more) spanning the last five years. Plus all of those systems run at different speeds. When a game is developed for the PC, it's like developing for a dozen different markets, and each of those markets is going to get a different experience.
What a pain in the ass.
So if I have the money, and there is no way to establish the market for a PC title, I'm developing primarily on the console platform, and then I'll put out a PC version six months later. Maybe.
Before the PS2 era, the installed base of consoles wasn't so huge that the potential audience blew away the PC market, but I think that's the case now.
I've said before that I don't think this is necessarily such a bad thing. Digital distribution is going to make PC games more profitable for developers, certainly more profitable per unit than console titles. The new generation of consoles is going to have high-definition support built-in, so even if it's not a PC game, the quality of the experience will be very, very high. Plus porting a 720p game over to the PC is going to look far better than what we're getting now for ports, because with 1280x720 as the resolution standard for the initial development platform, textures (and text) are going to be higher-res and the game will not suffer as badly visually when it goes to the PC. Plus the XNA tools Microsoft is developing for cross-platform development should be very useful.
The PC game market will always survive--it's just being forced to evolve.
Big Game Hunting
After dinner as a family
, which I titled "The Fall of Saigon," I retreated to my study for a few minutes. When I come back out, I walk toward the kitchen.
"STOP!" Gloria shouts. I freeze.
"Fly," she says, hissing through her teeth. She holds the flyswatter in a death grip with her right hand. The killing hand.
"Almost there," she whispers, stalking across the tile with the stealth of a Special Forces operative. She reaches Waypoint Alpha, by the dishwasher, then reconnoiters to Waypoint Bravo, by the refrigerator. Charlie is on the leg of a chair next to the kitchen table. The hot zone.
Gloria winds up and, well, flails
at the fly.
"Where is it?" she asks.
"I don't see it," I say.
"I think I got it," she says.
"You didn't get it," I say. "After that swing, he probably thinks he can kill all of us. He's flown to Home Depot to look at redecorating schemes."
Then, on the floor by the chair, I see it: the dead body of a fly. Gloria sees it at the same time I do and shouts in gleeful triumph.
"I DID get it!"
"No way. That's another fly. This is what happens when you don't sweep the kitchen often enough."
"There is no way you can say that's not the fly," she says, still giddy.
"Maybe it's the fly, but you didn't kill it," I say. "That swat wouldn't have broken a soap bubble."
"Hmph," she says, and if you're married, you know exactly how that sounds.
"It could have died as you swung the fly swatter," I say helpfully. "Maybe it had an aneurysm as it saw the fly swatter heading its way in super-slow motion."
"I don't believe you," she says. "You're a sad little man."
"It could have been a suicide. I'll look for a note."
In the end, as always, we decided to do the only reasonable thing.
Autopsy results are in two weeks.
I went to Lowes Home Improvement Center today. I was sent there and instructed to find a 'solution' for the garden hose covering our backyard like a fifty-foot anaconda on The Discovery Channel.
We've tried it all. Hose reels--suck. Wall-mounted something or others--suck. Flat hoses--suck.
Then I saw something brilliant and new. I found a neon-blue hose which was already coiled. You just drag it around, water stuff, and when you're done it recoils on its own.
Unfortunately, in a tragic clash of Mars and Venus, I may well be on spousal probation for this remarkable discovery.
More importantly, though, as I walked through Lowes I saw this: http://www.lowes.com/lkn?action=brandPageProcessor&brandpage=skyb
Stop that. Go take a quick look.
It's called the Skybox, and it's a personal vending machine. It can dispense four different kinds of drinks, and even better, you can do this: "Show off your team spirit and true colors. The SkyBox vendor can be customized with interchangeable front and side panels featuring your favorite pro and college teams – so you can change logos with each new sports season
Sixty-four cans of ice-cold soda maintained at thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit. With your team's logo on the front.
I don't even need one and I want one. I'm almost giddy just thinking about it.
I go up to the counter to pay for the ill-fated neon hose, and I ask the clerk about the Skybox and how it's selling. This guy is about twenty years old, pretty tough-looking, and when I mention the Skybox, he giggles
. It's an actual fourth grade recess, cootie-catcher, Peter-Thompson-has-a-crush-on-me little girl giggle. "Oh man, I really want one of those," he says. Then he smiles, and in his smile there is a long and happy life.
This is why we drive women crazy. They giggle about love. We giggle about vending machines.
Half-Life 2/Halo 2
I received an interesting e-mail from a Gamestop manager this morning, saying that his store had 'less than thirty' preorders for Half-Life 2.
That amazed me.
This is the sequel to one of the best PC games ever made. Console sports games franchises that get released every year have more pre-orders than that.
Even if you calculate Steam as reducing retail purchases by 50% (which I think is an impossibly high guess), it's still not very impressive. Not for a game of this magnitude.
The e-mail made me very curious. So I called my local 'benchmark' gaming store, an Electronics Boutique in a heavily-trafficked local mall. This is a high-volume store. I can usually call there and, if I get the right person on the phone, bend the conversation in a way to get some useful information.
Here's what I got.
Pre-orders for Half-Life 2: 27.
Pre-orders for Halo 2: over 400.
Holy crap! Four hundred
pre-orders? That is absolutely stunning. If you ever wonder why I talk about the decline of PC gaming and the rise of consoles, that's why. Halo 2 is apparently going to outsell the PC versions of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, combined, on the basis of pre-orders alone
Those pre-order numbers are why PC games no longer get premium shelf space inside gaming stores and mass market retailers. That's also why I say that while Half-Life 2 is an important game in the history of PC gaming, the validation of Steam as a high-volume distribution mechanism is far more important. Steam is far more important to the future of PC gaming than Half-Life 2 is. To maintain viability, PC games need to move, and quickly, toward digital distribution. I don't think that's a bad trend, just a necessary one.
Another Family Dinner
We're having dinner. As a family.
"What do dinosaurs do
?" Eli 3.2 asks.
"They work for the city," I say helpfully.
Gloria ignores me. Generally, this is the best thing to do. "They're extinct, so they're not around anymore," she says. "But when they were still here, they'd eat, and play, and sleep, and sometimes they'd fight." Bor-ing. No wonder they left.
Eli eats two mouthfuls of rice, then puts down his spoon.
"But what do they do for the city
?" Eli asks.
"Well, they work as meter maids," I say.
"But what are meter maids
?" he asks.
"People have to pay money to park their cars downtown on the street. Meter maids walk by and check to make sure that they've paid. If they haven't paid, the dinosaur eats their car."
It's not my fault that this isn't strictly accurate. There are possibly thousands of parallel universes out there, each slightly different than the rest. In many of these universes, the meteor strike that destroyed the dinosaurs never happened. I believe that in at least one of these universes, dinosaurs and humans live and work side-by-side.
Of course they're meter maids. Why would a human take that job when we can get a dinosaur to do it?
Employing dinosaurs as meter maids would be highly effective. The headline in the Metro section of the newspaper:
Meter Maids Masticate, Ate Eight Near Town Lake
Parking violations down 90%, commissioner says
And Another One
HomeLAN Fed is reporting (www.homelanfed.com
) that a Firaxis PR rep has confirmed that the release date for Sid Meier's Pirates has been moved to "the week of November 22."
That's great news. This is the first time I've heard anyone from Firaxis say something that clearly indicates the game will ship this year. So it looks like Pirates is solid now.
Beauties and the Beasts
How do I miss hearing about these things?
I was vaguely aware that there was a television reality show called 'The Swan
.' For all I knew, it could have been about waterfowl or vets. Much to my horror, I saw a promo for this show on Saturday. Ye gods!
Here's the setup for the show. Find a bunch of homely women with no self-esteem, perform an unlimited number of cosmetic surgeries on them, then have a beauty pageant.
Wow. Even I'm impressed.
It's on FOX, of course, home of such quality programming as The World's Longest Urinations Caught on Video
and American Ho!
Even so, I'm stunned by the depths to which 'network programming' can sink. Could it sink any farther?
Oh, I think it could. And in the spirit of community service, allow me to help.
Here's an idea. It's a variation of 'The Swan' called 'Beauties and the Beasts.' Here's the setup: find sixteen women with huge egos who desperately want cosmetic surgery.
By the way, 'egos' isn't a code-word for boobs. I really mean egos.
These women should cover the entire spectrum of beauty, from ultra-hot (but still not satisfied with their looks) to egads! That's important.
Now put them in a locked room, give them all baseball bats and tell them that the last four standing get all the surgery they want. And because this is reality television, they'll do it. They'll be entirely willing to beat each other up for tummy tucks and collagen injections.
That's so conceptually beautiful it almost makes me cry.
It's blockbuster reality television: twelve of the sixteen women are presumably going to look far worse after getting beaten with baseball bats by the other contestants. And no cosmetic surgery (or soup) for the losers.
So you have these epic television moments where the beautiful, self-obsessed blonde who just wanted some touchups done goes back home to meet her equally vain, investment-banking husband, Percival Wainwright III. The cameras follow closely behind as she opens the door of their summer home in the Hampton's, then focuses on Percival's reaction as he shouts "HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?"
Don't tell me you're not watching that. I know you are.
Release Dates Plus Half-Life 2 Activation
The stampede away from the Half-Life 2 release date (Nov 16) is picking up speed. First it was Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, which moved back to November 30. Today it was announced that Everquest II will be released November 8.
I think there could be several more changes announced this week as every other game except Vampire tries to escape.
In a Gamespy interview with Valve's Doug Lombardi last week, he said this:
During installation the user will be prompted to authenticate the copy and create a Steam account. After that is complete, the single-player and LAN games do not require an Internet connection.
Great. Thanks for jamming a Steam account down our throats. I appreciate that.
And I hope Steam has enough bandwidth to validate a jillion copies on November 16, because if it doesn't, there are going to be some very, very pissed off people out there.
This Site Has Gone X Days Without an Accident
We're on our way to Chuck E. Cheese.
"Will you get OUT of our WAY? Hey, listen to me--I sound just like a GROWN-UP!" Eli 3.2 is in fine form.
We're going to Chuck E. Cheese because Eli didn't have any "accidents" for a week. Sometimes he gets excited about what he's doing and just forgets to pee. It wasn't happening very often, but when it comes to pee, 'not very often' is too often. So Gloria promised him a Chuck E. Cheese trip as a reward.
Eli finished filling up his accident-free chart yesterday, so we decided to make the trip tonight. Our excitement, however, was muted this morning, when Eli and Gloria played hide and seek. Apparently, to Eli 3.2, the phrase 'hide and seek' actually means 'hide in the closet under the stairs and crap in your pants.'
So what do you call a trip to Chuck E. Cheese under these circumstances?
Bittersweet. That's what you call it.
"LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS!" I scrape myself off the roof of the car. Eli 3.2 is very enthusiastic about car trips, and he likes to shout important information that may help me drive more safely. In this case, he's reciting lines from Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
, a surreal children's book about a pigeon trying to cajole you into letting him drive a bus. Eli, not surprisingly, is on the side of the pigeon.
"True story. My cousin Herb drives a bus EVERY DAY." Eli 3.2 is wearing a raincoat, even though its ninety-one degrees outside. It's yellow, with the words "FIRE AND RESCUE TEAM" printed on the back in very official-looking letters. The hat also has a fireman's badge on the front. He just got it yesterday and we can't get it off him.
"What's the BIG DEAL? It's JUST a BUS!" If you don't have kids, you will be unable to understand the Dali-esque conversations taking place in the vehicle just in front of you. Trust me when I say that when you're behind a vehicle with children inside, the minimum safe following distance is approximately one mile.
"LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS!"
Chuck E. Cheese is Building Zero in any epidemic or plague in a three-county area. White-suited Hazmat teams circle in the parking lot. There's a courtesy phone in the lobby with a direct connection to FEMA.
Eli 3.2 wanders in happily. He's older now, and he's comfortable with the space and the games and knows all the things that he likes to do. It's also nice that he's old enough to do some things on his own. We don't have to follow two feet behind him because he's about to faceplant on every solid object. Now he's very nimble, and we can mix play with just sitting nearby and keeping an eye on him.
"Where's the pants crapper?" I ask.
"Over at the rotovirus phone," Gloria says. The phone lets you 'talk' to Chuck E. Cheese via a pre-recorded message. Every kid who walks in spends five minutes on that phone. Chuck E. says things like "Thanks for calling! Now you have the flu!" There should be a sticker on the front with the 1-800 number of the Center for Disease Control.
"There's a fire?" Eli 3.2 has apparently turned the plague phone into some sort of emergency response line. "Okay, I'll be there in FIVE HOURS," he says, hanging up the phone and racing over to a Bob the Builder vehicle that will apparently take him to save the day, albeit very slowly.
"Blaze Engulfs City," I say. "Mayor Vows to Investigate Fire Department Response Time." Gloria laughs. With me. At me. There's no telling.
Eli 3.2 continues in his role as Chief of the Curiously Unresponsive Fire Department for nine or ten phone calls, after which he decides to start singing:
it might only be
A CARDBOARD BOX
but it's HOME to me
I should probably explain that.
Eli's favorite cartoon is Maggie and the Ferocious Beast
(my favorite, too). One of the characters is Hamilton Hocks, a talking pig who lives in a large cardboard box. He'll sing about this box from time to time, and Eli's picked up the lyrics in the last week or so.
Nothing strange there. However, judging from the looks on the faces of a few nearby mothers, the Child Protective Services hotline will be ringing off the hook soon.
"Eli, is that the Fire Department phone ringing?" I ask.
"The PHONE? I'll be RIGHT THERE!" After the continental U.S. has been reduced to charred rubble, Eli takes a break. Gloria wraps him in an anti-bacterial bath sheet and then autoclaves the phone in consideration of the next little walking transmission vector to arrive. Then he heads off to spend a few minutes in the tunnels of Cu-Chi Cheese.
The pizza has arrived at our table. Eli has some chicken tenders and french fries, neither of which he'll eat. He doesn't like to eat while he's here. Too many adventures to stop for eating. "I'm just going to try this and then I am going to be FED UP," he says. And hungry, too, because I don't negotiate with kidnappers or terrorists. Or blondes.
"Do you know that some men sit on the potty and read?" he asks. That's crazy talk. Where would he hear something ridiculous like that? I may have to home school him.
"I need to go to the bathroom," I tell Gloria, slipping a copy of War and Peace
into my backpack as I walk away.
I may be a while.
Catherine Cochran sent me a wonderful story and was kind enough to allow me to share it with you.
I read your entry about "Scentstories" and it brought back memories of a friend I had when I was a kid.
Jay and I were both in the fifth grade and spent lots of time together riding bikes, building forts, going swimming, and all the great stuff a kid got to do before the era of scheduled everything (Ah, the '80s. Good times....).
His mom was always buying all kinds of gadgets for the house and one of her purchases was a Smell-O-Disc player. It was about the size of a CD player with a vent on the top. The device came with about fifteen or so Smell Discs: baking cookies, wildflowers, new car, etc. Pushing a button on the player ejected a little platform and you inserted a disk of your choice. (Funny how much it looked like a CD player, but then again there were no CD players around the neighborhood at that time.) One day, Jay and I were bored and looking for things to do. His mom wasn't around and playing with the Smell-O-Disc player seemed like a great idea. We played one (cookies, I think) and then another. And another. And another, methodically working our way through the collection.
Soon the living room smelled as if someone had been baking chocolate chip cookies. On a beach. By a coconut tree. Where a new car was parked. Under a jasmine bush. Alongside newly mown hay. On an alpine meadow of wildflowers. Where vanilla beans grew. Next to a rose bush.
In the middle of a grove of Christmas trees. Where a campfire was burning...
His mother was none too pleased with us when she got home. ("It STINKS in here!!! Both of you--OUT!!!") She shooed us outside and opened the windows and turned the ceiling fan on high to air out the house. Once out of her way, we thought this was really funny. What kid wouldn't?
The next time we had to play inside on a rainy day, we were disappointed (but not surprised) that the Smell-O-Disc player was gone from its perch of temptation on the mantle above the fireplace. We never saw the thing again. I never knew what became of it.
Jay moved away the following summer and I never saw him again. I wonder whatever became of my childhood friend. Maybe he works for the Febreeze company.
I can only wonder.
Here's what EB Games shows as shipping on 11/15 (available in stores 11/16):
World of Warcraft
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault
If that's not crazy enough for you, here's what ships the very next day (11/16):
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
Sid Meier's Pirates
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
I'm not even listing everything--just the biggest titles. Gamestop has similar dates with the exception of World of Warcraft (not date listed) and Prince of Persia (11/30).
What's going to be interesting is to see which games move. As a guess, I would expect Pirates and Medal of Honor to move to early December, and maybe Prince of Persia as well. There has to be a limit to what most of us are willing to spend in a two-day period. Vampire should stick because it may sell additional units because of its use of the Source engine, which makes it the only title that could benefit from being released at the same time.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Good news for those of you looking forward to this game (I am). EB Games just updated the shipping date to November 16.
I saw an interview with Doug Lombardi where he mentioned that Vampire couldn't ship until Half-Life 2 did. Hopefully, today's update means that the game is ready to go on the first day that it can legally ship.
I thought that Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption was a terrific, ambitious failure. It was very nearly an epic game, and even though I didn't finish it due to what I saw as extremely repetitive combat, I didn't feel cheated. I have high hopes for the sequel.
Eli 3.2 is a Yankee hater.
That's my boy.
I hate the Yankees with a bloodlust usually reserved for invading aliens who have publicly declared their intentions to exterminate our species.
Quick--which of the following does not belong?
--Mary Tyler Moore
If I only get one answer, I've got to go with the Yankees.
I didn't turn Eli 3.2 into a Yankees hater, although I had it on the list. No, it was our babysitter's boyfriend, a fine fellow who occasionally reads these very pages, who explained to Eli that there was light and dark in the world of sports, and the dark side consisted of--the Yankees (and maybe Manchester United, but I'm not qualified to make that judgment). So now when Eli sees the Yankees, he immediately says "Boo! 'ANKEES."
I'm so proud I almost tear up just thinking about it.
I've watched most of the last three games of the Yankees-Red Sox series. In case you've somehow missed this, the Yankees had a 3-0 lead in the best of seven series. No team in the history of baseball has ever come back to win a series when they're down 0-3--no one has ever even forced a seventh game.
Over a dizzying three days, the Red Sox have won three of the most dramatic games I've ever seen to pull even. And game seven is tonight.
Now if you're not a sports fan, you might be wondering why I hate the Yankees so much. From their inception, the Yankees have had enormous financial advantages over every other team in baseball. They are the silver spoon babies. Their payroll this year is $182 million dollars
. Their payroll is more than the payrolls of the five lowest payroll teams combined
. There are only five other teams in the league whose payrolls are more than half the size of the Yankees. The Red Sox have the second highest payroll in the league and it's sixty million
I don't root for overdogs. I despise them. It's in my blood, somehow.
I hate the Yankees so much that, for years, I wouldn't watch one of their playoff games unless they were facing elimination--and behind. If they caught up, I turned off the television, because I wasn't going to watch them win.
It's been excruciating watching these games, and not because of the drama. I'm not much of a baseball fan anymore, because the pace of the game has progressively slowed until it's at a standstill. Last night's game was the standard nine innings and lasted three hours and fifty minutes.
That gust of wind you felt was paint drying as it rushed by.
In the 1950's, that same game would have taken an hour less to play. Today there are more dead spaces during a game than a comedian performing in a morgue.
Then there's FOX. As if baseball hadn't already done enough to ruin itself, FOX ups the ante with their coverage. Here's a blow-by-blow of what happens when FOX covers a baseball game. Please note: all sound effects between pitches are sampled from Rosie the Robot of The Jetsons.
--the pitcher pitches. Be sure and notice the massive digital adboard behind home plate. There's nothing that says 'sports' like an advertisement for 'My Big Fat Stupid Boss.'
--on the way to the plate, if the pitch is faster than 95mph, the radar gun on the scoreboard overlay bursts into flames
--when the ball hits the catcher's mitt, if the catcher doesn't burst into flames, cut away immediately.
--Extreme Close-up (ECU): fan praying (Hold for two seconds).
--ECU: fan talking on cell phone (two seconds).
--ECU: fan choking on hot dog. Man behind him performs Heimlich maneuver (two seconds).
--ECU: player on bench, spitting sunflower seeds (two seconds). Scoreboard overlay sound effect (beep).
--ECU: fan stabbing usher (two seconds)
--ECU: player adjusting package. Nods after successful effort (two seconds). Scoreboard overlay sound effect (whoosh).
--ECU: fan sleeping (two seconds).
--ECU: pitcher's face. Visible pore damage (two seconds). Scoreboard overlay sound effect (beep-beep)
--ECU: fan signing pact with the devil, guaranteeing Yankee defeat (two seconds). The devil sells out his own. Remember that.
--ECU: catcher's face (two seconds).
--in the middle of the pitcher's wind-up, return to the game.
You think I'm kidding. Only barely. It's like watching a direct video feed of Attention Deficit Disorder. FOX shows over a thousand close-ups during a game, and eight hundred of them are of total strangers. And FOX insists on using sound effects for every single thing that happens with the scoreboard overlay.
Last night I was privileged to witness one of the greatest Yankee-hating moments in baseball history. Alex Rodriguez, yet another in a long line of superstar hired guns, ran down the first base line, and just before he would have been tagged out by Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, he slapped at Arroyo's glove like a ten-year-old girl in a fight. The ball came out, the first base umpire's view was blocked, and Rodriguez was called safe. A run scored and that pulled the Yankees within one run. In the past, this heinous miscarriage of justice would have gone uncorrected, because the Yankees have always gotten the most bizarre pieces of good fortune during games. This time, though, the umpires conferenced--and made the obvious and correct call, which was that Rodriguez was out due to interference. The runner that scored was sent back to second base.
Here's the part I like the most. Rodriguez, instead of shrugging his shoulders and accepting that his slap-fight impersonation had been detected, acted like he had just been sentenced to Death Row for a crime he hadn't committed. I can't wait to see his next public service announcement: "Hello, I'm Alex Rodriguez, I make twenty million dollars a year playing baseball, and I act like a little bitch."
Later, he said that running with his hands above his shoulders facing forward was part of his 'regular running motion.' Yeah, if you're a third grader running away from boy cooties.
Maybe the Red Sox won't win tonight. There are a hundred and eighty-two million reasons why they won't.
But a guy can dream.
Scentstories: Experience Motherhood
From my lovely wife Gloria (and if you haven't read the original item about Scentstories, page down a few times) comes a new expansion pack for Scentstories.
--shades of sour milk in sippie cup
--gazing at the ripe diaper hamper
--celebrate yesterday's vomit
--exploring urine in the bathroom--but where?
--relaxing with disinfectant
Homemade Fresh, All Day Long!
On our way back from the concert last Thursday, we stopped at Taco Cabana.
Taco Cabana has the unique designation of having both the best and worst fast food I've ever eaten. There is apparently a line in the company manual that states, quite clearly: Every third meal must be inedible. Failure to follow this vital company regulation will result in termination.
A few years ago, I ate lunch there and had the single best tortilla I've ever tasted in my life. The next day, I picked up half a dozen tortillas at the drive-through window, and when I got home and opened the foil package, the tortillas were so greasy that it was actually dripping off them. So in the space of twenty-four hours I was served both the best and worst tortilla of my life, and it came from the same place. That's Taco Cabana. When you see people walking into the restaurant, you never know whether they're diners or the American Red Cross.
They introduced a new product called chicken flamiente
. Don't go scrambling for a Spanish-English dictionary--it's just rotisserie chicken. I liked it--I really liked it--so in typical Taco Cabana fashion, they never had it.
"I'd like the chicken flamiente plate, please" I'd say.
"We're out. It takes an hour and a half to make."
"That's why you should start making it before I get here." Okay, I never said that, but I really wanted to.
Gloria loves Taco Cabana, so I still go there occasionally, and that's where we decided to stop after seeing Norah Jones. While standing in line, we were fortunate enough to have a visit from the F-Bomb Guy. You've all met him, so let me just list the subjects he was able to drop an f-bomb with:
I waited for Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, but they never came.
Clearly mpressed by his passion, Gloria ordered the enchiladas as well. Along with my dinner, I ordered an extra two tortillas, because I wanted one tortilla and figured that ordering a second greatly improved the chances that one of them would be edible. And it was.
Gloria, however, discovered a new food service trend with the Taco Cabana franchise. They've managed to combine edible and inedible in the same meal
. Her enchiladas were delicious, until she got to the last two inches of the second one. No utensil or implement could penetrate its surface. Perhaps they were test-marketing their new Enchiladas de la Piedra
--enchiladas of stone.
We went to dinner with two other couples on Saturday.
This was unusual.
It took nearly a decade with Gloria to find one
couple I liked to go out with. That there is a second compatible couple existing in our universe comes as a stunning shock. Much like a dog-faced boy who is shunned by both dogs and boys, I tend to be uncomfortable around people. Gloria has often said that I don't like people, but this is absolutely not true. I do like people. I just don't like them near me.
During dinner, someone's brother was being discussed. I'm not sure whose brother. One of my problems with being allowed in public with actual people is that my mind tends to drift if the conversation doesn't interest me. So once I established that said brother wasn't in the circus, prison, or conducting unsupervised laboratory experiments that could turn him into an anguished superhero, I just stopped caring.
Then I heard the words 'break-up.' It sounded disastrous.
And the playing field tilts in my direction.
I know disastrous. It's a hobby. I'm both an enthusiastic participant and an amateur researcher. I study disastrous the way other people study birds or stamps. It's not just dinner with two couples anymore. It's field research.
Here's the story. The brother had been dating a woman for about a year. This woman, described as "Victorian but raunchy," had been evaluated by all as being an excellent candidate for marriage. All, perhaps, except the brother. The woman had called the brother just the day before and begged out of attending this very dinner, and her style had left no doubt that she was actually breaking up--guy style.
Look, we invented that. You can't possibly do it right.
It turns out that even though this was seemingly a guy style break-up, what she actually wanted was a commitment.
Oh my. A very risky gambit.
Let me say this plainly: we don't need any encouragement to leave. We're all genetically inclined to have one foot out the door at all times during the dating period. That foot can be coaxed inside, if you possess great skill, but only in minute increments. And I emphasize, your skill must be great indeed.
Many of us are unable to be 'the bad guy.' No matter how desperately we might want to be dating the counter girl at Starbucks or the waitress at the Black-Eyed Pea, we will resolutely stay in our misery because we have been bludgeoned for years about how men can't commit. Be warned, though, that trying the break-up gambit with us is dangerous. I had this same technique used on me several times in my single days, and on each occasion I felt like pouring a cup of Gatorade on my head and running out of the apartment.
There's an urban legend about WWII that some men shipped jeeps to their homes in the States--one piece at a time. In a tenacious variation of this strategy, a woman once moved in with me the same way. After weeks of stealth deliveries, suddenly, all her crap was in my apartment, and so was she. She stayed for several months, growing progressively more domineering and less considerate, and then she picked a fight over a cheeseburger.
Her blitzkrieg tactics were impeccable. It was a little bit frightening, but she fought with expert timing.
Then she used the break-up. "My brothers and my father always treated me like a Queen," she said, her hands defiantly on her hips, "and if you won't treat me that way, then I don't want to be here."
"Well, I'll miss you," I said, and I started packing her crap. An hour later, both she and her jeep were gone, and I set to work cleaning up the Gatorade shower.
Half-Life 2: Officially Gold
There you go. Vivendi just made the announcement. Also, the "retail street date" was announced as November 16, which should mean that the game will be available both at retail and via Steam on that day. Also of note, this is the first game I've ever seen where there was a simultaneous worldwide release--Europe and Asia will also see the game at retail on November 16, which I assume is the result of competition from Steam.
Last Night, In Concert
We saw Norah Jones in concert last night. From the waist down.
In case you were kidnapped by space aliens and unaware of any recent news not focusing on the word 'probe,' Norah Jones is a young woman whose first two albums have sold fifteen million copies or so. She has one of the clearest, most poignant voices I've ever heard, and I listen to her frequently when I'm writing (as well as Bebel Gilberto's Six Degrees
Thus begins the slippery slope. Commence downwards.
The opening act started at eight, and that was the first problem. Between age, Eli, Gloria, work, working out, the book, and the blog, I'm tired by eight o'clock. In the morning. So a night where I'm out past eleven o'clock is a Herculean proposition.
Clearly, I'm not Hercules.
The first sign of trouble appears when we're two miles away from the venue. Stopped. A raccoon hit by a car is moving faster than we are. There's nothing else out here, so ninety percent of the cars must be headed the same place we are. Since we're stuck, we start checking out the other people who are going to the concert. We're feeling pretty hip, being out after eight o'clock and going to see live music. Rock on, rebels.
Then we start talking about who we're seeing in the cars around us.
"Do we look that old?"
"Is that a ten-year old in the back seat?"
"That van is from an assisted-living facility."
"Is that a bookmobile?"
"That guy is wearing an actual smoking jacket."
This concert might be slightly less hip than we thought.
Norah is appearing at The Backyard
, a name that evokes an intimate, personal atmosphere. Which it is, if you're less than ten miles from the stage. Unfortunately, as the site has grown in popularity, the stage has progressively moved to increase seating, and when I say moved, I don't mean a few feet--I'm talking London Bridge here. We're sitting in the back--last-row back. There's a huge video screen above the stage, and that's what we see, a live-music video in an 'intimate' venue where to the naked eye the performers are the size of colored dots.
She's excellent, of course, even in the telescopic distance.
On the way out, I pass a woman whose face is streaming tears. From the look on her face, she's just been dumped. The ex-boyfriend is walking beside her, involved but detached, in that bastardy thing we do.
What exactly do
you say to break up with someone during a concert? Was the guy singing the lyrics to 'Come away with me, tonight,' then turned to her and said "I mean, not you, specifically."
We hiked pack to the parking lot, which was a dead ringer for the pit at the Slaterock Gravel Company (Fred Flintstone's place of employment, in case you're wondering). Didn't get stuck, didn't get hit, exited without incident. Big win.
On the way back, I see a new Eckerd's drugstore in the finishing stages of construction. Then I look across the intersection and I see a Walgreens' drugstore already opened.
It is on
. Drugstore war.
How does that work? Do they flash pharmacy-gang hand signs across the intersection at each other on their smoke breaks? Do Walgreens' employees tag Eckerd's brick exterior with 'Walgreens: The Pharmacy America Trusts'? Do they go on drive-bys and lob bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol into the parking lot as a deadly warning? I see an Eckerd's employee picking up the bottle, pointing at the Walgreen's delivery van, and yelling "It's on, bitch!" Then they can all start singing and dancing, just like West Side Story
I almost did lyrics. Consider yourself spared.
From Computer and Video Games (http://www.computerandvideogames.com
Speaking under strict conditions of anonymity, an industry insider squealed earlier informing us that "as far as Vivendi is concerned, the game [Half-Life 2] is finished" before saying that the title had been passed to PEGI (Pan European Games Information age rating system) for classification, which in turn passed the sequel to the BBFC for certification.
The industry insider added that a November release is now looking "extremely likely".
I'll probably have one more post when the game officially goes gold, but it seems pretty clear now that Half-Life 2 is completed. Why Vivendi would hold the announcement, I don't know, but the way they've managed public communications about this game in the last year, I seriously doubt that they could find their ass with a flashlight and a search warrant.
This Just In
From the scathing wit of Stephen Saunders:
Did you know that pinkeye is one of those things you can do 'as a family'?
Another sizable portion of the former Gone Gold community has reestablished itself at www.brutesquad.net
Between Console Gold and Brutesquad, I believe that over 90% of the original forum community has been located. Thus ends the Gone Gold refugee posts.
The Mind Reels
Scott Miller of 3D Realms noted in his blog this week that "we're currently working on an unannounced game."
I think that 'unannounced' may be a typo. I think he meant 'undeveloped.' Duke Nukem was released in 1895, if I remember correctly, before women's suffrage and flying machines. It's been so long that urban legends are developing around the game. Just last week I heard that Lenin carried the source code with him when he returned to Russia from exile in 1905, then was arrested after he released it to the mod community.
3D Realms has been working on Duke Nukem Forever for a longer period of time than the formative years of the Wright Brother's development of the airplane.
I have a very negative, visceral response whenever I hear 3D Realms mentioned anywhere, and here's why. Every time 3D Realms gets interviewed, it takes attention away from a legitimate developer who actually ships games. There are only so many resources available to cover the gaming industry, and 3D Realms has received a hideously disproportionate amount of attention compared to their output.
What's really ironic, at least in my opinion, is that Duke Nukem was one of the most overrated games I've ever played. Yes, it had a sense of humor, if junior high school fart joke comedy is your lynchpin. Yes, it was a bit of fun. But it was a game that overperformed in an incredibly unsophisticated market. The competition is exponentially stiffer today.
For their new project, I suggest a railroad game with the working title The Gravy-Trained Express
Best Reader E-mail Ever
This reader obviously doesn't want to be named, but here's what he sent me:
"My wife's Dad wants to retire and travel with a carnival."
Can my life get any better than this? Could there be anything more fun to write about than that?
I'm already working on the future holiday conversation between them. You'll see it soon.
And no, wiseacres, this is not
my Half-Life 2 source. I heard fingers on keyboards. Don't deny it.
Half-Life 2 Update Part 2
The same source that told me RC5 was recently submitted to Vivendi for testing just e-mailed me this:
Sierra should announce Half-Life 2 is gold tomorrow along with a release date. If not tomorrow then very soon, the game is done.
I trust this source--if I didn't, I wouldn't have posted his original e-mail. I don't have a second source that I can verify this information with, but I'm not Bob Woodward and this isn't the Washington Post. It's a blog, and those of you who read it regularly are counted among my friends. So this information is for you. I know that you won't freak out if it takes a few days to happen.
[UPDATE: Sierra is obviously not publishing this game (although they were originally)--it's Vivendi. I assume that's what he intended to say. I'm not going in and changing Sierra to Vivendi because I don't want to be altering what was sent to me, so I'm just including this note instead.]
The first post got linked all over the place and it turned into a Donner Party computer gaming frenzy. So before you new people get all hysterical on me, what I know is in this post. I'm not telling you who the anonymous source is via private e-mail. If I tell you, he won't be a source anymore. That's why I have sources--I don't rat them out.
Fallout Shelters for Noses: Now Under Construction
I've been waiting for this moment for two decades, listening for the swirling sound as all of the achievements of Western civilization for the last millennium go right down the drain.
Then I saw a commercial for Scentstories
, and my wait was over. Scentstories is made by Febreze, the same company that makes Fabric Refresher, a spray to mask the smell of cat and dog urine on carpet. I guess 'Pet Piss Masking Agent' didn't make it through marketing.
The slogan for Scentstories is "play scents like you play music
." Here's the description from the website: Though the Scentstories player doesn't actually play music, it teams with Scentstories disc themes to work much like a music CD player. Just insert one of the themed discs and push play. The player then rotates through five scents on each disc, one by one with a new scent every 30 minutes... Together, the Scentstories player and disc create a new-to-the-world scent experience.
It's a scentsation!
But wait. Here is the 'table of contents' for one of these discs.
Exploring a Mountain Trail:
1. Following the winding creek
2. Walking beside wildflowers
3. Exploring the mountain
4. High in the mountain pass
5. Gazing at the tall firs
Here's one more.
Wandering Barefoot on the Shore:
1. Walking in the sand
2. Under the palms
3. Wading along the shore
4. Splashing in the waves
5. Sailing in the bay
It's all about relaxing, they say.
Relaxing? Listen, if you've got thirty minutes to sit on your ass and smell things, you don't need to be any more relaxed. Do us all a favor and get your limp extremities off the damn couch and go do something.
Maybe Febreze can expand this product line. I have a few ideas. First, how about some city discs? Here's a sample.
New Orleans: Birthplace of Jazz
1. In the alley, with the urine
2. One hurricane too many
3. Exploring the mountain of garbage
4. High in the--well, just high
5. Who dat? Hoo whee!
Future planned expansions include Zombies: A Celebration, Spend A Day With the Embalmer, and Durians, Durians, Durians!
Of Course The Company Will Still Respect You
The Company That Dare Not Speak Its Name (in other words, my employer) published another one of its feel-good newsletters today. This is a large corporation, and the disconnect between the employee publication and reality is extreme--I feel like I'm reading about some kind of undisclosed holiday destination when I peer through its pages.
Today I saw that the company, in the newsletter's words, is 'embracing diversity.'
I am a strong proponent of diversity. But I don't want the company I work for 'embracing' anything. I don't want to read about my company french-kissing productivity or copping a feel from corporate reorganization. I don't want to know that efficiency let it get to third base but stopped there, then asked why the company would buy the cow if it could get the milk for free.
I do hope the company is using protection, but I already had a talk with them about it and now it's up to them.
In the last few days, I've gotten quite a bit of e-mail asking what's happened to Gone Gold. I didn't know this until just recently, but the site has been shut down. No reason was given.
Quite a bit of the forum community has relocated to Console Gold (www.consolegold.com
). Different groups inside the community are also discussing starting their own websites. For now, though, if you want to find someone, Console Gold is your best bet.
Law and Order Contest
Groovalicious Games (www.groovgames.com
) let me know that they're having a contest for a copy of Law and Order: Justice is Served.
Hit the link and the contest is on the front page.
Even if Law and Order doesn't interest you (and I admit I'm not racing over there to enter myself), there's one more thing over at Groove that you should check out. Paul wrote an article called "Blackout is teh suck" and it's damn funny. You can find it here: http://www.groovgames.com/display.cfm?id=149
. I hope he writes more of these using this character, because it's really got some potential.
I Can't Get Away From You, Babe
Several of you e-mailed to point out that The Sonny and Cher Show actually started in 1971 and ran until 1974. So my cursed memory was not from the sixties. That means I was about ten when my life was forever scarred.
I'd mention you by name, but I'm guessing that being experts in Sonny-and-Cher-ology is not something you want to be publicly credited for.
The Bard's Tale (Xbox, PS2)
I don't usually mention console games going gold, but I'm making an exception for this due to its long PC lineage. It's also getting the most incredibly positive buzz I've heard in a long time, with everyone focusing on how genuinely funny the game is. The Bard's Tale series was one of the most prominent RPG series of the 1980's, and it's a pleasure to see it reinvigorated. It will be in stores by the end of October.
This is far more promising than the announcement late last week that UbiSoft was going to create a MMORPG of the Heroes of Might and Magic series. It's very faithful to the original series--except that it's an RPG instead of a strategy game, it's online, it's for the Asian market, and it's got Chinese developers.
Other than that, though, it's entirely faithful.
Half-Life 2 Update
Here's something I received from an industry source who wishes to remain anonymous:
Vivendi is very eager to get the game out ASAP and Valve submitted RC5 late last week to Vivendi for testing. I think they were down to three show stoppers after RC4, nothing huge. They're being very careful about getting a stable release out the door and with all the big reviews hitting the net I'm not surprised. It's looking to be something very special. The delays are not Vivendi sitting on a finished game or Valve not playing fair.
EB Games and Gamestop still have the game listed as shipping 11/1. Other industry news sites like www.gamesindustry.biz
had stories last week listing a November 23 release for the U.S. and a November 26 release in Europe.
Thanks to Mr. Anonymous.
I Love You, Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna
Gloria, in an astonishing act of what I can only call self-flagellation, has read Anna Karenina
This is inconceivable. I didn't know anyone on this planet had ever read Anna Karenina without being threatened by failing grade or court order.
I know, I know. It's a classic. Tolstoy is a genius. Blah blah blah blah blah. Anna Karenina is eight hundred pages long
. It's so long that you can write a book about reading it. Here's the Cliff's Notes version of Important Facts About Tolstoy: he lived in an era when paper was cheaper than editors. Anything can be explained in twenty more pages. And it is. The first line in Anna Karenina is "Vengeance is mine. I will repay
." That's not an epigraph--it's a statement of work.
War and Peace
? I never made it to peace.
Here's what Tolstoy had to say about his own readers: "he has to work ten, twelve, fourteen, or more hours a day, at alien, monotonous, tedious work, often pernicious to health and life." Okay, he actually said that about laborers, but who could tell?
What Tolstoy needed was a vampire. He could ramble on for thirty pages about wheat harvests or politics, but then, if he threw in a vampire, we'd all snap to attention. He was a count, after all--how much more of a hint did he need? Just lob in He would need to feed soon
every third chapter and it's golden. Here's an example:
He was a completely new name in the circle of the noblemen, but he was obviously a success, and he was not mistaken in thinking that he had already gained influence among them. Contributing to that influence were: his wealth and high birth, his splendid lodgings in town, which his old acquaintance, Shirkov, a financial dealer who had established a flourishing bank in Kashin, allowed him to use; an excellent chef, whom Vronsky had brought along from the country; his friendship with the governor; who had been Vronsky's comrade, and a patronized comrade at that; and most of all his simple, equable treatment of everyone, which very soon made most of the noblemen change their opinion about his supposed pride.
He would need to feed soon.
Vampires create built-in dramatic tension. Who will they bite next? Will they make it to their coffins before the sun rises? And do they ever take showers?
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Now there's a guy who could have used a few vampires.
I was just fortunate enough to read a fantastic article in The New Yorker that examines the AIDS crisis in Russia. Here's how bad public health is in Russia (and it's the teaser for the article): "since 1965, live expectancy for Russian men has decreased by nearly six years." That's an incredible statistic, and the rest of the article is just as shocking. Here's the link:
I took my car in for service today.
I had asked for a loaner when I made the appointment, but when I showed up, everything they had was already spoken for. All they had left was a sports utility vehicle, a very nice one, and in a shocking display of customer service, they let me use it.
I've never driven a SUV before. I felt like a giraffe. I was lowering the window at stop lights and eating leaves from the tops of trees. I threw a penny out the window and it took three seconds to reach the street. I actually saw a performance artist climbing the passenger side, which was fine, but then the cops arrived and every time I took a turn three people fell off.
I hope I get my car back today. I just looked outside and there's a team of mountaineers and sherpas assembling in my front yard.
They'll want boiling water for their dehydrated rations soon.
Half-Life 2 Preorders
I've gotten quite a few e-mails asking me if I'm going to preorder Half-Life 2 over Steam.
I haven't decided yet. I'm still trying to figure out who's being the bigger ass--Valve or Vivendi--and it's a tough call.
A ringing endorsement: my order will go to the lesser of two asses.
Halloween: The True Haunting
I was in Randall's grocery store yesterday and saw a large display of Halloween merchandise near the front entrance. Misfortune caused my eyes to fall on 'The Bride of Frankenstein, a novelty item which, in spite of its name, features Count Dracula and his new bride. Roughly ten inches high and huggably soft, the eternally damned gaze at each other adoringly--or maybe they're just thirsty.
When you press a button on the front, they will start dancing and singing to "I Got You, Babe." Even more horrifying, it's actually the voices of Sonny and Cher
I've spent the last two decades of my life with one guiding principle: at all costs, avoid Sonny and Cher.
I had somehow come to believe that I would never see or hear them again, a comfortable deception that enabled me to get through the day. Then, in one ill-conceived button push, that stability was shattered. Now I'm having flashbacks to their horrific variety show from the 1960's, only dimly remembered, but I see Sonny at a piano and Cher in some kind of dancing girl costume and I can't get it out of my head
I ask you plainly to kill me now, sir. Do the deed as you see fit.
This is the only product I've ever encountered where the label should come with the 1-800 number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline, because if you're on the edge, this might push you right over. So if you're feeling at all depressed, I implore you to avoid all Halloween merchandise displays. The life you save may be your own.
Eli 3.2 pushed one of his friends today.
Children create tremendous anxiety, particularly when they misbehave. Gloria now worries that this one pushing incident means that we'll be on a Dr. Phil parenting special three years from now. In front of a national television audience, he'll shake his finger at us and say that our child has eight out of twelve characteristics of a serial killer.
Look for me. I'll be wearing white.
More From Rodney Dangerfield
I saw another Rodney Dangerfield joke today that made me laugh out loud. Here it is.
I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War, my great uncle fought for the West.
I'm in line today at Subway. Behind me is a guy who looks, at first glance, to be better dressed than his character, if that makes any sense--very expensive gold watch, starched white shirt, hundred dollar haircut on a two dollar head. That kind of guy. He ordered a foot-long seafood sub.
This stopped me cold. I've never heard anyone actually order
a seafood sub from Subway. I thought it was on the menu as a practical joke for noobs, and anybody who actually ordered one would be greeted with belly-shaking laughter. Plus, six inches of certain death isn't enough for this guy. No, he wants an entire foot of death
The lady behind the counter is making this guy's last meal, and he asks for some grated cheese. She says "That will be extra--is that okay?"
This is where Mr. Ass kicks into high gear. He gives her this combination mutter/guffaw/sneer, as if to say "Why, I buy and sell people like you every day. Fill my death sub with cheese, you foolish person." It was quite ugly, but he was shrewdly assholish, because he did it quietly enough that almost no one heard him.
The question she asked was not an idle one. I've seen people almost stroke out over paying twenty-five cents more for extra cheese. There's an entire sub-culture of people who value a nickel more than life itself, and these people must be notified of any potential extra charges for the safety of the general public.
When Mr. Ass reaches the register, the lady ringing up the sale asks the sandwich lady what he had, and as she's listing the details he sneeringly says "Don't forget the EXTRA CHEESE." Unbelievable.
I go to the restroom for a splash and dash, and when I get back he's at the soft drink machine. He fills up his large cup, puts on the lid, and inserts a straw. He takes a long drink, and much to my delight, the drink bubbles up around the straw, overflows, and spills all over his no-longer-white shirt. He mutters a curse under his breath, and while he's still floundering, I walk toward the door, say "Karma" just loud enough for him to hear, and walk out.
Some days you just get lucky.
Tonight's Dinner Menu
Eli 3.2 was idly flipping through a cookbook today and I asked him what he was going to make us for dinner. "Octopus chicken goop, octopus goop soup, french fried pumpkin goop, and octopus ice cream, he said."
At least he didn't say brussel sprouts.
Irrational Games announced the 'spiritual successor' to System Shock 2 today. It's called BioShock
and Gamespot has a preview here:
While this game doesn't take place in the System Shock universe, it sounds like it still incorporates many of the gameplay elements and style of the previous games, which is good news.
Treephort, Seen Near Carphort
Robert Stein sends along this story:
FLINT, Mich. (AP) For a few moments last weekend, the punk band Treephort was the hottest act in town.
But the group got into trouble at a downtown club when the lead guitarist set his thong on fire, then removed it and scurried around the stage naked.
The Atlanta-based band was about 20 minutes into its set Sept. 25 at the venue Flint Local 432 when guitarist Joe Klein dropped his pants, set fire to the thong and removed it. The bass player also stripped and joined Klein in cavorting onstage.
The club's management ordered the band to get off the stage.
"They threatened to break stated policies of the club, and so we told them their set was over and asked them to leave,'' said club owner Joel Rash. The stunt violated the Local's insurance policy and city rules against open flames in the building.
Treephort concerts routinely feature members dousing a thong with hairspray before igniting it with a lighter, singer Lee Satterfield said. "We've all done it from time to time,'' he said. "We're professionals; we know what we're doing.''
Lee's right. We've all done it from time to time. I don't know about you, but I can't even remember how many nights I've been reading a book or playing a game and decided I'd rather douse my thong with hairspray and set it on fire. And I'm just an enthusiastic hobbyist. I would imagine that professional fire-setters-to-thongs-that-they-happen-to-be-wearing do it even more often.
And they spray with expert timing.
Treephort? Were they originally in a band called Phrench Phries?
More From Mr. Johnson
This is in response to my 'Johnson' story involving Eli 3.2 earlier this week, and it's from Chris Seguin:
Actually, at least you don’t have girls. Which of the following should concern me most about my 5 year old daughter:
1. this summer she wanted a bikini
2. she wanted a matching pair of sunglasses to go with the bikini
3. she wanted a matching pair of flip-flops to go with the bikini and glasses
4. the entire set cost $50
5. all of the above!
I think that I am doomed, because she learned these “shopping” techniques from my wife. Buying bathing suits for boys is easy – as long as it isn’t white, it’s cool. In fact, buying any clothes for boys is easy – t-shirts and jeans, or t-shirts and khaki shorts. And don’t forget a few pairs of white tube socks. Done!
I bought some swim fins ('Zoomers') this weekend to help me develop my kick. I'm up to swimming a mile now, but my kick is very weak. After using them during parts of Tuesday's swim, let me say this: Don Knotts, in his prime, had nothing on me.
I thought fins were supposed to help swimming speed, not drowning speed.
Rodney Dangerfield R.I.P.
Rodney Dangerfield passed away yesterday. I think looking at his wife may have killed him--she was about forty years younger and qualified as hot under most international standards--and he would have wanted it that way. Not bad for a bug-eyed guy whose first career as a comedian failed.
He came back at forty-two and was golden for the rest of his career. Dangerfield was very old school, and the repetition of that style could be grating at times, but the man said some funny, funny things.
My favorite Dangerfield line: I'm not going to say my wife can't cook, but should toast have bones?
That will still be funny two hundred years from now.
That was always the irony of Rodney Dangerfield--his style was dated, almost painfully so, but inside it he had some jokes that are absolutely timeless.
Here's a fond farewell to Mr. Dangerfield. He didn't write it, but he could have.
So after I die, I'm waiting in line to be sent to heaven or hell. There's a guy with a clipboard, and I say "Hey, where am I going?"
He smiles and says "I'm not allowed to tell you, but here's a hint. Your wife has cooked dinner and she's waiting for you."
"Give me another chance!" I say.
The Curious Case of the Dislodged Piano Key
I'm sitting at this desk yesterday, idly biting my nails (it's a hobby) while I consider the many resumes that have been submitted by potential Dubious Quality staff members--and suddenly I feel a little bit of something that clearly isn't nail. No, it's a piano-key shaped piece of my front tooth, thanks very much.
Not the size of an actual piano key, mind you. I'm not half-man, half-donkey.
Dammit, people, the teeth. I was talking about the teeth.
Anyway, this chunk-o'-tooth forced a trip to the dentist this morning. My dentist (Helen) is the kindest, most enthusiastic person in the world. She's a hybrid of Mother Teresa and Marlo Thomas in That Girl. Even if I walked into her office with only six months to live, I'd walk out with a smile and a new toothbrush, along with strict instructions to floss.
Helen originally says she's going to do something called composite bonding, which sounded like balsa wood, Scotch tape, and Elmer's glue. She said jokingly that it would be fine if I didn't want to use the tooth for 'biting or tearing.'
That's all that tooth does, by the way.
I decided to go with a repair that would actually allow me to eat something besides applesauce and bananas. A porcelain veneer, it's called. That's the technical term, anyway. The functional term is Take Every Dollar You Ever Made And Give It To The Dentist. They actually hold you upside down and shake all the loose coins from your pockets before beginning the procedure.
In just a few minutes, it was clear that I was watching an episode of This Old House, with one unexpected wrinkle: I was the house. First Helen took a Dremel tool and evened out the bottom of the tooth that dare not speak its name. Then she started installing stuff--cotton packing, hoses to insert water, hoses to dry that water up, carpenters, foreman. I expected her to lift up a tiny scaffold and jam it right in.
The Dremel tool was followed by putty to make an impression, then a miniature belt sander, then the dental equivalent of a caulking gun. I would have liked to have seen the tooth at each step of the process, but Helen gave me nitrous oxide, so instead of paying attention I was enchanted with the possibility of a skyscraper being built in my mouth, with workers having lunch on the exposed beams of the highest stories.
It all worked out fine--Helen is a champ--but every time I hear a whistle, I smell sandwiches and coffee inside my mouth.
Thank You Nancy Sinatra
Cleveland Indians rookie pitcher Kyle Denney was shot
in the right calf last week while riding on the team bus.
, as in bullet
That would be remarkable enough, but there's more. This was the traditional 'rookie hazing' road trip, and Denney was wearing a cheerleader's outfit. The ensemble included white go-go boots, and the thickness of the leather slowed the bullet enough that it caused only minor injury.
Well, that's why we all wear them, isn't it?
Only Legally Available For Sale in Nevada
We have a new shampoo in the house.
It's called 'Catwalk.' As I read the label, it mentions sex so often that I don't know if it's product information or a solicitation from an undercover officer working on the vice squad. It should come bundled with a package of condoms and a stern warning about STD's.
I call it 'Cathouse,' of course.
This leads to some one-sided conversations always ending in 'Argghh.'
"Honey, we're almost out of Cathouse."
Last week she bought me a 'man's shampoo' called 'Crew.' It's fine except I don't want to join a group to use a shampoo. I'm not part of a crew. I'm not a crew kind of guy. My dream shampoo is called 'The Curmudgeon,' and it has a picture of an old man sitting on a park bench by himself.
Shake Your Groove Thing
Eli 3.2 is the world's worst dancer. I know this with absolute certainty, because before he arrived on the club scene, I was the world's worst dancer, so I am eminently qualified to assess disaster in this area. Eli's dancing style consists of two parts: one, holding your arms as he runs in place, driving his knees up to his chest, then suddenly turning and dragging your arm behind you as he spins you around. And around. Then more running in place with the high knee lift. This is all performed, mind you, with his toy electric toothbrush turned up to high speed. The toothbrush, a totem of prosperity, is as much a part of dancing as the music.
Gloria puts on some Rolling Stones today and Eli starts dancing. This goes on for a few minutes, then he suddenly sprints to the kitchen and back, holding his toothbrush over his head like the Olympic flame. Laughing. He does it again. And again. After about ten consecutive trips, I start counting, because I'm a guy and that's what we do. After twenty-five trips, I actually step off the distance he's covering on each trip.
Round trip=fourteen yards. Round trip=12.80 meters, for our international readers.
After thirty-five trips, he runs into the bathroom, pees, and returns. Naked. Still holding the toothbrush, of course.
Don't ask me what he did with the toothbrush while he was using the bathroom. I don't want to know.
Trip thirty-six and beyond are unhindered by the poor aerodynamics of clothing. After trip forty-three, he shouts "I AM EXHAUSTED!" and flops on the couch. Within a few seconds, though, he's recovered and says "I'M READY TO GO!" When he hits trip fifty, I start calculating the distance in my head. Fifty trips at fourteen yards a trip. Seven hundred yards.
Finally, after trip fifty-seven, he's done. The toothbrush is turned off, signifying the end of the event. 819 yards. Eli 3.2 has run nearly half a mile
Fourteen yards at a time.
Updated 'Most Anticipated Games of Fall'
Here's an update on my best guess for the remaining big titles this fall (not including MMORPG's).
Half-Life 2: November. There's no way Vivendi holds this game until next year, because they would blow up their own fiscal year if they do so.
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault. November.
Sid Meier's Pirates: November. I didn't think this game would make it this year, but the marketing ramp is telling me that it will.
Prince of Persia 2: November.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: late October. Demo released.
Men of Valor: Late October. Demo released.
Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines. November. Again, the marketing ramp is indicating that the game will make it this year.
I'm shocked that so few of these big games are slipping. Vampire and Pirates are still the two that are probably most at risk. Everything else looks very, very solid at this point.
Rome: Total War. Released and it's outstanding. Probably a sure thing for Strategy Game of the Year. It's also probably Game of the Year in all genres at this point.
Kohan II: Released, but there is zero buzz because it was released on the same day as Rome:
TW. I haven't even installed it yet. Bad, bad marketing strategy.
Full Spectrum Warrior: Released, but so close to Rome: Total War that I think it's been overwhelmed. Like Kohan II, I haven't installed it because Rome: TW is taking all my time.
Evil Genius: It's on my desk waiting to be installed. I hope it's a game instead of one very clever joke.
Chris Sawyer's Locomotion: It's out and has generated almost zero buzz, as far as I can tell.
Talk Strategy Contest
Jason Price of Talk Strategy (www.talkstrategy.com
) has a contest running and asked me to mention it, which I'm happy to do. Two copies of The Political Machine are available as prizes, and it's easy to enter. Click on the link to his site and you'll see a link to the contest in his October 1 post.
Paging Mr. Johnson
Today Eli 3.2 was in the living room singing the Thomas The Tank Engine theme song. Most three year olds sing in this flat, atonal voice that evokes sedative addiction. There's some whistling in the song as part of the refrain, and since he can't whistle yet, he has a little whistle that he'll use. It just plays one note, so it sounds totally wrong, but it still gives him great satisfaction to be whistling at the right moment in the song. Imagine a zombie reciting a tone poem and concluding with a piercing blast from a whistle.
Eli 3.2 is fully potty-trained now. This means that he will answer the question "Do you need to potty?" with a resounding "I don't think so" for about three hours, then five seconds later he'll yell "I NEED TO GO POTTY!" and race into the bathroom. So while he's singing the Thomas song, he sprints into the bathroom for a splash and dash.
He wraps the shower curtain around himself for privacy.
When he's done, he comes walking back into the living room, naked from the waist down, and yells "WHERE'S MY WHISTLE?" I'm doing everything I can not to burst out laughing, because I don't want to encourage this penis loose and fancy free display, but he looks so goofy that it's not easy.
"Dude, I don't need to see your Johnson swinging in the living room," I say.
"JOHNSON? What's my JOHNSON?" he asks.
"Your penis," I say.
"Why did you call it JOHNSON?" he asks. I'm now in serious trouble.
"Sometimes that's a word for penis," I say.
"MOMMY, LOOK!" he yells. "I HAVE A JOHNSON!"
I'll be home all afternoon. Deliver that Father of the Year award whenever it's ready.
I saw the pilot episode of Desperate Housewives
tonight and it's hilarious. This show is going to be the breakout hit this fall--it's darkly, scathingly funny, and it even manages to be poignant at times. I don't know if single people will find it as amusing, but if you're married, it's a dead-solid scream.
They're showing an 'encore' of the pilot on Saturday at 8 p.m. CST, I think. Check your local listings if you're interested. The show regularly airs (in the Central Time zone, at least) at 8 p.m. on Sundays.
A Brief NFL Note
If Michael Vick and Alge Crumpler stay healthy, the Falcons are going to win the Super Bowl.
You people are all crazy. Here are notes from your e-mails.
Henrik Nilsson notes that Kamchatka is a peninsula and was never a country. I remember playing risk in the late 1970's (high school) and I was always struck by how impossibly exotic the name sounded. It was the coolest sounding region on the whole board.
Paul Meyer sends along a link to a card game called "Gother Than Thou: The Most Pretentious Card Game Ever Made." The site hasn't been updated in several years, but the game looks like it can still be purchased and the site itself is very funny at times. Here's the link:
John Selzer let me know that he actually went to school with Fred Gwynn's (Herman Munster) daughter.
Matt Kreuch let me know that X800 XT-PE's, still in very short supply, can be found at Best Buy, believe it or not, if you know how to ask for them. The process worked for him and here's a link to the thread he saw over at Rage3D that explains what to do:
Half-Life 2: The Weird gets Weirder
Here's the headline of an article I saw on Computer and Video Games today (www.computerandvideogames.com
): VIVENDI DELIBERATES OVER HALF-LIFE 2 RELEASE CANDIDATE.
Informing us within the last hour that "Last week we received a Half-Life 2 release candidate from Valve, and in its current state Half-Life 2 is brilliant and looks astonishing," a Vivendi spokesperson went on to talk about the current status of the game, saying: "Vivendi Universal Games is in the midst of determining whether Half-Life 2 meets the gameplay standard of the company and more importantly the devoted Half-Life fanbase."
"This is standard for every game and it is particularly important for Half-Life 2 given its technical depth," the spokesperson added, before telling us that "We [Vivendi] are hopeful that we can communicate a ship date very soon."
What? So the people at Valve, who created the Half-Life franchise, are not the ones who determine whether game meets the 'standards of its fanbase?' That's the biggest load of crap I've ever seen in my life. Listen, Vivendi, I don't know what kind of dope you're smoking, but if you tell Valve that the game doesn't meet the standards of its fanbase, you're going to get a non-verbal answer consisting of one finger up in the air.
Don't congratulate yourself, Vivendi management types. It's not the index finger.
This is turning into one of the most bitter relationships I've ever seen in the gaming industry. I don't know who's right and who's wrong here, or even if that could be reasonably determined, but I do know that playing it out in public like this is very poor form.
I think the clearest analysis that can be made is that Vivendi is pissed off about Steam. That's no surprise. What is a surprise, though, is Vivendi's idiotic response. The way to have the number of copies downloaded via Steam kept to an absolute minimum is to get the game manufactured as quickly as possible. The longer they wait, the more time it gives people to investigate Steam and see it as a viable option to buying a boxed copy.
Way to go, Vivendi. You both fear Steam and give it traction.
The other possible scenario, of course, is that the 'gold candidate' is in piss-poor shape and Vivendi doesn't want to ship it. It's possible that Valve had a contractual obligation to deliver a gold candidate by a certain date, and if it wasn't completed on time they would face substantial financial penalties. So they basically wrapped up what they had, called it gold, and lobbed it over the wall. At this point, the entire story has gotten so weird that it wouldn't surprise me at all.
ESPN NBA 2K5 (Xbox)
If you have an HD set, I'm sorry to report that ESPN NBA 2K5 looks like ass in 480p. The game supported 720p last year, although there were framerate issues, and without 720p support the game looks worse than ESPN NFL and ESPN NHL.
I'm sensing a trend here. ESPN NFL was fantastic. ESPN NHL was excellent, but not as good (in my opinion, anyway). From the reports I've seen, ESPN NBA is the weakest of the three, and I expect ESPN MLB 2K5 to be weaker still, given that it's the first year for a new development house to handle the game. Hopefully ESPN College Hoops 2005, which was both flawed and fantastic last year (and my favorite sports game of 2004), will reverse that trend.
I'm waiting for the PC version of NBA Live, but if it's good, I'll be starting a slider project. The Madden project died on the vine because even the PC version lacks the vitality of ESPN, and the sliders and franchise house rules for ESPN have worked out so well that I'm just not interested in Madden this year.