Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Nolan Bushnell: Indictment Pending

From IGN (via MSNBC and Newsweek):
Atari founder, Pong creator and Chuck E. Cheese establisher, Nolan Bushnell, is apparently in the process of creating a new national chain of arcade-restaurants geared toward adults...According to Nolan, "Games have historically been vehicles for socialization, not sitting alone in your underwear."

Damn, Nolan, stop looking into my study. That's just totally uncool, man.

At Dinner

Gloria and I were discussing the “Flynn Effect” at dinner last week. It’s a somewhat obscure discovery by researcher James R. Flynn demonstrating that I.Q. scores increase (overall) from one generation to the next, and this effect exists in all countries (twenty of them) for which data has been gathered.

“You know, I.Q. is not the only kind of intelligence,” Gloria said.

“Yes, that’s a common theory among those who do poorly on I.Q. tests,” I said. Causing outrage is fun.

“There’s emotional intelligence,” Gloria said, ignoring me.

“Is that a measure of how successfully you can avoid talking about emotional intelligence?” I asked. “I score highly on that.”

“Stop it,” she said. “You’re emotionally intelligent.”

“Only conceptually,” I said.

“So you’re more of a theoretician instead of a practitioner.”

“If those are actually all words, then yes, that’s what I am,” I said.

Deep Throat Revealed

"Deep Throat," probably the most enduring American political mystery of the twentieth century, has finally revealed himself:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8047258/.

Woodward and Bernstein's secret source was W. Mark Felt, who was second in command at the F.B.I. in the early 1970's.

The Watergate saga is an excellent reminder that democracies without a free and aggressive press are not free in any sense of the word.

ATI's Crossfire

ATI officially announced their multi-GPU solution today. It's called "Crossfire" and it's quite impressive. Here are links to two solid articles:
http://www.anandtech.com/printarticle.aspx?i=2432.
http://www.hothardware.com/viewarticle.cfm?page=2&articleid=689&cid=2.

Crossfire has one significant advance over Nvidia's SLI. Nvidia's solution requires support for each specific game to be written into the drivers, because they "optimize" the rendering method for each game that is supported. What that means is that a ton of games won't be supported. So that approach is great for benchmarks, but it's lousy for general gaming.

ATI's solution incorporates three possible rendering methods: AFR (alternate frame rendering), Supertiling, and Scissor. Alternate frame rendering is just what it seems: the GPU's render alternate frames. In Supertiling, each frame is broken up into a 32x32 pixel tiles and each card renders a "checkerboard" pattern that is then assembled into a complete frame. With Scissor, each GPU is given one half of the screen to render (top half/bottom half).

Not all of these methods are supported in all games. Supertiling will not work for OpenGL games. There is a master database that will specify the optimal rendering method to use for each game, but (and this is an important "but") for games where there is no database entry, the default method will be AFR for OpenGL games and Supertiling for D3D games. That means all games (that use 3D acceleration) are supported and will benefit.

That's a real point of distinction for ATI's method. Now it may be that this is less significant than it seems, because Nvidia will probably unveil SLI 2 this fall, and surely they won't repeat their mistake. For now, though, I don't see any reason to choose Nvidia's solution over ATI's.

One additional little nugget: ATI has also added some higher-precision AA modes, up to 14X (previously 8X was the highest level in ATI's drivers).

As a hardware geek, I love multi-GPU solutions. I still have fond memories (and believe it or not, "fond" is definitely the right word) of buying a second Voodoo 2 and using SLI for the first time. It was incredible. So I'm totally on board when it comes to this kind of hardware exotica.

However, there's a real problem with the practical application of this technology. How many games right now can even push one high-end video card (like the Radeon X850 XT)? I have an X800 XT-PE and an Athlon FX-51 and I ran Half-Life 2 in 1600x1200 with 4xAA and 16-tap AF. The number of games that will actually benefit from this technology is a small, small subset of the PC games published each year.

Here's what I came up with from last year:
--Far Cry
--Doom 3
--Half-Life 2
--Tiger Woods

Flight simulators might be added to that list, but quite a few of the flight simulators are GPU bound. And even with the four games on the list, I ran all of them at 1600x1200 with 16-tap AF with very few framerate hiccups (I think Far Cry had a few, but everything else was smooth). The installed PC base is so fractured in terms of specs that almost all developers focus on some kind of middle ground, not the high end. So I think it's legitimate to ask if multi-GPU rendering is a solution in search of a problem.

However, I do think building a system with a multi-GPU motherboard is an excellent way to extend a system's useful lifespan. Instead of needing a new system every two years to stay on the high end, a three or four year old system with multiple GPU's could conceivably still be faster than a top-end system with only one video card.

Digital Blasphemy

Thanks to DQ reader Chris Seguin for the link to www.digitalblasphemy.com. It's a site that specializes in CGI artwork and there are some stunning images.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Eli 3.9

Here are a couple of Eli 3.9 stories.

Eli watches television for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. For those of you without children, that might seem like a huge amount of television. Of course, you haven't seen the scientific research conducted entirely by parents proving that three-year-olds are actually awake thirty-eight hours a day.

Sometimes longer.

Most of Eli 3.9's television time is spent watching Rescue Heroes videos, and he likes them so much that he's absorbed every detail.

We were in the grocery store yesterday, walking down an aisle together, when a man and his little boy walked by on the perpendicular aisle. Eli 3.9 looked at them and shouted "A RESCUE HERO NEVER SAYS NEVER!"

There's a commercial for the "Hyper-Jet" before the videos, and he's absorbed that, too. Tonight, Gloria had put his dinner on his little table, and he sat down and ate for a minute before he realized that she'd forgotten something. He said "Mommy, where's my drink?" Then he said "Drinks not included. Water sold separately."

Kazakhstan's Spaceship Junkyard

There was a remarkable item on Slashdot yesterday. Here's an excerpt from the post:
What happens to the booster stages of rockets? They fall back to earth, and in most cases into the oceans. But not in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where the first stages fall over populated farmland.

The article attached to the link is very brief, but there's an accompanying photo essay that's brilliant. In particular, photo #9 is one of the most memorable and amazing photographs I've ever seen.

Here's the link:
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/culture/articles/eav041902.shtml

Richard Garriott Chat: In 1986!

I stumbled on something outstanding from the Wayback Machine last night: the transcript of an online chat with Lord British (Richard Garriott) from around 1986. The chat is hosted by Scorpia (that brings back some memories as well) and is a question and answer session with fans of Ultima IV.

It’s a reminder of just how personal the gaming industry was twenty years ago, and it brings back a flood of memories. And if you’re too young to have those memories, it’s a nice window into the early days of gaming.

Here’s the link:
http://www.textfiles.com/humor/lbinter.hum

Clint Hocking Interview

I’ve mentioned Thomas Moyles several times in the past as one of the up-and-coming generation of game journalists, and Game Critics has just published his interview with Clint Hocking, the Creative Director of Splinter Cell.

If you think that “game journalism” is an oxymoron, then you should read this interview. The questions put to Hocking are provocative and of uniformly high quality, and his responses are thoughtful and interesting.

This is what can happen when someone is asked to think, not just promote their latest game.

Here’s the link:
http://www.gamecritics.com/feature/interview/hocking/page01.php

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Guild 2

Thanks to Certis over at Gamers With Jobs for letting me know that Jowood was showing The Guild 2 publicly. It was on one machine, which I totally missed. Too bad, because that was one of the games I most wanted to see.

Europa 1400: The Guild, for those of you that missed it, was one of the most interesting games ever made, a hybrid RTS/role-playing game that let you assume a place in medieval society. Fascinating stuff, and unfortunately not really finished until a year after the original game was released when an expansion pack came out with a patch for the original game. It's just about the only time a game was so good that I overlooked its poor support.

Unfortunately, almost no one else saw it at E3 either, apparently, because I can't find anyone who mentioned it. I did find a link to the game's website and you can download a trailer (which is quite good) here:
http://www.theguild2.com/.

Women in Gaming

As I mentioned in the "Themes of E3" column from earlier this week, the single most important trend I saw was the increase in the number of women who were walking around E3 just checking out the games.

So thanks to DQ reader Soma XZ for a link to an interview with Sheri Graner Ray, who discussed women and gaming with Cnet. According to Ray, when she attended the Game Developer's Conference in 1992, only "a handful" of women attended. This year, there were a thousand.

Like I said earlier this week: great women designers and developers are on their way.

Here's the link:
http://tinyurl.com/dtr7c.

Carnival of Gamers

DQ reader Tony Rice (of www.buttonmashing.com) has started something that I think is a terrific idea. He's calling it "Carnival of Gamers," and it's a collection of writing from game bloggers. There are links to about twenty game blogs (including my column on themes of E3), and it gives you an opportunity to see all kinds of perspectives on games and gaming. I think people are really going to enjoy this.

Here's a link:
http://buttonmashing.com/2005/05/26/the-carnival-of-gamers-2/.

Save Some Money

I've seen some reviews of the latest Sony 5.1 headphones and attached processing unit, the MDR-DS8000, and at least one review said something to the effect that it was the "ultimate setup for gamers" No, no, no. That's a nice unit, but it's $550 dollars, and all you get is one pair of headphones and the base unit (which just creates the surround effect and doesn't really have additional features). With the Dolby Digital Headphone standard now being incorporated into some receivers, you can get Dolby Headphone (albeit not wireless) for less and have a full A/V receiver to boot.

Here's what I have: a Kenwood VRS-7100 digital receiver (http://tinyurl.com/cwttz). It's digital, so it weighs about four pounds, not fifty, and it doesn't generate heat like analog receivers do. It sounds absolutely terrific (better than much more expensive analog receivers, at least to me). It also has 6.1 support, 100 watts per channel, plus two digital and two coaxial inputs, along with four analog inputs. Plus Dolby Headphone, which sounds sensational. And you can get it for $299 online. So you save $250 and get a full-featured receiver instead of a pair of headphones and a processing unit.

I haven't heard the current Sony unit, but I heard the previous generation. Sony doesn't use Dolby Headphone--they have a proprietary algorithm. I far prefer the Dolby implementation, as it produces a much richer and more "alive" sound field (to me).

That link takes you to the receiver's page on Buy.com because it listed the specs. Please don't take that as an implied endorsement of Buy.com. I've never bought from them and have no opinion about them.

Salesman of the Month

I met a friend for lunch today. Shocking, I know, but not really the point here.

I had about fifteen minutes to kill, so I went across the street to a second-tier electronics chain to walk around. Once in the door, I was accosted by a salesguy both so young and so new that he squeaked. Literally. And he looked a little bit like Napoleon Dynamite, which for me was a huge bonus. So imagine Napoleon Dynamite in a sales blazer.

He proceeded to follow me around the door at a safe stalking distance of ten feet or so, probably because I started in the HD area. Their HD sets were terribly displayed, in a bad lighting environment, and some of the loop feed was actually SD, which generally looks awful compared to HD programming. Since he was still stalking me, and I figured he was on commission, I thought maybe I'd ask him about this.

"So why do you have high-definition sets running a loop from The Food Channel?" I asked. "That's not even HD footage."

"Well," he said, "we use The Food Channel because most people really like food."

Xbox 360 Pricing "Neighborhood" Info

From GamesIndustry.biz
(link http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=9204):
Microsoft corporate vice president J Allard has confirmed that the Xbox 360 will be priced "in the neighbourhood" of $300, which was the initial launch price of the Xbox, with a final decision on price to be made in about two months.

Speaking to TheStreet.com, Allard said that he was "not sure" about the final price point, with a decision on pricing still "probably about two months away" - but confirmed that the price would "be in the neighbourhood" of the $300 price tag of Xbox at launch.

First off, that guy needs to put a period after his first initial, because without a period, that's so edgy that it almost makes me pass out. How can that guy even breathe in the stratosphere of edge like that?

Second, that neighborhood quote should mean only two possibilities: a launch price of $299 or $349.

Here's a prediction: if they launch 360 at $299, they will sell every unit they can make. Every single one. And since I fully expect PS3 not to launch in the timeframe they're currently targeting (March 2006 in Japan), the 360 is going to have a huge base built up in both the U.S. and Europe (the wisdom of simultaneous launches) before the PS3 even gets out the door.

Phil Steinmeyer Update

Thanks to those of you who e-mailed me about Phil Steinmeyer. He left PopTop in December (and must have done so fairly quietly, because I don't remember any publicity about it). He also has an interesting website here:
http://philsteinmeyer.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=24.

That link takes you to his post about leaving PopTop.

That means two things: one, Phil Steinmeyer isn't making games right now, which in gaming terms is a real tragedy, and two, Shattered Union becomes an officially crappy idea instead of a seemingly crappy idea.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Movies You Might Find Interesting

Terry Gilliam, one of the most creative people in this or any other world, has a new movie coming out in the U.S. on July 29. It's The Brother's Grimm, two brothers who are "rapscallion conmen who lope from village to village faking stunts like exorcisms and promising protection through spells."

Another interesting movie, this one by Warner Herzog, comes out August 12 in the U.S. titled "Grizzly Man." The documentary is about Timothy Treadwell, self-styled bear enthusiast and researcher who enthusiastically gave interviews discussing his unusual research methods, which mostly consisted of getting dangerously close to his subjects. He kept giving these interviews right up until he was eaten.

"Murderball" is a documentary about the U.S. Paralympics rugby team. They compete in wheelchairs, fiercely, and everything I've read about this film suggests that it is absolutely terrific. It opens July 15.

By the way, if you've never seen Jim Jarmusch's "Down by Law," it features the best opening sequence I've ever seen in a film. Ever. It also has some of the best cinematography I've seen in years, made all the more striking by being filmed in black and white. The movie goes off the rails a bit, unfortunately, but that opening sequence is just incredible.

The Last E3 Column (cue cheering)

This last E3 column is going to be pretty episodic, as I’m just going to list topics as I go.

Before I start, let me just mention Ben, who met me at the airport, took me to the show, let me stay at his house, and took me to the airport the next morning. This is the kind of guy Ben is: he’d give you the shirt off his back, then send you a new shirt. If there were more people like him (well, besides his wife Tanya, who is every bit as nice), I would be wholly unable to write this column in the cynical manner to which you have become accustomed.

Here’s one more note about people before I get to games: I also met DQ readers Lee Rawles (attorney) and Thomas Moyles (game critic) in Kentia. It’s funny how the media used to stereotype us gamers as being, well, losers, but everyone I meet seems to be far more intelligent and interesting than the people who were writing those articles.

Okay, here we go.

Funniest Line I Heard All Day
From Certis (Shawn) of Gamers with Jobs, after seeing the new Nintendo Micro Game Boy or whatever they’re calling it: “Nintendo wants to dominate the change pocket.”

Thank God For Nipples
Because without them, women would be running around totally naked, instead of essentially naked. I have nothing against naked women—I’m a big fan—but I don’t want my chocolate in my peanut butter, so to speak. I’m just here for the games.

New record for double entendres in one sentence: three.

To the Stewardess
Before my return flight left, I looked behind me to see the stewardess attaching a long red seat belt across the aisle, and then she sat down on a seat about three feet behind it. I looked at her and said “Okay, I’m not an expert on seat belts or anything, but I’m pretty sure that’s too far away to do you any good.”

Viva La Something or Other
Some sort of French outfit rented six or seven consecutive rooms in the back of Kentia. These areas are generally only open by appointment only, and they’re very small. Proudly displayed on the side of the wall was the phrase “France is Rising.” Sure you are. I can’t wait for your next game about a quirky little boy and his magical adventure through Obtuse Land.

Iron Nemesis
An online game whose big selling point, based on the footage we saw, are ass cheeks. Because female warriors just love to wear those pants with the cheeks cut out.

Yes, I could have used “assets” at any point in that.

From Ben
“How do you know somebody started in the Main Hall? By the trickle of blood behind their ears.”

Straight From Visual Concepts
Some of the best news I heard at the show: both NHL2K6 and ESPN College Hoops 2K6 (along with NBA2K6) will ship for Xbox 360 this year.

Shattered Union (PC)
I looked at this and thought “What the hell is Poptop doing?” 2K Games describes it as “Set atop the smoldering ruins of a fictional United States torn apart by civil war, Shattered Union is an action-packed turn-based strategy game for console and PC.”

This sounds like an absolutely terrible subject for a game, since it’s already been done to death and beyond. However, it’s Poptop and Phil Steinmeyer, and if anyone can pull it off, they can.

Call of Duty 2 (360)
The Xbox 360 footage (which was in-game) looked phenomenal. Just phenomenal.

Rome: Barbarian Invasion (PC)
The expansion pack for Rome: Total War should satisfy anyone who enjoyed the original. Very solid.

Tycoon City: New York (PC)
I took a look at the new effort by Deep Red (makes of the excellent Monopoly Tycoon), but this game just didn’t grab me, and it didn’t make as strong an impression as Vegas Tycoon, which they released in 2003.

Killer 7 (Gamecube)
This game has a similar visual style to XIII: cel-shaded and very stylish. I couldn’t tell much else, but at least they’re trying to do something different.

UFO: Aftershock (PC)
Looked fantastic, just like UFO: Aftermath, which wound up boring the crap out of me. I’ll wait for the reviews this time.

Singles 2 (PC)
I accidentally saw this on a monitor, and after I did, I felt dirty.

Burnout Revenge (360)
Looked outstanding and should be a huge hit, based on the outstanding gameplay of Burnout 3: Takedown.

Madden NFL 2006 (Xbox)
Well, it looked exactly like—Madden. ESPN NFL 2K5 still looks leagues better than Madden 2006.

NCAA Football 2006 (Xbox)
See Madden comments.

Need for Speed (360)
I’m not sure which version name this will get, but the footage looked absolutely wicked.

The Guild 2 (PC)
I would have really liked to have seen this, but I guess Jowood decided that since Europa 1400: The Guild sold about, oh, 500 copies in the U.S., that they could show the sequel behind closed doors only.

Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends (PC)
This did absolutely nothing for me. However, the original Rise of Nations also completely underwhelmed me when I saw it at E3, and it turned out to be an excellent game. Plus it’s Brian Reynolds, who deserves to be trusted. And it’s steampunk.

Auto Assault (PC)
Mark it down: this is going to be a bit hit when it goes online. Stylish car combat is going to be very, very well-received. NCSoft with another great idea.

Call of Juarez (PC)
A very nice looking FPS western. I thought this actually was pretty interesting and worth keeping an eye on. Not to be confused with Call of Juarez Duty, which has different gameplay entirely.

Nintendo Pennant Chase Baseball (Gamecube)
Blech. Nothing like showing a baseball game that ships in less than two months with a choppy batting animation. NO problem, because that’s only going to show up, oh, A HUNDRED times a game. I was really hoping this would be a surprise, but no luck. Nice bright colors, though.

MLB2006 (PS2)
This year’s version was almost a terrific game, and it does a ton of things right. I think Sony gets more of the nuance of baseball right than any of the other developers. And this game looked excellent. I can’t imagine what the PS3 version will look like, but hopefully there will be one next year.

Starcraft Ghost (Xbox)
I think this game was showing when I first started coming to E3 in the mid 1930’s. It looked like it’s looked for years, and I guarantee the reason it still hasn’t been released is because it’s still not fun.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
My guess? D.E.A.D. Not at the show, no word, too bad. It’s gorgeous and has an interesting premise, but who knows if it will ever see the light of day.

Duke Nukem Forever
Except for the fact that Duke Nukem featured sixth grader humor and To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the finest novels ever written, 3D Realms is basically the Harper Lee of gaming.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Eli 3.9: Unplugged

Here are some assorted Eli 3.9 incidents that have piled up due to E3 coverage.

Eli's still talking like he's a character in the Dukes of Hazzard. It's been a month since his grandmather (my mother-in-law) came to town, and he's still talking like that. So, out of desperation, we've actually been trying to gently steer him toward the correct pronunciations.

Saturday night, Gloria came back from the wonder that is the Lavender Festival and brought a nifty Wizard's bubble wand for Eli. Well, sort of--she bought it but it somehow got lost on the way home. Now even though Eli has plenty of toys (believe me), he was still pouting. He made some comment that wasn't very nice about his mother and I said "Stop being a butthead."

"Butt-hayyyyd?" Bo 3.9 asked.

"Oh, no," Gloria said.

"I'll get it," I said to Gloria. "No, not 'butt-hayyyyd.' It's 'butthead.'

"Great," Gloria said.

"Say it fast," I said. "Butthead."

"Butthayyyd," Eli 3.9 said.

"Try it again."

"Butthead," he said.

"Excellent," I said.

"And you can never say that again," Gloria said.

"And you can never say it again, too, Daddy," Eli 3.9.

"I only say it when you're being a butthead," I said.

Eli laughed. Gloria looked like, well, like she always looks because she's married to me. Distressed.

Incident #2: Gloria was reading Eli a Sandra Boynton book, and there was a page with a group of characters in a play, one of them dressed as some kind of princess. Eli looked at her and said, "That must be the beauty in distress."

Thanks to DQ reader my wife for submitting this story.

Incident #3: Eli has somehow combined the chant for "Red Rover, Red Rover" with a safey warning. He's walking around the house today mumbling "Red rover, red rover, is it safe to go to the car without a grown-up?"

Incident #4: Eli really likes to snuggle on the couch with Gloria before he goes up for his bath. Last night he was laying on the couch, having declared his intention for snuggling to begin, and Gloria walked past him to put in some laundry. He looked up and shouted "MOMMY! WHERE'S THE LOVE?"

Assorted E3/Next Gen Stuff

I’m really grinding down on these E3 columns, but I have one more to come. Then I’ll be sick of writing about it and you’ll be sick of reading about it (if you’re not already).

Here are a few assorted notes before then. One, it appears that the Final Fantasy trailer I saw at Gamer’s Hell was mislabeled. It’s listed as “Final Fantasy XII PS3 E32005 trailer cam” in the movies/trailers section. However, several people e-mailed and said that they think that’s the PS2 trailer for FFXII.

One, that’s embarrassing. Fortunately, I embarrass myself all the time. I’m the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of embarrassment. And even if it’s a PS2 trailer, it was one of the most cinematic, beautifully created game trailers I’ve ever seen, and I’ll gladly pull the PS2 out of the dust and hook it back up one more time, because the Final Fantasy series deserves that kind of respect.

Two, I’ve seen some details of the Xbox 360 demos running at E3. They were running on alpha hardware that is (allegedly) only about 25-35% of the power of the final unit (because the custom CPU’s aren’t in this version of the dev kit). That’s interesting, and if true, bodes well for the final product, because I thought quite a few of the Xbox 360 in-game footage looked excellent.

Here’s also a link to a detailed analysis of the Xbox 360 hardware:
http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/cpu/xbox360-1.ars.

In PS3 news, here’s an excerpt from a Gamespot article
(http://www.gamespot.com/news/2005/05/24/news_6126410.html):
Today, Japanese Web site Impress PC Watch reported that SCE has told its business partners that the PS3 will be under 40,000 yen ($370) at launch. The news has spurred speculation that the company might launch the machine with the same price it set for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Both machines were priced at 39,800 yen ($368) when they launched in 1994 and 2000, respectively.

That’s interesting. If Microsoft believes this, it will pressure them to come out no higher than $349, maybe even lower. That’s good for us. I can’t stress this enough—if Sony comes out at $449 or higher, they are in big trouble in the U.S. And this machine is fundamentally different than PS1 or PS2, because it's being positioned as a convergence device.

Here’s why I think this may become an issue. Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment (and as an aside, why does Microsoft’s J. Allard feel compelled to make himself look like Michael Stipe? Do we need that?), gave an interview to Impress PC Watch and here’s a highlight
(article here: http://www.gamespot.com/news/2005/05/24/news_6126423.html):
"The PlayStation [3] is not a game machine. We've never once called it a game machine," stated Kutaragi at the beginning of his latest interview.

Ooh, that’s bad, bad news, Ken. See, we tend to buy game machines. We tend not to buy TIVO/HD-DVD/SACD/MICROWAVES/BLENDERS. And if you want to charge us an extra $200 for a bunch of crap that we don’t want, it’s going to suck for you.

That’s the kind of comment someone usually makes when they’re trying to justify a higher price for a product. So the comment from SCE to its business partners is not in the same vein as the comment Kutaragi made to Gamespot. And, in all likelihood, Sony’s strategy isn’t final at this point, and neither is Microsoft’s. The level of competition is going to make both companies eat some money so that their consoles are more attractive to consumers.

Great news, boys—here’s a fork.

At Work

Jennifer, who works next to me, asked today for my impressions of her bridesmaid’s dress (one of her best friends is getting married).

“You don’t want to do that,” I said. “Really.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I always tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or personally damning it might be,” I said. “It’s kind of a curse.”

“No, I really want your opinion,” she said. With that, she pulled the dry cleaning bag off the dress and held it up. “What’s the first thing you think of?”

“Um, a wind sock?”

“What?”

“Not the kind that flies at an airport,” I said. “The home variety.”

“I don’t like it, either,” she said.

“It doesn’t help that it’s watermelon pink,” I added. “If you were wearing it and standing up, I might have said popsicle.”

“I’m glad somebody else thinks it’s ugly,” she said. “See? I did want your opinion.”

“You’ll learn,” I said, returning to whatever it is I allegedly do for a living.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Gamers With Jobs E3 Coverage

Gamers With Jobs has some excellent E3 coverage now available here:
http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/15979.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with these guys on Wednesday at E3--Certis, Elysium, Reaper, and Pyro. On Earth, they're known as Shawn, Sean, Steven, and Alan. They're every bit as funny and engaging in person as they are on the site. Just a bunch of nice guys who like games.

If you haven't visited Gamers With Jobs before, you're in for a treat. They're a blast of fresh air compared to the five million cookie-cutter gaming sites that are out there. They're also the best independent gaming site now. Why hasn't somebody like IGN approached these guys waving large amounts of cash? I assume something like that will be happening in the next year, and I only hope that they'll remember me after they acquire a posse and large amounts of bling.

Final Fantasy Clarification

I removed all references to a version identifier for the PS3 version of Final Fantasy. XI is obviously wrong, since that's the online version, and XII is a PS2 game coming out this fall. I don't have any idea when the game would come out for PS3, and no idea what number it would be in the series, but the trailer is so totally sensational that I don't care--it's still the single game I'm most looking forward to playing.

E3: Best of Show

I’m skipping around again, mostly because I can write this without going through ten pages of notes like the South/West Hall impression column requires.

I don’t think there’s any question that this show, in terms of games, was somewhat disappointing. Like Ben said, it’s the first time in many years that E3 has been focused on hardware, not software. It was also a banner year for derivative games, unfortunately. It was almost impossible to find anything truly original—actually, it was totally impossible. Spore is certainly original, but it was nowhere to be seen, or at least not by us.

I’ve got two categories to discuss. The first consists of games we actually saw in person at the show. Then I’m adding a second category out of the three gigs of videos I’ve watched in the last four days (thanks to http://www.gamershell.com/).

I’m not going to call these “best in show.” At a show where games are presented in so many different ways, that’s a meaningless term. So I’ve come out with my own too-lengthy category titles.

GAMES I MOST WANT TO PLAY AFTER SEEING THEM AT E3
These are games we actually saw at the show.

5. Heroes of Might and Magic V (PC).
I know—I’m as shocked as you are
What did I see? A demo loop running on an LCD monitor. This was not the trailer now available online—at least, I don’t think it was.

Why did I like it? It looked “right.” There was a sense of style that was appropriate to the series—it was both striking and engaging.

4. Destroy All Humans (Xbox, PS2).
What did I see? Actual gameplay—the game was available for play in the Microsoft area.

Why did I like it? It was funny, the visuals were appropriately colorful, and did I mention that it was funny? This game has a terrific sense of camp and style, and given the weakness of games in general, I think it’s going to be a big hit when it ships next month.

3. The Movies (PC).
What did I see? I was lucky enough to get a fifteen minute demo in a one-on-one environment, because this was already one of my most-anticipated titles. As a very high-level description, The Movies combines gameplay elements from Tropico (individual personality of citizens), Theme Park (building your studio), and the Sims 2 (I swear the some of the character models looked almost identical—ugh), while adding a unique “movie maker” module that allows you to both film a scene and then edit it in post-production.

Why did I like it? The game is very striking in a “little world” sense, and I tend to find those kinds of games deeply engaging, at least for a while. I am absolutely confident that this game will be entirely fascinating for the first ten hours. The one question I have is whether it will stand up to thirty hours or more of play.

2. Shadows of the Colossus (PS2).
As a fairness disclaimer, I am hopeless biased in favor of this game, because ICO is one of best five games I ever played.

What did I see? A loop running on an LCD monitor. It was lengthy (several minutes), but I can’t remember if someone was playing or not, so I’m going to be on the safe side and say it was a loop.

Why did I like it? The scale of the world is sensational, and the visual continuity that was so totally captivating in ICO is still present here. The highlight of the footage I saw had the hero (who seems to resemble “realistic Link” quite a bit) climbing up a giant beast. He was climbing this beast by grabbing handfuls of hair and hauling himself up. It was mesmerizing, really. I fully expect this game to be a sensation when it ships in October.

1. Ghost Wars (PC).
What the? Hey, I’d never heard of this game, either. We were walking between halls and decided to go down a corridor that usually has a few of the smaller publishers. In this case, it was Hip Games, and even though I had NO idea what any of these games were, we went inside. At this point in the show, we’d seen absolutely jack. After several hundred games, we’d seen nothing that had really impressed us, and I’d just said something to that effect to Ben.

What did I see? About a ten minute gameplay tour with a very nice fellow who probably works on the game.

Why did I like it? This game is just beautiful. It’s stunning. The lighting effects, the environment details, everything—all fantastic. It’s a game about “simulating counter-terrorism actions,” and it’s primarily seen from the traditional ¾ RTS view. There are also first-person elements, though, including the ability to personally command a single unit during battle, and there are RPG elements as well (which was mentioned but never really explained). I don’t know if the gameplay will hold up, because it’s impossible to even sense that in an environment like this, but it was the only time I walked up to a PC game at the show and was shocked. In a good way, anyway.

GAMES I MOST WANT TO PLAY AFTER SEEING THEIR TRAILERS AFTER GETTING HOME FROM E3
One note: I generally don’t give a shit about #3 or #4 in a series. And I also generally don’t care about the game if it isn’t shipping until never.

Another note: To see the hi-res trailers of the Xbox 360 games, go here:http://www.gamershell.com/articles/912.html. That’s a full page of trailers. It also has a hi-res trailer for Oblivion.

8. Saint’s Row (Xbox360).
You’re just a local hood trying to make good. What separates this game from GTA is that it’s seemingly even more open ended—there are major objectives, but the path to achieving them is entirely flexible. And the wild card is that it’s being developed by Volition, who also developed Summoner, which was a terrific RPG and very underrated. Here’s a link to a preview (the available trailer at Gamespot is in low-res, high-rest available at Gamer’s Hell): http://www.gamespot.com/x360/action/saintsrow/index.html.

7. NHL2K6 (Xbox 360).
The finest continuing sports series makes its debut at 720p. I have no reason to think it will be anything less than absolutely stellar.

6. Gears of War (Xbox 360, PC).
The best Xbox 360 trailer of the show, at least to my eyes. Epic Games is the developer and the game looks absolutely stunning. Gamespot preview here:
http://www.gamespot.com/x360/action/gearsofwar/index.html.

5. Ghost Recon 3 (Xbox 360).
I’m sure there will be a PC version of this as well, but the 360 hi-res trailer was just shocking—tremendous animation, beautiful visuals, and an excellent design for getting information on-screen as an organic part of the game. Tremendous.

4. Alan Wake (PC, Xbox360, PS3).
A psychological thriller from Remedy, makers of the outstanding Max Payne series? You had me at “A.” This is another one of those games with an impeccable pedigree, and that’s a common theme of the games on this list. Every single game in this list except Chrome Hounds has an established pedigree of excellence.

3. Chrome Hounds (Xbox 360).
Wow. I saw this trailer as part of a compilation of Sega Xbox 360 footage (sorry, I don’t remember where I found the link). The trailer is composed of in-game footage, and it’s freaking fantastic. Giant, giant mechs, insanely detailed, with near-perfect animation. It’s slipped under the radar screen, for the most part, but this game has absolutely enormous potential.

2. Oblivion (Xbox 360, PC). We almost got in to see this demo (emphasis on “almost”), but just seeing the trailer is enough for me. Morrowind was a tremendous, incredibly thorough game, and it featured one of the most comprehensively created worlds I’ve ever seen. There is zero doubt in my mind that Oblivion will have that same comprehensive, thorough feel with some off-the-charts visuals. This is my early favorite for Game of the Year—the pedigree is just too strong to think anything else.

1. Final Fantasy (PS3).
One of the greatest role-playing series of all time now has a console that can fully realize its extraordinary striking graphical vision. Final Fantasy has always been my favorite series for imagination and beauty, and the trailer is astonishing—there’s no other word to describe it. When I said I wanted to stand up and cheer when I saw the trailer, I wasn’t joking.

THE UNDERDOGS
Here are a few games that I think are worth watching, even though they’re much lower profile and haven’t attracted much attention up to now.

3. Jaws (every system in creation).
It’s a wonderful idea to be able to play as the shark, and just the fact that the same team that made the cuddly Ecco the Dolphin game is making this just cracks me up. And I thought it looked pretty sharp at the show, even though all we got was a very brief look.

2. Paraworld (PC).
A real-time strategy game that is highly stylized and very striking. Download the trailer at Gamer’s Hell and you’ll see what I mean.

1. Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Clue (PC, Xbox).
Very, very clever first person shooter. Eat someone’s brains and turn them into a zombie who will then fight for you. Since you’re a zombie, you can rip off your hand, throw it, and then control it to do all kinds of dastardly deeds. Plenty of B-movie humor, very over-the-top, and it looks unique compared to the hundreds of FPS clones we saw at E3.

OH, THE HUMANITY
As always, there are disasters at E3, full-blown abominations that are a shock to the system. If I listed all of these, they would run ten pages, but there were two games that particularly stood out this year.

2. Call of Ctulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Someone I highly respect had a lengthy guided tour of this game and came back horrified, but not for the right reasons. He’s highly respectful of H.P. Lovecraft, and the tour seemed to focus primarily on all the awesome guns that could be used. Turning a Lovecraft game into a first-person shooter: bad, bad idea. This game has been in development for almost five years now, and I think there’s a reason. Since I like Lovecraft, though, I hope I’m wrong.

1. Tabula Rasa
When we saw the plasma screen running the demo loop for Tabula Rasa, two things happened: we saw about five seconds of the gamepla

y, and we both shouted “Oh no!” at the
same. Why? Because Tabula Rasa looks like a cross between Halo 2 and Unreal 2. That’s not what I want from Richard Garriott. Does ANYBODY want that from Richard Garriott?

I lived and died with the Ultima series from IV on. Ultima IV was the first computer game I ever played—how lucky was that? I totally respect what Richard Garriott has meant to gaming, and whenever I see him, I still feel awed. At some point, though, people have to acknowledge that Ultima IX (a disaster) came out in 1999. It’s been a long, long time since he’s put out a great game, and in spite of what everyone else is saying, I don’t think Tabula Rasa is going to be one. I don’t even think it’s one of the best games at NCSoft—City of Heroes, Guild Wars, and Auto Assault all look more compelling to me.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll still have the South/West Hall impressions later and a few hopefully entertaining notes about the show itself.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mount & Blade Update

One of the most entertaining and surprising games of the year now has a new version. Mount & Blade is now up to version 0.632 and you can find it here:
http://taleworlds.com/mb_download.html.

M&B is an absolutely terrific game (I wrote a column about it on May 5th--just scroll down if you're interested) and I hope you get a chance to try it out.

Thanks to our man in Hong Kong, DQ reader Grifin Cheng, for sending me the link.

Science Links

Other material is piling up around here like a snowdrift because of the E3 columns, so I'm going to post a few other things today to beat back the surge.

There is a fantastic article on MSNBC about a particle accelerator being used to reveal previously hidden sections of a 174-page manuscript written by Archimedes.

I start smiling just thinking about that.

Here's the link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7954408/.

Here's an excerpt from the second story, which is about a possible link between our evolutionary divergence from chimps and an increased susceptibility to cancer.

WASHINGTON - The evolutionary path that separated humans from chimps 5 million years ago may have made human sperm survive better but paradoxically may have made humans prone to cancer.

A comparison of chimpanzee genes to human genes shows a concentration of genes unique to people in areas associated with sperm production and cancer, and suggests the changes that make humans unique also make us uniquely prone to cancer.

Apparently, this is the price we pay for getting to use computers instead of just sitting in the trees flinging our crap at each other.

Here's the link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7913223/.

I mentioned a book titled The Devil's Teeth a few weeks ago and linked to an article over at Sports Illustrated Online. It's one of the best magazine articles I've ever read, and when I saw that the book had been released early and was staring me in the face on Friday at a local bookstore, I bought it immediately.

And now I know what kind of difference an excellent editor can make. It's not that the book isn't interesting, but it just doesn't have the same kind of intensity or the discipline of the magazine excerpt. So whoever edited that magazine article was an absolute genius, because they gave the piece a precision that the book itself doesn't have. It's still a good read, and I recommend it, but it's not as good as I expected.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

E3: The Trends

[I’m skipping a few columns ahead because I wanted to write this one, but I’ll go back and write the South/West Hall impressions column next, with a Best of Show column following.]

E3 is impossible to cover in a micro sense. There is just an absolutely mind-boggling, amount of detail. However, it’s entirely possible to grasp in a macro sense—even if you don’t get all the micro details, you get enough to start seeing aggregates form, and trends emerge clearly.

The disadvantage I have at E3 is that without a media badge, I miss out on some of the micro information. The advantage I have, though, is that since I don’t have any responsibilities to gather the micro stuff, I can spend most of my time thinking about the macro stuff. And Ben and I talked about these things all day, which helped me sharpen what I was thinking.

Here’s the single most dominant trend I saw at E3: women as gamers. In 1999, when I first went to E3, the only women at E3 were either working booths or getting paid to dress like hookers. This year, I was astonished by how many women I saw walking around looking at the games. Yes, the attendees were still mostly male, but the difference between this year and 1999 was amazing.

I think this means two things. One, in spite of everyone saying that nobody writes games “for” women, they’re playing them anyway. Also, and I think this is important, these women at the show weren’t all packed around the demo for the latest Sims 2 expansion pack—in other words, they’re playing games that don’t fit into the general perception of the demographic.

Ben mused aloud where the great women designers were. Well, nowhere. Besides Roberta Williams, who was influential but not necessarily “great,” no one comes to mind. However, there is no doubt in my mind that they’re on their way. Seeing all the women on the floor, especially compared to their number (zero) six years ago, made me realize that there is a critical mass of female gamers now who will eventually produce some great designers.

That was, by far, the most obvious and important thing I saw at E3 this year.

Here’s the second most dominant theme I saw at E3: Nobody knows a damn thing about the PS3. If they say they do, they’re probably either deluded or lying. The PS3 was almost total vaporware at E3—there was that fancy pre-show conference, but besides that, there was NOTHING on the floor. Zip. There was a theatre show if you wanted to wait for two hours, but there were no prototypes on the floor, no game loops, nothing. Sony says they’re launching in Japan in March, and to do that they roughly need to be within four months of Microsoft in terms of the production/development cycle, but I have to think that’s impossible. Microsoft had fifteen games showing on the floor—almost all of them were loops, but quite a few of them were showing actual gameplay, and at least one (Top Spin 2) was playable. Not that I’m sure much is known about Xbox 360, either, since final dev kits aren’t in the field, but there’s no question that Microsoft appears to be six to nine months ahead. I seriously doubt that PS3 is shipping in Japan in March—I would expect something more like June, with an October 2006 release in the U.S.

In terms of actual performance, nobody knows anything, either. The Killzone footage, which was spectacular, was apparently pre-rendered, which makes it meaningless in terms of understanding anything about the console’s power. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I saw the Final Fantasy XII—it’s that spectacular—but again, pre-rendered.

Sony was a master of the bait-and-switch with the PS2—yes, the console was very powerful, but it was significantly less powerful than Sony claimed before it was launched. The processor was so unconventional, though, that Sony could claim anything they wanted to and it was impossible to dispute them—until the games started coming out and the aliasing was absolutely terrible. Now they’ve designed another thoroughly unconventional processor, and they’re doing the same thing. Given how much fog both companies spew, it’s impossible to make a direct comparison.

I’ll tell you one other thing about the PS3: it can’t come out at $449, which is allegedly the currently planned street price. No matter how powerful that console is, no matter how many features it packs, it will puke all over itself in the U.S. at $449.

The PS3 will be a great console, and it’s a very impressive piece of hardware, but the fog around it, at this point, is too thick to see through.

Having said all that, though, Microsoft itself thinks the PS3 is more powerful. Ignore that long-form piece produced by Microsoft with all the graphs and alleged performance analysis. Instead, focus on an interview given this week by J. Allard to GamesIndustry.biz. Here’s what he said: "We can't get all hung up as an industry and say it's all about graphic fidelity," Allard commented. "I kind of put the 'does it look better?' secondarily.”

Way to convince me, J.—that the PS3 is more powerful. Listen, the company with the more powerful system isn’t going to say it’s not about graphic fidelity. That’s what the company with the weaker system says. The other company says that a console is like a brush and color palette used by artists, and having the most raw power gives developers the best way to realize their vision. So Microsoft, clearly, believes their system isn’t as powerful.

Theme number three: The decline of the PC as a gaming platform. Last year, the gaming press was falling all over itself at E3 about the “triumphant return of the PC” because of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. Those games, though, had been in development for years, and behind them the pipeline was running dry. This year, the number of PC games on display was incredibly low, and the companies showing large numbers of PC titles (like 1C and Akella) are not even considered in the first tier of developers.

Something else: of the PC-only titles I saw, none of them looked to be as much fun as Darwinia or Mount & Blade. The Movies and Ghost Wars were both in my Top Five list for the show (which will come in a future column), but small independent developers are leveling the playing field, as far as I’m concerned. That’s one very positive aspect of what is generally a negative (the decline of the PC as a gaming platform).

Here's another positive aspect, as least for the future: as the barriers to entry for console developers gets higher and higher as game budgets continue to grow, the PC is going to have its own niche as the "bang for the buck" platform. It should be the platform of choice for a huge amount of new talent that will emerge as more and more people play games.

There’s probably more, and after going to E3 items tend to pop into your head for weeks, so I may add to this later.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

Gloria said she was going to a Lavender Festival.

lav·en·der ( P ) Pronunciation Key (lvn-dr)n.
1. a. Any of various aromatic Old World plants of the genus Lavandula, especially L. angustifolia, having clusters of small purplish flowers that yield an oil used in perfumery.
1 b. The fragrant dried leaves, stems, and flowers of this plant.
2. pale to light purple to very light or very pale violet.

WHAT THE…?

"It's an affair, isn't it?" I asked. "It must be an affair, because I refuse to believe that Lavender Festivals exist. It's just some crude deception to hide your affair with Tony the Pool Boy."

"I broke it off with him last week," she said. Damn her, she’s good.

“Do you tailgate before you go to this thing?” I asked. “Are you going to quilt and drink beer in the cul-de-sac?”

“No, we’ll make homemade soap,” she answered. Damn her, she’s good again.

“What happens at a lavender festival? Is there a best in show contest? Do people breed lavender and then bring in bundles on leashes, dragging it behind them as they run through a little obstacle course?”

“So many questions, so little time,” she said, walking up the stairs.

“But wait!” I shouted after her. “I want you to bring me home a piece of lavender-fried chicken!”

This festival trip was sort of a birthday gift to one of her friends. And it was an hour-and-a-half drive each way, so Eli 3.9 and I spent most of the day together.

It was a delightful spring day in Texas—ninety-eight freaking degrees and six hundred per cent humidity. I know that’s theoretically impossible, but you don’t live here. We were at the park by 9:30, and inside half an hour we both decided that it was too hot to be fun. So we went to Krispy Kreme and watched how doughnuts get made, which I’d wanted to show him for quite a while.

With Eli, everything is funny, which makes it really enjoyable to hang out with him. We were in the bathroom at EZ’s, which is an excellent burger joint, and the paper towel dispenser had a motion detector. When I’m by myself, that means nothing. With Eli, it means five minutes of doing Kung-Fu movie poses in front of the paper towel dispenser, bursting into laughter each time it coughs up a towel.

That was the best part of my day—five minutes in front of a paper towel dispenser.

Friday, May 20, 2005

E3: Kentia

I promise you this: no references to my ass today. Well, except for that one.

I’ve looked at exactly zero news stories from E3 at this point. This column will be solely the impressions I gathered as we walked around the floor on Wednesday. Once this column is finished, I’ll then start reviewing all the videos posted online and all the information posted about the various games. That will lead to another column, which will be a broader perspective on the show. Finally, there will be the “think piece” (probably an oxymoron in my case) about what trends I saw this year and what it points to for the future.

Let me try to convey to you what it’s like to actually be at E3 in terms of gathering information about games. In Kentia, which has the nicest people (by far) and the least number of games, information is no problem. Someone showing a game is happy to talk to you for an hour if you’d like, because no one else is there. So maintaining “organizational discipline” is a breeze in Kentia.

The West Hall, with Sony and Nintendo is tougher. It’s bigger, it’s probably ten times as loud, and there are hundreds of games on display. There are essentially five different ways that companies show their games:
1. A single station with a monitor and game controller, with a company representative to walk you through a game’s major features and explain why you should care. This is, by far, my favorite display method, and it’s also increasingly rare. In a one-on-one environment like this, you get much better (and much more personal) information. It also usually means there’s enough of the game ready that you can actually see it being played.

2. A station with a monitor and game controller, with no company rep around for miles. This is the preferred way to display console games on the floor, with rows of screens. Play all you want, but everything you get is going to be from your limited interaction with the game. At least you can play it, though.

3. Demo loops. These are almost totally useless, but they look pretty. 42” plasmas with endless demo loops running. Eye-candy only.

4. The Theater Experience. I say that somewhat cynically, because the “viewings” that people wait in line for are my least favorite way to experience a game. I might as well just watch the #3 demo loop.

5. The Closed Door Sessions. Unfortunately, this has become the heart of E3. The vast majority of the top games get shown this way. Conceptually, I think this really goes against the whole idea of gaming—access granted to those who are deemed to be potentially useful. I really dislike that philosophy, and I think it’s a mistake, because out of a large group, no one can identify all the people who are “useful” now or will be in the future. It’s just not possible.

This is important to remember when you’re reading impressions—the different forms of presentation make it impossible to accurately compare games in any meaningful way. So reading “impressions” can be very, very misleading unless the delivery medium is specified.

The West Hall is ten times as loud as Kentia. There are probably fifty times as many games. All presentation methods are in play. And, unlike Kentia, this hall is jammed with people. Jammed. So it’s loud, it’s incredibly crowded, and it’s very difficult to maintain any kind of intellectual discipline, because the environment is downright hostile to thinking.

The West Hall is a soda shop from the 50’s, though, compared to the South Hall. This is where Microsoft and EA can be found, along with most of the other “big boys,” and it’s five times as loud as the West Hall—at least. It’s deafening, actually, to the point of being physically unpleasant. Certain areas, like this idiotic “amphitheatre of deafness” EA constructed, make it impossible to even speak. Well, speak, but certainly not heard. In the South Hall, I had zero discipline whatsoever. I had a folder of all the games that were showing, and I’d been taking notes during the day, but I didn’t write a thing in the South Hall. It was just suffocating, both because of the crowd and the sound.

In theory, you can carry a notebook with you that lists all the games and you can check them off one-by-one as you see them all. In practice, the environment is so aurally punishing (in the South Hall in particular) that you just walk quickly through, seeing everything you can without stopping. A second day would fix that—you could review the games you missed the first night—but after a full day at E3, I have no desire to go back. For another year, at least. So we see a lot—and we miss a lot. That’s how it works at E3.

Okay, so with the background out of the way, let’s get going.

ON THE LAUNCH PAD
That’s an extremely aggressive way of describing thirty minutes of standing around while Ben was trying to get his badge from the demon printers. The line to get into the South Hall snaked past us, and we were (I’m guessing) seventy-five yards, at least, from the entrance. It was crowded far beyond anything I’ve ever seen at E3, probably due to the hype surrounding the new consoles. Ben mentioned that this was the first year he could remember that the pre-show focus was on hardware, not games, and that was both perceptive and entirely true.

Two things I saw: one, a woman with a purse that looked like it was made from a copper bucket. Her friend walked up and said “That purse is so sweet.” I guess, if you wear a suit of armor to work.

The second thing was a guy with a t-shirt that read “My girlfriend is out of town.” Sure she is, my man. Sure she is.

KENTIA
This is why we always start in Kentia: a Lithuanian dude whose business card I, of course, lost. He works for Orbis Avia (I think, or Wireframe Dreams—I’m not sure which), which is developing a game titled “PSI: Syberian Conflict.” It’s an independent Lithuanian development house, they don’t have a publisher contract, and they came to E3 at their own expense to try and land a deal. He doesn’t care that we don’t have media badges, he doesn’t care that we’re nobody’s—he would stand there and talk to us, with great sincerity, all day if we wanted to. Yes, it’s a little hard to understand his English, but that’s another part of Kentia’s charm—you can’t understand half of what people are saying to you. But it’s easier to understand him in Kentia than it would be to understand Richard Freaking Burton in the South Hall.

So how does Syberian Conflict look? It’s just as impressive visually as most of the other RTS games we saw, and the plot hook (the incredible explosion near the river Tunguska in Siberia in 1908) is a nifty way to incorporate one of the most amazing events of the early twentieth century. It has 3-D environments, day and night cycles, uses terrain and fog of war, has heroes whose abilities evolve, manages resources in a more macro sense through controlling existing production centers (BioNodes) rather than being forced to build and manage them. It’s every bit as good as the games that everyone else is publishing, and I hope they can attract enough development money to finish it up.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t take long to see that Kentia has dramatically changed from two years ago. Far fewer games are being shown, and the biggest company in the hall (1C) has a by-appointment only show. In Kentia. 1C is a big company, particularly in Europe, but in America their name is synonymous for “jack-crap,” because that’s what they’ve done over here so far.

Games 1C was showing at E3: twenty-one.
Words anyone without an appointment will write about those games: zero.
People with appointments: 1/1000 of the number of people in the above category.

That, gentleman of 1C, is bad math.

There was a strong MMORPG presence from Korea two years ago, and those guys (who were wildly enthusiastic) are gone this year. Korea loves PVP, and every Korean developer we saw was pushing a hard-core combat game (not modern war—medieval, fantasy, etc.).

Buka was also in Kentia, and Buka wins the Booth Babes award for 2005, mostly because they didn’t have any. Instead, they had two or three very pleasant, nicely attractive women who were bright and very helpful. Here’s one of the fundamental truths about E3 for most people: you’ll spend most of your time with the people who seem the nicest, not necessarily the people showing the games you want to see. That’s how it works out every year, and I watched fifteen minutes of Pathologic just because the lady was so nice.

Pathologic is an adventure game using a 3-D engine. It looked like a hybrid of an FPS and adventure game, and for an adventure game, the graphics looked very solid. The presentation stressed how much your actions affected your relationship with the NPC characters, which will be nice if they (or anyone, for that matter) are able to do it right.

Ah, Akella. Makers of the heinously-unfinished Pirates of the Caribbean, which I thought could have been Game of the Year if they hadn’t shipped an alpha. Now they have all kinds of games in development, but all I saw was Age of Pirates, which looked exactly what I expected Sea Dogs II to look like two years ago. I am personally crushed that I didn’t get to check out Dead Mountaineer Hotel, which is one of the absolutely worst game titles I’ve ever heard.

I’ll be thrilled if Age of Pirates turns out to be a solid, completed, enjoyable game, but after POTC, let the buyer beware. I honestly don’t trust these guys at this point.

What else was in Kentia? Plenty of not very much. I tried on a VR helmet that was absolutely, horrifically bad (I think there were two VR helmet manufacturers and we drew the short straw). I’ll let Ben tell you about how I looked, but the short version is that I was nearly twisted over to the ground to control the damn game with the helmet on.

We saw two golf simulators and neither one was impressive. It’s a huge potential market, and I’ve seen good reviews of some of these products, but in person they left me totally cold. I really like the idea of actually swinging a club and seeing the results onscreen (in Tiger Woods, no less), and some of them are reasonably accurate, but the sound of the ball when it’s struck by the club is absolutely horrible. If they could come up with some kind of composite material that had a more “authentic” sound than cheap plastic, it would create a different kind of immersion entirely.

What was the best thing in Kentia? Absolutely, hands down, it was the tiny booth that had the successors to Robosapiens, the tiny robots that were such a huge hit at Christmas last year (http://www.robosapienonline.com/). They have a new model coming out this fall that’s a dinosaur, it’s called “Roboraptor,” and it’s going to be a HUGE hit. If I remember
correctly, it’s coming out at $129, and it looks remarkable—great movement, predator behavior, movement sensors, and selectable behavior sets. There’s also a V2 of Robosapiens that is larger and far more sophisticated. I think these are going to be the hottest toys at Christmas this year.

Here’s a picture of both: http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000490026252/. The dinosaur is quite a bit bigger than it looks in the picture.

Random notes:
There was a demo loop running for some faceless MMORPG, and every few minutes a booming voice would say “HIS DESTINY IS TO FIGHT.” No, I’m pretty sure his destiny is to suck.

Favorite line overheard in Kentia: “Atari owes us a million and a half dollars.”

So that’s Kentia. And given how insanely long this has run, I’m going to stop here and write a separate column for the West/South Halls. I’ll start working on that tomorrow and post it this weekend or Monday.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

E3: Welcome to Steerage

I can't find my wallet.

I haven't lost my wallet as I walk down the corridors of LA International Airport (LAX, for those of us in the know who are here two days a year). No, my wallet isn't lost, but at this moment it just can't be found, because it's in my shorts. My new "cargo" shorts.

Remember what I said about practicing walking in the new heels before you go to the prom? Well, here are the chickens coming home to roost on that one: take your new shorts on a shakedown cruise before you go to E3.

These shorts are roomy. They're so roomy, in fact, that I lost my ass at 2 p.m. yesterday and it still hasn't been found. I have so many pockets, and so many zippers, that I need an inventory management program. My wallet, when last seen, was in the bottom-right hand corner of my cargo shorts, which roughly means it's two feet below my ankles. I’m trying to gather a search party, but the request “Can you help me find my wallet? It’s somewhere in my shorts” is doing poorly.

I'm not actually looking for my wallet at this very moment--I just used the present tense to amp up the dramatic impact of you reading about me stumbling through an airport with my shorts hanging off my ass. Present tense--used by the real masters.

At this moment, exactly, I'm on the plane on the way back to Austin. I didn't realize until this flight that there are three possible types of seats on an airplane--first class, coach, and steerage. Apparently, I've landed in steerage, which is the very, very last row in the plane. Incredible engine noise. No windows. On the aisle. So I'm sitting here and the bathroom doors (conveniently located one second behind me) are banging away, the stewardess is pounding on a block of ice to make cubes, the engine is roaring, and people are constantly brushing against me on their way to and from the bathroom.

In other words, it's pretty much exactly like being at home.

I would also like to acknowledge that mankind's greatest invention is clearly noise-canceling headphones, because after being at E3 for a full day, the roar of a plane engine reminds me of being in EA's show area, and that's the last kind of memory I need.

I have an absolutely ridiculous amount of notes. Disturbing, really. So there will be at least three E3 columns, plus Ben's, and there might be even more than that. It will take me several days to work through all of this, but one fact is absolutely clear to me after going to E3 for the fifth time: you absolutely do not need to go to E3 to cover E3. In fact, E3 is the WORST location from which to cover E3. So many of the best parts of the show are now behind closed doors, and those videos are available so soon online, that going to E3 guarantees you're going to miss a huge amount of information, unless you're willing to have three days solid of appointments.

I always hated the appointment concept, and I really hate the idea of "closed door" showings. When I first went to E3 (I think it was 1999, but I'm not sure), only a small portion of the show was by appointment only. Mostly, people set up their booths and had games you could play, and you'd try them out and ask questions, which is the way you'd want to find out about a game. Now, most of the big name companies have these freaking "theatres", and everything is absolutely designed to limit, as much as possible, what you actually get to see. It's a totally controlled environment, and it's designed that way so that everyone who sees the presentation will, as much as possible, have exactly the same opinion.

That's pretty funny, because it's not like E3 is the bastion of critical thinking and journalism. It's not like anyone ever writes "that game was a total piece of shit." All right, I do occasionally, but in general, it’s rare.

So here's how this is going to go. This column, as you can tell, is me rambling about the trip and talking about my ass. I'm sure you're all thinking "Wow--I'm really glad he's talking about his ass first!", but I'm pretty tired and this is the least demanding column to write. After this allegedly amusing column of anecdotes, I'll be talking about specific games tomorrow. Then, over the weekend, I'm going to work on a longer piece about some dominant themes I see going forward in gaming. This is going to be the most in-depth column of the three, and hopefully you'll see that on Monday.

So. Back to my ass.

There's one thing about going to E3, at least for me: Ben Ormand, DQ reader and now a much-valued friend, meets me at the airport. I got off the plane, walked to the curb, and Ben, like Clarence in "It's a Wonderful Life," is pulling up to the curb. It might have been a Ford Explorer, but believe me, it was conceptually a stretch limousine.

Oh, and since digression is a journalistic style for me, let me just say here that I'm draining battery life, and the notebook wasn't fully charged when I started (stupid). I just turned down the screen brightness to spelunking levels and turned on various alleged power management schemes to increase battery life. I spent exactly six minutes doing this, and much to my delight, I've now extended my battery life by--six minutes!

Ben drives us directly to the show. We've done this twice, and there's something about waking up at five a.m., stumbling through a shower, driving to the airport in a stupor, flying halfway across the country, and then going to the gaming equivalent of six hours of hyperventilation that I really enjoy. Seriously.

This is the first year I've been one of the unwashed masses--actually, I've been an unwashed mass ever year, but still got a media credential--so if you want to go to E3 and see the show, listen up. As long as you've got the cash, it's easy. Incredibly easy. Sure, you get the green badge, which basically means you suck ass and nobody who isn't desperate wants to talk to you, but it is easy. Registration took all of ninety seconds and my badge was printed out in less than a minute. I looked at Ben and said "This is the most efficient operation I've ever seen," to which Ben said "I'll say that as soon as I get MY badge." Which he did--thirty minutes later. There were apparently four printers running in a serial connection, and all the badge requests were getting routed to a single queue which was handled by those four printers. Piece of cake, at least until printer #2 went down, which took #3 and #4 (serial connection, remember) with it. I missed this disaster by about fifteen seconds, because Ben was right behind me, and suddenly everything was FUBAR. Within ten minutes the line was about seventy people, growing by five people a minute, and one badge a minute (never Ben's) was printing out.

This gave me an opportunity to people watch, and since you all know I'm a people person, that's what I did.

Another digression: the drink cart is headed this way. Since we're two miles from the front of the plane, it's going to be a while, but some scary albino dude in a suit is standing right behind the drink cart, following it along, waiting for it to pull over so he can go to the bathroom. But it can't pull over for another thirty feet, and there are about eighty drink orders in that fifty feet. Dude, there's no prize for being first to the head after the drink cart finishes. Go back to your damn seat. Your albino skin and dark sunglasses are freaking me out.

Here’s another delightful fact about steerage: when drinks are served, it’s bedlam. There are 150 people in coach, and after one sip of a drink they all stampede to the bathrooms. Everyone is lined up like a conga line. Destination: two feet behind me. Return to your damn seats, people. There isn’t a pre-allocated number of bathroom visits for all passengers combined. Stewardess Jackie isn’t going to pick up the microphone and say “Sorry—all bathroom visits for the flight have been used. Please return to your seat and hold it for two hours.” Although if she’ll let me use the microphone, I’ll make that announcement and sing “Kumbaya” as a bonus.

“No full cans,” I say to the stewardess, “and don’t fill those cups up all the way—that soda costs money.”

I just found out that there are power connections in this plane for passengers—and they end four rows in front of me. The cargo area, it seems, would have a low need for power strips, since chickens in crates, as a passenger class, generally have low power requirements. The stewardesses are kind, though. They’ll throw us a handful of dried corn occasionally, and just a few minutes ago they brought a high-pressure water hose to clean our cages. Plus they know that we like to play tic-tac-toe.

I’m just basically bitter about my laptop and the power drain. I have thirty minutes of power left, and I type an “e,” and then I have twenty-three minutes left. Seven minutes of battery power for an “e”? I’m assuming that if I want to write about “beekeeping,” the notebook will just shut off mid-word.

I just walked up to the front of the plane, where the bastards with the power strips hang out. They’ve all got their notebooks hooked up, cell phones charging, room air conditioners, Tesla coils (that guy must be using a converter), whatever.

Oh hey, it’s nice to see this lady in line for the bathroom for the third time in an hour. I bet she left her notebook open on full power drain, and why not? She’s got all the power she can use. Meanwhile, I type a conjunction and my notebook pops up a message that says “SHE’S GONNA BLOW!”

I’ve got to find something to do, so I take out the SkyMall catalog and thumb through it. On the top-left of page 108, an ad for Las Vegas with their new slogan “What goes on in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.” On the top-right of page 108, the ad says “Eliminate cold sores before they ever appear!” Who says clever marketing is dead?

On page 181, there’s an ad that says “Professional-quality chocolate fountain tops the rest.” Man, I know exactly what you mean. I bought a chocolate fountain at Wal-Mart last week, and I’ve got to tell you, it was complete shit.

Three hours in steerage, even with noise cancellation headphones, is the flying equivalent of an M.R.I. A three-hour M.R.I.

There’s just been an announcement to turn off all electronic devices and return all seats to their upright position. No problem, because my notebook puked all over itself and the back of my seat is two inches away from a wall.

I look at the Japanese fellow sitting next to me, who, along with his wife, has slept for the entire flight, and I say “It must be really easy to travel with your wife—she sleeps the whole way.”

He doesn’t get it. I think he might punch me. I don’t know whether I should shout “Akihabara!” and smile or take my beating like my man.

When we’re disembarking, I start looking for Important Guy. You know Important Guy—there’s one on every plane. As soon as one wheel of the landing gear hits the ground, he’s on his cellphone, trying to corner the silver market or negotiate a hostile takeover of McDonald’s. Sure enough, Important Guy was two rows in front of me, and as the plane stopped he stood up to make sure that everyone could hear him. “I’m landing now. I’m in the back of the plane.” Thanks for that mission critical update, sir. If your exact location is that important, you might want to have a positioning chip installed in your forehead, because if the receiver uses the new WAAS standard, your staff will be able to track your position within three meters. Then you can call them and say “I’m in the back of that three meters.”

As I was walking out of the airport, I saw a young Japanese couple, looking up the escalators expectantly. So when I reached the bottom, I paused for a few seconds, and sure enough, they were waiting for the couple who sat next to me. The father shook hands sternly (probably still pissed off about that guy who made the crack about his wife), and the mother looked so happy that I thought she was going to cry. Hugs for everyone.

I love happy endings.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On The Road to E3

After packing a notebook, a digital camera, a digital voice recorder, a CD player, and noise cancellation headphones in a backpack, there's just not much room left.

I will threaten you, as always, with the possibility of a voice update. And it's also possible that I'll have something up tonight. If not, though, I'll be working on one of several E3 columns on the plane home Thursday and will have at least one up Thursday night.

Reader Mail

In response to your e-mail: no, I am not England's "Piano Man." Thanks for asking.

The Prom: Fashion Tips

We went to dinner last weekend for our anniversary.

It was one of those very nice restaurants where the waiters spend five hundred words describing "the special." Our waiter was particularly keen to discuss their "unoaked" wines.

I was less keen.

"I could describe quantum mechanics in fewer words than that guy just took to describe a wine," I said when he finally walked off.

"And if I could drink quantum mechanics, I'd ask you to," Gloria said.

Midway through our meal, TWENTY high-school kids, dressed for the prom, took over the restaurant. Initially, it was kind of a drag, but I was sitting where I could watch them, and I realized that I actually have learned something in the last thirty years. So, without further build-up, here are my prom fashion tips:

1. Lose the white tuxedo.
Gentlemen, If you're wearing a white tux with a white shirt, white socks, and white shoes, you're going to either look like a cotton ball or a bar of Ivory soap. In northern territories, in the unfortunate event of a snowstorm, you might go entirely Invisible Man and your date will have to find you by your footprints.

2. Stop adjusting your dress.
Ladies, I know those are expensive dresses and you haven't worn them much, but stop fiddling with them. If your boobage won't support the dress, hiking it up constantly is drawing more attention to your boobage-deficit, not less. Tugging on that dress every fifteen seconds makes you look like a grooming pigeon.

Gloria actually timed them for a minute and I counted seven dress adjustments for ten girls. And I think that was a low minute.

3. Lose the gum.
That may be the most expensive dress you've ever worn, but chew your gum like that and you still look like a dairy cow.

4. Practice walking in your shoes.
Those are nice heels you're wearing. It's a shame that you're walking like you're on a trampoline. And stop adjusting your dress.

It was actually very enjoyable to see them. It certainly brought back memories of my senior prom.

Wait, I didn't even go to my senior prom. Never mind.

More Thoughts on Nintendo

I realized just now what I really wanted to say about Nintendo in regards to their uniqueness, which we generally agree has been their defining characteristic.

For many years, Nintendo was believed to possess an active reservoir of anti-suck. It was a common theme that Nintendo had unique anti-suck properties not possessed by Sony or Microsoft. So even if they designed a wristwatch that projected games in CGA, people would say "Sure, that looks like shit, but it's Nintendo, and they have the anti-suck."

I like Nintendo, but those days are gone. Nintendo has no anti-suck left to protect them from themselves. Now their executives sit around conference tables and discuss strategy for a world that no longer exists. The world has moved far faster than their ability or their desire to keep up.

In the Pool

Today was a pretty momentous day for me athletically. As a non-athlete, that is.

I wrote a few months ago that I wanted to swim a mile in 30:00 before the end of the year, but at the time I wrote it I hadn't even broken 35:00. My real goal was 32:00--the 30:00 was a hopeless reach.

Well, maybe not so hopeless now. I swam a mile this morning in 31:39. Laps were counted correctly. The pool is regulation distance. I wasn't being towed by a boat. And it was hard, but I had a little left when I was done.

As the standard disclaimer, that's a laughable time for anyone who ever swam distance competitively, but for a land-based creature such as myself, it meant something.

I wanted to do something to celebrate after I got out of the pool, but I realized at that moment that I don't know how. I'm not a celebrater. I'm not sure I've celebrated anything in my life--not really. If I accomplish something that seems substantial to me, in two days I'm wondering what's next. I never fully realized it until today.

So onward to 30:00, which, in a relatively shocking turn of events, is now a tangible goal.

Happy Anniversary

Today is our eighth wedding anniversary, and I'd like to thank my lovely wife Gloria for her remarkable endurance when it comes to putting up with me.

And to think that ten years ago, she was just a chick who took a month to call me back after I asked her out.

Ducking now.

The Revolution

Ah, Nintendo. The beautiful woman with so many weird habits that you can't stand to date her.

So we know today why Nintendo was pimping the size of their ride, so to speak. Here's an excerpt from GamesIndustry.biz
(link http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=8851):

The console is said to offer two or three times the power of the GameCube - a somewhat humble claim compared to the figures Microsoft and Sony have been quoting. But "It's not all about having 'turbo power'," Nintendo exec Perrin Kaplan is quoted as saying. "It's about what you do with it."

"We've built Revolution around the concept of 'all-access gaming'," Kaplan continues - meaning developers should find it easy to create games for the console, and all types of gamers should find something in it that appeals to them. "We're about sticking to the soul of gaming," Kaplan states.

What is that giant sucking sound?

This is what happened to Nintendo: it's less expensive to become a gaming company than it is to become a technology company. When two of the world's leading technology companies decided to become gaming companies, they were able to do it much faster than Nintendo could become a technology company (if they even wanted to). Over time, the gaming gap has been closed, but the technology gap is now huge. And with the announcement that the Revolution is 2-3 times as powerful as the Gamecube, that's the final proof that Nintendo, on the console hardware level, can no longer be competitive. With that estimated level of performance, I think it's fair to say that Xbox 360 is, at a minimum, four times as powerful as the Revolution, and the PS3 is at least eight times as powerful. Third party developers are going to leave skidmarks in the driveway. Just watch them.

I know that some of you will say "but Nintendo makes absolutely unique games that just can't be made by anyone else." Hooray. I'll play all four of them every year. But Nintendo's third-party support has steeply declined in the last five years. Without Capcom (Resident Evil, Viewtiful Joe), they have almost nothing that isn't already put out on the other consoles. Overall third-party developer support is more than twice as much for the Xbox or Ps2. That's over a hundred extra games a year for those systems.

I do like their statement that they're going to make it "easy" to create games, but that's a very vague statement that means almost nothing. Everybody is freaking out about how expensive development costs will allegedly be for the new consoles, but think about it for a minute--this happens every time a new console gets introduced. Game developers want to tack an extra ten or twenty dollars on the price of a game whenever they can, so they start screaming about how developing games for the new generation of consoles will cost "ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS."

Does it have to? No. Middleware and other tools developers have a greater financial incentive than ever to deliver powerful programs that will make the hardware more transparent to developers. Yes, games are going to be more expensive to develop, but it's not going to be exponentially greater or catastrophic or anything like that. Good companies will still make good games for a reasonable cost and make a profit. Bad companies that have no process control will make bad games and find that their mistakes are more expensive.

All right, back to Nintendo.

I see one strategy Nintendo could use to make this console competitive: price. If Microsoft charges $399 (I'm hoping for $299, but let's skew this in Nintendo's favor) and Sony charges $499 for their new console, then Nintendo has an opening. They could charge $149 for the Revolution (or better, $99), and maybe that would help them get some traction. In essence, give the console away to build a user base, then make money off the games. But the price delta is going to have to be significant, because it's going to be a much weaker console with far less third-party developer support.

At some point, somebody at Nintendo has to have enough courage to say that their innovative past has given way to strangeness that has no purpose. On the portable side, they're still doing well, but they would be far more successful as a company if they stopped making console hardware and just developed software for other consoles.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Microsoft pre-E3

Not much information came out of Microsoft's presentation last night. Here are the highlights:

1. Square-Enix is supporting the Xbox 360. That's a big, big deal. They're starting with a version of Final Fantasy XI, but there will also be two additional projects. Again, this is another example of Microsoft understanding the right market and making the right moves.

2. Xbox 360 will have limited backward compatibility. They're using an emulator for Xbox 1 titles, and only the "top-selling" Xbox games will be certain to work. I wish they'd add something like 2X anti-aliasing, since they're already creating an emulator. ESPN NFL2K5 in 720p with 2X anti-aliasing would look unbelievable.

3. The Xbox 360 will be launched in North America, Europe, and Japan in 2005 (November for the U.S., most likely ). It's either a simultaneous launch or very close to one, which I think is a terrific strategy. The tradition of launching in each territory months apart is a terrible idea, it's always been a terrible idea, and this is going to generate much more excitement.

No word on console price. There's quite a bit of cat-and-mouse going on in terms of price, and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't know the launch price of the new Xbox for another month. The PS3 price might not be known until several months after that.

More PS3 Info

Backwards compatible. No surprise, but still nice.
Pictures of PS3: http://ve3d.ign.com/. Scroll down the page.
Release: March 2006 for Japan, at some point from June to the end of 2006 for the U.S.

The only thing I see that I don't like is the controller, which looks more like a Batarang than a gaming device.

PS3 Info

There's already some information about the PS3 over at GamesIndustry.biz. Here's an excerp (link http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=8827):
The PS3 is set to use a single Cell CPU at its core, which will run at 3.2Ghz. The system will boast around 2.18 Teraflops of performance - almost twice the raw performance of Microsoft's Xbox 360, if the Teraflop statistics from both companies are to be believed. Sony even went so far as to display a bar chart of the relative floating point performance of the Xbox 360 and PS3 on the giant screen in the exhibition hall, in a rare acknowledgement of Microsoft as a competitor.

Like Xbox 360, PS3 will have 512MB of RAM, but unlike its rival console, which has a unified memory architecture that shares RAM betwen the CPU and GPU, it will divide that up in much the same way that modern PCs do - with 256MB of very high speed XDR main RAM running at 3.2Ghz, and 256MB of GDDR graphics RAM running at 700Mhz.

The graphics chipset, meanwhile, has been named the RSX - which stands for "Reality Synthesizer", as opposed to the "Graphics Synthesizer" that powered the original PlayStation 2. Never let it be said that Sony let an opportunity for a pretentious name pass them by. The part, which has been manufactured by NVIDIA, is described as being more powerful than two GeForce 6800 Ultra boards, which are the current top of the range PC graphics solutions, and will output in HDTV resolutions all the way up to 1080p as standard.


A couple of things jump out immediately. One, the system will have the same amount of memory as the Xbox, which is a surprise (and excellent news). Second, the system is going to support 1080p--the Xbox 360 tops out at 1080i. I believe that's mostly included to support high-definition DVD, and very few display devices even support 1080p at this point, but it's going to be a real coup 2-3 years from now when those displays are much more common. Nicely done.

Here's more:
Looking past the impressively powerful core specification of the machine, Sony's ambitions to turn the PlayStation into a home media hub are readily apparent in the wide range of ports and media connections which the system sports.

Along with the expected network port (Gigabit Ethernet), AV multi-out port and SP/DIF optical audio out port, the PS3 also has two high-resolution HDMI video ports, slots for Memory Stick Duo, SD Cards and Compact Flash cards, six USB 2.0 ports and - like the Xbox 360 - a slot for a removeable 2.5" hard drive module. Controllers will be wireless, as expected, and out of the box the system can support up to seven controllers using the Bluetooth standard for connectivity. No more multi-taps, then.

This box is about as loaded as a box can be. I have to believe that Sony thinks this console will last 5-7 years with this feature set and power. It's difficult to compare system power, but like the excerpt says, based on the Teraflop statistics it looks like the PS3 is about twice as powerful as Xbox 360, which is staggering, because the Xbox 360 is a beast. What I can't answer is how much the embedded DRAM on the Xbox 360 will narrow the gap.

My only question about this sytem, based on the astonishing system specs, is the cost. How does Sony deliver this system for $399? The market will absorb a $50 price delta between the two consoles, I believe, but $100 is dicey, and forget it at $150. As brilliant as this box appears to be, it will puke in the U.S. at $499, no matter the feature set.

So the pre-unveiling gamesmanship has ended, but the financial gamesmanship has just begun.

Oh, and one more thing--the U.S. release is June 2006 at the earliest. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft can do with their headstart.

First PS3 Pictures (Apparently Not)

[UPDATE: The Smell of Fakery
I've seen in several places that this picture is just a clever fake, so I'm removing the link. However, there should be plenty of information later tonight from both Sony and Microsoft after their big pre-E3 shows, so I'll scan for news to share with you later.]

Thanks to rdank and Dream1 of the AVS Forums for providing links to information about the PS3. This link will take you to photos of the PS3 and some technical details. These seem pretty solid, but there's been no official confirmation yet:
[link removed]

Welcome New Reader

If you're wondering who is in the photograph below, just click on it and you'll see a larger version. That's Alyx from Half-Life 2, and I'm very pleased to see that she's a Dubious Quality reader.

Thanks to DQ reader Jeremy Trim, who's close friends with her and took this photograph. He also said that any reports linking her with Dave Chappelle are entirely unfounded. They're just "good friends."

New DQ Reader Posted by Hello

Dave Chappelle Update

Thanks to DQ reader My Mom for sending me a link to a Time article about Dave Chappelle and why he's in South Africa. Here's the link:
http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1061415,00.html.

Pre E3 News

Wargame developers announced today that they have run out of wars.

Speaking for the Wars Under Simulation Standards council, or WUSS, J. Jason Edgar today said “We tried to deny this for several years, but the facts are now undeniable. There are unfortunately a finite number of wars and they’ve all been simulated.”

Just minutes before the press conference, ProSIM and Shrapnel Games announced the release today of a demo for The Falklands War: 1982. Speculation over their next title centers on Grenada.

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