Friday, July 29, 2005

The Scientific Mind of Eli 3.11

Eli asked Gloria tonight if cowboys were extinct.

Mr. Literal

We were in Petsmart tonight buying one hundred billion dollars in supplies for the kittens. The cashier was a nice lady, and she noticed the kitten supplies and started talking about her own cat, etc. So she rang everything up and we were all just standing there chatting. She was so nice that I was absolutely not paying attention to the fact that this was a retail transaction. After a couple of minutes, she finally said "So, have you swiped your card yet?"

I said, "No, I'm just standing here like an idiot." Then, feeling a further need to explain, I said "It's kind of a hobby."

Smooth. You can just imagine what kind of operator I was when I was single.

Roboraptor Review

PC Magazine got their hands on a Roboraptor and here's a review:,1895,1839915,00.asp.

I saw this at E3 and thought it was a blast. They're going to be big sellers this holiday season.

Jeff Brown Goes Yard

I was in the break room at work yesterday and saw a story about Internet porn. It seems that Congress is, shockingly, coming to the conclusion that underage kids might be viewing pornography via the Internet.

Stop the presses!

Apparently, yet another "study" says that every child old enough to walk is viewing porn. Or something like that.

I’m mentioning this because of an interview they ran with the president of Vivid Entertainment--Mayor McPorn, in other words. Just like Rockstar, it’s the textbook way to throw gasoline on a fire. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) “We don’t think kids are interested in things they aren’t doing yet,” then went on to say that a recent survey of 13-14 year olds revealed that 90% of them hadn’t had sex yet. He also mentioned that the industry had effective security, because a credit card was necessary to purchase.

Two words, Mayor McPorn: free preview. Twelve-year olds and anyone else can view all the porn they want, absolutely free. And I don’t think that “click here to verify that you’re over eighteen” is really that effective.

Of course, the statement that kids aren’t interested in watching explicit sex because they’re not having it yet is, well, stupid. And throwing in a dubious survey that means absolutely nothing is a nifty sleight-of-hand that goes nowhere.

So instead of addressing the issue, McPorn creates another one, or two, or three. In other words, his response is not only totally ineffective, but it actually causes further damage.

This reminds so much of how Rockstar handled the hot coffee controversy. Their initial statement was so cryptically worded that I knew immediately that they were lying (and said so, in this very space).

The way to address a controversy is to address the controversy. That doesn’t seem so complicated. And if you can’t address it directly, then what’s being alleged is probably true.

Here’s an example of how to do it the right way. Mall lawyer Jack Thompson made that totally ridiculous statement about the Sims 2 this week (already covered in a previous column), and here was EA’s response (from Blue's News via

“This is nonsense,” said Jeff Brown, spokesman for EA. “Reasonable people understand there is nothing improper in the game. Reasonable people recognize what mods are. A consumer who chooses to use a mod does so without any kind of agreement with the company. There is no nudity. There is nothing improper or vulgar in the Sims 2.”

Brown continue, “Reasonable people understand the San Jose Mercury News is not responsible for vulgar things that people doodle into the margins of the paper.”

As the world’s worst sportscaster would say: BOOM goes the dynamite.

He didn’t even need all twenty-six letters for that ass-kicking. He still had the “z” in reserve.

Short, clear sentences. Boom. Boom. Boom. Concluded perfectly by a brilliant summation.

Thus ends the Sims 2 controversy. There’s no way it can possibly get any traction, because EA responded in a clear statement with absolutely no ambiguity

Rockstar, meanwhile, has created an uncontrolled chain reaction.

A Note

Several of you e-mailed me about the "Crazy Ken Kutaragi" post and pointed out, quite correctly, that what Kutaragi said to a Japanese audience must be seen from the point of view of Japanese culture, which is quite different from ours. Also, it was pointed out that the translations of these speeches and interviews can be quite spotty.

Both true and duly noted.

George and Gracie

Our two new kittens, that is.

All kittens are basically Chinese acrobats with fur, and they conducted a spectacular stage show on our bed from 11:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m., at which point I gave up and went to sleep downstairs. Eli 3.11 woke up at 3:30 with an earache, which can be really painful for a little kid, and we thought he was getting sick, but he was fine this morning.

I woke up at 6:30 to go swim and was so tired that I started to put my dress pants on. I did not, however, swim in them.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

UT Javelin Champ Says Bad Taco Killed Dream

That's why I read the Austin American-Statesman. Headlines just don't get any better than that. And the headline on the continuing page for the story reads "JAVELIN: Suit says taco curtailed career." Nice alliteration.

Here's the story. A University of Texas javelin thrower, Thomas Engwall, qualified for the 2004 Olympic trials in the javelin by one centimeter. His throw was twenty-first best among the qualifiers. It was forty-six feet behind the top qualifier. He made it to the Olympic trials by the width of a gnat's ass.

Then Engwall ate tacos at a Chipotle Grill before the Trials and got ill.

Tacos are high performance fuel, of course. It's like I always say: to be an Olympian, you have to eat like an Olympian.

He wound up losing twenty pounds, didn't throw well at the Trials (understandably), and now he's suing Chipotle Grill. For destroying his Olympic Dream.

Dude, I'm sorry you got sick, but your right arm destroyed your Olympic dream. You weren't going to be in the top three unless you added propellant to the javelin. You were going to have to launch that bad boy with a fuse burning.

Chipotle Grill voluntarily closed during that period of time, as several people reported getting ill. The Health Department didn't find any violations (that location has never failed a health inspection), and it's believed that a norovirus probably caused the illness.

Here's the web version: Note that they even have another snappy headline on the website: "Hurler Sues."

Hurler. That cracked me up.

My time has passed to be in the Olympics (actually, there never was a time), but I'm still hoping that the Cynic-lympics will be established before 2010. I'd be freaking Michael Phelps in that competition.

I'm sure, though, that the medals would suck.

You Might Not Ever Get Rich, But Let Me Tell You, It's Better Than Digging a Ditch

We went to get pizza at a local place called Mangia's yesterday. It's a popular spot for Eli 3.11, mostly because a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream is right next door. Mangia's also has a pizza delivery truck with a dinosaur on top, which is another big draw.

Eli must, absolutely must, inspect the truck every time we go there. After he's done, we're walking back from the parking lot, and as we're walking we hear music.

Car Wash. By Rose Royce.


There are a few other people milling around on the sidewalk. Well, they were milling until they heard Eli--then they were staring.

Then he added "THIS AIN'T NO PLACE TO BE IF YOU PLAN ON BEING A STAR." I could barely hear him--I was busy covering up our license plates.

There's a story attached to that, as you might expect. I don't sit around our house listening to Rose Royce's Greatest Hits.

I'm sure you're relieved to find that out.

This all started due to one inescapable fact: baths are boring. So in an attempt to jazz up bathtime for Eli 3.11, I introduced--the Car Wash Bath©. I'd load up a big bath sponge with soap, rinse him off, air dry him (hair dryer on cool), then use a little hand towel to "wax" him, waving it in circles when he was finished. Singing "Car Wash" the whole time.

You'll be tremendously relieved to know that Mp3's of this performance are not available, although the government does have one copy to train its secret agents in resisting torture.

It didn't take long before Eli learned the song, too, and we would just belt it out upstairs, pretty much singing at the top of our lungs. We only did that for about two months, but even a year later, Eli still knows the song by heart and starts laughing every time he hears it. So do I.

Gloria rolls her eyes. Of course, she had to listen to us.

And you knew I'd find a clip for you. It's song #4.

Stuff I Write Down and Then Can't Remember Why

"Wand of testicular aggrandizement."

I hope that was in reference to the goofy names that are given to magical items in games.

[Yes, I'm aware that last sentence rhymed. It will not continue.]

At least, I hope that's why I wrote it down. If not, I'm alarmed--and you should be as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Well, this is pretty awesome.

It's called SLOOH. It's a way for people who lack high-powered telescopes (or a suitable viewing environment) to participate in astronomy. Each night, an observatory on Mount Teide in the Canary Islands will focus its telescopes on various celestial objects, and you can log in and view these in real-time on your computer.

Here's an excerpt from the FAQ:
What is a SLOOH mission?
As a subscriber, you get unlimited access to group missions. Most missions are five to fifteen minutes in length. Using LightMachine™, SLOOH's patent-pending instant imaging technology, each mission presents a LIVE view of one of the known wonders of the universe. This view improves in quality during the mission as our telescopes gather more light. Our observatory aims multiple different telescopes at the subject, which allows you to zoom from a huge expanse of sky all the way to a close up view. Through our user interface, you can capture photographs during the mission and save them in your mission log book. During the mission, our storytellers will explain the history, mythology, science and beauty of the subject.

What objects will I see on the missions?
For starters, the Moon, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter, as well as the most beautiful galaxies, nebulae and globular clusters, including M51, the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, NGC4565, the Crab Nebula, the Whirlpool Galaxy, Pleiades and Hercules, to name a few.

There's an optional audio channel in addition to the viewing options, and astronomy experts will both discuss the objects being viewed as well as answering your questions.

It's subscription based ($49.95 yearly), but there's a one-week free trial available, and the annual subscription fee grants you unlimited access to missions.

Here's the website: Take a look at the "Sneak Peek" and "FAQ" sections for more information.

The Glorious Deception

DQ reader Alex Corvino recently recommended a book to me titled The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer".

It is, in a word, fascinating. It's the story of William Robinson, an American magician who assumed a new personae as the world's greatest Chinese magician. It's a bizarre story--Robinson's life contained multiple layers of deception--and it makes for excellent reading. It's also a general history of the world's leading magicians in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

EA: We Suck Again

From the Wall Street Journal Online:
Electronic Arts Inc. posted a loss and said revenue declined in its fiscal first quarter because of a weaker lineup of videogame releases in comparison with a year ago.

The videogame publisher also lowered financial forecasts for the rest of its fiscal year largely because of a delay in the release of an eagerly anticipated game based on "The Godfather" movie.

After regular trading hours, EA, of Redwood City, Calif., reported a loss for the quarter ended June 30 of $58 million, or 19 cents a share, compared with net income of $24 million, or eight cents a share, a year ago. EA's loss was narrower than the 22 cents a share to 28 cents a share the company had forecast and the 24 cents expected on average by analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Revenue declined 16% to $365 million from $432 million. EA said it had a number of strongly performing games during the quarter, including "Battlefield 2" and "Medal of Honor European Assault," each of which sold more than a million copies. However, EA's slate of titles didn't fare as well when compared with the blockbuster titles out in the same quarter last year, including one based on a "Harry Potter" movie.

It's getting a bit surreal to see earnings announcements like this from Electronic Arts. It's a company with an absolutely incredible amount of leverage in the gaming industry, a behemoth of a marketing marchine, and they still aren't making money. Just six months ago they seemed to be dominant. Now, they're seriously struggling, and I don't believe this is a temporary condition.

One theory: instead of trying to make great games, EA seems to be focusing more and more on obtaining exclusive licenses, and those licenses are expensive. The games being produced with those exclusive licenses, though, generally haven't been that good. Combine expensive licensing with less than outstanding sales and it becomes a real problem.

Another theory is that EA is choking on its size. When a game needs to sell over a million copies to be considered "strongly performing," that is a huge, huge burden. They can't afford to release anything fresh (unless Will Wright designs it) because it might blow up in their faces. So a huge portion of their catalog now consists of licensed games and annual rehashes of their sports titles.

Even as I write that, it doesn't sound very interesting. Or fun.

Another Day, More of This Crap

I'm getting pretty tired of all this, but I keep seeing excellent articles about the GTA controversy. In this case, DQ reader Steve West sent me a link to an editorial at the LA Times. It's very interesting and well worth reading. Plus, it brings up one point that all the hysterical grandstanders can't deny: in spite of a seeming exponential increase in the amount of time children spend playing violent games (according to the crazy people), juvenile crime has been rapidly trending down for over a decade. That doesn't mean twelve-year olds should be buying and playing Grand Theft Auto, but it does mean that demonstrating actual harm from the "effects" of violent video games is going to be very difficult indeed.

Here's the link:

Then we have the lawsuit filed by the grandmother of a 14-year old boy. This one's a classic (from CNN via DQ reader Scott Ray):
NEW YORK (AP) -- A woman upset that she bought the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for her 14-year-old grandson without knowing it contained hidden, sexually explicit scenes sued the manufacturer Wednesday on behalf of consumers nationwide.

Outstanding. Granny is buying a game called "GRAND THEFT AUTO" for her eighth-grade grandson. And she's not complaining that he can car jack and kill a thousand people (for starters) in the game. No problem there. It's that it contains a sexual mini-game.

Granny, first off, you need to be in the hole. If stupidity were criminalized, you'd be serving five-to-ten right now.

Second off, I'm too tired of all this to make a coherent comment on the casual acceptance of violence we have in this country while there's nothing but hysteria about sex. It is distinctly embarrassing, not to mention incredibly stupid.

Now my brain hurts.

Fortunately, here's a more lighthearted link. I can't remember where I saw this (probably a link off Gametab), but it's a very clever parody on the whole GTA mess. Here's the opening:
A tempest has erupted in the video-game industry after the publisher of America's most popular series, "Grand Theft Auto", acknowledged that its latest installment includes embedded religious content that allegedly was never meant to be seen by players.

Very clever, and you can find it here:

That Depends Very Much on Whether You're the Nose Cone or the Bird

From a CNN article about the shuttle liftoff:
Video also showed the fuel tank's nose cone hitting a bird about 2.5 seconds after liftoff, apparently without damage, he said.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ken K. Rocks the House in Japan

Here are some quotes from Sony's "Crazy Ken" Kutaragi about the PS3 (courtesy of The Guardian)--

"We're looking at a life cycle of 10 years with the PlayStation 3. We're currently shifting from standard TVs to HD TVs," said Kutaragi. "But in the next couple of years, most flat-panel TVs will be full HD. We're releasing the PS3 with full HD features from the start so that consumers won't have to buy another version of the console in the future. For the same reason, we're using Blu-ray as the PS3's disc format."

"I'm aware that with all these technologies, the PS3 can't be offered at a price that's targeted towards households. I think everyone can still buy it if they wanted to," said Kutaragi to a mostly Japanese crowd. "But we're aiming for consumers throughout the world. So we're going to have to do our best (in containing the price)."

Then Kutaragi issued a somewhat ominous warning. "I'm not going to reveal its price today. I'm going to only say that it'll be expensive," he stated.

So many bizarre, business-destroying statements in just three paragraphs. Remember when I said that Sony was the only thing that could stop Sony? Well, here we go.

We're looking at a life cycle of 10 years with the PlayStation 3.

For starters, read between the lines. I don't think Sony arrived at that "ten year" figure by accident. I'm guessing that the Cell processor cost so much to develop that Sony needs the PS3 to be viable for ten years to justify the investment. And it's very narrow thinking to assume that full HD resolution is all consoles need to last (essentially) forever. Not so. Even having "Toy Story" levels of animation in games wouldn't make a console last ten years. Technology is just improving too rapidly.

Within three years, consoles are going to look terribly limited because they don't have a dedicated processing chip for physics calculations. I think that's the next big advance in terms of realism. For a console to last ten years, technological innovation needs to be relatively dormant for ten years. That is never going to happen. Never.

I can see the PS3 lasting for five years, just like the PS2 did. It’s not going to last any longer, not if Sony wants to remain in the forefront in terms of performance.

I'm aware that with all these technologies, the PS3 can't be offered at a price that's targeted towards households.

But we don’t want all your damn technologies. You’re trying to jam a convergence box down our throats and many of us don’t want it. If it doesn’t cost us any more than a game system would, we’ll happily accept everything else, but if you’re going to take a $299 game box and charge us $499 because of extra features we don’t want, it’s going to suck. For you.

I'm not going to reveal its price today. I'm going to only say that it'll be expensive.

For anyone who was still hoping that the PS3 was going to launch at $299, I think that’s your death knell, unfortunately. That’s a clear indication that Sony isn’t even going to attempt to match Microsoft’s launch price (which should be in the $299-$349 range).

Here’s who will buy a PS3 if it comes out at $499 and the Xbox 360 is $299: nobody. I don’t mean that literally, but the PS3 will not match Microsoft’s market share if they charge $200 more for their console. They’re at risk even in the $150 delta range.

Here’s something else that a significant price delta will change: developer loyalty. And how. It won’t happen overnight, but in a two to four year period, the number of games being developed for the PS3 would drop significantly compared to Xbox 360 development.

Now it’s possible that these statements were just trial balloons. I think both Sony and Microsoft do that all the time. But I don’t see Kutaragi calling the console “expensive” if it was coming out at $399 or less. It’s also entirely possible, even likely, that Sony is going to adjust their launch price outside Japan based on what they perceive as the Xbox 360 market penetration. If Microsoft’s launch goes extremely well, and strong sales continue into early 2006, they may have no choice but to take a larger internal loss on the consoles to keep the price down.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I believe that Sony is far behind schedule for a Spring 2006 launch. I would be shocked if we see the PS3 in the U.S. before June of next year, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it wound up being September.

Gaming Links

Two links for your reading and viewing pleasure:
--first, part three of Elysium's gaming store manager series over at Gamers With Jobs. Links to parts one and two are also available. Just head on over to and click on the link for "The Retail Game, Part III: What's Next".

--There's a phenomenal new trailer for Project Gotham Racing 3 for the Xbox 360. This is all in-game footgage, and you'll also see some camera shots from Gotham TV, which is a very innovative spectator mode that will allow you to watch some of the top-rated human racers in action. It's all very, very slick, and spectacular looking as well. From Gametab via Daily Game That link also gives you an excellent description of what to look for (and when it appears) in the trailer.

Science Links

Here are a couple of interesting science links I've stumbled across in the last few days:
--"The Eerie Sounds of Saturn's Radio Emissions" (via Robot Wisdom Weblog)
This is an amazing recording of radio emissions from Saturn. The recording is at 22X real time and it sounds absolutely phenomenal. Here's the link:

--"Butterfly Unlocks Evolution Secret" (via Slashdot)
A new discovery about speciation, in which it was observed that closely related butterfly species living in close proximity to each other displayed "unusually distinct" wing markings. When not in the same geographical area, closely related butterflies have very similar markings.

Very cool stuff, and you can read about it here:

Your Teeth

I know--it's out of left field. That's where I live.

I went to the dentist for the twice-year teeth cleaning, etc. My dentist made a copy of a dental study for me (well, one page of a study, anyway) that tested the amount of enamel decay caused over time by different kinds of drinks. Twenty teeth extracted for "orthodontic reasons" were sectioned into blocks and submerged in the test beverages for two weeks. They were weighed every 24-48 hours to check for enamel loss. Here are the 14-day enamel weight losses (lower is better):
Diet Mountain Dew....8.01%
Mountain Dew...........6.17%
Arizona Iced Tea........4.86%
Diet Sprite..................3.65%
Ginger Ale...................2.94%
Dr. Pepper..................1.72%
Diet Dr. Pepper...........1.52%
Diet Coke....................1.49%
Diet Pepsi....................1.46%
Brewed black tea.........0.22%
Brewed black coffee.....0.19%
A&W Root Beer..........-0.01%
Tap water (control)....-0.02%

So there you go. Mountain Dew, after years of speculation, has finally been confirmed to be citrus flavoring mixed with battery acid. Sprite's also not good. Tea and Coffee might stain your teeth, but they're not hard on your enamel, unless you're paying four dollars for an Arizona Iced Tea.

A&W Root Beer is king--as harmless to your enamel as tap water. I asked my Dentist about that, and she said she thought it had something to do with sassafras.

I wish more things did.

Monday, July 25, 2005

In-Game Advertising: An Awful Idea Reaches the Next Level


Take a look at this excerpt from a Wall Street Journal Online article about in-game advertising (
Advertising in videogames, dominated in the past by static ads such as billboards and signposts, is beginning to look more like TV commercials.

For the past few weeks, Massive Inc., a New York company that distributes ads in videogames, has been testing an ad with full motion and sound in a science-fiction game called Anarchy Online. Today, Massive will roll out the full-motion ad capability to advertisers generally.

Fire up the Vomitron, Wendy, it looks like we're going for a ride.

15-second full-motion ads. From the screenshots shown in the article, it looks like when your character walks near an in-game video screen, the ad is activated.

This is from the Anarchy Online website: "Explore an epic and believable sci-fi universe with an involving and deep backstory." That's right, because there's nothing more involving and immersive than a futuristic sci-fi game with ads for movies that are playing three blocks away at your local theatre. No problem there at all.

It's going to get worse. Sorry to tell you that, but we all know where this is headed. Here are the next three steps in this very sorry progression:
1. Full-motion ads will come standard for any non-fee based online game (excepting Guild Wars). Many fee-based online games will have them as well.
2. Then someone will pay to have their company logo inserted as a persistent part of the onscreen display. That's right--lower right hand corner, just like the channel logos on television, except these will be corporate logos or logos for a particular game.
3. Then, and I think this will happen within five years, ads will get inserted into sports games as commercials in the standard spots for commercial breaks--after changes of possession in football, or after timeouts. They will only be fifteen seconds long, at first, but they're going to be there. EA has already inserted announcers talking about the "Old Spice Red Zone" and the "Pontiac Drive Summary".

I know, that sounds fatalistic, but games are mass media now. Advertisers have to reach what they perceive as their audiences, and with television viewership dropping steadily, games are the new t.v.

Thanks to DQ reader Tom Shannon for letting me know about this story.

GTA: SA Editorial

There's a scorching editorial by Mark Morford about the GTA: San Andreas controversy titled "There's Sex In My Violence!" The sub-title is "What's this lame soft-core porn doing in my ultraviolent "Grand Theft Auto"? I am outraged!" That should let you know where he's headed, and it's well-worth going with him. Scorching, scathing, incendiary--all of those words apply. It is absolutely worth reading. Here's the link:

Thanks to DQ reader Tara Calishain (of for sending me the link.

Star War: The Backstroke of the West

DQ reader Steven Kreuch sent in a link to an English to Chinese to English translation of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Just a few very amusing examples:
--"He big in nothing important in big elephant."
--"I was just made by the Presbyterian church."
--"Giving first aid the already disheveled hair projection."

Good stuff. Here's the link:

An Intelligent Response

By the way, here was EA's response to the crazy man and the entire article is available at
Jeff Brown, vice president of corporate communications at EA, in response to the accusations, told GameSpot, "This is nonsense. We've reviewed 100 percent of the content. There is no content inappropriate for a teen audience. Players never see a nude sim. If someone with an extreme amount of expertise and time were to remove the pixels, they would see that the sims have no genitals. They appear like Ken and Barbie."

Thompson doesn't buy it. "The sex and the nudity are in the game. That's the point. The blur is an admission that even the 'Ken and Barbie' features should not be displayed. The blur can be disarmed. This is no different than what is in San Andreas, although worse."

And with the phrase "this is no different than what is in San Andreas, although worse," everyone even remotely associated with Jack Thompson moved to the far, far side of any room that he's in.

EA handled this the right way. They said "we call bullshit." That's how you deal with Thompson: when he fabricates or exponentially exaggerates something, you roast him.

Oh, and my new favorite phrase is "The blur can be disarmed." I'm going to use that at every conceivable opportunity. You have been warned.

Dear Jack

I’m always happy to hear the name “Jack Thompson.”

I am. The guy is the worst enemy censorship ever hard. He is so irrational and over the top that if he’s ever right about something, it’s entirely by accident. And he is absolutely never right twice in a row. He’s a walking, talking example of how people who foam at the mouth turn everyone else away from their misguided “cause.”

The reason it’s misguided is because Thompson doesn’t want some kind of logical, reasonable debate about violence in games, and more importantly, violence in our society. No, that’s way beyond his capacity. He‘s the guy who stands two feet away from you, yelling while getting so worked up that little pieces of spit are hitting you in the face.

It was saber rattling in Washington that got the ESRB to change the rating for San Andreas, not a mall lawyer who writes “manifestos” and then e-mails them to five million press outlets. This is what happens when the sun shines on a dog’s ass and he thinks he caused it by peeing on a different tree.

Anyone who might think that censoring video games is a good idea has to listen to Jack Thompson be on their side, and believe me, he’s converting plenty of people. To the other side.

Here’s his latest, and it’s a doozy (from Gamespot):
In a manifesto sent today to press outlets, Thompson focuses on dismantling the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and exposing what he calls the industry's "latest dirty little secret." The secret's out now, and it involves nude sims.

In the statement, Thompson says, "Sims 2, the latest version of the Sims video game franchise ... contains, according to video game news sites, full frontal nudity, including nipples, penises, labia, and pubic hair..."

It's not just the adults that are liberated from their wardrobes. Sims kids can also be nudified, "much to the delight, one can be sure, of pedophiles around the globe who can rehearse, in virtual reality, for their abuse."

Sims don't actually have genitalia, mind you (they're like Barbia dolls), but he's not the kind of man who will let inconvenient facts get in his way. This kind of razor-sharp reasoning demands a response. In kind.

Dear Jack,
I saw your most recent press release about visible labia in The Sims 2.

I wanted to pass along my heartfelt congratulations. I originally wanted to congratulate you in song, but “labia” doesn’t really have any proper rhymes. It’s the unfortunate pronunciation, you see—if it were pronounced in such a way that it rhymed with “Maria,” I’d be in business. I could go West Side Story with “I just met a girl with labia,” or I could have sent you a relatively famous limerick about a girl named Jill (modified in your honor, of course) with the new line “They found her labia in far North Korea.”

Sadly, though, I can only salute you the old-fashioned way: via e-mail.

I’d also like to mention another serious problem with nudity in The Sims 2.

To be frank, let’s talk labias.

You see, many people play The Sims 2 with the camera zoomed out to a degree that the characters are roughly two inches high. For a digital labia (a “digabia”) to be clearly visible at that distance, it must be sized in a disproportionate manner. I feel certain this will badly mislead the tens of millions of children who play The Sims 2 exclusively for accurate information about genitalia. I feel that it will be a tremendous disservice to the level of sexual satisfaction in our nation’s women when our male youth sexually sally forth, expecting labias the size of fireplace bellows.

Now that you in the process of triumph over the forces thrusting pixilated genitalia upon our youth, I would like to call your attention to another possibly devious form of entertainment. This device, clearly favored by pedophiles in rehearsing their abuse, is the Etch-a-Sketch. It appears to be a harmless device as delivered to the consumer, as it is entirely blank. However, the build in knobs and drawing tools allow modders to draw any kind of sexual content they desire. It’s all available, and it’s available in explicit detail. I believe this product should be available for adults only.

Pen and paper, obviously, should be next.

I remain, sir, your faithful servant in the race to control.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Contest Ends

Okay, every game has been claimed. Games for the winners should arrive by next Wednesday (except for you, Igor--I don't know how long it will take to get a game to Belgrade!).

Thanks very much to all of you who entered.

Last Two Remaining

Beyond Good & Evil
Star Wars Battlefront

Everything else has been claimed.

Update: Here's What's Left

Fifteen minutes and almost everything is gone. You guys are really on the ball today. Here's what's left:
Beyond Good & Evil
Star Wars Battlefront
Commandos 3
Rise of Nations

The Stuff

I made another run to Circuit City last week, before the $9.99 game sale ended. So did Glen Haag of, and combined we have a nice assortment of games. For you.

Here's the list:
Far Cry
Evil Genius
Beyond Good and Evil
Lock On
Age of Mythology
Tiger Woods 2005
Full Spectrum Warrior
Star Wars Battlefront
Freedom Force vs The Third Reich
Commandos 3
Warhammer 40K (2 copies)
Rise of Nations (2 copies)
Rise of Nations: Thrones and Patriots

Just send me an e-mail with the game you want AND your shipping address. First come, first serve. If you don't include your shipping address, your entry won't count. If the game's already gone, I'll send you a "Sorry. Already gone." reply.

Gentlemen (and ladies), start your e-mails.


Murderball opened up in Austin today, and I was there for the first showing at 12:15. What a phenomenal, fierce film. It's exhausting to watch. Just get in your car and go see it. It's 3:00 on Friday--you're not going to get any work done in the next two hours, anyway.

And if you're on the East Coast, it's four o'clock and you're already looking at the door every thirty seconds. West Coast? You just came back from lunch, and nobody else will be back until three-if they come back at all.

I can't help you if you're in Colorado, though. It's two o'clock and you're stuck. Sorry.

Later Today

Stuff's going on. Don't miss it.

PC Gamer

Another interesting article by Lobo over at Gamers With Jobs titled "The Troubling Decline of PC Gamer Magazine." That's the U.S. version, by the way--the UK version is very witty and a different magazine entirely.

Here's the link:

Flop, Flop, Flop: They Call Her the Flopper

Gloria's temporarily turned into a flopper.

A "flopper" is someone who, after they fall asleep, moves around like a drop of water on a hot skillet.

For the last two weeks, Gloria goes to sleep (she sleeps like a rock), and while she's asleep, the flopping begins. And it goes on and on. It's not unusual for it to last an hour, sometimes longer. It's absolutely trashing my sleep.

Almost asleep
(leg moves)
Almost asleep
Almost asleep
(rolls over)
Almost asleep
(rolls back)
Almost asleep
(arm jerks)

It's so bad that I slept on the couch one night last week, just to get a few hours of rest.

Last night, Gloria (trying to take pity on me) said that she was going to sleep in the guest room, just so I could get one good night of sleep.

"Don't do that," I said. "You're sleeping fine. It's not something you're doing on purpose or anything. I can just move downstairs if it goes on too long."

My words drifted into the abyss.

When I finished reading last night, Gloria was downstairs watching her soap, so I figured she'd come up later.

When I woke up this morning, though, I could tell she hadn't been in bed. I'm laying there, kind of between asleep and awake, and she walks in.

"I got sick last night," she said.

"What happened?"

"I don't know. I woke up about five with stomach cramps, sweating, and had to go to the bathroom."

"That's not good," I said.

"And my back and shoulders hurt," she said.

"That's not good, either," I said.

"Do my glasses look funny? I stepped on them."

"No, they look fine," I said. "But your face looks lopsided as hell."

"Very clever," she said.

"Do you realize what this means?" I asked.

"I have no idea," she said.

"Just ONE night spent away from my protective aura and your immune system is TRASHED," I said. "Not to mention your crumbling motor skills."

"Great," she said. "Good to know."

"Sleep another night in that guest room and we might as well have an ambulance on call," I said.
"In less than a week, your central nervous system will actually DISSOLVE."

"Noted," she said.

"I can only heal you within a range of four feet!" I shouted after her as she walked up the stairs. "That kind of mojo can't be sustained for a longer distance!"


The Ingestible Thermometer

Here's a pretty amazing bit of science.

Four years after former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of a heatstroke, the Vikings are considering using a "radio pill" that would transmit player's body temperature to a wireless device during practice, according to a report. The patented Cortemp™, ingestible core body thermometer pill was developed by HQ Inc., and is already being used by the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars according to the report.

That's unbelievable. Everybody swallows one of these capsules and once they reach the intestines, they transmit a true core temperature to a handheld device. A team trainer could accurately monitor the core temperatures of the entire team during workouts in the summer months.

It's expensive, and the pills only work for 1-2 days, but what a technology. And when you have millions of dollars invested in a player, it's worth the expense to safeguard the investment.

Here's the link:

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Under the Teapot Dome

(From MSNBC)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Malaysian authorities on Wednesday arrested 58 followers of a bizarre cult built around a giant teapot, two days after the sect’s headquarters was torched.

I'm glad they added "bizarre," because otherwise I would have thought that worshipping a giant teapot was ENTIRELY NORMAL.

There are times when I don't understand something, yet I intuitively sense it's potential entertainment value. So let me say this right now: if this means that someday we'll get to see ten thousand people in an arena singing "Jesus is a teapot, short and stout," then I am entirely down with this whole thing.

Mind you, it's not nearly as entertaining as it would be if the giant teapot was evil. Then we could hear it say "I'm a little teapot, short and stout--AND I'M THE DEVIL."

I'm not sure who set the sect's headquarters on fire. Maybe it was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Appliances--the Toasters.

DQ Reader Links

Some links for your afternoon pleasure:
--Frequent contributor Steven Kreuch sends along a link called "The Monster Engine." An artist takes pictures of monsters drawn by children and turns them into full-fledged works of art. What a funny, clever idea.
Here's the link:

--Talk Strategy founder Jason Price scored an interview with the Project Manager of the upcoming game Ghost Wars, which was the surprise hit of E3 for me. Just head over to and it's the July nineteenth entry on the front page.

Notes From Yesterday

I received e-mails questioning my conclusion that piracy had reduced PC gaming revenue by thirty percent in two years. That wasn't my conclusion, actually, but after re-reading the post I can understand why it was interpreted that way.

So to clarify: I don't know the true financial impact on PC gaming revenue due to Piracy. I think it's impossible to even make an educated guess. What I intended to say was that part of the decline in PC revenue might be attributable to the perception that the PC is a less secure platform than a console. So in addition to the usual PC-specific development issues, like testing for hundreds of different hardware configurations and system specs, the PC platform now has to deal with the additional wart of being perceived as easier to steal.

Also, I received some e-mails saying that I was being a bit harsh on Rockstar, and that it's entirely possible the graphic sexual content was on the disc because developers leave in unused code all the time. That's entirely true, and if it were anyone but Rockstar, I would agree. However, there are several reasons why I think they're exception:
1. By all appearances, they seem to delight in the seventh-grader, naughty boy image they've acquired.
2. The sex mini-game was one hundred percent complete. Yet Rockstar and Take-Two are familiar with the ESRB standards, and they clearly would have known that including that mini-game would have led to an "AO" rating, which would have meant that crucial retailers like Wal-Mart would have refused to carry the title. That's something they just couldn't afford. So if they knew it couldn't be in the game, why would they have fully developed it, complete with all graphics and voice samples? Well, they wouldn't, unless they intended for it to be found.
3. Rockstar is entirely familiar with the level that modders go to poke around in their code. The only explanation for #2 (fully finishing sex mini-game) is that because of #1 (seventh grader bad boys), they wanted this mini-game to be found, and they knew it would, because of #3 (modders).

I would also be more inclined to believe them if they hadn't lied their ass off from the start about this. As I posted several days ago, their non-denial denial is what initially tipped me off. Nobody spends two paragraphs obfuscating when they could say "that code does not exist on the disc in any form" in one sentence. If it were true, that is.

This whole controversy has been lame. Even the "porn," as the crazy people are calling it, is nothing that hasn't been seen hundreds of times in R-rated movies. Both Omikron and Mafia had Copulation Friendly© cut-scenes that didn't result in AO ratings. Rockstar, though, managed to create a firestorm because of both their stupidity and their dishonesty.

Dear EA Sports

To: Executive Producer, NCAA 2006
Re: It’s in the game—now how do I get it out?

Dear Sir or Madam,
After having spent some considerable time in the last week playing NCAA 2006, I come to you for help. This year, something new is in the game.


This is a feature “set” I was not expecting.

I understand that men frequently remove their shirts at football games, and I understand that “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game” (except for A.I., obviously), but seeing a half-naked Chippendales dancer wearing a cowboy hat in a cut scene makes me long for the days before that slogan existed. I expect the fan next to him to hold up a sign saying “HE’S TOO SEXY FOR HIS SHIRT.” I find myself longing for November (and colder weather) to arrive on the schedule, so that I don’t have to see any more digital man-nipples.

I’m sure you’re aware of the dust-up with Take-Two and the ESRB over the “hot coffee” mod, where graphic sexual content is unlocked via a code. What I’m desperately hoping for, in this case, is the existence of a “cold coffee” mod, where man-boobies and nipples can actually be covered up with a code. I’ll be more than happy to buy an Action Replay unit if necessary.

Also, allow me to suggest that a “man-boobies” option be added under the Presentation section of the settings. I will, as you might well imagine, be turning this feature “off.”

In the meantime, I will content myself with the create-a-sign option. My favorites include “SKIN TO WIN”, “867-5309”, “HE SPEAKS THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE”, and “WHERE’S THE BEEF? RIGHT NEXT DOOR!”

Thank you for your time, and I eagerly await your replay.

Yours Sincerely,
Leonard Dubious

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

ESRB Slaps GTA: San Andreas

Here are some excerpts from Take Two's press release:
-- ESRB assigns "Adults Only 18+" (AO) rating for current version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas due to unauthorized third party "Hot Coffee" modification
-- Rockstar Games to cease manufacture of current version of title and offer a downloadable patch to prevent modification of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for PC
-- Company lowers third quarter and fiscal year guidance to reflect the expected negative impact on the title's retail performance

Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTWO) announced today that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has changed the rating of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on all platforms from "Mature 17+" (M) to "Adults Only 18+" (AO) because of the so-called "hot coffee mod," an unauthorized third party modification that alters the retail version of the game. Take-Two cooperated fully with the ESRB's investigation.

Rockstar Games has ceased manufacturing of the current version of the title and will begin working on a version of the game with enhanced security to prevent the "hot coffee" modifications. This version will retain the original ESRB M-rating and is expected to be available during the Company's fourth fiscal quarter. Rockstar Games will be providing AO labels for retailers who wish to continue to sell the current version of the title.

As a result of the re-rating of the game, Take-Two is lowering guidance for the third fiscal quarter ending July 31, 2005 to $160 to $170 million in net sales and a net loss per share of $(0.40) to $(0.45) to provide reserves for the value of the title's current North American retail inventory. Accordingly, guidance for the fiscal year ending October 31, 2005 is also being lowered to $1.26 to $1.31 billion in net sales and $1.05 to $1.12 in diluted earnings per share.

Take-Two is down nearly seven percent in after hours trading.

Not surprisingly, Take-Two is still in denial. Saying that they'll release a new version with "enhanced security" to "prevent" the hot coffee mod is just idiotic. Hey, how about just REMOVING THE CODE, you dumb asses? They still want to make it sound like this is somehow the modder's fault, instead of them not only leaving the code on the disc, but making it possible to unlock it on the PS2 version with no "mod" necessary.

This is a pretty dramatic move by the ESRB, but it's not totally surprising. I don't think anyone is very amped up about defending these guys. They've lied from day one about this mod, they got caught, and they're getting what they deserve. And they should also be fined for concealing content from the ESRB when the game was initially rated, if that's possible.

Hubris usually ends badly.

Mister Compliment

Eli 3.11 likes to make us happy.

We had barbecue for dinner last night (picked up from an excellent local restaurant). Eli had some smoked turkey on his plate, and it was delicious, but he just wouldn't touch it. Finally, Gloria started the negotiations. After several minutes of delicate bargaining, it was agreed that Gloria would microwave three chicken nuggets--if Eli would try his turkey.

Eli picked up a piece of turkey and pops it in his mouth.

"I'm glad you like it," Gloria said.
"IT'S TERRIFIC!" he shouted.
"Would you like to have some more turkey instead of chicken nuggets?" she asked.

Last week he was lying down with Gloria before his nap and he had his hand on her arm. He said "Mommy, your skin is so soft. It feels just like cement!"

Yesterday Gloria was sitting in the La-Z-Boy (now she's been outed) and mentioned that she had tried on a new lotion.

Eli walked over to check it out. He took this gigantic sniff and shouted "MOMMY! THAT SMELLS GREAT! YOU SMELL LIKE GREASE!"

"Better than cat pee, anyway," I said. You might remember that column.

Forbes Article

There's an interesting article at Forbes about game piracy. What makes it interesting is that they make the observation that while the music and film industries constantly talk about piracy, the gaming industry, in comparison, is relatively quiet.

That's true, and quite odd.

Here's a link to the article ( and here's an excerpt:
Two people close to the industry, who declined to be identified, said publishers might be complacent because business is good and because piracy is far more prevalent in PC-based games, a declining business, than with consoles. That's because of the difficulty in hacking consoles and the ease of circumventing copy protection on PC games.

PC games have seen a steady sales decline for several years. Year-to-date, PC game sales are down 12% to $328 million, according to NPD. Last year PC game sales were $1.1 billion, down from $1.4 billion in 2002. Console videogame sales have grown 5% to $1.52 billion so far this year, compared with last year.

Plenty of interesting stuff in that excerpt. If the rate of decline year-to-date extends through to the end of the year, PC game sales will be under a billion dollars for the year, a decline of roughly thirty percent over two years.

That's quite a fall.

Last year's sales even included the two most widely anticipated games in years: Doom 3 and Half-Life 2.

I think it's an interesting premise that because of new methods of file sharing (peer-to-peer networks, essentially) and the ubiquity of broadband, the "best" platform for developers going forward is not necessarily the most powerful but the one with the most robust copy protection. Extending that reasoning, it could be argued that the winner in the ongoing high-definition DVD format wars will not be the best performer but the most well-protected.

I didn't see this coming, really, but I should have. The ability to copy and distribute an unlimited number of copyrighted works is a paradigm shift of epic proportions. Even in the "old" days, software piracy was so popular in Europe that it's been freqently theorized that it essentially killed the Amiga platform. Now the distribution network for copied material is incredibly robust, exponentially more powerful than it was even ten years ago.

That's also another reason for a new generation of consoles, at least from a business standpoint. New consoles, more advanced copy protection, less (in theory) piracy.

As PC gamers, we're stuck, really. I despise these online copy protection methods that phone home every time I try to start up a disc. I also really dislike that there are almost as many methods of copy protection as there are games. Yet I know that if Microsoft addresses it in Longhorn, its method is likely to be onerous well beyond the current system. If we want high-profile, big budget games to continue to be made for the PC, though, we're going to have to put up with something.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Thanks to That Guy

I noticed today that page views are up almost thirty percent in the last two months, so I'd like to say thanks to the guy who is sitting at his computer pressing the refresh button all day. Please contact Stephanie Assham-Dubious to get a free DQ t-shirt as well as being added to the VIP list for DQ stadium events in all countries except Norway.

HP and the HBP Review

DQ reader Damon Caporaso of passed along that a detailed review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is available here:

There are definitely spoilers in the review, so if you haven't read the book yet, please be warned.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I have a friend who's made me a special birthday dessert for the last fifteen years, believe it or not.

This dessert is just ridiculously, unreasonably delicious. It has whipped cream and nuts and lemon filling and a graham cracker crust. I've eaten things like it before, but then, nothing is really like it, because it's perfect. It just is.

So once a year, for my birthday, my wonderful friend Kim makes this dessert. She brings by a huge pan and I eat it in two days. Or less.

It's glorious. And as soon as I eat the last piece, I start thinking about next year.

That's exactly how I feel about the Harry Potter books. I wait two years, I finally get the book, it's the most delicious thing ever, I read it in two days, and then I start thinking about the next one.

I finished The Half-Blood Prince at around 2 a.m. this morning, and make no mistake, it's a wonderful book. Every book in the series is better-written than the one that preceded it, and every book gets darker. I can't imagine the next book being the last, although I know it will be.

What amazes me about the Harry Potter books is that we're not tired of them. I know I'm not. She's writing six hundred and fifty page books and I'd be happy if they were twice as long--her vision of the story is just so clear and unerring that I feel I'm reading the chronicling of something real, not made up.

I've said this before, but J.K. Rowling, much to her credit, has entirely avoided turning into an asshole. Many people can't handle fame, and many people's work can't handle fame, but she has somehow managed to be just a writer. And she's also reminded us how much children like to be challenged. They don't want to read sanitized thirty-page stories about ponies and marshmallows. Has anyone else ever written six-hundred page books for children?

And they absolutely love it. There's nothing funnier than seeing a ten-year old tote around a gigantic Harry Potter book. She's made kids want to read again, and for that we should all be grateful.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Thought is barred in this city of Dreadful Joy. - Aldous Huxley, on Los Angeles

I am so tired of trying to like this game.

There's your review.

Everything, and I mean everything, can be found inside this game: freedom, constraint, brilliance, stupidity, immersion, detachment, laughter, frustration. It’s all there. It’s both exhilarating and shitty, often within seconds of each other. It’s fantastically creative and entirely undisciplined.

That’s Grand Theft Auto: a gaming Rorschach. It’s everything and it’s nothing at all.

The environments are phenomenal. The controls are lousy. The radio stations are unbelievably funny and brilliantly done. The mission difficulty is totally unbalanced. There are more things to do than in ten other games combined. The A.I. is horrific.

See what I mean?

Forty hours of my life I spent playing this game (fifteen on PC, twenty-five on Xbox). Ten of those hours I wouldn’t trade for anything. Thirty of those hours I want back.

It’s become fashionable to speak of GTA and Quentin Tarantino in the same sentence. It’s art, the critics say.

Please. Quentin Tarantino is the Lenny Bruce of violence. Grand Theft Auto is Benny Hill. If you want to make Tarantino comparisons, Mafia or Max Payne are far better choices. If anything, GTA is a hugely undisciplined, contemporary version of Clockwork Orange, but again, it’s misleading to speak of them in the same sentence. This is a game of brute size, not of cleverness.

In truth, it doesn’t really matter how much I like this game. It’s already sold what—five million copies? So instead of rating this game, which is impossible, anyway, I want to talk about how it could be improved. I mean, this series has grossed well over half a billion dollars—we should expect improvement.

The feeling I get from GTA: SA, though, is not one of refinement. New elements get cobbled on in each game of the series, but those elements are never refined in succeeding games—they’re just retained, and new unrefined elements are added.

So let’s talk about how this series could get better. What needs to be done to make this game as great as it should be?

Improve the Visual Aids For Driving
Driving is a huge part of this game. The sprawling, detailed environments are fantastic. Driving at high speed, just heading down the highway, is a wonderful feeling.

Unfortunately, it’s a feeling you don’t get for long. The camera angles for driving are so low that it’s impossible to see upcoming turns unless you’re going downhill. So you spend a huge amount of time staring at the little 2-D circle in the lower-left hand corner of the screen, which has an updating map. You’re in this fantastic 3-D environment, but you’re spending much of your time starting at a 2-D map that occupies 5% of the screen.

Bad design.

It’s an easy fix. Either offer a custom height for a driving camera, so that everyone can reach an ideal solution for themselves (the best option), or elevate the driving camera so that turns are visible.

Here’s something else. Let us plot courses on the large map (not part of the HUD—it has to be accessed separately). So if we have to drive from one end of the map to the other, we could plot a course, then we’d see arrows guiding us along our route. They can be modestly sized, only appearing in advance of turns, but we would spend our time looking at the world instead of a 2-D map.

It’s also unbelievably annoying to get hit at an intersection by a crossing car because you just couldn’t see it. Put a visual indicator at the edge of the screen when approaching an intersection—if a car is close on that side, the indicator would be larger. It’s not disruptive and it gives the player information that they need.

The reason they need that information is because the damage model for cars and larger vehicles is just stupid. Tap another car at five miles an hour and watch your bumper fall off. It’s idiotic. That’s why everyone stops driving cars (unless they’re required for missions) and starts driving motorcycles. Motorcycles, bizarrely, can take a huge amount of damage without their appearance changing, and as imprecise as the driving controls are, the extra margin for error is very important.

Improve the A.I.
Some of the worst A.I. I’ve ever seen is in this game. What happens when you run past people carrying a sub-machine gun in each hand? Well, nothing--even if it’s a policeman. If you manually aim, you can brandish two sub-machine guns, walk right up to someone, blow them away, and they won’t even blink beforehand. If you auto-target someone, they’ll have a response (raise their arms, run, or draw a weapon), but you don’t need to do that until you’re a foot away, so they pose absolutely no threat. That’s not a game mechanic—it’s just pure laziness.

There are so many examples of horrible A.I. in this game that it’s hard to even pick the worst offenders: citizens who get out of their cars and ignore you while you carjack them when they’re standing five feet away, police helicopters who are absolutely befuddled when you hide under a ledge—in general, just assume that any NPC outside of a mission is going to be remarkably stupid.

That, in essence, is the fundamental conflict in this game: a brilliant environment undermined by embarrassingly bad A.I. No worries, though—we can find fifty horseshoes scattered through Las Venturas, or fifty oysters underwater, or OMFG we can do a triathlon! Meanwhile, the core gameplay, which is really not very good, gets totally ignored. Nothing is refined.

But it’s huge, right?

Yes. Huge and stupid is still stupid, though. So you get to experience stupid for a much longer period of time.

Improve the Mission Balance (and add levels of difficulty)
The missions are incredibly uneven in terms of difficulty. Some missions are almost impossible to fail, while others will be repeated over and over again. Even worse, missions are unbalanced inside themselves. Many missions have multiple phases, and often every phase except one will be very simple, so you have to replay the easy sections over and over to get to the five or ten seconds that will determine whether you pass the mission. Again, that’s bad design.

That wouldn’t matter so much if the game had levels of difficulty, but it doesn’t. One of the fundamental principles of good design is that players must be allowed to experience the game, but GTA is as close to hostile in that regard as any game I’ve played in a long time. I know over five million people bought this game, but how many do you think quit in frustration in the first ten hours, before they even got out of Los Santos? And how many people actually finished it? One percent? Two?

What’s the point of that, really? Rockstar takes the time to film hundreds of cut scenes and create an actual story arc, but most of us will never see it. With the option of selecting levels of difficulty (and changing them at any time during the game), more people would see the entire vision. Isn’t that the point?

And give us multiple options for difficulty. Driving, combat, flying—they all need their own selectable difficulty levels.

Unlock the World
The idea of just being in the game world and experiencing everything instead of following the mission structure is a very enticing idea.

Too bad you can’t do it.

I know, I know, everyone talks about the huge amount of extra content in the game, and there’s a ton, but most of it is locked away until you’ve completed a mission that triggers its availability. You’re forced to go through the missions in order to unlock everything else.

Here’s an example. There are triathlons in the game, which usually evokes an “OMFG! I can do triathlons!” response. It’s a very fun idea, and the hints to their existence are cleverly implemented. So I figure this out and go to a spot on the beach (a red circle, only available on the weekend). I step into the circle and get a message that the race isn’t ready.


Even more of a bummer, it’s not ready all weekend, and there's absolutely no clue as to why. After some time spent at Gamefaqs, I found out that the triathlons aren’t available until you have access to Las Venturas, which is the last major area of the game. In-game, though, there’s absolutely no way to know that. None. Which is very, very bad design.

What makes it even worse design is that it’s entirely inconsistent. The series of vehicle-based missions (ambulance, fire truck, etc.) are available from the beginning if you just steal the right vehicle. That’s the right way to do it. So it’s done correctly at times, but other times the content is locked. That’s what happens when more and more things are cobbled onto the game—the consistency of the vision starts to fragment.

Let us play the game the way we want to. If we just want to drive around the see the whole world, let us. Don’t make us play fifty hours of missions (many of which are totally pointless and do nothing but pad the length of the game) just to open up a mini-game. If you want to keep things separate, have a game mode called “free world,” but don’t keep things locked up.

Design a New Save System
The save system is, in a word, awful. Adding “safe houses” that can be purchased is just a half-ass fix to a serious game design problem, and it’s not even a fix, really. Why should I have to spend my in-game cash to buy houses as save points because the designers are too lazy to create an effective save system? Safe houses are a good idea, and it should be possible to heavily customize them with all kinds of outlandish purchases (which, surprisingly, can’t be done), but that’s a separate issue from the save system.

There are over a hundred missions in this game. There should be an automatic save performed at the true starting point for each mission, and if it’s a multi-stage mission, there should be an auto-save at the beginning of each stage. It’s not that hard. Finding a place to save the game should never become more important than playing the game.

That’s not rocket science or anything. It’s Game Design 101. I’d be fine with re-driving and replaying missions over and over again—if this was 1985.

It’s not.

Stop Adding Things and Start Fixing Things
This game design is absolutely, totally out of control. It’s this bastardized, scotch-taped conglomeration whose entire justification is size. There are so many loose ends in this game that it’s constantly unraveling. I love detail as much as anyone else, but detail should not constantly be increased at the expense of core gameplay. It’s great that C.J. can get his hair cut thirty different ways (and affect his respect and sex appeal with each), but that’s far less important than the incredibly imprecise controls, which haven’t been improved since Grand Theft Auto 3--four years ago.

It’s fun in theory that you can play arcade games. It’s fun in theory that you can work out. It’s fun in theory that there are dozens of mini-games. However, and this is the important—quite a few of these things are boring as hell to actually do. Working out, as an example, is mind-numbingly boring. Mash on those buttons, man, and keep mashing.

If the series follows its current form, all of these elements—even the ones that suck—will be retained for the next iteration of the game, and a ton of additional elements, many of which will suck, will get added. At some point, Rockstar has to start evaluating this gigantic array of features, get rid of the ones that suck, and refine the ones that don’t.

Conclusion? Hell, I can't even write one. This game is so sprawling and unfocused that it defies a tidy conclusion. It seems clear to me, though, that Rockstar has pursued sheer magnitude at the expense of everything else. I think the incomprehensible size of the budget has allowed the developers to entirely indulge themselves while ignoring gameplay refinements that are desperately needed. Using Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of Officer Tenpenny was brilliant--inspired, really--but in the end, isn't it really more important to be able to drive the car?

Monday, July 18, 2005

More on NCAA 2006

I posted a while earlier today that the game was, basically, brain dead. This is true even when you have maxed out the Awareness slider at the All-American level of difficulty. I also said that going to Heisman wouldn't improve anything. However, based on a game I just played on Heisman level, I should amend that (and now, I will).

My star receiver was "held" to 200 yards. More importantly, it looked like safeties were helping significantly more on deep routes instead of just leaving the cornerback out there to get roasted. So that's an improvement. It also wasn't an absolute money play on the deep ball when my impact receiver was "in the zone." Successful more often than it should have been, yes--but not a money play.

I couldn't call just one defense anymore. Yes, it only took three different ones to relatively control the offense, but that's a big, big improvement from one. It didn't look like the offense had more intelligent play selection, but execution seems to be better at the Heisman level. No improvement in calling running plays against pass defenses, unfortunately.

The problem on Heisman is going to be adjusting the sliders so that the running game can still be effective. The CPU players seem to be several steps quicker on this level, and there is an unbelievable difference in the effectiveness of the running game--that is to say, on All-American level (even with sliders maxed out), the running game can be devastating, but on Heisman level (even with sliders toned way down) run plays seem to get totally stuffed more often than not.

The kicking meters are also insanely fast on Heisman level, but I can live with that.

The biggest problem about Heisman level is that I can't imagine more than 10% of people being able to compete on this level of difficulty. So for everyone else, the game is brain dead. Fortunately, quite a few of you are in that 10%. I'm working on some Heisman sliders and I'll let you know how it goes.

Dear Doug: Part 2

Yes, I was kidding when I mentioned Jack Thompson and pretended to be unaware of his identity. He's a nutbag.

Seriously. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry:
[note: fixed Wikipedia link]

That is some crazy stuff. What's important to understand is that he demonstrated his incompetence and generally bizarre behavior before he ever took on the video game industry. He ran against Janet Reno for the office of Dade County State Attorney in 1988. After losing, he made a series of wild and totally unsubstantiated allegations against her that make him sound like a raving lunatic (see the Wikipedia article for details).

The other important thing to understand is that, by any scale of measurement, Thompson is a loser. He lost to Janet Reno. He's lost every lawsuit he's ever filed against the video game industry. Thirty years ago, he would have been the guy down the street who spent all his time writing letters to Congressman about who shot JFK and why UFO's must be investigated. He'd be just another crackpot. Today, though, we have a culture where we listen to everyone, no matter how illogical or unqualified they are (hmm--maybe you can put me in that group as well), so he gets a podium to spew nonsense.

I've seen him quote so many different numbers for children's access to "M" rated games that I assume he just generates them at random. However, and this was the point of Friday's column, in the absense of real data, people are encouraged to make up their own. If you don't control the debate through accurate, clear information, crackpots will control the debate for you, and they will make up numbers that you have no way of disputing.

NCAA 2006

[Edit: For some additional impressions on Heisman mode, scroll up. I say in this post that "none of the things I'm going to mention are changed by moving up to Heisman," but based on the game I just played I believe that is not fair.]

Thanks to Gamefly, I've put in some time with NCAA 2006, and here's a very quick set of impressions after about ten hours of play. I'm playing on All-American level and the sliders are pretty maxed out in terms of difficulty unless I move up to Heisman. To the best of my knowledge, none of the things I'm going to mention are changed by moving up to Heisman.

Like no sports game I've ever played, NCAA is a combination of expert and amateurish. I've seen this game get 9+ from almost every review and I'll tell you this plainly--sports reviewers are using the wrong standard when rating games. Period.

This is what happens. In 2004, Sports Game X got a 9.0. In 2005, improvements have been made, and as the reviewer plays the game, he thinks "Well, I gave it a 9 last year, and it's better, so it must be a 9.4 this year." Conceptually, that's totally wrong. Sports games SHOULD improve each year--they're annual releases. That shouldn't be enough to rate a higher grade, but that's what happens. It seems like NCAA gets this ratings benefit every year.

Here's what's good about NCAA this year:
--Run blocking has been vastly improved.
--The home field advantage is very real in this game.
--The crowd noise is fantastic, and the idea of visiting teams having difficulty hearing audibles is genius.
--Impact players, at least conceptually, are an excellent idea.
--Run For the Heisman, while very shallow this year, is still a good idea and a nice addition.

There are also many design improvements, like a code for slider sets, so people can just input a code instead of manually adjusting thirty sliders. That's wonderful. Or a mass substitution option, you can put in the entire second unit during a blowout instead of having to manually substitute for each player. There are so many little touches like this that clearly, some very bright people worked on this game.

That's a 9 if nothing's wrong. Man, that is so not the case.

Here's what bad about NCAA this year:
--The graphics engine desperately needs replacement, both for player models and animation. Man, does this game look old and tired, even with the addition of some new animations. Last year's ESPN NFL game was years ahead in terms of graphics and animation. Given the budget that EA puts into these games, that's inexcusable.

--"Mario-running" is still common (it's been happening for four years), which is also inexcusable.

--Many player collisions still result in someone bouncing off and falling down (broken--four years) instead of actually reacting to the opponent.

--No "sim to completion" option, so if you're ahead 50-0 and want to sim the fourth quarter, you're out of luck. I know that sounds like a minor issue, but it's not minor when you have to play the second half of every game that's a blowout.

--The deep pass is as close to a money play as I've seen in a football game in years. Want your impact wide receiver to have 400 yards a game in receiving? NO PROBLEM. If his impact player circle is pulsing, which means that he's in the zone, it's almost a guaranteed 40-yard completion.

--"In the zone" severly unbalance the game. This is an example of a very good idea that has been very badly executed. Having impact players, in general, is a great concept, but giving them an additional ratings boost periodically during the game makes them superhuman, particularly on offense.

--The A.I. is an absolute HORROR SHOW. I'm sure you've read a bunch of reviews that talk about how smart the A.I. is this year. That is a load of crap. Here are a few examples.

Example one: I'm playing the University of Texas, which features Vince Young, one of the greatest and most elusive running quarterbacks in NCAA history. His ratings in the game are off the charts, and he's also the only impact player on offense for UT. I play a max zone for most of the game, which only leaves TWO defensive lineman on the line of scrimmage after the snap. Vince Young runs for two hundred yards by halftime in the real world if I keep calling that defense. In NCAA 2006, though, in the entire game, he runs for TWENTY YARDS on four carries.

Example two: I'm playing Oklahoma University and Adrian Peterson, who is an incredibly dominating running back, both in the real world and in the game. It's the last game of the season, and Peterson is ranked second in the Heisman rankings and has almost two thousand yards of rushing offense. I call the dime on nearly every play--about 65% max zones and 35% a simple blitz package. So how many carries does the country's second leading Heisman candidate get during the game? THREE. Three freaking carries.

Example three: In the opening game of the season, when I've just started playing the game, I face a weak team called Florida International University (I think that's their name). They run a wide-open passing attack, and they are kicking the crap out of me. I'm down 41-7 after three quarters, even though I'm trying every defense under the sun. In the fourth quarter, I call the Prevent for the first time. Then I call it again. And again. By the end of the game, I'm down 41-31. So I restart the game and call the Prevent defense on every single defensive play for the entire game. That's going to get me killed, what with NCAA's much improved A.I., right? Nope. It's money. I win 31-7. They average over ten yards a carry on the ground, but they're too stupid to keep doing it, even when I call the same defense over and over and over again.

Example four: This is a real gamekiller (although the examples listed above are gamekillers for me as well). The deep ball is a money play this year, which I've already mentioned. Here's the worst part, though. You'd think that after my impact wide receiver had two hundred plus yards of receiving at HALFTIME, that maybe the A.I. would double-team him in the second half. For a play or two. No worries, though, because the A.I. is so brain dead that he's not double-teamed on one play FOR THE ENTIRE GAME, so he piles up seventeen receptions and a kajillion yards.

Example five: This isn't systematic stupidity like the previous four examples, but it's pretty embarrassing nonetheless. Last night I'm ahead 34-3 and my opponent has the ball in the last seconds of the game. With five seconds left, they call a last-ditch timeout. To try and score a meaningless touchdown? Well, that would be bad enough, but no. They call a timeout SO THEY CAN PUNT.

Now if no football game had ever done these things right, I could understand them not working. Unfortunately, they have--over ten years ago. The state of the A.I. in this game is absolutely, totally inexcusable.

--That's just scratching the surface, really. The discipline system (still broken), simmed stats (quarterback numbers are so ridiculously high that it's embarrassing), and the announcers have somehow gotten worse each year (I blame Lee Corso).

Is it fun to play. Sometimes. There are lots of big plays, which can be fun. It's clearly an arcade game this year, not a sim, and there are moments when that's fun as well. It seems like every year, though, this game gets more and more dumbed down. And that's not fun--at all.

So is this game a 9? Well, on a scale of 1-12, maybe. Otherwise, no.

The Optimus Keyboard

There are moments where you see a new idea and you both can't believe it and can't believe someone didn't think of it sooner. That describes the prototype Optimus keyboard, where every single key is a standalone display. That means you can display anything you want on a key--a letter, images, whatever. It's a totally configurable input device.

It will hopefully be in production sometime in 2006, and it vaults to the top of my "I don't need it but I must have it" list.

Here's a link (thanks to all of you who sent it in):

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Never Be Seen Again Fields

Eli 3.11 still remembers the ban on words like "kill" and "destroy" (see the archives for June 23), but some of his little friends will occasionally say "I'm going to kill you!" as they point water pistols and things like that at each other.

It's natural for him to imitate them, and sometimes he does. Last night, he picked up one of his plastic dinosaurs and waved it around like a gun. Then he was forced to be creative. He pointed it at Gloria and shouted "NEVER BE SEEN AGAIN!"

That's my boy--the civil destroyer of worlds.

Skirting the Ban: One Post about IBS

Correction, thanks to a few perceptive e-mailers. My stomach problem is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), not IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease). IBD is much, much worse. You don't want to have IBS, but you really don't want to have IBD, which is another world of misery entirely.

I'm pretty surprised by how much e-mail I received about this. I hope the yogurt helps some of you.

Dear Doug

Let’s get right to the stupid.

Opportunism was rampant yesterday. Democrat Hillary Clinton had a press conference where she equated the hot coffee mod in GTA: San Andreas to pornography.

Ma’am, if you think that’s pornography, welcome to 1965. Ask your husband—he can explain it to you.

Here’s a link to her incoherent ramblings:

That was followed by a hysterical “open” letter from Republican Jack Thompson, who I assume must be somebody, to the Entertainment Software Association. He managed to mention God and the Nazis in a letter about violence and sex in videogames, which I always find impressive. True, he didn’t talk about the tinfoil diaper he wears to protect himself from unwanted alien anal probes, but I guess we can’t have everything.

Here’s a link to his incoherent ramblings:

Here’s all you really need to know about what they said, though (from MSNBC):
The senator’s legislation would impose a $5,000 penalty on retailers who sell to underage consumers video games that are rated “M” (for mature) or “AO” (adults only) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an industry group.

There’s the meat. Clinton wants to criminalize the sale of restricted-rating games to consumers who are under the age limit.

I’m not going to talk any more about what a bad idea this is, because I’ve already discussed that at length.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the Entertainment Software Association and what jackholes they are.

While all this rabid hysteria is foaming around them, the ESA is sitting around with its thumb up its ass, denying that there’s a problem.


The ESA is allowing everyone else to control the pace and path of this discussion. Fires are burning and they’re blithely claiming that they can’t even smell smoke.

Hysteria can only exist in the absence of data.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

How easy is it for underage consumers to buy games with an “M” or “AO” rating? Well, we have absolutely no idea. And because we have no idea, it creates a huge window of opportunity for politicians, who are opportunistic by nature, to exploit the issue to pile up political capital.

Now here’s the question to the ESA: you don’t want underage consumers buying inappropriate games, do you? Then why the hell haven’t you established whether that problem actually exists? Would you rather let the freight train of stupid gather speed until it runs over you?

Because you guys seem mentally incapable of handling this, please allow me to do it for you.

First, you need to get the MPAA and RIAA involved. If selling games in violation of age restrictions is criminalized, they’re going after rap music and violent films next. Count on it. So the three of you all have a stake in this.

Second, here’s your press release. I don’t trust you to write it yourself.
The Entertainment Software Association today launched a comprehensive initiative to protect children from exposure to age-inappropriate content. The PLAY (Protect and Lead America’s Youth) initiative will make quarterly checks on over 5,000 retail locations in the United States to ensure that children are not purchasing software in violation of ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) guidelines. Compliance data will be made publicly available four times a year, after each survey has been completed. In addition, educational point of sale materials will be offered to all retailers to better educate both retail employees and consumers about the ESRB guidelines. These materials will be prominently displayed in retail locations across America. “Thank God I pulled my head out of my ass before it was too late,” said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association. “We seek a partnership with parents to protect their children from inappropriate content, while at the same time allowing them to enjoy the rich variety of games that are suitable for their age.”

Here’s the important part, Doug: now you actually have to do something. This program has to be set up. It’s not as tough as it sounds, though—this is where the MPAA and RIAA can help. There can be a coordinated program between you to check broadline retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, etc.) where music, DVD’s, and games are all sold.

Here are the steps.
1. Create a master database of locations for both broadline retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, Fry’s, etc.) and specialty game stores (EB, Gamestop, etc.). Don’t worry if it’s not comprehensive at first—it will improve over time. Every chain can provide a flat file with all their retail locations. This is also the appropriate time to send the store’s national headquarters an informational flyer about the program and how it will work.

2. Select the survey locations. I know that 5,000 locations sounds overwhelming, but it’s only one hundred two-man teams surveying fifty locations each. The entire survey could easily be done in a week if it’s organized well, even if the MPAA and RIAA weren’t involved. You also need to rotate these locations--don't survey the same 5,000 every quarter.

3. Hire the teams. The two-man teams should consist of one teenage kid (fifteen or sixteen years old) and one adult. The kid tries to buy something he shouldn’t, while the adult supervisor watches from a discrete distance. If the attempted purchase fails, the adult supervisor congratulates the clerk, locates the section manager, and offers the new point of sale materials for display. If the attempted purchase succeeds, the supervisor can find the manager for that section and provide a packet of information to help educate the employees, in addition to suggesting display of the point of sale materials.

4. When the surveys are completed, data is compiled and released publicly—with much fanfare.

So if there is a problem with underage kids buying “M” rated software, you’ll actually have data to work with. Identifying whether a problem exists is the first step in managing the problem. And having legitimate data to measure and compare is the next step—without it, you’re just a bunch of monkeys in the trees, flinging your crap at each other.

And if only one percent of the surveyed stores made an error, you’ve just proved there isn’t much of a problem. Then all politicians have to attack are parents who are buying the game for the kids to play. Politicians don’t like to attack parents, generally, so they’ll say nothing, and as long as you do the quarterly surveys honestly and report the data, this problem goes away. And if a problem does develop at some point, you have both the methods and the tools to fix it.

I know this sounds expensive. Not really. It’s much less expensive than paying lawyers one hundred billion dollars an hour to challenge laws passed by state legislatures all over the country. It also improves your image, and believe me, that could use some polishing.

That really wasn’t so hard, was it?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Yes, I'm going to talk about Hillary Clinton's grandstanding press conference about game violence, as well as psychopath Jack Thompson's rambling, incoherent letter to the Electronic Software Association. I'm just not going to do it until tomorrow. Reading really stupid stuff makes me sleepy.

In the meantime, though, their words reminded me to mention this: if you're prescribed medication for a mental disorder, people, then take your medication.

Sharp Blows Your Mind

I like to delude myself into thinking that I understand technology and where it's headed, but this blindsided me. Completely. Today, Sharp announced a "two-way viewing" LCD.

What the hell is that? That was my first thought, too. Here's an excerpt from an article over at MSNBC:
The Japanese electronics firm has developed a liquid-crystal display that shows totally different images to people viewing the screen from the left and the right.

So, in theory, I could be surfing the Internet while I looked at the LCD from the right side, while Gloria could be watching television while she looked at the LCD from the left side.

If I let her into my study, of course.

This isn't a split-screen. It's full screen, with the image you see determined by your viewing angle. Talk about amazing.

Here's the link:

Superfreak in the Quarterfinals

I mean "superfreak" in the best way.

Michelle freaking Wie, fifteen-year-old female golf prodigy, advanced today to the quarterfinals in the Publinx--the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.

That's the Men's Amateur Public Links Championship, in case you're wondering. Well, it was never actually exclusively the men's championship--it's just that a woman (of any age) had never successfully qualified to play in it (in 83 years).

No problem. Wie won a local qualifier, only played half of one practice round (she was busy almost making the cut in a men's PGA Tour event last weekend), qualified in two rounds of medal play to advance to match play (sixty-four players), and has beaten three topflight amateurs in the last two days. She's now among the eight best amateur golfers in the country, men or women.

Did I mention that she's fifteen?

This is so exponentially impossible that I burst out laughing every time I think about it. What a great story. Oh, and if she wins her next three matches (which will be very difficult, but certainly possible) and with it the tournament, the Publinx winner gets an invitation to another tournament.

The Masters. Heh.

Maybe she'll be old enough to drive a car by then.

I Promise This is the Only Post EVER About IBD

Quite a range of topics, today.

Yes, I have some form of IBD, otherwise known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Yes, I also know that saying "irritable" and "bowel" together is funny. No need to feel guilty. I laugh every time I type them.

If you're lucky enough not to have this, here's a really brief description: if you eat too much, or too much of the wrong thing, or any one of a hundred other things that you can't quite pin down, your stomach is going to make you feel miserable. Really miserable. Burning, pain, constant discomfort.

Yes, eating fiber helps, but I can only stand so many helpings of Colon Blow cereal. It's like eating a freaking pine cone.

I've pretty much gotten used to the whole thing--it is what it is--and just try to be careful about what I eat. Failing that, I just grimace for a few days.

Then I read a sidebar about IBD in Consumer Reports a couple of months ago. It said that several recent studies indicated that eating yogurt with active cultures significantly reduced the occurrence and severity of symptoms in people with IBD.

That seemed pretty easy to try, so I did. It's been about six weeks (I eat it every day now), and I've noticed a huge difference in how I feel. Huge. What a pleasure to not walk around with my stomach hurting for days at a time. So if you have IBD, or stomach problems in general, and whatever you're doing isn't controlling the symptoms effectively, you might also try eating yogurt with active cultures. Just read the label--everyone who uses active cultures will indicate it on the package. You don't need to eat a huge amount (one serving is plenty), and it might make a big difference.

I know--if you don't have IBD you're wondering why I even bothered to post this. Believe me, if even one of you guys benefits from this, it was worth it. It's a miserable little problem to have.

Sudoku: Now With More DQ

I enjoyed today's Sudoku puzzle so much that I intended to mention it again. I've also received a bunch of e-mails cursing me for putting up that link, because it is totally, ridiculously addictive.

Then I got an e-mail from long-time DQ reader Scott Gould:
I noticed that you linked to the USA Today version of Sudoku. My father, Wayne Gould, is regarded as the "populariser" of Sudoku, at least in its current sweep over the western world. I'd be remiss if I didn't at least point you to his game at -- if you feel like some tougher puzzles, give it a try.

That was so cool I felt like bursting into song or something. Well, except I can't stand people who do that.

Here's part of the Wikipedia entry (available in its entirety at
In 1997, retired Hong Kong judge Wayne Gould, 59, a New Zealander, was enticed by seeing a partly completed puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. He went on to develop a computer program that spontaneously produces puzzles; this took over six years. He promoted the puzzle to The Times in Britain, which launched it on 12 November 2004. Three days later The Daily Mail began to publish the puzzle under the name "Codenumber". Nationwide News Pty Ltd began publishing the puzzle in The Daily Telegraph on 20 May 2005; five puzzles with solutions were printed that day. The puzzles by Pappocom, Wayne Gould's software house, have been printed daily ever since. The immense popularity of Sudoku in British newspapers and internationally has led to it being dubbed in the world media in 2005 variously as "the Rubik's cube of the 21st century" or the "fastest growing puzzle in the world".

That made my day. recently converted their video news clips, formerly available by subscription only, to a free service.

That's good.

However, in trying to promote their new, free video, they are creating some unfortunate juxtapositions. Here's the headline I saw today (still available on their home page):

Shark attacks teen off Texas coast/Watch Free


First off, thanks to Kotaku for a link to the "A Few Good Men" machinima. It uses the soundtrack of the courtroom scene in the movie of the same name, but places the scene inside the Half-Life 2 world. The lip-synching, thanks to the super-duper-sync-thingie in Half-Life 2, is outstanding, and it gives you an idea of what kinds of films could be made with computer game engines now.

Here's a link:

I've said this before, but machinima is going to be huge. Within the next two to three years, someone is going to release a machinima film that is going to set off a frenzy.

I'd really like to see Gordon Freeman starring in a documentary on "the making" of Half-Life 2, talking about choosing locations and funny little things that happened during "filming." Then again, I'm crazy.

The second link is to Elysium's article titled "The Retail Game." Part Two is now available here:

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