Wednesday, November 30, 2005

MIT Emerging Technology Conference

DQ reader Geoff Engelstein attended the MIT Emerging Technology Conference this year, and he wrote up a terrific summary--so terrific that it's too good to excerpt. Paul Costello over at has graciously agreed to host the file, and you download either a Word document or a PDF. The summary covers a wide range of technology topics and is an absolutely first-rate read.

Word document:
PDF file:

Many thanks to Geoff for taking the time to do this.

Mr. Lucky Check-It-Out Enthusiatic

Eli 4.3 was playing on the playground last week when two new kids came up and asked him to play with them. He said "I'm sorry, but space rangers work alone."

He's also working with quite a few new words now, although he hasn't quite mastered them completely.
"Daddy, do you know who I am?"
"No, Eli, who are you?"
"I'm Mr. Lucky Check-It-Out Enthusiatic!"

Last night he came into my study while he was supposed to be helping Gloria pick up toys. We started to play Guitar Hero (he can strum a bit), then Gloria walked in.
"Eli, you know you're supposed to be helping me pick up toys. Why did you go into Daddy's study?" she asked.
"Because I want to rock," he said.

My boy, who likes to rock.

Hey, You Got Your Abortion In My Lawn Care!

There are days when it's very hard for me not to write about politics. I see things every day that make me grit my teeth, and since I write so much, it's natural for me to want to write about them. I don't, though, because you guys come here to get away from all that crap. So while I might occasionally write about morons threatening science, or sneak in a reference to something or other, I generally stick to gaming and the absurd qualities of everyday life.

I was reminded very clearly last week of why I do this.

I don't mow the lawn. I've mowed a lot of lawns, it provides no particular thrill, and I'm old. There are a staggering number of lawn-mowing services in this city, and we've used the same one for almost seven years.

When I opened their latest bill last week, a flyer popped out, soliciting donations for an anti-abortion "charity."

Wow. Didn't see that coming.

My first thought was A lot of people mow lawns in this city. Within half an hour, my lawn mowning service was my ex-lawn mowing service, and I look happily forward to bills free of abortion politicking in the future.

I would have had the same reaction if it had been a flyer soliciting donations for the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). It wasn't the position, it was the insertion of politics. Even a solicitation for a true, non-political charity would have have been fine. I just don't want politics mixed in with my grass clippings.

And, I assume, neither do you. So I'll keep writing about gaming and Eli 4.3 and my ass, more or less.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Rebels Without a Brain

Another day, another dollar. Minus the dollar, obviously.

Now you tell me: what are the chances that the same day I mention Kuru, this story comes across the wire?

From Breitbart

Groups Protest Cannibalism in Video Games
Video games glamorizing guns and violence have long drawn the ire of media watchdog groups. This holiday season, they say they have found a bloody new wrinkle to hate: cannibalism.

Games featuring graphic scenes of cannibalism, "F.E.A.R." and "Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse," were among the 12 "games to avoid" listed Tuesday by the National Institute on Media and the Family.

...In "Stubbs the Zombie," the lead character eats the brains of humans as blood splatters across the screen.

"It's just the worst kind of message to kids," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who joined institute officials at a press conference announcing the group's 10th annual video game report card. "They can be dangerous to your children's health."

Let me just say this: thank God for people like Senator Joseph Lieberman who has the balls to confront the exploding popularity of cannibalism among our nation's youth.

Or maybe that was just an unfortunate juxtaposition in the article.

It's really gotten past the point of stupid, though, and gone into some new zone of bizarre. Here's next week's headline:

Legendary Cannibal Enjoyed Role-playing Games, 'Donkey Kong'
The Department of Inquiry Concerning Kids Souls (DICKS) revealed startling new evidence today indicating that legendary cannibal Alfred Packer was a gamer. "There is no question that the demon Alfred Packer was an active video game player," said I.C. Nuts, department spokesperson.

When it was mentioned to Mr. Nuts that video games did not exist in the 1870's, he shouted "Don't question my methodology!" and announced legislation to make journalism illegal.

Boom Goes the Dynamite

Well, the chickens have come home to roost.

Remember all the times we've talked about how the video game industry has essentially ignored the controversy over the sale of violent video games to underage consumers? How their voluntary ratings system (the ESRB) is so procedurally flawed that it's nothing more than a marketing tool? How they've done nothing but issue press releases full of platitudes?

Here's an excerpt from the July 15th column:
The Entertainment Software Association 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?

Well, boys, the stupid train just ran your asses over.

Senator Hillary Clinton today introduced the "Family Entertainment Protection Act." Here's an excerpt from Gamespot
This afternoon, Clinton's office announced she has written a bill that would institute federal regulation of games sales. Co-authored by longtime game critic Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the Family Entertainment Protection Act will be jointly submitted by the two legislators when Congress reconvenes in two weeks.

If made law, the Family Entertainment Protection Act would be a "a prohibition against any business for selling or renting a Mature, Adults-Only, or Ratings Pending game to a person who is younger than seventeen." It would punish violators with unspecified fines, though it did not specify if the clerk who sold the game or the retailer where said clerk worked would be punished. "This provision is not aimed at punishing retailers who act in good faith to enforce the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) system," read a statement from Clinton's office.

Good luck determining what "good faith" means in a legal sense on that one.

We saw this coming, though, didn't we? Check out some of the other provisions of this bill.
It would authorize "the FTC to conduct an annual, random audit of retailers to determine how easy it is for young people to purchase Mature and Adults Only video games and report the findings to Congress."

Hey! They're collecting data! What a crazy idea! But wait, someone else already did--but it wasn't the video game industry.

As justification for the act, Clinton's office claims that "video game content is getting more and more violent and sexually explicit." It cites the recent 10th Annual MediaWise Video and Computer Game Report Card, issued by the National Institute on Media and the Family, which gave the industry a "D+" and said the ESRB was "beyond repair." Also, the study's secret shopper program found that 42 percent of the time boys under 17 were able to buy M-rated games from retailers, with underage girls succeeding 46 percent of the time.

Oops! And without any reliable data to counter, the ESA is dead in the water. They've pissed their pants and nobody's going to hand them a towel.

Here's more.
An even more ominous-sounding aspect of Section III is how it will empower the FTC to "take appropriate action if [Congress] determines that there is a pervasive problem" with the ESRB's rating system. This means a new, federal game ratings which could replace the current system if sufficient fault was found by the FTC.

Federal game ratings because the current system, under any analysis, is a joke. The ESA has maintained that the ESRB is just fantastic, and put out tons of meaningless poll numbers to "substantiate" it. But the game rating procedure, which we've discussed at length, is totally lacking in credibility. Now, instead of just fixing something that they control, they've lost control.

This really pisses me off because EVERYONE except the ESA knew this day was coming. But instead of taking substantive action to manage the situation, they've put out bullshit press releases with nothing in them but air. They've totally mismanaged the situation and now it's bit them in the ass. Sure, the industry would have been opening a door if they had started their own program to collect data on the ability of underage consumers to buy inappropriate content. But opening that door would have been preferrable, by far, to having the federal government break it down.

Now the ESA has to wait for the legislation to pass (I believe it will, even though it's clearly unconstitutional) and then hope that the courts strike it down. That sure seems like a powerful position for the ESA to be in, huh?

Scary Dougnhut Town

I've mentioned Scary Doughnut Town before. It's in a neighboring city to Austin, and this doughnut place allegedly has the most wonderful doughnuts ever made. People drive from all over to eat these doughnuts.

And they're nasty. Greasy. Dense. Strangely crumpled. Kind of a radiocative yellow color inside.

On Fridays at work, people usually bring doughnuts, and we get them from Scary Doughnut Town or Krispy Kreme. A Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut is light and fluffy. Throw a Scary Town doughnut and you could break a window.

Assuming, of course, that you could even lift one.

So last Friday, someone brought in Scary Town doughnuts, and I sat at a table in the kitchen and just stared at them for a minute. Just looking at them creeps me out, and I have never been able to understand why.

Then I suddenly realized why they were so unsettling: they don't look like food. They look like little, misshapen creatures in the last throes of a terminal illness, not quite dead but barely alive. And if I cut into one of these glazed beings, I expect to find a shriveled, beating heart.

It's the only doughtnut I've ever been afraid to eat because I might contract kuru.

The Escapist

Allen Varney, who seems to write an interesting article almost every week, has another one in The Escapist this week titled "Game Design in the Transfigured World." Varney has a way of escaping down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, and the results are usually excellent reading.
Here's the link:

Monday, November 28, 2005

For Those About To Rock, I Salute You

Oh, you don't know The Man? Oh, well, he's everywhere. In the White House, down the hall. Miss Mullins, she's The Man. And The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank. Okay? And there used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock 'n' roll. But guess what. Oh, no. The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don't waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome. 'Cause The Man's just gonna call you a fat, washed-up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just give up!
--Dewey (Jack Black), School of Rock

I don't think so.

I started playing games around 1975. Thirty years of gaming. I haven't played them all, but I'm probably as close as just about anyone. And I have never, NEVER, had as much fun playing a game.

Thirty years.

So when I say this game is more fun than any game I've ever played, I'm talking about more than a thousand games.

It's totally over the top, the design is perfect, the interface is perfect, and the custom controller is perfect.

All the dials in this game go to eleven. Really, they do.

It's Guitar Hero (PS2). It is, quite literally, the game of a lifetime.

I'm gonna be a rock and roll, a rock and roll star. Yes, I are.
--AC/DC, Rock 'N' Roll Singer

What do you do in Guitar Hero? You hold a guitar controller in your hands and you rock, my friends. You rock hard. And when your hands start to hurt from rocking too hard, there's only one thing you can do: keep rocking.

All I want for Christmas is a red rock and roll guitar.
--Chuck Berry, Run Rudolf Run

Guitar Hero comes with a guitar-shaped controller that is simply the most brilliant custom controller ever created. It feels like a guitar, even though it's not quite full-sized. Here's a picture:

Five fret buttons. A strum bar. A whammy bar. It mimics all the motions, if not all the complexities, of playing guitar. It's a beautiful, inspired piece of design.

I bring rock to the unrocked masses.
--Me, in response to Gloria when she asked me what I was doing with a guitar-shaped controller.

So what do you do? I keep telling you, man--you rock. Notes move from top to bottom on the screen, and you play them.

And that is the gameplay idea of the century.

That doesn't really sound like enough, does it? You know in the first thirty seconds of your first song, though, that something magic is happening. That's how long it takes to realize that this game is as perfect as a game can be.

Did I say notes? I meant single notes, sustained notes, and chords. Fast, slow, and everything in-between. Miss a note and you hear it. Pull off a note early during a sustain and you can hear it. It's a terrific piece of programming, because the songs have already been recorded, and you're simply matching the recording by playing the notes correctly, but because you hear your mistakes so clearly, it feels like you're playing live, and if you use the whammy bar, the notes distort. It's sensational.

The songs? They're great. Has there ever been a richer source of content for a game than rock songs with great guitar licks? Thirty licensed songs plus another seventeen bonus tracks from indy groups (set list: That's almost fifty songs, and there are four levels of difficulty. You'd think that the songs would feel roughly the same at different levels of difficulty, but they don't. The number of notes you play greatly increases as you move up in difficulty, plus you go from using only three fret buttons to eventually using all five. It's an entirely different experience on each difficulty level, and with different star ratings as a grade for your performance, there's constantly a spur to play songs over again to improve your score. To play them again until you play every single note.

Again: genius.

Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I'm out there on the front lines liberating people with my music!
--Dewey, School of Rock

Of course there's a career mode. You play any one of several comically exaggerated rocker stereotypes, and as your career takes off, you play in larger and larger venues in front of wildly cheering crowds.

Unless you suck, in which case they'll boo you off the stage. Only rockers need apply.

The better you rock, the more money you earn to unlock more characters, guitars, and songs. And it's just incredibly satisfying to rip through a song, get a five-star rating, and get paid.

All right, let's pray. God of rock, thank you for this chance to kick ass. We are your humble servants. Please give us the power to blow peoples minds with our high-voltage rock.
--Dewey, School of Rock

Even on easy difficulty, there are hundreds of notes in a song, and hitting every single note is the most fantastic feeling. I played through songs again and again on Easy, even after I'd completed enough songs to move up, because I wanted five-star ratings on every single song.

I never do that in a game. Never. I always want to get "there." With Guitar Hero, though, I'm already there. And when I got five-star ratings on all the songs, I kept playing some of my favorites, just to play them perfectly.

You can't go home with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't sleep with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't get hugged by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you don't have children with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want what everybody else wants: to love and be loved and to have a family.
-- Billy Joel, American singer, pianist, and songwriter

Billy Joel is a little bitch and does not rock. There are no Billy Joel songs in Guitar Heroes.

Wrapped around everything in Guitar Heroes is a wonderfully inspired sense of humor. It's Spinal Tap dead-on, a terrific parody of rock and roll culture. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and when I'm not laughing, I have a huge grin on my face.

Because I'm rocking, man.

And in the words of AC/DC: 'We roll tonight to the guitar bite, and for those about to rock, I salute you.'
--Dewey, School of Rock

Perfect design. Perfect execution. Perfect game. On a scale of one to ten, it's a ten.

No, that's not right. It's not a ten.

It's an eleven.

The Clue to the Identity of the Funnest Game I've Ever Played (and yes, I know that "funnest" is not a word) Posted by Picasa

More on 360 Disc Scratching

There's a post over at Kotaku about discs getting scratched, so it's definitely not just me. I'm going for "incorrect disc alignment in vertically-oriented drive caddy" for $200, Alex, but there are plenty of other theories out there right now. Here's a link:
Don't miss "We Three Red Lights" at the bottom.

Your Links

Here are some excellent links that you guys sent in last week.

From DQ reader Chris Gwynn, a link to a classic essay by Ken Thompson called "Reflections on Trusting Trust." Here's Chris's description:
Thompson was being awarded the ACM Turing Award for inventing UNIX (among other things). The recipient delivers a lecture after receiving the prize, and Thompson's was a little unusual.

If you've ever wondered where viruses/worms/whatever come from, and why they're hard to avoid, it's worth reading. It should be understandable by non-technical people. Keep in mind that this was in 1984, before PC computer viruses and the Morris worm.

Here's the link:

Then, from Randy Graham, a link to a Popular Science article about colored soap bubbles. It's titled "The 11-Year Quest to Create Disappearing Colored Bubbles," and it's a fascinating article. It sounds like a trivial subject, but the process of invention was remarkable and the possible uses for temporary die are just staggering. Here's the link:

From DQ reaer Matthew O'Brien, a link to an amazing article titled "The Physics of Goo." It seems that a professor has actually conducted experiments with thickening water, and it won him the Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

That "Ig" in front is important.

Here's the link:

Finally, from Michael Martin, a link to a story about an Everest expedition that will be wearing the same kind of clothing worn by George Mallory in 1924 during his ill-fated attempt on the summit. Crazy? Yes, but some interesting reasons as to why they're doing it. Here's the link:

360 Notes Plus Launch Stories

I've found out a few more things about the 360 over the weekend.

I'm even more impressed with the graphics after a few more days with the system. The best games are just off the hook.

Having said that, this console is loud. And it's chattery loud as well, not a steady loud like the PS2. Plus the external power brick gets freakishly hot. So it's not really a sleek system--it's a big, loud, hot system with the heat transferred to the power brick.

I also think it might be better to have the system horizontally oriented instead of vertical, even though it looks pretty nifty standing up. I scratched a game disc and I'm attributing it to the vertical orientation of the drive. I put the console horizontal and haven't had any more problems. That may be coincidental rather than causal, but that's what I'm doing for now.

The more I look at that power brick and hear the console, the more I think that this thing just isn't going to make it in Japan. The Japanese seem to place such a high priority on ergonomics, and that power brick is huge. It ruins the illusion of a "small" system. And I don't think the noise is going to go over very well, either.

So--it's big, hot, and loud, and one of my game discs got scratched. And it still absolutely kicks ass as far as I'm concerned, because the actual game-playing experience is just stellar.

Now, here are a few more excerpts from launch stories sent in by you guys. The difference with several of these is that they're launch stories fom the dark side, so to speak. These aren't the Hello Kitty Happy Happy Sunshine launch stories.

To start off, from a DQ reader who wishes to remain anonymous, a story of true desire for a new console. This story was so long that I'm excerpting it, but here's the setup: having gone to at least half a dozen stores in his area on Monday, and finding that the lines already exceeded the number of systems the store was receiving, he turned in desperation to--the "bad neighborhood."
This Target is in a very tough, very violent area of town. We arrive around 9:30 p.m. and THERE'S NO LINE! I set up shop while Joe and the cousin head in to get any info they can.

Carrie had planned ahead and grabbed some chairs, blankets and such and we formed our line and had FOUR OF US there first. We make a few trips into the Target to buy supplies and are officially in it for the long haul.

While waiting for the store to close, a few other folks come and go, but only two more kids decide to stay. It starts getting VERY DARK (store lights turning off) and we start noticing some rather shady looking indivuals and cars coming and going. A few hours pass and we now have about nine people including us, but the others have decided to go sleep in their cars (we made a list of when people showed up to keep things civil).

Around Midnight, the Security Guard comes out and asks us what we're doing and we tell him we're camping all night for the 360. He proceeds to tell us about the area we're in...he describes things like 'serial rapist', numerous burglaries, a dead body found in the same area just days ago, drug needles in the parking lot, etc, etc, etc...we're COMPLETELY TERRIFIED NOW.

All the while we're camping, we're begging the manager or employees to give us an idea of how many units they have, but they refused.

Probably around 1 or 1:30 in the morning, we notice that this shady truck has been lurking out in the parking lot and had made two seperate trips to check out what was going on. Due to the stories we had heard, we start to get VERY worried. The truck comes by a THIRD TIME and pulls up next to us and a VERY SHADY person rolls down the window and asks us if the store was open. We nervously answer no (what store is at 1:00 a.m.?) and the dude slowly drives off and we see him orbit a few more times in the next few minutes. Now, we're POSITIVE that this dude is up to no good. We call the brother-in-law's DPS officer brother-in-law and tell him what is going on and where we are - he says he'll try to get a cruiser to come by, but he can't promise anything.

The cousin informs us that he happens to have a 9mm pistol and a shotgun in his car that we left at the Super Target and that he's licensed to carry a firearm. He and Carrie take off to get his car. They return about 30 mins later and we're questioning our own sanity for still being out there.

Within the next 30-45 mins, we notice that same truck on a few roads and decide that the cousin should either hang out in his car with the gun or just get the pistol and keep it with him while we wait. We're now sitting out in front of target with a person in our party carrying a 9mm pistol in his jeans...and I'm glad he's there. We decide that if we see the truck again, we're out of there.

Luckily, around 3:00-3:30 a.m., the store starts coming to life again and the night crew shows up to unload new stuff and prep for the morning. We finally find someone who tells us that they have SIX systems, but aren't sure how many premiums. We now had about twelve people waiting.

Everyone finally manages to doze off...I'm so worried that I can't, so I watch these MASSIVE spiderwebs blow across the parking lot.

Around 4:00 a.m., more people start showing up and you start to see some familiar faces come back by after failed attempts elsewhere.

Around 6:00 a.m., the morning manager shows up and finally tells us that they had 10 units, 2 premium and 8 cores.

By 8:05 we have our systems. I get home around 8:45.

I think he's now the official DQ Hardcore Gamer.

And here's a story from DQ 360 Winner Keith Marsteller, who didn't have to camp for his 360 but had friends who did:
A quick story for you on a strange phenomenon: last night at about 2 a.m., I went out to supply some of my troops who were camping out at Best Buy. As you can imagine, they were lined up down the side of the store down the sidewalk. As I was sitting in the freezing rain with two of my friends, a convoy of cars came slowly through the lot. One after the other, they did a sort of "drive-by"-- they rolled their windows down, held up a new CORE SYSTEM BOX (yuk) and taunted the living shit out of everyone in the Best Buy line. "K-Mart, BITCHES!" "Who wants one from K-Mart??" "$700 to anyone who has cash!" "You stupid *****, we're going home to play ours from K-Mart!" Then the car in question would peel out and take off, presumably to the next store to do some more taunting.

To you taunting gentlemen, I just have this to say: core system, bitches!

Now, to end up the launch stories, here's one that doesn't sound like it came from a horror flick, from DQ reader Jamie Eckman:
A friend and I decided to wait in line for a 360 at the Best Buy in Bellevue, WA. For some reason we thought that getting there at 10am on Monday would give us a pretty good spot in line. I drove past the store Saturday afternoon and there were already a few people there. My friend went past on Sunday and there were about 12 people in line. By the time we got there Monday morning we were #121 and #122 in line. It turns out the first person in line got there some time on Friday.

The official event people started showing up around dark (5 p.m.), and it was getting pretty cold. We were all pretty impressed when they came down the line handing out scarves and beanies, appropriately branded, of course. A while later they came around with Krispy Kremes and hot chocolate. By this time, the line was massive. At least 500 people, wrapped down the side of Best Buy, all the way down the back of the parking lot, all the way down the side of a Home Depot, then partially curling back up towards Best Buy. After dark some people were playing XBox on the sides of both Best Buy and Home Depot using projectors.

At 10 p.m. or so we got our official-but-still-not-guaranteeing-us-a-system tickets. We'd moved up two spots. Not a single person ahead of us opted for a core system. Then at 11 p.m. the hooplah started. Media. Party busses with swag. These, by the way, destroyed the line order just as everyone was packing up their chairs because people were running around trying to catch XBox frisbees and so forth as they were packing up chairs and tents. Bill Gates and some other execs were apparently there, although I didn't see any of them.

The final line was sort of a disorganized mob. Fortunately, it didn't get too chaotic. The Best Buy employees were very strict about checking tickets. In the end I got my Xbox 360 around 1 a.m., 15 hours later after we got there.. Then I went home, took a hot shower, and went to sleep.

The Weekend

Lots of content today, by the way. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing for you is still to be determined.

Eli 4.3 did wind up getting sick--on Wednesday. He had the cold/cough combo, and it followed the familiar pattern of being better during the day, then worse at night. He started waking up at night and couldn't go back to bed because of the coughing, so we'd go downstairs and put on one of his shows and he'd fall asleep sitting up in the La-Z-Boy.

So here's when we got up.
Wednesday morning: 6:00 a.m.
Thursday morning: 5:30 a.m.
Friday morning: 5:00 a.m.
Saturday morning: 3:30 a.m.
Sunday morning: 3:00 a.m.

As you can see from the progression, by this Thursday I was expecting him to get up half an hour before he went to bed. Fortunately for all of us, though, he started getting better yesterday afternoon and slept through the night. We hope to sleep more than two hours a night on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.

Here's one side effect: we went downstairs Sunday morning at three and turned on a recording of the Disney cartoon version of Tarzan. I watched the first half hour, then drifted in and out with Eli, so I'd sleeep for fifteen minutes, watch for five, and repeat. Then, when the show was over, I restarted it. Eli was sleeping through, but I'd still wake up every fifteen minutes, so I've got this surreal, disjointed memory of Tarzan as some kind of jungle version of West Side story. I expected one of the gorillas to break into song with "When you're an ape, you're an ape all the way."

African Nuclear Reactors

Thanks to all of you who sent me links to the real African nuclear reactors. Although, sadly, I think my neighbors claim that they must have been made by the space aliens lacks, um, credibility. However, it's still pretty amazing. Here's a nice picture and a short description (thanks William Boon):

Here's the Wikipedia explanation (sent in by DQ reader Donna Kidwell):
A natural nuclear fission reactor can occur under certain circumstances that mimic the conditions in a constructed reactor. The only known natural nuclear reactor formed 2 billion years ago in Oklo, Gabon, Africa. Such reactors can no longer form on Earth: radioactive decay over this immense time span has reduced the proportion of U-235 in naturally occurring uranium to below the amount required to sustain a chain reaction.

The natural nuclear reactors formed when a uranium-rich mineral deposit became inundated with groundwater that acted as a neutron moderator, and a strong chain reaction took place. The water moderator would boil away as the reaction increased, slowing it back down again and preventing a meltdown. The fission reaction was sustained for hundreds of thousands of years.

These natural reactors are extensively studied by scientists interested in geologic radioactive waste disposal. They offer a case study of how radioactive isotopes migrate through the earth's crust. This is a significant area of controversy as opponents of geologic waste disposal fear that isotopes from stored waste could end up in water supplies or be carried into the environment.

Here's the Wikipedia link about Oklo, which is also interesting:

Friday, November 25, 2005

Eli 4.3 Speaks Up

Gloria bought some new frozen waffles last week, and the first day she toasted one for Eli, he took a deep breath and said "Mommy, it smells great--that's really tooting my lips up!"

Here's his evaluation of his mother: "She's the nicest mom ever found, and you picked her, Daddy!"

I saw him playing with a new toy yesterday. "I haven't seen that before," I said. "Where did it come from?"

"Gloria found this for me," he said.

"And did you thank Gloria for being so nice?" I asked.

"Thank you, Gloria," he said. Gloria may not have heard, since Gloria was busy punching me in the arm.

Thanksgiving 2005: Now with Eighty Percent More Tinfoil Hats

I fell asleep at 1 a.m. to a stopped-up toilet. I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to a stopped-up son.

Synchronicity, if you will, although I'm not sure Jung ever used a plunger.

If you think that was a lead, you're wrong. It bears absolutely no relation to our Thanksgiving. In fact, nothing in the known world bears any relation to our Thanksgiving, and therein lies the tale.

If you'll remember, we had two neighbors from Taiwan--Andy and Doris--who were delightfully friendly and spoke almost no English. Perfect neighbors, to my way of thinking. Andy provided engineering support for a Taiwanese firm to a local manufacturing company. When his work visa expired, he left, and another employee of the same firm replaced him. The new guy also moved into the same house next door.

Well, with Thanksgiving coming up, we both thought it would be nice to invite him for dinner, since he's here by himself (his wife is still in Taiwan) and probably had nowhere to go on the holiday. I'd spoken to him at length at the Halloween cul-de-sac party, and he was a very nice guy who seemed to be very interested in technology. He also speaks English much better than Andy--well enough to have reasonably decent conversations.

So he came over at 1 p.m., and I was expecting an afternoon of talking about the newest gadgets and tech. Which we did talk about, for a while. Then Gloria came in and told us that dinner was almost ready.

"Do you prefer white meat or dark meat?" Gloria asked.

"I don't drink alcohol," he said.

And then the plot took an unexpected twist.

Eli was looking at a book about dinosaurs. "What do you think about the idea that people lived at the same time as dinosaurs?" He asked.

Uh-oh. My Batshit Insane Alarm goes off.

"I'd like to see lots and lots of evidence of that," I said.

"There is a site in China where dinosaur fossils and human bones were found together," he said.

Red alert! We're blowing the hatch!

I found out in the next half hour that an atomic reactor had been found in Africa which was millions of years old, and that there was a passage in the Bible about destruction with a word which, when translated into Ukrainian, meant "Chernobyl."

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train.

For dessert, we were eating chocolate-pumpkin pie, and he said: "I am always interested in learning new things. For example, did you know that there is much evidence that there were many Garden of Edens, and that Adam and Eve were space aliens?"

"This is delicious pie," I said.

"This is responsible for evolution," he said.

"I mean it," I said. "This pie is just great."

"The outer space version of the devil ruled the garden where Adam and Eve lived, and he tempted Eve to breed with humans. Adam was angry when he found out, but then he thought he would like to get a little bit of that, too."

"I'd like to get a little more of this pie," I said. "Honey, can I have some more pie?"

Gloria went off to the kitchen, and I excused myself and followed her. Then I whispered into her ear, "Help me fake my own death."

If this had been a person who spoke English as their native language, I would have been incredibly annoyed. Somehow, though, with his slightly fractured English and winning smile, it was highly entertaining.

And I am always interested in learning new things.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Stephanie Assham-Dubious Wishes You a Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers and we hope you enjoy the holiday. We'll be returning on Friday.

Crazy Launch Stories

Thanks for all the interesting launch stories, guys. Here's a sample and I have a few more for later today. Oh, and I'll remember the phrase "first person melon shooter" for a long time.

From DQ reader Steve Davey:
Just got back from the Best Buy midnight launch in Bellevue, WA. I got there today at 4:30 p.m. (had a meeting that went long at work so I couldn't get their earlier). I had read previously online that this store would have about 262 units. When I got there I was approximately 290+/- in line. I wanted to go to another store in the city and wait out the 9 a.m. launch but my buddy said no so we stayed. Apparently Gates was coming to this store at 11 p.m. to sell the first 5 and sign a few autographs and the line propaganda was that Microsoft would "come through" for us.

We waited until about 9pm when they finally came out and said they had arranged to get the "extra" units from the apparently not so successful Zero hour launch in the desert. These 200+ units would be shipped in by plane and brought to that store. The next 200 people in line got a guarantee that they would get a unit by 4 p.m. tommorow if we prepaid tonight. So success in the end.

But it is interesting to see the difference. Not much interest in the launch party but 400+ people at this store for the launch. Kind of crazy.

From Magnus:
Got up at 4:30, drove to 6 stores and every single store had a line with more people in it than that store had units.

From Robert Varak:
No wacky stories from the launch, but I was also pleasantly surprised at the professional and efficient launch at my local Gamestop. I've known the manager here for a year, and he's a nice, bright guy. They opened at 10 for a bit to allow everyone to pay off any balances, then passed out machines at 12. A bit screwy but easy enough as I live about 5 minutes away. I went out of my way to commend him and his crew.

What was interesting was a little incident I had with his Regional Manager while waiting in the store. This stooge was spooking people into buying the $20 protection plan with all sorts of BS about the internet being "overrun" with stories about people who were won defective units etc. He was really brow-beating people. "Did you know that 95% of every first-run of consoles is defective within the first year?".

The store manager was clearly not pleased. When he tried this shit with me I told him that I was an editor at a videogame website (lie, of course) and that I had heard no such stories. In fact, I told him in the LOUDEST VOICE POSSIBLE, the number of people with units before launch was so small that it would be unlikely that there would be that many defective units. Finally, I reminded him in EVEN LOUDER terms that there was a warranty though MS. Then I told him I wouldn't need the plan because I'm the type of guy who would just fix it myself. This statement is true except for the part about being the type of guy who would fix it myself.

Not two minutes later he's misleading customers by saying that the MS Wireless adapter for Xbox won't work with 360. I jumped all over him for this too, to the delight and appreciation of the poor sucker who was going to buy a second adapter. This was too much for the store manager, who called the regional guy to the back room shortly thereafter. That was the last I saw of the regional manager.

I guess the short lesson is that for every conscientious and professional videogame retailer there's at least one cut from the used car salesman mold.

From Dean Krelic:
I didn't preorder a system, so I decided to go to my local Wal-Mart at about 11:00pm, only to find the line stretching halfway across the store. So I try a nearby K-Mart. When I get there I find out that they have a whopping 8 consoles available, so what they are doing is handing out raffle tickets and having a drawing the next morning. This morning at the drawing, the first seven tickets are picked and none of them are even close to my number. The last ticket is called. 4100. My ticket number is 4101.

Who knows when I'll get one now, since every store in the area (near Pittsburgh) is sold out.

From James Salmons:
Went to BJ's (like Sam's Club) in an attempt to obtain an Xbox 360. I stood in line for about 2 1/2 hrs under the premise that the store had 12 units and I was number 9 in line (good odds you would think). At 7:45 a.m. the store manager walked up to the Xbox group and proclaimed that no Xbox units would be available (distribution screw up) and that the company would NOT issue any rain checks or vouchers. A heated argument ensued that ultimately lead to a large warehouse store size box of cantaloupes being destroyed by an angry mob. I personally left right after the first melon toss. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of a first person melon shooter?

From DQ reader and Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh:
Want to know when lines started forming in this area? Try 5 p.m. on Friday night. Weirdos aside, most people started lining up yesterday and for the stores that will open their doors tomorrow morning, the lines started forming around noon today. No thanks. I was going to go wait in line all day today, but couldn't get past the suffocating sense of embarrasment so I opted not to.

Civ IV

I'm waiting to write up extended impressions of Civ IV because I'd like to see the first patch first. The game is complex enough where I think it's fair to use the first patch as part of the evaluation.

Having said that, though, I honestly feel somewhat unqualified to write about this game. It's a wonderful update to the finest turn-based strategy game ever. It's also the last turn-based strategy game that will ever acquire critical mass commercially. Civ came out at a time when the gaming "hive mind," so to speak, was tuned to turn-based strategy games. It's what we were all thinking about, and it blew us away. Today, even if a new turn-based franchise comes out and it's outstanding beyond belief, the hive mind has moved on. There just aren't enough turn-based players left to propel a new franchise to the top of the sales charts.

So every time a new Civ comes out, it occupies a very unique place in gaming history as an extension of the last great turn-based franchise.

Why don't I feel qualified to write about it? Because I haven't really played the series to any degree since Civ II came out in 1996. I didn't like Civ III and only played it for a few hours. And I really enjoy playing Civ IV, but it's not making me stay up until 4 a.m. Not because the game is different, but because I am. Right now, I'm spending more time on The Movies, believe it or not, than Civ. Not because The Movies is a better game--it's not even close--but because it's a new idea.

So I think many of you are far, far more qualified to write about how this iteration of Civ fits into the canon than I am. I approach it with far less intensity and scrutiny than you do.

Here's an example, and I'm glad that DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles allowed me to share this story with you. He's not just a hardcore player of Civ--he's in a Civ family.

That's right, a family of Civ players. How cool is that?

Here's the breakdown:
Just for the record it is me, two civilized brothers, a civilized father and a civilized sister-in-law. In case you are wondering, two attorneys (including me), one psychiatrist, one medical doctor, and one retired high school teacher.

And here's how it all started:
Our civ-like family gaming love dates back to a text-based dos game called Strategic Conquest. Civ is like the ultimate extension of that game.

After Civ IV came out, he went back home for a weekend, and here's an few excerpt:
We had a good run Saturday night, until 2 am and another from 8 am to 12:30 pm on Sunday (both three person games, with 4 - 5 AIs thrown in; standard map; random everything else -- We would have had four person games, but one laptop was too old to run Civ IV properly).

Coolest family ever.

Post Launch Notes

My game write-ups got shorter and shorter as the day wore on yesterday. The NHL2K write-up was practically "Pretty. A.I. strong. Buy it." That's a fun way to spend a launch day, though, and thanks for all the e-mail (which I will be answering later today). I'm also putting together a long launch stories post that will be up later as well.

Here are a few more thoughts on what I played yesterday and the console in general. First, the games that use the 360's power best are clearly Project Gotham Racing 3 and NBA2K6. They're both stunning. Some of the other games look very nice, and much better than the last generation, but only two games really blow the doors off graphically (of the nine games I played yesterday).

Did I play 9 games yesterday? Holy crap.

Second, and I cannot emphasize this enough: the 360 controller is just freaking fantastic. It's unbelievably comfortable to hold and the weight is perfect.

Third, and I also cannot emphasize this enough: it is a real pleasure to see games without chunky framerates. The only time I ever saw even a hitch was in some of the Perfect Dark Zero cut scenes. Other than that, absolutely everything I played was silky smooth at all times.

Fourth, I'm baffled as to the review scores for some of these games. Here's an example of NBA2K6 from Game Rankings (, rankings are averages of all reviews):
Xbox: 86
PS2: 85
Xbox 360: 80

What? As I said yesterday, some of these review sites have absolutely no guidelines by which to compare next-gen scores with current-gen scores. Anybody who thinks the Xbox version of NBA2K6 is better than the 360 version is, well, stoned.

Fifth, everybody bitches about launch quality. Always. The only console where people didn't complain about the launch games was the Dreamcast, and maybe they even complained then. Most people also forget how much they bitched about the last console launch and say things like "This is nothing like the PS2 launch. Now THAT was a launch." Blah blah blah.

Here are a few of the extrememly memorable launch titles for the PS2:
--Wild Wild Racing
--Silent Scope
--Eternal Ring
--ESPN Winter X Games Snowboarding
Had enough? Sure, there were better games than that in the launch, but were any of the launch titles ever considered classics? No. Some nice games, some crap games, move on. This launch had better uniform quality with fewer dogs than the PS2 launch, even though there were fewer games available.

Speaking of dogs, what is up with EA Sports? They cut major features out of every single sports game they shipped at launch, and by all accounts, the games are sloppy and unpolished. These guys are allegedly the premier sports developers in the world, at least if you listen to them, and they can't get games ready for launch?

What will be interesting to see is whether they ship incomplete games for the PS3 launch that are missing major features. I'm betting not. EA has a complicated and often discordant relationship with Microsoft. Sony, on the other hand, must have scratched them quite the check to kill the Dreamcast, because without EA titles, the Dreamcast (though it was an excellent piece of hardware) was was doomed. So EA will probably support the PS3 launch with all guns blazing.

I didn't talk about Xbox Live Marketplace because I haven't connected yet. I decided to just play launch games yesterday, then work my way into the marketplace over the next week. Then I'll have a write-up for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Launch Day Rankings

Of the games I've played today, here are the overall rankings relative to each other. This is entirely subjective, obviously, and I've mentioned today that certain games, although excellent representations of their genre, have gameplay or stories that I enjoy less because they feel stale.

1. Project Gotham Racing 3
2. NBA2K6
3. Perfect Dark Zero
4. NHL2K6

The first two games (PGR3 and NBA2K6) are probably the best examples of next-gen graphics available in the launch titles. I thought the first four games were well above the rest.

5. Call of Duty 2
6. Kameo

Both of these games are done well enough that they would be ranked higher if I just enjoyed playing them more. WWII games and platformers just don't feel fresh (in any way) to me anymore.

7. (tie) King Kong and Condemned: Criminal Origins
Two games that, although they cover totally different subject, actually have a surprising amount in common, at least for the first hour of gameplay. Nice lookers, but relatively repetitive gameplay. Again, though, that's just based on one hour.

9. GUN
This is actually an interesting enough game that I'm going to keep playing, but it was, by far, the weakest in terms of graphics and animation.

Sorry about not answering any mail today. I'm going to catch up tomorrow and I'll also have a long post about your launch stories.


Launch day ends with the fourth outstanding game I've played today. NHL2K6 isn't quite as flashy as NBA2K6 in terms of detailed player models, but the game is outstanding. The animation is tremendous, the A.I. opponent plays at a high level, and playing a game (with some minor slider adjustments) feels amazingly real.

One thing in particular that stands out: puck physics. The speed of the puck feels entirely accurate as well as its movement, and it's a real pleasure to something so important (and often overlooked) modeled so closely.

The gameplay is also tremendous. I saw an amazing variety of A.I. behaviors in just one game.

Announcing is nowhere near the quality of NBA2K6, and the polish is definitely not as high graphically, but what a game of hockey.

More on Call of Duty 2

Grifin Cheng corrected my memory on the original Call of Duty. When I talked about shooting the planes, I was thinking of Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, not the original Call of Duty. I didn't finish the original Call of Duty, but that scene wasn't the reason.

Up Next (and last)


Another Note on King Kong

I saw an interesting quote in the Official Xbox Magazine when I took a short break for dinner. Here's the excerpt:
King Kong isn't a game about running around and shooting stuff.

No, in the hour that I played, King Kong was a game about running around and shooting stuff AND lighting spears on fire to burn brush.

That's practically an entirely new genre.

I'm going to keep playing for a while, because I'd like to see Kong, but it's not because of what I've seen so far, which has been very pedestrian.


GUN is definitely the weakest in terms of graphics and animation of the games I've played today. However, the outdoor environments and the use of color does at least make the game interesting visually.

The controls also seem somewhat imprecise. The layout is a bit funky as well.

In spite of all that, though, the game is interesting, because the Wild West is a far fresher subject for a game than World War II. The idea hasn't been copied by a dozen other developers, and it's a very underrepresented genre. That alone makes me willing to come back and play a while longer. Not impressed just yet, but still interested.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the three games I've liked most today (PGR3, NBA2k6, and PDZ) are the three games with the best control.

Up Next

Up Next: GUN.

Perfect Dark Zero

This is the third game I've played today that felt was outstanding. It's beautiful, the colors are rich and vibrant, and most importantly, the gameplay is varied. There are action missions and stealth missions, and there are enough gadgets to use in both surveillance and weaponry to give the game a unique feel.

After I played King Kong, Condemned, and Call of Duty 2, my reaction was that they were each interesting in their own way, but they didn't demand that I keep playing. King Kong and Condemned had very similar gameplay, just in different settings. Call of Duty had interesting environments, but with the kind of gameplay we've seen in so many WWII games (and I neglected to mention in my impressions of COD 2 that the animation is very, very impressive).

What all of these games lack, to a certain degree, are energy and style. Perfect Dark Zero has both in abundance. The controls also felt almost extremely well-tuned. The animation is also excellent.

Here's an example of the thoughtful design in Perfect Dark Zero. It's a first-person game, but when you choose the "cover" option near objects, the camera switches to a third-person perspective, which allows you to aim at enemies beyond your normal range of vision, then burst out from behind cover and shoot. The reason this is such a good design decision is that it gives you a chance to see Joanna Dark--to see who you are. That helps me identify with the character. In the other three games, I never developed that identification. The cover option is also one of many mechanics that make the gameplay feel more complex and satisfying than a standard first-person shooter.

A couple of other notes. One, the packaging for this game is tremendously striking, so much so that it deserves a mention. Second, advertising is definitely creeping into games in the way that we expected. In Perfect Dark Zero, all the menu screens have the Samsung logo on them. In NBA2K6, both Toyota (starting lineups) and Powerbar (halftime report) are featured as advertisers, which they can claim is part of duplicating a real broadcast as closely as possible. I guess.

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 looks very crisp. There are tons of things going on simultaneously with no drop in framerate, which is very impressive. Sound effects are tremendous.

This is also about the five hundredth World War II game I've played in the last three years, it seems.

My dislike of the original COD was due to elaborate set pieces having a very thin veil separating them from stupidity. The opening scene, actually, after your base is attacked, featured me singlehandedly downing attacking planes with my rifle. I kept shooting and shooting. Finally, I realized that this was going to go on forever. I could shoot ten thousand planes down if I wanted to, and nothing would ever advance, because the set piece demanded that I move to a specific place to advance the action. That's what I mean by a thin veil.

It's the same in COD 2. There's a very early scene where you're facing some Germans across an opening between buildings, and no matter how many you shoot, they seem to keep regenerating. It's only when you bridge the gap between buildings that the action changes. Again, this is so thin a device that it's ineffective as artifice. As soon as I realize what's happening, it totally takes me out of the atmosphere of the game.

The game is skillfully done, generally, and the immersion factor in widescreen and 5.1 sound is relatively high. It's just that the WWII-shoot-shoot-boom-shoot genre is getting, well, tired, and I don't see this game as being any kind of advancement. Again, that's after only an hour of play, and it may well get much, much better, but the initial impression I got was more of the same, only much prettier.

One thing I've noticed in general about the games I've played today is that the developers seem to be aware of the value of leaving the screen relatively uncluttered. HUD's have been small and unobtrusive, which has really increased the immersion factor.

Next up: Perfect Dark Zero.

Up Next

Call of Duty 2.


Five down. Four to go. I'm still going strong, so no burnout issues.


This game looks absolutely spectacular. So far, second in graphics only to PGR3. And it's a different kind of beauty, because it's very much a cartoon world, with bright, unbelievably vivid colors. It's stunning to see--just glorious.

Having said that, it's still essentially a platformer. The environments are a bit more free-ranging, but it seems like every ten seconds there's a little puzzle to solve to move on to the next area. If that's your kind of thing, you'll be in heaven. For me, it's not really that entertaining.

One of the reasons it's not entertaining are the controls. They seem a little sluggish and imprecise to me--I have a hard time getting characters lined up exactly the way I want them, and being perfectly oriented is critical to completing some of these puzzles.

Here's the story, I think: Kameo's father and mother have been captured by the King of Trolls, and something or other unleased the trolls. Kameo's an elf, if I heard them correctly. So she must reach the top of the castle to save her parents. Or something like that. Kameo's a shapeshifter, so she can shift into three other equally amusing, cartoon-like characters.

Like I said, if you're still into platformers, I think you'd fall in love with this game right from the beginning. If you're like me, though, and platformers just aren't your thing anymore, this makes for an excellent 360 demo disc, but it's not something I'd spent a lot of time on without a guide, because I'm not going to muck about with puzzles for hour after hour.

Condemed: Criminal Origins

This game seems to be considered as the sleeper game of the launch.

Not for me, really.

Looks nice (but not great), sound is a bit muddy compared to the crystal clear sound in the other three games, and it seems to be a reasonably atmospheric first person shooter with the emphasis on creepy. The problem for me is that I just played King Kong two hours ago, and too much is similar. In Condemned, it's lots of corridor crawling. In King Kong, it's rocky corridors through caves and whatnot. In essence, though, it's the same thing.

This is also one of those damned games that is so dark you're constantly using the flashlight. At least it doesn't run out of juice every twenty seconds like in F.E.A.R. (also a Monolith game), and the first hour of this game is far more tense, to me, than the first eight levels of F.E.A.R. were. But using that flashlight constantly is really pretty fatiguing, at least to me. Playing this game for an hour straight was at the outer edge of my tolerance level.

The plot's also a bit off. In a very early level, you're chasing a crazed killer because he took your gun. So let me get this straight: he took my gun and I'm going after him (for quite a while) with a pipe? Hmm. Bad, bad idea. Did I graduate from the Police School for the Mentally Disabled?

Gameplay is relatively straightforward. Root through the buildings and look for the bad guys, then kill them. They do some nifty things with evidence collection in terms of high-tech forensic tools, but they also lead you by the nose to do it (which is actually necessary, so it becomes more gloss than gameplay, really, although it's still a nice touch). The core gameplay, though, is nothing new whatsoever.

That's just the opening few levels. I stopped at a point where I had escaped into a subway, and it may well improve further into the game. It's good enough for me to come back to it later and keep playing, but I certainly wasn't amazed or anything like that.

It's still difficult for me to play first-person shooters on consoles, and that might partly account for my lack of enthusiasm. It's so much more difficult with an analog pad than being able to use a mouse to look. I far prefer third-person games on the console.

One thing that both Condemned and King Kong do a nice job with is the HUD. In Condemned, the HUD is just one small damage bar, and in Kong Kong, there's no HUD at all, which is a very nice design touch--it's much more immersive that way.

So I'd slot this above King Kong but below NBA2K6.

Eli 4.3 just came home from pre-school, so the posting schedule may include more delay between posts now. I'm still going strong in terms of being able to play, though, so right now there's no sign of stopping.

Next up: Kameo.

One More Note

NBA2K6 does not look as perfectly polished as PGR3. PGR3 is pretty much other-worldy. It's probably the highest quality launch title I've ever seen, all the way back to PS1, based on first impressions.


Well, that's two games out of three now where I was totally blown away.

I didn't play the Xbox version of 2K6 this year because I wanted to wait for the 360 version. That means I'm not going to complain about lack of gameplay innovation between versions, which has been a major criticism in most reviews.

How does this game look when you're playing with the default sideline view? Like you're watching a game on television--in high definition. Player models and courts look absolutely fantastic, and the animation (particularly the variety of low post moves) is stunning. The animations have a tremendous amount of nuance--players adjust to being off-balance, they lean in to create space--it's extremely impressive.

The general flow of the game is terrific. You can fast break, you can run a low post offense--it all works if you execute. The pace feels like real professional basketball. In one half of a game between the Rockets and the Lakers, I saw bounce passes, lead passes, alley-oops, fast breaks, low post offense, charges, blocks, shots off the glass, putbacks on rebounds--in short, what I would expect to see in a real game. The one thing I didn't see were three point shots, but I also hadn't adjusted any sliders at all, and I assume that can be corrected.

Back to the animations, because I don't want to just gloss over how fantastic they look. Shaq his a variety of low post moves that look identical to real life, and his offensive mindset is the same as well--he tries to back you down, then rattle the rim with a dunk. Yao Ming runs with that heavy, slightly awkward style that is instantly recognizable to anyone who's seen him play. Like I said, the amount of nuance and correspondence to real life is startling.

The reviews I've seen have really fixated on things like the coach's character models not being redone for the 360. I give a shit. I couldn't care less if Stan Van Gundy looks like Mo. They only show him during time outs and dead ball situations. The cheerleaders and crowd don't look "next-gen" up close either. Fortunately, the cheerleaders and the crowd aren't playing the game. Everybody playing the game looks sensational.

One other note. The commentary is absolutely outstanding. It sounded for all the world like I was listening to a live broadcast, and the amount of context-sensitive commentary is amazing.

Again, reviewers seem to be comparing to some mythical "next-gen" standard instead of comparing to existing games. I saw NBA2K5 in 720p last year, and this game absolutely blows it away in terms of animation, player models, and framerate. If that game was an 8, then this is easily a 12.

A general note on framerates in the games I've seen so far. I haven't seen a single glitch or hiccup yet. So many Xbox games in 480p had sections in them where the framerates would chug. So far, though, everything is glassy smooth.

Oh, and that comment I made about games automatically taking your Live profile and creating an in-game profile? That only happened in PGR3 so far. In the other two games, I had to manually create a profile.

Next up: Condemned: Criminal Origins.

King Kong

PGR3 felt perfectly in sync at all times. This game definitely does not.

The sound effects are superb. All the voices in the game appear to be actors in the film, and they're excellent.

Visually, though, while the game looks very sharp, it doesn't particularly look next-gen in terms of detail or textures. The animation is a little clunky, the character models don't have as much detail as I expected, and graphically it's just not that impressive.

Gameplay? Well, it's a first-person adventure/shooter, basically. You're with a party and they're leading you through caverns and along cliffs, etc. It's pretty straightforwad and nothing I haven't seen done better elsewhere. Relatively repetitive so far.

I haven't seen Kong yet. That might really amp this game up. So far, though, it's very vanilla. Sharp, with terrific sound effects, but not much else.

And just as a general comment, I'm probably pre-disposed to like these launch games. As someone who's followed HD for many years, and as someone who watches HD on television almmost exclusively now (that happens once you see HD--you don't want to go back), I've waited for a long time to see games that look as sharp as high-definition programming. So this is a real thrill for me.

Next up: NBA 2K6.

Forgot to Mention

The 360 controller feels absolutely amazing. It fits in my hands perfectly, even better than the S-controller, which I thought was very well-designed. And wireless is excellent as well.

Project Gotham Racing 3

I've read the reviews of PGR3, which is generally considered the strongest launch game. I've heard about the allegedly incredible graphics, the great sound effects, blah blah blah.

Well, nothing prepared me for this.

This game doesn't just look good. It doesn't even just look great. It is nothing short of totally mind-blowing. Unbelievable amounts of detail, an incredible number of objects, stunning lighting effects, and greasy fast frame rates. And it's razor-sharp.

If you're a PC gamer of my era, you might remember Grand Prix Legends. Remember the first time you booted up Grand Prix Legends? Remember how shocked you were? That's the same feeling I had this morning, and I haven't had it with a racing game since GPL.

The in-cockpit view is the single most amazing view I've ever seen in a racing game. Widescreen, perfectly detailed, real-time dials and gauges, dirt and bug stains on the windshield--man! And the car judders over the pavement, with the windshield moving in perfect coordination. It is uncannily realistic.

The play mechanics are familiar in that it's a ladder system with hundreds of different races and challenges to work through, and you're awarded points both for successfully completing a challenge as well as for using good driving technique. I call that carrot gameplay, and for racing games it works very well.

I can't comment on the driving model, because I started off on the easy difficulty level (haven't raced in a while). After nine races, I was starting to get my timing down and it was fairly easy to beat the field, so I'll probably move up next time.

One other nice touch, and this is just a 360 feature: since you create a gamer profile, PGR3 automatically uses that information to create a save game for you. No more going into each game and creating a profile--it's all automatic now. That's a nice touch.

Oh, and a note about the 360: it's loud. Louder than a PS2. With headphones on, I can't even hear it, but if you're only a few feet away, I think it would be noisy.

Now about review scores. Obviously, I can't give this game a real review score after an hour, but I can tell you that finding reliable review scores for launch games is terribly difficult. Sites want to score these games like it's a gymnastics competition--they want to rate these games low enough to "leave room" for future contestants. Well, that's a load of crap. The question should not be where the games score on a 1-10 versus some sort of theoretical notion of how good people expect the 360 to be two years from now. They should be scored against the last-gen, because how else will you know how they compare?

So here's the deal. I didn't see the latest Gran Turismo (which ran at 1080i through line doubling, which is a nifty trick but not true high definition), but I've seen just about every other console racer out there. If the best last-gen console racer was a 9, then this game has to be in the 13-14 range. That's how much of a leap it takes compared to existing games.

Okay, one down, and I'm glad I started with that one (I'm pulling games at random). What a phenomenal start.

Next: Peter Jackson's King: The Official Game of the Movie and the Longest Most Ego-Driven Game Title In the History of the World.

Start the crying watch.

My Setup

Here's the setup I'm playing the 360 games on:
--Panasonic 42" ED plasma
--Kenwood digital receiver with Dolby Headphone

That means I can wear headphones and get 5.1 surround sound. When Eli 4.3 is napping or asleep at night, I don't have to worry about waking him up.

An ED plasma is 852x480 resolution. That's not "true" HD, but there are no 42" plasmas right now with "true" HD--the highest resolution available is 1024x768 (true 720p would be 1280x720). From the 42" screen size on down, ED looks phenomenal--very few people can see the difference between an ED screen and the 1024x768 resolution from a typical viewing distance.

Parent Logic 101

If both A: I almost never take a vacation day from work,
And B: Eli is almost never sick
are true, then complete the following:
If I take a vacation day, then Eli ___________.

If you're a parent, you know that the correct answer is "will be sick." Sure, that doesn't make any sense at all for normal people, but parents know exactly what I'm talking about.

So last night Eli 4.3 had a little temperature for the first time in about five months, and I knew he was going to wake up sick this morning--parent logic demanded it.

This morning, though--no fever. He's apparently inherited Gloria's freakazoid immune system, which is somewhere between genetically modified and downright alien.

They just left for pre-school and I'm about to get started. Now, in fact.

Oh, and by the way--if you have any launch night madness stories to share, please send them and I'll make a compilation post later.

First up: Project Gotham Racing.

Thank You, EB Games #3271

That's how they're listed on the website, anyway.

It's a very small EB Games at I-35 and Parmer in Austin, and they had the most organized midnight opening I've ever seen. Only 12 preorders and 11 people showed up by midnight to get their 360. I showed up at 12:02, right when they started wheeling out 360's, and I walked out at 12:13. That's one minute to check out per customer--two cashiers, and most people had already bought their games.

Outstanding. So thanks to Amanda and staff.

Came home, hooked everything up, turned it on to verify it was working, and everything checks out okay. See you in the morning.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Blood is Thicker Than Water, Or So You Thought

I had an awful swim on Saturday. I just felt terrible in the water, which surprised me, because I've had some very good swims lately. On the way home I was thinking about Gloria asking me how my swim went, and me saying "Awful--I was lousy," and it just sounded so predictable.

So I decided to tell her a different story.

I walked in the door and the first thing Gloria said was "How was your swim?"

"Those bastards at the gym," I said. "I've really had it this time."

"What happened?" she asked, alarmed.

"They thickened the damn water," I said.

"They did what?" Gloria asked.

"Lap pools are supposed to have a viscosity of 2.5. I felt like I was swimming through molasses, so I asked at the front desk on my way out, and sure enough, they thickened it to 3.0. Bastards!"

"What? You can't do that," she said.

"I know!" I said. "What were they thinking?"

"I mean you can't adjust the water like that," she said.

"Sure you can," I said. "It's no different than adjusting the pH factor or the water clarity. Viscosity is just another chemical process."

"I had no idea," she said.

I did tell her the truth.


Looking Toward the Launch

It looks like Microsoft is going to have a phenomenal launch. I received e-mails as early as 3 p.m. today about people lining up outside stores. Everything I read indicates that the lines are ridiculously long just about everywhere.

I'm set for the launch. I'm going to write up a conversation that I had with Gloria last weekend, play a bit of the funnest game I've ever played (I'm writing that up this Friday), and then I'm heading over to EB about 11:45 to pick up my pre-order at midnight. It's a very low-volume store, and I've prepaid, so hopefully I can walk in and walk out pretty quickly. I'm going to hook everything up tonight but not play any games until the morning.

The plan is to start playing about 8:30 a.m. Play a game for an hour, write it up (about thirty minutes), post it, lather, rinse, repeat. It may not take thirty minutes for each write-up, and if a game is immediately bad I'm not going to waste an hour on it, so I'm hoping to work through eight or nine games before I crash from old person exhaustion.

Here's the X factor, unfortunately: Eli 4.3, who hasn't been sick for about six months, looks like he might be coming down with something. If he stays home tomorrow instead of going to pre-school, That precise 1 hour play/ 1/2 hour write-up schedule is going to be thrown off, although I'm still going to do as much as I can.

Your E-mails

Thanks to all of you who e-mailed about Xbox 360 security. I received a ton of e-mails, and here are a few excerpts.

I originally thought that case intrusion detection was a sure-fire way to control modding, and I received quite a few e-mails that agreed. However, I don't think any of us had heard of a "bolt-on" modchip before--at least, I hadn't.

First, from Ryan Mattson:
One innovation in modchip technology that seems to have begun with the Xbox is the bolt-on chip, as opposed to needing to solder the chip to the board. This served a dual purpose of being easier to install, so the average customer might buy a bolt-on modchip moreso than solder-on modchip, but also could be taken off if the user wanted to play games on Xbox Live.

Microsoft is going to do everything they can to keep modchips off the Xbox 360 and any subsequent system, but the bolt-on chip is going to be impossible to detect if it isn't bolted on. So while Microsoft, or some crafty hacker, may be able to devise a way to detect if a modchip is installed but powered off, I don't think there's any feasible way to detect the bolt-on modchip.

Then there's this from Skylander:
Basically from the limited research that I have here, a modchip switches the XBOX bios. So when you boot up the Xbox instead of using the Microsoft bios to run the regular dashboard you are using the modchips. Now if you are using a solderless modchip--one that you can just plug into an unused port--you can just take it out taking the bios with it. You therefore just go back to the original stock Microsoft bios...These are all external devices--once you turn them off, they aren't there anymore. They don't go in and physically change the microsoft BIOS from what I can tell, they just switch it to their own, hooking. Unless they save something onto the harddrive there isn't a way that I can see that Microsoft can go in and see if there is a modchip.

It would seem that this kind of modchip would be entirely undetectable unless someone forgot to remove it before connecting to Xbox Live. Unless, and this is a big unless, the modchip actually writes information to the hard drive. That would, in theory, be detectable.

If you're interested in how Microsoft is handling this with the existing Xbox, I received several e-mails about what Microsoft is doing with Halo 2. Allegedly, Live can already detect soldered-on modchips as well as replaced hard drives (thanks Dave Kramer, Jason Ballew, and Frank Regan). Dave sent me an interesting forum thread if you'd like to read a few more details about this:

Then Alan Reeve had an interesting thought:
I just read your latest article re: mods and I'll say that I'm not convinced the the modders want the chip to be fully undetectable. I think it's a game of cat and mouse. They break the detection and sell a product... MS does something to prevent new games/services from being played with the Mod... they circumvent that and sell a second chip... and the cycle continues.

I hadn't thought of that, but from a money-making standpoint, it makes perfect sense.

Allen Varney, who is an excellent, interesting writer, saw my column about real-world merchandising via Xbox Live and sent me a link to an article he wrote for The Escapist. He envisions a future where MMORPG's are actually sponsored by corporations like Target or Starbucks. That's not unreasonable, either. Like I said last week, that could just be considered another form of marketing expense. Here's the link:

And here at the end, an e-mail from Chris Vytlacil about the game show Jeopardy having a question about World of Warcraft--and Leeroy Jenkins, believe it or not. Here's the link:

Eli 4.3 Masters the Birds and the Bees

"Daddy, I know ALL ABOUT sex," Eli 4.3 said to me.

"You do?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "Do YOU want to know?"

"I do," I said. "I've been trying to figure it out for years."

"Well," he said, "the MAN puts his PENIS on the woman's VOLVO."

Good Reading

Here are links to two very interesting articles I saw on MSNBC yesterday.

First, a link about John Lennon and his legacy twenty-five years after his death, as well as a look at Yoko Ono and what she has meant to his legacy (for better or worse).

Second, a remarkable article about an international jewel thief who happens to be a seventy-five year old woman. This is a fascinating story.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pwning Peace, Part 2

From DQ reader Nate Carpenter:
Well, not exactly everyone can nominate.

Then he linked to the so-called "rules" for nominations. Put together by The Man, obviously.

Uh-oh. Nobel Peace Prize nomination buzz-kill.

I went and looked at the categories of possible nominants (I totally made that word up, and it means "people who can nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize") and saw an opening:
3. University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes.

I'm still living the dream.

I thought of another opportunity for public appearances, since I'm going to be a celebrity soon. Every little town has a fall festival, and they all have parades where trucks haul flatbeds full of prom queen and spelling bee champions and award-winning livestock.

My phone will be ringing off the hook. Who wouldn't want a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in their parade?

I can see it now: a crisp fall day, the scent of fresh hay in the air, and I'll sit proudly on the back seat of a big white convertible, its mammoth flanks covered with signs proudly stating "I Pwn Peace" as "We are the Champions" blasts from a boombox at my side. I'll wear my letter jacket and my special Nobel Peace Prize Nominee medal, and I'll give my best parade wave to the excited citizenry as we drive by.

If you come early, don't forget to bring a lawn chair.

Eighty is the Loneliest Number That You Ever Knew

Brian Pilnick sent me a link to an interesting article over at Next Generation about the economics of game publishing. It's interesting both for what it says and what it doesn't say.

Here's the link:

This study was conducted by Screen Digest, and it's caused quite a stir. Everyone seems to be marginally freaking out about this:
A new report on the risks involved in game publishing and development has been released suggesting that, in the next generation, as few as 80 games a year will turn a profit.

They go from that assumption to argue that increasing development costs (according to them, from $3-$6 million to $6-$10 million) will rise faster than game sales.

That certainly sounds serious, and it's not dissimilar to topics I've written about before concerning the brutal competition in the game industry, but in this case, it's much less than it appears. For one, this is essentially a press release masquerading as a news story. It both summarizes the report and makes it sound terribly important at the same time. Oh, and if you wanted to purchase that report, it's going to cost you a whopping $3,160. It's as close to a free advertisement as anyone could possibly get.

Next Generation did contact the author of the study for a quote to wrap everything up. Here it is:
The author of the report, Marc de Gentile-Williams, said, "At 30 years of age, the games industry still suffers from an endemic lack of professional management compared to less mature industries such as the mobile telephony and the internet industries. The high number of bankruptcies - despite favorable market conditions - is testament to this fact. Games companies must complement their formidable creative and technological achievements with strong business planning and analysis in order to reap the benefits of the next phase of console market growth."

Hmm. "strong business planning" and "analysis." I wonder what kind of fee-based professional services Screen Digest offers? Well, according to their website, they offer (among others)
--"New technology impact assessment"
--"New market pre-entry studies"
--"Corporate strategy work"

Damn, those sound like they could all fit into the category "business planning and analysis." How convenient is that?

The Cactus Cafe and Graham Wilkinson

We went to see some live music last night and were fortunate enough to go to the Cactus Cafe. If you live near Austin, it's one of the finest, most tradition-rich venues in the country.

Best of all, it's small.

How small is it? It can seat about 150 people comfortably. It's impossible to be more than fifty feet from than the stage. The venue is so intimate that everyone who sings there winds up being incredibly personal with the audience, very informal and unguarded, and it's always a memorable experience.

We originally went to see Alejandro Escovedo, who is one of the country's great, unappreciated musical legends, but the opening act was a fellow named Graham Wilkinson. I'd never heard of him before, but he has an amazing, personal quality on stage, with an utterly distinct, raspy kind of singing voice that is instantly magnetic. The reason I mention him is that he has a huge amount of talent and writes sensational songs, and it won't be long before everyone is talking about him.

He has a CD out titled "16 Songs: A Compilation," but it's only available locally (Waterloo, I think) right now. If at some point it's available online, I'll post the link.

Words From the Champion

There was drama in the last two days of the contest. Eventual winner Keith Marsteller's Internet connection went down on day four, came back up, and then on day five he sent this message separately after submitting his answer:
Please reply to let me know this got through! I'm having electricity and Internet problems (gale force wind warnings in Cleveland today--and tornado sirens going off as I type this!)

It did get through, and now Keith is on countdown for the Xbox 360. He sent me this note after I sent congratulations on winning the contest:
...I've got Oprah on hold and my destiny is buzzing in on call-waiting. BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!!!
Wire to wire,

There's your contest winner. Sleep deprived but still funny.

Pwning Peace

So I'm reading an article about Stanley Williams on MSNBC and I see this paragraph:
In prison, Williams has gained international acclaim for writing children’s books about the dangers of gang life. He has been nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize. (In truth, anyone can nominate anyone.)

What? Anyone can nominate anyone for the Nobel Peace Prize?


Or maybe this t-shirt: "I PWN PEACE, BITCHES."

In truth, though, I think I'm qualified. Here's how I'll answer the essay question on the application:
I write about my ass, and no matter your color or ethnicity, you have one, too. It's a simple metaphor for the human condition, and through my plain-speaking buttocks tales, I break down the barriers that separate us. I bring people together with my ass.

That's a winner if I ever saw one. And even if I don't quite win, I can still receive the coveted prize awarded to every Nobel Peace Prize nominee: a letter jacket.

What? Nobel Peace Prize nominees don't get a letter jacket? Well, that's their problem, because this nominee is getting one. It will say "NOBEL PEACE PRIZE NOMINEE" in giant letters on the back, and I'll have patches on the sleeves for each year I was nominated. I'll always wear it when I go to the mall, and if I'm lucky, I'll get to have this conversation:
"Excuse me." A stranger stops me.

"Yes?" I'm all calm and serene and shit, since I'm a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"Not at all," I'll say.

"I see that you're wearing a Nobel Peace Prize letter jacket. They give out letter jackets for that?"

"They do. Every nominee receives one. I've seen Nelson Mandela's hanging in his closet. He doesn't wear it anymore because the sleeve is torn."

"So what were you nominated for?"

"Um, peace? I mean, I don't mean to be rude or anything, but duh."


"Here's how you can tell: the peace nominee jackets are blue. The war nominees are red."

"There are Nobel War Prize nominees?"

"Oh, yeah. And we're kicking ass in that."

"So I see quite a few patches on your sleeves from different years. Have you ever won?"

"I can generally win my district, but then I hit Gandhi or Mandella in regionals and I just don't have the chops to compete with those guys. Well, I made it to the regional finals once, but Mother Teresa was a freaking buzzsaw, man. That chick can really peace."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

360 Reviews

Gamespot has some 360 reviews that actually include content, unlike the other reviews I've seen, so if you're curious about what to purchase at launch, you can check them out. It also sounds like they might have actually played the games, as opposed to looking at them for five minutes.

Sony DRM Update

It's almost impossible to even keep track of this story--being stupid creates velocity, and Sony has been so stupid that they're practically breaking the speed of sound. They released a program to totally remove the rootkit, but--oops!--it creates another vulnerability on a user's system.

First, here are a couple of excellent links to fairly thorough reviews of the situation:,1848,69601,00.html.

Here's the fairly stunning lead to the second article:
At first glance, Dan Kaminsky's bright red-colored map of the world looks like a visualization of global population - but it's actually a map of networks carrying Sony's DRM software. The computer security expert estimated the number of infected networks and superimposed the data as red dots on a map of the world. The result is a impressively red globe. Kaminsky told TG Daily that "there could be three million or more infected computers."

Like I said a few days ago, this story isn't going away. And it could possibly mark a turning point in the struggle to stop programs installing secret crap on our systems that we don't want, but the reason might not be what you suspect: exposing this draconian nightmare made Mark Russinovich famous almost overnight. Now there will be thousands of people out there, very bright people, who want a taste of that, and they are going to relentlessly look for their own opportunity.

That's a comforting thought, actually.

Here's some other news that broke today. Sony has agreed to include Mandatory Managed Copy (MMC) into the Blu-Ray standard. Here's a description from Reuters (via Joystiq) of what MMC actually means:
Mandatory managed copy lets users legally copy DVDs and store the digital file on a home network.

That's right--incredibly, that feature wasn't originally included in the feature list for Blu-Ray.

Do I think Sony's pro-consumer announcement is in any way related to the absolute ass-beating they've been getting over DRM? It certainly seems likely.

Xbox Live Marketplace: Your E-mail

Thoughtful e-mail from you guys, as always, and I wanted to share some excerpts. Thanks for taking the time to improve the quality of the discussion.

First, several people e-mailed and made the point that some people will use the Xbox 360 without an Internet connection, hence requiring people to unlock core levels in a game by going online isn't feasible. Understood. I don't have a breakdown of the expected ratio, but there will still be a significant number of people in this generation not hooking the console to the Internet. The example of unlocking core levels was meant as a hypothetical extreme in terms of leveraging the anti-piracy technology. However, and this is again an example of Microsoft focusing on the carrot instead of the stick, they are making Marketplace so robust and attractive that it will make people want to use it.

Second, an anonymous Microsoft employee let me know that right now there is no cross-pollenation between games and Microsoft Points. Points are strictly purchased with real money and cannot be earned via games. I could see something besides Microsoft Points being used, but it's still an important clarification and thanks for the information.

Which brings up a question: why the hell aren't they? Creating the possibility of earning even small numbers of Microsoft Points via gameplay would create the most gigantic marketing frenzy ever. As part of a game's marketing budget, there would be a Microsoft points budget. All points that gamers earned playing a game would be translated into real currency and billed back to the publisher.

Think about it. A game comes out and it gets terrible reviews. A publisher might give it some juice by increasing the Microsoft Points award for reaching certain milestones. It would just be a marketing expense. People go wild over incentives that are tied to real money, no matter how tenuous or unrewarding that connection might actually be.

Here's just one (admittedly extreme) example: Microsoft works a deal with or some other vendor to have a catalog of products available for puchase via Microsoft Points. It's the twenty-first century equivalent of green stamps. The notion of people being able to play games to actually buy real merchandise would make people go insane with glee. All the merchandise would be overpriced, obsolete crap, but it wouldn't matter.

Don't stop there, though. Want a pizza delivered to your house while you're playing a game? Pause your game, check into Xbox Live, and order it online. No need to stop playing.

Of course, people could also buy all kinds of Xbox Live gear with the Microsoft Points they earned through playing games, which they'll wear, which becomes instant advertising.

Unlimited possibilities.

That then digresses into the problem of making sure people don't hack the system, which segues into an additional discussion about modchips. DQ reader Matthew Van Sickler sent me a series of excellent e-mails, and they started off with him mentioning that not all modders are pirates. Absolutely true, and I was looking at modchips from Microsoft's view of playing unauthorized game copies than in the larger world where people just like to do funky things with their consoles. So while I believe it's true that you must have a modded Xbox to play pirated discs, it is not necessarily true that all consoles are modded for that purpose.

He also talks about how the current generation mod chips function:
I think you're missing something in your analysis. Current XBox modchips have stealth features that either automatically turn themselves off when the LAN port is connected, or allow the user to manually turn them off before connecting. There are plenty of modded XBoxes playing on Live every day - the modchip is just turned off for that session.

I don't see any reason that 360 modchips won't have the same features.

He's right. First generation Xbox modchips don't have that feature, but succeeding generations do. My question back to him was whether a modchip could theoretically be detected even if it was turned off.
Even if they were simply going to detect voltage across a pin header, modchip makers would just make an external power switch for the modchip. I don't know how you could detect something that basically wasn't there anymore without power. Whatever MS can think up, some brainiac(s) with too much time on their hands will find a way to defeat it.

So there's an open question for you guys: under what circumstances can a modchip be detected, and is there a way to absolutely make detection impossible?

On Gaming

Three excellent links to gaming stories.

First, over at Kotaku, a story about a personal experience of writer Brian Ashcraft while he was attending the Osaka Games Festa. I don't want to say anything else, but it's a seemingly very modest (and troubling) anecdote that makes you think, then think some more.

Then there's The Escapist. Good articles every week, and this new issue is no exception. First, a terrific article by Dave Thomas about Jack Thompson titled "You Don't Know Jack," in which he posits the theory that Thompson is, in essence, a griefer. It's a brilliant connection and a very interesting read.

The other article in The Escapist that I wanted to mention is titled "dood, it's part of the game." Writer Greg Tito recounts his experience getting killed repeatedly for an hour and a half on a PVP server by a corpse camper, who he later interviewed.

The other articles in the current issue are good reads as well.

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