Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Heritage USA

DQ reader JC Fedorczyk sent me a link to another run-down amusement park, and this one is just as interesting as Disgraceland. Maybe more, even.

I'm speaking, of course, of Heritage USA, the amusement park Ozymandias of televangelist Jim Bakker and his makeup-spackled wife, Tammy Faye. Long since abandoned, there's a book of photos here. Spooky. And as a side note, some of the park is now being restored, but the photos are still surreal.

And, as unlikely as it sounds, I have a Jim Bakker story.

As some very brief background, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were big business in the 1980's. Their show, The PTL Club, was viewed by over ten million people. "PTL" stands for "Praise the Lord," by the way. It was pretty run-of-the-mill televangelist fraud, complete with money skimming, alternate bank accounts, etc., except the amounts of money involved were HUGE. Stunning, really. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
By the early 1980s the Bakkers had built Heritage USA (in Fort Mill, south of Charlotte), then the third most successful theme park in the US, and a satellite system to distribute their network twenty-four hours a day across the country. Annual contributions requested from viewers were estimated to exceed one million dollars a week, with proceeds to go to expanding the theme park and mission of PTL.

A million dollars a week! And that allowed them to do things like this (again, from the Wikipedia entry):
In their success, the Bakkers took conspicuous consumption to an unusual level for a non-profit. PTL once spent $100,000 for a private jet to fly the Bakkers' clothing across the country. It also once spent $100 for cinnamon rolls because the Bakkers wanted the smell of them in their hotel room.

Bakker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy and sent to prison in 1989.

So here's my Jim Bakker story.

It was around 1986. I was idly running through the cable channels one night and accidentally stumbled across the PTL Club. Any other time, I would have kept going, but that night I had the incredible luck to see one of the most epic rants in the history of television. Jim Bakker, in ten of the funniest minutes of my life, went thermonuclear.

About bees.

Apparently, people visiting Heritage USA were complaining about getting stung by bees (among other things), and this had driven Bakker into some Vincent Price state of madness. He was ranting and yelling at the people in the studio audience, and I was crying from laughing so hard. "THE BEES GATHER AROUND THE TRASH CANS BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT EMPTYING YOUR COKE CANS BEFORE YOU THROW THEM AWAY. IF YOU EMPTY THE CANS, THE BEES WON'T STING YOU! EMPTY THE CANS! EMPTY THE CANS!"

It was the classic Caine Mutiny kind of madness, and Bakker was so furious that he was almost incoherent. Screaming, berating, sweating--it was some of the greatest community theater comedy I've ever seen, and nearly twenty years later I still treasure the memory.

I can only hope that it eventually winds up on YouTube or something, because it's too incredible not to share. Believe me, I'll keep looking.

Ugh Part 2

I've been thinking about the "Ugh" post from this morning. So few "award winning" PC games from E3 are shipping this year, yet I wrote just a couple of weeks ago that the PC gaming market is very healthy based on number of releases. Seemingly, that's a contradiction, but it's actually a comment on the different nature of the PC and console markets.

Niche games rarely get nominated for anything at E3. They're not high budget, they're not flashy, and by definition, they rarely have impressive pedigrees. Some of them turn out to be great games, but they're not going to draw much attention in an environment where they're competing against games with 20X (or 50X) the budget.

The advantage, though, is that in a lower-cost development environment, they don't have to compete against those mega-budget games, because they don't have to sell nearly as many copies to be profitable. So the PC market can serve many, many niches, whereas the 360 and PS3, almost by definition, have to be mainstream.

That's also another potential advantage of the Wii: lower development costs probably lead to more niche titles and more markets served.

So the PC games market is very healthy, and there aren't going to be a huge number of giant budget games out for the PC, and that's just fine. We'll still have a great time playing games--we just aren't all going to be playing the same game. Games like Oblivion are going to be the rare exception going into the future, not the rule.

Post-E3: The Ugh

It happens every year.

E3 gets everyone all excited about games. We see a ton of incredible trailers and shaky-cam footage of games that just look too good to be true. Then a ton of "critic's choice" awards for E3 get announced, stamping dozens of games as potentially great.

Then none of them ship.

Not until the following year, at least. Or the year after. Or, in extreme cases, the year after that. Or never.

I know it's the nature of E3 as a marketing event, and I know companies need to start showing product more than six months before it ships, but it still drives me crazy.

Just look at this year. The Game Critics Awards represent a solid cross-section of gaming journalism, and we can use their award nominees to get a feel for what was truly impressive at the show. Here's the website, by the way.

One quirk: the actual winners of all their nominated categories aren't announced until tonight, for some reason. I'm not sure anyone cares at this point, but there you go.

On to the nominees. First, let's look at the "Best of Show" category, with the currently projected year of release listed as well:
-Assassin’s Creed (2007)
-Bioshock (2007)
-Gears of War (2006)
-Spore (2007)

Ouch. Only one of those games, Gears of War, has any chance of being released this year.

Let's try another category--"Best PC Game."
-Crysis (2007)
-Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (2006)
-Hellgate: London (2007)
-Supreme Commander (2007)
-Spore (2007)

Actually, several of those games could be 2008 releases, but no one will admit that yet. So the only game that could possibly ship this year is, by far, the least interesting one on the list. Damn.

Best console game?
- Assassin’s Creed (2007)
- Bioshock (2007)
- Gears of War (2006)
- Mass Effect (2007)
- Super Mario Galaxy (2006)

Super Mario Galaxy may not make it in 2006, but Gears of War certainly will (I hope). For everyone else, there's the familiar pattern.

To cut to the chase, there are 54 games listed as nominees in the various categories last year. take out the games that are exclusives on handhelds, and there are 45 remaining. Out of that 45, here's the complete list of what's still scheduled to ship this year, and believe me, some of these games will slip.
-Gears of War (360)
-Moto GP 06 (360)
-Test Drive Unlimited (360, PC, PS2)
-Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II (360, but already released on PC)
-Madden NFL 07 (360, PS3)
-NCAA Football 07 (360,PS2, Xbox)

-Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC)
-Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC)
-Sid Meier's Railroads! (PC)
-Company of Heroes (PC)
-Battlefield 2142 (PC)
-World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade (PC, expansion pack)
-The Movies: Stunts and Effects (PC, expansion pack)

-Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
-The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
-Excite Truck (Wii)
-Wii Sports (Wii)

-Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)

-Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
-Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (PS2, Xbox)
-WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 (PS2, 360)

Ugh! 21 games out of 45 are scheduled to ship this year? Even worse, some of the games in that group are either annual sports titles (Madden and NCAA), expansion packs (WOW and The Movies), or new versions of games that have come out many, many times before (Mortal Kombat, WWE Smackdown). That's 6 of the 21 right there. We're left with 15 games spread across 6 platforms, and like I said, half of those games will likely slip into 2007.


If you take out the expansion packs, here's all we have left for the PC: Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Neverwinter Nights 2, Sid Meier's Railroads!, Company of Heroes, and Battlefield 2142. I don't think any of those games really raise my pulse at all. Certainly, I'm interested in them, but there's a lot of rehash there, and Company of Heroes (the next in an interminable series of WWII games) is distinguished only because Relic is the developer.

Thank goodness for smaller developers and games like Paraworld, because without them, the rest of the year for PC gamers would look pretty bleak.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Here are a couple of kid stories from last week.

Here's one of those "the difference between boys and girls" moments. Eli 4.9 went to a bookstore for a story reading on Saturday. The story was about a monkey, and before the lady started reading, she asked "What would each of you do if you were a monkey?"

"I'd climb a tree," said a little girl.

"I'd eat lots of bananas," said the next little girl.

The next kid was a little boy, and he said "I'd punch a gorilla in the face."

On Monday, we went to the Memorial Day shindig at our community pool. Hamburgers and hot dogs, snow cones, a swimming pool--it was a dream event for little kids.

Once the hamburgers start coming off the grill, people got in line to each lunch, and I saw a man with a little boy about Eli 4.9's age. When they got to the front of the line, the little boy said "I want a cheese enchilada."

His father said "They don't have cheese enchiladas. You can have a hamburger or a hot dog."

"No cheese enchiladas?" the boy asked. "WHAT are we DOING HERE?"


Lots of interesting, odd links today that you guys have sent me.

Oh, and by the way, thanks to Russ Allen for sending me a video link last week. There was no return e-mail address (it was sent via the video provider), so I couldn't respond to you, but thanks.

From DQ reader and Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick, a link to a fantastic, abandoned amusement park in China. Here's the intro to the site:
Once upon a time in a land called Xi Pu, just west of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in the People's Republic of China, there was a tourist theme park... The World Landscape Park. As a business venture it failed, and today the park lies abandoned and decaying. Personally, I think it's a lot more interesting this way than it could ever possibly have been when it was open.

There are a ton of pictures and they're fantastic. One note: at least in my browser, sometimes the text captions spill over onto the pictures and they're hard to read. Just highlight the text with your mouse cursor and it will be readable. Also, on the very first page, there's a yellow "NEXT" near the top of the picture that is what you click on to view the other pictures of the park. I had a hard time seeing that, too.

Even with the formatting problems, though, it's an amazing series of pictures to look through, and the captions are generally pretty clever as well. Here's the link: Disgraceland.

From Eduardo X, a terrific link to help explain the crazy, tangled relationships involved with the Gizmondo fiasco. Complete with flowchart at the bottom of the article. The whole story is so strange and bizarre that, as fiction, it would be dismissed as ridiculous.

From Dave S., a link to a website that discusses--in detail--movie physics. The site is called "Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics," and it's a very interesting read. You can find it here.

Daniel Quock sent in an amazing video link. It's a juggler who juggles inside an inverted glass cone. Actually, "amazing" doesn't even do it justice. Mind-blowing is more like it. Don't say I didn't warn you: juggler.

Andrew B sent in a link to the Game Innovation Database. Their modest objective: The goal of the GIDb is to classify and record every innovation in the entire history of computer and videogames. Because we could never complete this daunting task alone, we have made the GIDb an open wiki, allowing anyone to easily add innovation entries for the benefit of everyone who cares about the history, study, and practice of game innovation.

It's a great idea, with plenty of interesting topics already, and here's the link.


Lots of good stuff happening today.

Remember the press release a few weeks ago that Project Entropia was tying their vitual economy into a real bank card? I know, I jumped all over that as being a preview of the future, and I'd link to that post if I could find the freaking thing.

Here's a link to MindArk's original press release, though.

Well, Wharton professor Dan Hunter wasn't impressed, and he posted his thoughts in a blog. Whereupon MindArk's CEO Jan Welter Timkrans, um, flew into a tizzy and acted like an asshole. Timkrans is sort of like the StarForce PR guy, only funnier.

Oh, and Hunter detailed the entire saga. You can read all about it here (thanks Joystiq). And the comments below the story are well worth reading as well.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sun Tzu: The Art of (T.P.) War

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
--Sun Tzu

What is it with women and toilet paper, anyway? Men have three uses for toilet paper: butt, nose, and occasionally, a front yard. That's it. Toilet paper is to women, though, what WD-40 is to men: they use it for everything. Gloria uses about five rolls a day. If she needs to blow her nose, she'll strip off about six feet. I'm never sure if she actually uses it for the stated purpose or is just playing dress-up in the bathroom, fashioning some Wuthering Heights-era scarf as she looks wistfully out over the moors.

To blow my nose? Three squares.

Here's the question, though: where does the rest of that toilet paper go? Does she have a secret storage unit somewhere, filled with four miles of carefully folded t.p.? Or has it all, bizarrely, actually been used?

I do know that women use it at bridal showers to make wedding veils. That's the difference between men and women: we think it's funny to use toilet paper to cover someone's yard, pissing off the homeowner. They think it's funny to make clothing.

All warfare is based on deception.
--Sun Tzu

The roll of toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom was almost down to the cardboard tube last week--just a few squares remained--so I did what any sensible man would do: I put a new roll on top of the toilet tank. That way, I could secretly use the new roll until Gloria used the last few squares of the old roll and changed it out.

Replace the roll in the toilet paper holder? Sure, and while I'm at it, why don't I cook Thanksgiving dinner FOR FIFTY PEOPLE.

Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.
----Sun Tzu

On day two, I looked at the roll on top of the toilet tank. Clearly, it had been used, and not by me. For the first time in ten years, her strategy had changed.

This was an unofficial declaration of t.p. war.

Fine, I thought. I am a master of the lazy, and my indifference is built for the long haul. I know it drives her crazy to have that extra roll of toilet paper on top of the tank. She's fighting a war she doesn't want to fight, against an enemy she can't defeat.

Day three, and more toilet paper is gone from the roll on the tank, and the scrappy cardboard tube still has three squares remaining. As long as the cardboard isn't showing through, it's still technically usable and does not require replacement. The roll on the tank is now nearly half gone.

Invincibility is a matter of defense, vulnerability a matter of attack.
--Sun Tzu

I wait.

On days four and five, she avoids using the upstairs bathroom. The roll on the tank is down to a quarter, at best, and if it's used up, she's backed herself into a t.p. corner. I'll just whip out another roll and put it on the tank, but she can't do that--it's clearly against her longstanding diplomatic position. It would invite anarchy.

On day six, she cracks. The quarter roll that had been on top of the tank is now in the toilet paper holder.


One who is not acquainted with the designs of his neighbors should not enter into alliances with them...Those who come seeking peace without a treaty are plotting.
--Sun Tzu

With less than a quarter roll remaining, it could be only hours before that roll is down to the cardboard. Is this a truce, or just a Trojan roll? Has she just given ground to secure the ultimate victory?

He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
--Sun Tzu

Sensing a trap, I do the only reasonable thing a man could possibly do in this situation: I put another full roll on top of the tank.

Day seven, and the full roll has been transferred to the toilet paper holder. The quarter roll has been removed.

I consider putting another full roll on the tank--

I have heard of military operations that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen one that was skillful and lasted a long time. It is never beneficial to a nation to have a military operation continue for a long time.
--Sun Tzu

--but think better of it. There is nobility in the honorable treatment of downed warriors. We must put aside our flags of different nations and join in peace.

The next morning (day eight), I walk into the bathroom. There is a full roll of toilet paper on top of the tank.

Memorial Day

I'd like to wish our U.S. readers a happy Memorial Day. Here's a bit of history:
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.

If you'd like to know more, you can find a detailed write-up at the History Channel website here.

Friday, May 26, 2006


I've been working on a side project for a while now that I've really enjoyed writing. It's time to finish it, though, so I'm putting a stake in the ground to force me to get it done.

So here it is: I'll share it with you on June 19.

No, it's not a book. Breathe a sigh of relief.

Famitsu Surveys: Then and Now

IGN published the results of a survey conducted post-E3 by Famitsu.

For some reason, the phrase "Famitsu survey" started rattling around in my head. I'd seen one of those before.

Last September, as it turns out. Boy, is the comparison interesting.

If you've never heard of Famitsu before, it's the authoritative Japanese videogame magazine. It publishes weekly and there are five versions (by platform). So all of these numbers represent interviews conducted with Japanese gamers.

This is the September 2005 survey (prior to the launch of the Xbox 360), which was published by Next-Gen here.

Want to buy---63.2%----------23.9%-----------36%
No interest-----5%--------------25%------------ 10.4%
Don't care------1.8% -----------10%-------------13%

Remember that's last September. Also, please note that these questions were asked separately for each console, so someone could be interested (or not interested) in more than one machine.

In general, there was overwhelming interest in the PS3 in September of 2005. Almost 2 in 3 respondents said they would purchase a PS3. Only approximately 7% had no interest or didn't care.

The Famitsu survey that IGN detailed was taken from May 15-18 of this year. That's after Sony's pricing announcement and the Wii craze at E3. These aren't the same questions that were asked last September--in particular, they're choosing between machines instead of answering questions about each one separately--but they're still plenty revealing.

Greatest interest:

So last September, 63.2% of respondents said they would purchase the PS3, compared to only 36% for the Revolution/Wii, but now, people are most interested in the Wii by more than a 3-1 margin?

Which console will "win" the next generation?

Again, stunning results. A 3-1 margin for the Wii.

Why the huge change? Well, in spite of all the claims that the Japanese consumer is blindly faithful to the PS3 and will buy it no matter what it costs, look at this:
Is PS3 launch price too high?
Too low--0.7%

Loyalty has its limits. And while the novelty of the Wii controller has certainly excited people, Sony charging a mint for its "bargain" is affecting consumers.

Essentially, Sony has taken what was a dominant market position and thrown up all over themselves. And don't think that Sony isn't panicking internally, because they are. No matter what they're saying in public, they've got to be gripping very, very hard behind closed doors right now.

The PS3 and Used Game Sales: Update

...a Sony Computer Entertainment UK spokesperson today outright denied that any such message [concerning used game sales] had been conveyed to retailers - telling that following conversations with the firm's European parent company, neither division has "any knowledge" of such a strategy.

"We have definitely not been communicating that," UK spokesperson Jennie Kong confirmed. "It's false speculation. We don't have any further knowledge about this topic - either officially or unofficially, to be frank."

That's definitely a denial, although I always look for gaps in what people are saying, and the phrase "we don't have any further knowledge about this topic" seems unnecessarily vague. Regardless, it would be suicide for Sony to try this, no matter what the used game market costs them.

It's also nice to know that someone from Sony can make a statement without jamming their foot up our ass.

StarForce: So Long

I'm sure this will break your heart, just like it broke mine. From Gamasutra:
European-headquartered game publisher CDV has announced that it will be stopping its use of the controversial StarForce PC copy protection scheme, in a short press statement which explained that, "in response to consumer demand", it will be be migrating to TAGES copy protection for future game releases.

Hey! They said "in response to consumer demand." Way to go, consumers!

What companies does StarForce have left at this point? I thought CDV was the largest one remaining, and now they've set sail. I think the answer is probably "not much." Effectively, StarForce appears to be finished.

There are several interesting morals to this story. One is that organized consumers can have a tremendous effect on the policies of companies--even game companies. Also, if a company acts like they're crazy long enough, people will start to believe them. Every time someone from StarForce said anything, it was so bizarre that it made you question the software itself.

I can't wait to hear the StarForce PR rep blame the Russian Mafia or the Da Vinci Code or Bighorn Sheep From Outer Space for this.


Here's some good information on AM2 vs. Intel from DQ reader Steve:
It's not particularly fair to compare AM2--which is available today--to what Intel will be releasing later this year. And AM2's lack of performance increase today isn't that important because the real gains will come down the road.

Also, consider this: AM2 doesn't increase performance like Conroe theoretically does because Intel is playing catch-up. Having said that, the current Core Duo from Intel is terrific, but only available in laptops. I'd love to have one in a desktop system. Because of its quality, I wouldn't be surprised of Core 2 Duo is superior to AMD. It better be.

One thing most sites didn't do a particularly good job reporting is that AMD has released nearly its entire CPU line for AM2, meaning you're not just stuck with the highest-end CPUs. You can get a $77 Sempron today, or a $1K FX-62. That's unprecedented, and gives you way more options than you'll likely have when Conroe debuts.

AMD's chips can be pretty low wattage at idle if you enable Cool & Quiet. And they have an entire line of 35-watt parts.

That's all reasonable and good information. I think AMD is still in real trouble on the desktop, though, if Conroe turns out to be faster and cooler and cheaper.

Here's some more news on this subject from The Register:
Intel's upcoming 'Conroe'-based Extreme Edition Core 2 Duo processor will ship with the model number X6800, it has emerged, courtesy of the latest roadmap leak from the chip giant. And it will be pushing the Core 2 series at the same price as current Pentium processors.

According to slides posted on Chinese-language site HKEPC, the 2.93GHz chip will be branded the Core 2 Extreme and will be priced at $999, the standard price point for new Intel gaming-oriented CPUs.

So the Extreme Edition of the Core 2 Duo is coming in only at a price only slightly less than the FX-62. The non-EE versions should be significantly cheaper (here are the prices according to HKEPC):
2.67 GHz: $530
2.40 GHz: $316
2.14 GHz: $224

Also, if you'd like an excellent overview of the nForce 590 chipset, Anandtech has a very detailed story here. They're also doing the same kind of overview and review on the new Crossfire chipset, and I'll post the link when the story is available.

Oblivion: Open Cities

Chris Key let me know that he's working with his father (now that's totally cool) on a mod for Oblivion called "Open Cities." Basically, they're redoing the cities so that they don't load separately when you enter them--it's one world, similar to Morrowind. It's a great idea for a mod and the screenshots are fantastic. Here's a link to the thread at the Elder Scrolls forums if you're interested (two threads--the first got so long that it was closed):
Open Cities 1,
Open Cities 2.

Chorrol is the first city to be converted. And here's the thread about the next release:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The PS3 and Used Game Sales

I'm getting a ton of e-mail about this story:
High street games shops have been told by Sony that there will be no PS3 pre-owned sections in their stores as it will be illegal for customers to sell any next-gen PlayStation games that they've bought, retail sources have revealed to GamesRadar.

Is this impossible? No. Sony has a patent on a technology in this area, actually. From Joystiq:
From the registered patent description:
"A device and method for protection of legitimate software against used software and counterfeit software in recording media… A specific title code is read, and if this title code has been registered, the main unit shifts to a normal operation. If the code has not been registered, verification software is initiated… If matching does not occur, the disk is processed as illegitimate software… Since only titles for which legitimate software has actually been purchased and which have been initially registered in the machine table can be used, resale (so-called used software purchase) after purchase by an end-user becomes practically impossible."

That description doesn't even make any sense, really, but let's assume it actually works. So why wouldn't Sony use this to stop used game sales? Because as much as they might want to kill the used games market, it's an unimportant tactical objective compared to their primary strategic one: establish Blu-Ray as the high-definition DVD standard.

If they implement this technology, and it actually does eliminate used game sales, you know what the PS3 becomes? A doorstop. And if they tried that in the U.S., they might as well not even release it, because it would be DOA. What would that do to Sony's chances of establishing Blu-Ray as the standard for high-definition DVD? Well, it would kill it.

All Sony cares about with this console is establishing Blu-Ray. If a healthy used games market means more people buy the PS3, then temporarily, the used games market actually helps them. They'll grit their teeth and put up with it for now.

Now do I think Sony is logical? Not necessarily. And I actually see a restriction or elimination of used games as something that might happen down the road (with the next-next-gen, so to speak), unless legislation prohibits it. But to try it now would be suicide for everything Sony wants to accomplish.


I've been wanting to write about Gizmondo for a long time, but the story was so mind-blowing, the fraud so much larger than life, that I didn't think I could do it justice. I saw a fantastic article in the Times Online yesterday, though, and it's time to discuss this bizarre, strange story.

If you're a U.S. reader, it's possible you've never even heard of Gizmondo. It was a handheld gaming machine that was launched to great fanfare in the UK about a year ago. The company that created the Gizmondo was Tiger Telematics, and they did an amazing job of generating breathless publicity.

That publicity, though, didn't convince anyone to actually buy the Gizmondo. The number of systems actually sold has never been firmly established, but I'm willing to bet it was less than 5,000--and it well could have been much less than that.

A complete disaster, in other words.

About six months ago, news stories started circulating about executives spending fantastic sums of money on watches, cars, and women (girlfriends, not "professionals"). Then, in February, one of the executives crashed a Ferrari in Malibu--a leased Ferrari owned by the Bank of Scotland that was legally not supposed to be taken outside Europe.

I'm really skimming over tons of disturbing details here, because the story is so incredibly convoluted, but the company is now in liquidation, and the details of what happened are absolutely stunning. Here are a few excerpts from the Times Online article, just to whet your appetite:
...little more than 12 months after the Gizmondo console was launched at a party at the Park Lane hotel in London — where stars such as Sting, Dannii Minogue and Busta Rhymes were paraded in front of guests — Freer’s company is in liquidation, having burnt its way through £160m in 18 months.

Details of the firm’s extraordinary extravagance — with huge sums spent on exotic sports cars and Rolex and Cartier watches during its short, unprofitable life — are coming to light.

You'd think we would have all learned something from startup Internet firms in the late 1990's--namely, that if they're spending huge amount of money on celebrity appearances, they'll be bankrupt in a year--but apparently we didn't. At least, the people who invested in the company certainly didn't.

Here was another sure sign of trouble:
Freer, who had a British father but was raised in Sweden, had run a Swedish electronics business in the 1990s. In 2002 his firm made a bizarre leap: it merged with a carpet retailer based in Florida, Floor Décor. The improbable tie-up gave Freer what he wanted: Floor Décor shares were traded in America under the so-called pink-sheets system, so he could now issue new shares and raise money. The company that had once sold rugs in Tampa became Tiger Telematics.

Sheer poison: a company buying another company in an unrelated industry so that it can become publicly traded, thereby avoiding all the financial scrutiny associated with an IPO.

In 2004, Tiger announces the Gizmondo. Meanwhile, here's what's happening inside the company:
In March 2004 Freer’s basic pay was set at £500,000. That was doubled six months later. He recruited a fellow Swede, Stefan Eriksson, to the Gizmondo board. Eriksson started on £400,000 but this was also doubled after six months. Bonuses topped up each man’s 2004 pay to about £1.1m. Freer’s wife, Anneli, received £90,000 for “marketing services”. And Eriksson received a car allowance of £5,000 — every month. He had a couple of limited-edition Ferrari Enzos — one red, one black and each worth about £500,000 — plus a Mercedes SLR McLaren.

Ouch. So who's paying for all this, anyway? Well, the investors, naturally.
In the 2004 financial year Gizmondo racked up losses of £49m. Part of this was covered by borrowings. But most came from issuing new shares in the company’s parent, Tiger Telematics, to investors who thought Gizmondo really might be on to something.

Here are the launch details. I didn't even lose any money and it's painful to read.
In March last year Gizmondo’s console — shaped like a big, flat pebble with a black rubber casing — was launched. And as guests sipped champagne at the Park Lane hotel, word went out that 500,000 people had registered an interest in buying a Gizmondo. In reality, the number was nearer 50.

Last summer Freer and Eriksson moved to Los Angeles, to oversee Gizmondo’s launch in America. But by this time creditors were closing in. Official American documents show that in the first half of last year, Gizmondo’s losses topped £100m — equivalent to more than £500,000 a day. As before, cash was raised by issuing Tiger shares. In the first seven months of 2005, the number of shares in issue rose by nearly 70%.

Stunning. Half a million pounds in losses A DAY? That is just freaking incredible.

Here's where it begins to seriously unravel.
Then, last September, a Swedish newspaper spotted that Eriksson was the same “Fat Steffe” Eriksson who had been convicted of fraud and receiving stolen goods more than a decade ago. He had been in the “Uppsala Mafia”, named after the Swedish town north of Stockholm.

A second Gizmondo director, Peter Uf, had been part of the same mob.

Yes, it gets much, much worse. Here's one more detail.
Intriguing aspects of the saga have since emerged. Last year the company spent £2m on leasing cars. It also bought a share in a racehorse. Papers show about £400,000 was spent on watches, many for potential investors and people with whom Freer wanted to do deals.

But both he and Eriksson also had a taste for flash timepieces: Eriksson and his girlfriend, Nicole Persson, had their watches and jewellery valued at nearly £700,000 last September. Freer’s watches were valued at £93,000.

Believe me, there's lots more. It will go down as the most staggering fraud in gaming history. Any other still-unreleased console (cough) under a cloud of suspicion looks like a dimestore operation in comparison.

Here's a link to the full article, and it is a fantastic read:
The firm that blew it all in two years.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Science Links

First off, from the BBC:
Fishermen in Siberia have discovered the complete skeleton of a mammoth - a find which Russian experts have described as very rare.

The remains appeared when flood waters receded in Russia's Krasnoyarsk region.

The mammoth's backbone, skull, teeth and tusks all survived intact. It appears to have died aged about 50.

Full story here.

Next, from Sirius, a link to a fascinating article about the U.S. silver certificates designed in the 1890's by notable artists of that era. There are some tremendous pictures of the bills, and you can see them all here.

From DQ reader and future Nobel Prize winner Brian Pilnick (who is also now a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University), a link to a story about a newly-discovered pachycephalosaurus whose skull looks like--a dragon. Here's an excerpt:
The newly described horny-headed dinosaur Dracorex hogwartsia lived about 66 million years ago in South Dakota, just a million years short of the extinction of all dinosaurs. But its flat, almost storybook-style dragon head has overturned everything paleontologists thought they knew about the dome-head dinos called pachycephalosaurs.

Very cool story, and you can read it here.

The Bidding War

The greatest bidding war in the history of gaming is going on behind closed doors.

What's a console exclusive for World of Warcraft worth, anyway? 50 million? 100 million? More? I'm not sure there's even a method to accurately value the fanchise, but I do know that whatever it's actually worth, Sony or Microsoft will overpay significantly.

Here are two reasons why I believe this is happening.
1) Sony and Microsoft desperately need this game.
If Sony gets this game, it gives consumers at lease one compelling reason to drop $599 and buy the console. Right now, outside of Japan, Sony has nothing--just a bloated, overpriced console with no AAA launch titles announced and zero momentum. Finding a negative article on Sony right now is like falling out of a boat and finding water. They're going to need at least a few huge announcements to turn this around.

If Microsoft gets WOW, on the other hand, it's practically a death blow to the PS3. Let's see, the PS3 launches versus Gears of War, Halo 3, and--World of Warcraft? What? I want to pay $200 more and miss out on those three games? Not likely.

So if you're Sony, you desperately need the momentum. If you're Microsoft, you desperately want to stop Sony from getting any momentum. And desperation translates into a bidding war.

2) Blizzard isn't stupid.
So let me try to figure out why getting paid $100 million NOT to do something is a bad idea. If Blizzard promises not to spend thousands of development hours creating a version of WOW for a particular console, doesn't add hundreds of servers, doesn't hire new support staff--in fact, does nothing--someone will pay them a staggering amount of money?

Hmm. And the downside for Blizzard here is--?

That's right. There is no downside. Not with the amounts of money that I'm sure are getting thrown around right now.

Here's one more thing: if the PS3 U.S. launch either slips into 2007 or turns out to largely be a paper launch (one or the other is highly likely), Sony will be even more desperate to give gamers a reason to wait. What better reason than this game?

Space Mountain

I forgot one Eli 4.9 story from Disney.

For some reason, he convinced himself that he wanted to ride Space Mountain. If you've never heard of Space Mountain, it's essentially a roller coaster in the dark. In outer space, ostensibly.

It seemed like a terrible idea, given that he was about 1/16" over the minimum height requirement, and he's very tall for his age, and the chances of him screaming in fear the whole time seemed to be about 99%.

The little guy kept insisting, though, and we finally gave in. I figured if it really scared him, he'd listen the next time I said he was too young to go on a ride.

Did I mention that Space Mountain is dark? As in pitch black, most of the time. It was totally disorienting and not really very fun--not because of the rollercoaster itself, but because you just couldn't see anything. Gloria and Eli were in the car in front of me (only two to a car), so I couldn't see how he was reacting, but I expected to see him sobbing or screaming in terror when we exited.

The ride finally ended, and the cars came back into the light and stopped. Eli 4.9 got out, looked at me--wide-eyed--and said "That BLEW MY MIND!"

"It did?"

"YES! I'm not going to ride that again until I'm FIFTY!"


"It was too curvy, too bouncy, and I couldn't see a THING!"

I felt the same way.


Wendy's has this new advertising campaign, probably costing millions of dollars to create, that entirely consists of combining the words "solid" and "liquid" and the words "fork" and "spoon."

Because a Frosty isn't exactly solid or liquid, allegedly. Why that matters, I don't know.

So this multi-million dollar ad campaign has as its tagline "the only soquid you eat with a fpoon."

I saw that on t.v. yesterday and I immediately thought what a stucking idea.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Total Pro Golf Course Designer Released

Like I've mentioned previously, this is a game worth keeping an eye on. Gary Gorski is very talented, and Total Pro Golf has excellent potential. It was also a terrific idea to release the course designer before the game, so that people can be working on their favorite courses in advance.

Wolverine Studios Announces Release of Total Pro Golf Course Designer
Troy, MI May 23, 2006 - Wolverine Studios, a leading developer of computer game sports simulations, is proud to announce the release of its highly anticipated Total Pro Golf Course Designer. The TPG Course Designer is available free of charge for digital download from Wolverine Studios.

The TPG Course Designer allows users to easily and quickly create beautiful 2D renditions of golf courses for use in the upcoming game Total Pro Golf. Total Pro Golf is scheduled for a Q3 release exclusively online from Wolverine Studios. Featuring a simple to use interface, the TPG Course Designer allows anyone the opportunity to be able to create a course in a short period of time. Novice users can take advantage of the stock textures and easy click-to-design interface while more advanced users can take full advantage of the powerful course design tool by creating custom texture sets to use and share with the community. This unique application also gives users the ability to import entire pictures of holes to adapt for use with Total Pro Golf.

Critically acclaimed sports sim developer Gary Gorski, lead developer of Total Pro Basketball 2003, Total Pro Basketball 2005 and Total College Basketball, has created a robust yet easy to use tool allowing for a wide array of course design possibilities giving gamers the opportunity to recreate their favorite courses or bring their very own creative ideas to the screen to share with the community.

For more information on Total Pro Golf and the Total Pro Golf Course Designer please visit the official website of Wolverine Studios at

Yes, There Were a Few Scratches

Gloria rents DVD's from Blockbuster, because Eli 4.9 likes to go look at the boxes before he makes up his mind. Yesterday, he came home with the cartoon version of Hercules.

Here's the thing about getting children's DVD's from Blockbuster, though: apparently, the first thing every parent does when they get one of these discs home is use it to test their belt sander. Then they take an ice pick and let their kid jab at the disc for another five minutes or so. Then they play frisbee with it in a gravel pit.

Every single kid's DVD we get from them is like that. This one actually had a piece of the inner plastic ring missing, with two more pieces ready to break off, like teeth giving way. So I took out a Tom and Jerry DVD I'd been saving for an emergency, and we watched that instead.

Sitting on the couch with Eli 4.9 and watching Tom and Jerry, with both of us laughing our asses off, is one of those little moments when you're really, really glad to be a father.

The New System

Like I've mentioned previously, I'll be building a new system soon. I've got two main decisions left to make: CPU (AMD or Intel), and multi-GPU type (Nvidia or ATI).

I've been a big AMD guy for two years. The FX chips have been fantastic, they've been superior to Intel's tech, and the FX-51 I used in my current system has been flawless. Actually, AMD's server chips (Opteron) have been far superior to Intel as well. And Dell announced just last week that they'll be using Opterons in customer systems for the first time, possibly as a gateway to offering other types of AMD chips.

In short, everything seems to be going AMD's way.

Funny thing about that, though.

AMD just introduced the new socket AM2 processors, and guess what? The only real performance improvements are based on sheer clock speed. The new architecture itself appears to be giving no additional performance.

Then there's Conroe. Intel's new desktop architecture (marketed as the "Core 2 Duo"), which will ship in less than two months, apparently offers performance improvements in the neighborhood of 40% while consuming 40% less power than the previous generation.

In other words, from all appearances, Conroe is a real monster of an engineering achievement. It looks so impressive that I'm biting my lip and waiting to build the new system until July.

Oh, and apparently the highest speed Conroe chip is going to debut at roughly half the price of the FX-62.

Intel's new server chip (codenamed Woodcrest) is also extremely impressive. They've apparently retaken the engineering lead in servers, too.

So it seems like everyone has figured out just how much better AMD's technology is--just as they appear to have lost their lead.

I'd also been leaning toward SLI (Nvidia) over Crossfire (ATI) for months as well. Then I saw an article over at The Inquirer that had this excerpt:
The NV boards consistently draw 40W more than the ATI ones, be it idle, CPU load or gaming/GPU load.

... Here is the problem, with these numbers, massively overstated for what they are, the NVidia chipset draws 50% more power than the ATI solution. If you scale the numbers down to realistic levels, it is not a stretch to imagine the ATI solution taking half the power of the NV one. This is a HUGE difference, even with the power measured directly to avoid PSU conversion losses, you are talking big time heat/wattage differences.

Ouch. That is a massive difference, and if it's verified by other sources (The Inquirer based this on a review over at Hot Hardware, and here's the power consumption page), that's going to tilt me over to Crossfire. I'd rather have a quiet system than a loud one, and the combination of Conroe and Crossfire should produce the highest performance with the lowest power consumption, which means less heat and fewer fans. I'm still not sold on the Crossfire tech, since it still seems relatively immature, but SLI still has rough edges as well.

That's where I am right now. I'll probably change my mind ten times before July.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Eli 4.9

Here are several Eli 4.9 anecdotes that happened recently.

"Hey Eli, doesn't your mom look pretty today?" Gloria was walking down the stairs, looking particularly fetching.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Prettier than last week."

"Last week?" I asked.

"Yeah, her arms were looking a little hairy last week," he said. I burst out laughing. 'NO!" he shouts. "I'm TOTALLY SERIOUS. Her arms were HAIRY last week."

It was one of Gloria's finest moments, obviously. And just so she doesn't kill me, let me verify that her arms are, in fact, not hairy.

This week.

Kidding. But I'll gladly take a punch in the arm to be able to write that.

I've said this before, but at 4.9 Eli is really between worlds--the egghead world of the budding science expert and the totally naive, simple world of a child. And those worlds co-exist just seconds away from each other.

Today we went to lunch at the mall and then went to Pottery Barn, because for some reason he absolutely loves the toys they have there. He saw a mobile with the planets and immediately said "Daddy, look! It's the solar system." Thirty seconds later, he pulled out a little stuffed monkey from a baby bed, held it for a few seconds, then tucked it carefully back into bed, making sure the blanket didn't cover its face.

Eli doesn't really like to try new foods, but he can't live on chicken nuggets, waffles, and Smarties for the rest of his life. So I set up what I marketed as "The Ultimate Food Challenge," as kind of a spinoff on the series "Viking" (which is on ESPN 2, and it's pretty funny). If Eli tries a new food for every letter of the alphabet (part one), I'm going to put together a long obstacle course (he loves obstacle courses), and when he passes that, we're going to Sea World in San Antonio as a prize.

While we were in Disneyland, Eli tried popcorn shrimp (S) for the first time. He doesn't usually like new food, but he loves popcorn shrimp. So on Saturday morning, we went to the Pancake House for breakfast and he said he needed to go to the bathroom.

I was standing in the bathroom, he was doing his business in the stall, and he just broke up laughing. I had no idea why he he would be laughing in a toilet, and 90% of the reasons I could think of involved some kind of disaster. So he came out, washed his hands, and said "Daddy, do you remember when I tried popcorn shrimp last week?"

"I do," I said. "You really liked them."

"Well," he said. Then he started laughing again, and it took him a while to stop before he could talk. "I finished POOPING and my POOP looked like POPCORN SHRIMP." Then he cracked up again. He's doubled over from laughing so hard. That's high comedy for a four-year old.

We went to see Emily (our babysitter) graduate from nursing school last Friday. Eli 4.9 sat very patiently for, oh, two minutes, then he said "Daddy, when are the GRADUATERS gonna be here?"

Some tremendous windbag came up to give a speech, and it reminded my why I skipped my own college graduation. It was torture. Eli leaned over to me and quietly said "Daddy, this is just blah blah blah."

That's exactly what I was thinking, actually.

Last week, during his bath, Eli said "Daddy, what are these? They're squishy ovals, like Play-Do."

At Disneyland, Eli got to meet Ariel (The Little Mermaid) in person.

If you've been reading this column for a while, you'll remember that Eli had an incredible mermaid crush for at least a year. At first, it was the mermaid in a Wiggles video, but then he switched to Ariel. He had an Ariel doll that he took everywhere with him. Every night, we had to dry her with a towel (her lower half was soft--we had to wring it out), because he'd take her in the bath, and he went to sleep with her right next to him on the pillow. We actually bought a backup doll, just in case he ever needed a replacement.

He's outgrown the doll now, but he still has a huge crush on Ariel. So it was a huge deal to see her in person. She was sitting on her "shell" in Ariel's Grotto, and they did quite a job of making her look like the Ariel in the cartoon. Eli was so bashful that he wouldn't even get within arms length of her--he could hardly even lift his head up. We took a picture, then headed back to where we parked the stroller. While we were walking away, Eli turned to Gloria and said "Mommy, sometimes dreams DO come true."

2006 and Beyond

When I was at E3, my sense of the show was that Xbox 360 games were everywhere, and most of them looked very, very good. I don’t remember seeing many Xbox titles, and the ones I did see looked extremely poor in comparison to the 360 titles—particularly the games from 2K Sports.

That made me curious.

The software transition from current-gen to next-gen is always a touchy subject—abandoning a console is something that is going to make people angry, no matter how it’s handled. To lower manufacturing costs, though, the user base has to be ramped quickly—the faster it ramps, the more flexibility it creates in terms of pricing, and in the consumer market, pricing leverage is a critical factor.

To find out how the software transition was going, I checked the EB Games website and did a tally of all Xbox and Xbox 360 games listed. What I saw surprised me. Take a look at all games listed for future release (sorry for the ugly formatting here, but importing tables into Blogger is essentially impossible, as far as I can tell):

Publishers will shift almost all of these dates, so it’s far from an exact picture. There’s plenty of water there, though, to at least sense the tide. 45 Xbox 360 games are scheduled for release before the end of the year, but only 31 Xbox titles. Almost half of that 31 will be shipping by the end of June. After that, the 360 titles are listed in a 2-1 ratio for the end of the year.

In other words, in about two months, the transition from Xbox to Xbox 360 is essentially over.

2007? You can see for yourself. 40 titles listed for the 360. Zero listed for the Xbox. Again, that doesn’t mean that absolutely nothing will come out for the original Xbox next year, but even with a few additions, game releases for the Xbox are going to be very scarce.

Let’s take a look at another table (in two parts, due to the width), this one by genre:


------------Advent---Race---Air Combat---Dance---Platform

These are all listed games separated by genre. “Action” is somewhat of a catch-all category for the release listings, since both first person and third person games are included. Even with that skew, however, there are some interesting items here. First, what’s still coming out for the Xbox almost entirely consists of action games, sports, and racers—28 of 31 total titles are in those three groups.

There are a surprising number of adventure games (not necessarily adventure in the Dreamcatcher sense, but still adventures) in the pipeline for the 360. Still, though, Shooters and Action games represent roughly 50% of the future release list.

And even though the 360 has plenty of power to handle simulations and strategy games, there are very few in development. Even with enough system horsepower, the lack of a mouse-type controller is still a big issue.

Fighting games and platform games? Just a niche now. Platformers drove the Genesis/SNES generation, and fighting games were a premier genre in the both the Saturn/PS1 generation and the early Dreamcast/PS2 generation, but no more. Less than 2.5% of the games listed for the 360 are fighters.

Oh, and one final note. That 85 in terms of number of titles for the 360 doesn’t include any of the Live Arcade games that will be released for purchase on the Marketplace. Include those, and we’d be well over 100 games.

So the Xbox 360, in terms of software, is looking very, very healthy.

The PS3? Impossible to tell, really, since nothing has officially been announced. The PS2 has 91 games scheduled for release between now and the end of the year, but only 5 announced for 2007. One interesting effect of the PS3 price is that I believe it gave legs back to the PS2—slower adoption of the new console means many more people will still be using the old console. If we see a slew of PS2 projects announced in the next three months compared to the PS3 announcements, that’s a nail in the coffin. Well, not that Sony needs another nail, since they seem to have their own nail gun at this point.

What will also be interesting to watch is how many additional titles get announced for the 360 in the upcoming months. Companies that were holding out for the PS3 are now holding a $599 bag of, um, disappointment. I strongly believe that far fewer projects will get announced for the PS3 (in the U.S. and Europe) than were originally forecast, and those developers will shift resources into Xbox 360 (and Wii) games.

I'm not going to list the full PS2 table, but if you’re wondering if the PS2 is also dominated by action games and shooters, the answer is no—sort of. Action games alone make up 30% of upcoming releases, but shooters are only 6.5%. Sports games are the second leading category at 15%. So combined, action games and sports games are 45% of games in development.

In other words, all the consoles tend to be dominated by a few categories of games.

That’s why the PC is so interesting.

To begin with, the raw numbers look very strong.


104 games listed, and given the digital distribution system for many titles now, this probably represents half of what’s really out there—you could easily add another 100 titles if you included everything from indie studios. It’s probably true that, going forward, the PC isn’t going to get quite as many AAA titles as the consoles, but if we've learned anything over the last few years, it's that the AAA designation is more related to profile than it is to quality. And there will still be plenty of high-profile games available for the most powerful game platform out there.

Here’s the best part, though. Check out the genre-specific numbers:

------------Advent---Race---Air Combat---Dance---Platform

In one little table, it’s easy to see why the PC is still so important as a gaming platform: breadth. Shooters, action, sims, strategy, MMO’s—and, in a lesser sense, sports games, puzzles (add digitally distributed games here and this category explodes), RPG’s, adventure games, and racers.

Yes, some categories are absent. Fighters and platform games. All together now: yawn. And you won’t find the latest dance revolution game on your PC, either. What you will find, though, is everything else.

Like I said, add the indie projects to this (many of which turn out to be excellent games) and these numbers easily more than double.

So in spite of the tremendous splintering of the PC platform due to technology changes and the introduction of multi-GPU systems, in spite of multiple operation systems, in spite of all the entirely logical reasons why the PC should be declining as a gaming platform, it’s not.


I’m guessing there are two primary reasons. One, the cost barriers are incredibly low. There is a tremendous cost advantage embedded in the PC platform. Guys in their garage can (and have) make a great game on a shoestring budget. I’ve said this before, but almost all of the best young talent in gaming development will start on the PC. It's a simple function of the cost structure.

Second, and I don’t think this can be overemphasized, digital distribution has advanced so far with the PC platform that, for now, it has an overwhelming advantage compared to the consoles. Overwhelming. Not only can developers make games for a fraction of the cost of console development, but they can get their games distributed as well. Yes, the Xbox Live Marketplace is a terrific idea, but it's minute compared to the digital distribution avenues for PC games.

This is a corollary to what I wrote a few weeks ago about talent and the Internet, when I said that if you’re good enough, people will find you. Well, if your game is good enough, people will find it.

On the PC, anyway.

Do you remember a game from 1999 called King of Dragon Pass? It was a wonderful, dense game, truly unique.

And it was released five years too soon.

Today, King of Dragon Pass would be a cult hit and tremendously successful. In 1999, it sold very few copies and quietly vanished. That would never happen today, because enough people play and write about games that they would have kept it alive until it gained traction.

That was a huge digression to end this, but now I'm thinking about King of Dragon Pass again, because I still have the manual on my desk. And if you're curious about the game, you can see the website here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Update on Hobbit Man

I posted links to articles a few months ago about "Hobbit man" and here's an update:
A new report released Thursday disputes scientists' claims that bones of a dwarf human discovered on an Indonesian island are those of an entirely new human species.

The 18,000 year old bones found on Flores Island in 2003 were given the scientific name Homo floresiensis, and the nickname "Hobbit" after the diminutive figures in JRR Tolkien's novel. Anthropologists from Australia and Indonesia said it was an entirely new human species derived from the primitive Homo erectus.

...But a group of scientists led by primatologist Robert Martin said in an article in Science magazines' May 19 issue that, far from being a new species, the bones were of Homo sapiens suffering from the pathological condition microcephaly, which results in small brain and body size.

Full article here.

The rebuttal from the scientists who made the original claims: "There WAS one ring to rule them all! I'm sure of it!"

Sony: Back Away From the Pipe


That's what the last two weeks has been. And it's getting even stranger.

DQ reader Frank Regan sent me this link: an interview over at CVG with SCE Europe CEO David Reeves. Here's an opening excerpt:
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe CEO David Reeves has revealed several key PS3 launch titles including Heavenly Sword, Formula One and Motostorm, will miss the November 17 launch day on PS3 and now appear in 2007.

Zero surprise there. But take a look at this kick in the teeth (again, this is a quote from the CEO of SCE Europe):
"We have built up a certain brand equity over time since the launch of PlayStation in 1995 and PS2 in 2000 that the first five million are going to buy it, whatever it is, even it didn't have games."

Truly, that might be the single most arrogant quote from a CEO that I've ever heard.

I know I spend $600 (or $800) on "whatever" all the time. Oh wait--no, I don't. Are you Sony people on crack twenty-four hours a day?

Sorry to be dwelling on this, but some of the statements being made are just mind-blowing.

By the Way

Don't think I forgot about the PC. That's coming on Monday.

E3: The Big Picture

I really hated that post on Wednesday about individual E3 game impressions. H-A-T-E-D. If it sounded lame, that’s because it was.

Looking at games at E3 is like being in a nursery. Every game is a baby, and no one’s ever seen an ugly baby.

Well, I have. But that’s another story.

The point is that almost nothing stands out at E3, and if it does, there’s a good chance it’s not real, or it’s not representative of what the game will be like when it actually ships. If it ever does.

So unless something really looks bad—like the 360 version of F.E.A.R.—or it looks freaking incredible—like World at War—nothing’s going to really stand out.

Again, except for Paraworld, which I’m telling you about next week. It features the best RTS control interface I’ve ever seen, and I’m looking forward to sharing all that information with you.

Mostly, though, E3 is a place for strategic insights, not tactical ones. Maybe the individual games blur together, or what is shown to you is not, in the end, very meaningful, but E3 is a great place for spotting trends and direction. In that sense, it’s extremely useful.

So what did I see besides the Sony implosion? Well, in combination with the Wii demo and the Microsoft area, I think I saw enough to help me understand what’s going to happen with the next generation of consoles. And it’s easy to understand, really.

At the end of the last generation, Sony was unquestionably number one, and to a large degree. The Xbox had successfully distanced itself from the Gamecube and was firmly in second place. The Gamecube was totally off the radar screen.

None of us could really envision a future where this order would change in the next generation. The present seen is the future expected. Sony seemed to have such an enormous lead that no one saw them losing it. Nintendo had done so badly with the Gamecube in the last two years that no one saw them coming back. And Microsoft was somewhere in-between.

Think again, my friends. Up is down and what was tarnished is shiny again. E3 was like heading down the rabbit hole, and nothing inside was what we expected. So take a trip with me down the rabbit hole and let’s look at the future of each of the Big Three.

Sony is no longer number one. They cannot win the next generation at $599. They’ve lost the war before they fired a single shot.

Well, they fired one shot—straight into their head.

We want the PS3 to be a game player, but that’s not what Sony wants it be, and we should have seen this coming. The reason Sony keeps saying that the PS3 is “cheap” is because they see don’t see it as an incredibly expensive game machine—they see it as a cheap Blu-Ray player. Over and over again, we’ve heard them focus on the Blu-Ray player, not the PS3 as a game machine.

This is how important Sony believes Blu-Ray is to their future: they’re willing to risk killing the Playstation brand to promote the format. They believe the money to be made if they can establish Blu-Ray as the dominant high-definition DVD format is far greater than what they can make from the PS3 as a game machine.

Don’t believe me just because I’m saying it. In the Eurogamer interview I linked to yesterday, Sony’s UK Managing Director Ray Maguire said this:
"£425 is definitely not a mass market price, no," Maguire admitted.

"But you think about the price, think about the price of just a Blu-Ray player. It will be cheaper than a Blu-Ray player just by itself. So fundamentally we're going to be great value just from that point of view without even looking at the games side."

Gaming is incidental to the fact that it’s a Blu-Ray player. Within a week of E3, Sony has gone from crowing about their dominance to admitting that they’re not priced for the mass market?


Again, within a week of E3, Sony is suddenly starting to position the PS3 as not the market leader. Reading between the lines, this is stunning.

As I said last week, Sony is not number one in the next generation. They’re third.

I'm just waiting for the information to leak on how much the PS3 is costing Sony to make. I wouldn't be surprised at all if it's over a thousand dollars a unit.

Here’s what to expect: very few exclusives for the PS3 beyond what have already been announced. Previously announced games getting canceled. After the launch sells out (with incredibly few units available), expect a software gap that rivals or exceeds Microsoft’s problem with the 360. And wait for this word: “sluggish.” That word will start showing up in reports about the sales of the console—as soon as four months after launch.

It’s a Catch-22 for Sony: if they make units readily available, the low sales will be too readily apparent. If they keep supply artificially scarce, though, so that they can still claim “overwhelming demand,” the installed base will rise so slowly that developers are going to move even further away.

How can they solve this? I don’t think they can. Here’s a Zen koan.
A seeker came into the garden of the wise master and kneeled at his feet. “Oh, Master, I humbly seek your guidance. My company has built a console that is so expensive to produce that they cannot afford to sell it.”

“Then you must make it too expensive to buy,” said the Master, and he hit the seeker on the head with a stick.

Sony: fork: done.

I wrote them off after a series of bizarre series of strategic blunders. My mistake. The Wii is not just an innovative idea for a console—it’s a brilliant business strategy.

Every single person who is loyal to Nintendo (and there are millions) will buy the Wii. Every single one. They have successfully captured 100% of their base.

And you know what other base they’ve captured? Every single kid in the world. Is any kid going to want to use a regular controller after being able to dance around and make dozens of different gestures with the Wii controller. NO. Kids aren’t really going to care how the games look as long as they look decent—they’re going to care how they play. And play is going to be much, much interesting with the Wii controller.

I didn’t understand this until after I was able to use the controller. But there is a very simple kind of happiness that comes with using it—I can’t describe it any more basically than that. And every kid is going to understand that right away.

I said last week that I believed the price point would be $249, but incredibly, that may have been too high. There is widespread speculation this week that the Wii will actually come out at $199.

How many will they sell? Every single one they can make. If they make five million for a worldwide launch, they’ll sell five million. If they make ten million, they’ll sell ten million. There is an inexhaustible demand for a $199 console with a completely unique method of control .

Oh, and don’t forget that the games will be cheaper, too.

Here’s what to expect: in the next three months, everyone and their dog will announce games for the Wii. It’s 1/3 (at $199) the price of the PS3, with 1/3 the development costs (probably less), and 3X (at least) the installed base. Anyone who doesn’t announce a game for the Wii can’t do math.

And don’t be surprised at all if the Wii isn’t number two in the U.S. It could well be number one.

I haven’t mentioned much about Microsoft’s showing at E3, but it was incredibly solid: a ton of games, most of which looked great, and they made no mistakes. They have multiple AAA titles shipping each month from July forward. The Xbox Live Marketplace has been managed extremely well, and Microsoft did a fantastic job of making tons of content available for download during E3.

The Wii’s the best thing that could have happened for Microsoft, given Sony’s price point. Maybe the Wii will wind up having a larger installed base, but given that it costs half what the 360 costs, Microsoft can reasonably claim that they represent entirely different markets, given that the Wii doesn’t support HD. The company Microsoft desperately wants to beat is Sony, and suddenly consumers could purchase BOTH a 360 and a Wii instead of a PS3.

Here’s what to expect: while there will be plenty of Japanese developers supporting the PS3, U.S. and European developers will begin to favor the 360, and over the next eighteen months, that favoritism will become overwhelming. By all accounts, the Cell is an unwieldy processor in programming terms, and Sony has all but planted a flag and said they don’t care about the size of their installed base. Microsoft will have a huge holiday season, because there will be no competition at the high end: if the PS3 does, miraculously, ship in the U.S. in 2006, it will be in incredibly limited quantities and with very few games.

The U.S. market is more than large enough to successfully support two consoles. It has never been large enough, however, to support three. Microsoft is a cinch for first or second in this generation and they have a firm grasp on the high end.

So what could upset this scenario? I’ll be damned if I know. Maybe consumers could rush to buy a Blu-Ray player because of incredibly compelling titles like, um, Species and Hitch, adopting the new technology at an exponentially greater rate than ever before for a consumer electronics device in that price range. Or maybe the Playstation has such incredible brand loyalty that American consumers will line up by the millions to pay 50% more for a nearly identical gaming experience.

Oh, come on. Nobody can get that high. That’s just not happening.

Here’s what Microsoft needs to do: every time Sony mentions how cheap the PS3 is because it has a freaking Blu-Ray player, Microsoft needs to talk about the 360 as a gaming machine, and they need to talk about Xbox Live (which is incredibly robust), and they need to talk about fun. Games and fun.

Isn’t that what this was supposed to be all about, anyway?

Gamestop Earnings, Part 2

Thanks to DQ reader Tim Meier for paying attention when I wasn't:
If you read between the lines on Gamestop's recent press release, their revenue increase is actually bad news instead of good news. That's because even though their Sales jumped 119%, their revenue only jumped 14%.

That's all true, and my review of that earnings announcement was incredibly sloppy. Gamestop has basically doubled the size of their company (with the acquisition of EB) and increased their earnings by fifteen percent?

I'm still holding firm that they will have big problems later this year. They're still holding firm that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dell and AMD: Finally

Dell just announced (on their earnings conference call) that they are going to be using AMD chips. So they are no longer using Intel as their sole CPU vendor. Initially, this just includes the Opteron line for servers.

Autsch! Aïe! Aj! Au!

That's "ouch," in case you're wondering. DQ reader Phoenix sent me this Eurogamer link:
Sony Computer Entertainment UK's managing director, Ray Maguire, has revealed that to Eurogamer that the PlayStation 3 will set British gamers back £425 when it arrives here on November 17 - which he believes is "a bargain."

..."£425 is definitely not a mass market price, no," Maguire admitted.

"But you think about the price, think about the price of just a Blu-Ray player. It will be cheaper than a Blu-Ray player just by itself. So fundamentally we're going to be great value just from that point of view without even looking at the games side."

Since I've written about 5,000 words already about how these guys just don't get it, I won't comment on anything Maguire said--I include it for slackjawed entertainment purposes only.

Here's the angle, though. Do you remember that the PS3 is going to be entirely region-free? £425 is worth around $800 right now. And the U.S. announced price is $599.

Hello, thriving business in exporting U.S. consoles to Europe. One voltage converter and you're ready to play. And if the exchange rate gets worse for the dollar, it makes it even more potentially profitable.

Watching this potential gray market will be very interesting.

The Anniversary

It was my ninth wedding anniversary yesterday. I believe you're all somewhat familiar with the lady.

It's not easy to find presents to give each other after dating/living together/being married for twelve years. Plus, in the first five years we were giving each other ridiculous numbers of gifts. Every decent idea has long since been exhausted.

I thought.

So this is what I get as annniversary presents yesterday:
Dumb Luck, a collection of the art of Gary Baseman. If you remember the terrific animated series Teacher's Pet, those were his characters. I've always really liked his drawing style, which somehow combines whimsy and menace in a totally unique. In the book, here's what Matt Groening says about Baseman:
Gary Baseman has the magical ability to look into the minds of cute little cartoon animals and masterfully paint their feverish, unsettled dreams.

That's the best description of his work I've ever heard. Here's an Amazon link:
Dumb Luck.

If you're curious about his style, just put your mouse cursor over the book, and when the pop-up menu comes up, choose "surprise me." That will bring up a random image from the book--the one it pulled up for me was a rabbit with a wooden leg, looking at a rabbit's foot that he's holding in his paw.

That's not all, though. She also got me two Billie Holiday DVD's, and they both look fantastic.

So the gift haul from the anniversary was outstanding this year.

Last night, we went to a legendary local dive to see a guitarist named Gary Clark, Jr. He's twenty-two, skinny as a rail, and an absolutely phenomenal guitar player. Some critics consider him to be in the same lineage as Stevie Ray Vaughan in terms of his style and ability, and it's amazing to watch him play. Here's a link to his website if you'd like to hear some of his music:
Gary Clark, Jr.

That's Austin for you. One of the best guitar players in the country, a guy who's going to be famous sometime soon, and he's playing a free gig in a club that holds maybe a hundred people. I bitch about this city all the time, and it's not nearly as much fun as it used to be, but when it comes to music, Austin has absolute scoreboard.

Now, for an abrupt transtition back to the story.

Gloria ordered a Dos Equis. When it arrived, she took a long drink and looked at me. "It's not very cold," she said.

"Not very cold?"

"Not very cold as in 'warm'," she said.

"That lady who served you that beer could kick my ass in a fair fight," I said. "Of course, I wouldn't fight fair."

"What do you think she'd do if I complained?" she asked.

"Pull out a hammer from under the bar and hit you in the face with it," I said.


"That's not the worst part," I said. "She'd use the claw end."

"Frosty cold," Gloria said, and kept drinking her beer.

A few minutes later, I had a discouraging personal revelation. I realized that of all the people in the crowd, I was the guy who looked like a record company executive. I used to look like I was in a band, a long time ago, but now I look like the prick who steals from the band. I suddenly realized that at some point in my life, my look went from bass player--to narc.

That was a discouraging moment.

Of course, I'm about as much an executive of anything as your ten year old nephew who can't stop making fart jokes.

Gamestop: Still Laughing (At Me)

From NextGeneration:
Videogame retail giant GameStop has reported record revenues and earnings for its first quarter, thanks in large part to strong-selling Xbox 360 titles and improved hardware availability.

...The company reported earnings of $11.7 million for the first quarter ended April 29, compared to $10.3 million for the same period last year. Sales increased 119 percent to $1.04 billion compared to $474.7 million for the comparable quarter. Comparable store sales did decrease however by 3.3 percent which still beat previous guidance of -7 to -9 percent.

...GameStop also updated its financial guidance for the second quarter, as it expects comparable store sales to be between -2 and 1 percent. The company also raised its full year 2006 earnings per share expectations to between $1.93 and $2.03.

Full story here.

Let's make it official: GameStop is kicking the shit out of me. I said they were going to have big problems this year, and I fully expected store closing announcements before fall, and so far I have been wrong, wrong, wrong.

Their numbers are slightly misleading--that 119% revenue increase is apples to oranges, since they didn't own EB at this time last year. And their same store sales were down by over three percent. But they're nowhere near showing the kind of weakness I expected. Yet.

The Skeletor Show

DQ reader Michael sent me a link to a new web comedy series called "The Skeletor Show." It's basically redubbed footage from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and it's pretty hilarious at times. Not safe for work (via speakers, anyway) unless your office drops the occasional f-bomb in normal conversation. Four episodes plus a preview are available here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

E3 Data Dump: Part Whatever

Okay, here are the game-specific E3 impressions. I'm writing this totally out of order, of course, because I left off with the major theme column yesterday, but I'm just trying to dig out any way I can, so here goes.

Here's what you'll notice about E3 every year, although this year it seemed even worse: lots and lots of games look like lots and lots of OTHER games. We skipped (literally) hundreds of games because they looked just like something else. As an example, if it was an FPS set in WWII, we ran. The most common phrase between us was "That looks good--and I've already played it a hundred times." That, unfortunately, seems to be the trend. That's also why the Wii demos seemed so cool in comparison--they were a huge gust of fresh air. Like I said, there will be a ton of crap game for the Wii, but the games that use the controller well are just going to be a blast to play. I’ve really cracked on Nintendo for being downright bizarre at times, but they’re going to blow people away this time.

Guitar Hero 2
Hey, it's the most important game of the show for me. I played the new 2-player mode with Ben within thirty minutes of arriving, with the sound cutting out periodically, in a noisy environment, with bad lighting, on a small screen--and it still felt perfect. Again.

I played War Pigs with Ben (on Hard difficulty level) in the new multiplayer mode. Finished the song in the green, thanks very much. One player plays bass/rhythm, the other player plays lead. Each player can also select their difficulty level. And it's now possible to fail the song in this mode, unlike the first game. If you're wondering how much of a difference it makes to each be playing separate tracks, it makes a huge difference. The mode had a totally different feel, much closer to the level of immersion you feel in single player mode.

And now there are three note chords. That was also very cool.

I think that one of the big reasons this game feels so perfect is that the transcription from song into notes to play is so carefully done and feels so "right." And it still felt like that. The game ships in November, it will sell a jillion copies, and I'm glad. I hope that we get to play so many versions of this game that eventually, years down the road, we can all say that we're sick of it. That's going to take a long, long time, though.

We also went by the Red Octane booth and I shook hands with two booth dudes and thanked them for making a great game. We missed Shaimus by one day--they performed at the booth on Friday.

Xbox 360
Here's the one sentence summary for Microsoft: a TON of games, a wide variety, and lots and lots of eye candy. I saw ONE game on the 360 that looked sub-standard--F.E.A.R., surprisingly. Almost everything else, though, looked excellent.

Microsoft had a unique and very effective booth setup. There was an interior, circular hub with seats and stations to play. Each system was linked to two LCD's--one on the inside of the hub facing the player, and one on the outside facing the audience. Great setup--while you were playing, you could concentrate, and while you were watching, you could see.

Chrome Hounds looked excellent (again), although the environments I saw were very simple. I'm a complete sucker for mech games, though, so I'm all in.

Dead Rising is, on the surface, a wonderful idea. What's not to like about battling hordes of zombies in a mall? And it looks fantastic. But after about fifteen minutes I think it's going to be boring as hell. I've read other impressions that were highly positive, so I hope I'm wrong.

Moto GP 06 looked absolutely phenomenal--every bit as good, to my eyes, as Gran Turismo 4. There's also a demo available now on the Marketplace.

Huxley looks "really good"--sorry, that was the full extent of the note.

I didn't actually play Viva Pinata--just saw a looping video on a wall--but anyone thinking this game is going to tank is in for a big surprise. It has all the elements of a game that's going to be very, very addictive, and I think it's going to move a huge number of units.

I wasn't really interested in 99 Nights, but there were at least ten display units for the game and ever single one of them was jammed, which must be a good sign.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent was one of the best-looking 360 games I saw. Just the parachuting sequence alone (you'll be jumping into missions, apparently) was fantastic. Ben saw a sequence where you could swim under ice, break through the ice, and off someone. Very, very impressive. In this environment, some games just give you a good vibe right away, and this was one of those games.

The 2K sports games, as always, looked impressive. NBA2K7 looked particularly fantastic, although they seem to have amped up the on-court lighting effects in terms of reflections and colored lights from the scoreboard, and it actually looked TOO busy to me. 2K designs great games--the X-factor is always whether you can work around the inevitable features that just don't work properly.

I was talking to Ben about NHL2K7, which looked "nice," and I mentioned that what they should do is totally scrap the skating animations and start over from scratch, because skating was the foundation of the game. Later, I saw an article that said they'd done just that, and I hadn't even noticed the difference. Oops.

F.E.A.R., surprisingly, looks like ass on the 360. Really, really disappointing, and far inferior to the PC version. Sierra had another 360 game on display (Sorry, I've forgotten which one), and it looked weak as well.

Madden looked like Madden. They had PS3 and 360 versions running within about fifty feet of each other and they looked absolutely identical. Oh, and the field textures for Madden look horrific--they are so overemphasized that they looked totally wrong.

NCAA 2007, on the other hand, was really a pleasant surprise. The animation isn't on par with Madden (it never is), but it was much improved from last year's Xbox version. The fields and stadiums look terrific, and they looked more visually cohesive than any other sports game I saw, if that makes any sense. I have zero faith in EA Sports at this point, but NCAAA is going to look very, very good.

We actually went to the Sony booth as the first thing we did when we entered the show. That's how much I wanted to see the PS3 games. And they looked very good--but no better than the 360 games, at least not to me. Sony used some high-end plasmas to display their games, while Microsoft used smaller LCD's that weren't adjusted nearly as well, but when games were showing on the same displays (Madden, for example), they were indistinguishable.

Like I said previously, a lot of games at E3 look like a lot of other games. And the games on display on the floor for PS3 in the Sony are looked so much like existing games that it was a contest to identify the clone.

Gundam Mobile Suit? Looks great. Also looks exactly like Chrome Hounds.

Resistance? Looks great. Also looks exactly like Call of Duty 2 (although the story arc is supposedly quite different)

Genji 2? Looks great. Also looks exactly like Dynasty Warriors.

Heavenly Sword? Looks great. Tekken 5, anyone?

Gran Turismo 4? Really, really looked great. Also looked no better than Project Gotham Racing 3, although they didn't look identical.

These games aren't really exact visual clones, but as soon as I saw a game I thought of another one instead. That's a problem. I expected Sony to have at least one game that looked unique or at least striking.

Warhawk 2? I can't remember what it looked exactly like, but I do remember that I was really unimpressed.

All of these games seemed to be taking place in worlds that had very low-object environments. That's a common trick for an E3 demo, but this machine is supposed to be substantially more powerful than the 360. I think it's safe to say that either
--it's not more powerful, or the additional power won't be tapped by programmers for a while, or
--developers are even farther behind schedule than we thought.

As I've mentioned, I did see PS3 Madden in the EA "bowl." It was about fifty feet away from the 360 version, and they were showing on the same displays, so it was an apples to apples comparison.

I saw three games, in particular, that looked fantastic on the PC.

World in Conflict, which is being made by the same developers of the innovative Ground Control, looked spectacular. Both Ben and I were blown away by the level of detail in the world. It is, of course, not shipping until next year.

Crysis was also stunning. The jungle foliage and the level of detail was astonishing. I'd heard people talking about the game and convinced myself that it couldn't look THAT good--but it did.

Here's the surprise: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic looks GREAT. It was just absolutely stunning. For me, that was the single biggest game surprise of the show. I don't know what I expected, but I sure as hell didn't expect what I saw. Fantastic.

For me, the most interesting PC game of the show was Paraworld. It's made by SEK, a smaller developer (which I naturally identify with), it has unique subject matter (including freaking dinosaurs, which look fantastic), and they've done a wonderful job of designing a powerful and flexible user interface that addresses many of the traditional control weaknesses of RTS games. I'm writing a large follow-up just for the game, because we had a long session with the developers (including DQ reader Julian Dasgupta). I will say this, though: their control scheme is so good that playing other RTS games feels incredibly clunky and awkward in comparison.

It was a strange show this year. Other than the Wii and Paraworld, almost nothing surprised me, and that was a disappointment. Some people go to E3 to see 500 games. I go to see 5--the 5 I weren't expecting. I really didn't see them this year. Although I think when I look back a few years from now, having been able to test the Wii is going to be a favorite moment, because that system is going to be a landmark. I'll write more about that tomorrow, I hope.

I didn't mention Kentia Hall this year because it's just not Kentia anymore. It was always my favorite hall, filled with Korean developers promoting totally incomprehensible MMO's and the strangest assortment of vendors you could ever imagine. And while it was a strange assortment, there were also a ton of nice people, and I very much enjoyed talking to them. This year, though, within thirty seconds of walking into the hall, Ben said "What happened?" Kentia had a totaly different feel to it this year--much more hurried, much more mainstream, much more--normal.

I know that had to happen eventually, but I'm still sorry it did.

Gaming Links

Here's a video of Supreme Commander, which is Chris Taylor's new RTS. It's pretty staggering, and here's the link: Supreme Commander.

Actually, what I just wrote is a bit misleading. That video is more than staggering.

DQ reader peterb has a blog called Tea Leaves and it's very entertaining and well-written. Here's a link to an Oblivion article, and like I said, he's an excellent and interesting writer:
Tea Leaves.

There's a very interesting profile of Chris Delay of Introversion (Uplink, Darwinia) in the last issue of The Escapist, and you can find it here. The article also mentions that DefCon could be released "in the next few weeks," which is great news.

There's also an article about the Japanese doujin games scene, which is described in the article this way: Doujin soft to indie, is very loosely what Manga is to graphic novels. Independent games have a much more dedicated following in Japan, and "Doujin A Go Go, Baby!" is a long and extremely good read. Here's the link: Doujin.

Finally, from Fredrik Skarstedt, a link to a new PC project in the spirit of Guitar Hero: Freetar. Here's the description:
This is the first of a two-part project to create a totally FREE PC rhythm based game that you can use any game pad with. Including guitar-shaped ones. Create and play your own songs, the way YOU want.

The beta version of the editor will be released to the public soon, with the game portion a little later on.

As Fredrik pointed out, a USB converter to allow the Guitar Hero controller to be used on a PC is easy to find. Check out the demo video--it's very impressive. Here's the link:

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