Friday, June 30, 2006


Rob Clendenin sent me this:
Blizzard has done free transfers from hi population servers to low population servers for free for the last year or so, and will continue to do so (from PVE -> PVE, PVP->PVP) for high population servers (as far as I know). This service is akin to the EQ character transfer service (which cost $40) and would allow someone like me (if I started playing WOW again) to take my character from a realm my friends dont play on anymore to one the new server they do play on, which would also, in my situation move my character from a PVP server to a PVE server.

As long as they continue to allow free character transfers like they have before there really is no valid complaint about a paid transfer.

Point taken, and I did not realize that free transfer was available from high to low population servers.

I still think, though, that given the problems they've had in the last year, and the profit the game has made, that they could do better than $25 for a transfer. Much better.

Start Up the Horses

Let's say someone sells you a car. Truly, it's the most amazing car you've ever driven. You enjoy driving it so much that you go to one of those special racing schools, just to increase your skills so that you can drive it as well as it deserves to be driven.

There's just one problem. If you try to start it up at the wrong time of the day, it won't turn over. There are plenty of days where you spend thirty or even forty-five minutes trying to get the car to start. It's infuriating, but the damn car drives so well when it does start that you just grit your teeth and keep going.

Clearly, the car has a defect.

So you wait eighteen months for the car company to fix their problem. This week, they make the big announcement. Your car can be fixed, kind of--but it's going to cost you twenty-five dollars. It's not a guaranteed fix, but it should improve the starting problem. If it doesn't though, you can't try another fix for six months.

In other news, Blizzard has temporarily jumped onto the jackass wagon. Here's how the World of Warcraft character transfer system is going to work.

From 1UP:
The new character transfer service will cost players $25 per character (not per account) and they will be able to transfer from a list of servers to a list of servers (realms with high populations likely won't be able to receive new players to further cripple the server loads). Players will only be able to transfer a particular character once every six months and also won't be able to transfer from PvE (player versus environment) to PvP (player versus player) rulesets (the vice versa, however, will be allowed).


Let me get this straight. I have friends who can't log in to the game that they're paying for without a significant wait during peak hours. This is not the fault of my friends--rather, the responsibility lies with the company they're paying for the service. This service--WOW--is grossing a BILLION dollars a year in subscription fees. And they're going to charge US twenty-five dollars a character to smooth out THEIR load-balancing issues?

Man, that's just embarrassing.


My lovely wife Gloria's birthday is today. She's forty- err, something.

I took Eli 4.10 to the mall yesterday so we could shop for some gifts. He's very cool about being willing to just walk around and hang out, and we wound up being there for several hours.

"Several hours" will always produce a few stories.

We went to Pottery Barn Kids--not to buy anything, but to play with the toys. Eli saw a wooden bed that was built in the shape of a boat. He said "That's nice, but I can't get it, because it costs ten hundred thousand percent."

Clearly, Gloria's explained to him how much things cost at Pottery Barn.

So we were playing in the back of the store with this dollhouse, which was sitting on this wooden board painted with a landscape. The landscape was all green grass and dirt paths, and there was a little lake in the corner. Eli said "Ah, look at that nice lake."

How peaceful.

Three seconds later, he said "Daddy! LOOK! That lake is POISONED!" Then he lobbed two little dolls into the blue area and yelled "And those people just FELL IN!"

Why boys are different from girls, #37 in a series.

Then we went to a clothing store to look at women's clothing. "Girl store. BORING!" Eli said, and he was right. What he hadn't expected to see, though, were the mannequins. There were three of them, and each one had a flourescent wig: purple, pink, and green.

Eli walked over to the mannequins and just stared. He looked at them, then tilted his head and looked at them again, then just stood there.

I said "Eli, what do you think about that crazy hair?"

He said "I have NO IDEA."

We stopped on the way home at a grocery store to pick up a few birthday cards, and Eli was carefully examining the pictures, like he always does. He looked at the long row of cards for about thirty seconds, then held up a card and said "Daddy! It's a CAT drinking out of the TOILET!"

When in doubt, go with the classics.


I called Gloria on her cellphone Sunday afternoon.

"I don't want you to panic," I said, "but I'm kind of freaking out here."

"What is it?" she asked.

"Well, there's something on the counter, and there's a roast and some vegetables in it, and it's warm. I think it's cooking."

"Oh, good grief. That's the crock pot."

"I guess you're not listening," I said. "Something is cooking and you're not here. Should I call 911 or the Fire Department?"

"Actually, I need you to check that and see if it needs water."

"What? What does that mean? How do I know if it needs water? Does it droop?"

"Just take the cover off and look inside."

"Take off the cover? What if there's some kind of grease fire flare-up? I'll be staggering around the kitchen with my flesh melting down my face."

"I'll take that chance," she said.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bill Simmons and the NBA Draft

Bill Simmons has a very funny "draft diary" from last night's NBA Draft. Plenty of laugh out loud moments, and you can find it here.

Butt What?

Then there's this:
caboost by neen17
The Revolutionary Push-Up Panty!

*Adjustable amount of life
*Guaranteed to improve what you have

Go from boring to bodacious with Caboost! This revolutionary push-up panty is the first shapewear designed to maximize your potential by simply lifting and rounding your derriere. It defines what you already have and is a comfortable, easy-to-wear, everyday alternative. Improve Your Assets -- ORDER CABOOST TODAY!

Oh, I get it--improve your "assets" because it's your--wait a minute, why didn't you say you could use it to improve your "derriarea," too?

With profuse apologies to William Gibson, the ass of the future is already here--it's just not evenly distributed.

More on Take-Two

Michael Pachter, our favorite gaming analyst (even though we disagree with him constantly), had this to say about Take-Two:
Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter is advising caution on investment in Take-Two interactive, hinting that the recently issued grand jury subpoenas could signal criminal indictments for the publisher.

"We note that grand jury subpoenas are founded in criminal investigations," Pachter stated.

"As such, we believe that it is likely that one or more Take-Two employees may be subject to a potential criminal indictment."

..."It is impossible to speculate what the specific charges may be given the broad scope of the subpoenas, but we think that there is likely ‘probable cause’ for the New York DA’s office to seek such subpoenas," Pachter added.

Again, gaming sites are misunderstanding this and saying that it's about Hot Coffee. It's not. An indictment based on Hot Coffee, if one could even be created, would be laughed out of the courts. Hot Coffee wasn't a crime--it was a violation of FTC regulations because it was determined that Take-Two was deceptive in not disclosing the content. Apples and oranges. This is a criminal investigation.


I can tell this story because Gloria is 5'5" and 105 lbs.

Eli 4.10 was taking his bath last night and Gloria decided to take a shower, since they had both been at the pool during the day. As she was opening the shower door, Eli said "Wow! Mommy! You have the biggest BUTT in the world!"

"Thanks, honey," Gloria said. "That's just what every woman wants to hear."

"Really? Are you serious?" Eli asked.

"No, I'm kidding," Gloria said.

"Well, you do," Eli said.

Secret Soccer Guy

All right, you soccer bastards, I'm in.

I read The Thinking Man's Guide to the World Cup. I know that the ugly-ass way the Italians play actually has a name (catenaccio). I watched ALL EIGHTWorld Cup games in the round of sixteen. I imported Pro Evo 5 and downloaded the Gaming Access World Cup patch, so when I'm not watching the World Cup, I'm playing the World Cup.

My life is over. I've turned into secret soccer guy.

So there you go. I'm watching every game, learning about the players, and selecting fan groups for a fantasy arrest league. It's been fun.

If I was a real fan of this game, though, I'd lose my mind.

Soccer has a very big, painful problem involving math and rules.

The influence of the referee on any sport is directly proportional to what percentage of a game's total score they can influence with one call. It's just math.

So while the officials in the NBA Finals were terrible, the number of times a bad referee in the NBA could decide a game is very, very small. Any one call a referee makes could only result in 3 extra points out of a game total of over 160. That's less than 2%.

In football, the officials can call a pass interference penalty in the end zone and spot the ball on the one-yard line, which almost guarantees a touchdown. So 7 points out of an average game total of 40 or so is about 17%.

Hockey? Well, penalty shots can be called, but their success is in no way guaranteed. So out of an average of roughly 6 goals per game (thanks to the rules improvements this year), a penalty shot resulting in a goal would constitute about 17% (ironically, almost the same as the NFL).

Then there's soccer. Oh, hell. Roughly 2.5 goals a game in the qualifying rounds, then 15 goals in 8 games in the round of sixteen. So when a referee calls for a penalty shot (which is successful 75-80% of the time), he's basically determining HALF the scoring of the game. So when a referee makes a mistake on a penalty in the box, like he did in the Australia-Italy game where he called a total dive, that's the game. One bad call has decided the game.

As a game mechanic, that works really, really poorly. It's the equivalent of the boss character who can kill you with one hit. There's a word for that in gaming terms: cheap.

The referees can also disqualify players, which puts the team that goes one man down at a huge disadvantage. Again, it's an incredible amount of discretion to influence the game.

The other problem is that it puts incredible pressure on the referee. He could be almost perfect, make one mistake, and he's ruined the game, essentially.

It doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed watching the games, because I have--I've really enjoyed them. But the amount of influence the referee has on the final outcome is brutal. Absolutely brutal.

This isn't a problem for most people, seemingly. Soccer fans seem philosophically resigned about the officiating--it's just another variable of play, like the wind--but damn, if my team was eliminated because of some referee who just fell off the jackass wagon, I would be pissed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

This is Your Brain on Drugs

It's just hard to ignore these things:
...SCEA president Kaz Hirai isn't promising a $59.99 price tag for PS3 games this fall. In an interview with PSM, the Sony leader explained. So, what I can say now is, I think it would be a bit of a stretch to think that we could suddenly turn around and say "PS3 games now $99.99." I don't think the consumers expect the software pricing to suddenly be double," he told the magazine. "So, if it becomes a bit higher than fifty-nine bucks don't ding me, but, again, as I said, I don't expect it to be a hundred bucks."

$69.95, anyone? More? "I don't expect it to be a hundred bucks"? Again, how much crack are all these executives smoking?

What we are watching here is nothing less than the implosion of one of the greatest and most revered electronics companies in history. These people are all so divorced from reality that it's just staggering.

It's one thing to have backed yourself into a corner. It's another thing entirely to pull down your pants and moon people while you stand there.


Here are a couple of links for your afternoon reading:
First, as the NBA Draft is happening tonight, what better time to spoof the NBA's resident executive idiot? ESPN has a very funny article about Isiah Thomas titled "Zeke's Got the Touch of Doom," and you can find it here.

Second, there's an interesting article over at MSNBC. Here's the lead:
Two brothers involved in the biggest post-Katrina development on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were key figures in an Internet stock scam that federal authorities say bilked investors out of more than $12 million, has learned.

Additionally, one of the men was barred from the franchising business for life after federal lawyers sued him in a fraud case they said cost investors $6 million. The other brother filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and both have yet to satisfy a federal judgment against them of nearly $10 million.

And while the brothers said they had developed numerous real estate projects in Florida, California, Colorado and even Russia, neither they nor their associates would provide specific names and locations of any of the developments despite repeated requests by

Gee, I wonder how this will end up. Ugh.

It's a pretty fascinating article, and you can read it here.

Here's a very cool link from Sirirus that has photos of the "black sun" in Denmark. Here's an excerpt from the website:
During spring in Denmark, at approximately one half an hour before sunset, flocks of more than a million European starlings (sturnus vulgaris) gather from all corners to join in the incredible formations shown above. This phenomenon is called Black Sun (in Denmark), and can be witnessed in early spring throughout the marshlands of western Denmark, from March through to the middle of April.

The photos are remarkable, and you can see them here.

Well, either you're closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated

That's Professor Harold Hill, courtesy of "Ya Got Trouble" in The Music Man.

Every time I see a Take-Two press release, I'm reminded of Professor Hill, because nothing is ever quite what it seems. On Monday, Take-Two issued a press release, and what everyone squawked about was the lead:
New York, NY – June 26, 2006 – Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ:TTWO) today announced that on June 19, 2006, the Company received grand jury subpoenas issued by the District Attorney of the County of New York requesting production of documents, covering various periods beginning on October 1, 2001, including those relating to: the knowledge of the Company's officers and directors regarding the creation, inclusion and programming of hidden scenes (commonly referred to as "hot coffee") in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the submission of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to the Entertainment Software Rating Board for a rating, and the Company's disclosures regarding hot coffee; ...

That looks like yet another investigation related to the infamously stupid Hot Coffee mod, and that's what all the gaming sites picked up. Once again, the government is taking a dead horse and beating Take-Two with it. Cue outrage!

I actually felt a little sympathetic, until I carefully read THE REST of the press release (this section starts right after the previously quoted section ends):
...disclosures and presentations by the Company of certain events, including acquisitions, partnering arrangements and earnings results; invoices from, payments to, and termination of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and retention of Ernst & Young LLP; acquisitions by the Company in 2005; certain compensation and human resources documents with respect to the Company and certain of its current and former officers and directors; and documents concerning the activities of the Company's Board of Directors and Committees thereof.

Wait just a damn minute. This isn't an investigation of Hot Coffee--it's an investigation of fraud. Earnings results, the termination of their auditors, the acquisition of other companies (and how it was recorded on their books), and compensation for executives.

In other words, this isn't about boobies. It's about crime. Allegedly.

Take-Two's strategy was to lead with Hot Coffee and hope that no one read the rest of the press release. Nice try.

Last year, on June 14, Take-Two's stock was at $29.34 a share. Today, just over a year later, it closed at $10.85. Down 63%.

I saw a few months ago that I thought Take-Two would have to be bought out by the end of the year to survive. I still believe that's correct.

Thanks to Sean McIlroy for sending me an e-mail about this.

Eli 4.10

More Eli 4.10 stories from the last week.

"Daddy, what's a jane reaction?" Eli asked me yesterday.

"I think that's chain reaction," I said.

"No, I'm pretty sure she said jane reaction," Eli said patiently.

"Mommy, come snuggle with me on the couch," Eli said. Gloria walked over to the couch and sat down. "I haven't hugged you since this morning!" he said. Then he gave her a big hug and went "Oooh, that feels good!"

Two seconds later, he said "Mommy! You have smell in your mouth! Yuck!"

Oh, if you're wondering what space behind your knees is called, according to Eli 4.10 it's your "legpit."

In-between Space Camp and Paleontology Camp and Pirate Camp and Sports Camp, Eli went to a Little Gym camp called "Cheerleading."


"Mommy, is cheerleading a sport?" Eli 4.10 asked.

"Well--" Gloria said.

"NO," I said. "Cheerleading is not a sport. If you have to smile, it's not a sport."

"Got it," Eli said.

Two nights later, I was sitting in the living room and he came marching in. "Let's--get--a yittle bit rowdy!" he said. "R-O-W- (he dropped his hands)-D-Y!" (raises arms into a "V").

There was no way to punctuate that last sentence correctly. I just gave up.

His favorite book right now is Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets. The first time I read it to him, he laughed so hard that he almost fell off the bed.

So you think that he's just a goofy little kid, which he is, but then something happens that you just can't believe. Gloria was reading him The Skull Alphabet Book, which is an A-Z book where there's the skull of a mammal for each letter of the alphabet, and you have to identify the animal from the picture and the description.

Here's the description for "I":
I is for...This fast and graceful African animal has eye sockets on eacah side of its skull. It has monocular vision. Each eye sees something different.

The first time Gloria read that page and saw the skull, she said "I think that's an Ibex."

Eli said "Mommy! That's not an Ibex--the horns are pointing in the wrong direction. That's an Impala!"

He was right.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Funky Link Connection

A bizarre assemblage of links submitted by you guys, and all quite entertaining.

First, from Malcolm Cox, a link to a website created by John Boileau, who applied to be manager of the Middlesbrough Football Club. His primary qualification? Why, his expertise in the classic football simulation Football Manager, of course. It's one of the funniest job application letters I've ever read, and even funnier is the club's brilliant reply. You can find it here.

John Harwood sent in a fantastic link to a vintage map site. You will not believe how beautifully these maps have been scanned and the resolutions available for viewing. It's absolutely spectacular, and here's the link.

Geoff Engelstein sent in two more excellent science links. The first is a website with a scale model of a hydrogen atom. Here's more from Geoff:
To get a sense of scale the author made the electron be one pixel on the web page. That made the proton about 1,000 pixels, and the distance between the electron and proton 50,000,000 pixels. If your monitor is showing 72 DPI that's 11 miles across.

It's one of the best presentations of scale on the atomic level that I've ever seen, and here's the link.

The second link is a presentation slide slow about Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It's a very clear explanation of both, and the problems they potentially solve (as well as several they cause), and you can find it here.

The Puffy Chair

We went to see a great movie Saturday night.

I don't attach the word "great" to movies any more often than I attach it to games--in other words, almost never.

The Puffy Chair, though, is a great movie.

It's the darkest, most hilarious relationship/road trip movie you can imagine. Did I mention that it's dark? The writing is absolutely brilliant, and I laughed so hard that I cried--not once, but twice. That's a record for me.

The brothers who wrote this--Jay and Mark Duplass--are going to be the new Coen Brothers. And they are going to get way too much attention, which hopefully won't ruin their ability to be both cynical and inspired at the same time.

Before we walked in to the movie, we stopped at the snack bar for a twelve-dollar Coke that we could "upsize" for only fifty cents, and if we did, it came with its own wheeled cart.

Respectfully, we declined.

I did order one of those Cinnabon pretzels, though. It's basically a plain version of one of those big pretzels, but it comes with a little container of icing. Good times.

"Ill have a Cinnabon pretzel," I said to the attendant.

"One Cinabbon GOURMET pretzel," he said, and walked off to the other end of the snack bar to get one.

"Gourmet, and yet it comes in a sealed plastic bag," I said to Gloria, because it does.

Making the PS3

Here's an excerpt from an article over at Business Week Online:
Toshiba is gunning for an early lead in the high-stakes battle for share in the market for the newest high-definition DVD players... It's also selling the machines at a loss.

That's the verdict of market research firm iSuppli, which carried out a so-called teardown of the machine, picking it apart to determine what's inside and how much it cost to build. iSuppli analyst Chris Crotty reckons the internal electronics cost about $674, bringing the total to more than $700 when components such as packaging and manufacturing are included.The players sell through retailers like Best Buy and Target for $499, leaving Toshiba with a per-unit loss of $200 or more.

That's interesting, but what is most interesting is something that isn't even mentioned in the article. If an HD-DVD player costs $700 to make, what in the world does it cost to make the PS3?

Here is the data we have to work with. An HD-DVD player is selling for $500. The first Blu-Ray player to hit the market (made by Samsung) isn't really considered a "high-end" Blu-Ray player and it's selling for $999. The PS3, which includes not only a Blu-Ray drive but also the Cell processor and everything else that makes it a game machine, is selling for $599.

So what exactly could the Samsung player have that the PS3 doesn't? Upconversion of standard definition DVD's, possibly, since the Samsung upconverts (over the HDMI connection only, not component) and I haven't seen that mentioned as a PS3 feature (which is a serious omission, by the way, if it's not included), but that technology has been around for several years and shouldn't be a huge cost factor. I don't see much else, though, and I seriously doubt that Samsung is selling their player at any more than a bare minimum above cost.

Sony desperately needs mass consumer acceptance of Blu-Ray, because they desperately need to win the format war--controlling the format would be tremendously profitable, and it's a format that could exist for decade or more. If Blu-Ray loses, not only do they miss out on that revenue stream, but it could also seriously damage market share for the PS3. In other words, they've positioned themselves where they have to win.

That's why I strongly believe that, at a bare minimum, the PS3 is costing Sony $900 a unit. It might well be over $1000. If an HD-DVD player is costing $700 to make, a $300 delta seems entirely reasonable. And Sony wouldn't have announced a $599 price point--which they know is absolutely wrong strategically--unless they were already losing a fortune at that price.

That's why all these articles about Sony are incorrect. This isn't their strategy--it's a corner.

From the long view, it looked perfect. Here's what Sony was thinking:
1. We have an unassailable position in the video game market.
2. We need to win the high-definition DVD format war, because it's a win that would last a decade or more.
3. We can win #2 by making it part of #1.

In the long view, that's a great strategy. And it looked like a brilliant strategy right up until the point Sony realized that the PS3 cost $300 more to build than they expected.

Make no mistake: at $399, the PS3 does result in Sony winning the HD format war. Here's what Sony never considered, though: at $599, it might well lose them the format war. Again, though, they're backed into a corner--they can't absorb another $100-$200 loss per unit when they're already losing at least $300.

Hardware costs have backed them into a corner. So when these Sony executives say the ridiculous things that they're saying, that's not part of a strategy--it's panic. It's feeling the wall against their back.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Let's Dance

A rare late-night post to share a video with you that I saw over at Kotaku. It's a kid playing one of those arcade dancing machines ("Pump It Up"), and he has so much style that I burst out laughing watching him. He's totally brilliant and it's totally fun to watch him, and you can see the video here.

The System

Okay, I think I've locked onto final components for the system I'll be building when Conroe is released. The Intel 975X chipset will support both Conroe and its successor, Kentsfield, which will be quad-core, so in terms of the CPU I should have at least three years before obsolescence. Another nice feature of this board is that while it supports Crossfire, I could use SLI instead by using the Nvidia 7950 GX2, which features Dual GPU's on one board. So going with this board means I can use a multi-GPU solution from either company, and I really like that flexibility.

I've had a very, very good experience with my current motherboard (the Micro-Star K8T Master2-FAR), so I'll try to get an MSI board if I can.

As far as the CPU itself, the E6700 looks like it will be only 10-15% slower than the "Extreme Edition" and is roughly half the price, so that's what I'm probably getting.

I'm still looking for the most efficient and quietest 600w+ power supply.

Thank You, CNN

Here were two articles listed on Saturday in the "Leading News" section of the CNN website. They were right on top of each other, so to speak.

Goat demoted after unfortunate parade incident

Stoned California pelican in highway wreck!

Top-quality journalism marches on.

Eli 4.10

The Eli stories have really piled up this week. Here are a few.

We were watching the begining of the Switzerland-Korea World Cup game on Friday, and I was explaining to him where the countries were located and what colors they were wearing. Just then, we looked up and saw some Swiss fans wearing giant foam cheese wedges on their heads. Eli said "Daddy! Is there a CHEESE team?"

Eli's turned into a semi-professional belcher. We had a discussion about this last week. He let one rip, started laughing, and said "Daddy, is that funny?"

"Not really, little man," I said.

"It isn't?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Being funny is all about surprise. If you belch all the time, it's not funny. But if you haven't belched in a few days, then your mom is coming down the stairs and you surprise her with a giant belch, now that's funny."

"Okay," he said. "Got it."

Sunday morning, we were at the Pancake House. He drank a little milk, harnessed his resources for several seconds (you can see him preparing), then belched. "Hey!" I said. "Not in a restaurant--that's just rude."

"Don't look at me," he said. "I can't control my body."

Gloria was trying to get Eli to tell her what he wanted for lunch. Like all four year olds (and their fathers), he can get incredibly distracted by almost anything. Gloria asked him two or three times, then finally she said "Eli! Lunch!"

"Okay, focusing on that," he said.

Yesterday, Eli was obsessed with trying to a find a peel-away sticker that he'd lost. These stickers don't get "lost"--they're disposable--but he hasn't quite accepted that and expects every sticker to have a ten-year lifespan.

"Mommy, have you found that sticker yet?"

"Eli, I haven't. I don't think we have it anymore," Gloria said.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Pretty sure," she said.

"Maybe you could look for it."

"Eli, I know we don't have it," she said.

"How do you know?" he asked.

"I threw it away."

"Well, touché," he said.

More Pinball Notes

DQ Tenured Professor John Harwood let me know that the precursor to Future Pinball was Visual Pinball, and the mod community is still actively working on new tables and improvements. From the e-mail:
VPForums is still the prime place to see latest tables (IR Pinball is good for non-emulated stuff) and AJ's Tables usually has the latest stuff (direct link to table listing).

Also, Dylan Jones let me know that there are some terrific tables for Future Pinball available at Sphere.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Head Coach Player Progression (Correction)

I saw that Bill Abner posted this today and wanted to update:
Oh, I should mention that my earlier player progression complaint was a bit off-base. It's really not a player progression issue but player rating flucuation. Each player is rated on a sliding scale. A QB might be a 55-81 OVR. What this means is that when he's at the top of his game he's an 81 but when he's at his lowest he's a 55. This is why all of my players saw their ratings go up during camp. It wasn't player progression it was that they were all reaching their potential.

So that's a different problem--a giant range for player performance--but it's not a player progression issue.

Friday, June 23, 2006

It Doesn't Matter If It's In The Game If You Don't Finish The Damn Game

Here's the thing about EA's NFL Head Coach: I won't be buying it.

When it comes to team sports games, EA is Lucy, I'm Charlie Brown, and the game is the football. I'm tired of landing flat on my ass and yelling "ARRGHHH!"

EA Sports, when it comes to team sports games, is all about great design documents and shitty execution. For years they've shipped, at best, late betas. And we've bought them--again and again and again.

Not only do they not finish them, but they don't even want to let us finish them. An entire modding industry has grown up around writing custom tools to unpack various game files into their constituents so that they can be modified, then repacked and inserted back into the game.

The poster child for this is the last version of MVP. Modders spent, collectively, literally thousands of hours trying to finish the game. I put in over a hundred of those hours myself fixing player progression, which was crap in its release state. Helping me were a dozen testers, who collectively put in over a hundred hours themselves.

So here comes NFL Head Coach. Great idea. Great design document. Great pre-release interviews with producers who seem to care so damn much.

This time, though, I waited. I wanted to wait at least a few days to see if any of these were addressed:
1) Draft logic
2) Trade logic
3) End of game clock management
4) Basic gameplay balance
5) Player progression
6) Flexibility for user

Please note that the Madden series has been working on some of these items for EIGHTEEN YEARS and they still don't work right. This is why I'm skeptical.

Bill Abner has a long series of posts about the game up on the Blog for the Sportsgamer and here's an excerpt:
The devil is in the details when it comes to games like this and the more you look at what's going on the more you feel as if you're playing in bizarro-world.

So let's look at the critical categories. Italicized comments are from Bill, and I've confirmed each of his comments through other sources.
1) Draft logic
The draft AI is just plain goofy. Hawk goes #1, Bush #12, Young #20, Santonio Holmes #9 to the Lions (who need every wide out in the league I guess). I know the game doesn't know it's Bush, but his ratings are very very good...and he goes #12.


2) Trade logic
I haven't seen enough about this to comment. The fact that I haven't seen a ton of complaints is a good sign, although the A.I. doesn't seem to value draft picks properly. Draft picks in the NFL are valued more highly than in another other team sport, and I've never seen a graphics-based football game value them properly.

3) End of game clock management
Browns 17 Eagles 14, :55 secs to go, Philly at midfield w/o any timeouts. They call a run. Hmm, ok, maybe trying to catch me off guard? No gain. They come back, call a toss sweep to Westbrook, who gets 5 and stays in bounds. :20 secs to go, they run a HB screen for no 4 yards. 4th and 1 at the Browns 41 with about :08 to play and they finally call a deep pass, which is picked off. Game over.

Eighteen years has clearly not been enough time to fix this. EA has been working on this since before the Berlin Wall fell.

4) Basic gameplay balance
The killers in terms of the games are the crazy number of INTs (in the 3 games I played I saw 8 INTs on average per game), the fact that there are next to no penalties called (I get called for clipping on an off-tackle running play, which I'd LOVE to see...) and the CPU playcalling is just plain broken.

No gameplay sliders, by the way. If it's broken, it's broken. And, by the way: it's broken.

5) Player progression
This is a real gamekiller area for me, because I always want to play multiple seasons. Here's what happened after Bill's first preseason with the Browns (from a Digital Sportspage forum post):
I took the Browns and by the time I was done with training camp most of my starters went from being rated in the 50s, 60s, and 70s to being mid to high 80s to low 90s. I have a DB Coach with an *11* overall rating because I screwed up the coach hiring at the start of the game and you can't go back and redo it. It doesn't seem to matter though as my entire secondary improved dramatically during camp and is playing like the '86 Browns rather than the 2006 version. Trent Dilfer went from a 56 OVR to an 87. Trent Dilfer. And his progression was pretty much par for the course for my team.

Uh, okay. Player progression: not just broken, but totally broken.

6) Flexibility for user
Quarter length is 5:00. Period. No accelerated clock, no option to change the quarter length. Why does this matter? Because it screws up the A.I. during the last two minutes of the half. Timeouts are called at the wrong time, strategies are incorrect for the remaining time, and it generally sucks ass.

Don't take my word for it, though:
...just like Madden's AI, it sees 1:00 left in the half/game as if it were a REAL 1:00 when of course it is not. In Madden [I think he means Head Coach, based on the following comments], 1:00 to play (hell it's 1/5 of a quarter, so it's basically like having 3 mins to play) is an eternity and yet the AI takes a knee on its own 20 with 1:00 until halftime. Of course I call three fast timeouts and get the ball in great field position with :47 secs to play. Nice.

Again, eighteen years just aren't enough to get things like this fixed. I don't know why I'm so impatient.

I could buy this game and confirm everything Bill says, but I don't need to. His reputation is impeccable--he's meticulous and thorough. If he says it's there, it's there.

Here's the best part. I've already seen people talking about finding table structures inside the game (hidden and not meant to be modded) that maybe could be modded to change in-game A.I., quarter length, etc. Hey, it's another EA Sports game where we can spend a thousand man-hours trying to fix what they didn't finish!

Two words: no thanks.

Now does this mean there isn't anything good in Head Coach? No, and that's the pisser. There are a TON of interesting things in this game, and it's a fantastic idea, but it doesn't matter if you don't finish the damn game.

The Curse of the Fire-Breathing Vixens

From the May 15th column about E3:
It wouldn't surprise me at all if NCsoft closes operations in this country within twenty-four months, especially if Tabula Rasa tanks. Their earnings (announced May 8) showed that U.S. and European revenue declined (versus last year) by HALF. That is a stunning decline.

They had a nice little thing going with City of Heroes, and Guild Wars was a terrific idea, but both of those games seem to have really hit the wall (particularly City of Heroes/Villains), and Auto Assault has had zero buzz from launch day. At E3 they announced four MMO’s that could be downloaded for free, they have a bunch of other products in the pipeline, they already have a bunch of games out there, and it all combines into a strategy that appears to be in total disorder.

I apologize for quoting myself. I feel like an asshole every time I do it--yet I keep doing it.

Today's news over at Gamespot:
Late yesterday, word began circulating around the Internet that massively multiplayer online game publisher NCsoft underwent a huge round of layoffs, cutting 90 percent of its tech support staff, 80 percent of its GMs, 75 percent of its QA staff, and a number of others.

The original posting about the layoffs on last night attributed its numbers to an unnamed developer-only message board, and said the publisher blamed poor performance of the recently released Auto Assault (which the post claims is under 10,000 subscribers since it launched in April), declining subscriptions for City of Heroes and City of Villains, and ongoing development costs of Tabula Rasa.

NCsoft wouldn't confirm f13's numbers, but the publisher today did acknowledge that its Austin arm undertook an "immediate restructuring" yesterday, eliminating 70 people from its 300-person operation. A spokesperson also told GameSpot that none of the publisher's development teams has been affected by the move, noting that the Tabula Rasa team is still hiring more people.

Full article here.

So the Curse of the Fire-Breathing Vixens has struck again. The company with the most obnoxious booth at E3 is always cursed with some sort of strange plague that will haunt them to the end of their days.

Sports Links

So is it spelled "footy" or "footie?"

Regardless, here are two links for sports fans (and I'm not sure if either one is safe for work, so please check them out at home if you're working for Big Brother). The first is a sports blog partially written by DQ reader Thom Moyles, an outstanding writer who I've mentioned several times in this space. Plenty of World Cup posts, and they're both well-written and funny. It's called The Middle Foam Finger, and here's the link.

Thom is also serving as one of the live World Cup match bloggers for Deadspin, which is an excellent sports commentary/news site. Deadspin is both irreverant and extremely clever, and you can find it here. Lots of World Cup coverage, but they cover everything else as well.

Inflation: Yugoslavia One, Germany Nil

I was wrong about Post-WWI Germany having experienced the worst episode of hyperinflation i history.

And not only was I wrong, it happened only twelve years ago.

DQ reader Milos Miljkovic was there, although he was only about twelve at the time. He sent me a link to a story on Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1993-1994. Here's an excerpt:
Between October 1, 1993 and January 24, 1995 prices increased by 5 quadrillion percent. This number is a 5 with 15 zeroes after it.

...Many Yugoslavian businesses refused to take the Yugoslavian currency, and the German Deutsche Mark effectively became the currency of Yugoslavia. But government organizations, government employees and pensioners still got paid in Yugoslavian dinars so there was still an active exchange in dinars. On November 12, 1993 the exchange rate was 1 DM = 1 million new dinars. Thirteen days later the exchange rate was 1 DM = 6.5 million new dinars and by the end of November it was 1 DM = 37 million new dinars.

...At the beginning of December the bus workers went on strike because their pay for two weeks was equivalent to only 4 DM when it cost a family of four 230 DM per month to live. By December 11th the exchange rate was 1 DM = 800 million and on December 15th it was 1 DM = 3.7 billion new dinars. The average daily rate of inflation was nearly 100 percent...On December 29 the exchange rate was 1 DM = 950 billion new dinars.

At the end of December the exchange rate was 1 DM = 3 trillion dinars and on January 4, 1994 it was 1 DM = 6 trillion dinars. On January 6th the government declared that the German Deutsche was an official currency of Yugoslavia. About this time the government announced a NEW "new" Dinar which was equal to 1 billion of the old "new" dinars. This meant that the exchange rate was 1 DM = 6,000 new new Dinars. By January 11 the exchange rate had reached a level of 1 DM = 80,000 new new Dinars. On January 13th the rate was 1 DM = 700,000 new new Dinars and six days later it was 1 DM = 10 million new new Dinars.

Absolutely incredible. Here's a link to both that story and the Wikipedia entry on hyperinflation.

Oh, and Yugoslavia actually issued a 500 billion dinar banknotein 1993. There's a picture of the note in both articles. And yes, I went to Ebay immediately to put in a bid for one of those bad boys (which cost me about ten dollars). That's a piece of history that I can't do without.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Daily Show Meets the Washington Jackass Wagon

Scott Ray sent me a link to The Daily Show's hilarious coverage of the Congressional hearings on video game violence.

The funny thing is that even though Jon Stewart is brilliant as always, the funniest parts are listening to the Congressman talk, because they sound like they just came from the moon. Joseph Pitts (R-Pennsylvania), in particular, disgraces the human race in general.

Steward put it quite accurately: "The House of Representatives is filled with insane jackasses."

Like I've said on several occasions, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about violence in video games in regards to kids. A totally legitimate discussion. Unfortunately, no one in Washington wants to have that discussion.

The link for the video is here.

Huge AMD Price Cuts Coming

If you're in the market for an AMD processor, you'll want to see this:
According to memos recently obtained by DailyTech, AMD will drastically cut prices on its desktop processors after the July 23rd release of Intel’s Core 2 Duo Conroe processors. The memos that DailyTech has secured are between AMD and Japanese system manufacturers and indicate the following price cuts will become effective July 24th, 2006:
-AMD Athlon 64 price cuts will receive price cut up to 30%
-AMD Athlon 64 X2 will receive price cuts up to 50%
-AMD Sempron processors will receive price cuts up to 15%

The full story is here and it includes a pricing sheet.

Indie Postmortem

I forgot to mention that there's a "Indie Postmortem" over at Gamasutra with Peter Stock, who designed and developed Armadillo Run. You can find it here.

Father's Day with Eli 4.10

"Happy Father's Day, Daddy!" Eli 4.10 shouts as he runs into our room and gives me a hug.

It's 6:02 a.m.

By 6:30 a.m., I had breakfast in bed: a toasted Pop-Tart delivered in my personal Pop-Tart holder and a Diet Pepsi. Ah, luxury.

We went to brunch with my Mom (because she was my Father as well), and later in the afternoon I was in my study reading e-mail. Eli came in and said "Daddy, have you been to the bathroom lately?"

"No, little man," I said. "Haven't needed to go."

"Okay!" he shouted, and ran out.

Fifteen minutes later, he came back. "Daddy, are you SURE you don't need to go to the bathroom?"

"I'm sure," I said, and he walked off.

Ten minutes later, he came back and said "Daddy, you HAVE to go to the bathroom."

"I really think I need to go to the bathroom," I said, and as I walked out of the study he was six inches behind me, pushing to get by. He squeezed past me and started laughing, then ran to the bathroom, where he lifted up the lid.

"LOOK!" he shouted. "FOOD COLORING in the TOILET!" He was laughing so hard he had to hold on to the bathtub for support. Green water in the toilet is the funniest thing a four-year old has ever seen.

Well, unless it's pink water in the upstairs toilet.

Actual Hard Drive Space 9.7 GB

Here's an ad I saw in the Austin newspaper last weekend:
Dell 733Mhz PC
17" Monitor
Windows 98 Preinstalled
90 Day Bumper to Bumper Warranty

Damn, all this and TWO bumpers?

Okay, the specs are prehistoric, and it's obviously a refurb, but what I noticed was the price: $99. That's right: ninety-nine freaking dollars.

Armadillo Run

Alex Corvino sent me a link to a game that I'd been wanting to try for weeks, and his e-mail nudged me into giving it a try.

It's called Armadillo Run. Here's a description from the website:
Armadillo Run is a physics-based puzzle game. You have to build structures with the purpose of getting an armadillo to a certain point in space. There is a selection of building materials, each with different properties, which can be combined to form almost anything. The realistic physics simulation gives you the freedom to solve each level in many different ways.

That's not space as in "outer space," by the way, but an exit area. And the armadillo has curled itself up into a ball for rolling purposes.

Is it as good as it sounds like it could be? Yes. It's absolutely fantastic. It's wonderfully imaginative, and it's both terribly simple and incredibly complex. I know this sounds odd, but it's very Zen, because when you play you are totally, unbelievably immersed in the moment.

Oh, and the full game is 1.6MB, believe it or not. It's easily one of the top ten games released this year, and it almost fits on a floppy.

It's an excellent game to sit down and play for five or ten minutes. There's a detailed tutorial that explains the game extremely well. And there's a demo. In short, it does everything right.

If you want to try this out, and you'll love it, just go here. And forget about getting any work done for the rest of the day.

Ghana to Hyperinflation to Germany (1923)

DQ reader Steven Kreuch e-mailed me this morning and said that production at Ghana's gold mines had been cut in half today by government request so that there would be enough electricity to power all the television sets for the World Cup game vs. the U.S.

Oh, come on! How am I supposed to root for my own country when the other side is shutting down industrial production so that they have enough electricity to watch the game? Go Ghana!

I mentioned this story to someone at work, and he immediately pulled up the CIA World Fact Book online, which has a ton of useful and interesting information (here's the page on Ghana, by the way).

Since this fellow is a stockbroker, the first thing he pulls up is inflation rate by country, then scrolls to find the highest inflation rates worldwide (Ghana is one of the worst, with a 15% inflation rate annually). He noticed that Iraq had the second highest inflation rate in the world with 40%.

That, of course, made me think of Germany.

Post WWI, Germany experienced what was probably the single worst episode of hyperinflation in the history of the world. Here's a description from the PBS website (excerpted from Paper Money by George J.W. Goodman, otherwise known as "Adam Smith"):
Before World War I Germany was a prosperous country, with a gold-backed currency, expanding industry, and world leadership in optics, chemicals, and machinery. The German Mark, the British shilling, the French franc, and the Italian lira all had about equal value, and all were exchanged four or five to the dollar. That was in 1914. In 1923, at the most fevered moment of the German hyperinflation, the exchange rate between the dollar and the Mark was one trillion Marks to one dollar, and a wheelbarrow full of money would not even buy a newspaper.

That's one trillion as in nobody can imagine what that number even means.

Here's another excerpt:
"My father was a lawyer," says Walter Levy, an internationally known German-born oil consultant in New York, "and he had taken out an insurance policy in 1903, and every month he had made the payments faithfully. It was a 20-year policy, and when it came due, he cashed it in and bought a single loaf of bread." The Berlin publisher Leopold Ullstein wrote that an American visitor tipped their cook one dollar. The family convened, and it was decided that a trust fund should be set up in a Berlin bank with the cook as beneficiary, the bank to administer and invest the dollar.

It's an amazing story, and the full excerpt from the book is a great read. You can find it here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Science Links

Here are a few more interesting science links submitted by you guys.

First, from Sirius, a story about the journey to the center of the Earth:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The small gray and black rocks stored in 3-foot-long clear plastic tubes at a Texas A&M University lab could be mistaken for the leftovers after a kitchen countertop installation.

But the surprisingly heavy pebbles are much more significant. They're part of the only intact section of oceanic crust ever recovered, pulled from beneath the Pacific Ocean by geologists drilling more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) into the sea floor.

...The pebbles, known as gabbros, were found in the crust below the Pacific Ocean about 400 miles (640 kilometers) west of Costa Rica. They were once red-hot magma boiling from deep within the earth that formed the sea floor when it contacted water 15 million years ago.

Here's the full link.

Next, from Ryan Brandt, a link to a story about scientists developing electrically conductive tissue from a patient's own cells as a replacement for a pacemaker. Here's more:
Patients with complete heart block, or disrupted electrical conduction in their hearts, are at risk for life-threatening rhythm disturbances and heart failure. The condition is currently treated by implanting a pacemaker in the patient's chest or abdomen, but these devices often fail over time, particularly in infants and small children who must undergo many re-operations. Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston have now taken preliminary steps toward using a patient's own cells instead of a pacemaker, marking the first time tissue-engineering methods have been used to create electrically conductive tissue for the heart. Results appear in the July issue of the American Journal of Pathology (published online on June 19).

Here's the full story.

Joe Craig submitted a link to a video of a meterorite impacting on the Moon. Here are the details:
June 13, 2006: There's a new crater on the Moon. It's about 14 meters wide, 3 meters deep and precisely one month, eleven days old.

NASA astronomers watched it form: "On May 2, 2006, a meteoroid hit the Moon's Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium) with 17 billion joules of kinetic energy—that's about the same as 4 tons of TNT," says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, AL. "The impact created a bright fireball which we video-recorded using a 10-inch telescope."
Lunar impacts have been seen before--"stuff hits the Moon all the time," notes Cooke--but this is the best-ever recording of an explosion in progress.

Awesome, and the link to both the story and the video is here.

Future Pinball

Shane Courtrille sent me the link to the Future Pinball site and I was amazed by what they've done to the program since I last took a look.

Here's a description of the program (taken from the website):
Future Pinball is a real time Pinball Development System. It allows you to design and play your very own pinball simulation in True real time 3D. It uses Advanced Physics to provide the best possible Simulation of a true to life pinball machine.

If you're wondering how slick this all is, the answer is: very.

Remember any of these pinball machines: Old Chicago, Spirit of '76, Captain Fantastic, Kings and Queens, Strikes and Spares, Kiss, or Joker Poker? I played all of them as a kid, and they're all available for download. There are hundreds available, both historical recreations and "new" tables.

Here are a couple of links if you're interested in checking it out. First, the Future Pinball site. Then, here's a link to a huge collection of tables--some all the way back from the 1930's. The site is called IR Pinball, and you can find it here.

Welcome to the World Cup

On Saturday, I made a fateful decision: I would watch the World Cup.

Italy vs the United States. I couldn't wait to see our team play. I really like that short guy with all those moves, and that fast guy who, um, kicks the ball, and those other little fast guys, and the one big guy.

Go U.S.A.!

The great thing about soccer is that play is continuous. Well, except for the sixty-four stoppages of play in the first half. And with those stoppages averaging out to nearly fifteen seconds each, and only two minutes added on for stoppage time, the forty-five minute half became a thirty-one minute half.

Italy had two legitimate shots in the first half. One went into our goal. One went into theirs.

I called Gloria at halftime. "I'm watching the World Cup," I said.

"How's that going?" she asked.

"Italy's tied with itself one-one," I said. "This game is much more complicated than I thought."

"Are you enjoying yourself?" she asked.

"Kill me," I said. "I want you to run me over. I'll go stand in the driveway."

In the second half, Italy was unable to score in either goal and the game ended in a tie.

I want to like soccer. I like the concept of soccer. I like that the whole world plays soccer. I like that the fans love soccer. It's just that when I watch soccer, all of the things I like tend to be overwhelmed by what I'm actually seeing.

Like defense. There are apparently two primary ways to play defense in soccer. The first is to foul the player with the ball as soon as it looks like there is any possibility of him doing something interesting. This is known as the "professional" foul.

The foul itself is quite interesting. The defensive player pretends to be making a play on the ball. The offensive player pretends to be hurt--hurt so badly, in fact, that amputation appears to be a legitimate medical possibility. The offensive player will be carried off the field on a stretcher, and thirty seconds later he will bound back onto the field like a frisky colt.

In some cases, the defender will be given a "yellow" card. This is a warning. He must take that card, roll it into a tube, and tape it together. Then if he gets another yellow card, he must link the two cards into a chain. If he accumulates enough yellow cards to make a full necklace, he misses the next game.

The second way to play defense in soccer is the offside trap. This strategy involves defenders sprinting forward like seven-year old girls running toward home base in a game of "tag." If they get in front of the offensive players before the ball is passed, the offensive players are "offsides" and they lose possession of the ball.

I've never seen a sport where defenders get rewarded for running away from the offense. I'm open-minded, though. This is the world's game, after all. I just think that a player who uses it should be required to wave his hands in the air and yell "Ollie ollie oxen free!" as he runs forward.

Other than that, soccer is a fine game, and I plan on watching more of the World Cup.

Here's my problem, though: I need a new team. We suck. In two games, the other team has scored more goals for us than we have. Our best player hasn't scored a goal in international play since 1987 or something. And we're kind of whiners, and our coach acts like a jerk. And the referees hate us. Oh, and so does the rest of the world.

Not that they don't have their reasons, obviously.

Obviously, Canada was my first choice, but they didn't make it to the World Cup. Norway would have been my next choice, but they didn't make it, either. England has too much soccer tradition, and I always root for the underdog.

So that brings me to Australia. They're underdogs, they're the third largest DQ readership internationally (behind Canada and England), and I like kangaroos. Plus yellow is one of my favorite colors.

If you have a compelling case for another team, let me know. Otherwise, Thursday at 2 p.m. CST, I'll be in front of the television supporting the Socceroos and yelling "Stop running forward like a little girl!"

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

To Clarify

When I said the focus of a football game should be "on the field," I didn't mean that the way it was phrased, because the coaching decisions and general manager functions are very interesting and add greatly to a football game. What I should have said is that bean counter functionality should be removed from the game.

In a pro football game, being a bean counter is totally irrelevant. Every team is profitable enough to max out the salary cap. Shared television revenue essentially guarantees that. So not only is owner mode incredibly boring, it's pointless.

And even if it wasn't pointless, why put it in a sports game? I'm a sports game junkie, so I would rarely say that any mode is overkill, but owner mode is overkill.

EA Makes a Good Decision

Okay, I give EA all kinds of grief for the mistakes they make with their sports franchises, mostly because it's painfully obvious what they're doing wrong. So I will give them credit when they correct a mistake.

At E3, they announced that the 360 version of Madden this year would not have Superstar mode.

So what, right? I mean, Superstar mode was the single biggest piece of crap in a sports game last year. So why should we care?

Well, two reasons. The first is that there was absolutely no excuse for EA to release a 360 version this year that was missing a major feature, particularly after the crippleware they released last year at launch. It was another clear example of how they are totally brain dead at the top of the sports division.

The second reason we should care is that they actually used some common sense this year. Playing in Superstar mode was actually going to involve just controlling your player at his position. That's how it's supposed to work, and it means that the mode could actually be interesting this year. And fun.

So here's the good news: EA announced that Superstar mode WILL be in the 360 version this year. And here's a description from IGN:
The goal of the 07 mode is to create your own player, then only play as that player from his position-specific camera angles throughout his career (you can play any position except kicker or punter in next-gen), eventually trying to earn enough stats and influence in the league to be named to the Hall of Fame. So if you create a wide receiver, you actually only play as the receiver, complete with a different camera angle showcasing your player, with special moves tied to the right analog stick for every position. That means you don't call the play (you're not the coach). You don't throw the ball (you're not the QB). And you don't play defense (you simply watch the game and cheer for the D to play strong). For those gamers who don't want to watch the defense, you do have the option to take over the D and play that side of the ball like a normal game, but if you decide to watch, the gameplay is sped up so you don't have to sit and wait too long.

You know what? That's EXACTLY how it should be designed. If you want to just watch when your player isn't in the game, you can, but you don't have to. I can be a wide receiver or an offensive tackle or a middle linebacker. I've said this until I'm blue in the face: don't tell us how to experience the game. Give us the options to do it the way we prefer. And to their credit, that's what EA appears to be doing.

Even better, the 360 version of Superstar mode isn't going to have the idiotic movie scripts. Hey, it almost sounds like they're trying to create a new mode of play for a football game that actually revolves around football. What were the odds of that happening?

No, Owner mode isn't going to be in the 360 version. I'm going to count that as a blessing, though, because owner mode is crap. Setting the price of hot dogs is never going to be as interesting as anything that's happening on the field, and the focus of the game should be on the field.

Here's a link to the IGN article: 360 Madden.

It should give you an idea of how internally disconnected EA was from reality if you realize that until now, BOTH Owner mode and Superstar mode were going to be missing from the 360 version. It was basically going to be Crippleware Part II. So this is at least a step in the right direction.

Science Links

Plenty of cool stuff today.

First, from Scott Ray, this news (thanks Engadget):
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University appear to have solved a problem long thought impossible, teaching computers to turn static 2D images into 3D models.

Beyond all the cool, totally useful applications for this in the future, think about what it could do for gaming. Cityscapes, battlefields, golf courses--the potential is fantastic. And think about how much development time could be saved if 2D photographs could be imported as 3D environments.

Here's the link.

Next, from Rhett Dornbach-Bender, a link to IBM's announcement of a silicon germanium (SiGe) chip running at 500GHz:
IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) and Georgia Tech (Atlanta) claimed that they have demonstrated the first silicon-based chip capable of operating at frequencies above 500 GHz by cryogenically "freezing" the circuit to minus 451 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 Kelvins).

...The chips used in the research are from a prototype fourth-generation SiGe technology fabricated by IBM on 200-mm wafers. At room temperature, the circuits operated at approximately 350 GHz.

350GHz at room temperature! Here's the EE Times story.

Geoff Engelstein sent in a link to the discovery of the ancestor of the modern bird:
WASHINGTON - The first detailed look at the ancestor of modern birds — a grebe-like waterbird that would look normal even today — was shown off Thursday by scientists who discovered fossil remains in a remote lake bed in China.

..."Most of the ancestors of birds from the age of dinosaurs are members of groups that died out and left no modern descendants. But Gansus led to modern birds, so it's a link between primitive birds and those we see today," Lamanna said.
Previously there was a gap between ancient and modern species of birds, and "Gansus fits perfectly into this gap," added Jerald D. Harris of Dixie State College in Utah.

Here's a link to the full story.

The Pop-Tart Holder

Sure, I could talk about the important shit, like IBM's announcement that they have a chip running at 500 GHz, or the bad-asses at Carnegie Mellon announcing that they have software that can convert a 2D photograph into a 3D image. And I will talk about them--later.

They pale in importance, though, to the Pop-Tart holder.

That's what's shown in the two photographs you see just below. Mankind's most amazing invention, now available at local grocery stores for $1.99--a hard plastic container perfectly sized to protect two Pop-Tarts from damage.

I'll end this post here, since most of you have rushed for your car keys already.

Opened Posted by Picasa

Closed Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 19, 2006

Young Frankenstein: Now With 100% More Monkeys

What do you get when you combine Young Frankenstein with Steve Ballmer?

This video (just click on the "play" icon). Truly, one of the most inspired combinations I've ever seen.

Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 Tonight

I've watched the Super Bowl, the World Cup Finals, the NBA Championship, the World Series--and none of them are even close to the second-to-second intensity of game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. 7 p.m. CST tonight if you're interested.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Legend: A True Story

I am very happy to announce that Legend: A True Story is now available for download. Paul over at Groovalicious Games is hosting the file and you can get it here:

Left-click on the link to view it online. Or right click and choose "save target as" to save to your hard drive.

Please read the FAQ at the begininng of the script to answer a few questions you might have. Oh, and if you're wondering how long it would take to read the entire script, I'd say anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes as a general estimate.

I always appreciate that you guys want to read what I write. That means a lot to me. And this script, in some small way, is meant as a thank you.

I also want to thank John Harwood and Glen Haag, who each read all four drafts and consistently made thoughtful suggestions.

And if you're just not interested in reading the script, no worries. Regular content will resume tomorrow.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bobby Yang and Others

Here's e-mail from DQ reader Ian Dorsch that provides some music history about guys who shread on the violin:
Thanks for the link to the Bobby Yang site. The guy can certainly shred, but I couldn't help but find some of his promotional stuff annoying. For example: "The technique produces a sound that vacillates between the passion of a violin and the rawness of a guitar; it is a performance that leaves audiences proclaiming that they have never heard a violin create such a sound."

Sure, audiences have never heard such a thing because the younger audiences this guy is targeting generally have never heard of Jerry Goodman ( or Mark Wood (, both of whom are stellar but unconventional violinists who tapped the same rock-infused vein long before Bobby Yang came along. Jerry Goodman was tearing it up with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra back in the early 70's, and judging from the samples on Yang's site he has been more than a little influenced by Jerry's playing. Mark Wood has been featured playing with gleefully over-the-top acts like the Trans Siberian Orchestra, in addition to the work he does with his production company and as a solo artist. Both Goodman and Wood are chiefly known for playing electric violin (Yang strictly plays amplified acoustic) but the technique is very similar indeed.

Not to denigrate Bobby Yang in any way. He is clealy an excellent player, and the Eruption video is all kinds of awesome. His claim of 20 minutes to learn it is not too surprising: for a player who clearly has piles of formal training and a wide variety of professional studio work under his belt, Eruption is not really that sophisticated. A guitarist with Yang's level of training would probably pick up Eruption in a similar amount of time. It still kicks ass, though.

And here's more, this time from Raith Barber:
I watched that video of Bobby Yang, and he's definitely damn good at what he does. As you may have already guessed, he's not unique in the respect of taking a form of rock and playing it on a violin like Instrument. A group called Apocalyptica created a name for themselves by translating songs by Metallica into a style that was played on 4 Cellos. I'm not sure how familiar you are with Metallica or their music, but it's the sort of talent that learning guitarists of the genre aspire to someday be able to play. To think that four Cellists were able to recreate that technical and creative brilliance in such a way just blew my mind the first time I heard it. Here's the link to the Apocalyptica website:

A link to some clips from the album of Metallica covers that made the band famous. "The Unforgiven" is a good example, even with the short 30 second clips:

And finally, a link to some music videos of their original work. (WARNING: The Cellos in their original work are amped and heavily distorted. This is basically metal played on Cellos, and features various guest vocalists. Although I don't think any of the songs contain coarse language, some people may find the genre offensive.)

Heavy metal cellists. Who knew?

Names and Things

I was walking through the Arboretum with Gloria on Saturday night and I saw some lettering in the black window of a Ford Explorer. "My Will and Desire II," it read.

"Do you see that?" I asked Gloria. "My Will and Desire II?"

"What in the world?" she asked.

"This is what troubles me," I said. "I believe he's implying that this vehicle is a sequel. Apparently, there was an original Will and Desire."

"That seems logical," she said.

People are naming their cars now? Why do people name things, anyway? Like boats. If I had a boat, I'd call it "Boat." I wouldn't name it All For Knot or The Sail Also Rises or Aunt Marjorie's Knickers.

And would a boat with a name get mail? Could you get a Mastercard made out to I Stole His Wife II?

Gaming By the Numbers

Two sets of numbers.

First, Chucky D over at Cheap Ass Gamers put together an interesting analysis of backward compatibility and the Xbox 360 (thanks Joystiq). Using Metacritic, he put together a list of the 300 best-reviewed Xbox games and checked to see which ones were playable on the 360.

Great idea.

27% of the top 300 were playable. 32% of the top 100.

Here's a link to the full story.

That certainly doesn't match Microsoft's statements about backward compatibility pre-launch, but it's also been pretty clearly established that making titles backward compatible is a bear. Going from an Nvidia GPU to an ATI GPU alone must cause huge headaches.

I've pretty much made my peace with backwards compatibility, with the exception of one title: ESPN NFL2K5. It's the 17th best-reviewed Xbox game on Metacritic, it's far better than the two sports games listed ahead of it (which both came out earlier), and it's the best sports game ever released for the Xbox. It was also spectacular looking, even in 480p.

And we'll never have another one, because EA has thrown insane amounts of money to the NFL and the NFLPA for an exclusive license.

Exclusive sports league licenses are a curse on gaming mankind. I mean, not that I'm bitter about it or anything.

Second, DQ reader Glen Haag sent me an interesting piece of information that he saw on the Gaming Age Forums. Neither one of us can find the thread anymore, so I don't have a link, but it's basically a compilation of monthly sales information for all consoles and handhelds since October 2000.

I can't verify that all the numbers are totally accurate, but the bits and pieces I can confirm make me believe that it's solid.

Here's what I found that was most surprising (to me, anyway): console sales in November and December (combined) roughly equal sales for the rest of the year. That's not exact, and when new consoles get introduced they skew the numbers. But if it's not a launch year for a console (or its successor), sales seem to follow that pattern.

I knew that there was a holiday bias in terms of hardware sales, but man! So there are two "halves" of the console hardware year: November/December and the rest of the year. Amazing.

The other thing I noticed is that price drops have an immediate and significant effect. Sony knows this, so their "strategy" for the $599 PS3 (which totally ignores price sensitivity in the gaming market) appears at this point to have consisted entirely of dropping a large weight on their foot, followed by hopping around.

Legend Update

I'm very happy to report that "Legend: A True Story" is finished.

Like I said last week, it will be available for download on Monday. It's as funny as I could make it, but I know that your suggestions and submissions will make it much funnier than I could on my own.

Your regular daily content will be coming along shortly.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Links Mishmash

Here's quite the assortment to ruin your productivity, if it's not already ruined by watching the U.S. Open.

From James Lee, a very cool link to someone who I can only call a "rock violinist." His name is Bobby Yang, and here's a link to him playing Van Halen's Eruption--on the violin:

How does it sound? Fantastic. And there's another recording of him playing Led Zeppelin's Kashmir and it sounds just as good. On the site, he mentions that he learned to play Eruption in 20 minutes. I don't know a damn thing about music, but the idea that someone can listen to a rock guitar piece and then play it on the violin by ear is pretty mind-blowing.

If you'd like to see a picture of almost every videogame system ever made, Joystiq linked to an article over at Thumb Gods that is exactly what you need. Here's the link.

Thanks to reader Michael O'Reilly for letting me know that Harper Lee is, in fact, not dead. And a biography about her has been released recently that sounds very interesting. Here's a link to the story.

Here's an amazing story sent to me by David Gloier:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The first pictures showing a live specimen of a rodent species once thought to have been extinct for 11 million years have been taken by a retired Florida State University professor and a Thai wildlife biologist.

They took video and still photographs of the "living fossil," which looks like a small squirrel or tree shrew, in May during an expedition to central Laos near the Thai border.

Known as Diatomyidae, scientists have nicknamed it the Laotian rock rat. The creature is not really a rat but a member of a rodent family once known only from fossils.

There's a very funky picture with the article and you can find both here.

And Still More on Chris Crawford

I thought I posted this yesterday, but clearly I forgot.

I had the strangest thought after I put up that Chris Crawford post: if you're still in your twenties, you've probably never even played a game designed by him.

Boy, did you miss out.

Crawford put out a game in 1985 called Balance of Power. It might well be the best geopolitical simulator ever created. Its primary competition? Balance of Power: the 1990 Edition. Since then, someone puts out a geopolitical simulator every few years, it never quite gets finished, it's clunky, and it dies a horrible death. I don't think anyone's ever matched Balance of Power--and it's 131k. No, that's not a typo--the size of Balance of Power: the 1990 Edition was 131k.

The original Balance of Power was 310k. Man, that's bloatware in comparison.

An Opposing View

Here's an excellent and thoughtful e-mail from "Aaron Daily" (an alias) in regards to Chris Crawford.

My most recent shipping title was Tiger Woods 2006. Ok so that’s just a sports game, but having shipped recently, let me take a second to back Mr. Crawford up.

I recently visited a relatively new startup company for a couple of interviews.

Startups have got to be about the best place in this industry to find a fresh, innovative spirit. This particular company was all amped up to pioneer the future of massively multiplayer games, and they were very interested in discussing new ideas.

Now to put things in perspective, it should be understood that I am an engineer. I am generally not solicited for gameplay ideas. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, or that they aren’t worth anything, it’s just that at most companies there are people who get paid for that kind of thing, and - you know - I wouldn’t want the testers dabbling in the code would I?

So anyway, I was surprised to hear them asking for my ideas on the future of massively multiplayer gameplay. Now, having not put much thought into the subject, here are some of my thoughts:
-- This ‘genre’ has definitely not found its gameplay yet. What’s being made at this point are essentially adventure games to be played in parallel with lots of other people. There are fundamental problems with this. In an adventure game, you are supposed to be ‘The Hero’ and you can’t have ten thousand ‘The Hero’s' running around. At the heart of it, there’s really no reason for all those other players to be there. Sure, you can try to allow/make players play together, but their presence isn’t justified or driven by the underlying gameplay. They’re really just playing ‘near’ each other. The reason there is such a high degree of ‘cheating’ and ‘griefing’ is that players are looking for something fun to do in the setting they’ve been given. Cheating would probably happen anyway, but griefing is done when people find it more fun than whatever else they might be doing in the game.

-- MMOs are in desperate need of a paradigm shift. I think that at some point they will have to undergo a shift technologically, and it would probably be best to mirror that with a parallel creative shift. Currently, they are implemented with massive server farms and enormous network pipes which make them extremely expensive to maintain. Eventually this will have to change. In the future, each connected client will act as a little piece of ‘the server farm’. Every connected machine will contribute to ‘hosting’ the world in some way. Wait! Can you really sell a game in which the players’ experience is so vulnerable to the actions of other players who are hosting part of the world? No, of course not. Well, at least not any more than you could sell an FPS where players have to sit out the rest of the game after being killed (aka CounterStrike). Impossible? Sure. But it’ll happen anyway.

-- I think that rather than fighting technology, you should make the technical limitations into fundamental aspects of the game design. Imagine a (semi) persistent game world in which little pieces of it were hosted by all the connected client machines. Would a given client have different latencies in different parts of the world? Make latency part of the gameplay. Do character positions ‘pop’ when they have a bad connection? Fit it with a warping effect and make it make sense in the context of the game. Make a game where you have a natural advantage in the piece of the world hosted on your machine over parts of the universe that are ‘far off’.

Do pieces of the world pop in and out of existence (as players join and leave)? Make that a fundamental part of the gameplay.

Now my ideas may be a bit radical, and making a working design as I’ve described might be easier said than done, but I’m pretty sure thats the point of paying people to do that.
When it came down to it, I didn’t end up sharing any of these ideas with that startup company because they started talking about their radical new ideas like:
- Do you think maybe spell cast times should be a little longer/shorter?
- What if this class had that attribute?!?!?!?!
- Etc.

It was pretty clear that these ‘pioneers of the future’ weren’t anywhere near ready for my new ideas, never mind the ideas of someone who actually thinks about these things.

In my mind, while startups have an innovative spirit, they're not necessarily the best place to find innovation. Much like the film industry (as DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Person in the World Ben Ormand has explained to me), a new production company's primary goal with their first film is to be able to make a second one. It also seems like it would be much easier to find venture capital for a game that was "different" but not "unique."

As always, thanks to you guys for sending such thoughtful e-mails. It's always appreciated.

More on Chris Crawford

Here are a couple of additional Chris Crawford notes.

First, both Balance of Power and Balance of Power: 1990 Edition are abandonware and available for download (including manuals) at Home of the Underdogs. The 1990 edition, in particular, is pretty enticing because it supports Windows 1.0, believe it or not. Here's the page for the game.

There are two issues, unfortunately. The first is that the game isn't displaying in color when I run it in Windows 95 compatibility mode in XP. That's not a big deal, because the shading is distinct enough to identify what's going on. The second, and much more serious issue, is that the mouse isn't working properly. I should be able to double-click on a country on the map and it gains focus, but that's not happening. And playing the game without being able to do that is very awkward, because you have to manually select every country from drop-down menus, and if you better know the name of every country, because they're not labeled on the map. So if anyone has any ideas in reference to that, please let me know.

One other thing to know if you download the 1990 edition: print out the manual. The copy protection scheme is based on page/line/word from the manual (ah, the good old days without disc-based copy protection), and you can't answer the question without a copy of the manual in front of you.

I wanted to play BOP again because I wanted to see how it would stack up against my memories. I read somewhere yesterday that Balance of Power was "admired more than it was enjoyed," and I wanted to see if that seemed true or not today. And I'm still hoping I get to find out.

The other note is that I got a very thoughtful e-mail from one of the fine writers over at Gamers With Jobs, Phil Scuderi. He said that the validity of Chris Crawford's comments shouldn't be evaluated on the basis of shipping games, for if that were true, people who just played games and didn't develop them wouldn't have anything meaningful to say.

Phil makes a great point. Damn logic.

There's a Thoreau quote (which I can't find) where he says something to the effect that while he doesn't make chairs, it doesn't mean that he can't criticize a bad chair. Fair enough. However, I think there's a slight difference here, at least in real terms. Crawford criticizes a class of which he is a member, but even though he is a member, he refuses to participate in the class. The Thoreau version of Chris Crawford would be a carpenter who says every chair made today is shitty, but he refuses to make a chair. Well, he has a leg in pre-alpha that he spent fifteen years making, but that's it.

Crawford makes scathing, blanket indictments of every single gaming developer out there when he says there is no innovation. It's both insulting and not true, and I suspect the reason that Crawford thinks it's true is because he really doesn't play games anymore.

Do I know that to be true? Absolutely not. But I find it very odd that at the same time he makes generalized, severe dismissals of gaming, he never talks about specific games. And people who always make their points without specifics usually do so because they lack them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I still haven't written up my notes about Paraworld from E3. I have eight pages of notes, both from a half-hour guided session and a three hour session where I just played the game on my own. The game isn't shipping until early September, and I didn't want to get you guys all lathered up in May.

However, let me tell you one tidbit about this game by talking about another game: Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends.

Like I said, I played Paraworld for about three hours at E3. RON: ROL was delivered to the house while I was at E3, and I installed and played it as soon as I could after we got home.

I played it for three hours over the course of a few days and quit.

I like Brian Reynolds, I like his games, and Rise of Legends is incredibly imaginative in some ways. So why did I quit?


After using the Army Controller interface in Paraworld, which is light years ahead of anything I've ever seen in an RTS game, the interface in Rise of Legends seemed clunky and totally unwieldy in comparison. Sodden. As soon as you become even noddingly familiar with the Army Controller, you're going to have a difficult time using another interface, because it is so well-designed and so responsive that everything else is a brick.

And the world! Paraworld is bursting with color and beautiful detail. The dinosaurs are freaking fantastic. And the level of thought that's gone into unit design and visual representation is deeply impressive.

Plus, and it's hard to overemphasize this: it's fun. Sometimes games have wonderful elements that don't combine to make a fun game. Paraworld, though, with the combination of interface design, game world, and game mechanics, is a blast to play.

This is the game that's going to stand out this fall.

Chris Crawford

Chris Crawford did an interview over at Gamasutra and, as always, he was thoughtful and provocative. Here are the first three questions they asked him, with his answers:
Gamasutra: You've been quoted as saying that video games are dead. Do you still feel that’s true?

Chris Crawford: What I meant by that was that the creative life has gone out of the industry. And an industry that has no creative spark to it is just marking time to die.

GS: How do you feel that the creative spark has gone out of the industry?

CC: Well basically, new ideas don't go anywhere. So the industry is just rehashing the same stuff over and over. During the 80s there was a lot of experimentation, a lot of new ideas being tried (many of them really bad) but there was at least experimentation. Now we don't see any experimentation whatsoever.

GS: When you say new ideas don't go anywhere, what kind of new ideas do you mean? Have you seen any that maybe popped up and fell flat?

CC: I haven't even seen any new ideas pop up. The industry is so completely inbred that the people working in it aren’t even capable of coming up with new ideas anymore. I was appalled, for example, at the recent GDC. I looked over the games at the Independent Games Festival and they all looked completely derivative to me. Just copies of the same ideas being recycled. I didn't see anything I’d call innovative, and this was from people not even interested in doing anything…in making money. It was just straight amateurs trying to be innovative and even they couldn't be innovative.

Gee, Chris, aren't you being kind of a dick for a guy who hasn't shipped a game in FIFTEEN FREAKING YEARS?

Chris Crawford is a genius, and the most boring thing he's ever said is more provocative than the most interesting thing I've ever said. But if you haven't shipped a game in fifteen years, what you have to say about people who do ship games is irrelevant. He's turning into the gaming equivalent of Harper Lee, who spent thirty years writing a thousand pages of a second book after To Kill a Mockingbird and still hasn't finished.

She may even be dead now. When you get into your forties, you start forgetting who's alive and who's dead. I can't do anything about that.

I enjoy reading interviews with Crawford, because they're always interesting. But Chris has entered the rarified atmosphere of a gaming philosopher, and I can't play philosophy. The importance of what developers have to say about gaming has a half-life that directly corresponds to how long it's been since they shipped something that we wanted to play.

Chris, please, we're begging you: stop giving thoughtful interviews and ship a damn game.

OOTP Baseball 2006

I have a copy of OOTP Baseball 2006, which I'll be talking about next week, but in the meantime, Bill Abner is doing a fantastic job dissecting the game over at The Blog for the Sportsgamer. He's really digging into the engine, and no one is better at that than Bill. So if you want some deep detail on the game this year, that's where to go.

I've only spent a few hours with the game so far, and won't spend any more until after Legend is put up for download on Monday. And the game is so big that a few hours is meaningless in terms of forming a legitimate impression.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Science Links

Here are some very cool links that you guys submitted. As always, thanks for your vigilance on the dinosaur front--I show all of these to Eli 4.10.

First, from Sirius, a link to an article about the discovery of a species of dwarf dinosaurs. They belong to the family Sauropoda (which includes Brachiosaurus and Argentinasaurus), but in no way were they giants:
The skeletons of the newfound dinosaur, Europasaurus holgeri, indicate that the beast was bigger than a horse, ranging from about 5 to 20 feet long from head to tail. It was slightly taller than an adult human [see drawing] and its entire body wasn't even as long as the elongated neck of another sauropod, Erketu ellisoni.

Very interesting, and here's the link.

Next, another dinosaur link, this one from Francis Cermak:
CHICAGO -- This handout photo released by the University of Chicago shows a model of a newly discovered species, Tiktaalik roseae, with a crocodile-like head that apparently moved on land like a seal, an important discovery for understanding how fish evolved into land animals with four limbs and a backbone.

That's the entire story, and here's a link to a photo.

Finally, one of the most amazing space images you'll ever see--a high-res, true color image of the surface of Mars. It's breathtaking, and here's the link (thanks David Gloier).

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