Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hillier, One-Nil

This must qualify as one of the best pranks ever. From CNN:
LONDON, England (AP) -- A British writer was duped into printing a fake love letter in his latest biography -- complete with a coded four-letter insult aimed at him.

Biographer A.N. Wilson thought he had new evidence that English poet John Betjeman, who publicly lamented his dull sex life, had a previously unknown extramarital affair.

Wilson included the letter, said to be from the poet to his mistress, in his book "Betjeman," published this month.

He failed to notice that the first letter of each sentence in one section of the letter spells out "A.N. Wilson is a s---."

I assume that "s---" is "shit."

And, to some degree, Wilson apparently is a bit of a shit. Here's more:
The newspaper suggested that rival Betjeman biographer Bevis Hillier might have been responsible, reporting that the envelope came from a stationer in Winchester, the southern English town where Hillier lives. Hillier denied involvement, but told the paper he thinks Wilson is "despicable."

In a 2002 book review, Wilson said Hillier's biography of Betjeman was a "hopeless mishmash of a book."

It may have been a hopeless mishmash, true, but at least it didn't include imaginary love letters insulting the author.

Scoreboard for Hillier.

Your E-mail

From DQ reader Don Slevin:
What the hell is a “Summeroner” ?

That would be "Summoner" heinously misspelled.

A Thought

I had a thought about math last week.

The reason I had the thought was because I've been monitoring the pathetic attempts by our self-appointed moral watchdogs to censor Bully.

It's all been hilarious, really. The Outrage Machines were all cranked up to protest a game that encourage kids to BE bullies, and Rockstar pulled the rug out from under them and made a game about a kid defending himself FROM bullies.


So now, all these people are dancing the desperation fandango, trying to find an angle where they can still be outraged and generate lots of publicity for themselves and (in most cases) their non-profit foundations (which you should donate to, obviously, because they're trying to save our children).

See anything a little stinky there?

The second reason I had the thought involves a Dilbert cartoon that I've always remembered. Here's the dialogue:
Dilbert: I oppose putting career criminals in jail for life. Theres no evidence that longer sentences reduce crime.
Dogbert: So your theory is that when career criminals are in jail, other people commit more crimes to keep the average up.

That strip appeared in 1999, I think, and I've never forgotten it, because it was a sledgehammer argument based entirely on simple math.

I remembered that strip because I've always known that, some day, it would come in handy. And after seven years, that day has arrived.

Juvenile crime has dropped like a rock (across all racial and ethnic categories, to the best of my knowledge) since around 1994. It's roughly HALF what it was twelve years ago.

By any measure, that's an absolutely stunning success. From listening to the windbags of morality, though, you'd think that juvenile crime was an absolute epidemic.

It's not.

That's when it hit me: when kids are playing video games, or watching television, or spending time on the computer, do you know what they're not doing?

Committing crimes.

Sledgehammer math.

Back in the late 1970's, when I was in high school, the primary activity at night was "cruising." We all drove around town, usually in groups, for hours. Every night we could get together, that's what we'd wind up doing, because there wasn't anything else to do (except playing RISK, occasionally).

Most of the fights and trouble that I remember kids getting into involved cruising.

So is a kid be more likely to get in trouble while he's cruising around town for hours, or when he's inside playing a video game?

Take a look at this excerpt from a Kaiser Family Foundation study on media exposure (March 9, 2005):
Washington, D.C. – Children and teens are spending an increasing amount of time using “new media” like computers, the Internet and video games, without cutting back on the time they spend with “old” media like TV, print and music, according to a new study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Instead, because of the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time (for example, going online while watching TV), they’re managing to pack increasing amounts of media content into the same amount of time each day. The study, Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds, examined media use among a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 3rd through 12th graders who completed detailed questionnaires, including nearly 700 self-selected participants who also maintained seven-day media diaries.

The study - which measured recreational (non-school) use of TV and videos, music, video games, computers, movies, and print – found that the total amount of media content young people are exposed to each day has increased by more than an hour over the past five years (from 7:29 to 8:33), with most of the increase coming from video games (up from 0:26 to 0:49) and computers (up from 0:27 to 1:02, excluding school-work). However, because the media use diaries indicate that the amount of time young people spend “media multi-tasking” has increased from 16% to 26% of media time, the actual number of hours devoted to media use has remained steady, at just under 6 ½ hours a day (going from 6:19 to 6:21), or 44 ½ hours a week. For example, one in four (28%) youth say they “often” (10%) or “sometimes” (18%) go online while watching TV to do something related to the show they are watching. Anywhere from a quarter to a third of kids say they are using another media “most of the time” while watching TV (24%), reading (28%), listening to music (33%) or using a computer (33%).

Over six hours a day? No wonder juvenile crime has gone done. When exactly do teenagers have time to commit crimes anymore?

I'm not using any of these statistics to claim that we should be letting children play age-inappropriate games. But teenagers are not (and never have been) children. And the panic and moralizing about the "dangers" of violent video games are totally overblown.

Put it this way: would you rather have a fifteen-year-old playing Grand Theft Auto four hours a night with his friends or have him driving around in a car with those same guys for four hours a night?

We cruised around town every night because we were bored. Guess what--kids aren't nearly as bored anymore. It's much more interesting being a teenager than it used to be--video games and the Internet provide instant gratification.

I know there are discussions to be had about a culture of instant gratification, but that's a different discussion. And I would never propose that video games and computers are entirely responsible for the drop in juvenile crime. I do think, though, that they're one of the factors.

It's just math.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Saint's Row, TPG, Etc.

I picked up Saint's Row yesterday, both because Volition's Summoner was one of the most underrated games of its era (already documented) and because I have terrible impulse control (already well-documented). So I should have impressions for you in a couple of days.

I'm also working on Total Pro Golf impressions. I'm not unbiased when it comes to TPG, because I was in the beta and (as I've said previously) Gary Gorski was the most responsive developer I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I think it's a very intersting game and I also think it's unique, and I'll tell you why in a few days.

Also, I'm still playing the potential Game of the Year. That discussion should be early to mid next week, because I want to make sure I'm not deluding myself. It happens.

The Plunger

We have a new neighbor two doors down.

She borrowed our toilet plunger. Three weeks ago.

After two weeks, I bought another one. "Why didn't you just ask her to give it back?" Gloria asked me.

"She's already had it for two weeks," I said. "It may have developed Stockholm Syndrome. I want a toilet plunger not currently involved in a hostage situation." So I bought another one for five dollars at Home Depot, put it in the corner of the garage, and tried to forget the brave little plunger who talked to a stranger.

On Sunday, I heard the doorbell ring. I was the only one at home and there was no way I was answering the door, because all the people I was willing to talk to were already accounted for, and none of them could be ringing the doorbell. An hour, later, I opened the door to go get the mail, and the toilet plunger was there.

Three days later, we were walking out of the house to go to dinner and she was in her front yard. "Did you get the toilet plunger?" she shouted. I nodded. "We had guests in the house and the toilet was stopped up!" she said, then went about her business.

"It's like that two-week gap never happened," I said to Gloria. "Where has she been--in stasis?"

I Forgot to Mention...

If you're an international reader, and have never heard of a "low rider," here's the Wiki page:
Low Rider.

It's a pretty fascinating part of popular culture, at least in the Southwest (and southern California).

All My Friends Know the Low Rider (Part 1)

Note: to fully enjoy this post, please take a blank piece of paper and draw on it a spiraling circle. Have this page available.

"Look at this," Gloria said, holding up a carton of Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream.

"Chocolate," I said.

"MAYAN chocolate," she said.

"Their civilization was slaughtered, but their ancient chocolate secrets were preserved for all to enjoy."

"By Danes," Gloria said.

We weren't in Walgreens to taunt the Mayans--at least, not at first. And we didn't know then that Häagen-Dazs was founded in New York, not Denmark.

No, we were in Walgreen's to look at a toy, a toy that was the perfect representation of the collision of sheer genius and sheer crap that defines American culture.

We were in Walgreen's to look at the low rider.

I'd seen the low rider for the first time earlier that day, with Eli 5.0.
[For those of you who drew the spiraling circle, start spinning the paper rapidly in your hands, then, as it spins, move it rapidly back and forth near your face. This generates a flashback.]

"Eli, look at this!" I'm standing in front of an end cap of Pringle's potato chips, and I can't believe what my eyes are seeing: the word "JOKE" on the can.

"What, Daddy?" Eli asked.

"Dude, there are JOKES printed on these potato chips," I said.

"Are you kidding me?"

"No, this can says there are jokes on all the chips."

"Can we buy those?" Eli asked.

"Are you kidding me? These potato chips have JOKES on them. We HAVE to buy them!" I said.

Okay, the jokes are pretty silly, but they're just the right speed for Eli 5.0. It's not like I was expecting to see "Wrecked him? Damn near killed him!" as one of the punch lines.

We went to the toy aisle for some leisurely browsing, and while Eli was conducting a meticulous examination of every toy in the row, I saw the low rider.

The Low Rider Posted by Picasa

All My Friends Know the Low Rider (Part 2--Part 1 is above)

You can see why I posted that picture. I could never convey the elegance of that low rider in words. And what put it over the top for me were the guys inside the car: Hispanic, white, and black, all perfectly stereotyped. And that's why it was so funny: everyone was stereotyped.

I saw that yellow button on the hood, and before I pressed it, I had a dream. I knew it was impossible, this dream, but I had it anyway.

And when I pressed the button, a song began to play, and my dream was answered: it was War's "Low Rider."

If you don't know what that song sounds like, listen to this: Low Rider (it's a great video, too).

That wasn't, all though. No, playing "Low Rider" wasn't enough. This little toy car also had a mini-suspension system that made the car go up and down--with a neon light underneath the body.

Hell, yes, I bought it. Ten dollars. And it's on my desk right now.

I press that yellow button every single day.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

All Signs Point to "Yes"

I think I'm playing the Game of the Year.

I didn't think it would possible for a GOTY to be more obscure than Space Rangers 2 was last year. As it turns out, though, it is entirely possible.

Before I stick my neck out, I'm going to play this game for about twenty hours in total. But right now, it's more interesting and fun than Oblivion or Gal Civ II, and those are my two top games of the year to this point. And it is one of the most fantastically imaginative games I've ever played.

This is what we highly-unpaid professionals in the blog world refer to as a "teaser."

"612 Lawns"

Julian Murdoch wrote an excellent, interesting article about Dentara Rast over at Gamers With Jobs titled "612 Lawns. "

Dentara Rast, in case you missed this story, is a player character in Eve Online who created a "bank" that turned out to be a massive Ponzi scheme. His net was 700 billion ISK (the game's currency). And he made a video explaining what he'd done (which I watched last weekend and you can see here--profanity warning).

This scam is, to me, another of many reasons why Eve Online seems like a fascinating world, populated by all the greed and treachery of the real world.

Julian goes at the scam from another angle, though, and it's well-written and thoughtful. Here's the link.


Well, I'm at stage three with Madden.

It's the same every year:

Those are the first three stages of the five stages of grief as defined in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's landmark On Death and Dying. They work just fine for sports videogames, too.

Every year (and I'm sure I wrote about this last year) I open up Madden and have ten "WTF?!!" moments in the first day. Terrible clock management. Lousy framerates. Abysmal presentation. Tons o' bugs carried over from the last version.


I skip stage two, but most people don't. This is where EA Sports gets treated like our slow cousin Lenny, who couldn't learn all the words to the Barbara Streisand song he was going to sing at the fourth grade talent competition but we applauded anyway. He tried so hard, we said. He just didn't have enough time, we said. He wasn't so bad, we said.

I may not know much, but I know this: EA Sports is not cousin Lenny, and their inability to manage the scope and schedule of their team sports game development is no one's fault but their own.

After skipping stage two, though, I go hard into stage three: bargaining. Maybe there are workarounds, I say.

Sometimes, there are. There were workarounds for practically everything that was a problem in NFL2K5, which is why it turned out to be such a great game. That only happened, though, because there were so many user options to turn features off and make adjustments in the game.

You can forget that with Madden. Here's EA Sports slogan for their 360 sports titles.
EA SPORTS: Here's Your Camera Angle, Bitches

And of course those associate producers who were giving interviews before the game was released are long gone by now, hidden deep inside salt mines that were originally designated for storing nuclear waste.

They store the source code there, too.

Still, though, I want to salvage something. So I'm fiddling with franchise mode, hoping to cobble together something mostly playable and somewhat enjoyable.

If I fail, and I usually do with Madden, I'll go on to stages four and five: depression, then acceptance.

Actually, I'm pre-loading stage four right now.

She's a Chopsticks Wizard

We all ate lunch at California Pizza Kitchen on Monday.

CPK has clear partitions separating the booths, so you can see other people sitting near you. In the booth across from us, there was a young woman who was eating a salad.

With chopsticks.

"Chopsticks wizard has such a supple wrist," I said to Gloria, discreetly motioning in the woman's direction.

Gloria is proficient with chopsticks, but she immediately recognized a special talent. "Oh, she's good," she said, as the woman deftly lifted a small bale of salad to her mouth.

"She's fantastic," I said, "but isn't that like being an expert in oil lamps? Do people sit down in restaurants and ask for an oil lamp to light their table?"

"Not to my knowledge, no," Gloria said.

I picked up a shirt for Gloria while we were in the mall. She's been taking a Spanish class (and has become quite proficient), so I got her a "Estoy Con Estupido" shirt.

That's "I'm With Stupid" in Spanish.

Monday, August 28, 2006

360 Backward Compatibility Update

Thanks to DQ reader Magnus for the heads-up that the backward compatibility list for the 360 has been updated. Lots of garbage, as usual, but one absolutely huge addition:
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterly (Director's Cut)

That is a great, great game. Here's what I wrote in January 2005:
I will say this straight out: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (Director's Cut) is one of the best games I've ever played. It is deeply terrifying and deeply personal, and the deft balance of fear and intimacy is just one of many reasons that it is a masterpiece. This is not terror of the monster closet, Doom 3 variety--it is a deep, grinding kind of dread. Mixed with that persistent dread are moments that are so singularly brilliant, so stunning and shocking in their presentation, that I was overwhelmed to the point of being numb. I did not think that was possible in a game, and I was wrong.

If you've never played it, the experience is unforgettable. My memories of Fatal Frame II are still razor sharp and I think they always will be. That's the depth of the impression it made on me.

Monday Links

A few totally unmatching links for your reading pleasure.

First, from Shad Price, a link to a story about yellowjacket nests in the South. Here's the lead:
MOBILE -- To the bafflement of insect experts, gigantic yellow jacket nests have started turning up in old barns, unoccupied houses, cars and underground cavities across the southern two-thirds of Alabama.

Nests with multiple queens. Over 100,000 workers. Yikes.

There's a photograph with the article that shows a single nest inside an abandoned car. You can still see the steering wheel, but that's about it--everything else is nest.

Here's the link.

Charles Lee sent me a terrific link to a site that has MP3 recordings of dozens of old children's albums. If you had a favorite album as a child, there's a good chance it's here, and it's an excellent selection--you'll find everyone from Lauren Bacall to Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan). Great site, and here's the link.

Sirius sent me a link to a very interesting article in Scientific American about "The Expert Mind." Here's the article teaser:
Studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in other fields as well.

It's fascinating, and a bit surprising, and here's the link.


Gloria had on a new skirt Saturday night. Very cute and pretty short.

On our way in to the grocery store, there was a nice gust of wind. Gloria's skirt flew up. Way up.

"Agh!" she said, trying to push it back down.

"Upskirt. Erotica. 1,000 PP," I said.

This wasn't the first time her skirt had aimed for the heavens.

"I've never worn a skirt like this," she said. "It has loft."

Dead Rising (Overtime)

I finished Overtime mode in Dead Rising a few nights ago.

First off, here's something you'll need to know. When you finish the main game with the "A" ending and unlock Overtime mode, as soon as you start, save your game somewhere. The reason you want to do this is that you carry over all your weapons and items from the main game, but if you get killed and have to restart from the begining of Overtime mode, those items all vanish. I found that out the hard way. Even worse, the mini-chainsaw won't respawn in that situation (it will if you saved).

Overtime mode is very entertaining, but it's very different as well, and I didn't enjoy it as much as the main story mode. There are a few epic moments, though, and it's well worth playing. It's particularly worth playing for the story arc.

Like I said last week, if this game were only about killing zombies, it would be an entirely one-dimensional game. There is so much more to be done, though, that it goes from being an interesting concept to a great piece of design.

It's funny--most of the people I know who are playing this game don't mind the save system (I thought I would, but I don't, either). Every review I've seen, though, included bitter complaints specifically about the save system.

I thought that was curious, but it makes sense, really. Reviewers need to finish the game. They need to finish the game so they can write about it, and this is not a game that can be powered through. So the way that reviewers want to play the game is specifically what Capcom was trying to prevent with the save system.

On the 360, at least, I think this is Game of the Year at this point. It has a fun to work ratio that is just off the charts.

Oh, and for the first time, I briefly felt the compulsive lure of online rankings. I decided to see where my 3.6 million experience points ranked. I never got that far, but if I'd had another million points, I would have been in the top 100. A million points in this game, once you know what you're doing, would not take very long to get (two hours, tops). So I actually almost started playing the game again just to improve my ranking.

I realized I was crazy before I started, thank goodness, but the competitive juices were really flowing for a few seconds.

One last note: if, at any point, you get stuck in the game, just remember that there are many, many ways to defeat any enemy. A staggering number, really.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Philips Wow Pricing

DQ reader Joshua M successfully sifted through the Philips' website (no small feat) and found pricing on the 42" 3D LCD display.

42-3D6W01 42" Wow
'Wow' 42" multi-view autostereo 'Intelligent' display. 1920 x 1080 LCD. 9 views. 3D lenticular technology. Capable of showing 2D content using smart software interpolation. Includes media playback software and 3DS Studio Max plug-in content creation plug-in.

The price? $ 14,085.

Once you get up off the floor (I hope nothing broke when you fell), just remember that this is less expensive than first generation plasma sets were less than ten years ago.

So if this technology is successful (I believe it will be, in some form), then it's a fair guess that within ten years, it could be in your home.

Here's the link.

If you're wondering why I think it will be successful, it's because I remember the first time I saw a 42" display at E3. It required specially recorded content to display in 3D, but it was totally mind-blowing. Companies will buy these displays as marketing devices, they'll blow people away, and eventually we'll have them in our living rooms.


Here are links from all kinds of oddball categories for your Friday reading pleasure.

First off, from Sirius, a link to "Dodorango." What? Here's a description:
Hikaru dorodango are balls of mud, molded by hand into perfect spheres, dried, and polished to an unbelievable luster. The process is simple, but the result makes it seem like alchemy.

It's a very sophisticated version of making mud pies, really, and it sounds incredibly methodical and peaceful. And the pictures of the final product will blow your mind--they're absolutely beautiful. Here's a link to a website with plenty of information.

Kieron Gillen wrote a terrific article about Shodan that originally appeared in the UK version of PC Gamer last month. It's linked over at his blog now, and if you missed it originally, you can read it here.

Microsoft has a new training video--done by David Brent (Ricky Gervais). Funny? Of course it's funny. It's not Free Love on the Free Love Freeway, which might be the funniest thing I've ever seen on television, but it's still top quality, and you can see it here.

I've linked to this music video before, but Vahur Teller sent it to me this week, and it's so charming and happy that I'm going to link to it again. If you have a son, this little song will do all kinds of strange (but good) things to your insides.

I can't even figure out what this song is called--"JCBsong," maybe--but here's the link.

Finally, Frank Regan send it a link to new 3D display technology developed by Philips that doesn't require special viewing glasses. The difference between this and Sharp's 3D tech is that Sharp projects the image from only two angles, while Philips does it from nine. Here's a description:
A new line of 3-D televisions by Philips uses the familiar trick of sending slightly different images to the left and right eyes -- mimicking our stereoscopic view of the real world. But where old-fashioned 3-D movies rely on the special glasses to block images meant for the other eye, Philips' WOWvx technology places tiny lenses over each of the millions of red, green and blue sub pixels that make up an LCD or plasma screen. The lenses cause each sub pixel to project light at one of nine angles fanning out in front of the display.

It gets better.
One nearly ready-made source of content is modern video games, which actually generate three-dimensional objects internally, then flatten the images into 2-D representations for standard monitors. Philips has developed hardware and software that can extract the original depth information from the game engine and use it to create 3-D images on a WOWvx display.

This display is in production, and I've e-mailed about what must be the insanely expensive price, because we all have a prurient interest. Like I've written several times, though, 3D is the next big thing, and it will be realistically available at the consumer level much sooner than we ever expected.

The full article is here.



From IGN:
Microsoft is set to launch its latest initiative, known as "Consumables" - unveiled at Gamefest 2006 by Xbox Live Marketplace business manager, Rohan Oommen - promising new and exciting opportunities to spend more money in increasingly diverse ways. Essentially, "Consumables" are in-game assets that can deplete and be re-purchased - think forking over cash for the equivalent in in-game currency, or paying for armour that wears down as you battle.

More, from
Another thing Microsoft intends to add to the Marketplace is the ability for vendors placed in videogames to allow gamers to buy from the Marketplace. Say, there is a vendor in an RPG selling a rare sword and that sword is available on the Marketplace, players will be able to put the sword in a checkout cart and then return to the Marketplace later to complete the download. For now, the in-game Marketplace will bring the Marketplace experience into the gameplay, but the transactions, for now, will still need to be completed on the Marketplace and not in-game.

So the vultures have arrived, and right on time.

"In-game assets that can be depleted and repurchased." Let me translate that for you: we are screwed.

This has nothing to do with improving our gaming experience--it's about generating additional revenue streams once a game has been released. I think most gamers, by far, would be most competitive in the online environment, and that's precisely when they're most likely to buy some kind of exclusive weapon that gives them an advantage. So the most profitable way to handle "consumables" is precisely the least fair, because skewing the multiplayer balance by selling "elite" items is a horrible, horrible idea.

It is profitable, though.

I can't say that I'm surprised. Gaming is all business now. Have you noticed how profit-enhancing ideas like in-game advertising never seem to lower game prices? Does anything ever benefit us? Have you noticed that at the same time that the gaming industry is creating all these additional revenue streams--and constantly whining about piracy--that we STILL can't return a shitty late-alpha that cost us fifty dollars and will never be playable? How much more can the table tilt in their direction?

I still find plenty of enjoyment from gaming. There's so much available now that I can pick and choose and still find a good experience. But the business itself has become so cynical and mercenary--and so openly so--that as a consumer, it's depressing.

And it didn't take long for "Screwables" to start doing their job. And it's even worse than in-game items that "deplete." From Gaming Bits:
From a review in OXM (rating Lumines Live 8.5): "You'll be prompted to buy the Puzzle/Mission Pack (400 MS Points extra)" once you start "getting on a roll with Mission Mode."

Also, in the VS CPU mode, when you are "knee-deep" in the VS CPU mode, "you'll be blocked by signage declaring: 'You need the VS CPU Pack (300 Points)."

This hasn't been confirmed by Microsoft, but when Gamespot asked them to respond, they had no comment.


I've never seen someone have "no comment" when something wasn't correct. So I suspect that this is true. That's how these things seem to work nowadays.

Charging for extra content is one thing. Charging for integral content, however, is something else entirely. It's just a big shit sandwich for us.

But If You Were Me

A few Eli 5.0 stories that collected over the last few days.

Eli 5.0 moved up an older class at his school two weeks ago.

He's still a little disgruntled how about how much harder he has to work. I explained to him that having to "think hard" was a great thing, because it would make him smarter.

So this morning, Gloria and Eli are getting ready to leave, and I say "Eli, I hope you have a great day at school and learn lots of new stuff."

"It's all about THE LEARNING with you, isn't it?" he said. Gloria burst out laughing. So did I.

"You're the LEARNING DAD," he said, laughing.

I've also been called the "Safety Dad." Frequently.

Yesterday afternoon, I was looking for the "Curious George" CD. Jack Johnson recorded the soundtrack for the animated film that was released this summer, and it's beautiful. It doesn't matter that the songs were written for a children's movie--they're fantastic. I frequently listen to this CD when I write--because the music is very soothing and has a certain rhythm that helps my concentration.

Technically, though, it's Eli 5.0's CD.

Eli doesn't want to listen to the CD--he doesn't even like it--but it drives him mad that I keep it in my study. Because it's his, you see.

So yesterday, I couldn't find the Curious George CD. I walked out into the living room and said "Eli, have you seen the Curious George CD?"

"No!" he said. "Where is that? I want to listen to it!"

"Is it possible that you borrowed the CD?"

"Borrowed?" he asked. "Oh, yeah, I borrowed it. It's right here!" He lifted about four layers of meticulously arranged toy sediment and it was carefully hidden at the bottom.

"Eli, it doesn't seem very fair that you're hiding this CD because you don't want me to borrow it, even though you don't want to listen to it yourself."

He thought about this for a few seconds, realizing how unreasonable he sounded, then blurted out "But if YOU were ELI, you'd be doing the SAME THING that I am!"

Gloria was driving Eli home from school yesterday, and they were listening to the radio. A commercial for "The Library" (apparently a new bar) came on, and this commercial must be in heavy rotation, because when the announcer started talking, Eli 5.0 shouted "One dollar well drinks!"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Team Fortress 2

The Team Fortress 2 trailer shown at Leipzig yesterday is glorious. The design decision to give the game world a cartoon-like sheen was brilliant, both from a creative and a game positioning standpoint. Just watching the trailer is wildly fun.

Here's the link (thanks Christopher Boyd).

Dead Rising: The Negatives

I should have titled this post "I Come to Bury Dead Rising, Not to Praise It."

I got an interesting e-mail from Chris Kessel. Here's the part that really made me think:
I’m curious as to what your impression would have been if you tried to play the game through in one take like a FPS RPG.

Well, I would have hated it.

If you're a power gamer, and you want to blast through a game on the first playthrough, then Dead Rising probably isn't the game for you.

That's a double-edged sword, though. Let me explain.

There are plenty of games, particularly on consoles, where difficulty is a vertical wall. First person shooters are particularly guilty in this regard--if you get stuck somewhere, you just have to keep reloading the save until you defeat what's in your way and can continue on your highly linear path.

I've been in dead ends like that many times in the last few years. You really don't have any options except to try that segment over and over again, because if you restart the game, it's with a new character with zero experience. You're starting from scratch.


That's what makes such a huge difference in Dead Rising. If you do restart, you retain your character level and all experience points. The time you already put into the game wasn't wasted.

What this system does is give everyone a chance. You can level up your character and defeat just about anyone in the game just through persistence.

Dead Rising is what I call a "tourist" game. There's so much to do and see that I never felt trapped. Linear games, particularly first-person shooters these days, present such a tightly controlled experience that sometimes they're downright claustrophobic.

Games like that aren't worlds--they're sets. There's no exploration, and I miss that.

In a true tourist game, though, what you can see and do is almost limitless. They may seem dissimilar, but Ultima IV and Dead Rising were both tourist games--vastly different in other ways, but similar in the vast number of things that could be discovered in the world. And you could keep building your character as you explored.

Oblivion is the same way.

GTA is a tourist game, too, and that's one of the reasons it's so popular. GTA also points out the problem with tourist games, though--most of them are never finished and balanced. GTA muddles by in terms of being "finished," but the vast majority of tourist games are failures. At some point, the coherence of the world completely breaks down. Some of the worst games ever made have been tourist games in huge worlds, because when they're bad, they tend to be incredibly bad.

That was a digression, I'm sure you're used to it.

Here's another superior element of Dead Rising: there are multiple ways to defeat any enemy in the game, particularly when you're in an open mall area. I've been consistently surprised (and pleased) by the huge number of strategies you can use.

The bosses can be annoying in a continuity sense. They're not illogical in terms of their place in the story, and most of them are remarkable characters in their own right, but they move so quickly that it feels unnatural (and it is). In the context of a traditional boss fight, that's not unusual, but in a hyper-detailed world that feels freakily real at times, it's jarring.

Hmm. That didn't come out so negative after all. That's what great games do, though--they overcome their flaws, and Dead Rising runs over its flaws.

With a lawnmower.

That's Biomedical

I heard a commercial on the radio while I was driving home from work yesterday. It was for the "Southwest Institute of Technology," I believe.

When I was a kid, that would have been called a "trade school."

The commercial features two guys in a bar, talking about the great degrees they got at SIT. One majored in robotics, and one majored in "biomedical."

So what do they do with all this newfound, high-powered education? Why, they use it to pick up stupid chicks--of course! They start talking to two women who sound like their combined I.Q. is 60, and they're absolutely wowed by the words "robotics" and "biomedical." Sounds like a hook-up is all but guaranteed, thanks to the Southwest Institute of Technology.

Then the generic announcer voice comes on and says "You'll be learning to repair medical equipment--that's biomedical."

They didn't say what "robotics" meant. Maybe it's changing the filter on a Roomba.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

DEFCON Distributed by Steam

From IGN:
Valve and Introversion today announced an agreement to deliver Defcon, a new online strategy game from the creators of Darwinia. Defcon, Introversion's third title, will be released in September 2006 via Steam and at retail outlets for $14.95.

I believe, without question, that is going to be the surprise, smash hit of the fall. These guys just flat-out know how to make games.

September. That's not very long to wait.

Dead Rising Update

I finished Dead Rising on Monday night, got the "A" ending, and unlocked Overtime mode.

I played the game in an unusual manner--my character was 40th level when I finished the game for the first time, which is very high. Restarting and doing things differently was so much fun that I did that for quite a while, and it's the first time I can ever remember doing that in a game.

In short, the game's a masterpiece.

It's easy for me to forgive its flaws because it does so many other things so incredibly well. I've rarely seen a game that gives the player so many choices, but manages to make all those choices well-balanced. It has some of the most interesting, entertaining gameplay I've seen in a long time.

The save system? I don't like it--and it works. Being able to save whenever you wanted to would have a seriously negative impact on the game, because it would reduce your anxiety level to zero. Having only one save is too harsh--they should have allowed at least two, although you can do that by using a memory card--but what it does is encourage you to restart.

Encouraging someone to restart sounds like a terrible idea, on the surface. Remember, though, that the game takes place in a limited amount of real-world time. Restarting isn't nearly as punitive as it would be in a longer game, and what's happened each time I restarted is that I found additional layers of gameplay that I hadn't been exposed to before.

Blenders and books? Incredibly important, and if I hadn't restarted several times, I wouldn't have understood that. Blenders allow you to combine items that, together, are far more powerful than the sum of their parts. Books make weapons last longer and give you various experience point bonuses. The game was far more fun to play after I figured this out.

If I'd been able to save anywhere, with unlimited saves, I never would have found any of that out. Being incented to restart gives you more opportunities to explore.

Here's an example of the open-ended nature of this game, and it revolves around photography. If this game were just about killing thousands of zombies, it would be one-dimensional--entertaining, to some degree, but very repetitive and one-dimensional.

Adding photography, though, was genius. Pure genius. And scattering special photo opportunities throughout the game (but not making them obvious) was genius as well. You can see these when you're looking through the camera lense, but while you're doing that, you're totally vulnerable to attack.

Opportunity doesn't come without risk in this game. Again, great design.

In the early game (the first day, in particular), photography will build your character far, far more quickly than any kind of zombie rampage you can go on. It's a sensational mechanic in terms of game design, totally out of left field, and utterly brilliant.

Even beyond the design, the game is fantastic. The writing and voice acting are excellent. I saw in several reviews that people were complaining about the voice acting.

Compared to what?

There's not a lousy voice in the entire game, unless it's Kent, the nerdy photographer kid. And there are some outstanding voices, not just average ones. The writing is top-notch for a B-movie in the horror genre. Some of the cut scenes in the last quarter of the game are nothing short of legendary. Truly epic. That's fitting, because Dead Rising is an epic game.

A few notes now and I don't think they're spoilers, although if you want absolutely no gameplay information, stop reading now.

Early in the game, you're going to have an opportunity to go on a side-mission called "Out of Control." It's one of the very few side-missions in the game that will be critical to your future success, because if you complete the mission successfully, the weapon drop is, by far, the most powerful weapon in the game. And it respawns.

Don't forget that storefronts, movie posters, landmarks, etc., almost all have PP stickers. Just focus on something with the camera and there's a green % indicator at the bottom that should help identify PP opportunities as well as tell you how to get the highest score for that particular photograph. Early in the game, photography is a great opportunity to increase your character level very quickly--just don't lose track of your main objectives in the meantime.

When you get to the last day (you know in the opening few scenes of the game that the helicopter is coming at noon), if you have a memory card, save the game to it that morning. Then pull out your memory card. That means you have a second save, and if you get an ending you didn't want, or you just want to try again, you can. Just re-insert the memory card if you want to load that save again (but remember to pull it out so that it doesn't get overwritten--the game will automatically save to the hard drive then).

Great game. Wonderful fun. And I'm looking forward to Overtime mode.

Madden (360): Argghh

EA Sports: where great ideas go to die.

Madden 2007 (360) is a textbook example, and let's do just that--let's use it as a textbook example of the failures endemic to every EA team sports game.

Here's the framework: EA will incorporate a few great ideas into every game, but these elements will be butchered beyond belief by choices made in the design process.

Superstar mode in the 360 version of Madden is a perfect example, and I'm going to examine two great ideas gone bad: "influence" and "accelerated play."

I woke up in a cold sweat screaming "INFLUENCE!" last night. It's a phenomenal idea, that your performance could influence the performance of your teammates. Genius, really.

So let's look at how this is implemented. At the start of each possession on your side of the ball (offense for a quarterback, defense for a linebacker, for example), a big pop-up box launches and you get to allocate your available influence points. If you're a superstar, you can allocate them to your teammates. If you're a rookie, you allocate them to yourself.

In addition, After every single play, a box is going to pop up on that screen to tell you how many influence points you earned (or lost) on that play.

It's the most illogical, awkward implementation that could possibly have been imagined for what was, conceptually, a great idea. They might as well have titled that pop-up box "A Reminder That This Is Not a Real Football Game."

Besides, it's just stupid. Your influence changes on the basis of the outcome of the play whether you were involved or not. So if you're a wide receiver on the right side of the field and a pitch play is run to the left, the results of that play are going to affect your influence.

The worst part, though, by far, is that damned pop-up box. After every singe play.

Here's how this would be correctly designed, and let's use the quarterback as an example. Instead of a pop-up box after each play, you see teammates react to good or bad plays. You see them arguing with you in the huddle if your influence has dropped significantly, but if it's risen significantly, they're enouraging each other (and you). When they come off the field after a possession, someone might throw down a helmet if you're screwing up. They might argue with you.

How cool would it be to throw an interception, see your team walking to the sidelines, watch a wide receiver throw his helmet into the bench, and know it was your fault?

If you want to see the exact number of influence points, make it be accessible via the pause game menu. But do the cut scenes right and there's no need for that--there will be no question how your play is affecting people.

And if you want to use your influence points, you know what you do? After you select a play, you'd see a 2-3 second shot of the huddle, and during that period you could press a button to have your quarterback pat a specific player on the helmet, or put a hand on his shoulder. Touching one member of the offensive line would correspond to the entire line, but there would be player specific buttons for the skill positions. So if you've called a pass play at a critical time, pat an offensive lineman on the helmet to make sure the line has every advantage to improve their protection.

Totally organic, totally in the flow of the game, and totally consistent with what happens in real football. It makes cut scenes meaningful, it removes those stupid pop-up windows, and it takes you even deeper into the game.

And this is what drives me crazy: that's the logical way to design it. Designing it with pop-up windows is the most awkward, inconvenient way imaginable. It's the worst possible implementation.

What were people thinking in those design meetings? Did they all applaud when a guy said "I think we should use intrusive pop-up boxes after every play for the influence system!"

Where was our guy? Our guy who would have said "I think you should take those pop-box boxes and shove them up your ass."

That's the problem, though--our guy doesn't work at EA Sports. And if he did, no one would listen to him, anyway.

The second great idea is the concept of accelerated play. When you're off the field, the action speeds by at 2X (roughly) speed, and everything between plays (walking back to the huddle, huddling, etc.) is cut.

That's really a great idea. Watch it get butchered.

First, you can't opt-out of the higher speed unless you want to see everything that happens between plays. Again, no flexibility for us whatsoever--no ability for us to change the degree of acceleration, no ability to turn it off but skip what happens in-between plays. Those are easy options to include, but that's now how EA's decided to design these games. They're not about choices.

That's not the real butchery, though. Do you know what the game clock is doing while all these plays are taking place at accelerated speed? You guessed it--it's running at normal speed.

Even for EA, that's classic.

Teams frequently come to the line of scrimmage with thirty-five seconds left on the forty-second play clock. And an entire play will take place in two or three seconds.

How hard would it have been to sync the speed of the clock with the speed of the play? Two words: not very.

So this makes the time remaining on the clock totally meaningless. Even without running a two-minute drill, a team can easily run six plays in a minute. And good luck figuring out how long quarter lengths should be to get an accurate number of total plays for the game, because it will always be different, depending on time of possession.

The accelerated clock is already a feature in other versions of Madden. If that had been used, and the clock synced to the play speed, it would have been a fantastic feature.

"Would have been." A key phrase when discussing this game.

The 360 version of Madden is going to generate, at a bare minimum, fifty million dollars in revenue. Could you maybe throw us a damn bone here? Could you maybe include more display options--than zero? Could you maybe add more camera angles than ONE? Could you maybe hire somebody to lead the project who has, I don't know, common sense?

Could you maybe spend a little bit less money on primetime ads and full-page newspaper spreads and maybe hire a few more people to actually work on the game?

Nah. That would be crazy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

EA Responds, and it's Interesting

Everyone's been getting responses to the Privacy Policy e-mails that they sent to EA last week.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here and here to catch up.

Here's what's very interesting in regards to EA's response. The answer that most people got (including me) was this:
Thank you for contacting Electronic Arts.

EA does not receive credit card information from Microsoft when an EA Account is created or products are purchased through the Xbox Live Arcade. In order to establish an Xbox account, Microsoft does provide EA email, postal address, age and gender. (We don’t actually receive your true date of birth from Microsoft – only your age which our system approximates to a date.) We do not, however, receive phone number, mobile number or credit card information, etc. from Microsoft.

EA maintains all customer information using appropriate safeguards to ensure the security, integrity, accuracy and privacy of the information provided. Personal information is never provided to any third-party without the accountholder’s consent. Should we receive consent, the information provided may be shared with one of our promotional partners but we do not maintain a list simply for the purpose of sale to any party who requests it. We are very selective and sharing information to key licensors and service providers. Customer’s can always opt-out of sharing their personal information with third parties and may modify this information at any time either by accessing their “My Account” page or by sending an email to

We believe this confusion was caused by an unintentional association of our discussion terms specific to Xbox in close proximity to those that apply more generally. The section you identified in your message,, is titled “What is personal information and when does EA collect it?” and was written to address all forms of information EA collects in all possible circumstances.

Not all forms of information collection are combined. Most, like “click paths” which record the route that visitors choose when navigating through our site, operate through completely unrelated and non-interacting operating systems. We apologize for any confusion this has caused and thank you for your support of Electronic Arts.


I have two issues with that. One, they didn't clearly say that they had never collected this information via Xbox Live account transfer. However, they were relatively specific in terms of the specific pieces of data that they were collecting (and they didn't have to be so specific, so points for them).

The other issue, and a much bigger one, is that they didn't say that they would revise the Privacy Policy to remove any "confusion." See, it's not confusion--it's poor organization inside the document.

That's not the same thing. All we're doing is reading it the way they wrote it. And the way the current policy explicity reads, EA is reserving the right to collect credit card information when Xbox Live account information is transferred.

That won't do.

However, and this is a BIG however, Elysium (Sean) over at Gamers With Jobs got a different, and better, response. Here's the last paragraph (and you can read the full response here:
We believe this confusion was caused by an unintentional association of our discussion terms specific to Xbox in close proximity to those that apply more generally. The section you identified in your message,, is titled “What is personal information and when does EA collect it?” and was written to address all forms of information EA collects in all possible circumstances. Not all forms of information collection are combined and most operate through completely unrelated and non-interacting operating systems. As an editor, I’m sure that you can understand how this confusion could occur. Please be assured that we will take steps to clarify these points with a future update and thank you for bringing this to our attention.

I added the bold emphasis.

So in response to GWJ's query (which certainly qualifies as more of an "official" inquiry), EA did go on record saying that they were going to update their Privacy Policy.

Good for them. That's the right answer.

And thank you for sending those e-mails. Maybe seeing that so many people were "confused" gave them an incentive to clarify their policy.

Forgot to Mention

I'm playing on All-Madden level. Should have mentioned that.

Superstar Mode (Madden 360): How EA of Them

Here's the program that writes Madden games:

Sub MaddenFootballDesign()

Dim DesignDesign as Integer

For DesignDesign 1 to 1000
If Design Decision<501 decision="Clever">
Else Design Decision="Shitty"
Next DesignDecision

End Sub

I think that's fully representative of how this game has been designed for years, and it's entirely accurate as a description of Superstar mode this year.


I've spent about three hours in Superstar mode. It's very cool in some ways, and mind-numbingly stupid in others.

How EA of them.

Before we get into actual Superstar gameplay, here's a good example: graphics. Take a look at the good and the bad:
+ Animation has significantly improved.
+ The player models look truly fantastic this year.
- The field textures look lousy (hyper sharp and totally unrealistic), and grass fields are torn up by halfway through the first quarter. What are these, fields from the AFL in 1965?
+ They've blurred the crowd slightly in the distance to get rid of the highly aliased look of the distance crowds in NCAA.
- Unfortunately, that crowd is constantly jumping up and down like pogo sticks and looks totally ridiculous.
- The scoreboard ticker has this very artsy grid pattern in the background, which makes the text look very ragged. The grid pattern is absolutely superflous and serves no purpose except to make the text harder to read.

That's a good example of how this game squeezes good ideas and bad ideas right next to each other, and it drives me CRAZY.

So let's get to Superstar mode gameplay, and it's more of the same, I'm sorry to report. First off, if you want to play this mode, you better read the manual. That is absolutely required this year, because each position has some specific options that you must know, and there will be no in-game tutorial in Superstar mode to introduce them.

I started as a wide receiver, went through workouts, the combine, and the draft, went to practice and found the camera angle totally unusable. I also wasn't aware of some of the wide-receiver specific commands (hence my comment about reading the manual being a requirement this year). So I ended that career and started a new one as a quarterback.

The mini-drills are fun--simple, but fun, and while my 40-yard dash time sucks ass, that's okay. And the position specific drills are interesting as well. Overall, solid marks on the team workouts and the combine.

On draft day, you're probably expecting to watch the picks scroll by, hoping that you'll be picked soon. That's a no-brainer, right? Well, no--perhaps it's a "low-brainer," because that's not what they do. You don't see any part of the draft, and all you get is a pop-up box telling you who drafted you.

Round? How the hell should I know when I was picked--it's not like they tell me. I found out two weeks into the exhibition season that I was drafted in the third round--by checking out the freaking depth chart!

So the draft is, without question, a complete disaster.

I report to my team, practice a little, and go to the first exhibition game. I was drafted by the Packers, and I've replaced first ballot Hall of Famer Brett Favre as the starting quarterback. No matter that he's rated 88 overall and I'm rated 84. The old bastard's got to go.

I'm looking forward to my first game. I like the idea of having a limited role and not calling plays. It's a great design idea.

Great design "idea." Remember that.

The Packers get the ball, I see the play I'm supposed to run, and I step to the line of scrimmage for my first in-game action as an NFL quarterback. I get ready to snap the ball, and--I get taken to a screen called "Influence."


Oh, that's immersive. Nicely done, guys. Before the start of EVERY offensive possession, AFTER I walk to the line of scrimmage, the influence screen loads and I have to circle jerk a few points around to various attributes.

Now this could have been done BEFORE I walked to the line of scrimmage and it would have been fine (unnecessary, but fine). But doing it AFTER just absolutely kills the atmosphere of being in a football game. Just kills it.

The quarterback camera view in Superstar mode is tight. Very tight. And again, you better know how to look left and right with the right analog stick or you're not going to to be able to see your receivers. And you need to also know to use the "B' button to follow the ball after a handoff.

Speaking of which, do you know what I do on a handoff? I press the "A" button to snap the ball. That's it. Shouldn't I be timing the handoff or the pitch? Well, yes, but I don't.

Our drive ends and we punt the ball. While my team is on defense, I'm not playing, and all the huddling and between-play action is stripped from the game.

That's just a freaking great design decision. Seriously.

Unfortunately, the time that should have run off the play clock while teams were huddling, etc., doesn't, so the opposition is coming to the line of scrimmage with 30+ seconds left on the play clock.

And that is a freaking horrible design decision. Seriously.

The action while you're watching the game is sped up--I'm guessing it's running at about 2X speed. That seems really cool, until you realize that 90% of the time that's saved really comes from cutting the between-play intervals, and that 2X speed sucks for watching your team play defense (or offense, if your Superstar is a defensive player).

It would be easy to fix that, of course, if turning off the 2X speed was an option. But, of course, it isn't.

We get the ball back with less than two minutes left in the first half. All right! There's got to be some kind of two-minute drill, right?

Wrong. At least, nothing seemed different. The coach calls the play and up to the line of scrimmage we go. Um, hell. Oh, and the first play after the two-minute warning was the Hail Mary. Lay off the booze, coach.

I reach halftime of the first exhibition game and Favre replaces me for the second half. There should be a "sim to my next appearance" button, but there isn't. No problem, though. I'll just let the game run at 2X speed and it should be done pretty quickly.

Brett Favre walks to the line of scrimmage for his first play (boy, I bet he is PISSED), and--the influence screen pops up.

Again: WTF? I'm not even in the $*$damn game and I have to click through this stupid screen on EVERY OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. In other words, I have to babysit this game through the entire second half?

Yes, I do.

At the end of the game, I see that I've gotten a metric TON of Madden Gamer points for things I didn't do. Thanks, CPU players! You'd think that in Superstar mode I'd only get credit for what I did as a player, but think again.

That's Superstar mode so far: some really, really cool ideas, many of which are mangled beyond all recognition. I could live with it all, though, if it weren't for that damn influence screen popping up at the line of scrimmage at the beginning of every drive. What horrific design

My head. The wall. Pound.

Madden Tuesday (360)

I'm going to be spending quite a bit of time today with Madden's Superstar mode, and I'll be posting periodically with updates on what I find.

I also have a long post on Dead Rising (finished the main game and I'm in Overtime mode now), but I'm saving that for tomorrow.

Science Links

Links for your reading pleasure.

Joel Stein sent me an excellent link to more information about the Archimedes' manuscript I mentioned last week. Here's a description from the website:
The subject of this website is a manuscript of unique importance to the history of science, the Archimedes Palimpsest. This tenth century manuscript is the unique source for two of Archimedes Treatises, The Method and Stomachion, and it is the unique source for the Greek text of On Floating Bodies.

What's really interesting is that they go into great detail concering the various techniques that were used in an attempt to recover the text. Great stuff, and you can read about it here.

From DQ reader Sirius, an article about a whale--with teeth:
Palaeontologists have discovered a bizarre whale fossil in Australia with a set of fearsome teeth.

..."Specialised skull features tell us that this fossil is undoubtedly a baleen whale," said lead researcher Erich Fitzgerald of the University of Monash in Victoria, Australia.

"Surprisingly, it appears that the original features of baleen whales did not include the filter-feeding apparatus."

Instead, the newly-discovered ancient whale probably used its large, sharp teeth to capture and chew prey, which it located using its large eyes.

The full story is here.

Brian Witte sent me an interesting "hobbit related" link. Here's an excerpt:
The skeletal remains found in a cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia, reported in 2004, do not represent a new species as then claimed, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today, according to an international scientific team.

The full article is here.

Finally, there's an article on MSNBC tonight about the trap-jaw ant. It's bizarre.
Scientists have discovered the fastest bite in the world, one so explosive it can be used to send the Latin American ant that performs it flying through the air to escape predators.

Suarez and Fisher, along with University of California at Berkeley researchers Sheila Patek and Joseph Baio, found the ant's jaws accelerate at 100,000 times the force of gravity. This means they can snap shut 2,300 times faster than a blink of the eye to reach speeds up to 145 mph, exerting forces 300 to 500 times the ant's body weight.

Here's the full article, and the "flying through the air" link above takes you to a video of the ant in action.

New Paraworld Movie

If you want to get a sense of just how creative the Paraworld guys are, go watch this. It's a six-minute movie about the process of creating cut scenes for the game, and what makes this film stand out is as much in the presentation as it is what's being shown.

In terms of creativity, these guys are just off the charts.

Thanks to DQ reader Greg Wakolbinger for sending me the link.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Paraworld is Gold

Thanks Blue's. Here's the press release:
SUNFLOWERS announced today that the real-time strategy game ParaWorld has reached gold master status. As scheduled, ParaWorld will hit the shops on September 15.

...The 3-D real-time strategy game ParaWorld takes the player into a prehistoric parallel world with exotic tribes and powerful fighting dinosaurs. Apart from the unique storyline and sensational graphics the “Army Controller” is ParaWorld’s innovative highlight. It lets the player easily control all units and develop the people from a central point. This provides new and clear dimensions and control in real-time strategy.

More Graham Wilkinson and the Underground Township

Here's a link to the band's home page, in case you're interested in ordering any of the CD's. GWatUT.

Contest Winners

Okay, all five CD's have been given away. Congratulations, to Vahur Teller, Ryan Brandt, Brian Witte, Scott Moore, and Dylan Nichols.

Graham Wilkinson and the Underground Township

I saw Graham Wilkinson last November, opening up for Alejandro Escovedo at the Cactus Cafe.

He killed.

Absolutely killed. Tore it up. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote last year:
He has an amazing, personal quality on stage, with an utterly distinct, raspy kind of singing voice that is instantly magnetic. The reason I mention him is that he has a huge amount of talent and writes sensational songs, and it won't be long before everyone is talking about him.
It was hard to describe what kind of music he played--sometimes it sounded like reggae, sometimes it sounded like blues, sometimes it sounded like all kinds of other genres--but it was always terrific.

I saw that his new band, Graham Wilkinson and the Underground Township, was playing in Austin on Saturday at a restaurant/brew pub called North by Northwest. I thought they'd be good.

I had no idea.

I'm the audience about five minutes before the set is supposed to start. Hell, I am the audience. There are a few other people on the corner of the deck, but they're not paying any attention.

A couple sits down right before they start, tripling the number of people who came to listen to music.

At this point, I wouldn't blame these guys at all if they just slept through the set. It's at least ninety-five degrees on the deck, it's a miserable crowd--I mean, how many people can get motivated in that kind of situation?

So they start playing, and the first song or two are a little flat, which only stands out because Graham seems to really have energy crackling through his music. Even a little flat, they're better than ninety percent of what I listen to, and they're playing in front of essentially three people, so I'm still really enjoying myself.

Then they start gathering energy with each song. Shitty crowd, hot as hell, doesn't matter--they're like a steam train, stoking the boiler, and within about fifteen minutes they are absolutely tearing it up. The energy is just pouring off them. It's electric. It's overwhelming.

And so, for the second time in less than a year, I'm sitting less than twenty feet away from Graham Wilkinson and he is absolutely killing.

The band? They're killing, too. There's an organ (keyboards, actually--Mateo Ellis), bass (Wayne Dalchau), and drums (Patrick Herzfeld). And they're all tearing it up. Every single song. In front of what turned out to be thirty people.

These guys deserve some damned attention.

So here's where I ask for a small favor: please go listen to this band online. I know that you guys could singlehandedly, in one day, exceed the total number of plays the three songs on their Myspace music page have received up to now combined.

Oh Yeah or 1108, which are the top songs on the page, are excellent introductions.

Here's a link to their music page:
Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township.

If you like those songs and want to hear more, there's an excellent 30-minute streaming audio segment where they recently appeared on a local radio station (KUT, which is a legendary public radio station down here). Just go to this page and they're near the top of the archives.

Oh, and I bought six copies of their live CD while I was at the show. One copy's for me, but the other five are for you. Here's the contest question (and it's easily answered by going to the Myspace page I just linked to): name three of the band's musical influences.

Be one of the first five to answer correctly, and I'll send you a CD.

Looking Forward to Seeing You Next Week

DQ reader Erik Taylor forwarded me this e-mail written by his brother, Niels. It's a masterpiece.

Mom, Dad, Erik:
I'd just like to thank you all for volunteering to go to the beach, and I wanted to take a moment to prepare everyone for the upcoming week. I feel strongly that we will be able to get through this with a minimum of emotional or physical injury, but it will require a high level of commitment and dedication to the task before us.

My two shaved monkeys are just starting to understand their core skill sets and individual areas of expertise. They are both now well aware of the effects of their powers of both vocal amplitude and (especially in Boo's case) frequency, chronic loquacity (Ben), and astonishing locomotive energy (both). However, all of this pales in comparison to the most recently acquired power, a superpower, actually: they now understand precisely what buttons to push for maximum annoyance effect on any given adult. For instance, in Becky's case Ben has learned the art of precision fart-noise making using a simple yet stunningly effective mouth-based technique.

I'm telling you this as a warning. You will have something like a 6-8 hour grace period Sunday before they have fully recognized and analyzed your specific weaknesses and assimilated a response into their repetoire. There is nothing you can do to stop it. Use this time to locate suitable emergency shelter and to build appropriate defenses. Becky and I have a self-imposed restriction on the use of the most effective defense: we will typically not take a drink before 4PM, even on weekends, although we are conducting ongoing discussions regarding the usefulness of this policy. Of course this restriction will be much looser while on vacation. However, even under the types of extreme duress we will be experiencing, decorum frowns on alcohol consumption before 11AM. OK, OK, 10:30.

The most sound strategy will be to use the available offensive and defensive capabilities to maximum advantage. Working as teams in staggered shifts, we will need to alternate marching the boys up and down the beach and into and out of the ocean and the pool non-stop during daylight hours.

Occasional intermissions will be allowed for rehydration and personnel changes. These breaks will be most effective if done in conjunction with burying one or both boys up to (at least) their heads in the sand. DO NOT allow yourself to let your guard down during these breaks. This is just the kind of opportunity that they will be waiting for, and they WILL take this chance to attack. This strategy, along with a policy of no naps and very little food, may, I repeat MAY, result in them tiring themselves out to a malleable level by 5-6PM. If we can time it perfectly we should be able to get them fed, bathed, and in bed in time to have approximately 15-30 minutes of "adult time" before we too collapse.

So stay focused on the positive and try to keep your eyes on the prize: it is only 1 week, 7 days, 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes. Don't look too far ahead, lest you lose all hope; take it one day at a time. And take solice in knowing that after it is all done you will be able to return to the peace and relaxation of your own homes, miles away, and you will be better, stronger, for the experience.

Hugs and kisses! Looking forward to seeing you next week!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Paraworld Questions

Thanks to DQ reader Edwin Garcia for letting me know that a Paraworld developer is answering questions in a Gamers With Jobs forum thread here.

Total Pro Golf Released

Troy, MI August 18, 2006 - Wolverine Studios, a leading developer of computer game sports simulations proudly announces the release of Total Pro Golf. Total Pro Golf is available for purchase and electronic download exclusively at for $24.95 USD. Click here to download the game and get started!

Total Pro Golf allows users to create a golfer and take him or her on tour. Hire caddies and coaches, purchase equipment and play some great golf to earn sponsorships and your professional tour card. Quickly sim or play out your rounds in a beautiful and rich 2D environment complete with real time scoring so you can keep your eye on the leaderboard as you shoot for the tournament championship. Total Pro Golf also has a course design tool which is free to download to quickly and easily create courses to be used for your seasons.

Key Features of Total Pro Golf include :
- compete on and move up and down between three levels of golf tours
- smooth 2D gameplay complete with shot trajectory, sounds and crowd effects makes you feel like you're right there on the course
- play multiple types of season events including majors, United States vs Europe or World match play events and tour qualifiers
- fully customizable database allows you to edit anything from golfers to tours, sponsors and schedules
- RPG elements force you to manage your coach, caddy, sponsors, equipment and schedule wisely so you don't go broke on the tour
- easy to use Total Pro Golf Course Designer makes creating courses a snap

I was in the beta for TPG and I can say, without question, that Gary is the most responsive developer I've ever worked with during the game development cycle. I've been in over ten betas in the last ten years, and I've never seen anyone be as responsive to the concerns and suggestions of beta testers.

I'll be writing more about the game next week, but I think this franchise could have a long, successful run.

Paraworld Demo!

Well, here's some great news.

Thanks to Blue's News (and DQ reader Andy Dayton) for word that the Paraworld demo is now available:
...a demo for ParaWorld is now available, offering the chance to try out SEK's upcoming reptile-heavy RTS game. The demo includes a single-player tutorial as well as a pair of multiplayer skirmish maps for an 887 MB download, available on 3D Gamers,, FileFront, and Worthplaying. Accompanying the release is the launch of, a new community portal for the game.

I've mentioned several times that what I saw of Paraworld at E3 was spectacular. I played through the tutorial and two single-player missions, so what I saw is mostly different content from the demo, but the two single-player missions were the most fun I've had in a long time with an RTS game.

The NFL2K "Announcement": Ugh

An update to a post I made earlier this week.

There is no new announcement of a 2K pro football game. It was just a forum mod who decided to grandstand for a few days, essentially, and created all kinds of cryptic messages and secret "hints" about what turned out to be nothing more than his "campaign" to get Take-Two to make a generic pro football game.

Weak. And disappointing.

Jack Thompson: Unplugged

He puts the Jack in Jackass.

Jack Thompson, tireless self-promoter and self-proclaimed Don Quixote tilting against evil windmills of the video game industry, sent out a press release thinly disguised as a letter to Take-Two this week concerning their upcoming game Bully.

Anyone who thinks that Jack Thompson and Take-Two aren't in a co-dependent relationship are kidding themselves. It was love at first sound bite. Jack Thompson helps Take-Two sell games, and Take-Two helps Jack Thompson feed his cavernous yearnings for publicity.

I've often thought that the video game industry never really directly addresses Jack Thompson because secretly, they like him. He's the face of video game regulation, and anyone who has any common sense bursts out laughing when they read his pompous communiques. If anything, he makes the general public more leery of video game regulation, not less.

Even grandstanding politicians who have consulted with him are generally loathe to acknlowledge any relationship. Having Jack Thompson give you advice must be like getting a blowjob from a hooker--no one ever wants to admit they got one, and they live in fear of someone else finding out.

How to deal with Jack Thompson has always been very simple and straightforward: be correct. Don't yell at him, don't respond to his grandiose hyperbole with your own, don't let his theatrics affect you in any way. Relentlessly expose his misstatements, which are virtually unlimited, and continue being correct until he dries up and blows away. Above all, think, because that's the one advantage we have over him.

Here's a very simple example. This week's missive to the masses was a letter Jack sent to Rockstar Games concerning Bully. He faxed a copy of this letter to Bit-Tech, who published excerpts (I can't find a full version of the 40-point manifesto online). Here's their article. What follows are excerpts in italics, followed by my own commentary. Sections in bold were emphasized by me, not Thompson.

What I want to focus on are both his misstatements and his use of prejudicial and inflammatory langugage.

Take-Two has until five o’clock p.m., Eastern time, Monday, August 14, 2006, to inform me in writing that it will forthwith provide me with a copy of Bully so that I and others can analyze it to determine whether it still poses a threat of copycat violence in our schools...

I'll dispense with discussing the ridiculous notion that Thompson should be given a pre-release copy of the game as some kind of self-appointed arbiter. What's really interesting here is his use of the phrase "whether it still poses a threat." What he does with his phrasing is create the idea that at some point in the past, it was established that it was a threat. This in a game that hasn't been released yet and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been played from start to finish by anyone outside the company.

10. Bully is a video game that will allow the player to rehearse violence upon his classmates and teachers in retribution for their bullying. This is the unfortunate scenario known to have occurred in violent school incidents known as “Columbine,” “Paducah,” “Jonesboro,” and may others. The role of violent video game play in training the perpetrators in these and other incidents, including the school massacre in Efurt, Germany, and at Columbine is well known.

Again, notice how he says things as statements of fact that are anything but. "Known to have occurred." "The role of violent video game play in training the well known."


In a word, horseshit. Training for what? Pressing buttons? Because violent video games are excellent training for pressing buttons. I'm using a katana in Dead Rising quite frequently. Does that train me to use a sword? Are you kidding me?

I've said this before, but I'm sure my lifetime "body count" is over ten thousand kills, easily. In real life, though, I've never fired a gun. And firing virtual guns hasn't taught me how. If you handed me a real gun, I wouldn't know where to find the safety (or if that type of gun had one). I would have a very difficult time loading a gun, and I would have zero idea of what type of ammunition should be used. My chances of hitting the broadside of a barn would be low. In other words, the real process of using a real gun is conveyed very poorly and very incompletely in video games.

Take-Two embedded in its Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA: SA) game, which is actually a murder simulator in which the virtual player can kill police officers, prostitutes, and innocent bystanders...

Ah, the "murder simulator." That's the money shot for Jack Thompson. He just loves to use that phrase in every single piece of self-aggrandizing propoganda he writes.

Think about that. A murder simulator. I'm pressing buttons and turning a character to line up with a target, and that qualifies as a "simulation."

You know what's a great murder simulator, though? Hunting. It teaches you everything you need to know about handling, loading, aiming, and firing a weapon. You even get to kill real prey, and some of that prey could be human-sized.

Firing ranges are also great "murder simulators" compared to video games. Again, a firing range teaches real-world skills, and that's where school shootings happen--in the real world, with real guns.

I'm not advocating that we research the role of hunting in school shootings. I just find it ironic and foolhardy that advocates of video game legislation, particularly Thompson, obsess about the virtual world and ignore the real one.

Take-Two was selling this game to children despite the embedded adult content.

Here, Thompson is rehashing the Hot Coffee mod, and don't think I'm above using the phrase "jerking off" to refer to his entire description.

What matters, though, is the word "children." Here we come to another staple in the Thompson hyperbole machine, as well as any politician who wants to criminalize video game sales to minors. "We must protect the children!" they cry, and it's a clever device on their part to do so, because the word "children" conveniently encompasses every age from birth to eighteen.

How can anyone be against "protecting the children?" See how manipulative and misleading that phrase can be?

We're not talking about children here--at least, not in the way they want us to think. "Children" make up at least six distinct developmental stages from birth to age eighteen.

I've never seen any documentation that a ten-year old walked into a store and scored a copy of Grand Theft Auto. And if one has, are we actually having a discussion about criminalizing video game sales on the basis of a voluntary ratings system because of a handful of sales in a country of three hundred million people?

So what are they talking about, really. Isn't this really a discussion of the 13-18 age group? Try this phrase on for size: "we must protect teenagers from violent video games!"

Actually, to be totally accurate, they'd say "we must protect young teens and teenagers from violent video games!" because those are different developmental groups.

That certainly sounds limp in comparison. If they were trying to be accurate, though, that's what they'd say. And people who aren't trying to be accurate should be regarded with a high degree of suspicion for that very reason.

Take-Two is allowing fawning media favorable to it and to the video game industry’s violent products to play Bully and to pronounce it harmless and safe for kids of all ages. Many of these “reviews” are in publications that receive ad revenue from Take-Two. These orchestrated “reviews” of Bully are now being published, thereby assuring parents “not to worry.”

That's funny, because I can't find a single review anywhere. And since there aren't any reviews yet, it's hard to know if the phrase "not to worry" is in any of them. In fact, I'm anxiously waiting to see the first reviewer mention that the game is "safe for kids of all ages." I'm guessing that no one will.

That word "safe" is another inflammatory use of language. If he'd used the word "appropriate," which is clearly the proper word to use in that context, it wouldn't have sounded nearly as dangerous, would it?

There's more, but I'm bored, and at this point you probably are, too. It's not any fun, really, thoroughly responding to the man with the bullhorn who is so desperate to draw attention to himself. And this was in no way "thorough"--that would have required another several thousand words. That's another one of Thompson's tricks, to send these mammoth letters and press releases. People who can't make persuasive arguments make lengthy ones instead.

I've written many times that there is a legitimate debate to be had over the pervasiveness of violent media (film, music, and games) in our society. What is happening now, though, is not a debate--it is a witch hunt of the foulest, most opportunistic kind.

Joseph McCarthy would be delighted.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Science Links

More science links for your reading pleasure.

First off, from Glen Haag, an amazing article about recovering a manuscript of Archimedes--by using a particle accelerator. It's a stunning use of technology, and you can read about it here.

There's an interesting story over at wired about a legal dispute over an automated parking garage. The software company claimed a copyright infringement, stopped supporting the program--and then people couldn't get their cars out. It's a darkly funny story--as long it wasn't your car--and you can read it here (thanks Sirius).

Scientists have been tracking the migratory flights of sooty shearwaters (I swear I'm not making this up) and have documented an annual migration path of over 40,000 miles. Here's an excerpt:
The birds, which can have a wingspan of 43 inches (1.1 meters), followed a figure-eight circuit over the Pacific Ocean. They ranged north to the Bering Sea, south to Antarctica, east to Chile, and west to Japan and New Zealand, covering more than 40,000 miles in 200 days, the researchers said.

The full article is here.

This isn't a science link, but it's pretty amazing reading. A newly-discovered period document reporting on Christopher Columbus. Here's an excerpt:
The evidence has been found in a previously lost report drawn up at the time for the Spanish monarchs as they became worried by growing rumours of Columbus' barbarity and avarice. The document was written by a member of an order of religious knights, the Order of Calatrava, who had been asked to investigate the allegations against Columbus by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who ruled Spain together at the time.

The report, by Francisco de Bobadilla, lay undiscovered in a state archive in the Spanish city of Valladolid until last year.

A bit of a bastard Chris was, and you can read about him here.

Sports Papers

After some of the World Cup posts I made where I was discussing soccer rules, DQ reader Sebastian Mankowski sent me a series of academic research papers (statistics based) on various aspects of sports. Great reading, and he's okayed me sharing them with anyone who is interested. Here's a list:
--"Down to Ten: Estimating the Effect of a Red Card in Soccer"
--"A Brownian Motion Model for the Progress of Sports Scores"
--"When to Pull the Goalie in a Hockey Game" (earlier than you think)
--"Simulation Models in Golf" (focusing on putting)
--"Sports Sentiment and Stock Returns"

Sebastian contributed to the "Down to Ten" paper, which is particularly interesting reading.

If you'd like to read any of these, just shoot me an e-mail and I'll send you a copy.

Note on Dead Rising

There's a technical problem with Dead Rising. If you have a standard definition set, the text is apparently so small that it's very difficult to read. Here's a description from the Opposable Thumbs blog over at Ars Technica:
The game itself is easy to see: the colors are all bright and the textures look good, but the issue is the teeny-tiny text at the bottom of the screen that pops up whenever you talk to anyone. What's even worse is that most of this text doesn't have voiceover work, so if you can't read it, you're not going to know what to do.

Capcom has acknowledged the problem , but no word on a patch or other fix.

Which sucks for SDTV owners, because the game itself is freaking fantastic. Just fantastic.

Thanks to everyone who sent me information about this issue.

Commercial Breaks

Someone (wishing to remain anonymous) sent me a link to a fascinating documentary from the early 1980's on two software companies: Ocean and Imagine. Just seeing footage from that period will bring back a flood of memories for most people. It's excellent viewing and each link represents ten minutes of the documentary:
part one
part two
part three

While there are certainly casual parallels between what sank Imagine and what Sony's doing with the PS3, I'll give it a rest. But it's interesting to think about.

In Line

I was in line at Walgreen's yesterday when a guy walked up behind me. I couldn't see him, but I could hear him.

His music, anyway.

Rap music. The guy must have been going deaf to have his music up so loud that I could hear it that well. I turned around and saw that he was holding a cell phone, and the cell phone was playing the music.

He looked hard. He was wearing a white tank top and he looked strong and hard, one of those kids that was always ready to throw down. He was probably twenty, too young to understand that no matter how hard you are, someone out there is harder.

And if you're hard all the time, he'll find you.

So I'm seeing this tough-looking kid in front of me and listening to his obscene rap music, and for just a moment I connect the two in my head: of course he's like that.

Never mind that it's the most ridiculous assumption in the world to make. For that one second, I had all the causal link I needed between rap music and a presumably violent lifestyle. It was proof.

So for one second, I felt like Jack Thompson.

I felt like I needed to go home and take a hot shower with a scrub brush just to get the stink off of me. Nothing like reducing the seven thousand plus days of a kid's life to his choice in music. That's pathetic. I was pathetic.

That's what people do when they don't understand something, though. I don't understand rap music. That doesn't mean I've never heard rap songs that I've like--I've heard at least a few--but I don't understand why people want to listen to that kind of music. I read explanations, but I don't feel any of them. I just don't get it.

Now if that same kid had been playing a violent game on a Gameboy, though, you know what would have been my first thought?

Gee, I wonder what game he's playing.

It would have never crossed my mind that what he played had anything to do with who he was as a person. It wouldn't have crossed my mind because I understand gaming. I play games. And I know they don't cause people to adopt a lifestyle. It's a totally ridiculous notion.

None of the crazy people passing the weekly unconstitutional piece of gaming legislation are actually gamers. Sure, that seems obvious, but I don't think it gets mentioned nearly often enough. And I'd be willing to bet that more than half the people in this country now (over the age of ten, anyway) play computer or console games in some form or fashion.

I've mentioned this before, but the demographics are in the process of absolutely turning against all this stupid legislation criminalizing game sales, even before they reach the judges who (as they properly defend the Constitution) laugh at these laws. Every year, the tail end of the demographic (maybe people over eighty, I don't know the exact cut-off to make this balanced mathematically), which consists of 99% non-gamers, is replaced by the front end of the demographic (age ten, where probably 80% of kids play games, if not even higher).

Ninendo launched the NES in the U.S. (nationwide) in February of 1986, just over twenty years ago. In ten years, a large percentage of parents will have grown up with gaming being as much a part of their lives as television.

And in ten years, or maybe sooner, this entire discussion, in the way it has been shamelessly politicized for personal gain, will be seen from the lens of history as the empire building of buffoons.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An Entirely Lucid Response

EA responded very quickly to my question--sort of. Take a look at what they sent me:
Thank you for contacting Electronic Arts Customer Support. The question that you submitted has been updated and the details of our response is below. To update this question by email, please reply to this message. Because your reply will be automatically processed, you MUST enter your reply in the space below. Text entered into any other part of this message will be discarded.
[===> Please enter your reply below this line <===]
[===> Please enter your reply above this line <===]

Then there's a copy/paste of the questions I asked. Then there's this:
Note: The Electronic Arts Knowledge Base contains over 7,000 articles designed to answer the majority of the questions asked of our customer support agents. Please be sure to search our Knowledge Base prior to submitting a request for assistance in order to ensure a timely resolution to your issue and avoid unnecessary delays.
Thank you,
Electronic Arts Customer Support

They responded HOW, exactly? Do I need a decoder? There's nothing in that e-mail related to any of my questions except their copying of them. Oh, and I hate to be the grammar police, but a multi-billion dollar software company shouldn't be using "the details of our response is below." That's embarrassing.

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