Tuesday, October 31, 2006

So You Want To Be A Games Journalist (Part 2)

As a companion piece to the stories I linked to yesterday about how to become a games journalist, I wanted to write about what someone could do for us (gamers) once they become a games journalist, particularly in the area of reviews. As a gamer, and as a consumer, I wish that professional reviewers gave us more of the information we need to help us decide whether to buy a game, because right now, we're missing some important pieces.

Let's talk about those pieces now.
1) How long did you play the game?
Almost no one who writes reviews will volunteer how many hours they actually spent playing a game.

Does that matter?

Hell, yes, it matters. It's one of the single most important pieces of information a reviewer can give a reader. Games can easily have 50+ hours of content, and particularly with sports games, there's no real way to "finish" the game. Identifying how long you played before writing a review, and (when applicable, and particularly with sports games) breaking down how many hours you spent in each mode, is invaluable information.

2) What level of difficulty did you use?
Again, this is invaluable information. Some games are totally different when played at different difficulty levels, and again, sports games are a prime example. A recent sports game review I saw had major complaints about the game's A.I., but it was never mentioned that the reviewer was playing on default difficulty.

That matters. On the highest difficulty, the game in question had some of the best A.I. ever seen in a sports game.

There's nothing wrong with playing on default difficulty for a review, but it needs to be identified, and if the reviewer feels the A.I. is weak, he should then play at the higher levels of difficulty.

This matters with other types of games, too. RTS games may be walks in the park at the default level and hellishly difficult on hard. For all intents and purposes, they're different games. For us to know if we want to play the game, we have to know which game you were playing.

3) Did you use any cheat codes?
If you use them, though, we need to know, because if we don't use them, we're not playing the same game that you did.

That's important, because you might have blasted through the shitty first three hours, and then the game really got interesting. 80% of us, though, will never make it to the end of that first three hours, because we didn't get to fly through it.

4) Don't do a preview and call it a review.
Ironically, another sports game review I saw recently was positively glowing. This was odd, because the game was shit in its Platonic form. Yet as I read the review, I realized that what I was reading was 90% of a rehashed preview. There was almost no mention of how the reviewer actually played the game.

Look, anyone who wants to read a review of particular game is 90% certain to have already read a ton of previews. Just link to your site's preview in your review, and mention a few things about the preview that had you excited and show how they did or didn't have the same effect in the final game.

5) Stop passing out 10's like trophies in a school talent contest.
Please. I've seen Fight Night 3 (360) get a 10 this year. NHL2K7 (360) and NBA2K7 (360) got them as well. Bully (PS2) just got a ten.

Damn it, stop this. Guitar Hero was a 10--actually, it's an 11. Nothing else has been close in the last year. Don't give good games with significant flaws a 10--it renders the entire idea of a ratings scale meaningless.

Sony News

First off, they announced earning late last week:
TOKYO - Sony's profit plunged 94 percent for the July-September quarter as a global battery recall and red ink in its video-game business hurt the Japanese electronics and entertainment company.

Sony Corp's group net profit for the fiscal second quarter totaled 1.7 billion yen ($14 million), dwindling from 28.5 billion yen the same period the previous year, the Tokyo-based manufacturer said Thursday.

An extra cost of 51 billion yen ($429 million) related to a global recall of 9.6 million Sony laptop batteries was a major factor behind the sharp drop in profit.

...Sony reported a 43.5 billion yen ($366 million) operating loss in its gaming division because of charges related to the preparation for the next-generation PlayStation 3 console, set to go on sale in the U.S. and Japan next month.

Full story here (thanks Sean Murphy).

What's interesting about that $366 million loss in the gaming division is that it includes all the profit from the PS2 hardware and software.

Here's more, from GamesIndustry.biz:
Sony's chief financial officer, Nobuyuki Oneda, has warned that the games sector "is weak" and presents "a major challenge" after the company posted a drop in profit of more than 90 per cent.

That's code for "we are in big trouble here." They're a year late to market, they have major supply issues, and this tech that they want to last ten years is going to look outdated in four (at the very most).

The combined advance of technology is greater than any amount of money Sony can spend. It's greater than any amount of money anyone can spend.

Here's the next piece: Sony's also going to miss their revised-revised launch shipment targets for the PS3--in Japan, at least. No surprise, since we discussed that probable scenario a few weeks ago, but here's the news:
Sony still being plagued by component shortages
According to the Nikkei Keizai Shimbun, Sony is still having problems with component shortages on its PlayStation 3 console. So instead of having 100,000 units on hand for the Japanese launch of the PS3 on November 11, Sony will instead provide 80,000 units.

Full story here.

To be fair, what I wrote was that I expected 500-750k units shipped in North America by the end of the year instead of Sony's 1M target, and they still haven't made any announcements related to North America--but I strongly believe they will. They've already pre-seeded an announcement with Tretton's statement last week that 1M units in North America by the end of the year was an "aggressive" target.

Then there's this story:
TOKYO - Sony said Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Justice is probing its electronics unit as part of an industry-wide investigation into sales of a type of memory chip. The news could spell more trouble for a company already stung by sinking profits, a global battery recall and product delays.

The Japanese company received a subpoena from the Justice Department’s antitrust division seeking information about Sony’s static random access memory, or SRAM, business, company spokesman Atsuo Omagari said.

“Sony intends to cooperate fully with the DOJ in what appears to be an industry-wide inquiry,” the company said in a short statement.

Read the full story here.

Hey, it's only 8:40 here. There will probably be something else by noon. They can spin these stories all they want, but to some degree, Sony is staggering.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Guild 2: 1.20 Patch

The patch for the U.S. version of the game was released today and you can download it here.

The International versions of the patch were released late last week and you can find them here.

I've been waiting for this patch and started playing the game today. After I get about five hours of playing time, I'll write up impressions.

Yes, He Did--Sort Of

What made writing that Jack Thomspon letter so much fun is that Jack Thompson actually wrote most of it--just not in the context of being a game reviewer.

I used two main sources: Wikiquote and his letter to Judge Friedman last Friday (which was printed in full at Kotaku). I used quotes verbatim when I could, or slightly modified them to fit the "employment request" concept.

He's quite the, um, bard.


My last post was part of a larger collective who are all writing about the Games Career Guide article. Here are links (and I'll add more as they become available):
Kieron Gillen's Workblog
Affectionate Diary
Tracker Bill
Richard's Online Journal
The Triforce
Mathew Kumar's Workblog
another little disappointment
World of Stuart
Ideal project

So You Want to Be a Games Journalist

To: Douglas Perry, Editor-in-Chief, IGN
Re: A Modest Proposal

Dear Doug,
I recently read an article titled "So You Want to Be a Games Journalist," and it made a career as a game reviewer sound so rewarding that I decided to apply to your website.

Today, I found out that my request to write for you was not granted.

Honestly, Doug, are you on drugs or what? What kind of sick, twisted freak would pass up the chance to have me write for their clearly substandard website? Did it give you some kind of perverse satisfaction to deny me? You don't care about broken hearts and shattered lives. You have your own ego to feed.

Here’s a tip for you, Doug: I don’t just write. I write to save lives. I write for people, Doug, and I serve those broken-hearted people, not arrogant tyrants like you. I am a one-man, game-reviewing wrecking crew, and you are passing on the only writer who could make your execrable site into something worth reading.

You don’t want me? Get in line, baby. The sociopaths at Gamepro turned me down last week. But feel honored. You're now part of a gathering that includes the grave robbers at Original Xbox Magazine and the chronic masturbators at Eurogamer. I'm sure you're proud.

Don’t forget this, Doug: America is a great place where citizens get to cleanse the public dole of thugs like you. I'm looking forward to doing just that.

Jack Thompson


So You Want to Be a Games Journalist from the Game Career Guide website.

A Winning Strategy: As Little Human Contact as Possible

I should have known that my preferred method of buying a car would be--via e-mail.

After feeling I was in a hostage negotiation at Classic Toyota in Round Rock early last week, I decided to start looking at dealerships outside Austin. There was a dealership in Killeen (which is about an hour away)--this dealer, actually.

Over the course of about twenty-four hours, I exchanged about a dozen e-mails with the salesperson (who is a dedicated Internet salesperson, by the way), and there were two phone calls that lasted about two minutes each.

So for absolutely ZERO hassle, we got a 2007 RAV4 with all the options Gloria wanted, and the price was over a thousand dollars below MSRP. We picked it up Saturday morning.

That's how you sell a car.

You guys sent me some pretty fascinating e-mails about car buying, along with some excellent suggestions. Chris Kessel told me about Costco's car buying program, which is very cool, and you can see information about it here. Aaron Daily suggested Cars Direct. Matt Welch recommended a service called Fighting Chance, which offers some specific information for your region and model. zy recommended Autobytel.

Several people recommended Edmunds, and Ryan Brandt sent me a pretty fascinating link to an article about someone working at Edmunds who became a car salesman for a few months. It's a great look inside the car business, and you can read it here.

One other thing I'd highly recommend is using Consumer Reports for dealer cost information and model reliability.

Finally, Jarod Werbick sent me a story about the best car buying trip ever, and I'll be sharing it with you later this week.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Space Rangers 2

Just in case you still haven't played Space Rangers 2--my choice for PC Game of the Year in 2005--it's now available at Stardock for $19.99.

That's a terrific price, and this is even better--no DRM. Nothing to muck up your harware or slow down your system.

This is a great, great game, an absolutely wacky mix of genres that is incredibly entertaining.

Here's the link: Space Rangers 2 at Stardock.

The Rolling Stones Stories

In 1981 the Rolling Stones toured North America--for the "last time." Seriously.

Tickets were $29, if I remember correctly, which was absolutely outrageous. It was going to be their last American tour, though, so I and two of my friends decided that we had to go.

It was our last chance, you see.

The concert was held at the Cotton Bowl, in Dallas, and there were 100,000 freaking people there. We were on the floor of the stadium, and it was a combination carnival/madhouse/freak show of epic proportions.

I have many memories of that day, but most vividly, I remember the drug vendors. Most of them had rainbow suspenders attached to cardboard boxes and they looked like a very stoned version of a cigarette girl. They walked the floor of the Cotton Bowl, hawking their merchandise like carnival barkers: "Acid--five dollars a tab. Doobies. Get your doobies here. I've got speed." I wish I could remember the rest of the pricing, but all that stuck in my mind was the price of LSD.

I know, that sounds impossible, but believe me, that's exactly what happened. And there were police officers on the floor of the Cotton Bowl, but I think they were just there to stop fights.

Here's the funny thing: the Rolling Stones were the second-best band on stage that day. ZZ Top absolutely blew them away: crystal clear sound, big sound, and they sounded absolutely tight. The Stones were sloppy, muddy-sounding, and Keith Richards was so blasted he could barely stand up.

I asked you guys to send in your Rolling Stones stories and got a few very good ones. First off, here's one from David Gloier:
In '94 (I think that was the year, the one where Bryan Adams fell and busted his ass on the wet stage), as we were walking back to our car through the lovely neigborhood that surrounds Fair Park in Dallas, guys are selling bootleg t-shirts on the street. A black Suburban-type vehicle pulls one of those Starsky and Hutch type skid stops right in front on us and two or three guys jump out, guns drawn, shouting, and take down the two guys selling the t-shirts. The cops come and haul the guys and the box of shirts off. The other guys holster their guns, get back in their vehicle and drive off, I guess to bust other bootleg t-shirt sellers. The way the whole thing went down, you would have thought those poor guys selling the shirts were a threat to the survival of our society. The guys in the truck never showed any sort of badge or ID, so I assume they were employed by the Stones.

It was a great end to a great evening, since I had missed Cops on tv, being at the concert and all.

Here's a second one from David as well:
In November of '89, I drove to Dallas to see the Stones at the Cotton Bowl during their Steel Wheels Tour. They played Friday, Saturday, and, I think, Sunday. I went to the Friday show. We were sitting in the second row of the upper deck, just up from the right end of the stage. If you've never been in the Cotton Bowl, the first rows of the upper deck are great seats. The upper deck isn't set back, so you're looking right down on the action. Anyway, we take our seats before the opening act, Living Colour, starts their set. After they finish, about four guys show up and take seats directly in front of us. These guys are completely shitfaced and before the Stones take the stage, the guy in front of me passes out with his chin resting on his fist in "The Thinker" pose and vomits down his arm a few times. The Stones start their set and this guy doesn't move an inch for the entire two and a half plus hours. Well...almost the entire time. Just as the band finishes the last song of the last encore, the fellow in front of me wakes, stands up, and starts clapping furiously, spraying chunks of semi-dried vomit all over his buddies. Great end to a great show.

Next, from Michael Rozek:
In 1989 the Stones played the Los Angeles Coliseum during their "Steel Wheels" tour. It was my first year at USC (which is walking-distance to the venue), and a friend with an extra ticket invited me to tag along. We arrived to our seats early to catch the opening bands (Living Color and Guns n' Roses), so not too many folks were in their seats, with the exception of the gentleman sitting to my left. He was in his 50's with long grey ponytail hair and wearing full combat camouflage.

When we sat down, without saying a word to me, he started to hand me a joint that he'd been enjoying. Now, I had just turned 17, and being a youngster who grew up with Nancy Reagan constantly barking at me to "just say no", I knew just what to say. He didn't seem offended, and we talked for a bit while he toked away. He was a *huge* Stones fan, and had been to many shows over the previous 20 years, and as it turned out, he had no military affiliation at all, just enjoyed the style. My friends and I were treated to quite a few stories of his history as a Stones fan.

On to the interesting part: About 1/2 way into the show, Eric Clapton came out as a surprise guest to play a few songs with the group. It really was a surprise, and it was cool to be at a show where not one but two rock "legends" were on stage together. While I was excited about it, camo-guy started to cry. Not the "eyes getting glassy" tearing up, but a full blown "I can't control the funny noises I'm making" loss of control crying. He was *so* moved by the fact that he was in the presence of Clapton and the Stones, that he just broke down. It was actually kind of touching in a strange way, and It was one of those life lessons where I subsequently started to appreciate things on a different level.

Finally, a story about the current tour from Sean Garagan, and it doesn't even involve puke, firearms, or drug vendors:
The month of September is actually quite pleasant in Halifax. The temperature normally ranges from the low 20’s in the day to the low 10’s in the evening (this is all in Celsius so don’t start feeling too cold). We get very little rain and the leaves start their colourful journey towards oblivion. However, the day of the Stones concert, the temperature never got above 14C and dropped to around 8-10C by the time the sun went down. That would have been fine except for the rain. What started out as a light shower turned into a downpour as Alice Cooper started to play. He did not let this stop him, he and his band got soaked but put on an amazing hour of music with many of his classics and all of the show you would expect from him. Kanye West was entertaining in his own way but I think I may have had my first “Is that what the kids today listen to?” moments.

After that, the anticipation built up. We all knew it was only a matter of minutes before the Stones started. Being in the presence of that stage all day long and having none of the other acts actually make use of its features only heightened the thrill. The lights went dark, a glow showed up on the big screen which grew until it covered the entire stage at which point fireworks exploded and the first bars of “Paint it Black” were met with a scream of excitement I have never and will probably never again experience. The next two hours was filled with all of the Stones classics and some new stuff. It is indescribable what it is like to be in the middle of 50,000 people all singing the songs with the Stones. The crowd completely ignored the rain and went all out. The band must have sensed this and felt pity for us because they gave the most energetic, emotional show I have ever seen. They gave 200% and more to the crowd. The rain only seemed to push them further.

We even lucked out in our spot. We did not know about “stage B” which has the drum set and a 30x30 section around it come out into the crowd. We were about 25’-30’ away from that stage when it stopped, close enough to have Mick Jagger and Ron Woods look us in the eyes. All in all, it was probably the best music experience I have ever had and one that will be quite hard to top. I have been looking forward to seeing the Stones play for much of my life and to have a dream fulfilled so completely is an incredible event.


I forgot to mention in the FOF post last night that Todd Volmert tipped me off to the announcement. I hadn't heard a thing until then.

Amusing, Yet Somehow Pathetic

Kotaku has the text of Jack Thompson's letter to Judge Friedman after the contempt hearing yesterday. Here's the full text, and here are a few excerpts:
You summoned everyone to your feet today to announce you had filed a Bar complaint against me. Judge, get in line, baby. Take-Two's lawyers at Blank Rome were ahead of you on this. But feel honored. You're now part of a gathering that includes Howard Stern's lawyers and a gay rights lawyer who admits in court filings he does drugs illegally. I'm sure you're proud.

...I save lives from reckless jurists like you...I serve those broken-hearted people, not arrogant tyrants like you.

...You're the kind of guy who would wave into an intersection a child to be run over by a semi.
After reading the full text of the letter, I'm just stunned. Seriously, why hasn't a judge put this guy in jail?

Well, except that's probably what he wants, so he can go on a hunger strike and claim to be dying to protect young children from murder simulators. This guy is so over-the-top that he makes cartoon characters look sedate.


Court Dimon sent me a link to an excellent article about Bully at the SFGate website. It's well-written and thoughtful, and here's an excerpt:
Even if you agree that video games are too violent, focusing energy on Bully is like trying to raid a crack house and accidentally smashing in the door of the doughnut franchise across the street.

Like I said, very-well written, and you can read it here.

I've played into the more open-ended section of the game, but I still don't feel like I've gotten very far. I'm actually spending far more time playing Paraworld.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Front Office Football 2007: On Sale Friday

I don't think I've ever heard of a developer announcing a release date the day before the game goes on sale. That's what Jim Gindin just did, though: Front Office Football 2007 will be on sale tomorrow.

Here's the press release:
Front Office Football 2007 adds dozens of new features to the popular career management game, designed to bring as much information about your simulated football universe as possible to your fingertips. New features include an expanded play-by-play description format and Solevision, which provides you with up to 16 channels of text-based play-by-play, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the recap of each week's contests.

Every player is now tracked in 135 individual season and playoff statistical categories, including Red Zone and Third Down situations. The stastics module now tracks 182 team and league statistics. The game-planning module was redesigned to give you much more control over your offense, defense and even special teams.

For more information about Front Office Football 2007, please visit http://www.FrontOfficeGames.com. The new game will go on sale Friday, October 27. A demonstration version of the product, which allows you to play up through the second week of the 2006 regular season, is now available.

Here's the new feature list, and some of this stuff is pretty mouth-watering:
*Solevision. Designed to bring you an entire week of Front Office Football action to one screen, Solevision provides you up to 16 exciting channels at once. You choose a channel and watch a game's play-by-play unfold, line by line. Solevision tracks the leaders in several statistical categories, tells you about scoring plays elsewhere in the league and gives you access to every game log and box score while the games are in progress. It's a new way to sit back and let the game come to you.
*New Game Plans and Depth Charts. You now have much more control over the intricate details of your offense and defense. The new version separates out more yardage-to-go categories, and allows you more control over passing distance. You also have greater control over pass coverage, blitzing and minor tweaks you can make based on the game situation. With the new depth charts, you can specify major personnel changes for nickel, dime and goal-line situations.
*Expanded Statistics. Every player is now tracked in 135 statistical categories, including Red Zone and Third-Down situations.
*Expanded Team Statistics. The team statistics module was redesigned to show 182 different team statistics and league totals. You can now look back and view every year of team numbers for your universe.
*Playoff Statistics. Individual playoff statistics are now tracked for players, both for single seasons and on the career statistics screen.
*Expanded Scouting Combine. Players are now rated in the broad jump and in a position-specific drill, in addition to the 40-yard dash, an agility drill, a strength test and an intelligence test. Scouts now take these results into account when forming their ratings. Some players may decide not to take part in the scouting combine.
*Weight Training. Before training camp, you may ask your players to bulk up or slim down a little. This will help them optimize their on-field performance or prepare for a position switch.
Summer League. Each season, you may send one of your young players to Europe to participate in the summer league. While those games aren't played in Front Office Football, players will gain experience and you will learn more about their abilities.
*Wind Speed. The wind is now a factor in games, and you might see it affect on-field performance. Studies show that no weather factor influences football more than a strong breeze. Just ask any quarterback.
*Blitz Pickup. You can now ask your tight end and running backs to stay in and help protect your quarterback from those pesky blitzing linebackers.
*The Red Flag. A few players will receive the dreaded designation: Red Flag. Those players could create drama, leading to performance problems on the field.
*Multi-Player Security. This was the most-requested feature during the past two years. Game files are now encrypted and password protected, so no one other than the commissioner can run the game as a commissioner, and participants can not look at old game plans from other teams.
Fatigue. Players who are overused could become tired and less able to do their best in the next contest.
*Gridiron Greta. Each week during the season, Gridiron Greta will make available her report on the best players in the league. Yes, there's finally a tiny bit of sound (mute button available) in Front Office Football. Just a tiny bit. We don't like noisy games, either.
*Player Transaction History. Transactions and Injuries are now tracked on each player's information screen.
*Scouting Report. Scouting reports and game previews now contain a large set of team statistical rankings.
*Nicknames. You can now give your players nicknames. Be nice. Blocks of binary data have feelings, too.
*Veteran Minimum Salaries. The salary cap calculation now incorporates the veteran minimum rule, allowing you to keep older backups without huring your team's cap situation.
*Rookie Interviews. Each season, you can interview up to 60 rookies before the annual amateur draft. You'll learn about their personalities, and get a better picture of their abilities.
*The Grey Sheet. An annual list tracking the top 75 free agents in your league.
*Team History Screen. A new screen giving you a quick look at your team's record and leading players statistically for each season of your career.

Contest Winner

In a random draw of the finalists, the winner of Guitar Hero II is:
Dustin Chinn (Crowley Slays Tame Bear)

Congratulations to Dustin and thanks to all of you who entered.

Believe it or Not...

Blogger is about to go down for 60-90 minutes to replace some piece of something or other. I'll announce the contest winner when it comes back up.

Contest Finalists

Twenty-five entries have been selected for the final drawing.

Again, judging these names is incredibly subjective, but here are my favorites (and I'll have a few notes afterwards, because some of the comments you sent were even better than the band names):
Running Man (w/Ric Shaw)
Seven Ate Nine
The Hospitalitarians
Urethra Franklin and the Burning Sensations
The Feel Me Ups
Crowley Slays Tame Bear
The Haughty Librarians
Fifty Cents for Buddha
The Freudian Slits
Kung Fugue
Repetitive Failure Injury
Root Canal
Angry Angus and the Chickens
Velvet Lunchbox
National Power Grid
Police State
Sicilian Metrification Mafia
Assham Prophecy
Infinite Monkeys
The Noobs
Five Words in Four

1. Thrillhaus. Submitted by Phil. Clearly, the "haus" makes this name.
2. Running Man (w/Ric Shaw). Submitted by Todd Ballenger. I burst out laughing when I read this band name--the "with" someone puts it totally over the top for me. I'm still laughing every time I see it.
3. Seven Ate Nine. Submitted by Howie Shack. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds great.
4. Sküzzbäll. Submitted by Taylor. It's all about the umlauts, baby.
5. The Hospitalitarians. Submitted by Ron Cider. That just sounds great.
6. Urethra Franklin and the Burning Sensations. Submitted by Thomas Moyles. If there were any justice in the world, Thom Moyles would be making an awful lot of money doing nothing but writing and being clever. Because he is very, very good at both.
7. The Feel Me Ups. Submitted by Nathaniel Read. There's just no way not to like that.
8. Crowley Slays Tame Bear. Submitted by Dustin Chinn. I have no idea why I like this so much, but I do.
9. The Haughy Librarians. Submitted by Sara. Well, it's a clever play on words, which is what you'd expect from librarians.
10. Fifty Cents for Buddha. Submitted by Aaron Ward. Actually, he submitted "50 Cents for Buddha," but I like it better spelled out.
11. The Freudian Slits. Submitted by Nathan Herron. Truly, this is genius.
12. Kung Fugue. Submitted by Steve West.
13. Repetitve Failure Injury. Submitted by Gregg. Here's what he added: This, of course, is what happens to the person who just walks into the room as you throw your guitar because "Cowboys From Hell" kicked your ass once again. I'm very familiar with that.
14. Root Canal. Submitted by Scott Benoit. This is more sheer genius, because of the double entendre of "root."
15. Angry Angus and the Chickens. Submitted by Shawn Kinkade. I'm surprised there weren't more "and the" entries.
16. Ginatown. Submitted by 3L. He noted that it's an all-girl punk band. Again, that's genius.
17. Velvet Lunchbox. Submitted by David Wolfe. I really liked the sheer incongruity.
18. National Power Grid. Submitted by Michael Cascio. Actually, Michael submitted "ASCII and Receive," which is really clever, but part of the disclaimer attached to the e-mail made me think of "National Power Grid," which I think is fantastic. So he would have made it to the finals either way.
19. Police State. Submitted by Marc Klein. Pretty straightforward and it would make a great "real" band name.
20. Sicilian Metrification Mafia. Submitted by Francesco Poli. That's beautiful.
21. Assham Prophecy. Submitted by Dylan Nichols. Stephanie Dubious-Assham personally selected this entry.
22. Infinite Monkeys. Submitted by John Harwood. In contrast to creating works of Shakespeare, an infinite number of monkeys playing Cowboys From Hell on Expert will not result in one passing the song.
23. The Noobs. Submitted by Daniel d'Avignon-Aubut. That's a comment on about ten things at once.
24. Uvulation. Submitted by Andrew Shih. It should be a word, but it's not. The "ion" at the end did it for me.
25. Five Words in Four. Submitted by Nate Carpenter. Nate's sent in some very, very funny things before, particularly in the "four word life philosophy" contest we had last year (I think it was last year). So it's an excellent band name and a reference to DQ history. I can't believe this blog has a history, but apparently it does.

The Ballad of the Noob

Here's a link to a very clever machinima parody called "The Ballad of the Noob" that will hopefully keep you busy while I'm wading through contest entries. See it here (thanks, Kotaku).

Contest Entries Now Closed

It's just after 2:30 and contest entries are officially closed. About 200 people have entered.

Now in High-Definition

Noah Dullis sent me a link to a high-definition version of the Gears of War commercial that I linked to yesterday. It's stunning in HD. Here's the link.

Jack Thompson: In Court, on Video

DQ reader Mike sent in a link to a video of Jack Thompson's contempt of court hearing yesterday. The video was made byNiero of Destructoid, and you can watch it here.

A few notes about the video. First, it's NSFW, because Niero has a few minutes of ramblings as he's driving to the courthouse (which are faily amusing, all in all, but obscenity-laced). Second, the sound quality in the courtroom is not good until you hit about the ten minute mark of the video, so while you can hear the judge before then, his voice is a little muffled.

Third, I had a feeling that Thompson would be lousy in court, but I had no freaking idea. He's the legal equivalent of cancer. Seriously--he's that bad. He makes Lionel Hutz look like Clarence Darrow.

The judge wound up recusing himself on the contempt of court motion, by the way--because he's filed a complaint against Thompson with the Florida Bar.

Guitar Hero 2 Contest [Entries Now Closed]

Here's how this will work. Send me an e-mail with the subject "Guitar Hero 2 Contest." Include your best fictional band name. Just one. I'll select the top twenty-five names and have a drawing to choose the winner, who will receive a copy of Guitar Hero 2(with guitar).

Dave Barry's Band Name List and Rock Notes From the Monty Python Contractual Oblication Album are ineligible (although they're both well worth reading).

I'm setting a big window for this contest--almost six hours. Just have your entry in by 2:30 p.m. CST. I'll try to announce the top twenty-five by 5:00 p.m. and a winner shortly thereafter.

Selecting the top twenthy-five is going to be very, very subjective, so my apologies in advance if "Toad Scrotum" is edged out by "Fred Fredonia and the Conscriptions."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Advertising: Microsoft vs. Sony

Here are two links (thanks Kotaku) that let you see the different strategies being used by Microsoft and Sony this holiday season.

First, here's a Microsoft commercial for Gears of War:
It's well worth seeing, but in case you're extraordinarily lazy (in which case, I commend you, sir), it's in-game footage of Gears of War with no in-game sound--what you hear is "Mad World" by Gary Jules. It's tremendously evocative and not unlike the style that Sony itself is using for their Bravia television ads.

Here's a Sony ad for the PS3, in contrast:
Lots of talking, lots of technical claims, lots of blah blah blah. Again, Sony's having to use their advertising dollars just to explain their product. I don't see how the equivalent of a college professor explaining how gosh-damn fantastic and powerful the PS3 is will be effective in getting people excited.

Here's another one:

Again, long and lots of narration. Explaining, explaining.

Oh, and you know how you market the Wii? Show a 30-second commercial of a ten-year-old waving the controller and laughing while he plays a game.

No explanation necessary.

He Is, However, Still Dead

There's a headline on the front page of the BBC News site right now that says this:
Nirvana singer is the number one top-earning dead star

I didn't even know that was a category. Kind of a bittersweet victory, really.

Hanging Out

I took Eli 5.2 to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner last night.

Eli loves the bread at CPK. Actually, he just loves "restaurant bread" in general. When a bread tray is put on our table, he wants every piece.

He'll always give me one piece, though. Grudgingly.

The waiter forgot to bring our bread last night, and when a waitress delivered our food, I asked her to bring us some bread. She did so, and then about thirty second later, our waiter also brought bread.

In front of us were two bread plates, each with four slices. Eli took two pieces off one of the plates and put it on the other, giving him a stack of six slices. "Daddy, I just saw my dreams come alive," he said, laughing.

We walked down to Pottery Barn Kids after dinner so he could play for a few minutes. Pottery Barn Kids has some great old-school (wooden) toys, and it would generally be less expensive to hire an expert wood carver and pay him to live in a shed in your backyard than it would be to buy any of them. So we go to the store for playing purposes only, generally.

They have something new, though, and it's pretty wicked: wooden castles. And not only that, but they have working catapults and siege towers as well. I think we stayed there playing for half an hour. Oh, and they have a parade stand for the characters--to watch the jousting tournament, of course (jousting knights also available).

On the way home, we somehow got started talking about what people used to believe that would be considered silly today. I told him about Napoleon's Map of Smells (commissioned by Napoleon to help his army avoid diseases) and how some people thought that odors caused illness. He thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard, and when I was finished he shouted "Another one, Daddy! Another one!" So I told him about Zeus hurling lightning bolts and witches and fairies and ghosts, and then I told him about how people believed the world would end when they saw a solar eclipse. "Another one!" he'd shout. I finally told him that people used to believe the Earth was flat, and that you could sail right off the edge (I know, that's not totally accurate, but I was working from memory at this point), and he burst out laughing like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "Another one, Daddy! Tell me another one!" he shouted.

Just two guys driving home in the rain, hanging out with each other, having a good time. One of the best drives I've ever had.

Negotiating--With Jackals

The insurance company called late last week and said that they were totalling Gloria's Corolla. The frame was ever-so-slightly bent, and the full repair would have been only $600 less than the value of the car.

So Gloria's been car shopping.

Younger DQ readers won't remember what it was like shopping for cars in the "old days." In the 1970's-1980's, trying to buy a car usually meant negotiating with a sociopath. I think half the cars sold in the United States back then could be attributed to Stockholm syndrome. Their basic strategy was to keep you in negotiations for so long (with the attendant emotional humilation as they hit every single button they could find) that their angry ramblings started to make a weird kind of sense.

It's not like that anymore, thank goodness. Or so I thought.

Gloria drove quite a few cars over a three or four day period and decided that she liked the Toyota RAV4. So she decided she wanted a RAV4, and Eli 5.2 decided he wanted a red car. The RAV4 Gloria had test-drove was red, so everything was lined up. I told Gloria I'd go up with her to the dealership (Classic Toyota in Round Rock) and help with the negotiations.

This car wasn't brand new, by the way--it had 180 miles on it, and had been purchased from "Toyota Financial Services" or something--but the saleswoman had already assured Gloria that they'd "do something" in terms of a price adjustment because it was used.

So we go to the dealership, fully loaded with all the relevant Consumer Reports price information. This was a 2006 RAV4 with the "Limited" options package, and the MSRP on that model was $23,105. We also knew what everything cost the dealer. Normally, this is essential and extremely helpful information when negotiating with a dealer.

Today, not so much.

We arrive at the dealership and I take a look at the car for the first time. There's no window sticker with a list of features and prices. Very, very odd. There is, however, a little piece of paper on one of the side windows that says "$26,999." That's all that's written on the paper.

Warning flag raised.

We sit down with the saleswoman (who Gloria really likes, so I'd like to buy the car from her). She's taking information from Gloria for the title, and finally I said "We really need to talk about price or there won't be a reason to have information for the title," and she pretends to look surprised and stops writing.

"Of course," she said.

"Now this is the 2006 RAV4 in the 'Limited' edition," I said. "Are there any other options?"

"There's a cargo net," she said. "That's the only other option."

"What is the MSRP on this car?" I asked.

"Well, the MSRP doesn't matter, because it's a used car," she says.

"Okay, but what would the MSRP be for this car?"

"I don't know," she said. Warning flag number two goes up. This is a Toyota dealership and they won't tell me the MSRP of a car.

"Let me tell you, then," I said. "The MSRP on this car is $23,105. So can you tell me why a used car costs almost four thousand dollars more than the same car new?"

"Well, we know that's a crazy price," she said. "Crazy. We didn't put that price on there."

"So what price did you put on there?" I asked.

"No price," she said. "Tell me what you would pay."

Second warning flag. They don't even have a price. Bizarre.

Like I said, Gloria really likes this lady, she likes the car, Eli likes the car, and I know it's a popular model. I tell the saleswoman that we'll pay $23,000 (excluding TTL), and I tell her that I consider that a very generous offer (which it is--it's way too soft). She makes me write down the offer on a piece of paper and initial it, then she walks off.

She's gone for about fifteen minutes, which I expected, so I keep track of how long she's actually gone (which I'll use later). Then she comes back with her "boss" (aka bad cop). "I'm required by law to disclose to you that this vehicle had hail damage at the manufacturer," he said. "They made a three hundred dollar repair, but it voids the paint and perforation damage warranty." He kept repeating the phrase "required by law," like somehow it's bad for me that I'm finding out the car had hail damage.

Outstanding. Nice job waiting until after I've made an offer to tell me that.

"So how much does it cost to repaint this car?" I asked.

"About thirty-five hundred dollars," he said. "But do you know how much three hundred dollars is? It's four bumps!"

"Understood, but it means I'm missing part of the warranty, which has value," I said. So how much will you take off the price for the loss of the warranty?" I asked.

"You tell me," he said. Great. Dickheads on parade.

"Fine," I said. "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go sit in the car and call the two other Toyota dealers in town. I'll be back in about fifteen minutes." So I go sit in the car they're trying to sell me and call other dealers. I tell the first one that Classic is trying to sell me a used RAV4 for almost four thousand dollars over MSRP.

He starts laughing.

Hell, I'd be laughing, too, if they weren't trying to sell it to me.

"Would you be charging over MSRP for a new vehicle, let alone a used one?" I asked him.

"No," he said. I'm surprised he didn't say you tell me.

I stayed in the car until I'd made them wait as long as they'd made me wait previously, then I got out and went back in.

"The other dealers laughed when I told them the price," I said.

"We don't even want this car!" the boss protested. "We just want it off our lot!"

This dealership has a used car lot, but this car somehow isn't over there. Instead, it's the only used car on this entire lot. And that's strange, but this is all strange, so I don't pursue it.

I tell them I'll offer $22,500, and again, I let them know that offering only six hundred dollars below MSRP for a used car with no paint/perforation warranty was a softball offer.

The boss and saleswoman go off and come back twenty minutes later. "My manager says he can't go any lower than $23,900," he says. I started laughing.

"So let me get this straight," I said. "This car is used and has no factory warranty for paint or perforation damage, and you're trying to sell it to me for almost a thousand dollars over the MSRP of the new version."

He shrugs. "That's as low as my manager says we can go."

"How long do you have to wait before you find people who want to pay more for a used car?" I asked.

"Would you like us to look for a new car for you?" he asked.

"Thanks, I think I've had enough," I said.

I started gathering up our paperwork, and after the boss walked off, the saleswoman said (in a low voice) "I'm really sorry. I didn't know about any of that." The look on her face, though, was of someone who been caught with both hands and a foot in the cookie jar.

So no car for Gloria. There's another dealer in town, one that hopefully isn't batshit insane, and she's going over this afternoon.

They even have a RAV4 in stock, and it's red.

This should be easy, right?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I've been getting quite a bit of e-mail about this (thanks Slashdot Games):
Lik-Sang is Out of Business
"Thanks to Sony's heavy handed tactics, popular game importer Lik-Sang is closing its doors. All Lik-Sang customers are having their orders cancelled and refunded. Any attempt to place a new order redirects your web browser to the news of Lik-Sang's demise."

In case you've never heard of Lik-Sang, they're a grey market importer of all kinds of gaming products--consoles, games, accessories. They sell from all regions to all regions, basically (I'm probably oversimplifying that). I've used them before and always received very good service.

Sony sued Lik-Sang (again, I may be oversimplifying) because they sold PSP's from the Asian region to European consumers. Lik-Sang included a voltage adapter with cross-region hardware orders, but no matter--Sony claimed it was a "safety" issue. And in a bit of irony, the voltage adapters Lik-Sang included were--you guessed it--Sony.

There are several interesting things at play here. One, it reminds me that we have these wonderful things now called "auto sensing" power supplies that automatically supply the right voltage. Why in the world doesn't someone make a console with an auto-sensing power supply and no region codes for software? Wouldn't that make it much, much easier to respond to geographic shifts in consumer demand?

Two, Sony, once again, is advancing their new corporate strategy, which is to alienate every $*#damn person in the entire world. Lik-Sang only existed because Sony didn't service consumer demand efficiently.

Three, here's the twist: Lik-Sang also shut down in 2002. Microsoft sued them for selling Xbox mod chips. Within a month, they had re-opened (no longer selling mod chips).

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a "new" Lik-Sang open within two or three months, either under a different legal name or without the Sony grey market products. And given that Lik-Sang apparently didn't even try to fight the Sony lawsuit, it makes me suspect that they have something up their sleeve.

IDG and the Next-Gen Installed Base

I saw an interesting article over at Next-Gen about International Development Group's (IDG's) forecast for the next generation consoles. I generally consider IDG to be a cut above the rest of these so-called "research groups" that actually consist of Ted and his cousin Jenny working out of their parent's trailer in the Appalachian mountains.

And what they have to say is very interesting, because like most other "professional" analysts, they really don't understand what's about to happen.

Here's what they project as the North American installed base of each of the next-gen systems. The first number is projected sales (in millions) for the referenced year, and the second number is the total installed base (again, in millions):

2007 6.0/11.65.6/6.53.4/4.5

So if you wanted to look at the 2010 numbers to call a "winner" of the next generation, it would be Microsoft, with Sony a very close second. And the Wii would be a distant third.

Okay, let me get this straight. The Wii is going to sell barely more than half the units of the other two consoles even though it's significantly cheaper and offers an entirely unique control scheme which will encourage developers to be more creative. Oh, and the development costs are much lower.


If you've read this blog for a while, you know I've busted Nintendo's ass on a regular basis for being both stupid and strange.

Not this time, though.

Let's review what's going to happen when these systems get launched. The PS3 media coverage will be 100% focused on how expensive the system is and how few units are actually available. In other words, almost all the coverage will be defensive in a marketing sense, and 90% of the interviews the crazy boat of Sony executives have given since E3 have been defensive.

100% of the Wii coverage, on the other hand, will be videos of children using the new controller and laughing. No price controversy. No supply controversy other than everyone saying it's the "must have" toy for Christmas.

So let's compare. You have, on the one hand, a console that costs $499/$599, one game that's generating buzz for the launch (Resistance), and extremely limited quantities available at launch (1 million, at most, by the end of the year, and I'm guessing that 500k-750k will wind up being the actual number).

On the other hand, you have a console that costs half that much (or less) and includes a pack-in game, much higher available launch quantities (and replenishment), and an entirely unique control scheme that will feel totally natural to any kid on the planet.

And they think the Wii is only going to sell 200k more units by the end of the year?

Sure, the PS3 (and the 360) has HD. That's a big deal--to me. And if Nintendo had released a 480p console with nothing unique about it, they would have had a disaster on their hands. For 80% of U.S. television owners, though, 480p is going to look just fine on their sets, and the controller will give them a unique experience compared to the PS3. And there will be plenty of HD owners who will still get the Wii as well, so it's not like 480p is going to shut them out of the HD market.

Here's my stake in the ground about the Wii. Nintendo will do an excellent job of having units available at launch--in fact, if you're persistent, you'll be able to walk in on launch day and buy one (like I said, if you're persistent). By late November, though, every kid in this country is going to want one, and when stock gets replenished anywhere, it will be gone in minutes.

The PS3? A non-factor this year. The 360? The beneficiary of all the people who want an HD console and wanted a PS3, but have zero chance of getting one. Plus the game line-up for the 360 during the holiday season is very strong. So the 360 is going to do extemely well this holiday season.

Does this mean the PS3 is dead? Absolutely not. If they want to drop the price to $399 (a $100 reduction), they can change their relevance very quickly. But given the stratospheric costs to actually make a PS3, that's not going to be easy. And if they don't, they're not going to be able to sell units quickly enough after the early adapters are sated to lower their production costs. Without the installed base, developers aren't going to be able to justify the increased development costs. And without the games, Sony won't be able to sell enough units to lower the price. It's a nasty, nasty Catch-22.

Sony's also behind the eight-ball when it comes to the next-next gen. Ignore Sony's hype about the PS3 lasting forever--technology is going to move forward far, far more quickly than any existing technology, no matter how advanced, can remain relevant. No matter how good these consoles look now (and I see plenty of room for improvement already), they're going to be showing their age within three to four years.

Microsoft will have another console ready to go in 2010 (I believe). At that point, Sony will have come nowhere near recouping the development costs of the PS3. I can't see them having a PS4 ready to go before 2012, at the absolute soonest. That's a two year gap, which probably represents over fifteen million units of installed base. Maybe more.

In other words, Sony is in trouble.

Now Appearing Via E-mail

My next door neighbor, who long-time sufferers of this feature will remember as the fellow from Taiwan who is both Mormon and believes in space aliens, has started sending me videos via e-mail. I received two last week:
1. an alleged UFO over Tokyo
2. a terrier doing the rumba

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bully and the Bully

It looks like The Deadly Frog Woman of the Lost Rainforest could be getting into a bit of trouble. From Game Politics:
GamePolitics has confirmed that lawyers representing Take-Two Interactive, publisher of Bully, are seeking to have Jack Thompson declared in contempt of court.

Although we haven’t yet seen the motion, the request would appear to relate to Thompson’s angry comments in the wake of Miami District Court Judge Ronald Friedman’s refusal to block sales of Bully.

Even better than the motion is Jack's response:
For his part, Thompson has reacted to the motion with typical bluster, directing his comments towards opposing counsel as well as the judge. Here are excerpts from recent e-mails cc’d to GamePolitics:
"You want to play hardball…? You want to try to throw me in jail? You have no idea what you are unleashing in doing this. You’re at the brink…”

“If this court in any fashion proceeds toward issuing a show cause order, given its utter baselessness and the bad faith goo in which it slithers, then Thompson will add whatever judge should do so as a defendant in the aforementioned federal civil rights action…”

I see Thompson with a t.v. tray, sitting in a dilapidated green easy chair, the arms duct-taped to cover the holes, eating a frozen dinner and yelling "Unleash Hell!" at the television as he watches the evening news.

Bully for you, Jack--no pun intended, of course.

Gamer Dad Update

That was resolved very quickly, by Microsoft standards. The "Gamer Dad" column at Xbox.com is now titled "Xbox Dad."

Brutal Deluxe

I think I hit the wall with the annual "outdoor swimming until the end of October" battle. The water temperature was in the sixties Saturday morning (which was warmer than the air temperature), and swimming a mile in that water temperature was brutal. If it had been any colder, I couldn't have done it, and the water temperature has dropped for two days since then.

This is the year I'm going to join the gym with the heated outdoor pool, so I'll still be swimming outdoors, and it will be much more comfortable. But no master of the lazy arts wants to fill out the paperwork until absolutely necessary.

This Week

Guitar Hero contest. I'm not sure which day yet, but I'll post an announcement and you guys will have four hours to submit your best idea for a band name (one per person, please). I'll pick the top three for prizes and share the top ten with you.

--first place: a copy of Guitar Hero II (with guitar)
--second place: a copy of The Guild 2
--third place: to be determined

Please note that this is not the contest announcement, just a heads-up that it will be this week. And I opted for a larger entry window this time, for those of you who actually work for a living, go to classes, etc.

Next week we'll have the Wii contest.

Mr. Incredible 5.2 And That Hippie Chick

I've been asked to clearly explain that what you see in the photo is not Gloria's real hair.

One of Eli 5.2's friends had a birthday/Halloween party Saturday night. Eli's been looking forward to breaking out his Mr. Incredible Halloween costume, and Gloria's always secretly wanted to be a 70's hippie chick, so a good time was had by all.

And no, Eli's weight hasn't doubled in the last month. That's muscular padding for the Mr. Incredible costume that somehow looks like extra servings of mashed potatoes instead. He's still entirely scrawny.

Eli's at the age where he sometimes says things that sound like he's being a smartass, but he's actually being sincere. He just hasn't learned the fine art of sugarcoating yet.

Earlier this week, Gloria made some broccoli for Eli for dinner, but she tried to disguise it by melting a little cheese on the top.

This had no chance of getting past The Inspector.

"Mom, what is this?" he asked.

"It's broccoli with melted cheese on it," Gloria said. "It's your favorite kind of cheese."

"I don't want it," he said. "I like cheese on its own."

"Eli, you need to at least try it," Gloria said. "I spent extra time making that for you."

"Well, that wasn't very smart," he said, and I had to bite my lip to stop me from bursting out laughing, because it's exactly what I was thinking.

Gloria didn't even try to bite her lip. She just laughed.

"Well, try smelling it," she said. "It smells delicious."

"I did!" he said. "I smelled it. Turn on the fan!"

On a related note, I always thought that there might be something horribly wrong with broccoli, because when it decomposes it smells like nothing so much as death.

This weekend, I took Eli out for breakfast at The Original Pancake House, where we've eaten almost every Sunday for over two years. While we were there, we saw a woman walk by holding a baby.

"I'm allergic to babies," Eli said.

"Allergic?" I asked.

"Well, they don't really make me sneeze, but I don't like looking at their butts."

Note on The Guild 2

I haven't even installed The Guild 2 yet because I'm waiting for the 1.20 patch, which (allegedly) is coming out by the 23rd.

Oh, and I just saw a forum post minutes ago indicating that the patch has been "delayed." This is unfortunately the same pattern that happened with the original Guild game, and hopefully this is not something that's going to drag out for weeks (or months), because it did exactly that last time.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Paraworld Patch

From Blue's News:
The first ParaWorld patch is now available, updating SEK's prehistoric RTS game to version 1.01. A lengthy list of bug fixes, tweaks, and other improvements are included in the patch, which can be found on 3D Downloads, 3D Gamers, FileFront, Gamer's Hell, and Worthplaying.

I can't believe more people aren't talking about this game. I was able to create a T-Rex as one of my units tonight. It looked so freaking cool that it should have been illegal.


So look at this:
GamerDad Makes His Mark on Xbox.com
Just noticed that a new contributor joined the ranks of Xbox.com.
Welcome to GamerDad. (not to be confused with GamerDad.com).

See it here.

So they did research it, they did see Gamer Dad, and I guess this is their attempt to--well, something or other. I'm not sure what.

Seriously, couldn't they just have used "Gaming Dad?"

Gamer Dad

This is an odd story, really.

Andrew Bub has operated the Gamer Dad website for several years (I believe it started in 2003, if I remember correctly). It looks at gaming from a parent's perspective, and it offers plenty of content. It's not a one-man operation, and it's established.

So Microsoft started a column at Xbox.com this week called--Gamer Dad. Based on its stated objectives, it seems to basically be duplicating the mission of the Gamer Dad website.

Oh, and Andrew was savvy enough to trademark the phrase "Gamer Dad" a while back, apparently.

I don't know anything about trademark law, so I don't know if this is an actionable infringement (although I know some of you guys do, and you'll advise me after reading this). But I'm baffled as to why Microsoft wouldn't do some simple research (like typing in www.gamerdad.com to their freaking web browser) before using the name. Do they just enjoy writing checks?

If I hear from any lawyers specializing in trademark law (I know you're out there), I'll post an update.

Almost Immediately

From Bloomberg.com, and this was faster than even I expected:
Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Sony Corp., which slashed its profit forecast yesterday, said it may not reach this year's shipment target for the PlayStation 3 game console because of a parts shortage in the Blu-ray high-definition disc drive.

Sony plans to ship two million PlayStation 3 players this year to the U.S. and Japan, and six million worldwide by March. The Tokyo-based company said yesterday annual profit would fall 35 percent to its lowest in five years on price cuts of the console in Japan and a recall of 9.6 million computer batteries.

"The honest answer is it's more of a target'' for PlayStation 3 shipments, Jack Tretton, co-chairman of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said yesterday in an interview. "Clearly we've had production issues.''

Again, I added the bold emphasis. So this is the new message, apparently, since both Hirai and Tretton have mentioned this in the last few days.

I don't think they would even mention this if they were going to come anywhere close to shipping a million consoles in North America by the end of the calendar year. So I'm expecting, at a minimum, a 20% shortfall. Worst case? Probably 50%. If the real number is between 500,000-800,000 units, don't be surprised. And in terms of the worldwide number (goal: two million), I think they'll do well to hit 1.5 million.

Full Bloomberg story here.

Seeking Your Rolling Stones Stories

The Rolling Stones are giving a concert in Austin on Sunday.

I saw them on their "last" North American tour--in 1980. Twenty-six years later, they've moved to the second-tier cities because it's just not that easy to be draw in L.A. and New York in your sixties (although I think their studio albums are still very solid).

The tickets (general admission into Zilker Park) cost around $100. Holy crap. So even though they're the Rolling Stones, and even though they've never performed in Austin, they're not selling out, although they will have about 40,000 people there on Sunday.

Here's the thing. I have a couple of stories from when I saw them in 1980, because the crowd itself was pretty memorable. And I've got one other story from someone else as well. So if you've been to a Rolling Stones concert and have an interesting story, send it to me and I'll post them all on Monday.

PS3: How Many?

Next-Gen had an interview this week with Kaz Hirai (president of SCEA). Here's the part that's particularly interesting:
Next-Gen: Lets talk about the PS3’s unit numbers for launch…
Kaz Hirai: For day one, we are going to have a total 400,000 units for the launch period only for North America, and we expect to have about one million units by the end of the calendar year. These are some pretty aggressive numbers.

I bolded that last bit. Let me translate that for you: we're not shipping one million units to North America by the end of the year. That's clearly a seed being planted.

This is 100% speculation on my part, and I could be totally wrong. But given the entirely self-aggrandizing style of their executives for the last six months, for Hirai to express any doubt at all (and that was definitely doubt), it's clearly a red flag. Sony executives just don't use phrases like "...we expect to have about."

Here's the full interview.

Friday Links

For your time-wasting pleasure.

William Barnes sent in a link to an archive of the first 100 issues of Computer Gaming World, now scanned and viewable. The covers are also all viewable on one page--just looking at them brings back a ton of memories (and probably for you as well). The link is here.

Nate Carpenter sent me a link to a video about a man who is building a life-size replica of Stonehenge--by himself. What's really fascinating in this video are the very simple methods he uses to move gigantic pieces of concrete--methods that could have been used by the builders of the real Stonehenge as well. The video is here.

Jim Riegel sent me a link to an outstanding article about elephant behavior and how it appears to be changing for the worse:
All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem.

...it is not only the increasing number of these incidents that is causing alarm but also the singular perversity — for want of a less anthropocentric term — of recent elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in ‘‘a number of reserves’’ in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities.

This is one of the most interesting articles I've read in a long time, and you can read it here.

From Brian Witte, a link to a mind-blowing article about cell differentiation. Here's an excerpt:
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A team of scientists from five countries examining fossil embryos that are more than 550 million years old have found evidence of cell differentiation, a study released this week found.

...They said in Science that they examined "162 relatively pristine envelope-bound and spheroidal embryos in which recurrent biological structures and cleavage patterns could be distinguished from inorganic artifacts."

"We digitally extracted each cell from the embryos and then looked inside the cells," said another member of the research team, Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Tech.

"We found some kidney shaped structures within the cells which could be nuclei or other subcellular structures. It is amazing that such delicate biological structures can be preserved in such an ancient deposit."

In some four-cell embryos, each cell had two kidney shaped subcellular structures, "so they were caught in the process of splitting during cell division," Xiao added.

Amazing story, and you can read it here.

Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick sent in a link to a story about the "Antikythera mechanism," a complex astrological device constructed in ancient Greece. Here's an excerpt:
The Antikythera mechanism, as it is now known, was originally housed in a wooden box about the size of a shoebox, with dials on the outside and a complex assembly of bronze gear wheels within. X-ray photographs of the fragments, in which around 30 separate gears can be distinguished, led the late Derek Price, a science historian at Yale University, to conclude that the device was an astronomical computer capable of predicting the positions of the sun and moon in the zodiac on any given date. A new analysis, though, suggests that the device was cleverer than Price thought, and reinforces the evidence for his theory of an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology.

...the mechanism was strongly suggestive of an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology which, transmitted via the Arab world, formed the basis of European clockmaking techniques. This fits with another, smaller device that was acquired in 1983 by the Science Museum, which models the motions of the sun and moon. Dating from the sixth century AD, it provides a previously missing link between the Antikythera mechanism and later Islamic calendar computers, such as the 13th century example at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. That device, in turn, uses techniques described in a manuscript written by al-Biruni, an Arab astronomer, around 1000AD.

The origins of much modern technology, from railway engines to robots, can be traced back to the elaborate mechanical toys, or automata, that flourished in the 18th century. Those toys, in turn, grew out of the craft of clockmaking. And that craft, like so many other aspects of the modern world, seems to have roots that can be traced right back to ancient Greece.

It's an interestinging story, and here's the link.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bully Impressions

I've played Bully for 4:45 and have completed 9.61% of the game.

Usually, after five hours of play, I have a fairly solid idea of how good a game will be. With Bully, though, it's just not that easy.

Here's the basic setup. Jimmy's mother and stepfather drop him off at Bullworth Academy on their way to a yearlong honeymoon. Jimmy's pissed off, understandably, because Bullworth Academy, to say the least, is no prize. It's Dickensian and it's Lord of the Flies, with just a little Clockwork Orange thrown in for good measure.

Bully has terrific writing, and terrific voice acting as well. The music is excellent. Control is better than the GTA series, although it's still not ideal. Same goes for the camera--an improvement, but it will occasionally go wonky at a critical time.

Here's your daily schedule, at least in the early game. You have a morning class and afternoon class, and if you choose to attend (or get caught by a prefect and have to attend), you'll go to one of several classes--so far, I've seen English, Chemistry, Art, and Gym classes (Shop Class and Photography are also in the game).

Each class has a mini-game, and they're at least nominally amusing (art class has a version of Qix which is particularly fun). Completing an "assignment" (the mini-game) gives you some kind of character bonus, which varies by class.

In parallel with classes are story missions (that's what I'm calling them, anyway)--complete them, and you'll advance the story. They have a nice degree of variety, and usually involve some kind of minor juvenile delinquency--picking locks on lockers, using stink bombs, shooting a slingshot, stealing something.

And you'll fight--Jimmy's a tough guy in a school filled with them (along with every other standard clique you'd expect in a high school). You don't have to fight, though--groveling is available as a tactic, and while I'm not using it, I like the idea of having it there.

Oh, and you'll also make out. It's high school, after all.

It's all reasonably interesting and reasonably fun, and it's very clever at times, but somehow it's not quite grabbing me. I do appreciate that it seems more focused and polished than a GTA game, and the high school atmosphere is very well executed.

I've read elsewhere that the game map opens up at some point, and since all I've seen so far is the school itself (and surrounding grounds), I'm still hoping that my interest picks up from here. I'll keep you posted.

Update on EA, BF2142, and Patches

DQ reader "Kato Katonian" sent me this:
From what I am reading today, it sounds like the problem is with Microsoft's Security Patch, which is why EA says you might have to uninstall if if you have problems. Microsoft has released a patch to fix the patch. Go figure.

The MS hotfix article is here:

Here's the explanation from that page:
After you apply security update 917422, programs that limit the application stack size to 2,048 bytes might not run. You do not receive any error message when this problem occurs.

I looked for a date that this was posted on Microsoft's site, but all I see is the "Last Review" date, which is 10/18 (yesterday).

I'm going to add a comment to all the previous posts made about the patch to reflect this.

Again, though, this is another situation where EA gets them into a mess. Two months ago, they revised their privacy policy because, read literally, it indicated that they could receive the credit card information from our Xbox Live accounts via transfer from Microsoft.

It was not a mistake in comprehension. It was the way their policy was written.

Earlier this week, we have the BF2142 flyer fiasco, where a badly written disclaimer, again read literally, indicated that they could send targeted ads by gathering data from our computers. Yesterday, they came out with a clearly worded, easily-understood explanation of exactly what was happening--which is what they should have done in the first place.

Then we have the patch readme. Again, if a Microsoft Security Update had an error, they could have easily added that one-sentence explanation up front and there would have been no concern.

EA needs to very, very clear about everything involving privacy, because we are all paying attention now.

All of us.


Bully impressions. I promise. It's taken me longer to get five hours of play time than I expected.

EA and Sony: the Perfect Merger

Both of these companies seem hell-bent on destroying themselves: Sony, with incredibly bad strategy and tactics, and EA, with poor quality and absolutely terrible consumer relations.

So I saw both of these pieces of information today and thought they belonged together.

The first piece was an e-mail I received today from Gamefly, telling me I could keep NBA Live '07 (the 360 version) for $26.19. This is a game that's what--three weeks old--and Gamefly wants to sell it to me for less than HALF the original price?

Gamefly sends out e-mails occasionally with deals like this, but I've never seen that kind of deep discount on a game that just came out. That can only mean that they have zero demand for the title and they're trying to get rid of their inventory as quickly as possible.

And zero demand is not surprising, given that all of the versions of the game received average ratings in the 60's at gamerankings.com. The 360 version is chugging along at 63%, and without an inexplicable 91% review from PGNxMedia, the average would be even worse.

Again, as I mentioned when I originally wrote up impressions, this game was so poorly made in terms of quality that it's almost funny. Unless you bought it, that is.

Add the BF2142 issue, which is quickly degenerating into a public relations disaster for EA, and you've got a mess. There is no PR spin on Earth that can make telling customers to uninstall an operating system security update to play a game anything but a huge embarrassment.

[NOTE: a DQ reader sent me a link to a Microsoft hot fix that indicates the Security Update in question could crash programs that limited the size of the application stack below a certain value. For more information, see this post]

Second, Geoff Engelstein sent me a link to an earnings pre-announcement by Sony. Here's an excerpt from the full story:
In a statement today, Sony said losses from its PS3 operation will be higher than expected, partly due to the price-cut in Japan, and partly due to shortages and the European delay. The firm has also cut forecasts for PSP shipments by 3 million to 9 million.

Net income for the year ending March 31, 2007 will drop 35 percent from last year to 80 billion yen ($675 million). That’s a 50 billion yen drop from July’s forecast, since which the firm was hit by laptop recalls due to faulty batteries and various PS3 problems. Sony reported a second-quarter operating loss of 21 billion yen, compared with a 66 billion profit a year ago.

To me, the big news in that announcement is not the reduction in profits due to the PS3--that was already obvious--but the gigantic reduction in forecast for PSP shipments. A twenty-five percent reduction? Has demand dropped that significantly?

And just remember, those estimates are with the PS3 still costing $499 and $599 in the U.S. They'll sell out at launch, because they're shipping so few units, but the PS3 is going to be a boat anchor at $499/$599 compared to the 360 and the Wii.

Sony already realized they were committing pricing suicide in Japan, but somehow they're still managing to delude themselves about the U.S. market.

Shaken in the Girl

Nate Carpenter sent in a link to a steampunk laptop, and it's a beauty. It's a hybrid of a laptop computer and a manual typewriter, faux-rusted, and it's a true work of art. Fully functioning, too. Look at the pictures here.

Oh, and Nate also attached a link to the Babelfish translation of the page (which I believe is Japanese, although I'm not sure). Babelfish is one of the greatest pieces of software ever--not because it translates web pages, which is totally cool, but because of how it frequently butchers the translation, which is even better.

Given how difficult some of these languages and characters must be to identify and translate, I know that's inevitable, but it's still really funny.

Here are two samples:
Rather than with saying, after the Mack producing the feeling which was shaken in the girl, appeared in style.


The latest foppery equipment.
When the bell is sounded, the Enter key.

"producing the feeling which was shaken in the girl" is more than translation--it's poetry. And "Shaken in the Girl" is a great GH2 band name.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

EA Clarifies, Sort of

From Joystiq:
Electronic Arts statement (unedited):
The advertising program in Battlefield 2142 does not access any files which are not directly related to the game. It does not capture personal data such as cookies, account login detail, or surfing history.

BF 2142 delivers ads by region. The advertising system uses a player's IP address to determine the region of the player, assisting to serve the appropriate ads by region and language. For instance, a player in Paris might be presented with ads in French. The information collected will not be repurposed for other uses.

Battlefield 2142 also tracks "impression data" related to in-game advertisements: location of a billboard in the game, brand advertised, duration of advertisement impression, etc. This information is used to help advertisers qualify the reach of a given advertisement.

That's clear, and it doesn't sound unreasonable. So why didn't they say that in the first place, and why does the disclaimer/flyer stake out additional ground beyond the reach of this statement? And why do people need to uninstall a Windows Security Update to correct an "application error"?

Has anyone EVER played a game where the readme advised them to uninstall a Windows Security Update?

[NOTE: a DQ reader sent me a link to a Microsoft hot fix that indicates the Security Update in question could crash programs that limited the size of the application stack below a certain value. For more information, see this post]

Double, Double Toil and Trouble; Fire Burn, and Cauldron Bubble

"Have you noticed my red eye?" Gloria asked as I walked into the kitchen.

"Red eye?" It took me three weeks to notice that she'd put some kind of fall dried flower bundle on the front door, and I only noticed it then because it scratched my face.

"Here, take a look." Gloria does her best Marty Feldman impersonation, and I can definitely see a band of angry red outside the iris.

"Good grief!" I said. "Why are you still wearing your contacts?"

"I don't think the contacts have anything to do with it." The five hundred pound elephant here is that Gloria hates wearing her glasses, and will create any one of several dozen pretexts to avoid putting them on.

"So your eye is darkly red right next to the iris, but there's no chance that the contacts were a contributing factor?"

"I don't think so," she said.

"You're probably right. Plus, I'm sure that glass eye technology has really advanced in the last ten years. You'll probably be able to get one that looks almost identical."

"I do wear my glasses when I have to," she said.

"If you had a screwdriver sticking out of your eye socket, you'd still be wearing your contacts," I said. "If I asked you about it, you'd say 'I think it's fine--I just need to be careful near walls.' "

"I can't wear my glasses," she said. "They make me look like a hag."

"Actually, hag is a very complex look," I said. "Nobody can pull it off just by wearing glasses."

"And I can't see anything with these glasses," she said. "My peripheral vision is terrible."

"Because you wanted lenses the size of almond slivers," I said. "You didn't want lenses large enough to actually see anything because of the imaginary hag factor."

I'm actually a big fan of the librarian hottie look, which is really what her glasses make her look like. She looks in the mirror, though, and sees something straight out of Macbeth.

I hope she makes an easy, one-cauldron meal tonight.

Still More EA, and It's Getting Worse

This thing is growing like some kind of disease.

First, here's an excerpt from a Gamasutra interview with IGA Worldwide CEO Justin Townsend:
Specifically, IGA's software uses the IP address for geotargeting of in-game ads (so that European ads are not shown to those in the U.S., for example). It also creates a unique user number that's generated locally, and is able to re-identify the gamer when he next appears online.

In addition, IGA's in-game ad solution does capture the time of day that the user started to play each gaming session - Townsend mentioned, as an example, that "if the brief says 'Males 18 to 34'", the ads may only be served between 6pm and 9pm on a weekday evening or similar, to replicate 'primetime' viewing.

The time that each ad impression takes place is also recorded by IGA, alongside what type of ad content it was (billboard, megaboard, or video stream), the duration (how long was the ad seen for), the size of the ad relative to the player, and the angle of deflection (what angle the ad is viewed at).

It's good that Townsend is trying to get in front of this instead of it running him over. However, the flyer/disclaimer itself is a problem, because it reserves rights for EA that it clearly shouldn't have.

And here's the other problem, which appears to be much bigger. DQ reader Noah Dullis sent me this:
EA released a patch for Battlefield 2142 today, and I noticed this while looking through its ReadMe:"Players who have the Windows security update KB917422 installed may suffer from an application error when running Battlefield 2142. This error can be solved by uninstalling the KB917422 update."

And what does the Windows security update KB917422 do?

From Microsoft: "A security issue has been identified in the Windows Kernel that could allow an attacker to compromise your Windows-based system and gain control over it.

Outstanding! To play Battlefield 2141, not only do we have to put up with intrusive advertising, we have to uninstall a security update that was designed to protect the Windows Kernel.

Gee, I hope Mr. Townsend is still answering his phone.

[NOTE: a DQ reader sent me a link to a Microsoft hot fix that indicates the Security Update in question could crash programs that limited the size of the application stack below a certain value. For more information, see this post]

Here's the readme for the patch (click on "more details about this file"):
patch readme.

And here are the details of what's in the security update that we're being instructed to uninstall: Windows security update.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Yes, It Was

Okay, stop sending me e-mail about misspelling "know." That was the joke, or "jok" as it were. I did however, accidentally misspell canon, even though I knew better, which was quite embarrassing.

No Bully impressions until tomorrow--the UPS guy apparently had better things to do than deliver the game until very late in the day.

Canon, Not Cannon

Good grief. Even when I now how to spell something I can't spell it correctly.

Paraworld Impressions

Like I said last week--I'm not an RTS wonk. I can't discuss the merits and minutiae of the RTS genre like I can for sports games. I can't discuss the RTS canon, can't really trace the lineage of the genre.

I just know what I like.

As I mentioned yesterday, I've gone through seven missions of the single-player campaign, which is less than half of the sixteen missions in total.

In mission six, I used a cronosaurus (piloted by a tribesman), floating harbors (powered by giant sea turtles), a brachiosaur with a platform attached to its back (holding four archers), a brachiosaur with a catapult on its back, an allosaur, a stegosaurus, shamans that could resurrect dead units, druids, heroes, warriors, archers, spearmen, and I can't even remember what else.

I really, really like brachiosaurs.

Oh, and I used a poisoner. That's a dude who carries a giant vat of green poison on his back, and when he attacks, he dies as well.

There's pre-history. There's steampunk. There's damn near just about everything, which is one of the reasons I love this game: it's wacky and beautiful and unbelievably vibrant.

Now if you don't like brachiosaurs swaying as they walk, with a platform of archers riding on their backs, or if you don't like giant mechanical spiders, then maybe this game isn't for you.

Of course, I don't really know anyone who doesn't like those things, and Iif found someone who didn't, I'd think they were very, very strange.

There are dinosaurs all over the freaking place. Some you can use as units, but most are just around. They have nests, they have distinctive behaviors, and they are all freaking fantastic. Mesmerizing, at least to me.

Dinosaurs alone would be very cool, but the game world is just incredibly beautiful, with a stunning, vivid use of color. It's the most beautiful RTS I've ever seen, and I can't even think of anything that would be a close second.

So on a graphical level, Paraworld sets a new standard. What's most remarkable, though, is that the interface does so as well. The "Army Controller" is a grid on the left side of the screen that gives you instant access to any of your units.

What makes the AC so good is that to issue commands, you don't need to know where your units are--you just need to know where you want them to be.

As an example, if I see a settler with "zzz" on their portrait, I know they're not doing anything. I don't need to find that settler in the game world--I just click on his picture in the AC, then designate where I want him to go (and what I want him to do). That sounds like a simple convenience, but it is so helpful and so intuitive.

If their portrait is flashing, they're being attacked, and the thin health bars under their portrait let me know how much health they have left. If they die, their portrait disappears. Again, simple but powerful.

The Army Controller is unobtrusive, it's streamlined, and it's very powerful. I'm going to have a very difficult time playing an RTS with a conventional interface in the future.

Oh, and the music is spectacular. Seeing storms roll in across the sea is amazing. The lighting effects are stunning.

This is the only RTS I've ever played that I would put in the "tourist game" category. I call a game a tourist game when there is so much to see that I just want to wander around and experience everything. That's why the game is taking so long for me to play--I want to see absolutely every unit I can create, and see every inch of the map on every mission. I want to loiter.

What other PC games in the last two years made me feel that way?
--Space Rangers 2
--Dwarf Fortress

It's a short list.

Eli 5.2 is also mesmerized by this game. When he walked into my study the first time he saw me playing it, he looked at the screen and shouted "THAT'S A BRACHIOSAUR!"

Which was exactly my reaction the first time I saw one.

Wonderful, fun game.

The Last Sketchboard Post

Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick sent in a correction (to what I posted, not what he sent me):
That filefactory link is not the source code, thats a version of the program compiled for non-tablet PC's so the rest of us can try playing with it.

Oh, and here's some DQ related trivia: I got an e-mail last week from a reader who actually works down the hall from someone who recently won a Nobel Prize.

More on EA's Finger and Your Ass

I'm not sure if this is version-universal, but here's the text of the Battlefield 2142 "flyer" as shown in this photo:
The Software may incorporate technology developed by IGA Worldwide Inc. ("IGA")(the "Advertising Technology"). The purpose of the Advertising Technology is to deliver in-game advertisements to you when you use the Software while connected to the Internet. When you use the software while connected to the Internet, the Advertising Technology may record your Internet Protocol address and other anonymous information ("Advertising Data"). The Advertising Data is temporarily used by IGA to enable the presentation and measurement of in-game advertisements and other in-game objects which are uploaded temporarily to your personal computer or game console and changed during online game play. The Advertising Technology does not collect any personally identifiable information about you, and EA will not provide IGA with any of your personally identifiable information. The servers used by the Advertising Technology may, from time to time, be located outside your country of residence. If you are located within the European Union, the servers may be located outside the European Union.

By installing and using the Software, you agree to the transfer of Advertising Data to servers located outside your country of residence and, if applicable, outside the European Union, (ii) the collection and use of the Advertising Data as described in this Section; and (iii) the delivery of advertising and marketing content by the Advertising Technology. IF YOU DO NOT WANT IGA TO COLLECT, STORE, OR TRANSMIT THE DATA DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION, DO NOT INSTALL OR PLAY THE SOFTWARE ON ANY PLATFORM THAT IS USED TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET.

First, off: DICKHEADS, PLEASE DO NOT SHOUT AT US IN CAPITAL LETTERS. If you can't write this invasion of privacy flyer more clearly than a fourth grader, shouting at us is not going to help.

And if you're a fourth grader reading this column, believe me, I'm not talking about you. You're cool.

It appears to me that the important phrase is here:
When you use the software while connected to the Internet, the Advertising Technology may record your Internet Protocol address and other anonymous information ("Advertising Data"). The Advertising Data is temporarily used by IGA to enable the presentation and measurement of in-game advertisements and other in-game objects which are uploaded temporarily to your personal computer or game console and changed during online game play.

Notice that the "Advertising Technology" (aka "spyware") records "anonymous information." What it does not say is that the information collected is limited to what you're doing inside the game. In addition to that, what ads you click on inside the game will be recorded. Literally read, it's saying that "advertising data" and "measurement of in-game advertisements" are separate entities.

There is zero explanation of what this "anonymous information" actually represents, and that's why it smells.

Oh, and here's one more question--about this:
The Advertising Technology does not collect any personally identifiable information about you, and EA will not provide IGA with any of your personally identifiable information.

So does the phrase "personally identifiable" mean me as a person or my computer? Clearly, if the ads are going to be targeted, my computer is being identified. So what exactly do they mean here?

Now is it possible that EA is doing nothing wrong here? Absolutely. But they seem pathologically unable to write any document related to privacy that's clear enough to be understood, and the last time issues related to their Privacy Policy came up, they were real issues, with enough substance that EA actually changed the wording of their Privacy Policy.

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