Wednesday, January 31, 2007

That Last Post Was Incorrect

To be fair, it's not really a white flag until a series of Sony executives all say essentially the same thing. It would then be safe to assume that "the Wii isn't really a competitor" is a corporate talking point, not just one executive shooting his mouth off.

Even if it was to the New York Times.

The White Flag is Raised

From a DQ post on January 4 of this year:
Here's when you know that Nintendo is officially going to "win" this generation in terms of installed base: when Microsoft and Sony start arguing that the Wii isn't really even a competitor. That's when you'll know they've thrown in the towel.

Today, from the New York Times:
Dave Karraker, a spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment of America, said the Wii did not belong in the same category as the more powerful PlayStation 3. “Wii could be considered an impulse buy more than anything else,” he declared.

There's the white flag.

Here's more:
Mr. Karraker said Sony was selling out the 100,000 PlayStation 3 units it was shipping into the United States each week, albeit somewhat more slowly than before Christmas. “The frenzy we saw at the holidays has subsided a bit,” he said.

Besides, Mr. Karraker added, Sony thinks the Wii is attracting newcomers, while the PlayStation will be the console of choice for hard-core and committed gamers.

By the way, if Karraker is telling the truth about sales, it means that U.S. sales for January should be north of 400,000. We should know within a week or so. But if Japanese sales data (which is released weekly) are any indication, the Wii is outselling the PS3 by a 4-1 margin--and that's with the Wii being severely supply limited.

In the U.S., if you look at iTrackr (which is fantastic--it gives you real-time inventory checking of local store inventory and will text you when an item you want comes into stock) for the Austin area (I used zip code 78727), the Wii is available at 0 of 19 locations (those locations include Target, EBGames/Gamestop, CompUSA, and Circuit City).

The PS3? Available at 16 of 19 of the same locations, or 84%.

In other words, when January numbers come out, they represent sales for an unlimited supply of PS3's and a severely limited number of Wii's--relative to demand.

By the way, what the hell does it mean to be a "committed" gamer? Does anyone understand that term? I sure don't. I thought I played games because they were fun, and bought consoles because they had fun games to play.

Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball

Troy, MI January 30, 2007 - Wolverine Studios, a leading developer of computer game sports simulations proudly announces the release of Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball. Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball is available for purchase and electronic download exclusively at for $34.95 USD. Click here to download the game and get started!

I think Gary Gorki's games have better graphics design and layout than any other text sims out there. In a design and interface sense, he's also trying to make the experience more interesting and accessible. In particular, how he handles the NBA draft in this game is very, very well done, with commentators, big boards, war rooms, and everything you'd expect to see in the real world.

You can demo the full game for three days and if you decide to purchase, your franchise continues with no interruption--no need to start a new game.


For your reading pleasure.

First off, from Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a story about the real-life inspiration for the Mona Lisa:
An expert on the "Mona Lisa" says he has ascertained with certainty that the symbol of feminine mystique died on July 15, 1542, and was buried at the convent in central Florence where she spent her final days.

It's a remarkable bit of detective work, with all kinds of interesting possibilities, and you can read about it here.

George Paci sent in a link to an incredibly cool device called the RepRap. Here's an excerpt from the website:
RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper. It is a practical self-copying 3D printer.

RepRap will make plastic, ceramic, or metal parts, and is itself made from plastic parts, so it will be able to make copies of itself.

... This process is called fused deposition modeling; machines that do this are called 3D printers, rapid prototypers, or fabbers. They are very useful. Unfortunately they are also very expensive - $20,000 US or more - and existing models don't self-replicate. The RepRap build cost will be less than $400 US for the bought-in materials, all of which have been selected to be as widely available everywhere in the world as possible. Also, the RepRap software will work on all computer platforms for free. Complete open-source instructions and plans are published on this website for zero cost and available to everyone so, if you want to make one yourself, you can.

I've been told that the idea is not revolutionary, but the potential price makes it accessible to exponentially more people. Read about it here.

Here's another link from JL, to an interview with a pad technician for NASA who was on duty during the January 27, 1967 disaster. It's a gripping interview and you can read it here.

From Michael O'Reilly, a link to one of the greatest headlines ever (about someone going on a ceramic gnome-breaking spree in Australia): Gnome, gnome on derange.

Lastly, Lee Abraham sent in a link to Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian trying to play Madhouse (an Anthrax song) in Guitar Hero (hint: he's not good). NSFW (language), but Ian is remarkably good natured about the whole thing. The video is here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Thanks to Brian Giese for the link to the 2KSports press release:
NEW YORK, NY – January 31, 2007 – 2K Sports, a publishing label of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (Nasdaq: TTWO), announced today the return of football to its video game line-up with All-Pro Football 2K8. The critically acclaimed 2K football series once again hits the gridiron with the legendary gameplay, innovative features, and outstanding visual quality sports gamers have come to expect from 2K Sports.

"Football gamers have been awaiting the return of the 2K series," said Greg Thomas, president of Visual Concepts, a 2K Sports studio. "All-Pro Football 2K8 will deliver an authentic next generation gridiron experience and we are happy to give fans another choice in the football category."

All-Pro Football 2K8 will be available this summer on next generation video game systems.

Gaming Notes

First off, Russ Pitts wrote a commentary on Steven Levy's Newsweek article, and it's a thousand times better than what I wrote yesterday (no surprise--Russ is a terrific writer). Read it here .

Second, there's now widespread speculation that Microsoft is going to actually reward people with high Gamer Scores with merchandise/prizes. It originated with this post over at Unscripted 360.

That's a great idea. Wait, that's kind of my idea from November 2005:
Of course, people could also buy all kinds of Xbox Live gear with the Microsoft Points they earned through playing games, which they'll wear, which becomes instant advertising.

That was part of a longer post about how Gamer Score points and Microsoft points shouldn't be separate--that the achievement points people earn in games should count toward buying real-world merchandise as part of the marketing budget of these games. All via the Xbox Live Marketplace, of course.

Now, though, I think there's another possibility. What if the top gamerscores earn merchandise identifying them as "elite"? Letter jackets. Sweatshirts. Advertising, advertising, advertising.

Here's a thought: Microsoft should offer to custom-paint the cars of the top 100 Gamer Scores in the world. Make their cars into 360mobiles.

What they can do is virtually limitless, and they need to--it's another way they can clearly distinguish themselves from Sony, which has nothing like this.

Lastly, this was quite a surprise:
...officials from Japanese publisher and developer Square Enix have revealed that the company has licensed the Unreal Engine 3 middleware technology to use in forthcoming next generation games.

...In a press statement, Square Enix claimed that, in order to ensure both quality and development efficiency in the next generation, the publisher is “now building a combined technology platform to use throughout the company, utilizing proprietary technologies as well as third-party solutions such as Unreal Engine 3”.

“The complexity of next-generation game systems featuring HD graphics and multi-core parallel processing poses a number of technological challenges to our game development. However, we can expedite our game development process significantly while allowing extra time and resources to be spent on game design and mechanics by establishing an effective technology platform,” said Taku Murata, general manager, research and development division at Square Enix. “The technology platform for game development is becoming more important than ever.

Square makes terrific engines, and it appears that they'll still be using their own "White Engine" for Final Fantasy XIII, but this is still a big shift in their philosophy.

And it's about time.

Square tells great stories in their games. Why would a great storytelling company spent an exorbitant amount of money to develop a proprietary engine when there are outstanding engines available for license? Licensing an engine saves money, it saves time, and it lets them focus on content.

With each new generation of consoles, I believe the number of graphics engines out there will shrink. It's cost prohibitive to develop an engine now unless it can be aggressively licensed to other developers.

Here's the question that I can't answer, though: if a licensee has rights to both the PS3 and 360 versions of the Unreal 3 engine, do games developed with the engine for one platform port more easily to the other platform? I may have asked that question in a nonsensical way, but I think it's reasonable to speculate that this could be an entry point for Square into more aggressive development for other consoles--specifically, the 360. This would be consistent with the September Wall Street Journal article where Square said they would support other consoles to a greater degree than they did in the past.


I looked up "g-force" in Wikipedia to find out an appropriate number to use in the last post and saw something very interesting.

A man named John Stapp once survived a force of 46.2 g on a rocket sled. This was at a time when conventional wisdom held that 18 g was the limit for the human body. And Stapp was a pretty fascinating character, a contemporary of Chuck Yeager and sort of the ultimate guinea pig when it came to experimenting with much much g-force the body could withstand. You can read about his life here.

Oh, and the Wikipedia entry for "acceleration due to gravity" is here.


We were walking to the mailboxes yesterday, and Eli 5.5 was riding his bike (with training wheels) alongside. We reached the end of our street and needed to turn left. "This is a REALLY sharp turn," Eli said, pedaling at a top speed of maybe two miles an hour. It wasn't, but Eli is still incredibly cautious on his bike.

"Remember what I said about leaning into the direction of the turn," I said.

Eli leaned, at most, two inches to the left from his original position. Then, with the voice of a man pulling at least 3 g, he shouted "I'M LEANING WITH EVERYTHING I GOT!"


DQ reader A. Nonymous sent in this story as a complement to the "101 Dumbest Moments in Business" article I linked to last week:
I work for a large national bank that has recently changed our short term disability policy. Of course the employees needed to be informed of the new policy and writing short term disability policy over and over again can be cumbersome. So the MBA's put their heads together for an appropriate acronym and came up with STD. Each week I'm treated to a Beavis and Butthead moment in my office as the STD program is trotted out in an unintentionally funny e-mail or phone call. The most recent mention was in an annual benefits policy newsletter that had the following equation:
base salary + incentives or bonus + equity + retirement benefits + STD + health benefits + more = your TOTAL REWARDS

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Four Words

When you're a young buck, spraying your seed like a rotary sprinkler, the four words you most dread hearing are "I think I'm pregnant."

Maybe that's five words with the contraction, but don't go all John Grammar Law on me.

When you're forty-five, married, broken down, and live next to a glue factory, the four words you most dread hearing are "My tire is flat."

I heard them yesterday.

Maybe you don't dread those four words. After all, not all of you are entirely incompetent when it comes down to the mechanicalities of an automobile.

For the rest of us, though, it's a disaster. Even something as simple as changing a tire is like being handed a manual for the Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter and being told to fly someone to the mall. If there's one guy in the world who's most likely to appear in the headline "MAN CRUSHED TO DEATH CHANGING TIRE," it would be me.

Now there's a way out if it's a flat tire some distance from home. Call some sort of tire professional or something. But when it's in your own driveway, well, there's some sort of manly requirement that you do the right thing and change the tire.

So that's me, the guy with the car manual out, reading the "changing a flat tire" section word-by-word. I've changed flats twice before, but I still don't trust my knowledge of this arcane and highly dangerous process with unpredictable and ferocious sounding words like chock. Plus every single instruction in the flat-tire-changing-process seems to include a caution ending in the word death.

The mandatory physical injuries when changing a tire include hand lacerations, bruised knuckles, and pulled muscles in the chestal region. Those injuries, of course, are considered incidental if you are killed in the process. I'm still worried that the car will begin moving silently from the garage, into the house, up the stairs, and roll over me in my sleep.


The Low Cost of (Guitar) Heroism

Stephen Levy wrote an article for Newsweek titled The Low Cost of (Guitar) Heroism. It's an interesting article with a great lead:
Legend has it that the iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson was granted his otherworldly chops by Satan himself, at a deal forged at a Mississippi crossroads. The price was his soul. In 2007, one does not have to cut such a hard bargain to get the unique rush of being a guitar god. You don't even have to sit in your room and practice for months on end. All you need is a PlayStation 2, a special game controller that looks like a tiny Gibson model SG and software called Guitar Hero 2.

Here's the rub, though:
Clearly, Guitar Hero is fun. But by bestowing the rewards of virtuosity to those who haven't spent years to earn it, is it dumbing down musicianship? If a teenager can easily become a make-believe guitar hero, does that mean he won't ever bother to master the real thing?

That idea has been getting quite a bit of play in the last few days, but Levy has it backwards. It's not how many people won't learn how to play the guitar because of Guitar Hero, it's how many people will. It's not a bad thing--it's an opportunity.

How many of you guys (who don't play already) would learn how to play the guitar if learning it was more like a game? I'd like to learn, but I'm not going to spend a hundred hours of misery staring at a book and plunking chords. I need a score, an objective indicator of how I'm doing. I need measurement.

Levy talked to the CEO of Gibson Guitar about this, and here's what he had to say:
"One of the issues that musical instruments have is that they're difficult to learn," says Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar, which is aggressively integrating computer technology into new product lines. "Building calluses and painstakingly learning all the musical fingering is not creative, but is the discipline to get the creative rewards ... In the future we want to reduce the crap you have to deal with to allow people access to that creativity."

Juszkiewciz understands what is happening, and if they create the right product, they're going to print money. If I could learn how to play the guitar more quickly with the assistance of computer technology, does it somehow make by ability less meaningful? No. Skill is skill.

So if anyone "games up" learning a musical instrument, I'm there. Hurry up.

All Hail

Here's how you can tell how expensive a restaurant will be. The amount of light and the size of the tables is inversely proportionate to the prices. Inexpensive restaurants have lots of light and big, big tables. The most expensive restaurant in the world is pitch-black and the tables are straight pins turned upside down.

"It's like eating in a mining tunnel--with techno music," I said to Gloria. We were seated at a table that was far too small for one person, for one child. But we were on the cutting edge of cool.

"My hip," I said.

"It really is," Gloria said.

"No," I said. "My hip. It's sore."

We ordered sweet potato tempura. Two finger-sized pieces arrived soon after. Four dollars.

"Yes, we have freshly cut french fries," I said to Gloria. "They cost one dollar each. How many do you want?

Our dinner arrived soon after, and Gloria was soon doing battle with sashimi rolls. I looked up because she was laughing and saw a three-inch strand of seaweed hanging out of her mouth. "That is EXACTLY how the Japanese do it," I said. She couldn't stop laughing long enough to scoop it into her mouth. "This is just like that Godzilla movie where he had army soldiers hanging out of his mouth," I said.

Oh, and one other way to tell that a restaurant is ridiculously expensive--they make it impossible to tell the men's bathroom from the women's bathroom. That's a guaranteed forty extra dollars on your check right there.

And even the toilets will be black. All hail, mighty trendy restaurant!

Friday, January 26, 2007

January's Badass

SAN FRANCISCO - Wildlife officials credited a woman with saving her husband's life by clubbing a mountain lion that attacked him while the couple were hiking in a California state park.

Jim and Nell Hamm, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next month, were hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park when the lion pounced, officials said Thursday.

She's 65 and he's 70, by the way, and they're both tough as nails. The story is amazing and there's also a picture.

True Stories

I opened up my Sports Illustrated magazine and saw a full-page ad for Old Spice:

That's true, actually. Your mother had been going out with your father for almost a year, but they still hadn't gone all the way, and while your father would still squeeze her breast once or twice while they were parking, he'd pretty much given up on getting in your mother's pants, and he had his eye on this slutty girl named Debbie he met at the roller skating rink in the town ten miles away.

That night, though, it was cold outside, so they couldn't roll down the windows while they were parked at the end of the old logging road. Your Dad was wearing Old Spice cologne for the first time, and it stank so badly that your mother asked for a drink from the pint of Jack Daniels that he always kept in the glove compartment of the Rambler. That helped, at least a little, so she had another drink. After a while, he just gave her the bottle.

Nine months later, you were born. Thanks, Old Spice!

Friday Links

There's an article in the New York Times about what part of the brain appears to govern an addiction to nicotine (and potentially many other things as well). Here's an excerpt:
Scientists studying stroke patients are reporting that an injury to a specific part of the brain, near the ear, can instantly and permanently break a smoking habit, effectively erasing the most stubborn of addictions. People with the injury who stopped smoking found that their bodies, as one man put it, “forgot the urge to smoke.”

Read it here:

The article also says "While no one is suggesting brain injury as a solution for addiction..."
Damn it. I already ordered 5,000 icepicks.

Here's an interesting development in regards to string theory:
For decades, scientists have taken issue with “string theory”—a theory of the universe which contends that the fundamental forces and matter of nature can be reduced to tiny one-dimensional filaments called strings—because it does not make predictions that can be tested.

But researchers at the University of California, San Diego, Carnegie Mellon University, and The University of Texas at Austin have now developed an important test for this controversial “theory of everything.”

Described in a paper that will appear in the January 26 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, their test involves measurements of how elusive high-energy particles scatter during particle collisions. Most physicists believe those collisions will be observable at the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, a subatomic particle collider scheduled to be operating later this year at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, or CERN.

Read about it here.

Fredrik Skarstedt sent me a link to a beautiful Disney short called "The Little Match Girl." Oh, wait, I just went to You Tube and it's been taken down at the request of Disney. Way to go, Disney--the best thing you've done in years and no one gets to see it. Well done. Good luck on monetizing that five-minute short.

Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick sent in a link to an article titled "20 Greatest Guitar Solos Ever, With Videos." All Along the Watchtower played by Jimi Hendrix (the best cover ever, for my money) and Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood (watch this for the full version of Texas Flood, which is absolutely scorching) are particularly tasty. See them all here.

Finally, from MSNBC, an article about Australian prehistoric megafauna, including kangaroos that were three meters tall. A new theory concerning their extinction points the fingers at aborigines, not climate change, for causing their demise. You can read about it here.

A Normal Evening at Home

Eli 5.5 and I were playing the Wii Golf putting mini-game. You get to try putts of varying lengths (and breaks), and you keep putting until you've missed five times.

Gloria was watching us.

I lined up about a thirty-footer and missed it to the left. Gloria said "I knew it was going to break more than that.

"Did you?" I said.

I lined it up again, playing for just a little more break. I putted just as Gloria said "It breaks more than that." She finished saying it just as the ball started to slow and curve toward the hole, dropping into the center of the cup. "Oh," she said.

"Do you want me to turn down the air conditioning?" I asked.


"I thougt maybe you felt a little BURN," I said. Eli fell off the couch laughing.

A few minutes later, he wanted to play Guitar Hero for a few minutes before he went upstairs for his bath. "What I REALLY want is to play Guitar Hero AND have a dessert," he said.

"You can play Guitar Hero OR have a dessert," Gloria said.

"My God, it's Sophie's Choice all over again," I said.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Help Wanted (part 2)

Dear College Students,
If you're interviewing to be Eli 5.5's new babysitter, and we ask you why you want to be an optometrist, the first thing you say should not be "Well, I've always had eyes and stuff."

Lovely anecodote. We'll be in touch.

Guitar Hero II (360)

Gamestop is listing Guitar Hero II for the 360 as a 4/3 release, which means it would be available in stores 4/4.

My birthday, coincidentally. That would definitely not suck.

Me Count Pretty Some Day

I almost never talk about my job--a great relief to you all--but one of the things I do is monitor current economic news and try to correctly assess what that means for the future of both the economy and the stock market.

However, I was an English major, not an economics major, which means I can write much more stylishly about what I do than I can actually do it.

Probably the most-disputed segment of the economy right now is housing. There was a massive housing boom in this country that lasted for years. It created so much additional liquidity in the economy, both from people selling their homes for a profit or taking out home equity loans, that it took on a life of its own. And like most booms, toward the end it was being sustained by all kinds of dubious tactics--most notably, the gigantic increase in sub-prime and "alternative" loans.

The discussion about lending could be book-length in itself, but suffice to say that quite a few people have taken out home loans that they will only be able to pay off if their homes increase (rapidly) in value. And there are serious concerns that as more and more people default on those loans, they'll take sub-prime lenders with (already happening), have a ripple effect on the availability of credit, and lots of bad things could happen from there.

So as the housing market slows, people are still in severe denial that any of this is really a problem, and they're desperately wanting to claim that the bottom has already been reached (short version: it hasn't). Here's what came out this morning:
Sales of existing homes fell in December, closing out a year in which demand for homes slumped by the largest amount in 17 years... For the year, sales fell by 8.4 percent, the biggest annual decline since 1989...

There has been data coming out in this vein for almost a year now, and every time it does, realtors immediately claim that the market has bottomed. I read some of the most bizarre, amazing explanations from the realty industry. Here's today's gem from the realtor's "chief economist":
David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors, said that even with the December setback, he still believes that sales of existing homes have hit bottom and will start to gradually improve.

He said that in 2005, 40 percent of the market represented purchases of second homes and investors buying homes looking to resell them for quick profits.

He said that speculators had now left the market and that should leave sales at a more sustainable level.

Okay, now I'm just a crappy English major, not a chief economist or anything, but let's take a look at this. Lereah is saying is that 40% of the real estate market in 2005 consisted of speculators, and that they've all left the market now.

Yet home sales only dropped by 8% last year? So 40% of the market--the speculators--were only buying 8% of the homes?


This guy should work as an executive in the gaming industry. He's a natural.

A Good Luck Sign

From (Yahoo):
PARIS (Reuters) - A flying penis, voluminous robes and a call to release a convicted prisoner -- British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood brought it all to Paris in a shrill show on Tuesday.

...Westwood's collection included a golden suit with a wide hood, toga-style dresses in pink and purple and accessories such as a police-man style visor in sparkling gold.

I said the same thing to Gloria last week--nothing says "fashion" like flying penises. And according to Westwood, the flying penises weren't just random--they were Greek, because "The Greek penis is a good luck sign."

Well, sure, if you're Greek. But what about the rest of us? Are we victims of the penile indifference of Fate? Do we have down-on-our-luck penises or just no luck at all?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's Much Harder To Argue With Yourself

Eli 5.5 saw his friend Anna over the weekend. Anna's mother is Kathleen. On the way home, Eli said "I get confused between Kathleen and--um--what's the name of the lady who owns Lewis and Carmen?"

Last night he came to get me after his bath. He was finished much sooner than usual, and I told him that he must have been really fast. "Oh, yeah," he said. "I bathed myself. It's faster because it's much harder to argue with yourself."

Today I picked Eli up for lunch and we went to Dart Bowl. Dart Bowl has been an Austin institution for a long time--so long that I can't remember when it wasn't open. It's an old-school bowling alley with an old-school restaurant inside. And that restaurant--the Dart Steakhouse--makes some lengendary cheese enchiladas with chili sauce, believe it or not.

It's relaxing at Dart Bowl, at least in the early afternoon, because very few people are bowling (the restaurant is jam-packed for lunch, though). And after playing Wii bowling extensively in the last two months, I was looking forward to seeing how real bowling compared.

Surprisingly, it felt almost identical. The only slight difference was that I thought my arm was going to pull out of the socket when I threw the ball. Oh, and throwing a hook with an eight ounce remote transferring to throwing a hook with a boat anchor? Not so much.

The enchiladas, though, were delicious.


My good friend Glen Haag is now one of the grumpy old bastards over at The Blog for the Sports Gamer. Glen is an excellent writer and a very funny guy, so he should fit right in over there.

Crackdown Demo (360)

Much to my surprise, this demo is an absolute blast to play. Think Grand Theft Auto meets Mercenaries meets City of Heroes, and yes, that's as much fun as it sounds. Being able to jump twenty feet in the air and picking up cars never gets old, at least to me.

I've always thought Grand Theft Auto was too grindingly based in the real world. Sure, it's obviously a caricature, but it's a caricature of the real world--more importantly, the worst of the real world. So it's interesting and gritty and (frequently) kind of depressing.

Crackdown is a comic book world. The cel-shaded characters are a terrific idea, because it helps emphasize that we're not in the real world--but then, we don't want to be. Everything is over the top, and that's exactly as it should be.

So create a world that's as detailed (or more detailed) than a Grand Theft Auto game, make it a living comic book, and make your character a cybercop who has superhero abilities that will grow more powerful as you play. I'm in.

If the demo is truly representative of the full game, this should be a huge hit. Huge.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

One More Link

From the BBC, via Slashdot:
The first flying dinosaurs took to the air in a similar way to a World War I bi-plane, a study shows.

A fresh analysis of an early feathered fossil dinosaur suggests that it dropped its hind legs below its body, adopting a bi-plane-like form.

This contrasts with earlier reconstructions showing the dinosaur maintaining its wings in a tandem pattern, a bit like a dragonfly.

The analysis is very interesting, and you can read it here.


Some links for your afternoon reading pleasure.

From MSNBC, an article about the largest predatory bird ever found. Here's an excerpt:
The terror bird, Titanis walleri, belongs to the Phorusrhacid family and holds the record as the largest predatory bird known to have existed. Weighing in at a ground-shaking 330 pounds, it had a head larger than yours.

Past studies of skull and leg bones revealed the bird had a speedy stride and a deadly bite — it could chomp down on dog-sized prey with its hooked beak.

From Rob, a link to a very funny CNN article titled "101 Dumbest Moments in Business." There are some real classics here, including:
In July, bankrupt Northwest Airlines begins laying off thousands of ground workers, but not before issuing some of them a handy guide, "101 Ways to Save Money."

The advice includes dumpster diving ("Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash"), making your own baby food, shredding old newspapers for use as cat litter, and taking walks in the woods as a low-cost dating alternative.

The article is a good reminder of how insular corporate cultures lead to incredible stupidity. Read it here.

PhysOrg has an article about one-photon storage. Seriously. Here's an excerpt:
Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.

Amazing, and you can read about it here.

Wal-Mart And The Wii This Sunday

From a Wal-Mart employee who wishes to remain anonymous:
There is an upcoming circular that drops on Jan. 28. In it we advertise the Wii. So until then all Wii's we get in will be held until Jan. 28th. I would think this is store wide.

Lost Planet: Fantastiating

It certainly is.

"Fantastiating", in case you're wondering, is one of those horrific made-up words. It's an unholy alliance between "fantastic" and "infuriating", and it describes Lost Planet pretty well.

I've played through four out of ten missions in the single-player campaign, which has taken me about three hours. So the single-player campaign is quite short, but that's not the problem.

Here's the problem: we've all already played Dead Rising. Dead Rising was such a brilliant, ingenious piece of work that we expect nothing less from Lost Planet, and it is less. It's not a bad game, it's just not a great game, and great is what we wanted. It's what we always want.

The basic gameplay mechanic in Lost Planet is that you are constantly losing thermal energy (being on a frozen planet and all), and you replenish that energy by killing enemies. There are exceptions, like the occasional storage tank, but generally you have to maintain a certain rate of carnage to stay alive.

That's a nice idea. Unfortunately, that's the only idea in the game. In Dead Rising, there were multiple paths--you killed zombies, you saved humans, and you took photographs. All of these paths helped you gain experience, they all played very differently, and the required elements of story-advancing missions, in many cases, took up only a fraction of the available time for the mission. In other words, you had plenty of time for freelancing.

Lost planet? One path. Zero freelancing. Move, kill, advance. Move, kill, advance. And sometimes that's fun--the game looks absolutely spectacular, certain enemies are fantastically impressive, and in five-minute bursts, the game is lots of fun. It's even fun when you're remembering a play session. It's just not as much fun during the play session, because it's very repetitive.

Theoretically fun elements abound. Snow, snowmobiles, grappling hooks, awe-inspiring creatures, mechs [Dear mech nerd: I know they're not exactly mechs and don't specifically fulfill the rigid requirements of the canon. But they're close enough.]

The measurement of actual fun, though, is much lower. You get to ride that snowmobile for about fifteen seconds, at least the first time. Those awe-inspiring creatures? Their weak points are labeled like a Powerpoint presentation. The mechs are relatively unresponsive, and when you're trying to jump jet quickly to avoid getting blasted, it will drive you crazy.

This is also one of those games where you're blown away for the first hour or two, but then your enjoyment starts to drop off steadily, because you start noticing how some of the coolest moments actually wind up annoying the hell out of you.

Smoke and particle effects, for example. They're absolutely incredible, and at first you'll be stunned by how amazing they are. Then you'll get in a boss fight, and you won't be able to see a damn thing after something explodes--but the boss will still be pounding you. How he can see, I don't know, because I sure can't.

It's incredibly annoying, but it's even more annoying that they missed an opportunity to do something incredibly cool. If they had a thermal imaging sensor that could be activated to let you see a heat signature through all that smoke, it would have been spectacular. Plus, using the sensor would cost you thermal energy, so you'd have to ration its use.

They also could have implemented force fields for the armor--which also would have cost thermal energy to use. I mean, it's the future and we're in outer space--why the hell wouldn't we have force fields? And it would have looked very cool, some kind of glowing blue aura that would have protected you for a few seconds.

They don't do any of these things, though. At it's core, Lost Planet is a relatively standard third-person shooter with the steadily dropping thermal energy (aka "health") as its only even vaguely interesting game mechanic.

And force feedback. Holy Mother of God, does this game use force feedback. You have heavy weapons, all your opponents have heavy weapons, and you feel it--force feedback does an unmatched job of creating the impression of mass, and it's never done it as well as in this game. Combine that with the terrifically atmospheric environments, and it's a game that looks and feels very convincing.

If only it consistently played that way.

I will say one thing about Lost Planet, though: it has style. It has so much style that it's hard to believe that the gameplay isn't at the same level. Capcom is doing some very interesting things creatively, and Lost Planet wasn't very far away from being a great game.

If you're looking to try something new for a few hours, Lost Planet is an excellent rental. I'd definitely recommend renting first before you put sixty dollars down on the counter.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Guitar Hero, Red Octane, and Harmonix

Someone I've e-mailed with for several years sent me information to the effect that Red Octane played a much larger role in the concept and design of Guitar Hero than I believed. He's a trusted source, so I'm confident that what he's telling me is correct. So when I said that Guitar Hero was "Harmonix's game," that was inaccurate.

Everything else I wrote about "wooden" still applies, though.

In other news on the Guitar Hero 24 Network, Gamasutra has an interview with Daniel Sussman, who is a producer for Harmonix. He mentioned that they were "working on a different music game project, one that is a bigger and more ambitious endeavor than we felt we could pursue within the bounds of the Guitar Hero franchise."

Ten million source points to anyone who can tell me anything about that "endeavor."

Google Takes Over the World

I, Cringely has a fascinating column this week about Google.

Google is renting huge amounts of bandwidth, and they're also building a large number of gigantic data centers. Cringely believes that they're, in essence, trying to control as much bandwidth as possible.

Google's strategy (as suggested by Cringely) is based on the belief that the major ISP's have grossly underestimated future bandwidth demand.
It is becoming very obvious what will happen over the next two to three years. More and more of us will be downloading movies and television shows over the net and with that our usage patterns will change. Instead of using 1-3 gigabytes per month, as most broadband Internet users have in recent years, we'll go to 1-3 gigabytes per DAY -- a 30X increase that will place a huge backbone burden on ISPs. Those ISPs will be faced with the option of increasing their backbone connections by 30X, which would kill all profits, OR they could accept a peering arrangement with the local Google data center.

Seeing Google as their only alternative to bankruptcy, the ISPs will all sign on, and in doing so will transfer most of their subscriber value to Google, which will act as a huge proxy server for the Internet. We won't know if we're accessing the Internet or Google and for all practical purposes it won't matter. Google will become our phone company, our cable company, our stereo system and our digital video recorder. Soon we won't be able to live without Google, which will have marginalized the ISPs and assumed most of the market capitalization of all the service providers it has undermined -- about $1 trillion in all -- which places today's $500 Google share price about eight times too low.

It's not the Hunt Brothers and the silver market, but it's an interesting play.

If you get a chance, the full article is well-worth reading.

Help Wanted

Dear college students,
In case you're one of the potential applicants to be Eli 5.5's new babysitter, please remember these helpful tips when e-mailing a response to our ad:
1. Thank you in advance for not including a glamour shot with your resume.
2. Do not use more than one exclamation point at a time. Exclamation points aren't like units--they don't stack.
3. Do not use the phrase "children are a precious gift." You are creeping both of us out.
4. Don't misspell the word "ad."
5. "Babysited" is not, to the best of our knowledge, a word.
6. Please do not use "love" in your complimentary closing.

Thank you,
The Management

In Good Hands published an interview last week with Red Octane concerning the future of the Guitar Hero series. The excerpts below are from Dusty Welch, "head of publishing" for Red Octane.

We are excited to further the music and rhythm-based videogame genre, and Neversoft has the full experience, knowledge, and talent to do this.

We believe that having the talented group at Neversoft, with their unprecedented string of market success with the billion dollar Tony Hawk franchise, develop the next Guitar Hero game will allow us to vastly enrich the consumer experience.

We have tremendous respect for, and greatly appreciate, everything that Harmonix has done for the Guitar Hero franchise. Their vision has always aligned with ours from the start.

Neversoft's talents and extensive experience working within the skateboarding and music culture are already adding tremendous value to Guitar Hero's core tenet of fulfilling the fantasy of becoming a rock star.

Until rock n' roll is dead, there will always be further opportunity for Guitar Hero to take it up another notch, and we look forward to Neversoft helping us get to the next level.


Now that's comforting. Clearly, this guy totally understands Guitar Hero, and his enthusiasm for the games really comes through. I don't know about you, but I am incredibly relieved. I was afraid that Activision/Red Octane would trot out some suit with an MBA in wooden to give a totally sterile interview about the future of the franchise.

Thank goodness that didn't happen.

Believe me, sir, we're just as excited about the "music and rhythm-based videogame genre" as you are. I, for one, also appreciate that you're interested in "vastly enriching the consumer experience," because when I play Guitar Hero, I often think about how vastly enriched I feel.

And we're also really excited about Neversoft and how they're adding "tremendous value," because they made classics like Tony Hawk and--and--and GUN. I know they dig the "core tenets." And their unprecedented success the last few years making games that get rated in the mid 70's to low 80's makes me very confident. I know they'll "take it up another notch," even "take it to the next level." I know they have to take it one step at a time, though, because Rome wasn't built in a day. But if they keep their nose to the grindstone, they can knock it out of the park, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Oh, and thanks for acknowledging what Harmonix has "done" for the Guitar Hero franchise. It's just great that they had an idea, and designed a game, and developed it, and it "aligned with your vision." Talk about impactful corporate synergy!

So as I play Laid to Rest on Expert for the hundredth time or so, even as the crowd boos me off the stage, I rest easy knowing that the game I love is in great hands.

Oh, and just remember--if you guys f*@$ this up, we're all going to bring our plastic toy guitars and get all impactful and stuff on your asses.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Favorite Games of 2006: PC

Yesterday's introduction still holds true today, so if you missed the console post, just scroll down a bit and you'll see it.

Honorable Mention: Mystery Case Files: Prime Suspects

This was a simple game--look on screens and find certain objects--but it was entirely addictive. Well presented and clever, I played this fairly obsessively until I finished the game, then went back and played Mystery Case Files: Huntsville as well.

5th Place: Steam Brigade

I wrote in April that Steam Brigade was "Yellow Submarine meeting Dr. Seuss." It's a 2-D, side-scrolling RTS, and it drew comparisons to games like Armor Alley and Rescue Raiders. Absolutely stunning artwork (the best I saw all year) and a charming story made Steam Brigade a living comic book, and it was a true pleasure to play. The developers are named Pedestrian Entertainment, and they have a very bright future. The game's website is here, and a demo is available.

4th Place: Paraworld

Paraworld was the gaming tragedy of the year. Highly polished, a terrific interface, bright and colorful graphics, and dinosaurs. It was a wonderful package--and it went nowhere. The game just never got traction, thanks to terrible promotion and a weak publishing deal in the U.S. Even worse, the poor sales are probably what led to thirteen members of the team leaving--details of which are here.

The game, though, was terrific. The Army Controller, which created a control space to see thumbnail representations of all your active units--as well as allowing you to control them via the thumbnail--was an outstanding innovation, and the visual detail in the game world was some of the most interesting that I've ever seen.

And the dinosaurs were glorious. Absolutely glorious. Fantastically modeled, beautifully animated, and overwhelmingly cool.

A "booster pack" for the game has been completed and will hopefully still get released. It's a disaster for us all that these guys have split up, though--their creativity and attention to detail could be seen on every screen.

Third Place: Galactic Civilizations II

Everyone has written about this game at such length that I really don't need to say much. The game design was outstanding, the A.I. was razor sharp, and it had a sense of humor that had me laughing out loud more than once. It was also complex while remaining accessible, which is a rare quality.

Second Place: Oblivion

Everyone's also written about this game at length. It was the single most beautiful RPG ever created--shockingly beautiful--and everywhere you looked, there was something new to explore. I played over sixty hours and barely scratched the main plot, because I just wanted to wander around the world. Even better, there are huge numbers of mods available now that will customize the game to your preferences.

The Elder Scrolls series has a sense of permanence, a sense of real, in its history that is only rivaled by the Ultima series. High, high praise.

First Place: Dwarf Fortress

My favorite PC game of 2006--was an alpha.

With A.I. and game depth that big software companies can only dream about, the two-man wonder known as Dwarf Fortress was pure lightning. Tarn and Zach Adams created a world--two worlds, actually, with both a fortress mode and adventure mode--that was among the deepest ever made. With an amazing depth to both the physical environment and individual characters, it was one of the most rewarding games I've ever played. It was also one of the most demanding, and that made it even more fun.

Actually, I shouldn't be using the past tense, because I'm still playing, and will be for years. It's a game that rewards thinking to a degree far beyond anything I've ever played before. It's ingenious and complex and sometimes maddening.

Tarn Adams reminds me, very much, of Will Wright. Like Wright, he's working in a different dimension than the rest of us.

I've written about Dwarf Fortress at length, and there's much more information here, as well as a link to the game's website here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Car Seat Update (another one)

You may remember a post last week about a Consumer Reports update to their car seat testing where they had a huge number of infant seats failing their side-impact tests.

Well, apparently Consumer Reports used an outside laboratory to perform the testing, and it was flawed:
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 — Consumer Reports magazine on Thursday retracted an article on infant car seats, published two weeks ago, that said most of them had failed side-impact crash tests.

The tests were supposed to simulate an impact at 38 miles an hour, but actually simulated more than 70 m.p.h., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was so startled by the article that it tried to duplicate the magazine’s results at a government laboratory last weekend. The agency does not have a standard for side impacts but said that at 38 m.p.h., the seats all appeared to do well.

I've never heard of Consumer Reports retracting an article before. Hopefully this leads to better control procedures if use other labs for testing.

I'm deleting the original post, since it's now inaccurate.

Favorite Games of 2006: Consoles

About this game of the year thing.

I'm doing it a little differently this year, because I don't think anyone really plays everything to the level of depth necessary to objectively name a true game of the year. Particularly me, because I finish very few games. Usually, I consider that the responsibility of the game, but it still means there's so much that I don't see.

So this year, I'm going to list my favorite games--not necessarily the ones that would be considered "best", but the ones I enjoyed the most.

This is also a change driven by Company of Heroes. COH is a phenomenal RTS game. It's beautifully designed, it has some of the best, clearest tutorials I've ever seen, and it's fantastic looking as well.

And I don't want to play it.

I had it on my desk for six weeks before I installed it, I played several missions, and now I've stopped. Not because of the game--which is brilliant--but because of the subject matter. WWII is beyond exhaustion as subject matter for games, and as good as Company of Heroes is, I have zero interest.

Company of Heroes would belong in anyone's top five PC games of 2006--it might well be Game of the Year--but in my list of favorite games, it won't be there.

I'm also doing one other thing different this year: I'm not looking back at what I've written previously. If I can't remember the damn game without looking through the archives, then it can't have made that much of an impression.

Today I'll be writing about my favorite console games of 2006. Tomorrow, I'll cover PC games.

Favorite Console Games of 2006

Special Judges Award For a Handheld Game: MLB 06: The Show (PSP)

The PS2 version, for my money, wasn't nearly as good, but the PSP version of The Show was, hands down, the best baseball game I've ever played. Far better than High Heat (even the heavily modded versions), The Show was that rare sports game that had it all: game balance, excellent A.I., beautiful graphics, and absolutely outstanding presentation. It also had the most interesting career mode I've ever played in a mainstream sports game.

Anyone who works at EA making sports games should be required to sit down and play this game for at least twenty hours. Everyone at Visual Concepts should at well. This is how you design and develop a sports game.

Third Place: Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii)

As I wrote last week, Nintendo has realigned how we play with a console to be closer to what all of us consider play in general. It's a brilliant idea, and it's executed flawlessly in Wii Sports. Eli 5.5 and I have played it almost every day since the system launched, and it's still fun. More importantly, it's fun for everyone, including all those people who don't "understand" video games. Well, they understand this one.

There's no question in my mind that this is the most important game of the year. It's probably one of the most important games ever made.

Second Place: Dead Rising (Xbox 360)

You're a professional photographer, dropped off on the roof of a mall via helicopter to investigate--something.

"Something" turned out to be a massive outbreak of zombies, and Dead Rising turned out to be a remarkable game. From the very first moment, when you're onboard the helicopter, seeing chaos in the streets as you fly through the city, Dead Rising had an unerring sense of style.

And it had excellent design. Instead of just slaughtering zombies for experience points, you also took photographs of them. Photography advanced you through the early levels far faster than body count, and the added dimension gave the game much more depth than anyone expected.

You also had to rescue some of the human survivors who were trapped in the mall. Again, an unexpected dimension, and a welcome one. The rescues added more tension, because instead of just protecting yourself, you had to protect people who were disoriented and confused (and sometimes, annoying).

It was also funny. Dead Rising embraced B-movie cliches and reveled in their campiness. The gore was comical, the in-jokes were everywhere, and it was just fun to be in a mall, surrounded by thousands of zombies.

And surrounded you were. Thanks to a next-gen console, literally hundreds of zombies could be on-screen at the same time. It was awe-inspiring, and the mall was rendered in spectacular detail as well.

The only complaint anyone really had about this game was the save system. Ironically, the save system, in the end, made the game. When you died, you had the choice of retaining all the experience points you'd gained since the last save--and starting the game over--or losing those experience points and going back to your last save. Since you could only save in certain locations (bathrooms, or in the security office), this wasn't a trivial decision, and most people started the game several times--but each time, with all the experience they'd gained from their previous plays.

The reason the save system made the game was that it made people experiment. There were hundreds of interesting things to do in Dead Rising, and starting over gave you the chance to do more of them. The game was like an onion, and starting over several times let you peel away the layers. The save system sounded ridiculous, on the face of it, but in the end, it worked as well as everything else in the game, which was very well, indeed.

Dead Rising also had a story, and an interesting one. B-movie quality, to be sure, but that was the point, really: this was a B-movie, and you were getting to play it. There were multiple endings to this movie, though, and at least one of them, in particular, was absolutely epic--one of the finest endings I've ever seen in a game.

This is also one of those games that sticks in your memory. Months after playing, I can still immediately remember dozens of memorable moments. It's just a great, great game.

First Place: Guitar Hero II (PS2)

Last year, I wrote that the original Guitar Hero was "The Game of the Ever." That's still true with the sequel, and it's my favorite console game of the year.

The Guitar Hero series has done something to me that I didn't think was possible: it's made me (to borrow the term from Tycho) a completionist. I never play games that way--ever--but Guitar Hero makes me want to pass every song, on every level, then go back and play them again, just to get a better rating.

The song selection isn't as good as the original game, but the mechanics are far superior. Hammer-ons and pull-offs have more relaxed timing, which makes them far more useful, and more importantly, they are totally fun. It's also allowed the songs to become faster and more complex at the higher difficulty levels. And practice mode is a huge addition--it enables scrubs like me to actually have a chance on Expert level.

Most importantly, though, the feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction that I get from a Guitar Hero game is unparalleled. It's an amazing feeling, far beyond anything I'd normally associate with a game. I've said this before, but it's not a ten.

It's an eleven.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Neversoft to Develop Guitar Hero

From Gamespot:
As of December 2006, the PS2-exclusive Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II had sold a combined 2.33 million units. The franchise will expand its following when it arrives on the Xbox 360 in March... Activision also recently patented the titles "Guitar Villain" and "Drum Villain," hinting at possible spin-offs.

Guitar Hero's success has also boosted the fortunes of its developer, Harmonix Music Systems. After earning much acclaim but little coin for Frequency (2001) and Amplitude (2003), the company finally had a monster hit that outshone even its biggest previous success, the Karaoke Revolution series. Last September, Harmonix was bought by MTV for a staggering $175 million in cash.

With Harmonix off the stage, it was unclear which studio would help RedOctane with Guitar Hero development duties. Now, that question appears to be answered. This week, the Neversoft web site began running ads that it was hiring developers for the Guitar Hero series, although no specific positions were mentioned. Activision declined to comment further on Neversoft's work on the Guitar Hero series. However, RedOctane reps confirmed the shop's involvement to GameSpot this afternoon--but would not say more as of press time.

Activision paid $100M for the intellectual property, essentially, and MTV paid $175M for the talent behind the game. Development in the Guitar Hero series was going to have to be moved to another studio, so this is not a surprise, although choosing Neversoft might be.

If it's me, I want the talent. I want the guys (including girl) from Tribe. I want all those rock and roll equivalents of gym rats that made the games. Those guys can do it again. I hope every single one of them is filthy rich now, and I hope they still want to make games.

Look, we all know that at some point, the Guitar Hero series is going to be exploited and ruined. It's inevitable. I'm actually really pleased that we'll have at least two flawless PS2 versions and a 360 version before Harmonix stops working on the series. There are well over a hundred different songs (including bonus songs) in those three versions.

And maybe, just maybe, Neversoft can keep it going. It's at least a possibility.

Oh, and if I don't pass "Laid to Rest" soon on Expert, I'm going to go insane.

It's Dangerous

I came out of my study and saw four candles burning in the kitchen.

"Dad, Mom's burning candles AGAIN," Eli 5.5 said.

"Hmm," I said.

"Don't start, candle hater," Gloria said.

"Fire forges steel," I said. "It's not supposed to be vanilla-scented. It's dangerous."

"Well, I'm standing right here," she said.

"That you are," I said. "Oh, and look what else is standing here, less than six inches away from a burning candle--a full roll of paper towels."

"Oh no," she said.

"Less than six inches away and the flame is at least an inch higher than the container. Let me just take those paper towels out to the garage and soak them in lighter fluid for you," I said.

"Good grief, I'm three feet away," she said.

"Congratulations, then," I said. "You'll be the first one to catch on fire. For the casket viewing, I'll get you a shirt that says I Was Burned Alive And All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt."

"Serve barbecue," she said.

"Mom, you're MRS. FIRE HAZARD!" Eli said, laughing.

"And before the house actually catches fire, there's the smell," I said.

"Of course candles smell," she said. "They smell nice."

"But you're burning four different candles, and they all have different scents," I said. "And do you know what you get with all those different candles burning at once?"

"What do you get, Dad?" Eli asked.

"Stinkitude," I said. "Stinkonics. The house is stinkified."

Eli fell down on the carpet. For a five-year old, anything involving the word "stink" is comedy gold.

"Daddy, I laughed out of my bones!" he said. "Mom! Mom! The house is STINKIFIED!"

"This is just going to get worse as he gets older, isn't it?" Gloria asked.

"Much," I said.

Links World

A very odd collection to get your day started.

First off, a link from Jeff Pinard to a very funny nature video about spiders--sort of. You can see it here.

From Andrew Borelli, a link to a snack review site called There are hundreds of reviews of different kinds of snacks--chips, candy, chocolate, and everything else. Keep a piece of paper handy, because you're going to find several snacks that you want to try. Read it here.

Also from Andrew Borelli, a link to a historical repository of video game ads--"classic, contemporary, and present videogame commercials." There are almost five thousand ads available for viewing, and you can see them here.

Nick Blair sent me a link to a site called Girls Are Pretty, and some of the posts are as good as McSweeney's (if you don't know about Mcsweeney's, you need to--just trust me). Here are two hilarious posts from GAP, and there are many, many more:
99 Pushups Day
It's Been A While Since You Saw Her Day

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You Don't See This Every Day

At least not down here, anyway. For us, that's a blizzard. We're expecting Reinhold Messner to arrive any minute now.

Cap'n Crunch

John Draper, aka, Cap'n Crunch, is a legend for his phone phreaking in the 1960's and 1970's, most notably, his discovery that the toy whistle inside a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal made a pitch-perfect sound that would enable a caller to take control of a telephone trunk line.

Via Slashdot, there's a long and interesting profile in the Wall Street Journal about Draper. If you're curious about whatever happened to him, you can find out here.

Yes, It's Snowing

Believe it or not. After freezing rain pelted us for about ten hours straight, it started snowing about half an hour ago.

Yesterday I heard a weatherman talking about the roads getting slippery, and he said "This is what happens during freezing conditions, or as we like to call it, THE ICE STORM OF TWO THOUSAND SEVEN."

This was, of course, with about one-sixteenth of an inch of ice on the roads at the time.

Gloria and Eli drove two blocks to see one of his best friends, and it was almost as complicated as preparing for a lunar expedition.

Console Post of the Week: December NPD Numbers

Good stuff this week--in particular, the NPD numbers from December. From Gamastura:
According to the official hardware statistics released this afternoon, the PlayStation 2 continued to be a popular platform at retail, selling 1.4 million units for the month (37.1 million to date in the U.S.). The Xbox 360 also impressed, selling 1.1 million in December (with 4.5 million lifetime to date), while the Wii sold 604,200 units for the month, putting its total North American number sold at 1.1 million units.

Elsewhere, the severely supply-constricted PlayStation 3 was found to have sold through 490,700 units for the period, with 687,300 units sold since its launch in November.

Sony, of course, claimed this was a giant win.
"If there was ever any doubt about the power of the PlayStation brand in the US, the December NPD data should quickly quell it," said Jack Tretton, president and CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment America. "Not only did consumers drive records for PLAYSTATION 3, they also validated the excellent value represented by PlayStation 2 and the entertainment versatility of PSP. These sales figures bode very well for the company heading into 2007."

Um, not so much.

Here's the thing: Sony desperately hopes that we forgot how to count. Because if we can count, we take the 1M units they shipped to North America (by their own claim)and subtract 687,000 for North American sales.

What's left? 313,000 units. Sitting on shelves.

Let me just mention that number again: three hundred and thirteen thousand freaking units. At the end of the busiest shopping month of the year, less than six weeks after launch, over thirty percent of the units Sony shipped to North America didn't sell.

Let's say the NPD numbers aren't absolutely inclusive, or they're not totally accurate. Let's say Sony sold 100,000 more units than NPD thinks they did. Even in that incredibly optimistic scenario, that means over twenty percent of the shipped units didn't sell.

Either way, it'stunning.

From the anecdotal evidence I've gathered (both my own eyes and your e-mails) since the beginning of January, it's only gotten worse. The PS3 is a $600 boat anchor. We're witnessing, in real-time, one of the biggest disasters in the history of consumer electronics.

Want more? I looked at eBay tonight and looked at the closing price for ten consecutive PS3 60GB auctions:
$600 (+ free shipping)
no bid (minimum opening bid $625)
$638 (+1 year extended warranty, Madden, and Call of Duty)
no bid (minimum opening bid $625)
no bid (minimum opening bid $625)
$660 (+ second controller)

Let's factor in the 5% sales tax (at a minimum) that the seller paid, so it's fair to say those units cost the sellers around $630. And add $60 for the included games, $40 for the controller, $60 for the extended warranty (at least), and $30 for the free shipping.

Here's what it means: on the PS3 auctions where there were actually bids, the closing prices average out to a discount from retail price of over fifty dollars. It's selling for below retail and it's not even two months old.

Jack Tretton was right about one thing--people love the Playstation brand. Hell, I love the Playstation brand. But I don't love it up to $600. And Sony has been its own worst enemy, because their message is very confusing--it's a Playstation, but it's not.


It can't "just" be a Playstation, because that alone would never justify a $599 price tag. But if it's not primarily a Playstation, why do they expect absolute brand loyalty?

What exactly is supposed to drive sales of the PS3, anyway? PS2 sales are still strong (very strong, actually), but if someone bought a PS2 in December, why would they buy a PS3 three months later?

For a console to be mass market, it must be priced at a level that the mass market will accept. I think Sony has broken the ceiling of what people are willing to pay for a console--at least, the people who make up the broader demographic that made the PS2 such a success. And it's going to be very hard to recover.

I expect analysts to start revising their PS3 forecasts very soon. A few have done so already, but I expect that trickle to become a flood within another four to six weeks.

How long will Sony continue down this seemingly ruinous path?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day

Today is a national holiday in the United States to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. It's easy to forget the kind of hatred and stupidity that King was fighting against, but a good place to start is with the history of the Jim Crow laws in the United States. The Wikipedia entry for Jim Crow laws also has detailed information. And the Wikipedia entry for King is here.

Eli 5.5 asked me about Martin Luther King last year. Last weekend, he started talking about King again. "Dad, where did Martin Luther King live?" he asked.

"He was born in Atlanta," I said. "He lived in Alabama and Georgia as a grown-up."

"No he didn't," Eli said quickly.

"He didn't?" I said.

"I'm pretty sure he lived in Costa Rica," Eli said.

"I'm pretty sure he didn't," I said.

Just To Clarify

Even though there was ice on my car, I haven't seen anything besides a little slush on the roads. But that's enough for some of the local stations to stop broadcasting their normal programming schedule and go all-weather. Fear grips the populace like an icy shroud.

Weather Alarmist Weekend

Winter storm to threaten south central Texas through Tuesday
A Winter Storm Warning remains in effect from 6 PM this eveningto 6 PM CST Monday evening.

A wintery mix of freezing rain... sleet... and snow is expected over the next couple days... and significant ice accumulations arepossible over northern portions of south central Texas as early asMonday morning.

We went to a birthday party on Saturday. At 9:15 a.m. During a monsoon.

I'm not sure how much rain we got before 11 a.m. Saturday morning--I think it was close to five inches, but I was too busy paddling the damn canoe to check. Plus it was cold (for us)--temperature in the high thirties. And dropping.

"Let's take separate cars to the party so I can leave from there and go swim," I said.

"YOU ARE NOT swimming today," Gloria said.

"Of course he's swimming," Eli 5.5 said. "He's Daddy."

"The pool's heated," I said. "And I'll already be wet. What does it matter if it's raining?"

Well, here's why it matters: the water in the pool was seventy-eight degrees, but the water in the sky was thirty-eight degrees. And it was pouring.

When I got home after the swim, Gloria was making a list. "I'm going to the store," she said.

"Listen, every weather alarmist in the city is going to be at the grocery store," I said. "It's going to be mobbed. Why are you going, anyway?"

"I want to get some supplies before the ice storm hits," I said.

Uh-oh. Weather alarmist on line two.

"Ice storm? They call an overturned snow cone an ice storm in this city," I said. "The last time somebody dropped an ice tray, they closed the schools for three days."

"I just want to make sure we don't run out of anything we need," she said. That's a bad sign, because even Gloria's normal store trips can be lengthy. I pulled out a lawn chair once and sat in the aisle while she examined hair care products.

"Are you ready?" she asked Eli 5.5.

"Ready," he said.

"Just remember," she said, "if there are any complaints, no toy."

"NO complaints?" Eli 5.5 said. "How is that POSSIBLE?"

"Zero tolerance," Gloria said.

"I want you to remember two things, little man," I said. "Diet Coke and Pop-Tarts. Those are mission critical."

"Got it, Dad," he said.

They were gone for almost two hours. Finally, I heard the door open.

"Was it crowded?" I asked cheerily.

"Grrrr," Gloria said.

I helped her unload the car, which was jammed with enough food to last three weeks. "I'm glad you got these turkey meatballs," I said, holding up the package, "because if the three pizza delivery places within a mile failed, and we couldn't drive six blocks to McDonald's or Wendy's, I was afraid that I'd have to go Donner Party on your ass."

So today, of course, I woke up and there was about an inch of ice of on my car, with more on the way. The local news stations are saying things like "If you see polar bears, do not feed them. They are very dangerous."


This is a really, really terrific idea.

Google has filed a patent for a kind of electronic billboard that includes inventory checking. Here's an excerpt:
Stores buying advertising time on local electronic billboards are able to connect their stock-control computers to the network. The ads are displayed in rotation, but only until the stock-control computer reports the product as sold out. At that point, the ad is omitted from the cycle until the product is restocked.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Guitar Hero: 1980s Edition

So says Electronic Gaming Monthy via Gaming Target via Joystiq. Or something.
The title is expected to ship sometime this spring (alongside Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360 maybe?). And though a 3-4 month release for an unannounced game seems oddly quick, EGM merely states, "trust us; it's coming."

Horrific punctuation aside, that sounds interesting. Of course, anything with the words "Guitar Hero" attached still sounds interesting at this point.

One other Guitar Hero note. Nyko is releasing a controller adapter so that you can play Guitar Hero on the PS3. See details here.

In non-product related news, I despise Laid to Rest like no other song I've ever heard. And I still haven't passed it yet.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Dwarf Fortress Interview: Part Two

Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for Tarn and Zach Adams, creators of Dwarf Fortress. Here are their responses. Oh, and if you missed part one of the interview, it's here.

The number one question has been about a 2D graphics engine. I see that you're supporting user-imported 2D tilesets now. Are there any plans to increase the level of support for those kinds of user mods, or does that question even make sense? (this is my question, as a summary of a bunch of user questions into one).

Plus, have you tried any of the user-created tilesets, and if so, what has been your general impression on how effective they are?
Eventually I'd like to allow 2D tiles to be used optionally for all of the game objects and remove the requirement that the viewport be 80x25. This gives rise to text that isn't the same width as the tiles, which allows more text to be displayed. There are some associated hassles, so I haven't been in a rush. The same goes for mouse support. Once you've got a 2D engine running independent of the 80x25 tiled viewport, there are a lot of interface options that open up, but that's something I'm not thinking about right now, since all of the interface is still subject to change in general.

I can play with my own "miner only" default graphics set that turns the rest of the dwarves into colorful blobs without discomfort... I guess I've been working with the game too long, so it's not something I think about while I'm playtesting. My main concern with the tilesets I've seen posted is being able to distinguish the different dwarven profession types, although I haven't tried one, so it might not be a problem. As you draw more and more humanoids, you have to increase the resolution to be able to distinguish them, and since DF is locked down with 80x25 tiles on the screen, there isn't a lot of room left to both represent and differentiate, though people are certainly doing a better job than I would have been able to do. It's good to have the options though. People can even create tilesets that don't attempt to depict the objects in question, but expand and improve upon what's available in the original text tileset.

What language is Dwarf Fortress programmed in? Would you ever switch to or develop another project in a language like OCaml(pronounced o-camel)? (Aaron Ogden)
I wrote DF in C with some C++ sprinkled in as I've learned it. I certainly can't move DF to another language at this point without burning a lot of time, and I can probably develop other projects faster using C given the amount of code I have laying around. I wouldn't rule anything out, but I'm more interested in making progress on games than in worrying about the technical details, even though I miss out on some benefits from picking up all of those things. I don't really consider myself much of a programmer. People occasionally try to introduce me to this or that, but unless there's an obvious practical gain, I'd rather use the time for writing games or less painful diversions. It reminds me of when my father always tried to get me to build AM radios when I was growing up. I don't remember even opening one of the little kits up.

You allude to this in the first part of the interview, but just to address this specifically; it seems that a major part of your design is based around the player feel like they accomplished something important in the game. What are the methods that you like to use to increase the emotional investment of the player and why do you think they work? (Thomas Moyles)
In both dwarf mode and adventure mode, permanent death/loss is important. This thinking comes from our experiences with arcade games, roguelikes and pen-and-paper roleplaying games (at least how we used to play them, he he he). If one of your dwarves dies and you can just reload, it wouldn't matter so much. A player can still backup their save folder (and this is recommend since things can go wrong technically with the game), but you can't just reload ten times to reattempt a challenge without some hassles. Permanent death doesn't work as well in games without random elements though, and features like the legends/history or just a decent high score list are necessary to preserve something of the character that has been lost, I think, or permanent death can just be depressing.

I think all of the little details that make the game more immersive, even the butterflies and rivers and those worms you can dig up in adventure mode, also get the player more involved in general, which can help them identify with the fortress or adventurer they are playing. The same is true of the quirks the dwarves have, and their various thoughts and emotions, as well as their names and properties like their skills. When creatures are individualized, it helps the player associate with them, and if something happens to the creature later on, good or bad, the player will be invested in it. They might even feel responsible for something tragic, but it's part of the game. It's not a given that this will happen, but the opportunity is there, and it's something we'd like to build on.

The legends screen is supposed to help with the player's sense of accomplishment and their investment in the world -- I don't think the legends screen is as powerful as it could be, but that's because it's still in progress, though I think the game history is most powerful when it comes up in-game during subsequent plays. For a simple example, consider the speeches made by opponents that have killed a previous adventurer -- they are a bit repetitive now, but it helps to get you to really dislike the opponent in question when your previous death is highlighted. You also know that each victory over such an opponent will be saved as a legend. It'll be better when you can find books and songs written about such things, and in the future we want to further individualize these opponents. Dwarf mode legends are really sparse right now, but it won't take much work to get more information recorded. The feature where you can see some fortress events played out on the stone and in item artwork really received a positive response from people, and there will definitely be more elements like that coming in over time. The appearance of parts of the previous games in subsequent games is the high score list for DF in a sense.

A lot of this implies that players need to invest quite a bit of time in a world to get the most out of the game, and a lot of our planning relies on this notion that players will be able to play multiple times in the same world. As it stands, people need to invest a few hours just to figure out what's going on, but even as the interface and documentation problems are worked out, DF will continue to require a time investment to get the most out of the game. DF can't work for everybody, though I think more casual gamers or gamers with limited time can still enjoy it, especially when it takes less time to learn the ropes. This might be more true of adventure mode in the end, once there's a bit more to do there, since it will always be easier to get started with a single character to control.

You've mentioned the importance of myth as an influence in your work. Is there any chance that Gods will affect or interact with any of the characters in Dwarf Fortress?
In the original Armok dev notes, which apply here, there's this notion we had of a "force", such as the "Spirit of the Shrouded Forest". A force could have goals in terms of the game world and ways to work toward them, through particular natural disasters, influencing associated wildlife, and so on, much as a civilization will work toward its goals with its armies, diplomats and merchants. A god was planned to work like a force but would often also have an associated personification that gives it some of the properties of a historical figure (like the civilians in the town or a dragon in a cave). The personification might manifest optionally or be permanent, and one god could have several of these forms. The extent to which a given god can work toward its goals in the world is roughly the extent to which it can interact with characters in the game. Once DF gets up to this point, we had in mind that there would be customization options that would allow you to preclude gods from having effects on the world, or you could play something more Greek where they are causing all kinds of trouble. Of course there are many other models, and I'd like to put in whatever we find time for.

Dwarf Fortress has been referred to as part of the "roguelike" family of games, probably because it has what appears to be ASCII graphics and has a lot of randomly generated content (plus Adventure Mode is certainly a canonical roguelike). You mentioned that you had played Hack somewhat before designing DF, what other experiences have you had with roguelikes and how do you feel about DF being designated as one? (Thomas Moyles)
The early ones we played were Epyx Rogue, Hack 1.03 and Larn, then Moria, and Ragnarok after that. I don't think I played any of the *bands, ADOM or Crawl until our own fantasy games were well underway, so they weren't as influential, but I played all of them at one point or another. The first three were the only ones we played when we were really in our formative years, and along with the games I mentioned before and the arcade games that were at the Goldmine and Scandia in the '80s, they were our primary video game influences. Later on, there were other roguelikes that I messed around with. I remember Omega... maybe Diablo counts too, though that might lead to arguments. I don't play roguelikes at all anymore, pretty much, but it's hard to make time for games in general these days.

As far as DF goes, I think it's a stretch to call it a roguelike. Rogue was a very simple game, so it leads to a very broad category, but the city building, caravans, sieges and most everything else from DF would render the term roguelike meaningless if the umbrella were made that large. Just being text, fantasy and randomly generated isn't enough -- I remember playing an old text game kind of like Master of Magic that nobody would call roguelike even though it has these elements. There's something spatial about @ signs moving around that evokes "roguelike" perhaps -- it's not the properties I often hear mentioned that really count. It's probably fair to call the adventure mode roguelike if you want to convey what it's like right now. As armies and some other aspects of the game come in which start to pull adventure mode toward dwarf mode, I'm not sure the label will work as well, though there will still be some aspect of @-moving permdeath ASCII hack-and-slash in random dungeons that fits the bill.

With two major modes (dwarf and adventure) that are very different from each other and the possibility of additional modes, are you worried about people not knowing what Dwarf Fortress "is" or getting overwhelmed by the multiple options? (Thomas Moyles)
I don't think it's a problem if you think of Dwarf Fortress as an aspiring fantasy world simulator, but since the dwarf mode is so dominant right now, it's not even necessary to keep that perspective as a player. Most people probably think of the game now in terms of the title, as a dwarven fortress simulator, with adventure mode as an occasional diversion. As the game grows and allows other methods of play, and you can even have two different users that almost never play in each other's preferred modes, I hope that they can still share some common experience through the underlying features that unify all the modes, since the community that has grown up around the game is important to a lot of the players and to us as developers. I don't anticipate a huge problem with this, though there will probably be some people that can't really talk to each other and some tensions as to which way development should go when the current development direction neglects one mode or another. The game can be overwhelming in general, but most of the issues we're having with that are correctable (like the interface and documentation). A lot of people just start with the dwarf mode, since it's what they expect to be playing (from the title if anything), and they don't even move on to adventure mode. I'd definitely consider alternatives to just dropping a laundry list of modes from the title screen as that list grows longer, and if some people have trouble with the lack of direction that having a lot of options can cause, this would also be correctable through some simple settings that provide more structure.

It seems like the development of Dwarf Fortress is extremely organized, with plenty of design documents and the like to lay out future development on the project. How helpful would you say it's been to have most things laid out in advance prior to actually sitting down and coding? (Thomas Moyles)
I think for a large project, where you can't keep every detail in your head, it's important to know what you are planning to do, so that your code can absorb everything that will eventually be fit into it without having to constantly rework things. The plans we've written up let us more easily choose the order in which features are added so that they can be coded more quickly with fewer things stepping on each other. Still, I can't say I've always been the best at careful preparations -- I've mostly been winging it for the past 20 years, and I picked up a lot of small habits that help to keep the game resilient even when it's not clear what's coming next, but there are still fairly major rewrites occasionally.

In part the development documents arose because it's fun to sit down and plan out features for the game, and once we plan something out, we want to be able to remember it, so we write it down. At that point we share the plans, so that when people are wondering about where the game is going or they'd like to make a suggestion, they have something to look at.

As a related question, how long did it take you to develop the list of development priorities that you have on the website? Was that all done before you began coding the game, or is it constantly evolving?
There was a large skeletal plan in place, with some fleshed out portions, mainly through the Armok I planning that came before DF was started, and that has been in the works for many years. We still work things out as the game progresses, and our priorities change quite often, so parts of the game without detailed plans or features weren't going to be as deep might suddenly receive a lot of attention, while other parts with detailed plans might not be implemented for a long time. The actual posted list of DF plans in terms of Core/Reqs/Bloats is only a few years old and has been growing out of the planning notes that have been changing with the game and absorbing Armok I ideas as I described earlier. The game was certainly not planned out completely in advance, and I can't really imagine that lasting if it were, since we'd always want to change something as the game came into being.

Is there any thought to supplying an API for events in the system so 3rd parties could graft on a graphics system (similar to what's been done for nethack)? While I have tremendous respect for the incredible ASCII work, I miss the ability to have things like click-n-drag and context sensitive menus. (Chris Kessel)
I have no idea how that works. I'm not really knowledgeable about programming and computers and all of those acronyms. I had to look up API on Wikipedia. In any case, it sounds like a large project--not necessarily the sort of thing that would happen any time soon. Thinking about these things might be easier once some of the 2D graphics and mouse work has been handled. At that point if somebody explains to me what they'd like to be able to do, I might be able to support it more easily.

Tarn, now that Kobold Quest has been ported by some of your forum contributors to use SDL/OpenGL instead of DirectX, when can we expect a Mac OS X port and/or a Linux port?

On a related question: how much money would I have to raise in contributions to convince you to make a Mac OS X port a priority? Please note that this is not a rhetorical question, or a joke. (peterb)
The KQ forum thread is ongoing. As of Jan 9, I'm wondering what sort of system would be the most cost efficient to build the SDL port on, given the various people requesting ports for various operating systems. I'm willing to try out the KQ ports myself immediately once that's sorted out and I can get a hold of something to test it on.

I'm not going to set my priorities based on contributions, so you don't have to raise anything. People have worked to get the KQ ports done, and I've said from the beginning that I'd like to give everybody that wants to a chance to play the game. I have a lot on my plate, so things don't move very rapidly sometimes. As far as the donations themselves go, the ports might pay for themselves over time if I end up having to spend money on a computer, but I have no way of knowing that, and I'm not going to worry about it. Specific feedback regarding systems is appreciated on the Kobold Quest port thread.

Odd and Interesting Links

For your morning reading pleasure.

First off, an absolutely fantastic link from David Gloier about the Gimli Glider Incident. Here's an excerpt:
If a Boeing 767 runs out of fuel at 41,000 feet what do you have? Answer: A 132 ton glider with a sink rate of over 2000 feet-per-minute and marginally enough hydraulic pressure to control the ailerons, elevator, and rudder. Put veteran pilots Bob Pearson and cool-as-a-cucumber Maurice Quintal in the in the cockpit and you've got the unbelievable but true story of Air Canada Flight 143, known ever since as the Gimli Glider.

It happened in 1983, it's an amazing story, and you can read the full article here. The Wikipedia page is basically a rehash of the article, but the external links are very interesting, so look at the bottom of this page.

The new monthly edition of Matthew Sakey's Culture Clash is online and you can read it here.

Here are two remarkable links from Jessie Leimkuehler, both about the Soviet probes sent to Venus. The first, which you can read here, describes the history of the probes. Here's an excerpt:
The Soviet exploration of Venus, from 1961 to 1985, is the largest effort ever undertaken to study another planet. The fundamentals of interplanetary spacecraft design and remote sensing were first realized in these missions. Successes included 3 atmospheric probes, 10 landings, 4 orbiters, 11 flybys or impacts, and 2 balloon probes in the clouds. Much of what is known today about our neighboring planet was discovered by these missions.

The second link, which is here, shows the images taken from the probes.

Here's another link from David Gloier about the source of the so-called "black diamonds." They're interstellar, believe it or not, and you can read about it here.

Lastly, a link from Sirius on the Rongorongo of Easter Island. The rongorongo are large wooden tables with hieroglyphics that have never been deciphered--some researchers claim that they're not even writing. It's a very interesting story, and you can read about it here.

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