Friday, March 30, 2007

Well, Hello

That's right. Guitar Hero II for the 360 is sitting here.

Details: check Circuit City online and it might indicate that the game is available for in-store pickup near you.

All credit goes to John Harwood, who is the Great And Powerful Oz when it comes to finding Guitar Hero games before the street date. This makes two games in a row that he's found at least five days early.
I'll be playing now.

Console Post of the Week: Moved to Monday

I'm delaying the console post of the week until Monday because I've got about a hundred things going on right now and I won't have time to write it up until this weekend.

Sony had nice launch numbers out of Europe, though, and I'll be talking about that (and other things).

It Lifts, It Hits, Whatever

This should give you an idea of how goofy the popular financial press can be.

At Marketwatch this morning, around 10:30 a.m., I looked at the front page and the big headline was "CHINA SANCTIONS LIFT STOCKS."

At that point, the market was slightly up.

Forty-five minutes later, I check the front page again. Now, the market is slightly down, and the big headline is "CHINA SANCTIONS HIT STOCKS."

Panda #2

If you're one of the 99.999% of the population who don't read books on punctuation (not that I'm saying that's a bad thing), you should look at this in reference to the panda post this morning.

Also, please note that I apparently used the incorrect punctuation for the title. How very expected of me.

Contest Winners!

Here are the four contest winners:
Ian Dorsch
Dylan Nichols
Michael Grimm
Brett Kugler

Congratulations and please send me your shipping address (as well as what you want to order).

The Panda Says He Just Watches The Free Previews

CHIANG MAI, Thailand - Chuang Chuang the panda has been spending his days in front of a big-screen television watching panda porn.

Authorities at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand hope the images will encourage him to mate with his partner, Lin Hui, and serve as an instructional lesson in how to do it right.

And from another article here:
“It works,” enthuses Zhang Zhihe, a leading Chinese expert, about showing uninitiated males DVDs of fellow pandas mating.

A DVD of panda porn? What's it called--Eats, Shoots, and Leaves?

And Then There Were Sixteen

Okay, we're in the final round now.

123 entries made it in before the deadline. That's a decent-sized contest, especially considering that it was much more complicated than just sending in an e-mail. You guys put over 1,000 plays on Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township's Myspace Music page yesterday, so thank you very much.

I've been trying to figure out an easier way to run these contests than examining the answers for every single entry, and I think I finally figured out something fair. For the 92 entries that came in before 8 p.m. CST on Wednesday, I assigned them two "entries" into the contest drawing. So the first entry in the contest was assigned numbers 1 and 2. The second entry was assigned numbers 3 and 4, etc. The other 31 (that came in after the two-point deadline) got one entry each.

Then I generated 16 random numbers in Excel between 0 and 215 (the total number of entry "points"). 16 entrants were selected that way. It was only at that point that I checked their answers, and if anyone missed a question (3 people out of that group did), I generated another random number and selected another entrant (and checked their answers).

In other words, instead of having to check 123 sets of answers, I only had to check 19. It saved me a ton of time and it's probably what I'll do in the future.

By the way, here are the answers:
1. In the song "Velcro Rainbow," which instrument do you NOT hear?
--harmonica (correct answer)
--I hear all of them

3. In the song "Let it Go," the lyrics say laugh until what?
Life makes sense.

3. Which of the songs has both a gospel-sounding organ section and an apocalyptic guitar solo (near the end)?Note: don't overthink this question. The guitar solo in question is completely unlike anything you'll hear in the other three songs. And seriously, how often does a band do anything this cool?
Falling Down

4. In the song "Bird Booze Reggae," there is a trumpet solo. Yes or no?

Yes, there were two #3 questions and no #2. Occam's Razor would point to me being stupid as the culprit, and once again, the Razor is correct.

So here are the final sixteen:
Ian Dorsch
JC Fedorczyk
Dylan Nichols
Michael Grimm
Kyle Miller
Duncan Monro
David Gloier
Adam Harvey
Don Barree
Eduardo X
Christopher Harbin
Brett Kugler

I'll post the winners about 11 a.m. CST, and if you're a winner, please send me your shipping address as soon as possible so I can place the order before end of day today.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

We are currently having problems processing your credit card

Gamestop sent me an e-mail about an order I placed that couldn't be processed (the title of this post is taken from their e-mail). I couldn't remember placing an order recently, or even in the last six months, that hadn't already shipped, so I gave them a call.

"Yes sir, it looks like the credit card expiration date has expired," said the helpful customer service guy, who picked up the phone on the very first ring.

"I don't even remember having an order outstanding," I said.

"It looks like the card expired November of 2005," he said.

"What game is on that order?" I asked.

"Looks like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.," he said.

I placed that order over two years ago, which should let you know how long that game was "close to shipping."

I still haven't installed it, by the way, although I do have a level 33 Knight in Puzzle Quest that is absolutely kicking ass.

Own Goalllllll!

Eli 5.7 made a triumphant soccer debut on Saturday, scoring four goals in his first league game.

Two for his team, two for the other team.

He was wearing bright red shoes and shin pads purchased at Pimp's Sporting Goods, I believe. I would have chosen equipment less, well, discotheque, but Eli was very pleased and seemed to think it sort of vaguely made him look like a superhero.

This is how a soccer league for five-year olds works. There are no practices during the week. There are no goalies. When the whistle sounds, ten kids immediately cluster closely around the ball like a rugby scrum, and this continues for the duration of the contest. It doesn't matter if the ball leaves the boundaries of the field, because all players will continue pursuing the ball--all the way to the parking lot, if necessary. Parents are assigned to stand at the edges of the field and kick the ball back into play--hopefully, before they get trampled.

No one keeps score. There are almost no rules.

In other words, lots of fun.

Five-year olds have a very selective memory, and sometimes that comes in handy. Eli came off the field after a five minute shift where he had scored an own goal and completely missed the ball several times while trying to kick it in the defensive end. He'd also gotten knocked down, but got right back up.

It was possibly the worst five minute shift in soccer history. It would have gotten him assassinated in Columbia. So what does he say? "Dad, did you see me get RIGHT BACK UP after I got knocked down?" He was beaming.

That's my boy. I don't care if he leads the league in own-goals as long as he has a good time.

Besides, he'll be following in the tradition of a family full of own-goal scorers.

The Itch

Gloria's been listening to music before she goes to sleep, and she wears those little headphone earbuds.

I should note here that when I started doing that seven years ago or so, she was outraged. Something about communication or whatever--I wasn't listening because I already had my headphones on.

So here's an important thing to remember about marriage, and it happens all the time: outrage becomes trend.

"I woke up last night and my ears felt itchy inside," Gloria said. "Do you think I'm wearing my headphones too much?

"Headphones can't cause internal ear itch," I said. "The only thing I know that could cause that kind of problem would be an earwig crawling into your ear and eating its way through your brain."

"That's very helpful," she said.

"Oh, and if you somehow survive the absolutely unberable pain, you'll probably be told that the earwig laid eggs while it was in your brain."

"Thank you for that expert opinion."

"Don't thank me," I said. "Thank Rod Serling."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Four copies of Guitar Hero II for the 360 (or games of equivalent value) are up for grabs.

Here's how you enter, and of course you knew I was going to work the next big thing in music--Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township--into this.

Just go to the band's Myspace Music page here and listen to the four songs so that you can answer the following questions:

1. In the song "Velcro Rainbow," which instrument do you NOT hear?
--I hear all of them

3. In the song "Let it Go," the lyrics say laugh until what?

3. Which of the songs has both a gospel-sounding organ section and an apocalyptic guitar solo (near the end)?

Note: don't overthink this question. The guitar solo in question is completely unlike anything you'll hear in the other three songs. And seriously, how often does a band do anything this cool?

4. In the song "Bird Booze Reggae," there is a trumpet solo. Yes or no?

Once you've listened to the songs and have the answers, send me an e-mail titled "CONTEST." One entry per person, please. In the body of the e-mail, provide answers to the questions. If your answers are correct, you're entered into the contest drawing. And as an incentive to enter early, if you answer correctly by 8 p.m. CST tonight, you get two chances in the contest drawing instead of one.

Please note that I can't tell you if your answers were correct while the contest is ongoing. So you won't hear back from me until the entry deadline passes.

I'm doing this both to thank you guys for reading as well as to get the band more exposure. They are writing and recording amazing songs, and I'm doing what I can to get more people to hear them. As part of that, I have ten CD's of the band that are also available.
[UPDATE: the CD's have all been claimed. Thanks.]

Contest entry ends tomorrow (Thursday in the U.S.) at midnight. And if a ton of you guys enter, I might add another prize or two to the mix. Like I said, it's both to thank you for reading and to get more exposure for a band whose future I really believe in.

Contest Holding Pattern

Okay, I've got all the contest details ready, but there are two new songs that are going up on GW&UT's Myspace Music page, and I'm waiting for that to happen before I post the contest questions.

In the meantime, though, here's the prize information: four copies of Guitar Hero II for the 360. And if you don't have a 360, no problem--you can choose any games you want up to the same value.

I'm going to be gone for a few hours, but I'll check the page when I get home and hopefully the new songs will be up.

Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township melt the Continental Club

We went to the last night of the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin two Sundays ago.

South By Southwest is one of the largest music festivals in the country. If you're from out-of-town, it's absolutely fantastic to come to Austin and have hundreds of bands playing for four days solid.

If you already live in Austin, though, South By Southwest is a gigantic pain in the ass.

The quality of music available on any weekend here is already phenomenal. All South By Southwest does is add 100,000 people and hopelessly clog up the downtown area.

So everyone I know avoids the music festival like the plague, us included. Well, until the Continental Club (a historic music venue in Austin) booked both Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township AND Alejandro Escovedo for Sunday night.

My favorite band. Gloria's favorite band. It was perfect.

Well, except for this: GWUT was the first band (at 8 p.m.). AE was the last (at 12:15 a.m.). Between them were FOUR other bands. If you're keeping score at home, that would be two great bands and a whole lot of "not nearly as good" in-between.

You might think that since Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township were the first band, that they wouldn't be nearly as good as the bands that followed them. That may even be what the other bands thought as well, until GWUT came out and basically melted the stage.

These guys never have a bad show. They don't even have a bad song. And I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: this band is going to be HUGE.

Lots O' Links

First off, a Puzzle Quest link. If you live outside the U.S./Europe and want to order Puzzle Quest, you can order it from CD WOW here. Thanks to Julian Bell for letting me know.

DQ reader Neil Sorens has an excellent think-piece over at Gamasutra titled "Rethinking the MMO," and you can read it here.

Kevin Wozniak sent me a link to a story about the Wii craze sweeping the world of senior citizens. Read about it here.

Nintendo would be well-rewarded if they sent free Wiis to assisted-living facilities--they would get an exponential amount of publicity and exposure.

From Sirius, a link to a visual representation of the relationship between scientific paradigms. It's in the TextArc style, since it was created by W. Bradford Paley. It's an amazing image, and if you're curious about W. Bradford Paley, who must be one of the most interesting people on the planet, his website is here.

If you've never checked out TextArc, by the way, it's mind-blowing.

From Jeremy Fischer, a link to a story at the Washington Post about a team of mathematicians who have successfully mapped the "Lie group E8." What is it?
"To say what precisely it is is something even many mathematicians can't understand," said Jeffrey Adams, the project's leader and a math professor at the University of Maryland.

The solution, according to the article, involved sixty times as much data as the Human Genome project. Maybe that's because the Lie group E8 has two-hundred and forty-eight dimensions.

Read all about it here.

And here's the daily amazing fossil discovery:
The fossil of an ancient amphibious reptile with a crocodile's body and a fish's tail has been unearthed in Oregon. Scientists believe the creature's remains were transported by geologic processes nearly 5,000 miles away from where it originally died more than 100 million years ago.

See it here.

Wait, here's one more:
An underground den of dinosaurs now reveals the first evidence that at least one species of “terrible lizards” could burrow.

...Paleontologists first caught hints of the new dinosaur in 2004 in fragments of bone on a hillside off the shoulder of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Montana. In 2005, they excavated the scattered bones of what appears to be a family consisting of an adult and two juveniles. They apparently dwelled in a den burrowed into mud and clay that later became filled with sand.

The full article is here.

Here's another article as a follow-up to what I linked to last week concerning the use of fossilized mites to track the course of civilizations. Totally fascinating, and it's here.


I picked it up last weekend at Target but haven't installed it yet. Impressions will be coming in a few days.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sorry--Contest Details Tomorrow, Not Today

My apologies, but there's going to be a one-day delay in announcing the contest. I'll try do to it tomorrow morning by 9 a.m. CST, though.

Gaming Business News

To start with, I am still 100% wrong about Gamestop. They announced earnings today that looked very strong at first glance, plus comparable store sales were up 11.9% from the previous year. Overall results are still not apples-to-apples, since they weren't including the EB Games results last year, but those comparable store sales are impressive.

Full information here, and while I still think it's a suicidal strategy to have the vast majority of your profit come from used games, they're apparently doing quite well.

Next, Take-Two has been unable to find a buyer (in response to the shareholder revolt I wrote about a few weeks ago). If you think that they have an outstanding stable of games, you're correct, but what they also have are long-running, endemic accounting issues, and I've written on many occasions that anyone willing to buy them would have to hold their nose very tightly when they looked at the books.

The shareholder meeting was originally scheduled for March 23, but it was delayed until March 29 in hopes of finding an alternative to the board of directers getting voted out. It's unlikely they could reschedule the shareholder meeting again, which means they are rapidly running out of time.

What does this mean for Take-Two's future? At this point, I don't think anyone has any idea. Certainly, the first thing I'd expect a new board of directors to do would be to attempt to shore up the financial situation of the company by jettisoning uprofitable products and franchises, and they might also be willing to sell one of their stronger franchises to generate some cash.

If you expect some kind of gaming-enlightened board of directors who will focus on game quality, though, think again. The main players here are OppenheimerFunds, D.E. Shaw Valence Portfolios, S.A.C. Capital Management and Tudor Investment (according to Gamasutra here). None of those groups give a rat's ass about gaming--they just want a return on their investment.

Lastly, in Gamestop's earnings conference call, CEO R. Richard Fontaine floated a tantalizing theory about the Wii:
When asked if the retailer believes if the Wii shortage will be a recurring problem, the executive responded, “I don't think it's going to be an issue...and this just my opinion, but I think [Nintendo] intentionally dried up supply because they made their numbers for the year. The new year starts April 1, and I think we're going to see supply flowing.”

Given that Nintendo's numbers have been relatively consistent for January/February, I don't know how they're holding units back, unless they've ramped up manufacturing capacity, which is certainly possible. And holding back units because you've already reached your fiscal year targets is certainly not uncommon in the business world.

The idea of Nintendo possibly selling Wii's at an even faster rate than they already are is mind-boggling.

Virtua Tennis 3 (360): Crazy Bad, Crazy Good

I received Virtua Tennis 3 from Gamefly and played it for about three hours.

What an odd game.

The demo lets you play a match, and after I played the demo, I posted that the match engine was just awful.

That is, indeed, correct.

Nets? Who needs nets? The balls never hit them. Balls also almost never go wide or deep. Your opponents don't make mistakes--they just stand so far over to one side of the court that you can hit winner after winner.

Move into the top 200 in the world rankings and you'll play some opponents who do nothing but hit drop shots. Seriously. They'll return your serve, and then their next shot, almost without fail, will be a drop shot.

Of course, since these drop shots never hit the net, there's really no risk in hitting them, at least in terms of missing the shot.

So the tactics of the A.I. opponents are, in general, horrible. And given how rarely balls are hit long or wide, and how the ball never seems to hit the net, the match engine gets an "F."

Oh, and one other thing. Since the most difficult shot in tennis is the half volley, you would reasonably expect that it would be difficult to hit in the game.

Um, no. You'll never miss one.

All of this is a shame, because the graphics, animation, and lighting are absolutely superb. It's some of the best animation I've ever seen in a sports game.

So the matches are crazy bad.

Here's something else that's crazy, though: the mini-games that you play in career mode are fantastic. They're generally very creative, very wacky, and extremely fun. Serve and knock over giant bowling pins. Hit groundstrokes to stop advancing cargo containers (or something) a la Space Invaders. Avoid giant tennis balls rolling down a ramp while you gather up pieces of fruit. Protect prizes that are on a shelf behind you while ball machines fire ball after ball. Hit giant numbered panels with groundstrokes to try to freaking bingo (with a giant card displayed beside the court).

Crazy fun. Crazy good.

The mini-games are so much fun, and there are so many of them, that it's a blast to build your character. Plus there's a tennis academy where you can test your skill and earn medals. It's a wonderful piece of design, which makes me wonder how many people designed this game.

The guy who designed the training mini-games and the career mode in general? A genius.

The guy who designed the in-game match engine? The polar opposite of genius.

So there you go--it's an excellent rental, just to play the mini-games. And it could have been one of the most interesting sports games ever if the match engine had only been competent.

Monday Lessons

We went to Main Event for Monday lunch, and I learned these things:
1. Based on a song that I heard today for the first time, Stacy's mom apparently has it "goin' on." 2. Whoopee cushions now come with variable time delays. This is known as technology for technology's sake.
3. If you spend hundreds of hours playing Guitar Hero, you can play Guitar Freaks very well very quickly.

Good News From ESPN

Who said good things never happen? From ESPN:
Ron Jaworski will join Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser on the ESPN telecast. Jaworski replaces Joe Theismann, who has been offered a prominent football analyst job with the network.

Ron Jaworski is the best football analyst I've ever heard. He has an extremely high degree of technical knowledge, and he communicates all that information in a way that I can understand. He may not have been a better NFL quarterback than Theismann, but he is a brilliant analyst. Theismann, as an analyst, is a gasbag.

So Monday Night Football has gone from "regrettable" to "must watch," at least for me.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Planet Earth!

If you have a high-definition set and access to Discovery HD, you need to watch Planet Earth, which is a new series that debuted last night.

It is, in a word, breathtaking.

Of all the programs in high-definition that I've seen in the seven years, this is, by none, the most beautiful. And the number of new technologies they used in filming resulted in some absolutely incredible footage.

There are more details here.

Tall Tales

On occasion I'll tell Eli 5.7 something that could be considered a "tall tale."

Wednesday night, Eli was eating a banana.

When he got halfway, he stopped and held up the banana. "Dad, what is this?" he asked, pointing to a small spot in the center (the ovum).

"That's the language center," I said. "Hundreds of thousands of years ago, that spot was much bigger, and bananas could actually talk."

"What? Dad, you are crazy," he said.

"No, it's true," I said. "Bananas actually had a larger vocabulary than parrots. Over time, though, the language center got smaller and smaller, and today, bananas can't say a single world. If you hold them up to your ear, though, every once in a while you'll hear one grunt."

"Mom!" Eli's holding his stomach because he's laughing so hard. "Mom, come listen to this!'

That's Eli's standard appeal to sanity--calling for Gloria.

Sunday we were having lunch at Chili's with my mom, and while we were sitting in the booth, Eli dropped a red crayon. "Mom, I dropped my crayon," he said. "Can I go under the table and get it?"

"No need," I said. "I'll get it for you. My hands have the ability to attract crayons."

"What?" Eli said.

"They do,"I said. "I'll get your crayon without taking my hands off the table."

"Whatever, Dad," Eli said. "But you're going to use your hands."

"Well, watch my hands, then," I said. "The one thing you can't do, though, is look under the table, because no magician lets you look at his secrets." I put my hands on top of the table and slipped my left foot out of its shoe. My prehensile toes did the rest.

"I can feel it moving," I said. "It's moving toward me. I've got it in the air now."

Eli is laughing. He's been watching my hands the whole time. "Dad, there is NO WAY," he said, just as I moved my hand to the edge of the table and moved it down a few inches to reach my foot.

And held up the red crayon.

"That did NOT just happen!" Eli 5.7 said.

"Stop messing with my head, David Blaine!" I said.

"Dad, do that again!"

"I can't," I said. "Powerful magic is very draining. I feel very weak right now."

"Oh, brother," Gloria said. "I think there's a better explanation than magic for that."

"Superhuman powers?" I asked.

"Monkey feet," she said.

"Just wait for the sawing the lady in half trick--then you'll be wishing for some magic."

We were driving home from Chili's and I mentioned that a friend of mine had gotten a new car with the "backup camera."

"Eli, when your dad gets a new car some day, do you want it to be red?" Mom knows that red is Eli's favorite color.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I think I want it to be green."

"Sorry, man, I can't do that," I said. "They're phasing out green."

"They're what?" he asked.

"They're phasing out green as a color," I said. "Six months from now, everything green will be yellow instead."


Stomach Pain

DQ reader Nathan Carpenter sent a nice e-mail asking about Eli 5.7 when he was in the hospital a few weeks ago. Then last weekend, he sent me this:
Looks like my email last week of “I hope we never have to go through that with our kids” was a bit premature.

Corey (4 year old) started having severe stomach pains Sunday night at about 2 am. They came and went in waves of about 45 minutes then subsided. After the first round, we thought “gastritis” (my wife Patty is a nurse so she knows big words like that). After the second and much worse round, we packed up and headed to the ER. In seemingly no time flat, they had Corey under the knife for appendicitis. Luckily it hadn’t ruptured. We came home yesterday, he’s doing great today, and all is back to normal – he’s already been in time out once today so he’s full of “urine and impure dilute acetic acid “ so to speak.

Here’s the public service bit – we talked to the pediatric surgeon afterwards, and he told us that with young kids, it’s very hard to tell when they have an inflamed appendix. They don’t really feel it the way teens and adults do, and only generally start really hurting when it’s too late. And appendicitis can happen at pretty much any age, although it’s most common in teens. So if you feel like something‘s “not right” in the tummy department, go be miserable in the ER and let the pros do their thing. If we had waited too much longer, we could have been looking at a much more serious situation. As if getting any kind of operation at 4 years old isn’t serious enough.

I asked him if he had any additional information he wanted to add, and he followed up with this:
The key is severe general stomach pain that migrates to the right lower quadrant of the abdomen, with nausea and vomiting likely following the pain. If pain is pretty much confined to the right lower quadrant of the abdomen, then it’s most likely appendicitis. Fever is usually low-grade until the appendix is ruptured, then it gets high.

In our case, and I’m sure everyone’s kid will be different, something just didn’t seem right about the pain. Corey’s reaction to the pain was unusual. Usually kids with the stomach flu or whatever just want to lie there and like to have their tummy rubbed and so on. In this case, he was completely inconsolable and actually got up and moved around to try and get rid of the pain.

A thorough, if technical, description is at

So there's something else to worry about, but it's good to have the information.

Bill Raftery

Well, with the Final Four coming up next weekend, we won't be hearing Bill Raftery any more this season.

That's a shame, too, because I don't know any other commentator who sounds like a border collie with Tourette's syndrome.

Friday, March 23, 2007

As Expected

It's a strange place to admit it, but here's an excerpt from Major Nelson's 360 blog:
Xbox Live Security Update
Earlier this week when I first heard about the "Xbox Live network hacked" story, I checked with the people on our end, and then posted about it. As originally posted, Xbox Live has not been hacked. That is still true. A security researcher, Kevin Finisterre, discovered not a hack, but the fact that some accounts may have been compromised as a result of 'social engineering', also known as ‘pre-texting’, through our support center. Kevin gave me a call directly and once I realized what he was talking about (he sent me some painful-to-listen-to audio files) I confirmed that the team is fully aware of this issue. They are examining the policies, and have already begun re-training the support staff and partners to help make sure we reduce this type of social engineering attack.

There's no other way to say it; this situation shouldn't have happened. Our customers deserve better.

Denis Dyack: Unplugged, and Occasionally Unhinged

I'm late to the party on this.

Denis Dyack (co-founder of Silicon Knights, currently developing Too Human) was on an EGM podcast last week, which turned out to be a free-wheeling discussion of EGM's criticism of the the Too Human demo shown at E3 this year.

After doing a cover story about Too Human only months earlier, EGM's write-up of the E3 presentation (according to the podcast) included the phrase "I wouldn't show this at a high school science fair."

This podcast basically turned into an argument over EGM's evaluation of the E3 demo.

Dyack, at first, comes off as pretty sympathetic. He's having a discussion and he sounds reasonable. He's trying to make several points, among them "there's no chance to make a qualitative assessment of anything at E3." That's entirely true.

After that, though, he starts to go off the rails. He says that "industry people" know Too Human is going to blow everyone away, and he says that Too Human is going to be SO good that it's going to make EGM look bad when it does come out. Oh, and one of the reasons the game was so heavily criticized was because Silicon Knights had left Nintendo, and everyone is in love with Nintendo, so they're punishing him.


Look, the E3 evaluation process IS unfair (or was, since E3 doesn't exist anymore). Almost any preview evaluation process is unfair--but it's unfair to the consumer in its current form, not the developers. 90% of games get glowing previews written about them based on a highly-scripted, controlled tour. Maybe there's not a quid pro quo between the writer and the developer, but from the outside it certainly appears that way. If a writer from "Magazine Z" trashed Developer's "Game A" after seeing it at an exclusive preview, I'm guessing that the developer would be in no hurry to show them "Game B."

Seriously, how often do you read a preview of a game that is highly negative? I've seen them, but they are very, very rare. It's all stacked in favor of the developer.

Here's Dyack's problem: he admits the E3 build wasn't ready to show and wasn't really representative of the game's quality. But he's complaining about how negative EGM's E3 evaluation turned out to be. Well, if you don't have a build that displays the game's quality, how is anyone supposed to know the quality of the game? If EGM had praised the game instead of slamming it, he wouldn't be on a crusade about how he got screwed by EGM and how unfair it is to show games before they're finished.

And when he talks about how everyone loves Nintendo and never gives a Nintendo game a bad preview--again, he wasn't complaining about this when he was a second-party developer for Nintendo, was he? It all comes off as a giant case of sour grapes on his part by the end of the segment.

Surprisingly, EGM acquitted themselves very, very well. There were three EGM editors on the show (Mark MacDonald, Shane Bettenhausen, and Bryan Intihar), and they all came off as intelligent and reasonable. They were also quick to point out when Dyack was contradicting himself.

Look, Denis, if you're making a great game, you'll have scoreboard when it comes out. That's how it works. All you did with that podcast was dent your own image.

If you'd like to hear the podcast for yourself, go here (it's the March 12 podcast).

And if you'd like to read a well-written column on this subject (instead of just "written," like mine), check out DQ reader's Brandan Cackowski-Schnell's blog here (the post is "A Momentary Diversion").

The Puzzle Quest Craze

Here's an e-mail I received from DQ reader David Foster:
I no longer have a DS and it is all your fault!

I read your write-up about the Puzzle Quest Demo and downloaded the demo. Now I've been looking for a good game that I can play in short sets and thought this might fill the bill.

Big mistake. Really, big mistake.

Now don't get me wrong: the game is a lot of fun and I enjoy it very much. So while I was playing the demo, my wife sits down next me and asks: "What are you playing?"

"Puzzle quest," I mumble, while trying to kill that #$% bat for the 10th time.

"Is this like Bejeweled?"

"Yes, it is."

My wife tried it for a little while after I finished and should have seen the writing on the wall then. My wife isn't a computer person. When she sees me playing games she calls me her 12 year old. But she is a puzzle person. In fact she's the puzzlesaurus of puzzle people.

So I came home yesterday with Puzzle Quest, set it down on the kitchen table, and went to take the dogs for a quick run before I took my wife out to dinner. I came back and my wife was playing PQ.

She didn't even know how to use a DS.

I tried to distract her with food, she wasn't hungry.
I tried offering to watch one of those terrible shows that let you watch someone trying to sell their house with her, not interested.
I sent her pride and joy, Petey the wonder poodle, over to her. She handed him back to me.

Finally, I said "I'm not going to get my DS back am I?"

"Maybe after the baby is born," she said.

The baby is due in July.

Curse you sir! You owe me a DS!

Well, it's officially a craze. This game has some serious buzz at this point, and it's well-deserved. I played last night until I couldn't keep my eyes open, which was about 1:30 a.m.

Last night I saw down on the couch with my DS. And headphones. Eli 5.7 and Gloria were watching a Curious George episode. "Ah, a little time as a family," I said, as I put my headphones on.

"Oh, right," Gloria said, laughing.

By the way, my good friend Glen Haag sent me a link to an interview over at Games Are Fun with the game's producer, Andy Pan. You can read it here.

Friday Links

Quite an assortment here, and I hope you enjoy them.

First, here's a link to a story about a car that runs on compressed air. What makes this car different is that it's actually going into production--in India. It's a remarkable piece of engineering and it's incredibly efficient--read about it here.

Next, from Sirius, a very interesting science story over at MSNBC. Here's an excerpt:
WASHINGTON - Scientists have unearthed a fossil of a mammal the size of a chipmunk that skittered around with the dinosaurs, with a key feature in the evolution of mammals — the middle ear bones — fabulously preserved.

Read about it here.

From Shad Price, a link to pictures of the Naica Mine in Mexico. What makes this mine so remarkable are the crystals--as large as four feet in diameter and fifty feet long. The pictures are stunning, and you can see them here.

Brian Witte sent in two links to remarkable photographs. The first, one of the most beautiful skycapes I've ever seen is here. The second link is to a set of hoverfly photos (look on the right side of the page and you'll see the link). See them here.

NCAA Notes

1. Southern Illinois plays the best man-to-man defense I've seen in years. I was really sorry to see them lose last night, because they are unbelievably sound fundamentally. Their coach should get a big offer from someone.

2. Every time I've seen a Big Ten team this year it's been excruciating to watch. The Big Twelve was like that about five years ago--a strong basketball conference but almost totally unwatchable. Ohio St. is the one of the strangest teams I've ever seen--they play so badly for such long stretches that you wonder how they even made it to the tournament, but somehow they keep winning games. Same thing with Greg Oden--I keep hearing that he's the #1 draft pick and I wonder if people are smoking crack. The guy can't run up and down the court for more than a few minutes before he's totally exhausted, and his offensive range is about three feet. I know he's very quick in terms of blocking shots, and that's a skill you can't teach, but please. Kevin Durant can shoot the three, he can drive the lane, he can post up, he blocks shot, he takes charges--he even gets a few steals. And he runs like a deer. He's going to score 20-25 points every night and get 10+ rebounds. Plus he's still growing--he'll put on 15-20 more pounds of muscle. Anyone who doesn't draft that kid first is crazy.

3. Here's why Kentucky should hire Billy Gillispie instead of John Calipari, who seems to be getting most of the run this morning. Gillispie, no matter where he's coached and in what role, has always been a huge success. At A&M, he took over a team that was 7-21 and 0-16 in conference, truly one of the worst major conference programs in Division 1, and they won 21 games the first season (8-8 in conference). In year three, they went 27-7, 13-3 in conference, and were one shot away from being in the Elite Eight.

In other words, he improves programs, and quickly. He's a great game coach and a great recruiter, and he has absolutely zero personal life--his whole life is basketball. That's all a perfect fit for Kentucky fans.

4. I'm very curious to see what happens in the Florida-Butler game tonight, because Florida (to me) is overrated. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Buter wins.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

College Basketball Gone Wild

What in the world? Steve Alford goes from Iowa to New Mexico. Tubby Smith goes from Kentucky to Minnesota.

Dogs living with cats!

When have two coaches with that kind of high profile left to take jobs of lesser stature?

It's one thing to find another job a few weeks or months later. But leaving with jobs in hand is unprecedented, at least in my memory.

Texas A&M better go to the final four this year, because they're going to lose their coach. I would be shocked if Billy Gillispie didn't get that job.

Console Post of the Week

Here's a quick summary of what's going to happen in Europe.

Launch Day (LD): Sony declares that it was the GRATEST LAUNCH EVAR.
LD +1: someone posts pictures of midnight launch locations that were strangely absent things like, um, lines.
LD+5: the resale market for the PS3 in Europe indicates that everyone thinking they could flip their console for a profit made a big, big mistake.
LD +10: pictures of stacks of PS3's sitting around at retailers are widely circulated.

In May, the April sales numbers will get released, and shockingly, the PS3 will be selling no better in Europe than it is in North America or Japan.

The price of this unit is an endemic problem. It cannot be resolved by spending more money on marketing. Period.

Next, here's a note from Gamespot: Final Fantasy XXIII may not be platform-exclusive.
One more platform-exclusive title may be going multiplatform, it has been revealed. The latest news appears to be that Square Enix's latest epic role-playing game, Final Fantasy XIII, may follow other titles--including Saints Row, Assassin's Creed, and Devil May Cry 4--that have now been announced as appearing on at least one other platform as well.

Sony Computer Entertainment France president Georges Fornay dropped the bombshell in an interview with French-language newspaper
Les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace (subscription required). He said, "The development costs of games have exploded, and it has become more difficult to have exclusives, outside of our own games. But we have for launch day [in France] 30 games, including MotorStorm, Resistance: Fall of Man, and Virtua Fighter 5. Moreover, we are expecting 200 games [for the PS3] by the end of 2007...As far as Final Fantasy XIII goes, I can tell you that the exclusivity is in discussion."

If that's true, and FF XIII comes out on multiple platforms, it would be an absolute disaster for Sony. Actually, "catastrophe" would also be accurate.

Remember how I talked about the flow of software and how it would change because of the PS3's price and the Wii's fun? When the PS3 launched, EB Games listed more games in development for the PS3 than for the 360. I believe it was eleven pages of PS3 "coming soon" and either nine or ten pages for the 360 (I'm doing this from memory, so it could easily have been twelve-ten or something similar). Also, there were only four pages for the Wii.

I said back then that those numbers were going to change radically.

Today I looked and the 360 now has ten "coming soon" pages. The PS3 has eight. And the Wii has six.

This is not an absolute comparison, because EB slips some non-game crap into the Coming Soon pages. But as a rule of thumb, I think it's a good guide.

Lastly, Howard Stringer (Sony chairman and CEO) gave a television interview this week (yet to air, although summaries have been made available) where he said “if we fail, it is because we positioned PS3 as the Mercedes of the video game field.”

I guarantee you that was not Sony's intention. Crazy Ken spent so much money on R&D that they were forced to position it that way because of the bill of material costs. When your console costs $800+ to build, you have to position it as a luxury item. Oops.

The non-Sony news this week is that Microsoft is, according to multiple sources, releasing a new version of the 360 for $479 that includes both a 120GB hard drive and an HDMI connection. Once the "special edition" units are sold through, those features are supposed to be incorporated into the "premium" 360 at the $399 price.

More features for the same price is always good, but I think they should be focusing on a price cut instead. Microsoft needs to be conscious of what's happening with the Wii as much as they are with Sony.

Puzzle Quest Bug (PSP Version)

Thanks to Mike Rozeks for pointing me to a post in the Infinite Interactive forums about the PSP version of Puzzle Quest. In the PSP version, the companion bonuses (given before combat begins) are not working. So if you have a companion traveling with you, his unique bonus is not going to be applied.

This isn't a huge bug, but those companion bonuses do come in handy at times.

I've been playing the DS version every chance I get today and I'm finding it almost impossible to stop.

Please Mark Your Calendars

We're having a sizable contest next week, and I'll be announcing details Tuesday morning.

Puzzle Quest! (DS)

Damn, that screen is small.

That was my first impression of the DS version of Puzzle Quest. After playing the PC version, it feels like you need a freaking microscope to see this version.

Plus I'm old and all that.

I still played it for two hours yesterday, though, and when I started playing this morning, the screen bothered me much less. I do think the PC version is going to be the best version, by far, because it supports all resolutions and it can use the mouse, but the DS stylus is very, very handy.

The PSP version, obviously, with its larger screen and widescreen aspect ratio, is a perfect fit graphically, but I can't imagine not using a mouse or a stylus to move pieces during combat.

What I've really come to appreciate after playing the full version for a few hours is what an amazing amount of stuff this game has, and how many choices you have when using your gold. Do you build an additional structure in your citadel, one that might help you in combat by enhancing training or enabling you to learn spells from captured enemies, or do you more directly help yourself by spending that money on better armor and weapons? There are a HUGE number of choices.

The full version also confirms what I wrote a few days ago about the demo: Puzzle Quest is an RPG that uses a puzzle element for combat. And so much of the combat in RPG's is absolutely cookie-cutter and repetitive that this comes off as quite fresh in comparison.

This game is going to have a long life and I think word of mouth is really going to drive sales. And I'm more than willing to buy the PC version as well, as soon as it gets released.

More on Xbox Live

So it appears that the Xbox Live "hacking" story is actually a story about social engineering. There are informative updates from Steven Davis here and here, and he also links to an excellent article by Robert Lemos here.

So when Microsoft says that they have no evidence that Xbox Live has been hacked, they are telling the truth, apparently. What they're not saying is that appears to be significant anecdotal evidence that there are procedural issues with how Microsoft employees provide support to Xbox Live customers that makes them vulnerable to social engineering ruses.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Puzzle Quest Arrives

Finally. The UPS guy just drove off after leaving the package, and I'm off to play the DS version.

Xbox Live and Hackers

I think this is probably a bigger story than anyone understands yet.

From ZDNet:
Online gaming forums are buzzing with reports that Xbox Live accounts linked to Microsoft's Windows Live ID service are being hijacked by malicious hackers.

Kevin Finisterre, a security researcher at Digital Munition, raised the issue on the Full Disclosure mailing list over the weekend, calling attention to rumors that Microsoft's was the victim of a breach that exposed a portion of Xbox Live.

"Some folks are having their Microsoft points stolen and or points purchased via their stolen gamer tag," Finisterre said.

A quick search of user forums at and other gaming sites turned up multiple messages from Xbox Live users complaining about hijacked accounts, which typically link gamer tags to Windows Live ID (formerly .NET Passport).

Kotaku e-mailed Microsoft support asking for an official response, and here's what they got:

"Recently, there have been reports of fraudulent activity and account theft taking place on the Xbox LIVE network. Security is a top priority for Xbox LIVE, and we are actively investigating all reports of fraudulent behavior and theft. Any customer with a question about the security of their Xbox LIVE account should contact 1-800-4-MY-Xbox, and an Xbox Customer Service Representative will help them understand our security policies and procedures."

A Microsoft rep went on to tell me that while they are investigating the concerns, they have not found any security breach of or Xbox Live accounts.


Here's my guess: accounts have been compromised. Microsoft is going to continue to issue very soft denials until they can establish the number of accounts involved. At that point, they'll admit that this has happened.

This could quickly degenerate into a public relations disaster for Microsoft if it's handled badly.

Here's more information from Shacknews (thanks Jonin):
Digital Munition has now posted an audio log of one of Finisterre's many calls to Microsoft support, which seems to indicate that the representatives are aware of the issue but unable to take any meaningful action. Based on comments made by the support techs, the partial reason for this appears to be that some of Bungie's online community features are independent from Microsoft's broader Xbox Live systems, and Microsoft support cannot reverse account changes made by Bungie's system. Finisterre was assured that an account hacker would not have access to his credit card information, though that does not prevent somebody in control of an account from using the saved--but private--credit card information to buy any number of Microsoft Points before the account is banned.

Finisterre appears to have been targeted specifically. He recounts being told by his opponents during a game of Halo 2 that his account
would be stolen--and the next day he discovered that it had. Other Xbox Live users tell stories of their credit cards limits being maxed out by purchases of thousands of dollars' worth of Microsoft Points, and their home addresses and phone numbers being acquired and abused.

Again, I'm guessing there's too much smoke here for there not to be any fire, and the clock is ticking for Microsoft to establish the extent of what's happening.

We Know What You Did Last Night

Man Tells Cops Unicorn Caused Crash
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A man told police not to blame him for crashing his truck into a light post - it was that unicorn behind the wheel. Prosecutor Ingrid Rosenquist said Phillip C. Holliday Jr. initially denied driving the truck involved in the March 7 crash in Billings. He told officers at the scene that a unicorn was driving, she said.

Dude, you need to come correct on this. Unicorns are excellent drivers. The only way a unicorn has a wreck is if someone is trying to make out with the unicorn while it's driving.

Come on, Phillip. No means no.

Slap Fight: A Note on Take-Two, Jackass, and Lawsuits

From DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles:
It occurs to me that somewhere within that complaint may be the allegation that Mr. Jackass is now -- and maybe always has been -- a vexatious litigant. Certain jurisdictions around the country prohibit individuals who have been declared "vexatious" from filing additional complaints without those complaints first being reviewed by a judicial officer for merit. This would create an additional bar before Mr. Jackass could file additional litigation (and other courts around the country could take judicial notice of the ruling). Additionally, it may allow for testimony as to his prior bad acts to demonstrate a practice and pattern.

Attached is the wikipedia entry on vexatious litigation ( Keep in mind that California is on one end of the spectrum and other jurisdictions' vexatious litigant statutes are not as broadly worded nor as strong. As an aside, I wrote a published law review note on California's vexatious litigant statute back in 1998 ( "The California Vexatious Litigant Statute: A Viable Judicial Tool to Deny the Clever Obstructionists Access?", 72 S. Cal. L. Rev. 275 (1998)). I have not kept up with the statute and cannot say for certain whether things have changed, but I doubt there have been significant revisions.

I See The Future And The Future is Ugh

I played the UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 demo for the 360 last weekend.

Electronic Arts hasn't put out anything resembling a great soccer game in a long, long time, so my expectations were low. The gameplay was entirely forgettable on the pitch, but one feature really caught my attention: an elaborate trading card system.


These cards can do just about anything: heal injuries, give temporary performance boosts, performance decrements (for opponents), improve team chemistry, extend player contracts, and just about anything else you can imagine. And there are apparently hundreds of different ones.

You actually assemble a deck, and you can purchase card packs (bronze, silver, or gold quality) from points you earn during matches.

This was a real head-scratcher. Why would designers of a team sports game add a card deck element as a vital part of the game?

The demo mentioned the card packs several times, and at the end they mentioned that cards would also be available on the Xbox Live Marketplace.


Don't want to wait to earn points in matches to buy your card packs? Gold packs require so many points that it would take forever to play enough matches?

No problem, I'm guessing. Just whip out that credit card and buy them.

Here's the future: EA Sports is going to redesign every single sports game they have to maximize the amount of additional content they can offer via the Xbox Live Marketplace. The entire design focus is going to be on monetizing the game after we buy the game.

$59.99? That's just the buy-in price, baby.

I don't think this would bother me nearly as much if they were improving their sports games, but they're not. Their games rarely get better from year to year. They all have framerate issues. They all have few user options. Some, incredibly, have ONE camera angle. With only rare exceptions, they have abysmal A.I.

Doesn't matter to them, though, because if it did, this wouldn't have gone on for years. They can talk all they want about how they're going to improve quality, but the hard truth is that when it comes to quality, they haven't changed a damn thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


You guys are sending me a ton of interesting links, so here goes another links post.

Kevin Mosley sent me a link to Futility Closet, which I can only describe as full of information about the obscure and forgotten. The historical bent, plus the fascinating nature of the stories, makes it well worth reading.

Brett Kugler sent a link to an NPR story about software development. As always, it has the thoughtful NPR treatment, and you can listen to the show here.

Julian Dasgupta wrote the second installment of a multi-part article on political attempts to control gaming content in Germany. It's over at the always excellent Gamers With Jobs, and you can read it here.

Geoff Engelstein sent a link to videos of a robotic salamander. Here's why:
Salamanders and other similar creatures (like Lampreys) have two distinct modes of locomotion -- walking and swimming -- and their bodies move differently during each. The swimming mode is a simple undulation (like an eel) and is controlled by oscillators located along the spine, governed by a master 'control signal' at a certain frequency. By doing neurological research into muscle response, these scientists in France developed a theory that the leg motion was controlled by the same type of oscillators in the legs, but with a slower frequency. As the master control frequency increases, the legs and body move faster, until eventually the legs can't go any faster and stop moving, causing the transition between walking and swimming. The different motions are caused by the interaction between the two oscillations of the legs and spine -- the leg oscillation is stronger and dominates until it drops out.

The cool part is that they designed and built a robot salamander to test the theory. You can see the movies of both the robot and an actual salamander on the link above. Notice how the body moves differently and slower on land than in the water in both creatures.

This is also an example of how evolution can work -- You can have something like an eel, and with a relatively simple addition -- legs that move at a slower frequency than the body -- the animal can use the same movement controls and switch between walking and swimming.

The videos are remarkable, and you can find them here.

Sirius sent in this next link, and don't be eating lunch when you look at these photos of a rare skin condition called Lewandowsky-Lutz. Here's an excerpt from the story:
A friend of mine has a relative who is a missionary in Eastern Europe. He recently shared photographs and the story of a man he is caring for, who has an extremely bizarre skin condition. The man has keratin-like matter growing out of the skin on hands and feet, which started when he was young, and very slowly continues to spread and grow.

If you're feeling brave, take a look here. Argghhh!

Karate Hero

Eli 5.7 has been taking classes at The Little Gym for several years. It's really helped his coordination, and he's had a great time.

"Little Gym has added a karate class," Gloria said after they returned from class yesterday.

"Really?" I asked.

"I think Eli might enjoy it," she said. "And karate teaches discipline and sportsmanship."

"Sweep the leg!" I said.

"What?" she asked.

"The worst example of sportsmanship in history," I said. "And it was in karate."

"Oh, good grief," she said. "That was a movie."

"Besides," I said. "Learning karate can be really boring."

"What do you mean?"

"Wax on, wax off," I said.

"You don't know anything about karate that wasn't in The Karate Kid, do you?"

"First learn stand, then learn fly," I said.

So There is A Keyboard Hero, Sort Of

Thanks to all of you who e-mailed me about "Piano Wizard," which does have many elements of a Guitar-Hero type game. I'm watching the infomercial (which is as dreadful as any infomercial) right now, actually.

Basically, there's a video game with scrolling notes attached to a keyboard that is color-coded. The notes scroll up, though, instead of down. And what you hear are the notes you play on the keyboard, not a pre-recorded soundtrack. It hooks up to your PC.

It does look fun, actually. And it looks like a fairly powerful product, surprisingly enough.

The website is here, and The Escapist did this story.

Criminal Masterminds

Most of you have probably already seen this story, but in case you haven't, here's what happened in Austin recently:
Last month, at least nine people broke into private property at the end of Coldwater Canyon, near 360 and 2222. Police say pictures documented a party and crime in which $5,000 worth of expensive alcohol, including $800 bottles of wine and high-dollar scotch, were stolen.

Pictures? What pictures? Why, the ones the police found on the digital camera that the morons left behind at the crime scene.

That property is owned by Richard Garriott, by the way, so there's your gaming tie-in.

The link to the full story is here, and you can even see a few of the pictures.

One More Puzzle Quest Post

I forgot to mention that this doesn't appear to be a title that's going to have wide distribution, so it may not be easily to find locally. Here are EB Games links if you want to order online, though:

Someone also e-mailed and asked me to compare this game to Bookworm Adventures. When I played Bookworm Adventures, it seemed like a puzzle game with some bare RPG elements tacked on.

Puzzle Quest, in contrast, feels like an RPG (with turn-based strategic elements as well) that has a puzzle element included.

That's a big difference from a design standpoint, and I enjoyed the demo of Puzzle Quest much more.

Where is Keyboard Hero?

I understand that playing Guitar Hero doesn't teach the skills needed to play a real guitar. What surprises me, though, with the staggering success of GH, is why Activision hasn't announced Keyboard Hero yet. Wouldn't it be possible to use the same basic type of note display as GH, just with 12-15 columns insted of 5? Sure, it would be much more complicated, but Easy level could just use six keys, for example, with more added for each difficulty level. And it seems like the skills you learned in Keyboard Hero would directly translate into playing the piano, since you would be using a cut-down version of a real keyboard.

Puzzle Quest Update

I e-mailed Support at Infinite Interactive concerning the PC version of Puzzle Quest, and this was their response:
Our publisher, D3P handles all the announcements, so you should check back later to our site when they decide. They don't have an official release date yet that I know of, but the PC version should be out in June/July.

Argggh. It's too bad that the PC version is lower priority, because the demo is getting a decent amount of attention (I saw a post on Kotaku last night). In the meantime, I ordered the DS version.

Oh, and here are a few more notes (courtesy of my friend John Harwood). First, it supports higher resolutions than 1600x1200, which is very impressive. Also, the world map is huge--2x3 screens, at least, and even one screen has dozens of locations on it. So the game world is relatively gigantic.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Puzzle Quest, After a Few Other Things First

I had originally planned to write up some impressions of the Virtua Tennis 3 demo, but I can do that really, really quickly: it feels nothing like tennis. It's incredibly fast, your CPU opponent constantly hits mind-bendingly brilliant shots, and no one ever seems to hit the net. And it looks great.

Why a tennis game wouldn't use the right analog stick to simulate the swing is beyond me.

So thanks but no thanks.

Then I tried Tiger Woods for the Wii. People need to stop complaining that third-party titles aren't selling well on the Wii, because they would sell if somebody made a decent game. Tiger Woods does some interesting things to utilize the Wii controller, but to me, Wii Sports provides a better swing experience, and much better putting, than freaking Tiger Woods does.

And it looks like absolute ass. Here's a note to all third-party software developers: the fact that the Wii isn't a 360 or a PS3 is no excuse to make your Wii games look like PS2 games from 2002.

What's really disappointing about this is that the Wii is capable of excellent graphics--again, Wii Sports is a good example. The golf courses looked bright and vibrant. EA, though, wants to port instead of starting fresh, and the graphics look very, very weak.

Also weak are the ball physics, which are, in a word, crap.

Here's the way to make Tiger Woods a huge hit on the Wii, and EA will never do it: use real courses, but present them with the same kind of vibrant graphics Nintendo used on the Wii Sports golf courses. And make Mii's for all the professional golfers. So it's a serious golf simulation, and the course dimensions are accurate, but the graphics have a cartoon edge to them.

Oh, and fix the damn putting. Tiger Woods for the PC used to have the best putting model I've ever seen--it was absolutely fantastic. But when a game keeps getting released every year, even the features that work perfectly are going to get changed, and they'll wind up broken.

That's what happened to putting.

It used to be perfectly, absolutely smooth, but on the 360 version this year, Tiger's follow-through looks like he's trying to lag a twenty-footer when he's tapping in a two-foot putt, and on the Wii, both the animations and the effort required just look and feel wrong.

But I digress.

I complain on a regular basis that games are designed poorly and that many developers don't even try to make a great game because it's more important to ship it on time.

This weekend, though, thanks to the QT3 forums, I tried the demo of an upcoming game called Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.

It is, in a word, terrific.

It's also one of the oddest combinations of genres I've ever seen, an RPG with a very strong strategic element and combat that is puzzle-based.


Well, it's an RPG in the sense that there are different character classes, you gain experience, you level up, and you gain skill points that can be allocated as you see fit. You adventure on a 2D overhead map set in the Warlords universe.

That's right--the Warlords universe.

When you fight an enemy, combat takes place in a "jewel grid" where you match three (or more) of the same type of jewel by moving pieces into place. However, there are spells you can cast and plenty of variations on the standard "Bejeweled" type of game that make it very interesting, plus your enemy is trying to drain your hit points by using the same grid.

You can also build a citadel and, with enough gold, buy add-on buildings like these:
Mage Tower (learn spells from captured enemies)
Forge (create magic items)
Siege Workshop (attack and capture cities)
Stables (train mounts)

There are temples and towers and all kinds of things you can add to your citadel, and as you can infer from the existence of a siege workshop, you can capture cities on the map as well.

Like I said, it's a completely wacky combination of genres, but I've played the demo to completion three times this weekend and it's completely addictive. The full game comes out this week (shipping on the 20th) and will be available for PC (via download, I'm hoping), DS, and PSP.

One other thing: it's polished. It doesn't feel rushed or sloppy. It also supports resolutions all the way up to 1600x1200. And there are a number of excellent design decisions that make the game more enjoyable to play. As just one example, after I played through the demo once, I really didn't need to hear the between-missions conversations between characters. That's when I saw the "skip" button, which is exactly what I needed.

It seems like at every point in the game where you wish something was there, it's there. That's the highest compliment I can give to a designer.

Here's a link to the game's website and you can try out the demo here.

Monday Links

For your reading pleasure.

From Franklin Brown, a link to an article over at Wired about the Pentagon's "human enhancement project." Very interesting reading, and you can find it here.

From Andrew Borelli, a link to Arcade History, a comprehensive database of all known coin-operated arcade games and machines (over 11,000). Find it here.

From Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick, a link to information about the Pororoca. From his e-mail:
Twice a year, between the months of February and March, the Atlantic Ocean waters roll up the Amazon river, in Brazil, generating the longest wave on the Earth. The phenomenon, known as the Pororoca, is caused by the tides of the Atlantic Ocean wich meet the mouth of the river. This tidal bore generates waves up to 12 feet high which can last for over half an hour.

Some people surf it, believe it or not, and you can can find information and a video here.

Michael sent me a link to a remarkable video of a robotic, swimming snake. That may not sound like much, but the video is pretty amazing. See it here.

John D'Angelo sent me a link to NASA's stereo satellite project. Here's his description:
NASA launched two identical satellites: one to orbit in front of the earth, and one behind. The idea is that they will be able to generate 3-d images of the sun and the coronal mass ejections, and they work similar to the ways our eyes work, using the distance between them to create depth and perspective.

Here's a link to some beautiful images:
NASA stereo.

John also included a link to images from SOHO, another NASA probe.

Jessie Leimkuehler sent in a link to "Twenty Great Rocket Launches," a series of spectacular images that you can see here.

What a Deal

Well, this is interesting.

Here's an e-mail I received from DQ reader Paul Leonard on Friday:
My local EB in Toronto has a special on this weekend. Get a 60Gb PS3 for $399 with the trade-in of any 10 used console games from any platform. The 60Gb version goes for $659. The only caveat seems to be that the used games need to be from the past 12 months or so.

That's $399 Canadian, or about $340US.


Even if you factor in the used games (as long as they're not recent big hits like Gears of War or Crackdown), that's a huge discount.

On Saturday, Paul followed up with this (remember, these prices are all in Canadian dollars, which are worth 85 cents compared to a U.S. dollar):
Okay, so I bit. I took a pile of old games in to use as trade. They were looking for games with a trade in value greater than $8 each. For each qualifying game they gave me a $26 credit toward the system to a max of $260. If a game was worth from $3-$8 then those would have resulted in a $10 credit. The 60Gb version is the $399 or the $20Gb version was $299 CAD.

Further, they weren't advertising this but talking it up in store which means at least 2 visits by the customer. Without advertising this strikes me as a test. I don't see how EB can substantially increase its profit margin on the system this way without Sony subsidizing behind the scenes. Additionally the sales people described this as EB helping Sony move systems. They must have had 20 systems in what is a small store. I'm a regular and some of the guys I deal with have been in the game for a long time. They smell something too.

So at the $399 price point I now have a system.

Hey, for $399 CAD and some used games that sucked, I'd buy a PS3, too.

I don't see how Sony could possibly afford to subsidize this, so I think this is probably a Gamestop/EB promotion. And it will be every interesting so see if offers like this (and variations) become more widespread.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Oh, And This, Too

All right, one more note about MMO's and I'll stop.

There are senses that can't be duplicated on a computer--like smell and taste. However, game designers could take a cue from the real world and show you those senses--via synaesthesia.

Here's an example. Let's say that you could brew beer as a crafting skill. You would "see" different flavors visually as colors. So if you add ingredients, you would see them as bits of color, and the overall color of the brew would tell you how it tasted.

You could do that for cooking as well, and after a while, people would know how a dish was supposed to taste just by looking at the colors.

So being unable to taste or smell something would no longer be a limitation in a game world, and I think that could make for some very interesting crafting.

Take-Two Sues Jackass

From Game Politics:
In the wake of a recent legal threat by Miami attorney Jack Thompson (left), game publisher Take Two Interactive has launched a pre-emptive strike.

With Thompson threatening to file suit to block the release of Grand Theft Auto 4 and Manhunt 2, Take Two has petitioned the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida for relief.

The software publisher seeks to block Thompson from trying to have the games declared a public nuisance under Florida law. Thompson filed a similar action against Take Two’s Bully last October, but a Florida judge rejected Thompson’s contention, allowing Bully to be sold by retailers.

In its complaint, Take Two claims the action is necessary because:
Thompson has a history of making multiple threats of legal action, whether substantiated or not, both against (Take Two) as well as the retailers who purchase the video games and offer them for sale to the public. Thompson has made such threats again in connection with Manhunt 2 and GTAIV…

The suit alleges that Thompson’s public nuisance tactic essentially violates Take Two’s First Amendment rights. Lawyers for the game publisher argue that the Florida statute under which Thompson is seeking to have the games declared as nuisances essentially makes the controversial lawyer “a private attorney general on behalf of the State of Florida.”

I envisioned a day where Take-Two might sue Thompson, but not like this. I wanted them to sue him for inflammatory and libelous statements, and make him defend specific statements he'd made about the Grand Theft Auto series. Because so much of what he says is ridiculous, self-aggrandizing hyperbole, that could have really left his self-infatuated nuts in a twist.

The reason you want to sue Thompson for libel is because in that lawsuit, Take-Two is still a victim. And he would have to get on the witness stand and explain himself, and he would sound like a complete idiot. He would be unequivocally established, permanently, as a fool.

This lawsuit, though, is trying to bar him from using the public nuisance law as a basis for attempting to stop the shipment of GTA IV and Manhunt 2. Instead of trying to hold him accountable for what he's already done, they're trying to stop him from what he might do.

In doing so, Thompson might even be able to portray himself as some kind of victim, being bullied by the big corporation.

Sueing Thompson? Interesting move. Sueing him for this? Bad move.

Lord of the Rings Online

Neil Sorens sent me an interesting e-mail:
One cool feature in LOTR Online is that you can play music in real time with other people. 1-8 are the naturals from middle C to high C, and shift 1-8 covers the octave above that. Ctrl 1-8 moves the notes on the first octave down a step. Not exactly ergonomic, but if you're playing in the key of C it's not too bad. There are some other limitations, too, like not being able to hold notes. And it doesn't tie into gameplay in any way. All that aside, it's still an awesome (yet inexpensive) feature because it lets people be creative together. I had a 30+ minute jam session today with someone who didn't even know how to use the music system when we started. We just improvised stuff with him on rhythm and me on lead playing "lutes" (sounds like some kind of MIDI guitar). Here's a link to a clip I recorded of us playing:

I think the clip sounds excellent, and it's very impressive that it can be created in real-time. Have a listen.

It's an interesting idea, to put a completely extraneous feature into an online game. And it made me think about online games in general and why I don't play them.

Attack. Heal. Attack. Heal. Attack. Heal. That's why.

Here's what I'd really like to see in an online game. I'd like to be an arborist. I'd like to travel all throught the kingdom, gathering cuttings from all the different kinds of trees, then use grafting to create new varieties. It would take a few days to find out what they would look like after planting and grafting. If I wanted to, I could create a forest by planting trees as saplings and watching them grow over time. I could actually change the world. I could be renowned in the game as a master arborist, and maybe I'd wear a special robe or other kind of distinctive clothing as a reward.

And if I wanted to, after my forest grew to maturity, I could chop down a few of those majestic trees and build me a house.

That's a goofy example, I know, but it's an example of wider boundaries inside an online world.

Here's the thing, at least for me: everything in an online game is just a sub-game to facilitate leveling. And those sub-games, all too often, are sheer grinding. I'd really like to see sub-games that are ends in themselves, so to speak.

Here's another one. Why hasn't anyone used the mouse as a true control device for crafting? I can't believe there's not a way to sculpt clay, for example, using the mouse. It fits sculpting every bit as well as it does a golf swing, and there would be real skill involved.

That's really just scratching the surface. There are so many other ways to make the sub-games ends in themselves, to make them far more interesting than combat.

Oh, and just before you fire off that e-mail: I've played A Tale in the Desert. Conceptually, it's closer to what I'm talking about, but in the version I played (several years ago), there was no combat at all, no real threat anywhere. And the sub-games weren't interesting enough to hold my attention. However, I really appreciate the care that has been taken in creating the game, and I think some very bright and thoughtful people are involved. It's just not for me.

Follow-Up to Console Post of the Week

Let's have a little fun with math.

It's instructive to use Japan for our purposes, both because they have very accurate weekly data for unit sales and because I think they had a relatively similar inventory situation after Christmas--in other words, there was unfulfilled demand until the second week of January, but at that point there were PS3's just about everywhere.

In the first week of January, according to VG Charts (which often has a 10% variance from other published numbers, but it's fine for our purposes here), the PS3 sold 70,000 units in Japan. For the next four weeks, it sold a total of 95,000 units.

See what I mean about unfulfilled demand getting filled in that first week in January?

So after the first week in January, the PS3 was selling at about 1/3 the rate of the first week, when Christmas demand was finally satisfied.

Let's look at the January-February NPD numbers now. In January (a five-week reporting period), the PS3 sold 244,000 units. If the pattern is similar to what happened in Japan, that would be 105,000 the first week and 35,000 for each of the next four weeks (that actually works out to 245k units, but the rounded numbers are easier to use).

So based on that pattern, what would we have expected February sales for the PS3 to be? About 140,000 units. And while that's modestly over the numbers NPD reported yesterday, it's still within about 10%.

Why did I say I expected 160,000 a few weeks ago, when I seemingly used the same procedure to guess last month? Well, because I'm a dumbass, basically. I was sort of "rule of thumbing" the math (and got 40,000 units a week) instead of actually doing the math and using the exact same percentages as Japan. Lesson learned.

It's also certainly possible that the NPD numbers are off. It wouldn't be the first time they had to issue revised numbers, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they lower January's final numbers and raise the February numbers slightly.

Either way, though, selling 35,000 units a week, even if that sounds like a large number in isolation, is going to get them killed in gaming. However, as I've mentioned previously, in the high-definition format war versus HD-DVD, it's helping them much, much more.

Console Post of the Week: Clean-Up on Aisle 7

Three weeks ago I said that if Sony's PS3 unit sales for February were below 160,000, then Sony had a full-fledged disaster on their hands.

I had no idea I was being far too optimistic.

Actual PS3 console sales in February? 127,000.

That number may not mean anything to you, but in a historical context, it's breathtaking. In a bad way.

[Michael Pachter, by the way, predicted 200,000 units. Look for him and other analysts to breathlessly announce that the PS3 is too expensive.]

Here are some numbers to help you understand what kind of trouble Sony is in at this point. In the 77-month history of the Playstation 2, the lowest monthly sales were 214,000 units (thanks VG Charts).

So in over six years, the WORST month the PS2 had in America is 87,000 more units than the PS3 unit sales in February. The PS3 sales were barely 60% of the worst PS2 monthly sales.

Here's one more number for you. In the 17 month history of the Xbox 360, the worst month (which was severely supply constrained) was 187,000 units. That's 60,000 more units than the PS3 sold last month.

The 360 sold 227,ooo units last month. It almost outsold the PS3 2-1.

The Wii? Despite still being severely supply constrained compared to demand, the tiny console with the stupid name sold 335,000.

In other words, they sold every one they made. Like they did in November. And December. And January.

There's really no reason at this point to even compare Wii sales to the PS3. The Wii is going to be the PS2 of this generation. That's not Sony's real problem now, because Nintendo is long gone.

The real problem is Microsoft.

Games drive console sales (and I believe that Wii Sports is still driving sales of the Wii, even though it was a launch title). Microsoft has Forza Motorsport 2, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Blue Dragon, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Halo 3. That's barely scratching the surface, and except for GTA IV, they're all exclusives.

In other words, Microsoft is $200 cheaper and they have a far more compelling list of software locked and loaded for the rest of the year.

Sony gambled that they could sell enough PS3's quickly enough to lower their costs on manufacturing. Clearly, they grossly overestimated demand both in the U.S. and in Japan.

They are in deep trouble.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hangar 18

I've just been grinding away on Hangar 18, practicing the solos. I can get to 70% on most of them (4B, 7, and 8 are still in the impossible category, though), but when I try to play the song, I can't string them together without blowing up.

If you haven't played it, the song is highly technical in the sense that it seems to require every skill you've learned in the game, and if you have any weaknesses, this song will find them quickly. It's very fast and many of the solos have long runs that require a high level of skill with hammer-ons/pull-offs. I have no idea how anyone could get through this song just picking it note by note, although I'm sure some people have.

It will be at least another week before I even have a miniscule chance of passing. But that's what makes this game different for me--even "grinding" is fun.

By the way, Dave Green e-mailed and reminded me that Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes came out in 2004 for the Gamecube and did quite well.

Be Different

Kevin Cassidy of wrote an interesting editorial for Newsweek's P2P.

P2P, in case you're wondering, was created by N'Gai Croal and is described as "the forum for industry observers--journalists, bloggers, analysts, academics, politicians and even regular gamers--to speak their minds on topics of our choosing."

Here are a few excerpt from what Cassidy had to say:
Nintendo is doing what they said they would all along, getting the third party support that fans wanted. The only problem is that these same fans don't seem to want what third parties have to offer.

...from what I have seen, Wii owners are complaining about almost everything the Wii has heading its way.

...when it comes to third party games, Nintendo fans are almost impossible to please. They seem to want everything and nothing at the same time. They want massive third party support, but when they get it they turn their backs.

...Over the past several weeks we have seen a huge amount of external support for the Wii in all categories, and I can't think of one title in particular that fans are really excited about. Is this the product of a mentality that says games aren't fun unless they are violent? Or are Nintendo fans being too picky for their own good?

Cassidy believes, based on his observation of message boards, that people seem to want more "mature" titles.

Oh, good grief. I typed "tities" instead of titles at first. That's one letter from irony.

There are two questions here: one, is what Cassidy sees on message boards truly reflective of the hardcore Nintendo fan, and two, if it is, should Nintendo care?

I'll discuss both, but if you want to skip the detail, the answers are "I doubt it" and "no."

First things first. Is it really true that Nintendo loyalists want games with more mature content?
How can that possibly be true? How in the world did those people become Nintendo loyalists to start with? So they were willing to play games with plumbers and gorillas and magic mushrooms for twenty years, but now they're drawing the line?

That doesn't make any sense.

Seriously, what was the last "mature" game for a Nintendo console that was a huge commercial success? Resident Evil 4 in 2005, yes, but before then? Goldeneye? Hello, 1997! Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, which was a AAA title in 2002, had "disappointing" sales (I couldn't find an exact number, but that word was used over and over in every reference to unit sales I could find), and it was even published by Nintendo!

So there seem to be two possibilities: either Nintendo loyalists don't really want "mature" games, or if they do, their overall number is so small that they can't drive sales of a game.

Let's go on the other tack and assume what Cassidy believes is true, that hardcore Nintendo loyalists really do want more mature games. I'm not sure why, since it would seem that what they're arguing for is to replicate the experience offered by the other two consoles, but let's assume that really is what they want.

Dumb asses.

The worst mistake Nintendo could possibly make would be to focus on this group. They will still buy absolutely everything Nintendo makes (and don't seem to mind the family-friendly content when it comes from Nintendo) for the next fifty years. The only time Nintendo loses a hardcore "Nintendo guy" is when he dies.

This is going to be hard for Nintendo loyalists to swallow, but they're not going to be the core demographic for the Wii. Nintendo, in more closely aligning play with the Wii to how we play in general, has both exponentially increased and fundamentally changed their demographic.

It's not the Grand Theft Auto demographic, and it never will be. And more to point--it never was.

Third-party publishers will sell huge amounts of Wii games if those games are play. Wii Sports was play, and we all understood that, even if most reviewers didn't. What's happened so far, though, is that a bunch of games have been rushed to the Wii with shoddy graphics and lousy support for the controller. With few exceptions, they're not very good. Those games won't sell, nor should they.

What will kill this console is trying to be like the other two. Murder, death, kill has gotten very, very stale.

Well, unless it's with a rocket launcher. That never gets old.

If all developers want to do with the Wii controller is point guns, then so long and good riddance.

Fortunately, I don't think that's going to happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Very, Very Fast

Jesse Leimkuehler sent me a link to an amazing story over at Wired about Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who has a chance to qualify for the South African Olympic Team in the 200 or 400 meters. He's run the 200 in 22.67, which is not world class, but it's still freaking fast.

If you're wondering how the hell that first paragraph makes any sense, the Cheetah prosthetic leg is a clue. And to read the story, which is fascinating, go here. You can also see a short video of Pistorius running at the same link.

Warren Specter Interview

This is on 1UP today:
Two New Games Coming from Warren Spector
Legendary developer says he'll shoot the moon... or die with his boots on.
By Mark Whiting 03/14/2007

"I'd rather fail spectacularly than create another sports game or driving simulation".

Dude, you've already done that. It was called Deus Ex: Invisible Wars.

I know. That was catty.

Paper Mario

DQ reader Erik Peterson was interviewed about Paper Mario at GDC, and you can see the video here.


Eli 5.7 continues to improve. We were watching a show last night, and one of the commercials was for a doll called "Baby Alive." The doll drinks, and it, um, creates wastes.

Then, like Frankenstein, it spoke.

"Tell me that doll didn't just say 'I made a stinky'," I said. "Tell me that didn't happen."

"Oh, it happened," Eli said, laughing. "Rewind it!"

So I did, several times, as doll technology reached a nadir from which it may never recover. And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

I want to share an e-mail about rotavirus that I received from Official DQ Microbiologist Brian Witte:
These viruses can be extremely durable, and persist on surfaces for weeks. There is no acquired immunity (meaning that, unlike chickenpox, getting once does not make you immune). I would recommend wiping down any potentially contaminated surfaces (including door knobs, toilet seats, etc.) with bleach. Finally, throw out Eli's tooth brush - that's a very common way for people to reinfect themselves.

The real point of this email, though, is that your story and my experience reminded me of an initiative I'd read about a year or so ago whereby various foundations were trying to distribute a newly-developed vaccine against rotavirus to developing countries. In countries without decent health care, the infection is often fatal. I know you want to keep the focus of your blog on more light-hearted stuff, but this is a chance to spread the word on a subject that apparently affected a lot of your readers.

Here's the link to a page about the vaccine (created by Merck, I think, but still with worth-while subject):

The charities funding the distribution of the vaccine are: and

I'm not affiliated with any of the above - I just wanted to pass the info along.

That's all good information, and believe me, if your child is still young enough for the vaccine to be effective, it's worth considering.

Hypochondriacs in Love

Gloria walked into our room right when I was about to get up this morning.

"I think I have pinkeye," she said heavily, sitting down on the bed beside me.

"You don't have pinkeye," I said. "I swear you thought you had an itchy penis when Eli had one last year."

"I'm serious," she said. "My eye is a little red, and it has a little discharge, and it's tearing up a little."

"This discharge," I said. "Was it a little crust in the corner of your eye, or was it on the lashed?"

"In the corner," she said.

"I call that 'sleep' and it's in the corner of my eye each morning," I said. "Eli calls it an eye booger. It's not pinkeye. I am ABSOLUTELY SURE you don't have pinkeye."

"All right," she said. "Thanks for calming me down." She leaned over and put her head on my bare chest."

"Hey!" I said. "Don't get your pinkeye on me. I don't want to get pinkchest!"

I get up and go into the bathroom to brush my teeth. She's staring into the mirror.

"Is your eye pink?" I asked.

"It's a little red," she said. "Here, take a look." I did.

"Your eye is white," I said. "White as a pearl. I hear that's one of the first symptoms."

"It is?" she asked, alarmed.

"Absolutely," I said. "Your eye looking absolutely perfect is a gateway symptom of pinkeye."

"You're kidding," she said.

"Yes, I am," I said. "But I really hope you don't have pinkeye, because some of the side-effects for adult women are very unpleasant."

"They are?" She was alarmed again. "What are they?"

"The most severe," I said, "is that it makes all women think they're gaining weight."

"Arggghhh!" she said.

She says that a lot.

"I'm going downstairs," she said. She leaned forward to kiss me, and I hesitated.

"I'm not sure about this," I said. "What if your eye sneezes pinkeye all over me?" She hit me.

She also does that a lot.

Then I saw that she was wearing glasses. "Wait, it's okay," I said. "Those glasses are perfect. They're like a salad guard!"

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