Monday, April 30, 2007

The Goal of the Century, Streams, and Brown Bags

To understand this story, you should probably go watch Maradona's "Goal of the Century" if you've never seen it before.

And if you're just lazy (why wouldn't you be?), know that Mardona ran half the field, dribbling through most of England's defense, and scored during their match in the 1986 World Cup.

The film clip of the goal lasts thirty-three seconds, and some of that is celebration. The on-field action only lasts twelve seconds.

On Saturday, at Eli 4.8's soccer game, I saw the Goal of the Century again--sort of.

Isabella, his teammate, took possession of the ball at midfield. Then, moving so slowly that she looked like a replay, she slalomed through an entire team at a top speed of one mile an hour.

"Goal of the Century," I muttered under my breath, after she'd had the ball for at least a minute and was nearing the goal.

"What?" Gloria asked.

"Nothing," I said, just as Isabella, after a tremendous wind-up, shot the ball from a distance of three feet and sent it at least a foot wide of the goal.

Eli had his first net-positive game. He scored a goal (a roller from at least thirty yards out) for his own team and managed not to score for the other team, the first time he's managed to do both in the same game.

Sunday morning, we were getting ready to go to the Pancake House for breakfast, and Eli still needed to go to the bathroom.

If you don't have kids, you might not know this, but little kids can be pretty resistant to going to the bathroom. They wait until they have five seconds before peeing uncontrollably, and then they'll spring for the bathroom yelling "GOTTA GO!" at the top of their lungs.

Or, um, some kids do that, anyway. Not that I know any.

Oh, and one other thing. Eli now, at times, sounds just like George Costanza's father (Jerry Stiller) in Seinfield.

"Eli, you need to go to the bathroom before we leave," I said.

"But I don't need to go," he said.

"You slept all night," I said. "You need to go. Everybody needs to go."

"Just listen," he said. "You will NOT hear a stream." Eli believes that unless he sounds like Niagra Falls when taking a piss, it was a wasted trip.

He went into the bathroom and Gloria started laughing. "Streams," she said.

"I HEARD THAT!" he yelled.

The next thing we hear is the sound of someone peeing.

"That may not be stream-worthy," I said. Gloria laughed.

"DO YOU HEAR A STREAM?" Eli yelled from inside the bathroom. Before we had a chance to answer, he followed up with "NO STREAM!" We're both laughing so hard that we don't even answer. Seconds later, he opens the bathroom door, his underwear pulled up but his shorts around his ankles. "STOP THAT LAUGHING!" he says.

We can't, of course.

Then there's karate class. In Eli's karate class last week, Mister Matt scored paper lunch bags, then held them up and let the kids kick through them.

They didn't know he'd scored them first, of course. They all thought the impressive destruction of a brown paper bag was entirely due to their raw power.

Suddenly, one bag later, Eli is a karate expert. "I'm really learning to focus my energy," he said. "I'm teaching karate to all the kids at school," he said.

"Teaching?" I asked.

"Lavanya teaches monkey bar karate," he said. "Sharia teaches somersault karate. I teach ground karate, plus I teach the other two disciplines."

"Disciplines?" I asked.

"Mrs. Ali calls me Mr. Karate now," he said.

"Dude, are you supposed to be teaching karate?" I asked. "After all, you only have a brown bag right now. I thought to teach karate you needed to be a black bag."

"Dad, what are you talking about?" he asked.

"Well, you broke a brown paper bag last week, so you're officially a brown bag," I said. "Then you'll move up to one of those white kitchen trash bags. But to teach, you need to break one of those black lawn bags. Then you'll be a black bag."

"MOM!" he shouted.

"Don't listen to your father," Gloria said from her study.

She says that a lot.

The Quality Curse: Sports Games and the Yearly Release Cycle

All-Pro Football 2K8 has at least one thing going for it: 2K Sports doesn't have to release it every year.

Every producer of a team sports game with an annual release schedule talks like a heart surgeon whose patient just died on the table. "Well, we did what we could," they whisper, "but we just ran out of time."

Can we just cut straight through the bullshit on this one?

Gamers aren't the ones who demanded that sports games get released every year. Of course, it's not about us. What it's about is milking a sports franchise year after year after year, and whatever mountain of problems the game might have, it's all okay, because we'll fix it next year.
We never told them to ship builds instead of games.

Sports game publishers place the highest priority on shipping games and the lowest priority on fixing those games. MLB2K7 is the best example this year--it shipped six weeks before the baseball season started, it's been over two months, and has there been a patch to fix any of the issues that render franchise mode unplayable?


Has there been any communication from Take-Two as to the status of the patch, it's expected release date, or what it will fix? Or if there will even be a patch at all?


Accountability for the product that we payed sixty dollars for? Zero.

Do you know what EA's single highest quality sports franchise is? It's NBA Street. I didn't like the design choices made in Homecourt, but the game dripped quality. Look at the release history (for its primary platform):
2001--NBA Street
2003--NBA Street Vol. 2
2005--NBA Street V3
2007--NBA Street Homecourt

Do you think it's just coincidental that the game has been released every two years?

I was reminded of this because I saw an interview over at IGN about NCAA Football 2008 late last week. For my money, NCAA is consistently EA's best team sports franchise. Even with its problems, the game is usually worth the money, and I can't say that consistently about any other sports game EA makes.

Let's look at some excerpts from the IGN article, which you can read here. Also, please note that the game is getting shipped on July 17--just two and a half months from now, which means the game goes gold in less than two months.

NCAA 08 is still relatively early in development, somewhere in mid-Alpha, EA says.

In mid-alpha, eight weeks from going gold.

On the field, the snow had turned the turf a uniform white -- although the sidelines remained red as if now hadn't landed there at all, a problem in last year's game on the 360.

Gameplay producer Ian Cummings stands right next to us and winces, his favorite phrase of the night being, "That will be fixed." True, there are a lot of early issues that EA promises will be cleaned up, like an excess of dropped passes, sacks and fumbles.

"Early issues"? "That will be fixed" is the favorite phrase of the night? This game goes gold in eight weeks!

It's difficult to gauge NCAA 08 because there is still so much work to be done. This is apparent as J-Rob won the game 12-6 which would never have happened if my receivers caught more balls with their hands instead of their faces. Or that's what I tell myself so I can sleep at night. But if the problems we pointed out are fixed (and EA says they will be), we think NCAA 08 is going to shoot right to the top of our draft board.

Incredible. And we wonder each year why there are so many problems with these games? There's zero time to polish anything.

Here's how crazy it is to release a college teams sports game every year: EA can't even use the names of the real players. They're fictional players in an annual release cycle!

There are definitely some positives in the article--in particular, the claim that the game is running at 60 frames per second. An EA Sports game hasn't run at 60 fps since--ever. So if they really pull that off, it's going to greatly improve the game. And like I said, this is EA's strongest team sports franchise--but what a development schedule.

Will we get more than one camera angle? I don't know, but I'm sure they'll do what they can.

They might just run out of time.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Console Post of the Week

Well, we all knew it was going to happen at some point. Crazy Ken Kutaragi, "Father of the Playstation" as well as the turgid mess that is the PS3, is "resigning" in June.

If you wonder why, here's a funny quote:
Analyst Evan Wilson with Pacific Crest Securities told Bloomberg that the move “is likely an indication Sony corporate isn't satisfied with the initial success of the PS3.”

You think?

Here's a little quiz. What do the following numbers represent?

Answer: those are numbers, in thousands, for the weekly PS3 sales in Japan this year. Except for a two-week spike (I think it was when Virtua Fighter 5 was released), it's pretty clear where those numbers are headed.

Toilet, table for one.

Look at the weekly sales rates for the PS3 in America (using NPD numbers):

Don't be surprised when the April NPD numbers come out and the PS3 is selling less than 25,000 units a week.

Then there's Blu-Ray. It seemed that Sony was at least winning the high-definition DVD format war. Except his week it was reported that Wal-Mart had placed an order for two million HD-DVD players from Taiwanese manufacturer Fuh Yuan.

This Wal-Mart story has gone from "unconfirmed" to "almost certain" to "denied" this week (see here), so it's ultimate validity is still to be determined. But here's an interesting question: what percentage of DVD's sold in the U.S. are purchased at Wal-Mart?

Incredibly, it's forty percent.

In other words, if Wal-Mart did (or does) place that order, it's a seismic event.

Oh, but it was announced that Command and Conquer 3 would be coming to the PS3 this week. There's your good news.

I put a stake in the ground last week and said Sony was going to have to make some major strategic shifts by mid-June, and I didn't mean forcing out Ken Kutaragi. I still believe they're coming, and soon.

On to Microsoft.

I thought that Microsoft was shrewdly scheduling one AAA title, at least, for release each month until Christmas.

Well, as it turns out, they're not that shrewd.

Instead, it looks like they're going to squeeze a gigantic number of high-profile titles into the September-November window. That's too bad. That means one or two excellent games, at least, aren't going to sell nearly as well because of the fierce competition they will be going up against.

Of course, they're doing this because the release schedule for PS3 exclusives is bone dry for the next three months. But I really dislike the bullshit strategy aspects of release schedules.

If it's done, release the damn game. And if it's not done, don't.

Microsoft also announced earnings this week, with net income of almost five billion dollars. The "Entertainment and Devices" division is still hemorrhaging money (to the tune of 315 million dollars), but that's gum on Microsoft's shoe.

Guitar Hero II for the 360 is still red hot, so that's going to sell some consoles this month. And the Elite unit, even though I think it's a strategic mistake, is going to move some units as well. But the possible long-term consequences of reducing that $200 gap between the 360 and the PS3, in my mind, far outweights any short-term gain.

Unless you make the Elite the $399 unit, make the Premium unit $299, and get ride of the Core. That would be a great move.

Nintendo had what was apparently a huge inventory drop on Sunday. Multiple retailers had Wii's in stock (temporarily), and it looks like Target is holding inventory in support of a Sunday circular this week.

In other words, that theory about Nintendo holding units back in March (because they'd already blown out their fiscal year projections) might well be correct.

Here's the funny thing, though, and no one else seems to have noticed this yet: when Nintendo announced results for their fiscal year (ending March 31), they also announced that they'd sold 5.84 million Wii's up to the end of March.

That means they shipped 5.84 million units as well, because there was essentially zero inventory of Wii's anywhere at the end of March.

Now remember, Nintendo has been heavily criticized for their "poor planning" and manufacturing capacity. Sony, meanwhile, has been lauded for shipping and shipping and shipping, although they seem to tout their supply chain when people are talking about millions of unsold units sitting on shelves, then talk about "production issues" when people are questioning their crappy sales figures.

Remember how many units Sony claimed they'd shipped by the end of March?

Six million.

Sony has shipped 160,000 more PS3's than Nintendo has shipped Wii's. The difference for Sony, obviously, is that three million of their units haven't sold.

So Nintendo doesn't have a capacity problem. They have crazy demand.

Also this week, IDC video game analyst Billy Pidgeon said this:
I don’t believe supply will meet demand for the Wii until 2009.

I know you think I made that up, but I didn't. He's forecasting an inventory shortage for the next twenty months.

I only hope he continues to contact us from the future.

Friday Links

For your reading pleasure.

First off, Jesse Leimkuehler sends in a link about the discovery of a new rainforest--in Illinois!
Scientists exploring a mine have uncovered a natural Sistine chapel showing not religious paintings, but incredibly well preserved images of sprawling tree trunks and fallen leaves that once breathed life into an ancient rainforest.

Replete with a diverse mix of extinct plants, the 300-million-year-old fossilized forest is revealing clues about the ecology of Earth’s first rainforests.

It's an amazing discovery, and you can read about it here.

Next up, maybe you thought it was poutine, but it's actually a giant fungus:
Scientists have identified the Godzilla of fungi, a giant, prehistoric fossil that has evaded classification for more than a century, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

A chemical analysis has shown that the 20-foot-tall (6-metre) organism with a tree-like trunk was a fungus that became extinct more than 350 million years ago, according to a study appearing in the May issue of the journal Geology.

Twenty feet tall. Read about it (and check out the photo) here:

John Catania sent in a link to an article about ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene), a "transparent plastic related to Teflon." Here are a few details:
[EFTE is] replacing glass and plastic in some of the most innovative buildings being designed and constructed today. Its selling points? Compared to glass, it’s 1% the weight, transmits more light, is a better insulator, and costs 24% to 70% less to install. It’s also resilient (able to bear 400 times its own weight, with an estimated 50-year life-span), self-cleaning (dirt slides off its nonstick surface), and recyclable.

There are pictures of some of the buildings that have used this material, and they are freaking astonishing. Have a look here.

Sirius sends in a link to photos from the Hubble telescope. It's a spectacular collection, and you can see them here.

There's a new hypothesis about the diversity of species being related to fluctations in cosmic ray exposure. Here's an excerpt:
The rise and fall of species on Earth might be driven in part by the undulating motions of our solar system as it travels through the disk of the Milky Way, scientists say.

Two years ago, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found the marine fossil record shows that biodiversity—the number of different species alive on the planet—increases and decreases on a 62-million-year cycle. At least two of the Earth’s great mass extinctions—the Permian extinction 250 million years ago and the Ordovician extinction about 450 million years ago—correspond with peaks of this cycle, which can’t be explained by evolutionary theory.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Kansas (KU) have come up with an out-of-this-world explanation. Their idea hinges upon the fact that, appearances aside, stars are not fixed in space. They move around, sometimes rushing headlong through galaxies, or approaching close enough to one another for brief cosmic trysts.

In particular, our Sun moves toward and away from the Milky Way’s center, and also up and down through the galactic plane. One complete up-and-down cycle takes 64 million years— suspiciously similar to Earth’s biodiversity cycle.

It's a fascinating theory, and you can read about it here.

Your E-mail

First off, about chip huts. DQ reader Tim Lesnick sent in this:
Ah, chip huts. You're making me really homesick. Fergie's Fries was the best one in Pembroke. You haven't lived until you've stood in sub-zero temperatures to get a cardboard container of those fresh hot french fries… with vinegar, though I wouldn't expect you Southerners to understand that.

Hmmm, perhaps part of the attraction of the vinegar was that we could actually smell and taste it in the cold. Nah, it just tastes good.

When we first moved to the states, we had fries in a restaurant, and asked our waiter if he had some vinegar. He got a puzzled expression on his face, and said that they had a big jug in the kitchen. I'll never forget his expression of horror when we told him why we wanted the vinegar.

Then there's this from Kent:
Another popular Canadian treat that some of these chip huts carry is poutine. Poutine is a beautiful combination of french fries, covered with cheese curds (usually white, not orange), smothered with gravy (usually beef, not mushroom). Poutine seems to have orginated in Quebec, but is very popular here in British Columbia as well. I don't think I've ever seen poutine offered anywhere south of the border.

That is incredibly disturbing. Just don't ask me about grits.

Here's a funny story from Mark Lahren about Freebird:
Funny you should mention Freebird, as I just three days ago received from Amazon my first-ever Lynyrd Skynyrd CD (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd), which I believe is their first record. This is the remastered CD, with 5 bonus tracks, one of which is the demo version of Freebird.

According to the liner notes, studio time was expensive, so they did it in one take, with everybody playing. And it sounds good.

Except, right at the beginning of the climactic guitar solo, the guitarist (Allen Collins) broke a string. You can hear it when it happens. So what do they do? The rest of the band just keeps on playing, while Collins quickly restrings his guitar. This takes something like 2 or 3 minutes (I didn't time it). Then, suddenly, restrung, Collins leaps right back in there and picks up the solo just like nothing happened. It's absolutely hilarious, and reminded me exactly of something that Spinal Tap would do. It's the first time I've ever laughed out loud while listening to music. A nine minute song was turned into nearly twelve minutes. This is what they sent off to the record company, since they didn't have enough money for a second take.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

All-Pro Football 2K8 News

Here is some new information on All-Pro Football 2K8 (thanks Gamespot):
Today, the publisher not only confirmed that there will be past NFL legends in the game, but also that there will be more than 240 of them.

Among the retired players to be featured in the game are Joe Montana, Dick Butkus, Warren Moon, John Elway, Barry Sanders, Johnny Unitas, Archie Manning, Gale Sayers, Ickey Woods, Bart Starr, Mike Ditka, and Jerry Rice. A list of players that made the cut for the game is posted on the
All-Pro Football 2K8 Web site.

Ickey Woods?

I can certainly see why the article's author would mention Ickey in-between Gale Sayers and Bart Starr. After all, he rushed for over 1,500 yards--in his career.

So some of these guys might not actually qualify for "legend" status. That's okay.

I think the legends approach may wind up not working as well as 2K Sports had hoped, though. For instance, when I think about Dick Butkus, I see him in my mind.

In a Bears jersey.

It's the same thing with Bart Starr, or Johnny Unitas, or Gale Sayers--all those guys are inextricably linked to their teams and their cities. I'm not sure I really care about Bart Starr if he's taken out of the context of Green Bay. And since we only get to play single seasons, we aren't going to get a chance to get used to them in another team's jersey.

More to the point, the fifteen-year old kids who need to buy this game have probably never heard of Bart Starr or Johnny Unitas. That's another problem.

This may just be a hangover for me from finding out that playing multiple seasons in a Franchise isn't included. With what we've come to expect today from sports games, All-Pro Football 2K8 has a feature set that's basically a mode, not a game.

Yet they're still going to be charging $59.95.

At that price point, I think they're going to have a very, very tough sell on their hands. I'll still pre-order a copy and hope that the game's great (note to Visual Concepts: shitty two-minute A.I. will not be tolerated this year), but it's looking a little sketchy right now.

Guitar Hero II (360) Notes

I'm still hanging on to the top 2%--barely. Last night I was in the 5300's out of 305,000 for my campaign score, which is up to about 8.35 million.

Here are a few things I've noticed that might be helpful to you, or interesting, or quite possibly, neither.
--if you want to work on the hand slide, go practice Salvation on Expert mode. There's a section early in the song that methodically walks your hand all the way across the frets, and it does it in such a way that there's no need to flail to keep up.
--Rock and Roll Hoochie-Koo is just ridiculously difficult for me to play, even on Hard. I can't even four-star it at this point.
--there are plenty of songs on Medium difficulty where you can score over 200k points, including Message in a Bottle, War Pigs, Jessica, Crazy on You, Killing In the Name, Madhouse, Beast and the Harlot, Hangar 18, and Freebird. You can score over 300k points on Freebird.
--if I was going to pick a single song as being the most likely target for the 1000 consecutive note achievement, it would definitely be Freebird on Medium. It has 1241 notes and there are no lightning-fast sections that are unplayable.
--like I said in a previous post, most players are definitely going to have at least a few high scores on Medium, particularly in the last two sets. There's not one song on Medium that can't be played with 99% accuracy.
--Frankenstein is incredibly fun to play with the new hammer-on/pull-off timings.
--I didn't like these songs nearly as much as the songs in the original Guitar Hero, but they've really, really grown on me. There are a few stinkers, no question, but most of them are very good, and I think they challenge your skills far more than in the first game.

Swimming: Now With New Embarrassment

Today was one of those days where you feel really, really lucky.

After rain rain rain rain finally cleared away, the morning was absolutely clear. Blue skies, sunshine, temperature in the high fifties.

I would normally have waited to swim, but I had things scheduled end-to-end, so I went early. I had a secret weapon, though: with the water temperature still in the mid sixties, I broke down last week and bought a skin.

A skin, in this case, is a form-fitting, long sleeve top made out of polyester and PBT polyester. It's much thinner than a wetsuit, but it's warm and vaguely buoyant as well. So now, in addition to looking like a praying mantis wearing sunglasses with side shields, I now have a skintight red and black top.

If R. Crumb drew a super hero, it would look like me.

All I'm missing now is a cape and a sidekick.

Oh, wait--I forgot. No capes.

This was one of those perfect swims. Sure, it was cold, but the water was crystal clear and the sun was just over the trees in the east. It was one of those beautiful days that people on the California coast enjoy a hundred times a year, at least, but we get about ten of these days a year.

Also, consider this: I sat outside to eat lunch. By myself.

If anyone who knows me saw this happen, they would have been running around shrieking that it was the End Times.

To Spend More Time With Something Or Other

I'm going to talk about this tomorrow in the Console Post of the Week, but Ken Kutaragi, Sony CEO, is "retiring" in June.

He's 57.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Radio Paradise

DQ reader Matt Kreuch (who, along with his brother Steven, are The Official Brothers of Dubious Quality) sent in a follow-up to the Erin Bode post yesterday where I mentioned Pandora. He said I would really like Radio Paradise, and he was right.

Radio Paradise is an Internet radio station that plays an incredible mix of music. Here's their playlist for the last few hours:
4:01 pm - Nick Drake - Time Has Told Me
3:57 pm - Leo Kottke - A Child Should Be A Fish
3:53 pm - Jump Little Children - Too High
3:50 pm - Peter Himmelman - Fly So High
3:44 pm - It's A Beautiful Day - White Bird
3:39 pm - Squirrel Nut Zippers - Blue Angel
3:35 pm - Barenaked Ladies - Everything Had Changed
3:31 pm - Quannum - I Changed My Mind
3:28 pm - The Clash - The Guns of Brixton
3:24 pm - Ian Brown - Solarized
3:20 pm - Moby - First Cool Hive
3:15 pm - The Cars - Shake It Up
3:12 pm - Chemical Brothers - Shake Break Bounce
3:08 pm - Phoebe Snow - Shakey Ground
3:05 pm - Carole King - I Feel The Earth Move
3:03 pm - Tom Rush - Mother Earth
3:00 pm - Steve Forbert - Good Planets Are Hard To Find
2:57 pm - T Bone Burnett - Humans From Earth
2:53 pm - David Bowie - Starman
2:50 pm - The Smiths - A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours
2:48 pm - Crosby Stills Nash & Young - Everybody I Love You
2:44 pm - REM - It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
2:40 pm - Bruce Springsteen - All the Way Home
2:36 pm - Piers Faccini - Sharpening Bone
2:31 pm - Buena Vista Social Club - Candela
2:26 pm - Paul Simon - Born At The Right Time (live)
2:22 pm - The Cure - Just Like Heaven (Live)
2:18 pm - Flaming Lips - Turn It On
2:13 pm - Beth Orton - Stolen Car
2:06 pm - Stephen Marley - Inna Di Red (w/ Ben Harper)
2:02 pm - Midnight Oil - Underwater
1:58 pm - Dire Straits - Solid Rock

Those links take you to a dedicated page on the site for each song, and there is a ton of additional information on the artist as well as links to purchase the song (or CD). It's all totally outstanding, and I've really enjoyed listening this afternoon.

If you want to check it out, then go here, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did (do).

Priests On Fire, Chip Huts, and Cheese Boxes

There's a guy in our office who is the standard-bearer for ultra-conservative politics. I walked past his office today and saw that his feet were up on his desk and he was sound asleep.

Thirty minutes later, I went back by and he was still asleep.

I assume he's hibernating until the neo-cons come back into power.

I don't know if it's possible to digress right from the begining of a post, but I just did.

The reason that my job tends to be so interesting on a daily basis is because I have conversations with my boss that are so outside the normal realm of discussion. For this planet.

Today, he posed an ethical question, which I extended until we got here: if a priest who was a known serial child molester (and had managed to go unpunished) moved in next door, and a propane tank exploded in his front yard and set him on fire, and you saw, what would you do?

Would you rush ouside with a fire extinguisher? Would you dial 911 to summon the fire department?

Or, perhaps, would you do nothing?

Since this is a hypothetical, you're given 100% certainty that the priest is, in fact, a serial child molester.

Here's an even stickier variation: you see a man beating the priest with a baseball bat in the front yard, and you recognize the man as the father of one of the children the priest molested.

Again, what do you do? Do you go to the priest's aid and try to stop the attack? Do you call 911?

Or do you make popcorn?

How those questions are answered says all kinds of things about who we are and what we believe.

I also found out about chip huts today from someone who grew up in Canada.

Why has no one ever told me about these things?

If you're from the South or West and haven't heard of a chip hut, it's basically a mobile french fry truck. That's all they sell, and they offer a wide varity of condiments to go with the fries, including white vinegar (um, yuck), which is very popular in Canada.

We have snack trucks down here that have frying equipment and go to construction sites at break and lunch time, but they offer a wide variety of foods. We do not have trucks solely dedicated to french fries. And that seems wrong.

Sick and wrong.

Yesterday, Eli 5.8 and I went to lunch with a friend of mine, and she said something you don't hear every day: "He invented a cheese box."


Cheese boxes.

Cheese gets shipped in boxes that hold 800 lb. blocks, apparently.

Yes, I know. You just bought one at Costco last week.

These containers are not reusable, so they generate a tremendous amount of both cost and waste.

Except someone she knows invented a reusable cheese box. All they have to do is go through the equivalent of an industrial-sized dishwasher and they're good to go.

This container is patented, but I am forbidden (by her) to give you any of the arcane technical details of its construction.

In the rarified world of cheese boxes, though, it has apparently been certified as "bad ass."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Erin Bode

When I'm writing, I like to listen to music. All kinds of music, really, but there are days when I want to listen to something soothing.

Not that I ever get stressed or anything.

I was listening to Pandora a few weeks ago, which is a terrific place to find new music, and I think I had a Bebel Gilberto station set up. So out of nowhere this song comes on, and the singer's voice is just stunning. There are a few female singers who almost send chills down my back (in a good way) because their voices are so clear and beautiful, and I knew after about ten seconds of the song that I'd found someone I really wanted to listen to.

Her name is Erin Bode, and I ordered her latest album--"Over and Over." It's just unbelievably good.

So if you're like me and there are days you just want to listen to something beautiful, you can check out her Myspace Music page here. There are four songs you can listen to, and I particularly recommend the song "Over and Over." Oh, and she's based in St. Louis, so if you like the songs and live in that area, her gigs are listed here.

Something About

I went in to ask my boss last week where his assistant had gone.

"Where's Erin?" I asked.

"Something about a printer driver," he said.

Something about.

It's the shrewdest thing I've ever heard anyone say. He conveyed both information and complete helplessness. No way could I ask him anything else--in fact, my question to him inescapably created more work for me.

In the game of office chess, it was an effort checkmate.

I returned his level gaze. "You're a mad genius," I said. Inscrutable, but he knew what I meant. I wanted to stay and talk, but I had to go hunt something down.

Something about a printer driver.


"Hey, Hot Fuzz is getting excellent reviews," I said. I was sitting with Gloria on the couch.

"Hot Fuzz? What's that?" she asked.

"It's the new movie by the guys who made 'Shaun of the Dead' ," I said. "You liked that movie."

"I did," she said, "although I didn't like all the zombie killing."


"The zombies," she repeated. "I haven't played enough video games to get desensitized to violence like you have," she said, laughing.

She's good.

"What exactly are you supposed to do with a zombie?" I asked. "Square dance?"

"Well, they used to be people," she said.

"Used to be are the important words here," I said. "They are no longer human, or even living. They are undead, existing in a kind of hellish limbo. Like Cubs fans."

"I'll take your word for it," she said, which translates to I'm ignoring you.

Look, you're supposed to kill zombies," I said. "How can you not know that? Were you raised by wolves?"

"It didn't come up," Gloria.

"I can't believe I married a zombie lover," I said.

Monday, April 23, 2007

OOTP 2007 Contest

Paul Costello over at Groovalicious Games let me know that they're having a contest for a copy of Out of the Park 2007 (which Bill Abner reviewed recently and gave a top rating).

Contest details are here. All it takes is an e-mail to enter. Deadline is midnight (EST) April 23.

A New Low

Here's Jack Thompson's money shot.

Thompson uses this phrase or some variation in almost every interview (see a Hardball transcript from last Wednesday here):
Almost every school shooter the FBI and Secret Service has found is immersed in violent entertainment.

Or he'll say this:
The FBI, the Secret Service have found that the one common denominator among school shooters is the immersion in violent entertainment.

Really? Why don't I ever hear that from the FBI?

Maybe because the FBI never said it.

The FBI did publish a monograph titled The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective
(thanks to Brian Crecente of Kotaku for posting the link) in 1999.

How was this report prepared?
The monograph was developed from the concepts and principals developed by the FBI's NCAVC [National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime] in nearly 25 years of experience in threat assessment, ideas generated at a 1999 NCAVC symposium on school shootings, and an in-depth review of eighteen school shooting cases.

In other words, this was a serious effort to discuss a subject of great concern to all of us.

In the document, they list 46 different areas of possible concern, grouped under four categories: personality traits and behavior, family dynamics,school dynamics, and social dynamics.

Take a look at the behavior and personality traits (begining on p.22):
--Leakage ("Leakage occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an imprending violent act")
--Low tolerance for frustration
--Poor coping skills
--Lack of resiliency
--Failed love relationship
--"Injustice collector" ("The student nurses resentment over real or perceived injustices")
--Signs of depression
--Dehumanizes others
--Lack of empathy
--Exaggerated sense of entitlement
--Attitude of superiority
--Exaggerated or pathological need for attention
--Externalizes blame
--Masks low self-esteem
--Anger management problems
--Inappropriate humor
--Seeks to manipulate others
--Lack of Trust
--Closed social group
--Change of behavior
--Rigid and opinionated
--Unusual Interest in sensational violence ("The student demonstrates an unusual interest in school shootings and other heavily publicized acts of violence.")
--Fascination with violence-filled entertainment
("The student demonstrates an unusual fascination with movies, TV shows, computer games, music videos or printed material that focuses intensively on themes of violence, hatret, control, power, death, and destruction. He may incessantly watch one movie or read and reread one book with violent content, perhaps involving school violence. Themes of hatred, violence, weapons, and mass destruction recur in virtually all his activities, hobbies, and pastimes.

The student spends inordinate amounts of time playing video games with violent themes, and seems more interested in the violent images than in the game itself.

On the Internet, the student regularly searches for web sites involving violence, weapons, and other disturbing subjects. There is evidence the student has downloaded and kept material from these sites.")

In a fifty-two page report, those bolded sections, and a later sentence under "Media, Entertainment, and Technology" that says "The student has easy and unmonitored access to movies, television shows, computer games, and Internet sites with themes and images of extreme violence," constitute all the references to gaming.

That's it.

There's no mention of "training" on video games. There's no mention of "murder simulators." It even says there's "more interest in the violent images than in the game itself."

Want to see the other possible areas of concern? Here they are:
--Negative role models
--Behavior appears relevant to carrying out a threat
--Turbulent parent-child relationship
--Acceptance of pathological behavior (by parents)
--Access to weapons
--Lack of intimacy
--Student "rules the roost"
--No limits or monitoring of TV and Internet
("The student may know much more about computers than the parents do, and the computer may be considered off limits to the parents while the student is secretive about his computer use, which may involve violent games or Internet research on violence, weapons, or other disturbing objects.")

That's not even a comprehensive list of all the "areas of concern." I didn't include the school and social dynamics sections.

In other words, it's a giant list. Gaming is barely even mentioned.

How is this list supposed to be used?
It should be strongly emphasized that this list is not intended as a checklist to predict future violent behavior by a student who has not acted violently or threatened violence. Rather, the list should be considered only after a student has made some type of threat and an assessment has been developed using the four-pronged model. If the assessment shows evidence of these characteristics, behaviors, and consistent problems in all four areas or prongs, it can indicate that the student may be fantasizing about acting on the threats, has the motivation to carry out the violent act, or has actually taken steps to carry out the threat.

Please note the phrase "...consistent problems in all four areas." Gaming is 1 of 46 listed factors, and it's not even listed by itself--it's a subset of "violence-filled entertainment" that includes films, tv shows, music videos and "printed material."

The report lists seven areas for additional research, makes seven recommendations, draws multiple conclusions, and (in Appendix C) makes fifteen "proposals."

Do any of these mention games or gaming? No.

Does the report single out gaming as being unduly influential? That would be surprising, since gaming is barely even mentioned, but the answer is "no." The authors actually go out of their way to warn against this kind of emphasis on any single factor (p. 21):
The following cautions should also be emphasized:
1. No one or two characteristics should be considered in isolation or given more weight than others.

And again, on page 7:
This model is not a "profile" of the school shooter or a checklist of danger signs pointing to the next adolescent who will bring lethal violence to a school. Those things do not exist.

Do you see how the authors of this report are warning against the exact things that Thompson is saying? They are refuting everything he claims in the very report he uses to make those claims.

Let's take a last look at Thompson and his lies, this time in a Fox News interview (available here for viewing):
"What the FBI and Secret Service found after Columbine in looking at all the school shootings up to then was the common denominator being the immersion of the perpetrators in incredibly violent entertainment, most notably violent video games."

An outright lie.

I encourage you to read the report for yourself. It will be clear that Thompson is blatantly misrepresenting what was contained in the document.

It is also clear that Thompson is using the tragedy of school shootings as a promotional vehicle for his own celebrity. In the wake of a massacre that saw thirty-three people killed, is there anything lower than that?


When I looked over that list of top 25 cinematics this morning, I didn't notice that my favorite game opening of all time wasn't included.


Fortunately, DQ reader Mike sent me a link, and you can watch it here.

Thompson and the Rush to Blame

I wrote a post about Jack Thompson's interview on Hardball last week, but Brian Crecente of Kotaku did roughly the same thing about Thompson's interview with Fox News, and Crecente's post is so well written and meticulous that I'm just going to link to it instead. Read it here.

If you want to see the full transcript of Thompson's appearance on Hardball, though, just go here and scroll down.

Also, there was an excellent article about MSNBC about the shootings and the rush to blame video games here.

I have a lengthy post about Thompson and his repeated references to the FBI and their "conclusions" going up this afternoon. Then we'll move on to more entertaining topics--in other words, anything else.

Top 25 Cinematics

Gamespy has an outstanding feature this morning titled "Top 25 Video Game Cinematic Moments." What makes it so good is that you can actually watch each scene.

Of particular note for us old guys: #2 is the opening cinematic from Mechwarrior 2.

I still remember that opening scene, even though the game came out in 1995. It was the pack-in game with the first 3D accelerator card (Voodoo 1 by 3DFX, which came out in 1996), and it was mind-blowing.

Those of you who aren't from the Stone Age of computing don't know this, but the Voodoo card didn't have 2D capability--you still needed your "regular" graphics card (which had 2D but no 3D) in the system as well. The graphics with the Voodoo, though, were absolutely shocking for its time.

My 2D card in that system? The STB Lightspeed 128, of course.

Take a stroll down memory lane here. Like I said, all the cinematics can be viewed, which should make for a well-wasted morning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Links

For your reading pleasure.

First off, DQ reader Kevin Gaughan has posted in his blog about the PS3 in Ireland, and you can read it here. It's both interesting and unique, because I haven't seen any comments post-launch specifically concerning Ireland.

Oh, and someone else is noticing the PS3 inventory issue: Japanese investment firm Nomura. Read their analysis here (thanks Michael O'Reilly).

Matthew Sakey, who you will likely recognize as a regular Gamasutra contributor, has written a review of (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) and you can read it here. I am doing an absolutely horrible job of getting impressions written for this game, or even playing it, so here's a better writer as a substitute.

Sirius sent in a link to some of the most amazing microscopic images you'll ever see, and they're here.

DQ reader Rob sent in the title of a spam e-mail he received this week:
Cindy could feel the rod battering her hot jam cheap corpulent

"Hot Jam Cheap Corpulent" would be an excellent name for a band.

Steven Kreuch let me know that the mind-bogglingly beautiful Discovery HD series Planet Earth was originally broadcast (and produced) by the BBC with David Attenborough as narrator. And you can order both the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray versions with Attenborough as narrator instead of Sigourney Weaver.
HD-DVD version here.
Blu-Ray version here.

Follow-Up (Console Post of the Week)

I would normally not follow up yesterday's long post with another, but I realized something today that I don't see being discussed elsewhere.

This week's PS3 sales in Japan: 11,948. Wii sales: 75,759.

That's the worst week for PS3 in Japan. The four worst weeks for the PS3 since launch have been the past four weeks.

Here was Sony's response to the March NPD numbers, which were horrific for PS3 sales:
“PS3 saw a month-over-month increase of 2 percent with sales of 129,638 units, we continued to find ourselves supply constrained in March due primarily to the shift in manufacturing focus to the PS3 PAL version to support the launch of the system in Europe.”


Really, this has gotten to the level of high comedy. That "month-over-month" increase was entirely due to March being a five-week tracking period, while February was four. That's not an out-and-out lie, though. This is:
"...we continued to find ourselves supply constrained in March."

Does Mr. Bean write these press releases?

Let's do a little digging.

Sony claimed, as recently as March 15th, that they were going to ship six million PS3's worldwide by the March 31 end of their fiscal year. If they're claiming it two weeks before the deadline, I assume they hit the target.

So they've shipped six million units. And they've sold (best estimates) about 3.15 million, and that might be high.

So they have almost three million units worldwide in inventory right now. And it's easy to guess that the U.S., based on units sold, has at least 40% of that inventory. That would be 1.2 million units in inventory.

Sony, based on its weekly sales rate the last two months, is averaging between 25k-30k sales a week.

They have at least FORTY WEEKS of inventory in the U.S. channel right now at current run rates. Nine months.

That's not the interesting part, though. Here's the good stuff.

Sony claimed they had shipped 2 million PS3's by around January 15th. That might be high, but let's assume it's true. That means they shipped another four million units in the following eleven weeks to the end of March, or about 360,000 units a week. That's a little more than 1.5 million units a month.

In the U.S. and Japan, combined, they're now selling about 200,000 units a month.

Based on the PS2 installed base, the ratio for sales in the different territories was roughly:

In other words, we are being really charitable if we assume that Europe's PS3 sales going forward will equal the combined sales in the U.S. and Japan. And if we do that, do you know many units a month Sony can expect to sell worldwide?


So right now, in the best-case scenario for Sony they're shipping almost 4X the number of consoles that are actually selling.

Every inventory channel in the world is stuffed, and their manufacturing capacity is, at a minimum, 4X demand.

I'm going out on a limb here, but these numbers point to only one of three possibilities, and one of them has to happen very soon:
1) Sony announces a significant price cut,
2) Sony mothballs a significant amount of their PS3 manufacturing capacity, or
3) Sony rents enormous amounts of storage space to house the excess 1.1 million PS3's they're building each month.

What do I mean by very soon? Two months, at the absolute maximum. These numbers are totally unsustainable.

I also doubt that only one of three will be enough. PS3 sales aren't going to quadruple overnight, even if they cut the price to $499. So the most likely scenario is some combination of all three: price cuts, reducing manufacturing capacity, and warehousing excess units.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Console Post of the Week

Here's how obvious some of the data is at this point: I'm writing this entire post before the NPD numbers come out. All I'm going to do is insert the NPD numbers when they're released and it's good to go.

On April 13, I wrote that I expected PS3 sales for March to be between 120,00-140,000. Today's NPD number? 130,000. Another absolutely horrible month for the PS3. The Wii sold 259,000 units (every one they made). Microsoft sold 199,000 units, and if I'm Microsoft, that number alarms me.

God of War II helped drive PS2 sales to an amazing 280,000 units. Is that good for Sony? Not if you wanted any of those people to buy a PS3.

I'm still trying to clarify if this was a four or five-week tracking period. If it's five, the PS3 sales were closer to catastrophic than horrible. I'll let you know when I find out. [UPDATE: Those March numbers are for a FIVE week period. I was estimating 120k-140k PS3 sales based on a FOUR week period. Selling 130k in a five-week period is unfathomably bad. It's not good for Microsoft, either, because their 199k also included the first 291k sales of Guitar Hero II.]

I'll start off with Nintendo this week, but again, there's not much to say. Insert the sound effect of money spewing out of a machine [here].

Microsoft? Roger Ehrenberg wrote an interesting piece at Yahoo Finance titled "When Will Microsoft Own Up to the Xbox 360 Bomb?" It's available here, and while I disagree with quite a bit of it, it's still a very interesting read. Here (by his own analysis) are his three main conclusions:
Gaming has been a disastrous endeavor for Microsoft, particularly from an investment perspective;

The seeds of this failure are evident from their sales performance in Japan, particularly when comparing their 18 week sales figures (which is about how long the Wii and PS3 have been out) relative to those of the most successful console releases; and

This early failure in the key Japanese market has a compounding negative effect on worldwide console sales, as game developers are less willing to invest in high-risk projects for console platforms that are shaky out-of-the-gates, which makes it less attractive for gamers to buy these consoles, and so on.

Like I said, I disagree with quite a bit of this, particularly the notion that success in Japan is the foundation of success for a console worldwide. That was true in 1997. It might even have been true in 2000.

But clearly, it's not true now.

Let's look at some Japanese population basics (taken from The World Factbook):
--total population: 127,000,000
--age structure:
0-14 years: 13.8% (male 9,024,344/female 8,553,700)
15-64 years: 65.2% (male 41,841,760/female 41,253,968)
65 years and over: 21% (male 11,312,492/female 15,447,230) (2007 est.)
birth rate: 8.1 births/1,000 population (2007 est.).
--median age:
total: 43.5 years
male: 41.7 years
female: 45.3 years (2007 est.)
--population growth rate: -0.088% (2007 est.)
--net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)

Those numbers may look like gibberish, but let's look at the United States in comparison:
--total population: 301,139,947 (July 2007 est.)
--age structure:
0-14 years: 20.2% (male 31,152,050/female 29,777,438)
15-64 years: 67.2% (male 100,995,752/female 101,365,035)
65 years and over: 12.6% (male 15,858,477/female 21,991,195) (2007 est.)
--birth rate: 14.16 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
--median age:
total: 36.6 years
male: 35.3 years
female: 37.9 years (2007 est.)
--population growth rate: 0.894% (2007 est.)
--net migration rate: 3.05 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)

21% of the population in Japan is over 65 years of age, and that's increasing rapidly. Their median age is 43.5 years. Their population growth is negative. There are roughly 17.5 million people in the 0-14 category.

In other words, as a country, Japan is facing an endemic and critical demographic issue: they're running out of young people.

In the United States, 12.6% of the population is over 65 years of age, or slightly more than half the percentages in Japan. The U.S. population growth is positive, and there are roughly 60. 8 million people in the 0-14 category.

What drives gaming? Well, even though I'm 46 and don't want to admit it, it's young people. They have more free time, play more games, and spend more time gaming than older adults. So when Ehrenberg talks about Japan as the foundation for success, he's ignoring the overwhelming, current demographic evidence.

And before you fire off an e-mail: no, I'm not forgetting about Japanese developers. But they are no longer influential to the degree that their lack of support could kill a console.

But I digress.

Like I said, it's an interesting read. And I do completely agree that the Xbox and 360 have lost a ton of money.

Fortunately, they print money.

Well, it's been a busy week for Sony. Very busy. In the span of just a week, they've killed the 20GB model, claimed to have sold 800,000 units in Europe since launch, discussed "streamlining" their operations (aka laying people off), and the head of Sony Italy resigned.

Oh, and here's the most interesting bit of information, revealed in a Financial Times interview with Sony president Ryoji Chubachi:
"We are re-examining our [PS3] budgeting process in terms of pricing and volume. Sales assumptions change and the market is competitive. We are in the midst of revisiting our strategy for the PS3."

That seems like a pretty straightforward admission that what they're doing isn't working (he's right: it isn't). Sony then issued a very strongly worded non-denial (from spokeswoman Mami Imada):
“PS3 prices and shipment plans for the future should be determined by market trends and competition. Sony currently doesn't have any specific plan to cut the PlayStation 3's price."

Both of those quotes came from a Gamasutra article here.

Well, it's the billion dollar question for Sony, isn't it? They're already losing a metric shit-ton of money on each PS3 they sell, but even doing that, they're not selling enough.

When someone designs a high-end Mercedes and needs it to sell like a Camry in order to recoup their investment, and they believe it will happen, they are engaging in magical thinking.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

That's Certainly Interesting

Kotaku has just posted that the Washington Post has edited out the paragraph I quoted last night referring to Cho Seung Hui being a "fan" of Counterstrike and "violent video games." It's no longer in the story, which is still being updated on a regular basis.

Soren Johnson Leaves Firaxis

Thanks for Franklin Brown to letting me know about post in the Apolyton forums:
On April 2nd, the Co-Lead Designer on Civilization III and Lead Designer on Civilization IV began a new chapter in his gaming career. After nearly seven years at game developer Firaxis Games in Maryland, Soren Johnson has returned to the West Coast and (re-)joined California-based game developer/publisher Electronic Arts. He previously interned there as part of the programming team for sports titles Knockout Kings 2000 and 2001 for the PlayStation console.

Since 1994, Johnson has been immersed in the study of computer programming and design; his interest in the field began a student at Stanford University where he earned an AB in History with honors and a MS in Computer Science with a focus on Human-Computer Interaction. It was while at Stanford that he was an EA intern. Now, Johnson is working on the development of the cross-platform Spore title in what Maxis designer Will Wright has referred to as a Massively Single-Player (MMSP) game. It is anticipated to be released later this year.

Firaxis previously worked with EA prior to Johnson's arrival: Alpha Centauri and its Alien Crossfire expansion both released in 1999. Spore is anticipated to be released later this year.

I have seen many posts by Soren Johnson concerning Civ IV and I was always impressed by both his dedication to the game and his civility. His work has always been first-rate and this is very good news for the quality of Spore.

So let's speculate for a moment (not that we ever do that or anything). A top-level designer is hired to work on Spore in April. What exactly could he do in less than six months if Spore is really shipping in October? Not much, seemingly.

If that makes you think that Spore is slipping to 2008, well, that's what it makes me think, too.

Links and Notes

I heard for the first time about Terra Preta de Indio (Amazonian Dark Earths) today.

Here's a brief description:
While most Amazonian earth is notoriously nutrient poor, yellowish, sterile, and unscented, there are extensive patches of soil that are mysteriously dark, moist, fragrant, and filled with insects, microbial life, and organic matter.

That's interesting, but not nearly as interesting as this: the soil is apparently the result of techniques first used more than a thousand years ago. Here's the process:
The terra preta soils at Hatahara and the other sites are made from a mixture of plant refuse and animal and fish bones, along with large quantities of charcoal that were deposited after settlers used stone axes and slow-burning fires to clear forest. Such smoldering fires produced more charcoal than ash. The charcoal, soot, and other carbon remains (collectively called biochar) retained nutrients, particularly potassium and phosphorus, that are limited in tropical soils.

Here's another link with more information.

Popular Science has several interesting articles this month. The first is about a company called Senomyx, a biotechnology company that is developing food additives that alter taste receptors. Potentially, it could significantly reduce the amount of sugar and salt in food without changing the taste. Here's an excerpt:
Think of Senomyx's additives (currently in tests with food-industry biggies Coca-Cola and Nestle, among others) as anti-flavors: molecules that alter taste receptors and trick the brain into thinking that a food tastes better than it really does.

Pretty amazing, and the company website is here.

There's also an article titled "Origami Optics," and it discusses how digital camera makers are increasing the focal length of their lenses using the same technique used by reflective-telescope makers. Here's an excerpt from a Live Science article that covers essentially the same ground as the PS article:
To make cameras thin and still capable of taking quality pictures, doctoral candidate Eric Tremblay at the University of California at San Diego, along with Ford and their colleagues, are replacing traditional lenses with inventions dubbed "folded optics."

"Traditional camera lenses are typically made up of many different lens elements that work together to provide a sharp, high quality image," Tremblay said. "Here we did much the same thing, but the elements are concentric mirrors folded on top of one another to reduce the thickness of the optic."

..."Our imager is about seven times more powerful than a conventional lens of the same depth," Tremblay said.

Read more here.

The Smoking Gun has launched a video section, and if you have a few minutes to spare, it's well worth poking around. Lots of newsreel footage, in particular, which is fascinating to see. Take a look here.

Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick let me know that Fotowoosh is being created by a group of Carnegie-Mellon students who originally worked on the concept here.

Graham Aldridge also let me know that there's a Microsoft research project called "Photosynth" that does this:
Our software takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next.

It's very interesting, and you can see it here. Be warned that if you click on the "Try It" link, you're taken to a page where a browser plug-in tries to install automatically (so that you can view the collections). I had no problems (after approving the install in Firefox), but it's going to install without any authorization from you unless your browser is set up to block those kinds of things.

Another View

DQ reader Dave Kramer, who created Busy Gamer News, is a graduate of Virginia Tech, and he sent me a link to a post he wrote about violent video games and what they can or cannot do to influence behavior here.

The Jackals Descend

From the Washington Post:
Several Korean youths who knew Cho Seung Hui from his high school days said he was a fan of violent video games, particularly Counterstrike, a hugely popular online game published by Microsoft, in which players join terrorism or counterterrorism groups and try to shoot each other using all types of guns.

Well, let's look at this, and I'm sure you guys will let me know if I'm misstating something.

Counterstrike is a team-based game that requires cooperation among teammates. In fact, if you asked Counterstrike players to describe the game in one word, many would say "teamwork." Yes, like many games, there's plenty of shooting, but in no way is it nihilistic in any form or fashion.

Does that sound like the kind of game that would spur a loner to commit a one-man assault on a college campus? And does a game teach you how to use, or even aim, a weapon?

Of course it doesn't--the entire premise is totally ridiculous--but within days, Jack Thompson will be bleating like a stuck pig because this kid played Counterstrike in high school. And Valve needs to get out in front of this right now. The mistake that the gaming industry consistently makes is trying to hide in situations like this.

This time, they need to stop hiding.

Valve needs to issue a press release immediately, and it needs to include something like this:
Counterstrike is, above all a team-based online game that requires cooperation among teammates. A player cannot succeed in Counterstrike without teamwork.

Anyone claiming that a keyboard and mouse-based control method in a computer game can somehow "train" individuals to commit murder with real weapons is doing nothing more than grandstanding for publicity and personal gain.

As I wrote earlier today, this is a terrible tragedy, and the profiteers that are descending are the worst possible kind of human beings. And the point needs to be driven home that people like Thompson are nothing more than jackals feeding on corpses.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


DQ reader John Catania sent me a link to a program in development called Fotowoosh, which can translate 2D images into 3D models. It's an amazing effect, and you an see it here.

Looking at the video on the site, one name immediately comes to mind: John Carmack. If anyone could develop a technology like this to be used inside video games, it would be him. And what an incalculable contribution it would be, not to mention the ginormous (that's 10x larger than enormous, in case you're wondering) licensing fees he could charge for use of the technology.

Imagine being able to use photographs, paintings, even pencil sketches to automatically generate 3D levels in a game. How stunning would it be to walk through some of the landscapes painted by Van Gogh?

Jack Thompson Interview

Jack Thompson was interviewed by Fox News at 2:13 p.m. CST yesterday about the massacre at Virginia Tech.

I forced myself to listen to the full interview (which you can see here). Thompson repeated refers to first-person shooters and Grand Theft Auto as "trainers" and "murder simulators." He makes it sound like a foregone conclusion that the shooter must have "trained" using video games. He was as wildly inaccurate as he always is in these situations.

At the end, the fawning Fox News anchor actually said Thompson was "eloquent."

I'll guess with 99% certainly that Thompson was text-messaging and phoning every major news outlet as soon as he heard about the shooting, desperately trying to get on for an interview. And he succeeded, not that Fox News is any more legitimate as a media outlet than Thompson is as an "expert" on school shootings.

Look, I've said this before, but Thompson serves a purpose. He represents the "best expert" the anti-gaming advocates can muster, and he has been repeatedly discredited, disciplined by various state bars (with more proceedings ongoing), and responsible for states having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs as a result of passing clearly unconstitutional laws ($92,000 just yesterday in Louisiana, where he previously trumpeted his involvement in the legislative process).

This is a horrific tragedy, and anyone like Thompson who is ideologically profiteering within hours of the last body hitting the ground is beneath contempt.

Okay, Here's the Explanation

I'm an idiot.

When you play bonus songs or downloadable content songs, they get added to your offline campaign score. I didn't know that, because I hadn't played any bonus songs in the 360 version yet.

I played two DLC songs in the last day or so, and when it added those scores to my campaign score, I didn't even notice. Later, when I checked the leaderboards, my offline and online scores didn't match.

I verified that the DLC songs I've played account for the score discrepancy to the point. So that's clearly what happened.

All-Pro Football 2K8

I've seen the full All-Pro Football 2K8 interview (thanks Steve).

If you haven't heard about this, there's a four page article in the May issue of Game Informer magazine with Jeff (VP of sports development) and Greg Thomas (president) of Visual Concepts.

To begin with, lower your expectations. The amount of useful information in four pages is incredibly minute. Here's an example of the information-packed quotes:
"It's all about the game of football."

Thanks for clearing that up.

Here are a few more excerpts:
2K8 aims to take the ultimate team sport and turn its focus onto the individual players. This is done by highlighting the skill among players and translating that onto the field.

Oh wait, that's just marketing gobbledygook, really. Let's try another one:
Gamers will build their team from a pool of players.

Um, okay. So it sounds like a fantasy draft is part of the initial setup.

Here's another good one:
By making the player aware of the prowess of individual football players and the strategies behind utilizing them, the game actually makes its teams stronger than they might have been if they had been ruled by the NFL license. Because the team isn't bound by trying to recreate how the Patriots play (which games rarely do right) or whether the third-string linebacker has an acceleration rating of 75 or 70, it lets you create and exploit the differences among teams.

What the hell does that paragraph mean? I was laughing so hard by the end of it that I thought I was reading OXM.

Here's where it starts to get ugly.
Although the developer wouldn't go into detail about the game's league structure, we know that there won't be a franchise mode.

Oh, well done. Here's when not having an NFL license hurts a football game the most: in the first season. After that, whether you have a license or not, created players start entering the league. After fifteen years in a Franchise, having or not having a license is totally meaningless. So what a great design decision to focus on that first season only.

Good grief. That is crap design. What a horrible, totally illogical decision.

There's also sort of a fuzzy comment about customization:
...although the game will feature a number of customization features for your team, including options beyond the standard package for online play, you won't be able to recreate NFL teams or players.

The obvious question is does that mean you won't be able to edit player names and ratings, but of course that question isn't asked. Here's what Jeff had to say about that:
There's going to be a backlash, I know that. And you know what? Play the game and shut up."

Uh-oh. Looks like somebody forgot the cardinal rule of being interviewed: don't be a dickhead.

So are there any advantages to NOT having an NFL license?
In tandem with the game's refined animation system, injuries will now occur in real-time...This included major concussions produced after particularly jarring blows, and being able to throw a late hit."

"Throw" a late hit? Is that like throwing a discus?

The article specifically says "this is not NFL Blitz," but "major" concussions and late hits aren't really features that make me want to spend $59.95. Neither does this:
Another area the game can expand on is the actual on-field speech that goes on during a game, whether that's trash talking between players or dialogue between a coach and a QB.

So there you go. Pretty damned disappointing, at least for now.

I haven't given up hope, certainly, and the fictional stadiums look very cool in the screenshots that accompany the article, but it's hard to have faith in a game where people were apparently high when they decided the feature set.

I just want to know if either of the Thomas brothers designed the menu system used in the NBA and College Hoops series.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Guitar Hero II: Post-Patch (Not Good) [Now Resolved]

[Okay, I'm an idiot.

When you play bonus songs or downloadable content songs, they get added to your offline campaign score. I didn't know that, because I hadn't played any bonus songs in the 360 version yet.
I played two DLC songs in the last day or so, and when it added those scores to my campaign score, I didn't even notice. Later, when I checked the leaderboards, my offline and online scores didn't match.

I verified that the DLC songs I've played account for the score discrepancy to the point. So that's clearly what happened.]

The way that I've been playing GHII is to play offline until I'm ready to check my campaign score on the leaderboards. Then I log in to Xbox Live, play one more song, and when the game saves it transfers my campaign score.

It doesn't automatically transfer your campaign score if you connect while playing the game, in other words. You have to finish a song (so the game auto-saves) before your score is transferred.

Until now. Now, I have a 60k discrepancy between the campaign score locally on my 360 and my campaign score on the leaderboards. This is after playing several more songs while connected to Xbox Live, turning the console off and back on, etc.

This is post-patch, so I'm wondering if the patch screwed this up.

If any of you guys play offline like I do, then connect to check your campaign score, let me know if this has changed for you as well. Thanks.

What really annoys me is that I five-starred Woman (a hellish song) on Hard and I'm not getting credit in the leaderboards for the extra points I scored in campaign mode. Grrr.

More Tall Tales

"Mom, on the way home from school today we saw a new restaurant," Eli 5.8 said casually. We were in the living room watching Planet Earth.

"You did? What was it?"

"It was called Eat Your Own Squid," Eli said.

Gloria started laughing. "What?"

"Eat Your Own Squid," he said. "It sounded so funny we went inside and looked around. They have this giant tank full of water and they have lobster, crab, shrimp, squid, and something else--I can't quite remember--oh, it was octopus! You pick what you want to eat and they cook it for you."

"Are you serious?" Gloria asked. "Octopus?"

"And squid!" Eli said.

Gloria turned and looked at me. "Is this for real?"

"I don't think he could make up a name like 'Eat Your Own Squid'," I said. Which is exactly the moment when Eli burst out laughing.

It was his idea this time, not mine. He made the whole story up himself.

That's my boy.

On Easter Sunday, we were at my sister's house and Eli was playing with a paddleball, the children's toy that consists of a paddle, a little rubber ball, and a flexible cord connecting the two. We were all trying it, and badly.

"Weightlifters use these," I said.

"They do?" Gloria asked.

"Sure," I said. "Only the rubber ball is five pounds and the wooden paddle is much thicker. It really gives you a workout."

"I didn't know that," she said, and then I cracked up. "Arrghh!" she said.

I was trying to tell a tall tale to Eli, not her. Sometimes, though, if you're lucky, you pull in a bonus.

Showdown at El Diablo

I guess that post title could be a little misleading. It's not really a "showdown," since it's a soccer league for five-year-olds and no one keeps score. And the field isn't really called "El Diablo"--it's something like YMCA Youth Soccer League Field or something.

Other than that, though, "Showdown at El Diablo" is a perfect fit.

Eli 5.8 and his soccer team had another league match on Saturday morning. Fifty degrees, thirty mile-an-hour winds. Ideal weather for a seal hunt.

They were playing the best team in the league, Eli said. How did Eli know they were the best? Because they told him, that's how. Before the game started, one kid gave Eli a thumbs-down and said they had no chance.

I couldn't figure out why a little kid would act that way--until I saw their coaches. Seriously, they made Bill Cowher look laid back.

It was scary.

Here are my detailed tactical instructions to Eli before every game: "Run and kick the ball. Have a good time." That seems about right for a kid who still packs a beany bear into his backpack every morning.

What I didn't realize, though, was that this titantic match between pre-schoolers was apparently the UEFA Championship Finals.

These coaches had a strategy--when we were attacking, and by "attacking" I mean running in a clump around the ball in their end of the field, they would yell at their best player to stand at midfield, hoping the ball would wander out to him before our defense did.

What am I saying? We don't even have a defense.

In other words, they were taking advantage of a no-offsides rule in a league for five-year-olds.

When their designated scorer broke free on a run, one of their coaches ran alongside him on the sideline, windmilling his arms and yelling "GO! GO! GO!" The shot hit the post and went wide, and the coach actually made a punching motion toward the ground with his fist.

Later in the half, on a throw-in, they spent several minutes arranging their team in a complex in-bounds play, all designed to get the ball to their scorer by the front of the goal. The only flaw in this shrewd bit of tactical genius was that it required a five-year old girl to throw a soccer ball fifteen yards. After endless positioning and explaining, the whistle was finally blown, and she wound up for an epic heave which came within inches of hitting her in the head, as the ball basically went straight up and straight down.

At halftime, it was clear that in spite of their ferocious coaching intensity, their team was getting tooled. Shut out. I have no idea why or how--it would be like trying to analyze a fire ant mound--but there was no disputing what was happening.

Also at halftime, the other team's moms laid out this snack spread that made Thanksgiving dinner look like the drive-through window at Taco Bell. They had homemade cookies and fresh vegetables and homemade lemonade.

We had pretzel sticks.

The way substitutions work in this league is that there are five players from each team on the field, and there are generally ten players a team. That means that all five players get subbed out every few minutes, like shifts in hockey. For the second half, the master strategists changed the shift of their best player so that he would be playing against our weaker side (which included Eli and his best friend).

And they started double-shifting the kid. He played almost the entire second half, and even though no one keeps score in this league (4-1), I'm pretty sure (4-1) we still beat the snot out of them (4-1). Eli also had his first game without an own-goal, another signature moment in his career.

I'm sure both coaches will be resigning "to spend more time with their families."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Console Post of the Week: It's Still $599

Sony first this week.

This just in: it's still $599.

This also just in: nobody wants one at $599.

In Japan, 14,520 units sold this week.

Here's some context for that number: in the first five years of its existence, guess how often the PS2 sold less than 14,520 units in a week?


Twice! In 260 weeks.

In Japan, it's a flameout in progress.

How about Europe? Well, in the UK, Chart Tracker's proprietary numbers were leaked again this week. Last week, 17,000 units were sold.

Again, both of those numbers are in an environment of zero supply constraints. And they're horrible.

U.S. NPD numbers for March aren't going to be available until next Thursday, but I expect Sony to have another dismal month. Here's an easy rule for sales in the United States: if you're selling less than 50,000 consoles a week, it's ass.

What do I expect? If it's a four-week tracking period (I believe it is), then anywhere from 120,000-140,000 units.

How many units of the Wii will be sold? Well, how many did they make?

Here are a couple of additional data points provided by you guys. First, from Christian Geschkat in Germany:
Media Control, a company that is the equivalent to the NPD in the US, has issued a press release stating that console game sales reached a volume of 100 million euros in Q1 07. The most interesting tidbit in the press release however is, that roughly 69,000 PS3 games have been sold since the launch of the console on the 23rd of March in Germany. So either a lot of people do not use the PS3 as a game system or Sony Germany has not even closely matched the British sales numbers for the first month.

That's not 69,000 consoles in the first eight days. That's 69,000 games.

Next, from Saska Lindfors:
I have been following your writing on the PS3 launch and I agree they overpriced it. However, looking from where I live, things are pretty good for you there.

In Finland, the price on PS3 is a steady 680Euros which is about 900USD ( I checked a big retailer from Sweden ( and they asked some 50USD more (It was a pack with some games, but I think the price is still the same).

There's of course some uncertainty to exchange rates, but our buying parity is not that much higher - if any. I'm surprised if they sell any PS3's.

Sony: welcome to the Suckdome.

On to Nintendo. They sold everything they made this week. They're selling at 3X the rate of Sony in both the U.S. and Japan.

Oh, and Paper Mario is very, very cool.

Microsoft was accused of channel stuffing this week.

Well, not "accused," really. More like nailed.

Here's the analysis (thanks to all of you who sent in the link), and it's solid. There's no question that Microsoft has been stuffing the channel, particularly in the October-December timeframe last year.

That's both scummy and stupid. Channel stuffing can't be continued indefinitely--at some point, the channel just can't absorb any more, and then you have to ship less to compensate.

Actually, that's not correct. Channel stuffing is only scummy if you don't tell anyone you're doing it.

Here's what to watch with Microsoft this year, though: how does the monthy AAA game goose sales? There's a theoretically outstanding game coming each month (in some months, several), but will those games increase the 360's momentum? That's more important than them being morons and jamming inventory into the channel.

Here's something else to watch: if Microsoft has been stuffing the channel, then what the hell has Sony been doing? iTrackr shows the PS3 with 94% availability in 8,500 retail stores in the U.S. The 360 is at 77% availability nationally.

What iTrackr doesn't do is identify how many units are available at each retail, only that the item is in-stock. I think it's fair to say, though, that it's highly likely that Sony has even more inventory in stores right now than Microsoft.

Iron Dukes

Shane Courtrille sent me a link to a Joystiq post about a game in development called Iron Dukes. It's from indie developer One Ton Ghost, and it's remarkably striking, even in the brief Flash presentation you can see on their website. The Joystiq post is here, and the game's website is here.

This game already has a tremendous sense of style, and if the full game is anything like the Flash presentation, it could be very, very good.

Friday Links

For your reading pleasure.

First, from Vahur Teller, a link to a story about the Arirang Festival in North Korea. 100,000 people are involved as performers, and a giant section of the stadium is filled with people doing an amazing job of holding placards and (as a group) creating an amazing series of images.

Obviously, given what we know about the situation in North Korea, they should call it the Festival of Starvation or something, but the images and videos are pretty spectacular. And the first video is particularly interesting because it gives you an idea of how North Korea markets itself, which is fascinating to see.

Here's the first link (with two videos): Arirang Festival.
The second link has a few pictures (and again, those giant images in the background are made by people holding placards): BBC.

Next, part three of the excellent series "The History of Computer Role-Playing Games" is now available over at Gamastura. This installment covers the years 1994-2004, and you can read it here.

Sirius sent in a link about an enormous and embarrassing case of mathematical oops:
A £2 billion project to answer some of the biggest mysteries of the universe has been delayed by months after scientists building it made basic errors in their mathematical calculations.

The mistakes led to an explosion deep in the tunnel at the Cern particle accelerator complex near Geneva in Switzerland. It lifted a 20-ton magnet off its mountings, filling a tunnel with helium gas and forcing an evacuation.

Read about it here.

Here's an article from MSNBC about scientists using collagen protein analysis to support the theory that modern birds descended from dinosaurs. If you remember the 2003 story about preserved soft tissue being found inside the femur of a T-rex, that's how this analysis was possible. Read it here.

One More Note

Here's an additional note to the "score whore" post last night.

I can't believe I didn't mention this: if you're going to play at a particularly difficulty level, warm up one level higher. So if you're going to play on Hard, warm up on Expert with a song or two first. It "sets" your brain to react at a certain speed, for lack of a more precise description, and moving down a level will seem slow in comparison.

Do not, however, warm up on the higher level playing the same song you'll be playing at a lower level. The extra notes at the higher level will just confuse you when you move back down.

Most of you already do this, I'm sure, but if you haven't, the effect can be pretty dramatic.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Score Whore: Guitar Hero II (360) and Campaign Mode

There's only one reason I'm writing up this post: I'm ranked about 4,500 in Campaign mode out of 225,000 players.

I don't deserve to be there.

There's no way I'm in the top 2% of the people on the leaderboards in terms of skill. I'm not a bad player--I'm probably in the top 15%, certainly--but no way am I in the top 2%. I'm just not that good.

However, I do understand how scoring works, although I have to give my friend John Harwood (still in the top 1%) credit for mentioning this first.

You may think that the best way to get a high Campaign score is to bash through on Expert mode, as long as you can pass the song.

Harder mode=more points. Right?

If you're a great player, and can totally dominate a song in Expert mode, then yes. Otherwise, no.

No no no.

Look at how the scoring system works. With a possible multipler of anything from 1x to 4x (doubled in star power mode), the entire scoring system is almost totally dependent on the multiplier. And the leaderboards take your best score on each song, regardless of difficulty level.
So here is, by far, the most important thing to remember about your campaign mode score: accuracy is more important than difficulty level.

Like anything else, that's not an absolute, but here's what I mean. I have a 100% score on Message in a Bottle on Medium, which was worth 252k. On Hard, I have a four-star score (around 90% accuracy, I believe) of 168.

It was much harder to get a four-star score on Hard than to hit 100% on Medium, but my score is much, much higher on Medium because there's such a premium on accuracy.

It's going to vary by song, but in most cases, getting 99% or 100% on Medium is better than getting 90% on Hard, for example. And it's much easier, relatively, to get that accuracy level on Medium--there are fewer notes and no notes on the orange button, so no hand slide.

Here's sort of a large-scale comparison. On Medium, I've five-starred all the songs, and my total score is 7 million points (yes, I added it up--I'm a loser). On Hard, I've five-starred 21 songs, four-starred 15, and three-starred the other 12 (mostly in the last two sets).

My total score for that difficulty level? 7 million points.

I haven't methodically gone back into Hard and played every single song for every point I could get, so I could probably gain another half million points--eventually. But there are plenty of songs on Hard that I am never going to five-star, particularly in the last two sets, and for all of those songs, my score is going to be much, much higher on Medium.

Here's another example at the set level. I compared my total score for each set, listed the difficulty level of the highest score, and listed the total difference between difficulty levels.

1. Hard (349k)
2. Hard (85k)
3. Hard (17k)
4. Hard (97k)
5. Medium (76k)
6. Medium (2k)
7. Medium (186k)
8. Medium (267)

That's not a straight line depreciation, but it's pretty close. And those last two sets alone on Medium are worth almost half a million points compared to Hard.

You can see what the final mix is going to look like for me--the first two sets with Expert scores (eventually), the next three or four on Hard, and the last two or three on Medium.

Here's the catch, obviously: you have to play through Campaign mode on Medium. But when you score 300k points on Freebird, you won't be complaining. Plus playing through Medium (which I didn't do on the PS2 version) has really improved my rhythm as well as my focus.

As an aside, the progression from Medium to Hard to Expert is brilliantly done. The way that songs are deconstructed and then rebuilt in layers is remarkable.

Now the blah blah blah that you already know:
--don't step on star power sequences by activation your existing star power. You might play through the song once without activating any star power just to see where the sequences are.
--try to activate star power when your multiplier is already high.
--also try to activate star power in a chord-heavy section. Double points.

You've seen those star power tips in a hundred places already, probably, so no need to mention them further here.

One more thing: in quite a few of the songs, playing will be very straightforward except for one or two sections. Don't forget practice mode to help you with those. The best players don't really need it, but the rest of us slugs do.

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