Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Links!

We are absolutely loaded up this week, so let's get started.

Leading off, an utterly stunning link from Chris Meyer to an article in Wired titled High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace. It's a story about Titan Salvage, a company that does high-risk (HIGH risk) operations when giant ships are in trouble. Ships like the Cougar Ace--all seven stories and 55,328 tons, listing at a 60-degree angle. Seriously, this is both a great piece of writing and a great story--think Red Adair at sea.

Next, here's an entirely fascinating video sent in by Vahur Teller that shows how people count cash in different parts of the world.

I mentioned The Amber Room last Friday, and it's been a big week. First, digging resumed, then (bizarrely) it stopped again, and it sounds like tempers are getting very heated.

Allen Varney let me know that the instrument played by the "one-man orchestra" in last week's links was a glass harmonica.

Thanks to Eric Caldwell for a link to an excellent interview with Fairway Solitaire creater John Cutter.

Sirius sent in a link to a story about the honeybee crisis. It turns out that finding out what's really causing the hive decimation is much more complex than it would seem. A second link from Sirius, to a color-blind artist who has learned to paint in color by using his hearing. He wears a device that converts 360 different colors into sounds. Amazing. Finally, a brilliantly droll article in SFGate by Steve Rubenstein titled New Threat To Our Way Of Life: Giant Pythons.

From Nate Carpenter, a link to portraits of invisible people, and they're excellent.

From Joshua, a link to a series of stunning photographs of Dubai that show the incredible changes in the landscape. These pictures are truly spectacular.

From the Edwin Garcia Link Machine, an interview with The God of Fountain Pens, and the How To: Make Stuff section of the lifehacker website.

Ken Rahmoeller sent in a link to a story about molecules with silly names. The list is long.

From Saul Bryan, several links to remarkable houses: the Wall House, a fantastic tree house, and an upside-down house.

Vahur Teller sent me a link to a series of poignant photographs, some of which are quite haunting.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to an outstanding public service announcement.

Gloria (aka "my wife") sent me a link to a wonderful story about a man who resolves to build a cottage in his backyard. The only catch is that his wife can't find out--until it's built.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Please Note

Yes, I called John Riccitiello "Larry," for reasons unknown. Rejected choices: Scooter, Buck, and Spanky.

Wilt Chamberlain

I was scrounging around Google for various reasons and stumbled across some information on Wilt Chamberlain in high school. I knew he was a quarter-miler (that's right--7'1" and a freaking quarter-miler), but take a look at this:
At Overbrook High School in Philly, he high jumped 6 feet, 6 inches, ran the 440 in 49.0 seconds and the 880 in 1:58.3, put the shot 53 feet, 4 inches, and broad jumped 22 feet.

Oh, and in high school he scored 74, 78 and 90 points--in consecutive games.

Wilt Chamberlain...beamed to us from the distant future.


I was watching "Big Monday" on ESPN this week (the Big-12 game of the week, basically), and I saw something that disturbed me. It's not the first time I've seen something like this, but for some reason, it really hit home this time.

I've written before about how boorishly college coaches behave. This time, though, I was struck by something else. The Kansas State coach was named Frank Martin, and there were several times when his players came off the floor (in the process of losing the game) that he was right in their faces, screaming. His eyes were bugged out and he was practically foaming at the mouth.

He was, in short, insane.

If any of us had been walking down a street and seen this guy walking toward us with that look on his face, we would have expected a shiv in our chest within seconds, buried up to the handle.

Here's what struck me: somehow, "coaches" have somehow become a protected class for sociopathic behavior. They're "leaders of young men." But WTF are they leading them TO, exactly, when they act like this? Prison?

Martin isn't the only coach who acts like that, not by a long shot. And if any of his players acted like that on the court, they'd quickly be ejected. So what in the world are we teaching young people about responsibility and behavior when these coaches are constantly lauded by networks like ESPN?

Fan behavior seems to have gotten steadily worse in college sports (here's an excellent article about Kevin Love's return to Oregon), and I think the coaches are at least partially responsible. If they're totally out of control, why wouldn't a fan think that it's totally acceptable for him to be out of control, too?

What I find darkly amusing about all this is the comparison between college basketball coaches and pro coaches. You'll almost never see a pro coach go all "stabber" on a player or referee from the bench. Even though the stakes are far, far higher than in college, and even though coaching at the pro level is almost exponentially more complex, pro coaches manage to generally act like grown-ups during a game. In the colleges, though, the absolute zenith of self-control that many coaches seem to be able to manage is not wetting their own pants from rage.

What I Fear

I keep seeing articles about robots "surpassing" humans in another few decades, along with windy discussions of what "humanity" really means. It's been hypothesized that robots might even replace us someday.

Look, I don't give a damn about a robot uprising. And I don't care if they become more human. Hell, I wish we were "more" human, too.

I'm only frightened by the prospect of one thing: robot performance art.

Dwarf Fortress Interview

Thanks to all of you who sent in a link to the interview with Tarn Adams over at Gamasutra. It's long, it covers a huge range of subjects, and it's here. Oh, and best of all, the last few pages cover some topics that I've never seen discussed before, including exactly what's happening when the world is being created.

From Another Angle

Julian Murdoch, an excellent writer and often an agent provocateur to conventional thought, has an entirely different perspective on the potential EA acquisition of Take-Two.

Julian's perspective (I encourage you to read his entire column) seems to consist of two main thrusts. One is a persuasive defense of EA CEO John Riccitello, which is a separate discussion for another day somewhere down the road.

Particularly interesting, though, is the other thrust, which is contained here:
Large players - those with big, big capital reserves - are extremely important. While the Horatio Alger version of the American dream makes for good theater, the struggling ragamuffin rarely goes on to be Mr. President. Big companies like Microsoft, the old AT&T and HP can afford to spend money on science experiments. Without the occasional pool of unfettered funding, Bell Labs would never have invented radio antennas or discovered cosmic background radiation; HP Labs wouldn't have developed the atomic clock or the LED. Apple, which, with a market cap 5 times Electronic Arts, can hardly be considered scrappy anymore, would never have made the iPhone without cutting their teeth decades earlier on the Newton.

It's true that large amounts of funding, when dedicated to innovation, can foster innovation. That's entirely reasonable. And there are certainly certain industries, particularly involving scientific research, where well-funded, well-equipped facilities are incredibly important to creating an environment conducive to breakthrough discoveries.

But I think it's also entirely reasonable to say that the business of large companies, the vast majority of time, is to make money. If innnovation makes them more money, they'll innovate. Importantly, though, if it doesn't, and won't, then it is counter to both their best interests and the best interests of their stockholders.

This is also true when it comes to quality. When it would reduce profits to increase quality, and that reduction in profits would not be temporary, then it's highly, highly unlikely (in the U.S., at least) that a company will choose to increase quality.

So what about the gaming industry? Is the gaming industry a technology company in the sense that research and innovation can lead to patents that will greatly increase their profits or influence future products? No, not as far as I can determine.

Sure, developers use engines, and they use tools, but I don't think big gaming publishers have think tanks established for creating these engines. I don't think they have think tanks established for anything. Electronic Arts, for years, has treated games not as objects of inspiration but as commodities. Commodities must ship.

This is not science. It's entertainment.

Which is a problem, and here's why. It's not in EA's best interests financially to spend another month working on a sports game that is in no shape to ship. It's not in their best interests financially to release team sports games every two years instead of every year. The games would be much, much better, but they're trying to make money, not win awards. They have both employees and shareholders, and stock prices depend on profit, not accolades.

Contrast this to the "town" or "island" developer I alluded to yesterday. Most of these guys have one game, not dozens. They don't have marketing or ship date alignment or a hundred other levels of bullshit that big companies have. It is absolutely, 100% in their best interest to do everything they can to perfect their game. It's also in their best interest to innovate, because it will help get them noticed.

This, then, is the question: what circumstances would create an environment where it was in the best interests of giant gaming companies to innovate? I don't believe Julian is correct (this time), but I want him to be correct. I want big gaming companies to innovate. I want them to take chances. I want them to treat the games they develop and publish as something other than commodities on a spreadsheet.

With rare exceptions, though, I just don't think they do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

EA and Take-Two: What It Means (For Us)

I wanted to think about the acquisition for a couple of days before I wrote anything, because while it might be relatively simple at the corporate level, that's not what I care about.

What I care about is whether it's good for us, not them.

It's not as simple a question as it might sound, because your answer may be almost entirely created by your assumption.

Here's an example. This acquistion could be easily portrayed as a superior, more mature corporate culture subsuming an inferior, less mature culture. If the talent is retained, and the culture is better, that's a win for us, right?

In short: no.

For us, this is a terrible deal, and I think it's easy to explain why.

First off, let's imagine that the ideal situation for gamers was the highest level of dissimilarity between games as possible. In that case, if we imagine developers as all living on the same planet, then the ideal situation would be for them to each live on an island, separated by as much water as possible.

Wait a minute. That's not right, is it? Because even if people are living on snow-covered islands as opposed to tropical islands, there are still elements of similarity there (like, um, sea level). So let's say that the developers live in widely varying environments, but still all physically separated from each other.

Okay, that seems like a way to have maximum variation. Let's call that something really imposing and snotty, like World One.

Is that what we really want, though? If I find a game I really, really enjoy, then I look around to find other games in that genre, because I might enjoy them, too. And the developer environments and experiences are so varied that there might not be genres (I know, we could get into archetypes and all that, which would be interesting, but it doesn't apply in regards to EA or Take-Two, so let's do that another day).

Besides, I don't think a zero-interaction environment is necessarily the most creative environment. Just look at music in England in the 1960s, which may well have been the greatest musical explosion in history. Reading histories of that period, it's absolutely incredible to see how not only did almost everyone know everyone else, but at one point or another, almost everyone played with everyone else.

I'm sure there's an argument to be made that game development went through an analagous period, but I'm not making it today.

Once all of our isolated developers, over time, start finding each other (they're bright people, after all), it's likely that they'd start forming some kind of loose organizational units like towns. That would create games that were slightly less dissimilar, but I think they'd actually be more creative, as people who liked each other could learn from each other. In lots of ways, this really is the "band" environment. There are no real restrictions on creative output, but collaborations are possible.

So if the totally isolated environment is World One, let's call this town environment World Two.

You see what's going to happen, don't you?

World Three is going to be much larger--a city. Not everyone in the city actually create games. Now that could be a good thing, because non-developers could provide support functions, but most of those support functions are only necessary because of the city itself. Plus, developers need to charge just a bit more to generate enough revenue to pay for all those functions that weren't needed before.

Then there's World Four, which is comprised of states, and the cities all join states. No problem, says the state. We won't bother you people. Just keep doing doing whatever you do. Oh, as long as you pay those taxes. Plus, we have a few laws and stuff that everyone in the state has to be obey.

Even if you live in a city that is very, very independent, it will take on some of the characteristics of that state. This is true even in the real world. I live in Austin, which is an unbelievabably independent city compared to what the rest of the state believes and how it behaves. Seattle is probably much, much closer to Austin in terms of its demographics, its high-tech influence, and its beliefs, but Austin still, in the end, has this huge base of "Texas-ness" that will never change.

This is what's happening to the gaming industry now. Towns become cities. Cities join states. And those cities, no matter what they say, will take on some characteristics of the state. Less diversity in thought. More homogenization. More needs brought on by the size of the state itself, and those needs are entirely unrelated to creativity or fun.

I know--EA has been promoting that "enlightened" city-state model recently. Right. And how "hands-off" will they be when a game is six months late or twenty percent over budget or maybe just doesn't sell? Like I said, we just have a few laws and stuff to obey, but there are going to be a lot more laws and "stuff" if things don't go according to plan.

Plus, I don't think EA qualifies as a "state" anymore. I think that's really a misnomer, and purposely planted by EA. They're a giant nation. They absorb everything--cities, states, even other nations. And they're methodically reducing the competition, the "otherness" of games not made by EA, even if those games were made by companies that were in no way as successful as EA.

So if the gaming world is going the way of acquisition (in essense, "conquer") at the nation level, that's going to greatly reduce the differences between games. There will be a U.S. and a Soviet Union (Activision and EA, or vice versa), and a bunch of other countries that jockey to be in the security sphere of one or the other.

That's World Five, and we're heading there at extreme speed.

Interestingly, this is the exact opposite of the way the real world is trending, where the number of nations seems to be continually expanding.

Here's one other note about states and nations, and that concerns size. Once a governing entity reaches a certain critical mass in terms of size and resources, not only can they reduce creativity just by their structure, but they can also activity inhibit it by trying to eliminate competition through tactics entirely unrelated to the quality of the games.

The perfect example is how EA has largely destroyed the sports market through the acquistion of exclusive licenses. In this case, not only is EA not increasing creativity, they're actually killing it. This is so obviously counter to our best interests that it's infuriating.

So when you hear all this crap about the "new" EA, hey, maybe some of it is true internally, but EA is a huge nation that will do anything to defend its borders, so to speak, and many times, it will be to our serious detriment.

That's all kind of depressing, really, but maybe it shouldn't be. Sure, at the city level and above, the inevitable process looks increasingly grim, but don't forgot about the towns, and don't forget about the guy living on an island. Those would both represent indie developers, and as mass-market games have become increasingly homogenized, indie games are still incredibly vibrant and unbelievably diverse.

If anything, I think they've actually grown much stronger and much more interesting in the last few years, because while high-profile games cost far more to develop than ever before, indie games are probably cheaper to develop than ever before (as part of the general democratization of content creation that has been fostered by the Internet as well as all kinds of collateral technologies). And indie games have exponentially more publishing options than they had even five years ago.

So yes, EA acquiring Take-Two is a very bad deal for us, but we were already getting a bad deal.
All this "nation conquering," though, has a curious result, at least for me. I find that I spend far more time with the "town" and "island" developers, and the more time I spend there, the more I find that those guys are far more interesting, anyway.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Train Wreck, Line Two

So now that I can at least marginally see straight again, let me tell you what's been going on around here lately.

Before I tell you this story, let me acknowledge up front that I don't have any real problems. I know plenty of people whose best day is less fun than my worst day. So even though the last week has totally sucked, I don't forget that in the big picture, it doesn't mean anything.

A week ago on Saturday, Eli 6.6 wasn't feeling well. Gloria took him to the doctor that morning, and based on his symptoms, the doctor thought that he might have the flu.

They had, of course, run out of the flu test that morning, because so many people had the flu.

The doctor decided to treat it like the flu and gave him a prescription for Tamiflu, which worked minor miracles. It took a few days, but Eli got better each day, and he was in good spirits the whole time. We played a lot of Super Mario Galaxy together, which we both really enjoyed, and by last Thursday, he went back to school.

That was also the day that my throat felt pretty sore. No big deal--that happens sometimes with my allergies.

When I woke up Friday morning, I felt like a truck had run me over. If you've ever run a marathon and know how sore you feel the next morning, triple that. It was incredible. I practically had to crawl out of bed into the shower. Hot flashes, chills, aches.

My doctor only works half a day on Friday, and I couldn't get in two weeks before with two days notice, so I didn't even bother calling him. I just went back to bed.

Friday night, I did the following for nine hours:
--almost fall asleep for about 1-2 minutes
--change position
--repeat 500 times

Saturday morning, Gloria (correctly) said that I needed to go see a doctor, even if it was doc-in-a-box, because he could give me a prescription for Tamiflu.

So I did, and the doctor gave me a flu test that consisted of him putting a q-tip so far up my nose that another two inches and it would have been coming out of my ass. Then he came back in ten minutes later and said the test was negative and that I had a rhinovirus (cold). No Tamiflu, but he gave me an antiobiotic to prevent a secondary infection.

Just a cold. Boy, I felt silly.

I called Gloria from the car, and she said she was on her way to take Gracie (the world's smallest cat) to the vet because she had a two-inch gash in one of her legs.

Two-inch gash? On Gracie, that's practically half of her leg.

Well, hell, I just have a cold, right? So I volunteered to meet them at the vet, because Eli had a birthday party that morning where he got to paint a ceramic craft and have it fired (and believe me, he was excited about it).

I met them at the vet, and when I actually got to see the gash, I was shocked. I could see muscle. We had no idea how it happened (a stray claw from George was the most likely candidate, although he wouldn't have done it on purpose). The vet told me she'd have to sedate her to clean out the area and sew her back up, and she was going to have to wear one of those plastic collars for at least a week.

That's a relief, because it's not like Gracie is the most neurotic cat in the word or anything. Oh, wait a minute...

I have to leave her at the vet for several hours, then I went back to pick her up. I still felt completely horrible, but I was just kind of dragging through.

So Gracie got home--and proceeded to totally freak out. Every time that plastic collar bumped into something, she'd jump about three feet into the air. Actually, if she hadn't been injured, it would have been really funny. But it wasn't.

Saturday night, Gracie wound up tearing a nail out of her paw because she was so freaked out. Gloria took her to the emergency vet, who kept her overnight.

I woke up Sunday morning and still felt absolutely horrible. Slept about two hours Saturday night, which gave me three hours in two days.

Gloria picked up Gracie, now with a flexible collar. She was still so freaked out that we wound up just taking it off, which meant that we had to follow her around constantly to make sure she wasn't chewing on the bandage.

Eli came back from his Granny's and how HE wasn't feeling well again, and he had a fever.

Monday morning, Gloria took Eli back to the doctor--and he had strep. Good freaking grief. She also took Gracie back to the vet, because the bandage had to be changed, but they had to sedate her (again) to do it, because she went crazy in the examing room.

Gracie, not Gloria. I think.

This whole time, I'd gotten basically ten hours of sleep in four days, and I still felt like death. But with Eli sick and Gracie injured, there was no slack for me to rest during the day.

This morning, I went to my real doctor, who listened to my description of symptoms for the last four days and said "You have the flu."

Well, that explains a lot of damn things.

He also said that if quack-in-a-box had listened to my symptoms, he would have known that they were totally incompatible with having a cold, and he would have prescribed Tamiflu, which would have made a huge difference. Thanks for that.

I do feel better today, so I'm definitely on the back side of this, but damn! I haven't had the flu in at least fifteen years, and I had totally forgotten how it can just *uck you up beyond all reason.

So I'm a bit better, Eli 6.6 is much better, and Gracie is going back to the vet. Again.

Gloria should have strep any day now, I'm guessing. And if you hear a train crashing into something, no worries--it's just us.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Was Going To Call This Post "Young Electrons In Love," But That Doesn't Even Make Sense

This is so mind-blowing that I find it hard to even comprehend:
Scientists have filmed an electron in motion for the first time, using a new technique that will allow researchers to study the tiny particle's movements directly.

Yes, there's even a video.


I have mentioned many times in past posts that on the corporate level, Take-Two is "snakey." SEC investigations, highly-criticized accounting practices--every time you open up a door, a body seems to fall out.

So it should come as absolutely no surprise that there was slime afoot after EA made their offer. Herb Greenberg has the details:
According to an 8-K filing with the SEC, on February 14 (coincidentally the day before rejecting EA’s first offer, which had been made on February 6) Take-Two proposed several changes to its management deal with ZelnickMedia, whose top execs run Take-Two.

They include:
–Boosting ZelnickMedia’s monthly pay to $208,333 from $62,500 per month.
–Boosting the annual bonus to $2.5 million from $750,000.
–A grant of 600,000 shares of restricted stock that will vest over three years unless the company is acquired, in which case they’ll vest immediately.

This is where it gets good, and I’m somewhat paraphrasing from the filings:
The shares won’t vest immediately if, prior to the company’s annual meeting, which is expected to be before April 1, the Company received a bona fide indication of interest in, or offer to enter into, a business combination (which it did); the offer specifies, with some degree of particularity, the material terms (which it may have) and (my favorite) the offer’s existence hasn’t been publicly disclosed or confirmed by either company before Take-Two’s annual meeting. (Oops, definitely happened.)

That’s right: Take-Two received a rich and serious offer from a substantial company. It didn’t disclose the offer, and hoped to keep it secret until at least after the annual meeting, when investors might have challenged the compensation package and attempts by the company to block the deal. Then, in a public filing, Take-Two in effect threatened EA not to make the offer public by giving ZelnickMedia a chance to enrich itself, at the expense of shareholders, by granting restricted stock that will vest immediately if EA made the deal public.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't see how paying a 60% premium over the current stock price for Take-Two "undervalues" anything. And beyond that, EA accountants will have to wear hazmat suits when they look at the books.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

EA Bids for Take-Two

From Gamasutra:
Electronic Arts has put forward a formal offer to acquire Grand Theft Auto creator Take-Two Interactive in an all-cash merger valued at approximately $2.0 billion.

According to an announcement released mid-Sunday by EA, ahead of an early Monday conference call: "EA’s proposal of $26 per share in cash represents a premium of 64 percent over Take-Two’s closing stock price on Feb. 15th, the last trading day before EA sent its revised proposal to Take-Two, and a 63 percent premium over Take-Two’s 30-day trailing average price over the thirty trading days ending on that date.

Well, there you go. In another year or two, EA will own every single developer in the world, and everything they publish will come out with titles like these:
RPG 2010
FPS 2010

The executive board of Take-Two refused this offer, which is why EA made the offer public. And if you're wondering about the last time Take-Two stock reached $26 a share, it was in mid-2005.

I've unfortunately been sick as a dog for three days, so I don't have any further thoughts on this now, but when my head clears (insert your punch line here) I'll be exploring it in more detail.

Here's one more link I just saw: Kotaku has an interview with Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello about the offer.

Looking back on it, Riccitiello's "we blew it" presentation at DICE on February 8 (where he fell on his sword about how EA Borg'd many of the their studio acquisitions, and claimed to now be using an enlightened "city-state" model) seems to have been very conveniently timed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Links!

A wild assortment of time-wasters today, so I hope you don't need to finish anything at work.

First off, a must-see link from Edwin Garcia. It's hard to describe, but try to imagine a piece of classical music played by one man--on crystal glasses. About thirty glasses, I think, all filled with varying levels of water. It's both beautiful and mind-blowing, and you can see it here.

Here's another must-see video, this time from Paul Costello. In one of the best pranks I've ever seen, the Philadelphia Phillies (including the Assistant GM and the Manager) convinced pitcher Kyle Kendrick that he had been traded--to the Yomiuri Giants. Plus they caught it all on video.

From The Onion, one of my favorite articles ever: Local Girlfriend Always Wants To Do Stuff.

Kevin sent in two excellent links. First, can you say "Margaret Atwood" (author and Booker Award winner) and "hockey" in the same sentence? Yes, you can. The second link is to a story about Wakulla Springs, a remarkable location with amazing underwater caves. And if you want to see more, here are some maps.

From Ty Sleck, a link to an amazing story and video about how geckos beg sap-sucking insects for a taste of honeydew. Here's an excerpt:
The lizard repeatedly nods its head at the insect, called a plant hopper, until it flicks over small balls of honeydew for the gecko to dine upon.

Looking for a nine-pound frog? Geoff Engelstein sent in a link to the fossil.

From Sirius, a link to a story about how a group of Danish scientists can tell your age--with your eyes. Here's an excerpt:
Their new technique uses radiocarbon dating to measure special proteins known as lens crystallines that develop around birth and remain unchanged for the rest of our lives. They are the only part of the body apart from teeth that do so.

Here's a second link from Edwin Garcia, to what must be the largest private collection of music in the world. How large? Try 3 million records and 300,000 CD's, and it's up for auction on eBay. The third link from Edwin is to photographs of one of the oddest houses I've ever seen--the Nautilus Shell House.

From Don Barree, a link to what may be the discovery of the Amber Room. Here's an excerpt:
Could it be that more than 60 years after the end of World War II, the Amber Room has been found? Long-lost amber panels backed with gold leaf were stolen by the Nazis from the Soviet Union during the war. Now it appears they may lie in a man-made cavern 60 feet underground near the village of Deutschneudorf on the German border with the Czech Republic, Spiegel Online International reported. The Amber Room, below, created by German and Russian craftsmen, was a gift from King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia to his ally Czar Peter the Great of Russia in 1716. The possible discovery of an estimated two tons of gold was made over the weekend when electromagnetic pulse measurements found the cavern near a long-abandoned railway station. Heinz-Peter Haustein, the mayor of Deutschneudorf and a member of Parliament who led the search, said, “I’m well over 90 percent sure we have found the Amber Room.”

Actually, that was the entire story, not just an excerpt. And here's the Wikipedia entry if you're interested.

Finally, from Steve Davis, a link to an article titled Richard Feynman, the Challenger Disaster, and Software Engineering, which is a closer look at Feynman's dissenting opinion as part of the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Challenger disaster. Excellent reading, and there's a link to the full text of Feynman's dissent as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scott Halpin Interview

Erik Twait sent me a link to a radio interview done about ten years ago with Scott Halpin. It was a local show in Davenport, Iowa, and there's something very enjoyable about hearing him describe what happened.

EA Sports: O Canada

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear

With profuse apologies to Buffalo Springfield, what IS happening here?

EA's team sports games have been so dependably poor for so long that I never expected to see a great one again. My narrative about this was that EA's development process for annual sports game releases was so broken that the system itself ensured that great games wouldn't, couldn't, get made. This narrative had been so correct for so long that it seemed to be set in stone.

Deus ex machina, anyone? And can I even use the phrase "deus ex machina" in reference to a hockey game?

NHL 08 (360) is so extravagantly polished, so spit-shined, so gloriously fun that it must have come from someone else.

Sure, it's not perfect. There's not nearly enough action along the boards. Passes are tape-to-tape. Penalties aren't evenly distributed. Fourth lines don't get enough playing time. There's even a bug where a point gets awarded incorrectly in the standings in games where a penalty shot is taken. On very rare occasions, the puck might get stuck in or near the net.

Like I've always said, though, a great game overcomes its weaknesses. Damn, this game does that ten times over.

Positives? Hell, get a drink--this is going to be LONG.

First off, the game menus are logically designed. Almost everything is where you expect it to be, and almost every function in the game is easily accessible and easy to understand (with a few minor exceptions in Franchise mode, scouting in particular).

Loading times? Minimal. This game boots up and loads/saves dynasties faster than any sports game I can remember in this generation of consoles. The music is even well-selected.

NHL 08 goes completely against the grain of other EA team sports games, because it is totally flexible when it comes to presentation. As an example, if you don't want to see the scoreboard, you can completely remove it.

I've wanted that in sports games for years.

In this game, though, you don't even have to, because the scoreboard is both small as well as intelligently managed--when the puck nears the scoreboard overlay, the scoreboard simply becomes transparent. That's an example of the remarkable clarity of thought used in the design of this game.

Want to watch a CPU vs. CPU game to help in the development of sliders? No problem. That seems like a small thing, but it's not if you want to play a game seriously, because CPU vs CPU play is incredibly effective in developing effective sliders.

In addition to a clear, flexible design, it is impossible to overstate how fantastic this game looks in HD. It's shocking. And the framerate is silky-smooth at all times, so there are no gameplay sacrifices for the stunning look of the game.

Animation? It's fantastic, some of the best animation I've ever seen in a sports game.

Camera angles? Almost perfect, and hey, there's even more than one!

Sound effects? Spectacular.

Commentary? Superb, and particularly notable is the dynamic nature of the commentary depending on your strategy. If you try to do the same thing over and over again, you'll hear about it in no uncertain terms, and it sounds entirely realistic.

Controls? They're intuitive and easily learned, but that doesn't imply that they're inadequate. They're just not needlessly cluttered, and using the right analog stick for shooting feels totally natural.

Accelerated clock? Check. Fully playable minor league? Check. Just about everything else I can think of? Check.

The game does play too fast out of the box (adjustable with sliders), and like I said, it does play too "pretty," but man, it's just incredibly fun. Fun, fun, fun.

Here's one brief example of how well-designed this game is, and it's by no means the only example. When there's a stoppage in play for a face-off, there's a very brief replay while players are ostensibly skating to the face-off circle. During that replay, if you're using automatic line changes, you'll see a small overlay in the corner that tells you what line is coming on to the ice, and a simple push on the D-pad will let you cycle through the lines. The replay ends, the face-off takes place, and the line you want is on the ice. It's a small detail, but the small details are brilliantly handled in this game.

Money plays? I haven't found any. Superstar, in particular, is damned hard, at least for me. The A.I. is challenging and different teams play very differently, as they should.

Here are some sliders for Superstar difficulty, and some of the changes (game speed, pass speed, etc.) would apply to any difficulty level. Sliders are on a 0-6 scale.
Skill Level: Superstar
Game Speed: 0
Puck Control: 2
Fight Difficulty: 2
Fatigue Effect: 5
AI Learning: 6
Fatigue Recovery: 1
Player Acceleration: 2
Hitting Power: 2
Aggression: 4
Poke Effectiveness: 5
Pass Speed: 0
Saucer Pass Speed: 3
Pass Interceptions: 5
Goalie Passing: 2
Shot Accuracy: 6
Shot Power: 2
Shot Blocking: 3
Hook Effectiveness: 5
Penalty Shot Frequency: 6
Goalie Cover Puck Frequency: 2

Here's a fair question: if this game is so damn good, if it's sensational (it is), why didn't I write about it before now? There were a few little things I wanted to see addressed in a patch, as well as one not-so-little thing (a bug with penalty shots and how points are awarded in Dynasty mode), and I kept waiting for them to be addressed.

And they weren't.

At some point, though, I realized that this game's greatness even overcame the bugs, and by a wide degree. It's just a great, wonderful, fun game.

This game, by the way, was developed by EA Canada.

Coincidentally, every time in the last few months that I mentioned Winning Eleven/PES (which seems to be going sideways as a franchise, not forward), you guys would e-mail me and tell me to try the FIFA 08 demo.

Seriously, I thought, you must be kidding me. FIFA has been shit for so long that downloading a demo would be a waste of hard drive space.

Last week, though, I did download the demo, and I was totally shocked. Yes, it was just a demo, but that game has seriously improved. It's light-years ahead of any other version of FIFA I've seen in the last five years.

Oh, and it was developed by EA Canada as well.

Skate, which has gotten excellent reviews and breathed life into the skateboarding game genre? EA Canada.

What the hell is going on in the Great White North? NHL, in particular, is so much better than Tiburon's efforts on the NCAA/Madden series that it's downright embarrassing.

Do you hear me, Tiburon? EMBARRASSING. Every employee at Tiburon should be given a copy of NHL 08 and required to play for twenty hours, so they can understand how a team sports game should be made.

Sure, EA Canada has whiffed a few times. They also develop NBA Live (let me get a clothespin for my nose). Maybe even that game, though, has hope.

So when I talk about EA team sports games from now on, I will properly acknowledge EA Canada's efforts. As far as I'm concerned, NHL 08 is the Sports Game of the Year in 2007. And I'll be playing it for a long, long time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gaming Links

A few gaming links for you while I rue the cloudy skies that will totally obscure Eli 6.6's view of the total lunar eclipse tonight.

Times I will ever use the word "rue" again: zero.

Kotaku liveblogged the Microsoft GDC event. Of note: gamers will now have access to XNA games via Xbox Live Arcade, which is nifty, and information about Fable 2, including an outstanding co-op mode where you can play with your friend in his game, then take the experience you earned back to your game. That's quite a bit of awesome.

Also very cool is that there will arcade mini-games on Live that will be playable before the game is released, and the money you win in those mini-games can then be transferred into Fable 2.

Oh, and Gears of War 2 is coming out in November.

David Braben is developing a game for WiiWare called LostWinds, and N'Gai Croal has an interview with Braben that discusses the game. Here's an excerpt:
Who's the main character? What's the goal and what's the game play?
The main character is a guy called Toku, a young boy who's discovered this wind spirit that's trapped in a stone. You control both Toku using the device called the nunchuck. He's actually quite vulnerable, in terms of where he can go--also there are things in the world that are threatening--but you also control the wind spirit that he's able to release which is called Enril. And the wind spirit is controlled by the Wiimote.

By moving the Wiimote around, in different shapes, you can create gentle breezes of wind or strong gusts, or even by twisting it around, little sort of water sticks. The game overall is designed to be a really sort of graceful, beautiful experience where you're using these essentially two separate characters in combination, and that brings us all sorts of possibilities in the way the game works, which makes it feel very fresh.

The interview also has quite a few details on how Wiiware is going to work when it's rolled out on May 12.

Neil Sorens has written an article for Gamasutra titled Stories From The Sandbox, and it discusses how designers should place greater emphasis on turning player experiences into in-game stories.

I can't remember if I've linked to this before (that's my problem, really, not yours), but Vic Davis (Armageddon Empires) writes an extremely interesting and thoughtful blog called Forgotten Lore, and it's an excellent read.

Brandon Cackowski-Schnell, writer of the Mr. Binky's Random Stuff feature at GameShark, sends up No More Heroes this week. And also in regards to No More Heroes, D France let me know that he saw it on sale at his local Wal-Mart this week for $25. That is insane.

Finally, Jim Gindin, a legend in the text-sim genre, is celebrating the tenth anniversary of his founding of Solecismic Software by having a one-day sale on both Front Office Football ($19.95) and The College Years ($12.95). Those are terrific prices for the deepest football sims around. Just head over to the Solecismic Software website for details. Thanks to Craig Scarborough for the info.

That Guy

I swam today for the first time since I hurt my back last week. It was only for thirty minutes, but I was still very glad to be working out again.

In winter, after I swim, I'm cold and hungry. There's a Schlotzsky's (sandwich place) about a mile away from the pool, so I like to go through the drive-through, get a sandwich, and eat it in the car while the heater is is blasting.

I can't explain why I enjoy doing this so much, but I do. By the time I finish eating, I'm not hungry and I'm not cold. I'm so relaxed that I'm almost sleepy, and as poorly as I sleep, that's a good feeling.

So I'm eating my sandwich in the parking lot, and I look over to the side. There's another guy sitting in his car a few rows away from me, and he nods.

Oh, no. I've been acknowledged by The Guy Who Eats Lunch In His Car.

You know this guy. He drives a station wagon from 1985, and it's got a dog cage in the back, plus newspapers stacked up from fifteen years ago. If you look inside the window, you'll see paperback novels strewn all over the floorboards, too.

Then there's the seat cover. The Guy Who Eats Lunch In His Car will always, always have some kind of cover on the driver's seat, whether it's a towel or some kind of seat cushion (always with lumbar support).

He also has at least a dozen bumper stickers on the back of his station wagon, most of them so weathered as to be almost unreadable.

During the work week, he eats lunch in his car, and he's done so every day since 1983. He almost missed a day in 1991, when there was a torrential rain and his roof was leaking. He'd duct-taped clear plastic to the roof of his car, but water started leaking out the sides. He almost gave up and went inside, but instead he drove to a car wash and just sat in one of the bays.

It doesn't matter how hot it is outside--it could be a hundred degrees, but The Guy Who Eats Lunch In His Car will have the windows rolled down. And his hair will never, ever, look like it's been combed.

So I'm looking at this guy, and I realize he's nodding to me because he thinks I'm like him.

Sure, I'm not driving a station wagon, but I've got almost everything else. I've got the driver's seat covered with a towel (I'm not completely dry). I've got the uncombed hair (I just got out of the pool). I've got the clutter (I've got my work clothes in the back seat, and a jacket, and I've got all my swimming gear in the front seat).

Damn. I'm only twelve bumper stickers and a dog cage away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

January NPD Analysis: Another Source

Matt Matthews has been doing some consistently thorough analysis of monthly NPD numbers for a while now, and he's put up another excellent installment here.

Gaming Links

Only a few links today, but they're all strong.

First off, The Blog for the Sports Gamer has a podcast interview with legendary designer John Cutter. Just go to the front page and click on the link for Riding the Pines, episode 11.

N'Gai Croal has an excellent two-part series titled "Objection: Is the Cultural Trajectory of Videogames Doomed to Parallel That of Comic Books?" Read them here:
part one
part two

Game Tunnel has published their top ten independent games for 2007, both overall and by genre. You can links for all the award categories here.

Thanks to Rob for letting me know that Brian Crecente had written an article for Kotaku titled No Gods or Kings: Objectivism in BioShock.

Finally, James Fudge of the new gaming website Crispy Gamer let me know about a contest they're having, and the prizes are huge. See the details here.

Console Post of the Week: the Microsoft Mystery

Again, here are the January NPD numbers:
Wii - 274,000
PlayStation 3 - 269,000
Xbox 360 - 230,000

Let's see if we can develop a working theory in regards to the Xbox 360.

Microsoft, two days before NPD results for January were announced, addressed the 360 inventory shortages by saying they were the result of "unforseen demand."

Briefly, here's a summary: horse and shit.

Here's a quick explanation of why--take a look at sales of the original Xbox in previous Decembers (after the first December of the console in 2001):

That 1,260,000 units sold in December for the 360 wasn't "unforseen" at all. If anything, it was probably right on target, and there seemed to be plenty of units available.

Then, supply started drying up. Significantly.

The current status? Here's information from a source who wishes to remain anonymous:
All X360 hardware is currently being allocated on a weekly basis to all direct customers. We've heard that product may not flow freely again until the late spring or early summer. No news (or even rumblings) about new hardware SKUs. If it's happening, the info may come at the Microsoft Vision conference in late July.

I think it's reasonable to assume, based on both this e-mail as well as Microsoft's own statements last week (particularly Don Mattrick's interview where he says that supply issues will be addressed "in the coming year"), that this is not a short-term issue.

In addition, here's a nice piece of sleuthing from Skip Key, based on his analysis of of this excerpt from Microsoft's quarterly earnings report:

"Cost of revenue decreased $523 million or 22 % during the three months ended December 31, 2007, primarily driven by decreased Xbox 360 manufacturing costs."

Skip's take:
We know that they shipped 4.3 million consoles during the quarter. So if 100% of the cost of revenue decrease came from manufacturing cost decreases that would be $121 per console. So let's say that "primarily" means two-thirds. That would be cost savings of about $80 per

Clearly, the "Falcon" unit (65nm CPU, 176w power supply) is cheaper to manufacture. And lower manufacturing costs, which Microsoft desperately needed, must be a key part of their strategy in 2008.

What this means is Microsoft wants to ship as many Falcons to retail as possible. But would they want that cost advantage so desperately that they would stop shipping the 90nm units with HDMI?

I don't think so. The ongoing potential revenue stream created by the sale of a console is far more important, seemingly, than saving $50-$80 on manufacturing costs. Microsoft seemingly wouldn't willingly endure severe inventory shortages for months--it would be nearly suicidal in the third year of a console (which should be a huge year for sales as prices decline).

It is possible, though, that they anticipated a much greater shift in manufacturing toward the Falcon unit than they've been able to achieve, and they've been unable to ramp up production of the non-Falcon unit quickly enough to respond.

At this point, all fingers seemingly point to the Falcon unit, either in terms of reliability or yield. I don't think anything else fits the information that is available.

Of course, I could be absolutely wrong.

On to Sony, and clearly, they've won the format war. HD-DVD is dead, and all these recent announcements of retailers ending their support of the format is just kicking the corpse around. [note: I wrote this Monday night, and this morning Toshiba announced that they're pulling out entirely by the end of March, so the corpse is now interred.]

Sony also had stronger sales in the U.S. in January than many people (including me) expected: 269,000 in a four-week period is a very nice month for them. If that kind of demand continues, even though it's well short of PS2 numbers, it's still leagues above last year's fiasco.

Did the lack of availability of the Xbox 360 increase Sony's numbers? Not substantially. I think the line between the two units is pretty clearly drawn at this point: if you want a game machine, you buy the 360, and if you want a "convergence" device that also plays games, you buy a PS3. I don't think there's a huge amount of crossover among potential buyers, at least not at this point.

I should have known why Nintendo's numbers were so low in January, because the answer was obvious: diverting manufacturing capacity to support the launch of Super Smash Brothers Brawl in Japan. It's easy to see when you look at the last five weeks of sales in Japan:

That's over 80,000 units a week in a market that is much smaller than the U.S. (about half its size, depending on which number you want to use). That means two things (at least): one, Nintendo still can't meet demand, and two, we can expect to see a ton of units to support the SSBB launch in the U.S. on March 10.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Dead Drop

I walked into Gloria's study while she was sitting at her computer.

"That article I sent you on super delegates is pretty interesting," I said, walking away.

"Hey!" she shouted.

I turned around. "Yes?" I asked.

"I wanted to talk," she said.

"We just did."

"No, you walked in, said something, and left," she said. "You do that all the time."

"Oh, I see," I said. "When you say you want to talk, you mean to each other."

"Yes," she said.

"That's risky," I said.

"I can't wait to hear why."

"Well, women see communication as leading to all kinds of positive feelings, but men don't have feelings," I said. "To us, communication is foolhardy and often dangerous. We far prefer the dead drop approach."

"The dead drop?" she asked.

"It's a communication method commonly used in espionage--or marriage," I said. "The agent leaves information at an agreed-upon location, where it is retrieved at a later time by a second party."

"Great," she said.

"If that's not enough, we could try a brush pass," I said.

"Don't even think I'm going to ask," she said.

Your E-Mail

Victor Godinez (who covers technology for the Dallas Morning News) sent me an interesting response to the article I linked to on Friday titled "Why Mainstream Media Hates the Internet, Games, MMO's, and You." Here it is:
As much as we all love a good conspiracy theory, the idea that the mainstream media feels threatened by games is absurd. Ha! I wish games commanded that kind of attention in the mainstream media.

The truth is that the vast majority of media professionals haven't played a video game since Pac-Man.

The news business is a predominantly middle-aged profession. And while we like to talk about the proliferation of older gamers and Wiis in nursing homes and so forth, gamers are still largely young people. So most of the people in the news biz roped in to write the occasional game article simply have no experience with the medium.

They don't understand games, and so they report poorly on them. But it goes unchallenged, because most consumers of mainstream media are also older than the average, so all they know about games is what they see or read from the uneducated reporters.

It's a vicious circle. And I'm not even sure it's one that will be corrected as more young gamers become journalists, because, frankly, young people aren't going into journalism. When I started at the Morning News in 2000 in the Business section, I was one of five or six reporters in our 20s. Today, every one of those young reporters has moved on to jobs elsewhere, and I'm the youngest reporter in the section at 30.

Games don't get bad coverage because the mainstream media hates games.

Games get bad coverage because the mainstream doesn't understand games.

Scott Halpin

Judy Farnsworth e-mailed to let me know that Scott Halpin passed away on February 9.

His death made me think about momentary fame and its benefits--or consequences.

Very briefly, Scott Halpin went onstage with The Who and played drums for three songs with the band during a concert in San Francisco after Keith Moon passed out and was unable to continue. Halpin was nineteen years old.

What does a moment like this do to your life? Is it something that you always remember fondly, or does it make the ongoing real world seem lifeless in comparison? And does the memory sour with time, or does it live undiminished in your mind?

I assume that answer varies depending on the character of the person involved, but it seems like Halpin handled it very well. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
Scot Halpin was born February 2, 1954, to Elizabeth and Richard Halpin, of Muscatine, Iowa. He grew up in Muscatine, showing early promise as a visual artist and musician. In the early seventies, he moved to California, where he met his wife and life-time collaborator Robin Young at City College in 1978. Halpin went on to earn an MA in Interdisciplinary Arts from San Francisco State University.

Halpin became composer in residence at the
Headlands Center for the Arts, in Sausalito, California, and played with a number of bands over the years, including: The Sponges, Funhouse, Folklore, SnakeDoctor and Plank Road. While on the West Coast, Halpin and his wife managed a New Wave punk rock night club, The Roosevelt, before moving to Indiana in 1995 to pursue opportunities in the visual arts.

From 1995 until his death, Halpin resided in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife Robin and son, James.

Maybe his fame only lasted for fifteen minutes, but Halpin seems to have lived a satisfying and successful life.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Links!

Stop working and start reading already. And have a great weekend, too.

Up front, here are a few gaming links before we get to everything else.

First off, a link to an article written by Tateru Nino titled Why Mainstream Media Hates the Internet, Games, MMOS, and You/, and it's an excellent and provocative read.

Steven Kreuch sent me a link to Readers Should Get Game-Literate, a remarkably forward-thinking article for The Guardian. Author Alistair Harper's basic contention is that every new form of media is dimissed as being "non-art"--often for decades. Yet every new media eventually reaches the point that some of it is, indeed, art.

From CVG, a link to The Many Deaths of Lord British. Remarkably, he could be killed in every game in which he appeared, and this article will tell you how.

From Edwin Garcia, a link to Second Skin, a documentary about how gamer's lives have been affected by MMO's. The trailer is excellent.

As it turns out, Napoleon wasn't poisoned, and it's a fascinating read to find out why.

From Geoff Engelstein, a link to an astounding story about holographs, and here's an excerpt:
University of Arizona optical scientists have broken a technological barrier by making three-dimensional holographic displays that can be erased and rewritten in a matter of minutes.

That's right--rewritable holographs.

From Ken Rahmoeller, a link to a story about nano-fiber clothing. In combination with physical movement, the clothing can generate enough electrical current to power portable electronic devices.

From Brad Galloway, a link to a story about Monty Reed, who has created an exoskeleton power suit . He didn't do this at a high-powered research laboratory with millions of dollars of funding--he did it in his basement.

Jessie Leimkuehler let me know that there's a lunar eclipse on February 20, and I found a very nice description of what causes a lunar eclipse (with animations to illustrate) for Eli 6.6 here.

From Milos Miljkovic, a link to what surely must be one of the best story headlines ever--Police: Crack Found in Man's Buttocks.

Here's an offbeat link from Edwin Garcia. Photographs taken with large amounts of people standing in patterns were popular in 1915-1920, and you can see some of them here. Number two from Edwin, and it's a stunner--Room With a View: Houses in Isolation. The photographs are amazing. Then there's The Man Who Unboiled An Egg, a fascinating look at Hervé This, France's most famous chemist and his research into the science of cooking.

From DQ Fitness advisor Dough Walsh, a link to a story about Bob Sapp, who went from a brief NFL career as an offensive lineman to becoming a superstar in Japan as a K-1 fighter.

From John Catania, a link to the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Quotes, a list of the top quotes in American film history.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rock Band #105

[note: this post is from Tuesday (forgot to put it up), before I hurt my back.]

I finished five-starring all songs on Medium with the drums today.

The drums are insanely fun. If you've never tried it, please do, because it's a great time waiting to happen.

If you're wondering what your score might be if you five-star everything on Medium, 5.5 million is a good guess. That's where I wound up. If you 99% everything, you might be able to get to 6 million, but you're probably capped out there.

Even though I don't write about Rock Band nearly as much as I did in the first few weeks, I'm still playing every day for at least half an hour. It's just become part of the day, because it's too much fun to miss.

MLB '08: The Show (PS3) Demo

I downloaded the demo and it lets you play three innings in a game with the Red Sox vs. the Rockies.

It's an "A." Outstanding.

Two things, in particular, stood out for me:
1. The fidelity to real life of where balls were fouled based on the type of pitch and its location. Very, very impressive.
2. In most sports games, there will be a ton of animations that break immersion--a player suddenly running at top speed after a play is over, for example, or players accelerating unrealistically. Immersion breaking animations that I saw in three innings: ZERO. The animations are truly spectacular.

The full game should be in stores March 4, and I can't wait.

January NPD

Full analysis on Monday, but here are the numbers (thanks Kotaku):
Wii - 274,000
PlayStation 3 - 269,000
Xbox 360 - 230,000

A few quick observations.
--that is a HORRIBLE month. Combined unit sales of 773,000 in a four-week reporting period are flat compared to combined sales of 974,000 in a five-week period last year. Zero growth from last year overall, and that's with the 360 and PS3 both available at a lower price.
--PS3 did well in terms of comparison to Nintendo and Microsoft, but both were supply-constrained. It's to Sony's credit that they aren't--I don't care if they're drowning in inventory, it still means people can walk in and buy a PS3 whenever they want.
--it's obvious that Microsoft "addressed" the inventory issues this week with the NPD's in mind. And their explanation that demand surprised them during the holidays is totally ridiculous. Like I said, something's going on there.
--with no Wii's available and the sales number so low, it means Nintendo did a very poor job of supply in January.

Why do I think those numbers are so poor? Look at January sales for the PS2 in comparison:
2002 - 350,000
2003 - 440,000
2004 - 340,000
2005 - 490,000
2006 - 270,000
2007 - 299,000

None of the next-gen systems are even at their midpoint in terms of lifespan, but they're selling like the PS2 on the downside. Ouch.

Like I said, full analysis on Monday.

First (Lost) Tooth

Eli 6.6 has been in the process of losing a tooth for the last two weeks, but it just kept hanging on.

"The easiest thing to do is get some pliers and just yank it out," I said.

"No!" he said, laughing.

"There's always the string trick," Gloria said.

"What's the string trick?" he asked.

"Well, you get a piece of string, tie it around the tooth, attach the other end of the string to a doorknob, and--"

"SLAM!" I said.

"NOOOO!" he shouted.

"I'm not sure that would even work," I said. "To be completely sure that we get the tooth, I think we need to go to the rope technique."

"The ROPE technique?" Eli asked.

"You take a rope and tie it around the loose tooth," I said. "Then you take the other end and tie it around a car bumper. I start the car, revvvvvv the engine, and stomp on the gas pedal."

"ARGGHHHH!" Eli said.

"Either your tooth comes out or the car bumper falls off," I said.

It finally fell out on Sunday, by the way.

I've piled up a few Eli lines that I'll give to you all at once.

Last night, Eli was talking to Gloria about Melanie, a girl in his first grade class. "She's a nice girl and she's really sweet," he said. "But I don't X and O her."

Yesterday, he saw me hugging Gloria in the dining room. "Hey," he said, "why are you hugging when you're not leaving?"

We were watching an Avatar episode together and Avatar Roku gave a warning speech to someone whose life he was sparing. When Roku was finished, Eli said "Now THAT was a mouthful of frightening."

Last week, we were all downtairs together and Eli said he wanted to go up and play on his own in his room. On his way up the stairs, he said, "You might hear a LOT of rampage."

Finally, last week he found a die I had from some long-forgotten game. He asked to borrow it, rolled it, looked at the face on the die, and said "YES! I remain in human form!"

Believe It Or Not, An Update On Meat Hooks

Back in July of 2004 (the 22nd, to be exact), I had a post about meat hooks. More correctly, about people hanging from them. Here was an excerpt:
MIAMI - Police in the Florida Keys are mystified by a bizarre new pastime — young people dangling themselves from meat hooks on a popular sandbar.

The vagaries of sandbar popularity are well beyond me, but the mention of "young people" dangling from meat hooks certainly got my attention. String six of them closely together and I think you'd have a wind chime.

Last week, I received an e-mail from someone whose screen name I will not include in full, but started with the word "Madame." The subject of the e-mail was "About your blog on meat hooks." Here's what she wrote:
There are laws against it unless it's in a church and done for religious spiritual purposes. It originates from tribes using it for spiritual purposes. What happens when you pull on the hooks embedded in your skin over your shoulder blades is that all the endorphins in your body release. It produces a natural high and sets you in a euphoric state. This is why kids do this. It's not technically an illegal or foreign substance, but you seemed extremely disturbed by it.

I prefer my excruciating pain to be involuntary, but that's just me.

"Madame" was very polite, actually, so thanks to her for writing in. And yes, she mentioned that she won a meat hook tug-of-war contest in a piercing parlor once.

The next sound you hear will be me hitting the floor when I pass out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Console Post of the Week (Hmm)

Thanks to Skip Key for sending me Major Nelson's preview of his new podcast:
In my first interview with new Xbox boss Don Mattrick, we discuss why he came to Microsoft, the first game he wrote, the current Xbox 360 shortages and more.

Hmm. Major Nelson teed up inventory shortages as a topic.

So Microsoft felt the need to address this.

I downloaded the podcast, and here's the exchange:
Major Nelson: ...I've gotten a few e-mails from folks and they're having trouble finding Xbox's. What's going on there? I figured I've got the boss here, so I'm going to put you in the hot seat.

Mattrick: Well, look, we'd hoped to have a strong showing in North America this holiday season, and we had a stronger showing than anticipated. So we had some shortages--we weren't able to deliver enough hardware against the demand that was in the market. That's a great problem to have. We're addressing that in the coming year. It's going to take a little time for us to amp up our manufacturing, but we're really encouraged that people purchased as many games and as many boxes as they did on our platform, and we think that bodes well for the future.

Based on that statement, I am now 99% convinced that Microsoft is either preparing new units or having serious reliability problems (still).

Here's why. For one, Mattrick is making it sound like the shortages were during the holiday season, but to the best of my knowledge, they weren't. I could have walked in to plenty of places and bought a 360 at any point in December.

The shortages are happening a month and a half after the holiday season.

Plus, his statement that they had "a stronger showing than they anticipated" doesn't wash. Did they not expect console sales in September to double from 2006 with the introduction of Halo 3 and a lower price?

Interestingly, in November-December of 2006, unit sales of the 360 were 1,641,000 in the U.S. (NPD figures). In November-December of 2007, unit sales were 2,030,000. That's a 23.7% increase. Their manufacturing plan didn't anticipate an increase of sales of roughly 25% after a price cut and with the strongest lineup of software in gaming history?

No way. That doesn't pass the smell test, no matter which nose you're using.

Also not passing the smell test is this statement: we're addressing that in the coming year. It's going to take a little time for us to amp up our manufacturing...

Again, no way. Using "the coming year" as a timeframe is a huge red flag. That was planted solely to buy them some time.

Something's going on, and it's big.

Sins of a Solar Empire Contest

Dan Spezzano over at Old Board Gamers Blog is having a contest to give away a copy of Sins of a Solar Empire. Contest details are here.

Buzz has been very, very high on this game, and I've got a copy but haven't installed it yet.

Second Thoughts

Last night, I was going to take Eli 6.6 out to dinner, then over to Randall's to get Gloria some flowers for Valentine's Day.

"Dad, do we HAVE to go to Randall's?" he asked.

"We do," I said. "We're going to look for flowers for your mom."

"All considerate husbands get their wives flowers on Valentine's Day," Gloria said to Eli.

"Oh," he said. "Okay."

Hmm. "Considerate husband." Maybe those dog-themed Valentine's Day cards with the punch lines "Fleas" and "Couldn't you just pee from all the excitement?" weren't such a good idea after all.

MLB 08: The Show

Much to my surprise, a demo for MLB 08: The Show will be released for the PS3 tomorrow (February 14).

To me, releasing a demo that early is a great sign, and the development team has been nothing short of outstanding in terms of communicating with the community. So even though I have zero interest in real baseball anymore (thank you, steroid taking glove weasels), I'm really looking forward to this game.

Getting Old, Part #79

This morning I sat down for about twenty minutes to look at e-mail and check news. After I finished, I stood up.

At that moment, the day moved to a different arc.

I suddenly couldn't move. Something in my mid-to-upper back totally seized up. I just stood there, not believing how much it hurt, thinking it must just be a cramp or something.

No such luck.

What I always forget about back pain (until I have it again) is that it screws up everything. Breathing hurts. Moving hurts. Sitting still hurts. And lifting--don't even think about it.

Here's how bad it was this morning. After I got back upstairs (took me ten minutes to walk up the stairs), I was going to lay down for a few minutes, hoping that would relax my back muscles. For some inexplicable reason, I decided to brush my teeth first. So I did, and I started to lean over to the sink faucet to rinse my mouth out.

Couldn't get there. I couldn't bend forward far enough to get my mouth to the running water. I had to cup water in one hand and sort of throw it at my mouth.

After I stayed in bed for about twenty minutes, I felt a little better, so I got up and tried to keep moving (moving gently actually helps your back, not hurt it). Even when I sat down, I kept moving slightly.

By noon, I was feeling a bit better. Then I sneezed.

I swear, every muscle in my back locked up at the same time. Gloria was home for this one, and she was talking to me, but I couldn't hear her. It was incredible. I've had all kinds of sports-related injuries before, but this was one of the single most painful things that's ever happened to me.

I have no muscle relaxers (of course), and my doctor is out of the office on Wednesday afternoons (of course). Outstanding.

Iron Dukes

Kieron Gillen of the entirely indispensable Rock, Paper, Shotgun posted about Iron Dukes this morning.

Iron Dukes, if you remember, is the fantastically creative Flash Game that--well, Kieron describes it just about perfectly:
It’s basically a much more playful Pirates with a splash of RPG-elements and a tongue-in-cheek Steampunk approach which brings to mind Mike Mignola’s delirious The Amazing Screw-On Head. Except even sillier.

Let's see, in that one sentence I thought I'm in at least six times.

There's a link to a preview build, which is every bit as fun as it seems like it should be. And since it's a Flash game, you can play it from your Web browser.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spore: September 7

N'Gai Croal is all over this one, as he has the release date announcement and a lengthy interview with Will Wright over at Level Up.

As always, Will sounds like he was beamed to us from the distant future, and I mean that in a good way.

Sports Ugh, Part Two

There's an interview with Peter Moore in the Wall Street Journal today.

According to the article, sports games accounted for 40% (1.3 billion) over EA's overall sales in their last fiscal year (which ended March 31).

In the U.S., revenue from those sports games dropped by over 10% last year, to $777 million (in a calendar year comparison).

Here's an interesting excerpt:

Mr. Moore says one problem is the tight annual release schedule of sports games. "That quite frankly puts a lot of pressure on our innovation and quality," Mr. Moore says. "The team knows we need to improve."

That "tight annual release schedule" is entirely of EA's choosing, by the way. But when sports games account for 40% of the company revenue, it's never going to change. EA has locked itself into terminal quality failures, unfortunately.

Here's another excerpt:
Mr. Moore also has a more adventurous plan to broaden the visibility of EA Sports. The company recently struck a partnership with IMG Worldwide Inc., the New York-based sports-management and entertainment firm that represents top athletes, including Tiger Woods, to explore putting the EA Sports brand on a variety of consumer products and services, from soccer balls to tennis camps for kids.

If you thought Moore was brought in to improve the quality of the sports games, well, sorry. Peter Moore was brought in for one reason and one reason only: to expand the brand. Expanding the brand generates more revenue from the brand.

Will expanding the brand improve the quality of EA's sports games in any way? Sadly, I think we all already know the answer to that question.

Console Post of the Week

Darrin Gosse of solved the puzzle I presented last week, and in doing so, corrected an error on my part.

The puzzle was this: how did Sony sell 4.9 million PS3s in their last fiscal quarter when it was absolutely clear that consumers did not buy that many?

Darrin's answer was: they didn't sell them to consumers.

Here's my mistake. When Sony said "Begining with the quarter ended June 30, 2007, the method of reporting hardware and software unit sales has been changed from production shipments to recorded sales," I thought that "production shipments" meant shipments to retailers, and "recorded sales" meant sales to consumers.

Darrin correctly pointed out this quote from Kaz Harai in a Bloomberg article:
``We haven't made any conclusion whether we have to give it up,'' Hirai said, referring to this fiscal year's 11 million shipment target. ``It depends on how aggressively dealers buy our PS3 inventory.''

That seems to clearly indicate that Sony "records" sales when retailers buy PS3s for stock, not when a consumer buys a unit. And I should have caught that, because the phrase "recorded sales," in retrospect, is perfectly obvious.

Well, except to me, apparently.

So this means that Sony didn't need to fudge that 4.9 million number. They're saying that they shipped 4.9 million to retailers during the quarter.

By my best estimate, they sold 3.5 million.

Thanks to Darrin for correcting me, and it also brings up an interesting sidenote. Seemingly, this means that when Sony was talking about "production shipments" for the first three quarters of the PS3s existence, that was how many they built. I don't see any other way it can be interpreted, unless there's some kind of intermediate stage between building and shipping to a retailer--"stored in a warehouse," for example.

Either way, that number was totally meaningless as a gauge of consumer demand.

Now, here's an interesting possibility (one among several this week). If Sony shipped 1.4+ million more units to retailers than sold to consumers in the last quarter, that's a bit of an inventory pile-up in the retail channel (although I don't think it's nearly as egregious as how Microsoft stuffed the channel last year during the holidays).

In Sony's Q3 earnings report, they make this notation:

Inventory, as of December 31, 2007, was $1,605 million, which represents a 77.2% increase compared with the levels of December 31, 2006. This increase was primarily due to the build-up of finished goods inventory following the worldwide expansion of the PS3 business. Inventory decreased by 26.2% compared with the level as of September 30, 2007.

On July 2 of last year, I wrote this:
Somewhere in Asia, in a warehouse (or several), Sony has 1-2 million PS3s.

Hey, based on their inventory numbers, it sounds like they still do. And that's still down 26% from the last quarter. So they're sitting on vast quantities of inventory, and it looks like the retail channel is already full.

Having said that, though, if they can somehow get to $299 this year, at least they seem to be headed in the right direction in terms of pricing and advertising.

One last note from Darrin before we move on. He pointed out that Microsoft reported selling (to retailers) 900,000 Xbox 360s in North America in 2005, while NPD numbers indicated that only 607,000 were sold in the U.S. Even accounting for Canadian sales, that still leaves a sizable discrepancy, and I remember inventories being very, very tight for the 360 that holiday season. Yes, I know it was two years ago, but his point is that Microsoft's numbers, at times, are also suspect.

Point taken.

I intended to talk about the challenges Sony and Microsoft face this year (Skip Key, in particular, did an interesting analysis of the information contained in the earnings reports), but I've noticed something very interesting recently.

It appears that 360 inventory in the U.S., to some degree, is drying up.

I say "it appears" because this is an analysis that is impossible to do precisely. It's actually overstating things to even call it an "analysis." However, based on both anecdotal reports and iTrackr, it does seem that inventory for all three 360 models is significantly lower than during the holiday season.

I know what you're thinking. I totally agree that iTrackr isn't absolutely accurate, and it simply indicates whether product is in stock at a retail location, not how many units might be in stock. However, even with the qualifications, when inventory for the Premium unit was consistently on iTrackr above 75% during the holidays, and now it's dropped below 30%, it appears that something's going on. And Elites are in even shorter supply.

Here's some anecdotal information on the ground to back that up, provided by DQ reader Rafael:
I've got an ongoing story to add as well as a question to ask. I'll start with the question: So how's the Xbox 360 supply situation out in Texas?

The reason I'm asking is that I've decided to pick one up so I can play Halo 3, etc., and they're just about impossible to find around here (and "here" includes a big swath of territory, as I'll get to in a moment).

I made this decision about 3 weeks ago, thinking I'd pick up one of the Costco bundles for a good deal. But I wanted to pick up a post holiday bundle to avoid the extra risk of a RROD failure so I decided to wait for a bit. They also had accidentally put out a sign for the upcoming (I thought) Call of Duty 4 bundle, a good reason to wait.

At the same time, a woman was picking up her second 360 in a month after the first had died. The assistant's comment, "Oh yeah, we've been getting a lot of those back." A bad sign for my Costco bundle approach.

Regardless, our local Costco had run out of Halo 3 at the discount price, so on a trip up to the San Francisco Bay area ~2 weeks ago I swung by the Mt. View Costco to see if they had any, and managed to pick up a copy of the game at $50. But I was surprised to see no 360s available. No worries, I was satisfied to wait some more. Still I made a quick decision to pull into another Costco (this time in Gilroy) on the way back to Santa Barbara. Still no 360's, so I decided to ask if they had any (in case they were somewhere unexpected in the store). The kind lady looked it up on their computer, and found out that they had sent back the previous shipment and had absolutely none in the store. Sent back?

Anyhow, back in Santa Barbara I waited until they had sold out of the holiday bundles, only to find no Call of Duty 4 packs replacing them. After another session of looking up the inventory history I was informed that the store had only ever had 5 of that bundle, 4 of which had already been returned (holy crappy reliability Batman!) The assistant assumed that the 5th had been sold and for some reason wasn't coming up in the system. So I made some calls around town (and did some internet searching all the way down to the Ventura, Thousand Oaks area, about an hour south of here) and no one has a new 360 pro in stock.

So what's going on? There seem to be four possible explanations for this:
1) The 360 is absolutely selling through the roof, and retailers can't keep the Premium and Elites in stock.
Likelihood: zero. The 360 may be selling well, but for the inventory numbers to change this dramatically after the holidays, there must be another explanation. If this really is true, then the NPD numbers for the 360 in January will shock all of us.

2) The 360 is still experiencing hardware issues, and Microsoft has temporarily reduced shipments in an attempt to fix the problem.
Likelihood: not impossible, certainly. The company (Microsoft) telling us that the Falcon has a failure rate below 5% is the same company that denied were reliability issues with the original 360 for over a year.

Here's a personal data point. I took my Rock Band drums (the defective ones, which have now been replaced) to the UPS store to ship them back to EA. I was asking the lady about returns in general, and I asked her about the 360. "We still get four or five of those every day," she said.

If there is a reliability problem, it's going to be impossible to keep quiet, most notably because it would require financial adjustments that would be reflected in their earnings statement. So if it's happening, we're going to find out eventually.

3) Microsoft is trying to drain all non-Falcon units from retail inventory.
Likelihood: it's certainly possible. If their ability to ship Falcon units in volume has increased significantly, Microsoft might want to drain the retail swamp of all non-Falcon units as quickly as possible to contain financial reserves for repair costs going forward (in other words, the 90nm unit's repair costs would be off the books sooner). Still, though, when the PS3 is available absolutely everywhere, that would seem to be a move that Microsoft might not be able to afford right now from a competitive sense.

4) They're about to unveil new units.

Likelihood: this is, by far, the most interesting possibility. In a strictly "machine" sense, I don't think the $349 Premium unit compares favorably to the $399 PS3, and Microsoft isn't stupid--for all their marketing bluster, I'm sure they realize it, too.

It's entirely possible that I am totally misinterpreting a temporary inventory drawdown. I just think it's very, very strange that a console entering its third year, after being widely available during the holidays, is having any kind of inventory drawdown at all.

If this apparent shortage continues, I think we will know pretty quickly what's going on. And again, this is certainly one of the most speculative limbs I've ever climbed out on--I could be 100%, absolutely wrong here.

I know--"and that would be different from normal in what way, exactly?" Comedians.

News To Get Your Sports Day Off To A Crappy Start

From Kotaku:
Electronic Arts today announced that they've extended their exclusive agreement with the NFL and the Players Association for another three years, meaning the publisher has the only agreement in place with the league for creating licensed football games through the 2012/2013 season.

"We've just completed a period of renegotiations with the NFL for a three year extension of our current deal," Peter Moore said in an interview with Kotaku.

Super. So that means another three years of an announcer who sounds like he's using a tin can and a string. Crap animations, half of which run at the wrong speed. Crap A.I., some of which will get fixed in a patch that gets issued several months after the game is released.

Oh, and one camera angle. Nice.

Seriously, the Madden series is a perfect example of a developer and publisher having a total disconnect with quality. Actually, with the exception of the current version of NHL, EA Sports has a total disconnect with quality in its entirety.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Live in Rome

Thom Moyles sent me a link Saturday with this comment:
This might be the most impressive live performance I've seen on YouTube.

I was curious, because Thom is a really, really bright guy, but it was a link to a Talking Heads concert in Rome in 1980.


I've always appreciated the Talking Heads in terms of their intelligence, and like everyone else, Stop Making Sense blew me away, but a big part of that was David Byrne's mesmerizing performance in that big white suit. I never understood them as a band nearly as well.

Like I said, though, I was curious, and I was 10X more curious when Thom mentioned that Adrian Belew (King Crimson) was playing with them.

The song was "Crosseyed And Painless," and Thom was right. It's incredible. Nine people on stage, and somehow all the different instruments and voices blend almost perfectly. It's not David Byrne and a bunch of other people--it's a band. And it's fierce.

There are 10 different songs in this Rome concert, and I think they're all available on YouTube. I've seen about half of them, and they're fall fantastic. So here's the link to Crosseyed and Painless, and if you're interested, the rest are easy to find.

A Few Questions

N'gai Croal wrote a thoughtful column for Level Up about the controversy over Mass Effect.

A controversy over explicit sexual portrayals that simply weren't in the game, it should be noted.

N'Gai has an interesting angle, though, and it's about the lack of defense coming from BioWare itself. Here's an excerpt:
...we can't help but feel as though something is wrong when the loudest and most visible voices in defense of Mass Effect were journalists and suits. If this were a painting, a novel, a play, a movie or a television show being made by an artist or artists as successful in their medium as BioWare has been in videogames, it's hard to imagine that a gallery owner, a book editor, a theater producer or a studio exec would be at the forefront of setting the record straight about their work.

There's a bit of an ostrich mentality in this industry when it comes to controversy--Microsoft, as best as we can tell, issued not a single statement refuting Lawrence's claims--and it's understandable given the low cultural profile that videogames occupy compared to other media, which makes it easy for critics and politicians to turn game makers into political pinatas when it suits their purpose. But
as much as we've criticized people in the media for continually infantilizing videogames, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the relative silence of the creators--the ones who have the deepest understanding of what videogames are, how they function and what they can become--aids and abets this infantilization. In order to sit at the grown-ups table, culturally speaking, developers are going to have to act like adults. And that means not letting other people do their fighting for them.

I don't know if I entirely agree with his conclusion, but N'Gai's writing is provocative, and it made me think of other questions that emerge from what he wrote.

Most particularly, what exactly are we defending, and why?

This sounds like an extremely simple question, but it's awkward, because for different games, the answer seems to change.

An example: if Mass Effect really did have more sexually explicit scenes, I think almost all of us would defend it on the basis of art.

Other games, though, have essentially zero redeeming value as art (hello, Postal). Those games would be defended on the basis of free speech.

Does it make sense, though, to have different defenses for different games? Should we have different defenses? And should we defend all games?

I'm not pretending that I have the answers to these questions. I just think it's interesting to ask them.

Here's an example. It's very easy for me to defend a tasteful, passionate scene in Mass Effect which is the result of relationship that develops over time. It's very difficult for me to defend a gameplay mechanic in the Grand Theft Auto series where you can beat a hooker to death with a baseball bat to get your money back after being "serviced."

It's even more difficult (impossible, really) for me to defend the Postal series, which (to me) is just fried hatred on a stick.

So how do we defend sexism, and racism, and homophobia in games?

Well, we don't. I think it's possible to defend the right of content creators to create content which we find distasteful or reprehensible on Constitutional grounds without defending the content itself. In other words, in situations like this, we are defending the First Amendment, not the content.

Like I said in a previous column, though, the First Amendment is not a free pass to be a dickhead. So I think the creators of Grand Theft Auto, while they should be defended on First Amendment grounds, should be criticized on Asshole grounds.

Postal, too. I think it's entirely fair to say "we are defending you and you are a complete asshole."

It's not a game we're defending. It's the principle of free speech, which is the foundation of the Constitution and any functioning democracy. And I think the people who are foaming at the mouth about video games don't understand this distinction because we don't make it clearly enough.

Yes, there's the Miller Test (the Supreme Court's three-part criteria for determining whether content is obscene) and the possibility that if video game content were found obscene, it would no longer have First Amendment protection. The Miller Test is so difficult to satisfy, though, that it's highly unlikely that any game capable of finding a publisher would ever fail the Miller Test. Because of that, I think that uniformly using a First Amendment defense is entirely reasonable.

Again, though, defending content is not the same thing as approving that content. We need to make that clear.

Clarification is useful in the other direction, too.

Let's look at the primary example. Here's the money shot for every critic of video games: they're marketed to and played by children.

Okay, that's an entirely fair objection, on its face.

Except--what is the face of that question, exactly? How do these people define "children?"

Surprisingly, that's not as simple as it sounds. I typed "define: children" into Google and came up with the following definitions:
--"an individual who has not yet reached puberty"
--persons under 16 years of age.
--persons under 14 years of age.

I'm sure I could have found dozens more if I'd kept looking, but clearly, there's no single definition of what age range "children" actually constitute.

It matters, though, because of the impact that words can have. For example, a far more supportable claim would be "violent games are marketed to teenagers," and I think that's an entirely legitimate area for discussion. But if you use the word "teenager," doesn't that conjure up an entirely different emotional response than using the word "children?" It resizes the issue, doesn't it?

That's why the definition matters, and that's why we need to ask "the other side" just what the hell it is they're talking about.

It also matters when "children" buying violent video games becomes a hot topic. "M" rated games are only supposed to be purchased by people who are 17 or older, and I think almost all of us agree that it's entirely reasonable for games to have ratings and purchase restrictions that are based on content and age.

The latest government survey says that 42% of "children" were able to walk into a store and buy an M-rated game. They specify, though, that the kids they used as shoppers were all aged 13-16.

In other words, every kid in that purchase group is a teenager.

Do you respond differently in an emotional sense when it's more accurately described? I do. It's an entirely different discussion if it's accurately framed.

I'm not saying we shouldn't care if 13-year olds can buy Grand Theft Auto. We should. We do. But using the word "children" expands the emotional content of the issue exponentially, and unfairly.

The ESA would really, really help itself if they committed themselves to doing a larger survey than the government, and with far greater clarity in terms of data breakdown. Have data for 15-16 year olds and 13-14 year olds split out. Include 11-12 year olds. Hell, include 9-10 year olds.

To forestall any objections, share your methodology before you conduct the study with the most reasonable organization you can find from the "other" side (the PTA, perhaps). Allow them to have a representative present when these product buys are attempted. And be advised on building proper methodology by recognized experts in sociology.

Look, having accurate, more complete data isn't going to hurt the gaming industry. It's going to allow them to respond appropriately to what the data tells them.

N'Gai mentioned in his column that the gaming industry has an "ostrich mentality" when it comes to controversy. It certainly does when it comes to this issue, at least in terms of data. In other ways, though, the ESA has done better in the last year, particularly in terms of partnering with the PTA and politicians at the national level.

There's only one way to approach this strategically, and it's easy to understand. Let's say that half the country is comfortable with video games, and the other half is absolutely outraged. The first thing you do is find the most reasonable 5% out of the outraged 50% and find out what they're concerned about. If they have a factual misunderstanding about what's going on, help them understand. If they have legitimate issues, address them.

I think the partnership with the PTA and politicians in terms of public service announcements would qualify as this kind of strategy.

Just keep working through the outrage, 5% at a time. Correct factual inaccuracies, address legitimate issues, and keep chipping away. At some point, when the legitimate issues have been addressed (and procedures are in place for monitoring on an ongoing basis), the only people still outraged will be those who are totally out of touch. And all the groups you've partnered with to get to this point will defend you against the fringe.

If you make a legitimate and honest effort, sweat equity will go a long way.

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