Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jonathan Arnold, a link to a fantastic Flash depiction of the Journey of Mankind.

A co-lead this week comes from Simon van Alphen, and it's spectacular: an 11-year old girl playing her own arrangement of YYZ on keyboards. It's impossible to understand how brilliant this is unless you see it for yourself.

Have you been longing to read a story about an expedition to capture a live specimen of the most poisonous snake in the world? If so, today is your day.

From Sirius, a link to a story about the function of octopus tentacles. Six arms, two legs, in case your wondering. Also, a link to the discovery of some relatively pristine saber-tooth cat fossils in Venezuela. Finally, a link to an amazing exoskeleton that helps paralyzed people walk.

From Andrew, a link to a detective story, but with a twist:
Two teenage girls used DNA bar coding to determine that some sushi on New York dinner plates was mislabeled with cheaper fish being passed off as a more expensive species.

From DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand, a link to a story about bridging the Uncanny Valley. Her name is Emily, and the video is quite astonishing.

From Sean, a link to a wonderful animated short by Chris Appelhans about Superman and a friend. The rest of the work on his site is excellent as well.

From Brandon Cackowski-Schnell, a link to a story about Leland Chee, who is in charge of the Holocron, otherwise known as the Star Wars continuity database.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a story about a grow house being found--in the Mall of the Americas. Good thing I watch Weeds, or I'd have no idea what this was about. Also, a link to the ultimate treehouse. Then there's a link to an article about one benefit of high gas prices: fewer traffic fatalities. Finally, a link to Duilian-High Road, a video of martial arts choreography.

Gamers With Jobs has a terrific article by Alex Martinez titled Assumed Ownership, and it's about buying a virtual car.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to an Olympic athlete you probably didn't notice: a 200-meter runner from Somalia.

From John D'Angelo, a link to a Martian sunset.

From Geoff Engelstein, a link to 15 Images You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped, and it's well worth taking a look.

From David Gloier, a link to a story about a post-war salvage operation on the Thames that has discovered seven shipwrecks.

From Colin Austin, a link to the A1 Steam Locomotive, a private venture to build a Peppercorn class A1 Pacific steam locomotive. There's video here as well.

From Steven Davis, a link to a story about the Zephyr-6, a solar powered plane that stayed aloft for over 83 hours.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Boy

"Dad!" Eli 7.0 was standing on the stairs.

"What's up, buddy?" I asked.

"Look at my pants!" he said. The legs of his sweatpants were almost completely covering his feet. "I think I shrinked," he said.

"Shrink? How can you shrink?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said, "but either my pants grew or I shrinked."

"Dude, you can't shrink," I said, and started laughing.

"Hey!" He said. "LOOK AT MY PANTS." Gloria started laughing, too. "People, I think you should be taking this a little more serious--" Eli lifted up his shirt, which revealed that the waistband of his sweatpants was barely above the bottom of his underwear.

"Okay, then," he said. "Never mind."

Rock Band #117

Entertainment Weekly has a story today about full album releases for Rock Band 2, and here's a list of what we can expect in the future:
Foo Fighters (The Colour and the Shape)
Red Hot Chili Peppers (Blood Sugar Sex Magik)
Jane's Addiction (Nothing's Shocking)
Megadeth (Peace Sells... But Who's Buying)

Stevie Ray Vaughn (Texas Flood)

Yes, that is Stevie Ray Vaughn, and yes, that's Texas Flood. If you've never heard that album, it's an absolute masterpiece.

In general, that is a stellar album lineup, and I also saw an article last week that there is a new training speed called "breakneck," which I assume is even faster than 100%. Again, that was one of the features I was really hoping to see added, and it fuels my fears that Harmonix has implanted a chip in my brain with direct data download to their offices.

Drum lessons have gotten very difficult lately. I'm trying to learn some more complex beats, particularly complex in use of the kick pedal, and it's driving me crazy. I can play everything fine at a lower speed, but when I start playing the specific song during the lesson, full speed just kills me.

This week, though, I've got something very interesting to learn: the main beat of Synchronicity II. The reason this is so interesting is that it's the first time one of my lesson songs is also a Rock Band song. So this will be an excellent test case of whether playing the song in Rock Band will train me to play the main beat on a real drum set.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I just want to thank you guys for being entirely awesome. The Graham Wilkinson CD has gone out of stock at CD Baby three days in a row. It goes out of stock by mid-afternoon, stock is refreshed the next morning, and it sells out again. Thank you very, very much.

Order Up!

A few weeks ago, I did something that I've never done before: I pre-ordered a game based on the creativity of the developers website.

The developers were Super Villain Studios, and their upcoming game was Order Up!, for the Wii. I ordered the game and hoped that it was half as clever as their website.

As it turns out, it's absolutely as clever as their website, and it's a fun (and funny) game.

There are many things to like about Order Up! The graphics are bright and cartoony, which is entirely in keeping with the style of the game. The plot and dialogue are quite funny. The controls make excellent use of the Wiimote. Most importantly, it's fun to play.

Here's the basic premise: you're hired to work at a fast food burger joint, and after some minimal training in using the grill and the fryer, you're set loose on the world as a chef. You progress through multiple restaurants, preparing many different dishes (15) in each location. Each dish has multiple ingredients that must be prepared and combined to create the final dish. You slice, chop, peel, grate, boil, saute, fry, and grill (I probably forgot something there), and all make use of the Wiimote for special motions, which are done very well. The preparation at each step is rated, and the overall dish quality heavily affects the size of your tips, which are necessary to buy kitchen upgrades, spices, and to hire sous chefs. As your restaurant increases in star level, more and more customers come to your restaurant, as many as four people will sit at the same table, and preparing meals for them can get quite crazy, since they have to be finished at the same time (meals can't sit indefinitely--they'll get cold).

Set the kitchen on fire? I did. Health inspectors? Yep.

It's all complex enough to be satisfying, but the game has a terrific sense of humor, so it stays relatively silly as well. You live in Porta Bello, and the restaurants have names like The Gravy Chug and El Fuego. The plot is inspired as well, and I laughed out loud many times while I played the game.

The only real problem with Order Up!, from a value standpoint, is that it's short. A single playthrough only takes 5-6 hours, so even if you play through on both difficulty levels, the game is over far too soon.

Order Up! also gets the 7-47 Stamp of Approval. Both Eli 7.0 and I really enjoy playing the game, and the humor is broad enough that Eli understands most of the jokes.

1UP And A Curious Inflation

On July 10, I wrote a post titled The Great Horn Of Bullshit, in which I discussed this claim of Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello:
All Metacritics were higher once upon a time because it was ten professionals rating them. Now, sort of anybody with a pen can rate them and it ends up with a bit of a wider track some times.

Based on a comparison of review averages from four "professional" sites (IGN, Gamespot, EGM, and Gamespy) for the major team franchises of EA Sports from 2000-2008, there was no negative bias from "anybody with pen" compared to the "professionals." I also didn't find any positive bias from the "professionals."

I forgot, though, about 1UP.

In the original post, I intended to use 1UP as the fourth "professional source," but the review data didn't go back nearly as far as the other sites I chose. Today, though, I saw their review of Tiger Woods 09-- an "A."

Hmm. Madden got an "A" as well. NCAA got an "A-." Do they just give every EA Sports game an "A"?

No, not exactly, but the padding above the average Metacritic score is pretty remarkable. Let's take a look at the letter grade given in the review, as well as the variance from the average Metacritic score. Please note that in converting the letter grades, I used this scale: "+" is an 8 (98=A+, 88=B+, etc.), no modifier is a 5 (95=A, 85=B, etc.), and "-" is a 2 (92=A-, 82=B-, etc.). Also please note that Gamerankings (data source) often has a score listed in the "all reviews" section that doesn't match the letter grade given in the actual review (like listing an "85" when the game was given an "A-" in the actual review). Because of that, I looked at each review individually to verify the letter grade.

Madden NFL 09=A (+9, 2nd highest of 26 reviews)
NCAA Football 09=A- (+7, 3rd highest of 20 reviews)
Tiger Woods 09=A (not enough reviews yet)
UEFA Euro 2008=B+ (+8, 3rd highest of 39 reviews)

Fifa Soccer 08=A (+12, highest of 47 reviews)
Madden NFL 08=A (+13, highest of 51 reviews)
NBA Live 08=C+ (+5, 15th highest of 39 reviews)
NCAA Football 08=A- (+10, highest of 31 reviews)
NCAA March Madness 07=C+ (+8, 7th highest of 30 reviews)
NCAA March Madness 08=C+ (+8, 4th highest of 22 reviews)
NHL 08=A (+10, 2nd highest of 43 reviews)
Tiger Woods 08=B (+6, 11th highest of 49 reviews)
UEFA Champ League 2006-2007=C+ (+4, 13th highest of 29 reviews)

Wow. That's 8.5 points higher, on average, than the Metacritic average. And the average review was in the 15th percentile of all reviews.

I started off with EA Sports games, but 1UP score inflation is a nearly equal opportunity employer. Team sports games from other publishers also fared well in the last two years, although the variance was less-- only +5 points, on average.

Average variance for the 20 games I tabulated?
1UP +7.45
EGM -2.35
IGN +2.37
Gamespot -2.13

If you're wondering which site had the least positive or negative variance from the average review score, the hands-down winner was Gamespot. And if you're wondering why Gamespy isn't included, it's because I completely forgot. That happens when you get old.

For some reason, until I compiled this data, I actually thought that 1UP had the most accurate sports reviews, but clearly, that was wrong. Big wrong.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Too Human Review

Chris Kohler reviewed Too Human for Wired, and he does an excellent job (much better than I did) of capturing both the game's potential and its failings. You can read the review here.

Acting! Genius!

"No under sevens are allowed," Eli 7.0 said. "There are scenes of shooting, harming, and killing." He was flourishing a plastic lightsaber in the backyard.

Since Eli's so into Star Wars right now, there are daily performances of "scenes." Today's scene incluced Boba Fett, Lando Calrissian, Hans Solo, Darth Vader, a hacky sack, a switchblade comb, tree climbing, robe climbing, and an unfortunate death.

I had almost no idea what was going on, but it still made more sense than the plot of Too Human.

Public Service Announcement

I started a new workout program last week to supplement my swimming schedule.

"Attention, family," I said. "I'll be increasing my muscle mass to a level that can only be described as huge in the next few weeks. I don't want you to be intimidated or afraid--it's still me, just in new and significantly more awesome form. Feel free to use words like 'ripped', 'shredded', and 'yoked' to describe me as soon as they apply. In addition, I may wear a cape."

"Dad's crazy again," Eli 7.0 said.

"Again? When did it ever stop?" Gloria asked.

Head Coach, Madden patches

In the best news of my entire football season, Head Coach is getting patched. The fix list is here, and it covers at least 90% of my original criticisms of the game. In other words, with the successful completion of the patch, people will be playing this game for the next five years, because it's just that good.

Also, I'm always hammering the Madden team (for what I think are entirely justified reasons), but they've also announced a second patch with a substantial list of fixes (list here). That's a much better effort than they've made in the past, and much more prompt. Also, this was mentioned:
We have officially started building the "Sim Madden Gamer" DLC pack, which includes Accelerated Clock, a "Classic" Controller Configuration, CPU Sliders, and Community Gamerpics for 360. I'll state again that there's no promise that this goes through, but we have nearly every one of these features actually 'done' internally, so now we have to figure out how to get Microsoft and Sony to allow us to release them.

Two things. One, the easy way to make sure that something is in the game is too include it in the shipping version. The accelerated clock, controller configuration, and CPU sliders were ALREADY IN last year's game, and the dumbasses took them out. Two, if EA tries to charge us for this (the phrase "DLC pack" seems ominous), the Madden community will go thermonuclear. [UPDATE: the original post has already been updated with the phrase "totally free," so no worries here.]

Thankfully, that's not going to be my problem. Head Coach is great, and Madden's franchise mode is so weak that I'm not interested.

One Hundred and Ninety-Nine Minutes of Too Human

In the end, I didn't make it to five hours.

I've never played a game with a more incomprehensible plot. I've also never played a game that provided less context for the plot. Time-shifting, dimension-shifting, forward, back, sideways-- is really should've been called"WTF: The Game."

Combat is incredibly repetitive, as you might expect from a game that owes more than a little to Diablo. And the combat mechanics (left stick is directional, right stick chooses attack), while they worked decently with large numbers of enemies (everywhere), seemed to break down in boss battles, where more precision is required.

Yet, somewhere in here, there was a good game, maybe even an excellent one. If Too Human had been released in 2005, as a launch game, I think it would have been well received. In three years, though, expectations for both gameplay and narrative have increased substantially. In today's terms, too much of the game is just clunky.

I do think the game is getting reviewed more poorly than it should be because Denis Dyack couldn't keep his mouth shut and antagonized so many people in the last few years. If this game came from an obscure Russian team and had no developer ultra-hype prior to release, I think its average review score would be 5-10 points higher.

Like I said, there are moments, and if you are a huge fan of Diablo, you should check out the demo. But it's impossible to recommend this game at $60 when Fate (on the PC) is only $20, and Fate is a better game in every way.

Not Fate II--that's a different development team entirely.

If Too Human proves anything, though, it's that Fate designer Travis Baldree, even though he gets one-fiftieth the attention, is a much better designer than Denis Dyack.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Graham Wilkinson CD

I mentioned last week that I would let you guys know when the new Graham Wilkinson CD was available for purchase on CD Baby. It's listed now, and it's a beautiful and powerful piece of music.

Here's the CD Baby link: Graham Wilkinson. If you'd like to hear songs from the album, long previews of each one are available on the CD Baby album page. Two of my personal favorites are "Eviction" (which has stunning lyrics) and "Personality Disorder."

You guys are always great about responding when I make a personal appeal, and I would truly appreciate it if you would take a moment and purchase this album. Graham is a phenomenal musician and songwriter, and his music makes a difference. It's important, and I rarely use the word "important" when I talk about music.

I am so certain of this album's brilliance that if you buy it and are (for any reason) disappointed, you can send the CD to me and I'll refund your money.

Thank you very much for taking the time to support a great musician.

Welcome To Your Forties

I swam this morning, and when I got out of the pool, I saw a mom in her thirties with her two children. We exchanged pleasantries, and then she said "do you swim often?"

"Pretty often," I said.

"I don't know if this is a compliment," she said, "but when you were in the water, I thought you were in your twenties."

Thank you. And ouch.

Too Human (two hours)

Too Human, or as I like to call it, Diablo Moves To Norway, was released last week. Reviews have been generally unkind, but I was curious enough to take a look for myself (thanks Gamefly).

What I was most curious about was the story, which is unfortunate, because it's generally gibberish. So many disparate elements are thrown together, seemingly at random, that nothing makes sense. It could have made sense, but there is absolutely zero context given for anything that is happening.

In dramatic narrative, and particularly in games, it's not uncommon to have a big reveal at some point that pulls the rug out from under the audience. That's fine, and Too Human apparently has one of those moments at the end of the game, but right now, I don't have a rug. I have nothing.

That's a huge problem, because the rug is the only reason that a reveal has an impact. Without something to stand on, there's nothing there to be yanked.

And "having nothing" isn't just in a narrative sense, it also involves the game's mechanics. Since you're routinely dispatching hordes of enemies, there are lots and lots of treasure drops. And they have interesting names, like Professor Legerdemain And His Magical Mid-Rise Briefs.

Okay, that's not an actual item name, but it's not much of an exaggeration.

None of these items, though, seem to have any explanation attached to them, and that's seemingly true of almost everything in the game. So instead of being able to appreciate the cleverness, I feel like I'm walking around wearing a gigantic "WTF?" sweatshirt.

I'll give you an update when I reach five hours. I may not make it past that point, but I'm committed to play until then.

The International Whistle Waits For No Man

My friend Mike called me and said that I needed to watch the men's gold medal basketball game at the Olympics. I hadn't seen it, but I did have it on tape, so I sat down last night to watch.

We won, which I mention really as an afterthought, because I think the combined payroll of the U.S. men's basketball team is probably $200 million a year. So they should win, and win easily, even given the differences in international rules. That's not to say that I don't like the guys who were on the team, because in most cases, I do. It's just that if you're getting paid $10 million a year (or more) to play basketball, certain expectations should go along with that level of compensation.

It was an excellent game, and extremely well played on both sides, but I was struck by one thing in particular. Almost every player on the U.S. roster is a superstar in the NBA, and the NBA has a gigantic problem with officiating. In short, superstars will get half a dozen marginal calls, at least, in almost every game, so these guys have become accustomed to getting almost every close call in their favor. It's like the NBA version of Animal Farm: all players are equal, but some players are more equal than others.

In this game, though, that wasn't happening.

It was totally fascinating to see these guys play in an environment where the refereeing was neutral. They weren't getting the calls, and they couldn't work the referees. It was an interesting dose of reality for a bunch of guys that really don't have to deal with reality on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Knowledge

After eating dinner Saturday night, we stopped at Starbucks on the way home to have dessert.
"How's your carrot cake?" I asked.

"Good," Gloria said. "A little stale, but good."

"It's all made in China," I said.

"It's what?" She asked.

"Made in China," I said. "All the Starbucks carrot cake is made in Carrot Cake Town, and in the center of the city is a big statue of carrot cake. You can't miss it--it's between Underwear Town and Children's Athletic Shoe Town."

"Good to know," she said.

On our way out, we saw a food bowl. "Oh, that's so nice," Gloria said. "They must be feeding a cat."

"I only hope the Starbucks doesn't get closed," I said, "because if it does, that cat gets killed."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Links!

Robert Ripley himself would be amazed by these links, so abandon your carefully prepared schedule and start reading.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to Dude, Pimp My Bike Sound System , a story about Trinidadian teenagers in Queens who are building custom speaker platforms for their BMX bikes. See the pictures and be amazed. Also from Edwin, a link to a wonderful artistic exhibit called cartoon skeletons. Then there's a link to a story about University of Miami freshman Jamshed Jehangir, who decided to bicycle to college--from Illinois.

From DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand comes a link to a remarkable piece of technology: software that can enhance a video by using still photos. Ben also mentioned that at some point in the future, completely rendered locations for films will be created entirely from photos.

From Don Barree, a link to an alternate take of the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight. Batman: quite the mumbler.

From Sirius, a link to a new way for scientists to find pollution: they listen to plants. Here's an excerpt:
By shining a laser beam on the tiny pieces of algae floating in the water, the researchers said they hear sound waves that tell them the type and amount of contamination in the water.


Also from Sirius, a link to another story about honeybee blight--this time, in Britain. And Sirius gets the hat trick with a link to an article about self-recognition in birds .

Here's a link from Franci Cermack, and it's a doozy: the discovery of a portal to a mythical Mayan underworld. Here's an excerpt:
Archeologists say Mayans believed the underground complex of water-filled caves leading into dry chambers — including an underground road stretching some 330 feet — was the path to a mythical underworld, known as Xibalba.

According to an ancient Mayan scripture, the Popol Vuh, the route was filled with obstacles, including rivers filled with scorpions, blood and pus and houses shrouded in darkness or swarming with shrieking bats, Guillermo de Anda, one of the lead investigators at the site, said on Thursday.

The souls of the dead followed a mythical dog who could see at night, de Anda said.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a high-definition photo of icy jets erupting from the surface of Enceladus, and it's a stunner. Also from Jesse, a link to the discovery of a comet that's thirty miles wide.

From Matt Anderson, a link on the lighter side--that is, if you think hail exploding out of a toilet qualifies.

From Sean, a link to the Staten Island boat graveyard .

From Ty Sleck, a link to an outstanding short film that is part of Goodbye to the Normals , and please be advised that one f-bomb is dropped.

Skip Key sent in a link to two videos that will enable you to imagine the world in 10 dimensions. Unless you're me, that is, because my head exploded. If you make it to the first video, dimensions seven through ten are here.

From Andrew Borelli, a link to an amazing bit of forensics investigation: the identification of mummified hand and are found in an Alaskan glacier. Also, a link to an article about making your own Pop Tarts .

From Gloria, a link to a video of Andreas Helgstrand and his 9 year-old mare, Matinee, at the World Equestrian Games. This horse, um, dances.

From David, and this is an amazing link, galleries of photos of the Burj Dubai Skyscraper. If that doesn't ring a bell, it's the skyscraper that will be over 800 meters high when it's completed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Famiglietti

Eli 7.0 and I have been watching the Olympics every day for the last week and a half.

Eli's hooked up into the concept of three medals for each event, but it's difficult for him to understand what an achievement it is to even make it to the Olympics. We were watching Anthony Famiglietti in the steeplechase, and he finished 13th in the finals.

"That was a great run," I said. "It's incredible to make it to the Olympic finals."

"But Dad," Eli said, "he was TERRIBLE. He didn't even get a medal."

I thought about this for a day or so, trying to think of a way that I could help Eli understand that being thirteenth in the world was totally fantastic.

"Dude, let's try something," I said.

"What?" he asked.

"Let's find all the pennies we can," I said, "and stack them as high as we can. I want to find out if every person on earth was a penny, and we stacked them all together, how high they would be."

"But we won't have enough pennies," Eli said.

"That's okay," I said. "If we know how high a hundred pennies would be, we can figure out how many times we have to multiply that to equal the population of the world."

So we did. One hundred pennies were 5.625" high. When I checked, there were 6,836,412,600 people in the world.

Let's just cut to the thrill, even though I'm sure I got the math wrong somewhere: the stack of pennies would be 6,069.25 miles high.


Thirteen pennies are .75" high.

"See, little man," I said. "Anthony is in the top inch of over 6,000 miles of pennies. That's what it means to be thirteenth in the world."

"WOW!" he said. "He's GREAT."

Dear Mr. Famiglietti:
I know you didn't win a medal, but your place in the pennies still kicks ass.

Upside-Down World

There was an infamous YouTube video last year that showed a glitch in Tiger Woods 08 where a player could actually hit a shot while standing on a lake. The guys who made the video called it the "Jesus Shot", and it was hilarious. It was also quite sad, in its own way, because Tiger Woods used to be one of the EAs most vibrant franchises, and it's basically been destroyed in the last few years.

Now EA has put out a video using footage from the bug video, then showing the real Tiger Woods seemingly walking on water and hitting a shot from the middle of a lake. Then you see "it's not a glitch. He's just that good" on the screen.

Let's review. The quality control at EA Sports is so poor that now they're making fun of their own bugs. Maybe they can make a video of that putting motion in TW where every player brings the putter back to knee level (which should roll the ball about eighty feet), no matter the length of the putt. "It's not a glitch. That putter is made out of foam," the caption can say.

Wait, here's one more. Somebody could show the speed of defenders and pursuit angles in NCAA 09 on the left half of the screen, and on the right half of the screen they could show similar footage from a Pop Warner football game. I bet the Pop Warner kids on defense would both be running faster and using better pursuit angles.

The caption? "Programming pursuit angles are hard."

Mini Console Post of the Week

The Xbox 360 sold 24,962 units in Japan last week. The PS3 sold 9,673.
Seriously. I'm not high.

The release of Tales of Vesperia caused this relative stampede, and incredibly, the PS3 has outsold the 360 by less than 2,000 units in the last four weeks.

Oh, and 360s are in very short supply in Japan right now. Sold out. And again, let me reassure you that I am, in fact, not high.

I said this before, but Microsoft has doggedly pursued Japan, and while they might be making painfully slow progress, they are making progress.

Many of you sent me a link to a 1UP article about Dave Perry's presentation to the Games Convention Developers Conference in Leipzig-- in particular, this excerpt:
When discussing the current console race, he brought up some interesting statistics that he obtained from research firm DFC Intelligence. According to Perry, Sony has lost more money selling PlayStation 3s than it made selling PlayStation 2s during the entire five years of its peak. So basically, all of the money Sony made on hardware last generation -- it's already spent more to sell the PS3 at a loss so far. Some estimates put that loss at $3 billion.

That's interesting, and certainly not surprising, but it's also somewhat misleading. Comparing the hardware loss for the first 18 months of the console versus the five prime years of the console isn't much of a comparison-- far better to compare the first 18 months of each console's lifespan against each other.

Regardless, I don't think there's any dispute that Sony has lost gigantic truckloads of money selling the PS3 so far. They overdesigned the hardware, they're not going to catch up in this generation, and it was a disastrous strategic move on their part.

Twelve Angry Men, Minus Eleven

In one of the most remarkable and methodical defenses of a game I've ever seen, Daniel Weissenberger of Game Critics has gone positively Henry Fonda on IGN's review of Alone in the Dark.

For the five of you who remember, the moment when Henry Fonda stabs the knife into the juror's table is just like this article. And for the 99% of you who haven't seen Twelve Angry Men, it's a terrific movie.

I can't comment on the merits of Daniel's arguments, as I haven't played the game. However, his words are so passionate and compelling that I'm seriously thinking of trying it out. See for yourself here (thanks to Level Up for the link).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Head Coach (part two)

One more note about the draft before we move on. After the draft concludes, rookie contracts need to be negotiated. In other games, this usually takes place in one shot immediately following the draft, but not in Head Coach. Instead, rookie contract tasks will show up at different times in the clipboard. Your number one draft pick may not choose to negotiate his contract until five days before camp starts, and the contract negotiations (in another piece of great design) are in real time, so if you run out of time without reaching an agreement, the player remains unsigned until he comes back to the negotiating table.

Why does that matter? It matters because the rookie has zero familiarity with your playbook, and in this game, that matters. He needs reps in practice and in games to be familiar with the scheme you're running, and he's not getting them if he's not in camp.

Oh, by the way, you also get to invite some undrafted rookies to camp. That's a great detail.

Let's move on to free agency, which is also handled in an interesting way. First off, you have to be organized--looking at the list of available free agents and selecting your potential targets is crucial.

When the free-agent period begins, you don't get to bid automatically on any player you want to sign. Instead, free agents show up as tasks in the clipboard, and when that happens, you can enter into a real-time bidding session in competition with all other teams who want to sign a free-agent. The focus on a single player at a time, and the real-time bidding atmosphere, is very intense--and very fun.

Not all free agents will show up in the clipboard, because not all free agents are interested in signing with your team. So even if you have a boatload of salary cap room, that premium defensive end you want to sign may not be available. Plus, if you overspend early in the free agent period, you may not have enough cap space left to bid on players you desperately want who show up later. Again, this adds an element of variation inside repetition that is so crucial to successful sports games.

I think that's an important comment on the design in general--there is a tremendous amount of variation inside repetition, and it makes the game so much fun to play.

I can't possibly discuss all the features that Head Coach has, not even in a dozen posts, so let me use playbooks as an example of the tremendous depth this game contains. I started a game as head coach of the Chiefs, and the first thing I wanted to do was install new offensive and defensive playbooks. Again, in a regular game, that's no problem--all players have full playbook knowledge immediately. In this game, though, each player has three possible states of knowledge for each play--unlearned, learned, and mastered. This knowledge is only gained through repetitions, both in practice and in games. Plus, and this is even better, play knowledge will slightly decay over time, which is a terrific bit of design. Deciding on a practice priority is a balancing act, because you can't possibly do everything you want.

Which is the point, really. In general, there are no "absolute win" decisions in this game, which makes it far more interesting and challenging to play.

The tremendous amount of complexity and sophistication in this game would be entirely unmanageable were it not for the well-designed interface. This is actually more detail than I would normally even want in a sports game, believe it or not, but it all plays out so well in the gaming sense that it works, and works extremely well.

Also, and I haven't mentioned this previously, the graphic design and layout of the interface is outstanding--bright, full of color, well laid out, and very visually appealing.

So what's not to like? It's not a long list, but let's take a look. First, there's no question that the game needs a patch-- there are enough bugs that need to be fixed that a patch is absolutely mandatory for this game to reach greatness. Having said that, though, it's only a fraction of the bugs found in the NCAA and Madden. If you're curious about those bugs, as well as temporary workarounds suggested by the dev team, the Operation Sports forums are a good place to start.

Second, the actual playing of games is not nearly as good as the management aspects, and for this, we can thank the Madden 08 engine, which is what Head Coach uses (there's also a "Super Sim" option, but it has its own issues). I've had a difficult time finding a good gameplay balance during the actual football games, and I'm still tinkering with sliders in an attempt to achieve a better balance. There's also a significant gameplay issue that occurs in the last two minutes of the half or game. When a team starts running a no huddle offense, you lose control of selecting plays. The problem is that your team will continue running the same play until there's a dead ball situations. Yes, you can use a timeout, if you have any remaining, but this is still a very clunky moment for a brilliantly designed game.

The developers have been tremendously active in the Operation Sports forums, even after release, and they've mentioned that they're working on a solution. I think something as simple as assigning a hotkey to signal the quarterback to spike the ball would work just fine on offense. A solution on the defensive side of the ball is not so simple, but I know these guys can find a resolution, because so much of the game design is superior.

How does Head Coach compare to Madden? I can't tell you, because Head Coach has been so good that I still haven't even put the Madden disc in the tray. Not once.

Head Coach is a huge game, but it absolutely bursts with energy. It's incredibly absorbing and involving, and it does something I didn't even think was possible: it makes the players on your roster seem human, instead of just being numbers on a spreadsheet. That is high praise. With one patch to fix the issues that have been identified, I believe this game will deserve mention in the same breath as the very best versions of the Front Page Sports: Football series, and I consider that Hall of Fame territory.

One last note: this game is so tremendously deep that I highly recommend purchasing the Prima Strategy guide if you want to get everything out of the game. I know--needing a strategy guide for a sports game is inconceivable--but it's full of valuable information.

One other thing I recommend would be to start a game in the offseason, go through the draft, free agency, and training camp--and if you're not satisfied with what you've done, start a new career. I found that the second time through, I made much better decisions and managed the game environment far better. Plus, you'll see loads of detail that you missed the first time.

Like I said, this game is just too massive to discuss to completion, no matter how many posts I make. In short, though, it's full of win.

Now, if you're one of those people who skips the impressions and goes to the last paragraph for the summary, this is for you: WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Head Coach: the Return of the Notebook Game (part one)

Head Coach is so full of interesting design choices and innovation, so thoughtful and full of life, that it's easy to forgive its flaws. It is, by far, the best football game Tiburon has ever developed, and I only hope that he gets the support that it deserves.

How good is Head Coach? Even in its current, unpatched form, it's one of the most interesting sports simulations I've ever played. It has two incredibly important features that both the NCAA and Madden series are missing: great design and attention to detail. It's incredibly absorbing, so much so that I often finish playing an hour (or two) later than I planned. At this point, I've easily logged 10+ hours already, and I would be very surprised if I don't eventually spend 100 more.

And in a curious twist, it's a notebook game.

In the "old days," most of the great games were notebook games. They were so full of detail that taking notes was the only way to master them--there was absolutely no way to keep everything sorted out in your head. Gaming notebooks were full of intricate and arcane knowledge, and the process of writing down what you were learning was an integral part of the game itself.

I haven't played a notebook game in years, but Head Coach is a notebook game, and I mean that in the best possible way. The first time I started to play, I wasn't keeping notes, and after going through the off-season and completing my first draft, I realize that my team wasn't going to succeed because I hadn't been prepared.

This was a wonderful discovery, to find out that a sports game wanted me to think more, not less. So I happily scrapped at least five hours of play and started over--this time, with my brain fully engaged. Analyzing. Taking notes. Thinking.

Let me explain how Head Coach works, and at what level of detail, to give you a better flavor for the game.

I've written several columns in the past about text sims and why they don't work as well as they should, and those concepts are useful here, because Head Coach is essentially a text sim with a graphics engine (Madden 08) for games. During games, you call plays, not control individual players, so Head Coach really is, at its core, a text sim.

One of my fundamental complaints about text sims is that they overload a player with detail, but make that detail difficult or obscure to access. They force the player to "pull" information instead of having it "pushed" to them. This makes many text sims entirely impenetrable--the game world might be dynamic, it might even be brilliant, but we'll never find out, because we'll never master the interface.

Head Coach crushes all those complaints.

Most importantly, Head Coach uses a push interface that is the single best interface I've ever seen in a sports game. The the central feature of the hub is a "clipboard" that presents you with all necessary tasks at the appropriate time. It works brilliantly, and it does so because it doesn't dumb down the game in the least--it merely functions as a scheduler, and you select tasks as they pop up to drill down into the detail.

The hub also allows you to navigate to every area of the game, and it's the first console game I've ever played that is not only usable, but enjoyable, with a console controller. That speaks to the excellence of the design, and lead designer Josh Loomis is to be congratulated. I've only rarely played games that combine huge amounts of detail with excellent tools to drill into that detail, but I'm happy to say that Head Coach does both extremely well.

How much detail is in this game? Let's look at what I did when I started my career in the off-season. Wait, let's just start with the draft, because it's a good sample:
--picked players to scout at the Senior Bowl
-- picked which "Pro Days" I wanted to attend (in the real world, universities usually have a pro day to spotlight their NFL prospects for pro scouts).
-- picked which players to interview at the NFL Combine.
-- picked which players I wanted to bring in for individual workouts.

In every case, I was forced to balance unlimited desires for information with limited resources to gather that information. Not every player plays in the Senior Bowl (and I can't scout everyone who does attend), more than one school holds its Pro Day on the same date (only one can be chosen per day), not all players are invited to the NFL Combine (and I can't interview all of them), and I have a limited number of individual workouts.

Each time I scout a player, I obtain more information, but I have to choose between extreme detail on a few players through repeated scouting versus a less detailed view of many more players. I have to make decisions, and the decisions are meaningful.

What I don't want to make all these decisions? I can delegate just about any decision in the game to my coaching and scouting staff, and I can make that determination on an individual task basis. It's an extremely flexible design in terms of what you want to take on and what you want to delegate.

I have a mock draft board that I can review at any time, which gives me a general idea of which teams are looking at which players, although it's far from exact. I also have my own draft board, which will help me stay organized in the real-time pressure cooker of the draft.

Real time? Yes, and it's the best draft presentation I've ever seen a sports game. Before each pick, the team that's currently on the clock will have a full screen of information about their draft needs as well as plenty of other details (and what categories of information are displayed will rotate, which keeps it fresh). There are even "instant fan polls" after draft picks that let you know what the fan base thought of that particular pick.

Fantastic? Oh, hell yes-- it's nothing short of spectacular. Add to that teams trying to trade up or down, the timer counting down on each draft pick, your own efforts to manage your draft board and make your selections--in real-time--and it's nothing short of brilliant. It's mind-blowingly good.

This is already running quite long, so I'm stopping for now, but there's more to come. Tomorrow: free agency and team management.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two Interesting Gaming Links

First off, Jeff Green over at 1UP has a lengthy interview with Hellgate Studio's Bill Roper, which you can read here. It's frank and far-reaching, and answers many of the questions surrounding the Hellgate fiasco.

I remember mentioning that I thought Hellgate was screwed as soon as I read about their subscription model. Bill Roper mentions that they knew that, too--before the game launched--but at that point, they had no fallback position.

Matt Matthews has another excellent piece over at Edge--In-Depth Analysis Of Games And Console Sales. Matt is, by far, the premier writer when it comes to analyzing the console wars, and this is another first-rate article.

Boys Weekend

Gloria went to Colorado for the weekend, and you know what that means: boys weekend.

We started off Saturday at Krispy Kreme, trying to pull off what we now refer to as the Great Krispy Kreme Caper. When you walk into Krispy Kreme, an employee will pull a hot glazed doughnut right off the rollers and hand it to you. No charge.

We both eat three donuts, and one Saturday I said to Eli 7.0, "if we just dressed in different clothes each time, I think we could come back in and get all three donuts." For some reason, that seemed unimaginably fantastic to him, and we've been planning the caper ever since. I was hoping that last Saturday would be the go day, but unfortunately, Krispy Kreme was almost empty when we walked in, so the great heist has been delayed for one more week. We need crowd cover to pull this off.

We do, however, have a bag full of clothes in the car, just in case. Plus, every time we see the bag, we start laughing.

Next stop: a birthday party at the entirely awesome West Austin Athletic Club. Three different swimming pools and a diving well, and one of the pools even had four 50m lanes. It was amazing, and there were only about half a dozen kids at the party, which meant that the kid to lifeguard ratio was three to one. It was such a secure environment that I actually wound up swimming a mile while the party was going on, which felt great.

Eli has turned into a very good swimmer for his age--he can now do a proper freestyle stroke, and even does his breathing correctly. He's also fearless, and when he saw that the diving well had a high springboard, he immediately wanted to take a dive. Which he did, and I got a picture:

Sunday: The Clone Wars. I don't know who is responsible for this particular entry into the Star Wars canon, but it's dreadful. It's basically a 90 minute battle scene, and it's as bland as bland can be. Also, in one of the most bizarre character decisions in film history, Zero The Hut had a voice that I can only describ as the ghost of Truman Capote. It was unsettling, vaguely disturbing, and I regret that Hunter S. Thompson is no longer alive, because I believe his drunken take on that single character would have been better than anything in the movie itself.

I also think this film is going to be a box office bomb. We went to a Sunday afternoon matinee, at the largest theater in the cineplex, and it was less than a fifth full.

Eli enjoyed it--it was his first "Star Wars film" in the theater-- so I was glad about that, but for a grown up, it was cringeworthy.

Gloria mentioned that if we had time this weekend, we might go shopping for school shoes. This is like the President giving Mr. Bean the launch codes for the nuclear missiles while he's away. So we went shoe shopping, and here's the understated selection we agreed on:

It's officially called the "The Snot Rocket," and I'm not kidding--if you look closely, you can see "Slimers" written on the side. And yes, those bad boys glow in the dark.

The fellow who waited on us at the shoe store asked Eli where he'd gotten his shirt (a gorilla shirt from the San Diego Zoo). Later, at the register, he told me that he'd been a football player on scholarship in the 1960s, then left his summer job (set up by the football coach) to go to California for the Summer of Love, and wound up in San Diego.

I think that was the end of his football scholarship.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Links!

We are bursting at the seams with items to kill your desire to work.

Leading off this week, from Gwon Chang, it's Yacht Rock, an absolutely hilarious send-up (NSFW), and here's the Wikipedia description::
Yacht Rock was an online video series following the fictionalized lives and careers of American soft rock stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I've watched the first three episodes (there are eleven), and they're all laugh-out-loud funny.

Next, from Brandon Cackowski-Schnell, a link to some "alternate" renditions of Pachelbel's Canon--on a gayageum, a beat-box version, with breakdancing, and a version by 60s band Los Pop Tops. And they're all worth watching.

From Sirius, a link to an article about the October issue of Esquire, which will have an e-paper cover. Also, a link to a controversy over the organic material allegedly found in T. Rex bones that was originally believed to be dinosaur tissue. Now, it appears it may be nothing more than slime. Finally, a link to what may be a breakthrough in the storage of solar energy.

From Nick Blair, a link to a world record high dive: 172 feet. It looks every bit as crazy as it sounds.

From Cliff Eyler, a link to a story about the discovery of a surrender document from the end of the Civil War, and it may be (incredibly) an original. Also from Cliff, a link to an article about the Marx Toy Museum, a museum of miniature figures from the ubiquitous sets of the 1950s and 1950s.

Here's a fascinating theory: that taking the Pill can change a woman's taste in men.

From the Edwin Garcia links machine, a NSFW link to Gunter-ding-ding-dong, a genius bit of musical parody. At least, I hope it's parody. Then there's Safety Fail, and if you only click one link this week, it needs to be this, because seeing a guy use a motorcycle as basically a lawn chair at highway speeds--while talking on his cellphone--really has to be seen to be appreciated. Also from Edwin, a link to a classic segment of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood--with breakdancing. Yes, Mr. Rogers always wore that little sweather and had highwater pants, but he completely kicked ass. Then there's a link to an article at Wired titled One Man's Quest to Digitize and Publicize Rare Records. Finally, and you'd think this was satire

Remember the mystery of the Michelin Man last week? Roy sent in a link to an article that indicates he's been seen, if not exactly found.

From Sirius (round two--she had three links earlier), a link to an article about a 111-year old lizard (actually, "lizard like"--it's a tuatara)who is about to be a father. My favorite part of the story comes from a museum curator:
"With these guys, foreplay might take years. One has to be patient," he said.

Actually, it isn't that long--it just feels like years.

Here's a story about a marine invader that's now in the Caribbean and off the East Coast, and believe it or not, it's a lionfish.

From Colin Austin, a link to a story about the Flat Earth Society. Incredibly, it's still a round, so to speak.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to Telamegaphone Dale, and here's a description:
Telemegaphone Dale stands seven metres tall on top of the Bergskletten mountain overlooking the idyllic Dalsfjord in Western Norway.

When you dial the Telemegaphone’s phone number the sound of your voice is projected out across the fjord, the valley and the village of Dale below.

From Tim Hibbetts, a link to a fascinating theory about why we dream.

From Chris, a link to Is There Really Iron In Your Cereal?, a video by physicist John Swain that proves it does.

Like I said, I'm a sucker for these kinds of links, so here's Bucky and the Beagle, photos of a baby deer that followed a beagle through its doggie door and onto a couch, where they proceeded to hang out together.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

July NPD

Wii: 555,000
PS3: 224,900
360: 204,800

Here's how badly Microsoft needs a real price cut: in the April-July period, they've sold 103,800 more units than last year. That's 8,000 more units a week. In a country with an installed base north of 11 million units, that is nowhere land.

As for Sony, that Metal Gear Solid bump is officially gone. Compared to Microsoft, 224k doesn't look bad, but compared to Sony's goals (no matter what they say publicly), that's also nowhere land.

These numbers are easy to spin--combined 360 and PS3 sales are up over 30% in July compared to last year--but it's absolutely misleading, because it's a 30% increase off a very small base. My vertical jump might be up over 30% from last year, but that just means it's 13 inches instead of 10. It doesn't mean I can jump.

Lastly, what can you say about Nintendo? Right now, they're a cute little juggernaut.

Graham Wilkinson And A New CD

[UPDATE: All CDs have been claimed, but like I mentioned in the post, I'll let you guys know when it's available at CD Baby.]

We went to see Graham Wilkinson at the Cactus Cafe on Friday night.

Graham is the lead singer and songwriter of Graham Wilkinson & the Underground Township, and if you've been reading this space for any length of time, that name will be familiar. They are a phenomenally talented group of musicians, and Graham is just an incredible talent.

He was at the Cactus on Friday to celebrate the release of a new album, a solo album (although The Township is still together). There's something about Graham's music that is tremendously uplifting, and seeing him in person is always an unforgettable experience.

I bought copies of the new album, of course, and it's nothing short of stunning. When I listen to a great album, I'm far, far away by the time it's over. You know what I mean--great music really transports you to another place, one where you'll totally involved and focused. I've never listened to anyone whose music affects me the way that Graham's does. It's so incredibly personal and raw, and he's one of the best songwriters I've ever heard.

The songs on this album are less raucous than the songs he does with the Township, but they are uniformly striking and deeply affecting, and they're even more intense.

The CD is going to be available for purchase on CD Baby, and I'll let you know when it's up, but in the meantime, I have eight copies to give away, and I'm sitting at my desk with CD mailers. Be one of the first eight to e-mail, include your address, and one will be on its way to you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's Sweet

Like I said last week, Eli 7.0 watched the original three Star Wars films last week, but he won't get to watch the second three films (the first trilogy) until he's two years older.

In the last few days, he's asked about a million questions related to the three films he can't watch yet. And we refused to answer all of them, because the answers would be spoilers.

On Saturday, we went to the bookstore and looked around for a while, and he saw a Star Wars book titled "Beware The Dark Side." In order to scam me into getting the book for him, he said it was advanced for his age (it was) and that he promised to read it out loud to me (he did).

On Monday, we were all going out to dinner together (Chuy's), and he was reading to us on the way. "Force lightning," he read. "When Sidious attacked a Jedi called Mace Windu with Force lightning, Mace threw it back at Sidious. The lightning hit Sidious's face and scarred it forever."

"AH HAH!" he shouted. "NOW I know how Darth Sidious's face got scarred! You wouldn't let me see the movies, but now I have my REVENGE!"

"I wouldn't go that far," Gloria said.

"Let the boy have his revenge, dear," I said.


I am not a hardcore gamer.

I kind of thought I was, until today. Thirty years of playing games. 20,000 plus hours in total, probably, even though I don't play as much as I used to. I've stayed up all night playing games more times than I can even remember, and not once was I sorry. I've played for twelve hours straight.

I mean, good grief, I time players with a stopwatch in football video games to find out their times in the forty.

What I have never done, though, is fight a boss battle--FOR EIGHTEEN HOURS.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun had this item today:
“People were passing out and getting physically ill. We decided to end it before we risked turning into a horrible new story about how video games ruin people’s lives.”

This, from aptly-name guild Beyond The Limitation, came after spending some 18 hours attempting to defeat one of Final Fantasy XI’s endgame monsters, the Pandemonium Warden.

I'm not saying that fighting a boss battle for eighteen hours is hardcore. No, what's hardcore is the guy in the comments section over at Pet Food Alpha who had this to say after a long list of comments criticizing the designers (and the ellipses are all his):
Honestly… I applaud SE for doing it… Everyone is so touchy about having hard battles… If we wanna play an easy game we can play WoW… Now about the length of the fight… So get more people and do it in shifts…

Shifts! Genius!

Or this guy:
Becoming ‘physicall ill’ is due malnutrition; prepare more wholegrain carbs and water (yes, I am serious -sugary crap will make you ill) -with this a 24hr session at the computer should be fine.

The devs have tried to create a legendary accomplishment, and the effort to achieve such should match the gravitas of the occasion, surely?

I'm awed.

These guys are both variations on my favorite internet forum archetype: Defender Guy. Defender Guy is the lone salmon swimming upstream, months before the spawn, against the swiftly flowing River Of Common Sense.

Defender Guy will defend anything about a game, no matter how incredibly broken or stupid it might be, and whatever goes wrong is your fault. If a game installed itself, then formatted your hard drive, Defender Guy would blame you for not doing regular back-ups.

I notice Defender Guy more often in sports games forums than anywhere else, and it's always entertaining. Let's say that someone posted about Madden and said that the CPU wouldn't try an onside kickoff at the end of a game when they were behind. That's about as huge an A.I. gaffe as a sports game can have, totally indefensible, but Defender Guy will always have a workaround (this is a fictional response, but just barely):
So could you have a house rule where if the CPU should have onside-kicked and didn't you would punt it back to them on first down?

Never mind that the solution will never make sense. Defender guy isn't supposed to make sense. He's just supposed to defend.

The mirror image of Defender Guy is Attacker Guy. Often, though, Attacker Guy is just Defender Guy discussing a different game, usually one being compared favorably to the game he must defend.

Attacker Guy's favorite tactic is to scour the Internet to find glitch videos of the game he's attacking. Maybe they only happen once in a thousand games, but no matter. To Attacker Guy, they're the Zappruder Film, and he'll point out towering mounds of detail in each clip.

Frequently, watching Attacker Guy and Defender Guy go at each other is considerably more entertaining than actually playing the game.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Console Post of the Week

I thought this was pretty fascinating:
Speaking at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival this morning, former SCEE president Chris Deering predicted Sony and Nintendo will tie in the hardware sales stakes by 2011.

The EIF chairman presented figures he arrived at by triangulating Screen Digest and IDG data. He also took into account factors such as the growth of hi-def and the grey gamer market, the emergence of new game engines and increasing ubiquity of wi-fi access. He said the active installed base for hardware is set to rise from 316 million to 500 million over the next three years, with "two big mega-powers" leading the charge.

According to Deering sales of the DS and any future iterations of the hardware will reach 150 million by 2011, while the figure for Wii will be 80 million. He predicted the installed base for PS3 will be 70 million, and said for PS2 it will be 90 million and PSP will be 70 million. In other words, Sony and Nintendo will each have sold 230 million machines.

Deering said he believes the Xbox 360 and any sequels will experience "decent growth", predicting an installed base of 40 million by 2011.

Triangulation? Is that what people call it when they pull numbers out of their ass?

I'm not trying to pick on Deering--okay, maybe I am--but I've seen multiple industry figures and analysts following this line of thinking in the last few months. Somehow, they extrapolate from data which doesn't even exist yet to call the "race" a draw at a long-distant point in the future. True, Deering's draw includes the PS2 and the PSP, but he still believes that the Wii is only going to be 10 million units ahead of the PS3 by 2011.

Maybe we should take our own look.

Let's take a look at the numbers that do exist so far, because that seems like a reasonable place to start. The Wii has outsold the PS3 by roughly 2-1 worldwide since both systems launched twenty-one months ago.

For the countries where we have solid sales information--Japan and the U.S.--let's look at the total ratio of Wii sales to PS3 sales this year (Japan+US sales for each platform).

In June, when arguably the biggest game release of the year occurred for the PS3 (Metal Gear Solid 4), and no high-profile titles came out for the Wii, the Wii still outsold the PS3 by more than 3-2, and i'm willing to bet that July sales (when released) will show that the 3-1 ratio (or higher) is back.

Those five months represent a gap, in absolute terms, of over three million units.

So how in the world does anyone go from those numbers to the PS3 drawing nearly even at some point in the future? Really, they can't. They have to make so many assumptions at this point that are entirely unsupported by existing data that they might as well be saying that cows will live in trees someday. They're engaging in magical thinking, essentially.

For the sake of discussion, though, let's assume that somehow Sony did catch up. What would that look like?

Well, I don't know. I wrote up several scenarios, but they all quickly became so ridiculous that I scrapped them. Wait, here's one. If Sony drops the price of the PS3 to $199--by the end of this year--I could see them catching up.

Failing that, though--no chance.

Our Holiday

As many of you know, today is a national holiday in the United States. It's The Only Company Licensed By The NFL Releases Their Pro Football Game And We Rapidly Discover That The A.I. Was Programmed By Fourth Graders Day.

Yes, I went out and bought the Collector's Edition this morning just for Head Coach. Yes, I feel dirty.

The funniest thing about Madden this year (to me) is that Bill Abner has already documented the CPU's refusal to try an onside kickoff in the last minute of games when they're behind. The exact situations under which this failure triggers aren't known, but he saw it twice in the handful of situations where the CPU was behind at the end of the game.

If want to play games against the CPU, that would be the disease equivalent of "terminal illness."
That's not funny, but I'm willing to bet that almost none of the "reviewers" will even mention this in their review. Somehow, that is funny. And it won't surprise me in the least if it doesn't even get patched.

Note to EA: the CPU has to try to win. Please make a note.

If you'd like to track what's guaranteed to be a huge thread--bug reporting--the Operation Sports thread is here.

However, everything I've heard (from qualified sources) about Head Coach is quite positive. So I'm going to start with Head Coach and keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Dream

Eli 7.0 has been having nightmares.

He doesn't want to talk about them, because they're scary. I want to know about them, though, so that it helps me understand what makes me afraid.

"How'd you sleep last night, little man?" I asked him a few minutes ago.

"TERRIBLE," he said. "I had a nightmare and couldn't go back to sleep."

"Really?" I asked. "I have nightmares sometimes, but not very often."

"What are they about?" he asked.

"Stuff happening to you guys," I said. "Like accidents. Do you dream about accidents?"

"Natural disaster accidents," he said.

"Natural disasters? What kind?"

"Volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes," he said. "One time, I dreamed that I fell into an earthquake when the ground opened up, and another time I dreamed that I fell INTO a volcano and got burned up."

"Let's see," I said. "I can promise you that there is absolutely zero chance of there ever being a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane here."

"What about a tornado?"

"A tiny, tiny chance."

"Last night, I had my scariest dream EVER," he said.

"What was it?" I asked.

"Do I have to tell you EVERYTHING?" he asked. This is his standard line when we're trying to find out about his dreams, and his eyes usually water a little when he says this.

"No, not at all," I said. "I'm just curious. I'm not seven anymore, and all I remember about my nightmares is that I dreamed about Frankenstein."

"You dreamed about FRANKENSTEIN?"

"Yes," I said. "He was about the only thing that scared me. So I'm curious about what's in your nightmares, because I can't be seven anymore. I can't go back."

"Well," he said, pausing for a moment, "I dreamed about about two men who had a duel. The first man was killed by the second man, and because he died in a duel, his spirit couldn't go into the afterlife, so he became a ghost. The ghost of the first man challenged the second man to another duel, and the ghost killed him."

"So did the first ghost go to the afterlife after he killed the man?" I asked.

"No," he said. "They were both trapped. So the second ghost turned into a monster and ATE the first ghost, and when he did, he gave an evil laugh that made me jump two feet off my bed."

I was totally shocked, because for years, I've occasionally had dreams that had a complete narrative and full dramatic structure, like stories writing themselves. They're wonderful experiences, very overwhelming at times, but it never crossed my mind that Eli would be able to do it, too.

Clearly, though, he can.

Foot: It's Still Attached

I went to a foot specialist on Friday to get my foot checked out, since it really hasn't improved at all since it was injured.

The assistant asked me a few questions and sent me off for an x-ray, then I went back and waited for the doctor. When he came in, he asked me a few questions, then asked "Martial arts injury?"

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"This is a martial arts injury, right?"

"No," I said. "It was, um, Pump It Up."

Both he and his assistant burst out laughing. As it turns out, they're both fathers and have been to Pump It Up many times, so the idea of a grown-up actually getting injured there was even funnier to them.

I say let's meet on the inflatable basketball court with the jumpy floor and settle it like men.

"There's no break on the x-ray, so I think torn scar tissue is the best theory," the doctor said. "I can inject the area to get rid of the inflammation, or I can give you an oral steroid."

"Let's see," I said. "My left rotator cuff is sore, I've got a mild case of plantar fascitis in my right foot, and my forearms have been sore for months. Let's go with the oral steroid and hope I get the four-for-one benefit."

Gaming Links

Sean Sands ("Elysium") has an article in The Escapist about the birth and development of the always outstanding Gamers With Jobs.

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash colum has a new installment titled "The Shame Game."

Jesse Leimkuehler sent me a link to a detailed post by Ben Heck about the internal differences in the new 360 60GB unit.

Matt Kreuch let me know that Mount & Blade is having a (brief) open beta, which you can sign up for via Gamespot here. If you haven't played Mount & Blade (possible), or haven't heard me talk about it (less possible), it's an outstanding game and well worth your time.


Much thanks to Mike Kolar for his assistance in the "preparation" of the previous post.

The Olympics (#1)

We all sat down and watched the Olympics last night. As a family.

"That's just a heat," I said, revving up the DVR skip to hyper-speed. "Prelims--skip. Commercials--skip. Qualifying rounds--skip. Commercials--skip. Personal feature--skip."

"Let's watch something," Gloria pleaded.

"Ah, here we go," I said. "The last two minutes of a four-hour bicycle race. And...we're out. Commercials--skip. Women's gymnastics qualifying--"

"Stop!" Gloria. "I want to see this."

The next half-hour was spent watching sixty-pound sprites hurl themselves around in implausible fashion. Most compelling were the Chinese, who wore these remarkably striking, graceful uniforms that were both beautiful and dignified.

Then the U.S. team came out for their qualifying rounds.

"What are they wearing?" Gloria asked.

"Looks like they bought all the surplus costumes when the circus closed down last year," I said.

"Those are just awful," she said.

"Since when could corporations sponsor teams?" I asked.

"What corporation?" she asked.

"Carl's Jr.," I said.

In good news, though, I hear we're a lock to sweep Getting Shot Out Of a Cannon.

Olympic Photoshop Opportunity #1 (Update: Volunteer Located)

[Someone is working away on this now. Thanks to everyone who volunteered.]

If you enjoy fiddling around in Photoshop and would like to take part in a 30-minute project that will be shared with everyone today, please e-mail me. Thanks.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Links!

It must be NSFW links Friday, because I think there are more this week than I can ever remember. I hope your work is already done for the day.

Starting off this week, a video of the lyrebird, who can imitate the mating calls of twenty other birds. Oh, it can also imitate camera shutters, car alarms, and chainsaws. Then, once you've seen the first video, watch the hilarious "unseen footage" comedy version.

From Tim Jones, a link to a terrific lecture titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams by Randy Pausch, who recently passed away. It's long, but well worth the time.

From Greg, a riveting but utterly heartbreaking story titled The Girl In The Window. It's a story about a feral child.

From the New York Times, a fascinating article about the secret curse of archers: target panic.

From DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand, a link to a NSFW classic of Madden history: Ethan Albright strikes back.

From Michael O'Reilly, a link to an amazing article about a doctor who built a tiny dialysis machine--in his garage. This saved the life of a baby girl who was too small to use conventional dialysis machines.

From the Edwin Garcia links machine, a three-star Micheline mystery. A man who was in the process of eating at every three-star restaurant in the world just vanished. Also from Edwin, a NSFW link to Viral Video Film School: Bears, which is hilarious (and contains some unforgettable, actual footage of the famous "bearproof suit" being tested).

From Pete Thistle, as a follow-up to the three hot dogs that will kill you featured last week, is a link to the Chimiburger--a deep-fried hamburger, and I don't mean just the patty.

From Francis Cermak, a link to an interesting article over at Tom's Hardware about the history of Nvidia graphics cards.

From Sirius, a link to some absolutely stunning pictures of the Large Hadron Collider. Also, a link to a newly discovered ancester of T. Rex--the Dragon. Sorry, it didn't breathe fire. Finally, a link to a fascinating article about the Knights Templar threatening to sue the Catholic Church.

From David Gloier, a link to the discovery of buried Nazi bunkers off the Danish coast, hidden for over fifty years and in almost perfect condition.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to an article about newly discovered evidence supporting the existence of dark matter. Also from Jesse, a link to the worst Wheel of Fortune player in history. Finally, the hat trick for Jesse with a link to a panoramic image of how well scientists did when picking a landing site for the Polar Lander.

From Steven Pubols, a link to CERN rap, and as unlikely as that might sound, it's outstanding. Also, a link to Let's Make Robots, a comunity homebrew robot site.

From Jarod, an absolutely NSFW link to The Legend of Neil, the entirely uneven (and downright raunchy) but often hilarious story of a man who wakes up as Link in the world of Zelda.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

There she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!

On Tuesday morning, I took Eli 7.0 fishing.

Our usual setup is that Eli fishes with bait, and I fish with a top water lure. In theory, Eli stays busy with sunfish, and I’ll occasionally hook something bigger with the lure that he can then reel in.

I stress that this is “in theory,” because the little hula popper I use hasn’t had a hit since I took it out of the package about a year ago. It actually maintains correspondence with a tiny orphan boy in the third world out of sheer loneliness.

We were casting into the water at 6:45 a.m., so we were there only a few minutes after dawn. It’s the perfect time to catch fish, right at daybreak, but for some reason, the fish weren’t there.

It was baffling. This little lake is a very consistent producer, or has been in the past, but Eli’s cork wasn’t even going under. After an hour, Eli had caught one tiny sunfish about four inches long, and otherwise, we’d been skunked.

We agreed to fish for about another fifteen minutes, then high-tail it to the other side of the lake and this totally supreme playscape that Eli loves to play on.

“Dad, I lost my bait,” Eli said, reeling in and seeing an empty hook.”Okay, buddy,” I said. “Here, you take my rod,” I said, handing it to him, “and I’ll rebait your hook. You don’t even have to reel in—just let that lure sit there.” I walked over to the bait cup, which was about thirty feet away, and when I was halfway there—

“HEY!” Eli shouted. I looked back and the rod was seriously bending. I looked out on the water and the lure was nowhere to be seen. Incredibly, the only bass in the entire freaking lake had wandered by, watched the motionless lure for about a minute, then attacked it like a freight train.

Eli dropped the rod tip, reeled against the drag, and did everything totally wrong (just like I did when I was seven), but this bass had hooked himself so completely that Eli could have thrown the rod into the lake and the fish would have still been on there.

It took a couple of minutes, but Eli landed his first real fish—a 1.5 pound bass. It was at least three times as large as anything he’d caught before, so he was properly wowed. Then, after about ten seconds, he addressed his number one priority. “Dad, we need to hurry and get him back in the water,” he said. “I want to make sure he’s okay.”

Fishing, for Eli, is a friendly, cooperative venture between man and fish, with no one harmed on either side. I wasn’t like that as a kid, but I’m glad he is, so I carefully removed the hook, got splattered with muddy water by the bass, and released him back into the lake, Herman Melville be damned.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Party

"I'm trying to schedule a party for Farrah," Gloria said. Farrah is one of her good friends, an incredibly nice woman, and she was having a birthday soon.

"That's nice of you," I said. "Have you filed a spousal impact statement yet?"

"I can't believe how difficult it is to get everyone together," she said, quite properly ignoring me. "Colleen said yes, then had to switch, and Kathleen is out of town, and it seems like everyone else has changed their available dates at least once. I've been on the phone for days trying to get this worked out."

"This is one of the important differences between men and woman," I said.

"How is that?"

"Men send out a party invitation, and if more than one person wants to change the date, we immediately send out an e-mail with the subject line 'DAMN PARTY CANCELLED.' "

"And go back to your study," she said.

"Correct. And in the old days, before studies, we would have gone back to our garage workshop and started building a boat."


I never told you about Eli's birthday party, or rather, how I managed to blow up my foot at Eli's birthday party.

We had the party at Pump It Up, which is one of those giant inflatables warehouses that seemed to have sprung up every two blocks down here. We went into the first room and there were three inflatable to play on. Normally, I do more watching than playing--I save my energy for the inflatable basketball court, where I temporarily gain a 40 inch vertical leap-- but this time, I decided to play for the duration.

The biggest inflatable in the first room was a slide shaped like a giant right triangle. The hypotenuse faced us, and you climbed up the left side of the hypotenuse, then slid down on the right. There was also a thick (12”) red mat covering the floor, pushed against the inflatable, which was where the kids tumbled out after sliding. This mat was also where you stepped from to start climbing.

This mat, theoretically, should be pushed up right against the inflatable so that there's no gap between the two. This time, though, the mat had slid back about 6 inches, and as I ran on the mat, my foot found the gap. The top of my foot hit a few inches below the front edge of the inflatable and kept going forward.

The shape my foot assumed was this: >.

In a word: OW.

I didn't know my foot could bend in that shape, because it wasn't my toes bending under-- it felt like it was the front half of my foot. It felt like a grenade going off, and my first thought was that it was broken. My second thought was that this was every bit as lame as Ultra- Competitive Ex-High School Athlete Who Tears His Hamstring At The Company Softball Game Guy.

Of course, I said nothing. I figured if it was already broken, I might as well enjoy myself, so I just kept going, even though it hurt like hell and I couldn’t keep from limping.

The party was on a Saturday, so on Monday morning, I was at the doctor’s office. He said he suspected that nothing was broken, because it would have been black and blue (even though I’ve broken a metatarsal before and there was no discoloration whatsoever). So his diagnosis was strained or torn ligaments/tendons, and he said it should get better on its own if I took it easy.

Fortunately, it’s the left foot. I swim to stay fit, so no interruption there. I drive with my right foot. I play the kick pedal in Rock Band with my right foot. So if I had to wreck a foot, the left foot is the premium selection.

Today, since the foot hasn’t gotten better at all (eleven days later), I went to see my physical therapist. She’s the Einstein of physical therapists (seriously—she’s completely brilliant), and in about fifteen minutes, she told me that I’d either broken the metatarsal under the middle toe or torn scar tissue from a surgery I’d had several years ago to remove a diseased nerve.

Man, if that was scar tissue tearing, damn! I had no idea it could hurt that much.So I’m gimping around right now, but like I said, if it had been the right foot, it would have been a disaster.

Oh, and I will not be playing softball at the company picnic—ever.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

That is Incorrect

We all went to Dave & Buster's on Eli's birthday, and after we played games, we went to the restaurant to have dinner. The waitress sat us down in a booth with a huge window, and the light was very bright. Gloria's eyes are pretty sensitive to light, so instead of having her go Hollywood and wear sunglasses indoors, she asked if we could move to a different booth.

"Good grief," she said as we were walking over to the new table. "I'm getting old and difficult."

"You're not old," I said.

A Note on Head Coach

Here's a post from Dan Bekins, lead programmer of Head Coach, concerning player value:
1. Essentially, the CPU will assign a value to all available players and compare them against one another. "Player value" is a third type of rating we use in addition to the raw Madden player abilities and system-dependent player grades.

Player value takes everything into account you could possibly imagine.

First, it scales each player's grade based on his position. For example, a 99 overall QB is much more valuable than a 99 overall kicker.

Second, it scales players with the same position relative to each other in a non-linear way. For example, a 60 overall QB is not 60% as valuable as a 99 QB (in fact, a 60 QB is basically worthless). So the value mapping is actually a curve, and when you look at your Team Roadmap you'll see a huge dropoff in value from the top-tier players to the lower-tier guys.

After that, a ton of other things are factored in to tweak the value such as projected cap hit, playbook knowledge, etc.

Once the team has evaluated every single player, they need to decide who will add the most value to their team. "Added value" is the secret sauce that drives almost all of the logic in this game.As an example, let's say you're the Colts and Tom Brady is on the FA auction block. Do you acquire him? No, because although Brady has a high value, he has essentially zero *added value* to your team. Your money is much better spent somewhere else.

The trick is that added value encapsulates both value *and* need, so teams will always go after the guy who is the best available relative to their current needs.

During the draft, the player who fits this description might not be expected to go for several picks, and this is when the CPU will trade down.

2. The CPU will go after a player in proportion to how much value he adds to their team. As per above, teams with more need will be willing to pay more.

Also, each team has a philosophy as to how it spends its money. Some teams will go all out for their top need, while other teams will try to distribute their money among all of their needs.

That thinking is jammed full of win.

Console Post of the Week

Multiple sources are reporting that the 360 will have a "real" price reduction in early September. Ars Technica was first, and here's what they're predicting $50 cuts for the Pro (to $299) and Elite (to $399), and an $80 cut for the Arcade (to $199).

For Microsoft's sake, the rumors better be true, because they appear to be running third in their strongest market (the U.S.) right now.

Will this put pressure on Nintendo? No. You can argue all day that a 360 at $199 is a much better deal than the Wii at $249, but no one is listening. It's very easy, though, to make the argument that a $299 Pro is a significantly better deal for gamers than a $399 PS3, and it's going to put significant pressure on Sony.

In other news, Scott Steinberg, SCEA's VP of product marketing, violated the cardinal rule for executives: don't be a dickhead in interviews. Here's an excerpt from his interview with
And as a brand, Nintendo's got their thing, and we're not trying to get the senior citizen group to get into gaming, we're looking to convert the PS2 owners and the tens of millions of installed base that were playing DVDs and playing games on their PS2, to now play Blu-ray movies and Blu-ray games with their PS3.

Scott, you do realize that Nintendo is stomping on Sony's, um, balls right now? Seriously, how patronizing can you be when you're getting absolutely crushed? Dude, they own you.

Here's what I don't think people have figured out, and I have absolutely no data to support this theory yet, but I strongly believe it's true: PS2 owners are buying the Wii in huge numbers. Yes, there are some non-traditional gaming demographics involved, to some degree, but it still doesn't explain the mammoth numbers involved. The only possible answer is that the Wii is selling into the PS2s customer base far better than anyone has realized.

I think analysts will start asking this question in the fall, and at that point they'll start asking Sony some difficult questions, particularly if the PS3 doesn't get a price cut soon.

A Christmas Miracle

In what I can only describe as a Christmas miracle, Head Coach is apparently very, very good.

I can't confirm this myself, as I don't have the game yet. Bill Abner, though, has a serious man crush on the game, and I trust Bill's opinion far more than anyone's else.

In case you're wondering about Madden, don't. Bill pretty quickly established that it's (unfortunately) shit. Well, it's shit if you play against the CPU, which I do.

Bill also dismantled NCAA, and deservedly so, because it was an embarrassment.

So when he says that Head Coach is different, I believe him.

Here are a list of Bill's posts about the game for your convenience:
early thoughts
ratings note (follow-up to first post)
deeper impressions (and notes on the first Head Coach, released in 2005, which was crap)
draft notes (round 1)
draft notes (round 2)
draft notes (overall)
preseason game #2
(sorry, don't know where his post about preseason #1 went)
preseason game #2 (wrap-up)
rest of preseason

In addition, here are some Operation Sports threads:
Lead Designer Q&A
Gameplay Lead Programmer Q&A
Bill's impressions (with designer/developer participation)

Josh Looman (lead designer) has been particularly impressive in the OS threads.

So here I am again: I'm Charlie Brown, running toward the football, waiting for Lucy Tiburon to yank it away at the last second.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Here's the Answer

Thanks very much to all of you who sent in suggestions.

Neil Sorens sent in links to two very specific threads (one and two) that discussed this exact problem. There were multiple suggestions (including using Tweak UI and registry editing), but what finally worked was a suggestion to unplug all USB 2.0 devices and reboot. I did so, did a warm boot, and plugged them all in when I got to the Windows login screen. It worked.

A Puzzler For You

[Answer is above--problem resolved]

Okay, this has been driving me crazy, and I'm guessing that you guys can provide a solution, so thank you in advance for your time.

I'm having a problem in XP, and here are the symptoms:
1. When an item in the status bar is selected, instead of the window for that program maximizing, it will just flash orange instead.
2. If I actually want to switch active windows, I have to do this: click on the Firefox status bar item (for example). It will turn solid orange. Click on it a second time--it will begin to flash orange, and I can see the edges of the window (which were apparently hidden behind the active window) minimize. If I click the item in the status bar a THIRD time, the winow maximizes and this time, I can actually see it.

From what I can tell, if I minimize all the windows prior to clicking on the item in the status bar, they will maximize properly (and be visible) when I click on their status bar item. If I have multiple windows open that aren't minimized, though, all this orange flashing crap starts when I select them.

Why this is driving me crazy: take Outlook, for example. Let's say I'm in my Inbox, and I double-click on an item to read it. When I'm done, I click on "reply." Normally, this pops up a window where I can type in a response, but when the strangeness is going on, that new window is underneath the inbox window, not on top. So I have to click-click-click to get the reply window on front.

I know that this has something to do with windows refusing to take focus, but the solution is beyond me, even though I've Googled quite a bit in the last few hours, trying to find a solution. It kills my productivity, though, because I can't easily switch between active windows, and having the reply window in Outlook underneath instead of on top is a bit of sheer application hell.


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