Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Links!

Man, we are LOADED this week.

Starting off this week is a stunnering, shattering article by Wright Thompson. Ghosts of Mississippi is a beautifully written, unforgettable piece of journalism, exploring the Deep South through the lense of the 1962 University of Mississippi football team. It was both painful to read and impossible to stop reading.

Next, a story about Carl Joseph, who must be one of the greatest athletes in history (and you've probably never heard of him). He was a football star in high school, playing the defensive line on one leg. Literally--he was born with only one leg, and he played without a prosthesis. He also played on the basketball team and won his district in the high jump (jumping 5'10") He was recently inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, and his story (and the video you can watch, which is just freaking incredible) is completely inspiring.

I know that Roger Ebert can be a blowhard at times, but Ben Younkins sent me a link to a beautifully written tribute to Gene Siskel on the tenth anniversary of his death.

From Chris Meyer, a wonderful link to the history of slot car racing.

From Tim Jones, a link to another epic series of photos from the feature "The Big Picture." This time, it's Carnival.

From Allen Varney, a link to time-lapse snails, and the video is oddly compelling. Also, a link to a wacky and wonderful Samsung commercial featuring--well, hell, I can't even pretend to explain this. Just watch it.

From George Paci, a link to a logging machine that must be seen to be believed. I had no idea that technology like this existed.

From Sean, a link to an incredibly thorough (and quite interesting) of why water is blue.

From Andrew B, a story that has to be read to be believed: golf ball found embedded in tree trunk.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to the discovery of a gamma ray blast that exceeded the power of approximately 9,000 supernovas.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to a clever, clever idea--replacing world landmarks with cheap souvenirs. Look at one and you'll be hooked.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's a story about stealing a train. I had no idea anyone ever did that. Next, and you have to see this picture, it's a fish with a see-through head. Next, it's a programmer's at-home paradise. And impossible mirrors. Don't think we're done, because next is a Dalmation riding a bike, and I mean riding AND pedaling. Oh, and one last link and it's remarkable: 3-D street art, and by street art I mean the entire street (they're fantastic).

From Sirius, a link to a story about (believe it or not) the future of lab-grown teeth. Next, an interactive atlas of the world's endangered languages. Next, it's 9 Real-Life Mad Scientists, and this article is as bizarre as it sounds (and potentially disturbing, so please be warned).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Next Week: Texas Flood

That's right. The full album is coming to Rock Band next week (thanks Shacknews), and if you've never heard it, this is an EPIC piece of music. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble are in blistering form, and there's not a single dog on the track list:
Love Struck Baby
Pride And Joy
Texas Flood
Tell Me
Rude Mood
Mary Had A Little Lamb
Dirty Pool
I'm Cryin'

I can't wait.

What I've been trying to do for the last week or so is play Foreplay/Long Time (Boston) on the drums on Expert. Foreplay is just incredibly difficult (insert your joke here), even on Hard, and on Expert, it's even worse. It's one of those songs, though, where if you can learn how to play it, there's a cascade of other songs that you'll be able to play as well.

Flower: Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Or Any Mountain At All, Really

So Enya finally designed a video game.

There will be digression.

First digression: the Gary Jules' song Mad World is a universal video game trailer soundtrack, because it would work just as well with Flower as it did with Gears of War. Floating through the sky as a flower petal, totally serene, with Mad World in the background would make an outstanding trailer.

How about Madden? Have defensive lineman rushing a quarterback, him running for his life, then taking a brutal sack.

Mad World could be the gaming equivalent of that scene from the Hitler movie that gets its subtitles changed every five minutes.

Now where were we?


Flower part one: the first three levels
After my epic three-week adventure trying to buy and download this game (this story stretches itself every time I mention it--five years from now, I'll claim I started trying to download it in 1992 and didn't finish for seventeen years), I admit that my enthusiasm was a bit drained.

That lack of enthusiasm lasted for about ten seconds once I started playing the game.

See there's something about Flower that's joyful.

Soaring through the air, floating with the breeze--it's a wonderful experience. And it really is very "Enya-esque"--incredibly soothing and peaceful. the colors are beautiful and oftentimes spectacular.

The basic gameplay, without spoilers, is that you control a flower petal, and you fly that petal to other flowers which are revealed to you in the course of the level. That sounds incredibly boring, but it's not in the least--at times, it's downright enthralling, because it's all so remarkably fluid.

As I'm playing the third level, full of wonderful feelings, I realize how much I appreciate that the developers didn't try to "game" this up. It's not a game, exactly, more of an experience, and it's extremely special.

I'm wondering what the next level might be, and then, in an instant, I realize what would be an idea place to extend the game: the mountains, with snow melting in springtime. The sun would melt the snow, and as it melted, flowers would grow.

Wow. That would be beautiful.

Flower part two: the rest
As level four began, the remarkable, colorful vistas of the early levels were replaced with darkness, and instead of a beautiful, lush world of color, we're plunged into some serious WTF. Now WTF in that you won't be able to figure out what's going on, but WTF in the sense of why the development team made the decisions they did. Soon, your flower petals will be smashing through things, or maybe that's a ball of energy formed by flower petals.

Whatever it is, it's a heaping bowl of I Don't Give A Shit.

Meandering is no longer encouraged, or sometimes, even allowed at all. Flower then rips off The Blob and some of the visual style of Mirror's Edge and goes from being incredibly, beautifully original to a pretty average day at the office.

Even worse, it didn't have to be that way.

Want to do a "dark" level? Fine. Do it in pure black-and-white, and have explosions of light instead of color. That could be tremendously dramatic.

Worried that the gameplay doesn't change enough unless it's gamed up? No worries. Let us play through a level, then let us play through it again, but this time, give us a variety of filters to apply. How cool would it be to play through one of the early levels with an Impressionist filter?

There were an exponential number of opportunities here, and quite a few of them are realized early on. The later levels, though, are just squandered. The developers help you develop this wonderful, semi-spacey vibe, then they kick it in the teeth.

Mountain. Squandered.

And By The Way

As a follow up to the CPotW, I wanted to mention that while Sony has pushed one kajillion updates to PS3 owners, they still haven't fixed the display issue with HD sets (mostly older CRT's) that don't support 720p resolution.

Seriously, you've got to be kidding me.

Here's the deal. Every HD set has a display resolution. Some have several. So when any video device sends output to the screen, that output, if necessary, is converted (or scaled) to match the display resolution of the HD device.

This conversion can be done by either the video device outputting the signal or the HD display itself. My Panasonic plasma has a terrific scaler, so except for non-HD signals, everything looks fantastic. That's why I output everything from the video device in the highest possible resolution, then have the plasma's scaler handle it from there (no, it's not closest to native resolution, and yes, it does look better the way I'm doing it, believe it or not).

Okay, let's move on to the strangeness.

Some older HD CRT's don't accept a 720p signal. They can't scale it to match the screen's resolution. It's unusable. The only HD signal they can't accept is 1080i.

For every other video device I've ever seen, that's no problem. Just uncheck 720p as an acceptable output signal and DirecTV, upscaling DVD players, the 360, etc., will just scale the signal to 1080i and output it that way.

Not the PS3.

For games that can't display in a higher resolution than 720p (which happens far more often than you'd think), if your HD display doesn't support a 720p signal, the PS3 can't scale the output to 1080i or 1080p.

With the PS3, for some totally bizarre reason, if a game doesn't support any resolution higher than 720P (which happens more frequently than you would think), the PS3 doesn't scale that resolution up to 1080i or 1080p for screens that support those resolutions. No, it outputs 480p instead.


The PS3, to the best of my knowledge, can upscale the resolution both DVD's and PS2 games (with one of the backward compatible models), but it can't upscale PS3 game resolution?

If you've never seen the difference in what a game looks like at 720p or 1080i versus 480p, it's a hell of a big difference, in most cases. It's not minor.

It's baffling, because Sony has added a gigantic number of features (most of which will go entirely unused by almost everyone) to the PS3 since its initial release, but this issue, which affects millions of people, is still unresolved.

Thanks to Robert Nicewander for reminding me that this is still in limbo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Met Someone...Who I Made...It's Complicated

That must be one of the greatest lines in movie history.

I haven't mentione Igor, or if I did, I don't remember. It's a typical underdog story, only in this case, the underdog is a hunchback, and his dream is to become a mad scientist.

We saw this when it came out at the movies last year, and I thought it was funny, but it didn't really stick with me.

Then we Netflixed the Blu-Ray version, and after watching it two more times, this is a damn funny movie, one of the funniest movies we've ever seen together. It's one of those movies where you laugh more every time you see it, because there are so many clever one-liners and sight gags that you keep seeing something new.

If you have kids in the 7-10 range, or just like good comedy, I'd highly recommend it.

Please Note

Derren Phillips e-mailed and reminded me (correctly) that Jeff Minter claimed that Space Giraffe failed because the price was too low.

I like Jeff Minter, but I do not agree with him, and I don't think anyone else does, either.

Console Post of the Week: Updating

I decided that I wanted to try out Flower on Sunday night. It's a downloadable PS3 game.

I booted up the PS3, and once the dust settled (it's been quite a while), I went to the Playstation Network.


I need a software update, it says. Sony pushes new versions about every seven minutes, it seems, so I always need one.


After what seems like an extremely long download (5 minutes at least, and with a cable modem connection tested at 770 KB/s just yesterday, that's a a big OS update to drop), it's done.

Assuming that the Playstation network is running at that speed--I mean, surely it is, right?

So the download finishes and the PS3 reboots itself. Now, on to downloading Flower.

Oh, wait. Now the download needs to install itself. That takes another 5 minutes, at least.

I can't remember if the PS3 reboots itself again. Eventually, the update is done, adding thirty-seven new features, none of which I will ever use.

I'm off to the Playstation store. This should be easy, because Flower was just released and has been getting quite good reviews, so I'm sure it's featured prominently.

Hmm. Can't find it.

I can't remember where I looked, but it was in one of the new content options, and it wasn't there. I do find it (after 5-10 minutes of looking, and why does every step take 5-10 minutes?).

That's foreshadowing, by the way.

I purchase Flower, then begin the download. It's 628 MB, so if downloads at even 2/3 the max speed of my modem connection, I'll be done in about 20 minutes.

Or I'll be at 20%.

Or not, because I was at something closer to 10% after 20 minutes. I suspend the download at 18% after over half an hour.

Three hours later, I pick it up again (if I had let it download the entire time I was gone, it would have theoretically been just about finished). This time, I'm able to download the remaining 82% in only 35 minutes.

Man, this has really been a grind. Finally, though, I can play this great game.

Oh, wait. Now it has to install the download.

I think it's safe to say that, at this point, I generally feel that all flowers can go fuc* themselves. After nearly four hours, my hatred has blossomed beyond a game called "Flower" and extended to all flowers as well as angiosperm as a whole.

Then, after, oh, 5 minutes, the game is installed. And after over four hours, I can play the game.

Flower is quite a short game, according to the reviews I've seen, with players saying that it can be completed in 2-3 hours. This means I spent more time trying to download this game than I'll spend playing it.

I'll be checking the Playstation Store frequently from now on. Their ease of use and high-speed network have turned me into a loyal customer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I've gone through eight leap gates (not jump gates--I'm a doofus) now and I've only hit one that had a :55 time limit. All the others were quite a bit easier. So if you're early in the game and hit that gate, there are plenty of others that aren't nearly as difficult.

Seriously, this game is compulsively addictive. There's much, much more to do, seemingly, than in the previous Puzzle Quest.

Including crafting. Crafting!

Dead Space Impressions (360)

I've been meaning to spend more time with Dead Space for at least two months. It was released right before a glut of games (including Fallout 3) descended, and while I thought it was interesting, it got moved well down in the pile.

Well, it's popped back up now.

I have very mixed feelings after two hours, and I probably won't be playing any further into the game. Usually, that would mean that I found the game very disappointing, but with Dead Space, that isn't really true.

First off, let me mention the positives. This game has some of the cleantest, most intuitive design I have ever seen.

And when I say "ever," I mean it.

Obnoxious health overlays and status bars? Gone. In an absolutely beautiful bit of design, the health bar is built into the back of your character's space suit. With the game played from a third person view, it means that the health display is entirely organic, and this creates a tremendously cinematic feel to the game.

I've been arguing for this kind of approach for a long time. Let us see what's going on with our character by what's happening to our character, not a bunch of artificial overlays that take us entirely out of the gameworld.

As far as I can tell, Dead Space has no overlays that are pasted on the screen. None. Information is contained in the suit.

I don't know what's above A+ as a grade, but that's better than A+.

Also, if you want to know the shortest route to your primary objective, pressing down on the right analog stick shows you a lighted path that appears for a few seconds, then fades. Again, as part of the wonderful design, it looks like a function you call up from your equipment, and there's an animation to reinforce that notion.

Is it artificial, that you can be guided like that? Yes, in most games, but not here. It makes sense that blueprints of your destination (the mining ship) could be downloaded before you got there, and it also makes sense that your onboard computer could route you automatically.

Again, that's damn good design.

Besides the clarity of design, I was very impressed by the game's obvious level of polish. There's nothing sloppy here, and for that, the development team deserves credit. At times, it's genuinely creepy, and they do an excellent job of establishing the feeling of isolation.

That's plenty of good. Why did I stop playing?

Well, this is very much an entry in the "BOO! BANG!" genre of games. It's not really more complicated than that, and it's extremely linear. The conceit is that you've been separated from your crew mates and are doing a series of tasks to assist them, but the tasks themselves have absolutely no drama to them--it's just a mechanism to separate the time between BOOS!

The game is so beautifully designed that I didn't notice this at first, and even after I did, I kept playing for a while. What this game is crying out for, though, is a way to make me feel connected--to anyone. I see people on the ship being attacked, or people who've gone mad, but I can't save any of them. If I felt like a shepherd instead of a corpse counter, I'd be far more involved. As it is, though, I feel very remote from everything, and I don't mean that in a good way.

It's sterile.

What would also have been a natural for this game would be to add a tactical strategy layer. Make me the commander (kill the original commander, which makes my added responsibilities a surprise). If there are three "fetch-it" quests to get parts or turn on engines or whatever, let me choose crew members to assign to those duties.

Then, randomly generate results.

I'd have to go in and fix whatever my crew couldn't complete successfully, so I'd have to weigh the difficulty of tasks with the competence and skillsets of my crew. Plus, I'd have decide how much risk I could afford to let the crew take on their shoulders.

I might get someone killed because I made a poor decision. That would be freaking great.

So there would be a strategy layer on top of the action layer, and my action missions would be influenced by my decisions in the strategy layer.

That would make me care about my crew. It would force me to make all kinds of uncomfortable and possibly incredibly selfish decisions. Would I focus on protecting my own life instead of the lives of my crew? Would I be a hero or a bastard? Or both?

I know, that's a different game, but that's the game I wanted to be playing. Instead, I played a very linear BOO! BANG! game that had great interface design.

This is not to say that Dead Space is crap, because it isn't. The interface is wonderfully, it's atmospheric, and it's highly polished. As a shooter, it's certainly more interesting than most shooters that I've played in the last few years. But I think the shooter genre is getting very, very long in the tooth, and additional elements need to be incorporated to keep me (and many other people) interested.

Maybe some of these things happen later in the game. It might well be that the earlier part of the game is more constricted than later sections. But they lost me, so I'm not going to find out.

55 Seconds, Not 60

That particular leap gate has an even shorter time limit than I thought. I finally got through it (you don't want to know how many times I had to try it).

Even with that, this game is hopelessly addictive.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix: You Have Short Circuited The Leap Gate. Would You Like To Reset And Try Again?

I've been looking forward to Puzzle Quest: Galactrix since the day they announced the game.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was a ridiculously good game, one of my favorite games of 2007, and I had every reason to expect Galactrix to be even better.

And it is, mostly. Galactrix is set in outer space, has a very satisfying science fiction sheen to it, and the new puzzle mechanic is generally fantastic, because directional drops add a very complex element to the puzzles. As simply as I can describe it, the direction you move a piece to generate a match determines which direction the remaining pieces move to fill the gap when the match is removed. That doesn't sound like much when I write it, but trust me, it's a wonderful game mechanic in action.

Let me try to summarize the game as simply as I can: it combines elements of an RPG and a turn-based strategy game, but it substitutes match puzzles for the traditional action mechanics.

Hell, yes. Something different, and different in a good way.

There is, however, one sticking point.

One of the puzzle types is used to open jump gates that transport you from one galaxy to another. It's designed in a manner that I can only describe as completely unfair, for two reasons. The first is that while it's a timed puzzle, the timer keeps counting down during multiple match sequences (when you initiate one match, which moves pieces on the board, which fires off another match, etc.). There are times when four of five of these matches can fire off consecutively, and all the while, your timer is counting down. There is nothing worse than having one match left to open the gate, seeing it on the board, and being unable to click on it before the timer runs off because a sequence of matches has turned you into a spectator.

That is bad design.

The second reason is that there are times when you are unfairly denied credit for a match. The way this puzzle works is that you have to find matches of certain units in the order specified by the game. So let's say you have to find a yellow match, followed by a purple match. If you find a yellow match, and the piece movement causes a purple match to happen almost simultaneously, you don't get credit for that purple match. It seems to be time-related (they have to happen almost at the same time), and I'm guessing that it might be a bug, but it makes an already very difficult puzzle even harder.

The first few jump gates in the game are classified as "Easy," and the time limits on those are no problem. After that, though, it's trouble.

As a gamer, I love these guys. They're innovative and unique, and their games are very, very fun. And I think they'll do something to correct this. But it's killing me right now, because all I want to do is sit down and play this game for hours on end.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pricing, Part Two

In reference to the Gabe Newell story about discounting and its effect on their total sales revenue, several people e-mailed and discussed the phenomena of discounting and perceived value. Basically, what they said was that if a game is discounted, particularly before its initial release, then it's perceived as a budget title of lower quality.

I think this is a tightly held belief of the gaming industry. I also think it's dead wrong, and let's look at why.

Let's say that I'm looking for a desk. If I go to Wal-Mart and see a desk that costs $39.99, I know (without even looking) that it's made out of particle board and was made in China (in Desktown, presumably).

By the same token, if I go to some custom furniture store and see a desk that costs $499.99, I can safely assume that it's not made out of particle board.

Why can I assume this? Because the raw materials used when making a desk cost money, and higher-quality materials cost much more. Plus, it takes much longer to make a desk with a high build quality and no workmanship errors.

Sure, there are some expensive, poorly-made desks, but the price premium is so high (10X or een 20x or) that a company probably won't last for long if their very expensive product is shoddy.

So price can, in a general sense, indicate quality. If I'm trying to buy a desk, anyway.

There's a rabbit hole here, which is how high a quality of desk I really need, which is why my desk actually is made out of particle board, but that's not the topic.

Let's say I'm trying to buy something else, though, like a music CD. Does price have any correlation whatsoever to quality? Absolutely not. Some of the worst CD's I've ever heard cost me $16.99, while some of the very best cost me $9.99 or less.


Well, for one, music is a more highly particularized and creative endeavor than making desks. Plus, there's really no base "cost" of materials, at least in any meaningful sense. For a few thousand dollars, anyone can make a music CD, and for 90% of the people who listen, its technical quality will be indistinguishable from a CD that cost five million dollars (or more) to produce.

Plus, that five million dollars says nothing about the quality of the music. The raw materials, in effect, are created by the musicians, not purchased.

So do I think that a music CD that costs $9.99 is going to be worse than a CD that costs $16.99? Of course not.

Art? Books? Same thing. Zero relation between cost and quality. There certainly can be a relationship between cost and reputation, particularly in art, but that's a different matter entirely.

What about games?

Well, three of my favorite games of the last two years have been Dwarf Fortress, Armageddon Empires, and Fairway Solitaire.

Dwarf Fortress is free (although I strongly encourage you to make an optional donation), and it's probably the deepest exercise in pure thinking in the history of gaming. Created by two guys. Programmed by one (Tarn Adams).

Armageddon Empires was $29.95 when I bought it, I think. Created and programmed by one guy (Vic Davis). Ridiculously addictive.

Fairway Solitaire. $19.95. I spent at least 30 hours playing it. I think images from the game burned themselves onto my retina.

So does price give us any indication of depth or quality when it comes to games? Of course not.

Why do so many people think that it does, then? Because the big gaming companies tell us it does.

They tell us (over and over again) that they HAVE to charge $60 for new games because they cost so incredibly much to make, because of the staggering effort they require, blah blah blah.

And if those $60 games really WERE of uniformly high quality and depth, I'd believe them. Instead, though, many of of them are shoddy as shit. Annual sports games are prime offenders--we often pay $60 for early betas. And there are plenty of $60 games now (particularly FPS games) that have a single-player experience lasting fifteen hours or less.

Like I said, that $60 price tag means nothing except that it's what the publisher wants us to pay. It says zero about quality, about effort, about intent. Nothing.

So what does that say about a game being perceived as a budget title? I think that notion is based only on very limited anecdotal evidence that doesn't hold up under further scrutiny. Seriously, has a developer ever claimed that a game failed because the price was too low?

Particularly in an age where information is so plentiful and easily accessible, it's not hard to tell pearls from swine. If a game is good, it's good, regardless of the cost.

I think every big publisher knows that if they dropped the price of all new 360/PS3 by $10 that their sales revenue would increase. At first.

The problem, though, is that every other big publisher would respond by dropping their price, and everyone is afraid of that scenario (well, everyone who isn't a consumer, anyway). So while an occasional title will come out for $50, no one's making a clean break yet.

That has nothing to do with quality, though. It's just a tactic.

I'm sure that the gaming industry must have some kind of data that makes them believe they're maximizing their revenue with the pricing structure they're using, though. What I wonder about, though, is when that data was collected. The consumer market for gaming changes so quickly (Gamestop, the Internet, DLC) that if their data is two years old, it may be completely irrelevant.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Links!

John D'Angelo sent me a link to an astonishing short film that uses footage from Half-Life 2 intercut with real video. Only the first episode is online (about five minutes long), but it's well worth watching, and it's called Half-Life: Escape From City-17.

Here's an absolutely fascinating profile of Shane Battier by Michael Lewis ("Moneyball"), and it's a fantastic read. It's titled The No-Stats All-Star.

From Ian Anderson, a link to a remarkable blog written by the staff of the British Embassy in Harare (Zimbabwe).

From the ScottishBulldog, a link to another terrific article by Michael Lewis about the financial meltdown, titled The End.

From Andrew B, a link to some spectacularly disgusting school lunches. My least favorite disgusting meal at a school cafeteria? Tuna fish on waffles. Seriously. And it was my college cafeteria. Also, and this is excellent, The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published As Nonfiction.

From Justin Schultz, a link to photos of the construction of the Statue of Liberty.

From Andrew B, a link to the absolutely delightful video Making a Proper Dr. Who Anime.

From David Gloier, a link to the "original" version of Duck Hunt: in 1936.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a stunning slow-motion stabilized video montage of New York City.

From Sirius, a link to a story about diamonds no longer being the hardest natural substance. Greetings to wurtzite boron nitride and the mineral lonsdaleite. Also, and this is amazing, scientists have succeeded in creating an image that is an exact duplicate of the 5 million atoms used in the protective coat of hundreds of viruses containing double-stranded RNA genomes.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a wonderful story about sportsmanship at a high school basketball game.

If you ever wanted to see a space shuttle landing--from the cockpit--then this is a good day (thanks Mark Trinkwalder).

From Sean, a link to a very funny story about the police trying to solve the mystery of Ireland's worst driver.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gabe Newell

Gabe Newell is a smart man.

I know, sometimes he can be annoying, but that doesn't make him any less smart.

To me, the single most important thing he's done at Valve, by far, is that he's never cheapened the brand. Ever, in my memory. They release highly polished, well-tested games that focus on gameplay. They have had so many chances to cash in on their success, to eat the pie instead of making it larger, but Newell has always focused on growing the size of the pie.

I think that's a crucial concept that most gaming companies miss entirely, and it's not just gaming companies. Tell someone that they get to eat more of the pie, and they're jubilant--"I get more of the pie!"

They're missing the point, of course. Instead of asking "How much of the pie do I get to eat?", they should be asking "What is the size of the pie?" In the long term, pie size almost always wins out over slice size.

Anyway, I think Newell understands this better than almost anyone, and it's a key reason that Valve has been so incredibly successful.

Today, conveniently, during the DICE keynote, he talked about pies.

Specifically, he talked about a pricing experiment that Valve conducted last weekend with Left 4 Dead. They lowered the price by 50% (to $24.99).

What happened?

Sales rose by 3000%, and "revenue far eclipsed the game's sales during its launch window." Plus new Steam customers rose by 1600% over the "baseline."

Each one of those new customers is increasing the size of the pie.

Did retail sales drop during that period? No. This was not cannibalization, according to Newell, because retail sales held steady.

Here's more. Steam also had a holiday sale, and here are the results (thanks to the G4TV liveblog, which you can read here):
10% sale = 35% increase in sales (real dollars, not units shipped)
25% sale = 245% increase in sales
50% sale = 320% increase in sales
75% sale = 1470% increase in sales


We're never going to know the answer to this question, but how would next-gen console sales have been impacted if 360 and PS3 games were launched at $49.99 instead of $59.99?

It was a double whammy. The consoles cost more, and so did the games. Yes, the Wii is very cool with motion control, but if it had launched at $399 and had $59.99 games, would it be anything right now but a novelty?

Price isn't the only reason a product succeeds in a mass market sense, but in most cases, it's one of the reasons.

Remember ESPN NFL2K5? Boy, I do. It's still my favorite football game--ever. What was most remarkable about the game, though, in a historical sense, wasn't its quality: it was the price.


Remember, NFL2K4 only sold 360,000 copies. NFL2K5? Over 2.5 million.

I, um, wonder if that pricing strategy worked.

Yes, there was some cannibalization of Madden sales, and Madden was also discounted far earlier than usual. But that pricing strategy is even more appropriate today in an environment where downloadable content is promoted so heavily. Madden doesn't need to come out at $19.95, obviously, but if it came out at $49.99 instead of $59.99, total sales revenue would be higher, I bet, and there would be a higher installed base to purchase downloadable content.

Look--$59.99 is an an entitrely arbitrary price point. Is there any reason to believe that it represents the ideal price to maximize sales revenue?


I thought using pricing to maximize sales revenue was the whole point.

My Highly Technical Reaction: Aw, Crap

From Engadget:
Intel's X25-M SSD drives have certainly shown themselves more than capable enough in the usual tests and various configurations, but a long-term test report from the folks at PC Perspective is now casting a bit of doubt onto their long-term effectiveness and speediness. More specifically, they found that the sector remapping and wear-leveling algorithms that are designed to increase performance and extend the drives' lifespans were actually doing quite the opposite as the drive became increasingly fragmented after extensive use.


At this point, any hardware recommendation I make is almost sure to be followed less than a week later by an article at Ars Technica or similar site confirming that the hardware in question sets housefires on purpose and eats children. And likes it.

The PC Perspective article is here, and if I allowed myself to have any perspective on this, I would admit that this article is a very, very good thing, because it exposes the problem in a very public way. In other words, Intel has to fix it with a firmware update.

Oh, and in case you're wondering: no slowdown for me yet. My X-25M is still obscenely fast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

That Silversun Pickups Song part of the original set list in RB2, not DLC. No DLC necessary, and it's wicked fun to play.

Just A Normal Question Around Our House

"Dude, why are you taking your Grim Reaper scythe upstairs?"

Two Positive EA Posts in a Row: What's The Temperature In Hell Right Now?

Thanks Kotaku:
...EA just revealed (courtesy of an invitation email) that next year's iteration of Tiger Woods on the Wii - Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 - will use Motion Plus.

This means that, unlike current golf titles on the Wii,
Tiger Woods 10 will bring true 1:1 swing recognition to what's still the best golf game on the market.

Hey, if it's "true" 1:1 swing recognition, then maybe they'll fix the damn putting animation!

NHL 09

I know I complain about the quality of sports games on a regular basis (because much of the time, they suck), but I try to give credit as well, and EA Canada deserves much credit for the support they've given to NHL this year.

Even when it was initially released in September, NHL 09 was an excellent game. But one significant patch greatly imroved the gameplay, and now, over FIVE MONTHS after the game was released, another patch has been released (initially for the PS3, and scheduled for late next week for the 360 version).

This isn't a patch that changes wristband color or crap like that--it's a serious effort to improve the simulation aspect of the game, both single-player and online. You can see the patch notes here, but I am so impressed that this game continues to improve. Developers continue to be active on the forums as well.

It seems like there are two tiers of sports games in terms of quality, and the games in tier one have developers who care the most about the realism of their product.

Cosmetic Surgery And The World's Most Amusing Dermatologist

I went for my annual dermatology check-up today, and my dermatologist, as always, was interesting.

We usually talk about cosmetic surgery, because while she's a dermatologist who has nothing to do with cosmetic surgery, she works in what is essentially a giant cosmetic surgery mill. So while I'm sitting in the waiting area for my boring annual skin safety check, I sit next to women who look like the freaking Bride of Frankenstein.

I don't know if cosmetic surgery is popular where you live (Ben, I'm pretty sure I know the answer for your area), but it's becoming increasingly popular here, so much so that the women who are 35+ are all starting to look alike.

I've never been able to succinctly explain this similarity, but my doctor did. She said women who have cosmetic surgery look like each other in the same way that Down's Syndrome kids have a distinct resemblance to each other.

If I was going to try and describe the cosmetic surgery "look," it would be tightly stretched and angular in a way that's almost harsh. And it's easy to spot--maybe not all women who have cosmetic surgery look like this, but it's easy to pick out the ones who do. So these women are paying significant amounts of money to look more "beautiful," but all they're getting is a Stepford Wife overhaul.

In All Seriousness...

...that Silversun Pickups DLC song really IS fantastic.


The intern, Miss Emily Typo, has been sacked. That is all.

Rock Band 2 (#117)

I've been spehding quite a bit of time with the "Beat Trainer" of Rock Band 2, and I hibhly recommend it if you're looking for a way to improfe. 76 beats, which you can practice anywyere from 60 to 200 beats a mihute (in steps of 20).

In particular, this is excekkent training for the gass pedal, which is always (for me) the most dirricult part of a song to get righg. I always have huge probldms with songs when the bass beat is syncopa%ed (I think I'm saying that rigyt).

At this point, I've finished all beats at 60bpm, and done all of thej at 80bpm except #75, "Toms of Doom" (where basically the entire bass drum se1uence is syncopa%ed).

Oh, and by the way, if you're l00king for some exce,,ent drums DLC, download the Silversun Pickups song "Lazy Eye." It's a teffiric note chart, and for a dirriculty com-arison, it's roughly the same complexi%y as "Gimme Shelter" on Expert, and wlightly more in%eres%ing.


I'm very pleased to announce that Dubious Quality has added its first intern. At first, she'll be transcribing my dictated posts and publishing them. That should free up some of my time to include more content.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


If you want to find out why "Flight of the Conchords" is one of the funniest shows on television, then the "Unnatural Love" episode is a great place to start. And here's a music video from the episode: Ex-Girlfriend Choir.

MLB 09: The Show (PS3)

I've done a very poor job of discussing the new version of The Show--mostly because it's a Day One, Minute One purchase for me already--but let's remedy that now.

First off, here are some developer, blogs, and in terms of information, they're extremely specific:
Franchise Mode enhancements (40-man rosters, supplemental draft, Rule 5 draft, arbitration--are you freaking kidding me?)
A.I. enhancements (CPU fielder routes and reactions to hard-hit balls, 50+ new tag animations, plus a ton of stuff in the pitcher/batter confrontation). The video with this entry is quite good.
Road To The Show enhancements (many notable improvements, and the number of minor league stadiums has been doubled to ten)
Training Modes (added to RTTS mode, and something I was particularly hoping for)

Plus, Dean of Sports Game Reviewers Bill Abner has an outstanding Q&A with the dev team here. My favorite quote?
Realism is our number one goal.

The Q&A is typical Abner--lots of detail and plenty of quality answers.

It's easy to see that when playing MLB 08: The Show, and that's why these guys kick the crap out of every other sports game developer out there. They are in a totally separate league.

Oh, and if you want a comparison, here's what the MLB2K series does better than The Show: nothing. There's your comparison.

2K Update

Someone who's very clever sent me two notes about my 2K Sports post yesterday, and it was noted that:
1) Kush was replaced after MLB2k8 last year--they no longer develop sports games for 2K Sports (although a fair number now work for Visual Concepts, so it wasn't a complete turnover).
2) The biggest changes in the last few years have occured with QA, not development.

#2 is particularly interesting, and it's correct. After NBA2K8, it looks like QA was moved to 2K West and away from Visual Concepts.

System Check (4 weeks)

So after four weeks of use, the verdict on the new system: kicks ass.

I had some minor teething pain.

One of the coolest features in Vista is suspend mode. Instead of shutting down, you choose "suspend," and here's what it does:
keeps your session in memory and puts the computer in a low-power state so that you can quickly resume working.

This is, in short, The Shit (in capital letters). The "low-power" state is so low that all system fans shut off, and while it seems like you've shut down the system, when you hit the power button, you're back on the desktop in just a few seconds.

I would do this indefinitely, never rebooting, except the EVGA motherboard had a bug with suspend mode that made it lock up about 5% of the time you tried to resume. With a bios update last night, though, that's supposed to be fixed.

Other than that, zero crashes in a month. Well, except for King's Bounty, but I'm certainly not by myself as a member of that club. And I've run two other games (The Witcher and New Star Soccer 4) with zero crashes, so I suspect KB, not the system or the OS.

I wasn't a big fan of downloading games that I could get on disc instead, but with this Intel SSD, I have totally changed my mind. It's just great to have the entire game on the hard drive--no optical drive noise, and no hard drive noise, either. Plus this drive just absolutely screams in terms of speed.

Other problems? None that I can think of. All the peripherals I like to use work just fine, and this system is just so ridiculously fast that it's a pleasure to work on anything and everything.

Like I said, this is a low complexity build, and I'm trying to do that with installed software, too. Right now, I'm using Firefox and Microsoft Office (almost went Open Office, but decided against it), and I've got the three games installed. That's it. I'm one of those people who compulsively scrubs their drive to keep it as "clean" as possible in terms of what's installed, so having a lean set of apps installed is pretty normal for me.

One last note: I mentioned this before, but EVGA's customer service really, really impresses me, so if you're looking for an X58 board, I'd recommend them highly.

Dwarf Fortress Tutorials

"captain_duck" has posted an absolutely epic series of video tutorials over at the Bay 12 forums. If you ever wanted to play Dwarf Fortress, or wanted further instruction on a particular part of the game, these videos are excellent, and you can see links to all 26 of them here.

I haven't mentioned Dwarf Fortress in a while, but it still has the most complex, intricate gameworld I've ever seen. It is, in short, a pure exercise in thinking.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Telltale Wrapper

[Sweethearts is a kind of candy. ]

I heard this conversation yesterday.

"Mom, can I have a dessert? You said I could have a dessert after dinner!"

"You already did."

"No, I didn't."

"You had Sweethearts," Gloria said.

"No, I didn't!"

"There was a Sweethearts wrapper under your plate"

"There was not!"

"All right, maybe it was beside your plate," she said.

"Now that's just CRAZY talk," he said.

The Low Road

I don't know if you remember the halcyon days of EA and 2K Sports telling us that in-game advertising was going to make for a more "authentic" experience.

By "halcyon" I mean that's what they were obviously taking.

We all knew they were lying, obviously. It was totally idiotic for anyone to think that real advertisements in any way, shape, or form, was going to make anything more "authentic."

I remember the halcyon (and by "halcyon" I mean "happy, joyful, carefree") days of the parody advertisement. Baseball games had them all the time, and many of them were very clever, and it was entertaining. I even developed imaginary ad favorites over time.

Now, we've got this:
...what is of most concern is that 2K has added areas for ads that don’t actually exist in real life.

The most obvious example of this is Wrigley Field. A sign in center field has been inserted in order to get the State Farm advertisement in.

That's what we're getting this year with MLB2K9.

WTF? Sports stadiums are covered in advertising these days, but that's not enough for 2K Sports? They have to ADD new ad placements that don't even exist in the real stadiums?

Well done, asshats.

It you want to see just how shitty this looks, go here. See that gigantic State Farm ad just to the left of dead center field. There's no ad in that spot at Wrigley Field. Oh, and guess what--when you're batting, that ad is in your field of vision on every single pitch.

Welcome to the future.

They've also apparently altered dimensions of some stadiums (increasing the height of some outfield walls, for example), to put in more ads.

Even worse, 2K is doing this after MLB2K7 was, to put it politely, shit. Here's what I wrote last year:
MLB2K7 (360) is a superb early beta.

It was incredibly buggy, the framerate was terrible, and franchise mode was a joke. So after people pay $60 for an early beta, do we get rewarded this year with a resounding commitment to quality?

Not so much. We do get a resounding commitment to advertising, though.

I think we've all pretty much accepted at this point that 2K Sports doesn't finish sports games anymore. They work on a game until it's supposed to ship, and then it's out the door in whatever shape it happens to be in.

It's been an incredible four year decline.

In 2002-2003, Take Two Sports basically had the best version of every sports game they published. Football was still dicey, but one year, they released NFL2K5, which was arguably the best football experience ever released. In many ways, it's STILL better than Madden.

For some reason, though, development studios started getting replaced. Treyarch was taken off the hockey series (Kush replaced them). Blue Shift was taken off the baseball game (Kush replaced them, too).

Kush made games look prettier, but they, without exception, played worse. And they were always less finished, too.

Visual Concepts, though, was always the star developer. They developed both the NFL and NBA games, and in many ways, they really pushed the envelope. It's not they had the same kind of commitment to finishing their games that, say, Sony San Diego (The Show) does, but they made some great games.

Now? Hell, when was the last time a 2K Sports game was great? Even the NBA series, which was quite advanced in many ways, has taken several steps backwards. The tenth time you pass the basketball through a defensive player, you'll realize that something has gone very, very wrong.

In many ways, 2K has turned into Tiburon, Jr. They seem completely unable to figure out what really works from what doesn't, so their games really don't improve from year to year--they're just different.

In the case of the MLB series, it was never as good after Kush took over from Blue Shift. Yes, baserunning was always crap in the Blue Shift games, but there were also ways in which the game was years ahead of its time.

Hockey? Same thing. Kush took over from Treyarch and made the game much prettier and not nearly as realistic or playable.

As someone who was always a big fan of the 2K series of games, it's been tremendously disappointing to see them fade. And given the staff cuts they've made in the last few years, I don't see them turning it around.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Links!

On a rare somber note to start off Friday Links, Jeremy Connell sent me a link to a story about the bushfires that raged through Victoria, Australia this week. This story is titled How We Cheated Flames of Death, and it's both terrifying and riveting.

In a lighter vein, my buddy Mike sent me a link to a hilarious, NSFW (in a text sense only) website: F*** My Life. It's like PostSecret, but much funnier and more profane. I read three pages and it's a permanent bookmark now.

Now, from Sebastian Morgan-Lynch, what is without question the most "spectacular" marketing theory in history. It's a presentation from Pepsi's PR company, and it's the marketing equivalent of auto-erotic asphyxiation. Read it and you'll see what I mean.

From Michael O'Reilly, a link to a fascinating article titled 1709: The Year That Europe Froze. How cold was it? Here's an excerpt:
Derham was the Rector of Upminster, a short ride north-east of London. He had been checking his thermometer and barometer three times a day since 1697. Similarly dedicated observers scattered across Europe did much the same and their records tally remarkably closely. On the night of 5 January, the temperature fell dramatically and kept on falling. On 10 January, Derham logged -12 °C, the lowest temperature he had ever measured. In France, the temperature dipped lower still. In Paris, it sank to -15 °C on 14 January and stayed there for 11 days. After a brief thaw at the end of that month the cold returned with a vengeance and stayed until mid-March.

From Frank Regan, a picture of--believe it or not--the end of the rainbow. Next is a story about a hybrid nuclear reactor that could destroy nuclear waste. And the argument in the comments section is quite geekworthy as well. Finally, a link to virtual autopsies using MRI's and computed tomography.

From Sirius, a link to 15 examples of biomimicry. Oh, and since it's nearly Valentine's day, here's a heartwarming story: sales of pink tasers are way up.

From Tim Jones, here are some absolutely stunning nighttime photographs of factories in Japan.

From Dana Crane, a link to a slide presentation by Sequoia Capital that explains our current financial mess quite well. It's called the 56 Slide Presentation Of Doom.

From DQ reader my wife, a link to a fascinating article about teleportation, and here's an excerpt:
Teleportation is one of nature's most mysterious forms of transport: Quantum information, such as the spin of a particle or the polarization of a photon, is transferred from one place to another, without traveling through any physical medium. It has previously been achieved between photons (a unit, or quantum, of electromagnetic radiation, such as light) over very large distances, between photons and ensembles of atoms, and between two nearby atoms through the intermediary action of a third.

None of those, however, provides a feasible means of holding and managing quantum information over long distances.

Now the JQI team, along with colleagues at the University of Michigan, has succeeded in
teleporting a quantum state directly from one atom to another over a meter. That capability is necessary for workable quantum information systems because they will require memory storage at both the sending and receiving ends of the transmission.

From Christopher Buecheler, it's The Top 8 Rejected PS3 Games. I'm quite fond of "Grillzone 2" and "Shadow of the Colostomy."

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine And Fiancee, it's The Complete Animated History of the Internet. Next, and this is bizarrely compelling, it's a video made by a camera on top of a piece of sushi on a conveyor belt.

From Michael Martin, a link to the Mazda Suitcase Car. It's bizarre, as you would expect.

From Liz Watson, it's a link to the discovery of a prehistoric snake that measured 42 feet long. And would have weighed about 2,500 pounds.

Lastly, but this is extremely interesting, Sean sent in this link to an interactive map of twitter chatter during the Super Bowl.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

January NPD

Analysis on Monday, but here are the numbers:

A few quick notes. One, that's the best January the 360 has ever had. Two, it's also the best January the Wii has ever hard. Three, it's the worst January the PS3 has ever had, which reemphasizes how desperately Sony needs a price cut. Four, last January, combined PS2+PS3 sales were 533,000 units. This year, it's 304,400, and PS3 sales alone are down 24% from last January.

I don't even need to write up an analysis for Monday. Those numbers say it all.

Hey Andy, Did You Hear About This One?

I don't know if you've been following this, but actor Joaquin Phoenix has basically turned into the ghost of Andy Kaufman.

I have no complaints about that, because Andy Kaufman was hilarious (and incredibly dark), but still, it's unexpected.

Phoenix has been claiming for a while that he's not going to act anymore and that his new career is going to be hip-hop. And his friend Casey Affleck just happens to be following him around with a cameraman for a documentary as all this unfolds.

Yeah, I know--way more obvious than Kaufman, whose particular genius was totally blurring the line between reality and comedy. Still it's pretty inspired, and here are a couple of links--one, to a Newsweek interview, and second, his appearance on the David Letterman Show last night.

Let's Try This Again

Correcting a link mix-up last week, here is the correct link to the story about collecting phone books. Over 3,000, in case you're wondering, and it's a thoroughly interesting story both from a nostalgic and geek perspective.

Paul Baxter, who submitted the link originally, let me know that his friend (who wrote the story) also has a website called Statoids, which is filled with an inconceivable amount of detail about every country on earth. It's a rabbit hole with exits to an exponential number of other rabbit holes, and I mean that in a good way.

The Fate of Africa

If you remember the excellent e-mail I received last month from the anonymous academician after my Zimbabwe currency post, you may also remember that he recommended a book about Robert Mugabe.

What I didn't mention at the time was that he also highly recommended a general study of post-colonial Africa titled The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. I finished reading it a few days ago, and it's a terrific book. Thorough, detailed, and highly engrossing, it's an excellent survey of what's happened in Africa in the last five decades.

It's also discouraging in the details, which is unfortunately to be expected, given the massive amount of suffering that has taken place in Africa. That doesn't make it any less interesting reading, though, and it's a remarkable piece of scholarship by author Martin Meredith. And what it does do is put all of this suffering into a historical framework and give it context, which is impossible to get from reading news stories.

It's also available in a Kindle edition, which is here: Kindle version.

The Danger Of Lacking Context

I write all kinds of ideas down on little scraps of paper that I have in a pile on my desk.

Usually, this works pretty well. Sometimes, though, I lose a scrap of paper at the bottom of the pile, and by the time I find it, I've forgotten what I was supposed to be writing about.

For example, today I found this written on a scrap of paper: gives handjobs to monkeys.

I'm Still Not Right But I'm Further From Wrong

That's what I said today when Gloria asked me how I was feeling. "I think that's a country song," she said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Calling All Phone Books (I think that's a pun)

Okay, if you sent me the link last week to the phone book collector, I cleverly used a link to Duffy instead.

This was in error.

Anyway, I can't seem to find the original e-mail, so please send me the link again, because it was an interesting story and I'd like to use it again--correctly this time.

This Is Not Possible: Ski & Shoot Impressions

So I assumed Ski & Shoot would be absolutely, horrifically bad, and I could play for an hour and then write a really snarky set of impressions that would (hopefully) give you a few laughs. Certainly, a biathlon game should be ripe for ripping.

And I just can't. It's too good.

Now let me identify my bias before we proceed. First off, I think some of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Winter Olympics have been in team cross-country skiing races. The sheer magnitude of the effort is incredible. That's not the same as being a fan of the biathlon, but it certainly makes me more likely to appreciate a game like this.

So I'm not going to complain that this game is boring because it's a simulation of the biathlon. Of course that's what it is, and it's a pretty damn good one. It's not a half-ass effort in the slightest, and it's obvious that the developers have attempted to be faithful to the sport.

Here are the basics. The meat of the game appears to be the career mode, where you begin as a novice racer and work your way up through the ranks. It's got a standard skill system where you can initially allocate skill points, and then you receive additional training points after each event you complete. If you finish high enough in a competition, you also receive experience points. Accumulate enough XP and your character increases in level, which gives you points to increase your potential in each skill.

When the race begins, you ski by moving the Wiimote/nunchuck combination forward and backward (oppositionally, like real skiing). Pressing B+Z puts you into tuck mode for downhills. Tilting the controllers controls direction, and turning in this manner is extremely intuitive and well done.

Something I particularly appreciate is how difficult it is to ascend steep slopes. It looks exactly as it does on television--it's slow-going on a steep slope, and you really feel the effort. It's tough.

Plus, and this is a nice piece of design, every race is a tactical balance between speed and stamina. On the left, you see a stamina meter for the race, and on the race, you can see a meter that represents your optimal speed for that section of the course. Exceed this speed (which is very easy to do on uphills), and you start depleting the stamina meter. The lower your stamina, the shakier your shooting, and the more difficult it is to ski. It's a nice balance.

Another nice touch is that as you ski, you see the race line of the skiiers who have gone before you. I can't tell if I go slower when I'm out of the groove--I think I do, but I may just be imagining it.

Shooting is also well implemented. Stop breathing with the A button, and shoot with the B button. Wind makes it more difficult to steady your aim.

Sounds are excellent, with very solid crowd and announcer sounds.

It's all well designed, it's obviously a sincere effort, and I think the developers (49Games) have done an excellent job.

Oh, and it supports the balance board. Hell, yes. I tried it out after a few races, and it was quite a bit more difficult to control turning (for me), but it was also great to lean way forward and go into the tuck position.

Look, this game obviously isn't going to be for everyone, or even most people. The races last a long time, relatively (about seven minutes, at least at this point in my career), and the experience isn't artificially jacked up--there are no power-ups, no wacky Mario Kart chicanery, nothing of that.

It's just a biathlon simulation, and a very good one.

I Didn't Think Of This At The Time...

...but when you think of a blogger, you may also see "...a junior high girl in her all-pink room working on a scrapbook and talking constantly on her cellphone while she's chewing gum."

I would add "breathlessly giggling," just for the sake of accuracy.

Taking One For the Team

Believe it or not, I'm trying out "Ski And Shoot" (the biathlon game) for the Wii today, and I'll have some impressions up later.


As some of you know, I have a Facebook account.

Here's what I know about Facebook: nothing. Here's what I want to know about Facebook: nothing. Someone e-mailed me (it was an auto e-mail from Facebook, but I didn't know that at the time) and asked me to be their friend or something, so I made an account.

Now, I get requests from people to be their friends and I okay the requests. But I have no idea what's on my page--I've never even been to my page. And I'm not going, either, because my conception of Facebook is of a junior high girl in her all-pink room working on a scrapbook and talking constantly on her cellphone while she's chewing gum.

So if you do anything besides a friend request and I don't respond, it's not you. I never go look. I'm negative bandwidth as it is, and if I did have a little more time, I wouldn't be using it to look at my Facebook page.

Gloria recently started her own Facebook account (sucked into it the same way I was), and she sent me this today:
Here are the kinds of things that you could do if you were active on Facebook.

Yesterday when I logged in, I had:
--One friend request (from someone I don't recognize but with whom I apparently have two friends in common)
--One Superpoke! invitation (someone baked me a virtual Valentine's cake)
--An invitation to take Dr. Phil's Personality Test
--An invitation to take a "What Rush Song Are You?" quiz
--Three online friends available for chat

The horror.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A F---ing Conversation

I had a conversation with my boss.

"So what did you do last weekend?" I asked.

"Well, I cleared some brush, worked on the yard, and we went to a wine bar."

I raised my eyebrow.

"A f---ing wine bar," he said, in a manly, defiant tone.

"I don't think that wine bars can be toughened up by dropping an f-bomb in front of them," I said. "It's like saying 'f---ing day spa" or 'f---ing manicure."

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

So I still feel like complete hell today (although at least marginally better than yesterday), but in a totally unexpected bit of news, I can play King's Bounty again.

Thanks to you guys.

Fong volunteered to test my last save on his 32-bit Vista system, and so did Andrew (also using 32-bit Vista). Both could finish the battle I kept crashing on with no problem. They also sent me a screen print of their running processes from Task Manager.

I said I have a simple setup, and I do, but I do have a Wacom Tablet (the Bamboo) installed, so the first thing I tried was removing that and using a conventional mouse.

That didn't work, but I kept it unplugged just to simplify things. I noticed that neither one of the testers had Sidebar enabled, so I turned it off (all I had on it was the clock). I also noticed that Fong said he had 16-bit anisotropic filtering enabled in the game, while I only had 4-bit.

I started the game, changed to 16-bit AF in the options menu, and started the battle of death (for me, anyway, since I've played it 15-20 times and crashed every time).

This time, though--no problem.

I experimented with different combinations of those three changes, and the game would crash every time unless I used all three changes (unplugged tablet, Sidebar off, and 16-bit AF enabled in-game). With all three, though, I've played for over 3 hours in the last day or so with no crashes.

That's not flaky or anything, and by that I mean that it's entirely flaky.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Gaming Links

Some of you may have played a classic puzzle game titled "The Fool's Errand" that originally came out in 1987. It has a well-deserved status as one of the most interesting brain teaser/puzzle games of all time, and creator Cliff Johnson has been working on a sequel for, well, forever.

Almost forever, anyway. I think I pre-purchased the sequel, "A Fool And His Money," about five years ago.

Anyway, incredibly, the game is almost finished, and you can download a "teaser" that includes the prologue and eleven puzzles here. The game is in "beta testing" now, and I believe the current release date is "summer."

The entertaining Hatchet Job podcast has a new episode, and this time they interview Eurogamer Tom Bramwell. Why exactly ARE those Europeans more interesting than us, anyway? At least, they always seem to be, at least to me.

DQ reader Steve Davis has published a book titled Protecting Games: A Security Handbook for Game Developers and Publishers, and if you're interested, that link goes straight to Amazon.

DQ reader Fredrik Skarstedt is one of the creative forces behind MMOBaseball, and here's a description:
MMOBaseball is a FREE web based RPG game that allows you to create a player, or a team owner, and compete in accurately simulated baseball games against baseball lovers from all over the world. You can create players in every position on the field or own a team or even become a team manager.

You may remember Fredrik as the developer of "Switching Gears," a sort of Futurama-esque platform game that was very clever (I linked to a one-level demo--the game was unable to get enough funding to be completed, but it was very well done).

Oh, and by the way--I'm still listening to the soundtrack of "Sunny Day Sky" in the background. It's hypnotic.

Howie Shack sent me a link to a very stylish, very interesting Flash game called Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2. If you played the original (also very stylish), I think the play mechanics have been improved in this version, and the developer is tremendously creative in a very striking way.

Finally, and I'm only linking to this last because Matt has gotten linked at the top of posts so many times, but his Culture Clash installment this month is titled The Guythagorean Theorem , and it's guys being guys via e-mail. In all the worst ways, obviously, which makes it much funnier.

Apologies for any and all typos in advance. My face is so pressurized right now (damn sinuses) that a dog barked and my head exploded.


Wow. A star baseball player had been forced to admit he used steroids? And before he did, he claimed for years that he would absolutely never do something like that?

Every time I hear one of these guys do this, I throw up in my mouth a little. The list is so long right now that almost every great power hitter of the 1995-2005 era is in question. It's pathetic.

Oh, and don't forget the pitchers, like Roger Clemens. He's a colossal fraud, too.

You know what? Sports are supposed to be fair. That's why we love them, because in a world where so many things aren't fair, sports are a refuge. These guys are just cheaters--it's not anything more complicated than that.

I've heard people say that athletes aren't supposed to be role models, or heroes. To that, I say horseshit. When a kid asks his mom for your jersey for Christmas, when he wants to walk around wearing your name on his back, then you damn well better be a role model.

I don't know how anyone could be a baseball fan right now. Someone could give me front row tickets to a major league game and I'd give them back. The players, the union, the owners, the commissioner--they were all complicit in what happened. What a bunch of scumbags.

That's one of the reasons that I appreciate MLB: The Show so much. It's such a fantastic video game that I can still enjoy baseball (virtually) without having to pay any attention to the real world.

Thank goodness.


I took Eli 7.6 to see Coraline on Friday.

The book was written by Neil Gaiman, so it's not a typical children's story. It's also not a typical children's movie. The characters aren't yelling all the time, there aren't any crazy chase sequences, there's almost nothing that would identify it as a contemporary film for children.

Which is outstanding.

In contrast, Coraline is thoughtful, dark, and at least a little unnerving. And utterly brilliant.

It's also done in stop-motion animation, and the combination of stop-motion and 3D is genius. Stop-motion animation always has a slightly unnatural feel to it, and so does 3D (the Viewmaster effect, I call it). Combined, though, their awkwardness complements each other almost perfectly.

In HD and 3D, the look of the film is just astounding. It's the best 3D I've ever seen.

I promised Eli that we'd go see it a second time this week, and we both agree it's the best movie we've ever seen together.

More Fun Than This

Because a sinus infection has absolutely knocked me on my ass today, I wanted to think about something much more pleasant, and this absolutely fills the bill (that's not a pun):
Sunny Day Sky

I've linked to that before, but it's worth an encore. And it still has the most infectious (again, not a pun) music ever.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

King's Bounty Sale

I can't recommend King's Bounty with 64-bit Vista as the OS anymore (unfortunately), but for everyone else, it's a fantastic game. Ty Sleck let me know that it's on sale this weekend for $22.90 at GoGamer. That's an insane price for a wonderful game.

As for my own problem, two people (one with 64-bit Vista, one with 32-bit) are testing my last save. If it runs on both (or one), then it should help me narrow down what's going on. If it crashes on both, then unpleasant thoughts and curse words.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Links!

Starting off this week, we have what must be one of the funniest complaint letters in history. Hennie van Loggerenberg sent it in, and it's utterly epic.

Jeremy Fischer sent me a link to an Atari commercial from 1982 (via the ridiculously interesting Rock, Paper, Shotgun), and it's just brilliant.

I know nothing about Eminem--don't know his music, didn't see 8 Mile--but there's a fascinating profile of him here.

Liz Watson sent me a link to Plants in Motion, a series of time-lapse photography movies demonstrating different aspects of plant life (germination, nastic movements, circadian responses, etc.). Very, very cool.

From Geoff Engelstein, a link to what must surely be one of the most bizarre headlines ever: Hippo Eats Dwarf. [Greg Wakolbinger let me know that this story has been debunked at]

From DireKobold, a link to a fascinating story, and here's an excerpt:
Unbeknownst to the thousands of people who walk and drive along the busy streets of downtown Brooklyn every day, they are treading on a 170 year old secret. At 17 feet high, 21 feet wide and 1,611 feet long, it is a big secret indeed, and one filled with greed, murder and corruption. Not long ago, M and I had the chance to go down a manhole in the middle of Atlantic Avenue and find out more. What we found was truly unbelievable

From Steven Kreuch, a link to one of the most inspired business ideas ever: Sarah's Smash Shack. If only we had known about this when we were in San Diego last year! Also, a link to a great series of pictures showing a mother squirrel basically kicking a dog's ass to protect her baby.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, if you want to know what a volcanic eruption looks like, then take a look here.

From Paul Baxter, a link to a story of a collector--of telephone books.

From my friend Pete Thistle, a link to a gripping story titled The Day Kennedy Died, and it's the story of Dr. Robert Nelson McClelland, who tried to save the lives of both John F Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald in the operating room.

From Sean, a link to an absolutely brilliant art project that you must see to believe.

From Sarah Haag, a link to a story about Henry, a tuatara lizard who, at the age of 110, got his freak on and mated, producing 11 offspring. There's no truth to the rumor that his girlfriend inherits his estate as soon as he dies.

From Tim Lesnick, a link to the 15 Worst Construction Mistakes.

From Brian, and it's in reference to the cake I linked to last week, it's Cake Wrecks, and it's exactly what you'd expect, only funnier.

From Sirius, a link to a story about tome raiders, thieves who specialize in rare books. Also, a link to 30 Abstract Satellite Images of Earth, and the colors are stunning. And one of my favorite headlines ever: Cows With Names Produce More Milk, Scientists Say.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

King's Bounty: The Hell's Hell of Hellium, Now With 60% More Hell

Here's what I do every day in King's Bounty. I start the game, go the battle that's been crashing, make a minor change to a setting, play through the battle for a while, feel my hopes foolishly raise, then near the end of the battle---

Ejection. Damn it!

I'm guessing that the most logical way to test this is to find out which absolutely essential services in Vista are necessary, then close every other process. If it ran then, I'd have a clue, at least, and a way to keep playing the game. I may not have that kind of enthusiasm, but I'm glad to know that I at least have an option.

Damn it.

Gaming Notes

New Star Soccer 4 is the bomb.

It's incredibly well-designed, well-balanced, and it has an utterly wonderful interface that makes it incredibly easy to play. It's role-playing to eleven, and it's huge fun. The website is here, and I guarantee you that this will be one of the top three sports games of the year. Against games with budgets 1000x larger.

Download and your fun is assured.

I'll have a bigger post coming next week, but I've got a match to play now, and if I don't get my ass in gear, I may be tranfser listed.

My Favorite Unused Headline Ever

Today, when I found out that diva David Beckham want out of his contract to the Los Angeles Barbacoa or something. Apparently, he wasn't thrilled to be in America, where his primary fanbase consisted of eleven-year old girls screaming for him to sign their juice boxes.

So all day, I have waited to see this headline: Beckham? Damn Near Killed Him!

So far, I'm still waiting.

Evita Peron, Call On Line Two

Yes, I'm a belly button singer.

If you have kids, or got really drunk in college, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Lift your shirt up, use one hand to make your belly button open and close like a mouth, and sing away. Since your belly button already looks like a tiny mouth, it's comedy gold.

Outies, I don't know what to tell you. Sorry.

Maybe you've done this yourself. Maybe you fancy yourself the Pavarotti of belly button singers.
I bet you've never sang "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" through your belly button, though. This evening. Not that I, um, know anyone who did that.

Believe it or not, I have another story about "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." I was on a huge project once at my old company--several hundred people and an absolute supertanker of consultants.

The consultant for our area was an incredibly smart, funny guy. He was Belgian, and while he spoke English extremely well, he had a very heavy accent. His name was Danny.

All the consultants on this project were making huge money, because we were installing an enterprise software package that about two hundred people in the world actually understood, and he was one of them.

Since this was planned to be a 3-5 year project, we all got to be friends, and occasionally Danny would talk about how he was looking forward to retiring early (he was only in his mid 30's at the time). With what he was getting paid, he only needed to work for a few more years to be set for life.

I have no idea why, but Danny sometimes sang in his cube, and he didn't sing well. He used to sing "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," and seeing a short, pale, bald guy sing a song about Evita Peron was completely outstanding, particularly because he was always completely off-key.

So you know what happens with every expensive 3-5 year project at a major corporation--right in the middle, a new CIO comes in who doesn't know dick and doesn't want anything to do with a major project that isn't his, so he cancels it and starts over. That's what happened to this project, and it meant that all the consultants were let go.

On Danny's last day, I went to his cube to commiserate for a few minutes. I said that I was sorry to see him go, and that I hoped he still retired young. He smiled, looked at me and sang:
Don't cry for me, Dell Computer.
I'll still get r-ich.
It will take long-er."

In perfect pitch.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Have A Fire Extinguisher Ready For Your Brain

I would normally use the links I'm about to discuss in a Friday Links post, but they're both so remarkable that I'm going to make an exception.

Dan Holmes sent me the first link, which is an article about "immortal" jellyfish. Here's an excerpt:
The Turritopsis Nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature.

...Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self.

It does this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation.

Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the unique ability to return to a polyp state.

Having stumbled upon the font of eternal youth, this tiny creature which is just 5mm long is the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists to see exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.


That's so mind-blowing that I don't even know what to write. Just the premise alone could spawn hundreds of bad teen comedies.

There's a more detailed description of what's actually happening here.

I don't know about you, but finding out that immortality actually exists creates all kinds of complicated emotions inside me. I mean, I don't want to be immortal (unless I'm guaranteed that at some point in the future, EA loses the exclusive license to make NFL games), but we've all read so many science fiction books about immortality, and to find out that it's actually real--it's both thrilling and entirely unsettling.

The second article is from Daily Tech:
Scientists have for the first time cloned an extinct animal, the Pyrenean ibex, a form of wild mountain goat. The really spectacular thing about this cloning effort is that it was done using only DNA from skin samples.

Wow. And wow again.

Here's more:
While cloning a dinosaur is highly improbable due to DNA's chemical tendency to rapidly break apart to the point where it cannot be sequenced, this new breakthrough paves the way for cloning of both endangered species, and extinct species with fully sequenced genomes, such as Neanderthals or, likely soon, the Woolly Mammoth. However, this new work also highlights the extreme challenge ahead in trying to establish a sustainable population of a cloned animal, or even clones that live to reach adulthood.

Man, a cloned Neanderthal could save GEICO a shitload of money.

I really want to see a cloned wooly mammoth. I can't even explain why, but I do want to see one, and desperately.

The Reader

Eli 7.6 is supposed to keep track of his reading time at home and make a weekly tally that he turns into his teacher.

"Eli, how much did you read this week?" Gloria asked on Sunday.

"Well, I read Genies Don't Ride Bicycles," he said. That's a Baily School Kids book.

"You did?" she asked. "The whole book?"

"I did," he said.

"Hmm," she said, having seen no activity that would suggest this feat had been accomplished. "So tell me what happens."

"Oh, I don't want to spoil the ending," he said.

"No, it's okay," she said. "Go ahead."

"There was a genie, and this guy had a bald head and was riding a bicycle. Well, the thing about this one is that there wasn't much action."

We All Wonder

Eli has a friend at school who I privately refer to as The Topper. No matter what ever happens, this kid always claims to have done something bigger and better.

Last week, he told Eli that if he didn't have a sleepover by the time he started third grade, all the kids would make fun of him. It was essential that he have a sleepover. Why, he'd had several, he told Eli.

Since Eli felt like he needed to have a sleepover to not violate this entirely imaginary rule, Gloria mentioned it to this kid's mom. "Well, I'm not sure he's ready," she said. "He's never had one before."

When Eli found out about this, he couldn't believe it. "You mean HE'S never had a sleepover?" he asked. "Now I have to wonder if he ever REALLY went to Fiji!"

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Console Post Of The Week: Headaches

Nintendo shocked almost everyone last week by announcing lower earnings for their third quarter than expected and cutting their annual forecast.

Let's take a look.

First, they lowered their annual profit forecast from Y345 billion to Y230 billion (the lower number is £1.8 billion). That's quite a hicky, lowering an annual profit forecast by 1/3 with only two months left to go in the fiscal year.

Here's Ninendo's explanation (from their quarterly results presentation):
The operational profit was 501.3 billion yen, and along with the net sales, marked a record high for Nintendo’s 9-month financial results.

However, due to the significant appreciation of the yen since the global financial crisis in October, 174.2billion yen of foreign currency reevaluation loss was incurred as we reevaluated the foreign assets held in currencies other than Japanese yen. As a result, the recurring profit was 352.4 billion yen, and the net profit, 212.5 billion yen.

That looks a bit more benign, at least in terms of operating health. They lowered their annual profit forecast by Y115 billion, but they took a currency loss of Y174 billion in the last quarter.

More troubling, perhaps, was their cut in the annual Wii shipments forecast, from 27.5 million to 26.5 million. According to Nintendo, the reduction is due to weak sales in Japan, while European and U.S. sales remain strong.

On the one hand, I'm as surprised as anyone that Nintendo cut their forecast. On the other hand, though, it needs to be considered in context. Sony forecast a 7% increase in PS3 sales (about 750,000 more units) and they're probably going to hit it. Nintendo forecast 55% growth (ten million more units) and is missing by a million units. They're still going to sell 27 million Wii's in the fiscal year--or, at least, that's the current forecast.

I don't think there's any question that Nintendo is having issues in Japan, even though they're still beating the hell out of the PS3. However, the amount of software that's being released in Japan this year appears to be greatly increased, so we'll see if that has an impact on sales.

As for the rest of the world--well, the Wii is cool as hell, but they need to do something with it this year. With the improved motion control afforded by the Motion Plus add-on (which is coming out in March, I believe), the opportunity is there, but they need third-party developers to use the controller in a more substantial way.

As an example, Motion Plus is perfect for a game like Tiger Woods, which could now have extremely precise motion tracking. But it would be typical EA lameness to not use it (for incomprehensible reasons that make no sense to anyone except EA), and Nintendo has to bang on them and make sure it's supported.

In general, though: okay, everyone's got one. Now make us want to use it more often.

I saw several headlines last week that, when combined, must have Sony very, very concerned.

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Plunging DVD sales threaten to reduce profit for studio owners Time Warner Inc.,Walt Disney Co.,Viacom Inc. and News Corp., and may force them to write down the value of movies, analysts said.

Fourth-quarter shipments fell 32 percent in the U.S. and Canada to 453.6 million DVDs, according to Los Angeles-based Digital Entertainment Group. The drop is the biggest since the industry-funded researcher started keeping track in 1997.

The decline is being fueled by viewer shifts toward rental services such as
Netflix Inc., the U.S. recession and technology that makes it easier to stream Web videos to televisions.

DVD sales may fall 11 percent this year and cause studios to write down new and recent titles that miss internal forecasts,
Michael Nathanson, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, wrote in a report this month.

The article refers to "home video sales and rentals" as a $60B business in 2008. And what is the size of the Blu-Ray market in 2008? Article two:
Speaking at a press briefing organized by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group here Nov. 14, Warner Home Video president Ron Sanders and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president David Bishop each put their estimates for total Blu-ray software sales in 2008 around $750 million.

So the Blu-Ray software market is roughly (and this is a very rough estimate) 1.25% of the size of the DVD market, and even though Blu-Ray sales are growing, the market is still so small that its increase is nowhere near making up for DVD's decline.

This, in essense, is PS2 Syndrome, part two. Sony's PS2 sales are now forecast to be down over 5 million, but PS3 sales are forecast to be up less than 1 million.

I think one entirely reasonable scenario is that video streaming becomes much more popular than buying physical media. Popping over to Netflix, clicking on a selection, and streaming it instantly is the shit. It's absolutely fantastic, and there's no waiting. And for 99% of the viewing public, they won't be able to tell the difference between streamed, compressed video in HD and Blu-Ray.

Video-on-demand has been touted for so many years, even long before the infrastructure existed, because it's a brilliant concept from a business perspective. One of the most basic principles of business is that when people want to spend money, you let them. Letting people pay for movies without having to leave their couch, from a business perspective, removes almost every barrier possible to the consumer. Yes, they have to have a broadband connection, but that's probably the demographic (in an economic sense) that you should be targeting, anyway.

Here's what the CEO of Netflix said during last week's quarterly earnings call:
...Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted that there were millions of subscribers using the Watch Instantly feature, and that Netflix had seen a "substitution effect" among subscribers who do so.

"We are seeing early signs of less DVD usage with some subscribers who are also watching instantly as compared to subscribers who only receive DVDs," said Hastings. "Time will tell whether this substitution effect is an attribute of early adopters or a mainstream behavior."

Sony has two problems here. First, even if they stream movies via Home, it's a technology where they don't have a monopoly (unlike Blu-Ray disc royalties). Second, and I mentioned this before, very few people will be able to tell the difference in quality, and video on demand is both much cheaper and much more convenient.

Plus, video-on-demand doesn't have to outsell Blu-Ray to hurt Sony's financials. It just has to cannibalize Blu-Ray beyond the point that Sony projected, and I bet that point was quite low.

The well isn't totally dry. Sony has some good thinks to look forward to this year in terms of games--Killzone 2 and God of War 3 will both sell quite a few consoles. But they've made so many mistakes at the strategic level with the PS3 that tactically, they spend most of their time doing corpse runs.

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