Thursday, April 30, 2009

On The Field

As you guys know, I'm the assistant coach for Eli 7.8's soccer team, and we have practice on Thursdays. I really enjoy working with the kids, with one exception. There's almost always one exception in any group of kids, but this exception is much worse than normal.

Here's a story that explains all you need to know about this kid (let's call him "Tony"). We're doing a drill, and Tony is doing whatever he wants to instead, which is what he does most of the time (and his dad actually helps out at practice, and he generally ignores his dad, too). It was a passing drill, and one of the balls rolled back against a large rock that's beyond the border of the field.

At the base of this rock was an absolutely huge fire ant mound. Bad, bad business. So I pointed out the mound and warned the kids to stay away.

Within thirty seconds, Tony has stepped into the mound. Wait, not stepped into it--he stomped on it. On purpose. It was incredibly lucky that he didn't wind up covered in fire ants.

That's just what he's like. He'll do anything, just to piss off a grown-up.

It annoys the hell out of me, because all the other kids really try hard in practice and he's incredibly disruptive, but I try not to let it show. The kids don't like him, either, because he'll yell in their faces or throw the ball at their heads. He's just kind of bizarrely inappropriate, like a kid who's never been around another kid in his whole life and doesn't know how to act.

He's even yelled in my face before, then threw a ball at my head fifteen seconds later, and I took him out of practice and sat him down for a few minutes. He started crying as soon as he was actually being punished, instead of just being warned.

It's the kind of behavior that I'm just never around, because Eli is the easiest kid in the world to hang out with. Evey time I see Tony do something insane, I remind myself how lucky I am that I got the awesome kid.

At first, I kind of held Tony's dad responsible, because it's easy to just let stuff go and not stop it early, and I figured that's what happened. I've watched them together, though, and his Dad really doesn't let him get away with that much. Clearly, he's trying, and it must be really frustrating to have a son who just doesn't listen.

If you're wondering if Tony has some kind of disability, I don't think so (although I've never asked his dad, because that's a very sensitive topic to broach). He doesn't seem to have one, anyway, as far as I can tell. He just seems incredibly willful in a really negative way.

We were on our way back from practice, and I wanted to stop at the Burger King drive-through and get some Burger Shots (they're really good). Gloria said something dismissive that had the phrase "just Burger King" in it.

"Hey, that 'just' is perjorative," I said. "Are you a burgerist?"

They were delicious, by the way.

Three Bags Full

Karen Sakamoto, who has made some truly excellent reading suggestions in the past, e-mailed last week and said I read Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story. She said it was a murder mystery revolving around the death of a shepherd, but the the twist was that the murder was investigated--by his sheep.

Well, that got my attention.

In the book world, the sheep can hear what humans say, but they don't necessarily understand all the words. And while we can understand what the sheep say ("we" as in readers, not the humans in the book), they still act very much like sheep.

It is an absolutely beautifully written book, because the author (Leoni Swann) takes a wonderful idea and proceeds not to overwrite. It would have been very easy to write beyond the idea, if that makes any sense, but she doesn't.

Besides the unique point of view, the book is very gentle, almost tender, and it's very, very compelling to read. So if your reading stack is empty, this would be an excellent next choice.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Draft: The Sim (Please Steal This Idea)

I was watching the NFL Draft this weekend, and I realized that the draft has become, for me, almost a sport in itself. I had far more interest in the draft than I did in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

I think it has to do with data.

There is a ton of data leading up to the NFL draft. There's so much data that it's ridiculous, but it's ridiculous in a good way. And there's a ton of intrigue as well, because every player in the draft has something (real or imagined) wrong with them.

The NFL draft has tremendously flashy presentation now, but at its core, it still has a text-sim feel. So why not make a game out of the draft?

I'm not talking about a football text-sim that has a draft component. I'm talking about a draft sim that has a barebones regular season component (statistics and results, but no playcalling, and no way to watch the games). And the traditional GM role (negotiating contracts, signing free agents) wouldn't exist in this game, either, at least at first. Your role would be entirely limited to the draft.

So what would you do? Well, you'd scout a ton of players--regular season statistics, combine performances, player interviews. Rumors would be frequent (and you'd have to decide if they were valid or not). You'd make decisions about the draft priorities for your team, based on the existing roster. You'd make trades during the draft (but not before, because you wouldn't be in charge, which means you could be preparing for the 10th pick in the draft, then told that you moved up to the 2nd pick thirty minutes before the draft starts, which would be interesting).

The emphasis in this game would be realism, both in terms of generating prospects and having those prospects progress in the NFL. So all the existing data for draft picks and their chances for success (based on round, position, school size, etc.) could be incorporated. It would be a focus instead of an afterthought.

You'd receive a grade after the draft, but you'd also get a grade in succeeding years for every class you drafted, and that grade would change over time--many drafts look great the day they happen, but the players wind up washing out. And you'd get to compare yourself against other GMs (ideally, this could be an online game, because you could match wits with your friends, although it could be played against the CPU as well).

The reason I think a game like this would have a chance to succeed is because it wouldn't be a "me, too" kind of game. Instead of trying to be a full sports game without graphics (which is a hard comparison to win with many people), it would be a niche game focusing on just one part of the football experience.

Plus, and this would be important, it would be easy to mod. The text for commentary would just be in Notepad, and could be easily changed. School and team names? Notepad file. Almost everything in terms of data would be in text files and easily changed.

I think a game like this could sell for $14.95, and it would create a foundation for adding other modules later. So eventually, this could wind up being a "full" football game, but modules could be added along the way.

Like I said in the post title, please steal this idea. Just let me be a beta tester.

Fairway Solitaire

Several of you guys (Andy Herron was the first) e-mailed to let me know that Big Fish Games is giving away Fairway Solitaire.

In other words, one of my favorite games of 2007 is now absolutely free. It's completely addictive in ways that I can't even explain until you play it for yourself. Plus it's designed by gaming legend John Cutter, which is one of the reasons it's so amazingly good.

For instructions on how to get the game, go here. There are other games in the free list as well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Difference Between Men And Women, #97 and #98

Every little girl grows up wanting to have a wedding. Every little boy grows up wanting to learn how to ride a unicycle.

I was seeing a friend of mine a few weeks ago (Kim--she makes the birthday dessert for me each year that I've raved about previously), and her boyfriend was texting her. Since we were talking about Eli learning how to ride the unicycle, I explained my theory to Kim that all men wanted to learn how to ride the unicycle. All of them.

I asked her to text her boyfriend, and she did, with this: "Did you ever want to learn how to ride a unicycle?"

A few minutes passed, then her phone buzzed. His response? "Actually, I rode one in college."

Look, ladies, that's why we don't understand a single word you say. Please blame the unicycle.

Here's another difference (#98) between men and women, and it relates to how we use the Internet. Gloria came in a few days ago and said "My shoulder hurts, and I have this pain going down along my side."

"And what did a Google search on 'how shoulder pain leads to death' reveal?" I asked.

Gloria laughed, because that's exactly what she does: for any symptom, she'll scour Google until she finds the absolutely worst-case scenario, usually involving death. And it's not just her, either--I know other women who do exactly the same thing, but I don't know any men who do that.

Random Gaming Notes

First off, I tried out The Wheelman (thanks Gamefly), and unfortunately, it wasn't as much fun as the demo, at least to me. It's a game that has plenty of interesting ideas, but it's not quite polished, and there are some design decisions in terms of gameplay that reduce its appeal.

I did, however, see one of the greatest character descriptions ever. In describing one of your female contacts, part of the description was this: "...both for her expertise as a thief, and for her work as a flamenco dancer."

I think I speak for all of us when I read that and think hell, yes.

The Dead Rising 2 trailer is out, and I only hope that this game has as much charm (I know, a bizarre word to use in association with zombies, but it really did) as the original. I thought the addition of photography played a huge rule in making the game so much fun, and Frank West was a terrific protagonist. I wish they had kept him and his camera for the second installment, because the idea of this somehow happening to him again could have been very funny. He could just have been on vacation or something and wound up right in the middle of everything.

Okay, here's a list of games I'm looking forward to this year, and I'll have more details in a few days. For now, though, the list is just a teaser.
Red Faction: Guerilla
Plants vs. Zombies
Rise of Flight

This Might Bear Watching

Metacritic has a current page for each gaming platform, with recent releases prominently displayed in the center of the page.

In terms of recent releases, take a look at the games with average review scores of 80 and up for each platform:
Chronicles of Riddick: The Assault on Dark Athena (82)
Guitar Hero: Metallica (87)
Resident Evil 5 (85)
Peggle (89)
Halo Wars (82)

Chronicles of Riddick: The Assault on Dark Athena (81)
Guitar Hero: Metallica (89)
Resident Evil 5 (86)
Comet Crash (86)
MLB 09: The Show (90)

Guitar Hero: Metallica (85)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (86)
Little King's Story (89)
Excitebots Trick Racing (80)
Bonsai Barber (82)
Rune Factory: Frontier (80)
MadWorld (82)

Releases that currently single-platform are in bold.

I complained about the quality of Wii software only a few months ago, but this is a compelling list. Five out of seven of the Wii games are currently exclusives, and PES is an entirely different game on the Wii than on other platforms.

I said last year that the overwhelming install base of the Wii (along with lower development costs) should lead to some interesting, unique games on the platform. Hopefully, this is the leading edge of a wave.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What You Missed

My weekend:
flea circus (Wikipedia)

Ah, hell.

As a digression before actually telling the story, though, I wonder about flea "training," since it has been noted by multiple sources that a primitive kind of training does take place. Do they have motivational posters hanging up in the flea training areas? And what would a motivational poster for fleas look like? Would it be the ubiquitous "Hang in there, baby!" poster with the kitten hanging from a tree, and hanging from the kitten would be a flea?

Back to the story.

Two weeks ago on Saturday, I noticed a little blip of something on my leg. I immediately crushed it with my fabulously powerful, paper-thin arms.

I took a look, and it looked quite a bit like a smashed flea.

Impossible, of course, because we have two cats who never go outside. They can't have fleas, and therefore there can't be fleas roaming around the house. I concluded that the flea was the equivalent of some kind of heroic explorer, an Admiral Perry for his species.

I did mention it to Gloria, but we saw no more.

Last Saturday, I was petting George, our tiger cat who loves everyone except strangers (a term which, for him, encompasses everything except us and children, who he adores for some strange reason). I rubbed under George's chin--and saw a flea. Thus began the flea hunt, with the flea, well, fleeing through George's fur like a dolphin swimming and leaping in an ocean adventure.

"I think we may have fleas," I said to Gloria.

"Fleas? But the cats never go outside!" she said.

"True," I said, "but also true that I've seen two fleas."

"Are you sure they weren't rove ants?" she asked.

"An insulting question," I said. "Rove ants are lame. Fleas are super bad. I can tell the difference."

"Well, it's okay," she said. "Sprout had fleas once or twice, and they're pretty easy to manage. I'm sure it won't be a big deal."

This from a woman who has been absolutely convinced three times in the last year that she had head lice (actual number of head lice: zero, and a special note on her chart at the doctor's office, surely).

So when she says "it won't be a big deal," I can almost see the "Everybody Loves Raymond" episode unfolding in my head. I just start the countdown.

On Sunday, Eli 7.8 and Gloria worked in the yard, then came back inside, and Eli was petting George. He had on long white socks, and I heard him make kind of a disturbed noise. I heard Gloria say "It's okay, honey," but he kept making the sound, so I walked out of my study to see what was up.

He had five dots on his socks. Yes, you know what the dots were.

Gloria took care of the fleas, then took a flea comb and George into the bathroom and closed the door. A few minutes later, she said "Bill? Come in here." I walked in and she said "We have fleas!"

Note: she didn't say "I'm sure it won't be a big deal" again. That was now just a romantic notion from a paperback past.

Gracie had fleas, too.

Gloria and Eli went back into the backyard, and this time, they noticed that fleas were in the yard, too. Lots of them. Good grief!

Note: Gloria didn't say "I'm sure it won't be a big deal" again.

So you may be be thinking "how did these people not realize they had fleas sooner? What kind of disgusting hillbillies are these people?" Well, fleas are pretty sneaky. They land on you, but only for an instant, and they have the lightest touch. Since we were convinced it was impossible to have any fleas in the house, it never even crossed our minds, until we actually started seeing them.

The pest guy came out today (they opened at 7:30--I was on the line at 7:31), and his explanation was that it didn't matter if we had outdoor pets, because squirrels and other non-domesticated animals are covered in them, and it's easy for a yard to get infested under the right conditions. If we go work in the yard, and bring in even a few fleas on our clothing, that's all it takes to start the flea circus rolling.

The cats are on Frontline now (which is an anti-flea medicine). The pest guys come back on Wednesday to treat both the yard and the house. In the meantime, Gloria has compulsively vacuumed the house from top to bottom and washed all the bedding, and I'm scattering tiny vacation brochures on the floor about hot lights, hot times, and an all-you-can-eat pet buffet at the house across the fence.

Of Course There's One More

Courtesy of Frank Regan, it's another video of 8-year-old Yuto, this time, playing the epic solo from "Freebird."

Brutal Youth

Rasch Young sent me a link today that has put me into an endless loop of video watching.

His link is to a video of a kid's band (members range from age 9 to age 13) performing "Separate Ways" (you know, that overwrought Journey song).

For their ages, the kids are pretty kickass, and the singer (who is 9) is insane. They also have a 9-year-old on drums, and I realized as I watched him that I could actually hang with him.

Seriously, I CAN BE IN A BAND. It just has to be a children's band.

So what this video did is make me look at the associated links (like the 11-year-old guitarist playing one of the solos in "Sweet Child Of Mine"), which led to a 9-year-old boy named Daniel playing "Crazy Train", and he's so good it's disturbing.

Obviously, this can only end in one place, with the discovery of a Japanese prodigy that is so well-schooled, so disbelievingly, impossibly good, that it makes adults kneel and weep for their wasted childhood, which was entirely spent watching "Gilligan's Island" re-runs.

Well, his name is Yuto Miyazawa, and he's 8. The video starts off with him playing "Crazy Train" (WTF is it with Crazy Train?), but later in the video he plays "Crossroads." It's phenomenal.

Delay Line Memory

Steven Davis saw the Friday Link on racetrack memory and sent in a link to the Wikipedia entry on delay line memory, which is conceptually almost identical. Delay line memory was invented in the 1940's, though. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
Delay line memory was a form of computer memory used on some of the earliest digital computers. Like many modern forms of electronic computer memory, delay line memory was a refreshable memory, but as opposed to modern random access memory, delay line memory was serial access. In the earliest forms of delay line memory, information introduced to the memory in the form of electric pulses was transduced into mechanical waves that propagated relatively slowly through a medium, such as a cylinder filled with a liquid like mercury, or a magnetorestrictive coil, or a piezoelectric crystal. The propagation medium could support the propagation of hundreds or thousands of pulses at any one time. Upon reaching the other end of the propagation medium, the waves were re-transduced into electric pulses, amplified, shaped, and reintroduced to the propagation medium at the beginning, thus refreshing the memory. Accessing a desired part of the propagation medium's memory contents required waiting for the pulses of interest to reach the end of the medium, a wait typically on the order of microseconds. Use of a delay line for a computer memory was invented by J. Presper Eckert in the mid-1940s for use in computers such as the EDVAC and the UNIVAC I.

The entire Wikipedia is fascinating.

Mike Harris also sent me a link to a video showing an actual delay line memory unit (it's freaking huge, of course), and it's amazing as well: 1951 UNIVAC I - Mercury delay line Memory for computers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Links!

We are loaded this week, with some of the best "long form" links we've ever had.

Leading off, in what qualifies as one of the most inspired pranks I've ever seen, a woman who hated high school hired a stripper to go to her 10-year reunion in her place--and there's video.

From Michael Hughes, a link to a brilliantly written piece by Christopher Buckley titled Growing Up Buckley. It speaks very deeply to the relationship between parents and children, and it's poignant and wistful and makes you feel a bit uncomfortable at the same time it makes you feel a bit good. In other words, a great piece of writing.

From Dave Yeager, a link to a story about the man who is in farther over his head than maybe anyone else in the world--Lenny Dykstra. Yes, the ex-baseball player and self-proclaimed "financial guru" is finally hitting the wall, and it's a fascinating read.

Here's one more sports-related link, and it's also an excellent read. It's the story of Matt Harrington, former high first-round pick in the baseball amateur draft, drafted five times over five years, but never never signed a contract (turning down one offer for $4.9 million). He now makes $11.50/hr. at Costco.

Here's a link to what must be one of the greatest tables in history: A Comparison of Shark Attacks and Fatalities with the American Alligator
(Alligator mississippiensis) Attacks and Fatalities in the U.S.: 1948-2005

From Sirius, a link to an article about a new way to study dinosaurs: computer paleontology. Also, and this just totally spectacular, a link to a story about the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, and here's an excerpt:
This was the most elaborate Atomic Energy educational set ever produced, but it was only only available from 1951 to 1952. Its relatively high price for the time ($50.00) and its sophistication were the explanation Gilbert gave for the set's short lifespan. Today, it is so highly prized by collectors that a complete set can go for more than 100 times the original price.

The set came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book and a government manual 'Prospecting for Uranium.


Also, from Sirius, a link to (believe it or not) a fire tornado. Oh, and a link to a story about one of the "world's most powerful stargazing systems"--The e-Merlin array.

From John Catania, a link to a new kind of memory, and we may be hearing quite a lot about this in the future--it's racetrack memory.

From Richard Matsunaga, a link to an amazing fossil discovery: a flipper-free mammal related to modern seals.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to an image from the Hubble, and it's amazing: a jet of matter blasting from a black hole. Also from Jesse, and the headline is so good that I'm just going to use it, is Giant Mystery Blob Discovered Near Blob Of Time.

From Liz Watson, a link to a story that makes you realize you haven't seen it all: Tree grows inside man's lung.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, an absoutely stunning image of Saturn.

From Michael O'Reilly, a link to a story about the first news helicopter. Oh, and absolutely do not miss the video via the link on page five to the Baldwin Hills Dam disaster.

From Katy Mulvey, a link to a performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody"--by old computer equipment.

From Andrew B, a remarkably depressing article about computer disposal in the third world, as well as a look at some of the information that can still be retrieved from those systems. Here's the lead:
Under the pretence of recycling, NHS computers have been dumped in Ghana, where their hard drives are mined of your confidential data by criminal gangs... while children die melting down the highly toxic empty shells.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to a video of some of the most spectacular bicycle tricks I've ever seen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Eli 7.8: The Stand-Up

Eli 7.8 rode 20 feet on his unicycle today.

That's a first, although he did go past the blue line (15 feet) four times in unicycle club on Friday. I went past 10 feet four times, which is positively Beamonesque for me.

Here are a few stories that piled up in the last week.

Eli 7.8 went to his first wedding on Saturday.

It was my niece's wedding, so Eli was assigned to man the guest book, which meant he had to dress up to "wedding staff" standards. Here's what he looked like after the wedding, when he'd taken off his tie and was just hanging out:

Yeah--I can't believe how old he looks, either.

The wedding was outdoors, and the grass was very wet from rain the day before. Plus, it was muddy. I told Eli that is was a miracle that his cousins (all younger than him, and all girls) hadn't gotten their white dresses muddy, and we had a good laugh. Then, a few minutes later, he kind of slouched up to me and said "Um, Dad."

He turned around and lifted up his jacket, and he had mud all over his butt.

"Pictures!" I said, and so we took several (including a photo with one of the disposable wedding cameras):


Eli also busted some moves on the dance floor. Seriously--they're busted. I only wish I had video.


We were sitting in a booth at a restaurant last week, and Eli 7.8 started mucking around, like he usually does when we sit in a booth. At one point, he was under the booth, out of sight, and I said "So what are you doing down there, anyway?"

Right at that moment, he hit his head on the underside of the table and said "Oof." Then he said (from underneath the table), "Apparently, I'm harming myself."


Eli came home with his report card today. About three months ago, I decided to add a small "financial incentive" for him in school, because he was getting a "B" here and there for absolutely no reason except lack of attention. So I told him I'd reward him with $1 for an "A" and $2 for an "A+."

Coincidentally, his report card for the next six weeks had no B's.

Today, I open up his report card and it's (again) all A's and above (with the exception of handwriting). I said "Dude, what an excellent report card!"

"Thirteen dollars," he said, laughing.

Eli and Gloria sometimes have mysterious battles at the end of the day when he goes up for his bath. He always comes downstairs to my study after he gets out, and last night he said "That girl gives me the Bendix pain!"

I have no idea what is, exactly.

Eli was reciting a poem in the car on the way to soccer practice last week:
How much fun to be a hip-po-potamus
And weigh a ton from top-to bottomus

"That's very funny," I said. "Who wrote that poem?"

"Carl Sandburg," he said.

Gaming Links And Notes

First off, Harmonix announced Lego Rock Band this week, and after an initial WTF moment, I think the idea of making a more kid-friendly and kid-specialized version of Rock Band is a terrific idea. Since they're much smarter than I am, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt, anyway.

George Paci sent me a link to an amazing article about a new use of Guitar Hero, and here's an excerpt:
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have made the popular Guitar Hero game into a tool for amputees who are being fitted with the next generation of artificial arms. With a few electrodes and some very powerful algorithms, amputees can hit all the notes of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” using only the electrical signals from their residual muscles.


Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and he's also started a new site called Tap-Repeatedly, which is a gaming website with a broad focus.

Sirius sent me a link to an IGN Australia article titled Top 100 Game Creators Of All-Time, and even if there's plenty to disagree with, there's also plenty of very interesting detail on individual developers.

Ryan Leasher sent me a link to another brilliant video by The Onion, this one titled Hot New Video Game Consists Solely Of Shooting People Point-Blank In The Face. I think they described my recent complaint far better than I did.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mafia II

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has another detailed article about Mafia II--this time, an interview with associate producer Alex Cox. Damn it, you guys, stop raising my hopes.

More Data

Matt Matthews, who does outstanding data analysis, has two new articles up at Gamastura.
Console Tie Ratios Reveal Market Dynamics
On The Wii And DS, Game Ratings Matter

I can't recommend Matt's work highly enough. He is absolutely money when it comes to data analysis, and in an industry where so much analysis is so sloppily done, he is tremendously important to raising the standard.

Console Post Of The Week

First off, the March NPD numbers:

And March 2008:

That seems to be a fairly clear demonstration of the power of price cuts. Three systems without price cuts in the last twelve months--all down by at least 15%. The system with the price cut--up over 25%.

It's not quite that simple obviously, but it's also not nearly as complicated as some people claim. If the price on a console is cut, then more people will buy that system. When that number flattens out to the same number that were buying before the price cut, then it's probably time to cut the price again. The exception to this would be if a price cut increased sales, but not to the desired level, in which case there would be no satisfactory peak to trough pattern to begin with.

Let's look at the first quarter compared to last year:
360--up 37%
Wii--up 42%
PS3--down 13%

In other words, don't expect a price cut for the 360 or the Wii in the next six months, because unless sales suddenly plummet, there's no need.

In Sony's case, they're third and sales are dropping. It's inconceivable that Sony wouldn't be announcing a price cut soon, but then, it's inconceivable that they haven't already announced one, so who knows?

Plus, and this to be quite worrisome, the contribution of Killzone 2 to PS3 sales appears to be negligible. Every time Sony touts a game as a system seller, it winds up not doing much, and even worse, the effect of both Killzone 2 and MLB 09 The Show should have been reflected in March numbers.

April could be pretty bleak for Sony. I wouldn't be surprised if PS3 sales are below 160,000, which would be awful.

Oh, and this should give you an idea of how scattered and batshit insane Sony has become: Peter Dille did an interview with Gamasutra where he said this:

We believe that the family that's been involved in Wii gaming -- having a PS3 as the centerpiece of their living room is a great thing that the whole family can enjoy much the same way that you can enjoy Wii but perhaps on steroids; it does so much more."

Seriously, I'm not kidding. I couldn't even make this shit up.

[Random news note which I shouldn't have placed here, but since I did, I'm just going with it:
Chris Kohler of Wired posted the news that Wii Motion Plus is going to be bundled with Tiger Woods for an additional $10. That seems like a good move for both Nintendo and EA.]

Okay, now let's look at console sales using the 12-month rolling averages I introduced for Japan last week. We're going to look at the same data, but for the U.S. instead of Japan.

I'm going to discuss next week how the U.S. graphs compare to Japan, but as a note, this graph begins later because I have twenty-two more months of data for Japan. Oh, and one brief teaser: it's interesting that the trough for the U.S. between generations is so much more shallower than it is for Japan.

Okay, now to the invidual console numbers, and I'm skipping the Scooby-Doo mystery graph this week and getting right to the unmasking:

Two things to note before we do anything else: one, I think the utility of this graph is going to improve significantly going forward (as we get more data over time), but I wanted to introduce it now, because I think it's still interesting. Two, you'll notice the funky flatline for the PS2 for twelve months. That's because NPD wasn't publicly disclosing their numbers until twelve months after the PS2 launch. So there's a twelve-month data gap for the PS2 compared to the other systems, and I wanted to show that as obviously as I could.

Here's something I hadn't realized: at this point in its lifespan, the PS3 is behind the original Xbox in terms of installed base in the U.S. Well behind, as in over 800,000 units. And if you have any questions about why the PS3 is not and will never be the PS2, just look at the graph. That chasm isn't going to bridged.

Also of note, and good grief this post is running long, is that the Wii craze has never stopped in the U.S. Those rolling twelve-month numbers are insane. However, we have just seen the number taper off for the first time (that previous dip was entirely supply-related).

My apologies for the sloppiness of this post, because it's all over the place. I'm still a bit under the weather (although Eli 7.8 is making a comeback, which is great).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rune Factory Frontier (Wii)

I wrote last week about how games like Killzone and Gears of War (and the most recent Resident Evil) are somehow not games that I enjoy anymore. It took a while for me to condense my feelings into a phrase, but I believe this describes it quite well: I no longer enjoy games that keep humanity at arm's length.

That phrase would make no sense whatsoever to my twenty-five year old self. It might not even make sense to me at thirty-five. It does make sense now, though, even though I don't know whether it's because I'm a father, or because I've aged, or both.

I also mentioned last week that it's difficult for me to enjoy overcaffeinated games because I feel pretty overcaffeinated already.

I'm playing something now, though, that's really the antithesis of those kinds of games. I can't say that it's for everyone, and it might not even be for me if I wasn't playing with Eli 7.8, but it's been a wonderful experience.

The game is Rune Factory Frontier, and it's one of the most peaceful games I've played in many years. The main character is a boy who lives on a farm in a small village. He farms. He fishes. He visits people in the village. He can also forge weapons, or cook, or brew potions, or make jewelry.

There are dungeons to visit, too, but that's never felt like the focus of the game to me--it's all about being a member of the village and just getting along. Oh, and you can tame monsters, too, and catch spirits, and a bunch of other things I'm sure I'm forgetting.

What makes the game interesting is the amount of variety that exists inside the various activities that you can do during the day. Different crops require different levels of attention, and they only grow in certain seasons. Different fish are caught in different bodies of water. There are a huge number of recipes you can cook (with the proper ingredients), along with many different cooking methods. Catch a fish and you can either cook it in a skillet or make sashimi (among other things). When you need energy, you can eat what you've cooked.

The different activities interlock extremely well, and deciding what to do in the course of a day (because time passes steadily) is always interesting.

I've played this game almost every day with Eli 7.8 for the last month, and it's terrifically relaxing, which we both enjoy. Even though it's a single player game, there's always plenty to discuss, so it doesn't really matter which one of us is playing at the time. I think we've spent 25+ hours at this point, and we're still discovering new things almost every day.

If there's one thing that would potentially put people off, it's the pace. It really is quite glacial at the start (be sure to talk to everyone every day, as that's how lots of things are unlocked), and your character's energy level is so low that not much can be done before becoming exhausted.

What kept us going, though, were the details. There's different music for each season, and different weather. The look of the world changes with each season, too, and there are special holiday events each month (with jaunty carnival music). Even simple things, like crops actually growing from day to day, emphasize how dynamic the world is, and it feels quite vibrant.

The relationships between characters are also very interesting. For each character you interact with, there's both a friendship and love "meter" that shows you how the relationship is going. One of the goals in the game is to fall in love with one of the girls and eventually marry her.

Which is awkward.

Most of these characters are teenage girls (I think), and your character seems to be a teenager, too, but both Eli and I fell for older women. He fell for the blacksmith, and I fell for a girl who works in the tavern.

The problems were two-fold. The blacksmith was actually a mother and far too old for our character. How would I explain to Eli 7.8 that the character he wanted to woo was really more of a MILF?

Meanwhile, the girl who worked at the tavern (Rita) turned out to be the wife of the tavern owner. Oops.

Damn. She was smokin' hot, too.

You curry favor with the girls in the traditional way, by speaking to them and giving them gifts (each girl prefers different things). Eli is very funny when it comes to this, because we'll give someone a gift and he'll say "Check the love meter!"

Needless to say, the whole game is remarkably charming and lots and lots of fun. And the story isn't just charming, although I'm not going to give you any spoilers.

If you have kids, particularly in the 6-9 range, and you like to play games with them, then this is absolutely a great purchase. If you don't have kids, but you enjoyed games like Animal Crossing, then this is definitely worth a rental, and even if you didn't like AC, you might rent this anyway, because it's more fun (to me, at least).

Gloria calls it The Game Where You Do Everything You'd Never Do In Real Life, because I farm, and cook, and socialize.

"Baby steps," I said.

I Forget To Read Her License Plate

Late start today. Eli 7.8 is sick. I'm sick. The babysitter is having back surgery on Friday. I haven't actually checked yet, but surely our trees are diseased. Gloria is the only one to (so far) escape the Nexus of Doom.

I was out driving this afternoon, and at a stoplight I pulled up behind a van. I looked at the back window and saw this:

Yes, it was a memorial to a dead person, complete with birth/death dates and a picture of the deceased in happier times. Constructed using peel-off letters and an enlarged photograph. It was both incredibly tacky and strangely poignant.

Then I had one of those moments that normal people don't have. Normal people see a memorial in the back window of a van and either approve or disapprove. I saw it and was desperately hoping that somewhere below "IN MEMORY OF DAD" I'd see "WHO I KILLED."

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bit More

I've been thinking about that Fallout: New Vegas post since I put it up, and I'd like to add a bit of explanation.

In an apocalyptic world, the possibilities for the future are so undefined that almost anything could happen. If a game would reflect that lack of definition, it would be fantastic. A sandbox, in some ways, with events happening in a dynamic way each time you played.

At its simplest, a post-apocalyptic future would consist of two extremes: a return to civilization, albeit slowly, or some kind of crazed world where civilization, by any current definition, just ceased to exist.

Playing a game where each of these outcomes were possible, plus everything in-between, would give a game a tremendous amount of replay value.

I mentioned Tarn because I don't know anyone else who has managed to construct a simulation with the complexity and humanity of Dwarf Fortress. DF is, in many ways, incredibly personal, and you get to know individual characters at a deeper level than any other game I ever played. Tarn (and his brother Zach) are also the only people I know who would be capable of considering all the behavioral and environmental possiblities and construct a dynamic world that would reflect all those inputs.

Mafia II

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an excellent Mafia II preview that includes detailed impressions and loads of data points. It's the best preview, by far, that I've seen for the game.

Of note: eight people work on the AI. Just the AI.
[insert digression here}
Yes, that's 7 1/2 more people than Tiburon had working on NCAA 2009's AI.
[end digression]

I'm trying very hard not to get too excited about this game, because the original Mafia was one of my favorite PC games ever, and it's expecting far too much to think that this game could be as good, or better. The quality of writing and voice acting in Mafia was off the charts, and the look of the city and the dynamic environment was spectacular.

One mission in Mafia stands out as one of the most brilliant I've ever seen. It was a mission where someone fled on foot, then took off in a car, and you had to run to your car and chase them.

Dead standard, right? Well, except for the fact that both cars were on an uphill slope. The city was very hilly in places, and the first thirty seconds of this car chase happened at about 15 MPH.

That's something Hitchcock would do.

It totally set the convention of the car chase on its ear, because the lack of pace was absolutely excruciating. It was also exponentially more dramatic, because my brain kept telling me that I close enough to catch up, and I would have been at normal speed, but it was almost impossible to accelerate on the steep slope.

It was wonderful, and I would have just dismissed it as accidental design if there hadn't been many other touches throughout the game that were nearly as sophisticated. There were, though, and the game had one of the most compelling stories I've ever played through, as well as one of the best endings (which I didn't like the first time, but the second time I saw it, I realized that it was both inevitable and perfect).

That's the standard, and if Mafia II can come even close, it will be outstanding.

Fallout: New Vegas

From Gamasutra:
Bethesda Softworks announced that Obsidian Entertainment is developing a brand-new Fallout game titled Fallout: New Vegas, to release next year on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

...A number of Obsidian staff are veterans of Black Isle's original Fallout games. The company's CEO, Feargus Urquhart, was instrumental in founding Black Isle, and served as its director.

Well, this announcement is jam-packed with win. The possibility of a second, possibly different interpretation of the Fallout world is something to look forward to, especially when that studio is Obsidian, given its lineage.

It's not that Fallout 3 wasn't an excellent game (it was), or that I didn't enjoy myself (I did). It's just that in games with post-apocalyptic settings, I don't think anyone has ever adequately explored the story of the world itself. Could there possibly be any richer source of backstory than a world where every single person, by definition, is a survivor?

I know I will be in the minority on this, but to me, post-apocalyptic games need to be more story-driven than in any other setting. With social constraints and support largely eliminated, the lives of individuals become far more singular than they would in a more "normal" social structure. The opportunity for larger-than-life characters to emerge is exponentially higher, and I'd like to see those characters explored in a game, see the faction building and backstabbing and diplomacy that emerge in that environment.

This is, for me, the most interesting question by far: what rules emerge after all the rules have been wiped clean?

So combat would still be a part of that kind of game world, but it would, in many ways, become secondary.

A post-apocalyptic world can evoke deep, deep feelings in all of us, partly because it's a world where all the social supports have been removed. I want to play a game that makes me confront those feelings, that makes me reconsider what it means to be human.

As I wrote that, I realized that Tarn Adams is the single best person on the planet to do this. Maybe someday.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Links!

Leading off this week is a link sent in by Andrew B to a website called tweenbots. It's a brilliant social experiment, and here's a description:
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

These robots are quite small--less than a foot high--and the video of strangers helping them is just remarkable.

From Matt Teets, a link to an article about Columbine--10 years later, the true story. Basically, most of what we believed was just plain wrong, and the article made me curious enough to buy Columbine (which is excellent).

From Sirius, a link to an amazing story at Wired: Computer Program Self-Discovers Laws of Physics. Here's an excerpt:
In just over a day, a powerful computer program accomplished a feat that took physicists centuries to complete: extrapolating the laws of motion from a pendulum's swings.

Developed by Cornell researchers, the program deduced the natural laws without a shred of knowledge about physics or geometry.

The research is being heralded as a potential breakthrough for science in the Petabyte Age, where computers try to find regularities in massive datasets that are too big and complex for the human mind.

It's one of those articles that makes your head explode in about ten different directions.

Also from Sirius, a link to one of the strangest stories I've ever seen, and here's an excerpt:
A 64-year-old woman has reported to doctors at Geneva University Hospital the presence of a pale, milky-white and translucent third arm.

...Supernumerary limbs are rare. There are only nine known cases of a patient both feeling and seeing an arm.

Here's one more link from Sirius, to an amazing collection images from the best telescopes in the world.

Here's a quite stunning link from Vahur Teller, demonstrating how frequently Disney used identical animations in its earlier films. I had no idea how many were copied, but the video demonstrates it quite clearly.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, a link to another one of those stunning moments in Britain's Got Talent. This time, it's a 47-year-old woman with zero professional experience, and believe me, it's worth seeing.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a timelapse video of Tokyo that is just absolutely beautiful (that's a link to the HD version). And here's one more, a fantastic link to a video about Isao Machii ("modern samurai"). Seriously, this video is so remarkable that you have to watch it (as an example, he cuts a bb in half--in flight).

From Michael O'Reilly, a link to a story about the preservation and restoration of images taken by the lunar orbiter program in the 1960's. Plus, a link to a site where you can see some of the restored images. Finally, here's one more--a story about propaganda in the 1950's that sought to establish civilian uses for nuclear weapons. That's worthy of a long discussion on its own, about trying to turn a "bomb" into a "tool" in the public's eye.

From John D'Angelo, a link to something very few of us have ever seen: shadows cast from structures inside Saturn's rings. Yes. Wow.

After writing about donkeys earlier this week, Matt Van Sickler sent me a link to a donkey sanctuary--on Bonaire. And no, I didn't know where that was, either--it's a former Dutch colony next to Aruba and Curacao.

Bonaire is a great diving spot, by the way, and in a related link, researchers have discovered the world's largest forest of black coral.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Seventh Spring

Penny Arcade recently had a lovely (yes, that's the right word) series on fatherhood titled "The Wandering Age: The Seventh Spring." In three comics, and without a single word, all the joy and fear of being a father is shown, and I don't think I've ever seen a better portrayal.

The comics:
part one
part two
part three


I see games in the context of what's happening in my own life (like most of us do), and I've spent a bit of time in the last few months trying to understand why I've turned away from the hyper-adrenaline games.

For some reason, they're just not fun anymore.

I realized this week that there are probably two reasons, or, at least, I can think of two. The first is that my life is hyper-adrenalized already. I'm over-stimulated, over-caffeinated, bordering on jittery most of the time, so why would I want to play the kinds of games that emphasize this feeling?

The second reason, and I think this has to do with getting older (and, possibly, being a father), is that those kinds of games give me nothing to care about. There might be some thin-as-paper plot that gives me something to care about in the abstract, but when I'm inside a level, my objective is to kill everything I see.

That's it? That's all?

For me, that's really worn thin.

I've thought about this so much recently because of Resident Evil 5, which I started playing because of the whole racism debate. I thought it was an interesting discussion (which I've written about previously), and I wanted to see how the final version of the game turned out.

What I quickly found out, though, is that I didn't care.

It's impossible for me to tell you if I felt the game was racist or contained racist imagery because I couldn't stand to play it long enough to find out. I hung on for two chapters (which isn't very long, believe me--maybe an hour), and I was so bored that I quit.

Don't get me wrong--there are elements of the game that are fabulous. The graphics and sound effects are spectacular, and most (most) of the voice-acting is excellent. The cut scenes, in particular, are pretty amazing, and I would be more than willing to watch a video of the cut scenes spliced together as a movie.

What I'm not willing to do, though, is play this freaking game.

The graphics may be 2009, but the gameplay is 1989--or 1889. It's a crude 2D platformer in a 3D environment, essentially, and immersion gets broken about every fifteen seconds.

Here's the thing about Resident Evil: it's a tension game. Tension is absolutely crucial to the atmosphere, and the RE series is very atmospheric. Every time the game breaks immersion, that feeling of tension is broken. Break it often enough, and the tension just disappears.

Without the tension, it's just a killfest, an entirely one-dimensional excercise.

This is why, in the first battle of the game, when my partner is shooting me in the back of the head every ten seconds, I start to suspect that something has gone wrong. Or when I move between indoor and outdoor areas constantly in some early levels, and every time I make the transition, I see a loading screen. Or when zombies are beating on the door, breaking through, and I see a POTTED PLANT that has clearly been put there for me to pick up. Or crates that clearly need to be smashed to procure items.

Crates? WTF? We still have to smash f-ing crates?

Or when I'm on a roof, and need to be able to jump six inches high to get over a fence and into the next area, only I can't, because I can't jump. My character is Mr. Uber-Action and he can't freaking jump? Are you kidding me?

Wait, that's not quite true. He can jump, at times, when the game prompts me for a button press in specific areas. But as a spontaneous command, no, he can't.

This is what I mean. With these spectacular graphics and a reasonably interesting plot, how in the world did this game get gameplay (and not good gameplay, either) from two decades ago? Hell, I played games twenty years ago that had better gameplay than this.

Much better.

Yes, I understand that these could be considered "traditional" gameplay mechanics, or carried over from previous entries in the series. But is it too much to ask that gameplay be significantly refined in a series that has had five major releases?

I don't begrudge people who enjoy the Run-Shoot-Kill (although in RE it's technically Run-Stop-Shoot-Kill) genre, but it just doesn't really interest me anymore. I need someone to save, or something else to do.

I think that's why Dead Rising was a near-perfect game for me. I had (at times) people to protect, I had something else to do (photography), and there was an overriding sense of humor. Personality.

It's entirely reasonable to say that without playing further into the game, I'm not getting a complete impression. That's very fair. But I also feel that it's the responsibility of a game to keep me interested enough to keep playing.

March NPD

Analysis on Monday (well, maybe Tuesday), but here are the numbers:

Boy, That Didn't Take Long

This is funny:
Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) today announced it would alter plans to test Consumption Based Billing, shelving the trials while the customer education process continues. Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Officer Glenn Britt said, “It is clear from the public response over the last two weeks that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about our plans to roll out additional tests on consumption based billing. As a result, we will not proceed with implementation of additional tests until further consultation with our customers and other interested parties, ensuring that community needs are being met. While we continue to believe that consumption based billing may be the best pricing plan for consumers, we want to do everything we can to inform our customers of our plans and have the benefit of their views as part of our testing process.”

LOL--"a great deal of misunderstanding." Well played, Spinman.

Ironically, the only thing that Time Warner has successfully done in the last two weeks is guarantee that I will leave them the day that Verizon FIOS becomes available in our area.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Console Post Of the Week: Japan

It's been a while since we looked at console sales in Japan, but there are two reasons to do so now. First, thanks to Matt Matthews, I found a source for weekly Japanese video game hardware sales back to 2000 (which gives me several additional years of data to work with). Second, I've been thinking for a while about how I could show sales trends without the holiday spikes, or rather, incorporating that data but taking a longer-term view of what's happening.

After thinking about this for several weeks, I thought of an approach (and it was quite stupid that I didn't think about it after fifteen minutes): use twelve-month moving averages. Moving averages are commonly used when analyzing the stock market, and using a twelve-month moving average would allow us to have a new perspective on existing data. Plus, there are no seasonal spikes, because every data point includes the holiday periods.

I was hoping that using this approach would make it easier for us to spot trends, so let's take a look. Oh, and please keep in mind that since these are twelve-month moving averages, there are no data points for a system until it's completed one year of sales. Then, there's one data point a month (that incorporates the previous twelve months) from there on out.

First off, let's look at total unit sales for all consoles:

It should come as no surprise that hardware sales in Japan are highly cylical, and this graph demonstrates that clearly. What surprised me, though, is that the trough to peak (in terms of a 12-month moving average of unit sales) for the last two generations were almost identical in terms of time (14 months for the last generation, 15 for the current). Also, there's been quite a bit of commentary about the steep decline in console sales in Japan in 2008, but this kind of decline is apparently nothing new.

To be fair, part of the concern in Japan is over slowing sales of handhelds as well (which is something I don't cover), but on the face of that graph, Japan loves new hardware and gets bored quickly. Until I saw this graph, it hadn't even crossed my mind that we might have already peaked in hardware sales for this generation in Japan, but it certainly looks that way. And if peak to trough is as similar as trough to peak, the future is looking a bit ugly, because we would be looking at a four-year decline (as well as a 50% decline from current levels).

That is harsh.

Now, let's move on to individual consoles, and I'm first going to put up this graph without labeling the individual systems. Take a look at the lines and see if you can figure out who belongs where:

That's number of months at the bottom, by the way. "1" is the first twelve months of sales of a new console, and each succeeding data point moves forward a month (calculating a twelve-month moving average going forward).

Sure, it's easy to pick out the elephant in the room, and looking at the data in this way makes it even easier to see what an absolute monster the PS2 has been in Japan, but what about the rest? Well, here they are, now with data labels added:

Using twelve-month moving averages, there are several interesting stories that I hadn't seen before. If you had told me that the only consoles with higher 12-month moving sales averages three years after launch were the PS2--and the Xbox 360--I would have laughed.

I also would have laughed at realizing that at this point in their lifespans, the twelve-month moving average of 360 sales in Japan is approximately equal to the Gamecube (and look like they'll cross shortly).

I've said this before, that I think Microsoft has done quite well this generation in Japan compared to expectations (I know, that's a low bar), but these graphs demonstrate it clearly.

The Wii's decline is also shocking. I knew that sales were down substantially, but on a twelve-month basis, those numbers are alarming. Yes, the first year sales were absolutely huge, but it's still a freefall.

The PS3? Well, if you want to know what Sony was hoping for, just look at the PS2 graph. Then move down three million units a year and find the PS3.


I'm guessing (and expecting) that at no point in the PS3's lifespan will these graphs ever cross. I doubt they'll ever even be close.

So if Sony stops competing with their own ghosts, what are its prospects? It's true that the PS3 has outsold the Wii for the first three months of 2009, which is quite astounding, but unfortunately for Sony, their sales are actually lower than for the first three months of 2008. One positive note, though, is that sales seem to be picking up, as opposed to 2008, when they were, by March, plummeting. Still, quite a bit of Sony's "rebound" in Japan seems to have more to do with Nintendo falling off a ten-story building and passing them on the way down than anything else.

Next week we'll take a look at U.S. data using the same methods.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

At The Farm

We went to pick berries this morning. At a farm.

"Do I need a passport?" I asked Gloria, being unfamiliar with farming in the actual world. Having spent the last month playing Rune Factory Frontier almost daily with Eli 7.8, though, I have a very good handle on farming in the pretend world.

"Dude, we should ask the lady at the farm if she can tell us where to find the Green Ruins," I said, which is a dungeon in the game. Eli thought that was an excellent idea, but I finally managed to persuade him that it might alarm the woman and cause her to shoot us. Or something.

There's also a very entertaining theme song at the beginning of Rune Factory, and it's entirely in Japanese. Eli's learned to mimic the accents perfectly, and when the hero starts running through an orchard (with exaggerated arm motions), Eli gets up and starts doing it, too, which is incredibly goofy and totally funny. He did it in the real fields today. Mr. Bean and Benny Hill would have been proud.

One of Eli's friends went with us. She's in Eli's class and she's one of his best friends. You might expect that two kids together (who get along well) would have 2X the energy, but that is incorrect. Child math is different. In this case, the energy is given an exponential increase and is actually unmeasurable.

We picked about 12 pounds of strawberries, and everyone was perfectly behaved--even Gloria, which was somewhat of a suprise (she's going to kill me for that). We also petted a few baby goats and even a baby donkey. In my limited experience with any real animals besides a cat, donkeys are incredibly sweet and gently tempered.

Okay, I've only seen three, but they were all aces.

My favorite lines of the day:
--Eli's friend loves horses, and whenever we saw a horse as we drove out to the farm, we'd point it out.

"There's a horse!" I said.

"Awesome!" she said.

"Sweeeeeet!" Eli said.

"Did you actually see him?" she asked.

"Um, no," Eli said.

--Here's an example of the kind of scenery 7.8 year old boys find particularly noteworthy: "Hey! There's a porta-potty!"

--And here's an example of the kinds of questions that came up: "Do lobsters have butts?"

We also saw a sign in the country that said "PICKNICK TABLES $80." Spelling, obviously, not included.

Gaming Notes And Links

I'm working on a very long post about console sales in Japan, but I'm trying to add data that was previously unvailable (to me), which has expanded what I'm trying to do, and it's taking forever, basically, so it's going to be another day or so before that sees the light.

Nintendo announced the release date today for Wii Motion Plus. There was quite a bit of speculation in the last few weeks that the release date had been pushed out to the point that Tiger Woods 10 and Grand Slam Tennis might not support the controller, but fortunately, that is not the case. The add-on will be released June 8, with

June 8, in case you're interested, and both EA titles will be released about a week later. Chris Kohler of Wired has the full story here.

Also, and I think this is quite interesting, the add-on is going to cost $20. The price makes me wonder if developers will provide broad support, or if it's going to mainly be used in a narrow range of titles only (Tiger Woods, for example, which should be a perfect fit). It's going to be difficult to make the argument that Motion Plus should be supported in a game if 90% of the user base (or higher) doesn't have it.

There's a very interesting article about DRM and what the Entertainment Consumer Association (founded by Hal Halpin) is trying to do for consumers. Mostly, it's common sense, but when it comes to DRM, that's often in short supply. It's an interesting read (thanks Sirius), and you can find it here.

Steven Kreuch sent me a link to an excellent article about gaming and the disabled, and it's both thoughtful and poignant, discussing the meaning of games for people with disabilities as well as the difficulties in getting developers to make their games more accessible. Read it here.

Sean sent me a link to a wonderful little Flash game called BallDroppings. I'm not going to describe it to you--just go have fun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eli 7.8

Lots of Eli 7.8 stories have piled up in the last week or so, and here's one big post with all of them.

After less than two weeks of practice, Eli 7.8 can ride fifteen feet on a unicycle.

This is entirely ridiculous.

I can ride five feet (well, once), and my practice routine consists of falling repeatedly until I get hurt badly enough that some part of me needs to be iced immediately.

I've never used the word "epic" in conjunction with reading. With books, yes, but never with the act of reading.

As of now, that's changed.

On Saturday, Gloria read Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire to Eli. For six hours. It was, unquestionably, epic.

We had agreed that Eli 7.8 could watch the movie, but only after he had finished the book, and he desperately wanted to see the movie on Saturday. That was the source of Saturday's marathon, to finish the book so that he could see the film.

I've always been conflicted about whether he's reading these books too young, but Harry Potter has kind of a weird schism between the first two books and the the rest of the series. Beginning with Prisoner of Azkaban, the series took a much darker turn. After Eli finished the first two books, though, he had so much sweat equity that it would have been totally unfair to tell him to stop. Plus Gloria and I have read the books and seen all the movies, so we know what to expect.

About 7 p.m. last night, while I was writing in my study, I heard shouts from the living room. I opened the door and walked into a huge celebration.

Five minutes later, we were watching the movie.

Clearly, this is going to be remembered as the Harry Potter Easter.

We were all driving to soccer practice last Thursday. Well, actually, Gloria was the only one driving.

"Dad, you do you know a famous composer who died really young?" Eli 7.8 asked.

"Um, my only guess is Mozart," I said.

"That's it!" he said. He's been studying Mozart in music class.

"He was a prodigy," I said. "Do you know what a prodigy is?"

"Yes," he said. "It means he started writing music when he was really young. He wrote his first composition when he was only five! And he learned how to play the piano when he was only three!"

"He was also a genius," I said, "and genius is prolific. He composed an incredible amount of music."

"I know!" he said. "Over three hundred and fifty pieces."

"I read an article once where scientists said that one of the characteristics of genius was incredibly high output," I said. "So someone who writes one great novel in their lifetime might be a great writer, but they're not a genius. Somone like Isaac Asimov, though, was definitely a genius. Have you ever heard of Isaac Asimov?"

"Oh, yeah!" Eli said. "He's really amazing.

"Eli," Gloria said. "Have you really heard of Isaac Asmiov?"

"What?" I HAVE!" he said, outraged. "I know all about him!"

"Why is he famous?" Gloria asked.

"Um, because he's, um, someone," Eli said, laughing.

I laughed and we kept going. Two stoplights later, we'd moved on to Beethoven, and Eli was spouting off a series of facts that were clearly completely invented. "Who told you all this?" Gloria asked.

"Isaac Asimov, I bet," I said.


Gloria often rolls her eyes at us. This is not unexpected, obviously, because we're goofballs.

A few nights ago, I came up to tell Eli good night. I can't remember exactly what was said--some wild scheme of ours--but Gloria rolled her eyes. "Can your eyes get stuck in the top of your head if you roll your eyes too often?" Eli asked. He said it with a straight face (maybe a little hint of a smile), and I burst out laughing.

Gloria gave me The Look. "What? That was hilarious!" I said.


Eli's been trying to learn how to do arm farts.

I'm not much help when it comes to arm farts. I never mastered the technique as a boy, focusing mostly on learning how to belch the alphabet, so I am sadly lacking as an instructor.

Watching Eli do one, though, is ridiculously funny, because he moves his arm like a drum major. It's the most elaborate attempt at an arm fart in history.

Yesterday, Eli got dressed and came downstairs, and he looked at us and said "Do these pants make me look fat?" I burst out laughing and Gloria harrumphed.

The classics never get old.

Eli came downstairs Saturday dressed in long pants, gigantic animal slippers, and a second pair of underwear that he wore on the outside of his pants, just above the slippers. He started shuffling down the stairs and I saw him.

"Excuse me!" I said. "Safety violation!"

"What?" he asked. This actually means let me buy some time.

"Wearing extra underwear around your ankles with huge clown slippers is not the best way to go down stairs," I said, and he started laughing. "Actually, that's not even the real problem."

"It's not?" Eli asked. "What is it?"

"The real problem," I said, is that after you fall down the stairs and we take you to the emergency room, the Doctor will say 'How did he fall?', and I'll have to say 'Oh, he was wearing giant animal slippers and a second pair of underwear around his ankles, and he tripped going down the stairs."

Eli looked like he was almost willing to fall down the stairs just to see that happen.

Stuff You Might Like

Parks and Recreation is damned funny. It's dark comedy, there's no laugh track, and Amy Poehler is totally inspired as the lead character. If you ever saw "Strangers With Candy," it sort of echoes that show (in ways I can't really explain), but it's more accessible. The premiere was last Thursday, and if you missed the first episode (or just want to see a few clips), Hulu has it all here.

It's quite a jump from "Parks and Recreation" to Thrilla in Manilla, but this documentary is incredibly poignant. It focuses on the famous "Thrilla in Manilla" fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, but from Frazier's point of view. It's brilliant and awkward and very uncomfortable at times, and if anything, it's a beautiful illustration of just how complicated human beings can be, and how every story, especially popular ones, are more like "Rashomon" than we ever want to admit.

I accidentally turned on the premier episode of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency two weeks ago, and it was outstanding. The books are incredibly popular (to that half of the population sans penis), but I really didn't know anything about them, so it's all new to me. The show is set in Botswana, and the lead actress (Jill Scott) is absolutely sensational in the role of "Precious Ramotswe." She's just riveting.

This is a thoughtful show, strongly character-driven, and the cinematography is stunning. It's also very funny and poignant, and it's more gently paced than most shows (teabaggers need not apply).

I'm putting this next film last because it doesn't open up nationwide until Friday, but Anvil: The Story of Anvil looks like required, day one viewing. Here's a description from the Rotten Tomatoes page for the film:
Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a timeless tale of survival and the unadulterated passion it takes to follow your dream, year after year. The story follows Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner and their heavy metal band, Anvil, which released one of the heaviest albums in metal history, 1982’s Metal on Metal. The album influenced an entire generation of rock bands, including Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, who went on to sell millions of records. Anvil, on the other hand, took a different path -- straight to obscurity. A wonderful and often hilarious account of Anvil’s last-ditch quest for elusive fame and fortune...

If you're thinking that it sounds like a non-fiction version of "Spinal Tap," that's what I'm thinking, too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Links!

Leading off this week is a stunning article sent in by Steven Kreuch. I've linked to some spectacular images of Dubai, but there is a dark underbelly to the beauty, and Johann Hari does a masterful job of investigating it in The Dark Side of Dubai.

From Michael O'Reilly, a link to a terrific article where the title tells you everything you need to know to be interested: SR-71 Disintegrates Around Pilot During Flight Test. The pilot survived, and the story is EPIC.

From Daniel James, a lengthy investigative article from Esquire about NBC's "Catch A Predator" series, and it's both well-written and thought-provoking.

From Andrew B, a link to Bob Jorgensen's Workshop. He built a remarkable number of engines in his lifetime (he died in 2006), and it's amazing to look at his work.

From Sirius, a link to a fascinating discovery, and here's an excerpt:
Some of the brightest colors in nature are created by tiny nanostructures with a structure similar to beer foam or a sponge, according to Yale University researchers.

Also from Sirius, a story about double hand transplants stimulating neurological regrowth in the brains of patients. Then there are raingows (click on the picture for a larger image).

Jeremy Fischer sent me a link to a story about the capture of a giant sea worm, and it's remarkably menacing.

Here's another entertaining article from Lara Crigger, this one titled Musical Tastes.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a stunning photo of a galaxy triplet.

From Pete Thistle, a link to Little Sydney, films of Sydney, Australia, done using tilt-shift photography.

From Geoff Engelstein, and I hear they're hiring, it's one of the toughest jobs imaginable: pressure washing the Space Needle.

From David Gloier, a link to one of the most amazing robots I've ever seen: the A-pod. It's described as an "ant inspired hexapod robot," and it's movements are both incredible and freaky.

Here are several cool links from John D'Angelo: a false color image of a neutron star and surrounding nebula, the eruption of Mt. Redoubt, and a hybrid galaxy.

Finally, from Greg Wakolbinger, a link to an incredibly odd story: Swiss Watch Found In 400-year Old Chinese Tomb. A miniature watch, in a sealed tomb. Confusion abounds.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Way To Go, Universe

When I got home from work yesterday, I saw this in our front yard:

You can't quite make out the text from the picture, but those are birthday balloons. They blew over from some other birthday and just happened to get hung up in our garden. Not even attempting to calculate the chances of birthday balloons landing in the yard in the first place, the chance of birthday balloons (once they have landed in your yard) being within four days of your birthday are only 2.46%.

I can't really explain, but having birthday balloons just show up on the winds is a good feeling. The universe knows about my birthday. True, the universe was four days late, but still, it's a damn good showing.

Stupid Fun Club

[Chris Kohler let me know that Will Wright actually started SFC in 2001, and it's doing cutting-edge research in robotics, among other things]

It was reported yesterday that Will Wright is leaving EA:
The designer behind The Sims and Spore has left Electronic Arts, the publisher announced today, starting a new "think tank" known as Stupid Fun Club, a venture that has EA's backing.

...Stupid Fun Club will be "an entertainment think tank developing new Intellectual Properties to be deployed across multiple fronts including video games, movies, television, the internet, and toys," according to the official press release on the matter. It will allow Wright to "explore new projects" and EA retains the right to develop games based on Stupid Fun Club projects.

I've thought it was increasingly curious that Will Wright never defended Spore after it was released (or, if he did, I didn't see it). This game was presented as "the big one" early on, and the presentations he gave about the game made people's heads explode (in a good way). The final game, though, didn't seem to have very much of that head-exploding goodness. Instead, it seemed to mostly be an electronic coat rack from which expansion packs could be conveniently hung.

There was some quite blistering criticism of the game, but it went unanswered. Yes, it's speculation, but it seems fair to say that based on his reaction, Will Wright was well-distanced emotionally from the game he seemed so excited to create by the time it shipped.

I'm not criticizing Will Wright. I really, really like and admire Will Wright. But I think there's a point where the machinery around someone can prevent them from being themselves. In other words, Will Wright may have created Spore, but he couldn't control the development process, and the massive expectations and hype turned him, to some degree, into someone else.

At that point, very few people are smart enough to step away, to turn away from the hype. Yet it appears that Will Wright is one of those few people, and I hope that a smaller company and smaller projects (which is certainly what Stupid Fun Club sounds like) will enable more of his unique qualities to be embedded in his games.

Console Post Of The Week (Mini-update)

First off, it appears that Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is not being released in North America or Europe:
A Tecmo spokesperson gave IGN the following statement:
"Nintendo holds the publishing rights to 'Fatal Frame Wii,' which was developed by Tecmo LTD. and Grasshopper Manufacture and released in Japan on July 31, 2008. Nintendo of America has since then decided not to publish the title in North America – consequently, the title will not be released in this territory.

Damn you, Nintendo. Damn you to hell and other bad places.

Fatal Frame is THE horror series. Other series are almost all variations on monster closets. Fatal Frame, though, possesses a deep, unnerving kind of psychological horror. Actually, "horror" is really the wrong word to use. It's fear. Or dread. Playing through Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly in first-person mode (added for the Xbox version) was the most disturbing and unnerving experience I've had in over twenty years of gaming.

In a good way.

Thanks for the kick in the ass, Nintendo.

In other Nintendo news, President Satoru Iwata is refreshingly honest about what's happening in Japan:
The Wii is in the most unhealthy condition since it hit the Japanese market. The current condition in the Japanese market is not the one we want.

That tees up next week's console post about the Japanese market quite nicely, and what Iwata doesn't say (although he well could have) is that the Japanese market is in quite an "unhealthy condition" in general right now.

Animal Saviors

John Willcocks sent me a link a month ago and he asked me to post it on the blog.

I've e-mailed back and forth with John over the years, and he's very smart as well as being a very good writer. Normally, I'd post the link right away. This particular link, though, is traumatic--to me, and probably to anyone who views it. I've been deeply conflicted about using it, just because I know people don't come here to feel sick.

There's a joke there, obviously, but I'm not going to use it.

Plus, I'm not a cause guy. I have causes, but really, I don't mention them in the blog. I'm very conscious of the balance in terms of subject matter that's been reached over the years, and I'm generally loathe to disturb it.

Having said all that, though, I'm going to post it, because many people who don't know about this (I didn't) would want to know (I did). I'll explain first what the website is about, though, so that you will be fully and heavily warned about its content. The website is called "Animal Saviors," and the site is protesting the practice in China of skinning dogs and cats while they're still alive. The skinning process is easier, apparently, using a live animal.

Yeah. I had to take a deep breath, too. Like I said, this is gruesome.

We unwittingly buy products from China that use this fur, which makes me sick just to think about.

There are petitions on the website, and videos (which I couldn't bring myself to watch), as well as ways in which you can get involved if you choose. And you may choose not to click on the link and go about your business, which is also fine.

Again, and I can't stress this enough, the website contains graphic images and videos that can fairly be described as "horrific." Having fully briefed you, this is the website: Animal Saviors.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

As A Continuing Resource

David Gloier sent me a link to
Stop the Cap! Fight Back Against Usage Caps for Cable, DSL, and Fiber Optic Broadband
. "Phil" is all over this issue, covering broadband caps in detail wherever they've been proposed or implemented. So if you want to monitor this issue, this website appears to be a comprehensive resource for doing so, because it combines news reporting with excellent analysis.

Oh, and here's something I saw that was quite funny:
Statement From Time Warner Cable’s Chief Operations Officer on Tiered Broadband Trials

[skipping the boring parts, because here's the good stuff]
When you go to lunch with a friend, do you split the bill in half if he gets the steak and you have a salad?

Okay, so let me try to understand this. Is he talking about all those television channels I pay for that I don't ever watch because they won't let their customers have à la carte pricing? Oh, wait, that must be a different kind of steak and salad.

Food is like data. Worst analogy ever.

I bet you that within a month, the Austin City Council is talking about revoking Time Warner's "monopoly franchise" for breach of contract.

Geek's Guide To Outdoor Dining

I'm not much of an outside person, because it's all outside and stuff, but today was so beautiful (70s, light wind) that I had lunch al fresco.

No, "al fresco" doesn't mean "my wife made me sit outdoors"--at least, not today.

Since eating outdoors is a rare experience for me, and maybe for some of you, too, here are some helpful tips I discovered.

1. You don't need a tent
Sure, it's outdoors, and that may bring camping to mind (which is something else I know nothing about), but you don't need to bring a tent, and a bivy bag is right out.

2. You also don't need to bring a LifeStraw
Again, while your first instinct may be to bring a LifeStraw so that contaminated water will not poison you, it's apparently not necessary.

3. Carry a first-aid kit
Sure, I was outdoors in an urban environment, but it's always good to have what you need to set a broken leg or stem uncontrolled bleeding, because being outdoors is dangerous. This kit should also include snakebite treatment.

4. Bring a flashlight
If it takes too long to get your food (like, say, eight hours), then it may get dark while you're outside. This is a terrifying situation for many non-outdoors people like myself, but a powerful flashlight (say, 4000 lumens) will help you calm the *uck down.

5. Look out for bears
Bears and outdoor food are a dangerous combination. Sure, all the bear attacks I hear about are in Alaska, and I don't even think we have bears, but you only have to be wrong once. Alternate suggestion: bring a laundry bag, put your lunch in it, and tie the bag up high where no bear can reach. It's a proven safety strategy.

This Is Twice As Good As Mine In Half The Space

Lara Crigger of Gamers With Jobs on Time Warner's epic fail: The Meter Is Running.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Eli 7.8

Eli 7.8 was getting dressed before his soccer game on Saturday.

"Mom, are you on the toilet?" he asked through the closed bathroom door.

"No," Gloria answered, having just gotten out of the shower.

"Okay," he said, barging in without a second thought, because he needed to pee. "WHOA!" he said. He started laughing and opened the door. "Dad, Mom has WIENER hair."

I burst out laughing. "I DO NOT!" Gloria said.

"Well, you have hair where your wiener WOULD be," he said.


When I picked up the paper on Saturday morning, this is what I saw:

Yes, I'm not renowned, but I appreciate the family bias.

I'm 48 now, and unlike any other birthday in my life, I think my age is beginning to bother me a bit. No matter what 50-year olds say, 50 is not the new 30, or the new black, or the new anything else.

"Since it's my birthday, is it okay to focus on the phony headline and not the incredibly depressing '14 Dead In Rampage'?" I asked.

"Yes, yes, yes," Gloria said.

That was quite a start to my birthday, and the rest of the day was just as nice. Eli 7.8 had his first soccer game of the season, and he was all over the field. I don't think I've ever seen him dominate a game like that--4 goals and 2 assists, and they won 7-1.

Oh, and they played a man short for most of the game, because some kids didn't show up and one of the kids who did cried for most of the game and wouldn't play.

No, it was not David Beckham.

In the second half, he was playing defense and lined up for a goal kick. Eli has a sledgehammer shot for his age, and I knew he would kick the ball well past midfield. He did, on the fly, and then it was like one of those climactic scenes from a shitty sports movie where a miracle happens and the downtrodden underdogs win--kids running into each other, falling down, kicking at the ball and missing. I realized when the ball was still 20 yards from the opposing goalie that it was going to be a shot on goal, and at decent speed, too. I started laughing, because it just seemed so ridiculous. Then it got even more ridiculous, because the goalie was so flustered that the ball went right past him for a goal.

Eli's coach walked up to him, laughing, and said "I can't even let you goal kick!" He'd pulled Eli from offense because he'd already scored three times.

I really enjoyed watching Eli have such a good time, and be so dominant, but what I enjoyed most is how hard he worked. I've never seen him play that hard before, and he was dominating on sheer effort.

Still, though, in the middle of the game, he ran up to me (I coach defense, so I stand beside our goal), said "Here, Dad," and handed me a purple wildflower. It was one of those little moments that just overwhelmed me.
Later, Gloria made the cupcake tower, which you've seen pictures of before, and in the afternoon we ordered pizza and watched the Final Four (a four decade birthday tradition, believe it or not). No injuries, no indigestion, and a fine time was had by all.

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