Monday, August 31, 2009

A Curious Reaction

I meant to write about this couple weeks ago, but the obsessive pursuit of Madden sliders slowed me down.

[begin tangent]
First off, and this is totally a tangent (like anyone is surprised), the average Metacritic review score for Madden 10 on the 360 is 86. The average for NCAA 10 is 83.

As a measure of the difference in the two games--based on the first hour--that might be accurate. The difference, though, is that NCAA, even after two patches, is fundamentally broken, and when I say "broken" I mean that parts of the core experience just don't work properly.

Madden, on the other hand, is fundamentally not broken. There are really three primary issues I'd like to see addressed in the patch:
1. Player's awareness of the sidelines.
2. The 2 minute A.I. when the team with the ball is ahead.
3. A bug that results in holding penalties being called far, far too frequently on field goal attempts.

I'm not saying that's all that doesn't work in the game right now, but the game plays extremely well with proper sliders. I can live with everything else.

NCAA is a broken franchise. An evaluation needs to be made to establish which parties are most responsible, and those parties need to be replaced. It's not any more complicated than that.
[end tangent]

There are 38 reviews of Madden 10 (360 version) on Metacritic, and for a while, the lowest review score was a 73 by Keith Schleicher of Gaming Trend. I know Keith, in an electronic sense, because he reads the blog. He mentioned his review when it went live, and I went over and took a look.

By this point, I already knew that, for my purposes, the game was outstanding. The sliders were more than flexible and powerful enough to fix almost anything, and the different speed settings (and relative speed slider) meant that I could actually watch guys run at real speed. Football geek heaven.

Keith didn't like the game nearly as much. Unlike many reviewers, though, he explained what he didn't like and why in detail. If you read his review, he specifically states up front that he played the game on the default settings and didn't change any sliders. He said he felt that after so many iterations, the game should play well right out of the box.

Well, that's an entirely fair comment. I don't need a sports game to do that--I need other things, like flexible sliders, much more--but many people who play Madden will never touch a single setting.

On the default settings, I think the game is boring as hell.

Like I said, Keith was very specific in his criticisms, and based on his review, he spent far more time playing the game than many of the other people who wrote reviews. He gave the game a score of 73, and even though Madden is a 95+ for my purposes, I would rate the game much lower on the default settings. So I'm in the strange position of both disagreeing and agreeing with Keith at the same time.

What I don't disagree with, though, is the specificity of the review. It wasn't half-ass, it clearly wasn't written by someone who didn't play the game, it wasn't a glorified preview, and it wasn't unfair, because he clearly outlined the conditions under which he did the review.

Unleash Internet shit storm.

Incredibly, instead of being angry about the review content, people were absolutely incensed about the score. Incensed.

EA was not happy about the score, understandably, and if you read this thread at Operation Sports, you can draw your own conclusions as to the degree to which Gaming Trend was pressured/not pressured to change the score.

What's not in dispute, though, is that the score was changed from 73 to 78, even though the text of the review seems to be intact. That's a separate issue (I think changing the score was a mistake).

What's most interesting to me about this incident, though, is that many of these annual franchises have, for whatever reason, themselves become sports teams for people. Their "team" is Madden, for example, or NCAA, and they'll give hell to anyone who criticizes their team.

They've become face painters for franchises.

I can understand identifying with a developer (I strongly identify with both Tarn Adams and Vic Davis, based on the products of their imagination), but the people who develop these annual sports franchises change on a regular basis. I loved NHL last year--thanks to my experience with Eli 8.0 in our Be-A-Pro career, it might be my favorite gaming memory ever--but that doesn't give the upcoming version a starting bonus of a single point.

I mean, Madden was absolute shit for YEARS. I murdered that game year after year in impressions because it just stank. But I still evaluate it every year from scratch.

I'm not rooting. I'm not dating. I'm just playing.

Box Fan, You Don't Have To Cool That Room Tonight

Things have changed.

This should come as no surprise to those of us who've monitored "things" over the years. Still, though, and maybe it's just because I'm older, I'm often struck by just how much things have changed.

Example number one is the box fan.

I have double doors leading into my study. In the summer, when various electricity consuming devices are powered, heat builds up. I have called it, on various occasions, "The Thermostad Of Fun," and it is, but I wouldn't mind it being a bit cooler.

The obstacles to this coolness are named George and Gracie. They will immediately investigate any open door, then ransack the contents of the room attached to the open door.

I actually asked for a screen door for Christmas. My wife fainted.

At about that point--well, after I revived her--I realized that a box fan would roughly be as wide as one of the doors. That would stop the cats from entering, and as an added bonus, I could pipe in cool air through the fan.

When I was a kid (I was born in 1961), we didn't have an air conditioner of any kind until I was nine. This was in a region where summer temperatures routinely hit ninety-five and humidity was almost as high. But lots of people didn't have air conditioning back then.

What we had were fans. Box fans.

In the 1960s, box fans were gear. There were many different manufacturers, different levels of quality, and if the Internet had existed back then, I'm sure that would have been a very popular newsgroup.

Box fans kicked ass.

Today, every single person I personally know in this city has air conditioning. It didn't register on me what this meant for box fans, though, until I went to Target. There was no display, no row, for box fans. Instead, there was just a stack of boxes in an obscure location with fans all from the same manufacturer.

Clearly, Target did not give the box fan the respect it so clearly deserved.

Amazon would be different. And it was, at least nominally--I found three different brands of fans. As it turns out, though, all those fans are actually made by the same company.

Box fans, it seems, are no longer gear. They exist only in the most marginal sense.

When you're middle-aged, you begin to think about things like box fans. When you get older, I assume, you begin to worry that you are a box fan.

And then, one day, you become one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Links!

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to the first 3d image of atomic bonds. An incredible image, and so are the details.

From David Gloier, a link to a fascinating story about the "new" kilogram.

From Hennie, a link to a stunning slideshow of the weird, beautiful metros of the Soviet Union. Trust me, you want to see you want to see these images.

From Syndi Riley, a link to something I never thought would exist: hyperbolic planes in crochet. Math meets yarn.

From Ben Younkins, it's a fountain--that pumps mercury.

From Sirius, a link to a story about the landing path--of a pterodactyl. Also, the discovery of an extensive network of caves beneath the pyramids of Giza. Also, captured on video for the first time--lightning that shoots upwards from storm clouds. One more, and it's a word you don't hear every day: gynandromorph.

From Yacine Salmi, a link to an amazing video of Ishikawa Komuro Lab's high-speed robot hand. If you want to see the future of robots, took a look.

From Shane Courtrille, a link to 8-bit Trip, which combines an 8-bit soundtrack with some absolutely incredible Lego animation.

From Skip Key, a link to What's On Earth Tonight?, a map of what extraterrestials are currently watching if they're monitoring our television broadcasts--a very funny and clever idea.

From Deadspin (daily required reading),it's The Confessions Of An NBA Scorekeeper, and it's a great read.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to an article about a newly-discovered star that may be very near its death.

From Dan Quock, it's a link to a performance by an a capella jazz choir from Slovenia called "Perpetuum Jazzile." They're performing Toto's "Africa" (my brain is about to explode from wacky in combination), but what's really cool is how the entire choir simulates an African thunderstorm with their hands.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

That Genre That's Peaked But We Still Love It Anyway

GameLife mentioned a new music game site this week, and it's excellent. It's called Plastic Axe, and it has more information on band games and their ilk than I've ever seen before--not just the stuff you see everywhere else, but more obscure information and articles, too.

Also, there's an article up titled How To Create A Song In Rock Band Network. In short: this is AWESOME.

Laugh at me now, but within the next two years, there will be indie bands that get their big break via the Rock Band Network.

Of Shirts and Tetanus Shots

My work shirts have started to show wear.

When you wear a cotton dress shirt, little white points of wear start showing up after a few years, and then it's time to replace them.

I bought five new dress shirts. That's one for each day of the week, so that they'll wear evenly and need replacement at the same time. I like shirts with color, but the shirts I chose (by virtue of their color schemes) will all reside in the same laundry bin, which means they'll all get laundered at the same time.

I will be sorely tempted to write a day of the week on the inside of the shirt tales with laundry pens. This is both because I still share an unnatural fascination with Garanimals and because it could produce the following exchange with Gloria:
"Honey, I don't have my work shirt for today."
"You have three shirts hung in the closet."
"I don't have my Wednesday shirt. Today is Wednesday."
[unintelligble cursing]
"Are my five pairs of blue dress socks and five pairs of blue cotton Dockers ready?"
"I'm going to kill you now."

Those socks are all identical, as are the pants.

Gloria cut her finger today while she was working with the shrubbery. I demanded that she bring me one if she wanted to pass.

She cut her finger, and since she was working in soil, she decided that she needed to go get a tetanus shot.

"I have no idea where to get this shot," she said. "I don't want to go to my regular doctor, because it will take too long."

"I think I saw one of those mobile meat trucks last week that also said "WE GIVE TETANUS SHOTS." Plus, you get five free steaks."

"Helpful as always," she said.

"Let me give you a little advice," I said. "If you're going to a new doctor for a tetanus shot, avoid the ones that have any variation of 'rust' in their name. For example, don't go to Dr. Daniel Ruston."

"Or Dr. Rusty Rusterson," she said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Madden 10: Realism Sliders v3

Quarter length: 12
Play clock: On
Accel clock runoff: 15 seconds
Injuries: 50 (still checking)
Fatigue: 50 (still checking)
Game speed: Fast* (game balance will not be the same at other speed settings)
Player min speed thresh: 70
Camera angle: Wide
Fight For the Fumble: Off

Offside 100
False Start 100
Holding 52 (very touchy--don't go higher than this)
Facemask 62 [1]
Def PI 100
Off PI 100
KR/PR Int 70
Clipping 75
Int Grounding 70
Rough Passer 75
Rough Kicker 75

Note: at first, it looks like there are only four sliders. Press "A" on each to access the sub-settings (thanks to Bill Abner for the tip).
QB Accuracy 20
Pass Blocking 75
WR Catching 50
Broken Tackles 51 [2]
Run Blocking 100
Fumbles 25
Pass Defense:
Reaction Time 40 [3]
Interceptions 20 [4]
Pass Rushing 75 [5]
Rush Defense:
Reaction Time 20 [6]
Block Shedding 0
Tackling 45

QB Accuracy 25 [7]
Pass Blocking 80 [8]
WR Catching 50
Broken Tackles 53 [9]
Run Blocking 100
Fumbles 28 [10]
Pass Defense:
Reaction Time 100 [11]
Interceptions 25
Pass Rushing 95 [12]
Rush Defense:
Reaction Time 60 [13]
Block Shedding 0
Tackling 45

FG Power 60 [14]
FG Accuracy 40
Punt Power 60
Punt Accuracy 80
Kickoff Power 45 [15]

What's being addressed in this version (in order):
[1] I was using Facemask penalties to compensate for the lack of defense of pass interference penalties (even with the setting at 100). It does, but it's annoying and unrealistic, so I lowered the setting.
[2] I love broken tackles, because they're dramatic, but there were way too many, so this has been lowered (and tested extensively). If you're using the truck stick and special moves extensively, you'll want to reduce this setting even further. This was balanced for players who usually let the CPU run the ball for them, or just sprint with the RB without using special moves.
[3] This improves reaction time, but the CPU offense is still plenty effective. It makes pass coverage look more realistic (although still far from ideal).
[4] The Human player was generating too many turnovers in the previous version, which enabled players to beat much stronger CPU teams. So in this version, there's a slight bias toward the CPU in both the INT and the Fumble settings.
[5] the biggest change in this version is to the pass rush. Based on stopwatch timing, neither the CPU nor the human player had enough time to throw the ball against a standard pass rush in comparison to real NFL numbers (both were averaging below three seconds against a four-man pass rush). Now, time and the pocket should be much more realistic, and the CPU was given a bonus of about three-tenths of a second to give them more time to make decisions.

Oh, and if you have a crappy defensive line and can't get a good push, don't blame me. It's supposed to be that way.
[6] The CPU was generating unreasonable rushing totals. This will put them in a more realistic range.
[7] I tested this setting with both the most accurate and least accurate quarterback in the league, along with a few others. It works fine with starters and backups, but third stringers with accuracy below 60 are going to struggle (as they do in real life). The CPU has a 5-point advantage over the Human player.
[8] Slightly improved to reduce the Human pass rush. There needs to be a difference to compensate for the CPU's less effective decision making compared to the human player.
[9] Slightly reduced to lower the number of broken tackles by the CPU. Again, a slightly better setting for the CPU than for the Human player.
[10] There were slightly too many fumbles for the CPU with the old setting.
[11] This setting is really cranked up from version one. CPU pass defense was just too weak, and this significantly improves the CPUs ability to cover receivers. Do not think that CPU pass coverage becomes psychic or something, because it doesn't.
[12] Slightly lowered to increase the time that the human quarterback has to pass. This should also allow play-action to work, although not always.
[13] This should make the Human rushing game more difficult. In v1, it was just too easy to run. I did extensive testing to improve the yards per carry average compared to real NFL statistics for several different backs as test cases, involving watching over 1,000 plays (in total) in practice mode.
[14] Slightly increased because too many lower-tier kickers had less kick power than in real life. The correspondence is very close now. If you don't think you can kick far enough when you control the kicker, don't forget to lower the trajectory for long kicks.
[15] There were an unrealistic number of touchbacks with the old setting. This reduces kickoff power for the best kickers by about 3 yards, which produces more kicks right at the goal line.

Now I will bore you with details. Testing this version took 30+ hours in total, and it was a fairly mind-numbing process of adjusting settings, watching results in practice mode, and adjusting again.

I did do a few things different this time, and I think they were more effective from a conceptual standpoint. To balance the pass rush, I broke out the stop watch again and actually timed how long it took to get to the quarterback, using different teams and watching hundreds of plays. That's how I established that the pass rush was just too effective in comparison to the real NFL.

For rushing, I used a selection of six running plays (each to both the left and the right, for a total of 12), and ran each play 15 times in practice mode. So each test consisted of 180 play results in total, and I calculated average gain for pitch, outside, and inside running plays.

I used a selection of three teams as defense: best, average, and worst in terms of yards given up per rush last season. What I wanted was for the running back to be above his real average yards per carry last season against the bad rushing defense, below against the best, and about the same against the average defense.

I also established profiles for teams, watching 60 random plays in practice mode (about the number a team runs in a real NFL game) multiple times. It helped me understand how to adjust the settings to make it more difficult for the Human player without cheating.

What makes Madden different from all the other football games I've ever played is not that ratings matter. Ratings have always mattered.

Usually, though, only a few ratings matter.

For instance, in almost every football game I've ever played, I could just find and draft the fastest halfback. Maybe he had terrible hands, so CPU teams didn't rate him highly, but he'd never fumble enough in the game for it to matter.

Actually, speed in general was always a killer. Just draft the fastest guys and you'd win, both on offense and defense.

With this version of Madden, though, if your very fast halfback has a crappy carry rating, he will be a fumble machine. If your linebacker can't tackle, he will get run through like paper. If your quarterback isn't accurate, it won't matter how strong his arm is, because he will be spraying balls all over the field.

What all this does, besides making the game much more fun to play, is make your GM decisions in Franchise mode meaningful. There are no decisions without some kind of adverse consequence. That will make Franchise mode an absolute blast.

One last note. If you want to send me feedback on this version, please don't do it on the basis of one game. It takes several games to get a feel for how these play, and each game will not play out in identical fashion.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Madden Slider Update

I played two games tonight with what I believe will be the v3 version of the Madden Realism sliders.

I've basically lost my mind, watching over 1000 plays in practice mode and designing tests at a much cleaner level conceptually than I've ever been able to do before.

What I wanted to check was how true the game played to team skill. Some games will almost zero out the difference between teams, or greatly reduce it, to increase the competitive nature of the game.

I do not want this.

There are certain games in the NFL that just aren't meant to be competitive. The top four teams are usually 14+ points better than the bottom four teams, especially at home. I want my ability to impact the game, but I don't want it to overwhelm the game. If I can do that, then Franchise mode is really kind of pointless.

I chose Pittsburgh vs. Detroit, as this is just about the biggest mismatch I could find (sorry Todd).

For the first game, I played as Pittsburgh at home. At halftime, I was up 21-3, and if I hadn't thrown a stupid interception, it would've been even worse for the Lions. Running back Willie Parker had over 100 yards on 12 carries, thanks to a long touchdown run. The Lions were totally overwhelmed on offense and had less than 100 yards at halftime.

That seemed pretty realistic. I didn't play the rest of the game.

For the second game, I played as the Lions at Pittsburgh. I got the shit kicked out of me.

This made me very happy.

Willie Parker ran for 169 yards on 32 Carries. Pittsburgh had 393 yards of total offense. My quarterback was 19-35-3 for 149 yards (and believe me, I was doing everything I could), and I had 39 yards rushing. I lost 31-10, but if I had returned a fumble for a touchdown, it would've been worse. The Steelers' team speed on defense was just overwhelming.

Unless something strange pops up in the next day, I'll put up the settings tomorrow for you guys to try out.

Eli 8.0

I haven't made a "stuff Eli said" post in a while because I've been writing about all the things we've been doing instead. However, as always, he's been in fine form, and here are a few examples.

We were listening to the radio and a song came on by a well-known American composer. "I can't believe that I can remember who did this song," I said. "I know he's American, but I just can't think of the name."

"I'm just like that, Dad," he said. "Just a few days ago, I was trying to remember the name of that famous basketball team. You know--the Highland Ghost Trotters."

It was Aaron Copeland, by the way. The composer--not the basketball team.

"Dad, I learned how to play poker," Eli 8.0 said.

"Did you?" I asked.

"I had the BEST HAND the other day, too," he said. "I had a full hotel."

We kept Gracie the cat out of Eli's room at night for a few days, because he wasn't sleeping well. It actually bothered her, and she would skulk around outside his door once reading time started.

"Oh, that's so sweet," Eli said. "She misses me."

"Ah, star-crossed lovers," I said. "Just like Romeo and Juliet, except with a cat."

"Romeo and Juliet?" he asked. "You mean like in 'Hotel For Dogs'?"

When we were in San Diego, he was doing something goofy in the room one morning, jumping on the beds or throwing something across the room (I can remember which).

"Dude, stop," I said. "You're driving me crazy."

"It's not my fault, Dad," he said, laughing. "I have issues."

"Dad, how long will you remember me?" Eli 8.0 asked.

"Little man, I'll remember you for 100 years, at least," I said.

"Knock knock," he said.

"Who's there?"

"You forgot me already!" he said, laughing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It Continues

We're up to 66 days this summer with highs of 100 or more. We either tied or broke the all-time record today (all the way back to 1958).

The 7-day forecast:

You see those last two days in the forecast? Those are weatherman lies.

Console Post Of The Week: The Effect Of Price Cuts

I think it's an interesting exercise to go back to 2002 and look for clues in the history of the PS2 when we're trying to project the impact of the recent PS3 price cut.

A few basics first. I have NPD data back to November 2001. The PS2 price cut, from $299 to $199, was announced on May 14, 2002.

Here are sales numbers for 2002:

I'm guessing that April's low numbers may have been supply-related, given the steady numbers of the other months (although April 2002 seems to have been a uniquely terrible month for the Xbox as well, so I'm not sure).

What's interesting to note is that June sales, after the price cut, roughly doubled March sales, before the price cut. March and June are both five-week reporting periods for NPD purposes, and in terms of natural demand, they're a decent match.

Conveniently, September is also a decent match, because variations in demand for the March-September period seem to rely largely on pricing and new software. It's also a five-week reporting period.

Obviously, this is a very blunt knife that I'm trying to work with, but if the PS3 price cut has a similar effect as the PS2 cut (which was the same in dollars, but a 33% cut as opposed to 25%), and September PS3 sales double June's, then we're looking at 330,000 units.

The PS2 was working off a much larger sales base, so that may throw off the comparison--it's probably easier to double or triple your sales when your monthly numbers are substantially lower. Plus, there's a question of how many people will now pick up the PS3 as a cheap (in price, not quality) Blu-ray player. We can at least use this as a starting point, though.

There are other reference points we could use, but the comparisons aren't quite as clean. It's unfair to use Microsoft's cut in August 2007--it was only $50.00 (on the Pro, and only $20 on the Arcade), and it also heavily capitalized on the Halo 3 release in September. For instructional purposes only, though, here are those numbers:
June 2007: 198,000
July: 170,000
August: 277,000
September: 528,000

That's quite a pop--over 2.5x in sales, comparing September to June. Again, though, Halo had a huge effect on that spike, so while the numbers are interesting, it's unfair to expect anything similar from the PS3.

The next six months will be a good measure of the legs of the PS3 at this point in its lifecycle, both in terms of absolute sales and the decay rate of the demand peak following the price cut. At $299, the imaginary value proposition that Sony has been bleating about for almost three years can fairly be said to actually exist now, and it will be interesting to see how consumers react.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Links!

We're loaded, and there are some pretty wacky links this week, so let's get going.

I didn't have a gaming links post this week, but Matt Sakey has a new installment of "Culture Clash," and this month, he calls a certain game a crime against gaming.

From Sirius, an amazing link to a story about how orangutans can make a musical instrument. Next, the discovery of a giant carnivorous plant. Also, the discovery of six kilometers of caves in Easter Island. Also, a link that will keep you busy for an hour: Best Science Visualization Videos of 2009.

George Politis sent in a link to a performance video that essentially shows someone riding a bicycle like unicycle. Oh, and someone else is on the bicycle at the same time. And what is it with these kid videos where they do something that's impossible, just totally impossible, and all they ever get is POLITE APPLAUSE?

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a story about the five-year anniversary of the Messenger mission. Also, a story about a planet that orbits its star--backwards. And if you want to know how far the Spirit rover has traveled on Mars, just take a look.

From Greg, a link to a fantastic video--The Hubble Ultra Deep Field In 3D.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's ridiculous, and it's an RC SR-71 Jet. Next, and this is absolutely stunning, it's sculpting metal with high explosives. The images are epic.

From Sean, a link to an outstanding piece of academic work: When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling Of An Outbreak OF Zombie Infection. How awesome is that?

From Allen Varney, a link to a motorized unicycle that also has a gyroscope. A one-wheeled Segway, of sorts.

Also in the awesome category is a link from Ronny, who sent in a video of ArcAttack, an Austin-based band that uses--wait for it--Tesla coils.

From David Gloier, and it's another link that just made me shake my head, it's A Ceiling Made From What? It's beautiful, and you won't believe the answer. Also, a story about the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and the research it's conducting into gravitational waves given off by the Big Bang. And finally, one more, and it's a doozy: Louisiana sink hole drains entire lake.

From my friend Neile, a link to a haunting photo essay: feral houses in Detroit.

From Tateru Nino, a link to a story (and video) about laser-guided cow milking.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Madden 10 Slider Update: More Stopwatchery

Obviously, I have a problem with compulsion when it comes to testing sliders and sports games. I fully acknowledge that timing virtual football players in their virtual 40-yard dashes is a long way from normal.

Having said that, though, I do quite enjoy it.

I received some very interesting e-mail after the original slider post. In particular, there were some excellent e-mails on player speed and how times at the scouting combine translate to speed on a football field. After several of these discussions, I realized that the idea of using combine times to establish top player speed was problematic. There are two huge advantages to using combine times--they're readily available, and the conditions are the same for everyone--but trying to calculate the proper adjustment to "football speed" is very subjective.

So let's try something else.

Again, I know I have some kind of slider disease and need an intervention, but I spent a good part of the morning looking for clips of Devin Hester on YouTube. In particular, I found this:

That video shows every kickoff and punt return for touchdowns by Devin Hester in the 2006-2007 NFL season. I wanted to see how quickly he could run 40 yards--not from a standing start, but when he was already running at or near top speed.

You can take a look for yourself, and damn, Devin Hester is fast.
1. First clip in the video, a punt return against the Packers. He doesn't run in exactly a straight line, but it's fairly close. Time from his 40 too the Packers' 20: 4.31 seconds.
2. At the 3:40 mark in the video, indoors against the Rams. Time from his 45 to the Rams' 15: 4.15 seconds. This is the clip where he's closest to running all out from the start of the timing window.
3. At the 5:40 mark, his time from the 40 to the opponent's 20: 4.35 seconds.

I found one more clip on an additional video and timed 4.35 there as well.

Okay, so we now have indisputable proof that Hester can run 40 yards on a football field, in pads, in 4.35 seconds (or faster). However, he's already running at speed (or fairly close) when the timing starts. So is there any way to duplicate this in the game?

Fortunately, for all of us who share this kind of disease, there is a way.

I went back onto the practice field, but this time, instead of timing Hester from the Line of scrimmage, I timed him from 10 yards into his streak pattern--he wasn't quite at top speed yet, but he was close, and it's a good match for what I saw on the video.

Here are the times (yes, I timed him multiple times at each game speed):
Very Fast--4.25 seconds
Fast--4.40 to 4.45 seconds
Normal--4.6 seconds

I think you can make the case, since he was running an absolutely straight pattern in the game, that "Very Fast" is probably the closest match. However, "Fast" is very close as well. I think it's more a question of personal preference in terms of how you like the game to look and feel.

If you haven't played the game, you may be thinking that a difference of .15 seconds in game speed can't really make a noticeable difference. Believe me, it does--I've been playing on Fast, and it is significantly different from Very Fast.

I've also been timing the pass rush (again, intervention needed), and I've discovered that the CPU quarterback, with my current settings, actually has less time to throw than he would in the real NFL. Again, it's not a huge discrepancy (only about .2 of a second), but it definitely makes a difference in his effectiveness, and the CPU offenses need to be more effective.

Oh, and yes, I watched Adrian Peterson run 200 dive plays in a row to see how often he fumbled.

My problem, however, is all to the good, because I'll have updated sliders next week that will be more accurate.

The Beatles: Rock Band DLC Pricing

Brilliant (from 1UP):
Up next is Abbey Road, the first of three full albums scheduled for The Beatles: Rock Band this year. Beginning October 20, fans will be able to purchase the remaining 12 songs from the album that weren't included on the game's disc. As an added bonus, anyone who buys the album in its entirety (priced at 1360 Microsoft points, or $16.98) will get to play Abbey Road's 16-minute B-side medley as one continuous track.

$17 for Abbey Road? Sold and sold again.

Following the release of Abbey Road is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is dated for sometime in November of this year. With four songs from the album already in the game, that leaves eight tracks for DLC. Pricing was not announced for this full album bundle or for Rubber Soul, which is coming this December.

Additionally, each of these songs will be available either packed with their original albums or individually. Single tracks from any of the above albums will go for the normal Rock Band DLC price of $1.99 (160 Microsoft points).

The only way this could've been screwed up was to price the DLC too high. And I'm sure it was tempting to try and milk this catalog for outrageous prices, but this is Harmonix we're talking about. So we get DLC from the Beatles at standard prices, and I will buy every single album.

I know that music games, particularly games that are band-based, have probably peaked. From a personal standpoint, though, I'm not sure it matters. Even if DLC dried up and died 12 months from now, I'd still have 500+ songs to play, at least, and I could easily play Rock Band for the next decade.

Sure, I'd like to see Led Zeppelin, and I'd like to see much more material from the Rolling Stones. Even without them, though, I would be happy for a long, long time.

Here's an example of how I try to manage competing obsessions. When I play Madden (as I compulsively and somewhat disturbingly continue to work on sliders), I don't control anyone on the defensive side of the ball--I just call a play and watch the results. After I make the call, I pick up a drumstick and play the snare with my left hand for 15-20 seconds until the play ends. So I'm squeezing in quite a bit of additional practice time in terms of working on my finger technique.

If You're A Burnley Fan, This Must Be The Best Day Of Your Life

Yes, Burnley defeated Manchester United 1-0 in their second game in the Premier League. And here are some great highlights that will probably get removed due to copyright claims, so watch them quickly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Penny Arcade recently did a six-part series titled "Automata" that was simply brilliant. There are times when Tycho and Gabe aren't satisfied with being funny, and those strips are some of my favorites.

There are two ways to experience this series, and I highly recommend them both. The first is as the strips were originally created, which you can see here:

The second, and I highly recommend this as well, is via a video that cinematically highlights the strips and adds music. It's quite striking, and you can see it here.

Thanks to Jeremy Fischer for the video link.

PureSim 1.80

I've written about PureSim Baseball several times over the years. I helped beta-test the first few versions, and Shaun Sullivan (the primary developer) is every bit as much into the minutiae of sports games as I am. I still remember an epic, wonky discussion we had about improving middle reliever usage over the course of the season to more closely resemble real MLB statistics.
Actually, we had several discussions like that.

I've always preferred the PureSim series to Out Of The Park. OOTP is a fantastic game, but I know so much about the inner workings (and remarkable power) of the game engine in PureSim (because Shaun exposes all the variables in an easily readable file) that I've always had a fondness for it.

Shaun decided a while back to go the freeware route with PureSim, and a new version (1.80) was just released. It's a terrific game, and if you have any interest in text sims, it's well worth your time. Here's a link:
PureSim Baseball v1.80

Eli 8.0 And The Perpetual Motion Machine

Eli 8.0 drew that back in April.

I think I can say, with no equivocations, "mission accomplished."

I can still remember writing a post about us practicing in the living room in April. We had about 20 feet of space, and the first time he made it to the edge, we had a big celebration.

Two weeks ago, he had a ride of about 1.5 miles.

We don't ride very fast. A unicycle is a remarkably inefficient mechanism, at least when it has a 20" wheel (Eli) or a 24" wheel (me). We went to a track one day last month, and Gloria came with us to get her run in. She runs at about 10 minute mile pace, and neither one of us could keep up with her.

So on Eli's long ride, he rode for over 15 minutes.

I think he's almost to the point where riding a unicycle is about as difficult as walking. He can free-mount with ease, he can go over most speed bumps, and he can keep riding when my own legs are about to explode.

What we've been doing for the last month, usually, is play follow-the-leader. We go up to a high school near our house that has huge parking lots, a network of roads, and long sidewalks. Then we just follow each other, with the leader choosing where to go. This can get surprisingly technical compared to just riding in a straight line or riding around a track, and there are several places where there are sharp elevation changes.

It's made me a much better rider, although it's also very draining to keep up with a 55-pound infinite energy source. My left knee, also known as "Strawberry Fields Forever," offers harsh proof of that. It seems like I take it least one bad fall every time we ride, and invariably, I land on my left knee. And bleed.

We still ride three days a week, for about an hour. In that time, and with a few breaks, we usually cover about 2 miles. That doesn't sound like very far when I write it, but it feels far in person.

I've been wanting for several months to have one ride over a mile. I've gotten steadily better in terms of my skill, but it's just never happened. Last Sunday morning, though, we went to a shopping center called The Domain (no one there on Sunday morning, and lots of sidewalks and parking lots to ride on).

We started our last ride, and I rode and rode and rode. Eli stepped off once, took a little break, got back on, and I was still riding. Of course, when I finally did stop, it was with a gigantic, bloody wipeout instead of a graceful step-off, but I didn't really care. It was a 13 minute ride. 1.12 miles.

That sounds completely ridiculous, given that I was riding 20 feet three months ago, but the unicycle is very fair. I just had to put in the time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pew Report (part two)

Chris Karalus had an excellent find in reference to the Pew Report post I made about a week ago. Here's what he wrote:
I would question the validity of the entire survey given that in 2006 they reported that 60% of people never played games and then in 2007 (the survey is from 2007) only 4% said never.

He guided me to question 38 of the survey, which you can find on this page:
Q38 How often do you play games, whether on a computer… or online… or on a game console… or on some other device? Do you do this…?

Here are the responses for 2007:
21% Everyday or almost everyday
28% A few times a week
27% A few times a month
20% Less often
4% Never
* Don't know/refused

On the other side of the column, though, they list the responses to the same question for the survey period February-April 2006. And Kevin is right--the "Never" category is 60%!

Based on that, it certainly does seem fair to question whether any of that data is particularly useful, given that the change in that one category seems incredibly suspect.

Console Post of the Week: Price Cuts

First off, let's review July NPD numbers again.
Wii: 252,500
Xbox 360: 202,900
PlayStation 3: 121,800
PlayStation 2: 108,000

2008 numbers for comparison.
Wii: 555,000
Xbox 360: 205,000
PlayStation 3: 225,000
PlayStation 2: 156,000

In percentage terms.
Wii: -54.5%
Xbox 360: -1.02%
PlayStation 3: -45.8%
PlayStation 2: -30.7%

Boy, that "video games are recession proof" claim is ringing very hollow now. There's no question that holiday sales this year would be dismal without price cuts.

Fortunately, though, price cuts are on the way. Sony announced at Gamescon today that the long-rumored "PS3 Slim" will be in stores the first week of September for $299 (299 euros in Europe). That's the $100 cut we were looking for, with no feature shrink, and it will substantially increase demand. According to Engadget, in addition to being smaller, it also consumes 34% less power. This is particularly welcome, since the existing PS3 model heats up like a nuclear reactor.

Microsoft is rumored (though not yet confirmed) to be eliminating the "Pro" model of the 360, and dropping the price of the the Elite to $299 to replace it. That's a $100 drop as well, although I think it's much less compelling in a marketing sense than what Sony is doing. I'm not even sure Mom and Dad will understand the difference--it's still a $299 360 to them.

That leaves Nintendo, and here's apparently what they're doing this holiday season: nothing. That's with Wii sales down over 52% in the last four months compared to last year.

Think about this scenario for a moment: Nintendo announces Wii MotionPlus at E3 last year, along with Wii Sports Resort. Instead of coming out in July of this year, though, both the controller and the game come out in September last year. The new Super Mario Galaxy game, announced for 2010, comes out this fall instead.

Wii Sports Resort is a superb game, much better than Wii Sports, which was already one of the most-loved games ever. If Nintendo had done this, I don't think they would be under the severe pressure that they're feeling now. Momentum is a funny thing, and it's much easier to keep going than to recapture.

Take a look at the landscape now. Consumers can choose from a $299 PS3 with Blu-Ray, a $299 360 Elite (or a $199 Arcade), or a $249 Wii. That price comparison no longer looks good for Nintendo, even with the uniqueness of the motion controller.

Looking at it from the outside, I think all of these companies wait too long to cut prices. It's easy to see in the numbers, and every price cut this generation seems to have come 6-12 months later than it should have. But I think the console manufacturers look at it from a different angle. To them, there exists a pool of consumers who are waiting for a price drop. They believe all of those consumers will be captured, no matter how long they have to wait for their price point to be a reached.

So to us, Nintendo has lost a huge amount of momentum. To Nintendo, they have a huge pool of demand just waiting for them at $199. They're not losing sales, they're just deferring sales.

They better hope they're right.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Two Slider Adjustments

I did some special teams testing and made two changes. Both are now in the original post, but if you read it before the changes were incorporated, here they are:
FG POWER to 58 from 55
PUNT ACCURACY to 80 from 70

That +3 to FG Power means that Rob Bironas now has the leg to make a 63-yard field goal (which he's done during a game for the Titans). It's not likely, and he won't always kick it far enough (which I really like), but it's possible.

I increased Punt Accuracy because Jeff Feagles (highest Punt Accuracy in the game at 99) needed to be more of a weapon, and punters needed to be more of a weapon in general. Punters are very valuable in the NFL.

Any further changes to any of the settings are likely to be very slight. These were the last two changes I was trying to test.

Oh, And By The Way

If some of you guys try out the Madden sliders on Fast game speed, please let me know how they play. In theory, they should still work just fine.

Madden 10: Realism Sliders

On a track, Devin Hester can run a 4.24 40-yard dash.

Why is that important? Because Devin Hester has a 99 speed rating in Madden 10, he's the fastest player in the game, and I want to play Madden at real game speed. I don't want Devin Hester to run 40 yards in five seconds, or six.

The entire focus of this slider set was realism. Ultra-realism. So before I post the slider settings, please let me take a minute to explain how they were derived.

1. Take Out The Stopwatch
The very first step in creating this slider set was to time players in the 40-yard dash. Lots of players, lots of times.

Since I didn't have a virtual track, I had players run fly patterns in practice mode (Bears playbook, 4 verticals, receiver on far left). I re-spotted the ball to the 10-yard line to ensure that players had enough field to run at full speed and timed the first 40 yards. I also verified that replay mode runs in full speed, which enabled me to set a camera right at the 50 yard line. I pressed "A" to start the play, then started the stopwatch.

Since Devin Hester is a 99 for speed, I used him as the first test.

Like I mentioned, Hester can run a 4.24 in real life. In practice mode, though, he's running on natural grass, from a standing start, and the fly pattern isn't an exactly straight line. Factoring in those variables, if I can get Hester to run in the 4.45-4.55 range, and I think that qualifies as realistic.

The game ships with a default speed setting of "slow." At that setting, what is Hester's time in the 40?

5.3 seconds.

That explains why players run like glaciers at the default settings. That's about 8 yards slower in a 40-yard dash.

OK, so let's bump it up to "normal" game speed. What's his time?

5.1 seconds. Well, that's progress, at least.

On "fast," his time is 4.9 seconds.

There's only one setting left, and that's "very fast." And on very fast, we hit paydirt: 4.5 seconds.

In other words, if you factor in the surface and the shape of the route, Hester is almost running at the same speed in the game as he runs in real life.

At this point, I want to stand up and start cheering the designers, because I know they did the same tests, and I know this setting is in the game on purpose (which explains the time gap between "fast" and "very fast"). This setting is in the game because those guys are hardcore.

Also because they're hardcore, there's an additional speed setting called "player minimum speed threshold." It sets the gap in speed between players, and once top speed is set correctly, this helps scale speed properly.

The process:
1) look at the speed ratings of players in the game.
2) find their real-world 40 times from the combine.
3) time them in the 40 in practice mode.

Also, I calculated yards run per second based on 40 time, then essentially had players with different speed ratings "racing" each other on fly patterns (on the same play). That helped me verify that players were running the right speed in relation to each other.

In another example of the brilliance of this engine and the power of the sliders, the relative speed of players using a "player minimum speed threshold" of 70 scales accurately within .1 second for 40 yards. One-tenth of a second.

That's a variance of less than 3 feet over 40 yards.

When players are running at the right absolute speed and the right speed in relation to each other, the game looks and feels real. You have to make decisions in the same time frames that players have to make decisions on the field.

It's hard, and it's a blast.

This is already running long, so I will spare you the process by which other slider settings were established. However, I will say that I went into just as much detail when testing the other settings.

Like I said, the focus here is on realism. You will not have five seconds in the pocket to throw, or if you do, it will only be rarely. CPU runners will punish you. Quarterbacks will make errant throws. Kickers will miss field goals.

In short, this will play like real football.

I'll post statistics from my Franchise later on, and go into a bit more detail, but in the meantime, here the settings.
Quarter length: 12
Play clock: On
Accel clock runoff: 15 seconds (with 12-minute quarters, will produce roughly 120 plays per game)
Injuries: 50
Fatigue: 50 (I'm still working with this)
Game speed: Very Fast
Player min speed thresh: 70
Camera angle: Wide
Fight For the Fumble: Off

Offside 100
False Start 100
Holding 52 (very touchy--don't go higher than this)
Facemask at 66
Def PI 100
Off PI 100.
KR/PR Int 70
Clipping 75
Int Grounding 70
Rough Passer 75
Rough Kicker 75

(note: at first, it looks like there are only four sliders. Press "A" on each to access the sub-settings (thanks to Bill Abner for the tip).
QB Accuracy 20
Pass Blocking 75
WR Catching 50
Broken Tackles 55
Run Blocking 100
Fumbles 25
Pass Defense:
Reaction Time 20
Interceptions 25
Pass Rushing 100
Rush Defense:
Reaction Time 5
Block Shedding 0
Tackling 45

QB Accuracy 20
Pass Blocking 75
WR Catching 50
Broken Tackles 55
Run Blocking 100
Fumbles 25
Pass Defense:
Reaction Time 20
Interceptions 25
Pass Rushing 100
Rush Defense:
Reaction Time 5
Block Shedding 0
Tackling 45

FG Power 58
FG Accuracy 40
Punt Power 60
Punt Accuracy 80
Kickoff Power 50

That's the full set.

Oh, and one more note: If you go into the "Menu Music" option, all the classic NFL Films music is there. Just turn off everything except original songs by Sam Spence (not including remixes).

It's football.

Like I said, I'll post about my experience in Franchise mode using these settings later. The short version: it feels more realistic than any football game I ever played.

Madden 10 (360): Impressions

I've written many times that I have a Charlie Brown relationship with Madden.

More times than I care to remember, the marketing department of Electronic Arts has convinced me that, this year, I will finally be able to kick the ball.

Every year, the marketing department has turned out to be Lucy.

I have been an extremely harsh critic of Madden over the years, and with good reason. In short, it has always been an extremely poor simulation of professional football. Ignore the traditional, glowing reviews written by people who treat sports games like scratch-n-sniff stickers, basing their entire review on the first whiff. Ignore the fanboys who shoot the messenger when someone documents a flaw in the game.

Madden is easily the most overrated franchise in gaming history.

I tell you all this so that when I say Madden 10 is the most authentic simulation of pro football I've ever played, you will know that I'm not saying it lightly. And when I say that Madden 10 is far superior to NFL2K5, a game that is in my personal Hall Of Fame, I am not saying it lightly.

I am, however, saying it. This is the most realistic videogame simulation of pro football ever made.

Don't expect this kind of reality on the default settings. On the defaults, gameplay is positively glacial--there's nothing realistic about it at all. The flexibility of the settings in this game, though, is the best I've ever seen, and once the proper changes have been made, Madden 10 is an unparallelled simulation of professional football.

Let me explain what I'm looking for from a football game, because it will help you understand my frame of reference. And the grade I give out for Madden 10 in each category is after slider adjustments. Again, this is important, because the default settings are in no way realistic.

1) Players must run at the right speed, both individually and in relation to each other. I can't emphasize enough how important this is to the quality of the game.
Grade: A+. By far, the best I've ever seen.
2) Decisions must take place in roughly the same time windows as real life. If an NFL quarterback has to throw passes within 3 seconds of taking the snap, I don't want to be able to stand in the pocket for 5 seconds. I want the same sense of urgency.
Grade: A+. Again, the best I've ever seen.
3) Strategic and tactical decisions must create vulnerabilities. By this I mean if I choose a defense to stop the pass, then I should be more vulnerable to the run. This seems simple, but many games allow you to make choices with no downside. There should always be a downside.
Grade: A.
4) The ratings system must create distinct players. If players largely perform the same regardless of their ratings, then the rating system is useless.
Grade: A+. Best ever.
5) The performance of players must be variable to a reasonable degree. In particular, quarterbacks cannot be perfectly accurate, and neither can placekickers, which are two very common problems with football games.
Grade: A+. Again, best ever.
6) Sliders must be powerful and flexible enough to extensively customize gameplay.
Grade: A+++. Hall of Fame quality.

That's a fairly daunting list. Many football games do zero of those well. Madden was certainly a zero last year. This year, though, it's aces, and I even had to invent a new grade for the sliders.

Here are some more specific gameplay requirements.
1) There must be an accurate number of turnovers--both fumbles and interceptions.
Grade: A+
2) There must be a legitimate rushing game.
Grade: A+
3) There must be a legitimate pass rush.
Grade: A+
4) The A.I. must be robust enough to prevent "money plays." I don't want to be able to call the same play (offense or defense), or even the same few plays, and be able to win a game.
Grade: B+. Some plays work often, but nothing works always.
5) The A.I., on offense, must be willing to "stretch the field."
Grade: B+. The A.I. does throw deep, but not as often as I'd like.
6) There must be big plays on offense, created by both speed and power.
Grade: A+
7) There must be blocked kicks and big plays on special teams.
Grade: A+
8) There must be broken tackles.
Grade: A+. And they looks fantastic.
9) The A.I. must execute properly in the 2 minute offense.
Grade: C. It often does quite well, but occasionally doesn't run a hurry-up when it obviously should.
10) The A.I. must know when to use its timeouts.
Grade: C-. Again, often good but sometimes ridiculous. Last night, I saw a team on offense calling timeouts from their own 5 yard line with a minute left in a tie game. That is a huge, huge fail. The reason this isn't a D or F is because the vast majority of the time, timeouts are appropriately called.
11) The A.I. must be able to adjust to the plays being called by the human player.
Grade: B-. It's clear that some adjustment takes place, but certain adjustments (to formations, and particularly to well-established play direction) seem to go undone.
12) There must be an appropriate number and variety of penalties.
Grade: C-. Penalties are called too infrequently, although there is a wide variety. Also, a strange bug where holding gets called on field goals and PATs far too often.
13) Wide receivers must not always get off the line cleanly.
Grade: A+
14) The middle of the field must be a viable area of attack for by the offense.
Grade: A+
15) Flag routes must not be unstoppable.
Grade: A+
16) The ability to customize the visual settings to remove anything I don't want to see on the screen.
Grade: A+
17) Tackle animations that show the violent nature of collisions.
Grade: A+. Fantastic.
18) Fluid running animations.
Grade: A+
19) Animations that show the emotion of the game.
Grade: A+
20) Animations that show struggle.
Grade: A+. Wonderful.
21) First down measurements.
Grade: A+. Finally!
22) A realistic fatigue system.
Grade: A+
23) In-game injuries occurring at a reasonable rate.
Grade: A+
24) Sound effects that enhance the experience, including crowd sounds that change according to the game situation.
Grade: A+
25) A realistic home field advantage.
Grade: INC. It's not as readily apparent as in NHL, for example.
26) Entertaining and accurate booth commentary.
Grade: D. I just turn it off.

One last list, and this is for Franchise:
1) Reasonably realistic player progression.
Grade: A (based on Bill Abner's reports)
2) Reasonable roster management (including salary cap management) by the A.I.
Grade: INC
3) Competent drafting by the A.I. in Franchise mode.
Grade: A (again, thanks to Bill Abner)
4) Competent trading by the A.I.
Grade: INC
5) Reasonably realistic statistics for simmed games.
Grade: B (run TDs seem to be quite low)
6) An injury frequency that has a real impact on a team.
Grade: A+
7) Realistic player salary demands.
Grade: INC
8) A weekly highlights show.
Grade: A. It's not as slick as ESPN's from NFL2K5, but it's very, very good.

That's 40 items. I'm sure I left 40 more off, too.

Because I want all of these things, it's completely irrelevant to me how a football game plays out of the box. All I care about is how the game plays after it has been fully modified, and the sliders in Madden 10 are well designed, they're powerful, and they're effective.

After spending 30+ hours with the game since I received it (again, I got it early), the first 20 which mostly consisted of slider testing, I have a slider set that is essentially final. And with these sliders, I can say that Madden is ultra-realistic, ultra-intense, and ultra-challenging.

Sure, I can make videos of anomalies that I've seen. Occasionally, I do see something very stupid, like a DB running away from a play for a couple of seconds for no reason. But those kinds of moments are entirely incidental to the overall quality of the game. It's highly polished and thorough.

It's incredible, really. I've never seen a game improve so much in one year. Ever.

I'm going to start working on the slider post now and it will be up later today.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Sirius, is a link to a performance by sand artist Kseniya Simonova in Ukraine's Got Talent. Incredibly, it's an eight-minute piece (performed to music) that recreates the conquest of Ukraine by Germany in World War II, and it's both beautiful and moving. I know, that sounds like a premise for a Monty Python skit, but just go watch it and you'll understand.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a wonderful link to Baby's First Trip Around The Sun. A new father took a photo of his son every day of the first year of his life, then created two-minute video that sequences all the pictures. It's just great. Also from Edwin, it's living root bridges.

From Mark Trinkwalder, a link to a 20/20 segment about a severely autistic teenager who can now communicate via keyboard.

From John D'Angelo, a link to a stunning photo of Saturn's F Ring, and it's stunning because it looks like some kind of small object passing through the ring. Oh, and the article mentions something that totally blew me away: The rings are incredibly thin, only a few meters in thickness despite being hundreds of thousands of kilometers across.

That's hard to grasp.

Here's one more--and it's just as incredible.

From Kwadwo Burgee, a link to 10 Fascinating Cases Of Mind Control. Parasitic behavior modifications, in other words, and they're amazing.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, a link to a video exploring the work of artist Chris Jordan, whose art presents a visual portrayal of consumerism. I know, that sounds annoying, but it's actually quite cool.

More from Sirius, and this time it's Asteroid Impact Craters on Earth as Seen From Space. Also, and these are very funny in a timeless way, it's Caspar Milquetoast.

JL sent in a slew of excellent links from the Humboldt Squid story I linked to two weeks ago. First is a link to Dancing With Demons, which is written by the diver featured in the original link. Yes, the writing style is a bit overwrought, but it's still very interesting. Then, it's everything you could possibly want to know about the current state of knowledge concerning norquals (baleen whales): part one, part two, and part three (and they're fascinating reads). That leads to three other links (also about whales), and these links include some amazing pictures: Finally, a Real Live Whole Dead Whale, the big'un, and Possibly The Biggest Bone In Any Museum Anywhere.

From Steve Micinski, a link to Artificial Owl: the most fascinating abandoned man-made creations. It's terrific.

From David Gloier, a link to a tantalizing possibility: that a black hole could theoretically spin away from its event horizon.

From Michael M., a link to a poignant and sad article about a mass medical clinic.

From Andrew B., the story of tourists who thought they were going to Sydney, Australia, but wound up in Sydney, Canada. And it's not the first time it's happened.

Ending on a puckish note, a link from Jeff Pinard to the thoroughly amusing On The Effectiveness Of Aluminum Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

July NPD

Analysis on Tuesday, including a discussion of upcoming price cuts, but here are the raw numbers:
Wii: 252,500
Xbox 360: 202,900
PlayStation 3: 121,800
PlayStation 2: 108,000

2008 numbers for comparison:
Wii: 555,000
Xbox 360: 205,000
PlayStation 3: 225,000
PlayStation 2: 156,000

Those are huge declines for everyone but Microsoft. It's also the worst month for the Wii in its history.

Madden 10: Please Note

A reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent me a copy of Madden 10 early. I've put in 25+ hours since I got the game, and on Monday, I'll put up sliders that are very close to a final version. There's a day one patch dropping on Friday, so I just want to make sure I don't need to make any additional changes.

With the right sliders, this is the most realistic football game ever made. Period.

I'll explain how and why on Monday.

Les Paul

Les Paul passed away today. He was 94.

I can't even begin to describe his life, because it was epic beyond all description. Here's an excerpt from a New York Times article:
Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar alongside leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.

...He also noticed that by playing along with previous recordings, he could become a one-man ensemble. As early as his 1948 hit “Lover,” he made elaborate, multilayered recordings, using two acetate disc machines, which demanded that each layer of music be captured in a single take. From discs he moved to magnetic tape, and in the late 1950s he built the first eight-track multitrack recorder. Each track could be recorded and altered separately, without affecting the others. The machine ushered in the modern recording era.

That's just scratching the surface--he'd done all that more than fifty years ago!

One more thing about Les Paul: He was a badass. In 1948, he was in a serious car wreck. Here's story:
Among his many injuries, his right elbow was shattered; once set, it would be immovable for life. Mr. Paul had it set at an angle, slightly less than 90 degrees, so that he could continue to play guitar.

Bad ass fact #2: he still had a weekly gig--at age 94.

It's a sad day for music.

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7 Recap

Scoring Summary

7:14 PIT Malkin
14:46 PIT Cooke (Gonchar, Whitney)
16:30 VAN Kesler

0:32 PIT Crosby (Gonchar, Whitney)
1:14 VAN Burrows (Salo, Kesler)
5:37 PIT Satan (Whitney, Gonchar)
6:37 PIT Dupuis (Crosby, Fedotenko)

13:42 PIT Dupuis (Fedotenko, Gill)

Dupuis had another great night (8 goals in the series), but for only the second time in the series, everyone else showed up on the offensive end, too.

One of the things I really love about this game is how differently the games develop. We'd had two gritty, tense games in a row, and I was expecting a low-scoring nail biter. Instead, it was high octane.

In the end, Roberto Luongo was of this Earth after all, and with our improved defensive play, we were able to keep and then stretch the lead. It was impossible to relax, because in games with this kind of tempo, the other team can score in bunches, but once Dupuis scored in the third to make it 6-2, I started to think about winning.

Three seven game series in a row, five elimination games, and more drama than Shakespeare, but somehow we survived. Eli 8.0 was totally clutch, especially the way he picked up his defense in the Vancouver series.

Time was ticking down in the third period, and he turned to me, a huge smile on his face, and said "Dad, we won the Stanley Cup!"

"Yes, we did," I said, my smile just as big as his. "And we earned it."

Now, a few photos. This was taken right after the game ended:

The traditional team picture:

If you watch the Stanley Cup, or any other team sports championship, you know that one of the first things the winners do is rock their championship gear--t-shirts and hats in particular. So I ordered some Stanley Cup Championship gear for Eli 8.0 in case we won:

I'm ordering some for me, too.

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7

(image credit to the excellent Sports Designer)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sorry, No Idea How To Fix That

The Blogger archive text is on top of the right side of the video and I have no idea how to fix it. It doesn't interfere with seeing the action, though.

[Wait, yes I can. I'm just going to add a few blank lines here, like this...

...and that should push it far enough down to get below the text.

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 6

I never thought we'd be in this situation (down 3-2) after winning the first two games at home. Worse, Roberto Luongo was totally in our heads, making one spectacular save after another. We were taking the same shots we were scoring on all season, but the shots just aren't going in the net.

I had sort of a dread feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wanted us to win, but more than that, I wanted us to play well and be proud of our effort, and in Game 5, I thought we both played tight and a little scared. And while this is just a video game, all the fun we've had and all the elation we've shared have been entirely real, and I want us to feel good about what we've done.

I told Eli 8.0 the story of how Edmonton lost a chance at the 1986 Stanley Cup (I was watching that game live) because defenseman Steve Smith accidentally bounced a clearing pass off the back of Grant Fuhr and into his own goal. So even Wayne Gretzky didn't win all the time, but he did always play the best that he could to give his team a chance to win.

I also put a little note in front of us that said
"Don't play afraid.
Do your best."

We played "I'll Be Your Man" by The Black Keys as our warm-up song. We were ready.

With that, Game 6 was on.

As soon as the game started, it was clear that Eli 8.0 had stepped up his game. No defensive lapses, no undisciplined puck chasing, no mistakes. Every decision he made in the first period was golden.

That's a lot of mental discipline to ask from an eight-year old.

We couldn't score, though, even though he took some great shots. Vancouver couldn't, either, and the first period ended 0-0.

Second period. I didn't play nearly as well as Eli did, but Luongo still stopped several of my shots with some kind of Canadian sorcery. Marc-André Fleury, much to my relief, has awakened from his coma (he's only an overall 82 in the game, while Luongo is a 94) and is stopping the few shots that he's forced to face.


Third period.

Eli played another great period in the third. He was all over the ice, making great decisions, putting some wicked shots on goal, being the stopper on defense.

At some point, I realized that this was the best we'd ever played, and even if we lost, I was going to be happy about what we'd done.

Incredibly, regulation ended 0-0.

I thought about the seventh game against the Thrashers, and the sixth and seventh games against the Rangers. Now we were in overtime again, facing elimination, in a scoreless game.
Almost fifty combined shots and no goals.

I always play the first overtime because we alternate periods. This was 4:49 into overtime:

EA Sports: Stanley Cup Finals: Game 6, Overtime

Then the roar of twenty thousand, coming from two.

Scoring Summary:
No Scoring

No Scoring

No Scoring

4:49 PIT Crosby (Letang, Malik)

The Beatles: Rock Band

Daniel Radosh wrote a sensational piece that was published in the New York Times today about The Beatles: Rock Band titled While My Guitar Gently Beeps.

It's a totally fantastic read (both excellent journalism and excellent writing), and the article mentions two more albums that will be available for DLC at some point (in addition to Abbey Road): Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Let's see: WIN and WIN. Outstanding.

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 5

Scoring Summary

3:41 VAN Bernier (Kesler, Mitchell)

No Scoring

19:37 VAN (Salo)

Vancouver leads the series 3-2. And with that, we are officially in deep, deep trouble, because we totally dominated the game, but Luongo just refused to let anything through. Fleury faced only half as many shots, but he let one in early, and even though we were in the offensive zone for twice as much time as the Canucks, we couldn't score.

It was a brutal loss at home, and now we have to win on the road if we're going to bring the series back to Pittsburgh.

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 4

Scoring Summary

6:30 VAN H. Sedin (Ohlund, D. Sedin)
14:16 VAN D. Sedin (H. Sedin, Hordichuk)
19:07 PIT Dupuis (Fedotenko, Sydor)

0:55 PIT Crosby (Gonchar, Whitney)

1:10 PIT Crosby
11:45 VAN Burrows
16:39 VAN D. Sedin (Hordichuk, H. Sedin)
19:55 VAN Kesler (Ohlund, Demitra)

Series tied 2-2.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 3

Scoring Summary

8:01 PIT Crosby (Clutterbuck, Staal)
11:43 VAN Wellwood (Davison, Pettinger)

16:33 VAN Burrows (Wellwood, Johnson)

19:55 VAN Bernier (Salo, Kesler)

Pittsburgh leads the series 2-1.

The Lazy Jedi

Eli 8.0 was watching a Star Wars DVD.

"Dad, will you change the DVD?" he asked. He was sitting fully six feet from the machine, a yawning chasm.

I laughed.

"It's too bad you're not a Jedi," I said. "You could just use your force power to remove the disc and insert a new one."

"Yeah!" he said. "And when mom wanted me to pick up my clothes, I could just lift them into the hamper."

"I can just hear the wife of a Jedi," I said. "Would you get your lazy butt off the couch just one time? Don't you use force powers to change that video! Don't do it! Argghhh!"

"Hey!" Gloria said. Eli laughed.

"I'd be a member of the Order Of The Lazy Jedi," I said. "I'd use my force powers to take my lazyocity to a new level of power."

"Is 'lazyocity' a real word?" Eli asked.

"It is now," I said.

A Lack (Or Excess) Of Imagination

"That was impressive," I said. The waitress had brought me a new glass of Diet Coke at the precise instant my previous glass was empty.

The waitress, it should be noted, was quite attractive, with a pleasing, sweeping smile.

"Oh, I really like her," Gloria said. "She's been my waitress several times when I've come here by myself. She's friendly, almost in a flirty way--do you know how women can flirt with each other in a non-sexual way?"

"No, I do not," I said. "I am a man. Women cannot flirt with each other in a non-sexual way. They can only flirt with each other in a red-hot bisexual love way. I'm seeing premium movie channel content after midnight."

"Slow down there," she said. "You're getting overheated."

"I just added ten dollars onto her tip," I said.

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 2

Scoring Summary

11:00 VAN Kesler (Davison)

11:55 PIT Dupuis (Crosby, Gonchar)

7:44 PIT Satan (Sykora, Gonchar)
19:37 PIT Gill (Unassisted)

Pittsburgh leads the series 2-0.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 1

Scoring Summary

2:23 PIT Dupuis (Gonchar)
6:40 VAN D. Sedin (Ohlund, H. Sedin)
8:57 PIT Dupuis (Whitney, Sykora)

2:51 VAN Vernier (Kesler, Burrows)
4:03 VAN Demitra (D. Sedin, Mitchell)

1:55 PIT Crosby (Dupuis, Gonchar)
8:01 PIT Sykora (Whitney, Satan)
8:32 PIT Crosby (Letang)
11:17 PIT Crosby (Orpik)
18:07 VAN Wellwood (Kesler, Bieksa)
19:30 PIT Dupuis (Orpik, Letang)

Pittsburgh leads series 1-0.

Welcome To The Finals

It's been quite a ride.

I had no idea this was going to get dramatic. We'd totally dominated the last twenty games of the regular season, and I thought we'd have a feel-good playoff run where we won the Stanley Cup easily.

This thought was no longer in my mind when we entered overtime in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals against Atlanta. I was gripping, really, because I didn't want to make a mistake that would knock us out of the playoffs. We'd put so much time into the game, and I didn't want Eli 8.0 to be disappointed, because he'd come up clutch several times already, particularly in Game 5 when he'd almost singlehandedly saved the series by scoring two goals in the third period.

We were on the bench when the winning goal was scored in the second overtime. NHL is unique in that when your player is on the bench, you're literally watching the game from the bench. There was a clutch of players around the goal, then the red lamp lit up and we both started celebrating like crazy.

On the replay, the agony of the Stanley Cup was readily apparent. Superstar Sabrina (discussed in a previous post) blocked the initial shot, but it trickled through her pads. There was this beautiful, doomed moment when she turned to see the puck sliding toward the goal line, moving in a desperate burst even though she knew it was too late.

That single moment captured the incredible intensity and agonizing nature of hockey as well as any game I've ever watched on television (and I've watched many).

When we faced elimination against the Rangers in Game 6 of the Conference Finals, Eli scored two goals in the first period and we cruised.

In Game 7, with a 1-0 in the third period, he had a defensive lapse that allowed the Rangers to tie the score with only five minutes to go. "We'll get it back," I said, but I thought we were headed for another overtime. With just over thirty seconds left, though, Fedotenko missed a shot and Eli stuffed in the rebound.

If you thought there was a celebration in the last round, you should have seen us this time.

I don't know what's going to happen in this series--Roberto Luongo is a phenomenal goalie, and Vancouver is the top seed from the Western Conference--but I've had as much fun during this playoff run as I've ever had playing a sports game, and that covers a lot (a LOT) of virtual ground.

Sooner Than Expected

I've written for years that the hysteria over videogames, carefully nurtured by politicians for personal gain, would be ending in the future.

By "future," though, I thought ten years. Maybe fifteen. As it turns out, I think I overshot the mark.

Kevin Gaughan sent me a link to the Pew report Adults and Video Games. Okay, he sent it to me nine months ago, but I kept it in my inbox.

A few bullet points, although I'll be using hyphens instead of bullets:
--"53% of American adults age 18 and older play video games, and about one in five adults (21%) play everyday or almost everyday."
--"97% of teens play video games."
--"57% of respondents with at least some college education play games, significantly more than high school graduates (51%) and those who have less than a high school education(40%)."

Demographics (defined by the report as "the percentage of Americans in each demographic category who report playing games online or offline, using a computer, cell phone or any other kind of gaming device"):
Ages 19-29: 81%
30-49: 60%
50-64: 40%
65+: 23%

That breaks down pretty neatly, for now. It basically goes from 100% of teenagers to 20% for over 65s in twenty-point increments.

However, and this is a big however, there are a significant number of people over fifty who have never been exposed to video games. That's even more true for the 65+ category.

I think it's likely that once "exposure saturation" works it way through the demographic groups, the 50-64 category will be over 50%.

In other words, gaming is reaching critical mass in terms of being a potential voter bloc. It can be argued that it's reached that point already.

I'm not saying that people who play games lack the ability to be outraged over games. In certain circumstances, we all can. What I can say, though, is that people who already play games are far less likely to believe some of the unadulterated bullshit that people like Jack Thompson spew.

In other words, a fear-based environment when it comes to videogames is dead. Profiteering from such an environment will soon be dead as well, because if politicians look at anything, it's demographics. It's no longer going to be possible to cut us away from the herd. We are the herd.

That's both comforting and disturbing at the same time. I'll put that down as a topic for another day.

And yes, we're in the Stanley Cup Finals. Hell, yes.

Study Door: Stanley Cup Finals

Many thanks to Sam Veilleux, who sent in the new logo.

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 7

Scoring Summary

5:39 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko)

No Scoring

14:27 NYR Naslund (Dubinsky, Kalinin)
19:26 PIT Crosby (Gonchar)
19:35 PIT Staal (Sykora)
19:54 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko, Dupuis)

Pittsburgh wins series 4-3. WOO HOO!

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 6

Scoring Summary

2:36 PIT Crosby (Orpik)
7:43 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko, Orpik)

18:54 PIT Letang (Orpik, Crosby)

5:29 PIT Cooke (Gill)
13:19 PIT Satan (Crosby)
19:39 NYR Fritsche (Mara)

Series tied 3-3.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 5

Scoring summary

4:28 PIT Fedotenko (Legang, Orpik)

No scoring

10:17 NYR Dawes (Fritsche, Lundqvist)
11:10 NYR Betts (Malik, Blake)
19:58 NYR Naslund (Kalinin)

New York leads the series 3-2.

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 4

Scoring summary

4:28 NYR Naslund (Dubinsky, Redden)

No scoring

7:22 PIT Malkin (Whitney, Satan)

1:27 NYR Shanahan (Redden, Naslund)

Series tied 2-2.

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 3

Scoring Summary

5:02 PIT Crosby (Whitney)

10:10 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko, Gonchar)

1:09 NYR Shanahan (Blake, Naslund)
15:41 NYR Prucha (Drury)

18:22 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko, Orpik)

Pittsburgh leads the series 2-1.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 2

Scoring Summary

1:29 NYR Callahan (Dubinsky, Naslund)

No Scoring

8:24 NYR Fritsche (Daves, Mara)
9:20 PIT Clutterbuck (Cooke, Sydor)
9:50 PIT Crosby (Letang)

10:26 NYR Callan (Redden, Dubinsky)

Series tied 1-1.

Eastern Conference Finals: Game 1

Scoring Summary

2:53 NYR Naslund (Dubinsky, McLaren)
19:59 NYR Fritsche (Mara, Sjostrom)

5:35 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko)
11:13 PIT Clutterbuck (Sykora, Staal)

6:10 NYR Sjostrum (Dawes, Kalinin)
16:46 PIT Fedotenko (Whitney, Satan)
19:49 PIT Dupuis (Fedotenko, Crosby)

Pittsburgh leads the series 1-0.

On My Study Door

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals: Game 7

Scoring Summary

9:03 PIT Crosby

1:58 ATL Ruutu (Kozlov, Haydar)
13:49 PIT Crosby (Sykora, Dupuis)
19:26 ATL Kovalchuk (White, Christensen)

2:12 ATL Little
9:14 PIT Dupuis (Fedotenko, Letang)

No Scoring

3:15 PIT Malkin (Sykora, Satan)

Pittsburgh wins series 4-3.

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals: Game 6

Scoring Summary

19:43 ATL Ruutu (Haydar)

No Scoring

No Scoring

Series tied 3-3.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals: Game 5

Remember, Eli plays the first and third periods.

Scoring Summary
10:52 ATL Haydar (Ruutu, Valabik)

No Scoring

2:10 ATL Haydar (Exelby, Purinton)
6:49 PIT Crosby (Fedotenko, Orpik)
11:09 PIT Cooke (Staahl, Gill)
16:49 PIT Crosby (Whitney)
19:46 PIT Sykora (Malkin)

Pittsburgh leads in games 3-2.

Friday Links!

Before we get started, a note about the link from last week that allegedly showed a pilot ejection from a Sukhoi fighter at Mach 2. Mr. Fritz debunked that with a .jpg image of that exact scene--but on the ground, and the plane wasn't moving. Photoshop hi-jinks.

Leading off this week, a link from Clayton Lee to one of the most inspirational videos I've ever seen. It's about a bike trials rider--who is blind.

From Mike Vollick, a link to another TED talk, this one by David Gallo about incredible sea creatures (in this case cephalopods). The video is called underwater astonishments, and it's truly spectacular.

From Jeremy Fischer, a fantastic image illustrating the history of MegaMan games.

Mr. Fritz, in addition to detective work, sent in a link to a fascinating article about how the Internet may be changing how we think.

From Newsweek, a fascinating story titled My Father The Dope Dealer.

From David Gloier, a link to one of the most fascinating (and one of the goofiest) scientific theories ever: we are running out of time.

Gloria sent me a link from a website called "Stuff On My Cat," and it's a video about a kitten and a wild crow becoming best friends. Crazy.

Frank Regan sent me a link to a fantastic video titled Vortex Cannon Versus Little Pigs Houses.

From Sirius, a link to a remarkable story about barn swallows and their incredible flying abilities. Also, a story about physicist Lene Hau and her remarkable experiment to convert light into matter--and back to light. Next, and this is totally cool, it's teraflops on your desktop. Finally, and it's a pretty fascinating little story, it's Birds show Aesop’s fable may be true.

From Jarod, and it's going to give you bad dreams (but you still need to see it): Are You Going My Way Down The Carrot Highway? This video could also be titled "The Curious Case Of The Oversized Sweaters."

From Sean McIlroy, a link to a story about coin flips and how they are not truly a 50-50 proposition.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, one of the greatest inventions I've ever seen--it's the ChefStack Automatic Pancake Machine. Now I want to open up a diner just so I have an excuse to buy one. Continuing on the food tour, it's The Cheese And Burger (the website design is particularly clever as well).

From Andrew B, one of the strangest creatures I've ever seen--the goose barnacle (which should be renamed "writhing alien monster" or something like that).

From Katy, an incredibly clever folding bicycle called The Contortionist.

From Steven Kreuch, and everybody needs one of these, it's the sad horn button.

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