Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D., not J.S.--good grief

An honest typo that time.

Friday Links!

A little late and leaking fuel, Friday links have arrived, so close your door (if you have one) and enjoy.

In the midst of all the tragedy in Haiti, one classic headline emerges:
Red Cross: Stop Sending Your Breast Milk To Haiti.

Here's the money quote from the article:
“Tell them not to send it,” said Eric Porterfield, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. “I’m 100 percent sure we didn’t ask for that.”
From David Wolfe, a link to a fascinating article about the stray dogs of Moscow, some of whom regularly ride the subway (yes, canine commuters). One more from David Wolfe, and it's entirely EPIC: a 200-year (in game time, obviously) game of Dwarf Fortress (with photos and a summary, and take a look at this in particular)

Here's something unusual. The National Museum Of Crime And Punishment (a fitting place for this feature) annually holds the Cherry Blossoms in D.C. festival to celebrate the ties between American and Japanese culture.

I can't exactly explain why a museum focusing on "excellent depictions of historically famous crime scenes along detailed information concerning past wars forensics, organized crime, and more" is part of a festival celebrating cultural ties, but it sounds quite cool, regardless, so hit the link if you're interested.

From Neil Gibbings, and it's a wonderful tribute to my favorite city in the world, it's Vancouver in time-lapse video. Stunning.

Also Vancouver related, Al Wilkinson sent along the official website for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a new service offered by Holiday Inn in the UK: human bed warming. Certainly, this will make an appearance in the "worst idea ever" compendium.

From Sirius, a story about an 8-year-old blues guitarist, and he's damned good. Also, a story about the a moment after the death of Thomas Beckett, during an era (twelfth century) when bathing was considered a sin (be careful what people say the Bible is telling you , kids). This story involves "lipoxeny", or desertion of the host by a parasite. Yikes. Next, a fascinating article titled What Colours Were Dinosaur Feathers? Finally, a look at Bannerman Castle, one of the few real castles in the United States (it's on Pollapel Island in the Hudson River).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an amazing story, it's Artist Sentenced For Secret Apartment In Mall. Also, a terrific graphic explaining the importance and history of HeLa cells. Next, it's underwater sculpture from Jason De Caires Taylor.

From Nate Carptenter, a link to a story about P.O. Box 1142, a secret Virginia facility in WWII used to interrogate (and secretly eavesdrop on) some of the most prominent scientists in the Third Reich.

From Paul Weaver, an article about the emerging ability of brain scanners to pull pictures from your brain.

From Dib, and these are excellent, it's 33 Cool And Creative Ambient Ads.

From Kez, a link to the winners of the 2009 National Wildlife Photo Contest.

Lastly, a link to a New York Times obituary for J.D. Salinger, who passed away on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I received an e-mail suggesting this "improved" version, then someone else actually sent me the improved photo, so here it is.

I know. We're all ten.

Gaming Notes

There was an exciting post (in my world, at least) over at Plastic Axe about the Rock Band Network, and it featured two videos of Rock Band Network tracks: Flogging Molly and Bill Bruford's Earthworks.

The video by BBE is particularly interesting, because it's a jazz band, and the song is terrific--I can't wait to play it in Rock Band. As noted in the post, the "guitar" track is the piano line, and the "vocal" track is the sax line. I love the idea of different genres that are either under-represented or not represented at all in the Rock Band catalog now being available to play, and I would happily pay for the privilege.

If you're wondering how Dark Void turned out, then Rock, Paper, Shotgun has you covered with their withering wit (that doesn't sound right, but I mean they're quite funny). It's a group impressions post, and I think we can conclude at this point that Dark Void is the first massive disappointment of the year, unfortunately.

Well, someone had to be first. Moving on.

If you play sports games, you know that the MLB2K series has been an embarrassment for several years now. Terrible bugs, crappy framerate, and inconsistent design have combined to make this one of the worst franchises out there.

MLB2K10 is coming out soon, and with zero buzz and record levels of skepticism about the game, 2K Sports announced a contest today that will pay $1 million to the first person who throws a perfect game in MLB2K10.

That's genius. Instead of adding eight or ten programmers to the game for a full year (which could theoretically improve the quality of the game), they decide on a shitty promotional stunt instead. Well-done.

If you're thinking that it won't cost them a million, because they could just buy insurance, how could they buy insurance for something that has a 100% chance of happening?

Think about it. There's roughly a perfect game every decade in real baseball, and there are about 2,500 games a year. That's 25,000 games a decade. It's incredibly unlikely (unless the game is rigged) that the chances for a perfect game are lower than in real life. How long do you think it will take for 25,000 games of MLB2K10 to be played?

Yes, there are special requirements (the game has to be videotaped, for one), but anyone who's good is going to be taping their games. I'm willing to bet that a perfect game is thrown in the first week--unless, like I said, the game is rigged to prevent it from happening.


A bunch of you guys are e-mailing me and asking what I think about Apple's new iPad. I think this explains my feelings quite well:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Rivalry

I was reading an article a few minutes ago about what is allegedly the most intense rivalry in soccer: Egypt vs. Algeria.

It's basically soccer with stabbing and riots and homicide and diplomatic incidents. The "diplomatic incidents" help distinguish it from garden variety European soccer rivalries.

I watched a few minutes of clips on YouTube of past matches, and it's as antagonistic as any soccer footage I've ever seen. Physical doesn't begin to describe it, and the referees look completely overwhelmed from the minute the match starts.

Tomorrow, the teams are playing again, this time in the 2010 African Cup of Nations. It starts at 1:30 p.m. CST (adjust for your local time zone, but in Europe, that means it will be mid-evening). If you're interested, it's going to be broadcast on BBC3, Setanta Sports USA (I think DirecTV has this channel), and of course you can probably watch it on your desktop thanks to  Justin TV.

Ubisoft And A Self-Inflicted Wound To The Head

Ubisoft today announced something called the Online Services Platform For The PC.

First, the marketing:
What is the added value of this platform for PC gamers?

A CD/DVD is not required to play the game. The protected game can be installed as many times and on as many computers as you like! Saved games are also synchronized online so the user can continue playing from where he/she left off from any computer; at work, at a friend's place etc.

Nice! So it sounds like Ubisoft is adapting Steam's "cloud saves" concept. That's a great idea.

Wait, there's more:
Is there an "off-line" option?

No. The added services to the game (unlimited installs, online storage of saved games and the fact that you don’t need the game disc to play) require you to have an online connection while playing the game.

What? Maybe I didn't hear that correctly, because what I think you're saying is so f-d up that I must be misunderstanding you.

Will I need to be online the whole time when I play the game? Including for single player?

Yes. You will need to have an active Internet connection to play the game, for all game modes.

What-the-bleeping-f? So I buy a game from Ubisoft in disc format, I install it, and then I have to login and maintain a connection online the whole time I'm playing the game? What happens when my Internet connection goes down? What happens when your servers go down, or they get completely overwhelmed by the player volume for a new game?

Oh, wait. That will never happen now, will it?
Look, I just paid $50 for your product. Now leave me the f--- alone, please. Why is it so hard for a company to understand this?

If it's an MMO and I'm interacting with hundreds or thousands of other players, no problem. And if you make this optional,  no problem--some people would certainly choose this method. But making it mandatory is one huge, gigantic FAIL.

Of course, this is from the company that used Starforce copy protection (the DRM equivalent of tentacle erotica), so why is anyone surprised, exactly?

Since my paranoia radar is up and fully functioning today, here's one little section that no one is talking about yet:
Will this platform use Uniquekeys?
Yes. Uniquekeys are verified throughout this system.

Wait a minute. What is this question even doing in here? WTF is "Uniquekeys", anyway? It's not "unique keys", because that would only make sense if they're talking about a database, plus it's capitalized.

This question 100% looks like a plant. No one would even know to ask this question, because no one has any idea what "Uniquekeys" even is, so why would they plant this unless it's the name for some kind of additional DRM scheme?

Adding to my suspicions: "Uniqekeys" doesn't exist in Google in any context other than a database field. Well, except in relation to this FAQ Ubisoft just issued.

I could be totally wrong here--hell, I usually am. But wouldn't it be so "Ubisoft" of Ubisoft to pull a sleight-of-hand like this? Announce a controversial policy, but hide the real controversy in language so vague that no one will notice.

I'd like to thank Ubisoft for one, thing though. They are going to save me a TON of money this year. All these Ubisoft games I planned to buy for PC? Not anymore.

Au revoir, bitches.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Reviews

...are excellent. So far, at least (5 up right now).

This is one of my most-anticipated games of the year, so I can't wait for UPS delivery tomorrow.

Eli 8.5 And The Exception

A few weeks ago, Eli 8.5 went to a birthday party.

It was an unusual situation. Eli has a bunch of good friends, and the kids in his class are almost all nice, but there's always an exception.

This was The Exception's birthday party.

[Note: please do not confuse The Exception with The Situation.]

Eli tells me stories about this kid all the time (let's call him Ronald). A typical story goes something like this: Eli was playing a game (like four-square) with his friends at recess. Out of nowhere, Ronald ran in, grabbed the ball, and kicked it all the way across the field.

That's annoying.

Ronald, based on what Eli tells me, is actually Mr. Super Annoying. He has a huge archive of Ronald stories, as Ronald is a bit of a legend.

Eli doesn't really want to have anything to do with Ronald, and I don't blame him. For all I know, Ronald might have some kind of behavioral issue (and I'm sympathetic to that), but friendship at any age is based, to some degree, on not annoying the shit out of the person you want to be your friend.

Because of all these issues, when Ronald's birthday came around, kids weren't exactly lining up to go. And Ronald seemed to know this, because he only invited a handful of kids.

Including Eli.

This is when it becomes really, really awkward, because there was the distinct possibility that Ronald wouldn't have anyone at his birthday party, and that just couldn't happen. So Gloria talked to Eli and tried to explain to him some of the social delicacies involved.

I was more straightforward. I told Eli to make Ronald promise that if Ronald ever became a multi-millionaire,  Eli could become part of his entourage and live in his mansion.
Okay, I didn't actually say that.

I did say that some kids (and some grown-ups) have a hard time understanding what's appropriate behavior, and they want attention so badly that they're willing to take bad attention, the kind they get when they act like a jerk. That's hard for an eight-year-old to understand, but I could tell he was trying.

After a bit of promotion, Eli agreed to go to the birthday party. He still didn't like Ronald, but he was able to detach his feelings from some of the larger issues involved.

He didn't detach his wit, though. Gloria asked him what he thought Ronald would like as a birthday gift, and without hesitation, he said, "If there is a kit for torturing animals, then yeah, get that. He'll play with that every day."

The birthday party, by the way, went without incident.


I buy quite a few games through Steam, and it's a terrific service, with one exception. Only rarely do I try to buy a new game, and them I'm reminded that when it comes to high-profile releases, Steam is still absolute shit.

Today is a good example. I pre-purchased Mass Effect 2, and then I'm taken to the screen that tells you you're about to install the game. Fine--I assume there's some preloading going on before the game unlocks tomorrow. So I click through all the screens, Mass Effect 2 jumps up to the top of the screen (because it's installing)--then it stops.

No message. No information of any kind. Fail.

I try a few more times, and it refuses to start. Again, no information about what went wrong.

Fine. So I start searching, and very quickly, it's apparent that the Steam client has to be updated to allow the game to pre-load. Why? Who knows? I didn't get any kind of notification that the client needed updating (I only open Steam up to buy or play a game, because I don't want it as an open task all the time), so I never would have known. It would be logical to think that I'd get notified of a client update when I started Steam up, but no.

Fine again. So I update the client and restart Steam--and see that Mass Effect 2 HAS been downloading, but it hadn't been showing up on my games screen properly.

First word: cluster.

There have been problems (for me, at least) almost every time I try to pre-order something that's popular. Either the game doesn't download properly, or activation doesn't work properly, or the game doesn't unlock when it's supposed to. This has been happening for me from the day Steam launched, and I've had three different computers in that time. 


Monday, January 25, 2010

Games Of The Decade

Not best, mind you, but certainly my favorites from the last ten years.

It's a top fifteen, not a top ten, because ten games in ten years is just impossible. And I know I left games off--it's guaranteed.

One note: I don't have any Bethesda games on this list, but Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 were all very close.

15. Startopia (2001)
This was a great game that never got any traction, unfortunately, but I still have incredibly fond memories of playing. You were in charge of the wackiest space station ever, and it was a fun, silly game. It even included a terrarium on the top level of the space station, and growing plants and experimenting was almost a game in itself. This game also had a wicked sense of humor in an absolutely demented way.

14. NHL 09 (2008)
This version of NHL makes the list (even though NHL 10 is a much better game) because it was responsible for what was probably my favorite moment in almost thirty years of gaming, both because of the inherent drama and because Eli and I were doing it together.

We played in "Be A Pro" mode and alternated periods--Eli played periods one and three, and I played period two (and overtime, when necessary). It turned into an epic part of summer, and I still have an inflatable Stanley Cup standing in the corner of my study (thanks Glen), as well as a Pittsburgh Penguins key chain. Eli has a Penguins jersey that he wears to school.

If you missed it last year, just go to the Stanley Cup Game Six and Stanley Cup Game Seven recaps from the archives (and a newspaper headline here), and there's more in the August 1-15 posts. I still get chills just thinking about it--it was a gaming moment that I'll never forget.

13. Red Faction: Guerilla (2009)
This game was glorious, ridiculous fun, and it was my favorite game of 2009. I'd say more than "jetpacks and blowing everything the hell up", but I really don't need to.

12. Madden 10 (2009)
This game is ranked below NFL2K5 not because it isn't better (it is, clearly, with the right sliders), but because it doesn't yet have the months of extended play that I had with NFL2K5. It is better, though, and no one was a bigger fan of 2K5 than I was was, so that's saying something.

Madden 10 does have a few weaknesses (2-minute A.I. when ahead, in particular), but it also does an overwhelming number of things right, and Franchise mode (again, in spite of some glaring weaknesses) is stellar. This is the best graphical simulation of football ever.

11. Crackdown (2007)
This game reminds of Dead Rising in that it was an absolute surprise and a total delight. It was never so much fun to have superhero powers, and the entire game was absolutely over the top. This is one of the first games I can remember that was incredibly vertical, because the climbing and jumping powers of your character (after building them up a bit) were nothing short of spectacular. Joyous, even.

The city was also rendered in loving detail, and the inclusion of some seriously addictive mini-games (like finding orbs, which I did for hours on end) made it impossible to put the controller down. Sure, you can complain about the plot or the mission structure, and some of that is valid, but in the end, who the hell cares? Super jumps, throwing cars, and rocket launchers FTW.

10. Dead Rising (2006)
What a brilliant, goofy game. Combining twisted humor with tens of thousands of zombie deaths by the most excessive means imaginable (not to mention the photography, which is one of my favorite gameplay elements ever), Dead Rising was epic fun. Not for one second did it take itself seriously, and that was what the game so brilliant. It was absolutely amazing to see hundreds of zombies in one area, all slowly lurching towards you, as you tried to figure how to either kill them--or take their picture.

9. No More Heroes (2007)
This was one of my biggest surprises of the last decade--an open-world, creative, profane, and hilarious game on the Wii. This was easily one of the funniest games I've ever played, and it had an extraordinary amount of energy and exuberance throughout. The premise was simple: Travis Touchdown was trying to climb up the ladder of the United Assassins Association by killing the ten assassins ahead of him in the rankings.

I'm sure I burst out laughing more often in this game than any other I ever played, but humor wasn't the only hook. The gameplay was excellent, and the Wiimote was used incredibly well. This is absolutely a game you must play.

8. Dwarf Fortress (2007-2009)
Quite possibly the single most interesting extercise in thinking that I've ever played (and I still play it), Dwarf Fortress is surely the most detailed game world ever created. It's also incredibly personal, and the details of the life of a single dwarf are, at times, sad and deeply unsettling. It's a brilliant, enormously complex game.

Will Wright should spend a few weeks talking to Tarn Adams.

7. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
This was one of the most perfectly balanced games I've played, and it was wonderful, bright adapation of the Mario universe. It was also the first video game that Eli ever played seriously, and we played through all sixty levels three times and partway through a fourth. This was Ninendo at its absolute best.

6. NFL2K5 (2004)
If you're a football fan, this game was a landmark moment. In 480P on the Xbox, it featured spectacular animation and amazing visuals in general, and the announcing was years ahead of its time.

Most importantly, though, it played a damned good game of football. Not without lots of slider tweaks, certainly, but it was more than worth it, and everything that didn't work in franchise mode could (fortunately) be turned off. The end result was legendary.

Sports games usually improve significantly over time, but this game wasn't surpassed by any football title until Madden 10 this year. It's a tragedy (in a gaming sense) that EA was granted an exclusive license by the NFL/NFLPA.
5. King's Bounty: The Legend (and expansion Armored Princess) (2008)
This game was a gigantic dish of candy, combining excellent tactical combat (with almost infinite options), character building, a wonderfully eccentric story, and a ridiculous number of little treasures to find (chests, gems, spells, maps). It was also drop-dead gorgeous, with one of my favorite game soundtracks ever. If you watch Steam or Impulse, it will be selling for almost nothing (under $10) every month or so.

4. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (Director's Cut) (2004)
The most haunting, frightening game I've ever played. The Xbox version ("Director's Cut") added a first-person perspective, which made the game personal (It was me, not a character, experiencing the game). This was not monster-closet fear, but a psychologically disturbing, menacing kind of terror, expertly drawn around the player like a slowly tightening noose. The writing was outstanding, and the sound effects were superb as well. No one who plays this game will ever forget it.

3. Space Rangers 2: Dominators (2004)
It was utterly wacky, incredibly charming, and totally fascinating. Mixing space exploration combat with (basically) land-based tower defense, text adventures, and every other damn thing you could imagine, this was one of the most eccentric games I've ever played--and one of the best. It also had a wicked sense of humor and wonderful gameplay. This game is basically free now if you wait for an online sale, and it will give you 60+ hours of fun.

2. Mafia (2002)
This game was so wonderful in so many ways: interesting, varied missions, a stunning, vibrant city, legendary writing, terrific voice acting, and a soundtrack that is still one of my all-time favorites. I used to sit on a park bench and just watch what was going on, and I did the same thing on the train. The best gangster game ever made, and there's nothing close in second place.

Let me mention the writing and voice acting again, because they were letter perfect. The dialogue and narration in this game are in the Top Ten all-time for games in general. The ending is one of the greatest as well. Just a stunning, near-perfect package.

1. Rock Band (RB, RB2, TB:RB) (2007-2009)
As much as I enjoyed the other games on this list, this is the only game I've played day after day for years, and still look forward to playing. I've written about it so much that the subject is exhausted, but this is a superb, highly-polished game that also represents an entirely new way to experience music. Also, Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2 belong as part of this entry as well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off, a companion video to the pre-San Francisco earthquake footage--a link from Mark Woodall showing footage after the quake.

From Jeremy Fischer, an absolutely riveting reconstruction of Flight 1549 (you know, landing in the Hudson) using cockpit views, an external view, along with cockpit and tower audio. Trust me, this is tremendous.

From Michael Lange, a link to a video titled What Earth Would Look Like With Rings Like Saturn. The video even shows what the rings would look like from various prominent locations in the world.

From the Global Post, a story about a ring of international diamond thieves known as the Pink Panthers.

From Jonathan Arnold, a link to Visuwords, a graphical dictionary gives you not only definitions but associations with order words and concepts.

From Brad Ruminer, it's the Clever Hamsters Jazz Band.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and the slow-motion is remarkable, it's a 2009 Chevy Malibu Versus 1959 Chevy Bel-Air Head-On Crash Test. Believe me, this is worth watching. Also, a stunning photograph of a snowflake. Next, a fascinating series of photos of the hidden population of Las Vegas: Living In Sin City's Underground Tunnels.

From Andrew B, a New Year's Eve prankster meets his annual victim--after 36 years.

From Yacine Salmi, a video from the European Junior Indoor Cycling Championships, and what the Hochdorfer sisters can do on a bicycle makes unicycling look easy. Seriously, this is just insane.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a story about a new discovery in astronomy: the detection of the light signature of a planet orbiting a sun-like star. This enables scientists to know the chemical makeup of the planet, which will aid in the search for life. Also, two enormous bright spots on Betelgeus, which might help explain its rapid weight loss.

From Sirius, and it's amazing: the development of an eye test that detects Alzheimer's up to two decades before other symptoms appear. Also, and there are quite striking (but Japanese robot seals--WTF?), it's Photo Gallery: Beauty In Science. Next, a plan by Italian scientists to "recreate" a breed of giant cattle that became extinct over four centuries ago. What do I mean by giant? Try a height of 6.5 feet at the shoulder.

From John McInroy, and this fits firmly into the "WTF?" category, it's a doll called You Can Shave The Baby.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One More

Sorry, I totally forgot about this, and it's excellent. Brian Brown sent me a link to The New Zork Times, which reads like an Infocom time capsule. Totally fascinating.

Gaming Links

Boy, there is a ton of good stuff out there right now, so let's take a look.

First off, let me just say that I have a bias when it comes to Gamers With Jobs. I still remember first seeing the site, only a few days after they went live. They were smart and funny. And their forums were smart and funny and (incredibly) warm--just lots of good-natured people enjoying each other's company.

Now, years later, they've taken over the world, but they're still funny and smart and warm.

Having said all that, though, Sean Sands (Elysium) wrote (by any standard) a terrific column this week titled Fathers And Sons. It's just a wonderful piece of writing about fatherhood.

Next, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an epic series on Solium Infernum. Epic. It's a PBEM game description, rendered in witty and loving detail, and it is full of all the deceit and downright assholery that makes SI such a brilliant game. It's an 8-part series (I'm guessing--7 parts are up, and the game is almost finished), so start with part one. And I wasn't kidding when I said that Solium Infernum was going to go down as one of the greatest PBEM games ever.

Remember when I mentioned there was a fan project to do an English translation of Fatal Frame IV? Incredibly, it's been completed (thanks to Ryan Shalek for the heads-up), and even better, you don't need a modded Wii--it all runs off an SD card. As long as you have a legitimate copy of the game, you're good. This is quite the stunning mod project, and the information is here.

I mentioned OnLive a few months ago, and Ryan Shrout of PC Perspective recently wrote about his experience with the beta.

Microsoft has done something wonderful and bizarre: they've created an RPG around Microsoft Office. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it's called Ribbon Hero, and it looks like pure genius (thanks to Jason for the link).

Two last notes. One, whatever happened to Tilted Mill? They seem to have gone totally off the grid for the last few months.

This last note is very good news. Jimmy Page is suddenly talking sweet about music games. Page was do dismissive of music games in the past that I think this is clearly not an accident. Someone is scratching Led Zeppelin a big fat check, or they're at least in the negotiation process. Let it be with Rock Band, please.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Console Post Of The Week (part two): In Too Deep

You might find this amusing.

Yesterday, I mentioned both Microsoft's and Sony's motion control hardware as being released this fall. Officially, that wasn't the case--Sony had said they were going to launch this spring--but I thought that was so transparently wrong that I just ignored it, because I was fully convinced that they would be releasing it in fall. It made no sense to release a significant piece of new hardware in the same time frame as God of War 3 and Final Fantasy XIII, because those two games (with no help) will generate plenty of excitement for the PS3 this spring.

Today Sony officially announced that the PS3 Doohickey is being delayed until this fall.

If I had just mentioned yesterday that the official release date was still Spring, I would have looked pretty smart today. Emphasis on "would", not "did."

Today, let's talk about this console generation, and why it's extending well beyond the length of previous generations.

First off, I didn't think this would happen. I consistently wrote that the successor to the 360 would come in 2011, at the latest, but that isn't going to happen, by all appearances. Let's look at a few reasons why.

First, here's what isn't a reason: the hardware is powerful enough. Not really. Developers still make all kinds of compromises in visual quality to achieve a playable frame rate (check out those player models on the Madden sidelines if you don't believe me), and open world games (which are going to be more and more popular) are particularly vulnerable (translation: they often look ass ugly).

There's no question that a console displaying in HD resolutions is a huge leap forward in processing power from an SD console, but that shouldn't mean that the hardware doesn't need to get better. It does.

There are, however, some overriding factors at work here, as well as manufacturer-specific factors.

First off, we're in an awkward technological moment: the transition from standard definition to high definition. There are no specific numbers on what this has done to the market, but I strongly believe it's had an effect. The 360 and PS3 are "HD toys" in a marketing sense, and when people buy an HD display, that's a natural purchase to consider to show off the new display. So that may contribute to a bit of ongoing demand that's separated from price, which is a unique factor compared to previous generations.

I think that transition also enabled Nintendo to put out a console without HD support and not have it hurt them in any way. They won't be able to do it next time, but the low price of the Wii has certainly been a factor in its success, and only including support for 480P (which they haven't emphasize at all, and don't even include cables for--they have to be purchased separately) surely helped them control costs.

Second, we've had a major economic meltdown worldwide. Look, if I was in control of any of these companies and had plans to launch a console in 2011, I wouldn't do it--I'd push everything back a year. There's still far too much uncertainty right now economically to be confident in committing to a console transition.

Third, and I think this is, by far, the most important factor, the five-year lifecycle has been driven historically by two factors: new players and the failure of existing players. New players usually introduce consoles that are more technologically advanced than existing ones, and when they're successful, they put additional pressure on existing players to accelerate the development of new hardware.

There's also usually a clearly defined loser in a generation, and that player has additional incentive to launch the next generation sooner than the winners.

Now, though, the costs of entering the console market are prohibitive. I keep expecting Samsung to enter the market at some point (it seems like a natural), and Apple might as well, but the potential number of new players is extremely small. So it doesn't appear that a new company is out there to drive the market forward.

It's also hard to pick out the failure in this generation. Well, that's not true, actually--Sony has failed in massive ways. An extraordinarily conservative estimate (cobbled together from their earnings statements, although there is plenty of guesswork involved) is that the PS3 has lost between 500M-1B dollars.

When I mention guesswork, though, what I mean is that the number could be much higher. If the gaming division lost 232B yen during a quarter, and the note on the earnings report is that "XYZ revenue and profit were up, but costs associated with the PS3 resulted in a net loss", it's probably safe to assume that the PS3 actually lost more than 232B, but there's no way to split it out precisely. So that 500M is absolutely the most conservative estimate imaginable, based on Sony's earnings reports.

Iif we expect the PS3 to basically sell like the 360 did in 2009 in the U.S. this year, and Microsoft isn't exactly making a killing with the 360, how do we think Sony will? Remember, Microsoft has a significant revenue stream from Live that Sony doesn't have (Sony will be introducing "Premium" PSN memberships soon, which was inevitable, but who knows what that will produce in revenue). So even when Sony outsells the 360 in Europe (to a slight degree), and dwarfs them in Japan, it's still hard to imagine Sony being more than marginally profitable (at best) from the PS3 in 2010.

That would seem to argue fairly persuasively that Sony should replace the PS3 as soon as possible, but they can't--they're in too deep. They bet their technology wad on the PS3, and even though they're still far, far underwater, they're holding on to the anchor in desperate hope that somewhere, it's attached to a boat.

Sony doesn't humble easily. Hell, maybe they're right. Microsoft isn't going to make them dated with a new console, because Microsoft isn't exactly printing money, either.

Plus, watever the original plan was, it all changed with the Wii.

Remember that scene in Monty Python And The Holy Grail when Tim warns Arthur and the Knights about the rabbit in the cave of Caerbannog? They ridicule Tim, and Bors goes to chop its head off.

It ends badly for Bors, obviously.

I think that rabbit is the Wiimote.

It's dead simple, isn't it? Just knock out some motion control, and it's like having a whole new console! It doubles the lifespan of a console with only a fraction of the technology costs, because it's much cheaper to develop a peripheral than a new console.

Microsoft, in particular, is counting on this, because 360 sales have essentially been flat over the last three years--not poor, but flat. Sony can argue that at $299, they have some pricing actions left (although the PS3, at the new $299 price point, is selling significantly below the levels of the $299 PS2, which must be a concern), but Microsoft is already at $199 for the Arcade unit. They just don't have that much room left. If they want to extend the console's lifespan by several years, they have to pull this rabbit out of its hat.

And hope it doesn't have huge, sharp--well, just look at the bones.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Intelligent People Writing About The Same Topic More Coherently

Matt Matthews: The Console Fortunes Of 2009.

Chris Kohler: NPD Analysis: How To Sell A Wii Game.

Console Post Of The Week (part one)

This is going to be such a long post that I'm going to split it up over two or three days.

To frame the December NPDs, let me use an excerpt from the post about November's NPDs:
Here's the rough scaling rule:

So if November more accurately reflected ongoing demand, December sales would be in the 1.25 million range, and Microsoft would breathe a large sigh of relief. If October was closer to "true" demand, then December sales would be in the 950,000 range.

And this about Sony:
November was a lower-performing number, based on seasonality, than October, so which number is more reflective of ongoing demand? The good number for Sony (multiplying October) is about 1.1 million units. The bad number (multiplying November) is about 1.05 units.

I screwed that "good number" up--it's 3.75*320,000 (October), which is 1.2 million, not 1.1.
Okay, so now that we have some basic context for seasonality, let's look at the numbers:
Wii- 3,810,000
PS3- 1,360,000
360- 1,310,000

Both Sony (+160K) and Microsoft (+60K) exceeded their "good demand" numbers. Nintendo, though, blew their number out to an absolutely incomprehensible degree: over 6x their September/October number, and 3x November. Context: Sony sold 2.7M PS2s in December 2002, the previous largest month on record.

Look, people can stir up all the haterade they want about the Wii (some of it entirely justified), but it outsold the PS3 and the 360 combined by over a million units in the biggest month of the year. Oh, and from October-November in the U.S., the Wii sold 5.6M units. The PS3 and 360 each sold about 2.4M.

Wait--let's just look at the whole year. Wii 9.59M units, 360 4.77M, PS3 4.33M. That's more than both consoles combined again (and it was not a great year for Nintendo).

The last three years? Still true.

Seriously, how much of an ass kicking does this have to be before people stop using the word "fad"? How insulting is that?

Yes, maybe more "casual" gamers prefer the Wii. Yes, there's tons of crap software. Yes, Nintendo has made some very strange decisions in the last eighteen months. But in a business sense, here's the word that matters: BANK. Nintendo is bank, while Microsoft is slightly in the hole for this generation and Sony is still in the San Marinas Trench.

Speaking of Sony, that tidal wave of momentum the $299 console was supposed to create has turned into last year's 360. Compare the last three months of 2008 (360) with the last three months of 2009 (PS3):
           360       PS3
Oct     371K    320K
Nov    836K    710K
Dec   1.44M    1.36M 


Want to know what PS3 sales will probably be in 2010? For the first nine months, at least, just use the 360 numbers for 2008--about 1.0M consoles in the first three months, about 600K in the next three, and about 750K in the third quarter.

That's what Sony's big price cut got them, and I promise that it was far less than Sony expected, at least in the U.S. In Japan, the price cut seems to have a much bigger effect.

Yes, God of War 3 is coming soon, and that's going to sell some consoles. Sony's problem in the U.S., though, is that the half-life sales effect of all these big moments seems to be much shorter than expected, and have been since the console launched.

But wait, you might be saying. Microsoft and Sony are going to absolutely EXPLODE in fall 2010 because they're both putting out their long-awaited motion controllers.

I have just one question for you: long-awaited by whom?

That's what I believe is the cautionary tale for 2010: that motion control is not necessarily a slam dunk for Microsoft and Sony. Yes, I left out Q4 in that 2008/2010 projection for Sony, because it is a major hardware introduction, but I don't think I buy the general argument. The reasoning seems to be that since Nintendo's solution is so "primitive", then people should really love "real" motion control, right?

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like a version of the same general argument that Microsoft and Sony have been using about the Wii since it launched?

Plus, so many people have the Wii now that the Wiimote, for many people, IS motion control. It's the standard. So even though 360/PS3 motion control might be more impressive in a technical sense, they're still competing with "the standard."

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that everyone is going crazy this fall with motion controllers from everyone, and I hope they're all superb and the game support is breathtaking and awesome.

I just don't think so.

Let's say a parent has to decide in November of this year what console to buy, because let's face it, parents drive these big holiday numbers. They could buy a PS3 or 360 and pay an additional cost to get the motion controller solution for either console, which means they'll be dropping $300-$400, roughly, depending on the console and motion control hardware.

Or they can buy a Wii for $199, with a pack-in game that perfectly demonstrates why motion control is potentially so much fun, a pack-in game that their kids have already been playing over at their friends' houses for months.

See the problem here? Motion control is very cool, and it will be heavily, heavily promoted by Microsoft and Sony this fall, but until it's included with a new console for free, I don't think it's going to generate nearly as many new console purchases as analysts are expecting.

Of course, Nintendo periodically goes into a period of self-sabotage, and it seemed like they were headed in that direction in the last twelve months, but there was clearly a mountain of untapped demand at $199, and I don't think that mountain is nearly exhausted, even now.

Tomorrow: why this console generation has extended itself and updated 12-month moving average sales graphs.

Monday, January 18, 2010

With Audio

Yacine Salmi sent me a link to the audio of Dr. King's speech, and it's even more electrifying than the text.

Martin Luther King Day

Today is a national holiday in the United States to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's easy to forget the kind of hatred and stupidity that King was fighting against, but a good place to start is with the history of the Jim Crow laws  in the United States. The Wikipedia entry for Jim Crow laws also has detailed information. And the Wikipedia entry for King is here.

Also, here's a link to a 2006 post when Eli asked me about Martin Luther King for the first time. It's still one of my favorite posts.

3-D (Your Comments)

First off, Ben Younkins sent in a terrific bit of analysis concerning the adoption of 3-D television.
I was talking with a few people at work yesterday about the problem with current 3D technology (glasses) versus HD. For both, sports were a big seller, but I think the key thing to consider is the bar scene. Many places were early adopters for HD TVs in order to attract patrons. These viewings then drove sales for home viewership.

3D with glasses is a much more difficult proposition for the bar scene. Where an HD TV is a one-to-many relationship, 3D with glasses is a one-to-one relationship: Each viewer must have a pair of glasses.

That's an excellent, excellent point, and it's not unlike what I mentioned about consumers in retail stores--they can't be wowed by the display unless they're wearing glasses. It restricts people from experiencing the technology--they can't just wander by and be blown away.

Also James Prendergast pointed out that for much of the world, HD is not as much of a visual upgrade as it is in the Americas, because the PAL video standard is 576i compared to the 480i of NTSC. PAL also has more accurate color reproduction.

Roughly, that works out to a 20% improvement in resolution, but HD is still a huge improvement in resolution, although the rule always is that the larger the screen, the easier it is to see the difference. On a smaller display (37" and below, and isn't it amusing that 37" is now "smaller"?), the detectable difference in visual quality between 576p (if possible) and 720p would not be very noticeable.

Colin Fletcher brought up another interesting point. He mentioned that his wife wears glasses, sort of:
She wears glasses. Or rather, she should; she has a fairly minor prescription which means that for most things they're more of a pain to wear than a benefit. So the TV looks slightly blurry from where she sits regardless of the definition.

Actually, that's an excellent point, because I'm sure a decent percentage of the population doesn't have 20/20 vision, even with correction. And if everything else looks blurry, so will HD.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off, a link from Kevin Guilfoyle that is completely amazing: a seven-minute video of San Francisco, taken just days before the great earthquake. Compare that to this photo I found (taken from a series of kites, believe it or not) of the city five weeks after the earthquake.

From Michael Hughes, link to another video that clearly demonstrates that dolphins (in this base, bottlenose dolphins) are freaking amazing. This video shows a new type of hunting a pod developed that's been termed "mud ring feeding", and trust me, you'll be blown away.

From GQ, a terrific story about the Philadelphia shooting incident in 2008 that allegedly involved future Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison.

From Sirius, a link to a remarkable story about prions and how they evolve, even though they lack both RNA and DNA. Also, images from Marian Matta's photo gallery, and they're quite fantastic. And if you like Alice in Wonderland (or math), this is a must-read both for its cleverness: Alice's adventures in algebra: Wonderland solved. One more, and it's freaky: Green Sea Slug Is Part Animal, Part Plant.

From Daniel McConnell, a link to a Netflix map of rental popularity by zip code, which is utterly fascinating.

From Andrew B, a link to a story about a Bugatti--plucked from a lake after 70 years (the pictures are terrific).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, images from the Cave Of Crystals in Mexico. Also, a link to a spectacular video of 2009 World Rally Championship highlights.

From Sudz Zimmerman, a remarkable photograph of a cloud roll.

From Michael M., a fascinating article about the World's Largest Automatic Bike Parking Lot. It's in Tokyo, of course, and it has a capacity of over nine thousand bicycles. Totally amazing.

From the always entertaining Fail Blog, it's Avatar Plot Fail.

From Evil Timmy, and the title says it all, it's The Case Of The Haunted Scrotum.

From Frank Regan, a spectacular CGI video titled The Third & The Seventh.

Several of you sent this in (but hippo was first), and it's another fascinating article about the workings of the Antikythera mechanism.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

December NPD

Analysis on Monday, but here are the numbers:
Wii- 3,810,000
PS3- 1,360,000
360- 1,310,000

The biggest previous month I can find is 2.7 million for the PS2 in December of 2002, so this is a new record by a HUGE amount for one month sales for a console in the U.S.

And since I know you're a curious sort, here are last year's numbers:
Wii- 2,150,000
360- 1,440,000
PS3- 726,000

Favorite Games Of 2009

1. I didn't play everything (in particular, I haven't played Dragon Age or Assassin's Creed 2, although I will soon)
2. This is a "favorite" list, not a "best of" list, so please don't e-mail and try to objectively demonstrate that Joseph Underpants And His Travails in Divinity School should be on the list.
3. I'm sure I forgot something. I always do.

First off, let's look at an unranked list of my favorite games from 2009:
Demon's Souls
For my money, the best game ever released exclusively on the PS3. Innovative play mechanics, fantastic level design, and drop-dead gorgeous.

NHL 10
My favorite hockey game. Ever.

Red Faction
Sheer, giddy fun. A sandbox game where the sand was actually fun, which is a rarity.

The Beatles: Rock Band
An absolutely respectful and exuberant tribute to the greatest band of all time.

Travis Baldree just knows how to make games that are compulsively addictive.

King's Bounty: Armored Princess
A standalone sequel/expansion pack for my favorite game of 2008, and I'm including it here because it has 40+ hours of content. Any list of the five greatest developers in the world that doesn't include Katauri Interactive just isn't credible.

Dwarf Fortress
This game will be in my favorites list as long as Tarn and his brother keep working on it. It is an absolutely unique experience.

Solium Infernum
The new game by Vic Davis (Armageddon Empires), and a worthy successor in every respect. It also features some of the most devious gameplay ever.

Plants vs. Zombies
A surprising, goofy bit of fun.

Madden 10
A new focus on realism (did I just write that? Is that even possible?) combined with a willingness to have sliders actually meaningfully affect gameplay enabled this game to become the best football game ever made. For the serious player, this was the first relevant version of Madden in years (maybe ever).

There's your list of candidates, but instead of ranking them one through ten, I'm just going to pick my top three.

Third place: King's Bounty Armored Princess. Between last year's King's Bounty, Space Rangers 2, and this game, I think I've spent 150+ of the best hours of my gaming life. And this game expands on the original in interesting ways: new units, a new version of rage powers using a baby dragon (perfectly fitting their well-established, wacky sense of humor), and a requirement that players think out their troop builds very carefully, as well as what powers and spells they want to develop. It also has an absolutely fantastic English translation, as well as one of my all-time favorite soundtracks (including a song sung by Elena Romanova that is staggering in its beauty).

The main reason this game is third is because it's predecessor was first last year.

Second place: The Beatles: Rock Band. It's just a beautifully done game, the songs are incredibly fun to play, and it's lush, not sparse. It's absolutely glorious fun.

And "What Goes On" is an absolute bitch on Expert.

First place: Red Faction Guerrilla. This game has an inescapable exuberance and a wonderful sense of personality that are impossible to resist. Blowing up things has never been so fun, and the seemingly endless ways to complete missions made for a very flexible experience.

There you go. I'm also going to try to put together a Favorite Games Of The Decade post for next week.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Attack Of The Clones

There are quite a few crazy things in college football that I could write about today--Pete Carroll going to the Seahawks, Tommy Tubberville being hired at Texas Tech, Lane Kiffin going to USC--and believe me, I'd love to write about Tennessee students semi-rioting on their campus last night, but instead, there's this:
Ubi Focuses On AAA, New Assassin's Creed To Hit Next Fiscal Year

More (from Gamasutra):
The French-headquartered publisher has historically thrived on the diversity of its product mix, balancing licensed film tie ins, family-friendly DS and Wii titles, and core games like Assassin's Creed and the Tom Clancy-branded games.

But burned by retailer discounts on catalog games and a casual portfolio it says has shrunk as much as 50 percent since last year, the publisher is shoring up its focus on competitive AAA core titles on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 -- and that means it plans to launch a third Assassin's Creed game in its next fiscal year.

Wait--focusing on AAA titles. Isn't that the new Take-Two approach?

Oh, wait--isn't the new Take-Two approach actually the new EA approach?

Wait one more time--isn't the new EA approach actually the Activision approach?

That's right. With minor variations, Activision, EA, Take-Two, and Ubisoft are now all using the same strategy.

Well, that's certainly going to work, until it doesn't.

If you look at the gaming industry as some kind of ecosystem, what these four companies represent as part of the ecosystem today is significantly different from what they represented twelve months ago, and not in a good way.

It seems to me that a second-tier company that focuses on "AA" titles with smaller budgets would be ideally positioned to succeed now. The "big boys" have essentially abandoned that market, seemingly creating a significant opportunity.

Well, This Is Epic

Larry Granillo actually calculated the wins and losses for Charlie Brown's baseball team from 1951-1970 based on information contained in the strips. He also includes all kinds of interesting details on the baseball-themed strips and what they contained.

That is one of the coolest and funniest ideas ever. Enjoy reading it here.

More Demos

Dark Void is out next week, by the way, not this week (thanks Loren Halek). The warning about checking out the demo before purchasing still applies.

1. Dante's Inferno
Dante's Inferno is worth downloading because of the art, which is just brilliant. I don't even want to describe it in any detail, because it's such a wonderful surprise and so creative.

The cut scenes, I mean.

The only problem with this game is that there's a game--if it were just cut scenes, I'd be completely content. Gameplay, unfortunately, is of the "press 'X' one million times" variety (which is a slight exaggeration, but only slight). In the demo, at least, all uniqueness vanishes as soon as you have to actually start playing the game--all that wonderful style in the cut scenes is replaced by a journey to Genericville.


2. Vancouver 2010 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Winter Games
I'm generally a sucker for Olympic games, except that so many of them are just awful, and I expected this game to be awful. I download the demo strictly as an Olympic courtesy.

The demo was incredibly brief (one skiing event, plus a mini-game involving the ski jump), but I'll say this: what I saw was gorgeous. Not only that, but the animation, control, and sensation of speed in the skiing were absolutely first-rate. The ski jump was spot-on, too (although there were no instructions, which made jumping entirely comical for a while).

The demo was so short that I'm still skeptical (out of fourteen events, the demo only had two), but I should see the full game shortly via Gamefly, so I'll let you know if the full version has the same high level of quality. If you like this sort of thing, though, it's certainly worth a rental.

3. NCAA Basketball 10
I enjoy watching college basketball, but announcers like Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery drive me crazy. 90% of what they do during a game is yell catch phrases like a barking circus dog.

Raftery, in particular, is basically a sound effect. It doesn't even matter what he says when he barks, because it's the sound, almost like a growl, that's what matters. He could be barking "ONIONS!" (incredibly, his signature phrase) or "The KISS!" (another signature) or "Erectile DysFUNCTION!" or "Scrotal ITCH!" and it would all sound exactly the same.

This translates perfectly into a video game, and NCAA 10 has done an excellent job of capturing how g--damn annoying Bill Raftery is during a game. What they haven't done, unfortunately, is make a game that closely resembles college basketball. It's certainly improved, but it's still nowhere near the level of the now defunct College Hoops series, and it's entirely inadequate in 2010.

It would have been inadequate in 2005, too, but it would have been more impressive.

There is no way I could recommend this game at any level. It's just too weak. Buy an old copy of College Hoops if you want to play a decent college basketball game.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Combined Post, In Which I Discuss The Zeo And The Unicycle

Well, crazy mash-ups like that happen in a blog.

After a few more weeks with the Zeo, I have to say that I'm both pleased and disappointed. I love the design, love all the geeky trappings of the unit, love the idea of tracking my sleep.

The disappointment is with the actual tracking. My sleep graphs tend to be pretty similar, even though my perceptions of how I slept (and how I feel when I wake up) are quite different from the reported data. This could be an issue with polling frequency, or it could just be impossible to precisely measure sleep patterns with a consumer device that costs $249. My perception that my "actual" sleep isn't closely mirroring my "reported" sleep, though, affects how enthusiastic I am about using the device on a regular basis.

Switching topics now with no segue. Well, except for this.

On Friday, I rode for half an hour in 28F weather, which is the coldest weather I've ever ridden in (wind chill was about 20F). I've run in much colder weather (I think -5F wind chill is the coldest), and I tend to heat up at roughly the same speed, so I just wore what I'd wear to run in that weather and it was fine. Strange, somehow, to be riding in that weather, but fine.

Sunday we went back to Old Settler's Park, but this time, Eli 8.5 was riding a bicycle instead of a unicycle. I didn't want to hold everyone up (Gloria really had to slow down for us last time), so I really busted my ass up to the halfway point (here's the route on Bikely, although I only drew up to the halfway point because it's an out and back).

There's a fairly stout hill just over the bridge that goes over the lake, and it runs up to that little looped parking lot. I've never gotten up that hill without having to step off, but I did on Sunday, and I was amped up, because I hadn't stepped off yet and had been riding hard.

On the way back, I was conscious that the coveted Family Record was within reach. All our "family records" involve longest rides without stepping off (because six months ago, it was a huge deal to measure our longest rides that way), so I had to finish the ride without stepping off if I wanted the record.

Yes, I understand that I'm talking about a "coveted" record that Eli 8.5 holds, but on the unicyle, he's a man. Or I'm a boy. Maybe both. We compete full out.

The sun was incredibly bright, and I almost face planted several times as I transitioned from bright sunlight into shade (which really screws with my depth perception, which screws with my balance), but I made it back to the parking lot intact.

When I checked my watch (still riding), the time was 35:30, which was hard for me to believe. That course is 3.4 miles, so I was very close to riding at better than 10:30 mile pace (I usually ride at 12:00 pace).

I rode for a few more minutes in the parking lot, then stepped off as I tried to turn into an uphill slope. It was 39:48 in total, which was perfect.

"Hey, Dad," Eli 8.5 said, riding up on his bicycle. "Congratulations on the Family Record."

"Well, it seems that the Family Records are now shared," I said.

"What? What do you mean?" He asked.

"Well, I did set the distance record for not stepping off, because I rode about 3.6 miles," I said. "But you rode for 40 minutes on Thanksgiving Day without stepping off, and I rode for 12 seconds less. So you still have the longest ride time record."

"Hey Mom!" Eli shouted. "We BOTH have a Family Record!"

In Fine Form

I should note before I tell this story that it was (incredibly) 18F here Friday morning, and the high for the day was about 30F. That's arctic weather for us.

Eli 8.5 was absolutely bouncing off the walls on Friday when I picked him up. When we reached our traditional snack spot (Einstein's, iced sugar cookie), he opened the car door, yelled "GO! GO! GO!" and sprinted into Einstein's. After he ate his sugar cookie and we were ready to leave, he said "Dad, hold the door open for me!", and when I did, he sprinted through the door and ran down the sidewalk at top speed.

"Dude, you are totally hyperactive today," I shouted after him.

"NO RECESS!" he yelled back, still sprinting.

Eli was humming a song this weekend, and it sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. "What is that song?" I asked him.

"Oh, it's this," he said, and started singing (to the tune of The Battle Hymn Of The Republic):
I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves
I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves
I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves
And this is how it goes.

"It certainly does," I said.

"I know," he said. "I just can't get it out of my head."

After Eli's shower Monday night, he came to get me (to say good night) and I walked up to his room. Gloria walked in and said that she was going to take a quick shower, then walked down the hall to the master bathroom.

A short time later, Eli said "Dad, I forgot--I need to show you something in the bathroom. Come on." I got up and followed him as he walked down the hall.

He walked into the bathroom, and I heard him say "Whoa. EXCUSE ME." He walked back out, looked at me, half-covered his mouth, and stage whispered "Noood."

Okay, This is TOTALLY Ridiculous

King's Bounty Gold (which includes both the original game and the Armored Princess expansion) is selling for $11.25 on Steam right now (thanks, Qt3 forums).

I just finished the expansion last weekend, and both the original and the expansion are superb games. I'm going to write a long post about both next week, but this is basically 80+ hours of outstanding gaming for $11. Insane.

Oh, and if you remember the crashing problem I was having with the 1.65 Atari retail version, once I started playing the 1.7 Steam version, I had zero crashes in 20+ more hours (I kept my save games, so I didn't have to start from scratch) with the original, and 40+ hours with the expansion.

January's Edition Of WTF Was I Thinking?

Garth Pricer let me know (in quite a droll fashion, I must say) that Crackdown, one of my favorite games of the last decade, doesn't have jetpacks.

Repeat: no jetpacks.

This is a problem with getting old, but I'll hold that discussion for another day. In the meantime, though, there's a game with great jetpacking that I'm not giving credit to properly.

What? You think I'll remember? But I'm the guy who thought Crackdown had jetpacks!

This does not change the unfortunate truth that Dark Void's jetpacks suck.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dark Void Demo (360)

Let me just begin with this: if you think you want to buy Dark Void this week, play the demo first.

Why? Because it's not very good, really. At least, the demo isn't. To me, anyway.

Here's the thing: Dark Void is a jetpack game. That's golden. Jetpacks are awesome.

When they're "jetpacky."

Red Faction: Guerrilla? Fantastic jetpacks. Crackdown? Fantastic jetpacks. Dark Void? Not so much.

The established control method for jetpacks is that you press a button to get a burst of thrust, then have to manage the resulting instability. Part of the fun of a jetpack is that it's unstable. It's twitchy.

Dark Void isn't like that at all. After only a few minutes of experimentation, the damn jetpack is so stable that it feels like an airplane. Thrust is a controlled burn unless you (in essence) want a "turbo boost."

In other words, it doesn't feel like a jetpack: it just looks like a jetpack.

Based on some of the gameplay I saw in the demo, this is a required tradeoff, because twitchy control would make it almost impossible to fight effectively. Seemingly, though, they've gone too far toward stability.

It's a jetpack in name only, if that's why you're buying it, please take a look at the demo first, to be sure you know what you're getting.

And A Little More

Tateru Nino (living in Australia) brought up an excellent point:
Very few of us have bought HD sets yet, because our SD resolution is 576i. 576i from a digital source (cable, satellite, DVD, digital television) looks very good, and 480p isn't really much of a visible improvement.

That might make 3-D a stronger selling point in PAL countries in the medium term.

I always forget that in many regions in the world, HD is still in its infancy, really. In those markets, there may well be less resistance to upgrading.

Miles Lippincott sent me a very funny e-mail. Funny because I know it's true, even though it seems impossible:
I actually sell TVs as part of my current job, and while it's easy to see why you (as someone who pays attention to technology) might see the adoption of HD as a no brainer, I can tell you it's not that simple to the majority of people who are TV shopping now.

...A lot of people simply don't see the difference or view it as a minor improvement, at best. I know that's hard to believe, but I hear it all the time.

"A minor improvement, at best"--that is classic. And please note that all those people are still allowed to vote.

3-D At CES (Update Post)

In the post last week, I talked about transparency in regards to the consumer (and how current home 3-D isn't--it's somewhat annoying because of the glasses).

Several of you e-mailed and said that HD wasn't transparent to the consumer either. That's true, in one respect--it wasn't the one I intended, but it's worth discussing.

Before I do that, though, let me clarify that when I said current 3-D was "inconvenient", I meant in an ongoing sense (because of the glasses). I didn't mean in the setup sense, and what you guys pointed out is that HD, in terms of receiving the programming, was very inconvenient early in its lifespan.

Yes, it was. Here's a trip in the wayback machine, just so you can see how silly things were.

In June of 2000, I bought a 42" Panasonic plasma that could display at 480P resolution (852x480). It was the single most extravagant purchase of my life. It was also oh-my-god-this-is-blowing-my-mind spectacular.

The plasma could accept a 1080i or 720P signal, but it would downscale it to display at 852x480 (480P was the highest resolution plasma available back then). Fortunately, this particular model had an absolutely superb scaler, and the image was stunning.

In terms of technology, it was absolutely a miracle.

With a good progressive DVD player, movies looked incredible. Games, too. I wanted to watch television in HD--sporting events in particular--but no Austin stations were broadcasting in HD in 2000. CBS and ABC had some high-definition programming (and ABC was broadcasting Monday Night Football in HD), but it wasn't available locally.

We had DirecTV, and they had the HD network feeds, but there was a ridiculous Catch-22: no one considered the HD channel as a separate entity. So if my local NBC affiliate was broadcasting in blurvision, I couldn't ask DirecTV to send me the national HD feed for NBC (you can only get the national network stations on DirecTV if you're unable to receive your local station), because "I could receive the local channel".


I wasn't going to give up, though, so I started doing some research. As it turned out, lots of people were in the same boat I was, and they had figured out a solution.

Oh, Canada.

Here was the answer. Through a third party company, I arranged to "have" a Canadian address, and with that address, I could subscribe to ExpressVu, a Canadian satellite company that included all the American networks HD feeds in its programming. If ExpressVu sent me anything in the mail, it just went to this company instead.

That's how I wound up with a satellite dish to receive Canadian television on my roof. Jackpot!

If you're wondering if it was all worth it, here's your answer: hell, yes. It was fantastic. And once it was installed, it was transparent to me--it was just a second satellite box with a different remote. The level of inconvenience was almost zero.

So yes, obtaining programming in HD was a bitch back in the day, but it wasn't difficult on a day-to-day basis. Every time people want to watch a 3-D program today, though, they have to wear the glasses. That's annoying, and it's going to be even more annoying for people who already wear glasses (like I do).

Sure, if our television blew up tomorrow, I'd seriously look at getting a model that supports 3-D. It's not anything I feel compelled to do, though, when HD looks so terrific on what we have now. I'm one of those early adopter nuts, and I'm totally on board with 3-D as a concept, and I still don't care.

Okay, when there's a 42" OLED screen that's reasonably priced and supports 3-D, I'll care. Immediately.

Here's one more note on the contrasts between "back then" and "now", just to give you an idea how far HD has come: in 2002, FOX broadcast the freaking Super Bowl in 480P. They bragged about how "FOX Widescreen" was going to be BETTER than 1080i (seriously, they were actually claiming this). This was when FOX refused to broadcast anything in true HD, because they said that 480P was more than good enough.

What happened when they broadcast the Super Bowl? It looked like absolute shit compared to CBS's broadcast (in 1080i) the previous year. Funny, after that game, FOX didn't even try to say it looked better. The comparison was so glaringly obvious that there was no way to spin the results.

So in 2002, I was watching HD on Canadian satellite television and couldn't even get the Super Bowl in HD. This morning, while Eli 8.5 was home sick with a stomach ache, we watched the Women's Collegiate Flag Football Championships.

In HD.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off, a link from TEGLM (who appears later in the post as well), and this is one of the goofiest, most brilliant ideas ever: The Big Lebowski rewritten as a work of Shakespeare). It's entirely epic.

From Andrew B, a link to Home Fixtures For Math Whizzes, and they're very cool. Also, a new production method for microfluidic chips that was inspired--by Shrinky Dinks.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is just ridiculous, it's Bulldozer Balance Succeed. Next, a poignant and sad article about the "sleeping boxes" in Japan (formerly used by salarymen after drinking and missing the last train home) are now being used as living spaces. Also, here's a NSFW video that is completely outstanding and very funny (it's painful, but damn, it's funny): Online Gamer Playing Monopoly.

From Robert McMillon, a link to some technology that will absolutely floor you: a display that is 40% transparent. The video is mind-blowing.

From Sirius, and these are wonderful photographs, it's The best of the week in wildlife 2009. Next, and oops, it's LED Signals Seen as Potential Hazard (hint: they aren't warm enough to melt snow). Next, and this picture is just breathtaking, it's a photograph of the the airship USS Macon as it was being constructed in 1933. What makes it breathtaking is the length of the ladders.

From Tateru Nino, and these sculptures are absolutely incredible, it's hyper-realistic sculptures. Next, this is the most amazing business card you'll ever see.

Another art link (this one from Jason Maskell), and it's just as incredible: paper art.

From Sean, a link to the theory of Phantom Tyme, and it's a wonderful description:
The Phantom time hypothesis is a conspiracy theory developed by Heribert Illig (born 1947 in Vohenstrauß) in 1991. It proposes that there has been a systematic effort to make it appear that periods of history, specifically that of Europe during Early Middle Ages (AD 614–911) exist, when they do not. Illig believed that this was achieved through the alteration, misrepresentation and forgery of documentary and physical evidence.

Hell, yes, to this sheer madness, and you can read the Wikipedia entry here.

From Dib O, a link to a story (with video) of a comet that was eaten up by the sun.

From DQ reader My Wife, a link to a story about Seattle's love of teriyaki.

From Frank Regan, a link to an epic graphic showing fault lines worldwide for the period 1963-1998.

From George Paci, the amazing delight of a LEGO domino row-building machine.

David sent in a link with this note:
if you like games...and you like cupcakes...and really, who doesn't?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

3-D At CES

There have been a ton of announcements for new 3-D products at CES this week. New high-definition screens, projectors, and even two 3-D channels (a new ESPN 3-D channel broadcasting part-time in 2010, 3-D Discovery in 2011).

It's all about 3-D now.

Even though I'm a huge supporter of 3-D as a technology, though, I'm starting to get a queasy feeling.

First off, 99% of consumers will need to buy new HD screens. That's after a huge portion of the market already bought new screens in the last 3-5 years to get HD in the first place.

Plus, and I think this is important, HD sold itself. I still remember the first time I saw a plasma screen displaying 480p (which isn't even HD). It was mind-blowing. It was an incredible upgrade over regular television.

Zero selling was required. Just calibrate an HD display properly and put it next to a regular television. Sold. The only resistance to HD was price. It was impossible to object on any other grounds.

Selling 3-D, though, is not as easy. To begin with, your customer throughput is limited. Twenty people could stand around an HD display and be wowed at the same time. For 3-D, though, there are only a certain number of glasses to go around (particularly for sets that use powered shutter glasses). So if ten people are standing around a 3-D display, one or two guys will be watching in 3-D--the other eight will be looking at a strange, blurry screen.

Are those other eight guys going to be willing to wait in line to get a look? I don't know, but I do know that it's not nearly as easy a sales experience as buying HD.

Then there's the glasses. That's a problem. It's one thing to wear the glasses in the theater for a couple of hours. It's another thing to wear them at home whenever you watch something in 3-D. That just doesn't seem very convenient, and much of what makes home electronics successful is convenience, not just performance.

Remember when progressive DVD players came out? Greatest sellable tech ever, because all you had to do was put in a standard-definition DVD and you'd get video output in 480P. Genius. It was totally transparent to the consumer in terms of a learning curve, because there wasn't one. There was no inconvenience.

3-D tech, in its current home form, is inconvenient. That's going to create a degree of consumer resistance that may be greater than the industry anticipates.

Auto-stereoscopic 3-D is going to solve the glasses problem, but how many years will it be before that technology is mainstream? Magnetic 3D is showing a full line of displays at CES, but it will be years (maybe even a decade) before auto-stereoscopic 3-D is affordable for consumers.

Plus, and here's another potential issue, is the new Blu-Ray 3-D standard going to be compatible with auto-stereoscopic displays?

This is getting very, very messy.

Gaming Links

If you haven't figured it out by now (you have), there are a few items each month that I mean to write about, but I don't quite get the post done. So today, for some reason, I'm cleaning all of these out of my inbox.

First, Chris Kohler sent me an e-mail about something I wrote back in November 2006. Here's the quote he included (from a post about the Wii launch):
Third, and I think this is just dead-solid obvious, where is Wii Fitness? Has there ever been a more obvious game to develop? And if you don't think moving a controller around can get you in shape, just wait until you get one. The more you get into the game, the harder you work, and if they design the game properly, it would be a blast.

I started laughing when I saw that, because I had totally forgotten. I can see the future (occasionally) but I can't remember the past.

Colin Austin sent me a link to Stardock's annual report, and it's quite interesting because it's unusually frank. Downright blunt, in places. If you're interested in Stardock as a company or Impulse as a digital distribution service, it's interesting reading.

David Yellope sent me several links to a strange story: how Games Workshop has apparently gone insane. They carpet-bombed websites back in late November with demands that all user-created files (to help people play Games Workshop games) be removed immediately. More information here, and certainly this could be an action taken in response to some other event, but I think it's very safe to say that pissing off your most loyal fans is always a very, very bad idea.

Wait, this next link is actually current. Yacine Salmi wrote an article summarizing the job losses and studio closures in 2009 (well, and December 2008). There's also analysis, and it's an excellent read overall.

Finally, Mike sent in a link that he saw in the Gamers With Jobs forums (GWJ owns the world now, and I can't think of better overlords) to an absolutely EPIC article about Elite.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Update On The Wheelchair Post

Several of you guys e-mailed to let me know that better wheels for wheelchairs do exist. John Catania sent a link to 24"x1.95" wheels (designed for off road). Erik Taylor sent in a link to a wheelchair design that is remarkably striking and highly functional (hubless wheels and a short wheelbase).

Thom Moyles sent in the most logical explanation for why so many people are using Ironside's wheelside--it depends on insurance. If Medicare provides the wheelchair, it's going to be the generic model. If you have better insurance or more resources, then higher-performance options are available.

And Another

This e-mail was only from November 11 of last year (hell, that's like yesterday).

Sebastian Morgan-Lynch sent me a link to Excerpts from Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Sandia National Laboratories report.

Sure, that's crystal clear, but here's a description from the report anyway:
Sandia National Laboratories charged a panel of outside experts with the task to design a 10,000-year marking system for the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) site, and estimate the efficacy of the system against various types of intrusion. The goal of the marking system is to deter inadvertent human interference with the site.

That's radioactive waste, in case you're keeping score at home.

It's a fascinating idea--how do you keep someone away from a site for 10,000 years? Both the discussion and illustrations are well worth a look.

I suggest using the Los Angeles Clippers logo.

If You're At CES This Week

There's something I'd like you to go see, if you have time, so please e-mail me.

Date I Received This In My Inbox: February 19, 2009

Dana Crane sent me a link to a fascinating article about Amazon's Mechanical Turk, and I've been meaning to write about it for, um, 321 days or something.

First off, that's the greatest name ever. The real Mechanical Turk was a chess-playing automaton that was an international sensation in the 18th century. There was an excellent book on the subject (this one, I believe, although I'm not certain because I read it a while back), and the sheer wonder of a machine that could play chess is hard to beat.

It was a hoax, of course, but so well-concealed that it wasn't discovered during the lifetime of the principals.

Here's a description from the Wikipedia entry:
The Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is one of the suite of Amazon Web Services, a crowdsourcing marketplace that enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do. Requesters, the human beings that write these programs, are able to pose tasks known as HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), such as choosing the best among several photographs of a storefront, writing product descriptions, or identifying performers on music CDs. Workers (called Providers in Mechanical Turk's Terms of Service) can then browse among existing tasks and complete them for a monetary payment set by the Requester.

The pay is, by all acounts, pretty awful, yet people are still interested in performing the tasks. And the service has been used for some remarkably ingenious and whimsical tasks (like drawing sheep, which is mentioned in the article link at the top).

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Companion Post

To the last one, I mean.

First, the inordinately cheeky Rock, Paper, Shotgun has the full list of finalists for the 2010 Independent Games Festival. I'm going to plow through that list and see which of the games can actually be played (many are still in development).

Second, Gamasutra has a feature up titled The 99 Best Free Games Of 2009, which should keep all of us busy for a while.

Q1 2010

As usual, I'm doing things backwards, so let's take a look at what's coming out this quarter before I talk about my favorite games of 2009 (and a separate post about my favorite games of the decade). I'm sure I'm leaving games off this list, but here's at least a fractional look at what might be interesting this quarter. Also, please note that these release dates are straight from EB, so there may be changes that haven't been updated yet.

1/19 Dark Void (PC, 360, PS3).
Jetpacks. Do I need to say anything else? Demo available this week for 360 and PS3 versions.

1/26 Mass Effect 2 (360, PC)
This is an auto-buy, basically. Bioware + science fiction=win.

1/26 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Wii)
The original was one of my favorite games of 2008, and one of the most entertaining and exhilarating games I've ever played. One of the funniest, too.

2/2 Star Trek Online (PC)
Somebody has to get this right someday.

2/9 Shiren The Wanderer (Wii)
Also one of my favorite games of 2008 (the previous version on the DS) and one of my favorite rogue games ever.

2/9 Bioshock 2 (360, PC, PS3)
Another auto-buy. The original was a beautiful, thoughtful game. One possible concern: Ken Levine isn't involved.

2/16 Heavy Rain (PS3)
It's been overhyped (and has anyone been more overhyped than David Cage? Well, besides American McGee), but Indigo Prophecy was an interesting, generally thoughtful game. So was Omikron, which was more interesting as a failure than most games that succeed.

2/23 Splinter Cell: Conviction (360, PC)
This game universally impressed at E3, partially due to this trailer, which is quite fabulous.

3/1 LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (360, PC, PS3, Wii)
Eli 8.5 will be all over this, although this is probably a shaky release date (EB usually puts the first day of the month for games with uncertain release dates)

3/2 Supreme Commander 2 (PC, 360 3/16)
The original absolutely KILLED at E3 one year--I remember how blown away I was by the demonstration. The final game, though, lacked something (I'm still not sure what). This is more of a "hope."

3/2 MLB 10 (PS3)
Generally acknowledged as the pinnacle of sports gaming (although I think the NHL series has surpassed it by the barest of margins).

3/2 All Points Bulletin (PC)
I've always loved the idea of choosing to be a cop or a criminal, and David Jones (Crackdown) is an instant win.

3/9 Final Fantasy XIII (360, PS3)
It's the 10-ton monster, finally arriving on our shores. Critical reaction has been less positive than I expected, but it's still Final Fantasy, and I'll still buy it on day one.

3/22 Red Steel 2 (Wii)
With the addition of MotionPlus controls in this version, I have generally high hopes.

3/23 Just Cause 2 (360, PC)
The first game was a somewhat glorious mess. Great premise, incredibly messy execution, and lots of potential for a sequel.

3/30 Crysis 2 (360, PC, PS3)
It will be gorgeous, and there will be shooting. At a minimum.

This is easily the strongest first quarter for releases I've ever seen (because so many titles were pushed last fall due to general crappy marked conditions). It's so strong, in fact, that I think some of these games may get pushed again (to Q2) due to the stiff competition.

I'm on the lookout for sleepers, and if I find a few, I'll post an update.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Look For My Body In The Spring Thaw

We went to "First Night" on December 31.

I've written about this festival before--it starts with late afternoon events that are geared toward kids, then turns into a late night party leading up to the midnight countdown to the New Year.

In past years, we'd had a good time, particularly when the Congress Avenue Bridge was turned into a gigantic chalk mural, with people given individual squares to decorate. The street was closed on both sides, and the resulting mural stretched for almost a hundred yards.

They didn't have that this year.

Please note: this is known as "foreshadowing."

It was 62F and calm when we parked a few blocks away from the festival at 4:15 p.m. It was a little warm for a jacket, since I was a wearing a long-sleeve shirt, but I decided to carry it anyway, because I don't like being cold. We walked across the bridge and Eli 8.5 immediately zeroed in on the human slingshot ride.

I'm not sure it's actually called the "human slingshot," but that's the effect--two metal poles with attached bungee cords connecting to a harness between them, and a trampoline underneath for additional propulsion. Eli loves these, and I can see why.

There was a small line--only a dozen people or so--so we decided to wait. I looked around while we were waiting, and I noticed that things seemed a little sparse this year--instead of cool-looking, silly art installations and bridge murals there were lots of fried food stands (fried cookie dough and alligator FTL), a band playing, and a few activities for kids much younger than Eli.

The line moved slowly. In the meantime, though, I noticed that it was getting colder. And windier. "I'm glad I brought my jacket," I said. "I'm actually a little cold."

"I'm sorry I didn't bring mine," Gloria said.

At this point, I'm supposed to give Gloria my jacket. I know. It's in the chivalry code or something. But tell me this: if I don't survive, who's going to dedicate the park in her honor after her untimely freezing death?

See, it really is a conundrum.

"I'd be happy to walk back to the car and get your jacket," I said helpfully, clutching the front panels of my jacket to my chest like a nursing baby monkey holds on to its mother's fur. "Eli's, too."

"Maybe later," she said, shouting to be heard over the wind, which was gusting to 30MPH by now. At this point, I'm guessing that the temperature has dropped by about 10 degrees in the last forty-five minutes.

We'd been in line for about half an hour, and there were four kids ahead of Eli in line. Every time a kid goes and jumped, though, there were still four kids in front of Eli. "I've heard of this before, but I never thought it was real," I said.

"Heard of what?" Gloria asked.

"A regenerating line," I said. "It always regenerates to four people."

"Dad!" Eli said, laughing. "That's crazy." Just then another kid went to jump in the slingshot.


As he did, his brother, who had been running around playing, came over and got in line.


"Agghhh! Dad, you were right!" Eli shouted, laughing. "Four kids!"

At this point, the wind was so strong that it seemed really cold. "I'm going to go look for a bear stand," I told Gloria.

"What's a bear stand?" she asked.

"A stand that sells bears," I said, even though I thought this was perfectly obvious.

"And why do you need a bear?" she asked.

"If I buy a bear, we can slit open his stomach and crawl in it for warmth," I said. "Actually, I need to go look for a bear stand and a knife stand."

While all this was happening, a carny was crawling all over the jumping apparatus. As designed, it should have accommodated four jumpers, with the superstructure being eight separate metal poles, but there was some sort of problem with six of them, apparently, so this heavily tattoed fellow was spidering between them, trying to fix various structural problems that were invisible to the naked eye.

This is known in the industry as "a confidence builder."

Incredibly, the regenerating line ran out of mana at some point, and Eli 8.5 finally progressed to the front of the line. He put on quite a show when he finally did get to jump, and as a bonus, he didn't break his neck.

It was so cold by then, and there was so little do, that we decided to go eat and go home (yes, that secretly was my dream scenario). We walked back to Spaghetti Warehouse, where Eli proceeded to eat so much bread that I think there might have been a citywide yeast shortage at one point.

"That's enough bread, little man," I said, after he'd had five pieces.

"But Dad!" he protested. "I'm STARVING!"

"You really are a bread predator," I said. "You're the Breadator." Gloria laughed.

"Oh, really?" he said. "Well, you're the Not-Nearly-As-Funny-ator," he said.

"No, I think the Breadator was funnier," Gloria said. I laughed.

I parked in the ideal position for a getaway--a parking lot that happened to be between THE PARADE that had just started and the street where they detoured all the traffic. Damn it.

On the way home, we stopped at the Wendy's drive-through for Frosty's. Gloria shouted her order into the speaker, and we drove around. "I can't believe it!" I said.

"What?" Gloria asked.

"Did he just try to sell you an extended warranty on that Frosty? Man, everyone is trying to sell those now!"

"DAD!" Eli 8.5 said from the back.

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