Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off, because 23 of you sent in this link (first was Ryan Schreyer), it's an insane series of unicycle tricks.

From Simon von Alphen, links about the business side of the otaku market. First, an article on a report by Yahoo Research. Next, an article that establishes the size of the Japanese digital comic industry: $600 million a year.

From Clayton Lee, and this video is nothing short of completely sick, it's Tim Knoll BMX. Also, and this is very entertaining, it's Parkour dog.

From Jim, take the ultimate intelligence test.

From Michael Dunkel, and it's a follow-up on the nuclear accident article from last week, three interesting links. First, it's The Case of the Missing H-Bomb. Next, from the Department of Defense, it's Narrative summaries of Accidents Involving Nuclear Weapons. Next, from The Defense Monitor, it's Nuclear Weapons Accidents 1950-1980.

From Sirius, it's how to measure the speed of light using your microwave. Also, it's Winning the World Series with math. Finally, there's Need a shortcut? Ask a bumblebee.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's art, and it's money: when you put money and people together.Also, and this is entirely wonderful, it's Salesman Pete And The Amazing Stone From Outer Space.

From Steve Davis, and this is amazing, it's a Lego 3D printer . Also, and this is also very cool, it's Polar Printer Reimagines the Way Magnets Work.

From Ben Younkins, and this is wacky but true, there's a Golden Tee machine in Antarctica.

From Derek Krause, an excellent article on the phenomenon that is Sal Khan (of the Kahn Academy).

From Andrew Martin, an absolutely remarkable full mod of "Bride Of Pinbot".

From Jason (EvilTimmy), a Stephen Fry verbal essay with kinetic typography.

From Josh Eaves, and you should have a strong stomach, the incredibly disturbing (yet fascinating) Icelandic necropants.

From Frank Regan, and man, do I hope this is real, it's Bruce Lee playing ping-pong--
with nunchaks.

From Mark Lahren, and this is squarely in the category of  "wretched excess", a The World's First Billion-Dollar Home.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Console Post of the Week: Nintendo Earnings

Gamastura has a short but thorough discussion of Nintendo's earnings, and here's an excerpt:
Nintendo today posted a six-month loss of ¥2 billion ($24.7 million) for the period ended September 30, 2010, down from a ¥69.5 billion ($854.5 million) profit in the same timeframe in 2009.

The losses were put down to the strength of the yen, falling hardware sales for the company's existing systems, and the announcement that the 3DS will launch in early 2011, missing this year's holiday period.

It will be interesting to see how the strength of the yen affects Sony's earnings, but there seems to be no question that Nintendo has exhausted consumer enthusiasm for the $199 price point. Given that it's almost four years from launch, with the launch price only $50 more, that's not surprising. There will be a new burst of enthusiasm at $149, and another at $99, but it seems indisputable that the Wii is past its peak.

Given its relatively astounding sales rate, and the insane amount of money Nintendo has made from the console, I don't think that's a particularly damning conclusion. 

In a regular console cycle, Nintendo would start touting a replacement soon, and enthusiasm would naturally regenerate. With the 3DS launching in February/March of next year, though,it's hard to see how Nintendo could possibly launch a new console in the 2011 holiday season.

That means, unless Nintendo wants Wii sales to completely flatline, that price cuts are coming.

For Science

If you're the candy dispenser in your house on Halloween, have I got a deal for you.

Last year, I wrote about keeping track of the kinds of costumes kids were wearing.I'll be doing that again on Sunday, but I'd like to get a larger data sample this year. If you want to participate, just send me an e-mail with your location and a list of your costume tabulations.For example, your list might look like this:
Princess 8
Zeus  4
Bobby Kotick 2

You get the idea.

I'll compile the results and put out the numbers next week.

DDS:PB2 Winner

Congratulations to John H., who just won the drawing for the free copy of Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2. Also, the game's website is here

Open Letter to People Who Make Games

Russ Pitts wrote a masterful article for The Escapist titled Open Letter to People Who Make Games, and in it he respectfully (but pointedly) calls out the gaming industry for the quality of their product.

This has become one of my most significant disappointments with gaming: we have no right to return games that simply don't work, and in some cases, never work. It is utterly preposterous, and yet, somehow we have come to this.

What this means is that a hobby I have loved for over two decades means less to me than it once did.

Russ does a much, much better job of explaining why it matters than I ever could, though, and it is a beautifully written piece. Required reading.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rock Band 3

Let's reminisce.

I will never forget the first time I played Guitar Hero. After hearing uniform, extravagant praise from everyone who played the game, I took the plunge, even though I was skeptical. A guitar-shaped controller? Plastic buttons?

How the hell could THAT be fun?

Less than 30 seconds after starting "I Love Rock And Roll," I was giddy. It was unbridled, raw exuberance, pure happiness in a plastic shape.

It was, in a word, wonderful.

In 2007, my good friend John Harwood made it his mission in life to find the 360 version of Guitar Hero II early. He called me from a Circuit City parking lot, ten days before release, entirely successful. I left immediately.

It wasn't even remotely possible that Guitar Hero II could be better than the original, but it was. The timing on hammer-ons and pull-offs was relaxed, which meant I could actually do them now.Just like the original Guitar Hero, I couldn't finish the last two songs on Expert, but I was still giddy.

There was no chance, not even a remote one, that Rock Band could be better. No f-ing way. So I sat down to play the drums for the first time, and again, that exuberance hit me in a powerful way.

Drums were better. It was all better.

I'd easily spent 200+ hours on each game, which meant that in 2008, Harmonix had released the top three played games of my gaming lifetime. Strange wizards from the future, perhaps, with a portal directly into my ventral tegmental area.

Rock Band 2? Better. The drums had cymbals now, and I bought a mod box that allowed me to use my electronic drum kit. I downloaded huge amounts of DLC, struggled in vain to play metal on Expert, and happily spent another 200+ hours of my life.

The Beatles: Rock Band, though, was a pinnacle. The world's greatest band given tribute by the world's greatest developers, with a level of creativity and imagination that was worthy of the band. The level of quality in this game was absolutely staggering, as was the obvious affection of the developers.

200+ hours. Happily.

Today, I opened up Rock Band 3. Certainly, based on my initial impressions, they've done it again. The game is polished to a high sheen, a step up from an already impossibly high ledge.

I decided this time that I will only be playing in Pro mode. Because of the lag in the release of the MIDI Pro Adapter and the Squier, it means that, for now, I'm only playing keyboards.

Playing keyboards feels very, very strange.

Not the keyboards themselves, which seemed to be a cut above regular plastic instrument quality, but just the act of playing keyboards at all. I'm working my way through the tutorials, with my biggest difficulty being the ache in my forearms which has gone on intermittently for over a year now (thank you, local orthopedists who only see me as a potential revenue stream and aren't interested in actually diagnosing the problem).

So physically, I'm limited, but I'm still hoping to gradually increase the length of time I can play, and I will report in intermittently on my success (or, just as possibly, my lack of it).

I actually feel somewhat melancholy as I play this game, knowing that the future of the entire genre probably rests on sales figures, sales figures but I don't expect to be sufficient.

If that happens, though, what a great ride it's been.

Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2 Giveaway

That's right--Gary Gorski was nice enough to offer a free copy of DDS:PB2 to an interested reader. E-mail me and I'll put you in the drawing, which will happen tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rock Band 3

I was hoping to put up some impressions tonight, but just transferring an assload of songs (and buying some recent DLC that I had been putting off until the game released) is taking quite a while, so look for initial impressions tomorrow.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? We all know it's great. There is zero chance that Harmonix flubbed this game.

Sports Notes

I defended LeBron James after "The Decision."

I'll still defend him, but he needs to do one thing: shut up. Once he announced that he was going to Miami, the best thing he could have done was go underground for a few months. Stay off the radar screen until basketball season starts. Let people vent all their fury (much of it entirely misplaced).

Then, instead of doing this ad, which is terribly clever but also unnaturally slick, he should've done something far simpler. Show 55 seconds of his freakish highlights, starting with childhood and arcing all the way to last season, and then, at the end, these words: NOW WE'LL SEE.

Simple, but defiant. He didn't need 90 seconds of blah-blah-blah. He needed the hammer.

The Heat got beat tonight by the Celtics, and the best thing that could possibly happen to them would be to get their asses kicked fairly regularly for the first 30 games of the season. The harder it is at first, the better they'll be at playoff time. What they don't need is to go 25-5 or something like that for the first 30 games.

I'm still a bit mystified that so many people hated him going to Miami. If a general manager pulled off a deal to get three superstars on the same team, with all of them agreeing to take less money, he would be called a genius. But if a player does it, he's selfish?

What is beyond dispute is that interest in the NBA has exploded. Just wait for the ratings of the Celtics-Heat game tonight. They'll be huge.

I'm also mystified by the outrage over the NFL cracking down on head shots. Why exactly should it EVER have been legal to tackle with a helmet, or deliver blows to the heads of defenseless players? Given the data that has come out in the last two years regarding brain trauma/damage for former football players, it's nothing short of insane to allow those hits to continue. Brain damage is not entertainment.

One More Eli 9.2 Story

Eli 9.2 adores his art teacher. Her name is Mrs. Lear,and she's bright and sunny and warm.

A few months ago, Eli "customized" a pair of my running shoes, because they were incredibly boring out of the box. They look terrific now, though, so I mentioned to him last week that we should get a pair of sneakers that he could then customize for Mrs. Lear as a holiday gift.

I found out today that Mrs. Lear's sneaker size is 8 1/2, and I told Eli when I picked him up from school. He said, "That's great, Dad, but do you think she'll grow to a 9 by Christmas?"

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eli 9.2

Eli 9.2 is a big fan of Silly Bandz. A big, big, fan.

"Dad, look at this unicorn Silly Bandz," he said, extending his wrist. "Isn't it cool?"
"Yeah, that's cute," I said.

"Cute?" He said, outraged. "It's not CUTE. It's COOL!"

"It's a rainbow colored unicorn," I said. "That falls well inside any existing definition of 'cute'."

"You would think it was cool if you have it on YOUR wrist," he said.
***
Gloria was complaining about her weight, and Eli said, "Mom! You're thin as WHEAT!"
***

A girl at Eli's school apparently has a crush on him. The evidence, according to Eli: "She chases me around and tries to kill me. First sign of love."
***

I picked up Eli from school on Friday, and as we were walking out, we saw his third-grade teacher (Mrs. Grace) in front of us. Just then, we heard an announcement: "A white SUV is blocking the carpool lane. Please move your car immediately."

"Eli, were you driving that car?" Mrs. Grace asked, laughing.

"I'm not saying YES, but I'm not saying NO," he said.
***

This last one, obviously, isn't an Eli story.
Gloria walked up to me today and said, "I had a dream last night that I was rollerblading across a college campus, trying to find my class."

"Were you rollerblading naked?" I asked.

"No," she said.

"NOT INTERESTED," I said.

Rock Band 3 Notes

First off, to no one's surprise, the reviews are sensational. 8 reviews so far on Metacritic, with an average score of 95. The reason I'm not surprised is that this is Harmonix, after all, and this is what they do-- make superbly playable games that have hundreds of hours of content.

As a player, though, I'm bummed.

I'm sure the game is great, but I was primarily interested in three things (in order):
1. the Squier Stratocaster, so I could be playing a real guitar
2. the MIDI Pro adaptor, so I could use my electronic drum kit
3. the new keyboard mode

The game will be launched in a few hours, and we still don't have a release date or price for the Squier. The MIDI Pro adaptor has a price, but no official release date. So even though I'm excited about the game, I won't be doing anything except playing keyboards for a while.

It drives me nuts (from a business standpoint) when I want to spend money and someone won't let me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Links!

Here's the link you absolutely must check out this week (thanks to Igor Nedeljkovic) : holographic sheets. Not bed sheets, by the way.

From Tateru Nino, and this is also awesome: Water Droplet Bouncing on a Superhydrophobic Carbon Nanotube Array.

From Andrew B, an amazing feat: Berlin Researchers Crack the Ptolemy Code. Plus, and you HAVE to see these pictures, it's the goliath tigerfish.

From Brian Pritchard, and this is outstanding, it's LEGO Haunted House.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, a brilliant headline: Auto Erotica: Man Gets Hot n' Heavy With Chevy In Seward Park.

From Kevin W, and this is both darkly amusing and disturbing at the same time, it's 5 Times We Almost Nuked Ourselves By Accident.

Here's something extremely awesome: a lost, unpublished Dr. Seuss manuscript has been discovered. And it was a book about sports.

From Glen Haag, it's the 32 greatest sports calls.

From Sirius, and continuing the stream of bizarre and outstanding mash-ups, it's Stayin' Alive And The Wall. Also, and this is very interesting, a story about how butterflies cure themselves using medicinal plants.

Two links from Brad Brasfield. First, it's Terribly Inappropriate Comics. Next, it's Look a Little Bit Closer….

From Jeremy Fischer, and this is quite fantastic, it's The 600 Years ("video mapping during the 600 year anniversary of the astrological tower clock situated at Old Town Square in center of Prague").

From Jonathan Arnold, a time-lapse video of bridge construction.

From Frank Regan, and this is quite entertaining, it's Dancing At The Movies. Here's one more, and if you played Demon's Soul's (the best reason to have a PS3), you know how insane this is: Demon's Souls completed in under an hour.

From Ryan Brandt, the band Atomic Tom performing Take Me Out--on their iPhones (I know--that sounds gimmicky as hell--but it's surprisingly good).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a breakthrough: solar panels at 60% efficiency (brought to you by the same guy who invented, believe it or not, the Super Soaker).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts On Confessions Of An Agent

On Friday, I linked to Confessions of an agent, in which ex-agent Josh Luchs admitted to doing all the dirty shit we already knew many agents were doing--in particular, paying college players. $500 monthly seemed to be a sweet spot for many of the players he was trying to build loyalty with so that they would sign with him when they graduated.

This is been going on since, well, forever, but some people are still surprised. The question is: why?

College football players with NFL potential represent an artificially undercompensated labor market. Their earnings are literally zero while they're in the NCAA, even though they will be doing the same thing for (potentially) millions of dollars the next year in the NFL.

From a market sense, that's just stupid.

In a situation like that, of course they're going to get paid under the table. They have been, they are, and they will be in the future.

What this does, though, is put the NCAA in a very awkward position.

They don't want to pay players directly. Agents, in an incredibly embarrassing way, are helping the NCAA--by compensating quite a few players, they've made it much less likely that players would ever try to organize and demand some kind of salary from the NCAA.

Now, though, the NCAA is in the position of being forced to crack down. Well, crack down to the degree that their incredibly tiny enforcement staff allows (if the NCAA were really serious, they'd spend more money on enforcement, wouldn't they?).

Here's a thought, though, on agents paying players: let them.

Create an allowed compensation scale not exceeding, say, $1,000 dollars a month. An agent can register with the NCAA, and a player can register and receive payment.

There's no quid pro quo--if the player doesn't sign with the agent after college, tough nuts for the agent.

Now, if you create a system like this, which answers all the complaints about "walking around money" that players have, there should also be relatively draconian punishments. If a player is accepting unregistered compensation, then ban that player. If an agent is giving a player unregistered compensation, ban the agent, and the NFL should ban him as well.

The NCAA wouldn't be paying the money, but the players would be getting paid. Not what they're worth, certainly, but it would all but eliminate financial desperation (greed can never be eliminated). And it would make the game less dirty, because college football, all too often, is like sausage: you might love to eat it, but seeing the manufacturing process would make you sick.

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Baste

Here's Anita Frazier of NPD, talking about why they no longer report hardware sales/software sales to the public:
"While this news was, in some cases, a hard pill for some to swallow, we believe it is an important step for the industry," said Anita Fazier, analyst at NPD. "Why? Because we've long acknowledged that our reporting of monthly point-of-sale purchases (covering new physical sales of hardware, software and accessories only, not used game sales) did not represent 100 per cent of the consumer spend on the industry.

"Since new physical sales at retail have been down for some months now, the news that the industry is beleaguered has been widely covered, and it has caused unnecessary angst for many," she added. Is NPD compiling data on the videogame industry or YMCA soccer?

Well, I can certainly understand why they wouldn't want to report sales of new consoles, because the non-physical sales of hardware have soared in the last few years.

Wouldn't the logical thing to do here would be to add a separate category to cover the "other" sales that they're not capturing? Wouldn't that be a way to make the picture clearer, instead of creating a new, bigger category that actually reduces clarity? Wouldn't anyone over ten be able to figure this out?

Let's use Occam's Razor here. It is absolutely impossible that Anita Frazier, or indeed, any sentient human, could be this stupid. That means that there are companies in the industry who don't want sales numbers being published, and she's had to contort herself to fit into someone else's Big Box Of Stupid.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Additional Six Gun Saga Notes

First, on the release date (from Vic): "It's slipping. Maybe December...more likely January."

On a demo: "Definitely a demo at launch."

Interview: Vic Davis And Six Gun Saga

Vic's always a terrific interview (thoughtful answers and wry humor FTW), so let me just get out of the way and let him answer a few questions.

Six Gun Saga used art assets originally intended for a rogue-type game that didn't work out. How far into the development process had you gone, and how long did you think about pulling the plug before you actually did? What was the mental process for going from a rogue-type game to an entirely different one capable of using the same art assets?I was pretty far along…maybe 40% of the architecture and UI coding. I like to lay out a framework and then stub things out and come back for them later. This is especially true of the AI hooks in my strategy games. This game didn’t have the strategic layer of AI that my previous games had, so I was doing a great deal more of the UI and data architecture.

My big stumble came because I confused playing a lot of poker mini-games in isolation on my kitchen table with actually testing how it fit into the digital game. At the core of almost every game is some “challenge” resolution contest. That’s what I have been calling them, at least, as I have gone through the design process over the last half decade. When two armies meet on the map how is the battle resolved? War gamers call this combat resolution and often add up combat values then twist and modify them and then consult a CRT (combat resolution table) with or without a die roll. But you need the same process when a gunfighter enters a saloon and wants to order a whiskey or engage in a gun duel out in the main street of a tumbleweed town.

For my Western Rogue-like I had imagined poker hands being dealt for a variety of games (i.e., 5 card draw and Texas Hold’em) and then special poker chips being wagered on the games. The chips themselves could have game modifying properties like bonus wounds, bonus experience, temporary stat enhancements etc. If you won the pot then you inflicted wounds in a process where you bought draws from wound decks where the wound distribution/combat effects were determined. Some decks offered big rewards but high risk, while others would be more low reward but low risk of getting something unexpected….like a gun jam. The skill system I devised for the player character was based on the four suits of playing cards and advancement allowed you to change the numbers/suits on cards dealt to you or your opponents, discard and draw new cards, and mess with the base mechanics in general. And this is where the trouble began. The overall effect was just too much unpredictability, and the general process of playing the hands wasn’t all that much fun. I could probably go back and salvage the system with a lot of work and re-conceptualization, but I ended up pulling the plug, at least for now.

The switch to the card based strategy game came after about six months of just having the art work sitting there staring at me. I basically had about a hundred images of outlaws, lawmen, gamblers and your sundry Old West locales, and I thought there has got to be a simple way to get these all interacting with each other to tell some stories. I’d already had the idea to call the game Six Gun Saga a long time ago, and since the name still fit, I just swapped out the mechanics.

This game seems to potentially appeal to a broader audience than your previous titles (which were both excellent, but tightly focused in terms of target audiences). What kind of PR changes are required for a game like this, where you want to cast a wider net?
I thought that at first as well. However, I’m not so sure that I’m going to get that result after I launch the game. At its core there is still a deep strategy game element to Six Gun Saga. The resource system is highly streamlined and the board is as well. Basically, you get dealt some cards and the agony is deciding how you want to use them. The board is a three by three grid that sits in front of each player and you can only move your “posses” up or down the channels unless you have a card that lets you move laterally or diagonally one time, or a card in the “posse” has a very rare special ability that allows lateral or diagonal movement. The rigid movement rules combined with the limited number of posses that a player can have at any given time makes for some really fun tactical interaction. At least that’s my experience playing it on the tabletop with a crude prototype. When you add to the system the ability to set up hidden ambushes on your side of the channels, then you have some extra added minefield type tension. There is a real ebb and flow, feint, move and counter move feel that I am shooting for the mechanics to provide.

Is this going to open up the casual market? I’m not so sure. I think it’s going to function more like an appetizer for the bigger entrées on my menu like Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum. At least that’s the rationalized strategy that I’m going with for now. :-)

The settings of your games seem to utilize under-used themes (post-apocalyptic, Hell, and The Old West--okay, maybe Hell isn't underutilized, but the bureaucracy of Hell certainly is--LOL). Do you have any specific considerations in mind when selecting these locations, or are you just creating what you want to play?
I take the path less trodden on purpose. I think it fits the “fill the niche” strategy that I’m trying to survive on. I’m the kind of guy, though, who always did play (and still plays) the core nerd games growing up ( D&D, WW II board games like Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, ASL etc.), but always wondered what this Gamma World thing was over here or what those guys with the Steampunk game were doing over there in that corner. I’ve also found that the older I get, the less the generic fantasy setting grabs me. I just finished reading Glen Cook’s Black Company series in its entirety. I haven’t had that much fun since my last Jack Vance binge. It’s a clever and wonderfully constructed alternate reality that completely pulled me in with not a dark elf in sight. I think gaming needs more of that type of thing.

What are the chances of ever seeing a port of Six Gun Saga to mobile devices (Android, specifically)? Now that I have an Android phone, it's clear that the standards for quality are generally pretty low, although there are a few excellent titles. It seems like an incredibly fertile market, though, and Six Gun Saga seems like it would translate very well to mobile device.
I just got a Sprint Epic phone myself. I had a 2003 Nokia that I brought into the local store and the guys at the desk were quietly chuckling about the museum piece that I had. So now I have to drag a lock and then press answer on this touch pad to answer a call when before I could just hit a button. I had to buy an anti glare screen protector to see the screen in bright sunlight. Listen, it’s a neat little portable computer that James T. Kirk would have chosen over his plastic communicator, but I think I really still miss my Nokia.

Curmudgeonly grumbling aside though I have the same feelings about these new generation mobile devices that I do about consoles and handheld game boys. I don’t think they provide the right environment for the kinds of games that I want to make. I always imagine somebody sitting down in their man-cave (although female strategy gamers are welcome too) in a comfortable chair after a hard day’s work and firing up my aggravating limited resolution games in a window and losing an hour or two to the despair of hard choices. Can you play a moderately complex strategy game on a hand held device? I say no. At least I don’t think you can enjoy it in the same way. I can’t fathom how I would start to adapt my first two games to that environment. Now, I see I’ve just beaten to death the biggest straw man in the world since your question is about Six Gun Saga. But, I really don’t have any personal interest in the mobile market. You could probably adapt it but I don’t think the Old West theme is going to make it a big seller. I’m honestly not expecting the PC download sales to be spectacular. A Magic the Gathering app might make some money at $0.99 a pop.

So the answer to your question is no; basically, because I don’t like the game experience that you get from a handheld. But is Android a fertile market? It will be for a few devs who get in quick with stuff that catches on. But, like the iPhone market, it’s going to be gold rush and then gold bust for the vast majority of devs. I’m not agile enough or entrepreneurial enough to compete, so I’ll sit it out like I always do. I do think the iPad is probably going to be a nice platform, but I’m going to miss that boat because I’m not a Mac guy.

You've mentioned that Six Gun Saga is coming out a lower price point than your previous games. What kind of effect you expect this to have on sales?I’m not sure. It’s a test really to see if a smaller scope game and a lower price can generate good revenue and hopefully get potential customers to try my bigger strategy games. Six Gun Saga is going to have had over a year of development time (not counting my failure before re-conceptualization) and a hefty chunk of money invested in art, UI and music. Of course everybody knows that you don’t price a good based on what it costs to make. You price it on what somebody is willing to pay given how much supply you have. I’ve been toying with the thematic Old West price of $18.88 or the more psychologically attractive price of $14.95. You don’t want to go too low because the perceived value takes a hit unless you are doing a Steam sale, apparently. Six Gun Saga has a lot of replayability and I think the core mechanics are fun and challenging. It hasn’t got the epic scale that my previous efforts have attempted, but that was one of the project goals…..a play a game in 30 minutes type of thing.

With this being your third game, and a fourth one in the works, are you secure in the full-time indie developer model? Is this a lifestyle that you can see sustaining indefinitely, and do you have additional game ideas on the list to keep you engaged well in the future?
The magic 8 ball says: Better not tell you now. :-) I’m going to have to adapt or die eventually. That’s true of everything. So I do feel the tide eroding the little foundation of security that I have now. I’ve put out two games that I’m really proud of and still get excited about when I take a look at how they turned out and what went into making them. I’m frankly astonished that they were finished, given that they represent about 5 1/2 years of work and maybe half a million lines of code. I’ve sold these on a model that’s just one peg up on the evolutionary scale from your basic share ware and developed them in an environment (Adobe Director) that few are still using and probably doesn’t have much life left in it….although I do really like it and feel very comfortable with it. It’s and underdog with a chip on its shoulder and that describes me to a great extent. I’d like to get a few more games out of it since it still does what I need it to do and I don’t have to reinvent the wheel when I need to put a dialogue box up to ask the player to choose something .

The lifestyle is great as an indie dev. I set my own hours and can steer a course wherever I want to go. So I’m going to miss that when the curtain finally falls (and it will)…..even if it’s because I’ve grown tired of it and want to go do something else. I’m working on escape plans and fall back scenarios…that’s what any good strategist does.

At some point, are you exploring the possibility of appearing on Steam/Impulse, or are there restrictions to use those services that just don't make sense for your business model?
I’ve thought about it and waffled back and forth, and even sent some emails. I also wonder sometimes if maybe my games are too niche and too clumsy. I don’t really feel like I belong. I know a lot of devs have done really well financially with that approach, but I’ve got a psychological hang up about the whole thing. I’m a contrarian at heart. It’s the allure of the Gamma World type thing. At this point I like marching to my own drummer, even if it is into the post-apocalyptic bone yard or off a cliff.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pincus, The Finkus

What a tremendous dirtbag.

Mark Pincus is CEO of Zynga, creators of FarmVille, PetVille, CloneVille, MillVille, and VilleVille. He's a fascinating personality, because not only is he a dick, it appears that he practically celebrates it.

My name is Mark Pincus, and I'm a dick. Now, the revelry.

Frame of reference? Pincus makes Bobby Kotick look like Papa Smurf.

Let's review.

Initially, there was a presentation given by Pincus at a Startup@Berkeley mixer, where he said this:
I knew that i wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right, fucking, now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I dont know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. *laughs*

Yuck.

I don't know what it's like in the rest of the world, but in this country, we celebrate result over process. You put nursing home residents through a wood chipper, marketed the results as a "New SPAM," and made $40 million? Up high, winner!

It's not just that the end justifies the means in this country. It's that the end justifies any means.

That's Pincus.

Around the same time as his speech, TechCrunch did a thorough expose of what they called Scamville. The short version: Zynga's games are filled with misleading advertisements for "free" in-game currency that involve hidden subscription fees and outright fraud.

Zynga responded to what had become quite an outrage by saying that they would remove all "offer" advertising from their games.

So, good ending, right?

Well, not exactly. One slimeball tactic terminated, others still in play. From the Wall Street Journal today:
Many of the most popular applications, or "apps," on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook's rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users' activities secure.

The apps, ranked by research company Inside Network Inc. (based on monthly users), include Zynga Game Network Inc.'s FarmVille, with 59 million users, and Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille. Three of the top 10 apps, including FarmVille, also have been transmitting personal information about a user's friends to outside companies.


Oops.

So if one scam stops, there's always another one to take its place. Roaches.

Here's the thing about someone who is so publicly willing to admit they're a dirtbag: it's not like they're going to stop. Even if they try to compartmentalize their dirtbag phase, it's highly unlikely that's who they are in reality. Someone like that is successful precisely because they're a dirtbag. Why would anyone expect someone like that to change?

Then we have the recent publication of FarmVillains, which was an investigative piece by SF Weekly. Check this out:
In light of Zynga's phenomenal rise, one former senior employee recalls arriving at the company eager to discover what new business practices were driving its success in a market where other popular Web 2.0 ventures struggled to make money. What was Zynga's secret? Not long after starting work, he got an answer. It came directly from Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus at a meeting. And it wasn't what he expected.

"I don't fucking want innovation," the ex-employee recalls Pincus saying. "You're not smarter than your competitor. Just copy what they do and do it until you get their numbers."


The former employee, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about his experience at Zynga, said this wasn't just bluster. Indeed, interviews conducted by SF Weekly with several former Zynga workers indicate that the practice of stealing other companies' game ideas — and then using Zynga's market clout to crowd out the games' originators — was business as usual.


Stay classy, Pincus.

More:
As the former senior employee who listened to Pincus rant against innovation recalls, workers at Zynga were fond of joking (albeit half-seriously) that their firm's unofficial motto was an inversion of Google's famous "Don't Be Evil."

"Zynga's motto is 'Do Evil,'" he says. "I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I've run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach. I've tried my best to make sure that friends don't let friends work at Zynga."


It's an amazing read, really, although you'll need a shower afterwards.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Ouchening

Julian Dasgupta sent me a link last week to this:
New software releases in September have not met expectations in the US, according to Cowan & Company's Doug Creutz.

Microsoft's Halo: Reach sold 3.3 million units during the month, below Cowan's 3.75 million estimate, while Activision's Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, only managed "a fairly dreadful" 86,000 units in its first five days.

Cow's out of milk, Bobby.

Inferring from the Halo reference, I believe that represents 360 sales only, but still--given what Kotick's publicly stated sales goals are for Activision's major franchises, those figures might represent the killing blow.

Hopefully, that just means everyone is saving up to buy the superior brand in the genre--Rock Band 3-- but as I recently mentioned, I doubt it.

My e-mail after that first post was about 4-1 in favor of the "not excited at all" camp. Not good.

Guilty Party (Wii)

Guilty Party was almost a stealth release in late August, and reviews have been somewhat mixed (average Metacritic score of 78).

We've been playing it (thanks Gamefly) for the last week, though, and there's a lot to like.

I've seen the game described as Disney meets Clue, and that's a fair description. In story mode, players are cooperatively solving a mystery, and each chapter takes place in a different location (for instance, a train). There are a number of locations, each of which may have a suspect to interrogate or a clue to investigate. Players gather clues, then fit those clues into different categories (height of suspect, build, sex, etc.),eventually accusing a suspect and hopefully solving the crime.

That's standard stuff, obviously, but there are some nice wrinkles. For one, the villain pops in randomly to screw things up--he might turn off the lights, or lock certain doors, causing mayhem in general. Plus, each player draws an action card at the beginning of the turn, which lets him bypass standard procedure in the game. For instance, it might enable him to bring a suspect in for interrogation, instead of having to find the suspect himself. Other cards enable you to counter what the villain has done, extend your turn, etc.

Each turn, whether you're investigating a clue or talking to a suspect, includes a mini-game. This is the weakest part of the game, because the mini-games are generally forgettable.  However, it doesn't really distract from the flow, as most of the games are simple enough to complete.

The writing is top-notch. It's very funny, and very stylish. Visually, it's just right--cartoony and colorful. Voice-acting is excellent. It's a very slick package, and very fun to play.

I didn't expect Eli 9.2 to like this game, but he does. It's fun to work together, he enjoys the comedy, and he is totally into solving the mysteries. It's not quite Monster Lab (which is really a kid classic), but he's asking me every day if we can play for a while.

So if you have kids in the 7-10 range, this is an excellent game for hanging out and playing together. For adults only, I'd say it's a rental first. Overall, though, it's a very strong effort.

One note. The game starts off the tutorial case, and it's slow. The "real" cases are much more entertaining, so just survive the tutorial and move along.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, An Ancient Comedy of Urban Errors, a graduate thesis in which the author diagrammed and modeled "a constellation of architectural set pieces" meant for "a day-long performance of The Comedy of Errors" by William Shakespeare. It also includes diagrams mapping the movement of every character through the city. It's a mind-blowing piece of work.

Next, and if you're interested in sports, this is a must-read, a Sports Illustrated article titled Confessions of an Agent. It's very, very dirty out there.

Also from TEGLM, something you'll really enjoy: How nitroglycerine explodes-in slow motion. Next, it's Incredible Aerial Images from Around the World (and they're quite spectacular).

From Frank Regan, a story about the substance most likely to change our lives this century: graphene.

Jonathan Arnold sends along a story about Johnny Depp, in full Capt. Jack sparrow regalia, showing up at a UK school to help children mutiny against their teachers (per a written request from a nine-year-old girl). Depp is completely awesome.

From Jeremy Fischer, a story about new solar cells that convert both light and heat.

From David Byron, a remarkable software program that can remove objects from video--
in real time.

From Sirius, an entirely trippy video: continuously morphing Mandelbulb fractals. Also, it's Top 20 Microscope Photos of the Year.

From Neil Gibbings, a terrific time-lapse video of the deconstruction, followed by construction of a building in Paris.

From Clayton Lee, a Ghostbusters-AC/CD mash-up that is absolutely outstanding.

What would happen if you left a Happy Meal out for six months? Thanks to a link submitted by John R, now you can find out.

From Scott Lewis, the story of two Chihuahuas-- one very clever, and one not so much.

From Kez, a scary look at miraculous transformations with makeup. Also, and this is fantastic, it's a Japanese comb-over expert.

From Kevin W, it's the world's largest kind of working yo-yo. Also, and these are amazing, it's Jim's Pancakes (go look at the dinosaur--it's 3D).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Front Office Football Update

Glen Haag (of The Blog For The Sports Gamer) let me know that Jim Gindin has released an update for Front Office Football 2007.

That's right-- it was released three years ago, and Jim is still supporting the game. That should be no surprise, though, to people who have played his games in the past.

If you've never played FOF, it's the most intelligent, most detailed, and most complex NFL text-sim ever made, and it's here.

Welcome To The Jungle

Panasonic announced a new gaming device called the "Jungle" last week.

Seriously. I'm not kidding, I swear.

Here are a few details:
The clamshell device will allegedly sport a super high-resolution display, features a full QWERTY keyboard along with what looks like a touch sensitive d-pad and button arrangement, and may run atop a custom Linux build. The Jungle will also apparently sport a mini HDMI port, a micro USB port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

If you're having trouble figuring out the market for this device (don't feel bad--I had no idea, either), it's apparently MMORPG players. Yes, apparently the dude who spends 10 hours a day playing WOW desperately wants to be spending that time out of the house--while still playing.

Sir, that is a bold stroke of analytical genius. Well, if "genius" means "WTF are you people thinking?" Mobile gaming on cellular phones is exploding, so it makes perfect sense to release something that both won't fit in your pocket and isn't a phone.

Well played, gentlemen. Well played.

Chris Kohler has an excellent look back at, well, disaster, in his recent piece Failure in My Pocket: Gaming’s Tortured History of Handheld Convergence. Jungle, your membership card is the mail.

And Information Darkness Descends on the Land

NPD announced this week that they will longer be publicly distributing monthly hardware sales data. Also, they made some changes in how software sales are reported to draw the veil over those numbers as well. See the gory details here.

If you'll remember, they tried this back in 2007, then withdrew less than a week later in response to public criticism. Interestingly, though, no one really seems to care this time.

NPD did note that their subscribers are allowed to release sales for their own products if they wish, so we may still be getting partial information. It's highly likely, though, that this is being done in response to pushback from publishers and hardware companies. It is, after all, free monthly publicity for NPD, so they really have no good reason to stop of their own accord.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Melolune

To get the sour taste of the previous post out of my mouth (and yours, hopefully), let's move on to the entirely delightful Laura Shigihara (who you might know as the composer and singer of Zombies On Your Lawn), who is working on her own game. It's a role-playing game titled Melolune, and I saw yesterday that she's done an interiew with Indie Games about the game and the central role that music plays.

She's a one-person development studio, but I think the game looks unique and very interesting.

Medal Of Honor

Benjamin Busch, a former Marine Corps officer, made some very thoughtful and perceptive comments in an NPR interview earlier this week about EA's recently released Medal of Honor. Here is one example:
I honestly don't like that Medal of Honor depicts the war in Afghanistan right now, because even as fiction it equates war with the leisure of games. Changing the name of the enemy doesn't change who it is. But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction? Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.

That's a terrific piece of analysis, that Medal Of Honor (and other contemporary war games) "makes modern war into participatory cinema."

It's an unsettling piece of analysis as well.

I've never been able to play first-person shooters set in a contemporary theater of war because they're simply too disturbing to me. I felt like a voyeur of modern war, but there was no pleasure.

I have no problem with films or books that use a contemporary theater of war to ask questions about what it means to be human. That's what all good literature asks. But Medal Of Honor and Call Of Duty aren't asking those questions--they're nothing more than a naked cash-in.

Available now: a corporate re-creation of a contemporary tragedy that is sold for $60. Plus DLC.

If you sense that I am progressively becoming more disenchanted with "big gaming," that's one reason why. When I first started gaming, I somehow felt that the people who make games were cut from a different cloth.

A better cloth.

I think that was true, for a time, but as gaming has become more and more corporate, the cloth has become weathered and torn.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why You Should Be Playing Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City (DS)

The Etrian Odyssey series as well-known for being "old school"-- in other words,deep and interesting, but grindy. I played the first installment in the series, and ultimately tired of the sameness that surrounded me after about five hours.

This time, though, it feels different.

I've played 10 hours of Etrian Odyssey III, and it's terrific. It's still deep and complex--the skill trees seem practically endless, and there are infinite strategies available when it comes to combat-- but it doesn't feel repetitive or grindy anymore.

Why?

Well, there's now an entire "sea mode" that makes it possible to sail as a fishing vessel. It's hypnotic, really, just tooling around the ocean, finding fish. Plus, there are a ton of additional quests that are included with this mode.

And there are whales.

They're not called whales, but that's what they are, and when you catch one, the rewards are tremendous.It may take several trips, though, because your boat might get damaged instead of a successful catch.

There are many different upgrades available for your fishing vessel-- better sails, better nets, a good luck statute help you find rare fish--and it becomes very strategic, deciding what equipment to outfit for a journey.

Oh, and there's this: you also have a multiplayer mode where you can cooperate on sea quests, if you'd like.

It's all quite fantastic, and quite addicting. It's also an excellent break from "dungeoning" (although you're outdoors, that's really what you're doing), and you can go fishing any time you have enough money to outfit your boat.

In town, there are interesting characters to talk to, and sometimes, there will be side quests. I like that everything in town is set up as a hub--there's no walking, just location selection from a menu, and it's quick and easy.

When you do go dungeoning, there's a new auto-pilot feature that is absolutely brilliant. The way the game displays is that your map is always visible on the lower screen, while everything else happens on the upper screen. It's easy to mark the map along the course you want to travel, then touch the auto-pilot button, and off you go. So if you need to go to the third floor, and you've marked out auto-pilot paths for the first two floors, you move along the path automatically, only stopping for encounters.

It's a fantastic feature, and I'm surprised that no one has thought of it before (or maybe they have, and I'm just not aware of it). Again, though, it greatly diminishes the grind feeling--well, it takes the grind feeling away entirely, really.

Of course, mapping is a huge part of this game, but in a good way. Mapping out a level is very friendly, because there are so many tools in the map editor that it's easy to customize a map in any way you want. At sea, it feels like I'm preparing a nautical chart or something, and it contributes to the appeal of the game.

It's a tremendously appealing package--complex, and deep, but very user-friendly at the same time. It's very fun and very addictive, and even as I write about the game, I look forward to playing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Threw A Football In The Air

We throw every day.

The first thing Eli 9.2 says when he walks in from school is "Dad, can we throw?" We either drive to a local high school or just stay in the cul-de-sac, but we always throw.

Actually, I throw. He catches.

I played football in my front yard almost every day in the fall as a kid, but I usually threw to myself. That's not going to happen here.

He runs every pass pattern he knows, and we run two-minute drills, and score is loosely kept, and every game seems to come down to a last-second bomb that he catches and runs in for a touchdown.

I throw a nice ball--always did--but my hands aren't very big, so throwing the youth-sized ball is perfect. I can still throw it thirty-five yards, which doesn't sound like much, but it's an epic throw to a nine-year old.

On the weekends, we go to a local high school that has a band practice field. It's just a big plot of asphalt with an entire field painted on it. Eli loves it, and I've developed an even greater appreciation for how hard it is to throw from a hash mark to the sideline (seriously--quarterbacks are freaks).

We finished throwing on Saturday and headed back to the car. Instead of walking around to his side, Eli will usually just open the closest door and crawl through. So he opened the near-side door (his booster was on the far side), then left it open while he walked back with the football. He tried to throw the ball into the car, but missed.

After he sat down and buckled up, I was about to close the door when I saw the ball on the seat. "Think I can do it?" I asked.

Eli laughed. "No way, Dad," he said.

I picked up the ball and started walking backwards, stopping when I was fifteen yards away. Eli was drinking from a McDonald's cup filled with Powerade, laughing.

"Hold that cup tight," I said, and he started laughing harder. I was going to have to throw at a slightly downwards angle, because I was taller than the roof of the car. Plus, the car doors don't open all the way, so part of the opening into the back seat was blocked. To actually land it inside the car, I was going to have to throw it inside a space about 27"x27".

I could probably do that from fifteen yards about never percent of the time.

"I mean it," I said. "Hold that cup, because this ball is going to knock it out of your hand." He grinned and made a big show of tightening his grip.

I usually don't throw the ball hard when I'm throwing to him, but this time, I did. When I let the ball go, everything seemed to slow down (not for dramatic effect--it really did seem like everything was in slow motion). I saw the ball spiralling, with heavy spin, and as it neared the car I realized it was going to go in cleanly.

Then I saw the ball hit the cup, and watched it explode out of Eli 9.2's hand.

I started walking to the car, and he was already laughing. There was Powerade on him, the carpet, the back seat, the side door--everywhere. And he was laughing his ass off. So was I. We were both laughing so hard that we couldn't say anything for a while.

Finally, when I could actually talk, I said, "Hey, I told you to hold on to that cup." That set us off again. I was laughing so hard that my stomach hurt.

"Dad, you're the GOLDEN ARM!" he said, and he was still laughing so hard that he could barely get the words out.

"For one second, I was William Tell," I said.

"Who's William Tell?" he asked. So I told him the story of William Tell. "Did William Tell spill Powerade all over the car?" he asked, laughing.

"No, that's a modern adaptation of the story," I said.

Eli, laughed. "Dad, look at that!" He pointed to the floorboard, where the cup lid was resting. In two pieces.

Of course I saved it. Hell, I might frame it:

Friday, October 08, 2010

Friday Links!

I think this is one of the most diverse (and interesting) set of links you guys have ever submitted.
In response to the corn truck post I made two weeks ago, Thom Moyles had an eagle-eye find: in a previous Friday Link, in which a man dancing in the street gets hit by an ice cream truck, he pointed out that on the side of the truck it says "Elotes," which means corn-on-the-cob in Spanish.

This might well be the greatest headline in history: Suspect Denies Owning Cocaine In His Butt. I hope the guy who rented that storage locker gets his security deposit back.

Ben Younkins sent me a link to a fascinating article about, of all things, quicksand. And yes, quicksand fetishists do exist.

From John Trujillo, an in-depth article about the "merchant of death"--international arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Okay, you have to see this video: praying mantis bodyslams a hummingbird. Seriously, it's incredible--that is one bad-ass praying mantis. Also, and not quite as much must-see (although very cute), it's kittens on Roomba.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, an unsettling but striking series of photographs: Human Landscapes--development in SW Florida. Also, and these are so beautiful, it's tilt-shift Van Gogh.

Here's a fascinating story from Andrew B: Germany just made its last reparation payment--
for WWI

From Sirius, a startling discovery: plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs were warm-blooded. Also, the story of a father and son who launched a 19-inch helium balloon--into space. Next, and this is also amazing, the discovery of an undocumented language in India.

Matt Anderson sent in a link to a wonderful video of Ike Ditzenberger, who has Down Syndrome, scoring a touchdown for his high school team.

From Matt Sbonik, a tremendous bicycle trick video. Matt notes that the soundtrack has "lyrical" swearing, which is an excellent description (it's quite a catchy song).

From Jorn Barger, in response to my evil lair housing post, it's evil people in modernist homes in popular films.

From Mr. Fritz, a stunning steampunk LCD.

Jeremy Fischer sent in a link to an amazing plane--one that flies without flaps.

From Chris Pencis, a court transcript that sounds straight out of a Monty Python skit.

From Amy Leigh, it's 10 Geeky Nintendo Themed Accessories.

From Frank Regan, an interesting  optical illusion.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe

I have never wanted so badly to be wrong.

I realized today that I've spent more time on Guitar Hero/Guitar Hero2/Rock Band/Rock Band 2/The Beatles (Harmonix branch of the family) than on any other gaming series in my life. I've certainly enjoyed it more than any other series, and there's not even a close second. I've written many times about the unerring brilliance of Harmonix, because they deserved it. Harmonix is Valve, or Blizzard, in terms of quality.

That's why it pains me so much to say that Rock Band 3 is dead.

Let me clarify that. I don't mean it's dead in a quality sense, because I am sure it will be every bit as outstanding as the other games in the series. It's going to be great, and I will play it for hundreds of hours.

I just don't know who else will.

This genre is dead. Dead. I expect Guitar Hero: Goofus Or Gallant to sell very poorly, and even though Rock Band 3 will be an exponentially better game, it's going to sell poorly as well. There is zero buzz right now, and we're less than three weeks from launch.

Why?

Consider this. In response to what appears to be a rapidly shrinking audience, Harmonix made design decisions that appeal to the hard-core. Full cymbal charting. Pro mode for instruments. Hell, this game is going to help me learn how to play guitar (hurry up, Squier).

Those are the greatest decisions ever, for me, but how many "me's" are out there? Not nearly as many as there are "them's," and I think that's going to be suicidal in a commercial sense. Or maybe it's not suicide. Maybe it's just a natural death. Maybe everyone who wants to play on little plastic instruments has played on them, and they're moving on. Rock Band 3 will have exponential appeal, but to a much smaller audience, and that's going to be death.

I think this is the last great release of a great, great series of games. Harmonix will keep making games, and they'll keep being great, but I think this is the end of the road for Rock Band. I don't think there will be a Rock Band 4. I would be very surprised to see a new Guitar Hero game next year, either. It appears that this genre, after enjoying phenomenal and stunning popularity, has played itself out.

Here's what I'm hoping. I'm hoping we survive long enough for Harmonix to release 150+ Pro mode guitar charts, with charts for The Beatles as well. I would be thrilled to see all that content, and it would keep us busy for the next 10 years, easily.
Yes, it's death, but in a noble way. How many companies have ever had this sequence of Metacritic scores over five games? 91, 92, 92, 92, 89.

That's five years of unsurpassed brilliance, and seriously, anyone who gave The Beatles only an 89 should have their freaking sanity checked, because it was a masterpiece.

Like I said in the opening, I've never wanted so much to be wrong. Big wrong. I hope this game sells five million copies. Or ten.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Console Post: Oh, My

Led by a post in the Qt3 forums, I read an article over at VG247 that includes photographs of the Kinect manual.

Highlights ("high" may be misleading):
Choose a location for your sensor
--"do not place the sensor on your console."
--"Do not place the sensor on or in front of a speaker or surface that vibrates or makes noise."
--""Keep the sensor out of direct sunlight."

Sensor doesn't see player
--"turn on lights to brighten the play space."
--"Prevent lights, including sunlight, from shining directly on the sensor."
--"Try wearing different clothing that contrasts with the background of your play space."

Adequate space for playing-- the sensor can see you when you play approximately 6 feet from the sensor. For two people, you should play approximately 8 feet from the sensor.
--keep enough distance from other players, bystanders, and pets.

Boy, that's a relief, because I was afraid this device would be finicky.

Let's see. The manual says "make sure the sensor is aligned with the center of your TV." Okay--you're looking at the television to play, so it makes sense to put the sensor there.

Also frequently located in this space, though, is the center channel speaker. Oops. With the Wii sensor, it doesn't matter if they're in close proximity (in our house, about a foot away), but the Kinect sensor also senses audio.

That doesn't seem good.

Needing to turn on lights or wear differently colored clothing? If .1% of people need to do that, no big deal. If 15% do, big fail.

The biggest problem, though, is just finding enough space for the damn thing. Our television is a little less than seven feet from the couch. With the Wii, this is fine, because we can get within three feet of the sensor and it still works.

For us to play with Kinect, though, we have to move the couch back about four feet to hit the eight foot range and have a few feet around us for space.

How often are we going to move the couch back four feet, which would basically put it against a wall? Um, never, probably.

No matter the complaints about the lack of "sophistication" in the Wiimote tech, there's no disputing that it works seamlessly. Anyone can figure it out.

The Kinect technology is potentially much more powerful, but it also sounds finicky as hell, and with Microsoft desperately wanting this to become the next big thing, I doubt that's a good trade-off in a commercial sense.

Wigs, Owls, Yoda

I was driving Eli 9.2 home after school earlier this week when we drove past a shopping center. The shopping center had one of those big signs in front to tell you the name of all the stores. I quickly glanced at the sign as we drove by and thought I saw "Severity Wig Spa."

It turned out to be "Serenity Wig Spa," but I think I like the other name better. I wonder what kind of wigs they would carry.
***

We went to see Legend of the Guardians last Friday. The previews were absolutely fantastic--the movie looked stunning, with some of the best 3-D effects I'd ever seen. And who doesn't like owls? So it was somewhat disappointing when the film turned out to be an $80 million dollar feather animation system.

That's sort of a broad brush, really. It wasn't that the film was bad, just that the story and the voices didn't in any way live up to the quality of the visuals.

"Did you notice that the evil owls lived in that smoking, bleak hulk of a landscape?" I asked Eli as we walked out.

"And fire," Eli said. "Lots of fire."

"Why is it that the evil villains always live in a place like that?" I said. "Have you noticed that no one has an evil lair in a tropical paradise?"

Eli laughed.

"Is it possible that evil villainry is just a response to substandard housing?"

"Oh Dad," Eli said, laughing and grabbing his stomach. "That's a good one."
***

Eli's teacher this year won't countenance any guff. He likes her, and so do I, but she's definitely no-nonsense. As Eli says "She's not mean, and she's fair. She's just strict."

Remember the troublemaker kid I wrote about last year? Well, he's in her class, too, and yesterday, I saw him open the door of their building and push his rolling backpack as hard as he could, letting it sail into space. It hit the door bump plate and went flying. There were kids behind him, waiting to get out, so it basically stalled the line.

Right behind him, however, was his teacher. "Leonard," she said, and I don't even have to tell you what tone she was using.

He turned around and blanched white. "I thought--" he started.

"There are no thoughts," she said. "Your only thought is that you are in control of your backpack."

It was very hard not to burst out laughing. Eli was right behind her, and he was trying very hard not to burst out laughing, too.

Gloria said it sounded like Yoda. She's right, because when she said that, I remembered my favorite Yoda phrase: "Do or do not. There is no try."

So his teacher is Yoda. With a hammer.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Harmonix On Fire

Let me get this straight. In the last few weeks, we got Bob Marley and the Wailer's Legend and an excellent collection of songs from R.E.M. (Driver 8? Are you kidding me? That song is unspeakably brilliant). Now we find out that the classic Jimi Hendrix album Are You Experienced? is coming next week.

Has anybody seen the Squier? Where's that confounded Squier?

Back, Now With 100% More Broken

I think my back is finally broken. Metaphorically speaking.

Madden this year already featured the Old Spice Swagger Award, the Doritos Crunch of the Game, and every scoring drive included a drive summary sponsored by Verizon Wireless. That usually worked out to a dozen or more advertisements a game.

Yes, I am apparently no longer a gamer. I paid $60 to become an advertising receptacle.

With the last Madden patch, though, they broke my back. Now, additional ads occasionally pop up in-between plays, docked to the scoreboard.  See an example here.

I've easily spent 75+ hours working on sliders for this game. And this is a process I feel confident in saying that I have a high degree of skill.

The default ratings result in a complete abomination, statistically. After weeks of testing and tweaking, here is the statistical variance (based on 25 games) between CPU vs. CPU games in Madden (with my settings) and real NFL averages:
Total Points: -4.4%
Total Yardage: -8.4%
Passing Yardage: +1.8%
Rushing Yardage: -13.2%
Lost Fumbles: +10.4
Interceptions: -11.3%
Sacks: +12.7%

If you're used to the accuracy of baseball text-sims, those numbers might not look that good. Achieving that level of statistical accuracy with a graphics-based game, though, is far more difficult. That's the highest level of statistical fidelity I've ever seen in a game where the graphics come first.
As I'm testing, though, watching these CPU vs. CPU games, I see these ads pop up, and when I do, I ask myself how I can justify putting all this free time into a game that has so little respect for the customer?  

The answer: I can't.

That's why I'm finishing off the Coach sliders this week and making a cursory attempt at Play sliders for another few days.

Then, I'm done.

I'll play Backbreaker or NHL, both of which are far more fun to play. NHL, even though it's an EA title, doesn't spend the entire game jamming ads up my ass.

Madden's two-minute A.I. is fantastic, and I can tolerate everything that doesn't work quite right. What I can't tolerate is being perceived as an unlimited revenue stream by a company inserting additional ads via patches.

Monday, October 04, 2010

To Clarify

Chris Kohler has a very clear explanation over at Game|Life of why the Nintendo 3DS will be released in the U.S. at no more than $249. It's something I should have realized before I wrote last week's console post, so if you want to understand why we won't be paying $300, then go read Nintendo 3DS: Why ¥25,000 Is Not $300.

Gaming Notes

Ian Bogost wrote a sensational piece for Gamasutra skewering EA's decision to "remove" the Taliban from its upcoming Medal of Honor game. Titled Persuasive Games: Free Speech is Not a Marketing Plan, it's one of the clearest and most precise pieces of writing I've read in a long time.

There's a blog post over at Mode 7 Games (developers of Frozen Synapse) about the startling phenomenon that is Minecraft. It's an excellent explanation about what makes Minecraft unique and why it's been so stunningly successful.

I've gotten a ton of e-mail from you guys asking why I haven't tried Minecraft yet. I was about to, then the game sold about a bajillion copies in three days, and I figured they were just fine on their own in terms of getting publicity. It's still very high on the list of games to try, though, and it's exactly the kind of game I was hoping someone would make.

PC Gamer has an interesting story about Chris Park and Arcen Games. You may remember that I posted recently that Park had been very frank about discussing the company's financial troubles, and in this article, he provides some incredibly detailed financial information that should be of interest to anyone curious about the business of making games as an indie.

He's Gone to a Better Place

Kieron Gillen announced late last week that he was leaving Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Gillen signed an exclusive deal with Marvel to co-write Uncanny X-Men with Eisner award-winning author Matt Fraction. Kieron's been extremely successful in comics, but this is still a big step forward.

Kieron's always been one of my favorites. He's a terrific writer who just happens to play games, and I've greatly enjoyed his work. His pieces have an energy that reminds me of a river always threatening to jump its banks.

Now, if you somehow haven't been lucky enough to read his work, this link is an excellent cure--it's a list of his favorite pieces, and they're all worth reading.

Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2

Gary Gorski let me know this weekend that a new version of Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2 is ready for release. Press release below.

Wolverine Studios is proud to announce that Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2 will be released exclusively from www.wolverinestudios.com tonight, October 4, 2010.

DDS:PB2 puts you in the role of general manager of your favorite basketball team and includes the following new features and more:

• Player Personalities and Media Interaction : Interact with the media who will question you about things happening with your team as well as the players who interact with each other in all new ways thanks to new chemistry and relationship variables
• New Salary/Contract options : An expanded financial system allows you to deal with restricted free agents, team and player contract options and the ability to retain draft rights on rookies you don’t want to sign right away
• Playable European leagues : Play as a team in either the professional or development league or take on an overseas team in one of nine extra in game leagues
• Expansion : Leagues can participate in an expansion process and draft – recreate history just exactly as the league expanded
• Progressive Injury Healing : Players will heal progressively now allowing you to risk them coming back too soon if your team needs their production back in the lineup ASAP
• The Summer of 2010 : This was the biggest summer ever in basketball – you have the option of starting the season as of today or going back and redoing the summer. Can you make things happen differently for your favorite team?

A fully playable demo is currently available from www.wolverinestudios.com and more info and discussion on the game can be found in our forums at http://www.wolverinestudios.com/forum/.


Those are significant upgrades for what was already a deep and interesting strategy game.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Friday Links!

From Ben Younkins, a remarkable discovery: a complete recording (the only one known to exist) of Game Seven of the 1960 World Series (often described as one of the greatest games ever played) found in Bing Crosby's vault.

From Dan Granot, a new entrant into the Badass Hall of Fame: Montana woman fends off bear attack with zucchini.

From Frank Regan (and this will make you laugh if you're old like I am), it's Star Wars TV Intro (Hawaii Five-O Version).

From Jeff Gardiner, an absolutely spectacular series of photos, including thousands of Devil Rays as they mass off the Californian coast.

Here's a bizarre and fascinating epilogue: Al Stump, who wrote what is generally considered a definitive biography on Ty Cobb, was apparently quite a fraud.

From Brian Minsker, and these are all kinds of awesome, it's High-Speed Video of Lightning.

From Michael Clayton, and this is amazing, it's First Human-Powered Ornithopter Flight Recorded by Canadian.

Three very clever gaming videos sent in by Mr. Fritz: The Rocket Jump, Aimbot, and Future Rock Band.

From Sirius, and this isn't a prank, it's the 'Emergency' Bra-Turned-Face Mask. Also, it's A Habitable Exoplanet — for Real This Time.

From John Harwood, something I've never seen before: a triple rainbow.

Brian sent me a link to Game Pitches, which is exactly what you think it would be: "a repository for video game pitches and design documents."

From Shane Courtrille, and I'm not sure life can get more tasteless than this, it's the $1 million Advent calendar.

From Kez, maybe the most amazing interception I've ever seen.

From Jim Moss, and this is stunning, it's An Airplane in Front of the Moon.

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