Over the last few years, I've written about how the state of gaming has discouraged me. It seems like we get less and less, but we pay more and more.
I'm not talking about indie games. Those are still stellar. High-profile, big publisher games, though, seem to have their hand out every fifteen seconds, wanting more money from us.
I've also written in the past about the decision by EA to gut the course creator tool in the Tiger Woods series, a tool which had enabled fans of the game to create their own courses, some of which were more well-designed and faithful to the original than the stock courses.
Gutted, of course, because if the players created their own courses, EA wouldn't have anything more to sell once the game was purchased.
This is how far we've come. Tiger Woods 12 for the 360 ships with 16 courses. $59 for 16 courses. In addition, there are an additional 18 courses (in two separate packs) available for purchase as DLC.
Total cost of the two packs? $50. Total cost of Tiger Woods 12 with all 34 courses? $110.
Seriously, on what planet is that supposed to make sense?
Yes, I know--licensing costs money, course creation costs money, blah blah blah. Of course it does, and that's why you release a version of the course creation tool used by the developers so that dedicated hobbyists can create their own courses.
So instead of EA making $60 from me, I'm going to get the game from Gamefly, take a look, see that the putting stroke isn't fixed (seriously--how many years have the CPU players been talking a backswing almost up to their waist for a one-foot putt?), and send it back.
I'd happily pay $5 for DLC that would fix that shit.
There are many ways to slice the history of gaming, but one of the most decisive is to separate it into pre and post-3D acceleration.
In 1996, both Rendition and 3dfx released graphics cards that were for 3D-acceleration only--no 2D support. So you used a regular graphics card for 2D, and the acceleration card for 3D. These cards also had their own proprietary APIs (for 3dfx, it was "Glide") because Direct3D didn't even exist yet (Open GL did, though, and if I remember correctly, was supported by both types of cards).
Remember, this was 1996, and PC graphics, to put it nicely, looked like ass. Total ass. Then these 3D acceleration cards came out.
I can't remember which card I tried first (I eventually tried both Rendition and 3dfx), but I do remember the moment where my mind was completely blown. It was after I installed the first 3dfx card, when I fired up Mechwarrior 2.
I still remember the first 30 seconds, just staring at the screen in absolute freaking wonder. The game looked absolutely spectacular, so far beond regular PC graphics that it was almost impossible to even connect the two. Colors, frame-rate, textures--it was all amazing.
And the game itself was great. Mechs are conceptually perfect, somehow, and Mechwarrior 2 was a spectacular fleshing out of the concept. The combination of the graphics and the sound effects gave the idea of Mechs impact--you could feel the gigantic forces at play.
That game permanently made me a huge fan of mech games, but after Mechwarrior 2, the quality of the genre began a steady decline. Steel Battalion (2002) was fun (and you used a bad-ass controller), and Chromehounds (2006, 360) had its moments, but that's not much for an entire decade.
Which is why Hawken looks so interesting. Actually, "interesting" is an entirely inadequate word. "Ass-kicking" is far more descriptive. All you need to see is this gameplay trailer and you'll understand what I mean.
Okay, before I get started today, let me note that the 3DS impressions post was grotesquely overwritten. Not that you didn't already know that, but I just thought I would acknowledge the obvious. I was having so much fun, though, that I just kept going, and I wasn't exaggerating, just "language-scaping" to an obscene degree.
There's only one person on earth who can write like that and sound good, and it's not me.
Next, Glen Haag of of The Blog For The Sports Gamer had a terrific podcast interview with Shaun Sullivan, the creator of the PureSim series and someone I've mentioned on a regular basis over the years.
Even if you don't like sports games, this is a terrific podcast, because Shaun talks at length about "the old days," back when we were all beta-testing Front Page Sports: Baseball Pro '98.
I'm not sure there was ever a more dedicated group of beta testers than there was for that game. We were all insane, basically. I was working 50+ hours a week managing a payroll conversion project (some weeks 60+), but I had a laptop at work and I'd dial into my home system several times a day, simming almost a thousand seasons over the course of the last month of testing. This was back in the day when a single season took about (if I remember correctly) fifteen minutes to sim, so I'd start the game simming, go out and work on the payroll project for an hour or so, then come back into my office, look at the statistical results, adjust the .ini file (which tweaked EVERYTHING, including gravity, believe it or not, and had hundreds of settings), and sim again.
That was my little pod, working on statistical accuracy, but every guy who was beta-testing was working like crazy on something. We all drove ourselves to exhaustion, then kept going.
What I was trying to do was achieve a high degree of statistical accuracy, both at the league and invidiual player level--something that had never been done in a graphics-based sports sim. So it was a math exercise, basically, but a very complex one, and I was completely fascinated. And after almost fifteen years, I can still vividly remember the one thing I couldn't get to work right: I couldn't get contact hitters like Tony Gwynn to hit for a high average without also hitting too many home runs.
The game finished development, and the lead developer (a guy named Doug Johnson, who was unbelievably bright--I wonder what happened to him?) shipped my version of the .ini file with the game. Except, unfortunately, he didn't ship the right one, which was totally understandable with all the versions we had flying around. So the right version wasn't included until the first patch, which absolutely killed me (even though no one except Doug and me knew it was my version, it still killed me).
If I had the time, I'd still be working on things like that, and I miss it.
Shaun kept at it, though, and turned into an amazing designer and programmer, as well as keeping the mod-friendly philosophy that seemed to begin with FPSBB (I can't remember an earlier sports game that allowed that kind of tweaking to the game engine, and in terms of graphics-based sports games, I don't think another one ever has allowed it to that degree).
In Shaun's game (PureSim), though, you can mod everything, really, and Front Page Sports Baseball and PureSim were probably the origin of my "let your customers help you improve the game" rule.
In the podcast, Shaun talks about all this and more, and it's a great listen. He's a tremendously interesting guy and a very nice one as well.
I mentioned that PureSim 4 was coming out in time for Opening Day, and it's available now, so if you want to play a terrific baseball sim, it's an excellent choice.
We're a bit short this week. First, trail breaker John Harwood checked in with this: Looks like the tortoise is catching the hare--for this week anyway. I only had an hour of play on Wednesday and a few odd minutes here and there practicing chords at my desk. Had fun, but life obligations combined with stupid Lord Of The Rings Online taking time away again hasn't left me with much time or anything interesting to report for the week.
In truth, he didn't mention one more thing. It seems that he stated repeatedly that he would NOT be being a 3DS at launch. No real interest, and no time. Today, he texted me: 3DS makes me a bit nauseous. How are you doing with it?
That made my week.
Disabuse yourself of the notion that the tortoise is really catching the hare. John will spend five hours one day playing next week and almost double my weekly output. So I'm not catching up as much as I'm temporarily not losing more ground.
Next, expedition guide David Gloier is working on a post about his first month learning guitar--you know, back in the dark ages when we couldn't use a game to help us. That should be in next week's post.
For one week, then, you're stuck with Expedition Member me.
Total playing time (through Monday): 11:00 (2:30 last week)
It was a tough week for me to find playing time as well, since Eli 9.7 had a hockey tournament last weekend (details tomorrow), plus he woke up sick Monday morning and has been out of school the last two days. So I only played five days this week, because life has really been kicking my ass lately.
If you're wondering how playing in Pro and learning how to play the real guitar differs from the little plastic instruments we all knew and loved, I can easily describe the difference: because of the complexity of an actual guitar, the adrenaline rush as you move up the learning curve is substantially muted compared to the plastic toy version. I felt I was racing along with the five-button controller, and it was a great, fun feeling.
Real guitar isn't like that, at least for me. I can feel myself improving, but it's glacial, because there are so many things to learn, and every new piece of knowledge requires more time to absorb.
I'm not saying that a bad thing, because I'm learning something with a purpose, just that it's inevitable that the rush is going to be limited for a while.
Having said that, though, Harmonix, as always, has done a wonderful job with difficulty levels. It is a million times more fun to play actual songs, even if I'm not playing chords yet, than it is to slog through lessons non-stop. I think Harmonix's ability to manage difficulty has always been underappreciated, but it's never been demonstrated as well as now, when it's being learned to use an actual instrument.
It's not like I'm saying this for the first time, but damn, these guys are good.
I've noticed there are a few things in particular that my brain is crawling through. In particular, there are times when my left hand wants to move in the wrong direction, instead of moving in tandem with my right hand. Because my left hand is curled around the neck of the guitar, it almost reverses my perception of movement, so that up feels down and vice versa.
It's also quite a learning curve to pick interior strings easily. The middle two strings are still giving me quite a bit of trouble, although I seem to (finally) be competent with the other four.
Whenever I get frustrated, though, I remember that even two weeks ago, anything but the top or bottom strings were absolute wastelands. Certainly, that's not the case anymore, although I still have a long, long way to go.
There's this moment after the unboxing, a moment when you're holding a children's toy in your hands, a moment when you look into the screen and see another world.
That moment is magic.
It's all inside the screen, a little diorama of other worlds. It's something that simply never existed until now, something that until very recently seemed like a moment out of a science fiction movie. It's not an exaggeration to say that when I first had that moment, when I first saw the tiny world deep inside the screen, I was overwhelmed. As someone who has a deep affection for technology and what it has meant to my life, it was singular and wonderful. I was looking at a dream made whole.
You require details, of course, and I will provide them. The details, though, are dry, and there is nothing dry about this tiny toy, this provider of worlds.
Nothing dry at all.
I spent several hours yesterday and today investigating the 3DS, thinking about what it was and what it meant. Eli 9.7, on the other hand, began playing immediately. "Dad, this is AWESOME," he said, taking a run through a Pilotwings course. It was new for him, but not amazingly so, as he is an adept consumer of the electronic world, and has no knowledge of any age before Wonder.
He rates it highly, this new future. He spent an hour making various Miis, noting that the ability to take a real picture and have it translated into a Mii was "wicked", but was disappointed that the machine was unable to recognize our cats' faces and turn them into Miis as well. It seems that at 9.7, the single question he asks is, "How can I use this as a toy?"
A savvy question, one that is not asked nearly often enough as we grow older.
As for myself, I still ask that question, and far more frequently because of him. Still, though, I note the details as I go. The elegant build quality, the snug feeling of the unit in my hands, the marked improvement in the built-in speakers, the smoothness of the analog stick. It's all so complete, this toy.
It is unquestionably true that the launch titles in no way match the wonder of the unit itself. Most of them I consider entirely insubstantial, although certainly that is at least partially due to the exponential growth in my expectations for the machine once I looked inside. However, playing Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars was a tremendous experience, for it let me see what was possible, the ways in which a world could exist deep inside the screen. Maybe no one will remember this game a year from now, but today, it is the future bundled with the future.
I'm nearing a milestone, if birthdays are milestones, because I will be 50 soon. Years from now, though, all I will use that date for is to easily locate the proximity of the launch of this toy, this silly thing, that made me stare in smiling wonder.
From Michael M., and this is one of the most bizarre (yet strangely listenable) mash-ups I've ever seen: ambient music combined with live police channel radio feeds in major cities. Yes, it's a funny idea, but like I said, it's strangely listenable: You are listening to New York.
I had this list of things I was going to write about today, but this afternoon, a single thought got stuck in my brain.
I received some excellent e-mail from you guys about "The Sames" post, and it was basically of two minds. Most of you felt that the big game companies collapsing wouldn't be a bad thing, really, since it would spur innovation if the gorillas weren't around. Fair enough, although I don't think it would be quit that cut and dried.
There was another set of e-mails, though, that led to what I'm writing about today. These e-mails said that Homefront multiplayer was actually much better than single-player mode, and they felt like the game was being unfairly judged because Homefront was primarily designed as a multiplayer game.
That may be true, and it helped drive home just how difficult it is to be in a position where two million copies have to be sold for the game to break even. The multiplayer component of a game might barely even be up (or not even available yet) when pre-release reviews are being written, and the server population is going to be sparse. How can a writer accurately evaluate that part of the game?
I'm guessing that in many cases, they can't, so they concentrate on single-player mode, and for a game with a multiplayer focus, that may not go well at all.
That's a very difficult needle to thread.
Then I wondered how much this game actually cost THQ, and I poked around until I found this article quoting Michael Pachter, who dropped the figure $50 million several times in reference to Homefront's budget.
$50 million? Seriously?
Let's do a comparison of Homefront with Dwarf Fortress, which is, for my money, the deepest game that's ever been made. Donations to Bay 12 Games (Dwarf Fortress) were just over $54,000 last year. I don't know if Tarn and Zach both live off that amount, but let's go up a bit and estimate (entirely for the purpose of discussion) that their combined expenses are $80,000 a year.
Here's perspective: $50 million either funds the development of Homefront, or it funds the development of Dwarf Fortress for six hundred and twenty-five years.
I'll be picking up my unit on Sunday (in-between games in a hockey tournament), but if you're looking for pre-release coverage, Chris Kohler over at Game|Life has a slew of stories about the unit itself and the launch games. Just hit the link and scroll down the page for a ton of information.
Plants vs. Zombies Soundtrack On Sale For Japan Relief
Tim Lesnick let me know that Laura Shigihara put up a post mentioning that the Plants vs. Zombies soundtrack is on sale for $3.99, with all proceeds going to the relief effort in Japan via Mercy Corps.
Through an irregularity in Eli 9.7s school schedule, his spring break was extended by one day, so he had Monday off. I skate on Monday at noon, so he came with me.
We walked into the rink, and the first thing I saw stopped me in my tracks. "Oh my God," I said.
"Dad, what?" Eli asked, looking in the direction I'd turned. "OH MY GOD!" he said, breaking into giggles.
It sets the tone for the skate when the first thing you see at the rink is this:
(click on the photo for a larger version)
That's a person skating with a dummy wrapped around them.
"This might be the greatest moment of my life," I said as we were putting on our skates, still watching in fascination.
"Mine, too," Eli said, laughing. "What is GOING ON out there?"
"I don't know," I said, laughing. "There's nothing even in my imagination that can explain this."
Preparing for the International Human-Body Pillow Pairs Skating Championship? A scene from an adult film? What on Earth was going on out there?
Before we even hit the ice, the erotically entangled pair had left. I didn't see if they were holding hands.
It was a great day to skate. There were only about half a dozen other skaters, and after we warmed up, I had an idea. "Hey, I'll time you skating a lap forwards, then backwards," I said. "Then you'll be able to see how much you've improved in a few months."
For safety, I told him that he only needed to skate outside one of the two curling circles on each side, so it wasn't quite a full lap. He skated both, then came over to where I was standing. "Now you," he said, smiling.
"I can only do swizzles backwards," I said.
"That's okay," he said. "Just do forwards."
Instead of a standing start, like he did, he let me start at slow speed, and I skated as hard as I possibly could. Then I skated over to him. "Dad!" he said. "Your forwards speed is almost exactly the same as my backwards speed!" Two hundredths of a second difference, to be exact.
I'll take that. For a giraffe on skates, that's a milestone.
After skating, we went to Chuy's lunch, and again, we were greeted by a fantastical sight: the fellow who seated us was sporting a handlebar moustache straight out of the nineteenth century, with period-appropriate sideburns.
Without too strenuous an examination, even his clothing passed muster, although I must admit I was hoping he would go full-on anachronism and wear knickers and a cap, pull a pocket watch out of his vest, and casually mention his velocipede parked in back.
I did manage to stop myself before I asked him to fire up the time machine or head out for a rousing game of rounders, but only barely.
Shaun Sullivan's excellent baseball sim has reached its fourth version, and it's been released. Wolverine Studios, a leader in sports simulation PC gaming, is proud to announce the release of PureSim Baseball 4. Developer Shaun Sullivan has taken his critically acclaimed baseball game to new heights this season with over 230 new features and tweaks making PureSim Baseball 4 the most realistic and accurate simulation of both historical and present day baseball on the market today. PureSim 4 allows players to replay any season in history right up to and including playing out the 2011 season. No other baseball game can match the statistical accuracy or amazing historical features such as “Tru-Life Transactions Mode” which allows you to play seasons from 1920-2010 with transactions happening exactly as they occurred in that season! And best of all you don’t need to purchase a single season disk – every season is included with the full version of the game and an extensive online and desktop manual makes learning the game a breeze for anyone new to the franchise.
PureSim Baseball 4 can be purchased exclusively from www.wolverinestudios.com for only $29.95 and a full feature list detailing all of the new features and tweaks is available at the official PureSim Baseball 4 webite at www.wolverinestudios.com/ps4.html.
There are a series of rare, gaming-related items up for auction as part of Play For Japan, a relief effort for victims of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami. There are some quite wonderful items--a copy of Katamari Damacy signed by Keita Takahashi, for example--so please head over there and take a look.
Expedition member: Me.
Total playing time (through Monday): 8:30 (3:00 last week)
I've discovered two pieces of information that might be helpful if you're just starting out (as I am).
First, sorting songs to get all the Pro guitar songs can be a bit confusing. When you're looking at the song filter list, it's not enough to just have Pro Guitar listed as one of the filters. You also need to go into song difficulty, and at first, none of the difficulties are checked. If you want to see all the Pro Guitar songs, check all the difficulties (beginner, apprentice, solid, nightmare, etc.), or choose difficulties as desired. That's a bit counterintuitive, but it works just fine, and the resulting song list will contain only Pro Guitar songs.
Second, if you're playing songs on Easy level, none of the song difficulty levels will include chords. That gives you a nice practice bank of songs to use for improving your ability to move your hand around the fretboard.
That's what I've been doing for the last week, playing all the Pro songs on Easy (including the downloads), while occasionally slipping in a new lesson. Like I said last week, that's how I learn something, completely exhausting a particular skill before I feel comfortable moving along.
What I'm noticing is that Harmonix, as has always been its particular genius, has once again provided incredibly detailed training, even on the Easy level. It's just incredibly thorough, and I still feel very confident in my ability to learn this freaky, supernatural instrument, because at no point have I felt overwhelmed.
Now, the update from Trail Breaker John Harwood.
Week 3 - 6.5hrs, total 29.75hrs
Highlight - "Werewolves of London" on Hard Bass is a blast! I was able to move up/down a couple of frets along the neck without looking. He can be taught!
Lowlight - Still can't strum fast/accurately enough for "Runaway" on Expert Bass - Clicking a strum bar has nothing on actually using a pick on a string at high speed.
Injury Level - Bah to injuries, I am invincible!!! (And I didn't play much, so promise to try to hurt myself next week)
Didn't get to do a lot of play this week due to kiddos being out on spring break so no time during the day and generally exhausted at the end of day. Only wound up playing Sunday-Wednesday and not much at that. Spent a bit of time reviewing my basic A/D/E chords on Justin's site and now that I have my minute drills cranking up to 62 changes on average, I figured I'd try one of the songs he recommends. Gave "Peggy Sue" a whirl and while I admire him not slowing the song down and making you pay attention and get used to it at speed, that makes yonder learning curve a smidge nasty. Trying to slow it down involved lots of pausing and rewinding his video. I think I'd learn far better with sheet music (high school band geek), so may dig out some of my wife's old music next week. I'm on the cusp of being able to play something on my own from memory and it's both tantalizing and exceedingly frustrating.
Took a crack at the 2nd lesson in the 1st medium lesson set in RB3 and killed it! Just for yucks, went back to the first one and 100%'d it at speed on the first go. The 2 fret split with index and ring finger really is becoming second nature and both of those lessons were complete show stoppers for me a couple of weeks ago, so it's a very nice feeling. My brick wall at the moment is chord changes and I just can't bring myself to play "The Hardest Button to Button" this week, so I focused on bass instead to continue to get my fingers used to moving around to different strings and get better at picking individual strings.
"Runaway" has gotten pretty routine aside from a couple of tricky parts when you go up the neck real quick (and man, do I want to learn those, they're crazy fun and sound great) and while I can sometimes get one direction down, I've yet to move and get back in time to avoid bad things happening.
Tried out "Werewolves of London" and jumped straight in on Bass Hard and it freaked me out the first time having no idea where to position my hands and when to move vs using other fingers, but then I had a major "duh" moment when I figured out the game is giving me more information than I thought it was: the numbers on the strings in the game are located relative to which finger you should be using. So if the number is centered, that's your middle finger, left side would be index, etc. That makes slowing things down in practice a whole new experience and vastly more useful and I completely take back my thoughts that Harmonix was assuming too much out of me when it came to the single note positioning. It was there all along. I'll need to go back through and review the video tutorials to see where they mentioned that (since I'm sure they did), but I managed to completely miss that.
So after my major Revelation of the Incredibly Obvious, "Werewolves" turned out to be a complete blast. Now I know where to put my hand so it does the most good (and presumably the beginnings of getting used to which finger you'd usually use where in general) and from there it was just a matter of getting the strumming down after practicing a bunch with just my fret hand. Noticed that I was easily moving from the 5th fret with ring finger down to the 2nd fret with my index finger (that's farther than you can stretch) without looking! That's a first! And it was just crazy-satisfying to be able to move your hand down and back without looking and just knowing how far I should move. I presume that'll get easier and I'll take it for granted, but for now that's mighty cool. Akin to when you master the orange button for the first time on Plastitar in Rock Band.
In sad expedition news this week, I believe we've lost Tour Guide David Gloier. After a steady exchange of e-mails in which he's getting progressively more interested in playing guitar and progressively less interested in using a real guitar to play Rock Band, he sent me this:
You know what it is? It's that I didn't need the training bits of the game. I pretty much know how to play. Do I know everything? No way, but that part of the game taught me nothing new. Well, it taught me a new system for reading tabs that I probably didn't need taking up space in my brain. haha. Playing the songs is fun, if I'm into that particular song, but much like the game with the original controller, I start to feel like I'm just parroting the songs. It really makes me want to turn it off and plug a guitar into an amp and just play without the restrictions the game imposes, and there are quite a few restrictions.
It has made me feel much more confident in my playing because sometimes it's hard to judge where you're at when you are learning by yourself, 5-starring some songs on expert quickly made me realize I'm more capable than I, at times, believe.
I really do hope that people who pick this up just use it as a stepping stone to further their playing. I'm sure some will master this game with the Squier and think they've learned all there is to learn, but that would be wrong. I think it can provide a good base and structure to get people off on the right foot and provide enough of a reward system to hold their interest during some of the most tedious parts of learning to play.
Harmonix has done a great job. A lot can be improved, but for the first shot out of the gate with this control scheme, they did pretty damn well.
Now, the plot twist. I e-mailed David and asked if he was bowing out, and he sent back this:
Don't sign me off just yet. I'll get back into it. Hell, I've got $400 invested in the game and controller. What choice do I have. It just made me realize how much fun a guitar and an amp can be. So much more nuance.
I'll attempt to keep playing at least once or twice a week and see if I can give you any more feedback. I really feel I need to play it, but it so much easier to just plug in to an amp. There's no menu and loading screens. ;-)
You can sum up my thoughts as "If you already know your way around a guitar, you may want to spend some time with it before taking the plunge and making a major purchase."
A large part of this might also be attributed to the fact that I just don't play games very much anymore. They don't hold my interest for very long. Every game I've bought in the last three years holds my interest for about a week and then I never get back to it. Is it a coincidence that this started about the time I picked up a guitar for the first time?
So, in summary: we still have an expedition guide, John has outplayed me roughly 3.5 to 1, and I'm still pluggging away at the rate of 30 minutes a day. And if you missed the bolded section in John's portion, by all means, go back and read it.
I've written at length about the curious phenomon of major publishers (Activision, EA, Take 2, Ubisoft, and THQ) pursuing roughly the same strategy: fewer released games, fewer new franchises, a focus on "AAA" titles, and massive marketing support.
Let's call this strategy "The Sames."
Homefront has been well-hyped and well-advertised. Big budget. It's the poster child for The Sames.
Now remember, a lynchpin of The Sames is that "we're only releasing excellent games", like anyone should have ever been releasing games that weren't excellent. With substantially fewer games getting released, these games have to hit. There's no room for either a critical or commercial failure.
Or, heaven forbid, both.
So this game is a big, big deal for THQ, because it could develop into a multi-year franchise, potentially. They're sure to have put all kinds of effort and polish into the game. They have to make a great first impression.
Singe-player campaign: five hours. That certainly makes an impression.
So do the reviews. MetaCritic average of 71. That represents 56 reviews, with 3 of 90 or above and 18 below 70.
Here's what I don't understand. Is it possible that an entire company believes they're making an "A" game, but in reality, it's a "C-" game? How is that kind of gap possible?
So here's the conundrum. Either THQ can't tell what represents an "A" game, or they're not capable of making one.
Well, there's a third possibility--they knew it was going to be a "C" game to critics, but thought it didn't matter because consumers would see that it was G**damned awesome.
Chances of that happening? Well, not so much. Advance sales were high, but it seems like there is very little chance of word of mouth being generally positive. So the marketing campaign gets you to 750,000 copies, but the game has to actually be reasonably good to get from there to two million copies (which THQ said was the break-even point).
Another problem. THQ was trying to cash in on the Call Of Duty juggernaut, but every game that tries to do this must be good enough to drag people away from Call Of Duty. COD multiplayer is staggeringly popular, with a strong social component that has developed over time, so for a new game to succeed, it has to convince not only individual players to play a new multi-player game, but also their friends.
What are the chances of that happening with a new game in the same genre? 10%? At most?
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with The Sames. Big budgets. Big, big risk. THQs stock dropped over 20% in one day last week over doubt about its commercial viability in the face of a withering critical reception.
Who is smart enough to make bets of this size on the future of a company?
That's why The Sames is going to blow up a few companies entirely, and they'll be purchased at bargain basements prices by (ironically) other companies pursuing the same strategy.
Laura Shigihara, who you might know as the composer/singer of the ridiculously charming "Zombies On Your Lawn", recorded a beautiful and poignant cover version of Kyu Sakamoto's "Ue o Muite Aruko" on YouTube as a message to the Japanese people. You can see it here.
From Daniel Schoonover, and this is absolutely the single most incomprehensible unicycling video I've ever seen--a unicyclist who completed the Fargo Street Hill Climb. I ride that same size wheel, and believe me, that guy is Superman.
I saw an interesting little snipped in the most recent issue of Popular Science about a secret Chinese space program, circa 1971: Mao's culture of secrecy surrounded China's first manned space program, Project 714. It was so covert that it had trouble getting funding, had only one telephone, and just managed to build a cardboard-and-wood mock-up of a spacecraft.
I know what you're thinking--greatest band name ever, and also the perfect metaphor for me trying to learn how to play guitar. It looks like "Communist Gorilla Manifesto", the second greatest band name ever, is going to be retired later tonight.
Okay, I know I've mentioned the Gawker redesign and it's craptastic qualities, but things keep happening that just blow my mind. I just went to Kotaku (the first time in several days, because the navigation is so incredibly annoying), and here's what I see:
One year ago, at spring break, he decided that he wanted to learn how to skate. When I skated today at that same rink, I saw this year's version of his learn to skate class, and my mind could not wrap itself around the difference.
One year. How is that possible?
On Saturday, Eli's team played its last game of the season, and he was in goal. He was sharp right from the open, and so was his team. It was quite a game, because they were outshot 25 to 9, but Eli stood on his head and made 22 saves, and 5 of the 9 shots his team did take wound up scoring. So they won 5-3, which was a nice end to the season.
Only it wasn't the end of the season, at least for Eli, because he always wants to play in the second game, too, and it seems like one of the teams is always short a skater. So he played in the second game, but much to my surprise, he played two full periods at center.
And, without a hint of fatherly exaggeration, he tore it up.
He was a complete pain in the ass. He scored once and almost scored twice more, had some excellent passes (including one that should have led to a goal), and always seemed to be around the puck.
And, much to your surprise, I have video.
I finally remembered to bring the Flip, so if you choose, you can watch him in goal in the first game, then see him score in the second. And if you get bored, but still want to see him score, then go to 4:15 to see the post-first game celebration, and the second game highlights start at 4:30 (they last about a minute, and he's in the silver helmet). Oh, and if you have the bandwidth, it's better in HD (720P).
By the way, it only took me about ten minutes to make the video--Flip has some very nice tools to make simple videos, including that very nice transition between clips.
Surely, that's it for hockey and spring break, right? Nope. Not even close.
On Sunday, we drove to Dallas for the Stars game--our first NHL game. And it was fantastic. Then we drove home. All in all, a considerable day trip.
Then on Monday throught Wednesday (today), there were spring break stick and pucks.
In this case, though, there was a bonus.
For some reason, the Texas Stars were practicing at our local ice rink yesterday and today, so Eli got to watch two practices. And the players were unbelievably generous with their time--after they finished practice, every single player signed anything and everything the kids had for them. Eli had his goalie mask signed by at least a dozen different players.
Then there was Tyler Beskorowany.
Tyler is a 20-year-old phenom, a second round draft pick who played only ten games for the Idaho Steelheads before being moved up to the AHL. He's been identified as the top goaltending prospect of the Dallas Stars, and it looks like he has a very bright future in the NHL.
He was one of the last players to come off the ice, and since Eli is a goalie, he really wanted to talk to him. Which he did, for a few moments, and then Tyler handed Eli his backup stick.
That made Eli's month. Or year. Mine, too.
Then Tyler hung around so that we could take pictures of the kids with him. Here's the Gang Of Four (goalies), only with Tyler, it's the Gang Of Five:
The stick has Tyler's name on it, and when he makes it to the NHL, Eli will have the stick of an NHL goalie. Here's Eli in a very proud pose:
Okay, this is long as hell again, and I decided to stop trying to edit it, because each of us has a different point of view that will be useful for some people. We're still all over the place, stylistically, but I'm not sure that matters, either.
Expedition member: Me.
Total playing time (through Monday): 5:30 (2:30 last week)
I missed two days last week, one due to I'm Too Damned Exhausted To Play Guitar Today disease and one day when we drove to Dallas to see Eli 9.7s first NHL game (mine and Gloria's, too).
I realized early last week that the lessons were starting to far outrun my skill level. I was in chord lessons and still couldn't even reliably pluck single strings while moving my hand around to one of what--132 possible finger positions?
Good grief, those are just the possible non-chord positions. A complicated endeaver, this six-stringed sound-producing thingie.
I remembered John mentioning last week that I absolutely needed to play some songs, but who listens to a man who can get blisters below calluses? This time, though, I took his advice, which turned out to be a good thing, because I really needed more practice just moving around on the guitar and holding a single fret down.
I went into the song list, sorted on Pro Guitar with the two lowest difficulty levels selected, and got a nice list of songs to play that are very manageable on Easy (including three Clash songs--hell, yes). So I've gotten much more practice just moving my hand around, and I'm much more comfortable now. I'm about to the point where I'm ready to go back to the lessons and try to move along a bit.
Again, that's the difference in John's style and mine. I want to have everthing nailed down and in place before I move on, which I know slows me down at times. But I don't like having to go back. I like it when gone means gone.
If you're playing songs, I would highly recommend trying it in No-Fail mode without the Squier being hooked up (just have the MIDI box connected, which will let you select songs, etc.). The reason I'm saying that is because it's really, really easy to get dependent on the visual feedback you're getting from the game in terms of what fret you're pressing. So every second or third day, I force myself to play "blind", so that I get used to sensing the travel between frets instead of just reading numbers off the screen. I think that both improves your technique as well as improving your ability to play the game.
Let's move on to someone who actually knows what the hell they're doing.
Expedition member: David Gloier
Tons of good info this week from our Expedition Guide:
--As for setting the guitar up this may help: Setting Up Your Electric Guitar
Just reverse the direction it says to turn the truss rod. The adjustment screw on the Squier is the opposite, due to the fact that it turns another gear that turns the actual truss rod, I think. The instruction manual that comes with the guitar tells your which way is which.
--I was rereading John's thoughts and let him know that while he's learning the chords, starting with the open position, and moving forward, turn the strum detection off and just make the chord shapes. The game will track it and give feedback and his (and your) brain can work on connecting the dots. Then bring the strumming back in. When I was first learning, working the fret hand and the strum and the same time could be like patting your head and rubbing your stomach simultaneously. Build up the left hand memory and then bring the right hand in.
Also, when doing chord exercises, it really helped me to call out the chord when I made it on the fret board. It just helps drive it into your brain a bit more.
[Here are a set of thoughts on the Squier controller. David doesn't like it much compared to "dedicated" guitars]:
--after playing guitar for three years, this is by far the most fragile-feeling guitar I've ever played. You can tell all the money is in the technology.
--is not very easy, as the tuners are stiff with almost no fine control. Dialing in with them is frustrating.
--The plastic on the fretboard creaks and cracks where it is connected to the wood neck. That's a bit disconcerting. I'm not about to try a neck bend with this thing. !Crack!
--The neck is deep, a function of a thicker than normal fretboard attached to the neck. You feel it in your hands and wrist. The frets definitely take some getting used to, as well, if you are used to well-dressed frets on another guitar. They aren't very smooth and bends, especially on the higher strings, can be tough due to the little bits that divide the frets between the sensor areas.
--This thing is super light. It's lighter than my Danelectro. I didn't think that would be possible.
--After really working on setting the thing up properly, it still feels a bit loose everywhere. It seemed fine for about a day after I set it up, but it didn't really hold after a day or two of hard playing.
--It still feels like a bit of a toy to someone used to his other guitars.
----Having said all that, though, it's really a lot of fun. After 20+ hours, it's still holding up and it makes my other guitars a pure joy to play.
A couple of useful technical notes:
--Fender/Squier says to only use .9-.42 gauge strings on this things. Anything heavier will void the warranty. I'm guessing any heavier gauge would put too much tension on that neck.
--if you have any problems, it's covered for a year under Fender's warranty and you can take it to any authorized Fender repair shop (and not have to send it in).
I think that's probably the bottom line for most people like David who can play guitar, but also want to play a real guitar with Rock Band--the Squier is certainly limited, but for what it's designed to do, it's pretty damned good.
Now, notes from Trail Breaker John Harwood:
Week 2: 6hrs, total 23.25hrs
Highlight: Getting chord progression down on "The Hardest Button to Button" hitting 90% goal on Hard.
Lowlight: Having to play "The Hardest Button to Button" a bunch (sorry, Bill) [Ed. note: John knows I love the White Stripes.]
Injury level: Moderate - Wrist pain hasn't fully subsided, but isn't as sharp as it was near the end of the first week. Managed to blister my ring finger under the callous that has started forming. Didn't know you could do that.
Not nearly as much play this week. Not really due to injury limitations as much as life and time limitations, I certainly would have liked to play more and my hands for the most part felt up to it. To be fair, while it was only 6 hours total, it was also only 4 days of play.
I've been trying to find songs that I could play up on hard or expert on both guitar and bass and narrowed it down to a few songs: "Runaway" on bass (like that song a lot), "I Love Rock and Roll" and "The Hardest Button to Button" (ugh) on guitar. And of course I stumbled on the easiest song to play on expert bass...
Tried out "We Will Rock You" and quickly noticed it not only has the same pattern for the entire song, it uses "muted" chords so you just have to deaden the strings, don't need to actually fret a chord. Well alrighty then! Took probably 15 minutes to get the strum pattern down since it did involve changing which 3 strings you were strumming, but once I had it down I had a nearly clean run at 99% and wound up ranked #50. This doesn't necessarily mean much since I frequently wind up ranked, but am probably the 99th of 99 people who have played, etc. Tried again and got 100% and moved up to #42 but missed the overpower sequence and decided to give it one last go. Nailed it and hit #1 ranking!! Granted it was me and 3 other people (and soon will be way more), but still... #1 baby!!
"Runaway" on bass proved to be very difficult to get going on. It doesn't have a lot of changes, but it does move around a fair bit between the 5th & 6th strings on the 1st-5th frets and that's just enough to be challenging and tricky for me at this point. Tried it again on expert and man, I just can't strum 16th notes at all, stumble all over the pick. So settled on hard as the level to work on and kept at it. Can now run 93-95% on it and it's really only a couple of times where it jumps to the 4th string or runs up the neck a bit that are giving me issues. Getting pretty satisfying and feels like I'm really playing the song even if I'm still only playing half the notes.
"I Love Rock and Roll" was fun to get down on medium guitar, but the type of chords and shape of your hand needed for hard guitar proved too much for my wrist pain at this time, so I sucked it up and moved over to "The Hardest Button to Button" to see how it was. First few times medium guitar really floored me on this because there's a 2-string chord followed by picking each string followed by moving to a new chord and repeating. Had to really work at that to get the progression down, but managed to get fairly solid at it. Later on there was an even trickier section of chord changes, but managed to get that down reasonably well. Probably took a solid hour to get to the point where I could 95% that on medium and even then, that's pretty much me memorizing the changes and playing while looking at the guitar. Unfortunately, this has taken me from being a few thousand points away from Bill to a few 10Ks away, so hung the carrot a smidge further away from him. Sorry, Bill.
For yucks, once I started getting medium guitar down on "The Hardest Button To Button", I moved on and tried hard guitar a bit. That was considerably tougher because it jumps right into the 2-string chord followed by individual string picking and then moves on to a nastier 3 fret, 4-string chord at a fairly fast strum pattern later. Spent another 30 minutes breaking that down and working on it, but I'm still awfully spastic when trying to do those changes at speed. There's a section at the end where there's several measures pause between the changes and I can nail that, but the part where it's alternating is pretty tricky. Only hitting around 75-80% on hard guitar at this point, but I can see that will eventually be doable.
The other thing I spent some time with was Justin's 1-minute drill where you see how many changes you can do between two chords in 60 seconds. First time I did this, it was a bit tricky and when I timed it, going between the D/E/A chords (I hate hate hate A because I really have trouble fitting 3 stubby fingers on adjacent strings), I averaged only 29 changes in 60 seconds. That was actually faster than I thought I could do, but showed how tricky it is to do those when you don't really know them that well. Good news is that by the end of the week, I was up to averaging 54 changes in 60 seconds between those 3 chords. I think this is a completely brilliant practice technique and is really good at helping memorize chords and changes and you spend just minutes each day working on it. No single other technique gives me as much satisfaction as this one. I also used this when trying to get down the changes in "The Hardest Button To Button" on hard guitar and this is something I'll go back to again and again when learning a new song.
The addendum is "oops", because Ben was going to respond, with a final response by me as well. That's what happens when you post-date something and forget to change the date if it's still not finished. However, Ben is going to respond later, so it will just be split into two parts.
DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand sent me an e-mail about 3D recently, and that morphed into a discussion that represented the two basic perspectives concerning the future of 3D. With his permission, I'm going to share it with you.
Here's the e-mail from Ben that kicked everything off: As we have talked at length in the past about movie trends, here's one I don't think everyone sees coming: the possible/inevitable collapse of 3D on biological grounds.
I'm not a fan of the gimmick in general, so I am watching with great interest how the huge wave of next projects goes through the pipeline.
Ben included a link to Roger Ebert's blog that discussed 3D from the perspective of Walter Murch, a highly decorated film and sound editor. Murch had several technical objections to 3D, but this was his most strident: But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.
But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.
...We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.
Later, Murch also mentions this: And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.
I highly recommend reading the entire post (hit the link mentioned above), but that will be enough to continue if you're lazy (I certainly can't throw any stones about that trait).
Here's how I responded to Ben:
All of the limitations you mention about current 3D technology are absolutely true. However, it's also true that these issues are relative--3D is darker than 2D, not dark. And the color palette is not as rich as 2D, but I don't think it's poor. And some people get headaches, but not most people.
If you took 100 people, put them in a 3D movie, and asked if they noticed the darkness and the change in color palette, I'm almost certain that very few people would. I would, but that's because I'm a bit of a video nerd. Eli doesn't, and couldn't really care less.
So really, what we need to figure out is what percentage of people have a poor 3D experience because of the issues you mentioned, and whether improved technology can mitigate those issues. I know that there is one reader who consistently e-mails me to complain about 3D, and says his eyes are unable to do the separation necessary. But the positive e-mail is easily 15x or 20x that.
So if we say that 10% of people (I think that's a little high, but you probably think it's a little low, so a good compromise) have a compromised experience, is that going to kill the market for 3D? I don't think it would. What I do think is that crappy 3D movies have a much better chance of killing it. I've seen a few movies (quite a few of them animated, obviously, like Coraline) that were wonderful in 3D, and quite a few more that were more fun (Journey to the Center of the Earth is a good example). And speaking only for myself, "good 3D" definitely does things to immerse me in a movie that 2D just can't do.
In the sense of future improvements, there's a gigantic financial incentive for anyone who develops technology to improve the 3D experience. At this point, it's a cinematic Holy Grail, for lack of a better term. Actually, it could be much more than that--it could be a life preserver for the film industry, because really, I have a better movie experience at home with a 42" plasma, in many ways, than I do at a theatre.
I do think the line of reasoning that some people (not you, obviously) hate new technology is relevant, particularly when you're dealing with critics of a medium when that medium has been substantially altered. That's always been true, and I think it's those critics who are probably least relevant when discussing new tech, because they have very deep grooves in their head about film, for example, and 3D is an entirely new groove. Talkies were going to ruin movies. Films in color were going to ruin movies. Everything new is going to ruin movies. There's always a group of people, and they're often influential, for whom everything new is base compared to what came before.
3D also requires directors to think in new ways about how they want to film something. I mean, there should be additional artistic impressions available due to the natural depth that 3D allows (I'm not talking about cheesy effects). So they have to change as well. It seems like it would be as different, in some ways, as changing from shooting in black and white to color, or going from silent to talkies.
I still strongly believe that autostereoscopic 3D will be on 42" home sets by the end of this year or next. It will suck, at first, but within five years, it's going to be pretty damn good. And that's going to signal a huge shift in how television is watched. I've seen good autostereoscopic 3D once, and it was incredible.
I thought some of Murch's arguments were straw men, and that he sounded snobby in general (highfalutin', for lack of a better word). That entire "dreamlike" argument was just ridiculous--I know that Coraline, in particular, was incredibly engrossing because the 3D made me feel like I was looking into a real world, not seeing a flat one on the screen. There was a remarkable kind of intimacy, almost like I was seeing a secret world that existed inside the movie screen.
From DQ Reader And Official Japanese Correspondent Michael M, received earlier today: It's 2 a.m. here and I'm still wide awake. Quake happened ~14:46. So it's been 12 hours since the main shock and there are still aftershocks! Just felt one about 2 minutes ago. Thought it might be ok to go to sleep, but... apparently I was wrong: Latest Earthquakes In The World [note: aftershocks up to 6.8 magnitude]
Am frazzled from the aftershocks, but otherwise, am in a dry, heated house with electricity and internet, so I can't complain. Just east of my house, the power is out, so I'm lucky by the skinniest of margins.
For an idea of where I'm at, I live in Utsunomiya (76mi. N. of Tokyo). Sendai is about 150mi. N/NE of me. So what Tokyo got, I got worse. However, I wasn't in an area teeming with millions of people or full of tall buildings. (aftershock hitting right now... just wish they'd stop!) This is what happened to Tokyo: skyscrapers swaying.
I couldn't even watch all that. I didn't have tall buildings, but I did watch a forklift in my parking lot bounce around a bit. Almost fell over a few times as well (just standing on asphalt). Not a great feeling. Impressive, but not great.
That video of the skyscrapers is astonishing--it looks like they're swaying 10-15 feet in each direction, at least.
For everyone in Japan, I hope you and everyone close to you is well.
DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh sent in a totally amazing link: a mini-documentary of Mike Curiak biking the 1100 mile Iditarod Trail. Temperatures ranged from 40F to -45F, and he was alone. Solo. Incredible, and here are the videos.
From Dib O, a staggeringly beautiful set of images (with photographer voice-over): Human Planet.
If you ever wondered what the Appalachian Trail looks like, now you can see all of it-- in four minutes.
From Logan Griffall, another one of those mind-blowing videos of wingsuit flying. Believe me, it's amazing.
Eli 9.7 had a meltdown at hockey practice on Tuesday.
I picked him up at school, like I always do on Tuesdays, and he was at early stick and puck, just like always. I told him a few weeks ago, because he had been coveting a particular hockey stick, that when he could put 3 of 5 pucks into the net--on the fly--from the red dot in the curling circles, that I would get him the stick.
Those red dots were where had to shoot from, and it's a very long shot for both his size and his skill level. He decided to go and shoot, and occasionally would put one in, more often shooting and landing a foot or two outside the net.
He became progressively more frenzied as he shot, claiming that he already succeeded on 3 or 5 shots, but I didn't see that--I saw occasional successful shots, followed by 2 or 3 failures. He was so frustrated that he banged his stick on the ice repeatedly, which is something I've never even seen him do before.
"WHAT?" he said as he came off the ice. "I WON that stick, I SWEAR!" He had sort of a wild look in his eyes, one I don't think I've even seen before.
"Well, I didn't see it that way," I said, "and since there appears to be a dispute over what counts and what doesn't, let's come up with a scoring system. You take a shot, look back at me, and I will raise a finger if it counts, and lower a finger on my other hand if it doesn't. That way we both agree it's fair. And if you can do it, I'm sure you'll be able to do it again next week."
"Next week! That's NOT FAIR!" This was a singular moment for Eli, at least in terms of how I know him, because I can't remember the last time I saw him this upset.
"Look, I can't believe you're this upset about a hockey stick," I said. "What else happened today?" We started talking, and as it turned out, he had gone to study hall at lunch and somehow didn't have time to eat lunch. That would knock anyone down several pegs, and even though we had an early dinner after I picked him up, he was still hungry.
"So let's find something we can do to help this," I said. Food first."
"Yeah. I'm just having a meltdown, Dad," he said, his voice shakey, with a few tears. I gave him a long hug.
"Well, we have fine dining machinery located in the rink," I said, "and I have plenty of quarters. You are in desperate need of a snack."
One small bag of Oreos later. "I feel better," he said. "Almost fine now."
"All right," I said. You had a bad moment, but don't let it ruin all the good things that can still happen today. Don't give away the rest of your day."
"I won't, Dad," he said. Even has he said that, though, I knew how hard it is to come back from something like that. Plus, one of his friends (also a goalie) had forgotten his shoulder pads, so Eli (who wanted to skate in early practice, then play goalie later, so we brought both his bags) had to sacrifice his goalie session so his friend could use his shoulder pads.
"That's a hard thing to do, but it was a good thing," I said, as his friend left the dressing room and I helped him tie his skates. "Now here's the tricky part."
"What?" he asked.
"The tricky part is enjoying his happiness, so that you don't regret what you gave up."
"I don't really feel happy," he said. "I wanted to play goalie."
"I know," I said. "It takes time to be able to feel that way. But being generous is the right start. Now go out there and get something good out of this."
Yesterday, I thought about what he had said, and thought about anger. I've certainly had problems with anger at various times in my life, although Eli's helped me with that, because I never feel angry around him. Trying to understand how I could help him made me look at anger in a more honest way than I usually can.
When Eli came home from school, he wanted to immediately go outside and play catch. We do that almost every day. Today was baseball day, so we wore gloves and threw tennis balls back and forth to each other, chatting easily. After a few minutes I said, "Eli, let's talk about yesterday for a minute."
"Okay," he said. "Why?"
We kept up a nice throwing rhythm as we talked.
"Well, anger is an important thing to understand when you feel it. Do you know what anger is most like?" I threw the ball back to him.
He caught the ball, paused, then shook his head. "No," he said.
"Fire," I said. Anger is fire. And what does fire do?"
"It burns," he said.
"Yes," I said, "and it destroys. Usually."
"Usually? Isn't it like that all the time?" he asked.
"No, it's not," I said. "Can you think of a relatively recent example where anger played an important role in changing our country?"
He cocked his head for a moment. "No," he said.
"When black people were treated disgracefully, and enough people got angry that they began to peacefully demonstrate. They were taking their anger and doing something deeply powerful with it, something that would make our country better."
"That makes sense," he said.
"Yes, and that's how anger works. Left alone, it just burns. But as a spur to do something positive, it can be used for all kinds of good things. Powerful things. So when you feel anger, think first about something positive that you can do, then do it. Don't let the fire burn you up."
"Dad, I'm sorry about yesterday. I really am."
"It's okay," I said. "Anger is very difficult to control. There are lots of grown-ups who can't deal with their anger, and it makes them unhappy every day. Learning how to turn anger into something positive is a skill, like learning how to play goalie. We'll help each other learn."
It was almost dark now, and turning cool. Eli always wants to throw until even the bright yellow tennis balls turn gray against the sky, so we kept throwing, laughing when we couldn't even see the ball to catch it.
Deep caving, remarkably, is a combination of mountain climbing (in reverse), deepwater diving, and an expedition on Mars. That's how it was described in the book, anyway, and it's a stunning read. As difficult as it is to climb the world's highest mountains, it's even more difficult and more technically challenging to explore the deepest caves. Also, the level of discomfort that must be endured is truly mind-blowing.
The deepest cave (so far) is Krubera (in Georgia, and I don't mean the Peachtree State), is over 7,100 feet and extends for over nine miles. The level of environmental hostility encountered in exploring this beast is carefully documented, as well as parallel (in a literary sense) expeditions in Mexio by U.S. cavers who were (and are) also trying to find the deepest cave in the world.
There's obsession in this story, of course, and madness, and betrayal. A corking good story, in other words, and even more interesting because it's true. If you have any interest in exploration or adventuring, or just want to read a terrifically written book, then hit the link at the top.
I skated today and I was wretched. I can "do" crossovers at will, but they're awful--I look like Judy The Wonder Horse answering math questions as I paw the ground with my skate. I just slap it down, and then I'm not in position to do anything quickly because I'm in a very weak position. Since I'm not doing it right, though, it's hard to get the feel of what I should be doing.
My skating instructor is very nice and very skilled, and he's a ton of help, but I would learn easier with more engineering/physics-based explanations. So instead of showing me a body position that I can't really duplicate, he could explain to me all the forces and angles involved, which would help me understand what needs to happen and why, and I could sort it out from there.
This is all relative, because I skated for half an hour and didn't come close to falling even once, so I've gotten much better, but I always pay much more attention to the wasps than the cake.
I heard something very interesting at the rink yesterday. There was a figure skater, probably in her 20s, and she was working on something or other about thirty feet away from me. I had my back turned to her, and I heard this sound like a high-pitched helicopter rotor. I turned around and she was doing a "scratch spin"--the move where skaters spin around at very high speeds.
I turned back around and kept doing my BabySkate 101 practice move, and then I heard the sound again. I turned around and this time, there was no doubt--it was her.
The sound was coming from her skate blades.
Have you ever seen the cartoons where the superhero starts to spin at high speed? It was a variation on that sound, with the helicopter rotor thrown in.
I never think of figure skating as a powerful sport, but those skate blades were telling me something entirely different.
Here's the story on the copied blog, courtesy of Tateru Nino: There seems to be a whole industry that involves scraping posts off of other sites, maybe using an automated tool to change a few things like the byline and a few words here and there (so that it doesn't look like an exact copy to search engines), and then using that to link to other sites, or to farm ad revenue, or indeed to do drive-by malware installs.
Site investigator John Q. Anonymous (because he did it at work, so I'm not sure he wants his name out there) found this: Bad. Badbadbad.
There may have been a click done from behind the safety of our firewall.
That may have resulted in at least 9 windows popping open.
So there you go. However, since it's not really safe to go there, let me share a screenshot, because the layout really is quite spiffy. Again, DO NOT GO THERE (do I need to repeat that?). Here you go:
Now I know what you're thinking: hey, why don't you rip off their design of your blog? Believe me, that's tempting at some level, but hell, I'm lazy. So it's much easier for me to just come up with a slogan for Dubious Quality: Homely, by design.
Expedition member: Me.
Total playing time (through Monday): 3:00 (:30 a day)
The first thing I noticed is that a real guitar is heavy. Really heavy, compared to our collective legacy of plastic guitar controllers.
Then I noticed that I didn't know anything. I didn't know how to properly hold the guitar or how to hold a pick. Trail breaker John Harwood, though, pointed me to Justin Guitar, which has a ton of video training lessons that were just what I needed. Very pleasant fellow, very clear explanations, and very enjoyable. Just hit the link and scroll down to "TB-The Basics."
Here's an example of what I've learned from the videos: I didn't know that you're supposed to press the string down next to a fret--not on the fret itself. I had no idea, and it makes a big difference.
Expedition guide David Gloier advised me, when I asked him about tuning, to go buy a Snark. It's $30, it's dead simple to use, and you can (literally) tune a guitar in less than two minutes. Well, well worth it.
When you sit down and you're ready to start the in-game tutorials, there's a white plastic bar underneath your strings that has to be in the "up" position, against your strings. If it's not, then push the bar all the way down, and then it should pop back up and actually be touching the strings. This is the string "mute", and if you don't do it, note detection in-game is going to be spotty, at best.
Next thing: Pro mode is absolutely fantastic. The tutorials have plenty of hand-holding, and there's also plenty of feedback (you can see your hand position on the screen, which is incredibly helpful). It's a magnum opus, and certainly the finest work Harmonix has ever done (and that bar is set very, very high). It's a privilege to play, and I'm not trying to be a smartass when I say that.
Now, after you play a few lessons, you absolutely have to buy an amp so that you can hear yourself. You're going to hear the notes you're actually producing if you're plugged in to an amp, and it's going to teach you all kinds of things about your technique. I haven't tried being plugged in to an amp while I'm actually playing the game yet--I've just had the game in no-fail mode so that I could see all the notes, then played along. Plus, if you do it this way, you won't see your hand position, so it forces you to move your hands "blind", which will help you develop your technique. If you just listen to the notes you're playing, you'll know where your hands are. I learned all kinds of things about my finger position on the frets by listening to myself play.
If you want to play along like I've been doing, just leave the MIDI-PRO box connected as your controller. That lets you get to Pro guitar mode, even without a guitar connected. So you can select lessons, etc., turn on No-Fail mode, and just play along to the notes on screen.
Okay, now a few notes from guide David Gloier. This is more of a collection of tips he sent me over the last few days instead of a narrative.
Expedition member: David Gloier
--when you are tuning, you just pluck the note once and let it ring, making adjustments until it tunes to that note. Make sure you're plucking the string open, not fretting anywhere. Oh, also, make sure the string dampener is in the down position.
--you need to pick up a real amp to run this thing through. While the game is going to teach you the basic techniques, with the strings dampened you'll never learn how to work the strings for your tone. With it up, its like constantly palm muting and there is no play in the strings. You miss a lot of nuance.
--the way the game displays chords and the tabs is not jiving with what my brain is used to. I mess with the song a bit, then move to one of my other guitars and just play it without the game and I can get into the rhythm of the song naturally. Then I go back and complete it on the game. My brain doesn't know how to process the on-screen info yet. Really interesting. I hadn't realized how much I don't "think" about my playing. The game interferes with how my brain and my hands have learned to work together.
--after fooling around with that White Stripes song ["The Hardest Button To Button"], I plugged in a regular guitar and just nailed the song. Wasn't note perfect with the original, but I didn't know that song at 5:30 this evening and now I can play it without thinking about it too much. I think that's a win.
--played some this morning before work. I think I'll will be primarily using this as a song trainer and highly doubt I'll ever be playing the game for scores. A little pro tip (not that I'm a pro) for you and John: use a little NuSkin or some other liquid bandage on your fingertips to give you some artificial callouses til the real ones come in.
--I noticed the action is a little high, at least on my guitar. Lower action is a bit easier on the fingertips, since you don't have to push the strings down as far or as hard. It's simple to lower. The smaller of the two allen wrenches is for the screws on the string saddles at the bridge that control the string height. Once you lower it, you have to reset the intonation, most likely.
--the best part of this game, so far, is the barre chord exercises. Barre chords are the post hole diggers of the realm. Real man-killers, but you aren't going to build a fence without them, and you won't be playing any music until you get the damn things down. You've never felt pain in your hands and wrist until you've spent hours working on them, and you will spend hours.
Anyway, they really make you work on fretting them correctly and changing shapes in quick time. I like the exercises because barre chords are tiresome and you can get sloppy, and when you do, your playing really suffers. The feedback it gives you on your technique is invaluable.
Finally, notes from trail breaker John Harwood. And if this sounds choppy, it's my editing, not John's writing.
Expedition member: John Hardwood
Total playing time (through Saturday): 16 hours (3+ hours a day)
Stamina-wise, while I am an incredibly lazy individual, I am highly motivated to continue working at something that captivates me. I played through all of the songs of GH2, RB1, and The Beatles in one sitting when they each came out. I've been known to put in 5 hours+ without much thought and pretty sure there have been weeks where I've put 40-50 hours in. I've been known to ice down my fretting arm so I could keep at it.
The first day, I spent the morning working through the easy lessons and those went surprisingly quickly [Ed. note: I just finished those lessons on the sixth day]. Came back in the afternoon and jumped right into medium lessons. very first lesson in the first set of medium lessons has you moving from 3rd fret 1st string and 5th fret 2nd string to 3rd-2nd/5th-3rd to 3rd-2nd/5th-4th and then back up. For a complete novice guitar player, you might as well ask me to knock out the solo for "Crazy Train".
Highlight: I played a real freakin' guitar!!!
Lowlight: From the 2nd fret to the 10th fret on a different string??? Are you kidding me???
Injury level: High. Slides blistered my ring finger (which you use a lot more than I'd have thought) and muscles pretty sore.
Lack of control: Ordered a Honeytone mini-amp, A/C adapter, 1/4" guitar cable, and a tuner. So much for holding off on that 'till later.
Because I'm stupid tenacious, I started off going back to the 1st medium lesson for 10 mins. Still utterly failing, but can at least do it reasonably well at 60% speed now.
Ran through the first 5 power chord lessons on medium and those weren't bad at all and were pretty fun and satisfying.
Got my tuner about mid-day and had a blast tuning up the guitar. It shipped completely horribly out of tune (like almost a full semi-tone flat on most strings, if you can believe that) and is much more pleasant to strum along to outside of the game.
Injury level: High. Ring finger still blistered and very hard to press frets on high razor-wire strings. Hand cramping getting a little more severe and actually had some muscle spasms in my ring finger when trying to hold a fret for an extended period of time.
I'm now doing things similar to what I had gone through failing to learn my wife's acoustic guitar a few years ago, but real-time feedback on where my fingers are and what strings are getting pressed down makes it much easier and considerably more fun to learn.
Tried out the hammer-on/pull-offs lesson. More awesome! Just stupidly crazy-fun when it works. Night and day from doing that on a pretend guitar, actually hearing the effects of that had me go spend 15 minutes just playing around outside of the game doing that with various strings and various finger combinations. My amp came in today and the very first thing I did was try out hammer-ons and pull-offs with it.
Injury level: medium-high, fingers tender, ring finger still slightly blistered, hand still cramping quite a bit.
Ran through a bunch of easy level songs. Got completely floored by the chord changes in "I Love Rock & Roll" on G/M but slowed it down and practiced it and figured out what was going on and when to move my hands and got it down somewhat. Still tricky to do on the fly, but I can sort of get it down now and this is an excellent teaser of the type of thing that I don't think I'm all that far away from being able to do. Little concerned that I'm not getting all the foundation I need out of the game in terms of hand position and such, so...
Spent about 90 minutes watching the first portion of the beginner lessons on justinguitar.com and really enjoyed that. Good stuff, he's very engaging, and it helped fill in a lot of the gaps. I'm going to keep at his lessons while also keeping at RB3 and see if between the two I manage to come out any more well rounded than just the game or more motivated than just the instructional videos would leave me.
Completely hilarious to go from holding the Squier to holding a RB guitar. Felt like I was picking up a piece of paper and no matter how much better the RB2 guitar felt over the old GH guitars, it's not even in the same realm as a real guitar. For that matter, the Squier's not all that compared to higher end guitars, so no the plastic controllers are just that, they're not the real deal at all.
Highlight: I'm now finding a 2-fret split with my index and ring fingers pretty automatically without looking. Still have to glance down to make sure I know where I am along the neck sometimes, but if I'm just shifting strings, or moving a fret or two up and down, I can lock in on that very well.
Lowlight: Can't do "Runaway" on B/H at all, and I really really want to.
Injury level: moderate, blister gone, fingers still tender, but it's no longer any impediment to me pushing down the strings. So little pain, but nothing that slows me down. Wrist and finger pain is becoming pretty extreme to the point that may require a little backing off. Or not!
Little bit of chord practice from Justin's lessons, little bit of first position chords in-game. Spent a solid 30 minutes working on "I Love Rock & Roll" on G/H and while I'm encouraged by my progress, changing chords on the fly is still pretty damn intimidating at this point and it really shakes my confidence that I can't seem to find a way to wrap my brain around that. I know it'll get better with time, I just don't see how at this moment.
Highlights: I can sight read bass on medium!
Lowlights: Utter failure to strum 16th notes on bass
Injury level: moderate, blister completely gone, fingers still sore but not a big deal at all (played an hour straight without issue), but apparently gripped the neck too tightly or at the wrong angle as wrist is pretty bad now. May need to take Sunday off and rest. Or not.
I know we were all over the place in terms of style, but that will smooth out as we go. I hope you enjoyed the first installment, and we'll have another next week.
Man wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.
--Sir Ernest Shackleton, newspaper advertisement
Yes, I'm going to learn how to play guitar.
There's no going back. Like Shackleton, I will be keeping a diary. Unlike Shackleton, I hope to survive.
I realized last week that John Harwood, David Gloier, and I represent three distinct points along the guitar-playing spectrum: the rigger (me), the trail breaker (John), and the veteran (David).
The rigger: I'm the one who makes sure every climbing ladder and rope is in position before I start climbing. I'll get there eventually. I'll play 30 minutes a day until our food supplies run out or I'm eaten by wolves. No inspiration, no talent, but I'm willing to be on the mountain for years. I know the top has to be up there somewhere.
The trail breaker: John will play until his fingers bleed, then put on liquid skin and continue. He will race through all the Pro mode tutorials faster than any living human being, and will get better faster than anyone. He breaks trail, and he free climbs.
The guide: David is basically John, but with actual guitar-playing experience. He's played over 3,500 hours of real guitar in the past three years, and playing the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games were a primary influence in him wanting to learn guitar to start with. He'll let us know if we're about to step into a crevasse.
This is going to be a weekly feature going forward, an opportunity for the three of us to relate what we're learning from our separate places on the mountain. We'll have the first installment later this week, and hopefully, if you're curious about Pro mode guitar, at least one of us can provide useful information.
Oh, and the title? That's a mnemonic for the order of strings on a guitar.