Monday, October 31, 2011

And...We're Off

Dale Norwood from Sunshine Coast, Australia is the first person to submit a costume spreadsheet this year. 111 entries, too.

Cryptic Comet Sale

Vic Davis, who is very witty along with being ridiculously talented, posted this on his blog last week:
Over the years I’ve gotten quite a few emails asking if or when my games will be on Steam. I have to admit that I have felt very ambivalent about the whole thing because on the one hand I really like selling direct and cutting out the middle man but on the other hand I know a lot of devs who have had the mon$y hat put on their heads via selling on Steam. The only thing Steam has ever given me so far is that empty feeling in the gut as I have watched them deflate indie software prices almost single handed. But today I got the ubiquitous “Not a good fit” rejection letter that I so richly deserved for my moment of weakness last week when I submitted Armageddon Empires for consideration on Steam thinking that I too might look good in a money hat. Oh well.

But it inspired me to try and make something out of this and burn my ships just like Cortez did and set off for the interior and fortune and glory. So I am going to fight fire with fire and launch a preemptive strike on Steam’s Xmas sale and do a 50% off all my games NEVER GOING TO BE ON STEAM sale. You can get the discount by entering this code when you check out

NEVERONSTEAM

The Sale is going to last 2 weeks. Please spread this news around on any board or watering hole that you frequent that might have a musty old turn based grog hanging out in close proximity.

NOTE: The 50% discount only applies to the individual games and not the already discounted bundle of SI & AE.

When you can toss out a Cortez reference like that, you're just in a different league than the rest of us.

If you've thought about picking up any of Vic's games before, here's a great chance at a highly discounted price. Just go here: Cryptic Comet.

The Kicker

When I was Eli 10.2s age, I was a decent athlete, but all too often, I blamed bad luck when I lost. I always thought that if things had just gone "my way", my team would have won.

"How often do you think people succeed when everything goes right?" I was driving Eli home from school, two days after he'd gotten his cast.

"Well, let's see," he said. He paused for a few seconds. "Everyone?"

"That's right," I said. And are those people successful?"

"Sure," he said.

"Not really," I said, "because everyone is successful when things go right. I don't know one grown-up who isn't successful when things go their way. That's not how you define success."

"How do you define it, then?" he asked.

"Everyone is successful when things go right," I said. "But successful people find a way to succeed when everything goes wrong."

"That makes sense," he said.

"So something's gone wrong here for you," I said. "It wasn't your fault, it was just bad luck, but now you need to find a way to succeed. What do you need to do?"

"Well, I need to keep up with my school work," he said. "And I need to work out, so that I'm in shape when I can play hockey again."

"That's right," I said. "And I'll help you."

That was two weeks ago. Since then, we've done the NFL Training Camp workout seven times, and it's nearly killed me. It's been very, very hard. He's tearing it up, though, and if he's lost any fitness, I think it's barely measurable.

In the meantime, though, since he couldn't play flag football, hockey, or tennis, he needed to find something to do. We can still play baseball (he throws with his left hand--quite well--then puts his glove on quickly to field, and he can bat with just his left hand and still hit the ball very hard), but he wanted to do something with football, so he decided to kick.

Remember, this is Superfreak we're talking about.

I know the mechanics of placekicking (long story), and I showed him a few fundamentals. After a week of kicking about 20-30 minutes a day, this is a 24-yard field goal:

video

That may not look like much, but for a kid who just turned 10, that's a big kick.

Then, just to entirely prove that he isn't human, he tried a twenty-yarder left footed (after kicking with his left foot less than a dozen times in his entire life). He didn't quite make it, but take a look:

video

He says he wants to be a kicker in high school. I think that's entirely possible, along with world domination.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Costume Count!

This turned out to be lots of fun the last two years, so let's try again. If you're the designated candy dispenser for Halloween, please keep track of the costumes you see. Put the information into an Excel spreadsheet and e-mail me, or bag the spreadsheet and send me the information in any format you choose (don't forget to include your city). I'll compile it and post the results.

Last year, we wound up with a spreadsheet of over 1,000 costumes, and the results were highly entertaining. Well, to me, anyway.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Links!

From Robb, and this video is simply incredible: Quantum Levitation.

From David Gloier, and if you love guitar, you'll watch this immediately: Hound Dog Taylor-Ann Arbor 1973(Full Concert).

From Griffin Cheng, another amazing stop-animation film: Bricks of War ( Lego Gears of War Animation ).

From Frank Regan, and this is quite incredible: photos of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.

From David Byron, a two-part article about singer-songwriter Marian Call, a singer-songwriter who is both nerd-friendly and staggeringly intelligent: She'll Sing For You (part one), and She'll Sing For you (part two): The Heart Fiercer.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and these are quite beautiful: Figurative Sculptures Made From Tightly Welded Chains.

From Sirius, a series of excellent links: The Long And Winding Road, Hot water CAN freeze more quickly than cold water, and Happy grass is happy.

From Phil Honeywell, and these time-lapse videos are just incredibly beautiful: Landscapes: Volume One, Landscapes: Volume Two.

From Brian Whalen, and this is both very silly and very clever: 2011 Zombie Safe House Competition.

From Michael O'Reilly, and this is fascinating reading: The Tale of the Radioactive Boy Scout.

From D.F. Prosser, and this future may well become our present some day: Swarm Farming Explained (robot farmers).

This is the finest campaign commercial I've ever seen.

If you're a fan of roasted grasshoppers, don't miss this: 15 insects you won't believe are edible .

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Future, It Appears, Is Already The Present

I mentioned (actually, an e-mailer mentioned it, not me) last week that a reasonable future was for cell phones to become gaming consoles, with the addition of 1080P video output.

Well, the future is even better than that, and it's barely even in the future. Take a look at this: Ice Cream Sandwich supports USB game controllers and HDMI, turns your phone into full game console.

That certainly doesn't suck.

Details:
In short, you could hook up an external gamepad to a USB-to-microUSB adapter on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, connect it to your TV and transform your handset into a fancy portable gaming console.

That may not be incredibly useful at first, but just wait--it will be.

Jimmy Graham

The New Orleans Saints have a tight end named Jimmy Graham, and I think he qualifies as the apex badass.

Here's the story. When he was nine, his mother shipped him off to live with his stepfather. After a short time, his stepfather demanded the $98 a month in child support his birth father was paying. She refused, so his stepfather took him to Social Services and left him.

His mother went and got him, but two years later, when he was 11, his mother told him to get in the car because they were going somewhere. Where they were going was a group home for orphans and juvenile delinquents, where she left him.

I can't even type that without my head exploding in anger.

He was the youngest kid in the home, and after a few months, a group of older kids beat him senseless. He called his mom and begged her to come get him.

She hung up on him.

He had been there for nine months when his mom finally came and got him, but her new boyfriend beat him up, too.

Eventually, he met a woman in his church, finally opened up about what was happening to him, and he moved in with her and her daughter. That started a path that eventually went to the NFL, and it's one of the most amazing success stories I've ever heard.

Here's a link to a video (seven minutes) where he tells his story, and it's incredible. He did an interview on the Jim Rome show this week, and he said it all came down to this: "Life is tough, but I'm tougher."

Hell, yes, you are.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Ares Project

Longtime DQ reader Geoff Engelstein designed a boardgame.

That's cool enough, but he had a co-designer: his teenage son Brian.

Even cooler: it's been published. Here's a description of the game from the BoardGameGeek page:
In The Ares Project, 2-4 players are competing to see which of their factions will lead mankind into the future. Each faction has its own deck of cards, buildings, upgrades, attacks, special powers, and a screen behind which a player will play cards. Your opponents do not know what you are building. When a player lays down an attack card, he chooses an opponent, the players drop their screens, and they battle for control of the Frontier, i.e. the center of the table. Whoever controls the Frontier scores points and also has the ability to attack player bases directly. Eliminate your opponent to win instantly, or have the most points when the game ends.

Here's the cover:


What an awesome experience for Geoff and his son, and I've already ordered my copy. If you're interested, head over to the website: The Ares Project. Also, here's a link for ordering: Cool Stuff, Inc.

So Look Who Entered IGF This Year

That's right: Match & Magic.

Names

Eli 10.2 had a question as we drove to the parade on Saturday.

"What other names did you guys think about naming me before you decided on Eli?" he asked.

"Shenanigan McDougall," I said. "A fine Scottish name."

Gloria had a very witty name, which we unfortunately both forgot. [PLEASE INSERT NAME CLEVERNESS HERE]

"I also liked 'Canvas' Harris," I said. "It sounds like a hero from a serial adventures comic."

"Why did I ask this question?" Eli said, laughing.

"Your mother really liked 'Shale'," I said. "But I said 'that's not a name, that's a rock'."

"Please note that I said nothing of the sort," she said.

The Occult Chronicles

Vic Davis has announced his new game: The Occult Chronicles (thanks RPS).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rocksmith (Part 2: Trailbreaker John Harword)

Trailbreaker John Harwood now has Rocksmith (so do I), and he sent me impressions that are a summary of our "Oh, wow!" conversations over the last few days. Again, it's not italicized for readability, so it's all John from here on.

Color me impressed. It's quite intuitive and it's done something that Rock Band never quite managed to do for me: it had me playing a riff on my own outside of the game in under 30 minutes. While not an amazing technical accomplishment, the sense of accomplishment was fantastic and, more importantly, very enticing and has me wanting to do more, more, more! I think that may ultimately be the legacy of Rocksmith and it's teaching method... It makes you want to continue and learn in a fun, methodical, and rewarding way.

While I've hardly scratched the surface of content in the game (yes, I'm going to keep calling it that. Any non-movie disc you put in a console is a game), it's already given me more fun and more self-confidence than anything yet has. I adore the difficulty ramp-up/down. For me at least, it's spot-on. When I play a section again and it now has more notes in it, that's a tremendous pat on the back for me and tells me I'm doing well enough that I should try adding more. And it's so wonderfully incremental.

David may not have seen that as he was blazing past to the Eddie Van Halen difficulty level, but in Satisfaction, it did the most wonderful progression of adding notes and, most crucially, it was different in different sections depending on how I did. I can't stress how huge that is and how different a tack that is than RB3. I would frequently find myself in RB3 being bored by some segments and utterly lost in others within the same difficulty. I started out just playing the first note of the main Satisfaction riff on the 2nd fret, then the quickly added in the upper 5th fret note (yes these notes have names, but I'm not a musician, sue me) and then later added in two lower notes and two upper notes. And this is all within the same playthrough. On the second time through the song, it gave me the distinctive 3-note lower run followed by the two upper notes, then it added in a 4th fret note leading up to the upper, then by the end also had me doing the 4th fret leading down to the lower notes. And that's the 2nd run through. A later run through also added in a quick double note on the upper.

That's just one riff of one song. The game also noticed that I was doing very well at steady strumming (thank you, Justin!) and it quickly added in long series of notes in the rhythm sections, but as I was utterly failing to make the transition over to the 2nd string for the next series, it backed off from adding anything further. So what I have now is something that seems pretty close to the full main riff, a wonderful steady strum in the rhythm section, and 2-3 notes in some of the transition parts in that section.

It's not easy, it's not medium, it's not expert. It's the John difficulty. It's for me. It's what I can do. And I get chills just thinking about how cool that is. I'm sure it's not going to be perfect and the game's going to piss me off here and there, and it's not fun to be backed down in difficulty in a section because you suck (although it is sometimes a relief), but this is an excellent teaching system. I think I can get this.

Also worthy of mention is that you're hearing what you play and while that may sound obvious, it's huge. In RB3, I had to keep the strings muted and developed all sorts of bad habits. In the Satisfaction riff, I quickly found that my pinky is still weak and I really had to put a lot more pressure down to get a good tone out of the note. Otherwise it sounded like crap. But in RB3, it just sounded like 'plink' and I didn't care. But now I not only want to hit the notes, but I want them to sound good and that's very different and a subtle motivating factor that you can't describe on the back of a game box.

One bit of epic fail: You check tuning on your guitar each time you do something. Annoying, but fine, it goes by very quick (The game's full tuner kicks ass, btw). One time it wouldn't accept the 3rd string's tune. But it didn't then kick off the tuner or anything to help me. I just keep strumming it just keeps highlighting the string and asking me to strum it. Now what? I have to hit start, push right to exit what I'm doing, push A to accept that I'll lose unsaved progress (from a tuner? really?), exit back to main menu, scroll over to the tuner and launch it, all to find out that my volume knob got knocked and it wasn't loud enough to register that string. Fail. Bad, bad, bad, completely avoidable fail. Just ask to launch the tuner for me if I strum the string more than 5 times and it's not acceptable.

My wife the teacher/text book editor would often talk about how a given book wasn't pedagogically sound in that it either took knowledge for granted, or didn't properly build upon previous knowledge before introducing new concepts. I love RB to death, but RB3 Pro was more or less a fail for me in terms of presenting what I needed to know and slowly building me up to bigger accomplishments. While I can't yet speak for how far Rocksmith will take me, it's already demonstrated a much more sound learning system and difficulty

Monday, October 24, 2011

Día de los Muertos

There was a parade last weekend in Austin for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I'm not big on parades, or festivals--or, in many cases, people--but Gloria and Eli 10.2 both wanted to go, so I went with them.

I've always liked the aspects of celebration and remembrance that are a theme of Día de los Muertos, and the wicked-cool costumes and makeup are even better. Eli decided to wear his Halloween costume, and he's made the transition from cute costume to scary, as you can see:


Yes, he looks like quite a badass, but even an agent of death enjoys a cold glass of milk with dinnner:


The festival itself featured some amazing costumes, and I took quite a few pictures, which you will be subjected to now:





This lady was very nice about having her picture taken with her also-costumed dog, but she said it was very hard not to smile. I don't know why she thought she couldn't.


We had plenty of fun, and Eli looked ridiculously cool--people were stopping him every 10 feet to talk about his costume. Here's one last picture:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Michael O'Reilly, one of the most interesting stories about the birth of the atomic bomb that I've ever read: The Birth of the Atomic Cheeseburger.

Here's an amazing video: Dust Storm Engulfs Lubbock. The first video gets pretty freaky around the 1:00 mark.

Here's the badass of the century, as far as I'm concerned: 100-year-old sets record with marathon finish. Even more amazing: this same guy ran a 5:40 marathon at age 92!

From Griffin Cheng, and these are beautiful images: 18 Examples of Amazing Long-Exposure Photography. Also, M.C. Escher meets Portal in Relatively Portal.

Seriously, I don't even know what to say: Las Vegas man with 100-pound scrotum seeks money for surgery.

From Ryan Brandt, a link to a story about Chris Kluwe, an incredibly funny and interesting guy who happens to be the punter for the Minnesota Vikings. And yes, he would particularly enjoy his story following the man with the 100-pound scrotum.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, an absolutely hilarious This American Life spoof: This American Laugh: Ira Glass Sex Tape.

From Jonathan Arnold, a very witty use of YouTube's transcription feature: Caption FAIL 2. Also, The Spaceship House.

From Lance, and words generally fail me here: The Greatest Awesome Gamer In Thailand.

From Caleb Forney, and this is a wonderful idea: Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera.

From Sirius, and this is quite fascinating, it's An Unexplained Roman Dodecahedron. Also, and these beautiful, high-speed photography of liquid splashes. Also, and again, words fail me, it's This is a real dog.

Truly, this man is my hero: Man Uses Marching Band To Announce He's Quitting job.

From Steven Davis, and this video will blow your mind: a robot that can solve a Rubik's Cube in less than 6 seconds..

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rocksmith

Well, this is quite a surprise.

I didn't expect much of anything from Rocksmith Ubisoft's guitar game/trainer, which lets you use your own guitar. The reviews have been downright bizarre--of the four reviews on Metacritic, there's both a 98 and a 50.

However, DQ Guitar Instructor And Advisor David Gloier has it, and he's very, very positive. He sent me detailed impressions, and here they are (I'm not italicizing for readability, so it's all David from here on):
So, after becoming thoroughly disenchanted with Rock Band's Pro Mode, I thought I was done with attempting to use a game system as a teaching and practice tool for my guitar playing. Then, a few months ago, I caught wind of "Rocksmith". I stumbled across the promotional video, saw I'd be able to plug a normal guitar, any normal guitar, directly into my 360, and decided it was worth a try.

Rocksmith hit store shelves this week, and after an admittedly small amount of time with it, I'm truly impressed. So many of the problems I had with Pro Mode and the Squier controller are non-existent in this game. Ubisoft made a game from the ground up that was meant to be played with a real guitar, and the difference is immeasurable. Having some background playing, nothing felt right with Rock Band. I was pantomiming guitar playing. I wasn't really playing. Some real guitar skills couldn't be properly performed with the Squier, and I still don't understand why they had to come up with the visual system for the note charts that they did. I was relearning everything from scratch and it was too frustrating.

With Rocksmith, playing the game requires me to plug in my guitar and play it like it was meant to be played. Maybe there is some sort of voodoo in that cable, but it's some mighty fine voodoo. The 1/4" plug fits into the jack on my guitar and the USB plug on the other end pops right into the front of my 360. I play the guitar, analog signal gets converted to digital between the guitar and the 360 and, low and behold, it's like I'm playing through one of my amps. Things I couldn't do in Rock Band are now possible with Rocksmith. Bends, vibratos, palm muting...you name it and it sounds like it should. This makes playing so much more fun.

I've played through the first two sets of songs, made it to some venues, rocked the crowds, earned encores, and best of all, I'm playing MY guitar(s).

I don't know how this game will come across to someone with no knowledge of the guitar, but I find everything much more intuitive than with Rock Band. At the bottom of the screen, you have the six strings of the guitar. The bottom string is the the high E, the one closest to you on your guitar. The top string is the low E, the one furthest from you as you play. Each string is a different color and as the notes approach you, they are color-coded to the string. When it gets to the prescribed spot at the strings, you play the note. Above the strings is a representation of the fret-board, so if that note is moving down the third fret, you play it at the third fret. Here's where I find one of the great improvements over Rock Band's method: instead of a static scrolling fret-board with the number of the fret to be played on the note moving towards you, the "fret-board" slides across the screen, just as you would slide your hand. So, say you're playing up around the 3rd and 5th frets and suddenly the song requires you to be at the 12th fret, the fret-board shifts on the screen and you realize you need to be shifting your hand, as well. It's well done, in my opinion.

Chords are much better represented in this game as they actually look like the chord shapes I'm used to seeing. Rock Band's system never became second nature. It was like learning a new language. In Rocksmith, as a chord approaches, a little 2-D box is over the board, with the chord shape inside the box showing the fretted and open strings. Open strings in both chords and single notes are solid lines that move towards you.

This probably all sounds confusing and I'm not doing it justice in my description, but trust me, it's much more natural.

The game has little tutorials on techniques you'll need to learn for upcoming songs and scores you on them. It also has little mini-games in its "Guitarcade" that make practicing those techniques much more enjoyable. The first one is learning to shift around the fret-board by shooting ducks. Silly, yes, but just fun enough to make practicing tedious things a bit more enjoyable.

A major difference from Rock Band is the lack of difficulty levels. This game doesn't really have them. It reads how well you're doing and ramps up the difficulty accordingly. If you can't keep up, it takes it back down a level. I've read complaints about this, but it works pretty well, and you don't get stuck with one level being too easy but the next one being to frustrating. Here's an example: The first song you play is the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction". Yep, you get to be Keith straight out of the gate. Anyway, I started playing it and it brings just a few notes at me on a single string while the song plays. Suddenly, the game senses that I know what I'm doing and here come more notes on different strings. I finish the song and scored 91%. I play it again and suddenly, there's even more going on and I'm playing much more of the song. I finish that and I play the chord version of the song. I finish that and I'm playing a combination of chords and single notes. I'm playing the darn song! You really need to experience it. Cool is an understatement. It also helps not to be fighting the Squier controller. I can play for hours on a real guitar and not have the pain in my left hand that the Rock Band guitar gave me in five minutes.

Another difference is when you play a venue, you are on the stage looking out at the crowd. You play well and they react positively. You play poorly and they seem disinterested. It's a neat idea. We wanted to be rock stars when we first strapped on a plastic guitar, but why were we watching ourselves play onstage? I had never thought about it that way until I played Rocksmith.

They game isn't without it's flaws. The menu system is clunky as all get-out. It's really the only thing that stands out to me at the moment, but I haven't played that far into the game and really experienced all the nuances. This is a great first effort. It's what I expected Rock Band to be, but wasn't. I really hope those of you out there that were turned off by Rock Band's Pro Mode and the Squier give this a chance. It deserves some love and I'd like to see what this development team could build the next time around. That won't happen if this doesn't sell. I've read complaints that it's too much of a niche game, but companies sell boatloads of guitars. I don't think guitar playing is a niche and this really isn't a game. This is a tool. It may not turn you into Jimmy Page, but it may make hours of usually tedious practice into something much more bearable.

I have much more I'd like to talk about with this game, but I'd like to spend more time with it before I do. But if you already have a guitar, I think $80 is a decent entry fee. You get the game for $60 and the cable for $20. It's not unreasonable and a much cheaper price point than a game, midi adapter and Squier controller. You can even get the package that comes with an Epiphone Les Paul Junior for $199. Much cheaper than Rock Band was after all was said and done, and that Les Paul is a pretty decent beginner guitar. Or buy the game and cable and pick up a Squier Bullet Strat or Tele for $99 new, or find a good used guitar on Craigslist, at a pawn shop, or Guitar Center.. Any of these will be a much better experience than the Squier Strat controller.

Anyway, I'm off to spend some more time with this thing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Introversion

Chris Delay of Introversion posted this a few days ago in reference to Subversion:
What on earth happened to Subversion?

Around June last year, we pushed ourselves as hard as we could and made a playable slice of the game, and demonstrated it publicly at the World Of Love conference in London. The demo went well, but was heavily scripted. Internally we had come to realise that somewhere along the 6 years of part-time development, we had lost our way. We couldn’t even remember what sort of game it was supposed to be anymore. We’d ended up with a game that looked and sounded brilliant, classic Introversion with its blue wireframe and sinister faceless characters. But there was a massive gaping hole where you would normally see a “core game”. We’d tried and tried to fill that hole with ambitious tech and experimental systems, but you couldn’t escape it.

In the end, after all that development and years of work, you still completed the bank heist by walking up to the first door, cracking it with a pin cracker tool, then walking into the vault and stealing the money. There was no other way to complete that level. And this would be the essential method by which you would complete every level after that. Technology 1, Gameplay 0 - we’ve made the fatal mistake of having more fun making the game than gamers would ever have playing it.

Around August last year, I took a couple of weeks off and went on holiday in California. It was a great chance to think clearly about something that had become very difficult. Daily work on Subversion seemed to be going well, with lots of regular technological progress, but whenever I considered the project from the high level view I wondered where the core game was ultimately going to come from.

...Subversion has not been cancelled, but I would certainly forget about it for now. We will be going back to that project eventually, but the first thing I plan to do is gut the thing from top to bottom of all the tech fluff that we forced in over the years. Without a core game it’s all a worthless distraction, and I will NEVER again spend so long making tech for a game without having a solid core game in place first. Subversion needs a total rethink from top to bottom, and some long standing sacred cows need slaughtering.

While I'm disappointed that Subversion has now receded into the distance, the news isn't all bad--in the same post, Delay mentioned that they have a new game that was recently submitted to the 2012 Independent Games Festival. And it's incredibly refreshing to have developers just be honest with us.

I'll buy whatever Introversion makes.

Spitballs

Eli 10.2 has discovered spitballs.

The brilliant discovery that a ballpoint pen can be weaponized is a part of every boy's childhood. Spitballs, though, like baseball and newspapers, are in decline.

"Dad, watch this," he says, knowing full well that I can't, because I'm driving. Then I hear a little cannonball of paper (really a paperwad, not a spitball) ping off the driver's side window.

"You'll be picking all of those up, obviously," I say.

"Yes," he says. "There are three--no, four. I'll get them all." We drive along in a pleasant silence, occasionally punctuated by the sound of a paperwad being launched.

"Dad, what's the difference between an agnostic and atheist?" This happens more often than you might think, alternating between slapstick and high concept. It's the nature of ten-year-olds--or this one, at least.

"An atheist believes that God does not exist. An agnostic doesn't know either way."

"What are you?"

"I'm an agnostic. I believe it's unknowable whether God does or does not exist. Do you know what it means when something is supernatural?" I ask.

"I do," he says.

"God is supernatural," I say. "I cannot comprehend the supernatural. I could just say that God doesn't exist, but many things that have been proven true by science were considered impossible in an earlier time. So I don't believe that God can't exist, just that I have never seen evidence of God."

"Does it bother you that you don't know?" he asks.

"Not at all," I say. "There are many things that are unknowable. Not knowing has no negative effect on my life. I know right from wrong. I treat people with respect. God existing or not existing doesn't stop me from being or doing anything. "

We drive in silence for a few seconds.

"Religion can be very complicated," I say. "There are many different kinds of religion, and they all believe in God in different ways. And that's okay. I'm an agnostic because I believe it's more accurate. It's not a question of right or wrong. Besides, what people say they believe is not really very important. Let's say, for a moment, that we absolutely knew God did not exist. And there are two people: an atheist, and a person who still believes in God. The atheist robs convenience stores for a living. The person who believes in God has spent their whole life helping poor people and working for charity. Who would you rather have in the world?"

"That's easy," he says. "The guy who helps people."

"That's right," I say. I paused for a few seconds, trying to compress what that meant into something he would understand.

"Being right about God doesn't make you right about life," he says.

That's the single most perceptive thing Eli has ever said.

"That is the perfect way to explain it," I say. "It really doesn't matter what you believe--it matters what you do. There are people who have used the Bible to justify slaughter. They've used it to justify treating entire groups of people as less than human. But there are also people who believe in the Bible who are gentle and kind, who have devoted their lives to helping people. There are some wonderful lessons in the Bible, like the Golden Rule."

"Treat others as you would want to be treated," he says.

"That's right," I say. "Look, it doesn't matter what someone says they believe. If they treat other people with respect, and they act with kindness, that's who they are. People are what they do. What someone says they believe is never important compared to their actions. And it will be very important when you get older to trust people only based on what they do, and not what they say."

"I will," he says. "Thanks, Dad."

We drive in silence for a little while. The wind is strong outside our car, tree branches swaying mightily, but inside, it's quiet.

"I really appreciate that you think about things at a level"--I start, then feel a paperwad hit the back of my head--"at a level that most other people don't, not even grown-ups." Another paperwad hits the window. "You also have excellent paperwad shooting skills," I say.

"I know," he says. "Right?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conversations

In a single conversation last week, my friend Mike mentioned both chlamydia and Israeli counter-terrorism. In a 90 second phone call.

This is why I pick up the phone when Mike calls me.

In another conversation with my friend Paul (via e-mail), in the span of a few sentences, we discussed penguins, lesbians, and vampires.

E-mail quality: high.

Carolina Games Summit

From Erik Ramsey:
GOLDSBORO, N.C. (October 11, 2011) – Since its inception in 2006, the Carolina Games Summit has been the premiere gathering spot for the North Carolina video game community. Over 1,200 people attend each year. The 2011 Summit featured 15 speakers and 9 sessions. The 2012 Carolina Games Summit takes place February 4 at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, NC.

In preparation for the 2012 Summit, we are accepting proposals for conducting a session. Presenting a session at the Carolina Games Summit provides rewarding exposure both professionally and personally. This is an opportunity to share ideas and practices with some of the brightest lights in future game design and some of the biggest fans of video games. We look forward to an exciting lineup of speakers at the 2012 Carolina Games Summit!

The unifying aspect of the Carolina Games Summit is its dedication to informing the public that simulation and game design is a viable career choice for today’s youth. Our proposal process is informal and easy—just a web form at carolinagamessummit.com/speak. Proposals should include a one- or two-paragraph description of the topic and a brief outline of key points. New presenters at the Carolina Games Summit will also need to send biographical information. Sessions are normally 45 minutes in length. Conference speakers receive entry to the event, access to our catered hospitality room, and a free booth for their company. Speakers are responsible for their own travel expenses.

About Carolina Games Summit
Carolina Games Summit will be held Saturday, February 4, 2012, 10AM – 8PM at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, NC. This hybrid event will once again deliver industry speakers, video game tournaments, concerts, exhibition booths, cos-play, educational sessions, and trading card games. Compete against gamers from all over the country in a variety of popular tournaments. Enjoy all your favorite platforms including arcade, computer, and console games with both tournament and free-play options available. Additional information can be found on the official web site: www.CarolinaGamesSummit.com

Correction

From Chris Hornbostel, in reference to last week's post about Walter Payton:
Payton's last full season at Jackson State was 1974. That was Campbell's freshman year, which was solid but didn't have him quite on the map yet. Campbell graduated after the 1977 season. Billy Sims, meanwhile, had a redshirt season in 1975, then took a medical redshirt after hurting his knee in '76. He played off the bench in '77, and then won the Heisman in 1978 and had another huge season in '79. In other words, a couple of those fellows played concurrently, but their each had his respective rise to greatness almost consecutively as things happened.

That is some seriously impressive, old-school, Big 8/SWC knowledge.

By the way, I finished the book (Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton), and it was just outstanding. What a terrific, nuanced examination of a brilliant and troubled individual.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Agony And The Agony

With Eli 10.2 on the shelf for three weeks with a broken finger, he wanted to stay in shape for a quick return to hockey when his cast comes off.

I haven't mentioned NFL Training Camp (the best, least-purchased workout program in history) in a while because I haven't tried to do the workouts since I had knee surgery. They are harsh--downright hostile, really--and I couldn't mentally get my enthusiasm to the necessary level.

This was different, though. I wanted Eli to be able to work out, and this was perfect. The game has a mode where you can create a custom workout, and I built a 30-minute workout that focuses entirely on the lower body: squat jumps, lunges, stride jumps, bag hops (sideways jumping back and forth over an obstacle), foot fires.

In terms of difficulty, it's nothing short of filthy.

So we did this workout on Saturday morning, and Eli 10.2 just killed it. He was working hard the whole time, and he just sailed through the half hour. He's 67 pounds of sheer beast.

Beside him, I felt like I was getting hit with a sledgehammer. I haven't done any explosive training since surgery, focusing on endurance instead, and this was the rudest awaking ever. 48 hours later, my quads and adductors are so sore that I'm limping as I walk.

We're doing this workout four days a week, including later today, so it looks like I'm having Advil for lunch.

September NPD

The numbers:
360--438,000
PS3--369,000 (extrapolated)
Wii--240,000

Cumulatively, hardware sales are basically flat compared to last year. This is better than I expected, actually--I thought there would be a drop in the range of 10%.

Maybe that's more a reflection of my general enthusiasm for consoles right now, which is down over 35% year-to-year. Approximately.

Matt Matthews does his usual terrific analysis of the NPD numbers here: Behind the Numbers, September 2011. Matt noted that, overall, industry revenue was down 4% overall.

I don't think that's a surprise--the only surprise, to me, is that it's not worse. There are plenty of "excitement exhausted" platforms out there, the big companies have chosen to release fewer games (and fewer new franchises), and we're definitely in the "been there, done that" phase of this generation. That's one of the reasons, historically, that generations have usually lasted 5-6 years--by the time the enthusiasm has been exhausted, companies are already touting the next generation. And I do expect to hear a reveal next year from Microsoft for the Xbox 720 (or whatever it's called), but it may well be holiday 2013 before we see it in stores.

The next generation of consoles may be the last generation--as we've known them, anyway.

Someone (identity lost in a high-speed paperwork collision) e-mailed me last week and said why not have the "new" generation of consoles be portable devices with 1080P output?

That's an interesting idea. And with the power of the upcoming Sony Vita, it would have been the perfect device to try that approach. Sure, the Vita's screen resolution is closer to 480P than 1080P, but they could improve the hardware over time, and upscaled 480P with high framerates would still looked very impressive coming from a handheld. Eventually, it might've been possible to generate 1080p output internally, then downscale to fit the Vita's display resolution. That would make the high-quality 1080P output scenario entirely workable.

Sony, baffling is always, is not including a video output option. Well-played.

However, I think the scenario is a reasonable one, and it will happen at some point. There is much more research going into mobile processors at this point, and their power is improving rapidly. Use that research and take advantage of the technology curve. And if it's true that "we don't need" better graphics for consoles (I disagree with that, but this is for the sake of discussion), then wouldn't we be better off with mobile devices that we can play anywhere, then connect to an HDTV for display whatever we want?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Links!

Okay, last time I'm asking, but Graham Wilkinson is in a dogfight to win the MTF Freshman Video contest, so if you have a minute, please go and vote. Thanks.

This must surely be the most unlikely bike race collision in history: Unlucky Biker Gets Jacked Up By An Antelope.

From Sirius, and these are amazing images, it's Cranberry harvest. Also, several obscure facts about the platypus (and who doesn't need a few of those?): "Duck-billed platypus" is redundant. One more, and it's fascinating: Why Columbus sailed SOUTH to the Americas.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is truly worth watching: Feynman on the Encyclopedia Britannica.

From Caleb Forney, and this is entirely awesome: Customs paperwork--from the moon.

From Jarod Werbick, and this is amazing: North Cliffs Failure - Amazing Cliff Collapse caught on Camera.

From Griffin Cheng, and you'll definitely want to see this: Astronaut Video Shows Spectacular Auroras From Space. Also, and these are beautiful, photos of animal's eyes.

Mark Guckeyson sent in a link to a terrific weather program: WeatherSpark.

From Steven Davis, several excellent links: Glorious 121,000′ Amateur Rocket Flight, Strum Motion Pictures with the VideoBass, and Wooden Chinese South-pointing chariot kit.

From Michael M., and this is both incredibly cute and entirely remarkable: Charlie And The Seal! .

From Danielle Newquist, a speculative but awesome link: Giant kraken lair discovered.

Here's a story that is just mind-blowing: The Tribesman Who Facebook Friended Me/.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Aircraft Boneyard

After the Friday link to the Aircraft Boneyard last week (zoom in on the image--it gets progressively more amazing the closer you get), DQ reader Gregg Wright sent this e-mail:
I just had to drop you a line today because of your Friday Link to the Google maps for the aircraft boneyard. If you think it's a great view 'from space' you should see it at ground level. I live about a mile north of the boneyard and pass 'through' it everyday (Kolb Rd on the map) on my way to work. An interesting tidbit about 'AMARC', as the Air Force calls it (that's Aircraft Maintenance And Regeneration Center) : it's a prominent feature in the Transformers 2 movie, but the producers magically transported it from Tucson, AZ to Washington, DC, where it is supposedly part of the Air and Space museum.

When I was kid there where dozens of B-52 bombers lined up in seemingly never-ending rows. Occasionally my Dad would drive me out to park on the edges of the facility to watch the sunrise or sunset over the tower vertical stabilizers of the this 'ghost squadron' of B-52s. I still recall how sad I was when treaties with the Soviet Union required us to destroy all of those legendary aircraft. They were literally sliced into pieces using massive guillotines.

By the way, if you do Google image searches for B-52, AMARC, and B-52 guillotine, you can find some pretty striking images of what the boneyard looked like in its 'prime' and the device that ruined it for many of us.

Bad News For Your Fantasy Football Team

Broken finger.


The cast is on for three weeks, and no flag football for another 1-2 weeks after that, so his season is over. He can play hockey as soon as the cast comes off, though, as long as he tapes the finger to protect it (since it will be inside a glove).

His mom took him for the x-ray, and when he called me, he was crying so hard he could barely talk. But when he walked in the door forty-five minutes later, he was smiling. "Three weeks," he said. "Let's get it over with."

No misery. No pouting. We had lots of fun last night, and we made up a list of all the things he normally doesn't get to do during the school year because he's so busy. We're going to work through that list over the next three weeks.

This morning, he had a big smile on his face when he walked out the door. The Enthusiasm Engine moves forwward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Gamer

Eli 10.2 might have broken his finger.

He was playing catch on Monday at recess with the quarterback of his flag football team, and as he held his hands in front of him to catch a pass, the tip of the ball ball hit the second joint of his right ring finger.

If you're thinking that a 10-year-old couldn't possibly throw hard enough to break a finger, please disabuse yourself of that notion. The quarterback can throw harder than I can--he has a cannon arm and has absolutely no understanding yet of how to throttle down his throws.

That was on Monday.

On Tuesday, Eli's finger was swollen. He went off to school, and since he had flag football practice right after school let out, I showed up when the bell rang to see if he was okay.

"How's the finger?" I asked as he walked toward me.

He held up his hand. "Same," he said. Actually, I thought it looked worse-- more swollen than I remembered.

"Are you sure you want to play?" I asked.

"I'm fine," he said. "Going to practice."

I'd talked to his coach a few minutes earlier, who promised he would tape Eli's finger to protect it, and he did. So when I showed up again at 5:30, his hand was taped, and he was catching and throwing passes with abandon, although he would stop and shake his hand occasionally.

When practice was over, we walked to the car. "Man, it really hurts," he said.

"Do you want to just go home?" I asked.

"Nope," he said. "Let's go to hockey."

"Let's drive to the rink and see how you feel," I said.

It's about a 20 minute drive to the rink during rush hour, and we usually talk on the way. "Okay, so your mom made an appointment tomorrow for your finger to get x-rayed," I said.

"It's going to be terrible if it's broken and I can't play," he said.

"No, it's not," I said.

That stopped him. "Why?" he asked.

"Look," I said, "you're not just the Enthusiasm Engine. You're also the Overcoming Engine."

"Huh?"

"Think about what you come from," I said. "Your granny had her husband leave her while she was pregnant with me. She divorced him, which was a huge stigma for a woman in the 1960s. It took a huge amount of courage for her to do that. She was a full-time teacher and worked extra jobs just to make enough money for us to scrape by. And she went to school in the summer to get her master's degree. She overcame everything in her way. Nothing bad that happened to her was stronger than was."

I paused for a few seconds.

"I've overcome two stress fractures, a broken foot, a broken big toe, foot surgery, a broken bone in my wrist, hand surgery, two knee surgeries, and hernia surgery," I said.

"And I'VE overcome two strained knees, a torn thumb ligament--" then he added about five more injuries that he actually hadn't had at all, but that was okay, because he was riffing on the groove.

"That's right," I said. "See? You come from a long line of Overcoming Engines. It's what we do."

"And if my finger is broken, I'll just overcome it," he said.

"Yes," I said. "And we'll manage to have fun along the way, too."

We got to the rink and he wanted to practice. I know what you're thinking-- it's crazy to play hockey when his finger might be broken-- but it was still taped, and he was able to put it in one finger of his glove. He was much better protected in hockey than he was on the football field.

He had a terrific practice, but with about ten minutes left, he stole the puck from another kid in a drill, and the kid banged his helmet into Eli's because he was mad.

I didn't see this happen, because I thought the drill was over, and I looked away, but when I looked back a few seconds later, he was face down on the ice, and kids were skating over to check on him.

He was there for a few minutes, and then he finally got up and skated shakily over to the bench. I was already walking around the rink to check on him, and when I got there, I saw that he was a mess. His helmet was unbuckled, with the facemask pulled up, and he was crying so hard that huge rivers of clear snot were coming from his nose.

I put my arm on his shoulder and told him how sorry I was. "Listen, there's only ten minutes left of practice," I said. "I think you've had enough for one day."

"N-n-n-o," he said.

"Dude, you have a possibly broken finger and a head injury," I said. "I think you might get stabbed if you go back out there." For some reason, he thought that was the funniest line ever, so he burst out laughing at the same time he was crying, and snot was still pouring out of his nose. Everything was going full blast at the same time.

I wasn't worried about the head injury, because I knew he didn't have one. He's got the safest helmet made for junior hockey, and he didn't fall backwards on his head, so I knew he was okay. I just thought he'd had enough, so I wanted to give him an exit point. Eli 9.2 would have cried for a few more minutes, and then I probably would have carried him to the car.

He buckled up his helmet. "Going back out," he said.

"Are you sure?" I asked. He nodded.

"Watch out for pistols," I said as he skated out. "And machetes!"

Within fifteen seconds, he'd stolen the puck from the kid who hit him. He passed it to a teammate, then looked at me and nodded.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oh, and I forgot to mention

Graham, of all people I know, as paid his dues. The guy has played well over a thousand dates, busting his ass for years, and even though he's deserved far, far more commercial success, I don't think it's ever gotten him down. He just radiates energy, and he's never changed who he is or what he does to chase fame. He's just the most down-to-earth person you could ever imagine. Seriously, he's a grown-up Eli 10.2, the adult version of the Enthusiasm Engine.

A Favor, Please

Guys, I would really appreciate it if you could spend a few seconds (or minutes) helping me out.

Graham Wilkinson, a tremendous songwriter who I've written about many times in the past, is currently in an MTV contest called "Best Freshman Video". The contest has videos from five bands, and if Graham's video gets the most votes, his video will be in the MTV rotation for a week.

This would be a huge break for one of the best musicians I've ever heard, as well as one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Now, before you (and you know who "you" are) write some brilliant bot to cast a million votes for him (not that I don't appreciate the sentiment), here are the applicable rules:
...each Voting Period shall commence on Monday at 11:00:01 AM (ET) and continue through Friday at 1:59:59 PM (ET). No robotic, programmed, script, macro or other automated votes (collectively "Automated Votes") permitted. Automated Votes or votes that have been tampered with will result in disqualification of all such votes.

So no script or bots, but you can vote as many times manually as you want, and voting ends at 2 p.m. ET on Friday.

Right now, Graham has the lead (by 1%), so it looks like it's going to be tight.

Graham has given me some inspiring, transcendant moments with his music (seriously, this is the only time I could honestly use the word "transcendant" and not burst out laughing), and I want to help him reach a wider audience. So if you'd like to help, go to the contest page and vote your ass off. Just look in the upper-right hand corner where it says "VOTE NOW."

It's hard to believe (particularly for me), but there are enough of you guys to have an impact on this contest, and nothing would make me happier. So thank you very, very much for your time.

Creativity

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about creativity, and how creativity is captured. More accurately, how it is shaped and contained by platform.

If you look at different types of drawing and painting as different platforms--charcoal, pastel, watercolor, oil, etc.--it's easy to understand how the platform influences and shapes the creativity of the artist. In the simplest terms, just choosing between painting in color or sketching in black-and-white has a huge influence in terms of the relative importance of light and shadows.

So platforms, in one way, are constraints. However, in another way, those constraints can produce a more focused creativity than would otherwise be possible.

The reason I've been thinking about this so much is because of the explosion of mobile platforms, and what it might mean for the future of mobile gaming--in particular, the future of dedicated mobile platforms like the DS and the PSP.

What I've been particularly curious about is the optimal environment for producing the most creativity from a platform. And it seems like there are two very different approaches, at least philosophically: high rewards or low barriers to entry.

Consoles in this era, as well as dedicated mobile platforms, seem to focus on potentially high rewards. So the dev kits aren't cheap, and neither are the tools, but the potential payoff is quite remarkable for the highest selling games. I can't imagine that Carnival Games or Just Dance had high development budgets, and yet their sales have been staggering.

The flip side of that, though, is that in the high rewards arena, competition is fierce. Huge companies fund games with huge development budgets and even bigger marketing budgets. Sharks, as it were. So even though the fish you can catch are quite large, you have to compete with some incredibly ruthless predators whose primary goal is money, not creativity.

The evolution of this environment has unfortunately created a situation where the vast majority of games on console and dedicated mobile platforms aren't profitable. The most popular games are still fabulously successful, but now it seems like, with only rare exceptions, those games are sequels.

It's a curious situation. In most cases, a platform would shape creativity, not reduce it, but that's what's happening today in the gaming world: the console platforms (and, in many cases, consumers themselves) are no longer rewarding creativity.

If you think about it a bit more deeply, though, it should be no surprise. The new, creative game with a wonderful new concept is not going to have much of a chance against games with behemoth marketing budgets and huge television advertising spends. Just Dance and Carnival Games had a better chance of breaking out on the Wii precisely because the platform wasn't very popular with the makers of endless sequels.

A very good argument can be made that this is why the PC platform has experienced a significant renaissance in the last few years. The number of AAA releases for the PC has declined substantially in the last five years, but at the same time, that means there are fewer sharks in the tank.

In a sense, the PC platform has flipped. Before digital distribution, it was tremendously difficult for an indie developer to make a living, because distribution was incredibly difficult. So low barriers to entry in terms of development costs, potentially, but very high barriers in terms of distribution.

With the advent of digital distribution, though, the PC platform became truly low barrier in every way. And there has been an explosion of creativity on the PC platform since that happened.

This is not a coincidence.

Mobile platforms like iOS and Android are having similar explosions. Very low barriers to entry, which makes it possible for almost anyone--with determination--to make a game. And low barriers to entry translate into lower costs for consumers--cost so low that mobile phone gaming has become a truly disruptive technology in an economic sense.

Does it matter that the vast majority of mobile games are crap? No. It's completely irrelevant, really. All that matters is the top one percent, or even the top half of one percent. How many games can we play, anyway? The garbage is a necessary consequence of having a huge number of people developing for a platform. It's a mathematical certainty. That doesn't mean the best people developing for the platform aren't brilliant, though, and the chances of a platform attracting these brilliant people are directly related to the entry barriers (or lack of them).

So we're currently in an environment where developing for a mobile platform is both less expensive and potentially more lucrative than developing for the PSP or 3DS. Prices are so low for consumers, and they don't have to purchase specific "gaming phone" to be a potential game buyer. The potential audience is absolutely huge, and it's growing at an unbelievable rate.

How the hell are the PSP and the 3DS supposed to compete with this?

I don't know. And I don't think they know, either. Sure, they're trying downloadable stores, but the barriers to entry are higher than for a mobile platform, and so are the prices to consumers. In short, the economic model has turned strongly against dedicated mobile gaming hardware, and it's turned stunningly quickly.

Plus, this isn't going to ameliorate in the future-- it's going to get even more pronounced. Here's a dirty little secret: lots of people don't care about quality to the degree that we do, or they have a different definition of quality entirely. There are millions and millions of people who play games on their cell phones who don't care that a game didn't have a multimillion dollar budget or years of development time (not that those things guarantee quality, anyway). They just want a few minutes of pleasant entertainment.

Core gamers still care, but on the financial scale required by Sony and Nintendo, are there enough core gamers to make a platform a financial success?

It's pretty easy to answer that question in three words: Wii and Kinect. I'm not sure if "and" should count as a word, but there you go. The Wii and Kinect were the two bombshells of this generation, and they were two devices whose success depended on non-gamers. That's where the money is, in most cases, and mobile phones are tapping this market in a way that dedicated gaming hardware can't.

I'm not saying this is insoluble, but it's impossible to solve with $49 games. It's almost certainly impossible to solve with $39 games.

Sometimes it's hard to realize this is something is happening, but we are in the middle of a seismic shift. In many ways, I think it's far more profound and far more significant (although far less evocative) than burying millions of E.T. cartridges in the desert.

It's entirely possible, though, that Sony or Nintendo might be renting some bulldozers if they don't pull their head out of the sand.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Knowledge

I went to the bathroom at the burger place (P. Terry's) where I hang out before I pick up Eli 10.2 from school, and as I was washing my hands, a kid walked in. He was about Eli's age, heavyset, with curly dark hair.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Good," he said. He paused. "I know that there were laser disks in the 80s," he said.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, there were."

Fairway (update)

I spent a bit more time with Fairway: Collector's Edition this weekend, and my impressions are even more positive now. It's just so carefully crafted, and there is so much attention to detail, along with so much content.

It's almost impossible to fault, and my only real complaint is more a comment on the nature of card games. When you start a course, it's a very linear process in terms of needing a certain score to unlock the next course.

It's become standard procedure for me that if I don't get an excellent score on the first hole, I restart the round. It would be terrific if there was some sort of gameplay element in place that encouraged me to attempt to salvage a poor round instead of abandoning it, but like I said, that's a weakness of almost all card games.

Someday, someone is going to fix that, and they're going to make a bunch of money. I hope.

Sweetness

I unfortunately haven't been reading as much lately (due to the often-mentioned secret project which is still not ready for "unsecreting", although I will say that day will arrive in the next six months)-- wait, where was I?

Oh, yes. Reading.

I started reading Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton last weekend, and in a word, it's wonderful. Wonderful research, wonderful writing, and a sense of empathy that is often not found among biographers.

Yes, I know that gigantic bags of assholes like Mike Ditka have slammed the book without reading it, but seriously, why would anyone ever listen to Mike Ditka about anything?

If you have any interest in Walter Payton, professional football, or life in the South in the 1960s-1970s, then this is a compelling and fascinating book.

Author Jeff Pearlman has written several excellent sports biographies in the past, but Walter Payton is far more interesting as a person than his previous subjects, which makes for an even better read. And look, it's true that Pearlman isn't writing a mythologized account of Payton's life, but why would anyone want to read that? Instead, this is a nuanced, meticulously researched story of a nuanced and complex person, one who was often poorly understood by even his closest friends.

This is a first-rate piece of writing and I can't recommend it highly enough. It doesn't even matter if you're not into sports--as long as you're into people, you'll enjoy it.

Here's something I discovered in the book that I don't think many people know about. When Payton graduated from high school, Jackson State (where his brother Eddie was attending and playing football) recruited him heavily. However, there was one other football program that desperately wanted Walter: Kansas State. He actually signed a letter of commitment with Kansas St., and went as far as to pack his bags at the end of the summer and head to the airport with a ticket to Manhattan.

The airport, though, was located in Jackson, and there were a few hours left before his flight, and he stopped off at Jackson St. to say goodbye to his brother and a good friend. And we all know what wound up happening: Payton never made it to Manhattan.

If he had, though, Billy Sims at Oklahoma, Earl Campbell at Texas, and Walter Payton at Kansas State would have been starring at major college programs at the same time. And who knows how the history of college football might have been altered?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday Links!

From Dave Prosser, and this is quite interesting, it's How Cooked Food Made Us Human.

From Jeremy Fischer, and this is excellent claymation, it's Pac-Man the Musical: A Pacapella Song. Also, and this is wonderfully clever, it's Glitch: 'Angry' Birds Pose an Existential Threat, Animal Behaviorists Say. Wait, here's one more, and it's an entirely entertaining card trick: best card trick ever.

From Frank Donahue, a remarkable bit of technology that evokes 1984 (at least to me): scientists use brain imaging to reveal the movies in our mind .

Here's an article that discusses barbecue in spectacular detail (thanks Blue's): Physicist Cracks BBQ Mystery.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is utterly, ridiculously awesome: Floppy Drive Imperial March.

From Sirius, and I'm sure Eli 10.2 will want to make these, it's Sugar cookie bowls. Also, and this is quite stunning, it's Fish caught on video using a rock to break open a clam. Next, and this is entirely brilliant: MIT researchers invent artificial leaf.

From Meg McReynolds, and these are spectacular images:
Nikon Small World 2011.

From Steven Davis, and you know you want one for Christmas, it's 10 miniature wooden siege engine kits. Here's another, and it's Build a working miniature wooden ballista.

From DQ fitness advisor Doug Walsh, and this is one of the most dramatic videos you'll ever see (don't think it's over): snowmobile crash.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Clarity

For Eli 10.2 and myself, today is one of the best days of the year. It's the start of the NHL season.

The NHL and the NFL are an interesting study in contrasts when it comes to how they're handling blows to the head. The NFL has "cracked down" on blows to the head, but I don't know anyone who understands the new rules. No one short of Einstein understands how the hits are being officiated--not the players, not the coaches, not even the officials themselves.

In short, it's a huge mess--players are angry, everyone's confused, and the NFL is levying big fines.

No one, however, has been suspended.

In contrast, take a look at the NHL. Last season, they had the same mess on their hands. Colin Campbell was in charge of disciplining players, and he was totally inconsistent and downright baffling at times.

In the off-season, the NHL appointed three-time Stanley Cup winner Brendan Shanahan as senior vice president of hockey operations and player safety. Shanahan, in only a few weeks, has taken a very murky issue and made it totally clear. He's done this by explaining, in detail, his disciplinary decisions on every questionable hit in the pre-season. These decisions have been accompanied with video, to make things even more clear.

In the NFL, you deliver a crushing blow to the head, and you can expect a fine. In the NHL, you're now looking at an eight-game suspension, at a minimum. That's the bar that Shanahan has set.

Now, if you're thinking this is too difficult an issue to make clear, here's something you should watch. The NHL released a video yesterday demonstrating clean hits under the new rules. Shanahan narrates, and even I know what's allowed after watching this: hitting the right way.

You may think this is a sports take, but really, it's a communications take. Shanahan is a model for clear and consistent communication, and his example is ideal for sports and business and life itself, really. When things are explained so clearly, there just won't be many misunderstandings.

In Times Of Life Or Death, I Choose Death

I've mentioned in the past that sometimes I have incredibly vivid dreams.

I saw a story about the disaster survival game "I Am Alive" last week (coming to XBLA and PSN), and I was struck by what a good idea it seemed for a game. Here's a description (from the press release):
I Am Alive follows an everyman’s journey to find his wife and daughter, who were lost during the “Event.” A year later, he finds Haventon, his hometown, in shambles. Buildings are destroyed, toxic ash fills the streets, and society has been torn, causing inhabitants to take all necessary actions to survive.

That seems 100 times more interesting than "shoot, move, shoot, repeat one million times." I would particularly like to see this idea used in a strategy game.

I'm quite sure that seeing this press release influenced my dream, because in the dream, I was in a park area with small parking lots and roads weaving through. People were jogging by, women pushed babies in strollers, and I felt a strong sense of well-being. It was all lovely and pastoral--warm and green--until I turned and saw a wall of water in the distance, so tall that it blocked the sky.

It was a beautiful, vivid blue, almost electric, stretched across the horizon, and I asked someone nearby how it was that water could be suspended like that.

"It can't," he said. Then he explained that, due to some disaster I can no longer remember, the water was actually headed our way, and would arrive in only a few minutes.

A few seconds later, my lifetime failure to develop a foolproof method for locating my car in parking lots would finally come back to haunt me. I couldn't find the damn car, of course, and even if I had, I don't know where I would have driven.

There was general panic around me, as people ran to take cover or simply fled. I ran past the parking lot, through a small stand of trees, and came to a cliff overlooking a small lake. I scrambled down the cliff face and discovered that carved into the red face of the cliff was a lattice-like structure, very precise, and some of the openings had been extended into the cliff itself. Highly geometric burrows, as it were, and I found one about twenty feet above the water level, pushing back into the cliff as far as I could.

I remember thinking how clever I was, and how I was going to survive in my safe, snug little hole.

Then I woke up, and when I remembered the dream I started laughing. As soon as the water reached the lake, the lake level would have gone to the top of the cliff and beyond, drowning me immediately. Absolutely no chance for survival.

Even in my dreams, I'm clutch.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Responsibility

I was sitting at my afternoon hangout, waiting to pick up Eli 10.2 from school, and there were three college-age guys sitting at the next table.

I heard this: "When you break your hand punching someone, it's on you, dude."

Yes. Glad you sorted that out.

Draft Day Sports: College Basketball 2

From Wolverine Sports:
College Basketball season is right around the corner now and what better way to get fired up for your favorite team's march to the big dance than with Draft Day Sports: College Basketball 2! Our brand new version of the critically acclaimed game brings you not only the depth and realism from the previous version but these all new features too...
New - Totally redone GUI allowing for full screen play and a host of data widgets to let you follow all the details of your association
New! - Assistant Coach Mode allows you to start off your coaching career as an assistant coach, performing tasks to help your team win while building up your reputation while you work toward your goal of becoming a head coach
New! - A brand new fictional league setting allows you to setup your collegiate game world in a system of promotion and relegation. The conference lines are completely redrawn creating superconferences and your goal is to work your way to the top conference and bring home the national championship.
New - "GameView" mode gives you another way to watch and coach your games
New - The DII challenge allows you to take one of five fictional schools who are trying to qualify for DI status. Can you recruit enough talent and win enough games against the big boys to belong as a DI member?
New! - Four additional teams added to the main post season tournament to field the tournament with four play in games plus an all new 16 team third postseason tournament added as well
New! - Progressive injury healing, lockable rotations, new game modifiers, assistant coach career tracking and much, much more!

You can get in depth details about all of these great new features from our DDS:CB2 feature page.

I haven't played a text sim in a while (no time,  unfortunately), but I think those are terrific new features, particularly the relegation feature, which I've wanted to see included in non-soccer sports games for a long time.   

Fairway

In 2007, quite a few of us were consumed with a little solitaire card game called "Fairway Solitaire." It was tremendously clever and insidiously fun.

The secret sauce, as it turned out, was John Cutter, a sports gaming legend who designed the game.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Eric Higgins-Freese emailed to ask if I knew that a sequel had been released.

No sir, I did not.

I'm sure John Cutter wasn't involved this time, but nostalgia drove me to purchase the game anyway, and as it turned out, I had some sort of Big Fish "coin" thing accumulated that made my purchase price $0.00.

It's still fun, as it turns out, and there is a ton of content. I don't think it's quite as much fun as the original, but it's still an entertaining diversion, and if you liked the first game, you'll enjoy this one as well.

Oh, here's a link: Fairway Collector's Edition.

[UPDATE: Glen Haag from the grouchy old bastards at The Blog for the Sports Gamer let me know that John Cutter WAS involved with the new game. That's good news.]

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Pocket League Story Mini-Review

In the last year, I've played several of the Kairosoft games, and enjoyed all of them. Game Dev Story was one of my favorite games of 2010, and Grand Prix Story will occupy a similar spot in my favorite games of 2011.

Recently, Kairosoft released Pocket League Story, a team-building soccer game. Clearly, this was going to take up all of my free time. And it did, but not for as long as I expected.

The game mechanics in PLS will be familiar to anyone who's played a Kairosoft game. Basically, all these games boil down to very simple elements: make a product, make money, train up, make a better product, make more money, etc.

That makes KS games sound bland, but they're not. All of these games have tons of little individual touches that are incredibly endearing. PLS has a bus that your players board to go to away matches, and literally, you see every single player on your team boarding the bus. In games, it's easy to recognize your players, because each one is visually distinct in terms of hair color, hair length, glasses, etc. It's all very personal, and I guarantee you will feel pangs of regret when you bench a long-time player on your team for the newest superstar you've acquired. In compensation, though, you do call a press conference every time you sign a new player.

Like I said, the striking touches are everywhere.

Basically, this is how the game works: you play matches (in single matches, tournaments, and leagues) to make money and to accrue training points in multiple categories. With the money, you can negotiate with better players and build facilities at your team complex to increase the flow of training points. With the training points, you train up your players, and can also conduct fan activity events as well as acquiring new sponsors.

Matches themselves are quite entertaining. They don't feel canned, the play feels quite dynamic, and like I said previously, it's easy to pick out individual players and see where your team needs improvement. Tactical options include formation and aggression level, with the ability to sub players in/out at halftime. It's not FM, obviously, but it's entertaining and visually very charming.

During my first playthrough, I strongly felt that PLS was going to be my favorite Kairosoft game, which is saying something. When I started the second play through, though, it quickly became apparent that I was wrong.

Every Kairosoft game rewards you for multiple playthroughs, and in PLS, players you've trained retain their new, higher skill levels for the next game. That's a very nice reward, but unfortunately, it unbalances the game. I had a very difficult time in my first game, but in the second, I lost less than 5% of my matches and finished everything in the game (except for one match which I didn't know even existed, although KS expert John Harwood told me about it recently). So the inherent tension in sport (or anything else) was unfortunately deflated significantly my second time through.

Eli 10.2 decided he wanted a go, and he's playing through it now as well. His players are even better than mine were, and I think he's only lost two matches the entire time.

What's quite frustrating is that Grand Prix Story has the perfect mechanic to reward multiple playthroughs without unbalancing the game. In GPS, you get to retain one part/car body/etc. at the ending level of the previous game. So, for instance, you might keep some super-advanced car body type. You only get to choose one, though, and at the beginning of the next game, your mechanics won't even have the skill to build a car with that body, so you won't get full benefit right away.

That would work perfectly with PLS--choose one player to keep his end-game skill levels, while everyone else goes back to the default rate. You could even make it additive, so that on your fifth playthrough, you'd have four players with insanely high skill ratings, because you'd retained one on each of your previous playthroughs. Why Kairosoft didn't do it this way is a mystery.

This is still a wonderfully entertaining game for the first 10 hours or so, and it costs under $5. But I played through Grand Prix Story at least four times and always felt challenged. PLS is still great fun, but all too quickly, the challenge collapses.

Call Of Duty Soda Elite

Chris Crowder sent in this information about the Mountain Dew/Doritos Call Of Duty promotion:
As an avid Call of Duty player I wanted to check out what exactly you are able to get for loading up on chips and pop to see if there was much to be gained. Compared to the normal play times for people and what you get for certain purchases the double XP is not worth a whole lot. It seems that one person can only accumulate a max of 24 hours of double XP and that is in increments of 15 – 90 minutes. Now this whole promotion may be ridiculous but I can hardly see it being any sort of advantage for anyone during online play. It seemed liked with Black Ops, they were turning on double XP every 6 weeks or so for a weekend.

Point taken.

More Encyclopedia Comments

I forgot to include two comments yesterday.

First, from DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh:
We had a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica. They were in my bedroom and I used them whenever I had homework during elementary school. I’d flip through them on rainy days. Read some random entries and just be amazed. And the smell.... that smell has indeed vanished from the world. Shame.

But what I used the encyclopedias for most, however, was as weights for making forts with my brother. A few EB volumes atop each corner of a blanket spread across the room made for an excellent fort.

Later, as we got older and I began to hate sharing a bedroom with him, I’d prop a volume or two atop a partially opened bedroom door so it would fall on him when he entered. Good times!

Next, from Steve West:
We inherited an old set of world books when I was a kid. My mom used to come in every night and force me to stop reading them. This fact is the source of endless fun-making at my expense, but now I have such an incredible love of knowledge, and I can’t help but think that all of those hours studying the world book contributed.

Also, I learned to read under my covers with a flashlight.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Encyclopedia You

Comments from you guys in response to the encyclopedia post last week.

From Kevin Gaughan:
Sometime in the late 1960's my father decided to invest in a set of Collier's Encyclopaedia's. I think he paid for them in installments. Growing up in the 1970's I spent hours and hours trawling through those hefty volumes (24 volumes, all in all, in black with red and gold trim). A particular treat was a 10 volume junior reading library which came bundled with the encyclopedias that still entertains my own children to this day.

It was actually a pretty good encyclopaedia, although it was written from an American perspective. The information was comprehensive, well written, well illustrated, well laid out and well indexed. There was an annual yearbook with updated articles and reflections on the biggest stories of the year (we only got them for the first few years, but the moon landings of 1969 were exceptionally well covered).

More than anything else I remember the size and weight of the volumes, with each containing a thousand or so pages of densely packed knowledge.

I didn't discover Brittanica until my teens in either the school or local library (I can't recall which). Colliers was not bad, but Brittanica was, as you say, the gold standard. As a geeky kid who spend most of my teens reading about science and technology, I was was bowled over by the authors of Britannica's articles. Collier's articles were written by worthy college professors. Britannica's articles were written by Nobel prize winners.

I made a promise to myself in my penniless teens - some day I would own a full set of encyclopedia Brittanica. The cost seemed astronomical, but I knew it would be worth it.

Years passed and while I occasionally came across second hand sets of Britannica for sale, I determined to hold out for the full experience. The demands of settling down and establishing a home and family meant that there was never enough money left over to fulfill my dream, but I knew it would come to pass eventually.

Of course, all this time computers and the information technology revolution were changing our relationship with knowledge. When Brittanica published a CD version of their opus at a considerable discount on the dead tree version my wife, in a moment of inspiration, saw a means of fulfilling my dream and bought me a set of CDs.

It was Britannica. All of the Nobel Laureates text was faithfully reproduced including many of the diagrams. The Netscape based interface was admittedly pretty awful but functional. All that was missing was the tactile sensation. The touch, the smell the feel. The weight of knowledge.

If I am honest, though, those CD's were hardly ever used. Pretty soon after I got the set Larry Page and Sergey Brin [Google] gave me a way to obtain more information that I could ever use on just about any subject I might be interested in. A few years later Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger [Wikipedia] even managed to re-invent the encyclopedia in a way that I still cannot believe really works, but it does.

I have no idea what I'd do without Google.

Do you remember the era (no, young people, not the 1950s) when monks copied the great books of the world by hand, and all higher knowledge was in the hands of an infinitesimal number of people? Who would ever have imagined, centuries later, that someone would devise a way to entirely flatten those barriers, so that all knowledge is basically shared?

That's not to say we understand much of it, but that's not the point.

Now, an entirely deligthful story from Chris Volny:
I just read your post about encyclopedias and was instantly transported back to the house I grew up in. Complete with the same smell you mentioned, which is still today one of my favorite smells; more on that in a minute. But also I felt the rough shag carpet on my elbows as I lay on my stomach, propped up reading, and the ridge between carpet and tile floor.

Our encyclopedias were on a shelf behind my father's chair, and I would lay for hours on end reading through them. Remember the equivalent of web-surfing? An article would reference some article in another volume of the same set and I'd go grab that volume and flip it open. I would regularly have five or more volumes stacked in front of me.

Today, it amazes me that we were able to ever find anything; I can't even begin to fathom how I would research some obscure or even not so obscure topic without the internet and Google to get me started.

So, about the smell:
My brother and I were table top wargamers; if you don't know, the old strategy games from Avalon Hill, SPI and several others. When you mentioned smell, our very first game was called Tactics II and it had the exact same smell. The other day I pulled out my old copy of it to teach one of my kids how to play it and the scent that came back into my face as I pulled open the lid instantly refreshed every single memory I had about those games and that one in particular. I got this glazed, misty look in my eyes, apparently, because my son asked me if everything was o.k.

"Oh yes, just a huge burst of nostalgia. It's one of those things that's impossible to explain until you have memories that are over thirty years old."

I've often wondered what Eli will think about when he's my age, and what he'll remember. And what he'll tell his sons. Such a long way to go.

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