Words and Such
Robin Clarke (of the excellent Fluid Soccer
) has a Kickstarter titled The World's Biggest Wordsearch Puzzle
. Here's a description:
We’re producing a perfectly plump puzzle, packed with over 5,750 wickedly withheld words, all of them tied to over 350 themes, lovingly laced through a latticework of over 60,000 letters.
The puzzle is hand-crafted with tactfully and tastefully thought-out themes, and of course - wads of wonderful words. We’ve hidden a Secret Message and 45 specially designated ‘Trophy’ words too.
Our convoluted calculations conclude it’ll take a committed Word Search puzzler over 40 hours to complete this world beating puzzle – as such we’re applying to the Guinness Book of World Records and are confident of a rapturous response.
Abundant alliterations, that.
There will be a giant poster, along with PC, iOS, and Android versions. And it's a very modest goal--only £5,000. So if you're interested, hop over to the Kickstarter
and have a look.
#2 Drink Lid
If you write for enough years, you'll eventually have a second story about drink lids.
I picked up Eli 11.6 from school today. "Hey, I have a puzzler for you," I said, as we were walking to the car.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Can't tell you until we get to the car," I said. "There's physical material involved."
We reached the car and he got in. "Okay, what is it?" he asked. I handed him the drink lid.
"A lid?" he asked. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
"What's the single thing about P. Terry's that's annoying?" I asked.
"Wobbly tables," he said.
"And how do we fix them?" I asked.
"The paper that comes on the trays," he said. "Or sugar packets."
"But we usually have to do it more than once, right? Because when we use paper, if it isn't exactly the right thickness, the table will still wobble."
"That's right," he said.
"So I was sitting at a wobbly table today, and I went to get a drink," I said. "And when I picked up the drink lid, something clicked and I realized we've been using wrong material. Tell me why a drink lid would be better than using paper."
He looked at the drink lid carefully, turning it to different angles. "Well, it's not a smooth surface," he said. "Could the part of the lid that hangs over help somehow?"
"A good idea, but not quite," I said. "Look at the pattern on the lid."
"It's an 'X'," he said.
"That's from being folded in half, then being folded in half again," I said. "Now tell me this: how is folding plastic different from folding paper?"
"It's harder to fold," he said.
"It is, unless the paper is really thick," I said. "Plastic of this thickness has a resistance to being folded, so even after it's folded, it wants to return to its original position. So if you fold it, then fold it again, you almost wind up with--"
"A spring!" he said. "It's like a spring."
"That's right," I said. "So even if the folded plastic is a little thinner than the gap, the memory in the plastic will push up the shape until it fills the gap with the table. It even provides positive pressure upwards."
"That's neat," he said.
Wobbly tables have bugged me forever, and I should have thought of this forty years ago.
In No Way Should This Be Surprising
From a presentation by EA CEO Blake Jorgensen at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference
Yes, so the digital business is broken up into a couple of pieces...The next and much bigger piece is microtransactions within games. And so to the extent that, as Rajat said, we're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.
"we're building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way..."
Anyone should know where this path leads: to games where essential content or skills necessary in the base game are not available unless they're purchased via micro-transaction. They will be game unbalancing, they will be unfair, and there is no good ending here. There is no path where this is good for us.
But wait, you might say. What if these micro-transactions are just for non-essential or optional items? What if a company promises
that they'll never expand to items that unbalance the game? Dead Space 3 was a good example of that, right? So why does this have to end badly?
Let me clarify something before we proceed. If the company making the game isn't part of a publicly-traded corporation, then there are many paths to happy endings. If it's a publicly-traded corporation, though (like Electronic Arts), then we are well and truly screwed.
Here's the simplest answer. The primary goal of a corporation is not to serve the consumer--it's to maximize value for shareholders. Period.
What this means is that as long as those two interests are aligned, a company will seem very consumer-friendly. When there is a diversion, though, it will always be in the direction of the shareholders, not us.
CEOs use the phrase "maximize value for the shareholders" like an American flag, waving it to prove how they should be immune to criticism no matter what kind of shitty thing they do to consumers. Living by the "maximize value" mantra, a corporation is a predator. A "promise" from a corporation is only good until they decide to break that promise.
So EA will sell non-game-breaking items until they decide they can generate substantially more revenue and higher profits by doing otherwise. Their recent claim that they would never unbalance a game with micro-transactions is nothing more than a Maginot Line, and we would be foolish to believe otherwise.
Is this true of other publicly-traded companies? Absolutely, although the more profitable the company, the less their financial need to consider destroying the trust we've placed in them.
SimCity V? Be prepared. I'm expecting it to be jam-packed with micro-transactions.
This is why, in recent years, I've written more and more about indie games. With an indie game, the interests of the developer are far more closely aligned to their customers. If they're not, they won't be making games for long.
Eli 11.6: And Again
Eli 11.6 had another tournament in Dallas two weekends ago.
First game, a shutout with 20 saves.
In the second game, he was playing wing, and his team was getting killed. It was 5-1 early in the second period when the coach motioned Eli over, then he skated off the ice.
"I cannot BELIEVE IT!" he said. "He wants me to go in!"
"I know," I said. "I can't believe it, either. But that doesn't matter now. Let the anger go and start centering in on what you need to do."
What followed was the madness of a full gear change in 10 minutes real-time. It only took 5 minutes of game time, so he skated back on in the middle of the second period.
This was a situation that was sure to lead to disaster. The other team had scored again, it was 6-1, and our kids were totally discouraged. They were giving up shot after shot from right in front of the net.
And they kept giving them up for the rest of the game.
Didn't matter. Eli had 14 saves in 15 shots. He was completely in charge, and while they still lost 7-3, it was one of his best efforts ever. I was very proud of how he'd skated on and shut down a team that was very hungry to pad their stats, even with a big lead.
For the tournament, he had 34 saves on 35 shots. He'd also had a 12 shot shutout the previous week in an "official" scrimmage against Houston, so he'd saved 46 of his last 47 shots.
I've never seen him so confident. His technique and athleticism were so dominant that you could see kids on the other team start to sag as the games progressed, because they just weren't going to score.
So, of course, three days later there was this:
It didn't happen playing hockey, of course. He was playing soccer at school recess, caught a ball while he was playing goalie, and a kid kicked him in the hand. The kick was directly on his pinkie.
There's a fair amount of good news, believe it or not. One, it's a hairline fracture, so the cast only has to be on for 3 weeks, and he'll be able to play hockey again in 4.
Okay, that's one bit of good news, at least.
We've set up a daily routine, which consists of him stretching first, followed by squeezing a ball to strengthen his other hand, and ending with a rapid-fire ball toss to keep his reflexes as sharp as we can. I think just having some kind of workout makes him feel better about being out, and it will help him come back more quickly.
I also told him that we'll get him a sizable Lego set that he can build when the cast comes off. If it takes 6-8 hours to build over a few days, that's a lot of happy rehab for his hand, to help get the flexibility back in all his fingers.
So his development team season is over. He played in 5 tournaments, had 13 games in goal, and finished with a .916 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average. He was getting stronger, too--in his last 5 games, his save percentage was .929.
It was a tough season. His coach was a cactus, his team played erratically (due, I think to the coach), and he was in too many games where his team just couldn't score. Through all that, though, he consistently rose above the situation and dominated. Plus, he was, by far, the most athletic goalie in his age group, which should serve him very well as he gets older.
It's still a longshot for him to reach his goals, but I think it's fair to say that after this season, he's still in the game.
Gridiron Solitaire #44: Finally!
I know I talked about finishing the offseason last week, but after three fortunately productive days in a row last week, now it actually is finished (or at 95%+). There's also a full name database for cards now (40 for each ranking).
First off, there was a happy accident on the ratings buttons last night. Fredrik revised some of the button images for me with different poses, because the cards for that rating now match the button image. He forgot that I had some labels on the button, though, so he made the images larger. Take a look at the screen, temporarily with buttons of both sizes:
The larger buttons look so much better that I decided to move the "Current" text and keep the buttons, so Fredrik redid the other two in the new style. I can still fit in the name of the rating at the top.
The ratings text will be in the bottom left, because every button has space there. And instead of a 1-10 rating (which was only temporary, because I don't use that scale anywhere else in the game), I'm going to use A-F (which is what's used on the New League screen). So you'll see a button with a big player image and one letter in the lower left to indicate the current rating. That's a much cleaner look, and it requires less reading (I know, that sounds stupid when I'm only talking about one word--"current", but anything that can be grasped without having to think about it is a good thing).
Second screen, after you select a rating:
Two big changes on this screen since last week. First, instead of six cards per rating, there are only three. Second, instead of having the same ratings range each season, ratings for each card are randomly generated now. It was just too predictable previously (as John Harwood very concisely pointed out), and this makes for more budget juggling and risk taking decisions.
One more image, and it's the outcome screen, after you've finalized your purchase choices:
Fredrik's working on a revised accountant image for this screen (where he's watching the draft after an exhausting day of crunching numbers), but otherwise, it's essentially finished. There's a reveal where the stamp for each card is shown in turn, so you know whether the card went bust.
Balance-wise, I'm having good results with the bottom-tier teams, which is all I've tested yet. It's possible to take a poor team and get them into playoff contention reliably after 5 years or so (simming only), but there's certainly no way to dominate. I'm going to try a top team next and see if it's possible to control the league (hopefully not).
Oh, and by the way, the revised letter ratings aren't shown on these cards yet, either, so there will be a letter instead of a number where in the "New Rating" area.
I also forgot to mention that there are now "ultra-rare" cards. There's only a 1% chance of drawing one, but it grants a +5 bonus to a rating (if it doesn't bust), and it's only as costly as a +2 card. So it's quite a thrill (to me, anyway), when one pops up.
This turned out to be a slog, but I think it's far more interesting than the old offseason, and it feels much more faithful to football in general. So now that it's essentially done, I can forgot the teeth grinding that went with it over the last month.
Plus, major functionality is done now. I'm not making any more big changes to anything. Going forward, there's a focus on polish and refinement, but I'm not yanking out major engine parts.
Leading off, from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a wonderful animated short: Adam and Dog
. Also, and this explains why seemingly every Russian car has one: Dash-cams: Russia's Last Hope for Civility and Survival on the Road
. Next, and this is excellent: Asteroid Discovery - 1980-2012 - UHDTV
. One more, and it's terrific: Optical Calibration Targets
. Last one, and it's an excellent read: Bengali Harlem: Author documents a lost history of immigration in America
From Meg McReynolds, and this is wonderful: Infographic: A Map Of All The Action In Star Wars And Indiana Jones
, Also, and this is totally fascinating: Infographic: An Amazing, Invisible Truth About Wikipedia
From Jonathan Arnold, and these images are tremendous: Snowstorm dumps on Northeast
. Also, and these are phenomenal, it's Hyper-real and very cool Star Wars art
. One more, and this is my favorite link of the week: The Man Behind the Brilliant Media Hoax of "I, Libertine"
. Wait, one more and it's also amazing: The Secret Life of Scientists
Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and this time, it's That Used To Be Us
From Derek Krause, and this is utterly fascinating:Describing Colors To Blind People
From Sirius, and this is a wonderful image: How to wait in line
From Rob Swaringen, and boy, is this illuminating: The Geography of Happiness According to 10 Million Tweets
. Shreveport, to no one's surprise, is the fourth unhappiest city in America. Well, actually, I'm surprised it didn't crack the top three.
PS4 Reveal (part whatever)
I talked about the PS4 from a consumer aspect on Tuesday. That's half a picture.
The other half is the business aspect, and Sony screwed that up in the PS3 generation, too. Their biggest mistake, undoubtedly, was the degree to which the PS3 was over-engineered. They tried to get ahead of the processor performance (not possible) with the Cell processor, which cost a fortune and was comparatively weak within two years. There's just no business reason to design a massively expensive CPU, no matter how brilliant, when an average CPU is going to be better (and far less expensive) in a few years.
The Cell, along with all kinds of Sony tomfoolery, also meant the PS3 was extremely difficult to develop for, which created another set of problems. It doesn't matter how theoretically powerful your console is when it takes 2x the amount of work to get to that peak compared to the competition (and I use "2x" not knowing a precise number, but there's no question that developing for the PS3 was more difficult).
So, having said all that, the most encouraging thing about the PS4 is that it's a PC. Basically
--8-core x86-64 CPU using AMD Jaguar cores (built by AMD)
--High-end PC GPU (also built by AMD), delivering 1.84TFLOPS of performance
--Unified 8GB of GDDR5 memory for use by both the CPU and GPU with 176GB/s of memory bandwidth
--Large local hard drive
Lower cost components, PC architecture--that's all good. Very good. So no matter how odd that presentation might have seemed last night, the hardware has a much better chance of being successful.
Also, and continuing the "odd" series, have a look at this exchange
between Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell and Sony's Shuhei Yoshida:
I sat down with Yoshida a few hours after the PS4 reveal tonight and one of the first things I asked was whether used games would be blocked.
"Do you want us to do that?" he asked.
No, I said. I think, if you buy something on a disc, that you have a kind of moral contract with the person you've bought it from that you retain some of that value and you can pass it on.
Do you agree, I asked?
"Yes. That's the general expectation by consumers," said Yoshida. "They purchase physical form, they want to use it everywhere, right? So that's my expectation."
So if someone buys a PlayStation 4 game, I asked, you're not going to stop them reselling it?
"Aaaah," was Yoshida's initial answer, but seemingly only because he'd forgotten his line. "So what was our official answer to our internal question?" he asked his Japanese PR advisor. The advisor stepped in but didn't seem to answer clearly, at least to my ears. Yoshida then took control again firmly: "So, used games can play on PS4. How is that?"
I said I thought that was fine.
Eurogamer's headline for the article was "Sony tells Eurogamer: PlayStation 4 will not block used games", but again (here comes that word), that seems odd. Yoshida, to me, seems to indicate that if Consumer A buys a physical game, he'll be able to play that on more than his own console.
It doesn't appear, however, that he answered the question about reselling. So this should be interesting.
Eurogamer did note that a source claimed the recent Sony patent that would block used games wouldn't be used with the PS4, so that's encouraging, at least.
PS4 Reveal (addendum)
Blake Senn pointed out (correctly) that Sony did reveal additional specs after the presentation. Here you go:
Sony further details PlayStation 4 hardware specs
He also pointed out (and I missed this entirely) that the Knack Vita demo was streaming from a prototype PS4.
I still believe the appropriate question is "Why now?" Something really isn't adding up here.
Sony PS4 Reveal
What the hell was that?
I think Chris Kohler of Game|Life explains what happened very well
Coming Holiday 2013. No form factor. no specs. No feature set. No price. Wow.
Literally, Sony didn't even show a prototype PS4. As far as I can tell, they showed no game footage running on a PS4. The entire presentation came off as half-baked.
Maybe not even half.
There are plenty of places you can go if you want details of what Sony actually did announce (the link to Chris's article provides plenty of information), but there's one big question here, and I think it's the question that won't get talked about.
Why did Sony do this?
Why would Sony go with this obviously rushed, incomplete reveal? The announcement of the presentation came out of nowhere, seemingly off-calendar.
Take a look at the stock price since the all-time high of 149.71 in March 2000.
Yeah, that's 149 to 10, basically, over the last 13 years. That's a loss of 93% of the stock price, incredibly.
The stock price has gone from 10 to 15 in the last five weeks, though, and I strongly suspect that's on word starting to spread that the PS4 was going to be announced.
In the last few weeks, Sony announced plans to sell off one of their showcase buildings in Tokyo, then lease the space back from the new owners. That's what you do when you badly, badly need cash.
I think this incomplete, rushed reveal is related to both Sony's current financial status. Every hardware division they have seems to be down year over year, and this announcement might generate some enthusiasm, at least.
If you don't have numbers, enthusiasm will have to do.
It's possible that we're not going to know the real reason that this presentation was announced and executed in such short order, but that's the real story here, and hopefully someone at a higher pay grade will get the real story leaked to them.
One other note: I've only heard one alleged price point, which came from Kotaku
, but it seems reasonable: $429 (and a higher-end model at $529).
Let me say this: if this pricing information is correct, and the PS4 launches at $429, it's going to land like a wet diaper. That price is madness.
The PS4 is apparently being announced tomorrow.
Here's the state of Sony's affairs, based on the earnings report released in early February. These numbers are all unit sales comparisons of the first two quarters of Sony's fiscal year versus the previous year:
Video cameras (-9%)
Digital cameras (-29%)
LCD TVs (-28%)
PS3/PS2 Software (-9%)
Vita/PSP Software (0%)
In brief: not going well.
Sony needs a hit. A big one. So let's spitball a bit, before the big announcement. What would the PS4 be like if it was going to succeed, as opposed to the PS3 losing Sony billions of dollars over its lifespan?
1. It must be reasonably priced at launch.
Think Sony can launch this at $499 and succeed? Think again. Think they can launch a crippled version at $399 and have the "real" unit at $499? Think again.
Look at it this way. Sony launched the PS3 on an unbelievable wave of momentum following the spectacular success of the PS2. They had absolutely everything in their favor. Everything! And as soon as they announced the price ($499 and $599), they were dead.
$399? That's the absolute highest point, in my mind, and it better not be some fraud unit that's crippled compared to the real unit.
Of course, it's fair to question whether there's any price point where a new console can succeed, given the state of the market. The Wii U sold 69,000 units last month, which is not a death sentence, but it's certainly a scary, scary number (that's a Gamecube sales number).
[aside: I have NPD data back to November 2001, and unless a console was designated as end of life and its replacement already launched, no console besides the Gamecube sold as few as 70,000 units in a month.]
In a hyper-competitive environment, with cellphones and tablets offering unique cost advantages, consoles can no longer afford to just compete with their peer group on price.
Also, from the business side of things, Sony can't afford to over-engineer this console like they did the PS3. Let's say you're going to lose 10% on every console you ship at launch (the PS3 lost much more, but stay with me here). If you're shipping a $300 box, you're going to lose $30. If you ship a $600 box, you're losing twice as much --$60.
You probably wind up losing the same amount of money on the hardware, because you'll sell 2X or more in the case of the $300 box, but you have twice as many units in the wild, selling twice as much software, and you have twice as many people talking about your product.
2. It must have something fun to play.
The single best thing Wii Sports did for Nintendo is that it got everyone who bought a Wii talking about the same game. It was ultra-concentrated consumer love, and it worked: people bought the Wii to play Wii Sports.
Why will people buy the PS4 exactly? Will they buy it because Sony tells us we should? Will they act like they did with the PS3, where they said people should "aspire" to buy a PS3? Remember that shit?
Probably not a good idea this time.
Instead, here's a novel approach: include an outstanding pack-in game. That way we all play it, and we all talk about it, and if it's a good game, then we'll wind up saying lots of good things about the system. And people will buy the system to play the game.
Really, it amazes me how complicated people make the business end of this sometimes. At the margins, maybe it is complicated, but the broad strokes are very simple.
3. The games must be reasonably priced.
Seriously, don't even try that $60 bullshit. That is an automatic fail in this environment. Across all publishers, there might be 12-15 games a year that can make money at that price point. How much developer support do you think you'll get with that model?
If the PS4 locks out used games, then games can't cost more than $40, and that's the absolute ceiling. I'm not even sure the market will support $40 without resale. And it's an incredibly awful idea, for reasons I've discussed previously.
Could locking out used games be enough to make the console fail, even if Sony does everything else right? In some situations, yes. And regardless, Sony's not going to do everything else right.
Everyone seems to keep ignoring how price sensitive the gaming industry is in general. That's a mistake.
4. It must be compact, and it must be quiet
This will undoubtedly be market as a media center/gaming device, and that means it can't be huge, like the original PS3. It also can't sound like a Dustbuster after 5 minutes, and it has to be cool enough that you can put it into a stereo cabinet and it won't overheat.
If you want us to watch movies on your system, we have to be able to hear the soundtrack. Non-negotiable. And since there's no way in hell that Sony will sell enough games to make this system profitable without a substantial contribution from non-interactive media purchases, they better design a console to meet the quality standards of other devices in that space.
5. It must offer real value, not marketing value.
Sony is absolutely notorious for marketing chicken shit as chicken salad. So if this console does lock out used games, and then tells us it's actually for our benefit and we should be grateful, it's an indicator that the arrogance and hubris at Sony hasn't changed.
Here's Sony's last moment of real value in consoles. The PS2 launched at $299 in October of 2000 in the U.S.. Nineteen months later, the price was dropped from $299 to $199.
That's real value. That's a real price drop. And it created huge momentum for the PS2.
When a company is marketing some bullshit that's so complicated even they can't explain it, or they so obviously fabricate, it's because they have nothing to market.
Again, it's not complicated.
After Sony's announcement tomorrow, let's circle back and see how many of these criteria they fulfilled, and what it might mean.
Gridiron Solitaire #43: Finishing the Offseason
Funny thing about hockey tournaments when you leave early Friday and come back late Sunday: they kill your productivity. Plus you're exhausted the first day that you're back (today). Eli 11.6 was unbelievable (34 saves in 35 shots, save percentage of .971), but the tournament schedule is just killing me. I just walk around exhausted all the time, basically.
Whatever. So I've slowed down, but the new offseason is past the 80% mark, at least, as I've gotten to the point where the card outcome is revealed. So the basic principle is that instead of showing the cards one at a time, I'll show the purchased card set, then reveal boom/bust one card at a time.
The reason I'm showing all the cards instead of making them visible one at a time (the original version) is because the cards are individualized now with names. So you'll see a card that's third or fourth in the lineup, for example, and maybe it's the card most important to your style of play, and your anticipation is going to rise each time as the reveal gets closer to that card. It's a little thing, but it builds just a bit more anticipation.
Here's a screenshot of the near-final card purchase screen:
If you click on that image to enlarge, you can see all the detail that Fredrik's put into the art. The accountant, in particular, just cracks me up. I'm going to have the football removed from the background image, because it fouls up the focal point of the image, but that little accountant has a ton of personality, and I think I might ask Fredrik to add a little trophy on his desk (for kickball, probably). Since the only thing that really matters in the accountant image is the team budget info, the image itself is open to lots of humor.
There's still going to be one significant change to the image. There's going to be a "telethon pledge"-type board replacing those bland team budget labels and total. And it's really going to pop, so your attention will naturally be drawn there. Plus, there's going to be a blue strip running from the left edge of the accountant image, and the accountant will get a name strip, just like the player cards.
There's an open question about the far right side of the screen. I want the cards as large as possible, but unless I want the buttons in the grass, they'll run into the logo if I place them any farther to the right (and I like the size of the logo, so I'd rather not shrink it).
The process that each screen goes through is so meticulous that sometimes it seems silly. But then, at some point, I look at the screen and I know that it's right. This isn't far from being right, but it's not quite there yet. Still.
Friday Links (Addendum)
A meteorite struck in Russia today, and it was spectacular:
Explosions in Chelyabinsk
That link includes multiple videos, because everything is recorded by everyone in Russia. Thanks to TEGLM for the link.
And a ton more videos and images here: here
From Jonathan Arnold, and this is fantastic: 200 covers of science fiction books from Penguin
. Also, and this is wildly entertaining, it's Baseball Card Vandals
Jesse Leimkuehler sent in a link to an absolutely riveting article: The Damage Done: Football made George Visger the man he is today--for better and for worse
. It's a brilliantly written piece about ex-NFL player George Visger, and when I finished, I was stunned by the quality of the writing. When I saw it was written by Patrick Hruby, maybe the best sportswriter in America today, I wasn't surprised.
From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: Teen Creates 3D Printed, Brain-Powered Prosthetic Arm
. Next, art made out of Rubik's Cubes: Dream Big
. One more, and it's terrific: Revolution ( Life Cycle of a Drop of Water)
From C. Lee, and this is a tremendous story: People of Timbuktu Save manuscripts From Invaders
From Chris Pencis, and this is entirely entertaining (and NSFW as well): Blooper reel from LA Noire reveals its excellent motion capture technology
From Griffin Cheng, and this is potentially incredible: Scientists Find Life in the Cold and Dark Under Antarctic Ice
From David Gloier, and these pictures are so beautiful: World's most beautiful shipwreck: Haunting hull of Sweepstakes lies just TWENTY FEET below clear blue water of Ontario lake where it sank in 1885
From J.R. Parnell, and this is fascinating: The UFO Is Fake in Animator’s YouTube Prank — But So Is Everything Else
. Also, and how ironic that Monster screwed itself after fleecing the general public for so many years: Beat By Dre: The Exclusive Inside Story of How Monster Lost the World
From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is brilliant: The Tiny Transforming Apartment: 8 Rooms in 420 Square Feet
. Next, and this is stunning: Vast, hand-drawn maze took seven years to design
. Still going, and this is beautiful: Ink Drops Swirling in Water (4K Ultra HD)
. One more, and this is fascinating: Watch the Solomon Islands Earthquake Travel All the Way to Michigan
Here's what might be the most impressive unicycling video I've ever seen: Extreme Mountain Unicycling is as Crazy as It Sounds
From Joshua Buergel, and believe it or not, it's an article about the history of pasta: Pasta's Winding Way West
An Interesting Squabble
There's quite a snit fit going on between the New York Times and Tesla Motors.
The short version is that a New York Times reporter recounted a nightmarish experience with a Tesla Model S (an all-electric car with vastly greater range than its competitors), enough to put off almost anyone from buying the car. Tesla responded with data logs showing--if true--that the reporter flat-out lied about his experience.
It's quite a battle, really, along several fronts, and if you're interested, here's a starting point (with links to everything else that's relevant): Tesla Refutes NY Times In Continued War of Words
The Future (Follow-Up)
Here's an e-mail I received from UK reader Phil Davies:
Are US consumer protection laws that bad? In the UK I can take any game back to the shop within 30 days for a money back guarantee, no questions asked. They check you haven't used any 'one use codes' and take your name and address just in case you are lying but the standard consumer law allows for this return.
Yes, our consumer protection laws are absolutely that bad. And they never seem to get better, unfortunately.
Matt Perrin sent in an interesting link to a VideoGamerTV video titled What the hell happened to Aliens: Colonial Marines?
They do an extensive comparison of "demo footage" shown last year with the final product. The difference is remarkable, certainly--I don't think I've ever seen a game regress so much from alleged demo footage to the final version.
I strongly believe that in the next ten months, even if Microsoft and Sony don't lock out used games, that some individual publishers will. There's a kind of group insanity in the "big" gaming industry right now, and someone is going to be force the issue.
I Have No Words
Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius was charged Thursday with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs.
Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times in the predawn hours in the house, in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria, police said.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Pistorius thought Steenkamp was an intruder and shot her by accident, but the police aren't backing that up. At all.
I thought the life of Oscar Pistorius was one of the most inspirational stories in history, really, so this has hit me pretty hard.
The Future (I Hope Not)
Here's what I can't quite wrap my head around.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
was recently released.
No, I haven't played, but people I trust say it's shit. It has a Metacritic rating of FIFTY (28 reviews).
[Side note: 27 of 28 reviews were 65 or worse. The exception? EGM, which gave it a 90. Please draw your own conclusions--I've certainly drawn mine.]
Where was I? Oh, yes--it's shit. Mind you, this just isn't any
shit--it's $60 shit.
And I don't know about you, but I have a certain level of shit tolerance. If I have a bad meal for lunch, that's $6 shit, and I get over it quickly. A bad movie? $8 shit, and while it might linger a little longer than a terrible meal, it's still $8.
$60? That's way past my tolerance level, and past most other people's, too.
Beyond a certain price level, most consumer products are returnable. Not all, but most. Let's say I pay $60 for a nice dress shirt, and it only has one sleeve. It's going right back to the store, and they have to give me a non-defective shirt or give me my money back.
Not games, though. You know what happens if you paid $60 for A:CM? You are out of luck, my friend. The gaming industry holds you responsible for buying a shirt with only one sleeve.
Maybe that's not a fair analogy, though. A:CM isn't defective, it's just terrible. If I had a shirt I thought was terrible, and I paid $60 for it, I promise you I could get a refund. A terrible movie? No, but I paid less than $10 to see that terrible movie. Like I said, that's below my shit tolerance level.
This is why I think there's going to be a huge, huge backlash if used games aren't an option on the new consoles. Right now, you'd leave skid marks in the driveway getting to Gamestop so you could trade this dog in for something else.
But wait, you might say. PC games are already like this. Yes, and how many copies of $60 PC games get sold these days? PC gaming has had a wonderful renaissance, but it hasn't been with $60 titles--it's been with games that cost much less, along with heavy discounting. Yes, there are some companies--like Bethesda--that can put out something like Skyrim and charge $50 or $60, but you know when you buy that game that you can (literally) play it for 100 hours or more.
So what will happen when you can't rent games and you can't sell them as used? How does anyone believe that people will play just as many games? Why is no one getting that doing this would be Armageddon for that particular console?
Even worse, what are the ripple effects for the gaming ecosystem in general? What about kids who are trading and retrading games, who play games constantly? What happens when that kid has to pay $60 for every game, when he can't even trade games with his friends?
Well, he's going to find other things to do with his time. And maybe his little brother or sister won't become gamers, either. Or wait--maybe they'll all just game on their phones and tablets, where games are either free or very inexpensive.
Really, among kids, consoles may already be a dying breed. But locking down consoles like this will not only hasten their demise, it will guarantee it.
Now, there's still time for Microsoft and Sony to pull back from the ledge. But something in my gut (well, I guess it could just be gas) tells me that at least one of these guys is going to pull the trigger on this.
They just don't realize that the gun is aimed at their own head.
On the Go
I'm in the middle of debugging the new offseason functionality (I don't recommend it unless you're already an alcoholic), so here are a few pictures I snapped in the last week or so.
The first is our cat Gracie, and the giraffe is life-sized, obviously. It always fascinates me when different species become friends--in this case, the world's smallest cat and a wooden giraffe:
We were in Target last weekend (I think it was last weekend--there have been so many hockey trips that I basically walk around in a daze now) and this caught my eye:
That's "Villain" cologne. It's worth expanding the image to see the Disney-style cobra. Who's the market here--the Jafar demographic?
I've seen duct tape used in many creative ways, but this stood out. The driver-side mirror apparently got torn off the car, and it was re-mounted entirely with duct tape (not very well).
For some reason, I was reminded of when I was a kid (enter the wayback machine), and some of my friends had parents who put plastic covers on all the furniture. They fit snugly (form-fitting and obviously made for that specific piece of furniture).and you could never mess up the furniture by spilling something on it, because it was encased in plastic. What I remember most, though, is that if you sat in one place for more than a few minutes, your legs would sweat. And the furniture squeaked when you sat down.
So here's the obvious question when I combine the photograph with the memory: if you bought a new car, and covered it with duct tape, would it ever wear out?
Unwritten: That Which Happened
This is an entirely worthy Kickstarter for a game that sounds entirely fantastic:
Permanent decisions and infinite variety. Create a nomadic tribe and guide them across a randomly generated tundra to meet its God.
--Delve into a turn based strategy game with meaningful, permanent decisions
--Play as successive generations of a nomadic clan, passing stories and legends down through the ages
--Experience infinite novelty through randomly generated maps, units, abilities, and enemies
--Make decisions that become a part of your personal "story", affecting your ability to barter and ally with rival clans
--Make the trek to "God Mountain", a place of final judgement and potential glory
--Experience a rich, exotic world inspired by international traditions of story-telling
--Make your own game modules using the same tools the developer used to make the game
Yes, it sounds a bit like King of Dragon Pass
(a very good thing), and you can make your own game modules. I mean, come on! How can this Kickstarter fail?
Well, it's about to, because there are 11 hours to go, and it's at roughly $67,000 of the $75,000 goal. So please go take a look at the Kickstarter site and the videos, because it would be a travesty if this project doesn't make its goal:
Unwritten: That Which Happened
Gridiron Solitaire #42: Details and the Devil
Most of the new code has been written for the new offseason functionality. I have one more piece to write tonight, then I'll be able to start debugging.
It's been a bit of a slog, but I know this is the last time I'll go through major revisions to the offseason functionality, which lessens the sting a bit.
Here's how the individual card screen looks (it's not finished, but you can see quite a bit of how it will look):
Yeah, I know: that doesn't look quite right yet. The accountant, who looks great, is mucking up the layout. So I may lower the cards and put him on top. Not sure yet, but I'll do something.
It also looks bland. It doesn't look cohesive yet. I used to freak out when this happened, but now I know that it's just part of a longer process. Some screens come out very well the first time, but most of them (for me, anyway) look awkward at first, and it's only from thinking about it that some kind of proper order emerges. Just looking at the screenshot as I type this, I realized that the "Finalize" button shouldn't be there--it should be on the screen where you select which rating you want to see cards for purchase. And as I stare at that screen some more, it looks to me like seven might be too many cards to show. Five might work a bit better (although the accountant presents some issues if I make the cards larger).
Additional little stuff: when you do hit the finalize button, the cards you purchased will show up on their own screen, and there will be a roll to see if the card "busts" or not. For each card (in sequence--about 2 seconds apart), you'll hear a stamping sound and a stamp will appear--a red "BUST" stamp or a green "APPROVED" stamp.
Also, those cards won't all have identical poses--that's just placeholder art. Fredrik is sending me the final art tonight or tomorrow, and I'll just drop that right in.
As unlikely as it sounds, I'm going to try to have this in the hands of the testers (after adding final art and debugging) by tomorrow night or Wednesday.
Leading off this week, from Steven Davis, and this is a fantastic story: The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much
. This next link is one of my favorite short films ever, and it's The Centrifuge Brain Project
From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and if this happened to me, a little bit of lettuce would not heal the hurt: Tortoise Trapped In Record Player Box Found Alive After 30 Years
. Also, and this is entirely bizarre, it's Hitler’s Toilet Is in New Jersey
. Next, and this is absolutely beautiful, it's Full Moon Silhouettes
. One more, and it's big: Scientists: Remains Of King Richard III Found
All right, TEGLM sent in so many links that this is part two. These images are so incredible that they really couldn't wait until next week: Welcome to Hong Kong
. Also, and this is a wonderful short film about motorcycle trips, it's Long Live the Kings
. This, though, is even better: A bird ballet
From Meg McReynolds, and this provocative: No Mercy For Robots: Experiment Tests How Humans Relate To Machines
From Griffin Cheng, and this is stunning it's From Night to Day to Night Again
. This is also stunning: Objects of Intrigue: Diary of a Body Snatcher
From Jonathan Arnold, and this is an excellent explanation (of what, you'll have to go see): From Nothing to You in 10 Sentences
From Brian DeyErmand, and this is simply spectacular: The First Duel Fought in Hot Air Balloons - Paris, 1808
(thanks also to RPS).
From Robb, and this is quite interesting: How the public perceives magic
From Les Bowman, and this is another hilarious Top Gear moment: World's Tiniest Car Is Terrifying, Fantastic, Makes You Look Like a LEGO Astronaut
Finally, from my good friend John Harwood, and these are so extremely beautiful: Flying over the Tulips Fields
Console Post (follow-up)
Several of you e-mailed and said (correctly) that Microsoft hadn't officially announced that used games wouldn't be allowed with the new console.
Also, Sony hasn't officially announced it, either. They just have a patent for a workable method.
You guys are correct, in that sense. It's also entirely possible that Microsoft just launched that as a trial balloon, to see the reaction. Happens all the time.
We all know, though, that this is coming. There is a continuum that we can see stretching into the future, and used game sales disappearing are clearly, definitely, on that continuum.
Now, if this was a fair exchange, I'd have no problem. If PS4 or 720 games were $29.99, and they couldn't be resold, then no problem. I'd even borderline be okay with $39.99.
Does anything think that's going to happen? No. What we're going to get are $59.99 games that are $54.99 if we download them. There's a price decay built in after the game launches, obviously, but that's going to be our day one reward.
Remember, gaming companies have said for years--and bitterly--that used games are KILLING their profit margins. Please remember that when these new consoles launch and we get $5 in exchange for not being able to resell a game.
What's ironic about me being so pissed about this is that I almost never trade games in. I don't resell them. But there's something so inherently unfair in getting jacked around (again) by these mega-companies who can't manage their own shit that makes me go Hulk rage.
I forgot to post this picture when I did the write-up from the tournament two weekends ago (which was in Lafayette):
That's Gloria--at 4:50 a.m.--heating up a Pop-Tart with a blow dryer. Another 6 a.m. game, no toaster in the room, and it was for Eli's breakfast. And surprisingly, it worked pretty well.
Next trip, we'll be steaming tortillas in the bathroom while we shower.
One more picture from the trip:
I don't even understand the vending machines Louisiana--pork rinds (hot and spicy), "Cajun Crawfish" flavored potato chips, and "Baby back rib" flavored potato chips as well (actually, I almost tried those). Oh, and nacho cheese flavored Bugles, which are the single unhealthiest snack on earth (about 75% of the fat is saturated fat, which I didn't even think was possible for a chip).
They also had Tums in the medicine row, which sounds like a very good idea.
There was this incredibly strange mix of people staying at our (seen better days) hotel, since we're apparently in the three-month window for non-stop Mardi Gras partying, and there was a huge party downstairs. So half the people in the hotel were staying up until 4:30 a.m., and the other half (hockey people) were getting up at 4:30 a.m.
Yes Yes Yes
From the indispensable Pocket Tactics
, news of an upcoming game titled Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager
Two words: "hell" and "yes".
Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager is due out in June for PC, Mac, and iPad, says Smitherine, and the game places you in charge of a 1950s space agency: recruiting astronauts, researching spacecraft components, running missions, and building facilities. The game will be the first part of a planned three-game series that will include building a manned space station and sending astronauts to Mars.
This sounds quite a bit like the 1993 classic Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space
, and if it's similar, it means you'll be able to play as either the U.S. or the Soviets.
Hit the link up top for more details, because the game sounds (on paper) absolutely terrific.
Console Post of the Week: Get On With It
I saw this linked over at Penny Arcade today: Interview: Dead Space 3 producer on micro-transactions and keeping the horror alive
In case you don't know, Dead Space 3, a $60 game, includes IAP (in-app purchases). Here's game producer John Calhoun with a stirring defense of this model:
There's a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to micro-transactions. They're like "I need this now, I want this now". They need instant gratification. So we included that option in order to attract those players, so that if they're 5000 Tungsten short of this upgrade, they can have it.
I only have one question: how high do you have to be to believe this bullshit?
Yes, I totally understand how "a lot of players" who are used to free games coming with IAP are going to be thirsting for IAP in a $60 game. "I don't care if I paid $60 for this game, I've got to buy some F-ing Tungsten, and I mean RIGHT NOW."
How do people say things like Calhoun said with a straight face? You know what I'd love? A gaming industry where producers didn't treat us like morons. That would be refreshing. Believe me, Mr. Calhoun, you have
"kept the horror alive." Indeed.
Also, there's this little jewel: The next Xbox: Always online, no second-hand games, 50GB Blu-ray discs and new Kinect
. Here's a delightful excerpt:
Sources with first-hand experience of Microsoft’s next generation console have told us that although the next Xbox will be absolutely committed to online functionality, games will still be made available to purchase in physical form. Next Xbox games will be manufactured on 50GB-capacity Blu-ray discs, Microsoft having conceded defeat to Sony following its ill-fated backing of the HD-DVD format. It is believed that games purchased on disc will ship with activation codes, and will have no value beyond the initial user.
You know what? Bring it on. As a consumer, I am so damn tired of hearing the game industry blame everything but themselves for their failures. Okay, let's go. Let the PS4 and the 720 both ship with features that kill used games entirely.
Then, when this next generation fails miserably (and it will, if they do this), maybe these assholes can stop blaming us.
You know what we're going to get in the next generation? Even fewer games from the major studios, because there will be zero market for most games if they can't be resold. There will be a few exceptions--Madden (God help us) and COD and GTA--but there is going to be a real dearth of product.
Game sales, except for a very few franchises, are going to plummet. Console sales, too. But if the games can't be resold, and they can't be pirated, then it can't be our fault this time, right?
This is like the dinosaurs, possessing advanced technology, calling for their own meteor strike.
This time, let's start at the ending:
That's a tournament game Eli 11.6 played two weekends ago. He was in goal. His team was outshot 52-15. He wound up with 48 saves.
With 10:00 to play in the 3rd period, though, it was 2-2, and he already had 41 saves. I've seen Eli doing some crazy, ridiculous things, but this was new territory. I've never seen a kid dominate a game like he dominated this one. He made every save imaginable, in every situation.
Since Jack Campbell came to practice, Eli's been a different kid. He was always the hardest worker in practice, but now he works harder. He's more precise. More importantly, he explodes into every movement. He gets it in a way that he didn't before.
I'm happy for him, more happy than I can explain. I was almost tearing up a little in the 3rd period, watching him make save after save and listening to the crowd swell as they watched him.
I still want to edge him forward, though.
On the way back to the hotel, we talked. "Okay, so now you've been in one of these games," I said. "Tell me what you need to do to be able to finish next time."
"Finish?" he asked.
"Win," I said. "Seriously, you looked like Superman out there. I didn't think they were gong to score again, even if they got 100 shots. So now that you know you can play in one of these games and dominate, what do you need to improve to be able to finish?"
He thought for a few seconds. "Get in better shape," he said.
That wasn't the answer I expected.
"Really?" I asked. "You're in better shape than any kid I've ever seen."
"Yeah, but I got tired," he said. "On that third goal, I saw the shot, but my body just wouldn't respond. I felt really sharp mentally, but I was just so tired."
"All right, we can improve that," I said. "I know it felt great to play like that, and I'm so proud of you, but some day, you're going to win one of those games. They'll build a statue."
He started laughing. "That would be the greatest feeling EVER," he said.
In practice last week, he was just killing it--razor sharp, working harder than anyone. He practices with the travel team on Thursday nights, and at the end, everyone does one final sprint down and back, and the goalies skate with the players. Eli beat one of the travel team skaters--which, in goalie gear, should be completely impossible.
He skated off and I stopped him as he walked toward the dressing room. I put my hand on top of his helmet and said, "That was beast!"
He laughed. "Once I was ahead halfway," he said, "no way was I going to lose."
In his house game on Sunday, they were outshot 44-11 and lost 6-2. It might have been the best game he ever played, even better than the tournament, because the other team had added a couple of second-year Bantams (three years older than Eli), and Eli's team just couldn't skate with them. Those two players had 15 breakaways between them. Eli made them work for everything they got, though.
What really mattered, to me, was how he played the third period. They were behind 5-2, his teammates were tired, they weren't going to come back, and he was facing shot after shot from kids who were three years older than he was.
Didn't matter. He played like it was game seven of the Stanley Cup. It was the best period he's ever played, hands down, and while the other team did score once, it was on a brilliant shot. He stopped everything else, and he made so many two and three-save combinations that the crowd was pounding the glass for him, not the team that was winning.
I was sitting with him in the dressing room after the game when his coach walked in. "Holy molie, what a goalie!" he said, beaming. "That was an incredible game."
"Thank you," Eli said.
"The referee skated up to me after the game and said, 'That kid covers more ice than I do!' " his coach said, laughing.
Gridiron Solitaire: Extra
I realized after I posted today that the cards for purchase should have an analog in the real world. In other words, I was being a dope, because the obvious choice was to make them look like trading cards. So Fredrik whipped up a sample, and this is what they'll look like (with placeholders in place for the text elements):
Gridiron Solitaire #41: The New Offseason
The new offseason is developing nicely, even though it's clearly a ton of work to get through, and it's going to take another full week, at least.
I took a few screenshots to show you the basic layout. Ignore the outlines of other controls--that's just part of the Visual Studio development environment.
First, here's the opening screen for the offseason min-game:
Obviously, some elements are missing from that screen (like a header at the top). The buttons, though, are almost finished. The "Purchased" label at the bottom of the buttons only shows up when you've actually purchased a card, to help you keep track of what you're doing.
Fredrik is creating a little accountant to put next to the Team Budget field, so that it looks like he's crunching the numbers as you buy cards (and as the Team Budget total increments). Here's a very cool concept sketch he sent me last night:
One of my favorite parts of this project has been working with Fredrik. He has a whimsical sense of humor that is much less sarcastic than mine--which is good--and he puts so much of his personality into his art.
So when the harried accountant is finished, he'll take his place on all the offseason screens (because the team budget is on every screen).
When you click on any of the ranking buttons, you go to the purchase screen for that particular rating, and it will look something like this:
Again, that screen isn't complete (no header, and most importantly, no return button!), but you can see the basic layout. Seven cards, each with a different rating and priced accordingly. After thinking about it this morning, I think I'm going to ask Fredrik to modify a few of the card poses to show their actual ratings potential. So a jersey number will say "+2", for example, and you'll be able to look at the card and see what it could do for your rating, instead of having a separate label.
I also came up with something I like very much in terms of the cards, and that's a lifecycle. Each card has a seven year lifecycle, basically, and their rating changes like this: +1, +2, +3, +4, +2, +1, +/-2. That's meant to basically correspond to a real athlete's change in performance from rookie to peak to retirement.
In a player's last season, they're basically radioactive, because they can actually hurt a rating. That simulates a team picking up a veteran near the end of their career, hoping for one last hurrah. Those radioactive cards will be cheap, but they're very, very risky.
The other cards will have predictable results, unless the cards goes "bust" (10% chance), in which case the rating won't change at all.
Each year, the currently active cards that are available for purchase "age" by a year, and their rating changes. So you'll see a particular card (Donovan McThrowfarson, for example) become more and more expensive, then come down in price as it nears the end of its career.
It's not impossible to think that I might somehow tie this into the game more dynamically, where your team ratings change each year as the purchased cards age, but it would make the game much, much complicated, and I'm not sure many people would want that. I'm trying to have a degree of depth without turning off people who just want to play a fun card game. So for now, the aging dynamic just makes the purchase screen more interesting, so you can get a sense of players changing over time.
Oh, and that layout of the card itself is not complete, because each card will have a player's name as well. And they'll be silly. Very silly.
I'm hoping this will be done by next Monday, and if so, I'll have some finished screenshots for you.
Leading off this week, and entirely deserving of the spotlight is Matul Remrit: A Dwarf Fortress Tale
. This absolutely epic story has finally been completed, and it's a stunning work of art in its own right.
Next, and this is an incredible story from Gridiron Solitaire artist Fredrik Skarstedt: For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II
This is quite remarkable: Mystery of how homing pigeons find home solved
From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is very funny, it's Are You A Hipster?
Next, and this is a fantastic read, it's Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza
. Next, an odd and fascinating photo study: Sworn Virgins of Albania
(hint: it's much, much more than you might think). This is quite amazing: 11 Hidden Images Embedded Into Songs
. One more, and it looks fantastic, an animated short films anthology titled "Late Night Work Club".
From Steven Davis, and these are amazing, it's The Skewed, Anamorphic Sculptures and Engineered Illusions of Jonty Hurwitz
. Next, and this is strange and fascinating, it's Victorian Gadgets
From Michael M., and these are highly entertaining, it's Hilariously Ferocious Underwater Dogs
From Pete Thistle, a fascinating interpretation of a beautiful song: REM's "Losing My Religion" shifted into a major scale
From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this could be a breakthrough: Study Says It Can Track NFL Brain Injuries with PET Scans
From Sirius, and I missed most of these entirely, it's What do you notice about these photos?
Also, and this is a terrific read, it's Planning for war: how the EVE Online servers deal with a 3,000 person battle
From Jonathan Arnold, and boy, these photos are haunting: Creepy Images From An Abandoned Bible Theme Park
From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is a stunning piece of work, it's Gangnam Style flip book
From Griffin Cheng, and this is very clever, it's Interplanetary Cessna
From Meg McReynolds, and this is entirely outstanding, it's The Twinkies Project
. Yes, they give Twinkies the Turing Test.