Let's take a quick look: Nintendo cuts hardware sales targets
The new projection is 4 million in Nintendo's current fiscal year, down from the 5.5 million projection only three months ago. We saw this coming, though, so it's certainly not a surprise. The Wii U has sub-zero buzz going for it, unfortunately, although I'm personally looking forward to the HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker.
Microsoft's Xbox division has lost nearly $3 billion in 10 years
This is nothing new, but it certainly drives home how much money Microsoft has plowed into the video game space to gain a foothold as a content hub.
Sony Closer to Selling Tokyo Property to Raise Cash
It's a 25-story building in Tokyo that houses 5,000 employees. And once Sony sells the property, they're going to lease it back from the new owners. Oh, and Sony has lost even more money in this generation than Microsoft.
Overall, that's quite a lemon to suck on, isn't it?
So here's a question: if Microsoft and Sony had followed the traditional five-year console cycle, instead of stretching this generation out for eight years or more, would anything have been different? It's a tantalizing question, but I think the answer is "no".
Look at it this way. On the one hand, you've got a platform where it takes millions of dollars to develop a game--in most cases, many millions--and a game might have to sell over a million copies to break even. And since gaming companies decided to pursue a "AAA" strategy years ago, it meant there were a ton of great ideas out there with no place to go.
Well, they found a place to go.
If anything, next-gen consoles are going to ratchet up the AAA pain, not reduce it. And games are still going to cost $60, even though there is no market left for more than a handful of games at that price.
Let me get this straight. Instead of increasing value to customers to compete with other platforms, Sony might actually reduce it? Good luck with that.
Here's the thing: if you think the ecosystem for gaming is unhealthy, you're incorrect. Parts of the ecosystem are extremely unhealthy--the big company parts--but other parts (that were dying previously) have never been healthier. Indie PC development? Absolutely booming. Non-dedicated mobile platforms? Booming. We've never had so many games to choose from.
It's ironic, really. The biggest gaming companies basically killed everything but AAA as part of their corporate strategy, but like weeds growing through concrete, everything else survived. And that survival has crippled the AAA strategy for everyone but Activision (and their day is coming).
As a consumer, gaming today just requires an adjustment from the AAA mindset to something else entirely. And really, I don't even miss the AAA games very much. As long as Bethesda survives and can put out something grandly spectacular every few years, I'm good. I'm happy to supplement with hundreds of smaller, inexpensive games made by micro-studios.
If you primarily game on consoles, then sure, life kind of sucks. Just look around, though, and you'll be amazed by what's out there.
As usual, you guys sent in some thoughtful e-mail about "The Windup Girl" post from last week on future relationships between human and androids (when androids became essentially indistinguishable from us). Unlike usual form, I'm going to excerpt these anonymously, because the last thing anyone needs is their name coming up in a "human relationship with an android" Google search.
Well, except for me. I already had my signature Google search moment, when I was #1 for "monkey scratching his butt then sniffing his finger and falling over." #1, baby!
All, right, let's get to the e-mail. Starting off: I think it sounds great.
Interpersonal relationships aren't for everybody and as easy as it is to say "just get out there and get better at meeting people" some people can't do it. The downside to an artificial partner is ownership - the people that get off on owning "someone" else shouldn't have one to begin with because it'll re-enforce a character flaw (in my opinion), and the people that don't will always be nagged by the fact that they can just turn off their lover if it pisses them off.
I still don't know where I fall on the debate surrounding "is 95% human close enough to be called a separate sentient entity?" If a robot and live and love and create (especially create!) should anyone be able to control it at all?
I was struck by how many of you were protective of androids and their rights.
I wouldn't see an artificial life form as any different than a human if it had human like capabilities, even if it didn't have a human like form. I'm really excited about AI precisely because I see autonomous digital consciousness with access to manufacturing as the best chance for there to be something that resembles life after we've finished messing up the planet. So I wouldn't treat it any differently than I would another person, because I don't think you can meaningfully distinguish at that point. And I'd be firmly on the side of robot rights and equality given the huge set of ethical concerns such an advance would bring.
I didn't mention the Turing Test (I should have, but I was focusing more on relationships), but here's a thoughtful e-mail that uses the Turing Test as a jumping off point:
Interesting read of your thoughts on the Windup Girl. I notice that you didn't mention the "Turing Test" proposed by Alan Turing, who many consider the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. At the risk of claiming the next couple of hours of your life reading on Wikipedia about this fascinating fellow, I encourage you to look him up (in addition to the aforementioned achievements he played an important role in WWII code-breaking, underwent chemical castration as a punishment for being homosexual - in the 1950's mind you - and eventually committed suicide, a tragic end for possibly one of the greatest thinkers that we've ever had).
In a nutshell, the Turing Test was a hypothetical scenario detailing exactly what would be required for a computer to trick humans into thinking it was a human. Turing assumed that the only interaction was via a computer terminal, to avoid limitations regarding appearance etc - he envisaged a pure conversational test.
Turing's belief was that if a computer could make humans believe that it was a human, and that it could do this just as successfully as a real human on the other end of the computer line, then we would have to accept that the computer can "think" or that it has "intelligence" (whatever those things mean) just as legitimately as a human. Because after all - how can we know that the other humans around us can indeed think? We talk to them, and based on their responses, we conclude that they can. So too must we extend this courtesy to a computer, or in this case an android.
I agree with Turing and think that if such a thing were possible, we would have to class such androids as "people".
However, I believe that we are a *long* way off this yet. They actually have an annual competition for the Turing Test. Sometimes you hear some company or another claiming that it's test has broken some record percentage of people fooled, however if you read the conversational transcripts you will often find that the same people often also believe that the *real humans* are actually computers. I would conclude that such people are quite possibly actually descended from some form of potato, but anyway.
I think our current approaches towards true artificial intelligence are flawed, and based on programming every possible scenario into the computer instead of having anything to do with true intelligence. Are humans themselves simply machines that have been pre-programmed with a large number of prepared conversations and responses? Some people will argue that this is the case, but I think human (and higher animal) intelligence runs much deeper. Turing himself proposed what I think will be the eventual solution - instead of trying to make more and more complicated computer programs that can emulate the reactions of a human adult, we should be emulating the brain of a newborn, a blank slate that can convert "inputs" into real intelligence. Bombarding a newborn with information is, after all, the only way we know of that creates true intelligence, so it seems like the best place to be trying.
I differ from the commenter in that I think we're not far away from an artificial intelligence that passes the Turing Test--a decade, at most. And I think Roger Bannister is applicable here, even though he broke a physical barrier (the four minute mile) instead of anything related to artificial intelligence.
Before Bannister ran 3:59.4 in the mile in 1954. Before that time, it was widely considered impossible that a human could run that far, that fast. The world record had hovered just above four minutes for nine years before Bannister achieved the "impossible" (and it's a great, great story that I read when I was a kid. It made such an impression on me that I remember the last names of his pacers for his record-setting mile, I think--Chataway and Brasher).
Bannister's record lasted less than a month. John Landy ran a 3:58.0. In just over four more years, the world record was under 3:55.
I think the Turing Test is going to be similar, in that when someone achieves success, there will be others, and quickly. Someone else e-mailed in with a potentially interesting problem, though: I might be wrong, but I think you would run into an uncanny valley problem here. 95% is so close that the 5% that is missing will seem huge. I know uncanny valley normally applies to the looking like a human, but I think it would also apply to acting like one too.
That may well be true.
Finally, this last set of thoughts is from one of my favorite e-mailers, someone who is always thoughtful and provocative: The Windup Girl sounds like a very interesting book. In answer to your questions, assuming we're talking about androids who truly are nearly human -- a big if -- then yes, if the android makes us happy, that ought to be okay.
But more likely than not, human prejudice and androids’ growing awareness of their situation will drive the androids to revolt; that business with “Blade Runner” and "Battlestar Galactica" is no fluke, in my opinion. And not even Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics could stop human fear and suspicion; consider that even Asimov eventually had his robots go into hiding in his later Foundation novels.
In the short-to-medium term, I suspect people who have relationships with androids would be publicly viewed as freaks, even if others might secretly envy them. And some demagogue is sure to try to make such relationships illegal, saying that they threaten the institution of the traditional human family. Consider how long it took the United States to do away with laws banning interracial marriage; the Loving v. Virginia ruling was in 1967, and Alabama didn't officially repeal its anti-miscegenation laws until 2000. Or consider the attitudes the country had, and still has, toward homosexuality. Both relationships involved people, but prejudices made society view the participants as something less than human.
So given human prejudices, why do I think it would be okay if androids make us happy? Consider Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man,” in which the main character, a robot, first shows his unusual nature by carving a block of wood into a work of art. Even though no one is willing, at first, to acknowledge the robot as being equal to a human, everyone is delighted to buy the robot’s creations.
Or consider Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric!” about an android who becomes a surrogate grandmother for three children who have recently lost their mother. The youngest, a girl, resists the grandmother’s numerous kindnesses until she finally understands that the android will never die, never leave her feeling abandoned the way the girl felt when her mother died. Then, and only then, does she feels safe to show her love.
I believe effective immortality is a quality that people who have lost a loved one would value, to an extent that people who haven’t been in that situation could probably never understand. In Rumiko Takahashi’s “Maison Ikkoku,” a young man, after many travails, wins the heart of his widowed apartment manager, who was devastated by her husband’s death. As she marries the young man, she asks that he promise that, even if it’s by one day, that he outlive her.
I think back to the first “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” and a widow on Dantooine who had fallen in love with her droid. I think back to “Blade Runner,” whose replicants truly were “more human than human.” I think back to “Persona 3 FES,” and the android Aigis; I remember the anger I felt when one of the characters made fun of her mechanical nature; I remember the lump in my throat when I saw Aigis crying for me. I think back to “Analogue: A Hate Story,” with its AIs who felt emotions like love, jealousy, hate, grief; who lied and shaded the truth; who were, to all intents and purposes, human, despite not having physical bodies.
On a side note, I do wonder whether something like the uncanny valley would apply to androids approaching human behavior. Would an android that was 75% human be perceived as creepy, whereas a 50% or 90% human android wouldn't? Would androids in that uncanny valley end up deepening human prejudices against all androids and make the acceptance of 95% human androids more difficult? I must admit, even though these are old issues in science fiction, the questions remain fascinating.
Thank you, as always, for the terrific e-mail. I am fortunate to be around such consistently thoughtful people.
Named? A buffet of pro baseball players--many of whom have tested positive recently, including Melky Cabrera and and Yasmani Grandal--including none other than Alex Rodriguez, who now clearly was still taking PED's at the time he was giving his tearful interview to ESPN where he admitted taking them from 2000 to 2003.
The article is a terrific read, and the investigation appears to be thorough. One other big name--not mentioned previously in connection with PED's--is Nelson Cruz. Also, Washington Nationals star pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Oh, and Jimmy Goins, the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Miami baseball team.
With defensive gameplay shored up (it may be tweaked, but the concept is final), I started thinking last week about the one section of gameplay I was still dissatisfied with: the offseason.
For a quick review, the offseason gameplay basically involved one card being made available for each rating. Each card had a potential and a grade, and you could play three of these cards in an attempt to improve your team. Once you made your choices, there was a dice roll to determine whether the outcome was positive or negative.
There were a few wrinkles--you could pull in a draft pick from next year, or get better card grades by giving up two draft picks the following year--but that's basically how it worked. Here's a screenshot:
I really, really like the layout of that screen--it's colorful and sharp, and it's organized. And I really like the card descriptions and the idea of using positive/negative songs from the same band. To me, that's pretty entertaining (your mileage may vary).
Last week, though, while I was thinking about this portion of the game, it suddenly hit me what was wrong: I'd worked very hard on creating interesting content, but I hadn't worked very hard on creating interesting choices. So while I liked the card descriptions, I was using them to basically distract the player from the lack of interesting choices available to him.
That's all wrong. What I needed to do was create interesting choices for the player before thinking about content at all.
Once I realized what was wrong with the existing gameplay, an idea for something that I liked much more came very quickly, and it fixes one of the other things I really didn't like about the mini-game, which was the possibility of a negative outcome. Since the downside was as high as the upside, the player was almost completely dependent on the dice roll. That could be very frustrating/enraging/Hulk Smashing.
All right, so let's fix that.
I want the player to have more choices and more control over how he builds his team, but without the process being so complex that it becomes more difficult than the rest of the game--it still needs to be easy to understand.
Here's a basic framework that I like: each rating has 5-6 player cards available. The player has an offseason budget (in dollars or points) that he can use to buy as many of these cards as he can afford. The budget is determined by team wins the previous season, so the better the team, the smaller the budget (to simulate bad teams in the NFL getting higher draft choices). The more expensive cards offer greater improvements, of course, and in most cases, the player will buy 2-4 cards each offseason, depending on his financial philosophy.
There's still a chance that the card will be a bust, but it will be a low chance (10% or less), and if it does bust, it just doesn't improve that particular rating. A card won't ever make the rating go down.
This setup offers two nice new features: one, if a player wants to do nothing but buy cards to improve his run offense, for example, he can do that. His only limit is his total budget. Also, he can carry over budget from year to year, so if there's one super-expensive card that he can't afford, he can actually wait until the next offseason.
Here's one other addition. Several of the beta testers wanted in-game achievements, but I don't like in-game achievements because they don't build toward anything. With a budget, though, I saw an opportunity to reward the users who play through their games instead of simming. So there will be "coins" awarded for certain in-game moments (50+ yard gain on offense, or a 0 gain on defense) that will add to the offseason budget. It's not going to be a huge amount--probably capped at 15% or so of the base offseason budget--but it's a reward for the player, and it adds an additional layer of strategy that didn't exist before.
There will be some sort of acknowledgement in-game that budget coins have been awarded, but I'm adding an option to turn off the notification, because I generally hate that crap while I'm playing a game.
All right, so that's what's happening. This is the last bit of gameplay that needs to be changed--at least, it is to me. I think everything else is solid and plays like football, and this is a substantial improvement in the offseason mini-game. So once this is in (1-2 weeks, I'm guessing), core gameplay is basically done. For good, this time.
I recently read a science fiction novel by Paolo Bacigalupi titled The Windup Girl.
It's a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it, if you haven't read it already. What I want to talk about today, though, is one particular character in the book.
This character is a "windup girl", non-human but deeply human-like. Well, she's almost human emotionally, but physically, her mannerisms are somewhat jerky (hence the derogatory term "windup"). She's described as a highly advanced biological organism, but the jerkiness of her motion reminded me very much of a highly advanced robot (or an android, I guess, since an android is always in human form).
As I read this book, I thought about what artificial intelligence will be like in fifty years, or a hundred. Research in this area seems to be accelerating, as well as research in robotics. How long will it be before an android can pass--in most situations--as a human being?
I'm going to say fifty years. I could say thirty years, though, and be almost as confident.
Here's the question, though. Forgot about industrial applications, or androids as caregivers for the elderly, or using them as instructors at the local community college.
Instead, let's talk about relationships. Let's talk about having a relationship with an android.
There would be two ways to do this in the future. One, you could select a highly-customized model that was tailored to your interests. For instance, if you loved a particular sport, this model could have a high interest for that sport, as well as a knowledge of the history of that sport.
The second way would be to just meet these androids in the normal process of day-to-day life. They might be working at your company, or maybe a waitress (or waiter) at your local restaurant.
I know. There are a shitload of logical complications here. Ignore all of them. Just focus on the relationship aspect.
How many people would be willing to have a relationship with an android that was 95% "human"? An android that was capable of having physical relations? How many people would prefer this to having a relationship with another human being?
If the difference between android and human is minor--very minor--how much does it matter? How much does it matter that the android isn't actually human, as long as they can pass--mostly--for human? How many people would be willing to raise a child (adopted, obviously) with an android? An android that was infinitely warm, loving and patient, with the most highly advanced childcare and development module that technology can offer?
Look at it from another angle. If, someday, an android created something, would you be willing to consume it? Would you read an android-written book, or look at android art in a museum? Would you allow yourself to be moved in a human way by art that was created by a non-human? What matters more--the creator, or the response?
What Started Out as the Console Post Turned Into Another Kentucky Route Zero Post
I worked on a console post today, but it was boring. So I scrapped a bit of work and started thinking about what was really interesting me, and I came back again to Kentucky Route Zero.
I guess what fascinates me most is this: everyone puts the kitchen sink into their games. Almost every big release now is completely over the top in terms of environmental stimulation. Loud and bright and full of action.
Movies are like that, too. The most difficult part of getting Eli 11.5 to watch some classic old film comedies with me is that they're paced so differently than movies are today. There's just so much more going on in contemporary features that "old" movies seem positively funereal in comparison. Everything today is faster.
Kentucky Route Zero is not like that. It's a reductionist environment where everything has been stripped from the setting except what is absolutely essential. You might think that would make the game feel sparse, but in a strange twist, it doesn't.
Actually, it feels lush.
Let me explain that. There is so much discipline in terms of constructing individual scenes that every sound has meaning. It's easy to focus on what's happening because I'm not overloaded by a dozen things happening at once. To me, games acquire a kind of singular depth when they are properly focused, and KRZ is focused to a stunning degree.
Like I said earlier today, this is absolutely a game to play in the dark with headphones on. It needs to be experienced when you are free of other distractions. Then you'll understand what I'm talking about.
Kentucky Route Zero is stunningly presented, and it's tremendously atmospheric. It's also unique, because it takes conventional adventure game mechanics and uses them to present a story that is incredibly engaging.
It's also sparse, in a good way. Nothing is over-revved or over the top. Nothing is even extra, really. Everything in the palette is necessary, both in a visual and audio sense.
Play this game at night, with headphones on. Do not argue with me.
Eli 11.5 displayed all the qualities that mark him as an a high-potential goaltender last weekend. He was aggressive and disruptive, and his reflexes were crazy good.
In the first game he played, at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, his team had outshot the opposition 10-3 in the first period. In the next two periods, though, they were outshot 16-6, and their opponents never took a shot outside the dots, which is the first time I've ever seen a junior team so disciplined. They just refused to try low-percentage shots, and in the third period, they were completely in control of the game.
They weren't in control of Eli, though. The game was tied 2-2 for a long time, but he refused to let anything in, and late in the third, his team got a lucky deflection off a shot from a terrible angle, and they stole a win.
His other game in the tournament was just as strong. 28 saves in 30 shots, and both of the goals were deflections off his own teammates.
One thing his defense did do very well in this tournament was cut down on uncontested breakaways. Guys got loose, but usually someone was at least skating closely enough to make them feel some pressure (and reduce their possible shooting options). So Eli faced hard shots, but only faced a small number of uncontested breakaways.
Eli has played 8 games for his development team this year, and his goals against average (GAA) is 2.5. He had one tough game in a tournament where he gave up 5 goals (and I meant to write about that, but the process of pulling him back from the ledge was so emotionally exhausting that I just buried it), but every other game has been 3 goals or less. That's a very high level of consistency for an 11-year-old.
We had a ton of free time during this tournament, especially on Saturday, when his game was at 6 a.m. and he was done for the day by dawn, so we went to a new science museum (Perot Museum of Nature and Science) that recently opened up in Dallas. It's tremendous, and if you're in the Dallas area, I highly recommend it. A few pictures:
That's the entrance (you can see people walking at the very bottom).
Here's a view of the Dallas skyline from inside the museum:
What Eli enjoyed the most, by far, was the "sports performance" wing. He was able to perform a motion (many sports to choose from) and have it recorded, then play it back in super-slo-mo. Even better, he could compare his performance to that of a professional athlete.
Since Eli loves to kick (I've mentioned before that he's made a 29-yard field goal off a tee), he decided to try kicking a football. Now before you see this video, which is a comparison of his kicking motion with Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, please note that Eli didn't see the video of Bailey before he kicked, because you don't see any videos until after you've been filmed. Here's the side-by-side (random museum chatter in background):
I'm sure he would have stayed and done this for the rest of the day, if there hadn't been a line.
On our way home yesterday, Eli took an extended nap. This last image is a cautionary tale about the dangers of car napping:
I couldn't be happier with how the new defensive gameplay is working. There will be some tweaking, but it feels like a very true representation of football (for a card game, of course).
There are a few new bugs, but they're minor, and since I had to completely rewrite the playcalling AI, I made a few errors that have to be fixed. Overall, though, it's very stable and more challenging now.
From Jonathan Arnold, and this is a strange and interesting story about Richard Marx, believe it or not: Right Here Waiting. Also, and this is an interesting look at paper currency in the United States, circa 1930: Cashed Out.
Every time a puck went into the corner, his defensemen acted like the puck was handing out $100 bills if only they could both get there in time.
On defense in front of the goal? Tumbleweeds.
He was discouraged coming off the ice, even though he played well, and while he somewhat shook it off, I could tell he was still bothered.
I'd stunned him earlier in the week by belting out a verse of "Lucille" (Kenny Rogers) when it came on at a restaurant. I never listened to Kenny Rogers on purpose, but that song was everywhere, back in the day, and anyone my age (or close to it) knows the lyrics by heart.
If you're young, go have a listen., especially this refrain (which is what I sang for Eli): You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille With four hungry children and a crop in the field I've had some bad times, Lived through some sad times, This time the hurtin' won't heal. You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.
He went to Mom's house for a few hours (he does every Sunday), and I called him. When he came to the phone, I started singing: You picked a fine time to leave me, de-fense With four hungry shooters and a puck in the crease I made some glove saves, Even some hook saves, But this time the groin strain won't heal. You picked a fine time to leave me, de-fense.
He laughed for a long, long time. It's now become the goalie anthem, to be used whenever it's deemed necessary.
The second link--and this one is much more amusing, as will as brilliantly obsessive--is from my very good friend John Harwood. He decided to watch every Arnold Schwarzenegger film (theatrical releases only) in chronological order--and write reviews on how "Arnold" they were.
I'm not sure what shows more determination: creating a fake girlfriend, or watching every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Regardless, I tip my cap to both of them, and you can read every one of John's reviews at Failure Of Imagination.
Some of you will read them all. Don't try to pretend that you won't.
Eli 11.5 played hockey at 7:15 Saturday morning, then stayed in his Under Armour for most of the day.
Eli wears Under Armour, jeans, shorts, and t-shirts. He will, on rare occasions, mix in a collared shirt (without buttons, of course).
Gloria convinced him to take a shower before we went out to dinner, and made a joke about him never dressing up.
He came down in khaki shorts, a belt, a collared plaid shirt with buttons that I didn't even know he owned, and slicked back hair. We burst out laughing when we saw him, and so did he. He could have stepped right into an episode of Big Bang Theory and not missed a beat.
It was cold, so Gloria suggested that he wear a winter jacket with a sheepskin collar. She'd found this jacket for him a few weeks ago, but he'd refused to wear it, claiming his Under Armour jacket was warmer.
"No way," he said. "I'd look like a NERD in that jacket."
"In that jacket?" I said. "You're not a nerd in that jacket. You're Grip Carson, Montana rancher."
Eli laughed. "What do I do as a Montana rancher?" he asked.
"You, um, rope large animals and, um, ride other large animals," I said. "Come on, man. You're GRIP CARSON. You can figure it out."
Eli tried on the jacket, decided he liked it, and we went to dinner.
Below, Grip Carson:
After dinner, while we were still sitting in the booth, Gloria looked at us and said, "Do I have any spinach in my teeth?"
"Oh, yeah," Eli said.
She started fiddling with her front teeth. "Did I get it?" she asked.
"Nope," Eli said.
She fiddled again. "Now?"
"No," he said.
"Is that spinach?" I asked. "It looks like some kind of meat product. Sausage, maybe?"
"Oh my God," she said. "Why did I ask you guys?"
"I can't figure that out myself," I said.
"Neither can I," Eli said, laughing.
Now, whenever he puts on the jacket, I pretend that he's a new person. "Grip Carson!" I'll say. "Where have you been?"
Eli laughs every time I do this.
On the way home yesterday, he was talking about the "grossest things ever". "Oh, I know the single GROSSEST THING EVER," he said. "Cocktail wienies."
"What do you think cocktail wienies are, exactly?" I asked. Uh-oh. I'm clearly violating the lawyer's rule to never ask someone a question when you don't know the answer.
"Well, I'm not sure," he said, "but isn't 'cocktail' a kind of drink?" Phew. That could have been much worse.
"You're right," I said. "And in the old days, people used to throw what were called 'cocktail parties', which were just an excuse for grownups to get together and drink. And they served snacks at these parties. So a 'cocktail wienie' was just a smaller version of a hot dog that you could spear with a toothpick and serve without a bun at these parties."
Given that I live in Austin (and have for 25 years), and know lots of people, you probably knew this was coming.
Lance Armstrong recorded an interview with Oprah yesterday in which he "confessed" to doping. This is a very transparent attempt to move the narrative from "utterly disgraced" to "redemption", but I do think that Armstrong is a fascinating character in an almost Shakespearean way.
20th century Shakespeare, anyway.
Here are a few things about Armstrong that are incontrovertible. #1He's a dick
Seriously, he's one of the biggest dicks in the history of sports. An unbearable bully who utterly humiliated anyone who crossed him, including close friends. A guy who has almost no longstanding friends (who don't work for him) because he's burned almost every relationship he's ever had. Wasn't it amazing when the USADA report was released in October, and no one came to his defense? No one defended his character, no friend came forward to say what a great guy Lance was. The silence was deafening.
I've also personally been told some incredible stories from people locally who have had contact with Armstrong. I've never heard a single good one. Hell, I've never even heard one where he didn't come off as a complete asshole.
#2He's helped raise a lot of money for Livestrong, his cancer foundation
Lots of money, although almost none of that money actually goes to cancer research (surprised? This article is excellent reading: It's Not About The Lab Rats.
This is the single biggest reason that I find Armstrong fascinating. Without Livestrong, he'd just be another incredibly arrogant bully who masterminded the most sophisticated doping program in sports history. Even if he used Livestrong as a beard, though, people still benefited.
So how does #1 reconcile with #2? It doesn't, really, yet both of them are true. Although if you look at #3, it's easier to understand
#3 Armstrong isn't a person. He's a brand.
If you want to build a personal brand, is there any better way to do it than creating a cancer charity? No, not really. Am I saying that's why he created Livestrong? No, I can't say that, because I don't have proof. Is it one possible explanation that fits the circumstances, though? Yes.
Incredibly, though, that brand is now destroyed.
Based on all available evidence, the single thing that Armstrong absolutely cannot stand is irrelevance, both for himself and his brand. With his lifetime ban, and the release of the USADA report, there was no longer any reason for anyone to write about him. He no longer mattered. This was the only thing he could do to become relevant again, even if it's only temporary.
#4 Doping is analog, not digital
If you're not familiar with performance enhancing drugs, the argument that "everyone was cheating--Lance just leveled the playing field" might make sense. Doping, though, isn't a 0 or 1 proposition. It's analog. Some people benefit more from PEDs than others, and some doping programs are far more effective than others.
Armstrong wasn't just a doper. He was the alpha doper. He coordinated the most sophisticated doping operation in the history of cycling (and, in all likelihood, the history of organized sports). If you want a detailed technical explanation (which makes for fascinating reading), go here: From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France. The upside, though, is that Lance's team ran the most sophisticated doping operation, by far, and Armstrong himself paid extra to be on a special doping program that was not available to his teammates.
So Armstrong wasn't leveling the playing field. He was tilting it, and heavily, in his direction.
#5 He's not giving any of the money back.
I know, that's not a surprise, but Armstrong's net worth (before the USADA report was released) was estimated at $125 million, which means his career earnings (mostly from endorsements) were certainly north of $150 million. All of those earnings, every cent, were based on an elaborate fraud. So now that he's confessing, is he giving any of the money back?
#6 We all lose.
As someone who loves sports, who loves the idea of fair competition, I am so sad that it's again come to this. After the fiasco that enveloped Major League Baseball, and track and field, and most other competitive sports of the last two decades, it's a hollow feeling.
It would be different if, at some point, this would stop, but it won't. The next step is genetic manipulation, which will be entirely undetectable. Gene therapy. It's coming, if it isn't already here.
Okay, now that I've completely depressed myself, I have a lighter post coming up shortly.
It was a challenging week, but the new defensive gameplay is in and working.
Last week, I said these were the four elements that had to be preserved:
1. The speed of the game. Experienced players have to be able to play a game in 15 minutes.
2. The random influence of the cards. The normal ebb and flow of the cards has to remain prominent.
3. The Big Play button. I still want it to be an integral part of any new mechanic.
4. The visual of the players running toward each other. That might be my favorite image in the game, and it captures the feeling of football very well.
In addition to preservation, I wanted to make the defensive gameplay seem more like real football in terms of strategy and flow.
Last week, I came up with a new mechanic, and here's how it works.
1. It's down based, with first downs, just like offense (and real football).
2. The number of card slots is always the same.
3. After the user selects "Defend Run" or "Defend Pass", the CPU playcall is revealed. If the user matched the playcall, the maximum possible gain on the play is 15 yards.
4. If the user doesn't match the playcall, the maximum possible gain is 30 yards (there's the penalty for an incorrect playcall, instead of losing a card slot). In addition, there's a dice roll to determine if the "Big Gain" feature is activated. If it is, then the possible gain is 50 yards (and a little image shows, just like when a pass is completed on offense).
5. Once the max gain is determined, the elements on the drive canvas are populated, like this:
If you click on that image to maximize it, you'll see that the min, mid, and max gains are now labels on the canvas. Before the play begins, the offensive player is positioned at the max possible gain. Plus, you'll see a different player depending on if the playcall is a run or a pass (in this case, it's a pass).
6. Then you play cards. With each valid play, the gain is reduced by 2 yards (and the player will move backwards along the yardage scale, in addition to using a "running with the ball" pose, with different poses for running and passing plays).
7. If the gain on the play reaches the minimum (zero), the cannon sound and tackle animation go off. In the previous version, this only went off when a drive was stopped.
8. When you end the play manually, the gain is calculated.
9. Since defense is now down based, the limitations on kicks has been removed. So now you can punt or try a field goal as often as you want (and so can the CPU).
What I particularly like about the new mechanic is that calling plays is incredibly important, and the CPU uses standard playcalling strategy based on down/distance/score/time (which is easier to comprehend for the human player, by far, than the previous version based on a fixed number of plays in the drive). It also means that even if you run out of Big Play presses, you can still stop a drive if you call plays well (you can stop one even if you don't, but the cards will have to run in your favor).
The game is slightly longer now--about 20 minutes, instead of 15--but it's a much, much better game of football, and I'm hoping I can still shave off a few minutes. The cards still have their proper role, the Big Play button is still crucial, and there's a still a player running along the canvas, even though there's not a tackler running toward him anymore.
By next week, I should have everything in and polished, and then gameplay is going to be largely finished. This is clearly the right mechanic, and I only wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure it out.
Rob sent in a very poignant link to a blog written by Peter David (an incredibly prolific author and screenwriter), who had a stroke on December 30. His wife Caroline is updating the blog, and it is both moving and difficult to read: Peter David.
Eli 11.5 has a project at school that is team-based, and it uses Photoshop. His team is behind schedule, and he's unhappy with some of the other team members. Here's what he told Gloria last night:
"I mean, I like pasting dog's heads on cats, too, but there's a time and a place for that."
Garth Pricer described how I feel much, much better than I did last week: I just read your post about playing contemporary shooters and I suspect there’s more to it than the setting alone. I still vividly recall your rapt write-up of the sequence where you were storming the beaches of Normandy years ago. The verisimilitude was a selling point then, the frightful and gripping immediacy were the core that drew you in and kept you there, huddled behind tank blockades and listening for incoming artillery. Granted, the narrative was different- you were fighting the Nazis, the most palpable villains of the 20th century, but I think shooting games in general have lost a lot of their luster for all of us as we’ve aged.
I did the same thing, by the way. I purchased Spec Ops because of a perception that I was missing out on a meaningful if dark experience and that I’d be the lesser for it. I held out longer, enough to see that it was Heart of Darkness reimagined again, but in the end, I walked away from it as well. I don’t think I need a shooter game to drive home the uncomfortable assumptions inherent in the genre. I realize it intrinsically and it isn’t something I need to roll in like broken glass to drive home the message.
There are many reasons why Amazon is my favorite company, and here's another one.
I started buying music from Amazon in 1999. On CD, of course. Over the years, I bought a ton of CDs from them before I finally started buying music digitally.
From Amazon, of course, because it was DRM-free.
I don't think I've bought a physical CD in at least four years now. And I'd like to convert my CD collection (which I never listen to anymore) to digital format, but I'm too damn lazy (and really don't have time) to rip the CDs. So I have quite a bit of music that I don't listen to anymore.
Here's what I reveived in my inbox today from Amazon: You may have noticed that songs from 153 CDs you have purchased from Amazon were added to your Cloud Player library. This means that high-quality MP3 versions of these songs are available for you to play or download from Cloud Player for FREE. You can find your songs in the "Purchased" playlist.
In addition, we're excited to announce AutoRip. Now when you buy any CD with the logo, all songs from the MP3 version of that album will instantly be delivered to your Amazon Cloud Player library for FREE.
I'm sure I would have eventually broken down and started buying digital versions of the albums I had on CD, because one-click purchase is so much easier than manually ripping the CDs. So Amazon was going to get my money, eventually.
An accountant would say that this was a terrible business move by Amazon, because people like me would eventually buy the digital versions.
Amazon, though, understands that this just means I'll spend even MORE money with Amazon. And they also understand that it makes me more likely to buy CDs again, which have a larger profit margin.
That one picture describes who he is perfectly. There are a ton of kids at the rink, all of them goofing around, and Eli is out there with them. Grinding through a power skating lesson.
He was out of school for a little more than two weeks. On the ice for ten of those days, including five hours of power skating lessons. On the days he didn't skate, we played tennis.
My first nickname for him is The Enthusiasm Engine. My second one, though, is probably The Grinder.
The hard thing about being a grinder, though, is that there are plenty of days where you're working away and there's no positive result. That's the tricky thing about work, and it's why so many people never learn how to be good at anything: work doesn't pay off right away. It's tough, and you have to be focused and care about what you're doing, and even then, the reward is delayed by months or even years. Tougher still, the reward may not even be what you wanted.
Eli grasps that as well as any kid could. It's the reason we went to the Mexican border and the Canadian border for hockey last year. As long as he doesn't want anything handed to him, I'll take him anywhere so that he can work.
Having said all that about work, though, there are days where you get rewarded. Like yesterday, when Jack Campbell came to his practice.
Jack Campbell was the eleventh pick in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft (and the first goaltender taken). He was also the goalie for the U.S. in the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship (The U.S. won the bronze, and he was named best goaltender of the tournament). He's also Eli's favorite young goalie, by far.
He's currently playing for the Texas Stars, and since we occasionally practice in their rink, one of our coaches asked some of the players to come to a practice.
Of course, they said yes, because hockey players are like that.
Jack Campbell went to the Bandits goalie camp, just like Eli last summer, and I mentioned to Eli that he should tell Mr. Campbell that, because it would give them something to talk about. So Eli skated out, and they started talking, and for all the world, they just looked like two guys hanging out.
Jack showed them a few technique drills, and Eli ate them alive, because he was amped up beyond belief. When Eli started taking shots, he was ridiculously quick, like he always is, and I lost track of how many times Jack skated over and tapped Eli on the pads after a nice save.
Here's a picture of them on the ice together:
What really made a difference for all the kids is that the Stars who came to practice (Campbell, Jordie Benn, and Brenden Dillon) weren't just standing around. They were actively working the practice, engaged with the kids, and it was just great.
Eli would have practiced for five hours, if they'd let him, but it was over far too soon and they skated off. He had two Jack Campbell cards (including one from his Windsor Spitfires days) that he got signed, and everyone stayed and signed everything the kids handed to them.
Eli talked for one more minute (really, he didn't want to leave), and as he was walking off, I heard Mr. Campbell say to him, "Hey, if you ever want me to come help, just call me. I'd be happy to."
Like I said, gracious and generous.
It was pouring rain as we walked out to the car, but Eli was walking about five feet off the ground, so his shoes weren't getting wet. We finally got in, and I said, "Oh, did you remember to give Mr. Campbell his birthday card?"
"Oh no!" Eli said. "I totally forgot!"
"Watch out for traffic in the parking lot," I said, barely getting the words out before he started sprinting back toward the arena.
I waited a couple of minutes, then decided to go back and check on him. Pouring rain. When I got inside, he had just come up to the front of the signing line again, and I saw him hand the birthday card to Jack, who got a big grin on his face.
That single moment made Eli's entire year, I'm sure.
On the way home, Eli was talking a mile a minute for the entire twenty-minute drive. This was my favorite: "I was standing there, talking to Jack, and Jordie Benn walked by and saw us talking, and he looked at me and said, 'Sup.' Dad, I'm the 'sup' guy now!"
We also talked on the way home about hard work, and preparation, and how confidence comes from preparation--all kinds of "Dad framing" stuff--but really, he didn't need any of that to motivate him. This is all he needed:
The Consumer Electronics Show is happening this week in Las Vegas, and here are a few items that you might find interesting. The links are from Engadget, which always has terrific CES coverage.
The showstopper is probably Sony's 56-inch, Ultra HDTV OLED panel. This is unfortunately an example of "this year vaporware", because it's extremely unlikely that this product will be available in any quantity this year (and only in very small quantities in 2014, in a best-case scenario). Why? To the best of my knowledge, Sony has no facility that can actually produce this display. It sure looks pretty, though.
OLED, in general, is really, really struggling. Yields are ass, prices are insane, production capacities are incredibly low, and there are open questions as to the actual lifetimes of these displays. There will be displays available this year (from LG, if not anyone else), but the birthing pains have been tremendous.
Ultra HD (double standard HD resolution, generally), on the other hand, looks like it is making much more headway with much less pain (because it's not an entirely new technology). Almost everyone announced at least one Ultra HD display, and if someone tells you that "the human eye can't even resolve that much resolution at X feet", just start laughing.
Moving on to Ninendo, Satoru Iwata described Wii U sales as "not bad" to Reuters. I think that's all you need to know.
The most baffling announcement at E3 was made by NVIDIA, who unveiled Project Shield, an Andoid gaming device with the Tegra 4 processor. With a big Xbox-type controller attached. The one tantalizing feature is that it will enable you to stream your Steam libracy through to your handheld over a network.
That's a cool feature, but I'm still baffled. However, given how quickly the market has shifted, I think most of us are somewhat baffled in general. Something has to capture the imagination of consumers besides their phones, surely, so maybe this is more enticing than it first seems. My guess, though, is 100% DOA.
Xi3 is releasing a modular computer that's optimized for running Steam's "Big Picture" mode. It's called Piston (Valve--Steam--Piston--get it?). I totally love the idea of a modular computer, so I'm keeping my eye on this, depending on the price.
This is, for me, the single most mind-blowing product at CES: a one terabyte flash drive .Yes, it's going to be expensive as hell, at first, but ten years from now, are we going to all be carrying thes around in our pockets?
Dell announced Project Ophelia, which is basically an Android based computer you can put into your pocket (it's "slightly larger" than a USB flash drive), and you can turn most USB-enabled displays into a monitor. It There is also cloud storage available. Dell certainly isn't the first to do this, but I think they're the first big player.
MakerBot is showing off it's Replicator 2X 3D printer, which will enable you to print out objects up to 11x6x6 (that's in inches). Plus, 3D systems is demonstrating CubeX 3D printer, and it can print something as large as a basketball, incredibly.
I've made lots of mistakes, really, but this one is more substantial.
I'm satisfied with how offense plays. It's logical, there's a logical correlation between the card play and real football, and the Big Play button has a logical correlation as well.
Defense has always been far more challenging, in a design sense. Instead of playing cards to move forward--as on offense--the player is playing cards to stop the CPU from moving forward. So the logic is inverted, because the more cards you play, the fewer yards the CPU gains. You're moving backwards from the maximum possible gain.
I struggled with this, conceptually, from day one. I knew I wanted to make the Big Play button matter, but in a different way than on offense. And I wanted the drive rhythm to be different than on offense, too. It's more fun when you have the chance to score, so I wanted defense to play more quickly than on offense.
What I wound up with was the idea of a CPU drive consisting of anywhere from 1-5 plays (which I revised to be 1-4). Instead of gaining yards with each card play, like on offense, the outcome of a card play was that the little players in the drive graphic moved toward each other, and when they collided (if you played enough cards before you ran out of plays), then you stopped the drive.
This was an attempt to maneuver around the issue of yardage gained by having a larger goal of stopping the drive, although the CPU would gain yards at the end of each play based on how many cards you had played.
There was also a Big Play allotment by half (no unlimited presses like on offense). What's happened quite a bit, though, is that it's easy to burn through the Big Play allotment early in the half, and if that happens, it's very, very difficult to stop a drive. So there are too many occasions where defense doesn't have any drama, because there are times where you just have to concede a touchdown.
That's not good enough.
The mistake I referenced was that after I had offense working the way I wanted, I was satisfied to make defense "sort of almost" as good.
I realized last week that I was totally wrong in my approach. My goal should have been to make defense better than offense, then try to make offense even better. That's the kind of attitude that creates a game with excellent gameplay. Without that, all of the detail in the game world won't matter one bit.
I sat down and thought about this for several days, and finally came up with a list of what had to be preserved as part of a new defense mechanic:
1. The speed of the game. Experienced players have to be able to play a game in 15 minutes.
2. The random influence of the cards. The normal ebb and flow of the cards has to remain prominent.
3. The Big Play button. I still want it to be an integral part of any new mechanic.
4. The visual of the players running toward each other. That might be my favorite image in the game, and it captures the feeling of football very well.
I also sat down and tried up to come up with a list of problems in the current mechanic:
1. Not enough Big Play presses are available in a strategic sense, but allotting more would unbalance the game. Not having more, though, severely limits the strategic choices of the user.
2. There are too many plays that seem inconsequential when no Big Play presses are available.
3. Yards gained is not well-abstracted. It's just not very intuitive.
4. In an effort to make defense play more quickly, I removed all intermediate goals. That's not how most people want to play.
There are a couple of approaches I could take with this. First, I could just restructure the existing mechanic, perhaps by reducing the number of card slots (reducing the number of matches, on average, which would let me add more Big Play presses). So I wouldn't be adding any new strategic choices, but I'd be adjusting the balance of what's already there. I could also try to figure out some system of intermediate goals.
The other option would be to add strategic depth to how defense is played. Something that fits into the existing football world, with the obvious choice being to add a "blitz" button. Figuring out what a blitz should do, and how it should be balanced, though, would be very challenging.
So there are lots of choices here, and I'm trying to work through them carefully. I do feel like the "just right" gameplay mechanic is in my my head--somewhere--but I haven't found it yet.
[Please note: After writing this on Saturday, I came up with what I think is a substantial improvement on the existing gameplay. But since this weekly post is as much about process as outcome, I'm going to wait until next week to talk about the new gameplay mechanic.]
Backwards day dinner was breakfast, of course, in-between hockey practices.
"So I don't have enough supplies if I carry a four-man party," Eli 11.5 said, glued to his phone. "What if I just shoot them at the beginning?"
"Ouch," I said. "That's grim, although I'm not sure there's a disadvantage to doing that."
"I'm keeping you alive, Dad," he said. "For now."
"That's all I can ask for," I said. "Although if I get dysentary or a broken leg, you might as well pull the trigger."
Organ Trail is our latest game (iOS and Android), and we're both playing it on our respective devices. It's basically Oregon Trail with zombies, although this version is both very retro (visually) and very, very clever (in general). And it's hard, because surviving a zombie takeover and making it from Washington, D.C. to Oregon alive is supposed to be hard.
"Okay, I have get past a massive zombie horde," Eli said, looking at the screen. "What should I do?"
"Are they docile?" I asked.
"They are for now," he said.
"I'd try to sneak past then," I said. "I normally don't pull out weapons unless they're at least alert."
The entire game is a lesson in deprivation. Not enough food, not enough fuel, not enough ammunition. A crappy station wagon that's always breaking down.
The best part of Organ Trail is that you can make every strategic decision correctly and still lose. It's like being an adult, basically, but with zombies added.
"Uh-oh, Dad," Eli said, laughing. "Bill has dysentary."
Why is this picture unusual? Because it was taken around 9:15 this morning. So why are we having hamburgers for breakfast? Because it's Backwards Day.
That's right. We're doing everything backwards today. So we got up at 7:30 (Eli 11.5 slept in), watched hockey (the semi-finals of the world junior hockey championships started at 3 a.m. this morning, fortunately, so we taped the game), went to have dinner at Whataburger, and now we're at roughly early afternoon.
I'm going to work in the afternoon, we're having breakfast for dinner, and we'll probably watch cartoons before Eli goes to bed.
We've been talking about doing this for two years, but never got around to it until now. The only difference is that two years ago, Eli would have been wearing his clothing backwards, too.
Well, I don't know if they finish first, but they finish well. From the RunicGames twitter account: We had an amazing 2012, and proud to say that Torchlight2 has sold over 1 million units! Thank you! Happy New Year's Eve everyone :)
In an era where game companie are going under every week, seemingly, it's comforting to see such high-quality developers continue to do well.
The good news: I finally played Blendo's Thirty Flights of Loving yesterday.
Blendo Games is on that short list (that includes Tarn Adams, Travis Baldree, Vic Davis, Ian Hardingham, and a few others)of developers who make appointment games. Those are games that, even in my current time deficit situation, I must play.
Thirty Flights of Loving isn't a game, really--it more accurately qualifies as an experience, because there are no gameplay affecting decisions you can make, as far as I can tell. And it only last fifteen minutes.
Do either of those things matter? No, because it's an exhilarating experience, the gaming equivalent of Tarantino (with a helping of Sergio Leone). You're not playing a game so much as trying to reconstruct what happened, and it will take several playthroughs before you begin to piece it all together.
With Thirty Flights of Loving, Gravity Bone, and Atom Zombie Smasher, Blendo has a portfolio that can stand up with anyone for freshness and energy. And music--all three games have absolutely amazing soundtracks.
Now, I only hope they do a longer project in 2013.
I also started Spec Ops: The Line last night. I haven't played a "realistic" military shooter in years, because while I was playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I became so intensely uncomfortable that I quit.
I thought about what was bothering me, and I realized that it was the contemporary setting. I'm fine with a WWII shooter, or even Vietnam era, but the contemporary setting (and the realism) completely creeped me out.
I'd read so many good things about the plot of Spec Ops, though, and the questions it forces the player to ask, that I wanted to see for myself. It's been a long time, and I thought I'd be fine with the setting, given the context around the plot.
In a word: nope.
I played for a little more than 30 minutes, increasingly uncomfortable as I went, and then just quit. Even if there is some kind of terrific plot in the game, I couldn't make it past the realism.
From what I did see, the writing was terrific.
I wonder if this is an age-related issue--my problem with these kinds of games--or if it has something to do with being a father. None of this would have bothered me in the least fifteen years ago.
"Oh, hell, I know I'm getting old when the damned FITNESS EVALUATION is hurting me," I said to Gloria. I was using Nike + Kinect Training, another exercise program for Kinect, and I was just doing the initial evaluation.
Which was brutal.
One-legged squats hurt quite a lot, thanks very much. And the exercise were you jump left, landing and holding on one leg, then do the same thing to the right (it's kind of a hockey exercise, actually) is equally ridiculous.
At the end, I was running in place with high knee lift--sprinting in place--and there were three sets of 30 seconds each with 30 seconds in-between. I was trying to do as many reps in the last 30 seconds as I did in the first 30, but I realized with 15 seconds to go that my knees simply wouldn't lift high enough for the rep to count. That's my body, giving me the big middle finger.
Trying to come back from my stupid calf injury has been lousy. I've been reduced to walking every day on the treadmill for 30-45 minutes (which is incredibly boring and entirely unsatisfying), along with playing tennis with Eli 11.5 a few days a week. The funny thing is that tennis, of all things, never hurts my calf, even though playing with Eli now is like being on the tail end of a roller skating whip. It's the worst possible thing I could do for a bad calf muscle, but it always feels fine after we play.
If I work out on an elliptical trainer, though, it hurts.
So I'm trying this Nike program out, and it seems promising. It's certainly going to be difficult enough, and it's a million times more interesting than walking on a treadmill.
The 180GB Intel SSD I ordered included a drive cloning utility--made, ironically, by Acronis. It was easy to use and as simple as anything could possibly be, even for me. In less than half an hour, I had a new 180GB hard drive.
No mess, no fuss, no problems.
Understand that if there was a way to screw this up, I would have, so for it to go smoothly was a testament to the drive utility and the accompanying instructions.
It shouldn't surprise me that Google is doing this, since Google does about a thousand interesting things, but they have something called Google Zeitgeist that tracks and translates New Year's resolutions all over the world.
It's fascinating to see a little dot land somehwere on the world and see the accompanying resolution.
On a slow news day (and a fairly bad football day, too), it qualifies as high-level entertainment.