Friday, July 30, 2004

The Visionary

Yesterday at Microsoft's Financial Analyst's Meeting 2004, CEO Steve Ballmer had this to say ( There's no new Xbox in the next year, but, man, are we hard at work on that next Xbox; that's all we'll say. New Xbox Live creativity, "Halo 2," and again innovation fuels growth, innovation fuels growth. It's about as simple as that. People fuel innovation, innovation fuels growth and customer satisfaction, driving that hard, make sure that the wheel can come around and around and around and around and around.

Clarity. That's why he makes the big money.

Steve, put down the wheel, man.

I don't really trust Steve Ballmer. I don't trust anyone who gets up on a stage in front of thousands of people and decides to imitate a gorilla. That's what he did before the Xbox launch. If you haven't seen the video, and by all means it must be seen, go here ( and pick one of the links from 'The Original Monkey Boy Gyrations.' I don't think any of those clips have sound, but just insert a soundtrack from The Discovery Channel documentary on the mating habits of gorillas and you're good to go. It's stunning, really. If there's a Platonic form of 'making an ass out of oneself,' then this must be it.

Dude, when you start hopping around on stage like a gorilla, you become a spork: not quite human, not quite gorilla. Both humans and gorillas will then despise you. When you retire to spend more time with your half-ape, half-man family, you will be despised by inhabitants of both zoos and golf courses. You become a man without a species.

Walking With Giants

Bill Abner is considered to be the dean of sports game reviewers. He is methodical and careful in his evaluation of sports games, and he is one of the very few reviewers who I consider totally reliable, even if I don't always agree with him. He's also a very nice guy and I consider him a friend via e-mail, even though we've only met once for about ten seconds at E3 one year.

We have this curious connection, though, and it's always funny. At least once a year, I'll do something with sliders or mods or something involving sports games and Bill will mistakenly get credited for it, if 'credited' is the proper word. This year it's an analysis of the trade issue in NFL2K5 where I said that turning off pre-season games and weekly prep will reduce the trade frequency to a more correct (and very tolerable) level. I got an e-mail today from Bill saying that there was a thread over at the Operation Sports forums about his analysis of the trade issue. The normal sequence for this is that someone will make a post crediting Bill A., then somebody will mention his stature as the leading sports reviewer, and then the praise will get heaped on until Bill himself gets wind of it and makes a post correcting everyone. It's great.

Bill Abner: he casts a giant shadow.

Here Come the Delays

'Delays coming' is kind of contradictory really, but whatever. Brothers in Arms is delayed until Q1 2005, according to Computer and Video Games (

That's bad news. The buzz on this title was absolutely off the charts. This happens every year, of course, with large numbers of games not making their scheduled fall releases, but it's still disappointing. And I'm sure this isn't the last game to announce that it won't be coming out until next year.

Programming Update

Attempting to capitalize on the popularity of USA Network's Monk and their own teen drama The O.C., FOX announces a new comedy for this fall. The O.C.D. is a light-hearted look at Southern California teens with obsessive compulsive disorder. Network executives promised a sensitive, compasssionate look at the illness, but also promised to 'cut out the boring stuff.'

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Stalker: March

Based on THQ's earnings announcement today, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is now shipping in the 'fiscal fourth quarter,' which for THQ ends in March.

That, well, sucks.

Thanks to Blue's News for the link.

A Letter, In Which I Give Some Good Advice

Dear Ricky Williams,
I read about your highly-principled retirement from professional football earlier this week and applauded your unique spirit. Today I read an interview in which you stated that failing three league-mandated drug tests by smoking marijuana deeply troubled you, and that facing a four-game suspension for repeated violations of NFL drug policy was, to paraphrase, whack.

That's a bit different.

You feel like getting hassled by the man is shackling your spirit. I understand. I'm sure that rolling a gigantic blunt and sparking it up at ten in the morning makes you feel like James Dean. However, please allow me to point out the following:
Important Fact #1--People will pay you 3-6 million dollars a year to play football.
Important Fact #2--People will pay you absolutely nothing to smoke dope.

See, and here's the important part: you need money to buy the dope. Without #1, there is no #2. I wouldn't be so concerned, normally, because I'd assume that somebody as famous as yourself was set for life, but signing Master P as your agent and having him negotiate your rookie contract got you two cans of soup and a magazine cover wearing a wedding dress instead of financial security. I'm worried that if you don't play football, you may run into a serious dope deficiency in your lifetime.

So come on back, Ricky. It's not just good sense--it's good math.
p.s. I have a blog read by many famous people.

MMORPG's and Bleh

City of Heroes is a wonderfully designed game and I've stopped playing it. I've written at length before about why it's a terrific game. Now I'm going to write a bit about why it's not, in the sense that it shares some of the problems that other MMORPG's have.

At its core, no matter what the environments look like (fabulous), and no matter how high your hero can jump (magnificent) or run (blazing) or fly (soaring), a player will wind up doing one thing over and over again: beating the crap out of villains. There's no other way to get experience, and without XP there's no way to level, and without leveling you can't get the cool new powers which mostly, oh by the way, enhance your combat skills. All these games, whether it's Heroes or Everquest or Star Wars Galaxies, are generally skins over very similar experiences. You may argue that they're not similar, and while I agree that in many ways they're not, they all still consist of a wheel, and you and I are hamsters, and we're running as fast as we can. Except hamsters aren't paying $14.99 a month to work that wheel.

One game that does try to be different is A Tale in the Desert. No combat, just exploration, crafting, personal trials, and community. That sounds absolutely fantastic. Plus it's a small developer, so double credit. I played ATID and--well, I was absolutely bored to death. I dug the concept, I enjoyed the exploring, but I just couldn't find enough to keep me going. And therein lies the rub--without frequent combat encounters,  there are open spaces in an online game. Open space=Dead space. The only way to fill huge amounts of open space are by highly repetitive, pre-programmed encounters. At least that's how it's done now.

And just for the record, my ATID account is still active. I thought it was a great failure, if that makes any sense, and I really want the game to succeed, so even if I'm not still playing it, I don't mind contributing to the cause, so to speak. If you want to try a different kind of online game, I highly recommend it, because it is a very unique experience.

Now to the nut of this particular tree, which is how could these games be less damned boring? I am always dismayed by the 'other activities' available in MMORPG's. I've mentioned this before, but 'crafting' in Everquest actually meant 'pressing a key over and over again.' Fishing was a great idea, and it consisted of standing near the shore and pressing a key. Making beer sounded like a blast--and consisted of pressing a few keys over and over again. 'Crafting' implies some level of skill, of craft.

Pressing the 'c' key one thousand times in a row does not, repeat not, constitute skill.
This is a problem for me, because I'm an 'other activities' kind of guy. If an online game had some excellent, immersive mini-games, which could lead to an entirely separate skill tree and prestige, I'd be in heaven.

Let's take pottery as an example. What if you could actually use the mouse to control a potter's wheel? It would be the crafting equivalent of the mouse swing used in golf games--moving the mouse would move your hands onscreen as it shaped the clay. You could click a mouse button to speed up or slow down the wheel. Once you finished your piece, you could fire it in the kiln, then you could paint it, again using a mouse swing interface.

This could also be tied in with another discipline. Let's say that if you practiced 'mind control' and gained expertise in both disciplines, then you could, in a funky form of astral projection, create a virtual giant that could control pottery wheels the size of houses. You could create sculptures of absolutely unimaginable size and could spend hours (or days) painting them. Install those into the world and it gives it a vitality and a uniqueness that online worlds now lack.

Relevance? Give the giant sculptures a zone of influence that will temporarily alter the stats of anyone near enough to benefit. So people are not only encouraged to see the sculptures, but also to be near them. Suddenly, the artist is of vital importance to the community.

I could keep going with the variations that are possible inside this concept, but I just wanted to give you a taste of what is possible.

I find it sadly ironic that in worlds only limited by our imagination, no one seems to have one. What we are generally left with are stale, flat worlds that underneath the cosmetics are very much the same.

Many thanks to Ian Murphy, who sent me a link to a very thoughtful article he's written about online games (available here:

This Just In

I'm sure this is the news you've all been waiting for: the 27th annual Rock, Paper Scissors International World Championships have been announced and will be held in Toronto this October. See the press release here:

There was a time when I was considered somewhat of a phenom in the world of rock, paper, scissors. During a slow semester in college, I developed a mathematical algorithm that told me what to choose with stunning accuracy. In less than six months of dedicated tournament play, I rose into the top fifty of the world rankings.

The world championships that year, ironically, were held in Split. Over three days of grueling round-robin competition, I made it to the Elite Eight, then the Final Four. One more tense win and incredibly, I found myself in the Finals. I was Rocky with hand gestures. It was then that I finally realized the enormity of what I was attempting. The cheering crowd, the hot stage lights, and the unrelenting stare of the television cameras broke my will. I faced my opponent, threw down four fingers, and yelled "SAND!"

My world championship t-shirts, printed prior to the finals but never used, are still hot items on eBay.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Okay, There You Go

I actually fiddled around with the something or other and the hex color designations and there might have been an actual witch involved at some point and there you go. If you don't like it, back to glaring white surgical light we'll go. There are some other things I'd like to do with color, but I was lucky to get this to work and I'm not going to press it today.

A New Look

I'm about to try a format change to the site that will make it easier to read. That harsh white on both borders is pretty severe, so I'm going to blatantly rip-off Dan Clarke and Bill Abner's preferred look with their Sports Gamer blog ( Dan jokingly suggested that now we can start a webring for all blogs with this design. Dan is the only reason I have an e-mail link, because I learned from their page, and if I ever get the Atom feed working, you can thank him as well.

The Project Apollo Archives

The archives are a collection of digital images from the lunar landing program, and in particular there are some Apollo 11 photographs that are absolutely amazing. The Apollo Image Gallery is temporarily located here:

There's a link on that page that says 'Page 2 of the Apollo 11 section.' That takes you to a full page of images from the Apollo 11 mission, and they are just magnificent. Clicking the link to a photgraph displays a thumbnail, and if you click on the thumbnail (and have a broadband connection), a full-size image will download, and each one is breathtakingly detailed.

I wasn't kidding when I said 'breathtaking.' Some of the photos are so beautiful that time stops when you look at them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Who's Cursing on First?

Eli 2.11 waxes philosophical from his seat in the jogger. "Shoot is a nice word," he says.

We're on our daily run. Mine, anyway. For Eli, it's the daily lollipop. "Yes," I say. "Shoot is a nice word."

"Shit is not a nice word," he says."
No, that's not a nice word, I say.
"Shoot is a nice word," he says.
"But not shit."

He's the Abbott to my Costello. Once he starts this dialogue, which he clearly enjoys, all roads lead to--well, I'm not going to say it.

What he doesn't know is that I enjoy it as much as he does. He only curses in the laboratory, in a clinical setting, as he endless analyzes the linguistic possibilities. He posits it as academic research.

His technique is sheer brilliance. The comparative word, the good word, will always be emphasized when spoken. The bad word, though, will never be inflected in any way. It will be entirely ignored as anything out of the ordinary.

Just the facts, man.

"You need to stop saying that word," I say.
"What word?"
"I'm not saying it."
"Shit is not a nice word," he says.
"I know. And you're not supposed to be saying it."
"I'm just saying that I shouldn't be saying it."
"That's right," I say.
"Because you're not supposed to say shit."
"Which you can stop saying now."
"I'm not saying it. I'm saying that you're not supposed to be saying it."
"And you're not going to be saying it anymore."
"I can say shoot," he says.
"Yes, you can."
"But I can't say--"
"That's right," I say.
"Oh no. I'm not going to say it."
"Say what?"
"Nice try."
"I can't say it," he says.
"That's right."
"I can't say shit because it might hurt somebody's feelings."
"And you don't want to hurt somebody's feelings."
"No. So I can't say shit." 

Then There's This

What I am I linking to? Why, Flat-D, the '#1 name in flatulence odor control for humans and canines.'

Cats! What about cats?

It's come to this. I write about silly links I've found and then you guys punish me by sending me more. You do this because you absolutely know that I can't resist phrases like 'developed for the British Chemical Defense Establishment for use in chemical warfare suits protecting soldiers from nerve gas and other toxic vapors.' Or a photo of a smiling flatulist (I made that up, but I guess you already know that) and this description:

Flatulence is part of life!
By Frank Morosky
Flatulence Guru

How do you get that title? Clearly, it can't be via the conventional means of meditation, because I assume that you'd keep interrupting yourself. Not to mention that it would have to be self-study. I only hope this guy isn't a motivational speaker. I don't think I can stand an infomercial where the slogan is 'Be Happy! Be Healthy! Be Flatulent!'

If you're wondering what in the world this product could actually be, it's a charcoal pad that you tape to your underwear. Even better, its reusable! 'Depending on use, some customers say it will last 2 to 4 weeks, normally a minimum of 10 hand washings.'How often do these people wash their hands?

Lastly, let me also remind you to check out their FAQ page, because I know you're just dying to find out if you can use it with a thong.

Curses on Bobby Orr for sending me the link.


Just a couple of quick ESPN NFL 2K5 notes. First, Target has the game for $15.88. That's about the price of a movie and snack for an outstanding game with online leagues and almost unlimited replay value. Thanks to Brian Pilnick for sending me the link.

Also, I'm going to be working on a 'trade calculator.' The A.I. offers you trades at times that are just too good. The calculator will help me (and you, if you'd like) determine whether the deal should be allowed under more stringent, realistic guidelines.


Haruki Murakami has written a number of brilliant novels, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but I've recently been reading a non-fiction book he wrote about the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system by the Aum religious cult in 1994. The book is called Underground, and in it, Murakami interviews a large number of survivors of the attacks. What makes this book so remarkable, besides the interview themselves, is the technique he employs for presentation. He groups the interviews by incident, so that there may be ten different perspectives on the same attack. Each interview, by itself, is a very thin piece, but as these pieces overlap, they become more substantial, and the intersection of memories creates a Rashomon-like effect that is stunning as you realize what is happening. It's a memorable experience.

I've Got a Rocket in My Pocket

I didn't think this was even possible, but ATI is introducing a graphics chip for laptops based on the X800 architecture. It's only going to fit in the larger notebooks, and cooling may be a challenge, but it delivers nearly twice the performance of the previous generation mobile chips and can reach a score of over 5,000 on 3DMark03. That is a stout performance.

If you're interested, the article link (plus photo) are here: Thanks to Glen Haag for sending me the link.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Spotlight on Fat

"I'm fat."

She's not fat. She's never been fat. Even at 5'5", 107 lbs., though, Gloria thinks she's one cheeseburger away from being asked to appear in the second Baby Got Back video. I'll occasionally catch her standing in front of the full-length mirror in our bedroom, surveying herself with the glare of Roy Cohn eyeing a witness during the McCarthy hearings.

"I'm fat," she says.
"Who do you see in there?" I ask. "HR Pufnstuf?"
"I eat too much," she says.
"You cut a peanut in half and call it a snack. Jockeys call you for diet advice. How can you be fat?"
"I'm a fat person in a thin person's body."
"Well, canvas your membership and reach a consensus on dinner, would you?"
"I'm huge," she says.
"You have fat eyes," I said. "You don't need a diet. You need an ophthalmologist. See if you can get in for some vision liposuction"

In a remarkable trick of optics, however, Gloria only sees fatness when looking into a mirror. When she sees any other woman, they are all thin and tall, with alluring features and excellent posture. Last week, we were walking through a mall and she called my attention to a woman who was crossing in front of us. This woman was wearing pants so tight that they should have been required by law to have a warning label on the back reading "LOOK OUT! SHE'S GONNA BLOW!"

"She's attractive," Gloria says.
"What? Where could you possibly be looking?" I ask.
"With the velvet top," she says. "Those jeans look good on her."
"Good? Her ass looks like it was buried alive and it's trying to claw out of the coffin before it suffocates. People with the Ass of the Undead should not be wearing those pants."
"I like those low-cut jeans," she says.
"It would be fine if her top filled the gap," I said.
"That gap is supposed to be sexy," Gloria says.
"Not exactly," I said. "It's sexy on the nine women in the country who have flat stomachs. For everyone else, it should come with a lighted sign pointing to their stomachs that flashes SPOTLIGHT ON FAT."
"Hmph," Gloria says. "You just don't understand fashion."
"This isn't fashion, it's fat," I said. "Fat I understand. Fat lacks nuance."
"Fat's not the only one," she says. She's good. I love her.
After a few seconds of walking, I point into the distance. "Do you see that?" I ask.
"It's the celery stick stand," I said. "We can get you a snack. Maybe you can go wild and get a potato tendril."

I'm not sure when we're going to the mall again.

ESPN NFL2K5 Slider Project: The Results

I bet you weren't expecting to see that headline for a few days.

Here's what happened. The combination of a limited number of sliders to adjust and a high number of volunteers made the analysis go very quickly. We're done.

There are caveats to 'done.' The core CPU vs. CPU game is tilted, to some degree, toward defense. So there were logical adjustments to make, which reduced the tilt but did not completely eliminate it. Without being able to reach what I considered balance, that eliminated the fine-tuning phase. It was more a process of 'get it as close as you can.'

Not being able to totally balance CPU vs. CPU games is not necessarily relevant to our final experience with the game. The slider settings aren't used for simulated games, as far as I can tell. Balancing CPU vs. CPU games is more a process to help ultimately balance CPU vs. Human games than an end in itself.

Here is what we learned, and mostly these are balance limitations, not praise, although I'll have plenty of praise later in the week when I have a discussion of the full game.
1. CPU quarterbacks completion percentage is not consistently high enough. Along with this, they throw too many interceptions in CPU vs. CPU games. I've noticed that they throw into heavy coverage too often. The slider settings minimize this as much as possible, and I will say that I'm not seeing problems with quarterback efficiency when they're playing against me, because I'm generally getting my brains beat in (using the Chargers).
2. With only one slider to adjust kicking, compromises have to be made. Even with kicking slider reduced to zero, kickoffs are still a little too strong, while punting is a little too weak. Plus each kicker is far too consistent in terms of distance when kicking off. On the plus side, field goals are missed pretty realistically, which fixes a huge problem from last year.
3. Not enough penalties are called. Even with almost all of the penalty sliders maxed, a regular number of penalties called during a game is only five or six. Plus I almost never see false starts.

The most interesting outcome of the statistics people were sending me from simmed games were the outliers. And instead of paraphrasing, here's an exact definition: Outliers are the observations that appear to be inconsistent with the reminder of the collected data (Iglewicz, 1993, and thanks to Using the slider settings which produce, by far, the best median statistical results in CPU vs. CPU games will also produce more outliers than I expect to see. Players will just have absolutely horrible games more often than you'd expect.

So there is more variation possible inside the game engine than I am used to seeing with Madden, for example.

Some of that sounds fairly damning, for those of you who use the word 'damning' when referring to the statistical outcomes of CPU vs. CPU games in football simulations.

You think I have 'damning' taped to my monitor, don't you? I do, and it's typed in CAPS.

In spite of being the hard-ass that I am about sports games, though, and even though these are issues that I'd normally get worked up about, this year I just can't. The in-game experience on a second-to-second basis is generally so overwhelmingly positive that ESPN is a joy to play. I don't use that word often, that's for damn sure, but it applies here. It is absolutely wonderful, even with warts. I'm going to expand on this thought later this week, but the easiest way to compare ESPN to Madden is to say that ESPN has aspects that are so soaring, so brilliant, that they absolutely demolish Madden, but that Madden is so workmanlike and steady that when ESPN falters it is always there with something better. That's why reviewers frequently have such a difficult time comparing these games and why they disagree so strongly about their merits.

All right, enough blabbing. Here are the slider settings. Quarter length for played games should correspond to whatever gives you 110-120 plays a game (I use seven or eight minutes). Oh, and it appears that setting simulated games to use 6 minute quarters will produce the best Simulated stats). Sliders are on a 1-40 scale, with 1 being min and 40 being max, and there are tick marks every 8 places on the slider scale (I stuck to increments of 8 to make them easier to adjust). I use the same setting for both CPU and Human.

Blocking 40
Passing 40
Running 40
Catching 40
Coverage 0
Pursuit 8
Tackling 8
Kicking 0
Fatigue 20
Injury 20
Fumbles 32
Interceptions 0

We didn't test the Fatigue or Injury settings. Fatigue is another project in itself, and some of those are already underway by people who will do it better than I can.

Now if you look at these settings and think that I've eliminated drops by maxing out catching, for example, that's not how they work. The min/max for the slider isn't an absolute--it's a relative influence, and the max/min influences do not produce absolute results.

For Penalties, all sliders are maxed except clipping, roughing the kicker, and ineligible man downfield, which should be set to 32.

That's it. I've played several excellent games with these, and I hope your experience is the same.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

ESPN NFL 2K5 Slider Project

To absolutely on one's surprise, I've started a slider project for this totally phenomenal game. Participating means that you would set up some CPU vs CPU games and let them play out--no intervention or babysitting on your part necessary. At the end of the game, you'll write down certain stat categories and send them to me.

We did this with Madden last year and I thought the sliders we tested were the best sliders I've ever used in a football game. It made Madden into a very intense experience.

You can participate by simming as few as two games or as many as you'd like. If you want to join the project, please e-mail me and I'll send you instructions. I'm not sure about zombie e-mail harvester type programs, so instead of listing my address here, you can get it by clicking on the 'View My Complete Profile' link on the right side of this page, then choosing the e-mail link.

Thanks very much for your help.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Breaking News

I have been informed via e-mail that goggles for dogs are not called 'goggles.' They are, in fact, called 'doggles.' I stand corrected.

ESPN NFL 2K5 Trade Issue Analysis

There have been multiple reports of high-volume, poor trading by the AI in 2K5. I did some investigation into this issue, mostly because I'll be weeping uncontrollably if I find a gamekiller.

Why? because this game is MAGNIFICENT.

I'll tell you why next week, but please remember in the meantime that I absolutely pounded ESPN last year for abysmal 2-minute A.I. Madden has clearly had far superior gameplay (with proper sliders) for the last two years. This year, though, ESPN is just wonderful. So far.

The most serious issue has been this trading problem. It has two components: one, poor player valuation leading to lopsided trades, and two, high trade frequency, which spotlights the sometimes questionable A.I. even more.

I ran quite a few tests today, and I believe I've identified causes and corrective action. If you start a franchise with both pre-season games and weekly prep turned on, you will see 10-11 trades during the course of the season. If you turn one feature on and leave the other off, you'll see about 6-7 trades during the season. However, if you turn both off, the number of trades during the season will fall to only 2-3. The numbers are remarkably consistent each year.

There will still be offseason trades (5-6, usually), but with the greatly reduced in-season frequency, you'll only see one or two deals a year that look suspect. I can easily live with that.

From what I can determine, the suspect trades involve uniformly valuing players by their ranking regardless of position. As an example, you will occasionally see a position player (a defensive end, for example) traded for a quarterback. In the NFL, this never happens, because a quarterback has unique value due to his position. The game A.I., though, apparently only gives a small bonus to the quarterback, so an 86 rated quarterback traded for a 91 rated defensive end looks like a reasonable deal. In actuality, the quarterback position is so difficult to value versus other positions that quarterbacks are almost always traded for draft picks.
I've also occasionally seen a kicker traded for a position player. Again, same difficulty with valuation due to the uniqueness of the kicking position. Kickers are rarely traded, and when they are, it's always for a draft pick.

Now if you see five or six of these deals a year, it might drive you crazy. It certainly would me. But seeing one a year? No problem. Plus I have no problem giving up pre-season games and weekly prep. I didn't use them, anyway.

If you want to retain weekly prep, I believe that you could just leave it turned off until after the trading deadline in Week 8, then turn it back on (remember that you have to also select trading deadline 'on' in the options menu as well for the Week 8 deadline to apply). I don't know if it would have any undesirable side effects, though, so do that at your own risk. 

Beyond the Pale, Part 2

Yesterday I talked about some highly suspicious Madden boosterism at the major game chains in my area coinciding with the release of ESPN NFL 2K5. I got two interesting and diametrically opposed e-mails in response--one from someone in the industry and one from a gaming store manager (major change). Both wish to remain anonymous.

First, here's the response from the store manager:
...the deal is we run the "circle of life" with games, and they all start with the reserve. We're not pushing ESPN's reserve because the game is only 20 bucks, and there wasn't that high of a demand for ESPN to begin with, so Madden is it. It's just demand that has us answering the phone with the Madden line. About the reviews and actually trashing ESPN, my store hasn't been doing that--in fact I've been pushing the hell out of ESPN along with my employees, I cracked one open and played it as soon as I received it in my store Tuesday morning... I like it a's easily worth 50 bucks and a steal at 20. My best selling point to customers has been, you've got 3 weeks until Madden, and ESPN is only 20 bucks, why not buy both?

So no conspiracy at the store manager level. Then I got this very funny e-mail from an industry source:
Sounds like EA is back to their old tricks. The deal is this: EA publishes enough games that they can go to GameStop and EB and say: "You are going to pimp Madden like it is made out of gold and possibly also some high-quality chocolate. You are going to refer to ESPN NFL as though it might possibly give the customer oral herpes. If you do not, we will magically short you on shipments of our other incredibly popular games so that when Sims 2 comes out, you will have 2 copies and the place around the corner has 10,000."

My e-mail: nothing if not entertaining.

Dog Desperately Seeking Sherpa

Canine goggles.

I know you think I'm making that up. I would be disappointed if you didn't.

I know these goggles exist because we went to Petsmart. 'Petsmart,' by the way, can be thought of as either 'Pets Mart' of 'Pet Smart.' I'm giddy over their cleverness.

We went to Petsmart because Eli really enjoys looking at the fish and watching the mice go crazy on their exercise wheel. If you're two years old, the apex of humor is a mouse running on an exercise wheel. It is so funny that you will be unable to remain standing. Your laughter will weaken your skeleton so severely that you will inevitably wind up on the floor, in hysterics. It's the equivalent of the ultimate punch line in the adult comedy canon--"Wrecked him? Damn near killed him!"

I write this column with all the precision of a ninety-year old who intends to drive to the grocery store a block from his house and winds up two states over instead.

As I vaguely remember, though, I was talking about Petsmart.

As we walked in, one of the first racks I saw had a small box, and on it were written the words "CANINE GOGGLES."

I can just hear the target market for this product: "Yes, my German Shepherd will attempting to summit Mount Everest using the West Ridge from Nepal to Hornbein Couloir route, and he's desperately in need of some excellent mountaineering goggles."

"Aisle seven. Next to the hamster potty training kit."

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Then There's This

MIAMI - Police in the Florida Keys are mystified by a bizarre new pastime — young people dangling themselves from meat hooks on a popular sandbar...They found that five young people had erected a bamboo tripod and hung meat hooks from it. A young woman, her feet brushing the surface of the shallow water, dangled from the frame, hooks embedded firmly in her shoulders....Lt. Tom Brazil of the Coast Guard said a young man, who also had hooks embedded in his heavily pierced and tattooed skin, told him the group was “just enjoying the afternoon.”...There were no laws against sticking meat hooks into yourself and hanging from a tripod on a sandbar, Brazil added, according to the newspaper.

I have never been able to keep up with what the cool kids are doing.

I'd like to publicly express my sympathy for Lieutenant Tom Brazil, whose training in the police academy could never have adequately prepared him for this. No laws against sticking meat hooks into yourself and hanging from a tripod on a sandbar? Are you sure? Did you check?

Please, Nintendo, please use these kids in a Game Boy Advance commercial. They're hanging on meat hooks, and sitting in the sand facing them is another kid, but instead of looking at them he's playing on a Game Boy Advance. Then he says "Just one more level."

EA Sports also has an opportunity for an Extreme Sports title. Show the kids hanging on meat hooks, but all of them are playing on their Game Boy Advance at the same time. Zoom in behind one kid's shoulder, and on the GBA screen you can see a cartoon kid hanging on a meat hook. Fade out and you hear "EA Sports: If it's in the Game, it's in the Game!" 

Just Call Me 'High Concept'

This column is supported, literally, by paper. I have little scraps of paper all over my desk with fragments of ideas or dialogue that I want to eventually use. It looks like a big pile of trash, and sometimes it reads that way, but it's the only way I seem to be able to keep track of what I want to write about.

It's not unusual that a few days or even weeks might elapse between writing down the idea and actually using it. That also means that sometimes I'll pick up a scrap of paper, read it, and have absolutely no idea what the hell I was thinking when I wrote it down. Here are two I found today:

Hamburgers always have something to do with it.
Monkeys wearing underpants.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Beyond the Pale

You know I'm going to have a post titled "Beyond the Pail" someday. I'm warning you.

I tend to be somewhat naive when it comes to chicanery at the retail store level. When people are pushing certain products in conversation with me, I tend to assume that they're gamers and just happen to like that particular game. Sometimes, though, events sequence in such unlikely ways that they're impossible to ignore.

Good afternoon, by the way. I had a late start today due to about ten other things--none of which I wanted to be doing.

So here's the setup. On Tuesday, I'm calling around to see if anyone's gotten in ESPN NFL 2K5 early. Now this game has generated tremendous buzz in the gaming community, both due to the price drop (to $19.95) and the vast and imaginative feature set. When I call EB, here's how they answer: "Thank you for calling EB Games, where you can pre-order Madden 2005. This is Lummox." That's not word-for-word, but it's close. Actually, he said it more like this: "ThankyouforcallingEBGameswhereyoucanpreorderMadden2005thisisLummox." It was all one word. Then he gasped for air like he'd just broken the surface in a No Limits Free Diving competition.

It certainly seemed strange. ESPN NFL coming out the next day, and they're totally ignoring it in favor of Madden. So on Wednesday I go to the local Gamestop (the one I like, not the nearby Gamestop of Death that I've written about on occasion) to pick up ESPN. As I'm standing there at the counter, a second clerk is talking to another customer about ESPN. "I don't know," he says. "Some of the reviews have been pretty iffy." Iffy? 9+ is iffy? I haven't seen one review of this game that didn't pile on the praise.

You know something's going to happen here.

"Really?" I asked innocently. "Every review I saw was a nine, at least. I must have missed the bad ones. Where did you see them?"

The clerk just kind of stares at me, not in anger but growing panic. "Hmm," he says. I didn't know people actually made that sound without more words following, but he did. Then after a few seconds, he kind of stammers "Well, I didn't actually see them myself. One of my buddies told me about them." Indeed. Maybe one of his imaginary buddies, perhaps, living in a secret lair of unknown provenance.

Call me crazy, but I think having both major game chains ignoring/slamming ESPN is probably beyond coincidence. I would imagine it gets pretty slimy in the trenches, and if you manage a game store and want to tell me about some of that, e-mail and give me an education.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Doom 3 Benchmarks

Hot off the presses from HardOCP:

In short, Nvidia kicks the crap out of ATI because of their superior OpenGL driver. This has been the pattern for the last several generations of cards--ATI wins D3D, sometimes decisively, and Nvidia dominates OpenGL.

There have been rumors for months that ATI is completely rewriting its OpenGL driver. So the question at this point is do they have an ace up their sleeve--a new driver to be released in the next two weeks--or are they just going to breathe Nvidia's exhaust with the Doom 3 Engine?

Half-Life 2 News

From Planet Half-Life via Voodoo Extreme through Gametab, a post from Gabe Newell about the status of Half-Life 2: "At our current rate of find/fix bugs, we'll be down to zero bugs in 16 days."

There are infinite permutations from that sentence to calculating a ship date, but it does sound like the September 1 date is very possible.

ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox)

I'd like to start giving you my impressions, but this game is so spectacular looking that I've just been sitting here, slack-jawed. Yes, it would have been visually perfect with a 720p mode, and there is some aliasing, but it still looks incredible.

Here are some very short notes.

Graphics: insane.
Audio: The crowd noise isn't quite as spectacular as NCAA, but it's still excellent.
Presentation: The in-game presentation is network quality. I am not kidding.
Gameplay: it will take me several days, if not longer, to properly evaluate this. However, I've been watching the two-minute A.I., and while it isn't cutthroat like Madden's, it looks like a significant improvement over last year.

I'm working on sliders, but here are a few guaranteed changes you'll want to make. The sliders have a 1-40 scale (default in the middle at 20). These changes are for All-Pro difficulty (and don't even bother with the Pro setting unless you know nothing about football):
Running (Human/CPU): 40
Kicking (Human/CPU): 8
Fumbles: 24
Interceptions: 16

You'll also want to bump up the penalty sliders significantly--I'm not sure how far yet.

Seven or eight minute quarters will give you the correct number of total plays.

That's all I've got for now. I'm reasonably sure at this point that there will be a slider project starting soon.

Notes on Upcoming Software Revision

Eli 2.11 will become Eli 3.0 on July 31. I know this because he tells me. He tells me many things, because as far as I can tell, he hasn't stopped talking since version 2.6. I'm not sure how he breathes.

This morning, he walks in on Gloria in the shower and says "Hi. My name is James. I'm an astronaut. I have a flat tire." Then he leaves to go fix his spaceship/car.

I can just hear that at Mission Control--"Eddie, we're going to have to scratch the launch. We picked up a nail driving past those new apartments they're building on 59. We're going to have to jack her up and put on the compact spare."

Eli 2.11 has also started a favorite guy tradition--the catch phrase. He will prepare elaborate disaster scenarios involving Hot Wheels cars and tiny plastic people, usually involving either a car-pedestrian accident or a fall from great heights, and at the precise moment the plastic meets the pavement he'll say "That can't be good."

I say that, of course. When we accidentally see five minutes of America's Funniest Physical Agony Videos, and a skateboarder takes a header after trying to grind a rail suspended thirty feet off the ground, my stock answer is "That can't be good." So instead of emulating my good qualities, like...or my endearing habit of...hmm.

Let me get back to you on that.

Eli also has imaginary friends now. Actually, they're not imaginary--he just imagines that they're here. He is totally in love with a Wiggles dancer named Larissa (Wright, I believe--and if you're Larissa Wright, my son would very much like to marry you immediately. The age difference will be much less noticeable as you get older). He's also very fond of Chuck E. Cheese. So today he says "They're here!"

I go "Who's here?"

"Larissa and Chuck E. Cheese," he says.

"Are they here together? Are they dating?" I ask.

"What?" he says. Yes, he says it just like Lil John on Chapelle's Show.

"Are they a couple?" I ask.

"Yyyes!" he shouts.

Chuck E. Cheese can pull chicks. Who knew? And I thought Lyle Lovett was smooth. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

LCD News

According to DigiTimes, HannStar Entertainment of Taiwan is introducing a 17" 10ms LCD in September. They have no plans to distribute it anywhere but Taiwan, but if they're able to do it, everyone else will be following soon.
BenQ, for example, who announced in response that they'll be releasing a 17" 9ms LCD in Taiwan in September. So na-na-na na-na-na to you, HannStar.
We have a very good chance of eventually seeing that 9ms LCD in Europe and the U.S.
Here's the link:

Verizon and Broadband-Over-Fiber

Here's the link:'s+fiber+race+is+on/2100-1034_3-5275171.html.
Verizon is introducing a broadband service using fiber optic lines. Maximum speed is THIRTY megabits per second. DSL maxes out at 1.5.
This service is being rolled out in some test markets now, with multiple pricing options. 2-5 mbps will cost you $40. 15mbps will cost you $50.

So I can get ten times the speed of DSL for roughly the same price? This is going to be a big, big deal. Cable/DSL companies have gotten away with mediocre service and ridiculous pricing because there were no alternatives. If this can get traction, watch broadband prices absolutely plummet. DSL and cable have been competing, but not in the scorched earth kind of way. Now it is definitely on.
This is also going to force cable companies to stop screwing us on bandwidth--they won't be able to cram so many people onto the same node, because we have an alternative.

Radeon X800XT-PE

As far as I can tell, and this is just a working theory, this card was sent to me from the future. It's an absolute witch.

Here are the numbers using an FX-51 processor, with all test settings on default.3DMark2001SE: 25,6763DMark03: 12,528

That's so fast it's just goofy. I tried a few games at 1600x1200x32 with 6x anti-aliasing and 16-tap anisotropic filtering. Butter.

Happy Birthday to That Guy

We went to a party on Saturday. By 'party' I mean 'a crippling blow to the knees with a baseball bat.'

It was a combined housewarming/birthday party, and everywhere I looked, there was conceptual trouble. A housewarming party? What are those, anyway? It's not something men have. I've never had one of my guy friends say "Hey, you've got to come by our housewarming party this weekend. Feel free to bring an appetizer."

If I buy a house, I consider it warmed when the computer and A/V equipment are installed. At that point, all is good. No appetizers necessary.

The second sign of disaster is that the birthday party is for a guy. Any guy who wants thirty people to attend a party for him makes me nervous. Guys do have birthday parties--at the golf course or the baseball game, or anywhere else where the actual birthday is a footnote. The biggest event of my birthday, every year since I was twelve, is to watch the NCAA Final Four. Give me a cake and a remote control and I'm a happy man. But this guy I don't know wants thirty people to attend an actual party for him. How old is he--ten?

The social connection, of course, is my wife through a play group, an insidious mechanism designed to triple the number of unnecessary events that must be attended. She knows the guy's wife, they bought a house, and we're going. I protested that my I Don't Want to Do This Meter is completely full, but to no avail. We're going.

It only takes me about ninety seconds once we reach the party to realize that I know exactly two people there--Gloria, and a very nice woman who lives in our cul-de-sac. That's outstanding, because I don't get uncomfortable in large groups when I don't know anyone. Not at all. My only mistake was forgetting to bring the shovel, so that I could dig a hole and bury myself alive.

It's not my fault. I live one zip code away from Adrian Monk.

I'm not an introducer, so meeting these people is not a legitimate option. I don't want to have conversations where every third word is "Super!' or have to laugh at a joke that I can't even identify as humor until the guy laughs expectantly after he's done. "That was a joke? Well, super! Ha ha!"

The rest of the evening, I slip into a mild catatonia, the gentle winds of mental illness buffeting me like a warm summer breeze. Our neighbor Colleen, the only other familiar face, provided the highlight of the evening. After an hour of seeing me in total social paralysis, and knowing that I'm a runner, as a gesture of mercy she dragged a woman over to me and said "Bill! This is Clara. She runs!" I saw a fireman standing inside the building, looking out an opened window at me, yelling "Sir! We found someone like you! Come in off the ledge!"

Thanks, but I'll stay where I am. My people tend to gather here.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Official Statement on the Bassham Controversy

I've received inquiries about this man ( and whether he's related to Stephanie Assham-Dubious. Stephanie would like to release the following statement:
Lenny Bassham is an estranged member of the Assham family. Before his mental failure in the 1972 Olympics, his name was Lenny Barber Assham. However, after an unfortunate incident with his sister (my mother, Hilly Assham), he renounced the family name, added his middle initial, and became 'Bassham,' which doesn't even make sense.

This will be our only statement on the matter. We ask that you respect our privacy, particularly investigate reporter Ezra Denney, who brought this website to the attention of the press.

I Have this Other Disease

It's called VCAS, or Video Card Acquisition Syndrome. I'm sure you're familiar with that disease, even if you're not similarly afflicted. There is no known cure.
In the case of the Radeon X800XT-PE, it's been an interesting two months. That's how long I've been trying to get one. They are unbelievably rare. They are also unbelievably fast, which is why I've kept trying. I've been within five minutes of ordering a card while it was in stock on three separate occasions, and missed out each time.
Today I was scanning the forums, which is where you'll find a frantic "IT'S IN STOCK AT XYZ!" posting whenever anybody finds one, and this time it was New Egg. I got very lucky and read the message six minutes after it was originally posted. Within another three minutes, I had one ordered (still in stock). Nineteen minutes later--out of stock. Incredible.
This is the highest demand I've ever seen for a video card, even higher than when the Voodoo 2 was originally introduced and we were all scrounging around for a second card to run it in SLI mode.
I might wind up getting ESPN NFL 2K5 and the X800XT-PE on the same day. That would definitely, absolutely not suck.

The News We've All Been Waiting For

Tomb Raider 7 has been announced for release in the summer of 2005.

What a relief. I have a section of my gaming bookcase labeled 'PIECE OF TOTAL CRAP,' and now I know that spot will be filled next year. Until today, I was wondering what pre-alpha  would be released, Pirates of the Caribbean-like, in 2005.

Here's the funniest part of this announcement. In 2003, Eidos basically bet their entire fiscal year on Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, and since their fiscal year ends June 30th, they had to ship it, even though it was barely in early-beta condition. This, in a corporate profitability sense, resulted in them puking all over themselves. The announcement I saw today said that the release date was 'Summer 2005.'


Now what if Eidos decides to combine the very fresh Lara Croft franchise with the equally fresh Hitman franchise. I think Bald, Boobs, and Buggy has a blockbuster ring to it. And if that's too edgy, I suggest Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Maybe It's Porn This Time. That's a 500,000 unit title, guaranteed.

Little Known Science Facts #1

Potato peelers used in the Southern Hemisphere peel potatoes in a clockwise direction, the opposite direction of potato peelers used in the Northern hemisphere. This is due to the Russet Effect.

I Have This Disease

I ordered ESPN NFL 2K5 online for $19.95. Normally, I'd pay for one-night shipping, something that quite a few of you probably do as well. This time, however, I not only paid for overnight shipping, but I paid an extra $9.95 on top of that for priority overnight shipping. That's right, ten extra dollars so that I can have it by 10 a.m. I'm so amped up about this game that several prominent mental health assessment checklists categorize me as insane.

So here's the final tally. $19.95 for the game. $19.95 for shipping. Nicely done. 

Friday, July 16, 2004

Fan Pants, Part 2

Those of you who didn't check out the Fan Pants link yesterday really missed out. Just look at this actual comment from Andrew Borelli after visiting the site: "I am exceptionally uncomfortable with the idea of numbering my ass for prizes."

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer, chess genius, anti-Semite, and all-around wack job, was arrested today in Japan. Here's the link to the story on Sportsline:

If you're not a decrepit old wreck like me, you might not even know Bobby Fischer. He was an enigmatic, brilliant chess player who briefly attained rock star status, something no chess player had ever done before or ever will do again. In his prime, he played chess with stunning originality and an artistry that may never again be approached.
At the peak of his skill, he refused to defend his world championship and dropped out of sight. He's been as reclusive as Greta Garbo for decades, except when he gives rare interviews that mostly consist of paranoid, nonsensical ramblings about Jews. He also has allegedly been playing chess anonymously over the Internet, still whipping grandmasters with shocking ease. Believe it if you want to.

I mention him today for two reasons. The first is a book--Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time. It is an utterly fascinating look at The Match of the Century--the world chess championship between Fischer and Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972. You probably vaguely remember how controversial the match was, but what was going on behind the scenes was pure madness, and this book chronicles it extraordinarily well.

The second reason is that one of the finest movies I've ever seen is Searching for Bobby Fischer, which is nominally about chess but actually about the relationship between fathers and their sons. It is a brilliant, searing film, relatively obscure, and I recommend it highly.

Logitech Dual Action Gamepad: Now With Improved Piece of Crapness!

Electronic Arts has this licensing deal with Satan where they only support a very limited number of gamepads in their sports games. They sense what gamepads you already own, and none of those gamepads will be supported. Instead, they'll list about eight gamepads you don't own and demand that you buy one.

Yes, you can muck about in your registry and fix that, but I usually only muck about in extreme circumstances.

So when MVP came out this year, of course none of my gamepads were supported, and I decided to buy a Logitech Dual Action. It's about as close to a counterfeit PS2 Dual Shock controller as anything that could possibly be made, and I like the Dual Shock, so I bought it, even though it felt like it was made out of balsa wood.

That balsa wood comment, clearly, is foreshadowing.

After a few weeks, the Dual Action started losing calibration. I was able to recalibrate a few times, then it stopped working entirely. I started digging around in the newsgroups and found out that roughly two billion people have had this same problem. If you're wondering, the population of India is roughly one billion people, so we're talking about a problem twice the size of India.

I took the cursed controller in and exchanged it for another unit. Allegedly, the new Logitech Dual Action controllers (the special 'EA' edition) didn't have the problem. I've had it for about three weeks and noticed last night that all my runners were sliding headfirst into first base. Even on balls hit to the wall. Hmm. That's not good. So I go into Windows and check out the calibration, which is all $*#@ed up. Again.

At that point, I begin conducting drop tests to see how far the controller will rebound when dropped from a great height. I'm not saying you'll get these kind of results, because I'm a professional, but from a 9' height I got an 18" rebound after some practice drops. I think I heard it scream in pain, but that may have just been wishful thinking.

Today I went and bought a Saitek P880. It doesn't feel quite as comfortable in my hands, but the D-pad actually accepts input correctly, and the rare baserunner I get in MVP doesn't have brain damage.

Logitech Dual Action. Consider yourself warned. 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Donner Party--Table for One---Donner Party

I just saw this on MSNBC:
Archaeologists have unearthed a cooking hearth in the Sierra Nevada where they believe the Donner Party gathered for meager meals in the months before starvation led to the country’s most famous tale of cannibalism.
Here's the link:


Brian Witte sent me a terrific link and I want to share it with you:

Fan Pants.
You (the fan) wear them to sporting events, and the objective, according to the web page, is "to provide pants with built in cushions to ease the discomfort of stadium seating." If you're brave enough to visit the web page, you will see absolutely the funniest little animation ever made. I don't think it was intended to be funny, but sometimes comedy just happens. 

NCAA For the Last Time

For the last two years, NCAA disappointed at first, but then grew on me. It was always greater than the sum of its parts. This year, after about ten hours of play, I've come to the opposite conclusion. This year, NCAA is less than the sum of its parts. Much less.

On paper, this should be the best football game ever made. College atmosphere. Recruiting. The polls. Bowl games. Wide variations in team skills, making it possible to always find a challenging matchup. The best announcing in a sports game. Most importantly, the finest audio atmosphere, by far, I've ever heard in a sports game. You could start a game, close your eyes, and you would absolutely believe that you were listening to a college football game.

If you just didn't have to play it.

I know I'm in the minority here, but for me the gameplay is oatmeal bland. Boring. When I play a game with seven-minute quarters it's like a sentence. Players move slowly, plays develop slowly. And make no mistake, this looks like like absolute ass in 480p mode compared to most other sports games. I think it actually looks worse than last year. Terrible, muddy use of color. Very poor lighting. In widescreen mode, the camera is pulled back so that you can see the entire field. That's great, but then the camera pulls back AGAIN if you're passing. Wait, you can already see the whole field--why pull back again? When you do, you're throwing to ants. It's totally illogical, and this is the third consecutive year that it's been that way.

I haven't even started focusing on the A.I., and I won't because I'm done with this game, but Bill Abner found a huge flaw which he's described here: If problems like this are found in the first few days, it's a safe bet that they're not isolated. I roasted ESPN last year because of extremely weak two-minute A.I., and problems with A.I. are game killers for me when it comes to sports games. I can stand an alien from Planet X acting stupid, generally, but not a cornerback from USC.

This game will win a ton of Game of the Year awards. I have no idea how anyone could enjoy the on-field play this year, because it is deadly dull, but I see people raving about it in different sports forums. Lucky for them, because if you like the on-field action, this is definitely a hundred hour game.

For whatever reason, this game peaked two years ago in terms of playability and graphics. It looks significantly worse than Madden did last year, and I'm sure Madden will look even better this time. That's what competition does. So this game is going back on the shelf, and I very much hope that ESPN can live up to its potential.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

What, and Give Up Show Business?

From Yahoo! News:
MINNEAPOLIS - Daryl Miller didn't make it through airport security because he couldn't keep his pants on.

Airport police said a security screener was waving a metal-detecting wand over Miller's pants area on Friday when Miller pulled his shorts down to his ankles. He wasn't wearing any underwear.

Miller then said, "There, how do you like your job," thus ending the screening, according to the police report. He was charged with indecent exposure and released on $300 bail.

Are we sure he wasn't trying to save the rain forest? Perhaps he was in **** For Forest's sister organization--Drop Trou For Cows.

Doom 3 Gold

Todd Hollenshead of id just announced that Doom 3 is officially Gold.

Now--the release dates (in his own words):
Retailers in the States will be allowed to pick up games starting at 12:01 AM on August 3rd. The official street date is actually August 5th in the U.S.A., but some of your favorite stores will probably have it early for those of you who have to have it first. Check with your local retailer for that information.

Internationally, the game will take a few more days to make it to the store shelves. The UK will probably get it first, on or about August 6th. Everywhere else will probably be Friday, August 13th (que Twilight Zone Theme) or close to that date, with just a few exceptions (e.g. Russia and Poland). This isn't because we don't have love for you folks outside the U.S., but the localization and manufacturing process takes a bit longer outside the U.S. where we will have JVC run 24/7 to get the units built.

Gentlemen, start your video card upgrades!

Here they Come

For the last few months, Sony has officially maintained this corporate fiction that they didn't need to release the PS3 until Christmas 2006--at the earliest. I even saw a comment from a Sony Vice-President that the PS2 had only reached the halfway point of its software lifecycle.


I said last fall that I expected a new console by Christmas 2004, and I expected it to be Xbox2, with PS3 following in 2005. That looked ridiculous a month ago, but in the last week things have changed--the Christmas 2004 window will still be missed, but not by much. Xbox2 is having a public showing within months, and Sony is suddenly debuting the PS3 late this fall--a year before previously expected.

That doesn't mean the consoles can be purchased then. You can make some good guesses, though, based on the information that's now available. It's been publicly announced that PS3 will be playable at E3 next year. Nintendo's new machine is supposed to be shown then as well, and whether they had planned on playable units or not, they're going to have to have them now in response to Sony.

In terms of being able to purchase units, I think that translates into Spring 2006 (at the very latest) for PS3 and Christmas 2005 for Nintendo's machine.

Microsoft has said all along that they would be first out of the gate for the next generation. That means Spring 2005 at the latest, and if they release after E3, they run the risk of Sony's E3 showing blowing their new console out of the water, so if they can release it in the March-April timeframe it will be much better for them.

Is there a disadvantage to being out first in this generation? Not if your system supports high-levels of antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, and Dolby 5.1, and can do it at 60fps. The ATI graphics card powering the system is supposedly more powerful than the current X800 series, which means that all of the necessary features should be easily supported, and there should also be standard 720p support for high-definition televisions (and hopefully 1080i, but I'm not sure about that).

Everyone was holding their cards close to their vest. Some of those cards are getting played now. No one is going to be claiming that there's no urgency for new consoles. From now on, it's going to be a mad dash to get these new machines to market.

Comrade, Prepare to Play for the Glorification of the State

An East German arcade machine manufactured in the mid-1980's has been recovered. As you can imagine, government-approved arcade machines were exceedingly rare--it was apparently the only one ever authorized. It included six different games, all of which were knockoffs of an equivalent game in the West.

The link is here: The story includes screenshots and quite a bit of additional information. Thanks to Slashdot, where I originally saw the link.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Then There's This

A Norwegian couple had sex on stage during an Oslo music festival.

To save the rain forest.

That's certainly the first thing I think of when I see people having sex in public: I bet that's to save the rain forest.

The couple, Tommy Hol Ellingsen, age 28, and Leona Johansson, age 21, "are concerned youngsters, fighting to preserve the environment." They're in an environmental organization called "**** for Forest (it rhymes with--well, you should know what it rhymes with). They apparently raised over $14,000 the last time they had sex in public.

How did they do that? Did people people give it to them to make them stop? If this keeps up, rock concert seating is going to be like the first ten rows of Shamu Stadium at Sea World.

I'm not explaining that.

Online Games (again)

I wrote last week about online games and their negative impact on overall PC game sales. I received quite a bit of e-mail, and 90% of it was along the lines of "I used to buy five games a month, then I started playing City of Everquest Galaxies and I haven't bought a new game in six months." That's been my experience as well, though to a lesser degree. I've actually stopped playing City of Heroes for a while because online games bring out some compulsive aspects of my personality that I really don't like. There's a very fine line between compulsion and discipline, a line that I'm sure most of us have used to our advantage, but with online games I'm clearly over that line. It seems that with single-player games, naked repetition is generally derided, but with online games, it's an art form. Anyone who kept pressing keys to make pie plates in Everquest knows exactly what I'm talking about. If that existed in a single player game, it would have been slammed as a terrible feature, but in an online game it becomes 'crafting' and (coincidentally) a giant time sink, if you're so inclined.


Here are a few more notes about NCAA. First, not all the stadiums have the lighting problem that I mentioned yesterday. It's a night game problem only, and if it happens, it will happen in all night games in that stadium.

Also, I forget to mention the speed of simulation. It feels significantly slower than last year, both when simulating games and recruiting.

Bill Abner has some entertaining real-time outrage over at the The Blog for the Sports Gamer ( The running game, once again, is not modeled properly. It's never been modeled properly--teams don't run as often as they should, and dominant running teams are almost nonexistant. That matters, because it skews game balance significantly. I like the fluffy features they've added this year, like shaking screens and sign creation and whatnot, but they should be able to fix an obvious game balance issue.

Even with all that, if I can avoid the poorly-lighted stadiums, this game is worth playing for a while.

Monday, July 12, 2004

NCAA First Impressions

NCAA 2005 (Xbox) arrived today and I've got a few data points for you after about two hours of play.

The Good:
--Sound has gotten a HUGE upgrade this year. The crowd sounds absolutely fantastic and very realistic. This makes the in-game atmosphere much more immersive.
--Animations have been improved. Tackling and bit hits, in particular, seem more natural.
--Having your controller vibrate because of crowd noise when you're on the road is terrific. Also, trying to audible in that situation and see your players responding with hand gestures indicating that they can't hear you is outstanding.
--The announcers. I know, this is nothing new, but the quality of the announcing and the smoothness of their dialogue is nothing short of miraculous. How Madden can be so absolutely horrible in comparison is just beyond me.
--The new Match-Up Stick lets you find mismatches at the line of scrimmage. If you played this seriously, you were already looking for mismatches that you'd identified by looking at your opponent's roster, but this is a very clever feature.
--A recruiting enhancement where a few high school players will be identified as 'Athletes' instead of playing at a specific position. Once you sign them, you have the opportunity to assign their position. That's quite a bit of fun and a nice twist.

The Bad:
--Tipped passes bounce around like pinballs. Too exaggerated and not realistic. It particularly stands out because so many other parts of the game do look realistic.
--Recruiting has been dumbed down. Instead of selecting which coaches will visit a recruit, you just assign a number of recruiting points each week. That's much less fun than the old system.
--Major slider tweakage is going to be needed. Playing on All-American with Texas Tech, I was tied with Oklahoma 7-7 at the half. That game should be a blowout for Oklahoma. At no point did I see any physical domination from Oklahoma at all.
--Terrible use of the Xbox. Even using 480p, the in-play graphics are very, very weak, maybe even worse than last year. Close-ups look great, but during play itself, the graphics are muddy. During night games in some stadiums, it's so dark that you have a hard time seeing the color of the jerseys (no exaggeration). Oddly, though, close-ups still look great, as to the onscreen overlays, which says to me that somebody just screwed up the lighting values. Maybe it's because I'm playing in the stadium for a very small school, but it's just fundamentally too dark.
--Gameplay is slow, slow, slow. I feel like I'm running through quicksand. It's not framerate slowdown, it's just slow.

I always thought that Madden had much better gameplay than NCAA--much faster gameplay and much better A.I. (with the correct slider settings). NCAA has always had exponentially better atmosphere. It looks like that trend will continue this year.

My initial impression: good but not great.

Yes, Virginia

There IS a Santa Claus. Bethesda bought the rights to the Fallout series from Interplay. They'll be making Fallout 3, and Todd Howard, Executive Producer of Morrowind, will be in charge.

That's so much good news at one time I can hardly process it all.

Here's the announcement:

Thanks to Paul at the always fabulous for sending me the link.

Sunday, July 11, 2004


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is starting to interest me, even though the odds of it being a great game, in spite of the hype, are very low. It’s an open-ended FPS set in the Exclusion Zone of Chernobyl, with about 60% of the 18 kilometer game area modeled on actual terrain in that zone. I really like the post-apocalyptic overtones, almost like a real-world Fallout.

There’s a very good preview at Gamespot: If you’re lazy, here are a few highlights: “…a futuristic sci-fi premise that includes a society of competing scavengers who scour their surroundings for remnants of highly classified research…The game paints a grim picture of a bombed-out, irradiated area bereft of normal life after a second reactor meltdown at Chernobyl in the near future…While the government has declared the Zone off-limits, scavengers have begun to quietly invade the site in search of these artifacts, since these rare items command an extremely high price on the black market. You play as one of these scavengers, known as stalkers…”

Stop. You had me at 'grim.'

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. also has some gee-whiz graphics, seemingly on par with Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 (seemingly). No complaints there.

Here’s what I think will be the problem. Great ideas usually don’t make great games—a great idea is just the first step. I can’t even begin to count how many great ideas turned out to be totally crappy games because development was rushed or the team just wasn’t capable of living up to the idea. The developers are GSC Game World in Ukraine. According to Moby Games, here are the games actually developed by GSC in the last few years:
--Cossacks: European Wars 2000)
--Cossacks: The Art of War 2001)
--Codename: Outbreak 2001)
--Cossacks: Back to War 2002)
--American Conquest 2002)

I’m certainly not dancing in the streets over any of those titles, although I’m glad they got off the colon coaster with American Conquest. The only title with an FPS element was Codename: Outbreak, which was a budget game that got lukewarm reviews at best. There’s absolutely nothing in their pedigree that suggests they can pull this off.

Of course, you could have said the same of Remedy Entertainment. In 1996, they released Death Rally, a top-down racer/shooter that was a minor cult classic. In 2000, I saw them at E3 in a mobile home on the Gathering of Developers lot. A Finnish kid who looked like he was sixteen and had never shaved in his life was showing Max Payne, and while the footage was terrific I never thought they could actually finish it. I was sorry, too, because the guys we met on the development team all seemed so sincere and genuinely nice. They did finish it, though, and while Max Payne was a very good game, Max Payne 2 was a great game (my choice as the second best game of last year behind KOTOR). So it’s not impossible—just unlikely.

As to release dates, it’s still officially Q4. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Then There's This

The Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a country club to open its men-only restaurant to women, rejecting claims that members sometimes dine there in the nude... Tuesday's decision upheld an appeals court ruling against Southern Trace Country Club in Shreveport...

Though witnesses testified some men eat at the restaurant dressed in a towel or nothing at all, that violates the club's own dress code requiring "casual but appropriate attire" in dining areas, Weimer wrote.

Did I see Shreveport? Oh my. I'm sure we'll be dining at Southern Trace on our next visit. Nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me want a big juicy steak more than sitting next to a dude in the nude.

"Yes, sir, what can I get for you?"
"What's on the anti-nausea Dim Sum today??"
"We have Zofran, Phenergan, and Dramamine. With steamed dumplings."
"Does it come with a complimentary blindfold?"
"Absolutely, sir."
"Let's go with that, then."

Thanks to Michael Gilbert and Arthun3 for sending me the link.

Plague Update

Eli 2.11 only woke up once last night and just has a low fever today, so he's feeling much better.

Me? My throat: a luge run for drainage. I'm as appalled as you are.

Sports Shorts

There is a beautifully written and moving story about Thurman Munson's life here:

Some you, I'm sure, remember the excellent basketball documentary Hoop Dreams (1994), which followed two inner-city Chicago schoolboys as they played high school basketball in preparation for what they hoped would be stardom in the NBA. William Gates and Arthur Agee were two memorable personalities, and the latest issue of Sports Illustrated has a Where Are They Now? feature on how their lives turned out. If you can track down a copy, their story and the other Where Are They Now? updates make for great reading.

I just got an e-mail from EBGames saying that my NCAA 2004(Xbox) order has shipped. What that usually means is that it will be in retail locations like EB and Gamestop tomorrow (Saturday), with web orders being delivered on Monday. [UPDATE: None of my local EB's say they'll have it on Saturday, so it's probably a delivery on Monday for retail as well.]By the way, Bill Abner has developed some great sliders for NCAA in the past, so you might want to keep an eye on to see the latest status.

Sega's move to push up the release date for ESPN NFL 2K5 has put EA in a position where they can't respond. If they move up the Madden date from August 9 to July 20 match Sega, they're going to be cannibalizing their own NCAA sales. Never eat your own. So EA is just going to have to sit there and take it.

I also saw that the PC version of Madden is still scheduled to come out September 8, which is a full month behind the console versions. Chances are good that there will be another Madden sliders project this year, and I'll let you know when it's about to start up if you're interested in participating.

I Now Pronounce You Man and Wife

Several people e-mailed me and asked why they hadn't seen a wedding invitation for Stephanie Assham and Leonard Dubious (birth name Theodore). Well, there was one, believe it or not, back on May 5, 2003, and here it is.

The tremendously relieved parents of
Stephanie Assham and Theodore Dubious
invite you to share
their unlikely wedding
in exchange for a gift
of appropriate value.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Online Games and the PC Games Market

I haven't played City of Heroes for a few days, thanks to the plague, but it's made me think about online gaming and the effect it will have on PC game sales. What happens with me when I play an online game is that I don't play anything else, or play other games only sparingly. There's this psychological pressure to keep spending time with the online game because it doesn't end--there's always another level or a new mission. There's no stopping point. It's very sneaky psychologically, what a good online game does to your gaming habits, but in the long run, I think it's a real threat to the gaming industry. It's even more of a threat to PC gaming than consoles are.

If you think I've lost my mind, the line for that starts around the corner. No, not that corner. It goes past that building, across the parking lot (nice tailgating action, if you have time to stop), and winds through the park. Pack a lunch. Or if you're not in the mood walking, there's a bus that runs every thirty minutes.

It just breaks down to a simple issue with time. Let's say that a gamer plays roughly an average of almost two hours a day, or about 700 hours a year. With a single-player game, let's say there's an average of 25 hours of play value. Over the course of the year, that gamer would wind up buying 28 games. If he's playing an online game, and he sticks with it, he's not going to be playing much else. So maybe 500 out of 700 hours goes to one game. He's only buying 8 games instead of 28. That is absolutely going to have an effect on the gaming market over time.

This kind of dedication to a subscription-based game also works very well for the gaming industry. It's a revenue stream. Sure, there are significant infrastructure expenses, but if you do it right you've got a profitable revenue stream from here to eternity--or until the sequel comes out. That's why so many companies are trying to develop online games.

Here's one more factor. It's much more expensive to make an online game, so it's a much bigger bet for the future of a company. If it fails, and most of them will, it's a death blow, not a temporary setback. It's also going to be very difficult for small developers to crack this market, so I think their numbers are going to decline over time as well.

You might be thinking but what about games like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2? Well, they're both going to be huge, but they've also been in development for years. I just don't hear many new single-player games being announced, and the ones that do are almost always sequels.

There's always going to be room for a guy in his garage with a great idea. But I think the general tide of the market is moving toward big-budget, high-profile online games. Which I regret.

Camp Plague

Eli 2.11 woke up six times between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. last night. Don't bother doing the math--all calculations lead to suck. The doctor thinks that he might have mono, and don't bother with those calculations, either.

Mono is apparently not quite as long-lasting when you're so young--the doctor said seven to ten days, and we're already in day five. And he's definitely improving--he's actually eating a bit today and I've gotten him to laugh quite a bit.

He was talking to me last night and sneezed right in my face. If they had a mono breathalyzer, I would have blown a .35 and gotten cuffed right there. What is an in-field mono test, anyway? They tell you to walk down the white line and you can't even start because you're too tired?

We have anti-bacterial wipes. I think I'll start sponge-bathing with them.

Sneak Attack

After Sega announced that ESPN NFL 2K5 would be priced at $19.95, I mentioned several times that I thought this was only the first part of their strategy, and that they would be pushing up the release date as far as they could, possibly all the way into July.

Just announced: the new release date is July 20.

I'm going to have more for you later: a discussion of online gaming and how it may threaten PC game sales, as well as a medical update from Camp Plague.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

WARNING: Contains Biohazards

Eli is Patient Zero.

Eli 2.11 caught a virus on Monday and today he's still miserable. We're doing everything we can to help him feel better, including an unprecedented Maggie and the Ferocious Beast marathon, but in the meantime he's a walking 36" canister of the Andromeda Strain. Believe me, you will never fully understand the word 'contamination' until you have children. Every square inch of the house located under the 4' containment line has been coated in disease. If those C.S.I. punks came in here for an investigation, they'd all be unconscious or dead in five minutes flat. Walking around here is like standing in a vat of liquid disease up to your waist.

Gloria, remarkably, is unaffected. Her pioneer stock immune system is absolutely impervious to disease. If the world is ever devastated by smallpox or some kind of alien virus, she'll be the sole survivor, picking through the rubble of the local mall. "Excuse me? Is anyone here? Do you have this in a size four?"

I've caught it, of course. My throat feels like I've swallowed a cheese grater. I'm waiting in the doctor's office right now as I write this.

Going to the doctor, though, is purely a rhetorical exercise. Here is a medical dramatization of my doctor receiving an urgent phone call.

"This is Dr. Disinterested. How can I help you?"
"Yes, Doctor, I've been in a car wreck and bone is sticking out of my left leg. What should I do?"
"Sounds like a virus."
"I think I may be losing consciousness."
"Could still be a virus."
"And I have a three-inch steel pipe sticking out of my head."
"Come in for a throat culture."

You may wonder why I am loyal to a physician who would diagnose a corpse as having 'some kind of virus' and tell it to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. I evaluate doctors solely on the comfort of their waiting rooms, where I will spend 90% of my time. This is a comfortable waiting room, a clean well-lighted waiting room, if you will. My previous physician's waiting room had all the comfort and ambience of a Third World open-air market. So this is a big improvement, because at least there's no standing water.

I'm being waved into the inner sanctum. Time for magic. With all the exciting advances in medical technology in the last decade, what kind of sophisticated, futuristic equipment will definitively identify my illness this time?

p.s. They used a popsicle stick. It's some kind of virus.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Your E-mail

Some of you e-mailed to ask how I came up with the name dubious quality for the blog.

Originally, the blog was going to be named quality. I was quite pleased with that. Unfortunately, Leonard Dubious and Stephanie Assham-Dubious refused to join the new site unless I included them, hence the name dubious quality. For a time I was negotiating with Admiral Dan Sinking as well, and had those negotiations concluded successfully, the blog would have been named dubious quality and sinking. The reason that didn't happen is that Admiral Sinking appears to no longer be in command of his faculties, as he thought he was applying for the head coaching position of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Also, A.N. Drogyny wrote: You mentioned defending a thesis on Kandinsky. How would Kandinsky feel about that? Sir or madam, I believe that would very much depend on where you were standing.

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