Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Concussion: Out Eight Weeks

I'm playing a playoff game in ESPN NFL2K5 when Gloria walks in. I play with headphones on, so when she sits down I'm obligated to take them off, which I do. Since she's entered the study and not a common area, though, I have the option to continue playing, which I do, since I have a good lead and am just trying to run the clock out.

My only concern is that my stud halfback was taken off the field with an injury a few plays ago.

Gloria starts talking about preschools. [Note to fathers of children under the age of one: over half of the next two years will be spent in conversations about preschools. I can do nothing to help you. I'm sorry.] It's another two-day a week program that we might be able to get Eli 3.0 into, with a few potential issues like gypsies and work camps. Standard stuff.

So Gloria is talking and I see my stud halfback on the sideline, being examined. That means there's going to be a voiceover from ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber. I hurriedly pick up my headphones and say "Hang on. I've got to hear this injury report."

She didn't kill me, although I might be forced to go on injured reserve.

Evil Genius Demo

A demo for Evil Genius is available at all the usual places.

I've been looking forward to this game. As an evil genius in training, I can think of nothing better than a simulator to hone my skills.

If I didn't know who had developed this game, and could pick any developer from the past or present as a guess, I would have said Bullfrog, and quickly. It's an amalgamation of the kind of humor and play mechanics found in Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, and that's good. The game is campy, as it should be, and the graphics are cartoon-like and brightly colored in just the right way.

I don't know if the game will have staying power, but as far as taking the basic concept and not screwing it up, Elixir Studios has done a good job.

Now here's the funky part. The only other game I could find for Elixir in the Moby Games database was Republic: The Revolution. I can't think of two games more unlike each other than these two.

Shipping 9/28. Start recruiting minions now.

Geek, Overheard

We're in the middle of a software transition at work, and a few people have been brought in to help everyone learn the new system. I hadn't seen these people, since I'm the firm's equivalent of the eccentric uncle that lives under the stairs, but today one stopped by to help the person who sits next to me (hello Jennifer's parents). Jennifer politely asked him how his day was going. He said "Not good. I've already had eleven serious conversations today."

I know what he means. Man, if I have over 6.4 serious conversations a day, I am wrecked.

In the next five minutes, I was unwittingly subjected to a verbal fusillade. This guy was geek scatting. One of the fatal flaws of geekdom is thinking that you have social skills. I'm a geek, to some degree, but I am absolutely sure that I have no social skills. I have no hidden reserve, either, that I can pull out of a lockbox when I pretty up for company. Socially, I don't clean up well.

This guy, though, thought he was charming. Listen, none of us are charming. If we were charming, we wouldn't be geeks.

To get an idea of the sound of this guy's voice, remember Jerry Lewis back when he was doing movies in black and white. If you're too young to remember that, think of Professor John Frink from The Simpson's. Get ready.

Hopefully, 'get ready' really amped up the drama for you. I don't know what for, but it should be ratcheted way up there now.

There were words, and more words, then shouted words, and from my desk, he sounded something like this: blah blah blah THAT'S MY STORY AND I'M STICKING TO IT blah blah blah blah TOMORROW IS GO TIME! blah blah blah CHOW! blah blah blah WHO'S YOUR DADDY?

Those are actual quotes, by the way. If I'd taken literary license, I would have said blah blah blah blah DADDY AIN'T GETTIN' NO LOVIN'! blah blah blah I'VE JUST SOILED MY PANTS!
I'd like to go Studs Terkel and tape this guy, but the place where I work would have a core meltdown if I brought in a recording device. I only hope he's still around tomorrow.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Maalox Online

A Dubious Quality reader self-described as 'an anonymous attendee' sent this report about Matrix Online from PAX, Penny Arcade's gaming expo held last weekend:

Sweet Jesus, does this game suck.

Not only did the game look more drab than a fatigue-colored tablecloth, but the "music" and sound effects were actually painful. And not just because it was loud or because it was a beta--it just sounded horrible and there is no way that any of the combinations of notes I heard could be defined as neither music nor special effects. It was just noise. Annoying noise.

No matter when I went by and no matter who gave me the little rundown of the game, I always saw the same scene. Rooftop fighting. Over and over it was rooftop fighting and no matter when I looked, it still looked as utterly boring as the last time. A friend with me, who has over 23 DAYS logged on the WOW beta couldn't believe how absolutely wretched the game looked and sounded. The sound was perhaps the most grievous offense since, if nothing else, you expect at least good fighting music from a Matrix game.

This could go down as one of the biggest examples of a game that should never see the light of day there was. And then to think about the good games that occasionally lose publisher support and fall by the wayside--what a shame.

ESPN 2K5: Franchise House Rules

For maximum franchise difficulty, slider settings alone won't do the job. There are also some simple 'house rules' that, if followed, will make the GM portion of the game as challenging as the onfield action.

Every sports game has A.I. weaknesses in the General Manager portion of the game. ESPN is no exception. Fortunately, though, it's possible to compensate for them, so you can get a more 'real' general manager experience that will provide a very stiff challenge.

By the way, in the first few years of a franchise, the CPU GM's will sometimes trade away players for salary cap reasons that will leave you scratching your head. To greatly reduce how often this happens (down to one strange deal every couple of years or so), turn off preseason games and weekly prep. If not, you'll have to endure some odd trades for the first several years.
Here are the rules, and I'll have discussion below.
--Max out the player's interest slider before making an offer.
--Increase the players requested bonus percentage by an additional ten percent.
--Six year contracts are the maximum allowed length.
--Max out the trade interest slider before making a deal, even if it's offered to you from the trading block.
--No trading for an opposing team's starting quarterback.
--No trading for rookies.
--No trading of players from your team in the last year of their contract.
--No trading for/away kickers.
--No trading away of players rated below 70.
--no more than two draft picks in a round, and no more than ten picks in any one draft.

That sounds like a lot of rules, but they're not. I use some version of them with any sports game, including Madden. In short, they force you to make some very hard decisions concerning personnel each year. Players can't be stockpiled, and they can't be cut without incurring significant penalties due to the bonuses involved. It can be extremely difficult to build a strong team inside the constraints of the salary cap, and it is impossible to keep that team together for more than two or three years. In other words, it's much like the real NFL.

The sliders also reinforce the difficulty. To the best of my knowledge, every slider setting is such that the corresponding rating matters in terms of onfield results. So if you draft a team of bad tacklers, I hope you enjoy watching running backs break tackle after tackle. If you draft wide receivers who can't catch, enjoy all the drops. If you draft running backs with a low 'secure ball' rating, here come the fumbles.

These house rules force you to 'go without.' Do you want marquee players with huge salaries? Fine, but you're going to have to do it at the expense of depth. Want to sign guys to long-term deals to reduce your cap expense down the road? Just make sure those guys don't puke out on you, because you could be paying three or four years worth of bonus when you cut them. That also means you do better do a good job at the Combine, because those big bonuses for first round draft picks can come back to haunt you.

I was able to put together a very, very strong team last week, and at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night I won the Super Bowl for the first time. At 11:00 a.m. the next morning, I was dismantling that team. I had kept guys who had one or two years left on their contract, knowing I couldn't afford to resign them, because I thought the team could make a run. I lost fifteen players rated 80+ after the Super Bowl. My team went from being rated a 95 overall to an 82, which took it from the strongest team in the league to below average.

That's a decent approximation of what happens in the real NFL, and it makes ESPN a fun and challenging game.

ESPN 2K5: Final Sliders

I made a few final changes based on some additional testing I've done. These are not changing. They're final. To give you an idea of difficulty, these are rated at 1.73 (you can see this in the crib tally option at the end of the game--difficulty rating is at the bottom, I think), which is right around Legend level. They're actually harder than Legend except for the pursuit rating, which is lowered to neutral for the CPU defense instead of giving them a giant speed cheat.

These settings are part of a package that includes the house rules for Franchise mode. Together, they make the game extremely challenging. Franchise house rules are in the post just above this one, along with an explanation of how they reinforce the slider settings.

Here are the settings. First value is Human setting, second value is CPU setting:
Blocking: 16,40
Passing: 0,40
Running: 16,40
Catching: 40,40
Pursuit: 4,10
Tackling: 0,8
Kicking: 0,40
Fatigue: 4,4
Injury: 20
Fumbles: 28
Interceptions: 0

Penalties--all at max except the following:
Offensive holding: 32
Clipping: 24
Roughing the Kicker: 32
Ineligible Receiver Downfield: 32

In the Gameplan option during the game, you can set substitution in/out thresholds. Using out 60%, in 85% provides with a good substitution pattern in conjunction with the fatigue settings.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

You Do Something To Me

I like the music of Cole Porter. And I think Ashley Judd is a little volcano. So I went to De-Lovely with high hopes.

Among my hopes, there were no survivors.

This film is the cinematic equivalent of a man sitting in front of a mirror, combing his hair three hundred times. Consecutively.

Cole Porter was bisexual, and in a remarkable twist, the script was written by Jay Cocks. With the deft touch of a man carrying a giant boat anchor, he manages to capture the most annoying elements of both the straight world and the gay world. There are many people in this film, and you will hate them all. The only question is when.

In my case, about twelve minutes.

Every actor in this film gives the worst performance of their career. Many of them no longer have careers. From this moment forward, they will travel to auditions and be greeted with hissed cries of "Unclean!" Perhaps a charitable colony could be established for them, far away from cameras of any kind.

In the first hour I saw possibly the most annoying wooing scene in cinematic history, with both Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd performing with all the nuance of a game show host. As the scene ended, the screen darkened and only hoofbeats could be heard. I longed for a masked rider on horseback to burst onto the scene, brandishing a sword, and behead them both.

The second hour, as people die, offers a more hopeful note, but it is left unfulfilled, as people die neither quickly nor often enough.

Let me advise you strongly to buy a glass container of the kind often used to house fire extinguishers. Place in it a liter of gasoline and a pack of matches. If at any point in the future you think that you might want to see this film, break the glass, pour the gasoline on your clothing, and set yourself on fire.

You'll thank me.


I swam a thousand meters today.

For a skilled swimmer, a thousand meters barely qualifies as a warmup. I am not skilled. I felt like slathering myself in lanolin and petroleum jelly and hiring a boat to follow me. The water felt soothing, though, as it always does. Swimming is exhausting, but in a particularly sneaky way, so everything felt great while I was working out. Then I climbed up the pool ladder and felt the weight of a hundred failed revolutions.

Mr. Boudreaux, Your Reputation Follows You

A seventy-year old pharmacist. Dancin' in the Moonlight. Boudreaux's Butt Paste.

Maybe I should rephrase that.

We have a cat. Said cat requires more medical attention than the Pope. Part of her elaborate treatments for I'm a Pain in the Ass disease involve twice-daily doses of something or other, and this medication can't be purchased at a normal pharmacy. For this, we must journey to a pharmacy we refer to as Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe. Here, their staff of witches and warlocks mix all kinds of solutions that are unavailable on the light side.

It's the kind of place you should have to enter through a tree.

Ye Olde Apothecary Shoppe works on a schedule last popular in the mid-eighteenth century. It's one of those places that closes for lunch and reopens when they're damn well ready. So Gloria dropped off the prescription on Thursday morning, and they told her that it would be ready on Saturday, when they're open from eleven to one.

Gloria would normally pick it up, but she took Eli to see the Dora the Explorer show today. I saw a video clip of a middle-aged man with a paunch wearing a Boots the Monkey costume and I thought I was watching an induction ceremony into the Flaccid Hall of Fame. I used an elaborate points system I've constructed to claim that I was not required to attend this event. So I'm picking up cat medicine instead.

One step away from James Bond, I am.

I walk into the pharmacy and behind the counter, all alone, is a man who must easily be in his seventies. That is not terrifically strange, but hearing 'Dancin' in the Moonlight' (King Harvest 1970's) blasting from the speakers in conjunction with seeing a seventy-year old pharmacist gets much closer. That's when I saw a large display for Boudreaux's Butt Paste. I didn't know that Cajun's had such a strong demand for diaper cream, but there's much I don't know.

I'd like to be able to say that the pharmacist was reading a dog-eared copy of the Necronomicon, or that Boudreaux himself walked in and called me a couyon, but none of that happened.

It could have, though, and for that I was glad.

Friday, August 27, 2004

My Brilliant Career

We were watching the Olympics two nights ago, and during the women's pole vault Gloria said "That looks like fun." Surprisingly, I could comment on that, because I had a career in the pole vault.

It lasted twelve seconds.

When I was in seventh grade, I asked our P.E. coach if I could try the pole vault. It did look like fun. Much to my surprise, he agreed. He wasn't a particularly nice fellow--in fact, he was a mean bastard--so I can only imagine that he agreed for the sheer entertainment value of watching me make a fool of myself.

His joke, however, was about to invert.

There were half a dozen people or so just standing around the pit, and they loosely gathered around to watch me vault. Coach handed me the pole and I walked back toward the beginning of the runway.

Here's the first important fact to know about the pole vault: the pole does not carry itself. This becomes a problem when you weigh less than the pole. It's an even more serious problem when you're not even as wide as the pole. I had gigantic glasses on top, enormous shoes on bottom, and a straight piece of string in-between. I strongly resembled the letter 'I.'

The smart thing to do would have been to stop right there. Maybe I would have, but while I'm trying to balance the pole I see Coach Bastard and another coach looking at me and laughing. I'll show them.

I have no idea what I'm doing, but I know that running slowly won't help, so I lift up the pole and take off. And one thing I can do is run. Within seconds, the pole begins to oscillate from left to right. Only for fleeting instants does it actually face toward the pole vault pit. Within a few more strides, 'oscillating' becomes 'oscillating wildly.' I'm running very fast, and I'm carrying a long pole whose motions appear to bear no relation to me holding it whatsoever. I am the pole vaulting equivalent of the eighty-year old man who drives his Cadillac onto the sidewalk and mows down scores of pedestrians.

My glasses begin bouncing up and down in sympathy with the pole. I have my own rhythm section.

As I near the pit, I see spectators begin to peel away from their positions alongside the runway. All of them, that is, except for Coach Bastard, who looked away for the briefest moment and suddenly finds himself with a very respectable chance of being impaled. As I reach the plant box he dives out of the way, rolling to safety, and I somehow plant the pole in the box and prepare to soar into the sky. This preparation was entirely unnecessary, however, because the pole does not bend. At all.

Here's the second important fact to know about the pole vault: the pole does not bend itself.

Coach Bastard gets up and he is covered, covered in grass burrs. The other coach is making fun of him. And he's pissed.

It's still one of my favorite athletic memories. It was a golden moment.

An Actual Quote From an Actual Person

I'm standing in line at Subway and there are three guys talking loudly at a table in the corner. Then I hear one say "Something in my soul is burning."

Dude, you just ate at Subway. It's not your soul that's burning. Just take a Nexium and calm down. Don't run off and do missionary work in the Congo because the club sandwich didn't agree with you.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Quality is Our Recipe

We went to Wendy's for lunch today.

They have a new item on the menu--'Tuscan Beef.' Wow--Wendy's goes uptown. There's a big picture of the new dish, and it shows a few beleaguered vegetables piled atop what looks suspiciously like--A HAMBURGER PATTY.

Three mushrooms and a weak sprinkle of Parmesan cheese does not transmogrify a hamburger patty into Tuscan Beef. I'm not even sure what Tuscan Beef is, but I'm absolutely sure that the foundation is not a hamburger patty. They didn't even bother to change the shape--it's still the Flat Square O' Beef that we'll all familiar with.

The other very classy touch with the new Tuscan Beef was that the picture also showed it being served on white china plates, along with stainless steel forks that had salmon-colored decorative handles. And matching cloth napkins.

Listen, the last time a cloth napkin was used in Wendy's, it was for a mask in a robbery. And I haven't seen many salmon-colored, stainless steel forks lately, either, although you can get a nice white china plate, as long as you think 'white china plate' means beige plastic.

Next they'll be promoting their new Dutch Diamond Tenderloin. It's a hamburger patty, rotated forty-five degrees.

Mail Call

Time to share a few interesting e-mails I've received in the last couple of days. Thank you for writing them.

First we have an e-mail from Shawn Andrich (Certis) of Gamers With Jobs (www.gamerswithjobs.com). Those guys have done a better job of building a site from scratch and cultivating a dynamic, vibrant community than anyone I know. In less than two years, they've gone from zero to...well, something much larger than zero. If you've never visited, I think you'll enjoy your time there.

Having said that, here's his (edited) e-mail:
I find it pretty telling that you would file Tropico under the RTS category, even the box doesn't claim it to be such. It's definitely more of a strategy, world build "sim" sort of game than what many might consider a "true" RTS. I think you might like Rome: Total War better if your soldiers complained of sore feet and demanded better sandals before being crushed by elephants.

You sir, do not like the genre in its purist form. How can your heart not swell after the Romans are routed and your troops cheer as your cavalry chase down the survivors like the dogs they are?

Did I mention that the guys at Gamers With Jobs are witty? Well, they are. In this case, though, Shawn makes an excellent point. I'm always holding up Tropico as the shining light of RTS games when the case can be made that it doesn't even belong in that genre.

I think Shawn is actually right about my reaction to 'pure' RTS games. As their very form involves large numbers of units crushing other large numbers of units, maybe the genre is impersonal and dispassionate by design. So being personal and passionate is not the point of an RTS game at all.

Having said all that, though, I really enjoyed Shogun: Total War, so maybe I'm not totally hopeless.

Next is an e-mail from Francesco Poli, who I'm very happy to say appears to be our man on the ground in Italy. He sent along two links about mortadella to dispel my prejudice against the meat based on my firm philosophical positions against both fat and death. The first link is to a page from the Salami Institute (yes, there is one) that explains both the origin and requirements for authentic mortadella. The page is here (http://www.italianmade.com/foods/subcat18006.cfm), but here's a taste (that pun has visible fat pockets):
Mortadella Bologna may be oval or cylindrical in shape. Its texture must be close and inelastic. When cut the Mortadella Bologna will be smooth and uniformly pink in colour. Each slice must be composed of at least fifteen per cent of small pearly-white squares of animal fat. The squares of fat must be evenly distributed and firmly embedded in the meat mixture.

Fifteen per cent fat isn't much at all. Do you think they could paint those little fat pockets a different color, like maybe the color--of meat?

The second link is to a page (http://bellquel.bo.cnr.it/attivita/cyberfair/htmlin/mortadella.htm) that explains the origin of the word 'mortadella.' Here are the applicable paragraphs (please note: all fat pockets have been removed):
The "Mortadella" whose origin dates back to the middle-ages derives its name from 'mortar'.
Monks would mince pork meat in a mortar and this gave birth to its name. According to the Dominican Friar, Labat(1706) the "mortadella" consisted of donkey meat, wild boar meat and domestic pig meat.

So there you have it. Mortadella apparently does not mean 'meat of the dead,' and I can't tell you how dismayed I am about that. The world is a darker and less humorous place now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

World of Warcraft

I've mentioned Penny Arcade (www.penny-arcade.com) several times, but Gabe has a post today about the Warlock class in World of Warcraft that's a brilliant read. If Blizzard implemented even a few of his ideas, the Warlock might become the most interesting character class in any online game, period.

All of his suggestions go to the heart of good game design, which at its core means variation inside repetition. Most online games are all repetition. Variation means that every opportunity, every power must have an associated risk. Nothing can be free, or even easy. Great games deny you certainty.


Thanks to Glen Haag for sending me a link to an interview with Alexander Yuvchenko, an engineer who was on duty the night of the Chernobyl reactor explosion. He is one of the very who survived. The interview is here: http://www.newscientist.com/opinion/opinterview.jsp?id=ns24611.

Also, for European readers, this interview is part of a documentary ("Disaster at Chernobyl")filmed for Discovery Channel Europe that is airing at 10pm (UK time) on August 29. Hopefully we'll see it in the U.S. at some point.

My Bologna Has a First Name, It's D-E-A-T-H

Thanks to the unreasonably witty Andrew Borelli for sending me this e-mail (very slightly edited):
If you think the contents of bologna is bad, you'd love an Italian cold cut that probably doesn't appear anywhere that Italians have not been (like Texas). Step into any respectable Brooklyn deli in my old neighborhood and you can order a pound of mortadella - a pink, wide, thinly sliced meat with visible fat pockets and a richness that literally sticks to the roof of your mouth. Favorite of Italian subs everywhere.

Here's the punchline. "Mortadella" literally means "meat of the dead."

I was shrieking like a schoolgirl when I read his e-mail. Name a movie 'Visible Fat Pockets' and I'll be scared out of my skin. The only thing better than eating fat pockets are having them stick to the roof of your mouth.

Feel free to print this out and put it on your refrigerator if you're dieting. I'm happy to help.

Rome: Total War Demo

I took at a look at the Rome: Total War demo yesterday, and while it's everything it should be, it was still less than I expected. In spite of the stellar graphics and the intuitive interface, as I played I was not disinterested but somehow unmoved. This says less about the game than it does about my perspective on RTS games.

I've written this before, but the RTS genre has evolved into spreadsheets represented by graphics. There is a relationship between the large numbers of units shown on the screen and an impersonal, remote feeling that pervades most of the canon. In a word, the genre is dispassionate.

That's not true of all RTS games. The two that stand out most vividly as exceptions are Startopia and Tropico. Startopia was a wildly divergent game--real-time strategy, but overflowing with personality. The space-station setting was packed with comedy and featured an entire level--the biosphere--that was a game in itself. It sold poorly and was the last game PC game Mucky Foot developed before they disbanded. That's me--I've really got my pulse on the market. My stamp of approval was the death rattle.

Tropico, to me, represents what might be the high-water mark of the real-time strategy genre. It does so by being extraordinarily personal. As the leader of a banana republic, you must monitor citizen unrest--at the citizen level. Click on anyone in your country and you can see his needs, his moods, his dissatisfactions. The number of responses available to any crisis are as varied as they are remarkable--you can provide more services, reduce taxes, bribe, even imprison the leaders of opposing factions, with the consequence that you might well ferment a revolution. In short, there is a cost for every opportunity. That's how well-balanced games work.

As I played Tropico, I never felt remote from what was happening. I was never above the action. I was inside the action, and that makes all the difference in the world to me. I respect Phil Steinmeyer so highly for this brilliant game that when Railroad Tycoon 3 came out last fall, something very curious happened. When I realized after about fifteen hours of play that this game lacked the deeply personal nature of Tropico, and was more like 'other' RTS games, I could not bring myself to write the criticism.

If you're wondering how often that's happened to me, the answer is never. I did not offer false praise, for my initial impressions were very positive, but I somehow could not force myself to say that after further play, the game was beautiful but distant.

That is remarkably similar to how I felt about Rome: Total War. Remarkably beautiful, yet distant. I'll still buy the game, and I'm (paradoxically) still looking forward to it, but I expect less than I did before.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Olympics, Where Urine Meets Religion

The Olympic gold medal winner in the discus, Robert Fazekus, was stripped of his title today for failing to submit a urine sample for a drug test. Well, he submitted one, but it was of insufficient quantity to be tested, which apparently is a red flag for several unseemly reasons which I won't mention here. Here was the response from the Hungarian athletic federation:
The IOC said the Hungarian delegation claimed Fazekas "was a deeply religious person who has always had difficulty to produce a sufficient quantity of urine in front of sample collectors."

I will rarely stand and applaud, but that is perhaps the most ingenious and spectacular excuse I have ever heard. I had no idea that religion could have such a constricting effect on one's bladder.

The number of people being disqualified in the shot put and discus events raises an interesting possibility. I could compete in either event, set a personal record of ten feet--and not finish last. I might even medal. I'd be on all the nightly highlight packages, screaming as I let go of the discus, watching it soar ten feet, then collapsing in the ring from dizziness caused by my pre-throw spin.

Sims 2

The sequel to the best selling discouragement simulator of all time has gone gold. September 17 is the date when you can buy The Sims 2, with dismay docking about ten hours later. All aboard!

Swim Club

I've noticed that as I get older (now a decrepit forty-three), I get injured more and more often in my workouts.

The frequency appears to be heading toward the physical fitness equivalent of the Golden Ratio, or 1.618 injuries per workout. I can only hope that this happened to Fibonacci as well, so that after he turned forty he pulled a hamstring every time he played bocci.

This has led me to conclude that I am cleverly made out of balsa wood. It appears that the only safe place for me to exercise is suspended in mid-air, pinwheeling my legs at high speed in a contraption made by the ACME Company. I'm one step away from trying that.

That one step, for now, is swimming. My primary asset as a swimmer is that I don't sink. I swim at a ponderous pace that evokes the operation of locks in the Panama Canal. I can swim for a long time, though, and I'm just trying to get fit again, so it's a decent match. We have a pool about a quarter-mile from our house, so I walk down there, thrash around like a manic seal, and walk home.

Swimming has kind of a seductive quality to it, and by 'seductive' I mean 'I can't raise my damn arms.' I am so sore that I feel like a walrus on land, barely able to even move. The only place I'm not sore is in the water, a rich and evil irony. No matter how sore I am, in the water I feel deceptively good, more than good enough to work out, and it's only when I step out of the pool that I feel my body merge with a fifty-ton anvil.

Wicked, wicked water.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Welcome to East Ditch

Eli 3.0 was sitting with us on the couch last night, watching the Olympics. Suddenly, he pulls down his underpants and starts fiddling with his unit. I asked him why he was adjusting his package, and he said "My penis is stiff and it bothers me."

Man, if I had a dollar for every time I've said that...

We've started watching the Olympics, even though I swore that I wasn't going to this time. American television coverage, at least on NBC, focuses almost exclusively on American athletes, particularly winning American athletes. The footage is delayed, pre-packaged, and sanitized.

That's not for me. I'm always rooting for the guy from the breakaway republic of East Ditch, who was abandoned at birth and adopted by a family of doughnut makers. They were so poor that all he ate were holes until he was ten, and he ran twenty miles a day in the mountain to service his doughnut route.

That's no typo. His country was so small that they only had one.

When he was twelve, he used some webbing from his hammock bed and strung it on a rudimentary racket that he carved from an elephant's thigh bone. Some kids found a carburetor near the toxic waste pits behind the village school, and he used it as a shuttlecock. Now he's the eighty-fifth ranked badminton player in the world and his country's only Olympic representative. Every person in East Ditch is watching his matches live at 3 a.m. on the 13" black and white t.v. that constitutes the entire entertainment infrastructure of his country.

That's my guy.

To see him on the American Olympic coverage, you have to wade through program listings for a dozen sub-channels that list about fifteen different events in a five-hour block. If you're very lucky, after scanning the schedules for six hours you'll find out that your hero is in the badminton preliminaries at 4 a.m. last Tuesday on The Spice Channel.

We've also developed a bad case of expert-itis. This is the disease you get when you watch a sport for fifteen minutes and suddenly know everything about it. After watching platform diving for fifteen minutes last night, we sounded like this:
"She over-rotated that Inward Double Snack Basket," I said.
"I think Turkey Lurkey of The Alleged Republic is going to pass her after that dive," Gloria said.
"If she doesn't really nail that Triple Pike Burrito Grande in the last round, she might not even make the finals."
"My penis is stiff and it bothers me," Eli 3.0 says.

Just a quiet night at home.

Platform diving is an excellent choice for the instant expert because there appear to be only two rules when it comes to scoring:
1. Don't hit your head on the platform.
2. Don't splash.
There's a lot of technical talk about 'Immelman loops' and 'rich or lean mixtures,' but I was able to judge every dive within half a point just by looking for head wounds and low entry splash.

If there are any International Olympic Committee members reading this column, feel free to contact me if any platform diving judges are injured by falling contestants. Just send me a blazer and a hat and I'll be there as soon as I can.


Here are a few interesting articles for you to look at while you're staring at your monitor, steadfastly refusing to start the work week.

The first is an article in The Industrial Physicist on scramjet technology (http://www.tipmagazine.com/tip/INPHFA/vol-10/iss-4/p24.html). It's extremely readable and very thorough. Thanks to Slashdot, where I originally saw the link.

Second, an article on synaesthesia over at New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996294) which suggests that environmental factors can play a role in its development.

Finally, also at New Scientist, a fascinating article on how language may shape human thought (http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996303). A recently published study explores the language of the Piraha tribe, which has no word for quantities above two except 'many.' Tribesman were unable to consistently distinguish between groups of larger objects with different quantities--a group with four objects versus a group with five objects, for example. There are so many possible implications for human intelligence and what we understand that reading this article alone should keep you busy until lunch.

Friday, August 20, 2004

On Heroes and Their Heads

"Hey Daddy! Look at my underwear!" That's Eli 3.0 in megaphone mode, dropping trou at a local eatery to demonstrate, quite conclusively, that his big-boy underwear is totally dry. It's the first accident-free day of his young life. I might drop trou myself, I'm so proud of him. We'll have a family trou-dropping celebration in public. If you see us, keep on walking.

There was a time when I thought I might be a secretive superhero, or at least some kind of sidekick in training, but I think this potty-training thing is going to take a while. Give my regards to Spiderman. If you see Batman, ask him why he drives a car.

Why does he drive a car, anyway? There's something very jarring about a superhero piling into a car. A secret agent, sure, but not a superhero. Shouldn't they fly or leap or bounce or swing or something? This is a grown-up in a bat costume with a sidekick who looks like an action figure. I like Batman, because for a superhero, he's a grinder, but the dude definitely has some issues.

Eli 3.0 has this action figure of a fireman, and on the box it refers to the figure as 'Fire-Fighting Hero,' so his name became 'Hero.' Then, and I'm not sure how it happened, Hero lost his head. For an adult, that's a quick trip to the trash can, but Eli absolutely took it stride. No head? No problem. 'Hero' became 'Headless Hero.' He was still capable of performing all his heroic duties, but he did so without the unnecessary weight of a head.

Several days later, we found the head and it was reattached. In a strange twist, though, Eli has not returned to calling him Hero. Now he is 'Headless Hero With a Head.' Eli has these elaborate and imaginative disaster scenarios involving action figures, rescue vehicles, construction equipment, and mermaids, all starting with "OH NO!" and eventually progressing to "Here comes Headless Hero With a Head!"

This is all part of him forming very specific ideas about what things should be called. This is what happens each time we go to the Wendy's drive-through:
"Eli, what do you want?"
"I want a plain cheeseburger with no cheese."
"So you want a hamburger?"
"No no no! I want a cheeseburger with no cheese."

Try explaining that to the drive-through clerk. Hint: you can't.

Athens 2004

There are so many Olympic events and they're being shown on so many channels in the U.S. that I can't keep up. I sat down and put each event into a category, and beside the category I list the number of events in parentheses. I think this pretty much covers it.

Picking Stuff Up (72)
Putting Stuff Down (65)
Games People Play When They're Stoned (97)
Leaping Into the Air Wearing a Costume (147)
I Didn't Even Know These Were Sports (417)
Dudes Running Toward Each Other (45)
Dudes Running Away From Each Other (87)
Trying Not to Drown (133)
Throwing Something at Another Thing (124)
Sports with Equipment Only Rich People Can Afford to Buy (29)

Human Drama

I have some Eli 3.0 stories coming later today, but in the meantime I'm going to share this Sports Illustrated letter to the Editor with you. SI has a 'Catching Up With' feature where they let you know what ex-superstar athletes have done with their lives. A few weeks ago, Vasili Alexeyev was the featured athlete.

For many of you, that name brings back a flood of memories. Alexeyev was a super heavyweight weightlifter from the Soviet Union who symbolized Soviet power during the Cold War. He was larger than life, won two Olympic gold medals, and was probably the only weightlifter in history who approached rock star status. His strength was unbeatable, even unfathomable, and he is surely one of the most memorable characters in Olympic history.

Here's the letter:
Vasili Alexeyev was the source of one of my family's favorite stories. One day as we were watching a weightlifting competition on TV, Alexeyev stepped onto the floor to attempt a prodigious lift, and my son, then about four, said "Look, Mom, there's Human Drama!" It took a minute, but we finally realized that every week when Jim McKay introduced ABC's Wide World of Sports, he spoke of "the human drama of athletic competition" just as Alexeyev's image appeared on the screen. We still laugh at the memory and often wondered what happened to Human Drama.
Carla Stewart

The Sims 2

I was asked via e-mail why I didn't put The Sims 2 on the Anticipation List. That's certainly the one big game that I left off the list, and I'd like to get excited about it, but I just can't. I thought The Sims was great for about ten hours or so, but as my character settled down into the humdrum repetition of real life, I suddenly realized that I was playing a discouragement simulator.

That's too bad, because I really like Will Wright. He's one of the few people I'd call a visionary designer. I saw him at E3 once, and mumbled a few words of thanks for the entertainment he'd given me over the years. No rock-star hair, no entourage, just a quiet guy who looked like he would have been more comfortable not being recognized at all. If I had known, I never would have bothered him, but I think it made me identify even more strongly with him.

So I'll buy The Sims 2, out of respect, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it for a few hours, but at some point I think my interest will fall off a cliff, just like it did with the first game.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

In Response to Your E-mail

Yes, I am aware that the little boy singing on the dock in the Oscar Mayer commercial spelled it 'b-o-l-o-g-n-a.' If that kid was so smart, though, he would have been eating roast beef or turkey--maybe even a little smoked ham--instead of mystery meat. Baloney is 'meat' in the same sense that grinding up a hundred roses and fashioning the scraps into a cube is a 'flower.'

'Bologna' is just one of those words that can't possibly be right. There's only one way to pronounce 'bologna,' and it's 'bo-log-na.' Just like it's written. That doesn't sound like meat, but it's a suitable moniker for the undead. I went to the Bologna's for lunch, but Richard refused to come out of the wine cellar. He just drank glass after glass of red wine and muttered about sunlight. Why, I tried to fix my hair and couldn't find a mirror in the whole house!

We also have some additional clothing bans:
--Old men in banana hammocks. Actually let's keep the old men and ban the hammocks.
--Asses the size of Australia in pants the size of Lithuania are banned.
--Asses the size of Lithuania in pants the size of Australia, with the subsequent view of the Tightie Whitie Alps, are banned.
--Women's shoes are banned entirely. You people are crazy when it comes to shoes. If somebody on The View wears bowling shoes with eight-inch heels, there's a stampede at the local mall by Saturday. I could hire a model to strap two watermelons to her feet and walk through Foley's, and within minutes there would be women asking store clerks for a pair of those 'great watermelon shoes.'

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Security Has Been Tightened For This Column

I'd make this stuff up, but I don't have to.

ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- Security has been tightened at the Athens Games after a man in a tutu jumped into the pool from the diving board during the men's synchronized three-meter springboard event.

He stayed in the pool for several minutes Monday before officials realized he was not supposed to be there and pulled him out of the water.

Olympic organizers said after the event that the man was trying to send a love message home to his wife, but the Web address of an online casino painted on the man's chest told another story.

I've had it with the cynical media, I tell you. I am absolutely furious with this story. How did this so-called reporter know that this guy's wife wasn't named www.GoldenPalace.com?

If you think that people don't walk around in public with words written on their bodies, then you are behind the times. I personally am so fond of the Oscar Mayer corporation that I frequently swim laps at my neighborhood pool with the words "My baloney has a first name" written on my chest.

One more thing. It took meet officials 'several minutes' to realize that a man in a tutu was not supposed to be in the pool? I'm just surprised that he didn't win a freaking medal.

The Anticipation, Updated

I took a closer look at the release prospects for the games I mentioned earlier this week. Here are my best guesses.

-Half-Life 2 (doesn't want to be labeled 'Half-Life Forever')
-Rome: Total War (late beta spotted, already delayed from last year)
-Kohan II: Kings of War (I saw this two years ago at E3. Late beta spotted)
-Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (delayed from last year)
-Evil Genius (went gold today, in stores late September)

-RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 (late beta spotted)
-Chris Sawyer's Locomotion (advertising in full gear)
-Pirates (advertising ramp consistent with late-fall release. However, Meier has released games in February in the past, and would have the market to himself then)
-Prince of Persia 2 (add five new textures and a new jump, change the puffy shirts of the enemy, and you're good to go)

-Full Spectrum Warrior (a port, plus no ramp-up in advertising yet)
-Men of Valor (some advertising, but nothing conclusive)
-Pacific Fighters (I have absolutely no idea)
-Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines (delayed from last year, but I have no idea)
-Ghost Recon 2 (no idea)

-Silent Hunter III (next spring, delayed to insert dynamic campaigns, thanks to Greg W. for the e-mail)

Three Exits, No Waiting

I saw an ad in the new issue of PC Gamer for The Matrix Online. Here's the breathless copy:
All I can do is show you the door.
You're the one that has to step through.

This distinguishes itself from the regrettable single-player experience Enter the Matrix, where the ads should have read:
All I can do is show you the door.
That's all we finished.

I can't imagine an online game with less prosperous prospects than The Matrix Online. It's as if some designers sat down three years ago and said "Hey! Let's make something that absolutely no one will want to play thirty-six months from now!" Believe it or not, I have a transcript of a conversation those very designers had three years ago.

It's one of those special perks of being so well-connected in the industry.

"This is going to be the biggest online game EVER!"
"We're going to turn Everquest into SuckQuest!"
"SuckQuest. Heh."
"Now could anything happen in the next three years that would make this game a colossal flop?"
"Like the other two movies in the trilogy being so obscure and overwrought that they kill the entire Matrix phenomenon?"
"That's a good one. Ha-ha!"
"Maybe Larry Wachowski will decide that he wants to be a chick instead of a dude!"
"Are you kidding me? That's hilarious! Wait, I've got one. Maybe an unknown developer will come out with a superhero game and people will want to play that instead of our philosophically pretentious salute to black leather coats."
"Stop! You're killing me! All right, I get your point. We are guaranteed to have a smash hit on our hands. Let's order our Ferraris!"

Dudes. When this game launches, forget taking the red pill or the blue pill. Take the Advil.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bring Out Your Dead

Costco (a giant 'warehouse club' store in the U.S.) is now test-marketing coffins in two of its Chicago area stores.

It's about time. I can't even remember how many times I've gone to Costco to buy a fifty pound block of cheese and thought 'Maybe I'll pick up a coffin while I'm here.' Sadly, I couldn't, and that always troubled me, although I could eat an enormous amount of cheese to console myself.

The coffins are being merchandised next to mattresses. They cost $800, come in one of six colors, and can be delivered in 48 hours.

I think the Swedes have the best idea when it comes to body disposal. One company in Sweden flash-freezes the body (-64 Fahrenheit), dips it in liquid nitrogen--

--and you can make ice cream in thirty seconds.

That was a regrettable mixing of facts and materials. My apologies.

Once the body has been dipped in liquid nitrogen, sound waves break down the corpse into a fine powder. At that point, it's essentially compost, and you can use a planter to grow something nice in memory of the departed.

That strikes me a as a nicer way to go out than in a lilac coffin that you bought at Costco.

An Urgent Plea

I'm well aware that highly-placed government officials read this column. I speak to you now--no, I plead with you--to take action. It is time for the international community to come together as one to stop an insidious threat to our well-being. There is no time left to claim that 'the jury's still out' on the scientific evidence. There's no time left to claim that more study is needed. We must act, and now.

I'm speaking, of course, of the frontal gap between top and bottom. In women's clothing.

The only humane thing to do is ban these gaps entirely. In just that one to two inches of explosed flesh, bulging as it does so frequently, there is nothing but despair and abject misery. Just this morning I saw a woman whose shirt was two inches, two precious inches, from reaching the top of her pants. Add a handful of chocolate chips to that roll and it would have been cookie dough.

I understand that we may be punishing the few to benefit the many. That's why I propose the Smoking Hot Ukrainian Internet Brides With Entirely Flat Stomachs Exemption.

I know that the naysayers will say that the world can't agree on anything anymore. But that's not enough in this case. For any of us to be able to freely leave the house without fear, to travel to a mall or restaurant without constant anxiety, we must all work together to end this menace in our lifetime.

Once this threat has been eliminated, we can tackle the gap between the back of men's pants and their shirts. We will, of course, assemble a crack team to investigate this.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Final ESPN NFL 2K5 Slider Settings

The last revision, I promise. The fumble test prompted me to change the fumble setting, and I did some testing on kicking today that indicates the kicking slider only affects accuracy, not distance. I also was able to use the Situation mode to test successful field goal percentage, and gathering actual data (instead of adjusting the slider based solely on kickoff distance, back when I thought it affected distance) led me to a surprising conclusion: the best setting for the CPU kicking slider, in order to make kickers as close to their real NFL counterparts as possible, is 40.

I'll probably have one last post about Franchise house rules, but I think this is it for slider settings.

First value is Human setting, second value is CPU setting:
Blocking: 16,40
Passing: 0,40
Running: 16,40
Catching: 40,40
Coverage: 8,24
Pursuit: 8,10
Tackling: 8,8
Kicking: 0,40
Fatigue: 4,4
Injury: 20
Fumbles: 28
Interceptions: 0

Penalties--all at max except the following:
Offensive holding: 32
Clipping: 24
Roughing the Kicker: 32
Ineligible Receiver Downfield: 32

In the Gameplan option during the game, you can set substitution in/out thresholds. Using out 60%, in 85% provides with a good substitution pattern in conjunction with the fatigue settings.

Ukrainian Internet Brides, Part II

Believe it or not.

I got an e-mail from a good friend of mine (who will not be named, due to the nature of his disclosure) who said he thought he knew who I had seen at the doctor's office. Well, we compared notes and it wasn't her, which means that there are multiple Ukrainian Internet brides floating around town here.

He saw this woman at a family reunion, where she had just married a distant relative. His description of the scene at the reunion was very funny--the woman was apparently absolutely smoking hot, so the men adored her and the women were furious. The men were basically commanded by their wives to ignore her under threat of death, although we all know that order wouldn't be carried out.

I also wanted to note one thing about my original post. I reported the dialogue accurately, but I did some comic speculation for the sake of humor (allegedly). I had no way of knowing the lady's intentions, and she did seem fond of the older, doughy guy.

Marriage is pretty much a crapshoot anyway, based on all the statistics I've ever seen, so I'm sure some of those marriages work wonderfully well. I'm happy if two people can find each other and be happy together. That's difficult and complicated enough without putting artificial constraints on how people can meet.

Calling All Cthulhus

If you're wondering why Call of Cthulhu wasn't in my top ten (it would have been in the top five, actually), it's because it's been delayed to February of 2005, according to EBGames.

This game has been in development forever, basically, and this latest delay really makes me wonder if there's anything there that's worth playing. That's unfortunate, because the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft is a rich, rich mine for horror games that's barely even been touched up to now.

It would also be a great source for a Doom 3 mod, as would the art of H.R. Giger. If someone doesn't do a Giger mod for Doom 3, it will be a real shame.

PC Games This Fall

Here's what I'm looking forward to this fall.

September: Half-Life 2, Chris Sawyer's Locomotion, Kohan II: Kings of War, Full Spectrum Warrior, Silent Hunter III, Rome: Total War, Evil Genius.

I'd be looking forward to Superpower 2, but these complex geopolitical sims seem to be getting to the point where they're never actually playable. The original Superpower, after about nine months of patches, still had problems. So I'm not sure anyone actually finishes a game like this anymore.

October: Men of Valor, Pacific Fighters, Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines.

November: RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Ghost Recon 2, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Prince of Persia 2, Sid Meier's Pirates.

I'm not including online games or sports games in this list. Online games, because I'll play one until I get to level 18 and then quit, and no sports games to have mercy on those of you who are sick of hearing about them.

It's the thinnest year I've ever seen for PC releases. Everything that's scheduled to ship this fall would have to actually make it for this to be a decent year, and we know that won't happen. At least a third of these games, maybe even half, will be pushed into 2005.

Here's my top five, in case you're wondering.
1. Half-Life 2
2. Rome: Total War
3. Pirates
4. Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines
5. Pacific Fighters

We Have Snacks and Punch for Club Members

If you are in your early forties and had a satellite diplexer puke this weekend, and you stood on a chair and tried to reach under the roof and disconnect the diplexer because you were too lazy to get the ladder, and if you then stood on the arm of the chair to get just an inch or two higher, and the chair tipped wildly and you fell off, with the allegedly soft grass in your yard feeling like pavement after you were thrown off a five-story building, and if you slammed your wrist and hip pretty hard, and if your wrist hurt so much you couldn't even turn the steering wheel of your car for two days...


In other news, don't ask about my weekend.

Friday, August 13, 2004

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Sir,
I am writing you in hopes that you are the author of the instruction manual for the 'Jump Zone Junior Trampoline,' a children's toy that was given to my son for his third birthday.

I just finished assembling this device, and I would like to plainly say that if I ever see you in public, sir, I will kill you. At my trial, each juror will be asked to assemble a Jump Zone Junior Trampoline using your printed instructions. When they are done, not only will I not be convicted, but I will be welcomed--no, adored--as a conquering hero. The jury foreman will press her house key into my hand and weep when I never arrive to fill her with my heroic seed. I will pose for photos with the jury, and in future years I will receive Christmas cards from every man jack of them. Several will remember me, and generously, in their wills.

I must also tell you that I have no experience, as yet, in killing people. I do not own a gun and have no knowledge of any lethal hand-to-hand combat techniques. I also am unfamiliar with poison or drugs and their potentially deadly effects. I do, however, own a car, and I believe that simply running over you, then backing up and going forward several times should be successful.

I do have one question for you: are you a Communist or some kind of social agitator? If so, sir, I must congratulate you. If a Jump Zone Junior Trampoline was given to every man in America along with a copy of your instructions, there would be fighting in the streets before nightfall, and fires would rage shortly thereafter. I am reporting you immediately to Homeland Security as a dangerous threat to our nation.

As one note of thanks, I will mention that your instructions to stretch a thick bungee cord around the frame at tensions that would buckle steel gave me the best workout of my life--the size of my arms grew by over three inches. It's a shame that I can no longer lift them.

In closing, sir, I look forward to meeting you in person.
Bill Harris

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Blog That Dare Not Speak Its Name

My good friend and soon-to-be-father Glen Haag has started a blog. I do not mention his blog because he is a good friend or expectant father, but because he is a damned good writer. He's already a better writer in two months than I have been for the last two years. Here's a link to the blog: http://analminutia.blogspot.com/.

No, I don't know why he named it that. I guess 'Anal Leakage' was taken.


Just a note to let you know that the very clever game Gish has been released for Linus and OSX (the Windows version was released a while back). On Chronic Logic's web page, they say "Life isn't easy when you're a 12 pound ball of tar." The game is just as unique as that description, and if you haven't tried it, it's worth a look. Demos for all OS's are available here: http://www.chroniclogic.com/index.htm?gish.htm.

ESPN NFL2K5 Fumble Test

I'd like to do some testing on the fumble slider setting to improve it in terms of realistic fumble numbers. If you'd like to participate, I'd need you to run two CPU vs CPU games with settings I'll send you, and when the games are finished, total up fumbles and lost fumbles and send the numbers to me. You don't have to watch the games, so it's pretty simple to do in terms of time commitment.

E-mail me by clicking on the (curiously enough) 'e-mail me' link in the upper right of this page. Thanks very much for helping.

No, I will not be giving out any Ric Ocasek albums as compensation.

Just to Clarify

No, I do not have a signed album copy of 'Troublizing.' Thanks for asking.

Love for Sale. Red-Hot Internet Love for Sale.

There's been an Internet Bride sighting.

I went to the doctor's office yesterday to get some prescription refills. My doctor has this policy of demanding a large fruit basket, and other assorted tributes, in person, before he will write a prescription refill. I accept his odd demands for food, but draw the line at wearing the tribute visor.

As I veer wildly off-topic, let me also mention that we recently changed our medical insurance. We previously had coverage with the 'We Don't Cover a %$*damn Thing' insurance company of Actuary, Iowa. As far as I could determine, every dollar they paid out in benefits was then added to the cost of our premium for the next six month period. Joseph Heller, to no one's surprise, was on the Board of Directors.

So I'm in the waiting area when I see them. She is blonde, with lovely, striking features. He is a foot shorter and somewhat fleshy, although I don't want to give you the idea that he was doughy, because there's a considerable distance between extra flesh and baking material.

The attractiveness gap between them was roughly thirty nautical miles.

I first noticed that he was reading the medical questionnaire to her. "High fever, chills, swollen glands, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, prostration, delirium." She answered 'no' to all questions, so I think they've just ruled out bubonic plague. He continues, eliminating everything from breast cancer to dropsy to the Bubble Boy disease.

These medical questionnaires tend to be a bit broad.

Once they're finished, he takes the form up to the counter. "We're done," he says. "I need to be present at the appointment because my fiancée doesn't speak English very well." He also mentioned her name, which I didn't quite catch but I believe means 'temporary' in her native language.

"Oh, really?" asks the entirely unaware receptionist. "Where is she from?"

"The Ukraine," he says. Yes! I had money on Ukraine, with Karjakistan as my second choice.

"How did you two meet?" she asks. Where is a clue vendor when you really need one?

"The Internet," he says, somewhat proudly and without a trace of irony. As he says that, my mind is running a time-lapse photography sequence like they do with decomposing flowers. The blooming rose has no self-knowledge of its ultimate and grisly demise.

After he confirms that, in fact, this is a case of Red-Hot Ukrainian Love for Sale, he makes multiple phone calls wildly disrupting his work day so that he can stay for the duration of the appointment.

They say that love is blind, and it certainly is. Her t-shirt reading 'I Brake for Green Cards' should be a tip-off, but not to him.

All right, maybe her shirt didn't actually say that. Or maybe that's what mine said. Details blur.

He should also have known that she'd have some health issues. Everyone knows that when you adopt an Internet Bride, there are problems. They probably haven't had all their shots, and there's a good chance they have heartworms or mange.

Now I'm sure that some of you are thinking "Hey--it might work." And hey, it might. But unless he's in a band, homely dudes don't wind up with hot chicks.

This is actually a very good argument for being in a band. Ric Ocasek looks like a praying mantis with sunglasses, put out a solo album titled 'Troublizing,' and STILL wound up with Paulina Porizkova, who was the hottest woman in the world at the time. She was even hot and funny. So if you're reading this column and you're still in high school, shut down the computer immediately and get your ass to a music store.

Seriously though, I wish them luck--him on the marriage, and her on the personal ads she's filling out nightly when he's asleep.

Love is a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Doom 3: Other Voices

Here are a couple of notes and links that I thought were interesting and entertaining. First, thanks to Robert Brand, who sent me the original e-mail mentioning the similarities between Doom 3 and System Shock 2.

I also read two pieces on the web that I thought were highly entertaining. The first is LP Miller's short take, available here: http://www.gotapex.com/newspro/archive/arc7-2004.php (it's the 'hi-de-hi-de-hi-di-hi' item). Very funny.

The second piece is Tom Chick's 'Shoot Club: The Doom 3 Review' (http://www.quartertothree.com/inhouse/columns/86/). It's very funny as well, and also offers some thoughtful observations on the game. I don't always agree with Tom--actually I frequently don't agree with him at all--but I enjoy his writing. 90% of the people who write about games and gaming are indistinguishable from one another. Most of the articles I read about games and gaming could have been written by any of two hundred different people. Tom Chick, though, has developed a personal, unique style. I recognize one of his pieces within the first few paragraphs.

The people who all sound alike represent the first age of gaming journalism. Tom Chick and others with distinct voices represent the second age. And the second age, in case you're keeping score, is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting than the first.


Here's an anecdote to help you understand how impossibly brilliant ESPN NFL 2K5 is this year. I'm playing the Raiders in the first game of the season. I like playing defensive tackle on defense, and early in the first quarter I break through on a rush and bear down on the quarterback. I make a mistake and hit the tackle button early, so instead of hitting the QB in the chest I hit him low--right at the knees. I grimaced when I did it, even on a video game, because that's a dangerous hit in real life--you can blow out somebody's knee that way.

After the play ends, the freaking medical cart comes out on the field. The quarterback is hurt. Later in the quarter, as they show the QB on the sideline, he grimaces as his knee is manipulated by the trainer. The Suzy Kolber voiceover confirms that and says that his return is 'doubtful.'

I check the injury report after the game. Torn MCL. Out 23 weeks.


About Doom 3 and System Shock 2

Mark Gabby sent me a very thoughtful e-mail about the similarities and differences between Doom 3 and System Shock 2, and he's been nice enough to allow me to use it here. He makes some excellent points and I agree with most of them. I still think that System Shock 2, at times, was very repetitive, with too much 'scavenger hunt' gameplay and backtracking, but like I said, I still consider it a classic. Here are Mark's own words (edited for length).

I don't think your statement "...[Doom 3's] gameplay mechanics are repetitive, but they copied most of those straight from System Shock 2" is perfectly accurate.

At the surface, Doom 3 seems like SS2, but I think that's at a pretty abstract level. Here are some comparisons.

1. Doom 3 has audio logs, SS2 has audio logs.
SS2 has many audio logs, often from the same characters, telling a coherent story of things getting progressively worse. You get to know the characters, you begin to understand the disaster and the key players.

Doom 3 has some really good voice actors who are many different characters, most who only talk once.

2. Doom 3 is an FPS, SS2 is an FPS.
Doom 3 is a pure twitch FPS with an emphasis on fast action and stunning graphics. SS2 is a shooter-RPG hybrid with an emphasis on the role-playing elements of character progression and world-immersion.

Can you pick up and examine objects that aren't plot-critical in Doom 3? Can you increase your skills and learn how to interact with computers? Is there a minature console with several simple 2D games that you can use? Can you modify your weapons?

3. Doom 3 is a sci-fi-horror story, SS2 is sci-fi-horror story.
Doom 3's story is all about demonic influences causing a takeover of a Mars colony. Hell is bad, it's scary, and it freaks people out.

SS2 is deep and subtle with its story, exploring many strange issues in a freaky way. Things like the cyborg midwives being the "mothers" of the many's eggs, and the ideas of a fusion of two species.

4. Doom 3 is repetitive and so is SS2
In the first stage of Doom, I'm introduced to the story and led through a few passageways. Then, something bad happens and the first thing I'm doing is using my pistol to destroy a demon.

In the first stage of SS2, I'm led through a bunch of interesting character choices that determine how I'll approach the first actual game level. When I actually get there, how I deal with the first challenges depends on what I chose. To get past security cameras which set off alarms, for instance, I could hack the security terminal, or I can just shoot all the cameras before they see me. Or maybe I have PSI skill- in which case if I do set off the alarm, I can reduce the time it's going off with a spell. When I actually do use a powerful weapon, I have to be careful to conserve my ammo, use the right type of ammo, and at the same time manage the condition of the weapon.

When I kill an enemy, I search their body. I might find some ammo, or an organ I can research in order to do more damage to similar enemies in the future. Also, I might learn that I've been using the wrong weapon- maybe this enemy is very weak to armor-piercing and I've been using energy.

In Doom 3, I'll just be shooting whatever comes my way.

Both of these games get boring, but I think SS2, with all it's depth, lasts longer, though personally, I think Doom 3 has enough new weapons, foes, and effects at frequent enough intervals that it doesn't get that boring.

Mostly I'm just trying to stand up for the unique and equaled gameplay experience that SS2 is. No game has yet matched it, and on comparison Doom 3 is a pale shadow of many of these features people claim it copied.

Again, not that I don't like Doom 3, but it's nothing like SS2.

Energy and Lack Thereof

The guy in front of me in line at a convenience store this morning bought four big cans of energy drink.

I have no idea what kind of activity would require four cans of energy drink, but I will tell you plainly that I am not interested. I will walk away immediately. I would run, but obviously that would require too much energy.

He was young, too. He bought four cans of Bodacious Ass-Kicking Rocket Fuel and I don't even think he was twenty.

Energy drink is wasted on the young. The young work at lighthouses, and their energy is the ocean, and anywhere they swing the spotlight they see water. Hit forty and you're standing on top of a building in San Francisco during WWII, scanning the sky with binoculars for Japanese Zeros that will never come.

It's Not You. Really. It's Me.

I just realized last night that my DVD player says 'bye' when I turn it off. It doesn't literally say it, of course, but the little LCD window displays the message before it shuts down.

What next? Am I going to see a 'You're not the only one who has needs' message or 'I think we need to talk' the next time I try to turn you off? Listen, I didn't buy you so that you could chat me up. Get your sorry, DVD-playing ass in the kitchen and make me a sandwich.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Reason #738 Why John Carmack is Cool

An ATI employee with the online name of 'Humus' took a look at the shader instructions in Doom 3 and decided, on his own, that he could improve them for ATI cards. Apparently, the Doom 3 code is optimized individually for several generation of Nvidia cards, but not for ATI. So the ATI shader instructions were not optimized for the newer cards and the X800 line in particular. So Humus optimized the shader instructions for the higher-end Radeon cards, and the performance differences are pretty spectacular. Here's the thread at Beyond3D, and it's a long one (although the first post of the topic has a link to the file you need to try out the optimized code): http://www.beyond3d.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=14874.

There are plenty of developers who would freak out over this. Others would get totally pissed off. What does John Carmack do? He has an e-mail exchange with Humus to help him. How can you not like that?

Monster Closet

When I was about seven, I saw the original Frankenstein movie on television. It didn't scare me at the time--at least, I didn't think it did--but there was one scene underground that really stuck with me, and by 'stuck with me' I mean it scared me to death. What I remember is a secret passage leading to an underground lair where all kinds of horrible experiments were performed. That may be from Bride of Frankenstein, not the original, but the scene itself was very vivid.

It wasn't long after I saw the movie that I started getting nervous every time I passed a closet in our hallway. The closet had a white accordion door that was faded and slightly yellowed. I see it so clearly now that if I reached out, I would expect it to be there.

At night, when I walked past that closet, I had this crazy idea that a monster might reach out and drag me into its underground lair for experimentation. It got to the point where I would kind of jump past that closet just to get past it a little quicker. I didn't really believe it would happen--not really--but I didn't believe that it couldn't happen, either.

My mom also stored her household money at the bottom of a box of tampons in that closet, and she asked me to get money for her one day, but that's a different story. Just imagine how you'd handle nuclear waste without gloves and you'll have a pretty clear picture of that incident.

So I had a monster closet when I was a kid. I hadn't thought about that for at least thirty years, but now that I'm playing Doom 3, I think about it all the time. Doom 3 is full of them. id took my monster closet.

I'm waiting for a check, by the way.

All these monster closets are location or item-pickup triggered, so if you step in a certain place or pick up a particular item, here they come, out of the dark nowhere. It's disorienting and does create tension, but conceptually it's very weak.

Just imagine for a moment that you're a young monster trying to establish an acting career and you answer a casting call for Doom 3. It's a huge casting call, of course, but somehow you're one of the monsters selected to appear in the game. It's the pinnacle of your career, obviously, and you tell everyone you know of your achievement. On the first day of shooting, you spend hours applying as much blood and slime as your body can hold. You're dripping with menace and proud of it, on your way to stardom--and then you get told to go stand in a closet. When the door opens, attack, you're told. It's so dark that no one can even see you when you emerge from the closet, and you're 'dead' within two seconds, out of the scene.

Welcome to show business, kid. Best of luck on the career. There are always good jobs available at the post office.

All the cool kids are saying that Doom 3 is boring and lame. I like some of those cool kids--they're the shizat heazzie sheazzies and all that--but I think they're somehow missing the point. To say that Doom 3 is not a great game doesn't mean that it's not a fun game. Sure, the gameplay mechanics are repetitive, but they copied most of those straight from System Shock 2, and they were repetitive back then, too. Everyone who is praising System Shock 2 and slagging Doom 3 conveniently forgets that SS2 was very repetitive in places. It's a classic, yes, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a slog at times.

This isn't a '9' game on a scale of 1 to 10. It's a 9.5 as an engine demo (and would be a 10 if they demonstrated some outdoor environments) and probably 7.5 in terms of gameplay. Importantly, though, it's still the most interesting game id has ever done, by far. My heart races frequently when I play. It's fun. It's an absolutely fantastic looking haunted house. They were shooting for horror film, not haunted house, but it's still fun.

I think there are certainly some disappointments. The sound is quite a letdown--not in how it's used, but in how it's not used. Here's an example. You're killing all manner of monsters and most of them have some kind of death cry. Presumably, that cry could be heard by other monsters, since they're all over the place, and presumably the programmers know where those monsters are, since all the locations appear to be pre-determined and not randomly generated. So when a creature issues its death cry, why isn't there an answering cry from other members of its species? Even if the rooms are sealed, the sound would travel through the vents. Defining an effective hearing radius, totaling the monsters in that range, and creating response cries would sound fantastic. The sound would come from different locations, so you'd be hearing these shocking cries from all over your speaker system. It would also tell you how many creatures of that species are in the area. If you were in a particularly tough area, hearing so many cries would be very chilling. Bad business up ahead.

Here's another opportunity. The first time you see one of these monsters, they should be eating someone whole. Let it last a while. Make the monster's body translucent, so you can actually see the victim entering the monster's body as its consumed. Yikes. Then, after you kill the monster, you can look at its corpse--and see the dead guy inside. From that point on, every time you saw one of those monsters, you'd think about what would happen if it killed you.

That would give somebody some bad dreams. Maybe me.

Just from seeing what id did with this game, it's easy to see how they could have made it the scariest game ever made, and one of the greatest games ever made as well. That they didn't do this doesn't mean the game isn't worth playing. It just means that we all wish they had.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Eli 3.0: All Roads Lead to That Other Word

If you haven't read 'Who's Cursing on First?', this won't make any sense (it's still available--just page down for a while).

We're out on a long walk yesterday, and Eli was making a joke about the ways to pronounce 'potato' because of something he'd seen on Maggie and the Ferocious Beast recently. We go into a long discussion of (phonetic spelling coming up here) 'po-tay-to' versus 'po-tah-to.' Then he says, "'Potato' is a nice word."

"Yes, it is," I say.

"And 'shoot' is a nice word."


"But that other word is not."

'Potato' leads to 'shoot' leads to 'that other word.' It's the child cursing version of Six Degrees of Separation. Or Kevin Bacon.

Texas Cage Match: Web Cartoonists vs. Syndicated Cartoonists

[This originally borked the sidebars because the link to the discussion was so long, so I edited to split the link into two pieces. That means it pops back up to the top of the page, but it's not the most recent new item. There are new posts below this.]

Tycho of Penny Arcade mentioned today that Scott Kurtz, author of web-comic PvP (http://www.pvponline.com/), is going to offer his strip to newspapers--for free. It's an interesting idea and has significant ramifications for cartoonists if he's successful. What's most interesting, though, is a link that Tycho includes to a forum discussion at http://www.toontalk.org/, where 'newspaper' cartoonists generally go into apoplexy over the idea. The deterioration of the debate into a relative free-for-all is pretty fascinating and makes for good reading.

Because the link is so long, I'm splitting it up:

The Search for Life, Mars, and the Andes

Thanks to John Harwood for sending me a fascinating link about searching for life on Mars (http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/space/08/04/atacama.desert/index.html). What makes this article so interesting is that it talks about a place on Earth that is so barren that in some areas no life can be found: the Atacama Desert in Chile. By barren I mean nothing, not even extremophiles. This desert is the driest spot on Earth, with some areas not getting rain for centuries.

The tie-in to Mars is that scientists are using this desert to refine the equipment they use to search for life on Mars. It's a testing ground with the most barren conditions available on our planet.

This Score Just In: ESPN 38, Madden 0

I'm sitting here looking at Madden (Xbox) and I'm stunned. It looks HORRIBLE on the Xbox in 480p mode compared to ESPN. Textures on players are warping in and out on every single play. It looks like the uniform has suddenly changed size slightly, for lack of a better description, then it warps back. This isn't happening occasionally--it's 10+ times on every play. You can see an occurrence of this every second if you look for it. It's absolutely driving me crazy. Nice job on the QA, guys.

Here are some other doozies after three hours.
--I just watched a linebacker cross from left to right at the line of scrimmage before the snap--and he ran through all four defensive lineman. I've heard of clipping, but that's ridiculous. A few minutes later, I saw a receiver make a pre-snap adjustment based on an audible call--and ran right through his quarterback.
--Quarterbacks will sometimes face away from the line of scrimmage before they pass. It doesn't happen all the time, but when I see a QB looking back toward their own goal line when they're in the pocket, something is seriously wrong.
--Uniforms look terrible. ESPN using bump-mapping makes a huge, huge difference. The Madden uniforms are so flat they look like they're painted on in comparison.
--Colors are very washed out. This is a pretty common problem for EA sports games on the Xbox, and it still hasn't been fixed.
--I've seen some reviews say that Madden's animations are better than ESPN's. This is conclusive proof to me that some people still use crack. The difference is so huge that it is inconceivable to me how anyone could think Madden looks better.
--Al Michaels and Madden actually sound better this year. They still sound very awkward at times, but at least Michaels recorded more dialogue.
--I'm really thinking that the home crowd shouldn't sound like they're cheering when the visiting team runs a fumble back for a touchdown.
--The crowds look terrible (still). If you don't think that matters, try looking at them.This game looks like it's at least a month of development time away from being in release shape. But we've got it now. Outstanding. Now it's possible that since this game is designed for the PS2 and then ported to the Xbox that the PS2 version fares much better when compared to ESPN. But if you have an Xbox, Madden is going to absolutely look like ass. ESPN destroys it.

I think it's safe to say that Madden plays a better game of football. ESPN still needs work on their two-minute A.I., although it's significantly improved this year, and Madden's was bulletproof last year [after writing that, though, in Madden I just saw Indianapolis passing on first down with a 29-17 lead and one minute left in the game, with their opponents only having one timeout left. Um, that's pretty stupid]. But ESPN plays a very good game of football, and when you wrap an incredibly immersive environment around it, the game is a wonderful experience. Madden, even if it plays a slightly better game of football, feels very 'last-generation' and bland in comparison. Because of the texture warping and the directionally-challenged quarterbacks, I'd say it actually looks worse than last year.

Hey, I'm as surprised as you are. I seriously questioned whether Madden could top what I'd seen of ESPN this year, but I had absolutely no idea it would be such an ass-kicking. If you've got a Madden pre-order in for the Xbox version, and you haven't bought ESPN, you are both buying the wrong game and spending $30 extra for the privilege.

This doesn't mean, however, that the PC version is going to suck as well. They've got a month to fix some of these problems, and the PC version has always looked much better, on-field, than the console versions. So it's possible that Madden for the PC will still be outstanding. Here's hoping, anyway.

I was sure a week ago that I'd do a Madden slider project, but unless the PC version is substantially better, I won't be.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

ESPN NFL 2K5 Final Slider Notes Plus Franchise House Rules

If you saw the sliders on Saturday (the post immediately below this one), I made a couple of small but important changes for the final versions. I edited the post below to include the changes, but I basically made some minor changes to pursuit and fatigue. I think they have taken the sliders to the point where they're about as good as they can get. The game itself is absolutely phenomenal.

Now, about Franchise mode. With any franchise mode, there are ways to dink and dunk the CPU to gain advantages, and while that might be fun at first, it tends over time to make the game less challenging. I've come up with some very simple house rules that will help you be challenged over time and keep Franchise mode fun.

--When trading, you must fill up the other team's 'interest bar.' This holds true even when a team makes an offer for a player you have on the trading block. Right now, you can be one bar short of full and the opposing team will accept the trade. Not so fast. Fill that bar up and it makes trading more challenging and realistic.
--Quarterbacks cannot be traded for position players, only draft picks. You can't trade for another team's starting quarterback. You also can't trade for a quarterback in his first three years in the league, because the A.I. undervalues Q.B. potential. This is all in response to the A.I. giving an inadequate value bonus for the unique nature of the quarterback position.
----Kickers cannot be traded. Ignore all those kickers on the trading block. It's wrong.

--Any contract you negotiate must include at least 30% as a signing bonus. The A.I. will let you sign players without paying any bonus at all, just by forking out a little more money for salary. That makes it too easy for you to cut players without paying for bad personnel decisions. If you really want to make this rule tough, limit your ability to cut a player's requested bonus to no more than 10% of the total contract. So 50% bonus request must get at least 40%, 40% requests must get at least 30%, etc.

Think that's stiff? The real number for guaranteed money as a percentage of total player contracts is actually around 50 percent for the 1999-2001 seasons (see http://www.nflpa.org/PDFs/Shared/Guaranteed_Contracts.pdf).

For me, these house rules have made Franchise mode more challenging and more fun.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Revised ESPN NFL 2K5 Sliders

Here's a slider revision to make the game more challenging. By more challenging I mean stout, so be ready to play if you use these.

First value is Human setting, second value is CPU setting:
Blocking: 16,40
Passing: 0,40
Running: 16,40
Catching: 40,40
Coverage: 8,24
Pursuit: 8,16
Tackling: 8,8
Kicking: 0,0
Fatigue: 4,4
Injury: 20
Fumbles: 32
Interceptions: 0

Penalties--all at max except the following:
Offensive holding: 32
Clipping: 24
Roughing the Kicker: 32
Ineligible Receiver Downfield: 32

In the Gameplan option during the game, you can set substitution in/out thresholds. Using out 60%, in 85% provides with a good substitution pattern in conjunction with the fatigue settings.

These are tough but fair settings. And I have really, really enjoyed the games I've played with these.

Conclusive Proof of the Destruction of Matter

Stephen Hawking recently stated that his original theory about black holes was incorrect. Black holes, Hawkins now says, cannot actually make matter disappear.

I beg to differ, sir, and I offer photographic evidence from Sea World proving conclusively that matter can disappear into a black hole.

Posted by Hello

I will be sitting by the phone waiting for a call from the Nobel Committee.

Welcome to the Vomitron

[pavement pizza]

John Selzer made me think about nausea this week. Thanks, John!

[hurling the hash]

Nausea in games, specifically. The phrase I've always used is 'taking a ride on the Vomitron,' and it's been happening to me for years. I've never actually thrown up, but I've gotten severely nauseous. This all started with Doom, I think--I can remember being so into the game that I didn't want to stop playing, even as the nausea meter raced into the red zone. The Unreal Tournament series is an excellent series of games, but I can't play more than thirty minutes at a time, tops.

[driving the porcelain bus]

This only happens, for me, with first-person shooters, and I think Doom 3 has helped me figure out the definitive cause. I mention Doom 3 because it doesn't make me nauseous at all--as long as I walk. I started running last night, though, and within thirty seconds I handed my ticket to the attendant and got on the Vomitron. I could feel the nausea building at a sensational pace.

[Technicolor yodel]--no worries, mate!

Fortunately, Doom 3 isn't the kind of game where you have to run. The enemies are limited in quantity, and you're more likely to look for cover than run like hell. If you do, though, and you're like me, you better watch out, because it won't be long before you're
[feeding the fishes]
[bringing it up for a vote]
[calling Ralph on the big white phone]

Welcome to the Vomitron. Seats are always available.

p.s. When I was spellchecking this, it kept suggesting that I change 'Vomitron' to 'Vomit Ron.'

If I'm Ron, that kind of pisses me off.


Thanks to Don Barree for sending me a link to www.dribbleglass.com. It's a compendium of links to some of the weirdest and wackiest websites I've ever seen. Here are a few choice examples:
--Canadian or dead?
--Sea Monkey worship page
--Gallery of misused quotation marks
--Women in waders
--The messy clown

I'm not specifically recommending these sites, just using them as examples of some of the very strange sites you'll find listed. You didn't want to work this afternoon, anyway.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Don't Let Them Bite

How did I wind up on a sofa sleeper at 3:30 a.m., with my wife shaking me awake and asking if anything was biting me? This is not what I expected when I graduated from high school with straight teeth and good posture. I had a naive vision of a world where biting insects and their imaginary brethren simply did not exist. Let me tell you how I got here, my friend, as the Spine-Wrecker Bed Bar© does the metal mamba on my back.

It was a simple bit of forgetfulness, really. We didn't pack the air mattress, which usually serves as Eli's bed when we're on a trip.

Consider that the domino, tipped.

We were staying at an Embassy Suites, so we had both a king-size bed and a sofa sleeper in the living room. No problem. Well, no problem except for the unfortunate circumstance that the living room at an Embassy Suites will always be loud because of the indoor courtyard that the rooms surround. All ambient noise from that courtyard, and there's plenty, drifts up and buffets the rooms.

If we put Eli 3.0 on the sofa sleeper, he won't sleep for long. We'll be up with him all night. That leads to the obvious and yet dismaying conclusion: the only way to get any sleep is if Eli takes the king, and we sleep on the sofa.

Outstanding. Eli weights thirty pounds and is about three feet tall. I hope he has enough room on the mattress. Meanwhile, we'll be cramming ourselves into a double, with a courtesy metal bar wrecking my back at no charge.

Fine. At least we'll be able to sleep. And I do, at least until 3:30, when Eli wakes up and comes in to say hello. That's when Gloria wakes me up and says "Do you feel anything biting you?"

This is not information I would hold in reserve, secretly hoping that someone would ask me about it. No, I would be more likely to say "HOLY CRAP! SOMETHING'S BITING ME!"

"No, nothing's biting me," I say. "You'd hear about that in real-time."

"I'm all itchy," she says. "I think there might be bedbugs." I look at the mattress, but I have no idea what I'm looking for. What do bedbugs look like? Do they wear business casual or summer leisure? Is biting people employment or avocation?

"Unless a bedbug is white and looks exactly like a sheet, I don't see any," I say. This I say hopefully, with the intent of being both reassuring and burying the conversation deep in the Nevada salt mines, there to lay undisturbed for at least 1,000 years.

In the morning, destroying my hopeful estimate by well over 999 years, bedbugs are back. In the conversation, at least. "I think I saw a bug before I went to bed last night," Gloria says. Oh, no.

Those of you who are not married may think that this is an entirely innocent remark. Let me assure you, this is not a lone comment--it's an opening statement. This is the conversation equivalent of Dave Bowman flying into the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey and saying "My God, it's full of bedbugs!"

And yes, I know Bowman only said that line in the book, not the movie. About stars, not bedbugs.

In this reality, it does not matter that we don't know what bedbugs look like, or that none appear to be around, or that bedbugs are not known to cause itching symptoms remarkably similar to those caused by dry skin. It also does not help that I know more about nanotechnology than bedbugs.

Yes, I know that bedbugs don't know anything about nanotechnology, and thus it's an easy comparison. Damn my vaguely constructed sentences.

We agreed, after some considerable negotiation, that it was unlikely that the bed was infested with bedbugs, since 1) we couldn't find any, and 2) Gloria had no bites on her legs, and neither did I. We left the hotel for good, and I felt certain that the incident had been put to bed, so to speak.

We're at home last night, in bed.

"Bedbugs can travel on clothes," Gloria says.

"Wouldn't light rail be faster?" I asked.

"I haven't unpacked my bags yet. They say you're supposed to wash clothes in scalding water to kill the eggs."

"You've been researching 'bedbugs' on the Web, haven't you?" It's come to this.

"Yes, I did a little checking," she says. 'A little checking' is code for 'enough research to gain four hours of credit at a local community college.'

"Man, I'm really beat," I say. "Good night." There's the premium man-dodge. Use it at your peril, gentlemen.

I'm asleep (ironically I really was beat) when I hear this muffled shriek and the bed bouncing like at trampoline. I'm instantly awake and ready to be, um, frightened.

"I saw a bug!" Gloria shouts. She's furiously looking through a stack of catalogs on her side of the bed. "I knocked him off the bed, but I know he's here somewhere." I try desperately to go back to sleep. "Here it is!" It's the saddest looking, thinnest little bug in the world, smaller even than a flea. It's also the slowest bug I've ever seen, moving with all the alacrity of a Galapagos tortoise on Quaaludes.

"That's not a bedbug," I say.

"Why not?" Gloria asks.

"There's only one," I say. "Surely there'd be more than one."

"They can live inside the mattress," Gloria says. "They only come out in the dark."

"Should we scotch-tape the body to the mattress? You know, as a deadly warning," I say helpfully.

Gloria would probably not use the word 'helpfully.'

"I'm going to kill it," she says, and starts gently mashing it. "I don't want to crush it so that it can't be identified."

I hope the medical examiner gets here soon. I'm very tired.

Today I did some research on the Web--on bedbugs. They are oval-shaped, not thin, and they are 'fast runners.' Repeat, they are fast runners.

What was that bug, then?

Oh, no.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Early Doom 3 Impressions

We survived San Antonio (you'll hear about it later this week). In the meantime, we got home about 4:00 this afternoon and I've been able to put about 2.5 hours into Doom 3. I've consciously avoided reading any reviews or impressions before I started playing, because it inevitably affects my expectations. This time, I wanted to start from scratch.

Here are my biases about id games. I think John Carmack is an absolute genius. His game engines are stunning. I also think he develops games that have the emotional maturity of a seventh grader. He has famously said that plots in games are like plots in porn--no one really needs or expects them. This is why the single-player experience in so many id games is totally pedestrian and dispassionate. Weak, really. So I usually play an id game for two reasons: one, out of respect for Carmack's genius, and two, as an engine demo. I think the single-player experience in Half-Life was better than all the other id games--combined.

The single player experience also hasn't evolved over time. If anything, it's regressed in id's recent games. Maybe the armor factor of beryllium underwear increased from 20 to 25, or the plasma shock galaxy disruption rifle had its rate of fire adjusted to be more 'realistic.' I just don't give a shit about that. I want a substantive, engrossing experience, not some adrenaline-fueled gib-sprint that feels like it was designed in a meth lab.

Here is a haiku about the single-player experience in id games:
Monster, monster, monster, kill
So many monsters

Monster boss so huge the end

If you think that was serious, please shake yourself immediately.

So I expected Doom 3 to be a very nice engine demo and a slight enhancement in terms of plot. Looks pretty, tastes great, less filling.

Which is not what I'm getting, really, and it's much to id's credit. Yes, it looks fantastic. What I didn't expect, though, is that they've made an honest effort this time to create a significantly better single-player experience, and I think to a large degree they've succeeded. Yes, there's still quite a bit of 'monster, monster, monster, kill' (fastest self-reference ever--three paragraphs), but the level of detail in the world and the story itself are far beyond anything id has ever done before. There is genuine tension. The level of polish is extremely high as well. I've even had two jump-out-of-my-chair moments, both of which I enjoyed immensely.

I'm going to play this every day for a few hours and give you additional impressions at ten hours.

A quick hardware note: I'm running it on an X800XT-PE with an Athlon FX-51 and I'm getting a minimum of 40fps at all times in 1600x1200x32 with detail on 'high.' The vast majority of the time I'm running at 60fps (I've got vsync on and that's the refresh rate of my panel). This is still early in the game, so these framerates may not hold true all the way through.

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