Thursday, September 30, 2004

I Saw the Virgin Mary in a Hamburger Bun Once

I saw this on CNN:

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) -- A fiberglass statue of Jesus that washed up on a sandbar in the Rio Grande three weeks ago is attracting scores of devout pilgrims to a police department lost-and-found and being hailed as a miracle.

Police in Eagle Pass, Texas, said up to 40 people a day are coming to pay homage to the five-foot-tall figurine, known as "The Christ of the Undocumented," which was found by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the river.

My initial thought was that this was one of those lawn gnome pranks. Failing that, just think of the potential for Corporate America. I believe that five-foot fiberglass statues of Jesus will soon be flooding the country in a marketing frenzy. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Foley's: The Christ of the Red Apple Sale
2. Wendy's: The Christ of the Ninety-Nine Cent Value Menu
3. Wal-Mart: The Christ of the Low Prices. Always.
4. NBC: The Christ of the Must-See TV
5. Corn Nuts: The Christ of the Ultimate Crunch
6. Bounty Paper Towels: The Christ of the Quicker Picker-Upper
7. A&W Root Beer: The Christ of That Frosty Mug Sensation
8. National Pork Board: The Christ of The Other White Meat
9. BMW: The Christ of the Ultimate Driving Machine
10. Sargento: The Christ of Just Say Cheese

Programming Note

I have a ton of posts I need to get to, but Gloria has been really sick today and I've been watching Eli all day (except for his sensational two-hour nap), so it may be tomorrow before most of it gets finished.

Here are the teasers: a five-foot fiberglass statue of Jesus and a man getting shot in the leg while dressed as a cheerleader. That's just scratching the surface.

Now Gold

Get On Da Mic has gone gold. Please resume breathing at your earliest convenience.

The Bony Finger of Death: Now With Leather Interior

When I pulled into the parking lot at work yesterday, I parked opposite a black P.T. Cruiser. There was a silver skull protruding several inches from the license plate.

Skeletor's car, perhaps.

On the back window was a skull and bones decal. There were coffin decals on the sides.
At this point, the most likely owner shifted from Skeletor to Herman Munster, although he was too big to fit into the car and I thought he was still playing professional baseball in Venezuela.

With the dearth of high Q-rating suspects, my attention shifted toward Goths.

For our international readers, 'Goths' are a teen sub-culture in this country. It's hard to define a Goth really, it's really a bad mood more than a culture. They dress in black, wear extreme makeup and hair styles, and always look like it's Halloween night. Often, Goths claim to be unique, but it's really just regular teen angst dressed in black.

Goths are also philosophically depressed. I think this is conceptually the incorrect choice in a world where the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and The Three Stooges are readily available on video, but hey, it's someone else's bitter trip, not mine, and they can drive as far as they want.

One other suspect just came to mind. A professional wrestler of some renown known as 'The Undertaker' (believe it or not) lives in Austin, and I've even seen him in the gaming store in that parking lot. What does he look like? Tattoos. Lots of Tattoos.

So whether it was a Goth or The Undertaker, he was trying to make a statement. I'm just not sure it was the statement he thought he was making.

I know the P.T. Cruiser looks cool. And I would agree that there's a vague kind of hearse effect when the vehicle is black. So I guess you could argue that the Cruiser can be kind of menacing. What's not menacing is that fact that every woman over fifty is driving one. The lady at the dry cleaners is in her late fifties and she has a red one.

The turbo. Take that, bitches.

Every time I'm driving in town, I see them. Blue hairs, proudly driving their P.T. Cruisers. I don't blame them for being proud--the car looks good on them. They look happy. I'm happy for them.

So if Driver Death ever pulls up to a stoplight and another P.T. Cruiser pulls up beside him, the bad-ass-mobile is likely to have a sixty-plus blue haired granny driving, with crocheted pillows in the back window, framed pictures of her grandchildren swinging from the rearview mirror, and a Chihuahua named Sparky standing on her lap.

Kick ass.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Your World Report

There's an article on MSNBC today with the teaser "Kyrgyz man accused of trying to sell plutonium."

He's from Kyrgyzstan, in case you're wondering.

I really try to keep up with world events, but I had no idea Kyrgyzstan even existed.

The best reason to bemoan the fall of the Soviet Union is the damn country names. Don't even get me started on Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and now Kyrgyzstan.

The former Soviet Republic--now consisting of eight hundred countries named Stan.

When I was twelve, 'Kyrgyzstan' was the word you put on the Scrabble board when you were down a hundred points and only had crappy tiles left. I'm just not ready for this. Back in my day, the most exotic country name was 'Kamchatka,' forever immortalized by Risk boards everywhere. Now there's Slskdj and Ydksia and Zslakcia. I just made those three names by pounding on the keyboard at random, but at least two of them are breakaway republics, I'm sure.

I'm trying. I can remember Kazakhstan, at least, by using a mnemonic--'Carjackistan.'

That doesn't actually help me remember 'Kazakhstan,' specifically. It just helps me remember that there is a breakaway country of the former Soviet republic whose name vaguely sounds like 'Carjackistan.'

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

There is a lengthy article in the new issue of Game Informer about The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Dubious Quality reader Milos Miljkovic asked me to provide a summary for non-U.S. readers (Game Informer is apparently only available in the U.S.). I'm glad to do that, so here goes. Please remember that this article was a preview, so it's not exactly investigative journalism.

Graphics, graphics, graphics. The new engine is stunning--beyond stunning, really. Bethesda made an outstanding decision when they released a few expansion packs for Morrowind but didn't create another Elder Scrolls using the same engine. They went forward, and because of that, Oblivion, like Morrowind before it, will be the most graphically advanced RPG ever made. The screenshots are just absolutely amazing, and Todd Howard (executive producer) mentions that they are focusing far more on outdoor environments this time, now that graphics technology has become more powerful.

Fueling these amazing advances in graphics is the Elder Scrolls construction set program, which will be included in the PC version. This generation of the tool has become a very detailed world builder--for example, a designer can designate an area as 'forest,' then select which trees and bushes grow in the area, then define density, and the tool will populate the area. Even the soil type can be designated. It's quite remarkable. The Construction set also dynamically generates NPC's in a similar way, including both their look and their behavior.

Like I said, the Construction Set will be included with the PC version, so the mods that will be created for this should be nothing short of astounding.

In terms of gameplay, there are comments in the article from Howard that could certainly be cause for concern. He says that the goal is to "...make the game as appealing as possible to mainstream gamers without alienating the hardcore..." That sounds like a Warren Specter quote, and we know how that turned out. However, the ways that Howard mentions changes in gameplay don't sound so painful. For one, skills like lock picking and potion mixing will be mini-games instead of determined by engine calculations. That's a good idea, particularly for lock picking. He also says that combat will be more prominent in Oblivion. Again, I think that's a move for the console audience, but that doesn't inherently make it a bad design decision.

Here are a couple of additional notes about gameplay and the world:
--horses can be ridden
--1,000 NPC's, each with their own schedule
--NPC's will communicate their feelings toward you in their facial expressions (again, dynamically generated)
--third-person view is available, but primarily designed for first-person

Certainly, Bethesda is trying to attract a console audience. That's no surprise, because that's what everyone is doing. However, Oblivion is being developed for Xbox 2 and PS3 (in addition to the PC), and the graphics capability of those consoles will be on par with a high-end PC for the first 12-18 months of the console's lifespan. I also believe that 720p support will be standard on both consoles. So there will be no reason for console development to constrain the graphics on the PC version.

The screenshots in the article, by the way, are supposedly untouched and they are from the Xbox 2 version, not the PC version. There will be no complaints if the PC version looks that good (and there's no reason why it wouldn't).

One other note: this same engine will be used for Fallout 3.

In terms of release date, nothing is mentioned, although I think Fall 2005 is the absolute earliest possibility (to coincide with the release of Xbox 2).

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No Safety Merit Badges Were Awarded

The last time we went to a movie, it was raining as we drove to the theater. There was also the sound of thunder in the distance.

We pulled into to the parking lot, and as Gloria got out of the car, she opened her umbrella.

"What are you doing with an umbrella?" I asked. "There might be lightning."
"The rain messes up my hair," she said.
"Let me try this again," I said. "There might be lightning."
"It's just a little walk," she said. I started moving away, and when I was about twenty yards to her left she shouted "What are you doing?"
"Here's the headline in tomorrow morning's paper," I said. "LOCAL WOMAN KILLED BY LIGHTNING STRIKE. CLEVER HUSBAND ESCAPES INJURY."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "Walk over here with me."
"I don't believe in getting struck by lightning as a family," I shouted, still moving away. I kept my distance until we reunited at the ticket booth. I got the look.

I've already forgotten the movie.


That's Care Bears: Let's Have a Ball!

Dubious Quality fact checker Stephanie Assham-Dubious regrets the error.

PSP Launch Price

'Unofficially announced' at the Tokyo Game Show, the launch price for the upcoming Playstation Portable is supposedly $349.

What a terrible marketing decision. If this system launches at $349, it will be DOA. $249 would be pushing it--$349 is absolutely outrageous. Hopefully this was just a trial balloon by Sony.

Ninendo has sold millions of Game Boys/Game Boy Advances not because the system is great--it's not, by any means--but because it is conveniently sized, inexpensive, and has excellent software support. That's the successful business model for portables.

$349 isn't even a successful launch price for a full-sized console anymore. $299 is the magic number.

Heading to Stores

Care Bears: Let's Ball! is now shipping.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Beer Addendum

You people love Fat Tire. Now I have to try it.

Assorted Stories With Very Poor Transitions

Here's a tip for those of you about to become parents (Glen, pay attention): If your face ever feels damp, it's because you're bleeding. Your child's head is a +13 mace and the attack cannot be blocked. 3.1 units spend much of their day devising ways for their dome to hit your face at particle accelerator speeds.

I heard Eli 3.1 crying earlier this week and went to investigate. I asked him what was wrong, and he said "Mommy didn't laugh when I put underwear on my head."

This is a huge problem. Putting underwear on your head is always funny. It's part of the classic "Pilot to Bombardier" routine where you wear your wife's underwear on your head like a WWII leather flight helmet.

Not that I would know anything about that personally. But I've been told.

Gloria's mother is here for the weekend (her birthday). We were sitting around the kitchen table on Friday night, and Gloria brought out a birthday cake. Then she brought out these edgy, super-slim candles. They looked like the hippest cigarettes ever made, so hip that if you bought a pack, you'd never even smoke them, just have one hanging casually from your lip as you drank Turkish coffee at the local elitist street cafe.

Gloria lights these candles and they start to spark in a somewhat alarming manner. She quickly looks at the package and they are, in fact, sparkler candles.

I'm glad the Roman Candle version was out of stock.

So Gloria's mom starts to blow out these candles, about eight of them. She's in her early sixties and has high blood pressure, and even a short walk will leave her short of breath. These particular candles are very difficult to blow out, and when she finally gets down to only two left, three of the extinguished candles come back to life.

At that moment, I realize that I'm having some weird kind of insertion moment into a Six Feet Under episode. The signature opening of Six Feet Under is that someone dies in a highly unusual way. As I watch my mother-in-law's face get redder and redder, I realize she's locked in a life-or-death struggle with birthday candles, and if she doesn't extinguish them with the next breath or two she's going to blow a valve right there. I idly wonder if a home defibrillator might have saved her.

That's when I realize the fatal flaw in my scenario. On Six Feet Under, the obvious choice NEVER dies. It's the person you least expect--which, of course is me. As I'm waiting for death to strike, idly wondering what will kill me, I think about the home defibrillator again, and wonder this time if it would have saved MY life.

It doesn't matter, of course. We couldn't have one, even if they cost six dollars and came with a free physician who lived in the closet under the stairs. No matter where we put the damn thing, Eli 3.1 would find it. We'd be sitting quietly on the couch one day, then suddenly we'd hear him yell "CLEAR!" followed by a large thump. This might or might not be followed by the cat racing down the stars at Formula One speeds.

Sunday, September 26, 2004


Tonight I went to pick up some dinner for everyone, and as I sat at the restaurant bar waiting for our meal, I saw a tap for 'Fat Tire' beer. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but I liked the name so much that I almost had one anyway. It seems that the only purpose of a beer's name now is to be as obtuse as possible. I have no idea what kind of product information names like My Cousin Emma's Panties Porter or Sacred Yak Pilsner are supposed to convey, but they are somehow exotic and strangely compelling.

I think it would be an excellent idea if Ripley's Believe It Or Not started their own line of beers. Brews like Papuan Cannibal Skull Stout, Genuine Fiji Mermaid Dry, and Mike the Headless Chicken Irish Ale could be best sellers. I eagerly await their arrival.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Rome: Total War Impressions

Sometimes it's great to be wrong.

I was totally underwhelmed by the demo for this game. However, I'm very happy to report that the full game is outstanding, based on the first few hours of play. The tutorial does an excellent job of breaking up a very complex game into a series of extremely manageable tasks and also provides a high level of guidance. The graphics are excellent, and the campaign map is razor-sharp. The interface has also been very logically designed, with both actions and information easily available.

This game is not going to advance the genre because of some kind of revolutionary innovation, but very few games do. What it does do is present an extremely high level of refinement in game mechanics in combination with very compelling graphics.

First impressions are often incorrect, but I doubt it this time. This will be a near-lock for game of the year in its genre and will probably receive a large number of Game of the Year nominations.

This is bad news for Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War and Kohan II. I've heard very good things about both of them, and thought that the Warhammer demo was excellent, but why in the world would they ship the same week as this game?

I've Got Something Caught in My Throat

I'm in the grocery store yesterday, which is my first mistake, and I'm walking down the pet food aisle, which is my second mistake. I look up and see a huge sign that says ""MEOW MIX: GREAT TASTING HAIRBALL CONTROL!"

I couldn't agree more. I've said this before, but when it comes to hairball control, I'm all about flavor.

Pure Pwnage

Shawn Gibbs sent me a link to this site:

It's a series of 'mockumentary' (man, I hate that word) episodes about a 'pro gamer.' It's also the first time I've ever thought of Spinal Tap when I saw something about games. The videos are just absolutely hilarious, and each episode (there are four) is funnier than the one that preceded it. Episodes three and four are real classics.

The videos don't download quickly, and they're big, and you need the DivX codec to view them, and it's all worth it. Once you watch episode three, you'll never be able to hear the phrase "HEAD SHOT!" again without bursting out laughing.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ants (still not in my pants)

Scroll down if you're reading top to bottom and look at my other ant post first, but I just saw this in Texas Monthly today, and it's very useful if you're around fire ants on a regular basis:
Dab the bites with a weak bleach solution in the first ten to fifteen minutes.

Believe it or not, this will stop those nasty white blisters from forming, and if you've ever seen them, 'nasty' is definitely the operative word.

Here's how you make the bleach solution:
Add one tablespoon bleach to a 1-cup measure, then fill it with water. Dab on affected areas.

Something else I didn't know about fire ants is that motion cues them to sting. So shaking your foot violently to get them off is apparently not the terrific idea I always thought it was. 'Calmly and slowly' is apparently the best way to go. Use the bleach solution and then ice to reduce swelling.

Rome: TW, Kohan II, Warhammer 40000, Full Spectrum Warrior, and a little more Tiger Woods

Open the floodgates. They're all on my desk right now, waiting to be installed. I'm definitely looking at Rome: Total War today, and I'll try to have impressions for you no later than tomorrow. Everything else is just going to have to get in line.

By the way, I think I've confirmed that you can't use custom courses in Tiger Woods Season mode. You also can't use stock courses, because custom seasons no longer exist. That's a remarkably stupid design decision. The code was already there and had worked fine for the last three years.

EA Sports desperately needs a new slogan, because "If it's in the game, it's in the game" just doesn't capture the inconsistent quality and bizarre design decisions that are an integral part of their sports franchises. Brilliant sometimes, yes, but usually infuriating, as key elements of the sport they allegedly represent are often missing entirely (NBA Live 2004 and offensive rebounding, for example), or key features are taken out and then reinserted several years later.

So, after a period of contemplation in which I harnessed all my creative powers (a harness was technically unnecessary--a very thin leash would be more than adequate), I believe I've come up with a new EA Sports slogan that is far more evocative of EA's attitude toward their customers.

"EA Sports: Just Buy It, Bitch!"

Ants (but not in my pants, much to your relief)

Eli 3.1 is fine now. Thanks very much for your kind e-mails.

If either Gloria or myself are going to get strep, we'll most likely be feeling symptoms by the end of the day. I'm feeling a little dicey, so of course I do the only sensible thing: I go work out.
That doesn't make sense if you don't work out regularly. If you do, though, it's totally logical. You might have to take a few days off from working out because of illness, so you try to get in one more decent workout before then.

So I'm swimming, which is going pretty well, since I'm up to a mile per workout now. I've gone about five hundred meters and I feel this, well, thing in my right armpit. It's not quite a cramp, not quite a strain, and not quite a nerve. It's just some sort of pain. I keep swimming, and I keep feeling it--not constantly, but every couple of seconds. I swim for a little while longer, and since it's still there, I decide to stop for the day. I don't want to get hurt, because I heal only slightly faster than a corpse.

I'm toweling off, and as I raise my right arm, I see him. An ant. A big ant, and he's somehow found purchase in the hair of my underarm, where he's been stinging me every two seconds for about the last THREE MINUTES. That felt good.

I never thought about ants swimming for fitness, but even so, what were the chances that I'd wind up in his lane?

By the way, his fitness program has been terminated.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 (PC)

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 (PC) hit my desk on Monday, and I've gotten in about five hours of game time. The Tiger Woods series stands out among EA's sports franchises because it has been uniformly excellent since Headgate Studios assumed development responsibilities in 2000. Headgate developed the near-immaculate PGA Championship 2000, which refined the trueswing interface into the finest control innovation ever created for a sports game. It still ranks as one of the top five sports games I've ever played.

The Tiger Woods series has set the bar for graphics in sports games, and this year is no different. I have no idea how it was even possible to make the game look better than last year, but they have, and it's another significant upgrade. Visual fidelity is at an all-time high, and even minor nitpicks like poor tree bark have been addressed. These guys care about tree bark.

Since most of you have played a previous version of Tiger (and if you haven't, just go buy it if you have any interest in a golf game at all--it's that good), here's a quick list of what's improved and what's different from last year.

--Ball Flight. Trajectories are significantly more authentic now. In fact, they seem entirely authentic to me now.
--Animation. Swing animations are much smoother and more realistic looking.
--Course design. I'll mention this in more detail later.
--Career mode. This feature is now a combination of scenarios, tournaments, and legend tour. It's far more flexible than last year, it's more difficult, and it's considerably more interesting.
--Create a Face. Yes, a fluff feature, and last year I thought it was a waste of time, but this year the lifelike faces that can be created are remarkable.
--Putting. Putting was brilliant last year, but the greens have significantly more undulations this year and putt much more like real greens. They can be very challenging to read, and there are far more double-breaking putts.
--Legends. It's a real pleasure to see Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, among others, in the game. Yes, Nicklaus is there as well.

--Many of the courses from last year have been replaced, unfortunately. Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, and Sawgrass are the only holdovers for the PC version. That means some wonderful courses like Colonial and Royal Birkdale are no longer included, although you could always convert last year's versions with the course utilities. However, even though some of these new courses are interesting, and the holdovers have been redone in very impressive fashion, the course list isn't nearly as strong as last year, which is disappointing.
--I've been told that you can't use custom courses in Season mode. I haven't tested this in the game yet, but if true, it's a terrible design decision. EA has provided less and less support to the course architect over the years (it's not even in the game this year as part of the initial release, although it's supposed to be made available as a download at a later date), even though the courses created by amateur designers have in many cases been far better than the courses included with the game (Ken McHale's Augusta is a good example). Season mode is quite boring if you're limited to the stock courses, so I hope I'm wrong on this one.
--The one change I really don't like this year is an odd one: how the putter sits in relation to the ball. I think the putter is too high this year--it rests off the ground, ostensibly ready for putting, but it obscures far too much of the ball. It's quite annoying--to me, at least--and I'm still trying to get used to it.

My primary complaint about Tiger Woods over the years has been that difficulty has been focused on the swing and not the course. If your swing was right, you'd blast through any stock course out there, because course management was just far too simple. It was also too simple to read the greens because they lacked complexity. Both of those issues have been remedied this year. I've run more balls through the fairway than I can remember because it's now necessary to actually think when selecting a landing area. The greens are also far more complex than before, with many more multiple-breaking putts than I can ever remember seeing.

I haven't explored the 'Tiger-Proofing' feature yet, but from what I can tell it appears to be a simple way to adjust the difficulty of courses by narrowing fairways, increasing bunker size, increasing green slope and complexity, etc. There are a few scenarios I've played on Tiger-proofed courses, though, and they're quite a bit more difficult and very impressive, particularly the greens.

All in all, another stellar effort from Headgate, one of the truly great sports studios.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Asses, Part 2

Doug Walsh sent me this story in reference to the painting of the asses of wild horses that I wrote about a few days ago.

We recently moved into a new house. Well, for decor in the dining room, I thought it'd be great to frame a photo I took while in Costa Rica last year. It’s a shot of a mountain biking Costa Rican cowboy making his way down a dirt road with a half dozen bulls. This was the "traffic jam" we hit on the way back from this out-of-the-way surf spot I hit on Christmas last year. So I quickly turned the car 90-degrees and took a shot. I always really liked this picture. I thought the irony of a cowboy in a third world country riding a shiny yellow mountain bike was kind of funny. I was also always struck by the enormity of the bullhorns on those cattle. And the blue sky and the colors of the bulls was a pretty nice contrast. Mind you this photo will be very big and very nicely framed in our dining room.

So you can imagine my surprise when a lady in the frame store commented on the fact that one of the bulls was in the middle of taking a dump. Yes, I will have a framed photo of a bull taking a dump in my dining room. That horse painting ain't sounding too bad, now is it?

You see, I've seen the photo a thousand times. I took the photo. And not once did I ever notice this bull was in the middle of dropping dung. I asked my wife and she said that she always noticed it but never said anything because she knows that I'll never be able to un-notice it again. Well, here we are. Paying hundreds of dollars on framing for vibrant dining room artwork that may end up in the bathroom. Some people think my photos look like shit. I always thought they were just being mean. Little did I know.

Assorted Stuff

There's an interview with the founder of Bose, Amar Bose, in the October issue of Discover magazine (on newsstands now). There are some interesting tidbits, including Bose's disclosure that Bose actually researched cold fusion at one point, believe it or not. Thanks to Dave Sarley for letting me know.

Scott McLerran sent me this link about a New Zealand packaged adventure company using carrier pigeons--to carry Sony Memory Sticks! Here's the link:

Tim Hibbetts let me know that there is actually a Hooter's airline. From burgers to boobs to a word for airplanes that starts with 'b,' these guys just don't miss a trick. Heh.

In reference to the story about wild horses and their asses, Bruce Hicks writes:
Clearly the painting is meant to be viewed from the room on the other side of the wall.

Eli 3.1: The Vomitron

Poor Eli 3.1. He's always been an unusually healthy and hardy kid. Yesterday he went down for his nap and we heard him start crying about half an hour later. Crying mixed with whimpering and borderline screaming, which he never does when he wakes up, so we know something's wrong. We both go bounding up the stairs and open the door to his room--and he is absolutely covered in vomit. It's everywhere--on him, on the bed, on the floor. It's like something out of a B-grade horror movie.

Gloria starts cleaning him up and I start stripping the bed, which must have a quart of puke on it. Pepperidge Farm goldfish, in case you're wondering, and the smell is so pungent and searing that I'm quite confident I'll never eat them again. In fact, that smell has convinced me that I'd rather not eat anything ever again.

After I finish hosing down his clothes and the bedding in the backyard, then laying stuff out to dry, I go back upstairs and start working on the carpet. Eli comes back in some fresh clothes and decides that he'd like to finish his nap, so he goes downstairs to a non-puke area. And fifteen minutes later he pukes again. And half an hour later he pukes again. In short, the entire house was basically puked on over a three or four hour period.

It's hard to explain how much anxiety your child's illness can make you feel. He was so sick that I was almost paralyzed. It's like you have so much fear inside you that you can hardly breathe.

We almost wind up going to the emergency room at 2:30 this morning--didn't have to, but it was close. This morning, the doctor runs a few tests and tells Gloria that Eli 3.1 has--strep throat. Bizarrely, when little kids get strep throat, they sometimes get these tremendous bouts of vomiting as one of the initial symptoms. I've never heard of anything remotely like this, but his strep test was definitely positive.

He feels much better today, thank goodness, and he's going to be fine. I'm running on very little sleep and expecting to catch strep myself, since I basically was dipping myself in a vat of Streptococcus all day yesterday. Plus I've had one piece of toast in the last twenty-four hours, because the initial blast of odor after opening his door yesterday has hard-wired itself into my brain. It's the most effective diet program ever. Blech.

I'll have Tiger Woods 2005 impressions later, plus a few other things if I get time to post them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

It Really Is a Different Planet

"I'm going out for a pottery night next week."

I pause in my critical attempt to destroy the undead in Fable and look up at Gloria. Pottery? I'm part of a royal bloodline and I'm trying to restore a kingdom, woman.

"There are entire nights for pottery?" I ask.
"Yes," she says. "It's a pottery studio that's open to the public."
"Well, what do you make?"
"Plates," she says. "And pots. You could also make a cup."
"Can you make dinosaurs?" I ask.
"I don't think so," she says.
"Giant spiders?"
"Sports heroes?"
"Do they have t.v.'s?"
"No t.v.'s? What do you do there?"
"Pottery," she says.
"Not even ONE t.v.?"
"What about an Internet connection?"
"So you really just sit down with a lump of clay and spin it around?"
"Yes," she says. "And talk. Colleen, Farrah, and Jeanine are going with me."
"So you have to spin a lump of clay around and talk the whole time?"
"Is this something we need to experience as a family?"
Ah. The silver lining.

Gloria also told Eli about this before he went down for his nap, and when he woke up he said "Mommy! What are you doing here? I thought you were going to Harry Pottery!"

[At this point, I was going to tell a story about one of Gloria's friends (not mentioned by name above), who I described as 'an unholy alliance of solipsist and witch.' The story was subsequently censored by The Committee of One. I'm okay with that, since Gloria has vetting rights on anything about her (or her friends or family), but just imagine that a far wittier anecdote than I've ever written would have appeared in this space. Also, it segued into the next paragraph.]

This does speak to the basic differences between men and women when it comes to friendship. Men have a few basic rules of friendship:
1. Don't cry in front of me. Also don't talk about having cried.
2. Don't talk about your feelings. It cuts into the time we have to talk about sports.
3. When you agree to do something, do it.
4. Don't make excuses for anything. Ever. As Yoda (the ultimate dude) says "Do or do not--there is no try."

That's pretty much sums it up for us. Women, however, have a multi-tiered evaluation system for every encounter with a friend where points are awarded on a sliding, highly variable scale influenced by everything from lipstick color to this year's corn crop. It's exhausting to even consider it in a theoretical sense.

Venus--it's a tough place to live.

Monday, September 20, 2004

ICO Gets a Sequel

ICO, one of the best ten games I've ever played (and reason enough to buy a PS2, just for the experience), is getting a sequel. The game is called "Wanda and the Colossus," and while it doesn't feature the two central characters from the original, ICO director Fumito Ueda is leading the project and it is said to be the 'spiritual successor.' Good enough for me.

Release date in Japan is 2005. No word on a U.S. release yet.

New Title Announced

Paradox Entertainment has announced that their next game will be titled Hearts of Europa: We Just Started Working On This Last Month. Public Relations representative Pre Alpha said the title would ship "as soon as we get some placeholder artwork finished."

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

First off, I heard from several industry-related sources saying that there was no way Half-Life 2 would be released before late October, at the very earliest.

Thanks to Jeff Pinard for sending me this link:
It provides the details of Half-Life 2: The Lawsuit Edition.

Basically, here's what happened. Valve sued Sierra in 2002 because Sierra was placing Valve games (Counter-strike, I assume) in Internet cafes, which Valve maintains violated their licensing agreement.

Vivendi countersued, claiming that Valve obtained certain online distribution rights for Half-Life 2 by misrepresenting (or, in some cases, hiding) the development of Steam and Valve's future intentions for the technology.

The link is good, dirty reading. Valve seems to have managed to pretty much piss off everybody they've come in contact with in the last year--customers, publishers, pizza delivery boys (I'm extrapolating). I would not be surprised at all if people in the industry are secretly hoping that Half-Life 2 falls on its face.

Not that it will.

Meet the Stupids

We have nothing decent to play for months on the PC platform (with the exception of City of Heroes and one or two others), then the end of the fiscal third quarter hits and the floodgates open.

Last week? The Sims 2, Madden NFL 2005, NHL 2005, Call of Duty: United Offensive, Shellshock: Nam '67, and Star Wars Battlefront.

This week? Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 (on my desk, waiting to be installed), Rome: Total War, Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War (demo was extremely promising), Kohan II: Kings of War, Full Spectrum Warrior, Hidden and Dangerous 2: Sabre Squad Expansion, Neverwinter Nights Platinum Edition, and Hearts of Iron: We Mostly Finished It, Finally (that's what it should be called, anyway).

What the?

That's not including the twenty new Xbox releases.

These game companies are crazy. A game like Warhammer 40000: DOW would have absolutely killed in June. Now it's releasing the same week as Rome: Total War and Kohan II? Eidos takes the cake, though--releasing Shellshock the same week as the Call of Duty expansion. I know I bought a copy (I still can't remember why I ordered that), but if they'll be very lucky to sell 5,000 units. Bad, bad marketing decision.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


My friend Andy is going on vacation in Australia.

As far as I can tell, going on vacation in Australia consists entirely of avoiding death. Everything in Australia is poisonous--snakes, toads, fish, plants, sea foam, house cats, ballpoint pens--it's all deadly. If an insect in Australia even looks at you, you're paralyzed within thirty seconds and dead in sixty.

Here is a typical Australian conversation:
Callum: G'day, ya bastard. Where's Liam?
Joshua: He's dead.
Callum: She'll be right, mate.
Joshua: Not a Buckley's chance of that, mate.
Callum: What happened?"
Joshua: He bought a watch and it killed him.
Callum: Of course it did. What a wally.
Joshua: Too right. He always was a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock.
Callum: Well, I'm off to kill rabbits.
Joshua: Hooroo.

This blog: the swim that needs no towel.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Wild Horses, Couldn't Drag Me Away

Tonight Gloria and I went out to dinner. The restaurant had this gigantic painting hanging behind the bar. It was at least ten feet wide and five feet high, and it dwarfed everything else in the room.

This painting was of wild horses. Actually, that's not correct. It was a painting of the asses of wild horses, mainly, and for that reason alone it was quite remarkable. Enormous asses. Surely they were imported from Brobdingnag.

I'm not sure what the artist was thinking. Perhaps he had some unique ass-painting skill but was decidedly mediocre with heads and flanks, or maybe he got tired of painting a canvas the size of Milwaukee and decided to fill in all remaining gaps with asses.

It made quite an emotional impact on me. Horses' asses, running wild and free.

Disclaimer: Reading This Blog May Cause Chronic Fatigue

We have these commercials in the U.S.

I don't think it's like this in the rest of the world, but in the U.S., whenever a drug is advertised, the possible medical side effects must also be included. This leads to some totally bizarre television commercials, where the announcer says something like this:
(whisper) May cause dry mouth, headache, nausea, internal hemorrhaging, torn anterior cruciate ligaments, and on rare occasions, kidney failure. In extremely rare situations, your head may explode.

These disclosures can cause problems, particularly if you're not paying total attention to the television. Tonight I thought I heard a Discovery Card commercial with the disclaimer that it could cause vaginal dryness.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tricycle Parcel Service

"I want a CHEESEBURGER with NO CHEESE and NO MEAT!" That's a bun, for those of you keeping score at home, but Eli 3.1 doesn't see it that way yet. He'll just remove everything he doesn't want until all that's left is the desired piece.

I'm the same way. Just last week, Gloria said "Would you like to go to dinner with a few couples, then go see a performance of the Austin Symphony? Maybe we could even stop for coffee with everyone on the way home."

"I want to do all that," I said, "with no couples and no symphony and no coffee and no everyone."

Eli 3.1 also had one of those days today that require running commentary, just so that all potential disaster situations are duly broadcast. Like this:
"Dear, Eli has his head in the hamper."
"Dear, Eli has the luggage carrier out."
"Dear, Eli has the hamper on the luggage carrier and thinks he's a garbage truck."

Just a typical day around our house.

We also have our own in-home delivery service now. Gloria bought Eli 3.1 a tricycle made out of pieces of an aircraft carrier or something. It's German, and I think if they'd made their tanks out of it they would have won the war. If our planet is ever devastated by nuclear weapons, in the midst of the rubble-strewn, black and white landscape will be bright red and yellow Kettler trikes, having survived without a scratch.

Eli 3.1 likes to do laps around the house on this little trike, and since it's very maneuverable, he can do so at a high rate of speed. In the last two weeks, though, the Kettler has been converted from an F1 racer into a delivery truck. Whenever our doorbell rings with a delivery from UPS or Fed Ex (games and books, and it's a steady stream), Eli 3.1 will run over to the Kettler, hop on board, and shout "I'll get it!" He pedals to the door, which I've opened, and he'll go out on the porch and get the package. He puts it into the basket on the back of his trike, pedals over to me (I've gone back to the couch as ritual demands) and shouts "Daddy! You have a package!" Then he takes it out of the basket and hands it to me, saying "Here you go, sir."

Next week he'll be asking for a signature and two forms of I.D.

Gloria calls it TPS (Tricycle Parcel Service)--or Ped-Ex.


I briefly mentioned Fable last night, but I've played it for several more hours and I am deeply impressed. The world is much more interesting and 'real-feeling' than the vast majority of RPG worlds I've encountered. I'm also deeply impressed by the cleverness and consistency of design, both in the world and in the player's interface.

Here's an example of the design's cleverness. You receive experience points for different actions, including combat. You are awarded experience points in different areas depending on what weapons and tactics you use in combat. So if all you do is bash enemies with a sword, the XP will go to Strength. If you use magic, you will receive 'Will' XP. You can mix and match combat strategies in the same battle, so each pool could possibly receive XP.

In addition to the pool-specific XP, there is a general pool. When it comes times to upgrade your abilities, let's say you have the following XP available:

Each ability upgrade comes with an XP cost, and your possible sources are the skill-specific pool as well as your General pool, which can be used as needed. So if you want an ability upgrade that costs 1500 points in the Strength category, you could combine your Strength/General points and obtain that upgrade. However, it leaves you almost no General points to use with other pools, at least temporarily. It's a very thoughtful way to reward your specific actions without unduly restricting the kinds of skills that you can acquire.

There are many, many thoughtful touches like this in the game, and I'm finding it very tough to stop playing. Not that I want to.

Half-Life 2 Release Candidate

Gabe Newell has confirmed that the release candidate for Half-Life 2 has been submitted to Vivendi.

The question, of course, is the release date. Everyone's being all shy like they're at a seventh grade dance. It really doesn't wear well. Valve claimed the game was going to be released last fall, but we all know now that there was absolutely zero chance the game would have made it, even without the code theft. I think it would be a very good public relations move to just tell us the damn release date at this point.

They're not going to, though, so here's some speculation. Vivendi could spend a week with the release candidate and it could still go gold by the 20th. That's enough time to begin duplication and get it into the stores by the end of the month so that it would make Vivendi's third quarter. There's no reason not to do that, really. So even though EB and Gamestop are still saying November, I wouldn't be surprised if there's an announcement early next week about a September 30th release.

That's if the release candidate is in good shape. If it's not, the fallback is two more months of work and release in November.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Sims 2, Fable

I haven't spent enough time with The Sims 2 to make any kind of honest evaluation of the game. It looks much, much nicer, there are far more options for just about everything, and it runs like a pig. I know I called The Sims a 'discouragement simulator' not long ago, but I highly respect Will Wright and I'll buy every game he makes until he stops making them.

I feel the same way about Peter Molyneux. His failures would be the crowning achievement of most other designer's careers. Fable (Xbox) is very much a console RPG. That's not a bad thing, just a piece of information for level setting if you're interested in the game. The graphics are a bit of a disappointment, the sound is absolutely superb, and the world and its atmosphere are very, very engaging. It also has a very personal, intimate feel.

Will Wright and Peter Molyneux share an interesting trait, which is that they both envision games that can't really be fully realized by existing technology. I don't discredit them for it--the expansiveness of their visions just goes beyond what can currently be supported. But techonology is advancing far faster than our imaginations, and when the two reach a level plane, the games will be wondrous.

I also bought Shellshock: Nam '67. I have no idea why. It showed up on my porch today and I had one of those "I ordered THAT?" moments. I'll try to take a look at it in the next few days, but there is suddenly so much to play that it's going to be on a very short leash.

A La Mode, Ye' Scurvy Dog!

This is an actual excerpt from a children's book that I was reading to Eli 3.1 tonight.

What is that I see climbing on board? A PIRATE! And another! And another!


Uncle Willy couldn't do a thing. There were just too many pirates.

First, they put Uncle Willy on the deserted island. Then they started to eat his pie.

Progress Marches On

It's another one of those announcements where I say "It's about time!" Here's the article link:

That's right. Hooters is coming to India.

'Hooters,' for our non-American readers, is a restaurant chain whose primary attraction is waitresses with large breasts packed into limits-of-physics-tight clothing. Think cantaloupes and trampolines and you'll get the right picture.

One of the very clever arm-farting quality 'inside jokes' of the Hooters chain is that the mascot is an owl with big eyes. See, it's funny because the O's are like big breasts, and the owl's eyes are positioned in the logo inside the O's in HOOTERS, so they're like nipples.

How positively titillating. And you thought sophistication was dead.

I don't know about you, but I don't eat at Hooter's. Those waitresses alarm me. I'm afraid that if one of their shirts has a loose seam, those breasts are going to burst out like inflatable life rafts. They're nose breakers.

Besides, I don't like mixing breasts and buffalo wings. It's awkward. I generally avoid situations where I might need to say "Excuse me, but could you please get your enormous boobage out of my nachos?"

I did find a few things out about Hooter's, though. Here's something from their website:
Claims that Hooters exploits attractive women are as ridiculous as saying the NFL exploits men who are big and fast. Hooters Girls have the same right to use their natural female sex appeal to earn a living as do super models Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. To Hooters, the women's rights movement is important because it guarantees women have the right to choose their own careers, be it a Supreme Court Justice or Hooters Girl.

Hooters--a vanguard of the women's rights movement. I salute you, sirs. I'm sure there would have been maximum boobage on the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 if there had been a franchise nearby.

I'm not sure if India is ready for Hooter's, but I'm going to do my best to help out. Clearly, there has to be a new name for the Indian market, because the clever double entendre is lost in another language. However, I do have an alternative, one that gets right to the point.

स्तन और कढी.

As far as I can establish, that is Hindi for "Curry and Breasts."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

By the Way

The 'We' in 'We Kill More People Before...' refers to China. I thought that was apparent but maybe it wasn't.

I Pee, You Pee, We All Pee Without Privacy

I'm fighting over a bucket of pee.

That's not some clever middle-management metaphor. It's also not an obscure variation on Dorothy Parker's famous witticism about ducking for apples (listed as an event on a Halloween party invitation she received): "change one letter and it's the story of my life."

No, this is an actual bucket of pee.

"NO NO NO! LET ME DO THAT!" Eli 3.1, in a youthful tribute to the Hunt Brothers, is trying to corner the world's urine market. Whenever he uses his potty seat, he absolutely demands to empty the receptacle himself.

'Receptacle' is a fancy word for 'urine bucket.'

Of course, watching a three-year old carry an open container with liquid is like watching a drunk trying to play the Tip-It game. The container sways back and forth, liquid gold sloshing dangerously near the sides, but his iron grip cannot be broken.

This is all part of the Death of Urinary Privacy Act, where all privacy in regards to elimination is eliminated. As a part of potty training, your business becomes everyone's business, and much to my dismay, vice versa. After a few weeks, you begin peeing like an international jewel thief--in great haste, and on constant lookout for the guards.

Eli 3.1 has also developed his own fantasy version of urinary espionage. When the need strikes, he will shout "I got to potty!" and go racing for the nearest toilet. He will invariably follow this statement with another, which is "Mommy! You come hide behind the shower curtain!"

And, in my favorite part of the story, she usually does.

From Eli 3.1's perspective, it all makes perfect sense. He's still not totally comfortable using the toilet, so he likes to have Gloria nearby in case he needs a little help. He also wants privacy, though, so his Occam's Potty Training Razor is to have Gloria there, but out of sight.

Before you become a parent, you may imagine many things--a photographic expedition to see mountain gorillas, perhaps, or swimming across the English Channel. Perhaps you even envision a career as a South American diplomat. However, one thing I promise that you will not imagine is hiding behind a shower curtain while your child pees.

Parenthood. It's all about the possibilities.

We Kill More People Before 9 a.m. Than Most Countries Do All Day

China executed four people accused of bank fraud.

Here are a few excerpts from the article (
BEIJING - China executed four people, including employees of two of its Big Four state banks, for fraud totaling $15 million, the Xinhua state news agency said on Tuesday, amidst a high-profile campaign against financial crime...

The precise number of people executed in China is a secret. Reports range from 5,000 to 10,000 a year, many for murder, but also for corruption and crimes as minor as bottom-pinching.

Legal experts have called for a "kill fewer, kill carefully" policy for non-violent crimes.

Wow. With those kinds of razor-sharp observations, I guess that's why they're called 'experts.'

I can just imagine the conversation between the serial killer and the bottom-pincher, both awaiting execution. I will, however, spare you the details.

My Homework Was Not Stolen By a One-Armed Man

Slashdot has a link to the most comprehensive map of Springfield I've ever seen, and you can find it here: If you're a fan of the Simpson's, it's nothing short of fantastic.

Vivendi Universal Earnings Announcement.

Synopsis: earnings sucked.

This is no surprise. The only surprise is that they didn't lose MORE than 156 million Euros in their last fiscal quarter.

I know that I've been hammering this theme, but here it comes one more time: the game industry has entered a period of very, very painful consolidation. The industry expanded disproportionately to what could be supported over the long-term, and the shakeout next year will involve many companies closing their doors. The companies that do surive will be forced to reduce their headcount and expenses significantly. I don't expect any of the big publishers, even Electronic Arts, to make money next year.


Take a look at this: That's a satellite image of Ivan, and it makes the most spectacular desktop background I have ever seen.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Worst Album Covers

Thanks to John Catania for sending me a link to the '10 Worst Album Covers of All Time.' I originally saw this mentioned on the Bill Abner/Dan Clark Sportsgamer blog ( and meant to mention it then, but somehow didn't.

Here's the link: And if that's not enough, people sent him a slew of additional possibilities, which are found here: That second link includes my personal favorite, "All My Friends are Dead" by Freddy Gage.

Bose Link

Thanks to Max Weinstein for sending a link to a detailed analysis of the new Bose automobile suspension system, including white paper and Quicktime movies:

What The?

Here's an item that amazed me from the new issue of Sound & Vision Magazine. For the last twenty-four years, a secret project has been underway to revolutionize automobile suspension systems. This revolutionary new system replaces shock absorbers with linear motors linked to a computer. This suspension system has recently been demonstrated for the automotive press and was absolutely stunning in its debut.

The amazing part is the company that has done all this research. Bose. Bose!

And you thought all they did was design and market overpriced speakers. This project was apparently a personal dream of Amar Bose, the founder, and incredibly, after two decades it appears to have been successful.

I'll see if I can dig up some more information for you on this.

Gold and Stuff

Rome: Total War and Tiger Woods 2005 both went gold today and will be in stores next week. Expect a few more gold announcements this week as companies try to jam games into stores before the end of their third fiscal quarters.

Kohan II was also confirmed today as being in stores on September 22.

[Update: Cleverly, I originally typed 'Rome: Total Woods,' which could possibly be some kind of forestry simulation. The brain cramp has been eradicated. For now. ]

Crosby, Stills, and Nash: The East Texas Outtakes

We were driving back from Shreveport on Sunday, traveling through East Texas.

That sentence alone, with both 'Shreveport' and 'East Texas' in the same sentence, is enough to give those of you familiar with both the shivers. As it should.

As fate would have it, we were driving through Malakoff, Texas, a hole in the wall (with apologies to both the hole and the wall) town of the kind that are liberally sprinkled throughout East Texas. There was the mandatory, L-shaped strip mall with six shops that looked like it had been built thirty years ago, but something about this strip mall was different.

It had an electrolysis center.

We immediately began to speculate (we do that) on why a town the size of Malakoff would need an electrolysis 'center.' This led to speculation about East Texas in general and my off-handed comment that "There's a reason there's not a song called Malakoff Express," referring, of course, to Crosby, Stills, and Nash's sonically beautiful 'Marrakesh Express.'

Then I thought--but what if there was?

What if Crosby, Still, and Nash never made it to Marrakesh? What if they never made it further than Malakoff?

And as a disclaimer, I do not know anyone in Malakoff. I'm sure they're fine people. They just had the unfortunate luck of having a name that reminded me of 'Marrakesh.' And that electrolysis center. The people in this song aren't even from Malakoff--they're actually traveling to Malakoff. And as a technical note, 'Big Rig Video and Boutique' is not actually located in Malakoff, but somewhere further southwest.

I think you know what tune this song should be sung to.

Looking at the world through a bleary whisky haze,
Driving the truck at ninety, I feel a little dazed,
Pigs and cows and chickens call,
Carpet of dung wall to wall,
My lady's five feet tall and four feet wide.
We've got a date for somewhere chic
Big Rig Video and Manicure Boutique.
We'll leave right after I shuck this corn
She'll do your nails and I'll pick up a little porn.

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Malakoff Express.
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Malakoff Express,
We go for e-lec-trol-y-sis.
All aboard the truck.
All aboard the truck.

I've been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the creek mud in your hair.
Take the truck from Tyler and be sure you're goin' south,
Truck windshield's busted,
don't get bugs inside your m m m m mouth.
Momma's cotton panties hanging on the line,
Big and white, they sure look fine,
Tried 'em on once, just wish they were mine.
Well, let me hear ya now.

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Malakoff Express,
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Malakoff Express,
We go for e-lec-trol-y-sis.
All aboard the truck,
All aboard the truck,
All aboard!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight

On Sunday morning, that is.

Believe it or not, I'm headed back to Shreveport. That's normally worth three columns right there, but this trip is going to be a short one. Gloria wanted to go for her grandmother's ninetieth birthday, and we're only going to be in Shreveport for one full day (Saturday).

If you're religious, pray for me. If you're pagan, sacrifice a goat or something. If you're neither, use scientific method. I'll take all the help I can get.

We're leaving Thursday afternoon and driving into the middle of nowhere southwest of Fort Worth so that we can go to a wildlife park (Fossil Rim) on Friday morning. Thursday night we're staying at the 'Dinosaur Valley Inn.' Eli 3.1 is all amped up about that. So am I.

The audio blog update is again a possibility, but I'm not going to use it unless I have some very good material. So this will probably be my last post until late Sunday.

Now With 35% More Paprika

From Cole Porter, a biography by William McBrien, about Elsie de Wolfe, who is acknowledged as having basically invented the profession of interior decorating:
"She had...something else that's particularly American--an appreciation of vulgarity. Vulgarity is a very important ingredient in life...a little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika."

If a little bad taste is like a splash of paprika, then I'm a spice rack.

Eli 3.1: The New Behavior

We told Eli 3.1 that if he wanted to go play on the deck, he had to ask for permission first. We have a small deck in the backyard, it's a safe place, and sometimes we let him go out on his own for a few minutes because we can still see him through the living room windows.

He says "Sure. Why not?" This is part of his new hipster lingo.

This morning, he opens the back door, steps outside, walks to one of the windows, and shouts "MOMMY! CAN I GO OUTSIDE?"

Today he was at his Kindermusic class, and at the end of the class the teacher asked each kid what part of their body they'd like to say goodbye with. So they go around the circle and kids are picking hands, feet, mouth, etc.

Not Eli 3.1. The teacher asks him what body part he'd like to say goodbye with and he says "My bottom!"

Stand-up comedian at 3.1. That's my boy.

The Phantom, Aptly Named, or Mr. Hubris Takes a Holiday

I love it when a plan comes together.

Infinium, creators of the much-beleaguered Phantom console (notable less for its commercial than comic potential), filed a 10-Q with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Gamespot has a short story about the'highlights'

I've always been of the opinion that the guys who founded Infinium Labs are pretty good at attracting venture capital and disastrously bad at doing anything successful with it [insert your lawsuit here]. I also said in a previous column that I seriously doubted this console would ever make it to market, and if it did, very few units would ever be sold. However, having production units are a good defense against lawsuits from venture capitalists who feel like their money was pissed away.

Speaking of pissing...

The 10-Q states that Infinium has about 134k in their bank account and has a 'working capital deficiency' of almost four million. Nicely done. They also expect their operating expenses in the next twelve months to be over sixty-eight million dollars.

Does anyone smell toast burning? Because I do.

No worries, though. Infinium also states that they plan to sell about thirty-five million dollars of product in the next twelve-month period.

That's my favorite part.

Let's take a look at that. The console is going to sell for $199 if you don't sign up for the subscription service. If you do sign up for a two-year subscription at $29.95 a month, the console is free. With the subscription, you get access to certain 'basic content' for free. 'Newer games' (whatever that means) will cost $20-40, and a game rental will cost $5 for three days.

There's no explanation for what you do with the console if you don't sign up for the subscription service, since the unit has no disk drive.

That's the most convoluted pricing structure I've ever seen. There's actually no way to figure out what their subscriber base needs to be to generate the revenue they claim they'll generate, which I think is probably the point. Why a two-year subscription? So they can book the full two-year subscription immediately as revenue, I'm willing to bet. Otherwise, booking a one-year subscription for $360 probably would barely offset the cost of the console (that they're giving away with a subscription, remember).

Now look at the 'free console.' The Xbox came out at $299 and it cost Microsoft over $400 to make the unit. This is Microsoft, with huge pricing leverage and enormous production runs. Estimating that the Phantom (allegedly with HD support, remember) could be made for under $300 is very charitable, but I'm all about charity, so let's use that number. So Infinium is well in the red after a customer signs up until at least halfway into their two-year commitment. That doesn't even include overhead related to server infrastructure, support personnel, etc.

There is no way of adding, subtracting, or multiplying, even in the most wildly optimistic and unrealistic scenario, that will generate thirty-five million dollars of revenue in the next twelve months. And given how poorly the services are structured, they'll actually lose money for every dollar in revenue they generate.

Wait a minute. Maybe they can make it up in volume.

Listen, if you guys are having problems building up inventory for the launch, don't bother. Just build fifty or so--that will take you through the busy Christmas season. This console is a dead horse. It's DEAD. You attracted some very greedy industry veterans by giving them some huge amounts of stock options. I hope they kept the certificates, because they'll be wiping their ass with them soon. That's what they'll be worth.

Here's my predicted meltdown scenario for Infinium. Before the console even launches, some of the 'high flying talent' from the gaming industry that they've signed in the last six months will leave. Far fewer games than were promised will be available, and the ones that are available aren't going to be anything near tier one titles. High-definition support is not going to work as promised. They'll announce that initial sales are 'disappointing,' then have some fantastically elaborate excuses as to why. By early next year, at the latest, the plug will get pulled and everyone will have lost their money, except for the dudes that everyone wrote their checks to.

Those guys will have done pretty well.

This is all going to go down pretty fast, no pun intended--most of it will happen before the end of the year. So make some popcorn.

Grey Dog Software

Some of you may have followed the startling implosion of .400 Software Studios in the last few months. I originally heralded the company as an excellent idea, and it was--a company dedicated to sports sims that signed some of the genre's best developers. I truly believed that they were going to be very successful.

From the beginning, though, the company seemed to be plagued by premature releases. Several excellent games were released in such a premature and buggy state that large portions of their potential audience were lost. Then developers started leaving. Shaun Sullivan, developer of PureSim Baseball (and a brilliant talent), was the first to leave. Then one of the company's founders, Joe Stallings, left as well. Then the dam broke. Arlie Rahn, Gary Gorski, and Adam Ryland all left the company. In a brilliant corporate move, the management of .400 Software managed to alienate the talent to such a degree that they have no developers remaining. None.

Last one out, turn out the lights.

Tonight, though, a good idea gets a second chance. Rahn, Gorski, and Ryland have formed a new company called Grey Dog Software. They'll still be doing sports sims, and I hope that these guys, who are all very talented, will be able to succeed where .400 failed.

The press release was written by Tara Clover, formerly the P.R. rep for--.400 Software Studios.

Here's their website: Best of luck, guys.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Twisted Metal, in Dolby

There were quite a few things I wanted to do today: cure cancer, build a life-size replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza, have lunch, then prove the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, and UFO's. Just a normal day for America's least accomplished blogger.

I'll have to do that stuff tomorrow, though, because Burnout 3: Takedown hit my front porch today. I saw some advance reviews that said this game was the shiznit, and for once they were right. This game is absolutely, ridiculously excellent. I've played for almost three hours--and I'm still in crash mode. That's right--all I've done is follow the progression path for creating more and more spectacular, destructive wrecks. In a stroke of sheer genius, once a collision is initiated, you can slow down time and still control your vehicle via 'aftertouch.' So as your vehicle is sailing through the air, you can direct it into loads more vehicles, causing additional carnage. There's also a 'crashbreaker' feature that is activated after a certain number of cars wreck. Crashbreaker allows you to blow up your own car and send it soaring it into the air--where you can then control it with aftertouch to direct it into MORE cars.

Each crash only takes 30-60 seconds from start to finish, so the 'just one more time' disease is totally gripping with this game. Medals are awarded via a points system which measures the destruction by vehicle and bonuses, and there's nothing more fun than replaying one of the scenarios to get the gold. And the scenarios are quite varied as well, so it doesn't get repetitive in the least.

Then there are the online crash features, which are just insane. Two-player cooperative crash mode. Eight player competitive crash mode. It's just a brilliant design.

Oh yeah, I think there's some kind of driving, too. Or something. And skill in causing wrecks is needed to advance in the driving section as well.

Graphics look very good in 480p. Level of polish is very, very high. It's wicked fun for any age from 3.1 to 80.

Don't ask me how I established the lower age limit. And if you hear Eli 3.1 shout "KABOOM!" I know nothing about it. Nothing at all.

Jury Duty: Two Exits, No Waiting

I had jury duty today. It lasted for three minutes.

I had a notebook with me, of course, because I expected to see many antics that would later fill this space. We were dismissed so quickly, though, that I only had time to make one note--a potential response to the question of being fair and impartial: I am absolutely impartial. All my decisions are made by the coin.

Monday, September 06, 2004

SimCity 4

Andy Koch sent me some information about an add-on he's developed for SimCity 4. He explains it better than I can, so here he is (slightly edited):
Maxis' SimCity Scape lets everyone registered play a region cooperatively. People register, and get a city for a term - like 5 days. Then you upload your work back to their server and in this way everyone contributes to the overall region.

Back in January myself and a couple of friends began a project named SimCity Online Region Exchange - or SCORE for short. It does what SimCity Scape does but it's open source - so anyone who can figure out how to setup apache and php can host their own coop region games.

If you'd like more information, go here: .

For Our Friends to the North With All the Extra U's

Happy Labour Day to you as well.

Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to American readers.

Forgotten Fatherland

Worst. Sister. Ever.

That would be Elizabeth Nietzsche, for those of you keeping score at home. I just finished reading "Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elizabeth Nietzsche," a tremendous biography written by Ben Macintyre, and it chronicles the bizarre and evil life of Friedrich Nietzsche's sister.

A virulent anti-Semite, Elizabeth Nietzsche met and married like-minded Bernhard Foster (it was love at first hate) and together they established a German colony in Paraguay--"Nueva Germania." This colony was founded to protect the 'pure spirit' of the German race from.

Cue Bugs Bunny making the circular motion for 'crazy' with his fingers.

It was nasty business, and Elizabeth's anti-Semitism estranged her from her brother, Friedrich, a syphilitic loner who sometimes banged out obscure philosophical tracts read by almost no one. He was not anti-Semitic and wrote her angry letters about her racism. In fact, he railed against anti-Semitism on more than one occasion, writing once that he thought Germany would be better off if the anti-Semites were deported.

Yes, I know what you're thinking. I had no idea, either.

Nietzsche's 'superman' was not national but supra-national, beyond borders and prejudice. So how were his writings used by the Third Reich as intellectual justification for heinous crimes against humanity?

Cue evil sister music.

After Nietzsche went insane but years before his death, his writing started to gain some notoriety in intellectual circles. Never one to miss an opportunity, Elizabeth abandoned the disaster in Paraguay and came back to 'care for her brother.' What she really did was start editing his unpublished work in addition to changing it to better suit her own racist views. She became a darling of the Third Reich, as did her brother's philosophy, albeit it in its bastardized form.

So Friedrich Nietzsche was a loner, emotionally immature, and kind of a loser, but he was not anti-Semitic. He also, apparently, would have been horrified to have been associated with the Nazis.

Ben Macintyre went to Paraguay in the early 1990's to find out of Nueva Germania still existed, and to find out if there were any descendants from the original settlers. There were, and it's an incredible story. It's all incredible, actually, so strange and bizarre that it would be laughable as a work of fiction.

If you're interested at all in philosophy or evil sisters, this book is a great read.

The Greatest Gaming Scene in Movie History.

I happened to see 'Swingers' on Showtime-HD for a few minutes today, and my luck was running very strong, because I got to see what is still one of my favorite movie scenes ever: two guys getting into a fight over EA's NHLPA Hockey '93. The Genesis version, of course, which was a high-water mark for the series for many years. This was before EA had an NHL license, but they did have an agreement with the player's union, so there were real player names but fictional teams.

If you've never seen the movie, it's absolutely worth renting just to see that one scene. I've seen it half a dozen times and it was still so funny that I could hardly stop laughing.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Why You Use

If you want to see what appears to be the WORST online vendor in the history of mankind, check out the reviews here: Their six-month customer satisfaction rating on a scale of 0-10 is 0.25!

I've avoided purchasing from several dodgy vendors in the past because I checked their reseller ratings first, so if you've never used this site, I'd highly recommend checking it out.

That's "Bitch, sir"

Tim Hibbetts sent me an e-mail with that title to let me know that an article about the death of Rick James in a Naval Reserve publication was headlined "Naval Reservist Turned Funk Master Dead at 56."

Sometimes I make stuff up. Sometimes I don't have to.

Locomotion Demo

Just a note to let you know that a demo of Chris Sawyer's new game Locomotion has been released. Find it at the usual suspects: File Planet, 3D Gamers, Computer Games Online (thanks Blue's).

Friday, September 03, 2004


There's a link from Slashdot to an excellent article on Wesley Weber, one of the most successful counterfeiters in Canadian history. It's a fascinating read and it's available here:

Family Dinner

It had been a nice day, not unlike the kind of blue-sky day residents in Pripyat were enjoying on April 26, 1986, the day that engineers at the Chernobyl plant decided to test what would happen if they turned off all the reactor safety mechanisms and created a blackout. They wanted to know if the turbines could still generate enough electricity as they spun down to complete the reactor shutdown procedures.

"I've been thinking," Gloria says.

Core safety test has commenced. All safety controls have been disconnected. Power has been shut off.

"I think we should have more dinners as a family," Gloria says.

Within seconds, the reactor has become totally unstable. The system temperature is soaring out of control. As a desperate attempt to save the reactor, all control rods are lowered into the core in an attempt to shut it down.

"Just some time together, you know, as a family," she says.

Power has surged to one hundred times normal levels. BAM! There is a massive steam explosion and hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel spew into the air.

It's too late to evacuate.

"The Gorgonzolas have dinner as a family every night," Gloria says.

"The Gorgonzolas are Islamic Jews and make their own cheese," I say. I can't quite get my arms around the dietary constraints of Islamic Jews. As far as I can tell, if you eat a bird of prey that consumes shellfish, Hell opens up and swallows you right there. So baked flamingo is absolutely, definitely, out.

Don't even get me started on the cheese.

"Besides," I continue, "Brad Gorgonzola commutes in an oxcart. I don't think they're a good compare."

I'm in deep trouble, though, no matter how Brad Gorgonzola commutes to work. As a family is one of those magical phrases that just can't be refuted because it has italics priority. Normally, if you say the phrase slaughter goats, it would always be italicized. It demands to be italicized. When a woman puts it in a sentence with the phrase as a family, though, it sounds like this: "I think we should slaughter goats as a family."

See? Those words automatically italicize themselves.

Or she might say "Let's bury the body in the landfill--as a family."

Deep, deep trouble I'm in. Family dinners, here I come.

I'm not sure what the term 'family dinner' even means. Up until the time I was about fourteen, it meant having to eat where I couldn't watch TV. After that, when I entered my angry rebel phase, it meant having to eat with The Man, who in this case was The Mom.

In either case, I never understood why anyone wants to talk at dinner. I'm a guy. 'Dinner' involves 'eating.' If I want to be talking, then I'll be 'talking,' not 'eating.' This fine distinction is lost on many members of the fairer sex. My communications at dinner are usually limited to grunts and hand gestures, with an occasional curse thrown in if I drop a fork. Welcome to sparkling conversation dinner theater.

Plus I like to read at dinner. I have for as long as I can remember. I don't know why, but I do know that I really enjoy it. This doesn't go over well with other members of the As A Family Dinner Collective. Which is what we are as we gather for a dinner of, um, food and talking.

"You're reading a magazine," Gloria says.

"I am," I say enthusiastically. "Sports Illustrated. Did you know that Ichiro is batting .507 since July seventh? Is that incredible or what?"

"I thought we would talk," she says.

"We are talking," I say. "Did you not hear what I just said about Ichiro? The guy is a freak!"

"RESCUE SQUAD TEN HEADING TO THE SCENE!" Eli 3.1 loves to be active during dinner, and by 'active' I mean running around at top speed, stopping to grab a bite of food like a marathoner at a water table. Now his talking fire engine has been called into action.

"About our days," Gloria says. I--"

"HISSSSSCRACKLECRACKLEHISSSSSCRACKLECRACKLEHISSSSS." That's the Playskool Yard Crew Grill. Apparently, the sound of grilling is actually the sound of static at overwhelming volume levels.

"Like I was saying," Gloria says. "I--"

"GRILL YA LATER!" All these toys talk. "LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER!"

Okay, the grill didn't actually say that last one.

Eli drives by his little dinner table in his tricycle. "Daddy, daddy, I need to tell you something!"

"What, little man?" I ask him.

"I'm eating at the drive-through! Look--chicken nuggets!" He gathers up a nugget and pedals off.

"CAN YOU FIX MY--FRONT WHEEL?" Scoop the bulldozer has activated himself. No one knows why.

"It's the conversation that I enjoy most," I say.

"Shut up," Gloria says, laughing.

She may have a steak knife hidden behind her back.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Peter Molyneux

Dubious Quality reader 'my Mom' sent in this link to a NY Times profile of Peter Molyneux: . Registration required.

I don't think anyone comes up with more interesting ideas for games than Peter Molyneux. His failures are far better and more interesting than almost anyone else's successes. Most people design inside the envelope. Molyneux never even sees the envelope.

That's why I'm looking forward to Fable (Xbox, September 14), and when it's released I'm sure I'll be discussing it in this space.

More on Evil Genius and Bullfrog

Thanks to Brian Pilnick, Dean Krelic, and Keith Ganey who all wrote in to note that the founder of Elixir Studios, Demis Hassabis, worked with Peter Molyneux. So the Bullfrog 'feel' to the Evil Genius demo is from pedigree, not impersonation.

Keith sent me a link to an RSA profile of Hassabis and here's an excerpt:
Demis Hassabis is used to doing things at an early age. At four he taught himself to play chess; at 12 he was playing chess around the world having become the world’s highest rated chess player for his age; at 13 he took his GCSEs and at 15 his A levels; at 16 he got his first job as the lead programmer for what was then one of Europe’s top computer games companies, Bullfrog Productions, (during which time he co-created Theme Park – a game which went on to sell four million copies world-wide) and following on from gaining a first at Cambridge University in 1997 he set up his own computer games business, Elixir Studios, at 21.

Good grief, what a slacker. Get off your ass and do something, man.

I'm Dead, Bitch!

Rick James, that is.

I had a little scrap of paper to remind me to mention two things about Rick James. That little scrap of paper vanished in the mountain of little scraps of paper on which this column is largely based.

So this is late, but he's still dead.

First, if you haven't seen Chappelle's Show on Comedy Central, it's screamingly funny. There's also a hilarious sketch where Dave Chappelle impersonates Rick James, and his signature line is "I'm Rick James, bitch!" The sketch is based on Charlie Murphy's (Eddie Murphy's brother) relationship with Rick James, and includes segments of an interview Rick James did for the show. It's great stuff.

Second, when Rick James was in Toronto, he formed a band in the mid 1960's called The Mynah Birds. James was still a complete unknown, and he met someone else in Toronto who joined the band. By all accounts, they were dynamite together, and the gigs they played in Toronto are legendary.

In Detroit, they cut a few tracks for Motown, and the first track was days away from commercial release when Rick James was arrested--for being AWOL from the Navy. That ended The Mynah Birds.

And who was that other person Rick James met in Toronto who joined the band?

Neil Young.


ESPN NHL2K5 was released on Tuesday, and I've spending some time with it when I can tear myself away from ESPN NFL. Sega's NHL series, since the release of NHL2K3 (the finest hockey game ever made), has been the gold standard for hockey games. The gameplay engine is mature, and that engine, with the proper slider adjustments, plays a very, very good game of hockey. The A.I. in the NHL series is in a league of its own.

So how is this year's version? After about five hours of play, I'm very, very pleased with this year's version. The A.I. is still solid, the graphics have been upgraded, and the animation and 'feel' of skating is a real pleasure this year. Most importantly, this year marks the death of the super-goalie. For the last two years, the goalies were just inhumanly good--NHL2K3 required individual goalie ratings edits to get the best experience out of the game. Finally, that's over. The ability to have a custom zoom setting for each camera angle is back, which is very good news for those of us who couldn't find an optimal camera to use last year. There is also an expanded and well thought-out set of sliders that allow for very detailed customization of gameplay. The second-to-second intensity is fierce, as it always has been in this series, and it's a real adjustment to come from playing NFL to this game--there are no breaks, no time to relax, no moments when you relax.

Complaints? Very few. I don't like the new face-off camera, because it's elevated to the point where I don't see the dropping of the puck that well. 16x9 support has been added, but for menus and some other items like team logos in some screens, they were just stretched instead of being properly resized, which is disappointing.

The biggest difference between this game and ESPN NFL is the level of polish. The gameplay is honed to a fine point, but everything else would have greatly benefited from another month of development. ESPN NFL is polished to such an extreme degree that ESPN NHL suffers in comparison. It's still tremendous, though, and for $19.99 it is a ridiculous bargain.

I haven't decided yet if there will be a slider project for this game or not. There are a few legends (Waz, Hrudey32) who customarily develop excellent sliders for this series, and I would expect them to continue their fine work this year. So I may wait to see what they come up with. Either way, excellent sliders will be available.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Straight Life

Art Pepper was a musical genius. In the prime of his career, he was one of the two best alto sax players in the world, along with Charlie Parker, and for many people, Pepper was first. He was a musical prodigy, playing with the Benny Carter band at age seventeen and the Stan Kenton band at twenty-two.

Art Pepper was also a psychopath. His life was extraordinarily dark, both due to his own personality and a decades-long heroin addiction.

Pepper's third wife, Laurie, conducted an amazing series of recorded interviews with him and edited them into a remarkable autobiography titled Straight Life. It's mentioned frequently as one of the most compelling autobiographies ever written, and after reading it I think that's a fair evaluation. Pepper's voice is absolutely distinct, and transcribing audio interviews in the Studs Terkel tradition makes the book absolutely distinct as well. I doubt that you have read anything like it. Pepper's own words will make you both admire and despise him, often on the same page. It is riveting reading and totally unforgettable.

If you're curious about his music, I'd recommend Art Pepper + Eleven and Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (where Pepper played with the rhythm section of Miles Davis's band in 1957). 'Musical genius' was not an exaggeration.

Kohan II

Kohan II is gold and will be in stores 'the week of September 21.' It should be a strong candidate for RTS Game of the Year, if the sequel maintains the high quality of the original.

Site Meter