Monday, October 31, 2005

Oblivion Delayed

Here's the news we were all hoping not to hear (from a Take-Two press release):
Take-Two is reducing its fiscal 2005 guidance to reflect several factors...the reduction in first quarter guidance also reflects the movement of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for PC and Xbox 360 from the first quarter to the second quarter.

Oh, hell.

I know that Oblivion is a complex game, and I'm very confident that it will be worth the wait. I don't even mind waiting. It will be missed at the Xbox 360 launch, though, as I think it had far more substance than any of the other launch titles.

Their "second quarter" is February 1 to April 30.

Here's an interesting note on the press release. It came on the last day of their fiscal quarter, and it was preceded this morning by "speculation" that they were a takeover candidate. Here's what Herb Greenberg of Marketwatch had to say:
SAN DIEGO (MarketWatch) -- This is pretty much what you need to know about this market, especially on the last day of a quarter for a company that has a history of controversy: A rumor-mongering service reported that Take-Two Interactive was the subject of takeover speculation.

As word spread, Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO) lifted as much as 8%. After the close, the company itself lowered the boom: That financial results for this year and next will be worse than expected.

That should be no surprise, considering Take-Two has missed earnings and lowered guidance for multiple quarters. The company now expects earnings for the fiscal year ended October 31 to be a range of 53 cents to 56 cents per share, or more than 60% percent lower than the company was touting earlier this year.

Coincidence? Unlikely, at least in my book. So many things Take-Two does (and I don't mean the games themselves) have a whiff of something unseemly about them.

Halloween: Now With Dangerous Lightning

Outstanding weather for the world's largest child Halloween party:
The NWS Storm Prediction Center has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch for portions of Central and eastern Texas. Effective this Monday morning and evening from 1125 am until 600PM CST. Hail to 2 inches in diameter... thunderstorm wind gusts to 70mph... and dangerous lightning are possible in these areas.

I guess I won't be giving out those golf clubs as party favors.

Thin Is In, and Thank You For Being An Amigo

Here's a couple of interesting items from Engadget.

First, an in-wall thin client called Jack-PC. Very interesting, and it has 4 USB connectors, Audio in/out, and a display connector. It's footprint is smaller than the wall plate, and it just plugs in. Pretty amazing and here's the link:

Then there's the really classy item that this column is so well-known for. In this case, it's a Korean panty sterilizer. And it's called "Amigo."

No way. I'm not making this up. Hell, I'd like to be able to make up stuff like this. Here's the link:

Thank goodness. I can't even tell you how many times I've thought I am so tired of manual panty sterilization.

Contest Coming Up

Big contest announcement this week. This one's a killer. I'll have details later in the week and it should actually start early next week.

Read This Weekend

I was fortunate to read some very interesting articles this weekend.

In this post, two articles from The American Heritage of Invention and Technology, which is the single most interesting magazine I've ever read.

First, an article on currency and how its physical characteristics have evolved as a response to counterfeiting ("Illegal Tender"). Here are a few pieces of information:
--the reason that coins have a raised circle stamped around them is a vestige from the days when coins were made of silver or gold. People routinely "clipped" silver or gold from the edge of the coin. When Isaac Newton (master of the Royal Mint) declared in 1704 that the standard weight of a Spanish "piece of eight" should be 17.5 pennyweight (about 27 grams), a New York sea captain noted "not one piece in a hundred weighs so much." The raised circle allowed detection of clipping.

Another technique to counteract clipping was known as "reeding" ( still used with the U.S. dime or quarter), where closely spaced parallel lines are inscribed on the edge).

--The U.S. financed the Revolutionary War with paper currency. The British counterfeited the bills in an attempt to undermine its value. In 1777 in New York City (still British occupied), newspapers offered "counterfeit Congress-Notes for the Price of the Paper per Ream."

Counterfeiting was also heavily used by the Germans in WWII in an attempt to devalue the British pound.

--In 1862 the New York Times estimated that 80 percent of banknotes in circulation were forgeries. Even conservative estimates placed the number at over 30 percent.

--The U.S. government begin issuing paper currency for the first time in 80 years during the Civil War. Portraits were used on the bills because we immediately identify the accuracy of faces with a high degree of precision. The bills used black ink in front and green in the back. That's why they were called "greenbacks."

--The Secret Service, which was founded in 1865, came into existence as an organization to fight counterfeiting.

--The first technology that was widely used to improve the quality of counterfeit currency was photography.

--Today it's estimated that almost 75% of counterfeit American currency is created outside the U.S.

--Counterfeiting is also unfortunately the reason that some color printers include a code in microdots on every printed document that can be used to identify the printer. [Formerly the code was just decipherable by the Secret Service, but I saw an article a few weeks ago that said it had been decrypted externally]

--If you've seen a merchant use a pen to mark incoming bills from customers, it's probably an iodine pen. Iodine turns the starch in regular paper black, but the actual paper used to print official currency has no starch.

--We may have plastic currency at some point in the future. Australia has used plastic currency since 1988.

That's just a small sample of what's in the article. I knew that currency design changed in response to counterfeiters, but I didn't realize it was the dominant reason it changed (and continues to change) until reading this article.

Second, and this is a real doozy, I found out that the U.S. at one time had an atomic cannon.

I know. Those two words surprised me as much as they probably did you.

It was only fired once, as a test, but the Army built a cannon capable of firing an atomic shell called the T-124, a compact version of the Hiroshima bomb.

The size of the cannon was incredible--85 feet long and 85 tons. It was so large that two transporter vehicles had to be used with the cannon on a platform between them. The shell required a 280mm (11-inch) cannon, but the Army had nothing with a muzzle that large, so they built one based on the German "Slim Bertha" 280mm cannon.

That's all bizarre enough, but it gets even stranger. This was during the Korean War, and Eisenhower decided that high-profile nuclear tests would put pressure on the Communists. So they announced these tests and it became a big tourist attraction, incredibly. Las Vegas promoted it as a great vacation idea--come to Vegas and see a nuclear test. Here's a description of some of the advertising:
One brochure featured a man, a woman, two children, and a dog standing beside a station wagon and pointing with glee at a mushroom cloud rising in the background.

Surreal. And you know I'd like to get my hands on one of those brochures.

The atomic cannon test was one of the tests in this series, and it did fire successfully (the propellant charge was 150 pounds) and detonate at the target site. On May 25, 1953.

Twenty of these cannons were made, but none were ever used in battle. And believe it or not, a few are still around. The actual cannon used in the atomic test is at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Another is just outside Fort Riley, Kansas, and a third is on display at the Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland.

The Bitters

Eli 4.2 had a Halloween party at his pre-school this morning.

I saw all the classic archetypes while I was there: Ritalin kid, crying kid, runny nose kid. Most of them, though, seemed really well-adjusted and composed to be so young, which was nice to see.

Even at four, costumes seem to fall into a few broad categories. The little girls (ages 3-6) were either princesses (mostly) or witches. The little boys were superheroes.

Eli? Buzz Lightyear. With Superman pajamas underneath. A superhero underneath a superhero.

Something happened while I was at the school that I wanted to tell you about. This school has enough parking for teachers and 15-20 additional spots for parents dropping off and picking up their children, but there are 70+ kids in the school. That means when they have one of these little party events, there's nowhere to park.

Next door to the school is a photographer who is apparently the Boo Radley of parking. He's very angry about parents parking in his totally empty lot (about six spaces) during special school events. I even saw him on the steps lecturing someone as I was leaving, gesturing with his hands in an angry manner.

It's a great example of how bitterness affects the ability to succeed. This guy is a portrait photographer, if the pictures in his window are any indication. He has a huge untapped market right next door to his business. Instead of arguing with people, he should have opened up his parking lot to the school in exchange for permission to put flyers on the windshields of the cars in both his parking lot and the school lot. Maybe he could have even gotten the teachers to make a short announcement about his willingness to open up the parking lot during special school events, and how he was offering a small discount to families with students attending the school.

In other words, he could have made some money, and it could have turned into more money. It was a perfect business opportunity. Instead, Mr. Bitterman is famous at the school for being an angry jerk. Good job.

I went across the street from the school to a florist and told them that if they'd let me park there for thirty minutes, then I'd buy some flowers when I came back. Which they did, and I did. They made a sale. Gloria got some flowers. I got a parking space.

I told them I'd see them in December for the holiday party.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Postal: The Movie

Man, Uwe Boll is everywhere. He's like a cinematic fungus.

It was announced earlier this week that Boll was teaming up with the micro-brains at Stabbing Ourselves With Scissors to make a Postal movie.

I know. Just the thought of that makes The Exorcist sound like a My Little Pony movie in comparison.

Boll had this to say:
...the movie must be powerful, strange, and so full of the game's political incorrect outrageousness that if we do it correct, we will all probably end up in jail!

Dude, I saw fifteen minutes of House of the Dead. You should already be in jail. You make Ed Wood look like Stanley Kubrick.

Then there was this quote from the Running With Head Wounds team:
Postal has always been about reason and insanity, violence and motivation; Uwe Boll is simply the right guy to bring that vision to the screen.

For once, I agree with them.

Let's review. The reviews, that is.

Here are the review ratings for the three Boll films that are in the Rotten Tomatoes database:
Blackwoods (13% favorable, average rating 3.1 of 10)
House of the Dead (6% favorable, average rating 2.1 of 10)
Alone in the Dark (1% favorable, average rating 1.7 of 10)

Here's my favorite Alone in the Dark movie review excerpt (from Nicholas Schager):
Saying Uwe Boll's Alone in the Dark is better than his 2003 American debut House of the Dead is akin to praising syphilis for not being HIV.

Postal 2 got a 0% review from Computer Gaming World (and that was too high). Here's an excerpt:
Until someone boxes up syphilis and tries to sell it at retail, Postal 2 is the worst product ever foisted upon consumers.

It's a perfect match!

What is This Sony/Microsoft Alternating Post Crap?

I don't know. It just wound up that way today.

DQ reader Mike sent along a link to the new Microsoft online application "Windows Game Advisor." Here's the link:

In theory, it's a decent idea. The application does a one-time scan of your hardware, establishes a system performance rating, and can then tell you whether your machine has the specifications needed to run any of the games in the Game Advisor database. It's not something we need, but there are huge numbers of people out there who are intimidated by the gobbledygook of system specs, and this could enable them to buy and play more PC games, which would be good news for us.

I think this is the kind of initiative that signals Microsoft creeping back into supporting PC gaming, and they've said as much publicly in the last few weeks. Abandoning the platform was a terrible idea, and maybe they've finally realized that there's plenty of profit in PC gaming.

I don't think anyone realized it fully at the time, but the birth of 3-D acceleration and the unbelievable rate of performance increases fragmented the PC gaming market so badly that it still hasn't recovered. PC developers aren't developing for one user base--it's more like fifty separate ones, each with different levels of performance.

I know it sounds like I'm pimping Microsoft today, but I don't care who's making the operating system, the console, or the games. I just want the best platforms and the best games at the lowest possible price. I don't care who makes them.

In other words, I'm a consumer.

More Sony: Online This Time

This is some interesting news (from Joystiq):
SOE President John Smedley has announced that his company will launch, likely in the fall of 2006, a “free” online game, which has no subscription fee whatsoever. The catch, however, likely inspired by Sony’s success with EverQuest’s Station Exchange, is that new content is going to cost you some cash.

I don't know about you, but I really like the à la carte model. It seems like it comes as close to a merit-based revenue model as anything possibly could.

I think this is a tacit admission by Sony that their existing "Station Access" model (access every online game they make for $19.95 a month--the "all-you-can-eat buffet") isn't providing the revenue or profit they need to be successful. I think it's also an admission that Guild Wars has eaten into their subscriber base to a greater degree than they ever expected.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if most online games use this revenue model within the next three years. With the exception of the 500-pound gorilla (currently World of Warcraft), of course, which can do anything it wants to.


I've written about this before, but this week's earnings announcements really drive it home.

--sales $14.74 billion.
--net income $247 million.

Without a one-time gain of $637 million related to a pension fund, they would have lost almost $400 million dollars.

The gaming division's operating profit was $71.1 million.

--sales $9.74 billion.
--net income $3.14 billion.

Those results include a one-time charge of $361 million.

The gaming divisions lost $141 million.

That's why Sony is under so much more pressure right now than Microsoft: the PS3 is critical to Sony's bottom line. It's about the only division making money. It's irrelevant to Microsoft's. It's about the only division not making money.

There's a huge difference in the core profitability of the two companies. Sony is involved with a bunch of ephemeral shit like making movies and music--fickle enterprises at best--and their degree of profitability is unreliable. Microsoft makes an operating system that is the standard for the vast majority of the world's computer users.

Sony makes money. Microsoft prints money.

Would You?

Would you believe me if I told you that Gloria went to see some live music last night, and she took one of her friends from out of town (who I successfully haven't seen in two years), and they managed to push through the crowd to within three rows of the stage, and while the singer was bantering with the audience in-between songs this friend pulled her fake boobie out of her bra and started waving it over her head while shouting the singer's name until he looked at her, at which point he was both terrified and speechless?

Could you possibly believe that?

Well, you should.

I've Already Tried That

Eli 4.2 was not getting ready for pre-school in a timely fashion this morning. He has a deal with Gloria where there are certain tasks he does in the morning, like make his bed, get dressed, brush his teeth, etc. He gets a little prize after he does all these things for a week, and there's a little chart on the refrigerator that he gets to check when he's completed something.

"Now Eli," she said, as I came down the stairs, "You haven't done anything I've asked you this morning. It's time to leave for school and you're still not dressed and your teeth aren't brushed."

Eli, still in his pajamas, pointed a finger at Gloria. "Psew! Psew!" he said.

"And making space laser noises at me is not actually doing something."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

King Kong

I saw an article over at the New York Times about Peter Jackson's King Kong
( --I'm not sure that link will work, what with registration required, etc.).

Here's the short version: it's the long version. The movie is going to be three hours long, and it's roughly 60 million over budget.

Now let me get this straight. This is a movie about an imaginary gorilla. Sure, it's a big-ass gorilla, but it's still an imaginary gorilla. It's a movie about an imaginary gorilla and it's three hours long.

Listen, Peter, I know you're a genius and all that shit, but do you think you might be pushing the envelope a bit when you head into the entirely uncharted territory of the three hour gorilla epic? Orson Welles told the story of Charles Foster Kane in 119 minutes. We need another full hour for a gorilla?

I don't know, my man. That's a lot of damn bananas.

A Force More Powerful

Kotaku has a link to a story on Wired about a game currently in development titled "A Force More Powerful." Here's an excerpt:
For Ivan Marovic, video games are serious business.

As one of the founders of the Serb student-resistance group Otpor ("resistance"), Marovic helped remove former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power. Since then, he has worked with the
International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, or ICNC, helping human rights activists to organize pro-democracy movements.

This year, Marovic and ICNC will add another training tool to their arsenal: a computer game called A Force More Powerful
, which teaches players the strategy of nonviolent conflict.

Created by
BreakAway Games, the game leads players through simulations of real-life events, such as Gandhi's struggle for Indian independence, the civil rights movement in the American South, and Otpor's protests in Serbia.

That is a freaking great idea for a game. Resisting force without using force is a terrific game mechanic, and it immediately casts the player in the role of underdog. And the scenarios include some of the most dramatic moments in world history.

Here's a link to the story:,2101,69372,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_3.

Frank Klepacki

DQ reader Joshua sent me this:
When you mentioned the music to Command and Conquer I just had to send you the link to the guy who created the music for that excellent game:
Frank Klepacki is the name of the composer and he has some outstanding work. You actually can listen to all the C&C music at the bottom of the page.

I took a look at the site and Klepacki composed the soundtrack for thirty-six different PC and console games, including Blade Runner, Dune II, and Earth & Beyond. You can listen to what seems like hundreds of cuts from his soundtracks by going to "music" at the bottom left of his home page and scrolling down to the game title you're interested in. I'm listening to the soundtrack from Blade Runner right now.

Four O'Clock Games

The original Civilization was a four o'clock game.

When I was living by myself, I played games until one or two o'clock in the morning almost every night. For some reason, though, at almost exactly two a.m. I'd crash. I just couldn't stay up any longer (probably because that whole "work" thing was making me get up in the morning).

There were a few games that were so good, though, that I kept playing. I could make it until four a.m.--that was about my absolute limit.

Those were my four o'clock games--the games that were so totally fantastic that I just couldn't stop playing. I knew I needed sleep and I knew work was going to suck and I just didn't care. And I'd do this night after night until I finished the game.

It's a very small list, and it's very eccentric.
--Ultima IV
--Command and Conquer

Each game grabbed me for a different reason.

With Ultima IV, it was exploration. I still remember how blown away I was when I found the balloon or saw my first pirate ship.

With Command and Conquer, it was the music. Somehow the music created this incredible sense of urgency and gave the game a frantic kind of pace. I think it was the best use of music ever in a game up to that time. The game was fantastic, and I would have greatly enjoyed it anyway, but the music somehow put it totally over the top.

With Civilization, it was different. It wasn't one moment, or a single realization--it was a growing sense of awe that a computer could be used in such an incredible way, that anything called a "game" could be so rich and complex. I think it can certainly be argued that Civilization was the best designed game ever up . It wasn't an accident that none of us could stop playing.

Then came the sequels. I played Civ II for a long time. Not quite as fresh, but then it couldn't be. It was still great, even though it was a little familiar.

I don't know what happened with Civ III. I don't think I even played it for five hours. It seemed tired, or maybe I was just tired. Whatever it was, I just didn't feel anything compelling me to play.

I installed Civilization IV yesterday and played for about two hours. It doesn't feel stale or tired. The world is bright and beautiful, the interface is informational without being too intrusive, and there are enough new elements that it feels like a more complex game. I am tremendously impressed.

There are some problems. For starters, there are quite a few people with ATI cards who are having trouble running the game. It's not everyone--I have an ATI card and I'm running it with no problems--but it's not a small number, either.

There was also a packaging problem at Take 2's end. My tech tree poster, which is lovely, is in French. Oops. If you got one in French as well, and you don't speak French, then go here:

I would normally be more annoyed than I am about these problems, but developers have been all over message forums trying to troubleshoot the ATI problem. And they had a link up to get sent the English version of the tech tree within hours. No hoops to jump through, no license keys or any of that crap--just put in your address and get sent the English tech tree. So they've made every effort to address their issues immediately.

I'm looking forward to playing for several hours today. Civ and Shadows of the Colossus are going to take up all of my gaming time for the next several weeks. I'll have detailed impressions after I can get in another ten hours with the game--there's just too much there to be able to do anything but generalize after a few hours.

Oh, and there's one funny note. The tutorial (which also seems to have been rushed, since it ends extremely abruptly) features Sid Meier's head. That's right--Sid's head and part of his upper body are represented, cartoon-style, in a box on the screen. And Sid's voice is actually guiding you through the tutorial. Here's the funny part, though--even though Sid's body has ambient movements, his lips don't. They never move.

So cartoon Sid Meier is, in short, a ventriloquist.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


DQ reader and genuinely all-around-good-guy Scott Ray sent me this link:

It's an article about research being conducted by Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. on vestibular stimulation--electrical stimulation of nerves in your inner ear that govern balance. Here's an excerpt from the reporter who tried out one of their prototype devices:
A special headset was placed on my cranium by my hosts during a recent demonstration at an NTT research center. It sent a very low voltage electric current from the back of my ears through my head - either from left to right or right to left, depending on which way the joystick on a remote-control was moved.

...I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced - mistakenly - that this was the only way to maintain my balance.

The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands.

...It's a mesmerizing sensation similar to being drunk or melting into sleep under the influence of anesthesia. But it's more definitive, as though an invisible hand were reaching inside your brain.

NTT says the feature may be used in video games and amusement park rides, although there are no plans so far for a commercial product.

No, I'd skip the commercial product and go right for world domination.

There are all kinds of funky technologies being researched now that are little pieces of the future of gaming. They're going to coalesce at some point into something so bizarre and incredible that we can't even imagine it yet.

F.E.A.R.: D.O.N.E.

Some more comments about the real-time strategy game F.E.A.R.

Yeah, I know. Saying that Civilization is a real-time strategy game, even in a casual conversation with my wife, is like saying Christians turn toward Mecca five times a day to pray.

Remember that I'm the same person who, after playing Tropico for 100+ hours, called it a real-time strategy game instead of a world simulation or whatever the hell it was. This was one of my favorite games of all time and I couldn't even put it in the right genre.

I have an infinite capacity for mistakes. I prefer to call it unlimited potential.

All right, back to F.E.A.R.

In all the years that I've played games (20+), I have never been so baffled by a game's high review scores.

I made it to Interval eight (out of eleven). So I was approximately two-thirds of the way through the game, and the Ten Steps of F.E.A.R. had not changed.

Yes, it got better. No, it did not get better all the way to "good" or "excellent."

This is one of the most repetitive games I've ever played. Walk, shoot. Walk, shoot. One thousand times. A warehouse, an office building, a dilapidated apartment building. No outdoor environments. The warehouse and office building don't even feel like large spaces--they feel like small spaces copied seven or eight times.

Creativity? Zip. Humor? Well, there are a couple of funny office moments (TPS Reports on desks and a motivational poster titled "Potential," but those moments are few and far between. It's hard to even believe that Monolith developed this game--their trademark sense of wit is completely missing.

Fear? We've got a pine tree in our backyard. It has this gnarly fungus, which is killing it, and this nasty white sap is oozing out of the trunk in a really disgusting manner. Here--I found a picture of what it looks like:
Believe me, that pine tree is scarier than anything I saw in F.E.A.R.

It's also entirely missing the sensation of speed. That was one of the things that Half-Life 2 did very well--there was velocity. You had levels that conveyed an amazing sense of speed. That's one of the biggest problems with F.E.A.R.--pacing is entirely controlled by introducing a few more enemies at key moments. Your speed never changes.

Here's one more question: why is it so hard for developers to understand how to use a freaking flashlight? Doom 3 had the most screwed-up use of a flashlight ever. F.E.A.R. does marginally better, but the flashlight only shines for about thirty seconds, and then the battery is drained. It recharges in a few seconds, but that means some levels consist of pressing "x" about a hundred times to see what's going on. This is supposed to be an elite force--do you think that maybe they would have working flashlights?

Like I said before, the enemy A.I. is generally terrific, and that in itself is entertaining. Some of the weapons are very cool. And if you really enjoy firefights, then this is your game. Five hours of walking and five hours of shooting. That's what you get for your fifty bucks.

If the game gets great in the last three intervals, I don't care. The single player campaign is so short that I'm not willing to wait until the very end of the game to get interested.

Now I am absolutely in the minority of this game as far as reviewers go. Everyone else seems to love it. But the e-mail I'm getting indicates that you guys aren't any more impressed than I was.

I stopped last night because I realized the only reason I was still playing was that I couldn't believe there wasn't some spectacular brilliance right around the corner. I never found any, though, and after seven hours, I'd had enough.

If you're looking for a game to be scary, F.E.A.R. is the worst use of fifty dollars ever. Go buy a used Xbox and a copy of Fatal Frame II. Play it in the dark with headphones on. You won't ever forget it.

Not in This Universe

No, Civilization is not a real-time strategy series. I blame the cold water, although I shouldn't make that mistake even if my core temperature dropped below 90F.

And I'd like to thank the gentle mocking of the Canadians, which enabled me to swim the full mile today.

My copy of Civ IV did just get delivered and I'm about to install.

Canada: Sterner Stuff

I got quite a bit of e-mail on Monday from people who couldn't believe I was swimming in water "that cold."

Sixty-seven degrees is pretty cold, at least in the Southwest. Water can remove heat from your body twenty-five times faster than air (according to the Internet, which is like the Encyclopedia Britannica but with lots of errors), so it feels much colder than the same air temperature. There must be some way to calcuate an equivalency for water versus air temperatures using joules and newtons and other popular snack foods, but I'll leave that work to other people in hopes that I can just Google it someday.

It felt damned cold to me.

I knew, though, that Canada would be coming in at some point. DQ reader Sean Garagan from the Great White North sends this along:
I have to say that I laughed when I saw you were bothered by 67F water for swimming.

Ahh….if only the beaches I swam in as a child were 67F, luxury I tell you! A popular beach here in Nova Scotia, Lawrencetown Beach, is a great spot for going swimming in the waves. You can actually do some pretty good surfing out there when there is a hurricane off the coast. As I remember it, the warmest I remember seeing on the lifeguard’s daily conditions board was 15C (59F).

In Canada, we have a saying: “The water is fine, once you get used to it.” Translation: “Once all the blood drains from your extremities to keep your heart pumping and you lose all feeling towards the cold, you might as well have fun.” I won’t even go into what goes through your mind as you are standing in calm water to mid-thigh, 100’ from shore and you see that one rogue wave headed your way and there is nothing you can do but wait for the inevitable soaking of your nether regions followed by the almost instantaneous retraction of said bits into your body (plus the obligatory screeching like a little schoolgirl).

I would tell you about the winter scuba diving I have done (in a wetsuit at 29F water temp) but I fear the shock might be too much.

I had to put on two extra jackets while I was TYPING this. Man!

Canadians: they're not soft.

Console Gold's New Name Is...

Gaming Trend, and you can find it here:

Okay, it's not quite there yet, but it will be at some point in the next few days. So if you tried to get to Console Gold this morning and it's not there, Gaming Trend is where you need to look.

Today's Water Temperature at the Pool

Sixty-five degrees. It's a go.

I'm going to take the video camera and try to re-enact that scene from Titanic where Leonard DiCaprio turns blue and can't hold on to the iceburg any longer.

Or something. I may not have been paying much attention at that point.

Elephants and Their Dead

From New Scientist:
African elephants have been observed to become highly agitated when they come across the bodies of their own, and they have been seen to pay great attention to the skull and ivory of long-dead elephants. However, this interest had not been tested experimentally.

Now research from a team in the UK and Kenya has demonstrated that African elephants pay a higher level of interest to elephant skulls compared with those of other animals and ivory compared to wood.

It's a very interesting story, even touching, and here's the link:

We Have Different People

"Hey, did we get a Fed Ex this morning?" I asked. I'd just walked in the door from work.

"No," Gloria said. "Were you expecting something?"

"Big game coming out today," I said.

"What is it?"

"Civilization Four," I said. "Civilization is probably the most well-known real-time strategy franchise of all time. This is the new version."

"Oh," she said.

"People are really looking forward to it," I said.

"Uh huh," she said.

"Well, my people are looking forward to it. Your people are probably less interested."

"That's probably right," she said.

"My people are also interested in several big college football games this weekend that your people have absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever."

We have different people. My people play games and are cool. We're cool boomerangs--cool throws us away, but it can't get rid of us. We talk about our doings.

Her people don't play games and are scary. They talk about their feelings.

Man, I break out in shivers just thinking about that.

And they hate sports. My wife has been on a single-minded search for the last two decades to befriend every person in America who has no interest in sports.

I had no idea such people even existed. They don't seem dangerous, though.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005


My friend Frank Taylor sent me a link to a very odd and compelling analysis of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's a Flash presentation with the analysis overlaid on scenes from the film that are reproduced in cartoon fashion. It's very thoughtful as well as extremely unusual, and if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend it for viewing.

I think it's also a testament to the enduring legacy of 2001 that people are still debating what it meant nearly forty years after its initial release.

Here's the link:

For Rosa Parks, Who Kicked Much Ass

DETROIT - Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked the modern civil rights movement, died Monday evening. She was 92.

...Mrs. Parks was 42 when she committed an act of defiance in 1955 that was to change the course of American history and earn her the title “mother of the civil rights movement.”

At that time, Jim Crow laws in place since the post-Civil War Reconstruction required separation of the races in buses, restaurants and public accommodations throughout the South, while legally sanctioned racial discrimination kept blacks out of many jobs and neighborhoods in the North.

The Montgomery, Ala., seamstress, an active member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was riding on a city bus Dec. 1, 1955, when a white man demanded her seat.

Mrs. Parks refused, despite rules requiring blacks to yield their seats to whites. Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same charge, but Mrs. Parks was jailed. She also was fined $14.

Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system organized by a then little-known Baptist minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who later earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

...The Montgomery bus boycott, which came one year after the Supreme Court’s landmark declaration that separate schools for blacks and whites were “inherently unequal,” marked the start of the modern civil rights movement.

Here's a link to the article:

Xbox 360: Get Out the Marketing Tranquilizer Darts

Peter Moore, Corporate VP of world marketing for Microsoft, had an interview with MTV. Here's an excerpt:
...When people first heard of Xbox 360 being tossed around in focus groups, people scoffed at the strange naming scheme. Why not Xbox 2? "We tried Xbox 2. We tried a number of names. Went around the world for four months, and Xbox 2 got a shrug of the shoulder," he says. "Then we explained the Xbox 360 as a living entertainment experience powered by human energy [that] revolves around you and makes you at the center of your experience [and] people were like [snaps fingers] ... 'I get that.'"

I get what? A living entertainment experience powered by human energy? How much dope do you have to smoke before that makes sense? Where did you do this focus survey--in a commune?

Somebody desperately needs to talk these Microsoft honks in from the stupid ledge. They have an excellent piece of hardware, but every time they open their mouths they sound like the biggest, most pretentious phonies ever. It's like the interview J. Allard gave with Edge Online on October 6
about having selling two different console configurations:
Consumers like choice, and it’s a very pro-consumer move on our part to say, ‘We’ve got two configurations of system that’ll be launching in Europe and if they’re not right, we have the flexibility to go and change it’. You buy a TV and it’s not progressive scan, you’re screwed – you made the choice and you can’t upgrade. You buy an iPod Shuffle and you want an iPod Photo, you’re screwed – you can’t upgrade. You bought a Mini Cooper and you want the Turbo, you’re screwed. You buy the Xbox 360 Core system, you can build up to the premium system and you won’t be left out of anything along the way. You can pace into this however you want, unlike any of the traditional categories.

It's, um, two different personal energy hubs of the extreme entertainment experience and stuff! And the Nazis may try to stop us in their Mini Coopers, but they can't catch us! They should have bought the Turbo!

Now if "building up" to the premium system after purchase was going to cost the consumer $100, the same amount as the price delta between the two units, I would agree with him. It won't, though--it's over $200. And without the hard drive, you'll have to buy a memory card ($39.99) or you won't be able to save your progress in anything.

In other words, the "Core" system is cripple-ware. They don't want you to buy it, and they've done everything in their power to make it as unappealing and inconvenient as possible. And if you want to upgrade it later, they'll make sure they shove a pencil up your nose.

It's not about "pace."

How refreshing it would have been to hear J. Allard say "We just couldn't sell the system with the hard drive for $299. It was too expensive and we would be taking too much of a loss."

Damn, telling the truth--that's just crazy talk.

Eli 4.2 Rates Himself

Eli was in his room last night after his bath, and I went up to see him before he went to sleep. He was a little quiet, so I thought maybe he had gotten in trouble with Gloria.

"So how was your bath?" I asked. "Was it okay or were there some behavior issues?"

"No, not MUCH behaviors," he said. "Just a yittle."

Halloween: The Rising Horror

Five years ago, Halloween for us was a bowl filled with candy. Kids knocked on the door, we complimented them on their costumers, jammed some candy into their plastic pumpkins, and off they went.

I was good with that.

Then we had Eli 4.2, although he was Eli 0.01 at birth. His birthday is July 31, and for Halloween that year (Eli 0.3), he put on special pajamas.

Eli 1.3 went as a bat. We found some Halloween yard signs (ghosts and tombstones and such) and put those in the yard. Gloria also hung up some paper skeletons in the windows.

Eli 2.3 went as Captain Feathersword from The Wiggles. That was the year we started a party in the cul-de-sac for all the kids in the playgroup. We put up the signs, hung pumpkin lanters in trees, strung lights around the door, and had refreshments for everyone. Stray kids came by and just hung out for a while. Gloria wore a costume for the first time--she went as a witch. I went as a rested father.

Eli 3.3--a dragon. We put up the signs, hung pumpkin lanters in trees, and strung lights around the door. She carved pumpkins with Eli. She also bought Halloween candles and electric pumpkin lanterns We had the cul-de-sac party for the second year in a row, with refreshments and food and activities, including a little parade. Gloria went as an Asian princess in full kimono.

Last week, I came home from work and there was a ghost in the front yard. The inflatable kind. That's right--an eight foot inflatable ghost, Halloween signs, a scarecrow on a stick, carved pumpkins on the porch, and lights around the front door.

"Our yard's been vandalized," I said. "Someone inflated a ghost and left it as a prank."

"I couldn't help it," she said. "It was so cute."

Inside the house we have three different strands of Halloween lights (Frankenstein heads, skeletons, and pumpkins), ghosts hanging from the ceiling, witches, bats, black cats, and Halloween candles. There's a little tomb with a candle inside hanging from a light in the kitchen. I think she may have dug an actual grave in her study, and I'm pretty sure there's a crypt in the exercise room. There are about forty people coming for the cul-de-sac party, and half the food in the house has masking tape labels with skulls and crossbones drawn on them and the official notification "For the party. Do not eat." Eli 4.3 is going as Buzz Lightyear, and Gloria is going as a space alien chick (think Space Channel 5).

I'm going to get a cup and four pencils and go as a pencil salesman.

Next year, I expect to walk into the house two weeks before Halloween and have Gloria say "Honey, meet Dracula. He'll be staying with us for a few weeks."

"All right," I'll say grudgingly. "But if I see him feeding on anyone, he's gone."

Monday, October 24, 2005

F.E.A.R. (Intervals 1-4 of 11)

Here's one of the URL's that Vivendi has purchased for F.E.A.R.:

Well, you know what it says in Proverbs: Pride goeth before a fall, bitches.

I will freely admit that I haven't finished this game, as you can tell by the title of this post. However, I still feel like I can ask this question: game of what year? The year before computer games were invented?

Because so far F.E.A.R. is, as they say, weak sauce.

Allow me to fully summarize the first three "intervals" (levels) of this game. I call it The Ten Steps of F.E.A.R.:
1. Walk down a corridor.
2. See lights flickering on and off.
3. Hear a radio asking for a report. This complex sound cue is meant to tell you that a soldier is near.
4. Find the soldier.
5. Shoot the solider.
6. Hear the soldier yell "Oh, shit!" and "I need backup!"
7. Shoot more soldiers when they show up.
8. Listen to a phone message. It will say "Where are you guys? I heard an explosion and now I can't reach anyone!"
9. Watch the screen go all red as a person appears in front of you, then disintegrates. Damn, that's some scary shit.
10. Repeat one one thousand times.

It's about as dramatic as watching paint dry. If the developers think this is scary, they should play Fatal Frame II. They'd pee their pants in the first fifteen minutes.

Now does this game do some things very well? Absolutely. The soldier's A.I. is excellent--truly impressive. Bodies react quite impressively to getting shot. And it's fun to watch the huge holes your weapons blast in the wall. It's also very pretty.

The plot so far, though, is straight out of an Id game. That's, um, not good. My favorite moment was after this long, long stretch of The Ten Steps of F.E.A.R. when I'm FINALLY reunited with my team. Do the other two people say something like "Where the HELL have you been?" or "It's a miracle you're alive!" No. They barely even acknowledge my presence until one tells me to get moving and opens a door for me. And then I get sent off on my own to find Mr. Evil. Again.

I could handle that five years ago. I really could. But in 2005, that qualifies as hack work. Poor, poor writing.

Even worse, this is from Monolith! I've never thought that any Monolith game was fun from beginning to end, but I always gave them tremendous credit for being witty and creative. F.E.A.R., though, is unbelievably formulaic in every conceivable way, particularly in level design.
Interval Four does get better, at least marginally. Hooray. I'm over a quarter of the way through the game and it's sucking less. Champagne all around.

Now I fully expect this game to get better--much better. It must be--all those 90% reviews can't be based on the quality of the first three levels. And I plan to keep going to see what the fuss is about. When the single-player campaign clocks in at around ten hours, though, how many hours are left that can be good? Seven?

Grandpa Badass

If you were driving past the swimming pool in your neighborhood today, and it was around 2 p.m., you might have glanced over and seen someone sticking a barbecue thermometer into the pool. Then, you might have asked yourself "Who the hell is that?"

Well, um, me.

It was obviously important. Only something important would make me take a temperature probe and plunge it into the icy waters of the Great White North, otherwise known as "our pool." I only have one more week to swim outdoors before the pool closes until April 1, and I'm going to swim, even though it was only 65 today with a low of 44 this morning.

So after I finished swimming a mile this afternoon, I wondered about the water temperature. It wasn't so cold that I couldn't swim, but it was cold enough that I spent most of the workout fantasizing about all the clothes I would get to put on after a hot shower, and when I say "fantasizing" I'm not talking about a thong.

Let me just give you a few seconds to wash your brain out with soap after that disturbing near-image. Believe me, I'm even more horrified than you are, because I know what I look like.

So here's the sudden conclusion: sixty-seven degrees. That's what the digital probe registered as the water temperature. That doesn't even sound cold, but I promise--it is. It's wetsuit temperature (3/4 length, at least), but I'm not buying one for two weeks in October and two weeks in April.

While I was researching this, I came across an article titled "Wet Suits and Marathon Swimming." It was like stumbling into a dark alley and getting the hell beaten out of you. Now marathon swimmers are the hard core of the hard core--they eat marathon runners for snacks--but it was still pretty eye-opening.

Here are some choice excerpts:
--After a wet-suited swim, for fear of almost certain ridicule from "real" swimmers, don't even think of comparing your effort or your time with those of true (non-wet-suited) Marathon Swimmers who have completed the course.

--Tests in water above 20°C (68°F) showed that some swimmers may prevent a drop in core temperature by wearing a wet suit. Most marathon swimmers, however, would consider 20°C as Warm, if not Hot. Swims during the summer in the English Channel will likely involve a range of temperatures from 12°C to 18°C, while swims in Loch Ness and the Irish Sea will generally encounter water temperatures of 9°C to 11°C during the summer months.

--Chicago native, Ted Erikson, was the second two-way conqueror of the English Channel in 1965, conqueror of the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge in 1967, and with legendary Abdel-Latif Abouf-Heif he was one of only two survivors of the historic 12-person, 60-mile race on Lake Michigan in 1963 from Chicago to Benton Harbor. At 71 years of age, Ted concluded a discussion of wet-suits with the definitive statement:

"If you need help to cross the lake, get in a boat."

One of only two SURVIVORS?

Oh, and by the way--did you see that Farallon Islands mention? That's where the highest concentration of great white sharks in the world hang out for part of the year. It's also a twenty-seven mile swim to San Francisco.

Here's the link:

I felt pretty tough when I got out of the pool today. After reading some of this stuff, allow me to amend that feeling to "soft as melted butter."

Friday, October 21, 2005

360 Kiosk and Wal-Mart

By the way, after Target I dragged Gloria to the scary huge Wal-Mart to see if they had a 360 kiosk set up.

Believe it or not, they did (Super Wal-Mart at Parmer and I-35 in Austin).

So get this. Microsoft does an excellent job getting these kiosks out to Wal-Mart two months before launch. And Wal-Mart is absolutely a terrific choice--they're by far the largest broadline retailer in the country. And they even set up these kiosks with widescreen HD LCD screens. Great, great job.

Oh yeah, except they're running them in the freaking 4:3 aspect ratio instead of 16:9 for widescreen sets! Everything looks slightly stretched, circles look a bit fat, and I'm not convinced they were even displaying 720p since they couldn't get the damn aspect ratio right.

It's incredible, really. Do all the work to get those units to the stores and then set them up with the wrong aspect ratio and quite possibly the wrong display output.

Out on the Town

We went to dinner at Chili's tonight, and they had this craptastic 80's music loop going. Gloria was eating a buffalo chicken salad, and at one point she suddenly started wiping her neck with a napkin. "Great," she said. "I've got sauce all over myself." After a few more passes with the napkin, she said "I can't tell if I got it all."

"Hold on," I said. "I've got some cotton balls in my pocket. I'll throw them at your neck and see if they stick."

Later, I looked up and saw her mouthing the words to a song that was playing. "Are you actually lip-syncing to "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.?" I asked.

"I can't help it," she said.

"You know I have to use that."

After that we went to Target and I saw (I am not making this up) an adult Knight Rider costume for Halloween. It worked--I was scared to death. They also had a Miami Vice costume as well as Magnum, P.I. And, of course, Bo Duke from Dukes of Hazzard.

Then I saw violins on an end cap for ninety-nine dollars. Violins in Target. On a freaking end-cap, no less. We live in a crazy world.

Space Rangers 2 and Windows XP 64-Bit Edition

DQ reader Finn Johansen sent me a note about playing Space Rangers 2 under Windows XP64. It seems that XP64 is not compatible with older versions of Starforce. This means that the version of Starforce used on the Space Rangers 2 DVD won't work.

This sounds like a simple fix. Well, not exactly. Some high-profile games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory still don't work with XP64, because the publishers (in this case, Ubisoft) haven't gone through the process to make their game compatible with the 64-bit compatible version of Starforce.

However, the publishers of Space Rangers 2 (Excalibur), did go through the process. Here's the e-mail Finn received back from Excalibur:
Thanks for buying Space Rangers and sorry for the hassle.

We now have updated files for Space Rangers 2 from StarForce. This should allow StarForce to run on Windows XP 64 Bit Edition. You can download them (8 MB in size) from here:

To use them, if you have not done so, install Space Rangers 2 on to your hard drive:
--extract the files from the downloaded zip file.
--place them in the folder containing Space Rangers 2 (default location:"c:\Program Files\Excalibur Publishing Limited - 1C\Space Rangers 2")

Run the game and follow the on-screen instructions.

You should now be able to play Space Rangers 2.
Best regards
Excalibur Publishing Limited

That's a very nice job of customer service for the PC Game of the Year.

Stubbs the Zombie

Here's an excerpt from Gamespot's Stubbs the Zombie review:
As you progress through the game, you'll earn four special moves. The first is a gaseous blast that stuns everyone around you, making them easy targets. Then you'll get the ability to throw (and regrow) your pancreas. This is done with the L trigger, and a second press causes it to explode, which is handy. It's really a hand grenade that you can use to zombify humans from a distance. You'll also learn how to remove your arm, which plops to the floor and gives you control. You can scoot your arm along on the ground, climb up walls, and hop onto the heads of humans, which possesses them and puts you in control. This lets you use humans to flip switches or use their firearms to eliminate a bunch of other humans by remote. The final power lets you take off your head and bowl it on the ground, which takes out anything it hits and explodes, similar to the pancreas move. Each attack is governed by a meter, and eating brains partially refills all four of them.

You had me at pancreas.

In short: it's short. Only about FIVE HOURS for the single-play campaign, according to Gamespot. Which is too bad, because they also mention how the game is truly funny, looks great, and has outstanding sound effects.

What the?

I think MSNBC could do a much better job grouping headline links. Last night on the front page, I saw this headline:
Vinnifer in bloom? Aniston, Vaughn caught smooching

The second headline below that was this:
Can poultry industry withstand bird flu fears?

High-Definition DVD Format Wars Over

I'm probably calling this early, but it's over. Blu-Ray will be the sole high-definition DVD format. Warner Brothers announced yesterday that they're supporting both formats. So basically it's the world against Toshiba, Microsoft and Intel, and they won't hold out for long.

Here's why I think this is over. One, I don't think there's a single movie studio left that isn't going to support Blu-Ray. The HD-DVD format doesn't have a single studio left that's supporting its format exclusively. Second, and I think this is much more important, take a look at his quote from Toshiba (courtesy of The Inquirer):
Toshiba said that it was understable for Warner Bros to listen to a wide array of opinions and "to continue to make technical evaluations of each format."

Toshiba continued: "We are more than confident this will not affect timely introduction of HD DVD content to the market."

It continued: "Voices from within the Blu-ray camp have recently called for adoption of key features already in HD DVD," including iHD and Mandatory Managed Copy which allows "secure DVD ripping."

When Toshiba says "Voices from within the Blu-ray camp have recently called for adoption of key features already in HD DVD," that's a concession speech. That's laying the groundwork for them to throw in the towel but claim victory because their "key" features were included in the Blu-Ray standard.

I think this will be over by Christmas or soon after. Thank goodness. Having two standards would have been totally idiotic. Hopefully the draconian digital rights management issues will be resolved in more consumer-friendly ways than they have been up to this point.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Good Advice on Friendship

All around the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in fun
POP! Goes the weasel

Well, of course the monkey thought it was all in fun--he didn't explode.

Eli 4.2 has a jack-in-the-box that plays this tune, and while he was turning the handle I was thinking about friends.

"You know," I said, "That monkey sounds like fun. Tearing around, chasing, having a good time. I think I'd like to hang out with the monkey. The weasel, though--not so much."

"That's right!" Eli said.

"So what would you do with the monkey?"

"Hang out!" he said.

"And the weasel?" I asked.

"Just give him a hug and go!"

The OMG Cup

DQ reader Carlos Camacho (okay, he said he was only an occasional reader, but he was extremely courteous) asked me to mention a development contest and I'm glad to do so. Here's his description (from the website):
The OMG (Original Mac Games) Cup is a new game programming contest established by iDevGames, in connection with Freeverse Software, to encourage unique Mac game development. iDevGames is proud to partner with the Mac platform’s leading game developer of original Mac games, Freeverse Software. The challenge of the contest is to create innovative Mac OS X games that emphasize engaging gameplay—in only six weeks! The OMG Cup builds on the success of our smaller contest, “21 Days Later,” and the industry leading annual contest, “uDevGames.”

You can find complete contest details here:

Indigo Prophecy: Impressions

I finished Indigo Prophecy.

Actually, I finished Fahrenheit, because I was playing the import, but with the exception of a deleted sex scene, they’re the same game.

I don’t finish many games. I’m guessing ten percent, and that might be high. At some point, most games become repetitive or boring or just plain stupid. That doesn’t make them failures, necessarily, because I’ve greatly enjoyed some games that I didn’t finish, but it does mean that at some point they were no longer cohesive enough for me to continue playing.

So when I say I finished a game, it means the game has a quality that is lacking in the vast majority. And Indigo Prophecy has a quality.

That’s not to say that it’s a great game. It’s rough-edged and flawed, brilliant one moment and totally exasperating the next. The story is generally so wonderful and entertaining that I kept going, but it was a rough ride.

I will say this, though: it’s a game written by grown-ups for grown-ups. This is some of the most sophisticated storytelling that has ever taken place in a computer game. Yes, there are some clunky moments, and the story borrows liberally from everywhere, but in general the writing is very strong.

The writing also features some unique techniques employed in the telling of the story. You’ll play from the perspective of multiple characters, as you will be both the pursued and the pursuer. It’s very clever and feels very fresh.

It’s not just the writing that's high quality, either—the voice acting is generally outstanding, the soundtrack is first-rate, and the cinematography is excellent.

There are also some fantastic design choices. Selecting from multiple possible actions is accomplished via mouse movement, and it feels very natural. Multiple conversation choices are time-limited, so you must think and respond quickly. You also won’t get a chance to ask everything that’s listed as an option, so you’ll have to make choices about what’s most important. The effect it creates is that conversations feel much more dynamic, and that’s very good game design.

There are two additional ways that Indigo Prophecy distinguishes itself, and they’re both important. First, it avoids the obtuse, pixel-hunting mechanics of traditional adventure games. The puzzles are also logical, and they’re plot driven. You won’t be using a butter churn as part of a sixteen step sequence to trigger a thermonuclear explosion. Again, that makes the story feel more natural and less contrived. That sounds like an easy thing to do, but even the best adventure games seem to have a terribly difficult time with it.

The second distinguishing element is that in Indigo Prophecy, the story is the game. Previously, most of the excellent writing in games has been discreet, lore-driven, static texts that tell the back story of the Land of Something Or Other, but that back story is less important to the game than the game mechanics. In most games, certainly, the game mechanics are the game. In Indigo Prophecy, though, the story is the game, not the mechanics.

And that’s a very, very good thing, because some of the mechanics are awful.

It’s a mind-bending mix, really. Some of the game mechanics are wonderful. Your possible actions are shown via small pictures at the top of the screen, and the mouse movement needed to trigger that action is shown just beneath. It’s unobtrusive and works extremely well. There are also certain actions (like climbing) that are simulated by the mouse (with a left/right rhythm). So the use of the mouse is very thoughtful and sophisticated in a design sense. It’s fantastic.

Then there’s Simon.

Do you remember Simon? It was a toy that was all the rage in 1978. Here’s a picture: Basically, it was a round device with four separate colored panels inside. To play the game, you watched the panels flash in sequence and then touched the panels to duplicate the order.

That’s very close to what you do in Indigo Prophecy. When an “action sequence” is about to begin, you see a “GET READY!” prompt on the screen, two circles are placed on the screen.

They're ugly.

Inside the circles are squares, and each side of the square can light up as a different color. You must press the key (or gamepad button) that corresponds to the flashing color as quickly as possible. You don’t wait until the full sequence has been displayed, but it’s very Simon-esque.

And annoying as hell, certainly.

In addition to the flashing colors, there is audio feedback to let you know if you pressed the correct key within the time limit.

There are several problems with this game mechanic. One, it’s used far too often, and gratuitously. There’s a wonderful anniversary scene with a surprising emotional impact that’s essentially destroyed by using Simon as part of a slow dance. So the atmosphere of the scene, which is fantastic, is utterly ruined. Instead of listening to a perfectly chosen Teddy Pendergrass song, you’re hearing “Boop! Beep! Beep! Boop!” There are also several dramatic sequences near the end of the game with some very intense events, and you’re forced to (quite lazily, actually) hit keys as it unfolds. The problem is that your character isn’t even IN these scenes, and there’s no reason for Simon to intrude.

Two, since it’s real-time, you wind up focusing on the circles and not what’s happening on the screen. Because of that, it tremendously mutes the impact of what’s happening, which is a shame, because there are some powerhouse sequences going on behind the booping and the beeping. And some of these sequences are extremely long--twenty keystrokes or more. It's remarkably tedious.

It’s not just Simon. There are two other ways that action sequences are controlled, and although they’re used much less often, they’re just as annoying. One is simply to push two keys in rhythm as quickly as possible. Track and Field, in other worlds. The other is to keep an indicator between two extremes by pressing either left or right when necessary for balance. Neither one is any more effective, they’re just as contrived, and they ruin the atmosphere in a few key scenes as well.

Sometimes, for a special dose of hell, they mix these mechanics together in the same scene.

It just doesn’t work. And that's surprising, because so many other design decisions in this game work extremely well, even brilliantly.

I understand what the designers were trying to do—make the game as dynamic as possible—but this wasn’t the way to do it. They tried to shoehorn a mechanic into a wide variety of situations, and they failed.

What could they have done instead? That’s a tough question. I think playing Simon up front, then watching what happens in the action sequence based on your Simon performance would have been better. Not seamless or natural, but less intrusive than having it happen during the sequence. So much drama is absolutely wasted through the Simon sequences because you just can't pay attention to the scene.

The ideal way to handle these sequences, at least conceptually, is to use mouse movement without an artificial indicator on the screen—i.e., the character’s own movements cue the player when and how to move the mouse. I know, that’s a very difficult idea to use successfully, but it would have been the one way to not shackle the compelling images with onscreen distractions. And I think it would have been the difference between the 85's this game is averaging in reviews and the 95's it otherwise deserves.

There’s one other thing to mention, and it’s a little late for this, but I wanted to at least mention that this game features one of the biggest plot incongruities I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t ruin anything, but unless I missed something major, it’s completely nonsensical. So if you see something toward the end of the game and go “What the?” I’m right there with you.

I will say this, though, even with my complaints about the game mechanics: this is a game that tried to be different, and it succeeded. It’s compelling, it’s entertaining, and I enjoyed the story so much that I gritted my teeth and fought through the game mechanics. It’s in my Top Ten list for the year (around number five), and I hope it sells well enough to get Quantic Dreams (the developers) more attention, because they deserve to be recognized. They're creative, they take chances, and we need more developers like them.

He Knows What He Knows

We have a famous transvestite in Austin named Leslie. He used to stand out in front of a Randall's grocery store on Lamar Boulevard, protesting some alleged slight that had taken place in the grocery store. He literally picketed almost every day for years.

Don't even think I'm making this up. Just type "Austin tranvestite Leslie" into Google and you'll get page after page of hits. Or just go here for photos:

Just remember Leslie. He gets mentioned later.

Today, Jack Thompson sent an open letter to the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA). Here's an excerpt (from The Inquirer):
In his latest proposal he has asked both the VSDA and the IEMA to come to the table with him rather than necessitate government regulation of their industry.

Oh yeah. They'll be coming to the table with you, Jackie. That's like asking Leslie to chair a grocery store conference.

Here's more:
Thompson also claims that if the industry allows the current opportunity to slip by, there may be no turning back. "Trust me," he says, "I know what I know."

You certainly do, Jack. You certainly do.

Eli 4.2 and the Four Words You Never Want to Hear

I asked Eli 4.2 if anything interesting happened at school yesterday. He said "Well, ALI had something in his EAR, and I'm NOT kidding."

Today, he had a red mark above his mouth, and I asked him what happened. Here are the four words you never want to hear when you ask your kid a question: "Well, some snot dried..."

I/O Brush

DQ reader Daniel D'Avignon-Aubut sent me a link to an amazing piece of technology called the "I/O Brush." Here's a description from the website:
I/O Brush looks like a regular physical paintbrush but has a small video camera with lights and touch sensors embedded inside. Outside of the drawing canvas, the brush can pick up color, texture, and movement of a brushed surface. On the canvas, artists can draw with the special "ink" they just picked up from their immediate environment.

It's absolutely brilliant, and the video will blow your mind. Andy Warhold would have gone wild with this.

Here's the link:

Don't forget the video. It's a jaw-dropper.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Bovine Conspiracy

Another new website has been created by ex-members of the now defunct Gone Gold community. This one is called "The Bovine Conspiracy," and it's both well designed and full of content. Here's the link:

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before, but the Gone Gold community was full of remarkably talented and interesting people, and I consider myself fortunate to have participated.

Ask The Indies

Octopus Overlords has a new feature titled "Ask the Indies," which was described by OO's Chris Key as "an ongoing series of community interviews with indie game developers." That's a terrific idea for a series.

Their first interview is with Derek from Stormcloud Creations, who I've mentioned on multiple occasions in the last year. Here's the link:

Civ IV

You've probably already seen this in fifty other places by now, but just in case you haven't: Civ IV is gold. Shipping on the 25th.

I honestly don't know why IV is going to do anything for me that I, II, and III didn't already do, but I'm buying it just because I have so many good memories of the original and the sequel.

Blitz: The League Impressions

It's great, and it's crap.

There you go. That describes Blitz: The League quite accurately in one sentence. And for me, it's a disappointing sentence.

Here's the thing. The fictional off-field world of Blitz is fun--lots of fun. It's sharply designed, it's edgy, and it's clever. The story line and dialogue are hokey, but everything else (like e-mail challenges, training decisions, pre-game videos, etc.) is exremely well done. It's an interesting, engrossing world.

This is a terrific football game--until you actually have to play football. That's when it crashes like the Hindenburg.

Sure, the game is titled Blitz: The League, but Midway never sold the on-field gameplay as being too much like Blitz. That was good, because I was tired of playing football with Power Rangers. We were all tired. Blitz was fun the first time, because it was something we hadn't seen before, but after that it just seemed stupid.

So the tack they took for marketing this game was that it was "the NFL that the NFL didn't want you to see." Well, that in no way describes the game. The game is the Blitz on-field engine, which is crap, with a storyline and franchise mode grafted on.

Why is the onfield engine crap? Well, it's thirty yards for a first down. Five minute quarters max. Teams go ahead by five with less than a minute left--and kick the extra point instead of going for two. Wild, game-changing plays happen totally at random and with controller slinging frequency. The ball physics are absolutely horrendous. There are more money plays than you could even count. "Bullet time" is your biggest offensive weapon.

In short, it's Blitz. Has it been changed? If it has, the effect is still the same--totally over the top, wildly random gameplay that in no way whatsoever resembles football.

Is it fun? Yes, for a few hours. The gameplay is crap, but the cut scenes during the game and the taunting are actually extraordinarily well done and reasonably authentic. It's a testament to the framework of the game that I wanted to keep playing just to keep progressing in the story. But it wasn't enough.

I didn't want entirely realistic football, and of course I didn't expect it in an eight-on-eight game. But I also didn't expect huge chunks of the old Blitz code to be used, code that should have been buried in the desert next to those E.T. cartridges. I would have been very happy with even somewhat more realistic gameplay, but that's not what we got.

Here's how this game is getting a bunch of 75-80 scores in reviews: onfield gameplay is 55. Off the field it's a 95. Average them.

We Sold It

I set out at lunch today to find Shadow of the Colossus. Ico was so fantastic that I'm willing to pull the PS2 out of mothballs just for this one game.

I pulled into the EB that's about a quarter mile from work.
"Did you guys get Shadow of the Colossus today?"

"Sure did. Do you have a pre-order?"


"Oh! I'm sorry, but we don't have any extra copies left. Somebody came in this morning."


Second EB--about three miles from work. "Sorry, we don't have any extra copies. We sold it."


These stores are getting ONE copy beyond their pre-order totals?

What was particularly annoying about the second EB is that they called and left this lengthy message on the answering machine last week asking if we had any used games we wanted to sell. The clerk was clearly reading from a script, and it was clearly spam. Unbelievable.

So I went to a Gamestop which is about two hundred yards from the second EB. They had over ten extra copies above their pre-order totals.

This may be a temporary issue related to the recent merger, or it may be something else entirely, but based on this admittedly small sample it looks like inventory allocation of new games is significantly higher for Gamestop than it is for EB right now.

360 News

Here are a couple of news items on the Xbox 360. First, the PC version of the 360 controller can now be purchased--I bought one at Best Buy today. How does it feel? Well, excellent. It feels very comfortable in my hands and I don't have to struggle to reach anything. The white and black buttons are now above the left and right trigger and that seems to work fine.

I can't comment on how it plays in games because I haven't used it yet. Yes, I'm such a loser that I actually took it out of the package just to see how it fit in my hands. I'll never live that down.

Second, according to Joystiq, Xbox 360 kiosks are now on display at some local Wal-Marts, with playable demos of Kameo, Call of Duty 2, and King Kong. This appears to be a nationwide rollout, but details are otherwise scarce at this point.

Third, and thanks to DQ reader Dave Kramer for pointing this out, it appears that the 360 is not going to support the transfer of saved games from the original Xbox, even for games that it's backward compatible with. That's just a bad decision. They need to change that. Otherwise it will be known as HAC (half-ass compatibility) mode.

The Future Beyond the Future of Gaming

I wrote this in April:
Here’s the future, and I’ve talked about this before: games will be projected in high-resolution 3-D and will scale to fill whatever size room we can open up for gaming.

I wrote an entire column about that at some point and can’t find it in the archives, but that’s enough to get us started.

What I couldn’t figure out then was: what’s after that? There had to be something beyond high-resolution, scaling 3-D—I just had no idea what it could be.

This weekend, for no known reason, I think I got it. If 3-D gaming is five to ten years away, this is probably twenty, but I do think it’s a reasonable idea.

Here’s what will happen. Imagine a large area—say, sixty yards by forty yards. It’s covered with artificial turf and appropriate field markings. A 3-D image of a football game will be scaled to fill the field. The player (you) will be given a vest that will transmit its location back to the console (and when I say “console,” I mean extremely expensive commercial hardware, not a consumer console). So the player will see the game in front of him in 3-D, scaled to a realistic size, and he can actually be in the game.

There will have to be some kind of feedback (possibly through the vest) to alert him to tackles, the end of plays, etc. And there would be an actual football with sensors inside to transmit the location of the ball.

That means if you wanted to play quarterback, you could step to the line of scrimmage, survey the defense, call an audible (with voice recognition active), fade back, read your progression, and throw to the open receiver. And with sensors in the ball, your virtual receiver could “catch” the ball (which would show up as a virtual ball as soon as he touched it). So you’d have an in-depth intersection of reality and 3-D.

Or maybe this: the player sees his own character (whose movements he completely controls with his own) a few feet in front of him (the distance would be user selectable). That character could be tackled, fumble the ball, etc., and you would see it happen, so no vest feedback would be necessary. You’d become a human gamepad, essentially, and your legs would become the equivalent of an analog stick..

It would work especially well on defense: run to space and make tackles.

It wouldn’t just be for sports games, though. It could be used in other first and third-person games as well. There would be times where you’d need to “reset” the physical space by returning to the front of the area, but otherwise there’s no reason you couldn’t have an FPS game use the same technology. It would be impossible to duplicate all the weapons, at least physically, but the idea of having the character a few feet in front of you would allow you to select weapons via the vest or a handhold controller, and your 3-D character could then use them.

I know what you’re thinking: damn, that’s expensive. And it would be. But how much would somebody pay to play in the Super Bowl, or the World Series? Or play Mafia?

When I propose this as the future, I don’t mean with the same cheesy feedback level that we currently have in feedback-based games, or some crappy plastic football or bat. There would be high-tech, sophisticated devices (like a real baseball bat with inlaid sensors that could be polled to detect motion/velocity) to provide realistic tactile feedback to the player.

I know that sounds like a long way off, and it is. But it’s not impossible, and it will be less impossible every year. And it will be exponentially more immersive than anything anyone has ever experienced before.

Yes, there are gaps in the idea—I know it’s not a fully fleshed out concept. But I think the gaps are more from my lack of having a comprehensive vision than they are real problems.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Jack Thompson Saves the World

You guys are sending me a ton of e-mail about Jack Thompson and why I haven't commented on what's happened with him in the last week.

Well, it's hard to keep up. He does more stupid things before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.

A quick review. Last Thursday, Dr. David Walsh of the National Institute on Media and the Family sent an open letter to Jack Thompson. In part it said this (from GameDaily.Biz):
Even though we have no formal relationship your use of my name and your inclusion of my name in correspondence have created the impression that we condone these tactics. We do not. The result is that our position and reputation as a research based, non-partisan, solution-focused organization has been jeopardized. Consequently, I ask that you cease using the Institute's or my name in any way that would give the impression that we support your efforts.

In other words: get away from me, bitch.

Here's Thompson's response. I'm not quoting the entire shrill, ranting correspondence--just run around shrieking at the top of your lungs for about five minutes to simulate his letter. Here's the most important paragraph, though (full text here--
Liberals, like you, love to label things and then think that the labeling has accomplished something. If that had been the case, then Churchill's calling Hitler a Nazi would have ended the war. But no, people like me had to get into the trenches and stop the Nazis.

"People like me had to get into the trenches and stop the Nazis." Let's review. Jack Thompson has just claimed that people like him stopped the Nazis.

Now, he didn't actually fight in the war, or stop an actual Nazi, or um, do anything, but if it weren't for "people like him" we'd all be goose-stepping to the supermarket.

People like you stopped the Nazis? Dude, I thought people like you became the Nazis. Fear-mongering, censorship, hysteria--it's a match made in heaven. Maybe you can start a branch of science called "gamegenics" where you argue that anyone who makes a violent video game should be killed for the good of the gene pool.

That's all you need to know about Thompson. He is so desperately self-promotional that he'll wrap himself in any imaginary glory he can find.

I'm sure "people like him" invented fire.

Then he wrote "A Modest Proposal" for a video game. He intended to evoke Jonathan Swift--because without people like Jack Thompson, neither Swift's "A Modest Proposal" or "Gulliver's Travels would ever have been written--but he instead kind of peed his pants.

He proposed a $10,000 donation to charity for any video game company that would" create, manufacture, distribute, and sell a video game "that followed an ultra-violent scenario he created involving a father seeking revenge on the videogame industry for publishing games that influenced his son's killer." It was essentially a gigantic piece of self-promotional masturbation, but unlike Swift, he offered compensation.


Plus, here's another problem: when people think you're crazy, they're not expecting satire. Any kind of batshit press release you put out is taken entirely at face value.

That's when Penny Arcade got involved (comic strip):

Here's Tycho's post about that strip:

This week, when several groups actually did create a game based on Thompson's scenario, and he then refused to honor his agreement, Penny Arcade donated $10,000 in Thompson's name to the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, which has raised over six million dollars for charity since its inception.


Now Thompson is like a terrier frantically chasing its own tail as he tries to not look like a self-promoting loser asshole. Which, of course is difficult--when you're people like him.

No Surprise Can Compare

Clearly, I'm in junior high again, because this must be the greatest headline ever:
Nut-cracking gorilla surprises scientists

Oh, I bet they were.

And after my juvenile fart-joke sense of humor subsided, I found out that it was a very interesting article. Here's an excerpt:
GOMA, Congo (AP) -- An infant gorilla in a Congo sanctuary is smashing palm nuts between two rocks to extract oil, surprising and intriguing scientists who say they have much to learn about what gorillas can do -- and about what that says about evolution.

It had been thought that the premeditated use of stones and sticks to accomplish a task like cracking nuts was restricted to humans and the smaller, more agile chimpanzees.

It seems that the more we study gorillas, the more we find out they can do. Here's the link:


I changed my mind about purchasing F.E.A.R., and here's why: even though it's apparently extremely short, at least it's new. It's not 4 or 7 or 9, and I'm going to give them big credit for that. And Vivendi is still releasing first-person games that were originally developed for the PC, which means no worry about a half-ass console port. So I did buy it and I'll be installing it later.


I bought a fishing license last week.

I know--I don't seem like "fishing guy." I'm not, but I was "fishing kid" growing up. We lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, and some of my favorite memories as a kid are wade fishing or fishing from a pier that was about ten minutes from our house. Indian Point pier, it was called, and fishing at night under the lights with live shrimp and a popping cork caught all kinds of fish. The pier owner was this gruff guy named Rudy Mayorga, who would tell you in outraged terms that he absolutely would not help you--right before he helped you. He was a big man in an era before big men, and that made him even more intimidating.

I stayed all night on the pier many times. It was a very small town (7,003) and a different world back then. I found out later from my Mom that gruff Rudy would watch me all night from the bait stand at the foot of the pier to make sure that I was okay.

Here's where you fished on the pier: just after sunset, the best spot was in water only a couple of feet deep, just at the edge of the pier lights. As the night moved, so did the fish, up the pier toward deeper water. That was one of those secrets that only pier veterans knew.

To a large degree, I'm a loner, and I realized this morning as I wrote this that was a loner even then. I was twelve years old, fishing all night on a pier and never feeling lonely. Maybe some people are just born that way.

As I got older I fished less on the pier and more often by wading. The bay was only five minutes from our house, and wade fishing at sunrise on the glassy bay with the sun rising in front of you was one of the most peaceful moments of my teenage years.

I'd like Eli 4.2 to have a chance to be a "fishing kid," too. That's why I'm in a sporting goods store on Friday afternoon, buying a fishing license for myself.

That's when I met Fishing Guy.

"So where are you going to fish?" he asked.

"Oh, there's a little park in Wells Branch that has a big pond," I said. It's five minutes from our house, which means I have a bail out if Eli isn't enjoying himself. And it's beautiful there.

"I've fished in that pond," he said. "No fish there."


"I know of a fishing hole where there are a lot of fish," he said. "I caught ten bass in an hour with live minnows last week, and I caught a catfish that was so big I couldn't get it out of the water."

Oh no.

Here's the thing about fishing, and I'd totally forgotten all about it: the secret fishing hole. Every guy has a secret fishing hole, or every guy knows a guy who knows a place, and every one of these secret fishing holes has more fish than you can imagine.

And secret fishing holes have rules.

Rule #1: You can't get there from here.

"It's at that old YMCA camp on 183," he said. "People think it's closed because of the construction, but what you have to do is go past it north on 183, then turn around and come back south. Then you drive across the construction and there's a road off to the side that winds around the lake."

Rule #2: The fish require a special bait or lure.
"I wouldn't buy those worms," he said. "I used live minnows. You'll just need a minnow bucket and a pump."

Rule #3: It's dangerous.
"There's a railing off to the side of the back road, and that's where you want to fish," he said.

"Good spot?" I asked.

"Can't fall in that way," he say. "It's pretty snakey this time of year."

Rule #4: There's an urban legend in residence.
"I fought that catfish for ten minutes," he said, "and I got him up to the railing, but I couldn't lift him over--it would have snapped my rod in two. I'd like to go back there with bigger tackle and take another crack at him. He was twenty pounds, easy."

I think that describes the secret fishing hole perfectly: you can't get to them, you can't use the bait you already have, and you might die, but there's been a verified sighting of the largest fish in the history of the world. And I'd like to hook a twenty-pound fish, because we have spincast reels and they would spontaneously combust. Eli 4.2 would feel like Captain Ahab.

And I can get an advanced marine biology degree in habitat for live minnows.

So I do the only reasonable thing: thank him profusely for his time, sneak back to the "bait fridge," and buy some damn worms.

The next morning, we head out. Eli 4.2, young fisherman, is very excited. Incredibly, I have a fishing vest that Gloria gave me five years ago as a joke, and I'm wearing it, although somehow I'm guessing that most fishermen don't use one of the pockets to store anti-bacterial wipes.

And we have gear: matching rod and reels, styrofoam container of worms, tackle box, Scooby-Doo portable chair, hand towels. I must be forgetting at least twenty items because we were weighed down like a jungle safari.

The pond is named Mill's Pond and it's beautiful, truly beautiful. It's an enormous pond, surrounded by trees, full of ducks--
[By the way, I just mistyped "ducks" in the most embarrassing way imaginable. Then, because I was already thinking about the remarkable obscenity of it all, I retyped it in the second most embarrassing way possible. I had no idea there were two misspellings of "ducks" that were so spectacularly obscene.]

There were geese, too, and fortunately there's no obscene misspelling of that. They were taking off and landing constantly, which totally fascinated Eli.

In other words, this pond was an absolutely perfect place to fish.

It just wasn't a good place to catch fish. There is no pond within a hundred miles of here where a cork and a worm won't catch fish easily and frequently.

Except this one, of course.

The only word I can think of to describe our corks is stoic. They simply never moved.

We still had a great time. Eli lasted for almost forty-five minutes, which for a four-year old is the adult equivalent of reading The Brothers Karamazov in one sitting, and we stopped at the adjoining park on the way home. It was outstanding, all in all, even though we released twenty-three of twenty-four worms back into the wild.

With great fanfare.

Anyway, I called my brother-in-law, and he has a secret fishing hole, and I pulled it up in the satellite view of Google Maps, and we're going there this Saturday, I think. Sure, it's almost impossible to get there from here, but I hear the fish are huge.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Michael Pachter Weighs In On Madden

DQ Honorary Video Game Analyst Michael Pachter sends this:
I think your analysis of sell through is flawed. Madden launched the same time as last year, sales are up 10% according to NPD, and there are no $20 games out there to suck in value conscious consumers who would otherwise wait till January to buy these games at a discount.

More importantly, the NPD ACTUAL count shows that Madden sales are up 17.8% year-over-year. The NPD (long a bastion of unquestionably flawless data capture) has presumed that LAST YEAR, it captured 62.1221% of Madden sales, but THIS YEAR, it has miraculously improved its capture rate so that it has captured 66.5506% of total sales. Please note that the NPD has not changed the number of retailers it captures.

It appears to me that the NPD has made the simplifying assumption that more people shopped at Wal-Mart last year than did so this year. That is ridiculous. If anything, more people bought Madden at Wal-Mart this year, so the NPD's percentage should have probably gone in the other direction.

The point is that Madden sales are up 17.8%, and discounting hasn't begun.

That's some excellent information on NPD in terms of how they capture and analyze data, and I think Michael's critique is fair: it appears that NPD's numbers, if applied consistently, argue to a higher increase in Madden sales than they reported.

His point about "value conscious consumers" is also interesting. His theory appears to be that NFL2K5 captured a large part of the budget gamer segment last year, which is reasonable, because the game was excellent, it was only $20, AND it was available at that price when it was originally released. In lieu of that $20 competitor this year, Madden will capture those sales when it does get discounted.

One thing I should have mentioned (which Michael doesn't specifically say, but implies) is that comparing Madden sales from last year to this year is not truly an apples-to-apples comparison, at least in the sense of profit. Madden had to discount heavily and early last year because NFL2K5 was selling a stunning number of copies. So there's no question that the average selling price for Madden this year is higher.

This makes me wonder to what degree marketing and exclusive licenses drive game sales. I actually wonder about this across the entire EA sports line. EA is demonstrably not the best game in hockey, college basketball, pro basketball, and soccer, yet their sales are far higher for every product but the NHL game. The only game where they could be considered best where they actually have competition is baseball. So clearly it's not just a product quality comparison.

I know--EA has the best baseball game, and that's the one game where they don't have a license anymore. Life is cruel.

When Concussions Meet Technology

There's a fascinating article online about how three universities (North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma) are participating in a program to study concussions. Here's how it works:
The system works like this: Six tiny sensor chips, called accelerometers, are embedded in the padding of a helmet. They measure the acceleration and deceleration of the head, to determine the location and magnitude of any impact, Guskiewicz said.

A small radio imbedded in the helmet sends the information to a sideline unit, where a laptop computer analyzes and saves the data.

That's some amazing technology. If a player has symptoms of a concussion, their hit data can be pulled up in real-time for review.

Concussions can occur with forces higher than 80 Gs, according to the article, and about 1.7% of the hits recorded at North Carolina have exceeded that threshold (though only rarely causing a concussion).

I think this technology or something like it will be mandatory in the NFL within ten years.

It's an interesting article, from both the science and sports angles, and here's the link:

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