Thursday, November 30, 2006

EA Buys Headgate and More

I ride EA quite often, because, well, they suck quite often. However, I saw something tonight that's a pretty inspired move on their part.

Here's an excerpt from the press release over at Gamespot:
The company announced that it has bought Headgate Studios, the developer of the last six PC installments in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise and Madden NFL 07. Now the shop, redubbed EA Salt Lake, will "focus on development for the Nintendo Wii."

So EA buys the creator of mouse swing, which was one of the best innovations in gaming history, and they're going to dedicate them to developing for the Wii, which has a motion-sensing controller.

That is absolutely the right idea.

Speed Bandits Update

This just in from Joakim Hellstrand:
Hate to break it to you, man, but the Topless Speedlimit girls in Denmark thing is actually fake. The Danish Road Council made that fake news report themselves, and got a bunch of actors to act out an "American" news segment. It's basically a campaign to get people to slow down and respect the speed limit. With the amount of coverage it's gotten, I'd say it's been a success, although I guess that doesn't mean people are slowing down.

I'm not saying it couldn't happen, we're very laid back in Scandinavia :), but this particular instance is actually not true.


I'd never heard of accoustic levitation, but it's apparently possible to levitate objects (and small creatures) using accoustic fields. Pretty fascinating stuff, and you can read about it here.

I mentioned the Antikythera Mechanism a while back, and Sirius sent in a link to an in-depth article. And there will be a presentation at an international conference in Greece either tomorrow or Friday. Very interesting reading, and it's here, along with a second article here.

DQ reader Darren Love has a blog (mostly about MMO's) called The Common Sense Gamer and you can read it here. He's writing regularly and he's interesting.

Gwon Chang sends along a link to a blog of a cross-country road trip. It's inspired and very funny, and you can read it here.

From Todd Strobl, a link to an excelllent animated short titled "Rockfish." It's a terrific short and you can see it here.

Brian Witte sent in a link to a study about déjà vu. Here's an excerpt:
A blind man suffering déjà vu. It sounds like a contradiction in terms – but the first case study of its kind has turned the whole theory of déjà vu on its head.

Traditionally it was thought images from one eye were delayed, arriving in the brain microseconds after images from the other eye – causing a sensation that something was being seen for the second time.

But University of Leeds researchers report for the first time the case of a blind person experiencing déjà vu through smell, hearing and touch.

You can read about it here.

NSFW Warning: Todd Strobl sent in a hilarious link to a news story about a new speeding control program in Denmark called "Speed Bandits." The reason the clips is NSFW is because in their efforts to slow down traffic, the police department has hired beautiful woman to hold up speed limit signs--while topless.

You've just gotta love Denmark--that's all I can say. Here's the clip, and unless you work at a very, very relaxed company, it is definitely not safe for work.

More From the Van

From DQ reader Eduardo X:
My sister has those same damn speakers sitting unused in her living room. I think her husband got them for $200, though.

Wikipedia has a whole damn page dedicated to that scam:

I am almost sure there are marketing schools where people learn to scam folks with the speakers.

Lots of interesting stuff in that Wiki, by the way.

Also, from Chuck, who let me know that this scam has extended way beyond the U.S.:
I really laughed out loud when I read the Speakers & Vans stories - I didn't know that this was an international scam.

I don't know why, but I'm the only guy I know who was approached by these mobile HiFi mobsters four times within a few weeks in three different German cities!

During the third time it happened I was a District Attorney and were on my way home when the van stopped with this great offer. The guys left very fast after I told them I was highly interested: "Great - new speakers! Exactly what we need for the DA office - can you deliver them directly into the office?"

The fourth time I was in a rush, so when the van stopped next to me and the guy was about to start talking to me, I was faster and told him "I'm not interested in buying any speakers from you." He was speechless, closed the window and drove away, disappointed.

Crazy Ken

From Bloomberg (thanks Chris Mitchell and Kwadwo Burgee):
Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Ken Kutaragi, the developer of Sony Corp.'s PlayStation game console, stepped aside from day-to-day management of the unit after production delays forced the company to slash shipment targets.

Kaz Hirai, head of the U.S. game division, will take over as president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., the Tokyo-based company said in a statement today. Kutaragi, 56, will become chairman of the unit.

There's Sony's comment on how well they think the PS3 strategy has been executed. Kutaragi is being retained as "chairman," but it's a demotion, and he's lost a significant portion of his power.

I'm not sure if this is Sony's reaction to what the rest of us already know, or if there's additional bad news coming that hasn't been disclosed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Little More

I had a long second post written up about the Mathews study and decided it was too long to be precise about anything. I did want to clarify a few things from the previous post, though.

First off, and I've said this many times, I think there is a serious discussion to be had about violent media in this country--games, films, and music. I've also consistently said, though, that the people actually driving this discussion right now are the wrong people.

Do games that portray violence contribute to violent behavior? I don't know. I don't have a religious belief on the issue, so to speak. My objection is to the enormous amount of crap data that 's distorted and manipulated to "prove" all kinds of outrageous claims about the "dangers" of video games. Most of the people making these claims are people who are trying to personally profit from the situation--politicians, Jack Thompson, and in some cases, scientific researchers who need to attract funding for their next study.

Please note that I am not saying I believe Vincent Mathews is trying to personally profit from this situation. What I am saying, though, is that a study he released in 2004 that you can see here (again tied to the notion that exposure to media violence "may be associated with alterations in brain function") has an interesting sponsor.

If you go to that link, scroll down to the bottom. See that last sentence?
The research was funded by the Center for Successful Parenting.

Hmm. That looks interesting. Let me go check out their website. Oh, that's a nice quote in the center of the page:
"Video violence is harming our kids. Your child may already be gamewashed."

Let's take a look at their mission statement:
Founded in 1998, The Center for Successful Parenting, a 501(c)(3) organization, is committed to make the nation aware of the negative effects violent media has on children and to move the nation to action.

America's culture used to protect our children. Today they live in a society that glorifies violence. If they don't become conditioned to commit violence themselves, they live in fear of violent acts by others.

Our vision is to move parents, leaders in health, business, education, public safety and other disciplines to action in changing our culture to protect children from media violence in all formats.

Well, it certainly sounds like they haven't made their minds up or anything. I'm glad they funded research, and I'm sure they'll continue to fund it if the conclusions aren't to their liking, because I'm sure they're 100% committed to finding out the truth about this issue.

See what I mean?

I wonder who funded this latest study. And I wonder why Newsweek wasn't bright enough to ask that question.

Oh, and when I asked why he didn't use 666 subjects--well, it's because video games must be the devil, right? So I thought that would be the most appropriate sample size to use.

The Stupid Wagon: All Aboard!

Well, a groundbreaking study about "violent" video games and teenagers has come out. Here's it's stunning conclusion:
Now, a new brain-imaging study from Indiana University—the first of its kind—suggests that playing violent videogames may indeed change the way a person feels and acts. In the study, released Tuesday at the at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, researchers found that teenagers who played a violent video game exhibited increased activity in a part of the brain that governs emotional arousal. The same teens showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain involved in focus, inhibition and concentration.

Wow. That's pretty dramatic for a study that actually contributed absolutely nothing to what we know.

This is just sad, really. Let me walk you through how totally mangled this all has gotten, because the Newsweek article that discusses the study and interviews the study's author is a perfect example of how stupid this debate has become. And just like with Jack Thompson, the way to stop the stupid wagon in its tracks with these people is to be meticulous and accurate.

First off, if you didn't read the article, here's a very important excerpt:
NEWSWEEK: Do you think it could be a permanent change that would last longer than 30 minutes?
Dr. Vincent P. Mathews: We didn’t look at that in this study. We’d like to look at the duration of the effect and potential reversibility.

Oh. So you didn't look at how long this "effect" actually lasts? So how exactly does Newsweek conclude that games "may indeed change the way a person feels and acts"? So is feeling different while you're playing a game actually a problem? Isn't that kind of the point of playing games to start with?

Maybe the connection is here:
NEWSWEEK: Do you think playing violent videogames makes teens more likely to commit violent acts?
Dr. Vincent P. Mathews: That would be the speculation. Our study is looking at brain function. There have been several other psychology studies, dating back to the ‘70s, that have evaluated behavior after exposure to violent media. Adolescents and young adults show increased aggressive behavior.

Oh, so THIS study didn't show any connection, but "other" studies have? Funny, to the best of my knowledge there's no consensus on that. Some studies do show a connection, but others don't.

Well, maybe there's a link here:
NEWSWEEK: Do you think violent TV shows and movies would have the same effect—or is there something unique about the interactive feature of videogames?
Dr. Vincent P. Mathews: ...There may be some differences. It depends on the experience. Maybe it’s easier with a videogame to develop this emotional arousal than with a TV or movie...There was a study published in the past year by John Murray at Kansas State University. He had children watch violent and nonviolent TV shows, and he showed that while watching violent TV there was emotional arousal.

Okay, so again this is someone else's study, and it wasn't violent behavior--it was "emotional arousal."

Let's look at how Dr. Vincent P. Mathews, professor of radiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, conducted this study.
The study randomly assigned 44 physically and psychologically normal 13- to 17-year-old boys and girls (with boys outnumbering girls more than two-to-one) to two groups. One group played a violent war-time videogame for a half hour while the other played a nonviolent, car-chase video game. Researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the kids’ brains.

44 people? What, were 666 not available? That seems kind of thin in terms of sample size, doesn't it? And they played a game for thirty minutes and conclusions are being drawn?

Hey, wait a minute, Dr. Mathews. Your name sounds familiar. Haven't you ridden the publicity pony before? Here, take a look at this (from 2002):
The brain activity of aggressive adolescents diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) is different from that of other adolescents when both groups viewed violent video games, as demonstrated by the study. Brain function was measured by functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans.

"Initial evidence from the study demonstrates that adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders have different frontal lobe activation patterns than teens without the disorder," said principal investigator Vincent P. Mathews, M.D., professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology at the IU School of Medicine. "In other words, fMRI scans show less brain activity in the frontal lobe while the youths with DBD watch violent video games. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making and behavior control, as well as attention and a variety of other cognitive functions."

"This is the first evidence that adolescents with aggressive, disruptive behavior disorders have brain activation patterns that are different from non-aggressive adolescents while watching video games," said William G. Kronenberger, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and a co-investigator on the study.

Disruptive behavior disorders are separated into two behavioral disorders, one characterized by persistent rule breaking and resistance to the limits of authority. The other consists of significant violations of the basic rights of others and includes such actions as destruction of property, theft, truancy, human or animal cruelty and fire-setting. This study does not differentiate between the two.

Wait a minute. So in 2002, you were using fMRI and concluded that teenagers with "disruptive behavior disorder" had different "brain activation patterns" while watching a violent video game than "non-aggressive" teenagers?

Note what Kronenberger, the "co-investigator", seems to be implying. He doesn't seem to have any concern at all for how teenagers without DBD react to violent games or films. It's only the subjects with DBD that are being addressed.

That's without even mentioning that it seems very, very strange to put arsonists and animal abusers into the same group as the kid who gives the finger to the principal.

Wait, there's more:
The researchers also found that among subgroups of the non-aggressive adolescents there were differences in brain function dependent upon the amount of violent media exposure that they reported experiencing on television and in video games during the past year.

"There appears to be a difference in the way the brain responds depending on the amount of past violent media exposure through video games, movies and television," Dr. Mathews explained. "These early findings confirm there is a difference in the brain activation patterns of youths with DBD and those without when exposed to a specific stimulus. There also may be a relationship between violent media exposure and brain activity in normal subjects."

There appears to be? There also may be? These early findings? What happened to the "later" findings? Why don't those seem to be available anywhere?

So this was a big deal in 2002, and it took him four years to perform another study with 44 subjects? And the study consisted of playing a game for half an hour, then having a one-hour MRI? That took four years?

Look, this appears for all the world to be another guy who wants some headlines and wants some "research" funded to reach a pre-determined conclusion. It would have been very easy to have the subjects either come back later in the day for a second MRI (after being instructed not to play video games or watch movies in the meantime), or even come back the next day. Either they did that, and there was zero carryover, or they didn't want to do it because they knew the "effects" don't last.

But that information wouldn't make headlines, would it?

Here's the thing, and I've said it before: one thing that people aren't doing while they're playing video games is committing crimes. They're not punching someone in the face. They're not breaking into someone's house. They're not out driving around town for hours, looking for trouble. People are trying to create this monster in terms of what "violent" video games can do your brain, but the juvenile crime statistics directly contradict what they so desperately want to prove.

I'm not advocating that children should be playing violent video games--I've never said anything even remotely like that. But people trying to turn video games into the Great Satan are discrediting themselves with their methods.

There Were No Survivors

Eli 5.3 and I were sitting on the patio at Bear Rock. He'd brought a plastic triceratops and a little truck with him, and they were sitting on the table.

"Dad, do you want me to tell you the story of how this truck got crushed?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

Here's what he told me (complete with character voices):
The truck was just driving along.

"Did you know we're in the Cretaceous period?"

"Why, no, I didn't know that."

"That means we've traveled sixty-seven million years."

"I guess that means we'll see some dinosaurs."

"I don't see any dinosaurs. Say, are you making that thumping sound with your feet?"

"No, I'm not making a thumping---ARRRGHHHHH!"

As you could have guessed, there were no survivors.

Early in the afternoon, Gloria had dumped some clothes out of the dryer onto the big red chair in the living room. Eli immediately lined up and prepared to take a running jump.

"Oh, no you don't," Gloria said. "You're not going to jump into those clean clothes with your dirty clothes on from the park."

Eli stopped and stood there for a few seconds with his hand under his chin. "Well, then," he said, "I'll just--TAKE THEM OFF!" and he started stripping right there.

"Loophole for the win," I said.

He stripped down to his underwear and started his preparations. First, he punched his fists up in the air. Then he pounded on his chest like Tarzan. Then he did the butt dance (described in a previous post some months back). Then he sprinted in place for a few seconds. Then he leaned back like an Olympic broad jumper, paused, and took off.

In case you're wondering, the chair was eight feet way.

He took two big steps and leaped. The preparation took thirty seconds. The run plus leap took two.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Future Nobel Prize winner Brian Pilnick mentioned via e-mail that Wikipedia has an excellent entry for synaesthesia and you can read it here--it's very thorough and very interesting.

Here's an additional note from Brian:
I had been reading a little bit about this since I found out recently one of my good friends is color synesthetic with any sound. I've talked with him about it and its really incredible. You can go up to him and ask him what color your voice is. Also, since he can 'see' as well as hear your voice, he can more easily tell changes in your tone so he is very good at telling when people he knows are lying or in a mood etc. My voice apparently turns more blue when I talk to my girlfriend. He describes the color as appearing just outside his peripheral vision, as if he "could see it if he turned his head fast enough." It's all very interesting and music is a completely different experience for him than the rest of us.


I really want to have already posted 1701 A.D., The Guild 2, and College Hoops 2K7 (360) impressions, but they've all run headfirst into NAFM syndrome.

NAMF: Not As Much Fun.

None of these games are even remotely as much fun as Guitar Hero 2 or Wii Sports. It's not even close. So until one of those two games drops in the fun factor (Guitar Hero 2's not dropping--I guarantee it), it's going to be hard for me to get much time in on the other three.

That's a good problem to have, actually.

Oh, and "Jessica" in Guitar Hero 2 is my favorite song of either game, at least on Hard difficulty (haven't tried Expert yet). It's just spectacularly fun to play, and I'm spending most of my time now trying just to master that one song because I like it so much.

Because Usually

I'm having some tests on my stomach today (about four hours worth), as well as a colonoscopy on Friday.


We were discussing when we were going to Shreveport for our holiday trip.


Originally, we were leaving this coming Saturday, which, as it turns out, is the day after the colonoscopy. So this is how week would look: four hours of tests on Tuesday, colonoscopy on Friday, then a six-hour drive to Shreveport on Saturday.

"I'm worried about leaving the day after," Gloria said. "If there are any complications, I don't want to be in the middle of nowhere."

"I was just going to say let's go anyway, but then I read about what those complications actually are," I said.

"So did I," she said.

"I don't want to be three hours into a six hour drive and say 'Hey, my ass is bleeding,' " I said.

"I know," Gloria said, "Because usually, your ass doesn't start bleeding until we actually get to Shreveport."

Attach Rate and the 360

I've gotten quite a few e-mails from you guys about this article. Here's an excerpt:
The latest issue of Jason Kraft and Chris Kwak's 'Video Game Journal' for the Susquehanna Financial Group examines the software attach rate for the Xbox 360, and explores why such an “alarmingly high” rate may not bode well for Microsoft's next-generation console.

Specifically, the report cites the recently announced Xbox 360 attach rate of around five games per console sold as confirmed by Microsoft in October, a number that was up from the roughly four games per console attach rate announced by the company at the console's launch in 2005.

While traditionally a growth in attach rate is considered to be a positive, the report suggests that such an increase could mean that even though Xbox 360 software continues to enjoy brisk sales, the hardware itself has not seen similar increases in consumer demand. In fact, it concludes: “We believe the unusually high attach rate on the 360 is a sign of an increasingly unhealthy console growth rate, and should be worrisome to publishers and investors.”

...The report further adds that the Xbox 360's high software attach rate is “a damning commentary on the limited hardware installed base, most of whom are hard-core gamers.” The analysts add that what is actually needed by Microsoft for its latest console, as well as by third party software publishers, is “quicker adoption of hardware and a rapidly growing installed base on which to sell progressively more game units,” rather than just more games sold per existing Xbox 360 owner.

Now before I say anything else about this, let me say up front that I like these guys. They actually send me their weekly report, even though I'm not in the industry in any capacity, which I very much appreciate.

Having said that, it's important for them to get coverage. Analysts have to get coverage of what they say or it doesn't really matter much, and it's not good for business. That's true of all analysts, not just these guys. And in this particular case, I don't think there's anything to support their conclusion. There are times when someone can try so hard to be clever that they wind up being not clever at all, and I think that's what's happened this time.

In this case, the clever part is trying to tie attach rates to the future of a console, when the bog-standard, totally obvious way to do it is to look at monthy unit sales. Instead, the path to using attach rates to measure the health of a console is incredibly convoluted. If a console has a robust selection of games, and no pack-in, then the attach rate should be higher.

Only hardcore gamers have purchased the 360? Seven and a half million of them? Remember, Microsoft has built this installed base in twelve months with a price that's $100 above the initial price point of the previous generations ($299).

If any single statement is true about gaming consoles, it's this: unit price drives sales. This has always been true, and it's been true for every single console ever introduced. Even bad consoles have sold better when the price was reduced.

Microsoft's had a year to lower their manufacturing costs, there's been recent speculation that they actually turn a profit on the $399 units now, and they can, over the next four years (at most), lower the price in $50 increments until they hit $199. Maybe less.

Will that attract a wider audience? Of course.

I fail to see how selling over seven million units in twelve months could be considered a failure. If you want to look for weakness, look after the holiday season--if the 360 didn't sell well in November and December, when hardware sales can equal sales of the rest of the year, then they have a problem. I've seen nothing to indicate that's happening, though.

Here's a tangent not related to Chris and Jason's article.

I've written at length about how the Wii is going to win this generation, even though no one believes me quite yet. But the 360 appears, by all data I see, to be very healthy and doing very well. So when analysts suddenly get religion and forecase the Wii to "win" the unit war, don't think it means anything, because it doesn't. That was always going to happen. That's not new information. Microsoft can be very successful in second place.

And that's where they'll be, unless Sony figures out what's happening and drops the price of the PS3 by $150-$200 in the next twelve months. In that case, all bets are off.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wii Update

I've seen enough videos of controllers slipping out of the hands of insane people, snapping the retaining loop, and flying into walls (or televisions--argh). Clearly, Nintendo underestimated how much people would get into playing these games. So I added a small loop of 30 lb. test fishing line to each controller and that potential disaster no longer exists. Now I don't have to worry about Eli 5.3 and his spectacular gyrations. Or mine.

Wii Sports has been very underrated, I believe. We spend far more time with this game than with anything else, because you can use the real-world movements for the games. And it is ridiculously fun.

Three possibilities come up right away. One, someone could make an absolutely killer golf game, because the sensor's degree of accuracy seems to be very, very high. Two, same thing with boxing. Playing a boxing game where your onscreen character moves its upper body in response to yours is spectacular.

Third, and I think this is just dead-solid obvious, where is Wii Fitness? Has there ever been a more obvious game to develop? And if you don't think moving a controller around can get you in shape, just wait until you get one. The more you get into the game, the harder you work, and if they design the game properly, it would be a blast.

Actually, here's the fourth possibility: a decathlon game. Every event in the decathlon is basically a mini-game, anyway, and it would be a perfect use for the controller. And the decathlon points scoring system for each event would provide an overall structure to the mini-games. That's even an easy Olympics tie-in.

Here's one other thing Nintendo didn't do well: support the aspect ratio of 16:9 sets properly. On my screen, the image doesn't quite extend to fill the full screen (it's about 1/2" inch off). And it varies by game--Super Monkey Ball, for example, is far worse than that. Since many people use mulitple input sources through a switch box to a single output, there should be a screen adjustment option at the console level. As far as I can tell, though, there's not.

I heard some crazy stories about the length of time people were waiting in line to get Wii's this weekend. Four hours, six hours--it's amazing, given how many systems they seem to be shipping.

So we've all flipped over the Wii. Nintendo has huge momentum right now. For them to keep it, they need to make sure that there aren't a long list of games released for the console that are basically shovelware. That's the big risk right now, and if Nintendo doesn't have an effective quality control program, they may still blow it.

PS3/Wii Auctions, Etc.

Here's a short update on PS3 auctions. On Friday, I checked eBay and saw auctions seemingly stabilizing in the $900-$950 range. On Saturday, they seemed to be drifting even lower, but today it seems like the $900-$950 range is prevalent. Some auctions are higher, but they usually include additional games or free shipping.

That stabilizing auction price needs also to be considered in the context of rapidly shrinking supply. This isn't an absolute measure (for obvious reasons), but just searching on "Sony PS3" at eBay produces the following numbers of items for auction:
Friday--8238 items

So the auction price has stabilized, but supply has plummeted (there were well over 15,000 items up for auction post-launch, if I remember correctly).

The Wii auction prices are in the $350-$400 range, which is pretty remarkable--a 40-60% premium for a console that's launched and had at least one significant resupply cycle? That's almost the same premium as the PS3 auctions, but there must be 5x Wii's (at least) in the installed base--and demand is still that high in auctions.

Here's the number of items up for auction (search term "Nintendo Wii"):
Friday--12042 items

Monday morning update: just before posting this, I went online for a few minutes to check auctions. I saw a dozen Wii auctions close, and they all closed in the $400-$450 range. So prices for the Wii, for now, appear to still be rising.

If I'm interpreting all this correctly (and again, these are blunt numbers), that means the Wii, with 5x the installed base and much greater auction supply, is commanding a greater premium on a percentage basis than the great and powerful PS3.

Dear Sony: oops.

Straight From the Van

From a DQ reader who wishes to remain anonymous (this time):
Would you believe that my father actually bought speakers from a guy with a van?

I was at my younger brother's house and he had these giant towering speakers, nearly 5 feet tall each in the corner of his bedroom, but they looked like toys. Even from across the room, you could tell there was something incredibly lacking about them. Perhaps it was that the wood looked as if it had been spray painted just a few days ago, or perhaps the chrome -- yes, chrome -- was chipping. Or maybe it was the "Infinium" logo near the top of each speaker. It was askew, of course. And come to think of it, the speaker covers looked like taughtly-pulled pantyhose, albeit black.

"Where the hell did you get those?" I asked my brother.
"Dad bought them from some guy on the street and he gave them to me because the sound quality sucks. I don't know what to do with them, the garbage men won't take them."
"Well, duh, the speaker brand is really Infinity, not Infinium. How much did dad pay for them?"
"He wouldn't tell me. He was too embarrassed. He just told me to get rid of them."

Later on that week, I went by my father's house to visit.
"Did Dan show you those speakers I gave him? Yeah, they go for two grand but I know a guy and he gave them to me for $400."
Trying to hide the ever-widening smirk on my face, "Wow. That's some deal. I bet Dan is psyched."

Welcome to my family.

Here's another story--a classic-- from Mark Vidov:
I'm Canadian but I went to school in Boston for a couple years. One day a young guy approached me saying he had a nice set of speakers he had to sell. He seemed just shady enough for me not to ask where he got them but not shady enough for me to think he was totally scamming me. He waved and a van pulled over. I checked them out. They were huge. I had flashbacks to the seventies and my older cousins with their decked out stereo systems. Of course I bought them.

Some time later my apartment in Boston was robbed. The place was cleaned out. They obviously made a number of trips up and down three flights of stairs. The only things left were my futon, a Technics turntable and those speakers.

Black Friday (part 2)

I read in the Austin newspaper that at the south Austin Best Buy there were EIGHT HUNDRED people lined up at 5 a.m. Friday morning when the store opened.

Like I said, Black Friday is insane.

Here's more, from DQ reader Tim Jones:
Talking of insanity, a buddy and I were looking at the Best Buy ads on Thanksgiving and there were at least ten things in there that each of us wanted. The plan was to hook up at one of the local Best Buys at 3:00 AM, as the store opened up at 5:00. Good plan , as I’m sure we could snag at least one of the items on the list. So we both arrived at the store at 3:05 AM and there were already at least 350 people in line. The people in the front of the line had tents and there were several large motor homes in the parking as well. It was pure chaos as people were honking their horns and racing around the parking lot. After about five minutes we had enough and headed back home.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday

So, about Black Friday.

I'm not sure how it evolved this way, but the day after Thanksgiving has become the annually designated day for shopping madness in America. It's not actually the busiest day of the year (days very close to Christmas actually are), but for sheer volumes of people out shopping, it's unsurpassed.

Retailers have had "after Thanksgiving" specials for as long as I can remember. Like anything in America related to the consumer experience, though, it has been honed to a fine edge.

Ten years ago, there was a shopping center that opened up at 6 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving. Other stores opened up at 7 a.m., and quite a few an hour early or so.

Fast forward a decade. Yesterday, the newspaper was jammed full of ad circulars (piled together, probably a full inch thick). Huge numbers of stores opened up at 5 a.m. Actually, most stores seemed to open up at 5 a.m., and they were all advertising incredible deals to get people in early--in total darkness.

Oh, plus there were some stores (like CompUSA, believe it or not), that opened up from 9 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving day--then opened up at 5 a.m. this morning.

Total and complete insanity.

While my eyes were dilating in the middle of an optometrist's appointment today, I was sitting in the waiting room with a father and his two sons (ages 6 and 10, I found out). The father was telling his youngest son about the camera he bought at Circuit City today--at 5:15 a.m. And it was a display model, because they were already sold out of the new stock.

The boys were also hectoring their father about getting a Wii, and I mentioned that I'd gotten one, so we started talking. The father didn't know that much about the system, but the boys did, and they were totally amped up about getting one. The oldest boy asked me what games we had, so I told him. The father said that he liked the idea of the boys being active while they played games.

This guy was obviously a professional of some sort (I'm guessing a tech guy), but it dovetails with what I saw at Fry's yesterday, when this 100% certified white trash woman was with her son, buying a Nintendo magazine.

They were buying a Nintendo magazine because the Wii was out of stock and they just wanted to look at it. That's what she told the cashier, anyway.

Oh, and one more anecdotal note--in the first fifteen minutes that Eli 5.3 was bowling, he said "THIS IS SO COOL" six times. He was totally blown away.

So let me jump-cut back to the optometrist's office, where I was asking questions about laser surgery during my examination, because Gloria 4x.x is considering having it done. He told me a fantastic story about how, for the last three years, there are actually guys driving around in vans with laser equipment, offering to do the surgery on the spot--at a gigantic discount to retail.

I don't even know anyone who would buy speakers or meat from a van--people buy eye surgery?

The optometrist said the necessary equipment cost 500k, so it seems impossible to turn a profit--unless, of course, the equipment is obtained in some sort of "gray" manner. Plus it has to be bolted down and calibrated before use, not to mention the need for a temperature and humidity controlled environment. He said some people are so cheap, though, that if a van drove by and offered open heart surgery at enough of a discount, some people would climb right in.

Plus I hear you get free speakers.

Friday Links

Some Friday links, because I know you're not working.

Allen Varney has written an excellent article about Starforce for The Escapist and you can read it here. The Escapist should just have a special issue titled "Best of Allen Varney" at some point.

Chris Meyer sent in an amazing link to pictures of the largest piece of moving machinery in the world. It's the giant bucket wheel excavator, built in 1978 by Krupp. You will not believe the size of this beast (300 meters and 45,500 tons), and you can see the pictures here.

Sirius sent in a link to a story about the skeletons of two infants discovered under the shoulder blade--of a mammoth. You can read about it here.

David Gloier sent in a link to a fairly bizarre story about Hitler's home movies--or rather, the technology being used to read his lips in those movies. Read about it here.

Here's an article about a high-school student who created created nuclear fusion in his parent's garage. Seriously. Included are two hall of fame moments from his mother:
--"Originally, he wanted to build a hyperbaric chamber," she said, adding that she promptly said no. But, when he came asking about the nuclear fusion machine, she relented.
--"I thought he was going to be a cook," Natalice Olson said, "because he liked to mix things."

Read the full article here.

Here's an intriguing article from New Scientist about Modafinil, which sounds like a dream come true for me. It's a drug that lets you stay up for long stretches without any seeming side effects, and here's an excerpt:
Yves is talking about modafinil, a stimulant that since its launch seven years ago has acquired a near-mythical reputation for wiring you awake without the jitters, euphoria and eventual crash that come after caffeine or amphetamines.

...Perhaps the most remarkable thing about modafinil is that users don't seem to have to pay back any "sleep debt". Normally, if you stayed awake for 48 hours straight you would have to sleep for about 16 hours to catch up. Modafinil somehow allows you to catch up with only 8 hours or so. Well before Cephalon took an interest in the drug, French researchers discovered this effect in cats back in the early 1990s (Brain Research, vol 591, p 319), and it has since been found to apply to humans too.

The full article is here. That would certainly be a productivity enhancer.

Finally, here's a remarkable article at the New York Times about a very unique kind of synaesthesia:
Lexical-gustatories involuntarily “taste” words when they hear them, or even try to recall them.

There's also some interesting information about synaesthesia in general, and you can read it

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Paraworld Sale

Go Gamer is having an unbelievable deal on Paraworld: $14.90.

No, that's not a typo. Fifteen bucks for a creative, fun, staggeringly beautiful game.

It's one of those Go Gamer timed ads, and it's good for another 77 hours (so Monday morning at 1 a.m. CST it expires, if I'm counting correctly).

The link is here.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving day to our American readers.

And for those of you who didn't have the Thanksgiving holiday today, I'll tell you tomorrow about what happens the day after Thanksgiving. It's called Black Friday.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

PS3 Auction Prices (Update)

Joystiq has a very informative post on auction prices for both PS3 and the Wii. Here's an excerpt:
Average auction prices for both systems reached a high last Friday, with the Wii going for an average of over $580 (roughly 233 percent of retail) and the PS3 averaging nearly $2,400 sale prices (an astounding 397 percent of the retail price). Since then, prices have come down to more reasonable but still inflated levels, with Tuesday's Wii auctions ending at an average of just over $400 and PS3 auctions averaging just under $1,200.

Lots and lots of detail and you can read it here.

Based on my daily look at PS3 (60GB) auctions, I've noticed two things: the number of auctions has dropped dramatically, and the price (for the lowest ending auctions) is now bumping the $1,000-$1,050 range.

Additional stock has been received at some stores this week (no word on quantities, although I would expect them to be very small), so it will be interesting to see how this affects the auctions.

A Note on College Hoops 2K7 (360)

Early indications are very good, except this game uses the same catastophically inept menu system and interface as NBA2K7.

Dear Visual Concepts,
THIS IS THE SHITTIEST MENU SYSTEM IN THE HISTORY OF GAMING. Thank you and best wishes to your families for the holiday season.

Wii Impressions (and Next-Gen in General)

Here's your two-word summary for the lazy among you: Nintendo won.

It's not easy to get the wireless connection working properly. The power cord is too short. The little thread that connects the controller to the retention strap is too flimsy. Even with component cables, the graphics aren't impressive. There will be a ton of crap games, with developers not using the motion-sensing capabilities properly.

So let me repeat this: Nintendo won.

They won because the Wii is the Guitar Hero of consoles. It is immediately, absolutely familiar to anyone. It's a hundred times more intuitive than a standard console controller (which is not inuitive in the slightest).

Pressing a button to fill up a "swing meter" is nonsensical. It exists to compensate for the limitations of hardware. Swinging a controller is perhaps a million times more fun.

I said months ago that Nintendo was going to have the largest installed base of this new generation, and that Sony was going to be a distant third.

That may sound crazy, but it's correct.

Here's what people didn't realize, although now they're finally starting to understand: the appeal of the Wii is not based on marketing. Neither is Guitar Hero's. In both cases, the appeal is based on people actually trying out the system/game and showing their friends.

The media coverage misled most people leading up to the launch, because so few people outside of E3 had actually had the opportunity to use the Wii. As soon as the mainstream press started trying it out, they were thrilled, because people who don't play games immediately feel comfortable with the controller. It's the way, in their minds, that games should be played.

And it is the way games should be played, if you think about it. They're games.


So what feels more like play? Sitting your ass on the couch and using a six button controller with shoulder buttons and trigger buttons, or standing up and moving?

Easy answer.

Right now, the media coverage is a little misleading, because everyone is falling all over themselves to praise the Wii, while Sony's getting a tremendous backlash. The reason there's a backlash is because all of Sony's pre-launch press wasn't based on any kind of reality--it was almost entirely based on Sony's marketing and outrageous claims.


So the media was slanting positive because they were tools, and now that they can actually use the console, they're saying things like "OH SHIT! THIS THING IS SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS!" and other amusements.

If you charge six hundred dollars for a game machine, it better be perfect, and the PS3 isn't. It's quiet, which is quite an engineering feat, but it's very expensive, and how many people really want to pay six hundred dollars to play Resistance: Fall of Man?

In the gaming press, people are tougher on the Wii--because they're asking the wrong questions. I hear Red Steel kind of sucks, and you know what? The overwhelming majority of people who buy a Wii don't care.

Seriously, why exactly does the Wii need to have a killer first-person shooter? Those are a dime a dozen, and those are the games that companies spend ten million dollars to make. Oh, and most of them are very repetitive games taking place "in the long corridor."

Here's another question. If you took a look at the people who actually make games, are they going to be sitting around playing the PS3, which is going to look almost exactly like the games for the 360, or are they going to be playing the Wii?

Sony also has production issues, and they are going to fall farther and farther behind in installed base. However, those production issues pale in comparison to the games issue, because there's just nothing coming out to make people buy a PS3. Take a look:
12/5 Fight Night 3
12/12 Full Auto 2
12/12 Blazing Angels
12/19 Sonic the Hedgehog
1/15 College Hoops 2K7
1/31 Rainbow Six: Vegas
2/1 Oblivion
2/65 Eye of Judgment
2/5 Godfather
2/5 Sing Star
2/6 F.E.A.R.

Port, port, port, the two hundredth Sonic game, port, port, port, gimmick, port, interesting (Sing Star seems kind of fun), port.

That's it for the next three months?

Not to mention that some of those games will get pushed.

Right now, if you look at the "coming soon" pages at EB or Gamestop (which includes accessories and strategy guides and all kinds of crap, so it's not just games), you'll see that the Wii's entries take up 5 screens (twelve entries per screen). The PS3's take up 8 screens. The Xbox 360's take up 7.

Just wait. By the end of February, the number of Wii entries will double. The PS3's will shrink.

Sony's bizarre talking points for the last year have basically demanded that we be grateful to them for all that they've done for us, and that we be grateful for them making a console that costs $600 and allows us to play HD movies. And somehow, the media bought it all.

It won't take more than a very small dose of reality for all of that to unravel, though, and it's already begun.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I Couldn't Possibly Make This Up

I saw this on the Smoking Gun today.

So what would you do if you worked at a convenience store and a man came in and pulled out a machete?

Well, in America, there's only one thing to do: reach behind the counter and pull out your own machete.

There's security camera footage, of course, and you can see it here.


I came out of my study yesterday afternoon--where I had been "working."

"I'm going to go upstairs and change clothes, you guys," I said. Eli 5.3 and Gloria were sitting on the couch, discussing world affairs.

"Eli, did you clean up your stuffed animals?" Gloria asked. Eli has at least fifty little stuffed animals in a flexible hamper that looks like a cartoon elephant, and he'd apparently dumped them all out earlier.

"Well, ALMOST all," he said.

"How many is almost all?" I asked.

"I got all of them but six," he said.

"Really?" Gloria asked.

"I DID," he said.

"Well, if you really did pick up all of them but six," I said, starting up the stairs, "I'm going to give you a dollar."

"Daddy! WAIT!" he shouted, pushing past me as he raced up the stairs toward his room. "WAIT JUST A MINUTE!"

As it turns out, "six" was just a planning number. The actual number was "thirty-four."


Our cat George is, well, aggressive around female strangers.

Not guys, mind you. We're cool.

With females, though, George tends to do some questionable things, like cornering the vet in the examination room during his recent visit. Along with her assistant. There was also peeing.

By George. I'm not sure about the vet.

"This is becoming a problem," Gloria said today.

"Not as long as we don't let anyone into the house," I said. "It's a win-win as far as I'm concerned."

"But what about when people come to stay for a few days?"

"It's a win-win, as far as I'm concerned," I repeated.

"Oh, come on!" she said. "You know it's a problem."

"I know," I said. "I think I might have a solution, though."


"It involves an air horn and three female temps," I said. "Wrapped in foam."

"Great," she said.

"I think we'll also need a waiver."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Next-Gen Notes

A bunch of you have e-mailed me this from the Amazon Wii page:
We are currently out of stock: We sold out of our initial supply of the Wii on Sunday morning, November 19, in less than one minute.

So I hit a sixty-second window yesterday, and it was the first time I'd pulled up the page in days. That is just wrong.

But even though it's wrong, I'll have it tomorrow.

Oh, and one more note (thanks David Hoffman): if you're in New York City and can't find a Wii, go to the Nintendo World Store on 49th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. They have plenty of Wiis (restocking every night), all games, and all accessories except the component cables.

I've been thinking about the easiest way to track demand for the PS3. Since restocks are going to be very small for the foreseeable future, it didn't take long to realize that eBay is the only functioning market for the PS3 right now.

Here's the first piece, from a link supplied by Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick:
It looks like PS3 fever isn’t going away, although prices have cooled a little. Today alone 439 PS3s have sold for an average price of $1,349.00 and since Friday’s launch 8,771 have sold for an average price of $1,550.42. That’s compared with last week’s average price of $1,959.73.

I've also done some manual tracking. Having access to eBay Marketplace Research (which is where the numbers listed above were gathered) gives comprehensive information, but if any bid rigging is going on, it can also give inflated numbers. So the method I use is to look at closing auction prices for a 10-15 minute window (there are multiple PS3 auctions closing every minute, amazingly) and see what the floor is, not the average.

At 9 p.m. last night, the lowest closing prices for 60GB units were generally betwen $1,200-$1,300. Today, in the last hour, the lowest prices have been in the $1,000-$1,100 range--and several of these auctions included a free game as well.

I think it will be very revealing to follow these auction prices over the course of the next few weeks to see where they ultimately settle. And these prices are critical, because they are an accurate indication of how much the most eager people are willing to pay.

I'll give you an update every few days on what the latest prices are, and where they seem to be headed.

One Last Note...

I didn't mention this during either of the GOW posts, but I think Epic is a terrific company. They do an outstanding job of supporting their games after release, and they have an incredible number of training videos and support tools for UnrealEd.

I'll buy anything Epic makes, and gladly, because of their customer support. So while the single-player experience in GOW was, to me, disappointing, I don't think it's a negative reflection on Epic's commitment. They have demonstrated many times that they support their games (and us) very, very well.

More on Gears of War

When I wrote the impressions post this morning, there was something I wanted to say that I just couldn't put into words. I thought about it for a few hours, and I think I understand it now.

Here's the thing: in a game where there is very little freedom and events are highly scripted, in exchange for that lack of freedom I expect a well-defined story and emotional involvement.

Look, in the single-player version of Gears of War we're all going to have the same experience. There are choices to make, sure, but they appear to be almost entirely superficial. So there is no excuse for that experience being boom boom boom shallow.

If the playing experience is going to be a foot wide, it better be a mile deep.

In games with large, relatively open worlds (Oblivion, for example), plot isn't that important to me, because I can create my own experience. In a first or third person shooter that's essentially a really long corridor, though, the corridor has to have everything, because I can't create anything myself.

Dwarf Fortress, as another example, has thousands of possible choices, and people's experiences playing the game diverge wildly, which is another example of its brilliance. There are as many stories in Dwarf Fortress as there are players, really, and that's why having a pre-defined story really isn't that important. Dwarf Fortress is a world, not a story.

In Gears of War, though, there is one story, and we all experience that one story. That's why the story in a corridor game is so much more important. In essence, these types of games aren't first or third-person shooters--they're first or third-person movies. We participate, but it's really a movie.

That's why there's no excuse for a weak story. They didn't have to create a hundred stories, or a thousand, or even ten.

They only had to create one.

Gears of War (Single Player)

Gears of War looks absolutely spectacular. It is impossible to overstate how stunning this game looks in HD.

The voice work is absolutely superb. Cut scenes are magnificent.


I know I've said games look great before, but this is the high-water mark for the HD era so far. Gears of War is so stunning visually that it's hard to believe.

So what do you do in the game?

Here's what I've done so far: run thirty feet, take cover, shoot. Run thirty feet, take cover, shoot. Repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat.

That's after 3-4 hours of play, switching back and forth between Casual and Hardcore difficulty.

Who am I and why am I here?

That's what Half-Life 2 did so well--from the opening second of the game, you had a strong sense of place. You knew the stakes. No, Gears of War isn't supposed to be Half-Life 2, but there's no reason there can't be a well-defined story.

And actually, there is--there's actually quite a backstory--if only they had put it into the game. Maybe they do, but I really haven't seen any of it, and I'm really losing interest. After several hours, I'd generally like to give a shit whether people live or die, but at this point I couldn't care less. I've got nothing invested in these people, and we're mostly shooting enemies that appear to exist because of interbreeding between the Michelin Man and Skeletor. Not to mention that my ammo must be made of felt, because it takes massive amounts of hits to kill anything.

It's possible that the single-player campaign really kicks in at some point, but here's the problem: I may not make it to that point. I've got Medieval II: Total War, 1701 A.D., The Guild 2, Paraworld, and Dwarf Fortress all begging to be played, and every single one of them is more interesting to me than this.

I actually think Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter is far more involving on a minute to minute basis than Gears of War. GRAW's save system stank to high heaven, but I felt far more immersed while I played than in GOW.

Multiplayer, in contrast, is a terrific experience, based on my e-mail. So if you're big on multiplayer, this could well be your dream game. Single player? Not so much. It's not like Gears of War is a step backwards--it's just that they didn't make me care, and I was hoping they would.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wii Launch in Austin

My plan this morning was to call a Sears store right next to my house. Stealth electronics store, hasn't been open that long, doesn't have many shoppers yet. Perfect launch scenario.

I assumed the store opened up at 9 a.m. on Sundays, but that was wrong--it opens at 8 a.m. Oops.

Still, though, when I called at 8:30 a.m., I was still feeling pretty confident.

"This is Sear's Electronics, home of the sold-out Nintendo Wii," the clerk said.


That's when I realized that I had been right about the Wii in the strategic sense (it's going to be freaking huge, far bigger than any of the industry analysts realize) and entirely wrong in the tactical sense ( I wasn't going to get one).

In Austin, at least, these stores all received shipments of the new Nintendo Wii:
--Best Buy
--Circuit City

To the best of my knowledge, every single one of these locations are completely sold out. As far as I could determine, there were lines for every single available unit before these stores even opened.

Fry's had this obscene bundle where you had to buy five games (that you didn't get to pick) that were bundled with the unit. No matter. Sold out.

We're not talking PS3 launch quantities here, either. I'm guessing Nintendo launched with 600k units, maybe more. And if Austin is any indication, good luck finding one.

So ignore what Nintendo is saying about how many units they're shipping before Christmas. It doesn't matter. They're going to sell every unit they can make, and as soon as they're put out on store floors, they'll be gone. By next weekend, when people have actually gotten a chance to try the Wii, it's going to be the single hottest Christmas toy out there.

I actually caught a huge break after getting totally screwed all morning. When I got home (steam rising off the top of my head), I sat down and started looking for Wii pages at major online retailers. I was going to add them to WebMon so that I'd be immediately notified when the Wii was in stock anywhere.

The second page I was going to add was the Amazon page, but it said "in stock."

You've got to be freaking kidding me. That was the fastest one-click order I ever placed.

Less than a minute later, that same page said "only 2 more in stock. Order soon." Fifteen seconds later, it said "This item is currently not available."

I must have miraculously hit a five minute window (or less) completely by accident. I'd rather be lucky than good, though, because, well, I'm not good.

So what does this all mean? I have a few ideas.

The PS3? Just watch. It was hot for a grand total of two days. Now the Wii has 4X the installed base AND Nintendo will ship 4X (or more) as many units to resupply for the rest of the year.

Here's why that's such a disaster for Sony, and even if my math is slightly off (apologies in advance), you'll understand. Here are the data points:
--it's been estimated that, at a minimum, a PS3 game costs twice as much to develop as a Wii game.
--the Wii installed base, at a minimum, is going to be 4X the PS3's. The Wii costs half as much as Sony's low-end PS3 and Nintendo's shipping far more units (and will be for the foreseeable future).
--PS3 games will cost $10 more than Wii games.

So, indendent of game prices, it costs EIGHT TIMES as per, per customer, to develop a PS3 game. And that 20% delta in game prices just isn't going to bridge that gap.

Plus, and this is exactly what I expected (and wrote about several times), almost none of the media coverage of the PS3 is focused on fun--"it's powerful, it's very expensive, the lines were long, and it plays Blu-Ray movies."

The Wii coverage, uniformly, has been "it's fun, fun fun!" And while some of the reviews from gamign sites have been not been uniformly positive, all kinds of people who don't usually play games are being given Wiis to review, and they're all in love.

Great, great marketing on Nintendo's part.

Sony and no analyst on Sony's bandwagon will admit this yet, but they're already in deep, deep trouble.

Friday, November 17, 2006

PS3 Launch

Okay, the launch is over and only one person got shot. What a mess.

It really shouldn't be hard to manage a line--people show up, they sign in, provide a form of I.D. (with picture), and get a numbered armband. You'd think it was freaking rocket science the way so many stores completely botched the entire process.

However, even in a sea of idiocy, I have a special commendation for the West Bend Wal-Mart (Milwaukee area). The manager, who must have an I.Q. under 10, had fifty people line up and had them run to ten available "winner's" chairs to reserve a PS3. You can see it here and one guy (Craig Weston) wound up getting pushed into a freaking flagpole at full speed.

The good news for Mr. Weston, who wound up in the hospital, is that he'll be able to afford a PS3, a recliner, and a very nice high-definition television after he wins his lawsuit. Actually, he'll be able to afford more than that--this particular brand of manager stupid is probably worth 50k.

So now that the system's launched, what do we watch for now? Well, sales data, for one, to find out how many units Sony had on hand for the launch. Second, and I think this is going to be very revealing, I think we need to watch how auction prices either spike or collapse. DQ reader Dan Holmes sent me a link to an interesting article about PS3 auction prices in Japan, and here's an excerpt:
The gaming consoles, which went on sale here Saturday, are fetching reasonable prices online, disappointing those who had hoped to make a quick profit by reselling the machines on the Internet.

Some of the 4,000 PlayStation 3 consoles listed on Yahoo Japan's auction site were downright bargains. Even systems with games included were going for about 60,000 yen ($510) for the most expensive model and 50,000 yen ($420) for the cheaper one.

I didn't expect that, at least not so quickly.

Here's a thought about U.S. auctions. If I wanted to resell a PS3, I'd form the largest group I could to manipulate the auction prices, because I would want the general public to perceive that demand was incredibly high. So I'd swap bids with other sellers so that auctions would finish at prices like $1,200 or higher, no money would change hands, and after that price was established, I'd open up a legitimate auction and really sell the unit.

I'd be shocked if there aren't groups already trying to do this, so it will be very interesting to watch the auction prices, which are the only real market for PS3's right now.

Gaming Notes

Hollywood Mogul 3 has been released and you can download it here. That's a link to a trial version. This game really has a dedicated following, and it combines the depth of a sports text-sim with the subject matter of Hollywood, which is an interesting combination.

DQ reader Dave Kramer has started a new website called Busy Gamer, and it's an interesting blend of news and commentary. There's also a feature called the Busy Gamer Review, which is a short but focused review style.

Chris McNair saw the post about the naval sim pack via Steam earlier this week, and highly recommends going to this forum and picking up some of the add-ons for Fleet Command. He said they greatly enhance the game.

Issue 71 (71! It seems like they just started yesterday) of The Escapist is online:
I have discovered that journalism is a nebulous, nuanced beast which cannot be defined without exceptions, contradictions and much argument. But, in some attempt to discuss journalism further, as it pertains to our beloved Game Industry, we present this week's issue of The Escapist.

You can read it here.

One last note: Gamers With Jobs is starting a reviews section, and I expect it to be as well-conceived and successful as everything else they do. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:
First, I would like to introduce you to a new feature here at Gamerswithjobs. We call it Perspectives, and it is, in many ways, our response to the traditional reviews that many of you have grown tired of reading, and most of us have grown tired of writing. We have found over the life of the site that, while we had a great passion for the current games we were playing, we often felt like the expectations in speaking about those games through the traditional structures were creatively stifling. We always fought with the question of whether you guys wanted to read yet another review for a given game, and so we often stopped short of giving our impression partly for fear of being lost in the noise and partly because reviews are, by nature, dispassionate and thus steer away from what drives us to play games. This feature is designed to free our writers to explore new angles on the game review methodology.

GWJ generally has impeccable instinct, along with excellent writers. That's a great combination.

Viva Pinata: Let's Get It On

Don't you know how sweet and wonderful, life can be
I'm askin you baby, to get it on with me
I aint gonna worry, I aint gonna push
So come on, come on, come on, come on baby
Stop beatin round the bush..

They're mating.

I really don't want to consider the minutia of pinata genitalia and copulation, but they're mating. I guess it could be worse. Pinatas could be self-pleasuring themselves and ejecting streams of candy. My eyes! My eyes!

In Viva Pinata, you function as a pinata pimp, directing two members of a species to well, bang the gong and all that.

I don't know if pinatas mate for life. It doesn't seem that way--as far as I can tell, it's free love on the free love freeway.

All I know is that if I see a money shot, I'll lose the will to live.

I've been playing Viva Pinata in rotation with Gears of War, and it's been a strange and disorienting experience. You'd expect Gears of War to have complex controls and Viva Pinata to have simple ones, but it's actually reversed. GOW maps about a hundred functions to the "A" button, it seems, dumbing down the controls as much as humanly possible. Viva Pinata, on the other hand, has actions and functions and directions and options and shagging.

For a game with a cartoon tie-in, it's pretty damn complicated, actually.

It has a magnificent sense of style, though--wonderfully bright, vaguely psychedelic, and totally whimsical. Even the loading screens are trippy and colorful and fun.

But it's clunky, too. The graphics are so inspired that you expect the game itself to be that way, but at least at first, it's just not. The first thing you do is get a shovel and dig up your entire garden. You don't have to dig it all up right away, technically, but you have to eventually, anyway. It's a bland introduction.

The basic premise seems to be this: you have a garden, and you plant grass and flowers in the garden to attract pinatas. All of these pinatas have likes and dislikes, and you have to tailor your garden accordingly. Pinatas live in your garden, they mate, they fight off an invasion from an alien race known as the Skurg...

Okay, I just added that last part.

There are evil pinatas as well, although I haven't seen any yet. So it's a little pinata biosphere. And even if it's a little clunky at times, it is pleasant to play. But every time I start to settle in, something drags me out, and here's another example. There's an alert system that takes the focus away from you to a "breaking event," and sometimes these events are stacked in multiples, and it's quite annoying. Sometimes the break-ins are explaining events to help you become familiar with the game, but there are so many of them that the game just doesn't have any sense of flow.

What's most disappointing about the first few hours of the game, though, is that there are all kinds of things to discover, but you're not really allowed to discover them. Instead, they're sort of rolled out to you in relatively linear order. Maybe it's necessary because of the complexity of the game, but it winds up feeling far more structured and controlled than I expected.

I'm about three hours in at this point, and I've gotten more interested each hour, so that's a good sign. I'm not desperate to play in free moments, but I do find it somewhat interesting. So my first impressions are not exceptional, but they are improving.

I just hope nobody finds a Hot Toffee mod.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Edition of Sony WTF?

This could be a regular feature, really.

A bunch of you guys sent me this link--an interview SCEA executive Vice President Jack Tretton. Here are some outstanding excerpts:
Wired: Do you have a response for people experiencing backwards compatibility issues and/or television upscaling problems?
Tretton: I would like my car to fly and make me breakfast, but that's an unrealistic expectation. We've reported problems on only 200 of the 8000 PlayStation 1 and 2 games. I would challenge the average consumer to say that there are significant problems with any of the games in their library.

I would like my car to fly and make me breakfast?

This, in a nutshell, is Sony's problem: they've all been acting like arrogant dicks.

Hey Jack, do you not remember Crazy Ken announcing on March 15th that not only would the PS3 be 100% backwards-compatible, but that it would upconvert all legacy games into HD? Was it an unrealistic expectation to expect Sony to live up to their promises?

Plus, what he's saying is an excellent example of misdirection. Look carefully at what he said--"We've reported problems on only 200 of the 8000 PlayStation 1 and 2 games." Right, there are "reported problems" on 200 games. Here's the misdirection, though--how many have been tested? Because I would guarantee it's not all 8,000. In truth, he has no idea how many games are having compatibility issues, and no one at Sony will until people start reporting them. So he reports a "hard" number, but it's part of a "soft" number to make the percentages look better.

Misdirection. At a seventh grader level.

Here's the other part that really burned me up.
On upscaling issues: This machine looks phenomenal on the cheapest color TV you ever bought. So I don't want people to think they'll be looking at stick figures [if you don’t have a 1080p display].

Is that answering the question or anything? Because I sure don't see an answer in there anywhere. No, they won't be looking at stick figures, Jackie, but if their set supports a 1080i signal and doesn't support a 720p signal, 720p native games will be displayed in 480p.

So $599 isn't enough to pay to expect Sony to get that right?

Sony's entire future rests on the strength of the Playstation brand, because every Sony executive who's opened his mouth in the last nine months has acted like a complete fool. Their execution has been incredibly poor, they've made major strategic and tactical errors, and incredibly, they've managed to piss off almost everyone in the process.

So we're about to see if a brand name can overcome complete and utter incompetence. It should be interesting.

Dinner, Breakfast

We went to dinner last night.

I had to untie my entrée.

A good friend was visiting from England on business, and he was staying in downtown Austin. He wanted to eat Japanese food, so I found a highly-rated restaurant a few blocks from his hotel.

I ordered "bamboo salmon." It arrived inside a bamboo husk, like a little salmon book bag, nicely bound up in twine.

In case you're wondering, food knots are more difficult than regular knots, possibly due to the element of surprise.

I'm glad I didn't order the tuna--I heard it came handcuffed.

This restaurant also had techno music playing for ambience. And when I went to the bathroom, I saw that the sinks were modified woks.

The food, however, was excellent.

This morning, there was a big wreck on the highway as I was driving in, and I sat stopped in traffic for an extra fifteen minutes. As I pulled into the Einstein's parking lot, I was nearly hit twice by crazed bagel purchasers.

Once inside, after selecting my oatmeal cookie, I took my large soda cup and filled it up. I put a lid on the cup, then turned to get a straw, but my arm smacked into the cup and it overturned, the lid failing utterly and soda and ice spilling everywhere.

"Oops," said a pleasant woman behind me. I turned and she was smiling.

"That is exactly what I was thinking," I said. "Oops starts with an "F", right?"


Links for your reading and viewing pleasure. This afternoon: Viva Pinata

First off, from Brad Ruminer, links to two spectacular photographs that he took himself. Here are the descriptions:
The first one is a photo I took of the sun through a specialized Hydrogen Alpha filter that allows you to see the photosphere and prominences of the sun.
Picture 1

The second is a shot of M42, the Orion Nebula located below Orion’s belt in a small cluster of stars. I shot this on my 11 inch Celestron telescope while giving an astronomy demonstration to our Cub Scout pack.
Picture 2

They're both spectacular.

Next, from Sirius, a link to the winners of the Digital Camera Magazine photographer of the year contest. See the photos here.

If you're wondering what could happen if you don't get a recalled Sony laptop battery replaced, Daniel Quock sent in a link to a spectacular video that you can see here. This is with a generic battery, not Sony brand, but it gives you an idea of what can happen.

If you've been looking for just the right Christmas gift for the man who has everything, how about a machine gun-equipped robotic sentry? Sure, it's 200k, but can safety ever really be too expensive? It's from Samsung and there's information and a video (that's darkly comic) here.

Scott Ray sent in a link to Ben's Game, which is a video game created for kids with leukemia--inspired by a kid (Ben) with leukemia. Here's an excerpt:
Throughout Ben Duskin's battle with Leukemia, he played computer games, which helped him get through the treatment process. He also began to think about the need to have something positive that helped other kids battle their illnesses. So when Make-A-Wish approached him to grant his wish, he decided to design a video game that would be helpful for kids like him who have cancer -- a way to fight back and relieve some of the pain and stress involved with treatment.

Ben worked with a senior software engineer from LucasArts named Eric Johnston, and you can read about the story and download the game here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tonight's Edition of Sony WTF?

I've heard from several other people off the record tonight, and that 140k launch number is looking more and more accurate all the time. Again, all unconfirmed, but it's going to be very interesting to see the final launch numbers.

Here's one more little nugget of gristle for you (thanks Tim Steffes): the PS3 downscales 720p-native games on sets that don't support 720p.

Here's the short version of how this works. There are multiple signals that an HD set might or might not support: 480p (not high-definition but extended definition or ED), 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. There are some others as well, but they're all below 480p and we don't care.

There are quite a few HD sets that support both 480p and 1080i signals, but not 720p signals. So what happens, in every other instance I've ever seen, is that your cable box (or the Xbox 360, to the best of my knowledge) will upconvert 720p signals to 1080i for screens that don't support 720p.

Sony's $599 console, incredibly, doesn't do that. Instead, it DOWNCONVERTS the 720p signal to 480p. Here are the details from an article at IGN:
As it turns out, gamers who own older HD sets that feature only 480i, 480p, and 1080i resolution input capabilities will have to settle for the display quality being downsized as the game boots in its 480p mode rather than upscaling the image from its more desirable 720p mode to the TV's 1080i.

If you're wondering how much of a difference that will make in display quality, here's your short answer: a hell of a lot. And the bigger the screen, the more painful the difference will be.

Again, this is just another in a series of absolutely incomprehensible decisions Sony has made in the last year.

PS3 Launch: In the 100% Rumor Category

I was sent this e-mail a few minutes ago:
Please don’t quote my name, but I have it on good authority that Sony will only be launching only 140,000 units in the US. My “friend” is working with Sony on the launch .

I've known this person via e-mail for years, so I am certain that he wouldn't knowingly pass along false information. I have absolutely no way to verify this, though, so I'm putting it, like the title says, in the "100% rumor category."

However, I will say this: I believe that 140,000 will be closer to the real number than 400,000 (which is what Sony is still claiming at this point).


A terrific story from DQ reader Scott Moore:
Your story about traffic reminded me of something that happened this

Two years ago we went to King's Island in Cincinnati. On our way home we
decided to visit the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. There is a point right
outside Cincinnati where I believe every interstate that goes through the
Midwest get to Newport from Cincinnati you have about 1/2 mile
to cross over about 6-8 lanes of traffic to reach the exit.

So as I'm merging lane after lane some young punk comes flying up doing
about 80+ and I merge in front of him. He changes lanes and proceeds to
"bless" me. I hold up my hand in the universal "sorry, my fault" sign but he
does not accept it and proceeds to hang out his window screaming at me and
flipping me off, so I return with a "Well, *uck off then!"

At this point I can feel the eyes burning into my skull. My wife is glaring
at me with her mouth hanging open.

"Did I say that out loud?"

She nods her head. I then say, "Ok, we are going back in time and that did
not happen." What could I say.

Flash forward to this weekend:
I was watching Riley 7.8 play Star Wars Battlefront II (he likes for me to
watch his mad ski77z) and he gets shot in the back. He blurts out, "Ah Damn.
I didn't see him sneak up behind me."

"Riley! What did you say?"

"What?" "What" is the universal word to use in our house when you are stalling
and trying to come up with an excuse.

"What did you just say?"

I said, "I didn't see him sneak up behind me."

"No, before that."


"What did you say before that?"

"Dad, that never happened."


Hard Down, Expert to Go

I finished the Hard difficulty level of Guitar Hero II on Friday night.

For me, "Carry Me Home" was the killer. It took me several days of practice to get past that opening riff (and once you do, the song isn't that difficult). I don't think I played any of the other songs in that set or the final set more than twice before I passed them.

What I particularly appreciate is that now, when I go back to improve my scores on these songs, I can just practice individual sections first. My weakness has always been fast solos with lots of hammer-on/pull-off sections. I can do some dedicated practice with them, which will make me much more ready to tackle Expert.

Overall, I don't think I like these songs as much as the original, but it's also not a brand-new experience this time, and that might be affecting my perceptions.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

And Here's One to Watch Out For

One of the difficult aspects of these console launches is sorting out reliable information from, um, the other type.

Some site called "Compete" published a story this morning that's being picked up everywhere, and here's what people are quoting:
...almost half (48%) of those considering a PS3 expect it to cost less than $300—equivalent to the original price of a PS2. When told of the PS3’s actual retail price, 73% of all gamers and 59% of those considering a PS3 thought it was overpriced.

...39% of GameCube owners are considering a Wii purchase while 40% are considering a PS3. PlayStation loyalty is considerably higher with 63% of PS2 owners considering a PS3.

How many people were sampled? No one knows? Were these phone interviews? Clicking on a website survey? No one knows. So there's absolutely no way to know if the methodology used to generate these numbers was statistically sound.

Without that information, these numbers don't really mean anything. Very dramatic, though.

More Good News From Launchville

I can't even get this stuff posted before there are five more pieces of bad news.

Here's the additional information from this morning.

First off, from Famitsui via Kotaku, an article (it's not in English--sorry), but here's the number that matters: 0.98.

Believe it or not, that's the attach rate.

The attach rate is how many games were sold for each console purchased. That's easily the worst attach rate in the history of console launches, surely. A 0.98 attach rate for a console without a pack-in game. Incredible.

If you're wondering what the attach rate for the Xbox 360 launch was in the U.S., as best as I can determine, it was roughly 3.9.

Yes, that's an apple-to-oranges comparison, because I'm comparing a U.S. launch with a Japanese launch. But any way you look at that number in Japan, it's a disaster for Sony.

[UPDATE: There's an article on Joystiq (thanks John Harwood) that says the attach rate for the 360 launch in Japan was a horrific 0.91. So I guess what we need to find out now is the attach rate for the Japanese launch of the PS2.]

Then there's an article on Gamasutra about an analyst's (Lazard Capital Market's Colin Sebastian) prediction for the number of actual launch units Sony will have available in the U.S.
"We expect Sony to deliver 150-200k units to stores in the United States for the launch; consumers without pre-orders may find it difficult to locate an available system. We estimate sales of approximately 750k PS3s domestically by year-end. We expect a more robust launch from Nintendo, with at least 1.2 million units sold in the U.S. and up to four million units shipped worldwide by year-end."

I don't know if Sebastian is any good or not--I don't know his track record--but 200k units would not surprise me at all, and it dovetails to some degree with Gamestop's announcement yesterday that they won't be able to fill all their pre-orders. If Gamestop was just going to be one or two units short per store, they would have said that--not giving any numbers at all indicates to me that it's a serious shortfall, not a near miss.

As to how many of launch units will be purchased for resale, I don't know (quite a few, I'm guessing), but it will be interesting to see the attach rate compared to Japan.

Finally, also on Kotaku, a Fry's employees (followed up by a reader) claiming that the store is going to be forcing mega-bundles on anyone who wants to buy either a PS3 or a Wii. Here's an excerpt from the reader's comments:
I noticed the newest article about Fry's PS3 budle and decided to call the one closest to me, Houston branch, and to my suprise the bundle is actually real, but I have a little more info. The PS3 is going to be sold as 20 and 60gig in the bundles, and it also includes you buying a warranty.

The PS3 games included: NBA 2K7, Resistance: Fall of Man, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, Madden 07, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Tony Hawk's Project 8, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, and another game (Sorry I called back to check up on it and now they wont give out the info).

The Wii bundle Includes: Madden NFL 07, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, GT Pro Series, and Rampage: Total Destruction. I will tell you guys none of this is final but this is what they told me before they went all hush hush.

Outstanding. So if this is true, Fry's is basically extorting an extended warranty purchase out of you if you want to buy a PS3. Oh, and you have to buy eight games. Hey, that should help the attach rate!

Again: both of these launches are FUBAR at this point. Totally out of control, totally mismanaged, and extremely disappointing.

The Beautiful Briny Sea

DQ reader and Sonalysts, Inc. Producer Jamie Carlson let me know that Valve has put together an unbelievable package of naval simulations, including S.C.S. - Dangerous Waters, for $29.99. Here's what you get:
688(I) Hunter-Killer
S.C.S. - Dangerous Waters
Fleet Command
Sub Command

That is nothing short of insane. If you're into naval simuations, that's easily 200+ hours of gameplay (or more) for $29.99.

The package is called "The Complete Naval Combat Pack" and here's the link.

Console Launches: Onward, Into the Fog

I remember the good old days.

In the good old days, you walked into Electronics Boutique a few months before a console launched and put in a pre-order. The day the system launched, you walked in and picked it up, bought a few games, and went home.

The day the PS2 launched, I was in a queue of about thirty people when EB opened. We just wanted to pick up our consoles as soon as possible.

Chaos? Zero.

Last year, the Xbox 360 launched. For me, it actually wasn't that much different than in 2000. I was still able to place a pre-order in late summer for the November launch, and except for the midnight launch, nothing much had changed.

After the launch, though, it got crazy.

Thousands of systems for sale on Ebay for 2x (or more) the retail price. Microsoft did pull off a simultaneous, worldwide launch, but they never thought about how difficult it would be to resupply those territories. So the launch wasn't bad, but post-launch was an absolute disaster.

Fast forward. Two major consoles launch this week. Both of them, right now, are totally FUBAR.

Let's talk about Sony first. The PS3 launch in Japan featured large numbers of paid drifters waiting in line to purchase consoles that would immediately go up for resale. From the Times Online:
In Akihabara a dozen homeless men queued incongruously in front of a game shop to buy the console. Each was being hired by a middleman to circumvent the shop’s “one customer, one PlayStation rule” to ensure the biggest number of consoles for immediate resale.

And more, from Kotaku:
Unfortunately for her and the rest of the Sony entourage, the men and women standing patiently in the front of the line either didn't understand what she was saying, or didn't care - the first buyers of PS3 were largely elderly Chinese men and young Chinese women with shaky Japanese language skills.

...This is the true face of the PlayStation 3 debut in Japan. Hardcore gamers are not here waiting in line overnight, buying a first-run PS3, and running home to play some good old next-gen gaming. Rather, opportunistic Japanese businessmen have the largest presence, hiring poor Chinese men and women to wait in line for a PS3, one which will later be sold on web auctions to wealthy gamers around the world for exorbitant amounts of money.

Oh, hell. I'm an idiot for not seeing this coming. I was really, really pleased when it was announced that the PS3 would be region-free, because we could play Japanese games immediately, but I didn't see the secondary implication: cross-region reseller demand for all launch territories, because all you need is a voltage converter and you're good to go.

That combines to create a real launch disaster. I wouldn't be surprised at all if over half of the launch systems actually went to resellers. Here's more from the Kotaku article:
"Thank you for your patience!," welcomed the cashier to the first PS3 buyers. "What game software would you like with your purchase?"

"Hai," the consumer nodded, not understanding the question.

Most cashiers soon figured out that the men and women standing in front of them didn't speak Japanese. Some would then repeat the same question in English, and would all get the say reply, "Only hardware."

Based on my observations of the first twenty PS3s sold at Bic Camera, they were all purchased by Chinese nationals, none of whom bought any software. After making their purchase, television crews asked for interviews but all were declined. These temporary owners of PS3s would then make their way down the street where their bosses waited. After several minutes, a dozen PS3s were rounded up, as their Japanese business manager paid out cash to those who waited in line for them. I witnessed a homeless-looking Chinese man, in his sixties or seventies get paid 20,000 yen for his services and was then sent away.

I added the bold emphasis. Translation: low attach rates, presumably.

And if you're wondering what "Bic Camera" is, it's a leading electronics seller in Japan. This particular location was visited by none other than crazy Ken Kutaragi. So it was one of the premier locations for the launch.

In the U.S., people waited in lines for hours just to place a pre-order. Which didn't actually mean an order, more of a chance at an order. Here's an excerpt from Next-Gen:
GameStop director of public & media relations Chris Olivera told Next-Gen that its pre-order allocation for PS3s is lower than anticipated. “Sony did notify us that our initial shipment will not be what we expected,” he confirmed.

Specific allocation numbers were not revealed.

Nothing like waiting for five or six hours to be sure you have a system on launch day, put down a deposit--and then get nothing on launch day.

Now that I think of it, I think Microsoft short-shipped Gamestop for the 360 launch, too, but there sure weren't people waiting hours in line to place pre-orders.

At this point, no one really knows what the hell is happening on launch day. The only thing anyone has figured out is that you need to get in line very, very early, and even that may not work.

Is scarcity going to drive demand? It would at $299. Actually, it would at $399. But at $499 and $599, with exactly one original game that looks interesting (Resistance: Fall of Man), I doubt it.

So is this launch going to do anything besides piss people off? Sure doesn't look like it.

Oh, and if you live in the Austin area and desperately want a PS3, I think I have a couple of locations that would improve your chances. Just e-mail me.

Now, I'd like to say that Ninendo's done a much better job here, but who the hell can tell? They claim there will be more launch units, and far more in the "launch window," but that hasn't stopped pre-orders from selling out in minutes, and there haven't been many pre-orders, anyway. It's a big black hole right now in terms of information, and it's incredibly annoying that pre-orders are so few in number.

It's ridiculous that a console launches in less than a week and we haven't been told which chains are getting the most systems, or that procedures aren't already in place (and posted) to help us figure out where we want to go. It's as if both Sony and Nintendo want to annoy us as much as humanly possible. And all they've accomplished is to guarantee that people are going to be incredibly pissed off on launch day.

That's really kind of a bad idea, isn't it?

I have found one site that seems very useful. You can put in your zip code and it gives inventory information for Gamestop/EB, Wal-Mart, and Target, and even puts the locations into Google Maps to make it as conveninet as possible. I doubt that all of this information is accurate, but at least it's something. Here are the links:
Wii launch inventory
PS3 launch inventory

Overall: grumble, grumble, grumble.

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