Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Links!

Friday links, and it's a flood, so to speak.

First off, and this is something you really need to see. Justin Schultz sent in a link to a performance of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy--on a theramin. It's fantastic, and you can watch it here.
First off, Russ Pitts wrote an excellent article for The Escapist titled "Will Bobba for Furni." It's about sex and domination in virtual words, and it's both thoughtful and disturbing. Read it here.

The Library of Congress has a new imaging system they call IRENE, and it's being used to digitize and preserve 78 rpm shellac and acetate records. Here's an excerpt:
IRENE will generate high-resolution digital maps of the grooved surface of recordings, allowing preservationists to remove debris and extraneous sounds that contribute to the deterioration of recordings.

It's a remarkable technology, and you can read about it here.

Many of you sent in a link to the discovery of the remains of pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut, a 15th century B.C. ruler who dressed like a man and wore a false beard. It's an excellent story, and you can read it here

Frank Regan sent in a link to a spectacular picture of the Northern Lights--from space. It's incredible, and you can see it here.

Cliff Eyler sent in a link to the discovery of the earliest known gunshot victim in America--an Inca warrior shot in 1536. It's a fascinating story, and you can read it here.

Jesse Leimkuehler sent me a link to an interesting series on the decline of the recording companies. My believe on that is this: don't convince your customers that you hate them, but of course it's more complicated than that. Read the first part of the series here.

Jessie sent in a second link to a story about scients investigating the Tunguska meteor of 1908. If you've never heard of the Tunguska meteor, here's an excerpt:
In late June of 1908, a fireball exploded above the remote Russian forests of Tunguska, Siberia, flattening more than 800 square miles of trees.

800 square miles.

It's been an infamous event for almost a century, and it's never absolutely been proven what happened, but the leading theory has always been a meteor. Take a look at some new research here.

Hey, the United Kingdom issued a directive concerning the teaching of intelligent design in schools: in short, it's not science and it shouldn't be taught. How entirely refreshing, and you can read about it here.

Glen Haag sent me a link to a virtual 3D model of ancient Rome. Creation of the model was a 10-year project, and the results are spectacular. See Rome here.

Sirius sent in a link to a story about the discovery of penguins that once roamed--the Peru desert. And they were the size of humans. The story is here and you can see an artistist's rendition here.

Ernie Halal sent me a link to a story about a lake in Chile that's gone on holiday. It's vanished, in other words. It's a strange story, and you can read it here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sure, It Took Four Months, But Yes, They Did

Yes, there's a patch out for the 360 version of MLB2K7.

After busting their chops for four months over this, I'll give them credit for apparently fixing the ERA bug (involving walks) as well as adding a new fielding camera ("pole") that, while it does hurt framerates, has been almost universally well received.

I don't know if the injury bug (players in certain situations not getting put back into the lineup after coming off the DL) has been fixed or not. And while it shouldn't take four months to get this done, at least they did do it.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note: Greg Oden is a terrific kid and a great athlete, and he's going to be an All-Pro in the NBA. Kevin Durant is a terrific kid and had the best freshman year (by far) of any player in the history of NCAA basketball, and if his career isn't cut short by injuries, he'll be one of the best 50 players in NBA history.


In breaking news, I apparently have a hernia.

That was a pun, obviously.

Normally, that would be kind of a headline item for the day, but today, it's barely worth mentioning--I thought I strained a stomach muscle a few weeks ago (during a frog kick in the pool, believe it or not), it didn't seem to get any better, and I found a small bulge in my lower abdomen. Off to the doctor and the inevitable diagnosis was given.

For the real news down here, I have to go back to Monday and work forward.

I mentioned a while back that we'd been having an unbelievable amount of rain--depending on where you live in Austin, it may have been the rainiest first half of the year in recorded history. We're over our average annual rainfall--for the year--by three inches.

When I picked up Eli 5.10 at camp on Monday, it was pouring. And since we're all idiots about the rain down here, all I have is a light Gore-Tex rain jacket. Which I put on Eli, of course, and it kept him totally dry.

By the time we got to the car, though, which wasn't very far, I was dripping wet. Literally.

I decided not to have lunch in the central part of town, because I was concerned about flooding if it rained like that for another hour. So we headed north, to see Mr. Cheese, because I knew we could get home from there.

It rained as hard as I've ever seen it the entire time we drove north (I stayed off the highway and took a neighborhood road that runs parallel). And by the time we walked into Chuck E. Cheese, I was dripping wet--again. I literally wrang water out of my shirt during a trip to the bathroom.

After that, other than a little kid yelling "WAHOO! WAHOO! WAHOO!" as he ran past with a string of tickets, and a women at the Pop-a-Shot machine who must have played for the Boston Celtics, our visit was not unusual.

Outside, it kept raining.

I've been thinking that we were at a pretty high risk for flooding (and we are)--the ground is completely saturated. And it's supposed to rain for several more days.

Then I saw what happened to Marble Falls last night [note: I wrote this on Wednesday, so this happened Tuesday night]. Marble Falls is a small town about (I'm guessing) thirty miles or so as the crow flies from Austin.

They got 18 inches of rain last night. In SIX HOURS.

You can see the story here and here.

I saw that storm on radar, and I noticed how it seemed to be settling instead of moving quickly like most storms down here do. Incredible.

Plus we're at 80%, 50%, 40%, 50%, and 50% chances of rain for the next five days. Man the lifeboats.

[note: and as I get ready to post this at mid-day Thursday, it's pouring. Again.]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hans Reiser

Joshua Davis wrote a truly phenomenal article about Hans Reiser in Wired. It's a sensational piece of writing.

I was going to write a little explanation here of who Hans Reiser is and some brief details about his case (he's accused of murder), but the article is good that I'm just going to give you the link here.


Last year, I mentioned some of the most inflationary economies in world history in posts here and here. What started the discussion (as it often does) was an e-mail, in this case from Steven Kreuch, telling me that production at Ghana's gold mines had been cut in half by the government so that there would be enough electricity to power the nation's television sets to watch Ghana in the World Cup.

That led in about five different directions and wound up in a discussion about hyperinflation, which led to post-WWI Germany and Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1993-1994 (thanks to information sent by reader Milos Miljkovic).

So when I saw this story about Zimbabwe yesterday, I wanted to share it, and here's an excerpt:
Zimbabwe's official inflation is 4,500% but independent economists and retailers say it is really above 11,000% and picking up speed. The black market rate for the Zimbabwean dollar has slumped, from Z$160,000 to the pound last week to more than Z$400,000. It collapsed further yesterday, tumbling to more than Z$300,000 to the dollar.

...Golfers pay for drinks before they set off on their round, because the price will have gone up by the time they have finished the 18th hole. One Zimbabwean was recently told by a pension company that it would no longer send him statements as his fund was worth less than the price of a stamp.

Eli 5.10: Fishing, Humming, Acting, and Building

"Dad, fishing is really relaxing," Eli 5.10 said, just before I took this picture.

Our fishing experience, so far, is very much like the Cheese Shop skit in Monty Python--it's certainly uncluttered by fish.

This is the third time we've gone fishing in the last two years. Total fish caught: zero.

I know how to fish in salt water, because that's where I grew up. Wade out almost anywhere, use a live shrimp under a popping cork for bait, and you'll catch something.

Freshwater fishing is different. Some ponds and creeks just don't have many fish, depending on where you fish and what bait you use.

This time, finally, even though we got skunked, we found a place with fish. So many fish, actually, that the first time I casted (there was a channel that Eli couldn't quite reach with his casts, which tend to be, um, "erratic") for Eli, his cork went under before I could even hand him the rod.

All in all, he had at least a dozen bites, but he didn't manage to hook anything. Still, though, he had a good time, and we're going again this Sunday. I'll be taking my own rod and reel this time, and based on the action he was getting, I should be able to hook something that he can reel in.

Even if it's a tire. Or a shoe.

Last night, Eli was humming a song when I went up to tell him good night. I couldn't quite place it, as he was only humming a few bars, but he said "I really can't get this song out of my head. Mom, what song is this?"

"Bohemian Rhapsody," Gloria said, laughing. And it was.

Eli's also in a summer camp this week. He's in three classes each morning: rocks, architecture, and theater. The last has started a new mini-performance where Eli occasionally walks into the living room, throws out his arms, and says "BRING ON THE THEATER!"

Finally, this morning I was in my study, checking e-mail and a few news updates before I went to work. My study door was open, so I could hear Eli talking to Gloria in the living room. "Mom," Eli said, "When I'm older, can I build a robot?"

"Well, I don't know if--" Gloria said.

"YES!" I shouted, emerging hurriedly from my study. "The correct answer to that question is always 'YES.' Yes, you can, and I'll help you."

Seriously, is there ever any other way to answer that question?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I've written about Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space before (a thorough, interesting Wikipedia entry is here: [note: Blogger is being a complete ass about accepting the URL, for some reason, so I just pasted it in without the "http://" so that it would be accepted without the end being truncated], plus a great site about the efforts to keep the game alive is here), but I've never mentioned Liftoff! before. Liftoff! was the original board game that BARIS was based on.

My friend John Harwood forwarded me an e-mail that was written to a fan of Liftoff/BARIS by Fritz Bronner, the designer of both games. Here it is:
Update: I am planning to go the path of self publishing in paper to add to the current LIFTOFF! Boardgame with 2 -3 expansion kits and then a basic Mars game too... I have to really keep a rein on a costs... so it will be only a marginal quality improvement of the existing game... I think people would prefer I focus on gameplay than glintz at this first go -around. In
"rough" outline here is what is planned... don't hold me too it exactly yet...

Expansion module #1 with some fixes, additional enhancements, some new hardware... a new map board, additional cards and features and options...a new country player.

Expansion #2 will have the JPL game and a new country and an Alternate history country as well... plus a map add-on.

Expansion #3 will have post Lunar landing decade game and some other add-ons

Expansion #4 will have the basic Mars 1980's approach.

All of the games could played in sequence in monster campaign game as well.

LIFTOFF Mars will be self contained as well as working in campaign mode.
It would include the 1980's and the 90's and the 2020 and the current plans.

Then down the road if this is a success... do a Liftoff! Moon - Gold Addition - with colour and greater visual improvement... and then LIFTOFF Mars GOLD... the design is all basically done.. just the rules need some streamlining...

Ideally this may drum up interest in a new computer version as well in stages... Moon and Mars... and multiplayer

First off there will be a new map board... with add-on Maps with each expansion along with the goodies that come with it.

Feel free to forword this info to those interested...and various websites.

That's great news, and could someone please explain to me why Fritz Bronner, who is an unbelievably good game designer, hasn't been signed by a software company to make another computer game?

Update on Update #2 to the CPotW

From DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles:
Unless I am mistaken, Microsoft is not publishing the Episodic content (per your Update #2). Microsoft is just the console-licensor, if you will. The announcement is akin to Microsoft providing EA, Activision or THQ $50M to publish content on their platform. Take-Two has done limited time exclusives before, but in my recollection, they never announced the value paid for that exclusive. This sounds like something different.

Absent a change in the 30-70 ratio quoted in the article, I question whether MS will be able to recoup the advance (unless it was cross collateralized against all GTA content (including packaged goods) -- which might be a possibility and would lend credance to your theory of larger Take Two issues). Alternatively, MS could be looking at this as a marketing purchase (which, arguably, is better bang for your buck that contracting with a shepard for a goat or renting out a hotel for some odd guests).

He's not mistaken--Microsoft is not the publisher for the episodic content. I was apparently having a brain freeze yesterday (which is not tremendously uncommon).

This Week: Game Overload

Not necessarily good game overload, mind you.

The Bigs (360, PS3, Wii)
The Darkness (360, PS3)
Hour of Victory (360)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (360, PC, PS3, Wii)
Ratatouille (360, PC)
Overlord (360, PC)
Transformers the Game (360, PS3, Wii)
Guild 2: The Pirates of the Seas (PC)
3D Model Trains (PC)
Driver: Parallel Lines (PC, Wii)
Seven Kingdoms Conquest (PC)

That's just the games that are new releases--there are also ports (like Lost Planet for the PC) coming out.

I'll be waiting for reviews on most of these, but I've pre-ordered The Darkness (almost entirely by accident, but I decided not to cancel), and The Bigs, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Overlord are all in my Gamefly queue. So I'll be looking at quite a few games by the end of the week.

Rod Beck: So Long, Shooter

Rod Beck was found dead at his home in Phoenix on Saturday.

Beck was an excellent (at one time, preeminent) closer, and had almost 300 saves in his major league career.

That's not why I'm mentioning him, though.

The reason I'm mentioning him is because he was responsible for one of my favorite baseball stories ever.

After Beck had reconstructive elbow surgery in 2002, he signed a minor league contract with the Iowa Cubs in 2003 in hopes of working his way back to the majors. He lived behind the right field wall of the stadium.

In an RV.

It was a great story. He went to the RV after games, drank beer, and hung out--with teammates, with groundskeepers, with fans, with anyone. He was the absolute antithesis of the me-first, monster-ego cancer that has invaded professional sports these days.

Here's a link to the RV story:

And here's a nice farewell:
SF Gate eulogy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Manhunt 2 and Gaming Links

Take-Two "suspended" Manhunt 2 last week in response to an AO (adults only) rating from the ESRB and an outright ban by the British Board of Film Classification and Entertainment Software Rating Board.

That just rolls off your tongue, doesn't it?

I think it's very instructive to listen to the plethora of industry people who are defending Take-Two and the game. That would be "plethora" as in "none."

Or, in a more accurate mathematical sense, "zero."

In other words, nobody cares that Take-Two made a game with such remarkably excessive violence that it received an AO rating. Publicity stunt, miscalculation, whatever--no one cares.

Seth Schiesel of the New York Times has a far more readable and thorough rendering of the controversy here. He also played the game for several hours, so he can (and does) comment intelligently on the game's content.

Reading Schiesel's article, I was reminded of something: remember how five years ago (or less), we all dismissed the writing that mainstream publications did about games? There was a good reason for that, though.

It was almost all crap.

That's not true today. Shiesel, N'Gai Croal (Newsweek), Dean Takahashi (Mercury News), and Chris Morris (CNN) are all knowledgeable about games and the business of games, and they're all excellent writers.

Speaking of N'Gai, he has an article explaining Bioware's decision to work with Sega on making a Sonic RPG. I think he explains Bioware's motivations entirely correctly, and I haven't seen his line of reasoning anywhere else. You can read the article here.

Tycho's Penny Arcade post is tremendously funny today (particularly the second paragraph, which is a full-on masterpiece), and you can read it here. If you don't get a post about Doritos, then look in the archives for the June 25 post.

Microsoft, Take-Two, and GTA IV Episodic Content

Thanks to Steve Smith for correctly pointing out that the $50M Microsoft is paying Take-Two for episodic GTA IV content is an advance, not a free bag of money.

See the details here.

I find that somewhat odd, and a sense of that oddness can be found in the analogy that Michael Pachter used to describe the arrangement:
Next-Gen contacted Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who further explained the deal. "What Microsoft did was pay a $50 million advance," he said, much in the same way a big-name author receives a payment in advance of his or her next book.

Yes, but this isn't the book industry, is it? In the gaming industry, this looks like a unique deal, and the question is why was it used?

Besides the obvious implication (that Take-Two is in desperate need of cash, which wouldn't surprise anyone), I think there's more going on here.

[Update: I've been thinking about this, and here's a potential scenario--and please note that this is 100% speculation on my part.

Remember, Rockstar never debuted any version of Grand Theft Auto III on more than one platform. So now they're trying to ship a brand-new generation of Grand Theft Auto on BOTH next-gen systems at the same time.

So if Take-Two went to Microsoft and said they were falling behind and couldn't afford to add any resources, what would Microsoft do? They'd figure out a way to get them some cash. That would also ensure that the 360 version has priority.

Like I said, that's speculation on my part, but I think it's a reasonable scenario.]

[Second Update: yes, I understand that publishers give advances to developers all the time. But I still find the timing and the publicity around this particular deal to be strange.]

[Third Update: good grief, I finally figured it out. Take-Two could have gone to Microsoft and given them a time-limited exclusive on downloadable content in exchange for a cash payment, not an advance. So they could have gotten a multi-million dollar check that would have been pure profit. Instead, they negotiated a much larger payment that is essentially nothing more than a loan. Why would you do that unless you were starving for cash?]

Console Post of the Week: When Stupid Collides

Dean Takahashi had an interview with Todd Todd Holmdahl, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Gaming and Xbox Products Group.

In it, Holmdahl managed to singlehandedly create a giant Hadron collider of stupid, with stupid smashing into stupid at incredibly high speed.

Let's take a look. Stupid particles, in this case, has a telltale "A" marker.

Q: I’m sure you’ve seen some of these complaints that we’ve written about from the guy who went through seven machines... There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the quality of the Xbox 360 isn’t there. How can you paint the bigger picture for me there?
A: We’re very proud of the box. We think the vast majority of people are having just a great experience...They love the box. They continue to buy the box.

Q: Do you still say that is a normal return rate for the console?

A: We continue to say the vast majority of the people are really happy with it.

Q: I’ve heard varying accounts of what is considered a normal return rate. Some people say that 2 percent is normal. Sometimes 3 percent to 5 percent is considered normal. Back to that question, can you address whether you are within those rates or within a normal rate.
A: We don’t disclose the actual number.

Q: What explains this anecodotal evidence that it’s out of whack, compared to the Wii or the PlayStation 3 or other consoles.
A: I would go back and say the vast majority of people love their experience.

Q: If you have a high defect rate, won’t that ruin the business model? Won’t that ruin the profit?
A: I would say we don’t have a high defect rate. The vast majority of people are really excited about their product, and that we are targeting profitability for next year.

Q: Your returns as a category. Is there any No. 1 reason for a return?
A: There are no systematic issues. The vast majority of the people just love the product, have a great experience with it.

Q: Was there any issue here where I didn’t ask it the right way but you could say something.
A: The overriding thing, Dean, is that people have the product, they love the product, it continues to sell well.

Hey, I don't know where I got this idea, but the vast majority of people seem to love the product.

For God's sake, does Holmdahl have some sort of alien creature inside him, systematically eating his brain? And with the pecan-sized mass he has left, all he can do is mumble "the vast majority of people seem to love the product" as drool runs off his chin?

Even as I make fun of Holmdahl, though, I know it's not really his fault. He's just parroting the talking points given to him.

I respect how hard Takahashi tried to get Holmdahl to answer the question about failure rates. And after Holmdahl refuses to answer the question six times, Takahashi's point is made: clearly, the 360 is a reliability disaster.

This issue has turned into a PR nightmare for Microsoft. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the real failure turns out to be 15% or higher. That's an incredible number for a console, far higher than any console in history, but Microsoft's spectacular stonewalling seems to be pointing in the direction of a very high percentage.

Plus, and I think this is very telling, Microsoft isn't using the obvious answer. The obvious thing to do would be to admit that there were issues at launch, but that reliability was no longer a problem. That they're not saying that means the reliability for systems made last Tuesday must not be significantly different than the launch systems.

Here's some irony for you: the switch to a 65nm verion of the CPU and GPU may go a long way toward solving Microsoft's problems, but most consumers won't understand that. Once this "unreliable" tag sticks, it's going to be very, very difficult to make it go away.

When people are talking about your reliability instead of your games, it is very, very bad news.

Microsoft did have some good news this week. Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream (which is coming to the U.S. with the title Eternal Sonata) sold over 45,000 copies last week and was the #2 selling game in Japan. Even better, the 360 almost outsold the PS3 in Japan last week (7,583 for the 360, compared to 9,481 for the PS3).

Here's something to boggle your mind: not only is the Wii crushing the 360 and the PS3 in Japan, but it's outselling the combined sales of the 360 and PS3 there by almost 4-1.

Sony made up some good news this week--they're releasing 380 games worldwide by the end of the fiscal year in March. That's a completely fabricated number, obviously, and sounds very similar to the outlandish claim they made for Blu-Ray titles last year, but the press immediately beat the drum and said hooray!

Speaking of Blu-Ray, Blockbuster announced that after evaluating the results from the 250 pilot stores involved in their high-definition DVD rollout, the only high-definition discs they'll be renting in their 1,450 stores will be Blu-Ray. HD-DVD discs will still be rented in the stores involved in the pilot program.

The HD-DVD camp tried to spin this by saying Blu-Ray titles were more heavily rented because more of them have been released this year, but that's an indictment of HD-DVD, not a defense. If they don't convince more of the major studios to support both formats, their manufacturing cost advantage won't matter.

I raised this as a possibility several months ago, that Sony might be willing to sacrifice the PS3 as a gaming console in order to ensure that they win the high-definition DVD format war. And so far, that's what appears to be happening--failure as a gaming machine (much larger market), but successful in tilting the format war in Blu-Ray's direction (much smaller market).

Oh, and here's one last thing (sorry for hopping back and forth): Microsoft scratched a check for $50M to Take-Two for episodic GTA IV content. Two pieces of episodic content. I would have far preferred they spend that $50M on, say, engineering, but this is just the opening salvo in what is going to be a very, very interesting six months.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Links!

Lots and lots of stuff today, and it's in absolutely no particular order.

I know that games based on movies generally are required by law to suck, but even I'm somewhat impressed by this clip from The Transformers game.

If you ever wondered who was the real-life inspiration for the infamous character of Dr. Jekyll, then this is the link you've been waiting for (thanks Sirius). It may have been Dr. Thomas Weir, and here's an except from the article:
A BBC documentary, presented by Rankin, says the young Stevenson was horrified by tales of one of the notorious figures of the 17th century. Weir shocked Edinburgh society when, at 70, he revealed he had for decades practised incest, bestiality and sorcery.

Here's one more link from Sirius, and it's about--the Frisbee, which is still doing very well fifty years after its invention. Read about it here.

That's the best-ever link combo from one person: a practicing "sorcerer" who worshipped the devil and was executed, and--Frisbee!

Here's a fascinating article by Charlie Stross (noted science fiction writer) about the impossibility of ever actually colonizing the galaxy, and you can read it here.

Jack Kidwell sent in a link to a very addictive flash game called Castle Wars. Give it a play here.

Here's a hilarious link to an article from The Onion about Pac-Man Jones. If you follow pro football, it's falling-down funny, and you can read it here.

There's a wickedly funny article in the Daily Mail about a woman moving to a "peaceful" country village to live. It's called "My Year of Living Miserably in the Bigoted Village From Hell," and you can read it here.

Thanks to Pete Thistle for links to the finals performance of Paul Potts (opera singer) in "Britain's Got Talent," which you can watch here, the winner is announced here.

From watching the show, you'd think Paul Potts was living in his parents basement and only sang opera in the shower, but he had appeared in productions (as an amateur) before and had been studying voice for years, so the truth is a little fuzzier than the show presented.

ESPN has an interesting article on Carl Pavano, who signed a $40 million dollar contract with the Yankees in 2004 and has won exactly five games in three years. Along the way, he's had the most bizarre series of injuries imaginable. Read about it here.

Juan Font sends in a link to images from the annual sandcastle building contest at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort (near Vancouver, my favorite city in the world). See them here.

Finally, have you ever wanted to make music--with a Tesla coil? Skip Key sends in a link to someone doing just that, and it's amazing. Watch it here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Total Pro Golf 2: Play Guide

I thought I would write up a short guide to gameplay in Total Pro Golf 2. Please note that this isn't intended to be an inclusive play guide, because there are many different choices you can make in the game. I'm just going to discuss how I play the game--hopefully, if you're already playing the game, it will be of some use, and if you're not playing yet, I hope the guide convinces you to give it a try.

One note: even with the "large" option selected in Blogger, these screenshots are a little small in the post. Just click on any of them to see them as a larger size.

Let's get started. At the opening menu, choose "Start New Career." That will take you to the Career Setup Screen, which looks like this:

There are a few important choices to make on this screen. First, you choose whether to use the tri-click control method (with the power meter) or go with the one-click "sim" style.

To get something similar to the experience I wrote about in my impressions post, choose one-click. Tri-click is fun, but it's much more of an arcade experience (and, if you've ever played a golf game, it's an experience you've probably already had). With one-click, shot outcomes depend on your player ratings, which is the heart of the game.

Finally, you can change the names of the tours if you like. You'll also notice that European Tours are also included in the game, which is the first time I've ever seen that in a golf game.

The next screen gives you the ability to modify sponsor information (in other words, you can add "real world" sponsors). That's self-explanatory, so let's move along to the next screen, which is the "Golfer Population" screen. Here's where you determine the nationalities of the players on your tour (on a percentage basis by country--note that you can do this separately for both the American and European tours). Again, it's pretty simple, so let's keep moving.

This screen is important. It's the Golfer Creation screen, and let's walk through the options, because they'll have a significant impact on your gaming experience.

After entering your name, age and starting tour, you'll see a box on the left that says "check this box if you want your golfer's potential ratings to be automatically determined when your golfer is created."

If you let the game determine your potential ratings in each skill category, your potential will be hidden. If you don't, you'll have a pool of skill points to allocate across the different skill categories, but you'll know, right from the beginning of your career, your highest potential ratings in each skill.

That's no fun. Let's wade in to the great unkown and let the game determine our potential.

Also, there's a category called "Ratings Base," and it's also important. You can choose from four options: Rookie, Average, Pro, or Superstar. If you choose Rookie, your initial ratings will 57 or 58 in all skill categories. Choose Superstar, and they'll be 61 or 62. Your potential rating can't dip below your initial rating, so choosing Superstar will ensure that the floor for your potential is a little higher. I usually choose Average, which is what I've done in the screenshot above.

When you've finished with your selections, click on "Save Golfer" at the bottom of the screen. When you do, you'll see a "Finish" box appear at the bottom-right of the screen. Click on it and you'll be taken to a screen where you can either load your golfer or go to the Commissioner's office.

Commissioner's office won't be discussed in this post, except to say that if you want to change from tri-click to one-click or vice versa, you can do it here.

Load your newly-created golfer. You'll see a help screen that reminds you to do two things before you start your career:

1. Go to the Pro Shop (in the row of options on the left of the screen) and buy clubs/balls. Equipment degrades over time, so you'll be buying clubs/balls two or three times a year. I like Terisco Golf--they're the bottom choice in the manufacturer list, so they're easy to scroll to, and their quality for both clubs and balls is very high.
2. Go to the Staff screen and select both a coach and a caddie. Select the "View Avail." to see a list of coaches/caddies. You can sort by any column, which is very convenient, because quite a few coaches won't work with a scrub like you, and the ones that will are seriously deficient in at least one or two categories.

You'll notice that the coaches are rated in five categories (long game, short game, putting, mechanics, mental), but there are ten categories of ratings for your player (power, woods, long irons, short irons, wedges, putting, recovery, mechanics, mental, consistency). I think that's a great bit of design, because a one-to-one skill mapping would far too easy to use.

Once you've bought clubs and hired your staff, you'll be in your home office, which looks like this:

As an aside, something else I really like about this game is that it doesn't have a dozen levels of deeply nested menus. In the office, you click on icons that represent different functions, and they're logical--e-mail (computer screen), weekly schedule (calendar), trophy case (duh--trophy case), sponsors (clothing in closet), club info (golf clubs), ball info (balls), and ratings info (click on your player name).

It all make sense, and it's far easier than going through menu after menu. Oh, and as a bonus, when you've reached certain career thresholds (total winnings, etc.), your office will automatically upgrade, which is just one of many nice touches in this game.

One other note about the home office screen. In the bottom right-hand corner, notice the "Money Available." You start out with $50,000, and if you go bust, your career is over. Good luck pumping gas if you can't manage that bankroll successfully.

Click on the computer screen and let's check e-mail. You'll find a message from the Tour Commissioner as well as some tips on playing the game. Once you're done, click on the calendar and let's go to the Weekly Schedule screen.

The pop-up screen is your weekly schedule. If there's a tournament scheduled, you'll see it listed on Thursday--Sunday. Since it's the beginning of the year, the tournaments haven't started on the minor tour yet.

It looks easy, doesn't it? Well, the devil is in the details--it is easy to use, but it's not easy excel.

Here are your options for each day (in order of how they appear on the screen): rest, practice long game, practice short game, or play a practice round. Each day you practice or play in a tournament, your energy will go down, and if you get into the low 80's and below, your fatigue will start to affect your play.

Practicing (no matter how) costs you 1 point of energy per day. Resting for one day restores 2 points, while resting for two days will restore 5 (an extra point because of the effect of consecutive rest days). The schedule I usually follow when I'm practicing all week is to practice the long game for two days, the short game for three days, and then rest on Saturday and Sunday. If I started out with 100 energy, I'll be back at that level after Sunday.

Why don't I have practice rounds in my schedule? Practice rounds improve all your skills instead of focusing on just one, but the skill increases are much smaller. I don't usually play practice rounds, because I can sim several months of dedicated practice in the time I can manually play one round.

This isn't intended as a one-season game. You won't see ratings improvements in your golfer after a week of practice. And it could easily take you a decade to max out all your golfer's skill ratings--not only do you have to squeeze in practice while earning enough money in tournaments to keep your tour card, but you also have to keep a close eye on your coach and hire a new one if they're weak in categories you need to improve. Coach's ratings also change slightly over time (something else I really like), so the coach you hired in January may not be as good in July.

Plus, your ratings can decrease over time if you don't practice them. Don't think you can get your power skill up to 85, then work on putting seven days a week. Sorry. Your skills will also degrade if all you do is play in tournaments.

So it's a fine balance between tournament play and practice time. It seems so simple at first, but the more you play, the more you realize that if you want to be one of the best golfers on the pro tour, you can't play in every tournament (or even most of them). You need to be working on your game and selecting tournaments carefully.

Then there's money. You need to play tournaments to increase your budget, but unless you get better ratings (which you do by practicing), you won't win very much.

Like I said, it winds up being a fairly complex balance to manage all these different elements. What I did in my current career was practice my entire first season (there's a "Sim Season" option that will sim from your current point to the end of the year). When you're on the minor tours, your expense rate isn't nearly as high as it is on the top tours. I simmed a full season (changing coaches in mid-stream to compensate for the first coach's weaknesses) and didn't start playing tournaments until year two.

I had another career, though, where that blew up in my face. Even after accepting some low-dollar sponsorship offers to increase my remaining cash, I trained too long and started playing too late--I didn't make enough cuts and wound up going bust.

So no matter your strategy, there's risk--another nice design feature of this game.

Don't ignore sponsorships while you're on the minor tours, by the way. They'll arrive via e-mail, and given the low burn rate of playing on the scrub tour, even ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year could really help out your cash flow.

Last topic: playing a round.

Gee, if all I'm doing is selecting a club and a target, that doesn't need any guide, does it?

Well, you'd be surprised.

Let's take a look at the in-round screen:

That little white box in the middle of the screen, by the way, will tell you how far the cursor's current position is away from the hole.

First, let's look at the in-round options (one of the choices on top of the screen):
--Putting Cam. This is enabled by default, and gives you a nice close-up of the screen and the path of a putt. Turn this off, and you won't see a putt, just the outcome. I always leave putting cam on--some of the putts are high drama.
--A.I. Shot Movement. Also enabled by default. Turn this off and you won't see shot paths. I like seeing them (again, quite a bit of drama), so I leave this on.
--Stop Sim For E-mails. This is on by default as well, and will say "you have new mail" when something hits your in-box. Convenient, and I leave it on.
--Show TPG Tips. If you're a new player, I'd recommend leaving this on. You'll get some helpful tips as you play the game.
--Ball Travel Speed. If you don't like how fast the ball travels on shots, you can change the speed here. This is a very, very nice option, and I always choose to slow the ball down one or two notches.

Once you start playing a round, you'll notice two things right away:
--rough, particularly medium and deep rough, have a big effect on distance (and on which clubs you can even use).
--the wind can have a significant effect on distance as well.

In other words, selecting your aiming point is far from automatic. Golf a thinking man's game, after all.

Don't forget the "shot options" icon at the bottom--you can choose to hit a draw or fade, both of which can come in very handy, depending on the path of the fairway.

Also, and this is probably the most important tip I can give you about playing the round, where you place the aiming cursor determines both direction and swing strength. In other words, if you were a hundred yards from the green, you'd need to aim at a different point if you were hitting from the fairway as opposed to hitting from deep rough. From deep rough, you'd need to aim 30-40 yards beyond the hole to compensate for what the rough will do to the distance of the shot.

There's no automatic effort adjustment, in other words. If you aim for the flagstick from deep rough, the shot will be well short. You must calculate the extra effort required.

Wind? Same thing--you must gauge the effect.

Again, it's a thinking man's game. And it makes playing a round much, much more challenging.

Since the course is rendered in 2D, if you get in the trees, your shot options will change from "normal/over swing/easy swing" to "chip/punch/flop." That helps you "see" that you don't have a clear path to the hole. You'll also see "chip/punch/flop" if you're within about sixty yards of the green (or closer).

All right, we're almost done here. When you reach the green, the shot options change to the three putting choices: normal, aggressive, or safe.

It may not seem like those choices translate into useful decisions, but here's how I use them. On rainy days, I'll use the aggressive choice more often, and particularly on putts inside ten feet. If the two players in my group land near me on the green, and they're both long/short with their putt, I'll use choose to adjust the putt based on their outcomes (assuming the A.I. would do the same with my putt).

I mentioned in the impressions post that I thought wedge play (and chipping) were more inaccurate than they should be. Gary dropped me an e-mail and said he was looking into it, and I tried out a new patch yesterday that improved wedge accuracy by about 20%. He's still tweaking it, but the issue is being addressed.

So when do I play out rounds instead of simming them? In terms of playing rounds during tournaments, here's what I do: I only play out the fourth round of a tournament, and only if I'm within five or six shots of the lead. I'll also play out the last round of Q-school if I'm trying to qualify for the top pro tour.

Playing the last round when you're near the lead is very dramatic, particularly with the updating leaderboard and roars from around the course (you'll only see this feature if you're in the top 30). Plus there's no "instant win" from simming the round and winding up in first--you have to earn it.

So there you go. That should get you started on your career. It's a terrific game, and it has absolutely nailed the "just five more minutes" that makes it so hard to stop playing.

Here's the site for the game: Wolverine Games.

Oh, and a note about courses. There are an absolute ton of excellent courses (over fifty in total) at the TPG community site here. Just download the course, unzip into your main TPG2 directory, and it should be automatic from there. What you'll wind up with is a course file with a .CRS extension in the "TPG2/Courses" directory, and all other files in the zip will be in a sub-folder that matches the course name in the .CRS file.

And if that's clear as mud, just look in your directory structure--you'll see how it works with the stock courses.

One final note: once you download new courses, there's an outstanding feature that helps you put them into the tournament schedule with a minimum of fuss. Just go into the Commissioner's office and select the "Edit Schedule" option. You'll be taken to a screen with the full year's schedule for the tour you're editing. In the bottom-right of that screen, you'll see a "Random" button. That randomly assigns all the courses you have in the TPG2/Courses directory to tournament events. That's excellent, but after doing that you can still assign specific courses to specific events (which I use to assign specific courses to the four majors).

Plus, and this is just a random data point that I forgot to include elsewhere, the annual schedule includes both the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup.

That's it. Have fun.

Thanks, Gamefly

Here's the e-mail I just received from Gamefly:
Keep It Now for Only $0.00!
Major League Baseball 2K7

Save $59.99 off the retail price of $59.99

Dear William,
For a limited time, you can Keep the copy of Major League Baseball 2K7 you have rented for the special low price of just $0.00!

Even with the crap state the game was released in, and no signs of a patch FOUR MONTHS later, that's still a deal.

I know, it's probably a typo. But that's about what it's worth in its present condition.

I wish that all these people who allegedly cover the sports gaming industry would try to hold these developers accountable. Ben Brinkman had a "wrap up" session in early April in which he said, among other things, this:
"I personally think that whole fielding system sucks."

Hey, points for honesty--the fielding system really does suck. But admitting that something is shitty after you've gotten 90% of the sales shouldn't really qualify as candid, should it? And why didn't any of these "journalists" ask him about patches for the significant number of issues in the game? Why didn't anyone ask for some kind of commitment to supporting the $60 product?

Ben Brinkman has always struck me as a talented, decent guy. But what he did this year was take an early alpha and make it a beta. Four months after the game shipped, with multiple, serious issues in franchise mode, there hasn't been even one patch.

That's embarrassing.

That Didn't Take Long

Well, that took about an hour.

From Gamespot:
When Take-Two Interactive yesterday confirmed that the Entertainment Software Rating Board handed down a rating of AO for Adults Only for Rockstar Games' Manhunt 2 on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo Wii, the publisher said it was exploring its options.

GameSpot has confirmed with Nintendo and Sony that one of those options, which would be to accept the ESRB's judgment and release the game with the AO rating, isn't an option at all. Both companies forbid licensed third-party publishers from releasing games rated AO for Adults Only on their various hardware platforms. Though Manhunt 2 isn't slated for any of Microsoft's systems, the company has also confirmed that it does not allow AO-rated titles on the Xbox or Xbox 360.

There you go. Don't tell me Take-Two didn't know you couldn't release "AO" content on the Wii. They knew, and they also knew what "pliers ripping testicles" action would get rated. Now, just wait for the inevitable "we're being asked to violate our artistic integrity so that people can play the game" press release, which should be coming along any day now.

Oh, wait--here it is:
Take Two chairman Strauss Zelnick said Manhunt 2 had his full support and that consumers should decide for themselves.

"The Rockstar team has come up with a game that fits squarely within the horror genre and was intended to do so," Mr Zelnick said in a statement.

..."It brings a unique, formerly unheard of cinematic quality to interactive entertainment, and is also a fine piece of art," Mr Zelnick said.

Yes, and I'm sure it will be a massive compromise of the team's artistic integrity to change a game where pelotas can be ripped out with pliers. Cry me a testicle river.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dwarf Fortress

Tarn and Zach Adams, creators of the brilliant Dwarf Fortress, are featured in an article in the new issue of Games for Windows. Julian Murdoch (from Gamers With Jobs, of course) did an excellent job of capturing the complex but endearing (and epic) feel of the game.

I had Dwarf Fortress as #1 in my favorite PC games of 2006 list, and in case you missed the January interview with Tarn Adams, the links you need are here and here.

Also, the game's website is here.

Tarn's been working on what appears to be a very large update when the next build is released, which I'm hoping will be by the end of July. That's just a guess, though, from looking at the remaining task list.


There seem to be quite a few sites reporting that Spore's release date has been delayed until 2009.

That is incorrect.

"2009" is a fiscal year reference, not a calendar one. EA's 2009 fiscal year begins April 1, 2008.

In other words, this is non-news. We already knew the game was delayed until at least April 2008--EA announced that in their last earnings conference call.

A Hypothetical

Let's say I made a very violent video game a few years ago, and it didn't do very well. The entire premise of the game rested on the "kill thrill," and without the sensational violence, the game itself was bland. Critics felt it was a very average game, and once the game shipped, word-of-mouth was lousy.

Now there's a sequel on the way, and it doesn't have much buzz behind it, even though the game is shipping soon.

You need some buzz.

Here's an idea: make the game so ultra-violent, so incredibly offensive, that ratings boards would pull out the ratings equivalent of the death penalty for the game--either banning it outright or giving it the dreaded "Adults Only" rating so that major retailers are unlikely to even carry it once it's released.

Doing that would get you previews like this:
In fact, no game we have ever played or seen is as over-the-top violent or downright gross as this action-stealth splatter fest. can, Wii remote and nunchuk in hands, use a pair of pliers to clamp onto an enemy's testicles and literally tear them from his body in a bloody display; and if that weren't enough, you'll take one of the poor victim's vertebrae along with his manhood. Or, if you'd prefer, you can use a saw blade and cut upward into a foe's groin and buttocks, motioning forward and backward with the Wii remote as you go.

Once the game is banned or rated as adults only, you can go on the PR offensive. Why, you're OUTRAGED that this game has been rated for adults only. It's censorship!

This should get you more publicity than you could ever afford to buy.

Then you'll quietly rework the game, doing whatever needs to be done to ensure that places like Wal-Mart will carry the game (and countries like England will allow it to be sold). The publicity you received initially guarantees that the consumer will believe that your game is the bloodiest, most violent game imaginable, constantly skirting the line of being banned.

PR genius. In a very disgusting way.

So if Manhunt 2 gets re-submitted by Take-Two and gets re-rated, don't be surprised. At all.

Rock Band: Fender Stratocaster Controller

Oh, my.

Here's a very good picture of the Fender Stratocaster controller, and in a word, it's gorgeous.

That was two words, I guess, but you know what I mean.

There are also five additional buttons on the neck, which have variously been mentioned as being used for solos or for sections where you HO/PO without strumming.

The controllers have always been the open question in regards to Rock Band. In a design sense, at least, they appear to have passed with flying colors.

The Foot

So this is what I saw when I walked to out my car Tuesday morning:

I was sleepy after the new neighborhood dog had barked 500 times in the last hour, and when I saw the foot I was trying to process about five thoughts at once.

Including this one: there's a *ucking foot hanging out of my car.

I knew it was the foot I'd gotten for Halloween last year, but from ten feet it looked real enough to short circuit my brain, especially because the toes were just touching the driveway.

It didn't look real, but it did.

I walked back into the house. "Something's afoot," I said.

"I got you, Dad!" Eli 5. 10 said, laughing. "I got you!" It was his prank, in concert with the babysitter. I've said it before, but just one more time: that's my boy.

I've been reading a book to him called The Invention of Hugo Cabret (recommended by reader Cliff Eyler). The book is several inches thick, but that's because there are dozens and dozens of beautiful, full-page pencil sketches included. I started reading it on Saturday night, and I didn't stop until I finished, because it was impossible to put down.

Here's the description from the Amazon page:
Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

You had me at "mechanical man."

Anyway, after I finished, I started reading it to Eli, and he was absolutely mesmerized by the story and the drawings. We finished in three days, which must be some kind of land speed record for reading that book out loud.

It's a wonderful, special book. The Amazon page is here, and you'll also see one of the pencil sketches. Block out some time when it gets delivered, because you'll be reading it straight through.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Total Pro Golf 2

It's the seventeenth hole at Florida Bay on the last day of the Brodems Open. I'm in second place, behind Matt Murphy by one stroke. As one of my playing partners tees off on the 17th, I hear a roar from behind me. Then I see the leaderboard. Murphy birdied the fifteenth.

Two down. Two holes to play.

It's my favorite PC sports game of the year. It's Total Pro Golf 2.

Forget everything you thought you knew about sports text sims. This is not that game. It's bright and colorful, and it stretches the boundaries of what a sports sim can be and do. Designer Gary Gorski, after a promising start last year with the initial edition of Total Pro Golf, has refined the game, added features, and made it compulsively playable.

Here's the short version: Total Pro Golf 2 is a role-playing golf game. You create a character and try to guide him from the minor tours up to the championship levels of professional golf. You hire coaches, allocate practice time to improve various skill ratings, and play in tournaments. Manage your player wisely, and he make his mark on golf history. Manage poorly, and you might go bust on the minor league tour and your career will be over.

It's not just about management, though. You can play out any of your tournament rounds in either sim mode or the new tri-click mode. Sim mode allows you to pick clubs and aim (which, based on your lie, wind, and elevation can be trickier than it seems), while tri-click will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a golf game.

Playing rounds isn't required. You could go an entire career and just sim through all the tournament rounds. But playing the final round if you're near the lead is incredibly entertaining (although often agonizing). Remember the opening of this post? That wasn't something I made up--if you're in the top thirty on the leaderboard on the last day of the tournament, you'll hear the roars and groans from the gallery as they follow the leaders around the course, and you'll see an updated leaderboard at the beginning of each hole.

If you enjoy watching major tournament golf, you'll know that one of the thrilling moments is when you hear a roar from another part of the course. This is the first golf game to ever duplicate that experience, and believe me, it gives you a charge when you hear the cheers and see the leaderboard change. It's a level of drama that I've never seen in a golf game before.

There are eight courses that come with the game this year, and they're all beautiful as well as challenging. The course designer (Jim Swanson) has done a terrific job creating these fictional courses, and there are many more user-created courses available at the TPG community site at, including many based on real courses.

What I really, really like about this game is how well it simulates the struggles of a touring golf professional. To move up from the minor tour to the major, you have to balance how much time you spend practicing versus how many tournaments you play. It's a fine balance--the more tournaments you play, the more money you could theoretically earn, but try to play every week and there's no real time for serious practice to improve your skills in various aspects of the game.

Without those improved skills, you might make it off the minor tour, only to fail when you step up to the WSGA. It's a quantum difference in quality of opponents, and even if you easily qualified to be there, you might well struggle to finish in the top 120 on the money list to retain your tour card for the next season. And without devoting months to practice, your ratings will never improve enough for you to have any chance at being a dominant player.

It's a fine balance, trying to juggle all the different gameplay elements in an optimal way, and it's entirely possible that you could play for years without winning a tournament. Instead of being a champion, you might be a grinder.

A journeyman.

That makes this game special for me. Success is not guaranteed. I've lost careers by running out of money on the minor tour. I'm in my twelfth year of another career and still haven't won a tournament on the WSGA tour. Playing out the fourth round of a tournament when you're close to the lead is remarkably dramatic, and its doubly so when you're 32 and have never won a pro tournament before. Maybe there won't be another chance, and maybe it makes you take a few more risks, hoping against hope that you can thread the needle with a three-wood to reach a par five in two.

I'd like more, of course. I'd like to see Monday qualifiers for WSGA events when you're on one of the minor tours. I'd like to get a sponsor's exemption a few times a year, just to give a chance to get a taste of the tour. I'd like for Q-school to be the full six rounds instead of four.

The in-round gameplay balance could use tweaking. Wedges and chips seem more inaccurate than they should be, although the longer clubs seem to be spot-on in terms of gameplay balance. Using the tri-click feature is fun, but I'd really like to see the speed of the meter vary with your golfer's skill level. I'd also like to see the weekly expense rate be adjusted, particularly on the WSGA tour, to make financial choices more meaningful.

Most of all, though, I'd just like to see more. More courses. More of the custom screens (the artwork in this game is outstanding). More strategic options and choices. This game is both fully-realized and still full of potential. It's so well designed that you immediately begin thinking of how the game could be extended, how the golf world could be even more detailed.

It's a terrific game, and it's coming from a small team at Wolverine Studios. These guys have made professional golf much more interesting than EA Sports ever could.

Here's the website for the game: Wolverine Studios. The demo is a three-day trial of the full version, so you'll get to try out the full game.

Oh, and here are a couple of tips if you do download the demo. First, when you create your player, I highly advise recommending the game determine your potential. If you do that, your potential remains hidden, and you'll have to discover the caps in your various skill ratings over time. This makes selecting a coach much more interesting, because even if he has the highest instructional rating in a particular skill category, it won't matter if you've already reached your highest possible rating.

Second, here's an aiming tip. When you're targeting the aiming cursor, you can aim right for the flag if you're on the fairway. If you're not, though, you need to adjust for the lie. That means if you're in medium rough, for example, you need to aim beyond the hole, because the ball won't travel as far as a similar effort from the fairway. I didn't like this at first, but as I've played more (I'm at nearly thirty hours now), I appreciate how much more challenging it makes the game.

Later this week I'll have some gameplay tips as well as recommendations for course downloads.

Joyce Hatto and the Piano Con

There's a totally fascinating story over at MSNBC titled "To Catch a Sneak: The inside story of the digital sleuthing that exposed Britain’s greatest pianist as a fraud.

That pianist, in case you're wondering, is Joyce Hatto. Here's an excerpt from the story:
By the time Joyce Hatto died of ovarian cancer at age 77, she had released 119 albums. Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin—every one of them had been mastered. She was called the greatest pianist that no one had ever heard of. Fame finally came posthumously, but not for her virtuosity at the ivories. In February it was discovered that each of her brilliant records was very likely to have been plagiarized. Put on a Joyce Hatto CD and you'll really hear Yefim Bronfman, John O'Conor, Vladimir Ashkenazy and dozens more, but not Joyce Hatto. Fittingly, the Hatto myth unraveled much in the same way it was created: with a little enterprising digital tinkering.

It was a remarkable con, and the twists and turns of the story are intriguing. The story is here, and there are links inside the story to articles that explain (in detail) how the fraud was discovered.

Monday, June 18, 2007

EA Re-org

Thanks to Doug Walsh for sending along the information that EA has announced a major re-org. Here's an excerpt:
Electronic Arts said today it will undergo a major reorganization that will separate the megapublisher into four different labels.

The four labels will be EA Sports, EA Games, EA Casual Entertainment and The Sims. Separate presidents will head up each label. Nancy Smith will lead The Sims label; Frank Gibeau will head up EA Games, which will manage titles including—but not limited to—Need for Speed, Medal of Honor, Spore, Battlefield, Burnout, Command & Conquer and The Simpsons; Kathy Vrabeck will head up the recently announced EA Casual Entertainment unit, which houses Harry Potter, Boogie, EA Mobile and; and EA executive VP Joel Linzner will lead EA Sports until a president is appointed for that label.

See the full article here.

Rock Band

Here's some Rock Band information that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else.

Today, EB Games changed the release date of Rock Band from 11/1 to 11/20.

If you're familiar with how EB's upcoming release schedule works, you know that if a game is scheduled as coming out on the first or last day of the month, it's probably just a placeholder and not an official release date.

That means that 11/20 looks like a real release date. Also looking very real is what you see on the order page:
Pre-order Rock Band by November 19th at 11am CST with overnight shipping and get guaranteed street date delivery! If your product does not arrive on the street date, we will credit your order for the full shipping amount! Continental United States only. Must have Overnight Service available in your area. Offer void if you are unable to accept a delivery that was attempted. Not responsible for orders delayed due to incorrect address, credit card information or inclement weather.

Yes, they're clearly covering their ass in case the game gets delayed, but 11/20 looks like the first solid release date we've seen.

So what's all this going to cost us? Again, these prices look like the real deal:
Rock Band (game only)--$59.99
Rock Band Drum Set--$79.99
Rock Band Microphone--$29.99
Rock Band Wireless Fender Guitar Controller--$79.99
Rock Band Bundle (I assume this is all three controllers plus the game)--$199.99

EA may immediately come out and deny that these are the final prices, but that doesn't mean much. These prices seem internally consistent and I believe they're correct.


I linked to an interview with Tyler Bleszinski two weeks ago here.

It's bothered me since then. Something in that interview just seemed, well, wrong, but I couldn't quite identify the problem.

Yesterday, it hit me, and to help me with the explanation, here are a few excerpts from the interview:

If Nintendo has its way, young males will no longer be the dominant segment of the console audience--and this transition appears to be happening faster than I expected. can count on other gaming companies who cater to the more hardcore gamer--aka me and the milions of others who've been driving this business--to promptly change direction.

...if people want to play the WarioWare mini-games more than the meaty experiences that hardcore gamers love, you're inevitably going to see a corresponding shift in development.

...why would publishers want to continue to the time and effort to develop an in-depth, cinematic experience when they could slap together a bunch of mini-games with waggle and make just as much money, if not more?

...I'll repeat this again: I am not saying that the more hardcore games are going to die out. Smart developers and publishers will realize that they can make a mint off the hardcore, especially if more developers move towards the quick, jump in-jump out type of experience that many Wii and DS games offer. But they will be in the minority. Valve, Epic and others won't turn to making mini-game compilations, but I can definitely see companies like EA and Ubisoft realizing that they don't need huge development teams and hundreds of people working on a game to make a ton of cash in the land of mini-game moneymakers. It's like suddenly discovering that business plan behind McDonald's is applicable to video games.

... These same people didn't jump into hardcore games before the Wii...

Somebody send Tyler some fiber, stat. He's hardcore.

Let's look at a little history.

I think there are two major ways to view games: as an experience or as a competition.

In the mid 1980's, arcade games represented the competition aspect of gaming. PC games were usually experiences, not competitions. The opponent (the A.I.) was just part of the experience.

In 1993, though, Doom was released, and the orbit of gaming irrevocably changed.

In a word: deathmatch.

Follow Doom (1993) to Quake (1996) to Unreal Tournament (1999) to Halo (2001) [note: I'm getting enough e-mail from people that I think it's fair to question whether Halo really belongs in this group. Certainly, more people appear to be playing Halo just for the single-player game than I thought.] I'd list all the various iterations of the franchises, but really, does it matter? Deathmatch is what turned computer and console games from experiences into competitions.

Suddenly, the competition wasn't part of the experience--it was the experience.

Welcome to the frag.

Is there anything wrong with making games for people who want to compete against each other? Hell, no. But don't even try to tell me that Tony Teabagger represents the "hardcore."

Competition against other humans is not what makes gamers hardcore. It's not a requirement.

Seriously, what exactly is Tyler bemoaning here? The death of the "in-depth, cinematic experience," as he puts it?

Who the *uck makes those?

Not Epic. Look, I buy everything Epic makes, and I've written about why I do: their support of the mod community. I totally respect them for that reason, and I really like Epic as a company. But the next in-depth cinematic experience they put out will be their first.

Gears of War? Please. The single-player experience was staggeringly beautiful and absolutely paper-thin. Crap dialogue. Incredibly repetitive gameplay.

And Gears of War is as close as they've gotten. By far.

Just to clarify: I know that Tyler doesn't work for Epic. But I think it's fair to assume that Cliff's (his brother) games represent what Tyler believes is the "hardcore" experience.

Very few people play Quake or Halo for the single-player experience. Tyler's lamenting the death of a type of game that barely even exists.

Bethesda makes those kinds of games, and they're terrific. Valve does, too. Bethesda and Valve make games in different genres, but they both show a high level of attention to detail, and they understand how to create an experience.

For every game that successfully captures the "in-depth cinematic experience," though, there are at least twenty (or thirty, or fifty) that don't.

Here's the thing: those development teams of hundreds of people with huge budgets? Quite frequently, they put out a very average game. Or worse. Very few gaming companies have proven that they can handle the organizational demands and have the discipline required to manage projects like that.

Remember, before the Wii came out, developers were decrying the size of the teams and the budgets needed to make games for the 360 and PS3. Remember that? The project sizes were unmanageable, the budgets were going to bankrupt companies, blah blah blah.

Now, when the market suddenly starts to change because of the staggering success of the Wii, what are people complaining about? Smaller teams and lower budgets!

EA? Tyler thinks that EA is going to turn into McDonald's? For *uck's sake, Tyler, EA IS MCDONALD'S. They've been churning out mediocre game after mediocre game for years. What was the last great single-player experience developed by EA?

No hurry. I'll wait.

Here's the irony in his comments: the "waggle" IS hardcore. When it's used properly, motion-sensing is a quantum leap in intensity over sitting on your ass on the couch. It's not Nintendo's fault that the "hardcore" want to whine and cry about the graphics instead of focusing on the experience.

It's terribly ironic that so many people both in and out of the gaming industry have such a rigid definition of "hardcore" that they don't even recognize a disruptive technology that could deeply enhance the immersion and intensity of a game.

You know what's happening, don't you? A few incredibly talented people, like John Carmack and Cliffy B, so narrowly defined the present that the future ran away from them.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Total Pro Golf 2 Update

Total Pro Golf 2 Bonus Update!
Troy, MI June 17, 2007 - Wolverine Studios, a leading developer of computer game sports simulations proudly announces that the The Total Pro Golf 2 Bonus Update is now available.
The bonus update contains the following brand new features
-Two brand new fictional courses : Dublin Links and Royal Edinburgh

-Tournament summary popup : After you finish the final round you will get a popup with your final placement in the tournament as well as round scores and winnings

-Final Round Improvements : If you are in the top 30 players on Sunday on the professional or senior tours you will now be treated to a constantly updating on course leaderboard as well as roars and groans from the gallery as the leaders make their way around the course

-Tri-click bar instructions : To help make aware that the yellow line is the correct distance to hit the shot and not the full power of the club
-Reported Bug fixes

The Bonus Update will bring your game officially to 2.1 and will fix the issues addressed in the prior beta patches as well. Total Pro Golf 2 is available for $29.95 USD from

This is the best PC sports game I've played this year. The only reason I don't have a lengthy impressions post up yet is because I can't stop playing long enough to write it up.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Console Post of the Week:

May NPD Numbers:
Wii: 338,000
PS2: 188,000
360: 154,000
PS3: 81,000

Nothing in those numbers is surprisingly, really, at least not anymore.

Here are year-to-date totals for next-gen:
Wii: 1,728,000
360: 994,000
PS3: 664,000

I see all kinds of stories today that the 360's sales have dropped for five straight months. True, yet not true, because some months (January, March) were five-week periods, not four. To get a true picture, let's look at average weekly sales for each month:

The 360 has actually been bumping around 40k/week units for three months now. That's still not good enough, and they need to drop the price of the Premium unit to $299, but they're also not sinking.

Okay, let's see a show of hands: who thought next-gen consoles sales in the U.S. would look like this?

I see those numbers every month now and I still can't believe it.

It appears that we can tentatively identify the sales floor for the PS3 at $599: 20,000 units a week. The floor for the 360 appears to be about 40,000 a week.

Japanese sales this week are no surprise, either:
Wii: 64,529
PS3: 8,776
360: 2,533

There's also a potential mini-drama playing out in Japan. On June 14, Trusty Bell: Chopin no Yume (which will be called Eternal Sonata when it's released in the U.S. this fall) was released in Japan for the 360.

This game had enough buzz in Japan that's not inconceivable that, for one week, at least, it could push 360 sales over the PS3's.

The gap is only 6,000 units. In percentage terms, it's huge. In absolute terms, it's almost nothing.

That would be incredibly humilating for Sony, as if their weekly numbers in Japan aren't humilating enough already.

What about Europe, though? I mean, there's this:
SCEE President David Reeves has revealed that sales of Sony’s PlayStation 3 console last week rose above the 1 million mark in PAL territories.

Reeves told MCV that the sales barrier had been broken in a little under ten weeks, making the PS3 a faster seller than its predecessors.

Wow, that's pretty impressive. Well, except they sold 600,000 units in the first two days (see here). So if Sony's latest figures are accurate, that means they've sold 400,000 units in the nine weeks following the launch.

If those sales were steady, that would be almost 45,000 units a week, but they're not. Here's why: if sales were steady, Sony would be quoting monthly sales instead of cumulative sales. Sony's telling us what's actually going on by what they're not telling us.

If Sony doesn't cut the price of the PS3 by the end of June, then my projection was wrong. And it may well be--but the PS3 is a $599 boat anchor right now. They have to cut the price by at least $100 and they have to do it as soon as possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, so does Microsoft. They don't have nearly the kind of momentum they need to get the installed base they're projecting for this generation. I'm expecting a major price cut from them as well, and by major I mean $100.

Here's the interesting part: if they're both going to announce price cuts, and they both know the other is going to announce a price cut, who's going first? If I'm Microsoft, I want the initiative, because then it would look like Sony was reacting to a competitor's action. It would make Sony look even weaker.

And here's one thing to consider with the Wii: if Nintendo is moving 350,000 units a month in the U.S. with very few good games to play, how many units are they going to move when the game library improves?

Holy crap.

I'm going to discuss software sales as well next week. I intend to do it every week, but by the time I finish discussing hardware, the post is so long that I've had enough.

You, too, I'm sure.

Links, Pt. 2

You guys sent me even more good links this morning, so here's a supplemental post.

Pete Thistle sent me another link to Paul Potts, the mobile phone salesman/opera singer who I linked to this morning. His semi-final performance in Britain's Got Talent was last night, and here's a link to the video.

Also, Pete sent me a link to an article at MSNBC titled "Wanted: Girls Who Make Video Games." For a mass media article about gaming, it's quite interesting, and you can read it here.

Sirius sent me a link to an article about a remarkable discovery:
Plants are able to recognise their siblings, according to a study appearing today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Researchers at McMaster University have found that plants get fiercely competitive when forced to share their pot with strangers of the same species, but they’re accommodating when potted with their siblings.

It's certainly thought-provoking, and you can read about it here.

Matthew Kreuch sent me a link to a great deal for New Star Soccer 3, which is a fun career-type simulator with NES-era graphics. If you go here on Sunday, the game is 55% off for one day only. That's only nine dollars for a very fun game.

Friday Links

Here you go. Wasting your morning begins now.

From Jason Maskell, a link to yet another incredibly cool project from MIT--the Lightboard. Here's an excerpt:
...they were able to light a 60W light bulb from a power source seven feet (more than two meters) away; there was no physical connection between the source and the appliance. The MIT team refers to its concept as "WiTricity" (as in wireless electricity).

Read the full article here.

Here's a thoughtful and interesting article from Shane Lynch, who sends along a link to "What the World Eats." It's a pictorial essay of what represents a week's worth of food for families in different countries. It's a very thought-provoking series of photographs, and you can see them here.

Here's another excellent link from Cliff Eyler, this one about a new theory for the extinction of mammoths. Here's an excerpt:
Recently, a group of more than two dozen scientists offered a new explanation. They have found signs that a comet -- or multiple fragments of one -- exploded over Canada about 12,900 years ago with the force equivalent to millions of nuclear weapons. That unleashed, they said, a tremendous shock wave that destroyed much of what was in its path and ignited wildfires across North America.

There's much more (including the discovery of two distinct genetic groups among mammoths), and you can read it all here.

Jessie Leimkuehler sent in two excellent links this week. The first is a link to an article over at The Consumerist by an ex-Circuit City employee. It's a retail train wreck (with you aboard), and you can read it here.

The second link is even more interesting: a cultural guide prepared by the Army Special Services Division for soldiers going to Iraq.

In 1943.

It's totally fascinating (choose the "view entire document" on the left of the page), and you can see it here.

Tim Duncan, believe it or not, is a D&D nerd. Thanks to Adam Schenker for the link to this article. And has a guy ever gotten less credit for being a great player than Tim Duncan?

Steven Kreuch sent me a link to a remarkable moment in the "Britain's Got Talent" show. A mobile phone salesman, who looks like the least confident fellow in the world, gets up to sing opera. You have to see this clip to believe what happened, and it's here.

Seriously, you need to watch that video. It's not what you expect.

From Geoff Engelstein, a link to the discovery of a bird-like dinosaur--but this one is huge. Here's an excerpt:
...this beast weighed about 1,400kg (3,080lbs).

That is about 35 times heavier than other similar feathered dinosaurs.

Nature journal reports that the beaked animal was 8m (26ft) long and twice as tall as a man at the shoulder; yet it was only a young adult when it died.

It's fascinating, and you can read it here.

John sent me a link to the story of a whale that's absolutely remarkable:
BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt -- more than a century ago.

Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3½-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale's age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.

It's quite a story, and you can read it here.

Finally, a couple of quick notes.

First, DDL, who was the first to send me the link to those craptacular PS3 ads last week, said the video of the pederast character gave his brain "the red ring of death." He also has a website called Make Your Nut, which is described as "Personal finance tips, tricks, and pitfalls."

Wally let me know that the article about Niall Ferguson that I linked to earlier this week came from New York Magazine, not the New York Times Magazine.

Also, someone (sorry, I can't find the e-mail) mentioned that Ferguson is currently working with the developers of Making History: The Calm & the Storm (the game he so highly recommended in the article) on a new series of computer game. That's worth noting.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

NPD May Numbers

Wii: 338,000
PS2: 188,000
360: 154,000
PS3: 81,000

I'll go into this in more detail (much to your dismay) in the Console Post of the Week tomorrow.

Stuff I Liked

I'm severely dating myself here, but I have always enjoyed listening to Jethro Tull, and I always had a soft spot for their accoustic songs, like Fat Man and Thick as a Brick.

This March, they released an accoustic album titled The Best of Accoustic Jethro Tull, and it's quite good. There are 24 tracks, and it's an excellent mix of popular and obscure. Here's an Amazon link if you're interested.

If you picked up The Perfect Spy after I mentioned it a few weeks ago, you'll be pleased to know that Larry Berman has written several other excellent books as well. Both Lyndon Johnson's War (can't find an Amazon paperback link) and No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam are fascinating reads.

No Peace, No Honor is particularly engrossing, and it's filled with stories that have only been revealed after documents from that period have been declassified.

Here's one example. Before the 1968 elections, Nixon had secret (and illegal) contact with the government of South Vietnam, trying to convince them to stay away from the Paris peace talks until after the election (they did).

LBJ knew this, and compiled a thick file on Nixon's activities. If he had made this information public before the election, it might have cost Nixon the Presidency.

So why didn't LBJ make the information public? Because the only reason he knew was because he was bugging Nixon's campaign. Even his private plane, if I remember correctly.

When Watergate started to explode in Nixon's face, he tried to get LBJ to call off the Congressional investigations by threatening to reveal that LBJ had been doing essentially the same thing in 1968. LBJ threatened to respond by revealing Nixon's secret contacts with South Vietnam.


There are many, many remarkable stories in this book, and it makes for a terrific read.

Sports Notes

I did everything I could for Ottawa in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I learned how to spell "Ottawa." I sang the Canadian national anthem (most of it, anyway), which might be the most beautiful national anthem in the world.

I'm starting to suspect that I may actually be Canadian.

Nothing helped, though. Anaheim dominated for too many stretches. There's no such thing as a bad NHL final, though--at least, I've never seen one. And there's something about the incredible effort expended in hockey that makes it hard to resent the team that wins a playoff series.

In other news, are the NBA playoffs still going on? I was all amped up after watching the incredible performance of LeBron James in game five and Daniel Gibson in game six.

Then the NBA said, "We'll start the finals in five days. Have a soda." The wait drained my ability to remain interested. Even though I like San Antonio, I haven't seen a minute of the first three games.

Good grief. When even I'm not watching, that's a problem.

I never thought I'd argue for this, but I think it's time the NBA removed conference designations for the playoffs. For a league that's already struggling mightily with its television ratings, having the fifth or sixth best team in the league in the finals because of the playoff bracket just doesn't make any sense.

It's not that I don't like the Cavaliers. They play hard and they're very young, and they're going to get much better. But if they're in the Western Conference, they're either the fifth or sixth seed. And the talent disparity between the East and the West is going to get even worse, because Portland and Seattle are going to get Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

The NBA can't afford to have its best playoff series in the second round.

Here are some interesting articles on Oakmont, where the U.S. Open will be played starting today:
Oakmont Returns To Its Roots
Oakmont Is On The Cutting Edge99697
Putting the "Oh!" in Oakmont

Oakmont is a pretty fascinating course, because over 5,000 trees have been removed to return the course to the original vision of course architect Henry Fownes. Those links tell the story, and also give you an idea of how tremendously punishing the course can be.

I'm only a golf fan for sixteen days a year--during the four majors--but for those sixteen days, I'm all in.

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