Saturday, November 29, 2008

Okay, This Is Just Wrong (but good for you)

No More Heroes for $14.99 at Amazon. If you have a Wii, or have any plans for getting one, this game is absolute and complete genius.

It Rhymes With "The Taco"

On Sunday mornings, I take Eli 7.4 to breakfast at McDonald's.

He always orders the same thing--Pancake Happy Meal (for the toy), and then I order a Big Breakfast Platter to get him a biscuit and some scrambled egg. The pork sausage is thrown away as dangerously toxic, and based on the smell, I believe that assumption is correct. And we get a hash brown "racing oval," which I always eat.

I used to get a biscuit for myself as well, but as I saw him eat two or three bites of pancake for months on end, I decided that something needed to be done with those pancakes. I didn't blame him for wanting a toy--if they had adult Happy Meals, I'm sure I'd be all over it--but I wanted to waste less food.

"So how was breakfast?" Gloria asked when we got home, after Eli had run upstairs to find a book.

"Good," I said. "Eli had his regular meal, and I had a panaco."

"A what?" she asked.

"A panaco," I said. "It's a pancake in the shape of a taco shell, and inside is a hash brown cut in half lengthwise. A little syrup is poured on on the hash brown, too."

"That sounds good," she said.

"It is," I said. "The syrup really puts it over the top."

"How long has McDonald's had it on their menu?" she asked.

"Um," I said. "It's not exactly on their menu. It's something I made. I'm kind of a fast foodie."

"Oh, good grief!" she said. "You called it a "panaco," and I thought that was really its name."

"That IS its name," I said.

Just then, Eli came downstairs with his book. "How was breakfast?" Gloria asked him brightly.

"Good," he said. "I had a biscuit and egg, and Dad had a panaco."

"See?" I said.


I've been looking forward to the release of Jasper, the 65 nm GPU for the Xbox 360 ("that's exciting--in your world," as Gloria would say).

Why would I care about a GPU die-shrink from 90 nm to 65 nm? Heat and noise. The 360 generates a remarkable amount of heat, and it's also quite loud under load (much of that is from the chattery optical drive, but the system itself is noisy as well). So I was curious to see if units with the Jasper GPU were quieter.

If you remember, in August of last year, I did a comparison between the PS3, a launch (but repaired) 360, and a 360 with the new heatsink, which you can review here.

If you're lazy (hell, I am--why not you?), the basic results (using an SPL meter 29" away from the consoles) were as follows (please remember, I'm not an engineer):
base sound level in room: 36.5-37.5 dB
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 37.5-38.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 41.5 dB-43 dB

Premium Xbox 360 (launch unit, but repaired once)
base sound level in room: 37-38.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 39.5-40.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 47.5-49 dB

Premium 360 with HDMI (not an Elite)
base sound level in room: 37-38.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 39.5-40.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 45.5-46.5 dB

As you can see, while the PS3 was only slightly more quiet in steady state (1 dB, because the base sound level in my study was 1 dB higher when I was measuring the 360's), it was significantly quieter under load. The 360 with the redesigned heatsink, though, was 2.5 dB quieter than the original 360.

Okay, that's what we knew up to now. Here are the Jasper numbers:
Jasper 360:
base sound level in room: 36.5-37.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 38.5-39.0 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 44.5-45.5 dB

Basically, the Jasper unit is 1 dB quieter than the redesigned 360 from last year. That's actually less important overall, than something else I discovered, and that's heat generation. After having the 360 under load for almost an hour, I put my hand on top of the 360 and it was barely warm. The only spot on the unit that heats up at all is the back 1" (running across the top), and it's only hot in comparison.

It's not like the air coming out of the vent holes is hot, either--this unit just doesn't run hot. Compared to previous iterations of the 360 (aka "volcanoes"), this console is incredible in terms of unit temperature. I'm assuming ("ass" is in the front, remember) that the improvement in thermal characteristis is going to make the Jasper 360 much more reliable than its predecessors.
Oh, and here's something else. Since you can install games to the hard drive now, and the hard drives makes almost zero noise, you'll essentially be playing at the "steady date" dB rating, and that's significantly quieter than the PS3 under load.

So if you're buying a 360 during the holidays, Jasper is the unit you want. The problem is that Jasper units just (and I mean within the last four days) started showing up in retail stores in the U.S., and the vast majority of new units are still Falcons.

Can you tell from looking at the box? Possibly, and here's all the information I can give you.
1. On the outside of the box, the bar code sticker will include a "team" and a "lot number." The team must be "FDOU," and the lot number must be "843x" or higher.

Please note that finding an 843x unit doesn't guarantee it's a Jasper, but any lot numbers below almost guarantee that it isn't.
2. The power supply is 150W, with an output of 12.1A. By comparison, my repaired launch unit has a 203W power supply that outputs 16.1A. Falcons have a 175W power supply and output 14.2A.

The problem, of course, is that you won't know what the power supply is until you open the box.

3. If it's an Arcade unit, the features comparison on the side of the box must list "256MB" as the memory. The new Arcades come with 256MB built-in flash memory instead of the 512MB flash memory.

All I've seen reported so far as Jasper units are the Arcade models, so it might be another few days (or weeks) until they start showing up in Premiums and Elites.

If you want to know how I wound up with this unit, here's the shortest version I can give you.

For several months, someone I know has made a standing offer of $200 for my 360. It would be a good deal for him (the Arcade unit price, but with a 20GB hard drive), but I had no replacement options that wouldn't cost me a bundle.

My 20GB hard drive was almost completely full (Rock Band DLC, of course) I saw several sites mention that Target was running a clearance special on the 120GB drives for the 360 for $89.95, which was a huge discount, but I figured I was too late to take advantage of the deal. On Thursday, though, I found one in a Target store that was 10 minutes from my house. I figured I'd transfer the data from my 20GB to the 120GB, have plenty of Rock Band storage, AND be able to install games to the hard drive as well.

Sounds good, right?

In the meantime, I'D been following the "Jasper hunter" thread at Anandtech. The first person to find a Jasper unit did so on Wednesday, and pictures were posted Thursday night.

As reports trickled in, they were all Arcade units. That's when I realized that I could buy an Arcade unit for $199, put my 120GB drive on it, and have a 360 for $290 that had a 120GB hard drive. That's a hell of a deal.

Even better, I could sell my old 360 for $200, so buying the Jasper unit was essentially costing me nothing--all I was in for was the $89 hard drive.

So I went to Fry's in Austin (on Black Friday morning, the horror) because they usually have 360 units on a pallet (easy to look through). Unfortunately, they were only Premiums, not Arcade units, so I asked a guy working there if he could direct me to the Arcade unit pallet.

The Arcade units, though, were being kept behind the registers. Crap.

However, once I explained what I was looking for, this guy went back there, looked through every single Arcade unit, found the one that was lot 843x, and made sure I got it when I went up to the register.

THAT is freaking great customer service.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Links!

Leading off, here's a fantastic link from Dave Alpern: famous buskers. Buskers are basically street performers/musicians, and you'd be astonished by the names on the list, including Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and Neil Young.

Here's a wonderful link from Skip Key about a DARPA projectto help amputees, and here's an excerpt:
The latest addition to the Wii-hab phenomenon is perhaps its coolest—Air Guitar Hero. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have made the popular Guitar Hero game into a tool for amputees who are being fitted with the next generation of artificial arms. With a few electrodes and some very powerful algorithms, amputees can hit all the notes of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” using only the electrical signals from their residual muscles.

That is awesome in about a hundred different ways.

Here's a link from Sean that you could (literally) spend a month on: the museum of online museums. And another excellent link, to an article about enforced method acting (situations where the actor isn't told what's about to happen, or is deceived in some way).

Chuck Klosterman wrote one of the most interesting reviews I've ever read. The album is Chinese Democracy, but that's almost incidental to the quality of the writing. Read it here.

John D'Angelo sent in a link to a stunning series of photos of the International Space Station. John also sent in a link to the Heavens Above website, and here's his description of what it does:
If anyone is interested in finding out when they can see the ISS or any other satellite as it passes over where they live, here is a great site. I highly recommend using the "Select from Map" feature to pinpoint your viewing location. Since the brightness of the Iridium flares (one of the most amazing satellites to see besides the ISS) can vary wildly by a few miles, the more accurate you set your viewing location the more accurate the sky map you get from the website. No telescope/binoculars required.

It's the latest YouTube craze: shrimp on a treadmill.

I think I'll just call this link why you should reconsider that career as a professional drag boat racer. Go down about ten pictures to get to one of the most amazing sequences of photographs that I've ever seen.

From Mike Martin, a story about an automotive classic, if by "classic" you mean the worst car ever made: it's the end of the road for the Yugo.

From Cliff Eyler, a link to an absolutely epic short film about the Hatfield Hot Dog Launcher. Also from Cliff, a link to a fascinating NY Times article titled Looking for Bombs Buried in Germany? Start Your Search in Alabama.

From Sirius, a link to an article about a new tool in the fight against crime: a shoe print database. Also, a link to a gallery of photographs from an exhibition of photography in the years 1840-1900. Then there's a link about a new product called the WaterMill that provides "fresh, potable water" from an unusual source: air.

From Don Barree, a link to an article about something I desperately hope I see before I die: a cloned mammoth.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a hoopde auction--with a winning bid of $226,521. As is often the case, though, things weren't exactly what they seemed. Also, a link to a test of a vehicle defense system, and here's a description of the video:
The Raytheon system uses an electronically-scanned radar array to detect an incoming anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade, then vertically launches a countermeasure missile that blows the round to smithereens in mid-flight, saving the RPG's intended target.

Wait, there's more from the EGLM. If you're eating something, stop now, because this is a link to the world's worst cookbook. Why is it the worst? Just don't say I didn't warn you. Oh, and one last link, and this is an absolute terrific article: repairing an aquifer. Why is it so terrific? Well, the workers doing the repairs live 700 feet under the surface--for a month at a time (don't forget to click through to the New York Times article).

From David Yellope, a link to Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchuks. Yes, it's not real, but that reduces its basic awesomeness by very little.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black Friday Ads Update

Okay, it's official: Sony is going to get crushed this holiday season.

I just saw the Wal-Mart ad and the 360 Arcade and Wii (for $249 with no bundle) are both featured. PS3? Not a word.

Based on the advertising, the PS3 is poison, apparently. And I think that's a reflection of of both the price delta with the other consoles and the economic conditions this year.

One More Note on Black Friday Ads

I saw Guitar Hero everywhere, but didn't see one mention of Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour.

CPotW (update)

Purely as sport, I like to look at the ads for Black Friday that appear in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper.

Today, I noticed something interesting. The retailers advertising that they have Wii's in stock are bundling it with all kinds of crap to increase their profit margin. I didn't see a single ad for the Wii today that had a checkout price below $350.

Here's a quick breakdown of what was in the newspaper:
Sam's Club--
Wii "Family" Bundle (+ two controllers and Nunchuks, Mario Super Sluggers, King of Clubs Mini Golf) $425

Xbox 360 Arcade Bundle $199
Wii "Super" Bundle (+ Steering Wheel, Carnival Games, "3 additional games") $379

Circuit City--
Xbox 360 Pro Holiday Bundle (+ Kung Fu Panda, Lego Indiana Jones) $299
Xbox 360 Arcade Holiday Bundle (+ Sega Superstars Tennis) $199
PS2 (+ "micro controller") $129
Wii accessories (all crap, 50% off)

Best Buy--
PS3 80GB system (+Ratchet & Clank: TOD and Casino Royale Blu-Ray) $399
Xbox 360 Pro (+Lego Indiana Jones, KF Panda, NBA 2k9, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground) $299

Xbox 360 Pro Holiday Bundle (+Lego IJ and KF Panda) $299
PS3 80 GB $399

Based on the ads today, I think Microsoft is well-positioned for the holidays. They're featured in far more ads than either Sony or Nintendo, and their bundles aren't adding cost. The Wii bundles are utterly ridiculous, and Best Buy is the only retailer today who even had a PS3 bundle (the Sear's ad listed the PS3, but there was no bundle).

I'll do this again tomorrow morning and add what's new.

Music Wars Released

Wolverine Studios has released a new game, and in addition to the press release below, there's a solid review of the game over at GameShark.

Michigan, November 25, 2008. Wolverine Studios, a developer of simulation games, is proud to announce our first foray outside the sporting world. Wolverine Studios is excited to announce the release of our newest title: Music Wars Rebirth.

Music Wars Rebirth is the creation of Antuan Johnson who is happy to be bringing his music industry simulator to Wolverine Studios. Music Wars Rebirth allows players to create and manage their own record label by giving them the opportunity to both manage the financial state of their company as well as managing aspects of the artists signed to their label. The in-depth game play allows the user to track all aspects of the career of an artist as they take them from unknown talent to global superstar while catapulting their label to the top of the music industry.

Music Wars Rebirth is available exclusively from the Wolverine Studios webstore at for $24.95.

Feature lists, screenshots and a free time-limited demo are available from Wolverine Studios’ company website at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mini Console Post of the Week

Two items this week, and in quite a rarity, they're both about Nintendo.

The first item is that it's being widely reported that the Wii Speak peripheral can be resold (still allowing access to the Wii Speak channel), which contradicts Nintendo's original position. However, the wording of the statement is puzzling. Take a look:
In a statement issued to GameSpot, Nintendo claims that Wii Speak Channel codes can now be obtained through the company's customer service center.

"Nintendo can confirm that when consumers purchase the Wii Speak accessory, they are provided with a Wii Download Ticket with a unique number. The ticket, which can be redeemed via the Wii Shop Channel, will enable the user to download the Wii Speak Channel free of charge to a single Wii console," reads the statement.

"Any consumer who may have misplaced their Wii Download Ticket number for the Wii Speak Channel or require a new number following a Wii exchange may contact their local Nintendo Customer Services department, where they can request a replacement Wii Download Ticket number."

This is puzzling, because while Gamespot says this means the Wii Speak channel will still be available if the peripheral is resold, that's not how I understand Nintendo's statement. Nintendo talks about original owners losing their codes and a new code needed after a Wii replacement, neither of which have anything to do with the resale market.

I assume that it's implied that anyone can request a new number just by saying they lost theirs
(I don't see how they'd be able to tell one way or the other), but it would have been easy for Nintendo to specifically address the scenario of resale in their statement, and they chose not to.

Second, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime gave an interview to Forbes, and he discusses the oft-repeated complaint that third-party software doesn't sell on the Wii:
Fils-Aime says this is because third-party publishers still don't quite understand the Wii audience. Tweaking the game-play mechanics is only part of the equation. This audience, he believes, is just as interested in games that do well on other systems--but, to date, publishers have been reticent to bring those to the Wii.

"I will be able to say our licensees 'get it' when their very best content is on our platform," he says. "And with very few exceptions today, that's not the case."


In most cases, I think Fils-Aime is entirely correct: the Wii really isn't getting the best content (although there are a few outstanding exceptions). However, it's clearly a mistake to say this publicly. Nintendo has done a tremendous job in the last two years of almost never sounding condescending or arrogant (Sony and Microsoft, take note), and to continue that streak, this kind of issue should be addressed privately.

Plus, after Nintendo has repeatedly claimed that third-party software sells just fine on the Wii, and has shown countless presentations to that effect, they're undercutting their own position.

Zofran (please note)

I mentioned a few days ago that Zofran was a real lifesaver for children when it came to stopping vomiting, and even recommended that you ask your doctor for a prescription to have on hand in case of emergency.

Jonathon Ramsey e-mailed and (quite properly) pointed out that Zofran is a strong medication and that there are plenty of situations where it's not appropriate to use. He's right, of course, and if you ask your doctor about this, please listen carefully to his recommendations.

The Great Harvest

"Dude, do you want some saltines?" I asked. It was Sunday afternoon, and we were still coaxing Eli 7.3 to eat something. Anything.

"Are they fresh?" he asked.

"Right off the vine," I said.

"Right off the what?" he asked.

"The vine," I said. "Didn't you know that's how they're grown? It looks like a tomato plant, but saltine crackers grow on the vine instead. When they're ripe, they have that nice, light color and just the right amount of salt, but they have to be picked within a few days. They have thousands of people working the fields in the summer during the harvest."

"Okay, now I do NOT believe that," he said. "Do you PROMISE?"

"Promise what?" I asked. "That's just how saltine crackers are grown. I worked in a field one summer during high school--they still grow saltines in South Texas. You had to wear these heavy gloves because of the thorns on the plants, but the crackers are so brittle that it was really hard to pick them without breaking them. Man, that was hard work."

Gloria kept a straight face the whole time, but when Eli looked at her, she burst out laughing.

"I do NOT believe that, MISTER!" he said, laughing.

A Work Of Random Genius

A few weeks ago, as we walked across a school playground on our way to Eli 7.3's last soccer game of the season, he saw a colorful paper and picked it up.

"Dad! Look at this picture!" I said. I did, and it was a very nice drawing. "Nobody signed it," Eli said. "This is such a nice picture, too."

We walked on for a few seconds.

"Hey!" he said. "I know what we can do!"

"What?" I asked.

"We can get a frame for the picture, hang it up in our house, and sign it "Unknown Kid!"

Maybe not a frame, exactly, but this is close:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels (Wii)

We rented Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels on Thursday night. Normally, I wouldn't put up impressions after only one hour of play, but because the single-player campaign ONLY LASTS ONE HOUR, I'm going to make an exception.

That's right. One hour. In other words, absolutely, positively, do not buy this game. Rent it instead and save $45, since you can see everything the game has to offer (easily) in a weekend.

So what do you get during that hour? Lots of cut scenes and 6-8 (can't remember the exact number) lightsaber duels that are best two out of three rounds. No levels, no exploration, no nothing--watch a cut scene, get dropped into a lightsaber battle, win, and move on to the next cut scene. The amount of time you actually spend playing the game in campaign mode is no more than thirty minutes.

What's really too bad is that the lightsaber combat is decently done, and combat would be very entertaining as part of an actual level. The engine seems quite capable, but this was pretty clearly jammed out the door for the holidays. Even if you include the other game modes, I've seen plenty of Wiiware games that have more content than this.


Before Eli got sick again, we went to see Bolt on Friday afternoon (in 3-D). It's a terrific movie, very funny, and while it may not be as good as a Pixar film, it's close. The writing is extremely intelligent, and it's funny for both kids and grown-ups.

Plus, I think this is the best use of 3-D I've ever seen, so if you get a chance to see this in high-definition 3-D, it's a real treat. Instead of creating a bunch of phony effects (push that broomstick toward the audience, part 79), the 3-D effect is completely natural, and it's spectacular.

Oh, and if you're wondering how this compares to Madagascar 2 (we see all of these movies, because it's fun to go together), Both Eli 7.3 and I thought Bolt was much better. Madagascar 2 is funny, and your kids will enjoy it, but Bolt is a better film.

Deja Vu, In Print

Julian Murdoch, who is one of the many fine writers at Gamers With Jobs, wrote a terrific article about what it's like to be employed, a dad, and a gamer. Titled Gamers! With Jobs!, he just lists what he's doing from moment to moment during a typical weekday. I burst out laughing several times because it reminded me so much of what one of my "normal" days is like.

3-D: Someone's Pointing Something In Your General Direction

I've done an awful job of keeping you informed of developments in 3-D, even as I've maintained for the last two years that it's the "next big thing" in both videogame consoles and movies, but two developments this week finally shook me out of my lethargy.

The first was an article in the Wall Street Journal noting that next week, a game between San Diego and Oakland will be shown in select theaters in 3-D. That's interesting, event though it's limited to only a few cities (Los Angeles, New York, Boston), but here's something even better:
It is a preliminary step on what is likely a long road to any regular 3-D broadcasts of football games.

The idea is a "proof of concept," says Howard Katz, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting and media operations. "We want to demonstrate this and let people get excited about it and see what the future holds."

The NFL already did this once, with the 2004 Super Bowl, but I think it's different this time--I think this signals a long-term commitment to the idea of doing weekly broadcasts in 3-D, even if it's still five years away. I strongly believe that sporting events are the killer app for 3-D, just like they were for high-definition.

Second, I saw this today:
Panasonic Corp of Japan has disclosed the submission of a proposal to the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), for a Blu-ray Disc standard to store three-dimensional (3D) imagery formed of left-/right-eye two-channel full-High Definition (HD) images (1,920 x 1,080 pixels). It is also considering submitting a proposal for a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) standard capable of transmitting 3D imagery. The BDA hopes to begin formal discussion on the standard proposal before the end of 2008, with commercial adoption probably in 2010.

The creation of standards is an important step in the process of mainstreaming any kind of display technology, and I think it's indicative of the growing significance of 3-D.

I know, maybe it sounds crazy that I believe 3-D is going to be huge within the next ten years, but here's some historical perspective. In 2000, plasma screens had just become available to the consumer market. I know, because in the single most self-indulgent moment of my life, I bought one (it was worth every freaking penny). Fast forward eight years, and plasma screens are freaking EVERYWHERE, and they have far superior quality (1080p resolution versus 480p) for roughly 1/5 the price. The prices of high-definition screens of all kinds of display technologies have plummeted.

It only took eight years.

Why did this happen? I think it happened because watching television or a movie in high definition, on larger screen, was so overwhelmingly superior to the mainstream display technology that existed in 2000. It was a quantum leap.

Having seen 3-D in HD in a movie theater, I think it's another quantum leap. Yes, there are unquestionably significant technical issues associated with home use, particularly viewing angle, but it's a question of "when" someone gets the technology right, not "if."

"When" is going to be here very soon.

Get Well, With Feeling

When I got so sick two weeks ago, Eli 7.3 made me a get-well card:

Then, on his first day back at school, he made this in class:

Its really hard, at times, to be a parent. There's so much work involved, and you wake up tired every single day. It's hard to have to be so grown-up. But Eli 7.3 is such a good, warm kid that he makes it all fun.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tabula Rasa: And It Just Gets Worse

From Gamasutra:
Following the departure of Richard Garriott from NCsoft, the MMO-focused publisher has announced that its PC MMO Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa will be shut down February 28, 2009.

Like I said last week: yuck.

Coming Soon

Since this is Thanksgiving week, and gaming releases are thinning out, it's going to be a week with lots of family stories. If you like those posts, please take note. If you don't like those posts, please take note.

However, I do need to mention one release that just caught my eye: Ski & Shoot. Incredibly, I believe what we have here is a biathlon simulation for the Wii. That reminds me of the most obscure simulation I ever played: Final Assault, a mountain-climbing game released by Epyx around 1988.

It was awful.

A strategic mountain-climbing game could be fantastic, because there's always the difficult decisions involving allocation of both human energy and material resources.

Could be fantastic, but wasn't.

I'm also still waiting for a great bullfighting simulation, because the "sport" of bullfighting is a great foundation for a game. In the ring, the cape versus the bull could be a very "Street Fighter" type of experience, with complex movements of the cape possible. And the career of a bullfighter as he goes from fighting in front of a few people to tens of thousands could be tremendously dramatic.

Yes, I remember "Torero," which I could never get to run on my PC. Unfortunately.

So now we have a biathlon game on its way, and it ships on the 24th (Monday). That's going in the Gamefly queue right now.


Okay, that was the worst weekend ever.

It wasn't because of the keelhauling that Oklahoma gave Texas Tech, although it did hurt a bit. That barely even made it to the radar screen.

What did fill up the radar screen unfortunately, was Eli 7.3 getting sick.

Eli stayed home from school last week on Monday and Tuesday because he had a cough and a runny nose, but it was borderline both days--he really didn't feel that badly. Plus, he'd had a rash for about a week (viral, his doctor thought, but self-resolving and not contagious). He went back to school on Wednesday, but he still wasn't quite 100%. Even on Friday, when he went to a birthday party, he still didn't quite seem back to normal.

Saturday morning, we went to Krispy Kreme and he seemed fine except that his nose was still running (and had been for about a week). In the afternoon, though, he said he didn't want to eat lunch, then he said he didn't feel good. Gloria took his temperature and it was 102. Suddenly, he had that sick kid look--he was suddenly a little paler and had dark circles under his eyes.

That's one of the things about being a parent. After a while, you can just look at your kid and know if he/she is sick.

After consulting with his doctor, we took him to an "urgent care" place that was open on the weekends. The doctor said that he thought it was a sinus infection, gave us a prescription for an antibiotic, and sent us home.

Eli was exhausted by this point (about 6:00 p.m.), still wasn't hungry, and fell asleep on the couch. Catch-22, because he needed rest, but he needed to eat and take his antibiotic worse, so we had to wake him up.

Good luck getting a sick kid to drink a dose of antibiotic when he's tired and confused.

Still, that's all survivable. He was asleep by 7:30, and we were hoping that he'd get a good night's sleep and feel much better (and hungry again) in the morning.

Then he woke up at 10:00. Threw up at midnight. Threw up a 1 a.m. Threw up at 2 a.m. Threw up at 3 a.m.

He wasn't really throwing anything up the last two times, because his stomach was empty, but he just couldn't stop the nausea.

At this point, we really had no freaking idea what's going on, but we were both really frightened by this point.

I remembered that we had some Zofran from last year when he went to the hospital because of something like this. So we gave him a dose, and that stopped the vomiting. Seriously, if you have a kid, have your pediatrician write a prescription so that you can have some in the house for emergencies, because it's like magic.

This morning, he started out drinking teaspoons of Gatorade every five minutes for an hour, then started drinking more, and no nausea (although his stomach still hurts). And he just ate three saltine crackers, 30 hours after the last time he ate, so that's a good sign. Three crackers in thirty hours--good grief!

Telling this story in the A-B-C-D format really omits the fear. When Eli gets sick to this degree, it's so frightening, because nothing you do seems to help. Plus, there's always the possibility that it's not some run-of-the mill illness. It's rare, but it could be something dangerous, and the more tired you get, the more you worry about the obscure. We both had about two hours of sleep Saturday night, and it was two really bad hours at that, so fatigue turned me into the parental equivalent of a Kennedy conspiracist, searching the Zapruder film frame-by-frame.

As I write this, it's 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, and I definitely think Eli is feeling better now, so maybe we turned the corner. What a scary weekend.

A Sticky Situation (clarification)

I posted some interesting excerpts on Thursday from an interview Victor Godinez had with GameStop’s CEO, Dan DeMatteo, and in the excerpts Matteo uses quite a few data points from their corporate research on the used games market.

I didn't mean to imply that I thought the data was accurate. I mean, it's Gamestop, and any survey they conduct about used games is going to have the questions framed in such a way as to be of maximum benefit to them. In no way would I consider them objective.

I do think the data is very interesting, though, in terms of GameStop's corporate strategy. That's their position on their impact on the gaming industry, and it's very helpful to see it laid out like that.

I'll post a link to Victor's article as soon as I can find it.

I wish that publishers would, just once, admit that pricing games at $59.95 has been the greatest thing that ever happened for the used game market.

Also, Simon Van Alphen made an excellent point via e-mail: lower prices for used games allow gamers to broaden their gaming horizons much more readily. Seriously, how many people have enough money to buy a ton of $59.95 games when all they can do is toss them in the trash when they're done?

The biggest risk for the gaming industry here is that they grossly underestimate the effect of a thriving used game market on the gaming base in general. If they're wrong, it could be a catastrophic mistake.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Links!

Stop looking at the stock market and start looking at these links--it's better for your blood pressure.

It's the best week of animal videos ever. First, from Neatorama, it's penguin escape hungry whales. And how did this penguin escape? He just jumped into the boat of the people making the video! Next, from Sirius, it's top ten amazing animal videos. In particular, I recommend "Pet Hippo Lives in a House" (it's a wild hippo, and believe me, you need to watch this), "Polar Bears Playing With Dogs" (WTF?), and (if you haven't already seen it) "Battle at Kruger."

Here's a real treasure trove, and you could spend years looking through it all: the LIFE photo archive.

From Jarod, a link to a totally ingenious YouTube game that draws inspiration from the classic series of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books: it's The Time Machine.

From Garrett Alley, and it's totally ingenious, it's Bike Hero. [note: this has now been revealed as Activision viral marketing bullshit. Still cool to watch.]

Here's a link to a remarkable photo essay: Earth from above.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a new aurora found on Saturn, and the picture is just staggering.

From Simon van Alphen, a link to videos of Forevertron, and if you've never heard of it, go here for background. Also, a link to I Know Where Bruce Lee Lives, billed as the "utimate Bruce Lee remixer" (and quite fun).

From Scott Ray, the best link I've seen to the story that astronomers have captured an optical image of a planet orbiting a star like our own. What makes this link so good is the personal nature of the story, and the enthusiasm.

From the Edwin Garcia Links machine, a link to a mind-blowing series of pictures: hydraulic excavator used to climb column. Also, a link to a series of beautiful photographs of underground wonders. Then there's a link to HD images from the 1966 Lunar orbiter. Here's a fascinating excerpt about how the pictures were originally taken:
While these probes were not as sophisticated as the HD cameras of the Selene spacecraft developed by the Japanese space agency, the NASA orbiters had a clever imaging system that achieved similar results four decades ago. It included a dual lens camera—one 610 millimeter narrow angle for high resolution and an 80 millimeter wide angle for medium resolution—, a film processor, and a scanner. Both lenses were aligned to expose the same part of the 70 millimeter film roll, so the high resolution image area was centered with the medium resolution area.

This was more complicated that it sounds: Since the spaceship was cruising above the lunar surface, they had to compensate for that motion. Using an electro-optical sensor to measure the distance while a small motor shifted the film so the second exposure exactly matched the first one. After that, the film was processed, scanned, and the information send back to Earth, where it was stored in analog tapes.

One last link from the EGLM: wallpaper that is actually a coloring book. This may be the greatest idea in the history of mankind.

From Andrew B, a link to a remarkable bit of storytelling: I played Oblivion blacked-out drunk. Not encouraging the drinking, obviously, but it's quite a funny story.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More On A Sticky Situation

Victor Godinez, who writes on videogame and tech issues for the Dallas Morning News, sends this along:
Saw your posts today on used games, and thought you might like to see some actual research that GameStop has done on this topic:
--Just 3% to 4% of used games purchased are games that have been released in the last 90 days. So while Epic and other publishers fume about gamers buying used copies of GoW2 on the day of release, that’s not what’s happening, by and large. The used games that are being sold are largely the older titles that have already gone through 98% of their lifetime sales.

--80% of people who trade in a game turn around and use that money/credit to buy a new game. So the used game market is directly fueling the new game market.

--When gamers buy a new game, they, on average, expect their game to retain about $20 in trade-in value when they get tired of it and decide to sell it. So they’re willing to put up with the $60 price because they know that they’ll recoup about one-third of that cost when they sell it in a few months.

I was talking to GameStop’s CEO, Dan DeMatteo, about this (and other stuff) this afternoon after they announced their quarterly earnings, and he was surprisingly vehement about this topic. He seemed pretty frustrated about the growing rumblings from developers about used games, and it sounds like GameStop is going to embark on an effort after the holidays to explain to game makers why the used market is good for them.

DeMatteo also said, per your readers, that gamers will be righteously pissed (not his words, but definitely his sentiment) if publishers decide to undermine the used games market.

I’m actually going to be writing a larger story for Saturday on the overall state of the video game market right now, and I’ll probably include some of this, in case any of your readers are interested.

Victor's an excellent writer, so the article on Saturday will definitely be worth reading.

I Forgot

This link came in from everywhere: Soren Johnson on used games.

A Sticky Situation (your e-mail)

The original post on e-mail prompted lots of interesting responses, so let's take a look.

First off, from Guthrie N.:
Does the gaming industry think they are the first to confront or coexist with a healthy, vital secondary market that in actuality broadens its reach? Have they heard of books or music? Music has abandoned the issue by surfeiting a physical existence and becoming digital, the secondary music market is piracy and sharing and that's a battle they can't win either. I thought with the advantage of restrictive, poorly built DRM machines that are consoles the game industry would worry less and go the same route as music. Apparently they will continue to mistreat their customers as long as they physically coexist.

Yes, in general, it's fair to say (based on my e-mail) that people are pissed off.

However, in addition to the heat, there was quite a bit of light, too, like this e-mail from Andrew R.:
Using Gears of War as a specific example, I bought Gears used for about 10ukp. Why? Well, I'm nota huge FPS/shooter fan, and am rather bored of all the usual Epic/ID fare. However, the co-op sounded interesting to play with my girlfriend. She's not big on shooters either, and typically prefers RPGs, but does like sci-fi movies. For 10ukp, I figured it was worth a punt. In fact, she ignored it for 6 months,and I was about to sell it to a friend. A week beforehand, I rather forced her to try it. It took us about4 days of solid play to finish, and it became her favourite game.

I bought Gears 2 on its first week of release, retail.

...If a customer has $100 to spend from his average wage packet, he can only buy two full-price titles. That means he'll never sample beyond his "safe zone." Epic would never have received a dime from me.

That's a real-world example of an excellent point: for games with sequels (or yearly installments), the used market can introduce many more people to the series.

Here's more, from Adam G.:
I've seen Mike Capps's comments about requiring renters and second buyers to pay extra for a game's integral content discussed elsewhere on the internet, and I'm not sure that he had any idea of the fury that he'd kick up. No one seems to like the idea of one-use codes or extra downloaded content to be required in order to finish a game, and I agree with them. Personally, I bought a 360 solely because I knew that I could buy games used when I couldn't afford new ones. I wouldn't buy them used if I couldn't finish them, but I wouldn't buy them new either, not on principle but for lack of funds.

One thing that I've not seen mentioned much around the internet is the impact this would have on parents purchasing and renting games and hardware for their children. I used to work in a lower-middle class (and trending quickly downward) middle school, and most of the children's parents had purchased either a Wii or an Xbox 360. The kids didn't own many games, though, usually only two or three. They traded games a lot (which would be hindered by download codes), but mostly they rented games. I suspect that if their parents had heard that their kids would only be able to finish games at $60 a pop (or rental fee plus $20) versus a rental fee, they wouldn't have bought the consoles to begin with.

Children are an interesting (and generally somewhat ignored) part of this discussion, and here's another angle from Alex C.:
[This is about] my nephews.

One's fourteen and one is twelve. They don't have a lot of cash so they're always going to be using the secondary market when it's their money. (Of course, this ignores birthday and Christmas presents but we'll let that slide for now.) What'll happen if the secondary market get's killed off completely? They'll give up gaming. Trust me, I know these kids. They'll find something else to spend their money on because they'll have been priced out of the market. And I don't think they're some kind of outliers, I think killing off the secondary market means pricing a lot of teenagers out of the market.

We know how important branding is, so what happens when you effectively cut off teens from becoming "gamers?"

I don't think publishers have an answer for that, and I'm not sure they've even though about it yet. But someone who starts gaming as a kid could easily be buying games for fifty years, or longer. Doing anything that will jeopardize a core demographic is very risky business.

Finally, here's a note from Harold M. that's quite interesting:
Your analysis of the second hand market sounds like a prisoner's dilemma type situation. If only one game finds a way to be "unrentable" their sales will probably increase, but if everyone does it the second hand market will suffer per your blog post.

Here's my best guess on how this ends up, and least in the foreseeable future. The highest profile, AAA games will increasingly come with "one-time only" DLC codes. At some point, using a game that has a hardcore fan base (Halo comes to mind), the DLC will actually be an integral part of the game. And the price to download the content if a gamer purchased a used copy will be steep, somewhere in the $15-$20 range.

Um, yuck.

Thanks to all of you who e-mailed, and I apologize if I didn't use your thoughts--the volume on this subject was particularly high.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mosby's Confederacy Released

Out of relatively nowhere, Tilted Mill's Mosby's Confederacy is now available on Steam.

Step Your Game Up

I've been staring at this all week:
More relevant to the monopoly issue, however, is an e-mail which demonstrates that the NFLPA was complicit in helping EA maintain its status as the sole publisher of a pro football game. A February, 2007 e-mail from NFLPA executive Clay Walker to an NFLPA attorney makes this quite plain:
I was able to forge this deal with the [Pro Football Hall of Fame] that provides them with 400K per year (which is significantly below market rate) in exchange for the HOF player rights. EA owes me a huge favor because of that threat was enough to persuade Take Two to back off its plans, leaving EA as the only professional football videogame manufacturer out there.

...The per player price for most of these guys was tens of thousands of dollars less than what they were guaranteed by Take Two Interactive so it’s a real coup that we were able to pull this off so cheaply. You have to remember that EA’s total cost is only $200,000 per year. We know that Take Two offered six figure deals to several former NFL players so the total cost is millions below market prices...

Even without context, you'll easily recognize that Clay Walker is a tremendous douchebag.

Now, let me provide some context (based on unsealed court documents, and thanks to Game Politics for the link) and you will see that Clay Walker, actually, is a first ballot Douchebag Hall of Famer.

This is a plaintiff's brief, by the way, but given how the case turned out (which I'll tell you about later), this version of events was clearly accepted by the jury.

A class-action suit was filed against the NFLPA by retired NFL players claiming breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Basically, the NFLPA went to retired players and tried to get them to sign a General Licensing Agreement (GLA) for something called the "Retired Players Group Licensing Program." If enough players signed, this would enable the NFLPA to provide "one stop shopping," so to speak, for player licensing rights, both active and retired.

Certainly, that would drive up the licensing fees that the NFLPA could charge.

The NFLPA was successful in this effort, and wound up signing over 2,100 retired players. And, in theory, this could be a good deal for retired players, because they would share in licensing revenue.

Well, unless the NFLPA completely screwed them over. Cue screwed over music.

Incredibly, the retired players got almost nothing, and the NFLPA reasoning was so twisted and incomprehensible as to be gibberish:
Even though Defendants concede in their opening brief that they did indeed license retired player group rights, they claim that the retired players are not entitled to any proceeds. According to Defendants, the reason for the lack of entitlement is that, although, the NFLPA promised the retired players that it would share proceeds with "all eligible NFLPA members," the NFLPA then set up secret criteria for elegibility that required a member to have signed a GLA and to be on a current roster of an NFL team.

So basically, they sign all these retired players to contracts guaranteeing them a percentage of licensing revenue, then rewrite the eligibility requirements so that they're not eligible.

Did these retired players get ANYTHING? Yes, apparently:
...Defendants claim that in June 2003 they paid 136 (of the approximately 2100) retired players $750 each in connection with an agreement with Electronic Arts...

$750? Are you kidding me? EA pays the NFLPA $25 MILLION a year (based on the court document), and the retired players got $100,000? That's pathetic.

Even worse, the NFLPA was actively undercutting the retired players when it came to licensing fees. That's what the e-mail at the top of the post referes to--Walker was BRAGGING that he'd screwed the retired players ("millions below market price") as well as crushed Take-Two's effort to make a pro football game.

Boy, I hope that someone digs into the relationship between EA and the NFLPA, and find out if there were any, um, "side arrangements" at work when EA secured the exclusive NFLPA license. Because this stinks to high heaven, and now I'm wondering what else smells.

If you're wondering how the court case turned out, the jury returned a $28.1 million dollar verdict against the NFLPA, which included $21 million in punitive damages. Oh, and Mr. Walker, if you're looking for a presenter when you get inducted into the Douchebag Hall of Fame, I'm available.

The Ion Kit (update)

I posted a while back that I'd purchased the Ion Drum Rocker. After some time with the kit, here's an update on my experience.

First off, I'm still really, really pleased. For what it does, and what it costs, it's terrific. And if you want to upgrade it a bit (not that I, cough, know anyone who's done that), it's very simple. The kick pedal is still largely crap (Omega Pedal FTW), but everything else is excellent.

Second, it's one hell of an adjustment.

How? Glad you asked.
1. Just getting the kit in the optimal position for every pad and every cymbal is a very methodical process. It was only late last week that I felt like I had (finally!) set up the kit exactly the way it should be in terms of positoning. This is true of any drum kit, but that's kind of the point--it is a drum kit, so it's exponentially more flexible in terms of setup.

2. Moving around the kit in terms of playing is much more difficult than using the stock RB drums. Without cymbals, a stock kit basically just requires you to move right and left as required. With cymbals, you've added height into the equation. With the Ion, you have both height to consider and the separation of the pads as well. Again, it's a drum kit, and that's a big difference.

3. The note charts themselves are an adjustment. Here's what I've basically been doing. Unless I hear otherwise (the toms are easy to hear), I assume that yellow and blue notes are all cymbal notes, particularly repetitive sections. This would also be true of the green note, but I don't have a third cymbal yet. I highly recommend that third cymbal, because there are plenty of songs where you go from a blue cymbal note to a green cymbal note, then back to blue (or something like that), and trying to hit a pad instead because you're missing a cymbal just feels wrong.

If it sounds impossible to decode the note charts on the fly, believe me, it's not--I don't have a particularly good ear, and I can do it without much trouble. No, it's not exact, but I'm sure I'm getting 95%+ on most songs in terms of correctly deciding whether to hit a tom or a cymbal. And you'll (very quickly) start recognizing places where you do use the toms (like the "roll" sections where you have four 1/16 notes with the red pad, then the yellow pad, then the blue pad, etc. Plus, when the toms are used, they're often used for emphasis, which means they're loud and easy to hear.

So how much more fun is to play this way? Oh, hell, it's infinitely more fun. Even if your scores aren't as good (because you're playing on a much more demanding setup), It absolutely feels like you're playing the drums--because you are playing the drums. And it's much, much more satisfying to be hitting cymbals when you hear cymbal notes than smacking a pad.

I'm doing an experiment with "Too Hard to Handle," which is both DLC and the beat I'm learning for my drum lesson (it's the two main beat patterns in the verses). I'm going to try to learn the entire song from memory (not as hard as it sounds to learn most of it), then play it on the real kit I use in my lesson. I can play it at 90% on Expert now, so it will be interesting to see how it sounds when I have to keep the beat instead of follow the beat on the screen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Your weekly update:

Guitar Hero World Tour

Another interesting excerpt in Matt's NPD post concerns sales of Guitar Hero World Tour. Here's an excerpt:
According to an Activision press release, Guitar Hero III sold 1.39 million units and generated $115 million at retail in its first week. It also launched in complete form on four platforms: PS2, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360.

...For a comparable seven day period this year, Guitar Hero: World Tour sold 534,000 units and generated $67.3 million at retail. By units and revenue, the launch of GHWT lags significantly behind the launch of GH3.


Matt says that he believes "brand fatigue" has set in, but I think in Activision's case, it's more brand dilution, not fatigue. Rock Band doesn't seem to have any brand "fatigue" at this point. Activision, though, seems determined to shove a little plastic guitar controller up the ass of every single person in this country, and if they have to release 10 different games to do it, then so be it.

I think the biggest public relations coup in this entire rivalry between franchises has been this: every time Activision honks talk about Guitar Hero, they talk about how much revenue they can generate, and every time MTV or Harmonix talk about the game, they talk about how they're reinventing and improving the musical experience.

Maybe the guys at Neversoft are all in bands, too. I've never heard anyone talk about it, so I don't know.

That's something else. Activision has seemingly done everything they can to make Guitar Hero a franchise associated with Activision, not with Neversoft. That's exactly the opposite of what MTV has done with Rock Band--it's clearly defined as a product of Harmonix. Their expertise is clearly associated with the quality of the game.

Console Post of the Week (Mini)

First, to refresh your memory about the October NPD numbers:

As Matt Matthews clearly shows here in graph form, the weekly sales rate of the PS3 has stagnated. Rates per week:

As I've written periodically over the last six months, the PS3 is tapped out in terms of growing sales. They'll do substantially better in November and December, because everyone does, but at $399, their baseline demand in non-holiday months is 45,000-50,000 units a week.

That's also (basically) where the 360 was in terms of demand at the $349 ("Premium") price point. Look at the weekly rate of sales (by month):

That's quite similar, so it's instructive to look at what happened to the rate of sales per week after the $50 price cut to $299 on September 7:

In other words, there's plenty of untapped demand for the 360 that's entirely dependent on the price point, and I think it's fair to say that there's also plenty of untapped demand for the PS3 which Sony isn't going to find until they lower the price.

If you begin a generation chasing on price, and you can't sell significantly more units than who you're chasing, it's unlikely that you'll ever catch up. And in this generation, Sony started with a whopping $200 gap to close.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Sticky Situation

Epic Games president Mike Capps had this to say about the used game market in the U.S.:
The secondary market is a huge issue in the United States. Our primary retailer makes the majority of its money off of secondary sales, and so you’re starting to see games taking proactive steps toward that by… if you buy the retail version you get the unlock code.

“I’ve talked to some developers who are saying ‘If you want to fight the final boss you go online and pay USD 20, but if you bought the retail version you got it for free’. We don’t make any money when someone rents it, and we don’t make any money when someone buys it used - way more than twice as many people played Gears than bought it.”

Electronic Arts recently disabled access to the "365" feature in NBA Live 09 for used purchasers unless they want to pony up $9.95 for a "subscription." Five extra multiplayer maps were downloadable with a new purchase of Gears of War 2. Nintendo's Wii Speak peripheral is coming with a one-use code that's needed to download the Wii Speak channel, which is fundamental to the unit's functionality.

This is a dangerous game.

Here's how I believe publishers view the used games market: as a filthy parasite. Shutting down that market is 100% upside for them, because it's going to increase both their revenue and their profits.

Shake yourself, gentlemen.

I've played business simulation games that modeled more complicated consumer behavior than this. Do they seriously expect the real world to be this simple?

Well, it's not. No one, and I mean no one, has ever successfully measured, in an unbiased manner, the effect of the used games market on the new games market.

In the meantime, though, almost every publisher seems to be taking action (in a somewhat concerted manner, seemingly) to start including these "one-use" codes. Does anyone seriously believe that these codes are going to always be limited to bonus features or small pieces of the game?

That's not what's going to happen.

What's going to happen is that publishers are going to, as rapidly as possible, make these one-use codes unlock more and more important features and content in the game. Everyone is thinking along the same lines as Mike Capp--they're just not admitting it yet.

Oh, and it's not just used games, either. Mike Capp specifically mentions "rentals" as well.

Hey, why not? If "way more than twice as many people played Gears than bought it," shutting off the used and rental market is going to make Epic a fortune, right?

Not so much.

Actually, not to split hairs here, but they already made a fortune. The original Gears of War generated over $250 MILLION in sales of new copies (that's probably conservative, too), and Gears of War 2 broke $100 million in the first week. So the correct question is whether shutting off the used and rental markets would make Epic a SECOND fortune.

Let's expand that question. Let's say that publishers of console games are able to successfully kill the used and rental games market in the U.S. does that make them money or lose them money?

My money is on "lose", and here's why.

For one, I don't think new game sales will go up--they will actually go down. When a consumer buys a $60 game today, he knows that the trade-in value of the game will be $25-$30 for at least the first few weeks.

By the publisher's own statements, the used game market is huge, right? So what happens when a huge part of your market suddenly has 40% less gaming cash?

Sure, there are plenty of people who are buying used games only. But I think there are many more who buy only new games, but always trade them in--so that they can buy more new games.

See how quickly this gets sticky?

It gets worse. Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that Mike Capps is correct, and at a wider level than just Gears of War--more than twice as many people play every game used as play it new. Now let's take a new game, Johnny's Rotten But Socially Refined Journey Through The Wasteland, and assign it new copies of 250,000. In its lifespan, another half-million people will be talking about the game because they bought it used or rented it. And those people talking about the game to their friends are going to generate some of the new copy sales.

Oh, and if you want to make a sequel (Johnny's Rotten But Socially Refined Journey Through A Remarkably Similar Wasteland), think those half-million people might be useful when it comes to buying copies of the second game? Or in building anticipation for the game?


So here's the thing: it's not a parasitic relationship. It's mutualism--both parties benefit from the association. The problem, for publishers, is that Gamestop seems to be benefitting a hell of a lot more than they are.

Here's a grown-up approach: focus on adjusting the benefits of the relationship between the parties. Grow the relationship with Blockbuster and Gamestop and everyone else instead of muttering darkly like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny.

Ironically, every time someone in the industry screams about how much money they're losing to the used game market, they're publicizing the used games market. Oh, damn.

This is even more unwise in light of the state of the economy right now. People are cutting back on everything, and the gaming industry is talking about reducing how much money we have available for games as a strategy? That's not a strategy--that's a stabbing.

Now it's absolutely possible that I'm wrong. Maybe the gaming industry would reap unbelievable windfalls by killing the used game and rental markets.

The problem for them, though, is that they can't prove I'm wrong. And it is very, very dangerous for them to change the relationship between themselves and the consumer so radically unless they are absolutely sure they can.

Notes, Corrections, and a Link

I have officially rejoined the human race and even swam today for the first time in over a week.

Two corrections. First, Chris Kohler pointed out that Sony DID cut the price of the PS3 last October--the 80GB model, which dropped from $599 to $499. So even though October of last year was an absolutely horrible month for the PS3, it did contain a price cut.

Sony trying to imply that October of last year (121,000 units!) was a tough compare because of that is still a stench that knows no bounds.

Also, Pete Romaine let me know that the "Star Wars A Cappella" link from last Friday is quite misleading. The fellow in the video singing the four parts isn't actually singing them--he's just lip-synching. The fellows who actually sang those parts are a comedy group called Moosebutter. They note on their web page that the video was made with their blessing, but these guys are the real comedians.

Lastly, a link to a very interesting podcast called Hatchet Job. This is Episode 21, and I'll let DQ reader Chris Peters (who's part of the team that creates the podcast) describe it for you:
We host a college Game Design professor having an honest discussion with a games industry recruiter. They debate in detail the weaknesses of "game designer" programs at university, how they are sold to students, and where they fail to meet the needs of the industry (we also discuss some good things).

I listened to the half-hour show and it was very frank and very entertaining.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Links

Running on empty edition.

One of the things I forgot to do this week is link to the latest installment of Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column, let's fix that now.

From Tim Lesnick, and of course I had to lead with this, a film excerpt from a documentary about "Iron Crotch," also known as Qigong. Let's just say that I don't plan on pulling a truck with my penis anytime soon, but it doesn't mean I mind if someone else does it. You'll see some incredible things in this video, but no private parts, so it's still safe for work. Well, depending on your work, of course.

From Jacob Garrett, a link to a remarkable short film of ants building a lifeboat--of themselves.

From Joe Craig, two excellent links. The first is to an absolutely fantastic story about a scientists teaching chimps how to use currency. The second would be highly appreciated by surviving members of Monty Python--a guide to illegal and dangerous cheeses.

Two interesting links from Wired. The first is a story about Scott Safran's three-day marathon that resulted in an Asteroids world record in 1982, a score that has never again been approached. The second is the backstory behind Valve's infamous attempt to trick the hacker who gained access to the Half-Life 2 source code in 2003.

Frank Regan sent me a link to a moving story about Anthony Acevedo, a WWII medic who was captured and survived a Nazi slave labor camp.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a remarkable obituary--for the Phoenix Mars Lander. Its list of achievements in five months of operation are remarkable.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a story about doctors curing HIV with a bone marrow transplant. Also, a totally fantastic story about the Saturn V rocket, still the biggest rocket in history 41 years after its launch. It was 364 feet tall, believe it or not, and the link also has an epic video of the launch and the rocket in flight. It's amazing.

Here's something I saw in archaelogy magazine that's an excellent read: a full page of different links on the history of gladiators.

From Brian Minsker, a link to a remarkable story from the BBC about a pilot being guided safely to the ground after being blinded by a stroke.

From Michael Martin, an a cappella tribute to Star Wars (I've got to get Eli to watch this--he quizzed his dentist on Star Wars trivia this week).

From Sirius, a link to a story about scientists turning tequila into diamonds. Also, a link to a story about Gobekli Tepe, and here's an excerpt:
Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.

Finaly, also from Sirius, a link to a story about chains of proteins in living organisms possessing the ability to control their own evolution.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That Is Some Serious Decepticon Bullshit

From Sony's press release in response to the NPD numbers (thanks Kotaku):
PLAYSTATION®3 (PS3™) continued its positive momentum in October, with 190K hardware units sold, a 90% growth year-to-date. This represents an increase of 56% when compared to October 2007, during which SCEA introduced a price cut for PS3.

Tell me they didn't just try to do that.

Take a look at this sentence:
This represents an increase of 56% when compared to October 2007, during which SCEA introduced a price cut for PS3.

They're not talking about the ACTUAL price cut, which came November 2. They're talking about the PRESS RELEASE on October 18 of last year announcing the price cut.

So really, they're comparing this year's sales to the month when no one bought a PS3 for the last two weeks unless they were clinically insane. In other words, it's the easiest possible compare imaginable. By the way the press release reads, though, you'd think October was the month when the actual price cut took place and tons of units were sold--the toughest possible compare.

That is some outstandingly high-level dickery.

You know when companies deceive? When they feel like they have to. That's all you need to know about how Sony perceives their own results for October.

October NPD Numbers

Analysis on Monday (my brain has melted), but here are the numbers:

Okay, one note. Last year in October, the 360 sold 366,000 units. If November and December are also similar, they'll sell about 2 million units combined in those two months. If they outsell Sony 2-1 for the next two months as well, that's a gap of about 1 million units.

The Leaving

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you're young at heart
For its hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you're young at heart

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on its way

Dont you know that its worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are its much better by far
To be young at heart

When I read that Richard Garriot was floating in space, I heard this song in my head. It must be carefree, floating in space, unless a HAL 9000 unit is somewhere nearby.

Richard Garriot, like many of us, has had a huge influence on my life, because as I have mentioned on occasion, the first computer game I ever played was Ultima IV.

That experience certainly changed some road maps.

I actually was lucky enough to meet him in person once, at E3 in 2001. NCsoft had this tiny space so far off the main way that no one even knew how to find them. He was just standing there, by himself, Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform. It all felt vaguely uncomfortable and wrong, and I remember wondering if it was going to end badly for him.

Well, it didn't. Seven years later, he was in space.

Back in the ugly pull of gravity, though, what a mess he left behind. Six years of development (scrapping the first three years) birthed a game that nobody really hated, but nobody loved, either.

Inconceivable, isn't it, that Richard Garriot could be deeply involved with a game that didn't inspire any passion?

In a year, the game sold 61,000 copies in the U.S. In NCsoft's most recent earnings report, Tabula Rasa accounted for two percent of quarterly revenue. It appears that total sales of Tabula Rasa have generated 10.4M in revenue (not profit). To put it into perspective, it's entirely possible that Richard Garriot made more revenue from his NCsoft deal than his game did.

By any measure, it has been a colossal failure.

Today, Garriot announced that he was leaving NCsoft:
"Many of you probably wonder what my plans are, now that I have achieved the lifelong dream of going to space," he mused in an open letter on the Tabula Rasa Web site. "Well, that unforgettable experience has sparked some new interests that I would like to devote my time and resources to. As such, I am leaving NCsoft to pursue those interests."

What? Hadn't he already left years ago?

I'm happy that Garriot went into space and realized his dream. I deeply appreciate the experience he gave me in Ultima IV. But for someone who always thought Garriot believed in the virtues of his imaginary worlds, it's impossible to see this happen and not feel all kinds of yuck.

Honesty. Compassion. Valor. Justice. Honor. Sacrifice. Spirituality. Humility.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Console Post of the Week: Not Enough

Matt Matthews surpassed his already high standards in his latest analysis of videogame hardware and software sales. The article begins here, and the console analysis begins on page 3. It covers so many topics so well that I encourage you to read the full article.

The data source for Matt's article is Nintendo, and it gives us a rare look into console sales in Europe (where numbers aren't released publicly like the NPD numbers in America). Since the slides Nintendo released are in graph form and don't have exact sales numbers listed, a bit of "tape measuring" is required, but I believe these numbers are close for the January-September period this year:

Again, that's what I came up with from scrutinizing the graph--I'm not claiming those are exact. And please remember that this includes the U.K., Germany, France, and Spain only--Matt estimates that the rest of Europe represents about 20% additional sales volume.

What's striking, though, is how small those numbers are if you're Sony or Microsoft. Yes, the PS3 has strongly outsold the 360 in Europe this year, but the delta is only half a million units? Even adding 20% to that, it's only 600,000 units in total. Add another 500,000 units for the Sony advantage in Japan, and about 150,000 in the U.S., and it looks like Sony has sold approximately 1,250,000 more units than Microsoft through the end of September.

That would mean something if the relative pricing had stayed the same, but it hasn't. Microsoft's subsantial price cuts resulted in a 115,000 unit gap in September in the U.S. alone, and given Sony's adamant refusal that they're cutting prices this year, they can look forward to getting pounded over the next three months. I'm guessing the gap will between 750,000 and 1,000,000 units in the U.S. (in total) for October-December.

Another graph in the presentation showed weekly sales rates in Europe, and the 360 is now ahead there as well, although I expect that to largely be a wash. So at the end of the year, Sony will probably have sold between 500,000-1,000,000 units worldwide in 2008 than the 360. Oh, and if you add BOTH Sony's and Microsoft's sales together, worldwide, they'll be smaller than the Wii.

So much for world domination.

I believe that the dynamics of this generation are clearly established, and they look something like this:
1. The Wii has crushed all competition.
They just have, and the degree of the ass-kicking is stunning. They've done a masterful job of matching price point, innovation, and fun to what customers want right now. There's also no reason that Nintendo couldn't put out an HD-Wii whenever they want to--for $249, and still make a profit on the hardware.
2. The Sony-Microsoft pricing balance point seems to be $75, at least in the U.S.
Boy, that was a crappy description, but what I mean is this: when the price gap between the PS3 and the 360 "premium" model is only $50, Sony will lead in sales. When it's $100, though, Microsoft will lead by a substantial margin.

I don't expect this to change, and the question is, how does Sony catch up on price? I don't think they can, at least in this generation. They're always going to be chasing.

The other problem, besides catching up, is the price, period. Two years in and the PS3 is still at $399. Again, Sony can claim this is a ten-year product, but it's not. The PS2 has had a stunning run, but it just hit eight years and it's dead. Sure, new games are still coming out--developed by the "D" team. No one's showcasing their game on the PS2, and most of what is coming out is half-assed, based on the Metacritic scores.

That's eight years for a platform that's sold 140 million units worldwide. The PS3 will be very fortunate (very) to hit half that number, and developer loyalty is in almost direct proportion to how many people can buy their games on a particular platform. The PS3 just isn't going to command the long-term developer support that the PS2 did.

Microsoft isn't doing that well, either. It's hard to know what their numbers would be if their console hadn't been crushingly unreliable for the first two years of its existence, but no matter. At this point, they certainly don't have anything resembling momentum, either, although the price cuts will help.

One last note: I think these holiday sales numbers bear particularly close watching this year, because we may see a clear reflection of the economic downturn. So the usual expectations about holiday sales may not apply this year, at least not the way they have in the past.

Oh, And By The Way

Of course, the week I get sick, there are about a dozen things I really want to write about, so I'll just try to work through them in order.


Pete Thistle let me know that the link I posted yesterday for the PS3 was from freaking JUNE.

This is what happens when you're posting on fumes.

I'm sure there's going to be a deal like that from Wal-Mart, because I did read it as a current link, but then forgot where I read it, so I tried to Google it, and that brings us back to do. Or doe.

[UPDATE: that deal did exist, but it was for one day only, and it's expired. I expect it to come back, though, or something like it.]

In the meantime, here's one from Sam's Club that will be good in "limited quantities" only:
Come "Black Friday," that most manufactured of all shopping days, Sam's Club will be selling a $224 Wii "Family Bundle" that includes the console, three Wiimotes, three nunchuks, Wii Sports, Mario Super Sluggers and King of Clubs Mini Golf.

I think "limited quantities" means that you have to camp out at midnight or something to have any chance to get one. Like I said, though, it's going to be a profit bloodbath for retail stores this year, and the deals are going to be unbelievable.


I'm still a little under the weather, but much better than the last few days. I'm also way behind on e-mail, so if you haven't heard back from me, that's why.

I realized last night that my sum total of food for three days was two bowls of chicken soup, a dozen saltine crackers, a potato bagel, a bowl of dry Cheerios, and a smoothie. My summary opinion: not recommended.

And if you're a cheeseburger, watch out, because I'll be looking in your direction very soon.

The ESRB: When Did All The Smart People Take Over?

The ESRB introduced a new information system today (thanks Kotaku).

Here's the old system, using Call of Duty 4 as an example.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Publisher: Activision
Rating: Mature
Content: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

That's right: seven words to describe the game's content. While this level of description is strongly similar to the MPAA system for rating movies (Saw is "Rated R for strong grisly violence and language"), it's clearly inadequate in terms of providing parents with information before making a game purchase for their kids.

So, incredibly, they fixed it.

Look at the new system, using Call of Duty: World at War.
Call of Duty: World at War
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Rating: Mature
Content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Rating summary: Call of Duty: World at War is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of Allied soldiers in both the European and Pacific Fronts during World War II. Combat can be intense with extensive use of camera effects (e.g., slow-motion, blurring, and screen shakes) and realistic sound effects to highlight the tense and frenetic nature of each battle. Fighting is fast-paced with players using a large array of military weapons (guns, grenades, and flamethrowers). Collateral damage includes sprays of red blood when enemies are shot; maimed appendages from explosions; and flailing and screaming when enemies are set on fire. Cutscenes and historical footage can contain graphic depictions of prisoner/POW executions. Strong profanity can be heard during gameplay (e.g., "f*ck" and "sh*t").

That's just absolutely brilliant.

Stopping the "gaming is Satan" lobby requires two steps: one, greatly increasing the amount of information that's available to parents, and two, increasing the publicity given to the ratings system so that parents know it exists. It's not really any more complicated than that, and it's also (even better) the right thing to do.

Plus, this is yet another example of the gaming industry becoming more responsible than the film industry. A few months ago, the government released a study that showed (conclusively) that it was much harder for a kid to buy a game he shouldn't (based on his age and the game's rating) than it was for him to buy a DVD (based on the MPAA rating). Now, the ESRB rating system provides far more information than the MPAA system.

We're entering a new era in terms of the political climate for games. Gaming used to be the easiest whipping boy around, primarily because the ESRB used the First Amendment as a shield without accepting any responsibility of their own. That's no longer true--if anything, the ESRB comes off as a model citizen compared to the film and music industries.

I can't believe I just typed that, but it's true.

Voter demographics are also changing the political climate. After many elections where the "youth vote" was supposed to come out in force, they finally did this time, and that's a prime gaming demographic. The electorate is continually reshaping itself, and there will come a day (within the next two decades, certainly, and probably sooner) where a majority of voters will be gamers.

So while a politician may still get all red-faced about games in the future, the tactics will be different. No longer will it be an attempt to gather recognition at a national level, because it won't be a viable issue. Instead, it will be an attempt to appeal to constituents in his/her home district.

In other words, preserving power instead of consolidating it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Eli 7.3

I took Eli 7.3 out to dinner last week. On the way home, he said "Dad, can I have a dessert when we get home?"

"What do you want?" I asked.

"Can I have a yogurt?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

"Can I have Fun Dip?" Fun Dip is basically powdered candy.

"No," I said. "And no."

"Darn it!" he said, laughing.

"That's not a bad strategy, though," I said. "Start with something you know you can get, then try to get something better. That might work."

"Thanks!" he said.

On Saturday morning, we went to the grocery store and there was a row of those little plastic junk machines by the entrance. Every few weeks, I'll give him fifty cents to get something, and he saw a little machine that said "Stuffed Pets." There were several little stuffed animals in the front of the machine (duck, dog, cat, etc.), and they looked pretty good, so he put in his two quarters and pulled the handle.

Out popped a little heart-shaped purple pillow that said "LOVE."

Eli looked at it, then turned it over in his hands for a minute. "Dad, why did I get this?" he asked. "This isn't a PET--it's a PHILOSOPHY."

Gaming Links

I'm still in severely diminished capacity mode, but here are a few links while I try to get past this virus.

First off, Child's Play has kicked off for 2008. Here's a description from the website:
Since 2003, over 100,000 gamers worldwide have banded together through Child’s Play, a community based charity grown and nurtured from the game culture and industry. Over two million dollars in donations of toys, games, books and cash for sick kids in children’s hospitals across North America and the world have been collected since our inception.

One of the things I've always particularly liked about Penny Arcade is that it would have been easy to just cash in on the popularity of the comic strip without feeling any greater obligation to the community. They didn't do that, though, and Child's Play is the best example.

You may remember Allen Varney as the writer who had an article in every issue of The Escapist for what seemed like the first two years of its publication. He's now started the Ninjalistics website, billed as "Your top quality provider of corporate assasination and sabotage solutions." That's tongue in cheek--I think.

There's a post over at Engadget about a disabled gamer building a custom PS3 controller, and here's a description:
With the help of an engineer, he made an "adaptive controller" that allows him to game with the pros despite serious disabilities. 20 out of 25 functions are accounted for by the system, and he uses his fingers, toes, and even his tongue to play...

It's an incredible piece of work, and the pictures (page 2 of the forum thread after you click on the "read" link) are beyond description.

Oddly Mesmerizing

Because I'm still ridiculously weak and somewhat woozy from the virus, I've been completely mesmerized for the last half hour by Kongar-ol Ondar, who is a throat singer. Here's a description:
Overtone singing (also known as Throat singing) is a fascinating method of singing where the singer is able to manipulate the harmonic resonance created from the air traveling from the lungs past the vocal cords to produce a melody. Talented overtone singers have the ability to produce from two to four different notes at the same time.

See him on David Letterman here.

Monday, November 10, 2008


If you're wondering about the pricing environment this holiday season, I believe the correct word will be "insane." Huge discounts, early markdowns, and lots of opportunity.

Example #1: [NOTE: I was woozy with illness and can't find the link to this offer--see the "CRUD" post for more details]. Wal-Mart is offering a $100 gift card with the purchase of any Blu-Ray player (including the PS3).

Example #2: Dell will be selling the Xbox 360 Arcade model and Rock Band 2 for $199 on Black Friday (thanks thanks Engadget). Little plastic instruments not included, and the Arcade model doesn't include a hard drive (details on getting a 20GB drive for $30 are here), but that's an excellent price if you're looking to get into Rock Band but haven't bought a console yet.

I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Retailers are going to get desperate very early this year.

Oh, and there will be least two guys who won't be affected by the economic slump:
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Viacom Inc., controlled by Sumner Redstone, will pay the creators of the "Rock Band'' video-game bonuses exceeding $300 million as part of the 2006 acquisition of their company.

Harmonix founders
Alex Rigopulos, 38, and Eran Egozy, 37, received $150 million last quarter for exceeding performance targets, New York-based Viacom said in a Nov. 3 regulatory filing. A final payment in 2009 will exceed $150 million, the company said.

I hope that trickles down to everyone else at Harmonix, too, but I've probably gotten $150 million of enjoyment from Guitar Hero and Rock Band, so good for them. Oh, and this is pretty funny:
"We may not have anticipated the payment would be that high, but it's based on what they have achieved,'' Viacom spokeswoman Kelly McAndrew said.

Hmm, looks like Viacom incorrectly identified the smartest guys in the room (hint: it wasn't Viacom).

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