Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Birthday To You

Gloria's birthday is today.

Eli 7.10 came in this morning and dog-piled us, throwing his arms around Gloria and shouting "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Later, they had this conversation:
"Mom, you're still not old," he said.

"Thank you, honey," she said.

"Mom, you're forty-one, right?"

"Forty-five," she said.

"WHOA!" he said. "That's ALARMING!"

New Unis

Cycles, not forms.

I rode several days while Eli 7.10 was in Shreveport. On a 1:1 basis in terms of time spent practicing, he just kills me--I have to go to 2:1 or more just to keep up.

Here's the chart:

His longest ride is just insane now, but mine has finally crept over 1300 feet. On Sunday, I went to the local high school track and took seven rides in total (numbers in feet): 750, 590, 770, 890, 1335, 690, and 650. It's the first time I've gone over a mile in total, and I didn't have any rides where I had to bail out early.

I still can't free mount (although I'm getting close), but I can certainly ride now. Well, in a mostly straight line with mild curves, anyway.

We've both worked hard learning how to do this, so last week I ordered new unicycles for both of us. Unicycles aren't like bicycles, where you have to spend $500 or more to move up in class. Our original unicycles cost about $100 each, and the new ones cost about $200.

They're quite a step up, and even better, the brand is "Nimbus." That's right--the same name as the premier Quidditch brooms in Harry Potter. So I wrapped up his unicycle in brown shipping paper and addressed it to him, with this return address:

It says "NIMBUS" on the frame, too. I should get some peel-off numbers and add "3000."

[I wrote this post last night, but we went out this morning to ride for about half an hour. We were riding at the Metro parking lot, and I've marked off something I (goofily) call "The Grand Lap," which is basically a lap around the entire parking lot (which is huge). It's 1260 feet in total.

Eli 7.10 started riding, and I just followed him. He did one full grand lap and kept going. I was so excited to reach one full lap that--at the precise moment I reached one lap--I fell on my ass. Hard.

Meanwhile, Eli was still going. He did over two full laps, finally stopping at 3000 feet. Later, though, I managed to almost do two full laps, falling off at 2300 feet. That's a record for me by almost 1000 feet.

I think the next time that we go out to the high school track (with fewer turns and a smoother surface), Eli may be able to ride for a mile without stopping.]

...And In Comparison

It's Bill Abner week at DQ, apparently, because he has a long interview up with the Madden 10 designers (lead designer Ian Cummings, senior designer Josh Looman, and designer Donny Moore).

I encourage you to read the full interview (particularly for the section on online franchise mode, which sounds pretty amazing), but here are a few excerpts:
--All-Pro is the difficulty level most tuned to the realistic experience
--Quarterbacks have separate accuracy ratings for short, medium, and deep throws (Bill A. has been screaming for that for YEARS)

Here's one example of why ratings in past Madden versions were just ridiculous (this excerpt is from Donny Moore):
I did a rating analysis on this to start out the Madden NFL 10 pre-production cycle and discovered that every CB in the game had between 87-99 SPD in Madden NFL 09. I looked further, nearly 80% of ALL CB’s fell between 4 ratings points (88-92)!

This was always one of my fundamental complaints about Madden, that too many players felt identical. Turns out they were identical, essentially.
--Two-minute A.I. has been significantly revised (historically, that's been my pet peeve)
--Player progression in franchise mode has been improved (a pet peeve of both Bill and myself)

Look, I know that I'm setting myself up for Charlie Brown Syndrome here, but these guys approach making a football game as the process of duplicating something that is real, and that's exactly what I want. That may sound obvious, but it's not how the NCAA designers have approached the game in the last two years.

I mean, come on, guys. How many people watch college football every weekend for three months in the fall? They're voting on the gameplay with their remotes, and ratings for college football in the real world seems entirely healthy. If the NCAA team would just simulate the damn game, it would play great.

These Videos Are Insane

I'm not saving these for Friday.

This guy's name is Bruce Manley, and he's basically a trick shot/pass artist. Shaq saw one of his videos and is playing him in a game of H-O-R-S-E later this summer. I can't do these videos justice by describing them, so I'm not even going to try. Here are the links.

Monday, June 29, 2009

NCAA: What I Mean

Here's a good example of why I think NCAA has completely run off the rails.

Today, a video was posted about Road To Glory mode, which is basically "Campus Legend" mode with a new name. New features have been added this year--Erin Andrews covering your career, a 3D dorm room, season previews, awards presentations (if you're nominated), and a different in-game audio mix.

That's quite a bit of new content, and I'm fine with it, but if you watch the video and look at the on-field gameplay, it looks identical. There's no mention of user-definable camera angles (which are desperately needed) or making the various fixes to the clock that are needed to accurately track time.

So these new additions are nice, but what was broken about the mode last year appears to still be broken, which makes the new features meaningless. And how NCAA of them to focus on lots of fluff and ignore the core mechanics.

Two Excellent Band Names


Hunting the Melon (source)

Blood Bowl

Blood Bowl was released on Thursday (in the U.S., available via digital download only for now), and I've spent a few hours playing since then.

That's not as much as I've wanted to play.

Yes, the A.I. can be a bit wonky at times (see Bill Abner's excellent post here), but the game is tremendously fun and feels like a faithful translation. The atmosphere is outstanding, and the campaign mode is more interesting than the franchise modes of both NCAA and Madden. The ability to play in either turn-based mode (faithful to its board game roots) or in a hybrid real-time strategy mode (where you can pause the game and enter commands as needed) is an excellent piece of design.

To clarify, you can't mix modes during a game, but you do get to choose which mode to use up front. I've been playing quite a bit in real-time strategy mode and haven't missed turn-based mode at all.

So this is a sports game, nominally, but there is so much wackiness and so much strategy that its appeal should stretch much wider. If you're a fan of Blood Bowl, this is an absolute must-purchase, but even if you're unfamiliar with the game, it's worth a look if you enjoy strategy games and have a sense of humor that is a bit dark.

Bill Abner loves this game and is doing a wonderful job covering it over at The Nut And The Feisty Weasel.

Michael Jackson And The WTF Parade

I fully intended to write something about Michael Jackson today, but I can only think of three letters: WTF?

I'd like to focus on his music, which was undeniably brilliant at times, but it pales in comparison to his life, because he might have been the strangest cat to ever walk the earth. Michael Jackson made Howard Hughes look like Sarah Plain And Tall.

I do think one thing is true, and I think it's true for everyone: when what you do becomes less important than who you are, bad things happen.

I Saw A Man Leap From The Balcony

Here's how Gloria's trip to Shreveport went: within seven hours of her arrival, her brother had been carjacked.

Please note that Gloria has five family members living in Shreveport. Two of them have been carjacked in the last five years.

Her brother was fine, and the car, seemingly taken by the most inept carjacker in recorded history, was recovered only a few hours later. Of course, as an officer helped him close his hood later, it got bent and now won't close completely.

I'm not implying that Shreveport is some sort of carjacking hub, or that police officers are crazed hood destroyers. It's just the kind of strange gravity that her family lives under: if something is bad, it will always get worse.

She went through a list of the things that happened since she arrived (many of which are darkly comic, none of which I can mention here), then said, "Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Links!

It's a return from sabbatical edition of Friday Links, so let's get going.

Thanks to Steven Kreuch for sending in a link to what may well be the worst music video ever, and I'm not kidding.

From Jarod, a link to the Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange, a remarkable archaelogical site in Ireland that is over 6,000 years old.

From Shane Courtrille, the story of the girl who does not age. This is a strange, fascinating article.

Here's a new disaster you might not heard about--stem rust, which is a 'time bomb' for the world wheat crop. Scary stuff.

I've linked to this before, but stuff seems to keep getting added, and it just gets funnier. From Nate Carpenter, it's what's happened since Duke Nukem Forever was announced.

From Andrew B, it's the Google Maps alphabet.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a fantastic story about the IBM SAGE, and here's an excerpt:
The IBM SAGE spoke to me. It was old, but unlike other machines from the era, with crude punch interfaces, it had a GUI, a light gun, and hell, an ashtray. And a big yellow screen. The ashtray was so operators didn't have to leave their posts for cigarette breaks. Spotting incoming planes from the Soviet Union was precise work that needed constant attention...

SAGE stood for Semi-Automatic Ground Environment and its sole purpose was to analyze radar data in real time and relay targeting information to fighter planes' autopilots. It was built by IBM in 1954 based off of MIT technology and was a fore bearer of additional *amazing futuristic ideas* like magnetic core memory, networking, and modems to facilitate communication between the 27 bases.

From Randall G., and it's one of the greatest headlines ever: The Strange Life Of Creatures Whose Sperm Is Larger Than They Are.

From John D'Angelo, a spectacular photograph of the Sarychev Peak Eruption--taken from the International Space Station (more and larger images here (thanks Ryan Leasher). Also from John, here's an optical illusion that has to be seen to be believed.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, an article about the weirdest article in the solar system. Also, it's secrets of space blobs revealed.

From Sirius, a very interesting essay titled Triumph Of The Default. Also, stunning hi-res photos of Mars, taken by the HiRise camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Then there's the man who dug a 50 foot hole to fish--in his kitchen. One more, and it's fascinating--the plant that pretends to be ill.

From Juan Font, and don't blame me if you don't get anything done for the next hour, it's Circle The Cat.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

NCAA Football 10 (360): Demo Impressions

I bitch about NCAA Football annually, but I've also felt like (except for last year) that I've gotten my money's worth, even if the game always had at least a few significant flaws.

Last year, of course, was a train wreck. The pursuit angles and speed gaps made the game unplayable. Seriously, Backyard Football had better pursuit angles than NCAA. Plus, the number of sheer bugs in the game was much worse than the already low standard for annual sports game releases (current exceptions: The Show and NHL).

So I was at least marginally hopeful that the idiotic design choices last year would be replaced by some semblance of sanity. And in some ways, it has been, but if the demo is indicative of the final product, this is the first year in many that I have no interest in this game.

A quick run-through:
--it looks like ass in HD. Put in a copy of The Show, watch it for a few minutes, then start the NCAA 10 demo and try not to throw up in your mouth. It won't be easy.
--incredibly, they've left in some of the pursuit angle code from last year. The pursuit angles appear to mostly be fixed, but remember how some defensive players would actually run away from the ball at critical moments during a play? I saw that happen twice in the first twenty plays. Example: a pass play where the defender was closing on the ball as it was in the air, then he magically turned and started running in the other direction. After running away from the ball for 10-15 feet, he turned back and again pursued. Seriously, development dudes, WTF? Were you not embarrassed enough last year to fix this shit?
--there are some new animations. I noticed, in particular, some new animations for receivers and defensive backs when trying to catch the ball. I think.

Then there's the announcing, which deserves a separate paragraph of its own. Check out this sterling exchange between Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso:
Nessler: He's sacked by the big fellow.
Herbstreit: For a big fellow, he sure moves pretty good.
Corso: Kirk, you didn't call him 'big fellow' when you saw him at the hotel.

Ingenious homoerotic subtones notwithstanding, that's what passes for clever in this game.

This entire engine is so old and so tired. Graphically, I think it's the single worst entry in the entire EA Sports line. Actually, it may have the worst HD graphics of any team sports game, period. And the entire experience feels like the seventh season of a t.v. show that jumped the shark three seasons ago.

College football actually has more potential, conceptually, than the pro game, because recruiting is potentially much more fun than the draft and free agency. But this franchise is on the rocks.

Three Movies You May Enjoy

This is one of my favorite Pixar movies because it feels very personal in so many places. Yes, there's the obligatory commercial gloss so that it can gross $250M, but it's surprisingly intimate for a movie that has so many box office obligations. It's very funny, it's very warm, and if you get a chance to see it in 3D, it's a wonderful experience--no cheesy effects, just an immersive use of the technology.

Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi's latest comedy that's allegedly a horror film is brutally, disgustingly funny. It's totally over the top, of course--so far over the top, in fact, that you can't even see the top from where it stands. There are always multiple levels of funny in a Sam Raimi horror film, so everyone gets a chance to laugh, then recoil in disgust at what they're laughing about. Gloria was totally appalled by this film, and rightly so, but that's one of the reasons it's so funny--it is appalling, by design.

The Hangover
I thought this movie was probably mostly hype, but I was wrong. It's very, very funny, and the script is incredibly clever in the way it sets up the movie. Gloria loved this, believe it or not, and there's a kind of manic energy in the film that serves it incredibly well. Totally tasteless, totally irreverent, and damned funny.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Camera Obscura

Yes, I've seen a real one, believe it or not (in San Francisco), but the optical device is not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the band.

Camera Obscura is a five-piece band from Glasgow, and they play soaring pop songs that are both sturdy and frail. Until you hear them, it's impossible to understand that contradiction. Their lyrics are often deeply ironic as well, undercutting the seeming innocence of their vocals.

Every once in a while, a band really gets under my skin, and Camera Obscura has done that. They make, quite simply, beautiful music, and I write easily while I'm listening to them (which I'm doing right now).

Obligatory Myspace music page: Camera Obscura. "French Navy" is an excellent place to start.

I found out two weeks ago that this Scottish band was coming to Austin, of all places. On a Monday. At Antone's, a legendary blues club that has had uniformly terrible sound quality every time I've been there in the last five years.

Plus, and I've said this before, I like people, but not near me.

Combine all this and going to see them was, for me, a risk. It wasn't like they'd be coming back anytime soon, though--or ever--so I decided to go.

Here's the thing about me, and after so many years, it's undeniable: at a concert, I have power gravitational field that attracts assholes. If an asshole walks within ten feet of me, he's inexorably drawn into orbit, coming closer and closer.

At a concert, I am to assholes what Saturn is to moons.

Gloria has, in the past, refused to believe that I have this quality. Foolish girl, so lovely and so terribly naive. "I will unleash my awesome power this evening," I told her, and she laughed.


We reached Antone's over an hour before the band was supposed to begin playing, and took our place only fifteen feet from the stage. Antone's is a long shotgun shack, essentially, about three times as long as it is wide. For some inexplicable reason, though, they set the stage so that bands perform across the width of the club instead of the length. What that means is that the stage is about forty feet from the back wall, and the reason the sound is so shitty is that the sound just bounces back and forth. The accoustic sweet spot must be the size of a tennis ball.

As we wait in the blissfully uncrowded club, I look at Gloria and say "They're coming." She laughs.

By the time the band begins playing, the club is absolutely packed, and the three people directly in front of me are as follows:
1. Pogo Man. There are over three hundred people in this club, and there is ONE person who is pogo-ing up and down. He looks like a twenty-year old version of Niles in Frazier, he has enough energy to light up Pittsburgh, and he's in front of me. And he actually cut in front of us, saying "I'll be more out of your way if I'm up here."

2. Just to the right of Pogo Man is Sara The Sea Cow. Sara also cut in front of us, only she just used her elbows, which are lethal. Sara is tall, and large, and is punishing her hair in a macabre fashion that I am unable to explain. She is also terribly drunk, and as she dances she swings her elbows up high, establishing position in the post. She's Dikembe Mutumbo with boobs.

3. To the right of Sara The Sea Cow is Robert Pershing Wadlow, the world's tallest man. He is at least 6'10", which makes him the tallest man in the entire club. He is standing almost directly in front of me.

"Behold the awesome power of my asshole gravity," I said to Gloria, and she did not laugh.

Oh, and Antone's sound was worse than ever, damn it. Camera Obscura depends heavily on aural clarity to create their soaring sound, and since the mix was butchered, nothing sounded right, even though it was very cool to see them in person.

To stop this from happening again, I'm designing a new product--The Personal Concert Experience Box™. It's a sealed enclosure with a periscope, and I believe it has commercial potential.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Man Who Made Vermeers

I recently read one of the most interesting books that I've read in a long time. Titled The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegere, it's the story of the man who may be the most famous and successful forger in art history.

Originally, Han van Meegeren was arrested after WWII for allegedly selling stolen art treasures to the Nazis (Hermann Goering, in particular). His defense, which emerged only after some time spent in captivity, was that he'd actually painted the pictures himself, and as they were forgeries, no crime was committed.

Like all forgers, however, his story is far more complex and far more difficult to unwind than that. And art forgery in general, much to my surprise, has much in common with hacking.

This book is absolutely riveting reading, and the complexities and frailties of humans are on full parade display here. It is a wonderful, compelling piece of writing, and it very much makes me want to study the history of art forgery.

All I Know Is That They Should Have Been Playing Red Faction: Guerilla

If you're a sports fan, you know that Dallas cowboys owner Jerry Jones now has a new stadium, which cost over 1.15 billion dollars.

One of the many fantastic extravagances in this stadium is a 72x160 foot, high definition LED screen (I believe it's the largest 1080p screen in the world).

Fortunately, someone is putting that screen to its proper use: playing video games.

Here, take a look.

Console Post Of The Week: A Curious Blast

Bobby Kotick (rhymes with ...), CEO of Activision, recently had this to say about the PS3:
Activision CEO Bobby Kotick has said that his company may have to stop supporting the PlayStation 3 if Sony does not drop the price of the luxury console.

"They have to cut the price, because if they don't, the attach rates [the number of games each console owner buys] are likely to slow. If we are being realistic, we might have to stop supporting Sony," said Kotick to The Times.

"When we look at 2010 and 2011, we might want to consider if we support the console — and the PSP [portable] too."

"I'm getting concerned about Sony; the PlayStation 3 is losing a bit of momentum and they don't make it easy for me to support the platform.

"It's expensive to develop for the console, and the Wii and the Xbox are just selling better. Games generate a better return on invested capital on the Xbox than on the PlayStation."

I believe every major videogame publisher in the world is telling Sony some variation of this behind the scenes. I also believe they've been telling Sony since the day the console launched that the price is to too high.

What makes this different is that it's happening in public.

I've never really had a handle on Kotick, because he sometimes seems to go out of his way to antagonize the competition as well as his partners for no good purpose. But I'm guessing that this is a case of someone with leverage pressing when they perceive a weakness. Sony hasn't been developer-friendly, to say the least, in this generation, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Everyone in the world knows that Sony is cutting the price on the PS3 this year. The only questions are when they do it and whether it will be $50 or $100. With sales down 20% year-over-year in the U.S., though, they don't have any chance of hitting their unit target of 13M (30% growth) without one, and given how long they're waiting, it's looking more and more likely that it's going to have to be a $100 cut.

Unless they revise their financial forecasts downwards, of course.

Because this is all known, it seems unlikely that Kotick's blast will have much effect. Sony is a dreadnought, moving at dreadnought speed, and their course has, in all likelihood, already been determined.

Here's one more note: I find it very interesting that the phrase "luxury console" was used in the story. When the PS3 launched, Sony played up that angle, but it's looking more and more like that tag is a millstone.

Made In China

Gloria and Eli 7.10 are off on their annual summer trip to Hellport. That means from this morning until Friday afternoon, I'm by myself.

I mentioned earlier this year that one of my goals was to write three short stories. As it turns out, I'm writing one, but it's almost long enough to be a novella, so I'm counting it as all three.

It's title is "Made In China," and it still needs a lot of work. The writing is not the difficult part for me--it's the structure. I'm too undisciplined when I write fiction, and I like to start writing with only a loose framework defined. It's fun to write that way, but it's also ultimately more work, because I have to do more rewrites.

So that's what I'm going to do for these four days. I'm going to try to get in 20-25 hours of work on the story. And I promise you that you'll be able to read it by the end of the year. Some of you will like it very much, and some of you won't.

That means Dubious Quality is going to be live on tape this week. I've already written the week's content, and it will be posted daily. But I'm probably not going to check e-mail, at least not until Thursday night.

Writing this story is important to me. I'll try to explain some day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Soap Box

My friend Frank had a heart attack on Saturday.

Frank used to run with me, and at one point he had a three-year streak of running more than five miles every day.

Then he stopped running, and because Frank (like a lot of us) is extremely digital, he never started running again. Gained weight. Start smoking again.

I told him at least once a year for the last decade that he needed to have an annual physical, and he said every time that he'd been meaning to, but he never went, because he hates doctors.

Here's what not getting an annual physical can do for you:
--a heart attack
--100%, 90%, 80%, and 60% blockage in his coronary arteries
--quadruple bypass surgery
--a total lifestyle change, because if you don't change, you die

All of this could have been avoided if Frank had gone for annual physicals and had listened to his doctors. But he didn't.

Trust me, you don't want to be the guy lying in bed after having a heart attack. You will have to think about things you never wanted to think about, and you will feel a kind of fear that you didn't even know existed.

So I don't give a shit if you're busy. Let me rephrase that: Death doesn't give a shit if you're busy. Pick up the damn phone, call your doctor, and make an appointment for a physical. An annual physical.

Father's Day

We spent Father's Day going for a unicycle session in the morning and watching five new episodes of Ninja Warrior that evening.

Ninja Warrior is on the G4 channel, which makes Spike look like Masterpiece Theatre.

Things we said while watching Ninja Warrior:
--"There's no way he's making it up the salmon ladder."
--"It's Daniel Terry from America, and he's come to Japan for revenge."
--"I'm happy for that thirty-year old shoe salesman."

There's a Mountain Dew commercial that co-markets with World of Warcraft, and two women at a grocery store checkout suddenly attack each other with swords, then transfigure into WOW creatures. Eli watched the women attack each other for a few seconds, then said, "That's called a chick fight or chick-fu." I started laughing and he said, "What? It is!"

Gloria and Eli 7.10 also washed my car, which is the first time it's been washed since the last heavy rain, basically.

A few weeks ago, Eli saw a Father's Day display in Target, but he didn't realize it was specifically for Father's Day. He just thought it was cool stuff that I would like, so he brought home a Dad trophy and a picture holder that said "Daddy."

Gloria said "It wasn't for Father's Day. He just wanted you to have them."

That made my Father's Day right there.

Corrections (Yours)

Every once in a while, I get a vague sense of unease when I use a link, usually because something seems just a little "off." That was the case when I used the "visual perception" link last week, mostly because the author seemed like a bit of a breathless self-promotor.

Well, chalk one up for the spidey sense. From Phil B:
I'm a vision scientist, and I'd like to point out that the thing is almost entirely factually incorrect.

I could pick it apart, but the best proof comes if you simply close one eye. That completely removes all information that could be gleaned from your eyes being separated in your head (called 'stereopsis'). Everything looks the same size, no? This is because stereopsis is one small part of what we use to judge depth. Cues that come from just one eye, for example, how much space the image occupies on your retina, are the main cues used to perceive depth. It is true that things that are perceived as further away do feel like they must be bigger, but our brains sum up the information from all those other cues of perceived depth so that how apart a person's eyes are has very little impact on how far away things look and hence how big they look.

Phil should write his own articles, because that was an extremely clear explanation.

Also, from Brendon Dusel, in reference to the article about the first man in space:
Just a correction, despite that local news station's story to the contrary, he was not the first man in space by most definitions. According to the wikipedia article, he jumped out approximately 18.32 miles above the earth. The international definition of space is 62 miles, while the US designates an astronaut any human that travels over 50 miles above sea level. Interestingly, some fighter pilots have earned this distinction:x-15 Wikipedia link.

Still the highest ever skydive, though, and a heckuva jump.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Okay, since I cleverly left out the link to Matt Sakey's latest Culture Clash column, let's try this again: Ignoring Occam: When Blame Goes Bad.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from David Gloier (who has more links later), a link to The Longest Way, a video made by Christoph Rehage as he walked 5,000km across China. He took a picture of himself each day (from the same angle), and made a video of the photos. It's fascinating.

From the New York Times, a truly fascinating series on the art forgeries of Han van Meegeren , described as the most successful art forger of all time.

From Lummox JR, a link to the fantastic website Item Not As Described. It's a compendium for the crap offered for free on Craig's List.

From David Gloier, a story about the discovery of 6,000 year old tombs--in Britain. Also, a story about animals that improve our health, including (and this is pretty astonishing) transgenic goats that produce spider silk. Next, have you ever heard of a salmon shark? Me, neither, but here's one that weighs almost 600 pounds.

From Sirius, a story about about the amazing aerodynamic properties of maple seeds, which generate their own vortexes as they spin, then ride those vortexes for miles. Also, it's seven things that don't make sense about gravity. Then there's a curious discovery about how raindrops fall (hint: smaller ones can fall faster than larger ones, upsetting conventional wisdom). One more, and it's about dinosaur fingers. Wait, there's one more: the size of Africa (this is definitely worth seeing).

From me, an article in the Wall Street Journal about the education level of major league baseball players and managers, and whatever your expectations are, lower them.

From Daniel James, a fascinating story about the history of anesthesia.

From John D'Angelo, a link to an image of Saturn's rings that proves the rings (under certain circumstances), incredibly, have ripples:
When the elliptical motion of the moon is combined with the tilt, the gravitational interaction on the ring particles produces vertical ripples in the ring.

From Scott Sudz, and I guess it was inevitable, it's a USB-powered microwave oven. Next week: a USB-powerer rotisserie chicken cooker.

From Geoff Engelstein, a story about the classification of a new cloud.

From Jonathan Arnold, a link to DIGMAP, "a service for resource discovery and access to old maps and related resources, with a focus on their geographic information."

Here's a story about an artist who got arrested for allegedly stealing materials, but just take a look at the art: highway barrel monster.

From Andrew B, a story about the first man in space, and it's not who you expect.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Dreams Of Fine Cuisine Meet Reality

Gloria purchased a Fonda San Miguel cookbook a few months ago. Fonda San Miguel is an institution in Austin, considered one of the "finest interior Mexican restaurants in the country."

Yes, I found that quote on their website, but it's true.

So Gloria bought this gourmet cookbook and put it on display. Now, it's an entirely separate post about why woman would put a cookbook on display, part of their secret and possibly dangerous nature, but that's for another day. She asked me on Saturday what I wanted for dinner, and I told her, and the ingredients she bought to make the meal happened to wind up next to the cookbook on the counter.

Gaming Links And Notes

Firstly, please go buy Red Faction: Guerilla. Immediately. I'll wait.

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, this one titled Ignoring Occam: When Blame Goes Bad. +5 for mentioning Occam in any context.

Steven Kreuch e-mailed this week and said something about Natal that I hadn't thought about previously:
Natal could be a huge boon to disabled gamers. No longer will people with impaired mobility and movement in their hands have to deal with controllers that are difficult to hold, buttons that are hard to press, and analog sticks that their dexterity might not let them handle with the deft touch most games require.

That's a great point, and that's a great reason to root for Natal to succeed.

There's a feature over at GameLife today on Scribblenauts, and since the fun of the game depends on recognizing the words a player inputs, this is particularly relevant: How Innovative Scribblenauts Recognizes 10,000 Different Words. It's just impossible not to conceptually love this game.

There's an interesting feature over at Dev.Mag about indie game marketing titled Zero Budget Indie Marketing Guide.

I played a very charming Flash game last weekend called Little Wheel. No spoilers, but it's incredibly striking and the music is excellent. It's the best half hour you'll spend at work this week, by far.

This isn't strictly a gaming link, but Ryan Leasher sent me a link to a fascinating story about visual perception. Different people "see" things as differently sized, and here's the explanation of why:
Depth perception is directly correlated to the stereo view angle, and in turn, the stereo view angle is proportionately related to the distance between the left and the right eye of a human being. The wider the eye separation, the larger the view angle and the smaller objects are perceived and vice-versa.

I've also seen stories (and received e-mails from you guys) saying that the ability to perceive 3D graphics varies by person, which could be an interesting obstacle for widespread acceptance of 3D displays.

Oh, and did I mention that you need to buy buy Red Faction: Guerilla?

Red Faction: Guerilla (360) #3

I finished Red Faction: Guerilla, and I think I enjoyed the last third of the game even more. So RFG takes its place, quite rightly, in my Hall Of Fame, which is quite a small place, even though I've been playing games for over twenty years.

I can't remember the last time I played a game that was so consistently fun all the way through. The designers absolutely knew what they wanted this game to be, and they absolutely succeeded. The average review score of 85 for this game on Metacritic is just laughable--this is a 95, at least, one of those games that comes along once a year (if we're lucky).

Here's one more note, and I was reminded to mention this by a reader who e-mailed yesterday with the same experience. It's possible to change difficulty during the game, if you need to, but if you haven't started playing yet, I'd highly recommend beginning on the lowest difficulty. This game is all about adrenaline, and dying is a buzzkill. You'll still die on the lowest difficulty, and you'll still need to play intelligently, but you'll die less often, and you can do much more experimentation, which is what makes this game so much fun.

I've also decided that, going forward, every game should be required by law to have a jet pack. First-person shooter? Must have a jet pack. Cooking simulation? Must have a jet pack. Sports game? Must have a jet pack.

It's not me. It's the law.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Lesson In Revolutionary Politics From Video Games

I realize something today about revolutionaries, and this realization can be entirely attributed to video games.

I saw trailer of Just Cause 2, and I was thinking how much fun it would be to actually take over a country in a revolutionary action. I mean, I'm in the process of taking over a planet in Red Faction: Guerilla, but I'm not really the leader--more the main ass-kicker, really. So the idea of actually leading a revolution is entirely appealing.

Then I thought about how much fun it would be to lead a revolution in an action game, but then be able to run the country in a real-time strategy game. So you go from Just Cause to Tropico.

It was at that moment that I understood, more fully than ever before, why revolutionaries succeed and then fail. It's because they're switching genres. They take over the country in a third-person (or first person) action game, but then they have to play an RTS to govern the country.

That's an entirely different gaming skill set. It's much easier to wreck than to build, and not only do they have to build, they also have to stop all those first-person action heroes who want to lead their own revolution.

Red Faction: Guerilla (360) #2

Incredibly, after about five more hours of Red Faction: Guerilla, I'm even more impressed that I was when I wrote the original post. Plot twists, double-dealings, and even bigger explosions have wowed me even further.

My two favorite games of the HD generation of consoles (excluding Rock Band) are Crackdown and Dead Rising. Both games had flaws, but they were incredibly fun to play (and on the Wii, No More Heroes would fall in the same category).

Unless Red Faction absolutely collapses at the end, which I don't expect, it will join Crackdown and Dead Rising. It's that good.

Please Note

Enchiritos are delicious. That is all.

Tiger Woods 10 (Wii) #2

My old golf swing (I say "old" because I haven't played since Eli was born, although I used to be a decent player) caused a slight draw.

When I started playing Tiger Woods 10, using the TrueMotion controls, I primarily hit a draw. Actually, a little bit more of a draw than I wanted.

So I opened my stance slightly, opened my hips slightly, and moved the ball slightly back in my stance. Well, since there actually isn't a ball on the floor in front of me, I moved what I perceived as the contact point back just a bit in my stance.

Draw gone, mostly. That's a strong endorsement.

I'm playing about a round a day, sometimes two, and it's quite relaxing to play. There's something about actually swinging that makes playing far more engaging, and Truemotion takes that up several more notches in terms of everything feeling "real."

So, on initial play, I was impressed. After about ten rounds, I'm more impressed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Death Of The Clean, Well-Lighted Movie Place

I remember when Electronics Boutique was a premium retail location.

My good friend John Harwood was the manager of EB in a local mall, which is how I met him, and his store was amazing. I still remember the drive out there at lunchtime, looking forward to picking up the newest game and staying to talk about gaming for a while.

The long, slow decline began when EB suddenly started carrying all kinds of trading cards and non-gaming merchandise. Then they started selling used games.

John was long gone by this time, so he didn't have to suffer through the shrinkage of shelf space for new games, the increasing space for used games, and the used car salesman approach to customers. It took years, but Electronics Boutique went from being a premium location to being a used game flea market.

Part of this change was reflected in the merchandising of the store. It just looked down market. The store started getting very cluttered, and the general feel of the store became completely incoherent.

I was reminded of this today when I went to Blockbuster, looking to rent a copy of the newly-released Blu-ray version of Ghostbusters. I remember Blockbuster as well-organized and merchandised.

A clean, well-lighted movie store, so to speak.

I obviously haven't been to Blockbuster in quite a while, though, because boy, has it changed. They used to get all the new releases every Tuesday, but when I tried to rent Ghostbusters, one store didn't have it, and a second store said they only had new copies to sell. The clerk at the second store said it would be a week before they had rental copies.

Well, that's certainly timely.

The merchandising has completely changed, too. It's vintage flea market, with a huge amount of space being given to used discs. In short, it looks exactly like EB did when it became a place you went to as a last resort.

I understand that business models will change over time to what is perceived as the most profitable strategy. What I can't figure out, though, is why selling used products seems to require the crapification of merchandising and the general collapse of order.

Unicycle World

The city of Austin has built a light rail system (the Metro), but there have been a few problems during testing, so the line has not opened.

The parking lots, however, are finished. And empty.

There's a Metro station only a mile from our house, and the parking lot is an ideal combination of asphalt and concrete islands with trees.

Ideal, that is, for riding the unicycle.

We just figured this out on Saturday morning. Before then, we'd drive by and talk about how great it would be to ride in the giant, empty parking lot, but we never stopped. Once we did, though, we quickly realized that it was a unicycling dream--plenty of gentle curves, a few slalom sections, and plenty of uphill and downhill slopes.

[Unicycle humor: I was practicing at the high school on Friday, and a coach saw me and said "You're missing half your bicycle. "

"Yes, but you should see the other guy," I said.]

Now I'm hoping the Metro line doesn't open for several more months, just because we're having so much fun.

I added Eli 7.10 to the graph, and boy, the scale changed. He's had some epic rides in the last two days, while I've been scrounging and scuffling to get over 800 feet.

Here's what Eli said after his giant ride on Sunday: "Dad, when I ride, I just get everything out of my head."

"That's a good idea," I said. "Get all the bad things out of your mind and just enjoy riding."

"It's not just the bad things," he said. "It's everything. I just let it all go. I don't even feel like I'm trying. It's like someone else is pedaling and I'm just along for the ride."

I've never talked Eli about Zen before, but it sounds like he'll be writing Zen And The Art Of Unicycle Maintenance someday. Without the nervous breakdown, hopefully.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Red Faction: Guerilla (360)

Here's your lazy person's summary: this entire post is a big, sloppy Valentine to Red Faction: Guerilla, one of the best games of this or any other generation.

Games are about grooves. All games have them, and if you find the groove (and can stay in it long enough), you wind up liking the game.

With Red Faction: Guerilla, I've been in the groove for the entire first 15 hours. This game is so carefully and cleverly designed, and it's so polished, and it's bursting with personality. So let me tell you about what I know.

Let's begin at the beginning, with the plot:
1. You travel to Mars to work as a miner.
2. Things go awry.

That's all the plot this game needs.

In just one of innumerable instances of brilliance, though, that tiny sliver of story manages to provide a convincing rationale for running around with a sledgehammer.

And that sledgehammer is a SLEDGEHAMMER. Hit people with it--once--and they die. As they die, they will fly through the air--like they have been hit by a sledgehammer.

This is awesome.

What's also awesome is that the weapons you're least likely to use in this game are the ones with bullets. There are so many uber-powerful weapons available (including one that simply evaporates reality) that bullets seem entirely ridiculous.

What these weapons do, mostly, is cause explosions, explosions on a scale so epic that it can hardly be described. And EVERYTHING in this game can be destroyed--every building, every bridge, every storage tank, every vehicle. They explode in a manner that is so thrilling it has to be seen to be believed.

Even from 150 million miles away, you can feel it.

And when you destroy something, it stays destroyed. It's industrial terraformication--with a rocket launcher.

Yes, I know that's not a word. But after playing this game, it should be.

Gloria watched me play for fifteen minutes one night, and she said "Sometimes you just have to make things go BOOM."


It's not just about the explosions, though. The game engine is absolutely superb, rendering tremendous amounts of detail with minimal pop-up and almost zero framerate slowdowns.

And Mars is beautiful. It's vast and sweeping, geographically imposing, and truly impressive to drive through. The geography lends itself to a better game, because there is no need for narrow streets and masses of pedestrians (saying the same dozen stupid phrases over and over)--these vistas are wide open, generally, so any quibbles with the driving model are erased by the forgiving design. Roads and off-road are frequently not very different from each other, which encourages experimentation.

The result of this experimentation? Some spectacularly sick jumps, as exciting as any action movie you've ever seen.

In general, and this is another primary design strength of the game, the possibilities for experimentation (and its rewards) are almost unlimited. Any mission can be approached in many ways, because only the objective is defined.

Here's an example. I found trails through the mountains--narrow trails that were to small for a vehicle to use. Through some creative ledge scrambling and jumping, I was able to wreak heavy destruction on enemy infrastructure from a distance, and it was almost impossible for them to come get me.

It took time to find these areas, and it's not the most intuitive way to go about some of these missions. It might not even be the best way. What matters to me, though, is that I could do it, and there was nothing to stop me. That's how open world games are supposed to work.

And it's not just that the game will let you do anything. In addition to that freedom, excellent design touches are everywhere. One example is that the vehicles available for your use at safehouses change, so instead of getting comfortable with one vehicle and using it every time, you're encouraged to drive all the vehicles, and given how differently they handle (and how differently they're sized), it adds another dimension to the experience.

More touches? A flawless GPS system. A very striking day/night cycle. A morale system that punishes you when you kill freedom fighters.

It wasn't rushed. It's not unfinished. It's a highly-polished game, and it shows.

Did I mention the jetpack?

That's right. Sledgehammer. Rocket launcher. Jetpack. Seriously, there's lots more, but what the hell else do you need?

Is it perfect? No, although any complaints I have are minor. There are a limited number of mission types (nine, I think), so even as you progress to different areas, the missions are generally similar. There are so many different ways to approach them, though, and you get progressively more inventive (with more powerful weapons) as you go, so it doesn't bog down.

I'd also like for more distinctive personalities to emerge on the enemy side. Maybe that comes later in the game (I'm about 2/3 through), but it hasn't happened yet, and I'd like to get a sense of some individual menace.

One last touch of pure genius: the mission briefings are given by the same voice actor (Michael McConnohie) who starred in Crackdown ("Skills for kills, agent. Skills for kills.").

It's epic. Wait, let me correct that--it's EPIC.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Links!

Leading off, from the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a fantastic read: The Learjet Repo Man. Also, and it's worthy of being co-lead, a story about Improv Everywhere and their latest "mission": a surprise wedding reception. It's a wonderful, funny story.

From Sirius, a link to a terrific article over at New Scientist: Decoding antiquity: Eight scripts that still can't be read. Also, and this is quite interesting, it's The Evolution Of House Cats.

From Dib Oglesby (that is a great name), a link to newly uncovered images of Adolf Hitler (aka "bastard"), notable because they're in color. In the same photo set, there's a haunting (and beautiful) picture of Hannelore Schroth.

From Andrew B, a link to an article that's funny, poignant, and disturbing: Amid Hard Times, An Influx Of Real Superheroes.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, it's freestyle wheelchair.

From Jamie Carlson, a link to a story about Gracie Sorbello, who is (you've got to be freaking kidding me) unicycling across the Great Divide. Yes, it's over 2,700 miles long, and the road features over 200,00 feet in elevation gain. Also from Jamie, a link to a story about 17-year old Zac Sunderland, who is attempting to sail around the world. Solo.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a story about the discovery of a massive black hole and what it means to our theories of "how black holes relate to galaxies." Also, a link to a beautifully written post by Leigh Alexander titled An Open Letter To Mr. Bob Blauschild, Formerly Of Sirius Software.

From Ben Younkins, a link to a NY Times article about the shy and elusive echidna, who are quite fascinating, as it turns out. In addition, the males have a four-headed penis, and I spent far too long yesterday wondering what kinds of pseudonyms echidnas have for their, um, units.

From Steven Kreuch, a link to Then And Now...Now, which is (it's hard to describe) a site where people hold photographs from the past over the same place in the present. It's quite striking.

From David Gloier, a link to a bizarre (and fortunately, past) method of punishment in South and and Southeast Asia: execution by elephant. Also from David, a link to a story about curveballs and why they're so hard to hit, and don't forget to look at the accompanying animation. Finally, and it's also an excellent read, it's Mysterious Inscribed Slate Discovered at Jamestown.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes, I Was Supposed To Write About "Red Faction: Guerilla" Today, But Gloria's Computer Croaked, So Until Monday, Here's The Summary Version

If you don't like this game, you're dead inside.

Console Post of the Week: May NPD

First off, let's look at the NPD numbers for May:

Last year:

That's another soft month. Yes, May 2008 is a "tough compare," but at some point, "tough compare" becomes "lack of great games."

Here's an updated graph of rolling 12-month sales in the U.S. for each console (and, when available, past consoles as well). Please note that the first data point is twelve months after launch:

See that orange fish hook? That's the Wii. Maybe MotionPlus will help, but Nintendo's first-party lineup for holiday 2009 looks very anemic, and I think Nintendo is starting to wobble.

On the plus side, developers are releasing more fully-featured products on the Wii, and in greater numbers, than they have in the past. The Wii version of Tiger Woods 10 features both superior control (using MotionPlus, and it's extremely well-implemented) and twice as many courses (well, almost--29 versus 15) as the 360 or PS3 versions. So it's not all bad news for Nintendo, but the Wii is no longer the craze that it was only six months ago.

Let's move on.

The longer Sony waits to announce the inevitable price cut for the PS3, the better the chances that it will be a $100 cut, not $50. It's been two and a half years now, and the PS3 is still priced at $399. That's incredible, really, and it's also incredible that after two and a half years, the installed base of the PS3 in the US is barely HALF that of the 360.

How many people would have predicted that back in 2006, even after Sony announced the launch price?

Look, it's entirely possible that the PS3 is never going to catch the 360 in total installed base in the U.S., and if that sounds crazy, just look at the numbers. The 360 has averaged about 400,000 units a month in 2007 and 2008, and I bet it's in the same ballpark this year.

If the PS3 averages 600,000 units a month from tomorrow going forward, it would take them over three years to catch the 360. Yes, 360 sales will eventually slow, but they still have room to make price cuts for at least another two years before they reach that point.

How many years did the PS2, the most popular system in history, sell an average of over 600,000 units a month? One. One!

Clearly, the PS3 is not the PS2, and never will be. But for the PS3 to catch the 360, no matter what the analysts say, it will have to average PS2 numbers and better for the next three years--at least. I just don't see that happening.

I saw some news today on Natal, or "Noobtal," as it should be renamed, apparently. Here's what Shane Kim told Kotaku during E3:
Conceptually, the launch of Natal will be like the launch of Xbox 360. It's going to be that big. We're not just going to ship it when the hardware and software are ready. We have to make sure that there are enough content experiences that are really good. That's similar to how you would think of the launch of a new console. It's got to have a great launch line-up.

So far, that sounds great. But then he adds this:
We're not focused on this generation's casual gamers or even PS2 people who haven't upgraded. This is about the 60% of households were a video game console doesn't exist… the problem is that the controller is a barrier for some people and now with Project Natal we completely eliminate that.

I don't know about you, but that makes Natal sound like the ultimate noob device to me. Unfortunately.

In a business sense, it's entirely logical. Why pursure the hardcore when the hardcore already own 360s? It makes far more sense to dedicate 90% (or 100%) of the resources to targeting the great unwashed.

It's great for Microsoft. It's just not good for us.

I've Never Seen This Before

I was driving past a restaurant today and saw two elderly people get out of a car, both wearing sherbert orange-colored clothing from head to toe.

I thought I'd seen everything, but clearly, I was wrong.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tiger Wood 10 (Wii)

As my very good friend and Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand would say, "Let's rip the band-aid off first."

The bad news about Tiger Woods 10 on the Wii: that ambitious golf simulation project I described earlier this week really won't work for a myriad of reasons.

The good news about Tiger Woods 10 on the Wii: everything else.

I've played three full rounds now, and to say I'm impressed would be an understatement. The Wii version of Tiger Woods 10 is jammed full of features, the interface is well-designed, and in absolutely no way does this feel like a rushed port or a "B" team effort.

This is "A" team all the way.

The MotionPlus support is excellent, and the sensitivity of the controller to my swing is very impressive. In particular, putting is totally wonderful, and no longer are you forced to go Dante's Ten Levels of Idiot Hell when putting--just hold the controller and putt, and your on-screen animation matches your movement.

Common sense FTW!

I also think that touch shots are far, far more interesting using the Wiimote+MotionPlus.

This feels so much more like golf than using an analog stick that I have no idea why anyone would even play the 360 or PS3 versions. Sure, the graphics are much weaker on the Wii (although they're better than I expected), but the MotionPlus support, as well as the overall polish and abundant value of the Wii version (29 courses, plus disc golf), make this game an incredible value.

Did I just say "incredible value" about an EA Sports game? Is that possible?

Infamous (PS3)

Infamous has frequently been referred to in recent weeks as "better than Crackdown." Based on my own experience, though, Infamous isn't even worthy of washing Crackdown's balls.

Obviously, your mileage and ball-washing may vary.

First off, and this is one of my all-too-frequent digressions, it amazes me how many people are now claiming that they loved Crackdown. When the game was released, it didn't review that well (average Metacritic score 83, which is solid but not spectacular), and the buzz it had going was cult buzz, not mainstream.

I throw that stone because I did love Crackdown (see here), and I have incredibly fond memories of the game. In so many ways, it was larger than life, and it's incredibly difficult to pull that off.

Then comes Infamous.

I played Infamous for a little over three hours and quit, and it's entirely possible that the game gets better. I no longer have the desire to find out.

Things I love about Infamous: the comic book-style story scenes.

Things I didn't love about Infamous:
--your sidekick Zeke, who is an incredible hick and totally annoying.
--the animation of Cole, the hero. It's funky and a little too fast for me, and it just doesn't feel right.
--Cole's superpower. It's electricity, but it feels like a gun with an electricity animation. And your second initial attack feels just like a grenade, even though it's an "electric blast" or something.
--the save system. It's a checkpoint system, and the checkpoints are way too far apart, at least for me.

Far more serious than these cumulative complaints, though, is a problem I encountered very early. In one of the very first missions, I was tasked with clearing guards from a bridge, at which point I was supposed to zap a panel to open a gate. Very straightforward.

To start off with, I couldn't just zap the panel and run like hell through the gate. That's okay. What's not okay is to clear every guard from the bridge, as well as every enemy "red dot" from the radar screen, and still not be able to open the gate.

It was dead-solid obvious what I was supposed to do, but I couldn't--the game wouldn't let me. I tried multiple blasts of electricity on the panel, I tried longer blasts of electricity, I tried everything I could think of that involved electricity, and I still couldn't open the gate.

I got so pissed off that I went to a freaking walkthrough and verified that I was supposed to be opening the gate by blasting the panel with electricity. Confirmed.

At this point, I'm so annoyed (and old and grouchy) that I'm ready to stop playing the damn game right there. But I'm also curious as to what's happened.

Eventually, I decide (entirely by chance) to jump off the bridge and take a look at the streets below. That's where I find three guards wandering around like the Keystone Kops--three guards who didn't show up on radar, and who seem entirely unable to walk up a ramp and find me on the bridge. Even though I was the one who knocked them off the bridge.


Once I took out the guards, even though they were no longer a threat, I was able to blast the panel once and the gate opened. Hooray!

When I see something like this so early in the game, I'm pretty much done. I never expect the second half of the game (with only rare exceptions) to be as polished as the first half, and if one of the very first missions is that stupid, I have better things to do.

There certainly other issues--most notably for me, that the density of enemies is high enough, and those enemies are skilled enough, that I never get the feeling of freedom that I did in Crackdown.

Like I said, I only played Infamous for three hours. I'm long past the days of wanting to finish a game just so I can write about it. If it doesn't keep me interested, I'm done.

The good news, though, is that Red Faction: Guerilla is a crazy-good, absolutely brilliant combination of Crackdown and Mercenaries, although in this case, 1+1=5. I'll be writing about it tomorrow or Monday, but in the meantime, it is a 100% solid gold purchase.

So I'm getting the open-world Crackdown fix that I wanted. I'm just not getting it from Infamous.

Fatal Frame IV

You guys know how I feel about this series--I think it's incredibly frightening and completely brilliant. Which is why I was so disappointed (well, pissed off) when there was no effort by Nintendo to bring Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse to the U.S. or Europe.

Frank Regan sent me a link today to a story (thanks Aeropause) about a fan project that would, incredibly, make the game playable for us. Here are the details:
Fansite Beyond the Camera’s Lens has brought word of an intimidating fan project set to bring the game to Wiis around the world. The Fatal Frame 4 Translation Patch Project seeks to create a file that would run off an SD card and translate Fatal Frame IV while you’re playing. Yes, you would need to import a copy of the game from Japan, but you would not need a Japanese Wii to play it.

...The team is shooting to get the patch finished by the end of the summer. According to this forum post, they already have quite a bit completed.

Boy, if this works, they'll get the lifetime legend achievement award.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

MMO Baseball

DQ reader Fredrik Skarstedt has a new game in open beta, and it's doing quite well. It's called MMO Baseball, and here's a description of the game (taken from the home page):
MMOBaseball is a FREE web based RPG game that allows you to create a player, or a team owner, and compete in accurately simulated baseball games against baseball lovers from all over the world.

The free game points can be supplemented with your own money (you can buy more points) if you wish, but I've played for a week and haven't needed any yet, because you both get a pool of points for signing up as well as a "salary" when your player is placed on a team. If you do buy more points, though, you can use it to create more players, buy teams, and unlock achievements (which gives your player a wider variety of equipment to buy with his salary).

On the player side (I haven't tried being a team owner yet), your salary is used both for training your player and buying equipment (which provide stat bonuses). It's possible to train your player multiple times a day, if you have enough points, but training sessions actually take real-world time, so it give you an incentive to check on your player several times during the day.

The layout of the game is very pleasing graphically, it's easy to learn, and I think it has an excellent chance to be successful. If you're interested go here to create an account: MMOBaseball. Like I said, they're only a few weeks into the beta, so you can participate in shaping the final product.

GameShark E3 Guide

GameShark has an absolutely epic E3 summary up for viewing. 128 games, all detailed, and all with impressions. If you want to know about an individual game, or just browse around, it's a great read. Find it here: GameShark E3 Guide.

Eli 7.10

Eli 7.10 has, much to my surprise, turned into a legitimate hockey fan. He's started his own career in NHL 09 (playing as Sidney Crosby, of course), scored his first goal two nights ago, and has watched every game of the Stanley Cup Finals with me.

He does not, however, understand the lingo yet.

"Come on, baby, MAKE SOME CHICKEN!" he shouted during Game Four.

"Dude, I'm not sure that's a hockey phrase," I said gently. "Are you trying for some variation of 'put the biscuit in the basket' or something like that?"

"DAD," he said just as gently, "it didn't sound RIGHT because you said it WRONG."

"I did?"

"You left out 'hot'," he said.

"Hot baby?" I asked.

"No, Dad. Hot CHICKEN," he said.

I'm glad we cleared that up.

When Eli was sick two weeks ago, I debated whether to let him watch "Monster House," an animated film that was allegedly scary enough to get a 10+ rating from Common Sense Media. I usually let him watch films that are rated up to two years above his age, so this was borderline.

"Little man, this movie is supposedly pretty scary," I said.

"I've seen some PRETTY SCARY things in my life, mister," he said.

P.S. it wasn't scary at all.

Eli got a yo-yo on Friday, and whenever he puts it down, he picks it up a minute or two later. "I CAN'T stop doing this! It's ADDICTIVE!" he says.

Eli got a cash reward from my Mom for his last report card this school year (all A+ and A), and he decided to buy a hockey stick. When he got home, he was sending tennis balls and plastic pucks flying all over the house, of course, but after about half an hour, he asked Gloria if she wanted to sit on the couch and snuggle.

She did, of course, so she came over to the couch, and they sat together for about five minutes. Then Eli got up and started playing with his hockey stock again. "Hey, I thought you wanted to snuggle!" she said.

"Mom, you're not new," he said, laughing.

Eli somehow got something in his eye last week, but we couldn't find it. We wound up going to the emergency room at 8:30 p.m. (good grief), and the doctor found a little piece of bark that was up under his eyelid. It turns out that it was a good thing we went, because there were already several scratches on Eli's cornea and it would have gotten worse.

He was fine within less than a day (man, kids heal so quickly), but that's not the story.

The story is that while we were waiting to get checked out, we heard this little girl crying. Eli saw that she was getting some kind of shot in her foot, and she was really in terrible pain.

Eli, of course, put his empathy in the form of a Harry Potter story. "Mom," he said, "I'd rather have the Cruciatus Curse done to me than see it done to someone else. I can't stand to see other people in pain."

That gave me a very warm feeling.

Monday, June 08, 2009


This is how I get into trouble. Asking questions.

With the MotionPlus support in Tiger Woods 10 for the Wii, 1:1 motion mapping is supported. Allegedly.

What I want to know is how well, in terms of both acceleration and motion, the game translates our real-world swing. I'm not talking about some cruddy plastic golf club with a holder for the Wiimote--I'm talking about a real golf club.

Here's what I think we should be able to do:
--find a holder for the Wiimote that can be mounted near the handle of a real golf club
--use a practice net and a mat
--use real golf balls
--play the game

A driver and six iron would work for all shots except putting. So you would only need three holders and three clubs in total to represent a near-full golf experience.

This is pointless, of course, if the results with a Wiimote are radically different from real-world performance.

Wait. I'm not going to...yes, I am.

When I get the attachment figured out, I'll go hit balls on the driving range to check my distance. It would be ideal to use an advanced indoor golf simulator (at Golfsmith or the like) and have both the simulator and the Wii running at the same time, so that swing results could be compared.

Putting? Use one of those artificial putting greens--just a strip of artificial turf so that you can get the ball rolling.

I have no idea how well the Wiimote would work when attached to a real club, or how well it would reflect real life.

I'll tell you one thing, though: I'm damn sure going to find out.


If I remember correctly, the first time I mentioned true 3D gaming was in 2005. In addition to a 3D projector, I said that someday we would interact with games without using a controller--the console would read our motions in 3D space.

I didn't even realize this until today, but if Natal works, we're halfway there.

Post E3 Notes

Based on your e-mails and my own observations, here are the games that received nearly-universal praise last week at E3.

1. The Beatles: Rock Band
Everyone loved this game. I have no idea how anyone could not love this game. It's clear from the trailers that Harmonix has lavished an enormous amount of attention on the details, and it looks letter-perfect. Here's a trailer to show you what I mean: The Beatles: Rock Band trailer.

Also, I'm including a second trailer that has nothing to do with the game, really, just because it shows how incredibly clearly Harmonix understands The Beatles:
The Beatles: Rock Band (cinematic trailer)

It's hard to believe this right now, perhaps, but we're going to look back in ten or twenty years and see Harmonix as one of the greatest game developers of all-time, and this is an era in which they are absolutely at the top of their game.

2. Splinter Cell: Conviction
Everyone at E3 who e-mailed and saw this game said it was absolutely spectacular and totally blew them away. It was even mentioned by several people who aren't particularly fans of the series.
Splinter Cell: Conviction trailer

3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Looks absolutely beautiful, and I only hope the gameplay matches up to the graphics.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves trailer

4. Madden 10
This game received almost universal praise from known hard-asses, and for once, I think it's deserved. It's clear that the developers really have tried to make the game more sim-like. I watch videos and see that most of the stupid shit I associate with Madden has been entirely removed from the game. Pasta Padre's site has a ton of videos up.

Oh, and on a side note, the hard-asses hated NCAA as much as they liked Madden.

5. Scribblenauts (DS)
This is one of the most creative games I've ever seen. It's designed by the same team that made Drawn to Live, another remarkably creative game. The basic premise is that you input words to receive objects that then help you complete a level. The game recognizes over 10,000 words, and the possibilities are nearly endless, as is the wackiness.

That description in no way does the game justice, but try these links:
Scribblenauts Eurogamer Preview
Scribblenauts trailer
Developer walkthrough

There were plenty of other notables at E3, but I think these games received the most positive attention.

Project Natal also recieved quite a bit of attention, although in positive/negative terms, it was very mixed. While I was originally extremely skeptical that this would ever be anything more than a novelty, after finding out that Johnny Chung Lee (yes, that Johnny Lee) was on the project team, I'm taking it much more seriously.

I also noticed that EA and Ubisoft are supporting the Wii to a far larger degree, seemingly, than anyone else, and it will be interesting to see how that works out.

In general:
--most people miss Kentia (that was always my favorite hall)
--everyone said the show was "meh," which surprised me

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Links!

We are loaded today, so let's get started.

From MSNBC, news of the discovery of an almost-complete mammoth skeleton estimated to be about one million years old. Also, the discovery of a 17th century "witch bottle" and what it reveals about witchcraft during that era.

From Tim Jones, a link to a remarkable (and beautiful) homebrewed CPU. And here's a more technical story about the process.

Here's a fascinating link from David Gloier to a story titled The Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal. It's a bizarre story and a great read.

From Roger, a link to a story about Wolfram Alpha, which promises to be entirely awesome.

From Nate Carpenter, a link to a story about Emotiv, and here's an excerpt:
The scientists at Emotiv have done the impossible: created a brain-wave-reading headset that lets you conjure entire worlds using nothing but your mind -- a breakthrough that could be worth billions.

Two words: Jedi Academy.

From Sirius, a link to a remarkable story about carbon nanotubes and swords. Here's an excerpt:
Peter Paufler and colleagues at Dresden's Technical University discovered carbon nanotubes in the microstructure of a 17th century Damascus sabre. Intriguingly, the nanotubes could have encapsulated iron-carbide nanowires that might give clues to the mechanical strength and sharpness of these swords.

Also from Sirius, a link to the recreation of a lost musical instrument--the Lituus. And the rediscovery of a flint axe originally discovered in 1858 that challenged the Biblical version of evolution. Next (it's a big Sirius week), and you really want to see this, it's a jet-powered bicycle. Finally, it's the annually hilarious Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling.

From Andrew, a link to a story about the potential for self-healing car paint. Also, a link to a story about the remarkable Fred “Hargy” Hargesheimer: After WWII Rescue Soldier Devotes Life To Helping His Saviors.

From Yacine Salmi, a link to a story about how the homeless stay wired.

From George Paci, and this may come in handy someday: how to brew beer in a coffee maker, using only materials commonly found on a modestly sized oceanographic research vessel.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a story about the Combat Air Truck, which can be repaired with "a wrench and screwdriver." Also, the story of how an Iraqi teen solved a 300-year-old math problem. Also, and this is epic, it's North Korea Secrets Uncovered In Google Earth By Amateur Spies.

From Paul Costello, a compilation video of epic and entirely goofy cat moments.

From Ian Alexander, a link to a gaming article titled 5 Things The Gaming Industry Will Never Fix (and why). It's not that the arguments are new, necessarily, but they are made with great style.

From Sean, a link to a story about a horse, it's head, and how it got caught in a tree. No injuries, but the picture is priceless.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Loathsome Device (#4)

Dear Unicycle,
I am your master. Fear me.
Confrontationally yours,

DQ reader Sam sent in an e-mail suggesting a unicycle chart, which I thought was both entirely silly and a great idea at the same time.

Before the dates on this chart, there were about two months of desultory practice attempts, but most of the time was spent trying to help Eli 7.10. I realized, though, that I wasn't getting much work in, and I wasn't progressing, and I was tired of being shitty (hence the "Loathsome Device" series of posts about two weeks ago.

Once I start practicing along a fence every day, though, and lengthened my practice sessions to over an hour, I started getting better. Fast. And even though I'm tired and usually sore at the end of the day, it's good, because I can feel the difference. I'm doing most of my balance adjustments automatically now, and I can recover from quite a few situations that would have crashed me out only a few weeks ago.

Turning is still dicey, but I'm improving. And I still can't do a mount from a standstill--I need to be holding on to a fence or something. But I'm getting there.

The two strangest moments during practice:
1. An enormous woman (300+ pounds) who walked up one day and spent five minutes telling me that "the unicycle was just like a bicycle, only with one wheel." All I could think was that if the unicycle was covered in mustard, she'd eat it.
2. The one thing I never expected to see while I was practicing the unicycle was--another guy on a unicycle. But someone rode up one day (I practice at the high school after hours) and said he'd seen me practicing. Very nice guy, and a much better rider than me.

Okay, here's the chart. Like I said--things have changed in the last week or so.

A Question About Red Faction: Guerilla

Is there any way, any conceivable way, that Volition could have jammed more awesome into this game? It's like they filled the game with awesome, then pressurized the game and added more awesome until it became supersaturated.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I Don't Mind Waiting

On Saturday, we were all watching an episode of iCarly together, and the show was about the best coconut cream pie in the world.

"I could really go for some coconut cream pie right now," Gloria sighed.

"You're the second person I know who loves coconut cream pie," I said.

"Who's the other one?" she asked.

"Gilligan," I said.

"How long have you been waiting to say that?" she asked.

"Twelve years," I said.


Chris McCue e-mailed with a good point: if the GO fails, the lack of a used game market may not be the main reason, because it's also overpriced (at $249) and not backward-compatible (which I pointed out). So it would be more fair to say that if the GO struggles at its current price point and feature set, that the lack of a resale market for the game is one of multiple factors.

I think Sony will fix the price point issue, though, which would then make it a better test for our purposes.

Also, a couple of notes about the chart I put up last night. Final Fantasy XIV is going to have a PC version, which is why I didn't label it as an exclusive. There were also some games that were in the awkward category of being platform exclusive, but also largely regurgitated from an existing game. So it wasn't really exclusive, at least to me.

I also should have added the "1 vs. 100" feature to Microsoft's chart and just forgot.

Console Post Of The Week: The "Oh, Shit!" Addendum

I totally missed this yesterday because I was running on fumes, but the announcement of the PSP GO marks an absolutely HUGE moment in gaming.


We've speculated for years about the used game market and its effect on the new game market. Publishers have absolutely screamed for years about how it's killing them.

I don't believe that's the case. I believe that the used game market has actually increased the size of the gaming market because it has significantly increased purchase activity overall. What we've always lacked, though, is a test case, so we never knew one way or the other.

Well, we're about to find out, aren't we?

The PSP GO has no UMD slot. Everything bought for the GO is a digital download. No used game market.

Now, if Sony adjusted the price of downloads to acknowledge that the product is worth less because there's no ability to resell, it wouldn't be an ideal test case. But we all know that Sony isn't like that--they'd never admit that relationship, and I'm willing to bet that their downloads will cost the same as a game on UMD.

In other words, we have a perfect testbed.

If the GO is successful (without Sony drastically adjusting the price of the downloads), then it would be fair to argue that the used game market really hasn't been beneficial to the market overall. If it fails, though, it's fair to make the case that the used game market really is beneficial to a platform overall.

So here we go. We have a highly-priced, non-backward compatible, download-only platform with no used game market. Does anyone else hear a giant sucking sound?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Console Post Of The Week: E3

Here's a reference chart to help you quickly see what was covered in each press conference:

A quick legend:
--games in yellow are exclusives.
--games with an * are not coming out until 2010 or later.

Sorry that I can't make that large enough to read without clicking on the image (which means you may need to follow along in a separate window), but there was just too much information to include. And I apologize in advance for whatever I've left out, because I'm sure there's something.

Now that we see the big picture at a glance, let's dig in deeper.

First off, both Microsoft and Sony now have their own motion sensing hardware. Natal (Microsoft) seems to be fairly early in development and uses cameras to detect motion (no controller at all). Playstation Motion uses a controller and a camera, and seems to be much further along.

Both of these devices have the same problem--gaining developer support to become more than a niche product. Motion control took off for Nintendo because Wii Sports was absolutely the perfect demonstration of the technology. Perfect. And both the controller and the demonstration program shipped with every Wii.

Microsoft and Sony are in a far different position, and it remains to be seen whether either piece of hardware will gain traction.

Nintendo also seems to be in better position with regards to Wii MotionPlus, because multiple developers have both announced support and bundled the controller add-on with upcoming games.

Second, everyone seems to be standing pat on price, at least for now. Sony actually did well in terms of their presentation, but they cut themselves off at the knees (again!) in terms of price. The PSP GO is launching at $249, almost 50% more than the cost of the Nintendo DSi.

Damn, have you Sony executives learned NOTHING?

There was also no announcement of a price reduction for the PS3, so maybe we do have a chance of a $100 reduction being announced in September (which might still allow them to hit their target of 30% growth). But without a price reduction, the game announcements didn't have the impact they could have.

Sony acts like a character in a Charlotte Brontë novel--they seem to think they have an entire lifetime to seize the moment.

Third, on the console side, it's amazing how thin both Microsoft and Sony are in terms of first-party exclusives shipping this year. Microsoft has Forza 3 and Halo: ODST. Sony has Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and possibly MAG (although I'll be surprised if MAG actually ships this year).

Damn, that's not much.

And while Nintendo has more titles, I'm not sure they're really doing any better. Wii Fit Plus will print money, but in a gaming sense, none of us care. WarioWare DIY is an interesting idea, but it's more of a tookit, seemingly. So really, we're left with New Super Mario Bros. and Wii Sports Resort.

In total, that's all kind of depressing.

Microsoft's clear advantage this year was the social networking space, as well as significantly improving their video on demand options. Sony has talked about making Home into a social hub, but really, Microsoft is the company actually doing that.

Microsoft also did an excellent job of parrying. The two biggest exclusive third-party franchises on the PS3 (Final Fantasy series and Metal Gear Solid) are no longer exclusive (Final Fantasy had been previously announced). They countered the motion-sensing controller of the Wii (although it looks a long way from being available).

As far as Sony and Nintendo, they both generated a degree of excitement, but they didn't touch all the bases as well as Microsoft did.

This is running long and I'm really beat, so I'm stopping here.

E3 Pressers

I think I've come up with an easy way to compare the E3 press conferences of Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, but it won't be posted until late today. We're all going to see UP! this afternoon, and I'll be with Eli 7.10 until he goes to bed at nine.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Microsoft E3 Presser

Live-blogged nicely by Chris Kohler of Wired here.

Impressions tomorrow (I'd like to think about it for a few hours), but I think Microsoft did very, very well.

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