Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Links!

We are loaded and beyond this week, so Happy Halloween (soon) and let's get started.

Leading off, from JL, one of the funniest parody ideas I've ever seen: The Beatles singing "Stairway To Heaven".

Next, a special Halloween link from Hogie Chang, and it's a doozy: The Monster Club: Horror and SciFi Old Time Radio. This will waste a good part of your day.

From Shane Courtrille, a link to video of a Transformer's Halloween costume.

From Randy Graham, a fantastic article from Air & Space magazine titled How The Spaceship Got Its Shape.

From David Gloier, an excellent interactive graphic titled Cell Size And Scale (use the slider). Also, a story about a 10-foot great white shark being bitten nearly in half by another shark--with one bite (with photo).

From Jason Maddox, an incredibly ingenious idea: the reverse geocache puzzle.

From me, a link to a remarkable piece of exercise equipment: a reduced gravity trainer. Totally incredible.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, one of the most amazing pieces of trampolining I've ever seen. Next, via the unstoppable Gamers With Jobs, a remarkable piece of goofiness from the 1970s titled Prisencolinensinainciusol. Next, a fantastic video of a robot bricklayer. Here's a link to one of the best episodes of This American Life ever, when a fake tv camera obsessed an elementary school.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a story about the opening of the longest golf course in the world. Also, a discovery that throws our model of the heliosphere into doubt.

From Andrew, a link to the 1973 cover of Radio Electronics, featuring the Lancaster TV Typewriter.

From Stephen Abel, a story about how scientists have discovered the gene that cancer-proofs the cells of a naked mole rat.

It's a Sirius deluge this week, and leading off, it's the discovery of the first "skylight" on the moon, a deep hole that could open into an underground tunnel. Next, scientists have unraveled the mystery of the fungal disease that has killed millions of frogs. Next, a slideshow Traveling Through Time and Stars (this is really quite amazing). Also, a link to scientists unraveling the secret of drought resistance at the molecular level. One more, and it's Tiny ears found on butterfly’s wings.

Form Julian Bell, a link to one of the best charitable ideas I've ever seen: a zombie walk.

From Jeff Gardiner, it's 5 Real Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy (Simo Hayha is EPIC).

From Ronny Mo, a link to a very moving and poignant statement by an 86-year old WWII veteran on gay marriage.

From hippo, a link to a story about the first successful creation of artificial life.

From Phil Honeywell, a link to a very compelling "music video" (and excellent use of Auto Tune ) called The Symphony Of Science.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Console Post Follow-Up

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous let me know that the split I calculated for Wiis sold last month at $249 and $199 is only accurate if all Wiis were sold at either one price or the other. However, since the ASP for August was lower than $249 (he didn't reveal the actual number), it's highly unlikely to be the case.

In other words, fewer Wiis were sold at $199 than simple math would indicate.

If You're Near Nottingham Town Square

A note from DQ reader Ian Hardingham (Mode 7 Games, whose last game was Determinance):
We're officially launching Frozen Synapse at Nottingham Game City (a UK games festival) on October 30th (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). I'll be showing my game for the first time to a load of people in a massive tent in the town square. We're doing something a bit unusual, which is that we're running a competition for the entire day where everyone actually plays against The Developers... that is, me basically. We're running short 5-turn 10 minute matches all day and the person who scores highest against me wins a Novint Falcon Pistol Grip package, a load of indie games from other indie developers helping us out, and some CDs from the record label that's released a couple of Paul's Trance tracks.

I don't know what Frozen Synapse is yet, but Ian's a very clever fellow, so I strongly suspect that it will be interesting and worth the trip.

Madden "Play" Slider Beta

I've got some Madden "play" sliders that are currently in beta testing, so if you want to try them, please e-mail me.

Console Post Catch-All

As part of the "catch-all," I saw today that Activision is pricing DJ Hero DLC at $3 per track.

Good luck with that.

After the console post last week, Chris Kohler e-mailed and said that Gamasutra had included the average selling price of the Wii in its September NPD anaysis (Matt Matthews, excellent work as always). That meant, in theory, that we could mathematically determine how many units sold at $249 and how many sold at $199.

The average selling price was $218. That works out to 166,700 at $249.99 and 296,100 at $199.99.

Chris also mentioned that the length of the time the Wii was selling at $199 (based on NPD reporting periods) was actually a week, not four days. So the Wii was at the new price for 20% of the reporting period.

Math all that out, so to speak, and it means that the Wii sold about 41,500 units a week at $249. And 296,000 a week at $199. In September.

Holy crap. That's more than three times the weekly sales rate of the PS3 in one of its best months ever.

So when I said Nintendo might have a huge October, I should amend that to "Huge+". The record for October (beginning November 2001, when NPD began making the sales numbers public) is 803,000 units (the Wii last year), so keep that in mind when you hear the October numbers in a few weeks.

That's the good news for Nintendo.

The bad news is that they announced on Wednesday that Wii sales were only 5.75 million for the last six months versus 10 million for the same period last year. However, if the September NPD numbers are any indication (based on the last week of the reporting period), they'll be making some of that ground up, and quickly.

In terms of software, I don't think there's anything more to say at this point. Beginning with last fall's tremendously ill-fated decision to make Wii Music their centerpiece of the holiday season, Nintendo has been in a rut. Wii Sports Resort is quite fun, but there's just absolutely no depth in Nintendo's software lineup right now.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Week Of Torchlight: Post #Something-Or-Other

Based on my e-mail, lots of you are already playing Torchlight, and if you're not, believe me, you should start immediately. I sat down at 11 p.m. last night and said "I'll play for 15 minutes."

57 minutes later, I finally noticed the time.

Jason Ballew sent me an e-mail today about modding:
These are things that are apparently possible, from reading the forums:

Custom Towns.
Add custom artwork to re-skin any element of the game.
Create a monster that's the only monster to drop a certain item
Increase the texture resolution on both UI and models.
Custom Classes.
Custom Items and Monsters.
Dungeon Level Scaling Based on character level.
Create Class-based Quests or Dungeon Levels.
Change the number of skill and stat points you gain per level.
Have quests give out skill points.
Create new 'recipes' for transmuting.
Create new animations and effects for skills.
Make certain items that only spawn in Hardcore mode.
Create new henchmen.
Import new music and sounds to the game.
Change the UI layout.
Create Total Conversions.
Change the pet.
Custom quests.
Custom Dungeons.

And this is only in the first 24 hours.

In other words, this is both a ridiculously awesome game for less than $20 AND a ridiculously awesome environment for mods. If you want more information on this, check out the Runic Games forums here.

A Little Help From My Friend: Torchlight Diary #2

I should have introduced myself yesterday. My name is Lil, but everyone knows me as Nancy.

I'm a member of the Vanquisher class, but I prefer to think of myself as an adventuring archer. And if you might think less of me because I am on the distaff side of the track, allow me to mention that with my advanced knowledge of the Richochet skill, I can play an entirely fatal game of pocket billiards with your skull. No offense.

When I arrived in Torchlight, I was encouraged to choose a pet for companionship as well as protection. I chose a cat of undetermined breed, although after most of my gear was sprayed with urine, I did establish that he was a male.

I named him George, and he has quickly become my best friend. Torchlight, I must say, is almost entirely lacking in the social graces, with no taverns or gathering places to swap a story or lift a cold mug. Given the remarkably unusual magnitude of trouble in the vicinity, though, I can understand why people keep to themselves. All the more reason for me to appreciate my furry friend.

George is much more than a companion, though. In the course of my adventures, he has proven himself a clever and resourceful partner. He transports gear back to town to sell to merchants, enabling me to receive compensation for every piece of loot I encounter (no, it's not like I'm shopping--you really do want a fiery blast from my bow, don't you?).

He's also a fierce and untiring fighter. Much to my surprise, he's been able to learn two spells that he casts on his own, and that has saved both our hides on many occasions.

I've outfitted him with protective gear (a rather fetching necklace, I think), and my own armor has various enchantments that give him additional health and protection.

What I mostly do, though, is feed him fish.

Fish can transform George into a wild variety of beasts, and he fights with their ability for a brief period of time. Believe me, until you've seen a cat transform into a Goblinhound or a Varkolyn, you haven't really lived.

I'm not sure what George thinks about all this, but he never seems to mind. In fact, he's the perfect companion, and he makes adventuring all the more pleasant.

Well, except for the litter box.

A Question About King's Bounty And Windows 7

If anyone who was having problems with the crashing in battles with King's Bounty in 64-bit Vista has upgraded to 64-bit Windows 7, please let me know if the upgrade fixed the problem. I'm hopeful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Note On The Torchlight Diaries

I'm going to write several diary entries over the next week or so, each focusing on an aspect of the game.

In general, though, this is a completely phenomenal game. Funny, beautiful, great design, great interface, perfectly paced. It's a win cake, filled with win filling, with win icing on top.

The candles on the cake, of course, are made out of win.


Chris Kohler posted this over at GameLife, and if you live in the San Francisco area, it sounds like a great time:
We’re going to raise some money for charity and have a great time doing it.

Live in San Francisco or thereabouts? Then come to
Ümloud! on December 9, 2009. We’ll be taking over DNA Lounge, one of the city’s most awesome music venues, and playing Rock Band 2 to raise money for Child’s Play, which generates over a million dollars a year for children’s hospitals around the world.

Just like last year’s
San Francisco edition of Fünde Razor, which raised over $2,300 for Child’s Play, we’ll be playing Rock Band. But this time we’ll be up on a massive stage. And this time, Harmonix will be bringing the gear, meaning that we won’t just have a few songs — we’ll have almost 1000 of them.

The full post is here, and here's a link to the official Ümloud site.

All You Need Is Loot: A Torchlight Diary (#1)

This is the story of a bow.

The bow has a name: Freezing Horned Bow. It does 199 damage per second. It does 41-82 physical damage per shot. It's in the fastest attack speed class.

Oh, but it does more:
+12 ice damage
+24 health stolen on hit
+10 knockback
+9 damage
+4 health recovery per second

A wondrous device, certainly, but how does one obtain such a magnificent weapon?

Well, I knew a guy.

His name is Duros the Blade, and he lives out of a covered wagon in the Southeast corner of Torchlight. His reputation is questionable, at best, but he sells unidentified magical items, and while I am regularly outraged (I paid 2000 gold pieces once for a belt that does nothing more than hold up my pants), I've occasionally had my revenge by purchasing items far greater in value than their price.

That's how I acquired the Freezing Horned Bow. It was a mere shadow of its current self, though, dealing only 144 damage per second. I saw, however, that it had two sockets for gems.

Oh, yes.

I had already found a few gems in the Mines of Orden, so I decided to visit Duran the Transmuter. If you give him gems of the right type, he can combine them into a single, more powerful gem. Nothing's guaranteed, unless you combine two identical gems, but luckily, I had a few that matched.

Soon, the sockets on the Freezing Horned Bow were filled, and now my bow could both steal and recover health--useful qualities, I'm sure you'll agree.

I wasn't done yet, though. I had spare gold, thanks to my considerable forays into the mines and dungeons, so I paid a visit to Goren the Enchanter. He can place enchantments on items, but he's prickly--you have to pay in advance, you can't choose the enchantment, and there's a small chance he could destroy the item.

Yet somehow he stays in business.

Over a period of weeks, I had the bow enchanted twice, both times successfully, although I was sick to my stomach the second time at the thought of losing my coveted bow.

That's how I got my bow.

I'd like to say that I'll treasure this magnificent weapon for the rest of my life, but that would be a lie. I'm covetous--always have been--and I already have my wandering eye on a Recurve Bow Of the Vampire, which is superior in all respects.

Why don't I already have it? Well, I do, but I, um, can't quite use it. It's a demanding bow, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that my dexterity isn't quite up to the task yet.

Sure, I have an emotional attachment to the Freezing Horned Bow. Who wouldn't? I've faced Rizguzan The Mangler and Gorag'Thak the Defiler and walked away without a scratch. Of course I'm sentimental about the weapon that's seen me through so many pitched battles.

The first rule of adventuring, though, will always be this: sentiment can get you killed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

DJ Hero

DJ Hero ships tomorrow, and like I said a few weeks ago, I think the game will be a critical sucess and a significant commercial failure, at least in the U.S. Analysts have been scrambling to cut back their estimates, like this guy:
Demand for Activision's DJ Hero in the US is "well below" expectations for the game to become even a modest success, according to analyst Doug Creutz of Cowan and Company.

...Creutz anticipates that DJ Hero will only sell 600,000 units in the US during the fourth quarter, down one million units compared to Cowan's previous 1.6m estimate, with full year sales at 950,000, instead of 2.5 million.

WTF? The original estimate was for 2.5 million units for the full year? How many bongs are being used at C&C on a daily basis? How in the world would anyone think this game would sell 2.5 million units in the U.S.?

Here's more:
We still believe that DJ Hero will be an important part of Activision Blizzard's music franchise strategy, but we think it may take a few versions of the game for it to reach its full market potential (similar to the original Guitar Hero).

No chance, and the analogy is totally wrong. Guitar Hero was a music game introduced when music games were still a totally niche product. That's not true anymore, and DJ Hero is benefitting from that familiarity. However, it's also going to be dealing with genre fatigue, which isn't a benefit at all. How many people want to pay $100 for another piece of plastic "musicry" that is compatible with absolutely nothing else?

Here's another reason the analogy with Guitar Hero is wrong. The percentage of people who listen to rock music and have wanted to be guitar gods is exponentially higher than the people who want to be DJ's. That's always going to be a niche demographic, but Activision's business model doesn't support making niche games. Bobby Kotick--not a nurturer. Instead, he's the guy who rode his horse into the canyon, flogged him mercilessly, and when the horse couldn't go on, left him to die.

Years later, the horse's bleached bones were found in an arroyo, but that's a story for another day.

A Bit of Beatles Clean-Up

Here are a few assorted bits of Beatles business while I listen to George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

First off, Matthew Gallant sent me a note that he and his friends had actually designed a game around Norwegian Wood. It's quite charming and very clever, and you can see a video as well as a link for downloading the game here.

Scott Lewis e-mailed and correctly pointed out that several of the songs used on Magical Mystery Tour (including Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever) were actually recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. That's true--Paul McCartney's original concept for Sgt. Pepper wound up being heavily modified, so several songs that were orignally part of the album were held back.

Dean of Sports Game Reviewers Bill Abner sent me a link to a terrific blog about the Beatles written by the bassist of a Beatles cover band called BeatleTracks. There is an absolute avalanche of information on the band, literally weeks of good reading, so have a look if you're interested.

I'm also now reading Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, by sound engineer Geoff Emerick, and it's excellent. This book has lots and lots of technical details about how the unique sound of The Beatles was created, so if you're interested in that aspect of their music (I am), it's a terrific read.

I'm to the point in TB:RB where I've 5-starred all but four songs on either Hard or Expert, and I think I can finish those last songs with no problem (on Hard, anyway--not sure about Expert). It's tremendously satisfying playing the drums to these songs because the beats are so seamless--Ringo never intrudes into a song, never goes off on a wild solo. And without the freestyle fill sections (an excellent design decision), I feel much more like I'm really "playing" the song.

A Most Excellent Surprise

All last week, I worked on clearing my schedule so that I would be able to play Torchlight this week. As I've mentioned on many occasions, Fate was one of my favorite games of the last few years, and I've been eagerly looking forward to Torchlight from the day it was announced.

When I originally raved about Fate in 2005, Travis Baldree (the designer/developer) wrote me a short note. He seemed like a very nice guy.

Friday evening, as I was beavering away to get ahead, I saw that there was an e-mail in my inbox from Travis. He still remembered what I had written about Fate, and he sent me a link to a press build of Torchlight.

You guys know that I don't accept free games from developers in exchange for writing about them. However, I had already pre-purchased the game on Steam. So I wouldn't be getting it free--I'd just be getting it early.

I have no problem with that. I wish it happened more often, too.

This means that I have been spending basically all of my free time since then playing the game, and I will post detailed impressions tomorrow morning when the game is officially released.

I will say this, though: if you liked Fate, immediately head over to Steam and buy Torchlight. This is not a day one purchase-- this is a minute one purchase.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Links!


From hippo, a link to this week's most interesting story (I think so, anyway): How Plagiarism Software Found a New Shakespeare Play. I don't think this is absolutely conclusive--nothing could be, really--but it's provocative.

From Rob Cigan, it's 32 planets discovered outside solar system.

From David Gloier, a link to a fascinating interview with Roger Penrose, and the title says it all: Roger Penrose Says Physics Is Wrong, From String Theory to Quantum Mechanics. Also, and this is a completely mind-bending article, it's Timewarp: how your brain creates the fourth dimension (actually, this may be the most interesting story of the week, Shakespeare be damned).

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to a story about 83-year old Ralph Anspach, and this paragraph explains why you want to read this:
Ralph Anspach, an 83-year-old economics professor, spent decades locked in a real-life battle with Monopoly and its corporate owners. The campaign dented his finances, sent him on a nationwide trek for intelligence and sparked a legal case that reached the steps of the Supreme Court.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's 9 Noteworthy Counterfeit Schemes (Alves dos Reis FTW). Also, it's the world's largest gun suppressor (the pictures are great). Next, it's the sordid story of the Pixar lamp. Then it's a masive underwater mine demolition. Yes, it's a five-pack this week, and the photos are classic: 30 Dumb Inventions (seeing L. Ron Hubbard with an invention that he claimed proved tomatoes scream when sliced is completely hilarious).

From Sirius, and get your cheap jokes ready: Deadly spider requires long courtship — or else: Female Australian redback gets almost 100 minutes, or it will eat suitor. Also from Sirius, it's spider link #2: Kindler, Gentler Spider Eats Veggies, Cares For Kids. Now, a non-spider link, and it's fascinating: Why Eggs Could Be Getting Harder To Peel. Finally, it's a study of the evolution of E. coli over 21 years and 40,000 generations.

From Marc Halatsis, a link to an excellent Vanity Fair about Office 39, the North Korean program to counterfeit U.S. currency (considered the highest-quality fakes in the world at the moment).

From Brian Witte, a link to a photo essay by Aaron Huey, who "embedded" himself, essentially in the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota as part of a project to document povery in America. Both the photographs and the interview are excellent reading, although it's painful.

From Michael O'Reilly, a large image of the Normandy invasion fleet.

From Lummox JR, a link to a whimsical documentary about the entirely imaginary Chrysler Turbo Encabulator, originally "created" in 1946.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What A Deal

Impulse deals this weekend: Red Faction: Guerilla for $19.99 and A.I. War: Fleet Command for $14.99 .

I've already written about RF: G at length, and it's still the game I've had the most fun with this year. And $20 is an INSANE price for a game of this quality.

I haven't written about A.I. War before now, but it's an indie game with tremendous appeal. The first time I heard about it was from your e-mail, which has been 100% positive, and my time with the game has been uniformly positive as well.

Here's a brief description from the game's website:
- Space-based RTS, single player or up to 8 player co-op.
- Powerful emergent AI that retreats, probes defenses, and surprises even veterans with intelligent tactics.
- 30,000+ ships at a time on 10-120 simultaneous planetary battlefields.
- Different Every Time: 16 billion procedural maps, each with specific units.
- A focus on deep strategy with nearly no micromanagement.

Co-op is unique in that up to eight human players battle two computer-controlled civilizations, and that innovation alone, coupled with the excellent A.I., makes the game worth experiencing. Even better, the tutorials are thorough and well-designed, and there's also a Wiki that's very helpful.

Developer support has been excellent as well, so this is a game that's well worth checking out. You can also download a demo here.

The Greatest Band: Part Four

After The White Album, The Beatles decided to record their next album as simply as possible, playing together as a band instead of using advances in recording technology to (in some cases) isolate themselves from each other.

At the same time, it was decided to film the recording sessions. The film was to document the recording of the album, but instead, it wound up documenting a group of people who really didn't like each other anymore.

This was Let It Be, an album (and film) title full of irony.

The recording sessions were, to put it mildy, a mess. The acrimony overrode every positive moment. George Harrison, at one point, quit the band (Starr had briefly quit during the recording of The White Album).

"Final" versions of the album were mixed at least three times, the last by Phil Spector in only a week (this was the version used for the album).

The music reflects the disunity. There are still outstanding individual songs--"Two Of Us", "Across The Universe", "Let It Be", "One After 909", "For You Blue", and "Get Back" are all terrific (sorry, I can't stand "The Long And Winding Road", which, along with "Your Mother Should Know" from Magical Mystery Tour, should officially mark the beginning of Paul McCartney's mostly flaccid solo career)--but there's also a generous amount of filler, more so than on any previous album. It was ragged, but not in the gloriously excessive manner of The White Album.

Here's another moment, though, when The Beatles displayed their absolute singularity in terms of their identity and their music. They knew the band had essentially dissolved--hell, they didn't even like each other, and there was no chance they would continue as a band--but they wanted to record a final album that was a worthy exit.

Are you kidding me? When has that ever happened?

So The Beatles recorded a final album, and from the opening seconds of "Come Together", it's clear that this is, once more, a band at the peak of their creative genius. Abbey Road is as tightly wound and focused as any album The Beatles recorded, and it's electric. It's funny and joyous and dark and incredibly moving, and as a final statement, it's never been equaled.

In addition to the outstanding individual songs (my favorite is "Here Comes The Sun", although there's not really a single song that should be excluded), the 16-minute medley on side two that begins with "You Never Give Me Your Money" is nothing short of majestic. It's a statement album, really: we may be leaving, but we're kicking total ass one more time before we go.

Abbey Road was a record that was, essentially, impossible, given the state of the band at the time. It's entirely cohesive and entirely unified, and how The Beatles put aside their individual differences (and, at times, hatred) to record this album is impossible to understand. In an artistic sense, I greatly admire The Beatles for their creative genius, but there's nothing I admire more than their decision to record Abbey Road.

As it turns out, even though Abbey Road was recorded last, it was released before Let It Be, which has often led people to think that Let It Be was their last album together, a dispassionate goodbye.

The real goodbye, though, was the scorching intensity of Abbey Road.


After what had been a very weak year (for me) in gaming, here's what I'm trying to cram into the rotation right now (in no particular order):
--NHL 10 (360)
--Madden 10 (360)
--Tropico 3 (PC)
--Majesty 2 (PC)
--Uncharted 2 (PS3)
--A.I. War (PC)
--Machinarium (PC)
--Demon's Souls (PS3)
--The Beatles: Rock Band (360)
--Brutal Legend (360)
--Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (Wii)

It's mass insanity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

PureSim Baseball 2 Released

My favorite baseball text sim (Shaun Sullivan FTW), now with a new version. Press release below, and "this Friday" means "last Friday" (I'm a few days behind).

Wolverine Studios, a leader in sports simulation development for the PC, is proud to announce the release of our latest title, PureSim Baseball 2! PureSim Baseball 2 will be available Friday exclusively from the webstore at for $34.95.

Nothing says October like a good old pennant chase, and here’s your chance to get in on the action with PureSim Baseball 2. PureSim 2 is the sequel to the critically acclaimed baseball simulation developed by Shaun Sullivan. With the licensed use of the Lahman Database, PureSim Baseball 2 gives you the opportunity to go back to any season since 1900 and begin your baseball dynasty. Can you accomplish the feats of your favorite team or perhaps rewrite history by going back in time to when you felt things went wrong for your favorite club and leading them down a different path? With its myriad of stats and reports ranging from in-game media stories to the depths of Sabermetric statistics, PureSim Baseball 2 gives you the ability to get lost in your own baseball universe. Coupled with its unmatched levels of customization and accurate simulation engine, PureSim Baseball 2 will keep you in the pennant chase all year long!

For more information on the new features of PureSim Baseball 2, check out screenshots, or download a free demo, please visit us at

The Greatest Band: Part Three

The Beatles began recording of The Beatles only thirteen months after completion of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In between, The Beatles had released two albums to support film projects (Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine), although the number of new songs on both albums combined totaled only fourteen--essentially, one standard album.

Neither of these albums are considered among the band's best work--"Yellow Submarine," in particular, is generally considered their weakest album--but look at some of the songs that the albums contained:
"Magical Mystery Tour"
"The Fool On The Hill"
"I Am The Walrus"
"Hello Goodbye"
"Strawberry Fields Forever"
"Penny Lane"
"Hey Bulldog"

That's an "off year" for The Beatles.

These two albums continued the beautiful, vivid character studies that were now a trademark of the band. Also of note is one of the very few Beatles' songs that received less attention than it deserved: "Hey Bulldog" is almost criminally underrated.

Then we reach The Beatles, a sprawling, utterly magnificent double album. It's commonly known as The White Album, due to its plain white cover (it's very hard to even see "The Beatles" on the cover).

The Beatles, up to this point, had released tightly-wound, disciplined albums. The White Album, in contrast, was a sprawling, disjointed double album. It was also brilliant, with thirty tracks combining into what can only be described as a statement on the human condition. The music was sensational. It was funny, and sentimental, and soaring.

Most importantly, it was angry. It was dirty. It was dangerous.

The Beatles previous albums had been a refuge, of sorts, from reality. The White Album, though, reflected the social chaos of the era. "Yer Blues" is suicidal, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" is downright dirty (even though, as it turns out, the song was about monkeys), "Helter Skelter" is fierce, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" is (seemingly) about Lennon's heroin addiction, and "Revolution", "Revolution 1", and "Revolution 9" represent a society coming apart.

Even "Blackbird", a beautiful, peaceful-sounding song, is a social protest.

In their own witty, subversive way, though, The Beatles constantly prank us. "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" is followed by the wonderfully romantic "I Will." The suicidal "Yer Blues" is followed by the lovely, delicate "Mother Nature's Son." "Helter Skelter," a scorching tune, is followed by the entirely genteel "Long, Long, Long.

They also follow "Revolution 1", whose title is self-explanatory, with the utterly trifling (and entirely enjoyable) "Honey Pie."

This album was criticized for being self-indulgent, and compared to their previous albums, it's a fair criticism. The Beatles were beginning to dissolve, and this is the "every man for himself" album.

It also, for the first time, made people uncomfortable. Instead of the serene, joyous optimism of "All You Need Is Love" or the silly band uniforms of Sgt. Pepper, this was Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics with their gloved fists raised.

Do you know what I say about that? Fuck, yes. This is a great, great album precisely because of that anger, because of that chaos. It's great because interspersed with that anger is a tremendous amount of beauty.

This isn't an easy album. It's challenging. It's even disturbing at times.

Thank goodness.

Tomorrow: Let It Be and Abbey Road


After editing that Beatles post about ten times yesterday, I somehow wound up with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Sound." Well done. And I was listening to the album (for about the fiftieth time) while I was writing the post, so even better.

I'm listening to The White Album now and working on the post, so I assume I will mistakenly title it "The White Sound" or something.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Greatest Band: Part Two

After recording seven albums in only three and a half years, The Beatles decided to stop stretching the boundaries.

Instead, they broke them.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band represented nothing less than a complete redefinition of The Beatles. To my knowledge, no band has ever made a change like this in one album. It was unprecedented, and it was even more remarkable for its sheer brilliance. It is absolutely unconventional by the standards of the time, standards often set by The Beatles themselves.

Sgt. Pepper is a series of character portraits, both vivid and beautifully drawn. In a very warm way, it explores a dominant theme of the best science fiction: what it means to be human. It does so with a pervasive buoyance, the sound so bright and colorful that it practically bursts out of the speakers.

There are only three love songs out of the thirteen cuts, and they are among the most whimsical ever written: the sunny "Getting Better",the utterly delightful "When I'm Sixty-Four", and "Lovely Rita", the only love song ever written to a meter maid.

Sgt. Pepper is also an extremely funny album, certainly the wittiest ever recorded to that point. With the exception of the beautiful and heartbreaking "She's Leaving Home" (another example of empathy) and the experimental "Within You Without You", every song on the album is full of humor. Even the unsettling "A Day In The Life" is darkly funny.

Simply put, there was never a record like this, and over forty years later, there's never been another one.

Tomorrow: The White Album, Let It Be, and Abbey Road

Dan Rosensweig Takes The Swim That Needs No Towel

Oh, my.

We all remember this (from September 17):
Dan Rosensweig, head of the Guitar Hero division at Activision, told the Financial Times it had seen no impact from the heavily-marketed Beatles game. “It did not affect our sales”. He added that Guitar Hero outsold Rock Band by four to one in the US and nine to one in other markets.

Hey Dan, if you're going to be throwing your "big swinging sales" numbers around, you might try pulling them from some place other than your ass. Unless by "outsold four to one" you mean "sold less." From GameLife:
NPD added that The Beatles: Rock Band outsold Guitar Hero 5, saying that MTV’s Beatles game sold 595,000 units in total across the three platforms while Activision’s sequel sold 499,000 copies in total across its four platforms (which include PlayStation 2).

I'd have lots more for you, Dan, including a Shaquille O'Neal reference, but I've got to go download the Abbey Road DLC. No offense.

Console Post Of The Week: The Effects of Price Cuts

First, a quick review of yesterday's numbers:
PlayStation 3--491,800
Xbox 360--352,600

Let's look at these in order of least impressive to most impressive this month.

Compare these two sets of numbers:
Set #1--205,000. 195,200. 347,200.
Set #2--202,900. 215,400. 352,600.

Almost identical, right? Set #1 is last year's July-September NPD unit sales for the 360, by month. Set #2 is this year's July-September numbers.

The 360 had a substantial price cut on September 5 of last year, so it can be argued that the $100 price cut on the Elite (resulting in the elimination of the Pro model) had a similar effect as last year's across-the-board price cuts.

That's surprising, as I believed the price cut (which I regarded as more of a product line revamping than true discounting) was going to have minimal effect. What we won't know until next month, though, is what effect Halo: ODST had on these numbers. If sales track in the same arc as last year, then October sales should be very similar to September.

Next up is Sony, and as I've said on more than one occasion, I like the new "Slim" and the $299 price, and so do consumers. In September 2008, the PS3 sold 232,400 units in the U.S. This year, they sold 491,800, which is a huge increase.

I don't know how much follow-through there will be in the coming months, but Sony finally has fortified their game lineup, and based on the September numbers, I expect them to outsell the 360 in the U.S. during the holiday season.

If you're wondering why I put Nintendo in the "most impressive" slot, it's because of this date: September 27. That's the day that the Wii dropped to $199, and if you work the numbers, it's easy to say that October looks like a huge month for Nintendo.

First, let's look at July-September unit sales from last year:

If you look at those sales on a per-week unit rate, it looks like this:

September sales don't show a significant ramp on a per-week basis.

Now look at July and August of this year (per week):

Based on those numbers, and adding the fifth week of September sales, it would be fair to have expected the Wii to sell in the 325,000 unit range.

Instead, the Will sold 462,800 units.

In other words, four days of the new $199 pricing resulted in an additional 125,000+ units.

That's why I think Nintendo is looking at a huge October. Absolutely huge.

Oh, I almost forgot: The PSP Go. NPD isn't splitting out sales for the Go (at Sony's request, I'm guessing, because the Go is a separate SKU for retailers), and it's a good thing, because the PSP "family" only sold 190,400 units in September, compared to 238,100 units last year.

There was clearly a bump from July-August sales this year (in the range of 15%), but that's so small as to be essentially a non-event.

Monday, October 19, 2009

September NPD

Analysis tomorrow, but here are the numbers:
PlayStation 3: 491,800
Wii: 462,800
Xbox 360: 352,600

The Greatest Band: Part One

There was a time in my life when I enjoyed driving. I had several favorite drives, and they all produced their own groove. Coastal drive, country drives, highway drives--each one had its own feeling, and I knew which one to take depending on how I wanted to feel.

I also enjoyed walking around cities (still do), and Vancouver has to be my favorite. In the space of just a few miles, I could walk through Stanley Park (enormous and beautiful), see the cruise ships at Canada Place, and experience the diversity and vibrance of downtown. There is so much to see in Vancouver that it's hard to even put it into words.

The Rolling Stones. Led Zeppelin. The Who. Pink Floyd. They're all fantastic drives. They all have a groove.

Vancouver is The Beatles.

The Beatles have songs that are spiritual, angry, romantic, sexual, warm, cold, exuberant, sad, sturdy, and fragile. They also have two qualities that have only rarely been found in rock music: whimsy and empathy.

Sure, most groups occasionally write a funny or whimsical song. The Rolling Stones, in particular, have a deep (and dark) sense of humor ("Far Away Eyes" is a good example). No one, though, has ever been as consistently whimsical and downright funny as The Beatles. The White Album alone has more humor than the lifetime output of almost any other band.

It's not fair, though, to say that they were always funny, because their first few albums lacked that quality, and it's another reason why The Beatles are such an astonishing band: their development.

Consider this. Please Please Me, their first album, was recorded in February of 1963. Lennon and Starr were twenty-two years old. McCartney was twenty. Harrison was nineteen.

They recorded eleven songs in less than ten hours. Yes, that's right--eleven out of fourteen songs were recorded in the same day. Incredibly, that first album includes these songs:
"I Saw Her Standing There"
"Please Please Me"
"Love Me Do"
"P.S. I Love You"
"Do You Want To Know A Secret"

No humor, really, just rock-solid, enduring please-fall-in-love-with-me songs.

By October of 1965 (only two and a half years later), The Beatles had released With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale, and Help! Five albums in thirty months, and their next album, Rubber Soul, marked the first time that they had spent more than a hundred hours in the studio on an album.

Rubber Soul watermarks their progress. Fourteen songs, and twelve are love songs, but the diversity and variety is staggering. Instead of entirely straightforward ballads, the songs are now clever and whimsical ("Drive My Car" and "Norwegian Wood"), angry ("Think For Yourself", "I'm Looking Through You", and "Run For Your Life"), desperate ("Wait), even country-fried ("What Goes On"). The more conventional love songs are now lush beyond description ("Michelle" and "Girl").

Out of the twelve songs, the only one that resembles their first album is "If I Needed Someone." In other words, the band almost completely remade themselves in less than three years, and it is clearly recognizable by this point that The Beatles have some of the most distinctive and intelligent lyrics ever written.

The two other songs on the album are one of the first indications of what's coming: "Nowhere Man" is a deeply empathetic character study, and "In My Life" is a reflective, warm remembrance.

For most bands, any of the fourteen songs on this album would be the highlight of their career. For The Beatles, incredibly, they were eclipsed in barely six months, because recording for Revolver began in April of 1966. Revolver still has love songs--half the fourteen tunes--but they stray even further from formula. Most illustrative of this growth are the three songs that open up side two of the album: "Good Day Sunshine", "And Your Bird Can Sing", and "For No One." These songs are consecutive, and they deftly travel from love gained (Good Day Sunshine) to love pursued (And Your Bird Can Sing), to love lost (For No One).

It's our entire lives, really, told in six minutes and eight seconds.

Musically, these songs are so much musicallly adventurous than the early recordings (which, remember, were only three years before) that I can't do justice to their complexity. They were also experimenting with the technical limitations of recording, so much so that twelve of fourteen songs on the album were "bounced down" to fit on four tracks.

Revolver also has "Eleanor Rigby", a poignant and deeply empathetic song about loneliness and despair. When I was younger, I didn't understand this song. Now I think it's one of the saddest songs ever written, and the empathy shown by The Beatles in this and other songs is unmatched.

That's something else that separates The Beatles from everyone else: their humanity. Laugh if you must--and it's easy to trivialize The Beatles today because they have been so incredibly overexposed over time--but there is something deeply personal and human about their music. Real genius is often incapable of real emotion, but three Beatles (sorry, Ringo) were unquestionably geniuses, and this is a very emotional band.

Tomorrow: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Links!

The lead this week is courtesy of Chris Meyer, who sent in a link to an astonishing about a photograph on the moon. Yes, that's "on" the moon, and it's truly a remarkable story.

From Brian Witte, two interesting links. The first is to a story about carnivorous robots. Also, a link to a story about "jugaad"--roughly translated as the Indian version of duct-tape engineering, or, more elegantly, "ingenuity in the face of adversity."

From Ben Rankin, a link to an article establishing that monkeys also sense the Uncanny Valley.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's Inside The Tube: Incredible Wave Photography. Also, and these pictures are incredible, it's Earth's Most Bizarre Landscapes.

From Chris Meyer, a link to video of one of the most remarkable creations of the eighteenth century: the Silver Swan automaton.

From Jonin, possibly the sickest hockey goal I've ever seen, and it was scored by a 9-year-old.

From Jeffery Gardiner, a link to some of the most amazing microscope photography I've ever seen.

From Sirius, an instant classic: Boobs disaster for Miss Plastic favourite. Also, a link to a story about the discovery of a magnetic equivalent to electricity, dubbed "Magnetricity." Next is a link to a story about Moore's Law and a future boundary: the speed at which quantum computations can be made.

From hippo, two interesting links. First, it's the ghost fleet of the recession. Also, and this is fantastically obscure, it's a map of known shipwrecks near Sable Island, Novia Scotia, since 1583 (this is an awesome map).

From J.R., a link to videos that display some of the remarkable qualities of magnetic ink.

From Chris Meadowcraft, a story about historical stool (yes, I love that term) and how it's helping in the research of noroviruses.

From Robert McMillon, one of the most insanely creative bits of art I've ever seen. I really can't describe it, and it's clearly NSFW, but you really need to see this: Videogioco.

From George Paci, a bizarre use of variance-based radio tomographic imaging: to "see" through walls by using "variations in radio waves as they travel to nodes in a wirelss network."

From David Gloier, a link to a very amusing article about the Large Hadron Collider proposing a theory that the Higgs-Boson particle is traveling back through time to prevent its own discovery.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Of Deodorant And Tacos

Eli 8.2 is back in school today. He woke up raring to go this morning, and barring an unforeseen setback, I believe the Great Swine Flu Scare Of 2009 is over.

Due to some "stinkitude" issues that have developed in the last few weeks, we recently discovered that children are now wearing deodorant as early as eight or nine years of age, and Eli 8.2 was all fired up to find out that his armpits were stepping up in class. So when he put on deodorant for the first time last night, he raised his arms and shouted "YES! I've never felt so ALIVE!"

During the interminable hibernation of the last week, we watched quite a bit of television, and a surprising amount of it was sports. Eli can't get enough of hockey now, and he even enjoys watching football, although to a lesser degree.

During a game on Tuesday, we saw a commercial for the "Black Jack Taco."

"Hey!" I said. "That taco has a black shell!" Simply put, I was mesmerized.

"Isn't that a blue shell?" Gloria asked.

"It's not the 'blue' Jack Taco," I said. "It's the BLACK Jack Taco."

"So why is it different?" Gloria asked.

"Hello!" I said. "The SHELL is BLACK. If pirates ate tacos, this is what they would eat. I'm going to get one of these right away."

"Good grief," Gloria said, for possibly the thousandth time (this year)--all of them justified.


Forgery has always fascinated me, and after posting about The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren in June, David Byron (the Official Art Historian Of Dubious Quality) e-mailed and recommended False Impressions: The Hunt For Big-Time Art Fakes as an excellent introduction into the world of art forgery.

He was right. The book is completely fascinating, and while author Thomas Hoving clearly has a colossal ego, his writing is also incredibly entertaining. I had no idea that such a large percentage of high-profile art is forged, and the techniques to both create and detect forgeries are so complex that they make art fraud as fascinating a subject as espionage.

I also stumbled across an outstanding book on counterfeiting. The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter is the life story of Art Williams Jr., who successfully counterfeited millions of dollars of U.S. currency over 14 years. Counterfeiting, at its highest levels, is as much art as craft, and the details of his operation are completely fascinating. Author Jason Kersten's interviews with Williams also reconstructed in detail the lifestyle of the counterfeiter, where adrenaline was a large part of the appeal.

This is the most interesting book on counterfeiting that I've ever read, and it's a wonderful read.

Madden "Play" Slider Testing

If you would like to help test the "play" version of the Madden sliders, please send me an e-mail. I've got some beta settings ready (balanced post-patch).

I also finalized Coach settings last night, and I'll put up a link to those later today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I mentioned this game a while back, but Travis Baldree's (Fate, one of my favorite games of 2005) new game, Torchlight, is being released on Steam October 27 (thanks Joystiq).

Fate was incredibly fun and completely addictive, a Diablo "clone" that was much more fun (to me) than Diablo, and I have high hopes for Torchlight as well. Here's a trailer.

NHL 10 Impressions (360)

Last year, I wrote that NHL 09, while it wasn't an entirely faithful simulation of hockey, was incredibly fun to play.

I followed our road to the Stanley Cup in Be-a-Pro mode in considerable detail in this space, and scoring the winning goal in overtime of game six of the Stanley Cup was, by far, my favorite gaming moment of the year (and one of my favorite gaming moments ever).

Given our experience with the 09 version, both Eli 8.2 and I were eagerly looking forward to NHL 10, and I'm happy to say that there are no disappointments to be found.

The short version: while still incredibly fun to play, NHL 10 is now a much more faithful simulation of hockey.

In other words, WIN.

Even better, it's more faithful in the most important ways. A few examples:
--board play has been completely reworked. It's now possible now to be pinned against the boards and kick the puck to a teammate, as well as pinning opponents against the boards and poking the puck loose. It looks absolutely fantastic, and it's a much more realistic representation of how different spaces on the ice are used--last year, the area near the boards was a super-highway for the offense, but no more.
--passing is no longer tape to tape. This made for very pretty hockey, but that's only rarely how real hockey is played. The ability to make passing less accurate, both for the CPU and Human player, produces a feel that is exponentially closer to watching a real game.
--goal variety has been greatly improved. Last year, most goals were "clean"--in other words, ripped right past the goalie. This year, there are a ton more goals on rebounds or loose pucks in front of the crease. Messy, "effort" goals are a huge part of hockey, and this is the first time I've ever seen them reflected properly in the NHL series.

With this version, I think the NHL series has become the apex sports game, even better than MLB: The Show and the NBA2K series. The gameplay is tight, the graphics and animation are phenomenal, the sound is outstanding, and the announcing and presentation are absolutely amazing.

One more note, and I've been waiting for years to write this. The crowds in sports games drive me INSANE because they are so incredibly stupid. It shouldn't be that difficult to make the crowd somewhat dynamic, but for decades we've seen nothing but canned animations that repeat endlessly, regardless of the situation.

So this year, when we scored our first goal at home and the crowd leapt to its feet, I got chills. Eli looked at me and shouted "THAT'S AWESOME!" and he was right. We watched the replay and it looked just like a real game.

Fans also pound on the glass when players get pinned against the boards, and they roar for big hits. They generally act like they're real, and man, it's wonderful.

We've played for about ten hours at this point, so I'm still fiddling with sliders (very detailed and very powerful this year), and maybe we'll come across something that's a problem, but so far, it's been an A+ experience.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Close Quarters

We've all been in the house for four days, basically, so while we all lose our minds, here are a few notes about various things.

--Eli had a bad night on Sunday, waking up with a terrible headache and a 102 fever, but he got steadily better during the day, and today his fever is gone and all that's left is a cough.

--We've been watching a lot of hockey, and during one of the commercials, Gloria said, "Hooter's is just Chili's with boobies."

--I've invented two new words: "alcohologist" and "f*ckduggery."

--We were watching football on Sunday, and Gloria asked Eli if he wanted something to eat, and he said "After further review, the ruling on the field is confirmed. Lunch!"

--He also said (I've forgotten about what) "With a heavy heart, I must decline."

--We were playing Clone Wars together in co-op mode, and at an isolated point in a level, we spontaneously attacked each other with lightsabers. "So THIS is how it ends," he said, laughing.

--Last week, we were at a bookstore, and Eli picked up a book. "Look, Dad, it's '101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up.' " He started flipping through a book, and a few seconds later, he said, "And one of them apparently involves a cannon."

--I did go out to ride yesterday. I pushed off from my car in the driveway, had one ride that lasted 35 minutes (2.8 miles), and stepped off when I got back to the driveway. Man, that felt great. Clearly, I don't have the swine flu. Yet.

Mr. Smooth Talks To A Girl On The Phone

"What if your eye wasn't attached to your head? It would fall out and you'd go 'Oh, BARNACLES, my EYE just fell out.' "

That's Eli 8.1 talking to his good friend Gina, who also has the swine flu and is staying home from school today.

It's reassuring to see that he's inherited all my smooth moves with the ladies.


Logicomix: An Epic Search For Truth is a graphic novel. A graphic novel about Bertrand Russell.

That doesn't sound possible, really, but it's both possible and a wonderful, engaging book. Bertrand Russell was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century, and his groundbreaking contribution to mathematical logic, Principia Mathematica (written with Alfred Whitehead), shook the foundations of thought.

Logicomix is the most interesting rendering of Russell's life that I've ever read, recounting in poignant detail his search for both mathematical and personal truth, and the incredible frustrations he encountered with both. It also keenly illustrates the mental agony of many great thinkers, particularly logicians, who often must work for years (or decades) to prove a single insight.

It's a unique work, both for its intellectual content and its empathy, and it's well worth your time. Here's an Amazon link (with sample pages to view as well): Logicomix.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Radeon HD 5850 Impressions

In comparison to the GTX 260 in an Antec P183 case, the Radeon HD 5850 (XFX brand):
--runs 5-8C cooler on the desktop
--runs 3-5C cooler under load
--is extremely quiet (fan never goes higher than 30% under load)
--is about 40% faster at 1920x1200

It was a no-incident install, and I am incredibly pleased with the card.

And yes, King's Bounty still crashes. Which is not the fault of the card, but I was hoping a new card would fix the problem.

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes Impressions (Wii)

Eli 8.2 is a huge fan of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (so am I--it's very entertaining), and we both enjoy games where we can play together in co-op mode, so trying out Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes was a natural.

First off, you definitely need to be a fan of the series to get any enjoyment from this game. I know, that sounds harsh, but the only distinctive element of this game is the license. Our favorite moments have all revolved around the license--the use of the actual character's voices, recognizing elements from the series, etc.

The game itself? Not so much. While there have been some incredibly memorable games set in the Star Wars universe, but man, there have been lots of clunkers, and this definitely falls into the latter category.

The level design is a good example, because it's utterly bland. There's a story arc taking place in the cut scenes, but that story arc is invisible in the levels, really--just run forward, jump, and shoot.

That causes problems, because it blurs the story until it just disappears. At one point, I said to Eli, "I'm having a hard time following the story."

"Oh, I KNOW the story, Dad," Eli said.

"You do?" I asked. "What is it?"

"Well, it's like this," Eli said. "It's--well--it's just that there really ISN'T a story."

That's just it--there is a story, but the levels do such a generic job of supporting it that by the end of the level, I can't even remember where the story is going.

We've played for about five hours, and I have no idea of where we are in the story arc. The levels don't seem to give any sense of progression, because we're doing lots of the same things almost every time.

Okay, now that I've slagged the game thoroughly, please note that there are a few good points. The difficulty is very forgiving for younger players (in co-op, your character is resurrected when your partner passes the next checkpoint), and like I said previously, the license is used well in terms of incorporating plenty of characters from the series.

We're having a decent time, overall, because Eli is enjoying "playing the show," but like I said, you need to be a fan (a big fan, really) of the show, and I definitely wouldn't recommend anything more than a rental.

The Swine

"Dad, there were a bunch of kids missing from my class today," Eli 8.2 said on Thursday. "And two of them have"--here he dropped his voice to almost a whisper--"the swine."

The swine.

Eli has 18 kids in his class, and there are about 55 in his grade. Attendance on Tuesday was normal. By Friday, almost 40 were absent.

72 hours to go from normal attendance to 70% absence. Welcome to the swine flu.

In spite of all the illness, though, Eli was raring to go when he woke up Friday morning. We briefly thought about keeping him at home, but swine flu has such a long incubation period that he had already been heavily exposed. So he went to school, full of beans as usual.

When I picked him up from school that afternoon, he had a light cough. He said he felt fine, but he didn't look right around his eyes. This won't make sense if you don't have kids, but you can look at a kid's face and tell if they're sick, particularly if it's your kid. And Eli was sick, unfortunately.

I called Gloria and she made an appointment with the doctor for Saturday morning.

By Saturday morning, he felt awful--fever of 101+, achy, a headache, and his cough was much worse. Of course, while they're at the doctor, I saw a story on our local news site about a five-year-old girl dying from swine flu during the week. I know that's a function of the incredible number of people who caught the disease, but that function doesn't matter when it's your daughter. And it doesn't make you worry less if your own kid has it, too.

It turns out that he had a throat infection as well as swine flu, so he started taking both an antibiotic and Tamiflu. His throat infection was some kind of precursor for pneumonia, which really frightened me, because the flu by itself (even the 1918 Spanish flu) is not particularly lethal--it's secondary infections, pneumonia in particular, in combination with the flu that are so deadly.

So yes, we had about a ninety-minute freakout on Saturday when his temperature went up to almost 103, but he had some lunch and felt much better. And by the time he went to bed, his fever was back down to 101.

This led to one of my most unusual experiences ever: this morning, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep, so by 4:45, we were watching a replay of the Penguins-Maple Leafs game from Saturday night. And by 5:15, we were playing NHL 10.

As the saying goes (sort of), we see more hockey before 6 a.m. than most people do all day.

Incredibly, he feels very good today, and he's had almost no fever. My doctor told me that swine flu was remarkably contagious but quite weak for most people, and I hope she's right.

I've been waiting for two days to catch it myself, since Eli coughed right in my face about five times on Friday, but the incubation period is so long that I won't know if I'm going to catch it for a while.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Links!

Leading off, from Tim Jones, a link to a classic in gaming history: the 1978 Atari catalog.

Next is a new installment from Matt Sakey's "Culture Clash" series, and it's a thoughtful read--Welcome To The Reward Center: The Campaign Against Happiness.

Kez sent me a link to a video that is absolutely mesmerizing, but it needs a strong warning, because it's both bizarre and disturbing (on many levels). It's also hilarious, at times, and once you start watching, it's impossible to stop. It's a documentary titled Real Doll Experiences, and it's about men who buy "lifelike" dolls and treat them as their companions and "girlfriends."

Yeah, like I said--it's dark and very uncomfortable in places. But it's fascinating, too.

From Chris Meyer, a link to a wonderful story about eye-popping auto designs.

From Matt Teets, one of the greatest geek songs in history: "Walkthrough." The lyrics, incredibly, are a walkthrough to Zork.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a story about the discovery of an expolanet where pebbles condense out of the air and rain into lakes of molten lava. Also, new information about Saturn's rings that reveals the rings are not flat--there are bumps as high as the Rocky Mountains.

From Tim Jones, remarkable pictures of a Russian nuclear power plant.

From Glen Haag, a story about the discover of a massive ring around Saturn, so large that it would take one billion Earths to fill it.

From Rob Cigan, a link to a story about images taken by the Hubble telescope that reveal two galaxies moving so fast that gas within the galaxies is being stripped away.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a Central China Television promotional commercial featuring ink in a stunning array of beautiful patterns. Next, a slow motion bullet video. How slow? Try one million frames per second!

From Hogie Chang, a link to a very funny video taken from a Stephen Fry documentary in which a kakapo ("the old night parrot of New Zealand") makes an entirely valiant attempt to mate with a photographer.

From Sirius, a story about how scientists are analyzing how cheetahs move to improve the design of artificial legs. Also, a story about how evolutionary biologists have established that genetic blockades make it impossible for evolution to go backward.

Dan Quock sent me a link to a a new program called PhotoSketch, and the description is amazing:
...their software can take any rough sketch, with the shape of each element labeled with its name, find images corresponding to each drawn element, judge which are a better match to the shapes, and then seamlessly merge it all into one single image.

I've never heard of "Farmville," which is apparently all the rage on Facebook right now, but Rebecca Reeve sent me a link to a very clever video called Farmville Rap.

From Michael Hughes, and the title says it all, it's man sets up up house in a missile silo.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Violating The Prime Directive, Again

Sony executives were the primary reason I formulated the Prime Directive For Executives: don't be a dick in interviews.

Perhaps I should just start calling this the "Jack Tretton Directive."

Tretton's violations of the Prime Directive are legendary, but he gave an interview to Forbes this week where he set new standards. First off, he just lobs in a little grenade:
...we like to say that the environment where the PlayStation wins is best for this industry. We have a brand that can play on a worldwide basis, to young and old, male and female, where our competition tends to be relegated to select regions or to select consumer audiences."

First off, does anyone know WTF he's talking about? Is he talking about the worldwide brand that's sold at half the rate of the Wii since it launched? Or is he talking about the PSP, which has less than half the installed base of the DS? Play that brand, playa!

Tretton goes even farther, though, and this is a classic:
We're the star of the gaming aisle.

You sure are, Jack, if it's 2002. Today, not so much.

I love [Microsoft's] money. They can afford to be more patient. We're very profit-driven. I think we're interested in a return on investment in a shorter period of time.

Jack, seriously--if Sony was "very profit driven," you wouldn't have a job. The PS3 has been a financial black hole of epic proportions for almost three years. Has any console ever lost more money in a shorter period of time?

He moves on to Nintendo:
...we don't have unlimited money. We cater to a more mass-market audience. I think we're willing to take a little bit more risk than a competitor like Nintendo is.

I'm not sure what he's talking about, unless launching a console for $200 over a sane price point qualifies as "risk." I thought it was just "stupid."

Tretton always comes off as the king of condescension. He's been getting his ass kicked for three years, but he's as confident as Lenny Dykstra. He's that kid in college who thought he was on top of the world with his 1.5 GPA because he drove a Porsche that Daddy bought for him.

Having said that, I like the PS3 Slim, and I think it's going to do well at the $299 price point. And it's very, very good for consumers, because it's put pressure on both Microsoft and Nintendo. I don't think either company would have reduced the price of their consoles if Sony hadn't gone first.

I just wish they could school their executives on the Prime Directive.

Radeon HD 5850

Well, I now have an XFX Radeon HD 5850 sitting on my desk, but I don't have time to install it until late tonight at the earliest. Yes, it's killing me to have to wait.

A Little Miracle

Incredibly, there's a sequel.

Eli 8.2 was home sick on Monday and Tuesday (with the stomach problems he still has sometimes), and we decided to watch Kong--King of Atlantis, which is my pick for the worst film of all time. It's so awful that it's hilarious, and both Eli and I love watching it.

If you missed the original post about this epic film, go here. Even better, you'll get to see two posts--the original KOA post, plus the Kreuch brothers arguing that Gymkata is even worse.

So I'm looking at my e-mail this morning, and Chris Nolen sent a message letting me know that King of Atlantis had a sequel.

A sequel. Oh, HELL, YES.

It's Kong-Return to the Jungle, and while it was originally released in 2006, it's coming out on Blu-ray on Tuesday. Yes, it's #1 in my Netflix queue.

There are two Amazon reviews, both utterly loving the movie, and here's an excerpt from one:
Kong: Return to the Jungle pours a lot of love and heart into an old, classic story, transforming it into a modern take with three-dimensional cartooning. Watching it is very much like playing a video game, especially the characters. And they are good characters: a guy who is Kong's "brother," his big pilot friend, a beautiful cavegirl and her Sabretooth, and the big cat's adorable cub, for whom Kong has a soft spot. Last but not least is the original Kong's love, now an elderly lady and geneticist.

But that's not all - the film also has some great songs about saving what we love and protecting freedom.

The only thing I was not able to suspend disbelief for was the so-called genetic "cyber-link," which somehow puts a guy "inside" Kong's mind using DNA. But that weak point is not enough to prevent enjoyment of the tremendous animation and direction.

Seriously, isn't "Last but not least is the original Kong's love, now an elderly lady and geneticist" the greatest line in the history of movie reviews?

Wait, here's an excerpt from the other glowing review:
With this movie it is a sequile to Kong King of atlantis made by bkn kids the best company in the world and history.

Well, exactly. That's why we watch King of Atlantis every six months.

All we're missing is an announcement by BKN that they're making a cartoon sequel to Gymkata and this would officially be the GREATEST DAY EVER

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wolverine Studios News: Draft Day Sports: Basketball 2 and PureSim Baseball 2

First, a new version of Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball is going to be released, and here's a list of the new features:
--DDS:PB2 goes global! Take on the challenge of running one of 72 European clubs complete with dual season play (domestic and cup) and interaction with the American professional leagues
--League Expansion! Start a brand new franchise with a league expansion draft and begin the ultimate dynasty challenge
--Depth of player personalities and interactions. Can you find the right mix of talent and chemistry to win the big one?
--Expanded financial options like restricted free agency and player and team option clauses in contracts
-- Simplified financial mode. Don't like all of the details of the real world salary model? Play with a hard cap option to make it easier
--Progressive injury healing. Player effectiveness will improve as injuries begin to wind down and heal
--Vastly expanded in-game media presence. New reports, magazines, news stories and more
--Player and team control options. Manage your teams in even greater detail.

Those are interesting additions, and I really like the hard cap option, because I think that will be very appealing to players who want a streamlined experience.

Plus, if you pre-order using the First Access program, you get both a 15% discount and access to the beta, which is a nice option.

Second, Wolverine is going to publish PureSim Baseball 2 (Shaun Sullivan's outstanding baseball sim) on October 16. I've written about PureSim on numerous occasions--it's an excellent, deep sim, and one of my all-time favorites.


Scott sent me a link to Bikely, which is a very clever route marker/illustrator that overlays on top of Google Maps. Very slick, very intuitive, and very easy to use, and since it uses Google Maps, it also automatically calculates distance for you.

Here's a sample: the 4.5 mile route (including a loop around the pond) that I'm hoping to ride with Eli 8.2 on Sunday here.

A Pleasant Ride

I had a cool ride this morning.

Before I show you this, let me acknowledge that this is, bar none, the worst use of Google Maps and Paint in the history of man. It's abominable, and it took me quite a while to reach this low bar, which is even more embarrassing. With that in mind, take a look:

The misshapen red "X" marks the starting point, which is in the parking lot of Katherine Fleischer Park in Wells Branch. The thin yellow line (clicking on the picture will enlarge the image and make it easier to see) is the course, which is on a greenbelt trail that winds around all over the place. Riding on trail is much harder than riding on a road, but it's also much more interesting.

You'll see two notations on the map: "tunnel" and "bees." The tunnel goes under Wells Branch Parkway, which is a busy thoroughfare. The freaky thing about this small tunnel is that the top is just barely higher than my helmet. I was within a couple of inches of Mr. Beaning myself and getting knocked off, and if that had happened, I can only hope someone would have been filming it for YouTube.

The other notation, a little further along, is "Bees." I was riding along and saw some yellow caution tape stretched across the trail and around some nearby trees. I couldn't tell what it was, so I stepped off and walked closer. Written on the tape, in black marker, was the word "Bee's."

An unnecessary apostrophe.

My first reaction? I'll just ride through and see what happens.

Seriously, how old am I--ten?

In movies, characters sometimes have an angel appear on one shoulder, with a devil on the other, and they counsel the character on doing either the "good" or "bad" thing. I just have a dumbass on both shoulders.

Purely for the purposes of entertainment, I wish this now transitioned into a segment about a swarm of bees chasing me through the greenbelt until I had to jump into a nearby creek, breathing from a reed I poked a few inches above the water.

Sadly, this did not happen, because after about ten seconds of consideration, I suddenly thought "WTF are you THINKING?" and walked around the taped area instead.

Sorry, bees.

The whole loop is about 2.8 miles, and there are plenty of more technical sections (more technical for me, anyway) for challenges. Plus, even though you can see suburbia wrapped all around the trail, it's still very pleasant to ride, and if I want to add on a few miles, the trail also goes north of the park and winds around a small lake (well, a big pond, really).

The southern end of the trail is only a little more than a mile from our house (much to my surprise), so I might someday be able to ride to this trail, ride a loop, and ride home.

Getting many strange looks along the way, I'm sure.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand sent me a link last week to a new product called the Spawn HD-720.

Okay, I agree that's not the greatest name. Spawn, not Ben's.

The HD-720 is being described as a "Slingbox for video games." It allows you to play games on your Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, or Gamecube from a remote computer. Here's a description from the website:
At the simplest level, the Spawn HD-720 captures audio and video from the console and streams these signals with extremely low latency to the Spawn Player across the network, and the Spawn Player receives and plays these video and audio streams on your computer. The gamepad connected to the USB port on your computer passes gamepad control signals through the Spawn Player across the network through the Spawn HD-720 and into the game console. So audio/video is going one way, and gamepad control actions are going the other way across the network.

That's a pretty damned interesting idea, and there are no subscription fees: once you buy the $199 base unit, and one gamepad adapter (for single-player), you're good to go.

Here's information about bandwidth:
To play in standard definition, each remote player/watcher needs from about 500kbps to 1Mbps. And to play in high definition, each remote player/watcher needs from about 2Mbps to 5Mbps.

That's a stout connection if you want to play in 720p, and it's mentioned elsewhere that you need a dual core processor, at a minimum, to support HD resolution.

I'd be impressed, though, if this even works in standard definition without latency issues. Speaking of latency, here's what they say you should expect:
We plan to ship with an average end-to-end latency of approximately 100ms across a local area network, yielding a terrific and natural-feeling game play experience. Playing across the Internet will typically add another 25-75ms of latency.

Yes, this seems like a specialty product, and playing in HD requires lots of bandwidth and horsepower, but it's a fascinating idea, and it would be great to play NHL 10 with Eli in Shreveport during the dreaded holiday trip. It's not a product that I see myself buying, at least not now, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Oh, and if you're curious, here's a video from Engadget that shows the unit in action.

Hydra is the other new tech, and it promises to enable the use of mismatched graphics cards in a multi-GPU setup. In other words, you could theoretically use Geforce and Radeon cards in the same system, and performance would scale better than either Crossfire or SLI.

Originally, this tech was unveiled at IDF last year (Tech Report had a detailed article explaining how it was supposed to work), and now motherboards including the tech will be hitting the market shortly (the first, from MSI, is due in late October). There are three variants of the tech, and while there will initially be support for same-vendor cards only (so only Geforce or Radeon cards in a system, but not both), multi-vendor support is supposedly coming shortly.

I'm a big fan of anything that busts up proprietary solutions. This is just covered in win.

By The Way, You Guys Are Awesome

Final auction price of the Hybir Backup account + Madden 10 (360) or King's Bounty (PC) + Elemental: War of Magic: $400.00.

This all goes to Child's Play, so thank you very much for the bids.

Demon's Souls (PS3)

Demon's Souls has been released in the U.S. today for the PS3.

I put in 20+ hours with the import version, and this is easily one of the best games of the year. It's epic in scope, the level design is sensational, the game design is just as good, and the graphical quality is stunning.

When I first started playing this game, my impressions were dominated by one word: awe. And that feeling still hasn't gone away.

I might give out two or three "10" scores a year. This year, only Demon's Souls and Red Faction: Guerrilla belong in that category. Demon's Souls also has a notable "PC" quality, in that it's a hard game that never apologizes for being hard.

I'll have much more next week, but if you have a PS3, this is an auto-purchase. And if you're looking for a good reason to buy a PS3, this is it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Console (Handheld) Post Of The Week: The Curious Case Of The PSPgo

In summary version, here's how the PSPgo stacks up versus its predecessor, the PSP-3000:
--more expensive
--smaller screen
--less comfortable controls
--no backwards compatibility
--all purchased media must be downloaded
--games are more expensive

No, that's not the PSP-3000 I'm talking about compared to the Go. It's the Go compared to the PSP-3000. In almost every aspect, it's worse.

Seriously, WTF?

The PSPgo is $250. The PSP-3000 is $170. It's a hardware refresh, and it's almost 50% more.

Yes, the screen looks "sharper." Here's the thing, though: the screen looks sharper because it's smaller (3.8" versus 4.3"). The resolution is the same. Hey, shrink it to 1" and it will be razor sharp!

The smaller form factor, though, means that controls are smaller, and for the analog stick, that's an issue.

Play your old games? Forget it. The Go is 100% a download device. Screw you.

More expensive games? Of course they are. Maybe they're listed at the same price as UMD games, but you can't resell anything. Essentially you're paying 15-20% more, at least, when you factor in the loss of resale value.

More bad news: no pricing competition. No longer will dozens of retailers be competing on price, using PSP games as loss leaders with special pricing. Well, they still will be doing that for the UMD versions of games, which the Go doesn't support.

What I'm trying to figure out is who actually wants one of these damn things. And what the hell is Sony's point here?

Well, I've figured it out, I think. The Go is actually designed to be as poor a value as possible because it's a Trojan horse to sell PSP-3000s.

Crazy? Like a fox, bitches. Look at this quote from Claire Backhouse, product manager for the PSP in the UK, in a recent interview:
If you bring out a new product, people aspire to that but they might not buy it, they might buy the PSP 3000 instead. Especially if they're part of a family - dad might buy the PSPgo but the kids might get PSP 3000s. I think that works quite well for us.

We've entered a new era, apparently--the era where people "aspire" to buy gaming hardware. Sony has set a ridiculous price point for their NEW hardware precisely because they want to sell the OLD hardware.

Okay, I'm kidding about the Trojan horse angle. I think.

Here's more, though, and I think these quotes quite clearly indicate what Sony is really trying to do here:
It's for different audiences that have different needs. The PSPgo is more for the older, 16 - 34 year olds, more like iPhone users who watch films and want high quality downloadable games on the go, and it's more portable as well, so that suits their lifestyle.

[Wait? A portable is MORE portable than another portable?]

There'll be those who are currently playing mini games on their iPods, and one thing that PSPgo offers them is an amazing gaming console that's just as portable as what they're carrying around at the moment.

And I think PSPgo is even more so because you do want it in consumer's minds that it can do all those things as well and that makes it even better than an iPhone, I think.

I think the iPhone has opened up that sort of market, almost like social gaming on the go.

Gee, I think a certain company has a terrible case of iPhone envy.

Backhouse was working in comparisons to the iPhone at every imaginable point in the interview, and I'm sure it wasn't an accident.

That's what's going on here. Sony doesn't give a shit about the DS. They lost that war, and badly. Now they covet the iPhone market, and they clearly think the Go is an iPhone killer. Claire seems mystified as to why anyone would prefer to carry around an iPhone instead of a Go.

[Sam Kinison enters.
I don't know--maybe because it's a F***ING PHONE?
Sam Kinison exits.]

Clearly, Sony must be planning to add phone functionality to the Go, because without it, there's no point in trying to compete with the iPhone, is there? But even with that, is anyone going to care?

Sony has one other objective here, and I think that's eliminating piracy. Yes, that's obvious, because the GO should essentially be a piracy-free platform, but I mention it because publishers and gaming device manufacturers have claimed for years that games could be much cheaper if only piracy could be eliminated.

Well, guess what? Sony introduced a piracy-free platform and is giving us the raised middle finger, because the game prices are identical.

Interestingly, this doesn't appear to be the case in Japan. Chris Kohler e-mailed me this last week:
PSPgo game prices seem to be universally lower than their physical counterparts: I saw a lot of games in Tokyo listed as being roughly 5,000 yen on a disc but about 4,000 yen on the store.

I think that has to happen in the rest of the world, and soon, because the pricing structure is so utterly ridiculous that it seems doomed to fail. Quickly.

So there you go. It's the least competitive product ever, but just to clarify, it's not competing with the DS (or the PSP-3000)--it's competing with the iPhone.

The Kick

Fall soccer season started for Eli 8.1 about a month ago, which was a good thing, because we needed the rain. It hadn't rained in months, so (of course) two of his first four games have been rained out.

Eli 8.1 moved up in league, but the YMCA has kind of a strange league structure-- they have both a 6-8 league and an 8-12 league. This means that eight year olds can either play down or play up, and if they play up, they're playing with kids who are potentially much older than they are.

Eli played up, of course, and so did his friends, so he's playing with three other kids that he's been playing with for years, plus some new kids who all seem nice. Their team name this season is the "Tigers."

As far as I can tell, there only two acceptable categories for team names: predators and natural disasters. Bears and Tigers are acceptable, and so are Hurricanes and Lightning.

"Ladybugs," however, is a questionable choice. Gophers is questionable as well (I'm looking at you, Minnesota).

On Saturday, it was raining lightly, but the games went on, and since it was a bit muddy, everyone enjoyed it even more than usual.

Eli picked up two goals early, and was cruising along in the second half when he got hit full-on with a kicked ball from less than ten feet away.

It was one of those kicks that was so hard it made a thudding sound when it hit Eli's face. I get sick now just thinking about it. It was the hardest I've ever seen a kid get hit in the face with the ball.

There was that collective "ooh" sound from all the parents who were watching, and I couldn't believe he didn't go down when he got hit. I started walking toward the field.

Play didn't stop, but the referee said "Eli, are you okay?"

This is when my little eight-year-old boy, as thin as a toothpick and so easy to break, raised his hand and said "I'm fine."

I'm fine.

I could see from where I was standing that he was far from fine--there was a deep red imprint on his face from the ball (plus mud), and he was running at half speed, but he stayed in the game.

A few minutes later, he was scheduled to come out for the rest of the half, and as he walked off the field, he started to sob. I walked out and picked him up, he put his head on my shoulder, and I carried him off the field.

He bawled on the sidelines for about five minutes--great, heaving sobs with snot coming out of his nose--and then he was okay. His face was still dark red, but he stood up and watched the rest of the game with his friends.

As an adult, I know that I have a high pain threshold. Very high, and I take an awkward pride in being able to endure (if not excel). But as a kid, that was not true, and I've never seen a kid Eli's age shake off pain like that. It was epic.

I've never thought Eli was tough, and that was okay: I'm not The Great Santini.

Clearly, though, I was wrong. I looked at my little boy on Saturday and thought I wish I was that tough.

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