Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger Down, Tiger Down

"Did you see that story about Tiger Woods?" Gloria asked. Since everyone on planet Earth knows about this already, I'll assume that you do, too, with apologies to our extraterrestrial readers.

"Tiger Woods has BROKEN MY HEART," I said.

"Oh, you mean the affair? I'm really disappointed, too," she said.

"No, not the affair, exactly," I said. "Tiger Woods is one of the coolest people in the world. If he's going to be in a sex scandal, it should be because his wife arranged a three-way with the second hottest women in the world. That is the only situation that could possibly live up to Tiger Woods standards."

Seriously, dude, having your wife go all Mike Tyson on your car with a golf club, causing you to drive over a fire hydrant and into a tree, has "hillbilly" written all over it. The only things missing are an aluminum softball bat instead of a golf club and an Oxycontin addiction.

Come on, man, you graduated from STANFORD. Step your game up.

The Weekend

It was an interesting weekend.

On Saturday, I upgraded from Vista to Windows 7. I was already using 64-bit Vista, so I just upgraded instead of doing a clean install. It took about an hour, it was incredibly smooth, and I didn't have a single problem.

Way to go, Microsoft.

Here's how much I like King's Bounty: The Legend. Even after becoming a victim of the infamous Vista 64 crashes during battles, even after wasting (easily) 15 or 20 hours trying to troubleshoot the problem (which I wrote about at length earlier this year), even after having zero attention and no patches for this issue by the developers (who developed Space Rangers 2, if you remember, which was one my favorite PC games of the last decade), I was still desirous when the Armored Princess expansion came out.

It's a disease, really.

So here's the torturous logic I used to justify buying both the original game (which I've already bought) and the expansion via Steam. Wait, "logic" is too strong a word--"desperately hopeful" is more accurate. I was desperately hoping that the Steam version was magically different than the disc-based version I bought and would therefore run just fine in Windows 7. Plus, the bundle was $39, and the expansion by itself is $29 at EB Games, so I'm really only paying $10 to try this out, right?


Like I said, it was totally ridiculous, embarrassing even as I type it up. What a tool.

Having said all that, though, it worked. Yes, incredibly, the combination of Windows 7 and the Steam version have magically fixed all the crashing problems I was having. I played at least 3-4 hours on both Saturday and Sunday with zero crashes (and spent another big chunk of time playing Solium Infernum, which made it the biggest gaming weekend I've had in a long, long time).

On Sunday morning, Eli 8.3 and I went for a ride on a new course we'd mapped out the day before. It was about 2.5 miles, and mostly consisted of curving sidewalks (and lovely scenery) along a road called Riata Trace Parkway.

One of the sections, though, was a red dirt park trail around a big pond. We hadn't walked the trail in advance, just saw via Bikely that it looped around the pond and was about half a mile in length. We both really like mixing in a little trail riding during a regular road route, so this was going to be the best part of the ride.

What we didn't know (besides accidentally taking what I now believe was a longer route that was hidden in the trees in Google Maps) was that there were rocks on this trail, and I don't mean "rocks," I mean "ROCKS." Giant rocks that a single person would never be able to lift, and lots of them jutted sharply above the ground. It would have been a nicely challenging course on a mountain bike.

Except, obviously, that we were on unicycles. Oops.

This is the kind of situation where your strongest instinct is to just plow through, and we started (very carefully) picking our way throught this mess. Incredibly, Eli 8.3 only had to dismount twice, and he planned it both times. Not so incredibly, I fell, and it was one of those falls where my whole body slammed onto the ground with no chance to use my hands to break the fall. It's one of the hardest falls I've had in a long time, and I'm sure I sounded like Matthew Stafford miked up when I hit the ground (in case you listened to that).

I went ahead and finished the ride, but man, it hurt. So today my left side basically feels like it got beaten with a sledgehammer. Of course, I'm still driving over there today and walking that section to figure out if we took a wrong turn, and to see if there's any way to ride through.

Also yesterday, my stomach decided to blow up (which seems to happen every year or so). I woke up at 5:30 with an entirely ridiculous amount of hearburn, and even after being careful with what I ate during the day, over about a ten minute period last night it become exponentially worse, so much so that I was basically inapacitated for about an hour. I was so nauseous that I was dizzy.

That means that I'll be eating very little for the next few days while my system sorts everything else out. Cookies are pretty bland, right?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Links!

Starting off this week, the remarkable story of a manual of "deception" written for the C.I.A. during World War II by magician John Mulholland (whose actual importance has been debated for years, and I've linked to some of the stories). Believed to have been destroyed, the manual resurfaced recently, and can even be purchased on Amazon. This Wired story has details.

From David, a fascinating article at Wired about writer Evan Ratliff's attempt to create a new identity and vanish (as part of a contest).

From Shane Courtrille, a link to a fantastic idea: a gaming website that specializes in reviews for disabled gamers. It's AbleGamers.

From Jean-François Boismenu, a link to BioShock cosplay that I can only describe as EPIC: BioShock at the Georgia Aquarium.

From Franklin Brown, an interactive fiction project about World of Warcraft, loosely in the form of a ZORK adventure. The difference is that forum members were submitting commands, and the author incorporated them into the adventure. It's really brilliant beyond all description, so enjoy You awaken in Razor Hill.

From Steven Hurdle, a link to what must be the greatest Public Service Announcement ever created: North American House Hippo.

From Brad, a link to KEO, a space time capsule scheduled to launch in 2010-2011 (possibly--it's been delayed six years already). The hook is that you can submit your own message for the time capsule, free of charge.

From hippo, a link to an intriguing new quantum theory in physics: Hořřava gravity.

From Dan Holmes, a link to a TED presentation about the future of computing: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology. Very, very cool.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a link to a story about a sport I was fascinated with as a kid: The Return of Jai Alai. If you've never heard of jai alai, you'll be amazed.

From Marc Halatsis, a link to a blog that is full of posts on fascinating subjects: The Selvidge Yard.

From Sirius, a link to a remarkable project: IBM computer simulates cat’s cerebral cortex. Also, and this is just ridiculously cool: Generic Names For Soft Drinks By County. Next, an interesting discovery: Adults Fooled by Visual Illusion, But Not Kids.

From Michael Lange, a link to a spectacular and disturbing photo essay: Pollution In China.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to amazing images of Enceladus: one and two.

From Tim Hibbetts, a link to an ingenious and fun idea: piano stairs.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Matthew Stafford Audio

It's a little late for the Thanksgiving Day game, but Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had an epic performance at the end of last week's game against the Browns. He separated his shoulder on the next-to-last play (time ran out, but a defensive penalty was called), was helped to the sidelines, came back onto the field after a timeout, and threw a touchdown pass to win the game.

That was spectacular enough, but NFL Films had chosen that week to mike him during the game, and they have a six-minute clip with audio and video. It's fantastic and incredibly intense (the sounds he makes after he's hit are excruciating). Take a look here.

Happy Thanksgiving: Meet The New Family Distance Champion

We got up this morning and went to ride on Shoal Creek Boulevard, a lovely road that usually has far too much traffic to ride on safely. Thanksgiving morning, though, was perfect.

I was really looking forward to this ride, but I quickly realized that the crown of the road was much higher than I expected, and so the slant was quite difficult. For me, at least--Eli 8.3 didn't even notice.

We rode for 40 minutes, and he never stepped off. I might have matched him, but I ran into a parked car. That's "parked" as in "not moving." Paging Mr. Bean!

We measured the route in the car after we finished, and it was 3.2 miles. Unbelievable. And he's only 8.3.

I'm dead tired now, even though that's close to my regular ride length. So we've just been hanging out watching football for most of the afternoon (Gloria made a great lunch).

He's holding his trophy, by the way. I don't think I ever took a picture of it before, but it's a little unicycle on a stand, and the plaque says "UNICYCLING MASTER LEVEL" and his name.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: Solium Infernum Released

A demo is also available. Go to the Cryptic Comet website.

Back, And Alive

Trip detritus.

We stopped at a Dairy Queen in a small town east of Waco. The bathroom had one of those air dryers, and for the first time in years, I saw that someone had scratched graffiti onto its surface.

When I was a kid (centuries ago), it seemed like most bathrooms had some kind of dumbass graffiti--some were covered in it--but at some point, it went out of style.

Not here, though. So I carefully examined their work.

On the air dryer unit, it said "DIRECTIONS," but someone had scratched over the "D" and made the first "I" into an "E".

Oh, I see what you're doing there. You turned "DIRECTIONS" into "ERECTIONS."

Plus, they wrote "Chad + Keith" below "ERECTIONS." Now I really see the full scale of this comic assault--see, I think they're implying that "Chad and Keith" might be "gay." That is HI-LARIOUS.

With this kind of superlative, ironic comedy mind in town, I bet the local Video-Bait-BBQ store can't keep David Mamet VHS tapes in stock.

We were in the middle of nowhere on the way home (a different middle of nowhere) and I saw this sign as we entered the city limits of some tiny town: No Engine Brake By City Ordinance.


I looked it up, and it's specifically referring to a "Jake Brake," which you can read about here, if you're so inclined.

We went to Krispy Kreme for breakfast Tuesday morning before we left Shreveport, and I noticed that the little paper hats they always have had French on them (which I've never seen before). This resulted in a long conversation about French, which Gloria knows reasonably well.

"I bet you didn't know that I could speak French," I said to Eli 8.3.

"No, because you can't," he said, laughing.

"I can," I said. "Enchanté, derrière," I said.

"Right," Eli said. "You made that up."

"I did not," I said. "That is an actual French phrase."

Eli turned to Gloria. "Mom, is it?"

Gloria started laughing. "It is," she said. "It means--" she started laughing again.

"--it means 'pleased to meet you, buttocks,' " I said.

Eli burst out laughing. Gasping, really. With eight-year-olds, buttocks are still golden.

I'm Pretty Sure This Is The Worst Idea Ever

Time to check that new customer algorithm, Chase.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You Know Where I Am

Gloria's father was talking to me on Saturday night after we arrived.

"My sister lives in Crawford, near where the President lives," he said. "I visited there last time in 1942, I think. I went out there and it was so relaxing, and every day she did all that down home cookin'. That was so good--there's nothing like down home cookin'...of course, it killed her."

"I don't have any family left, Bill. They're all dead. You don't know what it's like to lose everyone in your family one by one. They've been gone a long time, too...of course, I have my brother and sister."

We all went out to eat dinner that night, and the end of the L.S.U.-Mississippi game was on. After that, the local news started. Here's how the broadcast started out:
1. 2nd degree murder
2. self-defense seminar for rape protection coming on Monday
3. death ruled suicide
4. H1N1 deaths

I was cringing, because Eli 8.3 was watching all this, and after the fourth story, he turned to me and said "Man, a lot of people die here, don't they?"

I tried to take the high road. "Apparently," I said.

Gloria's going out with a friend of hers who moved BACK to Shreveport after many years. She's a very nice lady, and after a highly untoward incident at Gloria's wedding shower many years ago, she was the one who restored order in decisive fashion, which immediately made me fond of her.

One thing that has always puzzled me about women going out with other women is that they dress up for each each. Gloria always dresses up when she goes out with her friends, and
[I know. Maybe she's not going out with friends. Har-de-har.]
it's a big event.

When guys go out together, they just try not to fart. Sometimes.

So Gloria's got this "outfit" put together, and when she's done getting all fixed up, she says "There's not a full-length mirror here. Does this look all right?"

"Sure," I said.


"I'm sure she'll want to French you as soon as you say hello," I said.

"Very helpful," she said.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Um, Roar

Walking With Dinosaurs featured roaring. Lots of roaring.

The dinosaurs were very impressive, and the T-Rex was magnificent, but by the time the show ended, I was shaking hands with deafness.

Deafness said something to me, but of course I couldn't hear.

In the seats directly in front us, there was this little kid with some kind of filament toy they sold at the arena. The toy had many, many different settings, based on what I saw looking around the arena, but only one setting mattered to the kid in front of us: strobe.

That's right. Strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe.


This always happens. "That guy" or "that kid" or "that drunk" or "that guy with the gun" always sits right in front of me.

There were only two other toys set to strobe in the ENTIRE ARENA (small arena, and they had part of it blocked off). The odds that this kid would sit directly in front of us were incredibly small--much less than one percent.

That's why they call me The One Percent Man.

There was also The Kid Who Can Only Say One Thing sitting next to us on the right. You know this kid--he's about ten years old, and for a few weeks, he just says the same phrase over and over again. In fact, for that short period of time, he never says anything else.

This kid said "YO YO YO!"

Let me try to recreate this for you:
Strobe strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO!strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO! strobe strobe strobe strobe YO YO YO!

I am quite tired. Roar.

Eli 8.3

We were on our way to Eli's soccer team pizza party.

"I can't wait to see Nora," I said.

"I know!" Eli said, laughing. "That girl eats more pizza than any kid I've ever seen!" It's true. Nora, who isn't fat in the slightest, can eat six pieces of pizza with no problem. And does.

"I can't believe she can eat all that pizza and still be a good weight," I said. "How does she do that?"

"Fiber," Eli said confidently.

"If we let Gracie in your room at night to sleep with you, she'll wake you up," I said. "But if we close your door, she'll cry because she can't get in, and that will wake you up, anyway."

"Hey!" Eli said. "It's a Cat-22!"

"What's it like raising a baby?" Eli 8.3 asked.

"Well, it depends a lot on the baby," I said. "Until your mom went on a lactose-free diet, your stomach was really upset, so it was hard for you to sleep."

"You woke up three or four times a night for the first six months, at least," Gloria said.

"Sorry, my bad," he said, laughing.


Eli is completely fascinated by the trailer for The Blind Side. Actually, that's not quite right--he's fascinated by Sandra Bullock, particularly her heavy Southern accent. He's taken to walking around the house and saying (with perfect Sandra Bullock pitch and accent) "Don't you dare lie to me" and "This team is your family, Michael."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, an absolutely brilliant piece of writing by Patrick Hruby about Cambodia, baseball, the heart of darkness, and everything in-between. It's Field of Schemes?

From David Gloier, a link to a story about the desire for perfect-sounding music (via editing) has made it much less interesting. The story is "The Death Of Mistakes", and it also features the best explanation (with accompanying audio example) of how dynamic range compression is ruining sound quality.

From Tim Street, a link to a Guardian feature on 100 years of great press photographs, and it's terrific.

Here's an intriguing story from Newsweek about the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and it's controlled nuclear fusion project.

From Phil Honeywell, a link to a short film about the Dock Ellis no-hitter (which he allegedly threw while on LSD). It's an audio interview with Ellis, but what makes it stand out is the accompanying animation. Ellis mentions that he was throwing the ball "all over the place" that day, and it's true--he had eight walks in that game (versus a career average of 2.9 per 9 innings pitched).

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a heartwarming story about a student who has Down Syndrome inducted into the National Honor Society.

From hippo, about something that is specifically NOT about the end of the world: man-made (but very tiny) black holes possible. Also, a link to a New York Times article about the always-elegant solar sail (in this case, the LightSail-1).

From Shane Courtrille, a link to an absolutely inspired mod--an "8-bit NES" version of Left 4 Dead. It's outstanding.

From Jonathan Arnold, a link to an exhaustive analysis and 3-D recreation of the infamous Flight 1549.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, an amazing video about a National Geographic photographer's bizarre encounter with a leopard seal.

From Jeff Gardiner (and you really need to take a look at these images), it's fractals in three dimensions.

I guarantee you never expected one of these (thanks Michael Lange): an electronically modified didgerodoo.

From Paul, and this is required listening, it's the top 50 worst videogame voice acting samples of all-time. They're excellent choices, too, although I'm actually rather fond of #24. Also, and these are quite interesting, a series of nine drawings done by an artist under the influence of LSD as part of a government research program in the late 1950s.

From Rob Cigan, a link to a story about 'dark flow' and how it extends towards the edge of the universe.

From Sirius, and this is quite spectacular, it's a 16th century steel helmet.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a story about the remarkable discovery of a highly advanced WWII Japanese submarine).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Have A Spelling Disease

...and keep spelling "Solium Infernum" incorrectly. It's not "Solium Infernium", no matter how many times I type it wrong. The post below has been corrected.

Solium Infernum Coverage Notes

First off, I'm definitely doing a "play guide" to Solium Infernum in the same style of the guide I did for Armageddon Empires. That will hopefully be up the week after Thanksgiving.

I've played for 10+ hours now, and there is no question that this is an extraordinarily singular game. It's distinct from the first moment.

I've never played anything like it, really--it's Machiavelli in Hell.

Many games offer branching strategies, but this game offers more potential strategies than I've ever seen. There's nothing resembling an ideal character build, because there literally hundreds of thousands of combinations, and there is absolutely no free lunch--every decision about attributes has consequences elsewhere.

It's also impossible to use the same strategy in every game, due to the random nature of how resources are generated. No worries, though, because the number of strategies is huge as well, and adapting to what's available is a key part of winning the game. It's very much a cognitive experience, and your ability to think creatively will constantly be challenged.

Here's an example of how different Solium Infernum plays than other games. Combat is certainly possible, but it's rarely the most efficient way to achieve an objective, and there's a formal dimplomatic procedure that must be strictly followed before attacking. Deceit and deception are often far more effective--operating from the shadows, as it were.

I had much difficulty during the first few hours understanding how everything worked, which is why I'm doing a play guide. But once I grasped how the world worked, I started playing compulsively. The game world is one of the most creative I've ever seen, and when I say "I've ever seen" that encompasses thousands of worlds over more than two decades.

One last note. I haven't tried out the multiplayer yet, but based on the game structure, I absolutely believe that this might be one of the best multiplayer games ever for gamers who want an intellectual challenge.

That's all for now, but I'll start working on the play guide early next week, and it should be available the first week in December.

Travel Notes, Now With 100% More Dinosaurs

For some reason, my motivation has sunk to almost zero, and I feel sluggish and depressed.

We must be going to Shreveport soon.

Since we're leaving Saturday morning and returning Tuesday afternoon, I won't have access to e-mail for a few days. I do hope to have some "pre-recorded" posts that will go up in my absence, plus the possibility of a few bonus despair posts during the trip itself.

I did at least consider establishing a Twitter feed so that I could post live updates from Shreveport, but I'm just asking for trouble if I did that. That's really the only situation I could ever see something good coming from me posting on Twitter, so in answer to your e-mails, don't ever expect me on Twitter.

If "Twit" ever gets big, though, expect me on that. Right away.

We're going to see Walking With Dinosaurs tonight, and in spite of my travel depression, I'm still pretty amped up to see how Eli 8.3 will react.

Okay, that was a fib, or maybe a half-truth. I am looking forward to seeing his reaction, but I want to see the dinosaurs, too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Good Grief!

So the second Madden patch, which was "in development", "nearing submission", "submitted", "in the approval process", and twenty other descriptive phrases, at least, is now in "final approval".

The game came out over three months ago. Detailed information about this patch was posted a month ago.

Here's the problem--well, here's one of many problems with this. As soon as the patch is (allegedly) submitted to Microsoft, everyone on the development team completely washes their hands of any responsibility. "Well, you know how Microsoft (Sony) is," they'll say.

No, I don't. Not really.

I do know that they're making Microsoft sound like their Mommy. "I want to, but Mommy won't let me," they say. "You'll have to ask Mommy," they say.

Patches aren't important to Mommy.

In essence, they try to transfer responsibility to Microsoft/Sony, when they're the ones who shipped a game that needed three more months of work.

Madden's excellent this year. With the exception of the two-minute offense when the CPU is ahead, it's very close to fantastic, and even with that limitation, I think it's the best football game I've ever played (with the right slider settings, which took several tons of "user sweat" to develop). That second patch, though, based on the list I've seen, cleans up some nagging and annoying issues. So everyone is sitting around, three months after the game shipped, still waiting to begin their franchises.

It's not just Madden, obviously, because almost every annual sports franchise does this now, which is completely ridiculous. They using the patch process as a crutch, then blaming Microsoft/Sony.

There has to be a more stand-up way of doing things than this.

There Will Be Blood, And A Fistful Of Points

I went for my regular park ride yesterday. I had one fall, but with the new, longer pants as part of my riding gear, I didn't think anything about it, just got up and kept riding.

After I finished the ride and drove home, I went to the freezer to get an ice pack to put on my knees (tendonitis, it was decided). I lifted up my shorts leg and the first thing I thought was "Where did all that f-ing blood come from?"

Okay, so wearing long shorts apparently doesn't protect you from losing skin (and bleeding). You just do less of it.

I finally passed four million points in my drum career in The Beatles: Rock Band, which moved me up into the 4200 range on the leader board. Points are much harder to come by now, but I did get my tenth gold star yesterday.

It's still almost impossible for me to play songs with repetitive double bass beats. Hard Day's Night is a good example--it's on the lowest tier in terms of difficulty, and I can 99% it at 90% speed, but at 100% speed, I just can't keep my foot working long enough. I can five-star it, but my score on Expert is still much lower than my score on Hard.

I'm still amazed by how much fun these songs are to play. Songs like Back In the U.S.S.R. and Birthday are incredibly fun, even on Hard.

100%, Guaranteed

Well, I haven't seen an article about this in a while:
Ex-astronaut in love triangle case avoids prison with plea deal.

You remember this story, right? The former astronaut (Lisa Marie Nowak) drove across the country to assault another woman who was a romantic rival. Then blah blah blah.

I say "blah blah blah" because the only thing anyone cared about was that Nowak wore "astronaut diapers" as she wouldn't have to make a pit stop as she drove across the country. That single detail was apparently more exciting than The Seven Cities Of Cibolo, El Dorado, and Atlantis combined.

I started actively looking for stories about the case, not because I was particularly interested in the crime, but because I wanted to verify that the diapers were mentioned. It would have made a great drinking game (take a shot every time it's mentioned in a story). Every single story I read about the case included something about the diapers.

So today, when I saw this headline, you know I had to go check. Would my perfect record be soiled?

Pun intended.

Here you go:
Prosecutors accused Nowak of driving nearly 900 miles from Houston, Texas, to Orlando -- wearing NASA diapers to cut down on the number of stops she needed to make...

Yes. Still perfect.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 Band Names

I've listened to on occasion, but I'd never signed up for an account. After creating a custom radio station today with The Beatles and Miranda Lee Richards, I decided to sign up so that I could save some of my preferences.

If you follow the "sign up for free" link off the main page, the sign up screen includes two words that you have to identify (as part of the ongoing book digitization project that is now beginning to annoy the shit out of me).

The first two words I saw were "14th Solidity." Immediately, I recognized what was important here: band names.

Here are the first ten sets I saw:
For Cruder
Pimplier 62-61
$300 Tenet
Altered 86
Astride Sedgwick
Greened 42,495
County Plumbers
He Superior
Chicago Cheerily
Mainland Issues

Astride Sedgwick, in particular, is a favorite.


I was committed to going to dinner at another couple's house. As I've said more than once, I like people--I just don't like them near me.

"This is what people do," Gloria said.

"Which people?" I asked.

"All people," Gloria said. "They meet. They socialize. They sit around and talk."

"Stop," I said. "This is gross. It's like talking about your parents having sex."

We're going to Shreveport on Saturday. Going to Shreveport is kind of like being in basic training in the Army, where they destroy you to rebuild you, except there's no rebuilding.

"So hypothetically," I said, "If I had swine flu, would I have to go to Shreveport?"

"No, but we couldn't go, either," she said, "so we'd just postpone the trip."

"Hmm," I said. "What about an outstanding felony charge, provided I was out on bail?"

"Borderline," she said. "I still think you'd have to go."

"Murder?" I asked.

"I'm having a pain just below my throat," Gloria said last week. "I wake up at night and it just doesn't feel right. And it tightens up at times during the day."

"Is this more likely to happen when you're stressed out?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," she said. "It doesn't seem like it."

"Is this more of an 'impending heart attack' or a 'huge tumor blocking your airway' kind of pain?" I asked.

"Not helping," she said.

Winter Arrives

The official date of winter's arrival in Austin: the first day you can't wear shorts.

That was yesterday, November 16. Welcome to winter.

Please Put On Your Special Cardboard Glasses #2

From Ryan Leasher:
Hey, Bill...minor nitpick with the 3D post. There were plenty of 3D movies in the 50s that used dual interlocked 35mm projectors and polarized 3D glasses rather than the single strip crap anaglyph with the colored lenses. In your post it really sounds as though the 3D films of the 50s--arguably the Golden Age of 3D--were all anaglyph when many (even most, I believe) were actually polarized and damn well done at that.

I've seen some very interesting 3D films but the one that stands out is one called "Doom Town" from 1953. This 13 minute short is a documentary of sorts showing in stereo viewing of the effects of a nuclear blast. Surreal to say the least.

Ryan is right. Ironically, this was one of the few things in the post I didn't check because I was "sure" I knew that part of the history (and I should have known better).

Good things come out of dumb things, though (in my case, all the time). The Wikipedia entry for 3-D film is fascinating, and has a ton of historical information.

Among other things I discovered in that entry, I never knew that "Kiss Me Kate" and "Dial M For Murder" were both filmed in 3-D. And there's a nice explanation for why 3-D originally failed: technical complexity, not quality.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Console Post Of The Week: Once More, With Software

First off, the October NPD hardware numbers from last week:
Wii: 506,900
PlayStation 3: 320,600
Xbox 360: 249,700
PlayStation 2: 117,800

I think the only way to interpret these numbers is as follows: Microsoft has a problem.

In 2007 and 2008, the 360 sold over 350,000 units in October. This year, their pricing "action" was more a unit consolidation, and consumers don't appear to be responding.

However, Microsoft seems to have acknowledged this, at least to some degree. The November 7 promotion with Wal-Mart ($100 gift card with the purchase of an Arcade unit) was a huge discount, and with 10 units guaranteed per store (about 3,600 stores in the U.S.), that's 36,000 units. Plus Wal-Mart is apparently going to have this same deal on Black Friday.

Amazon also ran this deal (with a $100 Amazon gift card), although the total number of units involved is unknown.

So Microsoft is involved in some heavy promotional discounting, but selectively. I don't think even this discounting will help them pass the PS3 in November, though. Microsoft and Sony basically tied when the PS3 was with $50 of the primary 360 unit. Now that they're the same price (for the non-Arcade unit), Sony looks to have a monthly advantage for now.

Now, for a change, let's take a look at some software numbers, which I think are very interesting for three games: DJ Hero, Demon's Souls, and Brutal Legend.

DJ Hero sold 123,000 units on all platforms combined. Activision is claiming this game whill have a "Guitar Hero 1" kind of sales curve, which is utterly ridiculous. Guitar Hero had a very weak marketing effort behind it at first, but word of mouth was absolutely off the charts, and that's what sold the game.

DJ Hero, in contrast, has had a huge marketing effort. I've seen television commercials for the game all over the place in the last month, and I'm still seeing them regularly. Good grief, Activision could have sold 50,000 copies of Accordion Hero with that kind of marketing.

Maybe the game will do better in Europe (I expect it to), but the initial sales numbers in the U.S. are a disaster.

Like I've said on multiple occasions, I'm not implying that DJ Hero, as a game, is garbage. I think it's an honest effort to simulate a musical "activity." It's just that Activision wildly, exponentially overestimated the size of the market for this kind of game.

Moving on to Demon's Souls (PS3), which sold just over 150,000 units according to Gamasutra. Well, and Brutal Legend (360, PS3), which sold 216,000 units. Demon's Souls on the PS3 outsold Brutal Legend on the 360, and when you consider the relative installed bases, the difficulty of Demon's Souls, and the much higher profile of Brutal Legend (as well as a much stronger marketing effort), it's quite shocking.

Or not.

Here's the thing about Brutal Legend: it's funny. It's really funny. If you asked me what I thought about Brutal Legend, the first five things I would say would involve humor.

Here's the other thing about Brutal Legend, though: it's not nearly as much fun to actually play. At least, it wasn't for me. I loved getting to the next cut scene, or the next laugh, but the actual gameplay wasn't fresh or interesting or particularly polished.

I think this really created a purchasing problem. Brutal Legend couldn't "win" a comparison with other games in other genres because it was hard to even define its genre, really. "Funny game" doesn't really have a specific place. It became an extra purchase instead of a core purchase.

The ideal approach with Brutal Legend, in my mind, would have been to release it in a less congested period for new releases. The offbeat game generally does better at those times--February, for example--than when it's competing with the meat of the holiday season.

Demon's Souls also has a word that always comes up first: gameplay. The gameplay is freaking fantastic. It has some innovative play mechanics, but it's still easy to define against other games, and it will win almost any comparison. So in an either-or comparison, which is how many purchasing decisions are made, Demon's Souls would do extremely well.

Plus, and I think this is important, the game already came out in Japan, plenty of people had imported it, and the word of mouth (just like with the original Guitar Hero) was fantastic.

By almost any definition, Demon's Souls is a great game. And for once, at least, that greatness has been rewarded, because no one (to my knowledge) was expecting anywhere near the sales numbers it turned in. Even better for Atlus, I don't think many people will trade this game in, at least not for several months, which will force more people to buy new copies instead of used.

More On "Let The Right One In": This Time, From Sweden

DQ reader Fredrik Skarstedt (developer of MMO Baseball) sent me this e-mail last week.

Re: Let The Right One In.

I recently got to see it as well and I thought it was a fantastic movie not just because of the creepiness factor, the fantastic story, and the acting, but because of the setting. They really, really nailed the feeling of winter in the late 70’s, and growing up during that particular time period in Sweden.

As you may know, I grew up in Sweden, and the boy in the movie is pretty much the same age I was during the late 70’s. As I was watching the movie, there were so many small touches that resonated fairly deep within me.

For example: the restaurant that the adults sit in was a very typical little restaurant often found in the “town square” of the suburbs. It was often a pizzeria or a Chinese restaurant where you as an adult would gravitate towards when you didn’t feel like cooking at home. Since the only place to buy alcohol was the state run “system bolaget”, during evenings and weekends (when it was closed) adults would sit for hours in one of those little restaurants drinking light beers and talking. Smoking was permitted everywhere, so when you would walk into one of these pizzerias the smell of food, smoke, wet clothes (from the snow) and sweat would permeate your senses.

The emptiness of the squares between the horribly oppressive 70’s high rises is something I remember quite well. Sitting alone on a swing playing by myself (as my brothers were too big to be playing with their little brother) struck me quite hard as I was watching the movie.

If you are wondering why the boy is allowed to play outside in the dark just remember two things:
1. The society in Sweden was much gentler/innocent back then. You could actually leave your doors unlocked if you lived in the suburb. Yes, robberies happened, but it was rare, and when you did read about it in the papers, it was always a shock that something like that could happen in Sweden.
2. It gets dark very, very early in Sweden during winter. I would guess that the boy got home from school around 3pm and it would already be dark as night, which is why he wasn’t in bed yet. It’s a perfect place for a vampire to be since you only get sunshine for about 1 hour during winter.

There were so many other details that rang so very, very, true in “Let The Right One In”, but those are just a couple of things that I thought I’d share. Sweden back then was pretty damn close to communist Russia and got a lot of influences from it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Link Corrected

The link for the Modern Warfare 3 video from The Onion has been fixed.

Friday Links!

From hippo, a link to an interesting story about great white sharks, who come near shore more often than we think. Also, a fascinating story about how much of the low-enriched uranium fuel for our nuclear reactors comes from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a link to some remarkable images from Cassini of the Enceladus plume.

From David, a link to a fascinating discovery: the remains of a 50,000 man Persian army lost in a sandstorm 2,500 years ago (originally reported by Herodotus).

From Brad, an excellent idea: an interactive MRI brain scan.

From David Gloier, a link to a story about a population of butterflies that appears to be splitting into two species.

From Greg V, stunning hi-res images of Mars from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

From Ryan Leasher, an xkcd comic of movie narrative charts.

From Daniel Quock, a link showing that construction on North Korea's legendary Ryugyong Hotel, after a suspension of over 16 years, has resumed.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's a very fun video of skateboarding and explosions in slow-motion (p.s. don't try this at home). Next, it's the greatest tooth extraction method ever.

From Sirius, with excellent photographs, it's the Arachnid Hall of Fame. Also, the discovery of a new dinosaur that appears to be an important evolutionary link.

From Frank Regan, and most of them are definitely cringe-worthy, it's the 25 Funniest Vintage Tech Ads.

From Ryan Leasher, another very funny video from The Onion about the upcoming ultra-realistic Modern Warfare 3.

Yes, this is pretty awesome (thanks Sam Veilleux): a girl playing Rock Band
with a flute. And just below that on the same page, there's a video that's arguably even better: a guy with a trombone (and he's damn good, too).

Finally, from Brad Brasfield, a link to the strangest video of Guitar Hero you'll ever see, with soccer players (and soccer balls).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

October NPD

Analysis next week, but here are the numbers:
Wii: 506,900
PlayStation 3: 320,600
Xbox 360: 249,700
PlayStation 2: 117,800

Please Put On Your Special Cardboard Glasses To See This Post Properly

I've been talking about 3-D as the next big leap for displays and gaming consoles for several years now. When I say "3-D", though, I could be talking about any one of several different techologies, so let's talk today about the differences.

There are a ton of 3-D display technologies, both for still and moving pictures, but I'm going to focus today on motion technologies.

The original 3-D technology used in the first wave of 3-D films in the 1950s was anaglyph. This required the classic cardboard glasses with lenses of different colors (red and green, usually) to see the 3-D image.

How is it? Well, not so hot. Yes, there's definitely a 3-D effect, but the glasses really aren't comfortable (and they're difficult to use if you're already wearing glasses, like me), and the viewing sweet spot is fairly small. There's a reason it was originally just a fad--the technology wasn't good enough to be anything more than a novelty.

Want to see an example of anaglyph 3-D? If you've watched Journey To The Center Of The Earth or Coraline in 3-D at home, then you're seeing anaglyph technology.

Today, the new wave of 3-D films use stereoscopic 3-D technology. Instead of wearing cardboard glasses with different-colored lenses, stereoscopic 3-D uses polarized glasses that look like sunglasses. They're much more comfortable, and they also fit easily over existing glasses.

How is the 3-D? Compared to anaglyph, it's night and day. The theater version of Coraline, for example, is stunning--it's the best and most immersive 3-D I've ever seen. The home version, using anaglyph technology, is very disappointing in comparison. For one, the color palette is not identical to the theater version (which is a limitation of existing displays, although a few screens released in the last 12 months no longer have this problem), and there's also the much smaller viewing sweet spot.

It's the same with Journey To The Center Of The Earth, which had quite an excellent 3-D effect in the stereoscopic version. The limited color palette is particularly noticeable in the home version in comparison.

So if you think you're getting the same 3-D effect at home if you wait for a movie to come out on DVD, you're not, unfortunately.

That may change in the future, though. There are now actually a few home displays now that support stereoscopic 3-D--the Hyundai Xpol line--but given that films aren't being released in stereoscopic home versions, it's utility is currently limited.

A third kind of 3-D is called "full parallax 3-D" (also known as "auto-stereoscopic"). This is a technology that doesn't require the wearing of special glasses, and it's if there's a killer tech for 3-D, this is it.

I've seen this once in person, and it was absolutely mind-blowing. Objects seemed to be coming out of the screen, but because I wasn't wearing any special glasses, the suspension of disbelief was overwhelming. Everyone who walked by the display was instantly mesmerized.

So why isn't this incredible technology available for home use? Well, for one, it's very, very complex. Hitachi was showing a 10" display in October at CEATAC, and here's a description of how it works:
The Full Parallax 3D TV is based on a method called "Integral Photography with Overlaid Projection." Specifically, it consists of 16 projectors and a lens array sheet to cover them. The lens array sheet ensures parallax in any direction (not only in the horizontal direction). Because of parallax, the 3D image seen by the user differs in accordance with the angle from which the screen is viewed.

Here's more:
In glasses-free displays of this kind, there's a trade-off between the number of 'viewpoints' and the resolution. Hitachi uses 16 projectors, each of them with 800x600 resolution. Totally there are 7.7 million pixels (like 4000x2000 resolution). The final image is just 640x480, though (because of the number of viewpoints).

Like I said, it's complex, and because it's complex, it's expensive. Large displays at any kind of affordable price are years away. But this is the technology that will eventually make 3-D indispensable.

Oh, and don't think that full parallax displays will be able to display films created using anaglyph technology in 3-D, because they won't. All of these technologies are incompatible, to the best of my knowledge.

That's why it's so important that 3-D standards for Blu-Ray be adopted, and while they've been in process for a while, I don't think anything has been finalized yet (Panasonic and Dolby have both submitted possible standards). And it's not just a software standard that's elusive, because even though several different companies are offering "3-D displays," there's no accepted definition of what that actually means.

It gets even more complicated. There's also a technology for home used called "active shutter" that requires the user to wear powered glasses (the lenses actively synchronize with signals from the display). It's a way to enable stereoscopic 3-D at home, and several vendors (including nVidia and Sony) are heavily promoting it, but again, there are no standards.

There's no question that 3-D is the future, and given how many companies are actively promoting it right now, it's clear that that the entertainment industry agrees. But the lack of standards makes it a murky pool.

One last note: James Cameron's new movie, Avatar, releasing December 18, and it was specifically filmed with 3-D in mind. If this film does as well at the box office as expected, it will be a reasonable test of whether 3-D films for grown-ups are commercially viable.

Why I Haven't Posted Anything Today (Yet)

I'm playing a late beta of Solium Infernium.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let The Right One In (#2)

Sean sent me an e-mail in reference to the completely fantastic "Let The Right One In." It's all relevant, so here goes:
Absolutely loved Let the Right One In - best movie I saw last year and my favorite vampire movie, period. Three notes:
1. The site where I work is giving away a copy of the movie (and other cool vampire-y stuff) this week, here:
FEAR net

2. There are 2 versions of the DVD, one of which has vastly inferior subtitles:
subtitle versions and how to tell the difference

Thankfully, the distributor ponied up for the better subtitles and re-released the DVD. Unfortunately, those (like me) who bought early got screwed. Check the back of the package before you buy!

3. The American remake is in production now:
Let Me In

I doubt it'll be as good as the original, but even if it's half as good it'll be better than a lot of sequel/remake American horror.

I'm guessing that the American version will be butchered and entirely formulaic, and gross ten times as much as the original. Argghhh.


I'm damaged (insert your punch line here).

We did a park trail ride of 2.5 miles on Sunday, and it was the best trail ride we've ever had. I think I stepped off four times, even with some funky bridges and steep slopes to negotiate. Eli 8.3 has no problems with this kind of terrain, of course, but it's always been challenging for me, especially when I have to ride slower with him (he has a smaller wheel than I do).

For the first time, I didn't feel like I'd been beaten with a sledgehammer after riding for half an hour or more. My legs felt limber and pretty fresh. This was a breakthrough for me (I'm normally really tired after we ride), so much so that I mentioned to Gloria how great I felt.

So, of course, I woke up Monday morning and started wincing when I walked down the stairs, because my right knee hurt like hell. No pain whatsoever during the ride, no pain before I went to bed, but lots of pain the next morning.

Welcome to middle age.

The pain isn't even in a familiar spot--it's sort of around the kneecap. I'm completely baffled, and it doesn't seem to get better, even though I've been icing it regularly and haven't worked out for three days.

The other thing about middle age is that when this kind of thing happens, I have to be really, really careful. In my 20s, I could just do nothing for a day or two and I'd be fine, or I could work out with some pain and still get bettter. Not anymore--if I try to work out with pain, it will take forever to get better.

I'm not going to an orthopedist, at least at first, because every one I've gone to (three) in the last few years has spent 90% of his time identifying which revenue stream I represent instead of diagnosing my freaking problem. I do have someone who "works on me" once a month (get your mind out of the gutter) for maintenance, and she knows more about this kind of thing than any doctor I've ever seen, so I'm going to ask her on Monday.

In the meantime: damn it.


JL let me know that Gamasutra's Chris Remo wrote a parody song for the Idle Thumbs Podcast last year titled "The Ballad Of John Riccitiello." It's hilarious, entirely prophetic, and it channels Randy Newman in all the best ways. Have a listen.

Here's a second bit of genius. I linked a while back to shitmydadsays, which has this description: I'm 29. I live with my 73-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says.

It's ridiculously funny, entirely profane, and incredibly, CBS is going to do a series based on the Twitter feed.

Yes: cue head exploding.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Electronic Arts: The Guttening

Well, this can't be good.

Electronic Arts announced quarterly earnings yesterday, and they sucked. Again.

Not to worry, though. They've got a plan:
Electronic Arts said it would lay off 1,500 workers by April 2010, alongside second fiscal quarter results that saw the publisher post a decrease in year-over-year revenues and a widening net loss of $391 million.

Wait! WTF is this--Groundhog Day? From earlier this year:
Electronic Arts on Tuesday said it would be laying off about 1,100 employees, or about 11 percent of its workforce, in order to cut costs.

So if 1,100 was 11% in February, that means they had about 10,000 employees in February. So with 8,900 left (purely a mathematical operation, without any variations that have occurred between then and now), that's an additional reduction of 16.8%.

In February, they had about 10,000 employees. After this latest whacking, they're down to 7,400. That's over a quarter of the company in less than a year.

Ironically, after riding EA's ass for years about their shoddy quality and lack of innovation, I've been much more positive in the last six months, because I felt like they had clearly changed. The EA Sports franchises (with the exception of NCAA Football--good grief, what a turd) have been reinvigorated, and the level of additional attention paid to these titles after they shipped far surpasses anything they've ever done before.

It's not just the sports franchises. EA significantly improved the quality of the titles they shipped in the last twelve months, and they invested significant resources in developing new franchises as well.

The glory days lasted about a year. Now, that's all over.

If you want to know why, let's take a look at a few excerpts from the earnings conference call conducted yesterday (thanks to Seeking Alpha for the transcript). From CEO John Riccitiello:
EA’s definition of the game industry also includes digital businesses such as mobile, micro-transactions, subscription and advertising. As recently as five years ago, we estimated that digital was less than 10% of the global industry. Today, we estimate digital is 35% of the total.

Our sense is that the various digital businesses will grow at 20% or higher this year and for the next several years...EA continues to transform itself from being nearly entirely packaged goods dependent to being a leading player on the digital direct side of the industry.

This year, we have had success putting more resources behind fewer packaged goods titles. We’ve decided to narrow our title slate further in preparation for FY11. We are implementing a thoughtful, targeted action that will reduce titles, close several facilities and decrease headcount by approximately 1,500 positions, of which 1,300 will be included in a restructuring plan.

Two bold steps. The first -- a narrowing of focus and cost reduction to enable investment in hits and digital. The second-- a strategic M&A investment on the digital direct side.


I bolded the "end of times" statement. Here's how the "hits" comment was further clarified by Riccitiello later in the call:
Electronic Arts has a core slate of games label and sports franchises that we will iterate on a either annual or bi-annual basis. And I think you know what those major titles are -- all of them are selling or have sold in their most recent edition 2 million units or more. After that, we’ve got The Sims and Hasbro, and frankly anything that doesn’t measure up to looking like it can pencil out to be in very high profit contributor and high unit seller got cut from our title slate from this point going forward.

So it is really, in a way, if you could array our title slate up knowing what we did about what we would have otherwise brought to market, we cut the bottom third of it.

In other words, if it doesn't move two million units, EA doesn't want it anymore. EA's plan going forward is to ship games that sell 2M+ units and otherwise focus on mobile platforms and "social gaming." That's why they bought Playfish (for $300 million freaking dollars), which they described this way:
Playfish is one of the leaders in the social gaming space with a terrific team and great games. They have three of the top games on Facebook with “Pet Society,” “Restaurant City,” and the recently- launched “Country Story.” They have 10 Facebook titles in total with over 60 million Monthly Active Users -- up over 96% from June."

Hooray! Thank goodness EA can finally focus on genre-breaking titles like Pet Farm Restaurant Country. I can't wait to log into my Facebook account to click on the brightly-colored doodle.

Yeah, this is bad. This is EA basically saying "Remember that really cool strategy we had a year ago that focused on quality and innovation? Well, f--- that, cowboy. It's time to chase the money."

Wait a minute. Now that I think of it, haven't I heard that strategy from someone else? Like this guy:
With respect to [de-emphasizing] the franchises that don’t have the potential to be exploited every year across every platform, with clear sequel potential that can meet our objectives of, over time, becoming $100 million-plus franchises, that’s a strategy that has worked very well for us.

Hey! What is that son-of-a-bitch Bobby Kotick doing in my EA corporate strategy? Oh, yeah--Activision IS EA's new corporate strategy.

That's just great, and by "great" I mean "totally shitty."

If you're wondering how many games are getting cut, here's an indication (Riccitiello again):
We’ve had a little challenge on some of the definitions of what is in and out but I think in rough numbers, mid-60s would have been the way to think about last year and the way we are looking at it right now. Approximately 50 this year and something in the high 30s next year. So when you consolidate this thing, it’s about a 50% cut over two years.

We're focusing on the hits, baby. Welcome to Activonic Arts. Please pick out a misery sweatshirt in your size.

Monday, November 09, 2009

An IGF Note

DQ reader Yacine Salmi has a game entered in the Independent Games Festival, and it's worth keeping an eye on. It's called Swimming Under Clouds, and visually it's quite striking. There's a preview of the game here.

Your E-mail

I posted last week about Eli claiming that his cheese tasted different at lunch (after it had been in a small plastic container for a few hours) than it did at home.

As it turns out, he was right. Chris Meadowcraft sent me an e-mail with this note: Cheese in a small container changes taste rapidly (mostly through smell, but we mix the 2 senses). Real cheese is a living thing, and even the fake stuff is very sensitive to temperature, humidity and enclosures. I'd recommend that if you're going to put cheese in a packed lunch either a tight plastic wrap or a loose paper one depending on the cheese.

He also included a link about properly aging cheese, which you can view here.

Ian Hardingham sent in a note about the "free" release of the Unreal 3 engine. As it turns out, free is not quite so free at all:
A quick note to point out how UDK is more of a cynical attempt to create a workforce who know the Unreal engine, rather than to create a truly valid indie engine.

1. They take 25% of all profits you make from your game - that's huge.
2. You don't have source-level access to the unreal engine. This severely limits the amount of technical innovation you can do, and as we both know technical innovation is a large part of indie games.
3. If you do, half way through your project, suddenly find out you really, really need source level access, then you are completely out of luck. Source access is $350,000. At least with Unity, source level access is only in the region of $2500.

Lastly, George Paci sent me a link to a product that is so bizarrely promoted that I'm not going to wait for Friday. The central marketing image for this sweat-absorbing powder is--a baboon's red ass. In other words, you want to use this power so that your butt doesn't wind up irritated and look like a baboon's ass.

It is, of course, Anti Monkey Butt Powder.

Let The Right One In

Many months ago, DQ reader Carlos Anllo e-mailed and recommended "Let The Right One In", which he described as a "Swedish vampire movie."

I headed over to Rotten Tomatoes and saw that it was highly regarded, with a 98% positive rating as well as its 8.2 average. Those were both exceptionally high, and I was looking forward to seeing the film.

Six months passed. That happens a lot.

I watched it last week, though, and it was wonderful. It was like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, except Jim was a vampire.

Okay, it wasn't really like that. Strangely, though, if Jim had been a twelve-year-old Swedish girl vampire, it would have been pretty close.

The phrase "vampire movie" can be very perjorative, but in this case, Let The Right One In is really only nominally a vampire movie--it's really a coming-of-age story about friendship and how difficult it is to be different. It's a very sensitive, delicate story, juxtaposed with the stunning violence of a vampire's life.

Yeah--I know that sounds messed up. And it is, but in a completely outstanding way. It's quite brilliant, and in addition, the cinematography is absolutely superb. I still remember dozens of images from the film, and that's very unusual for me, even after only a week.

Oh, and here's something you should probably know: the English language track is AWFUL. Seemingly, most of the voice actors for the English language track were previously employed doing Kung Fu movie translations. So I'd highly recommend listening to the original Swedish voices and reading subtitles instead.

The Greatest Book Title Ever

If You Can Cook, You Can Make Powerful Topical Remedies For Hair Loss, Pain And Herpes Infections

Fortunately, I can't cook.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Links!

It's a buffet of the bizarre this week, so enjoy.

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and this time, it's full of love for Demon's Souls.

From Sirius, it's The 10 Weirdest, Grossest Ingredients in Processed Food. I've only got one thing to say to you: beaver anal glands. Also, if you wondered what makes a sprinter, it's apparently short heels and long toes.

From Brian Witte, a fantastic link to images from an Italian Renaissance Sketchbook On Military Art.

From DQ reader My Wife, a link to a blog about a woman's elderly mother and the entirely epic conversations they have. Here's one example: a post written after her mother had seen The Crying Game.

From Sirius, it's a fantastic series of photographs: amazing insect images. Also, and this is quite surreal, Toyota has created a new plant species designed to offset CO2 emissions emitted in the Prius manufacturing process.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, it's Visions Of Earth 2009, a monthly feature from National Geographic with some truly spectacular photographs. Also, it's the origins of the U.S. dollar. Next, it's Gordon Freeman, DDS (read the comments). Then, a delightful nature short titled Seeing Through The Eyes Of An Armadillo.

From Cliff Eyler, a story about the discovery of a plesiosaur skull-- near Dorset!

From Jesse Leimkuehler, some remarkable, original photographs from the Civil War.

Ever wanted to compare the size of various starships? Thanks to a link submitted by Mr. Fritz, now you can.

From Skip Key, a link to the entirely epic story of Captain Freddy Chapman, a Cambridge-educated botanist who became a special forces officer in WWII and fought a guerilla campaign against 4,000 Japanese soldiers.

Two interesting links from George Paci--the first, to a 3D animation of Antibody Immune Response, and the second, to another animation titled Inner Life Of The Cell (plus there are some other excellent animations available at that link as well).

From Malcolm Cox, links to two videos by Duncan Day about some of the best kid's Halloweens costumes I've ever seen: Mechs! See them here and here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

And If You'd Like To Make An Indie Game...

...Daniel Page let me know that Epic is now giving away the Unreal 3 development kit. Awesome.


The entry list for the annual Independent Games Festival is always great fun to read, because there are always a few games that are, well, a little strange. The full list is here, but since I know you're lazy, here are a few of the zany highlights.

1. 78641
Saluton!! GZ Storm is now proudly to present – 78641 – the classic Esperanto-language adventure game now playing first time in Language English!!!

You are frying pan face in which you have doing the living on several occasion. Do thing!! Have fun!!! You can do it!!! Push the button on the planet moon also carton game also finances simulation. Also and then plus some more!!!

John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun played 78641 and had this to say:
It’s, um, sort of an adventure game, but mostly an exercise in surrealism. And unlike most things that people label “surreal”, this isn’t just “silly” or saying “fish” a lot – it’s a genuinely surreal and often unsettling experience. In the game you play Doug Beachez, a frying pan. Who sells dildos.

If you think this is all insane (and it may well be), remember that these are the same guys who developed Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden, which is a cult classic.

2. Capoeira Legends: Path to Freedom - Chapter 1
Developer's description:
Capoeira Legends takes place in the surroundings of the Rio de Janeiro city, by the year of 1828. Some Black people, Indians and white people lived in organized communities called "mocambos", under constant threat from ranchers and politicians who defended slavery. In the urban areas, capoeiras did incredible feats that terrorized the government: the liberation of slaves from ranches, and their transportation, through the jungle, to the safety and freedom offered by those illegal camps. Amongst the main mocambos stablished in the country, the biggest one of them, on the Serra da Estrela, served as an example of rebellion and perseverance in the fight against slavery. The Mocambo da Estrela's leader owes his life to Mestre Vuê, a legendary Capoeirista who, thirty years before, prevented his murder, and who since then, fights for the security of the camping. It is of his responsibility the preparation of the defenders created in the philosophycal and mystical principles of the Capoeiragem, amongst whom a great hero is expected to show up (A Za), he who will protect the Mocambo.

Okay, I admit that "fights for the security of the camping" is quite the malaprop, but that's a hell of a story.

The developers of The Path are back, and just check out this game description:
FATALE is an interactive vignette in realtime 3D inspired by the biblical story of Salome.
Salome was a Judean princess who demanded the decapitation of John the Baptist as a reward for dancing for her stepfather, King Herod. In the late 19th century, Oscar Wilde wrote a stage play in which Salome falls in love with the prophet and demands his head so she could kiss his lips. It is this version of the ancient tale that inspired FATALE.

In my book, anyone who demands decapitation for dancing is worthy of their own game. Maybe two.

4. Heritage
Developer description:
Forced by need and honor, the last surviving family of a seafaring people have journeyed half-way around the world to bring an end to their civil war. Upon landfall they all made a solemn vow to their ancestors - they would turn their backs on the sea until this quest was complete. The spirits of their ancestors were listening… and will be watching.

Heritage is a hybrid strategy/role-playing game where players control a family of heroes over several generations. Players choose the type of people their heroes become, how their society will develop, and what legacies they will leave the next generation - all while exploring a strange new continent.

This doesn't even sound strange, just great. It evokes memories of King of Dragon Pass, a staggeringly wonderful game that was never appreciated. Win win win.

Ironically, going to the game's website indicates that the entry into IGF was actually pulled because they didn't think the game was ready. Hurry up, guys--I'm already standing in line, and there are people gathering behind me.

5. Knight Of The Living Dead
The description is epic:
"I prophesied his arrival, the perfect knight. He who would achieve the holy grail. And so he did, Sir Galahad. But his chivalry and piety and purity is called upon once more, for a grave menace has risen from Camelot's soil: Zombies!"
-Merlin, ten knights later

6. Legie
Another epic description:
Legie is a unique combination of 3D adventure and "classic" dungeon with dark story about innkeeper, beer and the devil in Czech medieval town Jilemnice.

That's right: inkeeper, beer, and the devil. Awesome.

7. Matches & Matrimony
Developer description:
Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wickham? Col. Brandon or Capt. Wentworth? Matches & Matrimony is a game set in the novels of Jane Austen. Entering the Victorian era as a daughter in the famous Bennet family, players can chart their own course for Ms. Bennet, choosing outcomes that Ms. Austen never dreamed of.

That's right--Jane Austen FTW.

8. Underworld Hockey Club
First off, this must be the greatest game name ever, and the description is even better:
Lucifer has decided that the victims in the Underworld have become too tolerant of the beatings and the miserable life in the Underworld. To make them realize how miserable their existences really are, he has ordered one month of the year to be the month of the tournament. In this month, an arena of Obsidian and glass will be built, where victims can enjoy their time in the Underworld before returning to their fates...Win all regular tournaments and challenge Lucifer for the Blood Cup and a ticket out of the Underworld!

That's how I plan to escape the Underworld after my death--by playing hockey. I also plan on learning how to skate first.

There you go. There are 306 entries in total, so there's plenty to keep you busy, and a few great games always emerge at IGF, so take a look and see if you spot anything promising.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

World Of Goo: Of Cleverness And Pricing

The makers of the remarkably charming World Of Good recently announced that, as a special anniversary sale, purchasing customers would get to choose how much they paid for the game.

It's an interesting idea--very interesting, actually--and it was, by all accounts, incredibly successful. In 13 days, over 83,000 copies were sold.

Maybe "incredibly successful" isn't adequate to describe that response.

Originally, developers 2D Boy reported that 57,000 copies had been sold at an average of $2.03 a copy. They also noted that they paid 13% of the total in transaction fees, but even after subtracting transaction fees that's still $100,667 in total.

Even better, they posted an update that the final total was over 83,000 copies, and they noted that the average price paid had gone up, so very conservatively, that's another $50,000.

So what happened here? This may require a new principle: if you make an excellent game, the customers who don't suck will outnumber the customers who do. World of Goo was an extremely highly rated game (average Metacritic review of 90 on the PC, and 94 for the Wii version), which generates a tremendous amount of consumer goodwill. And even though roughly $2 per copy is a low price, if the "voluntary pricing" model makes volume explode, it's still more profitable in the end. Even better, think how many extra people will now be looking forward to the next game that 2D Boy develops.

One of the biggest challenges facing indie developers is finding an appropriate pricing model, and many developers with interesting games price themselves out of the market, because it's very hard to even define "the market" when it comes to PC game pricing. It's quite brilliant, though, given those difficulties, to let the customer define the market instead.

Look at it this way: how many indie developers have ever said "I sold too many copies at too low a price, and that's why I failed"?

Thanks to hippo for sending me the links to this story.

The Beatles: Rock Band, LEGO Rock Band, And Band Hero

I've almost reached four million points in my drum career in The Beatles: Rock Band. That puts me around 4,600 on the leaderboards, so I'm in the top five percent, but there are still at least 15-20 songs on Expert that I haven't five-starred yet.

Snare rolls, in particular, are my nemesis.

I do have gold stars on seven songs, which is always a special treat (because I don't get many of them). And I need to apologize to Ringo, clearly, because his drum lines are very clever and tremendously fun to play.

So my interest in TB: RB hasn't waned at all, and I'm really looking forward to both Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (November) and Rubber Soul (December).

However, and I think this speaks to the general genre saturation at this point, I have no interest in LEGO Rock Band. While I am deeply enamored of both LEGO and Rock Band separately, I have no real desire to see them together, and the song list is interesting but not desperately necessary. It's just not worth buying the game for $60 [correction: it's $50, although the same rationale applies at that price] just to pay another $10 to export the songs. I'd rent the game and pay the $10, but the one-time code prevents that option.

I think I have roughly 300 songs between RB, RB2, and RB:TB, so I have plenty to keep me busy.

Band Hero? Zero interest as well. The pop angle is interesting, and it might sell decently, but it's not for me.

I don't know how anyone has time to play more than one instrument, let alone more than one game. Once I started playing the drums, it's taken almost 100% of my time, just because of the sheer amount of learning required to get better. So even without LRB, there are oceans of content I'm not even touching.

I can't believe it--apparently, I'm saturated.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Updated Madden Sliders

Post-patch "play" sliders are finally completed, and there are a few new Coach mode changes as well. Please go here to see the changes.

The goal, as always, was to be as realistic as possible while still being difficult for the Human player.

A Clean Well-Lighted Dungeon: Torchlight Impressions

A one-sentence of summary of Torchlight: it's like drinking candy.

Everyone I talk to who's played this game has suggestions on how it could have been improved, and many of those suggestions are valid. In end, though, their conclusion is always some variation of "it's like drinking candy." No matter what could have been different, Torchlight hits that absolute sweet spot where gaming consumes us.

Only rarely do I play a game that is such a pure experience that I stop being consciously aware of what I'm doing, becoming instead a kind of purely instinctive organism. This is just that kind of game.

In other words, if you haven't played Torchlight, it's imperative that you do so.

Now, for those of us who already have the game, let's briefly discuss what might have been done differently. That's a short list, at least to me.

My single biggest disappointment was fishing. I was hoping that fishing would be a stout mini-game, but instead, it's very simple--when two rings converge and turn red, click the mouse and get a fish.

Here's what I wanted: a mechanic with "call and response" gameplay, where certain rod positions required left or right clicks on the mouse. This is fairly common in dedicated fishing games, and it would have been easy to adapt the mechanic for use here.

The more correct reponses needed to land a fish, the bigger the fish could potentially be. So the length of time spent fighting the fish would be variable, and it would be possible to lose a fish right up to the moment it was landed.

I also wanted to see how many different species of fish I'd caught, as well as how many I was missing. And if I caught them all, I wanted some kind of reward--maybe a special bit of armor that resembled a fishing vest, or a goofy fishing hat, both of which would fit into the game's sense of humor. Even sillier, there could be a special fly rod awarded that could cast lures near mobs to pull a few at a time (due to their curiousity over the lure). Torchlight is a funny game, and I think a well-developed fishing mechanic would make it even funnier.

I still like fishing, and the core idea of feeding fish to your pet to temporarily turn it into all kinds of creatures is wonderful. It's just that I wanted to see more.

The other area of the game that I felt could have been improved was enchanting. Enchantments are so powerful, and there's so little risk to having them done, that they quickly become more important than the base weapon, which tends to make rare equipment much less important, because a less powerful piece of equipment can just be enchanted over and over again. Yes, enchantments can fail (though not very often), and in rare cases all enchantments can be wiped from a weapon, but I wanted more risk than that. I wanted both the risk of cursing a weapon (which is entirely logical in an enchantment system) and actually destroying a weapon (again, a logical consequence of enchantments).

I think enchantments would become much more meaningful, with a much greater cause for celebration, if they were riskier (and more expensive). And if every successive enchantment placed on a weapon added to the cumulative risk, enchantments would be a time to hold our breath instead of being such a casual moment.

Cursing, in particular, would open up some interesting gameplay strategies. If I had a tremendously powerful weapon, but a curse temporarily lowered my armor class every time I used it, it would totally affect how I played the game, and I'd enjoy having to make those kinds of decisions. It would also be interesting if some curses weren't explained, just a "Hmm--this weapon looks a bit strange now" comment from the enchanter to let us know that something had gone wrong. Then it would be up to us to discover what woe had befallen our equipement.

After having said all that, though, allow me to mention this just one more time: it's like drinking candy.

Oh, and if you're curious about the team (Runic Games) who put this game together, Eric Leslie of the Immortal Machines podcast has an excellent interview with all of them, which you can download here.

The Great Los Angeles Swindle

The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, And Scandal During The Roaring Twenties is the epic (that's EPIC) story of swindler C.C. Julian, stock promoter and dispenser of dreams extraordinaire.

Julian started a company in the early 1920s to buy drilling rights in some newly-discovered Southern California oil fields, then acquired money to begin drilling through a long series of masterful newspaper advertisements promoting the company. "Masterful" doesn't begin to describe them, really--as advertisements, they're works of art.

This was during an era when Los Angeles (and Southern California in general) was awash cash and an appetite for risk that has rarely been matched. The general speculative frenzy might not have compared to tulip speculation in 17th century Holland, but surely, it was close.

Into this sea of willing fools stepped promoters of all kinds, many of them outright grifters, but many more with at least a vein of credibility. Julian fell into the latter category, his lies so thoroughly blended with truths that he generally sounded far more credible than a truly honest man.

Julian successfully sold out several stock issues to support his ventures--well, "sold out" is an understatement. He, um, more than sold out. Far more, in fact, but his "largesse" benefitted public figures so thoroughly that almost no one wanted to stop him. The resulting scandal, which landeded with a Tunguska-like impact, was as epic as the degree of the original fraud.

The Great Los Angeles Swindle is both a snapshot of an era (the Roaring Twenties), an area (southern California during an unprecedented boom), and of human nature in general, because what happened in this story has happened since time began (I assume that Neanderthal promoters were oversubscribing shares in mammoth hunts, but I can't prove it--yet).

This is an absolutely brilliant book, so well-written, telling a story so outrageous that if it were fiction, it would be dismissed as unbelievable. Author Jules Tygiel is deftly skilled, and this has been my favorite book of the year so far.

Incredibly, this book is out of print, but if you're interested, here's an Amazon link for used copies:
The Great Los Angeles Swindle.

Anvil: The Story Of Anvil

We finally watched Anvil: The Story Of Anvil last week.

Anvil is a seminal heavy metal band that enoyed a brief burst of fame with their album "Metal On Metal" in the early 1980s. They influenced everyone in that genre, basically, but their influence never translated into commercial success.

Incredibly, they kept recording, and they've been releasing records in virtual obscurity for the last twenty-five years, still trying to make it back into the spotlight.

So a former roadie made a documentary about them.

If you've been hearing that this is the real-life version of Spinal Tap, it's true. This is absolutely Spinal Tap in the real world, and it's hilarious. I cannot overstate how much you'll enjoy this movie if you enjoyed ST.

Since it's about real people, though, it's a more human film. It's much more poignant to see a real-life Don Quixote with a guitar. And the fellows in the band are utterly likable, which makes their struggle that much more compelling.

This is a film about being married to rock or roll, for better or for worse. It's one of the best music documentaries I've ever seen.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Eli 8.3

Eli's developing a sense of humor that is entirely his own.

"Eli, why didn't you eat the cheese I packed in your lunch?" Gloria asked last week. Eli is notorious for not eating much of his lunch.

"Mom, I didn't LIKE the cheese," Eli said.

"Didn't like it?" she asked. "You eat it at home every day!"

"I know," he said, "but it tastes DIFFERENT when it's been inside that small container."

"What?" she asked, laughing.

"I know!" he said. "How is that possible? What is he talking about? And why is he talking to himself?"

Last Thursday, we were all in Eli's room just before it was time for lights out, and Gloria noticed that it was warmer than usual. "Why is it so hot in here when it's cold outside?" she asked.

Instantly, Eli said, "It must be because I'M SMOKIN'!"

I was making Eli a snack.

"Hey buddy," I said, "Do you want some wolfpack cheese?"

"Wolfpack cheese?" he asked. "What's that?"

"It's where you tear the cheese from the block in chunks instead of cutting it," I said. "Just like a wolf would tear a kill with his teeth."

"Oh wow, that sounds gr--hey, wait a minute! Are you just trying to get out of having to cut the cheese?"

"No, absolutely not," I said. "Yes."


Where The Wild Things Are

I never expected Spike Jonze to make a grown-up movie about a children's book, but that's what he's done.

The film version of Where The Wild Things Are takes the 388 words of Maurice Sendak (which would barely fill two pages of a regular book) and turns them into a 94 minute feature film. In the process, he turns a children's story into a dark, heroic fantasy--a film for grown-ups, not children, although older children will still like it very much.

The island where the wild things are is no longer such a benign place, and the wild things are not so easily tamed. Sendak's classic book placed Max's journey nominally into the mythic context of the hero's journey, and Jonze chooses this aspect to expand into a full-fledged conflict. The wild things are lonely, angry, and frustrated--they don't know how to love or be loved, although they desperately want to do both--and in this way, they are a mirror of Max's own personality.

So it's the hero's journey, but as Max struggles with the wild things, he's really struggling with himself. It's beautiful, often very funny, and just as often very sad. I don't cry in movies, but I was near tears many times, seeing so much sadness and so little understanding of what it means to be happy.

I know I'm making it sound like this film is just a gigantic buzzkill, but that's not the case. It has many moments of exuberance and buoyance, moments that make the sadness all the more poignant. The wild things are nothing short of wonderful, both in their physical appearance and the voice-acting, which is just superb.

So it's not the book, nor could it be, but it's a tremendously faithful and respectful adapation, an incredible creative achievement. It's just not made for children, and I think that's why the reviews have been mixed. Eli 8.2 really enjoyed it, but I wouldn't recommend taking anyone who is younger, because like I said, it's very dark in places.

If you are a grown-up who still feels like a kid sometimes, though, this will be an overwhelming and wonderful experience.

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