Thursday, June 30, 2011


From Eurogamer:
It is impossible to delete save data from upcoming Nintendo 3DS game Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, according to a new report.

No sale, assholes.

This was an admittedly ingenious move by Capcom to gut used game sales of their product.

Of course, Capcom denies this, in spectacularly convoluted fashion:
In a post on the Capcom Unity blog, community manager Shawn Baxter explained that the move wasn't an attempt to curtail used game sales, but is in fact in keeping with the title's "arcade fighting game" feel.

"There was no intention of lessening the experience of the game," read the post.

"Essentially, RE Mercs was treated like an arcade fighting game. You unlock characters, levels, etc and they just stay unlocked as they would in an arcade machine.

"There was no hidden motive to prevent buying used copies. It's not some secret form of DRM. It's simply the way we designed the save system to work with the arcade type of gameplay."

This is equivalent to finding a bag of dogshit on my porch, and when I confront the owner, he blames the dog.

Okay, maybe it's not exactly equivalent to that, but having a dog put his own shit in a bag and leave it on someone's porch is more likely than Capcom's explanation.

Why? Because if it was such a unique and fantastic feature, they would have mentioned it before now. Seriously, they didn't mention this--once--until now. And if this had nothing to do with used game sales, why change the experience for someone buying the game used by having everything already available that was unlocked by the previous player?

Here's how stupid this is, and believe me, it's stupid. Let's say that this was an age-appropriate game for Eli 9.10, and he really wanted to play.

He couldn't.

He couldn't have his own game. Or, if he did, I couldn't. That is just f-ing ridiculous.

Here's the other big lie: cutting down used game sales would save the consumer money, because more new copies would be bought, and games would cost less. Remember that industry trope? Two words to that: horse and shit.

New prices are never going to be reduced due to a reduction in used game sales. They will never be reduced due to fewer pirated copies. That is a fairy tale.

Someone e-mailed me last week and said they felt that all the game industry was trying to do now was strip value from their games.

Boy, that feels true right now.

Follow-up to the Follow-up

I think James Prendergast makes some excellent points here:
With regards to your post on the Fender pro-guitar for rock band.... I never understood why they just didn't have a pitch-detector akin to a chromatic tuner. This would allow any instrument to be plugged in (as long as you told it whether you were playing a bass or a normal guitar etc.) and would even allow for violins, trumpets and other instruments (though special adapters that looked like mufflers would have to be developed for brass).

The other thing that they should have done with the song authoring tools was partner with a social networking site like myspace or facebook and integrate the backend of their system into an app on iPhone and other handheld devices. Just imagine being able to write a song in pro mode, have you and your friends locally or separately record the parts and have the RB networking system put it all together and stick it on your "band page" (from the game's band name) on its very own myspace page - or push that band's content to "fans" on facebook.

I know how bright the people at Harmonix are, so I have to assume that there are technical obstacles to the "pitch-detector" approach.

Well, one problem would be that I'm not sure how many people keep their guitars in proper tune.

But I do believe that should be the ultimate goal, once the technical obstacles are solved--playing the game with our own guitars.

Who knows? Maybe the relative failure of the Squier pushes Harmonix into spending more time trying to solve the technical issues invovled with using our own guitars.

I think the second point James makes is also extremely interesting, and I think it's fair to say at this point that EVERY game that wants to be a "lifestyle" game needs to have some kind of content available for mobile apps and social networking sites.

It's a simple equation: the more time people spend talking about your game, the less time they have to play other games. And the easier it is for people to share content on social networking sites, the more potential customers will be exposed to facets of the game, and some of those potential customers will become actual customers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Your Squier Comments

Interesting e-mail that touches on several facets of the Squier era, which (sadly) did not last very long.

First, from Brian Witte:
So I actually bought a Fender Squier for Rock Band...and took it back 3 weeks later. I was hoping to use it to learn to play guitar, but it was just an awful experience. The plinking of the muted strings felt fake, and the guitar was out of tune with the mute down (I could tune the open strings, but the fretted notes were off. Plus, the open strings wouldn't even stay in tune for 2 songs in a row) I ended up buying a real guitar for roughly the same price. I've, um, stalled a bit on learning, but at least I can recognize the chords I try to strum. I really wish the Squier had worked better. I'd been looking forwards to it since it was announced.

My experience with the Squier was certainly better than Brian's, but it's absolutely true that nothing felt quite right when the string mute was engaged. Like I said, it was incredibly ambitious for Harmonix to try this, and while it's entirely amazing that they brought a product to market (and created an entire instructional guide to learning, essentially), the Frankenstein effect meant that it was a real guitar, but it wasn't--it had all the parts, but they didn't quite work together as well as we'd hoped.

Neil Yamamoto had this to say:
I still think the major problem with the release of RB3 was the complete lack of hardware support at launch. No MIDI controllers, no Squiers in stores at release - and it took months before they were available. Months! Blown opportunity.

That's true. Harmonix wanted to get out of the peripheral business, and they did, but the partners they chose didn't seem to hold up their end of the bargain.

Also, the lack of retail support was brought up by Cory Birdsong, and I think it's an excellent point:
The situation is highly unfortunate, but the Squier is the expensive niche of an expensive, difficult niche, and it really needed some retail care that it did not receive. Harmonix signed Best Buy as the exclusive retail partner for the Squire, and my local Best Buy took their two units and shoved them in a pile of guitar boxes in the far-out-of-the-way musical instrument aisle. I had to search to even find that they were there, and I already knew what the Squier was.

This is not obviously a recipe for a successful product, and they probably would've done far better had they had consoles set up in Guitar Center, where the average salesperson could probably play the guitar and show people how Pro Mode works.

Here's the problem: whether it was Best Buy or Guitar Center or Wal-Mart, Harmonix needed a retail partner that was enthusiastic about the product. They needed a 100% partner that would evangelize for the product. Instead, it seems that everyone they partnered with was 100% half-ass.

I don't know how the math works on that, but it can't be good.

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #14

Trailbreaker John Harwood weighs in this week with a change of course:
Okay, so I've successfully pulled myself away from Grand Prix Story (My wife hates you, by the way. Again), LOTRO, iRacing, and the Hunger Games books for a whopping 4 hours this past week and managed to squeeze in some guitar time! Not all that much interesting to discuss progress-wise, other than my fingers do hurt a bit after a month+ of no play, but no blisters at least. I don't seem to have had much degredation in skill since I last played, which just confirms there wasn't any there to begin with. I played through a few things on bass in RB3 and realized that I'm really just using it as a controller that has strings instead of buttons (might as well be the Mustang) and not really learning to play guitar. 

Which brings me to my next realization: RB3 and the Squier aren't going to teach you to play the guitar.

I know this has been mentioned before and isn't groundbreaking, but it finally struck me. The best I'm going to get is to play the Squier like it's the Mustang and work up some good callouses. It's possible that I could eventually get to where I can play bass semi-well, but I find the game actually encourages me *not* to expand my boundaries. Within the game that is. It does however continue to tease me with how cool it would be to actually learn to play guitar. RB3 provides all sorts of information, and it's a fantastic aide and checkpoint while learning via a proper method, but there's just not enough actual teaching going on in RB3. I think it'll continue to be a blast to play along with songs and as a tool to help me learn songs that I can then play on my own, but by itself, it's not going to get me there. So I am now re-motivated to learn by the failure of RB3 to help me learn.

To that end, I dropped off my Squier at Strait Music today to have it setup (only $20, thank you Strait!) and to the guy's credit, he didn't poo-poo it overly much, but he did point out that he doesn't know how well it's going to stay in tune due the lack of a deep anchor for the bridge. He took me over and showed me how a "real" real guitar goes all the way through to the back with a little plate covering it, but because of the need to make room for the electronics, the Squier's bridge is just surface mounted and he thinks that over time the string tension (aggravated by the mute, I'm going to try to keep that unmuted when not in use) coupled with the lack of deep anchor for the bridge is going to cause intonation issues. He doesn't think it'll need to be constantly worked on, but thought that it likely wouldn't stay in tune long and could need intonation adjustment every few months. So we'll see how that works out.

I should get the guitar back by the end of the day (thank you again, Strait!) and I then plan to pretend like it's just a guitar and go solely off of Justin's site and finally get my chords down and stop being afraid of them and see if I can make some progress. Good news is that's not as daunting of a prospect as it used to seem and getting my guitar setup has me very excited at sitting down with it and actually learning to play. 3 months after I got the silly thing.

Ignore that hurtful comment about his wife hating me. I am a highly positive influence on her husband. Sort of.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Like all of us, I've been watching the progress Star Wars: The Old Republic for a while now.


That's not unusual, for an MMO, but what is unusual, even before any announced release date, is the hype. I believe the hype and promotion for this game will exceed the marketing ever done for an MMO.

And I don't think it's going to work.


Let's first look at what's strongly in favor of this game, because in many ways, it's a supermodel. First, there's the Star Wars license, the gold standard of license. Then there's Bioware, which has a remarkable pedigree.

Good grief, do we even need to go any further?

We do.

First, we have Star Wars. All of us who grew up on Star Wars--well, most of us--are in our 40s and 50s now. I hate to say it, but we're not in our gaming prime anymore.

The people who are in their gaming primes have had less exposure to Star Wars than we did. Instead of only a handful of entertainment franchises like Star Wars, there are many, many more. Hell, almost EVERY franchise is long-running now, and I strongly believe that's significantly diluted the impact of the Star Wars brand.

I'd be willing to bet that if you took a poll of 14-19 year olds, more would prefer the Harry Potter series than Star Wars.

Bioware? They have demonstrated--many times--that they can create a superior RPG. They have not, however, proven that they can develop an MMO. Blizzard pulled it off, and incredibly well, but that doesn't mean Bioware can, and that's not meant as a slight of Bioware. It's just that compelling people to pay for a game on a monthly basis is entirely different from selling a game that has 30-50 hours of content. It's incredibly difficult, which is what makes Blizzard's success all the more remarkable.

Bioware, though, is the ace in the deck. The problem is the other cards.

This game began development in an era when "free to play" wasn't important. It is now, though--it's the single most significant trend in MMO games today. In truth, it's not really "free"--it's a revenue system based on microtransactions instead of monthly fees--but it's a brilliant strategy, because it requires no initial financial commitment on the part of players who want to see the game. It's a strategy that ensures every possible customer of your game will be able to experience the game.

There's nothing smarter than that. It maximizes the number of people who will be playing your game, as well as the number of people who will be talking about your game (and that's just as important).

It can be argued that a Star Wars MMO isn't going to be as dependent on initial player buzz, because the Star Wars brand ensures that "everyone" will check out the game. That may be partially true, but it's only true to a degree--a monthly fee is going to significantly reduce the exposure of the game.

I think this game is also going to run into serious problems with consumer choices. It's nothing short of incredible how many gaming choices we have right now. Not on console--the number of titles being released from mainstream publishers has gone down significantly--but the indie PC scene and the mobile scene have absolutely exploded.

Mobile games are largely designed to play in 5-15 minute bursts, and that's exactly how much time I have at any one point now, it seems. I'm also at home less, which makes gaming on a phone not just convenient but essential, if I still want to play.

That's a strong societal trend that any PC-based MMO is going to struggle with today.

WOW? It launched in 2004. Gaming on phones and tablets didn't exist. It was an entirely different consumer environment than it is today.

Am I saying that The Old Republic could be the best, biggest example of a product for a market that no longer exists? No, but that market has definitely, significantly shrunk.

All right, let's get to the bottom line here: will The Old Republic succeed? I think it depends on how you define "succeed." I strongly believe that there's no way TOR will become the dominant financial engine that EA is hoping for (or expecting). And that's not a comment on the quality of the product, because I believe the quality will be excellent. It's just that the game, in a business sense, is facing strong, strong headwinds, both in a business and cultural sense.

So if EA wanted to counter these headwinds, what would they do? Well, that's easy--they take the "freemium" model and make it free to play, with revenue generated by microtransactions. I don't think I've ever seen a case where freemium resulted in less revenue than a monthly fee model, no matter how much the old guard might dispute that.

They also need to make it possible to do something related to the game on mobile devices. Maybe it's a few mini-games you can play on your phone that would give your character some amount of experience. But it needs to be separate and distinct content that would keep a user playing when they weren't at their PC, because it keeps them in the game universe. Call it a sliver, for lack of a better term, and being able to experience slivers of content whenever you want, and no matter what kind of device you have, reinforces the notion of a dynamic universe.

It also gets people to play Angry Birds less, because whether EA likes it or not, those kinds of games are time competitors.

Supposedly, The Old Republic will be launching this holiday season, and with Star Wars: Galaxies officially shutting down December 15, it seems like the last two weeks of the year are prime candidates for a launch.

If it's a huge hit, please feel free to send me your Yoda quotes about how I am unwise.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Indie Bundles

Two indie game summer packs are newly available. The first is Indie Games Summer Six-Pack, which I've purchased, so I now have six games to play and utterly no time to play them. And I also purchased the Buy Games Not Socks indie bundle, which has five additional games I have no time to play.

Regardless, the games do look interesting, and certainly worthy of purchase, so head on over there and buy games. Socks are available at a later date.

Singular Brilliance

Well, I was depressed about the whole Rock Band situation, and I needed something to jolt me in a positive way. Then I saw this:

It's a CHEESEBURGER--shaped like a HOT DOG.

That's it in the bottom right of the picture. In spite of the fact that they didn't name it "Burgerdog," which seems like a missed opportunity, the fact remains that this is the kind of bold merging of styles that is exactly what, um, someone needs. For something.

I asked the clerk how they tasted. He said, "I've been here two years, but I've never wanted one," he said.

DOA, RIP, and Other Unfortunate Initials

On June 10, I posted that Fender had discontinued the Squier controller they'd created for Rock Band.

The post was made on a Friday, and I noted that I'd write more on Monday.

I didn't, though--other stories took over. And do you know how many e-mails I've gotten about it?


Three years ago, if I had promised a post about something related to Rock Band and then not written it, I would have gotten thirty e-mails. Or fifty. We all played, we were all having a great time, and I said several times that Rock Band was a lifestyle game.

And it was.

The Squier controller, and pro mode for guitar, was an incredibly ambitious project from a group of incredibly talented people. It definitely needed nurturing over a period of time to grow the base of people who wanted to learn to play guitar this way. This was a long-term commitment.

Except, for Fender, it wasn't.

I don't how many controllers they sold, but I'm guessing it wasn't that many, and it was well below expectations. Well, I'm not guessing, actually--this is from a Harmonix employee in the Rock Band forums:
...due to significant manufacturing lead times and the quantity currently available in the retail channel, Fender has decided not to place any more back orders for direct fulfillment. That would explain why, as some posters in this thread have pointed out, some music stores are unable to take back orders, but Squiers generally appear to be readily available at Best Buys.

In other words, whatever Fender had built, they built way too many. And while you might interpret that as meaning the Squier has not been discontinued, it would have been very simple for the Harmonix person to simply say that, but they didn't--they did a very careful dance around the specific question.

In other words: it's dead, Jim. I'd like to be wrong on that--but I don't think I am.

I had an indication early on that the Squier was in serious trouble, but I really hoped I was wrong, so for once, I didn't write about it. The tip-off was the leaderboards. I'd play a song on Easy, get three stars, and have some ridiculously high ranking on the leaderboards. On some songs that were DLC, I was in the top 100.

That told me two things right away: Pro mode DLC was selling very poorly, and so was the Squier.

Look, the people at Harmonix are incredibly bright. Even though the little plastic instrument genre has collapsed, and so (apparently) has the Squier, that doesn't mean they can't figure it out. There still might be a sustainable level of development that would keep the franchise alive.

It's also possible that there could be a technical breakthrough. The Squier feels like ass (compared to how a real guitar feels) with the mute bar pushed up (and you have to do that to use it in the game), but what would happen if--somehow--it was possible to use your own guitar in the game? Yes, I know there are lots and lots of technical issues involved with doing that properly, but like I said, these people are staggeringly bright.

I hope they figure it all out. I hope this isn't the death rattle of a brilliant, brilliant life.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Carlos Anllo, some absolutely mesmerizing photographs of the recent volcanic eruption in Chile. Carlos noted that the images wouldn't look out of place in the Lord Of The Rings universe, and he's right.

From Frank Regan, and it made me feel great to see Tim Thomas win the Stanley Cup, here's video of his 10 greatest saves.

From Scott Z., and this is story is nothing short of amazing: a fawn on a power line--and dropped there by a bald eagle.

From Robb, and this is fascinating, it's 5 fake sounds designed to help humans.

From Dib O, and this is a remarkable story: Kinect Hackers Are Changing the Future of Robotics.

Here's another terrific live concert performance of Hound Dog Taylor.

From Shane Courtrille, and this is incredibly ingenious new technology, complete with description:
Lytro is developing a new type of camera that dramatically changes photography for the first time since the 1800s. Rather than just capturing one plane of light, it captures the entire light field around a picture, all in one shot taken on a single device. A light field includes every beam of light in every direction at every point in time. Experimentation in this field started in the mid-1990s at Stanford with 100 cameras in one room. Lytro’s innovation is making it small enough to fit in your pocket. Really.

As a result you can refocus photos after the fact, wiggle around the orientation, and even show the photos in 3D.

That's just fantastic.

From George Paci, and this is quite amusing: Polar bears get the better of spy cameras.

Here's a story about a cat who steals things. A LOT of things.

Here's a fascinating story about the temperature of dinosaur blood.

If you're wondering what happened to the BitCoin market recently, here's a detailed explanation:
Inside The Mega-Hack Of Bitcoin: The Full Story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yesterday and Today: Your E-mail

Right out of the gate, David Alpern (a terrific writer who doesn't write much anymore, unfortunately) had this to say:
So you're complaining about how games aren't innovative anymore and game companies are focused entirely on sequels, and your example of how good things USED to be is Ultima... FOUR? Gosh, wasn't that a sequel? To a sequel? To a sequel? That spawned 5 more sequels, started the MMORPG craze, and had 4 sideqels (Ultima Underworld 1 and 2 and Worlds of Ultima 1 and 2)?

The man has a point.

Backstory: Ultima IV was the first computer game I ever played, and it made my Apple IIC one of the best investments of my life. For me, it will always be the high point of the Ultima series, because it focused on ideas far beyond those usually found in computer games (even to this day).

I'll defend the Ultima sequels, to a degree, because they were released two years apart, at least (well, before the franchise fell off a cliff). But I think David is right in the sense that it might have been the Ultima series that started the sequel train, not the Madden series.

He later sent in a follow-up:
You're also forgetting that back when you and I were playing Ultima 4, most other people were playing Time Pilot and Commando - that era's version of shooters.

That's true as well, but I think the difference is that there were so many excellent RPGs back then, and that kind of depth just doesn't exist anymore.

Loren Halek sent this in:
You've kind of made an arguable slippery slope in your game design post. There is a publicly traded company that has put out games with a vibrant world as well as one with a vibrant universe, both by the same company. Although I haven't played it, everything I've heard is that the original Dragon's Age (an original IP at the point it came out) fits into the same category as you are putting Skyrim (the fifth game in a series). Same goes for Mass Effect, but in a universe sense instead of a world one. Now both of those had sequels as well, although from everything I read Mass Effect 2 (which I played) was far better than Dragon Age II.

I got several e-mails along these lines, and most prominently, they always mentioned the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises as equivalent to Oblivion. But while they do qualify as RPGs, I don't think they're equivalent. I spent 30+ hours in Oblivion before I even touched the plot. I couldn't have done that in Mass Effect--the opening area was a "pod", if you will, and while it was large and full of interesting stuff, I had to progress through the plot to get out of there.

The point is still taken--public companies can put out large, open-world type games--but the number has steeply declined in the last decade, and I do think it's attributable, to some degree, to the pressure put on publicly traded companies to deliver yearly updates to core franchises. Well, and to some degree, the companies themselves have caused that pressure, because almost no one wants to release anything but a new version of a proven franchise now.

DQ Film Advisor and Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand weighed in with this:
You missed one point in your post about the difference between complex and elaborate--that is, it's harder to emulate complex than elaborate.

I can spend X dollars and hire other talented artists to put a visual spin on the same rail based design and call it a different game (ooh, look! It's snowing on a volcano), but they can't exactly do that with something unique in design.

And lord knows that in the big budget gaming world that imitation is the sincerest version of risk averse content production.

Yes. There are more competent artists out there than competent open-world game designers (by a factor of a jillion), so it's much more scalable to make a game look great than be unique.

Lastly, Garth Pricer sent in a thoughtful analysis:
Complex open-world RPGs are still out there, even if they don’t come with the pack-in feelies like the old Gold Box/SSI and Infocom games did. You mentioned Skyrim, but there’s also Fallout (New Vegas, if you want a non-Bethesda studio) and Stalker (for a more shooter themed entry). Dragon Age is a little more structured, as is Mass Effect, and maybe they would have made for a better (if not as stark) comparison between RPGs then and now. It is clear that the graphical expectations for ‘AAA titles’ are expensive in terms of dev time and result in more streamlined experiences (or a buggier implementation of those non-core features). Bioware has struggled with the pressure of making sufficient profits to appease their publisher and it showed in the compressed development time they were allotted for Dragon Age 2. Big publishers apparently aren’t content to release a niche success any more. And maybe that’s the real tragedy. When you have guys like Greg Zeschuk believing that their RPG releases must compete with Modern Warfare, naturally they are setting themselves up for failure. Not only will they not be successful in somehow tricking twitch gamers into buying complex RPGs, but in streamlining their games to court that audience, they will also alienate a good chunk of their existing fanbase.

As always, thanks for the excellence you guys always display in sending timely and thoughtful e-mail.

NBA Draft

I don't watch much college basketball anymore (because if you're not a fan of a specific team, the quality has sunk so low that it's unwatchable), but I always watch some of the NCAA tournament, even if it's just for nostalgia's sake.

The NBA Draft is tonight, and it reminded me that I saw one kid in the tournament who I thought was going to be a star in the NBA: Kawhi Leonard.

He played for San Diego St. (unlikely, right?), and he's strong and incredibly hard-working. Averaged a double-double in college. I saw him play three games, and he was terrific in all three.

I've read in several places where this is supposedly the weakest draft in the last two decades (again, I'm not surprised, given the quality of play), but I think this guy is going to have a great career.


We were eating at McAlister's Deli before summer hockey league. It's about fifteen minutes from our house.

"Dad, I know how to get home from here," Eli 9.10 said.

"Well, tell me, then," I said. When I was a kid, I couldn't get more than six blocks from my house without getting lost.

"We go out of the parking lot and go left ," he said. "Then we go straight down and turn right at Einstein's, turn left at the next right, and stay on the access road. Go under the highway, then at Arbor Walk, get on the highway at the light. We go past The Domain and take the exit by Randall's. We turn right on the parkway, right past the pool, and we're home."

"That is amazing," I said. "Totally excellent use of landmarks, buddy. I'm really, really impressed."

"I could walk home if I needed to," he said.

"There are situations where it would be priceless to have that knowledge," I said. "For instance, if there's a zombie apocalypse."

"Not my first scenario, but okay," he said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This man is my neighbor (and an extremely nice fellow):

Also, he is Fitcarraldo. At least, he's the Fitzcarraldo I remembered from Warner Herzog's film, even though I was remembering it wrong. In my memory, the rubber baron is trying to haul the giant steamship over the mountains to build an opera house in the jungle.

Wrong. Vaguely similar, but incorrect. However, please remember the image of this incorrect Fitzcarraldo as we continue.

When my neighbor started living in his house, the front yard was xeriscaped, and not well. He decided that he would replace the crappy xeriscaping with an actual lawn.

That was over three months ago. The picture was taken yesterday.

He quickly found out that when you dig down more than a couple of inches, you're hitting rock. So the rock had to be dug out (that's the mountain of soil in the picture). Then the yard had to be aerated several times. Then everything had to be leveled before new soil was spread on top. Somewhere in there, a sprinkler system was installed.

Then he decided to do the back yard at the same time. Which, incredibly was in worse shape than the front yard. Oh, and he needed a new fence.

He purchased two pallets of grass (you can see it in the picture), which has now essentially died because all the prep work took so much time.

I think it might have been easier to haul the steamship over the mountain.

Ken Yankelevitz

I had never heard of Ken Yankelevitz before reading this article (thanks Brad Gallaway):
...a Montana engineer whose hobby is hand-making unique controllers to give quadriplegics access to video games usually requiring two hands.

It's an entirely amazing story--Yankelevitz has been custom-making controllers for over 30 years, and selling them to quadraplegic gamers at a price that just covers the cost of the parts.

Unfortunately, it's a sad story as well, because Yankelevitz is nearing his 70th birthday and there's no one to (some day) carry on his fine work.

Kickstarter: Graham Wilkinson

You guys know that I've linked to Graham Wilkinson's music on more than one occasion. He's an amazing musician and an incredibly nice guy, and I know that some of you enjoy his music as much as I do.

He has a Kickstarter project to support his new EP here, so go check it out if you get a chance.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Eli 9.10 went to San Antonio for a field trip with his class the last week of school.

"Dad, we're going to The Alamo," he said, as he left for school.

"Bring me a piece back, would you?" I asked.

That afternoon, when he got back home, I was in my study.

"Dad!" he said, bursting in. "You won't believe it?"

"Won't believe what?" I said. "I won't believe that The Alamo was exciting. Anything else, I'd believe."

"No, it was totally boring," he said. "But I GOT YOU A PIECE." He held out his hand and showed me this:


"You didn't, like, take a sledgehammer to the Alamo, did you?"

He started laughing. "No, it just fell off."

Gloria walked in to the study. "I think we need to talk about this," she said, ominously.

"Mom, I swear, I--"

He and Gloria started laughing their asses off.


Sure, you can look at it and say, "That looks nothing like The Alamo." But I lacked a frame of reference for dealing with what was seemingly a stolen piece of The Alamo.

This was an act of revenge.

The weekend before his trip to The Alamo, Eli and Gloria went to Inner Space Cavern, and the cavern has an interesting history:
Inner Space Cavern was discovered by a Texas Highway Department core drilling team in the Spring of 1963. While drilling through 40 feet of solid limestone, the bit broke into what is now known as Inner Space Cavern.

They wound up diverting an interstate to accommodate the cavern, or rather, so the interstate wouldn't collapse.

I'd been there, a long time ago, and Eli was pumping me with questions, being a little nervous about his first trip into the mythic structures he'd read about so often. I answered all his questions, reassuring him that there was nothing to worry about, and that there would be absolutely nothing dangerous.

Well, almost.

"The only thing I can think of that you need to look out for are cave bears," I said.

"WHAT? You're joking," he said.

"Not joking," I said. "You know about blind cave fish, right? They lose both their vision and their pigment over time, because the cave is in absolute darkness. Cave bears are like that, too--blind and albino. Great senses of smell, though."

"How many are there?" he asked. He was nervous, but trying hard not to show it.

"Oh, not many," I said. "It's not like there's enough food down there."

"But we're---oh," he said.

"Listen, it's not really that dangerous," I said. "I mean, you'll hear the roar."


"Sure, and you're tiny compared to the grown-ups," I said. "Why would a bear go after you first?"

"You must be joking," he said.

"No," I said. "I am absolutely joking."

"I'm not sure I--you ARE joking!" he said.

"Yes, I am," I said, and I started laughing.

"How did I believe THAT?" he asked, slapping his palm on his forehead. "How do I not KNOW BETTER?"

"Because I'm good," I said, and he started laughing.

This Is Getting Quite Nasty

This is the situation down here:

Remember how we had a 100-year drought about three years ago? Believe it or not, this one is worse. There have been two droughts worse than this in the last 116 years.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yesterday and Today

Gaming in 1985:


Gaming in 2011:
Before I get started, let me emphasize that I'm not talking about the indie scene, which is still incredibly vibrant (thank goodness). No, I'm talking about the big studios, who have seen a remarkable degree of creative decay in the last five years.

So what the hell happened?

First,  the single-player campaigns of most games aren't even games anymore--they're movies. Wonder why the single-player campaign of your favorite FPS only lasts six hours? It's because it's incredibly difficult to make a six-hour movie, let alone something longer.

Really, it's probably more accurate to say that instead of movies, games are like the old mine cart amusement park ride. You get on the cart, it goes forward on rails, and surprising things pop out at you along the way. Welcome to the world of the corridor shooter. It's not a game. It's a ride, or a guided tour.

Why would anyone want to make a game like that?

Well, like I said, making a six hour movie is hard--but, and this is important, it's easier than making a real game.

Think about Ultima IV and the amount of content contained in the game. Sure, there was a storyline that needed completion, but the sheer number of things you could do as a player were absolutely amazing.

That story, and that level of interaction, required a complex game design and an incredible amount of detail.

Today? Modern Warfare 55 is not complex. It's just a corridor, and you run through that corridor shooting at shit and blowing things up. Complicated world design? No. Elaborate set pieces? Yes.

Games used to be complex. Now they're elaborate. It's a huge difference. And I think in a design sense, it's much easier to make an elaborate game than a complex one. It certainly doesn't require as much skill.

Also, and this is very, very important, the big publishing companies are now almost entirely sequel-driven. It would be impossible to churn out a complex game in a franchise every year. An elaborate one? Hell, yes.

I think there's another factor that's been understated, and it's the role of analysts. Most gaming analysts aren't gamers, and if you're trying to get them to buy into a complex, dynamic world, it's going to be extremely difficult. They don't want nuance. It's hard to market complex.

It's easy to market boom.

So companies like Bethesda (bless them), are swimming against the rancid tide when they put out a game like Skyrim. Good grief, when you think about it, how many publicly traded companies have put out a game with a truly complex, vibrant world in the last three years?

Slim pickings out there.

If Bethesda was part of a publicly traded company, I don't think the Elder Scrolls series would even still exist.

Fortunately, the barriers to access for indie developers is almost zero these days. They don't have to churn out a game every year, they don't have to please their stockholders, and they don't have to sell two million copies to cover their gigantic advertising budget.

Thank goodness.


Eli 9.10 was in a hockey camp last week.

For him, it was hockey heaven. He skated 3.5 hours a day, which is the most he's ever skated in his life. He also still played in his summer league game on Monday night--and subbed in the second game, too.

There was one thing he had to adjust to, though, and that was the coaches.

These coaches weren't mean, by any standards. They were just more hard-nosed than he was used to, because he's generally had very benign coaches, in terms of temperament.

It made me think about the coaches I'd had, and how some of them made me feel just terrible, because they yelled so much, and I always--always--took it personally.

I couldn't quite understand how to frame it for Eli, because I really couldn't frame it for myself. As I kept thinking about it, though, I finally understood.

That afternoon, I took him to Whataburger for a snack before his last ice session. "So let's talk about coaches," I said. "I want to explain how some of them work."

"How's that?" he asked.

"Some coaches are just like babies," I said.


"Remember how you asked me what it was like to care for a baby, and I told you it was really tough, because all babies could do when they needed to communicate something was cry? So a baby might need food, or its diaper changed, or need to be held, but all it can do is cry, and you have to figure out what the crying means?"

"I remember that," he said.

"Well, lots of coaches are just like that," I said, "because when they need to communicate something--"

"They yell!" Eli said.

"That's right," I said. "They yell, and just like a baby, that's the only way they can communicate. It's your job to extract the data and ignore the volume."

"I can do that," he said.

Having said all that, it drives me batshit insane that coaches are somehow allowed a different standard of conduct than the rest of humanity, but that's a topic for another day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Jonathan Arnold, and it's quite a find: the Newspaper Map. Over 10,000 newspapers pushpinned on a world map and linked to Google Translate.

Sent in by Josh Eaves, this is absolutely one of the freakiest things I've ever seen: Science Scientists Combine Human Cell, Jellyfish Into Living Laser.

Here's a link of an epic walk home, stitched together from UK security cameras: Stumbling Home. This man is obviously channeling John Cleese.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, a remarkable discovery: Huge Magnetic Bubbles May Churn at Solar
System's Edge

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash column has a new installment, and this week, it's about privacy: The Open World.

From Mr. Fritz, and this is definitely NSFT, but man, is it funny: Go the F**k to Sleep - read by Samuel L. Jackson.

From The Edwin Garcia links machine, and I don't think anyone thought this was possible: Self-taught metallurgist creates lighter, stronger steel in a flash.

From Brian Shilling, and this is entirely obscure and wonderful: The Unsung Heroes of Biscuit Embossing.

From George Paci, a very clever bit of satire that mocks the current state of journalism as it relates to science: This is a news website article about a scientific paper. Also from George, and this is phenomenal technology, but chilling at the same time (think 'The Commissar Vanishes'): diminished reality.

From Mike Dunn, the news that Gaming Trend has relaunched.

From Michael M., and this is an amazing image: ash drifting from Chilean volcano.

From Sirius, and this is quite remarkable: Australian built Hoverbike prepares for takeoff. Also, and these are quite incredible images, it's A bug's life: Photographer captures flies in exquisite detail by snapping each one 687 times through a microscope.

From Michael Hughes, and this might come in handy: How To Make 2D Glasses for 3D Movies.

Dave Tyrrell sent in a link to the new 2011 US Women’s National Soccer Team Kit. That, by itself, would be unremarkable, but I dare you to look at the jersey and not think "naughty nurse outfit."

How could this possibly go wrong? 'Didn't expect' to lose finger, says man who shot off wart.

Steven Kreuch sent in a link to a lovely, melancholy web site, and instead of trying to describe it, I'll just say hit the link, because it's worth it: Dear Photograph.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Games At E3

As promised, here are the games I'm looking forward to that were shown at E3:
The Cursed Crusade
Dark Souls
Desktop Dungeons (I know, it's playable now, but I still wanted to mention it)
From Dust
Papa & Yo

I'm sure there are more, I'm sure I've forgotten a few, but there's the basic list. Yes, it's short. I'm going to write about that next week.

There's Been Worse

I'm sure you're thinking that this must be EA's worst idea ever:
We just started construction on our first North American EA SPORTS retail store, which will open this fall in the Charlotte, NC, airport. It is the first of what we hope to be at least three new retail stores to open in the next year, and it’s a place people will be able to interact and buy their favorite EA SPORTS games.

Madness is such a strange disease.

However, believe it or not, that is NOT the worst idea EA has ever had. I refer you to the magic that was 2005:
The Sims is about to get a little more into The Real World. Electronic Arts has reportedly been pitching the idea of a reality television show based on the life simulator to several television production companies. While no plans have yet been given the green light, EA does have a few ideas on what a Sims television show would be like.

Jan Bolz, vice president of marketing and sales for EA Europe, told Reuters: "One idea could be that you're controlling a family, telling them when to go to the kitchen and when to go to the bedroom, and with this mechanism you have gamers all over the world 'playing the show."

Just try to top that with an incredibly stupid retail store concept. Can't be done.

I'm Surprised That Anyone Is Suprised

Jeff Pinard sent me a link to an Ars Technica story about The Redner Group, the PR firm that was repping Duke Nukem.

It seems that they didn't take kindly to reviews of Duke Nukem Forever. Jim Redner even went on their Twitter account to voice his displeasure:
too many went too far with their reviews...we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn't based on today's venom.
Instant outrage.

2K Games quickly responded with this:
2K Games does not endorse the comments made by Jim Redner and we can confirm that The Redner Group no longer represents our products. We have always maintained a mutually-respectful working relationship with the press and do not condone his actions in any way.

At least not in public.
Yes, Redner was being a douchebag, but all he did wrong was publicly acknowledge what everyone has already been doing. Remember what I wrote about two months ago? Hardballing access and advertising dollars based on review scores is already widespread.

2K will just replace them with another PR group that does the exact same thing, but privately.

I do think it's very funny that they were somehow expecting high review scores for a game that started development in the pre-automobile era. It's like the Abbot Downing Company releasing a new Concord Stagecoach in 2011 and then bitching about the critical reception.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wayne Gould Sudoku

Here's a very cool note: DQ reader Scott Gould let me know that he has just finished "Wayne Gould Sudoku" for Windows Phone. It features 250 free puzzles (50 of each grade), and can be found on the Windows Phone Marketplace under "Wayne Gould Sudoku Lite".

Why is a Suduko game named after Wayne Gould? Well, because he's the guy who popularized Sudoku outside Japan, and his puzzles are unmatched. Time magazine named him one of the World's Most Influential People in 2006, because Sudoku has become an embedded part of our culture, thanks to him.

Scott is his son, a long-time DQ reader, and a great e-mailer as well.

An Entirely Wonderful Article

A bunch of you guys sent me a link to this article: The 6 Most Ominous Trends in Video Games. It's written by David Wong, and it is absolutely dead-on.

Tim Thomas

I already had a tremendous amount of respect for Tim Thomas, but I just looked at his career stats, and I have even more.

Here's where Thomas played (in order, some teams more than once) after the University of Vermont:
--Birmingham Bulls (ECHL)
--Houston Aeros (IHL)
--HIFK Helsinki (Finland)
--Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
--HIFK Helsinki (Finland)
--Detroit Vipers (IHL)
--AIK Solna (Sweden)
--Karpat Oulu (Finland)
--Providence Bruins (AHL)
--Jokerit Helsinki (Finland)
--Providence Bruins (AHL)

Nine years in the minors. Eleven different teams. Four different countries.

I think almost anyone, at some point, would have given up. Somehow, though, he persevered.

The Netminder

Last fall, when Eli 9.10 first started playing goalie for the house team, he was one of four goalies, and at best, he was third out of the four.

The best goalie was a kid named Stewart (name changed, obviously). Stewart was much bigger than Eli and had three years more experience, and he was good. He was much better than Eli.

He was also pretty cocky, and loved to draw attention to himself.

Eli hated admitting that Stewart was a good goalie.

"Look," I said, driving home from practice one night, "Stewart almost never makes a great save. But he always, always makes the saves he should make. It's not flashy, but it makes him very effective."

"I know," he grumbled, "but why does he always have to brag? He's always telling everyone how good he is, and he rubs it in every time he beats me."

"I know that's hard," I said, "but some day you're going to be better than he is, and you're going to beat him, and you know what you're going to do?"

"What?" he asked.

"You're going to walk up to him and say, 'Stewart, good game'," I said. "And you're never going to brag, because if you're good, you don't need to brag, and if you're not good, you've got nothing to brag about."

"I like that," he said.

That was about six months ago.

In summer, the kids still get together once a month (even the ones who aren't playing in the summer league) and have an hour-long scrimmage. It's intense--there are referees and timekeepers, and the kids play very hard.

In the May game, Eli was in goal against Stewart. I wrote about that--it was the day he hurt his thumb later at soccer practice, but he'd beaten Stewart 4-1 earlier in the day.

On Sunday, we were driving to the rink for the June scrimmage, and Eli wasn't very confident. He was facing Stewart again, and he'd only played in goal once since getting his cast off. "I don't think I'm beating Stewart today," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I haven't played!" he said.

"You knocked the rust off on Monday," I said. "If you just do what need to do--stay on your angle, be aggressive, and stay focused--you'll play great. And this is a good challenge, because you're not always going to feel sharp going into a game."

As I was helping him get dressed out, I asked him how he was feeling. "Confident," he said, and he smiled.

In the first five minutes, he had five saves, and three of them were quality saves. I knew then that he was going to play well. He was playing at the top of the crease or higher, using his quickness, and he was dominating.

After thirty minutes, his team was head 6-2, and the two goals he gave up were on excellent shots. Stewart complained to the referee that it wasn't fair, that he was facing too many shots, so he switched ends with Eli.

Shortly after that, there was a faceoff in Eli's end, and the opposing team player took a shot on the faceoff. I could see the puck heading toward Eli, and there was no way he was going to get down in time. And he didn't, but he neatly turned his left skate sideways and blocked the shot.

At the next stoppage of play, he looked at me and turned his skate sideways. I guarantee he had a huge smile inside his helmet, too.

Eli beat him in the second half, 3-1. It was so much fun to see him play so well.

Final goalie score: 9-3.

I was helping Eli get his gear off after the game. "Dad, he asked the referee to switch teams because he couldn't stand to get beat," he said. "Can you believe that?" He was talking under his breath.

"I know," I said. "And it didn't matter. You just went about your business."

I finished getting his gear off, and he stood. "Dad, I'll be right back," he said. He walked about thirty feet across an open area, over to where Stewart was taking off his gear.

"Stewart, good game," he said.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Courtesy of the Qt3 forums:
360: 270,000
Wii: 236,000
PS3: 177,000

Also, here's some entirely discouraging news from NPD's Anita Frazier:
“This month's story really is about a light new release schedule as compared to last year. There were 42 new SKU’s introduced in May as compared to 58 last May, and 72 in 2009.”

That's a reduction of over 40%, and I don't think it's a one-month story. That's just part of the suicidal "only release AAA games" strategy that almost every major publisher is following now, a strategy which, for most of them, will end in ruin.

E3 A-Z

Bill Abner let me know that Gameshark has put out their annual Complete Guide to E3 A-Z, and it's fantastic as always.

Over 140 games in alphabetical order, with impressions on all of them. It's killer.

A Bit Of History

Here are the results of the first six games of the Stanley Cup:
Vancouver 1, Boston 0
Vancouver 3, Boston 2 (OT)
Boston 8, Vancouver 1
Boston 4, Vancouver 0
Vancouver 1, Boston 0
Boston 5, Vancouver 2

The pattern is obvious: Vancouver wins one-goal nailbiters, and Boston wins blowouts. In fact, the combined margin of games three and four were the greatest two-game net goal differential in Stanley Cup history.

It's incredible, then, that Vancouver might win the Cup on Wednesday after getting blown out in three games, but believe it or not, there's precedent. There's only one example in roughly 120 years, but it's happened before.
Engage wayback machine.

In 1960, the World Series featured the Pittsburgh Pirates and the almightly New York Yankees. It was, without peer, the strangest series in history. Take a look at the scores:
Pittsburgh 6, New York 4
New York 16, Pittsburgh 3
New York 10, Pittsburgh 0
Pittsburgh 3, New York 2
Pittsburgh 5, New York 2
New York 12, Pittsburgh 0

So after six games, the Yankees had outscored the Pirates 46-17, and had scored at least 10 runs in all of their wins.

I've read several articles about this series, and it was a foregone conclusion that the mighty Yankees were going to win game seven. A funny thing happened, though.

They didn't.

Instead, the Pirates, in one of the most exciting game sevens in the history of baseball, won 10-9, scoring six runs in the last two innings.

This is not to suggest that Vancouver is an underdog, or that the Bruins equate to the Yankees, because I think neither of those statements are true. I'm not even rooting for a particular team at this point. I just thought that the strong parallel between the series was interesting.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Duellists

Eli 9.10 and I have been walking to breakfast on Saturdays to help with my knee rehab. It's about four miles round-trip, and he's been very good about being willing to go.

Well, he said "Dad, YOU SUCK" on Saturday morning before we left, but he was laughing as he said it.

On the way to the restaurant, we blew past a couple that was out for a morning stroll. Eli loves to do that, and he always gets a big grin on his face after we pass somebody.

On the way back, we decided to go home via an alternate route. We were walking on one side of a long avenue when we saw, on the other side of the street, a woman.

She was the walker.

She had the high arms pumping, the walker's outfit (tank top and high shorts), and walking shoes. Precision.

We looked like two people who just rolled out of bed and got dressed in the dark, which we pretty much did.

We saw this woman because she was passing us. Crushing us, actually, and instead of a friendly acknowledgement, she stared straight ahead and wouldn't even look at us as she blew by. "Oh, she DID NOT just do that," I said.

"Speed up, Dad!" Eli said, laughing.

We sped up. One one side of the street, she was grinding away with those high arms and perfect stride. On the other side, we were shambling along in total disarray.

We were, however, catching up.

The thing about walkers is that they're surprisingly competitive. If they're pumping those arms, they hate to get passed.

It became a duel.
This went on for several minutes, and we continued to slowly gain on her. We were within ten yards when, without looking at us, she broke into a jog.

"There she goes!" Eli said, and so she did, leaving us well behind.

"Now THAT'S a competitor," I said.

"That was awesome!" he said, laughing.

"This is how much she wanted to stay ahead of us," I said. "If we had stayed up with her when she was running, she would have stolen a bicycle."

Eli burst out laughing. "Then, if we'd stayed up with her on the bicycle, she would have stolen a scooter."

"And if we stayed up with the scooter, a motorcycle."

"Then, a car!" Eli said.

"No, we're still with her," I said. He's laughing so hard now that he's slowed down. "Then, she steals a Formula One car." Now he's walking sideways, laughing.

We reached a 'T' in the road (about a mile from home), and had to go right or left. We went right, toward our house.

Eli saw her first.

"She's still there!" he said. Indeed she was, only about forty yards ahead of us, and now, we were on the same side of the street. She must have stopped running as soon as she turned out of our sight, and her walk was definitely slower than it had been.

"We can catch her," I said, a gleam in my eye.

"Stop talking and start walking!" he said. We sped up, then I broke into a jog. Eli burst out laughing, but he was running, too, and we started a pattern of running past three houses, then walking for one.  We were gaining, and fast.

She started running again.

"Oh, IT'S ON!" Eli said, laughing even harder.

We kept up our running/walking pattern. She stopped after about a hundred yards or so, though, and we started gaining on her again.

"Dad, we're going to do it!" Eli said. We were only about forty yards behind her, and we were reeling her in.

Thirty-five yards. Thirty.

We were about twenty-five yards behind her when she took a quick look back, then did an exaggerated double-take.

She started running across the street.

Eli lost it. He was laughing so hard that he veered off the sidewalk and collapsed into the nearest yard. I almost joined him, but settled for laughing my ass off standing up.

After about twenty seconds, Eli found the strength to stand up again. I regretted not taking her picture.

"I can't believe I didn't want to go for a walk today," he said.

"Best ever," I said.

Vic Davis, Now With 100% More Audio

The Three Moves Ahead podcast features Vic Davis this week.

Yes, that's an automatic listen.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sad News

RockBandAide is reporting that the Fender Squier controller for Rock Band has been discontinued.

Thoughts on Monday.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a link from Jonathan Arnold. It's an unlikely subject (Anna Nicole Smith), but it's mesmerizing writing: Paw Paw & Lady Love.

From George Politis, and you'll love this: Rice Reacting To Sound Waves.

From Dave Tyrrell, and this requires a short explanation: Spanish football club Getafe are a curious bunch - as Madrid's 3rd largest club, they tend to lose out in the publicity stakes to their larger rivals. So they come out with odd marketing campaigns - a couple of years ago they had a sponsorship with Burger King which only revealed its full horror when you scored:

But now, as their fans have endured another piss-poor season, they've decided that reverse psychology might be the way to go. I'm not so sure...
The Getafe suicide koala

Since we're on a soccer jag, apparently, let me add the video of the most bizarre and incredible shot you will ever see. Oh, and there's one more, and this is one of my favorite links ever: flash mob turns kids' soccer game into championship event. Seriously, you need to watch this video--it will make your day.

From DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand, one of the funniest audio recordings you'll ever hear: 'angry caller' no-texting announcement from Alamo Drafthouse.

From Brandon Reis, a brilliant piece of police work: Missouri police mistake fake alligator for the real thing.

From DQ reader My Wife: if you ever wondered what Leonard Nimoy was doing these days, wonder no more. Also, a link to the fascinating story of German immigrants bringing the accordion to Texas, and how its distinctive sound later became a cornerstone of Tejano music.

From Derek Krause, even even if you don't like Coldplay, this is an amazing video: Strawberry Swing.

From Chris Mattos, a link about Lenny Dykstra, the idiotwho just keeps on giving: Lenny Dykstra Charged With Drug Possession and Car Theft. Oh, and later in the week, he was charged with about a million felonies.

From Shannon Barrett, the technology equivalent of recursive panda: 2D glasses for 3D movies.

From Dave Prosser, a fascinating website: Awesome People Hanging Out Together.

From Glen Haag, and these images are stunning: Endeavour docked at space station.

From Kevin W, and this is amazing: Mesopotamian dictionary completed after 90 years' work.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

EBGDAE addendum

I spent the last hour or so watching the video clips David linked to in the post, and they are just absolutely fantastic. There's no better way to avoid working this afternoon than enjoying some incredible guitar playing. Also, do not, under any circumstances, miss the Hound Dog Taylor clip. It's a must see.

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #13

This week, Bill asked for a rundown of my favorite guitarists and their styles. I could effectively take over his entire blog for a week or two if I were to really delve into this topic, so I'm going to give you all a rundown of a few if the guitarists that are currently influencing me and that I've been listening to way too much lately.

We'll get the big two out of the way first: Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. Keith, "The Human Riff", is known as one of the all-time great rhythm players and Page is one of the all-time great lead guitarists, but the two share one thing in common that I think really makes them stand out from the the crowd and I think their combined record sales will testify to their powers. Both guys have a killer instinct for the riff. A lot of guys can move around the fretboard, just throwing lick after lick at you (I won't mention any names), but these two guys keep it pretty simple and it pays off. I recall both mentioning in interviews that it's not all about what notes you play, but the space you leave in the music. That space creates anticipation in the listener and allows room for the skills of the other band members to shine. Both the Stones and Zeppelin were "bands". Every member contributed and the sum ended up greater than the parts. And there was no weakness in any of the parts. Forty-plus years later and both their licks hold up and are instantly recognizable. Listen to these guys, learn what they're doing, try your hand at it. You'll be better for it. The great thing about learning these guys' stuff is that the riffs are simple, they sound great and they make you feel like you feel a bit like a real guitar hero when you play 'em.

A little solo Keith: Whip It Up.

And a classic Page riff. You all know it, and it's not hard to play:
The Ocean

Another legend everyone should be listening to and picking apart what he's doing is Chuck Berry. An influence on so many that followed, Berry's playing is fabulous and he's playing licks that should be played on a horn, not a guitar. Chuck was one of Richards' big influences and I think it's telling that maybe Keith's most famous riff from "Satisfaction" was originally meant to be a horn riff.
Johnny B. Goode

Next up, Albert Lee. An English-born guitarist, (damn, how many greats did that place produce?) you probably have heard a ton of his stuff and may not realize who he is, but he's tremendous and known for his finger-style and hybrid picking technique. He's mesmerizing. Just watch the video of him with Emmylou Harris and see him just kill it on the Telecaster. By the way, I think I'm in love with Emmylou again after this clip, but that's neither here nor there:
Luxury Liner Forty Tons Of Steel

Oh, and the Tele, that guitar known for its twang and held in esteem by generations of country players, is the guitar Page used for Zeppelin I. That still amazes me he got that heavy a sound out of it.

Next, Albert King, the Velvet Bulldozer. I can't even begin to explain Albert. Great player and a huge influence of everybody from Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Just tasty lick after tasty lick. Here he is with Stevie Ray playing possibly his most well-known song:
Born Under a Bad Sign
[note: bonus Stevie Ray Vaughan in this clip]

I've been entranced by Hound Dog Taylor lately, as well. Hound Dog played a lot of slide guitar on cheap Japanese Teisco guitars, proving that it's not the equipment, it's the soul being fed through that equipment. Take pleasure in the pure joy that is Hound Dog. You won't be able to help smiling and tapping your foot.
Wild About You Baby

Next, Freddie King, the Texas Cannonball. One of the "Three Kings", along with Albert and B.B. A style influenced by both Texas and Chicago Blues, Freddie was taken away from us at the age of 42. Such a shame. Listen, enjoy, and pray you ever get to play like Freddie.
Freddie King

Now a guy that, in my mind, isn't appreciated enough may be best known to many for his role as "Snowman" in "Smokey and the Bandit" and for the theme song to that movie is Jerry Reed. He could play a variety of styles, all of them well, and usually injected humor into his songs, but don't let that fool you. The man could flat out play. Here's "Amos Moses", Tell me Primus didn't get their sound from this. By the way, Primus covered this song. How could they not?
Amos Moses

Don Rich. Played with Buck Owens and his Buckaroos for years and Buck was never the same after Don died an early death in a motorcycle accident. Don got every bit of twang a man could get out of a Telcaster and I try every day to do the same, with pretty poor results. An integral part of Buck Owens' Bakersfield sound and the guitar sound of the country music of my youth, before it turned into just a bunch of hat acts. Multi-talented and just one of country's greatest guitar players. I give you Don Rich:
Wham Bam

We'll wrap it up with James Burton, the Master of the Telecaster. The man can play country or rock and is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. I dare you to find one greater. He's played with just about everyone and influenced them all. He's been around since the beginning, playing with Ricky Nelson and Elvis. I'm going into a year's worth of mourning when he's gone. I'll let some of the greats tell you about James Burton:
Master Of The Telecaster
Keith Richards - About playing with James Burton

I could go on and on with a list of guys for you to get turned on to, but jump off here with these guys. I'm sorry I didn't fit more in here, but you can spend years just learning from these guys. I apologize if I've left anyone's favorites out. I've left out plenty of mine, so don't feel badly.

Enjoy it. Listen, love, and learn.

Grand Prix Story

My good friend John Harwood (mentioned often in this space) is a huge fan of two things: Kairosoft and Formula 1.

Kairosoft, as you might know, is the developer of "Game Dev Story", which was one of my favorite games of 2010. It was also one of John's favorite games.

Yesterday, I had a slack moment (I have one a day, I swear) and checked the Android market. I looked in the "just arrived" games category and saw a game called "Grand Prix Story". I'm required, by friendship law, to investigate all games related to Formula 1, just in case it's something he might want to play.

Then I saw the developer: Kairosoft. Boom.

I told him about 3 p.m. yesterday. At 10:47 p.m., he texted me this:
5 hours into GP Story and counting
I didn't see the text until this morning, and responded about 11 a.m. Five minutes later, he sent this:
11 hours in the game and counting

So of 20 elapsed hours since I told him about the game, he'd played for 11. That left 9 hours for everything else (including sleep, which he didn't get much of last night).

Consider this a strong endorsement.

If you see screenshots, etc., go here. It's $4.99, and for a Kairosoft game, I consider that a bargain.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wait A Minute

Yesterday in this interview (start at the 4:25 mark), Reggie Fils-Aime (President and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America) admitted that the "sizzle reel" of game footage during the Wii U presentation was from "360, PS3, and PC" versions of the games.


Seriously, how would people have responded if Microsoft or Sony had done this in advance of releasing a new console? It would have been the f-ing apocalypse. They would have been drawn and quartered.

And for good reason, too: not identifying the footage as coming from competitor's consoles is 100%, complete bullshit. That is totally ridiculous, and kind of imaginary world does Reggie Fils-Aime live in where this kind of garbage is acceptable?

Here's an amusing sidenote. I saw on several forums that people were complaining about the footage, saying it "still didn't look as good" as the 360 or PS3.

Two Additional Notes On Wii U

One, and I should have mentioned this last night, Wii U does have support for legacy Wiimotes. In some games, one person will use the new controller while the other players use Wiimotes. One new controller is the max the Wii U supports--in other words, if it's a multiplayer game, only one person can be playing with the new controller.

Confused? Yeah, so am I. And I think developers will be, too, although I certainly think it has potential for the single-player side of things.

Second note. Neil Sorens sent in an excellent point: I'm not sure that mobile/tablet games would work, because the controller apparently has no processing power of its own – the video is produced by the console and transmitted wirelessly to the controller screen.

An entirely excellent point.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

That's What It is

I've been bothered by the Wii U announcement all day.

Something was nagging at me, something not quite right, but I couldn't put it into words. Now, though, I can.

Look, you can bitch about the Wii, and some of the bitching would be true, but the Wii was one of the most beautiful pieces of design in gaming history. Why? Because it made video game play more like play. Instead of us death-gripping a controller in the same position for hours while we melted into a chair, we moved around like we would on a playground.

I think that was the whole idea: create a controller that allowed us to be on a playground.

That is a clean, beautiful piece of conceptual thinking. I could explain the Wii in one sentence. Consumers could grasp the idea in five seconds of a thirty-second commercial.

The Wii appealed to children, obviously, but it also appealed to that part in all of us that is still child-like.

Now we have the Wii U. Describe it in one sentence? Hell, I can't describe it in a page. There's this controller with a touchscreen and regular controls and a thing here and a whatchamacallit there, and the screens can switch and what the f-ck is the point here?

What does this have to do with play, exactly?

That's the problem. What this controller contributes to play is not easy to grasp and it's not intuitive. It has some cool features, but they're not immediately obvious.

I think this is a big, big gamble for Nintendo, unless they tie in an additional application market from the mobile space, and even then, it may be an uphill climb.

Ninendo E3 Press Conference

Grown-ups: Chris Kohler.

Wii: 4 (Zelda).

3DS: remaster, 3,6,2,4,6,2,5,

Wow. So Ninendo has officially abandoned the Wii, even though "Wii U" isn't coming out until 2012? That seems like quite a gap, unless Wii U launches in spring. I think that's definitely a tipoff as to launch date--showing the console this soon, when it wouldn't ship until holiday 2012, would be pointless.

So don't expect a Wii U holiday launch next year. It's going to be much sooner than that.

I know I listed numbers for all the 3DS games, and it's true, they're all sequels of sequels of sequels, but I will say this about Ninendo's franchises: they are still almost universally beloved. So while I've played I-don't-even-know-how-many Mario games, will I still buy the 3DS version the day it comes out? Of course.

Now, let's talk about Wii U.

First off, on the graphics side, the console can output 1080p and supports HDMI. Does that mean it's as powerful as the 360 and the PS3? I don't think anyone knows, and really, it probably doesn't matter. "HD" is going to mean equivalency in the minds of most consumers.

The big sell, though, based on Ninendo's presentation is the controller. a 6.2" touchscreen with a tablet-sized form factor and conventional controls (analog sticks, buttons) on the outside. The best way I can describe it is that they took all the controls of a 'regular' controller and smushed a 6" touchscreen in the middle.

What I really liked about the Wiimote was that it was a highly-targeted device. It was incredibly simple to use, and it felt very comfortable in your hand. It was revolutionary, but it was also simple.

The new remote, in comparison, is positively gigantic. It's not necessarily awkward, but there's no way it could possibly be as comfortable. And in a time when traditional gaming consoles and handhelds are under siege from cellphones and tablets, why would you make your controller seem MORE like a tablet? You have proprietary games, and a limited selection, but you also have the awkwardness of a tablet? Where's the win here?

Well, the win here--and I don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet--is if you are able to play games for mobile devices or tablets on the controller.

If you do that, then you have another whole market pumping in games for the system, and on the bigger screen, they'll be easier to play.

Is Nintendo doing that? It seems like a huge fail if they don't, and I certainly think it would be worth keeping that announcement in their pocket for a while.

Having said that, though, this kind of partnering really isn't their style. So it could just be another very funky Nintendo moment.

Without that, though, this seems like a huge mistake. They totally sold the public on motion control and the Wiimote. Now, instead of building on that legacy, they're introducing a behemoth controller that they now have to conceptually sell the public on from scratch?

Well, it's Nintendo. They have been both the smartest and the dumbest gaming company in history, depending on the era.

I'm hoping for the former this time.

From Dust

After suffering through E3 "large number" disease yesterday, here's a game that looks unique and relatively wonderful: From Dust.

Available this summer, and here's a phrase I hardly ever use anymore: day one.

Monday, June 06, 2011

EA, Ubisoft E3 Press Conference

Electronic Arts:
3,6, Star Wars: The Old Republic (which should be #20 or something like that), 5, 12, 12, 4, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Curt Schilling's game), Overstrike (from Insomniac, and it's a spy game?), 3.

Ugh. Two new franchises.

3,3,4,3,Tintin,4, and Fruit Ninja (yes, the phone game). Beyond Good And Evil 2? Not in this generation, sadly.

Holy crap. This is downright painful.

Sony E3 Press Conference

Adult coverage: Chris Kohler liveblog.

My coverage: 3, 3, remastered, 11, remastered, 2, Starhawk, 3, Dust 514 (connects to Eve Online--interesting), 3, 4. Hey, at least there's two new properties.

Move games: Medieval Moves: Dead Man's Quest.

--called the "Playstation Vita"
--AT&T is the exclusive data provider. SUPER FAIL.
--new games called Ruin, Little Deviants, Dragon's Crown. Nice to see some new franchises.
--spinoffs of existing franchises.

Now on to pricing, and holy shit, Sony got something right. $249 for Wifi only version, $299 for 3G/WiFi. That's a win.

Also, a very interesting hardware announcement: a 24-inch 3D-capable display. And here's the hook: it can do split-screen with each player seeing a separate, full-screen view. Very nice.

Just based on the new content and hardware, this killed Microsoft's presser.

Don't Go

So we went to see Hangover 2 last night.

If you saw the first movie, and enjoyed it, and just want to see the first movie remade in a new location, then you will be bitterly disappointed.

The Hangover was a ridiculous, lighthearted movie. The sequel is anything but lighthearted--at times, it's downright menacing, and it's incredibly dark. The script is downright bizarre--it's like someone wrote an action suspense movie, then somebody else bought the script, grafted some funny bits into the script every five minutes, and called it a comedy. And some of the funny stuff is very funny, but there's just so little of it.

Gloria had an interesting observation, and I don't think this is a spoiler. The first movie was very much a slippery slope kind of film, where things just kept getting worse and worse on the way down. The sequel is the opposite--it's a climb the mountain film, where you start at the bottom. It's a quest film, really.

I think it's true of comedies that slippery slopes film are generally funnier than quest films, because slippery slopes tend to produce a progressive increase in outrageousness. That's very much a comic trope. Quest films? Not so much.

Ironically, for about the first 2/3 of the film, while it's incredibly dark and only occasionally funny, it's quite interesting--not in the way I wanted, necessarily, but as a suspense thriller with intermittent comedy injections, it's entertaining. In the last 1/3, though, the script (which was already shaky at times) utterly collapses.

Really, if you want to enjoy how funny the Hangover was, just rent the original and watch it again. That would still be funnier and more enjoyable than seeing the sequel.

Things I Learned During A Night Out

1. If you're a screenwriter, and the funniest gag in your script is a monkey giving head, then you're not finished.

2. If your waiter asks you, "What is fiction, really?", then you have failed in some fundamental way.

Microsoft E3 Press Conference

For coverage from a grown-up, see Chris Kohler  here.

For coverage by me, here you go:
--the version numbers of all the games not supported by Kinect were at least 3 or higher.
--Kinect supported: Mass Effect 3, future Tom Clancy games, Xbox Live, Ryse (Roman gladiators), Fable: The Journey , Disneyland Aventures, Star Wars, Once Upon A Monster (Sesame Street), Kinect Sports: Season 2, Dance Central 2.

Don't get excited about the "real games" in that list, like Mass Effect 3. There's either very limited Kinect support (Mass Effect 3) or it's an on-rails game (Star Wars) .


One interesting note: Minecraft is coming to the 360 with Kinect support. Notch can print another ten million dollars (which is okay by me).

Friday, June 03, 2011

Friday Links!

There are three absolutely amazing links to start off this week.

First, from Karl Ágústsson, an absolutely stunning video of the  eruption at Grimsvotn under the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland. Karl mentioned that this eruption is about ten times as powerful as the Eyjafjallajokull eruption last year, and this is one of the most remarkable videos I've ever seen.

Next, from Jonathan Arnold, mesmerizing but heartbreaking images of the aftermath of the Joplin tornado.

Matthew Anderson sent in the third amazing link, and these guys go right to the top of my badass list: Japan pensioners volunteer to tackle nuclear crisis. Engineers who reached pension age are volunteering to help with the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station. Incredible and awesome.

Jonathan Arnold sent in another link, this one far less weighty: amazing card trick.

From David Byron, and this is almost beyond comprehension, a story about researchers attempting to grow a brain-- with memories.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, a series of spectacular images: 23 Fascinating and Forgotten Monuments from Yugoslavia.

From Tom Guthrie, and this is a fascinating discussion that is entirely worth your time, it's Think Tank: The Economics of Death Star Planet Destruction.

From Sirius, and this is very cool, it's Spider Attack: Clever, Scary Arachnid Hunting Strategies. Also, and this is stunning, it's The "crooked forest" of Gryfino (Poland). Here's one more, and I've absolutely never seen a photograph of this before: how deeply Easter Island statues are buried.

This is certainly one of the greatest headlines ever: Horse herpes outbreak forces rodeo queens to ride stick ponies.

From Logan Griffall, and these are always fun, it's Best Optical Illusions of 2011.

From Jonin, and you'll love this, it's X-Wing Fighter Soapbox Derby Car. May the coast be with you.

From Caleb Forney, and this is quite interesting, it's Time Lapse Sky Shows Earth Rotating Instead of Stars.

Greg Bagley sends in a classic headline: Russian who buried himself alive dies by mistake.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #12: The Bunny Lives!

Expedition leader David Gloier's PC blew up this week, so while he's reconstructing his post, we have a guest musician this week. Chad Mercer has written a guest piece of playing in Pro Bass mode (and Pro mode in general). Chad's in a band called Trip Sofa, so hit the link if you want to hear songs (I'm partial to "Pickled Hairy", "Bullet" (live), and "Tums" (which is available if you click the 'more songs' thingy)).

Thanks to Chad for making a guest appearance, and here we go.
First, a little background.

My dad played guitar and organ in high school and early college in the late 60's, before I was born. He was in a number of cover bands that covered everything from The Dave Clark Five to The Who. He taught himself by listening to the radio, which is a skill I never developed. I remember him playing Jim Croce songs to me on his acoustic guitar when I was very young. He only got his guitar out every couple of months, though, and we never had electric instruments in the house. My mom was a pianist and a singer, and she played regularly and sang all the time--mostly old musicals.

So I played piano (mandatory in my family) for four years, hated it, and quit as soon as I could. Although I have to admit, I did enjoy being able to play The Imperial March from Star Wars. One of my most vivid memories of piano, though, was coming home the day my 5th grade Sunday School teacher was involved in a school shooting. He was the principal at Goddard Junior High, and was the only fatality that day. I came home, looked at my mom--who had obviously been crying--walked calmly downstairs to the piano, and played The Marines Hymn. It was the only thing I knew to do. (He served in the Marines in Vietnam.)

I started playing viola in 4th grade, and continued through my junior year of high school. I was pretty good, but viola is definitely a "support" instrument, and doesn't have the glamour of violin or cello. It also wasn't much for rock bands.

But enough about the "dorky" instruments.

I wanted to be in a rock band in the worst way, and my parents were appalled at the idea--possibly because they wanted to protect me from negative experiences my dad had in his heyday. So my dad agreed to teach me how to play guitar--on that same huge dreadnought acoustic he'd had since college--but insisted that I could not play in a band. Of course, I agreed to his terms, and he taught me chords, so I could play for the youth group at church. He also helped me learn a couple of songs that I asked him to help me learn from "my music".

So...because of the agreement I'd made with my father, for two years I "got together with some guys and played music", but I wasn't in a band. Of course, all of my friends that were interested in music wanted to play either guitar or drums, so I decided that I'd play bass. My junior year of high school, we played one show--three covers, very lame--so it was easy to play the "not a band" card. However, once we started practicing regularly and writing songs, my parents had to accept that yes, I was really in a band.

So over the next 11 years (1990 - 2001), I played bass guitar in a band. (Sorry, Dad.) We started off playing thrash/punk--mostly because it disguised our total lack of skill--progressed to "hair metal" and then spent about 7 years playing a 70's influenced style of heavy alternative rock. The last 5 years or so was spent as a three-piece. Over that 11 year period, the drummer & I were the only two consistent members. We recorded four complete original albums over the years, and were recording a fifth album when our lead singer/lead guitarist abruptly quit the band. So that was the end of that. My musical journey was over, except for leading worship at church. Which, while very fulfilling and worthwhile, is decidedly not a "band experience".

Then, this guy named Bill turned me on to the original Guitar Hero. When the game was released, the band had been broken up for a number of years. It was incredible to have that "band experience" again, even if it was me alone in my basement. My two sons were also very young, and it was easy to get them started on an "instrument" as simple as three buttons on Easy. (I chastised them regularly for playing with the sound off, explaining that music is more about "feel" than just eye-hand coordination.) The fact that they were getting excited about music in a very natural way was wonderful. Much better than my wife & I forcing them to take music lessons on an instrument that they hated.

Of course, now that Rock Band has tainted him permanently, the older son is now a drummer in the school band, plays in a jazz combo, and accompanies me at church when leading worship. He's 12, and a complete beast.

The younger son? We'll get back to his story later.

So I started on guitar and switched to bass when I started playing in a band. Because of this, I played bass with a pick for the first number of years. The band I was in played mostly thrash and speed metal at the time, so using a pick made sense. After a number of lineup changes in the first three years, we ended up with a guitarist/singer that morphed the band's style to include a funk vibe. To complement this change, I decided to learn to play slap bass. This meant I had to play "finger-style", as it's tough to switch between slap and a pick. So yes, I'm a self-taught guitar/bass hack that played in a band for 10 years. And?

As I mentioned before, I "settled" on bass because everyone else wanted to play guitar...but I never lost that boyhood desire to play guitar solos. The Guitar Hero / Rock Band plastic instrument genre was incredible at scratching that itch, but it never really got me any closer to getting any sort of true, usable skills as a lead guitarist. So when I heard about this new Pro Mode Rock Band controller, I geeked out and immediately put in my pre-order. I got my guitar controller one day before I got my MIDI adapter, so I plugged it in to one of my amps, and was pretty impressed with the guitar. While I generally prefer much heavier strings (at least 11's), it played better than a lot of guitars I've owned over the years.

Once I got the MIDI interface, I started up the game and burned through the first couple of sets of guitar lessons with no problems. I actually found it easier to play most songs on a real guitar than on the old controllers. For one thing, the open string "innovation" on Guitar Hero World Tour is a necessary change that the Rock Band franchise didn't implement until Pro Mode songs. As a guitarist, it's really disconcerting when you can HEAR the open string, and the game is telling you to press a button down--it goes against years of experience.

I should note that all of my playing--guitar and bass--thus far has been rhythm playing. While some of the rhythms were fairly intricate, they were nothing like a lead. I'm glad to say that I've already significantly improved in my ability to switch strings when playing with a pick, which is one of my major shortcomings in "lead guitar". The other is my left hand speed, which I think the advanced lessons will definitely help.

I will admit that I haven't finished all of the guitar lessons. I find playing the songs to be more fun than doing scales--obviously--so I decided to just play all of the songs on Medium after finishing off the first levels of lessons. I certainly plan on tackling a lesson a week or so in the advanced levels.

As I told Bill in an email exchange, playing Pro Guitar chords in RB3 is _FAR_ more difficult than playing on a real guitar. They are hyper-specific and allow for absolutely no slop, while a real guitar is not nearly as picky.

For example, when you play a G chord on guitar (320003), you can add your ring finger for a little extra high end (320033). I do this regularly when playing for church--one song specifically brings it to mind, where I start with (320033) and progress to (320003) then (300003) then back to (320033) for a little more variation.

That said, the game is absolutely unforgiving (understandably so) when doing stuff like this, so you are FORCED to play the chords EXACTLY like the band that recorded them. (Which makes live versions of songs much harder to play along with, because musicians generally ad-lib quite a bit when playing live.) So Stone Temple Pilots "Plush" requires the extra ring finger, while many other songs don't.

The other thing is that barre chords are completely unforgiving in RB3 as well. On a real guitar, if you're a little sloppy, the chord still sounds correct even if you haven't completely pressed down a string. (That string is just deadened, so it doesn't give the complete sound, but it still sounds "correct" as long as enough strings are ringing.) So I have very little chance to make "A" barre chords (002220, 113331, 224442) work in game. My fingers are too big--swollen scar on my wedding ring finger FTL--so I end up with 00222x most of the time due to the way that I play them. (I actually make two barres--index finger & ring finger.)

Anyway, I'm very certain that I will 100% very few songs in Pro Mode Guitar due to the very precise nature of the game. Which is slightly disappointing, but it's still BY FAR the best way I've experienced to learn an instrument. Hell of a lot more fun than playing piano scales, that's for damn sure. But Bill asked me to write this up due to my bass experience, not whining about my non-Expert guitar playing.

As far as playing bass parts on the controller, it's a mixed bag. I definitely prefer larger strings and more spacing between them--I would gladly pay another $300 for a bass-specific controller. I also understand that it would be much tougher to build one for a number of reasons. There are a number of songs that would be much easier to play with bigger strings--Jerry Was A Racecar Driver is a good example, as that slap part that Les Claypool (my hero!) plays is brutal on those tiny guitar strings. (I even have a hard time playing my bass parts for the songs I've written on a guitar. The fingerings are just...different...due to things like fret spacing and string separation.)

As others have noted, the controller is definitely not designed to play finger style. The strings tend to "pop" off of the mute pad, which screws up the hit detection. A friend of mine who is an extremely good bass player played on Medium and literally could not hit a single note when playing finger style. Needless to say, he was quite frustrated, and didn't enjoy himself much. Since I've played guitar a lot, I'm more comfortable playing with a pick, so it doesn't bother me as much as it might.

The songs that are written for and played in a picked style work pretty well. They feel "more correct" than the songs that were obviously written and played in finger mode. (It's much easier to jump strings (low E to D, or low E to G, for example) when playing finger style than it is when playing with a pick.)

So...back to my younger son...

He (now 10) has decided to try to play bass, so I started him up with the Rock Band 3 trainer on the guitar controller last week. He's left-handed, playing right-handed, so it's much harder to learn. That said, he played through the first set of trainers. I watched him get more comfortable holding a pick in just the 30 minutes of going through the lessons. He definitely got frustrated--YOU try playing guitar backwards!--but he pushed through it. He was grooving along by the end of the practice time, and actually feeling the music.

The best part? When I made him stop playing to go to bed, all of the frustration was forgotten. He looked at me with a huge smile on his face and exclaimed: "That was FUN!" Now, if getting calluses and playing scales STAYS fun--I think we have a winner.

------------------ A FEW EXTRA NOTES ------------------
I would highly recommend learning guitar chords before switching to bass. "I'm playing a G on my bass (3rd fret on the E string) because the guitar player is playing a G chord, and G is the root of that chord." I still can't read music--at all--on guitar or bass, but I can pick out tab, and I can generally sight-read a chord sheet on either guitar or bass.

I really wish I would have started by watching Victor Wooten--his technique is incredible. However, I watched Les Claypool instead, and emulated him. I was pretty much self-taught, which lead to horrible technique that sounded really, really full, mostly because I was pounding the crap out of my pickups.

I mentioned that I'd like thicker strings, but the reason you can't use strings any bigger than 9's on the guitar controller is because larger strings cause more tension on the neck. The amount of tension on a bass neck would be significantly higher, which is another reason I don't think they're going to build a bass controller.

Another problem with building a bass controller would be how many strings? Other than some "fringe" bands using 12-strings years ago, most of the guitar world has standardized around a six-string guitar. Recently, a number of metal bands have started going to seven- or eight-string guitars, but in general, most of the songs in the catalog can be tabbed out on a six-string guitar. Bass? Not so much. Five- and six-string basses have been around for quite a while, and figuring out how to generate a note chart for a song written for a six-string bass against a four-string would be either impossible or extremely difficult. And if you go with a six-string model, you have two additional strings of tension. Not to mention the fact that bass strings are easily four times as expensive as guitar strings. Oh, and they'd sell about one tenth as many controllers--because, again, everyone wants to be a guitarist. :)

The backing track is incredibly useful in giving you the feeling that you're actually _playing_music_ which is a huge improvement to standard practice. I know I could practice for hours when I was playing with the band, but by myself? Maybe 20 minutes. Max.

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