Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Links!

We're as light on links this Friday as we've been in years--summer vacation has taken a temporary toll on e-mail--but don't forget that Monday I'll have part one of the interview with Jeff Laflam, creator of Match & Magic.

From McReynolds, and this looks entirely real, it's curly coated pigs. Pigs that have the coat of sheep.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating, a study of how the weight of Medieval suits of armor affected the physical ability of its wearers. Also, and this video is amazing, a Robotic bird with flapping flight.

From Jim, and this might well be the most spectacular case of copyright infringement in history, it's World Joyland: The Warcraft/Starcraft-themed amusement park.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, two links about the new Mars Rover landing site:
Article: NASA's Next Mars Rover to Land at Huge Gale Crater
New Mars Science Rover Landing Site--Birds Eye View

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is wonderfully clever and interesting, it's Analytics According to Captain Kirk, in which a professor teaches analytics by studying the Red Shirt Phenomenon in Star Trek. Also, one of the most badass motorcycles you'll ever see.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #16: A Dissonant Note On Tuning

Michael Lombardi sent me a terrific, well-written explanation of why he believes the guitar tech trying to set up trailbreaker John Harwood's Squier guitar controller was incorrect:
I saw Every Bunny #15 and I've got to say the problem still doesn't quite make sense. Not holding tune very long is one type of problem but not being able to set the intonation of a guitar properly is another.

You said the tech indicated he believed the inability to intonate the guitar was caused by the neck and body being too hollowed out for electronics. I definitely don't buy the body issue (electric guitar bodies could be an Ikea particle board table top and still work fine) and I'm somewhat doubtful of the neck issue but without seeing what was done to this thing by Fender/Squier it's hard to say for sure. Generally a weak neck isn't going to cause an intonation problem but rather cause the guitar to be susceptible to humidity changes, forcing you to adjust the truss rod often and reset the intonation when you do so. Not a desirable trait but also not a guitar breaker either. As for the intonation - well the adjustable saddles should take care of that unless those funky pickups are REALLY pulling on the strings. Lowering them as close to the body as you can without them falling through is worth a shot. That's really my only guess at this point.

Now I'm assuming you bought this thing new so it might be worth calling Squier and explaining the situation. Guitar companies are generally VERY good to customers who bought their products new and usually reluctant to do anything for people who bought used. I don't have any experience with Squier customer service but I'm hoping they would irect you to a Fender authorized repair/service/tech in the area who could look at your guitar (Fender certainly would). Being able to say you brought it to a tech who spent hours on it and couldn't figure out the problem might get you more attention so you have that going for you too. Just because this thing is kind of considered a toy and came with a video game doesn't mean it isn't an instrument - and don't think just because Squier is Fender's budget line that they don't make playable instruments. It's too early to give up on this thing.

Also, it's worth checking out Fender's do-it-yourself setup guide:
Fender Setup Guide

Just don't touch the truss rod! It's certainly right where it needs to be since the tech just had the thing.

I think that's an interesting analysis, and certainly much more positive than "these guitars can't be set up properly", which was pretty depressing. So maybe there's hope for these guitar controllers after all.

Now, since this is a "learning guitar" series, Greg Akselson sent me a link to a Giant Bomb preview (written by a former community moderator for Rock Band) of Ubisoft's upcoming music game Rocksmith, and he actually came away impressed. So maybe there will be an additional option for gamers/guitar players this fall.

The Heatsink Revolutionized

Michael Clayton sent me a link to an absolutely stunning piece of technology last week. Here's the article:
The fanless spinning heatsink: more efficient and immune to dust

That's right--a spinning heatsink. Here's a description:
There’s a fundamental flaw with fan-and-heatsink cooling systems: no matter how hard the fan blows, a boundary layer of motionless, highly-insulating air remains on the heatsink.

...But what if you did away with the fan? What if the heatsink itself rotated? Well, believe it or not, rotating the heat exchanger obliterates the boundary layer, removes the need for a fan, and it’s so efficient that it can operate at low and very quiet speeds.

This is potentially a disruptive technology, and there's a follow-up interview where inventor Jeff Koplow answers reader's questions. I think I was even more impressed after reading his answers--clearly, this doesn't sound like a hoax.

Crop Duster

[AND WE HAVE A WINNER. Congratulations to Frank Regan.]

Garret Rempel, the Dubious Quality Official VB.Net Advisor (along with Scott Ray, the Dubious Quality Official WPF Advisor, they represent the instructional wing), is a likable sort, and he has two good friends who have made an iPhone/iPad game.

The game is called Crop Duster, and it looks quite charming, with the bright and vibrant palette favored by mobile games. Here's a description from the website:
CropDuster is the game that combines skill and reflex in a daring attempt to rescue a farm and crops from pests, weeds, and insects. Combining elements from popular titles and adorable graphics to weave an adventure with many levels, achievements, and secret goals to delight gamers for many hours.

Now, if you have one of these iDevices, and would like a free copy of the game, all you need to do is e-mail me the name of the four planes in the game. Yes, they have names.

First correct entry gets the girl. Get a move on, as the farm people say.

3DS: Baboom

From Joystiq:
Nintendo has just announced that the price on the 3DS will drop to $169.99 stateside on August 12. That's down from $250 currently...

And boom goes the dynamite. A price drop of 32% only a few months after the system launched?

I give credit to Nintendo for being aggressive. Clearly, the 3DS, in spite of its technical brilliance, just wasn't resonating with consumers. This is a big, big move in terms of pricing, and it's clearly a warning shot across the bow of the PS Vita.

I'm guessing the Vita will be launching in the U.S. in November--certainly, before Black Friday--so this gives Nintendo over 3 months to capture a much larger share of the market before the Vita arrives. The Vita is a technical beast, and even though I'm a big fan of the 3D tech in the 3DS, it wasn't going to compare well to a Vita selling at the same price.

Now, though, the pricing difference is substantial enough to make it interesting.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Found An Anchor Over There, Now It's On My Derriere

Eli 9.11 likes to go to rock-climbing day camp in the summer. There's an excellent rock gym about 15 minutes away from where we live, and he climbs from 9-1.

He is, as you know, Spiderman.

There are multiple climbing walls in the gym, even a wall that simulates an overhanging rock wall. He's climbed just about everything, even the routes that should be impossible for someone his size to climb.

In the gym, they also have something called "campus boards." Campus boards remind me of the boards you nail on a tree to make steps, except with campus boards, the steps are for your hands. The boards are specifically used to train people for situations where they can't use their feet to help them climb.

Here's what they look like:

(thanks to Climb At Home).

The wall of campus boards at the rock gym has five boards, not six, but otherwise, it's very similar. The boards are 12" apart (vertically), and they're 1" thick. The entire structure is just hung on the wall.

If you're thinking there's no way to climb that, you're right. For a normal human, anyway, or even an average rock climber. But an excellent rock climber isn't human, and they can do it.

Eli's instructor told him that in six years of summer camps (they have a day camp every week during the summer, and kids up to 16 can sign up), he'd never seen a camper climb the wall.

Even though Eli still hasn't turned 10 yet, I know exactly what he heard when his instructor said that: blah blah blah blah it's on.

And so it was, indeed, on.

On Tuesday, he got to the second board. That doesn't sound like much, but very few people are strong enough to even hang on the board, let alone climb one.

On Wednesday, he got to the third board.

On Thursday, he got to the fourth board.

On Friday, I brought the Flip when I went to pick him up, just in case. Good thing:

I know, it doesn't look that difficult when he does it, but trust me, it's insanely hard. None of the other kids in the camp with him could even hang off the bottom board successfully. His instructors went wild when he got to the top, and so did everyone else.

After we left camp for the day, we went to the movies.

All week, I'd been telling Eli that we were going to see Winnie-the-Pooh. Now, I love Winnie-the-Pooh, and have for most of my life, but I thought it might be getting a little young for Eli, but he'd been talking about Captain America for weeks. So I found a Captain America showing that was within 5 minutes of the Pooh movie, and when we got to the ticket window, I said "Two for Captain America, please."

The look on his face was hilarious: the classic cartoon jaw-drop. "Are you KIDDING ME?" he said, laughing.

"We can still go to see Pooh," I said. "I just thought you might be more interested in another option."

So we walk into the lobby, and this ferocious, gentle boy that is now quite often big instead of little, said "Really, Dad, I think I'd rather go see Winnie-the-Pooh. Is that okay?"

"That would be great," I said. "I'd rather see Pooh, too."

So we did, and we were the only two people in the theater. It was like a huge, private theater, just for us.

There was too much singing, but otherwise, it was stellar. Eeyore had lost his tail, and everyone was bringing him things to try as a replacement, and at one point, he comes into a scene dragging an anchor behind him. Then, he sang (in Eeyore's wonderfully dour, depressed voice) what might be the greatest lyric in the history of cinema:
I found an achor over there,
Now it's on my derriere.

We roared.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Avatar: The Legend of Korra

Many thanks to Ryan Malinowsky, who sent me a link to the first trailer for Avatar: The Legend of Korra.

Coming sometime in 2012.

I Didn't Have Time For This, Really


I'm busy as hell this week--busy beyond hell, actually--so I was going to write the blog in advance and auto-post. I had it all planned.

Then Michael Pachter had to go and be a gigantic douchebag.

Now, before I get into this, let me say this: I like Michael Pachter, even though I'm calling him a gigantic douchebag. People misunderstand the role of an analyst, and they misunderstand him. Sure, he makes calls that turn out to be wrong (hugely wrong, at times), but he's not getting paid to be right--he gets paid to be interesting, and to draw attention to his firm.

Yesterday, though, he lost his mind.

If you want to read the career-damaging meltdown in detail, go here. Otherwise, just read on for the "douchening."

First off, by way of explanation, this was Pachter responding to the whole Team Bondi situation. In short, Team Bondi was the studio that developed L.A. Noire, and after the game was released, it was revealed that crunch mode basically lasted forever.

Read that link if you want to understand just how foul the working conditions were at Team Biondi. It went well beyond the pale, even for an industry that is often accused of brutal working schedules.

To Pachter, though, unpaid overtime is apparently no big deal. Nothing is a big deal, apparently. Take a look at these excerpts:
If you’re getting into the industry, you are going to work plenty of hours.

I hear from lots of people on Twitter about these Team Bondi guys in Australia, [hearing complaints about how] they’re young and right out of school, well, don’t pick that as a profession then.

If your complaint is you worked overtime and didn’t get paid for it, find another profession."

I had no idea Michael Pachter was an expert in Australian labor law. Who knew? Seriously, WTF is he doing here?

But wait, it just gets better. Here's more:
“I do get that it is a bad and unfair business practice to work 18 months non-stop overtime, I don’t think anybody was entitled to overtime pay.”

The point that everyone is missing in the LA Noire scandal, Pachter said, is that the Team Bondi development staff will receive generous bonus packages.

That claim has not been substantiated. Numerous alleged former Team Bondi staff claim they had not been paid bonuses. These accusations have not been substantiated either.

“I just don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who say ‘I worked for such-and-such, and I didn’t get paid, and that’s not fair’,” Pachter continued.

“If you want to be an hourly employee, go build automobiles, and what will happen is they’ll close down your plant some day and you’ll be out of work.

The cool thing about this industry is, if you’re good, you’ll make a ton of money.

“I think [the point] that everyone is missing is that, if a game is good – and LA Noire was good – there will be a profit pool, and there will be bonuses,” Pachter continued.

Wow--how much stupid shit can one person pack into only a few statements?

So the business practice of  "18 months non-stop overtime" may be "bad and unfair", but no one is entitled to overtime pay?

Oh, wait, I think I get this. Gaming company employees should be grateful that they have a job, even if they're working (allegedly) 100-hour weeks, even though they're getting paid for 40. Because if they were hourly employees, their jobs would get downsized. Gross oversimplification rim shot!

Yes, because no one's gotten laid off in the gaming industry in the last few years, right, Michael?

Seriously, his whole set of statements is so screwed up and twisted that it makes no sense whatsoever. Companies should apparently be able to whatever the hell they want to do to salaried employees, without limits, with no recourse available to the employees.

What is this--1850?

Even worse, to claim that the bonus pool is sweet honey and will make everything right is totally ridiculous. For one, bonus pools are based on sales, not quality. A team could make a 95 rated game, and if it doesn't sell, they get a sock full of poo for a bonus.

Sorry, I know you worked 8,000 hours in two years, hoping for a bonus. Here's some poo. You might still be able to use the sock.

Plus, I had no idea that bonus pool were automatically equitable, but apparently they are, just because they're bonus pools. Hey everybody, it's magical thinking!

Another problem with bonus pools is that they don't exist for everyone. Or maybe you're the guy who worked on the game for three years, worked 4,000 hours in unpaid overtime, then got released.

No worries, though, because if you're good, you'll still make a ton of money. Michael Pachter says so!

Not to press the point, but how many people, really, make "a ton of money" in the gaming industry? One tenth of one percent? What fantasy world is he living in?

He's not done, though. There's one more parting shot:
Pachter also said game development studios should not be protected by a trade union.

“Sweatshops should have unions but games studios, which tend to pay people a lot of money, shouldn’t,” he said.

What the hell is "a lot" of money, anyway? Is that more or less than a "ton" of money? And what is a "sweatshop", because apparently, "18-months non-stop overtime" doesn't qualify.

Why does the law decide where unions can exist, anyway? Fu-- labor law. Michael Pachter will fix this disgruntled employee shit, stat.

The entire screed by Pachter is so logically illegible that he must be living in Wonderland. Perhaps he's getting advice from a caterpillar.

I May Have Said This In A Game Of Pictionary

"Are those boobies or a tuxedo?"

Hey, don't blame me. Gloria's drawings are confusing. Eli 9.11 thought it was quite funny, though.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Self-Evaluated Genius Of Bobby Kotick

Bobby Kotick gave an interview to Forbes last week, and it's quite amusing.

The title of the article is Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick: How To Be An Innovator.

The correct answer: be someone other than Bobby Kotick.

Instead, though, the article is a fawning fellatio of an interview. It's painful to read, really, particularly when Bobby is spouting off about how innovation is all about "letting people fail".

What? What about this_?
While explaining the decision to drop several marquee titles, including Brutal Legend and Ghostbusters, Mr. Kotick gave up this quip:
“[They] don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. …

Does that sound like games are allowed to disappoint or fail?

Interviewer David M. Ewalt (the "M", apparently, is important) doesn't even mention this staggering contradiction, instead letting Kotick blithely wander down the path of his own imagined enlightenment.

In the interview, though, there was a jewel, and it seems to have been largely ignored by almost everyone. Kotick was talking about the Guitar Hero Franchise, and he said this:
...Guitar Hero became unsuccessful because it didn’t have any nourishment and care. So we made what I think was exactly the right decision last year. We said you know what, we need to regain our audience interest, and we really need to deliver inspired innovation. So we’re going to take the products out of the market, and we’re not going to tell anybody what we’re doing for awhile, but we’re going to stop selling Guitar Hero altogether. And then we’re going to go back to the studios and we’re going to use new studios and reinvent Guitar Hero. And so that’s what we’re doing with it now.

This quote generated a ton of headlines at gaming sites along the lines of "Resurrecting Guitar Hero". Gee, maybe Bobby Kotick IS an innovator.

Hold on. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

No one seems to be noticing the incredibly obvious analogy here, which is oil. Successful oil companies, even as they pump oil from successful wells, are always conducting research into additional drilling locations, and they drill new wells, even though many of them will turn out to be dry or of almost no commercial use.

They do that because even their highest-producing wells have limited capacity.

Sure, maybe it's not limited right now, but eventually, the oil pumped from a well will start to decline. And there have to be new wells to replace that production.

That's not how Bobby Kotick does business.

The way Bobby Kotick manages Activision is that he's taken his half-dozen highest producing wells, focused on substantially increasing production from those wells, and almost completely stopped drilling new wells. Yes, there was D.J. Hero, a solid game that was utterly idiotic as a commercial idea, but at least it was a new well. But there hasn't been much else.

So it's been several years now where there haven't been any productive new wells for Activision. Oh, and look what's happened: a huge well has suddenly run dry.

Guitar Hero.

In the interview, Kotick claims that Guitar Hero died because it was neglected in favor of D.J. Hero--spit take--but it actually died because it was being pumped 24x7x365. It was overproduced. It's dry.

No problem. Just take some of the other new wells that have been discovered--oh, shit. There are no new wells.

See? Of course he's going back to the Guitar Hero well, so to speak. Of course he's going to try to pump more oil out of that location. There are no wells to replace it.

This is why I've said that other companies adopting Kotick's strategy (almost all major publishers have, unfortunately) is a suicide course. It cannot work in the long term.

And if another one of Activision's wells run dry? Ghost town.

Dwarf-Eating Carp

There's an entirely wonderful profile of Tarn and Zach Adams in The New York Times Magazine. It's titled Where Do Dwarf-Eating Carp Come From?, and author Jonah Weiner does a terrific job of taking the time to actually understand Dwarf Fortress and why it matters. So if you have any interest in gaming, or in genius, it's a must-read.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off, and holy cow, this is amazing: an 18-foot, saltwater crocodile that leaps for food offered by tourist boat operators. Yeah, it's ridiculous, I know, but check out the video.

George Paci sent in a link to a fascinating article about a gigantic controversy in Korea over the legitimacy of a superstar rapper's degree from Stanford (note: it was honestly earned): The Persecution of Daniel Lee. And I thought that kind of craziness only happened here!

From Jarod Werbick, and the fellow in this video is brilliant: Full screen-split screen with any game. With a very clever mod to 3-D glasses, each of two players can enjoy full screen action--on the same screen.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, another excellent article about Iraq's first metal band: Acrassicauda: Overcoming Iraq to Make Metal Music.

From Sirius, and this video is absolutely insane: Bike ride, southern Utah. These guys are less than a second away from serious injury (or death) the entire time, seemingly. Also, and this is a wonderful story, a brilliant idea for lighting in poor areas: A "liter of light" . Here's one more, and it's one of the most menacing images I've ever seen: Scanning EM of a "hydrothermal worm".

From Dave Schroeder, three terrific shuttle links:
Photo: father and son at first and last Space Shuttle launches
Space Shuttle Endeavors Final Launch From an Airplane-Window
Space Shuttle Discovery - 360VR Cockpit Images

You have to see that 360 view--it's quite incredible.

Rob Varak also sent in an excellent Shuttle link: ISS and Atlantis seen in broad daylight.

Steffen Vulpius sent in a link to a video from last year's Chaos Communication Congress discussing Stuxnet: Adventures in analyzing Stuxnet (Bruce Dang from Microsoft).

Here's another Stuxnet link from Yacine Salmi, this one to a TED lecture: Ralph Langner: Cracking Stuxnet, a 21st-century cyber weapon.

From David Gloier, an interesting and enjoyable video about a specialty soda retailer: Obsessives: Soda Pop. Also, and I know it's 48 minutes long, but it is the history of the electric guitar: Electrified:The Guitar Revolution.

From Josh Eaves, and this is, um, unsettling: Next-Generation Gelatin Could Be Derived From Humans Instead Of Animals.

From Kevin W, and the narrator of this video is very funny, it's dog bites a shark.

From Ryan Brandt, and boy, is this worth watching: 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air versus 2009 Chevrolet Malibu crash test.

From Clayton Lee, and I bet you thought kittens couldn't DJ, but you're wrong: Kittens on Decks.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best Gaming Day Of The Year

Well, it's official: July 20 was the best gaming day of the year.

I played three absolutely tremendous new games yesterday, and they're all indie games. They're also far better than any AAA title I've played this year. Let's take a look.

Bastion (360)
This was one of my most-anticipated games of the year, based on E3 previews and videos, and man, it didn't disappoint. The game world is beautiful and vibrantly colored, the animation is seamless, and the music is first-rate. Also first-rate is the gameplay, which is thoughtful without being unnecessarily complex--an ideal balance.

Of particular note are the story and the narration. The writing, by itself, is outstanding, but the voice acting, if possible, is even better, and they are a perfect complement to each other. The original hook for the game was that the narration would be dynamic enough to comment on whatever the player was doing at the time. That sounds like a difficult feature to pull off, but they did, and it works perfectly. It's an ingenious idea, and it adds a new dimension that makes the game world even more vivid.

This is a game that never breaks immersion. There are no rough patches that take you back to the real world for a moment or two, no questions to ask about why something wasn't finished or doesn't look right. It's a fully-contained escape from this world, and it's a wonderful experience. If you love the experience of playing games, of entering another world, then you must play Bastion.

In two words: utterly charming.

Note: a PC version is coming.

Dungeons Of Dredmor (PC)
Another game on my most-anticipated list, and if anything, it's even better than I expected.

Rogue-likes are notorious for having awkward interfaces and being none-too-friendly in the usability department, but Dredmor is much, much more accessible. It also has multiple levels of difficulty, so if you'd like a less taxing experience, it's available.

Of course, in a rogue-like, less taxing often means less fun, so by all means, crank up the die-o-meter.

Mechanically, this game is similar to other games in this vein (although I think the crafting options stand out), but it still manages to be singular by virtue of its humor. Simply put, this is a damned funny game, and it's incredibly clever. It's not the occasional one-liner, either--this game is drenched with funny, absolutely soaking in it, and it makes for a lighthearted experience that still can be quite intense.

That's not to say that the game isn't fundamentally sound--it's quite sound, and it's very well-designed--but the humor really does set it apart.

Good rogue-likes generate memorable stories, and there will be a ton of memorable stories coming from Dredmor.

Plus, and this is entirely ridiculous, the game is $4.99. That's $4.99 for hundreds of hours of play, not $59.99 for a six-hour campaign. It's the bargain of the year.

I've also been waiting for this game, although it was more of an unknown quantity, so I picked it up for $8.99 when it was released on Steam yesterday. It has a Puzzle Quest feel, but with card-playing mechanics.

For this genre, the bar has been raised.

The production values of this game are off the charts. It's unbelievably impressive to see the quality and depth in this game compared to other games that are roughly in the same genre.

The best part, though, is the mechanics. Basically, it combines solitaire and poker in an incredibly satisfying way. Starting a battle, you'll have a row of single card stacks--not unlike a solitaire game--and your job is to create a five-card poker hand for each of the stacks by moving cards from one location to another (they display like a solitaire hand).

Nice, huh? Well, it gets better.

Your opponent's hand is displayed at the bottom of the screen, and for any card that hasn't been stacked with another, you can steal it for your hand. Of course, your opponent can steal from you as well, which adds a tremendous number of gameplay variations to consider.

Attack values are in line with the standard value of various poker hands.

Oh, and did I mention that there are spells you can cast during a battle, based on specialty cards? You can equip a limited number, and they have cooldown periods.

In other words, the strategic options during a battle are nearly endless.

It's a tremendous, fresh new game mechanic, and in my play so far, it's well-balanced. It's damned hard to stop playing this game, because the battles are so interesting that I find myself wanting to play just one more before I quit.

So that was July 20 for me.

Oh, and did I mention that I played one more amazing new game yesterday? That's coming in a separate post, but it's going to be on Monday.


Hot off the presses from Game|Life:
Forbes: New Studio ‘Reinventing’ Guitar Hero

All, right, technically I suppose that's hot off the presses from Forbes, but you know what I mean.

This is the funniest damn story ever, and I want to talk about, but I already teased the greatest gaming day of the year, so I need to write about that first. But believe me, this is going to be a subject on Monday.

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Who knew that July 20 would be the best gaming day of the year? Well, it was, hands-down, and I'll tell you about it later today.

In short: I played four games, all indies, all new, and they're all fantastic. And you can buy three of them right now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

3DS Notes

Chris Kohler noted today that 3DS games are being delayed due to sluggish system sales. Of course, he also clearly explains the Catch-22 at work:
The irony is that publishers often complain that they’re crowded out of the market on Nintendo platforms because Nintendo’s own games are too strong. At this point, Nintendo is releasing practically nothing on 3DS; by that logic this is the perfect time to release games. But when push comes to shove, it seems like publishers don’t want to release their games until there are more systems out there — that is, until Nintendo sweetens the pot by releasing their own killer app software.

I don't think there's any question that at this point, the 3DS has yet to capture the imagination or fancy of the buying public. That's certainly not terminal, given that it only launched a few months ago, but some of its inherent limitations in terms of marketability (can't see the effect in a television commercial, difficult to feel wowed at a demo kiosk in an overly bright retail store) will make people question its viability sooner than they otherwise would have.

As I said before, in probably the most over-the-top post of the last decade, that the diorama effect is magical, and that's the only word I can use to describe it. But it's also true that I haven't opened it up in the last three weeks, at least.

I also noticed something extremely interesting today in terms of tech announcements: Hitachi announces high-res 4.5-inch IPS display for smartphones with improved glasses-free 3D.
The headline is self-explanatory, but what's particularly notable is that this display uses the lenticular lens approach instead of the parallax barrier method used by the 3DS display.

Why does that matter? Here's why:
According to Hitachi, that allows for some much 3D brighter images than other displays (470 cd/m2, specifically), and images that are actually brighter in 3D mode than in 2D mode.

Also, the lenticular lens technology is generally acknowledged to be superior to parallax barrier when it comes to viewing angles, which would be another bonus.

I think it would be quite reasonable for Nintendo to release an "XL" version of the 3DS at some point, and a 4.5", bright display would be quite compelling.

Good Grief!

There is some seriously crazy stuff going on around here. Take a look:

Those are heat indexes at the peak of the afternoon. Yesterday, the heat index hit 130 (holy shit) in parts of Iowa. DQ reader Tim Lesnick reported in from his home in Minnesota that they hit 126 on the heat index yesterday.

It's one thing to have the heat index be 105-110 down here. It's been that hot almost every day for months, because we're having a seriously wicked summer. But we also have a stupid amount of air conditioning, and it is overpowered to the point of being ridiculous. I've said this before, but if you're indoors during the summer in Texas, you're probably cold without a jacket. There are plenty of people in the office building where I work that have space heaters because the AC is so ridiculously low.

We've adapted, mostly. We're seasoned. Heat noobs in Iowa are not equipped to handle these kinds of temperatures, and I'm sure the air conditioning can't handle it, either.

Of course, DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy In The World Ben Ormand reported that it's 69 and sunny in Palos Verdes, where he's spending the day. What a nice bastard.

So if you're in some other part of the world and have a vacationed planned in the U.S., you better be staying within ten miles of the Pacific Coast. If not, cancel your tickets and just spend a week in a sauna. It's cheaper and there's no airport security.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


From Forbes:
[AMD] alleges that the next generation Xbox, whenever it does decide to make its debut, will be capable of rendering graphics on par with James Cameron’s CGI epic Avatar.

...Furthermore, AMD claims the tech will also allow each pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto, for example, to have their own distinct personality and react a different way to a variety of circumstances.


Yes, the Xandians are bringing this technology from the goddamn future, people, from the 23rd motherf-ing century. It will reassemble your DNA.

Look, don't think for a minute that the reason A.I. isn't already better in games is some kind of hardware limitation. It's not. It's just that nobody gives a shit.

Does anyone think a Grand Theft Auto game would sell another five million copies if they had twice as many A.I. routines for pedestrians? Or ten times as many?

Ten times as many would be fifty. I kid.

I've said this before, but the Front Page Sports Football series in the early 90s had better A.I. than Madden or NCAA do now. Those games came on 3.5" floppies. But A.I. was a priority for those games, and it's not for EA, at least in their football games.

It's not a hardware issue. It's a will issue.

As for the Avatar graphics, um, sure. Certainly, though, the graphics will at least take a major step forward. Hell, they better, given how long it's been since the 360 was launched. Given that it will probably be close to eight years from system to system, that should mean the next Xbox will have at least 8X (following Moore's law, it would be 16X, but I'm being conservative) the raw "power" of the 360.

With all that power, I expect to see this in the feature list for NCAA 14:
--NEW. Eight models of shoelaces!
--NEW. Shoelaces have aglets!

Then, there will be a giant thread over at Operation Sports with a project to correctly assign shoelace types to every college player.

And the pursuit angles will still be wrong.

The one good thing about this ridiculous PR dump is that at least hints about the next-gen are being dropped now. Nintendo actually has a console launching in less than a year, and there are hints about Microsoft and Sony's next consoles.


Bridesmaids Of Thor's Zookeeper's Hallows

Coming to a local cineplex near you. Best movie ever.

As you can tell from the title, I've been to a few movies lately, and I'd like to correct my negligence in reporting what's worth spending your hard-earned money on. So let's have a look.

While Hangover 2 was a strange disappointment, Bridesmaids is not. It's hilarious, really, and if you enjoy funny movies, this is a requirement. It's also tremendously profane, but profane in the way that people talk naturally, instead of just lobbbing in an f-bomb every thirty lines (again, looking at you, Hangover 2). Okay, it does get a bit sentimental in the last half hour, but that doesn't ruin anything. It's an excellent, well-written, cracking movie.

Eli 9.11 and I went to see this together, and it was one of the best superhero movies I've seen in years. Even better, while it's entirely appropriate for 9-year-olds, the humor is so clever and so broadly based that it's still tremendously entertaining for adults. It broadly pokes fun at the superhero genre while still respecting it, and if you enjoy the genre (or have a 9-year-old), go see this immediately.

This was one of the strangest movies I've seen in quite a while. There were so many individually funny lines in the film, but when the lights came up, I stood up and said to myself, "That wasn't very funny." We were walking out of the theater, and Eli 9.11 said, "Something about that just didn't hang together, did it?"

No, it didn't.

The odd thing, though, is that I can't quite put my finger on what went wrong. That's an ideal movie for Kevin James, which plenty of physical comedy, and he's entirely passable (even likable) as the lead. It just all feels forced, somehow, and while we both laughed quite a bit, I don't think either one of us really enjoyed ourselves.

Well, except for the scene with the Gorilla in TGIF. That was gold.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
We returned from San Diego on Thursday at 3, and on Friday, we headed out to see Harry Potter. Eli's read all the books (so have we), he's seen all the films (so have we, but he saw Half-Blood Prince seven times), and he is a master of the arcane lore of the series.

His reaction? "That was the best one."

Yes, it was.

Here's what I was afraid would happen: it would be impossible for the director to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis--in this case, Sentimentality and Testosterone. So the movie would either be over-sentimental, or it would be so over-fueled in the battle scenes that it would be Transformers with capes.

Fortunately, it was neither.

Instead of wringing sentimentality out of the material or exaggerating the action, the film just tells the story told by the book (with only minor changes)--an incredibly wise decision, because the material is so gripping that it doesn't need exaggeration. And unlike some of the other films, which have sometimes dragged, it's tightly paced and very disciplined. It races, really, which is just what the book does.

Here's an embarrassing admission: I have enjoyed the books so much, enjoyed even more seeing Eli come to love them as well, that I teared up in several sections of the film, the cumulative impact of affection almost overwhelming me at times. Good grief, I'm tearing up right now as I type this.

I can't say that about anything else I've ever read, and that, for me, is the overpowering charm of the Harry Potter series: in spite of being a crusty old curmudgeon, those characters became very real to me. It's not Irving or Bellows, but Rowling's writing is so human in a way that other, more skilled writers have never been.

When I read a Harry Potter book, I never felt any artifices of the craft at all. It just felt like she was reporting what happened.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I have about twenty topics for this week, so of course I'm going to go sideways and talk about the Women's World Cup Final yesterday.

I admit it: I was rooting for Japan. Hard.

I'm an underdog guy--the bigger the underdog, the more I root for them. And Japan was a huge underdog in the final.

Ironically, if all the coverage you saw was from the U.S. media (particularly ESPN), you wouldn't have known Japan was the underdog. Even thought the United States was the #1 ranked team in the world, it was never mentioned. Every story was about the "plucky", "courageous" U.S. team fighting against the odds.

It wasn't as compelling a story to say "The U.S. team are overwhelming favorites to win with the elimination of Germany," so everyone just pretended.

ESPN, in particular, has now abandoned any pretense of journalistic accuracy. Whatever they have the rights to is the biggest story of the day, and if that story isn't as interesting as it could be, they just make shit up.

It was particularly annoying in this case, because the U.S. Women's team was a nice story without blowing it up to ridiculous and entirely inaccurate proportions.

We have this disease in America called "hero-itis." Everything has to be heroic. It's the most overused meme imaginable (along with "patriotism"), and every story has to be bent to fit in the heroic mug.

That's not the same size as an ordinary mug, in case you're wondering.

So while it would have been a very compelling story to ask if the U.S. team was playing tight, given their world ranking, the media tried to make them "heroes" instead.

It would be quite nice if an American team could just be a sports team, not "proudly carrying the flag" or being "the essence of American character" or whatever bullshit is the catch phrase for the day. They played very hard, they had lapses on defense, and they got tight and gakked the shootout.

No shame there. No heroism, either.

Match & Magic

In my "Favorite Games of 2010" post, I included this:
#7 Mystery Indie Game (PC)
A DQ reader let me play a work-in-progress last year, and even though it's still not finished, it's an absolutely terrific game, combining Puzzle Quest-type gameplay with rogue elements. If it was finished, it would have made the top three, easily. I thought it was incredibly entertaining and utterly addictive, so the onus is on you, J.L., to finish it this year.

Well, now I'm able to share a few more details with you, although (big tease) it will be later this week. I'm working on a Q&A with the developer, but it's not quite ready. However, I can share the name of the game (which is the title of this post, actually): Match & Magic.

I haven't played a beta version yet (that will apparently be ready very soon), but I can tell you that even in pre-alpha, the gameplay was tremendous fun, and it had a completely addictive soundtrack as well.

I'll be working on the Q&A throughout the week and hope to have it posted by Thursday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Tim Jones, a totally fascinating read about Stuxnet and how it was exposed:
How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History.

Next, two terrific links from David Byron. First, the use of infrared reflectography to reveal the preparatory drawings beneath the paint layers of the Ghent Altarpiece (considered the "most coveted masterpiece"). Here's David's description of the next link: "The National Center for Scientific Research, over in France, offers a presentation of ultra high resolution (and therefore very zoomable) scans of a number of famous paintings." Please note that you need to have pop-ups enabled in your browser to see the high-resolution scans, which are absolutely stunning.

From Dave, a new kind of glasses, and they're quite amazing:
The device uses grids of LED lights, placed in front of the eyes, to represent nearby objects to individuals who have lost almost all their vision.

From Julian Bell, and these are incredibly striking: Images and Sounds of Big Saturn Storm.

From Kevin W, an interesting thought experiment: If States Were Based On Communities. Also, it's Spray Painting with a Skateboard.

From Sirius, and this is outstanding, it's Altoids Sours BBQ Grill. Also, it's Slow-Mo Guys Pop Massive Water Balloon. Next, and this is a mind-blowing video, it's Interesting behavior of a viscous fluid.

From Meg McReynolds, and these are quite ingenious, it's Etsy & NASA Space Craft Contest: The Winners.

From Slambie, a classic headline: Goat-goring death sparks ban on peeing near Olympic Park trails.

From Eric Harzman, a link to a totally striking video: Good Morning Chicago - Your daily sunrise for the month of June. Also, one more (from the same filmmaker): Lightning strikes three of the tallest buildings in Chicago at the same time!.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More From The Board Game Exhibit

It's great to be back in the land of Internet Connections That Do Not Suck, but after four hours of walking through Legoland and a vigorous hour of sea kayaking yesterday, plus travel today, my ass is beat.

However, now that the damn Internet works (for me), let me finish off the picture thread from the wonderful board game exhibit at the San Diego Museum Of Man.

First off, a classic from the 1880s: "American Boys".

Sorry--it's sideways, I don't know why, and I'm too tired to figure it out.

Next, a card game named "Dr. Busby", published in 1843 (one of the first card games printed in the U.S., and it was "hugely popular":

I'm sure that quite a few of you know that Parker Brothers had to buy the rights to "Finance" in order to secure its own trademark for Monopoly. But how many of you have ever seen the game board?

Again with the sideways (fortunately, it doesn't matter much here).

I also stumbled onto a very interesting paper by Bruce Whitehill, and if you're interested in board games, it's quite fascinating:
American Games: A Historical Perspective.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

District Messenger Boy!

We're having another day of shitty Internet connections, but I'll try to get this up before it vanishes again.

Here was the jewel of the board game exhibit, at least for me: "The Game Of District Messenger Boy" (published 1886). Here's the box:

It's a beauty, isn't it?

According to the BoardGameGeek page, here's the game's objective:
...see which player will first become the President of the Telegraph Company. The players move metallic messenger boy pawns around a spiraling track. Some spaces direct a piece to advance for meritorious service. Spaces reflecting misbehavior direct a piece to go back, or sometimes to prison which requires a return to the start upon release."

Here's the board:

This game was made by McLoughlin Brothers, who were bought out in 1920 by Milton Bradley.

I never realized this before, but with a list of board games released by year, you could understand very quickly how our culture has changed in the last 150 years. Just the idea of messenger boys is so impossibly evocative and nostalgic that it is an instant reminder of how overwhelmingly the world has changed.

I actually have more pictures, but given the damnable nature of the connection, I'm going to post this while I can. The miracle of a reliable Internet connection resumes tomorrow.

Dungeons Of Dredmor

Dungeons of Dredmor has been released and is available on Steam for an entirely ridiculous price: $4.99.

That is a ridiculous deal for a rogue-like that seems to be generating uniformly positive praise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Remarkable Exhibit

I stumbled on something completely wonderful today: an exhibit of board games, including some of the oldest board games I've ever seen. Let's take a look.

Yes, this is amazing. It's "Pirate and Traveler", a board game published in 1911. That's right--a century ago. Here's the map, and what a beauty:

Oh, but there's much, much more.

Take a look at the map for the "National Game of The Star Spangled Banner":

1840. Absolutely spectacular. Here's the BoardGameGeek page: Star Spangled Banner.

Next up, "The Game Of Napoleon: The Little Corporal", which was published in 1895:

By the way, you can click on any of the pictures for a larger image. And here's the BoardGameGeek page: Napoleon.

Next up, it's "The Amusing Game Of the Corner Grocer", published in 1887:

Boardgame Geek page: Corner Grocer.

Since it's a miracle that I still have a connection, I'm going to stop here, but I have more pictures for tomorrow. And where did I see this wondrous exhibit? Why, right here.

Please Note

I'm having nightmarish Internet connection issues right now, but I'll try to post something before it goes down again. If you don't see anything else, though, I haven't died yet, although my Internet access is on a respirator.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #15

Update from trailbreaker John Harwood:
While I am still back at it and working again by starting over with Justin's lessons, my excitement of the previous week has been tempered by Strait Music declaring the guitar un-tunable. The guy was very nice about it and said that he worked at it for several hours and while he could get the open strings tuned fine, he couldn't get it tuned to a harmonic on the same string. He said the strings were fine and didn't need to be replaced, it was more about the construction of the guitar. On the one hand, that makes me feel better, since that's the exact problem I was having that made me bring it there in the first place, but on the other hand... shit. The guy was very cool about it and said he wouldn't charge me for the service since he wasn't able to tune it, so I spent some of my Father's Day gift certificate on a very nice gig bag instead. So Strait Music remains awesome in my book, but the guitar just lost a few marks.

While that really sucks that the guitar can't really be an all-in-one solution, I don't think that negates the worth of it and I'm still very glad I have one. Granted, that's because I have my wife's acoustic guitar, which is quite nice, holds tuning fine, and is great for working through Justin's lessons. If I only had the Squier, that would be pretty frustrating. The Strait guy's opinion was that due to the weak anchor at the bridge and half of the neck being the plastic inlay that has the electronics, it's just not sturdy enough to remain in tune. He didn't feel I had a lemon one, that was just something they'd all be prone to and while I might get lucky and get a really solid one, they were all likely to have that problem to one extent or another.

I still think it's a fantastic learning tool, I just don't think it can be your only guitar. If you do actually manage to learn through RB3 or other lessons, you're going to quickly get frustrated when you plug this into an amp and try to play for real because you're always going to be wondering if the reason a note sounds off is that you're not being precise on the frets or that's just the way that string is. Biggest shame is that you can't really tune the guitar to itself because you can't get even one string completely in tune. But if you use the Squier in RB3 to learn how to play songs that you then use a real guitar to actually play, it's a phenomenal learning tool. The wonder and power of real-time on-screen feedback of what frets you're hitting really can't be overstated. I grew up playing sheet music, and I've managed to wrap my brain around guitar sheet music notation, it's just not as natural a way to learn as strumming away to an on-screen note layout that you can stop and start from anywhere along with the full music track. That's huge.

Harmonix is more or less doing Pro guitar charting as a non-profit public service at this point, so as long as they're still doing that, I'll gleefully slap down my extra dollar on every song they put out.

It's worth noting that a separate theory about the difficulty of tuning has emerged via e-mail, but we'll discuss that next week.

The Fruit Tree Project (Update)

I posted a few months ago about The Fruit Tree project, DQ reader Jon Hui's effort to provide fresh fruit for victims of the tsunami in northeast Japan.

The project has been tremendously successful--to date, almost 30,000 pieces of fresh fruit have been delivered, which is amazing. Also, there was recently an NBC Nightly News story about VolunteerAKITA (the organization involved with the Fruit Tree Project), and you can watch it here (it's the right link--just watch for a few seconds).

DQ Live On Tape

Until Thursday, DQ will be coming to you live on tape, so please enjoy the postings and don't expect any answers to e-mail until then.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a remarkable article about Ernest Hemingway: A Marriage Unraveled: When Ernest left Hadley, Hemingway had a lifetime of regrets .

Here's a fascinating article about former basketball players over seven feet tall (also known as "super bigs" in the NBA) and how they've adjusted to life after the NBA: Larger Than Real Life.

From George Paci, two extremely interesting links: Floating +Pool would let New Yorkers swim in the river and The Beer Archaeologist (this is fascinating). Wait, there's one more, and it's quite funny: Lifetimes of cryptographic hash functions.

From Frank Regan, and this is tremendous: Dial-up sound slowed down 700%.

From Sara McDowell, a nice collection of resources for the indie developer: 40 Helpful Independent Game Design Forums.

Here's Remarkable Irony #47: NY motorcyclist dies on ride protesting helmet law.

From Sirius, and this is totally engrossing, it's Millions of Fishes: The Ultimate Marine Library.

From Steven Davis, an amazing and unique art: Dinosaurs and Fairy Tales Made from Balloons.

From Michael M., several excellent links. First, it's Aircraft punch holes in clouds, leave snow in their wake. Next, and if you like animals, then this video will leave you speechless (in a good way): Crow and Kitten are Friends. Next it's The Lego Barad-dûr. Then, incredibly, it's conrete tents.

This last link is on a serious note, but it's a remarkable project for a good cause. The volunteer organization All Hands is currently helping restore photos damaged in the 3/11 tsunami in Japan. If that's something you enjoy doing, please contact the organization, because they need more help.

From the very, very cold case file: 130-year-old UK murder case finally closed.

Closing out the week, a truly wonderful story about a janitor who won the lottery--and he's still a janitor. And the track coach. It's a completely inspiring story about a good person who stayed a good person after he hit it big.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


It hasn't even come out yet, but I think I know how this is going to go.

Here's a list of "announced new features" on the EB web page for the game:
- HDR rendering
- Three rendered grass on the field surface
- An even higher resolution crowd
- Customizable team entrance music
- Dynamic pylon physics
- Dreadlocks hair option for player selection
- Fog
- Player/Fan interaction

Dreadlocks? Fog? PYLON physics?


If you think this is going to be just another crappy NCAA game that won't pollute Madden (which was crappy enough on its own last year, thanks very much), you are very much incorrect. With the departure of Madden Executive Producer Phil Frazier (and many others who were involved with the Madden franchise, including Ian Cummings), it seemed like a great time to hire someone from the outside, someone with fresh ideas.

Instead, they promoted Roy Harvey.

Harvey, in case you didn't know, was the Executive Producer of the NCAA series. You know, the football franchise where pursuit angles were broken--on purpose--so that the game would be more "exciting." This is the man who was in charge when it was deemed acceptable for tacklers to happily run side-by-side with the ballcarrier instead of, you know, trying to tackle him.

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.

The Big Picture Post

Eli 9.11 went to Magic Camp for the fourth year in a row, and here's what he looked like for Clown Day:

I think he's got it covered.

He also learned some excellent card magic this year, and I'm uploading one of his tricks to YouTube at some point in the next few days.

Take a look at the graphic in this next picture:

If the first thing you think of is "dangler," then you've been watching as much hockey as we have (a dangler dangles down from a goalie's mask to protect his neck).

We've been going to Dave & Buster's on Wednesday's, when it's 50% off on games. Eli saved up his points for a month or so, then wound up with these:

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Well, this would certainly be a kick in the pants, if it's true. From Digitimes:
Sony will have Taiwan-based partners begin production of PlayStation 4 (PS4) featuring body movement-based control like Kinect at the end of 2011 for launch in 2012, according to Taiwan-based component makers.

Foxconn and Pegatron Technology, assemblers of PS3, will undertake assembly of PS4 as well, the sources pointed out. The planned shipment volume of PS4 in 2012 is at least 20 million units, the sources indicated.

I think that would be a terrific move, if it's true. It seems very unlikely, though, given how deeply in the red Sony still is with the PS3.

Alternatively, perhaps it's my assumption that Sony would flog the PS3 until they recovered every last cent that they could that's mistaken.

Family Fishing

Okay, I admit it: I'm a sucker for fishing games.

Part of that is due to the amount of fishing I did on the coast as a kid, which I always found both exciting and relaxing at the same time. There was something special about wading in a saltwater bay at dawn, fishing as the sun came up. I did that for years, growing up, and I still miss it.

The other influence was an Amiga 500 game called "Reel Fish'n". It was a bass fishing simulation, and it was bizarrely terrific and totally addictive. That cinched it for me, and from then on, any game with a fishing component (Dark Cloud 2, Fate, Animal Crossing, just to name a few) automatically gained several grades.

Last week, I saw that Yuji Naka, who was involved with both the Sonic The Hedgehog series and NiGHTs, is working on a game for the Wii called "Family Fishing."


Here's the trailer, and it looks like a relaxing, interesting game, with plenty of things to do on the island where the game is based.

The good news: it's being released on August 4.

The bad news: it's only in Japan, and given the craptastic indifference in the last six months to the U.S. market, who knows if it will ever be released here.

Grand Prix Story (3+ weeks)

I've put in at least 30 hours into Grand Prix Story since its release on June 9.

Well, 50. Probably.

It has more than stood the test of time, since the last game I played for more than 50 hours was Just Cause 2. It's just completely addictive--highly polished, surprisingly deep, and very challenging.

Like all good resource management games, there are never enough resources to do everything you want. The tech trees are large enough that they can't all be explored, and there's enough variety in gameplay that there's often more than one way to reach a goal. There is also an absolutely amazing amount of detail in the gameworld, all of it charming.

If you have an Android phone, it's a must-buy.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

And Oops

So I just apparently (accidentally) had Tuesday's content post as well as today's. So it will be prolific today and entirely absent tomorrow.

UPDATE: and, apparently, I'm also unsure about what today is, which is Tuesday. Nothing to see here.

Follow-up on Headwinds (Star Wars: The Old Republic)

Again, your e-mail added all kinds of interesting notes to the topic, so let's take a look.

Starting off, almost all the e-mail I received was in agreement with my general premise--that SW:TOR was facing heavy sledding, for a variety of reasons, but Andrew Mass dissented in an eloquent and thoughtful way:
Some thoughts on the free model:

1. Free-to-play brings in a casual audience that can be bad for an MMO. Your experience as a player depends largely on the people you play with, and a pay model ensures a more serious (committed) user base.

2. A free model always devalues content. The Village Voice was one of the most relevant and widely read newspapers in my hometown of NYC for decades. That is, until the day it became free. Many other examples here but I chose that one because it was almost pre-internet. When content is devalued it automatically becomes less interesting, relevant and special. As a side note, I worked as a reporter for a magazine called Institutional investor a long time ago. The unusual fact that over 90% of its revenue came from subscriptions allowed us to do a far superior job. Not an exact correlation, but I think it's still a useful comparison.

3. MMO's depend on fairness. In other words, the only micro-transactions that wont destroy game balance will be cosmetic (see Valve). Unfortunately, that may not be enough to really support a good MMO.

I think there's a place for free MMO's, just probably not with the best ones. A large part of the fun with a game like WOW is in achieving the necessary cooperation and team-based skill to succeed at difficult tasks. I still remember being absolutely stunned at the level of collaboration and coordination necessary to run those early 40 person raids--then going to work the next day and listening to some VP from Cisco tell me how one day in the future people will work together over the internet, with voice and video! I still haven't seen professional collaboration tools that really rival what some games have done.

I disagree with the newspaper comparison. Newspapers traditionally have two revenue streams--purchases (both daily and via subscription) and advertising. With a free newspaper, the consumer doesn't pay because there is a separate revenue source, which (theoretically) will be more profitable with more readers.

In a free-to-play game (well, "freemium"), many players still wind up paying for the game--they're just paying for it via microtransactions instead of a monthly subscription fee. So while it's a different revenue stream, it still comes from the same source.

So I don't necessarily agree with everything Andrew says, but his thoughts are still quite interesting as a dissenting voice.

Jersoc sent in one of the most pointed observations about MMOs that I've ever read:
The new car smell is gone.

That is an excellent point in many, many ways.

A few months ago, I paid homage to Julian Murdoch, who predicted (quite correctly) that free-to-play was going to become the dominant business model for MMOs. So I asked him what he thought about the prospects for SW:TOR, and here's what he said:
My prediction is a very successful launch and then a rapidly diminishing player base. It's the pattern we've seen over and over again with new sub- based MMOs. That people aren't learning the lessons from Turbine(Lord Of The Rings Online) is astounding to me. My sense is that Turbine is crazy profitable, and producing a ton more content than any other MMO company out there. The Star Wars IP is bit of an exception, but that only buys them a few months grace.

Shooting Stars

The Dallas Stars of the NHL named Glen Gulutzan as their new head coach recently.

We don't really know him as Glen. He's just Laird's dad.

Gulutzan was coach of the AHL Texas Stars, located in nearby Cedar Park. And his three children played in the youth hockey program. With Eli.

So Eli 9.11 knows him. Probably the best save he's ever made was against his daughter, Ellen, and her dad was in the stands for that game. He was thrilled to find out Laird's dad was the new coach of the Stars--until he realized they'd be moving.

"What?" he said. "Can't they stay here? I really like them!"

The best thing about all this? They're great kids. He's a very nice man, and his wife is very nice as well. They were just like the rest of us--hockey moms and dads. We'd all stand next to the glass and talk about our kids.

It's fair to say that we've become huge Dallas Star fans overnight.

(note: kid's names, obviously, were changed)

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Stuff Of Legend

“I can't BELIEVE I won a Strawberry Shortcake,” Eli 9.10 said as he returned to the table at Dave & Buster's.

“Hey, I think it's kind of cute,” I said.

“I'm just going to give it to some girl,” he said.

“Hold on,” I said. “Maybe I'll take it.”

“What?” he said.

"Memories," I said.

"What memories do you have of STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE?" he asked.

"Well, I dated her," I said.

“Oh, COME ON,” he said.

“Most people don't know this, but the character of Strawberry Shortcake was based on a real girl named Regina Straw,” I said. “She went to my college and I actually dated her for a while.”

“You seriously expect me to believe that,” he said.

“Believe what you want,” I said. “I'll just enjoy my fond memories. Trivia note: she had absolutely no Strawberry Shortcake-related merchandise in her dorm room.”

"NOT LISTENING," he said.

The Squier (Last Notes)

I'm moving on after this post, so that we can discuss other topics, but you guys keep sending in such excellent correspondence that I wanted to mention a few more points.

Ian Dorsch, sent in an absolutely terrific e-mail, and it's so good I'm using it in full:
I'm sure you've already had some replies to this but if not: this is in response to James Prendergast's email about the possibility of pitch detection (pitch to MIDI conversion) in the Rock Band Squier.

This is an interesting prospect, because that's the way real guitar synths work. A special hexaphonic pickup is used in combination with some dedicated hardware that analyzes pitch information from each of six strings and converts it to MIDI data. Obviously this is a lot more flexible than the system employed in the RB Squier--it allows for detection of bends and finger vibrato, among other things. However, here's why it's impractical for the RB Squier:

- You need dedicated hardware. Pitch to MIDI conversion for monophonic (one pitch at a time) instruments exists, and is relatively reliable. I'm not sure, but I believe that Harmonix uses some kind of basic pitch to MIDI conversion for vocals in the Rock Band games. However, a guitar is polyphonic. For it to work in the way James mentions, you'd need a solution that capable of analyzing and converting up to six pitches simultaneously, one for each string. Even if there was a practical, reliable way to do this strictly in software with the low latencies and low CPU overhead that would be necessary for Rock Band, it still would be virtually impossible to determine whether the player is creating the pitches by fingering them in the correct way. As mentioned, guitar-specific hardware for this purpose exists, and is reliable, but...

- The hardware is expensive. The most popular MIDI guitar solution is Roland's GK3 MIDI pickup ( which retails for $219. For an idea of the cost involved in integrating this hardware with a mass-produced retail instrument, the Roland-ready Fender Strat, which has Roland's last gen MIDI hardware built in, sells for $799 ( Obviously a cheaper guitar a la the Squier would cost less, but a hexaphonic pitch to MIDI pickup would still add a lot of cost to the unit.

- Tracking can be unreliable. Pitch to MIDI conversion has come a long way, but as someone who has fiddled with guitar synths, I can attest that it's still not perfect. Even with high end hardware, the pickups sometimes just get confused, and you end up with glitches in the MIDI output. This would be unacceptable in a game controller--you need as close to absolute 1:1 conversion as possible, or the player would rapidly get frustrated with the controller. The last thing you want is for your expensive high end game controller to be responsible for outbursts of nerd rage.

- Harmonix would have needed to program an entirely different way of interacting with the Squier. As it is, the Squier functions like the pro guitar, and can be seamlessly integrated into the game. A vastly different way of interpreting player input would require some serious additional programming man hours. I imagine that it would add a prohibitive amount of expense and additional development time for a part of the game that is designed to appeal to a very small niche.

Two more notes before we put this to bed. First, David Carlton noted that the feedback given by the Squier in terms of finger position is invaluable, and here's what he said:
In regards to some of your recent Squier posts: while I agree that having pitch detection as an option would be great, I'm not convinced that using pitch detection would work as well for learning guitar from Rock Band as the current guitar does. My main obstacle in learning guitar is being able to reliably put my fingers down in the correct place, and I really like the fact that the game can give me feedback as to whether or not I've done that correctly before I strum. Once you get to the difficulty levels where notes are coming at you fast and furious, then you really don't have any choice but to learn how to put your fingers down in real time, but I thought it was great having easy/medium as a bridge where I could take a guess, have the game tell me (without my having to look at the instrument!) whether I was doing it right and, if I wasn't, how to adjust, and being able to correct in real time.

That's an excellent point, and it was one of my favorite features of the Squier as well.

Second, many of you e-mailed about "Rocksmith", Ubisoft's game coming out this fall that allows you to use your own guitar. I'll definitely buy it, if it works, but right now, I'm very skeptical. They've been very, very vague about the tech involved, and as Ian explained so clearly, there are significant technical issues involved in making such a product at a reasonable price point. I expect for it to "kind of" work, so like I said, I'm skeptical. However, there does some to be quite a bit of enthusiasm for a product that lets you use your own guitar.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Friday Links!

From DQ reader My Wife, who celebrated her [insert the Goldbach conjecture here] birthday yesterday, a link to an astonishingly funny (and equally depressing) video relic from the 1950s: Duck And Cover (1951) Bert The Turtle Civil Defense Film.

It is so, so wrong in so many ways. Here's Gloria's favorite line: "Here's Tony, on his way to a cub scout meeting. Tony knows the bomb can come at any time. Duck and cover, Tony!"

Here is an absolutely stunning article about crows and intelligence: Hitchcockian crows gossip about mean humans.

From Sirius, and this is excellent, it's The Essence of Time: Monumentally Important Clocks. Also, Pythagoras Solar Turns Windows Into Panels Of Energy. One more, and it's fantastic: The Ultimate Wingsuit Flying Video.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and this is very cool: a compilation video of 35 different musicians performing Radiohead's "Paranoid Android". No, it's not the full version by 35 different artists--just watch it.

From Kevin W, and what a superb title: Why Sex With Creatures From The Future Is A Bad Idea. Welcome to the world of antagonistic coevolution, using brine shrimp. Also note the comments section, which is quite interesting as well.

Well, it would be hard to find a stranger link than the last one, but Brad Brasfield might have done it, with a story about a Japanese J-Pop star who is not actually a real person.

Also, here's an obscure note: Laura Shigihara, the incredibly talented composer/musician/singer of "Zombies On My Lawn", was offered a J-Pop contract back in the day, but refused.

C. Lee sent me a fascinating article about the green curtain group in Japan. He includes this description:
As you know, Japan is facing electricity shortages due to the March earthquake, and so businesses are being encouraged to cut their power usage. Kyocera is planting climbing vines on trellises to reduce air conditioner loads. The plants block sunlight and cool the surrounding air through transpiration. One test Kyocera performed found that the plants could cut building surface temperatures by as much as 27 degrees Fahrenheit. The curtains also help absorb carbon and, depending on what's planted, can even provide vegetables for employees.

Also, a website for homeowners who want to create their own green curtain.

Max Weinstein sent in a link about an amazing project: Markus Kayser - Solar Sinter Project Here's a description:
In this experiment sunlight and sand are used as raw energy and material to produce glass objects using a 3D printing process, that combines natural energy and material with high-tech production technology.

From Carlos Annlo, it looks like we're only a few steps away from Soylent Green: Coming soon, the test-tube burger: Lab-grown meat 'needed to feed the world'.

From Kevin, and it's staggeringly beautiful: composite image of lightning.

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