Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Drawing the Line

The company where I work, like many companies, sends out holiday cards to its customers. If an employee has customer accounts, they get a little catalog showing the different cards available, and they choose a design.

I normally don't see this catalog, because I don't have any customer contact (customer should be celebrating this), but friend of mine called me in and showed me one design in particular.

It was a snowman with boobies.

Red snow boobies, placed on the white snowman in the appropiate boobage areas.

Before you ask, these were definitely not man-boobies. The snowman also wore a grass skirt.

Compared to the other placid holiday scenes, this seemed sort of odd, so I walked down to our operations manager. She pretends to be incredibly mean and threatening, but she actually has this wicked, dark sense of humor, and isn't particularly mean at all.

"Let me show you something," I said, walking into her office. I showed her the catalog, pointing. "Do you feel snow boobies are appropriate?"

"I do," she said, her stern expression entirely unchanged.

"What about snow boobies with nipples?"

"That crosses the line," she said.

"So you draw the line at nipples?" I asked.

"That's the line," she said. Now she's trying not to laugh.

I walked back down the hall, then had a thought. I marched back to her office.

"What if it was a male snowman wearing a banana hammock?" I asked. "Also over the line?"

"OVER THE LINE," she said.

Crappy Records You Never Want to Break #7 In A Series

It's been hot this summer.

It's been so hot that "hot" doesn't really begin to describe it. I've been living here for almost 25 years, and there's never been anything like this.

On average, Austin has 13.5 days of 100° or higher per year. Take a look at this summer:

That's what I mean. And we're forecast to be 100+ for the next five days.

Here's another angle. Average monthly high temperatures (going back about 150 years):

June's usually kind of pleasant, really. Now look at this year:

Eli 10.1 has had two flag football practices in temperatures over 105°. I don't think he's practiced once when it was under 100°. There's plenty of Gatorade and water, and the coaches are very careful about including breaks, but it still makes me nervous.

Of course, Eli's still flying around the field 90 minutes into practice, and the other kids are just shuffling around, so maybe I should be worried about them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Last (Last) Post On These Topics

I could get away from this if you guys would stop sending in such damned interesting e-mail.

First off, Chris Kohler had an excellent comment about Gamestop's use of gutting new game cases to reduce theft:
If gutting games is solely done to reduce theft, why not just print up dummy cases for each game in the store?

In Japan, the stores put out empty dummy cases for every single game. They never, ever open a package.

I think that's Occam's Razor for this discussion. It would actually save Gamestop employees time if they could just put out a dummy case and NOT gut all the new product--just keep it behind the counter intact.

As to why Gamestop would be doing it the difficult way instead of the easy way, draw your own conclusions. I know I have.

Okay, moving on to Androis versus iOS. I'm using this next excerpt anonymously, but the e-mail brings up an excellent point:
I work on a reasonably major mobile website in [redacted], and while our numbers are obviously specific to our territory and user base, they don't really paint Android and iOS as direct competitors. We do get massively more iOS use than Android, but we're seeing rapid Android growth-- for low-end devices. An increasing number of $100-outright devices are running Android, displacing "feature phones".

Android's winning handily in the space of devices you can pick up in a supermarket, because iOS doesn't even exist there. While that's certain to be a huge long-term boon for the OS (that market segment is big and never going to go away), from a developer point-of-view it makes an iOS vs Android comparison nonsensical. In terms of what you can deliver to the user, fully-specced Androids have more in common with iOS than their cheap siblings; "Android" isn't a coherent development target.

So I tend to see the buzz around iPhone vs Galaxy S2 and its ilk as being a bit of a distraction from all the manufacturers of budget phones quietly switching to Android. The question there will be at what point will the cheapest, most terrible piece of hardware shipping with Android be good enough to run a decent chunk of javascript or most apps acceptably? The ones walking out of supermarkets right now really aren't.

Well, that was a gigantic plate of context in one meal.

And now, these two topics are closed. They will remain hidden until, at some unspecified point in the distant future, they emerge from their dark lairs.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Precision (well, a little bit more of it, anyway)

Last Thursday, in the EBAD post, I was far less precise than I should have been, and I would like to add some additional clarifications.

First, when I said that Google was kicking Apple's ass, I got some lively e-mail telling me I was crazy. What I didn't do in the original post was present the data and let you guys draw your own conclusion. Let me do that now.

First off, the article that was sent to me several times was this one: Apple iOS Platform Outreaches Android by 59 Percent in U.S. When Accounting for Mobile Phones, Tablets and Other Connected Media Devices.

It is, however, more complicated than that.

That study includes iPods, which lack an equivalent device in the Android world.  If you include iPods, the numbers (according to comScore) are 37.9 millio iOS devices and 23.7 million Android devices.

If you want to look at it that way,  then Apple is still solidly in the lead.

However, if you take out the iPod and focus on the installed base of cell phones and tablets, the picture is very different. There are only 22.9 million iOS devices compared to 23.7 million Android devices, and that's with Apple having had a virtual monopoly on tablet sales until recently (which is changing quickly--we bought a 10.1" Galaxy Tab a few weeks ago and it's pretty spiffy). Also add that Android devices are being added to the installed base in much higher numbers than iOS devices.

So that's it, is it? Well, again, it depends on how you want to look at it.

From an Apple perspective, they are the only manufacturers of their devices, while there are at least five manufacturers of Android devices. If you want to look at it that way, then Apple is still dominating.

To me, though, that was Apple's business decision. They're locked down. Their choice.

So when I originally made the "kicking ass" comment, I was thinking of the OS ecosystem and the total share held by each company's OS. I didn't add any context, though, which is my fault.

That's a much more complete picture of the data, and it's the picture I should've given on Thursday.

Now, let's move on to Gamestop. I'm still not going to give them back their capital "S", but here's what they did on Friday:
GameStop is attempting to make up for the Deus Ex: Human Revolution debacle by offering a $50 gift card and a “Buy 2 Get 1 Free Pre-owned Purchase” to those who bought boxed copies of the PC version in-store.

That's absolutely fair. Actually, it's more than that--I would say that was actually generous. Not a word I've ever used in conjunction with Gamestop before, but there's a first time for everything. Well-played.

Now, three ex-Gamestop employees (two of whom said they hate the company, as well as an ex-manager who I consider an unimpeachable source) wrote in to say that gutting new games and storing the contents in baggies was, in fact, about reducing theft. Here's an excerpt from what the ex-manager sent me (and everything he's sent me in the past has been gold, so I trust him implicitly):
While I'm not defending their move to pull coupons (even though Square Enix has come out an admitted they didn't tell GameStop what they were doing and that GameStop had a contractual right to know), saying that gutting display boxes to "reduce theft" is bullshit is flat-out wrong. GameStop has crazy low levels of theft in comparison to other retailers, and I've been in the industry for 15 years. GameStop considered 0.25% loss "normal" and any result greater then 0.8% was considered serious enough that it warranted an automatic disciplinary action against the stores managers. Compare that to Walmart and other big retailers, where anything less then 2 or 3% is considered a major achievement. So gutting packaging works for GameStop.

Again, I was terribly imprecise in the original post. I totally agree that gutting new games and putting all the contents behind the counter reduces theft. Hell, it has to--there's nothing to steal.

However, and I think this is a big however, I've always thought it was entirely wrong for a retailer to treat new merchandise so cavalierly. If I buy something new, it should mean that I take the shrink-wrap off the package. I don't want any intermediate finagling with the contents. I'm buying it NEW, not just UNUSED.

That's a considerable difference to me, and it's why I haven't bought a game from Gamestop in-- hell, I don't even remember the last time I bought a game from them.

So I agree that having no merchandise on the floor reduces theft, just as killing everyone in a village reduces the incidence of disease. However, I also entirely believe that Gamestop has, at a corporate level, created procedures that make buying a new game look as much as buying a used game as possible. Product is behind the counter, it's taken out of drawers, it's reconstituted into a sellable product.

It's exactly the same thing. And if it's the same thing, then why not buy used?

I promise that's not a coincidence. And I would also promise that Gamestop corporate headquarters had people who studied operating procedures and aligned the new/used procedures until they were indistinguishable to the customer.

Of course they did--their margin on used games is 3X new games. That's Corporation 101.

I did actually go into a Gamestop on Friday night for the first time in months, and unlike that same store last year, I can distinguish between new game areas and used game areas. There was a time previous when it was even difficult to do that.

One more comment from the ex-manager:
The gutting of new game and selling resealed returns predates GameStop's move to sell used, though. It was the same thing they were doing in their Software Etc/Babbages days when you could return games you didn't like. They'd repackage those and sell them as new, after all. We even had a shrink-wrap film cutter and heat gun for the process.

That's true, and I remember it happening, so point taken.

As always, thanks to you guys for the intelligent and well-spoken e-mail.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Links!

Loaded. Loaded!

Here's something completely fascinating that I never knew about until now: cats' pupils dilate just before they attack. Just watch this video, and see for yourself.

From Phil Honeywell, another incredible Danny Macaskill video, and as a bonus, the accompanying song (by Ben Howard) is absolutely tremendous.

I posted link a few years ago about a feral 7-year-old child that had been discovered living in Plant City, Florida. Now, an update on her condition that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

It looks lik a long-running mystery about lager has been solved: Lager's Mystery Yeast Discovered in Argentina .

George Paci sent in a series of excellent links this week: Turning “junk” noise into energy with maths, Google AI Challenge post-mortem (written by the contest winner), and a fascinating bit of Arthurian lore: The Mabinogion/Peredur the Son of Evrawc.

Here's a delightful story from across the pond: Court refuses trial by combat.

From Jeremy Fisher, a surprising new discovery: The moon may be younger than we thought.

Great headlines just keep on giving: Bull semen forces closure of interstate ramp.

From Mark Lahren, and this link wins the Vertigo Award Of The Week: On the top of Burj Khalifa's spire, the highest man-made point in the world.

From Kevin W, a robot swarm finds and retrieves a book. This is quite an incredible video, believe me. Also, and this is quite wonderful, it's Animals Being Dicks.

From DQ reader My Wife, a video that proves you are not incorrect in thinking that Tom Waits sings like the Cookie Monster.

From Sirius, a series of excellent links. First, it's the discovery of a gigantic species of wasp with huge jaws . Next, it's high mountain camping (runner-up for the Vertigo Award). Finally, it's The Stunning Fly Geyser.

From Jesse Leimkuehler,  a fascinating look at possibilities for  space colonization: Synthetic Life Could Help Colonize Mars.

Dave Tyrell sent a link to the new advertising campaign for Getafe FC, the Spanish First Division team that continues to have abysmal fan support (remember, this is the same team that featured a suicidal koala in a previous ad). This time, it's hot zombies and artificial insemination, I think (and entirely NSFW, unless boobies are approved by your workplace).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Everybody's Being A Dick Thursday

Good grief, where do I start? Oh, right--here: GameStop opening Deus Ex boxes, removing free game code.

This is a direct quote from a memo to Gamestop employees:
Please immediately remove and discard the On Live coupon from all regular PC versions of Deus Ex: Revolutions. Our desire is to not have this coupon go to any customers after this announcement.

Well played, Gamestop. Since you're already acting like complete dicks by opening new product, putting the contents behind the counter, then "reconstituting" it when I want to buy a new copy, why not leverage your dickish way and just start throwing shit away whenever you feel like it?

Let's come clean here. Gamestop doesn't gut new copies to help "reduce theft in stores."  That is complete and total bullshit. They do it because it makes a new copy look  exactly like a used one, and if it's the same thing, why not buy the used one?  It's the most transparent ploy ever, and what makes it even more infuriating is that it works.

That was yesterday.

Today, Gamestop has pulled the PC version entirely from its shelves.

Here's the thing. Square Enix didn't tell Gamestop that the coupon was included. That's not correct. Leave it to Gamestop, though, to respond like such asshats that it turns them into the bad guys. To take something potentially of value out of a new game package  and not tell the customer is heinous.

Do you know what I did when Gamestop bought Impulse? I deleted Impulse.

Oh, and the capital "S" in Gamestop? I pulled it out of the word, and it won't be distributed to readers. You lost your big S, bitches.

Okay, enough about Gamestop. Let's move on to Jay Wilson, Diablo 3 Game Director. In a recent interview with PC gamer, he answered questions about the total lack of off-line mode and violated the cardinal rule of interviews: don't be a dick.

Here's how Wilson responded when he was asked what people should do if they don't have a stable Internet connection:
Erm… upgrade the wiring in his house? I mean, in this day and age the notion that there’s this a whole vast majority of players out there that don’t have online connectivity – this doesn’t really fly any more.

Classy. Wait, he's just getting started:
So for us we’ve always viewed it as an online game – the game’s not really being played right if it’s not online, so when we have that specific question of why are we allowing it? Because that’s the best experience, why would you want it any other way?

Thank you for telling me how I should play games. What a time-saver!

Next, he takes a trip to Entirely Not the Point Town:
An online experience is what we want to provide for this game. Every choice you make is going to omit some part of the audience. Some people don’t like fantasy games, so should we have not made Diablo a fantasy game, because some people don’t like that? Some people don’t like barbarians. Should we not have put a barbarian in the game because some people don’t like it?

Awesome. Thanks for saving me the $60 I would've spent buying your game, Jay.  I can spend that money on highly-deserving indie projects made by people who aren't dicks.

Lastly, let's talk about Apple.

Apple has been suing the hell out of Android phone/tablet manufacturers because Google is kicking their ass. So they're claiming that other companies--Samsung in particular--have "copied" their designs.

Pictures of the devices do show that they look virtually identical. Well, except Apple Photoshopped the images.  And more than once.

 Well played, dicks.  Oh, and call me--I have an idea for a new logo.

Urinal Chicken: One More Fascinating Possibility

DQ reader Drew Thaler sent in another urinal chicken scenario, and it's called description error. Here's how he explains it:
Something similar actually happened to me recently, though not with fried chicken.

I was in a seriously filthy fast-food restaurant bathroom -- one that actually opened to the outside, as if it were a gas-station bathroom. Anyway, I finished up, washed my hands, and meant to throw my used paper towel in the trash. But I wound up chucking it in the urinal, by almost unexplainable accident! The urinal and the (overflowing) trash can didn't look alike AT ALL... but I think I was so grossed out by the condition of the bathroom that I wasn't paying enough attention. And boom -- now I'm the jerk making it even worse.

The same thing could have happened to the fried chicken guy -- he was exhausted, wasn't paying attention, went to pitch his chicken and chucked it in the wrong place.

Believe it or not, this phenomenon actually has a name. In chapter 5 of Don Norman's seminal Design of Everyday Things, he classifies this sort of thing as a "slip", more specifically a "description error".

Here's more on description errors, and two examples are throwing dirty clothes in the toilet (instead of the washing machine, hopefully) and putting orange juice on your cereal.

I think that's a pretty fascinating possibility, although it does provide far fewer Photoshop opportunities.

Please Note

You should go play Wonderputt immediately. Very Magical Mystery Tour.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Facepocalypse

"I have a crisis," Gloria said as I walked through the front door. "My mother wants to friend me on Facebook."

"It's the Facepocalypse," I said.

"I can't tell her 'no', but I don't want her seeing my Facebook posts, either," she said. "And I can't block her from seeing them, because then she would know I'm blocking her."

This really is a crisis: the crisis of awkwardness. Gloria likes Facebook. She enjoys hearing about what her friends are doing. But her friends, and the types of posts that get made on Gloria's wall, are so entirely incompatible with what her mother believes that friending her might rip the fabric of the space-time continuum.

That doesn't actually make sense, strictly speaking, but I do like how it sounds.

"Why am I so freaked out about this?" she asked.

"Because your mother wanting to see your Facebook posts is like her asking to see your underwear drawer," I said. "Your mother will be looking at your thongs."

"Agghhhh!" She emitted a sound that cannot be adequately spelled.

"Well, let's see," I said. "Option one: you could close your Facebook account. Really, if Facebook has reached the point where your mother wants to friend you, isn't that a jumping the shark moment? Facebook is dead now, right?"

"Let's just put that in the 'possibility' pile," she said.

"A disfiguring hand disease has left you unable to type?" I asked. "Downside: wearing prosthetic claws at holidays."

"Possibility," she said.

"Wait, I've got it," I said. "Just Google Facebook identity theft, and tell your mother you're very concerned that as an elderly person, she might be susceptible to having her identity stolen. Yes, that is genius!"

"I don't think that will work," she said.

"That's all I've got," I said. "I leave you to your fate."

"Wait!" She said. "I'm not finished going through my paranoid freak out yet! What if she decides I'm an unfit mother and sues for grandparent's parental rights?"

"Congratulations," I said. "You have officially reached the most unlikely scenario in the world." Gloria loves to do this. It's the apocalyptic version of Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon. She can go from a paper cut to brain cancer in less than six steps, every time.

She laughed. "Sometimes it makes me feel better just saying it out loud," she said.

"Good luck," I said. "Now, I need to go to my study and write this all up for everyone else's amusement."

"I knew that was coming," she said.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From Bad To Worse: Fried Chicken Edition

Well, it's hard to tell.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about writing the blog is that I never know what will spark your imagination. Last week, I thought The Dream Game would generate plenty of interest and many fascinating dreams.

It did not.

Yesterday, I wrote a bit of a throwaway (I thought)about fried chicken and a urinal.

Your collective interest headed on a rocket to the moon.

Stephen Kreuch made my favorite reference: This is like Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Urinal Chicken.

If you turn to the back of the book, the solution may be:
The man was peeing while holding the fried chicken in his mouth with his teeth. He peed long enough that his teeth tore through the bite of grizzled chicken and it fell into the urinal while he tried to catch it, to no avail.

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I thought Encyclopedia Brown totally kicked ass.

Kadunta noted (quite correctly) that the original text of the post said "a man could be holding a piece of mouth in his chicken while he urinates." I don't even want to think about what that might possibly mean (and I fixed the post).

The dominant theory via e-mail presents scenario #4: the chicken was deposited in the urinal in protest of its quality.

Yes, exhausted sweaty man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, holding a piece of fried chicken. Winning the 200 meters in the 1968 Olympic Games and holding up the fried chicken in protest.

Actually, let's stop for a minute right there. Please don't let that last sentence lead you to believe that I have anything but respect for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were stone-cold badasses. If I'm ever that strong for even one moment in my life, I will be glad. I just thought exhausted sweaty man in a blue work shirt holding up a piece of fried chicken on the Olympic podium was a quality moment.

Let's continue.

Exhausted sweaty man in bed with Yoko Ono, holding up a piece of chicken. The sign on the window behind him reads "FOUL FOWL."

Let's close with sweaty man destroying the fried chicken inventory and throwing it into Boston Harbor.

You can stop groaning now--I'm done.


First off, DQ reader Jake Spencer recently completed a game.

A claymation game.

It's also quite interesting, and it's free. Oh, and you definitely need to play through it more than once (it's about 10-15 minutes long). All in all, very cool and you can download it here:
Be Good

Next, Les Sliwko let me know that  Age of Fear: The Undead King has a new version with new graphics, and it can be downloaded here (license key required). Change list (and new images) are in this forum post.

Lastly, if you're playing Dungeons of Dredmor (and if you're not, you damn well should be), the Blood Mage and Vampirism skills are awesome. I've been rolling random skills for each game, but I liked those two so much that my current game has a skill set I hand-picked.

Don't mess with me and my mustaches (yeah, I've got golemancy, too).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fried Chicken

I drove down to South Nowhere on Friday to pick up Eli from Camp Half-Blood.

Seriously, it's far enough out of town that people could give you directions using tethered farm animals as landmarks.

There's nothing out here, except for the State Park. And that's a problem, because it's a 45-minute drive from our house, with highly variable traffic at rush hour (his camp ended daily at 5:00 p.m.). To have a buffer, I always left at least half an hour early, which meant I had nothing to do except sit in a state park in one bazillion degree weather for 30 minutes.

On Friday, though, I had a plan.

Instead of leaving half an hour early, I was going to leave a full hour early. Then, instead of stopping at the park, I was just going to continue south on the highway, because there would surely be some kind of fast-food eatery further on down where I could sit in comfort for a while, secure in knowing that the camp was only five minutes away.

Three miles past the park, I drove up on a massive convenience store, and with it already looking like, well, hell, I decided to call off the search for comfort and went inside.

When I say a big store, I mean big. So big that it had a Subway, a taqueria, and a fried chicken stand inside.

And folksy crafts. Can't forget those.

Well, it's just half an hour or so, and at least it was air-conditioned. I bought a drink and made camp at a table next to the Subway.

After a few minutes, a fellow sat down at the table behind me, and he had a little paper carton with fried chicken.

This poor guy. He was wearing work boots, and he had sweated through all his clothes. He looked exhausted, and the fried chicken couldn't be helping--it might have been older than he was, based on its appearance. Still, though, he was eating it, with the determination of a man forced at gunpoint to dig his own grave.

After about ten minutes, he got up and walked back toward the bathroom, then passed me later on his way out of the store.

I decided to go to the bathroom before I went to the park, so I headed back. There were two urinals, and as I unzipped to do my business, I took a quick look over at the other urinal, which was unattended.

There was a half-eaten piece of fried chicken in the urinal.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 166–167

With one fleeting image, the foundation of my entire worldview collapsed. I cannot comprehend a world where people leave pieces of fried chicken in urinals.

Now, anything is possible. Could I fall in love with a goat, or could a giraffe practice law? My answers have gone from "impossible" to only "unlikely."

Even more disturbing than seeing the fried chicken was considering the possible scenarios that put it there. I could only think of two:
1. Man was peeing with one hand while holding the piece of chicken in his other hand. He dropped the chicken.
2. Man was peeing, finished eating the chicken while he was still peeing, and was too lazy to take the piece of chicken to the trash.

Either one was my logical apocalypse. What kind of man takes a piece of chicken into the restroom with him? If he cared enough to take the chicken, wouldn't he hold on to it firmly? With a death grip, even?

I can't even comment on #2. That's a pun.

I called my friend Mike, who often gives wise counsel in matters such as these. He presented me with a heretofore unconsidered third scenario:
3. Man was peeing while holding the piece of chicken in his mouth. For what ever reason, he dropped the chicken.

I don't know what's more disturbing--the fact that a man could be holding a piece of chicken in his mouth while he urinates, or the fact that Mike came up with another scenario that seemed the most likely.

Yes, I hate myself for not taking a picture.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Sam Veilleux, a link to a story about one of the greatest badasses I've ever seen: Nancy Wake, aka "The White Mouse."

Next, and this is entirely, utterly awesome, the Milwaukee County Zoo is using iPads-- with orangutans. Their favorite app? The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Here's a fascinating article about Andy Kaufman, one of my favorite comics ever and certainly one of the most opaque (Lee, check my usage): Andy Kaufman, The Unlikely Bombthrower

DQ reader Keith Leinart just published an Amazon e-book titled What Really Happened?, a witty send-up of historical events. A few subjects:
--A look inside the "Tournament Scene" for Knights of the 12th century
--Final box score, highlights, and recap of the 1066 battle at Stamford Bridge
--Life and times of John Brown, revolutionary abolitionist & music industry visionary

And many more.

On Penny Arcade last Friday, Tycho made mention of a fellow who's created a Starbucks card for other people to use. It's called Jonathan's Card, and it's one of the coolest ideas I've seen in a long time.

Here's a fascinating article about secrets: 5 Ridiculous Secrets Only Two Living People Know. Also, please note that it includes video of the single most incredible magic trick I've ever seen.

From Frank Regan, and this is quite a stunning video, it's Rarely seen smoke rings at Mt Etna.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, it's NASA Rover Arrives at Huge Mars Crater After 3-Year Trek.

If you're into music or technology, this next story will blow you away:
Pioneering '50s Synthesizer unearthed in French Barn.

Surely, this is one of the greatest charts ever: The Titantic Taxonomy Of Wrester Names.

From Steven Davis, and this is mind-blowing, it's 3D Printed Model of a Virus Self Assembles When Shaken. Here's another one, and it's mind-blowing as well: Sending the Police Before There’s a Crime.

From Jeremy Fischer, and this is fascinating, a story about research designed to enable emergency responders to communicate while using different device types.

From J.R. Parnell, an uplifting (and awesome) story: F1 fan receives bionic hand from Mercedes team. The hand, by the way, is incredible.

From Sirius, and this is quite a bombshell: Fossil 'suggests plesiosaurs did not lay eggs'. Also, a clever dose of physics humor. This next link is required reading: Mad about metered billing? They were in 1886, too.

From John D'Angelo, one of the most interesting optical illusions I've ever seen: this video illusion will destroy your brain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Dream Game

Eli is at Camp Half-Blood this week, which must be one of the greatest summer camps in the history of mankind. They create an elaborate extension of the Percy Jackson world and play through the story during the week of camp.

It's all fantastic, really, even though it's in a state park and the temperatures outdoors are roughly one thousand degrees and have been for the last two months.

I know this camp is great because when Eli 10.0 gets home, he talks non-stop for an hour about what happened that day.

He mentioned something yesterday, though, that I thought would be fun for you guys as well.

It's something called "The Dream Game", and here's how it works. One or a group of people are supposed to create a dream (a story, really), and then the "subject" asks yes or no questions until they can figure out the content of the dream.

Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound so interesting.

Here's the twist: there is no dream. When the subject asks questions, if there is an "e" in the last word, then the answer to the question is "yes". Otherwise, the answer is "no".

This becomes kind of a fascinating Rorschach test for the subject, because they have to discover a dream based on the kinds of questions they ask. And it can take quite a while, too, with some amazing twists and turns.

An example: Eli and I did this with Gloria. At one point, she was stumped, and kept asking questions. Because the last words didn't contain an "e", we kept answering "no". She went through a list of the most obvious questions, but finally gave up on the obvious. Then she asked, "Was I hypnotized?"

I looked at Eli, he looked at me, and we said "YES!" The questions you wind up saying "yes" to are often relatively bizarre, which makes it even more fun.

So this was Gloria's dream: she was singing the Canadian national anthem (and singing well, please note) with four of Eli's hockey teammates (Ethan, Kelsey, Meg, Cole) in front of an audience at an arena.

And she was, of course, hypnotized.

That probably took 40 or 50 questions to reach, and it was tremendous fun the whole time, because we didn't know the story, either.

Eli tried it at camp, and here was his dream: he was working at H.E.B. (a grocery store) and sold cabbage to UT quarterback Garret Gilbert.

Hey, don't ask me. I just work here.

Oh, and if you do try this, send in the dream. That would be fun to share.

From Dust: No

Ubisoft, cleverly, has done it again.

Before the release of the PC version of From Dust, they confirmed that the title would require a one-time Internet activation only.

They lied.

Have a look at this report from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which has all the details.

Oh, and in other news, the port is shit. Lousy control, Frame rates, no anti-aliasing--that should be enough.

Well done, Ubisoft. Their new slogan: where great ideas go to die.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Social Life

One of Eli 10.0s former sitters got married two years ago, and she'll be having a baby soon. She'd came to town for a visit recently.

"I haven't been to a wedding since Mary got married," Eli said.

"Well, most of your friends aren't really marrying age yet," I said. "But Taylor will get married someday, and I'm sure you can go to her wedding." Taylor is his new sitter, who he is entirely sure hung the moon.

"But will she?" He asked. "Will she get married?"

"Well, I don't know," I said. "Taylor doesn't ever really talk about it. She's very private about her social life."

"I'm private about MY social life," he said.

He was silent for a few seconds.

"I don't even HAVE a social life," he said.

That Smell Must Be College Football

Starting off, just to get up to speed, you should go read this:
Renegade Miami football booster spells out illicit benefits to players

If you're lazy (and who could blame you?), here's a quick recap: Ponzi scheme scumbag spends millions of dollars giving Miami football players whatever they want for almost a decade. Money, cars, strippers, drugs--hell, ANYTHING that was in demand, he supplied.

If I'm counting correctly, that is the seventh of the top twenty-five programs in college football to have some sort of major scandal in the last two years.

People are acting surprised.

Do you know why the other eighteen programs haven't had a scandal? Because investigative reporters haven't payed attention to them yet.

It blows my mind that people don't understand how simply this breaks down. At every school, there are boosters who have stupid amounts of money desperately wanting influence with a group of people who don't have money. It's just not that hard to figure out.

I've always thought it was ironic that professional sports, which are often derided as being cynical, are a hundred times cleaner than college sports, and no, I wasn't using 100X for the sake of hyperbole.

What I also find ironic is that people seem to want to hold players to a much higher standard than coaches. Aren't coaches supposed to be the grown-ups?

Six Gun Saga!

In what must be the quietest launch in history, Six Gun Saga has been released. And if you're on the fence (Western pun), there's a demo.

The game is a whimsical and fun homage to the Old West, with the always fascinating gameplay that Vic always produces.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Console Post of the Week: Sony Price Cut

Sony, in a surprise announcement today, lowered the price of the PS3 to $249, effective immediately.

Why would they do that now? Let's take a look. Oh, and please note that this wouldn't have been a surprise if I had been paying better attention, because they dropped the PS3 to $299 on August 18, 2009.

In fiscal year 2010, Sony sold 14.3 million PS3s--a 10% increase. For fiscal year 2011, which began April 1, Sony projected roughly a 5% increase to 15 million units.

First-quarter results, though, indicated a problem.

Sony sold 600,000 fewer PS3s (1.8 million) than they did in the same quarter last year. Even worse, the PS3 only sold 400,000 more units worldwide than the PS2 did.

To put that into perspective, Sony forecast sales of 15 million PS3s in FY2011. They forecast sales of 4 million PS2s.

Last year, the PS2 sold 1.6 million units in the first quarter, and 6.4 million units for the year. Yes, the PS3 has a holiday ramp and the PS2 doesn't anymore, but without a price cut, the PS3 was seemingly looking at a 12 million unit year, which would have fallen short of their forecast by 3 million units.

Making it worse, July sales (first month of second fiscal quarter) in the U.S. (143,000) were down 33% over last year.

Price cut time.

Since we haven't looked at these graphs in a while, let's take a look at the rolling 12-month sales totals for each console in the US:

To the best of my knowledge, the 360 graph represents a phenomenon that has never been duplicated in the history of consoles: rising 12-month rolling sales for its full lifetime, which will be hitting six years soon. It's particularly amazing when you think back to what absolute shit the 360 was, in a reliability sense, for the first 2+ years of its lifespan.

Now, for some historical context, let's include the PS2 (please note the graphs are using a longer timescale in the same space, which is why the lines from the previous graph look a little "squished", to use a fancy technical term).

That flat line at the start of the PS2 represents the post-launch period when NPD did not publicly release monthly sales data.

Here's what surprised me: even with the relative collapse in Wii sales in the last year, it's STILL selling better in the U.S. (on a 12-month basis) than the PS2 was at the same point in its lifespan. I think it also shows that a significant decline in sales was, historically, common for consoles at this point in their lifespan. That's why five years was generally the planted flag representing a console's useful sales life.

Nintendo is following this path again, with the release of Wii U next year, but Microsoft and Sony have plotted a different course.

What I think will be very interesting is to see if the $50 PS3 price drop produces the same kind of sales bounce that could be expected in the past. In July of 2009, before the price cut to $299, the PS3 sold a dismal 121,000 units in the U.S. In August (and remember, the price cut was only in effect for roughly half the month), the PS3 sold 210,000 units. Doing the math (always a challenge for me), if this price cut has a similar effect, then the PS3 sales for August in the U.S. should be about 247,000 units.

This time, though, I really don't expect that to happen. For one, the 2009 price cut was $100, not $50 (25% versus 16%). And there's nothing else to get people excited about the PS3. As a result, I'm expecting August sales to be in the 200,000 range.

We'll revisit this next month.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Game Notes

In a year where $50 and $60 games have been almost uniformly disappointing, the terrific surprises in the under $20 category continue this week.

First off, releasing today, is Space Pirates and Zombies (S.P.A.Z.), a game that has generated tremendously positive buzz in the last few months. Brian Rubin of Space Game Junkie recently previewed the 1.0 build, and here's a summary description:
..SPAZ is a top-down, real-time action-adventure game set in a randomly-generated universe with up to hundreds of star systems, most with two factions, Civilians and the militaristic UTC. Gameplay is much like Star Control, in which you control one of your ships from a top-down view, although this time your mouse controls the rotation of your ship while the keyboard controls thrust and strafing. You also have a mothership from which to build new ships and repair current ones. Destroying ships nets you two of three of SPAZ’s resources, Data (experience points) and Goons (crewmembers), both of which are very important, while destroying asteroids and crates gets you Rez (currency). One must keep all of these flowing in order to maintain a well-functioning fleet.

Rez allows you the opportunity to build ships and buy items off the black market from space stations. Goons crew your ships, fight off boarders and help with repairs. Data helps you gain experience and blueprints for other ships. Whenever you level up with enough data, you are granted research points to spend however you like in things like shields, engines and so on. Each system has many missions that also reward you with these resources, as well as tip the scales of power toward one faction or the other (as well as their demeanor toward you). The game also has an over-reaching plot that you can follow or ignore at your leisure. This is a game that has depth and longevity along with its action-based gameplay, as well as quite a bit of humor.

Win, win, and win, as far as I'm concerned.  It's $14.99  and available on  Steam (also available through other digital distributors) .

Tomorrow (if you haven't already purchased it for the 360) is Bastion, now available for the PC as well.  It's also $14.99, and it's entirely wonderful.  Seriously, if you didn't pick this up when the 360 version was released, it's a must-have for the PC.

Also being released tomorrow for the PC is From Dust, Eric Chahi's god-sandbox game that received generally solid reviews when it was released for the 360 recently. Actually, many of the criticisms of the 360 version involved the control scheme using a gamepad, and hopefully, those issues are remedied with the mouse/keyboard control combo.

I'd like to tell you exactly how Ubisoft's bullshit DRM will operate with From Dust, but I don't know yet. Allegedly, there's just a one-time online activation.

We're not done yet.

Not quite yet released, but coming soon, is Rock Of Ages, and if Monty Python made a video game, it would surely be something like this. It's entirely wacky, looks like excellent fun, and it's releasing on August 31 for PC for only $8.99.

I saw a lovely preview video last week for the upcoming To The Moon, and it looks entirely arresting-- poignant, wistful, and quite unique. Seriously, watch the trailer--I can't remember the last time I saw a preview video that raised so many interesting questions.

It also features music by Laura Shigihara, which justifies the purchase price immediately.

One more, and it's an RPS link to a 17-minute video of A Valley Without Wind. I'm still not totally sold on the change to the 2D perspective, but this seems like a big idea game, and those games are always worth investigating. Plus, Chris Park one of those guys that's going to hit very big, and soon--he's just too good not to succeed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a wonderful link from Jeff about the opening of the first public library in Troy, Michigan in 1971. A librarian wrote a bevy of famous figures and asked what libraries meant to them. A  remarkable number wrote back, and you can see some of them in Letters to the Children of Troy.

Here's the fascinating story of Vaughn Meader, a comedian whose career (and, in some ways, his life) was essentially ended by an assassination.

From Sirius, and this is an absolutely mesmerizing photo, it's A labyrinth made with salt.  Also, and this is one of the coolest pictures I've ever seen, it's Why you can't sneak up on a grasshopper.

From Jason Maddox, an entirely wonderful video about gaming titled The World Is Saved .

Here's a fascinating look at a technical mystery that persuaded the NHL to change how they reviewed goal/no goal via replay.

From Tim Newsome, and we now have a bark links streak going, it's more beautiful pictures of bark.

From Steven Davis, two very interesting links: Are Modern Airplanes Dangerously Overengineered? (from Popular Mechanics, and it's an excellent read), and A Brief Dry Spell for the U.S.S. Monitor. Wait, here's one more: World’s Largest Stop-Motion Animation.

From Don Slevin, links to three wonderful short films: Move, Learn, and Eat.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and just remember, things seen cannot be unseen, it's Awkward Pregnancy Photos.

From Frank Regan, a link to a fascinating video: Japan tsunami tore huge ice chunks off Antarctica.

From Jonathan Arnold, another one of those gigapixel pictures, except this one is at 69,394 X 30,420 pixels, which is freaking ridiculous. Take a look: Vancouver Canucks fans.

From Brock, and this is another gaming screenshot website (and it's quite cool as well), it's Electric Blue Skies.

From Paul C., and believe me, this might be the most interesting link of the week: Hurricane Balls.

From Kevin W., and be warned: just looking at this might give you a heart attack. It's deep-fried stick of butter (on a stick). Well played, Iowa. Well played.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Steam Trading

Valve recently announced "Steam Trading", a marketplace that allows Steam users to trade new games and items to each other. Here are a few details (from the Steam Supportpage:
What items can be traded?
Team Fortress 2 items and Steam Gifts can currently be traded in the Steam Trading Beta.

Will there be other games that support trading?
We’re working now with other game developers to incorporate both Trading and Inventories. Portal 2 should be reasonably soon and we hope to have several third-party games in the next few months.

What do you mean by trading Steam Gifts?
Any game you’ve purchased from the store as a gift, or received as an Extra Copy, can be traded to other users. They can be used to trade for other Gifts, or for items in Team Fortress 2. We’ve added a new checkout option to the Store when purchasing a gift so you can save it for trading or sending later, to support users who want to save games for trade fodder.

What restrictions are there on trading Steam Gifts?
Trading a Steam Gift is very similar to sending a gift to someone; just that once it is traded that user can then either trade it again, or open it for themselves. There are no restrictions on territory.

That's quite interesting--extremely interesting, really--so let's discuss it today.

As I understand it, secondary markets exist for the trading or purchase of Team Fortress 2 items. This is not, by itself, uncommon--secondary markets often pop up for the trading of popular goods, game-related or otherwise. However, the market was large enough for Valve to notice, and they started selling certain TF2 items last year.

Again, that's not uncommon. Co-opting secondary markets seems to be a primary goal for gaming companies these days, but it's also a goal for professional sports teams (the reselling of tickets) and many other businesses.

What Valve is doing with Steam Trading, though, is fascinating.

Let's look at how this used to work. In the secondary markets, there were item-for-item trades, and it was also possible (in some cases) to sell items for cash. As an example, let's say Gamer X sold his Hat Of Undying Bladder Fortitude to Gamer Y for $5. Cash transaction.

Gamer X now has five dollars in his pocket. He can spend it anywhere, or he could put it into the bank (highly unlikely). Its value, though, is tied to a real-world currency.

Valve, obviously, doesn't get anything out of that transaction. Now I have no idea how big the secondary market was for TF2 items, but Valve does, and I'm guessing the numbers were far from trivial.

A boring way to capture that secondary market is just to create an in-game auction house or something like that, using real-world currency.

Valve, however, is rarely boring.

What they did instead is create a marketplace where the currency is games. Now, Gamer X can sell his Hat Of Undying Bladder Fortitude to Gamer Y for a copy of The Best Game Ever (also valued at $5).

In the old transaction scheme, Gamer Y wound up with a hat, and Gamer X wound up with $5. In the new transaction scheme, Gamer Y still gets hat, but Gamer X gets a game "worth" $5, and Valve gets $1.50 (if they take 30%, which I believe is correct--or close). And the game's developer (which might also be Valve) gets $3.50.

Why wouldn't Valve just have a cash trading system and take a cut of each transaction? Well, if they said they were taking 30%, people would be outraged. Torches, angry villagers, Frankenstein's castle--you get the idea. Because taking 30% of a transaction is outrageous, right?


The way they've set it up, though, they can say it's nothing out of the ordinary, because they always take 30% of the revenue from a regular game purchase. They don't even have to say anything. To most consumers, Valve's take will be totally opaque to them--because it's not coming from them.

Instead, it's coming from the developers. That's no different than what happens with any other game sale on Steam, though.

See how clever this is? And Valve will add a TON of games, both from themeselves and from third party developers, that support this system. It prints money.

Wait, though--it gets better. Another reason Valve went with a "games as currency" system is that it decouples item value from a real-world currency. Value becomes more fuzzy (not for the people who are paying attention, really, but most people aren't paying attention).

When value is fuzzy, the chances for inflation increase. And if item prices rise, which requires higher value games to be purchased for trade, then Valve makes even more money.

Wait, it gets even better. People are going to look at this system and think they can trade it for profit. Let's say Valve has a blowout weekend special and a game temporarily sells for $3.99. On Monday, though, that game is back up to $6.99. The "trader" who bought it for $3.99 now believes he's sitting on $3 of profit, because he could theoretically trade it for a $6.99 item.

It's not quite arbitrage, but it's in the ballpark.

Here's the thing, though. What Steam Trading is going to encourage is the piling up of "game assets." It will get people to buy multiple copies of games they already have, because they plan to use the extra copies as virtual currency. It's an investment, right?

What happens when everyone has extra copies of almost everything? Well, people will have to spend a little more "game currency" to get the item they want. Maybe, quite a bit more.

Inflation. Maybe, at some point, hyper-inflation. But that inflation translates into lots and lots of extra game sales, and Valve takes their sizable cut.

So decoupling value from a currency transaction where Valve takes 0% into a gaming currency transaction where Valve takes 30% AND introduces the real possibiliy of asset inflation is, in a business sense, totally brilliant. Unspeakably brilliant, really.

Scary? Absolutely. But besides indies, what isn't scary in gaming these days?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Eli 10.0 was in a pre-season hockey camp every night last week.

On the first day, a female coach spent quite a bit of time with him as he worked as a goalie. Her name is Sarah Erickson, and by any definition, she is a hockey beast. Here's a very abbreviated list of her credentials:
--Two-time captain of the United States Under-18 Team
--led Under-18 Team USA to a gold medal in 2008
--First-ever captain of a USA Under-18 Team
--2008 Ms. Hockey recipient (Minnesota)

She's a junior now at the University of Minnesota, and has continued her bad-ass ways--I'm sure we'll be watching her on the U.S. Olympic team in 2014.

So Coach Erickson was working with Eli, and I was totally hoping that she would take some shots on him. She looked like she was going to, then broke it off, but came back a few minutes later and started shooting from about 30 feet away.

The way this works is that the coach will start off at a level that they think is appropriate for the goalie. Then, if the goalie stops a shot, they'll take it up a notch. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Eli knew that he was about to face shots from a future Olympian, and I knew how amped up he was in net to face her. To him, it was the Olympic gold-medal game.

He stopped her first shot. On the second, he made a beautiful "flash" save, where the goalie jets his glove up from his hip. I'd been telling him for months that he was going to start making that save, and he hadn't done it yet, but then he pulled it out for the first time against the best shooter he'd ever faced.

The third shot was much harder, low to the right post, and there was no way he could get there, but as he went down, he kicked out his right leg at the last instant.


On the fourth shot, she put one in high over his blocker. He almost got to that one, too, which just amazed me. Then she skated up and tapped her stick on Eli's leg pads.

Well done.

The best thing about Coach Erickson, by the way, was that she was a terrific person. She was totally supportive and positive, and Eli really responded to her. On the last day of camp, she was even gracious enough to pose for a picture with Eli and sign an autograph, which I really appreciated.

And I guarantee you we've turned into huge Minnesota fans--for women's hockey, at least.

So back to the camp. As the week progressed, Eli started making that flash save with his glove more and more often. He was facing a bunch of kids from the travel team (both his age and up to two years older), but very few pucks were getting by him. There were three travel team goalies in the camp, and Eli outplayed all of them.

I noticed something else changing, too. Occasionally, Eli was celebrating a save. He made a few totally ridiculous saves on Wednesday, and he definitely "highlighted" them.

"So I thought you looked terrific tonight," as we walked over to Whataburger after Wednesday's practice.

"Thanks, Dad," he said. "I felt great."

"I noticed a little celebrating after a few saves," I said.

He pretended to be surprised. "You did?" he asked.

"I think that might be something you want to think about."

"Why?" he asked. "Shooters celebrate."

"Well," I said, "if you celebrate when you make a save, it looks like you were surprised because you weren't expecting to make the save."

He didn't say anything, and I let him think about it for a few seconds.

"But a goalie--" I started, but he cut me off.

"A goalie should never be surprised when he makes a save," he said.

"That's right," I said. "Because if you act surprised, it makes the shooter confident. But if you act like you expected to make the save, like you make that save all the time, then it's intimidating."

"I get it," he said. "Thanks, Dad."

The next night, he was standing on his head again, like he had all week. But every time he made a terrific save, he just flipped the puck away, like he'd been doing it his whole life.

Business as usual.

By the end of practice, a few kids--the best ones, in particular--were visibly frustrated, banging their sticks on the goal as they skated past after Eli stoned them. By acting as if saving their shots was a regular event, he was, in effect, refusing to acknowledge their status, and by banging their sticks, they were unconsciously giving him status.

"Buddy, that was just great," I said later. "You made some of the best saves of your life tonight."

"I do it every day, Dad," he said, smiling. "I do it every day."

The Trenches

I was completely surprised this morning to find out that Jerry Holkins (Tycho), Mike Krahulik (Gabe), and Scott Kurtz have created a new comic called The Trenches. The strip focuses on the life of a game tester, and there is no scenario I can envision where it should not be bookmarked immediately.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


A man, a corporate man, sought enlightenment. It was important for his career.

He traveled. He traveled far and wide. He learned to climb mountains.

At the top of the first four mountains he climbed, he did not find enlightenment. At the top of the fifth mountain was a vast temple, and inside the vast temple was a vast figure of Buddha, and inside the figure of Buddha was another temple.

I told you it was vast.

Inside the second temple was another figure of Buddha, and so forth, until a reasonably sized temple had a somewhat-lifesized statue of Buddha, and inside the statue, a very old monk sat cross-legged, peacefully breathing.

The corporate man was exhausted, but he sat down quietly.

Days passed.

On the seventh day, the monk finally spoke: "what can I do for you, my son?"

"Thank you, honored elder," said the corporate man. "I have come to seek enlightenment on behalf of my company--Electronic Arts."

"Go on," said the monk.

"I am an executive," said the corporate man, "and I have been told by the CEO that I must create something for our sports franchises called "Season Pass". It's a way to generate more revenue for our company, but I don't know how it should be structured. There are many incentives I could offer: discounts on full games, digital downloads at a reduced cost, beta access, access to developers--why, there are so many substantial things I could offer that I cannot choose between them. And even if I could, how would I know what to charge for such desirable incentives? I have thought about this problem for months, and I am unable to clear my mind, so I have come to you for advice. Can you help me?"

The old monk said nothing for three days. Then, he spoke. "Before you can know what a man will pay for something," said the monk, "you must first know what he will pay for nothing."

And thus, EA Season Pass was born.

Let's take a look at what EA Season Pass offers. For $25, you get:
Early Full-Game Digital Access: Three days before a game’s scheduled release, fans will be able to download and play the full version of all five participating titles on Xbox 360 and PS3. The digitally downloaded game will time out when the game is available at retail and consumers have the option to purchase the same full game on disc at retail.

Discounted Downloadable Content: Subscribers will get a 20-percent discount on all available downloadable content for participating EA SPORTS titles.

Free Premium Web Content: Premium web content extends the game experience beyond the console to a web browser. All participating titles will feature premium web content that will be free to EA SPORTS Season Ticket members.

Membership Recognition: Subscribers are easily identifiable with an exclusive membership recognition badge displayed both in-game and on their profile.

Wow. If I buy $125 of EA Sports DLC every year, I break even. And I get exclusive access for 72 hours to games that will be almost completely unplayable until the second major patch (NHL excepted). Then I get to delete those games off my hard drive as soon as they're available at retail stores--and go buy them at the retail store. Plus, I get a special badge identifying me as a COMPLETE FREAKING IDIOT for spending $25 on nothing.

P.T. Barnum was an optimist.

Here's my problem with EA Sports: I know that there are smart people working there. There are some very smart people. So why aren't any of those people making any of the decisions? Because this "package" is pathetic and embarrassing.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sorry About That

I saw the error in spacing in the previous post, and went in to correct it, but Blogger apparently has a new "feature" where you can't go back and edit a post once you've published it.

Hopefully, I'm misunderstanding this, because I often need to go back in and clean up little bits of posts. It's going to turn into a gibberish-fest if I can't correct anything [insert your joke about already been gibberish HERE].

Gaming Notes

There's a new indie portal called Indievania, and it looks promising. Here's a note from the website:
Indievania is an online indie game marketplace for independent developers to sell their games directly to players. Customers can purchase games directly from the developers PayPal account, supporting the original developers and helping to fund development.

Players can redownload games at any time after purchase, and developers can continually update their game and release new versions.

Indievania was started by indie developers Alientrap, as a solution for other indie developers to sell their games and retain the most profits possible, taking just a 9% fee for storage/bandwidth as opposed to the industry standard of 30%. 

The site is currently in beta right now, but I definitely think it's worth keeping an eye on--it sounds like a great deal for indie developers.

Next, and I saw this over at the indispensable Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a gaming website  that features ultra-high resolution screenshots taken in-game. The screenshots are amazing, absolutely jaw-dropping, notable as much what they choose to show us their beauty. The website is called Dead End Thrills, and it's very much worth checking out.

Lastly, and this is one of the many, many reasons I love the world of Dwarf Fortress, check out this development update from Tarn:
We've decided to go ahead and add the ability to perform interactions as an adventurer now, whether they are a basic property of a modded adventurer race or something gained through a curse/secret, etc. Obviously this would have needed to go in at some point, but it was unclear if it was going to happen for this release. I suppose the current peak of this feature will be learning to be a necromancer and then animating your own severed arm as a permanent traveling companion. That's going to be my test case, anyway. That'll probably make your arm into a historical figure with its own entry on the legends screen. I'll have to see how that works.

Seriously, how could anyone not love THAT?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, one of the coolest ideas I've seen in a long time: QR codes on headstones.

From Chris Pencis, and while it might be a video software editing/effects advertisement, it's wonderfully inventive in its own right: Plot Device.

From Tim Steffes, and this is a riveting read: Getting Bin Laden: What happened that night in Abbottabad.

From Michael Hughes, and this is a fascinating video: High-End CNC for Anyone: Tested Tours TechShop.

From Bryce, and man, is this cool: Man Builds Street-Legal Batmobile Using Turbine Engine.

From G Kemble, a lovely tribute to Middle Earth in Minecraft.

From Sirius, some absolutely amazing images of-- believe it or not -- bark.

From Jeremy Fisher, and this could potentially be one of the most amazing things ever built, it's Rio solar city tower. Also, and this is just incredibly clever, it's The Ballad of Mike Haggar. Think of it as a combination of Final Fight and The Night Before Christmas, and enjoy. Oh, and let me say one more thing: what a wonderful bit of writing.

From Jonathan Arnold, and these images are absolutely incredible, it's Wieliczka Salt Mine – An Astounding Subterranean Salt Cathedral.

Oh, and while I was on the site retrieving the link, I saw another fantastic article: The Surreal Appeal of the Falkirk Wheel.

From DQ reader My Wife, a close encounter between a paddleboarder and a whale.

From Ken Andert,  who said it was the headline of the month (and I agree with him): Stoned wallabies make crop circles.

From DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, a link to an incredible voyage: sailing around the world .

From D.F. Prosser, a new use for Kinect: Archaeologists hack Kinect into 3-D scanner.

A bit alarming but quite interesting nonetheless: 7 Casino Technologies They Don’t Want You to Know About.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Eli 10.0s Big Adventure, and The Great Outdoors Has Been Downgraded To Good

Like I said on Monday, Eli's life has been nothing short of a big adventure lately.

We went to a "resort" for an overnight trip on his birthday weekend. It was one of those family resort places, the kind that are always crowded and make you feel like you're in a human puppy mill. This was no exception, and it was 103 degrees to boot.

It was ostensibly sort of a borderline wilderness area, but it had about as much wilderness as a mall. I was okay with that, though,  because I've always had kind of a tenuous relationship with the great outdoors. I mean, "Yay, outdoors" and all that, but I'm actually much more comfortable looking outdoors than actually being outdoors.  My favorite way to enjoy the outdoors, unless I'm working out, is to watch a nature documentary on the plasma television with snacks at the ready.

Our primary reason for selecting this location was that they had zip lining, and Eli 10.0 had never gotten to try it before.  His best friend came on the trip, and while the zip line itself was somewhat short, the excitement lived up to their expectations.

The tower attached to the take-off point for the zip line also had five different rock climbing routes.    The walls were 40 feet high, and the kids climbed for about half an hour before they zip lined.

Gloria did, too. I didn't, because I had hurt my calf playing tennis two days earlier (Eli's new sport, but that's a story for another day) .

After Eli had climbed all five routes, he went back to the first, which was supposedly the most challenging.  After watching him his entire life, I've almost lost the capacity to be shocked by anything he does. Almost. then, though, he'll do something like this:

Yeah, he pauses after about 30 feet, but it's still totally ridiculous.

Welcome Back, Old Friend

GameTunnel is back, and it looks great.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Match & Magic Q&A Part Two

See yeserday's post if you missed part one, or Monday's post (which was an introduction).

First off, a few creature cards:

I'm pretty sure I dated her. Next, a Dragonkin:

You can see the beautiful detail on these creature cards. Now, a Shambler:

Okay, let's go to the Q&A. Jeff, in clarifying one of his answers, prompted another question from me, so let's start with that.

Yesterday, you mentioned the forum post about the F-16, and you talked about how it influenced your development style. Please expand on that.
He talked about the issues they had with having a super long to-do list and how they ended up using small attainable lists to make incremental progress at a regular interval. I don’t know if that is actually true, but it works like a charm for me.

I always break things up into very small, attainable tasks of no more than 10 items (usually 5). It is usually very progressive.

For example:
1. Put an image on the screen
2. Make image move +1 pixel up and right at each frame
3. Make image only move during a time interval
4. Make image stop at destination
5. Make image disappear at destination

How many people are on the team? Is it just you and an artist, or are there more people involved?
My team has fluctuated over time, but ultimately it has been two programmers (myself included) and 1-2 artists depending on what version of the artwork I was on. The original artwork was 1 person and the new version is 2.

I know you've significantly upgraded the art from what I saw last year. How much has it delayed the final game?
The original took 6 months and the reskin is around that same amount of time (but basically just in art time). I lost a year in-between by trying to get a local art team together which just didn’t work out.

How has the final game diverged from the design document, and why?
Well I actually wrote the original idea down on a graphing pad and it wasn’t really organized like a typical design doc. What I thought was fun on paper was not exactly fun when we implemented it. The game really became more simple and abstract from the original idea. Every time we ran into a design issue we chose to simplify and it worked. We wanted to make the core part of the game to be fun so we had to make changes to get there, and simplification was the right path.

What is funny is that the original design is actually very close to my planned expansion, so I have made a loop in some sense.

You've mentioned expansion plans for a dungeon-type experience. Would you describe that in a bit more detail?
The best way to describe it is by combining Bejeweled and a game like Dungeons Of Dredmore/hack/rogue. My game allows the user to control the direction the gems fall, and that will become a much bigger part of gameplay in the expansion. In Puzzle Quest and similar clones you travel a map between battles, simply by clicking here and there. In my expansion you actually play in campaign mode and battles/missions can be handled by the mode of play we are about to release. I say “can” because there is combat in the campaign portion also. Obviously there will be some minor adjustments to the current mode of play to make it integrate better with the campaign mode. And when I say “play” I really mean play. You will not be clicking on a map to go from location to location. You will actually “play” to travel to new locations in the world. The player will always have to be making choices and decisions just to get to their next objective/location/battle. I have written and played a significant portion of this already. It’s fun so I really want to get it out there.

If you tried to explain the game in one paragraph, what would you say?
I always want to say the game is Bejeweled with objectives, but it is more than that. You fight monsters, cast spells, gain items, drink potions, and do “quests” like an RPG. You have to make decisions every turn in order to survive as long as possible. It is easy to play but much more difficult to master.

I'd like to thank Jeff for taking the time to answer questions about the game, and he wanted me to mention that if you're interested in participating in the beta (which should be coming very soon), or just get to want on a mailing list for the game in general, contact him at

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Match & Magic Q&A Part One

Here's part one of the Q&A with Jeff Laflam, creator of the upcoming Match & Magic.

First, another screenshot:

Besides an entirely beautiful playing field, what you're seeing are the visual effect after fire and wind tiles are matched. Also, the player is currently battling a monster (the card in the right panel), and has collected a staggering array of potions/effect cards (left panel).

Okay, now part one of the Q&A.
Jeff, this game (and you) came out of nowhere. What was your programming backgound before you started the project?
I started programming in high school. After that I decided to get my degree in computer science and immediately started working at Intel. By day, I was writing BIOS test tools and database tools, but at night, I started to dabble in what I really wanted to do, which was game programming. I dreamed about doing that ever since my dad brought home our first computer, an Atari 800. I started writing my own games, which were epic in design, but went nowhere.

I asked a question in a gaming forum that was basically "How do you finish these big games?" A guy responded by talking about the actual making of the F-16 fighter jet (the real one). He discussed the issues they had with having a super long to-do list and how they ended up using small, attainable lists to make incremental progress at a regular interval.

That really put perspective on what I could and couldn’t do. That's when I decided to write some smaller games that had already been made. I started with Mastermind, which took a few hours one weekend. From there I started work on recreating an old WWI fighter game. It took me about 3 months to finish, and it was tough--I had to write everything from scratch. It turned out to be a fun game, but more importantly, it showed me what I needed to go through to actually complete a game from start to finish. That last 10% is literally 90% of the work as they say.

What really helped is that the game was already defined… I just needed to recreate it. From there I knew how much I could accomplish by myself, plus I could reuse the code I had previously written to expand upon the scope/level that I did before.

I decided I was going to adopt the phrase of “and 1” from basketball. I wanted to make games that were built on existing, well-received game types, but then I wanted to add one thing to them that I thought was even cooler and more fun, hence the "and 1" term. That has been my design philosophy since.

How long have you been gaming and what are your favorite games/series? Do you have any particular influences in terms of designers/developers?
I’ve been gaming since I was about 8 years old and basically play/try every type of game. I fell in love with Master of Magic, Civilization, Deus Ex, Empire, Diablo, Total Annihilation, and Pirates. My biggest influences have been Sid Meier and Blizzard. I love how Sid finds the fun in games and I love how Blizzard doesn’t release until it is done.

When did you decide to do this game? Did anything in particular create the seed?
I was watching my wife, daughter and mom play Hexic on my 360 one night and I noticed them get frustrated when the board would lock up, because that meant it was the end of the game. I think they could’ve kept playing for hours otherwise. That is when I thought about making a Bejeweled type game that didn’t end when the board locked up. I also noticed that they liked completing bigger clusters since it was more of a goal than matching for a higher score. That is what made me think about creating Bejeweled with objectives. (that was my “and 1”). I decided to use cards for the objectives because cards make it easy to expand/add.

How long have you been working on the game, and what's been most difficult?
It took me six months to develop the original game. I asked publishers and people on forums what they thought, and I got the same response from everyone: they loved the game, but the graphics needed updating. So I tried to drum up some local talent to help redo the art.

For about a year, though, the art went nowhere. Artists approach and handle things in a much different way than engineers do. I know that shouldn’t be surprising, but it is jarring when you experience it for the first time. It can be easy to misunderstand each other. I’m not saying that in a bad way--I actually enjoy working with artists, and can bring great ideas to the table.

After that year of going nowhere, I decided to take a risk and fork out what I call “big money” to get a professional, veteran artist who could really make the graphics shine. Fortunately, I found a wonderful artist that I will always partner with in the future.

What's surprised you the most?
I never thought my five-year-old daughter and my mom would both be playing and enjoying my game. I really thought my audience would just be traditional gamers, but instead it's appealed to a wide range of people. My friends, friends kids, and neighbors have all played and enjoyed it. I would show someone how to play, and then hours later I would have to kick them off my computer so I could go to bed.

That ends Part 1 of the Q&A, but here's one more treat: an animated GIF of the iterations of the user interface as the game has progressed. Check back for more tomorrow, and here's the GIF (click on the image to see the animation):

Eli 10.0!

There's so much going on in Eli's life right now that I can barely even keep up, but in the last three days, he's campused a 40-foot rock wall (I have video) and taken shots from an Olympic hockey player. More details later this week.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Match & Magic

It took two weeks longer than I thought, but the Q&A with Jeff Laflam, the creator of upcoming PC game Match & Magic, is finally ready.

A little background first. Two years ago in August, Jeff contacted me with a request to take a look at a game he'd created called "Elemental." He said this was his first game, and I didn't expect much, really, but I was willing to try it out.

What I realized very quickly, though, was that I was playing something important, a game that was almost impeccably designed and executed. It was a match three game, and its very core, but there were so many interesting variations, so many entertaining nuances to gameplay, that I couldn't stop playing it. Even the music was insanely catchy.

The only part of the game that didn't stand up to the otherwise-uniform excellence was the art. It wasn't bad, by any means, but it was very basic, and this game really, really deserved more. So I e-mailed Jeff, told him he was a game creating wizard, and made a few suggestions. And I told him that the art really needed to be reworked if he wanted the game to reach its full commercial potential.

Other people were telling him the very same thing, as it turned out, and he decided to both expand the game as well as do a major art redesign. That's why there's been a delay from the fully playable version in 2009 to today, when the game is finally nearing release.

Having said that, though, I think the delay has been more than worth it. Take a look at one of the new screens:

I don't have a screenshot from the earlier version to compare it with, but it was spartan. This is lush and quite beautiful, courtesy of artist Geoff Mellon, who is clearly terrific.

So, why did I fall in love with this game? Primarily, because it plays like a rogue-like in a match-three format. Take a look at the screenshot just above: you have a tile-matching area in the center, a spell book on the left, "hot" spells at the center-top of the screen, and the current events panel on the right.

At any one time, you might be battling one creature (or several), depending on what your matches have created. But at the same time, you might also be trying to fulfill collector tasks or special tasks that will grant you spell cards upon completion, and these spell cards can be very powerful. You might also be trying to dispel certain effects. Up to five different event cards can be active in current events panel, so the amount of strategic decisions available to you during each turn are staggering, and require you to carefully balance need versus risk.

Plus, there is a tremendous array of creatures and spells, which creates an unbelievable number of situations. Again, that's just what happens in a good rogue-like, which generates interesting stories, which are always the hallmark of an excellent game.

Now, if you're wondering if all this decision making gets hectic, the answer is no, because the game is turn-based, not real-time. So you have all the time you want to sort through the possible combinations of actions--oh, which also include setting which direction you want tiles to move when they're matched. The ability to control the direction tiles fall makes possible some very interesting multi-move strategies to reach a goal.

All right, I've gone on for so long here that I'm going to make part one of the Q&A start tomorrow, which part two on Wednesday. So come back tomorrow and I'll have the first part of the interview with creator Jeff Laflam.

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