Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This Was Inevitable, Seemingly

I've been meaning to write about Star Wars: The Old Republic for months (among a hundred other things I haven't gotten around to writing about, either). Mostly, I was wondering about the size of the financial hickey EA was getting from a game that was clearly not performing as expected.

Today, there was this:
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going free to play this November, publisher EA announced this afternoon.

All eight character storylines up to level 50 will be accessible with restricted access to new content and advanced features. Some of these restrictions can be removed by "purchasing" access with Cartel Coins, the new virtual currency to be introduced in the fall. Unlimited access including higher-level content and new features will be available through subscription options.

I don't see how this move can hurt--the subscriber numbers seem to have been dropping rapidly--but it's certainly a very public admission of the game's struggles.

Eli 11.0!

It's hard for me to understand how Eli could be eleven years old--he only had his first birthday five minutes ago--but I'm assuming his claims are correct.

I'm very proud of all the things he's done in his short life, and how hard he works, but I'm most proud of the kind of person he's always been. All the way back to his little shaver days, he's been warm and caring and generous. There aren't nearly enough people in the world like that, and I'm very glad he's +1 to the category.

Today is also an anniversary for me, of sorts, because I realized last week that I have been writing about Eli for ten years. My first column at Gone Gold was about assembling a toy (the Rock-N-Bounce Zebra--a foul device) for his first birthday.

I have no idea how many words I've written since then, but it was far, far too many. And some of you, incredibly, have read them all. So thanks to anyone who stops by to read, and a special thanks to those of you who have been here from the beginning.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Well, This Is Much Better

Owen Faraday of Pocket Tactics has a review of 10000000 that is approximately 10000000 times better than the short note I posted today: Review: 10000000.

Sorry, That's $1.99, not $.99, for 10000000

Sorry, $.99 must have been a launch special, or I have a lousy memory. Both, perhaps. You still need to buy it immediately.

Gridiron Solitaire #15: My Favorite Beta Tester

That would be my mom, who is 82 years old.

I've been modifying the help screens, including adding one for both offense and defense titled "Behind the Scenes" (which gives a more detailed look at the A.I. and game mechanics), and I realized that Mom would be the ultimate beta tester for accessibility. She knows quite a lot about computers for someone her age, but she doesn't play games and didn't get her first computer until she was in her sixties.

I want everyone to be able to play the game--if they'd like--but for that to happen, the game has to be accessible. And I figured if Mom can play it without incident, then that's a good sign.

Yesterday, she tried out the game, and she was able to start a new league, modify a team, get to the team hub, and play part of her first season game.

She didn't, however, save the changes she made to her team on the team customization screen. And because of that, I realized that adding the "help referee" to the team edit screen, and having him specifically explain how to be sure a user's changes were saved, would help new players.

When I designed that screen, I thought I was in good shape, because there's a "team license" card that shows all the relevant information, and it's positioned so that the eye is naturally drawn to it before exiting that screen. However, someone who isn't used to playing games wouldn't necessarily make the connection between that "I.D. card" and the current state of a team's vital information. So now the referee makes a specific explanation.

So, nice catch, Gridirion Solitaire beta tester My Mom.

Let's talk about those "Behind the Scenes" screens for a minute and why I added them. Another F&F beta tester (who I very much hope wins an Academy Award someday) said that he was bothered because the CPU defense seemed to be calling plays at random.

Now, there is absolutely nothing random about the A.I., be it offense or defense. There are very specific algorithms, all in reference to NFL averages, to determine what plays get called. I do cap the maximum probability of a play call at 90%, because I don't want anything in the game to be guaranteed, but the playcalling algorithm is very detailed.

However, he didn't know that, because the help screens don't mention it. And because he didn't know there were any playcalling patterns in the game, he didn't except to find any. And because he didn't expect to find any patterns, he didn't, even though the patterns are there.

Specfically, because the 1st down playcalls didn't seem to have a pattern, he assumed that playcalling was random. However, in the NFL, the defensive call on first down is fairly close to 50/50, so in real football, that is the pattern.

What I think is most interesting about this is that our minds are wired to find patterns when we expect them to be there, and wired not to see them when we don't.

I don't want someone to play the game and assume there isn't A.I., because it's one of the strongest parts of the game. So I added the "Behind the Scenes" help screens to help people get a better understanding of the level of detail in the game engine, because the A.I. has enough depth to really be total overkill for a card game.

That's how I wanted it, though, because that's what I wanted to play. I didn't want a solitaire game with football players on the cards. I wanted a football game that uses cards for gameplay instead of a joystick.


If you have an iDevice, finishing reading this and go buy 10000000 immediately.

What is it? A match-three side-scroller with a retro personality and absolutely rock solid gameplay. You're in a dungeon, and you can only escape when you get 10000000 points on a single run through the dungeon. You also gather resources during the runs (in addition to fighting off enemies and opening treasure chests) that enable you to upgrade your weapon, armor, wand, etc.

Two words: hypnotically addictive.

It took me about six hours to finish the "quest" mode of the game, and I was totally focused for every minute. It's a brilliant piece of work, deserves to sell millions of copies, and it's ninety-nine cents, so you'll be paying less than a quarter an hour for the best gameplay experience you've had in years.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Links!

I read an absolutely riveting article yesterday titled Did Football Kill Austin Trenum? It's a thoughtful, poignant article dealing with concussions at an incredibly personal. When I finished, I saw that the author of the article was Patrick Hruby, and when I saw his name I laughed. I've read so many great articles by Hruby that it doesn't even surprise me anymore.

From Sirius, and this video is downright dizzying: Dutch illusionist Hans Klok.

From Nuno Rechena, and this is absolutely chilling: Bones Chapel – Capela dos Ossos in Evora, Portugal.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is fascinating, it's The Paris Time Capsule Apartment.

Here's a story that is all kinds of awesome: An Iroquois Lacrosse Squad Beat Team USA For The First Time Ever.

From Dave Prosser, and this is entirely droll:
Children warned name of first pet should contain 8 characters and a digit

From Steven Kreuch, and it's something I've long suspected: Mr. Wizard's a Dick.

From Chris Hornbostel, an article about "the strangest story in baseball": The 1930 Cardinals Telegram Mystery.

From Curry Mutton, and this is just fantastic: The Evolution of PC Games.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is entirely silly: 10 species named after famous people.

From Jeremy Fischer, and this is striking: Plants Are Taking Over Japan’s Nuclear Wasteland.

From Matt S., and these are terrific images: America looked like a whole different planet from 1870-1920.

From John, and this is both outstanding and entirely NSFW: Hardcore Casual Gaming Rap.

From Steven Davis, and this is remarkable: new speed record for wind-powered cart.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and it's quite striking: Dapper Days in China: Engravings of religious, civic and natural scenes of China as understood or believed by Europeans in the 1670s.

From David Gloier, and it's both fictional and entirely true: Keith Richards' Housekeeper Has Braced Herself For Finding Dead Body Every Morning Since 1976.

From C. Lee, and it's all the rage in Japan: It all stacks up: tumbler bento.

From Fredrik Skarstedt (the artist for Gridiron Solitaire), and this is a very touching story: Bikers Against Child Abuse make abuse victims feel safe.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Detroit (part four)

We were standing outstide a Starbucks located inside the GM Renaissance Center, waiting on a walkway while Gloria stood in line for her coffee.

It was Thursday morning, and we'd be driving to camp in a few minutes.

"I'm ready to take it up a notch today," Eli 10.11 said.

I raised an eyebrow. He weighs seventy-five pounds. It always makes me smile when he says something like this.

He laughed. "I'm serious, Dad," he said. "I feel great. I'm ready."

I smiled. "That's what you do," I said. "You rise up. That's who you are."

Lots of ten-year-olds talk about being clutch, or of doing something great. What's always struck me about Eli, though, is that he can actually do it. When he says he's ready to take it up a notch, he actually understands what he's saying.

I helped him get dressed at the rink, we talked about his three keys for the day, and I chatted with Tommy for a few minutes (they sat next to each other in the locker room all week). Then I told them both to have a good practice. Eli walked out with me, the first one in line to get on the ice. His usual position.

I patted him on the shoulder and started to walk to the stands. "Hey," he said, and I turned around. "My day," he said, smiling.

I watched practice for about fifteen minutes, and in the background, I could hear Gloria talking to Tommy's mom and a few other moms who had stayed to watch.

I tugged on her knee.

"You need to see this," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"It's Eli," I said. "He's playing out of his mind."

He was no longer overthinking, or even thinking at all. He was just exploding with every movement, so incredibly quick and powerful. Shooters were hitting his pads with their sticks after every drill--the universal compliment--because he was dominating.

The kids around him were tired. Everyone was tired, really--parents, coaches, everyone.

Not him.

There were conditioning drills in addition to the technique drills, and one of them was the bunny hop. I think that's what it's called anyway, which is amusing, because it's one of the most painful drills I've ever seen. And they did it after going through six other stations.

In the video you're about to see (which starts about 15 seconds after the drill began), Eli will be in dead last. Doing the movement correctly takes a huge amount of effort, and it's tough to summon that kind of energy after 90 minutes on the ice. Take a look:

The other kids in his group weren't regular kids--everyone was an athlete, and they all played at a high level. He was racing his peer group, not normal kids. There's a point, though, where he just goes to a different level.

They skated off after morning practice, and when I saw him, he had a big smile on his face. "That's the best I've ever seen you play," I said. "You were unbelievable."

"My day," he said, talking through his mouthpiece. Big, happy smile.

He was just as good in the afternoon session. Unstoppable, really. I felt lucky to be watching him.

Friday was the same. There was a fun contest getting staged at one end of the ice, where two shooters and the camp co-founders shot on each goalie. To win, you had to stop four out of five shots.

They weren't normal shots, either--every single one was completely ripped by an elite shooter. Four groups (16 goalies) had already gone through the station, and no one had won. On roughly 75% of the shots, the shooters were scoring cleanly--saves were few and far in-between.

Eli stopped the first shot with a nice pad save before I could get the Flip started. What you'll be seeing are shots 2-5 (and you might want to fullscreen the video, because the shots are very, very fast):

He was beaten clean by one shot, but nothing else got by him (and the rebound/pass didn't count against him in the contest, because he stopped the initial shot). After that last glove save, they even added one more shot, but the shooter went wide. They tied a little award to his catching glove, gave him the nickname "Big E", made a genial fuss over him, and he was entirely thrilled.

That was the end of camp, almost. There was a shootout and a silly game of on-ice soccer, but the afternoon was basically fun and games. I didn't even think they'd have off-ice, which was the last hour of the day, but they did, and they made it tough.

When the workout ended, Eli came walking in from the parking lot, smiling. He looked at me, slapped my hand, and whispered "Killed it."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Detroit (part three)

Sometimes what is true on Monday is not true on Wednesday.

Eli 10.11 had a great day at goalie camp on Monday. He established himself--as much as a ten-year-old can establish himself, anyway.

On Tuesday, he still played well, but he was even with Tommy, not better. Bandits is more of a Butterfly camp, and Eli's style is the Pro Hybrid. There are common elements to both styles, but as the goalie coaches were butterfly coaches, they were showing him how to do certain things that were in conflict with the instruction of his goalie coach back home (who is very, very good). So he struggled in some drills where the coaches adjustments ran counter to what he already knew.

In other news, though, he and Tommy were already thick as thieves.

"Man, I wish Tommy lived closer," he said, getting dressed for off-ice training. "He is totally fun. It would be great to hang out with him."

"His mom is just as nice," I said. "His brothers and sisters, too. That is a seriously nice family." He finished lacing up his shoes. "Hey, I want you to work hard in off-ice, but it's hot out there, and it's a long week."

He laughed. "It's not hot here," he said. "I'm fine. I feel great."

Off-ice was the last hour of the camp. For parents, it was a down hour--there was nothing to watch, really. So I spent some time outside, in the shade of the rink building, just relaxing.

The rink was adjacent to a cemetery--a big one. And with an hour to kill (easily, one of the worst puns ever), and lots of wet gear in the car, it was inevitable that an enterprising parent was going to do this:

Eli's comment about the cemetery: "That's where goalies who don't close their five-holes wind up."

I thought that as the week progressed, Eli would get better and better, but by Wednesday afternoon, I realized something was wrong. He wasn't doing well in drills. Tommy was consistently outplaying him, and then there was a one-on-one drill where Tommy stopped six shooters in a row. Eli stopped two shots.

They rotated off the ice for video review, and I walked past as I headed for the bathroom. He grabbed my arm and steered me away from the kids sitting at the video table. "Dad, they're jacking with my stuff," he said, with tears in his eyes.

"What?" I asked, bewildered. "Who?"

"The coaches," he said. "They're changing everything I do. Do you know why I couldn't stop any of those shots? They've changed so much stuff that I'm overthinking everything."

I put my hand on his shoulder. "Look, it's a long week," I said. "You're on the ice so much that you're going to go through stretches where you're not playing as well. That's just a test for you to learn how to focus more clearly. Lots of guys play well, at their best, but how many people play well even when they're playing poorly?"

He nodded. "I get it," he said.

"Plus," I said, laughing, "did you see Tommy in that drill? Unbelievable!"

"I told him that," he said, smiling. "He was SICK."

He played better for the rest of the day, although Tommy was clearly still better. We had a few minutes to talk before Gloria came back at 5 to pick us up.

"Tomorrow, every kid out there except you is going to be tired," I said. "You guys have spent a ton of time on the ice, you've worked out in the parking lot for off-ice, and everyone is exhausted."

"I'm not," he said.

"That's right," I said.

He laugh. "No, seriously, I'm really NOT exhausted," he said. "I feel great."

"That's why you're the Superfreak," I said. "You're going to own Thursday and Friday."

"It can't get here soon enough," he said.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Detroit (part two)

Welcome to Bandits goalie camp:

That 30-second clip should give you an idea of the constant activity. eACH day of camp, the kids were on ice for about three and a half hours, with an hour and a half for for lunch and classroom study, plus one hour of off-ice training.

For this week, there were 28 students and 15+ instructors, along with about 5 shooters. The instructors were all high-level players in their own regard, as were the shooters selected for the camp. A few NHL goalies (along with more draft picks in recent years) have been to Bandits, and the camp is famous for kids (and instructors) coming back year after year.

After the first day, it was easy to see why. The on-ice time was tremendously well-organized, with meticulous instruction, and what particularly stood out for me was that the instructors worked just as hard with 10-year-olds as they do with elite teenagers. Plus the atmosphere was incredibly positive. Everyone--instructors and kids alike--treated each other with respect and good humor.

What a great place for a kid.

There were three other kids in Eli's age group (11-12, even though he's still 10 for another week). And they were all good.

One kid, in particular, reminded me of Eli. He was shorter, but he had a similar style in goal--super quick, very athletic, and solid technique.

I'm going to call him "Tommy."

Goalies, at every age, tend to fall into two categories: size goalies and quickness goalies. The other two kids in the group were size goalies, but Eli and Tommy were all quickness.

There were several moms sitting near us in the stands--all very nice, which is no surprise in the Midwest--and one in particular was just a terrific person. She had three younger kids with her, and they were all bright, funny, and well-behaved. After everyone talked for a few minutes, Gloria asked her who her son was.

Of course, it was Tommy.

After the first half hour or so, we could see that Eli and Tommy were talking in-between drills, beginning to hang out together. Eli genuinely enjoys other kids, and I had a feeling they'd be friends.

At some point in the first hour, as Eli skated in-between drills, I caught his eye, and he nodded.

He belonged.

The shooters in this camp were all beasts, as Eli likes to call someone who he considers great. And they beat all the goalies on a regular basis, but Eli got his licks in.

This was a good example of his athleticism. It's a drill where you start off on your back, with your skates facing the goal, and when the instructor bangs his stick on the ice, you have to roll over, stand up, and get into position to stop a shot. The instructor almost blocks Eli (he's at the back, in the center), but you can see him get into position:

If that looked easy, it wasn't. It's incredibly difficult, actually, and that wasn't the first time in that drill that Eli had done it--it was the fourth time in about two minutes. He was the fastest the first time, and while he did slow down by the fourth time, the gap between him and the next kid in his group was even larger, because they had slowed down more.

He was able to do things like get up from that position, then go into the butterfly after being up for only a split-second, and it was still completely in rhythm. Not normal.

He was still the Superfreak, even in a camp full of excellent goalies. His reflexes were so off the charts that when kids ten years older shot pucks at him far faster than he'd ever seen, he adjusted.

We found out later that day that Tommy's team had won the state championship at the highest level of travel hockey in his home state (and it was definitely a hockey state).

On Monday, I thought Eli was better. Not a lot better, mind you, but I thought he was better. And Tommy was a full year older.

Late that afternoon, when we had a chance to talk, I said, "Well, what do you think?"

"I'm just as good as those kids," he said.

"Really?" I asked. "Because I think you were better."

He smiled. "Maybe a little," he said, "but Tommy is really, really good. Plus, he is totally cool."

"Both true," I said (I'd talked to him for a minute, and he seemed like a completely great kid). "And for the rest of the week, you get to compete with him, which will make you better. You guys can be friends and still compete to help each other get better."

"I know," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Detroit (part one)

"You realize that we've been to the Mexican border for hockey, and now we're at the Canadian border?" Gloria asked.

She's right. We went to McAllen in March and almost turned onto the International Bridge to Mexico by accident. Now, we were in downtown Detroit, ony a few hundred yards from the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

"We might be the only people in the world who have done that in the last four months," I said.

For Eli 10.11, the stakes were high. We were going to a high-level goalie camp because he wanted to measure himself against kids from "up north." He still wants to be a goalie in the NHL, and in his mind, this is a proving ground.

I know. The idea of him making it to the NHL is incredibly far-fetched. And I think there is an age to transition from dreams of being a superhero (which is surely what NHL goalies are) to something more realistic.

I also think the time for realism is not age ten.

We had a conversation before we left. I don't ever lie to him, and I didn't this time.

"I'm worried about those other kids," he said. "What if I go up there and I get blown away?"

I laughed. "You?" I asked. "You're the super freak. You're Spiderman. Maybe we'll go up there and kids will be light years better than you, but man, I doubt it. I bet we go up there and you're still the best athlete."

"I still want to go to the NHL someday," he said. "Although the CHL is probably a more realistic goal." The realism of youth.

"We've talked about this before," I said, "but no matter how good you are at ten, it doesn't mean you're making it to the NHL. But lots of kids have no chance by age ten, because they're just not athletic enough and never will be. You, though--you're an elite athlete for your age. Nothing has disqualified you. So this week is not about qualifying--it's about not being disqualified. Does that makes sense?"

"Yeah, it does," he said.

"I believe in you," I said. "You have a quality that other kids just don't have. I can't really explain it, but I know it's there."

"Thanks, Dad," he said. "I know it's a big deal to take our vacation at a hockey camp. It means a lot to me."

"You earned it," I said. "I love you and I'm proud of how hard you work and how hard you try. Nobody tries harder."

Like I said, it's crazy. But if you were around Eli for a few hours and listened to how he analyzes the position, then saw him play, you'd see that quality.

It leaves a mark.

I had anxieties about going to Detroit. We usually go to San Diego for summer vacation, a carefree, easygoing beach town.

Detroit is a great city, but it's neither. It's fallen on hard, hard times, and there are neighborhoods in Detroit that are among the most dangerous in the country.

Coincidentally, one of those neighborhoods within about five blocks of the rink where the camp was located.

Austin has lots of property crime, but violent crime is very low. Detroit is the opposite. And that had me worried.

Gloria always plans the trip, and since we were going to spend most of our time at the ice rink or the hotel, she decided we should stay at a nice hotel. A really, really nice hotel:

That's the GM Renaissance Center, in the heart of downtown Detroit. It's fantastic, and it was five minutes from the rink. Eli sweet-talked the lady who was checking us in, and we wound up here:

59th floor. That's Canada on the right.

We went to breakfast Sunday morning at the hotel restaurant, which had one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen (and one which I inexplicably failed to photograph). From our table by the curving wall of glass, we could see the river, Canada, and blue sky.

"This is amazing!" Eli said, digging into his waffle.

"Enjoy it," I said, "because next Sunday, it's back to IHOP." He laughed.

That afternoon, we went to a Tiger's game at Comerica Park. After exiting the People Mover, we saw this on the way to the stadium:

That's Detroit, in a nutshell: beauty and decay, side by side.

Tomorrow: Hockey camp begins.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Links!

From Sirius, and I never thought I'd see this image in my lifetime, it's World's first single atom photo.

From C. Lee, and this is an absolutely fascinating story, it's Okinawa's first nuclear missile men break silence.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these are spectacular images and video, it's Europe’s Tallest Building Celebrated with Explosive Laser Show in London. Also, and I had no idea this ever happened, it's Gandhi's letter to Adolf Hitler. Here's one more, and I promise that nothing you have ever seen in your life will prepare you for this: This Machine Prints Brick Roads. Edwin also sent in a wry and hilarious comment this this link: "God damn immigrant machines took our jobs!" Well-played, sir, well-played.

From Jeff Fowler, and these images are tremendous, it's The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.

Matt Sakey has a new installment of his excellent Culture Clash feature, and it's particularly well-written and insightful this month: Dangerous to the Last Drop.

Mike Rozek sent in another card magic video featuring Derek DelGaudio, and it is just freaking amazing: card magic, and I do mean magic.

From Shane Courtrille, a brilliantly written piece about traveling in India. Let me warn you that although this piece is certainly nuanced in places, it is also tremendously harsh in others (and even potentially offensive). But it's certainly thought-provoking, and the mini-war that takes place in the comments section is fascinating in its own right. Here it is: A Dust Over India.

From David Gloier, and if you never thought a sailboat could be entirely badass, you are entirely incorrect: L'Hydroptère DCNS.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this video is mind-blowing, it's wingsuit racing. More racing, but of a different kind: Ken Block's Gymkhana Five: San Francisco. One more, and this is beyond incredible: 152,455-Piece Rolls-Royce Engine Is the Most Complex Lego Machine Ever Built. Incredibly, a fourth link, and it's very cool, of course: Google Art Project.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is quite remarkable: insect smaller than an amoeba. Also, and this is fascinating: Hubble Unmasks Ghost Galaxies.

From Frank Regan, and the language in this is slightly NSFW, so turn it down, but damn, it's funny: The one that got away! Shark bait.

Mark Vines sent in a link to a remarkably beautiful bit of kinetic sculpture: Kinetic Rain - World's largest kinetic art sculpture.

From Robbway, and I faced a kid in Little League who threw this hard, I swear: baseball at relativistic speeds and other wild hypotheticals.

From Francis Cermak, and these are stunning: Rare color photos from 1930s-40s.

From Meg McReynolds, and these are both touching and entertaining: 11 eye-opening NASA wake-up calls.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Next Week

Detroit. All week.

Good Grief

Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime is amusing.

Here's what he's saying (thanks Joystiq):
Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime has taken to the Diablo forums to issue a statement on Diablo 3. In the statement, Morhaime addresses the game's launch, noting that it had both positive and negative elements. Blizzard, he admits, was not prepared for Diablo 3's staggering launch numbers – to which players locked out during the initial server problems can attest.

Morhaime notes that Blizzard "looked at historical sales for Blizzard games and other top-selling PC games and watched preorder numbers" to the server requirements at launch, even going so far as to add further server capacity beyond its estimates. Still, says Morhaime, it wasn't enough, noting that "we've never gone from 0 to more than 6 million players across multiple continents within a few days with a brand-new game."

Um, exactly. Isn't that why releasing a game with always-on DRM is so stupid? Demand really can't be predicted with the precision necessary to avoid a disaster.

Look, and I want to be entirely clear about this, if a company decides to release a game where you have to have a persistent online connnection--especially when they make the ludicrous requirement that you must also be connected for single-player mode--then the f-ing servers have to work. Always. If they have to spend a boatload of extra money temporarily, that's their cost of doing business. They made a product that requires them to do these things. There are zero, absolutely zero excuses.

Is it fair to expect a company to have their servers up 100% of the time? If they designed a damn product that requires it for their half-witted DRM scheme, then hell, yes, it's fair. If they hadn't been asshats about it to start with, we could all play single-player without needing a connection, they wouldn't need all the server capacity, and none of this would have happened.

This should be Gaming Business 101. Instead, Morhaime makes it sound like golly gee, they did their best, and it didn't quite work out, but they'll do better next time, like he's playing in an under-10 YMCA soccer league.

If you're charging $60 for your product, chasing butterflies instead of playing your position is not acceptable.


Mike Lippart sent in a note last week, and it looks like a miracle has happened:
You might already know this as I am sure you have been told, but Action Park has been re-opened (2008?) under the more bland Mountain Creek Waterpark (http://www.mountaincreek.com/). Many of the same attractions are still there…Cannonball, Tarzan Swing, the diving cliffs, and even the wave pool. They have also cranked the safety up, reducing the drop of many of the slides and reducing the depth of the wave pool (it once was 10 feet deep, now it is 6 or so). I have been told by a friend that the Cannonball still empties into a “frozen lagoon”, as per his words. He also woke up the next day with various dings and cuts, and an “epic soreness” everywhere, although his kids had a blast.

Interesting to note that the water is so cold because the pools there (also for the Tarzan Swing) are fed from the mountain’s natural springs. Yes I stole that from the Wikipedia page, so take that as you may.

They still also have the water ride with the loop in it.

This made me curious so I looked up the water park in Wikipedia. Here's the skinny:
In 1977 the owners of the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area decided to follow a trend that other resorts of this era had done by putting in an alpine slide to draw people to the area during its offseason. The next year it opened an amusement park (Action Park) on the premises with various attractions, the majority of which were water-based such as waterslides and pools. Action Park quickly became one of the most popular destinations for residents of the surrounding area, as there were not many amusement parks— and certainly not many water parks— in the New York metropolitan area. Its popularity, however, went hand in hand with a reputation for poorly-designed, unsafe (yet thrilling) rides; inattentive, underage, underpaid and sometimes under-the-influence employees; equally intoxicated and underprepared visitors that rarely paid attention to the rules that were posted and explained to them — and the poor safety record that followed from this perfect storm of circumstances. This, along with various other factors including the bankruptcy of its parent company, resulted in Action Park shutting down in 1997 (although its last operating day was Labor Day 1996).

Due to the bankruptcy the Vernon Valley half of the ski area was sold to Intrawest, which renamed the resort Mountain Creek in 1997. Intrawest then began to redevelop the former Action Park property it was now in possession of, and in 1998 with a renewed emphasis on safety most of the old "Waterworld" at Action Park was reopened as Mountain Creek Waterpark. The water attractions were now equipped with warning signs and the Alpine slide, which was removed at the end of the 1998 season, required riders to wear safety equipment.

From 2002 to 2011, during the summer season, Palace Entertainment operated the water park. Palace Entertainment is the US Branch of Parques Reunidos, which manages and owns many other parks globally as of 2007. Management of the Water Park has now been turned over to Crystal Springs Resort.

So there you have it. Action Park was barely even closed before it reopened under a different name, although it apparently lost much of its incredibly dangerous nature in the process.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bonus Grossness

I asked the nurse to take a picture before they sewed me up yesterday (so Eli could see):

Like I said, it's a divot.

Unlimited Buffet, Now With Limitations

I'm a little under the weather in a facial sense today, so I'm going with the Golden Corral approach today: lots of different items in one post, and hopefully they taste better than the fried shrimp.

First off, on the game front, there are two recent iOS games I want to mention. The first is Tiny Wings 2.0, the sequel to the incredibly charming and brilliantly designed game by Andreas Illiger. An entirely wonderful trailer came out a few weeks ago, so I was very much looking forward to the release. Then Illiger surprised everyone by releasing the game as an update to the original--for free.

Illiger noted in a blog post (which I unfortunately can't find right now) that his close friends thought he was crazy for doing this. He said it was done in appreciation for how the purchasers of Tiny Wings had helped change his life for the better (which is a tremendous gesture on his part). In addition, though, it was sheer genius in a business sense.

Why is that sheer genius? Because at the same time, he introduced an HD version for the new iPad, and I'm guessing that almost everyone who had the old version was so pleased to get a free upgrade that (if they had an iPad) they immediately purchased the iPad version as well. For $2.99.

There's a new mode where you race against other birds (which is quite fun), and in the HD version, split-screen multiplayer is available. And it's all as incredibly charming as the first game.

Both Eli 10.11 and I have also been playing a ton of  Flick Home Run! HD in the last week or so. It's a simple game--a baseball comes toward you, and you flick your finger to hit it--but it's utterly addictive. The backgrounds are interesting, the animation is flawless, and the baseballs have a wacky variety that is consistently interesting. Plus, and this is always important for a simple game like the skill upgrade system is pitch-perfect (that's a bad pun, all right).

Once we returned from Detroit, I've resumed playing Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3, and I continue to be impressed with how interesting and funny the game is on a continuing basis.

Okay, that turned out to be a buffet with only one type of food. I'm a little low on fuel today, but will recover quickly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I had Mohs Surgery today.

About two months ago, a little growth appeared under my lip. It almost looked like a wart, and it's not like it was huge or anything, but it was annoying. It was perfectly smooth and perfectly round.


After about a week (it grew to a certain size, then stopped), being a guy, I took fingernail clippers and clipped it off. It came off perfectly, bled a bit, and I congratulated myself on being so clever. Damn, I'm good!

In three days, it grew back.

At this point, I immediately made an appointment to see my dermatologist, because I wasn't going to screw with anything that had multiple lives. I went to see her and she froze it. Ballgame.

It grew back about five days later. A little bigger, this time, and a little ragged as well.

Back to the dermatologist. This time, she cut part of it off to do a biopsy. The results indicated "atypical squamous cells", which often indicates an actinic keratosis, or pre-cancerous lesion.

It could also be skin caner.

At this point, my dermatologist said it would be reasonable to proceed with Mohs Surgery.

Mohs Surgery is, conceptually, pretty cool. What they basically do is take out the lesion, then biopsy the tissue while you sit in the waiting room. They want to find a clean "border" around the tissue without any cancerous cells (in my case, squamous cells). If they find some in the border, they take out more tissue around that area, following the "dirty" border until everything is cleared.

Particularly for the face, this is a great approach, because it takes as little tissue as possible, far less than other techniques. And really, it's just a matter of time before I get an interview in Wired where they take that epic picture of me in profile, looking like a complete asshole as I stare out over wheat fields or something. So I've got to stay on top of my facial game.

So I went in for Mohs surgery about three weeks ago, but the surgeon decided not to do it because we didn't have a definitive diagnosis of a skin cancer. So she cut it out, stitched me up (man, your face hurts like hell when people are cutting on it), and sent off the tissue.

A week later, she called and said it actually WAS squamous cell skin cancer, so we did need to do Mohs.

At this point, I'd had my face frozen once and cut on three times in the last two months. I was really sick of my face hurting. But with no choice, I scheduled the Mohs for the Tuesday after we got back from Detroit (and she had wanted the inflammation to heal before we did it, so the timing worked out fine).

In the meantime, the damn thing started to grow back. Incredible. It did not reach its previous size, though, and didn't change while we were in Detroit.

Today, I went in at 8:15 for the Mohs Surgery. Mohs is a crap shoot in terms of length, because if they only need to take tissue once, it takes about an hour and a half (the tissue removal only takes five minutes--it's the biopsy that takes an hour or so). But it could possibly take 5-6 passes--or more. It could be an eight hour procedure.

Going in, I thought my under/over was probably three. I was hoping three would do it. So mentally, I was prepared for about five hours, although I didn't know how I'd respond to each additional tissue removal--not physically, because pain is pain and has no long-term meaning--but emotionally (a first for me), because the anxiety of the border not being clean multiple times would take an unknown (but probably substantial) toll.

I went into the procedure room and the assistant stuck a needle in my face five times. Then the surgeon (who is almost as awesome as my dermatologist) took the tissue. Then she cauterized the wound to stop the bleeding.

I'm not a big fan of burning flesh, particularly when it's mine. That's a smell you just don't forget.

I went out to the waiting room and waited for the biopsy, which took about an hour. Then she called me back in, I sat down, she gave me a big smile, and said, "You're clear. The borders look great. I went deeper than I usually would because I was hoping I could do it in one pass."

Well, hell yes. Deeper FTW.

They gave me more injections in my face so they could stitch me up, but before they did, I had the assistant take a picture for Eli. It's quite a divot.

There are many capillaries in your face, which is both very bad and very good. The very bad is that man, your face HURTS after something like this. I had hernia surgery a few years ago and took nothing but regular-strength Tylenol after the first twelve hours, but this is much more painful. The very good is that my face hurts because of the excellent blood flow provided by all those capillaries, and because of that, the face tends to heal very, very well and pretty quickly. In a month or so, I'll be just as pretty as I ever was.

Quite a low bar.

Here's the thing about skin stuff: lots of people tend to ignore it. They don't get annual dermatological exams. They don't realize that skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, and what they really don't realize is that skin cancer can kill you.

You know, "kill" as in "dead."

Dan Wendelin, DQ Staff Dermatologist, sent me this information when I asked him if there was anything he'd like to add:
I think the most important thing is for people to do a monthly self-exam to become familiar with their own skin and have a low threshold for seeing a dermatologist for new or growing lesions. The warning signs for melanoma are:
Border irregularity
Color variation (uniform brown or tan usually OK, color variation, particularly black, gray, blue, red mixed into the brown are bad)
Diameter (>6mm, the size of a pencil eraser, should be watched a bit more carefully, but not concerning if stable in size)
Evolution: change is probably the single biggest clue, and is a warning is sign for all skin cancer types, not just melanoma.

In addition, anyone with a personal history of skin cancer of any type, a first-degree family member with malignant melanoma or a history of a blistering sunburn as a child should be seen for full skin examination annually by a dermatologist. Age 15 is the age I advise my melanoma patients to start bringing their kids in for full skin exam.

If I hadn't addressed this promptly, if I had just ignored it for a few months (or longer), then the treatment options would have been much more limited and the situation could have been very, very dangerous. Please do not put yourself into that position.

This applies to a bunch of other shit that you need to take care of as well, like annual physicals or heart tests or colonoscopies. Some it might make you feel uncomfortable, but so what? The more you do it, the less uncomfortable you'll feel.

People love you and depend on you. Don't be stupid.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pay It Forward (with Games)

Jason Ballew e-mailed me with something he's doing that is one of the coolest ideas ever:
Starting with the last Steam sale (Easter, I think?) I decided I was going to start paying it forward, and gifting games to people on my Friends list.

This time with the Steam Summer Sale starting today, I'm taking it further.

I went to Reddit ( http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/wgc15/steam_summer_sale_pay_it_forward/?limit=500)
and created a Pay it Forward. Figured I'd get a few people, give out some games, they'd give out some games, et al. The idea of course is that one person buys a game (I started it) and gives it to someone else, who buys for another, and so on.

What it's turned into right now is about 460 comments and a lot of people giving games around -- and the sale just started. Figured it might be something people might be interested in.

I'm a little late on this, because I just got the e-mail yesterday (since we were in Detroit last week), but he's going to continue this until the end of the Steam sale.

Yes, I'm Back

Holy crap, I'm tired. Being gone for over a week, and spending 5+ hours a day in a rink, is fairly exhausting.

Having said that, I have an absolute ton of things to write about (+ pictures and video), and Eli 10.10 did very, very well in goalie camp.

I'll start writing about the trip on Wednesday, and it will probably take a week or more to go through everything.

Gridiron Solitaire #14: Intermediate Rewards

Here's what Neil Sorens sent me after last week's post:
Subject: enjoyable activities with high failure rates

Batting in baseball
Old Arcade Games

Speaking of old arcade games, Cyberball was another football game where stopping the opponent from scoring was really tough. It made up for this with the damage mechanic – even if you couldn’t stop your opponent from scoring, at least you could make a player or two explode and force your opponent to make do with an inferior robot at that position on his next offensive possession.

The other activities listed also have little things that are satisfying, even if the ultimate end is often failure: in baseball, simply putting the ball in play is rewarding. In gambling, you’ll often have quite a few hands/spins/rolls that go your way, even if you end up down. In pinball, you trigger a bunch of lights and sounds just by keeping the ball in play, even if you don’t complete any of the main modes. In old arcade games, you can beat a stage even if you ultimately lose the game and don’t get a high score.

I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in Gridiron Solitaire, but maybe these examples will spark some ideas.

Well, that's incredibly clever and extremely helpful. I've always had a conceptual problem with how defense works in the game, but have never been able to explain it clearly. I want defense to be different, so having a multi-play goal makes sense, but it also means that if you fail early on, your chances of stopping the driver later are extremely low. Failure, in these cases, is almost guaranteed, and the possibility of success--even if remote--is crucially important to maintain.

Neil's e-mail, after I thought about it, raises some interesting design possibilities.

First off, I could make defense play-based instead of drive-based. This is an interesting path, potentially. Defense could be designed such that playing X cards on any single play stops the drive.

The problem with this approach is that real football is both play-based and drive-based. So yes, you can stop a drive on any play (with a turnover, or a stop on 4th down), but the results of previous plays affect your chances. For instance, if it's 3rd and 1, your chances of stopping the offense are low, and the chances are low because of the results of the previous two plays.

The game models that extremely well in its current form, really. The problem, though, is that it doesn't matter how well something is modeled if it's not fun. Actually, that's not even the right phrase--it needs to be fun for as many people as possible.

What's not fun about playing defense right now is that if you play poorly early in a drive, your chances of stopping the drive on the last play are very low, and there's nothing else to achieve if you don't stop the drive. While I like it just fine (along with some of the other beta testers), the percentage of people who don't like it is definitely too high.

As Neil's e-mail adroitly points out, ultimate failure is often entirely acceptable in games if there are intermediate successes along the way. So instead of completely changing how defense plays, another approach would be to add intermediate goals. I like this idea quite a lot, because even on the last play of a drive when the cards have gone poorly for you, you might still achieve the intermediate goal--which must be worthwhile, of course, or you won't care--even if stopping the drive is unlikely.

On defense, the most useful reward would be additional resources, and the defensive resource in the game is Big Play uses.

There's an obvious way to do this--just award an additional Big Play press on any defensive play where the user plays more than X cards. Cap the max number of Big Play presses available to preserve gameplay balance, adjust game balance as necessary, and it should work just fine.

The only thing I don't like about the obvious approach is that there is no decision-making involved for the user. There's no decision to make, and nothing has to be given up.

In a gameplay sense, I don't like that. I don't like giving the user something without there being possibilities/consequences.

Considering that, here's the non-obvious approach: give the user one additional Big Play press if they end the play without playing a card.

I know--that sounds odd--but hear me out first.

First off, to gain the additional resource, the player must concede the play. They have to give something up to get something back, and the decision-making needed would be far more interesting than having a guaranteed bonus after X cards are played. If there were no matches on the playing field, you could decide to concede that play without using the Big Play button. You could decide to concede when it's the last play of the drive and you still need to play a ton of cards to stop the drive. You could also concede when you only have a few cards needed to stop the drive and there's more than one play remaining.

The advantages are that it's more interesting strategically, and not conceding on individual plays would actually reduce the overall length of the game (always a big benefit for a card game). The disadvantage is that it's another rule that needs to be explained to the player, and it's less intuitive than just saying "you get X bonus if you play Y cards on a single play."

I'm going to try one of these approaches out, and hopefully be able to discuss the outcome next week. I'm also going to talk next week about how important it is to frame perceptions for a new player.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Links On Tape!

From Jonathan Arnold, and this fellow is tremendously skilled: Unicyclist goes extreme. Also, and this is fascinating, it's The 7 Most Terrifying Archaeological Discoveries.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is entirely wonderful: Getting The Book Invented. Also, and this is wonderfully clever, it's Chaos Theory:A Unified Theory of Muppet Types.

Here's more information in the long-running investigation of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart: Credible Amelia Earhart radio signals were ignored as bogus.

This is absolutely one of the most amazing pictures I've ever seen (note: you must click on a link in the article to view the picture): What 25 years of driving a truck can do to your skin.

From jdv, and this is a fascinating interview (from McSweeney's, no less): Ken Doyle, Safecracker.

From DQ reader My Wife, a fascinating article on the development of pop music: 40 Noises That Built Pop.

From David Gloier, and this is quite incredible: Honey, I shrunk the Flughafen: German builds world’s largest model airport. Also, a video of the airport in "action": Knuffingen Airport: Kleinster Flughafen der Welt // The world's smallest airport.

This link is fascinating both as a visual display of information and as a presentation of the evolution of F1 cars: History of Formula One Cars in Wireframes.

More data visualization links from John Catania, and they're amazing. First, it's Micro Fashion Network: Color, and just listen to this description: " A fixed camera and custom software process and store the dominant colors of moving people in Cambridge's busy neighborhoods. Similar colors connected to each other form a large color network over time. As the network grows, the new vertices are connected to existing similar colors; because of this preferential attachment model, we see the power law distribution and the highly connected dense color hubs in the resulting images. In the resulting demonstration, three different artistic representations are put side by side: captured human figures, color information as abstract boxes, and the complex network of colors."

Next, it's Map of science. "Description: How Scientific Paradigms Relate shows the relationships between more than 700 scientific paradigms based on how they were mentioned in more than 800,000 scientific papers. Relationships are also based on how often different papers were cited by each other and by authors of other papers."

Finally, and this is terrific, it's newsmap.
Description: "Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator.

A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information. Newsmap's objective takes that goal a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Action Park!

Yes, I saved one Action Park story for this week, and it was submitted by Steven Kreuch.

I know you’ve been inundated with tales of Action Park, but I wanted to tell you some of mine. It should be noted if he hasn’t sent stories himself that Matthew also loved this place [Ed. note: Matt and Steven are the official "Brothers Of Dubious Quality."]

We used to love Action Park… much more so than the 6 Flags that was nearby, and I think that was because it had an aura of danger. You felt that the attractions were just a little too unsafe, and that by going on them you might really be risking something. They were also amazing as a spectator because you never knew what you were going to see. Blood, nudity, and people picking out the largest wedgies in history were all part of the fun.

It should also be noted that Action Park was divided into 2 parks… the water park and the “moto” park. Admission to the park dropped to ½ price midway through the day, so we would time our drive there to arrive as soon as the price dropped. Then we'd spend the first couple of hours on the water rides, get dressed and dry, and hit the moto area as it got dark until the park closed.

I’ve gone skydiving, bungee jumping, car racing and all sorts of silly things that have risked my life, and I feel like Action Park was the beginning of my love affair with all things ridiculously dangerous. I wanted to take you through some of the “attractions” in the park that haven’t been mentioned.

We’ll go through the park as I would… water first.

Water park:
One thing about the water park: you couldn’t wear watches on many of the rides because you might tear the foam of the sliding surface. All towels/shoes/shirts/whatever had to go into a locker you paid for or put in a cubby just outside the entrance of the ride (you hoped your stuff would be there when you got back). This comes into play later.

The Wave Pool
I only went in this pool one time and that was enough. As the other reader wrote you, I almost drowned in it. At the time I was very experienced with swimming in the ocean in decent sized surf so I didn’t think anything of it at all. The thing is… they cranked that sucker up to 11. As a 12 year old I swam over and got to the ladder out of the pool and had to tread water (something I’ve never been good at) waiting for my turn to use it. You see… with the size of the waves you couldn’t hold onto the side of the pool. Then each person getting out would grab a rung of the ladder and the wave would subside and leave them dangling there until the next wave came and they could make it up another couple rungs until they then dangled again. Some would fall off and try again while others would be able to get their feet under them and scramble up. It was exhausting and when I was able to get out I vowed never to go in it again. I view all wave pools as an evil that I will never enter.

Tarzan Swing
This was a fun one. I don’t know if you’ve read the Wikipedia about Action Park but if you haven’t, you should… it’s some of the most amusing reading I’ve had in a while. This was a great spectator ride because as you waited you watched everyone go and either make amazing flips and dives that you would applaud or cheer those that bellyflopped and wiped out.

The Cannonball
As noted by others, this was a tube that you jumped in and went through many twists and turns (in the dark) at high speed. It eventually spit you out 20 feet in the air for freefall into an ice cold pool that was 20 feet deep… which was shocking to say the least. My first time on this ride I had my first Swatch which I loved. I was told to hold it if I didn’t want to leave it the cubby because I couldn’t wear it on the ride. So I clutched it. I held it tight as I could as I blindly whipped through curves in the darkness. Suddenly I was spit out into the air and as I fell my hands opened… and out fell my watch… to sink in 20 feet of water. There was no recovery, only “lifeguards” yelling for me to get out of the pool so others didn’t land on me. My shock from the cold water was so strong that I could barely move and get to the edge anyhow. I somehow made it and never went on that ride again.

Super Speed Water Slides
I LOVED these. These were rides that you had to weigh over 100 pounds to go on. You then climbed up a huge set of stairs and then slid down in the correct “position”: flat on your back with your arms crossed over your chest and your legs crossed. The slide was gentle at first with a slight hump or two you went over before it dropped almost straight down. You could feel yourself skimming over the water and getting air at the start. It was terrifying and fun. It lasted for about a second and then you were on level ground skidding to a stop. It was only when you stopped you realized the wedgie you had. And back then when you got a wedgie on this thing it meant having your gigantic JAMZ flowery shorts up your butt. It was a great colonic. This ride was also a huge spectator ride because of how many girls/women wore bikinis and would lose their tops on it. Great fun for teenage boys.

Aqua Scoot
The only ride I’ve ever been too terrified to even try. It was a ride where people got on a hard red plastic sled and went on a downhill of assembly line rollers to then skip across a pool. The sound it made was tremendous and all I could ever think about was getting a finger or something caught and no thank you.

Diving Cliffs
Action park had a whole series of pools that were interconnected that different waterslides kicked out into. Some were really chill and it was shaded and there were little caves you could hang out in. One thing about it though was that there were two diving cliffs – a 23 foot cliff and 18 foot cliff that you could jump off of into a 16 foot pool. The pool wasn’t shut to people not using the cliffs, so you had to make sure before you jumped that you weren’t going to land on someone… which happened all the time.

There were other rides but they were tame and not as memorable.

The Moto park though… that was where it was at. You must read about it on Wikipedia to get an idea of it but it was amazing.

The best ride in it was the Tank Ride. The tanks were these gas powered carts with a full cage on them. They also had bullseye targets and a tennisball cannon you could shoot while in it. The point was to drive around and hit other people’s targets and they would spin for a couple seconds and be out of commission, then resume their driving and shooting. There would always be one guy who got picked on for some imagined slight and it would seem everyone would team up on him. Also, while you were waiting to go on it, for a quarter you could use tennis ball cannons that were ringing the area the tanks were in and shoot at the tanks to keep you interested. It was a bit crazy and a whole lot of fun.

The go carts went faster than any I’ve ever been on and they just didn’t care what you did on them. Some of the cart rides and the motorboat ride on a pond full of snakes demanded you leave your drivers license with them while you went on the ride. Needless to say Matthew left his there once.

That was what the whole park was… a sense of danger with no one looking at what you did… so be as dangerous as you want to be. There was something amazing about the park too. When you left you just wanted to go back because it was like nowhere else you’d ever been before, especially living in a leafy safe suburbia. I would actually go back there in a heartbeat if they opened it for one more summer. My wife would kill me but I’d come home with skinned knees and hands, picking my bathing suit out of my butt with a big grin on my face that I survived and loved every second.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

America, F--- Yeah!

Remember the link to the story I posted a few weeks back about the man hitchhiking across the country who was writing a book titled "Kindness In America?" And remember how he got shot?

Well, as it turns out, he shot himself.

Take a look: Sheriff: Hitchhiker writing book on kindness shot himself.

Apparently, the only thing more American than shooting a man writing a book about the kindness of Americans is having the man who is writing the book shoot himself to draw more attention.


I picked up Eli 10.10 from rock climbing camp last Thursday.

Immediately, I saw that the "37-foot climbing wall" was not, in fact, 37 feet high. The one Eli had climbed in 5.4 seconds.

I took a seat. Eli was was hanging out with one of the other camp kids, talking about climbing, and I'm much more conscious about interrupting now that he's older.

He saw me and waved, then kept talking for a few seconds. Then he walked over.

"Hey, buddy, how was camp?" I asked.

"Great," he said. "Oh, I was wrong about how high I climbed yesterday. It's 27 feet, not 37."

"No worries," I said.

"But the GOOD NEWS is that I climbed it in FOUR-POINT-SIX seconds today!" he said, high-fiving me. "And I have the all-time camp record!"

"That is awesome!" I said. "And at the same time, I'm not surprised."

He laughed. "Hey, let me show you something," he said. "I can climb a grown-up V2 route now."

Let me quickly describe this route to you. It's not straight up. Instead, it's at a 45-degree angle, and not in the friendly direction. We watched a bunch of adult climbers try this route and fail, and then Eli stepped up and did this on his first try:

You can see at the end of the video how severe the overhang is on that wall.

Rock climbing camp is this wonderful combination of total chill insterspersed with ferocious, intense effort. I think that's why Eli likes it so much--it's a perfect fit for his personality.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I'm still not quite sure if this is from a human (no offense, Kevin) or somehow programmatically generated, but regardless, it has an almost hypnotic effect:
i'm sitting here typing with one hand as my finger on the other hand is elevated. bleeding has finally stopped. experienced griller and chef who just got an education about the grease pan. weber should sell its secret to gillette. actually the edge was sharper than the kitchen knives i use for work. hand is tired from typing. i wonder how many other hapless victims are out there. vampires should put a warning on their product.

Every Base Covered

I saw this in a bookstore last week:

Well, you decide. If you think the graduate is going to work hard and have a great business career, you can give him or her an inspirational message about success. If they're going to move in with their parents for the next five years, you can give them the iCade.

The Magic Man

Eli 10.10 went to Magic Camp this summer for the sixth year running.

Every year, he's improved his manual dexterity, and it's been all kinds of fun to see how much he's improved his sleight-of-hand skills, which have become somewhat considerable at this point.

In the first few years, he would do card tricks and I'd see him manipulating the deck. Now, he does tricks and I'm basically WTF the whole time, because I have no idea how he's doing them.

He has 8-10 card tricks that he does very, very well, but getting ready for the trip put the kibosh on taping them all. However, I did tape a trick he calls "Aces", and you can take a look:

He actually does it a little better in person, but being filmed made him nervous. But he can force cards with ease now and do all kinds of things that entirely ridiculous. I'll tape a few more next week and put them up for you.

Oh, and he can juggle rings now.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #13: Polish and Design

I made a series of small changes this week that don't seem like much individually, but they add up to a nicer user experience. Adding more information to the scoreboard, modifying the help screen text, and adding a sound when the user selects a card (a single typewriter key, which was suggested to me and sounds very good).

I've been trying to find a suitable (football-related) sound to use when clicking a card for months, really, and the typewriter sound was just what the game needed--it's nostalgic and evocative without being annoying.

The same person suggested to me that the position of the Big Play buttons and End Play buttons should be switched, so that the End Play button was to the right of all active play elements. That makes perfect sense, and I have no idea why I didn't do it that way to start with.

In a larger sense, though, this week is about design.

The balance between offense and defense is crucial to the game. I wanted different gameplay mechanics for each one, so that the game didn't get repetitive, and I wanted each to feel substantially different.

In real football, teams on offense have a large degree of control compared to when they're on defense. The rules are set up in such a way that the game generally favors the offense, and playing defense is a very different experience.

I very much wanted to model that in Gridiron Solitaire. And that creates an interesting design issue.

There's no question that in real football, it's generally more exciting and rewarding to watch your team on offense. More good things happen, generally, than bad things when a team is on offense. And in a "gameplay" sense, it's fun to see your team score.

Because of that, when you're on offense in Gridiron Solitaire, you'll generally score on 60-80% of the drives. That varies, obviously, depending on whether you're playing at home and what the team ratings are, but on offense, you definitely have a degree of control.

However, for the games to be close, that means you need to fail 60-80% of the time when you're playing defense.

Conceptually, this means that when you're on offense, with unlimited Big Play presses (that could trigger an event), the game is about managing risk. When you're on defense, with an allotment of Big Play presses (that only rarely trigger an event), the game is about managing resources.

To drive that home: Offense = manage risk. Defense = manage resources.

To me, that's interesting at an abstract level. However, creating a gameplay mechanic where people fail greater than 50% of the time is going to be a difficult adjustment for some users, and it's an adjustment that some people just won't like.

I want everyone to enjoy the game, but to simulate the struggle of a real football game, there need to be moments where there actually IS struggle. And it's going to be difficult to get that concept across in the first hour, which is when most people will decide if they want to continue playing the game.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, Russ Pitts wrote a phenomenal, fascinating article that you absolutely must read:
The mirror men of Arkane: How the co-Creative Directors of 'Dishonored' went from Origin to Bethesda.

If you ever tried to understand what a Higgs-Boson particle is, actually, this link from David Byron has you covered, and it's an animation: Bosonics.

Meg McReynolds sent in a wonderful video that will be appreciated by all Star Wars fans: 'The Star Wars That I Used To Know' - Gotye 'Somebody That I Used To Know' Parody .

Leading off this week, from Jonathan Arnold, amazing images from The Big Picture: Wildfires in western U.S.

Here's a highly entertaining link from Ryan Brandt: Is That Carmelo Anthony Or A Wax Figure?.

From Sirius, and this is quite remarkable: Graphene Can Improve Desalination Efficiency by Several Orders of Magnitude.

From Michael O'Reilly, and this is amazing: Huge hoard of Celtic coins found in field.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is a timely link: The Chemistry of Fireworks Featuring John Conkling, Ph.D..

San Diego's entire 4th of July fireworks display, scheduled to last 18 minutes, malfunctioned and everything went off in 15 seconds.

John Catania sent in a ton of completely tremendous data visualization links, and here are just a few:
liveplasma ("a music and movie visualization app that aims to help you discover other musicians or movies you might enjoy. Type in the name of a band, artist, movie, director or actor and liveplasma will show you related people, bands or movies").

In the same vein, there's tuneglue music map.

Next, it's looks del.icio.us. Here's a description: "The concept is to see how users develop and sustain their tagging methodologies on del.icio.us."

Winding up this week (sorry--it's our traditionally slow summer week during the July 4th holiday), and this is a doozy, it's GEOCODEARTH. Description: "...shows live tweets from all over the world on a 3D globe. It's a great visualization tool to see where tweets are coming from in real time and discover new people to follow. It's also fascinating just to sit and watch."

I can vouch for that. It's basically hypnotic.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Discounts and Bonuses and Stuff

First, from Jason Clark, in reference to "Getting Started With Dwarf Fortress":
If you have a kindle (or kindle app), you can buy the ebook version from O'Reilly (with updates) and receive it in .mobi format. Also, the coupon code "TIM40" will give you 40% off an already good price from the oreilly website. Just bought my copy.

Next, from Frank Regan:
Even though the offer officially expired on Monday, Steam is still offering Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World free with purchase of PAOTRSPOD. At least I got them included 5 minutes ago when I ordered.

DQ Live On Tape Next Week

Remember, DQ is "live on tape" all next week, and I won't have access to e-mail. But I've written quite a bit of content for you in the meantime, so your reading schedule should remain uninterrupted (for better or for worse). Friday Links will be posted as usual--I've been saving links here and there for the last few months.

Have a great week.

PAOTRSPOD (part two)

I forgot to mention something yesterday in reference to Penny Arcade's On The Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3, and it relates to expectations. Before the first game, there was a ton of hype. A ton. And while the game was certainly inspired and mostly entertaining, I remember thinking after playing for a few hours then something just didn't feel quite right.

Actually, I think I do remember what it was that felt off. The visual presentation of the game was bright and colorful, almost a cartoon brought to life, and most of it was light-hearted, but then a character would drop f-bombs in dialogue for what seemed to be absolutely no reason. I'm all for profanity when it advances something--anything--but it didn't seem to be serving any purpose. It seemed awkward.

This game, in contrast, has come out with basically zero hype, but it's a much, much better game. It's much more cohesive, it's much funnier, and it never feels awkward. Everything feels like it belongs together, if that makes any sense. Stylistically, it seems to be a perfect match for Penny Arcade.

And, most importantly, it's fun.

July Fourth Wardrive

I've written several times in the past few years about our odd little July 4th tradition, where we basically wardrive neighborhood fireworks displays.

When I say "neighborhood fireworks displays", I don't mean official, sanctioned shows. I mean the redneck neighborhood 10 minutes from our house, where every block has five guys in the back of a pickup truck shooting off hundreds of dollars of fireworks in the middle of the street.

What's different about this year? Well, two things: one, there were more neighborhood fireworks than ever, and this time, I got video.

Now, a couple of qualifiers. First, this is cell phone video, and it's horrible. In no way does it convey the size and splendor of what was going on around us. However, the sound DOES convey it pretty well.

We decided to stop in a clearing right next to a local park, which gave us excellent visibility in all directions. You'll see the camera whipping around as I try to focus on different bursts, because at any one point, there were 10-12 different "shows" going on.

Okay, here's the video (remember, listen to it with your speakers on):

Yes. That's insane.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness

What a nice surprise.

I've played PAOTRSPOD (that's quite an acronym) for about four hours, and it's one of the very few games I've played in the last year that I've enjoyed enough to continue. It's clever, and well-designed, but neither of those words capture what I find to be its most endearing quality, which is innocence.

Innocence? Really?

Yes, that's exactly what I mean. There's just no anger here, or darkness. It's light-hearted and playful, in all the best ways. And that light-heartedness blends incredibly well with the pixel-style visuals that developers Zeboyd used in the game. The audio is retro, too, entirely evocative of the NES/SNES era.

The game continues the saga of the Startling Developments Detective Agency, along with it's principles: Tycho Ephemerous Brahe and Jonathan Gabriel, along with an entertaining cast of side-characters, including a head (Jim's head) in a jar.

The dialogue is (obviously) clever and funny, but that only matters because the game mechanics are rock-solid. The class system is both funny and wildly diverse, which makes combat (which is very frequent) almost infinitely variable. Here are just a few of the classes (and it's a multi-class system, so you'll have more than one active):
--Dinosorcerer (yes, you can turn into a Dinosaur)
--Diva (with abilities like prima donna and limelight)
--Tube Samurai
--Gentleman (now with 100% more caning)
--Cordwainer (shoe-based attacks and skills)
--Apocalypt (spells occur in the future)

It's a gigantic mash-up of abilities, it gives you a ton of options in combat, and it's very, very fun. And funny.

One other quality I particularly enjoy in this game is that's it's relaxing. Combat is turn-based, so there's time to think about what you want to do, and everything is pleasantly paced. That may sound boring, but it's not in the least--it's the kind of game where you feel better after playing than you did before you started.

The price? $4.99, which is less than lunch. Seriously, if you like games, particularly if you have even the slightest trace of old-school in your system, then this is an auto-buy.

The Big News Of The Day

No, not Independence Day. Besides, Independence Day was three days ago (well, for Canadian readers--go, Canada!).

The big news of the day is that the Higgs-Boson particle has been found. And there was great rejoicing. Of course, on every "news" website it's twenty links below coverage of who won the July 4th hot dog eating contest. Discouraging.

Here's the article: CERN confirms existence of new particle consistent with Higgs boson.


Eli 10.10 is in rock climbing camp this week.

He was timed going up a 37-foot rock wall (belayed, obviously) in 5.6 seconds.

When he told me that, I marked off a 37-foot distance and walked it at a brisk pace. It took 6.1 seconds.

My son can climb faster than I can walk.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Rockstar Motel

I mentioned the beta version of a music social networking site called Rockstar Motel a while back (DQ reader Daryll France is working on the project). The site is live now, and it's very, very slick. If you're interested in music, you'll want to go take a look: Rockstar Motel.

Getting Started With Dwarf Fortress

My extreme fondness for Dwarf Fortress is well-known to those of you who have read this "feature" over the years.

It's also well-known that a Dwarf Fortress world is so complex and detailed that it can be intimidating for new players. Which is why Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress: Learn to play the most complex video game ever made is the perfect introduction into the world of DF. It's well-written and very clear, along with some wonderful illustrations.

The linked version above, when purchased as an e-book, will continue to be updated. The Amazon link (print and Kindle versions, but won't be updated) is here.

Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 3

It's been a while since we've heard from Gary Gorski, but he's just released Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 3, and here are the details:
Completely redone, full screen UI
• "GameView" mode of gameplay--a new way to play out or watch your games
• Updated contract rules--continued use of contract options and restricted free agency rules
• Improved player development and player scouting
• All new offensive strategy controls give you more control over your team
• Improved tracking of season records
• League Expansion! Start a brand new franchise with a league expansion draft and begin the ultimate dynasty challenge
• European play option gives you the option of running one of 72 foreign clubs with dual season play (domestic and cup)
• Season Disk files for purchase to start a career with a full historical database and import rookies over time
• Updated rosters FREE with the game so that you draft alongside your favorite team just as they stand today

More details here, including a demo.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #12: Friends And Family

Not all the friends and family are in the beta test yet, but I think we're up to eight people now. That doesn't sound like much, but I've gone through all the development with basically two testers, so it's a big adjustment.

Here's one example of how beta testers can provide energy. Someone (don't know if they want to be outed) downloaded the game on Tuesday and had played through an entire season by Thursday night, qualifying for the playoffs with a 13-2 record.

The problem: none of the playoff-specific atmosphere was in the game yet. I had a detailed list, but that was all. But there's no way I was going to let the first F&F beta tester to make it that far play their playoff game without the fun things I planned on adding.

That gave me one day, roughly, to add them, because I didn't want to wait a week to play his playoff game, either.

The list:
--playoff logo overlay on Team Hub screen
--playoff logo on field
--reference to playoffs in pregame
--20 playoff-specific headlines
--"enhanced" crowd loop volume (yeah, that just means louder)

Fredrik whipped up some totally cool playoff logos, and even redid the league logo so that it was more visually dynamic. Here, take a look:

Now take a look at the playoff logo:

There's also a special logo if you make the championship game. I'm not showing that one--you can see it when you get there.

This is all part of the concept of making the GFL a brand inside the game. It reinforces the notion that there is a "real world" in which you're taking part.

So instead of taking a week to slowly put all those things in, I put them all in on Thursday night, then tested Friday morning. So that was a hugely positive effect on the schedule, thanks to the enthusiasm of a beta tester.

There's one fly in the ointment, though: that same tester uncovered an issue that no one else has ever seen and that I can't duplicate. What happens is that at some point after a Big Play card is dealt, the card slot becomes unselectable. There might have been successful matches using that slot already on the play, but at some point it freezes. Every other card in the layout can be selected, but not that one.

This condition is rare (I think he saw it five times in sixteen games), and it fixes itself when the play ends, but that could happen on the last play of the Gridiron Bowl and could cost someone a championship. Not acceptable. Without being able to duplicate it, though, it's slow going.

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