Friday, August 31, 2012

Torchlight II Release Date

September 20.

Regular productivity, prepare to plummet.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Eric Higgins-Freese, an article about the incredible James Webb Space Telescope :
[The James Webb Space Telescope] has, in many ways, 100 times the capabilities that the Hubble Space Telescope does. We're actually going to be able to see the first stars forming, the first galaxies forming after the Big Bang. We're also going to be able to — we think — directly image planets orbiting other stars.

Oh, and this a co-lead link for the week (from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, who makes an appearance later as well): Mummified Siberian Princess Unearthed With Pristine Tattoos. Incredible.

A series of excellent links from C. Lee this week. First, a fascinating product to assist the elderly that is an offshoot of the Asimo humanoid robot.

Here's a fascinating link from Francis Cermak that revises everything I thought I knew about exercise and lactic acid: Lactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe, It's Fuel.

From Donny Plumley, and who knew a dog could do parkour?

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is simply outstanding: How To Eat A Watermelon. Also, and this is very amusing, it's The World's Shortest Scheduled Flight. One more, and it's a great story: a man whose father died of cancer identifying the location of a photograph of his dad taken 39 years ago.

Matt Sakey's excellent Culture Clash feature has a new installment, and this month, it's Something I'll Never Do Again.

If you've seen the film "Dog Day Afternoon", you'll be fascinated by this link from Jonathan Arnold: Recalling the Real ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ 40 Years On.

From David Gloier, a fascinating echo from the past: Cold War Spy Tunnel Under Berlin Found After 56 Years.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is both emotionally charged and terrific writing: The Checkpoint: Terror, Power, and Cruelty. Also, this is a a clear badass sighting: Cobra Bites Man, Man Bites Back and Kills Cobra. One more, and this is simply one of the most remarkable and amazing things I've ever seen: A Squid Listening to Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain".

From Meg McReynolds, and these phots are quite striking (blame Meg for the pun): Lightning Strikes. Also, and this is entirely fascinating, it's Vowel Movement: How Americans near the Great Lakes are radically changing the sound of English.

From Rob Funk, and I can only assume Action Park wasn't mentioned because it's not an article about the world's "deadliest" water slides: World's craziest water slides.

From Greg Bagley, and this is both crazy and clever: Town in Israel Puts Wi-Fi Routers On Its Donkeys.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dungeons of Dredmor! [UPDATE]KEYS GONE

If you somehow haven't played this quite remarkable game (possibly my favorite game of 2011), I have three Steam keys that I will give out to the first three e-mailers.

1. Obviously, you have to have a Steam account.
2. These aren't my keys--they were donated.
3. Because of #2, and because I've never done this before, so it might take a couple of days to get everything done properly. Please be patient.

IFA 2012

IFA, which is happening in Berlin this week, is the European equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the United States.

Where the cool stuff gets unveiled, in other words.

This year, the cool stuff seems to be absolutely enormous televisions at ultra-high resolutions.
Sony's 84-inch 4K Bravia KD-84X9005
LG's 84-inch UD 3D TV makes its formal IFA debut
Toshiba 84-inch 4K Quad Full HD TV hands-on
Sharp launches 'world's largest' 90-inch LED AQUOS TV

Those links are all from Engadget, my favorite site for keeping up with shows like this. The last link though, is from June, as I can't seem to find any IFA coverage of the new Sharp set (and strangely, that 90" screen only displays at 1080P resolution, which seems quite miserly compared to the 4K sets being debuted).

Also, in addition to these behemoths, don't forget how quickly companies are trying to expand into OLED. Panasonic and Sony have announced a joint partnership, LG has a 55" model shipping this year (allegedly), and Samsung is also shipping a 55" this year.

None of these sets are cheap, obviously--in fact, most are heinously expensive--but everything is expensive when it's first introduced. A 42" 480P plasma had a list price of $12,000 in 2001 ($7,500 via the Internet). Today, you can get a 42" 1080P plasma for under $600.

Five years ago, I bought the Panasonic 42" TH-42PH9UK for $2,100. Somehow, I was able to get the settings dialed in almost perfectly-- to my eyes, at least--and the picture was absolutely spectacular. Best purchase ever.

Last year, for my 50th (egads) birthday, Gloria said that I should upgrade the television to a 50" (1" for each year, obviously). Last year's models, though, were plagued with various issues, and I never pulled the trigger.

This spring, though, the new Panasonic models were getting stellar reviews, and I wound up getting the 55" (see what I did there) TC-P55VT50. That's the flagship model of Panasonic's plasma line.

So I went from a 42" screen to a 55" screen, from 1080i resolution to 1080P, and how much did it cost me?


In other words, five years after I bought a top-end, 42" plasma, I bought this one for the same price (and it's better in every conceivable way, not just size). That's how quickly technology is moving in terms of price point and quality.

That's why we should care about all the new, ridiculously expensive crap getting introduced this week, because five years from now, we'll be buying 84" 4K displays for $3,000--or less.

Oh, yeah. Panasonic showed a prototype of a 145", 8K display, because Japan is starting 8K broadcasts ("Super Hi Vision") in 2020.

"The Veldt", anyone?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kickstarter: Boys With Bigger Hearts

Jesse Leimkuehler sent me a link to a very worthy Kickstarter that I wanted to mention. Here's a description of the project:
2000 people worldwide live with MPS II (or Hunter Syndrome). This film tells the raw and honest stories of four boys affected.

If you've never heard of Hunter Syndrom, here's the Wikipedia description:
Hunter syndrome, or mucopolysaccharidosis II (MPS II), is a serious genetic disorder that primarily affects males (X-linked recessive). It interferes with the body's ability to break down and recycle specific mucopolysaccharides, also known as glycosaminoglycans or GAG. Hunter syndrome is one of several related lysosomal storage diseases.

In Hunter syndrome, GAG builds up in cells throughout the body due to a deficiency or absence of the enzyme iduronate-2-sulfatase (I2S). This buildup interferes with the way certain cells and organs in the body function and leads to a number of serious symptoms. As the buildup of GAG continues throughout the cells of the body, signs of Hunter syndrome become more visible. Physical manifestations for some people with Hunter syndrome include distinct facial features and large head. In some cases of Hunter syndrome, central nervous system involvement leads to developmental delays and nervous system problems. Not all people with Hunter syndrome are affected by the disease in exactly the same way, and the rate of symptom progression varies widely. However, Hunter syndrome is always severe, progressive, and life-limiting.

The trailer is quite affecting, and you can see it here: Kickstarter.


Let me mention two absolutely phenomenal pieces of writing.

I mentioned a while back that I had removed ESPN from my browser bookmarks. That was true, and it's still true, but there is one excellent reason to visit ESPN: Patrick Hruby.

Hruby has become, in my mind, the preeminent long-form sportswriter in this country. His pieces are consistently intelligent, full of depth, and extraordinarily well- written.

Last week, he published a new article: The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis: Meet the Man Behind Baseball's Most Psychedelic Myth. It's brilliant, which should come as no surprise.

Second, Russ Pitts, who has turned into the Patrick Hruby of long-form gaming pieces, also has a new article:
Don't be a hero - The full story behind Spec Ops: The Line
How Walt Williams, Cory Davis and Richard Pearsey made a war game into something like art
. It's a tremendous piece of writing as well, which is true to form for Russ.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Expeditions: Conquistador

What a Kickstarter! Here's an excerpt from the game description:
Expeditions: Conquistador is a tactical roleplaying game with a touch of strategic resource management and a pinch of choose-your-own-adventure. Conquistador is set in a rarely visited part of history which is rife with mystery, political intrigue, and good old-fashioned violence.

You will take on the role of a Spanish Conquistador in Central America in 1518-1520. Select the members of your expedition and explore campaign maps based on the actual topological maps of Hispaniola and Mexico. Through intricately branching dialogue, you will engage with the characters and situations that you encounter across these uncharted areas, and when it’s time to spill blood, a tactical combat system of great depth and brutality will let you control your individual troops in battle.

In. All in. Here's the link:
Expeditions: Conquistador.

Clockwork Empires Preview

Robert McMillon sent me a link to a PC Gamer preview of Clockwork Empires, and now it sounds even better. Have a look here.

Clockwork Empires

I have a well-established fondness for Dungeons of Dredmor (done by these fellows). It was a wonderful, witty, entirely addictive game.

Somehow, it never crossed my mind that they'd do anything else.

Happily, however, they are, and it looks just as clever as DoD. Here's an excerpt from the press release (and it's lengthy, but it's too good to edit):
The Clockwork Empire is expanding! Brave people, seeking glory and wealth, are setting forth for uncharted lands in search of fame and fortune. This is a new age of Science – fearless naturalists, clever tinkerers, and brilliant inventors hold sway over the imagination of the common folk, wielding voltaic energies and constructing chromed brass clockwork engines. It is an age of The Arts – poets lie expiring on every street corner, crying for Reform and more laudanum, while the Empire Times spews forth from the great presses of the Capitol, filled with stories of inspiring hubris and adventure from The Colonies. It is an age of Trade – the many arms of the Imperial Chartered Antipodean Trading Company lurch across the oceans like the limbs of a commodity-crazed octopus, dredging untapped markets for wealth and glory. It is an age of Politics – scheming agents of the Empire skulk through the slums and grottoes of the colonies, dodging anarchist schemes and cultists’ rituals, and fulfilling secretive missions on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. Meanwhile, in the Capitol, favours are curried in the Houses of Parliament and the Panopticon between the artistocratic Lords and the rising classes of Industrial Barons.

But not all is well in the Empire. Strangers gather under lampposts and in bars, telling stories of Those That Live Beyond The Stars, operating in invisible geometries from another dimension. The Queen, some whisper, has been locked away at the behest of her own Prime Minister… but to what end? The Church of the Holy Cog prays for the salvation of the Empire, yet everybody fears the indescribable colors that trace lines through the darkest woods and beyond the reassuring glow of the gas-lamps. The fortunes of the Clockwork Empire are watched, silently, by unseen eye-clusters and malevolent entities trying to breach the walls of reality into this world.

Take on the role of a Junior Bureaucrat (Colonial Grade), sent forth to seek fame, promotions, and natural resources to feed the ever-hungry maw of industry and commerce. Build mighty colonies, fill them with magnificent factories and tortured machinery, and harness the power of steam and energies brought forth by determined, unregulated men and women of Science!

Glory is yours to seize; the world is yours to do with as you please. For fame and fortune, for Science, and for the Queen and the glory of the Clockwork Empires!

Here a few gameplay features and details:
--Dynamic, city-building, citizen-simulating action. Every imperial subject has a purpose and agenda of their own, and their interactions are rich, exciting, and often lethal!
--New “procedural extrusion” technology lets you design your colony the way you want! Buildings are procedurally generated and extruded directly from the aether to your specifications!
--Tame the uncharted continents by land, sea, and air! Set forth in mighty Zeppelins to do battle with Sky Pirates, or take to the seas in search of fortune and probably sea serpents!
--Create magnificent acts of plumbing, link together mighty gears, and build ominous Megaprojects!
--Tangle with the machinations of malevolent entities! Scry the legacy of the Invisible Geometers, fumigate the baleful moon-fungus of the Selenian Polyps, and cleanse the scuttling creepiness and poor personal and moral hygiene of your everyday, average cultist.
--Losing is still fun! When your colony fails miserably, earn medals, promotions, and titles as befits a true politician and scion of the Empire!

Good grief, just take my money already!

Welcome to the #1 spot in my Most Anticipated Games List, Clockwork Empires. Here's a link to the press release, and you desperately need to hit that link, because you'll get to see one of the best promotional posters I have ever seen for a game.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #19: As You Need It

Help screens: remove the 'p', add an 'l'.

You will recall that I've already been through this once. After many, many iterations, I was satisfied with the offensive and defensive help screens. They were attractive, had an effective layout, and didn't overwhelm the user with information.


Something that DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray had said kept tumbling around in my mind. He said that the "ninja" approach would be to create a dynamic help system. At the time (three months ago), the prospect of even designing something like that overwhelmed me.

It kept bothering me, though, and I couldn't explain why until I went to a gas station.

When you buy gas--at least nowadays--you read a little LCD screen for instructions. And those instructions are given to you as you need to perform actions--"just in time", in manufacturing/inventory-speak.

ATM machines? Same thing.

If you think about it, almost anything of a transactional nature includes assistance to prepare you for the next step in the transaction.

That's when I realized what was bothering me: games, too, are transactional.

No ATM machine is going to have the help for every possible transaction pasted on the front of the machine. They can't, because most people won't even read the (at the time) non-essential information. Then, when they do need that information, they can't remember it.

Ah, crap. I realized then that I had to have a "transaction-based" help system. Shoot me.

It was particularly painful to work on this, because I had been so relieved when the original help system had been completed. It's very grindy, not fun at all work, and now I had to go through it again, this time doing something that was quite a bit more complex than the original approach.

It took the entire week, but it's working now. And clearly, it's much more user-friendly. For instance, instead of finding out about field goals and punts the first time you play offense, as part of a screen with multiple bits of information (the rest of them not about kicking), you see the help the first time the respective kicking buttons appear. It will be much easier to remember, because it's presented at the right time.

Plus, I created a "custom" deal of cards for a new user on their first play of offense and defense. It guarantees that a match will be available, and because of that, I can guide a new player throught the matching process and use of the Big Play button. After that play, I go back to the standard deck shuffle as usual.

The old help screens--with the charming look but data-dump approach-- are still going to be available from the Options menu. But the new system is much, much easier for a new player.

I asked Fredrik to come up with a new information box, and in short order, he sent me this:

He came up with the "Gridiron Coach" concept, which I thought was terrific. So these little information boxes pop up the first time you need to do something in the game.

That doesn't sound like it should have taken a week, but it did.

Now that that's done, almost everything I'm doing now will be polish to existing features, with one exception. I'm considering one substantial change to gameplay.

You guys have seen the game screens with the cards in the field layout. It's not a conventional solitaire layout in that you can't "see" the next card in the stack. That's because there isn't a stack-- any card you play just gets replaced by the next card in the deck. So there are no stacks of cards.

Because of that, there really isn't a lot of strategy while you're playing cards. The new wildcard helps with this, as it clearly adds a strategic element, but largely, the strategy in the game is football strategy, not card strategy.

Now, though, with substantially more experience in whatever the hell all of this is, I'm wondering if I could somehow accommodate the people who want more card strategy. I couldn't even begin to imagine how to do that a year ago, in a programming sense, but I can now.

Here's the idea, and again, I haven't come close to deciding whether I'll actually do this. The basic concept, though, is that there would be one card showing behind each card on the playing field. A "peek", if you will. When you made a valid play of two cards, the peeked card would then become the newly playable card on each of the two stacks. Then, new peek cards for those stacks would be dealt from the deck.

That would add quite a bit more strategy without affecting the basic game mechanics. I don't want people dragging cards from one stack to the other, because I've always had tablets in mind as an eventual destination for the game, and tapping is much easier.

Seriously, that last sentence was utterly ridiculous. Before I could even program, I wanted the game to multi-platform friendly. There was zero reason to believe I would ever wind up with a game or anything like it, but I was already digging through the detail ditch. Insanity.

What I can't answer about this gameplay change is how badly this would screw up game balance (quite a lot, I'm guessing). So I'm going to work on making a decision, and next week I'll let you know.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Links!

From C. Lee, two fascinating articles about prosthetic limbs and athletics. First it's Professor aspires toward the perfect prosthetic design, then Japan's Paralympians overcome adversity by leaps, bounds and innovative design. Also, one of most charming, touching photos you will ever see, and it's of Oscar Pistorius and a young girl: learning to run. Lastly, and this man is clearly going to qualify for the baddest man on the planet contest, a Chinese man who built HIS OWN prosthetic limbs: Sun Jifa, Chinese Man, Creates DIY Prosthetic Limbs After Losing Hands In A Fishing Accident.

From Meg McReynolds, and these are quite fun: When You Jump, The Real Person Appears. Also, and I never realized how dogs did this, it's Dogs Can Shake 70% of the Water from Their Fur in 4 Seconds, Here's How.

From Michael M., and this is quite interesting: Why Are Americans So... (A map of American state stereotypes, generated by Google autocomplete).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating (even if you'll never be able to afford one of the suits): Savile Row. Also, and this is completely incredible, it's Prehistoric Human Brain Found Pickled in Bog: A brain in near-perfect condition is found in a skull of a person who was decapitated over 2,600 years ago.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is nothing short of astonishing: We Were Totally Wrong About the Sun’s Shape Until Yesterday.

From DQ Film Advisor And Nicest Guy in the World Ben Ormand, a long but fascinating read about screenwriter Damon Lindelof and storytelling in general: Film Crit Hulk Smash: THE DAMON LINDELOF INTERVENTION.

From Andrew Shih, and this is a great story about hockey, goalies, assholes, and life in general: The Disabled List: The Todd Bertuzzi Knock-Out Club.

From Donny Plumley, and who knew a parkour dog even existed? This Dog is Better at Parkour Than Most Humans are at Anything.

Here are a slew of links from Kez. First, the best anti-smoking campaign I've ever seen: Cute kids with cigarettes: Thailand’s anti-smoking campaign goes viral. Next, this is so tremendously touching: Gorilla Brothers, Alf And Kesho, Hug As They're Reunited After Three Years Apart. Next, and this is absolutely wonderful, it's Men Throwing Rocks With The Other Hand. Next, and boy, sometimes it's very hard to want to live in America, it's U.S. tourist Walt Wawra’s ‘aggressive’ encounter in Calgary’s Nose Hill Park sparks Twitter ridicule.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is quite incredible: 1,000,000,000,000 Frames/Second Photography.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Of Note

If you're interested in the details of the Apple-Samsung trial, which has now gone to jury, then here is an excellent summary: Apple vs. Samsung: inside a jury's nightmare.

If I was on this jury, I think I'd shoot myself. Mind-numbing doesn't even begin to describe the minutia of this case.


I wanted to follow-up on yesterday's post.

Like I said, all of those data points yesterday were complementary, not directly correlated. But there are plenty of other data points that would be easy to add: Sony's performance this generation, Nintendo's financial near-collapse in the last year, the terrible sales numbers for the Vita (and I'm not sure the 3DS is out of the woods yet, either, no matter what Nintendo says). Layoffs everywhere. Studios closing.

So yes, you can certainly say that the explanation for each of the data points is different, and that's true, but in sum, all of these incidents point to one overwhelming conclusion: in a business sense, the gaming ecosystem is very, very ill. Activsion is the outlier, but as the apex predator, maybe it can survive.

And just to be clear, free-to-play ("freemium", whatever) doesn't solve any of the financial issues--it just changes them. But as a consumer, damn, the model certainly has appeal. Think of it as a competitive situation, and thousands of games are competing with each other for your money, and these games are all "free". The question, of course, is how much content they'll give you for free? Well, if five companies are competing with each other, not much, probably. But with a kabillion, there are going to be companies at the best end of the distribution curve who are going to give you a TON of free content. And I'll be much more inclined to pay (and much more generously) for additional content, because I feel like I've already received substantial value.

I know it sounds incredible to even mention this, but do you remember that just two years ago, publishers were seriously talking about charging for demos? That's how totally clueless and out of touch the bigwigs of the gaming industry were with where the market was actually headed.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Data points.

1. GameStop, Without the Games
In an effort to avoid the fate of Blockbuster, Circuit City, and others in the remainder bin of failed retailers, GameStop (GME) has embarked on a daring, if inglorious, strategy: refashioning itself from a console game purveyor into a repairer and reseller of Apple (AAPL) gadgets, betting that its retail visibility will prove an advantage.

2. Electronic Arts For Sale? EA 'Quietly Exploring' Private Equity Interest
Electronic Arts Inc. (Nasdaq:EA) is "quietly exploring" opportunities for it to be sold to private equity firms, according to a report by the New York Post.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based video game industry giant is talking to two private equity companies, according to the Post, which cited persons familiar with the matter.

3. OnLive undergoing buyout in wake of dire financials, laying off 'at least 50 percent' of staff
...a meeting was held at OnLive's offices at 10AM this morning, wherein the company's CEO announced a massive staff layoff -- at least 50 percent of the staff, according to our source's numbers. The layoffs come as part of across the board cuts to the company, and all those out of a job will have their key cards deactivated as of 4PM local time today. The source was understandably baffled by the abruptness of the news, along with the added blow that no severance will be offered and stock holdings are essentially worth nothing.

Further: OnLive officially announces asset acquisition, notes that its newly formed company will keep OnLive name.

4. PopCap, THQ and Funcom hit with layoffs

These data points don't stack, but they are complimentary. Gamestop sees the writing on the wall in terms of console games, seemingly. EA may finally have recognized that they're just not going to climb out of the five-year funk. OnLive turned out to be a business model without revenue, essentially, based on their expenses and their peak concurrent user figures (1,800). They were just burning through cash, hoping for a big offer, and instead ran out of time. Finally, I could find a dozen more layoff stories from the last eight weeks, or more.

Then you have this idiot: Guillemot: As many PC players pay for F2P as boxed product. Ah, Ubisoft. Just read this:
It's a way to get closer to your customers, to make sure you have a revenue. On PC it's only around five to seven per cent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it's only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It's around a 93-95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage. The revenue we get from the people who play is more long term, so we can continue to bring content.

Wait--Ubisoft implemented always-on, must-always-be-connected-to-the-Internet DRM to combat piracy, and he's claiming that the piracy rate is >90%? Whose ass is he pulling these numbers out of, anyway?

So there are two problems here: the fundamentals of the gaming industry are changing very rapidly, and most of the people in charge of the big gaming companies are too stupid to to ensure the survival of their companies.

However, while Guillemot might be quite the fool when discussing piracy--at least, when discussing the alleged rate of piracy--the idea of essentially going totally F2P is quite interesting.

So in a future where most mobile games are freemium, and many, many PC games will be the same, how exactly do next-gen consoles resist this trend and continue to charge $60 (Plus--plus!--DLC) for their products?

I don't see how they can.

I'm not sure we should care, either. Good grief, big gaming companies have been whining non-stop about used game resale for years while they sold us early/late betas for $60 and told us to like it. Sorry, but payback's a bitch.

Freemium is just the hedge solution to both piracy and trade-ins. What's impossible to steal? A free game. What value does a free game have as a trade-in? Nothing.

If it's free-to-play, and the publisher drives me batshit insane with in-app come-ons to buy things, then I stop playing the game. If the appeals are reasonable, then I'll spend some money. And I didn't lose any money up front.

That doesn't seem unfair.

Plus, the best part: not all the big companies will fail. Bethesda is still releasing terrific, "traditional" games for PC and console, and "Dishonored" is the one new I.P. this fall that I'm genuinely excited about. There are still an absolute ton of terrific games to play--even though I have almost no time to play them, unfortunately--so it's not like gaming is dying. Not even close.

There will just be quite a few casualties.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I have a new video card.

I've been threatening to do this for years. My old card was a trusty Radeon 5850, believe it or not, which was starting to shudder and groan at 1920x1080 with games like Skyrim (at high detail, anyway).

Not that I have any time to play Skyrim right now, mind you, but the conceptual idea of playing Skyrim at high levels of detail was blocked by my video card.

I've been having an on-off dalliance with the Kepler architecture on the new Geforce cards (680 and 670, in particular). Never could quite close the deal, though.

However, when the 660 came out, it changed my mind.

Here's how much graphics card efficiency has improved in the last few years. This card uses 10% more power (under load) than the 5850. It's also
--15C cooler on the deskop, and 12C cooler under load
--6 dB quieter under load

Impressive, right? Oh, and the performance in games at 1920x1080 is roughly DOUBLE the 5850.

So for the same power consumption, you get double the performance, 10-15C cooler, and 6 dB quieter.

The particular card was the Gigabyte Windforce 2X OC Edition, and it was $319 at Amazon.

I was expecting an installation nightmare (always), but the entire process took 20 minutes. Zero problems.

I still don't have time to play Skyrim--or anything else, really--but the conceptual impediment has been removed.


We were at dinner on Saturday night, and next to us was a table with four people (two couples) who looked to be in their late sixties.

Both of the men had gruff, decades-of-smoking voices, and one was telling a story about his dog, who he said had been in such ill health that he'd had to put him down.

Here's how he ended the story: "As I drove to the vet, the whole time I was thinking, 'There's a lot of people I'd rather take to the vet than this dog.'"

What You Need To Do This Week

1. Don't dick around with these instructions. For once, I know what I'm doing.
2. Buy the album "Cold Facts" by Rodriguez. It's available for download via Amazon here. It's also available as a CD.
2. Listen to the album once. Wait two hours. Listen to it again.
3. Go see the movie "Searching for Sugar Man."***

***In the meantime, avoid all reviews of this movie. If anyone wants to talk about it, put your fingers in your ears and go "LA LA LA LA" so that you can't hear them.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #18: Grinding

I totally forgot to mention last week that there is now a wildcard:

It's part of the card deck now, so it's a 53-card deck instead of the standard 52. It provides a few additional strategic wrinkles when it appears, and it's fun.

In general, the fun factor kicked up last week. Both the new drive meter and the wildcard have made the game more fun to play. It's probably a little too easy now, but that can be adjusted while still retaining the additional fun.

I'm working very hard to get to the official "open" beta stage. I have a list of 32 items, spec'd at about 110 hours in total, which means the wider beta should start in about five weeks. But there's no point beginning the beta when I know there are things that still need to be fixed/improved.

Also, DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray suggested dynamic help screens. That would obviously be much slicker than the static screens that pop up when you first play the game, but I resisted trying it because of the amount of work involved.

Now, though, I realize he's right, and I've at least roughed out a way to do them in a programming/layout sense that would be manageable. The full-blown screens will still be available via the Options menu, but the in-game help will be more sequential and hopefully more user-friendly.

I'm also retooling the playcalling A.I. For game difficulty, the CPU needs to rip that extra card slot from the player as often as possible, so I've made some adjustments that have made it smarter, which makes intelligent playcalling by the player even more important.

I appreciate the support you guys have given me after I announced that I was actually doing this crazy thing. I'm grinding through smaller things now, and it can get frustrating, but your general enthusiasm has been a huge help.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Links!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fascinating: Glitch Art. Also, and this song is a destructive virus rampaging across the world, it's Gotye - Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra. What's quite cool, though, is that Gotye credits every musician in that video on his official web page. One more, and it's quite remarkable: WebGL Water.

From Jim, and this could be quite helpful: Terms of Service; Didn't Read. Also, and these photos of abandoned places are simply amazing: Abandoned. Note: the title is officially "Abandoned P*rn" (with the 'o' intact), so I have no idea how that will interact with crazy work internet filters.

From C. Lee, and this is an amazing piece of kit: BioLite CampStove. It can charge your USB gadgets. Seriously. Next, and I really have no words to adequately gloss these guys, it's Advanced Cat Yodeling.

From Dan Quock, and these are very funny: This Is How Olympic Divers Really Look While Diving.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is magnificent: The Largest Ever 3D Map of the Universe. Also, on a less sublime but still interesting note: Why doesn’t sand stick to beach volleyball players?.

From Max Weinstein, and this is strangely riveting: video walkthrough of Trespasser.

From Sirius, and this could be huge: UCLA scientist discovers plate tectonics on Mars. Also, and this is amazing: Fire ants survive on food being microwaved .

From Steven Davis, and just look at this disruptive technology from the past: How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read .

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Console Post Of The Week: Rode Hard And Put Away Wet

Sony has some interesting nuggets in their recent earnings release.

For a few years, Sony projected increases of 10-15% annually for PS3 sales. That was remarkably lacking in ambition, but it looks positively to the moon compared with their latest projections.

Let's take a look.

In fiscal year 2010, the numbers broke down like this:
PS3: 14.3M
PS2: 6.4M
PSP: 8.0M

Fiscal year 2011:
PS3: 13.9M
PS2: 4.1M
PSP: 6.8M

That modest increase projected for the PS3 turned into a modest decline. On top of that, PS2 sales declined by a third, so combined, PS2/PS3 sales declined by 13%.

This is the point, historically, where you roll out a new console, because there's nothing left to get excited about. Well, not this time. Instead, it's become like the ninth sequel to "Weekend at Bernie's," except the two guys are dragging around a PS3 instead of a body.

2012 projections? For PS3/PS2 sales combined (which is how Sony tracks it now), Sony expects a decline from 18.0M units to 16.0M. That's an 11% drop.

PSP sales, meanwhile, declined by 15% last year, but hey, that's okay, because the Vita is here, right?

Sony lumped the PSP/Vita sales together as well, and their projection for 2012 is 12 MILLION UNITS. Wait, the PSP sold 6.8M last year, and they're projecting combined sales of 12M?

Oh, wait. Let's just compare Q1 PSP sales last year to combined sales of the PSP/Vita in Q1 of this year. That should show how sales are taking off.
Q1 2011: 1.8
Q2 2012: 1.4

So they're forecasting a 76% unit increase after a 22% drop in the first quarter? Um, what?

Then there's this tidbit:
SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida that the price will not go down this year. "It's too early," he said. Sony engineers are working on "cost reduction," which Yoshida said takes time.

That's so Sony. Consumer demand has nothing to do with price in Sony's world, apparently.

Here's the thing, though: he's lying. Well, either he's lying or they're going to have to gut their fiscal year projection for Vita unit sales. There's nothing in-between those two possibilities.

My guess is he's lying, and that Sony will announce a price cut within 8 weeks. Even if they lower the price to $199, though, they still won't hit that incredibly aggressive unit target.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Welcome to Track!

"Dad, let's go to the track tomorrow morning," Eli 11.0 said. Fired with enthusiasm from the seven minutes of coverage NBC gave nightly to track, he wanted to time himself in a few events.

We had talked about doing this after the spring track meet--working on track twice a month--but with three days of hockey a week, three days of tennis, and three days of golf, there really hadn't been time.

We went to track at 9 a.m. Sunday morning, and even though it was early, it was still hot. August in Austin is 100% miserable, and there's no reasonable time to run, unless you happen to be awake at 3 a.m.

No matter, though. He was up for anything. That's why I call him The Enthusiasm Engine.

"So here's how we'll warm up," I said as we walked onto the track. "We'll jog two laps, then you'll do some striders--"

"What are striders?" he asked.

"Shorter distances, like the 100 or 200, where you're not running full out, but you're running faster than a jog," I said. "They help get your body ready to run fast."

He made it through the two warm-up laps and one strider. "Dad, come on," he said. "I want to run the 400."

"All right, then let me explain something to you about the 400," I said. "At your age, it's all about pain."

His eyes widened. "What?"

"Pain," I said. "You'll run fast for the first 250, then it's going to hurt. Really hurt. And learning to become a real runner is understanding that it's pain, not injury, and that you can push through it."

"I'll just start off slower," he said.

"Nope. Doesn't work like that," I said. "That's how most kids run it, and that's why they're not fast. And that's why you'll beat them next spring, because when they feel pain, they're going to slow down. You'll feel pain, but you'll just keep running."

"I think I can do that," he said.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say this won't hurt. It's going to hurt plenty. But you go through this process where you learn about how it feels, and it starts to become familiar, and then one day you feel it and you just run through it. And that is one of the greatest moments you will ever have as an athlete. Ever."

If you've ever run track, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's impossible to just watch and understand how painful the running events are at the longer distances. Certainly, it's the most painful sport I ever participated in, because lactic acid is the devil and it cannot be denied. The only way I can describe it is that at a certain point, your entire body seizes up--but you have to keep running.

For a kid Eli's age, the "longer distances" start with the 400. And as long as he wants to do this, I want to be honest with him about what it takes to be good, because he wants to be good at everything. So we had the pain discussion up front.

"I'm ready to run, Dad," he said.

There were other people on the track, all grown-ups, and I told him about watching out for other people and to stay in the inside lane when he could.

Then he took off.

I thought he would slow way, way down in the last 100, but he didn't. He was struggling, and I know it hurt, but he was battling.

He ran past me at the finish line. "Seventy-nine seconds," I called out. "That's really, really fast for your first time. How'd it feel?"

"Terrible," he said. He stopped, leaned over, and put his hands on his knees.

"Don't stop," I said. "Keep walking. That last hundred is just awful, isn't it?"

"Oh man," he said. "It really, really hurt."

We walked a lap around the track, and then he wanted to run a 100. Which he did, and it was fast (I messed up starting the time, so I don't know how fast, but he was motoring).

He still wanted to do the long jump, so we walked over to the pit, and we talked a little about fundamentals.

"Dad, I don't feel good." Eli took a few steps away from me, leaned over, and put his hands on his knees. "I think I'm going to throw up."

"Okay, don't lean over like that," I said. "Stand up and tilt your head back. Walk slowly."

"Ugh, this feels terrible," he said.

"Welcome to track!" I said, brightly.

"Oh my God," he said, completely miserable. "You think this is funny."

"Only because I remember the first time I threw up after a race," I said, smiling. "I know you feel terrible, and I'm really sorry, but it's not injury--it's pain. It will pass."

"You threw up after a race?" he asked. He looked very, very pale.

"I ran a 10K road race when I was in high school, and I had three doughnuts for breakfast."

"Oh, no," he said, laughing.

"I thought I was flying, but all these old people were running faster than I was," I said. "So I ran as hard as I possibly could, every second, and I sprinted at the finish to beat some old guy who was probably using a walker. I stopped right after I crossed the finish line, and about five seconds later--BAM."

"You threw up?" he said, laughing.

"Oh, yeah," I said. "That's how I learned to never lean over and put your hands on your knees. That's an almost guaranteed way to hurl."

"I don't think I can do the long jump today," he said.

"That's probably a good idea," I said, smiling. "Let's go home. You'll feel fine in a little while."

We started walking across the field, my arm around the little boy who is already so, so strong.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I ran in an 800 race and felt like I was carrying a refrigerator for the last 300?" I asked.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Madden 2013 (Demo)

During a moment of entire dissolution of all common sense, I downloaded the Madden demo today.

Surprisingly, though, there have been improvements.

The environment seems much more dynamic (better audio). Menus are easier to navigate and more logically laid out. Onscreen displays and overlays are very sharp and minimally intrusive. The pre-game is entertaining. The Gameflow feature actually seems usable (and useful) this time. Even the in-game announcing has been upgraded from awful to average.

That's quite a lot of improvement, actually.

There was only one problem: I still had to play the game. And the game looks like ass, like it was made five years ago. At least.

Here's what happens. You go through this spiffy pre-game that looks very, very sharp graphically, and finally, the game begins. At that moment, the graphics go from "ultra-sharp" to "ultra-dingy", the camera is far, far, behind the action, and I swear I felt like I was suddenly looking at a PS2 game. That's an exaggeration, obviously, but Madden is light years behind NHL, NBA2K, and MLB: The Show in terms of graphics and animation.

It's so far behind that it's painful.

I think some of this has to do with the lighting effects, which are an abomination. Lighting effects should enhance sharpness, but Madden's lighting effects (for years) have done the opposite: they've made things duller. The NCAA series has had the same problem.

Okay, so the graphics are a disappointment--again. How do the players move, though? Um, like they've moved for the last five years, pretty much. What about that new Infinity Engine to generate unique tackle animations? That's 99% horseshit. Seriously, I didn't see one tackle animation that looked unique or impossible with the old engine, and I played a game that consisted of probably 40 plays. Even worse, I saw one incredibly blatant suction tackle, where the running back was pulled to the defensive player. Yes, that's how real physics work, kids!

In sum: it's bog-standard, way-behind-the-times Madden in terms of how it looks and moves.

Oh, and in a game with five-minute quarters, I saw six ads. Six. Well, five plus one egregiously obvious product placement. And here's a prediction: Madden is going to add a 30-second advertisement between quarters. It hasn't happened yet, but the commentary is set up perfectly to do it (Jim Nance talks about "a word from our sponsors" at the end of the quarter), and it's coming at some point. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

So to speak.

This is the only game in town, unfortunately, for a graphically-based football game with the NFL/NFLPA license. And EA will have this license locked up long after they've given up the others. So we can eat it and like it, or just go hungry.

Or play Backbreaker, with mods.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #16: A Big Week

I wrote last week about the process of designing and implementing the new drive meter. Fredrik was able to make four or five iterations of the art in only a few days, so by Friday, everything was basically completed.

Here's a screenshot (you can click on it to get a larger view):

There are two plays left in the drive (two stars on the meter). The CPU called a pass (see the quarterback in his throwing motion). The human player called "defend run" (which is why he's down in a three-point stance).

What I particularly like about this new "meter" is how much additional information it can give to the player. For instance, here are all the possible poses:
--running back (running)
--quarterback (throwing)
--quarterback (throwing Hail Mary)
--wide receiver (running)
--defensive lineman (3-point stance, run defense)
--linebacker (hands on knees stance, pass defense)
--defensive player running
--defensive player preparing to tackle

These poses give me an opportunity to tell mini-stories, essentially, that describe the progress of the drive. At the beginning of each play, the play calls determine the starting pose of the players. As cards are played and players move toward each other, there's a separate pose for running backs and wide receivers. When you see your defensive player "break down" into the prepare-to-tackle position, that means you're one more card play away from making the tackle.

When you see the tackle and hear the cannon, you've stopped the drive.

For months, I thought that the defensive "stop the drive" meter was the weakest design element in the game. It was a problem. Now, though, I believe the new "meter" is one of the strongest elements, because of how well it evokes real football.

I had one other big element I worked on last week, and that's the schedule.

16-team round robin schedule with balanced home/away? Easy, right? Interestingly, it's not. There are some websites with free round-robin schedules, but they're not very good. So you can get a true round-robin schedule, but some teams will play at home/away three (or even four) weeks in a row.

So, to sum up, the schedule sucked. I knew it needed to be improved, and I also knew it needed to change from year to year. Sports games with unchanging schedules get annoying quickly.

The problem, of course, is that I had no idea how to create the schedule. It seemed to be a daunting problem, mathematically, because I didn't even understand how the creation process would work.

Fortunately, though, while Googling this subject for the tenth time in the last couple of months, I stumbled onto this site: NRICH: enriching mathematics. The subject? "Round Robin scheduling: Even number of teams."

Normally, this wouldn't help much, because I wouldn't understand the damn explanation. This time, though, "Arunachalam Y." explained the "polygon method." Here's an excerpt:
Let us schedule a round-robin tournament for 8 teams numbered from 1 to 8.

Draw a regular (N -1) sided polygon (i.e., a heptagon for 8 teams). Each vertex and the centre point represents one team.

A seven-sided polygon with numbers at each vertex.

Draw horizontal stripes as shown below. Then, join the vertex that has been left out to the centre. Each segment represents teams playing each other in the first round.

Seven-sided polygon with horizontally opposite vertices joined by lines.

So (7, 6), (1, 5), (2, 4) and (3, 8) play in the first round.

Rotate the polygon 1/(N-1)th of a circle (i.e. one vertex point). The new segments represent the pairings for round two.

Wow--even I can understand that.

Why does this work?
The restriction that no vertex has more than one segment drawn to/from it ensures that no team is scheduled for more than one game in each round.

Restricting ourselves to horizontal stripes ensures that no segment is a rotation or reflection of another segment. This means that no pairing will be repeated in a future round.

Once I realized that, against all odds, I actually understood this, I tested it to see if it would work with 16 teams. It did, and the concept was so clearly explained that I should have been able to code it in about an hour. I didn't, because I'm a hack, but several hours later, it was in, and it works. So there are now 16 possible schedules, with a random seed generated each year to assign a position to the first team.

Yes, it would have been theoretically possible to assign each team a random position on the polygon, instead of going in order, which would have meant an infinite number of possible schedules, but 16 will work just fine.

Again, like many of the other things I discuss on Mondays, changing the schedule each year probably seems like a small detail. And it is, but it's the sum of the attention paid to the small details that I hope turns Gridiron Solitaire into a special game.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Links: The Addendum

Okay, here's a new nominee for the baddest man on the planet: American Relay Runner Broke His Leg, Still Finished His Run.

From Kadunta, and this guy is another badass, although in a different way: An Unexpected Ass Kicking.

From Steven K., and this is entirely fantastic: "La Munkya" - Written By A Kid Ep 3.

From Evan, and if you like "Chopped" like Eli 11.0 does, then you'll love this: Chopped: Koala Edition.

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: Real Life Japanese Mech Robot Fires BBs With A Smile.

Ending this week, from Michael O'Reilly, and this is a fascinating story: The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay. And you can still clearly see the fleet via Google Maps--just type in "Mallows Bay" and zoom in one increment.

And if you think this post is short, please go back to Thursday (oops) and read part one.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Pictures From Detroit!

I can't even touch the surface of all the things that happened in Detroit, but here are a few images and excerpts.

First off, if you're staying near the water, Detroit feels like a coastal city. There's no smell of salt, but the bodies of water are so immense that it might as well be the Gulf of Mexico. Having grown up on the Gulf Coast, I immediately bonded with that feeling.

We tend to do fine on vacation in terms of encountering people, because I am (believe it or not) so egregiously polite that it makes Gloria laugh. Both her and Eli are very polite as well, and I found no matter where we go, people will usually respond to politeness in a warm and friendly way.

Detroit, of course, is in the Midwest, so the people are warm and friendly anyway. And they drive like complete assholes, just like we do in Texas.

There are many beautiful places in the city, like this:

Sadly, though, the beautiful places are often right next to decay:

That seems to be the essential character of Detroit, at least today: pride mixed with a sense of resignation, with those feelings echoed in the current architectural state of the city.

There's an above-ground rail system called The People Mover, and they have lovely art at the individual stations. Like this:

Here's another entirely spectacular view:

These last three pictures are special, even though they're poorly taken. On the last day of goalie camp, I walked outside during a break and saw a bulldozer digging a grave:

There was something coarse about this. In my mind, men dig the graves for other men. There's something personal about shovels striking the earth. It feels like it should take work to bury someone.

A bulldozer makes it seem so easy.

I thought about that a bit during the afternoon session, and when I walked out later, I saw a carefully dressed woman standing at the foot of the newly-dug grave. I felt like I was intruding, to even be watching her, but I also wanted an image that I felt would honor the moment. Of course, she started walking about two seconds before I took the picture, but the meaning was the same.

She didn't linger. I stayed and watched quietly, wondering who she had lost. After a few minutes, she turned and walked away.

I went back in to the rink, coming back out thirty minutes later because the kids were doing off-ice training. That's when I saw the third and last panel of the story:

Well, All Rightie, Then

Since Friday Links decided to publish themselves on Thursday, I'd like to congratulate them on their initiative and self-starter attitude.

I'll publish a supplement with a few additional links in the morning.

Friday Links!

From Griffin Cheng, and this is amazing, it's portable 3-D printer in a briefcase.

From Eric-Higgins Freese, and this is quite fascinating: All the American Flags On the Moon Are Now White.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is quite thought-provoking: Opinion: Video games and Male Gaze - are we men or boys? Also, here's a wonderful letter from a Pixar employee: Whatever you like doing, do it!

From C. Lee, and I had absolutely no idea this was even possible: Fish getting skin cancer from UV radiation, scientists say.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these are absolutely spectacular (Edwin's comment: "turnkey evil lairs"): 12 Amazing Pictures of Lava Tubes Around the World.

From Chris Pencis, and this is entirely wonderful. His description: "What if you made a video / animation directly from a story told to you from a 6 year old... and did it with green screen, hours of photo shooting and cast it?" Well, they did: "Scary Smash" - Written By A Kid Ep 1 featuring Dave Foley, Joss Whedon & Kate Micucci.

From Jeffery Gardiner, and this is spectacular: Lightning captured at 7,207 images per second.

From Michael M., and I'm guessing Eli 11.0s new goal will be to win the 1896 Olympic championship in the 100 meters: One Race, Every Medalist Ever.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Detroit: Aftermath

We went to hit golf balls the evening we returned from Detroit, and on the way to the range, we started a post-mortem.

"So how did you feel about how the trip went?" I asked.

"Good," Eli 11.0 said. "Really good."

"I know it's kind of a mad scientist thing, the approach we're taking," I said, "but I also think it's working."

"Dad, it IS working," Eli said. "I could tell when I played against those other kids."

"Well, I think it makes sense," I said. "When you're 18, goalies are distinguished less by technique than they are by athleticism. Plenty of guys will have great technique, but only a few will be great athletes. So playing a lot of different sports, especially ones that require quickness, should really help."

"And it's fun," Eli said.

"That's right," I said. "Lots of kids get burned out on one sport because that's all they play. Even if you don't wind up playing hockey forever, I want you to be happy while you do."

"You don't seriously think I'm going to quit, do you?" he asked.

"Probably not," I said. "But if you did, I want to have great memories of all the fun you had."

"Oh, I have memories," he said.

"And there's one more thing," I said.


"I know how much you want to be great. Not good, but great."

"I do," he said.

"Then when you're at practice, or when you're in a game, it has to mean more to you than anyone else. This sounds hokey, but every game has to be the most important game of your life. It will help you learn how to play at a high level all the time."

"I get that," he said.

"Plus, and this is really important, that's true for life, too. No matter what you do, when you care more than everyone else, when you work harder, you'll succeed. That's exactly how you succeed in anything: have a plan, work harder, and care more. And lots of grown-ups never understand that."

"I understand," he said. "Dad, I know it's almost impossible for me to get to the NHL, but I really want to try."

"I know," I said, "and I respect how much you care. Remember how I said at the beginning of the trip that you just wanted to be in the group that still had a chance?"

"Yes," he said.

"You did it," I said. "You're still in the group, and you're clearly very high in the group. Your life has hundreds of possible futures, but you know what? In at least one of those futures, you do make it. And no matter what happens from here, you earned that future. Do you understand what I mean?"

"I do, Dad," he said. "Thanks. And thanks for doing so much to help me."

He's played three summer league games since coming back from Detroit, giving up three goals in total. One was on a puck in the air that a kid swung at like a baseball bat with his stick, one was on a breakaway, and the last was the third shot of a sequence, after he'd stopped the first two. Every goal that has been scored on him has truly been exceptional.

He's also had some of the best saves of his life, truly spectacular moments where his quickness was just overwhelming. He's stopped shots that he never would have stopped before he went to goalie camp, and he's tightened up his technique so that nothing is getting under or through him.

We also went to play on a real golf course for his birthday, and had a great time, but that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Backbreaker Redux

When I discussed the new drive meter in the Gridiron Solitaire post yesterday, there was one image I didn't mention: the tackle.

We had a very solid lineup of images, but when a player played enough cards to stop the drive, we needed a tackle image as players collided.

That sounds easy. Go into Google and find a photograph of a tackle that you like, then use the general positions of the players and creat an image.

Amazingly, though, I couldn't find one. It's very hard to get a tackle at just the right angle, particularly for the purposes of the game. I had no problem buying the rights to an image, because Fredrik is working on the images for the opening cut scene and I didn't want to reinvent the wheel, but I couldn't find a suitable illustration, either.

I spent hours combing through images yesterday, utterly failing, and then I realized that I had a copy of the best skeletal animation system ever used in a sports game: Backbreaker.

Incredibly, given that it was relesaed in 2010, Backbreaker's animation system is still (and I'm not exaggerating) light years ahead of Madden. It's embarrassing (or it should be to be EA) that a game created with a tiny team has animation totally superior to the flagship franchise of a multi-billion dollar corporation.

After the Greathouse patch, which fixed 90% of the problems in the game, I can remember three that were outstanding:
1. The two-minute A.I. was very poor.
2. Ball flight on certain passing plays looked wrong (like a lob, sort of)
3. Receivers had this strange behavior when catching certain passes.

These things were never patched, which was sad, because what they fixed in the first patch was far more difficult than fixing these things.

However, Backbreaker had an incredible dynamic animation system, and the tackle animations, in particular, were unparalleled.

I realized that all I needed to do was go into Backbreaker, play the mini-game called Tackle Alley (so that there would only be a few players on the field), then use instant replay to go frame-by-frame until I found the right pose for the game.

It took me 30 minutes. There were so many great pose that I'm not even going to share them all, but here are two:

We're going to wind up with about 4 different poses, and I'll be able to use a different pose depending on how many plays were left in the drive when it was stopped.

Seeing Backbreaker in motion again makes me think that I may wind up playing a full season this fall. I miss playing football games, but NCAA is a joke at this point, and Madden hasn't been any better the last two years. I think it would be easier to live with Backbreaker's issues--and enjoy the things it does spectacularly well--than live with Madden's continued weakness.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire #16: Panic

Work on the game has gone poorly since I returned from Detroit.

At first, I thought it was a problem related to routine, or lack of one. It's been difficult to find time to work on the game. As it turned out, though, I had it backwards: I didn't have a routine because I was beginning to panic.

Let me explain.

Once Gridiron Solitaire went out for the Friends & Family beta, I immediately realized that the Stop The Drive meter just wasn't good enough. I've been fairly pleased with it for a while, because it was a big improvement over what came before, but I think I've always known that it violated one of most basic principles I followed when designing the game: everything must be football.

The meter isn't football. As someone put it, "It looks like a United Way telethon." Ironically, that's one of the reasons I chose it--it's a universally-recognized symbol of a goal to achieve--but it fails badly in the "fidelity to football" category.

This has bothered me more and more in recent weeks, to the point where I was putting off working on other things because it seemed like an intractable problem. It wasn't good enough, I knew it wasn't good enough, and I didn't know how I could make it better.

On Saturday, Gloria and Eli 11.0 left for the summer 4-day trip to Shreveport.

No matter how busy I am, I can always navigate in my head from point A to point B. For most things, that's enough. I can also usually get from A to C. Longer hops, though, are quite difficult, because I don't have enough uninterrupted time to think.

Suddenly, though, I had time.

I sent Frederick an e-mail, asking him for suggestions about the physical appearance of the meter. I told him I wasn't sure what, exactly, but I felt like we had an opportunity to modify the look of the meter. I thought it was a bit fat, for starters.

In short order, he sent back a graphic that wasn't as wide, plus the background color was the color of the scoreboard instead of a sky blue. His reasoning? It was a non-interactive element that provided information, just like a scoreboard element.

That was an excellent point, and I agreed. That one comment, though, made me start thinking.

The first thing I realized was that the meter should be docked to the scoreboard. After some mucking around in a paint program, I decided it could be docked to the right or left edge, depending on what direction the CPU was driving.

The meter would have to be smaller, but that was okay. It looked much, much better when docked to the scoreboard.


Still, though, something bothered me. I wanted something besides the meter. Something that could also be docked to the scoreboard, but would be explicitly football-related.

That's when I realized I could dock something to the bottom of the scoreboard, wider than the text box, but the same height. What if I put the image of an offensive player at one end, and a defensive player at the other end? When the user played cards, the defender could move toward the other player, and if he reached him ("tackling him") before the drive ended in a touchdown, then the drive would be stopped.

As soon as I had that thought, I realized that was the correct idea.

At first, I thought the box would be much wider than the scoreboard, but as soon as I mocked it up, I realized that was far too wide. To look like a natural part of the scoreboard, it needed to be just as wide as the scoreboard.

One more thing: it would look much more natural if the defensive and offensive players move toward each other. They would meet at the 50-yard line (symmetry), triggering a tackle image.

Originally, I prototyped this using silhouette figures, but Frederick is creating versions that are consistent with the color scheme of the cards. Here's a screenshot (it still shows the old meter in the lower right, because it helps me see what should be happening for debug purposes, plus it makes it easy to compare the two):

It's hard to explain, but I look at that and know instinctively that it is "right." That's exactly what it's supposed to be, and it should have been that way from day one, but I just couldn't see it yet. The old meter looks incredibly clunky and out of place in comparison.

Also, that little background strip has unique backgrounds for sunny, rainy, and snowy weather, so it will match the field background graphic.

I've also added a wild card to the deck. It matches any card on the field, and it's added a bit of strategic spice to the card play. It's also caused some play balancing issues, but I accidentally designed the game in such a way that it's easy to adjust the play balance (seriously--there's no way I could've done it on purpose).

So after a few weeks of little progress, finally a significant step forward.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday Links!

Here's a tremendously cool link: Historical Hurricane Tracks. If you want to see what I went through when I was nine, type in "Portland, TX" in the location field and look at the path of "Celia 1970." A direct hit, and we didn't leave town (lots of people didn't, back then). It was classified as an "H3", but there wind gusts of almost 200MPH.

C. Lee sent in a slew of fascinating links this week. First, it's 5 Sci-Fi Dystopias We've Actually Created (For Animals). Next, it's The Behavioral Sink ("a practical utopia built in the laboratory"--for mice). The Behavioral Sink is absolutely one of the most fascinating articles I've read in a long time. Next, and this is also fascinating, an article on gender identity in Japan: Blurring the boundaries. One more, and these are incredibly useful: Know Your Stuff: The 110 Best DIY Tips Ever.

From Jonin, and this is his nomination for Baddest Man on the Planet, it's Skydiver Leaps from 18 Miles Up in 'Space Jump' Practice.

From Steven Davis, and this sound like an excellent DIY project, it's Infared String Bass. Also, and this is both fascinating and chilling, it's Jamming Tripoli: Inside Moammar Gadhafi’s Secret Surveillance Network.

From Scott Fincher, an entertaining (possibly a bit aggrandized, but still excellent) infocomic about Nikola Tesla.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is such a cool idea: Portraits of Superheroes Living Ordinary Lives in Hong Kong. Also, and this is really something, it's Black Hat: Iris scanners 'can be tricked' by hackers.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating: "Suicide bombers" of the termite world. Also, and this is quite entertaining, it's This walrus has an amazing vocal range. One more, and it's nothing short of incredible: Scientists Create First Computerized Model Of Organism’s Entire Lifecycle.

From the Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is one of the most interesting part ideas I have ever seen: Classic Movies in Miniature Style.

Here's a fascinating possibility: that Heath Ledger's Joker was inspired by Tom Waits.

From Frank Regan, and these are quite inspired: 25 Stunning Alternate Movie Posters. Next, and these are absolutely amazing, it's Ultra realistic paintings on the wall.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Chopped, or Something

Eli loves a show on the Food Network called "Chopped." The format of the show is that three chefs make a dish from ingredients that are revealed to them at the start of the contest, and they have thirty minutes to make a dish. It's always completely frantic, and they're always finishing their dishes with seconds to go.

The trick, though, is that the ingredients are often pretty unusual. So they'll start out with something like "Chefs, your ingredients for this round are goat testicles, cotton candy, asparagus, and bubble wrap. You have thirty minutes."

I'm exaggerating, but not by much. Now, a sidebar.

We went out to dinner on Sunday, and Gloria said, "When did it become okay to wear baseball caps in restaurants?"

"I don't know," I said. "1975?"

"It doesn't look right," she said, and I started laughing.

I adopted the tone of the guy in the commercial who asks about posting videos to Facebook. "So, does anybody know when it was okay to start wearing caps in restaurants?"

Ah, hell, that's not funny when it's typed. It was good in the restaurant, though.

Sidebar over.

So we're on the way home, making fun of Chopped, and Eli says he can make a dish out of waffles, bacon, and cotton candy. "So you fold the waffle into a croissant..."

"Wait, how do you fold a waffle into a croissant?" Gloria asked.

"Is it a taco shape?" I asked.

"So that would make it more of... a waco", she said.

"So it's a panaco, but with a waffle," I said.

"Oh my God, you guys," Eli said, laughing. "Just shut up for a minute. So you take the waffle, put bacon inside it, put water on the cotton candy to melt it, then pour it on top."

"I would just skip the bacon," I said. "Just pour the cotton candy on top of the waffle."

"Yeah, your Dad would be done with twenty-nine minutes left," Gloria said.


Scott Gould sent me a link to a story about Mountain Creek Water Park (the former Action Park). His friend sent it to him with the comment, "Of COURSE it was Mountain Creek! Traction Park lives!"

Indeed: NJ Water Park Ride Malfunctions, Injures 5.

C. Lee sent me a link to a long article penned by Dan Vavra--yes, that would be Mafia and Mafia 2 Dan Vavra, and I know I bitched about the story in Mafia 2 because it seemed like big chunks of story were cut, and I'm sure they were, but I'm also sure it had nothing to do with Vavra, because he is an extraordinary writer. Anyway, it's a rant about game development, and it's very, very good:
HOW To Make Call Of Duty Killer For Less.

You may remember Jim Gindin, the brilliant mind behind the Front Office Football series. Jesse Leimkuehler let me know that Gindon is on the verge of releasing another football simulation, but this time, it's a board game.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Little Bit More About 10000000

Yesterday's post about 10000000 was remarkably empty of actual information, with the exception of the ringing recommendation.

What I didn't do, and I hope to rectify now, is explain why this game feels different from the glut of match-3 games already available.

Well, because there's more to it than that.

Here's where the game starts. It's your castle:

Each of those doors leads to a room where you can buy different types of equipment: weapons, armor, wands, etc. And you can upgrade the level of each of those rooms so that they sell you more powerful equipment.

To do that, though, you need to gather wood and stone during the level, which is what you will need to construct the building upgrades.

Once you enter the level, you'll see something like this:

Let's talk about what's going on in this screenshot, because it will explain much of why this game is so damned addictive.

First, off, look at the top. At the very top, you'll see four slots for items--items which appear when you match Those pink "package" tiles. The items could turn other tiles into weapons, or keys, or maybe you'll get some food or a one-use weapon. These are all useful, and all important.

You can see my character at the far-left of the scrolling level, fighting some kind of beast. The longer it takes you to defeat that beast, the more your character is pushed to the left of the screen, and when your character leaves the screen, the game is over.

That's the only way you can die.

So, in essence, you want to defeat enemies and open chests as quickly as possible, in order to keep your character to the right side of the screen, away from danger. It's also possible that if you match the pink tiles, you'll get a food drop, and eating food will move you to the right a bit.

That doesn't sound complicated, but given the real-time component, it becomes fairly frantic, in a good way. You have to keep wood and stone tiles cleared from the level, so that you have more weapons and key tiles available, and you also need to be matching package tiles regularly to get equipment and food drops. And the further you progress through the levels, the more difficult the enemies become.

There's a surprising amount of strategy involved, if you want to go far, and it generates a terrific adrenaline rush. I'm not kidding when I say it's the best game I've played this year, by far--it's an absolute clinic in game design and playability.

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