Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Links!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is another amazing WWII story, it's The Big Secret at the Clinton Engineering Works. Also, and this is truly one of the best commercials ever, it's Canadian Car Dealership Owner Gets Robbed, Creates a Radio Commercial to Drive His Robbers Insane With Anxiety. Also, and this is epic, it's The First Ever Electronically Stored Program Ran 65 Years Ago Today. One more, and this is brilliant, it's Introducing the NSA-Proof Font.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is an excellent explanation of how e-mail gets to its destination: The Story of Send. Also, and this is entirely entertaining, it's Exploding Actresses.

From Brett Harper, and this is fascinating: Atlas of True Names

From Sirius, and this is a wonderfully compelling image: Reflections on a broken bicycle. Also, it's World record domino chain (of books). One more, and this is incredible: Transistor Made from Just One Molecular Monolayer Made to Work On Computer Chip. Wait, there's another one more, it's Ancient, cow-sized knobby lizard discovered in Africa. Wrong again, there's another another one more, and this is incredible, it's One Building, One City: World's tallest prefab, Sky City, is breaking ground in June.

From Griffin Cheng, and what a fascinating story: Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years.

From Steven Davis, and this is totally fantastic: How to Make a Customized (and Removable) Wrist Cast.

From Sean Redlitz, and this is an intriguing story, it's Museum mystery: Spinning statue turns heads.

From Phil Honeywell, and this is incredible footage, it's just another dive. Also, and if you're interested in dialects, this will keep you busy for hours, it's Dialect Survey Maps.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Nutty Week

Gloria and Eli 11.10 went to Shreveport on Tuesday (coming back tomorrow). These four days are my only chance this summer to get in extended periods of work time on Gridiron Solitaire, so all I've done since they've left is eat, sleep, work out, and work on the game.

By the time they get home tomorrow, I'll have gotten in about 40 hours in those four days. It's been very tough to do that and write, though, so apologies for the disrepair this week.

Three things today.

First, the controversy over the "Redskins" nickname for the Washington NFL team blows my mind. How in the world does anyone on Earth think the name "Redskin" is anything but an incredibly offensive reference? How hard is that to figure out?

Team owner Daniel Snyder hired an "Indian" to go on "Redskins Nation" (a Snyder-produced show) and refute the crazy thought that "Redskins" was an offensive name. This guy was named "Chief Dodson", and he was "full-blooded American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska."

As it turns out, he's neither.

It's an incredible story, and the unbelievable arrogance of Snyder is staggering. Here's the full story, and man, it's a doozy: Redskins' Indian-Chief Defender: Not A Chief, Probably Not Indian.

Second, I've been reading The Trenches for a while now, and it's become one of my favorite reads. It's a comic strip created by Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, and Scott Kurtz, and the story that's developed over time is both very funny and highly entertaining.

If you haven't checked out The Trenches yet, you should.

Third, Daniel Willhite sent me a link to a Gamasutra article that totally blew mind. It's The Top F2P Monetization Tricks, and it's evil sorcery. I'm not even kidding when I say "evil"--it's chilling. The entire article is 100% required reading, but let me just quote one excerpt:
A game of skill is one where your ability to make sound decisions primarily determines your success. A money game is one where your ability to spend money is the primary determinant of your success. Consumers far prefer skill games to money games, for obvious reasons. A key skill in deploying a coercive monetization model is to disguise your money game as a skill game.'s Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills. 

...Candy Crush Saga employs this technique artfully. In that game there is a “river” that costs a very small amount of money to cross. The skill game comes before the river. A player may spend to cross the river, believing that the previous skill game was enjoyable (it was for me) and looking to pay to extend the skill game. No such guarantee is given of course, King just presents a river and does not tell you what is on the other side. The money game is on the other side, and as the first payment is always the hardest, those that cross the river are already prequalified as spenders. Thus the difficulty ramps up to punishing levels on the far side of the river, necessitating boosts for all but the most pain tolerant players.

It's brutal, and it's more than a little scary. There's no real game here, just a Skinner box and shaping. Who knew that every behavioral nightmare of the science fiction future would be contained inside F2P games?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Occult Chronicles

There's an absolutely wonderful preview of The Occult Chronicles over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and you should read it first: Death By Door And Other Humiliations.

Vic's other games have certain things in common. They're all carefully crafted and tightly woven, and the settings are extravagantly interesting. Seriously, has anyone ever put out consecutive games in settings as fantastic as a post-apocalyptic world, Hell, and the Old West? That's so great it doesn't even sound possible when I write it, even though I played all of them.

One other common element of Vic's previous games is that while the gameplay is highly evocative of story, much of that story is left to your imagination. The gameplay is so vivid that the story suggests itself easily, but it's not explicitly spelled out.

That's as good a point as any to begin discussing The Occult Chronicles, Vic's newest game. While much of the game has a familiar (and welcome) flavor, there is one substantial way in which this game is a fundamental departure, and that's in the sense of story. Instead of suggesting story, The Occult Chronicles draws it lavishly, with detailed, wonderfully written text descriptions of encounters and events.

Hmm. I need to back up.

The Occult Chronicles uses board and card game mechanics to tell the story of an investigator of the occult. You are that investigator. As you search through a spectacularly creepy mansion, you will meet various paranormal phenomenon.

This could go very, very badly for you.

You might get injured. You might go insane. In fact, the chances of one or the other happening are quite high, because this is a rogue-like, and it's difficult (in a good way). If you somehow manage to survive, you'll enter the dungeons below and battle an unspeakable evil.

On a side note, unspeakable evil is always far, far more frightening than speakable evil. Really, speakable evil is barely even worth mentioning.

Encounters are resolved with a Tarot-esque card deck, using a system of tricks that relies on both your ratings as an investigator and a substantial dose of luck. That luck, like everything else, must be survived when it turns against you.

It feels like I'm playing a Lovecraft short story each time. And this game does a wonderful, wonderful job with the slippery slope, which gives it a singular quality. Losing the game is usually not quick, or easy. Rather, it is a slow descent into madness or death.

Oh, yes. I like that quite a lot.

The game is in a "buy-in beta" phase right now, and some elements are still being tweaked (in particular, the encounter phase, with resolution by playing cards, is being tweaked), but it's entirely stable, and I haven't run across any bugs in several hours of playing.

Vic's games always occupy a unique place in the landscape, and it's clear that The Occult Chronicles will also occupy its own, unique, space. I highly recommend checking the game out if you're a fan of Lovecraft or Gothic horror or breathing oxygen.

One final note: I apologize for not including screenshots, but the game description page at the Cryptic Comet website is absolutely stuffed with them, so go have a look here. It includes an excellent game summary as well.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ghost Hunters

Long-time DQ reader Jesse Leimkuehler (a frequent contributor to Friday Links) is the CEO of Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Missouri.

Tomorrow night at 9PM (Eastern), the winery will be featured on an episode of "Ghost Hunters". I don't actually believe in ghosts, but I'm happy for Jesse and it's great publicity for the winery.

Here's a trailer for the episode (the abandoned nursing home is also on the property).

A Conversation

Eli 11.10 tried out for the high-level travel team last weekend. He played well both days of tryouts and made the team. Then, the other goalie that made the team submitted a petition to play up at the Bantam level, and it was approved, so instead of being a co-#1, Eli is in charge of the crease.

"Look, we need to talk about something," I said to Eli on the way home from the rink yesterday.

"What?" he asked. "Did I do something?"

"No," I said. "Nothing like that."

"Phew," he said, laughing.

"It's about success," I said.

"Okay," he said. "I'm listening."

"It's very, very hard to be great at anything," I said. "It's not a single moment--it's an adventure. It's a long, long road, and if you keep on this road, you will face terrible adversity. There will be moments where you question everything you believe about yourself. Plenty of people reach that point and quit.

The great, though, question themselves and keep going. The questioning makes them stronger. They never stop believing that they can work enough to overcome anything in their way. No matter how hard it gets, they believe in the process, and they believe in their ability to overcome.

In anything you want to do or be in life, you'll reach that point. And when you do, if you want to be great, you keep working.

"I got it," he said. "I know I'll keep going."

"Here's the other thing," I said. "It's almost impossible to help anyone if you can't succeed yourself. So being a success enables you to help lots of other people to succeed. Some people are selfish and don't do that, but you're not selfish, and whatever you finally decide to be, I know you'll be successful, and I know you'll help all kinds of people to succeed themselves.

That's what success means. It's not just about yourself. It's about climbing up, then helping other people climb up, too. I want you to know that now, because you're moving very fast, and you need to carry it with you."

"I will, Dad," he said. "You know I will."

He's eleven going on sixteen. He doesn't look like a little boy anymore. It was easy explaining things to him when he was little. Now it's more nuanced, more complex. I'm scrambling to keep up.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #60: Potpourri

First, the lake stadium is now finished:

Fredrik also made sailboats, but each one is in a separate image file, and before each game, I'll dynamically generate a position for each boat (on the water, hopefully!). So each time you use the lake stadium, the boats will show up in a different place. It's a very small thing, but hopefully it will make the stadium feel less static.

The last stadium (#8) will be a second dome. Fredrik has already done the basic design. So when someone starts a league, they'll see their own stadium for eight home games, but no other stadium should show up more than twice a year.

I spent more time last week playing the game than I have in months, starting a new franchise and playing through two seasons.

In the second season, I made the playoffs, and faced the San Francisco Sharks on the road. In spite of a few mistakes on my part, I stayed in the game, and was only down 28-24 with two minutes. I drove down the field and reached the 4 with only 15 seconds left.

No card plays available on the play draw. Hit the Big Play button. Stoned. Game over.

It was a very satisfying moment, believe it or not, because the game had been very dramatic, and that last play was agony. That's what I was hoping for three years ago when I started.

We're feature locked now. I'm down to three bugs. I have a small list of things I'd like to do, but they're not new features.

There's a basic version of the cut scene now. Needs work, but it's straightforward.

Believe it or not, Gridiron Solitaire is apparently almost done.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Links!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is fantastic: The Ruins of Old Union Square. Next, and this is both bizarre and pretty amazing: WTF of the day - Dancing Queen. Also, and this is beautiful, it's The Patterns Of Different Audio Frequencies

From Meg McReynolds, and these are spectacular: 45 Amazing Vintage Polish Posters Of Classic American Films.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and if you're a Disney fan, this a must-view: "Vintage Disneyland" Presentation with Imagineer Tony Baxter. Also, and this is very cool, it's The Remote Siberian Monument to the First Woman in Space, Who Launched 50 Years Ago Today.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is quite a story: Moscow’s Wild Dogs Ride Subways To City Center In Search Of Food.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is tremendous: 8-bit Cinema: Star Trek in 90 Seconds.

From Jussi, a myth exploded: there is no such thing as "sugar high". Eli 11.10, for one, has never had any kind of problem with sugar in terms of behavior. It doesn't seem to affect him at all.

From Sirius, and this is amazing: Ancient Roman Concrete Is About to Revolutionize Modern Architecture. Also, and you need to see this video, it's Flying electric bicycle invented in Czech Republic. This next story is just bizarre: Experience: I was swallowed by a hippo.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is quite incredible: The Lost City. Also, and this is fascinating, it's How did feathers evolve?

From Phil Honeywell, a column from Steve Gleason, who is both very well-spoken and very courageous: Steve Gleason on his life with ALS, mission for a cure.

From Frank Regan, and this is nothing short of insane: BAE Systems releases secret 1960s design. Also, and this is quite a list, it's List of people who have won Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards.

From Aaron Ward, and this is unbelievably funny: It's Not About the Nail.

Winding up this week, from DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, another spectacular stunt-riding video from the best in the world: Danny MacAskill Imaginate.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I forgot to mention when I made the zip line post that a woman in our group was in her 70s and had a tattoo that said "BRING IT ON."

Gloria walked up to me today and said, "There's an international conspiracy to prevent me from getting anything done today."

"Wouldn't I already know that?" I asked.

Eli 11.10 created himself in NHL 13. I saw him editing the ratings, and he was giving himself all 99s. "You might want to drop that glove hand rating just a bit," I said.

"WHAT? Did you seriously just say that?"

"You know, the flash save," I said. "Sometimes it's hard for you to flash that glove fast enough."

"Oh, I'm proving you wrong tonight at practice," he said. "You just wait."

So he went to practice tonight and played like an absolute boss, including some spectacular glove saves.

"I guess you can keep that 99," I said.

"I guess I showed you," he said, laughing.

I guess he did. Heh.

Game 7

It's halftime of Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

This has been one of my favorite Finals series ever in basketball, since I'm both a Spurs fan and a fan of LeBron James, so no matter who wins, I'm happy. Happier if the Spurs win, but happy either way.

Watching LeBron James, though, is always amazing. In all the years I've watched basketball (back to around 1970), he's the single smartest player I've ever seen on a basketball court. As smart as guys like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were, they're not even close.

I noticed something about basketball tonight, though. When the NBA Finals go to Game 7, it's usually not a well-played game. Guys are tight, and they shoot poorly and make bad passes. Plus everyone is playing defense as hard as they can, which makes it even more difficult.

Bad basketball is not terribly entertaining. Sloppy basketball is just sloppy.

Sloppy hockey, in comparison, is often quite thrilling, with the sloppiness leading to more scoring chances and general chaos. The Stanley Cup game last night was 6-5 in overtime, with lousy defense and sloppy play in general, and it was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Here's What Happens When You Forget Something Around Our House

Courtesy of Eli 11.10:

It pays to be alert around here.

Holy Cow

From Don Mattrick (President of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business): I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:

An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today -- There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

I'm speechless.

After two weeks of the worst PR I've ever seen (certainly as bad as Sony after they announced the PS3, which set the standard for stupid until now), and after two weeks of having to speak in doubleplusgood dialect, Microsoft decided to decouple their anti-consumer DRM from the cool features of the Xbox One.

Even with this very impressive move, the One isn't sure to succeed. At least now, though, it isn't sure to fail.

So what do they do now? Above all, they need to do this: stop defending on price. Never, EVER defend on price. In the midst of their cow manure period, Mattrick gave an interview last week and said this:
We’re over-delivering value against other choices I think consumers can get. Any modern product you look at these days and $499 isn’t a ridiculous price point. We’re delivering thousands of dollars of value to people so I think they’re going to love it when they use it.”

No no no no NO. Don't go into these imaginary, inflated value calculations. Don't tell people how much value you're delivering--that's what lecturing snobs do.

I'll say it again: never, EVER defend on price.

Talk instead about how many cools things the console can do. Don't assign a dollar value to each one. Talk about how this new console is really going to excite consumers. Talk about anything except the price, and if people try to pin you down in interviews, just focus on the feature set.

This was a huge move on Microsoft's part. Like I said last week, they were getting mocked. I'm also guessing that Sony's pre-orders exploded after their E3 presentation, while Microsoft's flatlined.

I'll give them credit. Instead of denying reality until two weeks after launch, when the numbers would give them no choice, they slapped themselves and rejoined the world where 2+2=4.

Interestingly, they've also boxed in Sony. Sony had room between themselves and Microsoft to put in more restrictive policies before launch, because even if they did,  they'd "still be better than Microsoft." Now, though, Microsoft has basically moved over to Sony's position. Now, Sony can't tack towards Microsoft, because they're flush against each other.

In a corporate sense, that is a very, very smart move.

This is much more interesting now. Instead of an entirely predictable train wreck, drama has been restored. Popcorn for everyone.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Since I'm a little under the weather, back-wise, and I also have to go to a Hockey Town Hall meeting tonight, please enjoy the magical stylings of Eli 11.10. Oh, and please note, there's an important card that's not always in frame because of the width of the video. It was not touched or moved.

A New Word

I had one of those old man moments yesterday.

I'd worked out about an hour previous, and I was in my study working on GS. I stood up from the chair and my back seized up.

This happens about once every two years or so. Something will trigger my back, and then I'm walking around like a 100-year-old man for a week. If I just keep walking around, though, and avoid sitting too long in once place, it gets better and I'm fine.

I had a very fortunate appointment with my doctor scheduled for about an hour later ( blood work to test my cholesterol level, which is fine), and while I was there I asked her about my back. So I left her office with a prescription for a muscle relaxer.

I waited until that night to take anything, because Eli had goalie practice, but when we got home I took half a pill. And it made me slightly sleepy, and my back stopped hurting, but I didn't notice much else.

We watched a recorded episode of "Veep" that lasted until about 10:30. Then I went back through the program list and saw a program I didn't recognize.

"What's this?" I asked Gloria.

"I don't know," she said.

"Oh, I remember," I said. "I taped about two hours past the Bruins-Blackhawks game on Saturday in case it went to bazoople overtime."

I would normally say "bajillion" or something like that, so I'm crediting the medication with the invention of the word "bazoople".

Monday, June 17, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #59: Time

Under the old time system, time ran off the clock in different ways for the CPU than for the Human player. On CPU plays, there was a runoff at the beginning of the play. On Human plays, there was no initial runoff (well, 5 seconds), but a runoff happened with each match.

This worked on several levels, but it was asymmetrical, and that tends to cause problems, particularly when trying to create the feel of a real-world game without a corresponding asymmetrical structure.

A beta-tester (thank you, Darrel) pointed this out, but then, instead of just leaving it there, he started keeping a spreadsheet to explain in full detail why it was a problem.

This was entirely convincing, both because he was right and because it reminded me of when I was beta-testing Front Page Sports Baseball Pro '98 (Doug Johnson, where are you?).

We discussed the ideal set up back and forth for weeks, and last week, I put in the new system. It has four main elements:
1) Both Human and CPU plays have runoffs at the start of the play. The Human plays have a slightly smaller runoff, but it's still significant.
2) Time still runs off the clock on Human plays with each card play, but the runoff is much, much smaller. This means that number of plays is more important to time runoff than the outcome of each play, which is more accurate.
3) When time runs below 2:30 (2nd and fourth quarter) due to a runoff, the clock is stopped at 2:30. This simulates the two-minute warning point in real football.
4) Passing plays take less time than running plays, in large part, because incomplete passes stop the clock. To approximate this, passing play runoffs are smaller than running plays, but each card play counting toward a completion (it takes three) runs additional time off the clock, and when the pass is complete, the total time runoff is much closer.

I am so pleased with how this plays. It just feels much more like football, and reaction has been uniformly positive from the beta testers. So this is the final time system, although there may be minor tweaks.

On another front, there's been an onside kickoff bug that I've been trying to hunt down (on and off) for over a year. It was the one bug I haven't been able to fix.

Symptoms: on an onside kick recovery, the wrong crowd would animate and cheer. That's annoying as hell, obviously, but it happened so inconsistently that I couldn't figure out what was going wrong. The code looked fine. I couldn't duplicate the error. I did see it, rarely, but could never figure out what was going on.

Then, another Hall of Fame beta tester (Thorsten), started sending me screenshots when he saw it happen. And for some reason, today I thought of a detail on the screenshot that hadn't seemed important.

The detail: when he tried the onside kick, he was behind 28-27. I realized that this mean he might have tried to onside kick after kicking a field goal.

This little piece of information caused me to look at another piece of code, and I found the problem and fixed it in five minutes.

Well, that was easy. Eventually.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Question: Desks

I'm thinking about getting an adjustable height desk, so that instead of sitting so much, I can stand and work about half the time. If you have a desk like that, please let me know if you like it and whether you'd recommend that specific model. Thanks.

Friday Links!

Leading off, from Joshua Buergel, and this is an outstanding piece of journalism: America's Worst Charities. Oh, and here's America's biggest charity dirtbag: Intricate family connections bind several of America's worst charities.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is tremendous: Galaxy in Throes of Death Spied for 1st Time. Also, and this is spectacular, it's On the edge: Devil’s Pool isn’t for faint of heart.

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine is terrific, as usual. First, and what a fascinating article, it's Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes. Next, and this looks like something out of The Omen, it's Bubble boy: Baby born inside intact amniotic sac. I'd certainly like to see some of these: 17 of the Oldest Man-Made Structures On Earth Still In Use. Next, and this is an incredible bit of film, it's BERLINER STRASSEN 1900 - 1914. One more, and it's fantastic: X-Rays Reveal Lost Aria in 200-Year-Old Opera

From Meg McReynolds, and this important: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Next, and this is completely fascinating: 22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is excellent: That Instrument Known as the Eiffel Tower. Next, and this is sensational, it's Video: Plunging Hot Charcoal Into Liquid Oxygen. One more, and it's amazing: WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is very cool: Childhood Photos Recreated Decades Later.

From Sirius, and this is excellent: Before the Fall: What Did the World Look Like in 1913? Next, and these are simply some of the most beautiful images I've ever seen, it's 23 Unbelievable Places.

From James Lee, and this is highly, highly entertaining: Star Wars Trilogy: The Radio Play.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Eli 11.10 Rules The World

When you're a kid, if you're lucky, you go through a phase where everything is right. Like a boss, as Eli 11.10 would say, and right now, he's a boss.

At his school's athletic awards ceremony, he was called up to be recognized. Five times. No other boy in his grade was recognized more than once.

The next week, he played the dragon Mushu in Mulan.

I hadn't seen any of his rehearsals, and I expected something decent. When he was younger, he would be in little plays and would rush through his lines, even though he never forgot any of them. So I expected a slightly better version of that.

Instead, I saw a kid who knew how to play a character. He was funny, he had swagger, he was insecure--he was Mushu, in short, and he was truly funny. There were three kids in the musical who clearly stood out, and he was one of them.

This wasn't a pick-up production. He rehearsed 15+ hours a week for the last few weeks, and the set would have looked terrific for a high school production, let alone sixth graders. It was a big deal at his school, but instead of being nervous, he went out there like he did it every day.

Pressure. It's what's for breakfast.

When school let out for the summer (forever), Gloria decided to have "Austin Adventure Week" with him, and they did all kinds of fun things. First, they went to iFly, which is an indoor skydiving place. Here's a picture:

There are no cables in that chamber--he's free flying.

Then, on Friday, we went ziplining. Lake Travis Zipline Adventures has five ziplines, and three of them are over 1,500 feet long. So you zipline and hike in-between, and it's fantastic. Here's Eli going down one of the smaller lines:

The highlight is a 2,700 foot line at the end of the trip. It's a double line, so people actually race. Here's Eli and I on our way down, and at one point, we were going nearly 60 MPH:

If you want to know where that line ends, it's all the way over the ravine, then up the other side to that small wooden structure (you can see it cut into the hill). It's a long, fun ride.

They also went to Fiesta, Texas (I stayed behind to work on GS) and rode all the roller coasters. This was a little out of Gloria's comfort zone, but she did great. The next day, Eli was using her computer and saw something in Google history. "SERIOUSLY, Mom? 'Odds of Dying on Roller Coaster'? You are SO busted."

Last week, he went to a 2-hour tennis camp during the day (no one close to his level, unfortunately), and I picked him up one day at the tennis center and stayed so we could hit for a while.

On the court beside us, there was an instructor who looked like a college player, very skilled, and when we were done, we gathered our stuff and started walking off the court.

"Hey buddy," he said, and Eli looked up. "You are a STUD tennis player."

"Thank you," Eli said, in his most polite voice.

This week, to beat the heat (it's already in the high 90s here, damn it), we've been getting up at 6:30 to go play tennis. On the court around 6:45.

He's still 11. He may beat me by the end of the summer.

Today, I actually got some video.

The service motion is very, very difficult to teach, and for kids, a reliable serve is the hardest part of the game. A few months ago, though, I started having him serve a bucket of balls before we even start hitting, and it's made a big difference. Here's a video of him warming up, and notice how smooth his motion is, and how it's almost identical each time:

He can really spank that serve when he wants to, with a nice amount of spin.

Here's one more video, and it's just of us playing points. On the first three, he hits clean winners, and on the fourth, he barely misses.

This is a kid who's never even played in a tournament or been around other high-level players his age. He just works hard and likes to play.

Listen to the sound of the ball off his racquet.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Occult Chronicles

I'm fortunate to be playing a late build of Occult Chronicles, Vic Davis's new game, and I hope to have impressions for you in a few days. In the meantime, you can pre-purchase and have early access to the beta at the game's website: Occult Chronicles.

I will say this for now, though: it's thoughtful and engrossing and intense, just like all of Vic's games.

Dear Microsoft: Shut Up

This should be the first rule of PR: never make it worse.

Here are a few of the things Don Mattrick said to Geoff Keighley yesterday:
--"Fortunately we have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity, it's called Xbox 360".
--"I mean, when I read the blogs and thought about who really is the most impacted, there was a person who said ‘hey, I’m on a nuclear sub’ – and I don’t even know what it means to be on a nuclear sub [grins] – but I imagine it’s not easy to get an internet connection. I can empathize, if I was on a sub, I’d be disappointed."

What an outstanding false equivalency: the only people who don't have broadband access are extraordinary edge cases, like guys who work on nuclear submarines.

Here's Microsoft's problem: when you have to grossly misrepresent to defend your position, then you have the wrong position. And stacking misrepresentations doesn't make it any more true.

Plus, being smug ("Fortunately, we have a product) doesn't help, either.

Microsoft has four problems here, and they're all big.

One, they need to shut the hell up. Right now. Stop saying stupid, arrogant, smug things.

Two, they need to understand that the support they continue giving the 360 is going to cannibalize Xbro One sales. Trying to position both as desirable consoles with different purposes simply won't work. Who's ever done that successfully in the console market? No one.

Three, they made a bunch of damn policies on internet requirements and used games that basically everyone hates. A failure to understand how badly they've overreached here will be fatal.  They need to triage the situation and see what they can scale back.

Four, and in spite of how annoying the first three are, this might be their biggest problem. Here's another quote from Mattrick:
--"... till you use it [Xbox One] it's really hard to understand what all the advantages are."


When you have to say that, your product has been terribly designed. It's a kitchen sink product, with all kinds of features that might only be of real use to people who work on nuclear submarines. Lots of them sound very cool, but they all need proof of concept.

Consumers are simple, generally. Make a product that can be clearly sold with one sentence, and make it a relative value compared to the competition.

The Wii could be explained, and persuasively, in one sentence. The PS3 took Sony execs a thousand words to explain.

Microsoft has the Sony problem here. The Xbro One theoretically does so much, and it's so damned fantastic, that it's just not possible for mere mortals to understand without hands-on experience.

Then you price it at $499 in a price-sensitive market. See the problem?

Microsoft needs to thread the needle here. But they've already made so many mistakes that instead of getting to use thread, it's rope.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

E3: Nintendo + Sony/Microsoft Aftermath

Poor Nintendo. They showed so little new for the Wii U that it's downright sad. Sequels of sequels of sequels, a few third-party games, and no price cut.

They are, clearly, in disarray.

Wind Waker HD is coming in October, at least.

Additional data points from Sony/MS.
1. No region lock on PS4
2. Indies can self-publish
3. Dark Sorceror was a tech demo, not a game (my mistake)

1. Xbro One Asia rollout delayed until "late 2014".

Doesn't this feel like the last generation, only reversed? Sony claimed that the PS3 would bend the space-time continuum and tried to redefine the console market. They failed and lost billions of dollars, because we didn't want a redefined market.

Now Microsoft is trying to redefine the market with futuristic features and an extreme narrowing of consumer rights. I still don't think we want a redefined console market.

It should give you an idea of the depth of humiliation Microsoft experienced yesterday that I couldn't find a single article today touting the Xbro One as stacking up as a better value than the PS4. Not one. It's hard to find that kind of unanimity on the Internet.

Microsoft, I'm sure, has had some extraordinarily tense internal meetings today. And they need to be careful here, because they're getting mocked. Criticism is one thing, but mockery is another level entirely, and they need to take this seriously. Brushing it off and pretending there's no problem here would be a tremendous mistake.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sony E3 Presser

Price: $399
Availability: Holiday season
Used Games: no restrictions.
Rentals: apparently no restrictions.
Game loans to friends: no restrictions.
Internet: no connection necessary.
Online subscription: necessary for multi-player.

Mad Max (by the developers of Just Cause--hell, yes)
Assassin's Creed Whatever
Kingdom Hearts 3
Final Fantasy XV
Dark Sorceror (Quantic Dreams)
Transistor (from the developers of Bastion)
Drive Club
The Order 1886 (take a look--extremely interesting)
Destiny (Bungie)

That was the easiest pre-order decision I've ever made.

Good luck with all your bullshit, Microsoft.

Microsoft E3 Presser

My in-box at 1:10 PM:
Subject: $500

That was my reaction, too.

So here's what we know.
Price: $499
Availability: November
Used Games: at publisher discretion.
Rentals: at publisher's discretion. Not available at launch.
Game loans to friends: once, publisher's discretion, not available at launch.
Internet: must be connected at least once every 24 hours. Persistent connection could be required by publisher.
Microsoft Points: dead. Now transactions conducted in local currency. Hope you didn't load up on them.
Xbox Live: no one knows at this point whether a subscription is mandatory.

Benefit to us? None.

They did show games:
Metal Gear Solid V (insert your joke about twenty hours of cut scenes here)
Dark Souls II
Ryse: Son of Rome (Crytek)
Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac, open-world shooter)
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (platformer)
Forza 5
D4 (episodic murder mystery)
Quantum Break
Dead Rising 3 (much more exciting before 1,000 other zombie games came out)
Crimson Dragon (Panzer Dragoon developer)
Below (from the guys who did Sword & Sorcery)
The Witcher 3 (that's nice)
Battlefield 4
Halo Something Or Other
Titanfall (from Respawn)

I think Below looks interesting, and Dark Souls II. Maybe D4. The Witcher 3.

Look at $499, they'll sell out at launch, and then there will be pallets full of systems sitting at stores within a month, just like the PS3. It's just not that hard to figure out.

Now, if they announce something like "only $299 with a 2-year Xbox Live subscription", that might actually work, because people are bad at math. Or maybe they planned on subscribing to Live anyway.

All Sony has to do tonight is not shoot themselves in the face. Now, what constitutes shooting themselves in the face?
1. $499 launch price or higher. Actually, anything over $399 is a fail.
2. Used/rental game policy similar to Microsoft.
3. Mandatory subscription to online service.

The point: what Microsoft has done is take all of our rights as consumers and give them to the publishers. That's the real takeaway.

I'm picking up Eli from camp, then taking him to goalie practice, so I'll be out of pocket until about 7:30 CST tonight. But if I see any additional information, I'll post it then.

No Gridiron Solitaire Post Today (E3)

Since Microsoft and Sony are both having their presentations today, I'll be writing about them instead of Gridiron Solitaire, but I'll have the GS post later this week.

Microsoft: 11:30-1 PM (CST)
Sony: 8-11 PM (CST)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a tremendous, fascinating article about blurring reality: The Prospect: Montaous Walton Just Wanted To Play Ball, So He Made Up a Fake Online Persona, Fooled the Media, Signed With An Agent, And Ended Up In Handcuffs. What a story.

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine is hitting hard and often this week. First, and this is incredible, it's Inside of an atom snapped. Next, and this is wonderful in every conceivable way, it's 'Hairdo archaeologist' solves ancient fashion mystery. This one is mind-blowing: Mad Genius Buys Volcano, Transforms It Into Naked-Eye Observatory. 3-D printing is an incredibly disruptive technology (in a good way), and here's more proof: Open-Source House Building.

From Steven Davis, and this is quite a piece of work: The Beetle Sphere: An Actual 1953 VW Beetle Formed into a Perfect Sphere by Ichwan Noor.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is terrific: The Feynman File: His daughter's archive offers a wormhole into the secret life of a charismatic physicist. Next, and this is stunning: Smile, hydrogen atom, you're on quantum camera.

From Sirius, and this is amazing: Stanford's flying fish glider bests ordinary jumping robots.

From Tim Lesnick, and this is hilarious: O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics (Animated).

From hippo, and this is fantastic: Imaging Breakthrough: See Atomic Bonds Before and After Molecular Reaction.

From Chris Pencis, and this is both riveting and very hard to watch: Cutthroat: Clint Malarchuk's long recovery from the gruesome NHL injury that almost took his life.

From Brian Witte, and this is outstanding: Maori legend of man-eating bird is true.

From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, and these are tremendous: Incredible Self Portraits by 14-Year-Old Photographer.

From Frank Regan, and this is a riveting, inspirational story: Robert Smalls, the Slave Who Sailed Himself to Freedom.

From Gridiron Solitaire Lead (and sole) Artist Fredrik Skarstedt, an absolutely stunning story about how prairie dogs communicate: Researcher decodes prairie dog language, discovers they've been talking about us.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Another Angle

Matt Kreuch sent me an excellent e-mail last week about broadband, and he graciously agreed to let me share it with you. It raises some interesting questions about infrastructure in the U.S. and how data caps are affecting how we consume media.

I said last year that a war was looming between service providers and content providers over data caps, but that hasn't happened yet. I don't see any way that it's not coming, though.

From here on, it's all Matt.

I've enjoyed reading your analysis on the used games market and the cryptic release notes on the Xbox One.  I mention these together because this speaks to a much larger trend in gaming and that is the digital delivery of most media today.  

First, some back story and why this is relevant to me.  Seven years ago I moved from CT to Northern Virginia (less than an hour from DC).  In selecting a new home, I thought I covered all the questions I needed to research before committing to my area.  The home was 1 year old in a new build community.  Upon moving in I was hit in the face with the one question that did not cross my mind at the time which is broadband availability.  My town in CT has had broadband cable service since the mid-1990's so my wrong assumption when moving to VA was that broadband is like every other utility in a modern home and that I would have choices.  Very bad assumption.  My service today is a local wireless service that I am fortunate enough to have a line of sight to the tower on a hill several miles from my home.  They classify themselves as broadband but it's a VERY loose definition (up to 1.0 Mbps).  The bandwidth fluctuates greatly.  I work from home and often can't VPN in because the service is too slow.  When kids get home from school and on weekends the service slows to a crawl.  It's really horrible.  I tell my kids tales of "true broadband" and they think I'm making stuff up.  They have never experienced broadband connectivity and they play online games daily (they wonder why they always die in online shooters!).  Lastly, the service is expensive at $70 per month.  

Over the course of the past year, I've been campaigning to my county representatives to deliver broadband to my area.  Here comes the funny part.... My county, Loudoun County, is regularly reported as the fastest growing county in America with a high median income and tech savvy residents.  I live 18 miles away from one of Verizon's largest offices.  My neighbors are executive for tech firms (Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, etc.) supporting the government and almost everyone I know also works from home.  We are growing so fast that a new high school is built almost every year in our county including a new one on the border of my community.  Further, the county has a 15 year agreement (we are in year 8) in place with Verizon and Comcast to deliver broadband to the "western" portions of our county which they have ignored--quite simply, because they can.  I've read the agreements thoroughly and the broadband providers re-interpret specific language in their favor to escape the density requirements that should govern where they install service.  In October of last year I got really serious about the dire need for broadband in our area and was quickly struck by what a monumental task this is.  It's literally been a 2nd job for me.  I've made tremendous progress including a recent conference call between the county and a group of Verizon execs where they state they will make a decision within the next 30 days, however, I'm not hopeful that anything will ever really get done (I'd bore you to death if I walked through the bureaucratic nightmare I've been navigating to get this far).  The county even issued a study recently where they identified the lack of progress in broadband coverage and called out my community as the prime example.

So why am I telling you all this?  With the primary delivery of media turning to digital delivery, what consideration is being made to the majority of the US that does not have access to true broadband?  I buy most of my games off of Steam now since there is absolutely no selection at the big box stores anymore.  A typical download for me is 3 days for an 8-10GB game.  I usually start it late at night and clog my bandwidth for a 3 day period in which my wife yells at me that she can't get her email.  My kids both play the same games I do and we take turns downloading a new game.  They both play World of Warcraft which was a 21GB download and a miserable week + for all!

The service providers have pretty much stopped installing fiber and cable services.  They are now turning to their branded wireless services such as the Verizon 4G network.  The problem with this model is that these services all require data caps.  For Verizon 4G, 15GB data cap is a $90 per month service.  This is just not acceptable.  Below is a map that shows broadband coverage in the US.  I think this is eye opening in that without cooperation by the broadband service providers to deliver no cap service to the masses, digital delivery is becoming a deal breaker for many of us.  I play games much less today because of it.  I can't enjoy the same experience with online features, constant updates, new add-on releases that other do so I just don't bother anymore.  This applies to movies (Directv & Dish are only options in my area) and other digital media today as well (no Smartv for me).

 I've rambled on enough but I haven't heard this side of the story anywhere.  I don't think we, in the US, are willing to commit enough to our infrastructure to make digital delivery accessible beyond the major metro areas.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Kentucky Route Zero Episode Two

I wrote glowingly of Episode One.

As hard as it is for me to believe I'm saying this, Episode Two is better.

I wrote down the first ten words that came to my mind:
Storytelling. Atmosphere. Soundscape. Minimalist. Paranormal. Twilight Zone (that's two words, obviously).Unsettling. Funny. Memorable.

This is a sticky game, too, because it sticks to you after you've played it, leaving all kinds of vivid memories. It's unique, and it's as atmospheric as anything I've ever played.

In other words, if you aren't playing it, you're missing out.

Here's the website: Kentucky Route Zero

Deacon Jones (addendum)

I had forgotten--until I heard it on the radio yesterday--that Deacon Jones was the reason the NFL outlawed the head slap.

He also played in a band and had a minor acting career. All in all, a very accomplished fellow. And a mortal enemy of quarterbacks.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Until Further Notice, the Xbox One Is Now the XBro One

That seems to be an appropriate description for their target market, until proven otherwise.

Desire Lines

I have a well-documented weakness for Scottish and Irish bands (well, the ones with female singers, anyway), and one of my favorites is Camera Obscura.

Most of my favorite bands don't record anymore (Decrepitude Alert). Camera Obscura, though, is still going strong, and they released Desire Lines today.

I was so stoked about this album coming out that I actually checked out pre-release reviews, which I've never done for an album. In my entire life.

This is a more reflective, mellow album than the exuberant My Maudlin Career, but it's still full of carefully crafted, complex, beautiful songs.

Amazon link, if you're curious: Desire Lines

We Interrupt Your Regularly-Scheduled Programming to Discuss Deacon Jones

Deacon Jones passed away yesterday. He was 74.

Deacon Jones, in case you've never heard his name, was a football player. For most of his career, he was a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams.

He played college football, for one year, at South Carolina State in 1957. His scholarship was revoked when it was discovered that he was part of the civil rights movement. A coach at Mississippi Vocational was able to get him on scholarship there, and he played one more year.

He was then drafted in the 14th round by the Rams.

Deacon Jones proceeded to become the greatest defensive end in NFL history. For my money, 52 years after he came into the league in 1961, he's still the greatest defensive end in NFL history.

Because I started watching football seriously when I was 6, I saw Deacon Jones in his heyday. And, to use Eli 11.10s phrase, he was a beast.

In 1967, he had 26 sacks. In 1968, he had 24 more. Those are unofficial totals, because sacks weren't even a statistic back then, but it's been verified from game logs and video.

The official NFL record for sacks in one season is 22.5. So Jones had more sacks than the NFL record--in consecutive years--and did it in 14 regular season games, not 16.

9 players in NFL history have had 20 sacks or more in a season. No one has ever done it twice. Deacon Jones did it four times, plus seasons with 19 and 18 sacks (again, in 14 games).

Football is a violent game today, but it's mild compared to the 1960s. Defensive lineman back then used a brutal technique called the "head slap", and it's exactly what it sounds like. At the start of a play, the defensive end would explode out of their stance and try to slap the offensive lineman right on the ear hole of their helmet.

Defensive linemen would also tape rows of pennies to their fingers to make their hands heavier. Or, if they were particularly nasty, thumb tacks.

Casts? Those were weapons.

It was a different world, and Deacon Jones ruled that world. He was stronger, faster, and quicker than anyone. And he was tenacious, incredibly so.

Ironically, off the field, Jones was a very gentle fellow. A nice guy. That makes me like him even more.

Here's a terrific video compilation of Deacon Jones doing what he did best: destroying quarterbacks. Even by today's standards, his speed and quickness are incredible.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #58: Survived!

I feel like I was stranded on a mountain after a plane trip and had to eat human flesh to survive, but I made it back to civilization.

I'm alive.

I though it would take about five hours. It took a month. The drive canvas now works for all plays from scrimmage (excluding kicks), though, and it looks spiffy. There are over a dozen player poses, down markers, first down markers, goal line pylons, and goal posts.

I'm still hating myself for how long it took to get this right, but when the self-loathing eventually ends, I'll be glad I saw it through.

One of my best beta testers sent me an interesting query about time last week.

Here's how time currently works in the game. For the CPU on offense, there's a defined time run-off for each play type, and in the last 3 minutes of the half or game, the run-offs are much smaller (simulating how many plays get run in the last 2 minutes of a game). For the Human player on offense, there's no long run-off at the start of the play, but with each play of cards, time runs off the clock.

Also, running plays take more time off the clock than passing plays, whether it's by defined run-off or by card plays.

The problem with all that (and it works reasonably well, so I don't think it's a big problem) is that it creates a minimum length of time required for the Human player to score that's potentially quite a bit more than the time it takes for the CPU to score. This is exacerbated in the last 3 minutes.

Plus, conceptually it's a little wonky. In real football, an 8 play, 90 yard drive should take much more time than a single 90 yard play, but in GS, when the Human player is on offense, the difference is quite small.

It was pointed out, quite rightly, that this seemed inaccurate.

This is the last substantial subsystem in the game that I'm willing to change, but I think managing time more accurately is entirely worthwhile. So if the basic system for Human run plays, for example, is this:
-- 5 second runoff at start of play
-- 30 seconds for each card play (which gains 4 yards)

Then an 8 play, 90 yard drive would take 12:10 off the clock (excluding the <3 11:30.="" 90="" a="" at="" end="" game="" half="" minute="" of="" on="" p="" period="" play="" run="" single="" take="" time="" would="" yard="">
So the new time system would look something like this:
--70 second runoff at start of play
--3 seconds for each card play (which still gains 4 yards)

So an 8 play, 90 yard drive would now take 10:29, while a 90 yard run on a single play would take only 2:19.

The amount of time still isn't necessarily accurate (it won't be, because I make some adjustments to keep the total game length at 15-20 minutes), but the ratio is way, way better.

It's going to be tough to balance this, because I can't affect game length, but I think it's doable.

A bigger issue is that I'll have to rewrite the CPU AI, which is going to be brutal. I've rewritten it twice already, and it's downright nasty now, so to have to rebuild based on the new time scale is going to be painful. I'm not starting from scratch--it won't be nearly that bad--but it won't be pleasant.

It will enable GS to have an ebb and flow more like football, though, which is the point. 

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