Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chicken and Waffles

In certain parts of the country, chicken and waffles is a popular dish. It's normally a big waffle with a piece of fried chicken on top of the waffle. That may sound a little odd, but it's totally delicious once you pour on the syrup.

What I could never figure out, and I've talked about this to Eli 12.8 before, is where the dish came from. Who would have ever thought to combine those two foods?

On the Dan Patrick show this morning, a guest (Chef Alex, I think--he was with Amar'e Stoudamire) explained where it came from. In the 1930s in Harlem, the night clubs stayed open all night, basically, and when the musicians finally left, it was morning. They wanted to eat both dinner (which they'd missed) and breakfast at the same time, so there you go.


Eli 12.8 is riding in the front seat now, which is pretty surreal.

He's also now taller than Gloria. Just barely. He's 5'4 3/4" and 99.9 pounds. Size 11 shoes. He's like a giant puppy.

Greek Life

I was driving home from the tennis courts with Eli 12.8 yesterday. The tennis center is near the extended sprawl of the University of Texas.

"That's a paternity house!" Eli said, pointing at a house with Greek symbols on the front.

"Based on how college boys handle birth control, that's entirely possible," I said.

Eli started laughing. "What?"

"That's not a pa-ternity house," I said. "That's being the father of a child. It's a fra-ternity house."

"Oh, and there's a maternity house, too," he said. "That's for girls."

"Did you just say maternity house?" I asked.

"No!" he said. "I said FA-ternity house. I know what maternity means!"

I started laughing. "Seriously? 'Fa-ternity' is the best you could do there? Maternity is actually better. What that's actually called is a 'sorority' house."

We were silent for a few seconds.

"Really, paternity house was pretty inspired," I said.

"Shut it!" he said.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Age of Decadence

Hey, have any of you guys played Age of Decadence? It looks very interesting, so if anyone has impressions, send them along. Thanks.

Oh, if you're curious, have a look at an RPS preview: The Lighthouse Customer: The Age of Decadence.

Donald Sterling

I think, in many ways, this is a signature moment.

In case you're a non-U.S. reader, here's a quick summary. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (an NBA franchise), is a racist, misogynist, reprehensible ass. He's 82, and his 20-something year old girlfriend (seriously?) taped one of their conversations (you can listen to it here), in which Sterling sounds like something out of Mississippi in the 1950s.

Three days later (today), the NBA banned him for life.

People are congratulating the NBA for taking a firm stand, but I believe they're missing the point. Donald Sterling being a racist isn't new news, not by a long shot. It's been public knowledge for at least a decade.

Here's the distinction, and it's an important one: The NBA didn't ban Donald Sterling because he's racist. They banned him because racism is now bad for business.

That's why this is a signature moment. Finally.

In less than forty-eight hours after the tape was published, every major corporate sponsor of the Clippers either cancelled or suspended their relationship. Wait, that may not be accurate--I'm not sure it was all of them--but there's a list here, and it's huge.

Look, America is the "make your money" country. Anything that gets in the way of that, even if it would help a huge number of people, gets shouted down by the angry mob. So what makes this remarkable is that it's a market response to something that was widely accepted (and, in many cases, enshrined) in this country for centuries. It's corporations saying that their customers won't stand for this, and that they can't afford to be associated with a racist.

Damn, man, that's progress.

Card Dungeon!

I am very happy to share some links with you about Fredrik Skarstedt's (the most excellent artist for Gridiron Solitaire) and Ryan Christy's upcoming game Card Dungeon.

First off, here's a Touch Arcade preview: Check Out 'Card Dungeon', an "Unholy Mix of Board, Card, and Computer Games Rolled Into a Roguelike". Next here's a Let's Play that shows you the game mechanics. And here's the game's website: Card Dungeon.

Card Dungeon has a tremendously striking visual style (no surprise), and Fredrik must not sleep, because he's working on this game while still drawing images for GS.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #103: The New Offseason

Much to my surprise, the rewrite of the offseason took three days instead of a week or more.

There are eight team styles, as I mentioned last week, and a reasonably versatile evaluation system to decide whether a team needs to replace its coach. Plus, expectations rise the longer a coach stays with the same team, much as they do in real life.

All in all, I feel very fortunate that it went both quickly and smoothly.

Roughly, about 3 coaches a year (on average) will be replaced. Because it's a dynamic system, though, some years it will be one coach (or zero), and others it might be five.

Here's a bonus. I realized while I was working on the AI that it was well and good to make it better, but how was a user going to know about team styles and the dynamic nature of the league unless I told him? So I took the news ticker concept and added it to the offseason screen. Here, have a look:

I only have four variations of the message right now, but I'll be able to add more over time, and it lets the user know about coaching/team style changes. The news ticker changes the message every five seconds until the queue is empty, at which point the news ticker hides. Plus, if the user just wants to skip the news, they can click "Advance to Human G.M." and they'll exit the screen.

That was the last major feature revision for 1.3. Moving on to bug fixing/balancing/testing.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off, from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is very silly: Jonkeys - 2. This is also very silly (and very funny): DANNY TREJO's Breadanimals. One more, and it's fascinating: What are these giant concrete rings built by the Nazis? No, I was wrong--there's still one more, and it's chilling: A Dartboard To Test Your Odds Of Being Murdered.

From Rob Funk, and this is amazing: Sixteen-Year-Old Artist Wins National Art Competition with Masterful Hyper-Realistic Pencil Portrait.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is an excellent read: The Tale Of The B-17 "Blind Date" Crew.

From Craig Miller, an excellent analysis of Threes: Experimenting With Threes!, and Experimenting With Threes! Part Two

From Michael Gilbert, and Action Park is absolutely my favorite links source of the last decade: Action Park: 10 things you didn't know about the notorious amusement park's history.

From DQ Guitar Advisor David Gloier, and this is amazing: The Secret Symphonic Stage Forgotten 40 feet below a Local Piano Shop.

From Wallace, and this is outstanding: New Age Bullshit Generator.

From Aaron Ward, and this is just mind-blowing: Flying Robot Rockstars. Next, and this is fantastic, it's Something strange in the neighborhood: 'Ghostbusters' fan art invades New York City.

I ran across a few terrific links myself this week: Amazing photo of the world's largest wind turbine blade on the roadHow Boomboxes Got So Badass (this is a great read), and Cool visualization reveals how the number Pi looks.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Note

No, I didn't send that letter, although if Friday had arrived with still no key card, I would have been sorely tempted. Fortunately, I have a key card that works now, and I actually swam earlier this afternoon. I had so much fun writing the letter, though, that I didn't want it to vanish without being read.

Dear Sir

Dear Sir or Madam,
I recently purchased a new pair of swimming trunks (blue with white piping), which, in retrospect, was an act of the sheerest optimism, as I first was required to obtain a new key card for the pool from your crack management company.

Almost a month later, I have still been unable to do so.

In the twenty-seven days that have elapsed since my first contact with your staff, I have become increasingly concerned for their welfare. I strongly advice you to check on them immediately; I am quite certain you will find them out wandering in the car park, unable to find their way into the building. I also strongly recommend that you consider the summer heat and the complexity of possible hydration issues if they are outside and lost for extended periods of time, or, heaven forbid, they accidentally lock themselves inside their cars.

By way of comparison, the Apollo XI mission flew to the moon, vacationed briefly, and returned in only eight days. Entire wars have been fought to conclusion in less than twenty-seven days, including the Six-Day Israeli-Arab War in 1967 (if this comes up in casual conversation with your staff, and they have any uncertainties about the length of this conflict, by all means, please consult Wikipedia).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should inform you that did receive a key card five days ago. Imagine the surge of excitement as I beheld its almost-glowing white surface. Putting on my new swim trunks once more, a wave of optimism rushed over me. Our long national nightmare was nearly over. I proceeded immediately to the pool, which was oddly empty for such a warm day. It remained empty, for the new key card did not work. Instead of frolicking in dolphin-like joy in the sparkling waters confined within, I was reduced to looking through the gated bars, much as a small child might look at a toy store during the holiday season, unable to comprehend why Santa Claus has been placed into a medically-induced coma.

In the intervening days, I have discovered that many other people in the neighborhood have faulty key cards. All of them, in fact. The pool is an impenetrable fortress. I did, however, see two people swimming yesterday. I can only conclude that they climbed over the fence, which should trigger a long overdue review of your security procedures.

I am not entirely lacking in sympathy towards the administrative labyrinth, this angry procedural hydra, that must be thwarting your best efforts. To that end, in lieu of a key card, I would accept a ladder. Alternatively, perhaps an employee could meet me at the gate and give me "a boost" to facilitate a daring fence ascent. Please do not have them bring their swimming attire, as I will not be asking them to join me.

I will send along instructions to enable you to contact my descendants if, in years hence, a key card is procured. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Bill Harris

P.S. I saw the company in charge of cleaning the pool hard at work yesterday. I predict they will have a stellar season.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Attack Of The Friday Monsters

I haven't turned on my 3DS XL for at least year. I like it, as a piece of hardware, and the 3D effect can be nothing short of magical, but I just haven't seen anything I wanted to play. What I wanted was a little world to sink into, like I was peering into a diorama, without having to kill one million foes and then kill Foozle in the end.

I started looking at reviews, trying to find an experience instead of just a game. The game that kept sticking out was Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale.  Here's a description:
A slice of Tokyo life through a child's eyes. Step into the life of Sohta, the young son of a family that has just set up a dry cleaner's shop in the idyllic town of Fuji no Hana. In his interaction with the town's unique residents, episodic mysteries are revealed that portend to the strange events surrounding the appearance of a giant monster every Friday. And finally, when Friday evening falls, the giant monster will appear right before your eyes!

A touching drama about family, friendship, and the innocence of being a child unfolds against hand-drawn backgrounds, charming music, and memorable characters.

This isn't a game in the conventional experience, because the only real game element is a monster card game that you play against your friends (with a very funny outcome). What you mostly do is explore the village and interact with everyone to uncover the story.

The basic concept is that in the 1970s, when giant monster movies were incredibly popular in Japan, actual giant monsters appear every Friday near this little village (not a spoiler--it's in every description I've seen of the game). It's a wonderful idea, and the game does an amazing job of establishing a sense of place. The village is a very personal, charming place, and there are so many small but intimate moments in the story that reveal vulnerability and regret.

Also, it's funny. Very, very funny at times, in all the best ways. There's nothing mean or ugly about this game.

Plus, it's beautiful. It looks like a Studio Ghibli animated film, even though I don't think they were involved (although they did collaborate with Level-5 on  Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch). The quality of the visuals and how they create the feeling of a real word is quite unique, and it really does feel like you're looking into a living, breathing world.

Attack of the Friday Monsters is short--three to four hours, tops--but it's special. It's gentle and sweet, and wonderfully imaginative.

If you're interested, it's $7.99 and you can pick it up via the eShop.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Accord Hybrid

After five days, I have a serious crush on this car.

What I expected to get was a car that was a little nicer than a Prius and less annoying to drive, full of compromises that enable the high MPG (45 highway, 50 city).

This is not what I got. At all.

Instead, I got a car that is positively luxurious, incredibly quiet, and far more impressive than the Lexus ES 300 Hybrid while costing almost $15,000 less. The level of engineering is nothing short of spectacular for a car in the 30k price range.

A couple of pictures:

The color of the car is hematite (dark green), which Gloria said sounded like "hermit-type", and once she said that, this was obviously the only color that would be acceptable.

When I first got the car, it had 4 miles on it and the MPG readout for miles driven was 28. Now it has about 220 miles driven and the MPG is up to 45.1 (the picture was taken last Friday, when it was still going up).

The funnest feature of this car is that it turns driving into a game, essentially. Dashboard readouts give you all kinds of real-time feeedback about your driving style. See the green arcs around the speedometer? They change color based on the economy of your driving style. On the far left, you can see when the car is using power versus when it's charging the battery. Then there are multiple options for the center speedometer display, several of which give you additional driving feedback. So getting the highest MPG you can is a videogame, basically. Who wouldn't like that?

This car also doesn't drive like a hybrid. It drives like a regular, high-end sedan, and the "hybridness" is basically invisible.

I've dreaded driving for years, and now it's actually fun again.

Lexus ES 300, 2001-2013

Lexus ES 300, 12, of Austin, was traded in on April 18.

She was born in 2001. She received no formal education, and entered a service career immediately.

In her twelve years of service, she was considered generally reliable by her driver. Notably quiet, she provided a soothing environment. Unfortunate issues with power door locks, which worsened in recent years, contributed to her decline, as well as reliability issues with her audio system. She had also begun burning oil.

She is survived by her driver.

There will be no funeral arrangements, per her final request.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire 102: Heading toward 1.3

All right, it's been a long haul, but I'm finally getting closer to reaching 1.3. I'm guessing it's another three weeks until it's ready, but man, so many things have changed for the better.

I'm in a phase now where I'm focusing on three main issues:
1. Adding more "big images" to support the new presentation style.
This is Fredrik's focus right now, and as he adds images, I just drop them into the game. The code is set up to add images very easily now, and every time one gets added, the presentation improves.

Plus, one of the testers suggested a while back that I needed to show a huddle of cards pre-play, then animate their move into slot position after the user selected a play button. I liked this idea the first time I heard it, but I didn't do it because of the animation. Even a 1.5 second animation would add almost two minutes to a single game, and it's always (always) a priority to never add anything that slows the game down.

Last week, though, I realized I could do it without any added time at all. There's just going to be a huddle image when the play buttons come up, and as soon as the user selects a play, that image disappears and the cards show in their normal play position. It adds zero time, but it's surprising how much it increases the atmosphere of the game. Fredrik's working on finalizing the huddle image (right now I'm using a placeholder image), and I can't wait to see how it looks.

2. Revising CPU AI in the offseason.
With a more accurate emphasis on special teams and their role in the game, I need to modify how the CPU evaluates their offseason needs. Previously, it was simple. I evaluated whether a team was considered successful or unsuccessful--based on wins--with three tiers: successful, unsuccessful, and "gray". So, for example, 11 wins or above would be considered successful. 4 wins or below would be considered unsuccessful. In-between, it was determined by a weighted dice roll. So if you had 5 wins, you were likely to be considered unsuccessful, but it wasn't a 100% chance.

Successful teams spent their first two points improving their two best run/pass ratings (strong teams retain their strengths). Unsuccessful teams focused on their two worst run/pass ratings (taking a new approach).

That wasn't terrible, but it certainly was limited, and now the CPU needs to place more importance on the Special Teams rating, so I'm going to think about how it should work over the next few days and put a new system in place. I'm guessing that it's probably going to be a two-step process: first, evaluate the team style (run focus, pass focus, offense focus, defend run focus, defend pass focus, defensive focus, overall balanced). Having team styles creates a more logical chain of needs--for example, a team with a defensive focus is not going to spend a bunch of money trying to improve their passing rating, because passing takes less time off the clock. They would instead pursue a ball-control, running offense that would take as much pressure off the defense as possible, and they'd also want their special teams to be as good as possible. That's a more nuanced team strategy than "improve the best two ratings". So each team style is going to have a relatively fixed tier of needs, although I'm going to add probabilities instead of having 100% certainly.

3. Bug fixes.
There are a few rare bugs that aren't gamebreakers, but would fall into the "fit and finish" category. I want to eliminate all of them, so I'm trying to squeeze that into 1.3 as well.

Wait, there's a #4.

4. Difficulty tuning.
This could be a real sticking point, trying to adjust the different difficulty levels in response to the new yardage system and some of the gameplay additions (sacks, kickoffs, revised punt logic). Veteran level is fairly well-tuned, but I need to look at Rookie and Champ and see if I can scale the difficulty appropriately.

A month ago, I thought I was never going to get to this point. The game had been taken apart, I wasn't comfortable with how it was playing, and I was frustrated. Now, though, it's playing well again, the new presentation system is much more dynamic, and I can see the release point being reached.

This has also made me realize that it's important to always be able to see "there" from "here". Big changes are fine, but there always has to be a visible there.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Links! (Supplemental)

Everyone sent in this link: Rare Video Of People Actually Riding Action Park's Infamous Water Slide. Just looking at that slide is mind-blowing! Plus, Chris O. sent in this memory:
I grew up two towns over and spent a lot of time at Action Park. A friend of mine worked there during the summer, and we quickly learned that if you tied a red polo shirt around your waist and had a whistle around your neck, most of the staff would think you were an off-duty lifeguard and you could use the park for free! I worked there during the winter in high school so I could ski for free; it was nothing like the park during the summer though.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this may come in handy for some of you: EASY Pinewood Derby Car WINS using Science!!! Also, the same guy who did the Pinewood Derby video did this one: NASA Pumpkin Carving Contest- 2013.

From Michael Gilbert, and this is a tragic story: Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City.

Here's a silly way to end the week, from John Willcocks: 20 Jokes That Only Geeks Will Understand.

Friday Links!

From J.R. Parnell, and these images are just mesmerizing: These 23 Far Away Perspectives Of Famous Places Will Change The Way You See Them Forever.

From C. Lee, and this is disturbing: Samsung's War at Home. Also, and this is both amusing and quite silly: Getting angry with your spouse? Quick, eat something! One more, and it's both brilliant and wacky: How Mathematicians Used A Pump-Action Shotgun to Estimate Pi. This next story will infuriate you: Anti-vaccine movement is giving diseases a 2nd life.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is terrific: Europe in 8 Bits. Also, and who knew the Queen had a sense of humor: Queen Shows Up At Wedding.

From Chris Pencis, and this is one of the most amazing hockey goals you'll ever see: KHL Player Juggles Airborne Puck and Scores Wonder Goal.

From Wallace, and this is bizarrely fascinating: A Communist Haggadah for the Passover Seder.

From Sirius, and this is amazing: Glow-in-the-dark roads make debut in Netherlands.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is outstanding: Classic album covers in Google Street View – in pictures.

From Gridiron Solitaire Artist and Renaissance Man Fredrik Skarstedt comes a beautifully written, gut-wrenching story that we all need to read: On Poverty.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Golf Club (early access)

I saw that The Golf Club was available on Steam Early Access today, so I went ahead and purchased.

The last great golf game, for me, was one of the early Tiger Woods versions by Headgate that still included a course architect. Once the course architect was taken out, though, I rapidly lost interest. So it's been years before a golf game has really hooked me.

The Golf Club is still not finished, but even the Early Access version does a ton of things right. For one, and I can't overemphasize this, the course generator is flat-out amazing. I wanted to play on a mountain course, so I specified degree of hills, trees, water, and difficulty. Then the game generated a prospective layout that I could edit if I wanted to (I didn't). What I wound up with was a beautiful, fun course.

There are also some graphic touches that I've never seen done this well before--in particular, patches of ground that aren't lush, but aren't bare, either. Those sections looked photo-realistic, and some other sections did, too. There are still some issues--flickering shadows, for one, and some pop-in--but overall, it's a tremendous looking game.

I'm also impressed with how the game handles slope and friction. It's very easy to understand and "feel" slopes in the game, particularly on the greens. Friction might even be a tad low, but it's still very, very well done.

Controls are a mixed bag. The mouse and keyboard are not very well implemented, currently, but gamepads work extremely well. I think m+k support has only been recently added, so there should be some improvement.

The one area of the game that feels weak right now is putting, although it's much better with the gamepad than with the mouse. What I don't like is that the putter is drawn back further than you would in real life, which screws me up. The way that greens break, though, is excellent.

Oh, and one more thing that could use improvement: sound effects. The sound of the ball landing on the fairway sounds like someone dropping a golf ball on a board. Not only that, but I guarantee that exact same sound effect has been used in other golf games in the past. I can't remember which one, exactly, but I'm getting somewhere in the Jack Nicklaus era. Hopefully, they'll sort this out, because the sound of the ball landing is a primary sound effect, and the game looks so good that it should sound that good, too.

Overall, I'm impressed, and I think the game has a ton of potential.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I read an article a few weeks ago, written by an ex-NHL player, in which he described a meeting he'd been in with other players and some kind of life coach.

He was challenged by the speaker to write down five things that had meaning in his life, and he wasn't allowed to write down hockey, family, or God.

He couldn't think of a single thing to write down. Not one. And most of the other players in the room couldn't think of anything to write down, either.

That made me think about meaning and life, and I talked about it with Eli 12.8 this week. We talked about what his life would be like if he was only involved in hockey instead of hockey, tennis, band, magic, juggling, etc. What would it be like if the meaning of his life was totally dependent on hockey?

It would be hard. It would put a ton of pressure on every moment in hockey, which would make it less fun. And if at some point something happened and he could no longer play hockey, or couldn't progress to the next level, what would he replace hockey with?

Life without meaning, without some kind of inspiration, is empty. Caring creates energy. It's much harder not to care.

I thought about my own life, and realized how fortunate I am that I write this every week (some weeks better than others, obviously), and to get to know so many of you via e-mail over the years. And in retrospect, I was fortunate to get into programming, which is a relatively natural fit for how my brain words (and doesn't work). I want to help Eli grow into being an honest, kind adult, but I have to grow, too. He's helped me as much as I've helped him--I'm a much, much different person than I was before he was born--but I have to keep developing my own life.

I want him to be strong, and fearless. And I have to be strong enough to help him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Eli 12.8 played in his school's conference tournament last weekend.

Hockey has taken up most of his time, but once the season ended, we started playing tennis again. And he's very good--he has a big, powerful game, and he has an all-court game, too. He hits approach shots and volleys like a high school player.

I thought he had a good chance in the tournament, but he'd never played in one before, and starting out in the conference championships is a steep introduction.

He was in a 32-player draw, but had a bye in the first round, and his opponent in the round of 16 defaulted due to injury. So he had an express train to the quarterfinals, which started on Saturday morning.

He had ideal conditions for his first tournament: 20 MPH winds with 30+ gusts. And it was cold. I needed my damn rink jacket, it was so cold. Man, it was tough, and I was just watching. Having to serve in that kind of wind should be illegal.

This isn't going to be a long story, because it was a very straightforward day. He played lousy in the first match, but beat a kid who was worse. Then he played very well in his second match and beat a much better player easily.

He lost in the finals, but to be fair, it was against a 14-year-old who was 6'1" and the point guard on his basketball team (that must be one hell of a basketball team, and seriously, what are these people feeding their kids?).

Eli didn't play as well as he could have, but the winds were terrible, he'd never played multiple matches in the same day, and the other kid put so much topspin on his forehand that every ball was bouncing up to the level of Eli's face. So he didn't win, but he was the only 7th grader who made the semi-finals.

I was very proud of him, because he battled, and he kept his composure even when things were going against him. Plus, and this was very funny, every kid he played was his best friend during the match. He talked to them on changeovers and congratulated them on good shots and they responded in kind. They were the politest matches I've ever seen.

This weekend, he's playing in an open tournament in Georgetown, but he's playing in Boys 12 division (in the USTA, you can play in an age group until your birthday). So unlike last weekend, he'll probably be the tallest kid in his division. These kids are going to be much better than the kids he played in the school tournament, though. All of the other kids in his draw play on the junior circuit.

I told him he just needs to do his best, and if there's a gap between him and the other kids, we'll figure out how to close it.

He always closes the gap.


My dentist's office is an annoying happy place, the kind of happiness given off by brightly-colored plastic patio furniture. I went in this morning for a regular check-up, and while I was there, I sent this text to Gloria:
People are trying to jam happiness up my ass every second I'm here. It's an enema from My Little Pony.


John Walker of RPS wrote a biting, witty review of Jane Jensen's new game Moebius: Empire Rising. It's much better than the game, certainly, and entirely worth your time: Wot I Think: Moebius

Eli 12.8

Eli was watching a cooking contest show on the Food Network last night, and one of the contestants served a dish that was a monotone of color. "That dish is a BEIGE FIESTA!" he said.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #101: Reflections

One of the qualities in football that I like very much is what I call reflection. Football is composed of very discrete entities (plays), and your team is either on offense, defense, or special teams.

In theory, there's no interaction between a team's offense and its defense. In reality, though, there's a ton of reflection. Everything the offense does, really, has a reflective effect on the defense.

I know--I'm butchering "reflection". I just like how it sounds.

Here's how it works. When a team's offense has a high time of possession, it means that its defense doesn't have to be on the field very often. That's a huge, huge difference in terms of how a game progresses. When a team runs 60 plays on offense, it's an entirely different game than when it runs 40.

That's one consequence of the high-speed offense, and you particularly see this in college because so many teams go no-huddle. It's exciting to see your team score in ninety seconds on an 80-yard drive, but it also means that the other team is going to get many more chances to start drives.

If a team has a run-first, possession dominant offense, there are other reflections. These kinds of offenses are much lower-scoring, generally, so while your defense might be on the field less often, there's much more pressure on them to stop the other team from scoring.

Special teams have their own set of reflections. A great punter can pin the other team deep in their own territory on a regular basis, and teams are much less likely to pass when they're starting inside their own 10-yard line. That gives the defense an advantage. On kickoffs, good coverage can force the opposing team's offense to start from a difficult position.

In a game sense, that's an excellent set of interactions and dependencies from seemingly discrete entities.

In the original version, Gridiron Solitaire nicely modeled some of these reflections, particularly time of possession. Since Big Play presses on defense were a limited commodity, controlling time of possession was critical. Because of that, and because run matches were worth 4 yards each, running the ball became the dominant strategy for 75% of players, at least. It certainly was for me.

This wasn't realistic, though.

With the new definition of 3 yards per running match instead of 4, running becomes situational instead of dominant, which correctly models real football strategy. That's good, and it's much more accurate, but I still wanted to more correctly model the influence of special teams.

That's being done in two ways now. First, on kickoffs, both the kick distance and return distances are modeled on real NFL data and are influenced appropriately by special teams ratings. Second, with the new punt code (which I discussed last week), good punters are now a real weapon.

Plus, there's something more.

I was frustrated, trying to model the difficulties an offense faces when pinned deep in their own territory. Garret suggested something (reducing the CPU's offensive efficiency and max gain), and as often happens, his suggestion made me think of something that I would not have previously considered.

In this case, what I thought of was adding Big Play presses for the defense.

Here's how it works. If the punt is downed inside the 10, two BP Presses are added. If it's inside the 15, it's worth one. Those BP presses are very valuable, and in combination with more predictable CPU playcalling in that area of the field, models real life in a fairly satisfactory way.

I've played about a season with this new setup, and with a good special teams rating, I find myself punting from midfield much more often. Plus, there's an added element of interest, because where the ball is downed becomes interesting in itself.

Now I feel like, for the first time, I'm modeling all the different interactions between separate units of a team and the effect they can have on each other.

Generally 1.3 testing is going pretty well. I could see it being released in early May. Right now, I'm working on bug fixes, plus Fredrick is adding as many big images as possible. It's going to be different, but good different.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Links!

From C. Lee, a story about Threes and the staggering number of copies (and why): Meet the Clones.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is tremendous: Carl Sagan and Government (with Charlie Rose). Next, and this is a fantastic read, it's Couple Buy an Abandoned French Chateau, Start a Blog to share their Journey. I think I may have linked this last week, but it's so punishingly interesting that I'm doing it again: If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel: A Tediously Accurate Scale Model of the Solar System. These next images are nothing short of incredible: the remote and little known rice terraces of yuanyang county in china’s yunnan province.

From Sebastian Mankowski, and this is excellent, plus it can keep you busy all afternoon: Byzantium: The Lost Empire - John Romer.

From Wallace, and these are some terrific concept sketches from none other than Hayao Miyazaki. Also, and Eli 12.8 would love to sample some of these entries: The Grilled Cheese Invitational. One more, and it's the most dinosaur images I've ever seen from one person: Nobu Tamura's Paleoart Portfolio.

From Hadley Belcher, and this is an utterly fascinating article: Megadeath in Mexico: Epidemics followed the Spanish arrival in the New World, but the worst killer may have been a shadowy native—a killer that could still be out there.

From Jeff Fowler, and this is hilarious: Jim Cummings Reads Star Wars as Darth Pooh.

Multiple excellent links from Jonathan Arnold this week. First, it's Photographer Creates Twisted Fairytales With Real Wildlife (bizarre yet compelling). Next, some absolutely wonderful stop-motion video: A Girl Named Elastika. This is astounding, really: Meet the seven people who hold the keys to worldwide internet security.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


From DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh, who is bicycling around the world or something. Maybe more than once.

APRIL 4TH, 2014

I arrive in Eureka, Montana with six days of stubble and the knowledge that the loudest geese are those flying only as a pair; that freight trains have 114 cars whenever counted; and that hearing wolves howl in the middle of the night is a sound that takes some getting used to. Especially when in a tent.

We've now pedaled 700 miles since leaving Seattle. My wife and I have averaged over 55 miles per day in the saddle, and we've arrived early. Two months too early to be exact. Everywhere we go, from towns of just 79 residents to those much larger (e.g. 507 people), someone has been quick to tell us we're crazy for being out this early. "The bikers don't usually start coming this way until May or June," they say. Some call us premature, others call us nuts. And one, a bearded Montanan in dirty jeans and a fishing hat, told Kristin that she's far more adventurous than himself. That was my favorite.

Pedaling east along the 49th parallel this time of year hasn't been all that bad, though. Sure, we have to spend a few extra minutes in camp each morning brushing the frost off the tent, and we each go to bed with two pairs of heavy wool socks on to ward off minor frostbite (not to mention fleece hat and gloves, and down sweaters), but the days have been bright and sunny, and we've enjoyed some wonderful campsites along the Pend Oreille, Bull, and Kootenai rivers this past week. 

Of course, when people warn against an early spring crossing of the Pacific Northwest, they're thinking of the mountain passes. And for good reason. Though we've already tackled three of the four major mountain passes that stand between Puget Sound and the Great Plains -- Stevens, Wauconda, and Sherman (all in Washington) -- the descents weren't the freewheeling euphoria they are in the summer. Each of the descents took place in full winter conditions: freezing temperatures, sleet ripping at our faces, and slush and occasional ice on the roadway. Still, these are small prices to pay for endless views of white-ringed peaks, solitary camping, and vacant rural highways that, I suspect, teem with traffic in the summer months.

We'll clear the Continental Divide early next week and then begin the long, slow, descent across the Great Plains to Fargo. But first we're going to rest our legs (and our saddle sores) in this little town just seven miles south of the Canadian border.

Keeping the rubber side down,
- Doug Walsh

Also, pictures:

Like he said, maybe a little early in the year for this stuff:

You can follow Doug's trip in far more frequent detail at Two Far Gone.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

SAM Simulator

Red Door Blue Key has one of the most fascinating interviews I've ever read with a game developer. In this case, the developer is "Hpasp" , and his game is SAM Simulator. Here's a description:
There is no more accurate, demanding, or unlikely simulator available today than SAM Simulator, which recreates in exacting detail vintage Warsaw Pact surface-to-air missile systems. 

Oh, yes. More:
He created SAM Simulator in 2006 and has been offering it for free since 2009. Over the years he’s expanded the game with new missile platforms, major features like Google Earth integration, and historical scenarios ranging from Hanoi to Tripoli. If you want to spend an evening trying to bag Gary Powers’ U2 spy plane, defending Vietnamese airspace from B-52 bombers, or cursing the cheap Soviet engineer who saddled your Shilka with analogue gauges and a mechanical “computer,” SAM Simulator is simply the only game in town.

The screenshots display a level of obsession to detail that I have rarely, if ever, seen in a game. They are pitch perfect, incredible reproductions. I don't want to leech off Phil's article, so I'm not showing them here, but hit the "interviews" link up top to have your mind blown.

Do I have time to play this? Hell, no. Do I want to play it? Hell, yes. What an incredible piece of work!

About S.P.A.M. (Special Poem Amidst Mail)

Some of you are asking how I got a poem in my e-mail.

Well, I didn't, exactly.

What I got were hundreds of spam e-mails, because somehow my e-mail filter isn't blocking them before they get to my inbox. They get shunted to the Spam folder properly, but I used to not see them at all.

I get quite a few of them now, and I'll usually take a quick glance if it's one of the "personal story" frauds, because they're the pulp literature of the 21st century. They are often epic stories of betrayal, or derring-do, and I find them quite fantastic.

So yesterday's poem is composed of individual lines from these e-mails, cobbled together into a story. And I might do it again at some point, because it's thoroughly fun.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Special Poem Amidst Mail

Did you get my e-mail?

Good evening my dear, it so late here
A family man and a man of peace
I will be expecting your  eagerness
treated in strict confidence

I can confide on you for the brighter future of my life
My sick bed in the hospital
due to my infertility resulting from medical problems I became barren
A crude oil merchant before our Country was turned upside down

The late Engr. Ronald Johnson
My client, his wife
They all lost their lives
in the event of the accident
a local plane crash
a heart-related condition
the earthquake disaster
the tsunami disaster

One has to risk confiding in succeed sometimes in life
Abandoned diplomatic consignment box
Senior supervisor baggage unit
We have been careful worked out all the modalities
Practically no risks involved
Disappear into the tin air

you can guide and help my children

Monday, April 07, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #100: Punts!

Well, I never thought I'd get to 100 of these. Hopefully that isn't dreadful for anyone in terms of dangerous levels of boredom.

Also, this may be the only time the word "Punts" is followed by an exclamation mark.

I've been finding that every time I get something closer to "real", it seems to be better, so I decided to do that with punts. Previously, while ratings did have an influence, punts were relatively simple and only vaguely reflective of the real world. The strategy, yes, but the actual numbers, not so much.

This seemed like a simple thing. Guy kicks a ball, guy returns a ball. What's complicated about that? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot, and I'm going to tell you about it today. This is a good example of how deep a small detail can make you dig, if you want to get it absolutely correct (or almost).

First, I needed real punt data, so I downloaded the individual play database for last season, allowing me to load the details from every punt play in the 2013 NFL season into an Excel spreadsheet. I didn't know how I was going to use it--not yet--but I did know I was going to need it.

Then I sat down and thought about punting. Punters have different strategies, depending on where they are on the field. Sometimes they're trying to throw a dart, essentially, and sometimes they're using a rocket launcher. Because of this, there needed to be multiple routines to account for field position, and after looking at the real data (that spreadsheet already coming in handy), I divided the field into three zones, based on punting strategy used in that part of the field.

Then I sorted the spreadsheet data by those same zones. Now I had actual data corresponding properly to the zones.

Still easy, right? Here are the variables I needed to account for, by tier, in addition to punt distance and return distance:
1. Blocked kick chance
2. Touchback chance
3. Fair catch chance
4. Ball downed chance (where the kick isn't touched by the receiving team, which is different from a fair catch)
5. Ball kicked out of bounds chance
6. If it's a fair catch, check for fumble
7. If there's a return, check for fumble
8. If there's a return, check for touchdown based on return distance

All of these chances were calculated using NFL data from the spreadsheet. Plus, the ratings influence needs to correspond to the best in the NFL (with an A+ Special Teams rating) or the worst (with an F Special Teams rating).

All of the possible outcomes needed appropriate messaging, too, and that messaging needed to be limited to a certain number of words, because the message has to both fit into a certain space and be displayed for as little time as possible.

This simple thing needed about 20 hours of intense work to be accurate. Well, and to work.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off, from DQ Legal Advisor Lee Rawles, and this is beautiful: Photographer Klaus Leidorf’s Aerial Archaeology. Also, and this is mesmerizing: Cyberthreat Real-time Map.

From Sirius, and this is a fascinating story: Der Fartenführer: The Story of Hitler’s Illnesses. Also, and this is a terrific Tumblr: The Soul is Bone.

From Wallace, and this is terrific: The Steamboat Arabia. Next, and this is an excellent read--about the "invention" of jaywalking: Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year. One more, and it's a compulsively readable website: Roadfood.

From Kez, and these are all stories about an epic game jam failure. First, it's How The Most Expensive Game Jam In History Crashed And Burned In A Single Day. Next, it's “GAME_JAM” and the Power of Integrity. One more: Let’s talk about accountability.

From C. Lee, and this is outstanding: Small microbes almost killed all life on Earth, study suggests. Also, and this is an excellent time-waster, it's Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz.

From DQ VB.NET Advisor Garret Rempel, and it was 75F here today (but I don't live in Winnipeg): New reports of frozen pipes still coming in.

From Craig Miller, and this is quite a read: The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street: An Adaptation From ‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,’ by Michael Lewis.

Finally, and there couldn't be a better birthday present, from Steven Kreuch: A blast from the past: 'Action Park' is back for the summer.

Thursday, April 03, 2014


Taking it easy (well, easier) today because I'm trying to totally redo punt logic and add big images tomorrow. I have a few pictures, though.

Remember how asked you guys about the possibility of getting a Jokerit jersey from Finland for Eli 12.7 a while back? Look what got here on Saturday:

I think it's Eli's favorite hockey jersey in the world. Mine, too.

I was writing the GS post on Monday (in the front seat of my car, while I had a few minutes free), and saw this reflection from my shirt. Yeah, a shirt selfie:

One thing I do like about Austin is that when we have a semi-decent amount of rain in winter, there are beautiful wildflowers in spring. I was on my way to the P. Terry's satellite office this week and saw an amazing field of bluebonnets, also full of children getting their pictures taken (which is a long-standing tradition here). Not a great picture, but fun:

The Gift List: One Item

My birthday is tomorrow, and all I want for my birthday--the only thing--is for you guys to go to Steam and vote for Jim Gindin's Greenlight campaign for Front Office Football 7.

Here's the link: FOF 7 Greenlight.

This is the deepest football simulation ever made. It's distressing and unfair that the game hasn't already been Greenlit, and it's inconceivable that a game of such impossibly high quality wouldn't be available on Steam. So if you haven't already voted, please do me a birthday favor and go support the game!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Nashville (part 4, and very late)

"So tell me this," I said to Eli 12.8. "This is a statue of Athena, but the real Athena--does she have body odor? Can a goddess have B.O.?

"Oh, Dad," said Eli, shaking his head and reluctantly smiling. He is twelve and already world-weary in the ways of his father.

Eli is having a tough day.

An hour ago, his team lost in the finals of the Nashville tournament 5-2. There was one goal he could have stopped, but there was nothing he could do about the rest. The other team (from Carolina) was just better.

It was a tough way to end the weekend.

It was also raining, and cold. We needed a distraction. The replica Parthenon (full-sized, incredibly) was just across the street from the rink, so we decided to go.

That statue of Athena, by the way, is full-sized as well: 41' 10", for those of you keeping score at home.

"I mean, I know the statue is just a physical manifestation of something beyond our comprehension," I said.

"I think that's right," Eli said.

We walked in silence for a few seconds. "Still, though, what about her toenails?" I asked. "Trim or no trim?" He laughed.

"Look, I know you didn't get the ending you wanted for the tournament," I said. "Sometimes you don't get to write the endings. But what a story! We'll be talking about this trip for years."

"We will, won't we?" he said.

Here's the outside of the Tennessee Parthenon, by the way:

We ate pizza near the rink, and there was a Krispy Kreme across the street, so Eli decided he wanted a doughnut for dessert.

Yes, this was the same kid who threw up all day three days before.

Gloria got a chocolate-glazed doughnut, had two bites, and put it back in the bag. "I'm done," she said.

I love chocolate-glazed doughnuts, but I almost never have them anymore (fat, etc.--even worse than a glazed doughnut). What the hell, though--we'd been through a lot in the last few days, and she'd only taken a couple of bites. I could pinch off the ends of that doughnut and have half a doughnut left.

This was very, very unusual for me--I absolutely NEVER eat after someone, even Gloria (weird food thing). Like I said, though, it had been a long few days.

I started to reach my hand forward, just as Gloria said "Just so I'm not tempted," and she smashed the bag with her hand.

I groaned. "I was actually going to eat that," I said.

"What? You never do that!" she said. "I didn't even ask because you always say 'no'."

"I know," I said, "but this time, I was just about to ask if I could have the rest." I picked up the bag and looked at Eli, who was laughing. "In this dramatic recreation, I will play the role of your mother," I said. "Just so I'm not tempted to eat the rest of this doughnut," I said, as I put the bag on the floor, then started stomping on it repeatedly.

Eli spit water out of his mouth, he was laughing so hard. I stomped for a good while, then picked up the bag, which now held a doughnut the thickness of a thin-crust pizza. "Does anyone, um, want the rest?"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Threes (I forgot)

I still haven't managed to get a "768" in this game. "384", yes, and I had the necessary pieces to get a second "383" to match, but couldn't put it together before I ran out of space on the board.

I managed to break 10,000 in total score, but not by much. And it's a testament to how engaging the game is that I keep playing, even when my average score is about 1/3 as much.


Threes is a beautifully designed, addictive puzzle game that's both incredibly simple and deceptively complex.

When the game starts, you'll see numbered tiles on a 4x4 board. Starting out, you'll have 9 tiles, and the tiles will be numbered either 1, 2, or 3.

Basically, you slide adjoining tiles together (either vertically or horizontally), and the rules are very simple: 1s only combine with 2s (and they form 3s). From that point on, only matching tiles can combine with each other. So two 3s, for example, make a 6.

If you move one tile, everything in that tile's row will also move, if it's possible. Here, take a look at this screenshot (from the press kit):

In this case, if you moved blue "1" to the right, the red "2" above it and the "6" below it will also move. This makes the game far more interesting than just moving single tiles around the board. As a note, you wouldn't move that way--you'd move the blue "1" up to combine with the red "2"--but you can see how it works.

After each turn, another tile gets added to the board, and when the board fills up and you can't make a move, the game is over.

You can see that a simple starting board evolves over time into a much more complex situation.  You're constantly managing the board, and it gets progressively more difficult.

So this is a nifty game, and it's terribly addicting in the very best way. It's also the absolutely perfect five-minute game, so I'm constantly playing when I have a few minutes away from the computer.

Buy this (Android and iOS), if you haven't already. That's not why I'm writing about it today, though.

Here's why: Threes. That link goes to a long, long post about the development process for the game, and it's completely fascinating. It's incredible how much thought and obsessive-compulsive attention went into every single detail of the design, and the post is full of sample art and even playable prototypes.

It's a wonderful read, incredibly interesting, and it helped me understand that our obsessive attention to detail in Gridiron Solitaire is not only not unusual, but it's entirely necessary. That's how good games get made.

Good little games, anyway. Something like Skyrim can't pay attention to detail at the same level, but Skyrim has a vast kind of magnificence that makes it something else entirely. Little games, though, need a tremendous focus on every little thing.

This Explains It Quite Well

I've always thought Tycho's news posts were as important to Penny Arcade as the strips. He wrote this yesterday, and I think it describes a certain kind of personality type (that I belong to) better than anything else I've ever read.

We lived together very well, back when we did, because we knew when to be together and when to be apart.  It was a trick we could pull off even in the same room, in adjacent chairs.  We knew how to “give space” under conditions where giving space wasn’t technically possible.  Most of the time we spend together, nobody is talking.  That’s why I have generally said that we are not friends; I think of a friend as being someone who is present.  What we offer each other is solitude without loneliness.

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