Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Links!

From Chris Pencis, and this is terrific: The Fermi Paradox. Next, and Renaissance Man Chris Kluwe is at it again: Chris Kluwe: How augmented reality will change sports ... and build empathy.

This is quite wonderful: Why the moon landings could have never EVER been faked. 6% of Americans believe the moon landings were faked. I weep for humanity.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and it's a laser beam: Everything is Broken. Next, and this is tremendous: Found In Translation. This is just crazy: The Art of Street Crossing in Vietnam. Believe it or not, this title is entirely accurate: Cloud shark drooling a rainbow. Another, and it's fascinating: The Mystery Of Bouvet Island.

From C. Lee, a fascinating monologue by game director Taro Yoko (second video on the page): the nature of video games .

Now I don't have to wonder about this anymore: This Is What Life Sounds Like Through a Cochlear Implant.

This is both brilliantly written and painful to read: Life and Death and the Heart of American Racing.

From Wallace, and this is a remarkable story: The Nazis Create a Mega-Budget Propaganda Film About the Ill-Fated Ship … and Then Banned It. Also, and this is bizarre: Kim Jong-il’s Godzilla Movie & His Free Writings on Film Theory. One more, and it's a funny, funny story: The Scary Ham.

From Wallace, and this is undoubtedly one of the greatest threads in the history of the Internet: Shrine of the Mall Ninja.

From Scott Gould, who is trying very hard to get me to start watching cricket (and he might succeed): Unbelievable turnaround in last 3 balls.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Return of the Obra Din

Lucas Pope was the designer/developer of the brilliant Papers, Please, an engrossing and unsettling game that cast you in the role of immigration inspector.

Now, Pope has announced his next game, and it's titled Return of the Obra Din. Here's a description (from the RPS article linked in the previous sentence):
...the tale of an investigation into an abandoned ship and planning an art style reminiscent of the earliest games, something he’s termed “1bit rendering.” We’ll play as an “insurance adjustor for the East India Company’s London Office” with the intent to “find means to board the ship and recover the captain’s logbook for assessment.”

There's also a .gif file to show you the look of the game (which reminds me of the black and white Macintosh era. It all looks fascinating and certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Eli 12.9: Commentary

"Hey buddy, how was Stick and Puck?" I asked.

"It was great, Dad. So I was playing with myself..."

"Whoa! Language!"

"Mind of a six-year old, Dad. Mind of a six-year-old."
"I actually took my shirt off for half an hour to try and get rid of my hockey tan," Eli said.

"He did. He walked back to the baseline and I said, 'Okay, looks like you're burning now.' "

"Hey, you have a farmer's tan yourself, Dad."

"Sure, but you're so white that when an Eskimo walked by, he tried to stack you."
"Dad, I'm wearing size twelve shoes now."

"Well, I guess if this hockey thing doesn't work out, Clown College will give you a hero's welcome."


ESPN, much to everyone's dismay, has the rights to the Indy 500.

Last weekend, in some of the most thrilling racing I've ever seen in the last ten laps of an Indy 500, ESPN went split-screen. With girlfriends.

Think I'm kidding? I'm not. Every time the race leader got passed, they split-screened the race with the race leader's girlfriend/wife. Adding the borders and the inevitable ticker, they were literally showing the race in less than 25% of the screen.

This is what blows my mind about ESPN: someone important had to think that this was a good idea. It's not something that the producer could have done on the spur of the moment. This was planned idiocy.

The problem, though, is that ESPN is so big now that self-examination is entirely unnecessary. If anything, no matter what they do, it will be copied by everyone else (hello, FOX).

Here, you can see footage for yourself. Laugh at will: debacle footage.

This is why sports fans can't have nice things anymore.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I'm starting to think that the NFL is in serious trouble.

Not today, mind you. A decade from now? Yes, absolutely.

I saw a story last Sunday that Jim Hudson, who played for the Super Bowl winning New York Jets team in 1969, had severe degenerative brain disease before his death. Here's an excerpt from the story (the stupid American Statesman has it behind a pay wall, although it was free last Sunday):
A year ago, Jim Hudson, a safety who helped the New York Jets to their Super Bowl III championship, sat up in his bed at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. He was suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s, a disease that his doctors believed was tied to his six-year career as a pro football player.

Hudson's wife allowed his brain to be examined for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The results came back recently, and to no one's surprise, his brain was severely damaged from CTE.

Here's the NFL's problem: there are literally thousands of players in this condition. These stories just aren't going to go away--they're going to get worse.

Plus, there's another lawsuit now, this one relating to team doctors: Lawsuit: NFL pushed drugs on players.

Boy, there's a surprise.

At some point, people are going to realize that the NFL actively promoted and supported an incredibly unsafe working environment. Do the players bear some responsibility? Of course. But when doctors are giving Toradol shots to players on a weekly basis, it's clear that the doctor is not interested in their health.

It's going to be easy to explain what happens next. The NFL cannot, in any form or fashion, allow any of these lawsuits to proceed to the discovery phase. If you're not an American DQ reader, here's a description from Wikipedia:
Discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions. Discovery can be obtained from non-parties using subpoenas. When discovery requests are objected to, the requesting party may seek the assistance of the court by filing a motion to compel discovery.

It's not like there's one smoking gun here; if anything, there are dozens. So once a lawsuit reaches the discovery phase, the NFL is going to own the biggest scandal in the history of professional sports. It's going to make the steroids scandal in baseball (or track and field, or cycling, etc.) look quaint in comparison.

That's why the NFL is in trouble. They can't go to trial in any of these lawsuits, because if they do, either the lid blows off a huge scandal or lots of people commit lots of felonies to hide what happened.

On another front, there's plenty of evidence now that engaging in collision-based sports are very, very bad for your brain. How is that going to affect participation in high school football? How many great athletes are going to decide they'd like to make a living playing sports AND be able to find their car keys--or their house--fifteen years after they retire?

This is a heel wound. To Achilles.

Please Note

DQ is live on tape for the rest of the week, so please enjoy the pre-recorded content and see you on Monday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One More Note on Microsoft

If you remember, Microsoft announced the One and touted its features just as the dirtier parts of the NSA story were breaking, so "all-seeing Kinect" was particularly bad timing. It all felt very creeper-esque.

Here's a thought, though. Why doesn't Kinect just ask you if it can turn itself on after you turn on the One? Just try "Hello, this is Kinect. May I turn on, please?"

Maybe they didn't want to do this because they thought too many people would say "no". But that's kind of the point about asking, isn't it?

Mini-Console Post of the Week: Microsoft

As a follow-up to the post about Xbox One and the new SKU without Kinect, NPD sales were released the day after I made the original post.

110,000 units.

That is a horrible month. Utterly horrible, especially when Titanfall released March 11 and there should have been some follow-through.

This may not have been reactive--Microsoft may have already been planning this move--but it's certainly a response to the One not selling nearly as well as expected.

If it was selling as well as Microsoft expected, why would they have to do anything at all?

Everyone knows that console companies today are selling revenue streams instead of consoles. The entire console financial model of Microsoft and Sony is predicated on the consoles being revenue streams, not just a dumb platform that people shove game discs into.

Microsoft's mistake, though, was to reveal their revenue stream ambition so nakedly. It was incredibly overt, the hard sell, and that's not what people wanted. There's a way to finesse this kind of ambition, and Microsoft failed badly in this regard. It turned people off.

Having said that, though, maybe people aren't turned off it the One launched at $399. So many analysts seem to discount the price sensitivity of the console market, but they are incorrect. Price is a huge differentiator.

So is clarity. What Sony presented as their vision for the PS4 was comprehensible. It was clear. Microsoft was all over the place. So instead of paying $100 extra for reasons that most people didn't even understand, the PS4 was an easy decision.

From The Future, Into The Past

Apple drives me nuts.

Buying an Apple product is like entering this isolated subculture of civilization that remained undisturbed for thousands of years. This culture has an incredibly advanced form of math that Western civilization has never seen before, but they have no toilet paper.

An example.

I have an iPad, and there's a Word document (a novel) that I want to read on the iPad. On an Android tablet, I can use a USB key to copy the file to the desktop. Or I could use Gmail and copy the file to the desktop. Or use ten other ways to copy the file to the desktop. In fifteen seconds.

With the iPad, I can't seem to do that. There's no File Manager. There's no way to use a USB key to bring in files. If I do copy the file from Gmail, I have no idea where to paste it, because it won't paste onto the desktop. Really? I can't copy and paste files?

I Googled this and there are additional things I can try, but Apple has tried so hard to make this simple that they've actually made it unnecessarily complicated.

Plus, there's Apple guy.

Every time I put up a post about Apple being stupid (because sometimes they are), I'll get an e-mail from Apple guy. If my iPad refused to boot up, Apple Guy would tell me that was actually a feature. Most of the time, Apple guy is someone who doesn't even read the blog on a regular basis. Does Apple have a secret army of Apple Guys who just scour the Internet for complaints and then tell the complainers that problems are actually features?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire: The Big Time

From Fredrik:
You made it big time now, Bill. Gridiron is being pirated.
It's been a long, dirty road, but I'm glad I kept moving forward. Piracy!

That must be quite a notch on someone's +2 Belt of Theft. This is taking completionism to an entirely new level.

This is quite surprising, obviously, but not upsetting. People who download .rar files with pirated software are not my target audience, and they wouldn't have bought the game anyway. So no harm done at all.

1.3 is going to kill me, although as of this afternoon, all known in-game bugs have been fixed. So now it's images, mostly, with Fredrik making small tweaks as I drive him crazy with nitpicking.

He's a patient fellow.

I still have to revise help, which is going to be lengthy and difficult. And balancing difficulty is going to be tough, because I'm not sure what to do on Easy except add additional Big Play presses.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off, from Rob Funk, and this is a brilliant and fascinating read: An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end. Also, and this is mind-bending: French Photographer turns real life scenes into a movie moments.

From Roger Robar, and this is very cool: What Happens When You Drop A Magnet Through A Copper Tube? One more, and it's terrific: A New Optical Illusion Demonstrates How Gullible Our Brains Really Are.

From Wallace, and these images are fantastic: Pseudo Papercut Illustrations of Eiko Ojala.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an incredible story (I'm headed for the bar right now): Knocked out in bar fight, man wakes up as a genius. Next, and this is entirely wonderful: Every Week, 2 Anonymous Students Sneak Into A Classroom And Proceed To Blow Everyone’s Mind. Next, and this is entirely fantastic, it's The Solar-Powered Fridge of 1937 Made Sunbeams Into Ice Cubes In 2 Hours. One more, and it's awesome: NASA hands space enthusiasts the keys to a 1970s-era spacecraft.

From Geoffrey Englestein, and remember a couple of years ago when I said this was coming? Well, it's not going to be much longer (this plus other systems in development): Glasses-free 3-D projector.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and these are just tremendous: The best optical illusions of 2014 are truly mind-bending stuff.

Scrimshaw? Hell, yes: Watching the Beautiful, Intricate Handiwork of Scrimshaw.

From Phil Honeywell, and this is tremendously disturbing: Did North Korea Kidnap an American Hiker?

From Sirius, and this is excellent: Perform Mulholland's mind-reading mystery.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Colonoscopy (what, again?)

I had a second colonoscopy last week, after having had the first seven years ago.

First off, don't dick around with stuff like this. If you're 50+, you should probably have one of these done. Yes, the prep isn't that much fun, but in terms of protecting yourself against some very, very bad things, this is imperative.

Plus, in the intervening years, anesthesia has dramatically improved. This time, I received Propofol, which is pretty incredible. I was under in less than 20 seconds, and after the procedure (which takes only about 30 minutes), I woke up in the recovery room feeling pretty damn good. A little wobbly, maybe, but only a little, and I walked myself out about 20 minutes later. DQ Reader My Wife drove me home, I slept for two hours, and woke up feeling 100% normal.

After that, it was just a regular day.

Target Triple Value Trade-In

Ending Saturday, Target is offering 3X value when you trade in used video games.

I traded in 3 PS4 launch games today. I originally paid $180 total for the three, and was able to trade them in for a $144 Target gift card, usable anywhere in the store.

Greatest trade-in deal EVER.

There are a few rules:
1. This can only be done at a Target with a Target mobile section (almost every Target in Austin has one).
2. Three games can be traded in at a time (but the clerk told me that he could have rung up three more on a separate transaction.

It took less than ten minutes and I was on my way.

Please note that not everyone is having a great experience doing this (in particular, you can read this, which makes the experience sound like something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), but it's worth looking into if you have some fairly recent games you'd like to trade in.

You can go here and see what your game is worth before you go to a store.

Zeke, Iron Man Mode, and Child's Play

From Zeke of Iron Man Mode:
I'm trying to make a bit of noise for a Child's Play charity fundraiser I've got going on this coming Friday. My comedy gaming site, Iron Man Mode, is coming to a close and I'm hoping to go out with a bang (with a little help from the wider gaming community). We'll be doing a 72+ hour, non-stop livestream over the weekend as I try and fly around the world - it'll probably kill me, and you're invited to it.

Short version:
Longer version:

And that's about it, really. Even the smallest of donations would be massively well received, but getting as many eyes on the event as possible is equally valued.

Child's Play is amazing beyond words, and I'm happy to spread the word for Zeke. Plus, it sounds like quite an adventure.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gaming Notes

First off, Civilization IV designer Soren Johnson announced that his next game is an "economy focused RTS" titled Offworld Trading Company. Here's a description:
Offworld Trading Company’s premise is that you control one of several companies attempting to take over the colonization of Mars. The goal is to earn money by exploiting Mars’ resources, then use that economic dominance to buy out every other player in a hostile takeover. Players make claims on land to gather raw resources and then use constructed buildings to convert those raw resources into others. So water can be converted into food a hydrolysis factory, or into oxygen and fuel through electrolysis. There are 13 resources in all, to be used for life support, building, or just for selling.

Based on Soren's track record, this is clearly something to watch as it develops.

I've been playing a little game on PC the last couple of days called ReignMaker, and it's quite addictive. It's a mash-up of a city builder, a match three, and a tower defense game, and believe it or not, it all works swimmingly.

Here's a screenshot (thanks, Game Trailers):

Here's what's going on in that one screen. There are waves of enemies advancing from right to left. When you match three on the left side (your tower, in essence), you launch an attack. If you match three across, it's a concentrated attack of multiple shots along the same row, which is useful if enemies are lined up behind each other. If you match three vertically, it's an attack along multiple rows (but only one shot per row). So your matches trigger directional attacks against the onrushing enemies.

Not done, though--not nearly. You can also buy special units (you can see them walking along the wall separating you from your enemies) that have special functions. Archers, for example, who fire arrows at enemies, or nurses, who add to your health bar.

At the bottom of the screen are spells you can cast, plus special weapons you can use. All of these get researched in the town that you go to between battles.

Nope, not done yet. When you kill enemies, they sometimes drop money, or scrolls, or treasure chests. You need to pick these up before they disappear, but if you do, it takes your focus away from the match three areas.

It's pretty damned busy, in other words, but in a very cool way. And there are a ton of different playing fields for battles with unique situations.

Like I said, it's quite addictive, and an iOS version is being worked on, so it should be available on mobile devices fairly soon.

The last note today is about The Show, as Eli and I (and Gloria, who is just starting) continue to put time into our careers. It's amazing how much this game feels like real baseball in subtle ways. Arm angle, for example. There are a dizzying number of different throwing motions in the game, and the game does an unbelievable job of mimicking how difficult it is to pick up the ball from certain arm slots (sidearm, for example, but there are several others). It also has certain pitchers falling away from the mound on their delivery instead of a straight follow-through, and that makes it more confusing to pick up a pitch as well.

There are a million little details in the game, and combined, it creates a reality palette (how's that for an imaginary phrase) that is entirely convincing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Last Federation

Let me state my bias immediately: I like Chris Park. He makes games at an unbelievable rate, and they're incredibly ambitious. Plus, they're huge games with an unbelievable amount of content.

Seriously, who has ever followed up an "RTS that plays like a 4X" (AI Wars) with a puzzle game (Tidalis)? Followed by a survivalist sidescroller (A Valley Without Wind and AVWW2). Followed by a god game (Skyward Collapse).

That's genre breadth that is nothing short of incredible.

To be honest, I've sometimes appreciated the idea behind the games more than the games themselves. Park is unbelievably prolific, but sometimes his far-reaching ambitions have not been reflected in fully-engaging gameplay.

This is a bad thing, because guys like Chris Park need to survive. His creativity and ambition are hugely important.

Park's latest game was just released last month, and I'm happy to say that his survival should no longer be in question. The game is a majestic space opera titled "The Last Federation", and it's brilliant. It's absolutely massive, but it's also fantastically accessible, and I think it's the best game that Arcen Games has ever released.

Your objective? Form a unified federation in your solar system. Not a huge goal or anything, since there are eight planets and dozens of layers of events and information going on around you. So it's not just turn-based space combat that you require--it's also diplomacy and espionage and all kinds of political intrigue.

Oh, and you don't control a planet, or a race. It's just you.

The game is huge beyond anything I can describe, and it really does feel like a vibrant, populous solar system. Actually, there's one word that describes this game extremely well: grand. I don't think I've ever used that as a descriptor before, but this game deserves the word.

Surprisingly, given its size and scope, I also find The Last Federation remarkably accessible. There's a tutorial that gives you the basics, then a graduated system of help that pops up as events warrant. Plus, I've never seen a game with better tooltips--you can hover over almost anything (and there are a LOT of "things" in this game) and get a detailed description of what it means.

Plus, Park (as always) is incredibly committed to the game. Just have a look at the post-release change notes. They're staggering, and he's adding content and features at a stunning rate.

I've played the game for almost three hours at this point, and I'm quite sure I will play it for three hundred eventually. For such a massive game, it's quite intimately crafted, but it's also quite playable. So in addition to a remarkable intellectual achievement, it's also a remarkable gaming experience.

Here's the webpage: The Last Federation. It should be purchased immediately.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #106

That delightful kickoff bug from last week has been squashed. I have fond memories.

The bug list is down to one. I still have to revise help and rebalance difficulty, plus Fredrik is still finishing a few images.

All in all, though, that's not much.

I'm not adding anything else to this build. There comes a point when it's just time to release something, and it's time, so I'm just going to finish up what remains as quickly as possible and get it out. That probably means two more weeks for testing.

What I'm very happy about, though, is that after I felt like I lost a little energy in terms of gameplay, I've gotten it back in the last few days. The pace is right again. The game is exciting, and I got back the two minutes in length I gave up last week.

Apologies for the entirely anemic length this week. Lots of work going on, but not much to discuss right now.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Links!

From Matt Solomon, and boy, this is bizarre: Researchers: Injections of young blood may reverse some effects of ageing.

From Chris Pencis, and this is utterly spectacular: ISS HD Earth Viewing Experiment. Yes, it's an HD feed of the view from the ISS--in real time.

From Wallace, and this is obscurely wonderful: Hay In Art. Also, here's a functional model of the Difference Engine, created entirely from Meccano parts. Of course, that requires this: Building Complex Machines Using LEGO. One more, and it's hilarious: Spurious Correlations.

From Dubious Quality Ideas Man John Harwood, and this is outstanding: Programming Sucks.

From Chris Jones, and this is a touching mom moment: World's Toughest Job.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is tremendous: Verbatim: What Is a Photocopier? Next, and this is incredible: In the 1970s, Scientists Discovered a 2 Billion-Year-Old Nuclear Reactor in West Africa. Next, and this is HUGE: Found after 500 years, the wreck of Christopher Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria. One more, and these are mesmerizing: World War I in Photos: Technology.

From Sirius, and this is fascinating: No lie: ‘Pinocchio rex’ dinosaurs were as ferocious as their T. rex cousins.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is fantastic: Want to Get Out Alive? Follow the Ants.

From Dave Tyrrell, and these are quite amusing: 33 Painfully True Facts About Everyday Life.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

MLB 14: The Show

I was going to write this post about playing MLB 14: The Show, which I've been looking forward to for months as a great way to get some use out of my PS4 (which hasn't been turned on in months).

Instead, I guess I'm writing about installing, because I started twenty minutes ago and it's nowhere near complete.

Turn on the PS4. Install the mandatory PS4 update. Put in The Show. Have it installing something, then it looks ready to play. Go into the game. Still installing. Try to play an exhibition game. Still installing.

Fifteen minutes after I first loaded the game, I'm at 19%.

This gives me too much time to stare at the screen and see things that annoy me, like the news ticker running along the bottom of the screen. I don't want to see the real MLB news ticker. I want to see NOTHING about the real baseball world when I'm in a pretend baseball world. I can't turn it off, though, so it's going to get shoved in my face every time I play.

This is a problem.

I think the lineage of great baseball games (not including text sims) goes this way:
Earl Weaver Baseball (1987, Amiga)
Front Page Sports Baseball Pro '98 (1997, PC)
World Series Baseball '98 (Sega Saturn, 1997)
MLB: The Show

That's it, and I know, because I've played them all. Literally.

Ah, I just heard something in the living room. The exhibition game must have finally started.

Yeah, that was a poor first impression, but it was a poor impression of the install process, not the game itself. What you most need to know about The Show--the game--is that it's crafted. You can feel the care that went into the making of the game.

When a first baseman makes a catch, there isn't one animation--there are dozens. There must be thousands of animations in the game, because I've played for 6+ hours and never seen an awkward moment. By way of comparison, the NBA2K series--even though it's very good--still has all kinds of awkward animations and transitions. So the animation in this game is nothing short of a marvel, and there's so much detail that it still consistently surprises me.

When I first started playing the game in Road To The Show (single player career), third baseman Enormous Bottoms was faced with something like this when he came to bat:

(screenshot courtesy of one of those websites that rips off other websites and makes web pages out of their content, so I'm not mentioning them by name)

Whoa. There's so much crap on the scene it looks like CNBC--or Sportscenter. Plus, even though you start out in the minor leagues, the full three-man broadcast team is commenting on your game, which makes no sense.

So I want a clean screen and no commentary, just stadium sounds. Here's what I was able to do:

The broadcast team? Silenced. I could have even silenced individual announcers if I wanted to hear play-by-play and didn't want to hear color.

That is very, very nice. And it's the kind of thing that the Madden series, for example, absolutely refuses to do. Madden has a limited presentation, and they'll hold you down and punch you in the face until you like it (you never will).

The Show, though, lets you tailor the game to what you want to see (and hear). And it looks great. This is the best-looking game I've seen on the PS4, and the best looking sports game I've ever seen. It's buttery smooth, incredibly detailed, and entirely brilliant. This is absolutely next level stuff.

I don't even watch baseball anymore and I'm still enjoying myself. Eli's started a career as well, and shortstop Eli Random is tearing up AA even as I write this. So if you have a PS4 and have any interest in sports whatsoever, this is a must-buy.

Louis C.K.

For me, Louie is the best show on television. Maybe one of the best shows ever.

Louis C.K. has this brilliant knack for laughter in incredibly uncomfortable situations (which is where great comedy originates, in discomfort). What Louis also does, though, is transcend its genre on a regular basis. It's not just a comedy.

Here's a good example, and it's some of the very best television I've ever seen. Just scroll down to the video link (don't even read the text of the story first--just watch the video): Louie video.

I'll wait.

All right, now that you've watched it (seriously--go watch the damn thing--it's brilliant), doing that scene in one take is nothing short of incredible. And Louis C.K. didn't even write it for himself, which is something else he does on his show to great effect: he's generous when it comes to other actors.

Here's an interview with Sarah Baker about the scene and how it happened: Louie’s Sarah Baker on That Epic ‘Fat Girls’ Speech.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Console Post of the Week: Microsoft

Microsoft announced yesterday that they'll be selling a Kinect-less Xbox One for $399, beginning next month.

This might seem curious, given how Microsoft has spent several million marketing words justifying why Kinect HAS to be included with the One. It's too integral to how the system works to remove, you see.

In a business, though, nothing is integral if it's failing.

Wait--don't jump on me for using the word "failing". Not yet.

Let's take a look at why this is happening. Three reasons (not saying there aren't more).
1. Sales
The PS4 has sold seven million units worldwide as of April 16. The One has sold five million units as of April 17.

These numbers, though, have a key difference. Sony's number is "sell through", which represents actual sales to consumers. Microsoft's numbers are "sell in", which represents sales to retailers.

Why, after Sony touts a big sales number, would Microsoft respond the next day with a number that's defined substantially differently? Well, because they couldn't use the same definition--it would be too embarrassing. They have the data. It was a PR decision not to use it.

Is that a problem? Not if the trend is in the right direction. Clearly, though, it isn't. Titanfall was released on March 11, and that was going to be the hammer. Instead, the PS4 still outsold the One in March in the U.S.

2. Pricing
If Microsoft saw the price of the One dropping to $399 by the holiday season, they wouldn't be doing this. They would wait. If they didn't see a price drop coming, though, they'd be heading toward the second holiday season where they were priced 25% more than their direct competition.

Based on the numbers, they must not think they can afford that.

So if they have to do something, how do they get to $399 immediately? This is their only play. And it makes sense, if you look at #3.

3. Kinect
As a gaming device, Kinect has failed.

This pains me greatly, because I think Kinect is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It should have revolutionized gaming. It should be a centerpiece of Microsoft's strategy.

It didn't, and it's not.

Let's be blunt: Kinect games are crap. I've played them, I've bought them, and they're almost universally disappointing. It's great if I can wave my arms and yell "Whoop whoop" to perform some command with my home entertainment system, but that's the back door, not the front door. Microsoft entirely failed to walk through the front door here.

I wish they had.

Maybe Microsoft will fix this. Maybe they'll come out with a game as compelling as Wii Sports. Maybe they'll come out with something even better, and when they do, they can justify requiring people to pay a substantial price premium for the One with Kinect included.

Until then, in an environment where it appears not enough consumers are buying into Microsoft's vision relative to the competition, they have to alter their vision.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Crazy Trip Dispatch #2 From Doug Walsh

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh is still cycling. Here's his latest dispatch:

I awoke this morning sensing something different, but familiar. I couldn't place my finger on it at first, but I soon realized that for the first time since we left Seattle in March, we've slept in the same place for three consecutive nights. It was time to move on. We set off this morning for a seventy-three mile jaunt to the shore of Lake Superior, to the town of Two Harbors, but I must write about our homebase these past few days.

We battled vicious headwinds and plunging temperatures as we crossed eastern Montana and North Dakota, anxiously looking ahead to the forested shelter of Minnesota's northern woods. Our destination: Ely, the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). As a college student, I was mesmerized by photos and stories of the BWCA; its countless lakes, million structureless and roadless acres, and myriad paddling routes and portages has earned this vast watery frontier straddling the border between Minnesota and Ontario a place on my must-see list. Unfortunately, the sleepy tourist town of Ely had yet to thaw from its extended winter slumber. With fishing season a full week away and the majority of lakes still frozen over, we were, once again, early. Sheridan Street, lined with cafes, gift shops and wilderness outfitters, yawned and stretched as we walked amongst a smattering of locals casually stocking shelves and hanging signs in anticipation of the season to come. I sense they wanted to ask why we've come, but they're too polite to bother us.

Finding a canoe outfitter did, in fact, prove relatively easy: we were the first customers for the lone outfitter open this time of year and he joyfully welcomed his first rental income. I stared dreamily at the wall-sized map of the BWCA as the guide pointed out various lakes and portages we could manage this time of year. We arranged to rent the lightweight kevlar canoe, discussed our shuttle details, and
met him back the next morning at 9:30 sharp. Kristin and I set off across Fall Lake, into the pure wilderness of northern Minnesota for our day of canoeing. We paddled past numerous loons, listened to the asymptotic drumming of the ruffed grouse, and stared in awe at the size of the moose droppings in the middle of our quarter-mile portage -- a mountain of steaming roasted chestnuts should aid in completing the mental image. Our trip into the BWCA was merely a sampler, but it was a day to remember. We may not have seen any moose, but we didn't see any other mammals either, nor their boats and canoes. That will change come the fishing opener.

Making these days off the bike all the more comfortable was the generosity of one of the ladies in the hospitality network we belong to. Communicating purely by email, she excitedely surrendered her knotty-pine cabin on the edge of town to us for three nights. "You guys earned it!" she exclaimed in all caps. Three nights in our very own cabin, without television or Wifi, was too good to pass up. It was the perfect place for a marathon session of Lost Cities over a couple of six-packs, for listening to the cabin's supply of Finnish folk music while reading, and for napping.

Now, recharged after our 2200 miles of cycling, we're ready to roll north along the shore of Lake Superior across the border into Canada. Our first stop is the town of Thunder Bay. Originally just a dot on the map with a cool-ass name (true story: that was my honest-to-goodness reason for crossing here), I later came to realize it was the town where Terry Fox's incredible attempt at running across Canada, one-legged and battling cancer, came to an end. Who among us with cable television in the 1980s doesn't remember seeing The Terry Fox Story on HBO? From the Terry Fox Memorial we'll continue along the Trans-Canada Highway, hugging Lake Superior's northern shore from one Provincial Park to another to the city of Sault Ste. Marie. And like so many destination cards in Ticket to Ride, our journey will continue on to Montreal and points east.

To the North!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #105: Bugs!

This is my favorite headline ever:

Yeah, that's a bug (introduced by the new kickoff code). Here's the bug report:
I'm experiencing a new bug today. The opposing team scored a field goal on their first play of the 2nd quarter.  Since their kickoff after the field goal, the game has been stuck in a loop where the kickoff image and sound plays, there's a "X team returns the ball" type message, then the "turnover!" card shows up.  The result of the kickoff seems to have no bearing the looping (I'm seeing everything, including fumbles).  It's alternating between each team as it goes on (home, away, home, away...) and each play consumes 10 seconds of clock time.  The yardage metrics aren't changing; it continues to stay at "ball on 35" regardless of the loop's outcome.

 At least once the play turned into a turnover, and it also played the "offense recovers" card, but then it went back to the loop.  This may have happened more than once; I've been letting it go on in the background to see what happens when the quarter half ended (which just happened): It played the band music, then the "turnover" card appeared before the halftime stats.  On the plus side, it captured the turnover metrics correctly: 67 for Miami, 68 for Detroit.

After the kickoff at the half, the game has returned to normal.

On the positive side, turnovers were counted correctly. 

Usually, when someone reports a bug, I have at least a general idea of what might be happening. This time? Not a clue. Well, actually, there are clues:
1. Field goal on first play of second quarter.
2. The referee turnover card shows no matter the actual result of the return.
3. No plays from scrimmage are being run.

This is going to be difficult to fix, but on the plus side, I only have four bugs right now, and the other three are very minor.

I'm getting to play the game again, which is a relief after spending so much time adding code. Now I can just fix bugs (like the one above) and polish. Fredrik is finishing up a few additional images to add, and I have to revise help, and then 1.3 can be released.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Sirius, and this is fascinating: Why did lighthouse keepers go mad?

From DQ Visual Basic Advisor Garret Rempel, and this is quite a read: Levelling the Mirabel airport: Wrecking balls to raze monument to heartless government planning.

Here's a terrific story: 4 Totally Fake Currencies That Changed the Course of Real Wars. One more, and it's a doozy: The Frat Boys Who Moved The Colts Out Of Baltimore.

From Roger Robar, and this is delightfully bizarre: What’s the Pressure Inside an Exploding Whale?

From Marty Devine, and this is just insane: 3 Olympic Fencers Vs. 50 Amateurs.

From Andy Herron, and this is the full version of the "card control" video I linked to last week: Ricky Jay 52 assistants.

From Brian Witte, and this is simply incredible: Absurd Creature of the Week: This Marsupial Has Marathon Sex Until It Goes Blind and Drops Dead. Indeed.

From C. Lee, and this is a terrific story: The Man Who Integrated the White House Press Corps.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is both surreal and chilling: H.G. Wells Interviews Joseph Stalin in 1934; Declares “I Am More to The Left Than You, Mr. Stalin”.

From Tim Jones, here's an utterly engrossing time-waster: Vintage Ad Browser.

From Brian Witte, and this is fascinating: How Birds Survived the Dinosaur Apocalypse.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is excellent: How Big is the Moon Really? Also, and this sounds fantastic: The Volcano That Rewrote History.

From Simon Jones, and while this is undoubtedly creepy on some level, it's also poignant and touching: Valley of Dolls: A Bizarre Town in Japan Where an Artist is Replacing Departed Residents with Life-Sized Dolls.

Here's a terrific story about Finland repelling the Soviet invasion in 1939, in part due to the efforts of a single man: White Death.

From Andy Herron, and this is fascinating: Magic Lab (how our brains respond to magic).

From DQ Reader My Wife, and oh my, this is so wonderful: The Roger Bucklesby Bench Plaque Is Real, Sort Of.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Gary Smith

Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith announced that he was retiring this week.

To me, Smith is the dean of American sportswriting, and has been for a long time. He wrote long, in-depth pieces that explored their subjects better than any sportswriter in my lifetime. Today's preeminent sportswriters, like Patrick Hruby, all learned from reading Smith.

Peter King asked Smith what his own favorite pieces were this week, and they're all brilliant reads, so I'm going to link them here. If you want to experience the absolute apex of writing, read these:
Damned Yankee ("The 1997 story is about John Malangone, a catcher of great promise for the Yankees whose career was ruined by the hidden secret that 5-year-old John accidentally killed his uncle with a javelin.")
Ali and his Entourage (a story about what happens to an entourage when it dissolves, and it's both poignant and painful)
Coming Into Focus (an Andre Agassi profile that is amazing)

Like I said, these stories are the apex of writing, and "Damned Yankee" is one of the greatest, most haunting stories I've ever read.

Console Post: Nintendo (part three)

As it turns out, Nintendo does have a plan.

It may not be the plan that we were hoping for, necessarily, but in a business sense, it's reasonable. Let's take a look:
1. A new console for emerging markets
Not the Wii U, but a lower-cost, unique console for emerging markets (China and India, primarily). Recognition of core Nintendo franchises worldwide is very high, and creating a console that is affordable in two countries with a combined population of 2.58 billion people is a brilliant move.

I think there's only one concern here: everyone in India and China is already playing games on their phones. The console market is wide open, but is the mobile market so entrenched that Nintendo will face strong headwinds? Possibly, but the "Mario experience" is superb, and it's compelling enough that people will want to play. I think this is a big win for Nintendo.

2. Attack of the toys
This is a natural, obviously, to bring the characters of Nintendo's most-beloved franchises into the world of NFC figures (I brought this up a while back, although I can't remember if it was an original thought or something you guys e-mailed me about). Skylanders and Disney Infinity print money, basically, and Mario and the other Nintendo characters have as much name recognition as Disney characters. Apparently, these figures will be compatible across the 3DS, Wii, and Wii U, which is very shrewd: with Wii U sales in the toilet (actually, they're sub-toilet), leveraging more popular hardware to possibly attract new customers for the Wii U is something they desperately need to do.

So instead of finding a way to make Wii U profitable, they're concentrating on a way to be profitable even as the Wii U fails.

That's very, very smart. That gives them time to develop new hardware, instead of rushing something to market that's only half-baked. Plus, with a lower-cost console in emerging markets, Nintendo is broadening their long-term strategy. Maybe the Wii U fiasco has driven home the need to have a more diverse product line.

All in all, in a business sense, this is a very strong response from Nintendo. Does it do anything for us? Well, not really--it's still not attracting any new games to the Wii U, unless you want to spend $300 on various Nintendo figures. What it does, do, though, is make it more likely that Nintendo is going to survive in the long run, and I think we all agree on that being a very good thing.

Links if you want more details:
Nintendo is making a new, cheap console specifically for emerging markets
Nintendo plans new NFC figures and games in a bid to rescue the Wii U

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Console Post: Nintendo (part two)

What I didn't mention in the initial post was Nintendo's forecast for Wii U sales in the next fiscal year: 3.6 million units.

For anyone who thinks there's a turnaround on its way, Nintendo's own forecast should discount that possibility. Selling 300,000 units worldwide a month is dismal, even though it would represent a 33% increase in sales.

Everything in a business revolves around the forecast. Production schedules, marketing dollars, head count--everything. Even if Wii U demand suddenly exploded, Nintendo wouldn't be in a position to capitalize.

More likely, they'll be fighting to not dip under 3 million.

So Nintendo is clearly scaling back their goals for Wii U. The question, though, is how quickly can they get a replacement into the pipeline? And what about the replacement would make a difference, anyway?

Tough sledding ahead.

Console Post: Nintendo

Nintendo released their annual earnings report today. They lost $456 million dollars.

Will U sales are catastrophically poor. For the year, 2.72 million units were sold, worldwide. That's roughly 226,000 units a month.

As a point of reference, a 225,00 unit month, in the U.S. alone, in a non-holiday month, would be considered "solid". Do you know how long the Wii sold over 225,000 units a month--in the U.S. alone--after it launched?

Fifty-four months. Consecutively.

Nintendo's original unit forecast for the fiscal year was 9 million units.

I've said this before, but there's no turning this around. I like the Wii U, personally, but there's no fixing this, even if the price dropped to $199. It's terminal.

The Greatest Athletic Achievement in History

Roger Bannister, of course.

The four-minute mile was one of the most cherished, most publicized athletic standard in history. It was a towering mental barrier as well as a physical one. Roger Bannister, though, broke through. He did so on extremely low mileage, by today's standards, as well as running on a cinder track.

It was an incredible achievement of will.

When I was a boy, I read Bannister's biography, The Four-Minute Mile. It was riveting, and even today, I can remember his recounting of the race. I still remember the names of his two pacers--Brasher and Chataway, and I believe Brasher's first name was Chris--even though I read about them forty-five years ago.

It was heroic stuff, and even today, more men have climbed Mount Everest than have run a four-minute mile (boy, that puts things in perspective, doesn't it?).

Bannister quit running soon after to complete medical school, and had a long and highly distinguished career as a neurologist. When I think of the word "sportsman", I think of him--he was a fierce competitor, but also a gentleman.

Anyway, here's a video of the full race, and it's the best 3:59.4 you'll spend all year: The Four-Minute Mile Turns 60.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Jumping the Shark (part two)

Here is a thoughtful and poignant e-mail from a reader in response to my post last week about Austin jumping the shark. His handle is "Batman".

Here in Calgary we experienced growth a few years ago. Mostly due to the oil sands nearby. I moved here when it was still operating much like a small town. It was much bigger than that, but while it felt like a city, it never felt like "a big city". Traffic wasn't terrible, the people were alright, things were very normal. 

Then we had a growth spurt. 

Driving for me now is measured in increments of 30 or even 45 minutes or so. To get from one corner to another on a weekend can range over an hour. Grocery stores, malls and most restaurants are now always full. Half hour after open, half hour til close - those are the only times these places are empty...ish. 

Construction was everywhere and still is. Every empty lot is snatched up. Empty fields that had been untouched for years suddenly had condos or restaurants sprouting up out of them. 

Rent has skyrocketed and while we pay well here it's still not enough to live comfortably unless you have someone else making good cash as well. If you want to rent a house you're looking at 1500 minimum for what feels like a milk carton. Some people are asking a grand for a basement. And if you want to buy, 250-300k is a deal. Homes here don't typically go lower than that unless it's a condo. Or in a shit neighbourhood and is the size of my living room. 

We've transformed from some of the friendliest people you could meet to very gloomy and isolated. No one feels at home. No one talks to one another. It's very distant even though there's a million of us. You still have the previous pleasant Calgarians but so many people came here in search of oil money or work in general that no one feels at home. It's tough to explain without seeing it everyday. 

And money. My oh my, everyone is rolling in it. Yet no one seems to be content. 

When you say your city is being diluted I know precisely what you mean. It's happening here, still. 

I hope very much that Austin doesn't follow this path. Austin and Calgary are very similar in size and population. I would hate to see this happen to your home. We're kind of past the boom phase and settled in and not much has changed. I feel more boxed in than ever. I lived in Windsor outside Detroit and saw first hand a city fall apart while this one blossomed. It's interesting to see how people react to these changes. In Detroit people are very humble and genuine, and and seem appreciative of what they have. Here, no one seems to appreciate our good fortune. It's not viewed as fortune at all. It's taken for granted as though it's what we deserve and will never go away.

I'd be interested to hear about how Austin grows over time. 

That all sounds very familiar, unfortunately. 

If you think of a city in terms of its character, it's created by residents. Beyond a certain rate of growth, though, that character is determined to a greater and greater degree by people who haven't lived in the city very long. That changes a city forever--hopefully, in a good way, but there's no going back.

In The Desert

Chris Kohler of Game|Life wrote a terrific article about how the "E.T. cartridges buried in the desert" myth turned out to be true: How Obsessed Fans Finally Exhumed Atari's Secret Game Graveyard.

Big News

Act III of Kentucky Route Zero is now available.

If you haven't played Act I or II, please do so immediately. It's a brilliant experience.

Get it here: Kentucky Route Zero.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #104: Roadmap

So here's where we are right now.

I simmed over 250 seasons last weekend (yes, that's over 3,000 presses of the "sim week" button--don't remind me). After quite a bit of new tweaking, the new offseason is working entirely as intended. Different leagues evolve differently over the course of 30 years, but the overall league ranking totals remain very stable. You'll see 14 win seasons (very rarely), 1 win seasons (also rarely), and everything in between.

Plus, the breaking news ticker works and is a nice addition to atmosphere. When I see that a team has changed style, I always look up at the rating screen to see how much disruption they'll have as an organization to reflect the new coach's philosophy (imaginary disruption, obviously, but I still reflexively do it).

I'm glad that's done. It was a gigantic pain in the ass, and even though I'm glad I did it (the new system is much more robust), I'm glad it's over.

Before I can release 1.3, I have a list of bug fixes to complete, plus Fredrik is still drawing images. The bugs, though, are largely cosmetic--no game breakers, no crashes. Plus I have to modify the tutorial to reflect the new content (shoot me).

Most importantly, I have to rebalance difficulty. That's going to be a challenge.

I was beating myself up on Friday for not supporting the game well enough, but then I realized that there will be a major content expansion (1.3) about four months after release. So it seems like it took forever, but considering it's just me and Fredrik, that wasn't so bad.

When 1.3 is released (late May, I'm guessing), there will still be one major content addition to come, and that will involve keeping team records by individual player name, as well as little narratives when a player gets replaced in the offseason card game. This also means there's going to be a new team history page, where instead of seeing "season cards", there will be a "season journal" with tabs to review individual years. I'm going to be tracking so much information that it requires a new format, plus I've never liked the smallness of the font with the existing season cards.

By late July, the game should be ready for "relaunch", and when I do that, I'm going to do everything I can in terms of marketing. Podcasts, asking for reviews (which is hard for me), updating the website and the Steam page, appearing in bundles--everything, essentially.

I'm not a promoter, but I have to be willing to learn how to do it better.

I've learned a lot with the initial launch--most importantly, that as a very, very small shop, I can either develop or I can market, but I really can't do both at the same time. And while it's more fun to develop, for the long-term success of the game, I have to market.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Steven Kreuch, and this is one of the most remarkable stories I've ever heard: What if NOTHING is IMPOSSIBLE? That title sounds cheesy, but seriously, it's a great story.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is entirely fantastic: A Country Wide Water Gun Fight. Next, and this is surreal: UCHU-JIN - JIJII MV / 宇宙人「じじい-おわりのはじまり-」MV. This is a fantastic, fascinating story: How a Simple Design Error Could Have Toppled a NYC Skyscraper

From J.R. Parnell, and this is amazing: 5 Insanely Huge Things You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and these images are remarkable (in particular, check out The Isolator. I want one.): These 50 Photos From The Past Are Shocking And Hilarious.

From Daniel Willhite, and these are insane: Monowheels: The coolest deathtrap on one wheel. Also, and this is very clever, it's Alton Brown Dramatically Shows How To Make an Inexpensive Mustard Caddy Hack For Your Refrigerator.

If your vision is incredibly poor (like mine), you're really going enjoy this: This Trick Will Let You See Anything Without Glasses.

This is entirely fantastic: Watch London in 1924 & 2014 get combined into one time traveling video. Also, and these are stunning images: Chernobyl's Steel Radiation Shield Is the Biggest Moving Structure Ever.

From Sirius, and this is beautiful: "Silent Storms" (Northern lights compilation). Next, and Eli 12.8 will be watching as this as soon as he gets home from tennis practice, it's "Card control" demonstrated by Ricky Jay. One more, and this is quite an image: The path lightning takes through a cow.

From Chris Jones, and this is terrific: Jordin Tootoo gives away his stick. Also, and this little guy is famous now: a small, fierce Penguins fan.

From Wallace, and sadly, I don't think this surprises anyone: RIAA Claims That It Is 'Standing Up For' Older Musicians That It Actually Left To Rot.

From C. Lee, and this is fascinating: Mice get stressed out, feel less pain when male lab workers are present. Also, and you'll love this: What is Real? (Plato) - 8-Bit Philosophy.

Finishing up, from Mark H, and this is spectacular: A Single Drop of Seawater, Magnified 25 Times.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Chicken and Waffles (part two)

Eduardo X let me know that chicken and waffles were originally a German dish, believe it or not. He referenced a book on soul food that I just ordered, so I'll let you know the full story in a week or so.

Austin, the Shark, and Jumping

Austin is the fastest growing city in the country right now.

That sounds terribly exciting when you read it in a news story, and in some ways, it is exciting. It's exciting to live where there's so much opportunity, where every business is open and a new one opens up every day. Having been to Detroit the last two summers, watching the city battle its decline, I appreciate the energy that Austin has now.

Having said that, though, I think we've jumped the shark.

Remember that lovely field full of wildflowers where I took the photo a few weeks ago? Last Sunday, I drove by and saw this:

They were in such a hurry to bulldoze this field and put in some kind of business that they were paying Sunday rates. Couldn't even wait one day.

This is happening all over the city. I was driving toward Eli's school today, and in front of me was a cement truck. In front of that cement truck was another cement truck. Then there was an exit, and the second cement truck turned off toward a different destination.

The traffic is ungodly bad. I think we have the third worst traffic in the country now. In the "old days", one of the big advantages of living here was that the entire city was at your disposal. Now you live in a part of town and stay there as much as possible. In another five years, instead of a part of town being navigable, it will be down to neighborhoods.

So if you're thinking about moving here, there are still cool things about Austin, but most of them are being diluted and compromised because of the crazy rate of growth. And there's no going back.

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