Thursday, July 31, 2014

DQ Now On Auto-Pilot

The title says it all. Please enjoy your pre-recorded entertainment until I return.

Command and Control

If you wonder how we survived The Cold War and nuclear proliferation, after reading Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, I believe the correct answer would be "miraculous luck."

This book is an absolutely brilliant narrative documenting our absolutely spectacular series of blunders and near-disasters in managing and controlling our nuclear stockpile.

I'm also absolutely sure in saying that even though we were tremendously inept--and miraculously fortunate--the Russians were much, much worse. After reading this book, it is absolutely beyond comprehension how a nuclear device has never accidentally detonated.

The narrative is tremendously gripping, and this is a fine piece of writer's work. It's also worthwhile as a historical document. In short, if you have any interest in the nuclear weapons era, The Cold War, or even history in general, this is a terrific read.

Also, Cupcakes

Gloria made rainbow cupcakes for Eli's birthday:

Yes, those are multiple layers of color inside the cupcake itself. These are #1 for my next birthday, too.

Eli 13.0!

A fierce competitor, but still a kind and gentle person. And goofy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

EA Access

Well, this is interesting.

Electronic Arts announced yesterday that they are starting a program called "EA Access". Here's a description:
For a $US4.99 monthly fee, subscribers will get access to a library of EA games the company is calling “The Vault”. The announcement didn’t go into much detail about what games will be included in this collection. To start, EA said that it will offer four main games, all of which were released in 2013 or early 2014: FIFA 14, Peggle 2, Madden NFL 25 and Battlefield 4.

Additionally, subscribers will receive a ten per cent discount when purchasing any and all EA “digital content” on the Xbox One. That includes full games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and premium services like Battlefield 4 Premium.

Oh, and one more thing: EA Access subscribers will get early access to upcoming titles “up to five days before the release date.”

The service will cost $US4.99 on a month-to-month basis or $US29.99 for a full year’s subscription.

I haven't seen someone else mention this (which is why I'm willing to), but it appears that this is another step in the "games as services instead of products" model. That's where this is all headed, and ten years from now, I seriously doubt that games will even be sold in physical form anymore.

Remember, it's a service, not a product. In other words: it's not a discrete sale, it's a revenue stream.

Are you getting a good deal here?

Well, if there's even one game in "The Vault" that you would be willing to pay full price for, then it is indeed a bargain. Plus, EA has to offer games that are playable over the long term in order to entice subscribers to stay subscribed. That means the quality of games offered should be reasonably good.

I do see this as a gateway drug, though. You might be getting a good deal, in certain situations, but I think this deal is potentially much better for EA.

What's to stop EA from inserting a 30-second ad at the end of each quarter of a game in Madden? Nothing. Are they going to hound you to the ends of the earth about DLC? Hell, yes. This opens up doors for EA, and remember, since you're not buying a product, you won't be able to resell anything.

It may not be a bad thing, though. Would I pay $14.99 a month to have full access to EA's back catalog? Sure. If this initial test is successful, I can see subscription-based catalog access becoming a popular model for larger companies.

Plenty of yearly franchises are losing steam, and how many of them are worth $60 every year? Big companies are going to have to be more creative to get us to pony up.

In many ways, and I'm very sorry to see this, the marketing of the product has become much more important than the product itself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Sorry, it was going to be a very late post tonight anyway, but Eli 12.11 hurt his hip during warmups tonight for the last tryout session, so it's after 10 and he's still up. I'm exhausted and have hours of work to do tonight, so I'm going to take a rare weekday off from posting. Thanks for understanding and see you tomorrow.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #115: Surprises

As I was playing a game last week to test something or other, I saw the halftime stats clipboard displayed for the hundredth (or thousandth) time.

Something about this clipboard has always bothered me.

I've never done anything about it, though, because even though it bothered me, I didn't know why. It was functional, and I left it alone.

This time, though, I knew why.

What was wrong about this clipboard was that I had focused on the broadcast television aspect in the pregame show, then abandoned it at half-time. The clipboard bothered me because it was part of an inconsistent presentation package.

When I realized that, I had an idea.

So even though I was ass-deep in the new Team History Museum, it was time for a side project. Four days later, this was the result:

It's easier to read, much more dynamic in terms of presentation, and it has branding, with the TV network logo in the bottom right, and the league logo subtly in the background.

In spite of the side project, I still made good progress on the Team History Museum this week. Visually, it doesn't look that different now, but quite a bit of real data is being loaded and displayed now, instead of just using dummy data. Plus, the single-season display layout has almost been finalized. Take a look:

It's still dummy data for the player career totals-- I'm working on that later today-- but some of the team data is live (and "XCALC" marks the stats that aren't live yet).

Frederick is working on a bank of player portraits, and when you purchase a player in the off season, he will be assigned a portrait for the duration of his career.

This is going to be a challenging week, because goalie camp is coming up, team tryouts finished this week, and Eli 12.11 becomes Eli 13.0 on Thursday. Still, I need to have team history 90% finished before then so that the testers can start using it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Links!

From Daniel Wilhite, and this is some disturbing news about our old adversary kudzu:Invasive kudzu drives carbon out of the soil, into the atmosphere.

From Dave Schroeder, and this is a fascinating economics read: The Rise and Fall of Professional Bowling.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is mind-blowing: Thousands of leaked KGB files are now open to the public. Also, and this is stunning, it's Saharan remains may be evidence of first race war, 13,000 years ago.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is quite mesmerizing: She Takes A Photo: 6.5 Years.

From Scott Gould, and this is excellent: Watch How This Supermarket Got People To Buy Their Rubbish…

From Sirius, and this is quite beautiful: The first 1000 digits of pi.

From Rob, and this is best viewed on a PC: THEN & NOW: Watch Detroit change before your very eyes.

From Marc Klein, and this is a terrific read: The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine. Also, and I've known about this for years, it's What playfulness can do for you: research discovers the many benefits of being a goofball.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is such a moving story: Teenage son discovers his deceased father's ghost car in Xbox rally game.

From Meg Lawrence, and man, this is so beautiful: Permanent Link to This 144-Year-Old Wisteria In Japan Looks Like A Pink Sky.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is an entirely wonderful idea: Rejected (Disney) Princesses.

From Matthew Teets, and this was a noble endeavor: My 14-Hour Search for the End of TGI Friday's Endless Appetizers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

David Braben

David Braben said something extremely interesting in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He was asked about Star Citizen in relation to Elite: Dangerous, and this is what he said:
What’s great, actually, is that the more good games come out – especially in this – we’re moving the focus of the industry. If you look at the focus of our industry five years ago, it was on first-person shooters. Because there was conspicuous success from Call of Duty, we got Battlefield, loads of others, some of which were good, some of which were less good, and two of them have won out really strongly. I think what this now is doing is showing that there’s a latent demand for space games, and the more the merrier. 

Braben is absolutely correct when he references a latent demand for space games. There is a lot of latent demand in my study, at least, because I find the possibilities in space games infinitely more interesting.

I believe he's also correct when he talks about moving the focus of the industry. Corridor shooters are so inherently limited that they have seriously damaged, particularly on consoles, the quality and creativity levels of AAA games. Thank you, Activision.

Of course, because of that gigantic blockage, indie gaming has flourished beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

All I know is that the day Elite: Dangerous gets released, I will put on an Oculus Rift headset, and I may never leave.


Well, this is interesting.

Imogen Heap is part of a group who has developed a generative music app that will be available for purchase shortly. Here's how it works:
The Run-Time app generates a one-of-a-kind soundtrack for your run by recording ambient sound (your footsteps, your breathing, perhaps the chirping birds or honking cars in the background) and layering them onto an existing electronic track. Then, as you run, the app plays the song, adjusting the beats per minute so the music will automatically change tempo to match your running pace.

More details here.

I don't know if this app will actually be any good, but it does make me think about the future. Ten years from now, I see everyone walking around with headphones, listening to the soundtrack of their own life, which is generated as they simply live. I see music becoming more focused on a generative process via apps than something that is band-based. Transitive, like almost everything else is becoming. I don't like that idea, but I can see it happening.

In a more now sense, though, I find this kind of app as an exercise companion pretty irresistible. If it supported Bluetooth, I could theoretically use it when I swim. Borderline trance music seems like it would be highly conducive to extending exercise.

The fittest I've ever been in my life, though, was when I was listening to All Things Considered on headphones while I swam. The shows lasted an hour, and they were so engaging that I almost forgot I was exercising at all. So maybe I'm not the dreamy trance exercise guy after all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Literary Nature of Texts

We went to a water park on Sunday, a near-apocalypse for me. I swim many laps in water, but I do not "ride" things, as a rule. There were many, many people in this park, and most of them were wearing bathing suits that exposed a highly unattractive amount of flesh.

If aliens had a live camera feed of this park, they would be immediately persuaded not to invade.

My texts below are in bold. John's are italicized.

...surviving Schitterbaun* right now
*not its actual spelling

Be sure to have a minimum of 4-5 funnel cakes. Local statute requirement.

I'm in hell. Can't unsee the human flesh.

They likely did their part to adhere to Comal County Resolution 2013-36 (aka The Funnel Cake Statute), so be sure you do the same. Permanent county residency can be ordered by the court for repeat offenders, so we've never been willing to risk it and just chown down on funnel cakes as we should. I can still taste them...sugar-coated misery and despair.

You, sir, are the Hemingway of theme park descriptions.

"I can still taste them...sugar-coated misery and despair." That is absolutely magnificent.

Tony Dungy and Dog Whistle Politics

Tony Dungy, a highly intelligent ex-football coach who is well-respected and has a problem with homosexuals and their "lifestyle", gave an interview recently in which he said he wouldn't draft Michael Sam (ex-Missouri football player, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and openly homosexual) because it would be a "distraction".

A definition: Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is only used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathizing with racist or revolutionary attitudes. It is an analogy to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but is inaudible to humans.

Tony Dungy, who is African-American, was a college quarterback at Minnesota. He never had a chance to play quarterback in the NFL, because black athletes were only considered "effective" in certain positions at the time (1976). Having a black quarterback would have been a huge distraction--all the media coverage, all the questions.

Do you know why it took so long for the color barrier to be broken in some American team sports? Well, based on what club owners said at the time, it was because drafting a Negro player would be too much of a "distraction".

Renting houses to African-American families in all-white neighborhoods? Sorry, it's not you, it's just that you would be a distraction in all-white neighborhood. Nothing personal, mind you.

"Distraction" is a magic word. It means not being fair because fair would be too inconvenient. It's a dog whistle.

Michael Sam's prospects as an NFL player can be challenged because his speed may not be considered adequate (although if you look at this list of former SEC Defensive Players of the Year, it's difficult to imagine that he couldn't contribute to a team), but a "distraction"?

That's just sad.

Even better, Tony Dungy was the leader of the Michael Vick Redemption Tour after Vick was released from prison. Vick was convicted of participating in an interstate dogfighting ring (the details were absolutely brutal). Michael Vick wasn't a distraction?

I will say it's encouraging that Dungy is getting so much flack over his comments. That's a start.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Golf Club

I tried out a recent build of The Golf Club a few days ago, and I was impressed. Everything plays more smoothly, the game looks better (believe it or not), and I only had one beef.


For some reason, and this was a curse with recent versions of Tiger Woods as well, there's a distinct lack of proportionality between how far your golfer takes the club back to putt and how far a real golfer would take the club back on a real-world putt. It's much further in the game, and that makes putting feel quite wooden, not ultra-precise as it should be.

Like I said, there are quite a few golf games that have this problem. But some games have done it perfectly (Headgate's PGA Championship 2000 and several of their Tiger Woods versions come to mind), so it's certainly doable.

The game has been submitted to Sony and Microsoft for certification, and you can already buy "early access" (near-final, at this point) on Steam. If you enjoy golf games, I would highly recommend it, with the putting caveat.

Moon Stuff and Whatnot

I heard something astonishing about the first walk on the moon yesterday. On the Dan Patrick Show, it was mentioned that the U.S. television broadcast of the moon walk got a 93% share.

All three major networks at the time (CBS, NBC, ABC) were broadcasting the feed simultaneously, and there was no cable television at the time, so the size of that number is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is that 7% of the televisions were tuned to UHF stations and watching something else at the time.

Seriously,  7% people? Too busy watching Mr. Ed reruns to see someone walk on the moon? Staggering.

My fondness for Buzz Aldrin's Race into Space is well-documented. It's also well documented that I have high hopes for Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager, which has been in development for a while now. Owen Faraday of the indispensable Pocket Tactics noted yesterday that Slitherine has announced an official release date: October 31. Owen's post is here, and he also noted that the game is basically coming out on everything (iOS, Android, and PC).

Can't wait.

Now, moving on to the "whatnot" category, I had an enormous amount of fun a few years ago with a game called Triple Town. Finally, Spry Fox's next game is ready for release, and it's called Road Not Taken. Here's a description:
Road Not Taken is a roguelike puzzle game about surviving life’s surprises. You play as a ranger adventuring through a vast, unforgiving forest in the aftermath of a brutal winter storm, rescuing children who have lost their way. Procedurally-generated levels deliver a limitless supply of possibilities to explore and challenges to overcome. Your actions will influence not only your own story, but that of the villagers you hope to befriend and the town you call home.

Okay, that sounds like 100% in to me (7% greater than 93%, by the way). August 5 on Steam and PlayStation 4, and coming to Vita this fall. Game site: Road Not Taken.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire # 114: Team History Progress

The new Team History Museum has made considerable progress in the last week. Here's a screenshot:

That's obviously still rough, but quite a few changes have taken place. You can see full texturing on the individual season books now. Those player portraits are placeholders, but you can get a general look at what the wall of honor is supposed to look like. Plus, I'm going to do a dynamic layout so that depending on the number of players on the wall of honor, the size and location of their portraits will change.

Also, instead of the individual season books leading nowhere, they're actually hooked up to some data now. Not all fields are working, and there is a ton left to do, but you can see the preliminary season display layout below:

Basically, on the left you have teams season stats, and on the right you have career totals for your currently active, named players. You can see that the player panel layout is sloppy right now, and the portraits are placeholders, but you can see the basic concept.

And yes, I am actually calculating a quarterback's QBR using the official NFL formula.

I'd like to include a few simple graphs (like run-pass ratio), but I don't think I have enough room.

Those little footballs for navigation are going to be replaced with little books with arrows on them, so that you can go from season to season without going back to the bookshelf.

My target is to have this in the hands of the testers, fully functional, by August 1. That may be a bit ambitious, but that's the schedule.

In terms of ambition, I noticed something interesting this week. The Wall of Honor is quite a rabbit hole, because you can go into so much detail and make it so elaborate with selection criteria and displaying all kinds of statistics. The problem, though, is that it's not time efficient at all, because players will only be inducted if they have exceptional careers, and that will take multiple seasons (probably 4+) to happen. I'm putting in a ton of fun time working on this one feature, but in the larger scheme of things, it's not very important. So to hopefully finish a version of this by the end of the month, I'm going to delay the Wall of Honor portraits and coding until the basic version is complete. That basic version will have the enhanced season display, the bookshelf, and Gridiron Bowl trophy display.

And a security guard. Don't forget about him.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Links!

From Scott Gould and this is stunning: On The Roofs: Hong Kong.

From C. Lee, and this is a tremendous story: Japanese baseball hopeful makes a pitch for glory. Also, and this is thought-provoking, it's 5 Reasons Conspiracy Theories Are Destroying the World.

From Chris Penn says, and this is an excellent way to spend part of an afternoon, watching these short films: James Brown Stars in "Beat the Devil", One of 8 Films in the Pioneering BMW Film Series, "The Hire" (2002).

From Sirius, and this is quite amazing: The Changyuraptor yangi: A 125-million-years-old flying dinosaur with four wings. Also, and this entirely baffles me: Blackest is the new black: Scientists develop a material so dark that you can't see it...

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is an ongoing release of videos:Weird Al's Latest Album, Mandatory Fun.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is a brilliant, brilliant essay: The 3 Scariest Words A Boy Can Hear. Also (and this link is from her husband), and this is a great bit of SEC history, it's Before the creation of SEC football media days, there were the Skywriters.

From Michael Gilbert, and everyone will want to read this: The world's most beloved loser: Globetrotters legend Red Klotz (of Margate) passes at 93.

from Jonathan Arnold, and this is a fascinating story: Busy NYC Restaurant Solves Major Mystery by Reviewing Old Surveillance.

From Craig Miller, and this is just crazy: Holy Carp! Watch These Planes Bomb Lakes With Live Fish.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this guy qualifies for the Badass Hall of Fame: Robert Smalls.

From Michael M., and this is absolutely amazing: America’s Pink Tower of Oz: A Mysterious Marble Marvel.

From Tim Steffes, and this is a fantastic read: Where Online Services Go When They Die: Rebuilding Prodigy, one screen at a time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Well, I Sort Of Expected That

Here's a headline I just saw over at NBC News:
Malaysia Airline Jet Was Built Not To Crash, Expert Says

Wait, aren't all jets built not to crash? I would think that a list of design priorities for all airplanes would include "not crashing" in the very first tier. It should be tightly coupled with "fly".

Early Access (your comments)

Matt Solomon had a very thoughtful perspective on this:
As games increasingly move to services, and for games that aren't heavily narrative focused, early access going to be a very prevalent thing. The idea of a game being complete before it launches is not going to make a ton of sense. Look at how much Minecraft has changed despite coming out of beta, or how, even though your own Gridiron Solitaire is a proper launched title, it's still getting significant feature updates months after release.

Even though Early Access is in an even rougher state, launch is no longer a guarantee of completeness. You don't get to play the 'full' game unless you play it for months as it evolves, or you wait a very long time in some cases. 

There's more of a demand for engagement from both the player and the developer under this model, and that has its positives and negatives. It can be a bit exhausting, and it makes it harder to have a lot of diverse interests at the same time. It's a very different way of interacting with games. I don't think it's going to be the only way things get made, but because it stimulates a much stronger sense of buy in and community, it's an important way of making things.

The Lightbender

Jeremy Gordon (DQ reader) sent me a book a few weeks ago. His book.

I didn't know what to expect.

What I absolutely didn't expect was for the book to be wonderful. It's a science fiction novel for young adults, and it's one of the most imaginative, thoughtful works of fiction I've read in a long time. It's just a damned good story, and I read the entire book in two days.

What makes this so special? Well, for one, it's warm. There's a feeling of warmth that pervades the entire book, and it's a pleasure. The writing style is airy and expansive, which is very unique to this genre. The writing style is also supple, and deft. I was continually surprised by the cleverness of the narrative.

Well, that's enough. No spoilers. You should just read the damn thing. Here's the Amazon link: The Lightbender.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, Kickstarter, and Steam Early Access

There's an excellent interview over at RPS with David Braben, legendary developer of the Elite series.

What struck me throughout the interview was how relaxed Braben was with the progress of development and the current state of the game. Everything I've heard from people who have played the beta has been stellar. Well, more than stellar, really--everyone is out of their mind over this game.

There's nothing I'd rather play, so this is very good news for me. Appointment gaming, as soon as it's released, and I don't do that very often anymore.

What impresses me most about this project is that with a budget of roughly $3 million, the game--while still hugely ambitious--seems to fit inside its budget.

It's an old rule of project management: if you want to finish a project sooner, you basically have two options. You can either increase resources, or you can reduce scope. This project has done neither, and still seems to be entirely under control, which is incredibly impressive.

That interview made me think about Star Citizen.

Star Citizen is Chris Roberts' (Wing Commander) epic space opera, now crowdfunded to the tune of over $48 million. Incredible!

I also think, in this case, that $48 million is a curse.

There are pages of stretch goals. The original plan for the game must have expanded to almost comic proportions, given the influx of funding. Managing that expansion could be far more difficult than producing the original game.

Chris Roberts may be a genius as a designer and a developer. But now he also needs to be a genius in project management, and that's an entirely different skill set.

I'm quite certain that Elite: Dangerous is going to be fantastic. I would be stunned if Star Citizen is as well.

Insert your own segue here. I don't really have one.

I think Steam Early Access is a tremendous way for developers to get additional funding for their mostly-completed game, as well as getting essential feedback from a much larger player base than a traditional beta test can provide.

Conceptually, I love the idea.

In practice, it drives me nuts. Every week I see something I want to play that just got released--but it's an Early Access alpha, and it won't be done for another six to nine months.


I want to play game X, but I want to play the full version. I probably won't play it for months, seeing additional base content and bug fixes added as it slowly nears its release version.

All those Early Access games are just sitting on the Steam store, taunting me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Eli 12.11

Sorry for the late start. Hockey tryouts.

In October of 2012, I wrote this: Eli 11.2 is now 4'11 3/4" tall. 75 lbs. 20/10 vision. Reaction time of a superhero.

In twenty-one months, quite a lot has changed. For one, he's taller than Gloria now.

He's 5'5 1/2. 100 pounds. Still has 20/10 vision. Still has the reaction time of a superhero.

That's almost six inches in height in less than two years.

Remember how he went to rock gym camp every summer? He still does, and now he's climbing V3 bouldering routes. If you're wondering how hard that is, just have a look at the video below. He's either upside down are climbing at an inverted angle for a minute, which is how long it takes to climb the entire route (note: the beginning of this is dark, so you might want to full-screen for a better view).

I don't know how many twelve-year-olds can do that, but I know it's not many.

It's also been a long time since you've seen a hockey video. Here's a coach (someone he works with quite a bit, who is also a very cool guy) shooting on him.

I'll have more next week, but he's been working his butt off this summer, trying to get quicker and stronger, and it's working. We've gone off the grid down here, to a degree, but it seems like our approach is having a positive effect.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #113: The Evolution of Team History

Let's look at the old Team History Screen:

You can click on the image for a larger view.

I just simmed through a season to generate some data, so you'll see that all the "played" stat categories are empty. You can get a general idea of how the design works, though: one card for each season, and a card for Franchise History. So you get up to five seasons plus the Franchise History card on the same screen.

I've always liked that screen. The problem, though, is that I want to track more stats, and I want to tie stats to player names as well as to teams, so if I want to do all of that, I need a much bigger display area for each season.

Plus, somehow this design just feels insubstantial. There's no sense of place, is there? The user might have played all 15 games of their season, and all they get is this card?

Yes, redesigning this screen would be a lot of work, but I'd be rewarding the people who spend the most time with the game. To me, that's exactly what I should be doing.

I started discussing this with Fredrik, and I'm going to show you the evolution of the idea, and where we are now.

First, I mentioned to Fredrik that I wanted a "book" for each season (so the bookshelves fill up with season books over the years), and a place to display championship trophies. Plus I thought it would be funny to have a character in the room who aged over time. Fredrik sent back this:

He added a window so that the passing of seasons could be shown. That's a wonderful idea that blew me away.

I wanted a place to display the team name, and that wasn't in the first sketch. Plus--and I can't remember which one of us suggested this--we decided on having portraits of the players were were the best in franchise history (and they'll be selectable, with a pop-up to show you their career stats). So here's version two:

I wanted a bigger window. I wanted a big, expansive feeling in the room.

We went back and forth through a few more iterations, repositioning elements, then reached here:

Okay, I like the size of that window, and I like how it opens up the room. Unfortunately, I realized that I wouldn't be able to accurately identify the correct weather profile for every team, because the user could use cities that weren't in the weather database. Showing a snow background for a city where it doesn't snow, or even fall foliage for a city in Arizona, would totally break the immersion. In the future, there may be 12-15 weather profiles assignable to a user-customized team, but that doesn't exist yet, so the window had to go. Arghh.

I felt like after this last sketch that we were really going sideways, or even backwards. So we decided to set priorities for what was most important to display, then build the sketch with those priorities in mind.

After at least ten sketches in total, Fredrik sent me this:

Here's how this works (and some colors might change, or elements, but this is the basic final design:
In the background, team color/name will be striped at the top and bottom of the inset portion of the wall. In-between, the best players in Franchise history will have their portraits displayed. So the top/bottom team colors act as a frame for the player portraits, which I really like. I wanted the team name and colors to have a strong branding identity on this screen, and I think this design will accomplish that.

There's also going to be a pedestal on the left side of the room, with the Franchise record book on the pedestal (and a spotlight shining softly on the book).

I'm still not sure about the white table--that color or design might change--but that's where the trophies go.

We're still in the big middle of this, so it's like moving into a room where everything is in disarray. But in Visual Studio, I'm adding elements, and here's where I am now:

I know what you're thinking: holy crap, that's a mess. And you'd be right, but remember, I'm just moving in to the room. Here's what still has to be done
1. Third row of ten books aligned, and the temporary texture added. Replace with final textures when available.
2. Decide on the trophy display area. Right now, I have a layout where no matter how many championships are won, the display of those trophies is symmetrical, but I'm still not satisifed.
3. The little red book on the table is moving to its own pedestal.
4. I like the basic idea of the team name and colors, but man, that looks terrible. I have to come up with some kind of gradient or texture to make the colors less harsh. I think it's the right concept, but not the right execution yet.
5. Those yellow rectangles are placeholders for individual player portraits, which have to be added.
6. Security guard needs to be added.

Of course, when this is all visually correct, it's only half done, because I have to do the code-behind. Surprisingly, though, the code-behind isn't going to be brutal. I've already done some of these things in the existing code.

What I really like about this new screen is the high level of interactivity. You can select a season, or a player, or franchise records. You can dive into some serious data, and there's a much stronger sense of history as your franchise ages. There's going to be a nice sense of the progression of time. It will be a nice reward for the people who spend the most time with the game.

It's still quite a ways (probably three weeks) from being complete and ready for testing, but I wanted you guys to get a sense for how iterative the process is when working with a new idea like this. Fredrik is unbelievably skilled in generating sketches and incorporating feedback, and it always winds up being considerably better than my original idea, thanks to him.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Holy Crap

LeBron is going back to Cleveland.

Friday Links!

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, And this is a terrific read, it's Confessions Of A US Navy P-3 Orion Maritime Patrol Pilot. Next, and this is thought-provoking, it's The Ping-Pong Theory of Tech Sexism. One more, and it's both incredibly funny and entirely inappropriate (If you object to bear-woman romance, go no further): Bear.

From Michael O'Reilly, and this is utterly fascinating, it's "You're Just Gonna Be Nice": How Players Engage With Moral Choice Systems.

From Chris, and this is entirely bizarre, a RadioLab Podcast about electrical stimulation of the brain via low-voltage electrodes: 9-Volt Nirvana. Whoa.

From Dan Willhite, and this is quite fantastic, it's These bricks are like Lego for full-sized buildings. Also, and this is definitely not true for me, it's Men would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly.

From Matt Kreuch, and is there anything better than a shark prank. Have a look: Woman falls on her butt after scary prank shark attack.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is incredibly interesting but also quite dark: A Primer on Match Fixing in the Wake of the Cameroon World Cup Allegations.

From Sirius, and this is awesome: Swallows have learned to open parking garage doors.

From Wallace, and this is both funny and NSFW: Dirtbag John Milton.

From Simon Jones, and this is a terrific read: A Quest for the Secret Origins of Lost Video-Game Levels. Also, here's an interesting look at how technology is shaping the White House: In President Obama’s White House, some traditions give way to modern technology.

From C. Lee, and I have no words, it's The CIA style guide goes online: now you can learn to write like a spy.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this story, like everything about North Korea, is downright bizarre: The Hermit Kingdom: An Inside View Of North Korea's Hidden Car Culture.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Like I said last week, there's a big photo backlog.

That is not me, although I can see how you would be confused.

I did not purchase this next product, although I do admire their style:

Gloria and Eli 12.11 were at a park in Shreveport a few weeks ago, and she sent me this:

They didn't know where he got the candy, and I know it's not good for him, but talk about a windfall.

We went out of town for two scrimmages last month, and at the ice rink, we saw this:

Eli had two strong games (allowing one goal in each), and each time he skated off, I said "Well, you certainly are an Ice Skater Princess!"

Finally, when we were in San Diego, we stayed at a place that has a miniature golf course--with real grass. And it's beautiful, as you can see in the picture below.

Of course, everything's beautiful in San Diego.

A Curious Incident

The setup: a giant, absolutely giant bit of grapevine in Gloria's garden, strangling the fence and quite a few paying customer plants. The grapevine resides just beyond our back fence, in a small gap between a riot of fences.

#1 A ladder.

#2 Those hooks? A boat ladder.

#3 Gloria, although I failed to capture her hat in the picture. It's somewhere in the #3 circle, though, just out of view. As is Gloria.

Rube Goldberg sequence of events:
--put ladder on this side of fence.
--climb ladder while carrying boat ladder.
--put boat ladder on other side of fence.
--climb from regular ladder over fence onto boat ladder, thus escaping into the between-fence jungle.
--attack the unholy overgrowth. Repeat. Repeat.
--reverse climbing sequence.
--escape alive, if possible.

I've been on the other side of that fence, a decade ago. Bad things. Very bad things.


Man, I am so, so far behind on book recommendations. Let's remedy that, to a degree.

Eddie & The Gun Girl
Remember The Natural? Remember how Robert Redford got shot? That was based on a real incident involving Philadelphia Phillies All-Star first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1949, and it's stranger than fiction, so to speak. This is written by Mark Kram, Jr., who also wrote the award-winning
Like Any Normal Day, and it's an engaging, interesting read.

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
This is a brilliant book, but it's a difficult read because much of the subject matter is downright painful. If you want to truly understand what's happening in American politics today, though, it's very much worth your time. It's a clear examination of how coded racial messages are embedded in political speech. Yeah, that's depressing, but it's important to grasp.

The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final
I still remember how exhilarating it was to see this race. It was a brilliant, timeless moment, maybe a bit less timeless after seven of the eight finalists eventually tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. It certainly captures a drug-drenched era, though, one that track and field is still struggling mightily to recover from.

If you think you can't learn anything new about this race, or its participants, you are very, very wrong. This is a phenomenal read.

The Princess Bride
Can you believe I'd never read this? It's wonderful, even more so than the movie (which is one of my favorite films ever). That's the highest compliment I can provide.

Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll 
Yes, this is an autobiography of the Wilson sisters, better known as Heart. Hey, I still love their music, and if you enjoy rock group bios, this is entirely entertaining. It's also quite a revelation to read about how difficult it was for women to break into rock 'n roll.

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
I'm going to recommend this book with an asterisk. The information it contains is impeccable, and it's a terrific chronicle of the early years of the console wars. However, the dialogue as written is entirely unnatural (seriously, it drove me crazy). If you can get past that, it's a nice bit of gaming history, and well worth reading.

Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline
I still find Patsy Cline's music entirely beautiful, almost hypnotic, but I knew almost nothing about her until I read this book. She was a larger-than-life character in almost every way,  and this is a fascinating biography. Stormy relationships, a huge heart, a maniacal work ethic-- a fascinating character, in short, and this is an excellent treatment, both from a research and writing standpoint.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress 0.40.01 was released today, which is the first new version in two years, and it's available here.

Dwarf Fortress is one of the most astonishing, amazing creative projects ever attempted. And I don't just mean in gaming--it's astonishing compared to anything, anywhere.

Attending University

A few years ago, and I may have written about this, Eli 9.6 was worried about one of his grades in school, and he burst out with, "I'm going to wind up in clown college!"

At that moment, be believed that clown college was a thing. Not vocational training for aspiring professional clowns, but where the poor students went.

This has lived on long past its initial airing, and fondly. So when Eli 12. 8 mentioned clown college a few weeks ago, I said, "Are you kidding? With those feet? You'd be given a hero's welcome!"

Then Gloria sent me this:

At least we know where to stay when we come for graduation.

One Sentence Short Stories #4

I should not have worn a wire.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire: 1.1 and the Future

First off, here are the main features of 1.1 (taken from the patch notes):
1. Revised Gameplay Balance
Run matches are now worth 3 yards, not 4. This means that you can no longer use the run-heavy, predictable offense that was effective in previous versions. There must be much more balance now to be successful.
2. Kickoffs (new feature)
Kickoffs auto-resolve and are based on Human/CPU Special Teams rating. Closely models real NFL data for 2013 season.
3. Punts
Punts are now based on real NFL data, including chances of punts being downed inside the 20.
NOTE: The addition of kickoffs/punts has greatly increased the importance of the Special Teams rating.
Also, you can now gain Big Play presses on defense if you down a punt inside the 15-yard line.
4. Penalty Cards (new feature)
A penalty card will block its card stack unless matched with a wild card. Frequency is affected by Human rating for active play type.
5. Big Images (new feature)
There's a new presentation system to enhance the in-game excitement. On certain plays, "Big Images" are shown instead of the smaller referee cards. There's also a huddle now.
6. 2X Small Headlines
There are now twice as many possible headlines for the small story images on the left side of the newspaper.
7. Offseason AI
Instead of two possible team strategies during the offseason, there are now eight, and the criteria for changing strategies is more robust.
8. Offseason News Ticker (new feature)
After the offseason broadcast, you'll see a news ticker announcing coaching changes along with team strategy changes.

There's quite a bit more in the patch, but those are the headline items.

No bugs reported so far, which is good. I felt like this was a very stable build, and it was heavily tested.

I'm very pleased with how few bugs there have been in the game in general, but it's been done with brute force, not clever programming. So it's possible to write crappy code and then test it to death to fix everything, and if you're exceedingly patient (or stubborn), that will work. Far, far smarter would be to write code that is more logically planned upfront and therefore easier to test. 

I've learned that there's a big, big difference between being able to write code and being a coder. I made so many foolish upstream decisions that multiplied the time I had to spend downstream.  

I started layout for the new Team History screen yesterday (yes, I took a day off on Saturday after releasing the new version, but I'm not much of a celebrator, really). Immediately, though, I could see that my original idea wasn't working. 

The basic premise is that there would be a Team History book, and the user would select a season from one of the book "tabs". The problem, though, is that it could contain up to 30 seasons of data, and--to put it mildly--that's a lot of buttons. 

I know from past experience that when something isn't working, it's because I have the wrong idea. The good ideas work right away, generally. 

Still, though, I tried triage, reaching out for feedback. Fredrik was going to do a mock-up. Garret had a nice suggestion about a button per decade, then sub-buttons to pick the individual season. While I was thinking about that, though, I realized that what he said had given me a new idea entirely.

Now, I'm going to explain the new idea and you're going to think "How in the hell did "A" lead to "B"?" I don't know, but that's what happened. 

Here's the new idea: a team history museum. 

The reason the book idea wasn't working: thirty years of history was just too much to encompass in a single book. It shortchanged all the effort the user puts in, which is bad design. I should be doing everything I can to create a "place" to display team history that feels tangible. 

Here's how I see this in my mind: in the back of the room, the best players in franchise history will have their portraits displayed, and you can select them to see their career statistics. In the front of the room (the focal point), there will be a display area for Gridiron Bowl trophies, plus a Franchise Records book (selectable) and a Hall of Fame book (also selectable).

For individual seasons, there are two ways I could go. I could use one book for each decade, or I could put each season into its own "book" on a bookshelf, and the bookshelf is selectable. Then you would see individual volumes in a close-up of the bookshelf and could select any season you want. 

I like the bookshelf because a new volume would get added each year, so each season you play, something of substance is added.

Also, there will be a museum attendant, and as you play more and more seasons, he'll age. He'll start off as a goofy guy with a goatee and lots of hair. By the 30th season, he'll have a combover, glasses, and no goatee. 

This should take 3-4 weeks to put in (I think).

Friday, July 04, 2014

Friday Links!

We are traditionally light on links on the week of July 4th, and this year is no different.

From John Sullivan, and this is fascinating, it's a legal haunting: Stambovsky v. Ackley.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and these are fantastic, it's 8 Theme Parks We Really Can't Believe Exist.

From Matt Kreuch, and this is amazing: No landing gear at sea? No problem for this Marine pilot..

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these are beautiful but absolutely NSFW: The Last Japanese Mermaids. Boobies plus a fascinating story! Also, and how appropriate to have a hawk-related link this week, it's Rufus - The Real Hawk-Eye. Next, and this is remarkable, it's The Secret Of The Abandoned Fish Mall.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is a terrific read: The Fermi Paradox.

From Sirius, and I had no idea: The depth of the problem: finding Flight 370. Also, and this is spectacular: Upward lightning.

Probably a good idea that they changed it: Pepsi was originally called "Brad's Drink".

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire 1.1!

Finally. Now live on Steam.

Patch notes in the Steam forum here: GS Steam forum.


Well, it's been a while, and a ton of these have piled up, so pictures.

We went to San Diego a few weeks ago (I know--can't believe I haven't written about it yet), and one of the places we visited was the Point Loma Lighthouse.

Interesting fact about lighthouses: it was widely believed that the isolation of living in a lighthouse drove men insane at a very high rate. As it turns out, though, it was that the fresnel lenses are supported on a bath of mercury.


High mercury exposure (from basic maintenance) over time? Madness.

Here are a few pictures that give information about the lightouse and its history (and lighthouses in general). You'll have to click on these images to get a larger version for reading the text, but it's totally worth it.

This will explain how a lighthouse works (hence the "How a Lighthouse Works" title:

This is a big-ass lense:

Information about lense sizes:

Daily routines:

An even bigger-ass lense:

Here was the view from near the lighthouse, and yes, that's a submarine:

I may do a picture post a week for a few weeks. Still have lots and lots to show you.

One Sentence Short Stories #3

Fast Eddie had a switchblade that he twirled like a baton with the blade opened.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Hawk

I thought I told this story months ago, but I saw it today on one of my post subject lists, and I can't find it in the archives, so I guess it's time.

I hang out at a restaurant near Eli's school on days when I'm picking him up, spending some time testing Girdiron Solitaire and working on design.

I walked out of there on a Friday afternoon, ready to head over to school, and I saw a hawk. On top of an SUV.

This was very, very odd. Hawks don't just hang out on top of cars.

Up close, it's easy to see that hawks are damned impressive, physically. They're big and powerful. Intimidating.

I noticed then that there were two other people in the parking lot, and they were watching.

Then I saw the bird under the SUV.

It was a small bird, a sparrow. It was either injured or flew under the SUV in desperation to avoid the hawk. It just stood there, in the shadow of the SUV, and the hawk stood on top, waiting.

This wasn't going to end well for anyone but the hawk, obviously.

It was mesmerizing, really, and powerful.

I was running out of time, because I needed to get to school, but somehow I couldn't leave. Just before the moment when I absolutely had to drive off, the little bird took off, flying in a ragged pattern toward a parking garage a block away.

When I last saw the bird, the hawk was only ten feet away and gaining.

Like I said, we all know how this ended.

When I picked up Eli 12.9 (then) from school, we talked about his day, like we always do, and then I told him the story about the hawk. He was mesmerized, just like I was when I saw it happen. When I was done, I said, "Now what do you expect me to say about the moral here?"

There's always a moral.

"That you have to be strong and powerful, because you want to be a hawk, not a sparrow," he said with certainly.

"Wrong," I said, and his face arched up in surprise. "What I'm going to say is that you don't have to be the hawk. There are many wonderful, successful people in the world who are not hawks. They help the sparrow, and they still reach all their goals."

"You don't have to be the hawk," he said quietly, with a little smile. "I did not see that coming."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Surface Pro 3

I'm typing this on the Surface Pro 3, so it's a good time for a review.

First, though, a couple of caveats. For now, this is a "light productivity" machine: blog posts, checking e-mail, etc. This is quite a powerful machine, but I'm barely scratching the surface of its power. Second, I use this to test Gridiron Solitaire, because I can easily convert to the tablet form factor, and Windows 8 supports touch automatically, so GS is fully playable.

Given those usage limitations, let me tell you what I've found so far.

I had a rocky start, at first. After a day or so of very pleasant use, I couldn't get it to wake up. Given that this is Microsoft, they don't get the benefit of the doubt on hardware issues, so I thought I had a dud. DQ XAML Advisor Scott Ray, though, told me there was a firmware update available that fixed the problem, and he was right.

Other than that, I've had no issues at all.

The primary appeal of the Surface, for me, is that I can go from desktop productivity to a tablet (and vice versa) in less than five seconds. The keyboard attachment is an example of the design polish evident everywhere--it attaches with the help of a magnet, so when it's close to the base, it latches on with a satisfying and decisive "thunk" (that may not be the right sound effect, but you know what I mean). That may not seem like much, but it's one of fiddly bits that would drive me crazy if it wasn't done correctly.

The power connector has a magnetic component as well. It's incredibly convenient and easy to use.

The pen is another example of polish, as it feels great in my hand and works flawlessly. Having said that, I don't even use it much, because simple touch also works flawlessly, and for my current purposes, I don't need the pen.

The keyboard attachment, and the keyboard itself, are not as satisfying. The keyboard's tactile response would fall into the "adequate" category--it works fine, but it's not anything you would fall in love with. Compared to other detachable keyboards, though, I would rate it highly. And the detachable nature of the keyboard is essential to the tremendous flexibility of the base.

The upside of this keyboard is that it's incredibly light, and the entire device feels like a relative feather. Plus, because of how the Surface is classified as a tablet by the government, you don't need to take it out of your bag when going through airport security. Another little thing, but a nice benefit.

In case you're wondering how the keyboard and base "combine" into a laptop, it's with the assistance of a very versatile tilt stand built into the base.  It can be adjusted in almost infinite ways, and it's also very helpful when using the base as a tablet.

The display is 3x2, not 16x9, and it "feels" big. It's also razor sharp and a real pleasure to use. The downside of a 3x2 display is that you won't be playing some games in fullscreen (like GS) because the graphics would look a little odd. I'm still able to play GS in a window that's plenty big, though. I could also download Steam and play games from my Steam library (I think that takes a little thingamajiggery, potentially, but it's entirely doable).

Here's an example of the convenient versatility of the Surface: I'm typing this post now. When I'm done, I'll detach the keyboard and be playing GS in the tablet form factor in about five seconds.

So it's beautiful, it's flexible, and it's versatile. It may not be the best device if you want the productivity of a dedicated notebook, but if you want a tablet with the bonus of Windows desktop functionality, it can't be beat.

One Sentence Short Stories #2

He wore a cape to the job interview.

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