Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Wallace, a thoughtful and fascinating article: Survivorship Bias. It's brilliant.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is oh so beautiful, it's Tokyo City Symphony. Also, and these are beautiful as well, it's RGB Murals that Transform under Different Colored Lights. Next, and this is entirely remarkable, it's Rare Photos of the Statue of Liberty Being Built in 1883. Next, and this is crazy, it's Mine-seeking dolphins make historic discovery. Also, and this is an article about a documentary (and a subject we've discussed before): Ghost Army: The Inflatable Tanks That Fooled Hitler. Okay, last one, and it's Disney's vision of Mars in 1954.

From Steven Davis, and this is brilliant: Carpenter carves functioning watches entirely from wood. Also, and this is fantastic (holy crap, 3D printing is a disruptive technology): Anti-Gravity Object Modeling: “Mataerial” is a Robot That Draws Sculptures in 3D.

From Robert Nicewander, and holy crap: This 23-Ton, 5.3-Million-Brick X-Wing Is the Biggest Lego Model Ever.

From Sirius, and this is totally fascinating: Tornados producing a "dead man walking".

From Kez, and these pictures are just stunning: Incredible Images Of Teenage Freight Train Hitchhikers. Next, and I think this definitely needs to be put into a game, it's This century-old abandoned ship now hosts a floating forest.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is remarkable: Global Connectivity Revisited: Mapping out 58,288 Flight Routes. And more: In pictures: Global flight paths.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is nothing short of stunning: Russian scientists make rare find of 'blood' in mammoth.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Used Games (Associated Notes)

We haven't talked about game rentals yet, but in terms of Xbox One games, they're finished.

Gamefly? Done. They'll push the previous generation for as along as they can, and offer Wii U games, but the fuse has been lit.

And if you're getting all excited about the PS4 and renting games, or thinking they're different from Microsoft, you might want to wait until Sony announces specifics, because they're being even more vague than Microsoft. I don't expect Sony's details to be substantially more consumer-friendly than Microsoft.

If they are, it will make the decision to purchase an easy one.

Here's what I see that I don't like. The PS2 was inexpensive and accessible to everyone, and Sony made a fortune. The Wii was inexpensive and accessible to everyone, and Nintendo made a fortune.

Does being inexpensive and accessible guarantee success? Of course not. It certainly didn't work for the Dreamcast (damn it). But does being expensive and inaccessible preclude success? I think you can make that argument, if by "success" you mean financially.

Remember how Sony famously called the PS3 an "aspirational" product? [Note: anyone who says their gaming console is "aspirational" should be fired immediately, and then fired a second time.] Many of the things Microsoft is posturing now remind me of things Sony said before the launch of the PS3. I think Microsoft is positioning the Xbox One as a borderline "elite" product. Less mass-market, more exclusive.

Don't like that.

Dennis Bond sent me an article today about a demographic I mentioned recently: the people who only use 3G/4G to access the Internet. I thought it was a small demographic, but The Rise of the Mobile-Only User (Harvard Business Review) corrects that misconception:
Young adults: 50 percent of teen smartphone owners, aged 12-17, say they use the internet mostly on their cell phone, according to a 2013 Pew Internet report on Teens and Technology. Similarly, 45 percent of young adults aged 18-29 reported in 2012 that they mostly go online with a mobile device.

Black and Hispanic adults: 51 percent of black Americans and 42 percent of Hispanic Americans who use a mobile device to access the internet say that's the primary way they go online — about double the 24 percent of white Americans who say they rely on their mobile devices for access.

Low-income adults: People whose household income is less than $30,000 per year and people with less than a college education are also more likely to rely on their mobile devices for access — about 40 percent of people in these groups say they primarily use their cell phone to go online. 

Maybe Microsoft has some kind of way to accommodate the people who only have mobile broadband access. They don't have a way to accommodate people with no broadband access, though.

Here's a pro-Microsoft perspective: the mass-market console is dead. It can't be revived. The market itself has been ripped apart, and what's re-formed is a substantially smaller market that wants a higher-end product. The only way to survive is to ignore the fish and focus on the whales.

Here's the thing, though: there will always be many, many more fish than whales. Many, many more.

How did Microsoft make its fortune? With fish.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Used Games: Reading and Discussion

There are two terrific articles about the used game market that came out recently.

First, from Chris Kohler: Study: Killing Used Games Could Be Profitable, or Suicide. Chris discusses an academic study of the Japanese used game market by Masakazu Ishihara of the New York University Stern School of Business and Andrew Ching of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Unique to this study, they located much, much more precise data than has been available previously, given that Media Create tracks used game sales and purchases in Japan. So there's a precision to this study and a precision to the data that was previously lacking.

To be fair, I can't assess whether this academic study uses sound methodology. It's incredibly dense and uses mathematics at a level that is on another planet as far as my experience is concerned. It does appear to be careful and thorough, however, and its conclusion is reasonable: if the used game market is eliminated, there is a spectrum of possible outcomes, based on how publisher's adjust the price of new goods in response. The range noted in the study is +18% to -10%.

What's the optimal price adjustment? Down about 33%, according to the study. So $60 games, if the used market were eliminated, should sell for about $40 to maximize publisher's profits.

Chris's entire article is excellent, and there's a link to the academic study as well.

Second, the always terrific Matt Matthews has an article about the implications for Gamestop: Party's almost over for GameStop's used games business. In it, he discusses the consequences of declining profit margins for used games, given how heavily Gamestop relies on those margins. It's meticulous, like all of Matt's work, and he has a handle on the business of games like no one else.

Now there's one additional concept that I believe needs to be discussed here. What no one seems to be talking about is the concept of a used game and how it's going to be obsolete.

The past: you bought a physical copy of something that someone else had used and sold. There might be a price tag on the case. The manual might be scuffed up, or there might not be a manual at all. It might have a few scratches.

It wasn't new, even though you could still play the game. No new car smell.

The future: forget the past. It doesn't exist anymore. Disc are just props for retail stores to sell. The disc is just an install disc, and you can't play the game until a license is activated (which does not reside on the disc) Anything you want to buy can be downloaded.

Used? A download can't be "used". All we're talking about is a deactivation of a license for one person, and an activation of that license for another user.

It's not a sale of used goods. It's a license transfer.

For people who have an objection to buying used games, there can be no objection now. Those people are just buying a license transfer.

How does Microsoft controlling this process affect the price of "used" games? Well, it makes them go up, I expect. And people won't be happy about that.


What if used game prices go up as a percentage of new game prices, but absolute new game prices actually go down because publishers aren't getting cut out of the resale loop anymore? If publishers are selling new games at $40 instead of $60, then I don't see a fuss.

Above that, look out.

So this is going to be a very messy experiment, with lots of moving parts. And I don't expect it to be managed very well.

At some level, though, I guess that doesn't matter. Once we couldn't put the disc in and play, we lost control. Everything else is just details.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eli 11.9 And The Punch Line

We were watching a Boston Bruins-New York Rangers playoff game last week.

In the pre-game, they showed fans walking into the stadium, and there was one guy wearing a Jaromir Jagr Boston Bruins jersey.

"Oh, that's great," I said.

"What?" Eli 11.9 asked.

"The Bruins traded for Jagr at the deadline, he probably won't play for them next season, and he hasn't scored a goal in the playoffs," I said. "But this guy ran out and spent $120 to buy his jersey."

"Money well spent, PLAYA!" Eli said, laughing.

For this next story, I need to explain that we have a non-word that's become a word. It's "festivate", and it's a combination of "festival" and "celebrate".

An acceptable variation is "festivation", in case you're wondering

Last Friday, we went to a local barbecue place, and in the same shopping center is a board game shop. On our way out after dinner, we passed a gaggle of guys from the board game shop standing outside, chatting and smoking.

"I know how they should describe this store," he said. He paused dramatically, then said: "Where nerds festivate!"

Which, if you think about it, is a good description of quite a few of us.

A&W 10

I love soda.

There are tanker trucks out there that used to be full of soda, until I drank them. Mostly Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper, but I drank my share of Pepsi, too. Nothing tastes better.

About ten years ago, though, I started realizing that if I consumed 2,000 calories a day, and 25% of those were soda, then I was doing something wrong to my body. I was starving myself, food-wise.

That can't be good.

So I started drinking diet drinks. Good God, they were nasty. They all had this terrible aftertaste. I kept drinking them, though, and after about a month, my taste buds had lobotomized themselves to the point where diet soda tasted "right".

I wept.

Okay, I didn't actually weep. I was just glad I could continue to drink tankers of soda, even if it was imitation soda.

As time passed, I figured out that I could mix a little sugary soda (5-10%) in with the diet stuff, and it made everything taste significantly better.

Then my doctor started giving me crap about my caffeine consumption. This is how getting older works. Everything you do, health-wise, is some degree of wrong. For the last fifty years of your life, your doctor just berates you, basically.

I always liked root beer--which isn't caffeinated--so one day I tried diet A&W. As diet drinks go, it was decent, and it was very sweet, which is why I like soda to start with. So I started drinking quite a bit of that, just to get my caffeine intake down.

Three weeks ago, I was in a Walgreen's and saw a case of "A&W10". This stuff:

(image credit to the Soda Emporium, where you can buy all kinds of cool soft drinks)

Well, what the hell. I bought a case.

And it's great. Let me capitalize that: GREAT. It tastes so much like regular A&W that I'm not sure I could even tell the difference in a blind taste test. It's smooth, and creamy, and the vanilla flavor comes through very clearly. It's also much sweeter than regular Diet A&W.

If you like root beer, particularly if you like A&W root beer, then you need to try this. Immediately.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gridiron #57: Assorted Serious Progress

First off, Fredrik completed Stadium #6, which I'm calling City Stadium. DQ VB.Net Advisor Garret Rempel suggested this theme, and here's a look at the finished product:

This stadium has a very different feel than the stadiums in more natural settings, and I'm looking forward to seeing it full of fans.

I talked about the drive canvas last week, and how I was expanding its usage. It's nearly killed me--man, it has been so much  more complicated, every step of the way, than I expected--but I've almost got everything in and tested.

Fredrik worked very hard on the multiple running poses, but they just didn't look right with a relative coordinate system. In the original design, when you were on offense, your player started at the far left or far right of the canvas. The far left/right represented your current field position, so going all the way across the canvas could be 20 yards, or it could be 80, depending on field position.

What this meant, in practical terms, was that the distance between poses was different on different plays.

So as the four running poses cycled through (pose changing with each play of cards), they just didn't look like I'd hoped, and I couldn't figure out why. Then--finally--after looking at them for hours, I realized that they looked awkward because each pose was too far (in space on the canvas) from the previous one.

I had also considered using an absolute yardage system, where on offense, the human player would see the drive canvas as representing the entire field, not just from the current field position forward. That would mean that each play of cards would result in a much smaller change of position for the little players.

I decided to go back to that design and see if it helped. Once I had it working, I took a look. As I'd hoped, it made a world of difference in the flip-book animation effect I was trying for. The small gap between poses was just what I wanted, and now everything looked fine.

Also, I added a down marker and a first down marker. The result is that it's possible to "watch" the game entirely from the drive canvas, if you'd prefer, just playing cards and watching the little story play out on the canvas above the field. Here's how it looks now:

The one thing I'm not crazy about is just what you're seeing--the down marker between the quarterback and receiver on passing plays. It makes sense, though, to have the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage (fading back to pass), and it looks fine in the game.

The CPU plays are more complicated, because they're staying on a relative scale (based on the max possible gain on the play). What I'm doing is if the distance to a first down is less than the max possible gain on the play, then the first down marker will be visible at the appropriate point. I haven't put in the code yet, and it's going to be a pain in the ass with all the relative positioning, but it's doable.

This has been a pretty ugly two weeks, but the final outcome is a substantial improvement in how the game feels when it's played.

Next week: time scales.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Links!

Another boatload of stories from The Edwin Garcia Links Machine this week. Leading off, and this is fascinating, it's Moving Mona Lisa: The Story of WWII. Also, and these stories are always cool, it's Old Seattle newspapers found in walls of Ballard home kitchen. Next, and this is endlessly fascinating (I scrolled down for half an hour, I swear): Chemistry. One more, and it's truly spectacular: The Largest Photograph of Earth Ever Taken Is an Amazing Sight

From Matthew Teets, and this is a terrific recounting of the recent Hawken character prank: The Hawkeye Initiative. That's a story where everyone can feel good at the end.

DQ VB.Net Advisor Garret Rempel sent in a story about a Canadian folk hero who recently passed away: Elijah Harper, key player in Meech Lake accord, dies at 64. He was a true civil rights badass, and here's his Wikipedia entry: Elijah Harper.

From Steven Davis, and this is an incredibly cool video: Steam Powered Box Factory.

From Rank Regan, and this is fascinating: Huge Rock Crashes Into Moon, Sparks Giant Explosion.

And Sirius, and this is bizarre but entirely true (they're not down here yet, but they're on their way): Alien 'crazy ants' invading southern U.S.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is just amazing: Mercedes-Benz Museum - World's highest artificial Tornado. Also, and this is quite a view, it's A grizzly Ate My GoPro. One more, and it's tremendous: Diablo 3: A Case Of Virtual Hyperinflation.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this has to be seen to be believed (Lee, please take note): Love Your Journey: Dribbling Through London. Also, and this is stunning, Moore, Oklahoma Tornado Damage Map.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is tremendously interesting: Why Social Media Is the Front Line of Disaster Response.

Closing out the week, from Loyd Case, and this is a fascinating article: The oldest known instance of Zero (0).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Xbox One: One Last Post (then no more until E3)

Two things today.

First, I don't think people understand who is being excluded here. Traditionally, when you think of people who don't have a broadband connection, you think of rural, isolated areas, or some level of poverty.

So Xbox One is just excluding the people traditionally stereotyped as "backwards", right?

Except there's another category of people who do have broadband connections, but can't use those connections with the One. What about people with cellphones and tablets who use 3G/4G exclusively for their Internet connection?


Those people aren't "backwards". In some ways, you could consider them "ultra-forward". Wait, those people can't use an Xbox One, either?

Perhaps--and this is theoretical--you could create a hotspot with your mobile device and have Xbox One connect to that. Some games will require a persistent connection, though, and how much data will need to pass back and forth? What about data caps?

You may think the size of the demographic that doesn't have wired broadband access and uses 3G/4G exclusively is small, but just wait. It's going to grow, and quickly. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft handles this group.

I don't think Microsoft can afford to exclude anyone else at this point. There are over 100 million people just in the U.S. who still don't have broadband, and none of those people can pay Microsoft money for an Xbox One games. Well, they could, but it won't work.

You may argue that those 100+ million represented only a small fraction of Microsoft's existing customer base, and that might well be true. But Microsoft is clearly contracting the potential base for this new console compared to the old base, and this has historically been very, very unwise.

Second thing. I see people saying that the system for reselling games on the Xbox One--whatever it might be--is still better than Steam, because you can't resell games on Steam.

Let's look at a little history.

In the "old days", retail stores were a chokepoint on the distribution of content. Couldn't get your game into Best Buy? You were screwed. You were either in Best Buy or sending people disks by hand in the mail.

Some of those games were great, too. And they sold 200 copies because they couldn't get into the retail distribution system.

It didn't happen right away with Steam, but eventually, it became this incredibly healthy, diverse ecosystem for thousands and thousands of games that would never have made it to retail in the old days. It exponentially  expanded access. Even better, the pricing model today is so dynamic and flexible that 90% of what I buy on Steam is under $20.

Important point: because of that pricing model, I buy way, WAY more than I would have otherwise.

In other words, for consumers, Steam is expansive. It gives us access to more games--far more--and we buy more games.

Now let's look at Xbox One.

Those disc-based releases that require mandatory installs to the hard drive? Every single one of those games would have made it to Best Buy. Every single one.

No benefit there.

I'm fine with not being able to resell games on Steam, because like I said, almost everything I buy is under $20, and with games like Skyrim, I wouldn't want to resell them, anyway.

With the Xbox One model, 95% (probably more like 99%) of disc-based games will be $50-$60. There's no price advantage.

So there's no access advantage, and no price advantage, but Microsoft does do one thing successfully: they collapse the resale market. Before, if you possessed a physical disc, you had game access. Maybe parts of that game (EA Online Pass) were unavailable, but no one ever locked out single-player mode.

No more.

Now, you have the "bits" (as Phil Harrison puts it), but not the license. Microsoft has to grant you the license to use those "bits". So you can sell the data (the disc), but not the ability to access that data.

Look, nothing is going to be better in this system for the gamer. That's just the new reality.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Xbox One and Used Games: There's Something Happening Here. What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear.

Let's look at the old way first.

I buy a game. I put the disc in the disc drive and the game plays. When I get tired of playing the game, I can sell it at a local store.

When the new owner wants to play the game, he puts the disc in the disc drive and it plays.

If I loan the game to a friend, he puts the disc in the disc drive and it plays.

Pretty simple, isn't it?

So if that's how Xbox One worked, they would just tell us that, right? Instead, we're getting gobbledygook like this:
We have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail.

We have a solution for that and we will be announcing exactly how that works in due course.

We are designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We'll have more details to share later.

Really? Because it's just not that fucking complicated, pardon the language. It's only complicated if Microsoft is hiding as long as possible a policy that is going to piss almost everyone off. Here's Phil Harrison tripping over his tongue:
Harrison then explained what happens when you want to take that game beyond the borders of your own home and into a friend's place.

"I can come to your house and I can put the disc into your machine and I can sign in as me and we can play the game," he explained.

"The bits are on your hard drive. At the end of the play session, when I take my disc home - or even if I leave it with you - if you want to continue to play that game [on your profile] then you have to pay for it. The bits are already on your hard drive, so it's just a question of going to our [online] store and buying the game, and then it's instantly available to play.

"The bits that are on the disc, I can give to anybody else, but if we both want to play it at the same time, we both have to own it. That's no different to how discs operate today."

Yeah, except that's bullshit, because it's completely different. Today, I can just leave the disc with you--temporarily giving you ownership--and you can play. It doesn't cost you anything, because I already paid for the game.

The new "ownership" model works nothing like that. Why would Harrison make such an obviously illogical and untruthful claim?

Then there's the Xbox Support Twitter feed to further muddy the waters in response to a question about loaning a disc to a friend:
Again, there is no fee to install the game. Your friend will not pay a fee.

Except that doesn't answer anything, because of the specific use of the word "install." See, all they would have to do is say "Oh, no, there's no fee", but they didn't say that.

Let's look at how this will probably work, in spite of all of Microsoft's bullshit denials.

There will be a "fee". You can call it a licensing charge, or an activation fee, or whatever perfume you want to put on the pig, but we no longer own what we buy. Or we own it, but we have no right to resell it, because all the purchaser is getting for their money is an inert piece of plastic that must be activated with a third party to be playable.

The most flexible way for Microsoft to do this is to set a floor and a ceiling for the fee, then let publishers charge what they want inside those parameters. Microsoft collects the money when the game is "activated", and everybody (but us) gets their cut. Plus, Microsoft can always claim it's at the "discretion of the publisher"

How much? Well, you could do the "frog doesn't know he's in boiling water approach" and start low--say, $3.99. Then it would just get raised steadily forever.

I have a hard time believing they'll be that subtle, though. More likely, it would be in the $10 range, up to $15 for something like Call of Duty: The 37th Iteration Battalion.

This would explain why EA did away with their "Online Pass", because the new Xbox will do the same thing.

It's also possible that Microsoft would squeeze Gamestop's pelotas and make them pay a fee instead. So every time an Xbox One game was resold, Gamestop would have to write a check to Microsoft (proceeds then split with MS and the publisher). In exchange, Gamestop would give you some kind of activation code.

That's messy, though, because there are other shops that sell used games. That is, unless Gamestop becomes the official "Sole Used Games Provider" for the Xbox One.

Hmm, that sounds pretty interesting, really. Then it's a partnership, instead of an adversarial relationship.

Just remember one thing. If it was legitimately good news, they would have just told us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Xbox One

Here's how you can tell what Microsoft cares about in this generation: a breakdown (by percentage of time spent) of what Microsoft talked about in the "Xbox One" reveal that just concluded.

Out of roughly 65 minutes:
31% It's an A/V receiver to control your living room. Voice commands for everything. Multi-tasking. "Seamless" app switching.
20% Call of Duty Ghosts.
11% EA Sports.
11% Other games (Forza 5 and Quantum Break). 15 exclusive games and 8 new franchises coming from Microsoft Studios in the year after launch.
7.5% Halo TV series.
7.5% NFL Deal (television, some fantasy league thing).
7% Discussion of the hardware itself. Nothing we didn't already know about, basically.
3% Cloud features
2% "Smart Glass" feature means your tablet or cellphone will work as part of the Xbox One platform.


What didn't get mentioned?

Used games? As we know them today, forget it. From Chris Kohler:
“On the new Xbox, all game discs are installed to the HDD to play,” the company responded in an emailed statement. Sounds mandatory to us.

What follows naturally from this is that each disc would have to be tied to a unique Xbox Live account, else you could take a single disc and pass it between everyone you know and copy the game over and over. Since this is clearly not going to happen, each disc must then only install for a single owner.

Microsoft did say that if a disc was used with a second account, that owner would be given the option to pay a fee and install the game from the disc, which would then mean that the new account would also own the game and could play it without the disc.

That's not much of a surprise, and it's also not a surprise that they didn't mention it, because remember: "hide what they won't like."

Launch date? Not a word.

Price? Not a word.

Backward compatibility? No.

So we had an hour+ presentation that specifically mentioned four EA Sports games, Forza, Quantum Break, and the newest Call of Duy. That's a game every 9 minutes, basically.

With the last generation, the focus seemed (at least initially) to be on what you could play. With this generation, the focus is clearly on how to use your game machine as something other than a game machine.

720 Reveal

I'll have information and reaction after the announcement.

I'm expecting big chunks of information to be missing. "Show what people will like, hide what they won't." So Microsoft will tell us quite a bit by what they don't tell us, if that makes any sense.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #56: Arghhhhh!

Collectively, we had a good idea last week. John Harwood started it, sort of, and then it kind of went from there.

Boiled down, the idea was to expand the use of the drive canvas to include both offensive and defensive plays for the human player.

Originally, here's how it looked for defense:

As soon as the play started, you'd see a receiver stationed by the Max Gain (in this case, fifteen yards), and he'd move back towards the line of scrimmage each time you played cards.

It made sense to expand this to offense for the human player, because the canvas tells a little story as the play progresses, and those stories are entertaining.

This sounded easy. Very easy. I estimated that it would take less than five hours to put in and test.

Whenever I make a time estimate and it blows up in my face, I say something was "non-trivial." Boy, was this non-trivial. Try 20 freaking hours of non-trivial.

Okay, let's look at some screenshots. First off, the very basic setup:

There are a few additions--in particular, a goal line and goalposts. The problem, though, and it's immediately apparent, is that the min and max gain labels on defense are nice framing mechanisms for the player. With this design on offense (because there's no min/max gain), there's just a big open space to the left of the goal line, and it needs framing.

That's on the "outstanding issue list" now.

On running plays, it's all very straightforward, and if that was it, I might not have been willing to expand the feature. The payoff, though, is on passing plays.

Since day one, there's been an issue with showing how many cards are still needed to complete a pass, and to show the completion itself. I had a kluge in place where a "completed pass" card was shown, but really, it wasn't satisfying. At all.

Now, though, there's this:

Before cards are played, you just see a quarterback in the "poised to throw" position. When you play cards, the quarterback pose changes to post-throw (shown here), and you see a receiver with his hands in position to receive a pass. The ball changes position each time you play cards, and if you play cards with any speed, it looks like a little stop-animation as the players poses change and the ball moves.

Once the receiver catches the ball, the next time you play cards, you see the receiver like this:

It's a much better story than when the CPU was on offense.

Because of the goal line being included on offense, it made sense to include it on defense, too. Unlike offense, though, the position changes, depending on how far the CPU is from the goal line, and the possible max gain:

That's a crappy screenshot, because at the beginning of the play, the runner was actually in scoring position. He moves back each time you play cards, and instead of looking at the ball on the field, you can look at the drive canvas and see if the CPU would score if you ended the play at that point.

This all seems so simple, but it was hell to put in. Absolute hell. And there may still be additions (like a down marker and first down marker), but now, if you don't want to just watch the ball move across the field, you can watch the story unfold on the drive canvas.

It feels more like football.

I've started to understand that my problem in terms of gameplay is that the cards really aren't the gameplay--they're the luck. The variability of the cards represents a very entertaining luck spectrum. The gameplay, though, is in all the football-related decisions you make during the game.

That has to be explained to the player, to frame their expectations. And it's not going to be easy.

Friday, May 17, 2013

SimCity (Update)

Of course it would be freemium, not subscription-based. Thank you for pointing that out, because I apparently live in 2005.

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, the most popular link submission, by far (Sebastian Mankowski was first): The Short Film made From David Foster Wallace's Unforgettable "This is Water" Speech“.

From hippo, and this is absolutely fantastic: Scientists Invent Oxygen Particle That If Injected, Allows You To Live Without Breathing.

From Al Wilkinson, and somewhere, David Bowie is smiling: Chris Hadfield prepares for return to Earth with rendition of Space Oddity aboard the ISS.

From Steven Davis, and this is stunning: Super-small 12 cylinder engine may be the smallest in the world.

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine comes very strong again this week, and leading off, it's This Animation Based on Oscillating Sine Waves Is Utterly Entrancing. Next we have the evolution of Misrilou: the originalKorla Pandit 1951Dick Dale, and finally, The Black Eyed Peas. Then there's this fascinating interview with William Faulkner: William Faulkner on his Native Soil in Oxford, Mississippi. Don't even think we're done, because there's this: Century Chest time capsule. Also, this: Timelapse of beautiful, ancient, endangered red pine forest in Ontario. Seriously, that should be enough, but these last two are just too good to save for next week: London in 1927--a video, and In 1969 Telegram, Jimi Hendrix Invites Paul McCartney to Join a Super Group with Miles Davis.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Boy, I'm stupid.

We've been asking for months why EA would do this. Why would they make a game that was so different, when they didn't need to? The game would have been staggeringly successful without making it a bastardized online experience. One that didn't even work very well. It's undoubtedly less successful than it could have been with fewer changes to the experience.

Companies don't do things for no reason. Sometimes it's the right reason, sometimes not, but there's always a reason.

Why would you take this risk? Well, you wouldn't. Is the revenue model for this new version of SimCity substantially better than previous versions? No, except for the DLC that is in every game now. And what about the cost of the online infrastructure? Good grief, that might make the revenue model worse, not better.

Remember, though, there's a reason. The reason is that this isn't an end in itself. It's a means to an end.

Lucy Bradshaw, in March, said "In many ways, we built an MMO." Yes, and the next time, they'll build a game that is in every way an MMO. This half-crippled, satisfies-no-one version is just a bridge to a full-fledged MMO.

With a monthly fee.

Now that's a revenue model. A revenue model with a long tail. That's something that captures EA's vision of the future.

In Response

This is from DQ VB.Net Advisor Garret Remple, in response to the post about Scott Miller last week:
Chris writes:
"Hearing him fumble for the right chords, I realized that he didn’t use the math part of his brain to write songs at all, but rather wrote songs the same way as every other musician I knew of, with that un-analytical/more creative part of his mind. That was a shocker--that a person so gifted at an empirical undertaking like math was also somehow skilled at artistic creation...well, that sort of thing doesn’t occur often in humans, I don’t think."

Chris makes a mistake in his conclusion that, as he puts it, an empirical undertaking like mathematics, is not creative. That mathematics and artistic creation reside in different parts of the brain.

Nothing is further from the truth; in fact mathematics is intensely creative. It is an art form all by itself in that crafting formulas and taking simple structures and crafting a solution to a difficult problem is a creative process very similar to music composition. It takes fumbling, trial and error, and work until the pieces drop into place to build something of beauty.

I hadn't thought about that, but it's a good point. When I'm trying to create something, be it writing or code or whatever, I have exactly the same feeling when things are going well. It's different when they're not, but when everything is synchronized, it's almost identical.

By the way, I'm trying very hard to convince Chris to start a semi-regular feature on music for DQ. He has a comprehensive and tremendously interesting knowledge of music, and I know you guys would enjoy reading more from him.

The Flower

Eli 11.9 had a dress-up day at school, so he decided to go as Marc-André Fleury.

Fleury is going through a tough patch right now, with Tomáš Vokoun starting for the foreseeable future, but he's still a tremendous goalie and one of Eli's favorite players. He looks like this:

(image credit to "Get To Our Game")

One of Fleury's distinct characteristics, which you can't really see in that picture, is that he has big eyes. Plus, he usually doesn't have that goatee, just a soul patch. Here's Eli's version:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Frozen Synapse Releasing on iPad Tonight

That's right, and it's apparently an excellent port, as related in this preview.

If somehow you missed this game on the PC, and you have an iPad, please remedy that omission as soon as possible.

Don't Starve (Part Something Or Other)

These are Beefalo:

Generally quite genial, they are a gentle herding animal, dropping manure that is invaluable for farming. They also don't mind at all if the player scurries among them, picking up manure.

Well, except for breeding season.

During breeding season, their bottoms turn a shade of red, and they become much, much more aggressive. Wander too close and they'll chase you, attacking you if they catch up.

Picking up manure during breeding season=hazardous.

I had established a nice little farm next to this area, because it made it easy for me to make a daily run and pick up manure, then go back to my farm and deposit the manure in the plots.

Beefalo generally stay in their own terrain, which is this savanna grassland area. Two members of the herd, though, started wandering a little further north each day, and after a few days, they were happily wandering around my camp.

At night, they slept in front of the campfire, snoring gently. Seriously, they were snoring.

In the midst of all this beefalo domestic tranquility, I realized I had forgotten about one thing: mating season. When mating season came, they would attack me if I stayed in my camp, and who knows what they'd destroy.

This was going to be a serious problem.

There's another serious problem, periodically, and it's wild dogs. Big, nasty beasts that wander in packs and hunt you down. They'll kill you, if they can, but fortunately they don't appear very often.

When they're about to, though, you'll hear barking in the far distance. And it will gradually draw closer, before the slobbering beasts explode onto the scene.

So I was at my camp one night, meditating on the beefalo problem and hoping that I was still sane enough for the night spirits to leave me alone, when I suddenly heard barking.

Oh, crap. Now I had two problems.

In another moment, though, I had a plan.

I needed to move the beefalo, but there was no way to move them. I also needed to get away from the hounds. What if I ran the hounds into the beefalo and let them fight it out?

Which I did.

As soon as one of the dogs bit the beefalo, they turned aggressive and attacked the dogs. Two beefalo, six dogs. By the time it was over, both of the beefalo were dead, dropping fur, horns, and meat, and four dogs were dead. The two dogs still alive were so weak that I finished them off easily with my spear.

I wanted to just sit there and cheer. It was a brilliant, wonderful moment in a brilliant, wonderful game.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


"Hey, did you see this story about Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis forming a supergroup and asking Paul McCarney to join?" I asked Gloria.

"Seen it," Gloria said. "Three days ago. Facebook."

"FACEBOOK," I muttered.

"So what do you think they would have sounded like?" she asked.

"Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis--during his "Bitches Brew" phase--together? Incredible," I said. "And Paul McCartney could have played bass. Just don't him write songs. I don't think Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis wanted to play "Let 'Em In."

"He never did get enough credit for "Temporary Secretary"," Gloria said.


Star Wars

I've received quite a bit of e-mail asking what I thought of EA securing the exclusive Star Wars license.

I think what you guys are expecting me to say is that EA will ruin Star Wars.

George Lucas ruined it already, though.

Seriously, have you watched the prequel trilogy? Three spectacular films that are visual feasts, enjoyed by all with the sound off.

Just don't turn the sound on, because if you do, they're awful.

So I don't see it as a bad thing or good thing that Disney and EA have all these exclusives locked up, because I expected nothing from Star Wars in the future, anyway. Anything anyone does right is a bonus.

In The Spirit

We're watching the Penguins play the Senators tonight.

"I'm going to grow out my playoff beard," said Eli 11.9.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #55: Personally

Last week, a beta tester (Tosh, who is one of the greatest beta testers in history, surely--he's played through both betas, has found countless issues, and is still going strong) mentioned that he didn't feel a personal connection to his team.

Then, he suggested a solution: use player names from the offseason cards in the text events.

At some point, I had considered that and decided against it, although I can't remember why. When he mentioned it, though, it seemed like a fantastic idea, and since I had forgotten why I had rejected it earlier, I had forgotten why it wouldn't work.

And because I forgot why it wouldn't work, I set about finding a way that it would work.

It did work, and it's in the game now.

The first season, the text events are player-generic. When there's a description including the quarterback, for example, the messages will be "The quarterback scans the field..." or something in that vein.

In the offseason, though, if you buy a quarterback to improve your passing offense, the game will start using that name. Let's say the quarterback's last name is "Benson". During your next season, that same event will now read "Benson scans the field", and I know that sounds like a little thing, but it's very neat to see.

Plus, since I needed receivers, and the Passing Offense cards were only quarterbacks, it's now a 50/50 mix of Quarterback and Receiver cards. They affect the same rating, but the position matters for text event purposes.

The implementation is very simple. the last card for a particular rating (and for Pass Offense, for QB or WR as well) becomes the name base for that type of text event.

It took a while to rewrite the text events to use a specific name if one was available, but in all, it only took a little more than five hours to put in, which was far less time than I expected. And I couldn't be happier with how it works.

Other news: the fifth stadium is finished. Here's a look:

The stadiums with a domed element (there will be one more) are going to focus less on nature and more on geometry, which is why you have the diamond shapes on the path instead of more rounded elements.

This is a big week for working on lots of boring crap that I've been putting off. If I can just get through this list, though, it will be a big step forward.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Links!

We're light this week because I've seen sick since Monday afternoon and haven't been able to bottom out yet, so I'm behind on e-mail. There is still some excellent reading to be had, though.

Leading off, from Chris Pencis, and this is the coolest music relational database I've ever seen. It's good for hours of investigation: Every Noise At Once.

Next, and you'll see TEGLM with lots of links later as well, an amazing story: Love and Madness in the Jungle.

From Alexander Ignatiev, and this is pretty wonderful: The Minds Behind Dwarf Fortress.

From hippo, and I guess "exceptionalism" means "cannibalism":Skeleton of teenage girl confirms cannibalism at Jamestown colony.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and these are fantastic: A Rare Glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci's Anatomical Drawings. Also, and this is quite a glimpse into the past, it's Kurt Vonnegut to John F. Kennedy: "On Occasion, I Write Pretty Well." Next, and I want one of these, it's Building the Bomber Cam With 3D Printing and Scraps. One more, and it's beautiful: Shanghai Sidecar Riders. Last one, and it's fantastic: This is What Happens When You Give Thousands of Stickers to Thousands of Kids.

From Darrel Raines, and of course this happened in Texas: Texas judge issues double-entendre-filled ruling in strip club case.

From Steven Davis, and this is unfortunate: The Thorncrown Chapel, an Idyllic Glass Chapel in Rural Arkansas is Under Threat. ALso, and this is amazing, it's Trace What You See: The NeoLucida is the First Portable Camera Lucida to be Manufactured in Nearly a Century.

This could be very useful: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.

From Gridiron Solitaire Artist Fredrik Skarstedt, and this is incredibly depressing:Highest Paid Public Employees By State. If you're thinking "football coaches", you're right.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Eli 11.9 and the Big Track Meet (part two)

The 4x100 relay started at the same time as the standing broad jump, so when Eli made it over to the jumping area (which was a section of track, not a pit), there was a long line in front of him.

"This is bad," he said. "I'm going to get stiff."

"Just jump up and down, or take practice jumps," I said. "And this isn't bad--it's great. You're going to know exactly how far you need to jump, and there are only a few kids behind you."

There were some tall, tall kids in that line. Surprisingly, though, none of them could jump. They all wound up in the 6'6" to 6'9" range.

The best jumper wasn't tall. He was about Eli's size, and he uncorked a huge 7'1" jump to lead a full three inches. He was the only kid to get his heels onto a white lane divider line.

"Okay," I said, "you see that lane line? You have to jump to that point. Only one kid has done that, so if you get there, you have a chance. Just think about exploding into a save."

He nodded.

"This is your event, not his," I said. "Remember that."

There were only a few kids in front of him now. Then there was one. Then it was his turn.

As Eli assumed the ready position, it was easy to see the difference between him and the other kids. He was so fluid, so graceful, just bending and swinging his arms in preparation to jump. And when he did jump, he flew a long way, his heels just short of that white line.

"6'11" ", called out the judge. The other kids stopped goofing off and started paying attention.

There was a slight headwind, and I didn't know if that was going to cost him an inch or two. I hoped not.

His second jump was bigger, and his heels made it to the line. "7'1" ", called the judge, and he held up his fist toward me.

It was a tie.

The thing about standing broad jump is that you jump what you can jump. You can almost always jump your best, but improving your best usually happens in tiny increments, like half an inch. There's no boom. So Eli was tied, he'd jumped his lifetime best, and he was still jumping into a headwind.

I didn't know if he would win in case of a tie, but I was proud of him. He's nails.

He lined up for his third jump, and so many things crossed through my mind in those few seconds. Eli lives for big moments like this. He does things that are hard to believe. Even for him, though, this was a tall order.

When he jumped, he exploded.


When he landed, kids started shouting.

The judge looked at her tape measure.

"7' 3"," she said. He pumped his fist at me, and his smile was so big that I could barely see the rest of his face.

He couldn't even stay. They were already on the second call for the 50 finals, so he took off.

I knew he wasn't going to win the 50 after qualifying 6th. And he didn't, but he ran a blazing race and finished fourth.

More points.

The 100 finals were only 15 minutes later. While he was warming up, I walked over. "Second place in the standing broad jump," I said.


"... was 7' 1"," I said. "Congratulations."

"YES!" he said, and he gave me a hug.

"Good luck the hundred," I said. "Explode out of the start."

He didn't listen to me.

Well, he did, but he didn't manage to explode. Here's a blurry picture at about 5 meters into the race:

See that kid woefully behind in Lane Eight? That's him. That's the worst start I've ever seen.

Now look the finish (you can just see his foot and leg in Lane Eight, because I'm a lousy filmer):

At the finish line, it was fairly chaotic, and they told him he was sixth. It certainly doesn't look like it from that picture, though. He walked over to me after the race.

"Dad, they said I was sixth, but I was fourth," he said. "Those other two kids were behind me."

"No matter," I said. "It was a great race. You turned on the turbojets. And points!"

"Points," he said, smiling. "That's right."

I went over and looked at the team scores while he hung out on the infield for a while to see some of his friends run. His team scored 28.5 points. He scored 27 of those, including the relay, and if they'd given him the right place in the 100, he would have had 31.

I looked at the team standings and noticed something. I walked back to the infield and found him.

"Before I tell you this, you can't say this to anyone," I said.

"Okay. What?" he asked.

"You're in fourth."

"What?" he asked.

"You're in fourth," I said. "In the team standings."

He raised an eyebrow.

"By yourself," I said.

His eyes got wide, and he started laughing. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," I said. "Let's go home. I think you've done enough for one morning."

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Eli 11.9 and the Big Track Meet

Twenty-two schools.

Eli 11.9 had finished 5th in two events last year in the 5th-6th grade division, and he had high hopes for this year.

"I'm nervous," he said in the car as we parked near the stadium.

"Nervous?" I asked. "Sprints are the one event where you don't have to be nervous. The gun goes off, you run like your shorts are on fire, and you lean at the tape. It's blissfully uncomplicated."

"The standing broad jump isn't complicated, either," he said. "Just lean forward and jump, baby!"

"Plus," I said, "you're not really fully invested here."

"Not really," he said.

"It's not like you spent months preparing for the meet," I said. "You went to three Saturday practices. So just go out there, run as fast as you can, and take what you get."

"I can do that," he said.

Eli was in four events: 50 meters, 100 meters, 4x100 relay, and the standing broad jump. No one his age had beaten him last year, so in theory, he should have a good chance in all of them.

Ironically, though, he was still young, even in the 5th/6th grade division. He was still 11 (birthday July 31), and with so many people holding their kids back before starting school, there were plenty of 5th graders who were older.

It was brutally hot last year, but we caught a break this time, and it was cool (but slightly windy). For the sprints, that wind was a tailwind.

His first event was the 50 prelims, an event where he had run 8.1 last year (into a headwind). I knew he was much faster than last year, but I didn't have a handle on how much faster. I expected him to win his heat fairly comfortably, though.


I couldn't believe it, but he was third in his heat. And he was flying. I walked over toward the finish line, and when he saw me, he said, "7.26."

Insane. And he was third!

That's when I knew that there were some new sheriffs in town.

Just before he ran in the 100 prelims, the P.A. announcer called his name out for the 50 finals. I figured it was going to be close, and it was, because he was in Lane 2 for the Finals, which meant he qualified either fifth or sixth. In the 50, that meant he probably made it by less than .05 seconds.

He ran well in the 100, finishing second in his heat, and we headed for home. It was already 8:45, and he needed to get good rest for the morning. I thought he was a lock for the 100 Finals, the way he'd run, and we'd find out in the morning.

"Well," I said, "we were at the track for four and a half hours to see you compete for twenty-one seconds."

He laughed. "I think it might have been twenty-TWO seconds," he said.

After day one, his team had zero points. The girls in his grade are absolutely beastly at track--they dominated the meet--but except for Eli and one other kid, the boys are the opposite.

When we returned to the track at 9 a.m., we checked the board and he'd made the 100 Finals. He was in Lane 8, though, so he was one of the last two to qualify.

I was a little bummed for him. I'd been hoping that he'd have a huge meet, since he'd done so well last year against older kids. No one understood anything about hockey at his school, and it would have been nice for him to get some recognition from his peers.

It wasn't looking good, though.

His best event was the standing broad jump, and he'd jumped 6'8" last year for 5th. Now he was regularly jumping 7'0" in practice, and he was consistent, so maybe he'd break through there.

First up, though, was the 4x100 relay. There was one other fast kid on the relay, plus two other kids who were decent, so they had a chance. Eli was running anchor.

There were two heats in the relay with no Finals, so it was all time-based. The first three legs went well, and when Eli got the baton, off a terrific pass, he was basically tied for first with two other kids.

He proceeded to run faster than I've ever seen him run before. And got smoked.

The kid that beat him had a gear that Eli just didn't have. No one else did, either, because this same kid later won the 100  in a lark. Based on how easily the kid won the 100, Eli ran the race of his life to stay as close as he did.

He still finished second in the heat, though, and they finished third overall (by .02 of a second).

"Points," he said, raising his fist and smiling when he saw me after the race.

"Dude, you were flying," I said.

"That other kid was a BEAST," he said, laughing.

The standing broad jump was next.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Sorry about the formatting/spacing on the Scott Miller post. Blogger is giving me fits right now.

Scott Miller

Two weeks ago, DQ Musicologist Chris Hornbostel mentioned that I should read Music: What Happened?

He was right. I don't think I've ever read a more interesting book about music.

I've also never read one with such brilliant wordsmithing. The language is both wickedly clever and tremendously thoughtful, and every page was a pleasure.

Sadly, the author--Scott Miller--passed away recently. He was an accomplished musician, a tremendous writer, and a brilliant intellect, and Chris agreed to write about his life.
Last month, a fellow you’ve likely never heard of named Scott Miller passed away suddenly at the age of 53. I wasn’t a close friend of his (more like nodding acquaintance), but his death left me mourning in ways that were difficult to comprehend easily.

Scott was reluctant to reveal things about himself easily, and there were things about him that I wouldn’t discover until years after that I might’ve found useful in forming opinions about his work. I first heard of him because he was the leader of a band in the 1980’s called Game Theory, and I enjoyed them a great deal. In interviews he cited all the normal checkpoints--The Beatles, Big Star, Bowie--that 1980’s college radio guitar pop auteurs were required to cite. What intrigued me was hearing Scott Miller also cite James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and a whole variety of difficult literature as influencing his music. Given the cultural references that peppered his song lyrics I had always figured him for a student of English, or perhaps history or philosophy. (Sample lyrics: “It gets harder each night, gonna take a miracle/Gonna take Ernst, Dali, and DiChirico” or “There’s a light on the 19th floor tonight/They don’t know there won’t even be a fight”; your google bar awaits.)  

In the 1990’s (he was touring with his new band, The Loud Family) I discovered how wrong that impression was. Over a conversation initiated by my question regarding an impossible song title of his, Miller told me he’d gotten an engineering degree at UC-Davis back before computer science degrees were common. (The song title in question is usually abbreviated as “Song 22” on Game Theory’s Lolita Nation lp, but the title actually starts “DEFMACROS..” and goes on and on from there for 173 characters and turns out to be programming language stuff.) He was working as a computer engineer and programmer in object-oriented database work. Pressed further, he revealed that he was something of a math, physics, and science prodigy. Indeed, up until his passing he worked as an engineer at a Bay Area software/tech company.

With that information--and studies from prestigious university think tanks  linking music and math affinities in the human mind--I leapt to the conclusion that his arithmetic leanings were the source and structure that drove Scott Miller’s unique and oftentimes brilliant sense of melody. (A critic describes him as “smart pop heaven”; a friend put it as “His songs are like a Hot Wheels track that loops around and goes all over the place”. His friend Aimee Mann simply deconstructed it as “a gazillion chords”.) That was a wrong assumption of mine, too. Last week I heard a clip of Scott playing some of his songs acoustically at a radio station in 1985, and his struggles to remember one of his songs that had been requested on air was revelatory. Hearing him fumble for the right chords, I realized that he didn’t use the math part of his brain to write songs at all, but rather wrote songs the same way as every other musician I knew of, with that un-analytical/more creative part of his mind. That was a shocker--that a person so gifted at an empirical undertaking like math was also somehow skilled at artistic creation...well, that sort of thing doesn’t occur often in humans, I don’t think.

I’d always known Scott Miller to be a literate guy. His interviews over the years reveal a thoughtful, self-deprecating, and humble fellow, but one with a blazing, intellectually curious furnace. Toward the end of his music career he began writing in a sort of ad-hoc manner for an online column on his own website called “Ask Scott” where he was as likely to weigh in on Led Zeppelin as Kierkegaard.

All of that eventually morphed into a book released in 2010 called Music--What Happened. Miller had since childhood kept notebooks where he’d assiduously listed his favorite songs and albums of each year. The pretense of his book was collecting his 20 favorite songs of each year and him writing about them in what ends up as being a sort of chronological written-down mixtape. If that sounds self-indulgent, it ends up not being so. In fact, the personal-ness of his choices fuels the passion and accessibility of his writing. The book turns the neat trick of making you want to hear songs you’ve already heard a thousand times again (and you’ll hear them with new ears; for instance, “Lola” by The Kinks) as well as providing a path and guided tour to new musical discoveries. The writing is sharp, very witty, and occasionally quite touching.  Mostly though, it is accessible. Although Miller never dumbs things down, when he does go into the high weeds of music theory he does so in a way that makes it reasonably easy to follow.

More importantly--on a personal note--is that the book feels like having a conversation with one of the sharpest and most original minds to ever come down the musical pike. I’m naturally drawn by curiosity to persons of uniqueness and intelligence. A real-life talk with Scott Miller could always threaten to be like staring into the sun; if you gave him a free rein of your own nodding and pretend understanding you’d risk hearing him make a point where Jacques Derrida, Cubism, Finnegans Wake, and The Monkees could be equal sums of the whole. Part of Miller’s own genius was to recognize that his head made these connections unique to him. More special was that it fueled a  vibrant personality with a way of expression that allowed him to explain his thinking in a nearly apologetic, un-condescending, almost gentle way. That humility and ease of access is really what comes across in his book, which I suppose now stands alongside his music catalogue as a pretty fitting tribute and legacy.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Gridiron Solitaire #54: Potpourri

This is kind of a catch-all post, because it's been kind of a catch-all week.

First, a new stadium:

This is going to replace the very first stadium, which was 100% crowd (Rose Bowl, sort of).

It looks like we're going to have 8 stadiums (can't remember if I mentioned that).

I've been trying to use both ratings (on an A-F scale, shown when you start a new league) and relative rankings (based on ratings, on a 1-16 scale). The concept behind doing so was entirely reasonable, but in practice, it was just too confusing to show information one way in one place and another way everywhere else. So relative rankings are gone now, replaced by A-F everywhere.

The bigger news this is week is that someone I respect very highly played the game last weekend and offered a ton of terrific suggestions. For instance, and it never crossed my mind before, he said that I should treat the ball as the player's character in the game. That makes perfect sense, but like I said, I'd never thought about it before. So that resulted in this:

That's a bigger ball, in case you're wondering, and it's much, much easier to see now. I'm also going to animate the ball movement instead of just updating the position. It's not a huge difference, but the animated movement will attract the player's attention and reinforce that they're gaining yards.

He also mentioned that having the dynamic help speech bubbles moving around was distracting. I'd done it that way to locate the speech bubble near the action that needed to be taken by the player, but it resulted in the speech bubble hopping all over the place.

I played "Talisman Prologue" this weekend, and as I played the tutorial, I noticed how incredibly easy it was to know what needed to be done next, because they had a pleasant, glowing circle around what they wanted the player to select.

Well, duh.

If I do something similar, there's no need to move the help speech bubble--I can just highlight what needs to be selected. Like this:

I just cycle the opacity of the circle around the control, and the control itself has a higher display order, so all the player sees is the pulsing ring. And I (finally) went through the very grindy bit of locking out controls when necessary. So in the case of this screenshot, when the help bubble says "close me to proceed", the player can't go ahead and select the run or pass buttons. That speech bubble has to be closed first, and when it is, the pass button can't be selected. All that can be selected is the proper control.

The speech bubble also doesn't move now, because I just highlight the controls to select.

This doesn't add up to much, seemingly, but it makes guided help easier to follow and (more importantly) impossible to break.

There was also a gameplay suggestion that I found highly interesting, although I'm not sure I can do it: add a meaningful choice with the cards before the play starts. His suggestion was excellent, but it would also add a layer of strategy that, while very interesting, would slow the game down and totally reset the play balance. So I'm thinking about the concept of another meaningful choice, which I like, hoping that something can be done without slowing the game down.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, and it's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, it's Tiny Toon: IBM Makes a Movie Out of Atoms (thanks hippo).

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is quite a bizarre story, it's Abstract Expressionism was a CIA plot. Also, and this is remarkable, it's Lost city of Heracleion gives up its secrets.

From Greg Bagley, and this is an excellent read, it's Man With Hole in Stomach Revolutionized Medicine.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is wonderful, it's new Darwin correspondence posted online.

From Sirius, and this is spectacular, it's Three Years of Solar Dynamics Observatory Images. Also, and this is quite amazing, it's The "Snail Ball" rolls s--l--o--w--l--y downhill. Next, and this is one of the most stunning images I've ever seen, it's Catholic wife and Protestant husband, separated after death by religious bigotry. One more, and hopefully you'll never need to know this: How to Land an Airplane if You are not a Pilot.

From Jesse Leimkuehler, and this is fascinating, it's Hitler's food taster tells of poisoning fears.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is spectacular, it's 100,000 Stars. Also, and these are both beautiful and moving, it's Woman, 36, who lost mother to brain cancer creates breathtaking fantasy land photo series in her memory.

From Dan Willhite, and this is both stunning and alarming: Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Volumes 1979-2012.

From DQ reader My Wife, and this is an incredible read: The Mind of a Con Man: Diederik Stapel's audacious academic fraud.

From Phil Honeywell, and this is terrific, it's Family-owned Bear Creek Studio makes music and magic.

From Frank Regan, and this is spectacular: Surprise!

From Steven Davis, and this is mind-blowing: A Hurricane on Saturn. Also, and holy cow, it's Couch Potato Perfection: Self-Assembling Furniture. Ending this week, and it's quite silly, it's The World’s Largest Rubber Duck Arrives in Hong Kong.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Console Post of the Week: Breaking My Own Embargo

I know that I said I wasn't going to talk about the next Xbox until the official unveil later this month, but some information has come out that has broken my resolve.

Sources tell Polygon that the next Xbox will indeed have some form of an always-on requirement. That will be both to support the suite of non-gaming entertainment applications that will be launched alongside the console, like streaming video services, but also as a possible anti-piracy tool. Currently, the console will support digital rights management and anti-piracy checks using an internet connection. Under Microsoft's current guidelines, which may still be changed, the decision of whether a game will require an internet connection to work and if that is a one-time authentication or a constant connection, will be left up to individual publishers.

You may think I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not: this is great.

What a perfect lab environment for us to find out whether enough people actually care about always-online DRM to have it affect their purchase. Now we can find out, and easily.

I'm willing to bet that publishers can also lock out used copies of their games. Again, great laboratory. Let's see if games sell more copies if they can't be resold, as publishers have always claimed. Let's see if it affects the ecosystem in general.

Second, and this is clearly not great:
Microsoft will initially offer two pricing models for the console: a standalone version for $499 and a $299 version that requires a two-year Xbox LIVE Gold commitment at an expected price of $10 per month.

That would be $499 and $539, then.

Wow. Grandiose arrogance that is last-gen Sony-worthy. This will end well.

Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that this information is correct. Consoles have, at launch, traditionally followed the razor-blades pricing model (which is actually the Rockefeller kerosene lamps in China model, but I digress)--the console (razor) is sold at a loss, but selling content (razors) over the long-term makes the product successful.

This model has been abandoned by Microsoft, apparently, in favor of the new "this shitty model has no chance of working and will get everyone fired" model

I can go on Amazon right now and get a one-year Xbox Live subscription for $46.92. The regular price is $60.00. Seemingly, Microsoft is taking the opportunity to double the current retail price of Xbox Live.

So I can either buy an Xbox 720 at PS3 launch prices (and that went really, really well for Sony), or I can pay double for an online subscription which, over the required two years, costs me $120 over what it would cost me today.

Let me get this straight: this product is a gateway to sell thousands of other products to me, but it's going to be priced so ridiculously that I won't want to buy it? See the problem here?

If this pricing information is correct, then let me say this right now: this console will fail.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Don't Starve (the world)

In my current game, I decided to do nothing but explore the outer boundaries of the world. It took me 12 game days to eventually get to this point:

Click on that screenshot for a full-screen image and be amazed. The world is HUGE. Those are just the outer boundaries--there's a ton of space on the interior that I haven't even seen yet.

If you're wondering what's in the world, here's a list of the terrain types (although I doubt it's exhaustive):
Rock shelf

I'm not sure those the words the developers use to describe those land areas, but they're what I call them. It's an amazing, wonderful variety, and world is also jam-packed with things to do and explore. There's a much greater sense of exploration than there is in most rogue-likes, and I think that's one of the reasons I find the game so hypnotic.

That's not to say it's an easy game, because it absolutely isn't. It's quite difficult, because the other residents of the world disturb your careful planning. There are both herbivores and carnivores, and to the carnivores, you're meat. They're not plentiful, fortunately, but they have to be handled. And there are plenty of odd moments and events as well.

It's also very tough to survive winter. Yes, there's winter. Temperatures drop, and there will be snow at times. Crops mostly don't grow in winter, so to survive, you have to forage daily or have a stockpile.

I haven't made it yet. Winter starts after roughly three weeks of game time, and it lasts three weeks more. But the game is so fascinating that I don't even mind that I haven't made it to spring.

If I get frustrated, I can customize the world so that summer lasts longer than winter. I can customize just about everything, actually, so if I particularly enjoy a certain style of play, I can create a world that suits that style of play.

Having said that, though, the random world generation is so interesting and so robust that adapting to different resource constraints/abundance in individual worlds is a big part of what I love about the game.

What Don't Starve does incredibly well is that the interface is perfectly signposted. Everything is easy to do, and everything is clearly marked. It's textbook design, and interactions with the world are clearly signposted as well. And that's important, because the other thing the game does incredibly well is give you more choices than you have time. There are so many things you could potentially do, and you have to make difficult choices on a daily basis. There are many ways to succeed, and just as many ways to fail, and that's why the discovery process is so interesting.

It's quite an incredible experience.

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