Thursday, June 30, 2005

New Portmanteaux

You heard it here first. I'm coining several new portmanteaux:

  • Hobbarazzi: (Hobby + Papparazzi) Person or persons indiscretely grabbing camera phone snapshots of celebs in restaurants, pubs, etc.
  • Amazolic: (Amazon + Alcoholic) Someone who shops compulsively online.

There you go. You heard'em here first!

Console Kafuffle!

I've spent a good part of the past couple years talking to developers about multi-threading and the transition to multi-core architectures is going to be necesary, and difficult. Along the same lines, I've been saying that Sony's claims that Cell is the greatest thing since the sliced bread are exagerated at best, and that developers are going to have a hard time getting that platform to dance.

Anandtech posted an article about MS & Sony's next gen consoles basically concluding the same thing and stating that it's going to be next to impossible for developers to extract the performance out of these architectures equal to that of their perf stats.

They've evidently caught a lot of heat about the article and it's been pulled. However, an excerpt can be found here.

A quote from the above article here: (in case that gets pulled too):

"developer difficulties with the new hardware—even extreme, hair-pulling, this-just-ain't-gonna-work difficulties—are not surprising, and in fact have been expected all along by anyone who has analyzed this hardware. There's really not much news here. This hardware makes a number of developer-unfriendly leaps that PC hardware won't make for some time, and it makes those leaps in some ways that exacerbate the associated pain. By the time PC hardware makes those leaps, it'll be vastly easier to code for two reasons: a) software development will have had time to transition to the multicore paradigm and b) those multiple cores will each be more programmer-friendly (i.e., dynamic execution hardware, good branch prediction, more cache) than the cores that power Cell and Xenon."

Sorry if I sound like I've been toking on the Intel bong too much, but it's about time someone called these guys out on the carpet. None of these consoles is "miracle hardware". Everybody is bound by the same physical & manufacturing limitations, the same programming challenges, etc. Different implementations make different tradeoffs, but to think that a $300 box is going to pull ahead by orders of magnitude more performance is ludicrous.

That being said, Mark's a great speaker and his Cell presentation from GDC is worth watching. (Sorry to dis your platform Mark!)

House for Sale in Beaverton!

Our house goes on the market today:

(second from the top, details get listed later today)

One of the downsides of the move is that I'll really miss our house. It was a fantastic find and I doubt we'll find something with similar features/price. I'll especially miss the views we get from Cooper Mountain:

View of Mt Hood out the front (taken at 6am before leaving for work one day):

View of Mt St Helens, taken out the back by Alisa while I was at GDC (I missed it!):

This is what the house looks like:

Though I think it looked better when this used to be in front of it (speaking of things I miss):

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Adrenaline rush

Back when I was around 19, I worked a summer as a bike courier. I'd just dropped $700 canadian greenbacks (the $1 bill, which no longer exists, could be called that because it was actually green, unlike the red twos, blue fives...) on a Norco mountain bike with STS rapid fire shifters - it was the first year that ANY company had come out with them (yes, I'm that old) and they were awesome.

So I got into biking a lot, got some city slicker tires, and signed up for a courier job as it seemed a nice way to spend the summer.

It is a nice way to spend the summer, but not a nice way to make money. The summers get a slowdown in business and combined with a glut of riders, it's hard to get too much out of it. Plus the full-timers tend to have relationships with the dispatchers and get favored (as they should). It breaks into two camps: The summer kids in their fancy gear & shiny bikes cruising around at 25mph, and he full timers, on rusted old beaters wearing jean and army jackets and cruising around at 35mph with a cigarette butt hanging out the corner of hte mouth. hardcore.

Anyhow, I was pointed to this awesome site (thanks Charles!) today with videos of couriers having some races on off hours. I watched "NYC drag race" and TOTALLY remembered the adrenaline rush of racing in heavy downtown traffic at high speed.

Montreal is an island in the middle of the st laurence seaway, and the island has a mountain in the middle of it that's a big park. So, a lot of the city is hilly. A common delivery to make was from architects (many in hip converted old buildings in the old part of the city on the waterfront) to lawyers (many in fancy brownstones up on the mountain) or vice-versa. In other words, uphill, or down.

Several times a few of us would find ourselves at a little depanneur (corner store) up near the lawyer-rich area during a slow period, and would make a bet to race down to the waterfront. Something like this, only we'd zig-zag it a lot more. It was nuts because you'd get up to speed going down this hill, and then it'd just BLOOP! dump you into heavy downtown traffic. Any stopping at traffic lights and you'd never catch the rest of the guys, so it was all about timing the gaps in traffic and running the red.

Anyhow, I'm 50 pounds heavier now (did I actually 125 at one time? Ugh.) and at least 50 iq points smarter, so you won't see a repeat of that! However, if you want an idea of what it's like, check out some of the videos!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Tazer Tag?!?

I didn't quite get the appeal of video blogging. Then someone pointed me to Rocketboom. It's pretty sweet.

In this episode, they show you what you get when a pot-head with an engineering degree tries to create art. You get Tazer Tag.

A game where players where GPS units, wireless communicators and yes, Tazers. The game? If you are "it", get close as you can to another player and then "tag" him. The closer you get, the stronger the shock.

Dude, time to lay off the wacky weed!

Sunday, June 26, 2005


I haven't been posting much lately. Sure, the occasional "hey this link is cool", but not much in the way of thoughtful discourse. The reason is that I'm currently caught up in a whirlwind of activity because of some changes coming.

The biggest: I'm leaving Intel after seven and a half years. It's a great company and I wrestled with the decsion a lot, but I had a great opportunity come up at Microsoft that I felt I had to take. (More on the new job after I understand my new employer's stance on employee blogging and such - not that it will stop me, I just want to know how much hot water I'll be in :-)

The precipitate of that decision is that:

  • I have to wrap up my current job's activities, including team mid-year reviews (time consuming management stuff)
  • start ramping some knowledge in the domain of the new job
  • put our house up on the market and sell it
  • oh, and learn what's involved in selling a house as I've never done that before
  • work logistics of the move and temp housing and such
  • figure out what's involved in changing health insurance coverage (ah, how simple it was in canada)
  • cash in stock options (CHA CHING! well, cha-ching! anyway)
  • start looking for a new house

At some point, me, wife, kids, dogs, and fat-keister-feline all have to pack into a caravan and head north.

Anyhow, all to say I've been a little busy.

We now return you to regularly scheduled programming :-)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Video Game Violence Survey

Gamasutra posted the following (snip):

  • The Harvard Medical School Center For Mental Health and Media is reminding developers that it is conducting a survey of video game professionals on the effects of video game violence on players, and the deadline is fast approaching. The survey is being carried out to collect data not "agenda-driven or limited in practical utility," but instead unbiased and taking game developer opinion into account. The survey, available online for anonymous responses, will be open to the development community until July 8th

I filled out the survey and while I applaud their effort to collect data "not agenda-driven" and from industry insiders, the questions definitely bothered me in the way they were structured. Anyhow, I filled it out and left my contact info (the last question is a "may we contact you" type). Go judge for yourself, but in any case, it can't hurt to have people chime in on the rational side of the arguement as opposed to the other side.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Whats that sound?... Geekiness!

Thank you Jane, for pointing out this very, very geeky site.

Now my cell phone ringtone is ...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Resigned to design

Has anyone else noticed the "design" fad as of late?

It seems that every business or news magazine has a picture of an uber-hip exec with unfeasibly stylish, extra-german looking glasses, looking pensively either into the distance or at a product design mock up on a table or held up for examination.

On top of that, the magazine racks are swelling with a plethora of design-related and/or creativity-related magazines. I'd imagine the book cases will as well, but the magazine industry is a more immediate barometer of trends, as mags flare up and then fold as the trend settles.

Perhaps this is part of a larger trend?

Robin writes "art openings are the raves of this decade". I'll paraphrase and say that art galleries are the "networking social" of this decade. Seems to me that with all of the talk of design, aesthetics, art, etc, that there is a trend afoot that everyone (techies, biz types) beleives they have to be a renaissance man/woman in order to be competitive these days.

Pretty comparable to how everyone beleived they had to be moderately technical (if they were a biz type) or biz-savvy (if they were an engineer) in order to be competitive during the dot-com boom. Remember all the engineers trading stocks every morning? Remember all the biz folk talking tech over dinner?

So here's my pop-sociology hypothesis as to the cause for this trend: It's a cultural knee-jerk reaction to the fear of outsourcing and international competition. For a while now people have been saying that, just as manufacturing was replaced by engineering (of both tech and biz processes) as the first world's "core competence, the answer to tech jobs going overseas is that 'creativity' becomes our next core competence.

Sounds plausible, and so people are gettin' artsy to get ahead of the curve.

Jeez, and I just got rid of my need for glasses. Perhaps I can just get a beret.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Up... up.. and away...

... on Father's day!
Happy dad day to me :-)

Not wanting to waste any of it, I was up at 5am to go down to the Tigard balloon festival that was going on this weekend. The balloons all take off between 6 and 8, so you have to get there early if you want to see them being blown up and launched.
Here's a few pics (click for large versions):

Balloons take off from the field.

A larger view of the field (some not yet inflated, some disappeared over the horizon already). Note big ol' can of Alpo!

Energizer Bunny attacks! (In the process of being inflated :-)

I chatted with a couple of the pilots (balloonist? ballooner?) and well, it's pretty freakin' cool.

Between going down to see them deploy, inflate and launch the balloons, and having recently read Richard Branson's autobiography, well...
...must... resist... urge... to take up expensive impractical frivolous hobby!
So, I was done there by 7:30 or so. Went to the gym after that, then to Starbucks to ingest more than I burned off at the gym, then home...
...where I found my son Tom had adopted a gangsta rap persona (thanks to E3 Sony schwag hat) and was readin da bidness section. Yo!

Later we went to the park for good wholesome family fun time.

Above: Jenny Running. Below, Tom hams it up on the play gym.

Then it was home for a nap (them in cribs, me in hammock), some reading, and some BBQ'ing. Not a bad day!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Word Geek

Alisa bought me the OSPD and Everything Scrabble for fathers day. I've had a bit of the scrabble bug ever since renting Word Wars a while back (see related post).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More griping about retail

1up has the transcript of several interviews with retail sales folk they did, posing is naive game shoppers. (thanks Robin!)

Telling about how confusing it is for the casual gamer or would-be gamer.

I dread thinking about what it must be like for someone looking at the PC as a gaming platform (shudder)


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

On problems with the game industry...

First off, I'm gonna go off here. I have pent up rant-ness in me, and it's gotta get out.

I'm not going to rant about the usual lack-of-innovation-rant(tm), publishers-are-evil-rant(tm), woe-to-the-downtrodden-developer-rant(tm), or yet-another-rant-about-sequelitis-rant(tm), or any of the other usual ones you hear.

Instead I'm going to talk about a couple other problems: gaming press and unintended consequences of shorting the retail market.

1) The Gaming Press.

Um... well... it sucks. Brian Hook wrote a more detailed rant on this than I could hope to, and actually followed it up with a more detailed study. Go read them. I'll wait here....

Ok you're back? good.

I was reminded about this by Robin's related recent post about how innovation is stifled by buying trends (driven by press, publisher budgets, retail [which I'll get to in a minute], etc), that discourage risk taking by publishers in favor of tried-n-true game formulas and brand-name sequels. Robin hopes for a solution in "long-tail" content distribution - but I'm not so hopeful. The problem with long tails, if I might extend the metaphor inappropriately, is that they drag on the ground and get smeared with poo.

I don't have an answer. In the interim though, I like Robin's grass-roots suggestion - that we each commit to writing a Metacritic review of games that we play. I personally just went and rated Psychonauts (9/10) and God of War (4/10). What's needed next is a meta-meta-critic, which somehow holds press accountable for reviews that fall out of line with gamer reviews, so that we know which mags are more in line with end user opinion (which maybe isn't a good thing anyway, but that's another topic)

Ok, with that on the stack, let us discuss the embarrassing subject of "premature adulation" :-)

Robin's post mentions an article's premature praise for the upcoming Spore title from EA. I have some thoughts on this as well.

Will Wright' s Spore won a bunch of awards at E3 (Best of Show, others). I saw the GDC talk on Spore, and I have to say I have a beef with it, and have to disagree with what I deem is the premature granting of the "best of show" award.

Will's talk on the game covered a number of points, the main themes being the scope of the game (amoeba to galaxies), the fact the content is procedural with user-influenced/seeded elements, and sharing of user-created content. I think all three are interesting. The scope of the game is an interesting technical achievement. The procedural element is a necesary direction (I even wrote an article and demo back in 2000 on the subject). The user-created content is an, ahem, admirable goal, but I have issues with it.

My main issues with user-created content, is that there needs to be a way to "police it", or at least to "sift through it". The same is true of procedural content. When we did our procedural content demo, we found there were some amazing things the machine produced for us. However, they were at the far ends of a spectrum of bland mediocre stuff. How do you get the amazing stuff to the user without them having to wade through a bunch of garbage.

And just as "one in a thousand random things is interesting", so too is "one in a thousand user-created things interesting".

I had this thought occur to me when I spent a little time touring Second Life. I deemed it a "Digital Shanty Town". Nice technology, nice idea... somebody please hire an urban planner to help lay this out in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion, and somebody create a digital bulldozer with which we may vote on what crap needs to go. Maybe it's gotten better since then, but if it did, I wager it's through their intervention, not natural evolution.

So, getting back to Spore. The user-influenced, procedually-created, content that was shown at GDC & E3 was OK, but at the end of the day, that was created by people that work at EA, not run-of-the-mill gamers, it was also, perhaps, selected from a wide array of content by people that worked at EA, as the best stuff to show there.

And here's the biggest thing: I really didn't look all that fun. It was technically and artistically ambitious, but I'm not sure yet that it's *fun*. Perhaps fun in the TOY sense, but not in the GAME sense. And in the end, isn't THAT the most important thing that should be considered for an E3 "best of show"? Would it have won best of show if Will Wright's name had not been associated with it?

Quite frankly, I don't think it was deserved, and is just an example of how the gaming press isn't nearly as objective or reader-oriented as they need to be. (Apologies to Brian & Chris for dissing their game, and to Jane, for dissing her livelyhood. Of course, Jane is also part of the solution :-)

OK, enough of that. Back to the rant at hand.


I was saying that gaming press is part of the problem. There's also another thing that's been bugging me recently, which is related:

2. Retail.

One of my fave sessions from GDC this year was Kathy Schoback's "Economics of Next Gen Game Development".

One of the many illuminating points Kathy made was that the game publishers today run their retail distribution operations extremely inefficiently. Markdown account for millions in the budget of today's games. I'm no MBA, but here's my rudimentary attempt at an explanation:

If I make widgets, and sell them at widgets-r-us, I'd like to put the correct number of widgets in each store given the expectations of customers that are going to come in. If I don't put enough in, then I sell all my widgets, but could have sold more. If I put too many in, then my arrangements with the retailer say that I will eat the cost of liquidating that product (i.e. rebates, sale-below-cost, buy-back, etc). While I'm sure I have some of it wrong, the bottom line is that games in the channel that don't sell through, don't just "not make money", they COST money.

So, while you want to walk the line between too much product in the channel and not enough, it's better to err on the conservative side and short the market. Kathy's conclusion on that point, if I understood correctly, is that part of publishers reaching ISO-9001 type execution will involve a more frequent shorting of the market in coming years.

In other words, it will become increasingly common to go into stores to pick up a game and find that they don't have it in stock.

So why is this an issue, if it makes for a more profitable industry. More to the point (should I ever get to one), why do I care?

First off, I beleive this will affect innovative, sleeper hit titles more than the (more predictable) sequels and known brands. I beleive this is already happening. When I tried to buy Katamari Damacy, I had to try 3 retail locations before finding it in stock. When I tried ot buy Psychonauts, 2 locations - and it was just released! Yesterday I tried to pick up Lego Star Wars for PC, same thing. Plenty of God of War on the shelf though.

Secondly, I beleive this will affect PC gaming more than consoles, where the portfolio of titles is under a little more control. And PC gaming is where more innovation - at least more variety - is likely to take place, so it's yet another factor eroding away chances of gaming breaking out of the hardcore rut.

I don't beleive more retail space is going to help either. It'll just accomodate more console SKUs.

//end rant

Monday, June 13, 2005

Misc crappy phone cam pix

Since I was downloading cheap-ass-phone-cam shots off the camera for my last entry, here are a few others:


When I was down in the bay area last week, they freely upgraded me to the bitchin' new 'stang. Too bad it was raining and the convertible didn't get put to use. Verdict: Not bad for an american car. Still feels like an american car though.


You can't really see this, but I thought it was amusing: An Atari logo indicating the sponsor of a cable car that pulled up beside me in the city. A relic of one age sponsoring a relic of another age ;-)


A while ago I talked about how I spoke to a bunch of middle-school kids at a career day they had. This was a pic off the wall of the math class. It says "polygon" with a definition. I felt like adding other sarcastic definitions: "measure of game quality", "source of inflated graphics hardware company valuations", etc.

Note to self: buy better phone cam next time around!

Killer PSP or DS app?

I was browsing a retail store today and saw a low-cost game-specific game console. It was a Texas Hold'em poker game that you connect to the TV and connect up to 6 controllers for individual players to participate. Lousy phone cam shot:

The neat thing was that each of the 6 controllers had it's own LCD display for each player to hold their 2-card hand close to their chest.

The down side was, they skimped on the tech so much that the lag for any entry was painful, the controller display was cheap, and I could see it growing really frustrating for multiple players.

Still, I could see a texas holdem game for ad-hoc PSP or DS networks really making sense. And for a Gamecube/Gameboy combo (or "revolution"/DS combo), it works even better. Too bad it's probably taboo for nintendo's positioning. Oh well.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

It's comin' right at me!

My friend Tim "I'm more bad-ass than Jacques-freakin-Cousteau" Cherna has posted some awesome dive pictures from his last trip. If you like fish/coral/turtles,etc, check them out.

I can Shabu Shabu, can U?

We went to Uwajimaya today to do grocery shopping, a great asian grocer with a boatload of fresh produce, most of it of the strange and exotic variety (I came across a few fruits and veggies I'd never seen before). The nice thing about this place is it's GIGANTIC compared to most import/asian/etc grocers. Must give them some buying power or they have other connections or something because their produce selection and pricing is really top notch.

It's been over a year since we last went, but dropping by a Korean grocer with Justin after E3 and then having lychee fruit at my friend Adam's place last week gave me the urge to go again. Alisa also has been craving shabu shabu since returning from Japan, which was really the main driver.

So we took the kids there and got all our shabu-shabu incredients (nice thinly sliced marbly beef, asian cabbage, dried kelp, mushrooms, a few other things) and also picked up some tasty lychees, papayas, mangos, and some thai peppers that I don't yet know what I'm going use for. Green tea & red bean ice cream too!

Tonight we had shabu-shabu in our fondu pot. Was tasty but the kids weren't keen on the beef unless a little ketchup was added. Sigh, there's no accounting for taste! :-)

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Meet the Mysterious Ms X.

When I was down at E3, I rode the hotel shuttle bus one morning to get to the convention center. I ended up getting in a conversation with Alana, a.k.a "Ms X", of a game clan called the "Girlz of Destruction". They were on their way to hang out at the Razor mouse booth, who kind of semi-sponsors them.

One thing that caught my eye (easy, not that way!) was that they weren't all playing the girl-hottie card (a couple of them borderline risquee) but rather most were just wearing jeans and hoodies and were instead relying their abilities to just kick the butts of all comers.

While groups like the Fragdolls, playas they might be, are definitely playing the tittilation card (there was some controversy a while back about how much there were selected for talent vs looks), the GoD seemd to be taking the high road of just competing and being good at it. Good for them!

Anyhow, I was reminded of them today when pointed to an interview with Ms X.

Oh, and they earned extra respect when they explained on the bus ride that they were hung over, having skipped out on E3 parties to drive to Tijuana the previous night. Ouch!

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Justin Hall interview

As I think I've noted here before, meeting Justin Hall and starting to frequent his blog was one of the main inspirations for getting into blogging myself.

Justin was recently interviewed on his thought on the internet, gaming, film school and the ramifications of leading 10 years of his life publicly on the web. It's a great read.

Pardon the colorful language used for purposes of making this point clear, but Justin is fucking smart. Life's too short to waste it with the stupid. (thankfully others don't feel this way, or I'd be lonelier :-)

Monday, June 6, 2005

Dans la Pomme!

Good news. My friend Tim (link on the right) is thinking a little less differently today!

Booth babe for hire... or for sale?

Gizmondo made a strange announcement today... they purchased a model agency.

Say what you will about the announcement. I think it's just proof that they are clearly out of touch with what their customers want and are going to fail miserably.

Maybe they just confused Chris Crawford and Cindy Crawford? :-)

Friday, June 3, 2005


A while back I posted about having rented Word Wars. I've been bitten by the scrabble bug since, and Alisa and I have played a few times, only to be reminded that we really suck compared to the folks in that film.

Well, we played tonight (she won), we each scored a bingo (her: "Esquire" on a triple word for 118; me: "dethroned" on a triple word for 78), plus I did "stereotyped" which didn't score much but is an impressively long word for scrabble. Final score, 395 for me, 418 for her.

On seeing, "seeing", and marketing

Had my follow up 1-week optometry appointment: 20/15 in both eyes. I am truly bionic :-)

Seriously though, one reason why I see so much better, he explained, is that previously, with a -5 prescription, my glasses were reducing everying in size by 40%. So now I'm seeing clearly, and everying's bigger by the same proportion.

I'm also a great seer of another kind, as I finished Psychonauts the other night. I still think it's a great game and highly recommend it, but the too-typical boss monster fights at the end of the game made me lower my opinion a bit. 8-on-10 rather than 9-on-10, I guess.

I also just finished The 22 immutable laws of marketing by Ries and Trout. Mixed feelings about this one. It's definitely a second-class business book. Not the same caliber as my favorites, like Moore's Inside the Tornado. However, it's a very quick read, and it's inexpensive (~$10), so if you pick up a few things from it, what does it hurt? On the positive side, the "laws" themselves are good ones (though I'd argue they are mutable), and plenty of anecdotal examples of each one help prove them. On the negative side, they kind of pitch as though marketing exists in a vaccuum and not as part of a holistic approach to delivering product to market. They also don't explain the laws well, but rather just say "law 1. Look at these examples. See? must be true". Anyhow, you've been warned. Still more to learn than you will from a couple lattes, which is what it would cost you.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

GDC Talk posted

One of my talks from GDC this year, the one I gave at the Quality of Life summit, has been posted online here. (about halfway down the page).

I'm rather pleased with the talk worked out, despite my rumpled shirt :-)

Notes on stuff I need to improve on when speaking:

  • When shielding eyes from light when listening to a question, stop doing so when answering it.
  • Less "umm's" (though I've improved here).
  • Pretty good level of 'animation' in both tone of voice and gesticulation and such, but could probably be 10-20% more and would be better.
  • Write slides earlier and rehearse! This wasn't bad for unrehearsed, but that just means it could have been better.

Anyhoo, enjoy.