Friday, December 29, 2006

Guilty pleasure

I'm playing Sneak King. I have to confess, I kind of like it.

It's cheezy (like the burgers), lacks any substance (like the burgers), is predictable (like the burgers) and like the burgers, I feel bad about myself after partaking.

But still, I like it :-)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

But Can a *CASUAL* Game Make You Cry?

Sure, this post's title is a play on the oft-repeated "can a game make you cry?" question, which IIRC, originally came from the early EA "We See Farther" ad. (BTW, does anyone have a high-res scan of that original ad? I sure would love to read the text of it again...)

The original question (it's rhetorical, those asking beleive the answer is 'yes', and the question's just supposed to make you think about what it might take for a game to illicit any kind of strong emotional response from you.

Today when that question is thrown about at conference keynotes and such (See my MIGS'05 anecdote on this), it's usually made in reference to the 'cutting edge' game development: 'Next-gen', big budget titles, with graphics and animation to suspend disbeleif and rich story and theme to wrap yourself up in. Because if anyone is going to do it, it will be those titles, right?

Maybe not.

A couple nights I rented & watched Wordplay, the documentary about Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle editor.

Arguably it just uses him as a focal point and is really more about the NYT Crossword 'scene', which includes him, his predecessor, frequently-contributing puzzle designers, and the leading competitive players that meet at the annual championship.

This documentary of course is very similar to Word Wars, the documentary about the players on the competitive Scrabble circuit. (I blogged about this one a while back). While Wordplay leads you to beleive it will be more of a character movie than Word Wars, it falls short in this respect. In covering so much, and talking to SO many people in doing so, and in focusing on getting 'the big names', means it stays pretty high level and doesn't dive deep on any one person. Word Wars is a better character flick, IMHO.

On the other hand, Word Play does a GREAT job of describing the game itself, the process some of the designers use in coming up with puzzles, and -most interesting to anyone in the electronic games business - the interesting relationship between game designer and player. The more 'hardcore' of the players in the movie are often heard saying "Ah, this is a [designer name] puzzle, so you can expect it to have some of [name of unique signature trait here]."

I found that to be very interesting. I'm not sure that same relationship exists anywhere in the electronic game world. Perhaps to some degree. Fans of Lucasarts (old school) adventure games, Bioware titles, and a few others come to mind. But I'm not sure it's at that intimate level. At no point during Gears of War did I get surprised by an ambush of baddies and say, "Ah, Cliffy, I should have known you'd put some of those guys there!".

Anyhow, that was one observation that I came away with in relation to our industry.

The bigger eye-opener was in seeing one of the DVD extras entitled 'Five Unforgettable Puzzles' which gave a detailed look at the story behind five famous crosswords, among them "Wardrobe Malfunction", which definitely showed that a Crossword can make you laugh, and "Drawing Power" a crossword done as a tribute to illustrator Al Hirschfeld, which judging by the mail they got from the latter, proved that at least a *crossword game* can make someone cry.

Anyhow, the movie is worth renting just for that extra alone.

The epiphany for me was that if a crossword puzzle can make someone cry, as can a pop song (vs an opera) or a short poem (vs a novel), then I think there's no reason that a casual game can't do the same.

Food for thought.

Joyeux Noel

Hey Blogosphere!

Happy Merry Chrismolidaymas!

Haven't had much time for posting between festivities, toy assembly, repair, and participation in play. Actually my first time online in a few days.

At least we have electricity!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Who's the brilliant marketeer at Nintendo?

A while back I posted this about Nintendo's gift to George bush.

Now I just saw the Dr Phil Wii product placement.

If it's the same person that came up with both of those, well, as I said earlier, they deserve a raise!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Le 'ockey

For those American readers (esp those on the west coast or in the south) that don't remember what the sport of hockey was like before it was cleaned up for American TV audiences...

... there is YouTube:

9 minutes o' fightin'. Now THAT was Hockey Night in Canada.

Or as Don Cherry would say, before those pansy Swede's started floodin' the league!

Oops. Did I say 9 minutes? I meant 15. Here's part two:

Where the money goes (kinda)

Raph points us to the Forbes article on breakdown of costs of 'next gen titles' (using Gears of War as the case study).

As he points out, there's a gross oversimplification here. All of these percentages(for an individual title, as well as over a portfolio of titles) dial up/down over the lifetime of a title, as does teh ASP of the title. ALso, there's a tradeoff of risk/reward that occurs between partners (eg. bigger advance vs lower royalty after the fact).

Still, it's a good read to get one perspective.

On thing that is interesting: They have disty margin of 1.5%, and retailer margin at 20%. Not sure those are exactly accurate, but they are in the ballpark. Interesting that it's almost a complete flip from, say, 10-15 years ago, where disties often commanded 20% or greater margins and small retailers, well, no Le Sieur peas for them!

Raph opens the kimono

A little bit anyway.

Supply and Demand

Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
Supply and Demand at work. $1 will buy you a whole wheelbarrow of wood... when a storm just passed through and knocked down an ass-load of trees


Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
Another tree-hit house in our neighborhood. When I drove by the day after it happened, there was a clear view of hte back yard where that sheet of plywood is now. You can see the size of the tree that went through the house. Yikes.


Originally uploaded by Kim Pallister.
One of the houses in my neighborhood that got hit pretty hard in the storm. Looks like it was a bedroom - hopefully no one hurt. Note the broken chimney as well. That can't be cheap to fix!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Power's back on

As of 9pm tonight. Total outage time: 116hrs. Total money spent on equipment (see previous post) ~$800. That's not including any damage to the pool equipment due to freezing pipes. I'm a little scared to go look at it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another example

Example of damage from windstorm

Originally uploaded by mini K™.
This is about 1/3 the size of the biggest tree I saw knocked down by the storm

Talkin 'Bout My G-G-G-Generator

So, no blog posts for a while. For those outside the area that may not have heard, Seattle got hit by a major storm that knocked out power to something like a half-million people. We lost power thursday night around midnight and still don't have it back as of Sunday evening, which is when I'm writing this (not sure when I'll get to post it). [Update: Posting from office Monday morning - still no power at home]

Thursday evening was MSCG's Xmas - oops, sorry - holiday party. Alisa and I left the kids with a babysitter and went into Seattle to attend. When we left, we realized the weather really was quite severe. Several blocks in the city were closed due to bits of high-rise buildings flying OFF of those buildings and landing in the street(!).

As we waited at an intersection at one point, the wind was slamming the car so hard that we were rocking back and forth as if driving offroad - only we were standing still. As we drove across the I-90 floating bridge, big cascading waves of water were being blown up over the edge and onto the road. Further down I-90, construction barrels were being blown about the road like moving road hazards. I saw one barrel being blown over the road and my first thought was "Wow! Half Life 2!" :-)

We got home, after driving through a neighborhood of green streets (so covered in cedar boughs that the pavement was blocked from view) power went out minutes after that.

Next morning, thinking "how bad can it be?" I figured I'd go into the office to get some work done. Big Mistake. Huge trees downed everywhere (I saw one that had cut a house in half - right through the living room), many streets were impassable, and all the intersection lights were out. My 20 minute commute took me 2hrs, and another 2hrs for the return.

That night we hung out with the kids and played Scrabble by candlelight. Two 30-pound toddlers in your bed is like a couple of big hot water bottles :-)

On the radio, they were talking about power being out for up to another week in some areas. Having seen the tree that (I think) was responsible for taking out our area - there's one nearby that snapped a telephone pole and took out a whole spaghetti-nest of wires - I figured we might be at the longer end of that time estimate. Our house has a hook-up for a generator, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy one. I called Home Despot, who were out, but expecting more that day. I got on a waiting list and decided to head into the store in case the list wasn't being ahered to.


A hundred-person queue had formed, some on list, some not. I was 66 on the list. 54 generators arrived. The called the first 54 names, and if you weren't on there, the called you and gave you one hour to make it in. When that hour passed, they gave up another 15 units, and I was at the tail end of that list. Goodbye, $600. Hellooooo POWER.

Then again, maybe not. To hook it up, I need a special 220-volt, 4 prong locking plug. They don't have one. Neither does the 3 next HW stores I try. All sold out. I also don't have gas, and there are hour-long gas lines at the few stations that are open.

So, back home get gas can, borrow gas can from neighbor. Get gas (queue wasn't so bad by the time I got there), get home, assemble generator, run extension cords for 120v into the house, power a couple lights and a space heater. Better, livable. Still no heat though. Still, with a gas stove and gas water heater, it's not so bad.

Sunday, I got up, stoked the fire, started generator, and then we had some neighbors over with their kids and had quite a decent breakfast. Later, my mission was to find that power hook up.

I ended up finding not the cord, but the components to build one myself. Two 4-prong, 220v male plugs, and a lenght of 50A rated 220v dryer cord that wasn't long enough, but would do to put the generator outside the garage and close the door (did I mention that as of Sunday morning, 1 dead and 100 hospitalized in Seattle area from carbon monoxide poisoning?).

So, I built myself a generator cord, took the house off the grid via the main switch, plugged the home made cord into the house, threw all the breakers to 'off', and plugged the generator into the other end of the cord. Then I switched on the breaker for the furnace and.... Ahhh... sweet, sweet, heat. Next some lights... Ahhh... beautiful incandescent bulb, how I missed basking in thy glow.

As of my writing this, we really aren't THAT bad off. We have heat, power, gas for cooking, the fridge and freezer are full (managed to even save the ice cream). Only negatives are that it's a pain to throw circuits on and off (I don't want to overload the generator, which is only a 5500-watt unit), and of course, no cable - and thus no internet nor cable tv. Oh, and I'm behind on work since I didn't count on 3 days of suburban survival action.

Could be much worse though. We could be one of the poor people that lost their entire home or had major damage to it via a tree going through the middle. Look on the bright side and all of that.

I'll try to snap some picks of the destruction in our neighborhood once I get the chance. In the meantime, I'll post some examples from other people's Flickr pages.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Second Life reality check

Clay Shirky has written a very good article throwing a bucketload of reality-check onto the hype surrounding Second Life. It's worth reading.

I find many of the things being attempted and sometimes accomplished in SL as fascinating as the next guy. I just think the hype is outpacing the reality and proponents should come back down to earth a bit.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Warning: Excessive Levels of Cute

Ok, here's your dose of gaming cuteness to last you through the holidays. YOu may need an insulin shot after sampling this.


Courtesy Orsinal and tip-o-the-hat to JayisGames for the pointer.


I gave the Media Center box a much-needed space upgrade last night. I added a second 120GB drive to it.

The drive I had in was 80Gb, of which only about 60 was free for video, so I've basically tripled my effective space. Ahh...

However, to give you an idea how long it's been since I fiddled with PC componentry, I grabbed the drive out of the box, looked for the IDE connector and said "WTF?". Oh yea, this must be that serial ATA interface. Cool. So I mount the drive in the bay (which I made room in by pulling the mega-obsolete 3.5" floppy drive) and plug in the cable. Oh yeah, power. WTF? Never seen one of these power connectors.

I found some level of redemption in the fact the box didn't have an extra power connector of the 'new fangled' type to use with the drive, so I pulled a cable from another machine and spliced the connector to the MC box's power supply.

I am rusty, but L337. I wasn't doing this nekkid, however.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Watching Wii

I went to a Xmas party at a friend's place this weekend, and he had a bunch of people over, many of whom brought kids. I sat for a while in his home theatre room and watched 3 boys of ages 8-to-10 pick up the Wii for the first time. Amazing how fast they took to it.

In fact, the only thing they had any problem with was the qwerty keyboard layout when entering their name, as they weren't computer-savvy kids. Everything else was easily picked up.

Then they started Wii Sports boxing and all heck broke loose! No broken straps though.

On a related note, Alice points out that there's a WiiMotion flickr pool. Tabarnaque que c'est genial! :-)

Nintendo really has built something wonderful here. I was really skeptical about the controller, but am coming around. I still think it will have issues for long bouts of gameplay, but maybe gaming in 15 minute bursts, along with a play style that doesn't fit the preconceived notions about gaming, are just what we need to attract new gamers (or the 'dormant' gamers).

If you have any doubt, just have a look at the pool. Those are people have FUN!

Carnival Time

MMOG Nation is hosting the December Carnival of Gamers. Go check it out.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Out of the Dark(room) Ages

I've taken a few days off work this week to use up some unused vacation time (this is actually the first vacation time I've taken since starting at Microsoft, apart from a couple days at Xmas break last year). I'm splitting the time between playing with the kids and getting some stuff done around the house.

One of the jobs that has been pending for a while is a new cabinet, sink, and countertop for the laundry room.

The previous owner of the house was a professional photographer. So, along with some very useful stuff that came with the house (e.g. drop down screen and projector in the media room), we also got some not-so-useful stuff, like a darkroom (which doubles as a laundry room).

Some people might think a darkroom is useful and cool. However, in the age of digital photography, I think it's about as useful as a home printing press or backyard trepanation table.

Anyhow, so I've pulled the cabinet and sink, and am in the process of putting the new one in. There's a huge (4' by 2') darkroom sink and water purifier that are coming out on Friday, and will be craiglisted to fund the new sink and countertop.

Should be considerably less troublesome and costly than my last sink replacement job.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Aaiiiyyy! Mein Eyes

Uhh... No thanks. You can keep your PS3.

(This may turn out to be a guerilla marketing tactic to deal with the allocation problem by pushing down PS3 demand).

Bond commentary

Went to see the new bond flick on the weekend. I really liked it. I enjoyed darker, grittier Bond. Sort of Sean Connery Bond meets a Tarantino flick. (Nowhere near as graphic as a Tarantino flick, but certainly further down that spectrum than other Bond movies).

Enjoyed the airline-related cameo in it.

Not seeing the forest for the trees (and mud)

There was a story on the news last night about Thrifty car rental, and how they are marketing buffoons.

OK, it wasn't about that, but it amounts to that.

Recently, a guy got stranded in Olympic national park near here, after heavy rains washed out the roads to where he was at. He and a friend hiked out with help from the national guard. Only problem was, his car was still there.

It'll take anywhere from 3 months to a year to get the roads fixed. Thrifty wanted to charge him $30 a day, or anywhere from $3000 to $12000.

That was just typical corporate red-tape type stupidity. Irregular case, some clerk doesn't know how to circumvent procedure.

The buffoonery starts when a news story runs on the subject, and what does Thrifty do? They offer him a discount rate of $13 per day. So, now the get to extract the princely sum of somewhere between $1500 and $5000, and look like customer-hating buffoons while doing it. This makes a lot more sense than waving the cost entirely and painting a picture of a company that cares about its customers.

Seems like a big hit to your corporate image for just $5k, but then they are Thrifty, after all.