Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long night...

Not one, not two, but all three kids have come down with some kind of bug. All three have been vomiting on and off for the past few hours. Have changed many sheets, have done much laundry, have not done much off my to-do list this evening.

*sigh*. Parenthood.

The most macabre thing I've heard this year...

We have a friend staying with us for a few days who is attending an orthopedic surgeon's conference. We were chatting last night about the layperson's knowledge of medical procedures and anatomy, and how it has improved due to things like the Internet, Wikipedia, etc. He agreed.

I cited the 'Bodies' exhibit as another example. Alisa and I went to see it a number of months back. He said he had ethical issues with the exhibit and I asked why.

"Well, did you notice anything that all the subjects had in common?"

I thought about it, but my wife beat me to the conclusion.

"They're all Chinese"

Oh my. So I checked wikipedia and of course there's a great deal of controversy about the questionable origin of the cadavers used in these exhibits. Here's the money shot right here:

The cadavers were donated for research by the Chinese government, because all the bodies at the time of death allegedly had no close next of kin or immediate families to claim the bodies.


Due to the fact that the cadavers featured in the exhibition are Chinese in origin, critics suspect that some or all of the bodies may be those of Chinese political prisoners or Falun Gong practitioners, who may have been subject to arrest and execution without due process, in order to be sold as cadavers

Makes me regret giving them my money, as well as being so ignorant about the issue in the first place.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Metaplace elevator pitch video

There's been a video posted of Raph doing this short version of the metaplace pitch. If you haven't heard about it yet, well, you will.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cutting through Music Biz BS

This recent Freakonomics Quorum on the Freakonomics blog is the best read I've had on the music business so far this year. Nothing like the lense of economics to dispell the bull that the RIAA and others spew out.

Five people from very different walks of life are asked their opinion on the subject, some of which aren't so good, but a couple are really quite thorough and insightful. Here's the money quote right here:

From Koleman Strumpf (a business economics prof who's written extensively on the subject):

(from a list of other factors contributing to the industry's decline): recorded music has had trouble competing against other products that vie for consumers’ entertainment spending. Consider home video products like the DVD. It does not seem implausible that a good chunk of the $11 billion rise in spending on home video products since 1999 represents foregone CD sales. (Music industry revenues only fell $2 billion over this period.) Entertainment spending was also likely channeled into cell phones and video games, both of which experienced large sales growth and have been particularly popular with the key teen demographic.

From Peter Rojas (founder of Engadget):

The emergence of Napster (the original one) was the wake-up call, but the record industry would be in trouble now even if no one had invented peer-to-peer file sharing.

The fact of the matter is that the majors thrived in an era of inefficiency, when there was value in physically producing and distributing music. There isn’t any value in that any more (or at least, it’s very quickly declining), and there’s no good way for labels to compete given that the cost structure of the business was designed around physical releases

Those being said, it's amazing to see how some of the other opinions come from heads firmly stuck in the sand. Amazing.

I'm extrememly curious to see how the industry fares with iTunes, Walmart and Amazon all offering DRM-free music downloads. If it has a positive effect on the market, maybe the games industry can learn a lesson or two from the music industry and rid ourselves of DRM, as it seems to be one of the factors that is hurting the PC platform in particular.

It's like they put the chocolate RIGHT IN the peanut butter!

When your favorite game reviewer reviews your favorite casual game!

The Escapist's Zero Punctuation reviews Popcap's Peggle:

Casual Science

I was lucky enough to have a visit from Annakaisa Kultima yesterday. She's a game researcher with the University of Tempere in Finland. We'd exchanged some email about her presentation at the Nordic Games conference, where I was surprised to find there were researchers looking specifically at the casual space.

Anyhow, she's got some great ideas, and I'd encourage folks to keep an eye on her work going forward.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Playing Columbine

Danny Ledonne, developer of Super Columbine Massacre RPG, about which there was some controversy last year, has released an extended trailer of his upcoming documentary film 'Playing Columbine'.

He's released it on the anniversary of the school shooting that took place last year at Dawson College in Montreal (where I went to school).

It's *really* good. Pretty good cast of interviewees as well (Jason Della Rocca, Ian Bogost, Greg Costikyan, etc).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Halo 3 Hulabaloo

Yesterday was the craziness around here, what with getting ready for the Halo3 launch around the country at midnight.

We had a launch party for all of the games division with prizes, green beer, cake (Master Chief loves his cake, I guess), army field rations (wtf?), and a free collectors edition of the game (woot!).

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about the "biggest entertainment launch in history".

On the one hand, I'm all for the hype it brings the platform and the game. Casual gaming be damned, this is our flagship and so by all means, beat the drum. Also, I think the ad campaign with the 'historical' perspective is brilliant.

On the other hand, I just have a hard time beleiving that it's the optimal level of spend. I have to think that with the quality of game being put out, simply putting it on a store shelf quietly would sell two to three million units. A moderate level of marketing would probably get it to four or five. So does another (guessing) $100M justify another 2M units beyond that? I guess so, but its still a little hard to grok. Maybe because I work in a part of the business where teh numbers are usually a little smaller than that :-)

Anyhow, I got my free copy. I then came home and continued my game of Call of Duty 2 :-). Have to finish what I started before I move on to the new stuff!

Oh, and Guy Kawasaki has pix up of the Silicon Valley launch party.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Intolerant buffoons: Shanda bans cross-gender play

OK, this just takes the cake.

(via Kotaku), Shanda has announced that one of their MMOs, King of the World, has chose to disallow, and frozen accounts of men who chose to play female characters in-game. Emphasis below is mine:

Shanda (Nasdaq: SNDA) subsidiary Aurora Technology has frozen game accounts of male players who chose to play female in-game characters in its in-house developed MMORPG King of the World, reports 17173. Aurora stipulates that only female gamers can play female characters in the game, and it requires gamers who chose female characters to prove their biological sex with a webcam, according to the report.

Yeah, this isn't going to be a problem, right? Not to mention that meatspace cross-dressing in order to enable in-game cross-dressing is kind of funny too.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First Amendment Rights... but *who's*?

As discussed over on GamePolitics, the ESA has recently been stepping up it's lobbying efforts, under the leadership of it's new head, Mike Gallagher.


Among the issues on which they are lobbying:


anti-piracy, Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), P2P file sharing, First sale, Technology Mandates, anti-circumvention (i.e., mod chips), media violence, First Amendment protection, entertainment industry ratings systems, parental control technology, content/video game sale regulation, retailer enforcement of ratings systems, Internet privacy, Internet gambling , a variety of trade issues, Virtual property taxation


The ESA like any other lobby group is representing the interests of those that supply their funding. In some cases this is in the interest of the customer (e.g. virtual property taxation), in other cases arguably not (DMCA, anti-piracy, etc).


I worry more about those that sound noble but are in fact self serving. Case in point being "First Amendment Protection". I'm guessing this translates far more to "don't ban our AO game from being sold", and not so much to "first amendment rights of users in virtual worlds", for example.


So if the ESA's looking out for the game industry, who's looking out for the game consumer? Hmm...

WOOT! Customer Service!

I agree with Marc Andreesen. This is the best customer service letter EVAR!

[Cut and pasted from the WOOT website]

I have received more than three emails from Zune buyers who are upset about Woot dropping the price of the Zune by $20 one month after it went on sale the first time. After reading every one of these emails, or at least scanning their subject lines, I have some observations and conclusions.

First, I need to make a better effort to hide my email address.

Second, I am sure that we are making the correct decision to lower the price of the 30GB Zune from $149.99 to $129.99. This confidence is based on more than the holy doctrine of corporate infallibility. The Zune is a breakthrough product, and we have the chance to “ride the lightning” and “shoot the curl” this holiday season, not to mention “kill the messenger” and “rock the vote”, further enabling us to “pay the rent” and “keep the lights on”. It benefits both Woot and every Zune user (but especially Woot) to drag as many new victims as possible into the Zune “dungeon”. We strongly believe that misery loves company this holiday season.

Third, being in technology for 1+ years, give or take a year, I can attest to the fact that the technology road is bumpy. There is always some idiot changing lanes without signaling, and the potholes never seem to get fixed. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you’ll never buy any technology product. I mean, why should you? Truth is, you don’t really need any of this junk. We’re afraid you’ll catch on to that fact and overpaid frauds like me will have to go back into fields like telemarketing and burrito construction. Fortunately, most of you continue to languish in a consumerist stupor, wallets spread wide for us to plunder as we please. The bad news for us is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service. But we’re hoping you’ll buy from Woot instead.

Third-and-a-half, even though we are making the right decision to lower the price of the Zune, and even though the technology road is, like, this total Deathrace 2000-type scene, we need to do a better job taking care of our early Zune customers, at least until we find a private security firm we can afford. For some reason, our early customers trusted us. We must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these, lest you turn off the money spigot that maintains our decadent lifestyles. These peacock-egg omelets and mink-lined Jacuzzis don’t pay for themselves, you know.

Therefore, we have decided to offer every Woot customer who purchased a Zune from us on August 22, 2007... a $10 Woot credit towards any Woot order of $40 or more... We make this decision with every confidence that most of you will never want any of the crap we sell anyway.

We want to convincingly pretend to do the right thing for our valued Zune customers. We’d apologize for disappointing some of you, but we long ago lost the capacity for sincere remorse. We will continue to do our best to trick you into having high expectations of Woot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Areae Opens the Kimono

Of course, after the cryptic note in my last post, sure enough Areae has spilled the beans.

That's the 'Level 3' gaming platform I alluded to. I've seen it in action and it is going to *significantly* shake up the landscape.

Congrats to Raph, John, and the rest of the gang there. Now get to beta!

Internet Software Platforms Explained

This lengthy but well thought out explanation of 'Internet Platforms' by Marc Andreesen is a must-read. I mean it. If you are only going to read one thing all week, well, stop reading this post and go read his. It does a great job of explaining the present and future of application development for the Internet, as well as explaining just what all the hullabaloo regarding the Facebook platform. The latter being what he calls 'The first level 2 platform' of the 3 levels he describes.


Really smart and thought provoking stuff. Profound.


Here's the short version as I summarize it (I still recommend reading it, this is partly a summarization exercise for my own benefit):


Level 1: Applications can call an API from a web service, get data and use it in their apps. (e.g. An app at '' pulls map data from Google Maps and pix from flickr, mashes them up and serves them up on their web page). Got it? Data goes FROM the service TO the app.


Level 2: Applications can plug themselves INTO a platform. (e.g. an app at pulls the same data as above, but then the app is accessed and appears within the platform's UI, such as getting served up on someone's Facebook page). The data may likely go from the service to the app, as above, app does some operation on it, but then the result goes BACK INTO the service and gets served up there.


Limiting factor in level 2 is that the operation on that data occurs on compute cycles that the app developer runs. If they can't scale or their servers go down or whatever, then the app breaks, and the negative result looks like the fault of the platform provider. (Great example here being all the "oops we're choking"-esque messages I get on Scrabulous as of late).


Level 3: You've probably guessed level 3 by now, right? The compute occurs on the platforms cycles, and the app developer just uploads their code to their servers.


Level 3 is a huge undertaking for the platform provider (allowing for others to upload code that you haven't vetted to run on your mips and storage), but the result is that the dev cost for providers drops to near-zero. Just as Level 2 apps are an order of magnitude cheaper to write than level 1, Level 3 apps will be an order of magnitude cheaper than level 2.


Marc's post goes into a great deal of detail about examples of Level 3 platforms in the making. He names Second Life as an example, but I think he's mistaken. I don't beleive 3rd party apps can call into and retreive the data from their apps, can they? I don't know that much about the SL 'dev environment'). He misses one example I know of (but am under NDA and thus can't speak of)... and it's a game platform :-)

Will the casual games business get 'Coked out'?

Last year, I got some grief for comparing Casual Games to fruit flies.


Meanwhile, King Ludic compares the casual games industry to the cocaine industry.


It's not a bad analogy, actually. At least as far as his point about the developer, like the poor coca farmer, making a minority of the take as the bulk of money is divvied up amongst those that comprise the distribution chain that brings the product to the customer.


This line, as well, was particularly astute:

...the gold rush mentality of casual games will collapse as the market stops growing as fast as the influx of commodified games


Where he falls down however, is in his prediction about the market at some point getting 'coked out' and petering out as a result.


Last I checked, the cocaine industry was still clocking along.


I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions :-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Zero Punctuation sets sights on Lara

The latest Zero Punctuation goes after Tomb Raider Anniversary. Funny stuff.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Braid for XBLA Announced - YAY!

I've had to keep tight-lipped about this for a while, but Braid got announced for XBLA.

The post about it on GameSetWatch has a good comment thread by Jon (the developer) and Simon (of GameDev mag and IGF) on some of the issues around indie games and the IGF.

I'm really excited to play the final version. Braid is one of the few games that I've played in a long time that has REALLY made my brain hurt!

Shame on me!

I was digitally spanked by many friends for my post on not attending Richard Garriot's charity benefit while at Austin GDC.

Having read Warren Spector's summary of the evening, I really regret it. Am now donning hair-shirt and smacking myself in the head Monty-Python-style.

Bad Kim! Bad!

Calling out the Copyright Alliance

I've linked to the Patry Copyright blog before, the blog of Google's chief copyright counsel. It's amazingly verbose and dense, but there is some fantastic insight to be found fairly regularly.

Anyhow, I *loved* this post entitled "Copyright is always government intervention", in which he cuts through the thick rhetoric of the Copyright Alliance, a lobbying organization funded by the RIAA, MPAA, and long list of others.

The whole post is a good read, but here's a couple choice pieces if you want the short version:

If one has been around long enough, one has seen a great many such groups as well as efforts to equate “respect” for copyright with a high level of rights. The copyright to which one asked to respect is of a special kind, though. It is limited to strong enforcement of content owners’ rights as well as agreement with content owners’ expansive interpretations of those provisions. And, it includes a promise to “prevent diminishment” of rights, as the Copyright Alliance put it. Respect for copyright is thus narrowly regarded and unidirectional: ever expanding rights and greater penalties.

and on a quote from the CA's head, Patrick Ross (in which Ross was lobbying AGAINST government intervention to allow consumer electronics devices to work well together, per a lobbying effort from the CEA):

Mr. Ross qualified his dislike of government intervention to “this case,” but it is hard to believe that even he believes what he said, namely that it is government intervention that is the source of the faults he sees. Content owners, after all have been the biggest advocates of government intervention against consumers: When the RIAA wanted government dictated standards for DAT tapes, it got them in the 1992 AHRA. When content owners en masse wanted them for the Internet, they got them big-time in the DMCA. When the RIAA wanted immunity for trashing your hard-drive in searching for P2P downloads, it didn’t hesitate to call in the feds. When MPAA wanted to give theater owners immunity from state law prosecution for hunting out and seizing camcorders from theater viewers, it got a federal law passed. The MPAA, as I recently noted, wants the federal government to pay for Customs Service dogs to sniff your luggage and car for DVD. If these are not acts of government intervention, I don’t know what is.

And finally:

Digital Freedom’s proposals, for example, are principally for amendment to the highly interventionist DMCA provisions: how can amendments to interventionist provisions be objected to as interventionist? Lets skip the flatulent rhetoric about government intervention and get down to the real issue: finding the policy that does the most good for the most people; and when we do we’ll be thankful to have the government intervene.


Re-jiggin' your brain

Two unrelated, brain-related articles popped in my feed over the past couple days:

Andre points us to an article highlighting some research that says that Liberal and Conservative brains are wired differently. (Ok, hold that thought)

Meanwhile, I was pointed to this article about a gentleman by the name of Tony Gelf who recently broke the record for sleep deprivation by staying awake for 11 consecutive days and nights. He's a researcher on the subject and did it to promote his book about his theory that involves a meat-free diet and more interestingly, a technique of alternating between left- and right-brain-focused activities. He claims that when one side of the brain is engaged, the other can recharge itself, much as it does when sleeping.

Some thoughts that occurred to me after reading both:

  • Does this mean that Liberals and Conservatives would fare differently in sleep-deprived scenarios? I can't imagine that being president allows for a consistent eight hours per night. We should take this into account when voting!
  • While I've actually being trying to get MORE sleep (I consistently used to get less than 5 hrs, but have been trying to force myself to get more lately), could the whole alternate-between-left-and-right-brain-activities thing still be beneficial if true? Good way to recharge batteries maybe?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Metal Mouth

Oh yeah, I got braces today too.

I look something like this (only with lips):

How My Closet Metrosexual Killed My Inner Geek

I have a few things to blog about Austin GDC, but in the meantime, here's a short one.

The evening I arrived at AGDC, I got a call from a friend inviting me to the a charity benefit happening that evening.

She said that it was being held at Richard Garriot's house, which has some big geek appeal. She also said that others already at the event had reported that it was being held outdoors, and that because of recent rains, it was a mudpit.

Inner Geek: "OMG! Brittania Manor!

Closet Metrosexual: "I dunno. These leather shoes I'm wearing are new."

IG: "It's an immitation English castle!"

CM: "These are real Italian leather."

Anyhow, I didn't end up going, so I guess you can figure out who won.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

She swallowed the spider to catch the HDMI...

...or 'the latest on my consumer electronics binge'.

I'm a little behind on blogging as I was at Austin GDC all week, but right before leaving I had a little consumer electronics binge, which I fear may lead to more binging.

Last weekend, before leaving for AGDC, the fifteen(!) year old projector that came with my house, died. Woohoo! I'd been awaiting it's death to justify the upgrade to HD, but couldn't justify it when there was a working old school projector still in place.
Anyhow, it died, and the next day I was off to buy a replacement. I ended up buying the very affordable Optoma HD70. There are a ton of specs I could list off, but the most relevant vs the old projector is it's weight: 5.6 pounds, vs the 115 pounds of it's predecessor. Here they are for comparison:

Let me tell you, that was not easy to take down off the ceiling!

Anyhow, this has lead to a series of tasks, upgrades, and other projects:

  • Projector was $900
  • Spider Mount: $100
  • Solder, connectors, wire to build adapter for 12v relay to lower projectors screen: $15
  • $300 for the 22" LCD that Alisa saw at Circuit City and wanted for the bedroom

Still to do:

  • VGA, HDMI, S-Video cables from receiver to projector (right now it's component only, I want all the cables working).
  • Fish cables through walls & ceiling
  • putty & paint ceiling (projector had to mount a couple feet back from where the old one was)
  • Current receiver supports component out, but doesn't upscale. New receiver?

Sigh... what a tangled web we weave when we upgrade to HD...

On the positive side, My Xbox360 is finally looking it's best. Bunch of games that I considered unplayable at SD are now on the to-do list (Dead Rising, Wik, Oblivion...)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Tidbits from around the blogosphere...

Pressed for time (long weekend or no!), here are a few things that caught my eye this week:

  • Google Earth has a flight sim easter egg. Like many, I thought "Steve.... what are you up to?", but he claims "nuffin!". (My first thought is that this is just like any other Christensen effect thing - Those that sell flight sims (like MS) just have to stay far enough ahead of free to justify the money.
  • This story of the boorish behavior of one exec director of the "video game expo" at PAX (VGE seems to want to compete with them and was attending to poach talent and gather intel) is very funny. Good luck with your event there buddy.
  • Ubisoft seems to be dipping their toe in the water with free, ad-supported full PC games. A few of the casual folks have been trying their hand at this, but this is the first I've seen it for full retail titles like Far Cry. Curious to see how it turns out (i.e. if you see more games showing up --> it went well!)
  • There's been some fallout about the ESRB changing the rating on Manhunt 2 (from AO to M) and their not wanting to disclose what changed in the game or the rating of it. Sounds like the ESRB is rapidly turning into the MPAA. Now more than ever, I want to see this film.
  • The 'shrimponomics' post on Freakonomics is required reading. First, read this one. Now answer the question, and only then (spoiler) read this one. The exercise, now that you've completed shrimponomics, is to think about how this applies to your company (i.e. in my case, game-o-nomics, console-o-nomics, and Redmond-o-nomics :-)
  • Maven and her friends: The state of AI on a host of classic games (connect-4, Scrabble...)