Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pink Nintendo DS

I purchased a pink Nintendo DS handheld gaming console for my daughters. Dad gets to play too.

Jaded Gamer Gets New Life
The problem with being 31 and having played games on most consoles and most of the computer greats is that everything becomes a derivative of something else - it's like writing music. With the advent of the Nintendo Wii's motion sensative (and pointer) controls, I've found that "everything old is new again."

The Truth about Game Conoles
Many people argue over the Wii's merits, the XBOX 360's entrenchment (which the Wii has met in installed base in 3 months, not 13), or Sony's PS3 debacle, but the core of the issue is spoken here: "That's the parable, I guess. A controller is as good as the game. A system is as good as its library. Far all these interstitial lamentations, all the saber rattling and console war propaganda, there is a simple remedy: a breathtaking exclusive experience." [source]

The NDS has given me games I've never played before, ever, as well as many I have, which I largely avoid. Like the Wii, it gives me exclusive experiences - though nothing breathtaking yet.

Does your XBOX 360 give you a breathtaking exclusive experience? If so, then that's your console; but remember, most exclusive games aren't really exclusive - they could be done elsewhere.

Exclusive (near Breathtaking) Experiences
I will go over the aspects of the NDS games we have that make them unique and fun to this jaded gamer. The latter ones listed are the best.

  • Advance Wars: Second Strike
    There is nothing about this game that makes this turn-based strategy game stand out; it's fun, but not exclusive. It's cool having the second screen to read the information of a unit or square of terrain always on hand, but little else. I don't even bother using the stylus.
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
    While a great game, and having the map always visible, or the character / bestiary window always open alternatively, is cool, basically I'm just glad to see a Castlevania game that lives up to the fun factor of Symphony of the Night on my PSX. It has two characters you control alternatively, the other always following you. Great fun. Nothing exclusive, and little use for the stylus.
  • Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Justice for All
    The first exclusive game - I've never played this kind of game before. You're in a Japanese courtroom, you're a defense attorney with amnesia trying to piece together your defense (and the case) on the fly. You have to notice key points of evidence easily overlooked, or even bad turns of phrase you can exploit against a prosection's witness. Very fun for a jaded gamer, as it's done well and I've never played anything quite like it, even in text / point and click adventure days.
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215
    The... best... game... period. It makes you turn your NDS and use it like a book. Unlike most "choose your own adventure" games, once you make a decision as to what question you ask, you'll often lose the other permanently - that's it! No finding out what that other line of questioning might have gained you. Exploration, thinking deeply about each of the characters you meet, and piecing together the novelesque puzzle of a world you're in. You're a proto-typical burnt out police detective turned traveling salesman / finder of people who don't want to be found, but the dialogue and artwork is amazingly good. I feel safe saying nothing like this has been done before.
I don't believe that Hotel Dusk: Room 215 or Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Justice for All could be done on computers - why? Technically they're more than capable; the problem is what people expect from them. They'd expect 3d people in Hotel Dusk, not hand animated stills, and that would never work for the presentation. Phoenix Wright would be looked at as some sort of non-game game. The medium shapes the perception of the games.

Accessorize Your NDS
Get a G6 Lite and a Passcard 3; they are often bundled together. I'll speak no more on that.

Why I Bought an NDS
Maria Alejandra told me to. I was complaining about money, wasting money on my GP2X (which broke, shoddy manufacturing), and her counter was "Why don't you get that one that can play Brain Age?" I told her "Because it costs $130." Her response, "So?"

A Global Intelligence Briefing

This is interesting reading; it makes no political claims, just explanation of the economic conditions of the world today. It is one of the best sumaries of leading political and economic trends in motion worldwide today. I am only sending this to astute correspondents who I believe will benefit from its message. - Chuck

Read it. It is worth the effort. - Dave

Herb Meyer served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. In these positions, he managed production of the US National Intelligence Estimates and other top-secret projections for the President and his national security advisers. Meyer is widely credited with being the first senior U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union‘s collapse, for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the intelligence community’s highest honor. Formerly an associate editor of FORTUNE, he is also the author of several books.

A Global Intelligence Briefing
by Herbert Meyer

Currently, there are four major transformations that are shaping political, economic and world events. These transformations have profound implications for American business owners, our culture and our way of life.

1. The War in Iraq

There are three major monotheistic religions in the world: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the 16th century, Judaism and Christianity reconciled with the modern world. The rabbis, priests and scholars found a way to settle up and pave the way forward. Religion remained at the center of life, church and state became separate. Rule of law, idea of economic liberty, individual rights, human rights all these are defining points of modern Western civilization. These concepts started with the Greeks but didn’t take off until the 15th and 16th century when Judaism and Christianity found a way to reconcile with the modern world. When that happened, it unleashed the scientific revolution and the greatest outpouring of art, literature and music the world has ever known.

Islam, which developed in the 7th century, counts millions of Moslems around the world who are normal people. However, there is a radical streak within Islam. When the radicals are in charge, Islam attacks Western civilization. Islam first attacked Western civilization in the 7th century, and later in the 16th and 17th centuries. By 1683, the Moslems (Turks from the Ottoman Empire) were literally at the gates of Vienna. It was in Vienna that the climatic battle between Islam and Western civilization took place. The West won and went forward. Islam lost and went backward. Interestingly, the date of that battle was September 11.Since them, Islam has not found a way to reconcile with the modern world.

Today, terrorism is the third attack on Western civilization by radical Islam. To deal with terrorism, the U.S. is doing two things. First, units of our armed forces are in 30 countries around the world hunting down terrorist groups and dealing with them. This gets very little publicity. Second we are taking military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are covered relentlessly by the media. People can argue about whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong. However, the underlying strategy behind the war is to use our military to remove the radicals from power and give the moderates a chance. Our hope is that, over time, the moderates will find a way to bring Islam forward into the 21st century. That’s what our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is all about.

The lesson of 9/11 is that we live in a world where a small number of people can kill a large number of people very quickly. They can use airplanes, bombs, anthrax, chemical weapons or dirty bombs. Even with a first-rate intelligence service (which the U.S. does not have), you can’t stop every attack. That means our tolerance ‘for political horseplay’ has dropped to zero. No longer will we play games with terrorists or weapons of mass destructions.

Most of the instability and horseplay is coming from the Middle East. That’s why we have thought that if we could knock out the radicals and give the moderates a chance to hold power, they might find a way to reconcile Islam with the modern world. So when looking at Afghanistan or Iraq, it’s important to look for any signs that they are modernizing. For example, women being brought into the workforce and colleges in Afghanistan is good. The Iraqis stumbling toward a constitution is good. People can argue about what the U.S. is doing and how we’re doing it, but anything that suggests Islam is finding its way forward is good.

2. The Emergence of China

In the last 20 years, China has moved 250 million people from the farms and villages into the cities. Their plan is to move another 300 million in the next 20 years. When you put that many people into the cities, you have to find work for them. That’s why China is addicted to manufacturing; they have to put all the relocated people to work. When we decide to manufacture something in the U.S., it’s based on market needs and the opportunity to make a profit. In China, they make the decision because they want the jobs, which is a very different calculation.

While China is addicted to manufacturing, Americans are addicted to low prices. As a result, a unique kind of economic codependency has developed between the two countries. If we ever stop buying from China, they will explode politically. If China stops selling to us, our economy will take a huge hit because prices will jump. We are subsidizing their economic development, they are subsidizing our economic growth.

Because of their huge growth in manufacturing, China is hungry for raw materials, which drives prices up worldwide. China is also thirsty for oil, which is one reason oil, is now at $60 a barrel. By 2020, China will produce more cars than the U.S. China is also buying its way into the oil infrastructure around the world. They are doing it in the open market and paying fair market prices, but millions of barrels of oil that would have gone to the U.S. are now going to China. China‘s quest to assure it has the oil it needs to fuel its economy is a major factor in world politics and economics. We have our Navy fleets protecting the sea lines, specifically the ability to get the tankers through. It won’t be long before the Chinese have an aircraft carrier sitting in the Persian Gulf as well. The question is, will their aircraft carrier be pointing in the same direction as ours or against us.’

3. Shifting Demographics of Western Civilization

Most countries in the Western world have stopped breeding. For a civilization obsessed with sex, this is remarkable. Maintaining a steady population requires a birth rate of 2.1. In Western Europe, the birth rate currently stands at 1.5, or 30 percent below replacement. In 30 years there will be 70 to 80 million fewer Europeans than there are today. The current birth rate in Germany is 1.3. Italy and Spain are even lower at 1.2. At that rate, the working age population declines by 30 percent in 20 years, which has a huge impact on the economy.

When you don’t have young workers to replace the older ones, you have to import them. The European countries are currently importing Moslems. Today, the Moslems comprise 10 percent of France and Germany, and the percentage is rising rapidly because they have higher birthrates. However, the Moslem populations are not being integrated into the cultures of their host countries, which is a political catastrophe. One reason Germany and France don’t support the Iraq war is they fear their Moslem populations will explode on them. By 2020, more than half of all births in the Netherlands will be non-European. The huge design flaw in the post-modern secular state is that you need a traditional religious society birth rate to sustain it. The Europeans simply don’t wish to have children, so they are dying.

In Japan, the birthrate is 1.3. As a result, Japan will lose up to 60 million people over the next 30 years. Because Japan has a very different society than Europe, they refuse to import workers. Instead, they are just shutting down. Japan has already closed 2000 schools, and is closing them down at the rate of 300 per year. Japan is also aging very rapidly. By 2020, one out of every five Japanese will be at least 70 years old. Nobody has any idea about how to run an economy with those demographics.

Europe and Japan, which comprise two of the world’s major economic engines, aren’t merely in recession, they’re shutting down. This will have a huge impact on the world economy, and it is already beginning to happen. Why are the birthrates so low’ There is a direct correlation between abandonment of traditional religious society and a drop in birth rate and Christianity in Europe is becoming irrelevant. The second reason is economic. When the birth rate drops below replacement, the population ages. With fewer working people to support more retired people, it puts a crushing tax burden on the smaller group of working age people. As a result, young people delay marriage and having a family. Once this trend starts, the downward spiral only gets worse. These countries have abandoned all the traditions they formerly held in regards to having families and raising children.

The U.S. birth rate is 2.0, just below replacement. We have an increase in population because of immigration. When broken down by ethnicity, the Anglo birth rate is 1.6 (same as France) while the Hispanic birth rate is 2.7. In the U.S., the baby boomers are starting to retire in massive numbers. This will push the ‘elder dependency’ ratio from 19 to 38 over the next 10 to 15 years. This is not as bad as Europe, but still represents the same kind of trend.

Western civilization seems to have forgotten what every primitive society understands, you need kids to have a healthy society. Children are huge consumers. Then they grow up to become taxpayers. That’s how a society works, but the post-modern secular state seems to have forgotten that. If U.S. birth rates of the past 20 to 30 years had been the same as post-World War II, there would be no Social Security or Medicare problems.

The world’s most effective birth control device is money. As society creates a middle class and women move into the workforce, birth rates drop. Having large families is incompatible with middle class living. The quickest way to drop the birth rate is through rapid economic development. After World War II, the U.S. instituted a $600 tax credit per child. The idea was to enable mom and dad to have four children without being troubled by taxes. This led to a baby boom of 22 million kids, which was a huge consumer market that turned into a huge tax base. However, to match that incentive in today’s dollars would cost $12,000 per child.

China and India do not have declining populations. However, in both countries, there is a preference for boys over girls, and we now have the technology to know which is which before they are born. In China and India, many families are aborting the girls. As a result, in each of these countries there are 70 million boys growing up who will never find wives. When left alone, nature produces 103 boys for every 100 girls. In some provinces, however, the ratio are 128 boys to every 100 girls.

The birth rate in Russia is so low that by 2050 their population will be smaller than that of Yemen. Russia has one-sixth of the earth’s land surface and much of its oil. You can’t control that much area with such a small population. Immediately to the south, you have China with 70 million unmarried men ‘a real potential nightmare scenario for Russia.

4. Restructuring of American Business

The fourth major transformation involves a fundamental restructuring of American business. Today’s business environment is very complex and competitive. To succeed, you have to be the best, which means having the highest quality and lowest cost. Whatever your price point, you must have the best quality and lowest price. To be the best, you have to concentrate on one thing. You can’t be all things to all people and be the best.

A generation ago, IBM used to make every part of their computer. Now Intel makes the chips, Microsoft makes the software, and someone else makes the modems, hard drives, monitors, etc. IBM even outsources their call center. Because IBM has all these companies supplying goods and services cheaper and better than they could do it themselves, they can make a better computer at a lower cost. This is called a ‘fracturing’ of business. When one company can make a better product by relying on others to perform functions the business used to do itself, it creates a complex pyramid of companies that serve and support each other.

This fracturing of American business is now in its second generation. The companies who supply IBM are now doing the same thing, outsourcing many of their core services and production process. As a result, they can make cheaper, better products. Over time, this pyramid continues to get bigger and bigger. Just when you think it can’t fracture again, it does. Even very small businesses can have a large pyramid of corporate entities that perform many of its important functions. One aspect of this trend is that companies end up with fewer employees and more independent contractors.

This trend has also created two new words in business, integrator and complement or. At the top of the pyramid, IBM is the integrator. As you go down the pyramid, Microsoft, Intel and the other companies that support IBM are the complementors. However, each of the complementors is itself an integrator for the complementors underneath it. This has several implications, the first of which is that we are now getting false readings on the economy. People who used to be employees are now independent contractors launching their own businesses. There are many people working whose work is not listed as a job. As a result, the economy is perking along better than the numbers are telling us.

Outsourcing also confused the numbers. Suppose a company like General Motors decides to outsource all its employee cafeteria functions to Marriott (which it did). It lays off hundreds of cafeteria workers, who then get hired right back by Marriott. The only thing that has changed is that these people work for Marriott rather than GM. Yet, the headlines will scream that America has lost more manufacturing jobs. All that really happened is that these workers are now reclassified as service workers. So the old way of counting jobs contributes to false economic readings. As yet, we haven’t figured out how to make the numbers catch up with the changing realities of the business world.

Another implication of this massive restructuring is that because companies are getting rid of units and people that used to work for them, the entity is smaller. As the companies get smaller and more efficient, revenues are going down but profits are going up. As a result, the old notion that ‘revenues are up and we’re doing great’ isn’t always the case anymore. Companies are getting smaller but are becoming more efficient and profitable in the process.

Implications Of The Four Transformations

1. The War in Iraq

In some ways, the war is going very well. Afghanistan and Iraq have the beginnings of a modern government, which is a huge step forward. The Saudis are starting to talk about some good things, while Egypt and Lebanon are beginning to move in a good direction. A series of revolutions have taken place in countries like Ukraine and Georgia . There will be more of these revolutions for an interesting reason. In every revolution, there comes a point where the dictator turns to the general and says, ‘Fire into the crowd.’ If the general fires into the crowd, it stops the revolution. If the general says ‘No,’ the revolution is over. Increasingly, the generals are saying ‘No’ because their kids are in the crowd.

Thanks to TV and the Internet, the average 18-year old outside the U.S. is very savvy about what is going on in the world, especially in terms of popular culture. There is a huge global consciousness, and young people around the world want to be a part of it. It is increasingly apparent to them that the miserable government where they live is the only thing standing in their way. More and more, it is the well-educated kids, the children of the generals and the elite, who are leading the revolutions.

At the same time, not all is well with the war. The level of violence in Iraq is much worse and doesn’t appear to be improving. It’s possible that we’re asking too much of Islam all at one time. We’re trying to jolt them from the 7th century to the 21st century all at once, which may be further than they can go. They might make it and they might not. Nobody knows for sure. The point is, we don’t know how the war will turn out. Anyone who says they know is just guessing.

The real place to watch is Iran . If they actually obtain nuclear weapons it will be a terrible situation. There are two ways to deal with it. The first is a military strike, which will be very difficult. The Iranians have dispersed their nuclear development facilities and put them underground. The U.S. has nuclear weapons that can go under the earth and take out those facilities, but we don’t want to do that. The other way is to separate the radical mullahs from the government, which is the most likely course of action.

Seventy percent of the Iranian population is under 30. They are Moslem but not Arab. They are mostly pro-Western. Many experts think the U.S. should have dealt with Iran before going to war with Iraq. The problem isn’t so much the weapons, it’s the people who control them. If Iran has a moderate government, the weapons become less of a concern.

We don’t know if we will win the war in Iraq . We could lose or win. What we’re looking for is any indicator that Islam is moving into the 21st century and stabilizing

2. China

It may be that pushing 500 million people from farms and villages into cities is too much too soon. Although it gets almost no publicity, China is experiencing hundreds of demonstrations around the country, which is unprecedented. These are not students in Tiananmen Square. These are average citizens who are angry with the government for building chemical plants and polluting the water they drink and the air they breathe.

The Chinese are a smart and industrious people. They may be able to pull it off and become a very successful economic and military superpower. If so, we will have to learn to live with it. If they want to share the responsibility of keeping the world’s oil lanes open, that’s a good thing. They currently have eight new nuclear electric power generators under way and 45 on the books to build. Soon, they will leave the U.S. way behind in their ability to generate nuclear power. What can go wrong with China‘ For one, you can’t move 550 million people into the cities without major problems. Two ,China really wants Taiwan, not so much for economic reasons, they just want it. The Chinese know that their system of communism can’t survive much longer in the 21st century. The last thing they want to do before they morph into some sort of more capitalistic government is to take over Taiwan.

We may wake up one morning and find they have launched an attack on Taiwan . If so, it will be a mess, both economically and militarily. The U.S. has committed to the military defense of Taiwan. If China attacks Taiwan , will we really go to war against them? If the Chinese generals believe the answer is no, they may attack. If we don’t defend Taiwan, every treaty the U.S. has will be worthless. Hopefully, China won’t do anything stupid.

3. Demographics

Europe and Japan are dying because their populations are aging and shrinking. These trends can be reversed if the young people start breeding. However, the birth rates in these areas are so low it will take two generations to turn things around. No economic model exists that permits 50 years to turn things around. Some countries are beginning to offer incentives for people to have bigger families. For example, Italy is offering tax breaks for having children. However, it’s a lifestyle issue versus a tiny amount of money. Europeans aren’t willing to give up their comfortable lifestyles in order to have more children.

In general, everyone in Europe just wants it to last a while longer. Europeans have a real talent for living. They don’t want to work very hard. The average European worker gets 400 more hours of vacation time per year than Americans. They don’t want to work and they don’t want to make any of the changes needed to revive their economies.

The summer after 9/11, France lost 15,000 people in a heat wave. In August, the country basically shuts down when everyone goes on vacation. That year, a severe heat wave struck and 15,000 elderly people living in nursing homes and hospitals died. Their children didn’t even leave the beaches to come back and take care of the bodies. Institutions had to scramble to find enough refrigeration units to hold the bodies until people came to claim them.

This loss of life was five times bigger than 9/11 in America , yet it didn’t trigger any change in French society. When birth rates are so low, it creates a tremendous tax burden on the young. Under those circumstances, keeping mom and dad alive is not an attractive option. That’s why euthanasia is becoming so popular in most European countries. The only country that doesn’t permit (and even encourage) euthanasia is Germany, because of all the baggage from World War II.

The European economy is beginning to fracture. The Euro is down. Countries like Italy are starting to talk about pulling out of the European Union because it is killing them. When things get bad economically in Europe ,they tend to get very nasty politically. The canary in the mine is anti-Semitism. When it goes up, it means trouble is coming. Current levels of anti-Semitism are higher than ever. Germany won’t launch another war, but Europe will likely get shabbier, more dangerous and less pleasant to live in.

Japan has a birth rate of 1.3 and has no intention of bringing in immigrants. By 2020, one out of every five Japanese will be 70 years old. Property values in Japan have dropped every year for the past 14 years. The country is simply shutting down.

In the U.S. we also have an aging population. Boomers are starting to retire at a massive rate. These retirements will have several major impacts:

Possible massive sell-off of large four-bedroom houses and a movement to condos. An enormous drain on the treasury. Boomers vote, and they want their benefits, even if it means putting a crushing tax burden on their kids to get them. Social Security will be a huge problem. As this generation ages, it will start to drain the system. We are the only country in the world where there are no age limits on medical procedures. An enormous drain on the health care system. This will also increase the tax burden on the young, which will cause them to delay marriage and having families, which will drive down the birth rate even further. Although scary, these demographics also present enormous opportunities for products and services tailored to aging populations. There will be tremendous demand for caring for older people, especially those who don’t need nursing homes but need some level of care. Some people will have a business where they take care of three or four people in their homes. The demand for that type of service and for products to physically care for aging people will be huge.

Make sure the demographics of your business are attuned to where the action is. For example, you don’t want to be a baby food company in Europe or Japan. Demographics are much underrated as an indicator of where the opportunities are. Businesses need customers. Go where the customers are.

4. Restructuring of American Business

The restructuring of American business means we are coming to the end of the age of the employer and employee. With all this fracturing of businesses into different and smaller units, employers can’t guarantee jobs anymore because they don’t know what their companies will look like next year. Everyone is on their way to becoming an independent contractor. The new workforce contract will be, ‘Show up at the my office five days a week and do what I want you to do, but you handle your own insurance, benefits, health care and everything else.’

Husbands and wives are becoming economic units. They take different jobs and work different shifts depending on where they are in their careers and families. They make tradeoffs to put together a compensation package to take care of the family. This used to happen only with highly educated professionals with high incomes. Now it is happening at the level of the factory floor worker. Couples at all levels are designing their compensation packages based on their individual needs. The only way this can work is if everything is portable and flexible, which requires a huge shift in the American economy.

The U.S. is in the process of building the world’s first 21st century model economy. The only other countries doing this are U.K. and Australia . The model is fast, flexible, highly productive and unstable in that it is always fracturing and re-fracturing. This will increase the economic gap between the U.S. and everybody else, especially Europe and Japan .

At the same time, the military gap is increasing. Other than China , we are the only country that is continuing to put money into their military. Plus, we are the only military getting on-the-ground military experience through our war in Iraq. We know which high-tech weapons are working and which ones aren’t. There is almost no one who can take us on economically or militarily. There has never been a superpower in this position before.

On the one hand, this makes the U.S. a magnet for bright and ambitious people. It also makes us a target. We are becoming one of the last holdouts of the traditional Judeo-Christian culture. There is no better place in the world to be in business and raise children. The U.S. is by far the best place to have an idea, form a business and put it into the marketplace. We take it for granted, but it isn’t as available in other countries of the world.

Ultimately, it’s an issue of culture. The only people who can hurt us are ourselves, by losing our culture. If we give up our Judeo-Christian culture, we become just like the Europeans. The culture war is the whole ballgame. If we lose it, there isn’t another America to pull us out.

Herbert Meyer
P.O. Box 2089
Friday Harbor , WA 98250
(360) 378-3910 * (360) 378-3912 Fax

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Reading this is a bad idea

Justice for the victims of genocide seems unimportant compared to political concerns. I'm talking about Srebrenica, where over 8,000 men and boys between 60 and early teens, some younger, were massacred as they tried to evacuate the city (a column of refugees traversed a road and the Serbs used artillery and anti-air guns to massacre them). Others were lured into "surrendering" and bussed to mass execution sites (blindfolded and bound on the way as to ensure no effective resistence to the final moment).

The Serbian government has been cleared, legally, of all involvement with the genocidal actions of its armies.

It seems justice only comes to those with the power to enforce it. Is this news anything new?

Rant about Multiple Stage Boss Fights

"All game designers that see fit to have final bosses with multiple forms or stages, each one harder than the last, already unnecessarily hard to begin with, should be given a sound beating by a progression of angry men, each angrier and stronger than the last. Because that's how hitting a brick wall of difficulty feels. My disdain for this kind of artificial challenge is only succeeded by my disdain for designers who have the player fight every single boss in the game for a second time one after another at the end, which is thankfully not the case here. (Oh, their punishment? To be beaten by perhaps ten or eleven angry men across a couple of weeks, and then beaten again by them all in quick succession a couple of days later. Make the punishment fit the crime, I say.)"
by Mathew Kumar
[source article]

This was just too funny not to post.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Penny Arcade bends over Again

"[The Sony Playstation 3 SixAxis controller] makes a case for motion sensing controls that is as potent as anything Nintendo has delivered to date. " [Penny-Arcade]

Uhh sure - if you take out BOTH YOUR EYES, and stab hot pokers into your shoulders!

Because all you can do after that is tilt your wrists, which is as much motion sensativity as the Sixaxis has. The Wii Remote understands inertia (accellerameters, more precisely) and acts as a pointing device.

I think we're missing a few features there, Sony. But thanks for acting like wimps, my venerated PA crew. I'm not saying I wouldn't sitting comfortably in my obscurity, but as a blogger, it's my job to say what I see. That's... what we do.

Armed Assault, sequel to Operation Flashpoint

"ArmA" is Armed Assault, Operation Flashpoint 2 in every aspect BUT name.

Imagine yourself on a 30 square kilometer island (several miles, many small cities, more towns and hamlets, some mountains, valleys, etcetera).

Now, imagine that you can walk anywhere on this island. That might get rather boring. So you see a civilian car. You can get in that. Along the way you see an roadblock with hostile communists, so you speed by them, hitting one of the three enemy soldiers - they shoot at you and take out a tire. If you have a passenger with you, maybe he gets hit and his blood splatters the windshield.

You turn the vehicle so your door is away from the fire and get out. You hide behind the engine block and lean out and shoot a commie, and then crawl over to the back of the car and repeat.

*Fhew* they're all dead. Then you hear metal grinding in the distance... treads! You run into some nearby woods and lie on your stomach. Sure enough, a Russian built T-80 Main Battle Tank comes roaring down the road like an angry hornet, but it's tank commander is buttoned up and they have no infantry support, so they don't see you in the trees. You crawl slowly away.

Then you come to a hill top and see a valley below with a small military base and a Hind Helicopter. Two crew are standing near it, and guards are posted at the entrance. You're facing the back side of the base, so you crawl, or walk hunched over like Audie Murphy, and quickly shoot the helicopter crew and then dash to the Hind and get in. The guards shoot at you with their AK-74's, but the Hind is designed to deal much better with small arms fire than most helicopters, and you get off the ground and take off.

Now, well above the base, your targetting system tells you there's a tank in the distance.

"Oh," says you, "I have anti-tank missiles..."

And that, my friend, is Armed Assault. It has an easy to use editor (you can't change the island so you just drop stuff where you want it to be and give them waypoints if you desire) and a hard as nails campaign mode. Why is it so hard? Well just one bullet, placed right, can kill you. Usually you're luckier.

Also, the AI loves flanking you, which is problematic.

It's an incredible game, and playing it will give you a glimpse into something and make you say "Why the hell are most FPS games still sticking me into claustrophobic ROOMS?"

Because, obviously, computing power has evolved.

Armed Assault has the same code base, same programmers, same development team as Operation Flashpoint, but Codemasters (the distributors who have drilled the Lara Croft "Tomb Raider" franchise into the ground) wanted to pull some of their game-busting stunts so the Czechoslovakian programmers pulled away from Coderapists, lost the title, but retain everything else, including the ability to make a good game.

Froogle it and go buy this game.

The U.S. version will use SecureRom copy protection. The Czech version uses the computer raping, CD/DVD Burner destroying Starforce, but the other European versions do not.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Wii: Afterwards

Those of you who wanted a Wii probably have one. Those of you who didn't, don't. Either you don't care about consoles or there's some stigma the Wii has that you just can't wrap your brain around, or you're so hardcore you think to yourself "I'll finish Zelda in a week - then what?"

Here's my review.

The Wii: Still a Hit
The system is a hit, it gets played every week, normally every day that my daughters aren't hit hard by school work from Saint Mary's Academy in Saint Mary's, Kansas (distance education, it's a traditional Catholic boarding school, and the curriculum is tough). They are allowed 2.5 hours a day maximum, or spankings will ensue for every daughter, regardless of whodunnit.

To this day, they've never hit that mark, although my firstborn dared see how close she could come and hit 2 hours and 30 minutes exactly, not 2 hours and 31 minutes. She does stuff like that to prove she can control her fear of Papa, and I love it. She obeys me, but she has to let me know "I'm not doing it because I'm scared." Lovely, smart children.

We use the system as a reward. A's in school earn a weekend with no time limit, since the neighborhood is rough and they can't go outside and play with the other kids. A black neighbor tried that and two of her sons were approached by teenage drug dealers, literally.

Rayman and the Raving Rabbids
Rayman still gets a lot of mileage, and it's the game I hate most of all. The only thing I like is the music beat minigame, and the rail shooting game. Somehow Maria, my firstborn, beat it. I refuse to multiplay this game except those two minigames, which basically means I don't play, because my daughters love to mix it up.

Wii Sports
Wii Sports gets played, but not so much anymore. From the Wii logs, I see it gets used every 3rd or other day. Zelda gets played every day, and Rayman almost every day.

Zelda: Twilight Princess
Zelda is currently the Queen game. Even my 7yo plays it, and she's starting to understand what to do. This RPG is just glorious to my girls - Maria will warp back to her home town just to hang out, fish, and chase chickens. I showed her some online guides, but they were terse. I bought her a $20 guide book, and she loves it - she mainly uses the map, not the book, because she doesn't like spoilers, but likes knowing what basic area to look for things in. Knowing a heart container is in an area and actually finding it is two different things.

The Wii Remote and Nunchuck
The controllers have not worn thin. For my children, it's all they want. Maria and Dulce refuse to play their old favorites on my Playstation 2 because, as Maria said "I just can't go back to that old controller."

Damn. That's harsh, but true.

They liked to run around on Shadow of the Colossus or play several strategy RPGs I bought them for the system, or play Fable on the XBOX. None of these are played now, ever, at all. The games are still good, so I really have to assume what she said is true - they just don't want to play with old analog / thumbstick controllers.

David's Adult Take
As for myself, I play my games on Pharra, my PureXS, one of the last of its kind since All American Computers went under, fortune to Kyle Felstein and his wife in their future.

The Wii controllers have never worn thin on me, though I can't use them when I'm sick - playing the Wii while sick makes you more sick. Zelda wore thin on me because I'm such a jaded gamer, I've played far too many RPGs, and some of the tedium of figuring stuff out just kills the game for me, that and the restricted game world.

Shadow of the Colossus gave me a real horse with real horse skeleton movements and an open world that never loaded and wasn't full of small areas unexplainably cut out in the middle of a canyon to avoid distance views.

Oblivion gave me, well, freedom, and an open overworld, and tons of shops, and things to do, and classes.

So, no, Zelda doesn't appeal to me, but my daughters love it. It's the first Zelda game they've played, and I think it will make as lasting an impression on their hearts as the original Legend of Zelda has on mine.

Big Huge Hope

Ken Rolston, recently retired designer of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Morrowind, among many other credits (including the pen and paper RPG Paranoia and a fiction book), was tempted out of retirement by Big Huge Games, makers of Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends, to lead an un-named RPG.

Tim Train of BHG said it wasn't too hard to lure Rolston back into the fray. “I think to some extent that Ken missed being in the industry. I think he missed the rough-and-tumble of game development.”

I am happy that Big Huge Games is doing so well. Bioware, presumably, is still kicking, but we're at the doldrums where I see nothing come out. They've mostly gone console and I don't own those things. Well, nothing new. The Wii is my daughters', and other than family multiplayer, I never touch it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Quick Blog on the 2nd Amendment

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms," Thomas Jefferson wrote. "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." Jefferson also said, "When the government fears the People, that is Liberty. When the People fear the Government, that is tyranny."

-- Jim Lesczynski

While I found much of the original article rather - out there - I found this part to be self evident, yet forgotten.

For more great stuff than you can shake a stick at, read: The Right to Bear Arms.

Or see Kennesaw, Georgia "Gun Town, USA."

From Wikepedia:

Kennesaw has the nickname of "Gun Town, USA" due to a city ordinance passed in 1982 [Sec 34-1a] that requires every head of household to maintain a firearm with ammunition. It was passed partly in response to a 1981 handgun ban in Morton Grove, Illinois. Kennesaw's law was amended in 1983 to exempt those who conscientiously object to owning a firearm, convicted felons, those who cannot afford a firearm, and those with a mental or physical disability that would prevent them from owning a firearm. It mentions no penalty for its violation. According to the Kennesaw Historical Society, no one has ever been charged under the law.

Criminologist and gun-control critic Gary Kleck attributes a drop of 89% in the residential burglary rate to the law (Kleck, 1991), and Kennesaw is often cited by advocates of gun ownership as evidence that gun ownership deters crime (see, for instance, this 2004 sheet of talking points from the Gun Owners Foundation). Other criminologists dispute the 89% figure, using the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting data, and find instead a small, statistically insignificant increase in burglaries after the law was passed (McDowall, Wiersema and Loftin, 1989; McDowall, Lizotte and Wiersema, 1991).

The city's official website is at

Thursday, February 15, 2007

RIAA: Guilty of not following the market

I've read a series of interesting articles finding historical occurances of where businesses have acted like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).

History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers
In France, button-makers, faced with competition in the form of (gasp) cloth buttons, got the government to impose a fine, and, not yet satisfied, "demanded the right to search people's homes and wardrobes and fine and even arrest them on the streets if they are seen wearing these subversive goods."

The premise being, of course, that the RIAA, like the button makers before them, have forgotten what business they are in, and see new ways of doing things as a threat to their (now outmoded) business model.

The author goes further:
Step One To Embracing A Lack Of Scarcity: Recognize What Market You're Really In
Positing that if horse-drawn carriage makers had realized they were in the transporation business, not the horse-drawn carriage business, they might have leapt on automobiles rather that go out of business holding onto their old model.

People didn't want a horse-drawn carriage, they wanted something that got them from point A to point B. Similarly, the MPAA and the RIAA act as though they are in the business of controlling how movies or music is sold, when actually they are in the entertainment business, and these models have changed.

If you're looking to catch up on the posts in the series, I've listed them out below:

Economics Of Abundance Getting Some Well Deserved Attention
The Importance Of Zero In Destroying The Scarcity Myth Of Economics
The Economics Of Abundance Is Not A Moral Issue
A Lack Of Scarcity Has (Almost) Nothing To Do With Piracy
A Lack Of Scarcity Feeds The Long Tail By Increasing The Pie
Why The Lack Of Scarcity In Economics Is Getting More Important Now
History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers
Infinity Is Your Friend In Economics

RIAA vs. The Market
I don't knock the RIAA's responsibility to its investors nor the position it has come to hold over time. I think they are unwisely playing a delaying game with the market and it's going to bring them to their knees within 10 or 20 years.

I don't condone freeloading and think that Apple got something right with the idea of micropayments and it's iTunes store - a song for a buck. (Personally I dislike micropayments because the average consumer has trouble thinking of a dollar as something of value enough to give them pause in a knee-jerk transaction, but hey, that's business.) It's a new market that has arrived and existing business models are having trouble adjusting. The RIAA doesn't want performers to move en mass to this new model because it devalues the one they have put so much time in, instead of doing the smart thing and, say, buying iTunes, or becoming the lead contributor (and secondary beneficiary). That would be protecting their investors interests.

Patents will protect the RIAA for only so long before the pressure of a changed market obliterates their current business model.

RIAA Legal Tactics
Having read in depth the RIAA's civil suit strategy, from filing the suit in the wrong jurisdiction and pushing forward with so little regard they've netted dead people, grandparents, and folks who moved in after the fact, or calling people and threatening them over the phone with legal actions they can't take -- I call that a desperate last gasp, and like the button makers, parallels what's happening.

The RIAA wants the freedom to bypass laws the police obey in regards to invasive searching. As an American, that kind of incenses me.

See RIAA versus the People , a law firm specializing in handling their tactics, or how a typical case unfolds.

Penny Arcade gives in to pressure

First, the guys at Penny Arcade thought that (Sony Exec) Jack Tretton's claim that he would pay a $1,200 bounty for every PS3 anyone could find sitting idly on a store shelf was ludicrous. So they showed, by way of comicry, how stupid that claim really was [their write-up on the same day].

The next comic cycle, Wednesday, brings us to a complete opposite view: that the PS3 is really a great machine, it's only Sony's failure to understand how to communicate this awesome potential of optimism they have in their lambasted PS3 and PSP consoles.

But this view directly conflicts with the facts they brought up on Monday: PS3's are sitting idly on store shelves, un-bought and unsold. An unmentioned corollary is how poorly the PSP is doing compared to the Nintendo DS. The bottom line is that gamers vote with their purchases, and folks aren't purchasing enough PS3's or PSP's to keep Sony's #1 spot, and in the case of the PS3, #2.

I know Jerry / Tycho isn't stupid, I believe he sees this - I think he's just capitulating because a swath of angry readers e-mailed him vitriolic hate mail, stating basically "How dare you speak against my sacred cow? You suck, and so does your comic."

A friend of mine pointed out that Tycho has colorful language, but trouble getting ideas across, which makes for some great comics where Tycho tries to explain something and Gabe misunderstands him, but hurts the dynamic duo on this point. His point isn't that the PS3 is gold, it's that it is capable - it is not lacking in horsepower to do things.

This sounds accurate, though of course Tycho could use some clarification in point here.

Europe is Dying

Brad Wardell, creator of the Galactic Civilizations series and lead AI programmer for the version I know and love (among other things), is a hard working business and family man. His latest blog reveals something true:

Europe is dying. Or more accurately, several countries in Europe have a declining birthrate, and within several generations, if the trend continues, the existing population may find immigrants no longer a small minority.

What's insightful is what Brad attributes to be the cause of the problem:

"My opinion is that it is entitlements. Consider this: Why have children? What is the incentive other than biological urge, to have children?

Or more to the point, what is the incentive to have more than one child? Maybe you have a girl and want a boy so you have 2?

In the time before cradle to grave entitlements, people had children for a very specific reason: Because they needed them. They needed them to work the farms. They needed them to help out in the household. They needed them to take care of them when they became old and infirm.

But now? What do we need kids for? Mother government will provide for us. The more urbanized, the lower the population growth. All those government services are so convenient. It takes a village right? And when you get old, you don't need children anymore. No, the government will pay for your medicine, house you if necessary, and provide money to allow you to live pretty well."

Read the entire blog /article.

My comments? I agree, and with four children I'm currently out producing Brad by 2 to 1! Hah! But we can't have any more due to Maria developing worse complications each pregnancy, and Brad can raise my bet by "I have a company with more than 60 employees," at which point I fold.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is a proposed game good? The 10 minute test.

Pierre-Alexandre Garneau, a professional game designer, submitted an article on how to tell if a game idea has merit in 10 minutes flat.

His criterion? Simple.

  1. Is the Game Distinctive?

    1. Does it stand out viscerally?

    2. Does the gameplay stand out?

    3. Does it involve the player socially in a unique way?

  2. Can the Game Reach a Large Market?

    1. Is the idea behind the game easy to communicate?

    2. Is the game based on something the market already knows and loves?

    3. Is the target market large?

I quizzed him on Galactic Civilizaitons II, because no one expected it to become a Wal-Mart best seller, least of all Stardock (the developers), and he responded the same day (emphasis is mine):

"I haven't played Galactic Civilizations, so I can't comment on it much. My guess would be that while 4X games are a niche, it's a pretty big niche that's under-represented at the moment. My hunch is that a lot of people actually like turn-based games (witness the success of Civ 4 and Advance Wars), but very few quality titles are released for them.

There are also lots of external factors that can influence success. An otherwise unremarkable game could become popular after somebody influential becomes a fan, for example. Bejeweled reached a lot of hardcore gamers when the folks at Penny-Arcade kept talking about how good it was. Clever marketing -- like "I love bees" -- can help too. Lots of factors outside of the game itself can influence its success."

This makes a lot of sense - I love the turn-based / real-time mixup of Medieval II: Total War, Battle for Middle Earth II: Rise of the Witch King, and Star Wars: Empire at War.

Turn-based games became "dangerous" like making a point and click adventure, but I think part of it was the presentation. Galactic Civilizaitons II mixes turn-based with a truly great AI with many personalities, all of which you can change down to how much CPU it uses, with 3d ships that do combat, which you can view and review from any angle you desire.

Without a doubt, the 3d ship battles and the ability to make your 3d ships keeps Galactic Civilizaitons II from being your standard turn-based game.

Imprisoned Journalist Josh Wolf Speaks Out From Jail After Over 170 Days Behind Bars

Josh Wolf, 24, has spent almost six months in jail. More time than any journalist in US history for protecting his sources. He was jailed on August 1st of last year when he refused to turn over video that he had shot of an anti-G8 demonstration in San Francisco to a federal grand jury.
[source interview] [josh wolf's blog]


Basically, the Federal Government is saying that it has the power to decide who is a journalist and who is not, despite how many traditional media outlets have given Mr. Wolf journalist awards. Who decides who is a journalist? The Government? That topic is broached here.

While Mr. Wolf sounds like the kind of anarchist I don't like, as a believer in liberty and freedom I don't think the government should have the right to round people up or dictate who is a journalist (and protected as such) and who is not. That borders on state-sanctioned journalism.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Casual Games break traditional distribution models

Source article, Casual Encounters
What I enjoy here is not the whole rant about Casual Games (I find parts of it highly inaccurate - the original console videogames were, by depth and involvement of the player, casual games), but the hidden truth behind how they are distributed.

Because "Casual Games" are not considered traditional videogames, none of the traditional rules of sales and distributions apply. How hard has it been for digital distribution to be achieved with traditional videogames?

Having used Steam and Stardock, I can say that these are the only working examples I know of, and of the two Stardock is better for one crucial reason:

While Steam allows you to purchase a game online, you get jack with it. You just bought a digital game, and get no box, no manual, just the rights to download it. Your price for this displeasure? The same as going to the store, where Valve makes less money on the sale than they do online. This makes no sense to me.

Stardock, however, lets you buy the digital game for store price and for the low, low cost of shipping ($4, about equal to what you'd pay in local taxes), they'll also send you the box, complete with CDs, a manual - something nice to put on your shelf. Your price for this displeasure? Paying $34.95 instead of $32.04, or $2.90. I'd save myself $3 if I drove to a store, which is less than the difference between a sale at one store and not another (which usually averages between $5-$10 for videogames).

Casual games may yet teach hardcore games lessons in distrubtions, but only by way of force. I doubt tried and true distribution models will go quietly. There's still advertising, shelf space and all of that jazz to think about.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The old Videogames are Evil rant

A user saw one of the series of videos I made when Maria's GP2X (handheld Linux gaming device) arrived and posted this admonition, to which I replied:

Man, I would never get that for my duaghter not even the system. I watch this video and im thinking damn I feel sorry for this girl no offense.

Well if your take is "hooking kids on videogames" then I should let you know that they have a set time limit on their Wii which I check daily (it contains a log of how long each game was played and a total). The GP2X was allowed to be used in the car (anytime) or by permission, for example, while watching over her siblings a couple times a week, for some reason she could watch both, I never could. Trust me, I tested her.

The core of the issue is responsibility. This girl also cooks dinner sometimes (she's 9), makes breakfast 3 times a week, cleans her room and parts of the house every day, and gets solid A's in school. So... what am I to do with such a good daughter? Not give her anything? No. I'll give her a GP2X and teach her to be responsible with it, and she is.


I'll go on to point out here that this same girl can rattle off the differences between menial and mortal sin, makes acts of sacrifice (such as giving up anything that tastes good for a day) during holidays usually only adult Catholics fulfill (my wife says she, within reason, followed them as a child and I agree, our children learning to take discomfort in stride has only made them better people). Exactly what else should I do? Flog her?

This child has enough weight put on her, caring for her sick baby brother (or caring for him when he's not sick, but a sick baby is much worse), working hard at homeschool (all of which is graded by St. Mary's in Kansas, not her mother), walking, feeding and watering the dog, bathing her smaller siblings when her mother is busy or feels like giving her the responsibility (my wife loves making our children work, including the baby boy - he has to get into his car seat by himself).

So anyway, little rants like this get under my skin - these children face a much harder life than most American kids today (excepting those in poverty).

Rewarding them doesn't seem obligatory, but essential.