Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, one of the most incredible images of pollution I've ever seen: Scientists: Beijing's Air Pollution Is Like Being in Nuclear Winter. Seriously, that picture is just mind-blowing.

Next, from Chris Pencis, and this is a fascinating, surreal story: What Lies Beneath (the Glomar Explorer). Also, and this is a terrific explanation of all things skate blades, it's Cold Hard Science: The Physics of Skating on Ice.

From Jon Hui, and this is amazing: Human Loop the Loop with Damien Walters.

From Jonathan Arnold, and these are stunning images: Haunting Photos of the Abandoned 1984 Winter Olympics Facilities.

From DQ Music Advisor Chris Hornbostel, and this is an incredible story: Woodrow Wilson: The First Fantasy Baseball Player.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is just tremendous: Royals - ("Sad Clown With The Golden Voice" Version). Hit the lounge, baby! Next, and this is fascinating, it's How the A-10 Warthog became 'the most survivable plane ever built'.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and at least a few of these will shock you: 8 Surprising Historical Facts That Will Change Your Concept Of Time Forever.

From Wallace, and these are very clever: One Ad To Rule Them All.

From Rob Funk, and this is a fascinating article: The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia.

Here are a few generally amazing links from Gizmodo, which is one of my favorite websites. First, and I've linked to stories about this amazing place before, it's Beautiful time-lapse of The Boneyard, the airplane cemetery in Arizona. Next, and this is a remarkable piece of history, it's This is a GIF of America's Very First Film. This is an incredible find: How a Mass Whale Graveyard Ended Up Beneath a South American Highway. Last one, and this is definitely not on my bucket list, it's Tour the Nine Steepest Residential Streets in America.

The End Times: The Names of the Damned

Lotte, 29
Hornel, 29
Adriannon, 29
Rorinne, 29
Roosvelano, 36
Noellene, 51
Ashanda, 51
Kurtis, 51
Tian, 55
Homery, 57
Halline, 58
Crist, 60
Camerald, 61
Campbellamae, 61
Dormand, 62
Elainey, 68
Sedric, 69
Lottilia, 70
Damaria, 70
Zeeharia, 70
Wintone, 71
Dolorenton, 73

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Banished: The End Times

I've been enjoying Banished very, very much.

I noticed over the last few days that I had a problem in my village, and over time, I realized that it was terminal. Banished, and then cursed.

I was told how to fix this problem (and it's very logical), but I decided that I'm not going to.

I've saved many, many villages since I began playing games. I know that feeling. I want to experience the other side. So I'm going to roleplay this dying village and write about the end times.

Next week, over two or three days, I'll be writing about the descent.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Incoming (or Outgoing)

DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh has a trip planned. A huge, incredible trip, and hopefully he'll be providing updates as he goes. I'll let Doug explain it from here.

Like many of you, I began my e-friendship with Bill back when he was writing for around the turn of the millennium. I was a budding strategy guide writer, moonlighting for IGN, Gamespy (remember them?), and the companies that provided the 1-900 tip lines. My very first official assignment in the industry was writing the 1-900 scripts for "Daikatana" -- talk about your humble beginnings. Fast forward a year or two and I was on my way to becoming one of the go-to guys for market-leading publisher, BradyGames. As a child of the 80s who received his first Atari 2600 at age 4 and who pored over every issue of Nintendo Power throughout the NES glory days, it was a chance to live out my dream job. Games and writing: what could be better? And pretty good money to boot! I quit my day job in 2001 and never looked back.

I went on to write well over one hundred official guides for nearly every major franchise of the past dozen years. A career that began with a game considered to be one of the worst of all time has ended with "Diablo III: Reaper of Souls" due out in a couple of weeks. It was a good run and I got to work with a lot of great, dedicated people, both at my publisher, and on-site at companies like Blizzard, Gearbox and especially Epic. I saw a lot of changes during that time. I remember the days when editors would stress out about a book exceeding 144 pages. Now we try to keep them under 400. The Diablo III guide I was lucky to be lead author on weighed in at 496 pages. The publishers used to release a guide for just about every A, B, and C title to come along. These days, it's AAA or bust. We used to always work from home. Now it's 60-90 days on-site a year, which means lots of time in hotels and away from loved ones. But even that was worth it for a while. Sadly, gaming has really changed over these past few years, as this blog has chronicled. And so has my interest in the hobby. Not for the better.

Knowing a change was going to be needed before long, I decided several years ago that it was time to live out an adventure of my own, with my wife, IRL. What started as a decision to take a simple mid-life gap year and travel the major cities of the world has morphed into a round-the-world bicycle trip. Yes, as in "without a motor." We've always loved to travel and I've long since wanted to embark on a career as a travel writer. We started doing some shorter bicycle tours a few years ago and found it to be the greatest way to travel, as it really forces you off the main roads and into a pace where you can really get to know a place and the people who live there.

The trip has been a long time coming, but we're finally set to pedal east out of Seattle on March 23rd and begin our journey. First across North America, then across Europe and Central Asia, before continuing southeast through China to Vietnam, Cambodia, and beyond. If all goes according to plan (fat chance), we'll wrap it up sometime in 2017 by riding the spine of the Andes southward from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego. I get goosebumps just typing that.

If this all sounds rather random and absurd, I'd like to provide my bona fides: For I have not only been a videogame guidebook writer periodically dropping anonymous hints on which games to be excited about, but also the Dubious Quality Fitness Advisor. And I can assure you all that such a title doesn't come without a very thorough and comprehensive background check.

Our journey is being documented for posterity's sake at Our plan is to check-in once or twice a week on Facebook (WiFi willing) and publish more detailed posts, stats, and videos every two weeks or so on the website. Let Bill know if this trip sounds even vaguely interesting to you and, if so, we'll try to put together a monthly dispatch from the road.

Since I suspect many of you are as interested in the logistics of such a trip as others might be the imagery, here's a brief FAQ to hold you over to the next post:
 Mileage: We aim to average 55 miles per day.
  • Weight: My bike+gear+food weighs approximately 106 pounds. My wife's weighs 84.
  • Budget: A combined $60 USD/day budget to work best for our desired comfort level.
  • Duration: The pie-in-the-sky grand plan should take approximately 1000 days.
  • Sleeping: We plan to camp several times a week, utilize hospitality networks once or twice, and spend some time in hotels.
  • Rest: We like to take every 7th day off, regardless of location. More time off to sightsee at major destinations.
  • Oceans: We'll be taking the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic and cargo ships between Asia and Oceania and South America.
  • Possessions: We've sold our house, our cars, and the vast majority of all possessions. Mementos and some clothes (and my Alienware gaming rig) are being stored in a very small 5'x5' storage unit.
  • Fear: Am I worried about being mugged or killed by terrorists? No. I'm worried about cars, stray dogs, and cycling through my childhood state of New Jersey.
When I was in college, I did some fairly insane things (bicycling from South Texas to Florida by myself, running 150 miles along the Padre Island National Seashore from the Mexican border to Corpus Christi in 77 hours), but what Doug is planning to do makes my little trips seem like pebbles.

I can't wait for the monthly dispatches.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Eli 12.6 and the Exhaustioning

"Exhaustioning" isn't a word, but that's a mistake of the dictionary.

Since the beginning of the year, after Eli 12.6s rib healed, we've been on the road every weekend but one. Holy crap.

This schedule doesn't work--at all--but Eli's been ridiculously good. Since he was pulled in San Antonio in November, he's played nine games. One was against the best team in the league, his team was awful and totally overmatched, and he got shelled (and pulled again).

The other eight games? .940 save percentage, 1.6 goals against average.

Anything over .900 for a 12-year-old is good. .940 is ridiculous.

In the first round of the playoffs last week, he had 33 saves on 35 shots, and his team scored the winning goal with 3.9 seconds left. It was a brilliant game, and it was brilliant because he refused to give in. The game was 2-2 for a long time, his team was getting completely dominated, and instead of buckling, he just handled it.

There were five other goalies in the first round of the playoffs. Eli's save percentage was .942. No one else was over .895. That's how dominant he's been.

Plus, he's been growing mentally. More resilient. Stronger. He argues a little more, but it's part of him developing his own strength instead of drawing on mine.

It's been tough, the traveling, but he's worked hard. He's earned our support. And things will settle down--a bit, at least--when we stop traveling for a while.

So if you wonder why the posts are a little abrupt, at times, it's the combination of being gone so much and trying to both write and support Gridiron Solitaire with hockey practices almost every day we're not on the road.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #95: The Future

Overall, I've been very fortunate with the launch of GS. It's been very stable (there have been a few small bugs reported, but they're all rare). People have been very positive on the Steam forum.


Taking a hard look at the game, post-launch, I see four things that have to be improved, and that's going to be the plan going forward. What makes this a little tricky, though, is that numbers 1-3 are all tied together, and because they all affect play balance, they're going to have to be tested together and rolled out at the same time (probably in 1.3, which will be released end of March/early April).

Here's the list.

1. Run/Pass Balance on Offense
Running is just too viable as a dominant strategy. Because of that, I think it's easy to create a cookie cutter strategy on offense and go on auto-pilot mentally. For most players, they would gain rushing yards in a 2-1 ratio over passing yards. That's the reverse of the NFL, where passing is 2-1.

No more.

In 1.3, run matches are going to be worth three yards, not four. In some early play testing I've done, that forces exponentially more attention to down/distance than previously. And my yardage profile is now about 1.5-1 passing to rushing. Not quite at the NFL level, but much improved.

I also tweaked turnover frequency, because turnovers are about 3.5x more likely to happen on a passing play than on a running play. So passing has huge yardage rewards compared to rushing, but correspondingly more risk.

On a side note, what I'm basically trying to do here is tweak everything to match the NFL data as closely as possible, because pro football is an extremely compelling game, and even more compelling when the experience is compressed into a 15-20 minute period. I usually find when I match the data successfully, the gameplay works right away.

As this relates to rushing, it's now very safe compared to passing--in a turnover sense--but it's not viable as a primary tool on offense. That's how it should be, and even though I'm still tweaking, I'm pretty excited about how this is going to work.

Plus, there are smaller benefits as well. Before, all the yardage gained was a multiple of four (four yards for rushing matches, eight for passing matches). Now it's a combination of multiples of three and four. That means that yards to go suddenly has all this variety it didn't have before on offense.

I never even thought about that, but after it was changed, I noticed the difference right away.

2. Defensive Gameplay
The changes made to offense are going to make it more difficult, and because of that, I can reduce the difficulty on defense, which is a welcome change. Previously, games felt like they were mostly scoring drives punctuated with an occasional defensive stop.

On defense, that was because at the higher difficulties, the yardage penalty for a missed play call was borderline punitive (particularly on Champ). So, in many case, the biggest drama of the play was over as soon as the play call was made.

I need to fix that.

There are going to be two significant changes. First, max yardage based on play call match/mismatch is no longer going to be staggered by difficulty. Instead, it's going to be a basic 15/25, with the difference being that more big play presses are awarded at the lower difficulties.

This is more fair, and it's also easier to adapt to in terms of understanding how defense works as you move through difficulty levels.

The other change is that I need to come up with something so that the CPU still has a chance of getting a first down, even on third and long (besides the Big Gain possibility). I'm not sure what form that's going to take yet--maybe a higher gain, but more yards are reduced with each card match--but there needs to be some sort of mechanic in place.

3. Special Teams Viability
Up to this point, a high Special Teams rating was of limited use. Sure, it helped with field goals and punts, but if there was any rating you wanted to ignore in the offseason, it would be this one.

Now, though, that will no longer be the case.

Why? Kickoffs.

I didn't want them originally because I thought they would slow down the action too much, but I have a way to resolve them in about 3 seconds, so it won't hurt the flow of the game. And it's a huge benefit in terms of rewarding a player with a high Special Teams rating, because the resolution is 100% ratings-dependent. A team with an "A+" ST rating, for example, will have better starting field position (by up to ten yards, on average) than a team with a "F" rating. Plus, when they kick off, the highly rated ST team will have far more touchbacks than a team with a lousy kicker.

Until now, a high Special Teams rating might benefit you on 6-8 plays in a game (field goal attempts plus punts). With 1.3, though, there will be more punting because of the play balance changes (making field position more important), and that high Special Teams rating will now provide a benefit on 15+ plays a game.

All the upper and lower performance parameters are based on real NFL data, too, so an "A+" rating means that your special teams perform at the level of the best in the NFL, and an "F" rating means they perform at the level of the worst.

More like real football, in other words. Much more like real football.

4. Offseason Player Card Personality Enhancement and Usage
I talked about this a few weeks ago, so no need to track back. Suffice to say that the player names will play a more integral part in the game in terms of statistics and team records, and will be more closely identified by the user as individuals instead of numbers.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from J.R. Parnell, and you will simply not believe this: Please don't watch this video of 2 Russians climbing the world's second-tallest building.

From The Edwin Garcia Links Machine, and this is an incredible story: Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919: How One of America’s Strangest Tragedies Happened. Also, and this was the setting for a show on Nickelodeon that Eli used to like, it's Fort Boyard, the Useless “Stone Vessel”.

From Tim Steffes, and this is tremendously impressive: Blind Card Shark Masterfully Cheats Like No Other.

From James Prendergast, and these little guys are big, big trouble: Crazy ants take on fire ants and win.

From Jonathan Arnold, and this is just genius. As someone who's taken the opposite course and seen every Super Bowl, trying to be the last person to find out who won the Super Bowl sounds like all kinds of fun: Last Man Live. One more, and it's a terrific profile on the dean of Finnish goaltending: The Oracle of Ice Hockey: How a 70-year-old Finnish goalie coach is transforming a global sport.

From Sirius, and this is just fantastic: Paralyzed woman walks again with 3D-printed robotic exoskeleton.

From Marc Klein, and this is fascinating: Carry on camping - can a week under canvas reset our body clocks?

From DQ reader My Wife, and this is very cool: This is What Happens When Youths Swap Clothes with their Elders.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is absolutely hilarious: Sir David Attenborough's describes Olympic curling.

From Roger Robar, and this is terrific: Mousetrap Fission.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Banished (Impressions: Four Hours)

Well, this is quite a game.

It was made by one person (with his brother making the music). It represents an undiluted vision of survival for a group of people abandoned by their brethren.

There are certain obvious commonalities with Dwarf Fortress (this is a huge compliment). It was made by brothers. It starts with a small group left alone in the wilderness to survive. It is unforgiving of mistakes.

It's not nearly as intricate as DF (nothing is, because DF is probably the most intricate game ever made), but it succeeds extremely well on its own terms.

What are its terms? The terms are that you play the game with a survival mentality, because if you don't, you won't survive. And not surviving can be very ugly, with disease and starvation. So you prioritize and plan, because over-expansion will destroy you.

This is a careful game.

It's also a game that moves slowly, and I mean that in a good way. I think my little village has gained about ten people in population in four years (roughly doubling). The slow pace of growth means that every single person in the village is extremely important to the future of the village. They have value.

I struggle every year with resources and food, and I feel that's how a game with this theme should play. I shouldn't be able to min/max my way to utter prosperity. There should be difficult decisions to make.

A few other notes. The game world is beautiful and full of life and detail. It's staggering that one person could create this level of graphical quality. The music and sound palette are both perfect complements to the graphics, and both set just the right mood.

Also, the interface particularly stands out, because it's just brilliant. In a game where there is so much information to manage, the interface is clean and substantially intuitive. I can do everything I need to do with just one or two clicks.

Here are a few notes that will help you when you start playing the game. First, don't speed up time. It's very easy to compress the time scale up to 10x, but you can use all that time to poke around the world and learn the interface, and believe me, it makes the learning curve go much more smoothly. Second, greed will kill you. Think in terms of basic survival needs (food and shelter). If you try to triple the footprint of your village in one year, it's probable that you won't have devoted enough time to growing and gathering food. Once everyone in your village has starved, the next occupants will have plenty of nice buildings to enjoy.

Here's the game website: Banished. This is a special game, and it deserves your attention.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Unwind

My engine has been severely over-revved lately.

We've been traveling almost every weekend for hockey since Eli 12.6s cracked rib healed (he's playing great, but the trips are hard). Trying to support Gridiron Solitaire (and improve it) in a compressed time frame each week has been very, very difficult. 

I have four areas where I want to improve the game, and I've designed two of them, with most of the work done on the other two. I had no idea that I would have these ideas, and I'm glad, because it's going to make the game significantly better, but it's going to be a ton of work. 

I feel like I'm doing three things at once because--most of the time--I am. 

Because of this, I've noticed lately that I can't get my mind still. There are multiple data streams in my head at all times. This does not seem healthy.

I'm mentioning this because I'm sure I'm not the only one. I know that some of you are going through the same thing. There are so many inputs now--sound, data, video--that it's easy to just keep drinking from the fire hose. Actually, it's worse than that--there are so many inputs that you feel like you might be missing something important if those inputs aren't monitored.

So starting today, I'm trying to quiet down.

Less interaction. Fewer data streams. More time when I'm only doing one thing, not five. I'm hoping this will settle me down and improve the quality of my thinking. My thinking on small things is still okay, because small things are constantly in my head, but the thinking on big things has suffered. 

The big things are usually the important things. Being sound on tactics is not effective if you're unsound on strategy. 

Part of the quieting down was to make myself sit down and play "Banished" after it was released yesterday. It's brilliant--staggering, really--and I'm forcing myself to play it without accelerating time in any way. That means it's a slow, entirely engaging experience, which is just what I need right now. 

I'll have a post up about Banished within a day or so, but you can save yourself time and just go buy it now. It's beautiful and well-designed and has a kind of meandering intensity that very much surprised me. 

Just one note when you start playing: don't be greedy. You have been warned.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Diplomatic Payment, E.T.C.

I have to admit, this is ingenious:
Scam Compensation sum of $4.9 million dollars approved in your name through World Bank mass assisted project funds. This compensation involves business investment failure, Inheritance, Contracts, Lottery, Dating, Diplomatic Payment, E.T.C, the mass assisted fund was approved to settle failed business / scam compensation. 

Please indicate if you have received your compensation funds sum of (U.S.D $4.9 ).We have tried all our possible  means to contact you since your name and email were stated on the manifest list submitted by the world bank external auditors but it failed and we want to know if you are still alive ,so that we can finalized this transaction once and for all. Note that you can visit this link [removed] to see the data of all compensatory funds paid to individual through mass assisted project. 

We have received your name in the New Year scam compensation list submitted by the external affairs department of World Bank Switzerland; your name was submitted through the secret security services of international scam watchers approved by World Bank to compile names of fraud victims globally.Security watchers verified intensively through their international server security detector device that you have unknowing engaged in negative transactions with some group of fraud syndicates operating to defraud unsuspected victims with none  exiting mouthwatering proposals, we are using this opportunity to inform you that the transactions executed with those people where simply fraud, there was no money approved in your name for any reason, they were manipulating your sense of reasoning by using tricks that appears to be true with fabricated documents which does not have any government approved serial number. Have you asked yourself why they always demand formoney consistently whenev  er they promised to release the f

In furtherance, I presumed you must have been wondering why after paying all the fees requested by them nothing was paid to you rather they enjoyed your hard earned money without remorse of their evil deeds. The only funds approved in your name is $4.9 million dollars from the new world bank mass assisted project, they operates through different avenues, locations and from many countries especially west Africa Nigeria, Spain, Ghana, Benin republic, London E.T.C.  The scam compensation has genuine source with all the legal clearance documents approved in your name; the scam compensation excise has absolute transparent background which integrates financial service policy. 

Finally, you have the opportunity to enjoy positive New Year if you corporate and follow the official instructions mandated for the processing release of your scam compensation already in your name. You have to keep your scam compensation process utmost confidential then submit any further scam messages you receive for our perusal. 

Waiting For Your Response  


Mr David Moore 

So a scam is offering me $4.9M in scam compensation? Do I smell a recursive panda?

This is all so wonderfully, yet badly, written. I do know that I want to enjoy "positive New Year" along with everyone else. 

Please Note!

This is just incredible:
With a country featuring just 148 registered senior players, seven rinks and only one professional team, Slovenia has done the unthinkable in Sochi by advancing to the tournament quarterfinals after Tuesday’s 4-0 playoff win over Austria.

Slovenia's population is just over 2 million. It's just smaller than Houston. It has fewer ice rinks than Dallas. And they play Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals tomorrow.

I would normally be rooting for Sweden (greatest goaltending country in the world), but I think I have to make an exception for this game.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #94: Argghhhhh

I'm starting to find out how many ways I can screw up after a game is released.

Last week, I introduced the Big Stop and sack mechanics into the game. Tested thoroughly, I believed (screw-up #1: no written test plan with every conceivable situation listed), and so I released it into the wild.

Last night, someone noticed a problem. It was rare, because it only happened if you got a Big Stop on a 4th down attempt by the CPU (which can only happen if the CPU goes for it instead of kicking), but it should never have gotten out.

I checked the code, and as soon as I saw how it handled fourth downs in that situation, I could not believe the idiot who wrote the code.

Me, obviously.

So I've spent as much time as I could squeeze out (another school holiday because of President's Day) today making the fix and testing.

Then I noticed something else happening--pulling on the thread and the sweater starts to unravel--and realized that some of the two-point conversion code I'd written (which isn't even live yet) had caused a problem because of a cut and paste I did. Actually, it was just a cut, so I had some code that was missing.

I'm very careful about things like this, so I'm beyond surprised that something like this happened. Fortunately, the missing code was only in the dev build, and it was easily put back in, but still. Good grief.

About two-point conversions. Enough people want them, and I agree with their reasons, that it's the next new feature going into the game. This starts to get tricky, though, in terms of keeping the game clear for all users, not just the experienced ones.

Here's the issue. I don't want the option for a two-point conversion showing up unless it's a situation that requires it, because it will slow the game down. Two-point conversions are only used in a very narrow range of situations, and I have identified that range.

This is much like onside kickoffs, where the option is only shown in certain combinations of time/score--otherwise, the kickoff is automatic.

The problem, though, is that it affects scoring. So the vast majority of the time, a touchdown will be automatically worth 7 points. In the special two-point situations, though, it will only be worth 6, and the user will have an option for an automatic one-point conversion, or an attempt for a two-point conversion (which involves a play from scrimmage instead of a kick).

That's the way it needs to be done, but I can see it causing confusion until people have seen it a few times. I'll put up a help bubble--maybe more than once, now that I think of it--but I'm still concerned about people being baffled by the difference.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Links!

Strong, strong links this time.

Leading off this week, from Chris Pencis, and damn, this is an amazing find: Scientists Think They Have Found The Mythical ‘Sunstone’ Vikings Used To Navigate Warships. Wow!

Next, from Tim Jones, and if you're fascinated by the intelligence of crows, here's something downright incredible:  Watch ’007′ the Crow Effortlessly Solve an 8-Step, Complex Puzzle. I, for one, welcome our new crow overlords.

From Jonathan Arnold, and boy, it would be fun to try this (and not die): I'm a Luger, Baby: I went to Lake Placid to sled like an Olympian. It was totally terrifying—and unbelievably fun.

From Wallace, and he sent this in with the comment "I'm often sorry I don't live in The Netherlands." Aren't we all, Wallace? Dutch Town Has Street Names Inspired by Lord of the Rings.

The Edwin Garcia Links Machine is in full force this week, and leading off, an incredible video: SADM Delivery By Parachutist/Swimmer (Special Atomic Demolition Munition). Next, and this is remarkable, it's Abandoned train tunnels in Paris could get new life as nightclubs or swimming pools. Next, it's the Best/Worst Wake Up Prank. Still going strong, and it's Orange Herald: The Bomb Behind Britain's Worst Nuclear Disaster. Next, and this is utterly charming (oddly enough, given the subject matter): World War 1 in 6 Minutes.

From DQ Swedish Advisor and Gridiron Solitaire Artist Fredrik Skarstedt, a fascinating article: Big Fish Stories Getting Littler.

From J.R. Parnell, and this is also fascinating: What is the Monkeysphere?

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is just absolutely amazing: GIFs: 3D pictures become possible with two straight lines. Also, if you want to see a ton of Olympics-related explanations of things, go here: Olympic Stuff.

From C. Lee, and I had no idea that Britain had been in at least one war for the last 100 years: Britain's 100 years of conflict.

From Greg B, several terrific links. First, it's The internet mystery that has the world baffled. Next, and I've always wanted one of these: Interactive Bird Song Poster. This is tremendous: The Internet Archive Console Living Room. One last link, and it's absolutely stunning beyond all words: Music to Mourn By: A recording of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s live reaction (and audience reaction) to JFK’s assassination.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Eli 12.6 had to take some foul-tasting medicine this week.

After giving up 3 goals on 41 shots over the weekend in two stellar games (6-1 and 5-2 wins), he developed a cough that kept getting worse.

Cue medicine.

"This medicine is so nasty it's undrinkable," he said. "But I've figured out a way to defeat it."

"How?" I asked.

"I drink a mouthful of Sprite before I take it," he said. "Then, as soon as I take it, I drink a big glass of apple juice."

"Hmm," I said, "I think I'd take a different approach."

"What?" he asked.

"Just as an experiment," I said, "I'd line up a series of strong-tasting flavors. Let's say Doritos, Mountain Dew, a slice of jalapeno, an Atomic Sourball, and some pineapple juice."


"Here's the theory," I said. "You'd taste each of these flavors as quickly as you could. By the time you got to the end, your taste buds would be so confused that they would retain no trace of the flavor of the medicine."

"Well, my way works," he said.

"Sure," I said. "But my way is more interesting," I said.

"Oh, lord," he said, laughing.

"You'll say that a lot around your Dad," Gloria said. "I do."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I'm going to lead off with my favorite picture in this set. I took it outside a middle school where I went to vote in a special Congressional election held a few weeks ago. I looked down as I walked back to my car and saw this, and I thought it was totally striking (click on the picture for a larger image):

I forgot to post a picture that I took at the Johnson Space Center when we visited a few weeks ago. It's the new Mission Control Center (which will be in use in the next 1-2 years), and the difference in this new design and the old is that paper is being virtually eliminated:

When we were at The Pond last week, I saw a message on a dry erase board that's one of the nicest notes from a kid to a parent I've ever seen:

 Boy, you can't beat that.

On our way back from some hockey trip (they've all blurred together at this point), I saw this. Seriously, someone originally bought this?

Next up: a Wii version of "The Desk Set".

Finally, we have "heavy item pickup" this week in our neighborhood, and our neighbor put out their Christmas tree for pick-up--seven weeks after Christmas. Not an artificial tree, mind you. I'm guessing if you walked within twenty feet of this it would burst into flames:

 I just want to know if the ornaments were still on it the whole time.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Olympics

So if you live in the U.S. and have lost your mind trying to track the various tape delays for different Olympic events, or have grown tired of 20+ minutes of commercials per hour (or commercials randomly inserted into the online feed at bizarre moments), I highly recommend checking out TunnelBear. With it, you can get an IP address from any country you want, including the UK, which will then allow you to watch the BBC feed of the Olympics, which are fantastic and have no commercial interruptions.

Canada also has tremendous Olympics coverage. Everyone does, it seems, except us.

Yes, you could set up all this without a third-party program or a small subscriber fee, but if you don't have the technical know-how and just want to see the Olympics with as little fuss as possible, this is an excellent route.

Example: I wanted to see the half-pipe final this afternoon, when it was actually happening. I looked at the three NBC channels showing the Olympics at the time, though, and the event wasn't on.

Why? So they could "save" it for primetime tonight, I'm guessing. Good grief.

I could have gone online, sorted through NBC's online coverage, and "enjoyed" persistent ad banners and randomly inserted commercials, if I could find a feed of the event at all.

Or I could have--entirely theoretically, of course--just watched the BBC feed.

Gridiron Solitaire #93: The Craziest Game I Ever Played

Sorry, I know this is breaking the Monday schedule, but as I was testing 1.02 this morning, I had a game that I needed to write about.

The Alpine Outlanders (the Maine Lobsters, renamed) were comfortably ahead of the Detroit Motors 31-14 as the game was winding down. I was already feeling very satisfied with the win, as were the home fans. Detroit scored with 2:30 left to make it 31-21, but that was just window dressing.

They recovered an onside kick, but I still wasn't worried. They just didn't have enough time left. So they drove down to my 25, but there were only thirty seconds left. I was still celebrating.

They they attempted a field goal.

I'd totally forgotten about this. In the NFL, if a team is down by 10 with time running out, they'll try a long field goal to get the deficit down to 7, then try an onside kick, hoping to recover and try a Hail Mary.

It's all about time. For the team to have a chance to tie, they have to be down one score with enough time to at least run one offensive play.

So the A.I. was entirely correct--I'm really pleased about that--but I wasn't expecting it. I felt a little catch in my throat.

Field goal: good. 31-24. Twenty seconds left.

Onside kick. Detroit recovered.

Recovering even one onside kick is unlikely. Two in a row? Absolutely, incredibly rare.

They throw the Hail Mary.

I have no Big Play presses remaining, and no matches on the board. Still, though, it gets thrown to a text event, so I still have a chance it will be incomplete.

Caught in the end zone. Touchdown.

I know I've just had the most unlikely run of dice rolls I've ever seen in 200+ games of testing, but I can still win the coin toss for sudden death (old school) overtime, right?

Nope. Detroit wins, drives right down the field, and kicks a field goal to win 34-31.

I sat down and roughly calculated the chances of this sequence of events happening. The odds against it were more than 3,000-1.

What I really liked about this moment was that it was special. Nothing was rigged. I'm not going to see it tomorrow when I play five more games. Thirty other people aren't going to see it. It was just an incredibly unlikely series of events--theoretically possible, but incredibly rare.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #93: Connections

1.02 (which I discussed last week) is currently being tested and will likely be released Tuesday night or Wednesday. It includes the new sack mechanic as well as the "Big Stop" play.

The last week or so, I've been thinking about the offseason player cards.

As a quick review, you have an opportunity in the offseason to "buy" player cards that will affect your team ratings. The player names on these cards get used in text events, but other than that, they're essentially just a 1-3 point boost in a rating (if the card doesn't bust, which is always possible).

What I wanted to do was strengthen the attachment that people had to individual players. How could I get them to make decisions--even occasionally--based on something other than pure spreadsheet logic?

After thinking about this for a few days, I came up with a set of new features.

To start with, and this is the core of everything that follows, team records and statistics are now going to be tied to a player. So if Blaze McShuckins is your quarterback, he's going to have a career total for passing yards, and every team is going to have career leaders in the major statistical categories. So on the team records card in the Team History screen, there will be entries like ("Career Passing: Blaze McShuckins, 12799 yards"). And more statistical categories are going to be tracked, so--for example--there will be career TD passes as well. With the new sack mechanic, there will be team sack leaders, too.

I know, that doesn't seem like much, but stay with me.

This opens up the possibility of a team Hall of Fame. Since a rating degrades by 1 point each year a player isn't replaced, it means that giving that player all of the rushing or passing yardage actually works out fine if you're talking about the accumulation of career statistics. So a running back gaining 4,500 yards a year is not realistic, but a running back who plays for four years and accumulates 18,000 career yards? That would put him number two in all time rushing yards in NFL history.

So on the Team History page, there will be a tab for the Hall of Fame.

Even as I write this, I know it's going to create a more interesting set of decisions for players. Do they keep their aging running back for one more year to get him enough yards to become the career leader in rushing for his team, or has their team rating dropped far enough where he needs to be replaced immediately?

Is it still mostly going to be spreadsheet logic driven? Yes, but I'm not concerned about that--I just wanted to introduce an environment where edge cases are going to happen in the normal course of play, and I think that will happen now.

Here's the last piece of this. Now, when players get replaced, they have an actual "end destiny" in the game. So I'll look at the career stats of the player, decide what kind of career he had in terms of quality, and create a spectrum of his possible reactions to the announcement that he's been released. Then I'll roll the dice to determine his reaction, and write a message that briefly describes how he handled being released. Some players will retire, some will be honored by the team--and some will take it badly. Fredrik is creating some images that I can use as backgrounds for the destiny messages, and hopefully I can write some that are amusing.

There are a fair number of moving pieces in this, so even though it's easy to describe, it's not going to be as easy to implement. It's also certainly behind any on-field gameplay changes as well, so it's not on the top of any list right now. I do hope, though, that it's going to add more texture and richness to the game world.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday Links!

From Andy Dayton, and I'm a week late to link this, but it's still very funny: A Guide To American Football.

From DQ Reader My Wife, and this is a fantastic article: Minnesota’s Olympic Hockey Cradle (Pop. 1,781).

This week, The Edwin Garcia Links Machine sent videos, and lots of them. First, and this is very funny (and not mean in the slightest): The Truth About Gingers. Next, and this is another example of the surprising brilliance of Corvids: Clever Crow. These guys are quite amazing: Red Hot Chili Pipers. One more, and it's why babies can be so annoying:  Tomer Ullman: The Crying Game. Not a video, but stunning and evocative photography: Abandonedography. This link was sent with "history is awesome" as the comment, and yes, it is: Charlemagne's bones are (probably) real. Last one, and it's utterly fantastic: GoPro: Red Bull Stratos - The Full Story. Wait--I was wrong. Here's a story about Finns (those clever Finns) isolating a GPS signal from audio: Mystery signal from a helicopter. Genius!

From Michael M., and this is some heavy-duty number crunching: The Best Scoring Defenses In NFL History.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

New Sports Games

Sports gaming is a generally neglected genre these days, but three new games have been announced recently, so let's take a look.

The first, and what I think is the most interesting, is The Golf Club. That link goes to the game's website, and it looks fantastic. Even better, it features an incredibly robust course architect, and "incredibly robust" may not be enthusiastic enough--it looks far, far more powerful (and easier to use) than any previous course architect I've ever seen.

The only feature this game doesn't have that I want is a single-player mode. This is intended to be a collaborative experience in terms of online tours and tournaments, and while that's not ideal (for me, anyway), everything else seems so outstanding that I'm not even going to complain (a first!).

Here's an example of how forward-thinking this game appears to be in terms of courses: procedural course generation:
With four clicks of a button from the main menu the game will generate for you a never been played before course. The variation is infinite! 

If you don’t like the course that’s been generated, one click and you can generate a new one. 

 If you want to tailor the courses a little more there are high-level options available to you. Examples of these are the number of holes, par distribution, fairway width, number of bunkers, green size, green slope and rough coverage.

If you think that means a bunch of generic, boring courses, not so. The landscapes in this game look utterly stunning.

Platforms? PS4, XboxOne, and PC. If you want more information (in a very interesting interview), here's a link to a podcast interview over at The Blog For The Sports Gamer: Riding the Pines: Peter Garcin - The Golf Club Game.

Oh, one more thing: release date this spring. Bonus points for not announcing the game too early.

Next, the makers of the Out Of The Park series announced a pro football simulation: Beyond The Sideline Football. It's so deep and has so many simulations features (like OOTP) that I'm not listing them here, but it's comprehensive. Even more importantly, a former Sports Interactive (Football Manager) developer, Francis Cole, is the lead developer for this title.

OOTP is a deep, deep simulation. It's not for everyone, but if you gravitate to that style of simulation and presentation, having a football game in that same vein will be fantastic.

The release date for this game is unfortunately not until some time in 2015.

Last is a new entry in a sometimes-beloved franchise (the first one was beloved, the following entries progressively less so): RBI Baseball. Expect an arcade-style baseball game with full season mode. 

In truth, the last few entries before the franchise took a 10+ year hiatus were not well received, and none of previous code bases will be used anyway (man, I hope not), so this is basically an entirely new baseball game with an old name stamped on top. 

Because of that, the developers are particularly important, and MLB Advanced Media (as far as I can tell) is the same group that developed mobile platform games MLB Ballpark Empire and MLB.Com Home Run Derby.

I played MLB Ballpark Empire after RBI was announced, and there's good news and bad news. The good news is that it's clearly a very competent game in terms of design and development. The bad news is that I couldn't play it for more than an hour because it represents the absolute worst of IAP and social media crapware. Every time I sold a hot dog (I exaggerate, but not by much) the game was asking me if I wanted to share that critical moment via multiple social media platforms.

Um, no. Stop nagging me!

Also, the game used the timer-based mechanism to demand that you spend additional money buying resources instead of being able to play the game for any decent length of time. 

So like I said, it was competent, but not in a good sort of way. 

Hopefully the new game won't have the same tendrils of evil. A new, well-made RBI Baseball could be loads of fun.

Please Note

It's 26F at 10:00 a.m. I live in a frozen wasteland.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


I don't get a chance to watch many NBA games during the regular season, but Regressing put up a fantastic post about how incredibly brilliant both LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been this season. It's a terrific read in terms of both basketball and data presentation:
The Durant-LeBron Arms Race Is Real—And Statistically Unprecedented.

The Post That Dare Not Speak Its Name

If you're an international reader of DQ, you might not know that we have a lot of crazy people here.

Wait, what am I saying? Of course you know.

Here's a good example. During the Super Bowl telecast on Sunday, Coca-Cola had a commercial where people sang "America the Beautiful" in different languages. I thought it was quite touching, really: Coca Cola Super Bowl 2014 Commercial America It's Beautiful.

So this lovely commercial airs, and people absolutely lose their shit. Why, it's blasphemy that "America the Beautiful" isn't being sung in "American"! A few examples from Twitter:
it's America and the USA language is English...not all this foreign shit
**** you coke for trying to diversify my country tis of thee****ing speak English and be normal

Yeah, I could go on, but those are so painful to read already. Oh, but wait, here's one more--from a politician:
If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing ‘American the Beautiful’ in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come -- doggone we are on the road to perdition.

Like I said: painful.

I've always thought it was so ironic that the people and groups that certain Americans hate and want out of the country have contributed so much to our culture. As a country, the outsiders have always been far more interesting and creative than the insiders.

Anyway, here's the punch line, and it's pretty damned funny: guess who wrote 'America The Beautiful'?
The author of this iconic anthem of American patriotism was Katharine Lee Bates. In a brilliant lampoon of the bigots' backlash against the Coke commercial, Stephen Colbert pointed out that Bates was a lesbian. He could also have added that she was also a Christian socialist and an ardent foe of American imperialism.

Boy, you couldn't make up anything funnier than that.

In Entirely Good News...

...the QuadStick is already funded!

Thanks to plenty of high-profile coverage today (from Eurogamer, among others), QuadStick has already exceeded its funding target with 28 days to go.

If you want to see this entirely remarkable controller in action, there's a video in this article: QuadStick controller lets quadriplegics play complex games. Pretty damned amazing.

Additional funds will support the building of additional units, and you can still back the Kickstarter here:
QuadStick: A Game Controller For Quadriplegics.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Cool Things To Mention

First, here's something that Dan Spezzano sent me, and it's entirely amazing. Here's his description, because I can't say it any better than this:
This is the project my older brother Matt Victor has been working on, developing a full use video game controller for quadriplegics. He is able to play any PS3 or PC game that's out there with this controller using only his mouth. When someone has their mobility taken away from them, and is extremely limited in what they can do on an everyday basis for fun, video games are an amazing outlet for people like my brother. 

It's not just a game controller, either: it's also a mouse and keyboard.

This is such a remarkable and needed device, and it's very exciting to see this happen. Here's the Kickstarter page: QuadStick: A Game Controller For Quadriplegics.

Next, Owen Faraday of the essential Pocket Tactics wrote today about a game called "Play to Cure", and here's a brief description:
Game developers at the company Guerilla Tea worked with scientists to translate anonymous genetic data gathered from thousands of breast tumours into an adventure in space.

I know--that sounds like Monty Python, but it's not. More:
In Play to Cure: Genes in Space, players navigate their spaceships safely around many obstructions while on a fast-paced mission to collect a precious material known as Element Alpha. As they do so they guide their ships across mountains and valleys, corresponding to areas of the genome hiding the potentially cancer-promoting faults. And as they travel through the landscape they trace a course that shows scientists the high and low bits – the bits where the mutations are likely to be. The map each player plots is then sent back to scientists for interpretation. As more people highlight the peaks and troughs, scientists are alerted to these as areas worth further exploration.

Here's the Pocket Tactics article: Play to Cure processes cancer research data as you play it. Download links: iOS and Android.

Okay, this last item is certainly less important, on the bigger scale, but still very cool. I linked to an amazing "Little Drummer Boy" video during the holidays, and it was done by a fellow named Sean Quigley. He's now putting out an album with his band "Bold As Lions"--the production costs already funded via Kickstarter, although it's still open for another 11 days--and you can see the details (and an interesting video about him and his partner Karli Gerbrandt) here: Winnipeg Drummer Boy's Band "Bold as Lions" Releases Debut Album.

The Huge News Of The Week

Owen Faraday of Pocket Tactics broke the story last night: Luca Redwood is developing a sequel to 10000000, one of the  most entertaining and best-designed games I've played in years.

Even better, take a look at some of the details:
You Must Build A Boat is a full-on sequel to 10000000, one that adds a new game layer to the proceedings. Between the puzzle-matching runs, you’ll be exploring a strange land in a choose-your-own-adventure style, collecting resources to build the titular vessel, and capturing monsters and recruiting allies to crew it. You’ll be able to import your save game from 10000000, which will unlock “special benefits”.

That's basically everything I could have possibly wanted. See more over at Pocket Tactics (link above).

Monday, February 03, 2014

Gridiron Solitaire #92: Reality and Verisimilitude

The most difficult aspect of designing Gridiron Solitaire was the combination of reality and verisimilitude.

In part, the game feels real because there is so much NFL data used behind-the-scenes for playcalling, special teams data, statistical boundaries, etc. There's quite a bit of reality spread throughout the game.

However, this is also a game that uses cards and takes 15-20 minutes to play. So in addition to reality, there must be gameplay mechanics that somehow create the illusion of reality, or rather, create the same feelings you get when you watch a football game. The gameplay is a distillation, and that has been difficult, particuly for defense. I think the defensive gameplay mimics the lack of control on defense very well, the triage, but it didn't seem to mirror real football at a tactical level to the degree I wanted it to. There are always going to be some sacrifices to fit the game into the time window (Red Zone efficiency, in particular, has to be very high), but I want to make it as realistic as I can.

Late last week, I had an idea that I believe will improve the defensive gameplay substantially. Two ideas, rather. The first is very simple: if there is a "Big Gain" roll on defense, why isn't there a "Big Stop" roll as well?

There should be, and there will be shortly. If you match the CPU playcall, there is a dice roll for the "Big Stop", and you might stop the CPU offense immediately for zero gain. That mirrors the "Big Gain" mechanic, where if you miss the CPU playcall, there is a dice roll for a max gain of 50 yards.

These are not frequent events, but they add a little bit of spice and variability (and drama), and I very much like how these two mechanics now mirror each other.

Also, the overwhelming consensus in the forums was that people wanted to be able to sack the CPU quarterback. After all, the human player can get sacked via text event, so why couldn't they sack the CPU? I couldn't answer that question intelligently, and I thought they were right, so I wanted to add a sack mechanic to defense.

I went through quite a few iterations, hated them all, and then just stumbled on what was correct. There's this thing that I feel when something is intuitively correct, and I immediately felt that when I thought of this mechanic.

If you remember, passing plays on offense require three matches for the pass to be "complete". In the drive canvas, you see a football traveling between the quarterback and receiver until the third match, which gains 8 yards, and every subsequent match is worth 8 yards.

The defensive sack is going to mirror that gameplay. If you match the CPU playcall on a passing play, the minimum gain will now be -8 instead of zero. If you played the gain back to zero-- in essence, "rewinding" the play-- the quarterback changes his pose back to a preparing to throw motion, and a defensive player appears. If you make three more matches, the defensive player sacks the quarterback.

With each match, the defensive player moves closer to the quarterback, mirroring the ball moving toward the receiver when the human player is on offense.

As an additional wrinkle, on both veteran and champ difficulties, missing the play call on a CPU pass play means that the max gain will be 5 yards greater than the max gain for a running play. So now, different play types have variable gains, which is something I've wanted to do for quite a while, but could never design satisfactorily.

It feels right, it adds some temptation to defense (it could be fool's gold to use Big Play presses to get the sack, but it's going to be very difficult to resist), and I don't think it will affect game balance much if it all.

I wish I thought of this two months ago, but I'm very pleased with how it's working.

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