Friday, February 29, 2008

A meme is born: "I like turtles"

The mother of all non-sequiturs, now used to damning effect at the office whenever anyone says anything stupid...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Problem with Games Journalism is All of Us

Every few months we get another screed from another writer decrying the lack of journalistic value or critical merit in either online or print games writing. In the past few years we’ve seen a broad spectrum of views, from Klosterman’s infamous “Lester Bangs of Video Games” piece in Esquire, to stuff like this most recent essay, “Game Criticism, Why We Need It, and Why Reviews Aren’t It” which appears on Play This Thing. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that this isn’t another rebuttal, or counter argument to the usually very intelligently argued points that are made. No, instead I want to raise an issue that is never discussed. Something all games writers, reviewers, editors, and publishers think about, but rarely express for fear of the wrath it may incur. I don’t pose it as fact, but more as a topic of debate. A new element to consider when implying that the talent does not exist to provide this whimsical, mythical, artistic pontification that these editorials demand (because it does.)

Are you ready? Here goes.

The audience just doesn’t want it.

Or care about it, for that matter.

In the grand scheme of things, games are an unusual animal. Lots of people play games, but I would argue that the level of engagement across the spectrum of the audience is quite different than you find with, say, movies. Or television. On one hand you have the “mainstream” gamers who can barely remember the name of the system they’re playing on at any given moment, let alone give two shits about whether the game they’re playing has any artistic merit. On the other, you have the super-hardcore. The enthusiasts. The guys that express every thought they have about video games, every moment that they have them, in some kind of public forum. There’s a lot of stuff in between – but these are the extremes. All are consumers of games, but all have different requirements of the media that supports the pastime.

Let’s tackle the easy ones first. The “mainstream” guys. At best, they want to know what games are coming out, and they occasionally want to know if specific games are good or not. For them, service journalism is all they need, if any. “Hey, Madden’s out.” Bingo. They do not need “criticism” nor do they have the inclination to read anything into the symbolism of the banana-shaped cursor in Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, or the social metaphors explored in Mario Galaxy.

Now what about the hardcore? There’s a good number of them, they’re super-engaged, super-vocal, and super-opinionated. Ask a lot of them about games coverage, and they’ll call it “crap.” They’re plugged into so many different sources of information that they have no need for any single, definitive source. They identify with brands on a personal level, and will often irrationally see praise of one thing as disparagement of another. For years, they have been the engine that drives the games industry, and have been the meat of the audience for games writing.

What is becoming increasingly evident though (and this is the reason I raise this whole point to start with) is that when this group is given what it frequently claims to want – it doesn’t seem to want that either. There is no doubt much evidence that could be raised to back this point up, and plenty to counter it…so I assert again that this is raised as a topic of a debate, not vilification of the audience. However – I’d like to point to a few very specific examples, and get the conversation going;

A few years ago, Computer Gaming World editor in chief Jeff Green and I spent a lot of time scratching our heads and musing on how best to serve the magazine’s readers with our editorial product. We frequently spent money on research against the audience, and had a very clear view of the demographics, the spending power, and the playing habits of the audience. From responses to blogs, message boards, and articles, and letters to the editor we felt we had a good handle on what the readership wanted. They constantly complained about games media treating them “like children” (and we had the data that showed that they really weren’t…they were predominantly dudes over 35. Who’d have guessed?) and that they demanded writing that credited them with maturity and intelligence. So, much in the vein of the Play This Thing editorial we chose to completely blow up the reviews section. Instead of “reviews” we would provide criticism, and context. We would embrace the fact that print was invariably late to the reviews party, and instead of banging out 400 words and a score to add to all the others that got sucked into MetaCritic, we’d discuss the way games were received by the audience, discuss other reviews, and talk to developers about how they would be addressing problems. We’d tackle the need for patches, ask questions of the visionaries, and summarize the way the audience had received a game.

The result? The audience hated it. I mean they really fucking hated it. They responded, almost as one, with the comment that they “don’t care what other people think” and that they “want to know what score CGW would give it.” Far from wanting an “essay” about a game – they wanted an at-a-glance indication of quality. Despite being enthusiasts (they spend $5 to get games information printed on much more enthusiastic could they possibly be?) they still wanted their taste vindicated with a simple number, rather than something more obtuse.

The second example is more recent, and concerns a recent NeoGAF thread about Newsweek writer (and occasional 1UP Yours buddy) N’Gai Croal. My personal opinion is that much of what N’Gai writes about video games is very squarely in the wheelhouse of what the vocal gamers say they want to read. He exists outside the “enthusiast” press, and is able to mull over a broad spectrum of issues, and tackle them in an intelligent fashion. He, along with a number of others, represents the coming-of-age of games coverage.

So you’d think the enthusiasts that decry the “garbage” they read in the games media would embrace him, right? You’d be surprised. Now, admittedly, NeoGAF provides but a snapshot of the gaming audience, but as a barometer of the feelings of the hardcore or “enthusiast” set, it’s arguably the most reliable source. On the subject of N’Gai’s games writing, a conversation on the conversation was kicked off with a post that stated, “Reading this guy's blog is an exercise in pretension. I do not consider myself stupid, but his use of obscure vocabulary that completely disregards his reader demographic is insulting.” The ensuing (currently seven-page) thread is quite a roller coaster of emotional response, that should be read to be believed. Personally, I was quite surprised by the term "completely disregards his reader demographic," but then I was also equally surprised at the annoyance expressed at the fact that N'Gai's name has an apostrophe in it.

My final example concerns the wonderful British games magazine, Edge. Long held in the highest regard by many as the epitome of intelligent games coverage, and often cited as something to which all games writers should aspire to mimic, it’s current circulation is just over 35,000 copies a month. To the best of my knowledge, this number has ever blipped much higher than 50,000 over the course of its long life. There are several video games magazines in Edge’s home market with double, triple, and quadruple the circulation. Bottom line? Edge goes deep, the others don't.

So here’s my point, I guess. In a long-winded, roundabout fashion; The media produced about video games is a direct reflection of the audience it’s produced for. It’s not that editors and writers are unable or unwilling to wax poetic on the art of video games (there are plenty of examples to the contrary); it’s that in the present climate the majority of the audience just doesn’t care to read that. Media is not produced in a vacuum. Editors don’t just throw the dumbest things they can come up with at the wall to see what sticks. Publishers research their audience, and produce a product that is intended to appeal to the largest possible number of people, so in turn that audience can be monetized with advertising. This is why crap like TMZ exists, and why the AP (of all people) is adding 20 "entertainment journalists" to its staff while the New York Times is laying 100 people off from its newsroom.

As enthusiasts, if the energy we all spent constantly complaining about games media were put into drawing attention to the excellent examples of intelligent criticism and journalism that are produced, then the rising tide would, perhaps, raise all ships.

And there you go. I just wasted 1400 words on the subject, instead of telling you to go read The Escapist, or subscribe to Edge, or read the essays on What a jerk.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TSA Gangstaz

Er...probably NSFW, come to think of it.

Can I have one of these, please?

It's the Geneva motor show any day now, so there will no doubt be some piece of metal I would love to own being revealed every 30 seconds. So far, this is winning; the new Maserati GranTurismo S. Fast, big enough for the kids to squeeze into the back, fast, dual clutch transmission so Mrs. D would be able to drive it, and it's fast. And black. It's also Italian, so there's always the concern that it'll fall apart every other day, but this is just a fantasy, so who cares?

Maxim "review" follow up

As you'd expect, the nonsense around the Maxim "review" of the new Black Crowes album didn't end with the statements issued at the time. After the Crowes issued an official response to Maxim's handiwork, editorial director James Kaminsky responded Tuesday with a statement apologizing for the oversight. "It is Maxim's editorial policy to assign star ratings only to those albums that have been heard in their entirety," Kaminsky said. "Unfortunately, that policy was not followed in the March 2008 issue of our magazine and we apologize to our readers."

There's an "eating crow" gag in here somewhere.

1UP Yours last week

I completely forgot to mention this last week, but the episode of 1UP Yours we did on Friday is up, and it turned out great. It was a big lineup for the last day of GDC, featuring N'Gai Croal from Newsweek, MTV's Stephen Totilo, Shane, Bryan, Garnett, and myself, with podcasting maestro Andrew Pfister twiddling the knobs (that's me in the obnoxiously orange shirt in the photo.) We covered a lot of ground in the (just shy of) two hours we were talking, including the indie gaming scene, the notion of "consequence" and "permanence" in games (prompted by comments from Peter Molyneux about the notion of "punishment" in game design,) all the news out of the week's events, and then we finished up with Stephen's "deep thought" of the week. Like his previous thought a month or so ago, Stephen's latest will hopefully get the message boards chatting, as it concerned the way that all other forms of entertainment now accommodate both "location based" and "portable" methods of consumption, with the transition between the two becoming easier and easier. You can listen to music on your stereo at home, then grab your iPod and continue to listen when you leave for work. You can watch a movie on your big-screen TV, then take your PSP or iPod with you to continue watching when you leave the house. With games, the experiences are still tied to specific devices in specific places, but surely that isn't the way things will be for much longer?

As ever, any over-stated comments or exaggerations for effect by anyone on the podcast are quoted out of context and over-reacted to in the usual fashion by fanboys of all persuasions. Attempts to discuss the (sadly) true nature of the deteriorating (packaged) PC gaming world, for example, have been met with derision by those of truly blind faith. Discussion of anything to do with the PlayStation 3, regardless of how timely or valid, is met with assertions that there is some kind of "bias" involved. These same people, of course, were those complaining of similar Xbox "bias" a year ago.

Still, at least people listen and care enough to discuss the thing, even if a lot of it does come off as irrational, and rude. I often miss working with the guys...particularly the "heyday" when it was Garnett, Shane, Luke and I with Skip at the wheel. Maybe one day we'll round up another "reunion" like we did at PAX last year.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Professor Layton is my new addiction

Six hours and thirty something minutes in, over 60 puzzles complete, but none of the "mysteries" solved. I am completely hooked. I'm starting to crave the company of others that are playing it so we can talk about moving matches around, counting sheep, or tracing paths through mazes to further satiate the obsession.

What's the deal with Ramon? Do you trust Chelmey? When do we get to the dark tower?

My favorite puzzle so far? I don't think I have one - though the epiphany of how Professor Layton "thinks" came when I did this one;
"Ten candles stand burning in a dining room. A strong breeze blows in through an open window, and extinguishes two of them. Checking back in on the candles later, you see that one more candle has gone out. To make sure no more flames go out, you shut the window. Assuming the wind doesn't extinguish any more candles, how many candles do you have left at the end?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Entertainment criticism at it's finest

Gawker is reporting that in the March issue of Maxim writer David Peisner reviews the new Black Crowes album, "Warpaint." The verdict: Two and a half stars, out of five. The problem though, is that the band never sent out pre-release copies of the album for "review" so it's not actually possible that Peisner could have heard it before inking his critique. Apparently, when the label contacted Maxim to ask "WTF?" they received the following response, "Of course, we always prefer to (sic) hearing music, but sometimes there are big albums that we don't want to ignore that aren't available to hear, which is what happened with the Crowes. It's either an educated guess preview or no coverage at all, so in this case we chose the former."

Here's the text of that "educated guess preview"

"The Black Crowes already sounded like grizzled classic rockers on their 1990 debut. While it certainly was a neat trick for a bunch of wasted twenty-somethings to pull off, it hasn't left Chris Robinson and the gang much room for growth. Now that they're legitimately grizzled, they sound pretty much like they always have: boozy, competent, and in slavish debt to the Stones, the Allmans, and the Faces."

Brilliant! If only all criticism were so easy. And this is for music criticism, which let's face it, is pretty fucking easy in the grand scheme of things. CDs rarely clock in at more than an hour, and they don't really require your undivided attention. With all the bullshit that games reviewers have to put up with, you'd hope this would put things into perspective a bit. Whether you agree with what's said about games, at least you can usually trust that the reviewer turned the damn thing on and tried it. But why do that when Maxim does this? Let's start reviewing games this way, huh?

Super Smash Bros. Brawl comes out in a few weeks. Let's review it in a Peisner-stylee, shall we?

"Let's face it, the last Super Smash Bros. game involved a lot of Nintendo characters hitting each other in a variety of game-themed environments. Nintendo's creative team had already established a premise that proved extremely popular. In Brawl they return to this same theme, and do little more than add more characters, more moves, and make the graphics look nicer."

Easy! And I didn't even have to bother finding a copy, or wasting my time playing it, or bothering to learn anything about it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

GDC so far

It's been an unusual GDC for me this year. Rather than running around as part of a giant production effort to cover everything, video everything, and then talk about everything on a podcast we can take a somewhat more relaxed approach, and just spend some time meeting with people to talk about very specific things. Rather than scrambling to preview games, we've been able to spend our time meeting with developers and talking about some very specific content points. The stories that these conversations will spawn may take a while to piece together, but I think we have some good stuff. I've noticed this year that a lot of the creative guys in the industry are prepared to open up a lot more about creative motivation, as well as some of the ways their personal lives are affecting their design work.

I've been a bit of a flake on the social scene. So far I've only been out drinking with any kind of real determination once, on Tuesday night. Things started very casually at the St. Regis bar in the afternoon, and slowly devolved from there. Ira joined us for a while, but we'd already been drinking enough to ridicule him for carrying Liza Minelli's umbrella around (for some reason he was staying out of the rain with a gold brolly). Things then moved off, through the rain, to an EA DICE event, then to a LucasArts party that was already finishing by the time we got there, before we staggered into the W bar for a while, and things started to get hazy. There was then a period at Jillians in the Metreon that prompted a note from Gamasutra podcast hero Tom Kim to send me a note with the subject line "Hammered" where he told me "I appreciate the hammered John Davison! You're a lot more fun than the sober one."

I'm not sure I know what to make of that.

I know one thing for sure, I'd not eaten anything except for a cheese puff at the EA event all evening. The night ended at an Irish pub where a transvestite lounge singer was singing a rousing version of "Blue Monday" on a guitar she introduced as being called "pussy."

Last night I went home. I'm too old to do crap like that two nights in a row. And I wanted to see Mrs. D and the kids.

Music from a DS and 2 iPhones

Pretty incredible stuff...

Monday, February 18, 2008

If you thought last night's Knight Rider was bad...

Check this out, for something even worse.

Google Page Rank fun (reprise) we had some Google nonsense late last week, and we identified the solution which I talked about here. I'm sure it wasn't very interesting to many of you, but in the interests of being completist, and showing both cause and effect - here's a quick graphical representation of what making the fix actually achieved.

Guess where we applied the fix?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Video game violence vs. Real Violence

From November 2006, but still valid...

SF Chronicle today

The story for the Chronicle that I mentioned that Ira and I had done last month hit today...and it turned out being much bigger than we thought. It's on the front page of the "Style" section (at the bottom) and runs over onto page 3. Here's a link to the story on SF Gate, and a scan of the paper (below) complete with photo of me looking like a complete dork playing Rock Band.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Spore on the Mac

Mac | Life has an interview with Will Wright and Lucy Bradshaw up, where they talk about Spore on the Mac, specifically.

"We want to see what weird, unexpected things people will do with these tools. And I think the Mac group will be over-represented and the people that surprise us with the weird stuff they do with tools."

Google Page Rank fun

Since we launched What They Play in November, one of the "milestones" we've had in our business plan has actually been one of the most elusive things to track, or plan for: getting out Google PageRank. This magical internet voodoo will ensure that we start showing up in natural search, and hopefully we'll get a bit more of a lift to our traffic. We've been (obviously) toiling away as a pr0 for the past three months, but some information came to light yesterday (which, incidentally, was also our suckiest traffic day in the last two months...I guess people don't browse on Valentine's Day?) that revealed two things: 1) some of our pages are ranked already. And some of them are as high as a pr5! (which is incredible - thank you Assassin's Creed for being so popular!) BUT...and it's a big one...our homepage is still a pr0. This is weird, because it's our homepage that is getting all the links from the big pr6, 7, and 8 sites (like the NY Times, LA Times, etc.) We have over 1000 links to What They Play from external sites already, thanks to Tom's incredible work on the press side, so we should be getting a decent ranking. What's up? Long story short, it's a Google issue - the specifics of which I understand in theory, but not in practice. It seems that Google interprets the CSS style="display: none" tag as something that's trying to "cloak" links. We were using it in a widget in the right rail of the page that had three tabs in it. You clicked on a tab, and it refreshed a bunch of navigation links without having to reload the page. Really simple little thing. Apparently though, some sites have been using it as a trick to cloak links and stuff the system - so Google now penalizes against it... hence the pr0. So today we made the decision to kill the widget for the time being, while we look at an alternative. There are still plenty of ways to navigate the site, so it doesn't bork anything in a big way - it's just a pain in the ass. Hopefully when the bots come back we'll jump back onto the appropriate radar.

What I was really pleased with though, was that we went from identifying a problem, to executing on a plan of action in less than 12 hours. It would have been shorter still if we hadn't have learned about this late last night. In my previous life, our engineers discovering something like this and then being able to do something about it would have taken aaaages to execute on.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I have to say, I was a bit worried about the prospect of an "older' Indiana Jones, but having seen this May 22 can't come soon enough.

Video games and Rock Appreciation

We posted our first story from Dave Finkel, Emmy-award winning Co-Executive Producer of "30 Rock" (that's him in the picture, with his boy Roscoe) today - and I couldn't be happier about it. Since we started What They Play, we've been talking up our goals of "demystifying" games for parents, and showing ways that video games can bring families together, and be a catalyst for conversations away from the screen. This first piece from Dave really exemplifies everything we've been trying to do.

From the piece;
"So, how is a young, no-good lover of the devil’s music supposed base his identity on whatever music genre he “discovers” if all he knows is “My Chemical Romance”? How does a youngster even ‘discover’ new music anymore (besides “My Chemical Romance”)?

The answer is surprising: Guitar Hero. Rock Band. Video games. What a strange place to learn not only about what’s going on in music now, but what has happened in music, leading a truly enterprising and curious kid to work his way backward, musical movement by musical movement all the way back to the roots of rock."

Guitar Hero: The Encyclopedia of Rock

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

1UP Podcast Schedule: GDC Week

Andrew just posted the schedule for 1UP Yours and GFW Radio during GDC next week, and it looks like it's going to be fantastic. I can't wait to hear the reprise of Mark MacDonald vs. Denis Dyack on Thursday. I'll be doing the show on Friday next week, joining Garnett, N'Gai Croal and Stephen Totillo, and I'm sure we'll have stuff to say about the session that the three of them are participating in during the day at the conference, titled; "Up Against the Wall: Game Makers Take On the Press". Should be fun. I can't wait. It's been a while since I last did the show.

Xbox 360 Fanboy shout-out

I meant to do this the other day, but I was traveling (what a shock, huh?) I wanted to give a quick shout out to Xav de Matos at Xbox360fanboy for his positively glowing write-up of our "Ten Things Parents Need to Know About Xbox Live" piece on What They Play. The comments on both his site, and ours have been really interesting - particularly those discussing the merits and pitfalls of Xbox Live voice chat. We'll be hitting the other online services soon (for those that have asked) and hopefully we can turn this into an ongoing dialog about managing what our kids see and hear when they're playing online.

Thanks Xav!

Blog of note?

I wondered why I was starting to get comments from people that I wasn't related to! The Blogspot guys have very kindly included me as one of their Blogs of Note today. Nows there's more pressure to actually say something interesting, rather than ramble on aimlessly about nothing like I usually do.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gene Simmons, peeing, and God of War

Yesterday was one of those back and forth jobs to LA (Burbank, for a change, which is like flying into a suburban strip mall with a runway) with the highlight being taking a leak at a urinal next to Gene Simmons. The trip was for just a single meeting, which meant I got to spend a lot of time sitting around doing other things. A 45 minute meeting ate up about 8 hours of my day, when you factor all the traveling in, so I had a lot of time to kill. When not taking a leak with Gene (he appeared to need two hands) or riding in a Chevy HHR (one of the most disgraceful cars ever made...thanks Alamo) I spent the time playing the new God of War game on PSP. I'm almost certainly not allowed to say anything about it yet because of a bunch of embargoes and NDAs, but I guess I can say that the previews and vidoes so far have been very representative.

The biting wit of a four-year-old

One of my favorite people in the whole world, and previous partner-in-crime at the Official PlayStation Magazine, Gary Steinman is moving back into the world of the gaming press, and back to the Bay Area having spent four years in self-imposed exile in Texas. His new gig? On the Official PlayStation Magazine, or PlayStation The Official Magazine, as it's now called. Not only is it great to have Gary's biting wit back in the biz of talking about games, it's also likely he'll be living just up the street from me which I'm very happy about. My kids are also happy about this, as they're apparently big fans, as evidenced this past weekend when he came to visit. It also seems that Gary brings out a spectacular level of previously unknown acerbic snark in my four-year-old. This past Saturday Gary and Will somehow got into a battle of wits as to who was the "best soccer player in the world." This argument lasted well beyond the visit, and devolved into an email exchange where my son's views were conveyed to Gary through my wife, who was instructed to type messages asserting his dominance. In a lengthy salvo declaring his own superiority, Gary signed off as "Mr. Gary" for some reason. To this, without any prompting from anyone else I might add, my beautiful little four-year-old boy crafted a glorious response:

"Tell him: doesn't he mean 'Mrs. Gary'?"

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Such Things That Never Was

I was originally just going to Twitter this one, but since poking through it I've become completely enthralled. From the ever-surprising Surfer Girl is the fantastic round-up of cancelled projects that never made it, Such Things That Never Was. Check it out for goodies on System Shock 3, The Thing 2, the Kings Quest remake, and my absolute favorite post "40 games you never knew existed unless you worked on them."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Twittering fool

I always said that I "didn't get" the whole Twitter thing, but as a habitual Facebook status updater, I guess I was lying. As an experiment in the mundane, I've added a Twitter module to the top of the blog. Now you can see (when I can be bothered to update it) just how boring my day really is. Lucky you!

Unusual day

The day started taking my youngest boy to pre-school for the first time. If you've ever done this, I'm sure you understand how emotional it can be. The kids were great about it though. My oldest was very protective, and kept telling his brother what they'd be doing at school together, and offering to have him sit next to him all day. I guess Mrs. D and I must be doing something right.

I've not really talked about our building much before - but it bears talking about now. We've long had some issues with some of the other tenants. Nothing major, but the biggest concerning the men's bathroom. There's only one on each floor, and it contains a sink, a toilet and a urinal. For the longest time we've suffered the interesting habits of one of the people on our floor, as he pathologically pisses on the floor, and runs the water for so long that the room floods. By 3pm every day, there's a small lake in the room which is just revolting. We've talked to building management, but there's not a lot they seem to be able to do. Anyway...that's our usual bodily excretion issue around here, but today there was a new one. At the top of the stairs, there's a water fountain...y'know, stainless steel trough thing with a faucet. This morning, Noah came running into my office shouting "there's someone throwing up in the water fountain." We went out there to check, and the obnoxious bastard didn't even bother to clean it up. We told security, they got mad, found someone to mop it up...and then what?

I'll tell you what. The puking asshole made a return visit, and threw up in the fountain again. I know the bathroom is sometimes locked, but it's only about 20 feet from the fountain. I know sometimes you've just got to hurl, but this is fucking ridiculous.

Then the power went wonky. The phone system, our server, and some of our systems are on the same circuit, and it just tripped. Now we get three beeps every 20 seconds while we endure the inevitability of the backup power giving out, and everything crashing to a halt. We're waiting for...I dunno...someone, I guess, to do something about it.

Meanwhile, I'm playing the new Assassin's Creed game on DS, Altair's Chronicles, which appears to be mighty impressive.

Addendum: I forgot to mention, the security guard cleaned the water fountain with Windex. You can't make this shit up.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ask GamerDad

This is something I'm pretty happy about - we just posted the first entry of our new, weekly Ask GamerDad series. Andrew "GamerDad" Bub has been a good friend of ours since we launched the company back in August, so it's great to be able to feature him and support the great work he's been doing in this space for the past few years. Andrew has also been working with us on some other content too, including product write ups and such. As the name implies Ask GamerDad is an advice column, and will hopefully be something parents use to ask pretty much anything about video games and related topcs. Spread the word, and tell anyone you think might want to make use of it!

Help needed

I'm piecing together a regular series of features for What They Play that need the input of kids under 17 years old. It isn't anything too difficult or strenuous, it's just talking about video games, basically. If you, or someone you know might be interested, shoot me an email, and we'll get the ball rolling.