Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wii head-tracking



Just watch it. Nothing I can say will make it any cooler.

Today's press

OK, so I didn't completely jinx it the other day. The piece did run in today's New York Times, and it turned out pretty good - although I'm not completely sure what the "vile pursuit" comment is all about regarding the opium trade. Neither Ira or I have a particularly strong stand on 19th century drugs, but we do acknowledge that drugs are bad, kids. The story is online here, and it's also in the print version too.

The DL.TV thing I talked about last week is up today, too. I can't embed the player for some reason (either I'm too stupid to work it out, or they don't offer the functionality) so here's a good old-fashioned link to it. There's nav to the different sections of the show across the bottom. Thanks to Scott for inviting me on, and letting me give the whole pitch pretty much unchallenged.

We also got another hit today on Seattle-based site ParentMap, in a piece called "Game On! Choosing video games for little kids" in which I say nice things about games, and a pediatrician doesn't. It's an interesting mix of opinions and gives a pretty good snapshot of the differing thoughts on games these days. Something that always frustrates me about a lot of observations on kids and family entertainment is that they tend to be overly academic. I like this piece because it goes some way to address that. Something I've noticed is that a lot of coverage tends to leave out two important aspects: the kids themselves, and the common sense of the parents concerned. There are plenty of people that will tell you "games are bad" in one way or another, and (not to pick on Dr. Sahs in this case, but she's not alone) note that kids don't communicate while playing, or whatever - but they a) rarely acknowledge that kids don't communicate when they're reading, or any number of other solitary entertainment activities either, and b) fail to acknowledge that there are a lot of gaming experiences that are social, and that ultimately it's up to parents to be as engaged with video games as they are with anything else. All said, the one thing that both Doctor Sahs and I do completely agree on is that “Parents need to feel that it’s OK to say no.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More whoring

We've been liberally whoring ourselves again recently, so hopefully there's some What They Play love incoming any day now. Last week Ira, Tom and I had lunch with Peter Hartlaub at the San Francisco Chronicle, and tomorrow we have a photographer coming to snap pix for something that I hope will be in the paper on Sunday. Fingers crossed on that one. Today we met with Michelle Slatalla from the New York Times about a bunch of gaming ideas, and then this afternoon with Lisa Guernsey also from the New York Times about a piece that may hit in Circuits on Thursday. Again, fingers crossed. Tomorrow morning (just before the photo shoot...I still don't know what I should wear) we're chatting with Family Circle (which has a mind-blowing 3.5 million circulation, I just discovered) for an upcoming piece that will probably hit in a couple of months. This all comes at the same time as my first guest post on Ypulse, and the news that I've somehow been invited to speak at SXSW this year (thanks Anastasia) the enormity of which I'm still struggling with a bit. The momentum is really starting to build, and people are really responding well to the whole idea of demystifying video games for parents. It's all a bit wild, to be honest - I can hardly believe our good fortune so far! Fingers/toes/eyes/legs-crossed that it all works out, and I didn't just jinx the whole thing by blogging about it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Burnout in Paradise

It's entirely possible that I'll be getting extremely boring in the days ahead (even for those of you that don't think this is incredibly dull already) as I've just started really playing Burnout Paradise in earnest, and am having the time of my life with it. Having heard the disparate views on the way the game had evolved since Burnout Revenge, I approached the whole thing with an open mind... but with some disappointment already creeping in around the edges due to the loss of "Crash Mode." The last couple of Burnouts held my attention for longer than most games in part because of this, so the lack of it's wacky golf/bowling hijinks was a little disappointing.

I needn't have been concerned though. What Criterion has built instead is an incredible evolution of the racing game - and something that will no doubt completely change the way the genre is tackled in future. In many ways it reminds me as much of playing Crackdown as it does Burnout, and while I'd expected a high-speed refinement of Atari's deeply flawed Test Drive on 360, it's so much more than that.

So, while I'll no doubt return to the subject again and again, as my obsession with it grows, here's a braindump of unconnected thoughts so far:

- I love how it doesn't shit all over the HUD with information you don't need. There are no fake gauges, and there's no useless information obscuring the view. It doesn't need to tell you how fast you're going, because it's pretty obvious that it's really fucking fast.

- The Crash Mode replacement, "Showtime" takes some getting used to, but I'm now thoroughly enamored by it. You have to learn the rhythm of the traffic, but hurling your car into an intersection and then reading the traffic flow can be a thing of real beauty. At first I was pumping the "bounce" button way too hard, but I soon learned that you can fall into collisions and let the traffic flow do a lot of the work for you. As with the obsession I developed in Revenge for achieving a certain score (I couldn't leave a level alone if I didn't bust through at least $1 million, regardless of requirement) I've developed a similar need to hit at least 100 cars in order to feel "complete." Experimentation has lead to a much greater understanding of how the mode really works, and it's clear that there are three keys to success: buses (they give you multipliers, but they seem to appear at random), confined spaces (a tunnel or a bridge narrows the traffic flow, and it means that the AI is way more predictable in the way it swerves to avoid you, so you can hit things more reliably) and distance (doubling back on yourself in the tunnels and on the bridges means you stay in control, and you get the larger distance bonus.)

I just read that paragraph back to myself, and it makes me sound like some crazy OCD gamer. I'm really not. This just seems to bring out certain tendencies in me.

- Zoe used the phrase "Burnout Facebook" today when talking about the game. I don't think it's a phrase she coined (it might have been someone at the studio she used to work at, I don't know) but it's certainly a valid observation. Knowing that JakeJuice just nailed a street in record time, or that Momopeche somehow managed to do $5.5 million worth of damage on East Crawford Drive introduces a completely new gameplay element. By limiting the tracking to just people on your friends list, every stat posted has relevance. It gets people talking, and the real genius is that it gets more and more people playing together - whether actively (challenging directly) or passively (just chasing each other's scores.) There have been a number of times where I've dropped whatever I was doing in the game, and started on a totally different path simply because I felt I could beat a posted time by someone I know.

Again...kinda OCD, huh? This is shedding a whole new light on my need to tidy things up at home too. I'm turning into Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. Hang on a sec while I go and wash my hands...

- Although I only really started playing this past Saturday, I've already logged over 8 hours on the game, and nailed 10 Achievements (yes, I'm playing the 360 version, despite Alex and Pete at Criterion telling me I should play the PS3 game... what can I say? There's a 360 in the bedroom.) Now, I don't know about you - but in my house right now, squeezing that much play time into a weekend is an achievement akin to the moon landings. I haven't played anything (that wasn't for work, specifically) in such density in a long time. Probably since either Crackdown or Oblivion, I bet.

- The game works on a lot of levels. I'm playing in a lot of different ways myself (including all the OCD crap, apparently) and when I introduce my four-year-old into the equation, it still stays relevant. Although he doesn't understand the subtleties of the new UI, he loves cruising around and looking for the yellow gates to smash through, and he's already getting the hang of Showtime. He'd love to play the races, but I think it's a bit much for him currently.

Which brings me onto...

- Getting lost. Which happens a lot. I'm with N'Gai on this one, I'm afraid. Although I appreciate the fact that you can tackle a race however you want, and that familiarity with the environment is rewarded, I do find it a bit frustrating when I miss a subtle turn in a race because I was concentrating too hard on not hitting stuff or, y'know, hitting stuff. It's not a complaint per se, but the fact that I've been having problems with it means that my boy's not going to dig into the races this time. This is basically another voice in the debate about the merits of "closed" races. While I fully endorse the decision to go completely open, I think we have to acknowledge that it might have lost a bunch of people along the way. Especially younger, or less experienced players. The irony, of course, being that in the endeavor to make Burnout more of a plaything (and consequently a bit more "casual"?) it's also gone super hardcore in some areas. While I wouldn't ever advocate a return to the "old" ways, I do think that a "do-over" button would be a good addition. If this were something that could be done in a patch, without having to wait a few years for a sequel, that would be incredible - but I have absolutely no idea how complicated implementing something like that might be.

- Road Rages were always big favorites of mine, but in Paradise they are just so much more aggressive. The satisfaction from achieving a "rampage" is huge, and the violence of the whole thing is so much more pronounced thanks to the quality of the presentation. It's not just that the graphics are insane, or that the whole thing moves so face-meltingly fast, but the way that the camera portrays the action.

OK. I think I'm done for now, but there's a strong chance I'll be returning to the subject, as I'm basically playing nothing else lately. I've fallen for Burnout Paradise, and fallen hard.

Friday, January 25, 2008

TGIF

What a week. What a year. I think I've been away more than I've been home so far this year, and thankfully next week things are calming down a bit. Earlier this week I was in NY, and my schedule was packed...


Note to self: 7 meetings in one day, particularly when they're spread out all over the city, is probably a bit much. We had a very productive time, meeting with agencies, publishers, and media contacts, but I'm so glad to be home (you'll notice my Thursday was nice and wide open). Word on What They Play seems to be slowly spreading, and everyone we met with was very supportive and very positive, which is always nice for the ego. We need to keep growing our traffic, that's clear, but things are climbing quite steadily and we're hitting all the targets we set for ourselves in the first few months. Last week's hits on Yahoo and CNet certainly helped boost our traffic a bit, and we have high-hopes for the promotion we're running right now, to win a Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360. Excuse the shameless plug...but click on the damn thing, will ya? KTHNX

Ooh, the Gamespot thing I did last week is up, too, I just realized. It's 75 minutes long...which is, y'know, incredibly long, and may put you to sleep (particularly the parts where I'm talking) but here you go, in glorious embed-o-vision. That would be me on the left. Inexplicably choosing to wear glasses that day. Do you think it makes me look smarter and sexier? No. Didn't think so.

Car vs Snowboard

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Requiem for a Tower

For years now, I've wondered if there was a recording available of the music that was used in the old Lord of the Rings movie trailers. I knew it was based on a piece produced by Clint Mansell (ex PWEI frontman, for those that care about such things) for Requiem for a Dream...but it wasn't that piece. It also clearly wasn't Paul Oakenfold's sadly limp-sounding "Zoo York" from Bunkka - although it was certainly related. Finally though, I tracked it down. A year after everyone else apparently did, but I don't care, because I'm thrilled to have finally found "Requiem for a Tower" by Corner Stone Cues. It's available on iTunes here and there are three "movements" based on the requiem used. If you download the album (or just the three movements) you can splice the tracks together into a full, hair-tingling piece in the following way:

Create a playlist with the movements in the following order (they're all less than a minute each, so they need a little work) 2, 4, 3, 2, 4. Then highlight all the tracks, grab the "info" for them, and create a "gapless album." To make them play nice on your computer, you can set the crossfade up to handle it for you. On your iPod, you're going to have some brief pauses - so you may want to play around with the tweak the stop times of each track. There are a ton of suggestions in the iTunes comments, but as far as I can tell, most of them feel like they're off-beat slightly.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday is media whore day

This morning, the very wonderful Amy Tiemann who writes the parenting blog for CNet posted a great story on What They Play, as a result of our meeting at the Sandbox Summit last week. She was very supportive, and there was a link on the main CNet door this morning...which has been great for traffic today.

We had lunch with Peter Hartlaub from the San Francisco Chronicle, to discuss the site, the business, and the video game industry (fingers crossed on what comes from that) over a delicious plate of risotto at Ducca.

Immediately after that, Tom Sarris and I hoofed it over to the CNet building on Second Street for a taping of an industry roundtable discussion with Ryan MacDonald and Ricardo Torres from Gamespot, Andy McNamara from Game Informer, Francesca Reyes from OXM, Matt Atwood from BioWare, and myself. It was an hour long show, that I believe will be posted next Tuesday, and covers everything from the changing nature of games media, to ESRB ratings, the Wii, and anything else we could dream up. It was a great vibe.

The whoring didn't stop though! With just 15 minutes to spare, I then dashed a couple of blocks back down Second Street to the Ziff building to tape an episode of DL.TV with Scott Asnault about What They Play, and what we're working on at the moment. Not sure when that one will air...but it'll probably be next week.

Lots of chit chat, and as a result I did virtually no "real" work today. It's going to be a busy weekend then, I guess.

If I were Reggie...

Given the absurd position of the Parents Television Council on video game companies supporting elected officials, I think Reggie should be pulling out his check book right now, and rattling off as many $5000 checks as he can justify, just to prove a point.

In case you didn't see it, PTC president Tim Winter said,
"Let me be clear of our intentions: Any public servant who cashes a check from the video game industry will be exposed by the PTC as taking a stand against families, and his or her actions will be communicated to constituents in his or her congressional district."


Go for it Reggie - dare them to justify Nintendo as "against families."

The full statement is on the ever-vigilant Gamepolitics.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Catching up

The thing about being out of the office for so long is that it takes twice as long to catch up when I get back. After leaving the 25-fucking-degrees-freezing-ass-cold of Chicago on Monday, we got back to SF late Monday night. The flight was basically a marathon Mario Kart session for Will and I, with occasional dips into DVDs on the new player we bought. We're back now though...and I couldn't be happier.

Yesterday was my birthday (thanks to everyone for the Facebook pokes, shout-outs, and wall messages) plus it was MacWorld - so catching up on work stuff was frequently distracted by downloading iPhone 1.1.3 updates (What They Play now has a webclip icon, check it out on your iPhone), oogling the MacBook Air (do. want.) and following up on a zillion projects that needed attention. I also have a growing pile of games on my desk that I need to go through, plus we're putting together our 2008 preview for parents, which I set a deadline of this week for...and the person slacking off on the deadline is me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Agency, from CES

The more I hear about SOE's The Agency, the more I'm getting kinda excited about it. GameTrailers has a vid up with some new info and scenes. Obviously, it's going to have to compete simultaneously with both shooters and MMOs, but the fact that it looks pretty unique and is going to be on consoles (PS3, at least) makes it one of the upcoming year's most interesting propositions.

In Chicago now

After little more than 12 hours back home (bewildering dog, and annoying cats) I was back on a plane to reconvene with the clan in Chicago. Thanks to the fact I'm no longer of Premier status on United (though they keep reminding me I can pay to get my status back...no thanks) I'm shoved to the arse end of the plane for the four hours of bumpiness and shitty service between San Francisco and Chicago. When I arrive, it's 38 degrees and raining in that way that it only rains in Chicago: as hard as it possibly can. On the way, I'd picked up a few more words of EspaƱol with My Spanish Coach on the DS, and caught up on Top Gear episodes on the iPod.

I grab the car from Avis, and try and find my way to the in-laws house using instinct alone. I find I can't do this, and resort to Google maps on the iPhone to help remind me how to untangle the transit spaghetti of the northwest suburbs. When I arrive, the kids are thrilled - but Jack has been excited all day (and reminding me every time we talk on the phone) because I found the Animal Genius cart for the Leapster that he forgot to pack. After 27 seconds of being giddy to see his dad, he gets even more jazzed about his game. C'est la vie.

After dinner (Borscht = farts) I set up a wireless network for the in-laws' newly acquired MacBook and high-speed connection. This kind of technology arriving in their home is a big deal, and plenty of time is spent explaining the magic of Wi-Fi to bewildered, blank German faces. "I can do this in the kitchen?" Yes. "How about the living room?" Yes. "The garden?" Yes, probably. "You don't plug in the wire?" No. "How about this wire?" No. My father-in-law, a retired electrician, is a pathological unplugger of power cables, and it takes several attempts to explain the importance of not pulling the plug on either the cable modem or the Airport Express.

After this we crash, and I check email from the bedroom (Wi-Fi works there too) to learn that our good pal Tom Kim (he of GDC Radio fame) is heading into hospital the following morning in Chicago for an operation, and we wish we'd got here a little sooner so we could go see him before his ordeal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Home from Vegas

Turns out today was an awesome day. The breakfast meeting couldn't have gone better, I got home earlier than I originally thought I would, Ira and Rachelle had an excellent meeting with Disney in LA this afternoon, and then tonight Molly from Microsoft shot me a note to let me know she'd just seen that Ed Baig from USA Today had written us up in his tech column, which (fingers crossed) will also be in the paper tomorrow.

The dog was pleased to see me, I had time to work out, and to watch some Weeds. Best of all; tomorrow I get to see Mrs. D and the kids.

Leaving Las Vegas

After failing miserably to meet even 25% of the people I intended to for drinks last night, I finally crashed pretty late and awoke this morning reasonably refreshed-ish. The mix of margaritas and red wine only having a mild headache effect, and certainly no debilitating morning problems. After a quick shower and Starbucks run, Ira and I rushed to the Mandalay for a breakfast meeting with XXX to talk about XXXXXXXXXXX (sorry, can't talk about it, yet.) After an enormous whole wheat waffle, and a growing sense of guilt for having not worked out in the past 24 hours, I stumbled back to the hotel to catch up on emails, and shoot Zoe some more ideas for a feature we're working on. The 24 hours of Wi-Fi access I'd paid for crapped out mid-send, and I refuse to spend another $15 for just 10 minutes of access. The rest of the emails have to wait until I get to the airport, where it's free.

Get to the airport early, and drop the $25 necessary to confirm myself on a flight leaving town four hours earlier than booked. TXT the Toms to tell them how ridiculously crowded the security lines are as people start leaving town having had their fill of CES. They're still stuck at the Sands manning the booth...but thankfully they can bail today.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Vegas, baby. Part 2

Drea and the kids called at 7am, but I was already awake. The Westin's fancy beds are very comfy and all that, but I don't seem to sleep as well when I'm away from them. The whole gang (the Toms, Rachelle, Ira) meet downstairs before 8, and head to the Sandbox Summit at The Venetian. Once we get there, it's not entirely clear where we're supposed to go, so we aimlessly wander the halls for a while before stumbling into the right place almost entirely by accident. After coffee and chat we settle down for the sessions, which seem to go very well. Elmo was there (yes, that one...and it was the real one, complete with a real live Sesame Workshop dude's hand up his butt) doing an Elvis impression, and later Microsoft's Jeff Bell raised some eyebrows in the room by bailing halfway through his panel discussion (apparently for another commitment) leaving cohort Molly O'Donnell to hold the bag and take questions from the audience. She did a sterling job, particularly given she wasn't the one doing any of the talking prior to this point. Warren Buckleitner the editor of Children’s Technology Review did a fantastic job with his session "Dust or Magic" a talk designed to show how real kids react to the digital toys that topped this year’s Hot Lists. He called bullshit on a number of products that do some weird/dumb stuff, and showed an awesome looking thing I've never seen before, called the Eyeclops which is a seriously, seriously cool microscope thing that you plug into your TV. I want one for the kids. Someone may end up getting one for a birthday later this year without asking for it.

At noon, I was on a panel called "The Digital Family: Are We Speaking the Same Language?" which is described in the session blurbs as, "Just because we can put a chip in a doll or give a voice to a truck does that mean we should? Hear from industry leaders about what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s driving their next generation of techno-products," but which wasn't really about that at all. It was actually more about the challenges of talking to parents about tech issues with games, online media, and privacy. Moderated by Andrea Smith, News/Technology Producer at ABC News Radio, the panel included Anastasia Goodstein from Ypulse; Michelle Slatalla from NYTimes; Denise Tayloe from PRIVO, and me...as the much-needed "games" person. The session seemed pretty lively, and we got a couple of laughs - which is always important in these things. Thankfully we managed to make it more than just a series of dull speeches as a lot of these things can so often be, and it turned into quite a dialog about the ways movies and games are viewed differently, and how stores like Target put all games under lock and key, while movies like Hostel 2 can be picked up off the shelf. People seemed to enjoy it, and we got a lot of attention when we climbed off the stage after an hour. I have a pocket full of business cards now, and lots of folks to follow up with.

Afterwards, Anastasia and I had a late lunch at Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante in the Venetian and chatted about Battlestar Galactica, Guitar Hero, board games, Club Penguin, and dogs. She's very cool, and I think there are some ways we can work together on some projects in future. I've become quite hooked on her Ypulse blog, which helps media folks and marketers understand the ways "Gen Y" kids (sorta 8-14ish, and maybe a bit older) think.

For the next couple of hours I sat with Tom on our teeny weeny booth in the Sands. Met a ton of people that were very complimentary, and endured the endless repetitive nonsense that is the Air Guitar Hero booth directly opposite. If playing fake guitar in Guitar Hero isn't fake enough, here's something obnoxious that just makes you look like you're diddling yourself in public. Words can't do justice to how spectacularly lame it is. The "demo" at the show is just five snippets of songs...so after an hour, I'd heard about as much of the intro riff to Iron Man as I can possibly handle. At one point I overheard some wonk with an unlit cigar stuffed in his mouth say, with a completely straight face like he actually meant it, that this was the "next generation" because "you don't even need a guitar." I don't know how Tom has put up with it for the past couple of days without strutting over there and beating the guy to death with his shoes.



When the show shut down, and guitar dork packed up and went home, we had drinks at a post-show cocktail thing, before grabbing dinner at the Wolfgang Puck place with Warren. After all that, I'm fried.

Vegas, baby. Part 1

I guess it's a bit of a whirlwind in and out trip to Vegas this week. Flew in on a later afternoon Virgin flight (best airline in America, no question) got to the hotel, and Tom Sarris our PR guy was already asleep in the room we're sharing. At 7pm. Woke him up, and made vaguely disparaging remarks about sleeping so early, and hit the gym. Ira called while I was on the elliptical to talk about his day of meetings, and then 10 minutes later he and Tom Byron come down for half an hour of cardio. Much hairy man-sweating and chit-chatting later, we return to our rooms for showers and to think about where to go for dinner. Our schedule is all a bit later than we'd originally thought for this evening, so we decide that rather than go out for a heavy one, as previously considered, that we'll just grab dinner and crash. It is, after all, an early start on Tuesday. We remember that we have a reservation we made weeks ago at Bouchon, so meet in the lobby and head off for one of the most divine (although very late) meals ever. Then back to the room to crash.

Sandbox Summit awaits...more later, in a hopefully a much more interesting post.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

When the kids are away

January's sort of a weird month every year, but this year particularly so. I think I'm away for just about all of it, for one reason or another, plus it's my birthday in the middle, and I'm 36 - which means I'm now fully two years outside of the "desirable 18-34 male demographic." I am no longer the target audience of all the things I enjoy, and I can prove it.

As it is every year, January is very much lad-month in terms of information. Over the course of the next couple of weeks we get to geek out at the North American International Auto Show (cars, one of the loves of my life - though sadly I'm not going), the MacWorld Expo (Apple stuff, another. You think they'll show the MacBook Nano?), and then there's CES, which I'm leaving for tomorrow, and will be speaking at on Tuesday. Gadget, computer, and car stuff overload. Nice. In the meantime though, I'm home alone.

I'm not one to usually dwell on anxieties, but the one thing that really gets to me a bit is when Mrs. D and the kids are away - particularly if they're traveling a long way. After being royally screwed around by United yesterday, they all bundled on a flight this morning to visit the in-laws in Chicago. Not being with them on a potentially bumpy flight (have you heard? It's raining a little here lately) has had me knotted up with tension all day. The house feels a lot bigger and quieter without everyone running around and shouting. So tonight it's just me, the dog (who keeps farting), and I think the cats are around here somewhere. One of them is, anyway. Not sure about the black one, but she hates my guts so who cares?

So what did I end up doing with this unusual window of freedom from normal parental/spousal duty? I unclogged the drain pipe to get rid of the standing water on top of the car port, which is a job Mrs. D has been reminding me to do for weeks. Not sure why I chose the minute I returned from the airport to do this, after stalling for at least two months, but there you go. Then I replaced all the batteries in the smoke detectors, which is a similarly overdue job that I think has been on a Post-It on the fridge since September. I took the dog for a walk. I downloaded the PS3 2.1 firmware update while talking to my brother-in-law about the PS3 he'd just bought, and then I didn't play anything on the thing afterwards because it took so fucking long. I worked out, I read the Fake Steve Jobs book, Options, and then I started watching a DVD of Weeds season one, because someone told me it was awesome in the same way that Californication is.

I tell you all this, I guess, to help quantify the fact that I really am outside the cool demographic. When left to my own devices, it turns out I'm painfully boring.

Videogames or Video Games?

Back at 1UP, and on EGM our in-house style sheet dictated that the correct spelling is "videogames" - one word. As far as I'm aware, it was a long-term legacy thing, and it was part of the style guide that I inherited when I took over EGM back in 1998. Personally, I've always liked the idea of it being a single word, and this is something echoed in comments from Bill Kunkel (one of the first games journalists) at a recent CGE panel. As reported by Chris Kohler from Game Life,

"It doesn't make sense grammatically, but that's how the industry spelled it and I always felt it reflected the unique nature of the medium. We spelled it that way in '78 and I never stopped. What I did not realize was that, over the years, a schism developed over the spelling. I didn't realize how deeply people felt about it until I suggested that we would adopt that one-word spelling."

When we launched What They Play, we adopted the same spelling and drew some commentary for including the word "videogame" in our tagline. After some chin-scratching and pondering, we've now decided to switch to two words. Yeah, yeah, big deal, I know. Who really cares? The logic, which I thought was kinda interesting though, was that Googling "videogames" returns 71.5 million results, while Googling "video games" returns 821 million. These days, when launching a new Website, you can't argue with numbers like that.

Because of Video Games, My 4 year old and 2 year old...

- are starting to understand the concept of gravity, thanks to Super Mario Galaxy on Wii

- know that a polar bear is the largest kind of bear, thanks to Animal Genius on the Leapster

- can point to various cities on a map, because of Madden NFL 08 on Wii

- understand that when you shake a soda can, it sprays out pretty fierce, thanks to Mario Party 8

- know when you get a corner kick, and when you get a goal kick, thanks to Winning Eleven on the DS

- have been throwing a football around in the garden (or a plush football in the living room) every day, because of Madden NFL 08 on the Wii

- are extremely interested in Tennis, because of Wii Sports

- can make a basket, playing with the toy hoop in the garden, after playing NBA Live 08 on the Wii

- want to go bowling, because of Wii Sports

- are better at hitting a softball with a bat, because of Wii Sports

- are amazing at those memory games where you turn the cards over because of all kinds of games

- have unbelievable spatial reasoning skills, thanks to the Cars game on the Mac

- understand what a planet is, and what a galaxy is (well, kinda) because of Super Mario Galaxy

- use the word "predator" correctly, because of Animal Genius on the Leapster

- knew their alphabets when they turned 2, because of a whole bunch of Leapster games

- can count well beyond 10, or 20, or 100 - and understand how numbers beyond that work, because of educational games, and "fun" games

- can work out the ways a football team got the number of points it did (touchdowns, and extra points) because of Madden NFL 08 on Wii

- know they don't really like a lot of modern punk and emo, because of Burnout Revenge on 360

- understand the difference between fantasy and reality, because their mother and I talk to them about it

- know when to turn it off

Teenage Zombies? Really?

In his most recent editorial, Wall Street Journal columnist, and Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore declares that his "new year's resolution is to get my two teenage sons back." Why? Because "They've been abducted--by the cult of Nintendo. I'm convinced that video games are Japan's stealth strategy to turn our kids' brains into silly putty as payback for dropping the big one on Hiroshima." Classy.

Fair enough, I'm sure this is a sentiment shared by many parents, but as his editorial continues, we learn that his kids "started spending virtually every unsupervised hour camped out in front of the computer screen engaged in multiplayer role games like World of Warcraft and Counterstrike," and that with time, "their muscles began to atrophy right before our very eyes; their skin tone paled from lack of sunlight." Later, we also learn that "A parent down the street confided to us that his 12-year-old son was so obsessed with video games that he wouldn't take even a three-minute break from gaming to go to the bathroom--with unfortunate results." Really?

Really?

It's entirely likely that this is a work of fantasy in order to clumsily tap into the fears of parents everywhere, but are we really supposed to believe that a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, presumably a well-educated and successful man, is so utterly out of touch with his own children, and that the kids in his neighborhood are fouling themselves and wasting away as a result of video games?

"I'm not one to blame every human frailty on some faddish psychiatric disorder," his column continues. "But I'm persuaded that computer games are the new crack cocaine. The testimonials from parents of online gamers are horrific: kids not taking showers, not eating or sleeping, falling behind in school. Some parents are forced to send their kids to therapeutic boarding schools, which charge up to $5,000 a month, to combat the gaming addiction."

Yes. It's all because of gaming. And not at all to do with disengaged, lousy parenting, I'm sure. Good grief. If this were a lesser paper, I'd write it off as the usual inept, scaremongering bullshit that we always see around this time of year. But in the Journal? C'mon. It's stories and opinions like this that were, in part, responsible for us starting What They Play and trying to get some sane information out there - and to highlight cases where gaming is part of a balanced media diet. I'm sure the piece is considered to have done its job...it provoked responses from similarly outraged parents that can't believe Mr. Moore has completely lost control of his own children (and seems to show little remorse, sadly) and responses from those equally unable to engage with their own offspring.

"I'm not suggesting making the games illegal--we don't need a multibillion-dollar black market in video games," Moore concludes. "But I am pleading that parents take this social problem seriously and intervene, as my wife and I wish we had done much earlier." What a shock. Hey everyone! Pay attention to your kids!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Wii's are still rare

One of the most common questions I heard over the holiday break was some kind of variation of "can you get me a Wii?" or "do you know where I can find a Wii? They were impossible to find before Christmas." In response to that, and the fact that it isn't just people I meet at cocktail parties that ask these kinds of things, we put together something on What They Play to help parents who are still trying to get their hands on one. After hunting down information, and speaking to retailers, it was shocking to see just how few units are still making their way to stores. Looks like January 25th is a big "Wii Day" for a lot of stores.

Check out the story here.

"What's Your Favorite Game?" addendum. Told you

I started this Klosterman knock-off "best moments" thing last month, and said I'd probably amend it...and here I am, three weeks later doing just that. The catalyst was chatting with Luke over IM about the whole idea, and talking about how all these wonderful little moments are far more important than just declaring something a "Game of the Year," or (even moreso) some kind of "XXXXX of the Year." Sure, the whole awards-giving schtick is an expected part of the seasonal editorial cliche catalog, but is it ever really that surprising? As with many things in the games space - tackling it in a different way often leads to interesting results...usually in direct contradiction to what the audience otherwise says it wants. I can remember a few years ago, deciding to completely do away with multiple categories for "Game of the Year" in the Official PlayStation Magazine, and simply declare one single game the hot-shit product. It would be different, it would be a talking point, and it would be a direct response to all the readers that said they thought endless awards were pointless and boring and cliched and [add increasing level of insult here.] Surprise, surprise - when we did it, everyone complained.

Anyway, I digress. Some extras (more to come, I'm sure):

- The whole creepy Sander Cohen portion of Bioshock, and the way it twisted and entwined the narrative with the character development. Few parts of the game fully delivered on the pre-release hype of how advanced the characterization would be in the game, but this whole segment did a great job of showing how a dystopian shithole could unravel the mind of one of its inhabitants.

- The way that the use of gravity completely changes the way you think about platform games in Super Mario Galaxy. It's not just a matter of world-building any more, but a matter of the way a three-dimensional space is presented to the player. Watch for knock-offs hitting by the summer, and (in many cases no doubt) completely missing the point by just making upside-down levels.

- Not so much a gameplay thing, as it is a phenomenon of characterization; but the way you get oddly attached to the weighted companion cube in Portal is just incredible.

Jan 3: New Year's Resolutions Holding

This year I get fit. Hopefully there'll be all sorts of other good fortune too, but attainable goal numero uno this year is eliminating the flab. Mrs. D and I worked together on Christmas gifts to help ensure this...she bought me a new bike, on the recommendation of my amateur Tour de France riding pal Pete, from the UK, and I bought her an elliptical trainer which is about the size of a car, and looks like a prop from Robocop. Since the day after Christmas I've done something exercisey every day, and for the last five I've done the elliptical thing every morning for half an hour. There's absolutely no excuse, because I can't get out of bed without some part of my body hitting it. In the past I've tried joining the gym, for which there were excuses of "no time," I've tried setting up weights and stuff in the garage, for which the excuse was "too cold" and now we have Judge Dredd's Lawmaster six inches from the bed. If this gut is still there six months from now, I should be ashamed of myself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Mario Effect

I've been home for the holidays for about 10 days now, and between games of Madden and various Leapster cartridges, my boys and I have been playing Super Mario Galaxy pretty religiously. Will, my oldest helps collect the star bits with the second Wii-mote, and Jack watches and makes suggestions. We make a pretty good team, and have more than 20 power stars so far. It's been great, and as I've mentioned before it's triggered some things in the kids' imaginations that have been fun to watch.

Something new happened today though. For Christmas, Will got a new teddy bear. He'd asked for one as a "new friend" for his other bears, and was quite excited when he tore open the wrapping on Christmas day. Will has been reluctant to name any of his bears in the past. Beyond "brown bear" and "white bear" he was unwilling to come up with anything else because "they can't talk and tell us their real names, and I don't want to call them the wrong thing." Cute, huh? Anyway...this morning, he told me that he had decided to give the new bear a name.

Meet Bowser.