Reactions from PAX East 2012

Along with the pictures I took at PAX East – mostly of the predictably solid tabletop and arcade sections – here are some brief thoughts and reactions:

  • Played a couple hours of D&D with some pre-rolled characters. That was more fun than I expected.
  • The expo floor and PC freeplay were both a lot bigger this year, which meant that the storefront and tabletop areas got shrunk. In fact, the tabletop area was packed for most of both Saturday and Sunday.
  • Tried to get into the Diablo III line, but it was super long every time we showed up, even first thing on Easter Sunday.
  • In fact, the PC freeplay sessions were limited to a mere 30 minutes this year, which was really not long enough to get a good session in. We heard rumors of a lot of political turmoil around the PC
  • Driver: San Francisco has a really cool premise, and I enjoyed the driving physics a lot.
  • We played a whole lot of tabletop. Power Grid is interesting, but it's lonngggg, and I can understand the criticism of calling it "Excel: The Game".
  • Small World is fantastic; I would have bought it immediately if it wasn't $60.
  • Magical Athlete is way more fun than it deserves to be.
  • Saboteur was a wonderful game for a group of 8 people who all only sorta knew each other.
  • The Omeganaut finale of Crokinole was inspired.
  • Boy am I glad PAX East will be in Boston for ten more years. I was worried that after this year, it'd move elsewhere on the east coast. Nice to know it's staying.

StarCraft 2 review

I’ve now played StarCraft 2 for two days. I’ve finished five missions on the single-player campaign, and played a handful of co-op multiplayer games. If you had asked me to describe the game based on the Beta, I would have said it was just StarCraft HD. Higher resolution, more beautiful, some new tech, but the gameplay is identical. The single player campaign, though, is where this game really shines. The original StarCraft’s single player was essentially a series of levels that got steadily harder and had some story connecting them. The sequel turns makes the stages non-linear, introduces credits as reward for some stages that you can then use to hire mercenary units when you’re in a bind for near-instant help or spend on research to improve units, and secondary objectives in some missions allow you to earn alien research points you can use to improve buildings. The original game only had ten Terran missions, and I’m willing to bet there are triple that in this game. Plus there are probably seven hundred achievements.

The multiplayer is fun, but you kinda need to be a semi-professional to do well at it. As Splatta said the other day, that seems too much like work.

Rainslick Precipices

I just paid the low low price of $20 for the brand new Penny-Arcade videogame, On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One. After playing the ten-minute demo, I’ve decided it was a bargain. Features: great art (both 2D and 3D, including seamless transitions between the two), absurd situations, fun and simple RPG-like gameplay, and a black sense of humor without equal.

Support webcomickry in all its forms, buy a copy for yourself. Available right now for PC Windows, Mac, Linux and on XBLA.

Update: I realized that I didn’t make it clear enough that (at least in Windows) you can do things in this order: 1) Download, 2) Enjoy the demo, 3) Pay, 4) Enjoy the remainder. And no downloading is necessary between steps three and four.

Solitaire probabilities

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about Klondike solitaire probabilities a lot lately. Primarily, I’m wondering what the likelihood is that a game will have zero legal plays. I’m certain it happens, but it’s got to be pretty rare. It’s a complex game, though, so here’s my plan towards solving it:

  1. Given two non-ace cards, what is the chance that one cannot be placed on the other, using standard Klondike rules?
  2. Given three non-ace cards, what is the chance that none can be played on any other?
  3. Given seven...?
  4. Given two (three, seven) cards, what is the chance that there is no legal play (placing one on another or moving an ace to the foundation)?

There are more steps after that involving the eight deck cards, but it gets pretty complicated pretty quickly. I’ll be happy just getting this far.

Wii reviews

I know that Brian got a Wii after camping out overnight. I know that Chris and Nomad were planning on showing up at their local Target at midnight. A co-worker of mine says he’s sore today from playing Wii Sports (bowling and tennis) with his wife for 4 hours yesterday. (He’s going to bring it into work tomorrow, and we’re hooking it up to the projector.) I’m interested in your reviews.

Where will the Wiis be?

For those following the same strategy as me this fall – “If I can’t walk into a store and find a Wii, I wasn’t meant to have one.” – there’s some good news. Target’s allocation information was leaked to the Internet the other day, and since then, several Google Maps mashups have sprung up. For instance, this Wii Locator.

Wii Day

Today’s almost certainly the day. With events planned for today in Japan and the US, and tomorrow in Europe, and pretty much all of the rumored launch dates mere weeks away, it looks like today’s the day to finally hear details from Nintendo on the Wii’s pricing and the list of launch titles. And the true date. I’ll be updating this post as the day goes on.

Right now, is live, but only the Japanese section. From the Japanese event we know the price and date for Japan: 25000 yen on December 2. Nintendo has previously said that they can’t manage a simultaneous worldwide launch, but that all the major markets would be within a couple weeks. That seems to indicate a late-November date for the US.

Unsurprisingly, there will be only one Wii box at launch, but sadly it will have only one remote. We also have Japan Virtual Console pricing deets (NES 500 yen, SNES 800 yen, N64 1000 yen; the equivalent of about 4, 7, and 9 dollars).

Perhaps the biggest news I’ve seen thus far is the list of launch titles. WarioWare, Monkey Ball, and Trauma Center should make this a killer investment in my house, but it’s also very nice to know that Twilight Princess is going to be available at launch, despite some recent rumors to the contrary.

Update 7:45: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article today that it claims came from the New York Times wire citing November 19 and $250. If anyone got advance information, it's the NYT. And I could totally see them "accidentally" putting it on their wire. On the other hand, it claims that Wii Sports will be included with "every Wii", and we already know that that's not true for Japan.

Update 9:40: USA Today confirms the NYT's info, plus includes a photo of the all-important box. And the box proclaims "Wii Sports Included!" pretty prominently.

Update 12:30: It's all over, and it's pretty much all true. $249.99, November 19. Only one remote but including Wii Sports. Remotes for $40. Plus some other interesting features, like the Miis (personal avatars that you can copy to the remote to bring to a friend's house), Wii channels, and free Internet play. Guess it's time to start saving up and counting down the minutes.

Update 14:31: This is the last update, I swear. There are 52 Wii games, including both first- and third-party, scheduled for release before the end of March. That's quite a lineup. Compare it to the Gamecube launch: a dismal three launch titles, and only 12 within the first month. Most were simple ports, and only one was even close to a first-party franchise (Luigi's Mansion).

Four random Saturday links

Here’s a random Saturday link-dump:

  1. Don't believe BusinessWeek's bubble-math - Web 2.0 plus shoddy journalism equals a firm foundation for another bubble. BusinessWeek takes a made up number, multiplies it by a rumored percentage, contradicts itself several times, and most readers are probably just thinking "Wow, what a smart kid!" Related: A hilarious parody.
  2. Saved locations on Google Maps - This is a great thing. I've been waiting for some sort of smart auto-complete on Google Maps since day one. The interface is a little crusty (I wish I could click on a bubble anywhere and say "save this location" instead of having to have all locations saved), but I'm certain this is just release number one.
  3. No Space World and Mario Galaxy could be available at launch. Or rather, no one has yet verified that Mario Galaxy won't be available at launch. Related: The early October release rumors still seem to have some air in them.
  4. Two Cool Bash Tricks - Holy cow. Both are total life savers, but the second more than the first. Redirecting output to two files before you can diff them is a big pain in the neck. (via)

Back to Magic

Back in June, I came across a question on Ask MetaFilter about getting back into Magic: The Gathering and deck recommendations. I had honestly thought about it from time to time. I remembered the game being an interesting challenge, since you’re never sure what the other guy’s deck is going to do, and there’s no way to be prepared for all of it. I didn’t want to fall head-first back into spending hundreds of dollars on the game, but if there was some way I could enjoy it on a limited basis, I was interested. I noticed the poster was in Somerville, so although he wasn’t soliciting players, I posted a comment indicating that I thought it was an excellent idea. A couple of weeks later, he emailed me and invited me. Yesterday, I went.

It was a just as much fun as I remember. The pre-made “theme decks” they have nowadays make it really easy to spend $15 and have a great time. I got Code of the Orzhov from the Guildpact expansion, a black and white weenie/whittle deck. Some of the cards — like Agent of Masks — have effects that are really powerful in games that are larger than one-on-one. I also got two boosters for a booster draft and made a few tweaks to the deck after a couple of games, and I was really pleased. I went 3-2 with my deck, a couple of which were very close games. Not bad for it being seven years since I played the game.

Could Wii Sports be bundled with the Wii?

It’s been a very long time since a Nintendo console was launched with a bundled game. The last one was, believe it or not, the Super Nintendo (bundled with the pinnacle of platformers: Super Mario World) in 1991. Wii Fanboy has a great feature about “Wii Sports”, a collection of little games that was the centerpiece of Nintendo’s E3 demos, and has been covered in detail. Could it be bundled with the Wii? Should it be?

How console manufacturers can fail to bundle a game with the console is beyond me. Console prices have gotten high enough. Parents considering the purchase for their kids have to also pick a game or three to add to the tab? Ridiculous.

Nintendo Wii

The Revolution now has a name. Say hello to the Nintendo Wii. Pronounced “wee”. Ugh. If it didn’t immediately evoke potty jokes, it wouldn’t be such a bad name.

Some discussion and coverage: Revolution Fanboy, IGN, Joystiq, MetaFilter.

Update 28 April: Brian pointed out this great oped over at GameLife. My favorite point: "Of course, I expect the Internet to brim over with toilet humor; that is what the Internet is for. But the Internet is not real life. They've already proven this in a variety of ways related to Nintendo product announcements. Remember the almost universal outpouring of disdain following the announcement of the Nintendo DS? Nintendogs?"

Update 1 May: First mentioned to me by my dad, the theory that "Wii" is a fake name has become somewhat of a dull roar on the Internet. The theory is simultaneously ridiculous and enticing. Or is it just wishful thinking? If Nintendo changed the name at E3, would it be perceived as giving into pressure as Sony has with just about all of the PS3's design? I suppose it gives us one more thing to think about between now and next Tuesday at 9:30am.

Nintendo Name Game

The GDC keynote (that supposedly might reveal the final name of the Nintendo Revolution) doesn’t start for more than two hours, but that’s not preventing the rumors from flying. Might it be the double-entendre Nintendo Go? (The Japanese word “go” means five, and this is the big N’s fifth console.) I’m not sure how I feel about the name, but I’m loving the classic-meets-modern cubed-D-pad logo.

Update 11:49: In this interview done last night, Iwata says that he's going to hold back a lot of Revolution information until E3 in May. Whether this means we won't even get a name today is left to be seen.

Update 14:44: News: You'll be able to download and play Sega Genesis and TurboGrafix 16 games on the Revolution, in addition to the previously-known NES, SNES, and N64 games. But it looks like there was no name change today. Set your clocks for the E3 keynotes!

Update 15:56: Here are detailed notes on Iwata's entire keynote.

Update 27 Mar: It's not a name, but the head of Nintendo's PR, Beth Llewelyn, verified in no uncertain terms that Revolution's name will change. She also claims to not know what the name is.

Half-Life 2: Episode One

This is a really strange development that requires some pondering and discussion. An expansion for Half-Life 2 has been in development for a while (previously named Aftermath). Reportedly, it follows Alyx (and, some reports say, Gordon) escaping from the devastation immediately following the end of Half-Life 2.

But last week, things got weird. Valve renamed Aftermath to Half-Life 2: Episode One. Doug Lombardi is being terse at the moment, but this appears to indicate intent to release regular episodic content. In general, this is a good thing, but I have a number of concerns.

The first concern is with naming. What is the “original” Half-Life 2, chopped liver? Episode Zero? Does anyone remember the naming scheme of the series that started with Dark Forces? First, there was Dark Forces. Then, there was Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. Then there was Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast. Then, well, they decided to stick with Jedi Knight, which I think was a good idea. I predict that it won’t be long until there are sub-subtitles (Half-Life 2: Episode Three: Return of the Snarks) or they abandon the episode number altogether. (As a side note, for the nerd subculture, the “Episode Foo” scheme invokes too much Star Wars Prequelism to be anything but unsettling.)

But the bigger problem I see is Valve’s rampant perfectionism, and thus their inability to deliver a game on time since, well, the first Half-Life. Sure, this is inarguably a Good Thing™ when it comes to game quality. But when you make a promise to release regular content (especially if you charge per-“episode”), you need to do it. And that means cutting corners. It’s taken them a year and a half to release Aftermath. How long will Episode Two take?


I want to get some Icehouse pieces (from the maker of Fluxx and Chrononauts). It’s a game system (analogous to a deck of cards), and there are dozens of games for them. Unfortunately, they recommend getting 4 “stashes” (a stash is 15 pieces in one color) at $8 each. They used to have a nice 5-stash boxed set, but it’s out of print.

Either way, I don’t want to throw down $40 on this stuff if there’s not going to be anyone willing to play with, though. I’m afraid I might have to go to an Anime/SciFi convention to play this (and other Looney Labs games), since I hear they’re hot shit.

Revolution Controller

My first reaction to the now-revealed Nintendo Revolution controller was to think of every remote control I’ve ever used. With very few exceptions, they’re uncomfortable and hard to get to do what you want them to do. But after reading that 1up article, and watching the intro video, I started to get it. “Revolution” is the only word that fits. If you think of this as turning a television into a three-dimensional DS-like touchscreen, the controller design makes a lot of sense.

Joystiq has an overview of Iwata’s whole keynote, with a lot of his (and Nintendo’s) rationale and point-of-view.

Revolution back-titles not free

So here’s the situation as it stands now. We know for a fact that there will be backwards-compatibility of some sort built into Nintendo’s Revolution console. We know (or at least are fairly sure) that online access will be free of charge. Unfortunately, we also thought that a huge number of first-party games would be free. We were amazed and incredulous, since that list included every Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong game ever made, as well as a number of other ground-breaking and phenomenal games like Gyromite and Goldeneye.

Sadly, it sounds like that’s not entirely true. Some games will be available for free to owners of certain other games, but let’s hope that Nintendo doesn’t go too far in the wrong direction with this. If Mario 128 (ooh, Brian’s gonna squirm about that) comes with every back Nintendo game, they’ll sell.. er.. okay, they won’t sell any more additional games. But they’ll get lots of love from the Nintendo community, instead of pushing away those of us who liked everything we saw about the Xbox 360.

Xbox 360 too slow

It’s fair to say that I was extremely impressed with the Xbox 360 at E3. The controllers are virtually perfect (and will be available for the PC), and going back to a (relatively) grainy PS2 after playing Full Auto at 1080i was palpably painful. A couple of hours into E3, we realized that all of the games were playing on dev kits (read: Apple G5 towers). Reports have started coming out that at HDTV resolutions, the Xbox 360 will not be able to render the games at full quality, which means that the final games will almost certainly not look as nice as they did at E3. Which is a damn shame.

E3 is over

E3 is over. We yelled ourselves silly for three days and played about a krillion games. Some of the most interesting things were the Game Boy Micro (so small, but so comfortable), Shadow of the Colossus, and just about everything about the Xbox 360. There’s a lot more, but I’m a bit exhausted and all of the muscles in my body (especially my throat muscles) are a bit tired.

This was totally awesome. I can’t wait until next year.

E3 Day Zero

Day 0 of E3 is over. We survived some serious turbulence on the flight over the Rockies, and met boo_radley from Metafilter and his friend Dan. Plus, we met two people on the plane who are going to E3 (one of whom was the VP of Sales for Turtle Beach).

One of the rooms at the Westin is the perfect gaming room, because it’s right between two executive conference suites. We saw big groups going in and out of them a few times yesterday, but at night the doors were propped open and there was no one around.

Yesterday at the invitation-only presentations, Sony introduced their Playstation 3, Nintendo showed off the Revolution and surprised everyone with the Game Boy Micro (that thing is tiny), and several interesting games were demoed. I’m looking forward to the conference. T minus four hours!

E3 moblogging

I hope that I don’t regret allowing any of the E3 folks to moblog to the front page here. The new design makes it really easy to integrate new sources of posts, like the E3 moblog, or the “standard” moblog.

The old location of the E3 moblog is also available, if this page is too ugly for you.



E3 Big for Nintendo

This is something that I normally would just put in my links feed (to the right, if you’ve never noticed it before), but it’s just so exciting that I wanted to gush about it here. Not only are there going to be playable versions of all three upcoming next-gen home consoles at E3, but Nintendo might be giving us a little extra to look forward to: a next-gen Game Boy. Plus they may reveal PalmOS-for-the-DS at E3 as well.

(BTW, some of the comments on that link make me laugh).

More E3 info

The information on the next generation in game consoles is becoming more firm. We know that they’ll all be playable at the next E3. We know all about the technology behind the PS3’s Cell processor. And now we’re starting to hear information about official names. Continuing with their tradition of sticking with development names, the Nintendo Revolution is rumored to become the “Nintendo Revolution”. And afraid that X-Box 2 would sound less edgy than Playstation 3, Engadget is reporting that Microsoft’s next console will be the “X-Box 360”.

Halo Hero Zyos

The day before New Years, I went to MoMA in New York with the inlaws. We had reservations for dinner, but we were a little bit early and were sick of walking, so we stopped at a random (extremely nice, mid-high-range) restaurant and sat down in their quiet bar for a pre-dinner drink. We were chatting casually, and Mrs. D asked me “what are the big games now?” I told her that this was a huge season for sequels: Half-Life 2, GTA: San Andreas, and Halo 2, in particular. The very curteous bartender, a man with a thick french accent, stopped what he was doing, bent over towards us, and asked “Excuse me, but did you say you play Halo? I love that game.”

I’ve never played the game, but it obviously has had a huge impact on people who otherwise might not consider themselves gamers. I cant figure out how to segue from that story to a link about an international Halo superstar, but let’s pretend I did it smoothly.

Learning a language with The Sims

I installed The Sims for M last week and she spent the rest of the day playing it. In what would seem entirely unrelated news, she’s also peppered our entire apartment with little labels that have spanish translations for the objects: el piso, the floor; la estufa, the stove; el marido obsesivo-obligatorio, the obsessive-compulsive husband; etc. Well, apparently there are ways to combine these two desires to allow her to learn a foreign language while playing The Sims.