May 2007 Archives

Celebrities and Plastic Surgery

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Some of them look more or less the same to me, but some are definitely very different...

(You may want to turn down the sound for this one -- the music loops and it may drive you mad after a while)

links for 2007-06-01


links for 2007-05-31


links for 2007-05-30


FanimeCon 2007


Another year, another FanimeCon down. This year's FanimeCon was particularly long, streching out for four days during the Memorial Day Holiday Weekend. Of all the comics-related conventions in the Bay Area, Fanime is probably my own personal favorite out of all of them. APE is a little too independent for me, and WonderCon is a little too comics driven. Fanime hits that sweet spot of a couple of interesting guests, a decent sized dealers room, and a large amount of cosplayers, which makes taking photographs fun for me.

Fanime was one of those cons I started going to when I first moved to the Peninsula -- back in the days when they were located at the Santa Clara convention center, and taking up no more than a few rooms. Now they can take up the whole San Jose Convention Center, and several of the surrounding facilities. The Masquerade, for instance, now takes place in the cavernous San Jose Center for Performing Arts. This seemed to be a good move on convention planners' part -- having a separate building meant that a separate queue could be formed for the masquerade without getting in the way of the convention's normal foot traffic.

FanimeCon 2007 Day 1 - Friday
FanimeCon 2007 Day 2 - Saturday
FanimeCon 2007 Day 3 - Sunday/Masquerade


The Masquerade gave me a good test environment for the new lens, although the lighting conditions were way above what I would have expected. I've never shot in stage lighting before, so I was blown away by the amount of light on stage, as well as the variability of the light on stage for any given performance. The new lens did not fail to impress however, and most of the pictures taken in the Masquerade set only required recropping and resizing, and nothing else. There are a couple that needed their light values adjusted, as the light varied from performance to performance, and I didn't compensate enough, or I overcompensated. In short: awesome lens, heavy as hell, can't wait until I use it again.

links for 2007-05-28


Creationist Table of Elements



FanimeCon 2007 Day 1


Even though today was the first day of FanimeCon (and a Friday), there were plenty of people at the FanimeCon today. I've been to FanimeCon on Fridays before, and the attendance was always a little lacking, but this was not the case today. Fans were out there in force today, and there was a good mass of cosplayers at the con. I'd guess somewhere between 15-25% of the attendees were dressed up, which is a substantial amount.

And this is just the first day -- there's still 3 more days, with the masquerade not happening until Sunday evening. I expect many more cosplayers and costumes in the next two days, with critical mass happening on Sunday.

While FanimeCon used to have a very strong live programming presence, their focus appears to have shifted away from the panels and more towards activities (like dances, karaoke, and concerts).

Flickr: FanimeCon 2007 - Friday


links for 2007-05-26


Sasuke: Ninja Warrior


One of the weird shows I watched while I was in Taiwan last summer was this obstacle course called Viking, in which contestants race through a doubledare style obstacle course which is styled like a pirate ship. However, Japan also has a game show called Sasuke Ninja Warrior, which is the same thing, but with a different theme. Of course, to complete the slightly Naruto-ish theme, there's also a women's show called the Kunoichi.

Here's a successful run of Sasuke: Ninja Warrior: (This is very hard to complete, less than 1% get this far).

links for 2007-05-25




Godslayer is an second year CalArts student's project. It's an animated Rock Opera done in the style of Ouendan or Elite Beat Agents:

His other films Machinegun Opera, and The Happiest Monster have their little homages to Japanese RPGs and Anime as well.

links for 2007-05-24


World of Warcraft Dances


Someone spent a lot of time cutting and editing World of Warcraft characters with the source of where the /dance emote originate from:

links for 2007-05-23


Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS and Upcoming Cons



One of the camera lens purchases I've been holding back on was the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. With Canon's new instant rebates, I felt the time was right to purchase it. Weighing in at 3.25 lbs, it's more than twice as heavy as my daytime walking lens, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L USM IS, which weighs only 1.5 pounds. The camera body weighs about 2 pounds with the batterry loaded, so it's a bit over 5 pounds, with the center of gravity somewhere in the middle of the lens, so two hands are definitely required to keep it stable. It includes an image stabilizer, which then becomes invaluable if your hand strength isn't enough to keep the camera steady. Now all I need is to get the Canon 1.4x II Extender and I'd be set.

It definitely feels like a lens that I need to get used to lugging around and practice taking shots with. Convention season starts for me this weekend with Fanimecon (May 25 - 28), followed by Anime Expo (June 29 - July 2) before finally culminating in the big one -- San Diego Comic-Con (July 25 - July 29).

There are several other conventions in the Bay Area such as Baycon, which is more for Science Fiction authors and runs the same weekend as Fanimecon, Super-Con, which takes place the weekend afterwards, and is more centered on Comic Books, and Con X-Treme, which feels like a sci-fi convention for those who couldn't make it down to San Diego for the comic con.

links for 2007-05-22


Maker Faire 2007.


Lots of interesting things to do and see. Some pictures up on flickr, some are in the process of getting up there. There are many ways to describe the Maker Faire, but a county fair thrown Silicon Valley-style would be my best attempt, and even that falls short of the breadth this event envelopes.

Highly recommend that people go if they have time on Sunday.


It's Official: Starcraft 2


IGN is covering the Blizzard World Wide Invitational in Korea, and they've just revealed Starcraft 2. Sorry to disappoint everyone who was hoping it'd be a Starcraft MMO. I really can't believe it's been almost 10 years since it was released. I started working for Blizzard while were were still alpha testing Starcraft. My, how time flies.

This one isn't vaporware like Starcraft:Ghost, they've been working on this one for a while.

links for 2007-05-19


New Sea Urchin discovered in Antartica


A new sea urchin from Antarctica:


New marine species in Antarctica discovered:

    Carnivorous sponges, 585 new species of crustaceans and hundreds of new worms have been discovered in the dark waters around Antarctica, suggesting these depths may have been the source of much marine life, European researchers reported on Wednesday.

    The team, who scooped samples from as deep as 20,000 feet , found unexpectedly rich diversity of animal life.

    Many belong to species found around the world, notably in the Arctic, while others appear to be unique to the deepest Antarctic waters, the researchers reported in the journal Nature.

Busting the 4th Wall in Games


This awesome post from a gamer details the nonsensical nature of game environments in the upcoming Uncharted: Drake's Fortune game.

The basic idea behind the game is that they are somewhere in the Pacific Ocean on an island colonized by the Spanish some 400 years or so ago, in search of El Dorado. Using the preview clips of the movie, the gamer goes into incredible detail, and rips the environmental detail apart, revealing that an iron gate on 400-year old "lost" Spanish settlement just really shouldn't be there anymore.

When artists design a gameplay area, they often add details for the sake of filling the emptiness of the environment, without really considering why the object is there, and when they run of things to fill the emptiness with, they turn to crates as their last resort of lazy game design.

Friday Fun: lolcats


This flowchart is the simplified version of lolcats:

Wikipedia has an entry on lolcats, and Anil Dash has a grammatical breakdown of the lolcats structure.


Review: Kaygetsu Japanese Restaurant


I've known about Kaygetsu since it opened, the latest restaurant endeavor of Toshio Sakuma (of Toshi's Sushi-ya). One of the only Japanese restaurants in the area offering the experience of Kaiseki course meals, it's been one of those meals that I've been saving for a special occassion (at $95 for a course meal, it's an experience that's meant to be shared with others as well), so today's review is not about Kaiseki, but their Lunch offerings.

One of the Top 10 Restaurants of the Bay Area of 2006 (as given by the San Francisco Chronicle), Kaygetsu is hidden away in a strip mall in Menlo Park, but the parking lot around the restaurant is always full. The sign on the front of the restaurant says "Reservations Strongly Recommended", and it's no lie -- having a reservation opens up the option of kaiseki (kaiseki must be made in advance), and lunch is very busy, filled mostly with businessmen having business lunches. I ended up taking a seat at the sushi bar. The sushi bar has only 6 seats, and gives a view of master sushi chef Toshi's handiwork and his wonderful creations.

I ordered a simple lunch set of Tempura Moriawase ($14) which consisted of tempura battered shrimp with rice crackers, the standard assortment of vegetable tempura, rice, miso soup, and a small bowl of sunomono as a salad. Kirin is available on tap ($7), as well as a selection of other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

I also ordered some pieces of nigiri (mainly because I can't go to a Japanese restaurant, see uni and amaebi sitting in the case in front of me and not order). The sushi here is charged Japanese-style -- in single pieces. The amaebi is a bargain at $3.50 for a piece, but the Uni is a bit on the expensive side at $7 for a piece. Kaygetsu's reputation for having excellent quality sushi doesn't disappoint.

Overall, lunch is quite good, on par with Naminami, but my general feeling is that the kaiseki course offering is likely what can set it apart from other Japanese restaurants in the area.

Flickr: Kaygetsu

Canon Summer Rebates 2007


Well, it looks like Canon is once again offering their summer rebates on DSLR equipment from May 17th to July 17:

Qualifying Products listed in the extended.It's an instant rebate this time, so there's no need to fill out any rebate forms.

Putting Link on the laptop


I've always wanted my Powerbook laser etched, but I never knew what I wanted on it. Someone suggested that I get some temporary thing to slap on there to see if I liked it, but I never found any interesting designs that would be worthy of covering up my computer. But a few weeks ago, I came upon Gelaskins, whose designs are better, but not really my style, and at $32.95 a pop, a little too costly for my taste. So I made my own:


This is Link from the upcoming Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. The sticker attaches without a sticky adhesive, through the use of a static cling sticker, the same as the oil change sticker on your windshield. All told, making the static cling sticker cost me about $2 in materials. The quality isn't as good as it would be to be professionally done, and given enough use, the sticker will wear away.

You can get the stickers for laser or for inkjet printers, and after the harrowing experience of printing this out on a laser printer, I must say that this process is not for the faint of heart. Here's the danger -- if the laser printer isn't at the right temperature, the toner and heat combine with the paper to wrap around the fuser, and the fuser is a very expensive part to replace on the printer. I know. I spent 45 minutes digging attempt number one out of the fuser.

links for 2007-05-17




When I was in Japan last year, along with ads for the Da Vinci Code, I kept seeing ads and posters for a visually stunning black and white movie, which I thought was titled Angela, but it turns out it's actually titled Angel-A, and directed by Luc Besson (Leon, The Fifth Element). Because I had been searching for Angela and not Angel-A, my searches were turning up blank. One should not underestimate the necessity of that dash, considering how many Angel-somethings exist on the internet.

I still want to see it, but it seems that it hasn't been released theatrically in the United States yet -- nearly 18 months after its release in France, and a full year after its release in Japan. Truly, this says something about the sad state of American theaters regarding foreign cinema.

Here's another movie by Wong Kar Wai (My Blueberry Nightsthat makes its debut in France today, but has an unknown release date for the US, even though it stars Jude Law, Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz, and Natalie Portman.Yes, my friends, French can subtitle American movies much faster than we can subtitle French ones. Wong Kar Wai is a Hong Kong director, and this is his first English language film.

Review: Naminami Kappo


One of the new Castro Street restaurants I've been frequenting lately is Naminami Kappo. Residing in place of the now-closed Kamei Japanese restaurant (which I never went to), Naminami offers Kyoto-style Kappo cuisine and Japanese food which isn't the standard fare of Teriyaki and Tempura. I've been there three times now, and had something different (and wonderfully tasty) each time.

Their lunch menu is a great dealer smaller than their dinner menu, consisting mostly of set meals, and priced affordably.

Their dinner menu too many great choices to choose from, and we haven't been disappointed yet. Reservations are recommended for dining for dinner, and it's easy to see why Naminami is already gaining a large following and is already gaining a reputation as one of Mountain View's best new restaurants.
Flickr Naminami Kappo


links for 2007-05-16


Why the Forever Stamp Doesn't Save You Money


Yesterday I went to the post office to mail off the latest movies I cleared off my Greencine queue. I couldn't believe the line that was going out the doors. This was not the standard amount of people that should be in the post office on a Monday afternoon. The cause of the line, I learned, was the Forever Stamp.

The Forever Stamp is a good idea for the US Postal Service, as whenever they raise the rate of postage, there's this scramble to find 1 cent or 2 cent stamps to augment the new postage rate. The Forever Stamp solves this problem by saying "Okay, you need a stamp to send mail, this stamp covers first-class postage no matter how much the cost of a first-class stamp goes up". It's something that probably should have been done a long time ago.

What a lot of people have been telling each other is to buy lots of Forever Stamps, but to hold onto them. They think they understand the economics behind the Forever Stamp. After all, if you pay 41 cents for a stamp today, and the cost of the stamp continues to rise, following every price hike they've made money on every stamp that they've bought, so doesn't it make sense to buy a lot more to lock in at the 41 cent rate?

Absolutely not, and here's why.

Over the last twenty years, the cost of the stamp has risen from 22 cents in 1987 to 41 cents in 2007, and there's been 8 price hikes. Let's imagine for a moment that Forever stamps had existed in 1987 -- and you bought $999.90 worth of them (4545 stamps), before Monday's rate hike (at 39 cents) that would have been worth $1772.55.

People say to themselves "That doesn't look so bad... It looks like I've doubled my money", right?

Except if in 1987 you had taken that $999.90 and adjusted for inflation, $999.90 equals $1772.20. Investing in the forever stamps will beat inflation, but just barely.

Presently the inflation rate is around 3.4%, but any decent savings account will give you at least 4 percent, and CDs are above 5%. These are guaranteed, and best of all, they compound. Putting the money towards forever stamps is better than having your money stored away under the mattress or in an sock, but it's not better than a bank. Not even close.

links for 2007-05-15




This coming weekend is Maker Faire, and they've extended the deadline for purchasing tickets for the Maker Faire until this Friday.

Schedule of Events for Maker Faire

Maker Faire on Rocketboom

Wizards of the Coast hates Uni



Plain and simple. See? It says it right there. However, in this case, Uni is not referring to the tasty eggs of a sea urchin, but rather the cutesy unicorn mascot of the Dungeons and Dragons TV series.

Amazingly, they've put the whole Dungeons and Dragons TV Series on DVD now. They claim it's been digitally remastered, but reviews so far indicate that it's still quite low quality.

Trivia: Paul Dini and Mark Evanier were both writers on the Dungeons and Dragons TV Show.
Bonus trivia: Peter Cullen, the voice of the antagonist Venger in the D&D TV series is also the voice of the Autobot Commander Optimus Prime. Hilariously enough, the voice of Uni is voiced by Frank Welker, better known for his role as Decepticon Leader Megatron.

links for 2007-05-14


The Star Wars Harry Potter Outline



This image has been re-making the rounds on the internet. It originated some years ago, but with the release of book seven just a few months away, it's no wonder that this graphic file has re-piqued the interest of the world.

While plots can be incredibly generic, it's easy to see how it becomes the storyteller that shapes and creates distinctively different vision for their world.

Griffin and Sabine


Back in the early 90s, Nick Bantock released Griffin and Sabine, a sort of collage and illustrated art book. Using letters and postcards, the book weaves a story between two people with a connection to each other.

I had encountered these books when they were first published, as we had bought them as they were published, and we had thought them finished after the third book was bough, read and published. They retailed for about $15 to $20 when they were first released, so I was quite astonished to discover 3 of the 6 books today while browsing the bargain discount bin at Borders for the remaindered price of $2.99 each. Littlestar and I rummaged through them to pick out the best of the remainders -- all of them suffered from warped pages, but the warping isn't at all noticeable when reading the books. At just 2.99 per book, we walked out of there with grins on our faces like canaries that had managed to swallow the cat.


Trading Gabe for an Alien...


Somehow I missed this Penny Arcade strip about Catan. If all people who loved another genre of games previously and are now hooked on Catan are Broodax aliens, then I've been an alien for a couple of years now.

I play Settlers of Catan on MSN (my sole justification for keeping IE on my PC) and before that I played the boardgame. For me it's just one of those games that makes me think -- while it's not Go, and not chess, it's always a challenge to win, and it's not one of those games which is totally dominated by chance. There are strategies, but there is luck involved too, and it's the fine balance of luck, co-operation and strategy that keeps me coming back.

Catan is an Xbox 360 Live game, which means it's downloadable (and I assume multiplayer online playable).

Nintendo DS sells 10 million in Japan


In Japan, the DS has landed in the hands of 10 million gamers, comprising almost 8% of the Japanese population. It spans all ages, even after being out for almost a year and half continues to sell out across Japan.

The Nintendo DS is one of those systems whose potential is largely ignored by American developers. We use it for games, and that's about it. In Japan, the DS has managed to become a utility device -- they have programs to practice calligraphy, to teach you to cook or to be a travel guide when visiting abroad. It's gotten to the point where there are classes to teach adults how to use the DS.

Worldwide the Nintendo DS has sold 40 million consoles. The decision to make the DS Lite definitely boosted it's popularity -- the original DS was just too bulky and unfashionable!

links for 2007-05-08


My unique 128-bit number is...


92 86 97 10 AA 2C 54 AE 29 B7 47 A2 92 DA 97 72

You can get your own Free 128-bit number here as well.

Oh Boy! Spider-Man 3 takes 148 million opening weekend


Spider-Man 3 managed to bring in 148 million over 3 days, besting last summer's blockbuster cashbringer Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, which only managed 135.6 million across the same period of time.

Spider-Man 3 has been anointed the worst of the three Spider-Man movies, just as Pirates 2 is universally accepted to be a really bad movie. Both of these films were expensive to make, and both of these had tremendous success their opening weekend.

Given the success so far, I think it's fair to say that there will be a fourth Spider-Man movie...

What's left for the summer?

  • Shrek 3 (May 18)
  • Pirates of the Carribean 3 (May 25)
  • Ratatouille (June 29)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (July 13)
  • Stardust (August 10)

I'll wait on reviews for Pirates 3, most likely, but I think the rest are sure bets.

links for 2007-05-07


links for 2007-05-06


Today is Free Comic Book Day


Free Comic Book Day

If any of the titles below interest you, it might be a good idea to stop by your local comics retailer today.

Gold Sponsors
Archie Comics Archie Comics Little Archie 2007
Bongo Comics Bongo's Free for All 2007
Dark Horse Comics Umbrella Academy Zero Killer Pantheon City 2007
DC Comics Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century 2007
Dynamite Entertainment The Lone Ranger / New Battlestar Galactica Flip Book 2007
Gemstone Publishing Walt Disney-s Mickey Mouse 2007
IDW Transformers the Movie Prequel # 1 2007
Image Comics Astounding Wolf-Man # 1 2007
Marvel Comics Amazing Spider-Man Swing Shift 2007
TOKYOPOP Tokyopop Choose Your Weapon 2007

Silver Sponsors Title
Antarctic Press Pirates vs. Ninjas # 1 2007
Ape Entertainment Ape Entertainment-s Comic Spectacular 2007
Arcana Studio Arcana Studio Presents 2007
Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog 2007
Aspen MLT Worlds of Aspen 2007
Blatant Comics Last Blood # 1 2007
Boom! Studios Hunter-s Moon / Salvador Flip Book 2007
CastleRain Entertainment Jack the Lantern: Ghosts 2007
Comic Genesis Comic Genesis 2007
Comic Shop News, Inc Comic Shop News 2007
DC Comics Justice League of America # 0 2007
Devil-s Due Publishing Family Guy / Hack / Slash Flip Book 2007
Digital Webbing Digital Webbing Jam # 1 2007
Drawn and Quarterly Lynda Barry Sampler 2007
Fantagraphics Books The Unseen Peanuts 2007
First Second Books The Train Was Bang On Time 2007
Heroic Publishing Liberty Comics # 0 2007
Impact Books Impact University Volume 3 2007
Keenspot Entertainment Keenspot Spotlight 2007
Legion of Evil Press Comics Festival 2007
Maerkle Press Love and Capes # 4 2007
Marvel Comics Marvel Adventures Three-In-One 2007
Oni Press Whiteout # 1 2007
Renaissance Press Amelia Rules! Hangin- Out 2007
Rude Dude Productions Nexus Special 2007
Sky-Dog Press Buzzboy / Royboy Red: The Buzz & The "Bot 2007
Too Hip Gotta Go Wahoo Morris # 1 2007
Topshelf Productions Owly & Korgi 2007
TwoMorrow Publishing Comics 101: How to & History Lessons from the Pros 2007
Viper Comics Viper Comics Presents: Josh Howard-s Sasquatch 2007
Virgin Comics Ramayan 3392AD 2007
Wildcard Ink Gumby Special 2007
Wizard Entertainment Wizard-s "How to Draw" Sampler 2007

I may need to get an Xbox 360...


The Xbox360
is starting to turn into the console for tile board game aficionados -- Catan, a graphical retread of the classic Settlers of Catan game is already available, and coming in the summer will be Carcassonne, with Alhambra to follow soon after.

Tesla Motors at Techshop


Tesla Front View

Tesla Motors gave a presentation of their soon-to-be-released electric car the Tesla Roadster.

It was half-presentation, half Q&A session. While some of the questions were very technical, a lot of the concerns presented by the audience seemed to revolve on the batteries and range of the car.

How long do the batteries last?

The battteries are warranted for 100,000 miles. Batteries should be good for 500 zero-to-one-hundred percent cycles.

How far can the Tesla Roadster go?

The Tesla can go 200 miles (according to EPA standards for driving). This is enough for most commutes, but the Tesla Roadster is NOT a roadtrip car.

Is the car cold-startable?

The car has undergone testing in +40 degree down to -40 degree weather. It's also undergone testing on all sorts of roads as well, including ice and cobblestone. There's a HVAC system to keep the batteries at an optimuum temperture. In a -40 degree condition, it might take a few minutes for the batteries to get to the optimuum temperature.

Why aren't you sharing more parts with the Elise?

Contractual obligations prevent them from using too much of Lotus' parts. They use the same suspension system, but the aluminum chasis is Tesla's own. The cost of a car where they needed to develop everything themselves would have been prohibitive.

While I was hoping the Tesla would be a replacement car, there are a number of factors that would relegate the car to being a second vehicle -- especially when traveling long distances or with more passengers or in need of more cargo space.

Flickr: Tesla Roadster

Spider-Man 3: Disappointment


Last night, we all went to see a midnight showing of Spider-Man 3. Ringing in at 2 hours and 23 minutes, the movie never really came together for me. Perhaps it was the overuse of humor and camp, maybe it was that the characters were just too many and too underdeveloped, or maybe the story was just too generic.

Unlike the previous Spider-Man movies with their singular theme, Spider-Man 3 just attempts to tackle too many issues at once and the conclusion of this trilogy is not at all satisfying.

Eye of Judgement


One of the cooler innovations we saw as we were traveling around Japan last year was in the Japanese arcades where they seemed to have melded Collectible Card Games with video games, in the kind of synergy where they make you pay for the starter/booster packs and then make you pay to play the arcade machines that use the cards. It's ingenious, really.

They had different games, a FIFA game where moving the cards would move the players on the screen, and a fantasy RTS where the cards represented the units on the field, and another which was a 3D dungeon crawl.

This youtube video shows a new type of home console card game, in which the cards interact with a camera to give more of a feel of playing an actual card game, and not a video game.

links for 2007-05-03

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Ratatouille Preview


When we were at WonderCon earlier this year, we saw the preview for Ratatouille, Pixar's upcoming summer film. Brad Bird presented some production art, along with some clips for the film. Little did we know that the presentation he was giving was, more or less, a rehearsal of the official preview clips currently viewable on Disney's website.

Game Over! When a game is inaccessible


Game Over!, is the world's first universally inaccessible game. Created at the Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas in Greece, Game Over! was designed as an educational tool for examining and understanding the guidelines for game accessibility.

The game teaches 21 basic lessons of what not to do when designing a game, and it is quite possible that Game Over was the most unfun game I've played in a long time.It is hoever, an excellent demonstration of complete and utter disregard for the player taken to the extreme.

links for 2007-05-02


Brad McQuaid made a post about the state of Vanguard recently. Brad McQuaid is on of the founders of Sigil Games, which is currently in development of Vanguard, a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Originally, Vanguard's publisher was Microsoft, and now it's Sony. Earlier in the week, Sony said:

    "SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games in Carlsbad. Talks are going well and first and foremost, our primary concern right now is what's best for Vanguard and its community. We want to ensure that this game and its community have a healthy future. The specifics that we work out over the coming days will all be with that single goal in mind."

Brad's response to this statement:

    "What does that mean? It means that right now Vanguard is doing decently but not as well as we hoped. If you haven't read my last long post that outlined some of the things that went wrong during development, etc., please do. So the bottom line is that SOE is going to be getting more involved with Sigil and Vanguard - our relationship is going to become even tighter - much tighter. At this point I can't say much more than that.

    Does this mean an acquisition? I can't say at this point.

    Does this mean more or less people at Sigil? I can't say at this point.

    Does this mean management changes at Sigil? I can't say at this point."

My translation of this statement reads as saying that Vanguard didn't pull in the numbers they wanted. With their release being exactly a week behind the release of Blizzard's Burning Crusade expansion pack for World of Warcraft, Vanguard was released unnoticed.

Here's the standard cycle for MMOG developers getting released by a third party publisher.

  • Step One: Find a publisher.
    This usually involves pitching the idea to everyone who might be interested in undertaking a huge, costly project. For that reason, MMOG developers have to target publishers with deep pockets, and that means EA, Sony, Microsoft and NCSoft.
  • Step Two: Negotiate rights with a publisher.
    This is usually the part where developers say "Give us the money to make this game, so we can pay our employees, buy some servers and bandwidth." Publisher usually says okay, but they usually lay down a timeline for the developer -- meaning that the developer needs to meet certain milestones if they want to get paid.
  • Step Three: Make the Project.
    This is the part that makes or breaks the development team. If the development team can't make those milestones, the project dies, so they kludge it together, meeting the milestones with playable but buggy builds.
  • Step Four: Go Beta

    In Beta, the development team releases the build for players to try while the "Final Build" is shipped off to be manufactured. Players play, they find bugs, and programmers fix the bugs. That's the way it's supposed to work, anyways. What usually happens is that in the course of fixing bugs, new bugs are revealed. Because beta is an arbitrary time frame meant to find bugs which will be corrected in the initial patch of game release, only severe-level bugs are usually fixed, with minor fixes incoming after the release of the game.
  • Step Five: Release the Project

    Usually at this point, the developer wants three more months to do bug fixing, but marketing and sales want to release it immediately so they can start making their money back. Marketing and Sales usually win this round, and the product is released.
  • Step Six: The Call for Help

    With the game released to the retail channels, problems start happening. Servers can't withstand the load, hardware failures on brand new equipment, there's not enough support to handle the calls. All this, plus money hasn't even started to come in yet, since all players get one month free.
  • Step Seven: Two Months After Launch

    People start cancelling subscriptions. Publisher gets worried. "Why are numbers dropping? Why aren' t we making money yet? Where's the return on investment, and why are we only making $150,000 a month on our game in subs, while Blizzard is making 120 million a month?" Developer explains that it needs time to build momentum, and that they need some time to build word of mouth.
  • Step Eight: Three Month Later

    If sales numbers don't improve, Publisher and Developer meet to figure out what's wrong. Developers list their problems, which is usually "We need more people and more money to fix everything that's wrong". Publisher says something along the lines of "We've already spent 50 Million on this project, and we've only made 1 million back from the sales. We aren't spending any more on this, you guys are going to have to come up with another solution, which doesn't involve tens of millions of dollars."
  • Step Nine: Present Yourself as a Target of Acquisition.

    At this point, the developer points out that in three years time, they will have made back that initial investment, and that every dollar past that point is pure profit, and that it would be terrible if another competitor were to buy them out. Developer can also point to past successes, such as Everquest, which took a year to make back the development costs, but has been running for nearly a decade.
  • Step Ten: Publisher buys out Developer.
    Publisher decides that future revenue is good, but they want more control over the project, and that their project management is the problem. They buy the company, and replace all the middle management with their own choices. Founders stay on for a time specified in the buyout clause before leaving to startup their own company (again).

So what Brad McQuaid says next doesn't surprise me the least:

    "What it does mean at this point is that both companies agree that we need more of SOE's involvement if Vanguard is going to continue to get the support it needs to both continue to be worked on and improved and debugged and optimized."

In other words, SOE (Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard's publishers) likely told them "We'll give you money, but we want one of our employees to be in charge of overseeing what you're doing with our money. If you don't do what he says, we won't give you any more money."

Brad McQuaid further explains his game plan:

    When people start getting burned out of the Warcraft expansion (pardon the pun), we need to make sure that the game is more polished and will play on lower end machines. As people continue to level up, it means that we need additional higher level content, including raid content.

His belief is that people who would be playing his game are instead playing WoW: Burning Crusade. It's a decent assumption, but burnout usually means forsaking playing MMOGs altogether for a time, not jumping to another one. The game polishing and lower end machine statement is more a reflection of Vanguard in its current state: buggy, unpolished, and requiring a much more powerful computer than World of Warcraft. WoW's system requirements are low, and Blizzard spent a lot of time polishing and making the user interface easy to use and understand.

It also means that presently Vanguard doesn't have any high-end raid level content. This is not a good sign. WoW built into the user interface the capability to manage raid-level content, EQ did not until several years later, even though for both games, raid level content was inserted at the very beginning. Things just work a lot better if you plan them from the beginning instead of adding it in at the last minute.

Brad says that marketing and attracting players is a problem:

    If we are going to change our marketing message effectively to target those who played a lot of EverQuest but who have "grown up' such that they have jobs, families, etc. that they cannot and will not play another EverQuest even though they enjoyed they game years ago. We've done studies and it's not atypical of an old EQ player, when they hear about Vanguard, to assume that because many of the people involved in Vanguard's development worked on EQ as well, that Vanguard must simply be an EQ 3. From that point they don't even give Vanguard another look. They don't do any more research on the game. They don't go to the official sites. They don't go to the affiliate sites. Instead they think to themselves, "ah well, were I younger and had my life not changed, I'd give it a shot, but I just don't have the time for another EQ with better graphics right now.

    And that's it - they don't give Vanguard another thought EQ peaked in late 2001 at almost 500k subscribers. In its lifetime it's sold over 2 million units. Putting EQ in a vacuum and that's a lot of people who played and who aren't playing anymore. And the total number of subscribers didn't start going down until sometime 2002. I'm also pretty sure up until its peak that the average lifespan of a player was nearing 9-12 months.

I'm an old EQ gamer. Avid player for 4 years. I spent 260 realtime days in that universe -- over a sixth of my waking hours for those four years, or about 8.6 months realtime. Even if it's not an EQ3, when a game gets an editor's rating of 3 out of 10 on 1up with the tagline "Massively Missing Online RPG", I can tell that I'm not missing much. Plus, unlike the WoW characters, which have a cartoonish feel to them, Vanguard is going for a more plastic look, and it really does feel like Everquest 2 Part Deux.

A lot of us, in quitting EQ made the vow that we'd never go back to Sony Online for our MMOGs. After seeing Star Wars Galaxies, it became clear to us that Sony was not interested in making a good game, and more interested in making a game that brought in money month after month.

Brad McQuaid spends the next couple of paragraphs explaining that they captured a huge market when the market was young, and now that the MMOG audience has grown, there's no reason why Vanguard can't pull in the kind of numbers that EQ did back in the old days. The market has changed. No one wants to play an EQ-like game anymore -- the badness that came with SOE and EQ set a really low bar for customer service, and players were, quite honestly, treated pretty disrespectfully. Enough so that when a better game came along, we all jumped ship

When World of Warcraft released, it was just a game that raised the bar for the MMOG genre. Relatively bug free, easy to use interface, quests that worked and had storylines attached to them, and best of all low system requirements.

Vanguard is a game that requires: Windows XP, Intel 2.4 Ghz processor, 128 MB of Texture Memory and 512 MB of memory. That's the minimum requirements -- so we're already talking sub optimal experience with a 2.4 Ghz processor, which is basically computers built in the last 9 months. Meanwhile, I can run WoW on almost any computer built in the last 4years (My Titanium Powerbook, made in 2002 can run WoW).

There can be only one

In the games industry, there is only one MMOG at a time that dominates the market. Every other MMOG manufacturer is, quite honestly, playing for second place. The only way to move into first place is to create a better game than the game currently in first place. Before WoW, the current MMOG champion was EQ1. Guild Wars, EQ2 and WoW all released around the same time, and while all of them improved on the design of EQ, they all did so in different ways. In the early days, I called WoW "EQ Better", because that's essentially what it was -- an easy to play EQ, oh it was different, but except for the randomly dropping magic items (which was a Diablo feature) everything in WoW was in EQ first. There was one difference though -- WoW actually worked. Because EQ was a work in progress when it was released, EQ never achieved the fine polish that WoW did -- and because of that when EQ launched, it was riddled with bugs and uncompleted quests and other problems which took years to fix.

If you just want to look at the Fantasy MMOG genre, there's two big gorillas in the field already: World of Warcraft with 8 million subscribers, and Lord of the Rings Online, which is much more recent game, and has has the whole background of Middle-Earth to play around with. Any contender who wants to take the two of these on, has got to outdo these two, and let's face it, WoW has a huge lead which isn't going away anytime soon, and for the time being, we ought to consider the fantasy MMOG market closed.

There's still plenty of other genres available which aren't fantasy, but may be riskier -- but fantasy is an assured loss.

TiVo Series 3


Babylon 5: The Lost Tales


J. Michael Straczynski has managed to somehow get Warner Bros. to produce some direct-to-dvd movies for the Babylon 5 franchise.

This is not an easy thing to do, but somehow, he did it, and Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is the result. The announcement made last week about this new DVD propelled it to the #6 seller on Amazon's DVD list.

LEGO lunchbox


Only available in Europe, LEGO now sells LEGO Lunchboxes, which look like 2x2 LEGO bricks.


No Wiis until 2009?


I've never had a lot of respect for market analysts -- they're basically people who charge a lot to tell me something that is usually incorrect. This latest report states that the Wii won't meet demand until 2009, which I think is grossly overestimating demand.

I helped a friend of mine two weeks ago secure a Wii for him and his family. He'd been looking for one for the last 5 months, having several close calls, but no success. Nintendo has managed to sell over a million Wiis in the last 5 months, and they are just now ramping up production. With a population of over 300 million in the US, it means that your chances of owning a Wii are 1 in 300. The best selling of Nintendo's products was the NES, and they managed 60 million units sold world wide, which were sold over a 6 year period. These were not sold evenly, but probably resembled a bell curve. Putting on average, 12 million units sold per year. Nintendo seems capable of producing about 6.6 million per 6 month period, which puts them at about 13 million per year, which means that worst case scenario you wait until the end of the year before you get one. I'm pretty sure that by the time October '07 rolls around, there should be enough Wiis to meet demand. It is unlikely that a year after the console's release that it should still be unavailable. No console has ever done that, save for the Nintendo DS in Japan (where the DS is much much more than just a game system).

So do I think Mr "No Wiis until 2009" is wrong? You bet I do. I've seen shortages for most game system launches and none of them has ever gone on longer than 6 months. The Wii will likely break that, but extend the record by two years? That's just unlikely.