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Asian Insanity.

May 29, 2010

Lunchtime at new digs

Filed under: Asian-American randomness,Food,Games — admin @ 1:41 pm

There are a few perks about working at my new digs. One, I get to work with a smart and small group of developers who are really motivated to build games, including a former student (one less person who needs MDA explained). The other is proximity to Chinatown. That means I get to eat pan fried, Hong Kong noodles once a week. My old gig was near Curry Hill, which was great for lunch buffets but this is better.

Definitely better than the same dish at SFO even if the waitress occassionally teases me about being a ‘jook sing’.

May 10, 2010

Santoka ramen run

Filed under: Food — admin @ 11:40 am

Melty pork ramen special at Santoka in Edgewater. Great but I still prefer Terakawa.

May 8, 2010

Ippudo Ramen at last.

Filed under: Food — Tags: — admin @ 9:20 am

I finally made it to Ippudo.

With Mr. Church in town and staying at the fashionable Ace Hotel,  I had an excuse to be roughly in the neighborhood to get to Ippudo, on 10th St and 4th Ave. Lunchtime seemed to be the best time of day to get there, no queuing. We were told 15 minutes, waited 5.

We ordered shishito for appetizers, and Mr. Church pronounced them to be among the best he’s ever had. And he’s relatively well-traveled in Japan (or at least, Japanese food circles). They were great, lightly fried and not grilled.

We both ordered ramen (ramen set; I had the Shiromaru Hakata classic ramen and grilled eel over rice; Mr. Church had the spicy cod roe over rice).

The ramen was quite good, though overall I preferred my go-to ramen place, Terakawa Ramen. We split the Takoyaki there, which was delicious, and I had the house ramen and Mr. Church, the  Tan Tan Ramen. The pork at Terakawa was fattier and fell apart in your mouth, which I liked more than the pork at Ippudo. Terakawa is more of a ramen-ya – not ostentatious, almost never a wait. Ippudo is an East Village scene – and at $13 a bowl (vs $9 at Terakawa), pricier. I found both tonkatsu broths to be rich and delicious. I preferred both to Santouka in Edgewater.

Both places come from Japan, and it shows. There are a few other places; May Chan, Setagaya, Minca which I’d like to try soon.

Ippudo’s allegedly the ramen-emperor of NYC, but Terakawa’s still my choice.

April 28, 2010

Infinity Ward: what a mess.

Filed under: Games — admin @ 8:33 am

I don’t pretend to know any details behind this Infinity Ward/ATVI lawsuit lawsuits; the only thing I’ve heard was that Jason and Vince were well-liked as leaders by their dev team.

The new lawsuit for unpaid royalties.

‘”Activision believes the action is without merit,” said a company spokesperson over e-mail just moments ago.’

When does a defendant in a lawsuit ever not say “the action is without merit”?

April 23, 2010

iPad, Games and Apple: I’m not optimistic.

Filed under: Games,Tech — admin @ 4:17 pm

I’ve had a number of friends show me, or post updates about, their new iPad. In general, the feedback’s been quite positive from most everyone. I didn’t see any new games demo’ed yet on the device – Super Monkey Ball, the air traffic controller game. I’ve heard a few people talk about the Alice in Wonderland book, with the little interactive widgets and animations. It was a nice demo, I mentioned, but it reminded me of the dawn of the CDROM era in the 90s; sure, it’s clever and pretty, with lovely art direction. I would not be surprised there are hundreds of people in NYC with the skills to do a similar project with any number of evocative texts.

But what about games? One of the reason why the iPhone and presumably, the iPad are such excellent devices is that Apple rigorously controls the hardware and software – both the OS and the applications available on the device itself. You know, a lot like how Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony control their game consoles. I’ve had the opportunity to download a number of games for my iPhone mostly for my son, cart racing games primarily: Crazy Cart, Crash Bandicoot Racing. He also plays Mario Kart DS. The cost differential for each piece of software is significant; the iPhone games are priced like impulse purchases, whereas the DS games are more significant investments. Even factoring out the cost of goods, Mario Kart costs more.

My sense is that it offers more gameplay depth, too. I think from an economic sense, that was predictable – I paid more for the DS game, there’s more value delivered. But also, gamers expect more content. More gameplay, more depth. Even games with woefully short and under-architected single player experiences (I’m looking at you, Modern Warfare 2) deliver complex online play with persistent data and character progression so as to almost seem MMOG-like. Despite its horsepower, and a few very interesting games the iPhone hasn’t emerged as an influential games platform. Maybe it’s the form factor, I thought.

The iPad should eliminate that excuse. The screen’s big, the UI responsive – capable of delivering ‘real’ game experiences. But does the Apple ecosystem allow that? I’m not hopeful.

Historically, Apple’s felt surprisingly anti-game – games ruled on the Apple II platform, but the Mac’s always been positioned as a productivity device, not a games device. Everyone knows that the IBM PC – ironic, no? Big Blue? – became the platform of choice. (Meanwhile the mammals of the era, game consoles, were busy evolving underfoot.) Apple’s only half-heartedly supported the game development industry in those long years since the Apple II. Despite helping make the Apple II, despite the fact that games are arguably the most popular application on personal computers, games were ghettoized. We were the comic books of the interactive world.

A short anecdote. When I worked at the publisher of one of the big MMOGs, we talked to Apple about porting our game over to the Mac but we concerned about market size; would Steve consider showing off our game during his big Apple conference? (Remember, this was before Mac’s resurgence.) Our thought was, hell – even 100K users would be a substantial revenue boost to the bottom line.

There was no way that was going to happen, was the return message. Not so many words, but the intent was clear.

The downward price pressure on iPhone apps make the idea of a $19.95 game seem outlandish. But without that, what kind of game experiences are we getting? Ports of existing games, with a relatively small amount of content – levels, characters, tracks, unlocks. Is innovation going to be rewarded? Or are we going to see clones of existing game ideas – a Diablo clone, a MW2 clone, shrunken down to be fast food?

Perhaps the iPad’s app price point is higher, high enough to support building interesting experiences, taking risks, building more games like Bryce Manor.

But a friend of mine suggested that the iPhone/iPad are appealing to a new kind of gamer – a gamer looking for short, disposable experiences. He didn’t say ‘disposable’ – I think he implied it by describing low-immersion, low-complexity, low-investment, short play session games. Does this mean that games are relegated to becoming toys? I think Roger Ebert’s full of crap when he claims games aren’t art, because when you’re playing a game like MGS4 or Dragon Age (or Braid or Plants vs Zombies), you’re deeply emotionally invested in the arc of the game.

Will we see them on the iPad? Not, I fear, if the idea of a best-selling $30 game on the iTunes App store isn’t as ludicrous as it sounds today.

April 6, 2010

Why it’s hard to ride with you.

Filed under: Bikes — Tags: — admin @ 1:02 pm

Photo by Matt Koschara

The more I ride, the harder it is to ride with other people.

It’s not what it sounds like. I wanna ride with other people. I enjoy the social aspect of riding; you can have a good conversation while still getting in a workout. I would much rather race with a team (which is a whole other discussion). And this isn’t a critique of how you ride, or how I ride. It’s an observation of how people actually ride, the little competitions that go on when you get on a bike.

You’d think I feel this way because I’m faster, but actually it’s the other way around. I know I’m not that fast, certainly by bike racer standards. But the more I ride, the faster I get – and the happier I am to ride ‘slow’. I took a 2h30 hr ride with a non-racing pal recently, kept it happily in my aerobic zone (140-150bpm), spun 110 RPM on the downhill to try and get my pedal stroke smooth and with less ankle movement as per my coach. There’s still plenty to do, including a nice, social ride, other than pick up the pace. After all, I ride hard with my teammates.

One teammate and I were doing some laps the other day, and after an interval up the Great Hill as it’s officially known – or Harlem Hill, or North Hill – in Central Park, and while I was trying to bring my HR down after hitting 182 bpm, I saw him roll ahead. I had to ask him a few times to back off the pace a little, post interval. I wanted to get my HR < 140 for a full recovery – it’s good to see your HR drop that low, because it means you can recover; if you’re having a hard time getting your HR down, you’re probably cooked and should spin lightly before you head home.

But it’s always with a little hesitation to ask your riding partner to ease up. C’mon, if you’re reading this, and you were on a ride and someone asked you to ‘ease up’ you’d think they were having a hard time keeping up with the thundering pistons that are your legs, right?

Except this wasn’t the case here; a few minutes before, I was pulling him up the hill until he couldn’t hold my wheel anymore, telling him to sit on, to close the gap.

How does someone go from driving the pace to saying ‘slow down’ in 2 minutes?

I was thinking about this subject for a few reasons; my college cycling team is doing a reunion ride here in NYC in a few months, and that’s where I started racing. But racing with those guys taught me jackshit – training rides were super unstructured, people hammering without warm-ups, no coaching – I didn’t realize that I could even sprint well until years after college, because in college, I just jumped early and people came around me. No one told me to wait, to sit in, to get a lead out. They were lousy training ride partners. But we were all young, and few of us had real experience in anything.

A new coworker of mine rides, and her BF may come out on a group ride with me. He’s a triathlete, whom I stereotype as, more often than not, put-your-head-down-and-go-hard in training. Triathletes, in my experience, are often real type A personalities. Who else thinks one sport just isn’t enough – so let’s do three! (Then again, so are most road racers I know.) Mountain bikers, on the other hand, are more likely to get high and eat cupcakes while playing Call of Duty with you.

I used to make fun of the bad bike handling most triathletes exhibit until I rode a full TT bike and realized how twitchy those things are. Trigeeks don’t have the high end of a road racer (they don’t need it), but I’ve definitely ridden with some triathletes who could go really, really hard. Bonus: swimming shoulders=good draft to sit in.

I began dreading riding with my coworker’s BF. Suppose he wants to go hard from the gun? I find that the more I ride, the harder it is to be, or find ‘good’ riding partners; ‘good’ meaning, you’re all on the same page. I don’t worry about the tri guy’s fitness; maybe he’s faster than I am, maybe he’s not – chances are he’s not so fast that I can’t sit on his wheel.

No, I worry about people who are overly competitive on training rides.

You know the type.

It’s no fun riding with people who are push the pace as if it’s an unspoken rule. One of my first rides with my now-teammate was with two of his friends, a girl and a guy. The guy was his mechanic, an ex-racer. He and my friend pushed the pace on the hills. The kind of riders who jump up the climb, then ease up on the flats. If you rode a steady effort, you’d probably end up catching them. But I thought we were riding together; who called for hill work today?

I ended up riding and chatting with the girl. Hey, I’m not an idiot. I like girls, and I like riding with people. We didn’t go fast. I think we caught up with the other 2 at Piermont and we rolled into Nyack. I like riding with my teammate and now that he races, I think he has a very different idea of what constitutes a good training ride. Thinking you’re fit (and being fit enough to ride centuries), then getting dropped like a stone when the training ride goes into race pace is eye-opening for most people who aren’t naturally gifted cyclists. I don’t mean to call him out. I’ve been on that ride with any number of people before.

I also read some of the updates here on a training diary/social network site I use, Dailymile; there’s a lot of (good natured) trash talk, about how so-and-so couldn’t keep up with me. It reminds me of all those rides where people would jump ahead and look back and see if I was coming. It masks as competition, but it’s not real competition, often; it’s fake because it’s not a shared goal.

I reminded my teammate of our first ride when he said he wanted to ride with more discipline after he slowed down and waited for me on hill interval day.

They weren’t going very hard that first ride – sub AT on the climbs, and probably aerobic or low tempo on the flats. But what was the point? It wasn’t going to give me race intensity… and yo-yo’ing between almost-hard just on the hills and a bit more than easy-ish the rest of the time seemed pointless. If I wanted to do some hard climbing efforts, I’d have done River Road; more importantly, I would have done them with people who wanted to do River Road. I get it – it feels good to go hard. You gotta get your ya-yas out. I feel the same way, sometimes.

People think it’s satisfying to ‘win’ training rides – to drop people. But you can only win if everyone’s playing. Half-wheeling someone is like a passive-aggressive race – though I remember a Cat 2 teammate half-wheeled me until I blew, after which he told me he did that to see how fit I was. Not as fit as he was, that’s for sure.

I think it’s a nice affirmation of my fitness if I can win a sprint or not be last up a climb. But I’ve ridden with countless guys who want to hammer from the gun – and by hammer, I mean, go uncomfortably hard early in the ride. I could hold that pace, but I wanna warm up first. I want to feel ready to hit the gas – if it’s my ‘hit the gas’ day. I think its fine to feel good about dropping people on training rides, but they’re sort of an empty victory. How do you know that they were really going hard? Maybe it was a base mileage day for them.

I train, generally speaking, following a method laid out by Phil Maffetone, one of the early HR zealots and 40/30/30 diet proponent. Phil’s philosophy was that if you are going aerobic, that’s what you do all day. If you go anaerobic – even for a jump up a little crest – your body’s switched over and you’ve become primarily a glucose burning machine, as opposed to a fat burning machine. If you are doing a base mileage ride, you never, never go above your aerobic zone (for me ~145bpm). It was really hard to do this, until a teammate did it with me. My instinct was to chase down everything that rode by me (still is) but my teammate would never do that. He was a better racer than I was, and this was his way of training. When he went hard, he really went hard; he took a pull in a break once that was so fast that not only did it clear us from the sight of the field, it demoralized everyone else in that break who must have been thinking ‘there’s no way I can pull through at that pace’. We eventually got caught.

That means while aerobic rides keep a decent pace on the flats, it’s slow up the climbs. SLOW. It makes me a lousy riding partner for all those riders who want to hammer up hills, because this method almost is the reverse – you go slow up the hills and keep up the effort on the flats. I find that when I’m riding this way, people are always waiting for me. I know what they might be thinking – why is he so slow? Maybe he’s gonna write up this ride on DailyMile and talk about how nice my bike was but how I couldn’t keep up with him.

Maybe I couldn’t keep up with him on the climbs – or maybe I could. (Probably not, though.) But if I’m doing hard efforts that day, I’ll be doing hard efforts. If I’m out for a base mileage day, I’ll do that. That doesn’t leave much room for freelancing; I do have rides where I just go out goof off, not worry about zones or training intensity. Just don’t have much time for that with work and family.

I guess there’s nothing wrong with riding hard a lot, or revel in dropping people. But it’s hard now to find people to ride with – the hard efforts tend to be very hard, and ideally, structured. Hard paceline, county line sprints, attack/bridge/counter… none of that, I think, would be fun to someone just out to ‘ride hard’ because you have to suffer until you wish you would flat just to catch a breather.

I thought of my early ride with my new teammate, and I wonder if he just thought I wasn’t that fit. The following week or 2 later, 2 other riding buddies and I rode paceline from the NYC side of the bridge to Nyack in about 1:02, which included a 20 min warmup. That’s about 20 miles. We worked like sled dogs to state line, sprinted, eased up a bit in Piermont, picked it up again, and spun the last .5 mile into town. That was a hard ride, faster than my friend and his mechanic rode. It was consistently hard; HR was 176+ bpm at the front, 170-172 sitting in. We hit it up the climbs, and when we crested, we hit it on the flats; 53×12 at the descents, out of the saddle to drive downhill.

No one wants to do intervals or pyramids – at least I don’t. No one wants to do a sprint workout where we jump several times at 100% until nausea washes over you. They hurt. A lot. When I’m doing that, it really helps to have a team, or guys out doing the same thing to push you. I’m always happy to ride with people who aren’t out to prove anything because on team rides, where people are out to prove something, it’s grueling and painful.

It’s fun to pretend that the guy you rode by is slower than you. Except they may not be. People ride by me commuting and I’m often tempted to give chase, but why bother? I’m trying to get base miles in. And I give in sometimes, push the pace to keep up and sit in, just to keep things different.

I wanna be laissez faire about riding hard – if you like to do it, great. If you get extra enjoyment from dropping people, that’s OK too, I guess. Maybe I just think you should try and drop people who are actively ready to not get dropped – who want to drop you too, and are (more or less) fully committed to that idea. You should just compete. Do the bike leg of a relay tri, enter a citizen’s race, even ride a granfondo, do something where everyone who shows up for the ride is ready to commit to trying to push your time behind them.

An old teammate, Stefani Jackenthal, a former local Cat 1 woman and now batshit insane adventure racer (I mean that in a good way), used to tell me that guys used to sprint by her, then ease off because they had to be in front of the ‘girl’. Stefani had won/placed in some big races – she didn’t have anything to prove to macho guy. But it clearly irked her. There’s so much ego on bikes, and I wish people were out to enjoy the ride a bit more, and worry about hammering a bit less.

April 5, 2010

Winter Cycling Clothing: Final Thoughts

Filed under: Bikes — Tags: — admin @ 12:52 pm

Winter Cycling Clothing: Final Review
Stuff I bought this winter and how it worked

I rode my first race of the season, and wore a pretty minimal set of clothing with only a few concessions to the cold (arm warmers, knee warmers, Craft shortsleeve baselayer). I think that I’m retiring my winter clothes; maybe I’ll wash my water-resistant stuff in Revive-X and store it until October. Thought I’d write up a quick revision of how my trunk-ful o’ new gear worked out.

It was an unusually cold winter and I’ve done the most riding this winter since, like 1993 or 1994. Mostly commuting but longer road rides in the winter; plus, a wee bit of mountain biking. Since I broke out old cycling gear, some of it was wearing out (my old Sony team kit winter tights), and some of it was clearly replaceable by better-designed and better-looking stuff. I still like those Sony Sportful tights – gonna see if a local sewing mom can swap out the chamois for me.

Spent a bunch on new stuff, some of it better than others. Figured I’d write it all up. From bottom up!

Pearl Izumi AmFib mountain bike booties. Bought new MTB shoes (see below). Turns out modern MTB shoes are almost as well-ventilated as road bike shoes (though maybea bit less so because of the greater abuse it needs to take from hiking and abraisions from rocks, dirt, etc). I was using my shoes mostly for commuting, which of course meant a good deal of cold weather riding. And my regular road booties (even the trashed ones) don’t fit over a real sole meant for walking, with lugs. So when I saw Pearl Izumi mountain bike booties on clearance at Colorado Cyclist, I jumped – they were like $35. These are AmFib (PI’s windproof and water resistant) and neoprene for warmth; allegedly one of CC’s warmest booties. I’ve always been suspicious of neoprene because I think it’s lack of breath-ability make your extremities (e.g. hands!) clammy and cold, eventually. Well, these booties have worked great. Coupled with a lair of wicking socks my feet were tolerable even down to 19F which is quite an achievement. A relative bargain I’d say. I’m tempted to wear the same shoe/ bootie combo on really cold road rides – I use Crank Bros pedals so I can use any shoe w/any pedal. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give these a solid 8.5; I would give ‘em a 9 if I found them to work well actually mountain biking or road riding, just never got around to testing them out under those conditions.

Gore Oxygen Windstopper Lite booties. For some reason, I wanted a less bulky pair of booties than my old Pearl Izumi AmFib road booties. These Gore booties are windproof without bulkier fleece lining. I wear these down to about 35F w/a pair of heavier weight wool socks. Also worn on a ride that ended in some rain; definitely can soak through. Shoes were damp when I got home. I don’t ride in rain generally, so that doesn’t matter to me but I would have been sad if my feet were wet at the beginning of the ride, not the end. These are nice cool weather booties (>35F) without the bulk but I didn’t need ‘em. Pricey though @ $60. I’d give these a 7 out of 10.

Capoforma Euro Winter socks. I have 2 pairs of old Pearl Izumi thick socks. One of em is really old. Like elastic-shot/old-man-baggy-socks old. Wanted a replacement. The Capos are warm, def thicker than normal weight wool socks. Won’t wear em below 30F though. That’s still where my old PI works best. I have a really heavy duty winter sock as well, would break those out on sub 28F rides; also heard nice things about Sealskinz but right now sock needs are met. These filled a nice niche in my sock lineup; wore them on race day, no booties, 52F around race start. 7.5.

Mavic Chasm 2009 shoes. Got ‘em from Competitive Cyclist on sale for $165 right before Colorado marked ‘em down to $130. Crap. Still, the Competitive Cyclist sales guy was very helpful in looking for shoes. They fit well, and my heat-molded insoles are comfortable in these shoes – they didn’t feel so good in my Sidi Ergo 1s. A bit less snug than my Sidis, but I think that’s good. Stiff and light sole, removable toe spikes – worlds better than my 14 year old Shimano MTB shoes which had a great neoprene anklet sleeve, but was disintegrating and cutting into my Achilles tendon. The Mavics have a micro-ratchet buckle system that isn’t as solid feeling as the high end Sidi buckles but more adjustable than their mid-level buckle I have on my Sidi Genius shoes, but def not as nice as their high end buckle on the Ergo. A great deal at $130 though, compared to Sidi Dragon. Would have waited on a good Northwave Bonktown deal for a sub $90 shoe if I had some time. @$160: 7/10; @$130: 8.5/10.

I used to wear a pair of Pearl Izumi winter tights over shorts … No bib and no chamois; these are heavy weight material w/ AmFib panels at the knees. Also very old. New fabrics seem to be two sided; fleecier at skin and tighter weave in air to fight off wind. Even my 2006 Y Pro Castelli winter tights had this property. Despite some quality issues with those tights (ankle zipper and bib stitching came loose; I’ve had another friend complain about Castelli too), I splurged for the Castelli Fulmine Nanoflex tights. Got ‘em from for $200, a good deal unless you wanna return ‘em. These tights are allegedly water resistant which is what I’m looking for. They have been my go-to tight on the coldest days. Bib and chamois. The fabric makes it less stretchy than I want – Castelli stuff fits snugly… I got an XL and my Verge team kit is a M or L. Part of the issue is my thigh size. I probably could have gone with the L but I don’t want to screw up the seams (given lack of elasticity) pulling these up my legs. Is it warmer than my old Pearl tights? Definitely drier in light precip; definitely better wind protection. Probably not as warm, and in a rain, legs will definitely get wet (but they didn’t feel wet and cold). I also looked at the latest PI AmFib tights but Cervelo team report swayed me; I was hoping that the Fulmines were more water resistant. I think Pearl stuff is less technical than it used to be; maybe I’m wrong. Also nice to change up the wardrobe a bit (I used to only wear PI stuff back in the day). I was good with these on my 19F ride but maybe there are warmer tights; my legs tend not to get cold anyway. 7.9/10; woulda cracked 8 if it were a bit fleecier.

Leg warmers. I generally like these for 40-50F days. My old pair, made by Sportful had some upper leg elastic issues (time isn’t kind to elastics). So I bought a pair of Gore wind resistant leg warmers. Like my Fulmine tights, the fabric isn’t very stretchy and like my tights, were a bit snug around the thighs in the L but I opted for the L size here; the XLs were too long. Still bunchier that I would have liked. Hey guys, some of us who ride bikes end up with large thighs …. Shocking but maybe you can design stuff that fits us. Hard enough with jeans. Leg warmers work best with shorts with the elastic gripper thing; the “bandless” designs, I think, will just encourage them to slip down your leg. 7/10.

The biggest piece of kit this yr was my Castelli Insolito Radiation jacket. I’ve been eying this since last winter. Mostly priced over $400 but Bonktown has sold ‘em for $199. It’s wind and water resistant; sleeves zip off to convert to a vest, though I have yet to use it that way (I do love the gillet though for cool days). It also has a detachable hood that makes skull caps and ear warmers redundant. There are two front vent zippers which noticeably cool things down on climbs when things get warm. The zippers also ‘lock’ down so they don’t flap around – a very nice touch. But the coolest feature is the lining… It’s that silver stuff you see runners wrapped in after races. Castelli claims it reflects like 80% of your body heat back at you. The insert zips out (and you don’t want to wear it on >35F because you will get way too hot). Insert is perforated for breathability but it’s not super breathable and feels rough next to bare skin. So far this has been the nicest piece of winter clothing I’ve ever owned – it clearly keeps you ultra warm when riding; standing around in the cold: not so much, I guess because you’re not generating a lot of body heat. It’s tailored nicely (runs small like the rest of Castelli’s stuff, I got an XL for the layers I thought I might wear under it), though could have gone with a L. Frankly, I’m not sure why anyone would buy a more expensive Assos jacket over this. It is a 3+ season piece of clothing (spring, fall, winter, and crazy cold why are you riding winter). Almost perfect; friend of mine with another Castelli jacket had some seam issues but their customer service was responsive. 9.5/10.

Assos Winter Glove system. The big splurge, and somewhat of a disappointment. Licktons had the best price on these though I saw an XL closeout at Piermont Bikes. It has three components, a thin, heavy lycra liner not meant to be worn alone; the Assos EarlyWinter 851 Glove which can be worn alone or with the liner; the Lobster glove which has to be worn over the Winter glove. It’s a very flexible system, the gloves have Assos attention to detail, they look cool, and they worked pretty well at 19F – my hands got cold, but wiggling fingers help (Assos says the 3 are good at 21F and up). The 3 layer system allegedly keeps layers of air to help insulate your hands. My big complaint? For $160+ you’d think that they would have a terry band on the backs so you can wipe your nose. WTF Assos – it’s like they have this pristine idea of riding that doesn’t involve snot coming down your face when it’s cold out. For $180, I’d give this a 6.5/10. I can wear thin liners with my 15 yr old Pearl Izumi AmFib lobster gloves and be almost as warm, but with a terry band for my nose. Bicycling Mag loved ‘em, but I now really question their reviews since they didn’t mention the nose-wipe feature.

Endura Dexter Windstopper Gloves, A Bonktown Impulse buy at $19. These seem like cool weather gloves to me; the M are pretty snug and feel almost uncomfortable to wear but when riding over the bars, seem fine. I wore them mountain biking for full finger feature (and chill). They work fine, but are redundant with a still-nice 5 finger Pearl Izumi AmFib glove that I still have. For $19, I’d give these an 8/10. I like the Windstopper.

Hopefully none of this stuff will be worn again until the Fall.

March 14, 2010

Why I love SFO

Filed under: Food — Tags: — admin @ 11:41 am

SFO is the only airport I know where you can eat Hong Kong style pan fried noodles. It’s 8:30am and they still serve it. It isn’t great, just passable but still… And there’s an Andale here too. Austin airport had a Salt Lick outpost last time I was there. Puts NYC airports to shame.

March 13, 2010

Goodbye, GDC. Last session of the day: Ernest Adams, and why it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Filed under: Games — Tags: — admin @ 9:04 pm

Well, the mystery talk by Phaedrus was Will Wright. I figured it’d be a luminary; who else would set him/herself up as Socrates’ conversational foil?

I had penciled in Design Philosophies for Single Player, Multiplayer and MMO Games, by Ernest Adams. Ernest has been around a long time, and no doubt has a wealth of excellent experiences. He’s written a textbook on game design, teaches, consults, etc. The lecture didn’t have a lot of concrete takeaways for me and social games projects I’m working on, but there were enough useful bits I want to include in my own class on game design.

Ernest made it clear that he was a fan of the single player experience; his comments there were the most cogent, though far less focused than the more formal abstract design talks given by past GDC speakers Doug Church, Mark Leblanc, Harvey Smith, Clint Hocking. I have always been a member of the Looking Glass school of thought when it came to design, probably because I have some amount of programming background in my dim past. Ernest comes at it from a different, less well defined and more didactic approach.

Where he really began to fumble was when he started to talk about MMOGs and free to play games. His own biases, he admitted, prevented him from talking about players, rather than the player; he prefers single player games. He started talking about getting up to speed on MMOG design by reading Raph Koster’s laws, and proceeded to recite them. They were laws like “your game GMs will be hated despite their most noble and diligent efforts”, and Ernest drew the conclusion that none of these ‘laws’ made him want to build an MMOG. I went to Raph’s site and while I found some of these ‘negative effect’ laws, like ‘Hate is Good’ they were full of interesting, prosocial ideas too, like virtual social bonds evolve towards real social bonds. Hmm.

But Ernest really got me pissed off when he started in on the data-driven, constantly eye towards the monetization metric game design that ‘Freemium’ games provide. Let me preface this by paraphrasing Adams: when he was making games for the metered online services like GEnie, those were the most honest of his games – you had to keep the player happy every second, or they’d just log off. In other words, players were playing and paying moment to moment, and there was a constant pressure to keep the meter running.

Ernest thinks that the freemium model, where game design requires the designer to think of monetization drivers, is – I believe he thinks this – detestable. How is this less mercenary than making games for the metered model? He warned that he might sound like a cranky old man – I’ll add another adjective: out of touch. In the freemium model, 90% of players NEVER pay anything. They enjoy content for free. They resist the siren call of the monetization mechanic; their experience is presumably underwritten and subsidized by those who do pay. This means that plenty of people – like moms who like farms – are playing games now, more sophisticated games than Solitaire on Windows.

Ernest then went on a rant about Chinese free to play MMOGs, which are built around clans – hierarchies where the rich clan leaders derive loyalty by giving equipment to clan members, who rally their clans against other clans. He called this tribalism and gangsterism, then said that perhaps it’s the fantasy of those living under a centralized totalitarian regime to live in a decentralized totalitarian regime. “I don’t want to make a game that utilizes hatred as a game system!” he thundered. The audience cheered.

I gagged.

Meanwhile, Will’s in the next room talking about creating schema through play and testing world models out as games. I know this because Nicole Lazzaro is sending out updates on the talk through Facebook.

Isn’t play the magic circle where players can experiment with actions with limited, simulated consequence? Isn’t a child who plays cops and robbers playing a game of dress-up? I don’t believe that in-game activity is without real world consequence, but Ernest spoke of in-game clans and real world crime in the same breath. It became clear to me that the less he understood (and respected) the genre, the more he was willing to impose real world models into the play space. When a child plays with a gun, they don’t see it in the same, literal way as adults do. Gerard Jones (of Green Lantern fame) wrote about it extensively here; I really enjoyed his book.

Where does Ernest get off drawing grand conclusions about Chinese gamers? I’ve spent some time there, and while I’m quite suspicious of the Chinese government and general business ethics for IP-based businesses like games, you don’t suppose that the Chinese players might be looking for a cathartic, my team vs. your team play experience, do you? Perhaps the hat gives him the authority to expound on subjects he has little understanding of; if so, someone, please relieve him of his hat (and perhaps replace it with Daniel James pirate hamentashen). I don’t think that the business model of free to play is without some potential negative repercussion on the evolution of games. But Ernest’s arguments seem full of his bias, and subtlety jingoistic and culturally imperialistic.

Sports are games of ritualized violence; football can be seen as a metaphor for colonial land acquisition. But it’s ritualized; maybe it is an outlet for tribalism and violence. It’s cathartic (except for UK football matches, post-game, perhaps). Ernest is an old school, Avalon Hill-playing geek who probably never participated in organized sports. Maybe he doesn’t like sports. If so – his loss as a person, perhaps.

His refusal to understand that play pattern (and his claim – as I understood it, anyway – that this sort of gameplay fosters evil) is a loss for him as a game designer, for sure.

GDC: Day 3. Casual Player Progression

Filed under: Games — Tags: — admin @ 5:28 pm

Hey, I went to a session today from a big publisher and it was useful! SOE, who has seen its best success since EverQuest with Free Realms, came out and shared soits best success since EverQuest with Free Realms, came out and shared some really interesting data about tuning its free to play MMOG for casual players. The speaker went a little fast through the slides but left the audience with some really good takeaways. Laralyn McWilliams is the Creative Director for FR and she admitted that the game’s initial launch numbers weren’t up to expectations but that the following 10 month data driven design iterations dramatically changed the player numbers – for the better, of course.

The biggest for me was that the two groups of players, core and casual, had a strong statistical divide and that casual players displayed the same play patterns regardless of age or gender. This takes a lot of hand-wringing out of the equation for me, and lets me try a different audience lens – ‘would a child like this game system?’ = when working on games targeting the casual audience.

Something that core games have been moving to for a while was an emphasis on ‘big’ changes – core gamers love to see lockpicking skills go from 90.1 to 90.2, but to casual players it doesn’t matter. Can you pick the lock or not? Casual players want to see big changes. SOE swapped the balance to increase emphasis on minigames over quests when they saw that players just didn’t quest; nor do they group. A lot of the game systems we take for granted are still poorly understood by casual gamers – like, what’s a lobby? SOE also thought that no amount of time would get them to embrace the conventions core gamers love. I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but I think as a design guideline, it’s the right one – it will keep you focused on your audience, not what your audience might become.

The only time ‘stats’ worked for items was combat items; casual gamers eschewed the idea of putting new parts into your car to make it race better. This seems at odds with the experience of the Korean game Kart Rider, but perhaps it’s a different cultural basis. She explicitly said that in-game powerups, a la Mario Kart, were quite popular.

She also said that casual players really identify with player progression, not character progression; their characters tended to look like themselves. 95% of their players chose the same gender for their character as they were in RL; that 5% were core gamers. Who knew that core gamers were mostly likely to cross-dress?

She ended with a nice little design tool, creating lists of player needs (wealth, social status, etc.), player interactions (combat, chatting, minigames) and player rewards (money, profile popularity) and saying that system let you consider different ways to connect the three systems. This will be a good lens to take back to remind designers of how to link goals and systems.

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