The blind eye of Kotaku and Joystiq

Feel free to call bullshit on this post, but despite my admitted bias, I would like to hear other people’s thoughts on this one.

When I found out that OXM was going to break the news about 360 players using their Avatars in Guitar Hero 5, I realized it was also the perfect time to pay attention to some details. This is exactly the kind of small-but-significant info that the daily blog sites love to report on, so I wanted to see how long it would take between the arrival of our magazines in subscribers’ mailboxes and the appearance of this news on Joystiq and Kotaku. (I was particularly interested to see this after the last time that information from an OXM feature was mangled in transit en route to the blogs.)

The 100th issue of OXM with the GH5 Avatar story (and a blurb on the cover about that particular story element) hit subscribers roughly two weeks ago, and we’ve gotten a ton of reader mail about the issue already. However, Kotaku and Joystiq posted their GH5 Avatar stories just this morning. Why? Simple: They waited until the information came to them, in the form of a PR release and a video (in Kotaku’s case, a custom one). “Xbox 360 avatars will be able to jam in upcoming rhythm game Guitar Hero 5, Activision announced this morning,” reads Kotaku’s story. Well, there you have it: this is a story based on Activision’s press release. And even though the information was reported before Activision’s press release, the content was very clearly fresh news to the commenters.

When an OXM reader brought the print scoop up in the comments on Joystiq’s story, he was roundly shouted down, because on the internet, people don’t like to feel like someone else has more information than they do. Some suggested that OXM had the information first was irrelevant, and that OXM is not a valid news source to the readers of Joystiq. (Of course, that does not change the fact that OXM is a valid source of this information — if the audience accepts it when Joystiq reports the same thing that OXM reports, it’s a reader bias to suggest one is more valid than the other.)

So here’s my actual question: If your job as a “games journalist” is to seek out new and interesting tidbits about videogames, and you get paid by the tidbit…why are you limiting your sources? I would think it makes sense to subscribe to the last few print magazines out there and cull them for information. Instead, I generally see “news” on blogs when PR departments deliver it. It’s clearly what happened in this case.

So if the info is out there…why wait? If it was important enough to report today, surely it would have been important enough to report two weeks ago. Are the blogs being told not to report it until Activision says so? Or are the blogs not actually aware of news happening around them? Either one is bad.

Now, nobody can stay on top of everything, but reading enthusiast magazines on your specialized topic seems like a pretty easy (and dare I say occasionally enjoyable) way to stay on top of how information is being conveyed to different segments of your audience. Sometimes the mags are going to have gaming information later; sometimes they’re going to have it first. All you have to do is read them to stay aware of that ebb and flow. And maybe this is too obvious to mention, but you can blog about whatever you read. And then you get paid more, because those bloggers get paid based on post traffic. (The win for the print mag is that they are cited as a source…or, journo-ethically, should be. Hence my bias.) So, considering that we’re still talking about a form of information that comes to your mailbox as automatically as an e-mailed press release…why aren’t you subscribing?

Information gathering and research defines the role of the news media. If you are not actively seeking out sources of information, are you really a journalist?

UPDATE 8/11: Hello, Slashdotters. It’s probably worth reading the short followup post too.

Two hens, one cock

Feathers, you dirty fuck. Look it up.

We’re still enjoying archery; Kat has gone so far as to name it a weekly activity. I’m looking for a heavier bow as I’m quickly growing accustomed to the 25# and would like to work my way up to the 38# we currently own — but I know I’m going to need something between those two. I have one in mind, just not ready to pull the trigger. Of course, bows don’t have triggers, so…

However, I can get extra arrows. I like arrows for the same reasons I like guitar picks: they’re sort of necessary, but they come in lots of pretty colors and they say something about you. When we started, we got a dozen Gold Tip Lightning carbon-shaft arrows from Pacifica Archery, split into two colors.

The red and white ones were Kat’s. The yellow and black ones were mine. Now, I like red and white too, but Kat didn’t like yellow and black for some reason. So okay. At 28″, these are technically youth arrows, but they match our bow and our draw, and carbon is a more sturdy option (compared to aluminum or wood) for recreational shooters like us.

So today I got some more arrows from an eBay seller. I asked for specific colors if they had them, because I was trying to match those orphan sets. I found out the arrows we like to use do not come in specific color combinations; they’re just a mix from the factory. But the person I got them from was super cool and put together a matched dozen.

These will no doubt be Kat’s arrows, because her favorite color is green (even though I’m the one that reads Green Arrow, thankyouverymuch). That relegates me to the mixed dozen, which is now the Van Halen dozen, for what should be fairly obvious reasons (but just in case, this and this is why). I get feathers, she gets plastifletch. That’s the price of fashion.

Why I left OXM

“Things change. Always do. You’ll get your chance! Important thing is, when it comes, you’ve got to grab with both hands, and hold on tight!”

Wow. It says something about my geeky life that this particular moment in it can be perfectly summed up by Otis from The Last Starfighter.

As discussed on KOXM podcast 174, Friday the 17th was my last official day at Official Xbox Magazine, and issue 101 (October 2009 cover date) will be my last issue as a staff member. I have moved to a new project within Future, about which I am very excited.

What it is:

  • – Well, I can’t tell you what it is, due to a rather strict embargo. It will be announced later this year and until that time, it’s officially a “secret project.”
  • – It is editorial. I am still working with words for a living.
  • – It is an excellent career opportunity for me.
  • – It scares the bejeezus out of me in the best possible way. This is a challenge, and not in the euphemistic “I mean this is a problem” way. I get to do new things and some of them will be tough. I’m going to love it.

What it isn’t:

  • – I was not fired. I was happy at OXM, they were happy with me there. I chose to leave for this new opportunity.
  • – I was not laid off and OXM is not in trouble. Despite what everybody wants to think about print being dead, OXM knows its ever-changing role and is doing fine. There are smart people at Future and the book is in good hands and bright minds, not to least of which belong to the editorial staff.
  • – I am not even leaving the podcast. I will continue on as Ryan’s cohort/cohost as long as he’ll have me. My new situation will not preclude me from jumping on Skype for an hour every week.

This is not intended to be a guessing game, so I am going to leave it there. Everything will make sense later this year and I will be thrilled to talk about it when I legally can. But I figure if I don’t come out and say a few basic facts now, and people notice that the Dan OXM gamertag gets changed, people might assume bad things. But there are no bad things.

I think I’ve done some of the best work of my career at OXM — the Gears of War review, how to get kicked off Xbox Live, the Epic Journey road trip with Nightmare Armor, setting up the Warthog ride from half a world away, calling Mark Rein a jackass in print, penning the Top 100 list in the current issue (it says OXM Staff because we all decided on the list, but I wrote all the entries). There’s a lot of articles I’m extremely proud of either writing or engineering or both. If I could force you to read them, I would. While at OXM, I unlearned some bad habits and took some chances that paid off. Outside of quitting out of the Endless Setlist with one song to go and pissing off Jeff Minter (still don’t like Space Giraffe, but I do respect the man very much), I really have no regrets. It’s been a very positive experience.

But things change. Always do. And now that I see my chance, I’m grabbing with both hands and holding on tight.

Cue music.

The Grand Masquerade & interview

A few months back I was contacted for an interview by the BBC. They were working on a radio documentary about Kit Williams’ Masquerade, for which I run a fan site. I headed to a local recording studio and did an hour-long interview, telling the story and some personal anecdotes. That program, The Grand Masquerade, finally aired this week, and you can hear it online as a streaming file for the next seven days.

I learned stuff I didn’t know about Masquerade, and it was great to hear that everyone (except the villain) agreed to be interviewed. Fascinating story if you are not familiar with it, and it’s only a half-hour to learn all about it. But listen within the next week or it’s gone!

California Extreme 2009 report

It was another great show as usual. Parking was easier; the hall was just the right size. And amazingly, it was near a Bennigan’s, which I didn’t think existed any more. I had fun losing the trivia contest for the third year in a row — I’m on a streak. Anyway, on to the photos.

What better place to start than Computer Space? One year there were three of these machines on display; this year, just one. Computer Space predates Pong; it’s what Nolan Bushnell built before forming Atari. Playing it, you can see why it wasn’t a hit; it’s pretty complicated for an Asteroids forebear. But that maroon fiberglass cabinet is the bomb; it will always look like the future to me. No Pong this year that I could see, but there were plenty of old-school pinball machines up and running, and some electromechanical oddballs like Shoot the Bear.

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California Extreme 13 this weekend

This weekend is the annual California Extreme arcade show. Picture a giant room with about 300 classic coin-operated videogames and pinball machines all set to free play. Some are rare (Jungle King was there last year) and some are uber-rare (unreleased prototypes from Atari such as Beavis & Butthead, Sparkz, and Marble Madness II show up often). Then add in vendors, speakers (Steve Ritchie is giving a talk on pinball; MAME developer Aaron Giles will be revealing some secrets; Backbone is discussing how they update old-school games for XBLA), and a trivia contest (which I have never won, but I did make the final two teams last year). There will also be the annual pinball competition, joined this year by a Guitar Hero Arcade tournament. Bottom line: Every year, I see, do, or play something I have never seen, done, or played before. It’s fantastic.

I’m not bringing any of my machines (I would like to some year but do not have a vehicle that can carry them), but I am going on Saturday as usual, and I’m looking for a pinball expert to round out a trivia team. If you are anywhere near the Bay Area, I urge you to get there — it’s well worth the money (one very reasonable price covers everything), and it’s a show put on by collectors out of sheer love. I am proud to support it.

For a taste of what to expect, here’s my reports on the 2008 and 2007 shows. If you’re going, let me know and we’ll meet up. I know AJ Glasser from Kotaku is going to be there, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a few other old friends…both human and plywood.

Brain Wash

After getting addicted to Black Lemonade, I have come to really like Brain Wash soda from Skeleteens…so it makes sense that they don’t make it regularly any more. Among its charms: It tastes a bit like Sweettarts; it apparently has jalapeno in it for bite (and it does have bite); it is strongly caffeinated; and seeing as how it is blue soda, it also turns your tongue blue.

It does something else too, which you find out some time after drinking it. I don’t want to give away the surprise but it freaked me out.

Skeleteens is reportedly only doing occasional batches of blue Brain Wash, and I’ve seen red online but not yet in real life. I get mine at the local BevMo, but you can sometimes find it here too. And even I’m not paying for the rare Microsoft edition.

Pepsi Natural

This caught my eye in Target tonight. I was looking for the WoW Mountain Dew Game Fuel (unsuccessfully, just as in the grocery store…is it really that popular?) and found Pepsi Natural instead. I only found one bottle of Pepsi Throwback and Dew Throwback so I figured I should grab this oddball while I could.

Aside from the unusual 12-ounce bottles, it’s mellower than the regular stuff, and has about the same amount of caffeine. “Natural” means real sugar, kola nut extract, and sparkling water. It’s a nicer taste, to my palate — a little sweeter at first but then tapers off pleasantly. Weirdest ingredient: natural apple extract, for color. I guess it would be clear (or worse, yellow) without it?

I’m pleasantly surprised to see the major companies jump on the boutique cola bandwagon, even if there are plenty of party poopers. I still miss Royal Crown Premium Draft Cola and will get Puma whenever I see it (which is not often, and BevMo is no longer any help to me), but this is an option that will hopefully have better distribution.

Fattang…thwip!

First of all, I just figured out that there was a way to automatically update WordPress with a plugin. I got tired of manually updating around 2.6, but smart people have been using it for well over a year before that came out — and of course, 2.7 has a built-in auto-updater, which I also never saw by camping on 2.6. I am happy to say that this site, Kat’s site, and Palette-Swap Ninja are all now 2.8 and good to go.

That auto-updating plugin saved me so much time this weekend that I was able to go outside. Yeah, outside! Andy caught me on videophone doing the fire juggling thing (you know, for kids) at Paul’s house Saturday night, but before that, Kat and I got some archery in.

Being medieval geeks we’ve always been keenly interested in archery. I shot in high school gym class and I remember using strong recurves, like 45# bows. One kid in the class brought his compound bow, and I remember thinking that was cheating — like, way to overengineer something so insanely that skill is no longer a factor. Pulleys, stabilizers, laser sights…what happened to skill? If every quarterback augmented their arm with bionics and fitted the roboball with a high-frequency transmitter that guided it to the gloves of the literal reciever, people would give up on football. But you do that with archery, and it’s progress. Modern compound bows look like Klingon weapons — or worse, guns, which strikes me as missing the whole point. I know it’s for hunting and all, but wow.

Some years back Kat found some used recurve bows (online? locally? no idea) and they’ve sat in our garage for ages. Seems that the local parks and recreation divisions don’t much want you to pull out a bow and arrows in the local park, so we didn’t have anywhere to shoot. Kat found the San Francisco Archers had a public day for guests to come and check things out, so we grabbed our gear and fell in love again. Problem was, our gear was not for us — neither one of us could control our 35# or 38# bows, and we wound up using a loaner 25# instead. Since we didn’t really like our 35# anyway, we’re going to sell it, but we’re hoping to grow into the 38# over time.

I then spent the next week or so looking into gear, because we both had the bug. What size bow? Aluminum, wood, or carbon arrows? How long should they be? Do you cut to fit the bow? What kind of fletching? What’s the proper draw? It was all kind of baffling; most archery sites online assume you know everything already, which is rather inconvenient for beginners. I learned that our outgoing 35# is a bit of a vintage item — apparently a 1961 or 1963 of a major brand, and it’s still quite shootable — so that might bring better money as a result. But I also found a lovely starter takedown recurve with a dumb name for just over $100 and took it to Pacifica Archery to get setup advice and some cheap carbon arrows.

And Saturday afternoon, we went to the SF Archers’ guests-who-donate-are-welcome outdoor range.

Okay, now we know whose draw is longer. For whatever reason I pull back a minimum of two more inches than Kat does on the same bow, even though we’re the same height. Guess my arms are longer.

Archery is an awful lot like bowling. I’m serious: It’s a sport where physics and accuracy are more important than athleticism, where middle-aged guys with moustaches spend too much money on esoteric equipment, and everybody wears camo and Harley-Davidson t-shirts. Also, after about an hour, my arm gets fatigued and I have to stop.

Those carbon arrows were cheap; one of the tips came off already, but it will be easy to repair. And we both liked shooting, so I am glad to have something to do outside. Also, I’m not great, but I’m not as bad as I feared I would be, even with the rogue eyeball. So that’s always nice — feeling like you’re competent at something.

Really, I just desperately needed another hobby. Seven was not enough.

A note on Sarah Palin

Says outgoing Alaska governor Sarah Palin:

Once I decided not to run for re-election, I also felt that to embrace the conventional ‘Lame Duck’ status in this particular climate would just be another dose of ‘politics as usual,’ something I campaigned against and will always oppose.

I am going to paraphrase Shakespeare here when I say “What a crock of shit.”

When I was a kid, I did a lot of community theater. And like a lot of kids, I changed my mind on a whim and whined things like “I don’t want to do the show any more.” No, said my parents — you said you wanted this, you made a commitment to this show, and the people putting on this show made a commitment to you. You have to honor your responsibility. Throughout my entire theater career, I never quit a show.

Palin’s quitting the show. There’s no other way to think of it. Whether this is in prep for a presidential run in 2012 or whether she’s trying to outrun some looming scandal behind the scenes, the motivation is personal and selfish. She’s quitting because she doesn’t like the game any more (and, by her own admission, her book deal is making things difficult). Never mind the responsibilities she said she wanted, the commitments she made, and the commitments the people made to her. I can’t win the next round of this game, she says, so I don’t even want to finish playing this one. Palin loses. Alaska loses. America loses.

Too many Americans believe they should quit as soon as anything gets difficult or — worse — boring. I live in a nation of entitled princesses. Please note that several companies have not taken responsibility for their mismanagement, and they received bailouts. This is an epidemic, all stemming from the same basic flawed mindset: “I don’t have to take responsibility.”

We need more public officials to not just talk about but demonstrate the value of responsibility. To this end, the absolute least Palin could have done was her job. And she’s not going to do that. By choice. And if this is a move toward a White House run…why elect someone to the highest post in the country whose resume reads “got elected; quit”?

Palin may have been unfairly victimized during the election, but now she has put herself out there as a shining example of American selfishness. She is failure.