The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

October 25, 2007

Next up: a chair with no seat

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 9:12 pm

Every day, a devoted group of designers seeks to rethink the way we go about our everyday lives, and seeks to challenge the existing paradigms with new and exciting products.  Unfortunately for them, quite frequently they manage to  completely miss the point.  Take for example the Topless Table (link via Gizmodo).  No, it’s not what you think it is  (and while you’re at it, get your mind out of the gutter.)  It is, quite literally, a table with no top.  Instead, this “table” uses a number of retractable metal tines to create “outlines” onto which a plate and a cup can be placed.  The result is an object that is questionably suited to its intended purpose, and virtually useless for anything else.  Sure, you could stick an actual usable table top on the thing, but then it wouldn’t be design now, would it?

The Photocopier of Judgment

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:07 pm

As I mentioned in my PAX articles, one of the more interesting concepts to show up there was The Eye of Judgment, a Playstation 3 game that uses the Playstation Eye camera in conjunction with a collectible card game.  The hybridization of card and video games is nothing new, but what sets Eye of Judgment apart from other similar games is the use of actual trading cards, which are then “scanned” by the camera on a special board to keep track of score and show the action on screen using the PS3.  It seems like a rather interesting concept, but as Mike Fahey posts over at Kotaku, it turns out that the game has what could likely prove to be a fatal flaw:

 Despite supposedly being printed using special inks rendering photocopying impossible, reports are sprouting up around the interwebs of people successfully copying cards from Eye of Judgment on the PlayStation 3 and scanning them into the game with little or no problem. One of our readers sent pictures of a card he printed out from Penny Arcade, which despite some curling and color differences from the other cards seems to be scanning in just fine.

After which he proceeds to print out a copy of the scanned card on a cheap color printer, and confirms this to be the case.  According to Wizards of the Coast (who will be printing the cards for use with this game) this should not work.  Since I have one of the cards in question (acquired from PAX) let’s take a look at this:

Here is a picture of the actual Biolith Bomber card in question, with a Magic the Gathering card (which also came from PAX, which is the only reason I even have any Magic cards in the first place) next to it.  Although it is somewhat difficult to see the difference in this picture, there is a slight difference in the surface texture of the cards, which seems to suggest that the Eye of Judgment card has an additional coating on its surface to make it less reflective.  I cannot be certain whether or not this is intended to be an anticopying measure, but most likely it was done primarily to reduce glare, since the cards need to be readable by a computer algorithm, and glare could prevent the camera from seeing a vital element of the card.  It is entirely possible that if someone tried to print one of these onto standard glossy card stock similar to that used by the MtG card it could be rejected by the camera.

On the other hand, It should have been  clear to all parties involved at square one that the first thing people would do with this game is try to use phony copies of cards.  In an interview from PAX at Shacknews, Hasbro’s marketing director for the product had this to say (the relevant quote is on page 2:)

 Christy Newton: You cannot color photocopy the cards and have them read. It has to do with the technology and how they’re printed both. And that’s really all I want to say about that in terms of that end of it.

I can promise you that on the Wizards of the Coast side of the business, obviously one of the first things we did was try to play around and break things. Ultimately, there’s probably nothing in the world that can’t be accomplished if someone wants to spend enough time to go break something down. I think the goal of it is, let’s make it difficult enough that it prohibits people from cheating.

Not that marketing people are exactly renowned for their technical knowledge of a product, but that particular response is just trying to dodge the question, plain and simple.  Unless the QA testers on this project were grossly incompetent there’s no way this scenario would not have come up in testing.  I’d say there’s a 99% chance they are fully aware that copies of cards will work just like real ones, and that they’ve either been unable to fnid a workable fix for the issue, or they’ve been getting stonewalled by the project managers to avoid slipping the ship date.  One way or another, unless they find some way to “break” copied cards, Wizards stands to lose a whole bunch of money on Eye of Judgment due to people just downloading their cards off the Internet.  Given the ridiculous ease with which the alleged built-in countermeasures to prevent copying were defeated, I get the sneaking suspicion that whatever solution they come up with to the problem is going to end up being a workaround, rather than an actual fix.

The latest bargains from Costco

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:18 am

One of the ways that warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club manage to keep their prices down is to buy their products from different vendors at different times, and bring in a lot of “treasure hunt” items that may or may not be around the next time you stop in.   The sheer variety of different products that go through a Costco warehouse means that every once in a while, something just a little odd is going to show up. 

 First of all, we have a rather odd bit of licensing:


 I could understand putting Sesame Street branding on things like diapers, childrens’ vitamins or peanut butter, but strawberries?  I suspect that 9 out of 10 preschoolers, when given a plain strawberry to eat would pronounce it “yucky” whether the container had a picture of Elmo on it or not.  In fact, about the only way you’d get any of them to eat strawberries is to drown them in sugar, which would kind of defeat the whole purpose anyway.  Also note that the sample being held by Big Bird would seem to indicate that the size of the product contained therein should be placed in the “freakishly huge” category, which makes the actual contents of the package seem rather mundane.

Next up, we have this bit of advertising for Kirkland Signature brand fish oil pills, that might provide just a little more info than you wanted to know (accurate or otherwise) about the product:

This display, cute as it might be, seems to imply that they’re grinding up cute little orange fish by the boatload to make the stuff.  You might not want to let the kids see this one, particularly if they’ve seen Finding Nemo anytime recently. 

 Finally on a less kid-friendly note (I actually don’t drink myself, but for some reason I seem to find a lot of examples of this type of stuff,) did your last drunken bender seem like it was… missing something?  Did you wake up the next morning without a raging hangover and with a full recollection of the previous evening’s events?    Problem solved:

Daily's Cosmopolitans - Alcohol is in it!

That’s right, with Daily’s Cosmopolitans, you know you’re getting genuine honest-to-goodness ethanol in every sip, because it says so right on the label!  All you need to do is pour  yourself a stiff drink straight out of the box, and you’ll be ready to try out your most regrettable pick-up lines in no time at all, with none of that pesky inadvertent soberness of the leading brand! 

October 21, 2007

Who’s Price is it Anyway?

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

As a general rule, I tend not to watch a whole lot of television, and what little television I do watch consists mainly of Discovery Channel and Food Network.  In fact, for the most part, I pretty much ignore network television altogether.  As I stated in a previous post a few months ago, one of the very few exceptions I’ll make to this is The Price is Right.  When Bob Barker retired from his 35 years of hosting the show earlier this year, no successor had been  chosen at the time, which resulted in a fair bit of uncertanity about the future of the show, and just as much speculation over who would take over Bob’s skinny microphone.  Over on the Price is Right board that I read, the speculation seemed to lean toward Todd Newton, who had the most game show experience of the four leading candidates for the job, and also had been hosting the Price is Right live show in Las Vegas.  It was something of a surprise when Drew Carey’s name came up, since he hadn’t even been speculated on before he managed to impress the CBS executives with his hosting of Power of 10, which ultimately resulted in his getting the Price is Right gig without an audition. 

At the same time, the set for the show has received its first major overhaul in the history of the show, a move which sent a number of purists on the moderately obsessive TPIR board I read  into a rather predictable tizzy.  In spite of this, the set really has not changed all that much.  All three doors and the turntable are pretty much in the same places as before, but the doors are completely new, and the turntable has changed drastically (there are pictures at the CBS Price is Right site if you haven’t seen it yet.)  Another less drastic change for this season is the ability to watch a week’s worth of full episodes of the show online (with limited commercials, but it works for users in the USA only) through CBS’s website, which might help make the show more accessible to the highly sought after  “people with jobs” demographic, which doesn’t take enough sick days to be a big target market for daytime television.  Even for the diehard TPIR fans, this provides an opportunity to watch the show without needing to record it, and without having to wade through twenty minutes of commercials for diabetes testing supplies and powered wheelchairs every day.  After the jump, some of my impressions of the show after the first week of the new season.


October 18, 2007

Riding out the storm

Filed under: Seattle and Vicinity — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 5:28 pm

If you live around here, you might have noticed that it’s a tad breezy out there today.  A windstorm containing some of the remnants of a tropical storm is bearing down on the Pacific Northwest, resulting in a lot of wind, although so far I haven’t seen much of it here aside from the occasional strong gust, and leaves blowing around all over the place.  There have been some scattered reports of damage and power outages, but so far it’s looking like most people will get through this unscathed.  Of course, I imagine that the windstorm we had here last winter probably convinced people to actually take some steps to prepare for this one.  Me and my family (who are scattered around the area) got through that in relatively good shape as well, although we didn’t completely escape the effects of the storm (my power was out here for about 36 hours, and my parents had a similar power outage and a large tree fall down in the yard, which fortunately only took out a couple of sections of fence.  My brother-in-law, sister,  and their then newborn son ended up with no power for four days.)  I definitely could have been more prepared for the last one, but I think that at this point, if I had to deal with a power outage I’d probably be in better shape this time around.  I have a number of flashlights, a full tank of gas in the car (which is something I didn’t have last time, and ended up having to wait in  long line at a station running on generator power to fill up) a gas grill with a side burner I can cook on, and I keep my apartment well-stocked with food.  I’m not sure how well I’d fare in a situation that resulted in damage to my apartment, but I think the biggest issue I might encounter here would probably be boredom. 

(If you aren’t sure you’re quite as prepared as you might like, King County runs a website with disaster preparedness info specific to this area, and links to more general resources.)

October 11, 2007

It’s the Not-So-Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 10:22 pm

From the “contests I’m not sure I’d want to win” department comes this giant pumpkin, seen at the mall today in front of a sandwich shop: 

(apologies for the crummy photo.  The sign reads “Guess my weight, win lunch and take me home!”)

Sure, a free lunch sounds like it might be nice, but based on seeing a number of these for sale at a Fred Meyer recently ($30 apiece, for pumpkins in the 110-120 pound range ), I’d have to guess this one probably weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 pounds.  While it’s kind of interesting to see one of these giant pumpkins (although they can get much bigger than this one,) I’m not entirely sure what one of these things would actually be useful for, short of inflicting hernias on roving bands of pumpkin smashing teenagers on halloween. 

Oh! What a Failing

Filed under: Cars, Games — Tags: , , , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 9:51 pm

Automotive marketing seems to be a rather tricky business to be in these days.  In a crowded field of largely indistinct small cars, marketing is one of the few ways in which one can attempt to distinguish their products from the competition.  To that end, Toyota’s latest effort at capturing the hearts of the much vaunted 18-25 male demographic (or attempt to make their annual quota of loan defaults, I’m not sure which) has just been released on Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Yaris, a  free downloadable piece of advertising with achievement points attached to it, which will probably be the only reason anyone bothers playing the game for more than five minutes.  On the other hand, for those people who might actually consider purchasing a Yaris, the game is packed with all sorts of  useful information.  For example:

  • A hood-mounted laser cannon is standard equipment, but you’ll have to pay through the nose to get the car in any color besides red;
  • The Yaris is capable of defying gravity and driving on ceilings, climbing sheer vertical walls, and maintaining a speed in excess of 150 miles per hour;
  • The car comes equipped with a shield system, and depletion of the shields will cause the car to spin out of control but otherwise remain unharmed;
  • The Yaris will be the perfect car for your daily commute, once the highways have all been replaced with giant danger-filled halfpipes with inexplicable sheer vertical drops, hazards deliberately placed in the roadway, and roving packs of roller-skating toasters bent on your destruction;
  • Oh yeah, you can also get 15″ aluminum wheels as a factory option if you want them..

I will refrain from going too deeply into the relative (lack of) merits of the game itself, as I’m sure other people more qualified than myself will begin ripping it to shreds soon enough.  A far greater issue lies in the fact that the game does absolutely nothing to tell someone why they should buy a Toyota Yaris, as opposed to a similar car like a Chevy Cobalt, a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa.  In fact, about the only things in Yaris that have anything to do with the actual car at all are the character models used and the paint colors.  Granted, there are some cases (for example, where you can throw a little bit of branding into some game and call it good, but there’s one major difference:  On that site, they’re trying to get you to spend a buck on some candy next time you’re at the grocery store.  Toyota is trying to get you spend as much as $18,000 on a  car, which you’ll probably be driving for years. 

Most people I know wouldn’t ever buy a brand new car on impulse, even if they had the means to do so (at which point, I seriously doubt a Yaris would be anywhere near the type of car they’d be considering.)  Before I purchased my new car a few months ago, I spent hours on and manufacturer websites going through just about every detail I could possibly think of, in order to make sure I knew all about what I planned to buy, and what I would be getting myself into.  In theory, this would put me into the target audience that Yaris is supposed to be reaching.  The problem with this is that if I had encountered something like Yaris while I was shopping for a car, it would have told me absolutely nothing that I wouldn’t already have found out previously, nor would it have provided anything even remotely resembling a realistic simulation of how the actual car drives.  Am I supposed to believe that a car with a 1.5 liter 4-banger with 106 horsepower and 103 ft/lb of torque can hit 200 miles per hour, while driving up a vertical wall?  In the end, the result is that the game bears more resemblance to a rail shooter than a racing game.

That isn’t to say that this completely ficticious and unrealistic approach to advergaming should be avoided entirely, as long as some means of providing actual useful information on the product is included.  Yaris simply doesn’t do this.  There is little to no information about the actual car included, and I couldn’t find so much as a link anywhere in the game to even tell me where to find such information.  As far as I can tell, Yaris appears to be an attempt to salvage a marginal game concept by sticking a licensed car into it and giving it away as a freebie.  If someone who was shopping for a car were to come across this game, play all the way through it (no mean feat, given the frustratingly broken gameplay) and see everything the game has to offer, by the time they were done about all they would have learned from the experience is that Toyota makes a car called the Yaris, and that you can get it with aluminum wheels and upgraded energy shields to protect you from flying MP3 players and flaming snakes. 

With downloadable games finally reaching the mainstream of console gaming in this generation of systems, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more advergames like this before we know it.  With any luck, marketers and developers alike will look at the example of Yaris and learn some valuable lessons on how not to make an effective advergame.

October 7, 2007

The Wages of Zinfandel

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:03 am

A handy tip for grocery store managers:  With the Fall season setting in, and Halloween fast approaching, it seems like a good time to do a bit of seasonally appropriate decoration.  Appropriate decorating can help set the mood for shoppers, and increase sales, but be careful with Halloween decorations , or you could find yourself sending the wrong message to your customers.  For example, something like this is a good setup:

On the other hand,  this bit of decoration just might be sending your customers the wrong message about the product:

And whatever you do, don’t ever do this:

I’ve heard of Demon Rum before, but  have to say this just might be a new one.

October 1, 2007

An Ounce of prevention, a Pound of Terror

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:00 pm

I have to admit that I’ve always had a fear of needles, which has kept me from getting flu shots over the years.  I have to say that this poster doesn’t do much for me to inspire confidence:

A friendly reminder for next time around:  the “crazy guy with ridiculously huge needle” clip art might have its place, but it really isn’t the best idea for this particular situation.

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