The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


Ever meet one of those people who say shit like "I believe in magic because the world is just too dull without it" or "there are so many things that just can’t be explained by science and reason?" Those people are assholes.

And sometimes they write about baseball.

In sentence-fragment paragraphs.

Because sportswriters love that nonsense.

Hiring the Red Sox manager will be (or should be) more than just solving a metric equation

Holy shit, that’s a title and a half. That’s longer than most of the paragraphs in your column, Ron Chimelis. Also: why is there a parenthetical aside in your title? That’s some confident writing. Allow me to present you with the title for your next article, provided at no cost as a public service from the online entertainment corporation:

"Baseball (or maybe a similar sport like softball) will (probably, unless something weird happens, like maybe the moon falls out of the sky like in that one Zelda game) be back in the spring (or maybe technically it’ll be the very very end of winter, but you get the idea)."

Then you fill the column with great writing like this:

People sometimes ask my opinion of sabermetrics.

I tell them I accept the concept. I also hate it.

See all that whitespace? I get paid by the column-inch, bitches. Anyhow, here’s a short play I wrote about your thinking:

Galileo: Hey medieval Church, what do you think of my theory that the Earth goes around the sun?
Medieval church: I accept the concept. I also hate it.

The use of advanced statistical data, better known as sabermetrics, is very much in Red Sox news these days.

Has been since 2004, yeah. But I can forgive you for overlooking it, because… I think something else happened in Red Sox news in 2004, didn’t it? Something that might lead the ownership to believe this stuff has some merit. Now what was it… ?

The search for a manager always seems to dovetail back to whether a candidate embraces New Age stats that have turned baseball into Trigonometry 101.

"New Age," in case you were wondering what words actually mean, is the exact opposite of rational inquiry. New Age is the belief in magic and voodoo and gut feelings, like you prefer. Methodically collecting and analyzing data to determine what works is a different thing.

Also, how funny is it that this guy is so afraid of math that his idea of obscure and complicated is trig 101? Holy shit, Ron. If you had any idea how much more complicated this stuff is than trig 101, your head would explode.

[Bobby Valentine and Gene Lamont] are the only two candidates who managed in the ancient, pre-metric era before 2002.

Did you know that baseball "metrics" date to 1876?

Oh, no, you don’t. Because you’re not very smart.

Being considered for the job still requires a bow to the metric shrine. Look at Valentine, 61.

Widely regarded as a throwback, he still described himself as practically a pioneer of metrics.

Bobby Valentine also claims to have invented the wrap sandwich. So maybe he’s just a self-aggrandizing blowhard.

Perish the thought of managing by instinct and observation. The dark shadow of Grady Little, keeping Pedro Martinez in for too long because his gut told him so, is never far away.

Also the dark shadow of losing for 85 years, until they smarted up and started using their heads instead of their intestines.

Watching this cavalcade of Red Sox candidates has given me a chance to review my own mixed feelings about New Age stats.

I think there is great value in them – to a point. Preparation is crucial; dismissing information is lazy, close-minded or both.

Okay. So which one do you claim to be?

I can also understand why a general manager would like sheafs of stat data. Players make ungodly amounts of money.

Sure. Here’s another reason: GMs who get hundreds of millions of dollars in player payroll and still can’t field a winning team become ESPN analysts. Isn’t that right, Hendo?

(Aside: "In 2010, for most of the season they were one of the worst teams in the baseball." Thanks, the Wikipedia!)

If I were a GM, I would want some number to validate what my innards were telling me they were worth.

This is why you are not a GM. You do not comprehend. To use data successfully, you don’t scour it for something that confirms your bias; you look for things that challenge your bias. It’s kind of like how, if you want to be a good writer, you don’t just write single-sentence paragraphs.

Assigning a number to everything will not stop, even if a relative old-timer like Valentine or Lamont is hired.

See, you really don’t get it. Bud doesn’t oversee a Bureau of Numbers Assignage that votes on what numbers things should receive. The numbers are already there. They always were. Here, see if you can wrap you stegosaurian walnut brain around this:

I am a baseball man playing in a baseball game. I come up to the plate five times. Did Bill James use his magic numeromancy to create that number? Of course not. Say I strike out three times and get two hits. Those numbers: naturally-occurring or implanted by borg slavers? So we can say that I got a hit two out of five times, right? Which we could express as a fraction like that, or decimally as .400, yes? Either way, we’re not "assigning" anything — that is what happened. All we are doing — all anybody is doing who uses statistics — is talking about what happened on the field during the game of baseball. Why cannot you nincompoops process this?

My problem with the sabermetrics concept is this: It’s useful, but it’s not the Bible.

You clearly have a problem with many things, then.

Yet it is being treated that way, not so much by real baseball people, but by those who analyze real baseball people.

Ron Chimelis: arbiter of who is a real baseball person, and who is a fucking baseball replicant!

Ever talk to these types? They sound like zombies, talking in the vocabulary of initials, not words.

Wait, is that what zombies do? B.R.A.A.A.A.I.N.S.!

They can convince you that Derek Jeter has been overrated, or that J.D. Drew was worth the money. Get my point?

Is your point that they are smart people who know correct things? Because otherwise: no. Derek Jeter has five gold gloves, including 2010.

Curiously, the SABR group is known for researching and honoring baseball’s long-ago past. Sabermetrics involves the sport’s very new, different present and future.

I’m sorry: for what and honoring? What was that first thing? Researching? Fuck that. That sounds like something people think about. Maybe it involves numbers. That ain’t baseball! Let’s replace this with a Society for American Baseball Bullshitting instead.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is a disciple. He was weaned at the feet of Theo Epstein as well as Red Sox advisor Bill James, the guru of the art.

Theo Epstein was GM for seven years. The Red Sox won the World Series twice during this time. I dunno, Ron; maybe there’s something to this after all.

James’ passion has even gone Hollywood. The movie “Moneyball,” based on a book of the same name, chonicles how Oakland’s Billy Beane used new data to uncover unappreciated players he could get on the cheap.

That no longer works, because big-money teams have the secret formula now, too. Everybody is in on it.

Wait, it doesn’t? So the Rays keep winning because they’re out-spending the Red Sox, then?

No longer ahead of the sabermetric curve, Epstein is competing against front offices using the same weapons he does.

So he should go back to making teams randomly, then? This is a win… for what reason?

Sabermetrics has definite use. New Age stats have correctly debunked batting average as the bottom line of hitting value, for one thing.

They’ve also correctly debunked the idea that Derek Jeter isn’t overrated. But you don’t seem to appreciate that for some reason.

But I hope there is more to the Red Sox decision than how a manager handles a stack of printouts. I want to know how he’ll handle the first time the chicken guy comes a-knockin’.

Oof. Wow. That’s terrible. Also trivial, but, hey.

To borrow a phrase, it’s still baseball, not rocket science. Played by humans.

Yeah, it still is, huh. So maybe we can use all this data we’ve collected over the past 135 years and learn something!

Nah, fuck that. Let’s just be lazy dum-dums.

The first time the new Sox manager says he made a move "just because I thought it was right," he will have my undying admiration.

Because he will reveal himself to be a dum-dum also. Gotta stick together!

November 29th, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Skyward Ho

When I was in high school, we had to go to health class once a week. You remember health class. You sit in a classroom while the teacher explains to you in great detail all the various ways your anatomy will catch fire and die if you ever have any fun at all. So it was a giant waste of time, but really the only thing that made it moreso than the rest of high school was that I already learned all this stuff watching The White Shadow, the show ostensibly about basketball, but with maniac plot twists. Maybe this week Michael Winslow will guest star, and he’ll play a schizophrenic who plants a suitcase nuke under the bleachers! Who knows?

This is how I am with the first two hours of video games these days. It’s like I’m sitting in class being taught a bunch of stuff I already saw on the special Mario 64 episode of The White Shadow. Maybe in generation 8 console companies can release a two-hour "how to play a video game" disc with the system and I can be spared endless "training" levels where they teach me to press A to pick up a crate. Thanks, game!

What I’m getting at is that Skyward Sword needs more training levels. Doing the flight training, I spent almost all of my time buried in the clouds trying to figure out how the dick to go up, and then, the instant I started to figure it out, training was over and it was time for the big race where I had to chase a bird while dodging three other racers and projectiles. Damn, game, take it easy! I still haven’t figured out how to aim yet!

You see, Skyward Sword uses a completely different positioning system from every other Wii game I’ve ever played. It doesn’t give a shit where the remote’s pointed relative to the screen; what matters is where the remote’s pointed relative to where it was when you calibrated it. And it recalibrates at the beginning of every pointer action. This is very fluid and easy to use, but it’s confusing as hell if you expect it to work like every other game you’ve ever played; for a long time I thought it was just crazy buggy.

The sword controls have been simplified a bit since the E3 demo, and that’s probably a good thing; Link’s sword still broadly tracks the remote position, and you can attack in all different ways by swinging the remote differently, but you don’t have to try to position your shield arm also, and you don’t have to swing hard. It takes a little bit of practice to get the hang of it, but it’s pretty fun once you do. Lefties are a bit humped, though; get used to sword in your right hand or relearn everything you know about how to control a video game.

In terms of visual presentation, Skyward Sword finally gets it right, eschewing both the drab "realism" of Twilight Princess and the goofy cartoonishness of Wind Waker in favour of a middle approach that looks broadly "real," but with bright, bold colours and cartoon-y flourishes. It’s perfect, and I hope they stick with it for future games.

The game itself is super fun. I mean really, genuinely fun. It’s the only 3D Zelda game with decent dungeons, for one thing. You’ll recognise a lot of the mobs, but fighting them is an entirely new experience; the mobs defend aggressively, and you need to fight around their guard. Meanwhile, Link basically can’t defend, since shields are shit in this game; they have durability limits, and will break if you block too many times. The first shield you get can take three hits. That is bullshit.

There’s still no voice acting, which I am 100% in favour of. I’d rather have the music and my imagination than some terrible ham reading the lines to me. Especially since I read faster than you speak, hammo.

So you should buy this game. Absolutely, no question. It’s brilliant. It ain’t perfect, but it’s great, and it’s a meaningfully new experience. I will spoil the shit out of it once I’m done; for the time being, you’ll have to tide yourself over with 25YEARLEGEND.

November 25th, 2011 Posted by | Games | one comment

Explicating that inexplicable screenshot

Y’all seen this?


That’s the first dev screenshot I posted to Tweeter a while ago. Tweeter’s great n’all, but 140 characters just ain’t enough to link to that and talk about it. So that’s why we’re here.

The best part about that screenshot is that absolutely 100% everything in it is a placeholder. Those graphics aren’t final, the level layout isn’t final, the UI isn’t final — none of it. But what’s there can give you a sense for the general play of the game once I tell you what it all is.

The carrots represent the mobs (there are actually two different mob types in play in this picture, but you can’t tell because I used the same sprite for both of them). They spawn and then run around. The line-looking things are walls, which alter the flow of mobs (and other things) through the level. The red and blue squares are placeable objects the player adds to the world to try to "trap" the mobs. Down the right side you see smaller, faded versions of them; those are the buttons you click on to place the respective objects. And in the bottom-right is the play/stop button (the system is running in this shot, so it’s currently a stop button).

Everything you see in the shot is currently fully-functional. The mobs will spawn and they will behave as they should. The placement buttons do create objects the player then adds to the world. The objects do what they should when triggered. It’s actually a fairly remarkable amount of progress, given how ‘orrible I am.

November 12th, 2011 Posted by | My games | no comments

New game+

Okay, time for some minor disclosure. Part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately is because I’ve been spending a pretty significant chunk of my free time working on a new game. Unlike the last one, this game isn’t intended to be some brooding, artsy "learning project;" first and foremost it’s a game, with a proper win condition and more than one minute of play time and everything.

In particular, it’s a puzzle game in the same vein as Rush, or Eets, or things of that nature; there is a board you need to configure, and then you press the "start" button and find out if you got it right. If you didn’t, you stop the system and then muck around with what you’ve done and try again. I’m being intentionally vague; as I get more stuff complete I’ll reveal more details.

As it stands, I have a playable build that starts and stops properly, and a few different moving parts that behave as they should. I believe there’s only one more significant programming challenge I need to solve, after which I’m in the clear, and can begin the arduous asset creation process. Keep an eye on the blog and follow me on the Tweeter for more updates. I hope to be ready to show off a screenshot this Saturday!

Quick question: if I were to post playable "milestone" builds so you can see what I’m up to, would people be interested in that?

November 10th, 2011 Posted by | My games | no comments