Wednesday, December 30, 2009

GameShark 2009 Year End Awards

I posted these on Monday but with friends and family at the house this week, I forgot to mention it here. Enjoy.

I actually have some features in the oven that should be posted after New Year. Our 2010 Most Wanted, The 50 Games That Shaped the Decade, and the Best Games You Didn't Play in 2009.

And of course Ashley's Top 10, always a crowd favorite.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

First order of business. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and all that associated stuff to all of you.

I'm heading out of dodge for much of the next week and won't be posting much (if at all). This doesn't make things around here much different than they already have been for the last month (and year, really). I know. I suck. I've not been a great blogger this year. Too many distractions, too much procrastination, etc. etc. So, primary (only?) New Year's resolution is to get back on the stick with the whole blogging thing. Time will tell, of course.

In the meantime I hope you all have (had) a wonderful (and safe) holiday season!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Basketball -- 3rd grade Girl Style

Today is game #2 in Ashley's league. They play at 3:45 today and I will get a post game report up, likely tomorrow.

I smell a 10 point 5 assist 5 steal day today!

No pressure Ash!

Monday, December 14, 2009

King's Bounty and Basketball

First off my take on the King's Bounty sequel was posted Friday. Fun game.

Ashley's first basketball game was Saturday and her team lost 22-7.

At this age all it takes is one girl who is taller than everyone else, can actually get the ball TO the rim, and get all of the rebounds to turn a game into a route. Basically the other team had a 10 year old version of Kareem. And when half the girls still don't know what defense really means...that's a recipe for...well for 22-7.

Ashley is the point guard and she had a blast. She did get an assist and she played really good defense and I have never seen her so INTO a game before. Soccer is different for her. I get the feeling she actually enjoys basketball whereas soccer is just something to do with her friends.

Mary and I are doing a good job, we think, of not being "those parents." You know the parents who tell the coach what to do, yell at the kids from the bleachers and generally act like a 3rd grade girl's basketball game is Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

If you do not have kids let me assure you: these people exist and they must be weeded out of the gene pool for the sake of our survival.

But Mary and I both have basketball backgrounds so when we are watching practice and the coach is telling the kids to set a screen by basically acting like they are boxing out with their arms extended, which in every form of basketball is highly illegal, it's hard to bite my tongue. But I do. When I coached soccer I KNOW I was likely messing stuff up and I would have felt like crap if Mr. Soccer Star came up to me and told me I was doing stuff horribly wrong. But damn...teaching illegal screens?

So we both just sit there and clap and encourage the kids as best we can because regardless -- Ashley is loving it and Mary already informed me after the first practice that we were both coaching next year.

Knowing Mary, I bet she'll have them running suicides.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Madden Ultimate Team

Well, I really do have a lot of things to talk about as I haven't blogged anything substantial for a while.

But for now, I'll say that EA sent me a build of Madden Ultimate Team for the 360 -- and the embargo is in place until Dec. 14th and the press sheet even says "no first hand impressions."

So, there you go.

Last weekend we made the yearly trek to Indy to see Todd. Baroo showed up as well and we basically spent 48 hours playing boardgames -- Small World, Chaos in the Old World, Rails of Europe and a brilliant 6 player game of Battlestar Galactica.

You think you're a middle aged hobby nerd? Try spending an hour pleading with your wife that you are not, in fact, a Cylon. That hits home let me tell ya.

I continue to hang my hat on the fact that my jump shot is as smooth as spun silk. When that leaves..I'm in trouble.

Ashley is playing on her 3rd/4th grade youth league basketball team -- they have her at point guard, which she is totally loving - she gets to call the plays and bring the ball up the court. She's very much like her mom.

Mary played HS basketball on a very, very good Division IV team. Mary was going to be a walk on at Marietta college in Ohio until she blew out her knee. She could play.

Check that -- she could play DEFENSE. Mary was that annoying defender who stuck to you like glue, and got her points on steals and transition baskets.

Me? I have the speed of a chain smoking turtle and the defensive ability of an anvil.

But I can come off a screen and shoot three pointers. With my ankles being what they are today, the days of penetrating are all but over -- but leave me open and I'll show you that while this white man cannot jump (at all) he can shoot.

Ashley resembles Mary. Quick, plays defense, steals a lot of balls and can't shoot a lick. Sort of the ideal 3rd grade point guard! She's having a blast and I can't wait for her first game -- this Saturday!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Picard Will Put On Zeppelin and Eat Cheddar Cheese

This Star Trek TNG – uh – video thing, has been making the rounds today, so chances are you’ve seen it already, but if not it’s worth taking three minutes to watch. It may just be up there with The Vader Sessions. (Not Work Safe – Language)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 Impressions (360 version)

Note: I’ve read that the PC version of this game plays much differently than the 360 version in terms of difficulty and balance, so keep that in mind as you read.

I picked up L4D2 during release week, but because I’ve been out of town for a week I’ve only had a couple of chances to play. Bill, crew, and I have done a couple of Campaign runs, one on the carnival scenario and one on Dead Center as well as a handful of Versus runs. My overall impression?

This game is frigg’n hard.

I can’t decide, though, if I think it’s *too* hard. My gut is that it is. Our primary four-man crew has been playing the first game since around January. We are not particularly skilled, but we’ve at least finished all the L4D1 scenarios on Advanced difficulty so we’re hardly rookies. In L4D2, however, we’ve had real trouble just reaching the the finale on Normal, let alone surviving it. Mobs everywhere. Specials, bunches of them, coming out of the woodwork at almost any moment. I’ve found that by the time the clock passes midnight the game has started to feel more monotonous than fun. I am enjoying it, but in that same way that Taco Bell tastes really good until you hit your fifth or sixth taco and then you want to curse the chain’s very existence.

It seems like the difficulty levels now only affect how much damage you do and take and not the number of zombies in need of a good shooting. It makes for a much more demanding game that changes how you need to play it and I haven’t learned how to be effective playing with the “new shit” as it were. It’s definitely set up so that it’s nigh impossible to find cover when the horde arrives. You can try, but the new specials like the Spitter and Charger pretty much guarantee that if you don’t get your feet moving you’re going to get torn up. Players that can shoot and move well at the same time are likely to do okay. My problem is that I’m a player who likes to catch his breath. Left 4 Dead kept you moving, sure, but if you wanted to hole up in a modestly secure area for a couple of minutes you could get away with it. L4D2 not so much and I’m not sure I like that.

This is just as true, IMO, in Versus mode in which you’ve got equal number of players playing as infected and survivors. I’m okay with the infected having an advantage in this game. That is as it should be. At the same time, I’ve been a part of four Versus mode matches and have yet to see the survivors make it to a safe room; and you can just forget about anyone coming even remotely close to surviving the finale. Somewhere there’s a line between challenging and punitive and I’m not sure L4D2 is on the right side of it.

As I noted above, it does not mean I don’t like the game. There’s still a lot to love about it. I love the new weapons. I like all the settings I’ve played through so far. The carnival scenario was just a wild, wild ride. And as much as they’re a pain in the ass, the new special infected do make the game more interesting. Seriously, the first time you Jockey a survivor into a horde of undead or bowl over a tight group of survivors as the the Charger… well, it’s pretty awesome. And who knows? Maybe as I get used to/better at playing the way the game demands I’ll change my tune on the difficulty.

I’m less sure I’ll change my tune on the new survivors, however. There’s nothing eminently wrong with them, but I like the original crew better. Ellis, in particular, needs to be shot in the head. He’s funny the first few times he goes on and on about some dumb thing, while in a safe room, but unlike the Bill character from L4D1, Ellis’s shtick gets old. Bill’s “I hate xxx” (trains, farms, stairs, etc.) every 30 minutes is beautiful in its simplicity. Ellis’s constant, long-winded rambling? Pass.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Day in Rhode Island

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I was happy to get out of dodge for a week by spending it with my mom’s side of the family in Middletown, Rhode Island (very near Newport), which is quite possibly my favorite place on planet Earth and also the first time I’ve been out there in over six years. I also got to bring Kyle with me, which as an added bonus. (Who knew a four year old could be so incredibly well behaved while being stuck in a car for 16 hours over two days?)

Despite the fact that the sun didn’t come out once during the week that I was there and on most days it was constantly raining it was a hella good time getting to see my grandparents and the aunts, uncles, and cousins that I’ve not seen for so long. I’m actually the oldest of my grandparents’ eight grandchildren and of those living in the continental US (six of us), I’m the oldest by a good 20 years. Given that the last time I saw most of them, they were toddlers and early elementary aged kids, it was quite a shock to the eye to see how much they’ve grown up and there’s definitely a sense that in being away for so long that I’ve missed out on a lot of memorable times. It made coming home last weekend, not knowing when I’ll next get the chance to go back, a difficult thing to do.

It’s also weird to be the only grandchild at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table throwing back glasses of wine like like I’m Paul Giamatti in the movie Sideways. Fortunately, such behavior didn’t separate me much from any of the other parents at the table. I really don’t want to know how many bottles of wine and champagne were consumed on that day, but I’m sure it was not a small number.

In the evening we all sat down to watch the movie Christmas Vacation, which is the first time any of the kids had seen this wonderful flick. Watching them all gathered round and just dying of laughter in some of the scenes was as perfect a moment as one can have. Makes me wish I could just move out there, but reality is reality, and such a move isn’t really an option anymore. Ah well.

Anyway, over the course of the next week or two I plan to write a bit more about Dragon Age. I’m starting a second playthrough this week, this time running with the mage origin, so that should be interesting. I don’t recall the last time I finished a game this long and restarted immediately after it was over. (I did attempt that with Fallout 3, but the attempt may have lasted about six hours.) I’ve also been able to put some time into Left 4 Dead 2 (360 version), so I’ll need to write up some thoughts on that as well.

Monday, November 30, 2009

NCAA 10 Review

I hope everyone had a great holiday. I ate like a starved viking.

I also posted my NCAA Basketball 10 review.

Ashley started her 3th/4th grade basketball league practices Saturday. The only thing crazier than watching 9 year olds play soccer is watching 9 year olds play basketball on a 10 foot rim.

It's going to be a long year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope everyone has a great holiday and if you live outside of the US -- goooo Thursday!

In the meantime, the folks at GameShark are running a Black Friday sale for the store. I'm not going to pimp stuff I don't own/use so --

25% off the Fender Stratocaster replica is a nice deal. I own the Fender -- it's normally a $300 piece of fake guitar equipment but it's truly a replica guitar. It's heavy, real wood, it's gorgeous and would make a sweet Christmas gift if you have money to burn and a Rock Band fan in the house. It's the only guitar I use now. I guess for $300...it better be!

We also posted our 2009 Holiday Gift/Buyer's Guide with some obvious choices as well as a few sleeper picks.

Anyway -- have a good holiday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Todd Does Dragon Age

Todd's on vacation right now so I'll post the link to his well thought out DA review -- this is the PC review and we'll post some console thoughts later. (Boo console version)

As for me, I'm slogging though King's Bounty Armored Princess and it's basically a lot like King's Bounty. A few tweaks here and there but it's still addictive, but also pretty much the same game sans the dragon pet. At least so far.

Thanks again for all of the emails re: Mary. She's fine now and back to being her lovely self. We STILL don't know what caused the reaction, but hopefully will after her trip in January to the allergy doctor.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

GO BUCKS

8-1 vs Michigan just astounds me. Yes, Michigan is down -- way down -- but rivalry games are just different. I was at Ohio State during MANY a loss to the Wolverines. I was in school during part of the "Cooper" years. Young Michigan fans think it's bad now?

Funny thing about that -- John Cooper was 2-10-1 against Michigan. JT is 8-1.

In other words -- we still owe you and next year it won't get any easier.

Some people talk about feeling bad for UM or how this is no longer a rivalry. Screw that nonsense.

After a shocking loss to Purdue OSU has outscored its opponents 155-48, beat two ranked teams and have had 5 straight games with at least 230 yards rushing. Pretty, ugly, conservative, whatever. The fact that OSU turned its season around the way it did is pretty amazing.

But they REALLY need that Rose Bowl win.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bioshock 2 Special Edition

Let's open the curtain and see what they won, Bob!

The BioShock 2 Special Edition carries a suggested retail price of $99.99 for Xbox 360 and PS3 and $89.99 for Games for Windows LIVE and is limited to a single-production run.

The edition contains the following:

· Vinyl 180g LP with BioShock orchestral score

· Audio CD with BioShock 2 orchestral score

· Three vintage Rapture advertisement posters (rolled)

· BioShock 2 Art Book, 164 pages and hardcover

· BioShock 2 game

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NCAA 10 -- Some Evaluation

Today the embargo lifts so I can talk a bit more about NCAA Basketball 10.

My overall feeling thus far is that the series continues to make some steps with this release but it's still not a prime time ready franchise. There are a few things that I think a basketball game needs to model reasonably well in order for it to have staying power.

  • You need fouls. Fouls need to matter, and you need to see a reasonable amount of free throws, particularly if the penetration/low post game is a big part of a team's game plan. If all you do is shoot 3's you won't see the line very much.

  • AI substitution patterns need to make sense. Subbing when players get tired or into foul trouble. (Assume the above is working properly)

  • When playing the AI, it needs to run a competent offense, taking advantage of opportunities given to it by the human player. When games get predictable, players get bored. I have said this before and I truly believe it to be true -- gameplay predictability is the absolute bane of a sports game.

  • The same play cannot work everytime down the floor. This is otherwise known as the Kevin Garnett NBA 2K9 syndrome.

  • And the AI better damn well know the game situation

  • Finally, things need to look "right". By that I don't mean the Buckeyes need to have the proper shoes or the Schott needs to be modeled to the letter. That's all window dressing. I'm also not the type of player who needs a basketball game to provide 15 different post moves. I'm too damn old to worry about button combos and stick combos anyway. A few basic moves is all I need. I just want the games to look -- believable. Not perfect, and not an exact simulation, but silly things absolutely cannot be the norm, otherwise it blows up the gameplay.
How does all of this relate to NCAA 10? There's some give and take here.

Fouls: Yep, you'll see them, but not nearly enough of them. What strikes me as odd is that in nearly every game I have played -- with foul settings bumped to around 75 or 80 I see a fair share of fouls in the 1st half, then almost zero in the 2nd unless a team is hacking late. But I have seen some GREAT foul calls. Off the ball fouls, over the back fouls, obvious blocking fouls, etc. But then it just sort of...stops.

Still tinkering with fatigue levels as on default your starters will play damn near every minute. The AI does sub for players in early foul trouble, though.

I have yet to find a money play, and I have tried. :)

The AI offense. Before I get too critical with this I need to play at a higher level because on the mid level game the AI is frustrating. I started a Dynasty with Indiana State, trying the small school to the bigs approach and started off on the road against Louisville (who is not rated very highly in the game for some reason..the starters for ISU and UL are pretty even - mid 70s rated players) playing on 16 minute halves. I shot around 21 3's in that game -- Louisville shot ...four, making zero. The college game is almost synonymous with the 3 -- and the AI doesn't shoot them nearly enough. This wasn't a one time thing. It's a pattern. Unless a guy is GREAT at shooting them the AI almost refuses to take the open 3 pointer. I was daring the Louisville SG to shoot. Backing off 5 feet. No dice. And I cannot find a shooting tendency slider anywhere. Is this an issue with the game level or the general AI? I don't know yet. But how many 3's did Louisville shoot in its real opener against Arkansas? 38.

Despite this, I had a very fun game against the Cardinals, battling back and forth with my scrappy Sycamores. With :25 seconds left my SG nailed a deep 3 to give me the lead 59-56. Louisville called time out. Your options here if you are Louisville are to shoot a 3 (the likely choice) OR try for a quick two and foul. Of course with the weird lack of fouls called in the 2nd half they'd need to foul me 6 times before I went to the line.

Louisville does neither. They simply...run their offense. Tick, tick, tick. The ball moves around the perimeter, then down low, then back out, tick, tick tick, and finally the PF shoots a running 5-footer which misses, I grab the rebound. Game Over. Ouch. This was a battle back and forth despite some of the inherent gameplay issues in NCAA, I had a good time. But that final :25 seconds was a fun killer.

Do the games look believable? Sort of. At times it looks great as teams run their offense -- that new motion control stuff is pretty cool. But when the AI shoots a layup from underneath the basket and it smacks into the backside of the backboard causing a turnover, which is something I thought died in basketball games a long time ago, it's understandably annoying. I guess if I did that it wouldn't be so bad, but damn shouldn't the AI know better? Or when I catch an in bound pass and the player's weird momentum carries them out of bounds even though no defender was near them. (Seriously watch out for the sideline monster in this game)

I don't think the game is a total loss, despite my complaints listed here, but stuff like this keeps it from being the sort of game I think college hoop fans want. At least long term.

We'll see how it plays on the higher difficulty levels.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Game Notes on a Tuesday

Dragon Age will simply have to wait. I want to finish it but I am still *so* far from doing so that it needs to take a backseat because I have a gabillion articles to crank out.

First -- Sony sent us an early review copy for LittleBigPlanet on the PSP which is apparently rather awesome.

I fired up Left 4 Dead 2 yesterday and it will remind you a lot of Left 4 Dead. I love the new guns, though. But the solo AI is just as nutty as before, and just like L4D this game will make its bones online. I do miss the old gang.

King's Bounty Armored Princess is another ridiculously addictive strategy game that will remind fans a LOT of...King's Bounty The Legend. Like L4D2, this game follows the "hey if it ain't broke...let's just add more stuff" philosophy. Nothing really wrong with that, but the formula is basically the same sans the fact that you get a pet dragon which aids you in combat. Still, it eats up hours. The writing remains hilariously cheesy. I guess that's part of its charm.

NCAA Basketball 10 -- still under embargo. Not sure WHY as the game is out today. Lots to talk about with this one tomorrow.

Add these gems to the fact that I have tio write our entiore Holiday Gift Guidefeature AND finalize our huge end of the year feature -- I have a lot to do.

Oh, yeah, it's also MICHIGAN WEEK.

Todd is officially the enemy until Sunday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Joy.

That's the face of joy -- right there on walk-on placekicker Devin Barclay's face while the ball is still in flight as he put a dagger in Iowa's heart Saturday night in overtime, securing another Big Ten title for the Bucks.

Sports can suck sometimes. Steroids, scandals, ego, boorish fans, incompetent loud mouthed media, and on and on.

But THAT is what it's all about. That face -- absolute unfiltered joy.

Check out the amazing pics from Josh Winslow.

NCAA Basketball 10

Review embargo until the 18th so no real deep thoughts from me til then.

Just a few quick points:
  • As you can tell from the demo, animations and player models are nowhere near NBA Live level and a lot of the commentary recycles. Dickie V is already getting repetitive. Honestly I understand this -- I am assuming this is a budget/manpower issue as NCAA Basketball games typically are low sellers compared to the other games. BUT -- I am loving me some Gus Johnson. The CBS presentation portion is great.
  • However, the motion offense stuff is pretty neat but will take practice to play it effectively. Just running a play and hoping for the best isn't enough.
  • Sliders are a must -- especially in regards to stamina/subbing/fouling/on ball steals.
  • Played a game with OSU and beat Portland State 73-47 on 15 min halves and then lost to Michigan 81-76. I am staying away from the evaluation stuff due to the embargo. Suffice to say I like a lot of what I see and there are some things I wish were different. How's that for committal?
  • NCAA selection AI is better but still not where I'd like it. Illinois gets in after a 15-15 season with no real signature win and Marshall rolls to a 27-3 record, beating #11 Ohio State and gets passed over? I see a lot of 15-15; 16-14 teams from power conferences getting in over a team like Xavier who goes 20-10 and gets snubbed. If X wins 20 games...they should be damn near a lock, no?
  • The games in the tourney are much better outcome wise -- maybe even too predictable. I ran 2 seasons and the final four in year 1 had all 4 1-seeds and in year 2 had 3 1-seeds and a 2-seed (2 seed won the whole thing). I saw a couple of upsets but I'd say the better seed is winning 75% to 80% of the games.
  • As you can see the HUGE upset isn't nearly as prevalent although you will see them -- Ohio State lost a 3 game stretch to Wichita State, Rhode Island and Murray State in year two after losing Evan Turner early to the NBA, but I have yet to see the Fordham over Duke type of outcome that we'd see last year.
  • Speaking of Evan, the game still doesn't know how to handle teams like OSU with no true PF or players who tend to play multiple positions. The game has Evan Turner listed as the team's Power Forward when he's playing Point Guard this year. It has Diebler running the point, which ...just ain't happening. Diebs is 100% pure Shooting Guard. So make sure to look over your team -- you can edit all this stuff of course.
That's it from me til the 18th.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Captain

Earlier this week former Red Wing great, Steve Yzerman was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I’d love to say The Captain (he’s the longest serving team captain in NHL history) was the reason I became a hockey fan, but I’d be lying. I became a hockey fan watching the ‘94 New York Rangers Stanley Cup run. It was the first time I watched a Cup celebration and that alone made me a fan. What the Cup means to players and fans alike makes hockey special and it made me pay attention to the game for what was really the first time.

From that point I did what I do, which was to gravitate to the local team, the Red Wings. You could call me a fair weather fan for that, and given the stellar run on which the team was about to embark the timing was convenient, but the fact is the timing is merely serendipitous. I was a fan of the Tigers through the miserable 90s and 119 losses in ‘03, a fan of the Pistons during the era of teal, the Wolverines in the midst of a horrendous two year slump, and, of course the Lions. 0-16. Eight years of Millen. There is no greater test of one’s devotion to a sports team than to be a fan of the Detroit Lions. I am many things, some of them not so good, but a fair weather fan is not one of them.

For me, it’s always been about the guys who come to play in southeast Michigan and who become the beating heart of an adulate community that adopts them as their own. Trammell, Whitaker, Inge, and Granderson (god I hope he doesn’t get traded). Sanders, Moore, Spielman, and Porcher. Dumars, Laimbeer (you hated him, we loved him), Wallace (Ben), and Billups (still sucks that he’s gone). Shanahan, Larionov (The Professor!), Lidstrom, and –yes- even the underrated Osgood.

It’s about the history these franchises have, both the tragic (Utley, Brown, Fischer and Konstantinov) and glorious (Layne, Kaline, Horton, and Howe), as well as the wonderful people who surround and built these franchises, names like Illitch, Davidson (RIP), Holland, and the eternally optimistic Harwell (whom we will soon lose to terminal disease).

Not only were each of these people, to a man, amazing in their respective roles, they were and are amazing people. Cars aren’t the only thing Detroit spent the last 50+ years building. It’s also built legends. Some of them, perhaps, just local ones, but they are legends all the same.

Yzerman, though. Yzerman is perhaps the best of them. He is the champion. The Captain. The one name that no person can speak ill of in front of us and not get popped in the mouth. He was the guy you wanted in the faceoff circle at crunch time. He was mettle. He was a leader. He was class. As much as the Rangers Cup celebration initially made me a fan of hockey, it was watching Steve Yzerman lead a team of hockey gods year after year that made me remain one.

To sum up what it means for him to enter the Hall is difficult to do. I still have a hard time thinking of him as retired. When I turn on a game I still expect to see #19 out there on the ice and it still feels wrong when I don’t see him. But really, the best summation of what it means to those of us who watched him play and watched him hoist three Stanley Cups comes from the always excellent Abel to Yzerman blog: Detroit’s Gift to Hockey: 19 to the Masses.

Here’s a portion of the post that’s entirely too long to steal in this fashion, but one that is so simultaneously crass and eloquent that I cannot bear to snip it down:

It was Yzerman who willed us our first, then our second and our third [Stanley Cups]. Oh, I know. They were 8, 9 and 10. But it had been 42 years, man. All we knew were the whispers.

Remember the Free Press photshopped his tooth in? Whatever. He didn’t care. Bettman blathered about something, about Hockeytown and the drought. Whatever. Just give the Cup to Stevie. He did and my frigging God the place exploded. You were at the parade or you said you were and he held that shiny bitch aloft and held it there for hours, or so it seemed. The Cup in the middle of millions. And then next year he put in in Vladdie’s lap because he and 22 other guys said that’s where it belonged.

Four years later the legend was cemented with every shuddering rise from the ice. If you’re a Wing fan you look back at that playoff run and you hear stories of the kind of pain he was in and it brings tears to your eyes because you feel like he did it for you, individually. That’s the effect Yzerman had on Wing fans. You just felt like when he won, he willed it for you. And when the time came for credit and adulation, poof....gone.

But he’s ours no longer. Tonite he becomes hockey’s. And it’s a gift hockey had better be grateful for. Hockey had better stand on its feet tonite and understand that there can be only one. There has never been, and never will be, another Captain like Yzerman. No one has withstood the kind of pain he did, or led as well. Nobody. As Captain Norris said in a comment earlier today, the Hall had better be ready to be humbled.

He’s been ours for nearly three decades, hockey. Tonite we present him to you and the Hall becomes his keeper.

The legacy, though, stays with us.

Word.

Game Overload

Finding the time to play games -- especially when you, you know, run a website and evaluate entertainment software for a living, can be a bitch at times.

That's also how I explain my job to crazy outsiders. I get that question a lot now -- mainly when we meet the parents of Ashley's friends either at soccer, birthday parties, Girl Scouts, 4H, and on and on.

"So what do you do?"

"I edit a website and evaluate entertainment software."

That somehow sounds so much more mature than, "I run a game website and write about videogames."

I tend to go with the first option because when you say the second one it normally gets construed and twisted into, "I play videogames for living."

Which in turn gets construed and twisted into, "I don't REALLY have a job."

I wish I played videogames for a living. I would like that job. I do work full time for Mad Catz, running GameShark.com. When I started a couple of years ago I was greeted with "hey the cheat code guys" basically at every turn. But that is slowly changing, and I do like the people I work with at Mad Catz. Nice guys.

But running a multi-platform website takes a lot of time. I'm writing this blog post right now because I just changed the lamp in my DLP TV so I have 30 minutes to kill, and I'm stepping out this afternoon on family business.

But my day is mostly planning upcoming articles, contacting PR about review/preview copies and interview possibilities, and editing the staff's work and posting it to the site. And watching the Daily Show/Colbert combo at lunch. I'm basically the EiC and the Copy Editor and the Reviews Editor and the Features Editor and the Everything But the Video, Art and News Guy Person.

And it's a time sink. I'm not complaining -- it's my job. And I'm normally in a t shirt and sweats when I do it. No rush hour for me. No maze-like cubicles of death, either.

But add in the whole "hey I have a wife and 9 year old daughter" variable into this equation and finding time to PLAY games...is hard. I have been up until 2:00AM the past few nights just to play Dragon Age, a game I'm not even reviewing. But I took on the task of reviewing King's Bounty, NCAA Basketball 10 which arrived today, AND Assassin's Creed 2 which should arrive any day now. Basically I just don't sleep anymore. All because I love using the Earthquake/Tempest spell combo in Dragon Age.

I know a lot of guys that love videogames, and who are married with children -- when do you find time to play? Maybe I need to hire a professional time manager. They'd probably tell me I'm wasting quality game time writing blog posts at 11:15 on a weekday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dragon Age: Choice and Consequence

Last week I promised to write up something about choice and consequence in Dragon Age and have yet to follow through. That’s largely because I’m still not sure I have a grasp on the scope of these things in the game. I’m about 30-40 hours in, have only completed about 30% of the game, and I still don’t have a very good handle on the full scope of the game and how your decision making affects the world.

I find that very impressive. (With regards to Bioware, not myself. I’m never impressed with myself. Well, I looked damn good as Indiana Jones on Halloween, but that’s pretty much it.)

I will say that I like the extent to which the localized characters react to the events around them. This was a huge problem for me in Fallout 3 because too often critical events would occur and characters would go on like nothing had changed. (The town sheriff in Megaton comes to mind. If he dies only his son seems to notice.) This is not the case in Dragon Age.

***Begin Vague Spoilers***

There is a sequence at one point in the game where I attempted to rally the locals to fight in a dangerous battle. When it was done, several of the townspeople, including one prominent figure there, were dead. I was never able to fight this battle without losing these characters, but my impression is that it is possible for them to survive. Afterward, a cut scene began in which bodies were being sent out on boats to be lit on fire and the local chantry priestess noted the name of the one major town NPC who had died. Judging from the rather rough cut in audio dialog, I’m pretty sure this list can vary based on how many more (or less) you lose.

In one of the boats was the body of another whom had fallen. When I later went to place where he ran a business, one of his employees had taken over and there was an in depth conversation about her decision to stay in town rather than leave. In another area of this plot thread a brother and sister who had lended to me a family heirloom insisted that I keep it, a fairly routine sort of occurrence in an RPG. What made it unique was that I had options for how to respond that included just accepting it and choosing to give them variable amounts of money for it. The amount given directly affected what they would decide to do next. (I think I could have still refused it too, but my memory is hazy.)

***End Vague Spoilers***

I love this aspect of the game. The jury is still very much out on how some decisions affect long term events in the game, but certainly the sense is that in each of the major quest lines there are multiple ways for it to unfold and that your choices there will directly affect the end game. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out because there are choices I’ve made where I was genuinely trying to do the just and noble thing and those choices do include the possibility of generating less than ideal results in the end. I hope that’s the case because more games need to do that.

These sorts of games shouldn’t consistently reward you for endeavoring to take the virtuous path. Sometimes you should be penalized for doing so because trying to “do the right thing” should result in you having to walk a more difficult road; a road that is more disadvantageous to you as a player. I’m really hoping that when I do reach the end game (sometime before the end of the world in 2012) that my attempts to play the ethical character have mixed results. Say, less overall individual power to work with, but perhaps more allies.

NCAA Basketball 10 Interview

As promised, here's the Q&A with Producer Connor Dougan.

Being a big college hoops fan, I really hope this game is a winner. It's been a while since College Hoops 2K8...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

King's Bounty!

Today I received review code for King's Bounty: Armored Princess -- the sequel to, well, King's Bounty. The game drops on the 20th and if it's as good as KB I'll be one happy camper.

There's no review embargo...woo hoo.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NCAA Basketball 10 Q&A Runs Thursday

I received the answers to the Q&A tonight but there's some info that needs to wait until Thursday before I can reveal it (not sure why, it's just the way it is).

So expect the Q&A to run on Gshark this Thursday morning. (Nov 12th)

However, because I'm just that cool here's a snip from the interview that made me smile:

NBA Live 10 was a major step up in control and gameplay and NCAA 10 definitely benefitted from that growth. All of the gameplay, AI, animation and control enhancements seen in Live 10 will be in NCAA Basketball 10.
Anticipation -- effectively increased.

Is This What's Known as Motivated Salesmanship?

*Bonus points for you if you correctly pegged the title of this post as a line from Mallrats.

If you haven’t seen today’s Penny Arcade, you’re forgiven for not having heard about this. It’s… well, I guess it’s most generously described as a new standard in DLC pimpage. Many of you will feel compelled to replace “standard” with “low.”

***very mild spoilers ahead***

It seems in Dragon Age when you get your party camp there’s a certain quest giving gentleman there who begs you to help him with an errand that relates directly to The Warden’s Keep DLC quest. I got to this point last night and, having purchased Warden’s Keep already, thought nothing of it. I assumed the guy just wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have the DLC; obviously, an incorrect assumption. In addition to the wonderfully mocking PA strip, a poster at the GWJ forums was good enough to get a screenshot of it.

That’s just… I mean, wow. It’s one of those things that probably should bother me, but since I’m in Dragon Age’s thrall I think I’ll just whistle as I walk by and pretend I know nothing about it. I love the game too much for righteous indignation about DLC hocking and will instead leave that to petition-making death nerds still upset about Diablo III rainbows and Left 4 Dead sequels.

Anywaaaaay……

At some point in the next couple days I’ll be writing some more about Dragon Age, in particular about the nature of choice and consequences in the game, which is something it’s handled incredibly well, so far. I’m about 10-12 hours in, have made the journey to Redcliff, and if there’s a point at which the game derails I have yet to reach it. As Bill Harris likes to say about Torchlight, it’s like drinking candy.

And now, just because it’s Friday and there’s a Mallrats mention in this post, I feel obligated to embed this. (There’s no language or skin, but still, it’s probably not worksafe.)


Left 4 Dead 2 Demo and Dragon Age

So, I'm loving Dragon Age. Granted I started with the 360 version, played the human origin story, was underwhelmed, smacked myself in the face and cursed my name for abandoning my roots by not buying the PC edition to start with, and started over with a bald female elf mage. She's aces. But I just got to Ostragar (sp?) so basically my adventure is just getting under way.

Playing a female character is new to me. I usually don't do this (we even make Todd play Chole in Left 4 Dead) but I did catch myself wandering the Inner Circle, coming across a guard who was acting nervous/shy when talking to me and I kept thinking, "I bet I totally bang this dude later on in the game."

I bought the Digital Deluxe Super Duper Edition or whatever it's called and got the DLC Todd was pining about. I think I get some extra gear storage space, or something. Todd told me to get it so I did. I'm pretty easy.

I would be further along in DA if it wasn't for a call from Billy Baroo last night to try the L4D 2 demo via XBL. It was a disaster thanks to massive lag -- it was nearly unplayable. I'm still not sold on this version. The demo is basically the same stuff we saw at E3, and the daylight just seems...wrong.

When I say I'm not sold that doesn't mean I won't but it. We only (usually) get one review copy per title delivered to the GameShark Home Office (my house) and I'm not reviewing L4D2 so I'll pony up just like I did with Dragon Age. I'll buy it, we'll play countless hours via online co-op and hopefully more Vs. mode but I still hate the sunshine.

News on the Mary front is mostly positive. Coming off the steroids is a bitch -- it's put her in a really foul "I said I want FOUR ICE CUBES NOT THREE!" kind of mood. But I serve with a smile. She's had a brutal 10 days. On the plus side we have moved from Mad Men (we're totally caught up now on the series) to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Great, great show.

White Stripes in Rock Band

This made my day.

Available on
Xbox 360 and Wii (Nov. 10) and PlayStation 3 system (Nov. 12):

The White Stripes – “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
The White Stripes – “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
The White Stripes – “Icky Thump”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dragon Age

In short:

PC Version: Holy shit this is great. It's like playing Baldur's Gate 2 with the ability to drop into 3rd person with a scroll of the mousewheel!

Xbox 360 version: Holy shit this is ugly and the interface is terrible and where's my overhead camera angle?!

Review done.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ahhh Steroids

Last night things with Mary finally took a turn for the awesome.

Her allergic reaction, to which we still do not know the cause, was truly unbelievable. It looked like her face was going to pop. I was trying to express how bad it was to friends and family and all I could come up with was asking, "Have you seen the film Mask? The one with Cher. Mary looks like Eric Stoltz."

That's a slight exaggeration -- but only slight. The nurse freaked out when she saw how bad it was. It was dangerous. We were all freaked out, scared, and hoping whatever it was wouldn't spread to where she couldn't breathe.

The doctor -- the surgeon who performed the Septo-Rhino-Plasty gave her enough steroids for a man weighing 250 pounds. Mary checks in at 135. If this failed she'd be admitted and pumped with an IV Steroid. It almost came to that.

Last night she got her jawline back. That was a big step. She also got all of her bandages removed from her nose -- another big step. She's still swollen but at least she looks like Mary and not Mike Meyers as the fat Scotsman from Austin Powers. She's smiling. Eating. And making me clean...she's feeling like herself.

So I hope the worst has passed -- even though she will be on the steroids for another week.

Thanks so much for all of the e,mails and comments. We both appreciate it. (Me and Mary, not Todd.)

As for games-- I bought Dragon Age on the 360 -- and it's UGLY. Distractingly ugly.

So I ponied up and bought the PC version as well which I'll start tonight after Mary crashes.

She's been confined to the couch for SO long..we watched all 3 seasons of Mad Men. That's a lot of Madison Ave.

Dragon Age: Stuff You Should Know

Tom Chick’s got a great post up on the “Seven Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier” with regards to Dragon Age. No spoilers, just stuff you should know. It’s well worth checking out if you are playing, or plan to play, the game. Here’s a snippet:

7) I wish I'd paid attention sooner to the tactics screens. Early on, before you're comfortable with the pace of combat, here's an important tip that I must insist you follow: For every character, and especially your front-line fighters, go to the character screen, select tactics, and insert a new first line that instructs the character to drink a lesser health poultice as soon as his health is below 50%. It'll save you a lot of grief, injury kits, and reloaded battles.

I’d say wait for 25% if you want to conserve health potions, but if you do that you do run the risk that a character will get knocked cold before they can imbibe. As Dr. Peter Venkman would say, “Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

Dragon Age!

First thing’s first, for those who’ve so kindly expressed concern and since I don’t know when Bill will get around to posting an update (such a slacker): Talking to him this morning, it sounds like Mary’s been doing much better the last couple days. Hopefully that trend continues and all will be well.

As for Dragon Age, the Collector’s Edition I ordered did arrive yesterday. That’s a huge relief given that my supposed review copy is nowhere to be found (and will evidently be on the 360). To be fair I get there’s a lot of schlub sites out there trying to get free review code, but it’s Gameshark. No, it’s not IGN, but it ain’t Skippy’s House of 2nd Grade Game Reviews either. Ah well. I shouldn’t really complain. The people doing the PR for this game are incredibly nice and I’m sure they’re doing their best. I’m just disappointed that it means I (probably) won’t have a Gameshark review ready for about two weeks and that does impact how much it gets read. This isn’t something that can be played in a couple of nights, after all. (Plus, I’ve got my kids with me for the next seven nights which severely restricts my gaming time; this is not something that I should be playing around a four and five year old.)

As for my first night with the game -that sounds so taudry!- I stand by the assessment that it’s just incredibly great. I won’t speak for the console version, which does play much different even if the story is the same, but I played through the human noble origin for the second time and it just snares me. It only takes about 90 minutes to complete and I was emotionally connected to my character’s family inside of 60 minutes. I really should play through the other origins right away, but I’m torn because I need to start progressing in the game.

Some other spoiler free notes:

- I’m running a Intel Core 2 (2.x GHz) PC with 2GB RAM, GeForce 8800 (GTS, I think) graphics card, and Win7 64-bit. I’m running at 1680x1050 with details set to High (second best) and no anti-aliasing enabled. The game runs just fine. There’s an occasional hitch here and there, especially when adjusting the camera distance, but I think that’s a product of running 64-bit Windows with just 2GB of memory.

- The Dragon Age website is a mess, or at least it was last night. I’ve got two codes for custom items and I didn’t even mess with entering them because the site would not let me stay logged in when I tried to move from page to page. (And it’s definitely not just me.) This morning it seems to be working better, so I did go ahead and enter the codes (hopefully content will be filtered down to my account by the time I get home), but my game’s data from last night still isn’t all updated to my online account either so I’m not sure the site is over its release day meltdown just yet.

- I do feel gipped that buying the CE doesn’t also give you either of the release day DLC packs (Warden’s Keep or Stone Prisoner), yet the Steam digital deluxe version gets you both. I know I get the DVD and cloth map, but come on, I paid $60 for an extra $5 worth of goodies (if that). Give me one of the DLC quests, at least!

EDIT: I take it back. I did get a code for Stone Prisoner. It was on the back of the Blood Armor card and I didn't see it. Yay! :)

- I do so love the cloth map. It’s getting framed.

- I am such a geek.

- When I got my first look at the game in Edmonton I didn’t spend much time looking at the tactics stuff. Last night I did and it’s great. Depending on your character’s cunning attribute you get a set number of tactics slots to configure how that character behaves in combat (if left to his/her own devices). You can tell them which enemy to attack (nearest, ranged attacker, strongest, weakest, same guy you’re attacking; the list goes on), when to use their special abilities, when to use health and whether to use the weakest or strongest available potion, etc. etc. etc. Taking the time to set these options really makes a difference.

- It seems like, on Normal difficulty, a lot of people are struggling not to get murdered in combat. I definitely ran into problems last month when I first played it, but last night I didn’t lose my party once and only one character took injuries form being knocked unconscious (this is up through the quest to become a Grey Warden). My suggestion is not to overly divide your party. Don’t send all four guys after different opponents. It just takes too long to bring adversaries down and if ranged attackers outnumber you badly enough they’ll slaughter you. I tend to put three melee guys on one opponent at a time (making sure one of them is flanking for extra damage) and then let a ranged/magic character try to keep ranged attackers busy. This seems to minimize the amount of ranged damage my guys take, while allowing them to really mow through the grunts.

- One thing that some may not like (I don’t) is that I don’t think there’s any way to get at the numbers game going on in the background. What separates a 20 Dexterity score from an 18? I really don’t know. What kind of success am I having with hit rolls in combat? No idea. You get enough info on skills and attributes to get the idea, but if you really want to know numbers and try to maximize the math, I don’t think there’s a way to do that.

- I love, love, love this game. But you already knew that.

If anyone does have questions leave ‘em in the comments and I’ll answer what I can. Tonight I finish out the Ostragar section of the game, which is where it really starts to open up.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Where I Have Been

My time at the PC of late has been...sketchy. Basically just enough to work, waste time chatting with Todd and Brandon on Google Chat, and that's about it.

A little over 3 years ago, while we were building our house out in the country, my wife was assaulted -- attacked, really, in the parking lot of Don Pablos restaurant on a Tuesday evening, around 8 PM. She was alone, working late.

Two thugs beat her up pretty bad...for her laptop.

She broke her orbital bone, which required surgery. Her nose was also broke, but she never had it fixed.

3 years later, that decision is coming back to haunt us.

Over the past few months she hasn't been able to get her breath. She yawns all the time, never getting enough air.

So she finally decided to have a procedure done called Septo-rhinoplasty.

Basically the surgeon cut open her nose and moved it back in place. This was done because the Dr. discovered her nasal passage was, due to the assault, 98% blocked, thus causing (we hope) the air issue.

She recently had this done, and she's not doing well. We're unsure exactly what's going on but she has had a reaction to...something.

Maybe it's the Percocet? Maybe it's the Zithromax, maybe it's the Iodine that was used? We really don't know but hope to find out Monday.

Her face is so swollen right now...it doesn't even look like her...at all.

It's a terribly helpless feeling. All I can do is get her what she wants and sit in front of the TV and watch movies with her, change her drip pad (don't ask) and change her dressing every few hours.

So I have been watching lots, and lots of TV. And not much blogging.

Tomorrow we go back to see the Dr. to TRY and find out what we can do to get her swelling down.

The cocktail of Ex Str Tylenol, Benadryl, Zithromax and Keflex isn't doing enough.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Finished: Knights of the Old Republic

Last Sunday night - well, very early Monday morning - I finished playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. That only took six years and a $10 release on Steam to make time for. Gotta say, I continue to be amazed how so many other people seem to get Star Wars so much better than George Lucas gets his own creation. Seriously, look at this Old Republic trailer from Bioware and tell me you wouldn't want the people who put this together to make an actual Star Wars movie. Whether it's Bioware, or the Zahn books, or the original two volume animated Clone Wars series from Genndy Tartovsky is there really anybody at this point (including Brandon's left nut, as he so elegantly phrased it on Twitter) that doesn't get what makes a Star Wars story Star Wars better than George Lucas?

Ah well. Back to KOTOR. The game certainly isn't without flaw, especially compared to more modern games, but Bioware continues to impress me with their ability to create characters I get attached to and weave a narrative that keeps me playing when I shouldn't be, not unlike being hooked on a good book. I don't want to say I ignored my kids this past weekend to play the game, but I certainly spent more time on KOTOR than I should have, especially on Sunday when I had to know the character of Bastilla's fate. In the face of that, negative stuff, like the fact that talking someone down from the darkside is the equivalent of saying, “Carol-anne, come back to the light"!” and having them respond, “Okay!” just doesn’t matter much to me.  (Also, to be fair, convincing NPCs to see things your way is done far more convincingly in KOTOR than it’s done in, say, Fallout 3.)

A second perk of the game is that it kept me busy while I await review code for Dragon Age, something I still don’t have. Sigh. I so wanted to get an early start on that game and throw it in the face of all you shlubs, but no, I’m down slumming it with the rest of you. (I kid, I kid.) Actually, it’s worse, because I’m also buying the game despite (supposedly) getting review code and I’m unlikely to have that until the end of next week. What can I say? It’s a game I want to support, so I ordered the CE from the EA Store. (I must have the cloth map. Being an Ultima whore, I’ve a bit of fetish for cloth maps in RPGs.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Evidently I Need to Watch Castle

I’ve known for awhile that Nathan Fillion is on the ABC show Castle, and because my favorite space cowboy/psycho demon preacher is its male lead I’ve always felt kind of guilty about not watching it. Watching the first 60 seconds of this clip makes me feel even guiltier because this is just too awesome for words. I think I’ll add its first season it to my Netflix queue forthwith

Kid: B. Didn’t you wear that like five years ago?

Castle: So?

Kid: Don’t you think you should move on?

Castle (defensive): I like it.

Sniff. I still miss Firefly so, so much. Makes me wish I’d thought to do that as my costume for a Halloween party I’m attending this weekend (my first costume party since like the 8th grade).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Info on 2nd Madden Patch

Thanks to Nutweasel reader Jeff Pinard for this tidbit:

Before I post the news, which you may have already seen by now seeing that it's a few days old, I STILL think something is in the water at EA Sports.

This is still, in my opinion, a SERIOUS case of Invasion of the Game Studio Catchers.

The post release attention Madden has received -- and seemingly will continue to receive is just flat ABSURD. Read the notes below and tell me that doesn't sound like a developer that...well, cares about its game. Can you *ever* remember an EA Sports game getting this much attention post release? I can't. This is the sorta stuff fans used to LOVE Team.366 for when High Heat ruled the roost.


Madden NFL 10 - 2nd title update preliminary details
Posted On: Oct. 16, 2009 6:19 PM EST By: EA_IanCummings 0 Comments

Hey Madden fans - wanted to introduce a designer that is beginning to take over some of the community efforts (especially on the gameplay front) - Larry Richart. Larry has been with EA for many years, and also is one of the most accomplished athletes that is also a game designer - playing quarterback at the University of Florida and winning a National Championship while he was there. I'll hand it over to Larry for the details on the latest additions to the 2nd title update. We don't have an exact timeline on when the 2nd title update it will be released, only that it won't be in October. :)

KEEP IN MIND - THIS LIST IS NOT FINAL!

Over to you Larry...

In this second title update we focused on some of the more debated topics from our loyal and passionate fan base.

We appreciate all the feedback so please keep it coming! In this update you will be happy to hear that we have tuned our Flat Zone assignments to cover the flats more effectively. Defenders will not chuck a WR if another receiver is running a route towards their zone. This will help the defender be in better position to react to a quickly throw flat route and allow him to make a play.

The flat zone defenders will also play the ball better if a pass is thrown behind the line of scrimmage as well as taking better pursuit angles after the catch to prevent the ball carrier from being able to get around the corner. This has been one of the top complaints that we have heard about and realized it was definitely something that we needed to address.

Along with tuning the pursuit angles for flat zone defenders, we have also improved the pursuit all defenders take - especially during a catch animation. This will help them get in better position to make a tackle on the receiver after the catch has been made.

Another feature we have gotten a ton of feedback on is "Throwing out of Sacks". We scaled back the height of which the ball is released when throwing out of a sack. By randomizing the trajectory of the ball to be lower, it helps cut down the number of interceptions thrown when trying to throw out of a sack.

We have also added better arm tracking to determine if it should be an inaccurate or uncontrolled throw. For example, the further you are in your passing animation when you get hit, the more likely you will get an inaccurate pass versus an uncontrolled pass.

Inaccurate passes are just like they sound and will more than likely be passes the go lower and right into the ground towards the receiver you are passing towards. However, uncontrolled passes are more likely to go higher in the air and have a better chance of being intercepted. The final part of our Throw out of Sack tuning focuses on the CPU QB. We have heard several people mention how difficult it is to sack the CPU QB, so we increased the chance of the CPU QB to hold the ball longer and actually take a sack instead of being able to get a throw out of sack pass off before he is brought to the ground.

We have also addressed some issues involving receivers in the passing game. The first one involved fixing some instances where a receiver would be ruled inbounds even if he only got one foot down on a catch. Another issue we resolved is a rare problem where under certain circumstances the ball would actually pass through a player when he dropped the pass.

In this update we have also fixed some annoying exploit issues. The first one we made is adding an initial move to the RB on the HB direct snap plays so he can’t immediately take off after receiving the snap. We also forced a QB drop initial move to force him to set up for a pass on Shotgun play action plays when you canceled the play action by hot routing the running back.

This will keep the QB from being able to take off running right after getting the snap. Another change is not allowing the user to be able to move any front line players forward on kickoffs to keep them from being able to actually block the kickoff. We also resolved the exploit of being able to motion a receiver after flipping the play which caused the defender to go the other way. This allowed the receiver to be wide open against man coverage. You will now have to wait until the receiver is set before you can motion him. And finally, we fixed the bug where the QB could drift through the center when you repeatedly hot routed with certain quarterbacks.

This update will also have a fix for the clock running at incorrect times after an incomplete pass went out of bounds. The clock will not stop correctly as it does on any other incomplete pass.

We’ve also focused on some other important, non-gameplay related fixes as well including Uniforms, Franchise Stat tuning, Presentation, Online, Replays, and Scriptable Cut Scenes. I'll fill in the rest of the details in these areas as soon as they are finalized.

Thanks again for all of your feedback and we look forward to hearing from you soon!

- Larry

**

In years' past this fix list WOULD BE THE NEXT GAME.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beatles Rock Band Abbey Road

It's official: The Abbey Road Medley for Beatles Rock Band, which is available today, is arguably the best 14 minutes of game playing I have enjoyed all year.

NCAA Basketball 10 Q&A

I have a Q&A in the works on EA's college hoops game -- let me know if you want me to ask a specific question.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

So, Yeah, About That Dragon Age Thing

As Bill noted my Dragon Age preview is online. I tried to convince him it was a feature because, well, it just sounds better and I think big (for such a small mind), but the guy is a stickler for the little things. Can’t believe I had to sit on my hands for two weeks before we could post this. Ah well.

In the preview I don’t talk that much about the gameplay so much as I do the game and the property as a whole. On the plus side that means hardly anything remotely spoilerlicious, on the other hand if you want to know how the console version controls or what types of characters you can collect for your party, you should look elsewhere. I’m sure plenty of other previews cover that ground.

This game fascinates me. Sure, it just looks damn good. With the 12 hours or so I was able to put into playing it, it is pretty much exactly the game I wanted it to be when I first heard it was in development. What I find more interesting, though, is the number of different plans Bioware is putting into place to branch out with it, practically right from the start: Books, a pen & paper RPG, board game, card game, and who knows what else (not to mention the module-making community, DLC, and sequel).

For an IP that’s only just being born that’s insanely ambitious. I can’t name another game property that was launched with these sorts of plans already laid out. Warcraft is as big a property in this space as there is, but it didn’t launch as an RTS, MMO, board game, card game, blah, blah, blah. It grew into all that over the space of years. It’ll be interesting to see, over the next five-plus years, what Dragon Age, as a property, becomes.

Dragon Age Hands On

As promised, Todd's preview.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Todd goes MORE INSANE on Dragon Age

Don't miss tomorrow's report from Todd -- his full hands on preview from Edmonton with DA as he gushes like a schoolgirl and makes a complete fool of himself.

FIFA 10

Been playing it all week.

Green light.

This game is awesome.

2009 has been, without question, the best fall lineup of EA Sports games -- ever.

Monday, October 12, 2009

So...

I watched my father get Baptized and my launch Xbox 360 finally died with the infamous Red Ring.

What did you do this weekend?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Todd goes INSANE on Dragon Age

I just got Todd's Dragon Age Q&As via email -- this 3 part series of interviews is 16 Word doc pages long. 8,000 words.

It will be laid out as follows:

Part 1: Mark Darrah: Executive Producer
Part 2: Mike Laidlaw: Lead Designer
Part 3: Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk: Bioware Co-founders

Stop by Gameshark tomorrow for the goods.

Todd did a hell of a job with this.

Bye Bye Braylon!

So Braylon Edwards has been traded to the Jets for a 3rd, a 5th, a special teams linebacker and the Jets #2 receiver.

If Edwards thought it was tough in Cleveland after dropping more passes than anyone in the league -- wait til the NY fans get a load of him.

Todd and I really don't get into the whole OSU/Michigan thing all that much. I hate Michigan. He hates OSU and it's pretty much an understood thing and we just go on about our day. We don't even smack talk about The Game.

But Braylon Edwards is a cancer. A primadonna who is vastly more concerned about Braylon Edwards more than anything else as it relates to football. And my dislike of the guy has nothing at all to do with him being from Michigan. The Browns have had plenty of UM players who were fan favs. It has everything to do with him running his mouth while destroying the Browns 2008 season last year after dropping 20+ passes and then crying that the fans hated him because he went to UM. Grow up.

The Browns may suck -- ok we suck -- but we continually keep trading/cutting away players who I cannot stand. Winslow, Edwards, Shaun Smith...as bad as we are it's getting easier and easier to root for them again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NBA Live 10 Review

At CG this evening.

NBA Live v. NBA 2K10

I have played Live extensively over the past week or so and just got 2K10 today.

The FIRST impression battle goes to NBA Live.

Now, that doesn't mean much as I have played a grand total of 2 games of 2K10 but on the 360 the frame rate is SHIT. Total shit. I can get it to play OK thanks to a tip over at OS about zooming out in Broadcast view but I HATE playing with the camera that far out. Argh.

As I said before Live isn't perfect but so far I'm having more fun with it than I am 2K. I may need to edit sliders for 2K because out of the box there is no defense being played at all by me or the CPU.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Bioware Trip; Or, How I Learned to Hate Embargos

As Bill noted, I was off this week getting a couple of days, hands-on, with Dragon Age. I got back into town last last night, but unfortunately, due to the embargos (yeah, it’s such a big game there’s more than just one!) the most I can really say is, whoa. (That’s said in my best Ted –of Bill and Ted- voice.) Keep in mind that is said as someone who is most definitely not a fan of the marketing of the game over the past six months or so.

Some things I learned that don’t directly involve the game:

  • If you have to change planes at some point on your return trip, do not allow yourself to get booked with a 45 minute cushion between flights. My plane, on which I was in the very last row of seats, was 30 minutes late to land and my gate closed before I could get there. Fortunately, I got on standby for a flight just an hour later.
  • Always have your coat with you (everywhere you go) when visiting Edmonton in the fall. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you’re going outside because you never know when someone is going to pull a hotel fire alarm in the middle of a demo and you’ll have to go wait outside for 30-minutes. Yikes.
  • You can get a novelty bottle of beer through customs, but you do have to check it.
  • Edmonton has as quality an Irish pub (O’Byrnes Pub) as I’ve ever been in. Seriously, that place is frigg’n great.
  • Also, game journalists can drink. (But then I knew that already.)
  • Also, also, it’s a damn good thing I remembered to bring some Tylenol. ‘Cause damn.
  • With regards to the game, again, whoa. Hopefully it’s not pushing it to say that Baldur’s Gate fans can rest easy.

Odds and Ends and NBA Live

It's been a week of 'busy time' for both me and Todd. As I said Todd has been in Canada playing Dragon Age for 2 days...I'd be jealous but hey...I gave him the assignment so I was happy to see him get away and relax a bit.

Todd's a ball of stress, if you didn't know. Angriest man in game journalism. Just ask him.

Todd's DA article is embargoed until next week but I have no issue at all telling you that he really likes it. A lot. Both Todd and myself are big RPG fans -- and both huge BioWare fans so having Todd IM me with "It's Baldur's Gate 3" makes me smile a big, happy smile.

OK NBA Live. Reviews are starting to come out and while little old me is still under embargo until 10/6 all I will say is this without getting too specific:

NBA Live 10 is the best version of NBA Live since NBA Live 2000. And considering the technology back in 1999, that pretty much makes NBA Live 10 the best version of NBA Live, ever. Flawless? Lord no. Worth playing? Oh, yes.

My full review will be at Crispy Gamer on the 6th with Todd's GameShark review following shortly thereafter.

But yes, I like it.

I have no clue how this will relate to NBA 2K10, a game that has always been better than Live but has also suffered from a lot of gameplay stagnation over the past few years.

I am very curious to see how that compares.

But I absolutely have to hand it to EA Sports, a company that I have been exceedingly rough on since well...let's say 1995?

The reason I have been so tough on EA is that I always felt the company catered one audience while ignoring the other. Add in the fact that they print their own money over there and it was a company that consistently frustrated me.

There was a time when 2K Sports throttled EA Sports across the board in every single genre --let's add Konami and soccer (Winning 11) and Access Software (Links) and golf as well. There was a time not so long ago (4 to 6 yrs ago) that EA Sports was the king of ZERO sports titles. None.

Football: 2K
Baseball: 2K with Sony starting to get close
Soccer: Konami
Basketball: 2K
Hockey: 2K
Golf: Microsoft/Access

And now?

Football: EA (specifically Madden. I still think NCAA underachieves)
Baseball: Sony (by a huge margin)
Soccer: Pick em -- Fifa has made enormous strides
Basketball: Undetermined (But EA is right there -- I'd rather play Live 10 than 2K9, I know that much)
Hockey: EA (Although I think 2K's game is underrated)
Golf: EA (Tiger needs a series reboot ...)

Exclusive licensing sucks. On that you will get no debate from me. I'd love to see 2K back in the NFL and the college hoops business (I really miss that series) and EA back in the baseball business. But the notion that it would lead to the worst era in sports gaming has been, thus far, proven to be incorrect.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NBA Live 10

Well, I have my copy, which I can't talk about. So this post is pretty much wasting your time. And mine. Sorry.

Things are busy right now this the blog slowdown. My apologies. Todd's in Canada seeing Dragon Age this week. I am such a great boss.

I'm finishing up Marvel Ult Alliance 2. Fun game. Same stuff, though.

In our OOTP 10 league my team lost the divisional series matchup with my father's team 3 games to 2.

I lost 9-8 after having a 7-4 lead going into the 9th inning with a closer who had a 97% save percentage and had given up ZERO homers all season. One 3-run HR later and I'm knocked out.

Stupid game.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

OK, so...

Iowa beats Penn State AT Penn State. Beat them up, really. Iowa outplayed PSU all night.

New coach poll has Iowa ranked #17.

Penn State #13.

Iowa is 4-0
PSU 3-1.

How friggin dumb is that?

Last week USC was ranked #10
Ohio State #11

USC beats Washington State 27-6
OSU beats Illinois 30-0

USC jumps 3 spots
OSU jumps 2

WTF? How does USC jump Oklahoma ...OU was IDLE! Why not just do the, I don't know, obviouis thing, and move the teams up accordingly. USC proved what yesterday, exactly? I have no issue with USC being ahead of OSU (you can debate this based on total body of work but that's another topic) but USC jumping Oklahoma and Ohio State not is just stupid.

Ohio State in week 3 beat Toledo -- a team that everyone said would give OSU a game because they were scoring on people at will. Ohio State beat Toledo 38-0. And DROPPED 2 spots.

LSU beat bottom feeder Mississippi State due to a goaline stand yesterday. They stay at #4.

I know the Big10 is a national punching bag, I really do, and in part I think it's justified. But the lack of consistancy just baffles me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is it me...

Or was Dollhouse quite simply awful last night? If you read the blog you know I'm a huge Whedon fanboy, but I can't get behind last night's premiere. It looked like it was shot like a really bad soap opera. Maybe it was intentional, I don't know, but it was not fun to watch. Sigh. Such a letdown after watching Epitaph One. Hopefully it's not a sign of things to come.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

First of all, today’s Penny Arcade was laugh out loud funny. Bear in mind, I do love my seasonal microbrews.

It’s been a full week this week. I’ve been working constantly to get one of the books on my list done. It’s always been this huge behemoth of a title and in its new edition we’re having to cut out 400 pages of content while still keeping it up to date. This is… a challenge. We’re almost home, though.

The last two weeks have been about playing just one game: Beatles: Rock Band. I quite simply cannot get enough of it. My inner achievement whore wants me to make this my first 1000 point game. Unfortunately, that will never happen and not just because I can’t play the drums. Some of the achievements in this game are just brutal. Three separate achievements in which you have to rate gold stars on four songs? A couple more in which you have to get 100% of a specific song’s hammer-on/pull-off sequences without strumming? No chance. On the plus side, there’s one for getting at least 85% of the solos (expert guitar) for 22 different tracks. I got to 20 no problem, but Back in the USSR and Taxman were giving me trouble. I don’t know if I was in a zone or what, but I got them both, back-to-back, last Saturday. It was a moment of triumph. I’m at around 450 points so far. My guess is I don’t get past 600.

I have become a full-on convert of the show Burn Notice. During the summer I was staying at my mom’s for the weekend and watched an episode. I wasn’t blown away, but I was intrigued so I put season 1 in my Netflix queue. I’m into season 2 now and every time a disc shows I put it in that night and pretty much watch the whole thing. Bruce Campbell FTW!

Dollhouse renews tonight. I really hope the season 2 premiere hits the ground running. I need for there to be one show on TV penned by either Joss Whedon or Aaron Sorkin and it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing any new Sorkin shows anytime soon.

I thought the 2-hour House premiere on Monday, which was basically a big showcase for Hugh Laurie, was among the best episodes of the show.

I’m a big fan of NCIS, but I thought the season premiere sucked. I always worry when a show I like starts out a new season feeling as off as this one did. Often it’s a sign there was a change in the writing staff, director, etc. There was a lot I didn’t like, but the big thing that stood out to me is how much the character of Tony seemed to have become a caricature of himself. I’ve seen it happen with a lot of shows that I liked and it’s always a really bad sign.

The magic number for the Detroit Tigers to win the AL Central is down to 8. It’s such a wonderful thing to be a fan of a baseball team in a pennant race. It doesn’t hurt that this is such a likable team. Also, Comerica Park on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. Nice!

Michigan should reach 4-0 by the end of the day on Saturday (they play Indiana). No, I don’t think they’re going to challenge Penn St. or Ohio St. for the Big 10, but after 3-9 last year, they don’t need to. Just beat Michigan St. in two weeks and I’m happy.

The Lions. Sigh. Let’s just say I’m just glad I told DirecTV to take their Sunday Ticket package and stick it. Seriously, it’s $300 this year. That is insane. As for the Lions, I like the new coaching staff. I’m hopeful about Stafford. But right now they’re still just an awful football team. I’m setting the over/under for the season at 4 wins. I’m hoping for over, but if they lose at home to Washington this week it won’t happen.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Space Hulk

Ok the game that I dropped $100 on...Space Hulk.

Mike's review is here.

I played this way back in college and loved it, and this new version is just crazy good. Mike lays out many of the reasons why.

It's impossible to play this game without hearing around 20 Aliens references.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rating Players in Sports Games

If you read my NHL 10 review you probably noted I devoted a fair bit of time to whining about how players are rated in the game. Not specific players mind you. There’s nothing more annoying than that guy who cannot accept that his favorite player got a 92 overall when, dammit, everyone knows the dude’s mad skillz make him a 96! WTF, yo?!?!

No, my beef with player ratings in NHL 10 (which is a great game overall) is that, on a 100 point scale, the vast majority of players have an overall rating between 75 and 85. Every single overall team rating is between 85 and 90, which is something that I suspect kills the sim engine (in terms of win/loss results, not player stats). On spec, I also think that range is just crazy narrow, but I’m honestly not sure how much it really detracts from play on the ice. I mean just how much a point or two difference in a skill rating affects how a player performs on the ice is incredibly subjective; it’s a point that an EA Sports rep on the Operation Sports forums fairly made when commenting about my review.

While I was writing up a response to his post, though, I got to thinking: At what point did we all decide that presenting gamers with player ratings on this inexplicable 100 point scale makes any lick of sense whatsoever? Regardless of the actual impact any specific rating has on gameplay, I think there’s a real usability issue here. For the sake of this post I’m going to focus on NHL 10, but I think this is applicable to most any sports game, even Madden, which has done phenomenal work at making these ratings really matter.

Seriously now, what are you telling the guy at home booting up NHL 10 when you present him with a list of 30 teams in which 90%(?) of the NHL players, graded on a 100 point scale, have an overall rating between 75 and 85? It’s completely meaningless. It is without meaning.

Now, I realize that, as a gamer, if you're going to really analyze this you can't go by just an overall rating and you have to look at how specific skills are rated relative to the player's position and role. (The notion of players having roles is a great asset to NHL 10, btw.) At the same time, though, you have to be realistic. Most gamers, when confronted with a free agent screen, are going to want to look at a player and say, "Okay, which of these guys here is The Balls." (Answer: Ron Burgundy.) So, when you see this list of player names, positions and overall ratings, what separates a guy rated an 83 from a host of players listed right behind him rated an 81 or 80? In terms of what it’s going to mean to your team if you sign the guy it means absolutely nothing. It’s worthless information that in no way helps you play the game. If you’re going to make an informed decision you have to dig, and just how many buttons must you push and how many menus must you go back and forth on to get the detail necessary to figure it out? Too damned many.

The user would be better served if, when the player is highlighted, the top of the screen included a couple sentences from the team scout that said:

Player X is in the top 10% of defensemen in the league. He is positionally sound, not a big hitter, and is effective on the powerplay.

Now, I’m not saying this is the best route to go, nor that there aren’t complications in this example too. This is completely off the cuff. But having this statement appear on, for example, the main free agent screen when I highlight a player would instantly tell me way more about him than seeing that he’s an 84 overall. How good is this guy? Well, he’s in the top 10% of league defenseman, but if I’m looking to make my team more physical, he’s probably not my guy. At that point, if I want to know more, by all means, have me click a button and send me to a more detailed screen that specifically addresses individual skills (but does so using criteria that actually means something).

NHL 10 has a kind of neat little spherical graphic on the player trade screen that lets you get a sense of how two different players compare based on, I think, four criteria. It’s something like offense, defense, athleticism, and smarts, but don’t quote me on that. The only problem with it is that it’s a smallish graphic that can be hard to read and, well, as a concept it’s completely underutilized. We need more stuff like that.

At the end of the day, I really don’t care what sort of system a game uses under the hood. If players are rated based on a 1000 point scale but only have ratings between 455 and 460 and that somehow manages to produce convincing results in gameplay and in simulation, then hey, that’s fine with me. Just keep me away from that madness when I’m trying to manage a franchise. Give me information where and when I need it and ensure that it's both concise and meaningful.

Downtime Town

Robert is brilliant at this. Just hilarious. You don't see too many boardgame video reviews -- some, but most are fact based and stale and really, pretty boring.

These -- are not that.

GW just released Space Hulk. It's a $100 game. Yes, $100. And I am buying it. I LOVE Space Hulk. LOVE it. Here's why: (stay for the song at the end (some adult language in this vid, FWIW)

DowntimeTown Episode 7: Space Hulk from Robert Florence on Vimeo.




His Chaos in the Old World video is great, too.

DowntimeTown Episode 6: Chaos in the Old World from Robert Florence on Vimeo.



See more at his website.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jackets 2 Red Wings 1 OT Shootout

That was the score of our online match last night in NHL 10.

Never a doubt I'd win. Why? Because Todd has bad thumbs and might just be the worst "manually controlled goalie in a shootout" ever.

NHL 10 Review

Todd delivers the goods on NHL 10

In short: damn good.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Adventureland

A couple nights ago I wrapped up my evening by watching the movie Adventureland, which is more or less billed as your typical coming of age romantic comedy; a notion drilled home by the fact that its director is Greg Mottola, who also made Superbad. Taking place in 1987, it features the characters of James (Jesse Eisenberg; excellent work) and Em (Kristen Stewart; also pretty good). James (The Virgin), a recent college grad (lit) with designs on going to NYU grad school in the fall, is facing the usual money troubles and is forced to cancel a planned summer vacation in Europe to go to work at a local amusement park: Adventureland. There he meets Em and, in terms of story arc, you can pretty much take it from there.

I remember seeing the trailers and thinking, yeah, this is Superbad 2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean I liked Superbad well enough. But at the same time, the vulgar, infantile teenage sex comedy ground has been well ploughed and, like many I’m sure, I’m weary of it. But this one unexpectedly managed to get under my skin when I wasn’t looking. It’s a flick that’s not in any way remarkable, but after a couple days’ contemplation, I think the fact that it is such a low key, even plodding, affair is precisely why I liked it. So many other films of this type constantly feel like the writer/director looked at any “slow” points in the script and said, “We need to add some crazy ass shizzle and maybe a dick or semen joke here!” Not so here. The characters and story here get room to breath and that’s refreshing.

When you find out early on that the male lead is a virgin you immediately think you’re in for a long ride of cliche sex jokes and escapades, but there’s really very little of that to be found and what’s there doesn’t go on for long nor is it loaded with over the top shock value. Instead there’s just the somewhat awkward and tension-filled, but wholly authentic, beginning of a new relationship set amidst the rather gloomy backdrop of a struggling Pennsylvania amusement park. There are characters of weaker –uh- character, but no real villains. There’s really nobody to hate and most everyone has some worthwhile attribute that makes them interesting in some fashion.

Aside from one sequence of forced melodrama towards the end, the only aspect of the film that really got on my nerves is the depiction of James’ and Ems’ parents. You know you’re getting older when you focus on the douchebag parents in a movie about kids in their late teens/early twenties. Time is a harsh mistress. Nonetheless, why is every dad in these movies an incompetent, broken douche and every mom a bitchy, overbearing pain in the ass? No, our main characters wouldn’t be more interesting/believable if they had the Huxtables or Keatons waiting for them at home, but in a movie in which most other characters get some kind of moment to live outside their archetype, even if for a short while, the parents get no such treatment and that’s despite their being ample opportunity to do so. I find their impotence disappointing, but not surprising.

That criticism aside, I wish more films like Adventureland had some legitimate measure of commercial success, because this sort of low key, authentic storyline and characterization is something I’d like to see more of. Also, someone get Kristen Stewart more roles like this one, instead of wasting her on tripe like Twilight.

Also, also - best use of “Rock Me Amadeus” ever!