Saturday, February 28, 2009

2010 Season Sim

Similar to the first year, stats wise, with 13 teams finishing with team ERAs under 4.00 and the Giants coming in with a 3.24 team ERA. (One team over 5.00 -- the Pirates) What's funky is that I cannot find the other stat outlier(s).

You'd think that with team ERAs being low I'd see another stat that is out of line that is telling me why the teams are scoring fewer runs. But I can't find anything else that looks significantly out of place. Team doubles, walks, homers, batting average, stolen bases...I can't find anything. It does look like that a lot of MRs are having damn good seasons -- lots of guys in the 2.0-3.5 ERA range. Kinda odd and many are playing way over their heads. Mike Lincoln's 2.01 ERA is ...whoa, I wish! And the game has turned Joey Votto into a 40 homer a year beast.

A lot of teams coming in with ERAs under 4.00 is not unprecedented -- baseball USED to be like this. And not that long ago. The pitcher stats look more in line to what you'd see in 1969..or even better 1989 rather than 2009, so while the game is favoring pitchers, in the simmed stats, I dunno how much that bugs me to be honest. I just wish I could find the reason for it in the numbers.

Just to add to the trade thing, I cannot find a screen that shows me JUST trades. I can cycle between league scores, promotions, and transactions, but there's a lot of data inside those -- I just want to see the trades ya know?

Speaking of trades, I have everything set to CPU right now but it will alert me when my team makes a trade. The Reds just made their first trade since the 2009 season -- and it's now June of 2011. Not a lot of movement going on in Cincy.

Oh and the Yanks beats the Cubs...again. This time in 6.

Player progression is looking very, very nice. Saw rookies jump up by 8 to 10 points in ability and old players are hitting the wall -- some faster than others.

One More Note

Last thing before I call it a night with posting about this game. If you use the settings cited in my last post you will disable the trading cards part of the game. (As you accomplish certain goals with or against a player you unlock a trading card for said player. You can then assemble a custom team with your unlocked cards and take it online.) Specifically, if you lower AI Pitch Success beneath 45 the feature is disabled, saying that you've set the difficulty below standard Pro levels. The really dumb thing about this? On Pro this slider is set to 40. Why it has to be at least 45 on custom sliders, but 40 is okay if you play specifically on Pro, I have no idea.

The Show: Free Agents and a Test Sim

I'm 3 games into my Reds franchise, sitting at 2-1 thanks to a 9th inning homer given up by Weathers to kill a potential sweep of the Mets.

So I decided to start a new franchise with everything set to CPU, sim out the season and see what shakes out.

So, a few random baseball geek notes:

  • The default roster has a lot of great/solid players setting in the FA Pool (Manny, Abreu, Dunn, Sheets, and so on). These players remained unsigned for the entire year. The CPU basically ignored them. (I have team financials turned on, fwiw)
  • During the off season FA stage, these players did sign with a new team after sitting out all of '09 -- except for Manny...who retired. Good FAs are being signed even though there were some aging players in the 2010 FA pool who could use a team, but no one that jumped out as a star that was languishing in the FA pool. Methinks we'll need a roster update to fix this.
  • I cannot find an easy way to view the league's trades. There is a league transaction page, but it has everything in it (call ups, DL moves) and it's a huge running file. I just want to see the trades. I'm not sure if I can.
  • Yanks over the Cubs in 5.
  • Playoff teams: Reds, Giants, Braves, Cubs, Yanks, Tribe, Angels, Red Sox
  • Some stats: 1 20 game winner (C.C.) and 5 19 game winners, including an aging Smoltz, who retired after the season.
  • 15 SPs with an ERA under 3.00
  • 28 hitters over .300
  • Carl Crawford hit .322, 58 2bs, 16 3b, 21 HR, and stole 63 bases. Jesus.
  • No 50 homer hitters
  • 10 with at least 40
  • 40 with at least 30
  • 2 players with season OPS over 1.0+
  • Team stats:
  • Worst hitting team: Oakland: .252
  • Best: Twins at .286
  • Best TEAM ERA: The Cubs at 3.15
  • Worst: Baltimore at 4.81 with the team average being around 4.12. This is the stat that jumped out as being a bit on the extreme side. The team ERAs, on the average, in this one test season, were a bit on the low side and a 3.15 TEAM ERA is pretty darn epic. For a team to pitch below 4.00 is very, very good. 3.15 is late 1960s era baseball back when the mound was high and Bob Gibson scared people.

Ah the Wonderful World of Slider Adjustments

And the slider fun truly begins in earnest. (Said with all due sarcasm.) Jonah forwarded the following to me re: AI pitch sliders:

bigfnjoe96 posted:
The sliders posted are for the AI Pitching which I've already have a nice set.. Send these to Bill Todd to test...
AI Pitch Success: 10-25(10 lowest & 25 being the highest)
AI Pitch Selection: 100
AI Strike Zone: 25-50
AI Pitch Zone: 25-50
AI Composure: 75
I've tried these in one game and there's a definite difference to the pitcher's game with these. I even had my first batter get hit by a pitch; a first. I'm putting AI Strike Zone further down than this (trying 15) because it still felt like the AI was painting the edges of the strike zone more than it should. However, I'm not particularly skilled at ID'ing balls and stirkes, so it's pretty likely I just need the extra handicap.

As for the hitting sliders. My goal was to find something to get the hitter to take more pitches when they're located in the zone. Since I went up to All Start level (in my second or third game) the AI hardly ever fails to swing at a pitch in the zone. Here are the AI hitting sliders:

AI Batting Success
AI Batting Contact
AI Batting Power
AI Pitcher Handedness Influence
AI Inside Edge Batting Zone Influence
AI Batting Pitch Influence
AI Bunt Contact
AI Bunt Success

Hmmm. Seems we're missing the, "for the love of humanity, leave the bat on your shoulder for once!" slider. Bummer. I tried a game with Batting Contact reduced in the theory that a swinging strike is as good as a taken strike, but I was wrong. Watching the AI flail away, missing pitches with the slightest hint of movement just isn't much fun. I'm not sure there's a good way around this. Hopefully the 2k community is more industrious than I. (They usually are. I don't care enough about this stuff to be good at it.)

Strike Zone Tendency Works

I dropped Strike Zone Tendency to zero and the AI pitchers definitely miss the zone significantly more. I only walked once, but I'm so conditioned to having to swing at tons of pitches it was really hard to lay off. The good thing was I was able to get the pitcher to fall behind in the count quite often, which is a huge improvement. Gonna leave that slider at zero for now. Next project, get the AI hitters to take more pitches. They'll lay off pitches in the strike zone occasionally, but not enough (IMO).

Reds 5 Mets 3

Another great, great game with The Show. As I read Todd wallowing in strikeout hell, the 2nd game of the Mets series saw 9 total walks (I walked 5 times and issued 4) and one I REALLY didn't want to give up but Bray just could NOT throw a strike in the 8th.

The AI stole 3rd, successfully, on me in this game.

The CPU, on average, throws strikes now about 65% of the time -- which is just about where I want it. This is not on default sliders and I am playing with some house rules that I am sure some of you will fine hilarious, but it's working for me -- and working well.

This game is really, really good.

MLB 2k9 - Pitching Sliders

I've finally reached the point where I'm tired of watching the AI absolutely paint the zone with their pitches. I've walked once in 8 games. I've gotten to 3 balls -maybe- three or four times (including said walk). So I'm finally breaking down and heading to the slider route, which I hate doing. Here are the pitching sliders:

AI Pitch Success
AI Pitch Selection Tendency
AI Strike Zone Tendency
AI Pitch Zone Tendency
AI Pitcher Composure Influence

Is it just too damned hard to name sliders something clear or at least document what the damn things do? (This is a problem for nearly all sports games.) I have to assume pitch success affects how often a pitcher's pitches get lit up. I don't have the foggiest what pitch selection, in the context of a higher/lower values, means. If I raise it, does he throw his bread and butter pitch more? No clue. Strike zone tendency, I would think, affects pitch accuracy, but then, how is that different from pitch zone tendency? I'd like to know the difference before I change one or the other. As for pitcher composure influence, I know pitcher accuracy can go down if their composure goes, so I have to assume that's what that affects. Also, there's a separate slider for Pitcher Fatigue. I have absolutely no idea which way to move it to make pitchers fatigue more quickly. Logic says lower it to fatigue more quickly, but it's named Pitcher Fatigue, so it's entirely plausible that raising it means more fatigue, right?

Maybe if the manual weren't 12 pages (4 of which are the warranty/license agreement) or if there were a manual in the game (if there is one, I haven't found it), I wouldn't have to write blog posts about figuring out what it all means.

Santana is Good But...

So I started a Reds franchise today to get a feel for the new features in this mode -- played the opener against the Mets.

Santana has a no hitter going against me into the 9th. He's walked 1, struck out 7 and I haven't hit a ball out of the infield. I'm starting to get a bit mad. It's 1-0 Mets into the 9th. He walks Keppinger to start the 9th. I PH for the pitcher and bring in Hairston Jr. -- who promptly takes the first pitch 400 feet to LF.

Reds win.

I wake up my 14 year old sleeping dog with a loud "Yeah!" (I was started to get pissed...no way can I stand to get no hit in the opener.)

Sanatans IS good, but a walk off is better.

Volquez walked 1, fanned 9, and Santana was unhittable. Until he wasn't.

Nice way to start.

Time

Of my last game with fast play (or whatever it's called) turned on: 55 minutes. Take it FWIW. I still wish games were just a tick faster.

Why is it that...

Nine times out of ten (scientifically not proven) when I have a game crash (re: lock up) my Xbox 360 it's a 2k game? I've never had Rock Band or Fable 2 or Left 4 Dead crash my console. Madden -as irrelevant as it is to my existence- has never crashed it. No, it's always a 2k sports game.

Now, maybe there's some funky environmental factor. Maybe it's a fluke of biblical proportions. Maybe the Norse god Loki is just having some fun. But -all of a sudden- every time I try to load my MLB2k9 franchise my console locks up such that my only recourse is to manually power it off and turn it back on. I've tried it three straight times now and am ready to give up this franchise as lost. I have three different franchises saved to my 360 right now, two were for simming and the third, the hosed one, was for playing on the field. I go to the load screen, select the franchise, confirm I want to load it, even get a franchise loaded successfully screen, but at that point I remain stuck on the load screen and nothing I do with the controller changes a thing.

This sort of console crashing disaster has been an on and off trait of various 2k sports games for as long as I can remember. Frankly, I'm tired of it. Unlike PCs, which can be a nightmare to develop for, consoles are a closed platform. There is absolutely zero excuse for this sort of thing to happen. Ever.

As it happens, I don't really care that much about losing this franchise. I only had four (successfully) completed games invested in it (discounting the two on-field crashes... oi). But I think about this happening to the dude who's on year 4 of a franchise or the guy who's manually played 150 games of a season and I think about how pissed off I would be. It's not hard to imagine because I've been there before with 2k games. (Anyone remember the varied convoluted sequences of events that could wreck your College Hoops franchise a few years ago?)

For the sake of anyone who might be buying this game I'm wracking my brain to think about what I might have done differently with this franchise that I didn't do with the other two that could lead to this crash. The only thing I can think of, and I'm not seven sure it's true, is that I didn't use the Quit option on the franchise menu before exiting on last session. I think I have with the other two. Not positive, but it's something to try. If I'm able to confirm that, I'll let you all know. But I have very little time between now and deadline day for the review and I really don't want to spend it doing 2k's troubleshooting testing for them.

EDIT: Scratch that theory. I just played a game on franchise 4. Turned off the console without returning to the main menu. Started up again and it loaded just fine.

I'm so sick of this sh#&.

Scouting Report

"His Average will be quite Average for a Batting Average" - Scouting Report for Willy Tavarez in The Show 09. Not much else to say, but I absolutely love that line.

I finally have access to the TV again, and I'll about to dive into franchise mode. I'll get some basic stats posted in a bit and run an FA test.

MLB2k9 Patch Details

Got an email from Jonah pointing to an Operation Sports news item that lists the stuff in the release day patch for MLB 2k9. It does say the free agency issue is addressed and lists some other non-associated items that are also fixed (nothing to do with play on the field or the crash issue I've experienced when playing with Hurry Up Baseball enabled). There's nothing about player development (which *probably* isn't that severe an issue) or AI roster management, which I do consider to be severe. Teams should not be carrying 10 pitchers or 3-5 catchers. Maybe, if we're lucky, this is also tied into team payroll management and fixing that will alleviate this.

Game Two

So with the stupid as hell slider fiasco (thankfully) behind me I played another Ex. game this morning, running on about 4 1/2 hours sleep thanks to a phone call at 7 AM that was a either a wrong number or a prank call from users at Operation Sports -- can't be sure which.

Again, I set the sliders to favor lower control and the game played brilliantly. I walked 4 times. I gave up 3 walks myself, hit 3 doubles fanned 10 batters, whiffed 8 times myself, and sat tired and giddy as I played an absolutely joyous game of morning baseball. I saw an OF drop a ball, diving to match a circus catch, I saw the CPU get thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, saw it easily score from 2nd on a base hit, and I saw it use its bullpen to favor L/R matchups. All things that sound like baseball 101 but things that so many games screw up in one form or another.

It really is one of my big litmus tests with baseball games: Can I walk consistently? Can I strikeout consistently as well? And is this based on player tendency? It's important -- and it's where a lot of games tend to fall down. This part of the game HAS to be right, otherwise you aren't playing baseball, but rather a game that successfully resembles it.

You need the CPU to take strikes (it does in The Show) and you also need it to miss strikes that are in the zone (it does that too). That said the same has to go for you. You need to miss pitches that you think you can catch up to and you need to be able to issue walks even when you are trying to throw strikes. So far the Show passes these tests in a big way.

I am well aware that the whole walk thing has turned into a obsession with me over the years in every baseball game I play. I blame Bill James. But if accuracy is the goal we should see around 6 walks combined per game -- on average, depending on the players involved. (Something that can't be overlooked.) It shouldn't be a case of saying, "Hey I walked!" but it should be a crucial part of any baseball game design. At least I think so.

So I'm pretty darn happy this morning with what I'm seeing.

As for complaints, the doubles thing is something you are either going to agree with me on or you aren't. Not sure what else I can say. Are there enough doubles in the game? YES. Did they improve the down the line doubles issue from last yer? Yes. Is it where I want it to be? Not quite. I'm no programmer. I don't design games. But I only assume that this is a tricky issue because you don't want to fix one thing and then have it break 10 other things. I can absolutely live with hits going over the bag and not reaching the corner being singles as long as hitting a double isn't some rare occurrence -- and it's not.

I do see the occasional stuttering fielder animation. In this last game I dropped a SAC bunt and the catcher jumped out to make a play on it and was running, and then when he got near the ball he started walking/stuttering, then he sped up again and made the play and I beat the throw. It looked like that slow down cost him an out. I've seen that more than once, which is why I mention it.

I wish the game played faster. Right now this is my #1 "complaint" with the game. If you remember the old High Heat days you could play a game in 25 minutes. You could take out every last bit of fluffy animation and game waster that had nothing to do with the game itself. Here, you can't. Even if you turn the fast play on you are still going spend a bit too much time watching things that you shouldn't need to watch. I haven't timed a game yet, but I am curious to see how long a game takes with fast play on.

OK anyway, some franchise/stat tests coming today, unless I fall back asleep.

Sweet Jesus I'm An Idiot

I'm getting older...or dumber...most likely both. They say as you get older your brain cells die at at quicker rate so you can chalk this up to biology.

OK all that stuff I said about The Show's sliders...yeah, you can ignore that.

After I made that last post a bit ago, I was about to go upstairs and attempt to crawl into bed without making up my wife. She rarely appreciates the 1:30 AM lumbering doofus trying to sneak into bed.

But as I was going, I saw the PS3 -- "Try me again, Bill. YOU HAVE THE SHOW. Come on. You never use me for anything but THIS GAME and as a Blu-Ray player." "

So I caved.

Upon loading the game and firing up my profile -- the slider settings had not saved. Wait, what?

I will avoid the details as to how I know this, but trust me -- I wasn't saving my slider changes. After removing my forehead from my hand after slapping myself, I decided to start a test franchise with the Reds and played Tampa in a Spring Training game. I again altered the sliders to try to make he CPU throw a lot of balls -- I wanted to see walks -- too many walks if possible and SAVED the changes....

...and promptly drew 4 walks in the first two innings as Garza was all over the damn map, hitting the zone about 50% of the time, tops. That was enough. I turned off the game, and made the slow march back to my office to write this damn blog entry.

So now I really am going to bed, feeling both thrilled and somewhat sad. Thrilled that the sliders in the Show work, and sad that I am slowly starting to lose whatever sense I had to begin with.

Tomorrow is a new day though, right?

We'll start the real Show impressions on February 28th, sound good?

Before Going to Bed...

Got a few (ok, 10) emails from people re: the initial Show post.

You guys know how this works -- I get the game, I play a few games, I type what I see. You read it. I play more games. I post more details. You read them and the cycle of life continues.

I should not be receiving emails from people saying "I can't believe the sliders are broken."

I didn't say that they were. Consider the sample size. Do I think it's worth noting that the CPU Pitch accuracy was still very good with the slider at zero? Yes, I do. I think it's something to keep an eye on--nothing more, nothing less so don't turn my initial ramblings into more than what they are -- initial impressions based on a sample size that is statistically meaningless. The next game I may draw 5 walks and get hit by a pitch. It's like doing a slider set -- you really can't (or shouldn't) play one game and then start messing with sliders based on that one game sample.

In one game Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros. If you had PLAYED that game you might think "this game has too many strikeouts." The sample size is too small. Way too small. It's the same here -- let's just allow this to play out a bit. I am likely to play this game for about 15-20 hours this weekend. After that, I'll be able to talk about it with a bit more certainty.

The thing is, even if the accuracy for CPU pitchers is a bit too tight, those first 5 or so games were a lot of fun.

Finally.

We have completed an Advanced campaign in Left 4 Dead.

I died, but I don't care -- I consider this a positive achievement.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Show Stuff

Got the green light from Sony PR so I can talk about it a bit.

I have played parts of about 5 games so far and 3 complete games, testing stuff out, etc.

This is obviously a polished looking game and if you're a fan of The Show then you're set -- in many ways this plays like a tweaked version of '08. It seems more like a refinement so far, and nothing has jumped out and made me say, "Whoa that was not in last year's game."

This is what happens when your game from the previous year is that good. It starts to get hard to find the obvious fixes and enhancements.

And to be clear: I love The Show '08. Love it. But I'm still digging and uncovering what's really new. That's going to take time -- as again I have only fiddled with Exhibition games.

I just finished a 3-2 win for the Reds over Washington and I won on a catcher error throwing on a dropped 3rd strike. Catcher heaved it into RF and I scored the game winner. Hilarious. Gotta love those Nats.

Two things that jump out that we should keep an eye on:

Doubles. Yes, you can hit doubles this year -- more than last year I'd say. But the whole "down the baseline issue" is still there. Look, if my batter laces a frozen rope over the 3rd base bag, unless there is a OF shift on, I better be standing on 2nd base unless I'm Greg Luzinski. I still see way too many singles on hits that LOOK like they should be doubles when they are first hit. And again, I hit three doubles last game so it's not like it's all singles all the time -- far from it. But the visual indicator I see when playing doesn't always add up. It's a balancing act I'm sure. I mean you don't want teams hitting 6...7 doubles per game, but just know going in that this is not 100% fixed.

A big issue?

No, not as much as last year because there are more gappers and more hits down the line tend to reach the wall -- but many of them seem to die when they hit the grass.

OK, next is the CPU sliders. I dunno if they are working or if they are they are doing SUBTLE changes to the formula. Case in point: CPU pitch control. I played the last game, just to see what would happen, with CPU Throw Strikes at zero. All the way to the left. The SP for the Nats ended up walking me 1 time (a MR issues one, too) and for the game the SP threw strikes 82% of the time. That's with Throw Strikes at 0? And I take a LOT of pitches. Granted I still swing at some I shouldn't but it even out in the end -- I took a fair number of pitches down the pipe.

Just something else to keep in mind when you get the game next week.

We'll do some franchise stuff tomorrow, but for now I want to play a game at Wrigley.

On the plus side, I walked 3 batters with Volquez -- and I was not trying to walk them. It just sorta happened. AND -- NO HOMERS in that last game against the Nats; I dunno about you, but I love baseball games that allow this to happen.

New Blood Bowl Screens

Chaos vs. Wood Elf.

Rockin'.

MLB 2k9: On-the-Field Impressions

Note: I was running short on time, so I have not spell-checked this post.

I've now put in roughly six games of MLB 2k9. These are largely played on all default slider settings. After one game I upped the difficulty from Pro to All-Star because hitting on Pro is ridiculously easy. (I have no problem with that. Pro is the second lowest difficulty level after all.)

First thing's first. In my first two games MLB 2k9 crashed during an inning transition. I have to emphasize that *both* of these games were played with the "Hurry Up Baseball" option enabled. Both crashes came about the same way.

In Game 1, I went to my pen in the 8th. When my reliever came in there was no pitch selection menu. It was just gone. I could still throw pitches, but I couldn't see the key to tell me what pitches the pitcher had available or what right-stick motion I needed to use them. I muddled through and when I got out of the inning the screen went black (which it normally does for a second on half inning switches) and never came back.

In the second game it was a similar deal. I lost Verlander to injury in the 2nd. No problem. All was well with selecting his replacement. When I went to my pen (I have pitcher warmups turned off, for the record) in the 6th, however, it was the same thing. No pitch selection screen for the reliever. I muddle through without it. Inning changes and the screen goes black. I gave it 15 minutes to come back around and nothing.

For the next four games I've turned Hurry Up Baseball off and I've completed all four, having gone to my pen multiple times, and not had a problem. This is a bummer to me, because I *really* like the Hurry Up Baseball option. It cuts out all the between pitches and between innings junk that make games take forever. (I don't mind the between inning transition so much as all the noise that goes on between pitches.) So, *if* it is the Hurry Up option being enabled that's messing with the game's stability that's a bummer for me, but better than having the crash come about with the setting disabled too.

As for the rest of the game. If you're a fan of 2k8 or if you think you could've liked it last year had it not been for some of the knucklehead issues with it had, then you should be happy with this one. The feel of the game is very similar, but a lot -not all, but a lot- of the sloppiness of last season is gone. If you hated 2k8, you're probably not gonna like this one any better.

In general it plays a solid game of baseball. Whether you like it or not will depend on where your hot button issues are (and how good the sliders end up being, I suppose). Hit variety seems consistent with last year (which is good). The stuttering of last year is gone as well. However, I still think the fielding is weak. And I don't like the balance of balls and strikes.

With regards to fielding, when I'm trying to field the ball the game feels like it's slowing down, like I'm having the players run through molasses. Since the ball slows down too, it doesn't affect the play, but it's kind of annoying to me. (It'll be interesting to see of others are bothered by this or if it's somehow all in my head.) And because of how momentum is done, if you so much as twitch the controller in the wrong direction you are going to be very hard up to make a play on the ball. The AI is putting up monster hit numbers on me right now largely because I keep hyperactively flipping the control stick in the wrong direction and taking myself out of the play. Very frustrating.

The batter pitcher matchup is much the same as last year, except that when pitching it doesn't appear that quality of the pitch motion (on the right stick) really matters. Last year if you weren't precise with the right stick motion it affected pitch quality, which I thought was a good thing. (I don't think it can be brought back, but perhaps I missed the option.)

As for hitting, while there are some new control options, the feel is the same as last year unless you opt for Zone Hitting. First of all Zone Hitting is not zone hitting. It's cursor hitting. If you like cursor hitting, you'll probably like this. I don't. I tried it for three innings and I cannot simultaneously try to judge balls from strikes and move that dam bat cursor to where the ball is going. I hate it. Also, on All Star it remains very easy to make contact with the ball. (Note I do mean make contact and not necessarily get hits.) In my just completed 4-game series against Toronto (I was Detroit), I did not hit well the first two games and did hit well in the second two. That could be Toronto's pitching or it could be that once you're used to it, non-cursor contact is just too easy.  We'll see how it goes from here.

Balls and strikes, at default setting, are straight out of last year's playbook. Which, in my book, is not good. Pitches really don't miss their mark. I mean a 12-6 curve always goes below the target you select, but since it always does that, it's just a matter of adjusting your pitcher's aim to compensate. Likewise, the AI pitcher rarely *RARELY* lets himself fall behind the in count. I'm not the poster child for plate patience, but I really worked hard to not swing at first and second pitches that weren't what I was looking for and I was constantly down 0-2 in the count. In all the games I've played I have walked just one time and have yet to issue a walk. If you need a strike you can get one. End of story. (Well, barring slider fixes.)

I do think AI hitters are much improved this year. They will swing at the occasional pitch out of the zone. They'll take the occasional strike. It's very nice. I can't say for sure that I've ever struck a batter out looking - that bares watching, but beyond that there's good variety in terms of when the AI hitters take or swing.

Now, there is one issue I've seen that just makes me crazy: close calls at the plate. When you're trying to throw a runner out at the plate, it's just crazy. This is not the sort of issue one generally looks for, but I've been using replay a lot to look at these plays and it just makes no sense. So far I've seen three things happen (a couple of them multiple times):

1. The runner is going to beat the throw to the plate. The throw is coming in off-line, so that the catcher has to move away from the plate and the runner to get to it. The runner slides feet first way off to the side of the plate, right at the poorly positioned catcher. If the runner were on target he would touch home easily. Instead his feet and legs miss the plate entirely, and by the time he gets around to swiping his hand on the plate, the catcher has gotten the throw and tagged him out. This is not a fluke. I've seen it happen twice already.

2. The throw to the plate is only a little off, but the catcher can just reach for it and still block the plate. The runner goes feet first right at home plate in this scenario. Hit feet go straight over the plate (if they're somehow not touching it, it's impossible to tell), the catcher swipes at the runner and the runner is called out when he is *clearly* safe. I've seen this happen twice as well.

3. The ball is thrown on the money from the field. It beats the runner there, the tag is made and the runner is inexplicably called safe. I've seen this happen once.

I'd call it just another knucklehead rarity, but I've seen the home plate scenario unfold five times in six games where the ball and runner get there close enough for there to be a play and have the result just be wrong every single time. That's not a minor issue. It's an out when there should be run scored or a run scored when there should be in an out. I have three saved replays of this. (Does anyone know if I can export them to my PC somehow? I haven't checked.)

There's also still some fielding wonkiness that comes up in every game. I had a ball hit to my RF. He was sitting right there to make the catch and just let the ball conk off his head. He then proceeded to snag the ball in the air, off his head, and make the out. Nice physics. Weird play. It's like if you're not lined up perfectly with an animation sometimes the game doesn't know what to do with itself and just lets the ball go by. I've seen it happen on multiple balls where the ball just goes right by a guy who is just left or right of being centered on it. It's the kind of thing that's annoying, but if you're careful not to be off-center, it really shouldn't happy very often. (Emphasis on shouldn't. I need to play more and see how much of it is me and how much is the game being a pain in the ass.)

That's it for now. I need to pick up my kids from daycare. I'll be playing the game a bunch this weekend and I'll try to get some more impressions up if I can make the time.

Winslow to Tampa

We just traded our Pro Bowl TE to the Bucs for, what I hear, is a 2nd round and a late round pick this year.

Wow.

So, KII is out, Rogers wants a trade, and we still have Braylon on the roster.

It's painful being a Browns fan.

The Show 09

In my hands. Right now.

As we speak.

The impressions that are coming? They will be posted by Bill Abner and approved by and certified by Bill Harris and Gordon Lightfoot.

Review embargo is March 2nd but "previews can be posted immediately." So...I guess that means I can talk about it.

Hmm, I should call Sony before I get in trouble again...

Inevitable Truths

Here are a few things you can set your watch by:
  • At least once per year, someone will confuse me with Bill Harris. I can see why -- we're both named Bill. I mean, duh. We both play a lot of games. We both have blogs. His is much better than this one. We both over analyze sports games. He's more hardcore than I am. Seriously -- he is. Bill runs season progression tests that make the silly shit I do look like the work of a 5th grader with an attention disorder.

  • When playing Left 4 Dead with Todd, Mike, and Billy Baroo, we will die on the finale when playing on Advanced. When the Tank shows, I will flee like a schoolgirl. I'll get cussed at. And rightfully so.

  • Someone, somewhere, will attribute things that Todd says on this here talking-post to me. This is totally unfair to Todd. Todd writes these long, well thought out blog posts -- the man spends time when he posts. When I post it's like a duck mating -- in -- out -- and done. If you're coming here from a link on the Operation Sports forum saying that I'm hating on MLB 2K9 -- I'm sorry -- that ain't me, chief.

  • Every 5 years I will hear someone rag on Gordon Lightfoot in my presence and it will piss me off. Dude...Lightfoot is the man.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

MLB 2k9 - Franchise Mode Fixed On Release Day?

According a dev post at Operation Sports (thanks to Jonah in the comments for the link), there will be a patch for franchise mode on release day. This is great, but...

A) Obviously, they knew about the franchise mode before they shipped and elected not to fix it. So long as there's a patch on release day, I guess that doesn't really bother me. No harm no foul for 99.9% of users, right? Not sure how others feel about that.

B) Just because there is a patch doesn't mean franchise mode is a-okay now. I just got done writing about the fact that it's problems are by no means restricted to the free agency issue. I have to wonder how complete of a fix this will be.

C) Um. I don't actually have a C, but I started this whole neat list thing and it doesn't seem right to leave it at just two letters.

MLB 2k9 - Franchise Mode

As Bill noted, I got MLB 2k9 mailed out to me yesterday. This worked out well since I was home to oversee the floor repair and I was able to spend the afternoon letting the game sim out a few seasons while getting a little work done. (I have NOT played a single game on the field as of yet.) There's some good and bad here, but the short version is that if you want to play multi-season franchise mode the game is absolutely 100% borked. Broken doesn't begin to describe it and after reading about the 2k Conference Call and their claims of making franchise mode a major focus, that's just flat out unacceptable.

So before I get to that, I'll point out what I like. First and foremost, the stat engine from simmed seasons is fantastic and it appears to hold up as time goes on. League leaders in major pitching and hitting categories is very consistent with actual 2008 data. You don't have whole teams hitting .300+, doubles and triples numbers are right on line, you will see only a couple of 20 game winners (if that). I did see one season where there were two 20 game losers, which is very unusual, but not so much that it should bother anyone. I didn't look at numbers below the top 20 players in any given category, but I'm satisfied with what I'm seeing.

I also like that they stick player drafts in the off-season between re-signing your own players and signing free agents. I don't recall how drafts were handled last year, but this year players are not just rated on their base attributes, but you also get a rating for how soon before your target is likely to be major league ready and you can also pull up a list that compares their ratings to nominal major league players at the same position.

Trades... trades are a mixed bag. I don't think they're horrible, and the AI does not appear to kill season play by overtrading highly rated players. In fact it looks like trades of upper echelon players are very rare. That said, for the trades the game does make, it looks to me like the game mostly looks at overall ratings and not much else. Age might be factored in, but I'm not sure positional need is considered strongly enough, nor does it look like the game values its starting pitching as strongly as it should. I'm positive that the game does not give much consideration to salary, unless you think the Rays would trade the Tigers two young, talented players making $5M combined for Magglio Ordonez and Gary Sheffield making a combined $23M (approx.).

Beyond this, the game goes right off the rails. Worst among the issues are the fact that free agency is flat out broken. It looks like teams lack the budgetary savvy to sign big time players. That or big time players don't properly adjust their contract demands to league realities. Either way, upper tier free agents frequently and consistently go unsigned and if they don't get signed during FA it does not appear that they'll ever get signed after that. This has a cascading effect over multiple seasons. After one season you might see 3-5 premier players go unsigned. After two seasons that number will double. And double. And double. By the end of  season 5 the list of absolutely lights-out free agents that languish on the golf course instead of suiting up to play is just ridiculous. This, alone, is enough to kill the franchise mode for any season beyond 2009.

Teams are also incapable of managing their 25-man roster. I looked through a quick roster report of most teams at various points. You'll routinely see teams maintain just a 10-man pitching staff, and a few will go with only four starters (at least officially; maybe they're using a MR for a fifth starter?). You'll see a lot of teams carrying a ridiculous number of catchers, three, four, in one case I saw the Yankees carrying *5* catchers. Seriously, what is that about? Did each starting pitcher need his own guy behind the plate? So, in addition to teams often not carrying enough pitchers, you'll see situations where a team may only have three or four outfielders or too few infielders, etc. It's crazy.

Finally, I'm pretty sure player development is also crudded up, but I'm not sure how much it really matters in the game. Let me a 'splain. No. There is too much. Let me sum up. (Like I'm capable of that. I just wanted to use that Princess Bride line.) In the 2009 season it appears (I didn't go over rosters with a fine tooth comb, so I reserve the right to be wrong) that the elite players in the game are in the 85 - 92 range. There are plenty of teams with no 90-rated players at all. Over time those ratings just keep going up (they can go down, but that is evidently not the overall trend). By the end of season 5, there were several 99-rated players and most teams had 90+ rated players for their entire top five.

What's odd is that this doesn't appear to affect stats. It's like the game has players perform on a curve so that the top whatever percent perform to a certain standard. I'm not sure this is how it should be, since you could argue this makes it so player development doesn't really matter. But it does at least keep the stat engine from breaking down, which I think is probably more important.

So... yeah, uh. MLB 2k9 may be a fantastic game on the field. I have no idea yet. As a 2009 season sim, it should also be -at the very least- servicable. But if you like to actually play a franchise, draft players, sign free agents, etc. It's broken. Save your money or pray for a patch. Or, you know. if you have or plan to get a PS3, put your money down on MLB: The Show. If it has anything close to the franchise issues in 2k9 I would be absolutely floored.

50 Cent and MLB 2K9

I have been tinkering with the review template and we added a small box shot of the game as well as head shots for the writers. I like it. Brandon's Fiddy Review.

Also, Todd is going to spout words of wisdom about MLB 2K9 later today, hopefully. Now that others are forum yapping, we may as well follow suit.

The short version: big name FAs are not being signed by the AI. It's the exact same bug that was in High Heat Baseball 2003. It took Todd about an hour to see this. Our ICQ chat log is pretty funny and I may post it just for kicks. What starts off as a very successful stat engine test turns into: "Khaaannnn!"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Family/Home Updates

A couple of you have asked how things have going since the Very Bad Luck post a month back. Fortunately, after a few hellish weeks in which Angie was not allowed to do any driving, the news has been largely good. We think the "seizures" Angie experienced (roughly 3 over three days, and nothing since) had to do with a medication she was taking combined with a vegal response to her IV and other pains. They haven't come back since she stopped taking the med and the tests she had to go through because of the seizures (EEG, MRI, Video EEG) all came back with normal results. (Never figured Angie as someone with normal brain function, but there you have it... yeah, I know. I'm one to talk.)

She was finally able to get her surgery done a couple weeks ago and that went well. They found what they expected to find -scar tissue and endomitriosis- and treated both successfully. Now it's just a matter of seeing what preventative measures can be taken to prevent the endo-whateva from coming back.

As for the house... we've been living on a concrete slab kitchen and laundry room for a month. A couple weeks ago a massive wind storm took out two sections of our wood privacy fence. So, you know: Fun! Fortunately, the cost for repair wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. And as I type this the last of out new tile floor is being laid into place. It'll be grouted tomorrow and by this weekend life should return to some semblance of normal. Hurray for that! I could do with some quiet, boring normalcy around here.

Todd Has MLB 2K9 Retail Code

I'm asking to see when we can talk about it. Todd has it. We're chatting about it. And we're both dying to tell you about the franchise mode and the stuff we (well, Todd) are seeing.

But we can't. At least not until I hear back from PR.

Blood Bowl Q&A Part II

Patrick from Cyanide was nice enough to answer a whopping set of 35 community submitted questions for me. I got his replies last night and wow -- I want to play this game. I REALLY want to play this game.

I'll run this Q&A on Monday as I have some other stuff that needs posting, like Brandon's Fiddy Cent review and other assorted goodies. But did I mention that I really want to play Blood Bowl?

Sins of a Solar Empire Entrenchment Q&A

Another great Q&A up today with Blair Fraser of Ironclad Studios.

This isn't just about the new expansion but also a bit about life as a PC developer. Worth a read.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Slacking? Me?

I don't mean to. Really. I have not been watching House reruns all day even though I do love me some House.

It does mean I have been slammed with games -- particularly Dawn of War II which is one of the toughest games to rate...ever. I can see going with a C grade all the way up to an A. It's great, and it's meh. It's decent and it's spectacular.

I have no interest in MLB 2K9 right now. None. The Show, of course, I want to see that, but it's not going to get easier as I have to review The Show, Empire Total War and start work on a baseball feature for Crispy Gamer -- and all 3 games come out on March 3rd.

This has all put a serious cramp in my King's Bounty style, I might add.

Hey here's some news. I saw a mock up of the Totally New and New Century relevant GameShark web redesign. And I actually kinda like it.

MLB 2K9 Demo News

PR:

As baseball fans get ready for Opening Day, 2K Sports today released a free demo of Major League Baseball 2K9 for download on Xbox LIVE® Marketplace for the Xbox 360®. Queue it up from Xbox.com and it will be waiting for you when you’re ready to play ball: http://marketplace.xbox.com/games/offers/0ddf0001-0000-4000-8000-00005454884a. The Major League Baseball 2K9 demo for the PLAYSTATION®3 will be available on Thursday, February 26 through the PlayStation®Network Store. Players will have the exciting opportunity to practice their skills at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park by playing three full innings as either the Tampa Bay Rays or Philadelphia Phillies.


end transmission.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mass Effect 2 Teaser

Here it is. There should be no autoplay on this, like with that Onion video. One final time: that was accidental. Sorry!

This = Yummy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Call Link

In case you missed it.

Really wasn't an earth shattering call.

Todd's reviewing this one, not me; I get The Show.

Because I make the rules. :)

Sorry if the formatting is all messed up with Firefox...that's a lovely GameShark issue.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

MLB 2K9 Conference CAll -- Live!

Well, let's see how this goes.

I will be updating Bill's Useless Twitter Feed during the call with 2K Sports.

Details:

2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K9 conference call with Erick Boenisch (Lead Features Designer) and Jonathan Rivera (Gameplay Producer).

Date: Friday, February 20

Time: 2PM – 3PM PST (5PM – 6PM ET)

So, I'll be typing away with my sure to be hysterical comments during the call and then I'll run the comments as an article on GameShark because I'm the boss.

Fable 2 and the Expectations Game

If you point your web browser here, here, here and here you'll find a four part analysis at Shamus Young's Twenty Sided blog of why the plot of Fable 2 is complete and utter nonsense. (And you people thing I'm long winded?) It's well thought out and substantiated stuff. There's nothing in there that isn't, technically, true. And yet as much as I can't really disagree with any of the 95.327% accurate criticisms levied there, nor can I muster the outrage to... well, care. (This not a knock on Shamus Young. It's a compliment. His writing on Fable 2 got me really thinking about the story in the game and, certainly, many are going to agree with his conclusions. Hence the pimpage of said stuff here.)

Fable 2 has it's issues, no doubt, and I've been telling Bill for a week that I couldn't decide what I thought of it. At the end of the day, however, I have no choice but to acknowledge the fact that I really enjoyed it, story included. Come on, that's surely got to be a little surprising to you, coming from a guy who thinks ham-fisted plotting absolutely destroyed the potential greatness of Fallout 3.

The thing is, I guess I just don't think of Fable 2 as a deep game. The whole game -everything in it- is geared towards the simplistic. There's a lot there to do, to be sure, but no single concept in the game goes beyond kiddie pool depths. It's a fable. (Go figure.)

Once I accepted that, I guess I just wasn't expecting any different from the story. The notion that the scope and power of magic, and it's use by characters in the game, is wildly inconsistent didn't bother me. Nor did the fact that the dastardly villain of the piece is, at times, unforgivably stupid. You're a cartoon hero. He's a cartoon villain. (To be fair, motivations for the characters are largely very well defined. The villain isn't a villain just the sake of gooey evilness.)  The well-developed NPCs are just two-dimensional at the best of times and the vast majority barely make it to the first dimension (what that means I'm not entirely sure, but let's roll with it).

As a premise, that's not everyone's cup of tea. If it's not, there's no chance of you liking this game. But if you can accept that, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with the kind of simplistic story and view of the world present in Fable 2. Lionhead makes clear from the start that this is the world they're building. It doesn't create any false expectations. Yes, the game does railroad you through just about every critical plot turn in the game. But then, that's really only a problem if you don't want to go where the game is taking you. In my case, I was already on board, so I really can't say I minded so much.

Suspension of disbelief (the ability to accept the impossible as plausible) is predicated on the notion of expectations. We accept that Bruce Banner turns into a massive bulk of green meanie because of gamma radiation. We accept sound effects in space in any number of sci-fi epics. We accept these things because we're conditioned to from the outset. It's only once a world breaks its own rules that it becomes a real problem and I can't really point out a spot where Fable 2 breaks its own rules in some egregious way. (Okay, that point is debatable. For me, it didn't.)

It also did some things that I really liked.

One thing I don't think RPGs do enough of is emphasizing that being the good guy is supposed to be a tough road to hoe. In Fable 2, though, if you want to be the world's paragon of human virtue you have to be willing to pay that price. (Spoilers ahead.) In one sequence you lose experience if you want to help some people. In another you lose your heroic visage (ie - staggering good looks). In yet another you could lose the family you've cultivated over the course of the game (this actually did hit me hard because I named my in-game kids after my real ones). This is great stuff. My only complaint with it is that it doesn't go far enough. The experience penalty really doesn't set you back all that much. Nor does the penalty for ending up looking like a harpy. Finally, losing your family really has no in-game cost to your character. Nobody in the world treats you differently (not that they did when you had a family either). So, as much as I love that the Lionhead put this stuff in there from a conceptual standpoint, I get the sense that they were afraid of turning off wimpy gamers by going as far with it as they surely should have.

The other bit that I thought was great was the notion of heroism being its own reward. Saving citizens from slavers, killing monsters, etc. It all gets you known in the world and people will love you for it (too much, really), but it doesn't fill your bank account. There's no monetary reward for good deeds. I think Lionhead went a little far with this given that knocking off a band of robbers, for example, doesn't net you any gold either. Surely a guy who takes from people for a living has something worth taking? So, yeah, a bit far in the opposite direction, that, but it was a nice change of pace nonetheless.

As far as the actual story goes. No, it's not Shakespeare. But if you like having stories that draw stark lines between right and wrong, good and evil, this does that. If you like the stories that play with notions like destiny, the enemy of the enemy being your friend, unclear motives (in the case of your gypsy guide), etc. then you're going to find stuff in this game to like.

Deadly Creatures

Ok I mention this not to pimp Brandon's review. Even though I guess I just did.

But reviews and reviewers are a funny lot. Brandon loved the level design in DC. Now, Brandon knows games about as well as anyone I know so it's not a question of competence. Binky's my boy.

Crispy Gamer's review says basically the exact opposite -- hating on the level design.

So what's a reader to do? (Brandon will say"Believe me!!" but it's not that easy.)

Of course if you believe what the polls say -- you're only reading these reviews if you have already bought the game anyway so...

In other news, am I the only person on the planet that doesn't get the appeal of Street Fighter? I know I'm this crusty old hater and all, but I just don't get it. But -- being the stubborn crusty old hater that I am I'm going to give it more time. I'm not reviewing it -- I'm not stupid (well, not that stupid) but Capcom sent me a retail copy after the debug copies I mailed off so I figured why not try a game that everyone seems to love? I loved Soul Calibur...and even Super Smash Bros.

I JUST got an IM from Jeff our News Guy "Street Fighter IV is freakin awesome!" I literally just got that as I was typing this.

Maybe I should just shut up and get back to Dawn of War II and King's Bounty and keep bugging PR about getting into the Blood Bowl Beta.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guard the Guy in the Bird Jersey

You should try to avoid stereotypes.

But they are stereotypes for a reason, right?

Case in point:

You are a young trash talking teenager playing at the local Rec Center for the first time with your boys on a Sunday afternoon.

You are playing against four tall, highly athletic players and one 5'11 (and a half!) middle-aged white guy wearing a replica Indiana State powder blue Larry Bird jersey. All five of these guys are talking like they have played with each other a lot over the years. It looks odd, the the short, aging white guy looks comfy on the court with them.

Now, using this as a quick backdrop -- what is the ONE skill you think said middle-aged white guy has on a basketball court?

Dunking? Quickness to beat you off the dribble?

Or SHOOTING THE BALL.

I think a key to solving this puzzle is when the other players do nothing but set high screens for the old white dude, trying to free his slow ass from defenders because he wears two think ankle braces so he needs help getting open.

But if he's open -- do you think it would be a good idea to let him shoot uncontested?

I love playing against new kids.

Blood Bowl Q&A Tomorrow

The interview with the Cyanide CEO is in the database and ready for posting tomorrow. I'll be doing a follow up to this one shortly as there are a few more things I want to talk about.

But I'm still calling this my Game of the Year On Paper. Yep, I'm looking forward to this even more than The Show. If this ends up bombing...no...no...I don't want to think about that.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wii, SNL and Alec Baldwin

Saw this at Fidgit --and laughed out loud. Funny bit -- that Wario game is on that top 20 list I posted earlier today.

Wonder if this will help sales...

Finished Fable 2

As the title says, I finished Fable 2 yesterday. I have a lot of thoughts to write up about the story in this game, which I hope to post in the next day or two; specifically in relation to some excellent stuff posted over at the blog Twenty Sided (beware: spoilers abound at that link).

In the meantime, I can only recommend to you this: Don't name your Fable 2 kids after your real life kids... unless you hate your real life kids. In which case, by all means, go ahead.

The 20 Games You Missed in '08

It's live at GameShark today and I think it's a pretty interesting list. This stuff is relative, but 700,000 sales for one company is like 70,000 for another.

It does pose an interesting question: what does cause a game to fail?

Illustrated Guide to Surviving Left 4 Dead

Good stuff.

Friday, February 13, 2009

MLB 2K9 Q&A

Doing a conference call thing next week -- I hate those, but it is what it is. If you have any questions, send them to me here or via email.

I like Q&A sessions where I get to ask the questions, damn it. I don't think that makes me a jerk (does it?) I just don't like wasting my time listening to the Producer answer a question about something I don't care about -- like jersey authenticity and "How much did *Insert Cover Athelete Here* help in making the game?"

The answer would be none, Mr. Murrow.

Life Lessons from the Old WWF

Most Wanted Games of 2009

The World According to Garp.

This was fun -- even if Brandon is insane. That 'Games You Missed' piece was pushed to Monday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Game Company News

I never post industry news here because I find it mind numbing but a few bits today caught my eye:

--Square Enix is trying to buy out Eidos. That is significant to me because Square has a great PR team, and Eidos does not.

--Midway filed Chapter 11. This is significant because I want This is Vegas to get released just so you can see the Sinatra impersonator.

--Namco is trying to buy out D3 Publisher. Go economy go.

--Oh, and Rock Band 2 sold over 2 million units (all platforms combined) but the execs at Viacom thought that was shitty. (My words). Viacom's words say, "While we remain enthusiastic about the future franchise potential for Rock Band, the impact of a slowing economy dampened consumer purchases of videogames in the quarter, resulting in lower sales of Rock Band than we had originally hoped."

When you bank on a game selling well over 2 million units, you're a dope. The original RB sold about 2.5 million units and the sequel, as awesome as it is, was released a mere 13 months later. This ain't Madden. And it still doesn't have the Guitar Hero name -- GH: World Tour outsold Rock Band 2 (by a lot) and if that fact surprises you..then that surprises me.

The WII version of World Tour outsold ALL versions of RB2 combined. (or damn near)

But check this out -- think the shoddy gameplay in NCAA 09 didn't matter? That game on the Xbox 360 sold about approx. 600,000 units. In EA Sports World -- that's not ideal.

NCAA 06 (ps2) - 1.32 Million
NCAA 07 Xbox 360 - 820,000
NCAA 08 Xbox 360 - 810,000
NCAA 09 Xbox 360 - 600,000

That trend isn't lying.

Oh, and if you are curious:

Madden 06 - 3.93 MILLION on the PS2. (The numbers also say the PS2 was THE platform for sports games. Since the Next Gen boom sports game sales have tailed off)
07 Xbox 360 - 1.89 mil
08 Xbox 360 2.48 mil
09 Xbox 360 2.23 mi

The sad part?
MLB 08 The Show on the PS3 moved 620,000 units.
MLB 2K8 on the 360 sold 630,000

Still think reviews matter?

The Top 20 Games You Should Have Played in 2008 -- But Didn't

Another feature I am throwing together with staff writer Tracy Erickson which should run tomorrow. We used a few sources for the data (NPD, VGChartz, and so on). Some games sold shockingly low. Our list is also just console stuff as tracking the nebulous world of PC games is damn near impossible regardless of what NPD says.

But we live in a world where Nintendogs sells 21 million units and Monster Lab sells 65,000.

Fable 2

I've been playing Fable 2 off and on for the past couple of weeks. So far, I've got this whole love/hate thing going on with it. One of the things I really  look for when playing a good RPG is a lot of characterization. I want to see lots of interaction and personalities lumped in with the constant stream of +2 Swords of Geriatric Doom and Scarves of the Baritone Banshee. I was a fan of Planescape: Torment for god's sake.

That is not Fable 2. And, for me, it's a strike against.

In Fable 2 there are are a few people who talk at you, usually to tell you what you can do for them, and a horde of people who just emote at you (and you at them). If you're a good guy that usually means they're following you around all the time, even into places they shouldn't, like your home. I get there's a burden to being a famous hero, but there's a line. If I can get busted by guards for trespassing in an NPC's home (which did happen, and was a nice touch), then NPC's shouldn't be trailing me into mine (unless I can get them arrested too).

The world, while huge and utterly beautiful, is at the same time incredibly shallow. There are areas where monsters appear. You kill them. Leave. Come back. And you can count on them appearing at the same places. The encounters themselves may vary in terms of number (and possibly type?) of opponents; that seems tied to your own level/skill. (I could be wrong about this, but that's how it appears so far.) Most quests can be counted on to have a good path and an evil path. Which is sort of the point of the game (and there's nothing wrong with that), but as a fan of gray-areas it's just not as compelling to me as, say, The Witcher.

But despite all that, I'm still really enjoying the game and I remain eager to keep playing. Perhaps owing to its thorough simplicity, this is an extremely fun game that has a lot of scope to it. Even if all of it is incredibly simple, there's just a lot for you to do in the world and I love that aspect of it.

You start off as a child (little Sparrow) living on the streets of Bowerstone in the world of Albion. It serves as a jumping on point for learning about the game world and the game's play mechanics. (Which are also very simple; a good thing.) But it's not long before you take a dramatic life turn and the game advances into your very early adulthood as you strike out to become a hero (or villain, I suppose), avenge a loss, and fulfill your destiny.

It's standard fantasy setting fare, but the kind of fare I can get into. Once you dispense with the obligatory foundation setting, you're free to go off into the world and play as you will. You can take jobs from the populace that range from standard quests (clearing out basements, collecting bounties, etc.) to actual jobs like smithing weapons or chopping wood. Even if the execution of said jobs is incredibly simplistic (press the A button at the right time over and over again to hammer a sword), the diversity of options is great. If you don't want to get money the old fashioned way (earn it), you can take to the gambling mini games. If you amass sufficient wealth, you are able to purchase any business in the game, which can add to your income. You can purchase new property to live in, the value of which varies based on property type (or business type), whether someone is already living there, the town economy, your reputation with the current property holder (if they like you, they'll charge less), etc. There's just a broad spectrum of stuff to play around with, which I've found really compelling.

Then, of course, there's the main quest. I don't think I've ventured very far down this line. When you're a child there's a gypsy woman that saves you and raises you and then sends you out into the world. Once you reach that point, through the magic of deus ex machina, she's able to see everything you do in the world and act as your own personal Obi-Wan Kenobi voice in your ear, telling you what you need to know to properly interact with the game world and what to do to progress the story forward. It works, but at the same time she's so obviously a gameplay device that it diminishes my ability to see her as a character in the game, which is the intent.

As for character interaction, as I noted above, there is none (in terms of back and forth dialog). You can build relationships, however. There's tons of emotes (some you start with, others you have to learn from books/experience) that affect how you're perceived. (How you choose to complete quests also affects how people see you.) However, the only real purpose it appears to serve is to get a young lass (or lad) to fall in love with you so you can marry them. This would be a fine dynamic if it weren't so easy to get people to like you. I've not spent a lot of time in town and I've probably got a dozen maidens all eager to receive a ring from me for marriage (despite the fact that I'm already married). I suppose that's the life of a celebrity, but it gets in the way of enjoying the game. I guess I just think it should be harder to get everybody to like you.

Once you are married you still have to spend time with your spouse, sending out positive emotes and giving gifts to make them happy. (Owning better property and providing more daily cash for its upkeep, as well as outfitting yourself with nice clothes seems to help too. Yeah, lots of little layers to all this.) Oh, and you also need to consummate said marriage. About once every game day or so (days advance very quickly so this tends to get annoying) you'll get a note that your spouse, "wants sex." Judging from the frequency of these requests, the designers of this game haven't been married (or not for very long). You can ignore said note if you want, but I have to assume your marital bliss will suffer if you do.

Sex in Fable 2 isn't gratuitous or graphic (at least relative to, say, The Witcher) and it does serve a purpose in the game. The screen goes black and you get the choice to have protected sex or unprotected sex. There's a couple moans (which is, frankly, embarrassing when your wife is sitting at the computer five feet away) and the screen comes back into view. If you went with unprotected sex then time flashes forward and you're awarded with a child, whom you also need to suck up to in order to keep the little tyke happy. (NPCs all have favorite gifts, expressions and places to be.) I have no idea if having unprotected sex with your spouse always leads to a child or if there's a random chance of it. All I know is that I'm one for one.

Right now the fruit of my character's loins is still a baby. I'm not sure at what point aging takes place or if there's a limit to how many kids you can end up with. The game seems to stay in a static state and then leap forward upon the conclusion of specific events (like having a kid or completing a major quest).

And, of course, there's your dog. Much was made of your canine buddy in the build-up to Fable 2's release. I don't know. I don't mind the little crotch sniffer, but at the same time, he's so clearly a gameplay device (like your gypsy guide) who's there to bark when there's danger or grab your attention if there's a treasure chest or something buried nearby that it's hard for me to see him as an in-game companion. (Which, again, is supposed to be the idea.)

I do like the experience/leveling system. You don't really go up levels in the game, but you do accumulate different types of experience (which appear in the form of orbs that you absorb): general, strength (melee), skill (speed and shooting), and will (magic). The skills you use to dispatch your enemies determines the distribution of experience orb types, so it'll be easier to build up your will tree if you use magic all the time (for example). You use your accumulated experience to purchase news abilities. Each of the ability trees has a set number of branches (strength and skill have three; will has more) and each branch can be leveled up multiple times. Doing so nets you more options in combat, like a stronger attack that you can execute (called a flourish), followed by chain attacks, etc. Again, simple, yet elegant design.

How much I end up liking Fable 2 will depend a lot on where the story goes from here. (If I get into the story on the blog, I'll do so later, in another post.) It's a compelling enough romp so far, but if I've already discovered all the gameplay mechanics Fable 2 has to offer then I've got to question whether or not it's got the staying power to keep my attention through to the end. (This is where I think the simplicity of everything could hurt the game, but we'll see.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

MLB 09: The Show Q&A

Pretty good read.

These interviews are only good if the team wants to talk.

They wanted to talk.

When you think/know your game is good it makes it a lot easier.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

King's Bounty...Oh Crap

Started playing this Sept. '08 release this week preparing for the expansion and a feature I want to run.

No idea how I missed this game this past fall but...oh crap.

Its hooks are in.

I'm in trouble.

Dawn of War II Wallpaper

Pretty cool -- I like that 2nd one a lot.

Sony's F#%^ing Piece of Sh!@

The Onion strikes gold again:

Todd that auto play sucks. -Bill

EDIT: Yes, yes, I missed that. My bad. (Sorry, Erik!)

Link here.

MLB Front Office Manager

It's not pretty.

What is pretty is the Q&A I did with several members of The Show team -- these guys love talking about their game. When you know your game is good, it's easy to just go off and talk about it. Look for that soon.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dawn of War II Q&A

It's live at GS.

Really want to see the single player game. Should have a review download copy this week.

Still waiting on a few Blood Bowl follow up questions and that should be good to go.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why I Haven't Posted About Fallout Football

I was going to do that yesterday and have you all laugh at me but instead Ashley asked if she could play a 'kiddie' MMO called Wizard 101. She saw an ad for it on TV -- it's free (at first) and so we started messing around with it. It is 100% kid friendly in that you can't chat at all unless you turn the chat feature on. If it's off you can't even see what others are saying. If it's off you have to pick from certain phrases.

If you can chat, sooo many things are blocked out. You can't say "honey" or even 'town'. (It's a child predator thing I assume). So after messing around with this easy to play turn based MMO that's like a generic Harry Potter game -- we were both having a blast. So I called the PR firm and got free accounts so we had access to the higher lvl content. After that I was awarded as the:

Best. Dad. Ever.

The game was packed last night -- 3 servers were full. Lotsa kids are playing this, it seems. Mary joined in with us last night and we played until about 11 pM. If you have a kid and want to give it a look -- I'd say it's worth it unless you want to avoid getting your kid hooked on an MMO...which is really something to think about...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fallout 3 DLC Walkthrough

I'd be upset with myself (and Binky would yell at me) if I didn't pimp Brandon's excellent work on this Operation: Palin walkthrough at GameShark.

If you need help this should do the trick.

In other site news -- look for a great Blood Bowl Q&A with the CEO of Cyanide Studio next week along with a Dawn of War II interview and a feature on the staff's Most Wanted games of 2009.

Have a good weekend and I'll be back with my Fallout 3 Football idea.

I No Longer Have a Goatee

But I do in this profile pic on Crispy Gamer. That's me -- bottom left. Today I am clean shaven and look about 20 years younger. The article is about the first game you ever bought with your own cash.

Darklands, baby.

Oh, and yes, Todd informed me that I meant Front Page Sports Football and not Front Office Football. Sheesh -- details, details.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My Number Two Game for 2009

Dragon Age remains #1.

But a CLOSE 2nd is Blood Bowl. Yeah, The Show looks great, Diablo is coming out, the PS3 has some stuff and Empire Total War looks incredible.

But Blood Bowl has a special place in my heart. See, I used to be a BB FANATIC back in college. I painted the figs, bought hundreds of dollars worth of figs and paints and spent WAY too much time playing the game with my roomies. We had leagues, tourneys, fights broke out -- it was great.

I still have all my figs, and 2 copies of the game.

So when Cyanide said they were making a PC/Xbox Live Arcade version I was thrilled because Cyanide made Chaos League, a poor man's Blood Bowl of sorts that was damn fun on the PC a few years ago -- but this is an officially licensed BB game and we have not seen one of those since this back in '95:



It wasn't pretty -- even for 1995 and had very little custom options which is the heart of BB.

SO here comes Cyanide and they want to make BB--and I just interviwed a member of the team -- peppered him with as many questions as I could think of, and I'll post it on GS next week. But every answer made me smile. In short -- this is going to be a direct port of the board game complete with total customization, player experience, stats, money, dirty pool -- you name it. If you have never played BB get ready because it's a dream game if you like boardgames, sports, and fantasy. It's (the board game) an amazing game.

Plus it looks great.



So sign me up -- I hope it's as good as I think it will be.

Summing Up Left 4 Dead: The Video

I just spotted this video via left4dead411.com. This is pretty much exactly how it goes when we get together to play the game... especially the part about setting off the car alarm.

 

OMG! Teh Spoilerz!!! Run 4 ur lives!!!

In addition to being about spoilers. This post contains significant Fallout 3 spoilers (at the end). Ye be warned.

Yesterday I read one of Stephen Totilo's blog posts at the MTV Multiplayer blog. It was about the fact that a few people had freaked out that he had a, "spoiler," in his review, which prompted Totilo to respond as to why he thought it wasn't. More importantly, he got into the whole notion of spoilers in reviews (be it games, books, TV, whatever). It's a good and reasoned read.

The offending passage in his Killzone 2 review?

It’s got multiplayer I have not played, an exciting score, obligatory motion control gimmicks, obligatory vehicle missions, and obligatory supporting character death as a plot device.

He revealed that an action game has a supporting character death? Zounds! Let's take him out back and beat the shit out of him! That spoilery punk bastard!

Note: That's sarcasm. You can tell because I used the word "zounds," which can never be uttered or written with a straight face.

Having recently written a review that a couple of readers accused of having too much spoilery evil, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart; something I've been thinking of writing about on ye olde blog for awhile now.

Now, obviously, when you're reading a review you don't want critical plot points given away. A Star Trek II review should not tell you that Spock dies. (If you're now saying to yourself, "OMG, another spoiler!!!" then there is no hope for you. There is a statute of limitations on these things.) But at the same time if you want to read a review of something then you have to allow for the fact that the reviewer is going to -you know- talk about the thing. A review of the same movie should talk about the notions of sacrifice and the greater good. (Also, that Kirk screams, "Khaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!" God bless you, Mr. Shatner.) 

So, to those who would have writing about games (or anything else) contain absolutely no detailed information whatsoever about the product being discussed I feel I can only say this:

Don't. Read. Reviews.

Seriously. It's gone too far. If you absolutely can have no scrap of information revealed to you, then you should either not be reading the review at all or you should just read the first and last paragraphs and check the overall score. The meat of the review is just not for you, old son. And if that is you, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with wanting to go in totally fresh. There are occasionally games for which I want absolutely no information either. Just don't hate on the reviewer for doing his or her job.

I think people have fundamental differences about what a review is and isn't. In my opinion (and I'm right, btw), a review's job isn't just to say, "wow, great graphics," or, "this thing is the suxorz." A good review has to look at a game critically and if you're going to praise or impugn the subject for something then you absolutely have to justify your assertions. And yeah, sometimes that can get tricky.

In my Fallout 3 review, one of my chief criticisms is the absolutely asinine plotting. It all but kills what should have been a great game. Figuring out where to draw the line in justifying that assertion with concrete evidence, while at the same time not spoiling the game, was tricky. Ultimately, I decided to use an example from the very beginning of the game:

Take your aforementioned exit from the vault. Everyone in the vault was born in that vault. Everyone there has spent their lives together. Yet, we’re to believe the day dad leaves, the vault’s Overseer is so enraged that he orders everyone to be confined to quarters, has a man beaten to death, intends to have you killed and threatens to kill anyone else found in the vault’s corridors? Even if the Overseer were established as dangerously unstable, which he isn’t, we’re to believe nearly every vault security officer is willing to listen to these orders and ready to gun down the same vault civvies they’ve known their entire lives, with no questions asked? That doesn’t strain credibility—it holds it over its head and then snaps it over its knee.

Are these spoilers? Absolutely. That said, it's information that anyone playing the game will encounter and pass up within the first hour of gameplay. It's a 20+ hour game so it's my contention that giving away the inane Vault 101 sequence was not ultimately going to get in the way of your enjoyment of the game. Not to mention, most of that content was already spoiled in the four metric tons of previews already published about the game. (Judging from the emails I received at the time, the majority of people agreed with that premise.)

From there I went on to say:

Whether it’s important characters in towns not recognizing when a significant event has occurred even though it directly affects them, a schism in a group known as the Enclave that is never fully developed and is poorly implemented, or worst of all, a moment in the game’s final minutes that simply defies all laws of logic (if you have the character of Fawkes in your party). The game also borrows ideas from other stories, including Fallout 1, without doing nearly as credible a job (the fate of President Eden comes to mind).

This was actually a much more difficult paragraph to write. Deciding to give away the Vault 101 sequence as symbolic of widespread narrative problems in the game was easy. Not so easy was figuring out how to sum up these other occurrences. I didn't want to give away any more of the plot, but at the same time I wanted people who read the review and went on to play the game to be on the lookout for some of the more egregious moments.

If you really read that paragraph it sounds spoilery, but there's almost nothing there that reveals anything specific. I didn't tell you that President Eden was a computer. I didn't tell you that in a moment ripped (poorly) straight out of Fallout 1 you talk him into offing himself. I just told you that there's a character named President Eden (an already widely published fact) and that he has a fate. Yippee. So does my grandmother. That is, by no reasonable definition off the word, a spoiler.

On the other hand, mentioning the Enclave schism was probably a bit much. In hindsight I probably should've avoided the word schism and found a better way to phrase it. Truly though, the sequence in which you must escape from the Enclave -a sequence that could have been all kinds of cool- is just horrifically bad.

And the ending? If a Fallout 3 reviewer doesn't mention how bad the game's ending is then the reviewer either didn't get that far (it happens; you can't always finish these things in time to meet deadlines) or he wasn't doing his job. That ending is among the worst I've ever seen. Oh, look. A room full of lethal radiation. Someone has to go in and punch in a code. Like right now! And I just happen to have this big green ally standing here who is immune to radiation and who's already done this exact same chore for me a couple hours earlier. Why can't I just send him in again? Oh right. It's not his destiny. I have to do it. Or, you know, tell that Brother of Steel chick to go in there so she can die instead of me.

Bethesda. Seriously. What the fuck is that? I mean what the FUCK is that?

...

Sorry. I know I'm straying off topic. But sweet Jesus. Todd Howard. Sir. I admire you. I really do. But how did you greenlight that shit?

To this day he still thinks the biggest problem with Fallout 3's ending is that they didn't let the player keep playing? Seriously?  Just admit the ending was bad already. It was. It was inexcusably bad and anybody who's finished the game with Fawkes in their party knows it. Just admit it and move on. Christ, it's like getting my son to admit he colored on the wall. 

So you'd think that by now I'd have a point to all of this. I don't. Wait. No. I do. I want the Internet masses to lighten up about spoilers. Talking about games (or movies, or TV) means talking about them. If you absolutely, positively don't want to know anything about something, don't join the conversation. Some of us want to be able to discuss this stuff.

Head Colds R US

Well, me anyway. Sorry for the lack of discussion but I really do feel like hell. Plus it is currently -3 degrees here. Nothing will put me in a great mood like -3 and a head cold. Oh, and both dogs have Colitis again. At least OSU had a great recruiting class. Always a plus.

Finishing up the MLB Front Office review today -- I maintain the "pass on this" advice. It's a lot like the original NFL Head Coach. That is not a compliment. My worry is that 2k will look at the sales and think "bad idea" but a GREAT graphics based GM sim could work -- especially for baseball. But you have to get the important stuff right. The sim crowd will not abide by the stuff this game screws up.

And I'm back to playing catch up before some of the big March games hit the stores. Finished Mass Effect and now King's Bounty is in the rotation (more on this as I get into it). The Dawn of War II beta is OK. I am the rare bird that plays RTS games for the campaigns more than the MP/skirmish stuff so the lack of theme kills it for me in these skirmish games.

I should have the Q&A ready for The Show next week.

And I forgot all about posting how Fallout 3 could make for one great football game. I'll get to that this weekend.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

SON OF A- (Dragon Age Delayed)

Yes, Bill already posted about this.

No, he didn't say enough, so as usual I have to pick up his slack.

If the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup (a claim I find dubious), then the worst has got to be waking up to find out that Dragon Age has been put off until the second half of this year. Delays happen. As gamers we're all pretty used to that. So it's not the delay itself that chaps my ass nearly as much as the fact that it's being delayed to release alongside the console versions.

This was the one we PC wonks were supposed to get first. I was supposed to be enjoying Dragon Age on my PC while the consolies were all busy doing... whatever it is they all do when, for once, they don't get the "cool" game first. It was going to be glorious. A reminder of a happier, simpler time when all the great games (ie - stuff that I like) really were only on the PC (Ultima, Baldur's Gate, Elder Scrolls, etc.). It was going to be like rainbows and flowers in Diablo: Perfection. Instead the console playas get the last laugh.

Again.

My world is shattered and I will spend every waking day from now until the fall... well, doing other things I suppose. Ah well, at least MLB '09: The Show comes out soon and I'll be able to use my PS3 as something other than a dedicated Blu-ray player/Hulu viewer. What I'll be using my PC for, I have no idea. Porn will probably be involved, though.

Dragon Age -- well damn

Delayed til late '09.

!@#$%.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Michael Phelps Goes to White Castle

I only first heard about the whole Michael Phelps/Bong thing this morning when I read a blurb from a Detroit Free Press writer how Phelps was letting down all the children. Awww. There's nothing like a good concern-troll, is there?

Anyway, that's not why I'm posting about it. Rather, this great, great column at Reason.com -written in the form of a Phelps anti-apology- is. I'm not exactly Reason's core demographic (being a shamed liberal with a hint of libertarian sensibility), but every now and then they knock one out of the park:

Dear America,

I take it back. I don’t apologize.

Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months a year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.

...

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process. And it’s hypocritical righteousness at that, given that 40 percent of you have tried pot at least once in your lives.

There's more if you follow the link.

Disclaimer: For what it's worth, I've never rocked the ganj. Well, unless you count secondary inhalation because the guys in the adjoining dorm room when I was a freshman at Western Michigan blazed up on a daily basis...

I miss those guys. They were fun....

Ahem.

Either way, doesn't mean I give a flying fig what Phelps does with his free time.

My New Toy

The one thing about Christmas time is that my extended family knows that safest buy for me is a Best Buy gift certificate. (This is coming up now because my dad and stepmom were down for the weekend to do a belated Christmas with the kids.) Consequently, each year I inevitably end up loaded with the little suckers. (Thanks to divorces and second marriages, my extended family is quite large.) This year was exceptionally good, but I confess I had no idea what I was going to spend them on. It's always tricky when you have a couple hundred bucks that you can just blow to decide if you want to with a bunch of smaller ticket items (say, Blu-Ray movies and games) or one bigger ticket item.

So it was that Saturday night, following a dinner out (thanks dad!), we were taking a quick spin through Best Buy. I was walking through the home theater area and gave a quick glance at a bunch of open box items, which included the Pioneer VSX-1018AH-K. Ever since I got my PS3 last year I've lamented the fact that my A/V Receiver doesn't have support for HD Audio formats (or HDMI switching for that matter), but haven't done anything about it since getting a decent box with that stuff isn't cheap (relative to my budget anyway). Anyway, compared to my existing receiver (also a Pioneer) the 1018 is a beast. Full HDMI switching, upscaling of analog sources, support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and even a USB connector that can control an iPod. The full price for it was $600. Well outside my discretionary spending limits. The open box price: $350. Cost to me: $50.

Ladies and gentleman, it is on.

That night I went home and did my requisite research, just to be safe, and found largely nothing but glowing praise; much of it noting that it stands up well to more expensive competing hardware. So, I went back on Sunday and picked it up. I was feeling good, eager to watch the Super Bowl and then Tropic Thunder on Blu-ray (courtesy Netflix).

This is where my luck from last week continues. I had pulled out my old A/V receiver and had largely hooked up everything for the new one. I just didn't have enough slack for a component cable I needed to connect to it. So I got up and was reaching around the back of the TV to free up some slack when I lost my balance a little. I shifted my foot ever so slightly to my right to compensate, only to have it come down right on top of the volume knob.

SNAP. Sucker came clean off.

I'm beginning to think I just shouldn't get out of bed on Sundays.

On the bright side, the box still worked fine so I finished hooking it up just in time for the start of the Super Bowl. (Never did get around to watching Tropic Thunder. Maybe tonight.) I'm not much of an audiophile, but hot damn. I don't know what the story is with my old receiver (which had full Dolby Digital/DTS support), but even I could tell the difference listening to the standard Dolby Digital feed NBC was using. The surround was coming from everywhere. Everything sounded fuller and more distinct. The difference was such that I really have to wonder if my old box was either a piece of junk (it was cheaper, but I thought it was at least decent) or if somewhere along the way I didn't have it set up right (hard for me to believe). I said something to Angie about it, sure that she would think I was just trying to justify the purchase and even she thought the difference was dramatic.

Whatever it is, I'm very pleased and am looking forward to my next go 'round with Left 4 Dead and Rock Band 2. Also, I received Fable 2 in the mail from Gamefly on Saturday, so I'll be checking that out this week too. I'll try to get some thoughts on that up later in the week. In the meantime I've ordered a new volume knob from Pioneer (it was cheap) and I'm hoping -nay, praying- that it's not difficult to replace.