Wednesday, September 30, 2009
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.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
New coach poll has Iowa ranked #17.
Penn State #13.
Iowa is 4-0
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
Friday, September 25, 2009
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
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
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.
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)
His Chaos in the Old World video is great, too.
See more at his website.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
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!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
5 straight hours of singing and playing guitar. As a HUGE Beatles fan, games just don't get any better than this.
I'm not "outraged!" by the way GH5 treated Cobain and Cash and Santana. Outrage isn't the right word. I just think it's really, really, dumb.
Harmonix made this game a celebration of the Beatles music and career and when playing that last set on the rooftop -- I got a weird feeling of sadness because I knew it was almost over.
I have two quibbles:
1) The setlist is, IMO, a bit short. It's a CliffsNotes version of the Beatles songbook. SO many great songs aren't here (yet) When I saw the final setlist I was dismayed -- no She Said, She Said, no Rain, no Penny Lane, no Rock and Roll Music, no Love Me Do, no Roll Over Beethoven and No I'm Down!! (Damn I love that song)-- you can go on for about another 100 songs.
Let It Be...
A Day in the Life
2) I was playing online with Todd last night and I guess you can't play "as" the Beatles -- meaning you can't have one person on drums, two guitars, and a bass. Not a huge deal, but I'd think a game about The Beatles would allow every instrument to be played and I can't see how to do that.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
It arrived around lunchtime today. Once I got around to putting it in (I did have some work to do, after all) I did so with the intention of playing just a venue or two. A few hours later and I’d played the story mode from beginning to end without stopping. I just couldn’t help myself; it’s that good.
Historically, I’m not nearly the Beatles fan Bill is, but the lead-up to this game put me on the road and the game has finished the job. There is just so much love in the design of this game and it shines through at every possible opportunity. What a great way to be indoctrinated into Beatles music and lore. Over the next couple weeks I expect to dive head first into every nook and cranny this game has to offer.
In terms of gameplay, yes, you could boil it down to being generic Rock Band with a Beatles skin. The actual gameplay is pretty standard Rock Band fair, but the presentation, the direction, the mise en scene (if you will allow) is just so utterly wonderful. Seriously, it is. It’s wonderful. Even forgetting about the bands involved this puts Activision’s “efforts” with GH Aerosmith and GH Metallica to shame. Speaking of which, if you’re one of those that can’t see the difference between how Lennon and Harrison are treated in this game compared to Activision’s handling of Cobain, all I can I can say is there aren’t words to describe how out of whack that notion is. I submit into evidence Beatles Rock Band’s final venue, a concert atop the Abbey Road studio (see the pic above). If I ever track down a video of it, I’ll embed it here. It’s just amazing.
Anyway, some early picks for favorite tracks in the game:
5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
3. Octopus’s Garden
2. Here Comes the Sun
1. Paperback Writer
That’ll probably change quite a bit as I expose myself to this some more, but off the cuff that’s the list. (It’s also influenced by the fact that the one Beatles album I have listened to quite a bit –all this summer- is Abbey Road.)
A couple notes about the special edition hardware before I wrap this up. My old stuff consisted of wired RB1 drums and guitar and a GH3 guitar. The Beatles SE offers a mic (and stand), wireless bass and drums. The mic stand seems nice enough. I mean it’s a mic stand, right? The mic appears to be a standard wired Rock Band mic. The drums are clearly nicer than the RB1 drums. I haven’t played with them yet, but I can tell they’re quieter and they seem better made in general. They’re probably really no different in construction from the RB2 drums. The Hofner Bass is just lovely. It’s just an attractive piece. It’s got a longer neck than my RB1 axe, but that didn’t both me at all. The strummer is much stiffer, which I like a lot. I have a much better time hitting repetitive sequences with this strummer than with my old one. The fret buttons are still mushy crap; they’re my only complaint. You’d think they could do better after all this time.
Is the set worth a cool $250? No. It’s really not. Fortunately, my Amazon credits knocked a $100 off the price and my Gameshark freelancing the past two months covered the rest. Given that and the fact that I needed a hardware refresh, I’m still glad I got the special edition. I would love to get one of those $100 lead guitars, but even if I had the cash it would be hard to justify any more expense at this point.
To sum up, my initial verdict: A+++. This is how you do a band themed music/rhythm game right!
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I have it. I’m playing it. Don’t want to get Bill in trouble so I’m unable to make any legit gameplay impressions. This post is just to note that my Be a Pro player was just drafted. The note sent to me:
Congratulations! You have been drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins!
Is it not bad enough that the Wings lost to these guys in the playoffs this year? And then again in Bill Harris’s rigged NHL 09 playoff run? (Sir, good parents don’t let their children grow up to be Crosby fans. I kid, I kid.) But now I’m supposed to send my little digital Brakke to play in black and gold?
Now, where is that pesky reset button?
Friday, September 4, 2009
Brought to you courtesy of the MGoBlog, which I love so, so much (pay attention to the lyrics):
When the color jumps back in and the tone of the music shifts it is just such a perfect moment. I cannot imagine a more fitting tune and montage to kick off a new season after last year’s disaster (not to mention the maelstrom of the past week).
Hope. It’s what’s for dinner.
That song, btw, is “A Better Son/Daughter” by Rilo Kiley. Never heard of it before, but I’m buying it.
I suppose I should be more conflicted about the game tomorrow. I mean I am actually a Western Michigan alum. And I loved WMU. It was a great school for me and I say that in spite of the fact that they accepted Wolverine-wannabe students with a slightly sub 3 GPA. It just doesn’t invite the devotion I feel when it comes to U of M. I take flack for that on occasion and that’s fine, but seriously, I spent five years in Kalamazoo and I spent my entire youth growing up around Ann Arbor. Some of my best memories from back then are going to or watching Michigan games with my dad and my step brothers.
I remember 1990 against Michigan State when Michigan having just scored to end the game was down one point and elected to go for two. My dad, stepbrothers, and I were in our familiar seats in the corner of the endzone on the opposite end, but same side as the student section. We saw the ball get thrown, but our view of the pass was totally obstructed. All we knew was for a moment the student section was going nuts. We assumed it was a catch. Everyone in our section did. We were dancing in a circle in the isle until the hush fell. It wasn’t until we got home that we saw what happened, that Howard was tripped before he could get his hands on the ball and still almost grabbed it. The walk home that day was miserable. And I cherish that. It was a shared moment that, for good or ill, becomes a part of you for forever.
On the other end of the spectrum there was 1992 – Michigan vs. Ohio State with the Rose Bowl on the line. I was a high school senior. I don’t recall why, but my step brothers couldn’t make the game so my dad gave me the tickets and told me to take some friends, which of course, I did and we were treated to one of the best games I ever saw at that stadium. It was the polar opposite of that Michigan State game in almost every way, highlighted by Desmond Howard’s famous Heisman pose TD in the corner of our end zone. My friends and I were in the 6th row and the dude was no more than 50 feet or so from us. Second best sports related memory I’ve ever had. (#1 being at Comerica Park when the Tigers beat the Yankees in 2006.)
Sorry, Western. You gave me a lot of good memories, but when it comes to college football, you can’t top the highs and lows of a youth spent growing up Blue.
So, it’s time to light the candle on a new season. No, it probably won’t bring the return to national prominence fans of the Maize and Blue crave, but it’s the start of a new season and all things still remain possible. And if the path back up to the mountain top starts by running over my alma mater*, then so be it.
And sometimes when you’re on/You’re really fucking on/And your friends they sing a long/And they love you!
*And, hey, if WMU wins tomorrow, I can be simultaneously depressed for what it might mean for the rest of Michigan’s season and very, very proud of my old school.
My time with Guitar Hero 5 is at an end. I'm not reviewing it so I have no qualms about putting it down. I have various reasons why I don't like this game but really it comes down to aesthetics -- and I despise the look and feel of Guitar Hero from the artwork to the KABOOM noise when you make an overdrive pass. Everything about this game looks like it was developed by some indie company.
But the real reason? I can't stand the set list in this game. I hate it with the heat of a thousand giant suns. And it has nothing to do with the bizarro world Cobain and Johnny Cash models singing Flavor Flav. And seriously -- if you can't see the difference between what Activision did and what Harmonix has done with The Beatles then you forfeit all rights to even partake in this debate. Because you're a dumb ass.
That is a very hard thing to put into an official review (the set list hatred , not the shillness thing, which is fair game) because it's wildly subjective. I know the band Rammstein (edited) has fans somewhere in the world. Just not in my house. Du Hast, indeed. I think that band is what the Big Lebowski fake band Autobahn would have sounded like, only with better bass from Flea.
I've been begging for the White Stripes to make it into one of these games and we get -- Blue Orchid? Jesus, really? Blue Flippin Orchid? I can play Sympathy for the Devil! Cool! Except I'm playing the PIANO notes on my guitar. Maybe not the wisest of choices, eh? It's like the people who picked these songs are the guys you saw at college parties who you knew didn't really like music but didn't want to feel left out of the discussion.
Like the Nirvana lyric:
He’s the oneTHAT guy picked the set list in Guitar Hero 5.
Who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means
OK, a bit harsh, yeah. And totally subjective, yeah, but of the 80 some odd songs in this game I like about 15 of them. And it is terribly hard for me to get into a music game when I hate the music, ya know? In fact, here's the songs I actually can listen to without either racing for the volume or becoming bored:
Dire Straits - "Sultans Of Swing"
Johnny Cash - "Ring Of Fire"
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Queen & David Bowie - "Under Pressure"
Stevie Wonder - "Superstition"
The Raconteurs - "Steady As She Goes"
Bob Dylan - "All Along The Watchtower"
David Bowie - "Fame"
Iggy Pop - "Lust For Life (Live)"
Nirvana - "Lithium (Live)"
Peter Frampton - "Do You Feel Like We Do? (Live)"
The Rolling Stones - "Sympathy For The Devil"
Santana - "No One To Depend On (Live)"
Screaming Trees - "Nearly Lost You"
Smashing Pumpkins - "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"
T. Rex - "20th Century Boy"
Tom Petty - "Runnin' Down A Dream"
Some of those are a stretch -- that live version of Santana is merely ok. And of those only a few do I REALLY like to play. So, that makes it hard for me to get into this game. (Sultans is a blast.) I got through the tier with Santana on expert guitar -- and quit. I just wasn't having fun.
So I have this totally sweet Rock Band 2 library of music -- I can play Stevie Ray, Jane's, Lenny Kravitz, and The Who -- I even grabbed Blind Melon the other day -- and oh, yeah -- Pearl Jam. And the Presidents of the United States.
So why do I need to bother with GH5 again?
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Okay, here’s another good counterpoint to the Free Press piece (of sh#$):
If you’re following the story at all, this is a must read. There’s a lot of looking at the facts, but this specific bit about Rosenberg really stood out to me because I feel exactly the same way.
The agenda, the motive here, is plainly obvious. Rosenberg has an ax to grind with Rodriguez. Whether it's because Rosenberg was in the Les Miles camp, or because Rodriguez is so different from Carr, who knows. Maybe it's because Rosenberg has, on more than one occasion, been removed from Michigan practices and scrimmages. Maybe he's been forcefed the green koolaid being passed around statewide. I haven't the faintest idea WHY. I just know the what. And the what is right there for everyone to see. Michael Rosenberg used to be one of the Freep's best when it came to sports journalism. While Drew Sharp relished in the hatred that his stupid ass columns conjured up and Mitch Albom somehow avoided the guillotine despite completely fabricating a story, Rosenberg was always sensible, insightful, and level-headed. In my eyes, he was up there with Wojo and Angelique from the News as the only respectable, worthwhile sports writers Detroit had. For god's sake, I bought his goddamn book, and this was after his jihad started. And it was a great book to read! But now he has let a personal vendetta ruin whatever credibility he had. He has presented a damning indictment of Rodriguez that lacks any amount of substantial evidence.
There’s also some stuff about Bo’s takeover of the program that strikes a chord as well as –despite my enormous respect of the man- a very fair assessment of the state of the program during Carr’s last couple years.
Jeff posted a detailed step by step video walkthrough for Batman. Great stuff -- if you need a hand or want to see first hand what this game is like. (Must play)
I posted a report on the NHL 2K10 conference call. Not nearly as exciting.
Binky comes in with a Guide for the Red Faction Guerrilla add on. With vids.
Today Chaos in the Old World ships. This makes me happy.