Friday, July 31, 2009

Stuff I’ve Been Playing Lately

I swear, at some point, I’m going to start writing more again. I suppose, under the circumstances, the fact that hammering keys down on a keypad seems a herculean task the past couple months shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve always had a healthy fear of the blank page, but of late, getting any kind of signal to go from my brain, to my fingers, to the keyboard’s clickety keys just ain’t happening the way it used to. Most likely I just need to suck it up and get back in the habit, which I’ll endeavor to do as the summer finally, mercifully, starts to wane. (Have I mentioned my daughter starts kindergarten a week from next Tuesday? Yowza!)

The good news is, after a couple months of hardly gaming at all, I’ve started playing a bit more again. Here’s a quick recap and some thoughts on some of the titles with which I’ve been messing around:

Guitar Hero: Smash Hits: Blah. Ugh. Blah. Seriously, the only reason to get this is if you have to play some Guitar Hero 1 stuff and don’t have a PS2 or if you just have to have the drum and vocal tracks for the included songs. I still hate the guitar note charting in this franchise (they absolutely murdered Freebird) and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever for these tracks not to have been offered as downloadable content or at least be importable into World Tour. Bill’s got my Gameshark review of this one in hand and may, one day in the distant future, post it. In the meantime, save your cash for Beatles Rock Band.

Red Faction: Guerilla: Not the revolution in gaming that some folks want to trump it up as, but even a grump like me can’t deny the fun to be had in just knocking shit down. It’s the same feeling all young boys get when building a tower of blocks just so you can see it go kerplooey. Great stuff, but I think the notion that this whole completely destructible environment thing is going to change everything is being overstated just a wee bit. It’ll have its influence on games going forward, to be sure, but this isn’t going to change the way all shooters are made, nor should it.

Right now I’m just in the second of (I think) seven regions (Dust). I’m having fun with the carnage, but I really want to see more story and characterization. I can’t help myself. I’m a story and character guy. The world and characters revealed in the game’s first ten minutes are interesting enough that I want to see more of that between missions. Right now, though, it’s just get a vehicle and find a mission to complete or a building to knock down; rinse and repeat. To be fair, though, I’ve been doing almost nothing but guerilla side missions so far; maybe once I do some more of the primaries it’ll kick the game’s narrative into gear. (I’m not holding my breath.)

Blood Bowl: I wrote up some thoughts on this already. At this point I’ve pretty much forsaken the single player game in favor of our online league, though that’s more due to the fact that I’ve been playing other stuff than an indictment of the game. I’ll probably go back to it at some point.

Last night I had the pleasure of playing a match against Troy Goodfellow’s squad of Goblins. (Be sure to check out Troy’s recent reviews of East India Company and Dawn of Discovery, btw. Great stuff.) I’d never played against goblins before and my inexperienced showed at various points. I kept trying to bottle him up and it just wasn’t happening. He was up 2-1, early in the second half, but owing to some very fortunate die rolls and the fact that he only had five men standing by the last couple of turns, I was able to eek out a 3-2 win (scoring on my very last turn, following a failed pick up roll on a kick off). As an online game, Blood Bowl is great fun.

Out of the Park X: Bill already pimped my review, but I’ll do it again, as it says more than I’ll get into here. Short version, it is still the best at what it does and this year’s version is the best the franchise has done. I love the fact that each pitch in a pitcher’s repertoire is individually rated. On the other hand, I quite simply hate UI. Hate it. Our recent inaugural draft for our online league really illuminated how needlessly difficult it can be to manage information. For example, say there are five players I want to add to my shortlist. Why on earth do I have to add them one at a time instead of being able to select each of them and add them as a group? The UI tries to do all the same things you can do in Windows or MacOS, but in trying to re-invent the wheel it leaves out simple thing like Ctrl+Click or the ability to open multiple windows. And the things it can do, it simply doesn’t do as well as OS-native objects. It’s frustrating.

As for our actual draft, I’d give my team a B. It was my plan not to be overly enamored with youth. Everybody wants to get guys in their mid 20s in these things, but there’s only a handful of really good players in their prime and I was picking 29th. Consequently, stars in the 30-33 age range, who still have between four and eight good years left in the tank get passed over. It was my intention not to pass on these players. And I didn’t. For about three rounds. Then on my fourth pick I bit on a starting pitcher who is currently, at best, a fifth starter, but has 5-star upside. Then I bit on a 20-year old LF who has huge upside and looked to be an adequate major leaguer already. The problem is scouts in this game, even on high accuracy, are lousy at judging young talent. These guys, whom I used my fourth and fifth picks on when there was plenty of major league ready talent available, are guys who can probably play now, but not not nearly as well as guys on the board at the time. This is what I do; I have a strategy, but I fail to stick to it during crunch time. So, what I’ve got is a team where half the guys are in the 30-34 range and the other half are 20-24. If I fail to win the division in these early seasons it’ll be because I built a team that’s caught in between being a crafty veteran lineup and an upcoming youthful one.

Still, the draft was a hell of a good time and I’m looking forward to getting the league underway.

Civilization 4: Beyond the Sword: I just cannot leave this game behind. I might go six months or more without playing it, but it always lures me back. I’m finding that the meager strategic skills I could once claim have eroded, though. I used to be able to at least be competitive on Prince difficulty, but in my latest go round with the game I’ve had to drop back down a notch (to Noble, I think). For one, I just don’t have the eye for micromanaging detail that the higher difficulty levels require. But also, like the OOTP draft, I just can’t seem to stick to a strategy in terms of research and building. I end up going all over the place, which is a bad way to play. I am trying to force/teach myself to be more disciplined in my current game, though. We’ll see how it turns out.

What really amazes me is how unbelievably well this game has aged. It first came out in 2005 for crying out loud and it remains a beautiful, finely balanced game to play. At this point I don’t even want a Civ 5. There’s no need for it. I just want to keep playing this one.

The Half-Blood Prince

More on this later if I have time.

But I really, really thought the movie was terribly mediocre.

And this is my favorite book in the entire series. If I wanted to watch Twilight, I would have. This was Dawson's Creek with wizards, stale acting, and filled with more important scene omissions -- and scene inclusions that should NEVER have made it past post production.

See? Me and Bill Harris can disagree on something.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Busy, Busy Weekend: OOTP Draft!

OK so this weekend was hectic. I have the NCAA 10 review done, and it'll go live tomorrow. Yep. B-. I still say this is the best NCAA game since the 360 launch, but it's still got a ways to go.

Next will be Madden as soon as I get retail code from EA. Hopefully really soon.

I also have East India Company to review and I am falling way behind on that because...

I spent 9 hours doing a live OOTP 10 Draft on Saturday.

Todd can't laugh. He was there. So was my dad. And Billy Baroo. And Maceman. And Todd's buddy (my buddy too, really) Mike. And Troy Goodfellow.

They can't laugh. But Brandon can, and will.

I sat in front of my PC on Saturday from 2 pm til 11 pm orchestrating a fantasy baseball draft on an IRC chat channel. That's how flippin' sad my life can be when the time for such silliness springs up. Mary didn't even chastise me about it. That has to be a trick. She's up to something.

Anyway, after 9 hours we drafted 9 rounds. We had 19 guys in the chat channel so it was pretty insane. A lot of "wow reach!" and "Damn you just took my guy!" comments. Fun stuff. Still. 9 hours.

I'm happy with my #1. I picked 8th in the 30 team snake draft and landed a 26 year old ace. Plus he switch hits, and as a pitcher, that's key. Plus he's 5'8 200 pounds. How awesome is that?

And yes, we sport the bow-tie.

I am a firm believer that the world would be a happier place if we all wore bow-ties.

Todd had a great draft. His #1, and Todd picked 29th, is a better pitcher than my guy dollar for dollar, but he's 31. If Gratton was 26, He'd be in Jefferson City. Actually he'd have went top 5 I bet.

I can't wait to get started. I'm in Todd's division so I'll get to see this guy a lot...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ian and Donny vs. T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Give 'em hell boys!

OK, this is something that I admit never crossed my mind when I was first told about the stretching of the Madden 10 ratings.

Players being openly pissy about how some dudes at a game company rate them as players. This is a multi-millionaire dollar athlete who doesn't like being told that hey -- guess what--you aren't winning a medal in the 100.

Houshmandzadeh is rated a 91 OVR with top shelf ratings in various (important) categories but because Donny gave him less than sound shattering speed he's a sad Seahawk.

My favorite part was when Donny dropped some stats and he basically blamed the entire Bengals offense. Hating the Bengals like I do, I smiled.

TJ averaged 9.8 per catch last year with a bad QB.

What about when he had a healthy Palmer?

13.3; 12.4; 12.0 and 10.2

So, what is Donny supposed to do? HINES WARD averages more per catch.

If TJ averages 17 yards per catch in Madden X then asshats like ME will say, "Donny, WTF man. TJ is a possession receiver."

Too funny.

NCAA 10 Recruiting vs. The Real World

I have a lot of shit going on right now with the Blood Bowl League, the Blood Bowl 2x elimination tourney, AND the OOTP league which holds its draft tomorrow at 2 Pm ET via Google Chat wherein I will show my BRILLIANT GM powers in the ability to draft fake players.

And there's this 8 year old kid living in my house who doesn't like it when I ignore her request for some Wizard 101 or LEGO Star Wars time.

Oh, yeah and that whole NCAA review thing. My goal is to post that on Monday.

In short, I don't hate NCAA 10. Now, I hated NCAA 09. I thought that game was $60 of fun murder.

NCAA 10 isn't that. I think it's the first truly 'respectable' version of NCAA since the launch of the 360. That doesn't mean it's award worthy -- but it does mean it's a better game than in previous years. I'm toying with anywhere from a C+ to a B grade. So that means a likely B-.

Now, that said, you all know how I feel about the Dynasty Mode/Recruiting model in that I really don't care for it. So, at some point this weekend -- I hope -- I will type up a little report comparing in a general sense how the 'stars' work in NCAA and how they really work in the world of college recruiting. My hope is that it'll be interesting and show some of the stuff I have been railing on about.

Or it could prove me wrong. We'll see.

My hypothesis is that there are a lot of 4 and 5 star busts in college football recruiting and that the process is much more of a crap shoot, particularly when recruiting LINEMEN than what you will see in NCAA 10.

And because of this, and the fact that the player ratings are so packed together, the teams in NCAA 10 all tend to improve to the point of Absurdtown.

NHL 2K10 Fact Sheet

Hot off the PR press wire, hyperbole included.

NHL 2K10 redefines the sports gaming experience with a new emphasis on social gaming. Whether you're a die-hard NHL fan or a casual player, NHL 2K10's pick-up-and-play controls, true-to-life authenticity and variety of on- and off-line multiplayer modes promise hours of entertainment for any gamer. Among the new features that will make this the must-have hockey game of the season include:

  • New Gameplay Mechanics - Completely rewritten AI, enhanced defensive controls and stick lifts, stumble shots, a new defensive skating model and new incidental contact and small animation systems
  • Enhanced Presentation - All-new rink intros for each arena, improved goal celebrations, enhanced visuals, and greatly improved, true-to-life character models, with San Jose Sharks commentators Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda returning with new broadcast commentary
  • Improved Franchise Mode - NHL 2K10 features a new contract/free agency system, improved roster management, an updated financial model, dynamic player progression, and fantasy drafts
  • New Franchise Co-op Play - Play a franchise season game with or against a friend on- or offline, or play a traditional game against the CPU
  • Franchise Blog / Integration - Publish your franchise stats and standings, and upload game highlights and screenshots to your personal page at
  • Enhanced Online Modes - New seamless online integration connects players in Team Up games, tracks your progress with My Player Card, and offers full league, leaderboard, tournament and 2K Share support
  • Create Team Mode - Create a persistent team with friends by designing your uniforms, developing a unique team identity, and then competing against other created teams online, offline and in Franchise mode


  • New Control Scheme - Choose between fun, easy-to-use Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls and Sideways Wii Remote support, or plug in a Wii Classic Controller for three ways to play
  • Full Online Modes - For the first time, enjoy full online support for Wii, including multiplayer and multi-console match-ups, downloadable rosters, online leagues, tournaments, leaderboards and Team Up mode featuring persistant created teams and regular Pick-Up Games
  • WiiMotion Plus and WiiSpeak Support - Enjoy online voice chat capabilities via WiiSpeak and precise one-to-one control with WiiMotion Plus

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Three Moves Ahead Podcast

This week I was the invited guest on the Three Moves Ahead podcast, hosted by my friend and colleague Troy Goodfellow.

It's basically an hour+ discussion of Blood Bowl, sports management games and Bruce talking about his love for 1970s baseball boardgames. I know Troy, Bruce and Tom fairly well (and know Julian by his work) so it's a very casual conversation. I had a lot of fun.

Listen here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some More Beatles Rock Band Fun

If you’ve been on any game site in the last 24 hours you’ve probably already seen this, but I’m going to embed it here anyway because it’s just too damned fun to watch:

How could anyone not want to play this game after watching that? I’m not even a huge Beatles fan and I’m absolutely salivating to get my hands on this thing. I just have to figure out where I’m going to get the money to get the $250 premium edition (daddy needs a new set of drums and a new plastic axe).

Next, is something I found via Jeff Green’s Twitter feed (@Greenspeak): It’s a video from the site Gamervision that looks at the Beatles Rock Band intro video “frame-by-frame” (it’s not literally that) to point out every little reference in the video to Beatles history and fandom. I’m not sure what’s crazier, that Harmonix put all these subtle nods to The Beatles into the video in the first place or the fact that this person was able to go through and pick them all out. Anyway, it’s worth seven minutes of your life to watch.

Easter egg hunt aside, that is just such a great intro. One of the things you have to give to Harmonix is that when they produce a Rock Band game (or the first two Guitar Hero games) there is such obvious love of music at the core of their work. I mean you just cannot produce something like this Beatles intro without a real love of Beatles lore. It’s a big reason why they’re so much better at this than Activision/Neversoft.

Blood Bowl Review

Here it is -- enjoy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thoughts on HBO’s True Blood (Season 1)

One of the things I’ve found I have more time for lately is my Netflix subscription. In recent weeks I’ve been plowing through my queue, though, not a lot of what I’ve watched has stood out in any meaningful way. (The list includes War, Inc., Doubt, There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma and, yes, a second look at the first Transformers movie, which I still say is awful). There is one that does stand out, though: For the past couple weeks I’ve been devouring the first season of the HBO series Tru Blood.

My use of “devour” there is not so much a reference to the fact that the show involves vampires -oh, but how witty I would be were that the case!- as it is to the fact that I plowed through the series with a vengeance. Despite that fact, I honestly don’t know if I actually enjoyed the series or not.

In the pro column we have the fact that, as I alluded to above, every time a disc showed I was sure to put it in and watch it beginning to end as soon as I got home (or after the kids went to bed, as the case may be). As much as I was ambivalent about the storylines in it, it certainly didn’t stop me from watching it. Maybe it was all the gratuitous T&A? (There is plenty of it and it does, at times, border on disturbing.)

There were also some characters that I really liked: Tara Thornton, Jason Stackhouse, Sam Merlotte, Lafayette Reynolds. Really, I liked virtually the entire supporting cast, with the exception of Tara’s mother who is just as annoying as they come, be she drunk or sober.

On the other hand, I absolutely cannot stand the male and female leads who dominate the screen time: Sookie Stackhouse (worst first name ever) and Bill Compton. This was unexpected because half the reason I wanted to see this show was that it starred Anna Paquin as Sookie (I liked her as Rogue in the first two X-Men movies). God, I even hate typing that name. Sookie? Seriously? (For a good laugh, check out the definitions of the word listed at

Also, it takes place in the backwoods of Louisiana and southern culture is just not my thing. If you are a southerner, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not making value judgments here. I just think there are cultures with which people identify and cultures they don’t. I’m a northern, cold climate, old world kind of guy and that makes this show tougher to get into. (This was a bigger problem in the early episodes. As I have gotten to know the characters, the southern aspect of the show has actually grown more interesting to me.)

The vampires are just as confounding. In taking place in a reality where vampires have recently come out into the open (in part because of the development of a simulated blood product called Tru Blood, something most of them seem to scorn), the show really tries to create its own set of vampire rules, while at the same time playing off traditional stereotypes. I’ll give it this: It accomplishes its goal far more successfully than that god-awful Twilight movie. There’s no diamond day-glo special here, thank god. The vampires in this show are largely savage (but still intelligent) and, like the rest of the cast, they range between trite and annoying (see: any vamp played as the ultimate bad ass) and strangely interesting (the simpering guy used as a source of “V” for three of the human characters).

V, by the way refers to vampire blood, which when ingested in small quantities is quite the aphrodisiac for humans. This is a notion I like as it creates quite the interplay between vampires who feed on humans and addict humans who, more or less, want to feed (if just a little bit at a time) on vampires.

I had hoped in typing this up that I would get a sense of whether or not I could honestly say I liked the show, but I haven’t. Mainly, when I think about it in terms of the supporting cast, I have positive recollections. These characters really are fantastically realized. I’m especially hoping the guy who plays an Iraq veteran gets more air time eventually. But when I think of the parts with the two primary characters, Sookie and Bill, I just want to blow my brains out.

Season 2 is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, but I’m going to hold off on it for now. There’s a lot of movies in my queue that I I’d like to get through first. If any of you have been watching the show, how does the second season compare to the first? Better? More of the same?

EDIT: As has been pointed out in the comments, Season 2 is still airing on HBO and is not yet on DVD or Blu. Netflix, which has season 2 listed so it can be saved, fooled me on that one.


Thanks to Mitch for pointing this out.

My favorite new addition has to be the bodacious Erin Andrews, who acts as the in-game sideline reporter; she can play on my team any day of the week. - GamePro.Com on NCAA 10.

I'd comment on this, but prolly shouldn't, being the upstanding professional that I am. I will say that the lead in title to that section of the review reads:

Erin Andrews > New gameplay

I think that's brilliant.

Blood Bowl Gridline Mod

From the modder: I altered the file to give a less obtrusive gridlines, the default blue glowy squares i found ugly and obscured the pitch textures a little too much, it ain't perfect (i'm still new at this ^^) but i prefer it over the original. To use, backup then replace in Program Files/Cyanide/Blood Bowl/Data/3d/Gui/Cells/Textures/

Grab it here.

View the forum thread here.
Very nice.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

NCAA 10: How Important is Dynasty Mode? And How Can EA Fix It?

I think this is a difficult question to gauge.

For a lot of people who read this here blog it's most likely a moot question: college football = recruiting.


I wonder how much the average NCAA buyer plays with/cares about the intricacies of Dynasty Mode? I consider this a very similar idea to Franchise Mode in Madden.

How many people:

A) Use it
B) Care if it's screwy

Team Madden has unleashed stat head Josh Looman lose on Franchise mode. I dunno if it'll be any good, but I feel more comfortable knowing Josh is doing it.

The team who designs NCAA for EA Sports needs a Josh Looman on its team. They need a guy to go in and say,

"This is absolutely screwball central and we need to redo this whole damn thing."
"Redo" might be a bit much but the devil is in the details--and I think, seeing as this franchise has been around for, well, a long time now, that we should see stuff that makes sense and should be able to criticize/point out/discuss the stuff that doesn't.

NCAA's Dynasty Mode has a whole lot that doesn't.

Chris Sanner of Operation Sports recently posted his list of stuff he thinks EA needs to do to make this mode more enjoyable.

Some of that I agree with, some of it I think is superfluous but what Chris fails to discuss is the meat and potatoes of what makes or breaks a college football game --
  1. Accuracy in Recruiting
  2. Believable Player Progression
Without these two elements working on all cylinders, Dynasty Mode is akin to Fantasyland.

Adding more busywork doesn't make recruiting "deep" -- it makes it tedious. It's like recruiting in College Hoops (rip) -- it's tedium. It's not compelling.

So, what's wrong with NCAA's recruiting? Plenty. I have been following recruiting for a long time. I have a pretty fair idea how this works in the real world, and there are some things that simply need a bit of fixing. Here's a few items of note from my current dynasty -- simmed through 5 seasons.
  • Know where players on each team actually come from. Pipeline states are fine, but there is no way on God's green earth that three 5-star kids from Hawaii want nothing more than to come to play for Ohio State.

  • A 5 star kid from Iowa doesn't have Iowa or Iowa State in his Top 10? Sorry, that doesn't fly either. He may not GO to Iowa, but they should be in the mix for ALL lowa kids. He's just one example but I see 5 star kids from Oklahoma, California, Missouri, etc without the home state school being even mentioned. That is INCREDIBLY rare. A kid playing football in Oklahoma? And he doesn't have the Sooners OR the Cowboys OR Texas in the running? No. Just no.

  • The game needs to know the breeding grounds to a better degree. In most of my seasons, there are NO 5-star kids in Ohio. That's insane. Ohio might not be the best recruiting state but it is at least in the discussion. Ohio produces top shelf HS football talent every single year, but in NCAA 10 it's full of 2-4 star kids with the 5 star kids coming elsewhere. A common phrase amongst recruitniks is that a coach needs to "build a fence around his state" to keep other schools from coming in as poachers. In NCAA 10 I need to go outside of Ohio to get most of my players. Otherwise I am screwed. It should be a BIG deal if a Michigan or a ND snags a 5 star kid out of Ohio under OSU's nose. Here it's a big deal if Ohio HAS a 5 star kid to steal.

  • How can a kid be a 'soft verbal' to OSU without a scholarship offer? Just curious...
All of that stuff would be nice, but is relatively minor compared to Dynasty Mode's real issue -- Player Progression.

In a word -- it's terrible.

Currently, progression works like this -- kids come in inside a certain ratings range depending on their star value during recruiting. Then, each off season, everyone gets better by anywhere from 3 to 12 points (or so). So basically every team's players get better each season and in a few years your Dynasty is littered with 90+ rated players on damn near every school.

It's a player ratings orgasm. In one preseason top 25 poll 20 teams were rated at least an "A" overall. It's bonkers.

It represents real college football like my daughter's soccer games represent Fifa. It's technically soccer.

What doesn't happen -- and what needs to happen is we should see a fair number of kids who are just plain busts--and kids who come in under the radar who end up being stars.

There are a lot of kids that fall under this umbrella in the real world -- but here are a few from Ohio State alone:

AJ Hawk was a 3 star LB
Nick Mangold was a 1 STAR center
QB Troy Smith was a "questionable" 4 star recruit (many had him at 3)
CB Malcolm Jenkins was a 3 star
WR Brian Robiskie was a 2 star
LB James Laurinaitis was a 3 star
DE Vernon Gholston was a 3 star

And that's just off the top of my head. Those are All Americans and/or high NFL picks we're talking about.


Jamario Oneal was a 5 star can't miss recruit who was not good enough and rarely played. Great athlete, but not a great football player.

Mo Wells was a 4 star HB from Florida who was a career backup at OSU. Wasn't good enough and was overrated out of HS.

DT Doug Worthington is a starter for OSU -- but he was a 5 star DE recruit who today is a solid player but nowhere near a star. He was overrated. Still decent, but 5 stars was 2 too many.

QB Rob Schoenhoft was an Elite 11 QB -- a 4 star kid who left OSU because he knew he'd never see the field. He's now in Delaware--and struggling.

LB Chad Hoobler -- 4 star kid who left school after his SOph season. Wasn't good enough.

These are the kids that hurt because you recruit them, counting on them to be big time contributors -- and they may not get WORSE but they either don't get better or they come in being less than the staff expected. You need backups and special teams players but rarely do you want those kids to be the jewels of your recruiting class.

This HAS to happen in any college football recruiting model.

In NCAA 10, it doesn't, and it really causes it to be an exercise in tedium rather than a compelling mode full of ups and downs. It's so regimented that it's turned stale.

And all of the data EA needs is right there on the net via Scout/Rivals.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

NCAA 10: Ohio State vs. USC -- The Epitome of the Good and the Bad

I have played several ex games (or at least parts of them), fiddling with various teams, trying out new features, etc. I started an OSU dynasty to get a feel for Dynasty Mode (something I think needs a lot more attention to detail but I'll get to that in a bit) and started off beating Navy 52-7.

Up next was USC. I was without starting HB Boom Herron who was hurt against Navy -- a plus for NCAA 10 is that injuries are more frequent. You'll see more dinged up injuries but Boom is out 2 weeks so it's Brandon Saine time.

Of course, a negative here is that there's virtually no difference between Boom and Saine. Maybe a few ratings points here or there but all of the players on the good teams are basically the same. Pryor is Pryor because he's fast and the USC QB, well, isn't.

Anyway, the USC game highlighted in stark detail everything right and everything wrong about NCAA 10. Here's a +/- bullet list because who doesn't like +/- bullet lists?
  • USC used one RB all game long. McKnight touched the ball 1 time. I am no USC expert -- but I don't think that's right...

  • The USC QB (the game starts Aaron Corp) had a decent game -- 18/31 for 222 but missed some open targets -- as did I controlling Pryor. I had a few dropped passes -- one crucial one on 3rd and 12 in the 3rd quarter, and a few deep balls that were nowhere near the target. This is with QB Accuracy at 25, FWIW. But NCAA 10 does a MUCH better job in this regard -- passes are not always on line, balls are dropped, and great catches still made. The game has never been so good in this area. Big improvement here.

  • Running backs fight for extra yardage -- Saine rarely went down on first contact unless blasted by several players. In addition, the animation where a player gets Platoon shot in the back is gone. There is even a nice animation where a player gets shoestring tackled and falls forward. Very nice.

  • Rushing the QB. Ok this year you can get to the QB if you speed rush or blitz. I can take a DE and sprint around the edge and make a move and maybe get to the QB. However, if a tackle engages you, you are 100% done -- locked up and defeated. This can lead to some extremely silly moments -- like when Corp literally had 8 seconds to throw the ball with a 4-man rush. At some point, a pocket needs to break down. 8 full seconds is a tad extreme.

  • Along these same lines, when USC blitzed it was rarely picked up and I was running for my life half the game, and the game speed is SO fast that you don't have any time to read what the defense if trying to do. Untouched blitzers can and should cause tons of trouble -- but every blitz?

  • I saw more than one occasion where my defender would stand still and spin/jig in place, like he was stuck in some weird AI pattern. Similar to the weird behavior from last year. On one play DE Thad Gibson stood up and literally spun like a top. I wasn't controlling him, but my buddy who is currently visiting (Billy Baroo) asked me to replay a play and asked "WTF is Gibson doing?" WTF, indeed.

  • The game itself showcased some of the strange playcalling AI -- at times it's great, and at times it's just loopy. Here are some examples of the USC playcalling

  • 1st quarter 4th and 13 on the OSU 24 yard line. USC goes for it.
  • 4th and 12 on their own 40 -- USC calls a fake punt run with the punter (fail)
  • 3rd quarter 20-10 USC leads, 4th and 9 on the OSU 28 -- USC goes for it
  • What is weird is that they DID make a 43 yd FG in the 1st so it's not like they can't make these kicks, they just didn't try.
  • 4th quarter, 20-17 USC leads, USC ball 4th and 5 on the OSU 24, :45 to play, OSU used its last T.O. USC goes for it by running a HB dive for 1 yard.

  • Risky doesn't begin to describe the playcalling.

  • The game showcased some of the cool passing animations, and the over the shoulder catches as Pryor hit WR Ray Small on a 54 yard streak, in stride, and the USC DB didn't try the patented "super human leap ball swat" animation as in year's past. He was beat and he acted accordingly. Very cool.

  • The game also showcased the complete bullshit interception animation where a guy IS beat and kicks into Super Human Overdrive and magically glides over to be in the path to make an interception. This cost OSU the game, basically, as USC scored on a pass in in the flat that was picked of like this -- the CB was nowhere near the ball but moved into light speed to make the play. He literally glided -- didn't run.

  • Finally, we have this -- and I am kicking myself for not uploading replays but this was just out and out frustrating. USC 20-17, 4th quarter. 3rd and 4 on the OSU 40. I decide to send the house. USC calls a HB Blast. I blitz, controlling the ROLB but get caught in traffic. The hole up the gut opens but my blitzing MLB fills it. I'm hoping an AI controlled Sabino can make this play -- it's Sabino vs Gable. Until it happens...

  • Sabino gets suction blocked literally by a OG five yards from the point of attack. All of a sudden Sabino starts to move OUT of the hole and TO the USC LG, who of course locks him up. It was like the OG used a Jedi power. Gable, who was staring straight into the eyes of my MLB now has a WIDE OPEN hole and he rumbles for 7 yards and a key first down.
Baroo cracks up and I throw my arms up in amazement. This one play, despite the pros and cons of how this game played out, absolutely ruined what was otherwise a fun, if a bit flawed, game of college football. I run the replay to verify what I thought I just saw and yeah..Sabino stands in front of Gable, moves at him then veers off like someone shot off his left tire and into the waiting arms of the USC LG.

Here's the thing.

NCAA 10 is a better game than NCAA 09. That much is very clear.

But it's a Band Aide, a sturdy, well padded Band Aide, but not the heavy dose of penicillin that it needs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NCAA 10 Early Thoughts

So a few games under my belt and here goes:

  • Presentation, play by play and overall atmosphere feels...tired.

  • Graphics are fair to middling.

  • Offensive AI Playcalling is as bad as ever -- late game playcalling AI still will throw a 5 yard hitch when it needs a 20 yard seam.

  • AI still is scared to death to try a 50 yd FG -- even on 4th and 12.

  • If a lineman gets his paws on you, it's over.

  • However, it's easier to speed rush this year.

  • Pursuit angles, for the most part, are better. Still a few defenders getting turned around not knowing where they are going, but the REALLY bad angles are no longer an issue.

  • They say that the Sliders are not working, but I sure thought I could tell a difference in QB Accuracy with it set to zero. Shrug.

  • In fact, I played against Illinois and Juice was 15/30 -- MANY throws simply missing their mark -- a first in the history of this series. I had Pryor miss many throws too -- not balls swatted away, or balls broken up or even balls dropped. Just BAD PASSES. I have been harping on this for years, and this is as good as NCAA has ever been in this area. This seems especially true if under pressure. They don't need top be HIT to throw off line. Just feel the heat. Very nice.

  • The AI will throw deep. (Just not on 4th and 20)

  • Lots of smallish injuries -- guy is out for 5 plays, that sorta thing. I like that.

  • Penalties are still silly and not realistic at all.

  • I have less than zero interest in the Price is Right Showcase Showdown or whatever the hell that's called, or Teambuilder. If you want impressions for those, well, not here.

  • Defensive Player Lock is really cool -- I play DE and I really like it.

  • Don't think I like the % thing on playcalling (you have set up this play 55% to fool the D!" or the "strategy" re: being aggressive, conservative or normal. Cheesy.

  • Player ratings. Holy lord does NCAA 10 need a Donny Moore. They need a team that does nothing but accurately rate players. I can see this once again turning Dynasty Mode into a bore. The players look and act the same and the ratings are WAY too close together. Michigan as a "B+" team is a friggin' joke. (Sorry Todd) But the players are all rated so close together, that finding/seeing any tangible difference between them is impossible. This is par for the course but after the ratings changes Madden went through...I REALLY want that done here.
So, first impression -- it's clearly, CLEARLY better than NCAA 09 -- which I thought was abysmal. But it's not reinventing the wheel -- just fixing up the loose ends that caused NCAA 09 to fall apart. Important loose ends, no doubt, but $60 worth of loose ends, well, that's the tough question that will be be answered after a lot more time with it.

OOTP X Review

Todd's take is now online.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Skullz Start Season on Promising Note

The Mt. Bloodhorn Skullz won a hard fought opener in the Blood Bowl Invitational against the Chaos Quebec Rampagers 2-0 in a match that was much closer than the score may indicate.

It is the first game in what is a grueling back to back Chaos stretch for the boys in green who get Corporate Chaos in Week 2. Said Captain Dimzad the Grinning afterward, "Weez gonna be tired of dem Chaos boyz. Dem boyz wit' da stabby 'ornz make me 'ead urt."

Dimzad would know, as the captain spent most of the game flat on his back. Late in the 2nd half when he managed to scoop up the ball he was immediately blitzed by a sharp horned Beastman and pummeled back into the astrogranite.

Thankfully for the rest of the Skullz, others picked up the slack.

Mt. Bloodhorn received the opening kickoff and after trading blows at the line of scrimmage with Chaos Warriors a small hole opened on the left side of the Rampagers' line. The Rookie thrower who is only known as "Da Chukka" fielded the kick and made his way near midfield when he did something mildly unexpected for an Orc team.

He passed.

"Da Boss payz me to chuk dat spikey ball. Dats wut I did," Chukka said afterward.

On the receiving end was Blitzer Gag Blistervex, who raced through the opening, shoving an unsuspecting Beastman into the stands along the way. As the Orc hooligans started to cheer and throw beer bottles at the Rampager fans, Rookie Chaos Warrior Belmoth Dha Ghur
came out of nowhere and put Gag on his back, sending the ball rolling near the goal line. It would only be a temporary setback as Gag would later scramble to his feet and flatten Dha Ghur (with a little help from lineman Gog Blacksoul) and race into the end zone to give the Skullz a 1-0 advantage -- an advantage that they would take into halftime.

The Skullz were down a player going into the 2nd half as huge Black Orc Blocker Urgot Thruzz was violently and maliciously fouled late in the first half by three laughing Beastmen. The referee was unwilling to send any of the guilty Beastmen off, seeing as that Chaos teams are notorious for referee slayings post match. In addition to Thruzz, lineman Gorka Morka was knocked out cold and wanted no part of the 2nd half kick.

Even down a player, the Skullz defense held firm, not allowing the Rampagers to cross midfield, although with time running out a Beastman tried an across the pitch pass to a wide open Beastie which could have proven the Skullz downfall -- the pass was right on the money...but was dropped and with it the chance to tie it up.

Blitzer D.O.A. Sorepain scored as the clock expired to notch a meaningless touchdown as time ran out.

Despite the victory perhaps the best news is that the Skullz will have every player for its next match against yet another Chaos squad. The Rampagers suffered only 1 casualty, as a Beastman will miss the next game as Bliztervex shattered his jaw early in the 1st.

Finally, proving that there is always time for levity in Blood Bowl game MVP Blitzer 'Feerce Eye' Bludskul, commenting on his earning the coveted honor despite not garnering one official statistic said after the game, "I wuz wut?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Much Going On. Blogged About None of it

Yeah, well, sorry.

I've had a very busy week and I'm about to leave for the latest Ice Age movie (be still my heart) so I'll make this quick.

  • Brandon's new Fallout 3 Point Lookout Guide is up.
  • I won the opening game in the Blood Bowl league last night 2-0 over a tough Chaos team -- full write up coming later. But the Orcs are 1-0!
  • I play Todd in the 16 team tourney which is seperate from the league. He's sooo screwed.
  • The Out of the Park Baseball league draft -- the resurrection of the New City Baseball league-- the draft is Saturday June 25th. I'm pumped. I draft 8th, Todd drafts 29th -- which is actually a good spot to be in a snake draft. I think, anyway. My dad's even playing again. As is Billy Baroo. And Troy Goodfellow. And Steve Bauman. Should be a blast as long as I win.
  • NCAA 10 is being overnighted to me by EA Sports. I should have it tomorrow.
  • Burn Notice is a pretty cool show.
  • The new Harry Potter game is pretty blech.
  • I like the Harry Potter books.
  • I sorta like the Harry Potter movies. Sorta.
  • Brandon sent me Neil Gaiman's American Gods. This is one f'ed up story! In a good way. Thanks B.
  • Ubi sent me a copy of Call of Juarez 2 to fiddle around with.
  • Our video wiz Jeff McAllister will soon have some video walkthroughs up for that game.
OK Ray Romano...make this quick.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Not to Treat Your Customers

The Blood Bowl servers are currently down for maintenance. Not a big deal. Granted I was going to add the final 3 teams to the league this morning and get that ball rolling, but it can wait.

But the way that Focus, or Cyanide, whoever is running the server show treats its paying customers is stunning.

This morning when trying to login I was greeted with an "Invalid User Name" error.

I try again. Ditto.

I try and resend my acct data -- it freezes the entire system. I can't Alt-Tab or use the Windows key to get back to the Desktop. It basically locked up my entire PC -- hung up on the 'sending data to server' message.

So after a reboot I head off to the forums.

Sure enough on the general discussion forum I see someone freaking out over the fact that the GAME says that their acct data is invalid.

Other chime with "same here", etc.

Finally someone posts that there is server maintenance going on -- they found it posted on the Tech Forum. And nowhere else. People who were playing games at the time -- had the plug pulled. No advanced warning that "hey you may not want to start a game, we're taking servers down soon."

The only way, that I know anyway, that you will know that the servers were taken down on purpose, was to either read the Tech Forum or read it via word of mouth. Because the game itself says your user data is no longer valid.

I find all of that pretty remarkable.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Noob’s Impressions of Blood Bowl

Late last week I finally succumbed to Bill’s constant pestering and downloaded a copy of Blood Bowl. As much as he’d be talking the game up to me, despite some of its failings, I was expecting a bit of a let down. The curse of raised expectations and all that. But after playing about six games this weekend (five solo and one multiplayer) and starting an offline team (three games into my first tourney), I’m definitely starting to see what all the fuss is about. This is the perfect kind of game for those who are both sports geeks and fantasy geeks, which is pretty much what it says about me on my business cards. Seriously, does it get better than knocking the ever loving shit out of a bunch of dwarf linemen, pile driving the f$#& out of their ballcarrier with a menacing Rat Ogre, and then storming down the field with your little rat (Skaven) Gutter Runner for a touchdown? Go ahead, try and tell me that doesn’t make the NFL look like a league for abject pussies.

This is such a cool concept that I’m ashamed not to have ever played the board game. As a PC game it’s nearly as cool as the concept, but the problem is this is just not a polished product; not remotely close.

Bill has waxed on and on about the AI issues and even as a raw newb I can tell you that he’s pretty much spot on. I don’t think the AI is entirely bad. There are things that I think it does well and I do think it is capable of using different strategies based on what race you’re playing against. I see the Dwarves create a wall around their ballcarrier while Skaven get the ball to their thrower and try to heave it over half the field. Could be that’s the extent of it, but there is at least some variation. Take this for what it’s worth given how few games I’ve played, but it looks to me like the game is at least competent at exposing an overaggressive/reckless defense. If you leave open a gaping hole in the field, the AI can exploit that. But if you play just a little conservative, with just a little discipline, keep guys in front of your linemen, then it’s not hard to stop the AI in its tracks.

My first two games I lost 2-1 and 2-0, with my one goal coming on the last play of my first game. My second game I won 2-1. My third game, which was the first played with a custom built team (Skaven) played in a tournament, ended in a 1-1 tie (against Humans). My fourth game was a 1-0 win over a dwarf team that never crossed midfield. My fifth game I won 5-2 against another Skaven team, but I was up 3-0 and then 5-1, so it’s not like it was ever close. Also, the two scores they did get came on a pair of passes that went more than half the length of the field; not exactly the most likely of scenarios when you consider both passes had to survive interception and drop die rolls.

True, it’s only a half dozen games, but if I already feel like –as a raw BB noob- I’ve got the AI’s number after just a handful of games, what’s it going to be like when I’m playing my 20th or 30th game when I really have learned to gum up the works and stall the AI at midfield?

The game also has issues that go beyond the AI. I get the sense playing it that the designers have a real love of the BB license, which is great. But I think they lacked either the time, resources or skill to put together a polished, responsive and informative interface and engine. It’s little things, like the inconsistent use of informative pop-ups when hovering the mouse pointer over a screen element. Or the fact that it’s too difficult to see what the AI is doing on its turn. (There is a log, but if you’re not familiar with BB terms and mechanics it’s impossible to follow and the commentary is 100% useless.) The online multiplayer lobby is, quite simply, awful. Welcome back to 1999; we’ve missed you. And then, last night, I had a player killed on the field. When the game was over he was simply gone from my roster. No note of who he was or his position. I couldn’t look up his stats. He was just gone. If you want me to purchase/create and name my players then there should be a lasting record of what they did when on my team and how his career ended. (Maybe I’ve just missed something here. If I have, call me on this point in the comments. I am still a noob here and prone to missing the obvious.) The game is littered with little bits like this that can make it frustrating to play, especially if you’re not familiar with Blood Bowl.

And yet I keep playing. In part because it’s just something new and shiny, but also because the core game is just a tremendous amount of fun. I really hope Cyanide continues to support it, first with a serious AI patch that ensures the single player game doesn’t become an afterthought and later with some work to improve the multiplayer lobby and to make the UI a bit more responsive and informative.

This game deserves to be great, but it’s not there yet.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th

Hope everyone has a fun filled holiday. And if you're not an American...happy Saturday. Woo hoo!

As for gaming...

I'm not going to continue to hammer the Blood Bowl AI (and there was much rejoicing) as that ship has sailed and unless they patch it I'm strictly going to play online.

I played a game today against Mitch (fellow GShark staffer and wunderkind) and won 2-0 in a game of Orc on Orc violence. (Defense Wins Championships!!) But I loved it because it wasn't against the AI patterns. Very refreshing. I really can't wait to start the league -- we should be up and running this week and I'll post some match reports as I get them. As much as I dislike this game off line, I love it online.

I am retiring from Prototype after 18 completed misisons of the game's 31. Too many combos, too samey gameplay and I feel exhausted after each play session. Alex Mercer can go $%^& himself. I don't care anymore. It has moved into the realm of not being enjoyable. So I'm done.

EA sent the new Potter game for review and Ubi sent Call if Juarez II so I may get to those Sunday. Tonight I am taking the fam to more fireworks.

Oh, before I forget I posted Brian's Red Faction Guerrilla Walkthrough on Friday. Good stuff.

OK -- time to relax.

Orange whip?

Orange whip?

Three orange whips!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Game Now on My Radar

I dunno why it hasn't been up until now, because I generally love Stardock, but I was browsing Tom's Fidgit blog this morning and stumbled upon Elemental.

And here's the game's direct link.

I am so in.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Blood Bowl AI

I was going to write up this long AI critique today but my Dr. has prescribed happy pills for my back so WOO HOO. Go Happy Pills. However, the BB addicts on the game's official forum have done the work for me so in that honor bound blog tradition I am going to totally steal that info and paste it here.

This is in very basic terms what is wrong with the Blood Bowl AI whether you play on Easy, Medium or Hard. It matters not.

This from a fella called Bitterman:

Speaking as a games developer, writing a good AI isn't easy. Especially for a game as complex as Blood Bowl. Some of the suggestions above are great advice for human players but a computer will really struggle to understand it. But there are a few easy wins that absolutely requirement improvement for the game to be at all challenging and interesting in single player.

1. Understand turns 7 and 8. It is completely pointless (and totally ruins any illusion of intelligence) when a team 2-1 down at the end of turn 14, with the ball, doesn't advance anyone on turn 15, making it impossible to score on turn 16. This is absolutely critical and 100% required that this behaviour gets fixed.

2. Differentiate more between team tactics. It is completely pointless sending Dwarf Blitzers forward on the wings in the same way as Wood Elf Catchers. Effectively it's like the Blitzers aren't involved - so you're playing against 9 men - I've yet to concede against Dwarfs, or win by less than 3-0 (usually 4-0). While on the subject - if a Dwarf team is kicking, it's not always a good idea to field the Deathroller - I've never had to face a Deathroller for more than three turns before I score and it's sent off.

3. Differentiate more between kicking and receiving. I'm not sure I ever remember more than three players being set up on the LOS, with two in each wide zone and a line behind the front. It's so predictable - and the same whether kicking or receiving. Why not set up seven Dwarfs on the front line sometimes? Or four Wood Elf catchers and both Wardancers on one flank when receiving, to overload it? Every drive is the same.

4. Team progression is broken. Goblins with Break Tackle are just the start of it. There's no sense that the team develops as a unit - players are given skills apparently at random, in isolation. This is probably the most complex fix because there's a lot to it (strategy, trying to predict future tactics, rather than just tactics in isolation!) but a few simple rules would make big differences.

It's a good game, it's fun - I mean, it's Blood Bowl - but the AI is very weak in the above areas. It'll never be as strong as a truly skilled human but on the "hard" setting, it should not do things that are just stupid - but it consistently does, usually leaving it incapable of scoring when it needs to equalise or win - no human would make such a basic mistake.
He's on point with all of that.

However it goes deeper.

In order for the AI to be a threat -- not to play a brilliant game but just to pose a threat to a good BB player it needs to stop with the excessive dodging and the ridiculous amount of times it tries to "Go For It." -- Going For It is the game's defacto sprint -- you can move 2 spaces more than your Move Allowance but you need to roll a D6 each time you move and if you roll a 1 you fall and your turn ends.

The AI Goes For It every turn and with multiple players. It is TRYING to set up a "cage" -- this is a BB term where the ball carrier is placed in the middle of a bunch of teammates who shield (cage) him from enemies. A common tactics with teams like the Orcs, Dwarfs, and Chaos. Of course the AI does this with every race...

But it is SO intent on this cage idea that it Goes For It like crazy in order to set it up and invariably someone tumbles, screwing up the turn. They also like to dodge...with Dwarfs. A lot. That's 10 ways of stupid.

Finally -- MOVE THE BALL. The AI will only move the ball when it has a wide open path. Of course a good BB coach won't allow that unless the dice just flat out betray him. A good offensive coach has to plan blocks, and yes, take a few risks with passes, blocks, nullifying tackle zones, etc. The AI is terrified of your players with its ball carrier. And will not move until the road is wide open. This is why my games are almost all 2-0; 3-0; 4-0. The AI will score every few games based on abysmal die rolls but it doesn't get credit for that in my book.

So yes, the AI has no sense of time, no sense of the score, no sense of its star player's skills and how best to use them or how to line them up, no sense of game planning based on race, no sense of basic friggin' percentages when it comes to dodging, goes for it too much, and has no idea how to mount a basic offensive attack.

Other than that, it's awesome.

Look, this is still Blood Bowl and playing the game online is about as good as gaming gets for me. The rules of the boardgame are mostly in effect and are brilliant. It's a wonderful game. But Cyanide needs to fix the AI like...soon. Otherwise when all of the new players who are learning how to play the game start bitch slapping the AI (it will happen, believe me) boredom is going to set in.

I just hope for your sake that it takes a long time for that to happen so you feel like you got your $50 worth.

On the Docket

First off, Brandon also Hearts The Conduit. You know we do have more people writing for GameShark. I think...I need to check that. Our latest boardgame column is up -- hey that's not Brandon right there!

My Blood Bowl review won't be published until after the league starts because one really needs to test the MP waters and I refuse to play against random dudes. My rules I make 'em up.

I have some more Offline Blood Bowl thoughts that I'd like to get to later (the short version: the AI still sucks but yet I can't stop playing it.)

But today I finally go to the doctor who will then refer me to another doctor/chiropractor.

About two months ago I took a bad spill playing basketball. It just makes sense, really. I haven't popped my ankle in a long time so hey -- why not move to another location? This time: my back.

The day after my back -- near my left shoulder blade -- was extremely sore. But I rested, took some pain meds, and felt a lot better. Then we built the fence. Then I went to E3 and slept on a cheap bed.

For the last two weeks or so my left arm and hand have been "tingly" like it's asleep. It's not like you sit on your foot for 10 minutes and feel like it's being jabbed with needles. This is lot more subtle than that. It doesn't hurt as much as it's sort of numb. Whatever it is it ain't right. And my shoulder blade area is hurting again and if I move my neck around I feel paid in my back.

So my diagnosis, as prescribed by the Internet, is that I have a pinched nerve. Today I go see the doc to confirm my brilliance at reading general symptoms on various generic medical websites.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

And You People Thought I Loved Blood Bowl

I do, of course.

But these guys really, really do.

If you are new to the game and want some tips or are simply a BB fan bored at work -- enjoy. Pretty awesome stuff.

Brandon Hearts Tiger Woods Wii

I despise the game on the 360. Despise is a bit much -- but I don't care for it. The day I miss a fairway without a 30 MPH wind is the day I...ugh it's early and I got nothin. Look it's hard not to hit it straight, ok?

So last night our young dog Skipper (he of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever blood) zipped out of the house and through our newly built fence chasing a rabbit. The fence is still gateless because if anything I am the master of the half completed project. I've really perfected that.

Our neighbors keep their horses in our back half (about an acre and a half of land, perfect for grazing) and I thought they were put away for the evening. They were not. The gate leading to our neighbor's property was open and the horses were chilling behind some trees . So I go looking for Skipper, stop by and pet the horses -- like a doofus -- and then Mary yells that she sees Skip in our back lot. So back I go and lo and behold there is Skipper...looking all shameful. I grab him by the collar and start to drag him back to our house. We're still in the back half of the property (behind the fence) and I hear the thundering of hooves. Bill forgot to close the gate. The gate was open to begin with but I should have closed it because...

Here comes all five horses investigating the commotion. Skipper goes prone. He won't move. This is a 65 pound dog who at the sight of the charging Quarter horses just decided -- screw this I'll play dead. The crazy horse of the lot then proceeds to try and step on Skipper like he's a giant brown snake.

It's at times like this that your love for your pets takes over -- you either love them like a family member or view them as simple side bets. Disposable sacks of fur that are easily replaced.

So I dive in, covering Skipper like he's on fire. The female Paint is stomping, Mary is yelling, Skip is still acting like he's been shot and I'm thinking I will never be a rodeo clown. Somehow, the Paint misses Skipper with every snort filled step (me too..) and finally Skipper decides to make a run for it. This whole ordeal happens maybe 15 feet from the fence. He seems to finally realize this and bolts -- zipping underneath the middle plank that keeps the horses from coming into our main backyard area.

Of course I can't run like him, so there I lay, on the ground. The Paint sees Skipper flee and then leans down and nudges me with her nose as if to say, "Dude I wasn't going to actually hurt anyone."

Anyway, sorry for that little tangent. I may not like Tiger Woods on the 360 but Brandon loves it on the Wii.