Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Realization

I realized something this week. I'm not a very big fan of 1960: The Making of the President, a boardgame that I originally enjoyed and was dying to play since it was first announced.

But the love is gone. See, this was made in part by the team that made Twilight Struggle, which is one of the better boardgames...ever. 1960 is no Twilight Struggle.

The game is about the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon election and cards are played that simulate certain events that happened during the year, but states are swayed so easily that it's hard to concentrate on a specific strategy. In our last game, I was Nixon and Mary was JFK and I ended up winning on the game's final turn when I somehow managed to win Alabama. As Nixon. Mary even asked me, "You sure we're doing this right?"

Nixon winning Bama in 1960 would be like Kerry taking Utah. No way. No how. Ever.

Anyway this isn't meant to be a full on review but suffice to say I doubt we play this one too much from here on out. With so many great 2-player games at our disposal: Twilight Struggle, C&C: Ancients, Hannibal, Hammer of the Scots and even lighter stuff like Lost Cities, I think the 1960 election has at last been resolved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rosters in Waiting

Just an FYI that I am on a brief MLB 08 The Show hiatus until the opening day rosters are released along with the very much needed outfield edits.

In the meantime I am wrapping up Penumbra: Black Plague and am about to jump into Vikings on the 360. The Baseball feature is pretty much done. Look for that on Friday. I'm also playing College Hoops 2K8 again, continuing my Texas State Legacy. Now that 2K has made CH 2k9 another DOA franchise, I am going to delve into College Hoops 2K8. It's this or March Madness for my hands on college hoops fix...and I can't force myself down that road.

Sorry to be so brief today but Ashley is on Spring Break and the house is full of 6 and 7 year old girls. Mary gets home in about 20 minutes and I can finally open the bottle of Captain Morgan I have been eyeing.


A house full of 7 year old girls. You'd be ready for the Captain too, bucko.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Binky's Charity Auction

One of our astute GameShark writers is running a pretty cool auction. Here's the details:

I'm selling a Penny Arcade Portal t-shirt autographed by Jonathan Coulton with every penny of the winning bid going to Child's Play.

On Vacations and Lawncare

There are a lot of advantages to taking your kids to an at home daycare (if it's a good one), but one disadvantage is that you have to allow for provider's (paid) vacations. In our case, that's two weeks a year, one of which is this week. So yesterday and today I'm staying home with the kids, then the whole family is cramming into our car for a round trip through Michigan and Ohio to see the families of both myself and my wife. (My stepfather is retiring from GM after around 40 years on the job and his retirement party is Friday. I'm sure there's something metaphorical in the notion that the party is at a zoo, but I'm not sure what.) Anyway, it'll be a monumentally exhausting way to blow a week's vacation, but it should be fun too. (Needless to say, after today, there also will be no blogging for me until next week.)

Now, on to my lawn. These two days at home have provided exactly zero time for gaming, unfortunately, as I've had to deal with lawn issues leftover from last year, in which about a 1/3 of my back lawn died during summer droughts. I bought some seed (good quality) and starter fertilizer last week and yesterday I set about raking up the dead sod and trying to loosen up the soil underneath.

Wow, was that a pain in the ass, for something I'm fairly sure I'm not doing right and will produce only moderately successful results. I could peal away the larger sections of sod like it was dead skin. Some of it I broke up into small chunks and left on the lawn, the larger sections I dumped into two large garbage bags. (I have no idea if there's a better way to dispose of this stuff. Seems a waste.)

Once that was done, I mowed the grass that was still there very short (it grew a fair amount more than I expected between its last mowing and the onset of winter) and then spread (with a spreader) the new grass seed and fertilizer. (Including overseeding the front yard which also had a bunch of smaller dead patches.) I then did, what was probably, a very poor job of watering down the entire lawn (I was exhausted and needed to wrap it up, so I could make dinner for the family), which the seed bag indicates needs to be done twice daily for three to four weeks. More likely I'll only get to it once a day at best.

Of course, today is the most windy day we've had in a couple months and I'm paranoid that the seeds are going to be blown right off the deadest areas of the lawn, where there's very little leftover grass to shield it. It's also about 20 degrees cooler than yesterday's forecast had indicated, so I'm not even sure if there's any point at all in watering today. If all my work yesterday was for naught, it'll be monumentally disappointing.

So, what say you, dear readers? If you know more about this pseudo-landscaping work than I (this is setting the bar pretty low), does it sound like I'll be able to look forward to some nice new green grass a month from now? Or am I going to spend the summer looking depressingly at all the barren dirt in my backyard?

Monday, March 24, 2008

2K8 patch in the Works

Got this from 2K today re: the MLB 2K8 patch:

We have been made aware of certain gameplay experience issues within Major League Baseball 2K8 that may effect the enjoyment for some players, and we are in the process of testing downloadable updates for both the Xbox 360 and PLAYSTATION 3 versions. Specifically, the Xbox 360 update will increase the frames per second to help improve the overall gameplay experience, while another update for both the Xbox 360 and PLAYSTATION 3 will correct an issue in Franchise mode when playing as the San Diego Padres and attempting to move players to and from their minor league roster. These updates are currently undergoing technical review, and will be available for download shortly, free of charge.

We are also aware of certain gameplay issues with the Wii and PlayStation2 versions of Major League Baseball 2K8. While there is currently not an update available for these platforms, as they do not yet have the network capability to issue updates, our team is working tirelessly to find other alternative solutions to provide an improved gameplay experience. We appreciate the feedback from all of our dedicated fans, and will continue to provide other updates and information when available.


What that last bit means...I really have no idea.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More MLB 08

A few more thoughts today after several more games over the weekend.
  • Looking for walks? I think there are a few key sliders that help this: CPU Pitch Aggressiveness. I put this at zero. I also bump pitch count a few clicks and drastically lower strike %. The control slider seems to be window dressing. I walk more times in MLB 08 than I ever did in High Heat.
  • I have the doubles down the line issue pretty much resolved at this point. It's not 100% authentic but it's certainly good enough for me. I focused on a few key attribute edits as well as slider tweaks. I am convinced that baserunning speed and infield arm strength -- those in-game sliders do absolutely nothing. When maxed out, the base runners aren't any faster and the arms look the same as when set to default.
  • However, the key edits are: OF reaction, Arm str, and Fielding Ability. Currently, the scale used in the game is a 100 point system. That's too high. There are players with reaction and fielding near 100 and they can cover damn near the entire outfield. I have no formula per se to lower these, but I dramatically lower the fielding attributes of every OFer in the game, as well as their reaction. Most players are well under the 50% mark in both areas. This doesn't make them play like Greg Luzinski, but it does help improve the chance of a realistic double. Same for Arm Str. The best arms I have are now at 50% -- and they can still throw runners out but the CPU seems much more willing to stretch hits into doubles instead of fearing a laser beam from left center.

This has greatly improved my experience with this game and after about 10 games using these edits playing with the Reds in Chicago, Houston, and LA, I have had very few instances where it negatively affected gameplay. Once the roster gurus fix the simmed stolen base issue, I'll be good to go for my franchise.

Did I mention how incredible this game is?

Friday, March 21, 2008

MLB The Show Slider Experiments

OK -- the latest.

A lot of this is going to vary depending on teams, the stadiums, etc.

But here are a few examples of the latest slider test: Both games were played @ Houston, with its short porch in LF.

Freel hits a rocket into LF (not a hard grounder but a pretty well hit ball) that gets past Lee and rolls to the wall. Lee grabs it and throws to the relay man who fires it to second and Freel slides, beating the tag. Without the tweaks, this is a single. No doubt in my mind.

Later in the game Tejada rips one to left that lands almost right ON the line near the warning track. Dunn hustles over, bare hands the ball off the wall-hop and throws it to 2nd -- Tejada slides in safe with a double. It was close -- but he beat the throw. Without the edits, I think both of these are either singles or the runners are thrown out.

Both, to me, looked liked doubles the moment they were hit. This is admittedly a very small sample (2 games) but right now I am focusing on:

Batting Contact (slider)
Pitch Speed (slider)
Baserunning Speed (slider)
IF throwing Speed (slider)
Outfielder Reaction (Attribute)
OF Fielding -- more important than I thought (Attribute)
OF Arm Strength --another vital one I think (Attribute)

This might end up blowing up later on, but man...really liked that two game sample.

I lost game two 6-5 to the Astros with Berkman, Tejada, Freel, and Junior all hitting legit doubles. So far so good.


This review of The Show I find to be rather ...odd. Not because 1UP gives it a B- (This game is a B- like The Godfather is a good Indie flick) but because I really have no idea what this fellow is talking about. 1UP reviews are meant to be rather short, which is fine, but why waste half of the article on...that?

And you people think I'm tough on games. Hah.

The Show

Well, this game is making me jump in with both feet. I decided to take a 'personal day' yesterday and after doing my regular Gameshark duties I spent the rest of it fiddling with The Show.

This really is a great game. It gets SO many things right that other games simply...don't. And a lot of it is subtle. Here's an example:

Yesterday, playing as the Reds, I had speedster Ryan Freel on 2nd, with 2 outs. Adam Dunn at the plate and he hits a soft liner to center field for a routine base hit. OK, nothing revolutionary there.

But Freel scores without a throw, jogging across home plate for a run. While a baseball fan might read that and think , "Yeah...and?" you need to understand how RARE that is in baseball videogames. In fact it took us a LOT of trial and error and tune file tweaks to get this to work right in High Heat Baseball. We did get it to work, but it took some doin'. Try that little move in MLB 2K6, 7, or 8 and watch what happens. Freel better run his ass off...

With his confidence shaking, Reds starter Aaron Harang walked back to back batters last night. I was using Harang and could NOT find the plate. Finally, with 2 on and 2 out I tried to throw a pitch low and away but Harang was now a mental mess and ended up throwing the ball right down the middle and Chase Utley ripped it for a double, clearing the bases.

That's not going to happen in any other game. First off, I'm not walking back to back batters unless I want to and no way will I aim low and away and end up serving up a gopher ball. Harang is a damn good pitcher but he was tired and his confidence was shot to hell. Lesson learned -- call the bullpen.

Now, there are issues. There are things that need tweaked and it's here where I truly miss the intricate detail of the old High Heat tune file. I can't decide if the outfielders are too fast or quick to react or if the base runners are a shade too slow, but doubles, like the one mentioned above, aren't too common -- particularly hits down the line. This was an issue with this game on the PS2 a few years ago and it's still here.

When a batter hits the ball down the right or left field line, over the bag -- unless a major defensive shift is on -- that's GOTTA be a double. Has to be. Here, it's not, unless the ball was tattooed and rattles around in the corner. But hitting the ball into said corner is tough because the outfielders cover so much ground -- quickly. Almost all of the doubles in the game are gappers, and even those aren't too common. I usually see 1 double per game, which is about 2 or 3 too few. That may not sound like a big deal but the outfielder reaction and speed has other effects as well.

There are a lot of sliders in the game, including "reaction speed" but that slider doesn't seem to do a whole helluva lot. Turns out you can edit player ratings IN franchise mode (nice) but even after lowering reaction speed attributes it's still just a

So I'm still messing with stuff to see if I can find a slider or attribute solution. This is by no means a game killer considering everything else that this game does so spectacularly well, but it's just the baseball geek inside me that wants to see if I can find a workable solution.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Todd Does MLB 2K8

And reviews it right here.

My Baseball Feature has been delayed mainly because I need to play more of MLB 08 The Show before including it. I'm thoroughly enjoying the game but I should at least get a week's mileage out of any game before deeming it a Top 10 of anything. Ah, ethics. I am such a great person.

Michael's latest Cracked LCD is live today with a tribute of sorts to Gary Gygax.

NCAA tourney starts today. A great day to work from home!

One last thing -- I have been playing a lot of Xbox Live with Todd and a old college buddy who now lives near Chicago -- he's in the Navy. In Chicago. Don't ask. Anyway does anyone have any suggestions for multiplayer XBL Arcade games aside from Catan and Carcassonne that are worth the effort?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Closing the Book on MLB 2k8

I've been quiet for a few days, but I've been continuing to play MLB 2k8. I probably have a dozen or so games in at this point and hope to have a review draft up to Bill by tonight or tomorrow morning. This is just such a monumentally frustrating game. If you can pretend the framerate issues aren't there, that fielders aren't prone to running right over a ball, that a fielder with the ball in hand and a baserunner don't pass right through each on the basepaths, etc. then you can, in fact, have a lot of fun with this game. A lot of fun. Given that I don't have a PS3 or PSP on which I can play MLB '08 instead, I do plan to keep playing this game even after the review is done. (I'll just wait for final rosters, hope for a patch, and then see how far I can get into playing a single, full season.)

Right now I've established an uneasy truce with the game by turning off the audio commentary (something I did after the first game), letting the AI handle off-the-field roster management (the UI makes it too much trouble) and tuning the AI pitching such that it will throw pitches outside the strike zone with regularity. (Thank goodness that slider works.) I've also gone back to the dynamic fielding camera. I so want to use the aerial one, but I just cannot track a hit ball with that view. I end up reflexively running my fielder in three different directions as I try to figure out just where any given ball has been hit. I'm not sure if that's a failing with the game or the ability of my eyes to send signals to my brain properly... but it's one or the other.

Anyway, if you *need* a baseball game to play this summer and all you've got is a 360, don't avoid MLB 2k8. Just don't expect too much. The pitching model is a lot of fun, and the hitting model, while simplistic, can grow on you. It's also fully capable of providing some exciting baseball. Over the weekend I was playing the Tigers in Cleveland. I had a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth. I brought in Joel Zumaya as the setup man and they just rocked him. I think I got one out before I pulled him for Fernando Rodney, having already surrendered a run and loaded the bases. The ho-hum stadium atmosphere was suddenly electric. With Rodney I was able to get out of the inning trailing just 3-2. In the top of the ninth, I got a one out, two run homer from Miguel Cabrera and went on to win the game 5-2. It was absolutely exhilarating.

Go Bucks!

#1 HS recruit Terrelle Pryor finally made it official today by choosing OSU over Michigan and Penn State much to the surprise one that has really followed his recruitment.

I'm happy. Very happy.
In other news, GameShark is starting a new feature today called Indie Chat, where we talk with independent PC game developers. We start it off with an interview with Wolverine Studios' Gary Gorski -- who is no doubt thrilled with the Pryor news. This will be a semi regular feature on GS.
The other new regular feature, the GameShark Top Ten, should start off this Friday with the Top Ten Baseball feature. This is actually a lot tougher to do than I first realized.

When doing this sort of thing you have to distinguish between greatness and influence. Hardball may or may not make the list, for example. No one doubts the importance of that game -- but is it Top 10 great? It's a VERY important release, but there are a lot of very good baseball games out there.

Also, do I include something like MVP Baseball '05? Out of the box it was decent but it really took off when the modders basically recoded the damn game. High Heat is different -- it had a tune file built in. MVP required serious post release work from users. Is that fair?
Anyway, that will be ready to go on Friday. Hopefully.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bill's Current Cereal of Choice + The Black Plague

This stuff is great. As a connoisseur of cold cereal -- this will certainly get a second box run. Ironically, I love to cook -- I'm not Iron Chef Abner but put me in a kitchen and I know my way around.

But cereal remains the breakfast of choice on weekdays in our house, and this new one ranks very high.

Oh, and I'm playing Penumbra: Black Plague right now, and it's super cool. I adore creepy, dark adventure games like this -- even ones that run on so-so technology. I have had to put my MLB 08 play on hold at the moment to do actual work. At least Penumbra is fun.

The Top 10 Baseball feature is coming along, and I'll be sure to link to it when it's live. In other GameShark news, Binky's new column is up as is his Smash Bros review. Hooray for Mr. Binky.

Monday, March 17, 2008

NCAA Blech

So the selection committee decided Ohio State should be A #1 seed -- in the NIT. Fair enough. OSU had a rough year, with only two ranked wins against Purdue and MSU. The Florida win turned out to be...well, sorta ok. Same with the Syracuse win.

The problem for the Bucks was no quality road wins at all and losses at Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. And when you get right down to it, OSU probably didn't deserve a bid and would have most likely played one or two games, tops. They are a talented yet inconsistent team.

But once again the people that pick these teams...I just don't get it.

Oregon a 9 seed? OREGON!? Indiana is an 8 and Michigan State a 5? MSU finished 4th in the B10. Kentucky gets in? Why? Butler is a 7 seed? Wha? A top 15 team ALL YEAR and they get a 7 seed? The SEC gets SIX teams in? Are you kidding me? Arizona is in because...

The politicians that sit on that board say that RPI is vital, then ignore it. They say a tough OOC schedule is vital, and then ignore it. It's frustrating as hell. Granted, it will most likely be moot as usually it's the top 4 seeds that make a run anyway, but it seems and feels dirty to me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dawn of War Wimpers; Best of Baseball

My review of the final Dawn of War addon is live. I love Warhammer, but this just doesn't cut it.

Anyway, GameShark starts its "Top Ten" lists next week. Basically, once a week we'll run down a 'best of' list on a different topic. It's an easy, (some would say cheap) feature but one thing I have learned doing this for so long -- people like lists. So we'll provided them a list of stuff. See...I aim to please.
I think whenever you start talking about "best of" lists you need to define what it is you are actually listing. When you see a Commodore 64 game on a Best Of list I don't think the writer really feels that the game stacks up with current generation products. So these lists inevitably turn into a "most influential" type of thing, which is fine. Personally, I look at it as "what was the most fun when I played it."

If I could play High Heat 2002 PC right now, today, (I can't on XP) I doubt it would measure up the same way. And that's ok. I'd still love the interface...but time and technology marches on. But High Heat will clearly make that list. BTW anyone remember the game pictured? True classic.

So The Top Ten Baseball Games will lead things off. We have planned features of the ten most aggravating gaming moments, the top ten games based on a movie, Troy Goodfellow is working on an Ancients it will hopefully cover a wide array of topics.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"pitchers and stuff about weasels"

Whoever typed that into Google in order to find us -- thank you. That was hilarious.

MLB2k8 Fielding Cam

Just a quick note before my wife and I head out for dinner. I played a couple more games last night with the fielding cam (how on Earth did I not see that option?) set to Aerial. It's closer to what I'd like to see, but it's sort of a fixed camera position. I don't think (I have the memory of a fruit fly, so I'm not positive) it's completely stationary. Certainly, it swivels as needed and it might shift its position a small amount, but it's not a great view for infield action. It's also very difficult to see the ball, which is to scale and, thus, tiny (the tracking arrow thingy really doesn't help much in this view). So, it's an improvement (for me) over the default, but I'd love to see a more dynamic camera in a future edition that better balances the context of a situation (zoomed in more on infield plays and out more with better ball-to-player tracking on fly balls to the outfield) and is able to logically place itself on the field where it's going provide the best view of both the ball and the player moving to field it.

Also, this is starting to look like one of those rare sports games that actually improves as you play it. (Instead of vice-versa.) On first impression, it's a disaster. But as many others have found, if you can get past all the slop, it really appears that there's a good baseball game in there. I don't think it'll be good enough to warrant a $60 purchase (at least, not without a hell of a patch), but the pitching and hitting controls really do grow on you and, as stated before, there's a lot of variety in the field.

MLB 08 The Show -- THAT'S What I'm Talkin' About!

I have played exactly one half of one game of The Show on my shiny new PS3. So this isn't a "Dude this game is awesome!" rant. I will say this:

A) IT'S FREAKING BEAUTIFUL. I played 2K8 on the PS3 and man...this is really, really pretty.

B) In the 2nd inning of my exhibition between the Erie SeaWolves and the Durham Bulls, I saw something that I haven't seen in a baseball game since I spent a week tweaking the High Heat 2002 tune file. I was pitching and Durham had a man on 1st with 1 out. The ball is tagged on a line into right center. I race over to grab it and it doesn't go near the wall; I was able to cut if off and I throw it to 2nd, and then I notice that no one is ON 2nd base. Wait...what? No way....

The runner is standing on 3rd.

Shocked, I check the replay. Was this a hit and run? This cannot be right. Nope. No hit and run, just a speedy lead off man racing to 3rd base, stretching a long single into a 1st to 3rd base running maneuver. In other words, baseball 101.

This is absolutely spectacular-- and something no game gets right. If that ball would have gotten past my center fielder he would have scored. In MLB 2K8, MVP 2005 or even the mighty High Heat--he would have stopped at 2nd -- guaranteed.

These things get overlooked by so many critics, but to me, it's crucial to making a baseball game with even a hint of realism. The scale of most games is all screwed up. Either the outfield is too small or the outfielder arms are too rocket-like or the base runners too slow. Something is usually screwy which leads to not just too few extra base hits but hardly NO instances where a runner goes from 1st to 3rd on a single or 2nd to home on a clear hit.

The rest of The Show might suck, I have no idea. But this made my cold heart warm up a bit. It was tingly.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Note About MLB Criticsm

A couple things that are probably worth pointing out. Just to be clear (and very often, I'm not), the reason I'm focusing on the presentation on MLB2k8 right now is precisely because I've only played two games. I haven't played nearly enough to get a feel for the nuts and bolts baseball issues, game balance, etc. That'll take some time. But the people playing the game a lot seem to be finding a lot to like.

Also, there's a difference between the type of criticism I'll go into on the blog and what I'll get into when I write the review for Gameshark. Here I'm focusing on what I, personally, want to see. I don't expect that to resonate with everyone, nor should it. When I write the review that focus will shift to what I think the reader will want to know about or be affected by.

Oh and finally, I am, evidently, an idiot (see the comments in my last post) and there *is* a way to change the fielding camera. I looked for such an option the last two nights and didn't see it, but apparently it's there. I guess that part of my bellyaching was pretty much for nothing... at least, assuming one of those cameras lets me see a ball hit into the air.

Todd's MLB2k8 Experience: Game 2

Got another game of MLB2k8 in last night. At some point I'll actually have to stay up late and have a longer game session, but with the kids not going to bed till after 8:00 and me getting tired by 11:00, it doesn't leave a lot of time.

I was disappointed (yet again) to find that there is no practice mode... at least not from the main gameplay menu. (Maybe there is in franchise?) You'd think with a game like this they'd have pitcher/batter practice, as this has become pretty standard fare for sports game in recent years. Fortunately, I was much quicker on the uptake for the whole SwingStick 2.0 thing than I was two nights ago.

On a positive note, you can see the makings of a good baseball game in there. When I wasn't being put off by the choppy framerate and intolerable news ticker, I caught myself actually having a little fun. I'm starting to see what some people are talking about with the variety of hits and "events" in the field (like a ball tipping off the edge of an outstretched glove). The problem is 2k simply must get past this "building" phase they seem stuck in and actually release a complete product. Despite some sound baseball mechanics and, yes, even some fun gameplay, the game is just sloppy. Last night I charged down a grounder with my shortstop and he just ran right over the ball. I mean he didn't even reach for it. Just ran right over it and let it go into the outfield. There wasn't even an error charged on the play. There's no other word for that but sloppy.

I also think I've finally decided why the presentation of the game bugs me so much. This game is meant to present like a TV broadcast. That's nothing new these days, as most sports games are like that. However, whereas I think a lot of sports games benefit from that treatment, I don't think baseball does. (This is just my opinion, of course.) All things being equal, I don't like watching a baseball game on TV. It's far too confined and I'm never happy with the view I'm allowed to see. Which, as it turns out, is pretty much how I feel playing this game.

As a fan of baseball, I'm all about the experience of being at the game. I want to see the field in all it's grandeur. I want to feel the scope. When a batter hits a towering fly ball to right-center field I want to see the ball's flight path and watch the outfielder glide underneath it as another backs him up. I want to see the big picture. And the same holds true when I play a baseball video game. I don't care about being zoomed in for some utterly useless, vaguely close-up(ish) view of a fielder running to some form of cross-hair painted on the grass. That's not visually appealing and it takes me right out of the experience every time I'm sitting there waiting for a fly ball to re-emerge to the camera's view.

In short, MLB2k8 feels like a game from people who's primary experience with baseball is watching it on TV. I'm not saying there are no baseball people at Kush or that they don't understand baseball concepts. Clearly there is some baseball expertise at work in this game. But at the same time, the game's presentation doesn't feel like it comes from a bunch of people who spent their childhoods actually going to the old ballpark to take in a day-night doubleheader either.

There Will Be Games -- Part III

The third installment of Michael's saga of game store ownership is online today.

I really love this column.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

MLB 2k8 on the Wii Part 2

One of the GameShark writers, Kevin Mosley, found a NASTY franchise bug in the Wii version of 2K8. In my test I couldn't reproduce it but others have verified it -- if you play and sim a season, the following year's schedule has ...10 games. For the whole season. I ran a two full season test on the Wii and didn't see it but maybe that was due to just simming and not playing a few games and them simming? I'm going to mess with it some tonight to verify it but looks like yet another lovely franchise killer courtesy of 2K Sports.

So, just keep that in mind if considering the Wii version. I dunno how many people are playing that version for the franchise mode, but still, that's a crazy, and really inexcusable bug.

MLB 2K8 Wii

My take on the Wii version can be found here.

Not as pure "fun" as Power Pros, but a solid first go nonetheless.

Been a crazy day today, so sorry for the lack of chatter. I'll be talking about MLB 08 The Show later as I get ready to purchase the PS3.

Another Take on The Witcher's Boobies

This very well could go down as my favorite blog post title ever. Finally -finally- I got to put the word "boobies" in a blog post title, and do it in context, no less. Suddenly my blogging life feels complete.

If you've been reading this blog since its inception, you know I had some rather strong opinions on the "adult" content found in last year's mildly controversial CRPG, The Witcher. Those posts came about as a sort of general response to two articles penned by Corvus Elrod that I generally disagreed with. (This is not a shot at Corvus. I read his blog daily and he's a hell of a writer that puts a great deal of thought and passion into his work.)

If this is a new topic to you, The Witcher is a game in which a professional monster hunter, Geralt, hacks monsters to tiny gelatinous bits while trying to stop the nefarious schemes of various evil doers that exist in a dark, medieval game world. (See my review.) You can also spend a fair amount of time, if you so choose, bedding various female characters that appear throughout. Make no mistake, Mick Jagger has nothing on Geralt.

(Clarification: The "sex" cut scenes in this game consist of about five seconds of two extremely blurry shapes doing something in the background of the screen. We're not exactly talking Cinemax after 11pm on a Friday night.)

Personally, I thought The Witcher, despite some significant flaws, was one of the best RPGs to come down the pike in years. But there's the question of the necessity and appropriateness of its more sexual overtones and how it portrays the relationships that exist between men and women. On this blog I argued in defense of those parts of the game, despite the fact that some aspects of it -the much discussed "conquest" pin-up cards, for example- are unquestionably unnecessary and pure cheesecake. That said, I don't think I was ever quite able to reconcile why I found those more "immature" parts of the game so easy to dismiss at the same time I was talking-up the more complex social relationship that I feel added depth the game.

As is often the case, the truth between two opposing viewpoints is usually somewhere in the middle and there's now an excellent voice for that middle in The Escapist's Andy Chalk, who has an article posted that's both an excellent and funny read. I'll leave you with just the conclusion, but the whole piece is well worth your time:
A lot of people don't, and won't, get it. My girlfriend, for instance, who I suspect sees it all as amusingly deviant, has made it quite clear that any attempt to explain why I'm watching a computer game character get laid will only make things worse. And there's no question we could, should and eventually must elevate the "adult" content in our games to something beyond the current "Seymour Butts" level of cleverness. But what's really wrong with indulging the little teenage idiot inside each of us now and then? It's served us pretty well this far, giving rise to a multi-billion-dollar industry that's outstripping both television and movies as an entertainment medium. They say that youth is wasted on the young; I say that I'm old enough to know better but think boob cards are pretty cool anyway. And that's precisely the point: As the great Time Lord himself once said, "There's no point being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes."
Also of note, just in case you've been playing the game or thinking about picking it up, there's an enhanced version of it in the works that should address a lot of the game's remaining technical problems (more variety in NPC character types, a fixed translation of the polish dialog that is sorely needed, and a host of other stuff). The good news is that, if you already have the game, these fixes and enhancements will be available as a download. Kudos to developer CD Projekt for taking the time to really dress up a game that was already a quality product.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

MLB2k8 One Game Impressions

Okay, I want to be up front here. This post is probably a mistake, but I am so incredibly let down by my first game of MLB2k8 that I just don't know what to make of it. I don't know if this game suffers from laziness, sloppiness or flat out incompetence, but it suffers from (at least) one of them.

Things I noticed after just one game:
  • The stuttering is worse than Bill let on. The game hitches almost whenever the camera moves and whenever there is a transition graphic (and there's a metric ton of those). This should not happen in any console game, let alone a sports game, especially one that should be becoming mature at this point. The worst came in the post game in which I was no-hit by Josh Beckett (I struggled mightily with the whole right-stick swing thing; need to hit practice mode for that) and as the Sox team celebration started (which would've been incredibly cool) the game slowed to, quite literally, like 3-5 frames per second. It was a slide show and it lasted that way through the entire celebration scene, effectively killing what should be a very cool moment.
  • On a dropped third strike the catcher, appropriately, made the throw to first and the runner was called out. One problem. The first baseman's foot wasn't on the bag. I mean it wasn't even close. (This is relatively harmless, but it's annoying.)
  • Twice during a game in Detroit, the stadium played, "Cleveland Rocks." (Again, harmless, but annoying and more than a little stupid.)
  • I cannot get the score/news ticker to shut off. I found the option in the presentation settings and set it to off, both in the main menu options and in the in-game options. I saved the setting (in both places) and the damn ticker is still there. I can't tell you how much I hate that ticker. Do I care while playing a baseball game that the Buffalo Sabres are injury depleted? And the fact that the option to turn it off is there and apparently doesn't work is just beyond sloppy.
  • By default the AI pitcher does throw an insane number of strikes, but if this is fixable by sliders it's forgivable.
  • Zoom the freaking camera O.U.T. You can't judge any ball hit into the air for height and distance because it's outside the camera frame almost immediately. I don't want to see arrows telling me path and trajectory, I want to see the freak'n ball. (If there's an option to change the camera, I didn't see it.)
  • This might just be me, but Comerica "National" Park looks like a Little League field. One of the many things High Heat always got right -and I hesitate to mention HH for fear of sounding like I had a grudge against MLB2k from the outset- was that it made the stadiums look big. Really big. Instead Comerica, one of the biggest in baseball, feels incredibly small and it seems this is compensated for by increasing the speed at which runners go round the bases and the speed at which outfielders make plays on the ball. (This is primarily an aesthetic issue that may not bother you. But it irks the hell out of me.)
Needless to say this does not bode well. I must emphasize again, however, these are one game impressions. The thing is they're also the types of issues that I don't see going away just by playing the game and getting to know its nuances. (Notice I'm not making any judgments about the hitting and pitching controls and other game balance related items.) I think I'm going to step back for tonight, take a deep breath and go back to it tomorrow. Maybe I'm just not in the right frame of mind.


Just by way of a quick update, I received MLB2k8 from Bill yesterday and I plan to dig into it tonight. If time permits I may post some impressions before bed, but more likely I'll write up some thoughts tomorrow morning.

Also, just to fill in a bit from yesterday, Cirrus had a cancerous condition called Lung-Digit Syndrome. A full body scan last Thursday confirmed the diagnosis. I guess it's pretty rare but it's known for having a large mass in the chest (near the heart and lungs) that metastasizes (?) to the paws. (I'm probably brutalizing this description.) It turns out her toe hadn't actually been broken back in January, rather the bone was dissolving, which explains why the paw never got better after the broken toe was removed. (Swelling in the paw had since started affecting one of her front paws as well and at that point you had to know something was horribly wrong.)

Anyway, we took her in Monday morning to be put to sleep. I'm not sure how it is for other pet owners, but I don't think the worst part for me was being there for that. It was hard, make no mistake, but walking back into the house afterwards was just brutal. The place just felt empty. And the little things, like picking up the blankets she'd been sleeping on and cleaning out her food bowl, that was just torturous. That's the way it goes, though, and this will be my last post about it. She was a good cat, the best I've had, and she handled the addition of two kids to our home better than I could've hoped (they don't all deal well with that sort of thing, I'm told). I'll miss her.

Tomorrow: MLB2k8 ranting!

The Thaw

What happens when it snows more in Columbus than it has since 1910? Well, if you live in Johnstown, and it starts to melt, the clay soil doesn't suck the water up and you end up with floods...everywhere.

It's lovely.

So StarCraft 2 stuff is out in Netland today. I'm kinda "meh" on StarCraft. See, I'm a Games Workshop guy and Blizzard pretty much took the 40K model, sorta stole it, and renamed everything. That irks me. Did then. Does now. The Zerg, well, those are the Tyranids. The marines? Yep, Space Marines of 40K. The Protoss...ok the Protoss are sorta weird and I dunno what 40K race they'd be.

I'm getting my sci-fi RTS kicks with Soulstorm right now which is a drastically overpriced expansion to Dawn of War. Go THQ! Milk it, baby! Milk it! 2 races, some flier units and pretty much the same campaign? And still no Tyranids!? For $40?

Other than that, not much going on, other than the fact that I'm finally going to buy a PS3. At least it's a tax write off.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

MLB 2K8 and a New Look

My review.

I need to finish up the Wii version today, which I still feel is worth buying, even without online play and the full minor league system.

Also yes, we have a new, and I think cleaner, look to the blog. The old template was buggy and I couldn't add page elements to it. After I changed the template, all was well. I didn't tell Todd I was doing this so, um...Todd I changed the template.

I'm now moving on to the Dawn of War addon, Soulstorm. Now that Vista has been exorcised from my system, I'm back in the PC game.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Baseball on the Wii

Just a quick note today before I get back to shovelling snow.

MLB 2K8, I think, is best on the Wii due to the slick motion controls. It's lacking features, like online play and those silly ass trading cards, but the GAME is fun. Swigning for the fences with Adam Dunn ad almost throwing your back out-- aces! Still some slight framerate issues oddly enough but nowhere near as bad as the PS3 or 360 versions. I like it.

However, the game I am totally in love with is a game that came out last year before we had a Wii -- MLB Power Pros. Any baseball game that is moderately realistic and that I can play a full 9 in 22 minutes -- sign me up! Seriously, this game is brilliant. As for the "kiddie" graphics? I LOVE them. No baseball game -- even going back to High Heat, has better scale, and has a better overall ball speed to player speed ratio than Power Pros. It's uncanny.

Scoring from 2nd on a single? Done.

A line drive over the bag at 1st? Stand up double.

It takes me back to the OLD baseball days of the late 80s but with tons of style. It's not SUPER realistic (it's too easy to control pitches) but it fun.

100% green light.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Snow. Oh, yeah, and MLB 2k8 Franchise

I submitted my review today and gave MLB 2K8 a very mediocre score. Can anything actually be "really mediocre?" Hmm.

Anyway, it boils down to this for me: the tech issues REALLY hurt this game. I'm sorry, but paying $60 for a game is a lot of green and it better damn well work the way it should. This game doesn't and should be criticized accordingly.

Um, Todd, don't let me influence YOUR review any. Ahem. I try not to get TOO detailed in my mainstream reviews. You gotta know your audience, so I leave the minutia for you people. Yeah for you people!

There are things about the game that I love, that bug me, and that I just don't understand.

The Franchise interface is one that I just don't understand. In a baseball game, really more than any other sport, you NEED a quick and dirty GUI because you'll be roster shuffling a lot, especially with all of the minor league stuff. Calling guys up, sending them down, yadda, yadda. 2K8 makes this REALLY annoying because you can't cut players and call them up from the same screen. Are you kidding me?

This is what I am talking about with the whole Consolification of Sports Games. In Heat Heat back in the day, I could move players from AAA to the Bigs with my 2 seconds. Click, drag, done. Here, I have to navigate through various screens to do a very simple (and often used) managerial task. 100% inefficient. (is that possible, too?)

Also, did you know that you can't look at a player's past history? In most baseball games you can survey a player's entire career -- see his rookie season stats all the way to his 15th year as an old man. Not here. You can see the current year and the previous year and the "total" but you can't even see the teams the guy played for. I dunno if The Show does this, but it should. EVERY baseball game with a franchise mode should.

So, while I didn't see any huge bugs and gaffes in the franchise mode (questionable AI is just part of the deal these days) it's a pain in the ASS to actually PLAY, which is sorta the whole point.

Why isn't there player arbitration? Where is the Rule 5 draft? Why is franchise limited to 4 players? Ah, I know. We needed trading cards.

Oh, and yeah, we're getting like a foot of snow today. Bonus.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Memo to Kush

Dear Kush,

It's come to our attention that your newly released MLB2k8 suffers from some severe, and unacceptable, stuttering issues. Coincidentally, the new release of Bully, which hit shelves on the same day as MLB2k8, has some framerate issues of its own; at least on certain Xbox 360 consoles. Now, these games have been out for roughly two days and already your fellow 2k Games developer, Rockstar, is out there with a public statement that both acknowledges the problem and pledges a timely fix it.
We have just become aware of the issues people are having with Bully Scholarship Edition on Xbox 360. It appears that some older 360s are experiencing framerate issues, freezes and other problems. You have our word that we never experienced any of this in QA - in any of our offices or at Microsoft. I am horrified, and we are now working around the clock to rectify this situation. Thanks to Neo-Gaf for bringing this matter to our attention. We love our games and put a huge amount of energy and care into making them all that they can be. We would never shove anything out the door - we never have and never will. We apologise to everyone affected for the inconvenience. Respectfully, Sam Houser
So, I'd like to know: Where is Kush on the MLB stutter issue and how long do the gamers who have dropped $60 get their fix for what -at this point- should be a mature game engine?

Thanks, so much.

PS - Sam Houser, by the way, is the co-founder of Rockstar, and not some hapless member of the design team doing his best Don Quixote impression on the Operation Sports forums, which is usually the best we can get from Kush after your many, many bug-ridden past releases. (Surely you recall the years of problems that plagued the Legacy Mode in College Hoops?) So, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to hear from someone in a position of actual authority in a bit more public venue than a niche fan site. Maybe the news section of your game's Xbox Live menu? If EA Sports can offer at least that with NHL 2008, surely you can.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

EA to GameSpot - I Heart U

Peter Moore of EA has posted a new blog entry that talks about...EA stuff. Namely NFL Head Coach 09. Read the blog if you will but my favorite line was this beaut, "Last week, we had a group at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis showing a select group of media an early look at the game, and as our friends at GameSpot noted: “NFL Head Coach 09 is a sequel in name only”.

GameSpot Fever -- CATCH IT!

As someone who has been part of several of these "select media events" I can say without hesitation that GameSpot saw maybe some interface stuff and a few of the basic ideas that help differentiate it from the old game, but doesn't this come off sounding like an advertisement? Or at the very least a slight endorsement? Like when you see a pull quote for a really bad movie in a TV ad? "Rambo is back!" -- John Doe, Small Paper You Have Never Heard Of

And I'm happy Peter Moore considers the folks at GameSpot his buds. We're all one big happy fam in this biz.

The gaming media needs to STOP DOING THAT. So EA lets you into the Combine to see a sequel to a terribly shitty game. You are not obliged to provide tag lines to EA PR because of it. Good lord, people.

Oh, Pete also says this about the PC:

PC Games – While we’re committed to the PC as a sports game platform, it’s certainly not a platform without its business challenges due in large part because so many of you have migrated to the console as your primary platform. I think on-line will give us some innovative new ways to re-vitalize the PC sports business again, and we’ ll keep pushing from our end to make that happen. But in the meantime, understand that while we have a limited lineup of EA SPORTS games coming this summer and fall to the PC, we do continue to weigh our options on PC.

Translation: We at EA Sports consider the PC one helluva way to check email, send pictures of ugly relatives, and watch NBC reruns in your underwear. Now, go buy our $60 console games.

Friggin' Vista and More MLB

First off, I need to rebuild my PC to dual boot into XP. Vista is pointless as a gaming OS because so many games just don't support it. First there was Frontlines and now the new Dawn of War addon. Screw this. I'm going back to the old XP warhorse tonight. I may just screw the dual boot and just put XP back on it alone.

OK MLB...played another two games today and here's the deal. It's like last year in that you can see a really good game in there...somewhere. You need to slider tweak it because there are still issues with not being able to get a double on a ball that rolls to the wall, which is just completely moronic and I'd like to sit down with the 2K people and show them that when Griffey Jr. hits a ball that takes 4 bounces to reach the wall in right center that he should glide in with a stand up double and not get thrown out sliding into 2nd. That's just ridiculous. Why are the default setting the way they are? I have no answer.

Pitcher control is WAY too good out of the box and the power settings were left over from The Bigs. All of this is fixable via sliders, which is a pain, but at least the sliders do affect this stuff.

But I'm not kidding when I say that the stuttering is really, really annoying. On a pop up, infielders run in slow motion to catch the ball. The screen hiccups when the ball is thrown from 3rd to 1st. At times it looks really painful, like Mickey Mantle post hip replacements is playing CF. See, back with High Heat I knew the graphics, player models, and animations were 2nd rate but at least everything was smooth without any drastic stutterings and slow downs,. Here, it permeates throughout the entire game. I need to check the Wii version.

I can't wait to read Todd and Bill Harris' thoughts about this. Should be good for a laugh because I know Bill will blow a fuse when he sees the stuttering. It really is inexcusable and gives the entire game a "I am in constant Beta" feel to it.

Quick Update

Bill says my review copy of MLB2k8 is in the mail. So much for all his bellyaching about having to do the review himself and my being a douche. This is what you get from people who live in Columbus.

Anyway, hopefully that means I'll be able to dump some additional impressions on here by the weekend.

Based on Bill's comments, I'm not holding my breath for this one. Issues of balls and strikes are a big red flag of mine and I've really grown to despise sports games that aren't reasonably well-balanced out of the box. People pay money to play the damn game not to spend hours upon freak'n hours tweaking the monster. It's not that I don't think sliders should be there. Everybody thinks a baseball game should play just a bit differently and sliders help facilitate that. But they're not a free pass to ship the game balanced purely towards this mythical group of pure-arcade, no-realism-wanted players. I'm also already dreading this stuttering issue. Hey, maybe it's a console problem! (Yeah, right.)

On a personal note, I still have no new information about my cat. Poor critter started out with a broken toe that had to be amputated. (I have no idea how this happened. My best guess is she snagged a claw on the carpet after I chased her away from trying to eat a balloon cord.) Since then she still hasn't stopped limping and has stopped eating, drinking or moving around at all. We've tried a couple antibiotics now to no effect, and even had a damn biopsy done to see if it was cancer ($280 for nothing on that one). Now I'm waiting on a new blood test and a urinalysis to see if, among other things, it's a kidney problem. (Having lost two cats to kidney failure that's what I suspect we're going to find out.)

This sucks. :(

2K Quickie

Before I get to work this morning, I figured I'd throw this out before I forget.

On default settings the CPU will throw almost nothing but strikes. It's maddening. However, by drastically lowering the "throw strikes" sliders you can fix this. I walked three times in my stutter-filled game last night.

Along these same lines, I strongly suggest removing the strikezone box while pitching (keep it when hitting). Otherwise throwing strikes is too easy -- you should also raise the Total Control Pitching slider so that you won't always hit the catcher's mark. I *should* have walked three batters with Bronson last night but the CPU was up there hacking because I messed that slider up. ;) So this can work -- you just need to fiddle. Why out of the box 2K thinks baseball fans want nothing but strikes, I have no idea.

Finally, the manual is wrong about Swing Stick 2.0. There are no contact and defensive swings -- that's last year's model. It's all the same swing this year -- pull back, push forward. The manual lies. Damn lies.

OK -- more from me on all of this later this afternoon.

I do have a job, ya know. All you people do is TAKE TAKE TAKE!

I know we have some readers from the old blog, Op Sports and The Perfect Game (Yeah, I check the referrals)

Welcome to the blog.

There Will Be More

Tuesday night is 30 and over hoop night so I was out from 5-9 and then watched TV with the family and finally got another game of MLB in this evening. I'll have more stuff on 2K tomorrow including a franchise glance over and maybe even some Wii version impressions.

I'm still very much mixed on this game. The field stutter was VERY bad vs the Dodgers -- the worst I have seen it. But the game was pretty fun. I just don't know if I can get past the fielding stutters. At times it is noticeably bad.

I'm also 100% sure that base running aggressiveness is too low. Too many shots off the wall resulting in long singles for my taste.

More tomorrow after lunch. I have work errands to run around noon...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

More on MLB 2K8

Ok time for a 4 game rundown. Let's play Likes/Dislikes for $200!

  • It still needs tweaked because it's too easy to throw strikes, but I love the new RS pitch interface. Really nifty and MUCH better than "Press A for fastball"
  • Swing Stick 2.0 feels better. I still don't LOVE this, but it's better.
  • Despite my earlier post, I am seeing more doubles this year and even 1st to 3rd on singles and scoring from 2nd. This is still not perfect -- but my earlier worries may have been a bit premature.
  • After slider tweaking I can get the CPU to take strikes, swing and miss, and chase pitches out of the strikezone. Now if I could just get them to stop going deep.
  • The framerate in the field. This might be stadium, specific. But the hiccuping is there.
  • If the ball NICKS the strikezone the ump calls it a strike. Everytime. Serious control slider tests will need to be made to get the CPU to throw anything close to a walk. I could not get past 2 balls because the umps call it so tight you have to swing at damn near everything. (This is a huge, huge issue for me)
  • Way, way, WAY too many homers. Way too many. Way.
  • The graphics. I'm on a 60" Sony Bravia and it looks...ok. Seriously, do we really need all the jersey flapping? Still?
  • Thje fielding. A lot of guys seem to like this but I don't. I can't locate the ball worth a damn so I'm basically auto fielding. Yes, throwing with the RS is cool, bit I'm talking about fielding. Not throwing. MLB2K has never done this well,. IMO.
  • The commentary is the same as 2K7. Same trivia questions. Joe, what in the world is a walk off homer? OR -- I'll take dumb ass baseball questions for $500.
  • Too many wild pitches.
  • In general, it still feels...unpolished.

So there you have it. 4 games. General thoughts. I'm not "wowed" by any means but maybe it'l'l grow on me.

Well, Damn

So it looks like the runner/arm speed issue isn't as fixed as I'd hoped. I asked Mr. Brinkman on the call if we'd see more doubles rather than long singles and he assured me that this was much better in 2K8.

Well, I don't see it.

Here's what I mean, and many of us have been watching and playing baseball long enough to know how silly this is:

Bases empty, Marlins #2 hitter ia up. He laces a shot to left that hits just below the yellow line on the wall, it lands and rolls back toward Dunn, who scops it up and his momentum carries him to the wall, he turns to throw to 2nd, only to see the runner still at first, content with a single.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Unless the runner is the modern day Cecil Fielder, this is a double. It's RARE unless playing in Boston that a ball that reaches the wall results only in a single. Does it happen? Yeah, but the LFer better snatch the ball on the hop and make a great throw to have a chance to nail the guy.

This was a big issue with me in 2K7, and so far I've seen it twice in one game. Yeah, there are sliders that might help (they didn't last year) and because of this I'm scared that we'll see more of the station to station game we saw in 2K7. We'll see. When a fast runner doesn't score from 2nd on a single, we'll know there's trouble in 2K land.

On the plus side the new pitching UI is very cool and it's very pretty to look at.

MLB 2K8 In hand

I'll get some impressions up by day's end.

Where Rock Band Went Wrong

First, sorry for my absence (again) this past week. I've been distracted by the usual February schtick of one kid with the flu, followed immediately by one with pink eye. Good times. Fortunately, they're both doing better. Unfortunately, my cat of ten years has been sick for a month now and I think the end game is fast approaching for her. (We find out more later today, I hope.) Trying not to get too broken up about it, but she's been a wonderful cat, especially these last few years of having kids with the lack of attention she's gotten because of it. We'll see what results this latest trip to the vet bring.

Moving on.

Last night, I picked up Rock Band. If you read my review, you know I absolutely frigg'n adore the game. The local multiplayer World Tour Mode is just about as fun as gaming can get. But as I haven't had much opportunity to utilize it lately (just once, since the New Year), I've been stuck with the Solo Tour and the more I go on with it (I still haven't been able to finish Green Grass and High Tides on Expert w/the guitar), the less I understand the lack of attention Harmonix seems to have given it.

The Band World Tour mode has everything. You can create a band member for every player in the band. You can design band logos and associated stuff to put it on. You can actually "tour", choosing different geographic regions, different locales (and locale sizes) and generally grow from a small, local band to a band that has a huge "fan" following and travels the world. Plus, you can take on set list challenges and create your own concert set lists. As I've said many a time before, it's liquid awesome.

So why the hell is none of that in the Solo Tour mode?

This is, after all, not just a game about doing the whole Simon Says thing with a bunch of colored blobs and a fake plastic axe. It's about atmosphere. And, on stage, the entire game oozes it, as does every last pixel in the Band World Tour Mode. But the Solo Tour? It's just Guitar Hero all over again. Actually, it's even more limited, since you can't choose the song you want to play independently of the location you play it in. Nirvana's In Bloom will always be played to the backdrop of the same shithole it appeared in from day one. You'll never get to take it to a bigger concert hall or stadium. There's no fan following or building of your band. There's no set lists or associated challenges to accomplish. You just play the songs without any customization of the backdrop whatsoever. And there's absolutely no reason I can fathom for it.

Okay, so the point of Rock Band is the band. I get that. But Harmonix still has to recognize that a lot of players are limited to the Solo Tour. Not only that, the social aspects of this game in multiplayer sort of take care of themselves. I mean as fun as the World Tour is, you get the band feeling just by playing the game with your buds. So, if you want the entire game to be about the band, then let the solo players actually create a band, and do everything an actual multiplayer band would get to do. Let the solo player actually choose what every member of the band looks like (rather than just their lone rocker) and have it remain consistent from song to song (vocalists excepted) instead of the random and rather bizarre switching of band members as you play the game. Let the solo player do the challenges, create the set lists and let them do it in whatever concert location that's currently open to them. The whole darn nine. There is no way that allowing the solo player this freedom does anything but enhance the gameplay.

Rock Band is a great, great game and I think the people at Harmonix are utterly brilliant. Also, the post-release support its getting from weekly downloads of new tracks is phenomenal. (And it stands in stark contrast to the lack of such tracks from Activision for Guitar Hero III.) But they really dropped the ball on the Solo Tour in a big, big way. I've grown so incredibly tired of knowing that I'm missing out every time I load up the game and make that lonely trek through the menus to the Solo Tour. Sure, adding these features to the solo game won't make it as good an experience as the local multiplayer, but it sure as hell wouldn't have hurt.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Heroes and Mare

First off, I know I mentioned it the other day but Mare Nostrum (with the Mythology add on) is a superb game. The ONLY thing about it that is problematic is that it's best with 6 players. Each nation must be on the map but if you play with fewer than 6 then the other nation(s) are neutral and don't actively move; they just hold their initial set up and lands. That's not all bad and it's still very cool with 3, 4, or 5 players but if you have a group of 6 players, this MUST be added to your collection. War, diplomacy, trade, god summoning, ancient heroes...and it has the Kraken!

The Kraken! Come on! (Pic taken from BGG)

OK, Heroes.

I finally got around to watching the Season 1 DVD and getting caught up with Season 2 online.

I like it. I think Season 2 is by far the weaker of the two but I do like the show quite a bit, season 2 just got a little too goofy even for me.

Still, as much as it is good popcorn entertainment I still get a little annoyed when writers don't close loopholes and the Heroes storyline has more plot holes than a Dean Koontz novel.

Anyway, I'm off to play basketball. Something Ohio State is having a very hard time doing this year...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

GameShark Monthly Newsletter

We have a newsletter.

Hey, I just work there, I don't actually know what's going on or anything.

And it looks pretty neat.

The next step--figure out how you subscribe to the thing. Yep. I'm in charge.