Friday, October 31, 2008

Character Interaction in Fallout 3 and the New Dragon Age Video

I found this new Dragon Age video via the always excellent Rock, Paper, Shotgun. In it we see some examples of how non-player character behavior changes based on the kind of player character you are. It's not deep by any stretch, but it certainly looks like Bioware is trying give us a sense of how important it is for NPCs to have context-sensitive reactions to the player.

One of the places where I think Bethesda could learn a lot from a company like Bioware is character interaction. Besides some pretty questionable plotting, one of the things that I think really holds Fallout 3 back is the lack of awareness of your actions by the world's NPCs. (Don't get me wrong. I love the collection of NPCs in Fallout 3. It's their lack of recognition of the events around them that irks me.)

Take the following example:

---Yes, if you haven't dealt with the atom bomb in Megaton yet, then the following is spoiler material. Ye be warned.---

When you arrive in Megaton you'll find that there are two main power players in town: the sheriff/mayor Lucas Simms and resident night spot owner Colin Moriarty. The two are not presented as feuding, but it's clear one doesn't think much of the other and it's also clear that Moriarty has his fingers in a lot of pies. (No innuendo intended.)

One of the early decisions you can make in Megaton is whether or not to disarm the old atomic bomb at the center of town. There's a guy in Moriarty's saloon that's willing to pay you to blow it up. If you tattle on him to Sheriff Simms, Simms goes to arrest the guy. A gunfight ensues and, despite reloading three times, I was never able to keep the sheriff from being killed. (My understanding is that he does not have to die, though.)

Megaton is not a big settlement. When one of the power players in town takes a dirt nap, shouldn't its residents have some awareness of this fact? At the very least, shouldn't Moriarty? His chief rival is dead. The guy now has the run of the town. Yet every character in Megaton except one (the sheriff's son) displays not one iota of awareness of the event. Hell, there were people in the saloon when the gunfight ensued and they display no awareness of the event other than running at the sound of gunfire (only to return when it was over and resume standing/sitting, blissfully unaware of the bloody bodies on the floor).

That, to me, is just lazy, lazy, lazy. Personally, I think it would've been cool if they had Moriarty move to more strongly exert his influence and then given you the option of playing the role of the town's protector and keeping him in check. After all, as long as you don't blow it up, Megaton basically becomes your home base of operations. Why not let you play a more influential role there? It wouldn't have to be deep or anything, just a fresh dialog choice or tiny quest from time to time.

And if you're not going to explore what it means for the town that their Sheriff is now gone, at least give a handful of Megaton's citizens one line of dialog expressing knowledge of the event. At the bare minimum, I think Moriarty has to have some kind of dialog that shows that at least he gets it. But there's nothing. The sheriff may as well never have existed and that's a shame.

---end spoiler material---

Two points to make before I wrap this up. 1) This kind of thing isn't chronic throughout the game. There are times when NPCs do display more awareness of how your actions have affected the world than this. This example is probably just the most egregious one. 2) This is a tough tightrope for developers to walk. You can only take it so far. But again, I still think that at minimum you've gotta throw the player a bone by giving NPCs a line or two of dialog that at least make you believe that they're aware something significant has happened around them. It's something that I think that developers like Bioware are pretty good at and that I think Bethesda needs to improve on.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Great Red Herring of 2008

The trite phrase of the year in the world of gaming is that Fallout 3 is, "Oblivion with guns." It's something Bill and I talked about a bit the other night. It's a subject that's impossible not to address, yet it's a phrase I'm absolute frigg'n sick of hearing.

Is this game Oblivion with guns?


It's a red herring.

If you played Oblivion you will see certain similarities between the two games. That is unavoidable. The games are based on the same engine.  You know what? The Witcher is based off the same engine used to create Neverwinter Nights and nobody, I mean nobody, would accuse The Witcher of being Neverwinter Nights without the D&D. If you want to compare Fallout 3 to another game, and this is something I've already pointed out in my review, it's Deus Ex and not just because both games are set in the future. There are a lot of gameplay mechanics that I think are similar, not the least of which is the varied paths you can take to reach the same objective.

As much as I think Bethesda deserves to take some crap for some of the elements in this game (not a lot of crap, just some), the notion that they spent the last few years making Oblivion with guns is an unjust disservice to the obvious hard work they put into crafting a pretty damn good game.

(deep breath)

Yes. I feel much better now. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fallout 3: Overall Impressions

The best overall look at what I think of Fallout 3 you’ll find in my Gameshark review. I think it’s a pretty fair look at the game that removes as much personal bias as you can expect from something that is totally subjective. For the blog, as I’m sure you’d expect, I’m totally running with personal bias. What I’ll probably do is take ideas discussed briefly in the review and expand on them in more detail here. There will be some overlap with the review in this post. Also, for this post I’ll avoid spoilers –for the most part- but after this I’m going to be less careful about it. You've been warned.

First thing’s first, this is a good game. I suspect I’m going to spend a lot of time tearing it to shreds in these posts (I do it out of love, I swear), but don’t let that dissuade you from playing it. I’m not disappointed in Fallout 3 because it’s a bad game. I’m disappointed in it because it could’ve been, should’ve been, a great game. It has all the elements and falls short because of a series of bad plotting and design decisions that didn’t have to be made.

One thing that should be absolutely clear before I make like the McCain campaign and go 100% negative, Bethesda has absolutely nailed the art direction in Fallout 3. The game is a beautiful representation of the Fallout world and it’s very, very faithful to the first two games. Venturing out into the wasteland for the first time is an instant feast for the eye. Walking around the ruined outskirts of DC is just gravy. Tasty Thanksgiving Day gravy. I love it and it doesn’t get old. Unfortunately, getting the look right is only half the battle. I can dress myself up like Elvis, but that doesn’t mean I can sing and Fallout 3’s singing voice –while not as bad as mine- could use a good vocal coach; maybe the one who coached Dr. Horrible on his laugh.

When I was talking to fellow Gameshark hack and frequent blog commenter Brandon about my thoughts on the game he took to the exact same comparison that I was thinking of. Bethesda is to Fallout what Neversoft is to Guitar Hero. Neversoft was able to replicate the overall look and feel of Guitar Hero when they took over the reigns of that franchise for GH3. But if you were a fan of the first two games it was obvious they just didn’t have the knack for it that the franchise creator, Harmonix, had. It’s much the same here as Bethesda has replicated the Fallout look, but it’s missing the wit and smarts that really made the franchise sing under the stewardship of Black Isle Studios. The difference is Harmonix went on to bring us Rock Band (a superior game in every way) and Black Isle/Interplay went on to nothing.

Right from the beginning Bethesda starts making the plot bend illogically to meet the needs of their play mechanics. I touch on this in the review, but I want to get into it here since it’s a perfect example from the very beginning of the game and isn’t nearly as spoilery as other stuff that I’ll probably get into in future posts. (It is a little spoilery, though.) The Overseer of Vault 101 is in no way, shape or form believable. They set him up as a heavy-handed, but nonetheless benevolent dictator. Fine. But we’re also to believe he’s been leading people, relatively successfully through the years and then, in one completely unexplained turn of events, he morphs into Mussolini and the rest of the people in authority just go right along with it, as they gun down and assault anyone who doesn’t heed a call to stay in their quarters during a lockdown. (By anyone I mean my character, two nameless vault dwellers and an NPC you get to know a little during character building.)

These people have spent their whole lives sharing the same relative space. The Vault is their home and there’s no need or desire to leave. Their credo is, “You’re born here, you die here.” And just because my character’s daddy escapes and some radiated bugs overrun the facility, putting it in lockdown, the Overseer and his henchmen are now okay with acting like Chinese troops at Tiananmen Square? I don’t buy it. And where the irradiated bugs come from or how they managed to inhabit and wreck every corner of Vault 101 is never explained.

This is Bethesda being far too lazy with crafting their story and your character’s place in it. They did a fine job of establishing your character’s father and giving you a decent, if pat, introduction to the vault world in which you reside. As you play into the game the reason your dad leaves the vault is also made perfectly believable. But at no point does what happens when dad leaves, and the game really begins, make sense. And it could have. Given that you see various moments of your character’s life growing up, they could have established the Overseer as someone capable but who succumbed to paranoia and madness. They could’ve plausibly made the lockdown more believable by putting robots in place of the human security forces that would’ve enforced the Overseer’s will without conscience or remorse. If they wanted to go the extra mile, they could’ve shown the vault’s human security people fighting back against the Overseer’s unjust actions, successfully or no. Or they could’ve gone in a completely different direction. The point is, your exit from the vault didn’t have to be so utterly clumsy and unbelievable. (One thing I’ve neglected to do, but plan to eventually, is return to Vault 101. I suspect you can’t get back in, but so much is left hanging there when you leave that it would be incredibly cool if the story there progressed while you’re gone. I’m not holding my breath.)

If this were the only instance of the plot breaking down like this, I wouldn’t give it much more than a second thought. The problem is that this sort of thing happens a lot as you follow the main plotline. It’s not so glaring with the side quests, which are plentiful and well worth your time to do, but there are moments when following the main plot that just make me want to tear my hair out. There are times where it feels like someone at Bethesda came up with a scenario in the game over their lunch break and never bothered to sit down and actually refine it. It’s just so goddammed frustrating that Bethesda was so close to nailing this game and just couldn’t be bothered to think through their plotting.

Now, if you’re in the, “this game looks like Oblivion with guns,” crowd, I’m going to disappoint you. The changes made to how the game plays, relative to Fallout 1 or 2, are not bad. If you simply have to have a Fallout 1 or 2 isometric experience you will be disappointed. Hey, I wanted the isometric perspective brought back as much as anybody. I still prefer it. But there’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with playing a Fallout game in the first person. (The over-the-should third-person camera I did not like at all. Don’t expect playing the game that way to approximate an isometric view.) As an RPG shooter, this game is immediately reminiscent of a Deus Ex or a System Shock 2, which are two pretty good games. It works. So, as much as I’d of preferred an interface more like what we got with The Witcher, I’m happy to live with what Bethesda has produced.

And VATS? I didn’t like it at first, but it’s grown on me. I found it to be a very necessary tool because enemies in combat jitter around the screen too much for me to really target them. I haven’t decided if that’s because I suck at shooters or if Bethesda rigged enemies so that it was too tough to hit them consistently without using VATS. I suspect it’s a bit of both because there are times enemies seem to shift to the left and right based solely on how I’m aiming at that moment. It was frustrating, but VATS came to the rescue.

Is this game for you? As I note at the end of the review, I think the answer to that is yes, despite its many flaws. Some people will hate it no matter what because it’s so different from the first two games. You can’t make everybody happy. I will say that if you doggedly pursue only the main quest, you’re really going to miss out. The first third of the main quest storyline is probably the least fun part of the game, because it can feel like you’re progressing on rails. It’s not long before you have to go to downtown DC, a place that Bethesda –to a fault, I think- made too difficult to navigate (conveniently collapsed buildings blocking roads and such). But if you focus more on the side quests early on, you’ll see that outside of downtown DC the game world is really open to exploration. Also, if you only pursue the main quest you’ll only encounter a fraction of the places on the World map. So do yourself a favor and take your time. It’s a big detailed world and it’s worth seeing.

The bottom line is that Fallout 3 is a good game. It helps me to think, say and write that as often as possible, because it’s easy to get caught up in the avalanche of ways in which it came up short. Just how much you will like it is tough to say. I think there’s a parallel here with the world of comic books. In comics all fans have some appreciation of the art and the writing and how they’re used together to tell a story. But some fans are more art/imagery oriented and some people are more writing/story oriented. I think gamers can be much the same and I think that gamers who like good graphics will adore Fallout 3 (by good I mean exemplary attention to detail in world building, not flash over substance). I think gamers who focus more on writing and plot will be irritated by the same sorts of issues that I’ve gotten stuck on.

Fallout 3 PC Review

Todd's nearly 3,000 word take on the epic Fallout 3 is live.

Bring a sandwich.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fallout Retrospective

Well, Fallout 3 hit shelves tomorrow and I can finally unzip my sealed lips. Thank god. Not being able to write anything substantive about this game has been brutal.

I just sent off a final draft (hopefully) of my review to Bill. Expect that to show up on Gameshark at or around midnight tonight (EST). In the meantime, if you're a fan of Fallout who hasn't played the first two games in a while or if you're thinking about jumping in with Fallout 3, be sure to check out the's Fallout Retrospective, which I've embedded here. It's great a indoctrination into the game world and it reminded me of several things I'd forgotten in the decade since I last finished both games. Good stuff!

Browns, Bucks, Fandome, and Scarlet Fever

Ashley was sent home today with what the doc is calling a mild case of Scarlet Fever. Fun stuff. Slight fever, rash, headache. Man I hope she's ok by Friday and can travel; I'd hate to miss Brakke Con.

Some quick hitters about the weekend:

I expected OSU to beat Penn State. Before the year Wisky on the road scared me more than PSU at home. Shows what I know. Still-- what a great football game. That was an example of a low scoring game being incredibly entertaining -- big plays on both sides, defenses stiffening when needed and a HUGE turnover being the swing in momentum. Pryor said that if he makes that guy miss he runs for a 50 yard score because PSU pinched at the snap. No one was there. And Pryor usually makes that guy miss 95% of the time. That was the 5% chance OSU didn't need to see come to pass. But that's football.

The storyline was the PSU Dline dominating OSU's line. To shut down Beanie Wells -- folks that just doesn't happen. Of course the playcalling didn't help. 9 guys in the box; it's kinda tough to run on that but the PSU Dline was MUCH better than I thought. Fast, strong, and disciplined.

Those were two evenly matched teams just beating each other up and someone had to lose. I just REALLY thought OSU had the game after the kid missed the FG and OSU started marching right before the fumble.

I still say that Beanie's spot on 2nd down (the play before the fumble) was a HORRIBLE call -- I thought he had the first down by half a yard, but again, that's football and the best team ALWAYS wins. That was PSU. The plan now is to win out, hope PSU runs the table, and gets to the title game so OSU gets a shot at Roses.

Ok the Browns.

That team boggles my mind. I have no explanation. Seriously. No idea. Next topic.

Here's a discussion I was having on a Browns forum -- I rarely go to those places anymore because I feel kinda dirty afterward, but here's part of the discussion.

It revolves around what is acceptable fan behavior at a football game.

Is it "ok" to go to a game and yell F Bombs all game long?

Like, "Anderson you FUC**** SUCK!" or "Catch the FUC**** ball Braylon!"

Is that acceptable behavior or is it you being a public douchebag? If you believe the's split about 50/50 between the "dude show some class, there are kids sitting two rows behind you" and the "I go to games to get drunk and vent about how bad my life sucks by channeling my inner douche and yelling obscenities all game long."

I'm pretty clear where I stand on this:

-I yell when I go to games. Usually when the other team has the ball -- I get as LOUD as I can. I can barely talk after an OSU game.

- I STAND the whole game. Every play. I could not sit down if I tried. I'm too worked up. I'm the guy on 3rd down that turns around and yells at everyone else to get on their feet and make some noise. If you're going to a football game and want to sit on your ass, just hope you are not sitting behind me 'cause I'm on my feet.

--I boo the other team. If it's Michigan the booing is merciless. Yes, these are college kids. Sorry -- Blue gets Booed.

--I NEVER boo my own team under ANY circumstance. Ever. I might cuss to myself and stew and get mad but never, ever boo your own boys.

-- I also never drink at games. I want to watch the game I don't go there to party.

--And I never cuss loudly because I think it shows a lack of tact. In private I talk like a sailor. Really. I can cuss with the absolute best of them. I got that from my dad. But in public? I'd have a hard time calling Chad Henne a C*** S*****...even if applicable.

So, where do you stand?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fallout 3: Finished!

It took playing it every spare minute I could this week and skipping some of the side quests, but I finished Fallout 3 this evening. It's killing me not to be able to write up some impressions for the blog, but I wouldn't want to get Bill in trouble with Bethesda PR now, would I?   :)

I will say this: There are things about this game that I feel very strongly about, both good and bad. In addition to the Gameshark review I'll definitely get some thoughts posted up here on Tuesday.

Dead Space PC

Early thoughts:

It's entertaining
It's not BioShock (which was an unfair media comparison)
It's not as scary as I thought it would be

It's clearly a port.

I need to save these games WHEN I WANT.

PC design 101, folks.

Gearing up For Halloween Brakke Con

As many of you know, Todd lacks friends. It's ok. He tries and darn it, that's what counts.

Every year we flip flop who drives where and this fall it's time for us to drive to Indy for a weekend of fun and games at the House of Brakke.

Go fun! Woo!

We're going down Friday, Halloween, because well, Saturday is OSU's bye week. No way is a Brakke trip worth missing an OSU game. Get real people. But this works out great because it gives me a chance to step away from the PC/360 and play some boardgames --- AND it's Halloween! The perfect time to break out some horror themed games.

I have been thinking about which games to bring, as the collection is getting ridiculously large, but it looks like:

Arkham Horror - This will take hours to play but's Halloween and there's no better time to play it. I reviewed this a while back. Todd says his house will be packed with guests, so this might be a requirement.

A Touch of Evil -- Todd has this one and I want to play it. Mike just gave it a thumbs up.

Fury of Dracula -- No idea if Todd has played this. But over Halloween -- essential. Another review. Max 5 players, though.

Railroad Tycoon Euro Expansion -- Todd will kill me if I don't bring this. Not very scary, though.

Formula Dé - Because it's easy, it's a bunch of dice rolling, and Ashley loves it. Supports a lot of players.

Star Wars Original Trilogy RISK - Because it's the best RISK variant ever. And you can play it in 2 hours. Best with 3 players, though (One Rebel, One Empire, one Hutt)

Cutthroat Caverns -- We tried this with just 3 people and it went over...not so well. But I think in a large group it could be a lot of fun. We basically had a lot of ambiguous rules questions. I love the idea, though. Supports 6 players..more the better.

StarCraft the Board Game -- Got this via a trade today. It's a big FFG production and I have never played it. Nothing a rules read while Mary drives won't fix...

So, Todd, that's the plan. If there's something else you are demanding I bring...speak up for forever be friendless.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Todd Does Mount & Blade

This game has been in the works for...a long time. So I was glad to read that Todd enjoyed it.

Really good review, a rarity from Todd, so be sure to check it out.

My review of NBA 2K9 went up last week at Crispy. The GShark review should be in soon. NBA Live will go up this week.

I thought it was a so so year for hoop games.

FIFA 09, OTOH, is fantastic.

The Oh So Yummy Watchmen Movie Teaser

If you're fan of comic books, you've no doubt read The Watchmen and know that it is one of the best works the industry has ever produced. You probably also know there's a movie in the works that's slated for release next year. (If you didn't know this, well, it's all true so just take my word for it.) What I hadn't seen yet, was this trailer that aired on some Spike TV awards show last night.  (Skip ahead to about the 1:20 mark for the start of the teaser.)

Ummm. Thank you, sir, may I have another?

I'm not sure how this will play to people who know nothing about the story of The Watchmen. I can see where it would look a little silly if you didn't know the source material. But if you're one of those people, trust me, this project looks good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sand, Rust, and Shabby Clothes. Hey, This Looks Familiar!

Gameshark (read: Bill) has managed to score me an early review copy of a certain AAA game (PC version) that's coming out next week. I have it and I'm playing it. You don't and you aren't. And because of that, I'm laughing at you.

Okay, not really, but it was fun to write that.

Strictly speaking, I'm not allowed to write anything about this game yet, although I'm sure most of you know exactly which one I'm talking about as I'm not exactly being subtle. I started it up last night and there are many great things to be said about jumping back into a dusty game world that we haven't seen much of in the last ten years. As a game, we'll see where it goes from here. So far there's been stuff I've really liked and other stuff that... well, not so much.

I'll have a review and impressions all penned up as soon as I'm allowed to do so.

For once being Bill's shameless lackey has paid off!

Monday, October 20, 2008


With my Mount & Blade review finally sent off to Bill, this weekend I turned my attention to Tilted Mill's Hinterland. (A Steam distributed game that you can get for $20.) It's not bad. I think it works very well as a short-lived crack cocaine-like addiction. That said, the game's basic formula plays out rather quickly and I don't think it's got the kind of legs to remain that addictive for more than a week or even just a few days.

In Hinterland you create a character and are tasked with building up a small frontier town by recruiting visitors to stay and fulfill needs like farming, crafting items or running a business. While all that's going on, though, you also need to venture out into said frontier and clear it of monsters. Clearing a section of monsters often nets you some kind of resource that you can use to improve your town's quality, like procuring stone or fresh water. Some of those resources improve the ability of your townies to do their job. Finding a source of wild game helps out your trapper or hunter, for example.

To win the game you need to defeat all the beasties out in the wilderness, which, pending the size of the game map you choose, can take just a couple hours or the better part of a day.

If you find yourself being overwhelmed when fighting monsters in the wilderness you can recruit members of your town to go adventuring with you. The catch is that if they're with you then they're not doing whatever their day job is. So if you bring the town healer with you into combat then they're not going to spend time in town making healing potions. If you bring a farmer along, he's no longer producing food. (If you don't have enough food to feed your town people will leave.)

I've got a draft review written already that I'll be shooting off to Bill soon that gets into more of the particulars. Ultimately, what makes Hinterland pretty neat (if not great) is its simplicity and diversity. You can pick this game up and figure it out without ever resorting to the manual. There's a cause and effect to just about every choice you make. Do you use the limited funds you have to hire a farmer to get your town producing more food or a soldier to help you protect it from monster raids? Do you hire a craftsman to make items of upgrade your existing hostel to an inn so that your town produces more money and can host more visitors? If you've got a craftsman in town making simple items do you upgrade him to a fletcher to help your hunter procure more food or a smith that can make better weapons and armor?

The downside to all this, and where I'm tagging it just a little in my review is that the fun in this game is very tied up in its sense of discovery. It's awesome learning what kinds of visitor can show up in the town and figuring out how they'll benefit you. And there's a degree of replayability the game offers with the many character types you can make for yourself and how those types affect your town building strategy. But, ultimately, once you've played the game for about 4-8 hours you've seen just about everything it's going to throw at you. The only thing to do to alleviate that is to increase the difficulty or the size of the wilderness and explore different strategies, but I think that only goes so far.

Like I said at this post's outset, I think this is the type of the game that's hyper-addictive for about a week and then you never play it again. That's okay, though. I mean how much gaming do you expect to get for $20? Hell, Sid Meier's latest iteration of Pirates, which I really enjoyed, was like that and that was a full-priced game.

Ohio State Michigan State Recap

In case you missed it. A 7 min video of the OSU game.

I'd post Browns highlites but, um, yeah.

Ohio State starts the BCS rankings at #9, and a win over Penn State Saturday night puts them, amazingly, back in the title race. I still don't think this is a national title contending team -- even though OSU has played great defense of late, but they are still in the hunt.

The last time Penn State won a game in Columbus?

Jimmy Carter was President.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Holy Schnikes

Hot off the presses, the Lions have dealt WR Roy Williams and a seventh rounder to the Dallas Cowboys for a sixth, third AND first round pick.

To tell you the truth, I didn't think they'd even get a first rounder for Williams, so the notion that they're getting three draft picks, including a first rounder, is astonishing to me. Don't get me wrong, Williams is a talented receiver, but he's never been consistent enough (IMO) to live up to his top 10 draft pick status.

I think this is a *big* win for the Lions (and whomever ends up being the GM) as they head into the draft next year. They could seriously help out that defense if they use their two first rounders wisely. (Which is also like saying I could really be rich if I picked good lotto numbers. Nevertheless, I'll take the glass is half full approach.)

Also of interest with this deal is that, with this trade, none of the first round picks Detroit's made from 2002-2005 are still with the team. Yikes.


Browns 35
Giants 14


Seriously -- W.T.F.

Where has that been the previous 4 games? That was a first half of 2007 flashback for the Browns and that was without Winslow in the lineup. I can't explain it.

I also have no idea what to tell Todd about Michigan other than...yeah I have no idea. The Appy State game last year you could at least point to completely looking over a team that was pretty good and would beat a lot of D1 schools.

But Toledo? At home? When you are playing for your Bowl appearance lives every week? Toledo? I do not care if you are trying the round peg/square hole theory with our "scheme" you should beat Toledo on pure talent.

I also absolutely do not agree with the Rodriguez "good coach" ideal. Good coaches never blanketly use a scheme regardless of the personnel. Never. You lose by doing that. If you force players who cannot run a scheme into...running that scheme it makes you a one trick pony.

Michigan needs to get its act together. Fast. Michigan sucking does not help Ohio State -- it hurts us. So stop being a friggin bottom feeder and beat Toledo. Sheesh. You are MICHIGAN.

Browns 35 Giants 14


Monday, October 13, 2008

Mount & Blade

I haven't talked much about games lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been playing my share. Currently at the top of my play list is Mount & Blade, a game designed by an independent developer called TaleWorlds. It's basically a game in which you become an "adventurer" in the medieval world (it's not fantasy as there is no magic) of Caladria. Caladria is composed of five competing, fully realized kingdoms. By "fully realized" I mean that each kingdom is a fairly well defined feudal society of towns, castles and villages that dot the landscape. Each settlement has some kind of lord in charge of it and that lord pays his (or her) homage to that kingdom. If you've ever read the George RR Martin Song of Ice and Fire novels, then you've got a sense of what this game world is about. Lots of factions, lots of lords, lots of chaos.

Throw in a little bit of that old PC classic, Elite, and you get Mount & Blade. The world is completely dynamic in the sense that it goes about its business regardless of what you do. Kingdoms war and make peace, bandits raid caravans, etc. By that same token, you can travel anywhere you want, whenever you want. It sort of defies convention in that there doesn't appear to be any kind of central story or goal. So when you're dropped into the world, you're very much looking at a blank canvas. You don't have any allies or adversaries. You're not out to avenge the death of your family. You're not on a quest to rule the world (at least, not really). And you're not hit with a sudden does of amnesia requiring you to find out about your mysterious past.

You're just there.

This is the sort of thing that will drive some people to love the game and some to loath it. If you require structure and direction, this is not the game for you. If, however, you want to construct your own story based on your travels and encounters, this game's open-ended model becomes more and more compelling the longer you play it. The first few hours, I thought were an excruciating experience and now every time I leave the game I look forward to finding out what I'll encounter the next time I load it up.

I've spent roughly 60 days in Caladria (game time) and in that time I've roamed the countryside doing small errands and tasks, amassed a small group of soldiers (10-30 or so) to follow me into battle (your solders are paid and get better with experience), had my militia wiped out and had to build it up again, become a mercenary for a local lord, taken part in a successful siege campaign, ridden to the rescue of fellow countrymen, become a vassal for the king, rescued a kidnapped girl at the request of a guild leader and been granted fiefdom over a small village that now pays its taxes to me in return for my protection. (I can also build structures there that give my party or village bonuses and provide protection.)

All that and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what this game world has to offer. Plus, I haven't even gotten into the character and party development part of the game. Like any RPG, you choose your arms and equipment, place points into attributes and skills, and level up to become more powerful. As the title infers, there's even using horses in battle which is all shades of cool in part because the quality of your mount actually matters.

All in all, I'm loving the game. Graphically, it's very dated. But I got over that fairly quickly. The lack of a central story means there's not a lot of fine details and there's a lot of repetition in the sorts of quests you can take on. At first the only quests I seemed to get from local lords was playing messenger boy, delivering messages all over the place. It's like being the PA on a movie set. But as much as some of these quests repeat themselves, the more you play, the more the game world opens up to you, which is often the opposite of how games play out. Even titles I like a lot, like Mass Effect, tend to start with this seemingly unlimited scope only to find that this huge pool is only a foot deep. With Mount & Blade it's like diving in the ocean: The further out you go the deeper it gets.


This was not a banner weekend. Both of my fantasy football teams lost, while putting up my worst point totals of the year. The Lions lost a game, perhaps the only game this year, that they should've won. The offense was anemic, but the defense had their best game, bar none, and they had the game all but won after what should've been a Minnesota incompletion to bring up 3rd and 20 late in the 4th quarter. Ultimately a horrible PI call, a horrible non-reversal of a non-fumble (that also completely ignored a helmet-to-helmet hit on Calvin Johnson) did cost them that game.  Still, bad teams don't get the benefit of calls and you can't whine too much about a loss that is the result of only putting up 10 points.

Speaking of 10 points...

I'm at a loss as to what to think of Michigan right now. I understand that when you're Michigan you simply cannot lose a home game to a pretty sub-par MAC team. But they did. They lost to Toledo. So that's the new reality. We live in a world where Michigan is capable of losing to Toledo. It's depressing as hell, but the evidence is in now and the case is closed. This team is just bad. It sucks to write that. I didn't want to believe it after the comeback against Wisconsin. I wanted to believe this was a team that had bottomed out quickly and was now finding its way back up. Clearly, that's not the case. It is what it is, though.

What I won't be doing, however, is joining the thundering herd of people calling for Rodriguez's head. The guy has proven he's a good football coach, the only question is whether or not he's a good coach for Michigan. The jury's out on that. It'll continue to be out for another two  years. You bring a guy like Rodriguez in and short of his setting the stadium on fire or announcing he's a Klan member, you live with the results until it's clear whether or not this is the inevitable groaning of a big ship changing course or if it's the wrong guy for the wrong job. I think it's the former, but it's gonna be awhile. In the meantime, U of M fans, coddled by decades of winning seasons and bowl appearances need to take a few deep breaths. Especially the asshats booing a bunch of college kids. As usual, M Go Blog puts it best:

Sports suck sometimes, especially when you care so much about something you control not at all. I assure you that every Michigan fan was angry on Saturday, and every one had second thoughts about this New Era thing. Some of them chose to swallow that anger, and some chose to give it to someone else. What's the adult thing to do? What would those people in hats have done in 1935?

They would have sucked it up. So suck it up, you pansies. It hurts. Act like a man about it.

I pretty much hate it when people boo their own team as a general rule. But is it me or is it happening a lot more now than it ever used to? I mean it's just a reality that bad *professional* teams get booed. I may not agree with it, but it's always been that way. But nowadays it seems like fans will boo any team at any time. A team fresh off a Super Bowl can have a bad half and home fans will start to boo. I watched Pistons fans boo Ben Wallace, who basically willed that team to an NBA championship in 2004, in his first game back to Detroit as a Chicago Bull. I've watched Lions/Packers games in which the home crowd booed Brett Favre. Brett freak'n Favre. Now, as a Lions fan, I hate Brett Favre, so I kind of enjoyed it just a little, but still, that's just crazy.

So yeah, as a fan, it's as bad a football year for me as I've ever experienced. It's a bummer, but it's still just sports. Either be a fan for your team or do the rest of the fans a favor and tune the hell out.

2k9 -- What I am Talking About

A poster at OS posted this video -- it shows exactly what I mean by the post game defense.

Horford of the Hawks scored 38 on me last night (as Boston) by running this play in various sets. KG and Perkins had no answer.

Original Video- More videos at TinyPic

Basketball Malaise?

That's me. Mr. Malaise.

I'll have a review of both games soon but after playing Live and 2K a ton over the past week (more for Live) I keep thinking one thing :

I miss my College Hoops.

The NBA games aren't doing it for me this year -- but for various reasons.

NBA Live 09 is really close to being special, but defensive AI kills it. Fun online game, though.

NBA 2K9's controller complexity is hilarious. Plus, as GREAT as it looks (best basketball game, visually, ever) but the low post game and ridiculous offensive explosions hurt it badly. Out of the box, without any slider changes, 2K9 is straight up arcade -- no defense, tons of scoring, little fun. Sliders help, but only to a point. It's a "good" game but nowhere near as good as I was expecting it to be. College Hoops.


2K's Baseball "Text" Sim?

Got this PR in the mail Friday from 2K...along with about 10 people emailing me the PR that I received Friday. You guys are quick.

2K Sports, the sports publishing label of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTWO), today announced that MLB Front Office Manager, the next step in competitive fandom for baseball enthusiasts, will be available for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system and Windows PC this winter. According to Nielsen Media Research, over 3.5 million users signed on to fantasy baseball sites in 2007 and MLB Front Office Manager brings this popular American pastime to console while enhancing the fantasy baseball experience on PC.

MLB Front Office Manager lets gamers do everything a real-life baseball GM can do to develop a team from Spring TrainingTM through a full MLB season, into the playoffs and the World Series. Using Major League teams and players, gamers will create their own fictional baseball universe and build their reputation into elite status. Gamers can replace aging veterans with rookies, scout the Minor Leagues, make blockbuster trades, and even participate in bidding wars for posted players from Japan as they make their way to the Hall of Fame.

“If you have ever dreamed of running your team or thought you could do a much better job than the actual general managers out there then you’ll love MLB Front Office Manager,” said Greg Thomas, senior vice president of sports development at 2K. “Baseball fanatics can now be in the general manager’s chair and see what it’s like to really try to build a World Series winning team.”

A true baseball general manager also acts as a mentor in MLB Front Office Manager. Legendary Oakland Athletics’ GM Billy Beane will offer advice, encouragement and guidance as gamers steer a team through the intense competition that is Major League Baseball. Billy Beane is considered one of the most talented GM’s in baseball today and has turned the Athletics into a consistent postseason contender since being named GM in 1997. Now, in MLB Front Office Manager, he passes that knowledge on to gamers.

“From negotiating trades to scouting new talent, MLB Front Office Manager has all the complexity and realism I could hope for in a game that is simulating what it means to be a Major League Baseball manager,” said Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane. “I’m excited to be a part of a game that gives people a real world experience at what it’s like to be in my shoes and take on the responsibility of building a Major League Baseball team.”

MLB Front Office Manager offers two distinct game modes. Become the GM in Career Mode, and manage a team through a 30 year career that will hopefully lead to the Hall of Fame. As the gamer’s knowledge and skill progresses over time, gamers will gain points to improve various areas and help the team win games as a result. With Online Fantasy Mode, create an online head-to-head management experience. With up to 30 Managers in the league, gamers can compete against friends to see who has what it takes to be the best.

MLB Front Office Manager, developed by Blue Castle Games and published by 2K Sports, is not yet rated by the ESRB and will be available for Xbox 360, Windows PC, and PLAYSTATION 3 system this winter. For more information, please visit


I'll see if I can get a Q&A on this one.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

That Which Shall Not Be Named

When you lose to Toledo, a mediocre MAC team, there isn't enough Kool-Aid in the universe to find a bright side. Thank god hockey season started this week.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Diablo III: It's the Wizahd!

For those of you keeping score at home, Blizzard just announced the next character class that'll be available in Diablo III: The wizard. (Which joins the Barbarian and Witch Doctor classes.) Much to my chagrin, they didn't draw their inspiration for the class from that cell phone commercial for which I can never remember the product brand they're hawking (Alltel?).

For actual footage of the Wiz in action you can find a gameplay video at the Diablo III home page. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

NBA 2K9 Hurts My Brain

Well, it does.

There is a common misconception about me and sports games. A lot of readers assume that --

A: I hate sports games


B: I want every game to be ultra realistic down to the finest detail

Both are untrue. I want the fundamentals to be right. Walks, penalties, basic strategy, free throws, no important stats totally out of whack, that sort of thing. Too MUCH realism can be a bad thing because in the end we are just fans with jobs and shit to do.

NHL 09 is NOT authentic hockey -- passing is way too easy and penalties are just plain screwed up. But it's damn fun. I can live with that. I can't live with NCAA 09's complete lack of defensive awareness. Just cannot get past it. Oh, and I love great sports games, and hate bad ones and tend to ignore the middling ones. I think a lot of people fall into those categories.

NBA 2K9 is an enigma.

There has been this push of late to "dumb down" sports games because the controls are so hard to master. NHL 2K's mantra this year was "just make it fun." I never completely agreed with that ideal but NBA 2K9 is the poster child for complexity. This game is HARD.

I played 2K8 extensively and thought that was a tad complex but going into the 2K9 manual I started chuckling because there's no humanly way I will ever remember all of these button combos to pull of certain moves. No way no how.

The game on default sliders on PRO level is unforgiving -- good luck holding the AI to under 50-60% shooting. Even with a lock down team like Boston, after 5 games on default Pro I am giving up 62% FG a game. I am no basketball game novice. I've been there, done that and bought multiple T-shirts but man...this game does NOT play around. It's geared, out of the box, heavily to the offense because I'm also shooting 60% as well. I'd go as far to say that default Pro is really arcadey.

The good news? The sliders work. REALLY work.

I lowered CPU 3Pt shooting to 25 (from 50) and Atlanta's Mike Bibby was shooting AIR BALLS. Literally -- air balls. So perhaps some slight adjustments will do the trick because right now playing defense in this game is incredibly hard and I hate to even imagine playing on a higher lvl of difficulty.

Does it pass The Garnett Test?

Sort of.

The sliders in NBA Live 09 are not effective in slowing down KG -- put shooting at zero and he still kills people mercilessly.

Basic shooting sliders in 2K9 can slow KG down as can slider changes to Defend Passing lanes, Strength, and On Ball Defense.

But if you really want this to help, make sure to change controllers before a game and tell the AI to "deny Garnett (or the scoring machine of your choice) the ball" and then switch back to control your team.

This helps a lot. So, out of the box? Not so much. But the settings DO make a difference.

I haven't seen the bugs some have mentioned, but Ive only played 6-7 games.

I do know this -- this game is friggin hard.

Saints Row II Early Review

Brandon finished the game and THQ allowed us to post an early review.

Sons and Daughters

I will get back to posting about NBA 2K9 today, promise, but in the meantime, enjoy this clip from Sons and Daughters -- my current iTunes addiction. This song is also in NHL 09. Small ol world, eh?

Hiding Under the Bed - Part 2

Well, given Bill's efforts to brighten our day, now seems an appropriate time to throw another log on the fire. Bill Harris, on his blog, has long talked about how good the This American Life podcast is. I never tuned in until I'd read about an episode, called "The Giant Pool of Money," from last spring that talked about the forthcoming mortgage crisis. It was fantastic. So, a couple weeks ago I finally broke down and added it to my iTunes subscription list. I've only listened to three episodes so far, but they've all been great.

But that's not the purpose of this post.

This past week, given the fact that market armageddon is evidently at hand, This American Life returned to the topic of our Wall St. meltdown with an episode appropriately titled, "Another Frightening Show About the Economy." This is the single best explanation for what's happening on Wall St. and how it's actually affecting the rest of us that I've read, watched or heard. (And I've been reading, watching and listening a lot these last few weeks.)

If you have an hour to kill, be sure to check it out. Then stock up on bottled water and canned goods. I've also been thinking of building a small rocket ship that I could put my kids on so that, when the planet explodes, I could send them to the safety of another world where they'll develop super strength and be able to fly.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

A quick break from the triviality of sports games for a moment.


'The Better Angels of Our Nature'

Lincoln spoke those words in his first Inaugural address. Here is the quote in context:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stre[t]ching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

I have been thinking about this quote a lot of late. It's a terribly important speech from Lincoln, not only in the scope of the country in March of 1861, but also in October of 2008.

If you have been following the election of late you have undoubtedly seen a lot of the videos either on TV or on YouTube -- some of the YouTube videos are truly scary -- and you have certainly noticed the "tone" of the McCain campaign.

They're losing. They know it. Nothing they have done in the realm of issue-politics has worked to take Obama off course. The debates, even though the McCain camp saw them as strong performances, have leaned heavily for Obama. The polls are shockingly clear -- McCain and Palin are the equivalent of Mike Tyson in Japan: off their game, battered and bruised and poised for one last hook to the chin. Obama is Buster Douglas --calm, confident, and waiting to deliver that last devastating hook.

In response to this, McCain and Palin are playing from a playbook that, to me at least, is circa 1860. McCain was once an honorable man. As I said a few weeks ago -- I would have (possibly) voted for him in 2000. Today, it makes me throw up in my mouth a little to consider that possibility.

A basketball buddy of mine from the Cleveland area was at this rally in Strongsville. He's a lifelong Republican and he wanted to see first hand the Palin Frenzy, as he calls it. I berate him every time he calls for voting for this anti-intellectual novice, but he wanted to see the Frenzy.

Well, he saw it, all right.

He called me that same night after he and his wife got back.

"How'd it go? Were you given free Mooseburgers and a wolf pelt? "

"They're going to kill him."


"I'm telling you Bill. That was the most fu***** terrifying thing I have ever seen. These people are fu***** insane and if Obama does win they're going to take him out. If he would have shown up at that rally they would have ripped him to shreds. I can officially say now that I have witnessed first hand the intensity of an angry mob."

I dismissed my friend's fear as being a tad dramatic and we moved onto topics like Ohio State and the fact that my ankle has been hurting for three weeks and I can't play ball.

But I started thinking about it. What made me reconsider this was what my friend told me -- because these rallies usually attract the extremes of the party. I was at a Kerry rally and felt like a dumb ass because some of these people were so over the top that I felt like an alien -- and I was voting for Kerry. I felt like telling them, "Stop being on my side."

So I imagine that the Repub rallies are similar regardless of the year. Here's where this is very different -- and very ugly.

When an audience member screams to McCain, "Kill him! He's a terrorist!" He (McCain) doesn't do anything. He doesn't tell him to appeal to 'The Better Angels of Our Nature' he nods that CHUD flesh eating grin of his and nods in approval. Palin may as well be standing on stage with a torch and pitchfork telling these troglodytes to charge Dr. Frakensteins' castle.

They're encouraging this -- openly -- they are doing nothing to stop it. This is politics at its very worst and the fact that it is John McCain that is doing it blows me away. It's one thing for Obama to call McCain "old" "erratic" "Out of touch" and "angry" but to indirectly call a presidential candidate a terrorist is so far out of bounds that it's in C Deck of The Shoe.

My buddy is still voting for McCain, which saddens me, but it's because he doesn't like Obama's politics, which I can accept. What we are seeing at these rallies is very different -- my buddy felt it...saw it. And it not only makes me sad (and a bit scared) for the country but also for people like my friend in Cleveland who is unfairly being lumped into the low hanging fruit of the extreme right.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Press Pass: Do Sports Games Have a Sporting Chance?

I'm quoted a few times in Kyle Orland's latest Press Pass column along with Todd Zuniga of 1Up and Chris Sanner of OS on sports gaming and the media. Or..the sports game media...or something. Basically it's about sports games so go read it.


I finally have my copy. Only played one game on default Pro lvl and it looks gorgeous. Just a beautiful game.

I can't get the CPU to miss a shot and The Garnett Test on Pro is proving to be ...a lot like NBA Live (KG scored 43 on Philly and shot 68%). You CAN see the AI wheels turning, though. Double teams -- tie ups in the paint, etc.

More after a few more games. But man..Philly shot 64% on me ..on PRO. Yikes I cannot play defense.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

NBA Live 08 Redux

Oh, before I get into this here's my late and at this point moot review of NHL 09.

Still playing a lot of Live 09 -- still waiting for a copy of NBA 2K9...

But I'm gathering my review notes and pulled up my review of NBA Live 08. In it I said:

Line: NBA Live 08 is clearly a step up from last year’s disaster, but it still lags behind the competition.

Hot: Player Hot Zones is a cool idea; “Go To” moves work extremely well; Quick Strike is fluid; Improved AI

Not: Unstoppable point guards; Terrible rebounding; Jerky running animations; Slow menus; Not enough plays

Player hot zones is still a cool idea. Rebounding is better but still not "right" IMO and the animations remain "so so" and the plays are no longer an issue thanks to the DNA thing.

The PGs are no longer unstoppable -- now it's the low post players. To test this out I started playing with Portland and I have Oden getting 30 a night on Superstar.

Here's the thing.

In basketball, maybe more than any other sport, the AI needs to adjust to what you're doing. All sports games need to do this but here it's especially noticeable. If I call the exact same play 20 times in a row, all calling for Oden to run to the low block and call for the ball from the baseline, back up the defender and turn and shoot a soft jump hook from 3 feet out -- the AI needs to counter this. It HAS TO. It has to start denying that entry pass. It has to start doubling quicker. It has to do something to stop ME from doing what I want to do. Better yet it needs to force Oden to get that pass 10 feet from the hoop rather than 5. Force him off that block.

If the defensive AI merely runs the same defense, even if they bring over someone from the weakside to help (usually a friggin' guard) it's going to

A) Get destroyed and
B) Get predictable

This is one of the things I adore about NHL 09 -- that game is NOT predictable at all. It's fluid. And despite my grumblings I'm still playing it daily.

Live 09, despite ALL of the strides it has made (which are many) is very predictable on defense and it saps the fun out of the game for me when playing off line. I call that same play to Oden and he does the exact same thing and the AI reacts the exact same way every single time down the floor.

Now, do I have to run that same play? Of course not. But that's missing the point. Just knowing I CAN and knowing how the AI will defend it (i.e. not very well) is a big deal.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pipe Wrench Fight!

I'm not a big music video guy, but one of my all time favorites is, "Take on Me," by Ah Ha. (You don't get much more 80s than that song, or that video.) Go figure that when an old high school chum of mine linked to the following YouTube video off his Facebook account it's a "literal video version" of that song and video. It's the same song, but all the lyrics are replaced with a literal narrative of the on-screen action.

By all means, enjoy yourselves...

Oh, watch out for them!

They're gonna beat you up with a pipe wrench.

Climb through this hole.

Show this guy then cut back to these two.

You go through first.

I'm gonna kick some ass with my own pipe wrench!

Frigg'n sweet. (Thanks, Scott!)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Low Post Defense

Is keeping NBA Live 09 from being really good.

The feature set is nice, the graphics are merely OK and the animations at times look ....rough, but this games DOES do a lot right.

But low post defense is ABYSMAL. And the sliders for User Close Range do jack squat.

Here's the issue --

With Boston I can run a post play to Garnett and even Perkins and the defense refuses to deny the pass. Ever. This is one thing that makes NHL 09 stand out -- the AI will adapt to your style and if you keep trying to do the same thing over and over the AI will pick up on it. I don't see Live doing that. I called the same play for 4 quarters today, on Superstar, and KG scored 49, Perkins 21, and KG would have scored more but was in foul trouble.

The problem is twofold:

One, the AI allows the entry pass every single time down the floor. You'd think after running the same play 30 times it would sorta guess it was coming and front KG or start auto doubling.

Two, when help D DOES come from the weak side, it doesn't matter.

No matter what lvl you play on you can back down players way too easily. Garnett's low post strength isn't that great yet he can back down like he's Shaq and then spin and score almost at will. Perkins will miss a tad more often but if I wanted to score 20 a night with Perkins that wouldn't be too tough a job -- and any hoops game that allows that has a problem.

So does this make Live a bust? No -- it's fun and as I said does a hell of a lot right this year. It does keep it from must buy territory, though. To get in that area I need to try the 10 player multiplayer out.

More Live 09

Well, the Team Xbox Review is up so screw it.

I'm not diong a full review here but know this:

Live 09 is MUCH better than ANYTHING EA has done with a basketball game in years -- going back to the glory days of NBA Live 2000.

Dynamic DNA is a FANTASTIC idea. Just brilliant. My issue is that is doesn't do deep enough on defense. Yeah, so KG turns right 33% of the time off the high post -- but what about Boston's defense? How often do they double? I don't see that in here.

Still, great, great idea doing this DNA thing.

More quick hitters:

No more rebounds scooped up off the floor. Woo hoo!

The guy that previewed it for OS says that fouls are too infrequent and that foul shots are too easy. I disagree on both counts. Maybe I need more practice but Rondo at the line -- clank city. And I see plenty of fouls even out of the box. I had Perkins foul out this morning. A lot of loose ball fouls, too, which is GREAT -- and a rarity in basketball games.

I like the added turnovers -- teams throw the ball away more often now. Love that. A team might even hit double digit turnovers in a game. Imagine that.

The graphics, IMO, are very average. The animations -- not very good. NBA 2K8 looks better than Live '09 and it's not even close. The play by play does little for me either.

I'm having a lot of fun but my #1 concern is that the game fails the Garnett test. NBA 2K8 failed this test, too, mind you.

Even on Superstar level I can DOMINATE with KG in the post. Just destroy teams. And the problem is that the AI fails to front him -- it's WAY too easy to throw the ball on the block to your C/PF. And KG is so good that when it gets it low -- it's 100% money. Right now I have a game on SS lvl paused and it's the end of the 1st and KG has 19.

Can slicers fix this? We'll see.

So, after several games of testing it out Live '09 is clearly better than anything EA has done in a while, and the franchise is clearly on the right track in what it's trying to do. Better than NBA 2K? We'll see soon enough.

OSU V Wisconsin -- The 10 Minute Version

If you missed the OSU/Wisky game, this 10 min YTube clip shows you what you need to see.

If the Bucks had a truly dominating defense they'd be title contenders. They don't, so it's Big10 or bust. But Beanie and Pryor...yikes. Also, that Clay kid for Wisky is a bigtime HB. I remember his recriutment and OSU tried to get him but luckily for the Badgers he stayed in state. He's better than PJ Hill -- right now.

KG Pick and Roll

So, I have been a good boy and not broken the EA embargo on NBA Live even though I have the game. You know, it pains me to sit here and not talk shop with you guys. I really want to talk about the game. But that will wait til tomorrow. I should also have NBA 2K9 any day now so we'll compare and contrast.

I will share this NBA Live 09 video I took today when I was playing with Boston. I thought I had the game on All Star level but I guess I forgot to save it and it's on Starter. No wonder it was easy. ha. Last year, doing this simple move in Live was impossible.

You know what I like about this clip? Not the KG roll, but look at the defender on Pierce -- he almost jumps -- he almost buys that pump fake (which has been a money play in the Live since there WAS an NBA Live). But even on Starter -- he hesitates but stays on his feet.

NBA 2K9 Developer Call -- Storm a Brewin'?

My report is online today.

Let me tell ya: either 2K is a tad worried about NBA Live or they just HATE EA Sports.

To show such blatant contempt for a competitor is really ...rare. And fun for me!

Michigan Beats Illinois in 1st Quarter!

It's all about having the right perspective. We'll just pretend the next three quarters didn't happen. We'll pretend Juice Williams didn't rack up 400+ yards of total offense. We'll pretend Michigan didn't surrender four different plays of 50+ yards (technically, one was 46). And most importantly, we'll pretend that after taking a 14-3 first quarter lead that Michigan wasn't outscored 42-6 over the remainder of the game.


Or failing all that, I can still sleep soundly knowing that as bad as this game looked, this team has a much brighter future than the Detroit Lions. UGH!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Go Bucks! And How I Almost got Mobbed at a Soccer Game

I am having more fun coaching Ashley's 6-7 year old soccer team than I ever imagined. The kids are great, the parents are great and we are improving nearly every week.

As it stands, we're 1-2-2 (1 win, 2 losses, 2 ties)

We started off losing the first game 3-0 and could have lost 9-0. My kids had a deer in the headlight look and I knew we had a lot of work to do. Since then our only loss was 4-3 in a game where the opposing goalie stopped SIX shots in the 2nd half.

The crowning achievement so far was beating the team that beat us the first game in our rematch 5-3. We're all having a great time. I give out free kiddie ice cream coupons at every practice following a game -- as long as the kids hustle, work together and don't daydream and pay attention to the game -- they get a $1 ice cream coupon for our local ice cream shop. Bribe kids with free ice cream and they'll charge into hell! Everyone doesn't earn the ice cream and if they don't, I explain why and so far everyone that has been shut out has understood.

Yesterday's game started great as we jumped out 2-0 and was dominating possession -- it looked like we'd steamroll our way to a winning record. But me, being the fair minded fellow I am, always rotate my kids so I don't have our star players playing midfield every quarter (yes we play quarters). So I make a lineup out every Friday night and have my rotations set for the game. There will be plenty of time as these kids get older to learn about "the best players playing." But 6-7 isn't that time -- IMO. Everyone plays on my team.

A lot of coaches don't do this and keep their top kids on the field at all times but I think a reason the parents like me is that I treat everyone the same. The only position I don't make them play is goalie. Some kids just hate the idea. So we usually have a lull when my "2nd team" is on the field and that was the case yesterday. We were up 2-0 at half, and they scored 2 to tie it in the 3rd, we went back up 3-2 in the 4th and they scored late to lock it in at 3-3. All in all, a really fun game. These kids try so damn hard it's a joy to watch.

OK -- back to me nearly being mobbed.

When we kickoff, we don't just slowly roll the ball to a left or right midfielder -- we kick it deep. We try to kick the ball off the kickoff into the space in front of the defense but behind the front line. I have some fast kids and we can play a version of a hockey dump and chase off the kickoff -- and it works.

So I have my ace player in the midfield, kicking off. I talk a lot during the games, giving instructions, encouraging, and getting their attention if they start to lose focus (at 6-7...distractions are many).

So I'm barking instructions to Adam, my little Pele, telling him to "Kick it into a space!" Adam nods and booms the ball way too hard and it flies out of bounds -- for a goal kick. He crushed it -- which wasn't quite the plan.

Anyway, everyone -- my wife, my team parents and the opposing team's parents ALL thought I said, "Kick it into his face!"

Everyone was taken aback by this but I was still coaching the game, oblivious to the confusion that was going on behind me. I hear Mary say, "Bill!..Bill what did you say!?"

I turn around, puzzled, and ask what she means -- she tells me and I reply, "No no into a SPACE." All of my team parents laugh and that was THE talk of the rest of the game. They know I'd never say to kick a kid in his face so they were relieved and laughing about it.

The other team? Not so much.

So the game ends and we all shake hands and my assistant coach tells me that the entire parent sideline is pissed. They are certain that I had given an order to kick the ball square into the other midfielder's face and by Adam NAILING the kickoff the way he looked sorta bad.

So I decide to walk into the Lion's Den of angry soccer moms and a few angry soccer dads and grandparents to explain myself.

When I walked over there it was clear that they were not pleased. I could really tell that they wanted an explanation -- otherwise it could get ugly. I explained what happened and there were a few laughs, and few smiles and a few that I don't think believed me.

I think next time I'll tell Adam to just kick it off to the other team and get back and play defense.

A safer plan.


Oh, yes, Ohio State.

How awesome was that?

The Wells/Pryor combo has the potential to be frighteningly good. This OSU team, I think, would have the potential to get back into the national title hunt IF they had a more dominating defensive line. They don't.

OSU lost those games against SEC teams and against USC not because of the myth of SEC and USC speed being far superior to anything in the Big10. OSU is fast too. Really fast. OSU lost those games in the trenches. Wisconsin ran right down OSU's throat last night which is something that will continue to be a problem for the Bucks this year.

BUT -- that Pryor kid is very, very, very special. He's so special -- if Michigan had landed him they'd be ranked right now.

I firmly believe that.

Friday, October 3, 2008

3-5 1 OTL

That's my record right now in NHL 09 with the Jackets. This is after about 10 "play now" games before starting my franchise.

I played a game today against Anaheim that shows why this game is a success despite its issues. I had been struggling to score of late, losing games 2-1, 1-0, and with a 2-2 OT loss. I exploded on Anaheim for a 6-3 win scoring 4 quick goals in the 2nd. Every goal was different and it felt "real." That level of variety is SO important in sports games. Without it, sports games in particular get boring -- fast. Predictability is the bane of sports videogames. When your game gets to the point where nothing surprises's shelf city.

NHL 09 is not perfect. It is not "authentic" hockey.

But it ain't boring.

A Zombie Wife? At Some Point I Have to Play This

With my NHL 2k9 out of the way (it's now posted here), I've got some other games that require my attention: The Witcher (Enhanced Edition) and Mount & Blade. Possibly Hinterlands as well if Bill ever confirms that for me. (Hint, hint, Mr. A.)

But I'll tell you, after reading the following from Rock, Paper Shotgun., at some point I have to play King's Bounty:

Various characters in the game kept recommending I get married, but beyond the king’s child daughter rather unnervingly flirting with me and some polite chit-chat with an old lady who sold plant-beasts, I couldn’t find any women in the game, let alone one to make my bride. Then I met Hake, the robber-baron. He was in a bit of bind because his wife had turned into a zombie. As is so often the way in anything RPGy, he tasked me with solving his problem. So I duly did some trekking about for him, and eventually discovered the magic phrase that would de-zombify the poor lass. A hero is me.

At which point he revealed that, actually, having an undead wife was quite handy - she could test his food for poisons and… well, his reasons weren’t entirely convincing, if I’m honest. And that’s when a surprising dialogue option appeared. There was always at least one vaguely psychotic response I could choose in any given conversation, but requesting if I could buy a man’s wife off him was a whole new layer of madness. I couldn’t not go for it, but fully expected violent reprisal for my cheek.

Except he agreed. For just 5000g (not a lot in KB’s money-rich landscape), I had myself a wife. Not just any old wife - a zombie wife. I was married to a zombie. Ew. A zombie who I could talk to about having kids. Ewww.

I didn’t really want to go there, but fortunately it turned out I could use that magic de-zombie phrase whenever I wanted, so I did the gentlemanly thing: restored her humanity, pledged undying love, and fathered a child. Then, with my heir sorted, I turned her back into a zombie again. Then I divorced her for someone else. The combat bonuses were better, you understand.

First of all, that's great writing. Second of all, that's hysterical gameplay.

This game instantly goes to the top of my New Year's list of games to play when the doldrums of winter whip their way into town on a chill wind. (That, by the way, is an example of really bad writing. It's kinda my thing.)

Debate Wrap-up

Not gonna say much about the debate today as there's little point. What I saw last night was pretty much what I expected. Biden answered the questions he was asked (mostly). Whether you agree with his answers is another matter, but he gave them. It seemed to me that Palin rarely answered the questions that were asked, at least beyond the framework of the proverbial 10-word answer. Once that was done she'd throw in some folksy talk and a wink and segue right into stump speech talking points. It was straight out of the SNL bit I quoted yesterday, "Forgive me, Mrs. Palin, but it seems to me that when cornered you become increasingly adorable. Is that fair to say?"

She spent a lot of time last night to trying to make herself adorable.

If there was any part of the debate that I would encourage people to pay extra attention to it was this:

IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?

PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.

IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?

BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.

This was a question that had an absolute right answer and an absolute wrong answer. Palin got it frighteningly wrong. Biden didn't.

Before wrapping this post up, I feel I should briefly go back to last Friday's debate, since I never addressed it and I don't want to look like I'm ducking it. Obviously, I'm in the tank for Obama, so I liked his answers better than McCain's. But in terms of how the debate would play across the country, I thought it was a draw. Neither candidate was particularly impressive and neither -if you can remove fact checking from the equation- did anything particularly damaging to themselves. Given that, I was very relieved to read that polling indicated most people thought Obama took it. I thought McCain's constant put downs of Obama would play and, evidently, they did not.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In Honor of Tonight's Debate

As someone who hasn't been a regular watcher of SNL since the days of Farley, Carvey, Hartman, Meyers, etc. and as someone who's never watched 30 Rock, I suddenly feel like I've missed out. That Tina Fey girl? Yeah, she's good.

Also in an effort to bone up on foreign policy, I went to see a film called The Bush Doctrine... It was not about politics.


Forgive me, Mrs. Palin, but it seems to me that when cornered you become increasingly adorable. Is that fair to say?

I don't know. Is it? Pew! Pew! Pew!

Awesome. :)

As for the actual debate. You know, in a fair and just world, Biden would eviscerate this cheap hack of a VP candidate, but you just know that won't happen. The format -what do they have? 10 milliseconds for each answer?- isn't going to be conducive for it and I'm sure his handlers are all telling him not to be mean. Screw that. 1) This is the pro league. Show up to play or hit the showers. 2) Biden's going to be accused of being a prick no matter what he does. An episode of The West Wing summed it up best, "It's a gift that they're irreversibly convinced that he's arrogant 'cause now he can be. If your guy's seen that way, you might as well knock some bodies down with it."

More NHL

It is possible that NHL 09 is the most frustrating game of all time that I will give a positive review.

I have never been so mad at a videogame before. As I said earlier, this is a good game -- with a smooth design and a slick engine. But damn if it doesn't piss me off.

I'm about 12 games into my season and yes, penalties are a slight issue. I get them called on me (overuse of the poke button) but I'm on the powerplay at the most once per game. Well, some games something odd happens and I'll have two PPs but usually I'm the one in the bin. It isn't as bad as I first thought but it's certaiy not ideal either.

The tape to tape tic-tac passing annoys me. How many bad passes do you see in a game? I see *very* few. Passes are picked off and deflected but very few are off target, and it gives the game an artificial feel. To me at least.

Then there is the AI. I cannot beat the AI on All Pro. I just can't do it. I don't get blasted -- most of my losses are 4-2, 3-2, 5-3, etc. but I cannot win. Pro doesn't feel quite right so with the shocking lack of custom options I'm somewhat stuck between Pro (which is a bit stale) and All Pro which drives me to want to break my controller. Most of my All Pro games are very close until the 3rd period, when my AI teammates decide to stop playing defense. Almost all of the late AI goals are uncontested shots in the crease. It's like the AI shuts off and decides it's "time to score."

Criticizing a game over difficulty is dicey because everyone will play the game differently, but with the lack of sliders or ways to adjust the gameplay I think it's a valid point to make.

Still need to try Be a Pro and all of the new online features, but solo offline the gme is at times amazing and at times infuriating.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

EA Sports Avalanche

Pretty hectic time if you are a sports game writer.

I'm knee deep in NHL 09. Good game. Borderline really good. "Great" or "Best Sports Game Ever?" I'm not going there. Still, certainly a green light buy.

AND NBA Live 09 showed up today with a firm, "Bill please don't blog about the game" request from EA Sports. So, no posting from me about NBA Live. (Don't email me either...)

Just know that I do have a copy and that you don't and that I am awesome. Everything else is window dressing.

FIFA 09 is on its way and THQ sent over Saints Row II today and I finally bought a Rock Band 2 wireless guitar and Gamecock wants to send a debug to preview Legendary and EA is also sending Dead Space and NBA 2K comes out with a PC version and THERE ARE TOO MANY GAMES TO PLAY RIGHT NOW PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.

Oh, yeah, my Warhammer Online review is up at Crispy.