Saturday, January 31, 2009

NFL Head Coach Designers on Board Madden 2010..or 10...Whatever

Great news.

Madden's franchise mode needs people behind it that know what they are doing.

MLB Front Officer Manager

Not good. Really, really, not good.

Could be good. Some neat ideas.

But in the end...

Really, really, unmistakeably -- a bad game.

Aaron Harang finishes the year with a 3.03 ERA -- and wins 3 games and loses 22.

The Reds win a total of 24 games.

Chipper Jones hits .410

19 TEAMS hit for over .300 and the Dodgers, as a team, hit .324.

These are all one-off examples but they are not exceptions to the rule -- and that rule is that this is no NFL Head Coach and OOTP laughs at its attempt to be a manage sim.

Did you know that during the games you can't see player ratings? Want to know who this guy is batting for the opponent? Good luck with that. I also can't find a way to activate a one-pitch mode. You can speed up the play but you'd think a one-pitch mode would have been on the design table from day one. Maybe I just can't find it.

Which leads me to the next frustration -- the interface. Want to know the League Leader in..oh..doubles? No dice. You get League Leaders in Homers, RBI and Avg. That's it. Not to mention the small details like when you view a player's individual stats that you need to scoll over to view the important stuff. So when you click on a pitcher you get his starts, shutouts, complete games, etc. but to see ERA and other valuable data -- you need to scroll. Why? Why not have what most people want to know right on the front screen?

Anyway, pass on this. I think there are some good ideas here and the game tries to incorporate a lot of off season rules (Rule V drafting, pick compensation, etc.) as well as detailed scouting stuff, but there is absolutely no reason to play this over a game like OOTP -- the graphical display is nice but stat heads are a differnt breed -- most simmers don't need the pictures. It would be nice, and if you could take OOTP's GAME (and interface) and throw in the graphics, well, that would be 5 ways of awesome -- but without stat integrity it all breaks down -- especially in a baseball game.

The Show's demo comes out next week. All you need to know.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What Do You Want To Know About MLB 09 The Show?

Q&A in the works -- so if you want to ask something, post a comment or email me.

Remember this is my Non-Malaise sports game so ...woo hoo.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sports Game Malaise?

Do you have it?

I have it.

We're working on a feature where all staff members talk about their top 5 games for 2009. I read Todd's and he said, "MLB '09: This is the only sports franchise left in gaming with which I'm not utterly bored."

I thought about that for a bit. Then thought some more. I can still recognize great games and bad ones, but as far as really wanting to dig deep into a sports game -- yeah MLB 09 is about it. NHL is a great franchise but I dunno...after reviewing it I sorta shelved it. I loved NFL Head Coach (mostly)but I REALLY doubt we see a new version of that.

I'm tired of NCAA promises. I'm tired of Madden, MLB 2K, the NBA 2K, NBA Live, right down the line. It took a long time but I'm there. Sports game burnout.

Even OOTP -- a game I adore, I didn't play the latest version nearly as much as the previous ones. I just feel I have been there and done that. I think I could be reignited into sports gaming if the games warranted that. But I don't g=think they do. At least not yet. There is not 1 spiorts game on my top 5 2009 list. I thought about adding MLB 09 but Dragon Age, Empire Total War, Dawn of War II? It's not even close. NCAA 2010 or Empire TW? Uh...

So we'll see. Maybe it's just a phase. or maybe I have finally grown a bit tired of basically playing the same games for the past 7 or 8 years.

And with that I sit here looking at the 2K Front Office Manager box...and I'd rather play the Dawn of War II multiplayer Beta...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Front Office Manager

I'll have my copy from 2K tomorrow or Wednesday. I haven't read any impressions on this and don't plan to -- I want to go in fresh, as they say.

Really busy right now -- mainly catching up with Email post vacation (like...a lot of emails) but I should be able to post some stuff on it when I get a chance.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Well I was going to go over how the trip went but after reading Todd's harrowing post -- I think I'll post the short version:

It was Disney for 2 weeks. That's a lot. We swam with dolphins at Discovery Cove -- in 50 degree weather (pool heated to 75 but I still froze). It was generally cool everyday -- mid 60s. This is PERFECT park weather though. Orlando in July? Hell no. Really January is a GREAT time to do this.

We rode rides (Tower of Terror..woo hoo), ate bad food, and had a pretty swell time. I ate shrimp on accident at a Character Dinner and my face turned beet red. My dogs had a bout of Colitis while we were gone -- this means they shit all over the house and my neighbor who was feeding them cleaned the entire downstairs. We were going to offer them dinner for taking care of the dogs but I am now thinking straight up cash.

Oddly enough I played more boardgames over these last 2 weeks than I have the previous few months -- since we visited Todd.

Glad to be a 10 inch snow storm is about to hit...

As for games, I am finally playing Mass Effect -- which remains just 'ok' IMO. It's no KOTOR. The 2K Baseball Manager game should be en route. NO idea what to expect from that. After loving (shockingly) NFL Head Coach -- I'm leaving expectation at the door.

Very Bad Luck

TOBY: These things take patience. These things take skill. These things take luck. In the 15 months we've been in office, what kind of luck have we had, Ginger?

GINGER: Bad luck.

TOBY: What kind of luck?

GINGER: Very bad luck.

TOBY: We've had very bad luck.

This exchange is from the Season 1 episode of the West Wing, "Six Meetings Before Lunch." It's also a very apt description of life this past week and a half. In my last post I noted the water damage in my home and that my wife was to have surgery on Friday. Not exactly good times, but life throws your curve balls sometimes and you just have to deal. I mean it can't get worse right?

Not so much. I swear to you, loyal readers, the following is all true...


6:30: Get up early so that I can meet my mom in Fort Wayne and offload the kids on her for the weekend.

7:00: Get a call from mom that she's been sick with what she thought was food poisoning, but now my step-father has the symptoms so it must be the flu. She'll still watch the kids if I want, but the only thought worse than that of my kids coming home with the flu is seeing my wife get it while recovering from abdominal surgery. I cancel. My mother-in-law is coming down for the weekend anyway, so we'll have some help.

1:00: Arrive at the surgery center. They take my wife back to be prepped.

1:30: I'm called to come back to see her, I presume, before they administer the anesthesia. Instead I'm told that she had some kind of seizure about a minute after they put the IV in. She's never had a seizure before. (Note: I'm going to continue using the word seizure here, but I'm not sure that -technically- it's the right word for what happened. Her hands clenched shut, her tongue swelled a bit, and she couldn't move her legs and said it felt like her insides were shaking violently. It lasted a minute or two, during which she was fully conscious.)

2:30: We're told because they don't know what set off the seizure they don't want to do the surgery. This would normally be inconvenient at the absolute best of times, but considering the constant abdominal pain my wife has been for over a month that this surgery was likely to ease, it's frustrating as hell. We're also told an appointment has been made for her to see a neurologist that afternoon to make sure it was just some kind of extreme reaction to the IV and not something more serious.

3:30: We see the neurologist, who uses some big words to say basically, "Yeah, I don't know what's going on." Always comforting. Appointments are set this week for an EEG and MRI. Yay!


12:00(ish): Angie feels an ovarian cyst rupture (we think; she has a condition that causes these cysts and they're all over her ovaries right now; it seems like every other week or so she'll feel one rupture and it's painful). A minute later she has another of these seizures. Given her lack of tolerance for pain/needles I start to wonder if these aren't being triggered by pain. Regardless, one of these instances is worrying, two is a very scary trend.

Sunday: This is where the wheels officially come off.

9:30: Angie, deservedly sleeping in, wakes up and feels the effects of another of these seizures. It's not as severe this time; her hands aren't clenched shut but she still feels like her insides are shaking. It passes. I worry some more.

10:30: I get a call from the restoration company saying they want to come over today (yes, on a Sunday) to remove my kitchen floor. There is never going to be a good time for this, so I say okay. They assure me they'll call 20 mins. before arriving.

11:00: We pull some of the kids clothes out of the dryer to find that, evidently, both brown and black crayons were in one of their pants pockets. Said crayons have now melted and dried over everything in that load, which constitutes the bulk of their most oft worn clothes. Again.  Yay!

12:00: I start boiling water and washing the clothes out by hand in the kitchen sink. The good news is this works pretty well on most (though not all) of the clothes and a quick run through the dryer should dispense with the problem. The bad news is that boiling water burns skin. I know. Shocking, but true.

1:00: Still working on the clothes there's a knock at the door. Hey, it's a six man wrecking crew come to remove my flooring. So much for the advance phone call. I immediately have to switch gears, clearing out the kitchen, laundry room and pantry floor.

1:30: Watching our new tile get smashed into a thousands of pieces breaks the heart.

2:30: Angie is resting, watching TV in the bedroom. (Actually, it's the TV from the kids' play area; I moved it to the bedroom for her because the small LCD we had in our bedroom had to go back to the manufacturer for repair. More fun, that.) I go to check on her and she tells me the picture on the TV is out. I reset the DirecTV box. It starts to reboot and then goes out again. I repeat this process a couple times, remove and re-attaching all the cables. No luck. I sigh and promise to deal with it after the crew has left.

3:00: The tile is all out and the crew is working out pulling up the vinyl. Hey, what's that? Why a long 1cm wide crack on the concrete slab floor that runs the length of our kitchen and into the kids' playroom. Is this a worry? I have no fucking idea, but I am so loving life.

3:30: The head honcho of this crew points out to me that there is, once again, water in the laundry room. There's not a lot, but there shouldn't be any. I check the water softener drain hose, the suspected culprit from the initial water damage, and it's firmly in the drain. The crew leaves and I clean up the water; seeing no source of a leak I conclude it was spilled out when the guys unhooked the washer and dryer to move them into the garage. Speaking of which, hey the washer and dryer are still out there and I have a whole load of sopping wet kids' clothes that need to be dried. Again, again: Yay!

4:30: I put our other satellite receiver in the bedroom and it works. I try the bedroom receiver in our family room and it doesn't. Looks like the receiver box is toast. Huzzah!

6:30: I return to the laundry room and the floor is wet again. W.T.F.? Where is this all coming fro... oh's no's. The water softener tank that holds the salt. It's leaking out from underneath that. I shut off the valves, but there's a ton of water and salt in that tank and I can't lift it or do anything else about. All I can do is put a towel under it and try to soak it up as it leaks out.

6:45: I go to put a new roll of paper towel on our wall mounted paper towel holder and one of the cheap plastic brackets snaps off. This is the last fucking straw, I swear to god.

9:30: Left 4 Dead with Bill (and Bill). Slaying zombie hordes with friends is clearly the only way to cleanse the stench of one of the most foul weekends in memory. Tomorrow will be a new day and things will start to look up, I'm sure of it.


7:30: I wake up late, but feeling a little more at ease on a good night's sleep. The kids are already up and watching TV. I'm not wild about the notion of them getting up and going straight for TV, but whatever. I say good morning to them. Kyle looks at me and says, "Daddy, I had an accident." Sure enough. The kid is sopping wet and, when I got to check it, his bed sheet is soaked. Why he didn't come and tell us this, I don't know. An issue for another day. And crap, now I have to start a load of laund... aw hell. (The washer and dryer are still in the garage.)

7:45: The towel I put under the water softener at about 1:30am soaked completely through (knew I should've used the bigger one) and there's water on the floor again. Not a ton, but enough to be annoying. I clean it up and call the water softener company. They'll send a guy out with a new tank... on Wednesday. I think about telling the guy to look up the word "expediency" in the dictionary, but think better of it.

7:46: I'm largely agnostic/ambivalent about the whole higher power thing. I prefer to recognize my ignorance of the cosmic for what it is and just trust to the natural order of things. That said, whatever you want to call it -god, fate, karma- I am officially declaring uncle. Uncle, I say!!! 


Anyway, this is all a very long, very drawn out way of saying that blogging from me will continue to be sporadic for the forseeable future. Also, I'm not writing anything here for sympathy. It's just cathartic to put it all out there and try to find some humor in it all. Obviously most of this stuff is all nuisance bullshit. In the case of the kitchen floor, it's expensive nuisance bullshit. But whatever. If the country can live with trillion dollar deficits then I can live with paying a deductible and repair of my water softener. Well, there's the paper towel rack too. That's $7 out the frigg'n window. Dammit! Point is, I know it'll all get fixed up in due time and it'll all be water under the bri... No. I'm declaring a moratorium on metaphors involving water. At this point the mere sound of running water makes me want to collapse into a fetal position in a closet.

The big issue, of course, remains Angie's health and I'll post updates as we learn what's going on. (Any of you who have insights into the pain followed by seizure symptom, I'd love to have your insight.) Hopefully it's just related to one of the prescription meds she's been taking (the neurologist indicated one of them lowers the body's resistance to seizure... if I followed what he was saying correctly) and we can get the surgery rescheduled. Regardless, the kind emails I've received from a few of you are much appreciated!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2 Weeks Later

I have returned!

Full Disney post game report coming soon.

Some good, some bad, and some sorta gross.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Digging Out

It's been an interesting (read: nightmarish) few days in Casa Del Brakke (hence the quiet on this blog). We woke up Friday morning (after the coldest night we've seen here in years) to find water all over our laundry room, in the kitchen and in the family room (soaked through the drywall between it and our laundry room). This once happened before when we were gone for a weekend; we came home to a water soaked main room after a pipe in the wall froze. It was an awful experience that was instantly brought back to memory upon surveying the scene Friday morning.

This time, though, it didn't turn out to be a pipe. See we have this whole house water softener in our laundry room and, near as we can figure, either something happened to the drain in the laundry room floor or the drain hose of the softener somehow became dislodged. More likely the latter, but I have no way to account for how that would've happened. At any rate, when the softener regened in the wee hours (a process that I'm told uses a ton of water) the water went everywhere. And so my Friday was spent moving furniture out of the affected areas (including my whole home theater and PC setup) and calling in a drying and restoration crew to assess the damage.

When all was said and done our carpeting was saved but the water managed to go under our tile floor in the kitchen and laundry room and now it must be replaced. Did I mention we just put new ceramic tile down in the kitchen a mere six months ago? Yeah. This f$#^ing blows alright. See, we live on a slab and because the slab isn't precisely level the guys who installed our floor decided to leave the existing vinyl flooring in place and evidently vinyl flooring has a layer of paper underneath and paper will mold when, say, the contents of Lake Michigan manage to seep underneath it (as is the case). I was wary of this notion of leaving the vinyl in place at the time, but as I don't know sh$% about such things I let it go. I kinda wish I had put up more of a fight over it now.

What are ya gonna do?

So it's been four days of industrial strength dryers (think Princess Vespa's hair dryer in Spaceballs) blowing at full power in my house. This is not a pleasant way to live. Fortunately for my wife and kids we were already planning to spend the weekend in Michigan. I stayed home and made extensive use of my noise cancelling headphones. (Did I mention I recently sent the bedroom TV back to the manufacturer for repairs so I had to set up a makeshift entertainment center in the heart of the dryers?) The good news is that the headphones worked very well. The bad news is that three straight days of wearing headphones all day long is not at all comfortable for one's ears. I did escape for a bit on Saturday to a buddy's house for some Settlers of Catan and Arkham Horror (we won!), which are two great, great boardgames.

Anyway, most everything is dry now except a few bits of carpet, which, hopefully will be finished tomorrow so that we can start the process of having our floor torn out. Of course, the fun isn't remotely over yet because on Friday my wife is going under the knife for a laperoscopy (sp?). (Anyone know much about endometriosis?) It's a fairly routine procedure, but surgery is surgery so I'm not exactly looking forward to seeing her go through it. How the procedure and recovery goes will determine how much blogging I get done next week.

In the meantime, I wish you all better luck than I'm having; and if you happen to have a water softener at home, make sure that drain hose is well-secured. ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

True Wisdom for Lions Fans

EDIT: This post was written and posted before news came out of Detroit that the Lions have indeed hired Jim Schwartz as their next coach. Is this good news? As the monk said to the student, "We'll see."

For the last few weeks, as I'm sure will be a shock to exactly none of you, I've been endeavoring to keep tabs on the Lions coaching search. The buzz seems to be centered around Tennessee Titans DC Jim Schwartz and Miami Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles, both of whom had second interviews this week and were trotted out for test run press conferences. It's hard not to like Schwartz based not so much on the fact that he's worked so long and successfully for Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, but on the fact that he answered a question about the Lions quarterback job with, "I think it's time we replaced Bobby Layne."

Sir, you had me at hello.

That being said, my best answer to the question of who should be the Lions' next coach is: I have no fucking idea and why the hell are you asking me?

Seriously, speculation on coaching searches and draft picks is always good fun and all fans will have an opinion on such things, but the dead-set certainty with which some people evangelize their opinions on online message boards just kills me. I know, I know. I should no better than to read the insane postings of anonymous schlubs on online newspaper pages like MLive, but there are times when I just can't help myself and I always, always feel dumber for having done so. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying there isn't wisdom to be found in such places. It's just the process of wading through the detritus leaves me feeling like termites are gnawing their way through my skull.)

CJMegatron: i think Jim Schwartz will be a good head coach, just not for the lions. He dont Blitz he rushes just 4 guys all the time. Alot of teams that is a good thing he can rush 4 guys and get pressure but he dont have the talent here in Detroit to just rush the D-line. I would like to see the 3-4 system here in Detroit. With the 3-4 our 1st pick would be a lock also. I'am suprised no one has talked about Aaron Curry as out first pick.

I know making fun of spelling is trite and cliche, and hey, I'm the last guy to criticize someone over typos (you read this blog, so you know that), but seriously, I'am?

windsorlions: Rex Ryan is the coach we need his defenses are always in the top 5 ,he has head coach experience and his defences just ravaged the titans last week!he seems to be low key no one talks about him much as HC,but he has the creds just look at his past.Todd Bowles is a secondary coach with no head coaching experience.Jim Schwartz is also getting a lot of press but his defences were schooled by the ravens,they didnt do anything even blitz.But Rex Ryan's ravens were mixing it up and flying all over.Since they are still in the playoffs we should at least wait to talk to one the best candidates availible don't you think?

I love this. The Ravens beat the Titans so therefor Rex Ryan is a better candidate than Schwartz. Maybe this guy didn't see the Bobby Layne quote. Here's a New Rule -if I can be permitted to channel my inner Bill Maher for a minute- if you are a fan trolling on a newspaper's message board you are not qualified to make declarative statements about who should be the head coach of a professional football team.

stopitnomore: Coach Todd???????? Just doesn't have a good ring to it.

Yeah, well if I knew your name I'd make fun of it to your face. So there!

It's times like this when I'm reminded of the wisdom brought to us all by two young men who are far wiser than any of us. I speak, of course, of Bill & Ted and their most Excellent Adventure.

Bill: So-crates, the only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.

Ted: That's us, dude!

You said it, guys.

And now, for your enjoyment, the whole scene brought to you in full color through the magic of YouTube:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Live from Disney

No time to blog about the trip just yet -- but I saw that while I was gone GameShark posted the live contest link for a bunch of signed Castlevania stuff.

Sorta cool if you are into signed swag. I took those pics. Can't you tell?

Anyway Disney is fun -- mostly. I'll find time to do a full OOB report soon.

Disney Tip: Do NOT bring an infant to Disney unless you absolutely HAVE to. Otherwise stay home and watch the Disney Channel.

More later.

Games Don't Need Better Graphics

It's just January 12th and I think we've already got our first nominee for understatement of the year, courtesy of Microsoft's Robbie Bach. In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News (which I found via this story at Edge Online) on the topic of Microsoft taking their time in preparing for the next next-gen of consoles, Bach is quoted as saying, "Just coming up with something that's faster and prettier isn't going to be sufficient."

Not to be snide, but: ya think? Nintendo has the least powerful console in the "current" gen and not only is it clobbering the 360 and the PS3, lifetime it's going to outsell the PS2. Not many would've predicted that three years ago.

Truth be told, I actually think Microsoft has done pretty well with the 360. Yes, it's louder than Jack Black doing -well, anything, I suppose. Yes the power brick is more cumbersome than a bowling ball. Yes, Microsoft never should've shipped a version that didn't include a hard drive. (And said hard drives are still overpriced when bought separately.) And yes, for at least the first two years the console was a red ring of death waiting to happen. (I've had two of them fail.) On the other hand, it beats out every other console I've ever owned where it counts: 1) It's got the best video game library of any of the current consoles 2) its iteration of Xbox Live offers the best overall online experience. Neither of these things has much to do with the fact that it's capable of generating prettier pictures than the original Xbox.

The idea of more power and better graphics has driven the game industry for as long as I've been a gamer. Google up some screenshots from an Intellivision game and it's not hard to see why. But I think in the past 5-10 years we've finally reached the point where new graphical innovations (actual visual 3D excepted) offer less and less return on investment. I mean yeah Madden '09 looks better than Madden '03. Oblivion looks better than Morrowind. And Halo 3 looks better than Halo. Has the fact that these games all look better made any of them more fun to play? (Hint: Maybe a little. But not really.)

It was one thing when we went from 4-color CGA to 16-color EGA to 256-color VGA, etc. It was another thing when we went from beeps and bloops to stereo sound to full on digital surround sound. The move from 2D sprite graphics to 3D modeled graphics was huge. For almost the entire history of electronic gaming, better graphics have lead to better games. This is the first generation where I don't think that holds true anymore (or at least it's less true). The games that are better on a 360 or PS3 (and not all are) aren't better just because they offer better graphics, it's because they offer better gameplay independent of how nifty the visuals are. Hell, one of my favorite games of last year was by far the least attractive (Mount & Blade).

So, yeah, given the amount of money spent on this gen with questionable returns, it should come as no surprise that Sony and Microsoft are in no big hurry to spur on the next one. What's the point? Barring a visual revolution like true 3D, how much better can our games look?

So what will the next gen, when it eventually comes, have to offer? You don't have to be Stephen Hawking to know it'll still be about power (processing power, that is). The thing is, historically most of that horsepower gets devoted to better graphics. I think on the next go 'round that's going to change. Yeah, true 3D is an intriguing possibility. We're starting to get hints at events like CES that this is where the players in this biz want to go. After the Wii's success they'll certainly be looking at more innovative ways to interact with a console.

That's all well and good, but what I'd like to see the next gen of consoles do is make it easier for developers to develop smarter games. How? I have no earthly idea. I'm just an anonymous slob who can write in complete sentences (most of the time). But whether it's in shooters, strategy or sports, our games need a serious IQ boost. I mean sports game AI is just embarrassing sometimes. We don't need God Rays at Ford Field nearly as much as we need the AI to recognize when it needs to use a timeout. And does anyone think RPGs like Mass Effect or Fallout 3 wouldn't benefit from combat AI that doesn't make it look like battle plans were drawn up by Donald Rumsfeld?

Yes, a lot of that is on the developers not to cut corners, but one thing I've seen a lot of defensive developers say in the past few years when confronted with the notion that their games boast Forrest Gumpian AI is that by the time they got done making things look good, there wasn't a whole lot of processing power left in the console to give them any gray matter. If gaming is really going to evolve beyond the current status quo, that needs to change.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I leave tomorrow for 2 weeks to Orlando to hang with suspiciously large rodents.

Enjoy the soothing words of Todd while I'm gone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Defending Detroit (The City, Not the Lions)

Every so often I read, watch or listen to something that ensorcels me to the point where I don't want it to end. Whether it's a column or a forum post, a movie or a song that strikes to the core, I want it to just keep going. One example that comes to mind occurred last summer when I took in a showing of The Dark Knight. It was a long movie as it was, but knowing that once it was over I was never again going to see the unbelievably disturbing performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker, I wanted it to be even longer. I wanted the experience to last.

I just had that experience again today while reading a Mitch Albom column published at called, The Courage of Detroit. (Thanks to The Wayne Fontes Experience for the link.) Now, it's been a long time since I thought Albom was particularly relevant. He's a superb writer who achieved his level of renown with quality work, but over the years his columns became more and more formulaic and predictable to the point where I just stopped reading them altogether. This isn't one of those columns. This column, which is about the resiliency of the people of Detroit and the whole of Michigan, is Albom at his best and the more of it I read the more I wanted it to just keep going.

It's three pages telling the rest of the country to kindly back the hell off. It's a column that acknowledges the many problems that beleaguer both the city and state, including its beloved sports franchises, but reminds us that there are a lot of good people there persevering as best they can in some of the harshest economic conditions you'll find this side of New Orleans. Here's an extended excerpt that represents only a fraction of the total column:

There's a little too much glee in the Detroit jokes these days. A little too much flip in the wrist that tosses dirt on our coffins. We hear a Tennessee player tell the media that the Thanksgiving win didn't mean much because "it was just Detroit." We hear Jay Leno rip our scandalous former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, by saying, "The bad news is, he could be forced out of office. The good news is, any time you get a chance to get out of Detroit, take it."

We hear Congress tongue-lash our auto executives for not matching the cheaper wages of foreign car companies. We hear South Carolina senator Jim DeMint tell NPR that "the barnacles of unionism" must be destroyed at GM, Ford and Chrysler. Barnacles? Barnacles are parasites without a conscience. Sounds more like politicians to us.


Enough. We don't need more lofty national newspaper laments on the decay of a Rust Belt city. Or the obligatory network news piece, "Can Detroit Be Saved?" For too long we have been the Place to Go to Chronicle the Ugly. Example: For years, we had a rash of fires the night before Halloween -- Devil's Night. And like clockwork, you could count on TV crews to fly in from out of town in hopes of catching Detroit burning. Whoomf. There we were in flames, on network TV. But when we got the problem under control, when city-sponsored neighborhood programs helped douse it, you never heard about that. The TV crews just shrugged and left.

Same goes for the favorite Detroit cliché of so many pundits: the image of a burning police car in 1984, after the Tigers won the World Series. Yes, some folks went stupid that night, and an eighth-grade dropout nicknamed Bubba held up a Tigers pennant in front of that burning vehicle, and -- snap-snap -- that was the only photo anyone seemed to need.

Never mind that in the years since, many cities have done as badly or worse after championships -- Boston and Chicago come to mind -- and weren't labeled for it. Never mind that through three NBA titles, four Stanley Cups, Michigan's national championships in college basketball and football, and even another World Series, nothing of that nature has occurred again in Detroit. Never mind. You still hear people, when we play for a title, uncork the old "Let's hope they don't burn the city down when it's over."


Enough. We're not gum on the bottom of America's shoe. We're not grime to be wiped off with a towel. Detroit and Michigan are part of the backbone of this country, the manufacturing spine, the heart of the middle class -- heck, we invented the middle class, we invented the idea that a factory worker can put in 40 hours a week and actually buy a house and send a kid to college. What? You have a problem with that? You think only lawyers and hedge-fund kings deserve to live decently?


But it's time to untie Detroit. Because we may be a few steps behind the rest of the country, but we're a few steps ahead of it too. And what's happening to us may happen to you.

Do you think if your main industry sails away to foreign countries, if the tax base of your city dries up, you won't have crumbling houses and men sleeping on church floors too? Do you think if we become a country that makes nothing, that builds nothing, that only services and outsources, that we will hold our place on the economic totem pole? Detroit may be suffering the worst from this semi-Depression, but we sure didn't invent it. And we can't stop it from spreading. We can only do what we do. Survive.

And yet we're better at that than most places.

Here is the end of the story. This was back on Christmas night. After the visit to the church, I drove to a suburb with an old friend and we saw a movie. Gran Torino. It starred and was directed by Clint Eastwood, and it was filmed in metro Detroit, which was a big deal.


When the film finished, the audience stayed in its seats waiting, through the closing music, through the credits, until the very last scroll, where, above a camera shot of automobiles rolling down Jefferson Avenue along the banks of Lake St. Clair, three words appeared.


And the whole place clapped. Just stood up and clapped.

To hell with Depression. We're gonna have a good year.

I haven't been this homesick in years.

GameShark Game of the Year Awards

Here's the link to our awards this year, with more special features to come.

More Boardgames Coming to XBLA

And here's the list:

Boggle, Battleship, Yahtzee, Connect Four, Sorry! and Sorry! Sliders will begin to roll out in Spring 2009.

Yip. Eee.

Look, I like a good kid's game as much as anyone because I have a kid. That helps. And I love Catan on XBLA. Ticket to Ride remains a decent time killer. Lost Cities has crap AI and you need to play that against another human. Carcassonne's not bad either.

But Connect Four? Really?

Aren't those games best played with your a table? Will people actually play Connect Four with their kid on XBL?

The reason why so many boardgamers were happy to see Catan on XBLA was because finding players is tough. If you don't have a regular game group, getting together to play a BG is a bitch.

Hey dad -- pay the $10 and buy a copy of SORRY. Set it up with the kid. Face to face time, dad. Get the 360 controller out of his hand and play a tangible game. I doubt 7 year old Sally is living across town so you're forced to go the XB Live route.

All of these great licenses and great boardgames that you know the pubs would love to see ported to Xbox 360 format, and we're back to Sorry? The plus here is that Sorry Sliders is pretty cool. But I dunno how well it will translate.

What about the XBLA version of Railroad Tycoon...or even the BG version of Age of Empires III? Or Nexus Ops? That would translate VERY well I think. Pandemic would, too. Lots would.
I want a XBLA version of Tigris and Euphrates so I can figure out how the damn thing works.

I know that these Hasbro games will get a lot of people to say, "Hey look -- it's Sorry! And BOGGLE! and Battleship!! I doubt people would impulse buy Nexus Ops. (They should. It's great.)

But throw us boardgamers a bone, guys.

When A Merger Is Not a Merger

If you travel in gaming circles at all you've no doubt heard about the blow up yesterday at They've announced a "merger" with the UGO Network, a network that -way back in the mists of time- paid me for the occasional column at the old website. (Anyone remember their Gaming Therapy stuff?) I haven't been back to a UGO site since I stopped writing for them, which pretty much sums up what I think about their content. Unfortunately, instead of injecting their daily tripe with a lot of talented people, what they're doing with 1Up isn't a merger, it's a bloodbath (that has also swallowed EGM Magazine, which is being shuttered). Here's the list of staffers laid off yesterday:

Adrian Frieg
Amy Mishra
Amy Moran
Andrea Garcia
Andrew Fitch
Andrew "Skip" Pfister
Anthony Gallegos
Cesar Quintero
Christina Rosa
CoyLou Steel
Derek Chinn
Doug Parsons
Eric Ellis
Giancarlo Varanini
Greg Ford
James "Milkman" Mielke
Jason Bertrand
Jason Wilson
Jervilyn Jaramillo
Justin Frechette
Leslie Gelfand
Marci Yamaguchi
Matt Chandronait
May Tong
Meredith Stowe
Michael Donahoe
Monique Convertito
Ndubuisi Madu
Nick Suttner
Norris Boothe
Philip Kollar
Rey Serrano
Robert Bowen
Rosemary Pinkham
Ryan O'Donnell
Ryan Scott
Shane Bettenhausen
Simon Cox
Tammy Ross
Tipler Ubbelohde

I don't, obviously, know a lot of names on that list, but if you listened to their PC gaming podcast (GFW Radio/LAN Party) or the 1Up Show, you'll recognize several of them. For the first time I'm glad guys like Jeff Green, Sean Elliott and Sean Malloy got the hell out of there when they did. UGO has bought the brand and dumped everyone that made the brand what it was.

Hats off to everyone on that list and my very best wishes that you all land on your feet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Catching Up

By all rights being on vacation for two weeks ought to have freed me up to do more blogging, but as per usual I ended up spending the time away from such stressful pursuits as -well- thinking and typing. Instead I spent the time actually playing and watching stuff. Some thoughts on the various bits of media I've been digesting:

Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360): I posted about this last week and we've since tackled two more of the game's four campaigns. My initial impressions remain true: This is a great, great co-op game as long as you're playing with the right people (people you know and like). I rented the copy I'm using from Gamefly, but I'll probably end up buying it from them rather than return it. (We'll see. My heart still wants the PC version.)

Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360): After not playing this game much since it came out I spent a lot of time immersed in this game, mostly so I could overtake Bill on the achievements list (mission accomplished). I've done a few of the drum challenges on Medium now as well as some of the vocals on Hard, but guitar remains where this game is at for me. I can muddle through the guitar on Expert with the exception of about six tracks which I'll probably never be able to complete. Ah well, it's good enough to look impressive when playing the game with relative Noobs on New Year's Eve (as was the case this year). Christmas week I downloaded The Killers and Foo Fighters track packs and they've been a great addition to my RB library.

Portal (PC): I played this game for about a half hour on New Year's Eve and then spent several hours New Year's Day playing straight through to the end. My expectations, based on its universally positive reception, were unrealistically high and I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I would, but I did like it a lot. It's a very inventive game and the fact that it's short keeps the newness and the "hey, this is pretty cool," factor from wearing off before you reach the end. Plus GladOS, the game's antagonist, is damn cool. First thing I did upon completing the game is go on Amazon to buy the MP3 for the song Still Alive that plays at the very end of the game and I've probably listened to it a dozen times. It really makes the game. (I've also downloaded it for Rock Band 2.) As cool a villain as GladOS is, though, she's no SHODAN.

StepBrothers (Blu-ray): For the most part, I like Will Ferrell movies (Anchorman being my favorite); plus, I have three step-siblings myself (two brothers), so it's not surprising that I enjoyed this one a lot. It's not a great movie, but there's a lot of great lines in it. ("You have the voice of an angel. Your voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.")

Mamma Mia (Blu-ray): My wife likes this movie so I bought it for her. Yeah, not my cup of tea. I think all musicals need to have either a vampire slayer (see the Buffy episode, "Once More With Feeling," or a super-villain bent on world domination (Dr. Horrible). Speaking of Dr. H...

Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog (DVD): If you were reading this blog during this summer you know I love the Joss Whedon production, Dr. Horrible. The DVD version finally came out and in addition to the usual straight commentaries and making of extras, there's Commentary: The Musical. It's a commentary track done in the same musical style as the show and it's just as brilliant. Just about everybody involved in putting this together, the Captain Hammer groupies, for example, gets a chance to shine. I particularly like the track describing last year's writer's strike that ultimately gave birth to the concept. Plus, there's more Felicia Day singing and who wouldn't want that?

Marley and Me (Movie Theater): You probably know about this one. Aspiring journalist (Owen Wilson) and his hot journalist wife (Jennifer Aniston) get a misbehaving dog, Marley. The movie documents their lives together through the lifespan of Marley, "the worst dog ever." If you don't like getting your emotions jerked around this flick ain't for you. That said, as much as the story exists to make you want to cry, I can't deny that it's completely honest and authentic about doing so.

If you're a pet person, you've no doubt had to put a pet down at some point and if the movie succeeded in making me weepy during that part (and it did) it's because the scene was so spot on that I couldn't help but flashback to when I put my cat to sleep last year; it was as clear a recollection of that day as I've had of it since it happened. But, for me, the life parallels didn't end there. The main characters are from Kalamazoo, Michigan, my old stomping ground, and leave the state to start their careers. Owen Wilson spends much of his time lamenting that he's in a publishing industry that he wants to be a part of, but not in the role he wants (he wants to be a dedicated reporter and not a columnist), which runs parallel to the fact that I like being an editor for a living, but feel absolutely pigeon-holed doing it for technology books. The marriage between the main characters (whose names I cannot remember) hits a lot of the same parallels mine has gone through, with the whole having an an unexpected second kid soon after the birth of the first and the stress it puts on a marriage. Finally, there's a scene in which (spoiler spoiler spoiler) the main characters go to the OB's office for a routine pregnancy ultrasound only to find out the baby's heart had stopped beating. My wife and I went through the exact same scenario in 2001 and much like the vet's office scene it was so authentic in this movie that it was impossible not to relive my own experience with that moment. Because I wasn't even watching the movie during those scenes so much as I was reliving my own experiences it's hard to give the movie credit for being all that good or compelling, but it is, if nothing else, an authentic well constructed flick.

Well, Damn

Now that is a tough way to lose a football game.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

2009. Never thought I'd make it here.

True story. When I was a kid, around 10 or 11, I had a dream that I'd die in the year 2008. It was a vivid dream that has stuck with me ever since.

So it was a pretty tense 12 months.

But I made it and I remembered that I never did do my annual Christmas Loot Report. Last year the Big Gift was our 60 "Sony Bravia and all of the other doo dads that came with it like the Yamaha Receiver, the speakers, etc. My parents went all out and I was...shocked. This year we're going to Disney on January 9th so that was a big part of Christmas this year.

Still, Ashley and I shared the Rock Band 2 drum kit and cymbals (mom was proud), I got some nice OSU blinds for my home office, Left 4 Dead 360 because I couldn't get an extra copy for myself (damn PR people), and two boardgames -- Dominion (a card/deck building game) and the latest Arkham Horror add on The Goat in the Woods (or something like that.) Basically it adds more cards to a game that already has a gabillion cards.

The best gift? No, not the smile on my daughter's face or a hug from my wife or anything sappy like that. I see Ash smile daily and I get hugs all the time due to me being awesome. I guess if your children never smile and your wife consistently kicks you in the groin a Christmas smile and hug will feel like a million bucks, so I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

But no, the best gift was this. This thing is wonderful.