Thursday, August 31, 2006

LivePlanet = complete idiots

You've got to be kidding me.

Letting fans decide a batting order is bad enough - you've seen how fans vote for All-Stars. Letting them decide positions as well?

I don't care if it is a Northern League team (yes, that league's been known to do some pretty stupid promotions).

Look at what the owner has to say, as quoted by Rick Reilly in this week's SI:

"Look, the American people decide who sits in the White House," he likes to say. "I think they can handle a baseball lineup."

There are so many things wrong with that statement (aside from the obvious, that no, the American people don't elect a president, unless by "American people" he meant "electoral college") ... what an idiot.

I'm surprised he hasn't bought an MLB team.

Hey, it's great for attendance! Who cares how the manager or players feel about it?

I'm hardly surprised that MSN is behind this. I think MSN is short for "Really Bad Ideas", but I can't figure out into what language you'd have to translate that.

No, I'm not linking to the site. Search for Schaumburg Flyers and I'm sure you'll get there on your own.

What a joke.

Outlook good?

Looks like there might be some believers in the Fox camp. Dayn Perry has an article on the Tigers' youth and how it may help set them up for success in future years, not just in 2006. That's something for a team that hasn't made the postseason in consecutive years since 1934-35.

Ball, or maybe strike, or something else

Wow. Now that was a great finish. Huge too, salvaging a split, especially with the Twins losing.

I will say one thing, though. Mike Everitt may not be the worst home-plate umpire in baseball, but if he's rated anywhere in the top 90%, it's as bad as I thought. When YES is running replays showing that strike three is actually a ball, you know the calls are bad.

To be fair, they weren't just phantom strikes. In the ninth inning, Everitt's strike zone shrank to about the size of Alex Rodriguez' confidence. The sooner that baseball can implement a strike-calling system like tennis has for line calls, or at least to determine over the plate vs. not over the plate, the better off the game will be.

"Personal" strike zones have always been a pet peeve of mine. All it means is that the umpires can't interpret the rules correctly, and that ever since Richie Phillips was the head of the umpires' union, the commissioner has been too scared to make them do anything (except for the one time most of the NL umps, I think, quit for a day and then didn't get their jobs back).

It's really easy. Make umpires call strikes by the book, or find umps who can.

That's just part of it, though. The real problem is that the game is simply too fast for umps any more. Too many pitchers throw 95-mph heat on either corner, and there's no way an umpire can make accurate calls on either side of the plate - they just pick a side, call that one the best they can, and guess at the other side, which they do as well as you or I do from the offset-center-field camera that provides the standard TV angle.

Too many games are decided by individual umpires' vagaries any more. Can you imagine if NBA refs used their judgment on a particular type of play that happened all the time? Oh wait, they actually do that. Can you imagine if, for example, NFL refs had different interpretations of what constituted a false start? Yeah, it'd be a disaster. But Tagliabue would have put a stop to that before it really began.

Baseball has too many things wrong with it that people believe are "part of the game." (I had a rant about beanballs on my temporary Fox Sports blog - I may move it here or retype it at some point.) Personal strike zones shouldn't be part of the game.

Even if the Tigers won anyway.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let the lunacy begin

While the rest of the fantasy football world eagerly anticipates September 7 (well, unless your season started on August 19 or June 16), some of us are looking forward to Saturday.

Yep, I joined an NCAA fantasy league. I have no idea how this is legal, or how much they had to pay to license the teams and such, but I don't care. It's intriguing.

Why? Well, it's an all-Big Ten league. (sorry about the popup ad) With 10 teams. Yeah, we're going pretty deep, and yeah, if your starter gets hurt, it's curtains for you. But it'll be fun.

I missed most of the RBs, so I'm going with a wide-open offense, either 5 WR or 4 WR and a TE (you can use pretty much any RL college formation). I hope Michigan State and Purdue have strong passing games this year.

One interesting note is that you only get 75% credit for points obtained in games against non-I-A teams. This is unfortunate, because pretty much everyone in the Big Ten plays a I-AA opponent this weekend. At least everyone on my team does. (Except for Penn State, and this weekend, We Aren't. Penn State.)

We'll see how it goes. For now, I may start a local chapter of the Drew Stanton fan club.

No bye weeks this season. I like the 12-game schedule. Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money.

XBLA review: Time Pilot (4/10)

Hey! It's Wednesday! That means another new game (usually) in the Xbox Live Arcade. This week, it's Time Pilot, that wonderful game from the '80s.

The original arcade game was pretty simple - you controlled a plane by pointing it in any of eight directions (remember, no analog joysticks back then) and firing. No speed control or anything like that. The goal was to shoot enough aircraft in each era to bring up the boss; blow him up, and you teleported into the future ... to shoot more aircraft and get to another boss. Occasionally, you could rescue parachuting men, shoot an entire formation, or even shoot bombs or missile, but that was it.

The XBLA version is different because ... well, the graphics for blowing up a plane are better. That's it. In Digital Eclipse's defense, there really isn't much more you can do with this game, although it would have been nice to see them make the high score board persistent (warning: recurring XBLA theme). Also, they chose the standard popup-during-the-game achievement notification, rather than the postgame summary used by games like Galaga. It isn't too bad here unless you accomplish something during the level; I'd recommend not heading straight down while this is happening, because you won't be able to see through the popup box.

Like some other games, the achievements for Time Pilot don't include Live play. They also don't include any two-player goals, probably because the two-player game is just your standard alternate-turns game.

This isn't a bad game if you're a Time Pilot fan. If you aren't, there's really not anything here to recommend.

zlionsfan's rating for classic arcade gamers: 4 biplanes out of 10.
zlionsfan's rating for everyone else: 2 hang gliders out of 10.

Update: There is a bug. After you rescue a second or third parachutist, for subsequent ones, it doesn't show you how many points you're getting. Boo. Also, there is apparently a co-op mode, but naturally it's Xbox Live only, not local.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why am I doing this?

If you don't know much about the NFL, but are starting to get more familiar with it, you might eventually come across an article that suggests that the Matt Millen era in Detroit has been, shall we say, less than spectacular. And these articles would be correct: the Lions' record under Millen is 21-59, a winning percentage of .263 (you bet we are rounding up).

Then you might ask yourself the following question: just how bad is that? Well, you might not, but I did. Actually, I asked myself that question last year, looking at his first four years in Detroit.

As of now, that five-year stretch (2001-2005) is 46th among the 1448 five-year stretches in NFL history. (I wrote the code to generate these numbers, so it could be wrong, but just play along for now.) Pretty bad, the bottom three percent, but let's remember a couple of things.

One is that the wartime Chicago Cardinals were the worst team in NFL history, hands down - a seven-year stretch where they won exactly 10 games. Even with an 11-game schedule, that's awful. So we know the Lions aren't the worst ever.

Another is that we're comparing teams across eras, which is always a dangerous thing. So let's narrow it down a bit: we'll start our search in 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. Now the Lions are 10th-worst on the list:

1983-87 Tampa Bay16-63-0.203
1982-86 Houston16-57-0.219
*1985-89 Tampa Bay18-61-0.228
*1982-86 Tampa Bay17-56-0.233
1989-93 New England19-61-0.238
1998-2002 Cincinnati19-61-0.238
*1984-88 Tampa Bay19-60-0.241
*1981-85 Houston18-55-0.247
1981-85 Baltimore/Indianapolis18-54-1.253
2001-05 Detroit21-59-0.263
1991-95 Cincinnati21-59-0.263

*Tampa Bay and Houston are listed multiple times because they stunk for more than five years, creating multiple five-year streaks.

Tenth out of 689, not so good. But wait, it gets worse. The 1982 season was shortened to nine games due to piggishness, and the 1987 season was shortened to fifteen games and included three weeks of games with replacement players. Definitely not apples to oranges, so let's remove those streaks.

1989-93 New England19-61-0.238
1998-2002 Cincinnati19-61-0.238
2001-05 Detroit21-59-0.263
1991-95 Cincinnati21-59-0.263

So ... we now have only two worse streaks and one equal streak. One was from a franchise that has since won three Super Bowls, and the other two were from a franchise that won its division last year and can be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

What does this mean? Of the three franchises that sunk to this level, two of them cleaned house, righted the ship, and are reaping the rewards.

Matt Millen is employed through 2010.

William Clay Ford still owns the franchise.

Monday, August 28, 2006

This could explain a lot of things

I heard the following exchange during the second half (with Lions broadcasters) of the Lions-Raiders debacle, thoughtfully rebroadcast by the NFL Network:

Nameless announcer: "So Cover 2 basically means the safeties are playing deep."
Kelvin Pritchett, fellow announcer and long-time DT for the Lions: "No, it means that the corners have help."

And this help would be provided by ...

Not the best of weeks

Well, at least they started off right. Splitting with the White Sox wasn't so bad, but losing two of three to Cleveland wasn't so good. It's a good thing the White Sox and Twins were playing each other. Coming out of that mess with a five-game lead is a good thing, and it looks like the Tigers are still a lock for the playoffs.

With ten road games left against the Yankees, Twins, and Sox, there is a lot of work to be done. Nine home games against the Orioles, Royals, and Mariners should help (they also have a road make-up game with Baltimore and a normal three-game series with Kansas City on the road). It doesn't matter that much, though. They could win the division by ten games or sneak into the wild card on the last day of the season, but either way, they'd still have a five-game series to win. Even in a seven-game series, the better team doesn't always win. In a five-game series, luck is an even bigger factor.

On the other hand, some teams are easier to beat than others. We'll see.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Restore the meow

Let's see. Everyone knows that the third exhibition game is as close to regular-season action as you get. If your team is playing a team that was tied for the second-worst record in the AFC last season, and looks like an average high-school team, is it too early to throw in the towel on the 2006 season?

To borrow from an old joke: a frustrated Lions fan who works downtown has had more than he can take. One Friday, he parks his car on the street and tucks his two remaining tickets under the windshield wiper, hoping that someone will steal them, and goes in to work.

At 5:00, he walks back out to his car. There are four tickets on his windshield.

Fortunately, the NHL season will start before the end of the MLB season, so I'll always have something else to watch.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

XBLA review: Gauntlet (3/10)

If you're roughly my age, when you hear the word "Gauntlet", you don't think of armor (unless you've been playing Oblivion recently) or a movie, you think of a classic arcade game, one that would buy you hours of play for a quarter when the settings were just right. So, when I found out that Microsoft was going to release Gauntlet for the XLA, I thought ...

"What? Why would you do Gauntlet instead of Gauntlet II?"

That's right. Everyone knows that Gauntlet II is to Gauntlet as Erin Andrews is to Suzy Kolber. No one in their right minds would produce Gauntlet if they had the option to produce Gauntlet II.

For those of you who never played them, in the Gauntlet series (I and II in the arcades - III on the Lynx and IV on the Genesis were different, so we'll ignore them for now), up to four players plod through a top-down view of a dungeon, killing things and collecting keys, potions, and treasure. The game keeps a total score for you, but keeps the high score boards based on points per credit, so the lame-o who plays it all day with mommy's money won't knock you off the board.

Gauntlet was basic: four characters (elf, wizard, warrior, valkyrie) from which you could choose by using the appropriate coin slot and controls, standard dungeons in the same sequence, no really cool things in the game. Gauntlet II introduced many improvements: color, not character, was tied to the controls, so everyone could be an elf if they wanted to be; level order was random once you got through the introductory levels; dragons were added (had to shoot them in the head a certain number of times to collect treasure and a hidden potion); other abilities were added, like transportability; but best of all, they had secret rooms.

Before certain levels, a hint would appear, something like "To find secret room, go hungry." If you managed to do what the hint was suggesting, you'd go into a secret room, which was like the treasure room except that a) it had more cool things in it and b) if you got out, you got a password-type code that you mailed in for a free T-shirt. Oh yes, I got one.

And the things the machine would say at times were improved:

"Red Elf has eaten all the food lately!"

Anyway, Gauntlet II >>>> Gauntlet. XBLA Gauntlet? Well, they did let you pick the character you wanted. Other than that, it's Gauntlet. Yawn. Finish level 100 using default settings? Right ... anyway, multiplayer is kind of fun if you're all old-school gamers, but if you want quality retro action, I'd recommend Robotron instead.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 valkyries out of 10.

Friday, August 25, 2006

This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse

The current issue of SI contains their high-school football preview, complete with the top team in every state.

Good thing it wasn't the same issue as the one with the editorial about youth travel teams.

It's almost as bad as an ESPN columnist/anchor decrying Bonds' use of, well, everything, sandwiched between ads for Bonds: The Return and live updates on him adjusting his batting gloves prior to batting practice.

It's okay, though. SI has been obsolete for about five years now. All the decent columnists also post on the website; they'd be better off flipping the system like ESPN does, having you subscribe to the website and offering the magazine as a throw-in.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

360 review: Rumble Roses XX (0/10)

No, there's no link. If you really want the achievements for this game, you're torturing yourself. I'll have no part in that.

I'll be honest, there was only one reason I rented this game. In that area, it didn't disappoint - the costumes, such as they are, are entertaining, and watching the gameplay is interesting, but ...

How can I put this? If you start with DOA 4, take away the male characters, 95% of the moves, 100% of the strategy, and a little bit of the female characters' costumes, you'd have Rumble Roses. Why you'd have it, I can't explain.

It's just not worth it. I don't understand all the furor over adult-oriented video games. Almost without exception, every one of them sucks - the quality of the game play is inversely proportional to the amount of virtual skin you see.

zlionsfan's rating: a 0-cup out of 10.

XBLA review: Texas Hold 'Em (5/10)

Quick! Stop Microsoft from making money! Download Texas Hold 'Em for free!

No, really. It's free until Friday morning. Download it now and save your points for, um ... yeah, anyway, download it. It's pretty good.

Standard Hold 'Em: ring game or tournament, ring games are limit, no-limit, or pot-limit, with varying blinds and buy-ins. Tournaments are single-table and range from free to a six-figure buy-in. There's also a scenario mode that puts you in different, well, scenarios. I only tried the first one so far, being the chip leader at the "final table."

The play isn't too bad - the sims vary their patterns somewhat (at least in the eyes of this novice), but you can still get a read on them. Unfortunately, you can't speed up the gameplay, which means that it can drag on and on if you fold early and/or often. You can change the angle of the camera that views the table, although with a standard TV, anything other than directly overhead will make it hard to read the community cards.

It keeps nice stats: hands won and lost, broken down by pre-flop and post-flop, -turn, and -river, as well as hands by type, average $ won per hand, longest winning and losing streaks, and a couple of others. The averages are kept for single-player, player match, and some other kind of match that I don't remember (the two matches are types of Xbox Live games, I think).

It's a great deal for free, and is probably worth the money if you are slow and can't wait for WSOP to arrive. The achievements seem to be mostly offline (although the Competitive Tournament is probably online, boo) and vary in difficulty. Too bad they don't give out 1000 for arcade games.

UPDATE: I'm docking THe two points. One is for a fairly significant bug: in a tournament, when you're heads-up against an AI player, if he goes all-in as the big blind, he only antes enough to match the little blind, even though it'll show him as all-in, so if you win the hand, he still has chips left (example: if the blinds are 200-400, and he has 340 left, he'll have 140 left after losing as the big blind). Yeah, this is kind of a big bug.

The other is for the game's idiosyncrasies, things that St. T pointed out. For example, the game's insistence on shifting the camera angle to directly overhead when it moves the button and blinds, and the inability to save a single-player tournament in progress. They're not a big deal at first, but after a while, you wonder why they wouldn't have addressed those issues, either prior to release or afterward.

zlionsfan's rating: nickel out of 10. (down from mullet)

Oh yeah, I forgot - one of the achievements is pretty cheap, winning with a high-card hand of 9 or less. You might think this applies only to a full hand, and you'd be wrong. All you have to do is get to heads-up play and have the other guy fold pre-flop. If you're holding 9 or less (no pair, obviously), you've got it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stupid Pegasus

So I get home from my fantasy draft (the one below, where I have Manning and Hasselbeck), and figure I'll turn on the Sox-Tigers game to catch the last few innings. 636, FSD - blacked out. OK, probably the Sox feed, then. 73x (I have the package), blacked out. OK, it must be on "locally". ESPN2 - blacked out. WTF? I thought only Blackhawks games were unreasonably blacked out.

What I missed was the Comcast sports channel (you know, the old SportsChannel Chicago). Apparently it wasn't in my channel list. So now I'm watching the game, feeling duly chastened after having to look it up online.

Why Pegasus? Because when I got my satellite hooked up, DirecTV was in trouble for holding too much of the market (funny, it doesn't seem to work that way for crappy local phone companies), so they couldn't offer direct service, but they could offer it through another company, Pegasus. I got DirecTV, but with crappy old equipment - their phone rep didn't even talk me into getting set up with TiVo.

So it's hard to use the channel lists and all that. I'm waiting until I redo the living room with HD stuff to upgrade (to get a three-input dish for HD and TiVo), but it won't be long. Secondhand DirecTV stuff sucks.

What have we here?

I'm in two keeper leagues (football, and no, not that kind - I doubt I know 8 people who'd play fantasy Premiership football). One of them was ridiculously bloated until two kind souls dropped out, leaving us with 12. Still bloated, but not so bad.

Anyway, it's a keeper league: each keeps two and the rest go into the pool. The rosters of the people who left are also in the pool.

One of the people who left was the league champ. One of the reasons he won was that he swung a big midseason deal to acquire a certain goofy-looking quarterback.

I have the first pick this year.

Looks like I'll have a QB to trade.

XBLA review: Frogger (3/10)

Did I say something before about not using all of the music from the original arcade game? Let's say that you're doing a port of a game from the early '80s, a game that didn't have too much going for it other than, say, its music. And then let's say that you didn't include most of the music! That would be pretty dumb, wouldn't it?


Most of the achievements are doable - a couple involve suboptimal game play, which isn't a problem but should be noted, and one involves Xbox Live co-op play. Great if you like that kind of thing. The biggest problem with the achievements is that when you get one, it pops up at the bottom of the screen (like the Xbox-generated graphics do), which is a minor problem when it involved getting to a new level and the level has begun, so you can't see your frog.

There isn't a local co-op mode. Boo.

Let's face it, Frogger is one of those classics that most fans want to play a couple of times; after that, they put it away for a while. This port gives you no reason to do anything else - although the gameplay is (mostly) true to the original, that does include getting "hit" by trucks and cars or just missing the home at the top of the screen. Unless you're a big Frogger fan or an achievement whore, leave this one alone.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 ribbits out of 10.

7.5 games up

Another win, 81-45, no losing season. Wow. This is so totally different than '84. Back then, by the end of April, pretty much everyone knew the Tigers were going to the Series. The only question was by how much they'd win. This time, it's almost like playing a season of MLB 07 and swapping the rosters around - hard to believe they've improved this much in one season. The franchise record for increase in wins between seasons is 30, but that was partly from moving from a 154-game schedule in '60 to a 162-game schedule in '61. Still, that '61 team didn't win the pennant, which gives me pause for thought.

But thinking that three seasons ago, they lost 119 games, and this season, they could win 100 ... wow.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Saint Tardamus

Saint Tardamus writes about the same kind of stuff I do, except that I'm older and cooler than he is.

XBLA review: Galaga (7/10)

For once, a console port that didn't get screwed up. Unlike virtually all the other ported games, Galaga is dead-on, as much as I could tell (I didn't bother with the hide-in-the-corner-till-they-stop-shooting trick), and they even included all the music. The achievements happily exclude Xbox Live because, oops, no two-player mode. I suppose that could be a drawback, but most people don't play more than one two-player game of Galaga with me. (The Ms. Pac-Man story is better.) You might even be able to get all the achievements in one game. I had a devil of a time shooting a captured fighter – it's always harder when you're trying to do it.

As with most of the other leveled games, you can choose to start at the highest wave you completed earlier; you may find that this comes in handy for certain achievements.

I definitely recommend this for old-school gamers. Modern gamers with no sense of history shouldn't be reading this blog.

zlionsfan's rating: 7 roars out of 10.

Madden holiday cancelled

Madden holiday? Not for me. I'm out. They're lucky I'm even considering renting it.

The irony is that this would have been perfect, say, five years ago, back when EA had competition and actually felt like they had to improve their products each year. Now, it's pretty clear that there are enough people in EA's marketing department who no longer care about product quality that the decisions about release dates, bug fixes, and features are in the hands of the wrong people.

I rented 06 through GameFly just to see how bad it was. It was bad - more detail to come. But I should shell out $60+ for this version because it'll be worth it? You mean, like NCAA 07 was? Right ... I don't think so.

EA's brand is no longer strong enough for me to justify purchasing a game of theirs, sight (and reviews) unseen. Between NCAA 07, Madden 06, and SSX On Tour, EA's pretty much spoiled every franchise that I was faithfully following.

Dear EA, thanks for saving me $60. Your friend, zlionsfan.