Thursday, November 30, 2006

A sign of things to come?

So, the real Thursday-night schedule kicks off this week, with Baltimore and Cincinati playing on the NFL Network. Am I going to watch? Probably not.

Here's the problem. I think that like MLB in the middle of the Greed Era, from which it has not quite yet emerged, the NFL is taking its fans for granted. Virtually every aspect of its television schedule now is designed around everything but the fans:

  • Thursday-night games. Great idea, right? Well, maybe if you have the NFL Network. Most people don't (including those whose systems don't even carry it). And if you don't have anything else to watch, like maybe basketball (yep, even women's basketball: I'm watching #9 Purdue at #7 Connecticut right now), a little college football (the MAC championship, and how upset are they that they have to share the airwaves with the NFL?), or maybe your regular Thursday schedule.
  • Flex scheduling. Sounds good, unless you're traveling to one of the games and have to change your plans. Besides, we've already seen that moving a game weeks in advance doesn't guarantee it'll be a good matchup, which was supposedly the whole point of doing this.
  • The decades-old, hopelessly-outdated blackout rule. By now, if you can afford to go to the game, you're there. Nobody I know asks whether or not it'll be on TV before they decide to buy tickets. The blackout rule dates to an era when people really did stay home instead of going to the game; now, most people who watch on TV can't afford to see a game, and on top of that, many NFL teams now play in taxpayer-funded stadiums. Tell you what: you can black out the game as long as you play in your own stadium.
  • Length of games. Sorry, the biggest problem is still advertising: the NFL, like every other sport, pushes as many commercials as it can into each game, then doesn't understand why games continue to run over (maybe schedule the second games at 4:30 instead of 4:15 or 4:05? Just a thought) and interfere with other games and recording plans. What's worse is when you're hoping to record the second half of a doubleheader, but the first half is the local game, so they won't cut away from it, and you can't watch it on Sunday Ticket, because it's going to be on the local station, so it's blacked out.
  • Sunday Ticket itself. Most people can't get it, even though there's a huge market for it, because the NFL can't take its snout out of DirecTV's trough. Beware: if you artificially lower supply, but keep it too low for too long, demand will fall as well, and in this day and age, it's really difficult to get people to start watching. There are too many other options for people who could get DirecTV.
  • Non-network games. First it was Sunday night, then Monday plus the Thursday/Saturday package. I've heard fears from some people that the NFL is going toward an exclusively pay-per-view package. I don't think they'd really do that any time soon, but they're certainly moving in that direction.
  • Coverage itself. ESPN and NBC are the biggest offenders, because they think they're showing TV rather than sports (because they are national games), so we have to suffer through every possible NBC or ABC (love that ABC/ESPN tie-in, don't you?) "celebrity" in the booth, but even CBS and Fox have stooped to showing the "human interest" stories, or talking about random things and then focusing on a particular player instead of the game, so you miss 4-6 snaps per game because of this. Hey, some of us are watching for the action on the field. Is it too much to ask for you to show the game itself?


Yeah, maybe this is "the sky is falling" and this will really be just another step toward making the NFL even more popular in North America, but it seems to me more like Sony's plan to dominate the console market: do the exact opposite of what most people think you should do. If that doesn't mess you up, you're dominant.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Un-pro

Oops. Lost my Pro ranking at Wii Bowling. Oh well. I wish you could select different balls to use, even if you only got the sparkly ones as a Pro.

Eh. Probably it'll be something you can buy online.

Wii review: Wii Sports: Tennis (3/10)

Two down, three to go. (I shouldn't have reviewed boxing yet. I haven't tried a full match.)

Ah, tennis. Not bad for the Wiimote, right? Swing with your arm. The ball moves based on your swing. You can only play doubles, and only in a best-of-one, -three, or -five set. However, you can choose to control both players or just one. I'd recommend both so that you don't end up with a slug at the net.

Well, there's one small, little detail. All you control is your swing. Not forehand/backhand. Not your position on the court. Not your aim, other than by hitting early or late.

So basically, once you get to the more-experienced AI players, you get the later matches from Mario Tennis on the GBA - volley, volley, volley, volley. Plus, instead of working your thumb, now you're tiring your shoulder muscles. Okay, maybe it counts as exercise, but that's about it.

The manual's very little help at all. I didn't realize you could serve hard until the computer aced me once.

The inability to point your shot makes the guy at the net almost worthless. I can't tell you how many times he simply whacked the ball back at the back opponent or out of play.

This is another demonstration of how the Wiimote works, but that's about all it is. I suppose I'll play it enough to get a Pro ranking and leave it.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 double faults out of 10.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The dog days of November

Caught an ESPN2 doubleheader today: Butler over Gonzaga in the NIT finals (looks like when they put in some new buildings around Hinkle, they must have worked on the team too - Butler's going to make some noise in the Horizon this year, and could beat as many as seven Indiana teams, starting with their NIT wins over Notre Dame and Indiana), followed by Fresno State at Louisiana Tech in a WAC football game.

Needless to say, the Bulldogs won in both games.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

360 review: Lego Star Wars II (4/10)

Seems like a great idea, right? Lego games. We all played with Legos as kids. People like Legos. Make the game fun, so that both adults and kids can play it. Make it a Star Wars game. Everyone likes Star Wars.

Well.

Lego Star Wars II does a few things right. It recreates the first three movies pretty well; it has a ton of unlockables; two-player mode seems easy to do, with the second person able to pop in and out as needed (perfect if your kids are just a little young to get through some of the harder parts). You do have health and can die (until you buy some extras), but when you do, you drop a few coins and are put right back in the action, so there's no three-lives-and-out.

However, it's a platform game. Not a problem ... but it's also designed to be a cinematic game (third-person view, camera usually fixed at a distance). Very bad combination. There are all sorts of places where you need to hit a jump just right, but with the camera at a distance, it's very difficult to tell where you need to be, so you'll make use of those unlimited lives.

And it's designed to be easy to pick up, so there's no way to aim: it's automatic. Great if there's only one target on the screen. Not great if you're shooting at something in front of you, but the game decides you want to aim at something to your right. Or, for that matter, that you're too close to hit the object right in front of you.

In story mode, you have one or more AI companions; in free play, you have only one. The AI is awful. The computer-controlled characters aren't allowed to do any damage, which is fine, but they usually get in the way during a fight, and at worst, in free play mode, are the same character as the ones you're shooting, so you don't realize you're firing at the wrong guy until he dies. They generally have no idea where they're going and will happily push you off a platform or block a narrow path simply to be near you, but will also display a cat's unwillingness to come down from a platform to which you've led them. The only time they ever do anything helpful is when you are attempting a task that requires two people, which (fortunately) they manage very well.

Most of the achievements are based on completing levels without dying or using extras. Good luck with that. The invulnerability extra is extremely valuable, and I'd suggest finding it and buying it as soon as possible. The second and third movies have a number of parts where you're basically getting shot left and right, so it's much easier to manage when you're not dying every couple of minutes, especially if you're trying to get the coin blocks.

If you're a big Star Wars fan, you might love this game if you can overlook its faults, and if you have a significant other who plays games too, maybe the two-player version is tolerable. But I can't overlook its faults. It's not a bad game to rent for a while, because when you can't take it any more, you can just send the game back and get another one. It's too bad, because with a couple of improvements (intelligent camera and the option for manual aim), this could have been a great game.

zlionsfan's rating: 4 droids out of 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

XBLA review: Small Arms (2/10)

Yuck. I don't really have much to say about this game, except that it seems to want to be a platform combat game, and it doesn't do either very well. You supposedly have 360-degree attack mode, except that you're in a platform game, so how often are you going to use 180 degrees of that? The levels look nice, at least the two I saw, except that you can't tell where you can't go until you fall off/through and die. Once you run out of ammo, you basically have to wait until a battery or weapon appears, or the other guy comes over so you can use hand-to-hand. If he doesn't, he just shoots you from afar, and you die.

Don't bother with this game.

zlionsfan's rating: 2 not even worth a metaphor out of 10.

Getting the hang of it

Got my first 200 at Wii bowling: 214, in the middle of a 594 series (199-214-181). Pretty close to my real-life best (636), and I had some of the same feelings: elevated heart rate, propensity to choke (left a 6-pin in the tenth frame of game 1), although I fought through it nicely in game 2.

In the process, I discovered that when you're a Pro, you get a cool ball, kind of sparkly with stars on it. It makes it a bit easier to pick up the spin on the ball, although I wish they'd use a line or something like that.

What helped was that I did a bit of practice first, the power bowling. Now if only they had some form of shadow bowling ...

I did notice that they are not superstitious. They don't wait for you to finish the string to add up your score: I started off with a four-bagger, and sure enough, in the third frame, it posted that ugly 30. (Hey, I'm not really superstitious, but some things you just don't mess with.)

Mythbusters in the Times?

Yes indeed. There's an article in the New York Times today (free registration required) about Mythbusters and whether or not it's the best science show on television. I happen to like it, a lot, and would say it's definitely up there. I watch a lot of Discovery and National Geographic, and if there is a science show noticeably better than Mythbusters, I haven't seen it.

Nintendumb

Granted, I don't know that much about networking, but it seems to me that if Nintendo were smart about it, they would have realized that wireless networking is not quite at the plug-and-play stage, and they'd have made allowances like the other two for wired networking as well.

After two hours over a couple of days of "troubleshooting," which basically means trying different things that don't matter because if one of them worked, the others would have worked too, my conclusion is that Nintendo put in a decent wireless card, but disabled most of the features that make it work, so that connecting your Wii to a properly-secured network changes from a moderately easy task to an extremely difficult task.

The concept is really simple: once I knew what I was doing with respect to the router, I got my laptop connected easily. Set the SSID, choose the encryption, get the right passkey, enter that information, poof, done. All the time that I'm jacking around with the Wii, my laptop figures out what's going on and connects itself each time, as I'm changing channels, broadcasting/not broadcasting the SSID, etc.

But on the Wii, no, not simple. Apparently it only works under all of these specific circumstances. Whatever. I'm thisclose to simply letting it stay disconnected until Nintendo figures out wtf is going on. I'm not interested in weakening the security of my network because Nintendo doesn't know how to do networking.

And isn't a USB-to-Ethernet adapter going to cut down on connection speed?

Ugh.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Citrus Bowl?

Oh wait, that's not right. This one's the second Tangerine Bowl. That's not so bad, I guess. Purdue's never been before, so it should be fun. Wish I could go, but I just spent my bowl allowance for the next 50 years. (Too bad I'm not an IU fan, ha ha.) Wonder who the ACC team will be?

Wii review: Wii Sports: Bowling (7/10), Boxing (2/10)

It's here! So it did turn out to be two-day shipping, but only if you count Saturday. It was somewhat easy to set up (although I had to put the sensor bar on the TV stand below the TV; my TV has an angled top and it wouldn't sit properly). I'm cheap (and on GameFly too, hell yeah that's a link to refer you, I'm a revenue whore, I admit it), so I didn't get any extra games, so I'm just playing Wii Sports.

Well, there may not be a lot to it, but I'll tell you what, Bowling is pretty much spot-on. My best so far was a 165 with a turkey; it took me a few games to figure out how to get my hook right (and throw it straight, ha ha, haven't mastered that yet) and how to abort a bad throw (at the line, slowly let your arm point toward the floor, then release B to drop the ball, you start over), but after that, it didn't take long for my real-life bowling demons to resurface. It'll just be a matter of time before I start leaving the 7-pin. Beer frame!

Hurray! You can play each sport left- or right-handed. I just tried bowling, tennis practice, and the "fitness test", kind of like the Brain Age test, except this one is for returning balls in tennis, hitting homers in baseball, and picking up spares in bowling. I can hit okay, so that must not be realistic. :)

The one thing I couldn't do is get the wireless set up. It's mostly because my setup is just outside my realm of knowledge, so I know what I did to get my laptop connected, but can't quite figure out the trick to get the Wii connected. (My 360 uses a wired connection, no help there.)

There isn't anything else to it so far, just bowling, although I haven't tried the practice yet. After each game, you get points toward a skill rating. The first level to achieve (I assume there are many) is Pro, at 1000. I'm about 800 or so, I think.

So far, it's definitely got potential as a great party game. I need to check out the other aspects of the game (and the other included sports), but for now, we'll give it a 7.

11/21 update: practice consists of little minigames, and if you do well enough at them, you get medals - I have a silver and a bronze overall. For bowling, the minigames are spare practice, hook practice (think of the skill shot contests on the PBA Tour, only without the stupid throw-it-over-the-chair shot that no bowling alley likes to see), and power practice (bowling at a rack from 4 rows deep up to 13 rows deep). The first two baseball ones are home-run hitting and contact hitting (pull, opposite-field, straightaway). Let's just say that I've got good power (633 ft? whatever), but can't go the other way. I keep pulling the ball, except when I'm supposed to. Very cool.

Also, your skill rating seems to be the number of pins above your average that you bowled, so your first game will set your skill rating. I got to the point where I don't always get points after a game. :(

But I did pick up the 5-6-7-10! I love being able to put a right-handed hook on the ball.

11/22 update: Your skill rating also drops if you miss your average, I think (too bad they don't display your average). Mine's leveled off ...

Boxing is dumb. Bowling seems to work well because it doesn't involve interaction, it's just action (the ball's in your hand, it just rolls when you move your hand). But with the boxing minigames, the problem I had was that I couldn't tell where I was supposed to be jabbing; I thought it was just a matter of swinging, but apparently not. The dodging didn't work very well either.

I'm getting better at the tennis minigames. Didn't think much of the golf ones, though. I saw they only gave you a generic iron and a generic wedge for chipping. I hope you get a full set of clubs when you play for real ...

The 633-foot home run happened because I hit it out of the stadium, so yeah, that's more realistic: they measure the distance the ball travels until it stops moving. If you think about it, once you clear the stadium wall, the ball has to fall all the way down to the ground (as opposed to a shot into the seats, which hits the "ground" several feet in the air), and then it'll roll a ways.

It's too bad you can't see what medals you have when you're picking which minigame to play. You know, the other consoles have all these buttons for a reason ...

The fitness test is exactly like Brain Age in that it picks three minigames at random. Last night, it was two boxing games (boo) and the tennis hit-the-target game.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Really?

Yes, really. Looks like two days isn't always two days. I checked my order status today and apparently something's going to be waiting on my doorstep when I get home tonight.

Maybe I'll stop at the grocery store tomorrow. :)

Nice to see that it's shipping from Lexington. If I'd have known that, I might have offered to pick it up myself. Has anyone ever placed a carryout order from Amazon?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wiiiii!

Greetings from Amazon.com.

We thought you'd like to know that we shipped your items, and that this
completes your order.


Yeah baby! It's on its way. And what do you know, just in time for the week of PTO that I always take after Thanksgiving! Man, am I smrt or what? :)

Sorry, it's been a busy week. I've been thinking about replacing my car because it let me down on my last trip - nothing against Cincinnati, but I'd rather choose when I spend the night there. So my bank offers a service that will price cars for you and negotiate deals with dealers. Well, I'm ecology-conscious, so I wanted to get a hybrid. I'd already built one online just to get an idea of how it works.

My bank calls me back and says sorry, those are really popular, with gas prices soaring and everything. Most places have lists, and none of them will talk to us - you'll probably have to pay more than MSRP to get one. They suggested I build one online and request an online quote, so that, you know, I don't go there in person and have them talk me into something bigger or uglier.

So I do this, Wednesday, I think. I get an auto-reply, yeah, we got your request, we'll send you a quote. But I don't hear back. Thursday, I don't hear back. Finally, today I get a phone call (I screen my calls, so I really just got a message) saying hey, call me back. I write him back, we trade e-mail, he sends me a quote about $80 under invoice, but only in stock. (??) And he asks when I can drop by. I stop by this afternoon, figuring we can drive someone else's and then I'll get on the list, etc., etc.

Well, there's one on the lot. Right color, has the navi system, right there. Except ... it's been sold. Oops. But wait, there's actually two on the lot. And the second one is also the right color and has the navi system. So I take it for a test drive. (For me, a test drive is a formality. By the time I get to that step, I've already done all my research, and I know exactly what I want. I'm looking for deal-breakers, and pretending that they need to sell me the car.) As it turns out, when we get back and start on the paperwork, in that time, someone else showed up from 150 miles away to look at a hybrid - apparently he'd called before either had been claimed. (Suxor.)

I didn't have half the stuff with me I needed. Fortunately we got some of it from my proof-of-insurance card, and I knew the financial stuff from poking around at loans online. So now I have a new car. And to think, only because they just happened to have one on the lot that was what I wanted. If I'd waited another hour, no car.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I miss you, Tech TV ...

I'm trying to watch what little content is worthwhile on XPlay tonight (which is dumb, because I subscribe to the podcast, so I'd see it, but you know, Morgan Webb is hot, so it's worth watching now), but I keep being reminded of why the G4-Tech TV merger pretty much squeezed the life out of the tech shows. XPlay is about all that's left, and they keep trying to move it to stupid time slots (although they finally figured out that it's about all that people watch, so 11:00 Eastern wasn't a great choice). But when you look at what's on it these days - lame shows or shows that have been on about five other channels already - why would anyone older than 12 watch it anyway? I'd tell you what else besides XPlay is worth watching, but their website sucks too, and it takes too long to load anything. Plus, the on-screen chat is just stupid (Star Trek 2.0? whatever) - it takes up too much space, especially when you get the letterboxing when watching on a 4:3 screen.

It's sad, because Tech TV had some decent shows back in the day, and now they're almost all gone, and G4 is seemingly trying to kill off XPlay as well. (The video viewer mail has to go.)

One week and counting ...

So by now, you know that a) Amazon did sneak pre-orders without e-mailing anyone, b) a lot of people are angry about it, and c) Amazon doesn't care.

Anyway, the Tard kindly notified me when he saw it, so I'm in line. Up until today, the system still thought it was going to be shipped in October (because their system doesn't deal with pre-orders well). Well, I pretended to change my shipping (I'm a Prime member) and left it at two days, and sure enough, it updated to ship on the 20th and arrive on the 22nd, which makes sense, because they're not going to ship on Sunday.

The countdown begins ...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Surprise, surprise ...

Microsoft just finished an update to the 360 dashboard; it doesn't seem like too much, unless you play Xbox Live Arcade games, in which case it was a badly-needed upgrade. They've done three things:

  1. Added the ability to automatically download trial versions of games when they become available.
  2. Changed how the 360 is searched for games when it displays the number of games you have.
  3. Added the option to look through games by category in addition to viewing the entire list.


Addition 1 is dumb, unless you have dial-up, in which case you probably don't play much online anyway (although I could see it if you play offline a lot). It's not like they have that many new games each week.

Addition 2 is the most significant. The dumbest thing about the XBLA before was that every time you hit that page, it would patiently look through your hard drive, your neighbor's hard drive, the cat box, and the old refrigerator in your garage for games, just to display the number you owned. Then, when you wanted to play one, it would repeat the search to display the games. Finally, when you selected one to play, you'd have to sit through the intro for it, and then wait for it to load, and then you could play. On top of that, you couldn't always back out of the menu if you decided not to wait for it, because the console was too busy counting your games to respond. Typical Microsoft programming.

Now, it simply gets the count of games on your hard drive from the main page, and it loads the list of titles much more quickly.

Addition 3 is nice once you have more than a few games, especially if you want to play a game in the second half of the alphabet. Of course, with the old system, it was always fun to try to get to the place in the list where the game would appear and see how quickly you could start it.

But it's really funny how they waited until late October to launch this. Why, it's almost like there are two competitors' consoles being released later this month ...
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