Madden 18 – Hiding Behind A Bad Movie

Everything is falling into place as we prepare to enter August.  The Dallas Cowboys have another problem with a star player just as the season is getting ready to start and they might have to place all of their hopes and dreams on the back of their one year wonder at quarterback.  NFL Camps will start very soon, and with that excitement blowing in the soon to come autumn wind – we have another year of Madden NFL only a few weeks away.

The crazy part about this is that up until this point there hasn’t been any gameplay footage released by EA.  With the fans clamoring for some proof of life in that regard it is hard to have a lot of pity for them.  They should know what the game looks like by now.  EA is trying their best to market their version of NBA 2K’s My Player Mode with The Longshot.  I wish I could say that this was going to be some sort of huge jump in sports gaming – but it quite simply won’t be anything close to that. According to some of the tweets and interviews, this mode has been in development for around three years. To think they have been working on this for three years and we still don’t have functional Challenges, sideline detection, real-time injuries, and many other simple football gameplay needs… Longshot had better be a masterpiece with zero bugs.

The problems that Madden NFL has faced for over a decade involves more than not measuring up to 2K’s basketball story mode experience.  It is everything that 2K would have done if EA didn’t have the monopoly on NFL Football.  It’s hard for me to think about how great an NFL 2K18 would be and by how much it would most likely outsell Madden 18. Madden has made some strides in recent years, no doubt… but, compared to where either game could be had there been competition?  We would have seen gameplay footage by E3, if not sooner.

Madden continues to push the line that they are leading with their new Longshot Mode for marketing.  I find it interesting that this is their strategy.  This is mostly because I can see through their thin veil of BS.  They aren’t showing gameplay footage because, frankly… they don’t have to show anything and the game will still sell.  Madden hasn’t changed in any major way since Madden 10.  Now that we have come to the point where they don’t even have to market the game itself with any actual gameplay footage it does beg one to ask yourself as part of the Madden horde… why are any of you pre-ordering this game?

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Why Bloodborne and The Witcher 3 Are The Best Games of This Generation

The best part about having the base 500 GB Hard Drive on my PS4 is that it serves as a nice tool to let you know which games you actually play the most.

For myself, this is often a mix between a sports game I might be binge-playing (MLB 17 The Show), an adventure game (The Witcher 3), a shooter (Battlefield 1), a game to jack around in (Grand Theft Auto 5), and maybe a party game for when we have friends over (Tetris).
The one game you don’t see is Bloodborne.  It isn’t because I got rid of it or sold it.  It isn’t because I don’t like the game.  It’s simply because I beat the main story (finally) months ago and it took a lot out of me.  I had embraced dying – finally.  The worst part about it was that I couldn’t fully change my play style for a long time.  I grew up in the world of Atari, NES, Sega and other console/PC iterations of games that didn’t care if a game was fair or too difficult.  Once PlayStation and other consoles came out and eventually they tried to make games more ‘accessible’ (easy) and ‘less frustrating’ (stupidly easy).  Bloodborne was a violent shift from both of those things for me.  I had played more shooter and sports games than anything since 2005.  To say that I had been conditioned to play impatiently is an understatement.

This is one reason why Bloodborne and The Witcher 3 are among the better games out there.  It is simply because they force you to dive into the game you are playing and embrace what it is.  Bloodborne might have some of the deepest lore in any game I have ever played that doesn’t actually tell you openly about the lore.  You can go through and kill a bunch of nightmarish monsters and infected people if you want to look at it that way.  It doesn’t change the fact that their is something far darker and more terrifyingly deep in story than the world you wake up into in Yharnam.

The Witcher 3 is an interesting twist because it is the third game of a trilogy that many people have probably never played up until this point.  Not to mention, there are books and graphic novels, etc. that have been around for some time as well.  The story of Geralt and Ciri is a great one to play through, but this game is so much bigger than that story – quite literally.  If you really wanted to pour hundreds of hours into a game to read up on lore, make potions, battle monsters, and complete numerous side-quests – this is the game for you.  Did I mention that both DLC Story Add-Ons (Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine) are among the best DLCs ever created for any game?  Did I further mention that they add at least another 20-30 hours to the game on top of it?

Both of these games are distinctly beautiful in drastically different ways.  The Witcher 3 looks like a constantly updating, living world where even bad weather can make you feel like you’re at a national park.  I challenge anyone to find a more beautiful sunset in a video game than those in The Witcher 3.

Bloodborne’s dark and picturesque gothic/victorian/Lovecraftian world is a thing of its own creation.  It is awe inspiring and terrifyingly engrossing.  I can’t help myself from wanting to see what is coming next – even if there is a creature waiting to bite my head off.  That says a lot about what this game really brings to the table in so many ways.  If you start to realize that you will get killed at any inopportune moment you will finally be able to play this game patiently and enjoy the view as much as the challenge.

Also, Bloodborne doesn’t give you a waypoint to follow.  The Witcher 3 can actually be customized to take away a lot of the hints and helper for getting around in the world as well.  I tend to leave these things on in The Witcher as the world is so huge it would be virtually impossible to navigate otherwise. This is still a decent change from a lot of games that send you on a linear path of ‘Go Here, Press X, Buy This Camo Pack for $0.99 to see next cinematic.)

Whether it’s simply because these games are breaths of fresh air or just great meshes of art and music coupled with the bonus that you get to participate in the respective worlds – it doesn’t really matter. These are two of the best games out right now and you can get both games with all DLC for relatively low prices.

MLB 17 The Show – Running Your Franchise

As we near the All Star Break it is starting to become a bit easier to tell which teams are going to make a run for the World Series. Unfortunately, my Indians are sitting close to .500 and are seemingly okay with sharing the AL Central with the Twins.  The real question most of you might be asking if you are playing MLB 17 The Show Franchise Mode is how your team is going to do down the stretch. Unless you already know how things are going (for better or worse).  In that case, as you come into July and enter the second half of the season you will have some big decisions to make.

By the time I made it to the middle of the 2017 season with the Cincinnati Reds I had made a few roster moves and my team was sitting just five games behind the Cubs.  It was in the spirit of making a push to hit my contract goal (make the post-season) that I decided to take a few risks and make a couple moves.

If you are in the opposite boat and have a team that is under-performing at All Star Break you might also want to make some moves and focus on the coming year(s).  If you have a veteran that is under 29 and has a rating of 85+ and A or B potential – it might be time to see how many prospects you can get for him from a team making a run for the playoffs.

In my case, I had come into the 2017 season with a lineup that didn’t intimidate many pitchers. 

Billy Hamilton, CF

Eugenio Suarez, 3B

Joey Votto, 1B

Adam Duvall, LF

Scooter Gennett, 2B

Zach Cosart, SS

Scott Schebler, RF

Tucker Barnhart, C

My Pitchers were generally at the same level of ineptitude… although, I had a few prospects.

By the time I made it through Spring Training I decided that my pitching staff needed drastic help and so I signed the two Japanese pitchers (Otani and Fujinami) with the house rule that I would trade each player to a big market team by the end of my third year with the Reds.  This is primarily to allow them to make the kind of big money that both players will get in real life while allowing my team to benefit in the short term with better pitching on the cheap.

I also made deals that brought Evan Gattis in to rotate as catcher and 1B, sent Cozart and a Arroyo (old SP) away for some prospects and tried to find a replacement for Schebler – he would eventually win his job back and give me a prime reason for signing him to another contract (with a 507 FT home run that went under the right field score board and into the Ohio River during a game with the Pirates).  I also managed to pick up Adeiny Hechavarria to come in and play 2B and traded for 3B, Rio Ruiz to play AAA ball and hopefully improve his game enough to get called up.

By the time I realized we were making a push and over-achieving to a point that I could no longer ignore the needs of my team to succeed – I made a few big moves in my Franchise that might differ from your own.  I was buying at the All Star Break and there were a few teams selling (the Rockies were 25 games back in the NL West and were selling, but at a steep price).

I ended up trading Billy Hamilton, Gattis, and a Top 50 Prospect for Nolan Arenado. 

I wish I could tell you that he made all the difference in the second half of my season. He really didn’t help us much, and there were more times I could have used Hamilton’s speed over Arenado’s disappointing performance after the trade.

Regardless, the 2017 season finished with the Reds making the playoffs as a wild card team carrying a 92-70 record.  We lost to the Giants and suddenly the season was over.  The Dodgers beat the Astros in seven games to win the World Series and the off season started with a few interesting occurrences from CPU teams – primarily, the Yankees when they signed RF, Andrew McCutcheon and moved Aaron Judge to AAA.

They had agreed to a trade the year before that allowed me to bring in Clint Frazier who disappointed more than Arenado, but still having his A Potential and young age I was able to package him up with Homer Bailey and another player for Aaron Judge to come in and play RF.

The Dodgers offered a trade I couldn’t refuse during Winter Meetings.  Looking to remain a World Series favorite in 2018 and with far more money to invest in expensive players they offered OF, Joc Peterson, OF, Yasiel Puig and a Relief Pitcher for Arenado.  I jumped at this opportunity and then signed C.C. Sabbathia to a one year deal as well as Bud Norris.  Suddenly, the Reds were looking fantastic on paper and I was looking forward to 2018 more than 2017 at the All Star Break.

The lessons to take away from this brief story about the first year of my Franchise Mode are valuable for anyone looking for help to build a lower tier team as well as how to enjoy your Franchise Mode enough to keep going for years.

  1. ALWAYS play your franchise the way YOU want to play it.  If you want to make a lot of trades and find a way to field a team with players you want – do it.  Don’t go onto sports gaming forums and ask for Trade Advice from Sports Gaming Nazis that seem to think they know everything about ‘fair trades’.  Run your team the way you want to and make it your own story.

  2. Don’t worry about trading away aging veterans in order to invest in a player you believe in as a prospect.  Make the move and see what happens.  If you have to cut bait with a Prospect that has A or B potential you can usually get a nice amount in return with a trade as long as the prospect is 24 or younger.

  3. If you can’t afford to keep a star player when you know a huge contract demand is going to be huge you should wait as long as you can and trade him during the last year of his contract for a couple cheaper players that have attributes you need in the long term. (See the Arenado Trade for Pederson and Puig, above.)

  4. Read #1 Again. You decide what you want your Franchise to be. I will be tweaking mine quite a bit in hopes of making it through multiple seasons.

Madden 18 CFM -The Annual Dumpster Fire Keeps Burning

With almost two months to go before Madden 18 graces us with another year of incremental updates we are starting to get a similar message about Franchise Mode (CFM).  Sports games have moved more and more towards the micro-transaction over the last few years.  It makes sense from a business perspective, but in terms of actual improvement and innovation of the game itself – no so much.


It turns out that Franchise Mode is once again more or less on the back burner.  At this point, it is safe to say that it’s actually in the microwave and waiting to be heated up again as a left-over from a few days ago. 

Sports games have all decided that they want to move in a direction of Story Mode rather than any sort of immersive Franchise Mode experience.  This is great for the YouTubers out there that seem to make their money from their over-the-top internet ‘personalities’ and gameplay videos.  I guess it is a matter of taste, but they don’t do much for me when I am trying to play my own game.  Maybe we live in a more vicarious gaming world than I thought.

No matter how you slice it, Madden has moved towards completely focusing on two modes in particular this year.  They are banking on the Longshot Mode to be their saving grace in offline experience.  As usual, they are going to bring all of their post-release cash grabbing from Ultimate Team.  I see this as the continuation of sports gaming’s innovation decline more than anything else.  I don’t post much about MUT or any online sports gaming experience because it’s tiresome and really takes away any sort of gaming immersion. 

Franchise Mode announcements have come and gone.  The primary aspects of change that have been announced are that they have introduced MVP chatter into the commentary as well as new quick entrances and fireworks in the stadiums that we will continue to hold the X or A button to skip through.  The developers in charge of this mode seem to believe that CFM needs more visual bells and whistles than actual immersion in the guts of running a team on the management level.

One of the things that really killed my experience in Madden 17 CFM was a combination of the XP System and terrible Defensive AI (especially with DBs and WRs).  One of the easiest things to do after leveling up during the first season or two is increasing your WR’s Separation ability along with a few other mechanics.  I did this with Corey Coleman and managed to not only turn him into an unstoppable force, but also made RG3 into one of the best QB’s of all time.  All that needed to happen was for the CB on Coleman to play him in a Man To Man Press (up close to the line of scrimmage).  Coleman has great speed and acceleration already.  By the time I finished building his separation and strength attributes in 2016 all I had to do was call a hot route in 2017 if he was being pressed.  Even with safety help, he would burn the opposing team for a huge TD on a fly route over 60% of the time. 

The results?

I built my team into an absolute juggernaut on both sides of the ball.  The fact that I could score 70 points a game on All Madden without blinking made the entire experience feel as disposable as the developers seem to believe it is. 

That said…

One of the aspects about Madden 17 that I really enjoyed was feeling like I could play defense most of the time.  This took a lot of slider adjustments and house rules (including a ‘no switch’ rule).  The no switch rule will actually improve how your defense plays through the game.  Why?  Because your AI players will stick to their assignments for the most part if you stay with one player during each play.  The AI will start to break down as soon as you switch players at the wrong moment.  This includes run plays especially as your entire defensive squad will essentially be rendered useless and the CPU will break off a big run most of the time if you have to switch to the other side of the field to defend against a run.  (You are actually better off trying to run with the original player than to switch to the closest defender on CPU run plays to the opposite side.  It doesn’t make sense, but then again… neither does Madden.)

Madden 18 won’t have editing for Draft Classes.  It will have the same relocation mode, but no expansion options.  CFM also won’t have any real changes to the injury system other than supposedly including off-ball injuries.  It seems like Franchise Mode effectively died after Madden 2005.  With the PS3/360 consoles bringing high speed online gaming to the forefront of almost every gaming experience it’s really no wonder that this mode has lost so much momentum if not gone backwards a few steps over the last decade-plus.

This genuinely feels like a Madden CFM experience that most would be better to wait on for a purchase rather than buying on release day. 

E3 Is Dead – Long Live Corporate Prosaicism

As we move past E3 2017 and into the second half of the year it is starting to feel more and more like gamers are reaching a similar jaded point to movie-goers.  Then again, maybe it’s the other way around – take a look at the box office numbers for a majority of movies anymore and you will see a similar downward spiral.

No matter how you look at it, the state of video games is still strong.  I feel like the trend of indie games has finally hit a downslope as there isn’t much out there that I am hearing about to make me think of some of the big hits we experienced a few years ago.

E3 came and went without giving me much pause this year.  The Xbox One X doesn’t impress me any more than the Nintendo Switch does with portable controllers.  It’s just a lot of ‘meh’ when it comes to my needs and general taste as a gamer.  Maybe it’s because I am a bit more difficult to impress as I get older.

The few games I am looking forward to that were either covered at E3 or are simply coming out soon are:

Shadow of the Colossus –

This was one of my favorite titles on PS2.  I fought the urge to buy it on PS3 simply because I didn’t have a lot invested in the system or my game library.  SotC was one of the most beautiful games I had played simply because it felt like I was walking through a misty dreamscape the entire time.  The idea that a world was there with giant bosses to hunt down and figure out on the fly made it all the more intriguing.

Wolfenstein 2 – The New Colossus (yes, another use of the word ‘colossus’) –

The New Order truly surprised me from a story perspective.  It included a lot of humor and some unsettling circumstances that made it fun to kill Nazi’s again (it doesn’t actually get old).  Wolfenstein was announced by Bethesda while they didn’t announce anything for a new Elder Scrolls game that wasn’t MMO related or money grab related with their newname for a paid mod system.  Wolfenstein looks like another game that will be fun as hell to play through.  My only wish is that it had some sort of multiplayer along the lines of the old PC game ‘Return To Castle Wolfenstein’.

Call of Duty – WWII –

I can’t help but find myself excited to play through this campaign.  Why?  Because there aren’t going to be stupid booster jumps and wall running.  There won’t be any sort of futuristic guns that can somehow shoot plasma charges or whatever the hell they have been doing since Advanced Warfare.  The multiplayer in COD has taken a back seat for me over the last few years.  Now that I have more important things to take care of or spend time doing, I really don’t care about my place on leaderboards.  I probably won’t buy this on day one, but I will certainly give it a try.

Crash Bandicoot – N Sane Trilogy –

My brother and I used to play the Crash Bandicoot all the time as kids on our PS1.  This game really has my nostalgia more than anything.  I think it might be something I wait to buy for some time simply because there isn’t anything ‘time sensitive’ about this game in my opinion.

 

I am on the fence with one of my annual purchases…

Madden 18 – Of the many things I am hoping for, it is the continued improvement of Connected Franchise Mode.  There are so many parts of the Madden experience that can be improved for fans of franchise mode that I find myself on the fence when it comes to disappointment or content with the progress.  The new cinematic mode ‘Longshot’ seems to be playing at the desires of Youtubers and their ilk.  I must say, it looked somewhat interesting, but if I want to play a story game I am going to stick with legit RPG’s and such.  Madden needs to stick to what it is trying to do the best – and that is making a strong simulation football game.  If you want to be honest about sports games at this point you will see that they are turning into microtransaction machines for their Ultimate Team modes far more than improving the actual game.  I can’t really blame them for bending to the whims of their corporate masters.  I can speak with my wallet and to that end, I have been siding with the growing numbers of people that wait to play these games until they come down in price or get them on eBay just to keep the money out of the publishers hand a bit more.

The other aspect of Madden that has all but turned me off completely is the community that EA Tiburon has generally focused on over the last few years.  I refuse to give these guys any sort of shout out or publicity – suffice to say that they all generally gather in a specific online sports gaming forum, run YouTube Channels, are a part of the ‘Game Changers’, live on Twitter, or a mix of all of those things. They seem to think they are experts when it comes to the game of football.  They also seem to grovel at the feet of EA Sports.  They will occasionally say something to make a point of false contention, but in the end – they are in this for their own motivations and have no reason to bite the hand that feeds them (monetarily, with free games, extra access, etc.).

Obviously this criticism comes off as me either being a hater or some sort of jealousy.  I am actually proof reading what I type down and try to remain honest and critical when it comes to my work as well.  My real beef with the Madden community is that it isn’t a functional community anymore.  The YouTube crowd and Madden Tournament crowd has destroyed this community.  The idea that there is almost literally no other football game for anyone to play goes further in destroying the community in terms of feedback, conversation, and synergy.  The ongoing monopoly is hampering creativity with Madden as well as MLB The Show.  When these games both have to copy the style of NBA 2K in order to bring something new to their games it would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.

Baseball Cards, Nostalgia, and My Refusal to Sell Memories

Twenty years ago this weekend (Easter Weekend – not the date) I was celebrating Easter with my family.  One memory I have from growing up is getting Easter Baskets with candy and chocolate, etc.  The one twist my parents liked to do was give my brother and I a few packs of baseball cards along with it.  That was the real excitement for me.  On Easter Morning in 1997 I opened a regular retail pack of Topps Baseball cards and it changed my perception of everything in my favorite hobby.

The interesting thing about collecting baseball cards in the 1980’s and 1990’s was that it was strangely profit driven.  Even in the young mind of adolescent kids, it somehow became more about what a card was ‘worth’ rather than the excitement of pulling a specific player or insert strictly for the joy and surprise in the eyes of a collector.  My dad always told me that cards (and anything else, really) were/are only worth what someone would/will actually give you for them.

One of the card types I had never pulled from any Topps pack was a Finest or even more rare, Finest Refractor.  It was a super glossy rendition of a card that actually had a protective plastic cover to keep it from getting scratched in the package, a refractor was a card that had the glossy finish but also gave a rainbow color refraction.  The big cards in that set were Willie Mays autographs and Mickey Mantle reprints, etc.  I collected Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas cards when I was a kid.  A refractor of any sort was generally a tough card to pull – let alone insert cards from special sets.

My dad always told me about the great ballplayers from his childhood – Mantle being one of his favorites, although he was relatively young when the Mick was entering the end of his career.  To me, he was the Griffey of his generation on the field and at bat.  They both ended up having career numbers cut short because of injuries.

s-l300

As I opened my pack of cards I was already excited about baseball season coming around.  I hoped I would pull a Griffey card to add to my collection. After flipping through the first few cards I noticed nothing special.  Generally, my luck was zilch… my brother had the nickname ‘Lucky Boy’ ever since I can remember.  No matter what packs of cards or contests he would enter with me or whatever it was – he would win.  I figured he would get some card in his pack that simply didn’t exist.  I don’t remember what cards he pulled on that day simply because this was my lucky day – and I haven’t forgotten (obviously) all these years later.

Sitting in the living room with the lights off and the sun coming up; I made it halfway through my first pack and knew there was nothing special, maybe a Barry Larkin or something.  Then I opened the second pack and it was the same story, a couple decent guys (I think I pulled a Barry Bonds insert).  Then, in the third (last) pack from my Easter basket I looked through them with my typical cynicism and about halfway through the pack I stopped.  I was looking at two players on the same card that blew me away.  Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron standing side by side… I couldn’t believe it!  Then I saw that it had the typical protective plastic cover that meant it was a Topps Finest.  As I let out a yell and did a fist pump I went over to show my dad and my brother what I had pulled.  My few steps across the room and into a bit more light made me stop in my tracks.

I had pulled a Topps Finest Refractor Mickey Mantle card.  Not only that, but it was a card with Hank Aaron next to him.  It felt like I was floating.  This stuff didn’t happen for me… this had to be my brother’s pack of cards.  No, it was mine and this was real.  To this day I remember my dad telling me how cool it was and my brother was his typical awesome self, not an ounce of jealousy as he was simply excited for me.  To this day I always think about opening that pack of cards and the joy that it brought me. 

I looked up the ‘value’ as soon as I could get my hands on a price guide that had the card listed.  It was listed at between $50 and $80.  I was 13, so holding a card ‘worth’ that much money felt like a surreal moment of presumed wealth.  The only thing was that eBay wasn’t a thing.  Hell, the internet was barely a thing at that point – especially in rural Ohio.  I had no real means of selling the card and even then – I didn’t want to.  It was more than just a rare card, it was my rare card.  It was my lucky day and it was a day that I didn’t want to forget… not even for $80.

Now, twenty years later, I am 33 years old and I have had to store a lot of my things as my wife and I have moved around the country for a few years.  My entire childhood baseball card collection is among the things my parents are keeping safe for me whenever I come back home and have a place of my own for those things.

Somewhere in my box of top loader and screw down cases of baseball cards there is a 1997 Topps Mickey Mantle Finest Refractor that is worth more to me than it would be to most people.

mickey card

It is the reason why every year around this time I will go to the store and buy baseball cards.  There aren’t a lot of ways to feel like a kid again, but for me this is one of those things that brings me back to that Easter morning with my family and a few packs of baseball cards.

It’s also the type of feeling that comes with cherished memories… and that is something for me that’s never for sale.

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