36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

October 18, 2014

Gotham: The TV show Batman deserves?

Filed under: Batman, Television and/or Movies, Where's Poochy? — Tony Demchak @ 2:10 am

It’s official — I added a Batman category.

I’ve been watching and enjoying the hell out of Gotham. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s Batman without Batman. It follows Jim Gordon as a new cop in Gotham City right around the time of the Martha and Thomas Wayne murders. Said murders, in fact, occur in the pilot. It’s an origin series — for the villains. And my, what villains. The only villain that’s slowly becoming established at this point is Penguin, but they are doing a marvelous job with the slow burn. He gets ahead because he’s completely unassuming, very clever and absolutely ruthless. They introduce Selina Kyle, but she’s still a kid (probably 12 or 13). The probable future Poison Ivy is even younger. You have Carmine Falcone as a major villain, the Marrone family (which is his competition), and a made-for-tv character, Fish Mooney, who’s an underboss for Falcone but wants to supplant him, played by Jada-Pinkett Smith. Oh, and there’s a certain Edward Nygma who works for the GCPD; so far he’s just a pain in the ass, not really a villain, but again, seeds are being planted.

What I really like about this series is the emphasis on the Waynes, of which Bruce is the last member. Both directly and indirectly, the murder of the Waynes is the culmination of a long trend; Gotham has always been more or less shitty, but removing the Waynes is what throws the entire city into the toilet. The Waynes stemmed the tide of criminal corruption by being wealthy, selfless philanthropists. Bruce (who’s probably 13, maybe 12) and Alfred try to replace their contributions, but they can’t, because Bruce is a kid and Alfred is a dick. Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth is such a radical take on the character, as a side note. Alfred is out and out an asshole to Bruce from time to time, like he wants to just spank the bejesus out of him, but Alfred has to come to grips with how strong willed Bruce is.

This series has a frightening amount of potential — if it gets time. Pacing is going to be so ridiculously critical. Penguin has slowly worked his way up in the Marrone family; it’s clear he’s being positioned to become a major factor, but not clear how he’ll get there. The other villains — so far each episode has had its own — have all been one note characters. They’ve resisted the impulse to work other major villains into the plot. That’s exactly right; I think by the end of this season, we’ll see Penguin’s rise to the top of the criminal underworld, and maybe one other major villain (I’ve seen a trailer that seems to indicate Hush — how awesome would that be?) and a couple of minor ones.

The only way the show could fail is if Fox pulls the plug (surely they aren’t that stupid… surely?) or rushes things. People will want Batman; they will expect to see Batman. But they shouldn’t get Batman, not for many seasons yet (if at all). I’d even say keep the Joker out for at least two full seasons, maybe even three. I love how Arkham: Origins handled Joker’s origin; he’s a mysterious psychopath who kills people for fun, but he’s so non-descript nobody even knows who he is. It’s his first meeting with Batman that transformed the Joker into the Joker, gave his life purpose and meaning. Nobody’s had the chance to tell Joker’s real origin; this is that opportunity. Make him a minor character, or even a major one, but he has to be at least partially sitting on the sidelines. A complete free agent, unattached to any crime family.

Smallville got 10 seasons, but it was largely marketed to teens and young adults. Gotham is manifestly not. Hopefully that means patience will be the watchword. I’d like to see each season cover maybe two years, if they’re going to ultimately give us Batman. If they aren’t, one year per season is sufficient.

All I know is, I can’t wait to see what happens.

October 4, 2014

Even more thoughts on Madden NFL 15

Filed under: Gaming, Reviews you can use [tm]!, Sports — Tony Demchak @ 1:32 am

I just finished my first season, going 14-2 and capturing a Super Bowl championship. On All-Pro, no less, with some slider adjustments. I’m not sure if drafts are generally lower caliber, but I got a bunch of 70s and 60s; no 80s.

Regarding gameplay, I’m on the fence. Running has never been tighter and more satisfying in Madden, but passing… I’ve had to seriously nerf AI QB accuracy, for one thing. And it’s still too high. Seeing a completion percentage under 70% is frankly unheard of. The AI is much better at interceptions on AI teams than user controlled teams. In fact, the last five games of the regular season and throughout the postseason, I had zero. This comes from the game’s biggest flaw: QB decision making.

EA promised reduced QB accuracy; I can’t say they’ve totally come through, but you will see even the best QBs make bad throws, that is to the good. However, the AI simply does not throw interceptions. It goes through the progression too quickly and, if it comes down to it, will eat a sack rather than throw a bad pass. Even if this happens 13 or 14 times a game. AI Screens work really, really well unless you have supremely good tacklers. They love to throw it short and get an 8 or 9 yard gain — and then do this for the entire game. Because it’s so hard to pick off passes (even for Joe Haden), they keep getting away with it. The entire passing AI needs to be rewritten, and I have a feeling that it won’t be, which is a shame. Perhaps for Madden 16.

I do really like the ability to progress players as you like, and confidence is a nice addition too. It allows you to take players who are really quite ordinary and make them superstars by using them effectively. The offseason runs fairly smoothly, although you now only have three staff members: the head coach, the scout, and the trainer. Free agency is nothing shocking; it’s a bit flashier, I guess. The draft is the draft, but it’s much easier to trade up or trade down if you want to, because you simply ask for offers. The entire trade system is hugely improved, and one of the greatest strengths of the game.

Upgrades to the stadium have been refurbished too; there are fewer, but much clearer choices. I spent $20 million on improving my team store; I don’t know if that’ll improve my sales or not. I hope so. The financial system is very intuitive, at least to me, and the concept of marketability makes certain players worth keeping around even if they aren’t as good as they once were.

Overall, I’ve found the game to be pretty good. The most irritating issue is that playing two games in a row is nearly impossible, as it will invariably freeze after the second; using Online Career Mode fixes that, however, by saving everything to the cloud. I’m going to take a break from it and wait to see if a patch comes out before I play season 2. A few changes or additions (renegotiating contracts was weirdly taken out of the game) and I’ll jump right back in.

October 2, 2014

So long, Adam Dunn

Filed under: Science!, Sports — Tony Demchak @ 2:53 pm

Fivethirtyeight has a nice write-up of Dunn’s career. Part of me wonders if Adam Dunn’s career — a pretty good one at times, 2011 excepted — is about as good as the Rob Deer/Russell Branyan type could expect. Dunn had some speed, too, earlier in his career with Cincinnati.

Looking at his statistics, I can’t help but marvel at somebody who was so terrible at making contact being so valuable a baseball player. Not to mention that he never had a positive dWAR in his entire career.

I wonder if, now that he’s retired, he’ll shed some light on why his career took a huge nose dive in 2011. Even the “rebound” he’s enjoyed in the past few years has hardly been earth shattering. 2012, though… how do you almost slug .500 when you’re hitting just above the Mendoza line?!

Adam Dunn will need to buy a ticket to get into the Hall of Fame, and I’m totally okay with that. I don’t want to fetishize batting average, but if your career average is .237, I’m not even sure if you make it into the Hall of Very Good. Maybe the Hall of Statistical Oddities?

September 19, 2014

Further thoughts on Madden

Filed under: Gaming, Reviews you can use [tm]!, Video Games — Tony Demchak @ 8:38 pm

As of this post, I’ve played about half a season. I’m undefeated (7-0), but I’ve only blown out one team; most of my victories are by no more than two scores. It’s been an insane pass rush (I had 13 sacks in one game) combined with some good corners. My one blowout came against the Steelers; it’s also been my only 100+ yd rushing game. Ben Tate is a decent back, but my run blockers, especially the guards, need a lot of help to seal off outside runs.

I’ve found contract negotiations for resigning players to be a bit confusing. The game only lets you resign players with cash on hand (to pay the new signing bonus), but negotiating with Jordan Cameron has been a bit odd. It’s probably because I’m trying to save cash on the signing bonus, but so far I haven’t successfully resigned anybody.

I’ll share more thoughts as I have ‘em.

September 12, 2014

NFL: So, maybe marijuana ISN’T worse than beating your fiancee

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 1:28 pm

Josh Gordon has been suspended for only eight games instead of the entire season. Instead of having absolutely no hope, Cleveland now has infinitesimal hope.

Arkham Origins: The review you can use [tm]

Filed under: Reviews you can use [tm]!, Video Games — Tony Demchak @ 4:56 am

Do you like Batman? I like Batman. Both Kevin and I have written about Batman pretty frequently.

If you like Batman and video games, there are the excellent Arkham Asylum and Arkham City to grab your attention. Arkham Origins isn’t quite as good as those, but still very Batman-esque.

The story: Black Mask hires eight assassins to kill Batman, for a prize of $50 million. You punch them in the face. A lot. Finis.

There are some very entertaining plot twists and a moment that actually made me tear up a little. The gameplay is fine, with a couple of annoying glitches. Combat remains excellent, based on rhythm and strategerousness instead of pounding buttons. No real new wrinkles except the remote batclaw (which is a lot of fun) and shock gloves (you punch harder, and every hit is worth 2x for your combo instead of 1x). The remote batclaw is superior; you can use it to throw fire extinguishers at people or even hook them up to gargoyles without you being near.

Most of the boss battles are challenging without being unfairly difficult (except for Deathstroke — I HATE HIM SO MUCH — and for whatever reason, Bane was a tough one). You still have the Riddler and collectables, but now they’re bits of audio files that reveal extortion data on various thugs around the city instead of trophies.

On the whole, I’d rate it the easiest of the three games. The side missions are rarely difficult; solving more mundane crimes is a nice change of pace.

Roger Craig Smith (that is, Ezio Auditore) plays Batman; this is a younger, much angrier Batman, who you can tell actually struggles with not killing people. He’s not Kevin Conroy, and to his credit, he shouldn’t have tried. He turns in an entirely believable and excellent performance.

Troy Baker is also a talented voice actor (recently Booker deWitt in Bioshock Infinite), but I didn’t like his Joker as much. Since Arkham Origins is a prequel, this is a Joker that’s never met Batman before; their first encounter is absolutely glorious and brilliantly done, and the game delves very well into the Joker’s psyche. But Baker himself is only passable; he’s not really playing the Joker, he’s playing Mark Hamill playing the Joker.

As far as other villains are concerned, it’s a good mix of old and new. You’ve got Bane, the Joker, and the Penguin, but also Deathstroke, Copperhead, Firefly, and Shiva. Mr. Freeze’s origins are detailed in a DLC I chose not to purchase.

Arkham Origins caught a lot of flak, but not deservedly so in my opinion. There are glitches, but nothing game breaking. Batman is familiar, but different, as a character, maybe for the first time in a while. It’s fun to see how the Arkham Universe envisions the origins of certain characters. However, I do have to admit the series is finally getting just a bit stale. The stories are still engaging, but the gameplay isn’t getting better with new directions. This is partly because the original system was pretty great, but partly because Rocksteady didn’t develop this one.

There’s no reason not to play this if you liked Arkham Asylum and/or Arkham City. If you didn’t play those, I actually recommend this one more, since you’ll build up to the other two games very nicely.

September 11, 2014

Early impressions of Madden NFL 15

Filed under: Reviews you can use [tm]!, Video Games — Tony Demchak @ 12:15 am

I haven’t put a huge amount of time into Madden yet. I bought it release day (on a happy fluke, I was going to trade in games for a preorder and ended up buying Madden) but just finished the preseason and will soon begin the regular season.

– The Skills Trainer is really, really great. It taught me things about the series that I should have known a long time ago but never quite sunk in. It actually teaches you how to read defenses. Can’t say enough good things about it!

– The new tackle… cone? … is equally terrific. It gives you a quick visual on where your tackle will end up when you go after somebody, so you can judge if a diving tackle is worth trying, among other things. Another desperately needed visual upgrade is a kicking line that shows three different possible trajectories for your kick depending on how badly you screw it up. 

– AI QBs are still way too accurate. Jay Cutler had a nearly perfect day against me, but then again, he only played one quarter, so perhaps I’m not being fair. The biggest AI issue remains the DB-WR battle, which I’ve heard is already the priority for next year’s game. If true, it’s desperately needed: the DB wins these battles all too often.

– It’s nice to see Owner Mode make a comeback, and with much needed improvements. Among them is knowing what stadium upgrades actually give you. Franchise relocation is back too. No barley pop, which may or may not be good. 

– Presentation seems solid. Commentary remains hit or miss, but it’s not actively irritating. They really need to completely redo it.

– I did have the game freeze twice, and lose saved progress once. This, more than anything, is why I haven’t played it a lot (that and Arkham Origins and Assassin’s Creed IV). I think the latter was less a bug than me just not paying attention. 

– EA has been great about making fixes for Online Connected Franchises (so much so that I’m seriously considering making a new franchise to take advantage of it), already making three updates. If you don’t want to stay online all the time, you have to wait for a patch. There are apparently some multiplayer issues too. As I play more, I’ll post about my findings. 

– EA’s also openly reporting ongoing issues on their help page. 

September 9, 2014

The team from Baltimore does something reasonable and the NFL does too

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 1:32 am

Ray Rice is an asshole. We are all agreed on this, yes? Good. I have not seen the video in question because abusing spouses or spouses-to-be angries up my blood. 

Ray Rice’s video showing him (apparently) beating the ever-loving hell out of his fiancee has resulted in him getting cut and the NFL retroactively banning him “indefinitely.”

I’d like to beat the ever-loving hell out of the moron who initially thought “Hmm… spousal abuse? That’s totally a two game suspension. It’s not like he used weed or anything truly heinous.

August 29, 2014

100% of the people reading this post are reading this post (and other lies about statistics)

Filed under: Economics, Schooled!, Science!, Specific Stupidity, Technology — Tony Demchak @ 5:10 pm

A friend recently shared an article about the Ice Bucket Challenge that claimed only 27% of the money raised is going towards research. Here’s the article. 

Here’s the headline: 

ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE: ALS FOUNDATION ADMITS LESS THAN 27% OF DONATIONS FUND RESEARCH & CURES

$95 Million Later: Only 27% Of Donations Actually Help ‘Research The Cure’

I was pretty angry. The tone of the article is really awful too, slamming the ALS foundation for these heinous crimes. Yet, there’s some additional facts tucked away in a pie chart that give the lie to the headline. 19% of the funds raised go to patient and community outreach; a viable use of funding, don’t you think? 32%, the largest chunk of the funding, goes to public education. How dare they spend the money trying to make people aware of the disease and its effects! That’s what Wikipedia and webMD are for! Oh, and the $95 million figure they quote isn’t what they actually break down in the chart either — it’s only the expenses for the year ending January 31, 2014.

Given that pie chart, in fact, 79% of the donations go directly to aiding sufferers of the disease or increasing awareness; that’s pretty good. The foundation is rated very highly by Charity Navigator too. 

The salary for the CEO is pretty insane — $300k+ is nuts for a non-profit. However, it’s only a tiny slice of the total pie, and not nearly as bad as scaremongers would have you believe. If we, in the United States, don’t want to use tax dollars to contribute to health care, funding of organizations like this one is a great way to contribute. 

August 28, 2014

Josh Gordon is better than an air traffic controller

Filed under: Science!, Specific Stupidity, Sports — Tony Demchak @ 3:46 pm

I’m not surprised that Josh Gordon’s 1 year suspension was upheld. Here’s what I did find surprising, courtesy of Dawgs by Nature:

ESPN’s Outside the Lines first broke the story of the impending suspension on the second day of the NFL Draft back in early May.

 

Later report near the end of July revealed that Gordon had tested positive for marijuana, but that the level of THC metabolites were 16 nanograms per millimeter (barely over 16.01 parts per billion) in one of his samples and above the league’s absurdly low threshold of 15 ng/ml to consist of a “positive.”

 

That threshold is higher than any other major sport, including the very strict IOC, which stands at 175 ng/ml. Even air traffic controllers can have a level up to 50.

 

However, due to what effectively equates to a coin flip, the NFL’s standard testing procedure is to randomly select one of the two samples provided by the player. The first one is tested and if it comes up positive, above the threshold, the second sample is tested merely for the presence of the same banned substance, without regards to the threshold. If the first sample comes up negative, below the threshold, the second sample isn’t tested.

 

Gordon’s first 16 ng/ml sample sparked a test of his second sample. The second one came up 13.6 ng/ml. Based on this procedure, it confirmed what the league considers a “positive.” And the rest is history.

Well, it’s good to know he’ll be able to find a job directing air traffic while he’s suspended. A much less stressful job than catching footballs, apparently. 

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