Kevin’s dreams, made reality

After his inspired post about how to make X-Wing Alliance compatible with modern PCs, Kevin will doubtless be glad to see GOG making these classics available for purchase. Other games are available too, including the adventure classic Secret of Monkey Island and the superb Knights of the Republic (both of which were already available on Steam, FWIW.)

Final thoughts on Madden NFL 15… for now!

EA released a patch that fixed a lot of issues; that’s all to the good. Here’s a few words about Madden, after two full seasons (and two Super Bowl wins):

— Sack-a-palooza is still present, but it’s toned down somewhat. My players (Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo) typically lead the league in sacks, but they aren’t routinely making bitches out of all time sack records. That’s a positive.

— They finally fixed QB accuracy so that bad QBs throw badly. Instead of going five games without an interception of the opponent, I’m now getting 1 to 2 on average. My season high was 4 (I forget who the QB was, but somebody bad).

— The game is much more stable; in fact, I can play multiple games in a row without the game freezing up. You still get molasses about once or twice a game, where the frame rate slows to a crawl, but it’s less often.

However:

— The AI is still way too conservative at passing. I see 3rd and long screens maybe five or six times a game. It holds on to the ball too long (resulting in sack-a-palooza). Even QBs like Peyton Manning rarely throw an outright bomb; if they get big plays, it’s because a medium depth pass resulted in a huge YAC.

— DB-receiver battles have been broken for a long time. My own bombs only succeed (with a Johnny Manziel 96 THP) off of play action. This despite Josh Gordon. And my rookie, who’s 6’4″. In a jump ball situation, the DB almost always wins; that’s why in my slider set I’ve got AI INTs turned way down.

— The draft seems to be more of a crapshoot. It might be my schemes, but I’m rarely getting rookies above the mid to high 70s. Could be my draft position, I suppose. Scouting doesn’t seem to help very much, because you can’t get enough scouting points to unlock number ratings. I’d rather the system be more logical. Go back to the way it used to be; instead of scouting points, let me scout a fixed number of players each week, and if I scout a player so many times, give me virtually everything on him.

— Player progression, however? I love it. I never realized how much I hated the old random Madden system until it was gone. “Oh, your QB is a six time MVP? He’ll go from a 77 to… an 82! What’s that you say, you’ve shattered all the QB records? Better make that an 83, stud!” You get XP based on weekly practices (many of which are purely simulated) and in-game performance. You apply the XP to the stat of your choice, based partially on secret “hidden” factors (I’ve had some linemen pick up run blocking easily; others not so much). Speed for a running back is difficult, for a WR nearly impossible boost. Team goals, awards, winning the Super Bowl — all of this helps.

— Negotiating contracts is a pain in the ass. The game rarely gives you enough information to negotiate. It isn’t even clear how much you have to spend. The players give you horrible feedback, usually just “it’s not good enough.” They mean they want a higher bonus, but they never come out and see it. Very frustrating.

— Owner mode, which makes you rely on the cash you earn from the game, is actually a welcome change. Again, information could be better, but it’s great to see on-field success giving you more cash to sign your players with.

If they do another patch, I really want: more stats in the game (they include drops, but only for each individual game, never as a season stat); a clearer interface with better feedback for contract resignings; contract renegotiations; and maybe further improvements to AI. I’m not delusional enough to expect scouting be revamped.

Gotham: The TV show Batman deserves?

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.

Even more thoughts on Madden NFL 15

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.

So long, Adam Dunn

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?