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You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ‘em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.
It’s been a long while since I last posted due to homework, projects, and a general game overload (MGS3, MGO, Persona 3: FES, GTA IV, MKW), but I’m back in business today and we should be seeing a return to our regularly scheduled programming for the foreseeable future. So let’s get back to it!
There’s been quite a bit of buzz about one of the most interesting new baseball players to hit the MLB and my new favorite players, Kosuke Fukudome. While he’s not technically a rookie (Fukudome already had a productive career playing for the Chunichi Dragons of the NPB), this is his first year of stateside play and he’s already making quite a splash in the Cubs’ roster. You see, Fukudome comes to the states with a very interesting new philosophy that’s translating to one of the highest on base percentages in baseball for the Cubs.
Kosuke Fukudome brings patience to the batter’s box, a quality that’s not generally present among the current Western-bred baseball players. When he’s at the plate, Fukudome basically refuses to swing at anything that’s not clearly a strike and he’s getting amazing results. His batting average is somewhere in the high .300s and a very high, for someone who’s not a power hitter, walk count (13th in the leauge). You see, Fukudome subscribes to a Japanese philosophy of kotoshi koso, which translates to “It’s going to happen,” so as a result he’s got the highest pitch count of any batter in the MLB. He waits for his perfect pitch and he doesn’t swing recklessly, putting him in the bottom 15 of all MLB htiters for strikeouts.
The best part about his philosophy is that he’s positively influencing his teammates as well. At least two of the new players on the Cubbies are also actively drawing way more walks. The team as a whole has shifted to a brand new, for the Cubs, philosophy of patience that has pushed Chicago up to the top of the NL Central (tied with the surprisingly powerful Cardinals).
Enjoy some articles about the great Kosuke Fukudome along with this great embedded video of some of his NPB highlights (hopefully this makes up for my lack of a video yesterday)
Hey all, I’ve got a lot of homework to get done this weekend (my last weekend before classes end), so if I get anything up here, it’ll be pure luck. Hope to be back in business soon.
So I was wandering through Best Buy last week, as I am want to do, and I noticed that Fall Out Boy released a new album: Live in Phoenix. Back in the day I used to hate live albums. The sound quality was always a bit diminished and the songs were slightly different, musically, with different tempos, lyrics, and sometimes flourishes. They lacked the studio polish and effects and just sounded raw. Then I started going to concerts. My first real one was Five Iron Frenzy’s Winners Never Quit tour, which was just amazing. I remember hearing “The Medley of Power Ballads and Bad Taste” live and being just totally blown away. If this type of thing could happen at a concert, then it’s possible that other live CDs could have more than just songs that were on studio albums. Live album love was born for me and, to this day, I treasure my live albums by Ben Folds, FIF, and other odd live recordings here or there.
Even so, I’m still wary of these live albums. I’ve been burned by mediocre live albums in the past (I had to hate them for a reason, right?), so when I saw the FOB CD, I mosied on over to Borders to listen to previews of the album tracks. The first bunch failed to impress, I didn’t recognize one track, so I skipped it (more on this mistake later), but the tail end of the album seemed to be really neat, so I headed back over to Best Buy and bought the much more reasonably priced Live at Phoenix.
Once I copied the disk to my Linux computer and booted up the CD I was pleasantly…disappointed. The album just doesn’t sound good at all. FOB is not a band that translates well to the live medium. There are some pretty sweet parts in the tail end of the album, after “Beat It,” but the rest is pretty ho-hum. Worse…it sounds awful through my computer’s speakers. The lead’s voice just doesn’t sound good. The CD is actually much better through headphones, strangely enough.
Supposedly the CD is a sound recording of a live concert, with the DVD included and all, but this is where things get strange. Track 9, “Beat It,” is a studio recording. The concert CD has decent pacing, you’re into it, and then you’re thrown into a bonus track. Wikipedia’s got “Beat It” as a track too, so maybe it was a music video and not live? In any case, “Beat It,” a cover of the Michael Jackson hit, is amazing! FOB is just perfect for this cover. The tail end of this album, from about “Beat It” onwards, is worth the purchase, but that means that more than half of the 15 track album is just mediocre.
My recommendation: Unless you’re a diehard FOB fan, pass it up. Definitely try to get “Beat It” on its own from either iTunes or Amazon or something, it’s a great cover.
I’ve had …And the Battle Begun by Rx Bandits for quite some time, but had yet to really give it some serious listens. Once I had, I found a really deep and awesome album that just floors me whenever I hear its standout tracks. This led me to check out their wikipedia page and realize they had a live album out. Now, my friend Boz has often cited the opinions of his friends that the Bandits are just too long-winded with instrumentals in their concert. I can totally get where they’re coming from, since they are a former ska-band-turned-progressive-rock, so ska fans might not know what to think of music that clearly features an amazing horn section, but is not like ska or reggae or anything they’ve ever heard, really. I lamented that the album, Live at Bonnaroo (an amazing venue, I may go this year), was only available at iTunes (I HATE DRM!), but I relented and purchased the album anyway. Let me just say that RxB is amazing live. I’m going to have to seriously pay attention to when they’re in town and attend a show.
There are so many good tracks on this album, there’s no point in going through and highlighting the ones that are great, cause I’d just end up writing all 11 track names in a sequential list. My recommendation, listen to the Bandit’s other CDs, namely The Resignation and …And the Battle Begun, and buy this album from iTunes if you like that other music.
Walt’s Winners has taken the Cornell intramural co-ed softball 03:00PM league by storm with a stunning 2-0 W-L record and is now eligible for the playoffs. Our 7-3 victory (maybe 7-4, I don’t remember) over Dangerous Minorities tied us for first place with The Eliminators and Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica all with perfect 2-0 records.
This time the pitching was split between James and Isaac with the three earned runs coming in with James, but mostly a result of sloppy fielding by Isaac (hence the substitution). Kristen continued her pattern of showing up for games in altered states, this time showing up after having taken a tequila shot with some beer to chase it down. Even with all that, she still had a really solid game, knocking in a few runs again. James was the bit slugger this game as he cleared his slump with a 3-run homer that reminded us why he was one of the better baseball players in the state of Colorado back in high school. I filled Lee Stein’s place in center, but found no action there, since it seems that wherever I stand on the field will never see any balls hit in that direction. Unfortunately, I’m one of the better gloves (in my opinion) in the outfield and when we put James out there too, no balls went his way either, so the plays were fielded by Prethy (I don’t know how to spell her name) who wasn’t out playing Ultimate Frisbee this weekend, so played right field.
Yet another highlight was some taunting of the other team. In my heightened state of excitement, I yelled “Drop it!” and was called a jerk by my own team after the catcher did drop the softball. Then, on the next play, I heard my teammates muttering “Drop it!” at another fly, which I called them out on. Later on in the game, the pitcher threw a close one at the batter, to which I was like “Whoa, things are getting a little heated on the mound!” The rest of our team began chanting “Fruuuuustrated” like good Cornell fans. It was cool. The coup de grace was after a base hit to right field when a runner was being told to head home by the base coach and Kristen had the ball at first. When he didn’t seem to back off, Kristen yelled “Go ahead and run, I dare you!” which was also way awesome. She apologized after the game, but that didn’t stop the pitcher from being sullen and not wanting to give us “Good game” handshakes after the game.
Pope = Wins?
I should address quickly that the Nationals have yet to play in their new stadium since the Pope was there, but they’ll be really putting this potential blessing to the test as they go up against the NY Mets tonight. I wish you luck, especially since the Marlins are only 1.5 games ahead of the Mets. The Fish actually lost first place for a night or two to the Mets, but regained it with strong games against Pittsburgh and Washington. Which brings me to the topic of the week: Have the Marlins been doing so well because they’ve been playing weak teams?
Strong Offense, Weak Pitching
Many view the 2008 Marlins as a fluke. Certainly no one expected them to even come close to first place, much less hold it for majority of the first month of play. Skeptics cite pitching weakness, which is definitely true, but the Marlins have an insanely well performing offense. In the National League alone, the Marlins are second in Slugging Percentage (0.477), second in Home Runs (30), fourth in Triples (5), and second in Doubles (46) (This is out of the 16 teams in the National League). If you believe that this performance is due to mainly playing losing teams, then, fine, the numbers aren’t that impressive, but in baseball you have to take account of the intangibles. Hanley Ramirez had a relatively slow start out of the gate, but now he’s back to the top performances we’re all used to thanks to those games allowing the Fish to get into the groove of things.
Take a look at the opening series against the Mets this year. Two losses for a losing series. Look next at games against another hard team, the Braves, which took place once the Marlins hit first place. This time we have two wins for a winning series. The Marlins are 3-3 against capable NL East opponents (yeah, I said it…the Nationals do not count as capable) and they’ll be putting that to the test tonight in Atlanta against the Braves for a two-game series.
Do I think they’ll be able to hold on to first place? It’s tricky. The Marlins have no pitching. There are basically only two starters who can be counted on to win, Mark Hendrickson and Scott Olsen, and the rest of the team relies on run support from the amazing offense to get wins, when they can. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me complain about Andrew Miller, but he’s starting against Atlanta tonight and I can only pray that he manages to put a W up, what with his 9.68 ERA. I mean, only two of our five starting pitchers have an ERA below 4.00. I can only hope that allowing the young pitchers to cur their teeth on Washington and Pittsburgh will help them dominate the Mets, Braves, and Phillies. All three of those teams will make the Marlins pay if they don’t start to get their pitching in order.
If any of you clicked over to Leigh’s post at Sexy Videogameland about obsessively completing games, then you already know where I’m about to go with this post. If you didn’t, here’s yet another link.
Call it a personality disorder, but I have an obsessive need to unlock the full 100% potential for video games that I enjoy. I know what you’re thinking, if he’s gotta include the “enjoy” caveat, it’s not really obsessive then, is it? Let me tell you, that caveat did not come easily. It took years of mental conditioning to be able to realize “Hey, I want to play too many other games to go at this pace on such a crummy game…” Once I did finally realize that forcing myself to 100% complete a game that, honestly, wasn’t worth it, I’m was able to log off of Gamefaqs and get onto another game that will eat up my time. You see, since I’m a university student, I do have more time to play than 9-5ers, but I don’t have as much time as when I was in high school because of classes, exams, homework, and trying to maintain a social life (kids, stay away from World of Warcraft).
Where do I draw the line? Mainly wherever it’s going to just take too much time to be worth it. I loved Final Fantasy X, but when the game asked me to dodge lightning something like one hundred times in a row to get an ultimate weapon, I said screw it. My party was tough enough that I wouldn’t need that one ultimate weapon just to kill Sin. If it wasn’t, I would train up and make do. There were other, less time-consumingly stupid sidequests that I could go waste my time on.
The advent of the Gamerscore on Xbox Live! has brought up some really interesting issues too. Before achievement points and worrying about increasing my Gamerscore (I know it’s low, but I don’t have the time to be a real achievement point whore), I honestly never worried about fully completing an action game or a music game. I’ll tell you which achievements I can resist though – Guitar Hero 3′s asininely stupid ones like playing through the career mode on a controller instead of the guitar (really? play through on my controller for ONLY 15 achievement points), winning 500 matches (grind, anyone?), or even playing through a song on expert with the sound settings turned down (no sound in a MUSIC GAME?). The Rock Band achievements are much less idiotic. Fully completing cities, completing career modes, achieving milestones in the World Tour mode, these are all acceptable to me.
My first Xbox 360 JRPG introduced a new dastardly trick to entice me to get full completes on games that don’t deserve it. Lost Odyssey, mind you, is not one of them, but my progress to the end of the game has been halted by the achievement point list that includes optional bosses and leveling up all the characters in my team. It’s definitely brilliant because those side quests, in other RPGs, usually include neat story details about the characters that you wouldn’t see otherwise, they give you sweet weapons and armor, and they also satisfy my need to fully complete an RPG that I love.
Just because I’m able to resist these urges more and more nowadays doesn’t mean I’m fully out of the woods. I was trying to burn through MGS and MGS2 to complete the series before MGS4′s launch in June, but now that I’m on MGS3 and June’s far away, I’ve taken it upon myself to hit up Gamefaqs to find out where all the Kerotans (strange little frog thingies that you have to shoot) are and all the different types of food so that I can get a whole bunch of sweet bonuses after I complete the game. Persona 3: FES launches today, but will be in Gamestop waiting for me tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about all the Social Links. After reading Leigh’s article, I convinced myself that I should just play the game naturally, but then I went and watched the 1UP show and learned that the Social Links that you max out contribute to your ending. How could I not try to max them out and get the best possible ending now?
I will admit that part of my completionist nature comes from the fact that I have a lot of games on my plate and I want to get to them all. If I can beat them all 100% the first time through, then I don’t have to play them again to see the stuff that I missed. People usually ask me about this when they see me browsing Gamefaqs or another walkthrough when playing a video game, either asking “Why don’t you just finish the game if you can?” or “Why are you looking at the guide? Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”
The answer to both has to do with enjoying the storylines of games oftentimes a lot more than the gameplay. If it’s a good game, I want to see as much of it as possible, so I bother with the sidequests to learn more about the characters. Anyone who has ever wandered through the Phoenix Cave in Final Fantasy VI knows how incredibly moving (maybe this is just me) it is to see Locke passionately search for the one thing he has heard can save Rachel. Most people, I like to think, were moved when (SPOILER ALERT) the Phoenix failed to revive Rachel (/SPOILER ALERT). It’s little touches like this that go to flesh out just why Locke is so committed to protecting Terra and Celes once he meets each woman.
If it’s a bad game, heck, I just want to be done. I don’t care about figuring out the strategy to kill a poorly designed boss with a character I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about figuring out the proper path through a bland Zelda-ripoff temple. It’s just not satisfying since by that point I’m playing the game only because I like to finish what I start.
Adventure games are the exception to this. I oftentimes love the game, I’m just not willing to try and figure out how I’m supposed to use the chicken with the tree to save the monkey in the swamp. The game type just asks you to think too much like the designer to complete mentally unnatural and unintuitive tasks. Yahtzee makes some good points about Adventure game design in his review of Zachkand Wiki that I totally agree with.
In the end, I guess I’m not that bad about obsessively completing a game, but when the design is just so well-done as to encourage the player to do it, I honestly can’t resist. When you have a screen full of little glass windows to smash open for Super Smash Brothers Brawl, who can resist the urge to just go for the unlockables? Those trophies and stickers are also so cool…
Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.
With Team Fortress 2, Valve took a risk with an already classic game and breathed new life into it with a unique art style and very uniquely differentiated player classes. To promote the game, they also started releasing short videos highlighting the off-kilter, but hilarious personalities of each of the classes. The most recent class video, Meet the Scout, debuted last week. Enjoy a collection of all the class videos released so far.
“Grass grows, birds fly, sun shines, and, brudda, I hurt people.”
I totally forgot that I was meaning to post this great article I read over at Sexy Videogameland by Leigh Alexander about obsessive video game playing and Persona 3: FES. What are you waiting for? Click the link…
Since weekends are usually pretty hectic for me, I’ve decided that from here on out I’m going to be taking either Saturday or Sunday off. This will allow me to up the quality of my weekend posts, since I won’t be worried about just getting stuff down. I’ll see you on Monday!
SPOILER ALERT: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS2.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty picks up several years after the first MGS. Snake is still retired from FOXHOUND, but he is a part of the anti-Metal Gear proliferation group Philanthropy with Otacon. Snake and Otacon actively collect intel and information on Metal Gears and release them throughout the world to keep the global balance of power even and it’s rumored that they even destroy some Metal Gear models outright. This is where you come in, as Snake in the “Tanker Chapter.” It’s also where the shit hits the fan. Snake’s mission is disrupted by the arrival of Ocelot Revolver, one of the bosses from MGS and a former member of FOXHOUND, only his hand has been re-attached…or has it? He periodically lapses into another voice and mental state where he sounds and acts like Liquid Snake, Solid Snake’s “brother” (they are both clones of Big Boss). As you might be able to guess, the routine mission becomes anything but. Ocelot steals the Metal Gear RAY, destroys the tanker, and sinks Solid Snake to the bottom of the ocean.
The “Plant Chapter” begins with an operative infiltrating aquatically, strangely familiar to Snake’s entrance in MGS. The scuba mask comes off…Who the heck is this guy? Why is Jack, codenamed Raiden, working with the Colonel from MGS? Who is he? What is going on at this water treatment plant where the President of the United States has been kidnapped? MGS2 succeeds on so many levels beyond MGS in its story, it’s hard to even quantify how much better it is. The story is far more epic, the plot twists way stranger, and the final outcome more surprising than ANYONE could have guessed. Many a critic has hated on what seems like a convoluted story, but a little concentration and patience for the long cutscenes reveals a game that does, in fact, make sense. MGS2 surpasses its ancestry in every way on this one.
Of particular note is, and this is way spoilerific, but also way awesome, occurs when the Colonel begins acting VERY erratically. I know about this plot point before I started playing it and it still gave the the proverbial willies. Be sure to watch the clip to get the full effect, but the Colonel, in typical MGS fashion, seriously breaks the fourth wall telling you to turn off the game, referencing the NES Metal Gear games, repeating lines from MGS, showing footage from other games, etc. This is all during a part of the game where Raiden has been stripped of his equipment and clothing, so he’s running around the base buck naked, holding his hands over his crotch. Consequently, he cannot perform any actions which would require him to not be covering his naughty bits.
After playing MGS2, I’ve concluded that third person, top-down cameras are what made the original MGS so damn hard to me. Being able to zoom in and fire in first person mode in MGS2 combined with the other camera tweaks makes for a MUCH smoother experience. Stealth is still absolutely the name of the game in MGS2 and the new camera system does its best to fully revitalize the old stealth system.
The guards are no longer fully restricted to their cones of vision, making them much less stupid. Guards now have radios and, once you are spotted, have to call in for support before the entire facility is on alert. This allows you to be spotted, run up to a guard, knock him out, and prevent his transmission. Unfortunately, if a guard even turns on his radio, knocking him out will still not keep you in the clear. A transmission will come through the walkie-talkie saying “What’s going on? Where are you? Send support to X location” and then the facility will be crawling with guards looking for you. On the plus side, knocking out the guard bought you some time to hide. On the downside…you’re gonna be stuck hiding from guards for somewhere around two to two and a half minutes. I usually spent this time not even paying attention to the game, doing something…anything else. I can understand the realism of an added state of alertness, but it’s still boring. In the end, I forgive them for trying to make it more realistic. I mean…what kind of facility is really gonna just be chill three minutes after some guard got knocked out or killed? It’s a miracle we even get that.
Other sweet guard behaviors: You can leave dirty magazines around to distract them. If they spot one, they’ll just chill out and read the magazine for a bit. Good for sneaking around a guard’s patrol route. Killing a guard is bad news, if another guard spots a guard corpse, he will immediately alert all guards, so what can you do? Kill a guard, stuff him in a locker. Insta-safe. This actually brings me to my next point: you don’t have to kill in MGS2.
For a mission that relied so heavily on stealth, MGS really had a lot of moments where you were forced to kill guards to progress. MGS2 dispenses with that notion by offering Snake and Raiden (more on Raiden later) a tranquilizer pistol and sniper rifle (for the sniping parts). Bosses no longer solely have health meters, they also have stamina meters that can be depleted with tranquilizer darts. It really adds another dimension to the game when you decide to play it as a pacifist (as I did…kind of…more on that later) and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It can also make the game really hard. There’s one particular boss battle where a lack of explosive force or automatic gunfire really handicaps you to the extreme.
As I said before, you have to play about 80% of the game as Raiden. He can do everything Snake can, but he’s just so uncool compared to Snake. If you reference that MGS4 teaser, you’ll spot the white-haired, delicate flower of a protagonist fighting with Snake for the main character role in MGS4. Hideo Kojima readily admits that Raiden was created to be a pretty boy just to appeal to female gamers, which is a bit obnoxious…I do understand his real rationale though, that Snake is a pro and to have to treat Snake as a rookie again wouldn’t make too much sense. I take offense to this many times in sequels where it doesn’t make sense that, say, Samus Aran, all-around bad ass, has forgotten how to use her blaster. It does also allow for a really sweet story that I’m sure Kojima was quite proud of himself for coming up with.
So if Raiden plays the same as Snake, what’s there to complain about? In the last hour of gameplay, you are randomly given a High-Frequency sword to tool around with. Swordsmanship is awkwardly assigned to the right analog stick, which basically results in me getting kicked in the face by anyone with a sword and kicked in the face and shot by anyone with a gun. You can magically block bullets with it, which is nice. You’re also able to flip the sword to use the dull edge to stun enemies, to continue your kill-less streak, but, and I suppose this is realistic, stabs are still killing blows and, worse still, Raiden doesn’t always turn the blade around when he brings it back in the opposite direction, resulting in the disembowelment of enemies on some of his random combo slashes. Imagine how peeved I was to end up with four kills at the end of the game because of this…
Holy cow. MGS and MGS2 are like night and day to each other. While MGS2 is not going to raise many eyebrows nowadays, I think it still looks stupendous. Textures were good, animations weren’t clunky or awkward, characters had moving lips and eyes…It’s really a very pretty game.
No accents on your team in this one, which is sad, but otherwise the sound is great. None of the music really stands out, but none of it annoys me either. I’d call it a success.
MGS2 is another one of those games that you absolutely must play if you consider yourself a connoisseur of video games. I’ve played tons of stealth missions in video games both older and younger than MGS2 and I cannot think of one that comes even close to this in getting it right. Having the option to completely NOT KILL ANYONE really makes MGS2 stand out for me (and becomes rather important for MGS3) for those times where I don’t want to just mindlessly kill and maim everyone I come across. The improvements over MGS push it into absolute must play status and I cannot recommend MGS2 (Substance, the remake of Sons of Liberty with added stuff) enough.
Enjoy this commercial for the Xbox version of MGS2: Substance
Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
Tired of Metal Gear coverage on this site yet? Man I hope not, because we’ve got even more news. Thanks to my Insider subscription to IGN, I’m eligible for the Metal Gear Online beta (!). MGO is a standalone multiplayer title set to tie in with MGS4 once it launches. I don’t know much about the game other than that it features man-cannons, persistent character development, cardboard boxes (comic for the old MGO), and that it will most likely include body dragging that will inevitably degenerate into corpse-humping. I’ll have more details once the beta opens on Monday.
Mario Kart Wii has been in the hands of just about everyone but the Americans so far this year. While there remain some really tough detractors for the slightly more casual perception of the game :cough: IGN :cough:, just about everyone agrees that the online portion of MKWii is amazingly well done, as is the Mario Kart Channel. Personally, I’m not sure I’m gonna be a first day purchaser, I may wait until I graduate and get to my new apartment. With a pre-order on Persona 3: FES coming in next Wednesday, MGS3 to beat, the MGO beta, and needing to get enough work done to graduate, I just might have too much on my plate to handle MKWii. This also means one other important game will have to wait:
GTAIV comes out a few days after Mario Kart and the promise of at least a 100+ hour single-player experience seems quite daunting, to say the least. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the game, as it apparently offers some kick-ass multiplayer modes to really keep you interested. I don’t know all of these modes, but one of them that I heard about, Cops and Crooks, has a lot of promise. One team spawns in cop cars and they’re the cops. The other team spawns throughout the map and their goal is to escort their team leader to an escape point (a helipad or a dock) without the slightly tougher than usual team leader crook dying. All of the franticly fun stories I’ve heard about this mode have more than made me interested in this game, so we’ll see how that goes. Rumors of the Xbox 360 exclusive DLC being a whole new city are also very intriguing.