Armaddengeddon Part III

Part I | Part II

The regular season is over. Some stats for you:

  • LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 2,244 yards, breaking the record previously set by Houston Oilers running back Eric Dickerson in the 1984 season. Dickerson had 2,150. Jamal Lewis surpassed that mark as well, but just barely, rushing for 2,158 yards.
  • Ty Law finished with 18 interceptions, besting Night Train Lane’s mark by four. Samari Rolle (Titans) and Aeneas Williams broke it as well, finishing with 15. Andre Woolfolk ended up with 14, tying the mark.
  • Olindo Mare of the Dolphins made 46 field goals. Martin Gramatica made 45. Joe Nedney and Morten Anderson made 44. Billy Cundiff had 42 and Brett Conway had 41. All of these broke then then-record of 40. 1)The current record was set by David Akers in 2011 and is 44.
  • Our boy Jeff Smoker finished with four passing touchdowns, being the only player in the entire NFL to hit that mark. On the other hand, our other boy Ricky Ray finished with 61 interceptions, breaking Blanda’s mark by 19. Ten other QBs threw 42 or more picks, including Smoker.
  • Only five quarterbacks broke the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Kurt Warner led them all with 1,127 yards, which would have ranked 39th had it happened during the 2014-15 NFL season. The other four were Peyton Manning, Aaron Brooks, Smoker, and Tom Brady. Ricky Ray missed the cut with 935 yards.
  • The highest completion percentage was 31%, which belonged to several QBs. The lowest mark on ESPN’s scale for the 2014-15 season was 55%, which ranked 33rd out of 33 qualifying players.
  • On a team-wide scale, four teams (Broncos, Cardinals, Texans, Lions) finished with a points-per-game mark of less than 8.75, the record for fewest points scored per game in a 16-game season. 2)1992 Seahawks. The Broncos were worst of all with 8.1. Defensively, three teams finished with points-allowed-per-game totals of less than 10, which all break the current NFL record. The WPFT finished with 8.9, bested only by the Ravens with 8.4.

In all, the entire NFL threw 50 touchdowns to 1,568 interceptions. For a comparison, the 2014-15 NFL season had 807 passing touchdowns to 450 interceptions. Truly this is the Dark Era. But at least the Dark Era’s in the playoffs! Continue reading Armaddengeddon Part III

Notes   [ + ]

1. The current record was set by David Akers in 2011 and is 44.
2. 1992 Seahawks.

Armaddengeddon Part II

Part I

Week 1 results were consistent with that Colts/Pats game. Only one quarterback at all surpassed a hundred passing yards: A.J. Feeley. But his interception habit carried over from the preseason, too: he had the most with six. Two others (Chris Weinke for the Panthers, Craig Krenzel for the Bears) had five. Here’s the most worrying stat of all, though: only two quarterbacks threw a touchdown. One touchdown each for Jeff Smoker of the Rams and Joey Harrington of the Lions. That’s actually one touchdown more than Jeff Smoker threw for in his actual, real life career, so good for him! 1)He was a rookie at the time Madden 2005 came out. Smoker never saw any actual NFL action. It just goes to show you when there’s an equal(ly terrible) playing field, you never know what might happen.

The highest completion percentage anyone could muster came from then-rookie Matt Schaub of the Falcons, who went 10 for 25. 40%. Are the computer-controlled coaches and players of Madden NFL 2005 smart enough to bark up another tree when it turns out their QBs have turned to dust? Actually, kind of. There were actually a couple of high scores this week, owing to some teams with strong rushing attacks. We had an NFL record, actually. Jamal Lewis of the Ravens rushed 46 times for 204 yards, scoring 3 touchdowns and breaking the previous record of 45 rushing attempts. 2)Set in 1988 by Jamie Morris for the WPFT. Notably, it was an OT game.

As a whole, the entire NFL—all 32 teams—threw for two touchdowns and seventy-one interceptions. That’s bad. That’s horrendous. But it’s just one week. Surely things won’t stay this bad, right? Continue reading Armaddengeddon Part II

Notes   [ + ]

1. He was a rookie at the time Madden 2005 came out. Smoker never saw any actual NFL action.
2. Set in 1988 by Jamie Morris for the WPFT. Notably, it was an OT game.

Armaddengeddon Part I

Training camp.

The quarterback took the snap and dropped back to pass. Suddenly, something clicked—rather, unclicked—in his mind. He suddenly had no idea where he was, or what he was doing. The weird object he was holding seemed to him like an alien artifact. Before he realized what was happening it was out of his grasp, escaping from his hands like a bar of soap escaping a man taking a shower. It tumbled to the ground. Feeling some hint of a need to chase after it, the quarterback did so, though his movements were more laborious than he could ever remember them being. Rather than bending down to pick it up he managed to step on it and fall backwards, landing squarely on his rear.

This all unfolded in about five seconds. All the players and coaches had a good laugh. But the quarterback didn’t get up for a while. The laughter dissipated and eventually was replaced by a grim silence. The quarterback had fractured his tailbone after what looked like an innocuous fall any NFL player could get right back up from. It was the first hint of something far more sinister.

Continue reading Armaddengeddon Part I

The Galaxy Is At Peace: Checking in on Metroid

There are three video game series that are currently MIA. You probably know them. F-Zero hasn’t had a new installment since 2004. Star Fox hasn’t had a new installment since 2006. 1)A remake of Star Fox 64 was released for Nintendo 3DS in 2011 and a new title is currently in development for Wii U. And Metroid hasn’t has a new installment since 2010—2007 if we choose to discount Metroid: Other M. We’re here to talk about Metroid today.

Of those three series I mentioned, Metroid has the longest history, dating back to the original Metroid on the NES in 1986. If you’d like to keep track, the series will turn 30 on August 6, 2016. That game made some significant waves by revealing at the end that Samus Aran, the player character, is a woman. 2)The ending only revealed Samus’s identity if the game was completed quickly enough. It was one of the first games to feature a female protagonist and definitely one of the first where the female protagonist’s gender is irrelevant to the story.

Hold that thought for a bit. I’ll also say that the material I’m talking about here is limited to the games alone—there are comics that supposedly expand on Samus’s backstory, but do so while conflicting with some pretty important plot points in the actual games. Furthermore, I’m choosing to discount Other M for a pair of reasons: I haven’t played it, and, from what I’ve read, it seems like an anomaly in the grander scale of Metroid games.

The two games I’m focusing on are Super Metroid, released in 1994 for the Super NES, and Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios and released in 2002 for the GameCube. Though it’s a bit hard to believe now, there were precisely zero Metroid games released between those two games. 3)Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance was released on the same day as Prime. Samus Aran made two appearances in Super Smash Bros. titles during that gap.

I recently finished a replay of Metroid Prime via the Prime Trilogy that was released as a downloadable title for Wii U, but for simplicity’s sake I’m working with the GCN edition. I’m currently in the middle of my first-ever playthrough of Super Metroid using the Wii U’s Virtual Console service. It’s fascinating how similar these two titles are, especially considering Prime was handled by a different developer entirely.

What both games absolutely nail is the balance between the feeling of isolation and an enjoyable gaming experience. The glut of zombie and/or post-apocalyptic games that have been flooding the market for years often go all-in on the former at the expense of the latter. In all honesty, it’s a pretty simple task to create a sense of isolation for the player. It’s a significant part of any survival horror game and even a few action games. You can go for hours without even seeing an NPC to talk to in games like Fallout 3, though you do have the option of recruiting a traveling companion.

That’s something a lot of those games do to, in a way, subvert the isolation. Two examples that come to mind are Resident Evil 4 (Ashley) and The Last of Us (Ellie). It’s executed pretty well in the latter title, as the banter between protagonist Joel and Ellie served to lighten the mood in times where riding solo would have been nervewracking. It made the game fun and easy to play for long periods. But trekking through the Bethesda Fallout titles can get real boring real fast with no one to talk to, even if they accurately portray that feeling of loneliness.

And then you have these two Metroid games, in which you are Samus and only Samus for the entire duration of both. Super Metroid has a bit of a monologue from Samus at the start of the game to set the scene, but Metroid Prime doesn’t contain a single word of dialogue at all. None! You’re the only human you ever see. The Space Pirates you encounter care too much about killing you to bother with stopping to talk. There’s never a Shakespearean moment where Samus feels the need to recap whatever may have just happened for the benefit of the player. There’s never a need to speak–so she doesn’t.

You are isolated. But the games themselves are still exciting, not only because of the ability to explore, but what you’re exploring. This is particularly true in Prime, where the environments squeeze every last bit of processing power and graphical prowess out of that tiny little Cube. 2002 wasn’t exactly a time where HD was the norm, but exploring the crumbling Chozo Ruins and the icy Phendrana Drifts sure made it feel like it.

Prime had a lot of small graphical touches that made it clear Retro Studios was handling the franchise with respect. Once you emerge from the water, the leftover droplets take a few seconds to roll off your visor. Walking through steamy areas fogs your vision. Energetic explosions offer you brief glimpses of Samus’s reflection in her own visor. You can even see Samus’s own bones whenever you peer through her X-Ray Visor.

That’s not to say Super Metroid wasn’t equally impressive for 1994. The X-Ray Visor obtainable in that game functions differently—it’s used to determine whether walls are breakable (by displaying the weapon icon that can be used to break them) or transparent. But there’s so much attention to detail in that game where running into a dead end is just an excuse to use the scanner so you can see that small hole the Morph Ball can fit into.

Elements like that give these two games the sense of exploration that makes them so enticing to come back to. I was barely able to put Metroid Prime down despite having played through it long ago and I’m feeling the same way about Super Metroid right now. People don’t often find criticisms with Metroid games, but a common one is a perceived overreliance on “backtracking.” What is backtracking?

I know what backtracking is; rather, I know what people see it as. Badly-designed games suffer from it in many ways. As a means of arbitrarily lengthening gameplay, sequences are inserted into the game where you have to return to a previously reached point in order to advance the story. A few of the later Zelda games are victims of this, but on a smaller scale since at least (in most cases) they’re still entertaining.

It never feels tedious in the world of Metroid. I’m always excited to keep exploring, because each time I get something new I want to try it out. The game rewards you for it, too. Shortcuts, upgrades, expansions, all of these are often only found upon very close examination with something you may not have had earlier in the game. Metroid Prime adds a further dimension to it with the scanning system, a mechanic not present in any of the prior Metroid games.

Available from the start of the game, you can enable Samus’s Scan Visor, which will highlight things you may scan in your immediate radius with an orange or red (signifying something important) icon. Orange icons often provide minor context, such as computer screens. The red icons can unlock doors and signify that something is a breakable material (like the X-Ray Visor in Super Metroid), but their main function is to fill out Samus’s Logbook.

The Logbook is split into five parts:

  • Many of the game mechanics fall into this category, such as the health/ammunition pickups Samus can collect as well as save stations, Samus’s gunship, and so on.
  • Every enemy you face falls into this category, including bosses.
  • Chozo Lore. Messages on the walls of the Chozo Ruins region fall into this category. The entires flesh out what happened on Tallon IV before Samus’s arrival and even contain a few prophetic references to her.
  • Pirate Data. Computer terminals across Tallon IV fill this category. They detail the circumstances of the Pirates’ arrival/research and, later, their consternation with Samus Aran, including one hilarious log where they try to duplicate Morph Ball tech.
  • The twelve Chozo Artifacts necessary to complete the game fall into this category–sort of. What actually fills the log are the hints for each one which can all be scanned at the same place.

The Logbook is, essentially, the source of the story for the game. With no dialogue, it’s up to the player to piece together the bits and parts in order to determine the whats, whens, and whys. Of course, it’s entirely optional. But it’s all there for the taking. You’re free to blaze through the game, shoot everything in sight, and not give one hoot about why you need to do it. You’re just as free to walk through the game, scan everything in sight, and figure out just what the hell happened to Tallon IV. Any option in between is just as possible—a level of freedom not achievable were you to just select Story On or Story Off at the start of the game.

Everything, really, is up to the player. That’s what keeps the isolation from being overwhelming. You are your own company, and you’re pretty good company. Exploring every nook and cranny, trying to see if there’s a new shortcut to hit, everything is your choice and your choice alone. Samus Aran is a capable bounty hunter with a wealth of tools at her disposal; it only makes sense that’s it’s fun as hell to play as her.

That brings me to that point I brought up at the very beginning about her gender being irrevelant. At no point in either Super Metroid or Metroid Prime is it ever capital-I Important that Samus Aran is a woman. The Space Pirates getting their asses unequivocally handed to them by Samus never once state in one of the Pirate Data entries how frustrating it is to get “beaten by a girl.” In fact, only one log at all refers to her gender explicitly, identifying her as a “female hominid […] heavily armed and extremely dangerous.”

It’s never unrealistic or surprising that Samus Aran is a woman. She is never obligated to prove herself to anyone. It’s the logical endgame of progressive video game writing, something I talked about in my review for Transistor. It’s not tokenism. It’s not exploitative. It’s just perfectly natural within the context of the game. Like I said, the Space Pirates don’t seethe about being beaten by a girl. They seethe about getting beaten, period. That’s realistic.

For nearly 30 years, Samus Aran has been the only female “mascot” for a flagship Nintendo series. 4)Though Zelda’s name is in the title of the games, it’s undeniable that the most recognizable character is always Link, to the point where many mistakenly refer to him as Zelda. For this reason, it’s particularly disappointing that there hasn’t been a new entry in her series since Other M. But as stated earlier, the wait between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime was eight years. So waiting can often be worth it.

The question is, though: who’s going to make the next Metroid? Retro Studios handled the Prime trilogy, moving to work on the Donkey Kong Country Returns franchise once their work with Prime wrapped up. Team Ninja (of, ahem, the Dead or Alive games) worked on Other M. It’s arguable that Retro is batting 1.000 with the critical and commercial successes of both the Prime trilogy as well as the Donkey Kong Country Returns games. As of now, they’re currently working on an undisclosed Wii U title which will likely be revealed in a month at E3. Here’s hoping we get to see the return of Samus Aran—it’s been too long already.

Notes   [ + ]

1. A remake of Star Fox 64 was released for Nintendo 3DS in 2011 and a new title is currently in development for Wii U.
2. The ending only revealed Samus’s identity if the game was completed quickly enough.
3. Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance was released on the same day as Prime.
4. Though Zelda’s name is in the title of the games, it’s undeniable that the most recognizable character is always Link, to the point where many mistakenly refer to him as Zelda.

Together, We Ride: How Fire Emblem Went From Death’s Door to Cornerstone Franchise

Super Mario. The Legend of Zelda. Pokémon. Fire Emblem.

Wait, Fire Emblem? Yeah. It’s true. In the past several years, Fire Emblem has gone from being on the verge of an orphaned series to one of Nintendo’s flagship titles. It didn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be traced to any one thing. Rather, it gradually happened over time as both old and new FE fans came together to support one of Nintendo’s longest-running franchises. 1)It began way back in 1990. How did it happen? And just how close was Fire Emblem to ending for good? Most importantly, what does this mean for both the series and Nintendo moving forward? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome back to Game Losers. Continue reading Together, We Ride: How Fire Emblem Went From Death’s Door to Cornerstone Franchise

Notes   [ + ]

1. It began way back in 1990.

Super Bowl XLIX: Madden NFL 2003 Edition

So, maybe the Official Game Losers 2014-15 NFL Playoffs Madden NFL 2001 Simulation didn’t exactly pan out. For one, the Super Bowl (one week from this Sunday) will be a contest between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. Both were #1 seeds in this year’s playoffs—in other words, this was easily the most predictable outcome ever. Both were also left out of the 2014-15 playoffs in the Simulation. In fact, it would have been completely impossible for the Simulation to have predicted this outcome. If you’ll remember correctly, before the divisional realignment in 2002 the Seattle Seahawks were still in the AFC. In other words, one million Simulations could have been ran using the outdated Madden NFL 2001 and not a single one of them could possibly have had the AFC representative Patriots meeting the now-NFC representative Seahawks. Oops.

For what it’s worth (nothing), the Simulation did manage to hit a couple of things correctly. The Ravens went on the road and beat the Steelers both in the Simulation and in real life. The Colts made it to the AFC Championship both in the Simulation and in real life. 1)However, they hosted it in the Simulation and won. Otherwise, it was pretty much a wash. A simulation where the home team won every game would have been far more accurate and would have nailed the Super Bowl. This surprises no one but me. I would have thought the cosmic radiation of a plan so asinine would have come full circle, but nope. Turns out it’s a bad idea to try to use a video game that’s fifteen years old to predict today’s events.

Anyway, there’s still one game to be played this NFL season. 2)I do not count the Pro Bowl. Will the Seattle Seahawks ride the incredible momentum from their incredible comeback to incredibly win a second consecutive Super Bowl? Or will the New England Patriots deflate the egos of so many Seahawks fans? 3)I had to fit at least one reference in here. Personally, anything I predict myself will likely blow up in my face. So, instead, like the first Simulation, I will simply moderate a method taken completely out of my hands. What method will this be? Continue reading Super Bowl XLIX: Madden NFL 2003 Edition

Notes   [ + ]

1. However, they hosted it in the Simulation and won.
2. I do not count the Pro Bowl.
3. I had to fit at least one reference in here.

Behind the Music: Rhythm Games From Rock Band to Love Live

Earlier this week, something peculiar happened. Harmonix announced new downloadable content for Rock Band 3. 1)It was officially released Tuesday. Two years ago, this wouldn’t be that notable. For over five years, from November 20, 2007 to April 2, 2013, Harmonix released DLC every week for their Rock Band series. By the time the last planned song, Don McLean’s “American Pie,” was released, there had been over 1,600 songs added to the library, including twenty-five full albums. 2)Several songs have since been removed from the store due to licensing issues, but remain playable for those who have already purchased and downloaded them. It seemed that with “American Pie,” Harmonix was ending the Rock Band section of their history, having focused on their Dance Central series since then. Now, it suddenly seems like Rock Band is back. No Rock Band title is compatible with a next-gen system as of this writing. Is that going to change?

When it comes to video game series introduced during the previous generation of consoles (360, PS3, Wii), the Rock Band series is one of the best. Though the high costs associated with purchasing multiple peripherals for a single game admittedly made Rock Band sort of impenetrable, it was an investment worth making. Plus, Harmonix made sure that all previous peripherals would work with Rock Band and its future titles. And, of course, they supported their games for years on end with tons of DLC.

It’s probably necessary to clear up some misconceptions that hover around the Rock Band series. I’ve had many friends of mine assume that it’s a “rip-off” of Guitar Hero. Not quite. Harmonix developed the first two Guitar Hero games in tandem with RedOctane. Then things changed. Activision bought RedOctane and the rights to the Guitar Hero name in June of 2006, subsequently assigning development to Neversoft (Tony Hawk series) instead of Harmonix. Harmonix got bought by MTV Networks in October of that year. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and the first Rock Band game came out within a few weeks of each other in late 2007. GHIII was, of course, guitar-only and its selling point was the presence of “Legends of Rock” like Slash and Tom Morello. RB’s selling point was the ability to play as a full band.

In classic Robert Frost style, the two paths these games took are telling of the mindsets behind them. Rock Band 2 focused on fixing technical and stylistic problems from the first game while also working to expand the setlist and continuing the focus on consistent DLC. Guitar Hero: World Tour joined the full-band party and expanded the roster of celebrity likenesses to include Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde, and others. You see, of course, where this is going. If you don’t, all you need to know is that Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain were in fucking Guitar Hero 5.

Activision closed the RedOctane division down in 2010 and the final entry in the GH series, Warriors of Rock, opted not to include any likenesses of actual musicians because of the fallout from putting Kurt Cobain and Johnny Cash in a video game. Meanwhile, Rock Band 3 let you play with real, actual instruments (“Pro” mode) so that you could learn music while playing the video game, as well as adding keyboards. Though I never shelled out for the Pro guitar or anything, I love the concept. I do have to admit we used the keyboard controller maybe like three times, though.

The simplest way to read into the different paths those game series took is in the band-specific side games that were released. Guitar Hero had three: Metallica, Aerosmith, and Van Halen. Rock Band had The Beatles, Green Day, and LEGO Rock Band. One scope is narrow while the other is broad. Activision and Neversoft really went all-in with the “metal” characterization of their game while Harmonix only managed to make a game about The Beatles, featuring The Beatles, and with music performed by The Beatles. Speaking as someone who’s not even really a Beatles fan, The Beatles: Rock Band is a great game.

It’s really heartening to see that Harmonix seems to be turning to Rock Band again, even after a successful Kickstarter campaign for a remaster of their old game Amplitude for PS3 and PS4. Some of my best memories from high school come from long, winding RB sessions. The band I played with kicked members out and added new ones. I started as a guitar player and then fell in love with drums. Our bass player got to experience lead guitar for a while before being shuffled back to bass. Our vocalist never showed up to a practice.

Rock Band even sort of influenced our “real” band. I’m using pretty massive scare quotes here because even though we had a band with a name and we had instruments and stuff, we never actually ever played a song. Our RB band at the peak of its powers had me on drums, Official Game Losers NBA Correspondent Whenever He Actually Writes An Article DeShawn Brown on bass, and a pair of our friends on lead guitar and vocals. Our vocalist had been an All-State school chorus singer since basically elementary school and our guitarist played real guitar and was pretty good at it, as well as the fake guitar. 3)Yes, he could play “Through the Fire and Flames.”

We liked playing together as a fake band and we were pretty good at it. We also had a penchant for shuffling through band names like no other. Massive Dish Rock, Wednesday No More, Pretty Tall For A Girl, Science Fair Rejects, and The Serious Thought. 4)I loved this last one but no one else did. Eventually we realized something. Maybe we should become an actual band? I had a drumset my dad bought on a whim a while back. Our guitarist had several guitars. And microphones are pretty easy to come by. Our bass player just needed … an actual bass.

So we pooled money together and bought him one for his birthday. Surprise!

That gift was intentioned to make us serious about actually working on our band. We had a few rehearsals and were on track to, get this, play a cover of “Lose Yourself” during the talent show during senior year of high school. But as so often happens, drama tore the band apart and Science Fair Rejects never played a single song.

Rock Band 3 is probably the pinnacle so far of rhythm games. In truth, the seventh generation probably saw peak rhythm game as Rock Band and Guitar Hero competed. The rhythm game genre has its roots in the late 1990s, as games like PaRappa the Rapper, Beatmania, and Dance Dance Revolution used music to expand what was possible in video games. Rhythm games took a while to catch on in North America, but titles like Harmonix’s Frequency and Amplitude as well as Vib-Ribbon for the PlayStation and Donkey Konga on Nintendo GameCube gave it a strong footing.

And though the “death” of both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series in the past several years might lead some to believe that the rhythm game fad has passed, mobile phones and gaming devices have made it stronger than ever. One of the best rhythm games of the last decade, Elite Beat Agents, was released for Nintendo DS. And smartphones are basically where rhythm games live now.

Some of the most popular games in the early history of the iPhone came from the Tap Tap series. Tap Tap Revenge 3 hit #1 on the App Store overnight when it came out in late 2009. Combining simple, rhythm-based gameplay with tiered difficulties and Top 40 tracks proved to be a good formula, though one that for some reason didn’t last. Tapulous, the company behind Tap Tap, was bought by Disney in 2010 and folded in January of 2014, pulling all of their games from the App Store. It was fun while it lasted.

A game both similar to and different from Tap Tap has been making waves stateside recently. The game, developed by KLab, distributed by Bushiroad, and titled Love Live! School Idol Festival is one part of a much larger multimedia shenanigan. It’s similar in theory to Gorillaz; real people make the music but animated characters perform it. These characters have decided to become idols in order to save their high school from shutting down. It’s a cute concept, two seasons of the anime have already aired, and the songs released by the characters’ idol groups perform very well on the Japanese charts.

The game is similar in its skeleton to Tap Tap games. Music (in this case, the aforementioned songs released by the characters’ idol groups) plays and you’re tasked with using your two free fingers to tap and hold to the beat. The key difference is that while Tap Tap was played vertically and tasked you with taking care of three columns, LLSIF is played horizontally and there are nine columns to keep track of. Though it sounds daunting, the learning curve is about the same. It, like any other well-made rhythm game, is very fun and hard to stop playing.

Buoyed by its localization last summer, LLSIF is doing pretty good for itself in the US App Store—it’s the fourth-highest grossing music game. That said, it’s obviously doing much better in Japan: it’s currently the ninth-highest grossing app overall. Like countless other games on the App Store, it is free to download and free to play, but you’re just as free to use real money to purchase things within the game. Also like countless other games, you have a finite amount of energy (LP) to spend on playing songs; when you run out, you have to wait in real time for the meter to fill back up. The game’s premium currency is Love Gems and their most basic use is to refill the LP meter entirely, which costs one Love Gem. Continuing your progress in a song that is failed costs the same.

The real worth of Love Gems, and the real reason this game makes so much money, is the game’s heart and soul: the idols themselves. What makes this game so brilliant is that it is also, in a manner of speaking, a trading card game. The nine columns I mentioned earlier are filled by various characters, some created specifically for the game. Based on their rarity, level, and specialization, they serve to increase your scores, thereby increasing the rewards you earn for performing well.

The characters take the form of cards, for lack of a better term. They cover four tiers of rarity: N, R, SR, and UR. Rarer characters obviously have higher stats. 5)It’s important to note here that tiers R and above consist of different versions of the main nine characters. The N tier is comprised mostly of characters created specifically for this game. Two of the same character can be combined, or “idolized,” into a version of that character with another outfit, better stats, and higher level caps.

Here’s where yet another dimension enters the game. Once you have idolized a character, you can maximize your bond with that character by performing well on songs while that character is in your group. 6)You can build bonds with non-idolized characters, but the cap increases once they are idolized. Once that bond is maxed out, you unlock a side-story for that particular character. For the N-tier characters they’re rather short, but they do offer characterization unavailable elsewhere. The main nine, having different cards of themselves, offer deeper immersion. For each side-story that is completed, you earn a substantial amount of G (used for idolizing) and a Love Gem. Most of these side-stories read rather like dating sims. So yes, this is a combination rhythm game trading card game and dating sim lite.

If you’re wondering why I keep crossing out the word “trading” it’s because of my main criticism about this game: you are unable to trade the cards, which is a pretty important thing in a trading card game. Instead, the only ways to get new cards is through either playing the game (which offers only N-tiers), using Friendship Points (non-premium currency achieved through adding friends and performing well on songs; this method has a low chance of giving you an R-tier), or spending Love Gems. You can get Love Gems through standard gameplay, but they are scarce. But spending them is literally the only non-event way to get cards of SR and UR rarity. 7)The game is transparent about your odds of getting a given card. You have a 90% chance of getting an R, 10% chance of SR, and 1% chance of UR.

It costs five Love Gems per card purchase, or fifty for eleven. In real world money, Love Gems cost anywhere from ninety-nine cents for one to thirty bucks for fifty. The lack of a trading function is obviously calculated, in one sense to prevent fraud and in another sense to make it more of a necessity to fork cash over to buy the best cards. Those SR and UR cards have sky-high stats and very good art. But boy, they’re hard to come by. 8)I was lucky enough to pull a UR with Love Gems I had saved up through playing the game.

If you want a review of LLSIF, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it. 9)It’s also available on Android. Even if you don’t know the first thing about any of the characters, have fun playing a rhythm game with some J-Pop songs! Maybe you’ll learn something about friendship along the way. I sure did.

Rhythm games have grown rapidly in the past fifteen years to cover quite the wide berth, from games with full-on instruments to smaller games featuring anime girls on your smartphone. That’s not to mention games which generate content on the fly based on music like AudioSurf or games like Rez which generate music on the fly based on your actions. It’s relatively a fledgling genre, but there aren’t many other genres out there that offer the possibilities of rhythm games.

Notes   [ + ]

1. It was officially released Tuesday.
2. Several songs have since been removed from the store due to licensing issues, but remain playable for those who have already purchased and downloaded them.
3. Yes, he could play “Through the Fire and Flames.”
4. I loved this last one but no one else did.
5. It’s important to note here that tiers R and above consist of different versions of the main nine characters. The N tier is comprised mostly of characters created specifically for this game.
6. You can build bonds with non-idolized characters, but the cap increases once they are idolized.
7. The game is transparent about your odds of getting a given card. You have a 90% chance of getting an R, 10% chance of SR, and 1% chance of UR.
8. I was lucky enough to pull a UR with Love Gems I had saved up through playing the game.
9. It’s also available on Android.

The Playoffs According to Madden NFL 2001

EA Sports traditionally simulates the Super Bowl using the latest Madden game. They’ve done it the past 11 years and will do it again this year. Madden has a pretty good record: 8 correct predictions and 3 incorrect ones. 1)Madden failed to predict the Giants upsetting the Patriots in 2008, the Packers beating the Steelers in 2011, and last year’s Seahawks beating the Broncos. That’s pretty good. Gives me an idea. Why not use an older Madden game and simulate up until the present time, including the entire playoffs? Surely that will be most accurate of all! Continue reading The Playoffs According to Madden NFL 2001

Notes   [ + ]

1. Madden failed to predict the Giants upsetting the Patriots in 2008, the Packers beating the Steelers in 2011, and last year’s Seahawks beating the Broncos.

Ten Underrated 2014 Sports Moments

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way: this is not a top ten, nor is it in any order other than chronological. These are just ten moments in 2014’s sports history that I feel are worth reliving as we cross over into 2015. So let’s relive them, because lord knows not much else from 2014 is worth reliving!

These are what I feel to be underrated moments from 2014. Yes, the World Cup happened this year. Yes, Derek Jeter retired this year. Yes, a bunch of other stuff happened. But you can go look at that other stuff elsewhere. Here is where you look if you want to relive some moments that may have been glossed over.

February 2, 2014 – A Super Safety

I’ve always felt like this moment didn’t get enough credit. Rarely, if ever, does the first play of a football game (kickoff notwithstanding) so accurately foreshadow how the rest of that game will go. Indeed, from the very beginning, it did not look like the the Denver Broncos’ day, nor did it look like Peyton Manning’s day. It was all Seahawks, and what started with a botched snap and a safety ended up in a 43-8 shock victory for Seattle. It was the city’s first title in the four professional leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) since the Seattle SuperSonics (who relocated to Oklahoma City several years ago in the shadiest of circumstances) won the NBA Finals in 1979. 1)The Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship in 2004 and 2010.

For many people, the Super Bowl is the only football game they watch all year. For some, it might be the only sporting event period! Safeties happen so rarely in the NFL that many of them might not have even known what one was. And one was the result of the first play from scrimmage! In the Super Bowl! And it happened to Peyton frickin’ Manning, no less! Maybe he will get his revenge in the coming weeks. But until then, always remember that it’s not always a good idea to do the Safety Dance.

March 21, 2014 The Mercer #NaeNae

There’s some bias involved in this selection. One, as a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I am rightfully obligated to hate Duke and revel in their misery. Two, I absolutely adore everything to do with March Madness. The vast majority of college basketball players will never play a minute of professional basketball. March Madness affords all of them an opportunity to earn fifteen seconds of fame playing the sport they love.

Kevin Canevari killed his fifteen seconds. After the #14 seed Mercer Bears upset the #3 seed Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the tournament earlier this calendar year, they had every reason to celebrate, knowing their joyous ride could end at any moment. 2)They lost to #11 seed Tennessee in their very next game. Canevari showed off his dance moves, dropping the #NaeNae with aplomb. Here’s to you, Kevin Canevari. Hopefully whatever non-basketball career you end up pursuing treats you right.

April 16, 2014 – The $127,000,000 Goal

Gareth Bale did a lot with fifteen seconds, too. In the summer of 2013, Real Madrid of Spain paid an exorbitant but impossible to precisely determine amount of money for the rights to sign Bale from English club Tottenham Hotspur. That’s a lot to live up to, and nagging injuries helped to prevent Bale from reaching his full potential at Real Madrid. But in the final of the Copa del Rey, Spain’s domestic soccer tournament, against hated rivals Barcelona, he showed why Real thought he was worth that much money.

In a 1-1 tie with less than ten minutes in regulation, Bale had his first touch of the ball at midfield, was fouled and pushed out of bounds, but recovered with almost-impossible speed (remember: he had played 85 minutes by this point) and even managed to finish off the run himself, slotting past Barcelona goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto. It was the winning goal; the match finished 2-1 to Madrid. Watch the Barcelona player fall to the ground in the bottom right of the screen. What else can you do when someone does that to you singlehandedly?

April 30, 2014 – A Wild OT Finish

I’ll freely admit that, though I respect the hell out of hockey, I don’t know enough nor do I follow it enough to be able to honestly call myself a hockey fan. But man, overtime hockey in the playoffs is incredible. Especially if that overtime is coming in Game 7 of a 7-game series after three previous games in the series went to overtime. Knowing that the game and series can end at any second is a feeling like no other. And that’s just watching it! I can’t possibly imagine what it must be like to play in one of these games.

Nino Niederreiter (what a name!) scored the game-winner here. More notable than this being the fourth overtime game of the series is that the Wild won in Colorado, when every previous game of the series had been won by the home team. Power like that is incredible; silencing an entire arena full of fans with one shot, one flick of the wrist. The Wild’s playoff journey ended in the next round, but Niederreiter made it a journey to remember. After all, only one team can win any championship but that never means the other stories aren’t worth telling.

May 2, 2014 – Damian Lilliard Shoots and Scores

Though this isn’t a ranking, I can confirm that this moment would far and away rank at #1 were it indeed a ranking, either of underrated sports moments of 2014 or sports moments of 2014 period. It is impossible to overrate this moment. A buzzer-beating three … to win the playoff series … with 0.9 seconds left … for Portland … by a player drafted by Portland … in Portland. Watch that crowd fucking explode when the shot drops. Fact: this was Portland’s first playoff series win since 2000. What a way to win it.

Fuller context is necessary. Just a few days prior, Dr. Jack Ramsay died at 89. Ramsay was the coach who led the Portland Trail Blazers to their only NBA Championship in 1977. This was the first game played in Portland since Ramsay’s death. And they won it in the most exciting and exhilarating way possible. Lilliard became the first man to hit a buzzer beater to win a playoff series since John Stockton in 1997. I don’t remember Stockton, but I remember exactly where I was watching Lilliard hit that shot. I haven’t been able to pick my jaw up since.

June 26, 2014 – The NBA Selects Isaiah Austin

Not every great sports moment has to happen on the field of play. Like I said earlier, the vast majority of college basketball players will never play a minute of professional basketball. Neither will Isaiah Austin, though it’s not for a lack of talent. The seven foot one center from Baylor University was projected as a surefire first round pick before a diagnosis of Marfan syndrome ended his professional career before it could even start. For it to happen so shortly before the NBA Draft was cruel. He would never get to hear his name called on draft night, a dream for so many players

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, working his first full draft after taking over for David Stern earlier in the year, helped that dream come true. Between the 15th and 16th picks of the draft, Silver paused it to recognize Austin. Tearfully, Austin walked up to the stage and shook hands with Silver, like every other player drafted that night. Austin’s opportunities for success have continued: Silver offered him a job with the NBA once he finishes his degree at Baylor and, earlier this month, he was added to NBA 2K15 as a free agent.

August 27, 2014 – Cosmin Moți Becomes Immortal

This is the moment that this list is all about. Some background for you as the commentary of the above clip is not in English (English commentary here): Cosmin Moți is a centre-back for Bulgarian club Ludogorets Razgrad. After a lengthy qualifying process, all that stood between them and their first-ever berth in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League was a penalty shootout. 3)Qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League also comes with a very sizable amount of money due to TV deals. One problem: their goalkeeper had been shown a red card and sent off right before the shootout and Ludogorets had already used all three of their substitutions. They could not bring in an actual goalkeeper.

Enter Cosmin Moți. On the grandest stage of his entire life, with what I am assuming is no professional experience as a goalkeeper, he put on someone else’s goalkeeper jersey for the shootout and not only scored a penalty but saved two, including a save that clinched the berth in the Champions League. As the ESPN video above noted, that save was worth over ten million dollars for Ludogorets Razgrad. He’s not even a keeper! Ludogorets went on to win one, draw one, and lose four in their Champions League debut, failing to advance past the group stage. But that TV money will help them for a long, long time.

September 30, 2014 – Royal Walk-Off

Again, we have a moment for a team whose quest for the championship ended in heartbreak. The Royals were making their first playoff berth since 1985, ending the longest playoff drought in all of professional sports. They still had to win this game to make it to the ALDS, and when the score was 7-3 in the bottom of the eighth, the fans at Kauffman Stadium had a right to wonder if their journey would be over after just one game. But three runs in the eighth and a tying run in the ninth forced the game to extra innings.

When Oakland took a one-run lead in the top of the twelfth, the magic might have ran out. But Kansas City tied it and then walked off in dramatic fashion, starting a playoff run that would not end until Madison Bumgarner had an out-of-body experience in Game 7 of the World Series. That was the moment that defined the MLB season, and as someone who watched it play out in real time, it was truly transcendent. But hearing that roar of the stadium as three decades of pain was washed away by one swing of the bat…that’s the good stuff right there.

December 21, 2014 – Beast Mode Sequel

(Required viewing. Content warnings for casual use of a couple of slurs but nothing hateful.)

The Beast Quake, linked between the above parentheses with commentary from Demetry James, is a wonderful moment in NFL history. It’s a shame that the FCC prevents us from having commentators say things such as “Darren Sharper Hold My Dick!” when Marshawn Lynch jumps into the endzone while doing the aforementioned action. That he did it again after breaking off a similar touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals raises a very important question. Has Lynch seen James’s video? Does he know that he put the team on his back doe?

This run admittedly had less actual impact than the first in the series. The former sealed a playoff victory for the Seahawks in the 2010-11 season, while this one came in the fourth quarter of a 35-6 victory in the regular season. But man, when he leaps into the end zone performing the same action Demetry James narrated several years ago, it’s great. 4)He was fined for the “gesture.” No Fun League, y’all!

December 24, 2014 – The One-Second Hail Mary

This type of thing just doesn’t happen. One second left on the clock, down by a touchdown, on your own 25-yard-line. 99 times out of 100 this ends with a short pass, a few laterals, and eventually the ball is fumbled or rolls out of bounds and the game ends. But this time, the ball made it all the way to the endzone after a long pass and a few laterals. It was unbelievable. That’s not to mention the fact that Central Michigan was down 49-14 to start the fourth quarter. CMU scored an incredible 34 unanswered points in fifteen minutes of play.

They could have tied the game and sent it to overtime with the extra point. Instead, the coach took the momentum and said, “Let’s win the game.” Whether or not that was the right call is a huge matter of debate. 5)I personally feel he should have just kicked the dang old extra point. But he went for two, and the team failed to convert. It would have been an incredible comeback marked by an impossible play, but instead we are left to play What If. That doesn’t mean the play itself is any less awesome.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship in 2004 and 2010.
2. They lost to #11 seed Tennessee in their very next game.
3. Qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League also comes with a very sizable amount of money due to TV deals.
4. He was fined for the “gesture.” No Fun League, y’all!
5. I personally feel he should have just kicked the dang old extra point.

Animal Crossing and the Season of Giving

This article goes live Christmas Eve, so it’s only fitting to tie it into that season of giving. I’ve been getting back into Animal Crossing: New Leaf recently after taking about a year off from it from last October to this October. Those of you who play AC games know the vicious cycle that happens when you’re unable to check in for a couple of days: you get nervous about how different things are going to be when you finally turn the game on again. The slogan for the original Animal Crossing on GCN was, of course, “the real life game that’s playing, even when you’re not.”

When I finally turned it on after about a year, the results weren’t as bad as I was expecting. One of my villagers, Dotty, had moved away, but she moved to GL Head Editor Christie’s town so I can still visit her. There was a new villager, Bree, and she moved away a couple of days after I started playing daily again. The town was, of course, covered in weeds. I had a bad case of bedhead. There were cockroaches all over my house. The villagers wondered what had happened to their mayor. Some of them thought I clandestinely moved away. Cranston thought I had just overslept. But they welcomed me back with open arms.

I think you look just fine.
I think you look just fine.

And now, what the world of AC playfully dubs “Toy Day” is fast approaching. In ACNL, this event revolves around the player playing the role of Santa Claus. Throughout December the villagers will drop hints about what they asked for. Your job is to make sure they get what they wanted. It’s a fun little diversion and a nice way for ACNL to reflect the holiday season. It got me thinking about my personal history with the Animal Crossing series and what it means to be able to go back to New Leaf after a year. Continue reading Animal Crossing and the Season of Giving