Tuesday, January 11, 2005

VidGame - Blaine 05

NCAA Football 2005: No doubt about it - they went
backwards.
As much as I loved Blaine on the cover of last
year's game, I felt it was so slight an improvement
over the 2003 version that is was a bit of a letdown.
All the "new features" were forced and poorly done,
the animation was largely unchanged and the
improvement in gameplay - which is 90-percent of it -
was so slight as to not matter.
On the upside, the 2004 game never froze up the way
2003 did once every 5 or so games.
This year the improvements are almost invisible, the
"new features" are esoteric and uninteresting, and the
gameplay is absolutely identical (possibly a little
worse).
The best example is the "pulse meter" which
apparently is meant to simulate home field advantage.
So depending on where you are (say, the Swamp versus
Toledo), there is a meter onscreen that shows the
crowd's intensity, and if it gets real high, a new
algorithm kicks in and some of the visiting players
start to play worse (poise, or something similiar, is
actually a new rating, like speed and agility, built
into each player).
Well... OK. that was already part of the game in
previous years, but it was transparent - the crowd got
loud (and you could pump them up on D) and if they
did, sometimes somebody jumped offsides or the QB
choked or something. Does it have to be a major
feature of the gameplay?
Another silly add-on: during timeouts, you're
allowed to 'coach' one of your units - secondary,
linebackers or line (or the O equivs). You are shown
a little green bar for eachthat represents poise or
something, and by coaching that unit, it goes up for
the next play.
Huh? That's ridiculous - the whole point of this
series of games is the gameplay - hit the circle
button and you can see the runner spin, see the corner
miss the tackle and it's fun. It's not very cerebral,
but should it be? All the new features - reacting to
crowd noise, 'coaching' boosts - are like they've
thrown some sort of Magical Hit Points into the mix.
Did I buy "NCAA Football & Dragons"? They've lost
sight of the fact that 90-percent of gameday coaching
is communication with your players - making them do
what you want. And since, with a video game, that
entire concept is void, why try to simulate it? If I
add Magical Coaching Points to my 'rattled' QB, is he
more likely to see the tight-end come open? In a real
game, sure... and you can add some wierd subroutine in
the code to vaguely simulate that. But did you just
make things better? No - it's a friggin' video game.
The guy who has to see the tight-end come open is not
the QB - it's me, the guy with the controller.
Whether or not the QB has magical green bars at Full
Spirit Level shouldn't be the point.
there is also a very esoteric addition mid-play.
You can zoom back and see how your match-ups are -
O-line vs D--line, etc. Apparently, those ratings and
your matchups vary a lot with the Pulse Meter, and
with how you're playing in that game.
Look... it's video football. come up with a more
elegant pass-and-catch system (I vote for
automatically zooming in on the reciever as the ball
gets close, which would make catching the ball much
more interactive). If you want linemen to jump
offsides because of the crowd, fine - in fact, great.
But let's have some perspective.
And, worst of all for 2005, the freeze is back.

So I've played 3 games since I got the game
yesterday - opened up with #1 ranked USC (thankee)
against Ft. Worth Bowl Champion Boise State. It was
fun, sort of: 3 and out as i fumbled to remember how
to play offense, Boise marched down and planted one
for seven before i also remembered that my best
defense is to not touch the controller, and then the
skills (and SC's built in talent) took over and we
pretty much dominated the rest of the way on the
ground. Ithink i completed one pass. Devon Bush,
USC's halfback, is, as expected, off the charts (and
that tracks: I thought he was the fastest guy in the
nation last year), but a nice little treat was to find
that QB leinhart (94 overall rating) is actually
pretty fast too. Funny to watch Norm Chow's carefully
constructed West Coast offense option its way down the
field, but the Broncos were going to get back to Boise
before they got tothe corner against my Oline and away
we go!
Then I played William and Mary vs Delaware, a game
which, when i covered it in 1997, was arguably between
the two best I-AA teams in the nation. Not this time
- me and the Tribe turned Zabel Stadium into
Williamsburg International and it was 35-0. The game
added the tribe (and most of I-AA) last year, and its
good to see them still there, but they still play in a
generic stadium. Might be too much to ask to get the
IAA schools home fields built in, but they've had a
year to do it.
Finally, late last night, I fired up Dynasty Mode
and played the SC-Va Tech season opener. Two errors
you can't blame the game for: Marcus Vick was there
and Mike Williams wasn't (OK, so that's one error and
PLEASE let it be two). Good thing, too, cause Vick's
arm and Williams absense was all that kept it to 35-6.
That one goes out to all you Big East party people!
Still - the animation occasionally stutters when it
shouldnt, which wasn't true last year. It looks like
they've tried to ramp up the light-vs-dark shading (a
guy turns his head, and it gets darker, etc). But i
think they're programming beyond the chips specs.

New Stuff:
- to win the commander-in-chief's trophy, you now have
to play as a service academy and beat both of the
others - in the past, it was Army-Navy and Air Force
was out of the mix.
- relatively lame "crowd shots" after big plays,
where you get a sideline camera-view looking back up
to the first row of the stands, where 3 or 4
appropriately dressed dudes celebrate. The game brags
that they hold up 'individualized" signs (like "Hokie
Hokie Hi" and "V is for Victory Go Trojans!" etc - you
can even customize the signs) but so what? Who really
watches that stuff? I pretty much always click right
through it to get to the next play.
- they added a bunch more user-initiated post-play
celebrations. if you like that stuff.
- a few new defensive sets (3-3-5, 4-2-5), which are
kinda fun.
- the cheerleaders are a little hotter, and
thankfully, the male cheerleaders are GONE. That
alone is worth the purchase price.

Problems:
- all the pre-game, post game and most of the
during-game animation is unchanged - ie they run out
from the tunnel, they stretch out, the RB does a
little dance, the coach paces. After the game, they
shake hands, they walk off the field - All 100-percent
the same. In fact, all that animation dates tothe
2003 game. How hard would it be to update that stuff?
- Worst part: last year they introduced "Classic
Games" which puts you into key moments of key games in
football history (you are Flute lining up for the Hail
Mary, you are Cal recieving the kickoff prior to the
Play). Last year I bitterly complained that the games
they picked were either really stupid, deeply biased
to the east coast (one Pac 10 game?) or - worst of all
- put you on the historically wrong side.
This year, the feature is not just back, but it's
THE SAME GAMES!!!! They couldn't think of 15 or 20
OTHER good games in the whole history of college ball?
Not one more Pac 10 game, ever? So you AGAIN are
saddles with:
- only 1 Pac 10 game (The Play - whose only future
star, Elway, was watching from the sidelines) and 1
Rose Bowl.
Compared to....
- 5 Miami games
- 5 Notre Dame games
- 4 Ohio State games
- 4 Florida State games (including 95 FSU-UVA - a
terrific, fun game, but an all-time Top 20?)
- 2 Penn State games
- 2 BYU games (?), including...
- 1982 BYU-SMU. So a collision of BYU and SMU offered
more drama and historical significance than any game
ever played by a Pac-10 team, save The Play?
- the 1990 Colorado-Notre Dame game, which drops you
into the game as Rocket, prior to his punt return that
put ND ahead - a play that was CALLED BACK FOR HOLDING
in the real thing. yet the game wants you to recreate
that event.
- 1998 Va Tech-Syracuse - what? Who remembers that
game? And, to kick the horse some more, that gives
the Ishmael family one more game than 90 years of Pac
10 history.
- 1993 FSU-ND - 1-vs-2. A good (not great) game, but
inexplicable here since it asks you to be FSU and
mount a comeback - which didn't happen. What they
COULD have done is skipped ahead just one week on the
scedule, still been at Notre Dame, but let you be
Boston College, trailing by 1 (or 2?) and fighting to
get David Gordon in range. I mean, if we're talking
memorable games in South Bend in 1993, which one
really matters?
Other non-history:
- the 1997 Rose Bowl. You are Jake the Snake trailing
14-10 late. ESPN Classic plays this game a lot for
the very good reason that it was, pound for pound, the
best bowl game of the 90s... but Jake LOST. He did
retake the lead, 17-14, but Ohio State cameback and
beat them. So the game wants you to re-write history
here (and for Rocket and for FSU), but for Flutie and
Cal and most of the others, you're supposed to
recreate it.
It was a poorly executed idea last year. That it's
back unchanged is ridiculous.

Summary: I stumbled across this franchise in 2003
(which is to say, in '02, but the 2003 edition). That
was the one with the picture of Joey Harrington on the
cover, his arm cocked mid-throw and his eyes coming
right off the box at you. A terrific cover for a
groundbreaking game. I mean, if you put an Oregon guy
on the cover - who just happened to be the best player
in the land the previous year- you're obviously making
a product for people who know the game.
As i've said before, i was a lifetime anti-video
game pundit until i saw that game, and I probably
spent 200 or 300 hours playing it over the next year.
Since then, the gameplay - the only important part -
is unchanged and they've only added peripheral
features that are either so esoteric as to detract, or
so dumb they must have been installed by someone who
never watches football (or went to BYU - about the
same thing).
The cameos that open the game ("If it's in the game,
it's in the game") clearly peaked in 2003, too. Those
were free-wheeling fans yelling at the camera, with
lots of cute girls mixed in, including the 7 smoking
ASU chicks. 2004 cameos were staged acts or a bunch
of senior bowl clips of players and the occasional fat
Purdue guy thrown in - only the two SDSU sluts
encouraged the occasional gratuitious reset and they
almost never showed up.
So far, the 2005 clips are, again, heavy on Senior
Bowl players.
Even the covers have disappointed - the Blaine cover
looked like a free-with-a-happy meal-action figure and
the Larry Fitzgerald cover this year is... Larry
Fitzgerald.
(by the way, i'm VERY concerned that this
best-days-behind-it-trend is going to hit Grand Theft
Auto. More on that later)
With only 364 days 'til NCAA Football 2006, I hope
they burn it down and start again. or at least come
up with a better cover.

matt

Final insult: after I got done pounding Va Tech -
which was the first game of a season I intended to
save and continue - the game froze. Right on the
final score screen.
Fuck.

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