Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My 2016 Games of the Year

For you longtime blog visitors (both of you), this will bring back memories. For the rest of you, here's a quick explanation.

I don't play new games all that often. So, rather than come up with my games of the year, evaluating the four actually new games that I played, I generate a list of the top ten games that I played during the previous year. That means that the games could have been released at any point in history (see #2), or are repeats from last year (see #1).

Anywho, here's my list. I spent most of the second half of this year playing D&D, and while I do love dungeon delving with the total freedom that D&D gives you, I kind of miss video games. We'll see how 2017 pans out.

I always put my lists in order, because I need to judge things.

10. Rocket League

Rocket League is an international sensation...which I find to be just decent. It's not that I dislike the game or anything. I get why it's fun, and I enjoy it from time to time, I just don't have the same excitement that it gets from a lot of other people. Specifically Scooter. Still, it's fun enough to round out my top ten.

9. Clash Royale

I'm not generally one who sticks with phone games. I get my fill and then move on, because none of them really ever have an "ending." You just keep going, keep building, keep leveling up, keep grinding, and never really "accomplish" anything.

Clash Royale has a lot of that same grind to it, but there's something gratifying about finding a deck that you can run well, and rolling over a couple opponents in a row. Combine that with a solid clan and regular splashy content, and I find myself consistently engaged by the Clash.

8. 4 Elements

So the funny thing about this game is that I only started playing it because I knew I wasn't playing many games, and figured I'd start towards the top of my games list. So, starting with the number "4" and 4 Elements, I fired up a new game. It's a simple puzzle game with its own twists of strategy. I wouldn't call it revolutionary on any level, but it's aesthetically pleasing and simple enough to pick up. I would just barely recommend it, if you're looking for something to kill a few hours.

7. Destiny

I bought Destiny basically because a friend told me to. I hadn't played an XBox One game in a while, and he had suggested it a few times. So I grabbed some pack off Amazon that included a couple expansions and fired it up. It's made by some of the same folks who made Halo, and it shows in a lot of the artwork and gameplay. That said, it doesn't really capture that certain something that Halo's campaign system had.

The game itself is fairly fun, it's essentially an MMO first-person shooter, but your experience is very rarely "massive," which is a good thing. You can do a series of solo missions (that you can bring friends along to complete as well), and you can also join a queue for dedicated multiplayer missions, missions that are considerably more difficult and require teamwork to complete. Overall, it was a pretty fun experience, and while I won't be paying $60(!) for a new expansion, I might pick it up down the road someday.

6. Dead Rising 3

I love Dead Rising. If I had to pick one franchise that I think defines all that I like about video games, it's Dead Rising. It's got great weapons, a somewhat open world, and the the ability to render massive numbers of zombies inert. Eddie got me Dead Rising 3 for Christmas last year, and I dove into it eagerly.

And it was good. It wasn't the perfect sequel like Dead Rising 2 was, and it wasn't a revolutionary advancement like Diablo 2. It was a solid game with some interesting characters, and enough of the classic material I enjoy to keep me entertained. The one caveat I would give it is that, while the graphics are an "improvement" over the previous games, the extra layer of detail is a bit difficult on my eyes over longer gaming sessions. It became too much eventually and I set the game aside, but someday I definitely plan to get back into it and finish the story.

5. Heroes of the Storm

A repeat from last year's list, it's still a very solid game that has developed a lot over the past year. There are a ton of new heroes, though this year's crop is a bit less revolutionary than last year's; there's no hero like Cho'Gall or Lost Vikings this year. In that regard, it's getting a bit closer to League of Legends, but with the solid gameplay, the introduction of a similar "brawl" system to Hearthstone's, and the fact that the game continues to be completely free to play, it's still a winner in my book.

4. Lifeline

Anthony told me about Lifeline when it was free on iPhone for a couple days (or maybe is still free? I don't know). It's essentially a choose-your-own-adventure book, put into the context of you being on the other side of a communication device, trying to help a stranded space traveler survive on a moon or asteroid or planet. I don't remember the specifics, but I remember really enjoying the game. The way it presented the story was insanely entertaining, and while the finish was clearly built to encourage you to purchase a follow-up game, it was satisfying. Very well done.

3. Sid Meier's Civilization V

So I was a little late to the Civilization V achievement hunter party, but I did get there eventually. Over the past year, I nabbed a couple dozen achievements through considerable playtime, as I figured out what settings I needed to use on my laptop to make it work without crashing...often. The game is just really, really solid. Every time you play it's a new experience, and the maps and different civilizations provide nearly endless replay-ability. It'll be a while before I get the new one, obviously, but that's partly Sid Meier's fault. He made the previous version just too damn good.

2. Total Extreme Wrestling

TEW is a wrestling simulation game. That's right. A wrestling SIMULATION game. The game puts you into the role of a head booker at a wrestling promotion, and your job is to put on the best product possible to increase your popularity, generate income, and keep your job. You manage rosters, contracts, locker room chemistry, pushes, and all of the business aspects of how you put on a show.

It's the kind of game that appeals only to a narrow group of people, but I'm one of those people. I freaking love this game.

1. Dungeons and Dragons

I mean, what else is there to say that I haven't already said? I play D&D 2-3 times a week, which when you compare that with the 4 times a week I work, it takes up the lion's share of my free time. It's complex, it's cooperative, it's creative, and it's social. I say again, D&D is the perfect game.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After

So I guess Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States of America.

I am saddened and frustrated by the results of the election, but this post isn't about that. Not exactly, at least. It's not about what I think of Donald Trump as a human, or how he managed to win, or how Bernie Sanders would've mopped the floor with Trump, or what's next for Hillary Clinton, or anything else.

No, that's not what I'm here to talk about. This post is about me, and this post is about you.

This post is about all of us who have been horrified from day one about the idea of Trump as President, and the reasons we felt that way, and how we cringed as each round of results got posted and Trump's victory seemed more and more likely.

This post is about what we're supposed to do next, now that we're on the ass end of this election.

The classic joke is to say we're moving to Canada, or Australia, or Germany, or wherever else you think you might find respite from whatever a Trump presidency looks like.

I can't do that. I can't leave. And I don't mean that in a literal way, just because I don't have a passport. I could get a passport. I could apply to work as an ALT in Japan (I'm learning quite a bit about the process). I could move to Canada and get a job as a Zamboni driver (although, I imagine the competition is a bit stiffer up there).

But from a moral standpoint, I can't leave. When I woke up yesterday morning, this was my country. As I watched the election results tonight, this was my country.

When I wake up tomorrow, this will still be my fucking country.

The United States, to me, has always been about hope, and about trying to make things better for generations to come. And sometimes, things suck.

Our nation has fought in multiple wars, most in victory, some in defeat. Our nation has stared down the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal in the Cold War. Our nation has been the victim of massive terrorist attacks in New York, in Oklahoma City, and in far too many other places. Today, our country faces very real issues of racism, and sexism, and hatred, and fear. And make no mistake, those sentiments are a big part of why Donald Trump was elected.

So what do we do now?

As I said, I have no plans of abandoning my country in its hour of need, and I implore you to resist that urge as well. If you truly believe that the election of Donald Trump represents a worrisome acceptance of disrespect, then your patriotism is needed now more than ever.

As a white male, I've got it pretty easy. I don't find that I get discriminated against, like ever, at least as far as I can tell. So when I hear people talk about how society is stacked against black people, or the LGBT community, or women, or Latinos, I've always thought to myself, "I don't have a ton of personal experience to draw from to understand this."

But, I kind of do.

I've grown up hearing (and in my embarrassing youth, occasionally saying myself) the word "gay" or "fag" with a negative connotation. I've heard people talk about crime problems in "inner cities" and "urban areas," and knowing that what they're trying to say in a thinly-veiled code is that black people are criminals. I've heard women referred to as "bitch" or worse, in circumstances that would not warrant a proportionally equivalent insult to a man.

To summarize, I've seen and heard white men say and do things that reinforce a sense of superiority for white men. Well, it's time to stop all that.

For a long time I just brushed by these kinds of comments, but at some point I read an article (probably one of the millions of posts I get emailed from Medium), and it triggered something in my head that said, "No, you can't just not say anything anymore."

And that goes for all of us. We have to stand up.

If you're white and you hear someone say something overtly or covertly racist, you have to call them out on it. If you're a man and you hear someone shit-talk a woman simply for being a woman, let them know you understand exactly what they're doing. If you're a human being and you hear someone say "faggot," it's your responsibility to bury that shit.

The United States has always, at least in a vague way, yearned to stand up for the less fortunate. It's time for us Americans to be less vague about it.

The greatest flaw of the Donald Trump "movement" is that it has allowed room for misogyny, bigotry, and a general disrespect for our fellow humans. But there's no reason that his victory has to stifle our ability to be decent to each other.

As the old saying goes, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

So be better, people. Our country needs us.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Gun Rights and Black Lives Matter

I do not claim to be an expert on either of the topics I'm about to discuss. I don't have any sort of personal experience with guns, though I definitely don't like them. I don't intend on ever owning a gun, which as I understand it is a right afforded to me by the Constitution, just as it would be my right to own one if I chose.

I also don't really have any expertise when it comes to race relations. I'm a white guy from the suburbs. I haven't had many non-white friends, and even my non-white friends have basically been "White" guys. I worked in a liquor store in Prince George's County for a while, that's about the extent of my immersion in black culture. See, I don't even know enough about black culture to know whether or not I'm supposed to capitalize "black." If I'm supposed to, let me know and I'll try to update my thinking.

Anywho, this blog post isn't truly about gun rights or Black Lives Matter, at least not separately. From reading a lot of posts on the topics over the past few weeks and months, I found myself constantly pondering the whole American environment, and I had what for me qualifies as an epiphany.

There's a way of looking at the two subjects that intertwines them heavily, and when it does, it makes me believe that gun rights advocates should support Black Lives Matter, and vice versa.

Let me walk you through my thought process.

The first factor here is the argument innate to any gun rights advocate, that the possession of firearms is vital to the preservation of a democratic society. When civilians don't have guns (or more basically, the ability to deny oppression), the state can oppress them. Civilians need guns in order to keep politicians in check.

Not really my personal opinion, but that's the stance.

Now, from the dozens of articles I've read about firsthand experiences by black people with police officers, the over-arching sentiment seems to be that police officers are to be obeyed without question, particularly by people of color. I've always felt the same way, having grown up with a police officer in the family, but the tone is very different from my growing-up experience.

Basically, if you're a black person, you listen to the cops or you die. Strong words, but the sentiment across the country is that it's true.

Now, police officers are the most direct (and sometimes only) contact we'll ever have with the state. Most of us don't interact with senators or governors or the FBI. So what we're talking about here is the representative of the state demanding compliance or death. Or at least, that's the perception. Again, I'm not talking about my personal experience, I'm just talking about the articles I've read.

So, wouldn't it make sense for gun activists to rally around Black Lives Matter? You would think that they would say, "You see? This is a group of disenfranchised people who are being heavily oppressed by our government. They are the evidence that our civil liberties have been taken away with gun control, and we need to make sure everyone who wants a weapon to protect him- or herself from the government can acquire and carry one without harassment."

And similarly, people who support the Black Lives Matter movement should be able to look at gun advocates and say, "Yes, exactly, we need to be suspicious of government representatives who demand obedience. We need to make sure that we the people retain the full breadth of our power to dictate terms with our government."

I haven't seen either group reach out to the other, and I haven't seen anyone make this same connection between the two camps. Is this the solution to the problems that face our world today? No. There isn't a solution. If there's a way to reliably avoid the tragedies we've encountered recently, it's not one single tactic or answer. It's a bunch of different stuff, things that will take a long time and a lot of effort.

And it's just as likely that there's no way to avoid it at all. With as many people as are in the United States, there are inevitably going to be some bad people, and some mistakes, and some unlucky circumstances. Smartphones and the Internet have made all of this content available to the world in an instant. My sense is that we're stuck with social judgment for the foreseeable future. So behave.

Literally everybody is watching.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff Preview - Western Conference

Yesterday I went through the Eastern Conference matchups, declaring my apparent love for Florida-based teams. Today's topic: California love.


(1) Dallas Stars vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild

Who would've guessed that this year would give us the battle for the legacy of the Minnesota North Stars? Well, it's not really that big a deal, nor is it that odd an occurrence, so I probably won't mention it again, but I'm sure other people will.

The Stars are an offensive juggernaut that's been playing a more effective defensive game recently. The Wild are also a playoff team. While Minnesota has had a nice run to get into the playoffs, they're still a whole tier below Dallas and the other Central Division teams. I'll still give the Wild a shot because of the way they've played in high-leverage games this year, but I would say this is the series I'm least hopeful of going 6 or 7 games.

Pick: Dallas

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

If you've been paying attention to the Blues recently, you know that this group has come up short in a big way in recent years. And if you've been paying attention to the Blackhawks recently, you know that they've been accumulating championship hardware on the regular. So who in their right mind would pick the Blues to come out on top this series?

Well, I don't know if I'm necessarily "in my right mind," but I'm picking the Blues. The way Tarasenko has exploded this season has been incredible, and the Blues (when healthy) might have the best top 10 (top two forward lines, top two defensive pairings) in hockey. When their best players are on the ice, not many teams can match up.

Chicago is obviously strong as well, and they paid a tall price in future draft picks to shore up their forward depth. But future draft picks don't play in the playoffs, so the 'Hawks are in decent shape. This series should probably go seven games, and I'd venture to say this will be one of the best series in recent memory.

Pick: St. Louis


(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC) Nashville Predators

I think this is a tough matchup for the Ducks. They're a big, bruising team that makes you work for every inch, but Nashville is one of the few teams that can match that physicality and intensity. I think it's going to be a closely competed series, but I think it might be a little frustrating to watch. The rink is going to seem awfully small.

This entire series is going to come down to Pekka Rinne's performance. Yes, I just provided the most obvious analysis possible: goaltending will be important. But Rinne has had such an up-and-down season, the Predators' fate will be closely tied to his ability to steady the ship.

In the end, I'll take the hotter team, and the team with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, guys who have been dominating the ice for the better part of a decade.

Pick: Anaheim

(2) Los Angeles Kings vs. (3) San Jose Sharks

While some other series have history, there's something about Kings/Sharks that has another level of mystique. And by "mystique," I mean straight up loathing.

Kings fans hate the Sharks, but that's nothing when compared to the vitriol that Sharks fans feel for the Kings. If there's a team out there that has the same consistent feelings of disappointment as my Capitals (at least in recent years), it's the Sharks. And the Kings have been the focus of their frustration.

But all that buildup only matters to commentators. Once these two teams get onto the ice, it's going to be a hockey series just like any other. When looking at the rosters, the Kings have a slight edge at the top with all-world players like Doughty and Kopitar. I'd give the Sharks an edge in depth, particularly among the forward group. Overall, they're evenly matched.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, when things are even, you go with the team that has the better intangibles. Coaching, playoff experience, home ice, etc. All of that stuff favors the Kings..., naturally, I'm going with the Sharks. While there's no historical proof in favor of this thought (and in fact, there may be proof against it), I think the Sharks are due for a turnaround. It's purely an emotional choice, but I'm pulling for Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Pick: San Jose

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff Preview - Eastern Conference

I'm hopeful that I'll be able to coordinate a playoff preview podcast before the games start, but in case I'm not, I wanted to make sure that my loudmouthed opinions get out into the world before I have a chance to pretend I didn't think them.

So, here are my takes on each of the Eastern Conference matchups. My Western Conference matchup evaluations will be coming tomorrow. I used to include the number of games as part of my predictions, but nobody cares about that. Right or wrong, that's all that matters.


(1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC) Philadelphia Flyers

At the beginning of 2016, I would not have guessed that the Flyers would be the Caps' first round opponent. They've heated up over the last couple months, and managed to oust the Boston Bruins from the playoffs. I had said nice things about Boston, so of course they collapsed and will watch the playoffs from home.

Luckily, I haven't said anything nice about the Capitals, so we should be in good shape.

But seriously folks, this should be an entertaining series. The Caps have been on coast mode for about six weeks, and only on Saturday did they seem to turn the energy back up at all. I think the schedulers helped them out a little bit though, as they finished with games against Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Anaheim. All three of those teams have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, so it was a good opportunity for Washington to test themselves against the very best.

This series is going to come down to how well the Caps are able to negate Philadelphia's incredible top line of Giroux, Simmonds, and Voracek (assuming Philly keeps them together). That line gave everyone in the NHL problems this year, but with how lean the rest of their forwards are, it'll be interesting to see if Dave Hakstol elects to split up his best guys to try to match the Capitals' depth. If he did, I think the Caps would win in five, but I think he'll make the right call. Philly will likely give Washington all they can handle, but a Presidents' Cup winning Caps team won't get upended in the first round twice in the same decade...right?

Pick: Washington

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) New York Rangers

This is absolutely going to be the series to watch. The Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL, cruising into the playoffs on a forty-six-game winning streak. Okay not exactly, but they're rolling. The offense is running on all cylinders, and it looks like they'll get Malkin back before too long. The one thing that could be a problem for Pittsburgh is that both of their goalies have endured injuries over the past couple weeks. One or both might be available for game one, but one or both might also not be available for game one. Having to turn to a third-string goaltender in the playoffs isn't an ideal scenario.

That said, this might be a circumstance where that doesn't even matter. Sidney Crosby is once again playing like he's the best player in the world, the paper-thin defensive corps is somehow keeping up with the best forwards in the league, and the new coach seems to have everyone on the same page.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have Henrik Lundqvist.

Seriously, that's it. Could be enough. But I'll take the team over the goalie, this time.

Pick: Pittsburgh


(1) Florida Panthers vs. (WC) New York Islanders

In a surprise to literally no one, the Islanders managed to lose their game on the last day of the season and will avoid Pittsburgh in the first round, instead facing the upstart Panthers. I can't say that I blame them; the Panthers look more beatable than the Penguins, though they do present their own set of challenges.

Florida's strength is in their energy, their youth, and a style of play that minimizes quality opportunities against Roberto Luongo. The Islanders' strength is...I actually have no idea what the Islanders' strength is. John Tavares would be one, I suppose; he's probably the best player that nobody talks about. But as far as what makes this team dangerous, I'm not really sure.

Florida, despite a minimal amount of playoff experience on the roster, should be able to squeak by the Islanders. I give New York a shot, because I give every hockey team a shot. But if Florida is able to stay healthy, I think they move on to the second round.

Pick: Florida

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings

So Detroit managed to hang on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth, extending their string of playoff appearances to 25 consecutive seasons. The Lightning, while not boasting quite so long a streak, made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and were a preseason favorite in the east.

This is actually a rematch of last year's first round series, but without any of the bluster of the Rangers/Penguins series. I don't think many people are giving Detroit much of a chance this time around, and that's probably appropriate. The Red Wings have some good players, but in the end, the Lightning are too strong all the way around, in spite of all these "injuries" people keep talking about.

Pick: Tampa Bay

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Should I Write About?

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog post, and while that's not exactly a new phenomenon, it does signify a lull after I had been pretty prolific for several weeks. I've started a couple of posts, but they just didn't come together.

So, I thought maybe I'd open things up to you guys. What do you want me to write about? What subject do you feel has been getting the short end of the stick recently? What topic do you see pop up and find yourself immediately excited about what's in the article? Or, what have I never written about that you think I should?

Also, this is a tricky way for me to sneakily "make a blog post" without actually making a blog post. Muwahaha.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Final Fantasy + Magic The Gathering: A Coalescence of Nerditude

I subscribe to a subreddit called "/r/custommagic," a group that focuses on amateurs generating their own Magic cards, mechanics, ideas, and even entire sets. I have a lot of fun doing some of their regular activities, such as trying to create a card just from artwork, or creating a mechanic to reflect some aspect of a movie, TV show, or video game.

Anyways, I made a passing comment in one thread about Final Fantasy X, and suggested that one of my fellow Redditors could make a whole set using that game world as a basis. He said something along the lines of, "If you think it's such a good idea, why don't you make it?"

And so, here we are.

I'm embarking on an effort to capture the essence of Final Fantasy X in a Magic set. This means developing 3-6 mechanics, a few tribal features, and one or more over-arching themes, all through the creation of about 240 Magic cards. It's a pretty substantial undertaking, but it's not altogether new for me. You may remember that I assembled a Magic set based on the worlds and characters in the first two Mega Man games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was a massive effort, but it was incredibly fun and rewarding, so I'm excited to try my hand at it again.

Assuming that anyone who's gotten this deep into the post has some level of interest and/or understanding of Final Fantasy X and/or Magic, let's get into the specifics. Here are the aspects of Final Fantasy X that I want to try to capture in some manner, and, if I have any, some of my initial thoughts on how to convey them.


Summoners & Aeons

At the heart of the story in Final Fantasy X is the battle between Spira's summoners and Sin. In a general sense, I want to make sure that summoners and aeons are broadly represented in the set; I plan on including Yuna and Yunalesca, of course, but also Belgemine, Dona, and Isaru, though probably in non-specific forms, so that I don't have to represent them with Legendary status.

As far as aeons go, there are a couple of aspects that I wonder about. First, aeons don't ever exist in the game without being summoned. So should aeons only be available if you control a summoner? Additionally, if your opponent has summoned an aeon, you cannot summon the same aeon. I'm not sure how to handle that; Magic's updated Legendary rules allow for two instances of the same singular character, so I don't think I'll try to re-complicate things by bringing that confusion back.

Sending Fiends

That's fiends, not friends. The creation of enemies throughout Spira relies on regular folks being "unsent"; that is, not being provided with a postmortem ceremony to control the magical essence that is release when a person dies. Within the realm of Magic, I'm thinking that this could be captured by having creatures with death triggers.

The two possibilities I can think of are:
  1. grant a Fiend token or tokens to an opponent when your creature dies, or
  2. do the same thing, but allow the prevention of it if you pay some amount of mana when your creature dies, to "send" it.

The main character progression feature of Final Fantasy X was the sphere grid. Using the grid, you could give any character any set of spells or abilities, with enough time and energy. Kimahri was the main beneficiary of this, in that you chose very early in his progression which of four directions he would progress.

The initial way I've been thinking that I might capture this facet of the game is by using hybrid mana in this set. For those unfamiliar, when a card has a hybrid mana symbol, you can use one of two different kinds of mana in order to cast spells or summon creatures. There's also three-color hybrid mana and colored/double colorless hybrid mana, but I have very little personal experience with those features. I'm not necessarily married to this idea, but it does incorporate the concept of flexibility, which is one of my goals for this set.

There are other things I want to figure out. The Al Bhed's contraptions (or "machina") should have a presence, as should the four main magic elements from the game (fire, blizzard, water, thunder). The standard races will be replaced by Ronso, Guado, Al Bhed, etc. I'd like to find a way to mention blitzball if I can. And of course, capturing the essence of Sin is going to be a considerable challenge.

Your feedback is great, and any comments will go straight into the brain bank for processing. In the meantime, I'll be watching some cutscenes and working on getting all the screenshots I'll need to get it done.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Donald Trump Rally "Speech"

On my way to work this weekend, I was listening to the radio and I managed to catch most of one of Donald Trump's speeches to voters in Arizona. It was an interesting experience. Without delving into my personal politics too much, and while trying to avoid using biased terminology or tone, here are some of my takeaways.

Anything Worth Saying Once...

Donald Trump repeats himself constantly. And I don't mean that he circles around and hammers home a point he had made earlier in his remarks. I mean that literally he says something (like "the media lies"), and then immediately says it again (verbatim, "the media lies" again).

At first I thought it was just a nuance about the way he talks, but I think it's at least somewhat intentional. Trump is an accomplished salesman; in fact, I've heard him described as someone who's "always trying to sell you on something." Right now, he's trying to sell himself. Part of that is hammering home his strongest points, and another part is making sure that he sets himself up to be as quotable as possible. Two different instances of the same message gives two chances to find the best quote. You can disagree with his politics or dislike him as a person, but Trump is an extremely skilled seller.

Fear...But Also Safety

Trump has appropriately been lambasted for his repeated exploitation of the fears of many people about terrorism, about illegal immigrants, and about crime. But it's not just that he's reminding people about tragedies that have occurred; he's telling us that he can prevent them from ever happening again.

Obviously he doesn't have this capability, and again, I think he's probably aware that his "solutions" aren't going to be able to guarantee Americans' safety, regardless of his claims. But he's literally the only candidate in either party who's even proposed to have a way to address Americans' fears. He may be over-selling it, but everyone else has missed the opportunity to sell themselves as a protector in this time of uncertainty. As I said, I don't believe him, but he's smart to sell himself that way.

A Kind Word

Other candidates do this as well, but Trump goes out of his way to offer incredible compliments to his supporters. He also finds ways to phrase his brags as a form of complimenting his supporters. For example, he mentioned almost every state he's won through this primary season, totaling about a dozen times during the speech. But he fully implements the underdog mentality, the "us vs. them" line of thought, giving his supporters credit for "showing those stupid pundits how wrong they are."

When he says that the media is lying, he doesn't say "The media is lying about me." He says, "The media is lying about us." But "we're gonna show them, just like we've been showing them for months."

There's validity here again. Donald Trump is representing a group of people who have thus far been under-represented in government. They respond to his rhetoric, to the strength he conveys, and to his singularity in the history of American politics. We've never had a candidate like him (I assume; it's possible that James Buchanan was a real firecracker). He's funny, he's interesting, and he's got a powerful and recognizable personality.

Like I said, I hopefully left out any personal feelings I have towards Trump or any other candidate when writing this. There's no question that he's brought far more attention to the process than there's been in years past. I'm even considering paying for SiriusXM Radio, just to stay tuned in on my drives to and from work.

Trump has got me literally investing in the process. That's something.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Best Baltimore Orioles Team of My Time

The Baltimore Orioles are my favorite baseball team. For a long time, they were my favorite team in all of sports, as baseball was my favorite sport. Over the past ten years or so, hockey and the Washington Capitals have supplanted baseball and the Orioles, respectively, but both sit right there at number two. As a result, I have a pretty long memory of Orioles players, and opinions on most of them.

Historically, when I've debated the "best XYZ ever," the standard has been to span all of history in order to find potential selections. Best home run hitter? Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron were always in the mix. Best basketball center? Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain find their ways into most lists. And deservedly so; all of those players had remarkable careers.

The thing is, I never saw them play. So I can reflect on their statistics and read articles about them and hear anecdotes about how dominant they were, but those aren't my stories. I have no firsthand experience with their play. And the reality is, sports are all about our personal connections to the games. I can talk all day and night about how good Walter Payton and Bobby Hull were, but there won't be any mustard behind it. Just as, if my nephew ever tries to talk about Frank Thomas or Larry Bird, there won't be any personal nature to it.

Therefore, what I like doing is proposing not to talk about the greatest XYZ of all-time, but to talk about the greatest XYZ of MY time. So, in a sort of tandem effort to go along with my recent podcast about the Orioles in 2016, I'm going to present for you the greatest Orioles team of my time, position-by-position. Well, most positions. I'm not going to try to rack my brain for the best long reliever of the past 30 years...even though it's obviously Rodrigo Lopez.

Here we go.

Catcher - Chris Hoiles
Hoiles was a middle-of-the-lineup masher for some good teams and some bad teams, all of them Orioles teams. He spent his entire ten-year career in Baltimore, and his 162-game average was 27 homers and 81 RBI. While he wasn't exceptional, he was a steady force for the Orioles for years and years.

First Base - Chris Davis
This choice was between Davis and Rafael Palmeiro. I went with Davis because, while Palmeiro was solid and productive, he was never the most important part of the team. Since 2012, Davis' bat has been crucial to the team's vault back into competitiveness. And while the metrics don't seem to bear it out, Davis' defense at first base has been surprisingly solid.

Second Base - Brian Roberts
I started coming up with this list of players while I was without Internet access for a week (yes, it was utterly miserable). After coming up with a starter list, I spoke with some friends and checked online to see who I was forgetting, and Roberts was the first of those guys. He's the Orioles' all-time leader in games played at second base, and he was a fixture at the top of Baltimore's lineup for the better part a decade. He might be an all-time Oriole; he's definitely the best 2B of my time.

Third Base - Melvin Mora
There's a case to be made for Manny Machado, even this early in his career, but as of today, Melvin Mora is my pick. He came over from the Mets in the Mike Bordick trade, and started out a super-utility player. After a couple years of filling in as needed, Mora developed into Mr. Reliable for the O's at third. He was a steady bat, contributing heavily to some of those competitive-but-still-not-very-good teams in the mid-2000s.

Shortstop - Cal Ripken, Jr.
I will not explain this. If you don't know why, I can't help you.

Left Field - Brady Anderson
Brady Anderson was a big part of the Orioles before I ever started paying attention to statistics, so it was kind of interesting to go back and look at his actual performance. One conspicuous aspect of Anderson's play is that he had a career on-base-percentage of .362. That's really, really good.

We'll always remember him as one of the more obvious beneficiaries of performance-enhancers (his 50 HR in 1996 were symptomatic of a culture of abuse), but the truth is that he was just a really great player for the Orioles. The only nuance was whether to pick him in left field or center field; I chose left field because center field had a better alternative.

Center Field - Adam Jones
The O's pulled off a pretty big theft in acquiring Jones, Chris Tillman, and George Sherrill for Erik Bedard in 2008. Bedard was a very good pitcher at the time (see below), but Jones and Tillman were both highly-touted prospects, and Sherrill was a serviceable bullpen arm. While Tillman's progress has been slow, Jones almost immediately became central to the Orioles' lineup. Jones's free-swinging ways are still a bit frustrating to watch, but his performance over the years more than makes up for the depressed on-base numbers.

Right Field - Nick Markakis
Markakis is a perfect example of a guy who shines on this type of list, but would never get consideration on an all-time list. He's a very good fielder and a high on-base guy, which slotted him in the leadoff spot for a good chunk of his time in Baltimore. He never produced at a high enough level to merit serious consideration for end-of-season awards, or even really as an All-Star, but he's one of the locals' favorites, and probably will be for years to come.

Starting Pitcher 1 - Mike Mussina
Starting Pitcher 2 - Erik Bedard
Starting Pitcher 3 - Wei-Yin Chen
Starting Pitcher 4 - Sidney Ponson
Starting Pitcher 5 - Scott Erickson
I sort of knew this before I started this exercise, but the Orioles' pitching has been pretty bad for a long time. Looking at that list up there, you're not finding many happy tales. Mussina is obviously the exception, a borderline Hall-of-Famer who won a ton of games for the Orioles and Yankees. After him, though, it gets pretty slim.

Bedard was solid for three years and spectacular for one. Chen was the most reliable pitcher on two playoff teams, so he gets that #3 nod. And Ponson and Erickson were both unexciting workhorses, the kind of pitcher the Orioles seem to target (welcome to the team, Yovani Gallardo!). If you want to talk about the Orioles, there's no need to mention much about the starting pitching.

Right-handed Reliever - Darren O'Day
Left-handed Reliever - B.J. Ryan
Closer - Gregg Olson
Despite their troubles in the starting rotation, the Orioles have actually had a fair share of dominant relievers. O'Day has had an ERA under 2.00 with the O's, with over a strikeout per inning. B.J. Ryan boasted incredible strikeout rates during his time with the O's. And Gregg Olson is the team's all-time leader in saves with 160. Perhaps that's why the O's have mostly invested in innings-eaters for their rotation; just get to the seventh and we're in good shape.

The Orioles of my lifetime don't boast many great players. Ripken was obviously huge, and Mussina could get some HOF votes (though I doubt enough to get in). But it's no surprise that they've had to scrap and claw for their few playoff opportunities in recent years. Hopefully Machado is ushering in a new era of competition for the O's...and let's keep snagging those ace relievers.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Top Five Wrestling Finishers

I got into a disagreement with my good friend James about the quality of a few different wrestling finishing moves, which prompted me to write this article. James, feel free to comment with your various counter-arguments, but I don't expect to be changing my opinion.

5. Figure Four Leg-Lock

I'm a guy who likes submission holds more than a lot of people do. I was a big fan of Dean Malenko's Texas Cloverleaf finisher, and I liked when Sting or Owen Hart hooked the Scorpion Deathlock/Sharpshooter. Not Bret Hart, that guy was a bum.

The Figure Four, though, was the best one. Part of it was that it was executed by Ric Flair, one of my favorite all-time wrestlers and one of the best villains in the game. Another part was that the two wrestlers involved could see each other's faces, talk trash, rake each other's eyes, etc. You've also got the ability to grab the ropes and "cheat" to get more pressure. It creates a ton of potential results, including, of course, a submission.

4. DDT

It says a lot that Jake the Snake Roberts managed to take a fairly common move and make it his own finisher. His execution of it was flawless. It's also one of those out-of-nowhere moves that I love (as you'll read); any time a match could be decided in the blink of an eye, your attention is heightened. I've watched probably a hundred matches of Jake's over the years, and plenty of them ended suddenly when Jake pulled off a DDT.

The same move has been twisted around a couple dozen times into various other finishers: Mick Foley's double-arm DDT, the Scorpion Death Drop, etc. But nobody does it quite like the Snake.

3. Clothesline from Hell

Ask any passive wrestling fan to name a few wrestling moves, and the first few they name will probably be (in no particular order): body slam, suplex, clothesline. There are plenty of suplexes that get used as finishers, but none that really sing as being noticeably better than other suplexes.

But when Bradshaw/JBL did his Clothesline from Hell...well, holy shit, it was good.

Something about Bradshaw's height, his body shape, and his execution just made the Clothesline from Hell a thing of beauty. It also worked great as a tag-team finisher, because his tag partners could always do something to set up a clothesline. It's great in that it's fast, it's super-violent, and it's easy to appreciate. I'm delighted that JBL had a run as a title-holder, so that everyone got to appreciate his finisher as much as I already did.

FYI, Luke Harper does a similar move in today's WWE, if you're interested.

2. Stone Cold Stunner

This move basically drove the entire Attitude Era of the WWF. The pop off of a Stunner was always great, but when someone like Vince McMahon or Bret Hart was on the receiving end, the crowd was electric. As with the DDT, the quickness of the move made it an amazing story-driver, not to mention a great finisher for long, back-and-forth matches. But when you add Stone Cold's character to the move, it's an incredible combo.

I do think, though, what made people enjoy it as much as anything was the fact that Stone Cold was always using the Stunner on Vince McMahon, his "boss." The WWF/E loved selling this point, and people ate it up.

1. Diamond Cutter/RKO

When I first really got into wrestling, Diamond Dallas Page was one of the biggest stars in WCW. The nWo had just really hit its stride, and DDP was a foil to all of their plans. This absolutely would not have worked without the Diamond Cutter. It's insanely fast, and takes zero time to set up. That instant explosion was the perfect counter to the nWo's swarming nature. Then, when Randy Orton came around and started using the RKO, I recognized it as what was already my favorite move. Surprise surprise, the rest of the world also appreciated it. Search YouTube for "RKO" and you'll see what I mean.

That's my list. I imagine I'll be fighting a lot of you on the figure-four, and I can appreciate that it's not for everybody. But it's unquestionably one of my favorites.

As for the other four? Well, I wouldn't understand anyone who doesn't like those moves.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Podcast I've Always Wanted to Make

As (hopefully) all of you know by now, I've done a few episodes of what I'm calling The GoodPointJoe Podcast, a variety show where I talk about whatever I want to talk about. So far, that's been exclusively sports topics. That's not to say that sports are the only thing I care about; far from it, in fact. I would say that my attention to sports is, overall, at an all-time low (discounting those first few years when my sole concern with sports was that I was being dressed in Washington Redskins apparel).

But sports are incredibly easy to talk about at a moment's notice, because so much of it is based on opinion. Just this week I mentioned in a blog post how I had an opinion on someone else's opinion on some sports topics.

It's also much easier to find people who are willing to talk about sports for a few minutes for a podcast, and much easier to frame a conversation about sports. It's no surprise that sports and politics have countless podcasts available to listen to on iTunes.

But the reality is, that's not why I got into the podcast game. Before I even decided to make it an actual podcast, I set out to create a series of audio recordings offering advice on various Dungeons-and-Dragons-related topics. I've been DMing on and off for several years, and I love it. I love doing it, I love prepping for it, I love talking about it, I love it all. And I think there's still plenty of space available for DM advice and discussion on iTunes.

(I also think Dungeons and Dragons is in the midst of a great period of growth, but that's a topic for another article.)

For the past few months, I've been putting together outlines for podcasts on a variety of DM-related topics: adapting pre-made adventures, dealing with problem players, useful DM books and accessories, etc. They're all built to be solo shows, each running between 15 and 25 minutes. I've test-run a couple of them, and they're improving, but they're not ready yet.

Anyways, I wanted to give you an idea of what to look forward to with the podcast. While sports topics will always be part of the equation, there's more variety on the horizon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Easy, Lambert

So two days after the NHL Trade Deadline, Ryan Lambert wrote this. He apparently disagreed heartily with the moves (or lack of moves) that many teams made last week. That's totally fair and totally his right; he's a sportswriter for Yahoo, which indicates that he's generally going to be more knowledgeable and more tuned-in than I am.

However, I disagree whole-heartedly with his execution.

Take a gander through most of Lambert's comments (at least up to #8 on his list) and I think you'll agree, they're pretty incendiary. Many of them are downright insulting. And while his tone obviously is intended to express the ferocity of his disagreement, there are ways to do that without burning the house down.

If you've got a short attention span, that's okay. Lambert led off with his most brutal salvo for Kris Russell. In the first paragraph of the story, he said "Russell is terrible," and "He was the worst defenseman on the Calgary Flames." Then in his section on Jim Benning, he calls the Canucks' GM "clueless" and "not a good GM."

Then he offers this priceless statement regarding the Colorado Avalanche GM, Joe Sakic:
This was a dumb deadline day for Sakic. Bye.
It was around this point that I realized that I was reading something special. I don't know if someone ran over Lambert's cat, or if his girlfriend dumped him, or he was just really hungover and angry about the lack of movement on deadline day, but this article was the sports equivalent of a takedown piece. He lined up whoever he felt like sniping and took a shot, all the way down the line.

Then he predictably lauded the Blackhawks, because the whole goddamn hockey world does that.

Well, so be it, that's what he wanted to do, and he did it. But doesn't it just tell you exactly why people hate the analytics community?

The whole idea of analytics vs. old school reporting is that traditional journalists have to foster relationships with players/coaches/team officials in order to do their jobs. Analytics proponents will argue that reporters will withhold information that teams might not want to get out in order to preserve/build a relationship with that team. That's a perfectly valid concern. However, there's another side to the coin: civility.

It's possible that all of Lambert's claims are valid, all of his concerns are legitimate, and all of his condemnations are justified. But it should come as no surprise to Lambert that the people he's annihilating in this article are, you know, people.

When he says, "good lord the lack of effort here is astonishing" about Jim Benning's failure to complete a deadline deal involving Dan Hamhuis or Radim Vrbata, that's not a difference of team-managing opinions. He's declaring nothing less than his opinion that Benning is being negligent in his duties as general manager. He's not just saying that Benning is bad at his job; he's saying that Benning isn't doing his job.

That's beyond rude. I don't know what's three steps up from rude, but that's what it is.

What's perhaps most frustrating is that he even takes the time to acknowledge the potential reasons for a lack of a deal. He mentions the no-movement clauses in play, and that the word is that Vrbata wouldn't approve a deal to any team that approached Vancouver about a deal. Lambert shows that he understands that there are nuances, and then says, "I don't care."

I don't know Ryan Lambert's life. I don't know what he does outside of writing for Puck Daddy. But I can say this with confidence: If he finds himself in a situation where he's looking for another job in the hockey world, or even just any job where you have to deal with people in other organizations, this article isn't going to do him any favors.

I agree with Jeff Marek's assessment that there's an opening for a new star in the hockey journalism world, for an analytics expert who can speak plainly and intelligently about advanced metrics. But whoever that person is, they're going to have to interact with players and hockey professionals on a regular basis. Being rude and dismissive of half the league won't fly.

I doubt Lambert was seeking that kind of position, but he sure as shit isn't going to be getting it now.

PS: I strongly disagree with his comments about the Bruins' moves, but I think a big part of that is based on my opinion that their moves pushed them into a position where they can compete to make the conference finals. So I really just disagree on a purely predictive level, which isn't what this post is about. But seriously, watch out for the Bruins.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Podcast Progress Report

Because I assume you expect and enjoy regular updates from me regarding my podcasting adventures (or because I myself find these little debriefings useful), here's another update of what's been going on recently with The GoodPointJoe Podcast.

I lost power for a night, and internet for almost a week.

Having the occasional storm knock out power and/or internet access isn't outrageous. I can usually keep myself entertained for a few hours, maybe even a day. On the first night without power, I played some Pokemon Pinball (Ruby and Sapphire version) played a couple of phone games, and went to bed early. When I woke up and we still didn't have internet, that was a concern. When I found out our neighbors' internet access had been was time to contact Verizon.

Several days later (I have nothing kind to say about Verizon's speed of assistance), I finally got my internet back up. In the meantime, with limited internet access at work and at a couple friends' houses, I managed to work on a couple of blog posts, and get one fully posted.

Solo Podcasting

Additionally, while meeting up online and recording podcasts with other people was off the table, solo podcasts don't require me to be online at all. So, I recorded two of them. One was the one you (hopefully) heard regarding the NHL trade deadline. The other was a rough draft of what would've been my first gaming-related podcast.

Solo podcasting is a serious challenge. The first time I tried to put one together, it was almost unbearable. I had a bit of a cold at the time, but even without a cold, it takes a ton of discipline to keep your breath steady and make sure that if you're going to do something problematic like cough or sneeze or something, you leave some lag time on each side of it to make the post-production editing possible.

Overall, the solo NHL trade deadline podcast came out alright, although the content really doesn't lend itself to a solo endeavor. Spoiler alert though: the gaming one came out much better as far as my speaking tone. I still have to re-record it to get the content perfect, but I'm optimistic that when it's completed and posted, you're going to enjoy it.

I mean, assuming you like Dungeons and Dragons.

Gaming Podcasts

I've had a whale of a time trying to frame a gaming podcast topic to be doable solo. I listen to The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, and they manage to cover gaming (and other nerdy topics) by using a panel discussion, with 3-4 people in on it. That kind of setup is preferable, because it lets you ask questions to other people, talk about your differing experiences, and relate information you might not have known. But for a solo podcast, the challenge is to try to make a discussion into a presentation, and that's a lot more difficult.

The reality is, I don't think it's worth it to try to force it to happen. My one planned series of Dungeon Master advice podcasts will function properly as a solo endeavor, and for any other gaming-related topics, I'll just wait until I can get at least one other zealot to join me. It's not like games are going anywhere.

Other Media

I've also been of the mind that I'd like to partner my efforts in podcasting with a more robust online presence overall. As you've probably noticed, I've returned to my semi-regular blogging schedule, trying to post a couple times per week. I've nudged my Twitter activity up a little bit, though I want to make sure that's organic and not forced. Furthermore, I'm also hoping (against all odds) to find a way to get back to streaming on my Twitch channel somewhat regularly.

My hope is to start to establish connections with you guys to where we can communicate on a regular basis. And if I'm living the dream a little bit, I'd like to be able to draw on you guys for questions, answers, and discussion, specifically with regards to potential future podcasts. I'd love to be able to do mailbag episodes at some point. But that's down the line.

Well, that's more than a little information in a stream-of-consciousness kind of format. I'll keep doing these things because I like doing a little personal inventory about what I'm up to. Hopefully you enjoy them, too.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bottom Five WWF/WWE Entrance Themes

After doing my whole article on the best entrance themes, I decided that all that time spent researching should go towards at least one other blog post. And, because there have been some really unexceptional entrance themes in the history of wrestling, this was the most logical second effort.

As I mentioned in the top five post, WCW had a plethora of bad entrance themes. But that organization's general weakness helped to prevent any of their themes to be noticeably worse than the others. So while I don't think much of Ric Flair's or Glacier's or Dean Malenko's theme, they weren't conspicuously worse than the other themes you'd hear while watching Monday Nitro.

The WWF/WWE, however, has had some great themes, and by contrast, some really, really bad ones. Here are the five that in my experience have stood out as just terrible.

Honorable Mention: Right to Censor

I'm not going to put up a link to this "song" because A) it's miserable, and B) it's not really a song. It's just a bunch of alarms. It made sense thematically, but it was just brutal to listen to. I don't know who signed off on playing that 1-2 times a night, but they should've been fired.

5. The Shield/Roman Reigns

The Shield's version is slightly less appealing, but they're essentially the same song. The song has no rhythm, no excitement, and no flavor at all. Reigns also still has the gimmick of coming to the ring through the crowd, which is equally stupid. It wasn't cool when it was The Sandman, it wasn't cool when it was Raven and the Flock, it's just not an interesting move. In today's wrestling world, we should be able to demand a higher standard of quality when it comes to entrance music. It's not offensive, but it's bad.

4. Earthquake

I wouldn't have even thought that this was truly a "song," but when I check out the WWE soundtracks on Spotify, right there is Earthquake. It's basically just a slow march with rumbles around it. Unexciting and just not good.

3. Edge

I don't know what was wrong with Edge's initial theme song where they felt they had to change it. It wasn't amazing, but it was solid, and most importantly, it didn't sound like noise garbage. I'm sure some other people enjoy this theme, just as I'm sure some people enjoy this kind of thrash metal, but I am not one of them.

2. Billy Gunn "Ass Man"

This was during the WWE's period of trying to push the envelope sexually, with the premiere of the Divas as a regular part of the show, Val Venis who apparently came to professional wrestling by way of hardcore pornography, and as the counter, the above-mentioned Right to Censor. Billy Gunn's gimmick was an odd twist on "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn where...well no actually, Gunn was basically the same, it was just a weird, ill-fitting song. The tune itself is boring, with a particularly irrelevant beginning. No pop at all.

1. Rey Mysterio

Mysterio's theme song sounds like a nine-year-old kid put it together. The opening, which in wrestling is perhaps the most important aspect, is just completely dorky and dumb. I don't even know if the rest of the song is that bad; the beginning just kills me. That Mysterio was as popular as he was for as long as he was is a testament to the excitement of his wrestling style; he accomplished it in spite of having a terrible, terrible song.