Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Games of the Year - 2009 Eligible Games

I don't play games new. I just don't find myself willing to shell out $60 to play something right when it's released, when inevitably I'll be able to purchase it for $40 (or less) in a year or so. Technology doesn't move so fast that 2008 Xbox 360 games are useless in 2009.

In the spirit of my cheapskate nature, I've come up with my own way to mention the best games of last year. Certainly I'm in no position to evaluate the best new games in 2009, but there were many games new to me in 2009 that I enjoyed to varying degrees. So, I'd like to list out the games that used up their "rookie" eligibility during the 2009 calendar year, sorted by system:

Xbox 360
Army of Two
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Crackdown
Dead Rising
Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
Gears of War
Guitar Hero III
Halo 3
Lego Indiana Jones
MLB Front Office Manager 2K9
NBA Street: Homecourt
NHL '09
Saints Row 2

PC
Plants vs. Zombies

PS2
Gran Turismo 4

I will post my Top 5 Games of the Year for 2009 on February 14th, because fuck Valentine's Day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

League of Legends

A few months back, I mentioned that a game called League of Legends had just been released. It's a free-to-play PC game that combines the interface of a real-time strategy (like Warcraft III) with the gameplay of a shooter (like Halo 3). It's an objective-based game between two teams of 1-5 "champions" each. Each side has a computer-controlled team that sends waves of foot soldiers towards the enemy base through three lanes. The champions disperse into lanes and try to push through the opposing soldiers and champions, through multiple fortifications, to destroy the enemy base.

At the beginning of each game, each player, or "summoner," selects one champion, and each champion has its own distinct abilities and characteristics. Some are ranged, others are melee. Some champions are sturdy, others are frail. Some are designed for sieging towers, or sneaking up on enemy champions, or healing and augmenting allies. There's a champion for just about every gamer's attitude. There are 40+ champions, but only 10 are free to use at any given time (more on this later).

You gain experience and gold from defeating soldiers, champions, and defense towers. Experience goes towards gaining levels, which unlock more skills and increase your champion's health. Gold can be used to purchase equipment to make your champion even more powerful. Towards the end of a game, most champions can cut through an entire wave of soldiers without much difficulty.

Each game starts with your champion at level one. However, your summoner (that is, you) gains experience as well with each game you play. As your summoner gains levels (levels that endure from game to game), you earn small bonuses that apply to any champion you use. Additionally, with each game you play, you earn "influence points" (IP for short). IP can be used to purchase runes, additional boosts that again apply to any champion. You can also use IP to permanently unlock champions, adding them to the rotating group of 10 champions that are available for free. It's generally worth the investment of a few hundred IP (you earn 50-300 IP per game) to find a character you can get comfortable using and can use anytime.

You do also have the option of paying real money for Riot Points, which can be exchanged for champions, alternate champion skins, and temporary boosts to your summoner's XP or IP gains from playing. In my experience, though, the game is plenty fun without spending any real money, and you'll want to try out many of the different champions anyways to find out who you like. The rotating free champion system is the perfect mechanism to make this happen.

The game isn't perfect. The matchmaking system still seems to pit me (an average player) against elite players with too much regularity, but that's better than not pitting me against anyone at all, so I'll tolerate the occasional beat down. Plain and simple, it's a fun game that lends itself perfectly to teamwork and trash-talking, two things that you simply must have when you play a game with friends.

Interested? Go here to create your free account!

The Price You Pay...

Well, now we know what the cost was going to be of me getting all four games right two weekends ago: the comedy of errors that the Vikings put on yesterday. If you had told me that the Vikings would hold the Saints to 257 total yards and put up 475 total yards of offense themselves, I'd have thought there was no way that Minnesota wouldn't be in the Super Bowl. Well, except for the fact that I know you like to see me in pain.

Before the game, the Fox NFL crew made picks regarding the game, and someone (Bradshaw maybe?) said that he thought the Vikings had the better team, but picked the Saints to win because of "fate." I mentioned to a friend and fellow Vikings fan that I thought that was a pretty flimsy reason to pick a team, but it certainly seemed like things were stacked against the Vikings, a sentiment that came to a culmination on the Saints' overtime drive, the only possession of the overtime period (don't get me started).

The Saints earned their way to midfield on a great kickoff return and a holding penalty on Minnesota. After incompletions on first and second down, Drew Brees found Devery Henderson for a nine yard gain. The spot of the ball didn't seem to be in question by anyone, but the review officials called for another look, presumably to see if they could find a way to give the Saints a first down. They couldn't. On fourth and one, Pierre Thomas lunged over the pile and appeared to be right at the first down marker. I know I was watching the game with purple and yellow blinders on, but on review, it seemed that he was stopped short.

On the next play, Ben Leber was called for a phantom pass interference penalty because the Saints receiver fell over backpeddling to try to find an uncatchable ball. It was literally the worst pass interference call I've seen all season. But the Vikings weren't done. Leber came back on the next play and stuffed Reggie Bush for a five yard loss, pushing the Saints to what would be a 51-yard field goal attempt. On third and fifteen, Brees found Robert Meachem for a 12-yard gain, but upon review, the ball appeared to bounce up off the turf, suggesting that he may not have had complete possession of the football. While it was a difficult call, the right call was to acknowledge that when the ball bounces up, the receiver hasn't got control of it. New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley hit a pedestrian 40-yard field goal to win the game, and leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

But realistically, the Vikings didn't earn the victory any more than the Saints did. While the Vikings' defense did a fantastic job in stifling one of the most potent offenses in football, the offense put the ball on the turf SIX TIMES, losing three of those fumbles, and they couldn't have lost them in worst spots. Twice they fumbled inside the Saints' 10-yard line, and Percy Harvin's fourth quarter fumble gave the Saints the ball on the Vikings' 7-yard line, and led to a Saints' score.

By the way, the box score will tell you that Brett Favre fumbled the ball once, but that fumble should be attributed to Adrian Peterson, whose arms seemed to refuse the ball at the Saints' 4-yard line. Overall, Favre had a good game, and it's a shame that he'll be remembered for the one big mistake pass at the end of regulation that was intercepted, rather than the great plays he made all game, and all season, to give the Vikings a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

Hope he's back next year. And somebody call Tom Coughlin, get him to help Peterson like he did Tiki Barber. Shit, fire Brad Childress and hire him, maybe he wouldn't send twelve guys into the huddle off of a timeout to push your team out of field goal range.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quick Predicks

Apologies for not having a radio show this week, but since I was so successful last week, I figured I'd better at least throw some predictions up here, to let the world correct itself. I'd hate to have the world balance out by me getting canned or breaking my arm or something.

Jets at Colts

The Jets were considerable underdogs each of the first two weeks of the playoffs, and they pulled out a couple of nail-biter victories. This week, they're again facing a tall order, going into Indianapolis to face the #1 seed in the AFC. I have a hard time seeing New York being the team to stop the Colts, but I had a hard time seeing them beating the Chargers, too.

I think the difference here is that the Colts have Matt Stover, a kicker who thrived on being counted upon for years in Baltimore. Shayne Graham and Nate Kaeding were both good kickers on teams that historically have put up a ton of points. Stover had to kick for that classic Ravens team with the great defense and an anemic offense. He's capable of making kicks when points are hard to come by. I think it'll be closer than the 8.5 point spread I'm seeing, but I do think the Colts will pull it out.

Prediction: Colts 20, Jets 15

Vikings at Saints

In the interest of full disclosure, I will remind all of you that the Vikings are my second favorite NFL team (behind the lowly Redskins). That said, I still think it's reasonable to expect Minnesota to win this game. I know that Percy Harvin is still uncertain for the game today (though it's looking more and more like he will be able to play), but even if he doesn't, the Vikings still have plenty of weapons on offense, just like the Saints.

But you can't say the same about the Saints' defense that you can about the Vikings. Minnesota's front four might be...check that, is the most prolific in football. Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are so adept at stuffing the run that Leslie Frazier's linebackers can be used to fill in other gaps. And Jared Allen, while one of the most costly acquisitions in NFL history, has proven to be worth everything the Vikings gave up to get him. It's still not easy to root for longtime Packer Brett Favre, but as long as he's wearing purple, I'll forgive him his past transgressions.

Prediction: Vikings 30, Saints 22

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Perfection?

Jim Caldwell's got nothing on me. Check our radio show from last week if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Little Things...

Little things appreciated today:
  • The functional difference between getting six hours of sleep and getting seven hours of sleep.
  • Getting the exactly perfect temperature from the water faucet in the restroom.
  • Amazon's product-browsing interface.
  • Chris Reed's attitude towards drinking.
  • The difference in spill-ability between a Styrofoam cup and a ceramic mug.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Relax, Tony Dungy. Not EVERYONE is a racist.

Tony Dungy thought it necessary earlier this week to lament the process through which this offseason's coaching vacancies have been filled. His specific qualm was with the faux interviews he believed were conducted with Jerry Gray (by the Redskins) and Leslie Frazier (by the Seahawks). Dungy's argument is that both positions were, for all intents and purposes, already filled by Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, respectively.

Dungy's quote:
“That is not what the Rooney Rule is supposed to be, (that) you make up your mind and then interview a candidate for it anyway just to satisfy the rule.”
I understand what he means by this. Dungy means that the "Rooney Rule" was instituted with the intention of getting more teams to interview and subsequently hire black head coaches (technically the rule is "minority" head coaches, but I haven't seen many Asian-Americans arguing about their under-representation among NFL coaches). And there's validity in both the intention and the execution. Football has long been perceived as having an "old boys" network, where the same coaches were re-hashed through several teams without opening the door to new candidates, a system that puts minority coaches at a distinct disadvantage. Forcing teams to interview minority candidates means you're forcing the door open, and any industry benefits from expanding its pool of potential employees.

But the situations in Washington and Seattle are exactly what the Rooney Rule demands. The Rooney Rule was never meant to force owners to hire minority candidates, nor to force owners to hire anyone other than who they thought was the best man for the job (let's not go into the concept of lady coaches). The idea is to simply push forward the names of legitimate, viable minority candidates, so that they're considered with their non-minority peers. The rule ensures that guys like Gray, Frazier, and Perry Fewell get the same chances as guys like Jim Haslett, Jim Fassell, and Marty Mornhinweg.

And let's not so quickly dismiss the progress that the NFL has made in this regard. Just in the past two years, four African-American head coaches have been hired, with relative success: Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Mike Singletary, and Raheem Morris. And those of you who've been paying attention to my subtleties have probably noticed that I like what Perry Fewell was able to do with a bad situation in Buffalo. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Fewell were awarded a head coaching gig in the next three years.

I'm not saying that Tony Dungy is completely without basis for calling on the NFL to keep a watchful eye on teams' compliance with this rule. But calling out teams that follow the letter of the law is irresponsible, and borders on slander. It's the right of every owner to hire whoever they think is the best coach. Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been friends with Mike Shanahan for a decade. Do we really think that any other candidate, minority or otherwise, stood a chance? If John Fox would've been given only a sham interview, why are we mad that Jerry Gray got the same treatment? It's all about getting in the door.

I was never crazy about the Rooney Rule for various reasons (mostly because it's named after the Steelers' owner, and I loathe the Steelers). I don't like the idea of the league directing a team's coaching search. But even in the most unfavorable situations, it does what it's intended to do, which is get interviews for minority candidates. With how well so many teams have done with minority head coaches (Caldwell, Tomlin, and Lovie Smith to name a few), I'd say the proof is in the pudding for anyone slow to embrace the rule. Teams unwilling to open their doors to the best possible candidate will be left behind with lesser coaches, poorer records, and disgruntled fans.

As my good friend Derek likes to say, "The market will take care of it."

Friday, January 8, 2010

From Dannyville to Shannyville?

First off, I had been hoping that Jon Gruden would be the next head coach for the Washington Redskins. I like Gruden's fire, and from listening to his commentary on Monday Night Football this season, I like his coaching mentality. He seems to have the ability to analyze problems logically, but also the mindset to challenge his guys to go out there and just get it done.

That being said, I found Mike Shanahan's introductory press conference refreshing and exciting. He's got a swagger and a comfort level that we haven't seen since Marty Schottenheimer (Joe Gibbs 2.0 lacked something, not sure what). Within seconds of Shanahan starting his statement, I felt reassured that my favorite football team was in capable hands.

Another note that was mentioned in every article I read was that Daniel Snyder was not at the podium for this press conference, instead sitting in the audience, and not answering any questions or making any statements before leaving afterward. It's obvious that, at least from a public relations standpoint, and at least for now, Daniel Snyder is willing to take a back seat to the football professionals. Whether that endures remains to be seen, but this is already a change from standard procedure in this town, and we're all happy to see it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Twenty for Thirty - The List

Alright, you may remember that a while ago, I talked about my plans for the 30th year of my life, and how I wanted to set some goddamn goals. Well, mission accomplished. On setting the goals, that is. I still have a long way to go before actually completing them.

I've grouped them based on some arbitrary headings, to help you (and more so myself) keep them organized.

Finances

1) Buy a car. (New, old, whatever, just purchase a vehicle to replace my current one)
2) Move out of my mom's house. (I'm actually fairly close to getting this one accomplished)
3) Make $500 doing something besides my job. (Switching jobs doesn't count)

Social Activities

4) Do something very embarrassing for other people's enjoyment, and laugh it off.
5) Host a party with 25+ people, 10+ girls. (This will probably be helped by the moving out)
6) Participate as a member of an organized sports team. (Coaching is acceptable)
7) Make a new friend.
8) Reconnect with an old friend.
9) Have a romantic kiss on New Year's Eve. (I've never done this; sad, right?)

Fitness

10) Weigh 250 pounds. (For those of you unfamiliar with me, that would constitute losing a lot of weight)
11) Bench press 200 pounds. (I don't know how much I can bench press now, but 200 seems enough to be a goal)
12) Go an entire week without drinking any caffeinated beverage. (We'll say Monday AM to Monday AM)

Creation

13) Design a board game or card game.
14) Complete a first draft of an entire book. (Because I've got the first chapter of nine different books written)
15) Make a movie. (I'm leaving this open to include a big movie, a series of episodes or webisodes, or something else I haven't thought of yet)
16) Write and record a song.
17) Record a CD with 10+ tracks. (Original content not required, but I could knock out two of the twenty if I were to write a song for it)
18) Host a Joe and Joe trivia show. (I've been trying to do this for years; it shouldn't be as hard as it's been to get it together)

Celebrity

19) Get mentioned in local news. (The medium is irrelevant; TV, newspaper, Internet, they're all fine)
20) Have a 60+ second conversation with a celebrity. (I'm not sure where I'll draw the line on celebrity, but I figure I'll know it if it happens)

Well, that's the list. If/when I accomplish any of the goals, don't worry, you'll hear about it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Is He A Keeper 2.0 - The Method to Our Madness

We're going to start up our Is He A Keeper? segment again soon, but before we do, we wanted to explain how the formatting will change this time around. Instead of long articles about individual players, we're going to split things up by team, and post a separate article for each division. Each article will list the no-brainer keepers for each team, and then give you a blurb about any questionable guys, along with a verdict: keep him or kick him?.

As a reminder, our criteria for keepers follows the same logic as our super-competitive twelve-team league, where we keep eight players without limitations on tenure, position, etc. So our basic logic is, would we place this player in the top 90 or so options going forward?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 17 vs. San Diego Chargers

Chargers 23, Redskins 20

And like that, the Jim Zorn era comes to a close in Washington. I'll give ratings, but you know what happened. The Chargers played their starters for a less than quarter, and their second team beat the Redskins.

Instead, we'll spend this blog looking back on the past two years and how Washington lamented, then embraced, then skewered Zorn. I'll draw from Redskins Report Cards from 2008 and 2009 for content and context. Don't worry, links will be provided...URLs, not sausage links. But you're right, we should go to IHOP after this.

Offense: C-
Defense: C-
Special Teams: C
Overall: C-

2008, Week 1: Giants 16, Redskins 7
Report Card

Zorn's first game looked a lot like every other game the Redskins played under him as head coach. Decent defensive performance (with the classic Greg Blache bend-don't-break mentality), good kickoff returns, an offense that couldn't capitalize. You can blame a hundred people for the Redskins' difficulties over the past two years, but high on that list have to be Zorn, Jason Campbell, and the guys who put those two together (Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato). When you manage just 209 yards of total offense, don't expect to win. Like, ever.

2008, Week 2: Redskins 29, Saints 24
Report Card

The Redskins gained 455 yards of total offense, and allowed just 250, but they won by only five points. We probably should've known something was wrong.

2008, Week 6: Rams 19, Redskins 17
Report Card

Following back-to-back victories against the Cowboys and Eagles, the Redskins lost to the lowly St. Louis Rams, a team that would win one other game all season, and only three games total in Jim Zorn's coaching career. The victory over Philadelphia the week before had me thinking about a deep playoff run, but most Redskins fans will remember this as the loss that reaffirmed all of our negative instincts about this era. Correctly, I might add.

2008, Week 9: Steelers 23, Redskins 6
Report Card

This is where the Redskins were exposed, and they went 2-5 after this game to miss the playoffs and disappoint fans throughout Washington who had thought that maybe, just maybe, we had something to root for.

By the way, if you're a Washington sports fan and you don't yet like the Capitals, get your head together. They're one of the best teams in hockey, and with their young nucleus, it's going to be that way for a while. Get on the train now, so you can enjoy some good years. Between the Nationals, Wizards, and Redskins, the Caps are the only chance we've got for a while.

2008, Week 17: 49ers 27, Redskins 24
Report Card

The way you play when the games don't matter says something about the character of your team. Perry Fewell was as good as gone when he coached Buffalo's meaningless game on Sunday against the Colts, but he guided the team to a 30-7 victory. That says something to me. The Redskins' performance in meaningless end-of-season games, though? Not so hot.

2009, Week 2: Redskins 9, Rams 7
Report Card

In retrospect, how on Earth did I look at this game and see an eleven- or twelve-win team? The defense must've looked astoundingly good, because the offensive stats would suggest something more like, I don't know, a 4-12 team?

2009, Week 6: Chiefs 14, Redskins 6
Report Card

This game was the most eye-opening experience of the season for most 'Skins fans. This was the worst we'd ever seen our team play, and considering the Detroit loss earlier in the season, that's saying something.

It was also the week that I discovered Reby Sky. Yum.

2009, Week 13: Saints 33, Redskins 30 (OT)
Report Card

This game was named by Yahoo as the 6th greatest game of 2009, and I'm sure it was...for people in every other city. For the Redskins, it was a crushing defeat that was symptomatic of the entire Jim Zorn era. It's all one big tease that makes you think you've got something going on, but in reality, she's inevitably going home with that muscle-head wearing a silk button-down and no undershirt.

Bon Voyage

Listen, there's probably not a Redskins fan out there who's distraught over the firing of Jim Zorn. It wasn't even really news when it happened, just the culmination of a season's worth of rumors. Zorn didn't do himself any favors by running this team to a 4-12 record after not really losing any key pieces, and adding the $100 million man, Albert Haynesworth. While Haynesworth had his ups and downs this season, I still see him as a solid signing. The problem comes with the lack of depth you afford your team by tying up so much money in one player, and that was particularly apparent when Washington's offensive line started to go down.

The good news is that the potential of an uncapped year can be of great assistance to the Redskins. Many people see this as an opportunity for Daniel Snyder to attempt to "buy" a championship, but more logically, it's an opportunity to rid this team of the albatross contracts that pinch the team's cap flexibility. Clinton Portis and Antwaan Randle El (among others) have contracts worth well more than their actual contributions to the team. The opportunity to cut those players without taking the standard cap penalties should make new general manager and cap specialist Bruce Allen salivate. It's not often you get to undo your mistakes, and the Redskins must take advantage.

So ends another season of the Redskins Report Card. Let's try to enjoy watching other teams succeed, if we can. Hopefully my #2 team, the Vikings, can stifle the disappointment brought on by my #1.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...