Marvel Spider-Man - title

I'm a pretty big Spider-Man fan in general. I watched the cartoons and the movies, and I play the video games as they come along, but I've only actually read a few dozen individual comics. I did, however, play the shit out of all my Spider-Man action figures as a kid! I do, however consider myself to be a Spider-Man game aficionado.

When I'm out in public, I often imagine myself web-swinging to get around. What would I swing from? Are those lampposts close enough that I could swing from one without face-planting on the pavement? I also often wish that I could hang upside down from the ceiling when I'm bored or waiting for something. As such, I pay very close attention to the way that Spider-Man moves in video games, and the quality of a given game is usually predominantly determined by how elegantly it handles movement.

Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time

The traversal mechanics and physics of Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man are fluid and work solidly. They just aren't particularly interesting or challenging, and they aren't really as expressive as I would like. It basically boils down to "hold R2 to go somewhere". It's pulled straight from Assassin's Creed's parkour system, except that holding the same button allows you to transition from rooftop parkour to web-swinging without any effort or thought. There's a few modifiers and variations that you can perform, which add a little bit of freedom and expressiveness, but it's not much. You can web-zip to perch points, hold circle to move around the corners of buildings while wall-running, and you can jump and dive to gain speed. These things help you get where you're going faster, but you could just rubber-band the R2 button and left stick, set the controller down, and you'd get to where you were going eventually anyway.

Insomniac was inspired by Assassin's Creed's "hold R2 to parkour" traversal system.

To Insomniac's credit, however, the web-swinging physics seems much more accurate than any Spidey game since the landmark Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in on the PS2 / XBox. Webs do seem to genuinely connect to objects in the environment (whether they be buildings, lampposts, trees, or so on). The only exception that I'm aware of is when you double-tap X to zip forward. I never use this move, however, because of how it cheats the physics so blatantly.

The environment is also much more detailed and populated. Buildings have more varied geometry with lots of ledges and poles and towers for you to zip to, you can parkour over cars when running in the densely-packed streets, and the map is dotted with construction sites and road work that gives you additional locomotion options and helps make the world look and feel lived-in. Spider-Man also has a lot of contextual movements in the environment that helps keep movement fluid. He'll web-zip from fire-escape platform to fire-escape platform when ascending buildings, he'll pirouette through narrow gaps, he'll swing around poles, and so forth. In general, the animations are all exceptional, and the traversal mechanics feel really good.

Spidey transitions seamlessly from web-swinging to wall-running to contextual "spider-parkour".

Spinning webs, any size

Despite the physics being generally solid, I do feel like the game occasionally cheats to make it work. Webs sometimes seem to grow in length when attached to certain objects, and the player (and therefore Spidey) can overcome the force of gravity through sheer force of will. This allows Spider-Man to swing greater distances than he should when swinging from buildings or trees that aren't considerably higher than Spider-Man is, and for him to avoid falling into the side of a building when he continuously swings from the same side of the street. All Spider-Man games have struggled with finding ways to allow him to move around in Central Park and along the coastline. These little cheats are common ones for developers to implement, and Insomniac is no exception.

Webs seem to reliably connect to something in the environment.

To that end, I'm going to say something that might get me flamed by the internet: I think I maybe actually prefer the web-swinging concept of Beenox's Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in game.

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Star Wars X-Wing: Scum & Villainy

With Fantasy Flight having recently announced a second edition of its X-Wing miniatures game, I thought I'd take one last stab at reviewing content from the original release (first edition). I'm not sure if I'll end up buying any second edition content, since I've already invested heavily into the first edition. There will be optional "conversion kits" that you can purchase for each faction (Rebels, Empire, and Scum) that will make all the first edition expansions forwards-compatible with second edition. That's a nice gesture from Fantasy Flight, as it means that the hundreds of dollars that I've invested into X-Wing won't be rendered moot overnight. I guess my decision on whether or not to purchase will be based on whether the new second edition mechanics, rule changes, and balance adjustments feel worthwhile. Anyway, let's talk about the third (and final) faction from the first edition of X-Wing: Scum & Villainy.

Despite having previously said that I wasn't interested in the "Most Wanted" expansion for Star Wars: X-Wing, we did end up buying it after all. My girlfriend was interested in some of the ships offered by the "Scum and Villainy" faction, so we picked up the "Most Wanted" set along with a couple of extra expansion ships compatible with the Scum faction.

Scum and Villainy repurpose existing ships

"Most Wanted" MSRP: $39.95 USD

Most Wanted acts as a "base set" for the new Scum and Villainy faction. It's still an expansion to the core X-Wing game, and so it does not include maneuver templates, dice, and other core components. Fantasy Flight still wants to nickel-and-dime you into paying extra for those components. A player interested in Scum could, hypothetically get by without investing in this expansion. It includes a variant of the Y-Wing and two Z-95 Headhunters with alternate paint schemes. Both of these ship types are already for sale as stand-alone expansion ships for the Rebel faction, so there isn't anything terribly new or innovative here.

Star Wars X-Wing - Scum team-up
You can't play 1 v 1 v 1, but you could have Scum team up with another faction.

Unfortunately, despite adding a third faction, Most Wanted (and the other Scum & Villainy expansions) do not add rules for a third player. I'm not quite sure how having a third player would work within the game, but it would have been nice to have been able to include more friends. You can, of course, add a third or fourth player using the core set's team rules. This could allow (for example) a 100-point rebel squad to face off against a team of a 50-point imperial squad and a 50-point scum squad (or larger fleets, if you so desire). But there are no rules for a 50-point vs 50-point vs 50-point, three-player free-for-all.

To make things more interesting, you could maybe create a scenario in which Scum are teamed up with another faction, but the scum player and their teammate actually have conflicting goals or objectives. For example, I could imagine a scenario in which the Scum and Rebels team up against a single Imperial player to do something like steal some Imperial cargo pods. While the Rebels and Scum would be working together to defeat the Imperial player, they might also be competing for who steals the most cargo. Or something like that.

Those limitations aside, I actually do recommend picking up Most Wanted if you're interested in the Scum & Villainy faction. Most Wanted is actually a surprisingly content-rich expansion and provides pretty good value for its price. It's the same price as the core set, and includes as many ships and plenty of upgrades (including the coveted "Bomb Upgrade" for Y-Wings). In addition to the three fighters and their associated pilots, this expansion also includes alternate pilot card for other existing ships. You can use the new scum pilot cards with any Y-Wings or Z-95 Headhunters that you may already have in your collection, and you can also use the new Y-Wing and Z-95 models with the older pilots in your existing Rebel fleets.

Star Wars X-Wing - Firespray and HWK Scum
Most Wanted includes alternate Scum pilots for any Firespray or HWK-290 ships you may already own.

This set also goes a little above-and-beyond by including alternate Scum pilots for some other ships, like the HWK-290 freighter and the Firespray (including a pretty badass new Boba Fett pilot). You should have no trouble filling out a 100-point (or maybe even a 150-point) squad with just the pilots and upgrades included in this box, assuming that you already have some of the other Scum-eligible ships available in your collection. And if you don't already have a Firespray (Slave I), then I highly recommend that you pick one up!

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Friday, September 7, 2018 10:05 AM

I don't like Thursday Night Football

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
Thursday Night Football

So, this might be a blasphemous statement from any self-described "football fan", but I really don't like Thursday Night Football, and I really wish that the NFL would stop having Thursday night games. Keep the Thanksgiving Day game(s), as many of us need the distraction of football to prevent us from murdering our certain relatives (especially given the current political climate), but for the love of gods, just stop with all the other Thursday night games.

Last night, the 2018 NFL season kicked off with a Thursday night rematch of last year's divisional round playoff game between the Atlanta Falcons and the (eventual Super Bowl champion) Philadelphia Eagles. It was a fine enough game -- actually played out almost identically to last year's playoff game. The Eagles won that playoff game 15 to 10, and they won last night's week 1 rematch 18 to 12. It was kind of a messy game, with lots of penalties, but it was close and tense, and that's what we all want in football right?

Not all Thursday Night Football games are as close or competitive as the 2018 season-opener.

But not all Thursday night games are nail-biters between potential Super Bowl contenders. The NFL, in its infinite wisdom, sometimes decides to grace us with the privilege of watching a toilet bowl match. For instance, this year's week 3 matchup between the Jets and the Browns looks to be a battle between two league bottom-feeders. Who knows? Maybe the Browns and/or the Jets will have good seasons this year due to their new quarterbacks, and maybe they'll even compete for the division? Probably not.

Even games that look like they should be hard-fought games can turn into one-sided bores. Take, for instance, last year's opening week Thursday night game between the Chiefs and the Patriots. Looks good on paper, as both teams were potential Super Bowl candidates, and both teams made the playoffs. The result, however, was a lopsided 42-27 ass-stomping. Now, I like watching the Patriots be humbled as much as the next guy, and I had Alex Smith on my fantasy football team, but I still got bored with this game.

No, I'm not ready for some football!

Lopsided games and toilet bowl matches are going to happen regardless of what day the game is scheduled. That's not my real reason for disliking Thursday Night Football. Put simply, it's just too soon to start a new week of football. The final game of the previous week was just three days ago! The Monday night games (whether they're good games or not) are a perfectly satisfactory cap on a weekend of football. It's an encore, and it's something to look forward to after getting up on a Monday morning and dredging myself back to work. Thursday night games just don't have that same appeal to me.

Thursday night games don't have the same appeal as coming home on a Monday to watch football.

In addition to not being something that I particularly look forward to, having this one football game game in the middle of the week feels more like a disruption. It gets in the way of other things that I want to do. It also puts undue pressure on me to get my fantasy football lineup squared away, and to get my football bets in at the sportsbook (I live in Nevada, it's legal). The sportsbook doesn't even put the parlay cards out until about 9:30 am on Thursday morning. It's not early enough for me to pick them up on the way to work, and the game starting at 5:20 pm (Pacific time) doesn't give me enough time to make the bets on the way home from work. So I have to either show up to the office late (after picking up my parlay cards) and then fill them out and drop them off during my lunch break, then stay at the office late (or take work home with me) and miss the beginning of the game anyway; or I have to go to the office early, pick up the cards during lunch, fill them out at the office, and leave the office early to drop them off.

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This preseason did not go as I expected it to. I was hoping to get more of a look at what Matt Nagy's offense will look like, but the starters hardly got any playing time at all.

Chase Daniel dramatically turned his play around after the Hall of Fame game.

A lot of teams this preseason seemed to hold their starters. This is a continuation of a trend that we've been seeing over the past few years or so, as teams wanted to avoid injuries to marquee players. However, rule changes before the season made a huge difference. The NFL changed the rules so that teams don't have to cut any preseason players until after the final game. Teams are going from 90 players to 53 players between the last preseason game and the first regular season game. Because of this, the teams have a lot more reserves still on their rosters that they can continue to evaluate, and they seem to be taking advantage of that.

After a rough outing in the Hall of Fame game, backup QB Chase Daniel pulled his preseason together and was actually the best-performing quarterback on the team. Part of that is because he also got a majority of the snaps. Trubisky didn't even play in the last two preseason games, and Tyler Bray got limited action.

Preseason standouts like Tanner Gentry and Taquan Mizzell were retained on the practice squad.

Tyler Bray did get the start for most of the final preseason game, and he had some pretty good drives. The team couldn't pull out a win, as the Bills' reserves outplayed the Bears' in the fourth quarter.

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Madden 19 - title

I have a bit of a confession to make: despite my years of playing Madden, and my frequent blog rants about the quality of the game and my desired feature sets, I'm actually not particularly good at the game. I never really have been. I don't really have the "stick skills". I've been playing the game exclusively on All-Pro difficulty setting since the PS2 days, and never really graduated to being an All-Madden level player. All-Pro has always been a bit on the easy side, but I just never have a good time on All-Madden due to the A.I.'s excessive cheating.

Pro and All-Pro difficulties actually providing a challenge?

I'm having a really hard time with Madden 19, and I'm wondering if I'm the only one. The game feels like it's a lot harder to move the ball, and I'm still not quite sure if that's a result of the game cheating more, or if the A.I. has legitimately improved considerably, or if there's something wrong with me (are my 33-year-old reflexes simply not fast enough to play this game anymore?).

My early games were low-scoring defensive struggles in which I and the CPU struggled moving the ball.

I'm not the only one who's struggling; the CPU is only faring a little bit better. My first few exhibition games (on All-Pro difficulty, 9-minute quarters with 19-second accel clock) were field goal battles with final scores in the 16-6 or 20-10 range. I struggled to put up 150 or 200 yards passing or to surpass 30 or 40 yards rushing. The CPU didn't fare much better, usually getting around 150 yards passing, but beating me with 80 or 90 yards rushing.

In general, defensive reactions times and coverages (for both my team and the CPU team) seemed much tighter (without even having to tweak the game's A.I. sliders). Passing the ball downfield seems considerably harder and riskier, as receivers for both teams were often blanketed by man coverage, and the underneath defenders are uncannily good at reacting to the ball and swatting passes. They might even be a bit too good at swatting passes now, as even touch passes over the middle were routinely swatted down. Tiburon might need to tune down linebacker jumping abilities a smudge and add some animations of the ball being tipped instead of outright swatted.

Underneath defenders are swatting a lot of passes.

Passing concepts that had been reliable "money plays" for me over the past few years were completely shut down. Corners did a better job of staying with the receivers for Dagger, Corner, and comeback routes, and the defenders in the flats did a much better job of providing underneath support with those crazy leaping swats. Even when there were gaps in zones, I had trouble getting the ball off before defensive pressure got to me. Blocking is still a very binary "pass or fail" affair, so sensing pressure and getting the ball off on time is still largely a crap shoot. Drag routes seem to still be completely indefensible, but defenses are much quicker at converging and limiting the yards after catch.

This generally excellent coverage was counterpointed by occasional complete breakdowns. I had several instances in which my defender in a deep zone coverage (and it was always my defender!) would suddenly undercut the route while the ball is in the air -- as if to go for an aggressive interception or swat -- only to run himself out of the play and leave the receiver wide open with no help over the top. Almost every touchdown that I saw in those first few games was a direct result of one of these coverage breakdowns.

Deep zone defenders occasionally ran themselves out of plays by undercutting routes.

While I struggled with these early exhibition games, I did appreciate that Madden 19 was actually providing me with a substantial challenge unlike any that I had seen in the entire history of the franchise. And best of all, the game seemed to be relatively fair about imposing that challenge. As hard as it was for me to move the ball, it seemed almost equally hard for the CPU as well!

Could it be? After all these years, has EA finally produced a Madden game this is challenging, fair, and -- dare I say -- good?

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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