If you're a fan of college sports video games, then you've probably already heard that in the middle of May, the NCAA announced that it would be convening a special group to re-examine the issue of student-athlete compensation for the use of their name and likeness. Lawsuits from former players whose likenesses were being used in college games without their permission (let alone compensation) is the reason that companies like EA and 2K Sports had to stop releasing new college football and basketball games back in 2012 and 2013.

These issues have been in and out of the courts over the years, with most (if not all) cases being decided in favor of the individual athletes and requiring the NCAA, video game publisher, or both to have to pay damages the athlete. Ever since, the NCAA has refused to lend its license to video games in particular, as they have steadfastly refused to allow players to be compensated on the grounds that they are "amateur" student athletes, even though they are the primary driving force of a multi-billion dollar-a-year industry.

College sports games have been absent for quite a few years now.

Over recent years, the NCAA has been receiving mounting public pressure to pay athletes and/or allow them to profit from the use of their likeness in commercial products, and it looks like they might finally cave to this pressure later this year. We've talked about the idea of college sports games returning in the past, but up till now, it's always been purely speculative. This time is a bit different, however, since the NCAA itself is finally taking some actual action on the topic. No final decision will be reached until October, so it's still entirely possible that the committee will decide to retain the status quo, which will mean no NCAA-licensed video games in the foreseeable future.

I already thought 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for football video games,
even before this announcement from the NCAA!

I am optimistic that the NCAA will decide in favor of allowing players to receive compensation. In fact, I think this could actually be a brilliant -- and somewhat insidious -- decision by the NCAA. On the one hand, it allows them to license their brand to video game, which would provide a revenue stream for the NCAA. Secondly, it allows the players (the popular ones, anyway) to get paid, which may quell much of the popular demand for the NCAA themselves to pay athletes a salary.

Lastly, based on what I've read about the proposed rule changes, the deal would allow the license-holder of the game or the manufacturer of the paraphernalia holding the athlete's likeness and/or name to pay the athlete directly. Which means the NCAA isn't actually the one paying the athletes. The athletes are getting paid with someone else's dollar. It would, thus, allow the NCAA to save face by continuing to pretend that they are facilitating an "amateur" sport".

In fact, the NCAA's official statement flat-out says:

"... the group will not consider any concepts that could be construed as payment for participation in college sports. The NCAA’s mission to provide opportunity for students to compete against other students prohibits any contemplation of pay-for-play."

It's a kind of cop-out win-win-win for the NCAA, so it's actually kind of amazing that they didn't consider doing this sooner.

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Last week, just in time for the announcement (and release) of a new expansion for Cities: Skylines, I posted a video analysis on YouTube discussing what I perceive as weaknesses in the modular design philosophy behind Skylines' myriad expansion packs. The full video is available on YouTube (and embedded below), but I've also transcribed the text in blog form for those who may prefer reading over watching/listening.

The video is up on YouTube.

I want to start out by saying that I love Cities: Skylines. Skylines is -- without a doubt in my mind -- the single best city-builder since SimCity 4, which released in 2003 (over 15 years ago, as of the time of this recording). When I watched the first trailer for the game, in which the player apparently custom-builds freeway ramps and interchanges from scratch (at about 40 seconds into the trailer), I was sold on this game! After years of having to use boring, pre-fabricated stock on-ramps and interchanges, the little civil engineer withing me practically jizzed in his pants at the idea of being able to build my own highway ramps and interchanges! And there was no looking back.

Cities: Skylines gloriously succeeds where games like SimCity (2013) and Cities XL miserably failed. It picks up the mantle of the great SimCity games of yester-decade, and brings it into the 21st century with deep simulation based on agents, a sleek and modern UI, extensive customizability and moddability, and an attractive 3-D graphics engine. It's made all the more impressive by the fact that the game's developer, Colossal Order, is a small, independent studio that had something like nine people working for it when the game initially launched. And a company with all the manpower and resources of Electronic Arts only managed to produce a flop like SimCity 2013.

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George R.R. Martin has yet to finish writing the book series.

Let HBO's Game of Thrones series stand as a testament to why companies should not adapt works for television or movies until after that work is actually complete. Game of Thrones was a huge hit when it premiered, and its early seasons are among the best television in recent memory. However, the last two or three seasons have been ... less good. The writing has become more spotty, characters are behaving more impulsively, the pacing has been rushed, and the whole thing just seems to be less well thought-out.

This could be due, in large part, to the fact that after the fifth or sixth season of the show, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have advanced beyond the source material. George R. R. Martin has yet to finish writing the final two books in the series -- a process which may still take years! HBO didn't want to wait, and they continued on with the show despite the lack of established source material from which to pull. They've done so with the consent and advice of Martin, who supposedly provided Benioff and Weiss with an overview of what he wanted to write in those final two books, but the end result has been sub-par.

I've written previously about the show's fifth season, which is the last season of the series that I would consider to be "good". That season was criticized for being "slow and boring" by some, and also for using shock value (such as the rape of Sansa by Ramsey Bolton) as a gimmick to keep people interested. However, I thought that the fifth season was tightly unified by its consistent themes of futility and self-destruction, as each of the major players slowly succumbed to their most fundamental impulses and took actions that ended up undercutting their own goals.

Season five had a consistent theme of self-destructive leaders.

Seasons seven and eight, however, have been much less defensible.

Season seven cut the episode count from the usual ten down to only seven, which resulted in the season as a whole feeling rushed and under-developed. Characters began to act more rashly, with little attention paid to building up to those actions. They travel great distances in what seems like no time at all. Plot threads would be left dangling, or would be set up and never paid off.

The Unsullied were left at Casterly Rock with no supplies,
only to show up a few episodes later no worse for wear.

For example, mid-way through the season, the Unsullied Army travels to Casterly Rock to fight the Lannister army, only to find that the Lannisters have abandoned the castle, destroyed the grain reserves, and salted the land. The episode makes a big deal of the fact that the Unsullied are now stuck there with no provisions and no hope of receiving reinforcements or supplies. Then we don't see or hear from them for, like, two episodes, before they suddenly show up again at Dragonstrone no worse for the wear.

Season eight seems to have doubled down on most of these problems. The season has been reduced further to only six episodes, and events are happening with even less build-up or set-up. Scenes are being added for shock value without any rhyme or reason. Characters are behaving out of character, or suddenly having changes of heart at the flip of a switch. Characters who used to be clever are acting like bafoons.

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I thought I'd take a break from talking about the Bears, and talk about some of the other stories around the NFL, and who I think are going to have good or bad seasons in 2019.

Let's start with the biggest news of the recent draft: the selection of Kyler Murray first overall to the Arizona Cardinals. This pick gave me flashbacks to the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky in 2017. This move by the Cardinals wreaks of desperation! The Cardinals had just selected Josh Rosen 10th overall with their first-round pick in the previous year's draft. And now they're dumping him in favor of Kyler Murray?

2019 NFL Draft - Cardinals select Kyler Murray
The Cardinals appeared desperate when they selected Kyler Murray, despite having drafted Josh Rosen last year.

Rosen didn't have a particularly good year in 2018 -- in fact, you could probably say that he had a bad year. But he was also playing QB for a bad team. Very few quarterbacks can single-handedly turn a team around. When you draft a guy to be the QB of the future, you've got to at least give the kid a chance!

Yeah, sure, the Bears may have cut Mike Glennon's knee-caps out from under him after drafting Trubisky, but Glennon was only signed to a one-year contract anyway. It was apparent that (unless he proved to be a superstar) he would not be the QB of the future for the Bears. Rosen had every expectation that he'd be "the guy" in Pheonix for at least a few years. He had the expectation that he'd have time to develop and improve. Not so.

The lack of faith in Rosen isn't even the problem here. The problem is that the Cardinals didn't even bother to trade Rosen away until after they had drafted Murray! From what I understand, they hadn't even been shopping around for a possible trade. After selecting Murray, it was apparent that Rosen would not be on the team moving forward, and his trade value plumeted. The Cardinals were able to trade him to the Miami Dolphins, but probably for a fraction of the value that they could have gotten had they performed the trade even just one day before.

And it isn't like they had to pretend they didn't want to trade Rosen, in order to hide the fact that they were going to take Murray. They had the first overall pick. Nobody could sneak in ahead of them without the Cardinals willingly giving up that pick. This isn't like the Bears in 2017 feeling like they had to trade up one spot to prevent someone else from trading up to take Trubisky. There was no risk of Murray being poached by another team. I can only assume that even the Cardinals didn't know who they were going to draft until it came time to announce the pick.

Bears trade up to draft Mitch Trubisky
Unlike the Bears in 2017, the Cardinals were at no risk of losing Murray to another team trading up.

Stuff like this is why the Cardinals are the Cardinals, and why the Cardinals aren't very good.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, props to the Redskins for having the patience to not trade up to draft Dwayne Haskins. They got a great deal when Haskins fell to them 15th overall.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

I was really impressed with Matt Nagy's first year as the Bears' head coach. I wasn't the only one, as Nagy was named the Coach of the Year by the NFL itself. The accolades were warranted, as Nagy was routinely out-scheming the Bears' opponents in game after game last season.

The coaching prowess wasn't limited to Nagy either, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also named the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year. Fangio was helped by the shocking trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears at the end of preseason, who provided immediate results to the team.

After tripping over their own two feet in the 2017 NFL draft, it was starting to look like the Bears' management (including General Manager Ryan Pace) were finally putting together winning personnel. This was the smash-mouth, ground-and-pound, suffocating defensive team that I want the Bears to be. I could finally stop hating the Bears and start to love them again.

Chicago Bears - Matt Nagy Chicago Bears - Vic Fangio
The Bears had two coaches of the year in 2018!

New defensive coordinator

I'm not sure if it's going to last though. I expect Nagy to have a long and [relatively] successful career with the Bears, but my immediate expectations have sunk due to a few key changes in the team during the 2019 offseason.

The first bit of bad news came in the form of losing former Assistant Coach of the Year Vic Fangio. Fangio accepted the head coaching job with the Denver Broncos. Congratulations to him, as he deserves it! I think his schemes will work very well for the Broncos' defensive personnel, so it's real good news for Broncos fans. But damn, that stings for us Bears fans.

They get Vic Fangio from us, and all we ever got from them was Jay Cutler and John Fox?! This is not a fair deal at all...

Chicago Bears - Chuck Pagano
Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will replace Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.

The silver lining is that the Bears' new defensive coordinator is head-coach caliber. Chuck Pagano (formerly with the Indianapolis Colts) accepted the job as the Bears' defensive coordinator going into the 2019 season. I stopped paying as much attention to the Colts after Peyton Manning left, so I can't really speak to how successful I think Pagano might be. The most optimistic stat line for Pagano is that he helped coach Colts' safety Mike Adams to be tied for takeaways in the 2014 season. That bodes well for safety Eddie Jackson, who very well might have been the Bears' best defensive player if Khalil Mach hadn't been getting all the attention.

So maybe the loss of Fangio won't be as painful as it might have at first seemed.

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

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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