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. It would, thus, allow the NCAA to save face by continuing to pretend that they are facilitating an "amateur" sport".

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.

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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Red Dead Redemption 2 - title

Once again, Rockstar is absolutely abysmal when it comes to its tutorials. It gets the very first one right, by displaying the prompts on the bottom center of the screen, below the subtitles. That's for the basic movement controls that should be common sense. Once it gets into the more complicated and esoteric stuff that isn't intuitively obvious, it falls back on the tried-and-failed method utilized in Grand Theft Auto V of printing a tutorial prompt in a tiny black box in the top corner of the screen, during the action of the game!

Even if you are lucky enough to notice that there's a tutorial tip while you're in the middle of a horse chase or shootout, it's still hard to read and decipher the tiny text and button icons. There's no option to use a larger font or to rescale the UI if you're playing on a less-than-huge TV. Rockstar, listen, I'm playing the game on a console, from my couch, with a wireless controller, ten or so feet away from a 46-inch TV. I'm not 14 inches from the screen. Use a readable font!

Tutorial prompts appear in tiny, hard-to-read black boxes in the corner of the screen,
often in the middle of an action sequence, in which your attention is on something else.

We did buy a much larger TV over Black Friday, so the UI is now much easier to read, and my girlfriend might even go back and play games like Monster Hunter: World and Assassin's Creed: Origins now that the TV is big enough to read the damned text on the screen.

It doesn't help that there is no way in-game to review any of the tutorial prompts that you may have missed, nor is there any way to view the controller mapping. There's a "Help" section in the pause menu that does contain a large amount of information, but that only helps if you know what you're looking for. If you couldn't read the tutorial prompt because you were busy in a gunfight or horse chase or whatever, then you're not going to know what you're even supposed to be looking for if you try to look it up. It's like opening up a dictionary, but not knowing what word you're trying to define. The controls for this game are very complicated, with lots of buttons being overloaded to multiple, context-sensitive commands, and with certain commands requiring that you hold multiple buttons. I'm constantly forgetting the controls for fist-fights, and I can never remember the dive/roll button for the life of me. It would be very nice to be able to pause the game and double-check the controls if you're coming back to the game after having not played for a few weeks or months, or if you come across a mechanic that hasn't been tutorialized or practiced yet.

It's hard to make out what many of these icons are supposed to represent.

This is further exacerbated by the use of tiny icons that are still hard to decipher on the 75-inch TV -- and were impossible to read on the 46-incher. Seriously, if you're playing on anything less than a 60-inch TV, you need hawk eyes to be able to read this stuff! Often, I would see one of the horse icons above my mini-map flash red with some un-discernible icon, and I had no idea what this icon meant. It was over the horse's health icon, and kind of looked like it might be a steak, so I tried feeding the horse, which did nothing. Besides, why would Rockstar use a steak icon to indicate that you need to feed a horse? Horses don't eat steak. After some digging online, I discovered that this icon maybe means that my horse is dirty, and I need to brush her or run her through water to clean her.

Similarly, in base camp, there are three icons in the top right corner that are tiny and un-discernible. They are supposed to represent the camps supplies: food, medicine, and ammunition (I think), but damn if I could tell which one is which. The glut of articles and forum topics explaining just what these icons mean tells me that I'm not the only one who had this problem.

Living in the game world

Once you get through the tutorials and start playing the game proper, you'll be rewarded with a massive, immaculately-detailed, and well-realized world that feels like a living, breathing place. Unlike many other open world games and RPGs, Red Dead Redemption 2's simulationist design truly provides a feeling of living within this world. There's a bevy of context-sensitive animations that make everything feel so organic and life-like, and which really help to immerse the player in this gritty, realistic setting.

The game world is immaculately constructed and detailed.

I've seen plenty of complaints about these time-consuming, laborious animations on the internet, and at first, I thought that I was going to loathe having my time wasted. I was all ready to draft up a review complaining about Rockstar being arrogant and over-indulgent. But as I played the game more, I have to say that I came to love them...

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I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

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Red Dead Redemption II

It appears that 2k is pulling a thoroughly dickish move with regard to the release of the highly-anticipated Red Dead Redemption II. They are not distributing it to small, independent game stores until a week after release. The game is scheduled to release on October 26 (4 days from now, as of the time of this writing), but mom & pop game shops likely won't receive it until at least November 7! The game will be available for digital download on the scheduled release date of October 26, and it will even be available at large corporate retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Game Stop. But if you have a favorite little indie game shop, you'll have to wait more than a week to play this game-of-the-year candidate.

What is 2K's reason for this move? Well, from what I've read, the reason is not entirely clear. 2K is citing production delays and supply issues for the discs. Even people who pre-ordered the game from the affected shops will not be receiving their copies on time, which completely negates the purpose of a pre-order, and highlights just how absurd the process is. In an age of digital distribution, pre-orders are practically moot. But even when a game is sold physically (and sells a crap ton of pre-orders), it still might not be available to you! So why bother pre-ordering?

To be honest though, I don't care what 2K's reasons are. If this genuinely is an issue with production of the discs, then 2K should have either:

  1. Reduced the number of units delivered to all retailers, regardless of size, or
  2. delay the release of the game (including online sales) a week.

A minor delay into early November would not be that much of a hit on the game's sales. It not like they'd be missing the revered holiday launch window.

At the very least, they should have provided any and all pre-order copies to the stores that sold pre-orders.

The cynic in me can't help but suspect that this is some deliberate move by 2K to harm independent game retailers. Perhaps they want even more control over the release process of their games, and independent retailers are much harder to control than massive corporate entities. Or maybe they calculated that any losses from those independent stores would be offset (either partially or in full) by online sales in which the publisher does not have to split money with the retailer.

In any case, we're living in an age when independent shops are struggling to survive against the monopolies of corporate retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and against the online retail juggernauts like Amazon (and the online storefronts of companies like Wal-Mart and Best Buy). Withholding highly-anticipated product from such shops (while still delivering it to their corporate competitors) is outright cruel and unforgivable. That is true whether the withholding is being done maliciously or not.

All those stores that sold pre-orders, promoted the game with posters and cardboard cut-outs, and merch sales -- probably all at the expense of the store owner! -- are completely screwed. Loyal customers will hopefully wait and buy the game a week later, but most customers will probably cancel their pre-orders and take their money elsewhere. I implore you to wait till November 7 and buy the game from a small, local, independent game store! Show 2K that this behavior is unacceptable business practice! Or just don't buy the game at all...

As for me: unless 2K back-tracks and does, in fact, deliver the game to independent retailers, I will not be buying a new, retail copy of Red Dead Redemption II! Instead, I will wait a week or two and see if I can get it used off of eBay (or a local independent retailer). I will stand in solidarity with independent retailers and their customers. As such, any review that I write for it will necessarily be late -- even by my standards... And even if it turns out to be the best game that I've ever played, I will not be trading it in for a new copy of the game, or recommending it to any friends, as is my usual practice.

2K, you just lost a sale.

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Civilization A New Dawn - title

Sid Meier's Civilization computer game seems ripe for conversion into a board game. The PC game is, after all, basically just a computerized board game that plays out on a grander scale. Sid himself was inspired by many classic board games, including Risk and Axis & Allies. Fantasy Flight has already taken a stab at trying to distill the core mechanics of Civ down into a digestible board game when they released Sid Meier's Civilization: the Board Game back in 2010. I really like that game, even though it is a bit bloated and unwieldy. Attempting to directly translate Civ's mechanics down into board game form unsurprisingly results in a fairly complicated game that takes a very long time to learn and play.

Fantasy Flight's approach this time around seems to be to develop an elegant board game, and then apply the Civilization license onto it. The result is a board game that feels much more distant from the computer game, but which plays much more smoothly as a board game.

Civilization, streamlined

Perhaps the biggest problem with the older Civilization board game is the game length and amount of downtime. Games could run for over five hours, and the fact that each player resolved their entire turn phase (city management or army movement) before moving onto the next player meant that you could end up sitting for 20 to 40 minutes, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for other players to resolve their turns. That is one of my biggest peeves with a lot of epic games: too much downtime.

Civilization: A New Dawn -
A New Dawn is a very elegant game.

A New Dawn addresses that problem by having each player take only a single action in each of their turns. There are no phases; just take an action from your focus bar and then move on to the next player. Turns, therefore, are very quick, turnaround time is very short, and the game moves along at a rapid pace. This, ironically, serves to better maintain the "one more turn" addictive nature of the computer game. You might find yourself neglecting bathroom breaks for several turns because things are moving along so swiftly. Your turn is generally quick enough that you want to finish it before you step away or take a break, and other players' turns are so quick that you don't want to step away because you know it'll be back around to your turn in a few minutes.

Longer games with longer turns and more downtime can also often result in players outright forgetting what they were planning on doing by the time the turn gets back around to them. Either that, or the large amounts of moves and actions that the other players take changes the game state so much that, when your turn comes around, the thing you were planning on doing is no longer ideal -- if it's even possible.

That's rarely a problem in A New Dawn because each player does one thing on their turn, so the state of the board isn't radically changing between your turns. It's much more of a gradual change. That doesn't mean that other players can't disrupt your plans; they certainly can, especially when combat between players starts happening. It just means that you aren't going to be sitting there bouncing up and down in your chair waiting to pull off a spectacular move, only to have another player blow up all your plans at the last minute and leave you spending far too long wondering "What the heck do I do now?" when your turn starts...

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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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