Electronic Arts has supposedly spent the last three years or so rebuilding Madden from the ground up. Because of that, the past few years' games have felt very incremental, and somewhat incomplete. It was obvious that there were still major holes in many facets of gameplay. Personally, I would have preferred that EA just take a two or three year hiatus in order to hold off on releasing a game until it was actually complete. I'm happy that it seems like we're finally getting a "finished" version of EA's vision of a "next gen" Madden game, and I was curious to see if it would live up to expectations.
By their own admission, EA has finally rebuilt the final few phases of gameplay that still used predominantly legacy code (e.g. special teams and the football itself). For the first time in a long time, it feels like Madden can be approached and reviewed as a complete retail product rather than one step in a long-term incremental beta process. Is it worth the wait?
We'll, first impressions let it down a bit. Much like last year's game, the introduction and tutorial for Madden 17 seemed like a pointless waste of time that misrepresents the actual content of the game with its frequent cutscenes and dialogue from players and coaches. I'm not sure who these scripted gameplay intros are intended for. I would expect that new players would likely be confused and unsure what to do, resulting in failing the intro without any clue what they did wrong or what they were supposed to do. Experienced players, on the other hand, are probably just annoyed with the lack of control in this sequence. The inability to skip the cutscenes only makes repeat playthroughs (if you care enough to try to actually beat the scenario) feel tedious, as you'll have to sit through more cringe-worthy dialogue. EA Sports / Tiburon isn't Naughty Dog, and so writing dialogue and directing voice actors are not the studio's strong suits. About the only thing that this intro sequence does is highlight the new commentary team, which is actually pretty good.
Slowly becoming a complete football game
Despite the blocked field goal in the intro being an un-playable cutscene, special teams was one of the primary areas of focus this year. It's an area that's been mostly neglected since the analog kick meter was introduced back around 2007. And what was the innovation that EA decided was necessary to bring their kicking game into the next generation? Well, actually, they decided to bring back a kicking meter that works almost identically to the older PS1 / PS2 era games. You start the meter charging by pressing X, then press X again to set the kick strength as the meter fills, then press X again to set the kick accuracy as the meter returns to the bottom. Nothing new here.
The "new" kick meter is basically a return to the older kick meter.
However, you now have to hold the analog stick to aim the kick prior to starting the kick meter. If you let go, the kick trajectory will snap back to the default. This does require a bit more dexterity than either of the previous kick meter systems ever needed, but it's still fairly easy once you get used to it. Though, EA could maybe loosen up the accuracy window for online games because any amount of lag makes the kicking game virtually impossible. You also have to be more careful with timing your kicks, as the game and play clocks both continue to tick while the kick meter is charging. Not sure if this is a bug or a feature... So be careful that you don't wait too long and give yourself a delay of game (or let the game clock expire before) you get the kick off.
On the other side of the ball, defenders can now actually block kicks by jumping the snap... [More]
Earlier today, I experienced what might be the craziest, flukiest play that I've ever seen in a Madden video game! And not in the way that fluke plays in Madden are usually glitchy plays or plays in which the CPU cheats to affect an outcome. No, this was a fluke play in the genuine football sense of a fluke play.
Special teams is no longer to be ignored, and PATs are not forgone conclusions...
To put the situation in context, I was playing an exhibition game in Madden 17 as the Seahawks against the 49ers (on All Pro difficulty). It started out as an intense defensive struggle with the first score not coming until midway through the second quarter. Down 17-3 in the fourth, the 49ers started mounting a comeback. The 49ers got into the end zone in the waning minutes of the game to make the score 17-16. They lined up for the PAT that would have tied the game - a play that should be routine. But what happened next was anything but routine.
Therold Simon and Kam Chancellor rushed off the outside to block the PAT and ice the game. Simon beat Bruce Miller around the edge and successfully blocked the kick, but Miller was the one who managed to pick up the ball. He then proceeded to run around the edge and managed to make it into the end zone, turning the 49ers' blown extra point into a successful two-point conversion. Instead of tying the game, they now had a one-point lead.
Perhaps the flukiest play that I've ever seen in a Madden game.
I couldn't believe what I had seen.
And it was amazing!
Damnit Kam Chancellor! All you had to do was fall on the ball!
I haven't had a good rant on this blog for a long while. At least, not one that isn't part of tearing apart a terrible game in a review. But I have something that's been really grinding my gears throughout all of 2016, and I need to say something about it: I really dislike advertising. I have an especially intense dislike of internet advertising practices. It's not the ads themselves that get on my nerves; it's the ways in which websites and advertisers chose to deliver them. So many websites are crammed full of ugly, intrusive, and obnoxious ads that really hurt the experience of the user trying to actually view and navigate the website.
Streaming services like Comedy Central insist on crashing the video in the event that there's even the remotest hiccup in loading one of the five advertisements that it must play during the four advertising breaks that it includes in its half-hour episodes. I routinely run into issues in which the pre-episode ads fail to load, and so the whole episode refuses to load, and I have to ctrl-F5 to reload the page until it selects a set of five advertisements that actually work. But then it gets to one of the mid-episode commercial breaks, and even if the advertisements do load and play, the actual episode refuses to continue. Sometimes, I can hit the "rewind 10 seconds" button to fix the problem. Other times, I once again have to ctrl-F5 to reload the page, sit through the pre-episode ads again (hoping they don't cause yet another failure), then skip past the ad break in the timeline, watch the mid-episode ads (and hope that they don't also fail), and then maybe I can continue watching the content. This is why I haven't seen an episode of The Daily Show in a couple months and have no idea if new host Trevor Noah has finally hit a stride yet. I have similar issues with CBS steaming, which is why I also haven't been able to watch much of Stephen Colbert's new late night talk show. Sorry Stephen, I love you, but CBS apparently doesn't want me to watch you.
Issues with Comedy Central's ad-delivery abound: ads play over the actual content, their failure to load
prevents the content from playing, they have multiple ad breaks and not enough unique ads to fill them, etc.
To make matters worse, Comedy Central and CBS often doesn't even have enough distinct ads to fill up all these advertising breaks. I often see the same three or four ads in every ad break. Sometimes, the same exact ad will play back-to-back during the same advertising break!
Is this supposed to be punishment for not watching the show on cable TV? I actually do (at the time of this writing) have an active cable subscription, and that subscription does include Comedy Central and CBS. I could easily just DVR episodes of The Daily Show or Late Show with Stephen Colbert and watch them at home, but I prefer to watch them during my sit-in lunch breaks at work because it's just a more efficient use of time. Or at least, it would be, if it ever actually worked. Heck, on the DVR, I can just skip past the damned ads. I can't do that when streaming on the internet.
Comedy Central is far from unique in this regard. I've already pointed a finger at CBS as well, and this is one of the reasons that I'm not happy about Star Trek: Discovery being exclusive to CBS All-Access. I really don't want to pay for a streaming service to watch one show! Especially if it's still going to contain content-breaking advertisements that prevent me from even watching the show that I'm paying to watch... [More]
You know, I haven't talked much about the Bears on this blog lately. In fact, I don't think I talked about them at all in 2015, despite a lot of shake-ups in the organization. But then again, those shake-ups are kind of the reason that I didn't talk about the team. I wasn't really sure what to think about it all - let alone what to say (publicly, over the internet) about it!
Another factor in my silence about the team was a lingering sense of disillusionment with the organization. By 2015, the Bears were no longer the same team that I had grown up loving. Lovie Smith was gone, replaced by an offensive-minded head coach who failed to turn Jay Cutler into a superstar. My favorite players, Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester were gone. Even other players that I had liked, such as Charles Tillman, were gone.
John Fox is responsible for rebuilding the Bears into a respectable team.
Last year saw John Fox take over for the failing Marc Trestman, and the Bears have been in rebuilding mode. Management hasn't been afraid to shake up personnel. The Bears traded away veteran workhorse Matt Forte to the Jets, and (surprinsingly) traded star tight end Martellus Bennett to the Patriots this offseason. Both moves make sense. Forte's age is a concern, especially for the demanding role as a workhorse running back. Bennett had also been vocal about displeasure with the team. The Bears had even given up on linebacker project Shea McClellin, and released him. He was later picked up by the Patriots as well. I'm sure that both Bennett and McClellin will probably thrive under Bill Belichick's tutelage. Still can't get rid of Cutler though. It seems like each new coach or coordinator comes in and thinks they're going to turn Cutler into a start. So far, they've all failed.
So yeah. I haven't really known what to think about all this, and have been at a loss for words. John Fox has a track record of turning teams around, so the hope is that he'll do the same for Chicago. He also has a record for being a more defensive-minded coach, which leads to the promise that the Bears will start to exhibit the smash-mouth personality that fans (like me) love and admire about the franchise's history. But now Fox has had a full year to work on this team, and it's time to start expecting some improvement. Unfortunately, we didn't see any improvement in the Bears' opening preseason game against the Denver Broncos... [More]
Wednesday, April 27, 2016 10:15 AM
Football season's starting to get under way. The draft is coming up later this week, and I'll be interested in seeing who John Fox and the Bears select in their efforts to rebuild the team. However, there's a more personally-interesting story that popped up this week: according to several reports, the Oakland Raiders are showing interesting in relocating to Las Vegas. According to multiple sources, Raiders' owner Mark Davis has already visited Las Vegas in preliminary talks about relocating his team, and he will return on Thursday to meet with the Nevada tourism officials to discuss UNLV's planned domed stadium.
Mark Davis met with Sheldon Addleson and Las Vegas representatives about possibly moving the Raiders to Vegas.
This all sounds like a terrible idea, and I don't think it's a good move for either the Raiders or the city of Las Vegas. I'm not a big fan of the domed stadium proposal to begin with, mostly because I think the location is a disaster of traffic management waiting to happen. UNLV wants to build the stadium on or near UNLV's campus in order to encourage live-in students to attend games, since many of them might lack cars and can't travel out to Sam Boyd Stadium out in the middle of nowhere. Seems understandable, except that the proposed area is already a major traffic arterial that is prone to congestion, and the stadium is planned to replace the current parking lot of the Thomas and Mack basketball arena. The Strip, and the roads around it, already suffer from severe congestion and gridlock on a pretty regular basis, especially on Saturday nights when UNLV games are typically played. And that's without 60,000 people trying to funnel into a stadium!
Las Vegas is a commuter town (and UNLV is mostly a commuter school), but Vegas lacks any large-scale mass transit options. Our bus system is lackluster, and we don't have any kind of light rail. The monorail system that runs along half the strip doesn't even stretch to downtown or to the airport, and won't enable opponent teams' fans to travel from the airport to the stadium - let alone support commuters wanting to come from the suburbs of Henderson, North Las Vegas, Summerlin, or the rapidly-growing southwestern corner. In addition, I doubt that the location of the stadium on-campus will help all that much with student attendence at UNLV games. I think a bigger factor in students not attending is that many of them have part-time jobs and work on Saturdays. So they wouldn't be attending no matter where the stadium is located.
UNLV is considering building a new football stadium [LEFT] in the place of the
Thomas & Mack Center's existing (and barely-sufficient) parking [RIGHT]
And then there's the parking issue. Without public transit, fans are stuck driving to the game, and Las Vegas citizens are (from my experience) frustratingly-averse to carpooling. If you build a 60,000-seat stadium, you'll need a 60,000-car parking lot to go along side it. Except this stadium is replacing the existing parking lot outside of the Thomas and Mack. So where will everybody park? Are they going to add ten floors to the existing southern parking garage? They can't build an underground parking garage; that would be a disaster waiting to happen. Las Vegas is located in a valley, and UNLV's campus is at one of the lowest points in that valley, which means when we get our late August and September "monsoons", the area is prone to flooding. UNLV's parking lots have been known to flood during heavy rainstorms. An underground parking garage would likely turn into a subterranean swimming pool when a similarly heavy rainstorm inevitably happens.
The UNLV campus has flooded during heavy rainstorms, damaging vehicles and leaving students and visitors stranded.
But I digress...
UPDATE MAY 10, 2016:
More recent reports have indicated that the Raiders would continue to play in California until a new stadium is constructed in Las Vegas. They would not be playing in Sam Boyd Stadium. This certainly makes the move seem more serious to me, since most of my doubts regarding Davis' sincerity was the result of Davis suggesting that the Raiders might play at Sam Boyd for a couple years while waiting for the new stadium. So the following few paragraphs have now been rendered moot, so feel free to disregard.
In any case, such a stadium won't be completed for years! I'm not even sure if it's even been fully approved yet. But these reports are saying that the Raiders could be playing in Las Vegas as early as the 2017 NFL season. So where would they play? Mark Davis supposedly has already visited Sam Boyd Stadium, and has approved of it as a temporary home for the Raiders until the new stadium gets built.
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