Whether you agree with my assertion in the previous essay that NCAA 13's recruiting was better than NCAA 14's, I hope I've at least made a compelling case that NCAA 14's recruiting system left a lot of room for Tiburon to improve in its upcoming EA Sports College Football game in 2023. Now I want to provide some constructive feedback and pitch some ideas I have for how Tiburon could improve the recruiting mechanic going forward, by hopefully taking the best of what both NCAA 13 and 14 had to offer.

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

Lessons from NCAA 14

The previous essay included a lot of criticism of NCAA 14, so I want to start off this second part by acknowledging a feature in NCAA 14 that I feel is a strict upgrade over 13, and which I would like to see preserved in EA's future college football games.

I think my single favorite upgrade in NCAA 14 is the idea of having "complimentary" and "competitive campus visits". If you schedule players from complimentary positions to visit campus on the same week, you'll get bonus points. For example, bringing in a running back along with the linemen who will be blocking for him will provide bonus points.

But you also have to be wary of scheduling multiple players of the same position. If you schedule 2 or 3 running backs on the same week, they'll see each other as competition, and will lose interest out of fear that your backfield will be crowded, and they'll loose out on playing time to another back in the same class. This is one of the few elements of 14's recruiting design which I feel retains the more humanistic, character-driven ethos from 13, and I like it a lot.

Users should avoid scheduling multiple recruits at the same position to visit in the same week.

14 also makes it much more clear how your performance on the field will impact the interest level of the visiting prospects. In NCAA 13, I was never clear about whether scheduling a visit during a bye week would make a difference, or if it mattered whether or not I won the game (if I played one that week). I always assumed that the prospect was there to watch the football game, so scheduling the visit during a bye week would impose a penalty, and I also always assumed that winning the game improved the prospect's interest, and I assumed that the prospect would also get more interest if the players at his position performed well during the game. But the U.I. for NCAA 13 was never clear about whether any of that was actually the way the game worked, or if the prospect only cared about the 3 recruiting pitches that I try to sell him on during the visit. NCAA 14 makes all this blatantly clear when you schedule the visit by showing exactly how many points the prospect will get if certain criteria are met.

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For years, I've been hearing people on sports talk radio say that "parlays are sucker bets". For those who don't know, a parlay is a group of multiple bets that all have to win in order for the ticket to pay out. If any pick on the ticket loses, then the whole ticket loses. The benefit is that if you do win, the odds multiply together for potentially large payouts. They are called "sucker bets" because the potential for large payouts leads casual gamblers to make more picks on one ticket hoping for larger payouts, which dramatically increases the risk of one pick losing and causing the entire ticket to lose.

Parlays are a "sucker's bet" because they lure gamblers
with promises of large payouts, but a single wrong pick
will invalidate the entire ticket.

I do parlay bets for college and NFL football every year. My local sportsbook (I live in Vegas, so there is a legal sportsbook in every suburb) has $2 parlay cards with a minimum of 3 or 4 picks per card, so I would often do between 5 and 6 of them for a total of $10 or $20 in bets per week. Not a lot of money; pretty casual gambling. I've never won any big parlays, and have been a little bit in the red every year (usually $50-$100 down by the end of the season). I do it for fun and to have some extra investment in the games that I watch. Since starting to track my winnings a few years ago, I've been hitting just above 50% on my individual picks, and winning back about 80% of my money.

Well last year, because of the disruption of COVID, my local sportsbook wasn't offering the usual $2 parlay cards. Instead, I had to start making regular bets off the board, at the counter. Unfortunately, these bets cost $5 minimum instead of $2, so my risk more than doubled. However, the minimum number of picks on a ticket decreased to 2 instead of 4. So in response to the higher cost, I started buying more tickets, but would only put 2 or 3 "safe" picks on a single ticket. Even though I ended up spending a lot more money each week ($50+), my winnings shot up from about 80% to almost 90%! Despite spending more money, I ended up losing far less overall because I would win back all my money almost every week by winning one or two of those 2 or 3-pick tickets.

So this year, after hearing sport talk radio hosts continue to refer to parlays as "sucker bets", I decided to double-down on last year's success. I started experimenting with direct money-line bets. A money-line bet is a single bet for which team wins. No point spread, no multiple picks per card. If the team I pick wins the game, I win the bet. Of course, the downside is that picking the favorite results in much lower payouts. A $10 bet might only win $5 or less if the winning team was favored by more than just a field goal.

But I've had pretty good success with this strategy this year. My winnings have once again shot up to almost 100% (meaning I've almost won back all the money I've bet), even though I've once again had to bet a lot more each week in order to pay for all these single-pick tickets.

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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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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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Star Wars Battlefront II - title

Dang, I was really hoping to get this one out before the end of the year...

Thanks to previews, journalists, and complaints from beta users, this is yet another game that I knew better than to buy on launch day at full retail price. Even before the game came out, beta players and gaming websites were already condemning Battlefront II for its pay-to-win multiplayer system. When the media finally got their hands on preview builds of the full game, they were quick to attack the online progression system. Once the game was released, public outcry forced EA to literally neuter the game's online economy.

Slot machines are legally required to disclose
their paytables -- and sometimes their RTP.

EA started damage control by slashing the prices of heroes so that they supposedly weren't as much of a grind to unlock. However, the sneaky bastards also reduced the rewards for various in-game activities (such as completing the campaign), so as to render the cost reduction virtually moot. Then, EA disabled micro-transactions altogether. So by the time I finally started playing the game (over a month after launch), it was a totally different experience than it was intended to be at launch.

Star Wars license-holder Disney was furious with EA for potentially tarnishing the Star Wars brand (especially with the pending release of The Last Jedi). EA's stock prices fell as a result.

Battlefront II has actually caused law-makers and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe to consider whether loot boxes qualify as "gambling", and whether they should, therefore, be regulated as such, including banning their sale to minors. Corporations are also starting to hop onto the bandwagon of self-regulation. Apple announced that all iOS apps with randomized micro-transactions must disclose the odds associated with rewards. This is the same disclosure that is actually legally required for actual gambling, such as slot machines.

For the record, I do not object to gambling per se. I actually bet every week on college and NFL football. Don't worry, I live in Nevada; it's legal for me. I spent almost three years working as a game developer for a slot machine manufacturer, and the only reason that I'm not still at that job is because the entire department in which I worked got laid off in the wake of a corporate merger (I'm actually very bitter and opposed to corporate mergers, by the way, but that's a discussion for another time). So I don't have a problem with gambling. I just think that it has a time and a place, and I don't want that time or place to be in my video games that I'm already paying $60 just to play. This is why casinos don't generally charge a cover fee.

I personally feel that Shadow of War and Destiny 2 are much more egregious examples of corporate avarice.

Also, for the record, I think that Battlefront II's micro-transaction controversy is a bit overblown. It's an online multiplayer shooter in which there is no win condition or end state. Whether you want the extra hero characters, and whether you're willing to spend time or money to get them is entirely up to the player's own whim. The game is perfectly playable without those heroes, and you can play through the campaign completely without spending an extra penny. It's a bit sleazy that EA markets the game by advertising these characters, and then locks them behind a grind/pay wall, but fighting games have been hiding unlockable characters behind grind-walls for decades.

Battlefront II isn't even the worst micro-transaction / pay-to-win system to come from EA! EA Sports titles like Madden and FIFA have been getting away with much worse pay-to-win systems (via their respective Ultimate Team modes) for years. Personally, I also think that Shadow of War (review coming very soon) has a much more offensive micro-transaction model because Warner Bros actually tied it into that game's campaign. If you want to finish the story, you either have to sit through the grind, or pay to speed it up. Though all of these pale in comparison to Activision and Bungie locking formerly-accessible end-game content behind the pay-wall of a Destiny 2 expansion pack.

In any case, it's sad that a review of a video game has to turn into a political op-ed, but that's the sad state of things right now.

Controversy and public outrage forced EA to completely disable in-game purchases.

So, if I knew that the game was controversially terrible, why did I bother to play it? ...

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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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