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The performance of the Bears' offense in 2023's preseason has softened a lot of my hope and excitement about the upcoming season. I was hoping for a major turn around, and for the Bears to be playoff contenders in a relatively weak NFC North. But now, I'm not so sure. I doubt we'll see a completely pathetic flop of a season like last year, in which the Bears earned the number 1 overall draft pick. But I now see a winning season as more of a stretch.

Put simply, the Bears' offense showed a lot of explosive promise in its 3 preseason games, but it didn't really show a lot of general competence. Justin Fields went 3 of 3 for 129 yards and 2 TDs in the preseason opener, with TD passes to DJ Moore and Khalil Herbert. But both of those touchdowns (and the vast majority of those yards) came from Moore and Herbert breaking screen passes behind the line, and running halfway across the field for scores. It was all Moore and Herbert; not Fields. All in all, a lot of the rest of the Bears' preseason play showed a lot of the same struggles that we saw last year.

Protection didn't last very long, and Fields had to run on multiple occasions, and also took a few hits. Neither the run game, nor the pass game, looked particularly efficient, and the first team offense saw multiple 3-and-outs. But worst of all, the injury bug has already taken a toll. Both guards, Teven Jenkins and rookie Darnell Wright, missed games with injuries. Jenkins has already shown himself to be injury-prone, and now it looks like Wright might have problems with injuries as well. Both players are being evaluated on a day-by-day or week-to-week basis, so it's possible they will both be ready for the regular season opener in 2 weeks. But even if they are healthy in the opener, how long with that health last?

Dante Pettis, the presumptive punt returner, has also already been placed on injured reserve. So it looks like Velus Jones and/or rookie Tyler Scott will be competing for that job. Jones didn't play much in the preseason due to his own injury, and Scott got plenty of reps at returning punts. He didn't have much of an opportunity to show what he can do in that role, however, since few (if any) of the punts he fielded were returnable. But the important thing is that he held onto the ball. He did have a big kick return in the final preseason game against the Bills, in which a shoe-string trip-up from the kicker was the only thing that kept him out of the endzone. Another sign of potential explosiveness.

DJ Moore TD
Photo credit: Charles REx Arbogast, AP
D.J. Moore and others showed explosive potential in the preseason.
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NFL ProEra VR - title

When I first saw that there was an NFL-licensed VR game, I assumed it was developed by EA and associated with Madden. After all, EA owns the exclusive rights to NFL-licensed "simulation" football games. I downloaded the playable demo expecting that first-person VR football would be a nauseating disaster of a game. But much to my surprise, the demo was not bad. And doubly-surprising, it isn't developed by EA either. It's developed by StatusPro, inc., which is a company that has made VR training tools for actual athletes, and which is now testing out the waters of VR sports video gaming.

So I guess this is a second loophole to EA's NFL "exclusivity". Not only can other companies make "non-simulation" NFL games, but apparently, VR games are not covered by EA's exclusivity, regardless of whether the VR game could be considered "simulation" or not. NFL ProEra definitely falls into the camp of "simulation" as far as I'm concerned. I mean, what could be more "simulation" than an immersive VR game? Or is it "not simulation" because it lacks a multi-season Franchise mode?

Anyway, the demo was pretty hard. I'm used to reading defenses from a bird's-eye view as both a football spectator and video gamer, so I had a lot of trouble reading the defense from ground-level. I also struggled a bit with aiming my throws. I figured that if the offenses and defenses are using actual football concepts in their A.I., then I should be able to learn to read the defense with enough practice, and the control seemed responsive enough that I hoped I could eventually get used to the throwing motion. So I went ahead and dropped $30 for the full game, curious to see how robust and complete of an NFL experience it would provide.

I was expecting VR football to be a nauseating disaster, but it's surprisingly fun and engaging.

Then I was pleasantly surprised for the second time. I fully expected that the game would just be a collection of short scenarios and mini-games. You know, some "throw the ball through swinging tires" kind of things to practice or warm-up, followed by a short scenario in which I'd have to lead a two-minute drill to win some games. But that isn't the case. After the tutorial, I jumped into an exhibition game to wet my feet, and there was a whole football game there! ProEra even comes packaged with options for quarter length and game clock run-offs (e.g. an "accelerated clock", in Madden parlance). So I could even play a full-length, 15-minute quarter match if I wanted to. And yes, there's training camp mini-games and practice modes too! A couple of those mini-games will even be familiar to long-time Madden veterans.

So yeah, NFL ProEra actually does offer a reasonably complete and robust virtual NFL quarterback experience. But right there, in that sentence, is the first big caveat. You can only play as a quarterback. So if you were hoping to get to live out a VR career as a running back, receiver, or linebacker, you're out of luck -- let alone if you're one of the weirdos who dreams of being a punter, place-kicker, or longsnapper.

Some of the mini-camp drills will be very familiar to older Madden veterans.
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Cities Skylines: Hotels and Retreats - title

Surely this has to be the last DLC that Cities: Skylines is receiving, given that the sequel is due out this fall. This last wave of expansions and content creator packs has scratched a lot of very specific itches that I've had with Cities: Skylines for a long time, and they've had me playing the game a lot lately. I've been building a large city up over 100 thousand population, and also going back to some older save files and either upgrading them to use newer DLC assets, or to replace old mod assets with analogous official DLC assets.

A near seamless fit

What I really like about Hotels & Retreats is how seamlessly they fit into the existing game. Like with Industries, Campus, and Airports, I feel that Hotels & Retreats could easily have fallen into the trap of replacing old assets and rendering them moot or useless. Like, if the DLC had added a "resort area" mechanic using the Parklife area painting mechanic with modular hotels and resorts, it could easily have caused me to stop using the After Dark leisure and tourism district specializations (just like I've basically stopped using farm, forestry, oil, and ore industry specializations because I use the Industries areas instead).

Hotels & Retreats works very well alongside other expansion content!

Instead of feeling like a replacement for the existing tourism districts, the content of Hotels & Retreats is a great supplement. In fact, it feels like it could easily have been part of the After Dark expansion. Or the Parklife expansion. Or the Airports expansion. Or Plazas & Promenades. Or even the previous Financial Districts DLC.

Each hotel has preferences for proximity to a combination of city landmarks, shopping, offices, or nature. How well the hotel's location fits its unique combination of those 4 preferences will determine how popular it is for guests, which in turn will influence how much (if any) profit it makes, and the player can set its pricing accordingly. A business hotel placed in the middle of an IT or financial specialty district, along with some nearby commercial districts, will generate high profit; while a rental cabin will do best if placed in the vicinity of a nature preserve, in the middle of a forest, or along a pristine scenic coastline.

Each individual hotel's profit is aggregated into a total profit margin for the "chain" of hotels, and higher-level hotels are unlocked by increasing the weekly profit of the entire chain. So improperly-placed or poorly-performing hotels can be subsidized by the fully-occupied, perfectly-placed hotels with higher prices and profit margins.

Cheap, unprofitable niche hotels can be subsidized by the more popular and expensive hotels.
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Silent Hill 2 remake

By the time you read this, the remake of Silent Hill 2, being developed by Bloober, is less than 2 months from its expected release. So nothing I write here can possibly change the game. But there has been something that has been nagging at the back of my brain ever since the first trailer for the remake released. Since most of the concern about Bloober's Silent Hill 2 is focused on their historically awful depictions of mental health and trauma, I haven't seen a whole lot of content addressed at this particular concern of mine. So I thought I'd share my thoughts.

First and foremost, I will be discussing the story and ending of the original Silent Hill 2, as well as speculation regarding whether Bloober will change this ending, or somehow botch its execution. As far as I'm concerned, the announcement trailer has already shown that it will be one or the other: a changed ending, or a botched ending. But in any case, if you haven't played Silent Hill 2 before and don't want to be spoiled, then don't read this post. You've been warned.

The announcement trailer for Silent Hill 2: Remake.

Before moving on, feel free to check out the announcement trailer in its entirety, above. You can also watch this complete analysis in video essay format on YouTube.

This entire analysis is also available in video essay format on YouTube.

The original opening

For anyone still here after the spoiler warning, let's talk a little bit about the opening scene of Silent Hill 2, how it relates to the game's ending(s), how this same scene is depicted in the remake trailer, and what the changes to that scene mean for the ending. Silent Hill 2 opens as such:

A mostly calm and collected James Sunderland stares at himself in a dirty bathroom mirror, taking a deep breath, and then walking out to a scenic overlook to explain the premise of the game. He got a letter from his wife, who died of a terminal illness 3 years ago. The letter says that she's alive and waiting for him in Silent Hill. He knows it can't possibly be true, but if there's any chance that she is somehow still alive, he has to know.

This opening shows us a James who is supposedly 3 years removed from the death of his wife. He isn't necessarily grieving any more, but doesn't seem to have completely moved on; otherwise, why be here? Regardless, he is completely surprised by this letter and in disbelief. This is a subtle, subdued opening that gives the player little reason not to take this all at face value. And it goes on to follow this up with a slow-burn opening act to the game, in which James strolls casually through a wooded path along the lake and doesn't encounter anything overtly scary or threatening for a good 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the pace that the player is going.

The original is subdued and gives little reason to not take the premise at face value.

This puts the player in the same headspace as James. We are just as confused, surprised, and curious as him, but with that nagging certainty that all must not be as it seems. This allows the player to role play as James in good faith and sets up the game's eventual twist, and also sets a relatively clean slate for the various ending triggers. The player doesn't see James as anything other than a confused husband, desperately hoping to see his possibly-not-dead wife again. The player is able to play James as such, and how you role play as James will inform how he eventually deals with the game's twist revelation. But the game will be slowly pulling the rug out from under James and the player over the course of the game, gradually establishing him as an un-reliable narrator.

Considering the additional context that this is a sequel to Silent Hill (which was about a father trying to rescue his daughter from a demonic cult), players may have had even less reason to not trust James. They have no clue that this game is going to deviate from the first game's premise and be an introspective and metaphorical tale that is almost completely divorced from the first game's plot. They just know it has the number 2 in the title, so it probably follows from the story of its predecessor. Maybe Mary really is alive? Maybe she's another vessel for the cult's demon god? Or maybe her soul was also split and there's a psychic Mary doppelganger living in Silent Hill who is summoning James to help her stop the cult's plans? Or maybe that doppelganger wants to trick him into helping the cult? And hey, guess what? A few hours into the game, we do indeed meet a Mary doppelganger!

Based on the opening minutes of the game, Silent Hill 2 can go in a lot of potential different directions, either introspective, supernatural, cult-driven, or any combination thereof.

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I recently played an indie sci-fi game on the PS5 titled Deliver Us The Moon. It was alright. I rather liked the story, and most of the methods that the game uses to deliver that story. It's very similar to Tacoma in terms of how it tells its story, but with a greater emphasis on player-driven problem-solving and puzzles. It's biggest problem, however, is the surprisingly poor performance and frequent technical problems. Even on the PS5, this borderline walking sim was barely able to keep a steady framerate, and I experienced multiple hard crashes.

That being said, I still recommend it for gamers who happen to be fans of hard science fiction, because our options in that particular sub-genre are fairly limited. We have butt-loads of fantasy sci-fi games about space marines shooting aliens or robots, or about dog-fighting in outer space. You know, you're Mass Effects, Halos, Dead Spaces, StarCrafts, Colony Wars, and so on (remember Colony Wars? Man that would be an excellent candidate for a reboot on modern consoles, especially if it includes full VR support!). These are the games that are "sci-fi" in the same way that Star Wars or Transformers or pretty much any comic book movie are "sci-fi" movies.

But as far as the video game equivalents of harder sci-fi movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Arrival or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the well is considerably drier, and most of what we do have is relegated to smaller indie titles. Don't get me wrong, we have some great options! Games like Soma and Outer Wilds are some of my favorite games ever.

So when I see a hard sci-fi game like Deliver Us The Moon pop up on a gaming storefront, I try to make an effort to play it. There's plenty of total flops in this sub-genre, but there's also some real gems. And I think that if Deliver Us The Moon could have its performance stabilized, it might qualify as one of those gems. But this video isn't a review of Deliver Us The Moon. I have a full written review on my personal blog at www.MegaBearsFan.net, if you want to read it. Instead, I want take a few minutes to dive into one particular aspect of the story and premise of Deliver Us The Moon that just kind of grinds my gears. It's a problem that I've seen repeated multiple games and movies that try to address this particular socio-political topic, and I worry that it might be doing more harm than good to the public's perception of this issue.

A big issue that I have with Deliver Us The Moon is its near-future depiction of apocalyptic climate change.

This essay was released early to Patrons in video format.
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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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