.journal 2001.02.27
Some more thoughts on video games.

Now listening to: Tori Amos, To Venus and Back: Orbiting
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Exquisite Corpse
Now playing: NHL 2001 (Playstation 2)

Since I'm now going on just about a week here without me getting any sleep, I think it's just about time that I tie up some loose ends from my video game rant earlier in the month. It's a whole hell of a lot more fun than lying in bed futilely trying to get my brain to shut off.

First of all, to go back to NHL 2001 since I just got done playing it, one of the things that is infuriating me is that in the middle of the season I'm in right now, the game will not let me make the trade that sent Igor Larionov back to the Wings where he always belonged. I can make the trade outside of season mode, but within the season itself I try to trade Yan Golubovsky to the Panthers for Larionov, and it keeps saying, "No, sorry." And that really makes me mad, because I want to keep my roster as up-to-date as possible.

There are two points I want to make about this: firstly, it shows a clearly lacking element of the intelligence that governs trades in the game. On pure rating points alone, Larionov for Golubovsky is one-sided in favour of the Red Wings, but when you factor age into things, the trade becomes even because Larionov only has a couple of more good years in him, while Golubovsky is a good prospect for future development and will likely over time have just as much value to a franchise over his next however many playing years as Larinov will have over these sunset years. But because the game doesn't take that into account, it thinks the trade favours the Red Wings too much and refuses to allow it.

In and of itself that doesn't bother me so much, but I clearly remember, at least from the 16-bit days (I never actually played any of the 32- or 64-bit EA Sports games), that EA Sports games used to give you a "make this trade anyway" option when it had refused a trade. Now all of a sudden I'm left without that option, and it really stinks. One of the things I liked about NFL 2K1 for Dreamcast was that I could go online and download current player rosters and have them automatically be set into the game, but unfortunately we're all still waiting for online capabilities for the PlayStation 2. So I'm stuck without Larionov in my lineup, unless I want to totally trash my current season and start a new one with a different roster file. And that sucks.

Another thing that bothered me recently was that I just got done playing the home-and-home series the Red Wings recently had against the Maple Leafs, and it really bothered me that I didn't see Maple Leafs enforcer Ty Domi on the ice for either of the games, because I wanted to see him and Red Wings enforcer Darren McCarty pound the fillings out of each other's mouths. So after the games were done I went into the rosters, and found that not only was Ty Domi not in the lineup for those games, he hadn't dressed the entire season. Clearly the little engine in the game which "optimizes" the lines for every team isn't working that well, and it sucked to have proof of it brought down on me like that.

Also, I really wish the game would let you designate who on your team is a captain and who the assistant captains are. I don't know how the game determines it on its own, but all things being equal I'd like to be able to make that decision myself. Especially when the game makes the whacked-out trades that it does (Mark Messier was traded to the Wild in my current season), there needs to be a better way to designate who gets the C's and A's on their sweaters than by the game's fiat.

I also wish the in-game statistics the game provided were more relevant and like those on television. Every game I start up, I have Chris Osgood go out on the ice, and he's already got over twenty shutouts on the season, he's won every game but three (when Manny Legace had to sub in due to fatigue - yes, Manny's won every game he's played too), he's so far ahead of every other goalie in the league in every relevant stat it's embarrassing, and what does the game choose as Osgood's "highlight" stat every time he comes onto the ice? The number of minutes he's played so far this year. What is up with that?

The worst part is, there is such a simple logic to what statistics should be displayed when: display season power play and penalty kill stats at the onset of the first power play, then in-game stats for each successive power play. Show player season stats after goals or notable on-ice occurrences. Show shot totals for a period when they are one-sided or notably small or large. To have the game all of a sudden pop up that Mike Modano hasn't scored any shorthanded goals on the season when the game is four minutes old, there's been no scoring and no shorthanded situations in the game, is just silly. And the statistics should also be displayed in a much larger font for a more television-like appearance; there's no way any television broadcast would display statistics in as small a font as NHL 2001 does.

I like the fact that the players say things on the ice, but it's bothersome that everyone says the same thing, with the same accent. The way Steve Yzerman says something sounds a whole lot different than the way Sergei Federov says it, and I don't think either one of them are too apt to say, "Hey, cool it pal" to a teammate in the penalty box with them. But then again, the voice tracks in the game leave a lot to be desired to start with.

Speaking of which, I appreciate that the game puts forth a great effort to include little backstories about each player in the commentary, because it does create a more realistic experience. Unfortunately, the fact that the game doesn't check the relevance of those stories against the current situation in the game. So when Jim Houston talks about how Red Wings defence star Nicklas Lidstrom is such a delicate player and has never finished a season with more than thirty penalty minutes, but he has over 200 in my current season, it's annoying. I'm guessing that if I ever traded Steve Yzerman away from the Wings, Houston would still talk about how Yzerman was the longest-standing captain for one team.

I've aired my grievances about the create-a-player engine before, but another thing that's bothersome about it is that all the created players are referred to on the ice by their first names and not their last. I can't create a good replica of myself in the game to save me for reasons I've talked about previously, but I've tried it before and gone on the ice, and to hear the game go, "Pass to Lidstrom, he clears it to Yzerman, pass to Sean in fr- SCORE!" is awkward to say the least.

At least in Madden 2001 Pat Summerall refers to me as "Shannon," although I can just barely create a more passable version of myself in Madden 2001 than I can in NHL 2001. But I dare say the overall commentary in Madden 2001 is worse than that of NHL 2001, and it can't hold a candle to the commentary in NFL 2K1. I think the developers were going for a "less is more" approach with the commentary in Madden 2001, but it really fails because the game is just far too quiet and there aren't enough phrases in the game to keep things interesting. It also doesn't help that Summerall seemed to turn his Vulcan-meter up to 11 when recording his commentary, because he couldn't sound more disinterested in the game if he tried.

All in all, though, Madden 2001 was a good buy for me because it lets me see what the NHL games of the future might look like. Of course the Madden games always get the big technological advances first because they're the true "franchise" of EA Sports, but the limb-based physics in Madden are such an advance over any other sports video game on the market today it's scary. NFL 2K1 looked sweet, but the pre-rendered motions did get old after a while. I've gone through a whole season in Madden 2001 now, and I don't think I've seen the same tackle motion twice.

Unfortunately, my relative disinterest in football has created a real problem for me in playing the game. Even with the game set to its easiest difficulty level, the computer tears me up with its passing attack. But I don't think this is a problem with the game, I think it's a problem with me because I don't really know what plays to call on defense. I know enough about football to know the differences between the various defensive sets, and their general strengths and weaknesses for passing vs. rushing, but it seems that no matter what play I call, and no matter how much pressure I put on the opposing quarterback, the game always ends up finding an open receiver. And that kinda stinks, especially because I don't tend to hang around big football fans who might be able to give me some help in that regard.

But still, I've loved Madden 2001 a lot, and woe be the day that the NHL series inherits "Madden cards," because I may never leave the house again. I had enough of a Magic: the Gathering fixation back in the day to know how crazy you can get card-collecting, and collecting the cards in Madden 2001 is fun. I can't say as I'm too hot on the "cheat cards," but I think if the game banned them for "serious" games (like those in franchise or season mode), or otherwise had an NBA Jam/NFL Blitz-like mode more suited for those kinds of antics, I'd be okay with them. What I most want, though, is a card that lets you play Rock 'n Jock Bowl style, with the ball still being live after incomplete passes. If all football were played like that, I might actually watch it. (Of course, it doesn't help that the only time I get to see my beloved Cincinatti Bengals during the season is when they're facing the Browns, because my fellow Toledoans have no taste.)

One thing I disliked about Madden 2001 and NHL 2001, and NFL 2K1 and even Crazy Taxi for that matter, were the soundtracks to the games. But I think that's a subject much better suited to my upcoming music rant. And given how I've been going these past few days, that rant may be coming up sooner than I think. But for now I think I'm done; I'm sure I'll think of some things I forgot to mention once I post this, but that's the way things go. It's not like my head is on straight right now to start with.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go try to find the off-switch for my brain again. Wish me luck.

- Sean