Wednesday, February 03, 2010

'Round Midnight

Out of nowhere, I had a bit of a sore throat yesterday.

It evolved from "a bit sore" to "ass-kicking" over the course of a few hours. I didn't have any fever, though, so I assumed it was sinus drainage.

This happens to me a few times a year, and the biggest problem it causes is that I can't sleep. I have to stay up until I'm totally exhausted, then hope that I can fall asleep before the tickle starts up.

That's all bad, except it's not. The reason it's not is because it's a golden opportunity for a gaming marathon. Wait, let me market that more enthusiastically: GAMING MARATHON!

Mind you, "marathon" has a different meaning than it did when I was single. Back then, a three or four hour session was no big deal, and the litmus test for a great game back then was whether it kept me up all night.

Now, though, one continuous hour is a solid session. I enjoy playing as much as I ever did, but the day is the wrong length.

So for most people, sinus drainage is the plague. For me, it's the golden ticket. Vancouver Rhinos, please board the team flight now.

That's right--I moved the Lions to Vancouver.

Madden handles franchise relocation in a pleasing manner. There are a huge number of cities to pick from, and for each city, there's a level of interest in having a franchise. To secure funds to build a stadium, you have to make a financial proposal that includes levels of contribution from seat licenses, bonds, and your own contribution. The less the city has to pay, the more likely the voters are to approve the stadium deal.

If the referendum fails, you have to wait at least a year before trying again, and in the meantime, the city you're trying to jilt (in my case, Detroit) will be understandably pissed.

Once I received approval in the Vancouver referendum, I designed a stadium and new uniforms. "Your team looks like a pack of Starburst," Gloria said when she saw the new unis for the first time.

If you'll remember, the Lions were 0-16 in their first season. Their second season was 1-15. The third year, the first as the Rhinos, was 2-14.

Yes, I was getting my ass kicked. Interestingly, though, it was getting kicked in exactly the right way--the talent level of my team was rarely as good as my opponent, and I saw that difference play out on the field. There was no prestidigitation I could perform on the field to overcome the lack of talent.

As General Manager, I started pruning the roster, exchanging age for youth. One of the franchise house rules I adopted was a ban on player trades, so I had to focus on building the team through free agency and the draft.

Last season, I was 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game. Most of the dead wood and huge contracts are gone now, though, so I'm not sure I can even keep this team together. I'm facing the same kinds of decisions that real GM's face, which is another tribute to how well Madden plays this year.

I guess that was a tangent.

So last night around 10:30 p.m., I sit down to play. Four hours later, after a four-game marathon, I'm exhausted and happily go to sleep in minutes (or seconds).
Of the four games last night, I won two (both in the last two minutes) and lost two, and they were all gritty, hard-fought games. Madden does a terrific job this year of conveying a sense of speed and power (with the right slider settings, anyway). The second-to-second immersion is extremely high.

Here's an example of how much detail there is in Madden this year. Three of my first four home games this season have been in the rain. In most football games, rain is largely cosmetic.

Not in this game.

First off, players slip, and the different animations for the slip look fantastic. I've even seen the line judge slip, which is the kind of non-essential detail that makes a game look very, very real.

Players also drop more passes in the rain. I had seven drops in my last game in the rain, and some of them came at crucial times. The same is true of quarterback mis-throws.

In one of the rain games, I tried a field goal that was easily inside my kicker's range, but it was short. In other words, driving rain affected the distance of the kick. That sounds like something simple and obvious, but believe me, graphics based football games just don't operate at that level of detail.
What all these little bits of detail do is create variability inside repetition, which is the hallmark of getting a sports game "right". Knowing that if my receiver is open, I'll make the completion 100% of the time is just not realistic. This year, there's an element of uncertainty that has a high level of fidelity to real football.

The ultimate litmus test for me with a sports game is whether it can get me to talk to the television. I don't know why, but an excellent sports game will have me talking frequently, even though I'm only talking to myself.

Last night? Running commentary for four hours.

Site Meter