Movie Project #26: Rudy [1993]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Rudy [1993]

Rudy [1993] 
Director: David Anspaugh
Writer: Angelo Pizzo
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
Running Time: 114 minutes

When it comes to inspirational films, Rudy has a surefire winning formula. It’s based on a true story, it involves a massive underdog, and it’s about someone who refuses to stop following his dreams. Football is at the heart of the story, but it’s the type of feel good flick that can appeal to anyone.

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Video Game Review: Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Madden NFL 25
System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS (later: PS4, Xbox One)
Genre: Sports (Football)
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: August 27, 2013

I didn’t intend on buying Madden NFL 25 this year, but I just couldn’t pass up the Amazon deal that featured this year’s game + the NFL Sunday Ticket pass for $100. I figured at the very least I was getting a great deal on the Sunday Ticket (which retails for $300 on its own), and hey, maybe I’ll even enjoy the latest Madden. Unfortunately, no, Madden 25 just serves as a reminder as to why I stopped playing the series in the first place. I’ll be selling this back ASAP.

Ever since EA Sports struck a deal as the exclusive license holder of the NFL way back in 2005, the Madden series has grown stagnant, offering little in the way of new and exciting developments. Every year some “new” feature is announced — this year “run free” is the gimmicky term for a slightly tweaked running game — but there has not been a legitimate groundbreaking development in years. Still, I went into this year’s game with an open mind, hoping to get at least something out of the experience.

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Right away, numerous issues are prevalent. The loading times are absolutely excruciating, especially when the game attempts (and fails) to connect to the EA Sports server. It’s possible to spend more than a minute at a time staring at a loading screen while the game tries to get to the next menu. This is inexcusable, especially since the series has had a good seven years to fine tune its performance on this console generation. Navigating through the game’s bulky menus is a chore simply because it’s so damn sluggish. You know the old saying, “less is more”? That’s something EA should adhere by with this game.

Even now, a couple weeks after its release, I have still had issues using the game’s matchmaking system. During the first few days, the online was completely broken, as I would get disconnected from the server immediately. It seems to be working better now, but it could still use some fine tuning. Again, Madden is an extremely popular game; you would think that EA would be fully prepared for any amount of online users.

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Playing an actual game is still riddled with problems as well. The battles in the trenches are completely ridiculous, and the entire blocking system is simply broken. Down the field, offensive players without the ball routinely run right past defenders, not even attempting to block them. Playbooks are incredibly easy to exploit; sometimes all you need to do is find one play that you excel at and then just run it over and over again. The defense rarely picks up on these play calls.

Then again, this is Madden, and the series is known for some of its outlandish gameplay characteristics. For as much as this wants to be as realistic as possible, it’s still quite possible to pull off insane runs that go from one side of the field to the other. These types of wild antics are fun when playing with friends, but frustrating when trying to play a more realistic franchise game.

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Perhaps most annoying is the game’s commentary, performed by Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. These guys are completely devoid of any personality, and most of their rambling is utterly generic and does not match the action on screen. For example, let’s say you score a meaningless touchdown near the end of a blowout win. Even if the score is something like 49-0, Simms will remark how that last touchdown should just about seal the game. Are you kidding me? You can tell that the bare minimum of effort was put into this audio presentation.

In fact, you could say the same thing about the entire game. Madden NFL 25 just feels half-assed all around. Maybe EA is putting most of its resources into the next-gen version of the game; if that’s the case, this shoddy edition would make more sense. It still doesn’t make it right.

The frustrating thing here is that there is a decent enough football game at the very core of Madden, and yes, it can be a lot of fun to play with friends or even random people online. It’s just a shame that EA feels the need to keep piling on excess garbage that just slows the game down while slowly sucking out the remaining semblances of fun that this series once had. I hope they get things right in the next generation, but I’m not holding my breath.


Thoughts from a Devoted Detroit Lions Fan

Lions vs Saints

I don’t think I have ever wrote about sports in this blog, which is a bit surprising considering how big of a fan I am. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer… I do my best to keep up with all of them. If I were to choose my favorite sport and my favorite team, however, it would without a doubt be football and the Detroit Lions.

This should come as no surprise. I was born and raised in Michigan, and spent the first 22 years of my life there  before moving to greener pastures. I grew up watching Detroit sports and have stuck by their teams through the thick and the thin. Being a Lions fan in particular has not exactly been easy.

During the 1990s, I was a casual fan of the team. I had accepted their mediocrity and would passively watch their games. Their motif seemed to be to put together a slightly above average season, sneak into the playoffs and then promptly get their asses kicked. It became something of a yearly tradition, and by 1999, the team’s greatest player, Barry Sanders, had enough of it and shockingly retired. His reasoning? He simply could not handle any more of the Lions losing culture.

The team stumbled into the playoffs during that 1999 season despite a mere 8-8 record, and once again lost in the first round. The next year they managed a winning season at 9-7 but didn’t make the playoffs. Then the Dark Ages began.

Matt Millen took over the reins as the Lions Team President and CEO in 2001, and ironically, this is when I took the plunge into being a hardcore fan. What transpired next was eight years of sheer torture and pain as a fan of the once proud franchise. The Lions compiled an astoundingly bad 31-97 record during Millen’s tenure, culminating in an embarrassing 0-16 season that finally convinced owner William Clay Ford, Sr. to terminate his contract.

The Lions found ways to lose games and embarrass themselves in every way possible. Who could forget head coach Marty Mornhinweg’s decision to “take the wind” after winning an overtime coin toss? How about the time coaching assistant Joe Cullen made headlines for passing through a Wendy’s drive-thru while naked? What about Millen’s countless wasted draft picks? The list goes on and on. The Lions and their fans were the laughingstock of the NFL.

Enter Martin Mayhew, Tom Lewand and Jim Schwartz. In 2009, this trio took over a franchise that had hit rock bottom. Slowly but surely, they worked together to develop a plan to bring the Lions back to relevance. During the ’09 season, the team finished 2-14, a marginal improvement over the 0-16 season a year before. In 2010, the team started 2-10 before suddenly going on a tear and finishing 6-10. This year, the Lions are 10-6 and are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Let me repeat that: The Detroit Lions are in the playoffs.

The decade of misery is over. Tomorrow night the Lions will be playing a wild card game against the red-hot New Orleans Saints. The odds are stacked against them: they are 11-point underdogs, and they lost 31-17 in their previous encounter this season. No one expects them to win, but there is reason for hope. This is an explosive football team that can drop 30+ points on anyone, and they are as healthy as they have been all year. This is going to be a battle.

Regardless of the outcome, this is one of the first times in my life that I can proudly state that I am a Detroit Lions fan.

My lovely girlfriend and I at Ford Field earlier this season

Video Game Review: FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

System: Playstation 3 (also available on Xbox 360, PC, Wii, DS, PS2, PSP, and iOS)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: September 28, 2010

I am a casual FIFA player. I have played a handful of editions over the years, dating all the way back to the Sega Genesis era. While this year’s game, FIFA 12, is set to be released at the end of next month, I decided to take a look at last year’s FIFA 11.

Right away I was impressed with the amount of options available. There’s no doubt about it — FIFA 11 is stacked. Besides the standard exhibition mode (which allows you to play as an individual player or goalkeeper as well), other offline options include Tournaments, Live Season, Lounge, Ultimate Team, and a modified Career mode. The latter two modes are most noteworthy.

Ultimate Team is a unique strategy game in which you can buy/sell/trade player cards in an attempt to build the best possible team. Career mode has merged the staple features “Be a Pro” and “Manager Mode” together, and this time you can select whether to be a player, manager or player-manager. This is where I have spent most of my time with the game, and it is ridiculously in-depth.

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

Online play is as bountiful as ever, and still has a great deal of players even to this day. Be warned, however, if you plan on buying this game used you will also need to purchase a separate pass if you wish to play online.

The actual on-the-field gameplay is fluid and easy to get the hang of. One thing I noticed right away was how much more physical the style of play is than what I remember. There are a wide variety of tackling animations, and some of the interactions can get downright nasty. Passing is usually pretty solid, although I did have occasional problems with the computer sending the ball to an unintended target. One issue that bothered me was a lack of urgency from my AI teammates. Every now and then, the opponent would lose the ball and I would have a teammate who would be standing nearby completely miss the opportunity to go after the ball and attack. Little quirks like these are not major issues, but they can certainly be annoying when noticeable.

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

FIFA 11’s presentation is also worth mentioning. The graphics are slick, the animations smooth, and most players match their likenesses visually. Martin Tyler and Andy Grey are reliable on commentary, as always. I was also impressed with the indie-centric soundtrack, which includes the likes of Caribou, Ladytron and The Black Keys. This is more up my alley than the AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne-heavy Madden 11.

For sheer amount of depth and options, FIFA 11 cannot be beat. On top of the game modes/features previously mentioned, the game includes 31 licensed leagues from 24 countries, as well as 39 national teams. With so many teams, players and game modes, it’s difficult to grow tired and/or bored with the game. If some of the on-the-field quibbles were cleaned up, FIFA 11 would be an absolute knockout. As it stands, however, it is pretty damn good but not quite up to the level it can be.


Video Game Review: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa [PSP, 2010]

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa [PSP, 2010]

2010 FIFA World Cup
System: PSP
Developer: HB Studios
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: April 27, 2010

Last year’s World Cup tournament is what finally made me a full-fledged soccer fan. Team USA’s improbable draw with England, England’s subsequent collapse, Landon Donovan’s unbelievable goal… I got sucked into World Cup hysteria. Capitalizing on the event, EA Sports released a special FIFA edition specifically for the tournament. Craving some portable soccer action, I picked up the game for the PSP.

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa provides 199 of the 204 national teams that entered qualification, and it offers several different modes of play. Beyond the standard “pick a team and play a single game” option, there are modes to play through the full World Cup tournament (including the various qualifiers), a “Captain Your Country” feature, and a “Story of Qualifying” option.

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa [PSP, 2010]

Captain Your Country is intriguing, as it is basically a spin off of the “Be a Pro” modes that are all the rage in sports games these days. In this, you create a low-level player who is promptly placed on their national team. Your goal is to build up this player to greatness while leading his country to victory.

My personal favorite is Story of Qualifying, which allows you to relive a lot of great moments inspired by the road to the World Cup. There are some truly memorable scenarios presented here, such as the Luxembourg/Switzerland encounter where Luxembourg shocked the world by winning 2-1. In this particular example, you play as Luxembourg in the 76th minute with the match tied 1-1. You get points for winning the match, conceding no more goals and/or by winning by two goals. There are dozens of scenarios like these from all over the world, and it’s a lot of fun trying to get maximum points in each one.

2010 FIFA World Cup [PSP, 2010]

The core gameplay is easy to pick up and play, as the controls are standard for the FIFA series. Players move around effortlessly, and each team has their own unique style which comes across surprisingly well on the pitch. I did have some occasional problems with manually switching the players, and sometimes the AI determined I wanted to pass to a different player than I intended, but for the most part the on-the-field experience is more than satisfactory.

EA also succeeded in bringing the South African experience into video game form. The infamous vuvuzelas are ever-present (though they can be removed via the in-game options), and the soundtrack is a pretty diverse collection of music from all over the world. Clyde Tyldesley and Andy Townsend are competent on commentary, although they do tend to repeat themselves during the actual tournament. The country’s stadiums are brought to life, and a helpful map shows all of their locations. The graphics are typical PSP fare. It can be hard to see some of the players on the top half of the screen, but for the most part the game looks good enough.

As far as portable soccer games go, I can’t really compare this to anything else. However, I have greatly enjoyed 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa since it does an admirable job of maintaining the crazy atmosphere while also providing a surprising amount of depth in terms of gameplay. While there are occasional quibbles with the control, these are not major disturbances and they do not disrupt what is an otherwise fun experience. For those looking to relive last year’s memorable Cup, this is a great gaming option.


Madden NFL 11 [PS3, 2010]

Madden NFL 11 [PS3, 2010]

Madden NFL 11
System: Playstaton 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts Tiburon
Release Date: August 10, 2010

Madden 11’s big selling point last year was that it was catering itself more toward the casual gamer. New features were implemented to make games quicker and easier to pick up and play. The main addition is GameFlow, which has the CPU automatically choose plays for you instead of making you browse a playbook to find something. The chosen plays are hit-and-miss, but I will admit that it’s a cool idea if you are in a rush. Unfortunately, steps like these are ultimately dumbing down the entire Madden experience and creating an increasingly more maddening (pardon the pun) video game.

I could not help but get frustrated more and more with every game I played in Madden 11. I found a lot of minor annoyances, but when added up they become a major problem. Some examples:

— Gus Johnson is the new play-by-play guy. I have nothing against Gus — his announcing of “real life” games brings added excitement to NFL broadcasts. The dude is over the top, but he makes it work. The problem is that Madden eradicates all of this spontaneity from Gus and makes him – gasp – boring. He tends to repeat the same lines over and over, and he has long pauses in between fragments of announcing. These problems make for a painful listening experience.

— I don’t know what happened to the character models this year. On the field, all of the players look the same! There is NO way that Ndamukong Suh should look the same as anyone else on defense, especially not guys in the secondary. Seriously, beef up the linemen and make them stand out from the rest of the team.

— I had some serious issues with the computer AI. You would think that after nearly twenty years of Madden football they would be able to get basic coaching habits down to a tee. CPU coaches still do not know how to use proper time management and frequently make boneheaded decisions. I was able to come back and win a game because the CPU decided to pass on every down despite just needing to run out the clock to secure victory. These types of mistakes happened all the time! I can’t take a game seriously when it doesn’t have the basic fundamentals down.

— Don’t buy this game used if you want to play online at all. EA requires an access code in order to get online — this costs $10 for anyone who buys a used copy of the game. Madden is one of the best selling games every year, why not throw gamers a bone, EA? Do you really need to nickel-and-dime those who want to play your game?

In short, I just didn’t have much fun with Madden 11 this year. The series seems to be going more toward an arcade style of gameplay, and I think that is a terrible idea. I used to spend countless hours playing the Madden games on the PS2/PS1, mostly working my way through the franchise mode every year. I liked the attention to realism back then, and that has been deteriorating the last few years. It sounds like I am being harsh on Madden 11, and I suppose I am, but I should mention that it’s not a *horrible* game. It can be fun to play with friends, but if you are more into the simulation side of things then you will almost certainly grow as frustrated as myself.

So, when does EA’s license deal with the NFL expire?