Movie Project #18: Rocky [1976]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Rocky [1976]

Rocky [1976]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Genre: Action/Drama/Sports
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young and Burgess Meredith
Runtime: 119 minutes

I watched Rocky at the perfect time — I was very sick and needed to spend some time resting. What better way to get me through a nasty illness than by watching one of the most popular (and inspirational) sports films of all time?

Now six films deep, the original Rocky is still regarded as the best of the series. Sylvester Stallone, a virtual unknown at the time, wrote the screenplay and starred as the eponymous Rocky Balboa, an underachieving Philadelphia boxer who works as a debt collector on the side. He is poorly educated and fights in dimly light venues, often bringing in just a small cut of the gate revenue. Little does he know it, but Balboa is about to get the biggest break of his life.

Undefeated world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a flamboyant and cocky star, is coming into town for a championship bout on New Year’s Day 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial. After his opponent becomes injured, Creed comes up with the idea of giving a local fighter a shot at his title. While scouring through names of those in the city, he stumbles upon the “Italian Stallion” — Rocky Balboa. It’s as if you can see the light bulb and/or dollar signs appear over Apollo’s head. This is his man.

Aided by his friend Paulie (Burt Young), his quiet-and-reserved girlfriend Adrien (Talia Shire) and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky begins training for a fight he never expected to have. Hell, Rocky doesn’t even think he can beat Apollo — he just wants to go the distance (something never accomplished against the champion).

Rocky [1976]

At its core, Rocky (the film) is a terrific underdog story. This is the stuff small-time and aspiring boxers (and other athletes) dream of — to break through and get their big moment. In a way, it is a glimpse at the American Dream, working hard to catch that big break. Of course, in Rocky’s case it was dumb luck (or rather, a catchy nickname) that got him his title match, but the sentiment is the same.

While pop culture has somewhat diluted the story of Rocky over the years, the fact remains that this is still an uplifting film. It is presented in a way that is very easy to digest, and the movie is one that most will be able to relate to. The fact that this was selected as Best Picture winner over several other greats such as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network, runs parallel to the film’s underdog story. With a classic rags-to-riches story, strong action scenes and an unforgettable soundtrack, Rocky is still enjoyable today.

8/10

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PC Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Out of the Park Baseball 13
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: April 9, 2012

All hardcore baseball fans, no matter who they root for, have one thing in common: they believe they could run a professional team, sometimes even better than the actual general manager does. Of course, some are more vocal about their beliefs than others, but diehard fans especially love to nitpick every move their favorite team makes. I am guilty of this myself, so I turn to baseball simulators to prove that I can successfully manage a professional team. While there are a few options available, there is one franchise that is a clear cut above the rest, and it is one that I keep coming back to every year: Out of the Park Baseball.

This year’s version, lucky #13, has the same in-depth simulation offerings but is also packed full of upgrades. Immediately, the most noticeable difference is the brand new interface. The traditional menu system and its core buttons have all been switched around, with a shiny new right-side toolbar providing easy access to the most important screens. If you’re familiar at all with previous versions of the game, this graphical overhaul definitely takes some time getting used to. I did enjoy its changes in the long run, however, and I like this particular direction the series is taking.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

The biggest, perhaps most impressive, addition to the game is the real-time simulation mode. Basically this means that you can follow each game pitch-by-pitch, adjusting the speeds as necessary, and even jumping in to play the game if you want to. It’s pretty cool to keep an eye on several games at once, especially when you happen to stumble upon a rarity such as a no-hitter in progress. This is especially convenient for those running leagues as the commissioner.

Quite a bit of attention has been given to the core engine as well. Trades are noticeably tougher — a good thing — and teams can be labeled in three stages: Win Now!, Neutral, and Rebuild. This makes it slightly easier to find a trade partner, although it is still difficult to pry away their talent without giving up some big-time players or prospects of your own.

If you were a fan of the newspaper/mail system in previous editions, you will love the improvements in OOTP 13. Several unique storylines have been added, offering a much-welcomed freshness to the articles. One of my personal favorites so far was a story about a veteran on a struggling team taking it upon himself to hold his teammates accountable for their actions. A couple weeks later I was sent an article about this leader holding a kangaroo court about some minor action (I believe a teammate stepped on the team logo) and charging him a $100 fine. Brilliant. Little things like that give OOTP a touch of personality that just cannot be topped. I love this stuff, and would be very pleased if more of it seeped into future updates/versions.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Of course, Out of the Park also comes pre-equipped with all of the latest MLB rosters, and new seasons are built with the recent rule changes in mind (i.e. more wild card teams, and Houston’s move to the AL West in 2013). Player photos are missing initially, but there are countless mods available to fully customize the game any way you see fit. Seriously, if there is any one thing you don’t like about the game’s setup, you can change it. The official forums are a great source of information for the game, with all sorts of awesome expansions and goodies available. The creators of OOTP are also very active in the community and regularly provide patches to fix many of the bugs that users come across. Rest assured, if there is a significant glitch discovered (unlikely), Markus and the guys will be on it ASAP.

There are so many ways to dig into OOTP that everyone will play it differently. I chose to import my association from last year’s game and immediately continued playing as if nothing had changed. It was terrific — my settings were transferred over, and I played through the rest of my season while also getting to enjoy the new features of the game. Of course, if you don’t have an association to import, you can create a new league (real or fictional) starting at any year you desire. You can play the games individually or sim them in bunches — it’s up to you. You can even join an online league with other GMs, which is an absolute blast with a good group of guys.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

I have been speaking nothing but praise for the game so far, but there are a couple of minor flaws I feel I should mention. For one, the in-game text is a little difficult to read. I have a 19-inch monitor and occasionally have to squint to accurately read the team lineups and current statistics. While the in-game interface can be switched around, there is no way to increase text size. I have gotten used to it, but it would still be nice to adjust as needed. Also, while the trade engine is certainly improved, I was able to manipulate the system in one area. I noticed that it was a little too easy to sign a free agent to a minor league contract halfway through the season and then flip him to another team for a superior option. It was strange to me that I was able to do this. After all, if a team had any interest in the player I signed, why didn’t they just sign him on their own? Not a huge deal, but it is tempting to take advantage of this.

Again, those are two unbelievably minor flaws in the grand scheme of things, and they do not lower my rating at all. Folks, this is a 10/10 if I have ever seen one. Easily the best baseball simulator I have ever played, and it is one with infinite replay value. For only $40, you will get your money’s worth and then some. If you are into baseball statistics or are a diehard fan of the sport, do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

I will leave you with this warning, however: this gets addictive, FAST.

10/10

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

Movie Project #43 and #44: Mulholland Drive [2001] and Million Dollar Baby [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Mulholland Drive [2001]
Mulholland Drive [2001, David Lynch]
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux.

I don’t know if there has been another film in my project that has lingered in my mind like Mulholland Drive. I know David Lynch is a very peculiar and often confusing director, and I was proud of myself for keeping up with everything that was happening in the movie. Well, at least until the last twenty minutes or so. That’s when shit hit the fan and I suddenly became lost. Thanks to some theorizing with others and with the help of Wikipedia’s extensive encyclopedic entry, I gained a better understanding of what the hell was going on near the end. With everything in perspective, the movie almost made sense.

Mulholland Drive is very much a hate it or love it type film, as evidenced by my girlfriend’s remarks of frustration as the credits rolled. Lynch’s works certainly aren’t for everyone, but I have a fond connection to his quirks and eccentricities. Nothing is ever as it seems, but it’s hard not to remain fascinated even as you remain clueless. This is particularly true with Mulholland Drive, and I felt that the movie kept getting better and better as it went along. Just doing this brief writeup has made me want to watch it again, this time to pick up on hints that I know I missed the first time around. That, to me, is the sign of a damn good film. 8.5/10

Million Dollar Baby [2004]
Million Dollar Baby [2004, Clint Eastwood]
Starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman.

I was a little disappointed that I already knew the big “twist” near the end of Million Dollar Baby. I had heard others discussing it after its release, and I was mildly worried that it would ruin my movie watching experience. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. Watching Hillary Swank rise through the ranks from white trash waitress to a badass boxing machine was a lot of fun. The boxing scenes in particular were very impressive and felt authentic. While I knew not to expect a happy ending, I almost wish the movie went in a different direction, as the last 20-30 minutes were completely different from the rest of the film. It was a jarring transition, even though it was handled with care.

Still, there’s a lot that I liked about Million Dollar Baby. As far as sports films go, this is one of the better ones. It certainly helps that Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are in excellent form here, with the latter doing his trademark narration as well. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say this is the best picture of 2004, but it is definitely a good one, and I am glad I decided to watch it despite knowing the outcome. 8/10

Movie Review: Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]
Director: Bennett Miller
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

Let me preface this by stating that I am a huge fan of baseball and of the book, Moneyball. It helps to be a fan of both, but the film adaptation was created in a way to appeal to everyone.

The movie, just like the book, focuses on the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their charismatic general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). A former baseball player who moved to the front office after he didn’t “pan out”, Beane is responsible for operating a small-budget Major League Baseball team. Oakland’s total team payroll in 2002? A paltry $39 million, the third lowest in all of baseball. Compare this to the mighty Yankees, who had a whopping $125 million payroll that year.

Yet the year before, in 2001, the A’s won seven more games than the Yankees and ended up meeting them in the playoffs. While the team wildly exceeded its expectations, this was still a grave disappointment for the demanding Beane. He was faced with an even greater dilemma that offseason in that three of his best players — Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen — were all leaving via free agency because he couldn’t afford to pay them. Now, not only does he have to follow up a tremendous 2001 season but he has to do it with spare parts in the roles of his former superstars.

Moneyball [2011]

This is where “Moneyball” steps in. After persuading a rival team’s assistant named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to join Oakland, the two collaborate and develop a new way to look at baseball. Instead of listening to gray-haired scouts rattle on about a player having all “five tools” or how good they look in appearance, Beane and Brand decide to focus on sabermetrics and non-traditional statistics. They seek players who can get on base by any means necessary, particularly by drawing walks. Their key stat? On-base percentage. Who cares if a guy is a liability in the field if he makes up for it with his bat? That’s the perception the two executives have, and it is perhaps best illustrated in the form of one player: Scott Hatteberg.

“Hatty”, as he was commonly known (played by Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt), is the perfect example of the Moneyball theory. Unwanted by other teams since nerve damage no longer allowed him to play catcher, Hatty is visited by Beane in an attempt to get him to play first base. Even though he is terrified of taking ground balls at the position, he perseveres and puts together some great moments at the plate (including an epic at-bat during the team’s record-breaking 20 game winning streak). Hatteberg’s salary in 2002 was $900,000. Giambi’s? $10.4 million.

It’s pretty freaking incredible that a team patched together with past-their-prime veterans (like David Justice) and defensive liabilities (Hatteberg) could still manage to win over 100 games and make the playoffs once again. It doesn’t matter that the team lost in the first round again — they still went toe-to-toe against teams with payrolls four times as large. Plus the concept of Moneyball revolutionized the league, and its effects are still felt today.

Moneyball [2011]

In terms of a film watching experience, you do not need to be a baseball fan to enjoy the movie (as stated above). Brad Pitt gives Beane a highly likable personality, even as we see how he is a deeply flawed man. Jonah Hill is quiet and subdued as Peter Brand, and it’s interesting to see him take on a role like this. The always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A’s manager Art Howe, who frequently butts heads with Beane due to differences in baseball philosophy. Chris Pratt also does well with his role of Hatteberg, astutely playing a baseball player who lacks confidence in himself.

The script is both well-written and intelligent, and it also has a surprising amount of humor. Screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian did a fantastic job adapting Michael Lewis’ bestseller.

As far as baseball movies go, this is one of the best. As far as 2011’s movies go, this is also one of the best. Everyone will find something to like about Moneyball, whether it’s the smart dialogue, perfect cast or the baseball philosophy.

9/10

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

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

FIFA 11
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.

8/10

Movie Project #4: The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The Hustler [1961]
Director: Robert Rossen
Genre: Drama/Romance/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

I am ashamed to admit that I know very little about Paul Newman. I know the story of Newman’s Own, and I have seen him in a couple of films (Slap Shot, Road to Perdition), but outside of that my knowledge is extremely lacking. After watching The Hustler, I can’t help but feel that Paul Newman was the fucking man.

Seriously, this is one hell of a character study that just so happens to use the game of pool as its backdrop. Newman is just amazing, as are the rest of the main cast: Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie.

As a small-time pool hustler, “Fast” Eddie Felston (Newman) has one goal: to beat the best in the game, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). After a quick meet-and-greet, the two square off in an epic battle. Eddie gets the upper hand early, almost effortlessly swindling thousands of dollars from his opponent. Several hours and countless drinks later, Fats takes control and wins back nearly dollar that he had lost earlier in the evening. Defeated and now flat broke, Eddie has seemingly hit rock bottom.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

It is at this point that Eddie meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), an alcoholic college girl who is full of her own problems. An unlikely duo, the two of them hit it off and build a relationship. However, when fellow gambler Bert Gordon offers to take Eddie on the road, things get rocky and the true colors of all involved start to come out. As much as the movie is about Fast Eddie, the stories of the other three main characters are just as important. With such great performances from all of them, it’s hard not to get attached to their characters no matter how flawed they are.

I enjoyed The Hustler quite a bit. Pool wasn’t as big of a focus as I thought it would be, and in fact the movie is just a fantastic piece of storytelling. I thought the first half of the film was a little slow, but once it got into fleshing out the main characters it became rather enthralling.

Two things I determined after watching this movie: 1) I need to watch its sequel, The Color of Money. 2) I really need to see more of Paul Newman’s work. He really blew me away here.

8/10

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.

8/10

Video Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 12 [PC, 2011]

Out of the Park Baseball 12 [PC, 2011]

Out of the Park Baseball 12
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: June 22, 2011

It’s no secret that I am a sports stat junkie. See here, here and here. I have been playing baseball simulators for years, and over the last few seasons it has become clear that Out of the Park Baseball is the forerunner in the genre. This year’s version, OOTP 12, was released just a couple weeks ago, and I am pleased to say that this is the best edition yet.

Catered to the more hardcore baseball fan, Out of the Park Baseball 12 is pure statistical bliss. As a predominantly text-based sim, OOTP has a seemingly endless amount of options and features. The game comes with this year’s opening day MLB rosters, and you can even play classic MLB seasons starting from the year 1871. Upon starting a season, you have total control. If you want to, you can make yourself the league commissioner and micromanage every single detail of a season. I prefer to take over a single team, usually my hometown Detroit Tigers, and try to guide them to become perennial World Series contenders.

Out of the Park Baseball 12 [PC, 2011]

If it can be done in the world of baseball, it can be done in OOTP 12. The game features a full minor league system with accurate prospects, and you can switch out different lineups against RHPs and LHPs. The amateur draft, Rule 5 draft, the waiver wire and salary arbitration are all included. You can have full control over your team’s budget, right down to manipulating the ticket prices. Seriously, the amount of depth in the game is nothing short of spectacular.

There are several noteworthy improvements in this year’s game. For one, the program’s speed and loading times are significantly improved. This is the fastest loading OOTP yet, and this is a huge plus. The injury system has also been tweaked to be more realistic. Now it is possible for a player to get hurt during a game and not receive an actual diagnosis until a few days afterward. Previously all injuries were determined immediately, which was a tad unrealistic. Another upgrade in OOTP 12 is a revamped financial system, particularly the salary negotiations. This entire setup has been changed for the better, and now players are more apt to request all sorts of performance bonuses and team/player options.

I was also impressed with the computer AI this time around. During the offseason of my imported Tigers franchise, I kept an eye on the free agent proceedings. The Atlanta Braves signed two huge free agents, an All-Star catcher and first baseman. I was concerned by this decision because the team already had quality pieces in place at those positions, and I was worried that those players would be unnecessarily riding the pine. I was pleasantly surprised to see Atlanta trade both of their former starters to other teams while proceeding to acquire players at other much-needed positions. I am currently halfway through the following season, and Atlanta is kicking ass. I love it — smart moves by the AI makes for a more challenging game.

Out of the Park Baseball 12 [PC, 2011]

There aren’t many faults with OOTP 12. I noticed some inaccuracies with the opening day rosters as well as some lacking player abilities, but most of these issues were patched up immediately after the game was released. That’s what I love about OOTP — it has a very close knit group of people who work on the game, and they are very active in hearing out concerns from its dedicated online community. I suppose if I were to nitpick about one thing this year it would have to be the inclusion of White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson’s obnoxious “He gone!” into the text play-by-pkay system. I have only seen this once out of at least a hundred played games on my part, but that was one time too many. Obviously this is just my own personal bias speaking, but I just can’t stand the guy.

Minor quibbles aside, there’s no denying that Out of the Park Baseball 12 is pretty damn awesome. It is a testament to the game’s quality that I have to do some serious digging to find any faults with the gameplay. I have spent many, many hours of my life playing OOTP games in the past, and this year’s version is sure to continue that trend. If you have any interest at all in fantasy baseball, statistics, micromanaging or if you enjoy playing MLB: The Show’s franchise mode, then you really ought to give this game a chance. This is by far the best game in the series, and it is worth upgrading even if you bought OOTP 11. Yeah, it’s that good.

10/10

– OOTP 12 can be purchased for $39.99 at the developer’s website. There is also a free trial available.

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]
Director: Dan Klores
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

A couple of weeks ago Amazon had an awesome Father’s Day sale going on for the ESPN Films 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set. Basically the set was on sale for 1/3 of the regular price, and it included all 30 documentaries as well as a vintage ESPN hat. It was a hell of a deal, and I couldn’t help but treat myself to it.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, 30 for 30 is a collection of 30 documentaries that aired on ESPN and its sister networks from 2009 to 2010. Sportswriter Bill Simmons came up with the idea to have a wide variety of filmmakers reflect on the sports stories/events/people that mattered to them, and had them create an hour long documentary about them. There are some pretty big names attached to the project, including Spike Jonze, NBA star Steve Nash and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“), and the various films cover a number of different sports.

The first feature I decided to watch was Dan Klores’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”, partly because I had heard nothing but good things about it, and also because I grew up watching 1990s NBA basketball. I remember the epic rivalries back then, including the Pacers vs. the Knicks. This is a rivalry that heated up and kicked into high gear during the two years Michael Jordan was on hiatus playing baseball. Without the Bulls dominating the league, there was a huge opportunity open for another team to take their place. Both Indiana and New York felt they could be the best, and they met in the playoffs both years.

While the documentary is entirely about the rivalry, it focuses heavily on Reggie Miller and the memorable moments involving him in their battles. These are truly classic moments from 90s basketball:

1) John Starks’ infamous headbutt and Miller’s dramatic overselling of it. Miller is a notorious trash talker and it grew to be too much for his New York arch rival, who attacked Reggie and got himself kicked out of the game. Looking back at the footage, it looked like teammates Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing were going to beat the shit out of Starks, and that’s a scary sight.

2) Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Diehard Knicks fan Spike Lee was sitting courtside and kept antagonizing Reggie as the Knicks were in control of the game. All of a sudden, something clicked with Miller and he went nuts and started draining shot after shot, eventually ending the game with 39 points (24 in the 4th quarter) and leading the Pacers to victory. Spike Lee was immediately chosen as the scapegoat for his team’s loss.

3) Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. One of the most incredible feats ever accomplished in NBA history. The Pacers were down by six points with 18.7 seconds left. Miller hits a 3, steals the inbound pass, dribbles back and hits another 3, then seals the game with two free throws. Eight points in nine seconds. It’s remarkable to see this, even to this day.

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

The documentary touches on all three of these classic moments, and includes some awesome rare footage including a lot of the trash talk between Miller and Lee. There are also details of other elements of the rivalry including the whole “Hicks vs. Knicks” region battle, and issues with racism. Klores really does a great job piecing everything together and getting input from all of those involved, even getting soundbites from Patrick Ewing and John Starks about their devastating last-second shot misses.

You don’t have to be a Knicks or Pacers fan to enjoy Winning Time. NBA fans will get the most out of this, but even non-fans can appreciate the story behind this rivalry. Hell, my girlfriend who can’t stand professional basketball even got a kick out of the little bit she saw. Winning Time is an excellent documentary that had me feeling nostalgic for the days of my youth. I can only hope that all of the 30 for 30 documentaries are even half this good.

9/10