Monday, December 27, 2010

Chicago Bulls Drafts since 1999

I'm very excited about the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11. They're a fun team. They're easy to like and hard to hate. They're a group of good guys who work hard.

I was recently thinking about why it took so long to rebuild since the departure of Michael Jordan. Since 1999, the Chicago Bulls have had their share of lottery picks. They've had two #1s, two #2s, a 3, two #4s, two 7s and a 9. Of those picks, only Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah remain on the team. You'd think with 10 picks that high, they'd have been able to rebuild quicker.

Drafting is tough. But some teams do a much better job than others. And there's some luck involved in the quality of the draft. Let's quickly take a look at guys passed on by the Bulls. Instead they took Marcus Fizer (#4), Eddie Curry (#4), LaMarcus Aldridge (#2) and traded for Tyrus Thomas on draft day.

In 2000, they have a 4 and a 7 and take Marcus Fizer and Chris Mihm (trading him for Jamal Crawford). Ugh. Just passing on Joel Pryzbilla, Hedo Turkoglu and Mike Miller.

In 2001, they missed out on Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Tony Parker. Instead they do their Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler rebuilding strategy.

In 2002, they had the Jay Williams tragedy, so there's a pass. Amare was taken #9 though.

In 2003, they just got hosed with the 7th pick. Ahead of Kirk Hinrich, you had Lebron, Carmelo, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Then 3 of those fuckers decided to play together.

In 2005 they have no pick (which is ok, since it turned into Luol Deng in 2004) and miss out on the Chris Paul and Deron Williams lottery.

In 2006, they have the #2 pick and inexplicably flip LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas and miss out on Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy and J.J. Redick.

I'm too lazy to research this, but something happened between the 2006 and 2007 draft. The Bulls went from completely screwing up each and every pick to doing something right. What was it?

In 2007, they start to figure things out, stealing Joakim Noah at #9. There was talk the previous year, had Noah come out, he might have been a top 3 pick.

In 2008, the luck out on the #1 and obviously take Derrick Rose. There was talk about Beasley, but even the Bulls couldn't screw that one up.

In 2009, they do a great job of getting Taj Gibson at 26.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NBA 2K11 - A brief history of sports video games. And a review of "My Player" mode.

I have lived through the earliest generations of video games to what we have now. My first memories of sports games were on the Odyssey 2 system. I remember playing baseball, football, basketball and golf. The football game had a field that wasn't quite big enough (80 yards?). The basketball game was 1 on 1 with two large "hoops" on either end. The 2nd baseman in the baseball game played directly on 2nd base. (In hindsight, I think this is why I learned to hit opposite field in real life.)

Only 5 years later, the NES brought us Tecmo Bowl, First and Ten, Baseball Stars, RBI baseball and other games that were leaps and bounds beyond our original game playing experience. I'd spend nights with my neighbors creating our own leagues in Baseball Stars. You couldn't save games back then, so we'd just stay up all night. Eventually our Nintendo would overheat and give out, leading to 4:30 am yelling sessions.

Fast forward another 5 years to the early 1990s. My brother and I would gasp at the latest on Sega Genesis. The Madden games were amazingly innovative. We had real teams! And playbooks! And announcers! ("Oh no. There's a man down.")

My brother still hesitates playing sports games with me after the "Madden Years" of the early - mid 90s.

The point here is that he and I used to say, "Wow. Look at what's happened to games over the past 10-15 years. Imagine what's going to happen 10-15 years from now." We were legitimately excited. Well, here we are, in late 2010. And that time is now. And I've recently purchased NBA 2K11 for my first basketball experience since NBA Jam some 15 years ago.


First off, I just want to give all sorts of praise to the video game industry. The level of detail in this game (and many other games) is simply extraordinary. Yes, you can play as any of the NBA teams. Yes, the likeness of the players is pretty impressive. And yes, they do tend to play to the skill level of the real player.

Many other details are not overlooked... The stadiums, the advertisements and even tattoos.
Each stadium even has their own sounds - For example, Minnesota has the howling Timberwolves.

Where I'm truly impressed is how lifelike the experience can be. The announcers, for the most part, are seamless in their play calling. Doris Burke is also on the sidelines giving updates on player health and what the coaches say.

Joakim Noah got hurt in reality? The game updates itself and you play as the Bulls. But without Noah who's injured on the bench. Current (real) scores tick away as you play, allowing you to keep up with your favorite team.

This game isn't for the faint of heart. It takes amazing amounts of practice. I would say that sports games are no longer for the casual player. (Although, I wouldn't mind seeing an NBA Jam type game that doesn't take oodles of skill.) You really have to understand basketball to play the game. You need to run plays, space the floor, make good passes in the passing lanes and only shoot high percentage shots. Playing with Kobe or LeBron won't help poor decision making.

Oh, and let's not forget, you can play as Michael Jordan on a few of his Bulls teams.


My favorite (and most frustrating) part of the game is "My Player". You make a player and try to work your way into the league. I gave my player my real name. And I decided I wanted a Deron Williams mold point guard. So he's 6' 3", 210 pounds and passes first. They intentionally make your skill set pretty raw, so you have lots of room to improve.

Listen, I'm not a great basketball player in a real life. But I understand the game and can hit a jump shot. We're at the point that, even in my basketball fantasy world, I'm worse than I am in real life. That's where we're at when it comes to some of these games. If you're new to the game, you're going to be terrible.

So, in my fantasy world of making the NBA, I start with a few scrimmages. I commit too many turnovers, allow my opponent to score on me and begin falling in the NBA draft projections. Eventually, I'm drafted by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round. Which, despite my hatred of the Heat, I figure it would be fun to be the point guard on their team.

Before I can do anything, they get rid of me. So I've been relegated to the D-League, playing for the Springfield Armor. So now my NBA fantasy has me playing point guard in the D-League. Oh, and did I mention I was the backup point guard, coming off the bench?

At this point I consider restarting "My Player" mode, but it really wouldn't make me any better. So instead, I play as a backup in the D-League. The player you get is bad. You're slow. You can't jump. You're not strong. Your shot is terrible. And you're forced to really learn fundamentals. It's like being a real player who's fighting for an NBA spot. You have to learn the ropes, run the plays and just get the fundamentals down.

After each game, based on your performance, you get points to improve your player. You improve slowly. VERY slowly. There are dozens of categories to improve. And the improvements you can make are incremental at best. It's depressing to think about how long it will take to become decent.

After a day or two in the D-League, I get the big announcement. The Charlotte Bobcats just signed me to a 10 day contract. I'm telling you - even in my fantasies, I'm lame. I come off the bench, again. I now understand why players want out of bad teams. When you're the point guard for a team that can't score, it's frustrating. They judge you on your assists. And Gerald Wallace blows far too many layups.

There's a "request a trade" option. So I did. The home fans got pissed and began chanting "Trade him! Trade him!" whenever I touched the ball. I play a good 15 games as the backup point guard, with one good game. I scored 23 points and had 13 assists.

Just today I got my trade approved. To the Lakers. So now I start instead of Derek Fisher. After all these hours of playing NBA 2K11, it's fun. It's as if, working towards playing for a winner was all worthwhile. Passing the ball to Kobe and Gasol makes me look better.

So there you have it. I wish I was about 12 years old right now. As an adult, I don't have the time or desire to get really good at a game like this. But my competitive nature is somehow reinvigorated. In just one generation, we've gone from Odyssey 2 to this. Not too shabby.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Heavy Rain reactions

----- NO SPOILERS -----

I've been looking forward to the PS3 game Heavy Rain for quite some time now. On my way home from work on Friday I stopped at Target to pick it up. The kid at the electronics register was super excited about the game too. Now, outside of the gaming community, very few people have the slightest clue what Heavy Rain is. This is why I've chosen to give my initial reactions to the game here online. Since I can't discuss the game with most others. Plus, for reasons to be explained, I can't really discuss it with the people who are playing the game.

It's my opinion that game developers, much like movie studios, have figured out a money making formula and will seldom deviate from that. And why would they? Money is money. In the movie world, big action adventures with tremendous special effects will be your meal ticket. Intriguing plot lines are irrelevant (see Avatar). If you know your movie can make $100 million or more, you're going to produce it. The same goes for video games. The top games year after year are first person shooters and the musical (see Rock Band and Guitar Hero) games. Personally, I've peaked as a faux-musician and I'm tired of shooting "enemies" in a variety of ways. I've played Uncharted 2 online for months now and have amassed something like 5000 kills of other online players. When is enough enough? When will the senseless killing end?

It is for this reason that I would support Heavy Rain, regardless of reviews. Heavy Rain is simply a complex, plot driven drama that intends to immerse you into the story line. For their risk taking alone, I am behind this game. Worst case, it will open the minds of some video game makers. Best case, it lives up to its tremendous hype and begins an entirely new genre of game.

As I give my reactions to the game, I won't give any spoilers that you wouldn't already know from seeing the game trailer:

I played for 5 hours on Friday evening to the point where I basically fell asleep due to exhaustion. Here are my initial thoughts beginning the next morning:

- The story line is compelling. Within the first hour I was immediately immersed in the characters.

- Don't play this game while you're tired. You have to think quick and act quicker. Often times when you're least expecting it.

- Most games allow you to save and go back to where you saved the game. This game forces you to make split second decisions and live with them. The resulting gameplay is based upon those decisions. For the first time in ages, I've felt a heightened sense of thrill while weaving my way through the story, knowing my decisions could be permanent to the outcome.

- (VERY MINOR SPOILER if you haven't seen the trailers) Within the first hour or two of the game, I suggested they market the game as "Heavy Rain: Where you can suck as a dad even in your fantasy life."

- Music is often under appreciated in games. Heavy Rain is no exception. The music immerses you in the moment.

- The first time through the game, you have no idea how your decisions are affecting the subsequent gameplay. Honestly, I have no idea if my decisions play any role in the overall game. It seems like they do.

- Which brings us to the question of replay-ability. If I play this again, will I get a completely different story? Or is the story basically the same with the illusion of choice?

- When you install the game, there are instructions on how to make oragami. In fact, they give you a piece of oragami in the game box. My oragami is sitting in front of the TV. One of those neat little extras that make the experience just a little bit better.

- My brother and I are comparing notes over IM right now. Since we don't want to spoil each others' game, we have to ask "How many inches of rain have fallen in your game?" That's the best way we've figured out how to compare our progress without ruining anything.

- Based on our vague conversations, certain scenes played out differently for us purely upon our skill and/or decisions. This alone has me excited for a replay of the game.

Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Winter Olympic Running Diary

As I'm watching the 2010 Winter Olympic opening ceremonies, the parade of nations just began. For no reason, I've been inspired to write about it. In a flashback of my early days online, I vaguely remember writing about the 2002 Winter Olympics as one of my first "Something I learned today" entries.

- My interest in the Winter Olympics has greatly increased simply due to the attractiveness of the competitors.

- Speaking of which... Holy Denmark! Have you ever seen an unattractive Denmarkian... er, Denmark-an... Point is, couldn't they promote tourism simply based on how hot they all are?

- Pakistan is representing, huh? Didn't see that one coming.

- Seems a little unfair that Bosnia and Herzegovina get to team up and compete together.

- Poland needs a new flag. Their overall standing in the world would jump dramatically if their flag weren't so lame.

- What's the theme? Snow? I know we're in a recession, but creativity should never slump.

- We're seeing the greatest moment in so many of these peoples' lives. It shows on their faces.

- China is poised for world domination. First, the 2008 games in Beijng. Now, it seems like they're ready to surprise in the winter games. In a decade, I'm preparing to pledge my allegiance to whatever overlord takes control.

- You ever wonder what happened to Pikaboo Street? She's working in a hospital now. Intensive care ward. When she picks up the phone, she answers, "Pikaboo. ICU." (None of that is true. Or funny. But it had to be said.)

- I was looking at a map of the winter games. The farthest south the games have ever been were either in the U.S. or Japan. The latitudes were pretty close.

- If you were offered the opportunity to be one of those Canadian snowflake people who dances during the parade, would you take it? I couldn't dance, nor appear that happy, for that long.

- Mexico sent one dude in his 50s? If you're under 25 years old and live in Mexico, wouldn't you just take up any winter sport to be their representative next time?

- The danger factor in the winter games is WAY higher than the summer games. You'd think that alone would generate some interest.

- In 1948 the winter pentathlon was an event. It consisted of cross-country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing and horse riding. Wouldn't you love to see that? Especially shooting on a horse with skis?

- Call me unpatriotic, but I'd give up every U.S. medal to see other countries who have never medaled win it.