Editor’s note: This guest article was written by Lowell Sun sports writer Chaz Scoggins. To see more of Chaz’s work, visit his baseball blog and follow him on Twitter. In the above AP photo, Curt Schilling looks on after being introduced as a new member of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame on Aug. 3 at Fenway Park.
Because of his large personality, Curt Schilling can be a polarizing individual. But if people thought a hero of the last two Red Sox World Championships, in his first major personal appearance since the massive failure of his video game company, would duck the issue or even skip his induction ceremony into the club’s Hall of Fame, they were wrong.
He has every reason to feel embarrassed and humiliated. But when it came to addressing the multi-million dollar bankruptcy of 38 Studios, a failure that left the state of Rhode Island holding the bag for $75 million and, he claims, cost him most of his personal fortune, Schilling stood as tall during his pre-induction interview on Aug. 3, as he did on the mound as one of the greatest clutch pitchers in baseball history.
“It’s been hard,” Schilling freely conceded. “But life is hard. This is not someone else’s responsibility. I took a shot and tried to create something world-changing, and it didn’t work out.
“I gave it everything I had, literally. Now I’m just trying to manage day by day. I’m OK. This is what life is made up of. It’s not always 2004.”
The failure of 38 Studios put hundreds of employees out of work, and Schilling seemed genuinely sorry about that.
“That was the devastating part,” he said. “What I learned on the field here, from managers and coaches and teammates, talent aside it’s always about your people. I had a family of 400 people that I was responsible for, and I failed them.
“The challenging part,” he continued, “was helping them get back on their feet, and most of them have. There are still some situations to take care of.”
The first big group of Steroid Era superstars is coming up for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this winter, and Schilling is among them. The baseball world is curious to see how the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (me included) treat their candidacies. Some writers have gone on record as saying they will vote for no one from that group because they’ve all been tainted by the PED issue, even if a candidate has never been accused or even suspected of being a user.
Asked to assess his own chances of being enshrined in Cooperstown someday, Schilling replied: “No clue. If it happens, it’s awesome. If it doesn’t, that’s all right.
“When I was playing I never thought about it. Now that I’m not playing, I have thought about it, and it’s going to be an interesting ballot.
“The era I played in is always going to be known as the Steroid Era, and as players we have to shoulder the blame for that,” he continued, again refusing to vacillate on a controversial issue.
“I’m curious to see how it impacts the guys. You look at the top 10 (players) from my generation, and a lot of them cheated. And that’s unfortunate.”
Even without the stain of steroids — and Schilling is not among those known to have used them — his credentials put him on the bubble as a candidate.
He didn’t come close to winning 300 games or even 250 games in the majors, although his 216-146 record, .597 winning percentage, 20 shutouts and 3.46 ERA deserve serious consideration. He was a three-time 20-game winner, leading his league in wins twice with a 22-6 record for the Diamondbacks in 2001 and a 21-6 record for the Red Sox in 2004.
He also led the NL in strikeouts twice, fanning 319 batters in 254 innings in 1997 and 300 in 269 innings in 1998.
His postseason pitching record gives Schilling’s candidacy a big boost, however. He pitched for three World Series champions, rolling up an 11-2 postseason record with a 2.23 ERA, four complete games and two shutouts. And no one can ever forget how much heart he showed in the two Bloody Sock games in 2004.
While Schilling didn’t take the opportunity to trumpet his own candidacy for the Hall of Fame, he did endorse his old Red Sox teammate, Pedro Martinez, who, like Schilling, comes up short in the career victories department even though he was the most dominant pitcher in the game for several years. Martinez won only three more regular-season games than Schilling did.
“If Pedro isn’t unanimous, first ballot,” Schilling said, “then they need to redo the whole process.”
John Hemingway, what were you thinking?
During an interview with Eurogamer published Monday, Hemingway, the lead designer for developer Gearbox Software’s highly anticipated first-person shooter Borderlands 2, talked a bit about the game’s Mechromancer class. The punk-cyborg female character will be available roughly two months after the main game launches on Sept. 18 for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Hemingway provided some details about one of the Mechromancer’s three skill trees, officially dubbed Best Friends Forever, which is chock full of perks aimed to help out new or unskilled gamers. The thinking is that a less accomplished player can still team up with buddies and enjoy the game.
That’s terrific. I’m all for anything that makes gaming more accessible to people who want to play.
Hemingway, however, goes off the deep end by casually referring to BFF as “girlfriend mode.”
This clipping from Eurogamer’s site perfectly sums up the cringeworthy exchange:
“The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.”
One of the first skills available in the BFF tree is called Close Enough. This means your bullets that hit walls or other objects, that is, miss their target, have a chance to ricochet off towards the enemy.
“Can’t aim? That’s not a problem,” Hemingway said.
Congratulations on belittling an entire gender, Hemingway. BFF mode is a great idea; affixing a default gender to people who “suck at first-person shooters” isn’t.
These comments only help reinforce the increasingly ill-fitting stereotype that men are the only ones playing, or at least excelling, at FPS titles and video games in general.
Hours after the Eurogamer article launched Monday, Gearbox released the following statement on its Twitter account, @GearboxSoftware: “Gaming is divided by skill, not gender. Our goal with Mechromancer is for co-op partners of any skill to have fun together.”
Make no mistake, NCAA Football 13 is the greatest collegiate pigskin simulation ever made. It ranks just slightly higher than last year’s version.
How many times will you pay for the same product? It’s a question crucial to weighing the value of the latest football game from developer EA Tiburon.
Sure, there are crisper graphics and a few welcome gameplay tweaks, but this is essentially the same annual iteration we’ve seen for more than a decade. Whether or not you’re willing to shell out another $60 (for PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360) likely depends on a few key factors.
If you play predominantly online, you have nothing to worry about. NCAA 13 is in its glory with the players on the field and two human opponents clashing helmet-to-helmet. Whether you create your own squad using the team-builder feature or choose from an existing school, the on-field controls are fluid and admirably responsive.
Tiburon has beefed up the passing game this year, curbing linebackers’ ability to leap to impossible heights and snag interceptions out of thin air. Defenders aren’t entirely helpless, reacting realistically rather than relying on cheap tricks. Turnovers — QB fumbles, especially — seem less random, and when a receiver breaks into the clear, nearby defensive backs will shift over to close the window of opportunity.
The result is a passing game that relies on quickly reading the coverage and delivering a precision strike at the perfect moment. Often, a receiver will be open less than a couple seconds before the defense closes in.
The passing game also benefits from icons that appear when receivers turn to look for the ball — they are less effective with rushed or inaccurate throws — as well as an impressive amount of control over ball speed and trajectory. With a little practice, it’s a simple thing to zip quick throws into tight coverage or loft slower, arcing passes over a cornerback’s outstretched hands.
Even average quarterbacks are far more potent this time around, and players can finally savor the feeling of being a dominant field general while marching their team toward the end zone.
Unfortunately, the razor-sharp controls tip the scales too heavily in single-player mode. Even on the hardest setting, it’s no surprise to pile up 60 points per game against vastly superior teams. Once you get comfortable throwing the deep ball, all the challenge of facing AI opponents slips away.
It’s a shame, too, because NCAA 13‘s dynasty mode boasts the series’ most enjoyable recruiting interface. Potential recruits judge your school based on 14 different factors, and the importance of each one depends on the players’ preferences. If you start off coaching at a less heralded program, like Connecticut or UMass — a new addition this year — you’ll have your work cut out for you wooing top prospects.
If you spend enough time coaching at the same school, players will feel more confident that you’ll still be there when they graduate. If you have a reputation of sending players to the NFL draft, recruits looking to go pro will flock to your program. You can also tempt athletes with promises, such as first-year playing time or big rivalry wins. The effect of these pitches will depend on how well you’ve kept your word to previous recruits.
Scouting is also a key feature. If you invest enough time getting to know your recruits, you’ll see their overall ratings change and learn whether they’re hidden gems or busts.
Also new this year is Heisman Challenge mode, where players can don the spikes of legends past. If you’ve always wanted to relive the glory of Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary miracle, here’s your chance. Heisman Challenge and Road to Glory — wherein players create high school stars and follow them through the recruiting process — are fun in short doses, but don’t add significantly to the overall package.
In the end, it’s the on-field action that sells NCAA Football 13. We’re still waiting for Tiburon to make a major overhaul. If you keep your expectations in check, however, and savor the modest improvements, you’re in for a pretty decent gridiron experience.
Final score: 7 out of 10
The same storylines emerge during every Olympics. A plucky young underdog will stage a thrilling upset, Americans will rally around their favorite new athletes only to forget them within a month’s time, and someone will try to capitalize on that surge of patriotism with a sub-par video game.
For what it’s worth, London 2012: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games ($50, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC) is probably the best all-around Olympic simulation ever made. That said, it still isn’t very good.
Call me a pessimist, but developer Sega seems more concerned with creating an attractive facade to lure players in than delivering solid gameplay that will keep them coming back. Stamp a flag on the North American cover and sell as many copies as you can before the fervor dies down.
Think I’m paranoid? One of the athletes to grace that cover is a gymnast performing either a floor or balance beam routine. Problem is, neither event exists in the actual game. Your gymnastics fare is limited to the vault or men’s trampoline.
While London 2012 doesn’t even attempt to tackle some of the Summer Games’ major sports, such as basketball or soccer, it does do a commendable job of offering a wide variety of less glamorous events. There are 28 total disciplines (if you don’t count double for those that can be played as both genders or cooperatively), and Sega wisely gives gamers the freedom to create customized playlists of their favorites.
Better still, players can face off with friends at home or online. Even in single-player mode, London 2012 runs a ticker during loading screens showing how your personal bests match up against a worldwide leaderboard.
There’s actually a fair amount of potential here, but unimpressive graphics and poor overall presentation hamstring the sense of grandeur usually associated with the Olympic Games. Stadiums feel cavernous and empty thanks to blocky, lifeless fans, sparse background visual detail and woefully uninspired commentary from the two-person announcer team. Even standing atop the podium with your national anthem playing, there’s no real feeling of celebration.
You can choose from preset character models and alter the name of your athletes for each sport, but not being able to fully customize them is a glaring omission. Furthermore, why are there so many events that can’t be played by both genders?
Swimming and track and field are well represented, each with more than a half-dozen variations, and the “other sports” category has hidden gems in canoeing and cycling. Even the enjoyable disciplines don’t hold any real replay value, however, and for every one of those there are two or three more than aren’t any fun the first time around.
London 2012 deserves credit for not making every event a test to see who can mash buttons the fastest, but the controls used instead vary wildly from far too easy to maddeningly difficult. I threw an Olympic record on my second attempt with the javelin, but my initiation to freestyle swimming left me wondering if it was possible for my struggling avatar to actually drown. A head-to-head table tennis showdown, meanwhile, can drag on forever, especially against a capable human opponent.
Runners seem to have the best balance, where players tap a button to build speed but are penalized for pressing either too slowly or quickly. Using the thumbstick to lunge for the finish line, hitting the perfect angle of release on a discus throw or kicking your legs over the bar in the high jump are all satisfying moments. Even with a tutorial, swimming events that require precise timing by using the thumbsticks to move the swimmers’ arms are a frustrating practice in trial-and-error. Xbox 360 players can also use Kinect motion controls, which are predictably clumsy.
Several sports share the same control schemes, further detracting from sense of variety. Once you’ve tried your hand at the trampoline, you know exactly what you’re in for with springboard and platform diving.
As a party game or a quick fix of patriotism, you could do worse. Sega takes steps in the right direction, but this still feels more like a thrown-together download than a fully polished release.
Not only does London 2012 lack long-term value, its appeal won’t even last through the closing ceremony.
Final score: 5 out of 10
The best video game of 2011 has gotten even better.
Whether you poured hundreds of hours into Skyrim when it released in November or got sidetracked not long after slaying your first dragon, developer Bethesda provides the perfect excuse to jump back into one of the deepest role-playing worlds ever imagined.
Dawnguard, the first downloadable add-on for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, recently launched with a $20 price tag for Xbox Live, PlayStation 3 and PC. The DLC drops players in the middle of a war between an ancient royal vampire clan and an order of warriors sworn to destroy them.
Early on, you’ll be asked to choose your allegiance. Side with the warriors, the titular Dawnguard, and you’ll be given an upgradable crossbow, new armor and access to fearsome allies that include armored trolls. Choose to become one of the undead, and you gain the ability to transform into a vampire lord with nearly unstoppable magical abilities.
At the outset, I feared neither path would allow me to play the way I truly wanted. As hesitant as I was to swear fealty to Harkon, a murderous vampire lord, I was equally reluctant to dedicate my life to wiping his entire race from existence. Thankfully, Dawnguard proved to be much deeper than a choice between two straight plotlines, and I soon found myself immersed in the familiar land of Tamriel once more.
For players who have explored every inch of Skyrim‘s harsh terrain, this DLC is a breath of fresh air. The quest carries the Dragonborn into unfamiliar territory. Players venture to a dangerous ethereal world trapped between life and death known as the Soul Cairn, and also delve deep into the underground ruins of a long-extinct race as they seek to unravel an ancient prophecy.
Unfortunately, even these new worlds are plagued by the bugs and glitches that are all too familiar to fans of the series. Along with the standard clipping issues and crashes, I was treated to several more amusing hiccups, like a companion who refused to leave sneak mode, moving only at a snail’s pace. There was also a gigantic tower that failed to load the first time I entered the underground ruins, appearing instead as a small mound of dirt surrounded by invisible walls, leaving me utterly confused as to why my quest marker sat there.
Whichever side you choose to aid, you will be joined by Harkon’s daughter, Serena. I had spent more than a hundred hours in solitary exploration because, in the base game, companions possess little personality and repeat the same few phrases on an endless loop. While Skyrim still has a long way to go to reach the level of character development seen in other RPGs, Serena’s subtle backstory and genuine dialogue are definitely high points for this game.
While the meat of Dawnguard can be found in the additional storyline, the DLC also makes several welcome improvements to the main game. There are new shout abilities, including one that raises fallen enemies to fight beside you, a new castle that serves as a home base for each faction, and a merchant who will alter your character’s physical appearance.
Along with the crossbow, players also gain the ability to craft top-level Dragonbone weapons, more powerful than any in the original game. Dawnguard also adds mounted combat, making battles more fluid and exhilarating by allowing players on horseback to chase down and slay foes. You’ll need every advantage you can get while facing new enemies like death hounds and gargoyles.
As a vampire lord, players gain access to a perk tree separate from the standard leveling system. Feeding off humans unlocks deadly abilities, such as paralyzing opponents and unleashing a swarm of aggressive bats. To balance these daunting powers, players who became werewolves in the base game are also granted new perks.
Consider all these ancillary additions, combined with an engaging storyline in which it took me nearly 20 hours to complete one path — though I did explore most every nook and cranny — and it’s clear Dawnguard offers a truly staggering amount of additional content.
If you weren’t a fan of the full game that released last year, this DLC won’t change your mind. But if you counted exploring the vast mountains and forests of Skyrim among your favorite gaming experiences of 2011, Dawnguard represents even more to love.
Final score: 8.5 out of 10
If you still think the undead pose the greatest threat during a zombie apocalypse, you haven’t been paying attention.
In three months since the Atlanta outbreak, starvation, infighting and hopelessness have taken their toll on the survivors of The Walking Dead, a five-part adventure series for PC, Mac, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. In Episode 2: Starved for Help, hunger pangs and restlessness have brought discord to a boiling point.
As Lee Everett, players may try to walk a fine line to keep the group from splintering, or pander to a faction for personal gain. Whatever tactics he chooses, Lee’s utmost priority is protecting 8-year-old Clementine.
This isn’t the terrifying tone of Episode 1, when in the first days of the plague Lee brutally fought against waves of single-minded monsters. The new enemy is despair, and developer Telltale Games strikes a quietly frantic tone of gnawing desperation. The group has gone from fighting for their lives to fending off for one more day a fate that seems inevitable.
In the series’ second installment, players finally get a sense of just how great an impact the element of choice makes on the story. Episode 1 already displayed in no uncertain terms that characters will live or die based on Lee’s decisions, and not everyone can be saved.
Now, even minor actions prove to have resounding repercussions. By trying to play peacemaker during an argument months ago, for example, Lee is now viewed by both sides as disloyal.
Unlike many games that offer the illusion of choice with no true consequences — or those with simplified decisions such as greed vs. selflessness — The Walking Dead constantly assails players with complex dilemmas and uncertain outcomes. Even well-intentioned actions can prove disastrous, and the full fallout often doesn’t reveal itself until much later in the story.
Early in Episode 2, Lee must distribute the day’s rations — four measly scraps of food among 10 starving survivors. As he walks the camp, talking to each companion and assessing the weighty task, children cry out in hunger and mournful eyes behind gaunt adult faces convey the pleading their owners are too proud to voice.
It’s a futile task. Many in need will have to go without.
Lee can take a share to preserve his own strength, make sure the children are fed, or try to curry favor among the group’s leaders. No matter what players chose, six survivors will remain unfed, and their anger toward Lee plays out through the remainder of the chapter.
While the group is safe from zombies within the makeshift camp, the scarcity of supplies brings them closer to death with each passing day. The tenuous bonds that join them are fraying beyond repair, as family man Kenny demands they set out in search of greener pastures, while bullheaded Lilly insists the wisest move is staying put.
Salvation appears in the form of two local dairy farmers who offer food and temporary shelter in exchange for gas to run their generators. The land, protected from the undead by an electrified fence, provides a brief glimpse of hope. But wherever there is something of value in this new society, there are violent bandits eager to take those resources by force.
Telltale’s pacing is absolutely masterful. After a quick and brutal jolt to thrust players back into the series, Episode 2 becomes a slow burn of building unease. The devastating effect of the survivors’ hunger is sold so well that players can’t help but feel the burden.
Every decision is amplified, and any misstep could prove fatal.
Only once the farm suggests a chance of escape from that fate is the groundwork of steadily rising anxiety transferred into Telltale’s true specialty of suspense. With bandits at the gates and tempers still threatening to tear the group apart from the inside, the promise of utopia could fall to pieces at any moment. And all the while persists the constant, unbridled fear of snapping jaws stumbling from the shadows.
There are predictable moments throughout the plot of Episode 2, with overtly telegraphed twists and turns. Instead, it’s character interaction and top-notch voice acting that sell the story.
While, as Lee, I felt quite acutely the desperation of our predicament, I also made several decisions against my better judgment because I knew Clementine was looking on. Somewhere along the way, preserving the trust of a little girl I barely knew — someone who views Lee as her sole protector — became more important than merely surviving.
I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the unique and inescapable hold of The Walking Dead.
Final score: 8.5 out of 10
It’s time to get your god mode on.
In Babel Rising, you are an unseen deity whose followers begin building a tower to heaven. Rather than share your seraphic living accommodations with the masses, you decide to put the fear of, well, you back into those lowly humans. Hurl fireballs from the sky or drown believers in a mighty flood before they can finish their ungodly work.
It’s a curious tidbit of a tower defense game, originally designed for iOS devices and retooled by developer Mando Productions for release on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network with a $10 price tag.
There’s plenty of promise to the concept, sure. Who wouldn’t want to spend a little time playing God? But Babel Rising doesn’t quite live up to its potential, offering too little variety and taking the punch out of its unbridled smiting spree.
First and foremost, forget about those optional Kinect controls. Once again the Xbox 360’s motion-sensing method proves to be more of a liability than a functioning feature. I couldn’t get commands to register with nearly enough reliability and quickly switched to using a controller.
The campaign starts you off slow, introducing new powers and enemy classes little by little during the several-stage tutorial. After all, omnipotence is a lot to digest all at once.
Beginning at the structure’s foundation, steadily advancing workers take a linear path in climbing the tower, building it ever higher unless you use your divine abilities to end their miserable existence.
The problem is that by time you’ve finished those opening levels, you’ve experienced the bulk of what Babel Rising has to offer. You’re only given four powers to play with. You can have just two active per level, and even then the loadout is usually determined for you.
Abilities correspond to the elements earth, wind, fire and water — old hat for any Captain Planet or soul music aficionado. Each power has a basic use, a secondary attack that takes longer to recharge but deals damage over a wide area, and a rare but supremely powerful strike.
If you need to pick off the occasional straggler, you can quickly and easily get the job done by one-by-one dropping stones on their heads, their cartoonish angels ascending to the afterlife. Once a larger group assails the structure, however, you need to get serious, using your fire area attack to draw a streak of flames that burns for several seconds and immolates anyone who enters. You can reuse abilities fairly quickly, but if you give them a little extra time to recharge, their strength is amplified.
When you use either form of a power, it slowly fills a third meter that, once charged, unleashes a devastating attack. After you’ve plunked enough workers with rocks, for example, you can call forth a gigantic boulder that rolls down the tower’s ramp, crushing everyone in its path.
It’s all a joy the first time through, but there’s no progression system. Once you’ve used all three forms of a power, you’ve seen all there is to it. With only four powers to choose from, they all grow stale fairly quickly.
It’s a shame Mando didn’t include a skill tree that lets you enhance abilities after you’ve wiped out enough enemies. Let’s say you’ve burned 1,000 believers to a crisp, why not be given the chance to choose between calling down several fireballs at once and a longer-burning line of flames?
Enemy variety is also pretty bare-bones. Priests shield workers from specific attacks. If you spot one surrounded by a red circle, it means he and anyone nearby are immune to fire, and you’ll need to use a different power to get him out of the way.
It’s all very easy in the early going, but later enemies appear from multiple paths, forcing you to frantically rotate your view, mixing up attacks to try to stem the tide. In one stage you’ll be tasked with killing a certain number of workers, while another requires you to use precise strikes to avoid smashing cursed jars that temporarily sap your powers.
There are three different towers in the game. Along with campaign mode, players can take part in survival, where they try to hold off builders for as long as possible, and both competitive and cooperative local multiplayer. The overall leaderboards are appreciated, but not being able to go head-to-head with an online opponent is another painful omission.
Babel Rising is an interesting concept that entertains in small doses and boasts a ton of potential. Repetitive gameplay and a lack of skill progression, however, hold it back from being more than a passing fancy.
It turns out spending all your time keeping undesirables out of heaven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Final score: 6 out of 10