Friday, July 18, 2008

"I wish, too, but you're making it extremely difficult for me. I'm just trying to get these shoes back to my house so I can wear them..."

The State of the Blog: A Semi-Annual(ish) Feature

I. Since my previous SotB contained an outlandish promise (remember the ill-fated Gravity's Rainbow read-and-blog? No? Good), let it not be said that this one doesn't either. To that end, I'm proud to unveil the "Ranking the Presidents" project. From #42 (I'm only going to say this once, people, so try to pay attention: the fact that Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms, counts as the 22nd and 24th U.S. President is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. It's one--hence 42 in total) to #1, in (I think) five parts, with the final part completed just before the November election (which may or may not be chronicled in a running diary, with special guests Misha and Jessica Biga-Wadstein). Tentatively, I'm looking at the the following categories:

High Points/Accomplishments: does not apply to all Presidents (I'm looking at you, Franklin Pierce!)

Low Points: always more fun to talk about, anyway...

Allowances for Instability (or lack thereof) of Time Period:
TR's contemporary lament--that he would always be underrated as a President because he didn't govern during a turbulent enough time (though Lord knows he tried to spice things up!)--has always fascinated me. Accordingly, I'll look at what was going on in America during each Presidents' tenure. Essentially, this can be viewed as a degree of difficulty component.

Fun Facts:
some of which may not even be cribbed from books written by hosts or correspondents from
The Daily Show (no promises).

In Writing:
as part of a longstanding goal to read a biography about every President, I've covered roughly half of these guys...and counting (presently, I'm reading Grant by Jean Edward Smith). This will be a brief review of those books, along with any recommendations.

In Popular Culture:
fairly self-explanatory.

Test of Time:
kind of nebulous...but, basically, this boils down to: does their Presidency look better or worse now than it did then? Given the potential overlap with AfI(oLT)oTP, I may fold these two categories into one.

Suggestions are, as always, welcome. (Hell, I may even get some friends to submit their own rankings.) I'll give credit where credit is due...and maybe even name the category after you!

II. Having just completed S1 of both Mad Men and Breaking Bad (note: actually a 2008 show. Rats.), I think it's time to quickly (and retroactively) rank my Top 16 Shows of 2007 (that is to say: the 2007 season--which may, confusingly, have begun in September 2006--for shows. In other words, S1 30 Rock is eligible, early S2 eps that aired late in the year are not. So, unless my math is off, things like S5 of The Wire, S1 of Chuck, and S1 of Life won't be eligible until my Best of '08 List...hopefully appearing in December. You know what? Now I'm confused. Stupid strike. Season in question in parenthesis):

16. The O.C. (S4): as an aside, does it not seem like three of four years ago that this final--and unexpectedly entertaining--season aired?

15. Heroes (S1): though, in the span of a few short months, it's become so bad that I no longer watch it, I maintain that season one (massive letdown of a season finale aside) was pretty damn good. And I say no to revisionism!

Veronica Mars (S3): on the plus side, in ditching this show, the CW re-committed itself to building a stable of quality programs, which has been an unmitigated succe--ohmygod, that network building is on fire!!

Top Chef (S3): every time I hear someone say they prefer Hell's Kitchen, I die a little inside.

South Park (S11): 14 episodes, 6 gems or near-gems (Cartman Sucks, With Apologies to Jesse Jackson, two of the three Imaginationland eps, Night of the Living Homeless, and Guitar Queer-0). Not bad.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (S6): I think we can safely say that the S2/S3 glory days are long gone, but this was a nice rebound season after a wildly uneven S5 in 2005.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S3): I'll be the first to admit that I was turned off by S1 of this show, but I'm glad we stuck it out, because, as it turns out, the show is fucking hilarious. I probably don't go a week without referencing the Dumpster Baby episode.

9. The Office (S3):
to be honest, I found season three to be more uncomfortable and sad than, say, riotous. Out of 23 episodes, only three--"Gay Witch Hunt," "The Coup," and, maybe my favorite of the whole series, "The Job"--really stood out. And the much-hyped Gervais-Merchant episode ("The Convict") ended up, if not an outright dud, than at least very forgettable. Nevertheless, a respectable season.

The Sopranos (S6, part two): makes it by virtue of "The Second Coming" alone. The rest of the season was (and remains) incredibly overrated.

How I Met Your Mother (S2): this, too, seems like several years ago, likely a byproduct of S3 being--for me at least--a major disappointment.

Extras (S2 + the Christmas special): a lot to love here...

Flight of the Conchords (S1): ...yet it's eclipsed by this show, which, amazingly, manages an even better job of incorporating the bumbling agent character. The rewatchability of this show is off the charts. I'm just very fond of it.

30 Rock (S1): what's left to be said about this show? Genius.

3. Lost (S3):
the season finale alone ("Through the Looking Glass") is enough to get this show on the list. Throw in some killer performances from the perennially under-appreciated Elizabeth Mitchell and Henry Ian Cusick, and you get a show that is firmly back on track. That, for a time, Heroes was favourably compared to this complex and challenging show now strikes me as patently absurd. And, if you don't think there's enough Lost analysis here, please see the following.

Mad Men (S1): I have to say, I'm kind of in awe of this show.

Dexter (S2): Great season. Great show. I went back and forth between this and MM for #1, before ultimately settling on this order. Having said that, I believe Mad Men to be on better footing, as I'm fascinated to see which direction it's heading in, while, with Dexter, I'm mostly concerned that they may (may) not have anywhere else to go.

III. Patrick Hruby's latest Page 2 article on sports video game flaws is...amazing, and I urge everyone to check it out. Five additions I would've liked to have seen:

1. It's effectively impossible to be a serve and volleyer in tennis games now. This could very well be a nod to real tennis, but that's probably giving developers too much credit.

2. Play-by-play and color commentary still sucks. If I'm a half game out of the Wild Card race with one game to know, the commentary should indicate as much, including providing live look-ins to the other relevant game. Same goes for when it's Michigan-OSU, and the winner earns the right to lose the National Championship game by 28 points, while the loser will struggle valiantly in the Capital One bowl. They need to get much (much, much) better at the situational stuff. Hell, I'm willing to bet that if they offered a subscription mode (say $5 a month) for some personalized commentary, this would be a runaway hit.

3A. Season mode in golf and tennis games remains unsatisfying. can recruit a high school punter from Pierre, South Dakota in NCAA Football '08, but you can't play in the U.S. Open Series, or compete for the FedEx Cup? This. makes. no. sense. Twenty second solution: buy the rights to the names and likenesses of the top 128 tennis players on tour, and the 125 PGA players that won a tour card the previous year. It'll be cheap. Believe me. (Hell, Frank Dancevic would probably pay you to do this.) Then make them all playable in the game. (Then add all the tournaments.) I know the trend is towards creating yourself now in sports games, but no, this is better.

3B. Ryder Cup mode! Come on, EA Sports! Just because Tiger routinely shits the bed in this event doesn't mean it shouldn't be included. This would be amazing online.

4. Post-championship celebrations continue to be a massive letdown. Given that it took five to seven years to go from the static "shots of confetti falling down and people hugging" in Tecmo Super Bowl to the evolutionary leap of actual shots of the postgame celebration (Madden and NBA Live series), I'm not holding out much hope here, but is it too much to ask for an NFL Films style Year in Review video if you win the Super Bowl? How hard could it possibly be to compile all the best highlights from your season and set it to music? I'm not asking for John Facenda to narrate anything (mostly because I believe he's been dead for quite some time). I'd even settle for a Top 10 (when my brothers football team won OFSAA, they had a Top 10 at their team banquet...and it was just about the coolest thing ever)

5. Still no good next gen beach volleyball game (non-pornographic department). How is this possible? Super Spike V-Ball came out twenty years ago this October! This is a no-brainer people.

IV. Writing Schedule

1. In Praise of Mad Men: next couple of days
2. Real World Retrospective: late next week
3. Best Books of the 90s: conceivably: the week before the wedding, though it's entirely possible I won't get to this.

After that, expect a two-week hiatus (something about me getting married, a honeymoon, etc.). Things should be up and running the week of August 18th, with some Olympic Thoughts, Best Movies of the 90s, and--my favorite--a running diary of this year's Little League World Series Championship Game on the 24th.


Anonymous said...

Polk! Polk! Polk!

Also, you should include a category for 'Special Achievements In Imperialism' just for Emperor Norton, who wasn't a President but probably far more puissant.

Taylor said...

I'm going to have to squash your top 16 TV shows of 2007 list since some of these shows are 2006-2007 and some are 2007-2008. For example, Mad Men started on July 27th, 2007 and Dexter S2 started on September 30th, 2007. But you also have The O.C. S4, which premiered on November 2nd, 2006. So, you either need to drop Mad Men, put Dexter S1 as 1st, and make it a top 15 list, or do an entirely new list for 2007-2008 (which you should do shortly anyway).

On to the video game artice. I think we're in agreement that he brings up some excellent points. I particularly like his point about how the more realistic playable characters become, the creepier they are when their facial expressions are off.

Don't you think EA or SEGA would have thought of putting in more characters for T. Woods and Virtua Tennis, respectively? I mean, I've heard horrible things about how EA treats their employees, but are they really idiots? They must have thought of buying the rights to 100 or so golfers, so there must be a reason they're not. Since most of the top players are used in those games anyway, I doubt that it's too expensive to buy the rights to 100 more lower-ranked players. But, unlike basketball, football, baseball, hockey, or soccer, nobody really cares about having 100, as opposed to 15 or 20, playable golfers or tennis players. Whereas in team sports, it's necessary to have all the players on that team because people care about that. But, for tennis or golf, they don't. No one's really complaining that they can't play with Janko Tipsarevic in the recently released Top Spin 3. Sure, he's a great non-top 16 player and he always has the ability to upset top players (see: this year's almost 5-set win over Federer at the Australian Open and his round 2 upset over Roddick at this year's Wimbledon). But, that being said, he just lost yesterday to Mahut at the Rogers Cup in the first round. My point is that, besides his immediately family (and maybe not even them), he likely has almost no fans. So why include him in a tennis game? Golf and tennis are so focussed on the top players and only the top players, so it makes sense they don't feel like putting in the time and pushing back the release date of a game just to add some lesser-known players.

And, can tennis games buy the rights to certain tournaments? For some reason, I thought Wimbledon was like Augusta National and you can't actually buy the rights to it.

He also had an interesting point on allowing random mistakes in games, just like what would happen in real sports. For example, even if you correctly time your button presses for a field goal in Madden, sometimes, the kicker should just totally shank it. It's a cool idea, in theory, but it would be so infuriating. Video games are designed to give players total control, and random, unavoidable errors or counter to this philosophy.

Kyle Wasko said...

The Uncanny Valley! See also: Frank's lecture to Tracy Jordan during the completely awesome porn video game epic/Amadeus homage episode.'s almost like you deliberately misread my explanation about the 2007 TV season. My big beef with People, EW, and Time doing their "Best of '08 TV Shows" on December 20, 2008 is that it rewards shows for having a strong start (in September) and then completely disregards the whole second half of the season (airing, presumably, from January to May). Then, come December 20, 2009, they do it all over again. That blows. At least with my system, I wait until an entire season has aired before compiling the list (and, for what it's worth, The O.C. finished in '07, as did MM and Dexter S2). I think the best thing for me to do now, in order to get full coverage, would be to do a ranking in September (covering the strike-shortened season) and then again in May 2009 (for the fall 2008 season). Of course, shows running in the summer complicate matters significantly.

Re: video games. Seems to me you could make the same point about, say, Jason Varitek ("no one wants to play as him..."), but I think that misses the point, since it's really about verisimilitude. Without Varitek (replace him "Mediocre Boston Catcher"), MLB '09 is a little less realistic, and it would take away from the game. Along the same lines, think about how much cooler it would be that instead of playing some made up guy in the round of 64 at the Rogers Cup (or, far worse but far more likely, played a really famous player in the quarterfinals, which is where the tournament has to start because the player pool is so small) you got to play Dancevic (who looked good yesterday) or Ancic (who did not)...or Mahut.

To be honest, I don't think companies have considered the "include all the--even the marginal--pros" idea for the very same reason that you appear to be against it, but I think it would be shit cool....and, at the very least, worth a shot.

(And, btw, playing as Tipsarevic would probably be way more attractive to you if you lived in Serbia...and hated Djokovic, so regional preferences would come into play. Unfortunately, they're still using Super Nintendos in Serbia. I kid...)

I dunno about buying the rights for tournament names. It may not be that they can't but rather that the cost is prohibitive.

That random error code would get really irritating really fast...though I wouldn't mind some sort of "you have to keep your nerves in check" mini-game prior to big kicks. NCAA '09 sort of does this (apparently), with the "ice the kicker" mode, where, if you call a late timeout, the other guy has to attempt the FG from a weird camera angle and with (honest) ice obscuring part of the kick meter. This may be going too far, since I don't really recall icing be all that effective anymore...