Thursday, August 12, 2010

Another great update: NCAA Football 11 patch #2 is out!

Here is the blog update announcing what all was addressed:

Client Update 2

Hello again NCAA Fans!

I'm Russ Kiniry and I'd like to welcome you to Client Update 2 for NCAA Football 11.  You should be able to download the update now (it will automatically download when you start the game).   Roy talked about this update coming a while back in his blog 'Thank You' and I brought it up again when we released Live Tuner Pack 1 last week.   I am happy to finally say it is here, and we've got a long list of tweaks, tunes, and fixes.   Many of these changes were requests straight from you, the fans of NCAA Football, so it was very important to us to get them in the update.   Enough words, let's get to the list!


-          Uniform degradation has been fixed.
-          Fixed a graphical issue with TeamBuilder sideline home uniforms.
-          Fixed several camera bugs (pulled back on field goals, blurry cameras, and replays after a change of possession)
-          Fixed helmet numbers for Rice and Wake Forest

-          Resolved an issue with Season Showdown, allowing us to turn it back on, so you're upload failure message every time you go in/out of game is gone!
-          Fixed a couple freezes related to lobbies
-          Fixed voice communication in Online Dynasty Hub on PS3
-          Fixed an issue that could lead to a disconnect in online play during play calling

-          Fixed an issue on a couple plays where the QB would miss a hand off and run backward
-          Reduced the chance that the ball will be knocked out when a receiver is hit at the time of the catch
-          Tuned the CPU ball carrier so that they will break to the outside more often when appropriate
-          Tuned how the CPU ball carriers utilize leans and special moves so that they won't be used in situations when they shouldn't (e.g. a HB in the open field will not put his shoulders down when running forward)
-          Tuned pass accuracy and the ability to lead a receiver
-          Tweaked sideline catch animations in the end zone so that they have a bit more room to play
-          Fixed an exploit where backwards passes could be overly effective

Defense -          Fixed defensive reaction to pump fake to be more balanced. Skilled defensive backs will not be as easily fooled by pump fakes.
-          Tuned the Aggressive Defensive Line Gameplan to have more risk of jumping offsides
-          Removed a hesitation from defensive lineman pass rush on screen plays
-          Improved flat zone and deep zone coverage
-          Tuned man coverage reaction to the run
-          Adjusted CPU pursuit angles in some specific cases where they weren't being aggressive enough

Special Teams
-          Tuned onside kicks to be less predictable
-          Fixed an issue where catching a kicked ball after hitting the goalpost would result in kicking team getting the ball back
-          Fixed an issue where the punter could line up out of place
-          Adjusted cross bar collision on field goals and extra points

-          Tuned CPU clock management where they would let the clock run out in some cases they shouldn't
-          Fixed a bug with time of possession tracking
-          Adjusted substitutions to be more intelligent (previously would see some weird players in the game with lots of aggressive no huddle)
-          Fixed a couple places where the wrong custom stadium sounds would play
-          Fixed a bug that caused Road To Glory to be simulated day by day near the end of the season
-          Tuned Kick Power and Kick Accuracy of progression of kickers and punters in Dynasty Mode
-          Fixed a couple infrequent game lock-ups

Again, I want to thank you for providing us with all the feedback you have thus far, and encourage you to continue to do so. It's safe to say this is the biggest update in NCAA History.  We wanted to be sure that we continue to improve your experience while playing NCAA Football 11, so this update touches almost every area of the game.   You can look forward to more Live Tuner Packs for NCAA Football 11 in the near future.

This update is for you Mr. Passionate-NCAA-Football-Gamer.

-Russ Kiniry
Designer NCAA Football

I have played some games with the patch and it works as advertised.  The uniforms do indeed get dirty and the running back AI seems improved.  Let me tell you folks, THIS is the way to support a game.  The NCAA team has been on top of everything, has been engaged in conversations with the gaming community and has been committed to making a great game even better.  My hat's off to them for creating what may be the best sports game to date.  If you don't have NCAA Football 11, GET IT NOW!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Happy day! First NCAA Football 11 tuning pack available

Tuning packs are mini updates (as opposed to full out patches) that can tweak game play and other issues.  Here's an excerpt from the announcement that the tuning file is available:

And in other terrific news, a full blown patch will be available for the game in about 2 weeks.  Included in the patch will be uniforms that get dirty as the game as is played, one of my pet peeves from my review.  The NCAA team has really stepped up this year.  Their commitment to the game and the community has been outstanding.  If you are a sports gamer, you simply must get NCAA Football 11.  It's the best video game representation of the sport I have ever played.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Baraka (Blu-ray)

Made in 1992 and shot in 24 countries around the world, Baraka is a dialogue free, visual interpretation of man's relationship with nature, technology, spirituality, and each other. Or something like that. Its themes are explored through a series of stunning images, some beautiful and some disturbing, with frequent use of breathtaking time lapse photography. Though difficult to describe in words, it is a truly moving experience.

When people speak of reference quality Blu-ray, this is what they're talking about. I expected Baraka to look spectacular and it does, every single frame of it. From the deeply saturated colour to the ultra fine detail and spot on contrast, Baraka is a visual delight. What I hadn't expected, though, was an audio track this good. The global music and sound effects not only provide a perfect backdrop to the visuals, they are delivered in a very forceful and active surround mix. Also much appreciated is the excellent 75 min. documentary on the making of Baraka. They are no overlays on the film itself to indicate the location of each shot (though it's easy to make educated guesses), so it's nice to find out where many were taken and to get some insight into the subjects as well.

Quite simply, I cannot recommend Baraka highly enough. It is one of a small handful of films that belongs in every Blu-ray collection.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Last Temptation of Christ (Criterion Collection DVD)

It's been years since I've watched Scorsese's Last Temptation, and Joyce was keen to see firsthand what all the controversy was about. She had a very religious upbringing which extended well into her adult life and is well versed in bible stories, so it was very enlightening to have her alongside to separate "fact" from fiction for me.

The film begins with Jesus' adult life as a carpenter and follows his progression from self-realization as an unlikely messiah to death on the cross. However it's the balance between human and divine that Scorsese seemed most eager to explore and he did so by filtering the story through the interrelationships of Jesus with Mary Magdelene and Judas, brilliantly played by Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey and Harvey Keitel, respectively.

The story travels through several familar biblical events, all depicted with a gritty, human reality, to the inevitable, gruelling crucifixion (no whistling here, folks). But it was the subsequent coda of the last temptation that enraged Christian zealots the world over. I won't spoil it for those who have yet to see the film but, if you have any interest in Christianity, it deserves to be seen. Based on Joyce's reaction, chances are you won't be offended regardless which side of the theological fence you sit on.

The DVD ain't no Blu-ray but, as always, Criterion does a fine job, and the disc includes a very informative commentary among other features.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

NCAA Football 11 review

After spending a good amount of time with this game (but alas, not as much as I would like!), I am happy to report that the NCAA Football series is back in a big, big way.  This version blows all others on this current generation of consoles completely out of the water.  That's not to say it doesn't have a few niggling problems that will hopefully be addressed in a patch, but that game plays incredibly well as it is now, after having already been patched on release-day.  Here are the major positives and negatives from the game:

  • The graphics and animations in this game are off the chart.  They simply must be seen to be believed.  Even average, ordinary plays are filled with animations so like-like that you find yourself reviewing them over and over.  The replays are wonderful as well, shown from a new Broadcast Camera (other camera views are available as well) that takes you right into the action.  You can really get lost in the game and find yourself completely immersed in the world of college football.  Amazing.  Check out this replay of a rather ordinary play, a 16 yard pass completion:

 Check out the animations.  From the initial camera angle behind the QB, see the receiver leap for the ball, which is thrown high and slightly behind him.  See how fluid his leap is, how realistic it looks?  You really see him push off to get airborne.  Suddenly the camera angle changes and now it is isolated on the receiver.  You see him time his leap, make the catch, set his feet to run and then get swallowed up by defenders.  It's a simple play, it's life-like and it's a thing of beauty.  The new progressive lighting system works beautifully as well, giving some really striking settings at game time.

  • The running game has been significantly improved by enhancements made in the blocking AI.  Now guards will pull effectively, fullbacks will hit someone on lead blocks and real holes will emerge.  You can run inside or outside and the effectiveness is based on a combination of your skills as a gamer and the ratings of your players versus those of your opponent.
  • The passing game has been tweaked for more realism.  No longer are all incomplete passes the result of balls either being dropped by receivers or batted down by defenders.  Passes are now realistically under thrown, over thrown or the timing may simply be off.
  • The  "120 ways to win" stuff works as advertised.  Every teams runs it's real offense and at the real tempo.  You'll see Michigan run the no-huddle spread, tiring out the defenses by not allowing time for substitutions.  You'll see Nevada run their funky Pistol formation and UCLA run their pro offense.  It's awesome to behold.
    • The atmosphere has been taken up a few notches as well.  Finally there is a real college atmosphere at the games.  The crowd is livelier, the bands peppier and the presentation (by ESPN) is more professional.
    • Dynasty mode has been much improved because recruiting is no longer the monotonous chore it used to be.  EA has made it more interactive and much more engaging.  I used to despise recruiting.  Now I actually enjoy it, which makes Dynasty mode the most rewarding career mode in any sports game, in my opinion.
    • You can have an online dynasty same as last year.  But new this year is the ability to manage your team online from outside the game.  You can now do your recruiting from your computer or iPhone.  This is a tremendous new feature that I hope EA will have in all future sports games.  And what's even better is that you can have your own single player online dynasty.  You can have all the features of online dynasty while still playing by yourself.  Too sweet.
    • Teambuilder remains an absolutely addictive addition, where you can custom create your own schools and play them in any mode in the game.  I have spent many, many hours on my four teams (that's my Affton Cougars in their 1st alternate uniforms in the video above) and I love seeing them in action on the field.  There is a great community on the Operation Sports forums that will assist you in making the uniforms you want.  Trust me when I say I have benefited greatly from their generosity.  If you have the Xbox 360 version, look up my teams under my gamer tag, Quint75, and let me know what you think!

      • In a game where so much detail has been lovingly recreated, it is just plain silly that the uniforms do not get dirty.  Not in the rain, not in the mud.  Speculation is that this may have been sacrificed to keep the frame rate up to snuff.  Whatever the reason, it's silly.  But I must say it does not bother me nearly as much as I thought it would when I first heard about it in the early reviews.
      • The set of sliders given to help tweak game play is pretty darned generous and for once they actually seem very effective right out of the box.  But why oh why does EA make everything adjustable by sliders except fumble frequency and injury frequency?  They do this every year.  You can adjust the frequency of interceptions, but not fumbles?  Makes no sense.  Never has, never will.
      • The blocking on kickoff returns leaves much to be desired.  Neither the CPU nor myself can muster any sort of nice returns; the ball carrier is met by tacklers almost immediately.
          •  By far my biggest complain with the game is the AI of the CPU ball carriers.  There are a number of specific problems that keep them from being anywhere near as effective as they should be, which is a real shame as the blocking is done so well.  Don't get me wrong, the CPU can and will get an effective ground game going against you. They will even beat you with it.  But it still is not what it should be.  To sum up the main problem, the CPU doesn't handle open space properly.  For example, a RB will burst through the hole and have only the DBs to deal with.  Rather than kicking into that extra gear, he may do a number of things that will take away what could have been a game breaking run.  He may juke for no reason, slowing him down and allowing him to be caught from behind.  He may keep the ball covered with both hands even though he is in the clear, which causes him to run much slower than if he was sprinting, again allowing him to be caught more easily.  He may have a clear path if he would veer toward the sideline, but he doesn't; he cuts back inside.  It can be really obvious at times, and frustrating for someone who sometimes likes to just do the recruiting and let the CPU play the games out on the field by itself.  However, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that this can and will be fixed with a patch.  A few years ago, an NCAA game was released with this very same issue and it was improved via a patch.  I can't recall if it completely fixed the problem or not, but I do remember it was much improved.  Hopefully EA is getting an earful about this issue and will address it in an upcoming patch.  If so, this game will simply be unreal.  
           As it is right now, I would say it is still the best looking, best playing football game I have had the pleasure of getting my mitts on.  It has everything you could ever want: great game play, depth, superior visuals and audio (even if the play-by-play is getting beyond stale at this point, and this without Lee Corso in the booth) and the fun factor is through the roof.  Right now NCAA football rates an extremely impressive 9.2 out of 10 for me.  And it may get better yet.

          In the meantime, here are 2 more videos to keep you satisfied, both of which once again show off the Broadcast replay cam.  The first shows a nice QB animation as he completes a pass on a rollout.  Notice how fluid his throwing motion is and how he seems to actually put force behind the throw.  And I love how he subtly uses his arms to regain his balance after making the throw.

          In the 2nd video, notice the QB starts off with a fake hand-off in play action.  The camera then shifts to the safety, again at the start of the play, and you see him bite on the fake and then get beaten for the TD.  Beautiful!

            Wednesday, July 21, 2010

            The Fly (Blu-ray)

            Another horror classic from the '80's, this one a re-imagining of the original through the twisted mind of David Cronenberg. Actually, that's probably not a fair comment in this case since, at its core, The Fly is perhaps the most humanistic of all his films. The relationship between Jeff Goldblum's obsessed scientist/inventor and Geena Davis' ambitious journalist is the thread that ties the film together from beginning to end, even after things begin to go horribly awry. In some ways, it may not even be fair to label The Fly a horror film (science fiction may be more apt), though the grotesque special effects may leave you thinking otherwise. But in spite of it all, it's Goldblum and Davis who create the emotional resonance that makes The Fly so special.

            Like The Shining, The Fly is given a very nice treatment on Blu-ray. Visually, it doesn't have quite the wow factor of The Shining but, make no mistake, this is still a very, very good transfer. And the audio track is surprisingly powerful, especially for a 25 year old film. A highly recommended upgrade or addition to your library.

            Saturday, July 17, 2010

            The Shining (Blu-ray)

            Stanley Kubrick's adapation of The Shining was initially greeted with extreme disappointment by fans of the novel, but in the 30 years since its release, has become appreciated as a classic of the horror genre. Without the advantage of modern CGI technology, it was through camera and character that Kubrick created the isolation and claustrophobia that lead to the terror of Jack Torrance's descent into madness.

            At this point, I think I've owned just about every home video version of The Shining that's been released and in all aspect ratios (4:3, 1.66:1, 1.85:1). I thought the Kubrick Collection DVD was extremely well done and, to be honest, didn't expect the Blu-ray release to be much of an improvement. Wrong. The visual presentation, while not quite reference quality, easily exceeds that of many current films. Kubrick's primary colour palette is brought to eye-popping life with remarkable detail throughout. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do with a 30 year soundtrack. It's thin and weak but cranking the volume fills things out to acceptable levels. All things considered, this is an absolute must-own for fans of the film.