Sunday, August 12, 2012

I haven't been posting lately. This is because I've been busy. In June, I started a bachelor's program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for Game Art & Design. It will take me a long time to graduate, but I am happy to at least be getting the ball rolling on what will be a fantastic career. I used to think I would break into the gaming industry as a journalist. However, I've lost the will to write. I would much rather create visuals instead of words.

I drew a small comic. I'm not the best artist in the world (at least not yet), but that's not important. I'm not trying to be Jim Lee or anyone like that. I drew it because I thought it was fun. So anyway, here goes nothing. Who knows? Maybe the original print of this will be sold on Pawn Stars someday...

Stu and Bruce in "Sad But True." A comic by Mike Shaeffer.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

E3 2012

Another Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has come and gone. If you don't know what that is, Google it. For the rest of you, here are my thoughts.

Where was Animal Crossing 3DS? Of all the game Nintendo could have showed for their handheld, this one was absent. Has the game been delayed because of the development team's involvement in Nintendoland? Christmas has always been my favorite holiday in the AC games. However, it looks like we won't be seeing this game arrive anytime this year. Maybe I'll unretire my Wii character after all...

Beyond: Two Souls looks amazing. From the makers of Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain is one of my favorite games of all time, so anything developed by Quantic Dream is immediately going to hit my radar.

The Last of Us, Zombie U, and Watch Dogs: three more original IP's. In a video game industry ruled by the franchise, four original IP's really stood out for me. There was the aforementioned Beyond, Uncharted developer's The Last of Us (which takes place in Pittsburgh), and Ubi Soft's Zombie U and Watch Dogs.

The Last of Us looks like an Uncharted game that takes place in Hell (cue the "Pittsburgh is Hell" jokes). Zombie U is a zombie survival game with a twist: if your character dies, you will never play as that character again. You move to a different person altogether and continue the game with them. And finally, there was Watch Dogs; a game so impressive that many thought it would be coming out for the PS4 and next Xbox instead of the current gem consoles.

Don't forget the sequels. Resident Evil 6 and Halo 4 both looked fantastic. Halo 4 really impressed me. Plus, while I've never been able to get into the Assassin's Creed games, I will probably give AC3 a try. A game that takes place during the American Revolution intrigues me. Not to mention the Vita spin-off game.

The Tomb Raider reboot will also be something to keep an eye on. Oh, and let's not overlook Pikmin 3. The Wii version of the second game is finally hitting US shores tomorrow. It looks like the next game is finally going to come out soon. I thought it was one of the best looking titles at the show.  And for the record, if Pikmin, Zombie U, Rayman: Legends, and New Super Mario Bros. U all come out around the launch window, I'll be picking up a Nintendo Wii U this Fall.

While there weren't many surprises, and the Wii U and Playstation Vita weren't shown as much as they should have been, E3 2012 was another great show. I'm really happy that SpikeTV and G4TV now have live coverage of the event. It beats sitting at a computer waiting for dial-up to download the trailers, like I used to back in high school.

Till next time!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates are (legitimately) good.

The 2012 Pirates have played thirty-four games against a tough schedule. They've won sixteen. I'm here to say that they're going to win a lot more. This isn't like last year, where the advanced metrics of the Pirates' pitching staff suggested a huge drop-off was going to happen.

For this post, let's look at the pitching. I'll focus on the starters. They've been fantastic. You can count on one hand how many bad starts they've had. The coolest thing about their production so far: it's going to last.

There are three stats you can look at to tell if a pitcher is getting lucky with his numbers. The first one is homerun/flyball ratio (HR/FB). Basically, this stat shows how many flyballs hit off of pitchers go for homeruns. The league HR/FB ratio varies every year, but usually hovers around 10%.

Three of the Pirate starters have HR/FB ratios that are unsustainably high. Those men are Charlie Morton (20.0%), AJ Burnett (27.3%), and Kevin Correia (15.6%). These pitchers are due for some better luck when it comes to flyballs leaving the park. The other two starters (Erik Bedard at 2.9% and James McDonald at 5.0%) have had some luck with this number, and should see some regression there. However, their regression back to their career numbers (Bedard 8.8% and McDonald 8.3%) won't be as significant as the improvement in the numbers of the other three Pirate starters.

The next stat to look at is a pitcher's batting average of balls in play (BABIP). This tells how many balls put in play by opposing batters land for hits. This number stays around .300 for pitchers. So, any pitcher who has a BABIP over .300 is due for some better luck, and vice versa.

The Pirates have three starters whose BABIP's are over .300. They are Morton (.307), Burnett (.369), and Bedard (.344). While Morton's .307 isn't that much over, Bedard and Burnett have some better luck coming their way. The other two starters have been lucky with BABIP. McDonald is currently sitting at a BABIP of .254, with Correia at a very unsustainable .208.

Finally, we come to left on-base percentage (LOB%). LOB% is the number of runners who don't score. The league average for LOB% is usually around 70-72%. Pitchers can improve their LOB% by striking out more hitters. So, how do the Pirates look in this regard?

Two Pirates starters have high LOB%, but also have high strikeout numbers. McDonald (79.2%) and Bedard (79.4%). Both of these pitchers have a strikeout per nine innings (K/9) rate higher than the league average. This means that any regression they see in LOB% won't hurt as much as, say, Correia's. His LOB% is 77.1%, and since he isn't much of a strikeout pitcher, that number will come down a lot more.

Burnett's LOB% is way too low (61.7%), and should go up with more starts like the one today. Morton's is at 69.8%, so he's right around the league average.

If you want the short answer as to why the Pirates' pitching will continue to be good, just look at the strikeouts. Pittsburgh has three starters over the league average in K/9. A strikeout takes all of the stats we just talked about out of the equation. Strikeouts don't go over the fence. Strikeouts don't fall in front of a charging outfielder. Strikeouts aren't booted by one of your fielders.

Also, don't sleep on the depth the Pirates have in starting pitching this year. If one of these five starters were to injure or falter, the Pirates have guys like Brad Lincoln (starting tomorrow), Rudy Owens, and Jeff Locke waiting. Let's also not forget that Jeff Karstens will be back at some point this year.

The Pirates' pitching, both starting and out of the bullpen, has been great so far. However, what about their tepid hitting? Are the Pirates doomed to continue to waste their good pitching? I'll go over that in my next post. Until next time!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

How To Craft a DC Cinematic Universe

In my last post, I talked about how I hope Marvel's The Avengers is a big enough hit to prompt DC/Warner Bros. into doing the same with their creations. This is how I would create the DC Cinematic Universe:

1. Make the new Superman movie the beginning of the series. Supes was the first superhero ever, so start it off with him. Make sure no movies that follow contradict events from this film.

2. Reboot Batman. The Nolan Batman films are fantastic, and I'm sure The Dark Knight Rises will be another solid entry. However, Batman needs rebooted after Rises, for two reasons. One, the Nolan Batman isn't powerful enough to be in a group like the Justice League. He would look weak alongside the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. Make the villains he faces a bit more powerful without making them god-like (like a step below the 90's animated series) and you have a winner.

Another goal of DC should be to make this version of the Batman universe a little more kid friendly. Don't get me wrong, I love the Nolan Bat films. But you can't take a nine year-old to them; and that's a problem. It doesn't have to be Adam West, but it doesn't have to be just a shade below an R rating, either.

3. Bring on Wonder Woman. It's embarrassing that there hasn't been a live action WW film. Let's introduce the movie-going audience to the Princess of Themyscira. A Flash film wouldn't hurt, either. If Thor can get his own solo film, the Flash sure can.

4. As for Green Lantern, well, that's a tricky one. Do you do what Marvel did with the Hulk, and just try again? Maybe the answer lies in bringing in John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan.

Marvel has given DC the template. Put these movies together. Drop hints that the other superheroes exist. Reference events in past films. Then bring out a villain (Darkseid?) so powerful that not even Superman can battle him alone.

The thing about a collusive universe like the one Marvel has created isn't just that the heroes look cool together. It also makes sense. If Superman is the only superhero in the world, why would you try to rob a bank in Metropolis? If Batman is the only superhero in the world, why would any mobster try to operate in Gotham? They wouldn't. They would simply go to a different city.

Stop making your criminals change cities, DC. Make a Justice League film happen.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Did Marvel's Avengers kill DC's aunt and uncle?

In the Star Wars saga, young Luke Skywalker is introduced to us as a young man who is destined for greater things, but not quite sure if he is ready yet. Very early in Episode IV, we see Obi-Wan give Luke a chance to go to Alderaan with him on a mission rather than head back home to his aunt and uncle. At first, Luke refuses. He's going to put his destiny on hold and "go to the academy next year."

This decision, of course, was later made moot by the fact that the Empire killed Luke's aunt and uncle. Luke had no choice but to go with Obi-Wan to Mos Eisley. There, he met Han Solo and Chewbacca, and, well, you know the rest...

What does this have to do with the Avengers and DC Comics? Marvel's epic film that brought their premiere super team together made $200.3M last weekend. When it's all said and done the movie will be a huge success for everyone involved. It very well may be the best comic book film ever, and it's certainly the best one that you can take a little kid to (The Dark Knight and Kick-Ass aren't exactly for youngsters).

Now, imagine the same type of movie, but with even more recognizable characters. Sure, lots of people know who Captain America and the Hulk are. Even more people know who Superman and Batman are. Imagine a new DC Comics movie series, with solo movies from Supes, Bats, Wonder Woman, and the Flash- and then have those films culminate in a Justice League movie.

DC/Warner Bros. has said in the past that if they ever do a Justice League movie it most likely won't be how Marvel did it. Hopefully, after The Avengers is done setting box office records, Warner Bros. sees dollar signs and copies them. How would they do it? It's not that hard, really: I was going to elaborate on how I would create the DC Comics Movie Universe, but this post ran a little long. I'll save it for next time.

Sometimes people, and mega corporations, need pushed to perform great deeds. Let's hope The Avengers is the movie that kills DC's aunt and uncle.Hopefully, while Marvel is busy this month counting money, DC is getting ready.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Sports fans are nerds. 

I'm going to a video game concert tomorrow. It's a Video Games Live show, so I know it will be good. I saw them two years ago in Pittsburgh, but will have to travel to Bethesda, Maryland for this one. 

The funny thing is, when I get home, I'll immediately turn on my DVR to check out Saturday night's Pirates/Phillies game. Yes, I'm a nerd, in every definition of the word. But I'm also a huge baseball and basketball fan. To be honest, I don't see a difference.

Sports fans love numbers. A lot of people (myself included) could see by their advanced metrics that the Pirates' winning ways weren't going to last in 2011. There are also numbers like BABIP, xFIP, and HR/FB ratio that help you predict whether a player's current play is indicative of how good he is or not.

Nerds love numbers. It's not uncommon to hear them talk about how a robe worn in a Final Fantasy game gives them +10 Strength, but also gives their character -10% Defense. That's not even mentioning the effects iron armor has against water-based attacks.

Sports fans love to argue about which team is the best. Duke/UNC. Pitt/WVU. Yankees/Red Sox.

Nerds love to argue about which system/game/series is the best. 360/PS3. CoD/BF3. Zelda/Final Fantasy. Star Wars/Star Trek.

Sports fans love analysis. They do it themselves, and then there's Sportscenter. Intentional Talk. The league exclusive networks. Around the Horn. Whatevs.

Nerds love analysis. They do it themselves, and then there's IGN. Talking Dead. Attack of the Show. X-Play.

Sports fans love dressing like their favorite players. Go to any sporting event and you'll see countless fans in game uniforms.

Nerds love dressing like their favorite characters. Go to any Comic-Con and you'll see countless fans in Jedi robes and other cosplay.

I've always wondered why people who can tell you how David Ortiz hit against lefties last year are respected by the mainstream, but those who can rattle off the Konami code aren't. To me, there's no difference. Sports fans are every bit as nerds as actual nerds are. It's time the rest of the world realized it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

He wasn't even "Super" yet: How Mario Bros. helped me pass the PSSA's.

Back in the summer of 2001, I was a little tyke about to start his 11th grade school year. That was the year that the Nintendo Game Boy Advance (GBA) was released, which I bought with the money I had made umpiring little league baseball games. 

If you 're a Nintendo fan, or even a hater, you most likely know that the Big N loves to re-release their classic games. The GBA saw that right away, as Nintendo started to release the classic Super Mario games onto their new handheld.

The Super Mario Advance series re-released four of the Italian plumber's old side scrollers. Super Mario Bros. 2, World, World 2: Yoshi's Island, and Super Mario Bros. 3 all came out under the SMA banner. While these games would have been worth the price of admission by themselves, all of the titles also included an updated version of the classic 1983 arcade game Mario Bros.

The best part about the included Mario Bros. game was that you and three friends could link GBA's together and play a four player match. The rules in multiplayer were simple. Basically, with every enemy that was defeated, coins entered the arena. Whoever had the most coins by the end of the match won.

Fast forward a few months, and my friends and I are playing multiplayer matches during lunch everyday. It was an obsession. I'm not sure if we ever had four players, but I know we at least had three players. Three was more than enough for some chaos. Little did we know that a real-life state of chaos was looming in the form of the PSSA's.

The PSSA's stand for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. They're standardized tests that students have to take, involving subjects like reading, writing, and math. Standardized tests have been around for years, but I'm almost positive my graduating class was the first to take the PSSA's (this form of them, at the very least).

The reading and math tests went as expected. I did very well on the reading, and failed the math one horribly. I had to take it two more times before I finally got it. I've always been bad at math.

However, the writing assessment is where things got interesting. It consisted of just a single essay. You just had to write something about the subject that they gave you. The essay topic that I received was something along the lines of this:

"What challenges in your everyday life do you have to overcome?"

You may not realize this if you actually read this blog, but if I do one thing well on this Earth, it's writing. Writing has always came naturally to me. However, sometimes it is difficult to get going. Your mind shuts down and you have no idea what to write about. That's what hit me for about ten minutes that day.

As I sat there, staring at the blank piece of paper, pondering about which direction I would take this essay, one thing kept popping into my head: Mario Bros. "No," I thought. "I'm NOT writing about that. The person grading my paper will laugh at me."

The pressure mounted. Five minutes later and all I had on the paper was my name and the date. Finally, with great trepidation, I put pencil to stationary and started breaking down the various challenges that I faced every lunch hour while playing a game that was, essentially, two years older than me.

I talked about the Fighter Flies. How you had to time your jump just right to hit them. I mentioned the Sidesteppers. How you had to make sure you had the space to hit them twice so you could knock them over. Whoever eventually graded my paper knew all about how the platforms in the game eventually turned to ice; and how Spinies are the easiest enemy to defeat (just don't let them get back up again...).

If you're a good writer, you know when you've written something stellar. By the end of that essay, I had a good feeling that I had hit it out of the park. My fellow classmates, however, didn't share that sentiment. When I let everyone know that I had written about such a "childish" topic as Mario Bros., a lot of them let me have it.

"You were supposed to write about things you face in your actual life, not about a video game! You're going to fail and have to take it again!!"

That's the kind of stuff I heard, but I didn't care. I stood by my essay. Months later, my stand would be completely validated.

It wasn't until the next school year that we got our grades back. I was awful in Math, and around the 89-92 percentile in reading. That meant that I was better than 92% of my graduating class in that particular subject. So, what kind of a grade did I get for my essay? The same essay that my "friends" said I would fail miserably?

Ah, just a measly 96%.

So yes, in a way, Mario helped me pass a test back in high school. You can add that to his rap sheet. Right under "pretty much single-handedly the reason video games exist in the form they do today."

Thanks, big guy.