The Latest OOTP14 “Review” In The World

2014 April 18
by CajoleJuice

So almost a year ago now, I managed to get my hands on a free copy of Out of the Park Baseball 14 (OOTP14) in return for a review. I actually thought I was getting the cheap iOS version, but I ended up getting the full, insanely hardcore PC version. I was immediately overwhelmed at the thought of putting such a massive game through all of its paces. I was also scared of playing it endlessly, turning into the people on my Steam friends list who are always playing the latest iteration of Football Manager.

Chalk these fears up to the fact that I had never touched a version of OOTP before. Hell, the only sports games I had played for a significant amount of time in the past decade were NBA 2K12 and NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. And in NBA 2K12, my favorite mode, “My Player,” was the polar opposite of the usual GM role taken in OOTP. I’m not sure if I’ve ever gotten through an entire season in any sports game in my life; I rather just kick someone’s ass in Virtua Tennis.

So instead of diving into a simulated franchise month-by-month and season-by-season, I decided to pick the disappointing 2013 Toronto Blue Jays and see what would happen if I played a season with them, game-by-game. I went so far as to create a separate Twitter account for the fake season that was sure to be better than reality. Looking through those 63 tweets reminds me of how much fun I was having, despite each game being played out on the same mediocre interface each time. Admittedly, I was baseball-game-starved. I hadn’t even realized how much I missed playing baseball games. (Okay, that’s a lie: I bought a friend MLB: The Show 12 just so I could play it when I went over to his apartment.)

OOTP14 filled a void, but unsurprisingly I bumped up against a wall quickly when it came to playing a text-based baseball game every night. Instead of transitioning to a simulation-heavy season, I just stopped playing. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I just stopped — maybe because I felt like an idiot for tweeting about it for a week, maybe because I knew I had a review to write. I avoid responsibility as much as possible and I bet you have never read that in a “review” of a video game before. I felt like garbage for a while about never writing a review, but I never loaded up the game again because I wanted to avoid the “work” I would have needed to do to write a decent review. I say “work” because if it weren’t for the promised review, I may have continued messing around with the game without any sense of guilt.

Okay, that’s enough of my psychological issues. With the impending release of OOTP15 (literally tomorrow), I felt the need to remedy my breach of human decency. I knew I needed to write something about OOTP14 before a new version was released.

Despite my choice of the 2013 Blue Jays, I am a Mets fan. If you have ever read this blog before or followed my Twitter or had any interaction with me at all, you probably know this. At some point, I utilized OOTP14′s historical league option to simulate 1986 just for kicks. It ended with the Mets not even making the playoffs. Come to think of it, that may have contributed to me not touching the game again. Nonetheless, when I loaded up the game again a few days ago, I decided to tackle another year that weighs heavily on the minds of Mets fans: 2006.

The real-life 2006 Mets had their season ended on a disgusting curveball that froze Carlos Beltran. You all know this. The real-life 2006 Mets also did not have Scott Kazmir, due to a mind-boggling trade in 2004 where he was traded for Victor Zambrano, a below-average pitcher who did not help the below-average Mets that year. Or any year. Goddamn it. Anyway, I created a historical league starting in 2006 and reversed the trade. Of course, I needed to enable commissioner mode for that because what kind of moron would accept that trade? This was important, though.

I simulated the season month-by-month, watching the standings morph every half-second as the computer worked its magic. The Mets started off a little slow, but by August they had a comfortable lead. The Braves threatened a bit in September, but the Mets held on. Scott Kazmir ended up at 21-3 with a 3.40 ERA. (Shoot me.) I still tempered my expectations, since the playoffs are such a crapshoot, and the real-life 2006 Mets got good performances from John Maine and Oliver Perez (really). But this faux version of the 2006 Mets had healthy versions of Pedro Martinez and Duaner Sanchez. And Xavier Nady! A powerhouse, surely.

I utilized the awesome real-time simulation option of OOTP14 throughout the playoffs. In the earlier rounds I stuck to staring at the scoreboards as games ripped through innings in a few seconds, but later on I would drop in on the broadcasts of Mets games for no particular reason. I would only receive snapshots of every third at-bat or so, but it was enough to create some semblance of narrative. The faux 2006 Mets made it through the NLDS easily, but then fell behind 1-3 in the NLCS versus the Dodgers. Nomar Garciaparra of all people was having a series. But in the final three games, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Scott Kazmir pitched the Mets into the World Series. Carlos Beltran had the best series on the hitting side. It was beautiful.

When it came to the World Series, the Tigers laid down just like they had in real life against the 83-79 Cardinals. The faux 2006 New York Mets, with Scott Kazmir, won the World Series. Carlos Beltran had a 1.485 OPS. It would be glorious if it weren’t so pathetic.

To touch on a OOTP14 feature, I wish I had selected “career play” when I created that historical league. I would have continued with that Mets dynasty, just like it was supposed to be. For whatever reason, I didn’t bother. If you ever decide to go ahead with a historical league, you should just check off that option. It can’t hurt.

All of this is to say that OOTP14 (or any version of OOTP) is absolutely fantastic for any baseball fan. I wish I had more examples to relay to you and more tidbits about options and features to list, but I’m not sure any of them would help drive home any more the fact that this game is amazing. You can do pretty much anything you want to do within the framework of OOTP14. There are historical leagues and fictional leagues and major leagues, the last encompassing Japanese and Cuban and other current options. You can adjust sliders to create leagues where all of the players are coming from Asian or South American countries. You can create a league with 2 teams or 120 teams. You can fill an entire league with fictional players or a mix of real players from every era of baseball. There are even little facts and quotes constantly popping up in every load screen.


I’d feel uncomfortable praising anything more about this game. I didn’t see players develop according to their PECOTA-based system. I didn’t attempt all that many trades. I didn’t experiment with fictional leagues at all. There are so many options and opportunities within the game that I’ve never tried out.

Instead, all I can offer is this screenshot of the in-game interface (you have to import logos and stadium pictures, which I should really do, because ugh Philly):

Not great. But apparently OOTP15 will improve upon this with support for 3D stadium and 3D ball flight. I do think there’s some assumptions about community support being thrown around when it comes to current and past stadiums, but they’re probably not wrong. If you’re into that kind of thing, you’d probably be best served to buy OOTP15 or MLB: The Show 15. Personally, I obviously think the interface could be better, but I still ended up getting excited about a text account of the proceedings, occasionally augmented by a little Gameday-like ball flying into the outfield.

OOTP14 is $19.99 now on their site and also on Steam. OOTP15 is $39.99 on PC/Mac and soon enough on Steam, according to the site. OOTP15 releases today. If you’re interested at all, you’re probably drawn toward the most recent version, which is understandable. Apparently there’s going to be a new ratings system, a revamped interface made for 16:9 (I don’t know how it took so long), and the usual incremental improvements across the board. There’s also the iOOTP14 option, which seems perfect for a lot of baseball fans (based on the testimony of others).

From my experience with OOTP14, between its day-to-day simulation to its yearly historical simulation to its endless amount of options, it’s the best way to spend your time fantasizing about baseball scenarios. MLB: The Show is there for the people who want the pitch-to-pitch experience — which includes me for the most part — while OOTP is there for those who want to create a winner from the front office down. You’re not going to be able to act out that Scott Kazmir scenario in The Show.

No matter which team you’re a fan of, I’m sure you’ll come up with a trade or signing that you’ll like to reverse or create; OOTP is your chance to experience that sandbox. It’s up to you whether you want to spend the money on the newest version or not. Or whether you rather place yourself in the game in something like The Show. I won’t fault you if you choose the latter, since that’s what I’d probably choose, if I had a PS3 or PS4. But I’ll make do with simulating the strike-shortened 1994 season, Mike Trout’s career, and the Mets 2015 rotation.

Why I’m OK With Saying Goodbye To R.A. Dickey

2013 January 14

(Also: Why I Love Johan Santana)

Note: I submitted this as a Fanpost over at Amazin’ Avenue weeks ago, but I figured I might as well post it here, too.

We’ve all had a little while to process and grieve the loss of Folk Hero Robert Allen Dickey. The trade rumors dragged out for a few days and then once the actual deal was done we still needed to wait for Dickey to sign an extremely accommodating contract extension with the Blue Jays. If the Mets were in a position to win now (not three years from now), and if the Wilpons weren’t broke criminals, maybe he’d still be here. Unfortunately for the hearts of many Mets fans, Sandy Alderson felt the need to sell high, treating the most beloved Met as a valuable commodity. Considering the circumstances and the haul coming back in return, it was probably the right move. And one that has bothered me on an emotional level much less than most Mets fans.

As popular as R.A. Dickey has been in New York, the face of the team has obviously been David Wright, despite his (relative) struggles from 2009-2011, which caused many fans to cry TRAID. Wright is the only Met left from the heartbreaking teams of 2006 and 2007, while Dickey, whose ascension to the summit of knuckleball-dom made him a big draw last September, was on the team for just three seasons, during an era of crushing despair. At times, Dickey was the lone bright star in a Mets’ universe approaching heat death (tolerable if the Wilpons were also wiped out). Yet that description of Dickey’s tenure helps explain why it’s not too hard for me to let him go.

Dickey has pitched for three irrelevant Mets teams, consisting of the flotsam lovingly referred to as #OmarsTeam. The last year the Mets competed was 2008, when the team was still legitimately good, but let down by a trash bullpen that led MLB in meltdowns. Sure, 2010 and 2012 looked decent halfway through the season, but spectacular crashes on the far side of the All-Star Break ended hopes quickly both years. 2008 was also the last year the Mets brought in a great player: Johan Santana.* I remember driving home from a night class and turning on WFAN, only to hear the words “trade”, “Mets”, and “Johan Santana”. I yelled and slammed the steering wheel over and over, envisioning a playoff run with the best pitcher in baseball acting as the Mets’ savior after the Collapse of ’07. As already pointed out, it didn’t turn out that way.

*Even before he turned into a mannequin, I would argue Jason Bay was merely “good”. There’s a reason he came at half the cost of Matt Holliday.

Santana, though, was as amazing as advertised, doing everything short of getting the clutch hits the team desperately needed at the end of the season. From July 22nd on, he averaged 7 1/2 innings a start at a 1.82 ERA clip. He pitched a complete-game shutout on three days’ rest on the penultimate day of the season, a game I was lucky enough to attend. It’s tough to beat experiencing an all-time pitcher at the height of his power in a playoff atmosphere. I was there the last time Shea Stadium rocked.

That game was enough for me to go and buy my first authentic jersey (for 50% off, of course): a Santana home jersey with the Shea patch, the same uniform he wore that game. Santana remains, along with Wright, the last link to good Mets teams. As Wright had his best season in years, everyone described him as “the old Wright,” the player who, in 2008, Bill James chose as the one he would want to build a team around. As devastating as those 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons were, I have to imagine any Mets fan preferred them to the drudgery of the last handful. Baseball games in September with playoff implications (not to mention actual playoff games) are cooler than games where a pitcher is going for his 20th win.

No-hitters are also cooler than one-hitters, even if each are usually the result of bounces one way or the other — or blown foul ball calls. As Dickey was entering his Pedro-level run, right after he had thrown two straight 10+ K games, Santana had to go and throw the first no-hitter in Mets history, after lifelong fans had sat through 8,019 games without one, cringing at the tally every time the opposing team got their first hit of the game. No longer would the Mets be clumped in with the Padres, a team that never had a Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden.

And once again, somehow, maybe due to wearing his jersey, I was there to experience a legendary Johan Santana performance. My dad called me in the 8th inning to double-check that I was at Citi, since I had told him a few days before that I might be going. My dad was watching the game with his dad, who was in a rest home recovering from hip-replacement surgery. Three generations of fans awaiting history. Up to that last out, I didn’t think it would happen. When Santana went 3-0 on David Freese with his 131st pitch of the game, I thought for sure it was over. Either he would walk Freese and his pitch count would continue to pile up, or he’d lay a meatball over the plate. Instead he threw an 86-mph fastball on the inside corner, followed up with a changeup fouled back, and then another changeup at the ankles, vintage Johan, to strike Freese out. I was hugging my friends, high-fiving strangers, and yelling on the phone while I talked to my dad, both of us in disbelief. Going out in Astoria afterward, I had people “congratulating” me at the beer garden, and fellow drunks yelling at me from across the street at 4 AM, all due to wearing that Santana jersey. There was really nothing Dickey could ever do to top that experience.

I don’t mean to denigrate Dickey’s incredible season, but emotions are inevitably stronger when the stakes are higher, even if they are just the result of randomness over a 50-year stretch. We’re lucky to have seen such a collection of games from a man who throws a baseball differently than anyone in the history of the world. We’re even luckier that it was easy to turn him into a folk hero: a man who toiled for years, but managed to unlock the secrets to an ancient pitch, all while missing a ligament in his elbow; a man with a glorious beard and a locker filled with books that would get a high school baseball player beat up; a man who climbed a mountain to raise awareness for human trafficking and has bunnies named after Star Wars characters.

I would just argue that Dickey’s great run with the Mets occurred in a relatively meaningless vacuum. He appeared in 2010 and has only improved since then, giving us those back-to-back one-hitters which are probably the most dominant consecutive starts in baseball history (Johnny Vander Meer walked 8 hitters in his second no-hitter!). He was even willing to play for this rebuilding franchise at Ryan Dempster-money, but he was instead used to help bolster that very future Sandy Alderson is building toward. That is the future of Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and the already-arrived Matt Harvey.

Only 23 years old, Matt Harvey exploded onto the Mets landscape this season, throwing 99-mph fastballs and 88-mph sliders to the tune of a 2.73 ERA — the same number as Dickey, arrived at with an arsenal on the opposite end of the pitching spectrum. While most of the Mets world embraced Dickeymania, I was more interested in watching Harvey. I even got together with some fellow Mets fans for his first start against the D-Backs, braving a derecho to drink beers while watching Harvey exceed all expectations. The future was finally here, and it looked brighter than the present, especially if Zack Wheeler was supposed to be better than this pitcher who had just blown away major league hitters.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic about the future (I think my optimism is limited to baseball). I remember back in 2010 looking forward to 2012 and the Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo contracts coming off the books. I also believed that, after the crushing end of 2006, a new Mets’ dynasty was beginning, a sentiment shared by many others.

But this regime appears to have a well-thought-out plan, one where there’s literally no player on the books for 2014 other than Wright and Jon Niese. You can take issue with the amount of money spent on middling relievers or the Angel Pagan trade or the complete lack of legit starting outfielders, but I think all that has been shuffling around ultimately insignificant pieces on a bunch of teams without a realistic shot at contending in a strong NL East. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at 2014 and 2015 as the light at the end of the Wilpon-Madoff Tunnel. Matt Harvey represented the first beam of light trickling in, and that’s why he was my cause for excitement in the second half of the year, even more than Dickey.

Dickey could have been part of the future, too, of course. Instead, he’s left to help the Blue Jays’ present, with two catchers in tow, to team up with Jose Reyes again. And I’m happy for him. Through the magic of MLB.TV, we can still watch R.A. Dickey. He might even get to pitch in some big-time September games, or, if current Vegas lines are to be believed, October games. The entire nation (two nations, actually) would get the chance to embrace Dickey the way New York has.

Meanwhile, I’ll be content with waiting for the future, watching Jon Niese and Matt Harvey, hoping Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud come up and contribute, and praying the infield continues to form a solid base. Johan pulling a Beltran and bringing back a prospect mid-season would be a bonus. Such a move would signal the end of the transition to the Alderson Era. It would finalize the process begun by cutting Ollie and Castillo — the same process that chose Wright as the cornerstone player to retain, since position players of his caliber and age now hit free agency with scant frequency. It would only be fitting if the Dickey trade became the best move of these lean years. He’d be the folk hero who disappeared just as we got to know him, leaving the world behind him with a path toward a better future.

Twitter Destroyed This Blog

2013 January 14
by CajoleJuice

Have I explained how Twitter rendered 90% of the posts I used to populate this blog with obsolete? Probably, but I’m going to ramble for a little while anyhow.

For example, I sent out a tweet a couple of hours ago about how I’m really excited about the Oculus Rift, a 3D headset that monitors how you move your head while immersed in a video game. In the tweet, I said it seems so much cooler than the Wii or Kinect or traditional 3D, while adding a link to The Verge article on it. There’s not much else interesting I could have added to those thoughts. Two or three years ago, I would have embedded a YouTube video about it and spit out a couple of paragraphs about the gaming possibilities and how awesome or nauseating it would be to play Mirror’s Edge while wearing the Oculus Rift.

Back then, I also had more real-life friends who read this blog at least occasionally. Due to the lack of updates, and not posting links to this blog on Facebook due to keeping my real name and this internet handle separate (half-assedly), the people reading any posts on this blog are almost all internet friends who are already exposed to my thoughts on Twitter. So the only things worth writing here are sufficiently thoughtful and lengthy posts, something akin to this R.A. Dickey fanpost I put together over at Amazin’ Avenue. Maybe I should re-post that piece here just so it looks like I still care about this blog.

My Best Moments In New Games This Year

2012 December 23

I don’t buy too many games new anymore, due to not keeping up with the industry like I used to, and consequently not getting as caught up in hype. Most games drop $20-30 in price only a few months after release, and if you wait a year to buy a PC game, chances are it’ll be sub-$10 on Steam — not that I can play any new graphic-intensive games on my four-and-a-half-year-old laptop. The only games I bought at full price were SSX and Diablo III, two franchises that had a long wait for the newest installment.

SSX

I had been waiting for this game all generation, basically. This iteration feels like a bunch of ideas thrown into a stew held together by a fantastic online infrastructure. Too bad, like Burnout Paradise, there’s no local multiplayer. I bought these series last generation to play with friends in the same room and now more powerful consoles are apparently incapable of handling split-screen. So the coolest moment in this game inevitably came from beating some ghosts online, perfecting a track until I was able to break the platinum barrier for a huge virtual payout. I never got close to diamond tier in any race; I have no idea what those kids were on.

FTL: Faster Than Light

There are no cool moments. There are only moments of fleeting happiness crushed by random bullshit. And I love it. Seriously, buy this game if you aren’t a moron.

Halo 4

I didn’t pay close to full price for this, at least counting the sweet American Express deals that required beating it. I’ve actually played much more multiplayer than I thought I would. My life is so empty. Anyhow, jetpacking into the air and colliding with another jetpacking player and assassinating him in mid-air was immensely satisfying. I should have made a film of it, but I don’t think I could have embedded it in this post, anyway.

Hotline Miami

The music in this level:

DOTA2

That time I didn’t get totally destroyed by the other team or yelled at by my teammates for not knowing what the fuck to do. I guess that was an okay imaginary game. Just euthanize anyone who plays this game with any regularity.

Trials Evolution

Checking my medal count compared to my friends list was always cool because I was so much more efficient than them. You might have 5 more medals than me (210 to 205), but you played eight more hours (twice as much time as me). I hope it was worth it, loser.

Civilization V: Gods and Kings

Nuking another civ. Nukes are the best. This is kinda cheating because it’s not like the expansion added nukes to Civ V, but I only bought Civ V this year and the expansion came out this year, so I’m counting it. I’m really sad I didn’t get into the Civilization series as a kid. I loved the Sim City series and real-time strategy games, but never got into turn-based strategy. The only one I played was Lords of the Realm II, which strangely enough, is the only game in that series not on GOG.com. Anyway, I missed out on a lot of PC gaming goodness growing up. I just wasn’t a big enough nerd, I guess.

Diablo III

Getting an awesome axe with a “Level Reduced by 10″ affix for dirt cheap on the auction house. Wow, this game sucks.

#TeamSuicide

2012 October 10

I originally posted this over at the stillborn Second Squad Sorrows, but figured I might as well re-post it here since that blog will probably disappear some time within the next six months.

Turns out I forgot the Padres in that tweet, but it’s not like that helps. That’s a depressing list.

Toronto Blue Jays – This is easily the best team out of the list, with the unfortunate status of playing in the AL East. I still can’t see the Orioles repeating what they did this year, but the Red Sox aren’t going to be a doormat for long. The only hope for this team is waiting for the Rays to run out of their top draft picks. But maybe they’ll move by then and make more money and sorry Jays fans. Douse yourself with inflammable maple syrup and light yourself on fire.

Kansas City Royals – The team of the future had two of its two big hitting prospects, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, have way below-average hitting seasons. They are still waiting for their pitching. It probably will not live up to the hype. Just end it all now.

Seattle Mariners a.k.a. #6org – I made the mistake of actually thinking they were a decent lock to finish 3rd in the AL West. Turns out Billy Beane is still ten times better than Jack “Savior” Z. “I am a false prophet; UZR is a superstition.” I guess fans can wait until King Felix gets hurt to finally drink bleach.

New York Mets – A team headed by broke owners who have no desire to sell the team. Sure, some might say they’ll be able to spend after 2013 due to the contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana ending, but almost every time someone writes about the Mets finances it’s bad news, despite a Madoff victims settlement I thought boded well for the Wilpons. Maybe they’ll just let the contracts come off the books and spend the money on shitty bullpen help again. Much like with #6org and King Felix, I’ll wait until David Wright is gone before putting a gun in my mouth.

Florida Marlins – No one fucking cares. Edit: Notice I said Florida Marlins. God, they suck.

Pittsburgh Pirates – This franchise’s streak of 20 straight losing seasons is the new 56-game hitting streak. It’s more impressive than whatever record Drew Brees just broke last night. Teams just fall into winning seasons every once in a while, like the Marlins, or the Orioles this year — even the Royals have had them in 10-year intervals the past 20 years (they are due for one in 2013!). This is an organization that signed a couple of Indian dudes because I don’t know, Slumdog Millionaire. But hey, your city identity is wrapped up in much more successful teams, so maybe just bang your head against a wall repeatedly until you are Sidney Crosby.

Houston Astros – A team totally and completely screwed by having to move to the AL. I hope to one day — like one of their recent hires who live-tweeted an eviction like a douchebag — to live-tweet them getting relegated to AAA. I just subblogged. Go swim in the ocean during a hurricane.

San Diego Padres – I like how this team ended up with neither Adrian Gonzalez nor Anthony Rizzo. Yet much like the Marlins, I can’t imagine anyone gives a shit. Your perfect weather has made you sports-dead inside.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (COLLAPSES EDITION):

Texas Rangers -5 games up with 9 to go. And then you get swept by the A’s to finish the season, losing the division and being relegated to a one-game playoff against the Orioles, facing Joe Saunders, and you lose that game too. Time to die of a drug overdose. With 9 games to go, even the 2007 Mets were only 1.5 games up on the Phillies, the 2011 Red Sox were only 2 games up on the Rays, and that brings us to…

Atlanta Braves – With 9 games to go, the 2011 Braves were 3.5 games up on the Cardinals. If the current two wild-card format were in place last year, the Braves would have still had a one-game playoff against them. Unfortunately that was not the case, and then this year they finished 6 games in front for the first wild-card, but managed to be victimized by St. Louis again, with the help of umpires. Impale yourself on a tomahawk?

I Get To Act Like A Professional Movie Blogger For The Master

2012 September 12

Haha, professional movie blogger.

As I already tweeted and instagram’d about because everyone needs to know what everyone else is doing immediately, I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City last night. I bought the $10 ticket over a week in advance, not realizing it would be some legit premiere — although I should have guessed considering how awesome a theater it is. Yeah, there were some movie stars and important people but the coolest part was the free unlimited water and popcorn. I made sure to take advantage of that. My dinner was three small popcorns, and it was glorious. Fuck your paleo diet.

All right, enough about the extraneous garbage: I was there to see a film (in 70mm!) from one of the best filmmakers out there, one whose deliberateness in releasing new films makes the anticipation for each one that much greater. Unfortunately, right before the film started, Harvey Weinstein had to bring up politics because it was 9/11, but it was quickly forgotten once the film started.

The Master is not actually about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “Master” nor is it about Scientology, despite having some similarities; it’s about Joaquin Phoenix’s broken Freddie Quell, a character in which Phoenix makes himself almost unrecognizable. I haven’t seen I’m Still Here, but I’m guessing that was something of a warm-up for the insane transformation he’s made here. Freddie constantly hunches over, makes unsettling contortions of his mouth and eyes, and slurs his words unintelligibly at times. He’s a violent, unpredictable drunk who cannot assimilate into society after his service in World War II. By total chance he literally stumbles across Lancaster “Master” Dodd (I could see this being a Chris Berman nickname), and a bond forms between the two almost immediately.

I know I said that the film is about Freddie, but perhaps it’s more about the relationship between Master and Freddie. And the performances from Hoffman and Phoenix are pretty much all someone could ask for. It’s an amazingly straight-forward film, especially for Anderson, but these two actors put on some showcases that are enthralling to watch. There’s a devastating scene featuring what Master calls “processing” (this seems like a nod to the Scientology influence) and a jail cell scene where both Master and Freddie absolutely explode. But instead of a climatic scene being the conclusion of the film like There Will Be Blood, The Master chronicles the slow disintegration of their relationship, a process that seems to hurt Master more than Freddie in the end.

If you’ve seen any other PTA films, you know he makes pretty moving pictures. The Master continues this tradition, and being shot totally in 65mm* helps. I cannot recommend enough going out and watching this in a theater equipped for it, but like IMAX, not many people have access to the real thing. Yet while the film is beautiful, I’d say PTA is less showy here than in his other work I’m familiar with (I haven’t seen Hard Eight). Boogie Nights had him aping Goodfellas for that opening tracking shot, Magnolia had raining frogs, Punch-Drunk Love had that scene-transition flair, and There Will Be Blood had the long wordless beginning and the oil rig explosion set piece. TWBB in particular comes across as a showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis, topped off by that final “I’m finished” line. The Master in comparison comes across as a more restrained affair, keeping its hold over the audience for its running time, throwing in a few pieces of comic relief, but leaving many audience members a little empty.

*I know I said I saw it in 70mm earlier, but that’s all I keep hearing, but then I read it was filmed in 65mm. Apparently the difference is the section used for the soundtrack? I really don’t know for sure.

The Master has to be the least entertaining PTA film I’ve seen. It’s not fun seeing Freddie Quell self-destruct, or Master trying to defend his outrageous claims about memory and past lives. There aren’t many surprises or absurdly amusing scenes. Despite the various locations in the film, it’s not detailing the fall of an entire industry, the intertwined lives of a dozen people, or the rise and moral fall of an oil magnate. This is an intimate film that perhaps counter-intuitively coldly keeps its distance. Amy Adams’ character (Mary Sue Dodd) might be the embodiment of that coldness, as she comes across as the true Master in some scenes. It’s a dynamic that shows that she’s helping Lancaster remain Master, stopping him from falling prey to the wildness of Freddie. It’s Freddie’s freespiritedness, undoubtedly fueled by his psychological issues and alcoholism, that draws Master to him. It’s a love story that’s not meant for a happy ending though, unlike the romance in Punch-Drunk Love.

Watching Punch-Drunk Love for the first time right before going to see The Master might have colored my view of the latter, but I enjoyed watching the former so much more. The Master is the work of a more mature, more confident filmmaker, and I’m sure Anderson made the film he wanted to make; it’s just that The Master is not the most fun 160 minutes you could spend in a theater. It plods along at times when it comes to Freddie’s therapy or processing or whatever Master refers to it as. And ultimately, Freddie doesn’t experience much growth, which kinda reminds me of another film that left me cold, Shame. I feel like I shouldn’t even bring that film up, as I think it’s hilariously self-aware about its artistic aspirations. But it came to mind, so I thought I’d throw it in here because I’m not quite sure how critics manage to write long film reviews.

Maybe I need another viewing — this time closer to the screen — to fully appreciate what Anderson has done here. There’s not much to nitpick when I try to critique the film, only the nagging feeling of being somewhat unsatisfied. It could be that I’m jealous of Freddie’s one-track sexual mind, where he’s able to suppress all his dark memories until someone forces them to come out. It could be that we’re all stuck somewhere between Freddie’s compete carelessness and recklessness and Master’s desire to achieve human perfection, despite his own all-too-human flaws. I know that I’ve been lost in my quest to balance the two for my entire adult life.

You were going to see The Master no matter what I said. Go see it.

Diablo III is Terrible

2012 June 20

I think you can guess where this post is going. Maybe some Diablo II diehards actually think the game is terrible, but even they have played the game dozens of hours already. The problem is not that I wasted $60 on a game that I hate, but that I spent $60 to play one game at the exclusion of just about everything else. Neither Diablo nor Diablo II did this to me. This probably hurts my gamer cred, but I never even beat Diablo II, which blows my mind in retrospect. I feel like I played it endlessly when I had a broken left thumb one summer, but I stopped after beating Act III. Why would I stop so close to the end? (For the uninformed, there are four Acts.) Well, despite the parallels to stopping my childhood Jiu-Jitsu classes at brown belt level, I think I had a legitimate reason to ragequit this game of Diablo II: I accidentally left all my gear — the gear that I had built my necromancer character around — on the ground as I saved and exited the game. It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened and by the time I tried to turn off my computer to avoid such the catastrophe of losing my entire loadout, the damage had been done. I’m not sure I ever touched the game again.

If such a unfortunate mistake ever befell me in Diablo III, though, I could just go on the auction house and buy some new gear. I could literally pay to be awesome at the game. You practically need to buy gear in the auction house if you want to progress through the four difficulties at a comfortable rate. Such an issue is illustrated beautifully in this blog post. Yet I still can’t stop playing. I know there’s a 0.001% chance I will actually use a weapon or piece of armor that drops, but it doesn’t stop me from killing thousands of monsters over and over again. I actually had two Legendary items drop pretty quickly for me, but I haven’t even used either of them yet, which is indicative of another issue. No matter, I still can’t stop playing. At least what I feel is excessive video game playing isn’t in line with the standards of some people on my Battle.net friends list, some of whom have played two to four times as many hours.

All this time spent on an eminently dumb game. It’s so fucking mindless and addictive and zombiefying. Not able to kill some particularly tough groups of champion enemies?– better get some new gear with your stashed gold or your Paypal account. Click, click, 1, click, 3, click, click. Sure, you learn to utilize your spells more effectively and try out different spell configuration as you unlock new ones, but there’s not so much a difficulty curve as a timesink curve. To beat Inferno is going to take the average person hundreds of hours. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’ve never been a dedicated gamer outside of arguably the Day of Defeat beta 10 years ago and Counter-Strike: Source for a few months after its release. Those were games that revolved around human competition and teamwork, not AI hordes of the same baddies repeatedly endlessly until you farm enough gold or get enough cool drops (hahahaha, unlikely) to beat the game on Inferno.

A big part of me hopes writing out these thoughts will convince me to put down the crack pipe. I already played through LIMBO the past couple of days instead of playing a few hours of Diablo III; I think that qualifies as a glimmer of hope. Such an original and thoughtful puzzle game was a nice break from the exhausting routine of killing skeletons and demons. Eating through my backlog of indie games on Steam sounds like a better idea than making my way through Hell difficulty with my Monk character. Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, Jamestown, Bastion, Psychonauts, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Lone Survivor; or, the same set of Diablo III levels I’ve played through three times between my Monk and Wizard characters. There’s little rationale behind choosing the second option, yet I’m convinced my Monk will hit Level 60 (the highest) by the end of the week. Fuck you, Blizzard.

A Bad Night For Baseball Atheists

2012 June 14

A headline inspired by this tweet (I just want to utilize WordPress 3.4′s new simple Twitter embedding):

I know I’m feeding the troll here, but it reminded me and another person on Twitter of the “bad night for atheists” line during Josh Hamilton’s amazing HR derby display at Yankee Stadium a few years ago. But at least Heyman’s tweet has a bit of truth to it. Up through the 2010 MLB season, most sabermetric-loving fans didn’t believe in Matt Cain’s success. Even I criticized my own pick of Cain in a Roto Hardball mock draft before the 2011 season, citing his “unsustainable” home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB%). Well, over the past two years, Cain’s HR/FB% has remained in line with his career numbers and this year he’s made the leap to total dominance when you consider his improved strikeout and walk rates. The Giants choosing to give him a big contract extension — while postponing a decision on Tim Lincecum — is looking better every day.

Yet Heyman is unsurprisingly off when it comes to referencing the right stats to put down. While Cain’s career batting average of balls in play (BABIP) is pretty low, that’s not unusual for a fly ball pitcher. What’s extraordinary is the low HR/FB%, which is reflected in his constantly higher expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) numbers. xFIP regresses HR/FB% to league average, utilizing strikeouts, walks, and fly ball rate; but at this point it looks like Cain has no inclination to adhere to that rule. He just keeps getting better while Lincecum keeps getting worse.

Those last two paragraphs cover one interpretation of the headline, the one often joked about by @waxinthaksin on NeoGAF and Twitter to describe saber fans. This is the interpretation Jon Heyman would subscribe to. We — True SABRs like myself — have no faith, we only believe in the numbers. Only a couple of years ago, the numbers told us that Matt Cain was only good, but he’s turned out to be great. Where are your numbers now?

The other way to take the headline is to think it’s talking about people who aren’t into baseball. People that don’t believe in its awesomeness. There were almost two perfect games tonight. Both R.A. Dickey and Matt Cain are former first-round draft picks, but they couldn’t have taken more divergent paths to their pitching gems tonight. Dickey made it to the majors with a traditional pitch arsenal 11 years ago, but he never succeeded until he perfected his knuckleball with the Mets as a 35-year-old. Cain stormed to the majors at 20 years old and has been a 200-inning workhorse ever since. Dickey looks like the mountain climber he was this offseason, and shouldn’t even be able to pitch, as he has no UCL in his right elbow. Cain, meanwhile, is a solidly-built 6’3″ and has never given anyone a reason to doubt his ability. The only thing that stopped these two completely different pitchers from forever being intertwined in baseball history were a couple of David Wright miscues.

That’s the great thing about baseball. You watch as many games as you can because you know at any time you might see something that’s either never been done before or has only happened a handful of times. Matt Cain’s performance tonight is one of the best in baseball history; he struck out 14 batters in a perfect game. The only other pitcher to accomplish such a feat is some guy named Sandy Koufax. R.A. Dickey dominated a game like no other knuckleballer has ever done. 12 strikeouts, 0 walks, and 1 hit that shouldn’t have been ruled a error. And we already had a perfect game and two no-hitters this year. And a 4-HR game. I’ll throw the coming-out parties of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in this paragraph, too. Baseball is amazing.

Making Up For Lost Blogging

2012 June 12

It’s been about three months since I updated this blog, and four months since I wrote more than a few cohesive paragraphs. I think this constitutes the longest I’ve gone without contributing something of value here. My breaks always seem to coincide with writing for new baseball blogs that quickly die, Roto Hardball soon after I left, and Second Squad Sorrows before it was even born. I had more of an excuse not to update this blog when it came to my daily duties over at RH, but life and my state of mind have gotten in the way this time around.

I recently read a book called Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior that mentioned how the people who are actually best at self-evaluation are usually depressed. Most human beings are optimists because otherwise our species never would have gotten this far. It reminded me of the overthinking, doubting mindset of prospect Billy Beane in the book Moneyball, which left him at a disadvantage when compared to the headstrong Lenny Dykstra. I’ve always been Beane when it comes to writing (or women) and it becomes difficult after a while to write knowing you’re not really bringing anything original or exceptional to the table. How much writing is out there on the internet? There are countless movie blogs manned by teenagers, manchild 20-somethings, and hipster 20-somethings. There is an almost depressing amount of smart baseball writing — both sabermetric-focused and not, but all adhering to that movement’s basic truths. There are half a dozen reviews of every goddamn television show that miserable people watch. Even animated .GIFs are everywhere now, although sadly mostly in shitty Tumblr form. What is a regular dude supposed to blog about?

I had a conversation with NeoGAF and Twitter buddy @m_scoular a few months ago and it’s as if he had the opposite effect on me as he hoped. He said how pouring himself into movies and classic books and writing about them (mostly privately) had helped him make some sense of, or at least come to peace with, his current lot in life. And he said he enjoyed reading my thoughts on movies, and suggested writing constantly — if not on this blog — in a personal journal. But this conversation came at a time just as baseball was starting up, and I fell into the usual mode of being obsessed with grown men playing a game.

I’ve questioned my commitment to watching the Mets — and baseball in general — many times. I’ve mentioned on this blog (by linking to a Flip Flop Fly Ball infographic) how much time is sunk into following an 162-game season. I’ve thought many times that I enjoy talking about baseball more than watching it. What am I getting out of being such an intense baseball fan?

Then something like being in attendance for the first Mets no-hitter happens. There are movies that can really get to you, making you either cheer or cry, but this was real. This was watching something almost miraculous. Down to the very last batter I had lingering doubts. Tom Seaver had three chances in the 9th inning to close out no-hitters for the Mets and never did it. Johan Santana was less than two years removed from shoulder surgery that has ended lesser careers and had a pitch count greater than any game he had thrown before said surgery. With two outs, with his 131st pitch, he went 3-0 on David Freese. I thought it was over. Either Johan would walk Freese, requiring a bunch more pitches, which would add to the already ridiculous burden on his recovering shoulder, or he’d lay a very hittable pitch over the middle of the plate. Johan chose option C by striking out Freese with a devastating changeup.

After witnessing Johan’s short-rest shutout in the penultimate game of the 2008 season, I didn’t think anything less than attending a Game Seven playoff win or World Series clinching-game would top that baseball experience. But I wasn’t hugging my friends after that game. Or high-fiving dozens of strangers all around me. Or calling my dad after he watched it along with his dad. This was baseball — as cliche as it sounds — as religious experience.

Feeling that way about baseball brings me back to the conversation I had with @m_scoular. He was curious about my thoughts on This Is Not A Film, an Iranian documentary about a filmmaker under house arrest awaiting the results of an appeal for a jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing. I fell asleep during it. Meanwhile, he detailed how and why it affected him unlike any other movie and how he wished I could have felt like he did. And I wish I appreciated the passion and humor on display, and maybe I would have a bit more if I didn’t fall asleep or watch it in a very dead theater, but I’m still a budding movie buff and even then that feeling doesn’t compare to my passion for baseball or even sports in general.

Perhaps it’s not a perfect analogy, because even a casual baseball fan can appreciate a no-hitter, but someone who watches countless Mets games is going to understand the significance behind it on another level. After the no-hitter, as my two friends and I sat in an Astoria beer garden, I rattled off the great Mets pitchers who had gone on to throw no-hitters for other teams: Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden, David Cone (Philip Humber’s perfect game was just a cruel joke). And then there are the good pitchers who could have easily thrown one if everything lined up right. Finally, the Mets were the recipient of a great pitcher with enough left in the tank to do what hadn’t been done in 51 seasons of Mets baseball. It was enough to make a man get so drunk that he gets unidentified stains on his Santana jersey while black out drunk.

It’s that feeling that spurs me to write something. It’s watching a Game Seven between the Heat and Celtics. It’s watching a Nadal-Djovokic French Open final. But even more, it’s watching El Clasico in a packed NYC bar among people who obviously care about soccer a lot more than I do. And I do occasionally get that feeling when watching a great movie, but there’s nothing like the communal experience of watching sports history. Something like that is enough to get a person to blog again.

NeoGAF 2011 Movies of the Year (and Mine)

2012 March 4

I’m just going to follow the same format as last year’s post. I’ve been doing this for a while now, so I don’t think I need to preface how this voting took place on some forum on which I’ve spent the past third of my pathetic existence. Here are the full results if you care that much.

1. Drive
2. The Tree of Life
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
4. Midnight in Paris
5. 50/50
6. Hugo
7. Moneyball
8. A Separation
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
———————————————————————————————————————
11. Shame
12. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
13. Warrior
14. Take Shelter
15. Rango
16. Hanna
17. The Skin I Live In
18. Melancholia
19. The Adventures of Tintin
20. The Artist

My personal list:

1. A Separation
2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
3. 50/50
4. Drive
5. Midnight in Paris
6. The Tree of Life
7. Senna
8. Attack the Block
9. Take Shelter
10. Warrior

Some quick thoughts:

- This year felt pretty weak for the most part. I have issues with pretty much every movie on my list but #1. Although, A Separation is subtitled, eww. Kidding. I did read an essay somewhere that painted it getting past Iran’s censors as a negative.

- I thought Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was disappointingly slow and dry the first time around, even though I still liked it. The second time, I caught countless more things, revealing just how immaculately edited and shot the film was. Some of the characterization is absurdly thin, but I guess that’s the drawback of attempting to adapt into a film a novel which was previously a five-hour television series.

- It might be surprising to see 50/50 up so high, but I thought its mix of comedy and drama was deftly balanced. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great in the lead role, Anna Kendrick is suitably adorable as an inexperienced therapist, and I’m a Seth Rogen apologist.

- I really don’t have much to say about Drive anymore. Internet hype fatigue, not that I’m above that sort of thing.

- My experience with Woody Allen is pitiful, which apparently is the reason why I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris. I also loved the guy playing Hemingway.

- Maybe I needed to see The Tree of Life in a non-shitty theater to truly appreciate its beautiful cinematography, but the Sean Penn segments were so worthless and the film felt like a bit of a mess. The main growing-up part of the film is wonderful, though.

- Senna is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, almost totally devoid of talking heads, and perfectly paced — which means fast-paced, since this is a documentary chronicling the life of a Formula One driver. I knew absolutely nothing about Formula One beforehand other than the name of Michael Schumacher and I was enthralled for the entire running time.

- It’s nice to see a pulpy action movie handle its lack of a budget extremely well. The monster designs in Attack the Block were ingenious, and having the bad kids from the poor part of the city become the heroes ties in well with the whole class warfare awareness going around.

- In retrospect maybe Take Shelter should be even higher, but I do remember coming out of the theater and feeling it was a tad too slow for me. Nonetheless, Michael Shannon being totally overlooked is insane. He put in easily the most impressive acting performance I watched last year. And I watched Shame, ok? At least Take Shelter is a good movie.

- I originally had Hugo in my 10th slot in the official voting, but fuck it, I want to give props to Warrior. I still can’t believe a movie with such shitty marketing came out so not-shitty. It might have been clichéd as hell, but I enjoyed it more than the critically-acclaimed The Fighter.