Super Slapshot

AI is really really interesting. I don’t mean the science fiction BS about machines overthrowing their human oppressors (though that is undeniably interesting in its own right) but rather AI as a question of implementation. The first two years of a computer science degree are basically basic classes in machine psychology. In essence, you spend a lot of time learning what computers can and cannot do well and why they can or cannot do it. The practical applications of this are vast, and it sets you up for a long and accursed existence of yelling at your television every time computers are abused as a deus ex machina, because everything in fiction should be plausible.

In a vast majority of cases, the question of practical AI is one of simply making your agent act smart but in time to fulfill whatever objective. Computers are pretty good at coming up with complete solutions given however much time they need, and are less good at coming up with a good enough solution right now. When it’s properly implemented, the results are basically magic, here’s a short demonstration.

Now this is the result of some pretty heavy computation on a decently modern machine, which is part of why it’s magic, because doing the same thing on a 16 bit processor with limited memory is. Well it’s very hard.

So given that I’ve been sperging on AI this weekend and I really don’t want to drop another review on the pile of “phh, hockey, whatever jock” vs. “god stop being such a nerd sports enthusiasm is no less ridiculous than, say, reviewing every game ever“, we’re going to watch super slapshot play itself and see how it fares.

For the purpose of this test I chose Israel vs. Sweden. I thought it would be a fitting match up due to Israel’s scrappy and well known prowess both offensively and defensively and Sweden because they are a country with ice. It was only about 9 minutes in length and and neither put up a very good fight during play itself.

You do not need ice to play a strong game of Hockey.

The goalies were veritable ironclad juggernaut destroyer battleships, neither letting a single goal through even when Israel was shorthanded two players. I literally know maybe the first and second things about hockey, but I’m pretty sure the game isn’t played that way.

It came down to an overtime shootout which Sweden, who aside from absolutely stellar supernova goaltending played a pretty miserable offensive game, took handily by scoring two goals like it was nothing.

Now if you could have done that like 7 minutes earlier, this would have been a game of hockey.

What I’ve learned about hockey and AI today:

-Skate pathing and dodging while maintaining realistic movement must be a really neat and interesting problem to tackle.

-Shooting AI is probably boring because the goalies are invincible supermen.

-Israel got like 4 penalties, including 2 at a time, the Swedes got none, couldn’t close the deal when they were 2 players up, played passively, and took it at the end of the game. The programmers may have had some ideas about nations.

Pro Sport Hockey

PRO SNORE HOCKEY

If the good old hockey game is the best game you can name and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game, then I feel sorry for you. Off the top of my head I can name three better games: Freeze Tag, Connect Four, and Tonsil Hockey*. Regular hockey is occasionally briefly amusing, but I seriously don’t get the big deal. At all! I’ve tried watching it again and again and depending on my level of sobriety, I’ve been moderately distracted for some minutes. At best.

The fact that I’m a Canadian citizen means that my controversial opinions on the game of hockey make me a Super Traitor, but luckily instead of death our penalty for that crime is that I have to say sorry. Sorry! Man, being Canadian rules. It makes a guy want to drink beer and stand in the snow while hoping the dollar doesn’t fluctuate too much.

Pro Sport Hockey is definitely in the running for Most Blandly Accurate Game Title, so it has that going for it. What it doesn’t have going for it is anything that even comes close to entertaining me, just like its real life counterpart (real life hockey!).

I’m criminally incapable of reviewing these games objectively so these little screeds of mine are not only super-biased (often against things you like (because they’re stupid as HELLLLLLL)) but are also not really all that informative unless you’re me deciding what game to not play. If you’re me reading this, then let me remind me that I don’t like this game and I shouldn’t play it. Right, us?

For the rest of you not-mes, here’s some stuff about this game: you control a hockey team! You can pass the puck or shoot the puck while you skate! You skate up and down the ice and shoot and pass the puck! There are many teams you can choose and they all have different numbers that kind of represent their abilities! The graphics are unimpressive and wearisome! You try and score on the other team’s goal and they do the same for yours! It’s an epic struggle of 16-bit proportions! I’m sorry that I’m reviewing a hockey game! Sorry, sports fans! Sorry!

And so ends my federally-mandated apology—I think I’m going to go and watch a real sport now: Lacrizzosse. It combines lacrosse and the musical stylings of Snoop Dogg. It’s just as amazing as you’d think.

* Thankfully nothing like regular hockey. I think?

Pinball Dreams

Ok, so I’m going to level with you.  I have about 10 minutes to review a PINBALL GAME before watching the Olympic Men’s Hockey Gold Medal Game.  I don’t really care about pinball.  It’s pinball.  Digital pinball is always second rate.  It’s like it’s not real pinball.  And further more, pinball games are usually pretty low-budget and lame.  Also, as a Canadian, this game means more to me than if I had children.  If I had children and they needed my attention during this game, I would tell them that they are not important to me until the game is over.  They would learn to be self-reliant.  They would be emotional latchkey kids.

So pinball or whatever.

Mostly when I see the name Pinball Dreams, though, I think about how horrifying it would be to have a dream where you were inside a pinball machine with a giant sphere flying around… and how this all seeing overload above the sky would aim that sphere at you.  And then like, you  try to hide behind bumpers and crap but this guy above the sky is fucking amazing and you’re going to die.

So hey… uhh… I’m gonna go watch this hockey game and if you want you can go get this game about pinball because if you’re the kind of person who likes pinball games then my guess is that you’re not very picky about your games and one pinball games is as good as the rest of the pinball games.

Pinball?

NHL Stanley Cup

Welcome, Richard, to the Mode 7 Program!
POSTCARDS FROM HELL

From the diary of Richard Ashcroft, circa July 19, 1993:


Dear Diary,

It’s been seven weeks since I entered the Dome.  I think. I haven’t seen the sun in so long.  Seven weeks without food.  I’ll be dead in eight, doctors say.  I’ve been licking ice off the floor for sustenance.  I don’t even know if it’s real ice.  I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not anymore.  I keep seeing things.  People playing hockey, mostly.  Except I’m like this camera, floating and zooming around the rink.  Oh, it’s so fast, pulling in and out like an elastic band.  I feel like throwing up.  I always feel like throwing up, but I can’t.  There’s nothing left to chuck, just stomach acid bubbling and burning against the back of my throat.  It’s like, every fibre of your being wants to scream, and then you realise: you have no tongue.

OmigodomigodomigodomigodomiguuuUUURRRGGGH-gllluuUUKK-GLLKK--

Are the others still in here, alive? I’m convinced I’ve gone quite mad.  I can see me down there, shuffling and tripping on the ice, but I’m not in there, I’m not!  I’m still here and all I can do is watch.  Watch them thresh about with sticks in their fruity colours.

What am I even doing here?  Is this some kind of sick practical joke?  What if everyone else has already gone home and forgotten about me?  When I signed up for the Mode 7 program they told me it would be a simulation, just a bit of a lark.  They never told me it would be like this.  All I wanted was the hundred quid they promised in the advert.  Oh well.  Just one more week and it’ll all be over, one way or another.

I wrote a pop song yesterday.  I might record it if I ever make it out of here:

No change I can't change I can't change I can't change / But I'm here in my Mode / I am here in my Mode / But I'm a million different people / From one day to the next / I can't change my Mode, no, no, no, no, no-oo-oooo...

The Devil has a new number.  It’s my number: 7.

Mode 7.

NHL ’98

If you look closely, you can see a rough abstraction of two breasts, each impaled on two railway spikes, which is something I'd rather look at than this game.

This is the last N sports game I have to review.  Words cannot express my gratitude.

It is also difficult to express with words the extent to which I do not care about sports.  Typically, such an expression would involve – nay, require – strained, gurgling noises emanating from my throat, a contorted, purple rictus of enraged apathy, and a disturbingly enthusiastic series of self-inflicted blows to the head.

My disinterest in sports has moved far beyond mere absence of interest, into a kind of aggressively negative interest.  It is the same kind of negative interest that your girlfriend has in video games – the kind that is slow-roasted in a fine blend of resentment, boredom, contempt, pity and despair as people all around you converse excitedly about something you find profoundly, infinitely uninteresting, excluding you from any conversation or social interaction because they want to talk about statistics, whether it’s how great their new purple broadsword is, or how many assists John McHockeyton verbed in the last noun of the more general noun.

As such, I literally – yes, in the literal, denotative meaning of this upcoming sentence – feel minor headaches and nausea when I play a sports video game that is attempting to be authentic.  I am physically affected by it.  It repulses me.  Hockey is probably the worst, as it is the least interesting sport that is the most well-liked amongst my Canadian brethren.  Football I have occasionally felt a flicker of interest in, but as soon as a game reaches the playbook and little scrawls with symbols and arrows I just want to scream and scream and scream until there is nobody left to look at me or talk to me or touch me, ever again.

I have been to a hockey game once, for free, but it was a bizarre circumstance, a malformed half-baby mewling in its own fluids, birthed from a combination of artistic talent, lust, guilt, shame and obligation.

I played this game for three minutes, and it hurt my brain.  There is real physical pain in my skull. I hate this game more than racism.  I would rather drink a tall glass of vinegar than play this game for half an hour.

In conclusion, fuck your hockey team, they are probably worse than the hockey team that you do not like because they beat your hockey team that one time in the past when they were likely composed of entirely different players, or whatever.

NHL ’97

The EA Sports juggernaut strikes again, giving us another NHL roster update for you to acquire using your hard-earned ducats. I liked this game because your team stats reflected those entering the 1997 season, versus the antiquated offering from NHL ’96, which only reflected the start of the 1996 season. Unfortunately, NHL ’98 trumps this outing with an even more recent spreadsheet of names, numbers, and factoids.

Additionally, you have the option of playing alone or with a friend, which is almost always a plus. I mean, it might not be a plus if your friends are a bunch of assholes and you don’t like spending time with them, in which case they’re probably a bit closer to the realm of enemies/co-workers/family/clergy/etc. than friends. Wouldn’t make them much of friends to begin with, I guess.

Err, I…I’m sorry for calling your friends “assholes”. I didn’t really mean it.

This game also has controls. You can use the direction pad to move around, and the buttons to perform various actions. Graphics are also featured on the screen, using multiple colors and such. Sounds are played as well.

Amazing stuff, this technology…

NHL 96

You're fucking right it is.

I’ve been listening to that EA Sports Guy tell me about how it’s in the game for almost two decades.  That’s insane.  I’m not even sure what it means.  I know he’s right, though… because I mean… where else would the sports be if not in the game?  The man speaks the truth.

I was too excited when I found out that I’d pulled NHL 96 in the review roster.  I still buy the yearly iteration of EA’s NHL Franchise (except for the years between 2004 or so until 2007, when I bought the 2K series because of it’s vastly superior roster handling and franchise modes… NHL 08, however, was the first NHL game to use the skill stick and the gameplay became too incredible to ignore).  I just recently won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a Power Forward in Be A Pro mode.  I took home the Calder Trophy for best rookie.

I like the NHL Franchise.

And the reason I like that Franchise is because of NHL 94 – NHL 96.  In terms of a top-down, accessible hockey experience, you basically couldn’t beat them.  There’s season play, create-a-player, quality animations (considering the era), reasonable game play, and general hockey goodness.  I was sort of blown away at the level of detail even in these older games.  At one point I took a penalty and as my player skated to the bench he whacked his stick into the boards in frustration!  I always thought that EA was surprisingly good at getting the little things right.

I actually sort of miss that top-down faceoff camera. They should totally bring that back.

Ok fine… your players skate around in sort of hilarious ways that have no basis on reality… and the boost button makes you fly around like you’re on rocket skates… and the wrap-around is basically unbeatable where in real life you just get drilled into the boards 90% of he time… but those are all besides the point because the game is super fun to play.  Plus it’s actually got your favorite players out there (Federov! Belfour! Sakic!  Yzerman!  Roy!) AND you can appreciate the nostalgia of something like this:

Hartford..? The Whale..?

Basically, if these games had the voice-over play by play of Jim Hughson I would be in NHL heaven.  Jim Hughson works for CBC but he was also the voice of the EA Sports NHL games from, like, 1997 until 2006.  He says stuff like, when scoring a goal in the upper corners “Upstairs! Where Norman keeps his mother!”  Honestly… Psycho references in a hockey game.  I miss Jim’s play by play in the more recent games.

So anyway, I can’t imagine anyone reading this review wanting to know about NHL 96.  You know what it is. You know what it is and you either love it or you hardly played it and didn’t give a shit.  Going back to NHL 96 is a nostalgia machine.  It’s awesome.

Poor Hartford....

NHL 95

“Ottawa’s first pick for NHL 95, number 17: Brilliam Isawesome.”

Thus began the career of one of Ottawa’s many bust first-round draft picks: Brilliam Isawesome.

Entering the league with an overall score of 91, he was built to slot right into the first line of the team. He should have been the next (or rather, first) Alexander Ovechkin.

One game, and it was a slow enough start to what could still be an illustrious career. Not one of the three stars, he scored no goals, no assists, and a plus-minus of -2. Still, he was young, and perhaps brought up without a proper stint in the minor leagues. Some conditioning, even in the major leagues, would see him emerge as a great star.

About three minutes into his second game, he was on the ice for another opposition penalty, this time against rivals Montreal. It was around this point that he skated off the ice, into the dressing room, and quit the game of hockey forever.

That is, until he was drafted in NHL 96. And 98. And 2003. And 2008. and 2009. And 2010.

I love fake sports.

NHL 94

Playing on a vertical patch of ice is hard
DUN DUN DUN DA DA...HOCKEY GAME!

NHL ’94 is one of the few SNES games I’ve reviewed that I owned as a kid. Well, that’s not entirely true—my brother owned it. He liked hockey, and I liked elves. Fifteen years later, not much has changed: he still likes hockey, and I still like elves. And yet, for some reason, there’s no elven hockey league like we all thought there would be by now. You lied to us, Shadowrun. You lied to children. Oh wait, it’s not 2011 yet, so you still have a few years to make my dreams come true; I’m willing to genetically experiment on as many people as it takes, since I doubt “magic” will do anything any time soon.

Back in the day, NHL ’94 was THE HOCKEY GAME. It was the be-all and end-all of digitized dudes swingin’ sticks (save for that German TRON porn I found in the forest). As such, I actually spent some time playing it—enough to realize that I could never, ever beat my brother at this game since he apparently played it while sleeping, awake, sleepwalking, awake-walking, and at school. I’m pretty sure he could play without even holding the controller! He would play as the Habs, and I would play as the losing team. Something tells me that if I turned this game on in front of him today, he would still pick the Habs, and I would still lose miserably. I should play as Toronto*!

This game is pretty good. It’s not my thing, but I can objectively say that this is a well-made hockey game. The control is intuitive and tight, and the easiest way to score is to swing in from behind the net and take a shot—I used to beat the computer doing this, and can only assume it still works since it would totally make no sense whatsoever if it didn’t. Graphics-wise, all your favourite colours are here: red, blue, green, yellow, orange…yup. The hockey teams wear jerseys with these colours, and so they appear on your screen! Accuracy! Simulation! EA SPORTS!

I can only imagine the adrenaline-rush of pure nostalgia that would grip many of you if you played this game; for me, it’s a reminder of being beaten at something by my younger brother, which as we all know is the greatest defeat of them all. I think he’s taller than me now, too. Well played, Ross. Well played.

* This is the one hockey “joke” I can make. Toronto is bad and everyone keeps telling me this. I don’t care, but apparently you guys really, really do. Boo Leafs, I suppose.

Hit the Ice

I must have mentioned a thousand times that I am Australian, as if to frame the context of my every crazy word, but I’ll be damned if I don’t mention it again.  For my general ineptitude in discussing activities that take place beyond the freezing point of water will soon present itself, and I don’t want you thinking that I’m a bad American or a bad Canadian or whatever.

I’ll say it again, I am Australian, and as such, I can only be trusted in discussing activities that take place beyond the boiling point of water (and human flesh – oh yes, it’s a charmed life).

So here is an ice hockey game, and here is the sum total I know about the sport of ice hockey:

  • The Mighty Ducks are a team, and they play for Disney.
  • It’s on ice (so when The Mighty Ducks play, it’s Disney on Ice).
  • Before The Mighty Ducks play or train, Emilio Estevez says “let’s hit the ice!”
  • The goal is to mash your opponents into a bloody paste.  Preferably into the walls.

I noticed that The Disney© Mighty Ducks™ are not a playable team in Hit the Ice, but the title itself is a choice Emilio Estevez quote, so I’ll let it slide.  In fact, I’m reasonably certain that none of these teams exist in real life:

Hmmm...the Reds, Yellows, Whites, but no Blacks?  Methinks this game might be a tad bit racist.  I think I'll choose 'Whites'.
Hmmm...the Reds, Yellows, Whites, but no Blacks? Methinks this game might be a tad bit racist. I think I'll choose 'Whites'.

Then you choose your player.  That’s funny, my name is a decidedly Russian Ivan Yakashev, but The Reds get these good solid, American names like Phil Bunker and “Gunner” Hall (I see a military theme emerging here).  Good ol’ Phil does look a little like our Comrade, Zangief, though:

hittheice_ruskies
Ooh, the map looks a little bit like Street Fighter, too!  Waittaminutethough, I can see two red things flickering – let me see if I can screencap that…AH-HA!

Notice the RED STAR and the HAMMER AND SICKLE in the corner?!
Notice the RED STAR and the HAMMER AND SICKLE in the northwest corner?! And "TORONTONE"?!

This is Russian subversion, my friends of Freedom and Democracy.  Do I even need to spell it out for you?  Ice Hockey = Cold War?

Then the scoreboard rolls down, adorned by the Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf, accompanied by a stunning pipe organ rendition of “in the la-and of the free, and the hooome of the braaaaave!”  Ah, clever Russians!

hittheice_ump

The umpire clambers nervously to the centre of the rink.  The organ builds in tempo and dynamics to a triumphant fortissimo: “DA-DA-DA DAA DA-DAAA!”  The war has begun.  Blades of wood thresh violently against the cold air, feeling for the elusive obsidian gem like an old man for his dentures on the bedside table.  Hooking, slicing, Ivan Yakashev topples to the ground – those filthy Reds have the puck!  “Gunner” Hall passes to Phil “Zangief” Bunker, who in turn twists his torso with robotic spring precision for the slapshot.

"GOAL!" the screen proudly declares in Soviet Propaganda font.
"GOAL!" the screen proudly declares in Soviet Propaganda font.

But Ivan is fuming with White hot rage.  The organist, noticing this, plays the ominous “Dum—de-DUM-DUM DAAA!” theme from Dragnet.  The message is clear: there is going to be a fight.  Sticks fly in the air – they will not be needed.  The world gasps in awe, and all eyes are fixed on these two Frost Giants, exchanging blow for Titan blow.

Take that, you Commie bastard!
Take that, you Commie bastard!

Brains addled, eyes narrowed, it no longer matters who is Russian or Aryan, Master or Slave – all that remains is Man and Man – primordial Warriors of the Ice.

Hit the Ice is not an impressive Emilio Estevez quote; it’s a chilling vision of the Russian Ideal:

A World of Ice.  A World Without Disney.  A World of Vodka and Violence.