Breaking Madden: tweaking the game to have the most unequal outcome

I’m a latecomer to the Breaking Madden series but here is what happens when you tweak the game to pit the two most unequal teams together on the same field:

I released every member of the Seahawks and Broncos that I possibly could, and replaced them with a total of 82 players I created…

Imagine also that this player is seven feet tall and 400 pounds heavy, and that there is no stronger, smarter, faster, or more skilled football player on the planet.

Now imagine 41 of them. In previous editions of Breaking Madden, I’ve made a small handful of these sorts of players — maybe one, or three, or five. Never 41…

In just about every way, these Broncos are the anti-Seahawks. They are as short (five feet tall) and light (160 pounds) as the game would allow me to make them. In every single skills category — Speed, Strength, Awareness, Toughness, and dozens of others — I assigned each of them the lowest rating possible…

I could not continue. My heart wouldn’t let me. I used the simulation feature to speed up the game to the end. I relinquished my ambitions of a 1,500-point game. Seahawks 255, Broncos 0. The machine and I agreed upon the final score.

The visuals are priceless: a team of giants overwhelming the team of scrawny players with the game just giving up at the end. I’ve never seen anything like it in my years of playing Madden football.

The premise of the project is interesting as well: just how much can the average video game be tweaked by the user to create different outcomes? I would count a lot of the newer games that have open maps and numerous playable characters as ones that can be tweaked a lot. Yet, there are still plenty of games that have you follow a fairly strict script. Both can be enjoyable but the autonomy of the gamer is quite different.

One thing I’ve always liked about sports games – and sports in general – is that the outcomes are somewhat unpredictable. Sure, there does come a point where the gamer reaches a skill level that overwhelms the computer every time but then you can set new goals: start a career team from scratch, play with some sort of handicap, or move up a difficulty level. This has been my recent quest: move up the ranks of English soccer in FIFA 2012 with Oxford United. At some point, the game can still be too easy or repetitive – this was the curse of earlier sports games when certain plays or players could just dominate – but playing a game within a game usually insures some flexibility.

A call for better statistics to better distinguish between competitive gamers

Here is a call for more statistics in gaming, which would help understand the techniques of and differentiation between competitive gamers:

Some people even believe that competitive gaming can get more out of stats than any conventional sport can. After all, what kind of competition is more quantifiable than one that’s run not on a field or on a wooden floor but on a computer? What kind of sport should be able to more defined by stats than eSports?

“The dream is the end of bullshit,” says David Joerg, owner of the StarCraft statistic website GGTracker. “eSports is the one place where everything the player has done is recorded by the computer. It’s possible—and only possible in eSports—where we can have serious competition and know everything that’s going on in the game. It’s the only place where you can have an end to the bullshit that surrounds every other sport. You could have bullshit-free analysis. You’d have better conversations, better players, and better games. There’s a lot of details needed to get there, but the dream is possible.”…

“There are some stats in every video game that are directly visible to the player, like kill/death,” GGTacker’s Joerg said. “Everyone will use it because it’s right in front of their face, and then people will say that stat doesn’t tell the whole story. So then a brave soul will try to invent a stat that’s a better representation of a player’s value, but that leads to a huge uphill battle trying to get people to use it correctly and recognize its importance.”…

You could make the argument that a sport isn’t a sport until it has numbers backing it up. Until someone can point a series of statistics that clearly designate a player’s superiority, there will always be doubters. If that’s true, then it’s true for eSports as much as it was for baseball, football and any other sport when it was young. For gaming, those metrics remain hidden in the computers running StarCraft, League of Legends, Call of Duty and any other game being played in high-stakes tournaments. Slowly, though, we’re starting to discover how competitive gaming truly works. We’re starting to find the numbers that tell the story. That’s exciting.

This is a two part problem:

1. Developing good statistics based on important actions with a game that have predictive ability.

2. Getting the community of gamers to agree that these statistics are relevant and can be helpful to the community.

Both are complex problems in their own right and this will likely take some time. Gaming’s most basic statistic – who won – is relatively easy to determine but the numbers behind that winning and losing are less clear.

Microsoft hoping to sell lots of political ads on XBox Live, video games

Ads in video games are not new but Microsoft is looking to use more recent technology and information to sell political ads in its online spaces:

Microsoft is trying to persuade politicians to take out targeted ads on Xbox Live, Skype, MSN and other company platforms as midterm elections begin heating up around the country. To plug the idea, Microsoft officials handed out promotional materials Thursday at CPAC, the annual conference for conservatives.

It’s the latest move by tech companies to seize a piece of the lucrative political ad market. The ads, which would appear on the Xbox Live dashboard and other Microsoft products, combine Microsoft user IDs and other public data to build a profile of Xbox users. Campaigns can then blast ads to selected demographic categories, or to specific congressional districts. And if the campaign brings its own list of voter e-mail addresses, Microsoft can match the additional data with individual customer accounts for even more accurate voter targeting.

The image of white male teens as the stereotypical average gamer is something of a myth; Microsoft says that of its 25 million Xbox Live subscribers in the United States, 38 percent are women. Forty percent are married, and more than half have children. Those numbers are important, because they represent key demographics that are among the most contested in political races. Microsoft is particularly aggressive in selling its ability to reach women, Latinos and millennials; across the company’s other platforms, such as MSN, Microsoft has developed consumer categories like “Ciudad Strivers” and “Nuevo Horizons” that attempt to describe a set of characteristics including age, type of residence and income level. At a time when virtually all politicians are resorting to microtargeting, this technology could help Microsoft become a major player in the advertising space…

Microsoft has made successful pitches to political campaigns before. In 2012, President Obama agreed to advertise on Xbox Live for his reelection campaign. The effort sparked some complaints among Xbox users who disliked the ad appearing on their dashboards. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, opted not to participate. Obama has also advertised within games themselves. With the release last year of the Xbox One, it’s safe to expect Xbox Live to become another important platform in the political ad wars.

It will be interesting to see how users respond and then how effective such ads are. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to users: we shouldn’t be surprised if we volunteer data online and then it is used for targeted ads. Plus, given the time people spend playing video games (particularly for demographics that might not be accessing more traditional media as much), this seems like a relatively untapped market compared to television. Yet, it is harder to argue this has many benefits for users. While some might argue targeted ads for consumer goods show people what they might want, what average XBox Live user wants to be presented with political content while trying to play a game?

New SimCity expansion pack moves toward dystopian cities

I still haven’t played the latest version of SimCity but there is now an expansion pack that portrays a bleaker urban future:

If this sounds like the setup for a disturbing science fiction novel, you’re not far off: This is actually the premise for SimCity: Cities of Tomorrow, a deeply cynical expansion pack for the SimCity game, set to be released November 12. The original SimCity game, of course (along with its most recent fifth edition), allowed players to act as mayors and design the ideal modern city. But the evil genius behind the game play was always that sustainability was illusory: even the most well-designed cities eventually imploded. Players thought they were all-powerful mayors, but they were merely delayers of the inevitable. The best they could do was stave off their city’s collapse…

It’s impossible to miss the socioeconomic and political commentary embedded within Cities of Tomorrow. That the affluent live in the epicenter and the poor are relegated to the suburban fringes feels like a direct commentary on the demographic inversion cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco are currently experiencing. The concentration of wealth calls to mind what’s left of the Occupy movement. The Sims’ addiction to Omega despite its negative effects on the environment mirrors the developed world’s dependence on oil. Even the MagLev is nearly identical to Elon Musk’s proposed Hyperloop (especially since it only seems plausible within the construct of a video game)…

Whether inspired by real or fictional events, the expansion pack has an inescapable, soul-crushing pessimism. Any idealists who try to a construct a pollution or poverty free utopia are engaging in a Sisyphean task. And this is out of necessity, Librande explains.

“Utopia, in general, is boring for game play. So if we set up a utopian city there’d be nothing for the player to do,” he says…

Librande doesn’t worry about the game’s bleak view of the future turning off any prospective gamers. If anything, they’ll be attracted to the challenge. SimCity has a notoriously die-hard fan base, and what he thinks will make the expansion pack so alluring is not what the game play says about society, but what it says about each player. Players must divide their faith and resources between two purposefully ambiguous entities: OmegaCo and The Academy. OmegaCo’s goal is profit, and The Academy’s motive is to make its technology ubiquitous. What players choose will reveal their attitudes toward capitalism, class, and the balance between privacy and utility.

Utopia is boring! Well-being is overrated! Bring on the morally impossible choices and decaying cities! SimCity has always had a little of this built-in into its gameplay. I clearly remember the scenarios in the original that asked the player to rebuild a city after some sort of disaster, whether an earthquake or Godzilla. I didn’t take much joy in this but other players did; it can be fun to destroy a city with no real consequences.

Perhaps this says more about our current mindset: we’d prefer to deal with decay than positive construction. Cities aren’t “real” until they are clearly gritty and suffering is around the corner. (I’ve heard presentations from urban sociologists on this: there are some gentrifiers who want to “live on the edge” and have to keep moving to find that line between nice neighborhoods and neighborhoods with problems.) Again, there are no consequences for the player for having a dark city where either capitalism or the NSA has run amok. Compare this to the real problems faced in poor neighborhoods in the United States or in the slums in Third World cities where real lives are affected and life chances are severely diminished.

Exploring the urban and island geography of Grand Theft Auto V

One reporter focuses less on the gameplay of the new Grand Theft Auto V and instead examines the landscape:

These are places where, within wide virtual borders, the player is granted freedom to explore. What makes Los Santos so different is its scale, interactivity and ambitions — here is a digital sandbox so habitable that the game itself comes with a large paper map that, as I explored Los Santos and its surroundings, I referred to as often as I would a map describing a real-world place I’ve never been.Indeed, not unlike a real place that offers too much, I made a small list of places I wanted to visit here and things I wanted to do: haircut, strip club, take in a movie ($20 in Los Santos), maybe ride a bike to the top of a mountain and leap off. All of which you can do. If, like me, you overbook vacations with activities, you will find plenty to do. Conversely, if you’re the kind of traveler who eventually pines for a hotel room to take a nap in after a day of playing tourist, Los Santos offers that, too…

The island itself is Ireland-shaped — curious, considering that the game’s creators are primarily Scottish and British. The north side of the island is Blaine County, with mountains at its east and west coasts and Mount Chiliad to the far north. A desert borders the Alamo Sea in the interior, and salt-water-eaten trailer parks line the northwest oceanfront, the Great Ocean Highway ringing it all. If previous “Grand Theft Auto” games offered riffs on Miami and New York City, this is basically San Francisco mashed against Los Angeles, an alternate reality where Napa Valley is a 10-minute commute from the Paramount backlot.

Tellingly, it also feels as geopolitically accurate and culturally barren as the places it satirizes: a Los Angeles of the mind, where a peek inside studio gates reveals a sci-fi movie being filmed, a bike ride into the forest is greeted by screeching mountain lions and extreme wealth and poverty are never far apart. Conversation with Los Santosians is mostly limited to real estate, celebrity chitchat and random threats, though, generally, your existence is so inconsequential to the day-to-day fabric of Los Santos that you feel like a ghost.

Sounds like a dystopian Los Angeles crossed with a strange island. What more could be needed in a virtual sandbox?

While I’ve seen academics occasionally address virtual worlds – Second Life seemed to prompt some study – it would be interesting to see more full studies of these sprawling virtual worlds that are common in some of the more popular games. Think about games like Skyrim, World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Minecraft, and others that offer interesting and often realistic settings. Yet, does this space have the same logic as space in the non-virtual realm? What exactly distinguishes these spaces from real spaces?

Building McMansions in Minecraft

Check out this recently constructed McMansion in Minecraft. Here is a description of the structure:

Finally, it’s here! I have built an amazing McMansion!

This grandiose house features:

• A large entrance and foyer,
• a large living room with a high ceiling (and a balcony of the second floor hallway),
• multiple smaller rooms that could be sitting rooms, a dining room, a kitchen, etc.,
• a back porch, and
• 10 bedrooms! Gee whiz!

I have built two other McMansions before (both on the Iciclecraft server), but this is by far the best one.
Feel free to paste it into your own Minecraft world. However, if you use it in multiplayer, please credit me as the builder.

Sounds like McMansion features. The only thing missing here is a full neighborhood of mass-produced McMansions. And the tags for the post reinforce the McMansion idea:

Tags:Mcmansion, Mansion, Manor, House, Grand, Large, Big, Grandiose, Land Structure

I suppose the quick answer for why someone would build a McMansion in Minecraft is because they can. Perhaps they like building houses. But, to intentionally design a kind of home that is generally viewed negatively begs for a better reason. If you could build anything, why a McMansion?

Fathers still play catch with their sons? What about football, video games?

I recently saw a review of the new Jackie Robinson bio-pic 42 that suggested American fathers still bond with their sons by playing baseball. My first thought: do fathers still do this on a large scale? Here is why I think this may be an outdated sentiment.

Baseball is no longer the most popular sport in the United States. Even with the large number of kids who play baseball or Little League, baseball’s peak has long passed with the NFL taking over the sports lead. The NFL released its 2013 schedule last week and ESPN was breathless for a while looking at the most tantalizing games that have yet to be played. Baseball is no longer the “all-American sport” and surely this must trickle down to the activities of kids and fathers. While it does have the same nostalgic pitch, what about playing catch with a football in the backyard? (This may be impacted today and in the future because of fears of concussions.) Moving in a different direction, as has the racial composition of baseball players, what about kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard?

Here is another possibility for how fathers and sons might now be interacting in the United States: by playing video games together. The generation who grew up with video games has reached adulthood and these video games habits don’t simply disappear. What if fathers and sons don’t play sports together as much as play Madden? What if they enjoy a good session of Call of Duty? This may not be happening on a large scale yet but I imagine this would grow in the future.

All that said, I want to see some data about how exactly fathers are bonding with their kids in 2013. Appeals to playing catch in the backyard might just be nostalgia for a bygone era.