Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is this the face of a winner???

Are you still a believer in Giants QB Eli Manning?

Put your money on the Patriots!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

LDS Enter-torture

I know, I know, it's Super Bowl week. But I personally can't find any interest in this game. I know the Patriots are in pursuit of an unprecedented perfect 19-0, but the only player I like on the Patriots is linebacker Adalius Thomas (and that's mainly because he was such a nice guy in the Ravens locker room during the 2003 season when I interned there.)

I can't stand the Giants, but I actually hope the Patriots lose (read Chuck Klosterman on by a missed field-goal just like Scott Norwood did with the Bills in 1991, because they were too stubborn to re-sign their MVP kicker Adam Vinatieri two years ago. I want their arrogance of not taking care of their own to bite them in the a$$.

Anyway, those are my only thoughts on the Big Game. In fact, I may just end up going to a fireside instead because that might be more entertaining. Which is a good segue for my article about Mormon entertainment.

First off, there is real, sanctioned Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entertainment, which in and of itself has a high unintentional comedy factor. Classics like "Johnny Lingo," "The Phone Call," and even "Legacy" provide a lot of laughable scenes even though the movies were intended to be taken seriously. I dunno if the people who made these films were trying to make a statement, or maybe they were just that oblivious to the fact over the overall cheeseiness was off the charts. Or maybe the passing of time did it.

But then something weird started happening around the turn of the millennium. I dunno if Utah and LDS parents really wanted a change in 'uplifting' and clean forms of entertainment for their children; or if 5 million church members in the United States formed such a broad market that profit could be made with a small movie budget.

It started in the early 90s by a company called Feature Films for Families that made really crappy movies aimed at the under 17 Mormon/Christian crowd that produced unforgettable turds like "The Buttercream Gang" and others. But this notion must have gained enough steam to want to try more.

Toward the end of the '90s, editing violence, boobs and swearing out of Hollywood's rated "R" and "PG-13" movies was huge (until legal action after "Titanic" forced this practice to stop). I remember waiting hours in line at the Varsity Theatre my freshman year at BYU so that I could watch a "clean" version of "Air Force One" and not feel as guilty as if I saw the real rated "R" version with a little more violence and the choice swear worlds removed for the new bleeped-out script.

Then just as I returned home from my mission in 2000, the new Mormon movie "God's Army" created steam as an independent film released all over the Western U.S. This film was actually pretty successful (thanks in part to the 100,000-plus people who had recently served missions) and gave us sequels like the 'thriller' "Brigham City" and others.

Then Halestorm Entertaiment released the popular LDS comedy "The Singles Ward" which had an instant audience of over 300 student wards in Utah and the hundreds of other young Mormon singles across the country, including those who had recently 'graduated' from the singles scene. Note: This is the only LDS movie that I could ever consider watching more than once.

But the audience wasn't quite large enough to hold up with movie theaters and their demands for normal Hollywood productions. Screenings were limited and the movies didn't generate enough revenue (on ticket prices and popcorn) to keep sending them through Cinemark. Halestorm's follow up movie "The RM" didn't do nearly as well as "The Singles Ward" and production costs were too high for the minimal profits rendered.

Lesson learned: The producers could still make a profit by lowering the production budget (thus even worse production), advertising locally and sending the movie straight to DVD at Wal-Marts throughout the state with a $19.99 price tag. If enough straight-to-DVD copies make a profit, producers could still make their mortage payments.

Last Sunday, I was spending time with my family with young nieces and nephews, and since it was the Sabbath, the only 'wholesome' entertainment that we chose to watch was a new 'Mormon' movie (I use quote because the there is actually no Church affiliation with this title). So they popped in the newly released "Turn Around: A movie based on the conversion of Alma the Younger" The story of Alma the Younger comes from The Book of Mormon. Yippee! (not)

The production was absolutely terrible! The acting was absolutely atrocious! I deduce the budget was probably around $1,500. I bet the actors were paid in Hogi Yogi sandwiches. I understand the main actors were probably only 15, but that's no excuse. It was absolutely unwatchable! It was contrived and forced. I've seen better production out of a ward musical. Before the movie could finish, I stood up, left and drove the 40 miles home because I couldn't stomach it anymore.

So parents, please, if you want to censor what your children watch, that's fine. There are plenty of "Rudys," "Napoleon Dynamites," "Cars" and other animated features to purchase.

I know that "R" rated movies are even worse today that they were even 10 years ago. But please, do not support such terribly produced movies just because they don't come from Hollywood. I know that kids don't know the difference between good and bad production, just look at Tim Allen's "Santa Claus" movies.

In case you don't remember, the top grossing movies of all-time are PG movies like "E.T." and others. Why? Because larger audiences can bring their entire family to the theaters. Hollywood knows this. There are enough Christians with family values in the country to keep Disney the behemoth that it already is. Good stuff will come.

Do not support these profit-hungry producers because of our religious beliefs, so that they can continue to drive their Hummers. It makes you no better than the televangelists that "Fletch Lives" portrays!

I know you live in Utah County! I know it's based loosely on a story from the scriptures! But it's garbage! It's nearly as bad as the filth you're already trying to avoid! You're not supporting any budding stars. Only Jon Heder made it out as Napoleon Dynamite, and he was never in a 'Mormon' movie! They were just lucky that MTV liked Jared Hess's film enough to buy it and promote it.

I would rather pay the $8 and sit alone for two hours and NOT watch another one of these movies... ever...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What Happened to Halo?

I know this is a sports blog, but every now and then, I try to add my views on other interesting topics -- like video games. Besides, video games is a sort of sport for those smaller kids who couldn't make it on the baseball/football field or basketball court due to size, hand-eye coordination, or physical toughness. It's competitive, requires a heightened sense of hand-eye coordination with your thumbs, and at times can be a male-bonding experience, just like a game of poker or pick-up hoops.

It wasn't always like this though. Video games were rarely a team concept, but things really started to change right around Y2K.

The greatest thing to ever happen to the video game industry was the game of Halo, released by Bungie for the new Microsoft console Xbox right around 2001. But first a little background on the history of video games.

Growing up (depending on how old you are) people can remember Pong on the Atari, Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt on the Nintendo, or Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. Video games took over the world almost overnight. Kids replaced playing board games, action figures, and Legos for the interactive and visual stimuli of video games. Heck, kids got so addicted that they almost completely stopped going outside.

The phenomenon was amazing. Parents hated buying video games, but their kids demanded them. I now see five-year olds mastering a Nintendo DS in airports or in the back seat of Mama's SUV. It's heroin for the advanced young mind!

The thing parents hated was their kids locked in their own room, by themselves for hours rather than playing with the neighbor kids. Most video games involved only one or two players for years. Eventually it to advanced to four players with James Bond on the Nintendo 64, which swept dorm rooms in 1997. But then, Microsoft had a brilliant idea...

Nintendo vs. Sega were the two powers that clashed from 1984 til about 1994. Then Sony stepped in with the original Playstation and overtook Sega and got far ahead of the Nintendo (because Nintendo caters to housewives and little girls). Playstation made the switch from cartridges to CDs, which were cheap and easy to produce and offered thousands of games to be produced at a very quick pace.

Microsoft had the monopoly on PC computer software for the entire 1990s, but rarely dabbled in video games. Many "gamers" who played video games on their PC computer instead of the Playstation or Nintendo would hold "LAN parties." LAN parties occur when a small group of computer nerds would gather together on a Friday night and bring their entire computer, monitor, keyboard, Cheetos, and mouse for a night of Unreal Tournament or Duke Nukem'. It's like they already knew that there was no chance of sex, so they willingly accepted that fact, and played computer games until 4 o'clock in the morning.

Bill Gates, or some LAN party employee of his, realized the potential gold mine within the video game industry. Microsoft released the Xbox (virtually a mini-computer) with four game controllers (a big advance over the Playstation 2) and the new ability to link up to four systems together using an ethernet cable, just like the computer geeks used in their LAN parties.

The new technology was far superior than any existing system, and thus was more expensive than the competing gaming systems (Playstation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube). At first, the Xbox launch was a bust because it released fewer games than the PS2 and was more expensive. People didn't see the need to spend $300 for a new system that didn't offer any new games than their current $200 PS2 and the thousands of games already available.

But Bungie (a new gaming software company under contract from Microsoft) developed the perfect game called Halo that would bring Unreal Tournament potential to everybody without the hassles of a LAN party. No monitors, no heavy computer drives, no software or video card issues, no keyboards or mouses. Just bring your TV, your box, your game, your controllers, a router and some cable and PRESTO. Instant magic!

The game was seamless, kills were easy and plenty, there was no lag -- just plug in and kill! If you died, no biggie. Instantly respawn and go out and die again! The campaign mode for one or two players was incredible and helped you advance your weapon skills. But now on Friday nights (and every other night of the week), you would assemble your crew of four, six, eight, ten, twelve, or sixteen players play the perfect game of capture the flag complete with vehicles! Virtual G.I. Joe style battles of epic destruction with hundreds of kills per game were now the norm.

The instant it was over, the first thing out of everybody's lips was "Again!" The losers wanted a rematch, and the winners wanted to prove it was no fluke and wouldn't hesitate to humiliate their friends once again. Players would swap teams to even out the talent base for closer, more competitive games with more drama as the kill count reached the final number to achieve ultimate fantasy nerdery.

Halo was just as easy as a pick up game of basketball, but didn't require a gym, sweating and you could play all hours into the night.

I didn't catch on to the phenomenon right away, I wasn't what one would consider a "gamer." Sure, I liked video games, but when I did play, it usually was sports or two-dimensional fighting games. I even tried a little four-player Halo a few times and became frustrated going through the rookie phase of getting smoked by better players. But soon enough, I was playing 'til three o'clock in the morning on weeknights of my senior year in college.

Male competitive bonding was morphed into video games. Friendships were created with complete strangers you normally wouldn't chill with at school. People formed little Halo clans and even submitted teams into city tournaments with intramural style names and matching uniforms. Halo saved the Xbox and really put Sony and Nintendo on their heels. (even to the fact that Nintendo had to re-think everything with the concepts brought in with their new Wii system).

Halomania was so rampant that the buildup for Halo 2 was HUGE. People were pre-ordering copies one year in advance. The line to pick up a copy was hundreds of people long at every Game Stop across the country in October of 2004.

The new feature of Halo 2: on-line play. Halo 2 opened with record-breaking sales. You could now log onto a worldwide online Halo 2 experience offered through Xbox Live that kept stats and offered various styles of Halo play. Once you logged onto your online account, Xbox live would give you instant access to 10 other players out of the pool of thousands just wanting the same Halo experience that swept the nation.

In my opinion (not with the opinion of sales numbers), this is where Halo went all wrong. No longer were you playing Halo with your buddies for bragging rights. You were now playing with a bunch of unknown trash-talkers who thought they were the best Halo players in the entire universe.

Little 10-year old kids would start smack-talking to invisible people they had never even seen before. People on your own team would turn and kill their own teammates just to be tools. People would quit a game halfway through the game just because they were losing, or just because they were bored and felt like it.

You also experienced internet lag, because so much information was going through the ethernet cable, that there were unexpected pauses and delays. There were too many new weapons and the maps were not symmetrical and made no sense for two simple teams of Red vs. Blue. Now everybody was just running around killing people, with no strategy, and just the hope of finishing with the most kills to increase their online profile ranking.

The funny thing is: a lot of the online problems occurred because the Xbox was not capable of handling the overload of Halo Nation. Eventually the Xbox 360 was launched with more power to handle such a task and Halo 3 would soon launch.

Halo 3 surpassed Halo 2 as the grandest video game launch ever (including sponsors from Mountain Dew and 7-Eleven), and things seemed to be a lot smoother with the superior technology the Xbox 360 system provided. But still, Halo 3 was just a copy of Halo 2 but with better graphics and a few new maps and features. The creators of Halo 3 didn't really try to make anything new or exciting. Basically they made Halo 3 and exact copy of the cartoony Halo 2 and "fixed" most of the online problems with faster online speed.

When I log onto Halo 3, I still feel like I am running around, spraying my machine gun, and none of my teammates will communicate or cooperate because they are too busy trying to get the most kills to reach the next level of their online ranking. I wasn't finishing games with that same "Again!" excitement that I experience with the original Halo with my buddies, because I would immediately be launched into the next game with 10 totally new tools not willing to work as team to accomplish ultimate victory.

The online experience took away from Friday night with the boys, because now people no longer needed their posse to play Halo. No need to call your friends and get together for competition, because things were all individual again. You logged online alone, played with complete strangers, and got out when you wanted. It was no longer an "event." It stopped bringing friends together. People wouldn't come over any more to play, because you just sent them a message online and started playing against various faceless enemies.

It's almost like comparing basketball with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 80s to basketball and the ego-centric Michael Jordan of the 90s. The Michael Jordan effect on basketball set it back 10 years until the new version of basketball created with Steve Nash is now bringing the game back to its glory years.

Luckily, Xbox 360 released a game in between the wait of Halo 2 and Halo 3 entitled Gears of War. This game gets things back to the basics. A few simple weapons fought in small and symmetrical maps that encourage strategy, skill, teamwork and war tactics. It's not as fast paced as Halo with instant respawn after each time you run around and die, but it goes the extra mile to bring players back together to work towards winning as a team.

Hopefully, with the sequel to Gears of War, they don't go overboard like Halo 2 and its replica-only-with-a-newer-Xbox (Halo 3) and ruin a good thing that they already have in place like our friends at Bungie did with Halo.

But even if Halo 2 & 3 didn't change my life like the original Halo did, the future still is bright in gaming world. If video games have come so far in the past 25 years -- not to mention the new concepts of the Wii and Rock Band already in place -- I can't imagine what video games are going to be like in the year 2025 with your teenage kids. I CAN'T WAIT!

Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 Playoffs: The Mental Edge

Nobody could have seen both the Chargers and the Giants winning on the road yesterday in the crazy endings for the divisional round. Vegas sure cashed in on the reputation of the favored Cowboys and Colts. Myself included, I never, EVER expected Giants QB Eli "look-at-my-stupid-face" Manning to win in Dallas or Chargers head coach Norv Turner to out-coach Superbowl Champion Tony Dungy of the Colts.   

The difference in the playoffs so far? The mental edge. Think about it, the Cowboys were rolling along at 12-1 after beating the Green Bay Packers to pretty much lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs and they half-heartedly walked through their last few games after half the team made the Pro Bowl. The Colts rested their starters in the final game against the Titans.   

Meanwhile, the Giants didn't have to play the entire game against the Patriots in Week 17, but they played and it helped them get into a playoff groove. The Chargers could have relaxed mentally against their foes in the final few weeks after locking up the AFC West, but they went ahead and finished the season riding a six-game winning streak.   

The result: Cowboys out, Giants advance. Colts out, Chargers advance. That's the only logical explanation for Sunday's results.   

Football is such a mental game, and you cannot afford to relax in your preparation or your on-the-field intensity, and then all of a sudden flip a mental switch and be back on your A-game.   

Heck this doesn't even work in real life. I can't be in a dating rut and expect to just come out of it with a snap of my fingers. Once you get in a groove, then good things happen, but it takes awhile to get the momentum building.   

Anyway, that's all...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

“I would rather lose and live in Provo than win and live in Laramie. ”

-Lavell Edwards

Friday, January 4, 2008

2007 and Other Thoughts

Well, 2007 was a crazy year in sports (according to HBO and ESPN), but I thought Florida winning the national title in college football and basketball was boring, and the Superbowl and NBA Finals were boring... The highlights of the year actually came from boxing with Floyd Mayweather, and I don't even watch boxing.

Boise State was the number one highlight of the year for sure. Pats going 16-0 with the video taping asterisk was easily number two.

My personal highlight was the BYU Bowl game with BYU blocking a field goal to beat UCLA in miracle fashion. I actually think that BYU has pulled out quite a few miracles in the past. The 1983 Holiday Bowl win over SMU with Jim McMahon, winning the 1984 National title (would never happen in today's BCS system), Ty Detmer winning a Heisman and knocking off No. 1 Miami. And in my BYU experience, we have Brandon Doman winning LaVell's final game up in Utah, Luke Staley beating Utah the following year, Beck-to-Harline, and the 2007 Vegas Bowl win over UCLA; so I really can't complain.

Other notes: BYU basketball lost at Boise State on Saturday and we dropped from No. 20 to like No. 27, but with three losses, all the teams ahead of us deserve the higher ranking...

Ravens notes: Billick is fired. I'm a little surprised after last year's extension, but not TOTALLY surprised. It's all good. He'll get a job somewhere else. He's a great delegater, and a lot of his former assistants are now NFL head coaches (Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, and Mike Nolan just to name a few)... I hope Rex Ryan gets the job. He deserves it.

So yeah, BYU football should finish the season in the top 15 and should be ranked in the top 20 to start next season with our Super sophomores turning into jumpin' juniors... I dunno if we can go 8-0 in the Mountain West for a third straight season, but it would be fantastic... If we had beaten Tulsa or UCLA, we probably would have gotten a nod for a BCS game, whatever... Hawaii sucks... Florida sucks... and we'll see what happens on Monday in a game I probably won't watch.. thanks BCS...

Anywho, Kyle Korver (aka Ashton Kutcher) is looking good for the Jazz. It's looking better by the day because of his shooting and experience. I like bringing him off the bench and Harpring and Okur are looking better the past week, so hopefully Utah can get back into the hunt for the division title...