I read a 700 page book about the NBA last week, and paradoxically it left me without the cranial capacity to write anything full length. So instead I have these thoughts that are not completely cooked yet.
The Book of Basketball
I first became aware of Bill Simmons in 2007 during the months leading up to the Helmet Catch ruining the best season of NFL football ever executed by the team of my youth. After reading some of his scattered and hyperactive online prose, I went and found his first book which covers the other tortured team of my youth: the Red Sox. I remember thinking at the time that while he certainly knew how to generate a lot of words, the writing was sort of juvenile in both content and structure.
Simmons’ new book, The Book of Basketbell proves that he’s gotten a lot better. This is partly because he starts the book with the one shining light in the sports experience of my youth: The Larry Bird era Celtics. But it’s also the case that while he still has a juvenile frat-boy streak in him, his writing has spent a lot of time maturing and becoming more thoughtful. The core of the book is a 100,000 word reconstruction of the NBA Hall of Fame as a multi-level pyramid. He populates his basketball temple with 96 of best players ever and explains in almost horrific detail exactly where each guy goes and why he goes there. If you have any interest in the NBA at all you have to pick up this book. He even manages to shed a bit of his Boston homerism. Really.
I read it all and then immediately bought the Larry Bird Legend DVD to show to my kid. They gotta learn sometime.
I have often opined that no one makes a small camera with the image quality and performance of (say) a Nikon D70. Well, someone finally heard me because now we have a veritable flood of such machines. It started with the Olympius E-P1. But now Panasonic (GF-1), Leica (X-1), and even Ricoh (GXR) are jumping in. And there are rumors of a new machine coming from Nikon. You’d think I’d be happy about this, but I’m not.
What bothers me about all of these machines, except the Leica, is that they are obsessed with useless interchangeability. They work very hard to allow you to use different lenses, but for some reason the lenses that are offered are all useless zoom lenses or prime lenses of the wrong focal length. The correct lens for one of these cameras is something that will act just like the 35/2 on my Konica Hexar. And I dont’ really care if it’s glued on permanently. The Leica comes the closest to this, but costs as much as an expensive laptop. Oh well.
I had been playing Borderlands for about a week when Pete asked me if he should buy it. I said, “Well, the RPG stuff is rudimentary, the shooting isn’t as good as Halo, the game has some control issues, I don’t like co-op, and here really is no plot to speak of.” In other words, Borderlands does not shine in any way that you can catalog. But, a week or two later I’m still playing. Here’s why.
Borderlands has taken the core of every RPG and wrapped it up in a nice package where you shoot things and make them blow up. It’s Diablo with guns. You talk to someone. They give you a “quest”. You go to the location of the quest. You destroy some shit. You get loot and points. There are no grand pretensions of interactive story telling. No epic arcing plots out of juvenile fiction. No insistent and constant world-building via boring exposition. You kill stuff. You get loot. And that makes for a good game because the developers targeted something very specific, and they implemented that specific thing very well.
I will keep playing until I find a sniper rifle with lightning. Then my life will be complete.
Dork Value Judgement
From the Internet Forum people, a new sort of cognitive dissonance! Since it’s November, a lot of big “AAA” video game titles have been dropping all at the same time. I can count at least five or six off the top of my head. But, I have been ignoring them because I have not yet found that sniper rifle with lightning. Anyway, two of the big titles this year come from long standing franchises all of which have had multiple releases over the last decade. There is a new Call of Duty game and a new fantasy RPG from Bioware called Dragon Age. You might object that Dragon Age is not a new game in a series, but I would counter that all Bioware games are cut from the same cloth no matter what their setting, so it counts.
Here is the interesting thing. In the Internet game forums, these two games have gotten very different reactions. I will summarize:
Call Of Duty: Meh. Just another military shooter in a long line of military shooters. This game is not for “real gamers” but for frat-boy poseurs who like console games.
Dragon Age: OMG it’s a grand and epic re-imagining of the classic hard core Baldur’s Gate style fantasy RPG with a super mature plot and deep and tactical combat!
So, Call of Duty refines a well established genre but probably does not break any new ground, and is therefore shit. Dragon Age refines a well established genre but probably does not really break any new ground, and is therefore the best new game of the year.
Note: I will not begrudge anyone their enjoyment of Dragon Age. My only complaint is someone getting high and mighty over a game they like only because it panders to their particular adolescent power fantasies and being too lacking in self awareness to realize this.
Go to Tamari in Lawrenceville. It’s good. While there, get coffee at Espresso a Mano. It’s also good. That is all.