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Reviews

'Madden' Moves the Line in '13'

Madden 13 does a lot to expand on the features of the Madden experience, but still seems to miss some of the basic tenets of the original vision for the game.


Madden NFL 13

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Rated: Everyone
Players: 1-2 players
Release Date: 2012-08-28
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According to a quote from Ray Lewis featured at the beginning of Madden NFL13, football is all about leaving your mark. A look at the game on the whole suggests some truth to that idea.

This year the game has gone through a tightening of the belt in terms of some of its features and a widening in others. This iteration seems to focus on franchise mode and its interconnected play. It is a really neat feature that seems to have lost a lot about what i found neat about this mode in the past. Before, you were able to control a lot of the finances of the team, which went far beyond simply managing player contracts and the like. In games past, you could build new stadiums, set concession prices, upgrade your existing stadium, and even hire coaching staff. Now it seems like they have relegated all of that to the background. Franchise mode as it stands is simply playing the role of head coach. Madden seems to have demoted your status from that of Jerry Jones to something like that of the lowly Mike Smith. I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it still seems odd that there would be a digression in this area. I’ve heard mixed reactions to this, ranging from criticism of the mode's poor implementation (I would disagree), down to it being simply too finicky or too uninteresting. Either way, these features don’t make an appearance in the new title, and I would imagine some will be very excited about this while others will be a bit put out.

Either way, the most exciting part of 13 is that multiplayer seasons with have finally been implemented, allowing players taking the helm of their favorite team in the role of either a player or as the head coach in order to advance the season forward. It is a fascinating feature that shows a lot of promise, although I haven’t been able to play around with it as much as I have wanted to.

EA also includes their new digital facial construction technology, allowing you to appear in the game as that player or coach. The technology is interesting, if only for the hilariously terrifying hell-spawn born from the imprecise science that makes up my X Megapixel iPhone camera and its slapdash facial reconstruction software that draws contours via green dots in order to delineate your chin from the tip of your nose. From watching this process, I realized something about myself and also encountered a sort of anti-Ken. My creature was an eldritch homunculus -- a terrifying unblinking simulacrum of my own features -- patting Matt Ryan’s spandex-clad ass. I never felt bad for football players before (they just have never seemed to need nor want my sympathy), but in that moment, I could feel Matt Ryan’s suppressed shiver as his coach of recondite origins gave him a paternal pat. Why had they fired Matt Smith? Why had the ownership felt as though this man, streaked with jaundice, was a fitting successor to a coach who had supplied Atlanta with back-to-back-to-back winning seasons? Sure, they had yet to win a post-season game, but that seemed hardly worthy of this psychic terrorism that the owners had bestowed upon him and his teammates.

I don’t wish to belabor the point, though. It is neat to see your likeness gripping a clipboard of plays and getting showered in a fine mist that resembles water splash physics from 2002 (gatorade viscosity is not so easy to emulate), and perhaps for others, it will work better (indeed, the animations and likeness show promise if nothing else), but what I got was a subtle abomination -- like Edgar from Men in Black.

The other new big inclusion in Madden is the Infinity Engine, which completely changes the way in which impacts between players works. In past iterations, additional canned animations of tackles would play out depending on the various factors of the play, removing instances of clipping, for instance, and causing runs up the middle to become truly chaotic. Like the implementation of real life faces in the game, it works surprisingly well but still features a fair amount of goofiness as well. For as great as it is juking out a player and causing him to run into his teammate, the weird instances where everyone on the field turns into bumbling idiots, tripping over everyone at a play’s end is strange.

In the actual play department, Madden continues the trend of being completely passable (pun intended). They seem to have made passing much easier than it was in the past seemingly in an attempt to mirror the dominance of the passing game in the current NFL. This means that it is much more common to see safeties falling back into coverage, letting wide receivers smoke them deep, and also linebackers that are seemingly oblivious to passing routes. Perhaps this was the team that I was playing with, but I found the best way to combat the lack of realistic AI pass protection was to simply provide a constant fusillade of beefy outside linebackers running full-tilt at a cowering QB. This led to pretty comical sack totals over the course of a year.

Since the beginning of the Madden franchise, one of the key directives was to create a realistic football simulator. Every year has an attempt to improve mechanics to enhance its “football-ness” in order to hopefully get you, as EA Sports promises, “in the game.” For that reason, the question must be asked: has Madden continued to make advancements to make the football experience feel more natural and real than it has in the past? The answer is that yes, it has. The actual football in Madden, with the inclusion of the new Infinity Engine, provides a much truer sense of the game than past iterations have been capable of presenting.

I still feel as though Madden is stuck in its insistence in making the experience hide behind the fourth wall. If Madden truly wishes to become a more realistic football simulation, there must be a greater insistence in breaking down that wall between player and football avatar. Every year, we are subjected to a sparse and often cringe-worthy amount of banter between two color commentators. This year, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz have taken their first plunge into the uncanny valley, providing their likenesses and voices to the storied franchise. The problem of repeated commentary becomes even more flagrant as we see more and more animations representing the moves that the players on the field are capable of performing, while there is only that one line to discuss them -- as Nantz stumbles over himself and decides: “You know what? It was a bad route, that’s what it was.” The game’s color commentary fails in the same way that tackling animations in Madden games of yore failed -- there’s just not nearly enough variety. You will hear lines repeated as often as three times in a single game, and honestly, this hurts the game’s integrity.

To fix this, EA Sports has two options: the first is to add a significant amount of one-liners to the game's commentary, but the other is simply to extirpate the banal blathering, increasing the importance of true stadium sounds, and improving the immersion of the football experience as though the player was truly there. In the end, I am dubious as to the merits of the first option, but I also know that it is a feature that the folks at EA are not likely to do away with any time soon. Ultimately however, this is a relatively small gripe with an otherwise fantastic football experience. While the out-of-game systems continue to flounder in mediocrity, the inclusion of connected franchises is a great system that adds a lot to the experience. Madden 13 is the most realistic football experience that I have had playing a video game, and while there is room to grow, the pros most definitely outweigh the cons.

7
Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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