Sunday, September 29, 2013


In an episode of The Critic that aired in 1994 or '95, there is a brief parody of a Rocky sequel in which Rocky is an old man stepping back into the boxing ring. Over a decade later, they actually did make a Rocky sequel with that exact premise. The amazing thing though is that Rocky Balboa was actually a good movie; probably the best one since the original. I remember watching the trailer expecting to smirk at it, but at 0:48 I saw the potential:

About 6 months after Rocky Balboa's successful release, Sylvester Stallone released a trailer for the then-forthcoming John Rambo (Rambo IV, eventually released as just Rambo). The trailer was well-received by the internet, being called the "best trailer ever" by many. As with Balboa, I scoffed at the ridiculousness of it...until around 2:03:

In this case the finished film was not as good as Balboa, but the potential was there and the trailer in and of itself makes a perfect Rambo IV.

The relative success of these seemingly ludicrous "25 years too late" sequels sparked what has become one of my favorite things to think about: "how could a good sequel to [movie/book/game] be made?"

My pondering has included Beverly Hills Cop IV, Jurassic Park IV, Back to the Future Part IV, Ghostbusters III, Gremlins 3 and Rocky VII. Many sequels have tons of possible ideas (Star Wars for example) and success would depend solely on the execution. Others, like Back to the Future Part IV or Rocky VII, would be largely reliant on coming up with some plausible reason for why Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd are getting back into a time machine in 2013, or how Rocky Balboa could ever get into the ring again and be competitive. (There is the obvious mentorship angle, but who cares if Rocky himself isn't the one fighting?)

But for me, the most interesting movie sequel possibility to think about is Weekend at Bernie's III.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Future?

What was the future of this whole endeavor? It was 2010 and I hadn't even started 1999's game. Since I played less than one season per year, I would never catch up to the present time and would just get further behind. Would I be wasting 100 hours playing NBA Live 2004 when I should be playing Grand Theft Auto VII: The Return to Vice City? Nevertheless, as we hit late summer of 2010, I was once again feeling the itch.

In real life, I stopped seriously following the Knicks in late 2001. This fluctuated with events such as Larry Brown's hiring (he seemed poised to lead the team to a Championship), Donnie Walsh, the modern era, etc. but for the most part my hardcore fandom died out after the Ewing era.

It occurred to me that there was no need to continue my dynasty after Ewing was traded from the team. For 2000, Ewing would be the only Knick still there from my original Live 95 team, and he would be off to Seattle in NBA Live 2001. If I played full seasons with the Knicks through Live 2000, I had a nice narrative bookend. Once no remnants of the Live 95 team were left, I could walk away.

Using this guideline, I only had two seasons left to play. That was palatable, and I was ready to get started on what would be the "final" two chapters.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Non-Canonical Seasons: Live 99

As 2008 rolled on, I continued to improve at online poker and life was good. In the early spring of that year, three newcomers moved into the house in Austin where I'd previously lived with one other guy. This involved a big step up for me, as I moved into the master bedroom (with large private bathroom and jacuzzi) downstairs to make room for the new guys. One of the guys, whose online nickname is "bones", turned out to have been a fan of NBA Live games in the past. The subject of playing a short season ala the Colin and Anish seasons came up. I had already owned NBA Live 99 at least as far back as November '07 - my best guess is that I came across it really cheap at a game store and bought it even though I wasn't done with 98 yet.

Now, since my roommates and I were all professional gamblers, bones wanted to put money down on our season. I didn't like the idea. To me, the fun comes from the game itself and the narrative that is created. It doesn't need the prospect of monetary reward or loss to make it interesting. Still, since bones wasn't willing to do it without betting, I agreed. I had played 100+ hours of NBA Live 98 and dominated it against the computer, and I expected that NBA Live 99 would be more of the same. It seemed to be a bet I'd win more often than not.

The terms were something like $10 per game for any difference in records at the end of the season, and another $30 or so for whoever made it further in the playoffs.

We allowed for a couple of practice games before starting the season. I was the Knicks, he was the Pacers. Live 99 does not have Latrell Sprewell as a default Knick (the game was released before that real-life trade), but bones would have allowed me to put him on my team. I did not accept that offer because of some weird desire on my part to play with what the game gave me.

NBA Live 99 turned out to be very different from Live 98 from a gameplay perspective. You could penetrate and get to the basket easily enough, but finishing at the rim was very difficult. The player would usually just take a 2 foot jump shot instead of dunking or laying it up, and those shots often missed. I stubbornly stuck to this strategy that had worked in Live 98 even against all the evidence that it wasn't working. I wasn't doing horribly, but bones was clearly better. His strategy was to take medium to long-range jump shots with his great shooters like Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin.

We of course played the All-Star Game as teammates. At the end of the season his record was better, though not by a ton.

I had Miami in the second round and was still sticking with my stubborn and outdated strategy. Down 2 games to 1, I was up by 1 with several seconds to play in Game 4. After forcing a 2-2 tie I would still be in okay shape.

With around 0.2 seconds to go in Game 4, Tim Hardaway shot a 3 pointer that bounced off the rim and went in to give Miami the lead. I went down 3-1 in the series and eventually succumbed to the Heat.

I'm not sure how the season ended up, because bones didn't want to play the Finals (he may have played the Eastern Conference Finals and definitely won if he did). He saw the game as over once I was out and the wager was completed. I wound up owing him somewhere between $30-$70.

My NBA Live dynasty went back on the shelf for over two years.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Live 98

In October of 2005, over 5 years after finishing NBA Live 97, I felt the urge to continue with an "official" full-length Live 98 season. This was encouraged in part from my excitement over the real-life Knicks hiring Larry Brown as coach that summer. I could not find the game disc in my apartment, and had a vague memory of possibly having left it to Colin as a gift after he defeated me in our short season. He confirmed via email that this was the case - I no longer owned it.

This was easily remedied though, as I re-bought the game for around $3.50 including shipping.

By Halloween of 2005, I was 1-0. By 9:30 PM on November 1st I was 3-0, and apparently had off from work that day as it was a Tuesday. This is of course 12 minute quarters with an 82 game season.

On November 13, 2005 I wrote the following in an email to Steve and Colin:

NBA Live '98 [sic - the apostrophe is incorrect] on Friday...I was 11-0, still hoping to go undefeated.  Against the Wizards I was down 1 within the final minute twice, and Starks scored both times.  They had final possession but I stole the ball with 2 seconds to play...Knicks win.  Skip to tonight when I was 13-0.  Against Detroit, I was leading most of the game, they made it a close 4th quarter.  I wind up going down 6 with half a minute to go.  Starks keeps missing 3's but getting the rebounds...finally I hit one...down 3 now with 6 seconds.  I go for the foul/steal, but it takes too long...eventually the guy gets forced out of bounds.

So now I have possession with 0.6 remaining, down 3.  It's not hard to hit a buzzer beater like that, I've done it at the end of quarters.  I pass it in though and muff the stupid controls, and the buzzer goes off without me getting off the shot.  Ugh...I probably would have hit it.  So now I'm basically never going to go's devastating.  80-2 in ' close.


At some point my dedication went off the rails, because in an email to an ex-coworker dated May 16, 2007 (almost two years later), I mentioned being 29-1. I worked with him when I had first started the season back in '05, and used to give him updates in person.

In Live 98, the name of the game is penetration. If you get to the rim and push a button, much of the time you will automatically dunk or shoot a layup. For the first half of the season, Allan Houston was the clear MVP candidate. As the season progressed though, I began to play a more methodical offense. Fast breaks whenever possible, and if not, have Chris Childs bring up the ball and find the best play.

That summer I became more dedicated, grinding through like a warrior. In a forum post dated November 6, 2007, I posted that I was up 2-0 on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. This was shortly after I left Long Island. I spent most of that November in Raleigh before moving on to Austin at the end of the month. I took some time settling in at Austin but eventually got back to the playoffs. On January 17, 2008 I wrote an email to Steve and Colin with the subject line "A Loss":

I am pleased and delighted to report that I have lost a game in the 1998 NBA Finals.  Phoenix pulled away in the 3rd quarter of Game 2, and I never got closer than 8 or 9 in the 4th.  They won by about 20.  I immediately played a second game and demolished them by 72, so the series is 2-1.  The fact that I lost a game is unfathomable.

Maybe it's a good thing I hadn't gone 82-0 in the regular season. If I had, how devastating would that one random loss in the Finals have been? New England Patriots-esque.

At that time I was living in a beautiful suburban house in Austin with one other poker player (I was, by the way, a professional poker player). The house was owned by other poker players who lived a few blocks away in what we called a "mansion". My house was sort of the minor leagues, but I was well on my way to the big time. Normally I would play online poker for most of the night, putting in a good 8-hour workday, and then unwind after that. My final game of NBA Live 98 was played in the early morning, around 6 AM perhaps, which was really my late night. I did not feel like a bum with this schedule, as I was dedicated to putting in decent workdays and was doing quite well.

January 30th:

I won the championship this morning, 4-1.  Chris Childs was the MVP (in contrast to Allan Houston in our previous season).  In the latter half of the regular season he really came into his own and dished out tons of assists, and I thought it was going to be pretty close as to whether him or Houston would be named MVP.  Charlie Ward was the Sixth Man, Chris Childs Defensive Player of the Year.

So ends my official 98 season - 8 years after the 97 season.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Live 98 Seasons: Part III

I left off the last post after the Chicago series. It was time to play against Colin and the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. I was clearly superior all throughout the regular season, but head-to-head is different than playing against the computer.

I lost the series in 6 games, and Game 6 wasn't particularly close. Despite my dominance against the computer, I could not properly adjust for a human opponent. Several eulogies for me and the season were written by friends, but again I had them saved in an old AIM away message that is now lost forever. Colin himself added a line down in the bottom of his profile that stated something along the lines of "I may not be [great? the best?], but I'm competent."

The Heat went on to win in the Finals. Allan Houston was named MVP, and Colin's own Alonzo Mourning was Defensive Player of the Year. The post-Knicks history of that season was narrated to me by Steve over AIM as I sat in my room 150 yards away in another building.

The Live 98 Seasons (continued)

In the spring of 2002 I made another attempt at a multiplayer Live 98 season, this time with my suitemate Colin in Colonial Tower up at Albany. I was of course the Knicks, and I'm actually not sure who he played as. This was again the shortest season possible - 20-something games, 2 minute quarters.

The season went as expected, and as always I met Jordan's Bulls in the playoffs. It was a tough 7 game series that I don't have details of. However, once again, before actually getting to play against each other in the playoffs our efforts were stifled. My PlayStation memory card was corrupted, which I think was a common problem with NBA Live 98.

Fast-forward to a year later when we started over in a new venue - our friend's room (his bed in fact) at Empire Commons, which was SUNY Albany's new classy upperclassmen housing. This time Colin played as the Heat.

Again, the season went as expected. I won our regular season match-up and was the top seed. Colin and I were on an Eastern Conference Finals collision course. Then I ran into the brick wall of the mighty Chicago Bulls in round 2 and fell behind 3 games to 1.

The thing with these 2 minute quarters is that it makes for much closer games. If I'm playing a 48 minute game against the computer I might languish at points, get outscored one quarter, go scoreless for 5 minutes, etc. However, over the course of 48 minutes I'm eventually going to pull away definitively, most of the time. The shorter the time, the greater the variance. In an 8 minute game, if I go scoreless for 5 minutes I'm screwed. If I get outscored over what would have been just 2/3rds of a quarter, I've lost the game. This makes things more exciting and is generally desirable.

So in those first 4 games against Chicago, every single game came down to the wire. I had an old AIM away message that detailed each game, but you know how you hear about moms in the 1960s finally throwing out their grown-up son's huge valuable comic book collection? Well, my mom thought it was okay to throw out my old computers, so the detailed history is now lost forever.

Being down 3-1 is tough even when you're clearly better than the other team. Even if you're as high as a 79% favorite in every game, you're still probably going to lose the series (you have to be on the good side of 79% three times in a row, which only happens 49.3% of the time). There's no way I was a 79% favorite against the Bulls, so I was in quite a bad spot.

Those games were something else. We're talking buzzer beaters, overtime, shots with .2 left, etc. - and this continued past the first 4 games. In Game 5 I was nearly finished. Colin was watching, and I was down 3 with just seconds to go. When I hit the 3 to tie, the gravity of the moment made Colin literally cry out and fall backwards. Even though I was an opposing team, at that moment we were teammates.

I won Game 6 and then did, indeed, win Game 7 - both close. Overall an incredible, brutal series and probably the best I will ever be a part of.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The NBA 2K Season

This is my most treasured of all NBA video game memories. I played the original NBA 2K on my suitemate's Dreamcast in May of 2001 with the spring breeze blowing and not a care in the world. My suitemates were usually gone during the day, so I had that time on the Dreamcast.

Since this wasn't going to be a "canonical" season and since I didn't have time for a full season, I played a short season (probably 20-something games with 3 minute quarters, hardest difficulty). I have this weird obsessive-compulsive thing where I feel it's necessary to either grind out a true full-length season in sports games, or to just play the shortest possible season. There's no in-between.

This was the most difficult NBA game I'd yet played. I made it to the playoffs and through the Eastern Conference without anything happening that I can remember 11 years later. Then came the Finals against the formidable Los Angeles Lakers. In real life, this was the first year of their three-peat.

My Knicks were in serious trouble this series. I was probably down 2-1 or something like that, and knew that there was no realistic way that I could win this thing.

In a number of NBA games, when you commit a flagrant foul the opposing player gets injured 100% of the time, sometimes for a quarter and sometimes for multiple games. It is way too easy to commit flagrant fouls, as there is basically a button used to shove other players.

Shaq was obviously an unstoppable beast in NBA 2K...

At some point in the series, around Game 3 or 4, I flagrantly fouled Shaquille O'Neal. He was injured for the remainder of the Finals. I won the Championship, but even without their best player it was still a tough series that went 7 games.

Did I "hack" Shaq on purpose with the intention of hurting him? I don't remember. Perhaps some of the darker portions of our memory are best left unexplored. Needless to say, this has always felt like a hollow victory.

Someday, somehow, I will seek redemption.