Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 04.10.03

Hey. Have you Thanked God It’s Thursday yet?

Islanders 3, Ottawa 0… AAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m Bryan Berg, and I’m here to bring you the latest happenings in the world of video games, not to mention the other goodies you’ll find. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.


Midway
Midway, the company known for creating ridiculous arcade-style versions of your favorite sports, have made some big announcements regarding its games for the fall, NFL Blitz Pro and NHL Hitz Pro. Midway appears to be scaling back on the arcadeness of the games, to some extent, in that the games will feature the regulation number of players (11-on-11 in Blitz, 5-on-5 in Hitz). In addition, Blitz will feature an enhanced running game, while Hitz allows gamers to use the analog stick to control the puck (think NHL 2003, only actually useful). Lastly, in perhaps the biggest news, only the PS2 versions of these two games will be online-capable. Future incarnations of the games will be online in X-Box and GameCube form.

I don’t have the figures, but I’d have to imagine that Midway’s sports titles didn’t sell too well on PS2 last year. Either that or they’re trying to bolster the PS2 online format as opposed to the superior X-Box Live. As far as the games go, it should be really interesting to see how they play with full teams. One of the highlights of Midway’s games has always been wide-open play, and cluttering up the field/ice with more players may detract from that. We shall see in the fall.

Conflict: Desert Storm
Those geniuses at Pivotal Games don’t know when to quit. A sequel to the classic Conflict: Desert Storm has been announced and will most likely be released in September 2003. By that time, everyone will have forgotten about the war, so it’s ok. Right?

If you’ve followed “TGIT” from the very beginning, you might remember that I went off on Pivotal Games for putting out the first one so close to wartime. They’re not off the hook just yet. It’s as if the people who make the decisions over there are saying “YES! War!!! Let’s make a game out of it!!”.

It’s bad enough that the media treats this whole thing like it’s a goddamn reality show. I guess video game companies need to further devalue the industry by putting out crap like this. When it comes out, I hope none of you buy it.

Final Fantasy Origins
Ironically enough, this was the subject of the first newsbit in my first news report eons ago. Well, it’s now out. Final Fantasy Origins has shipped to retailers, which means that you can go to the store today and they’ll tell you to come back tomorrow. It’s got Final Fantasy I and II (Japanese numbers, of course) and some enhanced goodies which make it well worth the $30 MSRP.

This is a good chance for those who only know the Final Fantasy series from its Playstation era to bone up on FF history. The original Final Fantasy was released in (I think) 1990, so a lot of people probably missed it the first time around. RPG fans (except for Lucard) should pick this one up for sure.

Nintendo
The bad news keeps pouring in for Nintendo. Projections to have sold 10 million GameCubes by March 31, 2003, have not been met by actual sales. Nintendo has actually sold barely half that amount, moving just 5.6 million. In addition, the projected 55 million software titles was missed by a good 10.5 million (44.5 million have been sold). For its woes, Nintendo decided to do what everyone else already does – blame Grand Theft Auto.

I think we’d all like to see Nintendo do well with the GameCube. For whatever reason, it’s just not happening. Maybe Zelda and the other first-party games to come this year will help turn fortunes around. But until then, the struggles are just going to continue.


Plugs
This week’s Gold winner is Mr. Ron Yip‘s SimColumn News Report. He’s just the man. This week he talks about a number of issues that I was certainly able to identify with, and agree with his position on. You need to see what he has to say. As Bebito said, he’s the best pissed off gamer ever.

Getting Silver is actually two people for the same basic thing. Def Jam Vendetta was released a week ago and we have two reviews for it – Jeremy Peeples tackled the PS2 version, while Yip reviewed the GameCube DJV. This is the first time that one person got two medals in the same week, so be proud man. So why do they both get medals? Well, I’m now sort of intrigued by Def Jam Vendetta after being vehemently opposed to it for the longest time. You have these two men to thank for it.

The Bronze goes to a first-time medal winner, Matthew Cress. I’ve been able to talk with Matt recently and he’s a great guy and an even better reviewer. He’s starting to get much-deserved recognition, too – his Tenchu review made it to the 411 Games Spotlight. His latest, Dynasty Warriors 4, is definitely medal-worthy. Anyone who can come up with such imagery as “digital heroin” is OK in my book.

As for the rest, we’ve got the usual solid efforts from the news guys. We heard from Chris last week, which is always a good thing. Joseph Stanley did his thing with the Weekend Wipe-Up, a consistently good read, and got one of the last doses of Bebito Jackson that we’ll get for a while. That’s really depressing news, but Bebito’s the man and we’ll be here when he returns. Lastly, Lee Baxley did another fine job with the “HDONW”. He takes too long to write his columns, but they come out great.

Elsewhere on the site, we’ve got some new reviews and previews courtesy of The Next Level, so if you haven’t read these already, please do so.

Non-411 Link of the Week
This is a really helpful site that deals with spyware. It tells you what programs install spyware, and how to get rid of them. It also explains why you might be getting some errors with Internet Explorer that might be caused by spyware. Nobody wants someone watching what they do, even if it’s totally legit. So before you click “Yes” to install that random bullshit program that popped up from some web page, check with this site to see if it might contain spyware.

AND…

Just got an e-mail from Ron Yip. He passed along this link and I think you’ll enjoy it. If you’re not for the war, why not protest it by Masturbating For Peace? You need to go to this site!!!!


Commentary of the Week
With the NHL Playoffs just underway, chew on some of my predictions for the first round. Note that these predictions were written Monday before I read my first playoff predictions article. Also notice the (attempted) lack of pro-Islander and anti-Maple Leaf bias. Enjoy!

Eastern Conference
Ottawa Senators vs. New York Islanders
We start off with a real tough one for me to pick – reason vs. diehard fandom. The Islanders have been a real question mark recently, turning a guaranteed playoff spot into a legitimate race that came down to the final weekend of the regular season. The Isles, to be frank, look really bad. The last team to look this bad going in was Carolina last year, and look at how they ended up.

However, let’s be real. These Isles aren’t going to the Finals this year. They’re not even going to get out of the first round. They will, however, give Ottawa a pretty good series. While the Isles are infinitely tougher, Ottawa’s offense will take care of New York’s overmatched goaltending and struggling forwards. Look for Alexei Yashin to have a great series, though. He broke the stigma of playoff choker last year with 7 points in 7 games, and you can bet he’ll be fired up to face his old team, the ultimate playoff chokers, Ottawa. This is the year they get it done – provided they take the Islanders seriously. New York CAN win this series, if they sweep Games 1 and 2 in Ottawa. Don’t look for that to happen, though.
Prediction: Ottawa in 6

New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins
While the Bruins bowed out last year as the #1 seed, they might fare a little better. You’d have to think they got all of their losing out of the way in their terrible finish to 2002. Joe Thornton looks poised to have his coming-out party in this postseason, establishing himself as a playoff performer.

The Devils, on the other hand, are enjoying a career year from Martin Brodeur. Like Boston, they were bounced in the first round last year and are looking to redeem themselves. This is going to be a better series than you might think. In the end, though, good goaltending always beats everything else.
Prediction: New Jersey in 7

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
Tampa Bay are this year’s version of last year’s Islanders – team that sucked the year before, got off to an awesome start, struggled, but eventually proved that they were for real by peaking at the end of the season. Despite winning their division, Tampa will still be the underdog in this series. Their young stars will make names for themselves and if Nikolai Khabibulin is on his game, Tampa has a great shot at taking this.

Washington, on the other hand, seems to choke every year in the first round. With Jaromir Jagr and Olaf Kolzig on the team, you’d think that wouldn’t be the case. However, history repeats itself here. Tampa Bay makes use of its home-ice advantage and pulls off an “upset”.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The cream of the first round crop. Fans of “old-time hockey” will love every minute of this series between two tough teams. Philly had one of the all-time worst performances in playoff hockey in its series against Ottawa last year. Odds are good they’ll be a little better this time around. Coach Ken Hitchcock has won a Cup in Dallas, and you can be sure that he’ll have his guys fired up.

Toronto has a ton of players you’d love to have on your team, but who don’t know when to quit. It’s easy to get under the skin of their players, so look for Philadelphia to go that route. The Leafs have gotten some great goaltending from Ed Belfour, but will they be able to score against the Flyers? This one is going to be a physical series, going down to the wire, with the winner getting beaten in the second round as a result of being worn down.
Winner: Toronto in 7

Western Conference
Detroit Red Wings vs. Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Not much really needs to be said about Detroit. They won it all last year due to their impressive cast of Hall of Famers. This year, Detroit’s youth takes more of a center stage, but with similar results. Curtis Joseph is perceived to be a weak link, but can come up big if you need him to.

This year’s Ducks are different from previous years because they don’t suck and are actually playing meaningful hockey in April. They have some good star talent in Paul Kariya, an emerging goaltender in J.S. Giguere, and an Adams candidate coach in Mike Babcock, but this is going to be a learning experience for them as Detroit wins in pretty convincing fashion. Look for Anaheim, though, to make it interesting.
Prediction: Detroit in 4

Dallas Stars vs. Edmonton Oilers
We used to get this matchup every year, and it was always great. This one should be no different. Dallas has excellent goaltending in Marty Turco, who had the best GAA in modern NHL history in his first year as a #1 goaltender. How well that success translates into the playoffs remains to be seen. Dallas also features a potent offense as well as enough “playoff guys” to get them by, including Claude Lemieux, who deserves to be a Hall of Famer based on his playoff play alone.

In Edmonton’s case, they’ve been forced to deal away far too many good players due to the NHL’s financial woes. However, the history these two teams have with each other will be enough to make a series out of this. That said, many of the players from the rivalry are currently playing for other teams – more specifically, most of Edmonton’s stars are long gone, giving Dallas the decided edge in personnel. Don’t count out the Oilers, though, as they’ll fight to the end.
Prediction: Dallas in 6

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
Colorado is a team custom-built for the playoffs. For a while, it looked like they wouldn’t even get there, starting off the season in terrible fashion and costing Bob Hartley his job. They’ve come together excellently, though, and again have their eyes on Lord Stanley’s Cup. However, don’t forget Patrick Roy’s last playoff game – a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of Detroit.

Minnesota came out of relative obscurity this year to make the playoffs. This is a team that should be the blueprint for every expansion team – promising rookies, new arena, and the right coach. The Wild can be very dangerous in the playoffs, especially in later years. Like Anaheim, though, they just don’t have the playoff experience just yet to pull this off. This series, if Minnesota gets the goaltending it needs, could very well go the distance, and odds are good that its goaltending will be there.
Prediction: Colorado in 7

Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
Vancouver looks REALLY good right about now. It has two of the NHL’s Top Five scorers in Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. Brendan Morrison is still hugely underrated despite being a point-a-game player. In short, this team is going to be the team to contend with for years to come. Remember, Vancouver shocked the NHL by winning its first two games against Detroit, in Detroit no less, last year. Its only question marks come in the nets – Dan Cloutier had a rough playoff last year. Will he be better this year?

St. Louis has always been on the cusp of the NHL’s elite, but goaltending has always held it back. It might have found the solution in Chris Osgood. The Blues also have gotten back Chris Pronger for the first time this season. With St. Louis, though, you get the impression that if it hasn’t happened already, it’s not going to. With that in mind, Vancouver goes on to the second round, serving notice to the NHL that they’re for real.
Prediction: Vancouver in 5


The Box Score
The Box Score returns in crude form for this first round NHL Playoff edition. Had I known NHL 2003 allows you to seed the teams the way you want them, this would have been done much earlier and much better. So for the purposes of space and time, here are the basics. All games were simulated with 5 minute periods with full line changes, best of 7 (obviously), medium difficulty (as if it matters), and no penalties (whoops).

East
New York Islanders over Ottawa in 7 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
New Jersey over Boston in 5
Tampa Bay over Washington in 7
Toronto over Philly in 4

West
Dallas over Edmonton in 6
Detroit over Anaheim in 7
Minnesota over Colorado in 6
Vancouver over St. Louis in 5

In the second round, the Devs beat the Isles in 7, Toronto beat the Caps in 6, Dallas took Minnesota in 5, and Detroit swept Vancouver. In the conference finals, New Jersey beat Toronto in 6 and Dallas beat Detroit in 7. That set up a rematch of the 2000 Cup Finals between Dallas and New Jersey. Dallas won this one in six games.


Good Day
Hope you enjoyed the column this week. I’m going to see Dave Chappelle tonight at Westbury Music Fair, should be great! Tomorrow, BB King’s there, but guess who has to work… Ugh. So have a great weekend, enjoy the playoffs, and see you next week!

GO ISLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!