Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Shit Gamer’s Review: The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword

When I was eight or nine (or maybe twelve), my Mum bought me a copy of ‘The Bard’s Tale’, a role-playing game, for our Apple IIGS (before Apple was cool). Apparently the guy in the shop said it was a good game for boys my age, and perhaps it was. But things started to go quickly awry. First, there was this mournful intro, where the eponymous bard with his ghoulish grin sat in a bar and recounted the deeds of a brave party of warriors. I then hesitantly selected said party, carefully weighing up their various strengths – a sorcerer for magic, a barbarian for strength, there was probably a dwarf and elf as well, though I’m damned if I can remember what they did. It was all to no avail – within ten minutes my whole party was dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. I was depressed for hours afterwards, and for years later I would feel a horrible chill down my spine whenever my Dad loaded up ‘The Bard’s Tale’ and I had to hear that mournful tune.

All of this is possibly to explain my love/hate relationship with ‘The Legend of Zelda’ series over the years. The two Zelda Wii games – Twilight Princess and now Skyward Sword – are two of the most beautiful games ever to grace my outdated screen, and yet I’m partially afraid to play them. I got lost in one of Twilight Princess’ labyrinths about a year and a half ago, and haven’t bothered to get myself out since. With Skyward Sword, I can reveal that the intro is very nice. Zelda and Link seem to have a thing for each other. I’ve got the Skyward Sword now, and it’s pretty flash. You hold your arm up, and the sword lights up, and then you go ape shit on whatever is in your way. But I can’t defend with my shield for crap, which is a bit of a problem, given that, you know, you have to ward off enemies to get anywhere.

I think when I stopped I was about to enter some dark cave, and I don’t know if it’s the worry that I’ll get lost, or that I can’t defend for crap, but I haven’t gone in yet. I’m sure I will someday, but I’m just not ready. I don’t think it’s the fear of dying. I play Super Mario Galaxy quite happily (more or less) and I die all the time in that. But Mario games are fairly linear, you generally know where you’re going and when you die you know where you’ll go back to. Zelda games have these huge, sprawling areas that you need a map to negotiate your way around. In Mario, I’ll die by booping a little wrong trying to get to some colourful platform and I’ll fall daintily down a rectangular hole and then I’ll go back to the last flag-marked check-point, but in Zelda I’ll probably die alone in the middle of that cave with the flesh-eating flytraps picking at my bones, or worse, after negotiating all those enemies that I can’t defend for crap against I’ll have to go back to the mouth of that cave and start all over again.

Which is all to say that ‘The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword’ is another outstanding creation from the people at Nintendo, and a game that no Wii owner should be without. It deserves at least four and a half stars, and probably five stars, and I’m sure if you can get past that cave you’ll find an endlessly rewarding experience. And it’s less scary and depressing than ‘Monster Hunter Tri’ (I don’t even want to go into that one).

Friday, January 13, 2012

How to Rate Every One Day Batsman Ever, or Why Viv Richards is Probably The Best

As I have said before on this blog, the value of a batsman in cricket depends on how quickly they score runs relative to the average batsman and how long they stay in relative to the average batsman. Using these principles, we can look at the value of each batsman in one-day internationals, which last 50 overs, or 300 balls (‘no-balls’ excepted), per side. Let’s look at the value of how quickly they score runs first.

The value of how quickly a batsman score runs is the difference between the average runs per ball of that batsman (i.e. their strike rate) and the average runs per ball of all batsmen (i.e. the average strike rate) multiplied by the average amount of balls the batsman stays in. Using this very useful article from S Rajesh, we can look at the example of, say, Dean Jones:

Dean Jones: Average runs per out = 44.61; Average runs per ball = 0.7256; Average balls faced per out = 44.61/0.7256 = 61.48.

Average batsman during Jones’ era: Average runs per ball = 0.6656.

Therefore the value of Dean Jones from how quickly he scores runs is:
[0.7256 - 0.6656] * 61.48 = 3.69 runs over the average batsman.

What this result says is that, for every ball Dean Jones faced before he went out, if you were to replace him with average batsmen, the team’s score would be expected to be 3.69 runs lower. Batsmen who could score at the average rate would be expected to score 0.06 runs less per ball, and when that is multiplied over the 61.48 balls on average that Jones stayed in this equates to 3.69 runs.

Rajesh compared the strike rates and batting averages of 29 batsmen with the average strike rates and batting averages of all batsmen during their respective eras. Using these statistics, we can calculate the respective values of each of these batsmen from how quickly they score runs:

Viv Richards: +12.63
Virender Sehwag: +9.61
Adam Gilchrist: +8.46
Sachin Tendulkar: +6.56
Sanath Jayasuriya: +6.21
MS Dhoni: +5.95
Yuvraj Singh: +4.78
Saeed Anwar: +4.71
Aravinda de Silva: +4.65
Allan Lamb: +4.46
Chris Gayle: +3.75
Dean Jones: +3.69
Brian Lara: +3.65
Mark Waugh: +3.32
Matthew Hayden: +3.27
Ricky Ponting: +2.93
Graeme Smith: +2.40
Mohammad Azharuddin: +2.36
Allan Border: +2.32
Michael Bevan: +1.11
Inzamam-ul-Haq: +0.97
Michael Clarke: +0.70
Javed Miandad: +0.27
Mohammad Yousuf: -0.09
Sourav Ganguly: -0.12
Gary Kirsten: -0.15
Gordon Greenidge: -0.74
Jacques Kallis: -1.51
Desmond Haynes: -1.91

Looking at things in this way has the potential to lead to a huge re-evaluation of the value of some batsmen. Richards, Sehwag and Gilchrist all do particularly well, as they all scored much faster than the average batsman in their eras. Richards comes out on top because he stayed in longer on average than the other two and therefore his team got the extra value from his high strike rate for longer. On the other hand, batsmen like Greenidge, Kallis and Haynes do badly. Consider the case of Haynes: his average runs per ball were 0.6309, compared to an average runs per ball of all batsmen during his era of 0.66, and he stayed in on average for 65.57 balls. If one replaced Haynes with batsmen who could score at the average rate for those 65.57 balls, then on average his team would score almost 2 runs more.

To make this clearer, consider the respective cases of Michael Bevan and Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist had a much higher strike rate than the average batsman, whereas Bevan had only a slightly higher strike rate than the average batsman, although his team received the benefit of that higher-than-average strike rate for more balls. Gilchrist though averaged 0.2285 runs per ball more than the average batsman, and so it took him, on average, only five balls to add one more run to his team than an average batsman would. Bevan, in contrast, averaged 0.0153 runs per ball more than the average batsman, and so it took him, on average sixty-five balls to add one more run to his team than an average batsman would. In other words, Gilchrist was much more efficient in adding extra runs for his team.

Clearly though there is some benefit from Bevan managing to stay in longer than Gilchrist, and benefits from Greenidge, Kallis and Haynes for managing to stick around for much longer than the average batsman. Part of that value would likely be the increase in the team’s strike rate that results from the team having one extra wicket in hand while the batsman stays in. However, I think that this value, while not negligible, would be small compared to the values given above. Some quick calculations I did over a small sample of games suggested that the average decrease in the strike rate for each wicket lost by a team during its innings was less than 10 per cent of the average strike rate. So if the average strike rate was 0.75 runs per ball, and a team on average lost 7 wickets in an innings, then a team that lost all 10 wickets would have an expected strike rate of no less than 0.525 runs per ball, and a team that lost 4 wickets would have an expected strike rate of no more than 0.975 runs per ball. These are pretty rough calculations, but they seem broadly plausible.

As I said though, this benefit is relatively small. For Michael Bevan, who stayed in on average for 72.24 balls, the expected value from him staying in compared to the average batsman is probably no more than 2.14 runs. This is calculated as the expected difference in the team’s strike rate from having lost one less wicket (no more than 10 per cent of 0.7224, or 0.0722 per cent), multiplied by the difference in the average number of balls Bevan faced and the average number of balls faced by all batsmen during his era (72.24 less 42.74 equals 29.50). Since Bevan stayed in on average longer than the other batsmen above, the respective values for other batsman will be less, in a lot of cases considerably less. No-one is going to overtake Richards simply based on that additional value.

There is another benefit from staying in longer than the average batsman, which is that your team is less likely to be all out, in which cases they will have unused balls. The cost of each unused ball will be the average strike rate of all batsmen (so if the average strike rate is 0.75 runs then the cost of each unused ball is in turn 0.75 runs). Note that, even if a batsman goes out first ball, you would expect on average a team would complete all of its 300 allotted balls, since there would be nine other wickets and the average batsman stays in for around 40 balls. But the probability of them having unused balls would be higher.

My idea for how to calculate this value would be first to create a frequency distribution of number of balls faced by batsmen before going out. Next, you could run a large number of simulations in which you draw from this distribution and insert the average number of balls faced by the batsman in question to work out the expected number of balls the team faces given the average number of balls that batsman faces. But again I expect this value to be relatively small. Say that a batsman averages only 5 balls per dismissal (a really bad No. 11 for instance): I reckon that the expected number of balls the team faces would still be around the 290 mark. If the average batsman faces 40 balls per dismissal, then that awful batsman is probably only costing his team less than 4 runs on average from the increased likelihood that his team will have unused balls. Taking this into account could substantially narrow the gap between batsmen like Bevan and Sehwag, given that Bevan averaged almost 40 more balls per dismissal, but I think Richards would still come out on top.

Note that the value from the change in likelihood that the team will have unused balls will probably vary considerably across the different forms of cricket. In Twenty20, where the team is unlikely to have unused balls the change in likelihood that the team will have unused balls from losing a wicket quickly is probably very small. Therefore, for Twenty20, a batsman’s strike rate is the best indicator of his value. In Test match cricket, however, which lasts for 5 days, the change in likelihood that the team will have unused balls from losing a wicket quickly would be quite large. Therefore, for Test match cricket, how long a batsman can stay in becomes quite important (and hence, why the batting average, which depends heavily on balls faced, becomes a better indicator of a batsman’s worth). In one-day cricket, the value is somewhere in between, but the results here suggest strike rate may be more important than often given credit for, and a batsman like Richards who can score really fast but still stay in a bit longer than the average batsman is king.

Note: I just worked out Rajesh's stats are based on Top 7 batsmen only, not all batsmen, but even if the numbers change a bit the general points would still stand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The 15 Best Blur Songs

And let's finish off the day with my 15 favorite Blur tracks. This will be the most eclectic list by far - when it comes to Blur I seem to have a thing for beauty over poppiness.

1. Ambulance
2. Blue Jeans
3. Yuko & Hiro
4. This Is A Low
5. Coffee & TV
6. The Universal
7. Death Of A Party
8. Tender
9. Music Is My Radar
10. Out Of Time
11. Country House
12. No Distance Left To Run
13. To The End
14. For Tomorrow
15. On Your Own

The 15 Best Oasis Songs

I could keep going with this theme all night. Here's my favorite Oasis tunes:

1. Live Forever
2. Whatever
3. Champagne Supernova
4. Some Might Say
5. Don't Look Back In Anger
6. Slide Away
7. The Masterplan
8. Bag It Up
9. Columbia
10. Supersonic
11. Wonderwall
12. Listen Up
13. Acquiesce
14. Round Are Way
15. Morning Glory

I don't mind their later stuff, but looking over this list it seems even I'm more partial to their earlier material.

The 15 Best Beatles Songs

I realized after I wrote down my 15 favorite Bowie songs that I've never written down my 15 favorite Beatles songs. Well, let's rectify that right away:

1.Tomorrow Never Knows
2. A Day In The Life
3. Something
4. Get Back
5. Day Tripper
6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
7. She Said She Said
8. Long, Long, Long
9. Back In The USSR
10. I Am The Walrus
11. Helter Skelter
12. Revolution
13. Hey Jude
14. I'm Only Sleeping
15. Lady Madonna

I'd like to count the entire 'Abbey Road Medley' as one track - if I did that would come in at, say, No.9.

The 15 Best David Bowie Songs

After listening to a lot of Bowie over the past few days, these are currently my 15 favourites:

1. "Heroes"
2. Panic In Detroit
3. Ziggy Stardust
4. Moonage Daydream
5. What In The World
6. Be My Wife
7. Quicksand
8. Starman
9. Aladdin Sane
10. Sorrow
11. Sound And Vision
12. Always Crashing In The Same Car
13. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
14. Changes
15. Up The Hill Backwards

I consider Side One of 'Low' to be his best stuff, with Tracks 3 to 6 ('What In The World', 'Sound and Vision', 'Always Crashing In The Same Car' and 'Be My Wife') all making the list, and Track 2 ('Breaking Glass') not being far off. So many great songs missing though - 'Life On Mars', 'Ashes to Ashes', 'Look Back In Anger', 'Modern Love', 'Cat People', 'Beauty And The Beast', 'The Man Who Sold The World', 'Drive-In Saturday', 'Golden Years', 'Station To Station', 'Young Americans' ... but this would be my 1-CD ultimate Bowie mix.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Unearthing the Musical Past

Lately I've been listening to a lot of old, partly forgotten music. This has been the result of four things. First, reading 'Retromania', which though it argues vehemently against pop music's obsession with it's past, made me think 'wow, there is a lot of old music I haven't listened to'. Second, I bought the book '1001 albums you must hear before you die'. Third, I finally realized 'hey, YouTube has a lot of old music I can listen to for free'. And fourth, the 'Original Album Series' has appeared, where you can buy five albums from a band for just twenty bucks.

So who have I discovered? I recommend the following: Ride (particularly 'Dreams Burn Down'), Roxy Music (lots of great non-radio tracks), the Pretenders first two albums (same), X, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the 70s Bowie I hadn't listened to yet, King Crimson, The Boo Radleys, Wire, the Violent Femmes first three albums, My Bloody Valentine's first album (everyone knows the second), Spiritualized and Spacemen 3, Pere Ubu, XTC, Black Sabbath, Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love' album, and to finish off with some irony, LCD Soundsystem's 'Losing My Edge'. OK none of that list is really out there and people who are cooler than me will have listened to a lot of it, but it's what's got me excited at the moment.

One problem though is I may rapidly reach the point where I have nothing new that's worthwhile to listen to. Perhaps I'd better start liking jazz soon.