Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Time For Truth in Advertising

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Open Your Wallet and Let Your Money Fallout 4 A Really Shitty Game

I have a policy of never buying games during the hype period.  Unfortunately, I also sometimes fail to follow that policy and get stuck with a turd such as Fallout 4, with which I have a few minor quibbles:

1)  Companions:  If you need a way to waste ammo and lose XPs, then a companion is the way to go.  They're constantly getting in the way, deflecting your bullets, killing baddies - which is great but unless you've tagged it first you don't get the XP.  They're under-powered, easily beaten and are more likely to get in the way in a scrap.  And, with the exception of the dog, a font of really annoying one-liners.  Better to do without them if not for...

2)  Bullshit AI:  Evidently, the FO4 devs went to the Doom 3 school of AI strategy - mob the player with melee attacks while the player frantically reloads under-powered and inaccurate weapons while running backward.  In fact, it's a significant step down from Doom 3 because at least you had a chance.  Here, unless you're really lucky - or in the story progression - random mobs tend to be way overpowered and over armored.  I mean "Absorb 1000 minigun rounds and then one-shot you with a baseball bat while you are wearing Power Armor" or "Pull half a dozen mobs out of nowhere and have them all rush you".

3)  Dumbed-Down world.  I've never played Fallout 3.  I liked what I'd heard about it.  Character customization, factions, different ways to interact, karma, open-world exploration and a story you write yourself.  It's a pity that none of that is in FO4.  Instead it's a deceptively linear story using the most pathetic and cliched heartstring-tugging manipulations you can imagine.

4)  Craptastic Crafting:  Oh, good, base-building and management!  Something with little benefit and less purpose!  I'm going to be unpopular and say that the worst part is the absolute lack of tutorials about how one goes about crafting items here.  To me, the mark of a good game is that at least an effort was made to explain game concepts in the fucking game itself.  If you need an unpaid, die-hard fan to make a wiki for even basic game concepts you have failed as a developer.

5)  The Story Just Sucks:  Okay, okay, so they want a story.  I'll ask you this:  Is it plausible that someone (I played the wife - I'm not macho!) who is a former lawyer in Retro-Futura-Suburbia to switch from that to Ruthless Scavenger without so much as batting an eye?  I'm all for Player Character customization but if you really have to bend plausibility that far then it's best not to bother.  And even sticking with the Army Dude, such a seamless transition still stretches plausibility too far.  Even so, The PC is still written as being too familiar with the way the world is to be a fish-out-of-water.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Penn Jillette Is An Idiot

I hate to say anything bad about Penn.  I've always been a huge fan of magicians and of Penn and Teller in particular.  They became big just as I was reaching the age that magicians were "kid stuff" and it was great to have an "edgy" magic act to not be embarrassed about admitting watching.  And I have to admit regret for breaking my "Roger Waters Rule" by listening to Penn opine about the issues of the day.  Because Penn is, well, full of shit.

But he's full of shit in a particular way that makes me mourn for the state of what passes for intellectual debate these days.  It's not that he or others have disagreeable opinions but that they go out of their way to avoid actually having opinions - or at least to sufficiently conceal those opinions to avoid any critique.  It's not "I think that maybe A is right or that maybe B is right so let's look at the facts objectively and try to make an impartial judgement" as much as it's "I think that maybe A is right or that maybe B is right so let's stop talking about it and maintain the status quo without thinking any further".

"It's skepticism!" they say when critiqued.  Bullshit.  Skepticism is employing the scientific method - question, hypothesize, test and analyze the results - and prepare to accept that outcome regardless of your own personal biases.  What Penn and other reactionaries are doing is trying to dress up contrarianism ("everyone says X so I believe Y"), knee-jerk anti-authoritarianism ("everyone in a position of authority says X so I believe Y"), moral cowardice ("I believe X but I don't want to risk being unpopular by defending X so I'll say X and Y are the same"), nihilism ("both X and Y are neither right or wrong") or solipsism ("no one asked me if X was right so until I'm personally convinced otherwise I will believe I am being persecuted for believing X to be wrong") as some form of objective method of reason.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Strange Lemons - Beginning "The Hole"

It was October 1978 when the Lemons completed their arduous tour for their '77 album Dogs and Cats.

Gilnitz:  It was awful, fucking awful.  It was our biggest tour yet and everything that possibly could go wrong did.  George finally became convinced that he was the only "real" band member.  It wasn't intentional, though, but mostly because me, Rick and Avery were so totally burned out by the tour, we all figured, well, let him have it if he wants it.

Q:  What actually went wrong?

Gilnitz:  You name it!  [laughs]  I mean, just everything.  George had insisted on these huge, elaborate set-pieces, which never worked.  We had to go by a click-track to keep in synch with the props so that sucked out a lot of energy right there.  But if the least little thing went wrong, the whole act was ruined.  And go wrong it did.  Mostly, it was the props going wrong.  Half the venues we played weren't rated for the juice the stage was using so there always be shorts and blown fuses.  Other times we'd just miss a cue and George would explode!

Q:  At you?

Gilnitz:  At anybody, really.  He saved the real hard bellowing for everyone else.  I was still considered a significant member of the band so he'd go easy on me.  Rick, Avery and any venue staff that crossed him...

Q:  Wow.

Gilnitz:  Right!  He must have had a good couple of dozen people sacked all over the world.

Q:  Was the tour a financial success?

Gilnitz:  Depends on what you call "success", doesn't it?  We pretty much broke even.

George Gravel, in 1992, remembers it differently.

Gravel:  That tour was crazy!  It was a very rough ride but made it through mostly intact.

Q:  No problems?

Gravel:  [laughs] I wish.  I think the worst incident was in Vancouver when most of our technical equipment went missing.  I don't know who buys stolen mixing boards and wires but it must be good business.  It's a constant in the music biz to have your gear pinched, so we were all kind of used to it.  The equipment that didn't get stolen was the problem.

Q:  How so?

Gravel:  I blame Strange Lemons management.  Half the places they'd crammed into our schedule couldn't handle the equipment we'd brought along.  Me and [engineer] Sam Topaz had very precise specs for power, equipment and lighting and venue after venue kept on saying, "yeah, yeah, no problem".  Only there were problems, lots of them.  And our booking agents never once thought to verify any of this.  So, time and again, we were standing on a dark stage with thousands of booing fans in front of us and burning fuse boxes behind us.

Q:  How was the rest of the band taking this?

Gravel:  Far too calmly.  But it meant less for them.  The writing duties had pretty much fallen to me by the time we recorded Dogs and Cats so they had far less than I did vested in the show.  So when things went wrong they'd just kind of shrug and roll their eyes, I'd try to give a chipper pep talk, and they'd roll their eyes a little harder.  Not Darren, so much, since he did have a little input on the album, but the other two and the roadies, eh?

Avery Knight also remembers the tour.

Knight:  Oh, god, I hated it.  It was pretty much at the end of that tour I'd decided that it would probably be my last one.

Q:  Because of what went wrong on the tour?

Knight:  As the next-to-last-straw, I guess, but it was building up for some time.  The sessions for Dogs and Cats were basically Darren and George going at each others throats for six months.  This had been building up from Last Trip to Mars and Picture Postcard, though.  Last Trip to Mars was not only our breakout album but sold by the millions, as you know.  And since they were the twin fathers of that album both their heads got too big to put in the same studio!  [laughs]  But I got so sick of their bullshit - both of them - that I just figured I'd be along for the ride until something made me say "that's it!"

Q:  Did you think of just walking out mid-tour?

Knight:  No.  Funny thing is is that if the tour had been a bit smoother I might have.  It was so bloody horrible that I just shut off completely.  I went through the rehearsals and shows in trance almost, just shutting out the awfulness.  George's tantrums when he thought I missed a cue barely registered a few weeks in.

Q:  Did he do that a lot?

Knight:  Virtually every night, by the end.  I don't blame him personally, not anymore, anyway.  George liked having things neat and orderly, always did.  He had this elaborate show precisely timed in his head but as reality kept knocking things off kilter he became less and less able to deal with things rationally.  So he took out his increasing frustrations on everyone.