Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Security Tip: Spam, Bitcoin and Wallets

Posted in advice, banking, cryptocurrency by commorancy on April 22, 2019

BitcoinIn writing this blog, I encounter a lot of different spam comments every single day. None of this spam reaches the comment area of any blog article because of moderation and spam filtering. However, every once in a while I see a spam message that catches my eye and I feel the need to write about such traps. Let’s explore.

Today’s Spam

Today, I found this spam message and it spurred me to write this blog article:

Invest $ 5,000 in Bitcoin mining once and get $ 7,000 passive income per month

This sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? Of course, this spam message arrived complete with a link to a website. I’ve redacted that part of this spam. The text is the most important part (or rather, the sleaziest part) and what I intend to discuss in this article.

Let’s dispel this one right away. You cannot invest $5,000 into a Bitcoin mining rig and get $7,000 a month in passive income. This is not possible. First off, Bitcoin is entirely volatile so values vary every minute. Second, you have to place your mined Bitcoin into a wallet somewhere. Third, a compute rig requires electric power, air conditioning and internet services requiring you to pay bills every month. Fourth, the maximum you could mine per month is a fraction of a Bitcoin.

Most mining rigs are lucky to make any money at all considering the electric bill cost alone. You must also pay your Internet service as Bitcoin mining requires regular check-ins with its sites to transfer the data processed during mining and download new data. Both the electric and internet bills are not at all inexpensive to own and will substantially reduce the value of any Bitcoin you might mine. There are also exchange fees to convert your Bitcoin into US Dollars (or vice versa), which will eat into the profits of your mined Bitcoin.

Mining

Bitcoin mining seems like a great thing. In reality, it is far from it. As I mentioned above, you need to not only invest in a specialty computer rig designed for Bitcoin mining, you also need to supply it with electrical power, heat dissipation (A/C or a fan) and internet service. In exchange for “mining”, you will occasionally receive tiny fractions of Bitcoin (when the bits align just right). When Bitcoin first began, the amount and frequency of Bitcoin given during mining was much higher than it is today. Worse, mining of Bitcoin will see less and less Bitcoin issued as time progresses. Why?

Bitcoin is a finite currency with a limit on the maximum number of coins ever. Once the coins are gone, the only way to get a coin is by getting it from someone who already has one. Even then, there’s a problem with that. That problem is called ‘end of life’ and, yes, even Bitcoin has an expiration date.

But… what exactly is “mining” and why is it a problem for Bitcoin? Mining is not what you think it is. This word imparts an image of men in hardhats with pickaxes. In reality, mining isn’t mining at all. It is a collective of computers designed to compute the general ledger of transactions for Bitcoin. Basically, each “mining” computer takes a small amount of potential ledger data given to it by an “authority” and then solves for the equations given. This information is handed back to the “authority”. The “authority” then compares that against all other results from other computers given the same data. If a consensus is reached, then the transaction is considered “valid” and it goes into the ledger as legitimate. This is the way the currency ferrets out legitimate transactions from someone trying to inject fake transactions.

There’s a lot more to it, but this is gist of how “mining” works. In effect, when you set up a mining computer (or rig), your computer is actually performing transaction validation for Bitcoin’s general ledger. In return for this calculation work, your computer is “paid” a very tiny fraction of Bitcoin… but not nearly enough to cover the real world money needed for the 24/7 constant computing. A Bitcoin payment is only issued during mining IF the calculation solves to a very specific (and rare) answer. And so begins Bitcoin’s dilemma…

Basically, if you take all of the fractions of Bitcoin you receive over a year’s worth of 24/7 general ledger computing, you might be lucky to break even once you take your electric and internet bills into account. However, you are more likely to lose money due to the rare incidence of solving the equation for payment.

Additionally, to store those fractions of Bitcoin from your mining activities, you’re going to need a wallet. If your wallet is stolen, well that’s a whole separate problem.

Bitcoin Logistics

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, many crypto wallets and companies that store wallets are entirely insecure. They “think” they are secure, but they’re not. They’re simply living on borrowed time. Too many wallet companies (and wallet technologies) have been hacked and have lost Bitcoin for many people. Because of the almost trivial vulnerability nature of a crypto wallet, owning Bitcoin is almost not even worth the risk. We’re not talking small amounts of Bitcoin lost. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars “worth” of Bitcoin gone *poof* because the companies / wallets were hacked and Bitcoin emptied.

While there might be some reputable and secure wallet storage companies, you have no idea how secure they really are. Because it’s cryptocurrency, once the Bitcoin has left the wallet, there’s no way to get it back. It’s the same as if someone stole your wallet out of your pocket or purse. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Further, because Bitcoin’s wallet technologies are so hackable and because it holds real world value into convertible fiat currencies, like the US Dollar (and other currencies), there’s a real and solid motivation for hackers to find ways to get into and pilfer Bitcoin wallets from unsuspecting owners.

The Downsides of Bitcoin

As a miner, you’re paid in Bitcoin. Bitcoin has limited uses in the real world. There are some places that accept Bitcoin, but they’re few and far apart. Most places still only accept the local currency, such as the US Dollar in the United States. For Bitcoin to become a functional currency, it would need to be heavily adopted by stores and businesses. Instead, today most places require you to convert Bitcoin into the local currency. This is called exchanging currency and usually incurs fees for the exchange. You can’t put Bitcoin into a traditional bank. You can’t use it to pay most bills. Any business wanting to remain in business would need to convert any Bitcoin received into USD or similar. The conversion fee could be 1%, 2% or up to 10% of the transaction. There might even be a separate fixed transaction fee. These fees begin to add up.

All of this reduces the value of Bitcoin. If one Bitcoin is worth $1000 (simply used as illustration), you could lose up to $100 of converting that single Bitcoin to $1000… making it worth $900. Because Bitcoin is entirely volatile, a Bitcoin worth $1000 today could be worth $100 tomorrow. For this volatility reason and because of electric and internet bills, the idea of making $7000 in passive income in a month is not even a reality. If you could receive one Bitcoin per month via mining (hint: you can’t), you might clear $7000 (assuming one Bitcoin is worth $7000 when you go to convert). Chances are, you’re likely to get far, far less than one Bitcoin per month. More likely, you’ll get maybe 1/10th (or less) of a Bitcoin in a month’s worth of computing … barely enough to cover the cost of your electric bill… assuming you immediately cash out of your Bitcoin and use that money to pay your bills.

Insurance and Fraud

The US government insures bank and savings accounts from loss via the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). No such governmental insurance programs cover Bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency). Until or unless the US government issues its own digital currency and extends similar protections of the FDIC to banks storing those digital currencies, today’s decentralized cryptocurrencies are simply the “Wild West” of currency.

What “Wild West” means is that anyone who owns cryptocurrency is at risk of loss no matter what means is used to store your Bitcoin. Your coins are as secure as the weakest link… and the weakest link (among many) appears to be the wallet.

Cryptography and Security

Many crypto “banks” (though I hesitate to even call them a bank) claim high levels of security over your Bitcoin wallet. Unfortunately, your wallet is always at risk no matter where you store it. If it’s on a self-contained card on your person, that can be hacked. If it’s at a currency exchange service, like Coinbase, it can still be hacked (in a number of ways).

The problem with crypto “anything” is that (and this is the key bit of information that everyone needs to take away from cryptography) is that cryptography was designed and intended to offer transient “short term” security.

What I mean by “short term” is that it was designed to secure data for only as long as a transaction requires (usually a few seconds). An example is using an app on your phone to perform a transaction with your bank. Your logged-in session might last 5-10 minutes at most. Even then, a single communication might last only a few seconds. Cryptography is designed to protect your short burst transmissions. It would take a hacker well longer than that short transmission period to hack the security of your connection. By the time a hacker had gained access, your transaction is long over and you’re gone. There’s no way they could change or alter what you’re asking your bank to do (unless, of course, your device is compromised… a completely separate problem).

Bitcoin, on the other hand, is required to be secured in a wallet for months, years or potentially even decades. Cryptography is not designed for that duration of storage and protection. In fact, cryptography algorithms become weaker every single day. As computers and phones and devices get faster and can compute more data, these algorithms lose their protections slowly. It’s like when rains erode soil on a mountain. Inevitably, with enough soil eroded, you’ll have a landslide.

With crypto, eventually the computers will become fast enough so as to be able to decrypt Bitcoin’s security in a matter of weeks, then days, then hours, then minutes and finally in real-time. Once computers are fast enough to hack through a wallet’s security in real-time, nothing can protect Bitcoin.

This is the vulnerability of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Once computers hit the threshold to instantly decrypt Bitcoin’s security (or, more likely, Bitcoin’s wallet security), then Bitcoin is all over. You can’t store something when computers can gain unauthorized access in a few minutes. This law of diminishing cryptography returns is the security fallacy of Bitcoin.

Of course, Bitcoin developers will say, “Well, we’ll upgrade the Bitcoin cryptography to last longer than the then-current processing power”. It is possible for developers to say and potentially do this. But, that could still leave YOUR wallet vulnerable. If your wallet happens to be stored in an older cryptographic format that is vulnerable, then what? You may not even know your wallet is being stored in this vulnerable way if it’s stored at an exchange like Coinbase. That could leave yours and many other’s wallets hanging out to dry. Unless the currency exchange shows you exactly the format your wallet is being stored in and exactly the strength of cryptography being used, your wallet could very well be vulnerable.

Note that even the strongest encryption available today could still contain vulnerabilities that allow it to be decrypted unintentionally.

Bitcoin Uses

Probably the only single use of Bitcoin is as part of a balanced portfolio of assets. Diversifying your portfolio among different investment strategies is the only real way to ensure your portfolio will continue to grow at a reasonable rate. This is probably one of the only reasons to legitimately invest in Bitcoin. However, you don’t need to outlay for a mining rig to do it. Some investment firms today now allow for investment into cryptocurrencies as part of its investment portfolio offerings.

Still, you’ll have to be careful with investing in cryptocurrencies because there can be hidden transaction fees and conversion fees involved. These are called “loads” in the investing world. This means that you might invest $50, but only receive $40 in Bitcoin. That $10 lost represents the “load”. If you sell out of Bitcoin, you may also receive yet another “load” and again lose some of your money in the exchange. You have to take into account these “loads” when you choose to invest in certain funds. “Load” funds are not limited to Bitcoin. These exist when investing in all sorts of funds including mutual funds and ETFs.

However, Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) can be valuable as part of a balanced portfolio. Of course, Bitcoin would be considered a Risky type of investment because of its volatility. Depending on how your portfolio is balanced, you may not want to invest in something as risky as Bitcoin. Not all portfolio management companies (i.e., Schwab, E*Trade, Ameritrade, etc) may offer cryptocurrency as an investment strategy. You’ll need to check with your specific company to determine if Bitcoin is available.

End of Bitcoin

Because Bitcoin is finite in total numbers of coins, eventually computing the general ledger will no longer pay dividends. What I mean is, once the Bitcoins run out, there will be no way to pay the miners. Bitcoin currently pays miners from the remaining ever diminishing pool of Bitcoin. Once there’s no more Bitcoins in the pool, there’s no more payments to the miners. This means that Bitcoin is dead. No one is going to continue to spend their expensive electric and internet bills on computing a general ledger that offers no dividends. No general ledger computations, no transactions.

This means that eventually, miners will stop mining. Once a critical mass of general ledger computation stops, computing Bitcoin transactions may become impossible. This will be the death of Bitcoin (and any other cryptocurrencies that adopt the same mining payment model). You can’t spend a Bitcoin as liquid currency if there’s no way to validate a transaction.

Some people think that it might require Bitcoin to completely hit zero, but it doesn’t. Once the remaining pool gets small enough, the algorithm gives out ever smaller amounts of payment in return for computing. At some point, spending thousands of dollars on a rig to gain a few pennies worth of Bitcoin every month won’t be worth it. Miners will shut off their mining activities. As more and more miners realize the futility of their mining efforts, fewer and fewer will mine.

When a compute (or lack thereof) critical mass is reached, Bitcoin will be in a crisis. This is the point at which the value of Bitcoin will plummet, taking with it many “paper Bitcoin millionaires”.

If you own Bitcoin, you need to watch and listen carefully to this part of the Bitcoin world. In fact, we are likely already on the downward slope of the bell curve for Bitcoin computing. How far down the bell curve is unknown. Unfortunately, as with most investment products, many people hold on far too long and get wiped out. It’s best to sell out while you know the currency holds value. Don’t wait and hold thinking it will infinitely go up. It won’t.

Eventually, Bitcoin will die because of its finite number of coins and its heavy reliance on “mining”… which “mining” relies on offering dividends. When the dividends stop being of value, so will end the mining and, by extension, so Bitcoin will end.

↩︎

 

Advertisements

The Curious Case of Fallout 76: What went wrong?

Posted in botch, ethics, fail, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 16, 2019

NukaColaPA-fI’ve already written plenty about Fallout 76. So, this one is likely to be my last about this disaster of a video game. In this article, I intend to detail all of what went wrong (and is still going wrong) with this game and why it’s such a critical failure. Let’s explore.

Fallout History

Fallout is a series about a post-apocalyptic landscape that has been ravaged by nuclear war. Because the Vault-Tec corporation (a company within this universe) saw the coming of the nuclear war, they built vaults to house the best and the brightest to bring about a new future after the devastation had cleared. We won’t get into just how Vault-Tec’s foreseeing (and building the vaults prior to the) the nuclear war makes Vault-Tec appear complicit in the nuclear war itself.

Anyway, the vaults became a safe haven for limited residents (who paid dearly to Vault-Tec, I might add) for entry into a vault. Because there were so few vaults and so few spots in a vault itself, many people did not get a coveted spot in a vault even though they had enough money to pay their way into one. There were many who were left out. I digress at this backstory and Vault-Tec’s possible collusion in the war.

Suffice it to say, the vault is the place where pretty much every Fallout game begins including Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.

Once each of these games opens, you are forced to make your way out of the vault into a hostile, treacherous, dangerous, nuclear fallout-laced landscape (without a weapon, food or protection). You are forced to forage and eat irradiated foods. You must live in disease ridden conditions, at least until you can create your own clean space. You must find or build your own weapons. There’s always something or someone after you. Many creatures have even mutated into giant versions of their former tiny selves.

Once outside, you find that survivors have grouped themselves into factions for safety including such old favorite factions as the Brotherhood of Steel, the Raiders, the Enclave, the Railroad and so on. In Fallout 76, there are seven (7) factions including the Enclave, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Responders, the Raiders, the Free States, the Whitespring, and the Independents.

Unfortunately, because the factions in Fallout 76 consist entirely of stationary Protectron or MODUS robot vendors, there’s no “joining” a faction in this game. Though, you can follow in the footsteps of the former now-dead faction members and gain access to faction facilities by finishing up uncompleted quests for left-behind robot computers.

So, exactly how did Bethesda get Fallout 76 so wrong? Here we go…

Game Design

Video games are about having fun in a fantasy landscape. It’s about taking off your IRL hat and putting on a fantasy world hat to relax, play with friends and generally do things in a game you can’t do in real life. Let’s begin to understand what led to this disaster.

=> Lack of NPCs

Going into a Fallout game, you sort of expect certain things to exist. Certain things that have come to exist in every prior game in the Fallout franchise. You know, those pesky things called non-player characters or NPCs for short.

NPCs have been a staple in every Bethesda RPG up until the release of Fallout 76. Let’s add a bullet point (and this one is a major point), that one of the biggest reasons that Fallout 76 fails is due to the lack of NPCs.

NPCs are one of the primary reasons people go into the purchase of a Bethesda role playing game (RPG). Without NPCs, the game is entirely barren and lifeless. Fallout 76 proves this out. One might even say, the entire game is soulless. Part of what makes a Bethesda RPG interesting to play is that you feel something for the folks who have been put into this untimely and hazardous situation. Without people there to feel for, there’s no emotional tie to the game. Fallout 76 is as soulless of a game as has ever been made. The only other game to have this same problem is No Man’s Sky… except we knew going into the purchase of No Man’s Sky that there would be no NPCs.

With Bethesda’s past track record, we simply had no idea that Fallout 76 wouldn’t have NPCs until we cracked open the shrink wrap.

=> Short and Few Main Quests

One other thing Bethesda is known for is making lengthy games. Games that, if you work through them as intended, might take you 3-4 months to complete. Granted, that may include participating in a few side quests, but even the main quests will take you at least month or better to get through.

With Fallout 76, you can blaze through the main quests (all 22 of them) in less than a month and be stuck at endgame content.

In fact, there are more side quests in Fallout 76 than there are main quests. Even then, the main quests are far too short.

=> Multiplayer vs Solitary Quest Completion

Bethesda had hoped that its idea of having 24 players in one of its “World Servers” would be a great way to get players to interact with one another (and create story). Gamers don’t “create” story, they “consume” it. Todd Howard got this idea entirely wrong. In reality, what that ends up is just the opposite. Few players actually want to co-op with other players and instead you end up with a bunch of loners all running around the world doing their own thing (or griefing one another). After all, each player can only complete their own quests, anyway.

Because each person must complete their quests on their own, having a teammate doesn’t really do you much good. It can help in combat situations where you’re ganged up by lots of creatures, but that’s about it.

The solitary nature of quest completion runs entirely counter to the notion of getting 24 players together on a server as a whole. It just doesn’t work.

As a follow on to this problem, the lack of NPCs makes completing quests boring, repetitive and tedious. Reading computer terminals, listening to holotape recordings and reading notes is not what players want to be doing in an RPG. These are non-interactive media. It’s just lore being told to us by a long dead character. A character that we have no reason to even trust is telling us the truth. We’ve never met them and never interacted with them. We have no idea if what they want us to do is in any way necessary. Are they leading us into a trap or is what they’re directing us to do useful?

The secondary problem is that all of these holotapes and notes and so on are optimally placed so as to be found. It’s as though these dead folks were expecting us to come along and read and listen and do. It’s all too convenient and handy. It’s as though it was all planned out by something or someone in that world. Yet no “world designer” has ever come forth. It only ends up making this lore more trite and contrived.

If this is supposed to be a treacherous, dangerous environment, finding these people and their situations would be much harder than it is. Ultimately, the setups are as convenient as they are boring and repetitive.

=> No Effect on the World

At the end of completing the quest for lore, you find that nothing in the world actually changes. All of the running around. All of the collecting. All of the fetch quests. All of it is for naught. You do get lore around the Scorched, but in the end the world remains unaffected. The Scorched do not disappear. The Scorchbeasts still appear from their fissure sites. Even the Scorchbeast Queen still spawns if someone conveniently launches a nuke over Fissure Prime.

If you’re going to spend hours traipsing through the wasteland, fetching and fighting and doing and consuming, you would think that the world would be a better place in the end. In Fallout 76, the world doesn’t change. It doesn’t become a better place. It doesn’t get built.

The 24 vault dwellers released from Vault 76 were destined to rebuild Appalachia. Instead, these 24 “players” simply become loners who build their own camps, don’t bring about change and don’t in any way make Appalachia a better place. The game worlds remain entirely status quo at the end of the quests. So, what’s the point then?

=> 24 Random Players

As mentioned just above, gathering 24 random video gamers together on a server isn’t going to lead to anything useful. Real video game players don’t (and can’t) make a game. Players can only interact with the environment. The fun must be had by what the designers design, not by interacting with 23 other live players.

This was a total miscalculation by Todd Howard. Any video game designer thinking you can rely on other video gamers to help make your game work, think again. Fallout 76 is the prime example of how this thinking entirely fails you.

As a designer, you must take the time to build fun and interactive activities for each and every person who joins your game world. Again, you can’t rely on other players for this “fun”. Player versus player (PVP) activities only go so far and even then many folks don’t want to participate in PVP. You can’t rely solely on PVP to carry an RPG game.

If you’re trying to carry a game using PVP activities, then you need to design a Brawlhalla, Apex Legends or Fortnite kind of game and skip the RPG portions. Just keep it simple and straightforward for PVP and leave out the RPG elements that simply get in the way of that design. If your game is PVP, then make it PVP. If your game is an RPG, make it an RPG. Don’t try to try to marry an RPG into some PVP thing or you’ll end up with something like Fallout 76 which just doesn’t quite work.

=> Bugs and Code Management

Bethesda has unofficially become known as Bugthesda. After Fallout 76, this moniker is given for good reason. Fallout 76 is exactly the poster child of everything wrong with Bethesda’s ability to code games. For Fallout 76, each update has taken one step forward and made at least two steps back, many times reintroducing old bugs.

There’s a serious problem at Bugthesda with their ability to code this game. I’ve personally witnessed bugs that were squashed two releases ago reintroduced to a later release. In the coding profession, this is called a ‘regression’. Regressions are typically frowned upon heavily. No one wants to see old bugs reintroduced into new versions. If you squash a bug once, it should stay squashed and gone.

Good code management practices should see to that. This means that using industry standard code management practices should prevent regressions. If you check in code to a repository which fixes a bug, that code fix should eventually make its way back into the “main” branch. Once in the “main” branch, that bug should never see the light of day again. This clearly means that Bethesda is likely not using standard code management practices.

For teams not using standard team code management and storage practices, like Git, then it’s easy to grab old code and reintroduce bugs because there’s not a single place to store that code. That’s the worst of all disasters. Not having a standard code management system in place is nearly always the death of a project (and product). Your product can’t sustain heavy regressions and expect people to come back for second helpings. Eventually, people walk away because they know they can’t trust your code to work.

When bugs appear, disappear and reappear over and over, trust in your ability to code a functional product disappears. Trust is the most important thing you have as a software engineer. Once you blow that trust, it’s all over.

=> Limited World Events

With a game so heavily entrenched in a 24 multiplayer world, you would have thought Bethesda would have given us many intriguing world events for multiple players to gather around, combat and defeat. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

Out of the gate, Bethesda offers exactly one big world event in Fallout 76. That event being the Scorchbeast Queen event.

The problem with this event is that it entirely relies on other players to spend a significant portion of time traversing through a silo site fighting tons of robots and dealing with broken computers to launch a nuke into the world. Even worse, it requires the player to have not only fought their way through a silo site, but they must have also caught and fought a Cargobot to get a missile launch keycard. They also must have gone through the Enclave quest line to become a General in the Enclave, which requires killing at least 10 Scorchbeasts. It’s an involved and grindy quest line just to get to point where you can even launch a nuke.

Instead of these largest world events simply spawning on a timer, you have to wait until a player decides to launch a nuke on their own. Lately, this has been few and far between because with each release, Bethesda makes it more and more difficult to launch a nuke. This ultimately means that the biggest world event in Fallout 76 almost never happens.

That’s not to say there aren’t other world events. There are, but they are no where as big as the Scorchbeast Queen event. Events like “Path to Enlightenment”, “The Messenger” and “Feed the People”. However, these events are small potatoes by comparison. The Scorchbeast Queen event requires multiple people all doing as much damage as possible to bring down the queen in 20 minutes. With “Feed the People”, one person can easily do this quest and, subsequently, the loot drop at the end is piddly and low-level garbage. The queen’s loot drops are nearly always worth the time and are typically high level drops.

If you’re promising an engaging multiplayer world, you need to deliver on that promise. Relying on other players to trigger the biggest world events, now that’s a huge mistake. Instead, the biggest world events should trigger randomly without player involvement. Let the small events be triggered by players. Let the biggest world events be triggered by timer. It’s fine if a player can trigger a big world event, but don’t rely on that method for the largest events to be triggered. If no player triggers the event within a specified period of time, then trigger it on a timer. But, don’t leave the game barren of these large world events simply because players aren’t interested in spending the time to launch a nuke at that exact location.

=> Even more Grindy

One of the the things that Bethesda doesn’t seem to get is grinding. No one wants to spend the majority of their time online fighting the same creatures over and over simply to level up. Worse, when you do level up in Fallout 76, it’s all for naught. The creatures cap out at about level 68. Yet, even if you get to level 180, that level 68 creature can still kick your level 180 butt.

This is is not how level systems are supposed to work. The game arbitrarily caps your SPECIAL stats at level 50. Effectively after level 50, you’re still level 50 even if your level indicator says your level is 142. This means that you can’t even level up past the highest leveled creatures in the game.

At level 142, I should be able to one shot nearly any creature in the game that’s level 68 or below. Unfortunately, creatures have two levels in this game. There’s the level number (i.e., 68) and then there’s the HP bar. The HP bar is actually the creature’s real level. Some creatures might have 200 HP, where a Scorchbeast Queen might have between 3000 and 50000 HP (even though its level is labeled 50 or 63 or 68). Worse, when you approach this creature, you won’t know how much HP it has until you begin firing on it. Even then, it’s only a guess based on how fast its health is dropping.

This means to beat some creatures in the game, you can easily spend hours grinding and grinding and more grinding. Fallout 76 is, in fact, one big ugly grinding mess. With all of the fiddling and nerfing (aka “balancing”) that Bethesda has been recently performing, grinding is getting even worse, forcing you to spend even more time at it. Bethesda is going to nerf themselves out of a game.

=> Collision Detection, Guns and Bullets

The weapons in Fallout 76 are probably some of the worst in a Fallout game I’ve experienced. Worst yes, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s worst in a way that makes you cringe. The guns regularly miss enemies even when aiming directly at them using a scope. This is strictly bad collision detection. The game simply can’t seem to recognize when a shot has connected with an enemy.

Bad collision detection is ultimately the death of a shooter. If your game is intended to be a shooter, the one thing it better be able to do is shoot and connect. If it can’t even do this most basic thing, the game is lost. Games with guns need to “just work”. Failing to accomplish this most basic thing should have left this game in development. You can’t release a shooter and not actually have the gun mechanisms work.

But, here we are. The game barely even functions as a workable shooter. There are even times where guns fail to fire even when the trigger is pulled and released. Indeed, there are times when button presses aren’t even registered in the game… requiring the gamer to press twice and three times consecutively to get the game to recognize the press… and wasting precious time. If you had the perfect shot, but the game ignored your press, you’ve lost that opportunity and you have to wait for it to come around again.

This is one of, if not THE, most frustrating thing(s) about Fallout 76. When guns don’t work,  your shooter is broken. This means you should focus on fixing the fundamentals in the game before branching out to downloadable content (DLC).

=> DLC too early

Instead of fixing the never ending array of existing bugs from when the game was launched, Bethesda has mistakenly pushed their teams to create new DLC and add-on quests.

While I won’t get into these half-baked, half-designed DLC add-ons, suffice it to say that the developer team’s time would have been better spent fixing the existing fundamental flaws than releasing under-designed unfun DLC.

I ask you, if the game can’t even get the basics down as a shooter, how can it possibly be good with new DLC? The answer is, it can’t. And, this is why Fallout 76 continues to fail.

=> Players Find the Fun

Because Fallout 76’s quests ended up more grindy than fun, many gamers had to resort to finding their fun using alternative means. What ended up happening was that players went looking for (and found) loopholes in the software. When code is poorly written and released untested, it’s going to be chock full of bugs… and that’s Fallout 76 in a nutshell.

Gamers found ways to dupe and sell their duped items. This was one of the primary ways gamers found their own fun. Not in the quests. Not in the combat. Not in the nukes. They found their fun working around the bugs and making, selling and trading loot. Another way was breaking into closed off dungeons like Vault 94, Vault 96 and even the now-legendary “Dev Room”. Players found their fun outside of Bethesda’s design. Fun that couldn’t be had through the mediocre quests, the crappy storytelling system, the horrible combat system and the problematic collision detection.

This whole activity seems to have come to the surprise of Bethesda. It was as if they couldn’t have foreseen this problem. It happened early on in The Elder Scrolls Online, too. Why wouldn’t it happen to a half-baked game like Fallout 76? It did.

=> Half-Baked Patching

Because every Fallout 76 release Bethesda has sent out has only marginally improved tiny parts of the overall game, the game is still very much of the hot mess that it was when it was released at the tail end of November 2018. It’s now the middle of April 2019 when this article is being written and very little has actually changed.

Sure, they added a distillery as a DLC that produces some of the most useless liquor in the game. The Pre-War liquor is still the best free liquor in the game (and offers the best benefits) and you don’t even need to use a distillery or waste precious crops to get it. The new liquors not only are not covered by the existing perk card system, each of those liquors have heavy downsides. The distiller also doesn’t support the Super Duper perk card to create extra dupes when crafting liquor, unlike every other crafting table. As an example of how bad the new liquors are, Hard Lemonade gives a huge boost to AP regeneration, but at the cost of 1 minute of negative AP regeneration as the “Hangover”. Rad Ant Lager gives +50 carry weight (yay) at the cost of -50 carry weight during the 1 minute hangover (boo). Extremely sub-optimal when in combat situations.

Nukashine fares even worse. Not only is the effect of this liquor pointless (increases unarmed damage), during the “Hangover” you black out and end up in some random place on the map. Making a Nukashine is simply a waste of a Nuka-Cola nuka quantumQuantum (which these drinks can be difficult to find in the world even at the best of times). On top of the pointlessness of this liquor, selling Nukashine to a vendor yields basically no caps (the currency in Fallout). In fact, making a Nuka-Cola grenade is a much better use of a Nuka-Cola Quantum than Nukashine will ever be. I wasn’t really going to talk about the added DLC much, but I felt the sheer crappiness of this one need to be discussed to show how pointless it all really is. The rest of the DLC doesn’t fare much better than the distiller.

If you’re going to give us a distiller, then at least set it up so that the stuff we make has some value to vendors, gives us much better perks than what’s already in the game and is covered by our existing perk cards. If you’re not going to do this, then why bother creating it? That’s why I consider this DLC half-baked. No perk card coverage. No outstanding new liquors. No value to the new liquors. So tell us, exactly why we should find this fun?

=> Player Bans

While Bethesda calls them a “suspension”, it’s actually a ban. A suspension lasts 1-7 days at most. A ban last months. So far, because gamers ended up using the bugs in the game to find their own fun, Bethesda has penalized many of these gamers by suspending them for sometimes unproveable reasons. What that means is that Bethesda did some digging and found that some gamers had accrued “too many” items in their inventory.

Let’s understand that the original release of the game allowed infinite carrying capacity. You simply became overencumbered when you went over your natural carry limit. This meant that you had to use AP to walk around. When AP ran out, you had to stop and wait for the AP to regenerate or you walked even more slowly. This was the original design BY Bethesda.

After the whole duping scandal erupted, Bethesda blamed the gamers and not themselves for the problems in Fallout 76. The bugs are entirely there by Bethesda. That gamers exploited the bugs, bad on you Bethesda. You should have better tested the quality of your game. Testing is on you, Bethesda… not the gamers. If you failed to test your product, then it’s on you when bad things happen.

If you didn’t want gamers to carry infinite items, then you should have released the game with a carry limit cap. That you didn’t do this initially was a miss on your part. Anyone could see that was a vector for abuse. Waiting for it to be abused, then blaming the abuse on the gamer is entirely disingenuous and insincere. Blame yourself for the bugs, not the gamers.

=> Most Recent Update

As of the latest “Wild Appalachia” update, the game is still very much of a mess. It still crashes regularly, sometimes the entire client crashes back to the dashboard. Sometimes the game won’t load in. Sometimes the character load-in is extremely laggy, stuttery and problematic. If you do manage to get your character loaded in, the shooter basics still don’t work. You can manually aim dead onto enemies and the gun will entirely miss (several times in a row). So, you resort to VATS. VATS sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. You can be literally inches from an enemy and VATS will show a 0% chance of hitting. Yes, it’s STILL that bad.

Nuking on servers can make them highly unstable, particularly in the nuked region. If you enter a nuked region, you can expect the game’s frame rate to drop to about 10-15 frames per second… and I’m not joking. There are other places in the game where this frame rate issue is a problem. For example, when you’re in camp and trying to construct in the workshop menu.

There are many spots in the game where the frame rate can drop to practically nothing. These problems should have been worked out months ago. Yet, instead of fixing these absolute game engine basics, Bethesda has its devs off creating half-baked DLC to try to rake in new revenue.

Unfortunately, with every patch, Bethesda’s devs add back in regressions removed two or three patches ago. It’s been a never ending cycle of one step forward and two (sometimes three) steps backward. The world never gets better.

=> End Game

Every game has a problem with end game fun. Unfortunately, Fallout 76’s end game starts the moment you first login. The whole game is end game. There’s not a beginning to this game, so how can there be an end? Even once you do complete all of the main and side quests, there’s even less to continue doing in this world.

I do understand the reason for the DLC… to try and bring back old players. But, that’s going to be difficult considering you banned a very large number of them from the game. The few that weren’t banned aren’t going to come back simply because you put a crappy distiller in the game or that you created a 7 day long festival and forgot to actually give out the most desirable masks. They’re certainly not going to come back to grind for Atom to buy the useless (and expensive) Atom Shop items.

Overall

The game is STILL a very hot beta mess offering a poorly written, badly conceived and boring storytelling system utilizing no NPCs. The combat system is the worst system I’ve encountered in a top tier game developer’s title. No joke. It is the absolute worst. Even the patching hasn’t improved it. If anything, it’s actually gotten worse.

There are times where button presses are entirely unresponsive. You might have to press the button two or three times rapidly to get the game to register even one press. You might be trying to pick up something, trying to fire your weapon, trying to search a container or it might manifest in any other number of ways. Unreliable button presses are the death of a game that so heavily relies on real time play value.

No amount of patching or DLC will solve these basic fundamental engine problems. To solve the storytelling problem, you need to add NPCs to the game.. which would require redesigning the game from scratch. To solve the combat problem, you need to redesign the combat system from the ground up using a practical engine actually designed for real-time online use.

You can’t take a 20 year old offline game engine and attempt to patch it for an online use. Doing so will produce exactly the problems found in Fallout 76. Fallout 76 needed a game engine designed entirely for online play. Designed for real-time combat. Designed for real-time activities. Designed for responsive button presses.

Unfortunately, what we got was a crapfest of epic proportions that Bethesda will neither acknowledge nor comment on. If this is Bethesda’s new game development norm, I won’t be investing in any more Bethesda games. It’s just not worth paying $60 (or more) to be an alpha tester for a game written on old technology that isn’t up to the task.

In short, Fallout 76 is STILL an immense hot mess that has not at all improved since its November launch.

↩︎

 

 

 

 

Amazon’s “Not Helpful” Button Missing?

Posted in Amazon, business, politics, reviews, shopping by commorancy on April 13, 2019

A Reddit user posts that the “Not Helpful” button is missing from Amazon’s reviews. Several other commenters had stated that the button was still there for them. Let’s explore.

Not Helpful is actually not helpful

Amazon has been undergoing changes to their older review system. The first was to remove their discussion boards. Because Reddit really does discussion boards better, there was really no need for Amazon to keep their own. As a result, Amazon Discussions disappeared.

In addition to the removal of Amazon Discussions, Amazon decided to revamp their review system to be more useful. I’d personally complained several times about the “Not Helpful” button.

Why is the “Not Helpful” button not helpful? Because the only thing that button ever did is “downvote” a review in Amazon’s relevance sort. This means that those reviews that received the most helpful votes with the least not helpful bubbled to the top of their relevance sort. Effectively, the “Not Helpful” button was only used as a way for users to move reviews down in the relevance sort.

What ultimately came out of that was…

Abuse

With every system built, someone (or many someones) will find a way to abuse and game the system. The “Not Helpful” button became a target for abuse on Amazon. Instead of being used for the intended purpose of marking a review as not helpful, it became a target to screw with Amazon’s relevance sort and its “recommended” reviews for the product. For example, Amazon has two reviews it places into the top of its review area:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Critical

These two reviews are at the very top above all other reviews. These are coveted positions. People want their review in that spot. To get another reviewer’s review out of either spot, a person (or many persons) would need to mark the review as “Not Helpful” (thus asking their friends to do this too). Over time, salty reviewers learned they could knock these reviews not only out of these two coveted spots, they could also lower their relevance scores and raise their own reviews up, potentially into these coveted positions.

As I said above, if there’s a way to game a system, people will find it and abuse it… and abuse the “Not Helpful” button they did. It took Amazon years to realize this problem, but it seems that Amazon finally understands this problem and has now removed “Not Helpful” from its interface.

Complaints

I’ve complained to Amazon several times over the years regarding the “Not Helpful” button. Not only did it not provide any actual helpful information to those reading reviews, the only thing it did is send high quality reviews to the bottom of the relevance list because of salty Amazon reviewers… people who just couldn’t stand to see a high quality review shown above their lower quality review. People figured out they could game the review system by getting their friends and coworkers to mark certain reviews “Not Helpful” and knock them down in the relevance list.

There was only one situation where “Not Helpful” didn’t have much of an effect. That was on Amazon Vine reviews. For whatever reason, if you’re part of Amazon Vine, pressing “Not Helpful” on Amazon Vine reviews didn’t do very much. I believe that Amazon intentionally weights Amazon Vine reviews much, much higher than a standard review. These reviews don’t get as much of a “ding” against them if someone presses “Not Helpful”. The Vine reviews always seem to get top placement in the relevance sort no matter what other people mark or say against them.

With regular reviews, the “Not Helpful” button just didn’t achieve what it was intended to achieve. It also didn’t give a review reader any useful information about that review. This button was only intended to help sort reviews with, supposedly, the most helpful at the top of the relevance sort. In fact, because users ended up gaming the “Not Helpful” button, the relevance sort actually ended up pointless as many of the best reviews actually ended up way down the relevance list.

I also complained about this problem to Amazon, but that complaint was also summarily ignored.

Amazon has Awoken

It’s taken years, but Amazon has finally realized the error of the “Not Helpful” button. Not only does Amazon no longer show “301 people out of 455 found this helpful”. Now Amazon simply shows “301 people found this helpful”. There was no reason to show the “Not Helpful” clickers… especially now that the “Not Helpful” button is gone.

If Amazon had forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to justify their click by requiring a comment on the review, that that would have actually been much more helpful. As review readers, we need to understand valid reasons why someone clicked “Not Helpful”. The only way to do that is by writing a comment. If a “Not Helpful” clicker chooses not to write a comment, then they don’t get their “Not Helpful” click counted. It’s only fair.

Unfortunately, that opens a whole new can of worms. Even if Amazon forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to write a comment, they could have written a garbage response and then deleted it just to get past that requirement. That’s also “Not Helpful”. It’s also a can of worms that Amazon couldn’t easily solve. They’re a retailer, not a technology company. Some efforts like this simply go over Amazon dev’s heads.

Instead, Amazon awoke and realized that it was simpler to remove the “Not Helpful” button and avoid the entire relevance engine gaming problem. It’s a very late fix in coming, but it’s still a much welcomed change. Gaming a review system is not the reason for that button’s existence. Reviews exist to inform potential buyers of problems they might encounter by purchasing that “thing” (whatever it is).

Review Snobs & Trolls

In any system that you create, there will be those “snobs” (and trolls) who believe that they know better about that system than anyone else. In reality, Amazon’s reviews are fair game in any way that they’re written. This includes pricing problems, listing problems, seller problems, shipping problems, customer service problems, packaging problems, purchasing problems and, yes, it also includes actual product problems.

A review should be about ANYTHING product related including Amazon’s handling of that product to you. Amazon doesn’t like reviewers (and it is now against Amazon’s terms and conditions) to write disparaging remarks against how Amazon handled the shipping, packaging and so forth of the items you purchase. Instead, if there’s a problem in the Amazon area, they don’t want that information in the review. Amazon wants you to contact their customer support team and lodge that complaint there, not write it in the review.

If you do place such a remark in the product review, your review is not likely to be published. Even Amazon is getting its own snobbery into its own review system. However, so long as you follow Amazon’s own snobbery rules regarding its review system, you’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be fine against the Amazon review trolls…er, snobs. These are the folks who feel the need to either report the review or leave a nasty comment regarding the content of the review. I’ve read many reviews that are not only articulate, but also have quite valid comments regarding the product. The reviews are quite apropos and definitely relevant. Yet, there’s inevitably some review snob who believes the review didn’t live up to their own snobby ideas about what a review should contain. To those folks I ask, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Too many of these review snobs still exist on Amazon. As a blog writer, I typically write long, but concise reviews of products I purchase from Amazon. Many people don’t seem to like my longish reviews. Instead of refuting any of what I’m saying, they pick out one tiny little thing (a thing that makes no sense when taken out of context) and then write a complaint comment (and when the “Not Helpful” button existed, they would also press it). I could even swear that there were the same people trolling my reviews and intentionally marking them as “Not Helpful” so they can keep their reviews high in the relevance area.

Considering the length of my reviews, the depth and detail at which I discuss the product(s), how it works and my dissatisfaction with whatever parts didn’t work, they ignored all of that and focused on their own out-of-context remark. These are the very definition of “Review Snobs”. These are the folks who do not belong on Amazon and definitely need to have their review comment ability revoked. If Amazon offered a user blocking system, I’d have blocked these folks ages ago. If I could delete their comments from my review, I’d have done so. In fact, I have intentionally deleted my review and reposted it to get rid of some awkward and stupid comments.

It’s entirely a waste of my time to justify what I wrote in my review to some random “review snob” just because they feel the need to intentionally take something out of context. The review is there. Read it, understand it, learn from it. Don’t argue with me about some perceived injustice in my review that simply isn’t there.

Fan Boys & Girls

Unfortunately, far too many people are fans.. well, “fanatic” is more the correct word. And with fanatics comes fanatical behavior. That’s exactly what you get on Amazon. If I review the latest Britney Spears album and give it two stars and a rather scathing review, I guarantee some of these fanatical fans will come out of the woodwork to justify how “great” that album is… and how could I give it two stars?

Don’t question someone else’s opinion. With music and movie reviews, it’s all subjective opinion. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t come to someone else’s review and try to sway them to your belief system. That’s not how Amazon’s reviews work. Amazon’s reviews are always intended to be a mix of both high rated and low rated reviews. The intent is to allow people to state the things they liked and didn’t like about that “thing”. Trying to sway everyone to raise their rating isn’t the point of the review system. In fact, I’d like it if Amazon would let reviewers disable comments on reviews.

I should also mention that, in the case of Britney, instead of just talking about the beats or her singing abilities, I also discuss the production quality, the recording quality and even how the music was mastered. These fall under what I consider objective criteria. An album is professionally produced or it isn’t. An album is professionally mixed and mastered or it isn’t. An album is cohesive track to track or it isn’t. There’s lots of objective criteria about an album that can be heard in the tracks. Sure, the songs themselves are subjective, but the production of the album is most definitely chock full of objective criteria which is easily described.

With other products, like foods or kitchen gadgets or even toys, you can judge these by objective standards, also. For a gadget like a can opener, you have to ask, “Does it open a can?” Then you ask, “Was it easy to open the can?” Some can openers just work, others are a hassle. If the can opener breaks after the second use, then objectively the product was poorly constructed. These are all bits of information that should make its way into a product review. With a kitchen gadget, you have fewer fanboys and fangirls waiting out there for your review. For the latest Britney Spears album or the latest EA video game, you have lots of fanboys and fangirls waiting with baited-breath for those reviews to appear so they can be torn down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a one star or five star review, these fanboys and fangirls will tear down anything. If it’s a one star review, it’ll be torn down because “nothing they like is ever one star”. If it’s a five star review, it’ll be torn down as “Fake”. Even something as simple as not having the “Verified Purchase” next to it is enough to mark a review as fake.

Verified Purchase

Amazon marks purchases made directly with Amazon as “Verified Purchase”. This signifies that the purchase was made through Amazon. Yet, Amazon allows you to review any product without having purchased it from Amazon.

For example, you can purchase the Amazon Dot, Amazon Kindle and other Amazon electronics from Best Buy, Target and other retailers. Yet, if you leave a review on Amazon having purchased these from a brick-and-mortar store (other than Amazon), you won’t get the “Verified Purchase” label. However, the review snobs come out of the woodwork without this label making it one of the first comments on a review. They claim you didn’t actually purchase the item at all. So then you’re reviewing without having purchased? I call BS on that. Are these people so stupid to think that Amazon is the only place where you can buy an Echo Dot or Kindle?

I’ve purchased many items from retail stores, including Echo Dots without purchasing it through Amazon. That doesn’t make my purchase or review any less valid. Sure, I should leave a comment on Best Buy’s site if I buy it there, but I also have an obligation to leave a comment on Amazon’s site for any Amazon-made product I purchase. Even if it’s not an Amazon product, Amazon purchasers need to know what they might be in for if they purchase the product through Amazon and it’s particularly bad.

Amazon Reviews

To come full circle, I’m happy to see that Amazon has finally done away with the useless, unnecessary and abuse-worthy “Not Helpful” button. It had no place in Amazon’s review system and served no purpose other than to allow review snobs to game the review system. That’s not a user’s call. Amazon should be the call of which reviews get moved to the top of the pile and which don’t. The “Helpful” button should only be one in many metrics used to move a review to the top of the relevance list.

If you don’t like a review, leave a comment and leave it at that. Not marking a review as “Helpful” is the same as formerly marking a review as “Not Helpful”. Simply avoid the review entirely if you don’t like what was written or leave a constructive comment on why you think the review is misguided.

Review systems, including the one at Amazon, are there to let you read a user’s experience and make a determination whether that product fits with your needs. It’s not there for you to argue with the review author over some perceived injustice. If you don’t like what was said, write your own review… or write a blog article.. or report the review to Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need review snobs running around trying to sway review authors into someone else’s way of thinking. Simply give that idea up. You can’t sway a review author’s mind with a few sentences in a comment.

↩︎

Gaslighting in the Workplace

Posted in advice, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 10, 2019

Gaslighting is nothing new, but is a term that may be new to some. However, when it appears in the workplace, particularly from a boss, it can lead to exceedingly an difficult workplace situation. Let’s explore.

Gaslighting and How To Recognize It!

Gaslighting is when a co-worker or boss says something on Monday and then says, “I never said that” on Tuesday. Effectively, it’s lying. Its saying one thing (or even making a promise), then claiming that thing was never said.

What’s the purpose of this behavior? To attempt to make you, the receiver, believe what they want you to believe and to avoid the ramifications of whatever it is they said earlier. Some claim it’s a form of manipulation or that it is used as control tactic to confuse. I personally believe it’s a way for that person to get out of trouble or avoid being held to a promise. It’s a self-centered way of thinking. While it might be used for manipulation purposes, I believe it’s more self-serving than it is to control another person. However, this behavior can be either intentional or inadvertent due to a medical condition. Either way, it’s a problem for you, the receiver.

Co-workers and Gaslighting

If you’re working with a gaslighting co-worker (non-management peer), the situation can be a bit more simple to handle. Simply request that you don’t work with that person. Most companies are willing to separate folks with personality conflicts to avoid HR issues, so request it. However, be sure to explain to your Human Resources team member that the person is gaslighting you regularly. Make sure they understand the severity of gaslighting (a form of lying) in the workplace and that it has no business in a professional working relationship. Lying in any form is an unacceptable practice, particularly when it comes from folks in positions of trust. It also brings in the issues of business ethics against this person.

Lying and trust are exact opposites. If the person is willing to lie to colleagues, what are they willing to do with clients? Point this out. However, if you do point this out to HR, be aware that they can confront that person about this behavior which might lead them back to you. This person, if charming and charismatic enough, may be able to lie their way out of it. So, you should be cautious and exercise your best judgement when considering reporting a person, particularly if the person is pathological.

Bosses and Gaslighting

Unfortunately, if the gaslighting is coming from your boss or your boss’s boss, it’s a whole lot more difficult to manage. You can’t exactly ask to be moved away from your boss without a whole lot of other difficulties. In fact, many times, there is only one boss who handles your type of position within the company. If you find it is your boss who pathologically gaslights you, you may need to consider moving on from that company as there may be no other choice if you wish to continue working in your chosen career.

Gaslighting and Toxicity

Any form of unethical behavior against another employee should immediately be a huge red flag for you. If you can spot this early, you can make your employment decision quickly. If, for example, you can spot a toxic situation within the first 1-3 months, you can justify to a new prospective employer that the job role wasn’t what was promised and you left of your own accord during the probation period. That’s true. Toxicity in the workplace never makes for a positive working environment. Part of the job is not only what you do for the company, but how others interact with you within that environment. If one doesn’t meet the other and it’s found to be a toxic workplace, then the job role did not meet an acceptable criteria for employment. This means that the job role wasn’t what was promised. It’s not just about what you do, it’s about the interactions with others within the environment.

Any workplace with toxic co-workers is never a positive place of employment and, thus, not what was promised in the interview and on the job description. The problem with toxicity in the workplace is that it’s not easy to spot quickly. It can take several months for it to manifest. Sometimes, it will only manifest after staff change roles. If you walk into a company with high turnover, you might find the first couple of months to be perfectly fine until a new manager is hired.

Interview Flags

You should also take cues from your on-site interview. Many interviews offer telltale signs of toxicity. It may not even be from the people in the room. It may be from the receptionist that you meet when you arrive. Listen carefully to conversations when you’re sitting in a lobby or interview room waiting for the next interviewer. If the environment is chaotic or the interviewers are disenchanted with their job role, walk away. You can even ask pointed, but subtle questions in the interview to the interviewer. For example:

  • “How long have you been with the company?” — Short stint? They can’t tell you enough about the company.
  • “Do you like your job?” — This should open the door for venting.
  • “Is there anything you might change about what you are doing?” — This will further open the door for venting.
  • “How long has this position been open?” — Jobs that have been open a long time may signal problems.

These are examples of pointed questions trying to draw out disenchantment from the employee. Employees who always remain positive about their work conditions and the workplace likely means the company is worth considering. Employees who vent and turn negative quickly likely indicates disenchantment with their position. You might want to reconsider. However, even questions like this aren’t definitive. If the employer directs their interviewers to remain positive no matter what, you won’t know about this policy until much later. Always be cautious in the interview room… but definitely use your question time to draw out possible disenchantment as discretely as possible. If an employee wants to vent about the conditions, let them. It’s a sure fire sign you probably don’t want to work there.

Once employed, your next stop might be…

HR Complaints

You may think that taking your complaint to the HR team is the best idea, particularly if it’s your boss who is gaslighting you. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. The HR team works for the management team and this includes working for your boss. This means that your boss actually has more power with the HR team than you do as a non-management employee. Complaining to the HR team could also bring your boss’s wrath down upon you. In fact, the HR team may become complicit in your boss’s gaslighting (and unsavory) tactics, which may seem like both your boss and the HR team are ganging up against you. That view wouldn’t exactly be wrong.

If your boss is willing to lie to you, he or she is willing to lie to others, including the HR team. There’s ultimately no end to this person’s deceptive ways. This means that reporting your boss to HR could actually backfire on you. It could get you written up, placed on probation, have disciplinary action levied against you up to and including termination. There’s no end to what your boss could do to you if you report their behavior to HR. The HR team will backup your boss, not you.

If your boss or any management team member is gaslighting you, you should avoid complaining to HR. The only time you should make your way to HR is if it’s coming from a co-worker peer who is not in management. Non-management coworkers are the only people where HR doesn’t have a conflict of interest. For these folks, report away.

For management gaslighters, you’ll need to consider other options… such as employment elsewhere or a change in position (move to a different boss, preferably not under the same chain of command) or possibly legal action if the behavior is illegal.

Evaluating Management Power

If you do decide to complain to HR over a management team member, you need to consider that person’s power and support within the organization. Many of these gaslighters are not only gaslighting their own staff, they’re two-faced with their bosses. The problem is getting these people caught in their own web of lies and deceit. That can be a tall order as two-faced individuals attempt to establish strong trust with their bosses. Many times they succeed which can make it extremely difficult to break down that trust.

Unfortunately, many managers who are willing to gaslight you are also willing to do whatever it takes to point the blame elsewhere, perhaps even towards you. For example, I’ve had bosses who made dire mistakes and cost the company downtime and money regularly (at least once a week). Yet, when they end up in their weekly management meetings, the blame runs downhill. Their trust runs deep, so their bosses continue to believe their lies. Meaning, lies and deception keeps this manager employed with his underlings getting the blame (getting a few of them fired). That, or he lied and claimed it was a system error or blamed the crash on the developers or software.

This manager should have been fired at least 6-8 times over, yet each time he managed to worm his way out of the situation by either pointing blame at others or claiming system problems. I know full well it was his fat fingers that pulled the trigger and caused the outage (I saw the logs), yet this information never got to his manager in a way that required him to terminate this employee. He was considered “too valuable”. In fact, he wasn’t valuable at all. He was a severe liability to the company. Not only did he cause regular system outages, he was an HR nightmare making not only inappropriate comments in the workplace, he was completely tactless and had no people skills at all. He was definitely one of those folks who should have been considered dangerous, yet he was in a management position. He was even promoted several times!

What can you do about gaslighting?

This is a difficult question to answer. Depending on the situation, you have several options:

  1. If it’s coming from a non-management co-worker, report them to HR and your manager and ask to avoid contact with this person.
  2. If it’s coming from a management team member to whom you report, you have few options other than to quit and move on.
  3. If it’s coming from a lower management team member to whom you DO NOT report, report them to your immediate manager. Depending on your manager, this may go nowhere. Management typically supports other management regardless of how egregious another management member’s behavior.
  4. If it’s coming from an upper management or a company executive to whom you DO NOT report, again, you have few options. Reporting upper management or executive behavior is almost impossible to see action done. Though, you might be able to report the behavior to the Board of Directors if it’s egregious enough. Like the HR team, the Board of Directors is there to support the management team.. no matter their behaviors. If you choose to report, you’re likely to get no response from the Board of Directors as they’re likely not willing to confront that executive.

There may be other scenarios not listed here, so you’ll need to use your own best judgement whether or not to report the situation.

Company Therapists

You might be thinking you should use one of the company counselors to vent your frustrations. The trouble is, it’s possible that the counselor is obligated to report all findings to the HR team. If you wish to vent to a licensed therapist or psychiatric professional, do so you on your own dime. Choose your own therapist. Don’t use the company’s counselor hotline that’s part of the company perk system. You might find that your conversations have ended up in your personnel file.

Toxic / Hostile Workplace

If the corporate culture is such that it endorses gaslighting (and other inappropriate behaviors) and the company chooses to do nothing about it, then this is probably an ingrained corporate culture. You should consider this a severely toxic and unhealthy workplace. Depending on how you’re treated, it might even be considered hostile. The only choice you have is to exit this job and find another. Toxic corporate culture is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, there is no one you can turn to in an organization when the corporate culture is this level of toxic, particularly at the upper management level. When the CEO, CFO, CTO and such executives know, don’t care and do nothing to rectify a toxic workplace, this is definitely the signal that you need to move on. You can’t change a toxic corporate culture, you can only get away from it.

Toxic workplaces may be difficult to recognize until you’ve been in the position for at least six months. This is one of those situations where you don’t want to leave the position at the 5 month mark because it will hurt your resume. It also means you’ll need to stick with your employment at this toxic company for at least 7 more months to reach the 1 year mark. Hopping to a new job at the 1 year mark is at least better (and more explainable) on a resume than hopping at 5 months.

This situation can be difficult, particularly if the job environment is highly toxic. Just try to make the best of the situation until you can reach your 1 year anniversary. If the situation is far too problematic to bare and the behavior is not only egregious, but illegal, you should contact a lawyer and consider…

Legal Action

The HR team’s number 1 job is to avoid employment related legal actions at all costs. This means that should you file a lawsuit against your company as a hostile workplace, you’ll be up against your HR team, the company’s legal team and the company’s executives. If you’re still employed when you file such an action, you might want to consider moving on quickly. The HR team (and your boss) will make your life a living hell during and after a lawsuit.

In other words, you shouldn’t consider legal action against a current employer for employment violations. Instead, you should plan to leave the company immediately before you file your lawsuit.

Filing a lawsuit against a former employer will counter HR issues you might encounter while still employed, but be very careful here as well. Any lawsuits against employers can become known by your current employer and mark you as a legal risk. If you’re willing to file a lawsuit against one employer, your current employer’s HR team could then see you as a lawsuit risk. Make sure you fully understand these risks before going up against a former employer for employment violations.

Gaslighting itself isn’t necessarily something that can justify a lawsuit on its own. If it’s part of a pervasive corporate culture endorsed at all levels of management, it could be considered a hostile workplace. In this case, you may have legal recourse against your employer, depending on what they may have done and how pervasive the behavior while employed. You’ll want to educate yourself regarding what is and isn’t a hostile workplace before considering such a lawsuit against an employer. You should also consult with a lawyer for your specific situation. Even then, if you do find that it is considered hostile, you’ll still want to consider such a lawsuit carefully. If your litigation finds its way back to your current employer, you may find yourself in an untenable situation with your current job.

Basically, if you do file a lawsuit against a previous employer, you should keep that information as private as humanly possible. Do not discuss the lawsuit with anyone at your current company no matter how much you may want to. If you have mutual friends between both companies, this may not be possible. Consider this situation carefully before filing such a lawsuit. Note that you may not even know that mutual friends exist until your litigation information is disclosed to your current employer’s HR team.

As with most industries, HR staff members comprise a reasonably small circle of individuals even in large metroplexes. There’s a high probability that at least one person knows another person between two large corporations, particularly if they’re in the same line of business. Always be cautious and never discuss any pending litigation except with your lawyer.

Corporate Culture

Unfortunately, corporate cultures are laid in stone by the founders and the current management team. Sometimes corporate cultures, while seeming to be positive and well meaning, can easily turn sour by corporate corruption. Again, you won’t know the exact extent of your company’s corporate culture until you’ve been working at a company for at least 5 months. Sometimes it takes much longer. Sometimes it requires listening carefully to your CEO’s comments at internal company meetings.

Gaslighting is one of those things that shouldn’t ever be endorsed as part of corporate culture, but it is a behavior that can be misconstrued by pathological individuals based on corporate ideals and is also shaped by management team meetings. These are management meetings where the upper management meets with key individuals to evaluate their weekly contributions to and assess performance for the company. Many times, the face the CEO puts on shows a cheery and charismatic attitude when in public. When behind closed doors, this same CEO becomes a vulture, picking and cutting at each manager’s weaknesses systematically and ruthlessly… many times using rude, crude, crass, yet flowery, condescending language. They might make inappropriate sexual comments. They might even gaslight.

As a result, these bosses who are regularly subjected to these kinds of hostile C-Team interactions can learn that this is the way they also should manage their own teams, particularly managers who don’t have good people skills and who must lead by example. Yet, they know that such flowery, condescending language would get them in hot water with HR and employment law, so they adopt other compensating mechanisms such as gaslighting and outright lying… behaviors that aren’t easily caught or reported, behaviors that can be easily dismissed as innocuous.

As a result, rough and rugged CEOs who lead using a whip-and-chain approach teach their underlings the value of whips and chains instead of managing by positive examples. This can lead borderline personalities to interpret this whip-and-chain approach as the corporate culture to adopt when managing their own staff.

While this explains the root cause behind some manager’s reasons to gaslight, it can never excuse this behavior. In fact, nothing excuses unprofessional behavior. Unfortunately, far too many bosses are promoted beyond their capacity to lead. These managers may be knowledgeable in their own job skills, but many managers have no training in management and have no people skills at all. Instead of learning by training (because many companies don’t offer such people training), they must learn by example. They turn to the CEO to show them the “example”, even if that example is entirely misguided.

Unfortunately, far too many companies do not value people skills as part of their management team’s qualifications. Instead, they look for people who can kiss butts appropriately and deliver results, regardless of what that takes. Meaning, if gaslighting is the means by which that manager delivers results, then the upper management is perfectly happy to look the other way using “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies. I agree, it’s a horrible practice… but there it is.

Overall

As a non-management team member, your options are limited if you find your manager is gaslighting you. On other other hand, if you find a peer regularly gaslighting you to get ahead, you should report this pathological behavior to both your manager and your HR team. If you perform peer evaluations of those individuals, then you should report this behavior on those peer evaluations.

If the behavior goes beyond a single person and extends pervasively to the organization as a whole, then this is a corporate culture toxicity. It may also signal a hostile workplace situation. At that point, you may want to consider a new job and, if the behavior is particularly egregious (and illegal) across the company, file a hostile workplace lawsuit against that employer. Personally, if a company is toxic, I leave and let them wallow in their own filth. I then write a scathing review on Glassdoor and leave it at that. Filing lawsuits are costly and even if successful, don’t always fix the root cause of corporate toxicity, let alone gaslighting… which isn’t even considered a problem needing resolution by most companies. Even if you win a lawsuit, you won’t necessarily make that company a better place. Consider lawsuits as a strategy only if you’re trying to get money out of that company you feel has wronged you.

↩︎

Rant Time: Pizza Hut “Service Fee”?

Posted in botch, business, california, food by commorancy on April 3, 2019

If you’re wondering what Pizza Hut’s “Service Fee” is, you’re not alone. I was wondering this myself on my last visit to Pizza Hut. Let’s Explore.

Service Fee

Apparently, some restaurants have found it hard to continue to do business in California. To that end, some of these restaurants have tried various tactics to raise their prices without raising their prices. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. But, there it is.

In that goal, some restaurants have instituted add-on fees to the bill in the form of new line items. For example, The Counter (a hamburger chain) has opted to add an “optional” service fee to the bill. This fee is to counter the higher wage costs they must pay and allow their prices to remain competitive with other chains. Except, it doesn’t keep the food costs competitive.

Pizza Hut appears to have grasped onto this slippery-slope approach with its “Service Fee” on the bill.

Confused

Even the staff taking orders don’t really know what this fee is, who is collecting it or even how to properly describe it. However, they do call it out when they are reading back the total cost of the bill.

When I placed my order, the waitperson misrepresented that it was a state of California fee… meaning, that the state of California was collecting this fee through this restaurant. As far as I know, the only mandated California fee is state sales tax. Yet, I’ve ordered from other restaurants and have paid no such “Service Fees” in addition to state mandated taxes.

No, this cashier was not only confused, she had no idea what it was even for and was clearly not trained to answer the question.

Money Collected versus what?

While I can’t speak specifically to the legality of this “fee”, it doesn’t seem all that legal to me, particularly if the cashier misrepresents the fee. As far as I know, businesses adding line items and collecting fees must provide some kind of product or service for that fee. Otherwise, it’s fraud. I can clearly tell you that my takeout order arrived bagged without plates, utensils or condiments. If that fee was to cover the takeout portion, they clearly didn’t offer any setup for my food. I also ordered pasta, which requires the use of a utensil.

It’s clear, this “Service Fee” is a price gouge attempt by Pizza Hut to rake in more money, but provide nothing in return.

High Percentage

Here’s the kicker on my bill. The “Service Fee” was actually higher than state sales tax. State tax on my order was $2.08 and Pizza Hut’s “Service Fee” was $2.10 (exactly 10% of the $20.98 subtotal).

Then, she presented me with a credit card receipt that prompted for a tip. I gave $1. That $2.10 mandated service fee covered for the rest of that tip. I usually give up to 10% on takeout, but that was already given via their “Service Fee”. In fact, Pizza Hut really swindled me out of a nearly 15% tip on a takeout order.

Last Visit

Ultimately, this will be the last time I do business with Pizza Hut in California. Not only are they now swindling customers out of fees they don’t deserve, the Pizza sauce just wasn’t tasty. I simply won’t go back to this restaurant only to get swindled for low quality Pizza.

↩︎

 

 

Rant: Google Ethics Board?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on March 28, 2019

PadlockGoogle has chosen to put together an “Ethics Board” to evaluate the “Morality” of Google’s uses of AI in its products. Will this be enough? Do we trust the people chosen for this task? Personally, I don’t. This one is short and sweet. Let’s explore.

Ethics Board

While it’s commendable that Google sees the need for such a board (particularly after its privacy encroaching devices), the difficulty is in knowing if this move is simply window dressing for Google or if this board actually has teeth. My guess is that this board is simply there to take money from Google and place it into each Ethics Board Member’s pocket… and Google is still allowed to get away with its prying privacy-encroaching technologies, more now than ever. This is actually a typical sly corporate tactic regularly used in California to “look good” (specifically to regulators) rather than actually performing.

The reality is, putting random people on a board from seeming positions of trust is completely questionable. I don’t know any of the people chosen, so how can I possibly trust any of them to make the right decision for Google, let alone the consumer? Additionally, are these people versed enough in Google’s technology initiatives to even have a practical say in the matter? Likely not. Will they even be given access to Google’s upcoming technologies? Likely not.

Window Dressing

Unfortunately, many companies do see the need for such oversight, but they set it all up in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons. This is a prime example. Hiring random folks from colleges to “oversee” Google is akin to McDonald’s hiring random folks from non-food industries to oversee its food quality. Seriously, what are these people really going to do?

I can’t even imagine that this board will have any teeth to actually steer Google away from its privacy-encroaching unsavory-uses of its always-on listening devices. Even Amazon has not put together such a “committee”. The only thing this board will likely end up being is a patsy for when Google is found to have violated its own business ethics. They can then look to this board and say, “Well, you approved it” and then point the finger at the board for failing to “foresee” a problem. It’s a way to make shit run down hill and land on these unsuspecting folks on this board.

If I were considered for this board, I’d be highly skeptical of taking that position. It’s simply going to be a shitstorm for that board after Google does something questionable… and believe me, Google will.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

This saying is very apt in this situation. I can’t possibly see anything good coming from the decision to put together this board internally. The only way to possibly oversee a company like Google is from without, not within. There’s no way Google can watch itself ethically. If you’re paying people to watch your business ethics a**, there’s already an ethical dilemma. Because they’re on your payroll, they can’t exactly be ethically impartial. If some board member actually does try to “steer” Google away from some ethical problem, Google can simply replace the board member with someone more amenable to Google’s “new” strategy.

This is a no-win situation for Google, ethics or privacy. The only way this works is if an oversight committee is created by the US Congress (and other governing bodies) to oversee Google, Amazon and other AI offerings the size of Google. Only a third party government committee who is not on a company’s payroll can possibly (and legally) steer companies away from unethical consumer situations.

Unfortunately, the US is far too pro-business and far too anti-consumer privacy to offer up such an oversight committee. There is absolutely no way the government would put the brakes on Google or Amazon or any other company of this size even if what they are doing is ethically questionable.

Privacy Encroaching Devices

As a consumer, you need to consider long and hard about putting such devices into your home. Other than Google Chrome, I do not use have or use Google devices in my home. I already know Google can’t be trusted with this data. Google is an advertising company. It is designed to advertise to you. It’s designed to take what it learns about you and then feed ads to you that “fit” with your needs. In short, it is designed to watch what you do (invade your privacy) and then tailor advertisements based on the data it learned when it eavesdropped. Google is the very opposite definition of privacy. They want to know everything about you so they can “better” target you with ads. Amazon is a much smaller scale version of this. They only do this in relation to the Amazon.com web site.

Google has tentacles pretty much everywhere including within Chrome, Chromebooks, Google Home devices, ChromeCast and, yes, even in Android smart phones… especially in Android smart phones. The biggest problem is “Okay, Google” always on listening devices. There’s no way to know exactly what Google can listen to when it’s always listening… or exactly how that information might be used by Google.

The basic problem around this data collection is that Google stores that information about you on their servers. Servers which can be hacked. Data which can be leaked. Information that can be lost. It’s happened. It will happen again. Such an “Ethics Committee” put together by Google is, by it’s very design, strictly “window dressing”… and nothing more. They can’t stop leaks. They can’t stop data loss. They certainly can’t stop Google’s technology advancements.

Consumers Suffer the Consequences

Unfortunately, this means that consumers must suffer these insufferable consequences from companies like Google. The only way to steer a company like Google is through the courts, lawsuits and eventually the passing of laws. The only way to stop the likes of Google from breaching these unwritten ethical contracts is by holding Google, Amazon and others accountable to the courts of law when they break laws and/or when they go well beyond ethical boundaries. No board of ethics on Google’s dole is likely to stop that.

Having Google set up such an internal committee ultimately means, again, that this move is simply window dressing. These chosen board members, while they might have good intentions, are on the payroll of Google. This, by design, already means there’s an ethical dilemma. Taking Google’s money means you ultimately answer to Google. It also means that when something “bad” happens, that ethics board will end up being Google’s “fall guy”. So then, who watches the watcher?

There’s just no way that this situation ends well for either that ethics board or Google or ultimately, the consumer.

↩︎

 

Crafting Medicines in Fallout 76

Posted in howto, tips, video gaming by commorancy on March 27, 2019

CraftingStationIf you’re interested in crafting medicines within Fallout 76, this guide should hopefully help get the most out of your crafting. Let’s explore.

Crafting Perks

If you’re interested in crafting anything in Fallout 76, it’s worthwhile to consider all of the perks you’re going to need to get the most out of your ingredients. For crafting medicines and chems, you’ll want to invest in the following perks:

  • Green Thumb — Doubles what you pick from plants. (Perception)
  • Super Duper — A chance to double what you craft. (Luck)
  • Chemist — Doubles all items crafted on a chemistry table. (Intelligence)
  • Aquaboy/Aquagirl — Lets you walk in water without taking radiation damage (Endurance)
  • Butcher’s Bounty — When crafting items that require meat, you’ll also want to invest in this card to get more meat from your kills. (Perception)
  • Good With Salt — While this one is not strictly that necessary, it’s a great option for carting around ingredients for longer periods without spoiling. (Luck)
  • Sunkissed — Removes radiation damage from 6AM to 6PM in-game time. (Endurance)

Green Thumb, Aquaboy/Aquagirl and Chemist are 1 star cards. However, Super Duper and Butcher’s Bounty are 3 star cards and increases your chances with each star.  Super Duper offers a chance to double your creations with all crafting station types with the exception of the Brewing Station (at the moment) and when bulking items. You’ll want to max out Super Duper to get the most out of your crafting.

Good With Salt is also a 3 star card and it is well worth ranking this card up to the max if you intend to carry around foods and drinks that spoil. This card is great for keeping ingredients from spoiling before you get back to a chemistry station to craft.

Crafting Medicines

The two most important items in the game to keeping your character alive and healthy are Radaway and Stimpaks. The Recipe for Stimpaks can be found at the Enclave bunker MODUS medical wing seller. You’ll need to join and get access to the Enclave bunker to obtain this recipe. Unfortunately, the recipe for Radaway isn’t quite so easy to obtain. You’ll need to play various events and you may eventually be awarded this recipe at concluding the event. The Radaway recipe will most probably require a wee bit of grinding.

Another recipe that you find early on in the game is Healing Salve. This recipe is about half of the strength of a Stimpak and is a great option if you can’t get the Stimpak recipe. This is also easy to craft from readily available ingredients.

Because Bethesda’s Fallout 76 is a dynamic changing online game experience, patches and server updates can change the amounts and types of ingredients required for recipes. This means the recipes listed below are correct at the time of this article. However, Bethesda could change the requirements at any time. Always check at the crafting table to be sure you are collecting the correct ingredients for any specific recipe.

Recipes

For Stimpaks, you’ll need the following:

  • 2 Antiseptic
  • 1 Bloodpack
  • 1 Steel

To make a Bloodpack, you’ll need:

  • 1 Antiseptic
  • 2 Tick Blood (use Butcher’s Bounty)

For Radaway, you’ll need:

  • 2 Antiseptic
  • 3 Glowing Fungus (use Green Thumb)
  • 1 Plastic
  • 1 Purified Water

For Healing Salve (Forest), you’ll need:

  • 1 Bloodleaf (Green Thumb)
  • 1 Boiled Water
  • 1 Soot Flower (Green Thumb)

For Disease Cure (Forest), you’ll need:

  • 1 Bloodleaf
  • 1 Boiled Water
  • 1 Firecap (Green Thumb)
  • 1 Snaptail Reed (Green Thumb)

To make Sugar, you’ll need

  • 2 Snaptail Reed
  • 1 Wood

While Sugar isn’t used in healing recipes, it’s great for foods, particularly Sweet Rolls and Lemonade. You’ll probably have some Snaptail Reed left over after crafting, which is why the Sugar recipe is listed.

Locations for Ingredients

To make all of these ingredients using forest recipes, you can find what you need starting at slightly north on the hill of Gauley Mine down to the red railroad bridge, then walking the creek all the way down the just past Vault-Tec Agricultural center in Flatwood. Near Gauley Mine, you’ll find Firecaps on logs. At the bridge across the creek across from the Overseer’s camp, the Firecaps stop and this begins the area with Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Glowing Fungus. Between Gauley Mine and the Bridge, you’ll find Firecaps (not far from the water) and Snaptail Reed.

The forested regions will also contain Starlight Creeper, Firecracker Berry, Soot Flower and Wood.

There are other recipes you can find for other regions like Toxic Valley, The Mire, The Cranberry Bog and so on. However, because of the relative closeness to the Vault 76 fast travel point, it’s easiest to focus on the Forest recipes as these are the ones you are likely to come across first… and they also have the easiest locations to reach and easiest ingredients to obtain.

Sources for Antiseptic

In some of these recipes, you may need antiseptic. This can be had easily by killing ticks and picking up their Blood Sacs. Unfortunately, you can only use Butcher’s Bounty on ticks for Tick Blood, not their Blood Sacs. If they don’t drop a sac, you’ll need to locate and kill a different tick.

Two good spots for killing about 6-8 ticks is Moonshiner’s Shack just below Vault 76 and Gilman Lumber Mill immediately south of Moonshiner’s Shack. These are great for harvesting when you’ll need to produce Stimpaks. You can sometimes find ticks in the wooded area of Camden Park near the Railroad.

Abraxo Cleaner is also another source of Antiseptic. You can usually find boxes of this sitting around kitchens and other facilities. Toothpaste and Turpentine are other sources.

Why Perk Cards?

With Green Thumb, Chemist and Super Duper, you can effectively double what you get at each step. Green Thumb doubles what you pick. Chemist Doubles what you make. Super Duper doubles that. You can easily end up with half to double more than what you expect. It’s well worth using these cards if you need larger quantities of Stimpaks or Radaway. With these cards, you can make hundreds easily… instead of relying on finding 1, 2 or 3 in a container.

Tips Before Crafting

    • Always remember to place your perk cards on before crafting.
    • You don’t need these cards to be on all of the time, only when crafting.
    • Don’t waste card slots with these cards if you are not crafting.
    • Remember your Green Thumb card when picking flora. This will always double what you pick.

Remember your Aquaboy/girl card when wading through water looking for ingredients. Collect considering multiple recipes at a time. For example, when collecting for Disease Cure, you only need to pick Soot Flower to make Healing Salve after you’ve run out of Firecaps for Disease Cures. Don’t take off Good With Salt (if you need the card space) until just right before you begin to craft. After you’re done crafting, immediately put Good With Salt back on. You can make teas, sugar and other foodstuffs from the remaining unused ingredients.

It’s easy to forget your perk card setup when crafting… so, always check before picking flowers or flora or before crafting. It would be great if we had some kind of quick view reminder of our perk cards through a hot key, but no such luck in this game. You’ll just have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and go look and rearrange before you pick or craft.

Happy Crafting!

↩︎

Online Gaming and Your Accounts

Posted in best practices, video game, xbox by commorancy on March 24, 2019

As gaming companies grow larger and offer more game selections, game libraries, digital stores other merchandise, online gaming can become a problem for you if you choose to play games in certain unacceptable ways. Let’s explore the dangers.

Online Gaming and Stores

Since the advent of stores like Steam, the Xbox store and even the independent stores, like Bethesda’s and Electronic Arts store and since the addition of multiple games that these stores sell, dangers to your account are present when you play any game.

What are those dangers? As more and more games become multiplayer online capable, along with those online features comes “Terms of Service” agreements. These are agreements to which you must agree before you can play the game. These agreements have legal clauses that let game companies do pretty much anything to your account if you “break the rules”.

Breaking The Rules

What exactly is breaking the rules? Sometimes the rules are not clearly defined. Sometime they are not defined at all. The difficulty with rules is that they don’t have to be defined for a company to call foul against you, to block you, to ban you, to delete your content, etc.

How do you know when you’re breaking the rules? This is a matter of common sense. Unfortunately, because many gamers are of age 9-14, common sense hasn’t yet kicked in. You don’t really begin to get an understanding of “common sense” until you reach your mid to late 20s. With kids aged 9-14, you get all sorts of behaviors, many of these behaviors are entirely unwanted and unacceptable.

Game developers need to be cognizant of this fact when they build their game platforms. Ignoring the 9-14 demographic when building your game is ripe for problems… which is exactly what Fallout 76 experiences regularly. Clearly, Bethesda developed a game and just “threw it out there” without thought to the demographics of those actually playing the game.

Demographics and Gaming

Know your audience. If you’re writing a novel, know the audience you are intending to gear your content towards. If it’s geared towards adults, write the novel with that audience demographic in mind. Don’t cater to children in your words when you’re writing to adults. That not only will insult your target demographic, it will turn them off of your writing. The same goes for video games. If you’re creating a video game, keep in mind your audience members who will be playing the game.

If you’re hoping to get audience from 9-50, then you might want to rethink your content, particularly online gaming content. The 50-something gamers are not likely to want to run around with a bunch of 10 year olds where common sense doesn’t prevail. Think through the demographic strategy carefully when designing an online world.

Duping, Glitches and Out of Bounds

Kids try out anything. In video games, this means they’ll actually try and break your game. They simply don’t care. They’re not in it for the rules, they’re in it for whatever fun they can have doing whatever they feel. If that means glitching their way through walls to get into off-limits areas, expect it. That’s what kids do. It’s in their nature. This even follows through to teens. If your game caters to teens, expect them to do similar things.

In fact, for online multiplayer games, I might even go so far as to only allow children on servers intended for children only. Place adults onto servers with adults only. This way, there’s no mixing of adults and children. Many reasons exist for this segregation, but the interactions between adults and children do not always go over well.

By ‘children’, I mean under 18 years of age, but preferably under 21. By allowing mixing of ages in online worlds, a game dev’s property can become liable for predatory tactics between unsuspecting children and not-so-well-meaning adults. Keeping children separate from adults keeps that unsavory door firmly closed. You don’t want your platform to facilitate this kind of interaction… AT ALL.

Accounts, Companies, Rules and Danger

As a result of digital goods stores now selling multiple games in their own store and because of stringent (and undefined) rules, if you run afoul of the “rules” even just once, you can lose your entire account at that store… including all purchases made through that store. That means that you could have had 10 (or more) different games you’ve purchased over the years. One infraction that bans your account from a single game means the loss of access to all of those other purchased games. This is the danger of running afoul of the rules.

For example in Fallout 76, the duping glitch wasn’t something that was built into the game intentionally. People (mostly kids) took advantage of this duping glitch to dupe and begin selling “rare” items. Expecting Bethesda not to do something about this is entirely naive. That the players thought that Bethesda couldn’t find “them” was even more naive. I spoke with many dupers who were so nonchalant about the whole duping thing, they never thought that Bethesda would ban their accounts. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Not only did Bethesda ban the accounts, they also heavily reduced the damage output of the duped weapons. They also heavily reduced other parts of the game to get it “inline” with those other reduced parts. In reality, they ultimately damaged their game simply to “teach a lesson” to the dupers. This “punishment” actually hurt the Fallout 76 game property and lost a bunch of players in the process. If you’re trying to chase away paying customers, this is an awesome way to do it.

While I’m not trying condemn Bethesda for their choices, they did make questionable choices in handling the dupers and in dealing with Fallout 76.

What does this mean for you?

If you subscribe to Steam or PlayStation Network or Xbox Live or any type of similar digital game seller, you’re at the mercy of that seller’s rules. In the case of Steam, they are a third party seller not specifically selling their own created games (usually). This means that it is much less likely to run afoul of a game’s rule and see your Steam account banned. Unfortunately, if you’re buying from EA, Bethesda or similar direct digital stores, you won’t be so lucky. If you do something considered ban-worthy in an online game sold by the developer, it’s likely your account will disappear as a result.

In the case of Bethesda’s Fallout 76, it’s clear that duping wasn’t going to lead to anything wonderful. Bethesda was very disenchanted over the whole situation… enough to basically destroy the entire Fallout 76 game (as if it wasn’t already destroyed from the start). Anyway, Bethesda not only removed the ability to find Two Shot Explosive weapons, those that still exist saw their damage output heavily reduced (by at least 75%). That’s a major reduction in damage. Not only this, they increased the hit points needed to kill certain “hard” enemies in the game (Scorchbeasts and the Scorchbeast Queen). So not only were the weapons heavily reduced, the creatures are now even harder to kill.

These are the kinds of changes that Bethesda introduced in Fallout 76 in retaliation for the dupers. Not only did the nonchalant attitude break the game, it basically destroyed it. On top of that, the dupers who were the source of the problem were also summarily banned from the game. Bethesda has said these “bans” are temporary. However, a 2 month suspension is well longer than “temporary”. Temporary is a 1-4 day period. Permanent is anything longer than a week. A 2 month ban might as well be permanent.

In the online game world, a lot happens in two months. You also lose touch with the game and will eventually stop playing it. Yet, these players who were banned also paid $60 (or more) just like everyone else. If Bethesda bans accounts without explanation, Bethesda should be required to refund the banned player at least part of the cost of their game. If Bethesda wants to ban players, they need to do it with a reason and explanation that fits within the terms of service.

What this all means is that when you’re playing an online game, you need to be on your best behavior just like anywhere else. Stick to the confines of the world’s limits. Don’t egregiously go over the limits simply because the game lets you… even if you don’t like the way the game is designed. Trying to intentionally break the game is the quickest way to get your account banned. This is especially true in online games where what you do can affect everyone else on the server.

If you’re playing a single player campaign game on your own console or computer, go ahead and break it. That’s fine. If you’re in a shared online world where there are other players who paid to be there and you intentionally cause the server to crash, then you deserve what’s coming to you. If that’s a ban, so be it. You should never go out of your way to crash or otherwise disrupt online worlds with other players. That’s the quickest way to a ban.

Complaints from Banned Gamers

I’ve heard all sorts of complaints from gamers who have been banned. The primary complaint is that now all of the rest of their games are inaccessible because of the ban. Consider that a lesson learned. Now you know the ramifications of causing unnecessary havoc in online game worlds. This should teach you that all actions have consequences. Games are designed with game mechanisms in mind. So long as you work within the constraints of those designed mechanisms, you’ll be fine. When you decide to go out of those bounds and find holes to exploit, that’s when your account becomes flagged.

For example, players who entered the Bethesda dev room in Fallout 76. Anyone with common sense would know not to go into that room in an online game. It’s an online game and Bethesda has eyes in the online world. They will see that you entered and they will find you. Your activities that you do in an online world are not anonymous, they’re not private and the game developer will most certainly see what you are doing. Thinking you can “get away” with entering a dev room is most certainly naive and definitely stupid. It might be fun to see the room, but that fun will make way to no fun when the developer bans you from their game.

Basically, if you do something in an online world that is out of bounds, expect it to be found and expect your account to be penalized. You can’t just run willy nilly through an online game world and expect no consequences. As I said, in single player offline campaign games, break it as you see fit. Even the game devs don’t care. It’s only when it’s an online world where multiple paying players can be disrupted by what you are doing. Most terms of service have disruption clauses. For example, if you read your terms of service for your ISP, there’s likely a clause that says something similar to “If your account is found to disrupt the internet services of others, your account may be suspended or terminated”. They’re not kidding. If you start DDoSing other folks on the Internet, your Internet account could be closed. Then where are you?

Why mess around with these sort of shenanigans when you can much more easily play by the rules established? A game is meant to be enjoyed by what it was designed to do, not what it wasn’t designed to do.

Overall

Stick to the rules of the game world and you’ll be fine. Venture into unknown territory and expect consequences. In the case of Bethesda, they run the game service, they have every right to eject anyone from that service. However, because you also paid for the game, I believe Bethesda should be required to refund any players they choose to eject. That’s the least that any game dev should be required to do when considering bans on players.

Unfortunately, Bethesda may not be willing to refund you after they banned you, but you may have recourse by disputing the game’s cost with your credit card company. However, there are also two sides to a chargeback. If you dispute the charge of an Xbox Store digital purchase, Xbox Live’s terms of service may kick in and this may result in a ban from Xbox Live. You should be careful. The same problem exists for the PlayStation Store. Even the Steam store likely handles chargebacks seriously.

If you purchased a physical copy of the game, you can also dispute the credit card charge against the seller. If that’s Amazon, Target, Walmart or Gamestop and your dispute is successful, you may find you can no longer use that credit card at those retailers. Chargebacks, while appropriate in some cases, are treated very seriously by merchants. Many merchants see chargebacks as a bad faith transaction from that credit card. As a result, many merchants will blacklist cards from their establishment after even one chargeback. If you’re thinking of using a credit card dispute with your bank, you also need to consider the ramifications if the dispute is successful.

Before considering a chargeback, you should contact the seller and ask if they will refund the purchase price. Only if a seller refuses to refund should you consider raising a dispute with your credit card company. Even then, consider this action carefully as it can also get your online accounts banned.

↩︎

Update Review: Wild Appalachia – Fallout 76

Posted in best practices, botch, business, gaming, video game design by commorancy on March 14, 2019

Wild Appalachia is the newest DLC addition to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

Fallout 76

Not to get into too much detail, I would be remiss by not discussing what Fallout 76 is. I’ve already written a fairly concise review of Fallout 76 and a Fallout 76 rant. If you’re interested in reading more, you might start with these. Anyway, Fallout 76 is basically an MMORPG similar to the Elder Scrolls online. It offers both multiplayer and single player aspects. I won’t get into too many specifics, but suffice it to say that when it was released in November 2018, it was (and still is) a completely rough game with many bugs, glitching, crashing and is still to this day, highly unstable.

If you’re thinking of investing in the purchase of this game, you must take the very bad with a little bit of good. The good being very limited in this game. There were many promises made for Fallout 76, many of which Bethesda has not yet delivered. Unfortunately, with this newest DLC, there’s not a whole lot here that improves Fallout 76 in useful ways. Yet, it adds some small new things which I will get into next.

Wild Appalachia

On March 13, Wild Appalachia dropped into the Fallout 76 world. Other than a few cosmetic improvements to the UI, the game is basically what it was prior to this release. The primary additions in this release include:

  • Brewing Station — Craft your own Beer, Wine and Hard Liquor at your own base or workshop
  • Two new map points: Tattoo Parlor and Fraternity Row in Morgantown
  • A new quest that rewards you with the crafting station plans
  • A new daily quest that rewards you with recipes for the distillery
  • Increased base budget (to allow for building the distillery workbenches)
  • A new drink called Nukashine (and other new recipes)
  • Brahmin can be milked
  • CAMP sites now remove all grass and vegetation around the area
  • Radios are back. You can create a radio and tune it to Appalachia or Classical stations.
  • A way to report “bad seed” players. It’s anyone’s guess what Bethesda will do with these reports.

Some negative additions include:

  • Poor quality load-in. Where the prior release load-in was relatively smooth and worked well, we’ve taken a step backward. Now the load-in is slow, awkward and adds a new stuttery / jittery experience when the controls are being released to the client.
  • Poor quality fast travel. When the last release had mostly fixed the fast travel lock up problems, the disparity between when you appear and when you get control still exists. In this latest release, it’s gotten worse again.
  • Radios turn off when you fast travel away from your base and then return or when you load in new. You have to always turn them back on.
  • Building camp mode drops frame rates to unacceptable levels (less than 15fps at times).
  • Icons of people on the map get in the way of actually using the map.
  • Mixing the same food items of differing conditions messes with the condition. Items that were added at 100% condition mixed with items that were at 20% condition yield all items at 20% condition in only a minute or two after mixing.
  • Button presses on the Xbox controller are now indeterminate. Sometimes you can press and the button will react, sometimes you press and it doesn’t. You’ll sometimes have to press 2 or 3 times to get the game to react to the press.
  • Food and Fusion cores now appear to expire faster with this update. Bethesda has even acknowledged the faster food spoilage problem. It seems they interfered with the food spoilage clock when crafting this DLC. It probably affected the rate at which Fusion Cores are used also.

Fasnacht Parade Event

As of March 19th, the Fasnacht Parade event was released in the town of Helvetia in the game. This is a limited seasonal event very similar in style to Distinguished Guests at Bolton Greens, where you need to first go find the robots, then do things for the robots. With Distinguished Guests, after finding all of the robots and getting them back to the house, you need to go find both place settings and table centerpieces. In the Fasnacht Parade, you must help each robot individually with things they want.

In this event, there are the following Robots:

  • The Butcher
  • The Baker
  • The Candlestick Maker
  • The Beekeeper
  • The Historian
  • The Decorator
  • The Frog Egg Collector
  • The Woodchopper

This is a seasonal event that will run for about 1 week, we assume. So, if you want to participate in this event and potentially win Fasnacht masks, you’ll want to do so quickly.

There is only a chance you’ll win a mask at the end of the event. If you want to be sure to win a mask, you’ll need to participate in this event as often as you can. You’ll probably get a bunch of duplicate masks doing this.

Anyway, the game randomly selects 5 of the above robots to participate in the parade. You’ll need to read the quest requirements along the way to know which robots have been selected. Once you perform the requirements for each robot, for example, collecting frog eggs for the Frog Egg robot or collect beeswax for the Candlestick maker, each robot will make its way to the road (slowly) and get in line.

Once you have all 5 robots in line, the Master of Ceremonies robot will head to the line and begin the parade.

Along the way these robots will be attacked by different creatures in 3 different waves. First frogs, then Supermutants than finally by wolves, Stingwings and a legendary Sloth. After killing all of the interruptions in the parade (and protecting the robots), the MC will officiate a bonfire and the event concludes. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes for the entire parade to make its rounds. Just gotta make sure to protect those robots. As of 3/26, this event has closed.

Lemonade Stand

I debated about even discussing this as it’s nearly inconsequential, but here it is. In separate addition to the distillery, Bethesda has added a lemonade stand to the game. It’s a randomly spawned vendor who sells only, get this, two recipes: Lemonade and Hard Lemonade. That’s it. That’s the sole reason for this vendor’s existence. This vendor spawns at various locations around Appalachia complete with wooden stand adorned with blue and yellow balloons. I’ve found him not far from the Charleston train station and not far from the big Teapot under one of the high tension towers. The recipes aren’t that expensive, but at the same time they’re not that useful. It’s not even really lemonade.

The ingredients for “lemonade” include acid and boiled water. Not exactly lemonade. Perhaps Bethesda should have included a lemon plant (or even lemon grass) into the game first? Then had us go pick this plant to make lemonade? I don’t know, maybe that would have worked better? Hard lemonade is made by mixing Vodka with Lemonade. Note that I discuss the effects of the Hard Lemonade below.

Survival Mode vs Adventure Mode

As of 3/26, Bethesda has introduced the somewhat anticipated new PVP area entitled ‘Survival Mode’. This new server has fewer restrictions on PVP. For example when you load in to a Survival mode server, you’re automatically in PVP with anyone who comes along. No longer do you need to initiate PVP through the old (and stupid) “shoot at someone, then they must shoot back” system. Additionally, here are a few more rules:

  • Upon player death, you must respawn at train stations, friendly CAMPs or Vault 76.
  • Cap rewards for player kills are doubled
  • Drop all junk and some aid items on death
  • Only “Wanted” players and the Top 3 are visible on the map
  • All XP gained increased by 20% (possibly temporary)

ServerModeAs far as I can tell, the same rules on the Adventure Servers still apply and nothing has changed. If someone tries to initiate PVP, they can. If they want to grief or harass you or your base, they are still free to do so. No rules around PVP have apparently changed in the Adventure mode servers. You choose which environment you wish to enter at the load-in screen right after pressing “PLAY”.

What went wrong?

While it’s fine to add new things to Fallout 76, Bethesda has been entirely remiss with this game. Instead of trying to fix the MANY existing stability issues, they insist on adding new features to the game which don’t add a quality new experience. For example, the primary addition to this DLC is the Brewing Station.

The problem I have with adding a distillery is that liquor is already incredibly easy to obtain in Fallout 76. Sure, you can now brew your own at your camp, but for what purpose? You can still go find all of the free liquor sitting around on tables and all over Fallout 76 that readily and quickly spawns and that doesn’t require collecting a bunch of corn and razor grain. In just two days of roaming Fallout 76, I had amassed hundreds of bottles of beer, liquor and moonshine. Granted, I know where the spawn points are likely to be, but still I was able to amass a crap ton of beer, wine and spirits. Worse, to brew, you need boiled water and various ingredients like corn, razor grain and similar. This means you need to build out a farm if you intend to brew. If you roam the world looking for already brewed liquor, you don’t need to worry about maintaining a farm on your base or workshop.

Talking to Biv at his bar is as much fun as talking to Rose at Top of the World. This robot is not only as tedious as it comes, he’s just not at all a fun addition to the game. Worse, not only are the quests offered only once per day, you’re likely to get duplicate awards at the end of each quest (or nothing at all). I’m still waiting for Biv to give me the recipe for Lead Champagne. Like the Fasnacht festival drops below, they’re far too random to be of real use.

Additionally, what does liquor really do for you in Fallout 76? Unless you have invested in the three perks Professional Drinker, Happy-Go-Lucky and Party Boy/Girl, honestly not much. Some liquor adds limited points of strength and charisma, but not enough to run around hunting for liquor. It’s not until you invest and rank up the above perk cards that drinking liquor in Fallout 76 becomes useful. Even then, its limits are quite apparent. If Happy-Go-Lucky gave us up to 9 points of Luck instead of 3, it might be a more useful card. Worse, Party Boy doesn’t stack with Happy-Go-Lucky. This means that while the 1 strength of beer becomes 3 when Party Boy is on, it doesn’t impact the Happy-Go-Lucky card when it should.

Where did Bethesda go wrong? They went wrong by introducing this update at a time when it was half complete. Because these are new crafting tables, unfortunately there are no new perk cards to control them. For example, the chemistry table has perk cards that double the quantities produced. With other perk cards like Super Duper (Luck), you can quadruple your output. None of these perk cards apply to the Brewing Station. And worse, because there are no new Perk cards to control the Distillery, you’re limited to crafting them one at a time with full amounts of ingredients. No doubling or quadrupling here.

Even worse, the new liquors have very bad “hangover” effects. For example, Nukashine randomly fast travels you to some location in the world when the hangover starts. Rad Ant Lager gives you +50 carry weight for a limited period of time and then penalizes you with a -50 carry weight “hangover” for around 1 minute. The Hard Lemonade gives you super fast AP regeneration at the cost of the exact opposite effect during the 1 minute hangover. In fact, because AP regeneration comes to a halt and doesn’t regenerate, this leaves you with no AP at all when you run out. These effects are WAY overkill. No other “standard” liquors in Fallout 76 have such bad negative effects. Additionally, there are perk cards there to help out those liquors. Yet, with these new liquors, there are no perk cards at all to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of Rad Ant Lager or Nukashine or Hard Lemonade… making consuming these new liquors useless. Just stick with the “regular” beers and spirits with no such negative effects.

As for Fasnacht, it’s okay. Just okay. The parade is effectively a remake of Distinguished Guests at Bolton Greens. If Bethesda could have designed something new here, I might be a bit more kind. Unfortunately, redoing something that’s already been done in the game is, well, boring. Additionally, the mask drops at the end are tedious. So far, I’ve amassed nearly 4 duplicates of every common mask. I’ve yet to get any of the rare masks, like the Jester. Bethesda needs to award masks every single play through and while they are awarded randomly, they shouldn’t make some masks more rare than others. Make the weight of all mask drops equal. This way everyone gets a chance at every mask possible. Additionally, lose the extra stuff. It’s great that plans drop for festival decorations, but no one really wants these. Instead, just place these plans around the Fasnacht festival (and around the rest of the world) for people to find. No need to award these more-or-less useless items.

This is the example of how Bethesda continues to go wrong with this game. They only half think through these ideas and then they half-assed implement them. Worse, the Distillery may have seemed like a great idea on paper, it’s pretty much worthless in practice. If they had given us a new liquor that drastically increases damage output of weapons or drastically increase damage resistance against certain types of foes without the negative effects, that would be a useful addition. Because none of this exists, brewing liquor is pointless.

Mask Drop Rate Controversy

It has come to the attention of many gamers that certain “rare” masks never dropped during the Fasnacht event. These masks included the Skull, Goblin, Old Man Winter, Sun and Jester masks. The masks that dropped most frequently included Giant, Witch and Soldier. The masks which dropped a little less frequently are the Toothy Man and the Owl.

A gamer claims to have received the Sun mask, but it is unclear if the user actually got the mask at the completion of a Fasnacht event or through the Dev room. According to a poll on Reddit, no other masks dropped for anyone besides that one mask for that one user.

It has been estimated at a .03% chance of receiving the Sun, Skull, Jester, Old Man Winter or Goblin at the end of any given event. That means you’d need to play over 3000 events to actually have a chance at receiving one of these masks. Considering that only 24 events exist on any one server in a 24 hour period and considering this event only ran for 7 days, it was almost impossible to receive any masks other than those that did drop.

Why Bethesda decided to dropped these specific masks at that low of a rate is as yet unknown. It’s also very unlikely Bethesda’s devs would ever be forthcoming about their own failures. The reality is, the devs probably screwed up on the math and those masks just didn’t drop.

Bethesda could make it up to us by offering a limited time duplicate exchange. Let us exchange some of our duplicate Witch, Soldier, Toothy Man, Owl or Giant masks for the “rare” masks which we should have gotten had the drop percentages been programmed correctly. Bethesda, you made a mistake, just be straightforward with us and give us an even swap of our duplicates.

The difficulty I have with these masks isn’t the drop rate or the rarity level. It’s the fact that the event only ran for 7 days. For an indefinite and ongoing game, setting extremely low drop rates is fine because you have infinite amounts of time to quest for these items. For an event that runs for only 7 days, Bethesda should have increased the drop rate. The drop rate should have been increased commensurate with the limited length of the Fasnacht event. Instead, Bethesda kept the drop rates at the same levels as events that would operate continually throughout the year.

By prominently showing the masks in promo materials to rope users in to play the event and then promise the hope of obtaining one of the masks, this sets an expectation that these masks would drop with more frequency than zero (0) during those 7 days. If even 10 players got them, that would at least show some effort by Bethesda. Yet, with a .03% chance of obtaining one of those masks in those 7 days, Bethesda seems intent to defraud its users… particularly any gamer who bought the game with the intent of getting one of those masks. Bethesda needs to be more careful with these limited time events when considering the promo materials they are using. Promo materials promise things, but when those things don’t deliver, that’s when a legal problem exists. It’s called fraud.

Crafting Stations

There are two crafting stations for your distilling pleasure: A Brewing Station and a Fermenter. The Fermenter is not strictly even needed. The Brewing Station produces unfermented bottles. These bottles have a condition meter. As the condition deteriorates, it leads toward a completed bottle of liquor. All unfermented bottles of liquor will eventually become fermented. An ‘unfermented beer’ ticks down to become a ‘beer’. This is just the opposite of food spoiling. This means you don’t need to use a Fermenter. You can simply carry them around in your inventory and eventually they will ferment. It’s much faster to use a Fermenter, but you don’t need to use it if you have inventory space and you’re willing to wait. I’ll also point out that using the Fermenter requires space in your stash. As you place up to 10 bottles in the Fermenter, they weigh 1 each which means you’ll need a total of 10 weight of free space in your stash to ferment. For those of us always 1 or 2 points away from being full, that’s no bueno. Again, half-assed implementation. The Fermenter should have had its own 10 bottle space just for fermenting.

Whether or not these unfermented items are affected by the Good with Salt perk card that preserves food condition is unknown. However, knowing Bethesda, Good with Salt probably does slow down the fermentation process if you’re carrying around unfermented beer expecting it to ferment. I would suggest removing this perk card if you intend to let liquor ferment on your person. Of course, removing that card also means that any food items you are carrying will spoil much faster. This means you have to take the good with the bad… probably something Bethesda didn’t intentionally design. A separate and new perk card here would have been welcomed.

Recipes and Nukashine

Bethesda typically gives you a handful of recipes right off the bat with any workbench. The Brewing Station is no different. You get the crafting basics which include beer, wine, vodka, rum, bourbon, whiskey and the new Nukashine. If you want any other recipes, you have to go find them. Of course, you can’t make any specialty beers (without a recipe) like Old Possum, Pickaxe Pilsner or Old Holler Lager. You can only make ‘Beer’ once you get your station. Biv may award you recipes for these beers later. Still, some of these specialty beers will require more esoteric ingredients to be located and farmed… typically requiring ingredients you can’t grow at your base.

The new thing to make is ‘Nukashine’. Nukashine is a combination of a Nuka-Cola Quantum and various ingredients. You can ferment this one twice. Once to Nukashine and again to Vintage Nukashine.

Personally, I find Nukashine to be a pointless beverage. The Nuka Quantum grenades are much more useful uses of a Nuka Cola Quantum. Unlike Beer, Wine and Spirits which offer benefits when using Party Boy/Girl and Happy-Go-Lucky, Nukashine doesn’t extend these perk card benefits.

Worse, Nukashine only offers ‘Unarmed Damage’ benefits… as if anyone runs around in this world unarmed. On top of that, this drink is prone to having your character black out when it wears off. This means that your character will be randomly transported somewhere in the world. It could be some place innocuous like Flatwood or it could be in a Blast Zone with 3 Scorchbeasts and a bunch of high level Scorched. I would be fine with such a tactic IF the game weren’t so entirely problematic after fast travel. Because your character spawns into the game world up to a minute before the client’s visuals release controls to you, your character could be dead the instant the game releases controls. I don’t at all find this part of Fallout 76 challenging. In fact, I find it entirely frustrating… making the use of Nukashine even more pointless.

For this reason, this is why releasing something like Nukashine is an entirely premature addition to Fallout 76. The devs needed to have fixed these fundamental fast travel flaws long before releasing Nukashine. For example, they should have fixed the time it takes between when your character appears in the world and when the client releases controls to you. This time disparity allows the in-game enemies well enough time to kill your character many times over. For the unpredictability of Nukashine’s “blackouts”, this in no way makes this drink useful at all. It’s a novelty to try once, but for being actually useful all of the time, no way. In other words, no one is going to want Nukashine.

Rad Ant Lager and Biv’s Daily Quest

Yet another fail by Bethesda. They just seem to be racking them up. One of the first Atom Challenges in the new distillery world was to Fight a Rad Ant while under the influence of Rad Ant Lager. This would get you 10 Atom. To get the recipe to make Rad Ant Lager, you had to visit Biv at the Big Al’s Tattoo Parlor in Morgantown. He provides a ‘Daily’ quest that will get you that recipe. Unfortunately, because it’s a Daily quest, that means that once he’s issued this quest once in the day, he’s not likely to do it again until the next day.

Because this challenge was very specific and because it relied on a daily quest to get the recipe for Rad Ant Lager, it was almost impossible for MOST gamers to get this recipe to complete this challenge. This is, again, another fail by Bethesda.

Bethesda, if you’re reading, you need to provide more succinct ways to obtain recipes than being beholden to a bot to randomly give you a once-a-day quest. Instead, leave the recipe lying around somewhere easy to find. Have Rad Ants drop it occasionally. Additionally, Rad Ants are one of the harder enemies in the world to find. It just makes this quest all the more difficult. This challenge should never have been a daily challenge… especially not on the day of the release of the crafting stations. This should have been a weekly challenge. A total fail!

Overall

Bethesda is lost. Lost to their own weird ways and lost to what Fallout means as a franchise. It’s not about adding stupid things to the game, it’s about making the game challenging in ways that matter. Bethesda STILL needs to fix this game. There are so many instabilities, problems and crashes that these need to be tackled LONG BEFORE adding new features like brewing stations to the game. Yes, I’m thankful for the larger base budget, but not because I can craft brewing stations. I needed it to add more stuff to my base.

Bethesda, if you want us to buy into Atom and the Atom Store, you need to give us enough budget to craft the Atom Store items in our camps. Because my base has been at the hard edge of the budget for months, I couldn’t buy anything from the Atom Store that took budget. The only things I could buy were emotes, icons, skins and clothing items. That’s it. Statues and other budget consuming items have been pointless for months. That means I would need to delete items from my base to craft new items. Not doing that.

Even still, I am again at the edge of the budget even after the update. That budget addition didn’t go very far, though I was able to finally increase the size of my base… a much wanted facelift.

The distillery is interesting for about 5 minutes. However, adding vending machines, a bank, a way to transfer items between characters and decorating the camp via found world items is much more important to this longevity of this game. Please, stop with the time wasting additions and fix the problems that actually matter and add the features that are useful and that people actually want. When adding something new like the brewing stations, it’s also important to think through ALL of the supporting pieces, like perk cards. For example, should Super Duper apply? In this case, yes, it should. Yet, it doesn’t.

Wild Appalachia is a half-designed add-on added intended to recoup lost players. It’s a shallow and hollow add-on that overall adds little to the game. It’s also not likely to bring back lost players… at least, not for longer than for a day’s worth of play. DLC should keep players interested for weeks, not days. If the brewing station had been part of the game’s original release, it would have been useful for the questing. However, because many gamers are at Fallout 76’s endgame at this point, the brewing station adds little value to the game as the brews aren’t needed… even as hard as Bethesda is pushing players to use these new brews.

The Fasnacht event in Helvetia would have been a whole lot more fun with more variety. Because every play through is nearly identical, including where the enemies are likely to spawn, it makes playing this parade event boring after about the third time. Helvetia needs at least 3 different events that are randomly chosen and run at more frequent intervals. Doing the same event over and over is an exercise in tedium, particularly because you get duplicate rewards over and over… tedium much like talking to Biv at Big Al’s Tattoo Parlor. If you’re going to enforce a cool down timer when we can run another Biv quest, just show us this timer on the screen so we don’t waste our time (and caps) going over there trying to get Biv to give us a new quest. Even better, just have Biv issue the quest to us from afar.

Banned Users and Fallout 76

As a result of the object duping that occurred in several releases earlier, Bethesda created a bot to ‘detect’ possible duping on accounts. As a result, Bethesda banned a bunch of gamer accounts it suspected of having duped in-game items. For example, some of the ways in which it detected this was by seeing over 100,000 items amassed in a single account over a 30 day period. There were other markers it also used to make this determination.

Anyway, Bethesda had banned a number of gamers from Fallout 76 after its bot detected unusual activity on the account. As has been the case, Bethesda may or may not send out email to users it has banned from the game. When they do provide a message, it’s terse, generic and not always applicable to the gamer’s situation.

Here’s the rub. After the release of Wild Appalachia, many formerly banned gamers surprisingly found their accounts had been unbanned. Many took this as a sign that the ban was over. Yet, Bethesda had stated nothing of this situation. After 3-4 days of being able to enter and play Fallout 76 again, these same banned gamers found their accounts banned once again. Bethesda is entirely silent for why these accounts were both unbanned at the release of Wild Appalachia and why they were rebanned 3-4 days later. Bethesda is not forthcoming.

This company can’t really seem to get a break from all of these snafus, yet these problems are all of Bethesda’s own making. If their PR is tanking again, it’s simply because Bethesda doesn’t really seem to be a trustworthy company any longer. Personally, I think Bethesda should stick to offline single player worlds and give up this fantasy of producing MMORPGs which they are clearly ill prepared to manage.

↩︎

 

What is Freedom of Speech?

Posted in Uncategorized by commorancy on March 5, 2019

Many folks consider that Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling is a form of “Freedom of Speech”. Let’s understand why it isn’t.

First Amendment

The first amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first word is “Congress”. It’s important. I’ll come back to this shortly. Let’s understand that kneeling doesn’t actually fall under this clause for several reasons. First, it’s an act. Freedom of speech covers speech (verbal or written). Kneeling is not speech in any way. The act may represent or be symbolic of some other context or idea, but without that context, it’s just kneeling. Second, by a single person doing it, it doesn’t fall under peaceable assembly. It takes more than one person for it to be considered an “assembly”. Third, it was performed on private property (in football stadiums). Fourth, it was performed while Colin was “on the clock” (meaning, while he was performing his for-pay job).

Congress Shall Make No Law…

That statement means that no federal or state laws can exist that abridge these fundamental rights of the citizens of the US. However, these rights only extend to (and this is the key point) public lands. Private property is not at all subject to any rights afforded by the constitution. Private land owners are not subject to constitutional interference. If you own land, you can deem any person on that land as trespassing and, subject to that determination, deal with the trespasser as you see fit (call the cops, chase them off, etc) no matter what they are doing. The constitution holds no bearing on private property. If you hop a fence and begin kneeling on private property, a land owner is free to chase you off of that land with a rifle under trespassing laws. It’s their land and you were trespassing.

Private property owners, regardless of whether owned an individual or a corporation, is not subject to First Amendment Rights. However, they are subject to the individual laws of the jurisdiction where that land is.

This is the distinction. The First Amendment, and indeed, the constitution as a whole, only applies to government institutions and when on public property. For example, you can go to the steps of a federal building (on public land) and kneel in front for as long as you wish. As long as it remains a peaceful demonstration and you’re not breaking any other laws, you can remain there. Doing this same act during the National Anthem on private property has no place. It not only disrespects the National Anthem, it disrespects the NFL (his employer), the fans and the U.S. alike. It verges on being unpatriotic… probably not the intended affect.

Regardless of what it IS, what it isn’t is “Freedom of Speech”. Not only is there no speech involved, private property owners don’t have to respect “Freedom of Speech” on their property even if it were speech (which it isn’t). Kneeling is an act. As an act, it might be considered a form of protest.

Protests and the First Amendment

Protesting is, contrary to popular belief, not protected by the First Amendment. What is protected by the First Amendment is “Freedom of Speech”, “Freedom of Assembly”, “Freedom of the Press” and “Freedom to Petition”. None of these include “protesting”. Assembly is as close as it comes. Peaceable Assembly might be considered a form of “protesting” by some, but it isn’t always. Some people tend to conflate protesting with assembly when both mean two different things.

When and Where Can You Assemble?

Let’s also understand that “assembly” is intended to be performed on public lands. You can do it on the public sidewalk. You can do it on any public land you choose. As soon as you step foot on private land, you’re subject to trespassing laws.

When Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the National Anthem, that act didn’t fall under any portion of the First Amendment. He wasn’t assembling on public land. At first, it wasn’t even an assembly. It takes more than one to assemble.

Kneeling is an act and not subject to “Freedom of Speech” and it has nothing to do with “Freedom of the Press” or “Freedom to Petition”. Kaepernick’s act was simply bad judgement exercised at the worst possible time on private land and on his employer’s dime.

You can’t exercise “Freedom of Speech” when you don’t fundamentally understand what “Freedom of Speech” is. Colin’s actions do have a time and place, but not at an NFL game in a packed stadium on private property. That is not the place for that activity.

↩︎

%d bloggers like this: