Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Robocalls: Gotta Hate ‘Em

Posted in money making, scam, scams by commorancy on December 12, 2019

robo-call-centerIf you own a phone, you’ve likely gotten a robocall… and they suck hard. This one is short and sweet. Let’s explore.

Most Annoying Robocall?

The most annoying robocall ever has to be this one:

“What exactly is this specific robocall all about?”, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you! It’s a sales and marketing multi-level scam. Apparently, this scam was devised by Paul Stevenson when he formed Exitus Elite. This company sells packages of varying “educational materials” (and I use these terms loosely). These materials contain marketing and sales “education information”. Yeah, you’re selling so-called “secret knowledge” about how to make money using marketing and sales. It’s a catch-22 circular sales pitch. You’re selling the exact thing that got you roped into the scam in the first place. And, you had to pay for that “knowledge” the first time before you can actually begin selling it. Yeah… so there’s that. That’s why it’s a scam.

Most scams like this require an investment before you can begin selling the thing you got roped into buying.

Now, don’t run off and go buy into this scam lest you read the fine print details. For example, Exitus Elite offers sales of four differing “knowledge” packages priced between USD $250 and USD $1000. If it were only a one-time purchase, it might not be so bad. Unfortunately, it gets worse.

In fact, you’re actually joining a “Membership” program called “Exitus Elite” that costs $299 per year. After you pay your $299, you are hooked up to someone who can then sell you one of those four expensive “Genesis” packages priced starting at $250. Your purchase helps out the MLM “representative” you buy it from which then allows you to begin selling the very same packages to other people.

Worse, Exitus’s refund details are sketchy at best. They claim a 7 day refund policy, but good luck trying to work that out with them. Their strategy will most likely string you along past the 7 day mark and then claim it’s too late to exercise a refund (usually the reason for such short refund periods). If you try to charge the refund back to your credit card, Exitus’s terms claim the right to be able sue you. It’s actually a scare tactic. They can sue you anyway. It’s just that because you signed up by agreeing to those terms, that “agreement” may or may not hold up better in a court of law. However, no terms a company like Exitus writes can deny you your ability to use your credit card’s chargeback program. If you feel you’ve been scammed by a company, it is your right to contact your credit card company and dispute the charge.

Stay Away from MLMs advertised via Robocalls

It is always your best option is to avoid getting involved with any multi-level marketing programs, especially when they are advertised over annoying robocalls from companies which repeatedly violate the Do Not Call registry. Some MLMs may make you small amounts of money, but you’re always making money off of the backs of other people.

To succeed in an MLM, you basically have to rope people into the same MLM scheme that roped you in, forcing them to pay a lot of money to the company and giving you some tiny amount for “referral”. If you enjoy alienating friends, relatives and co-workers, then perhaps MLM money stealing scams are for you. If not, then try other more legitimate methods for making money.

If you receive this (or any) robocall that sounds similar, hang up and block the number on your phone. This action is your best option to avoid being scammed. Just forget all about that call and do something better with your time and money.

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Should I wear fragrance to work?

Posted in Employment, tips, workplace by commorancy on December 10, 2019

perfume-bottle-c.jpgThe answer to this question is a definitive, “No!” Male or Female… No. Let’s explore.

Why do we wear fragrance?

To begin to answer this question, we need to understand the reason behind why fragrances (cologne’s and perfumes) were invented. While most people seem to think that fragrance was originally designed to make you “smell pleasant”, its intent goes much deeper than that. You may even be surprised by what you find.

Fragrance was invented and is presently designed to “make us seem more attractive”. Having our bodies odoriferously “smell pleasant” is only but a small part of the reason to wear a fragrance. The bigger reason is to attract a mate. This article is intended towards those working in a professional office setting versus working in retail or at a food establishment, though not wearing fragrance at any place of employment is important. Also note that most intelligent people fully understand the connotations of wearing fragrance in public. Thus, wearing fragrance at the office might actually be sending the wrong signals to those around you, particularly your boss. By wearing a fragrance, these bright folks realize that you may be less serious about your work than you are about conducting your own personal affairs at the office. Wearing fragrance can set the wrong tone about your level of professionalism… this is particularly true when wearing certain popular immature scents.

Mate Attraction vs Professional Work Ethics

Most people work to make a living, not attract a mate. In fact, if you’re getting a job solely for the reason of attracting a mate, you’ve clearly got the wrong idea about working in the professional world. When you get a job, you do so to perform a skill or function that that business needs. The business itself doesn’t care about your own personal business while you are on the clock. They want you focused on their business at hand, not smelling pretty.

Wearing fragrance is actually counter to getting your professional work done. It can even cause office distractions which can lead to loss of productivity by others. Let’s understand a few more reasons why wearing fragrance can be a problem in the workplace.

Distraction

When you wear a fragrance, not everyone will enjoy the smell of it. Some will, many won’t. Fragrance is a subjective experience. I’d personally say the odds of running into someone who dislikes your fragrance is likely at least 50%. That means that a large percentage of your co-workers won’t like the scent you are wearing (male or female). Yes, that could even include your boss. Some may even be allergic.

Wearing a fragrance that your co-workers don’t like won’t win you brownie points at work. In fact, you might even get a note from HR for complaints, if you’re really unlucky. If it’s just about a distasteful scent, most people won’t say anything, but they may avoid interacting with you… and that can be bad for professional business. It can even be bad for your own work goals if you need those people to help you get projects completed.

Cleaning Products

Many cleaning products contain scents and chemicals that linger and may be overly strong, potentially triggering allergies or asthma. If you clean your desk with cleaning wipes, you may unknowingly unleash a fragrance / chemical storm into the office around your desk. Be cautious when purchasing cleaning solutions to wipe down your desk. Ensure such cleaning products are fragrance free and environmentally friendly. Even if you don’t wear fragrance yourself, you may still be contributing to workplace air pollution by using cleaning products containing fragrances on your desk surfaces. Such products include Lysol and 409 brand disinfecting wipes and sprays. Seek unscented versions and use them sparingly if they have even the slightest hint of chemical odor.

Additionally, you should walk any soiled wipes or towels into your office’s kitchen or restroom to dispose of your stinky trash in the receptacle there. Do not dispose of stinky trash in the trash bin located under your desk. Cleaning product odors will linger and emanate for quite some time from your trash bin. Most office building restrooms enclose smells within the restroom behind closed doors. Many office spaces also have enclosed kitchens with doors, thus enclosing any such odors in the kitchen. Many kitchens and restrooms also have separate ventilation systems to eject odors from the building. While restroom separation is a given, many offices design their kitchen spaces away from work areas, thus keeping kitchen odors out of workspace areas. Take advantage of this kitchen and restroom separation and dispose of all stinky trash in your kitchen or restroom receptacle, not under your desk.

Allergies

Here’s the much bigger problem for fragrances at work. Because many office buildings have limited or closed ventilation systems, your fragrance has no where to really go once in the air. If it’s sucked into the ventilation system, it may simply be recirculated around the office. This means that not only do the people near you have to smell your fragrance, so will potentially many other people around the building. For allergy sufferers, you don’t actually have to smell a fragrance to be affected by it. Even small amounts that are undetectable by the nose can still trigger allergic reactions.

Because fragrances can trigger allergies and even asthma, you should be cautious when deciding to spray on that mist before heading into the office. In fact, you should always think twice.

Soaps and Hand Lotion

Soaps contain fragrances and impart a small bit of that fragrance onto our person when using those products. However, these fragrances are almost always nearly washed away during our morning shower or bath. These fragrances rarely linger and probably can’t even be detected. There is no concern about fragrances on soaps. Hand lotions, on the other hand, can offer as strong fragrances as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious with using these at work. If it’s unscented, this is best. Most regular hand lotions (not tied to a line of fragrances) are usually fine for use at work. These have light, fresh fragrances that dissipate quickly and disappear.

Hand lotions sold as part of and are based on your cologne or perfume, however, should be avoided at work. These lotions typically offer similar long lasting benefits as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious when using these. If in doubt about the strength of your hand lotion’s scent, always choose unscented instead.

Refreshing At Work

If you feel you must wear a scent at work, do not refresh the scent in the restroom or in your car while at the office. Wear it once and do not refresh it the entire day. I can guarantee you that your office co-workers will hate it when you walk in smelling as if you had spilled the entire bottle on your person… again. Those with allergies will likely be forced to leave the area.

Secret Smokers

If you’re a secret smoker and you don’t want your office staff to know that you smoke, you should do it outside in open air. This way, the cigarette smell won’t infest your clothes. Don’t try to mask cigarette odors by spilling your fragrance on your clothes. It doesn’t work. Not only will the refreshing of the cologne annoy a lot of people, the cigarette smoke smell will still be there. Yes, we can smell it.

If you want to remain a closet smoker, you might have to do it in such a way so that your clothes don’t reek. Fragrance won’t help this situation and might actually make your job situation worse.

If you’re smoking something other than cigarettes (like Mary J or crack), you might want to think twice while doing that on breaks at the office. Eventually, you will either be caught or the heavy fragrance scent in combination with your behaviors will give you away.

If you’re really concerned over the smell of smoke lingering on your person, you may want to consider switching to vaping. I know that vaping has recently come under fire for deaths related to cannabidiol (CBD) use. Don’t use CBD… and especially, don’t use black market CBD formulations which may contain dangerous substances. You shouldn’t be using CBD at the office, anyway. Instead, choose a reputable brand of vaping oil that contains the same amount of nicotine as in a cigarette. Vaping doesn’t impart the cigarette burning smell onto your clothing. Alternatively, you could also opt to wear a NicoDerm nicotine patch while at the office or by using Nicorette gum. These are alternatives that don’t impart cigarette smoke smell or the need to mask that odor with fragrance. Patches can be hidden under clothing and gum can be chewed without anyone questioning it.

I don’t recommend the use of smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco or snuff as these tend to stain teeth and give you away even without smelling of smoke. These products also impart a smell on you that’s separate from smoke, but still distinctly smells of tobacco.

Cologne or Perfume as a Gift?

If you receive the gift of fragrance from your boss or an executive of the company, this complicates matters. To solve this complication, wear the fragrance once or twice, making sure you pass by the person who gave you the fragrance. You might even stop and thank them for it. This shows you wear it and like it. This assumes you actually like the fragrance. If you don’t like the fragrance, don’t wear it. Once or twice is enough to show them you enjoy their gift. After that, don’t wear it in the office. If they ask you why you aren’t wearing it, explain that you prefer not to wear fragrances while at work, but assure them that you do wear it when out of the office.

If you’re the type who likes to give fragrances as gifts to co-workers or subordinates, please rethink that gift. Instead, choose a scarf, nice pen or some other non-scented item that might be useful at the office. Gifting fragrance to another employee puts them on the spot to wear it around you and in the office. Don’t put another employee on the spot like this. Gifting fragrances is also a touchy subject. You may gift them a fragrance they can’t actually wear. Some fragrances don’t work with certain body chemistry. Choose a different gift item that doesn’t involve fragrance.

The Subjective Nature of Fragrance

It’s also very important to understand that the pleasantness or unpleasantness of a scent is in the eye of the beholder (or more specifically, in the nose). What that means is that while you may find a scent pleasing, those around you may not. Because of the subjective nature of scents and because scents are worn on the body, it’s actually very difficult to tell someone their fragrance smells bad. It’s usually taken as a personal insult by the fragrance wearer. It’s not that we’re insulting you, we’re telling you that the fragrance you’re wearing smells bad. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the scent. Yet, most fragrance wearers can’t make that distinction and, instead, take it as a personal attack. If someone in your workplace tells you your fragrance smells bad, you need to reconsider using that fragrance in the future. That’s all we’re saying. In fact, it should give you pause to reconsider wearing fragrance at all, but especially not in the office.

You can keep a bottle in your purse and put it on immediately after your shift is over. That’s fine. But, don’t wear any while at the office to avoid a myriad of problems, the least of which being told that your fragrance sucks.

Application

Many people don’t fundamentally understand how to apply cologne or perfume. You don’t apply the scent all over your body. You apply it to two spots on your inner wrist pulse point next to the hand. You then apply it in one more spot on your skin, perhaps behind the ears or on your lower neck / top of the chest. That’s it. Perfumes and colognes are strong. You don’t need much to make a point.

They will wear down over time, yes. Some wear down faster than others, but you don’t need to wear much at all. If you’re intending to wear fragrance at the office (hint: don’t), these three spots are enough. Don’t put it on your clothing at all. It will never wear off of your clothing and it will remain too pungent. Clothing, no. Limited skin application, fine.

This, of course, is how you apply fragrance. This section doesn’t intend to imply you should wear fragrance to the office. No. This is simply how to apply it. You still shouldn’t wear any fragrance into the office when in a professional office building setting. Wearing no fragrance at all is your best choice for staying out of trouble. Let your soap’s fragrance be the only fragrance that you wear.

HR Complaints

If enough people in your office truly don’t like the scent you’ve chosen, they will complain to HR. At some point, you will be confronted by someone on the HR team or your manager regarding this matter. That’s inevitable.

By wearing heavy scents, you may actually be forcing your company to rewrite its employee handbook. As more and more staff abuse wearing heavy fragrances while at the office, complaints will eventually force HR to retaliate by creating a no-scent policy while in the office. Because offices are communal places, we all must work together in relative harmony. If one person seeks to defy that harmony by wearing an obnoxious, overpowering scent, expect to hear about it… regardless of your personal reasons for wearing it.

Finally, you shouldn’t attempt to attract mates while performing your work at the office. Your off time and after hours can be spent in pursuit of a partner, but when at the office, your time should be spent using your hired skill to solve business problems, not distracting others around you by wearing abhorrent fragrances.

Fragrance Free Workplace Policy

If you work for a Human Resources team or a Facilities team at your employer, please consider implementing a Fragrance Free Workplace policy at your place of business. You can’t control a leased building’s ventilation system, but you can control the air quality from your employees and visitors. There’s no need to complicate your hiring and retention process by allowing employees to wear fragrances at the office. If you need an example of how to write such a policy, please check out this Fragrance Free Workplace template from the American Lung Association.

To close this article, let me talk for a moment about sharing. If you work around a fragrance wearer and you have been suffering from a horrible scent or allergies from that fragrance, I feel your pain. That’s why I decided to write this article. I’ve been there, done that. This author gives permission to share this article with any co-worker to give them a strong hint and discuss why wearing fragrance isn’t appropriate at the office. If you work in an HR team, you also have this author’s permission to freely share a link to this article or to link back to this article when writing internal correspondence for your employees.

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Perfect Sushi Rice from the Microwave

Posted in cooking, howto, kitchen, tips by commorancy on December 9, 2019

sushi-rolls-2.jpgCan Sushi rice be cooked in the microwave? Yes, it certainly can. But, you do need the correct cooking tool. Let’s explore.

Electric Rice Cookers?

There are plenty of rice cookers on the market, including those very expensive electric cookers you can get in Japanese or Chinese markets. Do you need one of these very expensive cookers to cook rice? No, you do not… particularly if you already own a microwave.

The difficulty with electric rice cookers and (in general) cooking rice using heat sources is that it bakes much of the rice (and that starchy glue) onto the container surface, wasting at least some of the rice. Sometimes, even a portion may become overcooked or burned while much of the rice is just fine. However, if you cook rice in the microwave using an appropriate rice cooker, you will get 100% of the cooked rice out of the pot. Some Sushi rices can be very expensive, so throwing away a portion in the trash due to the cooking method is wasteful and expensive.

Additionally, cleaning up heated rice cookers is quite tedious. Because of the baked on starches which act like glue, it can be almost impossible to clean up this glued on starchy mess. Soaking is the usual method. How do you avoid the messy cleanup? Use a microwave cooker.

Microwave Rice Cooker

When using the microwave to cook anything, you need to use the correct cookware. You can’t just slap rice and water into a random bowl and hope for the best. You’ll end up not only with a gluey mess all over the interior of your microwave, the rice won’t actually cook properly.

Sistema Rice CookerYou definitely need to choose and use the correct cookware. For cooking rice in the microwave, I suggest this Sistema Rice Cooker a-arrow. This rice cooker cooks about 2-3 cups of rice at a time. You may only be able to cook up to 4 servings in this microwave cooker. If you need to cook a larger amount of rice than this, you may need to choose a different cooker. This is where the electric cooker sizes can be a benefit.

You’ll also want to read the instructions for this rice cooker with regards to top lid orientation. This rice cooker has two lids: an interior lid and an exterior lid. This design helps prevent some boil over. It’s not a perfect design, but it does work decently if you align the two lids in the appropriate fashion. Read the instructions for proper lid alignment.

To put this in perspective, 1 cup of uncooked Sushi rice yields enough cooked rice to produce 3 large sized California rolls or at least double this number of smaller rolls.

You don’t want to overload the cooker with too much rice or you’ll end up with a microwave mess. Speaking of …

Microwaves

How well this Sistema Rice Cooker works depends heavily on your microwave’s wattage. You’ll want a microwave of about 1000 watts. This is optimal wattage to cook rice without risk of a huge microwave mess (or worse). Wattage of 1200-1500 risks burning, melting, overcooking, boil-overs and huge starchy and sticky messes. Let’s understand why.

A 1000 watt microwave boils the rice just the right amount on max power. This means that while there might be a little dripping that comes from the cooker, it’s easily cleaned up. A 1200-1500 watt microwave will much more vigorously boil the water causing boil-overs. A high wattage can also cause the water to boil dry in the container risking a fire hazard or even melting the plastic of the cooker. You don’t want this.

Stick to a wattage that works properly for rice. You can use a 1200-1500 watt microwave as long as you set the power level to 7 or 8. It will take longer to cook, but it prevents boil-overs or the possibility for drying the rice out.

If you have the choice of a 1000 watt microwave, you’ll be happier with the final results. I’ve personally tested 1000 watt microwaves and 1500 watt microwaves. I prefer the 1000 watt microwave for cooking rice in the Sistema.

Rinsing Rice

When cooking sushi rice, you always need to rinse the rice of starches. This is an important step for this microwave cooker. Don’t skip it. You’ll need a good strainer to hold the rice while you successively performing a soaking rinse of the rice multiple times. The water won’t ever become perfectly clear while rinsing, but it will become much more clear than the first time. You want to ensure you get a good amount of the starch off the rice to avoid starch overload in the cooker. There will always be a certain amount of starch build up, but rinsing will reduce this problem.

Timing for White Sushi Rice

To cook Sushi rice properly in the microwave, you need to understand a little about rices. All rice cooks at about the same rate, but timing may have to be adjusted a little due to variances in dryness and the rice type.

Sushi rice cooks properly when using the following rice to water ratio:

  • 1 cup rice to a tad more than 1¾ cups water.

In fact, most white rice follows this same ratio in the Sistema Rice Cooker. However, brown rice will take longer to cook and will need a full 2 cups of water. For this article, I will focus on white sushi rice. If you intend to cook brown sushi rice, you will need to use a full 2 cups of water and it will need a longer cook time. You will need to experiment on timing for brown rices. I’m not a fan of brown rice, so I don’t have a definitive cooking formula for it.

Cooking time for white Sushi Rice is 13 minutes and 30 seconds. Not all Microwaves are identical even with the same wattage. So, you may need to adjust this timing a little. It may take less time or it make take longer depending on the results at the end. If you find that your rice overboils, your microwave may provide higher wattage than 1000, even if it states it is 1000 watts. You may need to lower the power setting on your microwave if you find that it boils over.

Once the microwave cooking cycle has completed, the cooking is not yet complete. Remove the Sistema Rice Cooker from the microwave and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This will allow the rice to soak up any remaining water. Resist the urge to open the cooker to take a quick look. Allow the rice to remain in the cooker unopened for the full 5 minutes. You may need to tip the cooker just a little over your sink to allow any collected water on the top to run off into the sink. You can even wipe it down with a towel if it’s a bit too messy.

If you are using older rice, it may be drier than fresh rice. This means a longer resting cycle after cooking. For extremely old rice, you may need to allow the rice to rest for at least 15 minutes undisturbed. It will cool down, yes, but it will give time for the water to soak in fully to the core. If you don’t like how the rice feels at the end of 15 minutes, try cooking the rice longer by 1-2 minutes. However, you may need to add a bit more water for this extra cooking time.

Rice Brand

While there are many short grain sushi rices available for sale, this author prefers Nishiki brand sushi ricea-arrow. This rice always cooks well, tastes great and makes awesome Nigiri and rolls. You can choose whichever brand you prefer, but it’s worth trying Nishiki brand as I’ve never made bad sushi using this rice.

Consistency

If Sushi Rice is cooked properly at the end of the cooking cycle, the rice should not have liquid water visible in the container. The rice on top will show empty holes and spaces between some of the grains. When you use a rice paddle to move the rice around, it will have a sticky appearance and clump a bit, but it should not have any loose water in the container. It should appear exactly like any other Sushi rice from any other cooker. If the rice still has liquid around it, you’ve added to much water. If the rice is too dry, you didn’t add enough water.

The rice should be moist, but also a bit sticky. Once you add rice vinegar seasoning for sushi, it will add some liquid back to the rice. The rice should have a good bite, but still be fully cooked through. You can taste test it after the 5 minutes resting period. If there is any crunch in the rice, it’s not cooked enough. A crunchy center may indicate old rice. You may need to extend your cooking time in 30 second increments to allow for full hydration of the rice. If you can’t get rid of the crunchy center, you may need to toss that rice and buy fresh rice.

Now that you have your perfectly cooked sushi rice, you’re ready to create your favorite Nigiri, sushi rolls or even your favorite Donburi. Just don’t forget to season your rice with Seasoned Rice Vinegara-arrow before making your sushi.

Cleanup

Cleaning this plastic rice cooker is a breeze so long as you do it quickly. Some warm water, dish soap and a sponge is all you need to wash it off. I highly recommend using unscented dish soapa-arrow when washing plastic to avoid tainting plastics with unnecessary perfumes. Perfumed dish soaps can leech into plastic and impart bad flavors to foods when cooked using plastic cookware. I also strongly recommend cooking ONLY rice in this rice cooker. To preserve this cooker and avoid tainting your rice, refrain from cooking foods or other savory flavored and spiced foods in this cooker, buy and use a different microwave container. Spicy and highly flavored foods, like perfumes, can impart bad flavors into your rice. Avoid this by using this cooker for rice only.

I also highly recommend washing this cooker immediately after removing the rice from the tub while the cooker is still sticky. Don’t wait until it dries on. If you wait, you’ll have to soak it to get it off. If you wash it immediately after cooking, it’s much faster and easier cleanup.

Happy Cooking!

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Holiday Shopping Tip: GameStop Closures

Posted in bankruptcy, best practices, botch, business, retail, video gaming by commorancy on December 9, 2019

GameStopLiquidationBeware of shopping at GameStop during the 2019 holiday season. Like the Toys R Us closure shopping tips I wrote during the 2018 Toys R Us closure, this same set of rules now applies to GameStop. GameStop presently plans to close at least 200 stores this year alone, and who knows how many more stores will close in 2020?  *shrug* They could end up closing all stores under bankruptcy. You should proceed with your holiday shopping as if GameStop is completely closing every store. After all, they very likely will completely close based on how quickly these closures have been coming. You also don’t know if they will close the store where you plan to purchase your items. As a consumer shopping tip, let this be a warning to not shop stores under imminent closure. Let’s explore.

Store Closures

GameStop is now proceeding with many store closures during this 2019 holiday season. Why is this important to you? Because if you’re a regular customer there, you will need to reconsider ANY holiday shopping at this chain. Let’s highlight a few problems with shopping at stores where threat of closure is imminent.

Even if your local GameStop doesn’t yet know about its own closure, that doesn’t mean that that store won’t be closed just a week or two later. Let’s understand the very real dangers of buying from a chain under imminent threat of closure… particularly during the ever important holiday shopping season. Don’t get duped by this company. There are also too many other stores where this holiday video game shopping problem doesn’t exist.

  1. Returns — Buying even a week before the store puts up a “Store Liquidation” banner may invalidate your ability to return a purchased item to that (or any) store if your item is defective. GameStop isn’t a store known for its ethical business practices already. Because you purchased that item from a store targeted for closure, any sales you made there may end up becoming “All Sales Final”. Will other stores honor that closed store’s receipt? That’s questionable. Again, GameStop isn’t the most ethical store chain out there. Corporate could tell all other stores which remain open to reject returns from stores which are in the process of closing or have already closed.
  2. Game Reserves — GameStop allows consumers to place “money down” as a deposit to hold a game (or other merchandise) until it finally arrives for sale. If you have any money reserved for any upcoming games or any other items, you will need to head over to the store and ask for a refund of that money as quickly as you possibly can. You should insist on having that money returned in the form of cash or as a refund to your credit card. Do not fall for allowing the staff to place the money onto a gift card. I’ll discuss the reasons why Gift Cards are a bad idea next. If you have any $5, $10 or $25 reserves left standing, you will lose that money when the store closes. They will not transfer that money to another store or refund it to you after closure. Even still, you DO NOT want to request a transfer of your reserves to another store as that other store could also close. Request your reserve deposits to be returned to you in cash, never on a store card.
  3. Store Gift Cards — Proceed here as if the whole GameStop chain is closing. DO NOT purchase any gift cards from GameStop at this time. When stores begin closing, they tend to no longer honor ANY locally purchased gift cards or indeed honor any money left on gift cards. Laws in some states may still require GameStop to honor cards as long as even 1 outlet remains open. However, that may mean you might need to travel hundreds of miles to redeem it. Though, you may or may not be able to redeem it on GameStop.com. If you have any remaining store gift card credit for GameStop, you need to run, don’t walk, to your nearest GameStop which is still open and use it up on purchasing anything in that store, assuming they haven’t yet invalidated gift cards. This is a situation of use-it-or-lose it. Note that store credit can also be placed onto GameStop’s PowerUp loyalty card. So be sure to double check that no credit remains on that card either. Again, proceed here as if the chain is closing. Don’t risk your money on GameStop store gift cards.
  4. Gift Purchases — Don’t consider purchasing any merchandise from GameStop which will be used as a gift unless you are absolutely certain that you fully understand that neither you nor the gift receiver WILL be able to return that item to GameStop once that local store closes (and it probably will). When purchasing a gift for someone else, you’ll want to ensure they can return that gift to a retailer for replacement or refund. Choose a retailer that still plans on being in business January 1 of next year.
  5. GameStop Rewards Points — As with any store that starts store closure proceedings (a precursor to bankruptcy), one of the first things that is dumped is loyalty cards and point programs. As of now, GameStop has not yet fully disbanded or dumped its loyalty card program, but they have recently reduced it. If you have any remaining points, you will need to use them up pronto by using the Rewards app to convert points into store credit and using that store credit as fast as you can. You can’t ask for rewards points be converted to cash, but you can use these points towards in-store merchandise. Again, this is a use-it-or-lose it situation. Proceed as if ALL of GameStop is closing and use up any remaining rewards points you have outstanding in your rewards account. It’s very likely this rewards program will be cancelled soon, so do this as fast as you read this article. As of this article, GameStop’s rewards system is still functioning (Dec 8, 2019).
  6. In-Store Warranties — Do not purchase ANY GameStop store warranties (or any other store chain’s store warranty) when under threat of closure. If you presently own an in-store warranty with GameStop, you may want to call your local GameStop to inquire how future service will be handled if your store closes. But, be fully prepared to have the manager not give you all the information you need. If the warranty you’ve purchased is through a third party, like SquareTrade, these warranties should remain in effect until they expire. However, any warranties sold and honored solely by GameStop are likely to become null-and-void after closure. You shouldn’t rely on what a manager tells you about its current store warranty programs as they may not have all information about GameStop’s full store closure plans.
  7. Disc Replacement Plan — This is GameStop’s own in-store disc warranty plan. They allow one replacement per plan. If you have any games under this plan, you should take advantage of this plan and replace your discs. This plan is very likely to not be honored after the store closes… not even by stores that remain open. You may also find that stores that remain open are too far away to take advantage. If you buy a game from GameStop and are offered this in-store plan, refuse it. It’s a waste of money for a store chain under threat of closure.
  8. Defective Items — If you have any purchases you’ve already made with GameStop and you intend to return defective items, do it now. Don’t wait. You should also call the store where you plan to return to make sure they are not already in liquidation closure. If they are already liquidating, they have likely suspended returns. You will then need to locate another store location that isn’t presently under closure to return your item. Be quick, though. That store might get the word to close down at any time.

Store Liquidations

In concert with the above, you may be able to pick up a marked-down deal or two in your local store if it is closing. However, proceed with caution here. Know that whatever you purchase is likely “All Sales Final”. It may even say that on the receipt. If it does, you WILL NOT be able to return any purchased items to this or any other store that remains open.

If you intend shopping for holiday gift giving during a liquidation sale, I strongly recommend not. Unless you know the person receiving the gift never returns items, it is never a smart choice to shop store liquidations for holiday gift giving. The person receiving the gift will likely not be able to return the item to the store. However, if it’s a video game system, you may be able to get warranty work performed through the manufacturer (or SquareTrade if you bought such a plan).

Clothing and apparel items, while also not returnable, are likely safe choices during a liquidation if these items are for your own personal use. However, again, when purchasing for gift giving, you need to make sure that the person you’re planning on gifting the item to understands that they cannot return the item to a store which has since closed. I’ve said this several times throughout this article, but it’s always worth saying again. Choose gift giving items carefully and from stores that plan to remain in business.

GameStop Closing

It is as yet unknown how many stores will ultimately close. It is also unknown if GameStop will honor returns in any stores that remain open on behalf of the closed stores that sold that merchandise. As I said, GameStop’s ethics and business practices have always been questionable at best. GameStop is not required to honor receipts for merchandise sold in now closed stores. Be cautious when doing business with GameStop throughout the holiday season for this reason alone.

You should proceed with your holiday purchases as if the entirety of GameStop is closing. Better, don’t even shop there. However, if you have store credit, gift cards or rewards coming to you, you will want to use that store credit up as fast as possible. Know, though, that anything you purchase may not be returnable.

If you want to give a gift card to someone that could be used at GameStop, you should buy a Visa, MasterCard or American Express branded card where that credit can be used at any store that accepts these credit cards. Do not buy a GameStop store gift card as the store may not exist by the time the person gets around to using the card and other stores may not honor that gift card’s credit.

GameStop Exclusive Items

Here’s the one and only one place where I recommend purchasing items from stores which are closing. GameStop has exclusive controllers and toys. Because these exclusives only exist at GameStop, you’ll want to quickly get there and buy those exclusives. Once this chain closes, it may be difficult to locate these exclusives again. You won’t be able to return these items, but you also won’t be able to find them after the stores are closed. GameStop exclusives are really the only investments that are worth the purchase during store liquidation sales.

Laws and Closures

While there are laws about how retail business must act while in business, once a business begins closing locations, some of these laws become murky. For example, one such murky situation is Gift Cards. When you buy a store gift card and a store goes bankrupt, you become an unsecured creditor to the company’s bankruptcy proceedings behind shareholders. This means that if any money is forthcoming from bankruptcy liquidation, it will be distributed to those ahead of unsecured creditors first. What that ultimately means is that gift card holders likely won’t see any money back.

Instead, if you have a gift card to a store in imminent danger of closure or bankruptcy, you should immediately head to the store and use that gift card while they still honor them. Don’t wait on this one.

GameStop hasn’t announced any bankruptcy proceedings as yet, but that could still be just a matter of time. Right now, GameStop is performing self-closures in hope of righting their financially listing ship. That doesn’t mean that closing these stores will ultimately succeed in this goal, but that’s their hope. Cutting out stores immediately cuts their losses, but may cost them money in paying out long term leases for stores which close. These lease payouts may push the chain over the top towards full bankruptcy.

Duping Holiday Shoppers

It is rumored that GameStop’s holiday store closure game plan is to rope in as many unsuspecting holiday sales while the remaining stores remain open. Yet, when January 1 rolls around, it seems this chain plans to have a massive set of store closures. This action alone will thwart holiday returns. This means that you may literally be left holding your holiday bag from GameStop. Once stores close for good on December 31st, it typically means that this chain was simply in it to dupe consumers out of their holiday money without any possibility for returns.

Don’t get suckered in by GameStop’s less than ethical business practices. Choose to shop for your gaming needs at stores without imminent closures, such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Amazon. At least with these latter stores, they will remain in business come January 1 allowing you to return any items that are defective or were simply awful holiday gifts.

Best Judgement

When a store chain begins closing down stores, it’s always worth using your best judgement. Most of what I have written above is pretty much shopping common sense, IF you know that stores are closing. For those oblivious to the woes of a chain not in the best of financial condition, this may be a wake-up call and warning.

When a store chain is under threat of closure, you should always heed this same exact advice as above. Avoid buying from the chain, if at all possible. During the holiday season, it can be tempting to visit any store because you may be having trouble finding a video gaming item. Don’t be temped. Choose Best Buy, Amazon, Target or Walmart before heading to a GameStop. Nothing is more disheartening than gifting an item to someone only to realize that it was the wrong item and it can’t be returned.

While heeding this consumer advice won’t help GameStop turn itself around, they brought this situation on themselves (which is a rant for another day). When stores begin to close, you lose your ability to exercise certain fundamental store rights (like store returns, gift cards, loyalty programs and so on). Once a chain begins to have financial troubles, it’s usually a downward spiral that doesn’t end. Not shopping there helps them fail faster, but it’s better to be safe with your holiday dollars than throw it away on a store where you have no recourse and no returns.

Good Luck and Happy and Safe Holiday Shopping!

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Top 10 gripes for Fallout 76

Posted in advice, botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 8, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032

You’re thinking of buying Fallout 76? You’ve rationalized, “It’s only a game, how bad can it be?” Let’s explore the top 10 gripes for why Fallout 76 may not be the best game purchase in 2019.

Number 10 — It’s not a new game

This game was released over a year ago in October of 2018. It’s over a year old already. Games typically have a 1 year lifespan of relevance before losing steam. The useful lifetime of this game is already waning and the clock is now ticking down on this game. Bethesda knows it, the industry knows it and gamers know this. You could invest your money into this game and find in 5 months that Bethesda has decided to pull the plug. For this reason alone, I’d be cautious in investing time in building a character.

Bethesda RPG-like games usually take months to fully play through. You might not even see all of the endgame content before Bethesda pulls the plug. Though, you can most certainly get through the main quest line before then, as short as the main quest is. Keep in mind, however, that because it’s an online game, there’s no local save file on your computer. If Bethesda pulls the plug, all of your characters and the work you’ve spent building them will disappear.

Number 9 — Multiplayer Game Modes

If you’re solely looking at the purchase of Fallout 76 for its multiplayer player-vs-player (PVP) game modes, you might want to think again. There are only three multiplayer modes in Fallout 76:

  1. Native (Workshop and Adventure)
  2. Hunter / Hunted Radio
  3. Battle Royale

Native PVP

None of the 3 PVP modes are particularly well designed and none of them fit into the Fallout universe and actually make sense. This first mode, “Native”, requires two people to initiate this mode through a handshaking process. One person fires on another. The second person must fire back to complete the PVP handshaking and launch into PVP mode. The problem is, there’s no fun to be had in this PVP mode and it’s rarely, if ever, used. Most players in adventure mode are there to explore and play PVE, not to get into PVP battles. So, be cautious when trying to elicit a PVP action from another player.

The second half of the PVP mode is at Workshops. If you claim a workshop, the handshaking mode is disabled and the entirety of the workshop area becomes an active PVP zone. Once you own a workshop, anyone can come into the workshop and begin PVP with you or your team. It’s the same PVP as the version that requires handshaking, except there is no handshaking.

Speaking of teams, be cautious when teaming up with other players. It only takes one player in a team to begin PVP with another player. Once that happens, the entire team becomes vulnerable to PVP with that player (and anyone on a team with that player). No warnings are issued by the game to other team players when one team member begins PVP activities with another player.

Hunter / Hunted Radio

The second game mode, “Hunter / Hunted Radio” requires you open a radio station on the in-game Pip boy (heads up display giving access to your inventory, weapons, armor, etc). This “radio station” links you into a matchmaking mode that allows up to 4-5 players in a given radius to begin PVP activities. As the name suggest, it’s about hunting for other players all while being hunted yourself. It’s also a sort of ‘Last Man Standing’ mode in that whichever player ends up with the most kills gets the most rewards.

Both of the above listed game modes are effectively “death match” style PVP. That means that it’s solely about player characters killing one another… which then comes down to which player has the best and strongest armor and weapons. Both of these styles rapidly elicit boredom because “death match” is the oldest and weakest type of PVP mode there is and is simply about killing other player characters.

This PVP also makes no sense within Fallout 76 where all of the people who lived in Vault 76 were supposed to remain civil and friendly towards one another. Not even the game setup or later found holotapes reveal any story aspect of people in Vault 76 turning on one another before “Reclamation Day”. If that had been a story element, then perhaps the PVP might have made some sense. But, no. The holotapes found almost ALL tie into the Scorched threat or other similar environmental survival threats (bad water, radiation, etc). None of the holotapes discuss bad blood between the residents within Vault 76. If that had been true, the “Reclamation Day Party” the night before would have ended in bloodshed before the vault even opened.

Nuclear Winter — Battle Royale

The third PVP activity is separated from the above because it arrived much later in 2019. At the same time it is a merely a weak copy of other better implemented Battle Royale games, which are currently “trending” in the game industry. Bethesda added this game mode, not because it made sense to Fallout 76 (or the Fallout universe), but because it is so popular in other popular game franchises, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s simply Bethesda’s attempt at a cash grab in an industry being inundated by other better Battle Royale based games.

Battle Royale is nothing new. It is a game mode that has been around since the early days of PVP. However, games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have turned this mode into hugely successful franchises. This mode is another “Last Man Standing” mode which is simply an alternative version of “Death Match.” In this death match style game, instead of people picking off one another and continually respawning until the clock runs out, you only get one try to win. This means that once your character has been killed, you can only watch the action unfold for the remaining active players. The point of any Battle Royale mode is to survive as long as you can and possibly become the “last man standing”.

With Fortnite and Apex Legends, it’s not so much about being Battle Royale, it’s more about the game makers crafting the game using interesting characters using gimmicks (building forts) with interesting attack modes. It’s about finding a character who has the “best” attack in the game. This means you can bring in experience earned and weapons owned back into the game to use over and over.

Why is all of this important to Bethesda’s “Battle Royal”? Because Bethesda chooses to allow nothing into its Battle Royale mode. All experience earned is earned explicitly within this game mode. But, even that experience doesn’t matter. Any weapons you may have used or armor you may have found cannot be used in subsequent plays. You must ALWAYS find weapons and armor in the game once it begins. Even then, it’s all random what you find. The chests generate random weapons, armor and loot. It could be good loot or it could be bad. Since you have no idea what you might or might not find, you’re at the mercy of the game to outfit you while you’re in the game. All the while, the clock is ticking.

You’re never given enough time to really outfit your character in a useful fashion. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time hiding from other players and, hopefully, finding decent armor and weapons in the loot chests. Some Battle Royale games offer this “loot chest” idea, like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Unfortunately this game concept fails to work in a game like Fallout 76 where the entire point of playing Fallout 76 is to gain experience, weapons and armor over time. Having to “start over fresh” every time you play is, unfortunately, tedious.

Ignoring the nonsensical nature of this game mode even being IN Fallout 76, Nuclear Winter is boring. Even after one playthrough, it’s the same every time. Hide, search, outfit, stay alive. In fact, in this game mode, if you actively attempt to go looking for other players to kill, your character is more likely to be killed. To survive in this game mode, you need to remain hidden until the ever enclosing “ring of fire” gets too small to ignore any other players.

Additionally, any earned experience in “Nuclear Winter” is not carried into the “Adventure Mode” of Fallout 76. Everything in Nuclear Winter is for Nuclear Winter and vice versa. These modes are mutually exclusive.

Considering that Apex Legends and Fortnite are free-to-play, buying Fallout 76 solely to play Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter game mode is a waste of money. Go get the free Fortnite or Apex Legends or buy into Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds which do Battle Royale mode much, MUCH better. Bethesda would have done better to separate Nuclear Winter into a separate, standalone, free-to-play game… not tied to Fallout 76. I might even suggest retheming it either as its own franchise or theme it under a franchise more known for multiplayer games, such as Doom or Wolfenstein.

But… don’t run out and buy Fallout 76 strictly for Nuclear Winter. It’s too expensive for as weak as this game mode’s design is. If you already own the game, then it’s worth trying.

Number 8 — Holotape Hunt

This game has categorically been chastised for its lack of NPCs. And… that criticism is rightly justified. All previous Fallout games have been HEAVILY centered around NPCs and their dilemmas. To yank a mainstay out of a Fallout game means to yank out its very heart-and-soul and its reason to exist. The reason players play Fallout and Skyrim is because of the sometimes heart wrenching stories of its human NPC inhabitants.

In Fallout 76, because there are no human NPCs, save Super Mutants and a bunch of robots, the game is devoid of ANY interactivity with other NPCs. Instead, the game’s primary story sees you hunt down a trail of pre-recorded holotapes to “listen” to a bunch of canned messages and read random text on computer terminals. Worse, many of these holotapes open up quests that you are required to complete, yet the holotapes are way too short to really give the player any sense of urgency. Indeed, the holotape has likely been sitting by a dead body for months, if not years already. How can there be any sense of urgency around listening to something that’s been sitting there that long? In fact, whatever that dead person may have been doing to prompt that tape is likely long over and done.

Worse, sitting around listening to holotapes as a matter of story course, then reading text on a bunch of terminals is entirely boring. Storytelling, particularly in video games, should be done by interactive characters, not by text on a screen or pre-recorded audio tapes. In fact, such a storytelling tactic thwarts the point of even using a video game to tell a story. This isn’t the early 80s when Zork was the best that computers could achieve, it’s the days of Call of Duty when it’s all about realistic cinematic 3D character storytelling. Yet, the best Bethesda can come up with is effectively what we got in a game from the 80s?

Number 7 — Shorter Than Expected

While there are a wide number of side quests, events and tertiary activities, the main quests total 22. Considering that previous Fallout installments had way more than this number for its main quests, this is a sad number for Fallout 76. In fact, if you solely focus on just these 22 quests, you can probably get through all of them within a week or two at most. Note, most of this time is spent grinding up levels and gaining resources to ensure you can complete some of the quests properly and, of course, survive.

Number 6 — Eating, Drinking, Diseases & Weapon and Armor Breakage

To extend the amount of time you play Fallout 76, Bethesda has implemented some, at least they think, clever time extending mechanisms. Mechanisms such as eating, drinking, diseases and then there’s weapon and armor breaking frequently. The point to adding these mechanisms is less about realism and more about making you grind, grind, grind to keep your character from dying. Sure, in real life we do have to eat and drink. We’ll also have to repair armor.

These mechanisms in Fallout 76 are implemented poorly. For example, water consumption is entirely too frequent. You will find you have to consume water and food at least once per hour of play. No one eats food that frequently. You might sip water over the course of the day, but you don’t drink the amount of water they force your character to drink at every interval.

Worse, if water consumption drops too low, the penalty is reduced action points. Action points aren’t even a concept in real life. This is where the realism ultimately ends. It is also where it becomes apparent that the point to why Bethesda added these unnecessary additions comes into play. It’s not about realism, it’s about extending the time it takes you to play the game. Indeed, it can and does slow you down. Instead of actual, you know, questing, you’re not forced to forage for food, water and resources to keep your weapons and armor repaired and keep your character from dying. That’s not survival, that’s stupidity.

Worse, it’s all manual. To eat and drink, you are forced to stop and perform a manual task. There is no perk card that automatically consumes marked favorite foods whenever it gets too low. No, it’s all manual. In the middle of a fight? Too bad, now you have to open a menu and consume some food. Forgot to mark it as a favorite? Now you have deep dive into a bunch of slow menus in the middle of a battle. Yeah, not fun.

Number 5 — Menu System / Lack of Pause

As was discussed immediately above, the menu system is clumsy, cumbersome and dated. As I was talking about Zork from the 80s, that’s how this game feels. Like it was designed in the 80s for an 80s audience. Fallout 76 doesn’t in any way feel modern.

When you’re in the heat of battle (and because this is a multiplayer game that doesn’t allow for pausing), if you want to change weapons or swap armor, it’s a laborious process involving a convoluted set of menus.

Sure, there’s a wheel you can plant your favorites, but that’s limited and must be used for ALL items in the game. This means this small menu wheel is overloaded with food, clothing, aid, armor and weapons. You don’t have separate wheels for weapons, armor and food… which this game desperately needs.

While the PipBoy seems like a great idea, in practice and for a game UI, it really sucks for quick access when in a multiplayer non-pausable environment. For Fallout 4 where pause was a mainstay, thus allowing you time to think and swap, in Fallout 76 the PipBoy’s UI system entirely fails the player and Fallout 76.

Number 4 — Scorched and Broken Canon

With Fallout 76, Bethesda introduces a new enemy into the Fallout universe. The Scorched. However, this enemy addition doesn’t really make any sense at all. Fallout 76 is a prequel to Fallout 4. If the Scorched existed in Fallout 76, they very likely made their way to from Virginia to Boston in Fallout 4. After all, Scorchbeasts fly. This is where Bethesda breaks its own canon and lore simply to create new games.

There are a number of places where Bethesda has broken canon in the Fallout universe, the biggest faux pas being the Scorched. So, let’s focus on the Scorched. Even after you complete the game’s main quest (which is supposed rid Appalachia of the Scorched), the game remains status quo and unchanged with regards to Scorchbeast Queens, Scorchbeasts and even Scorched… which continue to reappear. The player following the Scorched quest line does nothing to resolve the Scorched plague… which doubly means that the Scorched should have made their way to Boston to appear in Fallout 4. Yet, they inexplicably don’t. And, it’s not like Bethesda couldn’t have rolled a Fallout 4 update to apply retroactively continuity to add the Scorched information into Fallout 4 and make the universe consistent. Nope, Bethesda didn’t do this.

So, now we have Fallout 76 which remains with story incongruities by introducing enemies, clothing, items and concepts which have not appeared in games that have chronologically come after Fallout 76.

Number 3 — Grind Grind Grind

While some people might think this is the number 1 problem in the game, it is not. In fact, we will come to the biggest problem in just a few, but let’s grind on with number 3.

While this one is somewhat tied to the number 1 problem, it is separate and unique. But, it is not at all unique to this genre of game. Developers seem to think that grind, grind, grinding your way through the game is somehow fun. It’s a mistaken thought rationale. While grinding does extend the length of time it takes to play the game, we gamers can see right through that charade. We know when game developers have added grinding for the sake of grinding and not for the purposes of general game exploration.

There’s a fine line between grinding to complete a quest and grinding because you have to play the subgame of surprise grab bag to locate the best weapons, armor and loot in the game.

Purveyor Murmrgh is the poster child of everything wrong with not only grinding within Fallout 76, it also bookends and highlights this major industry problem across the RPG genre, but also of video gaming in general.

fallout-76_20191207153431.jpgSlogging through the same pointless battles over and over just to gain “currency” to play the Loot Bag Lottery is not in any way fun. That’s exactly what Purveyor Murmrgh is to Fallout 76. It is the icing on the grinding cake… but it’s more like Salmonella.

Oh, and believe me, most of the junk given out by Murmrgh is just that, junk. It’s a Junkie’s Meathook dealing 25 damage. It’s a Vampire’s Knuckles dealng 20 damage. It’s an Instigating Shovel dealing 5 damage. It’s a Vanguard’s Pipe Pistol dealing 10 damage. It’s literal junk. The only thing you can do when you’re issued this junk is turn it back in and get at least some Scrip back. Yes, you might get super lucky and get a Two Shot Gauss or a Instigating or Furious Pump Action Shotgun, but it might also take you hundreds of tries (100 Scrip per try) to get it.

Let’s understand exactly how much grinding is needed to gain the 100 Scrip required to “buy” a 3-star randomly generated legendary weapon from Murmrgh. Each 3-star legendary traded in offers 40 scrip. That means it takes three 3-star legendary weapons to gain 120 scrip and top the 100 Scrip mark. That means that it takes at least 3 Scorchbeast Queen kills to gain three 3-star legendary weapons… and that assumes she will even drop a 3-star legendary weapon every time. Hint, she doesn’t. Many 3-star legendary enemies rarely drop 3-star weapons. In fact, most drop 1 or 2 star weapons most commonly.. which you can trade in at a lesser Scrip value (see chart below). Ultimately, this means even more and more grinding just to find those ever elusive 3-star legendary weapons to turn in and gain Scrip.

You also can’t get Scrip in any other way than grinding for and “selling” Legendary loot. You can’t buy Scrip with Caps. You can’t buy Scrip with actual money (although that would be an even bigger problem for Bethesda). You can’t buy Scrip with Atom (because you can buy Atom with real money). You must grind, grind, grind your way into getting Scrip.

Here’s a table of how it all breaks down for Legendary Scrip:

Legendary Type Scrip Trade-In Value
One Star Legendary Weapon 5
Two Star Legendary Weapon 15
Three Star Legendary Weapon 40
One Star Legendary Armor 3
Two Star Legendary Armor 9
Three Star Legendary Armor 24

What this table means to a gamer is that you should expect to grind, grind, grind to find 3-star legendary weapons (which you can trade toward Scrip), versus any other type when you’re looking to get a 3 star legendary weapon out of Murmrgh any time soon. That doesn’t mean you won’t happen upon a great 1, 2 or 3-Star legendary weapon or armor along the way while grinding. But, it also means that if you want to play the Scrip Loot Box Lottery game at Murmrgh, you’re going to need to grind your way through a lot of legendary weapon drops before you get enough to visit Murmrgh. Even then, because it’s a Surprise Loot Box, you’re at the mercy of whatever crap it decides to roll the dice and give you.

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is about grinding and Bethesda’s understanding and design of its game constructs are intended for gamers to spend inordinate more amounts of time grinding than questing. Bethesda’s rationale around this is having people grinding on the game is better than not playing it at all. To some degree this may be valid, but only because there are some gamers that actually LIKE grinding. I’m not one of them. Doing forever repetitive tasks over and over is not something I want to do in an RPG, let alone in Fallout. Let’s grind on.

Number 2 — Bugs, bugs and More Bugs

This one goes without saying for Bethesda. The game industry has been in a tailspin in this area for the last 3-5 years. When the N64 was a mainstay in the home gaming, game developers did their level best to provide solid, reliable, robust, well crafted gaming experiences. Literally, these games were incredibly stable. I can’t recall a single N64 game that would randomly crash in the middle of the game. While there were logic problems that might have made games unintentionally unbeatable, the games were still rock stable.

Since then when the N64 console was popular, games have moved more and more towards hardware being driven by Microsoft’s operating systems (and also adopting Microsoft’s idea of stability), the former push towards gaming excellence has severely waned. No longer are developers interested in providing a high quality stable gaming experiences. Today, game developers are more interested in getting product out the door as fast as possible than in making sure the product is actually stable (or even finished). What this has meant to the gaming industry is that gamers have now become unwitting pawns by paying retail prices to become “Beta Testers”. Yes, you now must pay $60 to actually beta test game developer software today. Let’s bring it back to Fallout 76.

Bethesda has never been known for providing particularly stable software products in its past gaming products. Even Fallout 3 had fairly substantial bugs in its questing engine. Obsidian muddied the already murky waters of Fallout with its Fallout New Vegas installment. Obsidian is much more attuned to producing high quality stable products. This meant that many gamers probably conflate the stability imparted by Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas with Bethesda’s much buggier Fallout 3 as both games were released during a similar time frame. Fallout 4, however, can’t rely on this conflation. Fallout 4 stands on its own, for better or worse, and its bugs were (and are) readily apparent. Fallout 4 even regularly crashes back to the dashboard hard. By extension, so does Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was also born out of Fallout 4 and many bugs in Fallout 4 made their way unfixed into Fallout 76. Some of those Fallout 4 bugs are even still there!

Fallout 76 has, yet again, become an unwitting poster child for this newest trend towards cutting corners. Even though Bethesda has always provided buggy experiences, Fallout 76 is by far Bethesda’s worst. Even The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at its worst never fared this bad, even though it was not completely bug free when it first arrived and was still considered fairly beta. Fallout 76, however, was released entirely unfinished and chock full of serious bugs.

Worse, the whole lack of NPCs feels more like cutting corners than it does an active design decision. It’s like they simply couldn’t get the NPCs working day one. So, they cut them out of the mix and quickly threw together a bunch of voiceovers for holotapes and wrote a bunch of terminal entries. The bugginess and being unfinished for Fallout 76 is readily apparent, but what may not be apparent is this lack of design forethought for the (lack of) NPCs. There are even areas of the game that seem as though they were designed to have functional quests on day one, but never had anything attached. For example, Vaults 94, 51, 63 and 96.

Recently, however, Bethesda released add-ons that fill in Vault 94 and Vault 51 (sort of). Vault 51 is still unfinished in the Adventure server portion of Fallout 76, but it exists as Battle Royale (a completely separate game mode). Vault 94 is a raiding vault intended for multiplayer group play. Unfortunately, Vault 94 is entirely a disaster. Not only is the interior one of the worst designed vault interiors I’ve seen, the actual gameplay is so overloaded with unnecessary amounts enemies, it’s a chore to go in there. By ‘chore’, I mean literally. There’s so much stuff being thrown at you, the game engine can’t even properly handle it. It ends up a completely stuttery, herky-jerky gaming mess. If you can even fire your weapon timely, you’re lucky. Most times, you’re so inundated by swarms of enemies, you can’t even properly aim or fire. VATs barely even works in this “dungeon” simply due to the enemy overload.

As for vaults, 63 and 96, there’s still nothing associated with them in Adventure. It is assumed that, like Vault 94, both will become part of later group raids.

Still, there are many, many unfinished quest lines throughout Fallout 76. Not only are there many presidential ballot systems all over the wasteland, including in Harper’s Ferry and Watoga, there is also a locked presidential suite in the Whitespring Enclave bunker. Also, while there are several hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring villas, there are also many more hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring Hotel proper. This almost entirely indicates that being General in the Enclave may not have been the end of the road for the Enclave quest line. Instead, it seems the quest may have led the player to becoming President over the Wasteland. With all of the random ballot systems, it seems that you may have had to repair enough of these systems to allow vault residents to vote for you to become President using those ballot systems, thus giving you access to the Enclave’s Presidential suite. It seems Bethesda abandoned this quest idea somewhere along the way. This, in fact, may have been dependent on NPCs which were summarily stripped from the game. Without NPCs to help vote you in as President, there’s no way to actually play this quest… probably the reason it was left out of the game.

In addition to this abandoned quest line, there are the upper floors in the Whitespring hotel. The front desk Assaultron specifically says the hotel is still under refurbishment. This is, yet another, unfinished quest. You don’t build a hotel like Whitespring and then lock off half of the building as “unfinished”. These are self-autonomous robots. They can easily finish this refurbishment process… and should have finished it by now. This Whitespring Hotel part is simply more on top of the vaults that still remain locked. There are likely even more than this in the Wasteland (crashed Space Station with no explanation), but these are the ones that stand out.

And now…

Number 1 — Revisionism of Fallout 76

Here we come to the biggest foible of Fallout 76. Instead of fixing bugs, Bethesda has focused solely on revising Fallout 76. Instead of releasing a complete and functional game, the developers got to about a 45% finished state and Bethesda pushed it out the door. Unfortunately, when something is pushed out unfinished, it never does get finished.

What that means is that like what’s described in #2, too many long standing bugs remain. Instead of Bethesda focusing on knocking out the remaining bugs, they have instead diverted to “value added content”. More specifically, designing shit they can sell in the Atom shop… that and the addition of mostly pointless short term events that haven’t even dropped loot that they should have dropped. Because of all of this, this game hit the game market hard, garnered intensely negative criticism (and still does) and ended up as a huge miss with many Fallout fans. Bethesda, however, has been riding this storm of negativity in hopes they can somehow succeed.

Unfortunately, all of what Bethesda believes to be “better” for Fallout 76 has been merely temporary bandaids, without actually fixing much of the basic underlying problems. There are so many bugs in Fallout 76 from day one that remain unfixed, it’s a surprise the game actually even functions (and in many cases, it doesn’t).

Bethesda has even spent time towards targeting “fixes” for things which haven’t even been problems. For example, Bethesda has reduced the damage output of weapons that in previous Fallout installments have been some of the most powerful weapons in the game. What that means to Fallout 76 is that the game is so heavily nerfed (reduced) that it’s almost no fun to play. You go into Fallout to spend time looking for the best weapons and armor in the game. Since all of these “best” have been so heavily reduced in damage, they are no longer the best. They are, in fact, now some of the worst weapons in the game. For example, they have reduced the Two Shot Gauss rifle’s output damage to no better than a non-legendary shotgun.

This has forced the remaining gamers to perform even more rounds of grind, grind, grinding. Because now you blow through even more armor and ammo… meaning you now have to go repair everything every few plays (yes, even when you have the perk cards equipped).

And here’s even more unnecessary meddling… Bethesda has mucked with how well the perk cards work. Many cards claim up 60%-90% reduction of “whatever”. Yet, if you really do the math, it’s way, way less than that percentage. Sometimes, it’s more likely 10-15%. The cards lie on their face. Many perk cards don’t even function.. AT ALL. You can buy into a perk card stack, but some cards literally do nothing. When the cards do function, they function at much less than what the face value of the card says. The perk cards nearly all lie in some way. They are merely there as “feel good” helpers. Many of them don’t function as intended, if they function at all.

Much of this reduced functionality is because of Bethesda’s revisionism. Instead of leaving well enough alone with the cards, Bethesda has continually felt the need to tweak these cards silently without informing gamers of the changes they are making. The cards are not the only place where they have done this. Silently screwing with VATs seems to be yet another pastime of the Bethesda devs. Yes, Bethesda is sneaking in changes without letting anyone know. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply equip your Perk cards and see if they actually perform at the level they state. This all assumes that you really want to invest in this way less than mediocre game title. It’s these unnecessary changes that make this game less than stellar. It is also why this is the #1 gripe for this game.

The only thing that Bethesda’s revisionism has done for Fallout 76 is turn it into even more of a disaster than it already was. Yes, Fallout 76 is actually worse now than it was when it launched (when most of the game actually functioned as intended). Only after Bethesda began its revisionism has the game turned into junk heap. And, junk heap it is.

Bethesda continues with its revisionism in Fallout 1st (pronounced “first”), Bethesda’s monthly / yearly subscription service. You should be careful investing into this service. Considering the state of Fallout 76 today, it may not have a year of life left before Bethesda cans this game. If you’re considering purchasing a year of 1st, you may find that in 6 months, the game is shut down. How you get half of your $99 back is as yet unknown. If Fallout 76 remains in service for one more year, I’d be surprised.

Bethesda also doesn’t want to listen to what the gamers want. Instead of adding things gamers have actually requested, Bethesda has had its own agenda of questionable add-ons. Add-ons that no one has actually requested or even wanted (Distillery?). Add-ons that have added limited value back to the gamers. For example, Purveyor Murmrgh. No one wants surprise loot-crates. We want to BUY our legendary rifles already outfitted and ready to go. We want to buy legendary module add-ons so we can add legendary effects to our existing weapons and armor. We also want to be able to level our weapons up along with our player. None of this has been provided by Bethesda. All of these requests have gone unfulfilled and unanswered.

As another example of incompleteness in the game, there are 5 star slots on legendary armor and weapons. Yet, the highest amount of stars is still 3? So what gives with that? If you’re only planning to ever have 3 star weapons and armor, then remove the extra 2 unused stars as we’ll never see any 5 star weapons or armor. So many misses in this game, yet Bethesda keeps going without addressing or fixing all of these simple little problems… instead Bethesda has focused on breaking, breaking and more breaking.

The big takeaway here is be cautious with purchasing this game and be doubly cautious if you decide to purchase a 1st subscription. This game is already skating on thin ice as it is. If it lasts another year, call me surprised.

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Getting the most out of Black Friday

Posted in black friday, howto, shopping, smart by commorancy on November 29, 2019

black-friday-tagBlack Friday is a quagmire of sales prices across many stores both online and brick and mortar. It can be difficult, if not impossible to navigate your way to the best deal on any specific item. Let’s explore how to find your best deals during Black Friday.

Focus on Specific Products

While you can run to Target or Walmart or Kohl’s looking for random deals, and sometimes this can be great fun just to “see what’s out there”, if you’re looking for the best deal on a specific item, make a list of items you want. Let’s start with the elephant in the room, Electronics.

Electronics Deals

Clearly, electronics or technology items are the biggest sellers in any store during Black Friday. These include the immense flatscreen TVs, earbuds, cell phones, game consoles and even video games themselves. In fact, so many of these deals are really about splitting hairs… and here is where your best deals come.

So, what is it that’s important to you? Do you want instant savings today, this very moment or can you be satisfied with savings on a future order? Here’s where the nuances come into play.

Black Friday deals are no longer about the door buster 50% off deals. Now, many stores throw in store gift cards and additional store coupons to sweeten the deal. Ultimately, it’s not simply just getting a great percentage off, it’s about getting the most savings you can get… so take advantage. Let’s start with Target as an example.

Target’s Deals and Reward Cards

Target is a company that is out to offer savings in many different and subtle ways. If you have a Red Card (credit or debit) store loyalty card with Target, Target will automatically give you 5% off of your total purchase 365 days a year. That’s an amazing savings every single day. Better, this savings stacks with all sales deals which offers you even more savings. This is particularly useful during Black Friday. So, whip out that Red Card and take advantage. Granted, if you’re using a Cash Back or Rewards card, here’s where these savings can get murky.

Unfortunately, you can’t double dip between the Target Red Card and using a Cash Back credit card, so you’ll have to take your pick: 5% discount using Target’s Red Card or ~%1 Cash Back using your credit card. For me, it’s a no brainer, 5% is a better deal. If you really want that cash, go for it. And then there are reward credit cards…

Reward credit cards offer rewards instead of cash back. Here’s where things get a bit more murky. If you’re using a Delta credit card to get miles and you fly a lot, those miles might make a huge difference. This is where you need to decide what’s important to YOU. In the case of flying frequently, miles may be way more important to you than a 5% instant discount using the Red Card. So, choose your rewards carefully when shopping. Of course, when you’re shopping at many stores, you can pick and choose which payment method to use, so you can spread the rewards across many cards if that’s your best option. You will want to examine all rewards systems you have and what’s most important to you during your Black Friday shopping.

When visiting a store that doesn’t offer a discount or reward program (such as Walmart), you’ll want to use any reward cards you have in your wallet. For example, Walmart, while they do offer a wallet pay system, does not offer any rewards for using their wallet. Walmart assumes that their in-store savings should be enough and so they do not offer a loyalty program. Walmart, however, assumes wrong as their prices are typically no better than other discounters who do offer discount systems and loyalty programs, such as Target.

Read Coupon Terms Carefully

Some stores offer in-store savings, coupons and instant rebates. But, read those terms carefully. Many items are not included in the savings even though it appears they should be discounted. Retailers have obligations to their suppliers, such as Apple, Samsung, Haggar and Hanes. Always read the terms of discount coupons carefully as it might not apply to that thing you’re looking to buy.

For example, many discount coupons given almost never apply towards gift cards. They may not even apply towards Apple, LG or Samsung products. You might find that the only things you can buy in the store with added discount coupons is the in-store brand. Be cautious when a store offers you a 20% off coupon good on your next order. It may not be as great a deal as you think… unless you’re willing to make concessions.

Even instant savings coupons found by scanning an item’s barcode in the store can have important limitations. For example, Target’s Circle program (formerly Cartwheel) typically limits the discount to 4 of the item. However, you’ll want to read the Circle small print terms. In those terms it will tell you exactly how many items you can buy discounted… sometimes it may even be just one. You can buy more discounted, but you’ll have to separate the items out across several separate orders at the check-out lane. It might be easier to do multiple orders at self-checkout than when using a staffed register… particularly if you have 3, 4 or more different orders. Target doesn’t limit how many times you can apply a Circle coupon on separate orders… but they do limit how many discounts it will apply on a single order. Don’t bother trying to argue this issue with the Customer Service desk. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy. If you want to buy a large number of items discounted via Circle, be prepared to separate them out into multiple orders at the checkout lane.

Membership Discounts / Loyalty Programs

Target is a store that not only offers sales and instant in-store discounts, it also has a discount program / loyalty program called Target Circle (formerly known as Cartwheel). Circle offers additional savings on in-store items, though items chosen for discounts are almost always Target’s House Brands, such as Up & Up and Market Pantry. It’s rare that Target Circle discounts apply to major brands, but it can happen occasionally. However, they will occasionally apply to soft goods major brands, such as Hanes or Jockey, but more often than not it will apply Target’s house brand, Merona.

If you’re happy using Target’s house brand items, you can rack up fairly substantial savings towards these items. Savings such as 5% Red Card + 20% Circle + 20% Promotional savings coupons. That’s a whopping 45% savings off of whatever price is listed. If it’s also on sale, then that’s likely an additional up to 50% savings. You won’t get the item for free, obviously, but you can reduce the price by up to 80% just by stacking. This stacking almost never applies to major name brands. The best you can do here is typically 5% Red Card + any in-store applicable discounts (perhaps up to 15% off). Don’t expect to run over to Electronics to get that 80% discount, but sometimes it can happen.

I picked up a Vizio 55″ 4K TV for $768 at a time when the full price was around $1200 in-store. That was a mid-summer price, too. It was not during the holidays. This stacked Red Card savings, an in-store electronics coupon and a sale price. All three stacked to give me a whopping $432 instant discount or a 36% discount. Today, a similar TV might sell for $500-600 which is still not far off the discounted price I paid several years ago. With Target, you don’t necessarily have to get your best deals during Black Friday, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Free Gift Cards and their Benefits

Another promotional system is offering free gift cards of a certain amount for specific purchases. Here’s where you can get a great deal, if you’re cautious and you are willing to invest in the cost of whatever items are needed to get that card.

For example, Target offers a Black Friday deal that will give you a $400 gift card for the purchase and activation of a modern Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ smart phone. If you’re in the market to buy this specific item, then you can certainly take advantage of this deal. However, be cautious. There are a lot of terms and expenses in buying a smart phone and in being under contract with a carrier. Those terms have fees attached. Fees that you may need to pay for up to 2 years. Even though Target may be willing to hand you a $400 gift card to spend at Target, you may end up spending $5000 over the term of that 2 years. $400 isn’t that great of a deal considering you can only use it at Target and not towards paying down that expensive phone you just purchased.

However, a $400 gift card could be useful towards accessories such as a case, extra charging cables, better earbuds and so on. This is where value to you becomes important. If you’re willing to live with the terms of a new phone contract, then that $400 could come in extra handy during your next shopping trip at Target. And yes, you can use that gift card towards anything in Target (yes, even Apple products).

Gift cards are ways for stores to allow for discounts without restrictions. Looking for deals that offer you gift cards is better than looking for percent off coupons… so long as you’re okay shopping at that specific store. However, I have found that by and large, there are very few deals in Target that offer gift cards for purchase. When they do exist, it’s usually tied to a large purchase, such as a tablet, smart phone, expensive large screens or bulk sized household cleaning supplies (mega size toilet paper rolls, bulk paper towels, monstrous jugs of detergent, etc). Usually, you’ll need to spend at least $30-45 to get a $10 Gift Card.

The downside, however, of buying these items is that if you need to return an item for refund. The store will deduct a portion of the gift card amount from your refund. In fact, some stores may require you to return the gift card in full along with any items in the bundle before they will allow a refund. You’ll need to talk to the customer service desk for details. While the free gift cards are great for purchases you intend to keep, returns can become a problem. Be cautious with these if you have a tendency to frequently return items.

Importance of the Above on Black Friday

Why is all of the above important during Black Friday? It’s important because these are the nuances of the savings you’ll run into. When you go download a cost savings app, these apps are likely not taking into account these above nuances, such as in-store loyalty programs, membership discount programs and so on.

Apps that compare prices between stores are likely comparing discounts without any added loyalty programs. This means that the price comparisons won’t show you any additional discounts which may apply to you.

This means you could be lulled into thinking that Walmart has the best deal on that TV when Target is actually offering you a 5% Red Card discount, a 10% Circle discount and a $40 Gift Card (assuming you buy something else with it). These are the kinds of added savings that you can get by shopping at Target.

If you don’t or can’t shop at Target regularly, then these added discounts may not apply to you or may not be convenient. However, if Target is a store you frequent regularly, then this deal is likely much better than Walmart’s deal.

Price for Price, however, Walmart’s deal may look better on paper. Now, let’s talk about Black Friday products.

Electronics Brands

To pull off Black Friday, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and even Amazon, swing deals months in advance for specific products to sell on Black Friday. These deals were likely swung early in the year to give the manufacturer plenty of time to manufacture the quantities needed for as many stores as these chains have.

What does that mean for the product itself? It means that these products can be exclusive to Black Friday only. How is that a bad thing? Well, many of these TV brands are lesser known or off-brands (i.e., Westinghouse) trying to their name back into the good graces of the public. This means they’re willing to swing deals with Target and Walmart for Black Friday. They’re willing to sell a 65″ LCD TV for $350 (plus discounts and promotions). It also means these specific product models are likely only made and sold during Black Friday. They are not sold throughout the year. You should ask the store if a Black Friday electronic deal is specific to Black Friday. You don’t want to get saddled with a lemon.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is bad, but it could mean that because it’s not a normally stocked brand / model throughout the year, the quality of the product is unknown. Thus, buying these Black Friday deals could lead you into a product purchase that might break 1, 2 or 3 months down the road. When buying Black Friday electronics, be sure to ask lots of questions and if you purchase, buy an extended return policy / service plan to go with it (when applicable). You just don’t know what kind of quality you are buying when you buy an “exclusive” Black Friday deal. Always be cautious.

This also brings up another point that is related…

Apple, Last Gen Models and Black Friday

Apple is a brand that heavily relies on last gen sales to continue its business forward. However, this situation muddies the water when it comes to Black Friday. Because Apple’s products (and packaging) mostly look alike, it’s difficult to tell an old product apart from its current generation brethren. Be cautious when buying Apple products on Black Friday for this very reason.

The current generation may be the sixth generation, but Target or Walmart are actually ‘clearancing’ out the third generation under the guise of Black Friday. Here’s where the deal is too good to be true.

This situation isn’t exactly deceptive or fraudulent by the retailer, but it definitely skirts that thin grey line towards shady. While an ad might say “Third Generation”, it might not. Even then, the ad DOESN’T tell you which model is the current model. You have no idea if “Third Generation” is the latest unless you keep up on Apple products. The use of this ad nomenclature is shady at best. They tell you its a third gen model, but what they don’t tell you is how many models old it is. If it’s a third gen model and the current is the sixth gen, then that product was manufactured at least 4-5 years ago. It also means that Apple will likely stop supporting it in about 1 or 2 years. You don’t want to buy into a product that has about 1 year left before it becomes obsolete.

Don’t kid yourself, once a product becomes obsolete in the Apple universe, it turns to crap. Apps stop working, apps stop being updated, memory problems begin and the overall device degrades into a potentially useless mess. Don’t buy products that are about to be obsolete, particularly not Apple products.

No matter how great that deal appears to be, no matter how pristine that Apple box appears, no matter what other discounts the retailer throws at you, don’t buy 4-5 year old (or older) Apple, Samsung or any other computer product. Anything that’s about 1 year from being obsolete is worth, at most about $50-100 no matter what it is. If Target or Walmart is selling it on Black Friday for $350, it’s a rip-off! Do your homework and find out 1) what generation is current and 2) what generation is being sold and 3) when that generation was made. Don’t buy old generations of computer products. Just don’t do it. The manufacturer won’t continue to support those products forever.

Smart TVs

If you rely on your Smart TV’s apps to feed you with content, be careful of these also. App developers have already begun dumping apps on lesser brand smart TVs. For example, Netflix and Amazon has stopped producing its app on some brands of smart TVs, particularly older TVs. If you want to watch content on your smart TV, don’t rely on the TV’s built-in apps. Instead, pick an HDMI smart device to plug in. Treat your Smart TV as dumb by ignoring the built-in apps and simply plug in content devices to your TV. Some popular devices are Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick. You can easily replace these low cost devices and get updated apps via these dongles simply by upgrading to the latest.

The Smart TV, on the other hand, is a fad that seems to be fading. Name brand TVs such as Samsung and Sony may be in the App game for the long haul, but lesser brands like Vizio apparently are not. Even then, there is no guarantee that any developer will continue to develop for bigger TV brands like Sony, LG or Samsung. Instead, relay on small plug-in HDMI devices to give you access to your favorite “channels”. You can even find these devices on Black Friday deals for super cheap prices.

Movies and Music Content

The one place where you can get some of your BEST savings deals is on disc based movies and video games. Here’s where $59 priced games can be as low as $20. Here’s also where some of the latest Blu-Ray and UltraHD 4K movies can be had for as low as $6-15. Picking up UltraHD 4K movies for $15? That’s a great deal you’re not going to find at any other time of the year. These deals are great no matter where you find them… whether at Target, Walmart or on Amazon. This kind of content is a winner no matter when or where. I always recommend shopping through movie and music content because Black Friday is a time that offers the steepest discounts of any other time of the year. This is the best time to pick up some of the top blockbuster films for low, low prices. For example, Spiderman, Shazam and Aquaman UltraHD Blu-rays are all priced at $15 at Target in 2019. Normally, these cost around $29-35 per disc. Still, that’s costly for a film at $15 when you can rent them for $2 at RedBox or see them on Netflix at some point, but UltraHD Blu-ray 4K discs at $15 are practically a steal of a deal. Take advantage if you have the disposable income.

Gift Cards and iTunes

Don’t just focus on physical items when you’re shopping. Some retailers will discount gift cards, like iTunes cards, XBox Live or PS4 PlayStation Plus subscriptions. You can then get a decent discount when purchasing one or more cards. For example, Target usually puts iTunes gift cards on a discount every year on Black Friday. For the last two years, they have offered a buy-one-get-one-30%-off deal. This means that $100 in iTunes credit (two $50 cards) will cost you $85. If you’re subscribing to Apple Music at $99 a year, for example, this means you’re only paying $85 for that $100 in credit which you can apply to your Apple Music subscription. Yet more savings simply to use a well established music service. You’ll never get a discount like this from Apple directly. But, when buying iTunes gift cards, that $100 credit spends like all $100 credit… and can be used towards your subscriptions. In fact, Apple has no idea that you bought the cards for $85 versus $100.

Black Friday Savings

Ultimately, to get your best deals, you need to look at ALL of the offers a store is giving. You’ll need a sale paper for that. Don’t just look at the price at its face value. You may find stores are willing to give you much steeper discounts by using loyalty programs, gift cards and coupons for later use. Stores can sometimes even couple items together as a bundle and get deeper savings for both items than you can get by buying them separately.

For this reason, you can’t simply take Black Friday comparison apps at face value. You need to visit the store to find all of the deals they are offering you. This is why it is a bit more complicated than simply visiting an app store and downloading a Black Friday comparison app. Many of these comparison apps don’t consider loyalty program discounts as part of the Black Friday deal. If you’re an active Red Card holder and use Target Circle, you can get even steeper discounts on top of the Black Friday deals. Don’t forget about these extra discounts if you are a member in loyalty programs.

To get your best deals, you’re going to need to get your hands onto a copy of the sale paper from each store, then comparison shop between the sale papers. Even then, some stores offer in-store only deals that you can only find once you are in the store… which means you’ll need to spend time physically heading over to the store to 1) find out what special deals they offer and 2) whether the item is in stock.

On the other hand, be careful of buying older generation computer products which, at face value, may seem to be a great Black Friday deal. Unfortunately, that great deal may turn sour within a year because the manufacturer as stopped supporting the device. It also seems that discount retailers rarely put the latest generation of computer devices on Black Friday deals. If you want any kind of a discount on the latest greatest device, you’ll need to visit a manufacturer’s store, like the Apple store. And yes, the Apple store itself does offer Black Friday deals. They’re not always the best deals, but for Apple they’re some of the best deals available on new Apple products that you can find from Apple throughout the year.

Finally, focus on specific items that you really need. Don’t just go and browse. If you want to find the best deals on those things you need, you’ll need to stay focused on finding the deals on those items. If you spend your time browsing stores and randomly looking, you’ll never get to other stores to see if they have a better deal. I also don’t recommend calling the stores to ask for pricing. More often than not, Black Friday is way too busy for them to talk on the phone. You’re more likely to sit on hold only to hang up. Just head over to the store for yourself. Additionally, many stores do allow you to download digital versions of their Black Friday sale papers. Just be sure to download the one for your specific store so you can see what that store is offering.

Happy Black Friday Shopping!

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How to screenshot on a Mac

Posted in Apple, Household Tips, howto, tips by commorancy on November 26, 2019

office-macEver wondered how to create screenshots on a mac? Creating a screenshot on a Mac should be a simple process, and it is once you know the hotkeys. Let’s explore.

Hot Keys

I could run off into a diatribe about how Apple has screwed with its OSes to make them less intuitive than they once were, but I’ll skip this rant and jump right into what you’re looking for and make this one short.

There are several built-in screenshot options on a Mac running MacOS X. You’ll want to choose an option that makes the most sense for your current needs.

Option 1 — Snapshot to the clipboard (does NOT create an image file)

Whole Screen: ⌘ (command) + ⌃ (control) + ⇧ (shift) + 3  or simply ⌘⌃⇧3
Drag Select: ⌘ (command) + ⌃ (control) + ⇧ (shift) + 4 or simply ⌘⌃⇧4

Option 2 — Snapshot file saved to your Desktop (does NOT land in clipboard)

Whole Screen: ⌘ (command) + ⇧ (shift) + 3 or simply ⌘⇧3
Drag Select: ⌘ (command) + ⇧ (shift) + 4 or simply ⌘⇧4

Simple (sorta)… and now we’re done. That wasn’t so hard now was it?

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Rant Time: Google doesn’t understand COPPA

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on November 24, 2019

kid-tablet.jpgWe all know what Google is, but what is COPPA? COPPA stands for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and is legislation designed to incidentally protect children by protecting their personal data given to web site operators. YouTube has recently made a platform change allegedly around COPPA, but it is entirely misguided. It also shows that Google doesn’t fundamentally understand the COPPA legislation. Let’s explore.

COPPA — What it isn’t

The COPPA body of legislation is intended to protect how and when a child’s personal data may be collected, stored, used and processed by web site operators. It has very specific verbiage describing how and when such data can be collected and used. It is, by its very nature, a data protection and privacy act. It protects the data itself… and, by extension, the protection of that data hopes to protect the child. This Act isn’t intended to protect the child directly and it is misguided to assume that it does. COPPA protects personal private data of children.

By the above, that means that the child is incidentally protected by how their collected data can (or cannot) be used. For the purposes of COPPA, a “child” is defined to be any person under the age of 13. Let’s look at a small portion of the body of this text.

General requirements. It shall be unlawful for any operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child in a manner that violates the regulations prescribed under this part. Generally, under this part, an operator must:

(a) Provide notice on the Web site or online service of what information it collects from children, how it uses such information, and its disclosure practices for such information (§312.4(b));

(b) Obtain verifiable parental consent prior to any collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from children (§312.5);

(c) Provide a reasonable means for a parent to review the personal information collected from a child and to refuse to permit its further use or maintenance (§312.6);

(d) Not condition a child’s participation in a game, the offering of a prize, or another activity on the child disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in such activity (§312.7); and

(e) Establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from children (§312.8).

This pretty much sums up the tone for what follows in the body text of this legislation. What it essentially states is all about “data collection” and what you (as a web site operator) must do specifically if you intend to collect specific data from someone under the age of 13… and, more specifically, what data you can and cannot collect.

YouTube and Google’s Misunderstanding of COPPA

YouTube’s parent company is Google. That means that I may essentially interchange “Google” for “YouTube” because both are one-in-the-same company. With that said, let’s understand how Google / YouTube fundamentally does not understand the COPPA body of legislation.

Google has recently rolled out a new feature to its YouTube content creators. It is a checkbox both as a channel wide setting and as an individual video setting. This setting sets a flag whether the video is targeted towards children or not (see image below for this setting’s details). Let’s understand Google’s misunderstanding of COPPA.

COPPA is a data protection act. It is not a child protection act. Sure, it incidentally protects children because of what is allowed to be collected, stored and processed, but make no mistake, it protects collected data directly, not children. With that said, checking a box on a video whether it is appropriate for children has nothing whatever to do with data collection. Let’s understand why.

Google has, many years ago in fact, already implemented a system to prevent “children” (as defined by COPPA) to sign up for and use Google’s platforms. What that means is when someone signs up for a Google account, that person is asked questions to ascertain the person’s age. If that age is identified as under 13, that account is classified by Google as in use by a “child”. Once Google identifies a child, it is then obligated to uphold ALL laws governed by COPPA (and other applicable child privacy laws) … that includes all data collection practices required by COPPA and other applicable laws. It can also then further apply Google related children protections against that account (i.e. to prevent the child from viewing inappropriate content on YouTube). Google would have needed to uphold these data privacy laws since the year 2000, when COPPA was enacted. If Google has failed to protect a child’s collected data or failed to uphold COPPA’s other provisions, then that’s on Google. It is also a situation firmly between Google and the FTC … the governmental body tasked with enforcing the COPPA legislation. Google solely collects the data. Therefore, it is exclusively on Google if that data is used or collected in inappropriate ways, counter to COPPA’s requirements.

YouTube’s newest “not appropriate for children” flag

As of November 2019, YouTube has implemented a new flag for YouTube content creators. The channel-wide setting looks like so:

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 2.33.32 AM

This setting, for all intents and purposes, isn’t related to COPPA. COPPA doesn’t care whether video content is targeted towards children. COPPA cares about how data is collected from children and how that data is then used by web sites. COPPA is, as I said above, all about data collection practices, not about whether content is targeted towards children.

Let’s understand that in the visual entertainment area, there are already ratings systems which apply. Systems such as the ESRB ratings system founded in 1994. This system specifically sets ratings for video games depending on the types of content contained within. For TV shows, there is the TV Parental Guidelines which began in 1996 and was proposed between the US Congress, the TV industry and FCC. These guidelines rate TV shows such as TV-Y, TV-14 or TV-MA depending, again, on the content within. This was mandated in 1997 by the US Government due to its stranglehold on TV broadcast licenses. For theatrical films, there’s the MPAA’s movie ratings system which began in 1968. So, it’s not as if there aren’t already effective content ratings systems available. These voluntary systems have been in place for many years already.

For YouTube, marking your channel or video content as “made for kids” has nothing whatever to do with COPPA legislated data collection practices.

YouTube Creators

Here is exactly where we see Google and YouTube’s fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA. COPPA is about the protection and collection of data from children. Google collects, stores and uses this and all data it collects. YouTube creators have very, very limited access to any of this Google-collected data. YouTube creators have no hand in its collection or its use. Google controls all of the data collection on YouTube. With the exception of comments and the list of subscribers of a channel, the majority of the data collected and supplied by Google to the creators is almost exclusively limited to aggregate unpersonalized statistical data. Even then, this data can be inaccurate depending on what the Google account ID stated when they signed up. Still, the limited personal subscriber data it does supply to content creators is limited to the subscriber’s ID only. Google offers its content creators no access to deeper personal data, not even the age of its subscribers.

Further, Google (and pretty much every other web site) relies on truthfulness when people sign up for services. Google does not in any way verify the information given to Google during the signup process or that this information is in any way accurate or truthful. Indeed, Google doesn’t even verify the identity of the person using the account or even require the use of real names. The only time Google does ANY level of identity verification is when using Google Wallet. Even then, it’s only as a result of needing identity verification due to possible credit card fraud issues. Google Wallet is a pointless service that many other payment systems do better, such as Apple Pay, Amazon Checkout and, yes, PayPal. I digress.

With that said, Google is solely responsible for all data collection practices associated with YouTube (and its other properties) including storing, processing and managing of that data. YouTube creators have no control over what YouTube (or Google) chooses to collect, store or disseminate. Indeed, YouTube creators have no control over YouTube’s data collection or storage practices whatsoever.

This new alleged “COPPA mechanism” that YouTube has implemented has nothing whatever to do with data collection practices and everything to do with content which might be targeted towards “children”. Right now, this limited mechanism is pretty much a binary system (a very limited system). The channel either does or it doesn’t target content towards children (either channel as a whole or video by video). It’s entirely unclear what happens when you do or don’t via YouTube, though some creators have had seeming bad luck with their content, which has been manually reviewed by YouTube staff and misclassified as “for children” when the content clearly is not. These manual overrides have even run counter to the global channel settings, which have been set to “No, set this channel as not made for kids.”

Clearly, this new mechanism has nothing to do with data collection and everything to do with classifying which content is suitable for children and which isn’t. This defines a …

Ratings System

Ratings systems in entertainment content are nothing new. TV has had a content rating systems since the mid 90s. Movies have had ratings systems since the late 60s. Video games have had them since the mid 90s. COPPA, on the other hand, has entirely nothing to do with ratings or content. It is legislation that protects children by protecting their data. It’s pretty straightforward what COPPA covers, but one thing it does not cover is whether video content is appropriate to be viewed by children. Indeed, COPPA isn’t a ratings system. It is child data protection legislation.

How YouTube got this law’s interpretation so entirely wrong is anyone’s guess. I can’t even fathom how Google could have been led this astray. Perhaps Google’s very own lawyers are simply inept and not at all versed in COPPA? I have no idea… but whatever led YouTube’s developers to thinking the above mechanism in any way relates to COPPA is entirely wrong thinking. No where does COPPA legislate YouTube video content appropriateness. Categorizing content is entirely up to a ratings system to handle.

Indeed, YouTube is trudging on very thin ice with the FTC. Not only did they interpret the COPPA legislation completely wrong, they have implemented “a fix” even more wrongly. What Google and YouTube has done is shoot themselves in the foot… not once, but twice. The second time is that Google has fully admitted that they don’t even have a functional working ratings system. Indeed, it doesn’t… and now everyone knows it.

Google has now additionally admitted that children under the age of 13 use YouTube by the addition of this “new” mechanism. With this one mechanism, Google has admitted to many things about children using its platform… which means YouTube and Google are both now in the hot seat with regards to COPPA. They must now completely ensure that YouTube (and Google by extension) is fully and solely complying with the letter of COPPA’s verbiage by collecting children’s data.

YouTube Creators Part II

YouTube creators have no control over what Google collects from its users, that’s crystal clear. YouTube creators also don’t have access to view most of this data or access to modify anything related to this data collection system. Only Google has that level of access. Because Google controls its own data collection practices, it is on Google to protect any personal information it may have received by children using its platform.

That also means that content creators should be entirely immune from prosecution over such data collection practices… after all, the creators don’t own or control Google’s data collection systems.

This new YouTube mechanism seems to imply that creators have some level of liability and/or culpability for Google’s collection practices, when creators simply and clearly do not. Even the FTC made a striking statement that they may try to “go after” content creators. I’m not even sure how that’s possible under COPPA. Content creators don’t collect, store or manage data about children, regardless of the content that they create. The only thing content creators control is appropriateness of the content towards children… and that has nothing to do with COPPA and everything to do with a ratings system… a system that Google does not even have in place within YouTube.

Content creators, however, can voluntarily label their content as TV-MA or whatever they deem is appropriate based on the TV Parental Guidelines. After all, YouTube is more like TV than it is like a video game. Therefore, YouTube should offer and have in place the same ratings system as is listed in the TV Parental Guidelines. This recent COPPA-attributed change is actually YouTube’s efforts at enacting a content ratings system, albeit an extremely poor attempt at one. As I said, creators can only specify the age appropriateness of the content that they create. YouTube is simply the platform where it is shown.

FTC going after YouTube Creators?

Google controls its data collections systems, not its content creators (though YouTube does hold leverage over whether content is or remains monetized). What that means is that it makes absolutely no sense for the FTC to legally go after content creators based on violations of COPPA. There may be other legislation they can lean on, but COPPA isn’t it. COPPA also isn’t intended to be a “catch all” piece of legislation to protect children’s behaviors on the Internet. It is intended to protect how data is collected and used by children under 13 years of age… that’s it. COPPA isn’t intended to be used as a “ratings system” for appropriateness by video sharing platforms like YouTube.

I can’t see even one judge accepting, let alone prosecuting such a clear cut case of legal abuse of the justice system. Going after Google for COPPA violations? Sure. They stored and collected that data. Going after the YouTube content creators? No, I don’t think so. They created a video and uploaded it, but that had nothing whatever to do with how Google controls, manages or collects data from children.

If the US Federal Government wants to create law to manage appropriateness of Internet content, then they need to draft it up and pass it. COPPA isn’t intended for that purpose. Voluntary ratings systems have been in place for years including within motion pictures, TV and now video games. So then why is YouTube immune from such rating systems? Indeed, it’s time YouTube was forced to implement a proper ratings system instead of this haphazard binary system under the false guise of COPPA.

Content Creator Advice

If you are a YouTube content creator (or create on any other online platform), you should take advantage of the thumbnail and describe the audience your content targets. The easiest way to do this is to use the same ratings system implemented by the TV Parental Guidance system… such as TV-Y, TV-14 and TV-MA. Placing this information firmly on the thumbnail and also placing it onto the video at the beginning of your video explicitly states towards which age group and audience your content is targeted. By voluntarily rating not only the thumbnail, but also the content itself in the first 5 minutes of the video opening, your video cannot be misconstrued for any other group or audience. This means that even though your video is not intended for children, placing the TV Parental Guidance rating literally onto the video intentionally states that fact in plain sight.

If a YouTube employee manually reclassifies your video as being “for children” even when it isn’t, labeling your content in the video’s opening as TV-MA explicitly states that the program is not suitable for children. You might even create an additional disclaimer as some TV programs do stating:

This content is not suitable for all audiences. Some content may be considered disturbing or controversial. Viewer or parental discretion is advised.

Labeling your video means that even the FTC can’t argue that your video somehow inappropriately targeted children… even though this new YouTube system has nothing to do with COPPA. Be cautious, use common sense and use best practices when creating and uploading videos to YouTube. YouTube isn’t there to protect you, the creator. The site is there to protect YouTube and Google. In this case, this new creator feature is entirely misguided as a COPPA helper, when it is clearly intended to be a ratings system.

Before you go…

One last thing… Google controls everything about the YouTube platform including the “recommended” lists of videos. If, for whatever reason, Google chooses to promote a specific video towards an unintended audience, the YouTube creator has no control over this fact. In point of fact, the content creator has almost no control over any promotion or placement of their video within YouTube. The only exception is if YouTube allows for paid promotion of video content (and they probably do). After all, YouTube is in it for the $$$. If you’re willing to throw some of your money at Google, I’m quite sure they’d be willing to help you out. Short of paying Google for video placement, however, all non-paid placement is entirely at the sole discretion of Google. The YouTube creator has no control over their video’s placement within “recommended” lists or anywhere else on YouTube.

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Where are the Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Bobbleheads in Fallout 4?

Posted in howto, tips, video game, video gaming by commorancy on November 20, 2019

If you own the Nuka-Cola Collector Creation Club item, you may or may not know that 5 new Bobbleheads were introduced into the game by this add-on. Let’s explore where they are.

Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Bobbleheads

In the vanilla Fallout 4, there are 20 Bobbleheads. These offer various perks when you pick them up, such as Luck or Small Guns. However, if you have visited the Creation Club store and purchased the Nuka-Cola Collector add-on, 5 new Bobbleheads were introduced into Fallout 4. They don’t have names specifically or special qualities, other than being named the very creative “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #1”. There are 5 of them spread throughout the world.

As I had been looking for where these Bobbleheads are, there is no good resource on the Internet for this. Even Google is of no help. I finally did manage to find the Bobbleheads, though. I thought I’d write this article to describe exactly where each Bobblehead is located within Fallout 4. Thankfully, these Bobbleheads respawn. If you pick them up, you can go back to each location later and get another set.

So what good are they if they don’t offer any perks? They are simply introduced into the world as an Easter egg for the owners of this Creation Club item (and for decoration purposes). They can be used to decorate your settlement. I believe you can also create a version of them via the Workshop menu. But, these created ones are static and can’t be picked up or dropped. The ones you locate in the world can be used for decoration in the Bobblehead displays just as any other bobblehead. So, there’s that.

Let’s jump right into this one, shall we?

Locations

  1. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #1” is located at DB Technical High School. As you enter the main building doors, head down to the basement. This one is located on table across from a long ramp leading to the back. You will have to clear the Raiders and the boss before you can get to the table where it sits.
  2. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #2” is located at Fallon’s Department Store on the top floor in an office on a desk. You’ll have to walk up two different disconnected sets of escalators to get to the top floor. Watch out for the Super Mutants.
  3. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #3” is located in Prost Bar. To get to Prost Bar, you’ll need to travel to Swan’s Pond and cross the park straight back and to the left. Across the street there is a staircase leading down to a cellar with a blue door. This is Prost Bar. Note, if you have any Prost Bar cleanup mods enabled, you will need to disable them to ensure that the Bobblehead is there. As you walk into the door, walk straight by the bar and and look for the manager’s office on the left. The Bobblehead will be sitting on top of a filing cabinet.
  4. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #4” is located at Greenetech Genetics. Enter the main door, then find the stairs upward. This building is kind of confusing inside, so work your way up until you find the elevator. Take this elevator to the top of this tall building. At the top, you’ll need to work your way up again until you find a small table sitting on a balcony overlook. This bobblehead will be sitting next to a broken terminal.
  5. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #5” is located at Vault-Tec Regional Headquarters. In this building, it’s about two floors up. Find the stairs that lead you up to a pool table breaking through the floor. Go around the right side of this pool table to the back wall, then turn right into an office. It will be sitting next to a Mr. Davidson’s Terminal.

That’s all 5 bobbleheads. These Bobbleheads all wear a red Nuka-Cola shirt and have either a Nuka-Cola, a Nuka Cherry or a Nuka-Cola Quantum bottle as part of the Bobblehead.

These bobbleheads are for decoration purposes only. They offer no function or perks. Though, I will say they are fun addition and look pretty cool.

Happy Hunting!

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What is the Fallout 76 1st subscription?

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 15, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032.jpgBethesda has released Fallout 76’s first paid product named 1st. This uninspired and unfortunate naming doesn’t mean much, but it does come with some welcomed and important improvements to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

 


Fallout 1st

Obviously the 1st branding is intended to be pronounced “first”. Let’s get that one out of the way right off. The naming itself doesn’t mean much and in the context of the game itself means very little. But, this add-on subscription does add some welcomed, important and substantial improvements. Whether those improvements are worth the price, I’ll have to leave that up to you. The costs for this service are USD $12.99 a month or USD $99 per year (USD $8.25 per month — a fairly substantial savings over paying monthly). The additional fee does offer some worthwhile improvements. Let’s investigate these next.

“Infinite” Storage Scrapbox

fallout-76_20191114152424.jpgFor those of us tapped out on Stash space, the new Scrapbox is an invaluable asset. You can take all of that weighty scrap out of your 800 weight limited Stash, release up to 300 weight or more from your Stashbox and put all of that weight all into the “infinite” space Scrapbox. This means substantially more Stash to use for storing weapons, armor and other collectibles. This is an important and welcomed change. Not to mention, being able to store “infinite” amounts of lead, steel, copper, cloth, crystal, leather, etc. This feature offers way more crafting, workshop and camp building options. Though, I highly doubt the Scrapbox offers actual infinite storage, the storage cap is probably so high as to be almost infinite.

On the other hand, you can’t store anything in there but scrap. It won’t store weapons, armor, aid or any other category of items. It also won’t store ALL types of scrap. For example, bulked items cannot be stored in the Scrapbox. If you wish to store already bulked items, you’ll need to unbulk them to store them in the Scrapbox. However, the Scrapbox does offer a scrapping feature. No longer do you need to have a workbench handy. If you have a bunch of junk that you simply want to break down into scrap, the box will automatically do this before depositing it into the box. This makes the Survival Tent much more functional without any workbenches.

Survival Tent

Fallout 76_20191112002656

This freely deployable tent offers a second free fast travel point that can be easily moved and costs no caps to move about. It is definitely welcomed to have a second free moveable fast travel point… and which offers access the new Scrapbox easily and quickly, offers a cooking pot, a Stashbox, a sleeping bag for the “Rested” perk, and a banjo for the “Well Tuned” perk. Unfortunately, the sleeping bag only offers the “Rested” perk (lasts 1 hour) instead of “Well Rested” perk (which lasts 2 hours). Having a second fast travel point will drastically save on spending caps to travel around the map. This means you can leave the tent in a convenient location and avoid paying caps to get to that location and pay much reduced caps to get to locations near it.

Private Servers

Fallout 76_20191114150545Private Servers that had been promised for a year are finally here! These are great for many reasons. For example, locating items that you can’t otherwise find because other players are actively farming them. Additionally, trying to locate legendary enemies to finish up the Enclave commendations can be tricky. With a private server, it’s easier to find such events which spawn legendary enemies (i.e. Wolf Pack) and finish the event (and receive commendations), without interference from other players. It also makes questing alone easier and it makes group questing more fun when you invite only your friends while no one else can join that world’s server.

Alone questing is much easier because the game server spawns enemies at the level of the most recent person who happens by. If a level 150 player hits up a location minutes before your level 30 character arrives, the enemies will likely be level 68. This can make situations impossible to win. It may also mean hopping servers until you find a world where your level 30 character is the one who has spawned lower level enemies. A private server avoids this problem entirely. Since the server is brand new the moment you launch it, only your character influences the world around you when playing alone. However, if you invite high level players into your private world, then the same problem of high level spawns will occur even in the private server. You’ll want to be cautious when you invite friends into your server.

One additional benefit of the private server is it durability. What I mean is that once you start a private server, this same server is available to you for up to 20 minutes while no one is online. What that means is you can swap characters and load into the same private world over and over. While 1st doesn’t offer any means to directly share stuff between characters, this world durability means you can drop a bag of items in the world in an easy location (like Vault 76) and then pick up the bag using a different character. This allows you to swap items between characters without using an intermediate third person to hold your stuff or watch your bag. Simply drop a bag from one character, log out, change characters, log back into the private world, go to the spot where you dropped it and pick up the items. Simple. It works well and it is predictable. Because it’s a private server, there’s no danger of another player grabbing your stuff while you’re working on this activity.

It would be preferable if Bethesda could give us an official way to share stuff between characters, but in the interim, the private server is a great option to share weapons, armor and items between characters. I’ve always intensely disliked using random third parties for this transfer process. Using a private server to share items is an excellent alternative. And yes, it does work. I’ve done this several times between characters.

Of course, there’s no easy way to share caps between characters using a private server. If you want to do this, you’ll still need to use a third party.

Another benefit of the private servers is, while playing alone, you can hold any workshop in the game without fear of PVP reprisal. You will have to occasionally manage defend events, but that’s as far as it goes. If you choose not to do the defend events, you can come back later and just fix everything that got broken. Also, if your game accidentally crashes, the private server remains tied to your ID for at least 30 minutes. This means that in private servers you continue to own your workshops even after disconnects or crashes, unlike the public servers. However, you do have to rejoin the server with the same character to remain the owner of the workshop. If you wait too long, the private server will be unassigned to you and you will lose your workshops, but that takes about 20-30 minutes. If you change your character, you will likely have to take ownership again with your other character.

Atom Shop Exclusives and Inclusions

Fallout 76_20191114153148This isn’t really so much a benefit as it is a nicety. After all, the Atomic shop is mostly just for cosmetics. However, it’s great to see Bethesda include Atom shop exclusives for 1st subscribers. Additionally, the 1st subscription offers 1650 atoms each month included with the ~$13 monthly fee (or the yearly fee if you go that way). That’s $16.50 worth of Atom in addition to all of the above add-ons. The included $16.50 worth of Atom makes all of the rest almost seem free. To previously buy that much Atom, you’d have to spend at least $13 and you wouldn’t even get all of the above access. Receiving the Atom alone almost makes the entire subscription worth it, assuming you regularly buy Atom instead of earning it in the game.

Pay to Win?

There’s something to be said for each of these 1st add-ons. A lot of people may dislike paying the money per month or somehow think this part is “pay to win”, but in reality none of it helps you “win”, but it does substantially improve the game by adding the above features. I guess many could argue that the Scrapbox and the Survival Tent should have been added to the base game for free… but then, that would reduce the reasons to subscribe to 1st. Eventually, it may come down to pay-to-win, but for now there’s no way to actually pay to win.

In fact, I’d argue that most of what 1st offers to gamers now is end-game content. After you’ve done the quests and completed the entire main story, what’s left over is farming items, looking for cosmetics and, in general, locating rare weapons, armor and potentially selling them. It’s less about winning and more about extending the play value of this game. That’s exactly what 1st is intended for… extending the play value of the game.

Improvements to Fallout 76 and 1st

Even with all of the above, there still needs to be improvements in the base game to better support 1st subscribers. Scrapboxes need to become widely available at all train stations and in Whitesprings. Without scrapboxes there, you are forced to travel to your tent or to your camp to drop scrap into the scrapbox. Inconvenient. Else, you have to temporarily drop it into your stashbox and move it around later (even more inconvenient).

Fallout 76_20191114152342.jpg1st is an important step for Fallout 76 as a game, but the subscription support needs to be improved throughout the game. As mentioned above, the Scrapbox doesn’t support bulked scrap. It only supports loose scrap. This is another design flaw in this storage system. This means you still need to continue to store all of your bulk scrap in your Stashbox or you must unbulk it to shove it into the Scrapbox.

1st isn’t in any way perfect, but the game is much better with these improvements than it is without them. 1st is one of the actual first tangible improvements to the base game which hasn’t really been offered by Bethesda in past updates. Most past updates have involved bug fixes or simplistic add-ons (backpack or distiller or limited time events). 1st is one of the first set of improvements that implies Bethesda might actually be trying to improve the game. Unfortunately, too many of us are at the endgame and 1st may be too late to really bring in enough new players. Perhaps the upcoming NPC additions may help the game revitalize, but we’ll have to wait on that.

The current 1st addition won’t revitalize Fallout 76 by itself, but it is a vast improvement in solving basic problems that still plague this mostly beta game (e.g., small sized stash boxes, small inventory sizes, small camp budgets). Seeing Bethesda release actual improvements to the game shows that Bethesda is finally willing to offer better features to those willing to pay. Now if only we can get Bethesda to buff our weapons for subscribing to 1st… that would be a much welcomed improvement. Bethesda should also consider giving us some 1st perk cards to improve our SPECIAL stats… such as additional and exclusive 1st damage multipliers. I know this may sound like pay-to-win additions, but these are the kinds of things that help improve the game, give incentives to subscribe and offer much welcomed improvements.

Sure, Bethesda could have released all of this for free to the current game players… but, the Private Servers alone would have been overwhelmed almost instantly and essentially become public servers. By putting it behind a paywall, it ensures fewer people utilize it and fewer people will abuse it.

I was initially skeptical when I paid for the 1st feature, but I quickly realized the benefit of the Scrapbox. Forget the Private Servers, the Scrapbox is the single thing that almost completely sells me on 1st. The Private Servers are great, don’t get me wrong, but the Scrapbox is the single thing that I have absolutely needed in this game. If only Bethesda would also increase our C.A.M.P. build limit by subscribing to 1st.

Downsides?

There are a few downsides to 1st. Let’s talk about these. I believe non-1st subscribers can be invited to a private server, but I’m uncertain about this entirely. This may also change over time and it may not work correctly. If the owner of the private server leaves the private server, you’ll have about 20 minutes before the server shuts down and kicks you off… regardless whether you are a 1st subscriber or not.

You can’t join a friend who is visiting or has started their own private server from the social menu. There’s no option for this. You must be explicitly invited by the friend into the server. Additionally, only 8 people can join a private server. The 24 people on a server won’t work on a private server. You have to use a public server for that. This could make some events more difficult to complete in a private server environment.

A downside for PS4 users is that the 1 month subscription expires in one month. It is left up to you to renew the subscription manually at the end of each month of service. It does not auto-renew. Bethesda may fix this issue by updating its digital store item to support renewing subscriptions, but for now the subscription does not auto-renew. Be sure not to forget to pay for your monthly membership or all of the scrap in your Scrapbox may disappear. Be cautious with this. Also, if you’re thinking of not renewing, then you should plan to move whatever valuable scrap you have in your Scrapbox back to your Stash to avoid losing your most important scrap in your Scrapbox.

I’d also recommend keeping flux and other valuable scrap items that you simply can’t afford to lose in your Stash. The Scrapbox is a new storage vehicle in the game and may have significant bugs. Be sure that whatever you put into the Scrapbox is something you are willing to lose and collect again.

It is also unknown what happens to the 1st exclusive items you own from the Atom shop if you cancel. They might hang around or they might disappear from your inventory unless you renew. Don’t get too invested in these exclusives if you don’t plan to retain the subscription.

One last downside is the private servers themselves. Sometimes you are lucky and you will get a private server that has been freshly spun up. What this means is that all of the spawn places are already spawned. However, it seems Bethesda’s spin-down processes don’t adequately wait long enough before reassigning a private server world to a 1st user. What this means, unluckily for you, is that if a previous 1st user has already farmed the world for its “treasure”, you could find that what you’re looking for is not in its respective spawn locations. In fact, you could find the spawn locations empty all over the place. Bethesda needs to get better at either resetting the worlds after a private server use or ensure that when a private server is spun up, all spawn points have properly reset. Getting a “previously used” private server world just sucks all around. Worse, you are stuck with that same world for at least 30 minutes even if you aren’t using it. It takes that long for the server to be released and unassigned from your 1st subscription.

If you have any questions about Fallout 1st, please leave a comment below.

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